A Trip to Battlefield Heritage Park in Bristow, Virginia

Two battles, thirteen months apart, were fought at or near Bristoe Station during the American Civil War: Kettle Run on August 27, 1862 during the Northern Virginia Campaign and Bristoe Station on October 14, 1863 during the Bristoe Campaign. Bristoe Station was a stop on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, an important rail line running north-south from Alexandria, Virginia to Gordonsville. It formed the northern half of the only rail link between the Union and Confederate capitals at Washington, D.C. and Richmond. Bristoe Battlefield was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.

Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park is the result of a compromise between development and historical preservation. As part of Centex Homes’ application to rezone agricultural land and develop New Bristow Village near the historic site, it promised to dedicate 127 acres as a Heritage Park to the Civil War Preservation Trust and identify and preserve mass graves of Confederate and Union soldiers. The Prince William County Board of Supervisors approved their application in 2002.

Today, you can walk 2.7 miles of trails through woods, wetlands, and wind-swept hills where armies marched, camped, and fought over 150 years ago.

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A Lost Cause

Monument to Jefferson F. Davis in Hollywood Cemetery, 412 S. Cherry Street in Richmond, Virginia. Jefferson Davis (1808-1889) was most infamously known for being the first and only president of the Confederate States of America, from 1861 to 1865. A Mississippian by birth, Davis also served as a U.S. Congressman, Senator, and Secretary of War. He spent his twilight years at Beauvoir in Biloxi, Mississippi and was buried in Louisiana. In 1893, his body was re-interred in Hollywood Cemetery.

A Lost Cause

Ox Hill Battlefield Park in Fairfax, Virginia

This small park preserves the spot where a Union general fell during the American Civil War.

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The Battle of Ox Hill (aka Battle of Chantilly) was fought on September 1, 1862 between Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Philip Kearny and Brig. Gen. Isaac Stevens and Confederate forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson in Fairfax County, Virginia during the American Civil War. The battle was technically a draw. Union forces retreated, but succeeded in stopping Jackson’s advance. It concluded the 1862 Northern Virginia Campaign.

After being soundly defeated at the Second Battle of Bull Run, Union Maj. Gen. John Pope faced pressure to turn and attack Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. To retain the initiative, Lee directed Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s corps to flank Pope and cut off his army’s lifeline to Washington, D.C. Jackson’s exhausted men, however, moved uncharacteristically slowly.

Pope sent two Union divisions under Maj. Gen. Phillip Kearny and Brig. Gen. Isaac Stevens, totaling approximately 6,000 men, to block Jackson’s advance. On September 1st, though severely outnumbered, Stevens’ division attacked Jackson’s corps on Ox Hill. The attack was initially successful, but Brig. Gen. Jubal Early’s brigade counter-attacked and drove them back. Stevens was killed leading his men in a spirited charge.

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Robert E. Lee’s Greatest Military Blunders

By many accounts, Robert E. Lee was the greatest Civil War general, certainly for the South but arguably on both sides. But Lee’s record is not spotless, and he had his share of grave military errors. When Lee was in command of the Army of Northern Virginia, he racked up a total of 209,000 casualties (55,000 more than Ulysses S. Grant, who’s been derided as a “butcher”). Lee’s aggressive tactics were responsible for more than one bloody affair, in which he needlessly sacrificed the lives of his troops with no gain. The following were some of Lee’s biggest military blunders:

Cheat Mountain

Before Robert E. Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia, he was overall commander of Virginia’s militia. In 1861, the Confederacy’s prospects were dim in western Virginia, and President Jefferson Davis sent Lee to rectify the situation. That resulted in the “battle” of Cheat Mountain on September 12, 1861. Heavy rains, inexperienced troops, and quarreling generals resulted in a lost opportunity as 5,000 Confederates retreated from 3,000 Union soldiers camped on the mountain, earning Lee the nickname “Evacuating Lee” and “Granny Lee”. Lee’s failure to coordinate Confederate forces in western Virginia lost control over that strategic region, leading to West Virginia separating in 1863 and joining the Union cause.

Battle of Malvern Hill

In the summer of 1862, Union General George McClellan stood outside the Confederate capitol of Richmond with an army of over 100,000 men. Lee was given command of the Army of Northern Virginia, and he took aggressive action to drive McClellan from Richmond. At the Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862, Lee ordered an attack over an open field against the Union line, which was well supported by artillery. Despite murderous artillery fire, Lee continued to order reinforcements into the meat grinder, even though he was not present on the battlefield to observe the results. The Confederates suffered 5,650 casualties to the Union’s 3,000.

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Fort Fisher State Historic Site in New Hanover County, North Carolina

The fall of Fort Fisher in January 1865 marked the beginning of the end for the Confederacy in North Carolina.

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The Union Army and Navy made two attempts to capture Fort Fisher during the American Civil War. The first, in December 1864, was unsuccessful. The second battle, fought from Jan. 13 to Jan. 15, 1865 between Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Alfred Terry and the Confederate garrison commanded by Maj. Gen. W.H.C. Whiting and Col. William Lamb, was a complete Union victory.

After Union Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler’s embarrassing failure in December 1864, Generals Adelbert Ames, Alfred Terry, Charles Paine, and Admiral David Porter were determined to take Fort Fisher and close the Confederacy’s last trading port. These supplies were critical to keeping Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of North Virginia fighting in the trenches around Petersburg, Virginia.

On January 12, 1865, the Union fleet returned, this time carrying approximately 9,600 troops and 2,260 sailors and marines. Alfred Terry planned a three-pronged assault: a division of United States Colored Troops commanded by Charles J. Paine would attack Confederate Maj. Gen. Robert Hoke’s division south of Wilmington, Adelbert Ames’ division would attack Fort Fisher from the north, and 2,000 sailors and marines would attack from the sea.

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Ball’s Bluff Battlefield Regional Park in Leesburg, Virginia

A small park and cemetery memorializes one of the most lopsided and controversial battles of the American Civil War.

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The Battle of Ball’s Bluff was fought on October 21, 1861 between Union forces commanded by Brig. Gen. Charles P. Stone and Col. Edward D. Baker and Confederate forces commanded by Col. Nathan “Shanks” Evans near Leesburg, Virginia during the American Civil War. The battle was a humiliating defeat for Union forces, including the loss of a U.S. Senator, and led Congress to establish the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War.

After the First Battle of Bull Run ended notions of a quick Union victory, President Abraham Lincoln authorized Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan to form the Army of the Potomac and plan another advance into Virginia. Leesburg, Virginia was a strategic town on the Potomac River, so McClellan ordered Brig. Gen. George A. McCall to investigate Confederate troop movements in the area. McClellan was under the impression that Confederate Col. Nathan “Shanks” Evans had abandoned Leesburg, when in fact his withdrawal was temporary.

On the night of October 20, 1861, Col. Charles Devens of the 15th Massachusetts Infantry sent a patrol across the Potomac River to recon the area. A jittery officer sent word that he had seen a Confederate camp, so Devens sent a raiding party of 300 men across the river the next morning. Though there was no camp, Colonel and U.S. Senator Edward Dickinson Baker, a close friend of Abraham Lincoln, ordered more Union troops to reinforce the 15th Massachusetts.

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Pragmatism vs. Ideology in Lincoln (2012)

An intellectual debate between opposing philosophical approaches plays out in Steven Spielberg’s presidential biopic.

Director Steven Spielberg’s biopic of President Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to pass the Thirteenth Amendment during the closing months of the American Civil War was a critical success, with strong performances by Daniel Day Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones. Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal of resolute and idealistic Thaddeus Stevens was the perfect foil to Lincoln’s more pragmatic and folksy personality.

Thaddeus Stevens

Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868) was a U.S. Representative from Pennsylvania, who served from 1849 to 1853, and again from 1859 to his death in 1868. Stevens was a staunch abolitionist and leader of the Radical faction of the Republican Party, who sought total legal and social equality for African Americans, including redistribution of Southern lands to freed slaves.

President Lincoln and Congressman Stevens had the same goal. Both wanted the Thirteenth Amendment passed, which would forever outlaw slavery in the United States. That required a two-thirds majority vote, and Lincoln wanted the amendment passed in the House of Representatives before the Confederacy surrendered, which was not a matter of if but when. In order to get the necessary votes, Lincoln needed bipartisan support from conservative Democrats as well as Republicans. Stevens, however, refused to compromise and moderate his tone.

In one scene of dialog from Lincoln, Lincoln and Stevens meet in a smoke-filled kitchen to hash out their differences. Lincoln needs to get Stevens on his side, but Stevens seems uninterested in compromise. This conversation is a perfect contrast between ideology and pragmatism. Pragmatists are willing to meet their opponents halfway, while ideologues will only accept a total and complete triumph of their ideas.

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