Thursday, August 27, 2009

Off to Petersburg + A Review of The Last Citadel

I managed to finish Noah Andre Trudeau's The Last Citadel this week in preparation for my upcoming tour of Petersburg. To borrow from one of the jacket reviews, this is an excellent popular history of the Petersburg Campaign from the crossing of the James to the occupation of Petersburg. Oddly, Trudeau discusses Five Forks only in terms of its results, while other engagements during the siege receive detailed treatment. This is almost appropriate in relation to the drama of the narrative - he repeats a paragraph describing Horace Porter's receipt of the news of Five Forks and Grant's decision to order a "general assault along the lines" four times - once for the section on the Sixth Corps assault (the breakthrough in AP Hill's sector), followed by the Second (Sutherland Station) and Twenty-Fourth Corps (Forts Gregg and Whitworth) assaults, and finally for the Ninth Corps assault (Fort Mahone).

Last Citadel, while just the sort of overview of the campaign I needed to prepare for my trip, leaves me wanting more. Yet aside from numerous studies of the battle for The Crater, I know only of A. Wilson Greene's work on the final battles of the Petersburg Campaign as detailed tactical studies go. I have read sections of Greene's work, and highly recommend it based on that alone. He is evidently working on a three volume study of the campaign for UNC Press (I think is stumbled on this information over at Civil War Memory, a new addition to my blogroll). If so, I look forward to its publication. While I am sure to have missed something, the only other item of note is Blue and Gray Magazine's tour Guide for Five Forks and the battles around Hatcher's Run.

If you haven't already read this book, and you want to learn the story of Petersburg, start here. The maps included are servicable for an overview of this sort, but include little detail beyond roads and watercourses. Some may bristle at the lack of end notes. Trudeau does discuss the sources he used, but those who desire to track details down to primary sources will have their work cut out for them. For me, these are small issues for an otherwise enjoyable book.

Having read it, I hope to include Reams Station and Deep Bottom on the tour. Reams Station, site of Winfield Hancock's last engagement at the head of the Seconds Corps, includes a number of interpretive markers placed by CWPT. In the wake of the recent bad news about the Wilderness, I will enjoy visiting the site of one of CWPT's many victories. If all goes according to plan, I will blog about these sites in addition to The Crater, Fort Stedman, and some general observations on Petersburg on my return.

One final item. I am now on Twitter as cwbattlefields. I'm still not sure how I feel about it; it seems a bit self-important. But I thought it might be fun to tweet a few notes from the trenches, so to speak. We'll see how it goes. I won't be sending inane updates about passing milepost x on Interstate 95 or informing you that I just sat down for pizza (unless it's really really good).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It Ain't Over 'Til its Over

Many of you have probably checked the new this morning, as I did, to find the Orange County supervisors approved the Walmart near the Wilderness Battlefield by a margin of 4-1. In the interest of diplomacy, let's just say I am disappointed.

The following excerpt is from a letter by Jim Lighthizer, president of CWPT:

“Today’s vote is not just a setback for preservationists. Orange County residents are losers as well. If the county had embraced the preservation planning process first proposed by the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition in January, there would have been an opportunity to mitigate the transportation and development impacts of the proposal. Instead, the board voted to repeat the mistakes made by other localities, who are now struggling to address the problems created by similar piecemeal development and rampant sprawl.

“The ball is now in Wal-Mart’s court. Wal-Mart better understands the nationwide anger generated by its proposal to build on the doorstep of a National Park. It is in the corporation’s best interests to work with the preservation community to find an alternative site. After all, building a big box superstore on the Wilderness Battlefield would belie recent attempts to portray Wal-Mart as environmentally sensitive. We are optimistic that company officials will see the wisdom of moving elsewhere.

“The Civil War Preservation Trust and the other member groups of the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition will now carefully weigh options for continued opposition of this misguided proposal. This battle is not over yet.”

You can find the full text of it here.

While I believe in private property rights, I also believe we have the right to act to protect resources of national significance from local parties not otherwise inclined to do so. Please support CWPT in their efforts to encourage Walmart to build in a less historically sensitive location.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Across the Potomac with General Jubal A. Early

From Whites Ferry

Last weekend my wife and I hit the road for some random sightseeing around Frederick, Maryland. We had driven around Sugarloaf, an small mountain south of Frederick, once before. Sugarloaf served as a signal station for both sides during the Antietam campaign (more on that later).

With plenty of time to spare, I plugged Lucketts, VA, into Google Maps on my BlackBerry. I have always loved the drive along Route 15 through the Loudon Valley. This is also a part of the Mosby Heritage Area. I must confess I know very little of Mosby’s operations, though Wert’s history of Mosby’s Rangers is on my reading list.

Anyway, after fortifying ourselves with some Kettle Korn and Bavarian Style Cinnamon Roasted Almonds, we detoured onto the Whites Ferry Road in hopes that one of the ferries across the Potomac still existed. Whites Ferry is indeed still in operation.

We crossed the Potomac in a few minutes aboard the General Jubal A. Early. The town of Whites Ferry, on the Maryland side of the Potomac, includes a general store and café, a few other buildings, and a Civil War Trails site we saved for another day.

Lee’s troops actually used White’s Ford and Edwards Ferry (northwest of Whites) to cross into Maryland in 1862, but we enjoyed this interesting diversion from the standard trip along Maryland’s highways.

Friday, August 21, 2009

My Letter to Orange County

Most of this letter was composed by CWPT (I added the fifth paragraph). Visit to send your own letter to the supervisors of Orange County, VA, and to Walmart CEO Michael Duke as well. Get involved. Here's the letter:

Aug 21, 2009

Supervisor _________

Dear Supervisor _____________,

I oppose the construction of a Walmart Supercenter at the proposed location in Orange County. The site Walmart proposed is within the historic limits of the battlefield and across the road from the National Park. In addition, a Walmart Supercenter at this location will increase development pressures on the nearby National Park and wreak havoc on traffic in the region.

Today, just 21 percent of the Wilderness Battlefield is protected from development. This Walmart Supercenter would be built within one-quarter mile of the National Park and would pave the way for desecration of the Wilderness with unnecessary commercial growth. Such a large-scale development is inappropriate next to a National Park.

I am not opposed to a Walmart in Orange County, but I am opposed to building a Walmart on the Wilderness Battlefield. Please take the time to find another site in Orange County for the Walmart that will not have a negative impact on the battlefield.

The Wilderness Battlefield is the most visited tourist attraction in Orange County. I think it would be very shortsighted to sacrifice such hallowed ground and the valuable tourist dollars it provides for the sake of building a Walmart at this exact location, especially when other suitable locations exist in the county.

I understand the economic considerations that may carry equal or greater weight in your decision process. I hope you understand the importance of the battlefield to thousands of enthusiasts like myself who travel to Virginia each year. Is there no way to protect the battlefield and achieve the goal economic development at the same time? I hope you will find a way to balance these concerns. This is not a decision you can take back. Once development impacts a battlefield, there is no turning back. Please consider carefully, as your decision on this impacts not only your current constituents, but future generations. I hope you will take the long view. Protect the battlefield, and locate the Walmart in a more suitable location.

I urge you in the strongest possible terms to consider alternate locations for this Supercenter. Walmarts can be built just about anywhere, but we cannot move the hallowed ground where America's vital history happened. In this instance, the preservation of the Wilderness Battlefield, a part of the shared history of every American, must trump Walmart's desire to locate a store at this site.


Mr. Steven Mynes

Monday, August 17, 2009

Civil War Tour 2009

Every year I spend a weekend on the road with an old friend touring Civil War battlefields. After unexpected back surgery earlier this Summer, I thought we might have to cancel this year. Instead, we decided to limit the driving and focus on Virginia (I had hoped to take in a few sites in Kentucky and Tennessee - perhaps next year).

We will begin with the eastern sites on the Petersburg front, including the Crater and Fort Harrison. I expect this will take the better part of a day to accomplish. From Petersburg, we will head to the North Anna Battlefield park. This is a county park with some of the best preserved earthworks in Virginia. Hopefully we can accomplish all of this on day 1. As we are leaving the night before to knock out most of the driving time to Petersburg, I think we can accomplish all of this, if I discipline myself not to detour every time I see a Civil War Trails sign.

Day 2 will begin with Trevilian Station, the first of two battlefields on our route established by private preservation groups and the efforts of the Civil War Preservation Trust. Continuing the focus on cavalry actions and privately operated sites, a tour of the Brandy Station battlefield is next. I have passed this battlefield many times en route to other sites, and it's about time I spent a day on the field. Given time, we will wrap up day 2 with a visit to Bristoe Station Heritage Park. A short loop trail in this county park surveys A.P. Hill's futile and costly assault on Federal troops positioned along a railroad bed.

If time permits, we may detour to the Wilderness battlefield for a few photos before the Super Wal-Mart destroys the viewshed. Hopefully the short-sighted sprawlocrats of Orange county will listen to the urgings of men and women with a longer view of history than their own and work with Wal-Mart to find a location that does not directly impact the battlefield. Given the tone of their public statements to date, I hold out little hope for a compromise. I may not have a vote in Orange County, but perhaps my wallet does. I will not be spending any money in Orange County, nor will I be stocking up on supplies for the trip at Wal-Mart as I usually do. Thanks, but I'd rather pay more.

A short drive on day 3 will bring us to Manassas. I plan to tour sites from both battles, starting with 1861 in the morning and wrapping up with 1862 in the afternoon. I am particularly looking forward to seeing areas along the unfinished railroad defended by Jackson's troops, as I have not been there since the park completed landscape restorations. As we will be visiting on the anniversary of Second Manassas, I hope to find time for a ranger program or two. My friend is also a member of the 5th New York (Duryee's) Zouaves. Each battle anniversary, the Fifth commemorates the regiment's sacrifice to buy time in the wake of Longstreet's assault, which crushed the Federal left. This will provide a fitting close to a weekend spent on hallowed ground.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Hope for the Sesquicentennial

Discussions of the upcoming sesquicentennial of the Civil War have been overshadowed by concerns that cash strapped states may scale down or even scrap commemorative plans as a result of budgets constrained by the recession. At least two states have managed to develop web sites for their sesquicentennial programs despite trying times.

I stumbled across North Carolinas site while searching for information on the Burnside Expedition in 1862. The site includes a chronology of the various campaigns in the state, a number of historical articles, maps by Mark A. Moore (these are first rate), and a list of events planned at various state historic sites. Definitely worth a look, and a great effort that other states ought to take note of. Visit the site at

Virginia has also cobbled together an impressive site, though it seems much of the content is in development. Clicking an interactive map opens a list of events, both historical and current, for a given county, though this section needs quite a bit more work. The state has involved local round tables in the planning stage, and as Governor Tim Kaine is a staunch supporter of Civil War battlefield preservation, it is safe to assume Virginia’s commemorative programs will be substantial. Virginia’s site is

Hopefully more states will follow suit with their own sesquicentennial programs. Bills have been introduced her in Maryland to establish a commission, but support may be lacking. Let’s hope Maryland’s lawmakers have the foresight to look beyond the current budget crunch and plan a meaningful program. If nothing else motivates them, perhaps the thought of increased tourism may spur them to action.