Thursday, September 20, 2007

Manassas Visit. . .

The Jackson Monument at Manassas

Ranger Mannie and I shared our mutual day off from work on Wednesday with a visit to the Manassas Battlefield. We planned this little soiree several weeks back, figuring that we would need a little get-away after the busyness of Antietam’s Anniversary Weekend. Last year we journeyed to Fort Washington & Fort Foote, south of D.C., and stopped by Monocacy on our way home. This past spring, Mannie met me here in Gettysburg, and together we hiked Longstreet’s July 2, 1863, assault on the southern part of the field. So this was our third little Civil War excursion. . .
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We met in Frederick early in the morning, and by 9:45 A.M. had arrived at the Manassas Visitor Center. Paying the $3.00 entrance fee, we next enjoyed a fiber-optic map demonstration which briefly, but very clearly, explained the First Battle of Bull Run. The adjacent museum was top-notch.

Heading out to the battlefield. . .Our first stop was the Superman Statue—uhh, I mean Jackson Statue behind the visitor center. Keith Snyder, our colleague at Antietam, told us a few days back all about the statue being struck by lightning when he worked at Manassas. We were initially skeptical, but, wouldn’t you know it. . .
Check out Mannie’s blog (link at the bottom of this page) for photographic proof.
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It was a gloriously beautiful day, so, armed with our cameras and good pairs of hiking shoes, we set out on what proved to be a six, maybe seven, mile-long hike that took us from the Visitor Center to Jackson’s Line, to the Warrenton Turnpike, back to Jackson’s Line, over Young’s Branch, back across the Warrenton Turnpike, and then east we journeyed, finally arriving at the famous Stone Bridge over Bull Run.

The modern bridge just a few yards away detracted a bit from the historical ambiance of this battlefield landmark. . .but it was still pretty cool to be there.

Here's Mannie in the Bull Run, giving the old thumbs-up. . .

I think Mannie was standing exactly where this soldier allowed his horse to grab a much-needed drink.
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We followed the creek north to the ford where Sherman’s men crossed, then through the woods to the Carter Cemetery, and to Matthews Hill beyond, where the major action began on that Sunday, July 21, 1861. We learned of Burnside’s advance and of Evans’s noble stand. . .and we were impressed with tree-clearing activities that opened a large vista from Matthews Hill, south toward the Visitor Center on Henry House Hill.

Cannon on Matthews Hill

Mannie points to the high ground of Henry House Hill beyond

Wartime sketch of Ambrose Burnside leading his brigade on Matthews Hill

Here we see Mannie taking a close-up shot of one of these cannon. . .

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Making our way down the southern slope of Matthews Hill and toward the Warrenton Turnpike once again, we both snapped several shots of the famous Stone House, which, as a wayside panel informed us, was seen by tens of thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers and which survived not one but two major battles.

Wartime Photograph of the famous Stone House. . .

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Now feeling the effects of the many-miles’ long journey, we slowly tramped our way back up Henry House Hill, and saw the Judith Henry home, which did not fare as well as the Stone House during the battle.

The Henry House. . .home to the 85-year-old Judith Henry who became one of the war's first civilian casualties.

This monuments was dedicated in June 1865, just months after the guns fell silent, and even before most of the volunteers were mustered out of service. . .

The Monument's Dedication
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More photographs were taken here, followed by a brief pit stop at the Visitor Center. We had a notion when the day began to focus on the Second Battle of Bull Run, but we focused, instead, on the war’s first major land battle. Never had the battle made more sense; everything just fell into place.
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My ’94 Oldsmobile led us toward the scene of much of the Second Battle. Along the way, I showed Mannie, ad neauseum, where Nagle’s Brigade and the men of the 48th attacked Jackson’s line. . .

We made a brief stop at the Confederate Cemetery at Groveton, then checked out the new Stuart’s Hill interpretative center. . .It was pretty cool, and we both agreed we would have to come back to hike the Second Battle’s trails. . .

266 Confederate soldiers were buried here; only 2 are identified. . .

A view from Stuart's Hill. . .if you squint, you can see the Brawner Farm in the distance

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Before heading out for the day, we swung by the Unfinished Railroad Cut. Now, earlier in the day, when we first arrived, we were told about tree-removing going on at the Deep Cut, and boy, they weren’t kidding. Again, check out Mannie’s post for photos of this and for more particulars about their efforts.

The men of Nagle's Brigade--including the 48th PA--broke through the Confederate line here, along this unfinished railroad cut. . .We couldn't do much hiking here even if we wanted to, for it was closed due to the tree removal. . .

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A few more stops, including the spot where the 5th &10th New York Zouave regiments met with slaughter, and then to Chinn Ridge, where I cautioned many a deer to be careful on the park’s roads.

The Monument to the 5th New York (Duryee's Zouaves)
The Monument to the 10th New York

I told these guys they had best be careful. . .
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We headed back to Frederick in the afternoon, arriving there by 4:15 P.M. I was back home in Gettysburg an hour later; Mannie, no doubt, making it back to his place much sooner.

In all, it was a great trip, and we learned a great deal. I told Mannie throughout that my impression of Manassas had changed almost from the minute we arrived. I have only been there a half dozen times or so growing up; the last time was maybe six or seven years ago. In my mind, I remembered it as a battlefield surrounded by sprawl and development, but this, to me, no longer seems to be the case. They really got a great place down there, and there is a lot of the battlefield that still remains protected.

Before parting ways, we agreed that our next little excursion would be to tramp the gaps at South Mountain. . .Turner’s, Fox’s, and Crampton’s. We set a tentative date for sometime in October.

Click here to read Mannie’s report on our Manassas Visit:

Monday, September 17, 2007

One Incredible & Truly Memorable Event

The New York State Monument at Antietam
The past four days have been without question some of the greatest and most memorable of my life. Beginning Friday, September 14, and concluding today, the Antietam National Battlefield observed and commemorated the 145th Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. The weather was clear and beautiful, and the mood at the park reflective. The battlefield was serene. We had programs all weekend, from the battlefield tours, to in-depth hikes, and from special presentations to living history demonstrations, it was truly an incredible four days. In the words of Ranger Keith Snyder, a veteran of the Park Service, it was the best anniversary he had yet experienced at Antietam.
And I felt honored, indeed, still feel honored, to have been a part of it all.

The marquis behind the Visitor Center desk was crowded with all of our events. This was Saturday's schedule, but the anniversary's events kicked off the day before.
Friday, September 14, was my birthday. And what better way to usher in my 29th year than helping to explain the battle of Antietam to visitors during a three-hour long battlefield tour? This photo of me was snapped by blogger and Civil War author Scott Mingus as I interpreted the action that transpired at the Sunken Road. (
I had a large group on Friday, maybe as high as 80-90 people. I checked my watch and turned 29, officially, at 3:15 p.m., as I led the tour past the Benjamin Christ monument, on our way to the Burnside Bridge.

Early Saturday morning, Ranger Gordie Thorpe was leading the interactive Battlefield in a Box program as, just a few feet away. . .

the incomparable Ed Bearrs was beginning a battlefield tour. Ed presented a lecture on General Lee's leadership during the Maryland Campaign on Friday night, and he remained at the battlefield throughout the weekend, leading many a tour.
Dr. Ethan Rafuse, author of the excellent book McClellan's War, spoke Saturday night on General George B. McClellan at Antietam.

On Saturday morning, I accompanied Ranger Mike Gamble on his in-depth hike that followed in the footsteps of General Bull Sumner's Second Corps. He led us first toward the East Woods, and then across the fields to the West Woods, where John Sedgwick's Division met with terrible slaughter.
Here, Ranger Gamble explains the deployment of Sedgwick's men before entering the West Woods. . .We then approached the Sunken Road in the footsteps of first William French's and then Israel Richardson's Division.

I had the battlefield tour Saturday afternoon, so I had to break away early from Mike's excellent hike. I returned to the Visitor Center late that afternoon, but early enough to witness some of the Living History events.

As always, the living history groups presented excellent interpretative programs. They set up camp behind the Dunker Church, and there helped to explain the life of the common soldiers. After marching their way behind the visitor center, they presented infantry maneuvering and firing demonstrations. Above, we see a skirmish line "in action," and Confederate reenactors going through the steps of loading in nine times.

The army was on hand to witness and to take part in the events.

Throughout the weekend, I had the opportunity to meet with a lot of cool people, including Brian Downey, mastermind of Antietam on the Web ( This photograph was snapped by Harry Smeltzer, the brains behind Bull Runnings. (
Harry recruited me to write an article on the life and forgotten service of General James Nagle for an upcoming issue of the Save Historic Antietam (SHAF) newsletter. I look forward to it greatly. . .

Of course the break room was a bit messy during the very hectic weekend, but an ample supply of provisions was on hand. . .

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Incredible though the weekend was, the highlight for me came today. Today marks the 145th year since the battle of Antietam, and I had the great privilege--the great honor--of leading the battlefield tour. For me, it simply does not get any better; to be out there, leading the tour on the anniversary itself. It was a moving and memorable experience. During this past spring and summer, I have led 54 battlefield tours. But while I always strive to deliver the best tour possible each and every time, today's tour was much more meaningful. I had a group of over 75 visitors, who traveled from all points--north, south, east, and west--to be at the battlefield today. As I talked about the battle at the Cornfield, the Sunken Road, and the Burnside Bridge, I had a difficult time keeping the tears back. I swelled up many times, and I have no shame in admitting to it. It was the best moment I have yet experienced as a ranger at the Antietam Battlefield. At the end, to cap off a perfect weekend, I was approached by a gentleman who was on my tour. He was younger, maybe in his mid twenties, and was very much enthralled to be at Antietam. He shook my hand, and congratulated me on a well-delivered tour. He then told me that he was descended from not one, but two, Civil War Medal of Honor recipients. What made it truly inspiring was that the fact that he was African American, and one of his ancestors was Sergeant William Carney, who saved the flag of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry at the battle of Fort Wagner. This was, to me, remarkable. At Antietam, where America truly experienced its "new birth of freedom," on the 145th Anniversary of the battle, I got to meet and shake hands with a descendant of a true American hero.
It was the perfect ending to an incredible and never-to-be-forgotten weekend.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Gettysburg. . .It's A Whole New Place

Before moving here in October 2004, I sojourned to the Gettysburg Battlefield well over four score and seven times. Interesting enough, it seems that I visited the actual battlefield more when I was not living here, but every now and then, I make my way out to tramp over the hallowed ground. And lately it seems like every I do so, well, it seems like a whole new place. The National Park Service here is taking monumental steps to restore the battlefield to its 1863 appearance, and if you haven't been to Gettysburg for a while, be prepared for some changes.

I snapped a few photographs the last time I was out. . .mainly of the southern portion of the battlefield. . .
Construction on the new Gettysburg Visitor Center seems to be moving right along. . .
Still scheduled to open in April 2008. . . Now, this to me is remarkable. This is the new vista one can gain from the western side of the Devil's Den. With more and more trees cleared away, one can see all the way out to the Emmitsburg Road. . .
Another view west from the Triangular Field. . .
I was glad to see the sword back on the monument to Colonel Van Horne Ellis of the 124th New York. . .
One more view from Devil's Den looking toward the point where General John B. Hood launched his attack on July 2, 1863. . .
This to me is really incredible. . .Here is a shot looking east, toward Devil's Den. With the trees gone, one can see what stood ahead of Hood' men before beginning their attack.
Another view looking east up Devil's Den, and Little Round Top beyond. . .
They're hard at work replanting the Peach Orchard. I understand the new Peach Orchard will be three times the size of the one I am accustomed to. . . That's the Rose Farm in the background.

Again from Devil's Den. . .clearing more trees

It's a whole new place. . .

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Soldiers of the 48th: Private Robert Wood, Co. F

Private Robert Wood
Company F

Since I launched this blog last November, I have been contacted by a good number of descendants of soldiers who served in the 48th Pennsylvania, all of them very generous in sharing with me information on their ancestor. A few weeks ago I was contacted by a descendant of Private Robert Wood, who not only shared her information about the soldier but sent along a photograph of him as well.
Robert Wood was born in Pottsville in either 1838 or 1839. He was young when his family moved to Danville, and it was here that Robert would grow to maturity. He found work at the Montour Iron Works, where he was injured by a boiler explosion at the age of 13. When the Civil War broke out in April 1861, Robert, now 22 years old, volunteered his services. He stood 5'4" in height, had a "Light" complexion, "Grey" eyes, and "Sandy" hair. He enlisted as a private in Company F. Private Wood served with the regiment along the coast of North Carolina throughout the winter of 1861 and into the summer of 1862. He fought at 2nd Bull Run and at South Mountain, but by this point, he had fallen seriously ill. Private Wood spent a long time at army hospitals before finally being discharged for "general disability" on February 3, 1863. He returned to Danville and to the Mountour Iron Works for a time. He was suffering from consumption, and he applied for a pension, which was denied. It was decided that Robert's condition was caused by the boiler accident when he was just 13 years old. Robert appealed the decision, and was able to secure an affidavit from his doctor who stated that Robert's illness was caused by his wartime service. During the appeal, Robert's condition got worse. He died in Danville on January 10, 1868. He was not yet thirty years old at the time of his death. Elizabeth Wood, Robert's wife, received a pension following the death of her service, which she received every month until her death in 1926.
{I would like to thank Ms. Anne Lowery for her generosity in sharing this information with me as well as the photograph of her ancestor, Private Robert Wood}