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: The Crater, 10/2/2016

7 10 2016

Last week, on my way home from a golf outing in Willimasburg, Va, I stopped in Petersburg. The original plan was to hit as many Seven Days battlefield sites as I could on the way back home, but since I was with my OLDEST brother Jerry, I opted to visit a the sites at which our great-grandfather, John B. Smeltzer, had fought with his regiment, the 205th PA. That meant Petersburg. In the process, we also visited The Crater, since it’s within the boundaries of the Petersburg National Battlefield. Below are a few photos from that visit. Click the images for larger ones – I think they’re all pretty much self-explanatory. The crater itself is fairly small, but consider the erosion over the years and the use of the site as a golf course for a while. I suspect the remnants are more impressive from atop the works, but access is for good reason restricted.



Fort Morton, the 14 gun battery from which Ambrose Burnside observed the Battle of the Crater




Preview: Rasbach, “Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the Petersburg Campaign”

22 09 2016

joshualchamberlainandpetersburgcampaignrasbach2016savasbeatieThis just in from Savas Beatie (there is no hyphen in that title, you know): Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the Petersburg Campaign: His Supposed Charge from Fort Hell, his Near-Mortal Wound, and a Civil War Myth Reconsidered, by Dennis A. Rasbach.

It’s hard to read the full title and not get the impression that the book possesses iconoclastic, sacred-cow slaughtering characteristics. In fact the dust jacket notes are peppered with words like presumed, perpetuation, interpretation, mantle of authority, meticulous case, primary evidence, and body of evidence. By themselves not indicative of anything, but consider them and the book’s title together and, well, you start to see where we’re headed. And that’s not a bad thing by any means. This book considers, among other things, the accuracy of the identification of the actual site of the action in which Chamberlain was wounded, generally accepted for many, many years as along the Jerusalem Plank Road between the future site of Fort Hell (Sedgwick) and Rives’s Salient of the Dimmock Line (future site of Fort Mahone). Rasbach contends that the focus of Chamberlain’s attack was more than a mile away from there.

Other, similar theories on other battlefields have been shouted down with references to monument placement and lack of veteran divergence from accepted narratives, but in this case Mr. Rasbach is laying everything out there for consideration. Adherents to the classic interpretation will have to deal with his presentation on its merits.

You get: 176 pages of narrative, including a retrospective tour; plenty of illustrations, primarily maps, though the tour includes many modern day photos; Orders of Battle for June 18, 1864; an appendix on Chamberlain’s wound and treatment; another on the role of maps in evaluating Chamberlain’s account; bibliography, mostly published works but also ten manuscript sources and seven newspaper accounts; and full index. Footnotes are bottom-of-the-page.

Previews: Three from Savas Beatie

13 09 2015

Over the past few weeks I’ve received three new titles from Savas Beatie. Here are the vitals:

51waXUoJnjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Resisting Sherman: A Confederate Surgeon’s Journal and the Civil War in the Carolinas, 1865is the journal of Dr. Francis Marion Robertson, a surgeon who fled with the Confederate garrison in Charleston, SC, ahead of William T. Sherman’s army as it moved north. The journal has been edited and annotated by the author’s great-great-grandson Thomas Heard Robertson, Jr., who traveled extensively to research the places mentioned in the journal. The book offers a unique look into the final few months of the war.  141 pp and 3 appendices.

51tcoY0UUaL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Grant’s Last Battle: The Story Behind the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, is a part of the Emerging Civil War series. (Interestingly, this slim [163 pp] volume is resting atop a gargantuan volume also examining the story behind Grant’s memoirs – I’ll be interviewing its author Joseph A. Rose soon.) Chris Mackowski provides a narrative on the production and publication of the memoirs in 127 pages, which is followed by five appendices by authors including Pat Tintle, Kathleen L. Thompson, Edward Alexander, Richard Frederick, and Jim McWilliams.

robertsonThe First Battle for Petersburg: The Attack and Defense of the Cockade City, June 9, 1864, is a new, revised, and expanded edition of William Glenn Robertson’s 1989 H. E. Howard Virginia Civil War Battles effort The Petersburg Campaign: The Battle of Old Men and Young Boys, June 9, 1864. The title is self-explanatory. This revised and expanded edition includes new, crisp Hal Jesperson maps, and new casualties analysis made possible by electronic versions of data sources not available a quarter-century ago. 147 pp and 4 appendices.

Preview – Alexander, “Dawn of Victory: Breakthrough at Petersburg”

6 05 2015

51At1BPGMzL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Breakthrough at Petersburg has a special interest for me, because my great-grandfather, John B. Smeltzer, a private in the 205th PA Infantry/9th Corps, was wounded there (see here.) So when I received Dawn of Victory: Breakthrough at Petersburg, March 25 – April 2, 1865, by Edward S. Alexander, I was pretty excited to see how the action was described. This is an entry in Savas Beatie’s Emerging Civil War series, and exhibits those features with which we have become accustomed: Hal Jesperson maps (7 of them); 129 pages of text taking the reader from the beginning of the siege through the fall of Petersburg; plentiful period and current photographs; orders of battle; field fortifications definitions; and an appendix on Pamplin Historical Park. Nice and compact. However, this study suffers from what afflicts most studies of the Breakthrough: it stops with 6th Corps and does not continue to the right to cover 9th Corps. Is this some sort of conspiracy? Does it have anything to do with the fact that 9th Corps operations took place outside the current boundaries of Pamplin Park? I have my foil hat ready for the investigation…

150 Years Ago Today

2 04 2015

1506594_10202031686936001_8118502619450450512_nOn this day 150 years ago, my great-grandfather Pvt. John B. Smeltzer stepped off with his comrades of Co. C, 205th PA Volunteer Infantry, in their assault on Battery 30, part of the defenses of Petersburg near Ft. Mahone. John, of Hopewell Township, Bedford County, had enlisted on August 24th, 1864 at the age of 18 years 8 months, and served until mustered out with his regiment at Alexandria, VA, on June 2nd, 1865. He was wounded in the leg during the assault. After the war he was employed as a coal miner and steelworker, married Hannah Virginia Gates, and fathered 8 children including my grandfather, Harry Gates Smeltzer. He lived variously in Bedford County, McKeesport in Allegheny County, PA, and for 6 months at the Soldiers’ Home in Dayton, OH, before returning to Hopewell where he died on Sept. 22, 1923, at the age of 77. He is buried in St. Paul’s Cemetery in Yellow Creek, Bedford County, PA, next to his granddaughter Pauline.

Update: Friend and Sesquicentennial tourist extraordinaire Craig Swain took this photo of the site of Battery 30 today:

Site of Battery 30, Petersburg, VA, 04/02/2015.

Site of Battery 30, Petersburg, VA, 04/02/2015.

Apparently, (and according to Craig who also took these snaps) great-grandpa had to charge past the dumpster by the Pizza Hut,


and through the playground,


to take that flower bed.