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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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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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Chancellorsville Battlefield

The Chancellorsville battlefield is part of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. Fought between April 30 and May 6, 1863 near the village of Chancellorsville, the battle pitted  Union Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s Army of the Potomac against Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 30,500 total casualties.

The Battle of Chancellorsville is considered Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s most stunning victory. In violation of basic military rules, he divided his army in the face of a superior enemy and sent Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s corps around the Union army’s flank. Jackson’s ill-fated death, accidentally shot by one of his own soldiers, was devastating to the Confederate cause.

Pictured above is a re-creation outlining the Chancellor House at the intersection of modern-day Route 610 (Orange Plank Road) and Route 3 (Orange Turnpike). Union General Joseph Hooker used the Chancellor House has a headquarters during the battle. He was slightly injured when a cannonball struck a porch pillar he was leaning against.

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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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Fredericksburg Battlefield

The Fredericksburg battlefield is part of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. Fought between December 11–13, 1862 in and around Fredericksburg, the battle pitted Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia against Union Major General Ambrose Burnside’s Army of the Potomac in the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 16,800 total casualties.

The Battle of Fredericksburg is mostly known for a futile Union charge against a formidable Confederate position on Marye’s Heights. The Confederates stood behind a stone wall, with cannon positioned on the heights above. From there, they swept the open field with musket and cannon fire.

Today, Marye’s Heights is located near the Visitors Center. There is a walking trail that follows former Confederate positions up to Fredericksburg National Cemetery.

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Gettysburg: The Second Day by Harry W. Pfanz

In Gettysburg: The Second Day (1987), Harry W. Pfanz charts the events of the Battle of Gettysburg’s second day, July 2, 1863. July 2 was the Confederacy’s last, best hope for winning a decisive victory on Northern soil. Like the previous day, it started badly for the Union Army of the Potomac, yet ubiquitous action by generals George G. Meade and Winfield Scott Hancock staved off disaster and won what became the most famous Union victory of the American Civil War.

This book is far superior to Pfanz’s later works on Gettysburg, but it only focuses on the action on the Union left flank and not on Culp’s Hill or Cemetery Hill. That received its own book-length treatment. The omission was a relief to this reader, since its grueling 624-page length already pushed the limits of my attention span.

As a micro history, Gettysburg: The Second Day almost entirely focuses on the tactical, rather than strategic, aspects of the battle. It would be unfair to say the author never engages in higher level thinking about the events, but he devotes the lion’s share of text to describing what happened and not how or why.

The maps were helpful because in addition to giving readers a visual representation of the verbosely detailed text, they featured a chronological summary of events. That helped put everything into context.

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Free State of Jones

An ex-Confederate organizes a rebellion in southeastern Mississippi during the American Civil War and continues to battle for equal rights for freedmen during Reconstruction in Free State of Jones (2016), written and directed by Gary Ross. The film alternates between the 1860s and a 1948 miscegenation trial, to the detriment of both. Free State of Jones bombed at the box office and received mixed reviews from critics.

The film begins at the Battle of Corinth in northeastern Mississippi, October 3-4, 1862, in which Confederate forces under Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn attempted to dislodge Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans from fortifications around the town of Corinth. Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) is a medical orderly in the Confederate army from Jones County, a predominantly poor area with few slaves.

Knight is disgruntled to learn of a Confederate law that allows sons of plantation owners to avoid military service depending on the number of slaves his family owns. This was designed to guard against slave uprisings, but it angered some poor whites who believed they were fighting a “rich man’s war”. When Knight returns the body of his nephew Daniel (Jacob Lofland) to his home county, he learns that Confederate Captain Elias Hood (Thomas Francis Murphy) is excessively confiscating goods from the local population.

Things get complicated when Knight meets and falls in love with a slave, Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), despite being married to Serena (Keri Russell). He fights back against the tax collectors and hides out in the swamp, where he meets fugitive slaves and befriends Moses (Mahershala Ali). Together with other deserters, they successfully rebel against the Confederacy and proclaim a Free State of Jones. After the war, freed slaves struggle against a segregationist South.

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