Tag Archives: 150th

Great Online Resource for Civil War Buffs

Gettysburg National Military Park is the most visited Civil War park in America. The vast amount of interpretation done on a daily basis can outnumber that of smaller parks. During the winter months the staff at Gettysburg hosts a “Winter Lecture Series.” These lectures, hosted at the park cover all facets of the Civil War from battles, leaders, reconciliation, and memory.

During the sesquicentennial cycle these lectures have coincided with historical events taking place 150 years ago. Starting this year the park began to videotape these lectures and post them online.

Gettysburg’s YouTube Channel has over 100 videos. These include hour long Ranger programs and special events. For folks who cannot travel to Pennsylvania and experience the historical landscape in person, these videos are a great alternative. Specifically during this harsh winter.

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Reflections on Cedar Creek 150

As I sit here and write, I begin to reflect on the sesquicentennial events that took place at the park last weekend. After months of planning, weeks of stress, and days of going over logistics, the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Creek came and went. The three days of programing I took part in where long and exhausting. But, they were worth every minute of it. Visitors were excited, passionate, and thankful for everything the park did. The following is a reflection of this once and a life time opportunity.

It all began about this time last year, after the 149th Anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Creek. I and the rest of the staff at the park began the arduous journey of planning for events to commemorate the 150th Anniversary. During the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, the National Park Service actively commemorates the anniversary. This includes guest speakers, special programs, events, and ceremonies. Programs were spearheaded in 2011 at Manassas National Battlefield, continued through 2013 at Gettysburg, and opened up 2014 at the Wilderness. Events have been widely attended by the public. Locals and travelers alike flock the these events in the thousands .With all the precedent up to 2014, we had our work cut out for us.

When we began our brainstorming, we all agreed that we needed to conduct “Real-Time” programs. These ranger led interpretative programs take visitors through the battlefield exactly 150 years to the hour after the battle occurred. We planned on conducting Ranger programs from 5:00 a.m. through the day, concluding at 7:00 p.m. We also stepped up and lead various 150th real time events in the Valley leading up to Cedar Creek. This included The Battle of Piedmont, Cool Springs, Rutherford’s Farm, and Third Winchester. Read about my experience at Second Kernstown.  For the commemorative weekend in October we planned: specialized battlefield tours, battlefield stations,  and new outreach programs.

Signal Knob 2

Visitors hike to Signal Knob

One new outreach program conducted interpretation at Signal Knob. Signal Knob marks the northern most point on the Massanutten Mountain range. Before the Battle of Cedar Creek this summit was controlled by Confederate signal corps. On October 17th 1864, Confederate officers hiked to the station and saw the Union army around Belle Grove, and conceived their plan of attack for the Battle of Cedar Creek. There has never been NPS interpretation at this site before. Therefore, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of this Confederate reconnaissance mission, I prepared a program for Friday, October 17th. Designed as an interpretative hike, the program was advertised to the public to join I and NPS volunteers from 10-2 p.m.  Due to safety concerns, this was not a ranger led hike because to reach the summit is nearly five miles up, and five miles down. I arrived at the summit before 10:00 a.m. and could not have asked for better weather. The view of the Valley floor was picturesque, and the colors of fall in the Valley provided a beautiful backdrop. Through out this four hour period I encountered roughly 80 visitors and conducted four interpretative programs. I oriented visitors to the Valley at large, pointed out certain landmarks, and interpreted the Confederate plan of attack as it was thought out exactly 150 years prior.

That same evening at 5:00 p.m. I met around 100 visitors at the battlefield for a tour of the Heater House. Entitled, “The Heater House: A House Divided,” I examine the story of the Heater House, its inhabitants, and its role during the Civil War.

Leading visitors the Heater House

Leading visitors the Heater House

This is one of my favorite programs to lead at the park, and was excited to see such a large group attend. Visitors asked great questions that serves as fuel for further research.. With Friday completed, I went home that night tired with a hoarse voice looking forward to the weekend.

On Saturday morning I was stationed at the 8th Vermont Monument. We greeted visitors as they drove through the battlefield, oriented them the site, and conducted informal interpretation. At 11:00 a.m. I led a formal tour of nearly 60 visitors. We talked about who the 8th Vermont was, how they fit into the Battle of Cedar Creek, walked to the monument discussing their sacrificial stand. After lunch at 2:00 p.m., I led a two hour car caravan tour through the battlefield examining the role cavalry played during the Battle of Cedar Creek. This was a highlights tour that brought visitors off the beaten path. We started out at the Visitor Contact Station, traveled to Hites Chapel to discuss the opening sounds of battle. The third stop was along Westernview Drive, where Custer’s Third Division made their famous charge. The last stop was on a farm owned by a local landowner known as Thorndale Farm.

Visitors at Thorndale Farm

Visitors at Thorndale Farm

The farm marked the center of Merritt’s First Division of cavalry, and around this spot was where Col. Charles Russell Lowell was mortally wounded. It was a pleasure to see 70 visitors attend this never before done tour. I concluded my day attending the official 150th Commemoration Ceremony at Belle Grove Plantation.

During the night of October 18th-19th, I barely got sleep. I could not stop tossing and turning through out the night thinking about the events the next morning. I arrived at the park at 5:00 a.m. for my first of four “Real-Time” programs. At 6:00 a.m., I led a group of nearly 100 visitors through the dark examining the Union 19th Corps earthworks. It was eerie to be on the same ground, in the pitch black, walking through the woods exactly 150 years after the Union catastrophe begun. Luckily no visitors tripped over roots and hurt themselves and we made it out unscathed.After seeing the sunrise around the 8th Vermont Monument and listening to Ranger Shannon’s interpretation there, I traveled to my next stop. From 8:20-8:50 a.m. cars gathered along modern day McCune Rd. in Middletown. From this position I interpreted the stand of two Union 6th Corps divisions.

Visitors gather early on the morning of October 19th at McCune Rd.

Visitors gather early on the morning of October 19th at McCune Rd.

One of the special parts of this stop was that it has never been interpreted by Cedar Creek and Belle Grove NHP before. I took great pride and honor in having this privileged. My stop ended with the reading of an account of a father from New York holding the brains of son in his lap, as he was shot clear through the head during this part of the morning. The young man is buried in Winchester and I hope to see it soon. This concluded my role during the morning portion of the tours.

The afternoon “Real-Time” programs kicked off with my tour at Hites Chapel at 2:00 p.m. We discussed the role of Union cavalry in the early part of the Union counterattack. I then had a break until my final program of the weekend. At 4:00 p.m. I led a program discussing the Union counter attack. In an attempt to incorporate my audience, I placed ropes and wooden houses on the ground to represent that part of the battlefield. I then gathered about 20 volunteers to stand in lines on the map representing Union and Confederate battle lines. This went well as visitors visualized the Union offensive. Nearly 100 visitors attended this program.

Interpretation at Hites Chapel

Interpretation at Hites Chapel

Even though this was my last program, there were two other programs that evening. The tours conclude at St. Thomas Church in Middletown, with a powerful interpretation of the Confederate rout, and impact of the battle by Ranger Jeff Dricscoll.

This experience was easily the highlight of my professional career at the park. After months of planning, researching, and stressful days, everything went as planned. We received numerous compliments from visitors on our successes. I would like to personally thank anyone reading this who came out to make this weekend something special. I am speaking for my comrades, when I say that if it was a privilege for us to experience this 150th Anniversary with you. I would also like to thank all our volunteers and the numerous NPS Rangers who traveled to the park. Rangers from Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP, Gettysburg NMP, Richmond NBP, George Washington National Birthplace, and the NPS Social Media team.

As we move past the 150th, we are left with a feeling of accomplishment and relief. But the big question is now what? Stay tuned as we gear up more interpretation, research new ideas, and attempt to shed light on the many levels of the Shenandoah Valley’s diverse history.

Images courtesy:

https://www.facebook.com/CedarCreekNPS

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ninja-Pix/542902639063759?fref=ts

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Address at the Funeral of Col. George Duncan Wells

One of the beauties of the internet is the ability to reference primary sources. Many primary sources have been digitized in recent years by Google, and other organizations. One website I often find myself on is archive.org . The amount of information easily available to a researcher is amazing.

I was doing research for the upcoming 150th events at the park next month. When doing so, I was researching the battle of Hupp’s Hill, which took place on October 13th, 1864. During the battle, a Union colonel was killed. Col. George Duncan Wells commanded the 34th Massachusetts infantry was killed during the fight. In an effort to find out some more information on him, I headed to Google. The first thing that came up in my search results for his name was a document on archive.org .

This document was entitled, “Address at the Funeral of Col. George Duncan Wells.” When I clicked the link here, I was brought to a page that displayed the document. Scanned digitally, the pamphlet was the ten page oration read at Col. Wells funeral. When the reader reads the oration, it is filled with terms such as sacrifice, bravery, honor, and courage. All terms used extensively to remember the dead of the war. What was interesting is that the date on the pamphlet. October 21st, 1864. This leads me to think a couple of things. First, Col. Wells was brought home to Massachusetts for burial only eight days after his death in Virginia. Secondly, he rapid transfer of his remain signifies his prominence in his community. I would like to do some more research on this matter.

Regardless, I am once again amazed by the amount of primary source information readily available via the internet. Who knows what I may uncover next. Click below to read the document for yourself.

Address at the funeral of Col. George Duncan Wells

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Reflections on the Second Battle of Kernstown Sesquicentennial

Before my actual “On This Day” tour of Second Kernstown, there were numerous events days beforehand. These included “On This Day” tours of The Battle of Cool Spring on July 18th , and The Battle of Rutherford’s Farm on July 20th. These two tours were highly successful with over 150 visitors attending the Cool Spring program! During the same weekend of July 19th and 20th, the Kernstown Battlefield Association held a commemoration event.

I traveled to Kernstown for these two days to promote the park and; the park’s special events coming up this summer and fall. I handed out numerous brochures, program calendars, special event information and fielded questions from the visitors. During this two day event, the Kernstown Battlefield Association held numerous activities for visitors. These included living history demonstrations, battlefield walks, guided house tours of the Pritchard-Grim House and artillery firings to name a few. I even ran into a friend and former professor of mine, Julie, who was interpreting Valley civilian life. On Sunday, I presented a program to visitors. This program, “The 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign in a Box” used cones, ropes, blocks and other props to create the Shenandoah Valley. It is designed to be an overview of the military actions in the Shenandoah Valley from New Market to Cedar Creek. In 30 minutes, I literally walk through the campaign using the map as a learning device for the visitors. Folks tend to really enjoy this method. Nearly 30 people were in attendance when I presented this program. As the weekend began to die down, I was encouraging visitors to come back for my “On This Day” tour later in the week.

Props used in the program to create the Valley

Props set up to represent the Shenandoah Valley

On July 24th, I once again traveled to the Kernstown Battlefield to present my “On This Day” battlefield program of the Battle of Second Kernstown. I was hoping with the success of the previous two events, (Cool Spring and Rutherford’s Farm) I would have a large crowd. I arrived around 3:15 just as the first visitors began to show up. After doing so much research and preparations leading up to this moment, I was excited to see the cars begin to roll in. When I began, I had nearly 45 people for the program. Considering this was a Thursday afternoon at 4:00 with the threat of rain, I was happy to see the turn out.

Myself with Gary Crawford at the start of the tour

Myself with Gary Crawford at the start of the tour

The tour began near the Visitor Center. I welcomed visitors, introduced myself and asked Gary Crawford, the Kernstown Battlefield Association’s President to make a few remarks. He spoke eloquently on the history of the Association and how they came to preserve the land. Following his comments, I utilized the time at this stop to discuss the Valley during the Civil War. I spoke briefly on its strategic importance and oriented visitors to the actions leading up to the battle proper. My interpretive strategy for my program was to focus on orientation, information and interpretation in this order. At the beginning of each stop, I oriented visitors to where we are in the battlefield and what direction(s) we are facing. I would then give some information and then spend most of my time interpreting the battle. I find this process immensely successful when traveling to battlefields myself.

The second stop of my tour continued as I led visitors to the crest of Pritchard’s Hill. When we all arrived to the top, I then dived into the Confederate and Union strategies at the begging of the battle. To read more about this and the development of the battle, read my post on Emerging Civil War. The tour continued with the group descending Pritchard’s Hill and moving towards the Opequon Church. One of the great things about this tour was we got to walk in the footsteps of these soldiers exactly 150 years following the battle. We were traversing the same ground in the same direction that Union soldiers would have during the battle. Visitors found this extremely powerful. We arrived near the Opequon Church and discussed the Confederate offensive and withdrawal of the Union lines. As we traveled to our next stop along a stonewall, we were once again following the same route, in the same direction Union soldiers were during the battle.

Leading visitors towards the Opequon Church

Leading visitors towards the Opequon Church

Interpreting the actions around the Stonewall

Interpreting the actions around the Stonewall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the stonewall, I discussed the death of Col. Mulligan of the 23rd IL, the Confederate flank attack the conclusion of the battle. The final stop of the tour was in the front lawn of the Prichard-Grim House. There, I concluded the tour with a discussion of the battle’s aftermath, both immediate and long term for Valley citizens and soldiers alike. After a short question and answer, volunteers from the Association guided visitors through the Pritchard-Grim House.

All in all, I came away feeling extremely satisfied. Interpretively, material flowed easily from stop to stop, visitors did not seem confused, (based on my perception) and I was able to answer questions confidently. It was also nice to see such a great turnout for these types of events. I hope as we near the 150th of Cedar Creek the excitement and interest of the Civil War will drive folks to visit the park and our events. Keep an eye out as the park finalizes our schedule for the weekend of October 17th-19th.

Conclusion of the tour at the Pritchard-Grim House

Conclusion of the tour at the Pritchard-Grim House

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A Trip to Mosby’s Confederacy

Last week, my friend and fellow Ranger, Shannon informed me that Carol Bundy would be speaking in nearby Aldie, Virginia. Carol Bundy is an author and historian from Boston, Massachusetts. She is known in the Civil War community for her excellent biography on Charles Russell Lowell Jr., The Nature of Sacrifice: A Biography of Charles Russell Lowell, Jr.  This Boston born horseman inspired one of the park’s most successful programs known simply as, “The Lost Generation.” In this program, Shannon examines two men whos lives experiences paralleled each other before the war. Both men were mortally wounded at the Battle of Cedar Creek. These two men, Stephen D. Ramseur and Charles Russell Lowell exemplify this “lost generation” of men who perished during the Civil War. One of Shannon’s inspirations for this program was the biography written by Carol. So after work this past Saturday, we headed into Mosby’s Confederacy to meet some friends for the event.

The organization sponsoring this event was the Mosby Heritage Area Association. This non-profit group preserves numerous acres of land in Northern Virginia as well as restoring historic properties to their 19th century appearances; all for the effort in “education through preservation.” Most recently, the MHHA implemented interpretative signage at the Mt. Zion Historic Park, a part of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority system. The program began with the unveiling of these five new sign. Two greetvisitors at the parking lot giving historical context to the site, two interpret the cavalry action that took place there in 1864 and the final is located next to the historic cemetery.

View of the historic Mt. Zion Church

View of the historic Mt. Zion Church

During the summer months of July 1864, Col. Charles Russell Lowell Jr. was given the impossible task of dealing with John S. Mosby and the 43rd Virginia Battalion. Russell’s brigade was situated between the Union capital at Washington D.C. to the east and “Mosby’s Confederacy” to the west. During the first week of July 1864, Union troopers from New Jersey and Massachusetts under Maj. Forbes clashed with Mosby’s rangers at the Mt. Zion Church. This clash was a resounding victory for Mosby’s men. To commemorate the 150th Anniverary of this event, MHHA dedicated these signs and brought Carol Bundy to Dixieland to speak.

The group then headed into the newly restored Mt. Zion Church to hear Carol Bundy’s remarks. Bundy introduced herself and began to talk about the rag-tag brigade that Lowell commanded in 1864. She mentioned that these men were from the urban areas of the northeast and even included men from California known as the “California 100”. She poetically described the men’s frustrating experiences attempting to deal with Mosby in 1864, culminating at the action occurring at Mt. Zion Church. The action was quickly described as Bundy moved to the relationship forged between Union Major Forbes and Mosby following the Civil War. This friendship born on the battlefield blossomed in the post war decades. The lecture concluded with Carol fielding questions from the crowd, who not surprisingly enough focused their questions on the Civil War military actions of Mosby and Lowell.

Carol Bundy speaks to the crowd inside the church

Carol Bundy speaks to the crowd inside the church

Following the lecture, I purchased my own copy of her biography and asked Carol one last question. After the Battle of Cedar Creek, Gen. George Custer traveled to Washington D.C. to present the thirteen captured Rebel flags from the battle to the War Department. I heard through the grapevine that Gen. Sheridan’s first choice was actually Lowell, not Custer. So I asked Carol this question. She responded stating following the Battle of Antietam some two years prior, Lowell was the man who presented Rebel flags in D.C., not Custer. Carol elaborating saying that the men of his own division loved Lowell; and there would have been no other choice if he had survived. Finally, she cited a conversation between Custer and a Massachusetts politician when Custer visits D.C. Here, she points to the fact that in this dialogue, Custer said he was the second choice and Lowell would have been the first.

I found this lecture and event highly enjoyable and added yet another book to my growing library collection. At the same time, I was tad bit disappointed. Once again, the majority of the crowd attending the event were older, white and male.  As the excitement of the Civil War Sesquicentennial comes to an end next year, what will the future of Civil War history be? That is a question for yet another day.

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