A Hot Time on Anniversary Weekend, July 20-21, 2019

17 08 2019

This past anniversary of the First Battle of Bull Run was spent by me, for the first time, in Manassas. I was booked for two talks on Saturday and a bus tour on Sunday, the actual anniversary of the battle which, as you know, was fought on a Sunday. I’ve never really felt the attraction of anniversaries like some, maybe most, of you do – the earth just happens to be in a very similar position to one star in a vast, endless sea of stars as on the day of the actual event. I know, I have no soul. But the fact that this anniversary fell on a Sunday seemed to be a big deal, and lots of activities were planned by the NPS for the day. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans.

Saturday started off hot and sultry, and the weekend kept that up through the end. My morning talk, for the Prince William County Historic Preservation Division (PWC), was scheduled for a tent outside historic Ben Lomond south of the battlefield, along the trace of the historic farm road that led from Manassas Junction to Liberia, past Ben Lomond, past Portici, to the Henry House and the Warrenton Turnpike. I’ll have more on Ben Lomond in a future post. Luckily for me and the 25 or so folks who attended, my talk on McDowell’s plan for the battle was moved indoors (it was 102 degrees Fahrenheit outside). The talk went well though I had to rush through the conclusion due to time constraints. Nobody threw anything at me. It was great to see some old friends and folks who have attended some of the Bull Runnings Battlefield Tours. I appreciate your continued support. Thanks to Rob Orrison and Kevin Pawlak for the invite. I completely forgot to take my usual pre-talk selfie, but here’s one courtesy of Rob.

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Me talking about Johnny Caspar from Miller’s Crossing, who plays an integral role in explaining McDowell’s Plan.

After my talk, I was taken to lunch by Kim Brace of the Manassas Battlefield Trust (MBT), which was hosting my talk at the Manassas National Battlefield Park (MNBP) visitor’s center later that evening. After a change of clothes, I repaired to The Winery at Bull Run for a pleasant, if muggy, sit-down on the patio with Kim and my good friends Dan and Kathy Carson.

After yet another change of clothing, it was off to the visitor’s center, where the MBT had invited me to talk about Peter Conover Hains and his 1911 account of his experiences at First Bull Run. I saw a few familiar faces in the crowd, including former U. S. Army historian Kim Holien and MNBP museum specialist (and long-time Friend of Bull Runnings) Jim Burgess, who joined me for dinner afterwards. Again there were about 25 people in attendance. Not too many glitches, and I think everyone enjoyed the presentation and learned something (I know I did). Thanks to MBT and Christy Forman for the invite.

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Pre-talk selfie. Sorry to those folks blocked by my big giant head.

Bright and early Sunday morning it was back to Ben Lomond for a bus tour of sites on and off the battlefield. This was a fundraiser for PWC and was led by Kevin Pawlak of that group and myself. We had ten people, including Civil War TImes Magazine’s editor Dana Shoaf and his media guru Melissa Wynn, and old friend and Licensed Antietam Battlefield Guide Jim Rosebrock (look, if you’re gonna hire someone to guide you about Antietam, hire an ALBG – it just makes sense). Yes, it was hot on Saturday, but it was hotter on Sunday, as my dusty dashboard attests.

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One Hundred and Three Degrees!!!

It was in fact so hot that the NPS cancelled most of the events they had scheduled for the day. But we few, we happy but sweaty few, vowed to endeavor to persevere.

Kevin and I conducted the tour kind of like a sporting event broadcast – at each stop, Kevin laid out the action, rather, the play-by-play, and I provided the color. We had to cut out a couple of stops due to time. I’ll lay out the route of the tour in photos:

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First Stop: Old Stone Church in Centreville, where we talked about the Confederate dispositions, the Federal approach, and some after-battle incidents. Kevin Pawlak in dark blue.

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Quick stop in Centreville McDonalds to pay respects to the Centreville Six. Someone will do an Abbey Road take on this. But not us.

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Blackburn’s Ford

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Blackburn’s Ford – View south

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Panoramic view south at Blackburn’s Ford

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Signal Hill monument

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Kim Brace (white beard, red shirt) provided a little more info on E. Porter Alexander

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Kevin saying something worthwhile at the Stone Bridge.

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Me – in white hat – trying to think of something worthwhile to say at the Stone Bridge. Photo by Rob Orrison.

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Group shot at Reynolds’s guns on Matthews Hill. A couple folks did not make the trek from the bus at this stop.

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View south from Matthews Hill

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Reynolds’s guns (James rifles). There were only six Federal smoothbores, all howitzers, that crossed Bull Run that day. The other 20 were rifles.

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Me, on Matthews Hill, pointing. Others, looking. Photo by Rob Orrison.

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Dana Shoaf and me, trying to figure out what direction we’re facing, on Chinn Ridge, our final stop.

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Kevin Pawlak wrapping things up on Chinn Ridge.

Afterwards, upstairs at air-conditioned Ben Lomond, Dana and Melissa introduced me to Facebook Live. Enjoy Dana, Rob, Kevin, and me in all our technicolor glory.

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Behind the scenes: Videographer Melissa Winn, Dana Shoaf, and Kevin Pawlak

Afterwards, Rob, Kevin, and I enjoyed a couple of cold ones at the 2 Silos Brewing Co. in Manassas. A cool place, check it out.

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Rob Orrison and Kevin Pawlak show the way to the 2 Silos complex.





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.