Tag Archives: Battlefield

Summer 2014 in a Nutshell

Classes start in less than a week. As I gear up for the beginning of my senior year, I cannot believe how fast summer went by. With that being said, I would like to reflect on the past three and half months that was the summer 2014.

When the spring semester ended, I began my third year at Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park. With the sesquicentennial rapidly approaching the park this October, I am constantly engaged in the planning process, carrying out special programs and, conducting original research at the park. I worked on the park’s website, assisted with the park’s social media and worked with visitors. Above and beyond regular in park interpretative programs, there were numerous special programs and tours I led.

Presenting my lecture on Sheridan and Custer at Cedar Creek

Presenting my lecture on Sheridan and Custer at Cedar Creek

One of these was a two day experience with the Little Bighorn History Associates in June. This group of 150 is avid George Custer aficionados. Needless to say, they hold an annual conference traveling to Custer related sites. With this year being the sesquicentennial of the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, they made their base in Winchester. During their five day conference, they traveled to battlefields from Harpers Ferry to Toms Brook and Cedar Creek. I was responsible for leading bus tours for the group at Cedar Creek. I did original research at the park examining the role of George Custer and the Third Cavalry division at Cedar Creek. When they arrived I led two three hour bus tours of Cedar Creek, taking the group Custer related sites such as Hites Chapel. The following day, I presented a lecture focusing on Custer and Sheridan’s relationship at Cedar Creek. To practice my analytical and writing skills during the summer, I took all this information and produced a scholarly essay containing a historiographical footnote and annotated bibliography.

Another special program I conducted was part of the park’s History at Sunset Series. On July 11th, I presented “A House Divided: The Heater Farm at Cedar Creek.” I led visitors through parts of the battlefield not accessible on an everyday basis. We discussed the history of the Heater Farm, the Heaters during the Civil War and how the Battle of Cedar Creek was literally brought to their front door. It was nice to see some familiar faces and receive support from local constituents. I will be presenting this program again this fall, during the anniversary weekend on October 17th.

Visitors around the Heater House

Visitors around the Heater House

One of the most rewarding experiences of my summer took place on July 24th. On this day, I lead a group through the Kernstown battlefield exactly 150 years after the Second Battle of Kernstown. Part of the parks, “On This Day” tours, it was a privilege to represent the National Park Service. To read more about this click here.

In August I presented two lectures to the Village at Orchard Ridge Lutheran Community. I first spoke briefly on the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign leading up to the Battle of Cedar Creek. The second lecture focused on the Battle of Cedar Creek proper. Folks really seemed to enjoy it, and I even got a local history group interested in traveling to the park in the future for a tour of the battlefield.

Another great experience this summer was my short stint as a guest blogger and author on Emerging Civil War. Here, I authored numerous pieces on the summer campaign here in the Valley. I was able to practice my interpretative writing, and at the same time reach a larger audience outside of our park. To read my posts visit their site, or click here.

The 150th Anniversary of the fall Shenandoah Valley Campaign is right around the corner. As we near this, I am preparing numerous programs. First, I will be participating in the events commemorating the Third Battle of Winchester on Saturday, September 20th. I will be at the Third Winchester Battlefield interpreting and orienting visitors to the battle. For more information on these events click here, or contact me directly. On September 26th, I will be presenting a special History at Sunset at the park. During this program I will use my research from earlier in the summer to lead a tour focusing on George Custer at Cedar Creek.

Looking towards the 150th of Cedar Creek, my interpretative schedule has been set. On October 17th , I will be doing two special programs. First, during the day I will be at the summit of Signal Knob. On October 17th, 1864 Confederate officers trekked to Signal Knob to observe the Union Army. Exactly 150 years later, I will be in the same spot, interpreting the landscape and discussing how the Confederates conceived their plan of attack. That evening, I will be presenting my Heater House program again at 5:00pm.

View of the Cedar Creek Battlefield from Signal Knob

View of the Cedar Creek Battlefield from Signal Knob

Moving forward to Saturday, October 18th, the park will have battlefield stations throughout the battlefield interpreting key aspects of the battle. I will present programs during the morning hours. Later that day, from 2-4pm I will lead a car caravan tour focusing on the use of Cavalry at Cedar Creek. What I am really excited for however takes place the next morning on October 19th, the actual anniversary of the battle.

Starting at 5:00am on October 19th, the park will be conducting “real-time programs.” This will take visitors through the battlefield exactly 150 years later to the hour after the battle. These tours will start in the dark, and go all the way through the evening, concluding at 6:00pm. I am fortunate enough to have the privilege and amazing opportunity to be one of three rangers presenting these programs.

Stay tuned for the hour by hour schedule for the events taking place at the park from October 17th-20th. It will be available later this month, and I will make sure to post it.

Needless to say, I have been neck deep in research for all of these programs. With school right around the corner, the next two months are going to be busy to say the least. But, with this being the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, I am privileged and excited to take part in this special time in our nation’s history.

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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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