Thursday, July 15, 2010

Civil War Tour '10. . .


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Every year, sometimes several times a year, I take little Civil War day trips. It might seem strange, considering that I live within a stones' throw of Gettysburg and work at Antietam, that to "get away from it all" I take these little history-filled jaunts. Yet, it is these little forays that remind me just how fortunate I am to be doing what I love. They also help to rekindle that spark felt when I was young, when my parents took me to one battlefield after the next, on our family vacations.
Yesterday's trip was a whirlwind tour of the heart of Civil War Virginia. . .leaving my place early in the morning, I next headed down to Antietam to pick up two friends, who just happen to be colleagues of mine at the park and, like me, big Civil War nerds. 450+ miles later, Holly, Dan, and myself blazed a path from Fredericksburg through Chancellorsville and the Wilderness, and from Spotsylvania, back to Fredericksburg, along Route 3 west again past Salem Church to Culpeper (we at least saw Cedar Mountain from the car), and back up 15, passing Brandy Station, Manassas, and Ball's Bluff before heading back across South Mountain, back to Antietam. Talk about a Civil War-centered trip!
The following are just a few of the photos I snapped on what was a great day, spent with two great friends. . .
First up, Fredericksburg. . .


. . .where we peered into the Innis House along the Sunken Road at the base of Marye's Heights to see the dozens of bullet holes still on the interior wall.
We next hiked up the Marye's Heights Trail, where a cool view of the same Innis House was seen.

The trail ends at the top of the heights, and at the National Cemetery, which during the battle served as a Confederate artillery position. In all of my half-dozen or so times visiting this cemetery, I have yet to locate the graves of any 48th soldiers buried therein. There are quite a few, including Lieutenant Henry Clay Jackson, Co. G, who was killed on May 12, 1864 at the battle of Spotsylvania.



We paid a visit to the statue of Major General Andrew Humphreys, who held a commission in almost every corps of the Army of the Potomac by war's end!

Not wanting to spend too much time in Fredericksburg--ostensibly, our trip was focused on Spotsylvania--we headed back to the parking lot, even bypassing the bookstore, and then traveled west toward Chancellorsville. Before getting there, though, we stopped by to see the ruins of the Chancellor House. . .

Here, Holly & Dan did their best impression of Union General Joseph Hooker when, during the battle, he was knocked senseless by a shattered pillar. Yes, I would imagine it looked something like that. . .

We pulled into the Chancellorsville Battlefield and, after a quick sweep through the museum and bookstore, we strolled around the Visitor Center and found the spot where Confederate General Thomas J. Jackson was shot, falling from his horse like a brickwall.


It was in this field where Lee "lost his right arm."

We then decided to finally go to Spotsylvania (it was already after 1:00p.m., by this point). Along the way, however, we, of course, got sidelined once again. . .this time at the Wilderness, where we drove the little driving tour loop and did some hiking to see the new, or at least newer, Vermont Brigade Monument.



We were once again on the road, now finally resolved to head south toward Spotsylvania. But not so fast. We noticed that the famed Lacy House, Elwood, was open so. . .well, when in Rome. I am very glad we stopped because this is a pretty cool place. Owned by the Park Service, it is operated by the Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield and staffed by a few knowledgeable and friendly volunteers who took us around the property and through the restored rooms. There is a great interactive display in the living room. I cannot recommend highly enough stopping by this home next time you're traveling in the area. It is well worth it. Before that time, however, check out the website for the Friends organization here.
This impressive house was visited by a veritable who's who of the Civil War in the East. Everyone from Lee to Grant, to Ambrose Burnside and Gouvernuer Warren, who used it as his headquarters during the battle of the Wilderness.

A few shots of the inside. . . .

Out back, of course, is the final resting place of Stonewall Jackson's left arm, so, yes, we doffed our caps, bowed our heads in a moment of silence, and paid our respects. Legend has it that an inebriated President Warren Harding along with one of his friends, wanting to know for sure if the arm was, indeed, buried there, dug it up. When they discovered that it was, they had it re-buried with full military honors. Again, just a legend. . .or is it?
Holly & Dan show they have at least "one arm up" on old Tom Fool Jackson. . .

At last, we were back in the Mazda and, finally, heading down to Spotsylvania. I wanted to stop at Todd's Tavern, but decided to just point it out as we passed on by. . .

Sometime around 3:30, we arrived at our destination. Here, we did some hikes. First up was Laurel Hill, scene of heavy fighting from May 8-12.

Laurel Hill can be seen behind the monument here, which marks the location where Union Sixth Corps Commander John Sedgwick lost his life.




Our next hike was around the Mule Shoe salient. Before embarking on this little trek, I had to stop to capture this quintessential Spotsylvania photograph. . .

With evening descending, and knowing that traffic would be a nightmare had we left from there, we decided to head on back into Fredericksburg. We strolled the downtown, only to discover that most of the businesses close at 5:00. So, not to be denied more Civil War expeditions, we crossed the Rappahannock and saw one of my favorite Civil War sites, the Chatham house, where Ambrose Burnside made his headquarters during the battle of Fredericksburg. It is an amazing place.


The house is impressive enough, but the gardens are just as incredible.



Having packed in all we possibly could in just one day, we started the long drive back, stopping at Denny's first to enjoy a Grand Slam breakfast. . .at 7:00p.m. Two and a half hours later, we arrived back at Antietam; one hour yet remained for me before I returned home. Still, despite the time spent in the car, and the hundreds of miles, it was a fun day.
With spirit renewed and energies refreshed, I am looking forward to the next Civil War foray.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Sgt. Hugh Koch, Co. I, 48th PA; Or, Just Another Reason Why I Love My Job

I was reminded today of yet another reason why I love my job. . .
While doing my battlefield tours, and while I wait for the crowd to gather, I always try to make a little small talk. One of my tricks is to simply ask folks as they're arriving where they are traveling from, and whenever I hear Pennsylvania, I ask what parts, usually following this up by saying that I am originally from Schuylkill County. Today, again, I did this same routine while waiting for what was a rather large 70+ size crowd to gather at the Cornfield. Fast forward an hour and a half, and at the conclusion of the tour, a gentleman approached and asked: "Did I hear you say you were from Schuylkill County?" "Yes," I said. He then proceeded to tell me that his ancestors were from Schuylkill County, and that his Great-Great Grandfather fought in the Civil War. "Really?" I asked, "Do you what regiment?" And, of course, his reply: "48th Pennsylvania. Company I."
Now, I've been at Antietam for five years and this is only the third of fourth time this has happened. But what made today so much more remarkable was that the visitor actually had a photograph of his ancestor. Excitedly, yet still trying to maintain a degree of professionalism while in uniform, I eagerly asked to have a look. . .
Better than this, the visitor provided me with a copy. The original daguerreotype has been in his family's possession for the past 150 years and has never before been seen, except by the family.
Aside from the photograph being of not one, but two soldiers of Co. I, 48th, it is, without a doubt, one of the coolest Civil War photographs I have ever seen. Have a close look at how they modified their uniforms to give a unique look. The seated fella even has a pistol tucked under his belt, and is wearing an officer's buckle. The man standing, Sergeant Hugh Koch, made some kind of fancy lapels out of his sack coat. Even their sergeant's stripes are modified.
Have a close look. . .



Sergeant Hugh Koch is standing. I have yet to identify the seated soldier, but I am investigating. Because of the 'veteran's stripe' on their trousers, I'm betting that this picture was taken in early 1864, after the regiment re-enlisted and went home on a thirty-day furlough.
Born on December 18, 1826, Hugh Koch enlisted in Company I, 48th PA, on August 15, 1861. He was 34 at the time of his enlistment, stood 5'6" in height, had a Light Complexion, Brown Hair, and Brown Eyes. He was, by occupation, a Butcher from Ringtown. Koch served throughout the four years of the war, re-enlisting in late 1863, and mustered out as a "Veteran" on July 17, 1865. He died on August 26, 1885, at the age of 59, and was buried in McKeansburg, just a few miles outside my home town of Orwigsburg.
The gentleman's willingness to share this photograph really made my day. It also has my wondering how many more of these photographs, still in family collections, are still out there. . .