Fort Magruder and the Battle of Williamsburg

A small monument and a few wayside markers are all that remind passersby that two Civil War armies once fought here.

Click to expand photos

The Battle of Williamsburg was fought on May 5, 1862 between Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan and Confederate forces commanded by Maj. Gen. James Longstreet outside Williamsburg, Virginia during the American Civil War. The battle was tactically a draw, with the Confederate army withdrawing toward Richmond during the night.

In the spring of 1862, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan took his massive 120,000-man Army of the Potomac by boat and landed at Fort Monroe near Hampton Roads. He planned to march up the Virginia Peninsula and capture the Confederate capitol of Richmond, bringing a swift end to the war. Standing in his way was Confederate Brig. Gen. John B. Magruder, a series of small forts and defensive works, and 11,000 men. Magruder’s elaborate showmanship and deceptive tactics delayed the Union army for nearly 30 days.

The delay bought time for Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston to arrive with reinforcements. Their combined force of 57,000 was still no match for McClellan, so Johnston decided to withdraw to the defenses around Richmond. A force of 32,000 commanded by Maj. Gen. James Longstreet was left to defend Fort Magruder, southeast of Williamsburg, and cover the withdrawal.

Continue reading “Fort Magruder and the Battle of Williamsburg”

South Mountain State Battlefield, Maryland

Idyllic southern Maryland scenery overshadows the carnage that once took place here.

Click to expand photos

The Battle of South Mountain was fought on September 14, 1862 between Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside and Confederate forces commanded by Maj. Gen. James Longstreet in Frederick and Washington counties, Maryland during the American Civil War. The battle was a Union victory, with the Confederate army withdrawing and General Robert E. Lee considering prematurely ending his invasion of Maryland.

After General Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia destroyed the Union Army of Virginia at the Second Battle of Manassas, Lee saw an opportunity to invade Maryland, threaten Washington, DC, and possibly influence European powers to recognize Confederate independence. Lee divided his army and sent one wing to capture Harper’s Ferry, Virginia and the other into Maryland. A copy of his orders fell into enemy hands, however, and for once Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan acted swiftly to catch Lee off guard.

McClellan sent elements of his reconstituted Army of the Potomac to capture three strategic gaps in South Mountain, hoping to sever Lee’s army and destroy it in detail. The mountain passes were known as Turner’s Gap, Fox’s Gap, and Crampton’s Gap. Because of the difficult terrain and distance between them, the Battle of South Mountain was actually three separate engagements, though they all took place in a single day.

Continue reading “South Mountain State Battlefield, Maryland”

Battle of Plattsburgh Historic Sites

This decisive naval battle on Lake Champlain is celebrated as a pivotal moment in the War of 1812. A large monument towers over Plattsburgh, New York, where you can look out over the water and imagine the old wooden sailing ships locked in deadly combat.

Click to expand photos

The Battle of Plattsburgh was fought from September 6 to Sept. 11, 1814 between British forces commanded by Lieutenant General Sir George Prévost and Captain George Downie and American forces commanded by Brigadier General Alexander Macomb and Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough on Lake Champlain and Plattsburgh, New York during the War of 1812. The battle was a major American victory. It stopped the British invasion of New York and led to denial of British territorial demands in the Treaty of Ghent.

In late summer 1814, the British planned to conduct a combined land and naval campaign down Lake Champlain, which had it succeeded, would have drastically altered the balance of power in the region. They gathered approximately 11,000 men and a fleet of four ships and 12 gunboats for the expedition. Opposing them were approximately 6,000 American regulars and militia and four ships and ten gunboats.

Brig. Gen. Alexander Macomb decided to make his stand at Plattsburgh, and sent troops north to harass the British as they advanced. Plattsburgh Bay allowed Commandant Macdonough’s ships to engage the British at close range, where the British would lose the advantage of their long-range guns. On the morning of September 11, the British ships HMS Chubb, HMS Linnet, HMS Confiance, and HMS Finch engaged the American ships USS Eagle, USS Saratoga, USS Ticonderoga, and USS Preble.

Continue reading “Battle of Plattsburgh Historic Sites”

Bataille-de-la-Châteauguay National Historic Site

This small historic site and museum commemorates and interprets the Canadian victory that thwarted an American invasion and saved Montreal.

Click to expand photos

The Battle of the Chateauguay was fought on October 26, 1813 between American forces under the command of Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton and British, colonial, and Native American forces commanded by Lt. Col. Charles de Salaberry near Allan’s Corners, Quebec during the War of 1812. It was an embarrassing defeat for the Americans, and this, alongside another defeat at Crysler’s Farm, persuaded them to abandon plans to march on Montreal.

The American effort to capture Montreal in 1813 was known as the St. Lawrence Campaign, since it focused on militarily dominating the St. Lawrence River, at the border of the United States and British Canada. In September, Maj. Gen. James Wilkinson and 8,000 men departed from Sackets Harbor, New York and advanced east along the river, while Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton and 4,000 men advanced north from Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain. Wilkinson was defeated at the Battle of Crysler’s Farm on November 11.

Hampton advanced along a road following the Châteauguay River’s north bank, while local French Canadians fed intelligence to Lt. Col. Charles de Salaberry and his men. Salaberry erected barricades across the road and blocked a ford over the river. Hampton split his force into two wings, each with 1,000 men. One wing attempted a frontal attack, while the other swung around the river and attacked the ford.

Continue reading “Bataille-de-la-Châteauguay National Historic Site”

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.

Continue reading “A Trip to Battlefield Heritage Park in Bristow, Virginia”

Ox Hill Battlefield Park in Fairfax, Virginia

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

Click to expand photos

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.

Continue reading “Ox Hill Battlefield Park in Fairfax, Virginia”

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.

Click to expand photos

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.

Continue reading “Fort Fisher State Historic Site in New Hanover County, North Carolina”