Friday, July 30, 2010

SHAF Tour – Phase One of the Antietam Campaign: Harpers Ferry and South Mountain

Most of the Summer has slipped by without any major battlefield visits. Happily, this is about to change. Tomorrow I set out with SHAF (Save Historic Antietam Foundation) on a tour of Harpers Ferry and South Mountain, led by Dr. Dennis Frye and Dr. Tom Clemens. Details are available on the SHAF site (the tour is almost certainly closed at this point).

I expect to blog the tour in detail, despite my inactivity here of late. I am also in the planning stages for my annual Civil War weekend later in August. This year’s focus will be the Burnside Expedition of 1862 on the North Carolina Coast, with visits to Forts Fisher and Anderson outside Wilmington as well. I finally found a copy of Richard A. Sauers’s A Succession of Honorable Victories: The Burnside Expedition of 1862, which looks to be the only detailed monograph on the campaign. I always like to read as much as I can before I set out, so I know what I’m staring at.

In any case, I can't wait to spend some time in the field.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ewell at Gettysburg

I've just finished the latest issue of Civil War Times, which includes an article on Richard S. Ewell's actions on July 1 at Gettysburg. That failure to take Culps or Cemetery Hill on July 1 cost Lee's Army of Northern Virginia the battle is often taken as gospel, and Ewell comes in for most or all of the blame.

Authors Chris Mackowski and Kristopher D. White take issue with the standard story. They of course discuss Lee's famous ambiguity in the orders issued to Ewell - to take the hill "if practicable." And this is where many discussions of July 1 stop. But apparently Lee's orders, even at this late hour, also warned against bringing on a general engagement. The original orders, of course, have not survived. Even if Culps Hill was unoccupied at the time Ewell received the order, as the authors point out, Wadsworth's division occupied the hill shortly thereafter. And Federal artillery and infantry occupied East Cemetery Hill in strength, partially commanding the approaches to Culps Hill. Finally, troops of William's Division of the 12th Corps lay just beyond Benner's Hill, and are likely to have spoiled any opportunity to occupy Culps Hill without a fight.

Ewell certainly displayed some indecision on July 1 and also later in the battle. To blame the loss solely on him, however, ignores substantial problems at all levels of the ANV at Gettysburg. Let's save that for another time, or not.

I often tire of reading about Gettysburg controversies, but Mackowski and White have managed to create an entertaining and enlightening reappraisal of the key question concerning Ewell's performance at Gettysburg. The article, along with the entire issue of CWT, is well worth reading. I recently subsribed again after a long absence, and have enjoyed every issue so far. For those that are not interested, the text of the article can be found here.