Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Some Great Posts. . .

My buddy--and fellow Schuylkill County Civil War enthusiast-- Stu Richards has some great posts over at his blog, "Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, Military History."

The first has to do with the combat witnessed by Schuylkill's 96th Pennsylvania Infantry at the September 14, 1862, battle of Crampton's Gap. The regiment was heavily engaged and suffered severe loss at this fight, which has been overshadowed by the larger battle of Antietam, fought three days later. Click here to read this post.
(By the way, if anyone is interested in learning more about Crampton's Gap, I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of Timothy Reese's Sealed With Their Lives, which ranks among the best Civil War titles. . .at least in my humble opinion. The book is out of print and somewhat difficult to find, but if you do happen upon it, do yourself a favor and pick it up. It is an excellent book and a great primer on how Civil War campaign and battle studies should be written).
Other posts by Stu include a look at the newly refinished Historical Society of Schuylkill County and some Civil War grave desecration. Click here and here.
Enjoy. . .and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Walk Through York's Prospect Hill Cemetery


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Basket business found me in dowtown York this snowy morning. My wife, Laura, is participating in a Food & Beverage show this weekend and I figured I would help her set up. The arena opened to vendors at noon, but I headed off to York early so I could spend some time tramping around the city's famed Prospect Hill Cemetery. At over 325 acres and more than 90,000 burials, Prospect Hill is an enormous "city of the dead." And being wholly fascinated by cemeteries of all shapes and sizes, I braved the elements--it was frigidly cold with snow flurries--and snapped well over 100 pictures of this truly impressive, yet at times eerie graveyard.
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Upon entering the cemetery through the main gates, one is met by a vast sea of American flags, each one representing a soldier killed in either Iraq. . .
. . .or Afghanistan.
Lining George Street, which runs parallel to Prospect Hill, are several banners paying tribute to those soldiers from York and its environs who have paid their last full measure of devotion while fighting for our nation and defending our freedoms.
Breathtaking.
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Up the hill and just several hundred yards from the main gates is this statue to a Civil War soldier, which was erected in honor and "In Memory of the Defenders of the Union: 1861-1865." Surrounding the soldier statue lie buried scores of fallen Union troops, many of them--in fact, most of them--buried here died while in the York General Hospital from wounds received at Gettysburg.
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There are hundreds of Civil War veterans buried throughout Prospect Hill's 325+ acres, including John Henry Denig, recipient of the Medal of Honor for gallantry at the battle of Mobile in August 1864. . .
and many more.
But perhaps Prospect Hill's most famous Civil War burial is Major General William Buel Franklin. Franklin, a premier civil engineer whose Civil War service left much to be desired (especially at the battle of South Mountain on September 14, 1862), died in March 1903. He was one of the longest living, high-ranking Federal officers of the war.
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Prospect Hill contains burials dating to the late 18th Century. . .
. . .and there are buried within the cemetery gates, veterans from all of America's wars.
Including the Revolution. . .
. . .and the War of 1812.
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Prospect Hill is even the final resting place of one of this nation's Founding Fathers: Philip Livingston, who signed the Declaration of Independence.
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The statuary and tombstones of Prospect Hill are incredible. . .

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View from atop Prospect Hill, looking over the city of York. . .

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Props. . .from Missouri

Turns out the Antietam National Battlefield (and yours truly) got a plug this past Sunday in the Columbia (Missouri) Daily Tribune's travel section.

The article, which dropped the "k" from Hoptak and replaced it with an "x," is copied below.

(Hoptax does sound pretty cool though. . .maybe I should develop some kind of tax software or some other kind of technological innovation?)

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Antietam: Civil War at a Crossroads
Published Sunday, November 16, 2008

ANTIETAM BATTLEFIELD, Md. - As the Civil War progressed, the North had lost a number of important battles to the outgunned and undermanned Confederate Army led by Gen. Robert E. Lee. Lee now made a move to invade the North and was headed for Pennsylvania in hopes that another victory would persuade the North to sue for peace. England and France were considering recognizing the Confederacy as a separate country, which meant trade could commence and the South could get supplies.
Thus, the battle at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, was fought at a critical period in the history not only of the United States but of the world. In the battle, 23,000 men were killed or wounded, the most of any battle of the Civil War.
McClellan, leader of the Union Army, had several factors in his favor: He had twice as many troops as Lee, and a Union soldier had found a copy of Lee’s battle plan. McClellan knew Lee had divided his troops and that it was time to strike.
A factor in Lee’s favor was that McClellan’s own officers did not have McClellan’s battle plan and had to wait for instructions, so the Union attacks were uncoordinated.
During the battle, Lee was on the heights and could see where the action was, enabling him to shift his troops to meet where an attack was occurring. McClellan was situated in a low place with no view of the battlefield and poor intelligence on what was happening.
This is a cliff-hanger of a story with many major characters. Park ranger John Hoptax, an excellent historian and storyteller, guided my tour group through this moment in time, spending more than three hours taking us through the buildup, the battle and the consequences.
The tour started in the glassed-in observation room of the visitor center, where we could see the layout of about two-thirds of the battlefield as Hoptax gave us the background. He then led the cars of 30 of us to three vantage points on the battlefield, where he gave a detailed explanation of how the battle developed. At the third point, Burnside’s Bridge, a thunderstorm commenced, and we finished the tour back at the Antietam Museum in front of large paintings of the battle scenes.
Although the battle was seen as a draw and President Abraham Lincoln was disappointed that McClellan did not follow up Lee’s retreat and end the war, the consequences were major. Lincoln now felt he could sign the Emancipation Proclamation with the goals of ending slavery and preserving the union. With the retreat of the Confederate Army, Britain and France did not recognize the Confederacy as a separate country, and no supplies were given.
Unfortunately, McClellan’s caution resulted in the war continuing for another two years, with many killed and crippled.
An excellent 30-minute film is shown about Lincoln’s visit to the battlefield shortly after the battle. Ostensibly he was there to review the troops but more likely to push McClellan into a more active pursuit of the Confederate Army. Because of McClellan’s failure to move, he was soon replaced by Gen. Henry Halleck, who turned out to be not much better.
Songs of the period sung during the movie were especially poignant, reflecting the emotions of the people on both sides during this trying time.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Colonel Childs, KIA at Antietam. . .

Fellow blogger and Civil War historian extraordinaire Eric Wittenberg has a great post on a forgotten Union cavalry leader, Colonel James Childs of the 4th Pennsylvania. Childs was one of just a handful of Federal cavalrymen to fall at Antietam, and was among the eleven regimental officers in the Army of the Potomac to lose his life during America's bloodiest single-day battle.
Click here to read more about the life of Colonel Childs.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Letters Home: George Gowen Wants Out. . .

While doing a bit of organizing this evening, I came across an interesting letter penned by George W. Gowen in early October 1862, just a few weeks after Antietam. At the time of this letter, Gowen, a civil mining engineer before the war, was serving as a lieutenant in Company C. He would soon be promoted to captain, and near the end of the war was the commanding officer of the 48th Pennsylvania. On April 2, 1865, one week before Lee's surrender at Appomattox, Gowen was struck in the face by a Confederate shell and killed instantly during the Army of the Potomac's final assaults on Petersburg. Gowen's body was taken to his native Germantown, Pennsylvania, for burial. It is interesting to note that one of George Washington Gowen's brothers was none other than Benjamin Franklin Gowen, the lead prosecuting attorney of the Molly Maguires.
Gowen led a fascinating life, and established a stellar wartime service record and in future posts I will focus more on Gowen's life and career(s). But for now, here is the contents of the early October, post-Antietam letter, in which he does not have too kind words for his fellow soldiers in the 48th Pennsylvania.
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Camp Near Anteitam Creek, Md
October 2nd 1862
Dear John!
I have been intending to write to you every day for a week, but ever since we have been in Camp, I have felt so miserably that I could not get up energy enough to do it. The lime stone water of this region does not agree with the troops and there is a great deal of sickness in Camp. The greater portion of the Army is on this side of the Potomac, yet I do not think it will be very long before a general move across the river will be made.
I passed through the late engagements at South Mountain and Antietam Creek safely--at the latter place our Division carried the stone bridge. Genl. Sturgis is our Division sommander now. We lost Jesse Reno at South Mountain--he was a gallant officer. Wherever the fray was thickest there was Reno to be found. He was always with us on the battle field. The soldiers became very much attached to him. When he fell he was just in rear of our Regiment. I am getting along pretty well, and expect to be made a Captain within a short time. Yet I often feel that I could be situated more pleasantly and have regretted a thousand times that I did not get a position in the Regular Army a year ago. You cannot imagine the difference between the two branches of the service--the four months I spent with Co "C" 1st [U.S.] Artillery were by far the pleasantest of the campaign--there are two or three very fine fellows in my Regiment, but when that is said, all is said. A position on a Staff is my ambition, as it is of most young officers. I notice by the papers that General Cadwalader has been made a Major General and is at present a member of the Court Martial about to convene at Washington. He has not yet been given a command--do you think there could be any prospect of my getting a position on his Staff? . . .
With much love to all
I remain your Affectionate Brother
George

Thursday, November 6, 2008

2009 Inaugural Theme: "A New Birth of Freedom"


Abraham Lincoln takes the Oath of Office for a second time in March 1865. . .

The theme for the inauguration of America's 44th President will be "A New Birth of Freedom," in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth. Said Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairperson of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies: "At a time when our country faces major challenges at home and abroad, it is appropriate to revisit the words of President Lincoln, who strived to bring the nation together by appealing to 'the better angels of our nature'." And, as she reminded, it "is especially fitting to celebrate the words of Lincoln as we prepare to inaugurate the first African-American president of the United States."
More information on the selection of "A New Birth of Freedom" for the upcoming, January 2009 Inauguration can be found here.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The 48th On Election Day 1864

On November 8, 1864, while in the trenches of Petersburg, the veterans of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry cast their votes for President of the United States.
The result, at least as far as the regiment was concerned, was easy to project.
When the vote was tallied, 200 soldiers cast their ballot for the incumbent president, Abraham Lincoln, or 87% of those who voted. George McClellan received 30 votes from the ranks of the 48th PA. That year, Abraham Lincoln received nearly 80% of the total soldiers' vote.
Interetingly, in Schuylkill County, where most of the 48th PA was recruited, Lincoln received 7,166 votes as compared to McClellan's 9,244.
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Tuesday, November 4, is Election Day. . .
VOTE!