1864

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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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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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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Spotsylvania Courthouse Battlefield

Spotsylvania Courthouse battlefield is part of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. Fought between May 8-21, 1864, Spotsylvania Courthouse was the second battle of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s 1864 Overland Campaign against Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 31,000 total casualties.

The Spotsylvania battlefield is located a few miles south of The Wilderness battlefield along Brock Road and is not as spread out as its neighbors. There is no visitors center here, only an exhibit shelter staffed part time. Most of the monuments are located at what became known as the “Bloody Angle” or “Mule Shoe,” but an extensive line of earthworks is still visible.

The worst fighting occurred at a salient in Lee’s line, where General Grant twice tried to break through with a relentless frontal assault. The first attempt, on May 10, was led by Colonel Emory Upton and 12 hand-picked regiments. Today, you can follow the path of his attacking column along a trail leading from the Union lines to the Confederate.

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The Wilderness Battlefield

The Wilderness battlefield is part of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. Fought between May 5-7, 1864, The Wilderness was the first battle of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s 1864 Overland Campaign against Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 28,600 total casualties.

The battlefield is located between the Orange Turnpike and Orange Plank Road west of Brock Road (Route 613). These two roads were also critical during the battle and the scene of heavy fighting. There is no visitors center here, only an exhibit shelter staffed part time.

A complete driving tour of the battlefield takes roughly two hours, with eight main stops. One of the most exciting episodes in the Civil War occurred in this clearing when Robert E. Lee tried to personally lead a counter attack at a critical moment. Men of the Texas Brigade shouted “Lee to the rear!” and refused to advance until he withdrew to safety.

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Tales of Coles County: The Charleston Riot

The following is an excerpt of a short story from my book Tales of Coles County, Illinois, available on Amazon Kindle. Order it today for only $4.99. Tales of Coles County, Illinois was originally published in 2004. A 10th Anniversary edition was released in 2013, but has gone out of print.

The year was 1864, and the month of March was just coming to a close. The battles of Vicksburg and Gettysburg had long passed, and it looked as though the tide of the Civil War was finally turning in the Union’s favor. The presidential election was still over seven months away, but many believed it would decide the course of war.

Illinois had always been divided on the issue of slavery, and there were many people living in the southern half of the state that still had strong ties to their neighbors in the South. They didn’t want Abraham Lincoln reelected, because they knew he would never make peace with the Confederacy. These supporters of the movement for “peace without victory” were called “butternuts” or “copperheads.” Each faction—Unionists and copperheads—equally despised each other, and these divisions were exacerbated along political party lines.

On that mild spring day of March 28, Oliver Thomas stepped outside of Huron’s Bookstore on the west side of Charleston’s town square, engrossed in that week’s issue of the Plaindealer. The newspaper headlines were still fresh with news of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forest’s daring and profitable raid on Paducah, Kentucky the previous week. Oliver was afraid a Confederate attack that far north would inflame the passions of the copperheads, who had been raising a stink over the recent arrival of the 54th Illinois Infantry Regiment in Mattoon. Many of the soldiers were local boys from the county, however, so he couldn’t imagine anything coming of these idle threats.

The din of an unusually robust number of people chatting near the courthouse tore his attention away from his newspaper. He looked up to see several clusters of men gathered around the square. He recognized many familiar faces, but some, who sat on horses near a couple of hay-filled wagons, appeared to be from the countryside. Additionally, there were a little more than a dozen Union soldiers dressed in blue uniforms that ducked in and out of the storefronts or talked with each other on the street. Only a few were armed. Finally, Oliver recognized his friend Daniel, who was standing against a tree near the courthouse, and strode over to him.

“Isn’t this exciting?” Daniel shouted even before Oliver could reach him.

“Isn’t what exciting?” Oliver asked in reply. “What are all these people doing here?” He finally reached the tree, which was in earshot of a small group of four men who stood on the courthouse steps. The quartet included James O’Hair, who was the father of the county sheriff, and his friend Nelson Wells.

“Judge Eden is goin’ to give a speech to the soldiers,” Oliver’s friend replied with excitement.

“I don’t like the sound of that,” he whispered under his breath. Everyone in the county knew that Eden, along with Sheriff John O’Hair, were leaders of the local Peace Democrat faction—Northern Democrats who wanted to make peace with the Confederacy. Eden giving a speech to the soldiers was only asking for trouble. Oliver took note of a Union soldier who walked up to the elder O’Hair. He appeared slightly drunk.

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