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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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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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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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The Beguiled: A Pastel Remake

A wounded Union soldier is sheltered at a girls’ boarding school in rural Virginia during the American Civil War, igniting pent-up passions and jealousy in this pale imitation of the 1971 Clint Eastwood classic, itself based on the 1966 Southern Gothic novel A Painted Devil by Thomas P. Cullinan. The Beguiled (2017), written and directed by Sofia Coppola, is a remake no one asked for, visually beautiful but emotionally monochrome.

John McBurney (Colin Farrell) is a corporal in the 66th New York and wounded in the leg while fighting somewhere in Virginia in the summer of 1864. He stumbles through the wilderness and collapses. Amy (Oona Laurence), a young student at the nearby Miss Martha Farnsworth’s Seminary for Young Ladies, discovers him and takes him back to the neglected school.

Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) stitches Corporal McBurney’s wound and allows him to stay long enough to recover. Meanwhile, he attracts the attention of the other young ladies of the house, Alicia (Elle Fanning), Jane (Angourie Rice), Marie (Addison Riecke), Emily (Emma Howard), and especially their teacher, Edwina Morrow (Kirsten Dunst).

McBurney is passive but emotionally manipulative. He pledges his love for Edwina, but after catching him in flagrante delicto with Alicia, she accidentally pushes him down the stairs, which opens his wound and breaks his leg. Miss Martha amputates his limb below the knee to prevent infection. McBurney flies into a rage when he sees what she has done, gratuitously injures Amy’s pet turtle, and terrorizes the girls with a revolver.

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Front Royal Courthouse

Warren County Courthouse, Front Royal, Virginia, Warren County, Virginia.

Richmond Redeemed by Richard J. Sommers

richmond-redeemed-the-siege-at-petersburg-by-richard-j-sommersIn Richmond Redeemed: The Siege at Petersburg, Richard J. Sommers meticulously recounts Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s Fifth Offensive (September 29 – October 2, 1864), primarily the Battles of Chaffin’s Bluff (Fort Harrison) and Poplar Spring Church (Peebles’ Farm), against the Confederate defenses around Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia. Originally published in 1981, the sesquicentennial edition contains new research, new writing, and new thinking with perspectives and insights gathered from the author’s 33 years of teaching at the Army War College and conversations with fellow Civil War scholars and enthusiasts.

The Union attack north of the James River at Chaffin’s Bluff in the fall of 1864 broke through Richmond’s defenses and gave Federals their greatest opportunity to capture the Confederate capital. Meanwhile, fighting outside Petersburg at Poplar Spring Church so threatened Southern supply lines that Confederate General Robert E. Lee considered abandoning his Petersburg rail center six months before actually doing so. Yet hard fighting and skillful generalship saved both cities. Sommers painstakingly reconstructs these events with unrivaled detail.

I wouldn’t recommend trying to read Richmond Redeemed without a general understanding of the Siege of Petersburg or the military situation around Richmond in late 1864. Sommers quickly summarizes these events in the Eastern Theater before diving right into the minutia of Grant’s Fifth Offensive. A reader unfamiliar with Grant’s previous offensives around Petersburg is left scratching his or her head. It is difficult to fully grasp the details of these events without making the larger context perfectly clear. Complicating matters, Sommers switches back and forth between the attack against Richmond and the attacks southwest of Petersburg.

Sommers‘ thesis is that these separate attacks should be considered part of the same offensive, and part of a pattern in which Grant struck simultaneously at Lee’s southwestern supply lines and the defenses around Richmond. In theory, this would force Lee to commit valuable reserves to the defense of one or the other. He could afford to save one, but not both. If Sommers would have divided the attacks into two separate parts, it would have gone a long way toward reducing confusion without taking away from his overall thesis.

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From Winchester to Cedar Creek by Jeffry D. Wert

from-winchester-to-ceder-creek-the-shenandoah-campaign-of-1864-by-jeffry-d-wertIn From Winchester to Cedar Creek: The Shenandoah Campaign of 1864, Jeffry D. Wert charts Union General Philip Sheridan’s victory over Confederate General Jubal Early in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley during the closing months of the American Civil War. Sheridan’s campaign ensured Confederate defeat in Virginia and ultimately contributed to President Abraham Lincoln’s reelection. Drawing on manuscript collections and many published sources, Wert offers vivid descriptions of the battles of Third Winchester, Fisher’s Hill, Tom’s Brook, and Cedar Creek.

First published in 1987, From Winchester to Cedar Creek explores how interplay of the strengths and weaknesses of the Union and Confederate commanders, Sheridan and Early, resulted in victories for Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah. It not only documents and dynamically recounts these events, but it also details the political, strategic, and tactical forces that made the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign so important to the outcome of the Civil War.

As Philip Sheridan’s star rose, Jubal Early’s fell. In June 1864, Confederate General Robert E. Lee sent Early and approximately 15,000 men up the Shenandoah Valley to clear Union troops from the area and menace Washington, D.C., in an effort to repeat Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s successes in 1862. Early, however, was no Jackson. Despite early success, by August he was on the defensive. General Ulysses S. Grant sent his cavalry commander, Philip Sheridan, to command all Union troops in the Valley and destroy Early. This is where From Winchester to Cedar Creek picks up the story.

Philip Sheridan was one of the few cavalry commanders who successfully transitioned to overall command of an army. His unique experience allowed him to better integrate infantry and cavalry. During the Civil War, it was considered suicidal for mounted cavalry to directly engage infantry, but at the Battle of Third Winchester, September 19, 1864, Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt’s cavalry division broke Early’s defensive line with a classic Napoleonic cavalry charge.

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