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.





69th NYSM Tour Handouts (3)

9 05 2019

MAPS MAPS MAPS!!!

John Hennessy has provided these maps to accompany our tour on Saturday. Print them out, or download them, or memorize them, or whatever. It’s up to you!

[Maps have been deleted]





69th NYSM Tour Handouts (2)

7 05 2019

Hi all – we will likely cover the formation of an Infantry or “Hollow” Square on the retreat from the battlefield during our tour on Saturday. So, here is a photo from Miller’s Photographic History of the Civil War to help you visualize one.

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Also, any letters or accounts that I will be quoting from are all here on the site. The easiest way to find documents and transcriptions relative to the 69th is to go to the Union Order of Battle in the right hand column of this page under Bull Run Resources. Then scroll down to Tyler’s Division, Sherman’s Brigade, and you’ll find the 69th with links to all the accounts stored here, be they letters, diaries, or Official Reports. You can copy and paste into whatever type of document program you prefer, and print or download them. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. I don’ really think you’ll need to take those with you on he field, however. But they make for great pre- or post-tour reading!





One Week! Be Considerate!

4 05 2019


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OK, folks – we’re one week out from following In the Footsteps of the 69th NYSM. All of our guides are now on one continent, so that’s a good sign. Again, I have no idea how many people will show up. While this is not a caravan tour like the prior three Bull Runnings Battlefield Tours, remember that parking at the Stone Bridge lot, our starting point, is limited. So be considerate, and try to consolidate as many folks into one vehicle as you can. You may want to meet up at the visitor’s center lot and leave some cars there, then take one car to the Stone Bridge lot. This will really help out – it will allow for as many people as possible to join us, and it will also give you then option to end your tour at the visitor’s center instead of making the “retreat” back to the Stone Bridge.

Thanks! I’m looking forward to seeing you all there. Keep an eye out here for handouts, as this is the only place they’ll be available. We won’t be passing out any paper.





Post-Tour Reading: Artillery Tactics

7 01 2019
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Craig Swain (photo credit Paul Errett)

Any of you who were on the Bull Run Artillery Tour this past October should head on over to Craig Swain’s To the Sound of a the Guns for this article on artillery tactics. Heck, even if you weren’t on the tour you should check it out.





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.





2019 Speaking Dates

3 01 2019

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I’ve updated the Book Me, Danno! page for my 2019 speaking/tour engagements (so far). On April 25, I’ll be presenting the Future of Civil War History program at the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) hall in Peninsula, OH. Interestingly enough, I’ll be presenting much of that program again two days later at the Carnegie Free Library and Concert Hall in Carnegie, PA, which also houses a fully restored G.A.R. post. When I presented this program for the first time back in 2013 I really didn’t think anyone would be intrigued enough to hear it again, but these will mark the third and fourth times for some mutation of it.

Yes, the correct date for the 69th NYSM tour is May 11. And I’m not really sure yet what’s going on with the battle anniversary weekend, other than I believe I’ll be working with some combination of Prince William County, Manassas Battlefield Trust,  and Manassas National Battlefield Park, both speaking and touring.