A Heck of a Trip Out West, With a Way Cool Ending

1 08 2017

For nine days at the end of July, I took a little trip out west with some like-minded history geeks, most of whom I’ve known for a long time, and some of whom are now new friends. I thought about how – or even if, given its nature – I would post about it here. This trip wasn’t Bull Run related, nor was it even Civil War related, at least not directly.

The long and short of it is that I visited Yellowstone National Park for the first time;

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At Artist Point. Clockwise from me in the Penn State hat are three Gettysburg area residents and my car-mates on this adventure: Bob George (who knows everything); Licensed Gettysburg Battlefield Guide and trip organizer Chris Army, in his magic hat; and Licensed Gettysburg Battlefield Guide/thespian John Zervas. The background is real.

and the Buffalo Bill Cody Center of the West, in Cody, Wy., for the first time;

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Yep, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

and Fort Phil Kearney, including the fields of the Fetterman Massacre and Wagon Box Fight, also in Wyoming, for the first time;

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and Buffalo, Wy., near the famous Hole in The Wall, and seat of the Johnson County War, for the first time;

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Nate Champion, casualty of the Johnson County War. If you’re gonna be remembered, there are worse ways than this.

and the Rosebud Creek battlefield in Montana, for the first time;

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The hardy bunch who trekked to the top of the Rosebud battlefield’s Conical Hill. Me in the red, white and blue hat. Clockwise from Kendra Debany are James Hessler, Don Caughey, Rosebud historian Bob O’Neill, Bill Burkman, and Rosebud historian Neil Mangum, our guide.

and Pompey’s Pillar, a site visited by William Clark on his return trip, which overlooks a campsite of George Armstrong Custer and his men during the Yellowstone Expedition of 1873, for the first time;

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and the sites associated with the Battle of Little Bighorn (LBH), for the first time;

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Medicine Tail Ford from the battlefield side of Little Bighorn. Yes, that’s a sweat lodge. With lawn chairs nearby.

and had I gone to the rodeo, across the street from our hotel in Billings, Mt., it would have been my first time, too. But I didn’t, because we simply had no time.

As you can imagine, that’s a lot to cram in at once, and I’m still trying to process it all. So I’m going to just point out two cool tidbits from a trip full of cool tidbits.

Our guide for Little Big Horn and Rosebud was former Little Bighorn National Monument superintendent Neil Mangum. Through his efforts we were able to visit some sites not typically accessed, including battlefield spots Sharpshooter’s Ridge (special permit from the park) and Medicine Tail Ford and Nye-Cartwright/Luce Ridges, which are on private property. Another site is located on private property in the Rosebud Creek Valley. This is in the area of the Sun Dance, held in the month leading up to the Rosebud and LBH battles, in the mobile village of the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe. During this, Hunkpapa Sioux spiritual leader Sitting Bull had a vision of Soldiers Falling Into Camp, which was interpreted as an impending victory over the U. S. Army. This vision was then recorded in pictograph on a formation which had been used for such a purpose for many years, Deer Medicine Rocks. Here’s an image I recorded of the glyph for Soldiers Falling Into Camp:

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“Soldiers Falling Into Camp”

Fascinating stuff. The rocks are visited to this day by individuals who leave offerings and prayers, which take many and colorful forms.

On Sunday, we completed our two-day tour of the Little Bighorn Battlefield. We recorded the last of many group photos, this one on Monument Hill (you may know it as Last Stand Hill):

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The whole shootin’ match on Monument Hill, Little Big Horn battlefield. Tour leader Neil Mangum seated.

It was after this that a great trip, meticulously planned and organized by friend and Licensed Gettysburg Battlefield Guide (one of four on this trip) Chris Army, wrapped up just about as perfectly as it could. One of the last stops on our tour was the site of the death of Captain Miles Keogh of the 7th U. S. Cavalry. Keogh had served in the Civil War on the staff of General John Buford at Gettysburg, and so is of particular to the Guides in attendance, three of whom stand near Keogh’s marker:

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Licensed Gettysburg Battlefield Guides Chris Army, James Hessler, and Wayne Motts at the marker for Miles Keogh.

Later, before mounting up for the ride back to the hotel and the farewell dinner to follow, attendees took some time around Monument Hill to visit sites not on the tour or cruise the Visitor Center bookshop. I was doing the latter with long-time fellow battlefield stomping friend John (he’s completely off the social media grid so will remain last nameless). We were discussing the relative merits of various Little Bighorn titles – I was by far the dumbest of this group when it comes to Indian Wars – when a young man approached John and asked his opinion of a book. The book was about Keogh, and he informed John that he was a collateral descendant of the Captain. Overhearing this, I spotted Neil Mangum and brought him over to meet Philip, who spells his name Kehoe. Then I sought out Little Bighorn student and LGBG James Hessler, and things snowballed from there, with even the Park staff joining in. It turns out Philip was visiting the field with his brother Brendan and cousin David, who lives in Keogh’s boyhood home.  Brendan and David share the middle name Miles. All three are teachers and were visiting from Leighlin Bridge, County Carlow, Ireland.  I’m not sure the lads anticipated the attention, but it was a great way to end our last day on the field!

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On the steps of the LBH Visitor’s Center with, front row left to right Brendan Myles Kehoe, Eric Wittenberg, David Myles Kehoe, and Philip Kehoe; back row left to right me, Neil Mangum, Kendra Debany, and James Hessler.

I managed to do the whole trip without buying a single book (other than a small one on the art museum in the Buffalo Bill Center). But I took photos of plenty of books that caught my eye. Has this western trip spawned a new obsession? Only time will tell.

 





Petersburg: Fort Mahone, 10/2/2016

13 10 2016

Our last stop at Petersburg was the vicinity of Fort Mahone, now built over with dwellings and businesses (for some Craig Swain photos of the ground, see here). It was during the 9th Corps assault on this work that my great-grandfather was wounded on April 2, 1865. Good luck finding out much more about their action that day. The site lies outside NPS boundaries, and outside Pamplin Park boundaries, and is hopelessly built up. If you do run across any info, please feel free to share it in the comments. I’m intrigued, personally. And while I’m wary of the pitfalls of ancestor worship, I may just have to look into this myself.

The monument to John Hartranft’s 3rd Division of the 9th Corps (great-grandpa’s 205th PA was in the 2nd Brigade) can be found “in the median of Wakefield Street about 350 yards west of the intersection of South Crater Road and South Sycamore Street.” (For more on the monument, go here.) The monument is referred to on the NPS maps as “The Pennsylvania Monument.” It is the most tangible of the little evidence of their service on April 2, 1865.

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My big bro and me





Petersburg: Fort Stedman 10/2/2016

12 10 2016

The reason I opted for a trip to Petersburg as opposed to a whirlwind tour of Seven Days on my return home from Williamsburg is that my great-grandfather John B. Smeltzer had fought there with the 205th Pennsylvania. I was in Williamsburg with my brother, who lives in Charleston, SC, and whom I see only sporadically, so it seemed like a cool family trip, and not too far out of either of our ways home. The first stop was Fort Stedman, which lies within the confines of the battlefield park.

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Found this image of J. A. Mathews at the U. S. Army Heritage and Education Center a few years back

The Battle of Fort Stedman – also known as the Battle of Hare’s Hill – took place on March 25, 1865, and has been described as “Lee’s Last Offensive.” In brief, feeling that “to stand still was death,” Robert E. Lee ordered Much of his army, under the direction of John B. Gordon, against a point in the Union siege line occupied by Fort Stedman and batteries X, XI, and XII, manned by Napoleon B. McGlaughlen’s 3rd Brigade of Orlando Willcox’s 1st Division of John G. Parke’s 9th Corps. Fort Stedman and the batteries were quickly overrun, but were retaken with the help of John F. Hartrnaft’s 3rd Division, the 2nd Brigade of which great-grandpa’s regiment was a part, under the command of Joseph A. Mathews. From the maps in Volume XXV, #1 of Blue & Gray magazine (maybe 8 years ago), it looks like the 205th PA’s involvement was around Batteries XI and XII. But it’s all very confusing, with post-war fighting for accolades fogging up the picture. Regardless, thanks to my typical piss-poor planning, I only stopped for photos at Fort Stedman proper, and here they are. Click on the images for larger ones.

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Petersburg: The Crater, 10/2/2016

7 10 2016

Last week, on my way home from a golf outing in Willimasburg, Va, I stopped in Petersburg. The original plan was to hit as many Seven Days battlefield sites as I could on the way back home, but since I was with my OLDEST brother Jerry, I opted to visit a few of the sites at which our great-grandfather, John B. Smeltzer, had fought with his regiment, the 205th PA. That meant Petersburg. In the process, we also visited The Crater, since it’s within the boundaries of the Petersburg National Battlefield. Below are a few photos from that visit. Click the images for larger ones – I think they’re all pretty much self-explanatory. The crater itself is fairly small, but consider the erosion over the years and the use of the site as a golf course for a while. I suspect the remnants are more impressive from atop the works, but access is for good reason restricted.

 

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Fort Morton, the 14 gun battery from which Ambrose Burnside observed the Battle of the Crater

 

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Fredericksburg – 9/28/2016

6 10 2016

Last week, after stopping in to visit with John Hennessy at Chatham, I set out for Williamsburg. My original intent was to visit the battlefield at Malvern Hill along the way, but the weather was bad and I was burning daylight. So I decided to do a quick turn at the Fredericksburg battlefield’s visitor center and the Sunken Road at Marye’s Heights. I hadn’t been there in quite a few years. Here are some photos I snapped as my phone battery died. Click on them for larger images.

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Chatham – 9/28/2016

4 10 2016

Last week, I took a little trip down to Williamsburg, Va, for three days of golf with my brother Jerry. Friend John Hennessy invited me to stop on the way to chat and lunch, so I took him up on his offer. We yakked in his office upstairs at Chatham for a while (said hi to Frank O’Reilly, whom I had not seen in years, and later on the lawn reader Barry Larkin), then had lunch at Foode, which is located in the 1820 National Bank of Fredericksburg building. In fact, we ate in the vault! Abraham Lincoln visited this building in the spring of 1862. All in all I spent about 3 hours talking to Mr. Hennessy – the good news for us is that he was receptive to another Bull Runnings tour, perhaps in the Fall of 2017. I then headed off on my way to Williamsburg. Below are some photos of Chatham and the bank building. Click on the thumbs for larger versions.

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Repro pontoon section

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The notes of “Home Sweet Home”

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These catalpas may have been described by Walt Whitman after the Battle of Fredericksburg

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Stuff

3 10 2016

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Hi all! I just got back from a few days in Virginia, and managed to squeeze some Civil War stuff in around some bad golf (mine) in some bad weather on some beautiful Williamsburg area courses. I’ll have the CW related stuff up soon, including a trip to Petersburg with my oldest brother to follow in the steps of our great-grandfather. Also some Bull Run touring info (we may be looking at two dates next year – shout out if that sounds good to you). But for now, I offer this shot from the first tee of the Black Heath course at Ford’s Colony Country Club. I thought it would be a good idea to hit over those trees on the right. Good idea, poor execution. Theme of the day.