History

Cold Harbor Battlefield

The Battle of Cold Harbor was fought in Hanover County near Mechanicsville, Virginia from May 31 to June 12, 1864 between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac in the American Civil War. The battle was a Confederate victory and resulted in approximately 18,000 total casualties. It was the last engagement of Grant’s Overland Campaign.

The Cold Harbor Battlefield is part of Richmond National Battlefield Park. Only about 300 acres of the approximately 7,500-acre battlefield are currently preserved. The Civil War Trust has managed to save 69 acres, but preservation efforts are ongoing.

The earthworks pictured above were dug and manned by troops of Confederate Lt. General Richard Anderson’s First Corps. On June 1, men of Maj. Gen. Robert F. Hoke and Brig. Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw’s divisions fell back to this final position. On June 3, the left flank of the Union XVIII Corps and the right flank of the VI Corps attacked this site. Union and Confederate soldiers found themselves 200 yards apart in some places. Confederate soldiers built sheltered tunnels leading from the rear to their entrenchments, so they could move supplies back and forth without being exposed to fire.

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Sorrel-Weed House in Savannah, Georgia

Madison Square in Savannah, Georgia is bounded by Harris Street to the north, Bull Streets to the east and west, and Charlton Street to the south. A statue commemorating Revolutionary War soldier Sgt. William Jasper stands proudly in the center. This monument marks the southern limit of British defenses during the Siege of Savannah in 1779. If the view looks familiar, it is because an aerial perspective of the park can be seen in the opening scene of Forrest Gump (1994).

The Sorrel-Weed House stands on Madison Square’s north side. Irish architect Charles B. Cluskey designed and built this majestic Greek-Revival home for Frances Sorrel, a merchant from the West Indies, in 1841. His son, Moxley Sorrel, rose to fame as Confederate Lt. General James Longstreet’s staff officer during the American Civil War.  General Robert E. Lee visited his home in late 1861 and early 1862. During the Siege of Petersburg in 1864, he was promoted to brigadier general and given command of a brigade. At 26, he was the youngest general officer in the Confederate army.

At some point in the past, a market was built along Bull Street on the mansion’s west side. The Society for the Preservation of Savannah Landmarks opened it for tours in January 1940. It was designated a state historic landmark in 1953. When it underwent renovations, the city tried to prevent the new owner from painting its exterior a gaudy orange, but he was able to prove, by pealing back 20 layers of paint, that was its original color.

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Malvern Hill Battlefield

The Battle of Malvern Hill was fought in Henrico County, Virginia on July 1, 1862 between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac in the American Civil War. The battle was a tactical Union victory and resulted in approximately 8,600 total casualties.

The Malvern Hill Battlefield is part of Richmond National Battlefield Park. Nearly unaltered in appearance since 1862, it is the best preserved Civil War battlefield in central or southern Virginia. Such a well-preserved battlefield presents a unique opportunity to study the terrain and put yourself in the shoes of a Civil War soldier at the battle.

Malvern Hill was the final engagement of the Seven Days battles. McClellan decided to make his final stand on this gently-sloping hill, which offered clear fields of fire for his artillery. General Lee hoped Confederate artillery would suppress the Union guns, but it failed to do so. Thousands of soldiers died in pointless frontal assaults against this formidable position.

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Cahokia Mounds Tell an Ancient Tale

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is located near Collinsville, Illinois, around eight miles east of St. Louis. The site consists of over a dozen prehistoric mounds constructed by a vanished culture around the time Leif Ericson’s longships landed in Vinland. The mounds were built by a group of people identified by anthropologists as belonging to the Mississippian Culture. Not much is known about them, other than the artifacts and earthen structures they left behind.

The most prominent is Monk’s Mound. Monk’s Mound was the largest earthen structure north of central Mexico at the time of its construction. “Begun around A.D. 900 and completed 300 years later,” Gene S. Stuart wrote in his book America’s Ancient Cities (1988). “It has 4 terraces; rises 100 feet; covers some 16 acres with a base measuring approximately 700 by 1,080 feet, and contains about 22 million cubic feet of earth.” A large building sat at the summit of the mound.

The mounds were a part of a large city, which reached the height of its power between 1000 and 1200 A.D. A stockade surrounded the central structures at the site, which the residents rebuilt several times. There is no evidence of a battle at the location and it’s unknown whether the city had any enemies.

Cahokia stood at the hub of a network of “mound communities,” which would have reinforced its role as a trade center along with its place at the juncture of the Mississippi, Illinois, and Missouri Rivers. It maintained that position for several hundred years before the site was mysteriously abandoned around 1400 A.D. In comparison, the city of St. Louis has been in existence for a little over 200 years.

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Christine: A Potently Pessimistic Period Piece

Events leading to journalist Christine Chubbuck’s 1974 on-air suicide are recounted in Christine (2016), a bleak but potent film written by Craig Shilowich and directed by Antonio Campos. Strong performances by its lead actors and its visual authenticity make Christine the best overlooked film of 2016.

Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) is a sincere but troubled woman working as a reporter for a local news station in Sarasota, Florida. She lives with her mother, Peg (J. Smith-Cameron), and performs puppet shows at a children’s hospital on the weekends. Her life begins to spiral out of control when, approaching 30, she discovers she has a cyst on one of her ovaries and may never have children.

Her boss, Michael (Tracy Letts), is concerned about falling ratings and wants Christine to cover more sensational stories. This professional dilemma is compounded by the arrival of station owner Bob Andersen (John Cullum), who wants to move some personnel to Baltimore. Christine is passed over in favor of anchor George Peter Ryan (Michael C. Hall) and sports anchor Andrea Kirby (Kim Shaw). This is a double-blow because Christine had an unrequited crush on George.

I won’t reveal how the film ends, but you probably already guessed. Rebecca Hall, who also starred in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017) and The Dinner (2017), is outstanding as Christine Chubbuck, and won several awards for her effort. I’m not sure this film would have been nearly as good without her performance. She disappeared into the role, bringing her character to life with all the emotion and idiosyncrasies of a real person.

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Third Winchester (Opequon) Battlefield

The Battle of Third Winchester (or Battle of Opequon) was fought in Winchester, Virginia on September 19, 1864 between Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley and Union Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah in the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 8,600 total casualties.

Like other battlefields in the Shenandoah Valley, the Third Winchester battlefield is a result of piecemeal purchases of private property, spurred by donations from preservationists. The Civil War Trust has preserved 222 acres of the 567-acre battlefield. The most recent acquisition was made in 2009 by the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation.

Third Winchester was the largest Civil War battle, in terms of importance and number of troops engaged, in the Shenandoah Valley. 40,000 Union soldiers fought 10–12,000 Confederates, with predictable results. The Union soldiers, however, were inexperienced and fighting Jubal Early’s veteran divisions. Despite losing the battle, the Confederates inflicted a disproportionate number of casualties.

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Great Salt Springs in Gallatin County, Illinois

Mostly forgotten today, the Great Salt Springs (or Illinois Salines) deep in the woods of Gallatin County were once the center of a thriving industry. Looking at the large, wood-lined wells, it’s hard to imagine American Indians once fought and slavery was justified over these murky pools.

Indigenous people first settled this area in the Woodland Period (1000 BC – 1000 AD). They used salt from the springs to preserve and flavor food and trade with other settlements. To extract the salt, they wove reed baskets, lined them with clay, and allowed them to dry before burning. Then they filled the jugs with saline water and allowed it to evaporate, leaving behind a layer of salt. The intricate weaving also left behind a crosshatch pattern on the jugs. Today, thousands of broken pieces of this pottery are scattered around the site.

The French, arriving in 1735, were the first Europeans to claim the site, but lost it in the French and Indian War. In 1802, the Shawnee fought the Kaskaskia tribe in the Great Salt War, soundly defeating them and gaining control of the springs. A year later, Gov. William Henry Harrison signed a treaty with several American Indian tribes, promising to give them 150 bushels of salt a year. In return, the Indians virtually abandoned Southern Illinois.

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