Category Archives: History

Gettysburg National Military Park

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought July 1–3, 1863 in and around Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Union Maj. Gen. George Meade’s Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War. The battle ended in a Union victory and resulted in approximately 48,000 total casualties.

Gettysburg National Military Park preserves 3,965 acres and maintains approximately 1,328 monuments, markers, and memorials. Because the battle was fought in and around the town (home to 7,620 people and Gettysburg College), it would be impossible to preserve the entirety of the battlefield, but extensive efforts have been made to restore preserved land to its 1863 appearance. With 1-2 million visitors per year, Gettysburg is perhaps the most popular Civil War battlefield.

Battlefield tour guides are knowledgeable and well-trained. Applicants actually go through a process of written and oral exams, held every other year, before being licensed by the National Park Service. In 2008, the park built a new, $29.4 million visitor center with 20,000 square feet of exhibit space. It houses a cyclorama, galleries, temporary exhibit spaces, an archive, two theaters, a full-service restaurant, catering kitchen, classrooms, gift shop/bookstore, staff offices, and a conference room, and employs 85-105 full time employees. It’s truly impressive.

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Monocacy National Battlefield

Monocacy National Battlefield is located along Urbana Pike, outside Frederick, Maryland. Fought July 9, 1864, the battle pitted Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early’s Corps against Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace’s VIII Corps in the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 2,200 total casualties.

While Antietam is a well-known and popular battlefield, many are unaware that a second battle took place in Maryland. This battle was part of Jubal Early’s 1864 campaign to threaten Washington, D.C. and draw forces away from Ulysses S. Grant’s siege of Petersburg, Virginia.

While the battle was a Southern victory, Union forces delayed the Confederates long enough for reinforcements to arrive in Washington, D.C., earning Monocacy the moniker “the Battle that Saved Washington.” Nicely-designed interpretive signs explain various stages of the battle along a six-mile driving tour route.

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12 Strong: Exciting but Embellished Portrayal of Operation Enduring Freedom’s Opening Salvo

Twelve special operations soldiers team up with the Northern Alliance to strike back against the Taliban in Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in 12 Strong (2018). Written by Ted Tally and Peter Craig, and directed by Nicolai Fuglsig, 12 Strong is based on the book Horse Soldiers (2009) by Doug Stanton. Unfortunately, epic battle scenes and a compelling real-life story aren’t enough to rescue this film from its lackluster execution and direction.

Green Beret Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) is moving to a staff job when terrorists destroy the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. With the help of Chief Warrant Officer 5 Hal Spencer (Michael Shannon), he convinces Lt. Colonel Max Bowers (Rob Riggle), Commander of 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group, to allow him to rejoin his team and deploy with Task Force Dagger against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

In Uzbekistan, Captain Nelson convinces Colonel John Mulholland (William Fichtner) to allow his team to go in first by displaying confidence and a knowledge of Afghan history, despite never having served in combat. Prominent members of his team include SFC Sam Diller (Michael Peña) and SFC Ben Milo (Trevante Rhodes). Together, they must earn the trust of an unpredictable Afghan warlord, General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban), and help him defeat his Taliban rivals around the city of Mazar-i-Sharif using U.S. air power.

Mullah Razzan (Numan Acar), leader of the Taliban forces, is a dark-haired, mustache-twirling villain who executes a woman early in the film for teaching young girls to read. After several confrontations and missteps, Captain Nelson wins Dostum’s trust and together they overwhelm the Taliban in the “Tiangi Gap” and free Mazar-i-Sharif, mostly on horseback.

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First Bull Run Battlefield

The First Bull Run battlefield is part of Manassas National Battlefield Park, located north of Manassas in Prince William County, Virginia. Fought July 21, 1861, the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas) pitted Confederate Brig. Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard’s Army of the Potomac and Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of the Shenandoah, against Union Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell’s Army of Northeastern Virginia in the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 4,700 total casualties.

The Battle of Bull Run was almost a minor skirmish compared to later engagements, but it was the first major battle of the war. Both sides believed they would achieve an easy victory.  In the end, the Union army was routed from the field.

The battlefield centers on Henry House Hill, where the thickest fighting occurred. Here, as the Confederates began to waver, a brigade led by Thomas J. Jackson arrived on the field just in time. He earned the nickname “Stonewall” for stopping the Union assault and helping to turn the tide.

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Gettysburg: The Last Invasion by Allen Guelzo

Gettysburg: The Last Invasion (2013) by Allen Guelzo charts the Gettysburg Campaign, June 3 to July 24, 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s second invasion of the North during the American Civil War. The campaign culminated in the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, in which approximately 48,000 Americans became casualties. In the end, the two armies settled into camps in roughly the same place they started.

The book is divided into four parts. Part 1 covers the march to Gettysburg, and the others cover each subsequent day of the battle. It’s a linear history from beginning to end, and focuses on the big picture. There’s nothing new to read about the fighting, but Guelzo draws from extensive sources to explore how the battle was fought and the politics of both armies.

Guelzo compares the Battle of Gettysburg with battles from mid-nineteenth century European conflicts to argue that the American Civil War was a decidedly pre-modern war. The high casualty rolls were not the result of outdated tactics facing modern weapons, but the result of inexperienced, amateur soldiers and officers. Instead of driving their opponents away with bayonets, they stood and blasted away at each other at close range. This poor training erased any advantage the rifle might have offered, with some estimating that only one in 500 shots actually hit their target.

Politics also played a role in how the armies fought. The Union Army was roughly divided into two camps: pro-McClellan and anti-McClellan, or moderate pro-war Democrats and radical abolitionist Republicans. Guelzo makes an interesting case that George G. Meade, who took command of the Army of the Potomac days prior to the battle, was a McClellanite who promoted his fellow partisans over their ideological opponents. Meade is usually described as non-political, so this is a fresh perspective.

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Second Manassas Battlefield

The Second Manassas battlefield is part of Manassas National Battlefield Park, located north of Manassas in Prince William County, Virginia. Fought between August 28–30, 1862, the Battle of Second Manassas (Second Battle of Bull Run) pitted Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia against Union Maj. Gen. John Pope’s Army of Virginia in the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 21,700 total casualties.

The Brawner Farm Interpretive Center is where fighting began on August 28, when Confederate artillery opened up on the Union army’s Iron Brigade as it marched east along the Warrenton Turnpike. Nearby, on Battery Heights, Confederate artillery swept the field on August 30, devastating Union infantry attacking Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s corps in an unfinished railroad cut.

Unlike the First Bull Run battlefield, which is walkable, the Second Manassas battlefield driving tour is 18-miles long, with separate walking trails. Each tour stop has a parking lot or pull off and interpretive markers.

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Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage by Noah Andre Trudeau

The Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863, is the most well-researched battle of the American Civil War. In the 1990s, Noah Andre Trudeau began synthesizing decades of research to produce the first comprehensive book on that battle since The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command (1968). Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage (2002) is the result of his effort. It is a sweeping narrative of that three day struggle, which resulted in approximately 48,000 American casualties.

Although Trudeau summarizes the entire campaign from beginning to end, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage is primarily about the battle. It is also not strictly a military history. Like his book The Last Citadel: Petersburg, the author weaves the civilian experience, including townsfolk and journalists, into his narrative. It strikes just the right balance between anecdote and explanation, and never gets bogged down in minutiae.

The book is organized chronologically, which is helpful for keeping track of events across such a large battlefield. Unfortunately, it isn’t consistent. Events on July 3 are broken down practically hour by hour, whereas the entire attack on July 2 is given one section, from 4:10 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. I understand it’s difficult to determine when events occurred with one hundred percent accuracy, but breaking up that six hour period into smaller bits would have been helpful.

Trudeau is unique in arguing Richard S. Ewell, not Henry Heth, was responsible for initiating the Battle of Gettysburg. By mid-afternoon on July 2, Heth had withdrawn his division out of enemy contact in conformity with General Lee’s order. It was Ewell who decided to “come to Heth’s rescue” and bring on a general engagement. I see the merits of this unconventional argument. Trudeau continues to focus on Ewell’s actions, and the bizarre sideshow around Culp’s Hill, an often neglected aspect of the battle.

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Battle of the Sexes: A Tedious and Unfunny 1970s Sports Dramedy

A female tennis star wrestles with the patriarchy and her own sexuality in the gyno-centric sports dramedy Battle of the Sexes (2017), written by Simon Beaufoy and directed by Jonathan Dayton. A retelling of the most-watched tennis match of all time, between ex-champion Bobby Riggs and top female player Billie Jean King, seemed promising, but something misfired along the way. It was partly billed as a comedy, and features both Sarah Silverman and Steve Carell, but ends up only being mildly amusing.

It’s the early 1970s. Tennis star Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and her manager Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) confront Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) about gross inequality in tennis prize money between male and female players. In outrage, they storm off to found their own women’s tennis association. Meanwhile, ex-tennis star Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) has hit a new low as his gambling addiction threatens to tear apart his family.

As her new league takes off, Billie Jean King’s behavior threatens her marriage as well, when she meets hairstylist Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) and discovers she is attracted to women. This affair seems to have little effect on her life, however, when her cuckolded husband, Larry King (Austin Stowell), shrugs it off and continues to faithfully dote on her.

Meanwhile, Bobby Riggs comes up with a way to exploit controversy over the women’s lib movement to make money and challenges top female tennis players to an exhibition bout. He handily defeats Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee), who is portrayed as somehow flawed and weakened by her loving devotion to her husband and child. Billie Jean King finally accepts the challenge and ends up humiliating Riggs in a match dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes.”

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