Recap: In the Footsteps of the 69th NYSM

12 06 2019


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At 9:00 AM on May 11, 2019, about 50 folks assembled in the parking lot at Manassas National Battlefield Park’s Stone Bridge to follow guides John Hennessy, Joseph Maghe, Damian Shiels, and me as we retraced the steps of the 69th New York State Militia during the First Battle of Bull Run.

The structure was simple: we followed the First Manassas Trail and walked along Bull Run from Stone Bridge and picked up the regiment’s route on the battlefield (west) side of Bull Run at the site of Farm Ford, where the men crossed on the morning of July 21, 1861. (Their route to the ford lies on the east side of the Run, over the grounds of the present day Winery at Bull Run.) At each stop, I contributed some framework of how we got to and what happened at that point using reports from the official records and other correspondence from participants. John Hennessy provided deeper context, again drawn from participants and from his years of research and experience on the field. Then Damian Shiels expanded our understanding of these men (and in some cases Irish soldiers of other regiments on the field as well) and their families in New York and Ireland, using the vast and poignant materials he’s gleaned from widows’ pension files. Consistent with the data set used, these accounts typically ended tragically, and Damian will forever be known as the George R. R. Martin of the First Battle of Bull Run. He drew us in with the stories of these men and women, got us to care about them, and then, well, bad things happened.

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John Hennessy discusses the advance to and crossing at Farm Ford

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After Farm Ford, we continued roughly west by north toward Matthews Hill, stopping to get some perspective and a view south to Henry Hill.

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Damian Shiels at Stop #2, a view south to Henry Hill from Sherman’s route of march toward Matthews Hill. John Hennessy and Joe Maghe, in green, look on.

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View south – MNBP Visitor Center in middle distance

The next stop was further west to the point of first contact between Sherman’s Brigade and the Confederates of Bee and – purportedly, possibly, perhaps – Wheat, and the death of Lt. Col. Haggerty. Damian continued the story of Haggerty’s widow. The ripples from pebbles tossed on that June Sunday were many and far reaching.

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Discussing the death of Haggerty

We then moved, still westerly, past the site of the Carter house “Pittsylvania” and the Carter Family cemetery.

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Carter Cemetery

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MNBP Superintendent Brandon Bies and his family joined us for the day

We took a jog south and discussed the Confederate collapse on Matthews Hill.

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View South

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View North to Confederate Line

Continuing farther west, we walked past the Stovall Monument and the site of the Matthews House to Matthews Hill where the 69th’s advance down Sudley Road toward Henry Hill was covered.

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Site of Matthews House

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View from Matthews Hill to Henry Hill

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The crew moves south to toward the Stone House and the Sudley Road/Warrenton Turnpike intersection.

After crossing the busy road (Warrenton Turnpike, today’s Lee Highway), we ascended to Henry Hill where we broke for lunch and to view Joe Maghe’s fine collection of 69th NYSM artifacts inside the reconstructed post-war Henry House (a big shout-out to MNBP for making the facility available).


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Joe Maghe fields questions from one of the dozens of folks on the tour and park visitors who stopped in the Henry House to view his collection. (Photo by Pat Young)

After lunch, but prior to setting out for the return trip to the Stone Bridge, we gathered for a group photo in front of the Henry House. A few opted not to do the return walk and are not pictured.


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After lunch, we discussed the 69th’s action on Henry Hill and the fight for Ricketts’s guns.

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John Hennessy describes the fighting on Henry Hill

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Occasionally participants contributed, in this case Pat Young of “The Immigrant’s Civil War”

We shifted base slightly down the hill, and covered the retreat.

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Here, I (green hat at center) discuss the retreat, prisoners, and the 69th’s forming of an infantry square

After that, we again picked up the First Manassas Trail, making our way along the back side of Henry Hill. Eventually we reached the site of the Van Pelt House, and wound our way down to the Stone Bridge parking lot where we started. FYI, my fit bit clocked in at right around 20,000 steps for the day.

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Guides (left to right) Damian Shiels, John Hennessy, Joe Maghe, and Harry Smeltzer

I think, all in all, the tour was a great success, and most important we all learned a good deal about these men, their families, and their circumstances before, during, and after the battle. Thanks to everyone who turned out, to our intrepid guides and exhibitor, to Debi Faber-Maghe who held down the fort in the Henry House, to the Bies kids who were super-troopers, and to my sister Patrice who really helped me out.

I’m mulling over a few really good – IMO – ideas for future First Bull Run tours (if you have any, I’m all ears), so check back here, every…single…day.





Pre-Tour Reading: 69th NYSM Command

9 04 2019

Head on over to Damian Shiels’s Irish in the American Civil War for this read on The Men Who Led the 69th New York on the Bull Run Battlefield.

The tour is May 11. Remember, rain or shine. We’ll meet at the Stone Bridge parking lot at 9 AM. Dress for the weather.





Pre-Tour Reading: “Other” Irish Soldiers at First Bull Run

6 01 2019
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Pvt. Thomas Green, Co. B, 11th MA. Wounded at BR1, killed at BR2. (LOC)

Head on over to Damian Shiels’s Irish in the American Civil War for this fine article on non-69th NYSM Irish-American soldiers at Bull Run. These other Sons of Erin, North and South, will also be discussed to some extent during the fourth Bull Runnings tour on May 11, In the Footsteps of the 69th NYSM at First Bull Run. This is really good stuff, and gives you a taste of how Damian works. Yes, you really do need to make it to this one.





Pre-Tour Reading: Families of the Fallen

1 01 2019

Head on over to Damian Shiels’s site and read about the efforts of the 69th NYSM officers to provide for the families of the fallen of First Bull Run.

Casualties

 





Bull Runnings Spring 2019 Battlefield Tour

1 12 2018

“This will be a great, great tour. Very strong. Very special. Other tours at other battlefields? Disasters. But this one will be huge. Believe me. Everyone agrees.” – Anonymous chief executive.

69th New York State Militia

The Regiment prays for good weather on May 11, 2019.

Save the date: May 11, 2019. 9:00 AM. Manassas National Battlefield Park. Free tour. Will make a most excellent Mother’s Day gift.

For this fourth Bull Runnings Battlefield Tour, we’ll follow in the footsteps of the Fighting Irishmen of Col. Michael Corcoran’s 69th New York State Militia at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861. We’ll start at the Stone Bridge, make our way (by foot) to Henry House Hill, and then follow the regiment in retreat back to Bull Run. Out and back is a five-mile walk, but tourists can opt out at the halfway point (or anywhere else, for that matter).

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Henry Hill – The Halfway Point

That’s cool enough. But check out these guides:

Harry Smeltzer – You already know me (if not check out the About Me link). Don’t let my last name fool you – mom was a Power.

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John J. Hennessy – Widely respected historian and battlefield guide, he is the author of First Battle of Manassas: An End to Innocence, and Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas. He guided the first ever Bull Runnings Battlefield Tour in 2016.

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Damian Shiels – Irishman, professional battlefield archaeologist, and host of the blog Irish in the American Civil War. He is the author of The Irish in the American Civil War and The Forgotten Irish: Irish Emigrant Experiences in America.

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Joseph Maghe – Civil War artifact collector extraordinaire, he has amassed a truly impressive array of artifacts, with a special focus on regiments with Irish/Irish American affiliations.

As we traverse the field, your guides will share extracts from after action reports, personal correspondence, and memoirs of participants. We’ll also discuss the experiences of the soldiers’ families in New York and Ireland, and the backgrounds of the men. Along the way Mr. Maghe will have various artifacts with ties to the regiment to view.

Logistics: This is a free tour. Everything is on your own: transportation, lodging, meals. We’ll break for lunch, probably at the visitor’s center, so you’ll probably want to carry your meal or have it waiting in a vehicle there in the parking lot. Dress for the weather. Tour will be rain or shine, barring flood waters.

There are no formal plans for apres-tour, but The Winery at Bull Run is a pretty neat place, and I’ll give updates about whether or not it’s going to be open.

Keep an eye out here and on the Facebook Event Page for updates, handouts, and other news.





Preview: Shiels, “The Irish in the American Civil War”

20 10 2014

8768 Civil CVR.inddThere are numerous studies on the Irish in our Civil War, some fairly objective and many laden with sentimentality and myth-building which employ such flowery terms as “Celtic Warriors in Blue/Gray.” Even as second generation on my mom’s side I find the latter tedious. What sets The Irish in the American Civil War apart is that its author Damian Shiels (host of a blog with the same title and a professional conflict archaeologist) is not an Irish-American but an Irishman from Limerick. In addition to his proximity to the homes of many of his subjects, his work on the blog and with local Irish sources give him a unique perspective (Damian works wonders with pension records – if you haven’t visited his site please do, you’ll be glad you did.)

This is not a strict narrative account of the history of Irish-American soldiers. Rather the book’s 229 pages of text is divided into sections: Beginnings; Realities; The Wider War; and Aftermath. Each section includes “six true stories of gallantry, sacrifice and bravery,” including good personal accounts of First Bull Run.

Sources include a lot of well-known secondary sources, but the use of newspapers and pension files is Shiels’s real strength. If you’re interested in a different perspective on a well-worn topic, I think it’s worth your while to give The Irish in the American Civil War a tumble.