West Virginia Independence Hall, Wheeling, WV

21 10 2016

After my talk on Tuesday at the Ohio County Public Library and after a nice lunch on the river in North Wheeling, my son and I stopped in at the West Virginia Independence Hall, a museum downtown very near the library. This is one neat little museum, inside the 1859 Federal custom house. In brief, the first floor houses displays on the state’s people’s breaking of the tyrannical shackles that bound them to the slaveocracy of Virginia (how’s that for priming the pump?), along with the post-office which was housed there. The second floor has a few period-decorated offices and a great West Virginia battle flag collection. And the third floor has a beautifully restored courtroom. In this building were held the constitutional conventions that led to West Virginia’s 1863 statehood. Below are some photos of the exhibits there. The museum is free, and photography allowed (though no flash is permitted in the flag exhibit). Click the images for larger ones.



First floor:


Second floor (many flags, few good photos):


Third floor:



My son channels Gov. Pierpont

Ohio County Public Library, 10/18/2016

19 10 2016

cid_dbd30eb9-4165-46cf-a86f-90fafa044a7cYesterday I presented my Kilpatrick Family Ties program to the good folks of the Ohio County Public Library in Wheeling, WV, as part of their Lunch with Books program. About 60 were in attendance, including my son who is on break from Waynesburg University, and old friends Jon-Erik Gilot and Jim Dailer.

I thought the presentation went pretty well, though I was thrown when I realized I had left some materials – props, really – at home along with my clicker. I had to leave a few things out because we were on a pretty strict time limit, but managed to get all the important stuff in and field all the questions asked. Sean Duffy at the library does a very nice job, the facilities are great, and the audience engaged. If you are contacted by Sean to speak there, you should jump at the chance. And if you live in or are passing through the area, check out Lunch with Books every Tuesday at noon.

Afterwards my son and I followed Jim to lunch in North Wheeling along the river. A really perfect afternoon weather-wise. Then the boy and I took in a truly fine museum in Wheeling’s Independence Hall. More on that later.

New Resource Pages – Soldier Images

16 10 2016

This is something I should have been doing all along. You’ll find a new resource page for soldier images. I haven’t decided if I should include multiple images or just pick one. Anyway, this should fill up some time. You’ll be able to find these in alphabetical order by clicking on the Soldier Images page links in the right hand column and on the Bull Run Resources page accessed via the tab in the header, or in the Orders of Battle next to the individuals name when the letter I shows as a link in the parenthesis.

So, if you have any photos of participants you’d like to share here, send them on to me at the email address in the right hand column. Share great-great-grandpa’s mug for posterity!

Wilmer McLean – The Rest of the Story

15 10 2016

fig62We all know how it went. Wilmer McLean owned a farm (Yorkshire Plantation) near Manassas that P. G. T. Beauregard used for his headquarters prior to and during the First Battle of Bull Run. We know that a projectile from a Union cannon struck his chimney, and that it ruined a dinner cooking in the fireplace. We know from Bory’s report that Wilmer helped out the Confederate forces as a guide. We know that later on Wilmer relocated to Appomattox Court House, and that his residence was used for the proceedings of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia in April, 1865. But here are a couple of tidbits I learned, or perhaps was reminded of, in Arwen Bicknell’s Justice and Vengeance: Scandal, Honor, and Murder in 1872 Virginia, which I’m currently reading. Things like why he moved to Appomattox in the first place, and what he did and where he went after the surrender. Since she spent good time writing them, I’ll let her words speak for themselves, with my own emphasis:

McLean, who was too old to fight, made a nice living during the war as a sugar broker supplying the Confederate States Army, and moved his operations Appomattox County, partly because his commercial activities were centered mostly in Southern Virginia and partly to protect his family from a repetition of their combat experience…In 1869, bankruptcy forced the family back to the farm in Manassas, during which time he served as justice of the peace. He secured a job under [President Ulysses S.] Grant working as a tax collector in 1873 and moved his family to Alexandria, transferring to the U. S. Bureau of Customs in 1876 …

A little less romantic than the story of a poor farmer’s failure to avoid the war and being ultimately ruined by it with which many are familiar. But that’s often the case with beloved tales.

The author cites Biography of Wilmer McLean, May 3, 1814 – June 5, 1882, by Frank P. Cauble.



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.



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.


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.



Petersburg: Visitor Center, 10/2/2016

11 10 2016

Maybe I should have started with this one, since our first stop in Petersburg was the Visitor Center. Not too overwhelming, certainly nothing like the bloated colossus of Gettysburg, but it gets the job done. Keep in mind that the NPS installations at Petersburg include the Eastern Front Visitor Center (the one I visited), the Western Front Visitor Contact Station, the Five Forks Battlefield Visitor Contact Station, and Grant’s Headquarters at City Point. We only had a limited time, so the EFVC was our only NPS stop.

Here are some photos of the grounds outside the building. A nice display of guns. Click on the images for larger ones.



This gun is weird (man, that never gets old)


A 30 pdr Parrott, like the one with which Peter C. Hains opened BR1