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This is the archive for May 2009

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A couple of posts ago I mentioned my role as a volunteer with Gettysburg’s “Adopt a Position” program in keeping the site around the 18th Massachusetts’ monument on Sickles Avenue looking presentable. What I didn’t mention was that on April 17th I was one of ten volunteers from the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association who helped cut a 600 yard trial from the base of a ravine situated on River Road, at Shepherdstown, West Virginia, up a very steep slope, that rose about 50 to 60 feet above the road, and finally settled into level ground.

Our group divided into two, one working its way from the bottom and toward the top, while my group had the easier task, as we essentially worked on level ground, which extended from the top of what amounted to cliffs and wound it’s way back to open farm land. The purpose in clearing a path was to allow graduate history students from the University of West Virginia to post markers for a planned podcast, detailing the battle at various stops, that will be in place by the beginning of June. The SBPA has been very fortunate in obtaining permission from various landowners allowing access to that portion of the Shepherdstown battlefield.

Even though I had visited the site a number of times, I had never been on top of the cliffs and thus never had the opportunity to see where the First Brigade of the First Division of the Fifth Corps had climbed those same cliffs on September 20, 1862 and formed in line of battle on the farmland above. I had ventured onto the farmland from another direction in the past, although I have to admit I had done so by ignoring “No Trespassing” signs. I was told when we reached the very end of path we had cleared, that this was the area where the 118th Pennsylvania had braced itself before being routed by A.P. Hill’s brigades. “My dead guys,” the 18th Massachusetts, were further to the right, on what is, again, private property, and currently not accessible. It was humbling to be there, knowing that very few of the general public has had that opportunity over the past 146 years.

When we had completed that work, we then moved back down the ravine. When I mentioned steep, I wasn’t kidding and I couldn’t imagine a hurried, every man for themselves, lemming-like scramble to the road below. The steepness explained why men, particularly those of the 118th Pennsylvania, the last Union regiment to withdraw, lost their footing and plunged into trees or even the road below in their attempt to escape the hail of bullets raining down on them from Confederates muskets at the top of the cliffs.

Our group then moved across the road and worked to cut a 50-yard path along the Potomac, which led to the ruins of an old Cement Mill, where members of the 118th tried to take refuge and were subjected to errant fire by Union artillerists from across the river. A.P. Hill, himself, described the shelling as the most devastating he had encountered to that point in the war.

Note to self: someday I’ll find my pictures of Shepherdstown. Stupid computer. Stupid digital photography. Stupid me for forgetting which drive I have them stored on.

Keeping my spirit of volunteerism alive, this past Saturday I answered the call to help in a cleanup at Ft. Stevens in Washington. Ft. Stevens, as a quick refresher, is where Abraham Lincoln came under fire from Confederate sharpshooters during Jubal Early’s raid. Although legend has it that Lt. Oliver Wendall Holmes shouted “Get down you old fool,” according to Park Ranger Ron Harvey, there were at least nine others who also warned Lincoln. Holmes is the only one who made it into the history books, though.

This was light work in comparison to Shepherdstown. Our ten member group fanned out picking up paper, some broken glass, flattened soda cans, and twigs. I myself found a child’s shoe, while Ron deposited an abandoned pair of pants into his trash bag. We didn’t find evidence of the needles, syringes, or crack pipes that we had been warned to expect. We also made quick work of clearing debris, mostly grass clippings, from the concrete gun emplacements.

Fort Stevens is the only surviving remnant of forts and battery emplacements that once ringed Washington. Forts Reno, Du Russey, Foote, Stanton, Rickets, Dupont, Chaplin, Bunker Hill, Totton, Slocum, Davis, Greble, Mahan,Bayard, Kemble, Corcoran, and Marcy have all disappeared from the Washington landscape, most covered by houses or other buildings, while a few, which have been preserved as open urban spaces, bear no testimonial to their past aside from their names.

Fort Stevens is in little or no danger of being lost. To the contrary there is money being funneled to restore the fort closer to its original condition. The last restoration, completed in 1937 by a Work’s Progress Administration work crew, features cement retaining walls, shaped like logs, on two sides to simulate the fort’s interior walls. That same crew also rebuilt the magazine house by mounding ten feet of dirt and propping a door against the dirt to suggest the entrance. The current plan is to replace all the cement with wood.

The 145th anniversary of the battle will be commemorated on July 11th with re-enactors sweating like pigs in their wool uniforms under what historically promises to be a scorching sun. Hopefully the Fort will still look as good as when we left it on Saturday.

Monday, May 25, 2009

On Fame’s eternal camping-ground
Their silents tents are spread,
And Glory guards, with solemn round,
The bivouac of the dead.

Theodore O’Hara

Andersonville National Cemetery

Antietam National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery

Balls Bluff National Cemetery

Battleground National Cemetery

Cold Harbor National Cemetery

Gettysburg National Cemetery

Glendale National Cemetery

Loudon Park National Cemetery

Melrose Cemetery, Brockton, MA

Richmond National Cemetery

Grace Episcopal Church, Silver Spring, MD

To the Memory of
Confederate Dead
Who Fell In Front of
Washington, D.C.

July 12, 1864

By Their

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The following is from C-Span’s Book TV interview with James McPherson, which was taped at his very modest split level home in Princeton, New Jersey and originally aired in October 2008, shortly after publication of “Tried By War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief.” I happened to catch a rebroadcast while at a Lexington, Virginia motel in March.

When writing McPherson tends to be “a morning person.” He organizes notes on 5 x 8 cards, putting the date in the upper left hand corner with a descriptive heading and “tries to be careful in putting a quotation in quotation marks.” He “arranges notes by category” and admits to being “old fashioned. I’m not a computer person.” He does the first draft in long hand. “I’ve always done it that way. It feels more comfortable.” How long he works depends, but he may write for six to eight hours at a sitting. It’s “typical” for him to work through the morning and into the afternoon. If he doesn’t have information on hand he can find it at the Princeton University library. “I’ve never gotten accustomed to the Internet”… “No, no Google in “Tried by War.””

After completing ten chapters in long hand, he then goes through the manuscript carefully, making notes on the page in long hand, before starting a typewritten second draft. He’s “discovered the basic infrastructure of the first draft remains pretty intact." He sends a third draft to the publisher or editor, who review and make suggestions to add material. He receives good editorial help and suggestions from colleagues.

McPherson does virtually all his typing on an “old Olympian typewriter,” a machine he bought second hand in 1980. He’ll sometimes use a computer for shorter essays, but “likes the rhythm of things using a typewriter.

“The beginning of a book is the most important and what draws the reader in. It’s also the most difficult to write.” Sometimes he “may come up with the beginning while walking to the store. Sometimes I’ll start a sentence not knowing how it’s going to end. Writing begets more writing.”

McPherson selects photos for his books by working with the editor, a process that starts when the book is submitted to the publisher. He personally chose the dust jacket photo of Lincoln with McClellan and his staff after the battle of Antietam for “Tried by War.” Lincoln, sitting in a chair with glasses while Tad is looking on is his favorite picture of the 16th President. Commenting on Lincoln, McPherson noted, “Lincoln loved gadgets and tools,” and cited a book by Robert Bruce and Benjamin Thomas aptly named “Lincoln and the Tools of War.” “It’s sort of an off the beat book,” in which the Chief Executive sometimes “tried to be his own ordnance officer,” but one that he found “useful” in his own writing.

He prefers to have footnotes at the bottom of the page, but conceded “publishers have the final say.” His wife is his only research assistant and helped greatly in combing through the thousands of letters and hundreds of diaries that were read during the research on “For Cause and Comrades.” He did use Princeton students as assistants much earlier in his career, but over the past couple of decades has worked by himself. “Sometimes secondary sources can be valuable.” Some that he’s been using for years include historian Alan Nevins. Still McPherson tries to work almost exclusively from primary sources. “It’s amazing how much you can find out by going after sources others don’t think of.” He cited Harold Holzer’s 2008 book, “Lincoln-President-Elect,” as an example. Holzer based much of his work on obscure newspapers from the towns that Lincoln’s train passed through on his trip from Springfield to Washington. Michael Burlingame’s two volume “Abraham Lincoln: A Life,” was another recent work where an author dug up new material on a man who has been the subject of an estimated 50,000 books, essays, and magazine articles. From a personal perspective, McPherson allowed that “Tried by War” “doesn’t have so much new information as new ways of conceptualizing.”

McPherson has more Civil War related titles in his home library than twenty, perhaps even a hundred, Barnes and Nobles stores. His oldest book is Francis Carpenter’s 1866 “Six Months in the White House.” The book is drawn from diaries Carpenter kept while living at the White House during a period he was commissioned to paint a portrait of Lincoln. He has books on foreign policy, medicine, women, “a whole lot of books on the Confederacy and Jefferson Davis, three to four books on Andersonville, Regimental histories and the Army of the Potomac, guerilla warfare, the Committee on the Conduct of the War."

He paused in the interview to comment on the Committee, stating “It took on all sorts of powers for itself,” including calling generals on the carpet. “Lincoln used it to put pressure on his generals.” The Committee was “strongly anti-slavery and got Congress involved in managing the War. Lincoln was able to manipulate Committee members in some way, much as he manipulated his cabinet to get them to go the way he wanted to go.”

There are “lots of biographies of Grant, almost a whole shelf on Sherman, the Confederacy, and almost a whole shelf on Lee.” He has works on campaigns and battle histories “that start in the library and continue on shelves in guest bedrooms.”

He had some practical advice for first time writers. “A book is like an iceberg. You only see one-seventh on the surface. The same is true of writing. You can’t crowd all your research into a book. You have to figure out what’s important. It’s up to you the author to write it out into a story and tell the tale you want to tell.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The second speaker at the Surratt Society’s conference, “The Lincoln Assassination, All Things Considered” was Kenneth J. Zanca, a Professor of Religious Studies at Marymount College in Palos Verdes, California. His topic “The Catholics and Mary Surratt.” Among the many conspiracy theories that have been floated about over the past one hundred and forty-four years, and one still very much alive today, suggests Catholics, manipulated by their Vatican puppet masters, plotted and carried out Lincoln’s murder.

After a brief self-introduction, Zanca stated, “the context of Mary Surratt’s life was more complex because of her religious beliefs.” Most mainstream religions during her lifetime supported slavery, capitalism, and the repression of women. In contrast the “conscience of abolitionism grew from women.”

Most literature begins with the fact that Mary Surratt lived anonymously until the last three months of her life, when John Wilkes Booth made his entrance into her world. Zanca still has questions about her guilt and has studied her as a Catholic woman in mid-nineteenth century history.

Maryland, originally founded as a haven for English Catholics, was home to some of the wealthiest and most powerful men in America, men who bore the name of Brent, Brookes, and Carroll. Charles Carroll was the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence, while two other Carrolls signed the Constitution. The city of Washington itself was largely carved out of land donated by two Maryland Catholics, while the Washington-Baltimore area gave birth to Georgetown, the first Catholic college, and the first order of African-American nuns.

Catholics made up five per cent of the population in 1830. With increased immigration over the next two decades, from 1840 to 1860, that population climbed to 14 per cent, with as many as 80,000 Catholics residing in Maryland alone. From 1830 to 1860 the number of churches nationwide rose from 230 to more than 3,400, ministered to by 2700 priests. Protestants and Catholics both brought a “legacy of hatred and prejudice to America.” An 1844 riot in Philadelphia, for example, was sparked by efforts to force the Protestant Bible to be read during Mass. Irish and German immigrants, viewed as “puppets of the Pope,” gravitated toward the Democratic Party, while Whig and Republican ranks drew in the native born and their “Nativist sentiments.”

During the Civil War more than 200,000 Irish Catholics populated Union and Confederate ranks, while nuns, particularly the Sisters of Mercy, nursed the wounded and dying. Catholic converts such as William T. Sherman, Philip Sheridan, and George Meade were entrusted with significant command roles, while Roger B. Taney and Cardinal John Hughes ruled over the Supreme Court and New York City respectively. Jefferson Davis attended a Catholic School in Kentucky, James Longstreet and his wife both converted to Catholicism, P.T. Beauregard was raised in the faith, Dixie was composed by a Catholic, while James Ryder Randall penned the words to “Maryland, My Maryland.” In spite of this influence and their numbers, “no Catholic held political office above the local level until the 1900’s.”

“How was Mary Surratt typical of Catholics?” The Church taught, “slavery was the result of sin and supported by Holy Scripture.” “Jesus never chastised one slaveholder.” In 1839 Pope Gregory “condemned the international slave trade, but not the ownership of slaves.” Mary’s children received a Catholic education. She was active in parish life and valued the sacraments. In Zanca’s opinion “she was more than a common seasonal Catholic.” Lincoln, for his part, was “not popular with the Catholic community,” due to actions such as suspending the writ of habeas corpus, preventing the flying of Confederate flags and wearing of allied symbols, ordering the arrest of members of the Maryland legislature, and placing Maryland under marshal law.

“What sets Mary apart as a Catholic,” according to Zanca, was the fact she was not born into the faith, but converted when she was 12-years of age. She was not an immigrant, nor Irish or German, “was educated, owned lands, owned slaves, owned a business,” and identified herself as a Southerner.

There is “no record that one can find that she was a rabid secessionist.” She didn’t belong to Pro-Confederate groups or sewing circles. The one activity she can be linked to is running a bizarre for St. Aloysius Church in Washington, to which John Wilkes Booth donated five dollars.

Lincoln’s death sent the nation into a state of shock. Catholic Unionists in the North accepted the Military Commission’s findings, fearful of a Catholic backlash. The fear of a backlash was very real due to the fact that five of the nine named conspirators, including Mary and her son John, Samuel Mudd, David Herold, and Samuel Arnold were all Catholics. Bishop Spaulding put a mussel on priests, and in particular Father Walter, forbidding them from speaking out publicly about Mary’s possible innocence. Wide spread condemnation of the “judicial murder” eventually did emerge among “Pro-Surratt Southerners” and subsequent Catholic sentiment was awash with the belief “Seward, et al had murdered Mary Surratt.” Even the reigning Pope was kept informed of the trial proceedings and execution.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

This post is way overdue and one that I started writing shortly after attending the Surratt Society’s March 21st conference. However, to borrow from that age-old adage, better late than never.

Having read Kate Clifford Larson’s “The Assassin’s Accomplice,” a book on Mary Surratt and her role in the Lincoln assassination, I was looking forward to hearing her speak at the Surratt Society’s conference, “The Lincoln Assassination, All Things Considered.” But not for the reasons one might immediately suspect. For beginners, I had found three glaring errors while reading the book. Although I’ve read eight books on the assassination, with two more in the future reading stack, I’m not in the same league as serious students of the assassination. Suffice it to say, though, I know my stuff and the errors literally leapt off the page. In the scheme of things they weren’t major factual errors, but they were disconcerting nonetheless. Reading that Mary Surratt was buried in Baltimore, when she was in fact buried at Mt. Olivet cemetery in Washington, made me wince. I have to admit, walking into the Colony South hotel, where the conference was held, I didn’t envy Kate, because I had a feeling she was walking into the lion’s den and risked getting ripped to shreds by assassination groupies.

So, who should happen to be sitting at the row of tables directly in front of me when I took a seat? Why, none other than Kate Clifford Larson. I told her I had read her book and, before I could say anything more, she volunteered there were errors, saying they’d be corrected in the paperback edition. She had worked with two editors and a research assistant, who was supposed to check facts, but, still, no one caught the errors. I found myself sympathizing with her and laughingly advised her to blame the three aforementioned parties when she got up to speak. In the end, all was forgiven, a task made easier by virtue of the fact that she was, be still my beating heart, a very attractive lady and gracious in consenting to autograph my copy of her book.

After awards were given out, including to the youngest conference attendee and the person who traveled the furthest to attend (Hawaii), Kate was introduced. She began by thanking the Surratt Society for their assistance in allowing her access to their archives and then, again, openly admitted errors appeared in the book. Her audience seemed to appreciate that.

Larson, who earned a PhD in history from the University of New Hampshire and currently teaches at Simmons College in Boston, had never heard the name of Mary Surratt until she was close to completing research for a book on Harriett Tubman. She was fascinated by the story, initially believing Surratt had been victimized, but ultimately came to the conclusion she was guilty of complicity in Lincoln’s murder.

The story, as told in “The Assassin’s Accomplice,” is of “an incredibly fascinating character,” both “head strong” and “defiant,” a woman, who, in many ways, defied convention. Better educated than most women of her station, a convert to Catholicism, she became an astute businesswoman by default due to her husband’s own failings, caused in large part by alcoholism and gambling debts. It was also rumored that she was carrying on an illicit affair with a priest. Whether it was true, or she had simply found a sympathetic ear is open to conjecture, but the priest was transferred from his Oxon Hill, Maryland parish, in large part, based on those rumors.

Possessing a poor business sense and sniffing an opportunity to get out from under a pile of debt led John Surratt to purchase a wayside tavern at a crossroads in what is now known as Clinton, Maryland. Even before his death, this “smart” and “capable” woman, with a natural business acuity, took over the operation of the tavern and assumed the duties of postmaster from her husband, a move that, in Larson’s opinion, “ultimately sent her to the gallows.” There’s little doubt about the reputation of Surratt’s Tavern as a safe house for Confederate mail couriers and spies, nestled as it was in an area of Prince George’s County where residents made no bones about their sympathies toward Richmond.

According to Larson, Mary Surratt “had to have known the plot was afoot. I don’t believe she participated in Booth’s plot because she was in love with him. I just don’t believe that.” What Larson does believe is that Mary was motivated by “ideology.” “As you move closer and closer to the assassination the evidence is overwhelming…” “Although the government had lots of evidence against her…the evidence of her guilt was overwhelming,” Larson admitted though, she was “surprised they hung her.” She finds it equally “interesting that people continue to call the witnesses who testified against Mary liars and argue she’s totally innocent.”

In spite of her belief in Mary’s guilt, Larson has deep-seated sympathy for her. “Newspapers painted a very ugly picture of her.” The stories that ran in the daily papers were “very cruel,” but spoke to the anger of both the papers and northerners. Neither “vilified the conspirators the way they did Mary.” Larson speculates that “Mary didn’t help herself by wearing a heavy veil over her face during the trial.” During interrogations she presented as “defiant,” and sought to “protect her son,” and in a sense “overplayed her hand.” Her defiance, demeanor in the courtroom, and “the most incompetent legal representation in history,” all contributed to a finding of guilt. Larson admitted that she was “stunned” at the number of times witness were recalled by defense attorneys “to repeat damning against Mary.” Nine priests, most of who did not know her, were called to the stand. There was little in their testimony, like most witnesses called on her behalf, that served her case.

What Larson wanted her audience to take away most from her book on Mary Surratt was “this is a very strong woman in a man’s world. She never stood in the background.”

Thursday, May 14, 2009

This past Saturday I drove a hundred miles to one of my favorite places in the entire world, the 18th Massachusetts Infantry’s monument at Gettysburg, which stands in “The Loop” on Sickles Avenue. I absolutely love this spot. It’s quiet. It’s pretty. It’s a place of tribute to “my dead guys.”

I absolutely love the monument. Far less ornate than many you’ll find at Gettysburg, it’s a testament to simplicity in design, one that lends itself to classical elements. Simple geometrical lines and classical elements are timeless.

I took on the role of custodian of the 18th’s monument last fall when I signed up for the “Adopt a Position” program at the National Park. Every monument in The Loop had a volunteer group to do clean up save one. “My dead guys” monument was that one. I think they were waiting for me personally to take on the task of raking up leaves and trimming back overgrowth. It wouldn't have done for someone who had no emotional attachment to either the regiment or that patch of ground to have volunteered their time.

Last November I spent about three hours moving leaves and using a branch trimmer. When I pulled up beside the monument on Saturday the area I had worked on last fall had survived very nicely and it took just under an hour to put nature in order again.

The 18th’s monument was one of several that were dedicated on October 8, 1885, the last day in that year that ceremonies were held. Those monument unveilings brought to 76 the total number of monuments that then stood at Gettysburg. That total included 24 dedicated to Massachusetts regiments, 25 to Pennsylvania regiments, six for Indiana, four each for Rhode Island and Connecticut, two for Delaware, and one each for New Jersey and Minnesota. The 2nd Maryland Infantry was the only Confederate regiment then so honored. Additionally, there was the National Monument, Gregg’s Cavalry Shaft to commemorate the clash between Stuart’s and the 1st Michigan cavalries, and four individual monuments that honored the memory of generals John F. Reynolds and Samuel K. Zook and colonels Strong Vincent and Charles Frederick Taylor.

Only four veterans of the 18th Massachusetts attended ceremonies that day, one of whom, William B. White, who commanded Company K during the battle, delivered remarks in which “he paid a glowing tribute to the regiment and the commonwealth they had the honor to represent.”

The next visit will be on July 2nd, when I’ll lay a wreath at the monument, something I’ve done on that particular day for the past three years. Driving a hundred miles three times a year is a small thing and a short distance to travel to honor the memory of “my dead guys.”

Sunday, May 10, 2009

This excerpt from North Carolina soldier John Robertson’s letter to Governor Zebulon Vance comes from one of my favorite Civil War books, William C. Davis’ “Look Away! A History of the Confederate States of America.” Robertson, who hadn’t been home in three years, pulled no punches in the letter, venting his anger toward the planter class and threatening to desert unless given a furlough to see his wife and family. After three years of war, Robertson was not simply a voice in the wilderness, but expressing the sentiments of many Confederate soldiers who filled the ranks.

“How can a pour man stand it. I waunt to ast you or enny other conc[ion]able man what is the pour man fitting for? We are fiting for the Rich mans property & negars – that just what we ar fiting for – the pour man got nothin to fite for – what little he had is gon to Ruin & disstruction – An the Big men at home a setting studying how to cheat & speculate out of the pour soulgers Wives. I had as live dye as hear talk of my wife suffering. I am Bound to go home som how… A man cant stand evry thing.”

Saturday, May 09, 2009

I tried this about a year ago, getting as far as Lovettsville, Virginia, which is a little more than 55 miles from Gettysburg as the crow flies, before I ran out of daylight amid monsoon conditions. That drive followed the Fifth Corps’ route from Gettysburg in pursuit of Lee’s retreating army. I may be biting off more than I can chew, because definite plans call for me to complete yard work around the 18th Massachusetts’ monument at Gettysburg this morning, while tentative plans have me heading to Chambersburg, PA for a first time visit in the afternoon, a repeat visit to Charles Town, WV, tomorrow morning, and picking up the Fifth Corps’ trail again in the afternoon. Something may have to give.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Civil War Preservation Trust classifies endangered Civil War battlefields on four different levels from A to D. According to their criteria, sites are nominated by CWPT members and “final decisions are made with help and input from historians, preservationists and CWPT’s board of trustees. The sites included in the report are determined based on geographic location, military significance and preservation status.” Among the ten sites considered “most endangered” are Antietam, Cold Harbor, Monacacy, and Springhill.

The Wilderness, which has been getting a lot of press lately, because Wal-Mart is licking its chops over a site close by the battlefield, is considered an “At Risk” site. Included in that 15-member list, along with Harper’s Ferry, Brandy Station, Kennesaw Mountain, and South Mountain, is Shepherdstown, West Virginia. I’ll be bringing this to their attention, but CWPT, of which I’m a member, needs to correct the year the battle was fought. It was 1862 and not 1863 as listed on their Web site.

Here is what I don’t understand about their choices, though. By their own description, Antietam has “a well-deserved reputation as one of the nation’s best preserved Civil War battlefields.” What makes Antietam one of the most endangered battlefields is the possibility of a cellular phone tower being erected on the fringe of the park, which would therefore wreck the “bucolic” view. Please understand, I’m not in favor of a cellular tower, but, even in the worst case scenario, if the tower were erected, I’m not certain how that would endanger Antietam. Endangered to me means the battlefield is in either on the verge of disappearing totally or the very land itself is being encroached upon by development. In comparison to Shepherdstown, which is in danger of disappearing totally through a developer’s plan to build 140 houses, and I know this is going to sound heretical, there’s no comparison. The difference is historical significance, of course. Without doubt Antietam was a major battle, the single bloodiest day of any war in which Americans have ever fought and, in James McPherson’s opinion, the turning point of the Civil War. Shepherdstown is very small potatoes on that comparative point. Strategically unimportant, a mere firefight with less than one tenth the casualties experienced at Antietam fought just three days earlier, and a fight that ended again, in comparison, rather quickly. Still, sacrifice and a willingness to do their duty makes the men who fought at Shepherdstown no less lacking in bravery or valor than those at Antietam.

The Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association currently has about 100 members waging the good fight against the aforementioned developer. That fight has gone to the West Virginia Supreme Court, which has ruled in favor of the developer. At the same time, there’s this, which gives reason for hope:

Legislation introduced by Senator Robert C. Byrd was passed by both the United States Senate and House of Representatives and signed into law by President Obama on March 30, 2009. At a Senate hearing in 2008, representatives of the National Park Service spoke in support of Senator Byrd’s proposed legislation. Included in the “Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009” was a section that could ultimately save and preserve the site of the 1862 Battle of Shepherdstown and possibly make it part of the, ready for this, Antietam National Battlefield.

For the very latest on the efforts to save Shepherdstown, please click these links here and here.

Monday, May 04, 2009

I had briefly mentioned ongoing efforts to save the Shepherdstown, West Virginia Battlefield in a previous post, but wanted to revisit that topic. Today’s post includes reports prepared by Col. James Barnes, who commanded the First Brigade, First Division, Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac, which crossed the Potomac River on September 20, 1862, in what amounted to a reconnaissance to ascertain, if possible, the position of Lee’s retreating army following the battle of Antietam, and of Confederate Major General A.P. Hill, whose forces turned back to face Barnes’ men and pounced on their prey like a pack of wolves.

Tomorrow’s post will bring everyone up to date on efforts to save the battlefield from a developer’s plan to construct houses on the remaining undeveloped parcel of land where the engagement occurred. For four years it’s been a case of David versus Goliath, only now David’s sling is cradling a rock named Congress and hope abounds.

Report of Col. James Barnes, commanding the First Brigade, First Division, Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac, regarding events of September 20, 1862.

September 25, 1862.
Assistant Adjutant-General.

MAJOR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the action of Saturday last, the 20th September, on the opposite side of the Potomac, between this brigade and a very large force of the enemy:

On the morning of the 20th instant I received from division headquarters the following order:

HEADQUARTERS DIVISION, September 20, 1862.
Colonel BARNES,
Commanding First Brigade:

COLONEL: In pursuance of orders from headquarters of the corps, the commanding general directs that you push your brigade across the river to Shepherdstown and vicinity, and report what is to be found there.
By command of Major-General Morell:
Assistant Adjutant-General.

In obedience to this order, I crossed the river at Blackford's Ford at about 9 o'clock a.m., the brigade, consisting of the Eighteenth Massachusetts, Twenty-fifth New York, Thirteenth New York, One hundred and eighteenth Pennsylvania, First Michigan, Twenty-second Massachusetts, and Second Maine Regiments, numbering in all 1,711 men, including officers, some of the regiments having been very much reduced. As soon as the Eighteenth Massachusetts had crossed the ford, it was drawn up in order on the road running below the bluffs toward Shepherdstown, under the command of Major [Joseph] Hayes.

At this moment, and before the other regiments had crossed, Brigadier-General [George] Sykes, who had previously crossed the river, and whose command consisted, as I was informed, of about 800 men, then in advance toward the west, came to me with the information that the enemy were in strong force about 2 miles in his front; that he had sent his aide forward to ascertain the facts in the case, and desired me to remain until his aide returned, in order to afford him support if the report should turn out to be true. I informed him that my orders required me to go to Shepherdstown, but that if he would give me an order to remain I would do so. He accordingly gave me the order for that purpose, and desired that Major Hayes, with the Eighteenth Massachusetts, then drawn up in the road, should take position near but below the top of the ridge, which ran in its general direction parallel to the road and on the left. Major Hayes immediately proceeded to occupy that position. The Twenty-fifth New York, Colonel [Charles A.] Johnson, and the Thirteenth New York, Colonel [Elisha G.] Marshall, having crossed and formed in the road, were directed to take a similar position on the right of Major Hayes, but to reach which it was necessary to pass beyond the ravine by which the Eighteenth Massachusetts had ascended to another ravine a few rods distant, the interval forming a rocky bluff nearly perpendicular, up which it was impracticable to advance.

By this time the One hundred and eighteenth Pennsylvania, Colonel [Charles M.] Prevost, had crossed the ford and formed in the road. They were directed to follow the Thirteenth and Twenty-fifth New York, and to take a similar position below the top of the ridge and to their left. They accordingly followed those regiments, and came into line below the top of the ridge, as directed. The remaining regiments of the brigade, namely, the First Michigan, Capt. E[mory] W. Belton commanding, the Twenty-second Massachusetts, under the command of Lieut. Col. W[illiam]. S. Tilton, and the Second Maine, Col. C[harles] W. Roberts, were directed to ascend the ravine by which the Eighteenth Massachusetts had ascended, and to form in a similar manner below the top of the ridge, the two former on the right and the latter on the left of Major Hayes, who was already posted there. These movements were all promptly executed, and in good order. The brigade being then in position, and suitably protected by the ground in front, skirmishers were advanced to the front, and immediately commenced firing upon those of the enemy, who by this time had advanced within musket range, and were deployed along their whole front in large numbers and at very short intervals.

The information respecting the advance of the enemy as at first received was to the effect that the enemy were advancing from the left of the position occupied by my brigade. It was, however, soon perceived that he was not only approaching with a greatly superior force from that direction, but that they were also in equal numbers advancing on our front and on our right. Springing as it were from the bushes and corn-fields which had concealed them to this time, and making their first appearance within short musket range, a rapid and vigorous fire commenced immediately, and, notwithstanding the vastly superior numbers of the enemy, every man stood his ground firmly, and the line exhibited an undaunted front.

The action now becoming general, it was apparent that the greatly superior force of the enemy would make it necessary for us to retire. The batteries on the opposite side of the river having been brought into position opened a heavy fire with good effect upon the enemy, though, from the close proximity of the contending forces, it was difficult for them to avoid some damage to our own troops. Some of their shot and shell struck in our rear, and some of the casualties of the day may be attributed to that source.

It was soon perceived that the command of General Sykes on our left was retiring, and they had reached nearly to the foot of the hill when I received orders to retire in good order, and to recross the river. I immediately gave the necessary orders to fall back to the regiments posted, as above described, on the left of the brigade, where I then was, and at once dispatched the orderly to convey the same instructions to those upon the right of the line. I immediately followed him to prevent mistake. On my way thither I met Colonel Provost, of the One hundred and eighteenth Pennsylvania, retiring from the field, disabled by a severe wound in the shoulder. I passed rapidly on to the ground occupied by his regiment, and repeated the orders to retire in good order. This order had already been communicated to them by Lieutenant Davis, my aide.

The regiment [118th PA], then under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel [James] Gwyn, had commenced falling back, but, owing to their large numbers and the uneven character of the ground, not without some degree of confusion. Lieutenant-Colonel Gwyn, although deprived of the assistance of the colonel of the regiment, and laboring under the disadvantage of having under his command a regiment but little drilled, succeeded in withdrawing them from their perilous position, not without loss, indeed, but in a manner creditable to himself and to the character of his command, both of officers and men, for courage and coolness. They had advanced in the excitement of the contest from the cover of the ridge where they had first formed in line, and were exposed to a galling fire from the enemy, who were protected by a ravine in front of them. The brigade being thus withdrawn, the several regiments recrossed the river in good order, and with but little loss in crossing. A few, however, were fatally wounded on the passage.

After crossing, the brigade was reformed in rear of the Second Brigade upon this side of the river, but after remaining in this position for the greater part of the day, and no further attempts being made by the enemy with the view of crossing, the several regiments withdrew to their respective encampments.

It is difficult to do full justice to the gallantry displayed by both officers and men on this occasion without appearing to overstate it. Finding themselves suddenly and unexpectedly attacked by a force so vastly superior, there was no sign of intimidation on the part of any one, and when the order to retire was given it was received with evident disappointment.

I have already submitted in detail the loss in killed, wounded, and missing, to which I beg leave to refer. A summary of the list shows as follows: 92 killed, 131 wounded, and 103 missing.

With much respect, your obedient servant,


Colonel, Commanding Brigade

Report of Maj. Gen. Ambrose P. Hill, C. S. Army,
Commanding Light Division, Of Operations September 2 - November 3.

On the morning of the 20th [of September, 1862], at 6.30 o'clock, I was directed by General [Thomas] Jackson to take my division and drive across the river some brigades of the enemy who had crossed during the night, driven off General Pendleton's artillery, capturing four pieces, and were making preparations to hold their position. Arriving opposite Boteler's Ford, and about half a mile therefrom, I formed my line of battle in two lines, the first the brigades of [William D.] Pender, [Maxcy] Gregg, and {Edward] Thomas, under command of General Gregg, and the second, {James] Lane (Branch's brigade), [James] Archer, and [John] Brockenbrough, under the command of General Archer. The enemy had lined the opposite hills with some seventy pieces of artillery, and the infantry who had crossed lined the crest of the high banks on the Virginia shore. My lines advanced simultaneously, and soon encountered the enemy. This advance was made in the face of the most tremendous fire of artillery I ever saw, and too much praise cannot be awarded my regiments for their steady, unwavering step. It was as if each man felt that the fate of the army was centered in himself. The infantry opposition in front of Gregg's center and right was but trifling, and soon brushed away. The enemy, however, massed in front of Pender, and, extending, endeavored to turn his left. General Pender became hotly engaged, and informing Archer of his danger, he (Archer) moved by the left flank, and forming on Pender's left, a simultaneous, daring charge was made, and the enemy driven pell-mell into the river. Then commenced the most terrible slaughter that this war has yet witnessed. The broad surface of the Potomac was blue with the floating bodies of our foe. But few escaped to tell the tale. By their own account they lost 3,000 men, killed and drowned, from one brigade alone. Some 200 prisoners were taken. My own loss was 30 killed and 231 wounded; total, 261.

This was a wholesome lesson to the enemy, and taught them to know that it may be dangerous sometimes to press a retreating army. In this battle I did not use a piece of artillery.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Major-General, Commanding Light Division.