Sunday, August 29, 2010

South Mills - April 19, 1862

From Civil War Battlefields

In order to consolidate the gains of his successful expedition on the North Carolina coast, and prevent rebel ironclads descending the Dismal Swamp Canal from Norfolk, VA, Major General Ambrose Burnside ordered General Jesse Reno to march north with 3000 men and destroy the locks at the southern terminus of the canal. The majority of Reno's troops, misled by a treacherous local guide, followed an elongated route, arriving on the field fatigued. Warned of Reno's approach, Colonel Ambrose Wright deployed the Third Georgia infantry, a four gun battery, a small cavalry detachment, and some North Carolina militia.

Reno's forces outnumbered Wright perhaps 8 to 1, but Wright chose his position well, posting his troops along the road at the northern end of open fields constricted by woods on both flanks. Wright also took advantage of irrigation ditches, posting his infantry in one and piling burning fence rails in another perhaps 200 yards in his front. The smoke from the burning rails obscured his position and may have led Colonel Hawkins, commander of the Ninth New York, to underestimate the strength of Wright's position.

Reno ordered most of his infantry to deploy in the woods to the left of the open area fronting the rebel position. Colonel Hawkins sensed an opportunity to break the enemy line with a bayonet charge and instead ordered the Ninth New York to charge the enemy's line. Soon after the Ninth crossed the burning ditch, a withering fire of musketry and canister stopped their advance cold and drove the to seek the shelter of the woodline where several other Federal regiments had deployed. Most of the 113 Federal casualties at South Mills fell during Hawkins's ill-fated bayonet charge.

Depsite their success against the Ninth New York, Wright's men were running out of time. The Federal Fifty-First Pennsylvania and 21st Massachusetts regiments fixed bayonets and moved out from the woods on the Federal left and launched another bayonet charge. Reno had also deployed the Sixth New Hampshire regiment on his left, where they advanced, delivered a volley, and sought out the rebel right flank. Wright wisely withdrew his small force before being completely overwhelmed.

The Federals remained in place for the night. Though within 3 miles of the canal locks he had been sent to destroy, Reno gave credence to rumors of Confederate reinforcments and withdrew the following day. Despite failing to achieve his primary objective, Reno considered the expedition a success. The fall of Norfolk less than one month later forever neutralized the threat of rebel ironclads descending the canal, however unlikely it may have been.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Frosttown Gap and the Meaning of Stewardship

The Frederick News post ran a story today on the purchase of 97 additional acres for the South Mountain Battlefield here in Maryland. Read the story here -

While our neighbors to the north cannot seem to understand the trust they have been given to preserve and protect a national treasure, Maryland has leveraged funds available through Program Open Space to enhance an important site of the Antietam Campaign. Way to go, Maryland, and thanks to part time Ranger John Miller, who spearheaded this effort.

Why is it so much of Adams County doesn't get it? Some people need a lesson in stewardship. The heritage entrusted to them entails the responsibility to maintain the integrity of the battlefield against short-term, and short-sighted, development opportunities. But economics trumps everything, right? Wrong. Especially the kind of voodoo economics that ignores the adverse impacts to other local economies faced with the same choice who made the wrong decision. So how about it, Adams County?

By the way, to those you in Adams County working to prevent this travesty, thank you.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Cold Harbor and a Note on Droid Blogging

I am back home after a long drive yesterday that included a quick stop at Cold Harbor. The works in the photo are those of Hoke's division short distance from the Visitors Center. A fitting end to a great weekend as Home's troops fought at Plymouth, Wilmington, and Wyse Fork, all stops on our tour. I'll have more substantial posts on several these sites over the next couple of weeks. Cold Harbor has changed great deal since my last visit, and is now on my list of sites to get back to soon. There's more to the story than just seven minutes of slaughter.

One final "note from the field." I downloaded Blogaway Lite after some issues uploading photos with my other client. Blogaway has been flawless. I enjoy the immediacy of posting during or shortly after a visit. I would have posted more on site, but since I had a buddy along, it wasn't always convenient or polite to be tapping away on my new toy. And sometimes it's best to put the darn thing away and take in your surroundings.

CSS Neuse Replica

Not what you'd expect to find on the average vacant lot in downtown Kinston, NC. The replica is full-size and usually open to the public (including the interior). Still impressive from the outside, the Neuse ll is the only full scale CSS ironclad replica in existence.

While in Kinston, also check out the CSS Neuse Museum, the Civil War Trails markers for the first battle of Kinston, and just to the west along Route 70, the markers for the battle of Wyse Fork. Be aware, though, that most state facilities in NC are closed on Sundays.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Fort Anderson

Guarding the Cape Fear opposite and somewhat farther up-river from Battery Buchanan, Fort Anderson mounted mostly obsolete 32lb cannon. The garrison also possessed a 12lb Whitworth Rifle that proved more effective against Federal gunboats, but was short of ammunition. The massive earthwork, which extended landward along a series of flooded ponds, though not far enough to prevent a successful flanking maneuver by Federal forces under General Jacob Cox.


New Bern

The New Bern battlefield park encompasses much of the area that saw the heaviest fighting, including some well preserved earthworks manned by the 26th NC. The area of the Federal breakthrough, a brickyard near the railroad, is also part of the park. Work is still being done to improve the trails, and the 26th NC (reactivated) has placed a monument commemorating the sacrifice of that regiment on this field in 1862.


I'm having trouble with photos from the Droid. Trying another client.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Albemarle

The 3/8 scale replica of the CSA ram Albemarle at Plymouth, NC. Near here, the ironclad rammed and sank the Southfield and drove the Miami downriver. Later, the Albemarle was itself sunk by a spar torpedo on a steam launch commanded by Captain William B. Cushing. Cushing ran the launch over an anti-torpedo screen of chained logs and personally detonated the spar torpedo. while he swam to safety, several members of his crew drowned or were captured.

Visit the replica near the Port o' Plymouth museum. Also check out a full size replica of Cashing's launch at the Maritime museum, also in Plymouth.
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Thursday, August 19, 2010

South Mills

Three miles south of the locks of the Dismal Swamp Canal near South Mills,NC, rebel forces under Ambrose Wright turned back the advance of Federal forces under general Jesse Reno, sent to destroy the locks.

Men's forces, the Ninth New York in advance, approached South Mills on April 19, 1862. The rebels had filled a ditch in front of their position with burning fence rails, obscuring their position.

Soon after the Ninth crossed the ditch, the combined fire of the rebel 3rd Georgia infantry and Giles's battery swept their ranks. Losses mounted, and the Ninth moved to the right, sheltering in a nearby woods. Some time later, the Sixth New. Hampshire turned the rebel right. Wright withdrew, ending contest.

The following day Reno, concerned over rumors of rebel reinforcements, withdrew southward. Though he claimed success for having driven the enemy from the field, he had failed to damage or destroy the canal. The threat of Confederate ironclads descending the canal never materialized, however, as Norfolk fell shortly thereafter.
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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Civil War Weekend 2010

Tomorrow I set out on my umpteenth annual Civil War weekend, this time to eastern North Carolina. Sites on this one include: South Mills, Plymouth (and the Albermarle replica), New Berne, Fort Macon, Fort Fisher, Fort Anderson, and Kinston (CSS Neuse). We may take in Bethesda Church on the way down or back, plus any Civil War Trails sites we happen across.

I'm looking forward to a a great weekend. I plan to try a bit of "in the moment blogging" from my Droid - should be interesting.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

SHAF Tour - Harpers Ferry

From SHAF Tour 2010

I will cover the SHAF tour of South Mountain and Harpers Ferry in several posts focused on the various separate engagements covered by the tour. An overview of Harpers Ferry seems appropriate to start, what with the concern over development plans for Bolivar Heights. The picture above shows the position of A.P. Hill's artillery on the Murphy Farm. Hill's seizure of this position flanked Bolivar Heights and sealed the fate of the garrison. It is worth noting the Murphy Farm represents a significant preservation victory made possible by the cooperation of the NPS and the Murphy family.

One of the themes of the tour highlighted the need to reappraise the performance of Federal and Confederate commanders during the campaign. Dixon S. Miles, the Federal commander at Harpers Ferry, is almost universally regarded as an "imbecile," but as Dr. Dennis Frye points out, he was forced to defend the town. His choices of Maryland Heights and Bolvar Heights for defensive positions made the best of a bad situation. Miles had perhaps 14,000 troops, most of which were green, and many of them had been in the army for only 3 weeks - barely enough time to learn how to load and fire a musket, let alone maneuver in formation.

The loss of Maryland Heights to troops under Lafayette McLaws seriously compromised Miles's defense, but this was perhaps unavoidable given the inexperience of Miles's command. With hope for relief fading, Miles permitted 1400 cavalry under Colonel Grimes Davis to attempt a breakout. The cavalry had been posted on the Murphy farm, guarding the southern flank of Miles's defensive line. As the cavalry made their escape in darkness, the infantry sent to replace them was recalled to Bolivar Heights to shore up the main line against an apparent night assault.

This night assault was a diversion planned by Jackson to cover the advance of A. P. Hill's division to the Murphy Farm, and it worked brilliantly. Frye considers this one of Jackson's most ingenious strategems, and suggests that Jackson receives little credit for it because of the low opinion most historians hold of his opponent. Given a reappraisal of Miles's efforts, Jackson's success at Harpers Ferry attains new significance. He coordinated three separate columns in a difficult convergence, disrupted his opponents defensive arrangements with a clever ruse, and seized a key position that made the enemy's line, and ultimately the town of Harpers Ferry, untenable. His efforts resulted in the largest surrender of U.S. forces prior to World War II.

Today, Harpers Ferry National Historic park includes portions of School House Ridge, Bolivar Heights, the Murphy Farm, and Maryland Heights. The battlefield portions of the park exist through the combined efforts of private individuals, CWPT, and the National Park Service. As I rethink my own opinions of Miles and Jackson's operations before Harpers Ferry, I am grateful for the areas that have been preserved, and hopeful for those that have not.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Harpers Ferry Update from CWPT

From SHAF Tour 2010

As noted in my earlier post, I received a rapid response to an email I sent to CWPT about the risk to Bolivar Heights at Harpers Ferry. Here's the situation as described by Jim Campi of CWPT:

"CWPT is part of a coalition of groups that is fighting to save of the Old Standard Tract. The coalition has won a few fights to prevent development of this key property over the past 5-6 years. But, as you know, we have to win EVERY attempt to develop this historic parcel – the developers only have to win once."

Jim also forwarded a notice about several local meetings to raise awareness and determine courses of action to combat the backhanded and arbitrary methods used by the developer and the State of West Virginia that usurped zoning juridiction from the local government:


Developers of the Old Standard Quarry twice tried to upgrade the density of use, and thus the value, of the nearly 400-acre Old Standard Quarry on the edge of Harpers Ferry. Annexation to the City of Charles Town some five miles distant was tried without success. They also sought rezoning from Jefferson County without success. Then it recently was discovered that they had quietly pushed through state legislation that exempted “brownfield districts” from state planning and zoning laws, and had regulations implemented making themselves governments unto themselves free to develop the land any way they wished free of local control. The scheme was only exposed when it was discovered that a final plat subdividing the property for over 2,000,000 square feet of commercial space had been recorded in June 2010.


The Jefferson County Commission is working hard to unravel these schemes through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and other means, and has scheduled two important meetings with the state delegation to figure out how these circumstances came about and how to reverse course and restore local planning control. Here’s the schedule:

August 16 (Monday) 3:00-5:00 p.m. Overview of Old Standard Application for “Brownfield District” designation.
August 19 (Thursday) 3:00 p.m. for discussion with state delegation about how this legislative scheme evolved

Both meetings are at the Charles Town Library at the corner of Washington and Samuel Streets in Charles Town, West Virginia



What can you do? 1. Attend the meetings, if possible. 2. Support CWPT. They understand the situation and context and have been involved with local organizations in the struggle against this development threat for the past several years.

What's in this for you besides preserving hallowed ground? I will send Guild Press's The Civil War CD-ROM to the first person to email me at a donation receipt from CWPT dated on or after August 5, 2010 in the amount of $50.00 or more. The CD contains the Army Official Records and a few aditional supporting works. Who can't use a digitized copy of the OR's?

Harper Ferry Update

I received a response from Jim Campi of CWPT this morning. They are working on this one, and Jim forwarded some information on local meetings being held to discuss this issue. I will post the details later today.

I am also trying out a Blogger app
for my new Droid. I'm hoping it will come in handy on my upcoming Civil War weekend.

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Monday, August 2, 2010

The Siege of Harpers Ferry 2010

From SHAF Tour 2010

Colonel Dixon S. Miles positioned his Federal troops along Bolivar Heights to defend Harpers Ferry against Stonewall Jackson's wing of the Army of Northern Virginia. He faced long odds in what many historians consider an indefensible position.

We face those same odds today in the wake of development plans for the section of Bolivar Heights pictured above. The cleared section of the ridge has been slated for industrial / commercial development. In the words of Dr. Dennis Frye, "picture a super-Wal-Mart, then picture 16 buildings of that size and cover that ridge in the distance with them." This is the threat.

If you had heard the passion in Dennis's voice when he spoke about this, you would understand his frustration with recent attention given to the Wilderness Wal-Mart, sited close to the Wilderness Battlefield, when actual battlefield land at Harpers Ferry is about to be paved over and lost forever.

How we got to this point is irrelevant. And it's possible this battle may be lost. The zoning is in place and the preservation community does not seem to be mobilized for this fight. So consider this a call to action. As soon as I find out more, I will post it here. Let's hope CWPT is aware of this crisis and planning a campaign to prevent the destruction of a critical portion of a battlefield that witnessed the largest surrender of united States forces prior to World War II.

UPDATE: Check out Harry Smeltzer's post over at Bull Runnings, which has some additional detail on the developers responsible for this mess.