Thursday, December 24, 2009

Looking Back. . .Looking Ahead



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2009 will soon be no more. And with yet another year coming to an end, I cannot help but look back on the year that was. . .and look ahead to the year that will be. Both personally and professionally, 2009 was in many ways a memorable year. On a professional level, June 25 of this past year witnessed the start of my fourth season as a ranger at Antietam National Battlefield. Even after all these years, I still find it hard to believe how fortunate I am to work in one of America's best National Parks doing what I truly love to do and to work alongside some of the best rangers the nation has to offer.






In addition to daily interpretative presentations--talks and tours--I also had the great privilege of helping to lead this year's Battle Anniversary Hikes on September 17. The day began with a steady pour, and although the rain did eventually end, the day remained cloudy and overcast. No matter; it was a rewarding and humbling experience, and one I will long remember.

I will also never forget the great honor I had in 2009 working at the January 20 inauguration of President Barack Obama. . .


. . . and the December 3 National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the White House Ellipse. Both of these were memorable events, ones I will surely tell the grandkids about. . .someday.

(Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
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In 2009, my efforts to restore the 48th Pennsylvania Monument at Antietam took gigantic steps forward. Through the generosity of scores of individuals and organizations, I am happy to say that the money for this project has been raised and that artist/sculptor Michael Kraus is, at this moment, working on completing the sword. I am beginning to plan a rededication ceremony, which I hope will take place sometime in early April 2010.

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I kept myself busy while away from the battlefield this year working on a number of projects. In July, my book on Schuylkill County soldiers at the battles of South Mountain and Antietam was published. I must thank everyone for their kind reviews, including Mike Noirot, who was kind enough to conduct a book interview for his website This Mighty Scourge. You can listen to the interview here, and read some of the reviews here and here.



In addition to Our Boys Did Nobly, 2009 also witnessed the publication of They Will Be Remembered By A Grateful People: Civil War Heroes of Schuylkill County, a book designed for a younger audience, and illustrated by Jared Frederick.



(Thanks, Jared, for your great work. I am hoping we can work together again).

Lastly, my book on Antietam Trivia "hit the shelves" back in April of this year.
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Yes, 2009 was, indeed, a memorable year, both on the battlefield and off. And no reflection on the year that was would be complete without mentioning that in early November, the World Series title returned to the Bronx when my Yankees beat the Phillies in six.
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With the year now at an end, I am looking forward to 2010. I am happy to announce that my book Antietam: September 17, 1862, published by the Western Maryland Interpretative Association will be out, hopefully, in the Spring. Also, an article I penned on Nicholas Biddle and the First Defenders will be published in the Spring 2010 issue of Pennsylvania Heritage magazine. I am currently working on a few other projects, including one with one of my Antietam colleagues and Ten Roads Publishing, but I'll keep the topic a mystery for now.

Finally, I want to thank all my readers out there who take the time out of their busy lives to stop on by this blog. It's been more than three years since I first launched this blog, and I can only hope that you enjoy reading it half as much as I enjoy posting.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Gettysburg Winter Wonderland



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Growing up in the mountainous coal regions of east-central Pennsylvania, I am accustomed to wintry weather. . .but it has been a long time since I've seen a snowfall such as today's. By the time I awoke at 6:00 a.m., there was already several inches and by noon, well, about a foot of the white stuff has fallen. The older I get, the more I can do without this kind of weather. . .but it sure is pretty. With the snow falling and winds a-blowing, I braved the elements and headed out to get some photos of today's winter wonderland.

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A deserted town square. . .
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Just to give you an idea of its depth, here snow obscures an interpretative wayside panel.
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Entrance to the Gettysburg National Cemetery Annex.
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The 55th Ohio Monument at the intersection of Steinwehr Avenue & Taneytown Road
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Ziegler's Grove and the General Alexander Hays Monument
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Looking south down Hancock Avenue at the Bliss Farm
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The 111th New York Infantry Monument
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General George Meade Equestrian Monument on Cemetery Ridge
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Looking southwesterly toward the Angle
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The 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry monument
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The Copse of Trees
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Snow falling around the statue to Brigadier General Alexander Webb
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The Maryland Monument. . .
With visibility now almost gone and soaked to the bone, I decided to head on home. I'll be thawing out for quite some time to come.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The 48th Pennsylvania at Fredericksburg

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This Sunday, December 13, will mark the 147th Anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg. With nearly 18,000 casualties, it was a terribly bloody and savage fight. Although the battle extended well beyond the Federal assaults against Marye's Heights, much popular thought centers solely on these attacks, with the forlorn charges of the Irish Brigade and, to a lesser degree, Humphreys's Fifth Corps Division capturing the lionshare of historical memory. Lost in most traditional interpretations of the battle was the attack made by the Ninth Army Corps, commanded at Fredericksburg by Brigadier General Orlando Willcox. Yet their attack against Marye's Heights was no less valiant. Total Ninth Corps casualties at Fredericksburg exceeded 1,300. The 48th Pennsylvania lost 51 men killed, wounded, and missing.

The following are several accounts written by soldiers of the 48th, describing their experiences at Fredericksburg:



Sergeant Joseph Gould, Co. F:


"On the 11th of December a heavy artillery duel took place, and the troops on our side of the [Rappahannock] river were moving towards the bank ready to cross. Our brigade did not take any part in the movement until the 12th, when we crossed the river on a pontoon bridge opposite the city, and lay in the streets all that day and night. The shells from the enemy were exploding all around us while occupying this position, and quite a number of the regiment were disabled. On the 13th our brigade, now consisting of the 48th Pennsylvania, 2nd Maryland, 6th and 9th New Hampshire and 7th Rhode Island, was ordered to the assault at 2 p.m. Prior to this we had been in an exposed position, the right wing lying up one street northward and the left wing on another street eastward. Directly in front of the right wing was a large brick barn, behind which [division commander] Gen. Sturgis and staff were standing, until a solid shot came flying clean through the walls, scattering the bricks and debris in all directions, and with is scattered the general and his staff."


Sergeant William J. Wells, Co. F:




"Just prior to this incident, while General Sturgis was seated upon a camp stool and leaning against the barn, General Ferrero, commanding the 2nd Brigade of his division, came in from the front, much excited, and told Sturgis that his brigade was all cut up, and demanded to know why in the hell he did not send them reenforcements. Sturgis replied: 'Oh, I guess not, General, keep cool; take a little of this,' lifting the canteen to his lips. While so engaged, the shot came through the barn, just over his head, but he never lowered it until he had finished his drink; then, handing the canteen to Ferrero, he rose, went to the corner of the barn, looked over the field, and then said to Col. [Joshua] Sigfried [commanding the 48th], who was standing near, 'Now is your time, Colonel. Go in.'"


'Attention! Right face! Forward, march!' and the 48th moved quickly to the right, until the barn was uncovered, when the Colonel commanded: 'By the left flank; march,' and the regiment swung into line, rapidly marching to the front, then to the right, then again to the front, when we halted, the right companies finding themselves for a short time lying flat on their faces behind a frame house and a long pale fence, while grape and canister played a tattoo through the same. We had been carried too far to the right and could not advance farther to the front from that position. Up again, then to the left until the house was cleared, then by the front; forward, with a rush, into shelter under the brow of a slight elevation, when our advanced was impeded by a mass of men, many deep, seeking similar shelter. Here we stayed doing sharpshooting, picking off the officers and gunners from the batteries upon the heights until nightfall, when we were withdrawn under the cover of darkness."



Sergeant Gould:
"It has been truly said that only those who participated in the contest know much and how little they heard. We remember how the smoke, the woods, and the inequalities of the ground limited our vision when we had the leisure to look about us, and how every faculty was absorbed in our work; how the deafening noise made it impossible to hear orders; what ghastly sights we saw, as men fell near us, and how peacefully they sank to rest when a bullet reached a vital spot. [Sergeant August] Farrow and [Private David] Griffiths of Company F stood in the ranks to deliver their fire, though repeatedly commanded to lie down, until Griffiths was shot through the left lung and carried to the rear. Wounded men shrieked and others lay quiet; the singing and whistling of the balls from the muskets was incessant; and we knew very little of what was going on a hundred yards to the right or left. Participants in real fighting know how limited and confused are their recollections of the work, after it has become hot. All efforts to dislodge the enemy were unsuccessful, and the losses very heavy. Night put an end to the contest, and, having exhausted our ammunition, we were relieved by the 12th Rhode Island regiment and marched back to town. Cannon and musketry fire ceased their roar, and in a few moments the silence of death succeeded the stormy fury of the ten hours' battle. We were soon fast asleep in the streets of the town, tired out."


Brigadier General James Nagle, Commanding 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 9th Corps:
"From 12:30 p.m. until 2:30 p.m., the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteers was held in reserve. It was the ordered to the front. The men marched under a most galling fire like true veterans. The whole of my brigade remained in the front until after sixty rounds of ammunition had been expended, and until they were relieved by other troops. . . ."


Colonel Joshua K. Sigfried, Commanding the 48th Pennsylvania, to the Miners' Journal, 12/16/1862:
"We bivouacked in the street on the right of the city the preceding night; towards noon on the 13th marched toward the left and to the support of the 2nd Brigade of same Division. At one o'clock P.M., received orders from General Nagle to march to the open field in the rear of the city, when my regiment was kept in reserve (while the rest of our brigade marched forward) until half-past two o'clock, when General Sturgis ordered me to forward my command to assist in repelling a charge the enemy was about making on our line. We started and went at double-quick (a distance of half a mile) under a most terrific fire of shell, grape and cannister from the enemy's batteries. Arriving at the hill (about four hundred yards from the enemy's breastworks), I was requested by Colonel Clark, of the 21st Massachusetts Volunteers, to relieve his regiment; their ammunition was nearly expended; I did so; when we remained on the crest of the hill until our ammunition was exhausted (sixty rounds per man), when Colonel Brown, of the 12th Rhode Island Volunteers, relieved us. At dusk the hill became crowded, and seeing other regiments still coming up, Colonel Clark and myself concluded best to return to the city for ammunition, and give room for fresh troops to get under the shelter of the hill.
"Too much praise cannot be given to all the soldiers (and the following officers who were in the battle, viz: Lieut-Colonel Pleasants, Major J. Wren, Adjutant D.D. McGinnes, Captains U.A. Bast, G.W. Gowen, Winlack, Hoskings, O.C. Bosbyshell, J.A. Gilmour, John R. Porter, Isaac Brennan, and Lieutenants H. Boyer, Eveland, John Wood, Humes, Chas. Loeser, Jr., Bohannan, Fisher, James, Williams, Jackson, Pollock, A. Bowen, Schuck, Douty, and Stitzer), for their gallantry during the entire engagement. Their line was steady and unbroken while advancing under the most murderous shelling of the enemy, and their fire deliberate, well-aimed and effective.
"I deeply sympathize with the families and friends of those who have fallen, but it is a source of great gratification to know that they fell while gallantly defending a just and holy cause."

General Burnside Talking With General W.B. Franklin at Fredericksburg

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48th Pennsylvania Casualties at Fredericksburg


Killed

Private James Williams, Co. A
Corporal Reuben Robinson, Co. B
Private Michael Divine, Co. B
Private John Williams, Co. B
Private William Hill, Co. B
Sergeant Henry Williamson, Co. D
Private Thomas Kinney, Co. D

Wounded

Company A: Joseph B. Carter, William F. Heiser
Company B: Sergeant Nelson W. Major, William Brown, Clement Betzler, Carey Heaton, Philip Carling, Lieutenant John S. Wood
Company C: Corporal Henry Weiser, Samuel Harrison, Charles Walker, Andrew Scott, Michael McLaughlin, John Murray
Company D: Corporal John H. Derr, H.C. Burkholder

H.C. Burkholder, Co. D


Company E: Robert Hughes, Edward Murphy, John Sunderland, Corporal Michael Sandy, Corporal Samuel Clemens

Company F: David Griffiths, Evan Thomas, William Fulton

David Griffiths

Company G: Sergeant James C. Nies, Daniel Donne, John Tobin

Daniel Donne

Company H: Captain Joseph A. Gilmour, Corporal Alba C. Thompson, Valentine Kinswell



Joseph A. Gilmour

Company I: Sergeant Francis D. Koch, Corporal James Miller, Wilson Kerns, Edward F. Shappelle, Jacob Gongloff, Charles E. Weaver, Anthony Beltz, Joseph Gilbert, Elias Faust

Company K: John Currey, Thomas Currey, Frank Simon, Michael Delaney

Missing

George Airgood, Co. A