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.





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.





Bull Run Monument Dedication Hymn

15 07 2016
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First Bull Run Battle Monument Dedication

From John Hennessy:

We have come to see memorialization and remembrance of the Civil War as a tool of reconciliation. Not in 1865. Attached are the words of a hymn written for and sung at the dedication of two monuments on the Bull Run Battlefield in June 1865–monuments built by Union soldiers at the end of the war. The dedicatory ceremony attracted a huge crowd, including Generals Orlando Willcox and Samuel P. Heintzelman, who both spoke.

The words to the hymn are bitter and angry, written two months after the end of the war and Lincoln’s assassination.

After harsh lines about slavery and treason, the hymn concludes:

“And so, upon the bloody spot,
Where now this monument is raised,
Shall rebel bones and memories rot,
But patriots’ names for aye be praised.”

The words were sung to the hymn, “Old Hundred,” familiar to most today as the Doxology–sung every week in many Protestant churches.

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For more on he monument dedication, see here.

The above hymn first appeared in the New York Times on June 13, 1865, as part of an account by a correspondent who attended the dedication.





New Bull Run Article in Civil War Times

5 04 2016

3John Hennessy, featured guide for Bull Runnings’ upcoming tour of the battlefield of First Bull Run, has an article on medical care at the battle in the new issue of Civil War Times.

That Sunday evening…the battlefield heaved and twitched under the weight of carnage. Hundreds of wounded men lay on the field, some of them struggling to breathe or signaling for help. Around them lay hundreds more, frozen in death. The nearly 900 dead men on the Matthews, Henry, Robinson and Chinn farms shocked observers by their sheer number. July 21, 1861, had been the deadliest day in America’s short history.

Check it out.





Facebook Page for Tour

21 01 2016

I’ve set up a Facebook Event for the tour of the battlefield we’re planning for April 23, 2016. I’ll still post updates here, but will also post them on Facebook. If you’re on Facebook, you can indicate your interest in attending there. Here’s the link:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1646476515615466/





Moving Forward With This Tour

12 01 2016
King Painting

“The Capture of Rickett’s Battery” by Sidney King, 1964 (oil on plywood). On display in the Henry Hill Visitor Center at Manassas National Battlefield Park.

I’ve heard from a good number of you who are interested in attending a tour of First Bull Run at Manassas National Battlefield Park. You’ve been leaving comments on the post here, and I want you to continue to do so. That is, don’t leave a comment here, leave a comment here. There are over 20 folks who find the April 23, 2016 date workable, among them some big hitters. This is a great opportunity to tramp the field for the first time, or to revisit it with like minded folks and some experts like John Hennessy. More details will be provided here on the blog as they develop and as the date draws near. If there are any materials to accompany the tour, I’ll make them available here in PDF for downloading beforehand – that will keep the cost at a desirable level (that is, $0). Simplicity is the goal: caravan, no bus; bring your own lunch. Get the picture?

 





Tour First Bull Run

30 12 2015

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As hinted at in this interview, plans are afoot for a Bull Runnings outing along with John Hennessy, the author of The First Battle of Manassas, an End to Innocence. This will be a fairly informal day on the field. Right now, we’re looking at Saturday, April 23, 2016. Tentatively, we’ll start bright and early, break for lunch, and finish up in the afternoon. Logistics are in the formative stage, but this will likely be a caravan. But no planning can begin until we have an idea how many folks want to join us. So, with that in mind, sound off in the comments section here on the blog if you’re in.