Battlefield Visits: Major Fights in North Carolina

A few years ago, I traveled to the Raleigh, NC area for a work conference. Of course, I wanted to check out some of the local historical sites in my downtime. There was plenty to see!

Averasboro – Civil War Battlefield #40

I got up early on Sunday morning to start my “off” day, and was able to get on the field at the Battle of Averasboro by 8:40am. Though it’s only a mile or two west of I-95, it really feels like you’re out in the country. My guess is that not much has changed since 1865.

One of the markers near the southern end of the battlefield. The action began near here. – Photo by the Author

The field is privately owned, but definitely well cared-for, with a small museum located at the northern end. Several signs make it clear that relic hunting is forbidden and outline other things that the caretakers have in place – including video surveillance.

There are numerous markers and a few monuments, but they appear to be from different eras, and thus each has a slightly different way of explaining the action to visitors. For one thing, different markers seem to break the battle into a different number of stages, so I can see how it could be confusing to keep track of what all is going on for a novice. As it turns out, the action revolves around a pretty straight-forward defense-in-depth by the Confederates.

A faux 6-pounder on display outside the museum at Averasboro. Sadly there is no real artillery here. - <i>Photo by the Author</i>
A faux 6-pounder on display outside the museum at Averasboro. Sadly there is no real artillery here. – Photo by the Author

The visitors center was closed on the early Sunday morning that I visited, so I can’t tell you any impressions of it, other than to say that they have a fake artillery piece out front. Hey – at least it’s something. The other thing I took away as I drove through the field was the complete lack of distinct terrain features. Any elevation changes that exist are minuscule. Just about the only factor in the battle was the Cape Fear River that anchored the Confederate left.

On to the next site!

Bentonville – Civil War Battlefield #41

This was the main event. The Battle of Bentonville was the largest battle to ever take place in North Carolina, and was the culmination of Sherman’s march through the south, and Johnston’s attempt at defense. For me personally, this was the first battlefield I had ever visited where General Sherman had been involved. Pretty crazy to think about.

The State of North Carolina owns several pieces of the battlefield (though in many cases just enough to have a pull-off with a few wayside markers at a tour route stop) and operates those as the Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site. Most of the field is still privately held, with modern houses occupying the bulk of that area. The spots that are preserved are quite nice, though.

Remnants of trenches built at Bentonville by Union engineers from Michigan. - <i>Photo by the Author</i>
Remnants of trenches built at Bentonville by Union engineers from Michigan. – Photo by the Author

There are also numerous wayside markers that do a great job of explaining the battle action, and even a few monuments – including one of the standard Texas ones. I was able to pick up a copy of the driving tour brochure before I came, which was handy because this was another site where the visitors center was completely closed down on a Sunday morning. On the plus side, the driving tour comes with a phone-in audio narration component that really adds another dimension to the visit. All of these factors mean that you can get a very complete experience in only a couple of hours.

Like Averasboro, the terrain here was VERY flat – only a few small ravines and creek beds provided some cover for battlelines – and you can see that the lines seemed to form along them. Ground that is not composed of sand is swamp. It must have been miserable to fight here. I recall one of the waysides mentioning that there was significant difficulty in burying the dead – whenever they dug more than a foot or two down, the hole would fill with water.

North Carolina State Capitol

A monument to US Presidents from North Carolina: Andrew Johnson, James K. Polk, and Andrew Jackson (which is debatable). - <i>Photo by the Author</i>
A monument to US Presidents from North Carolina: Andrew Johnson, James K. Polk, and Andrew Jackson (which is debatable). – Photo by the Author

After checking in for my conference, I decided to walk around downtown Raleigh a little. The grounds of the North Carolina State Capitol had a few interesting monuments, and some real artillery in the form of Cyrus Alger and Co. siege mortars.

One of my favorites was a monument to US Presidents from North Carolina which included Andrew Johnson (for a Civil War connection), James K. Polk, and the debatable Andrew Jackson (who may have actually been born in South Carolina). There was also a “Lost Cause” era monument “To Our Confederate Dead” – perhaps not long for this world.

The North Carolina State monument "To Our Confederate Dead". - <i>Photo by the Author</i>
The North Carolina State monument “To Our Confederate Dead”. – Photo by the Author

Oakwood Cemetery

One place in downtown Raleigh that I knew I wanted to see was the Oakwood Cemetery – final resting place of Colonel Henry King Burgwyn, who was killed at Gettysburg leading the 26th NC Infantry in their famous attack against the 24th MI. Known as “The Boy Colonel”, Burgwyn was only 21 years old at the time of his death.

The grave marker for Henry King Burgwyn. - <i>Photo by the Author</i>
The grave marker for Henry King Burgwyn. – Photo by the Author

Like other prominent southern cemeteries, Oakwood has a large mass grave of Gettysburg dead, removed to what was assumed to be their home State from where they had fallen on the battlefield – probably in the 1870s. The design of the marker for this section of the cemetery mirrors the North Carolina monument present at Gettysburg today.

Marker for the mass grave of Gettysburg dead. - <i>Photo by the Author</i>
Marker for the mass grave of Gettysburg dead. – Photo by the Author

Though I only spent a few hours poking around the Raleigh area (and beyond), they were thoroughly satisfying. Hopefully I’ll be able to make a return trip some day.

Battlefield Visits: Winchester Area

Three years ago today, I took a day trip to Winchester, Virginia in order to check out some of the battlefields. My oldest son went along as well. It was the first trip there for both of us, and it remains a wonderful memory.

We had a great lunch, got to explore the local library, and my son enjoyed burning off some energy at the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum. There is certainly plenty to do in Winchester, but we all know what drove me there, so why not jump in?

First Battle of Winchester – Civil War Battlefield #28

This was a major victory for the Confederates during Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s famous Valley Campaign. Not much of the battlefield seems to remain, though. There is a marker near Handley High School, and another cluster farther south along the old Valley Turnpike (present-day Route 11). The landscape has changed considerably, with a lot of construction having taken place in the last 150 years.

First and Second Battles of Kernstown – Civil War Battlefield #29, 30

My son checks out the maps of the First and Second Battles of Kernstown. - <i>Photo by the Author</i>
My son checks out the maps of the First and Second Battles of Kernstown. – Photo by the Author

There is a battlefield park that incorporates a large chunk of the field, but it is only open on the weekends during May through October, so it was closed while we were there.

Luckily, the more interesting part of the field to me – the spot where Richard Brooke Garnett and the Stonewall Brigade fought behind a wall at First Kernstown – is on the other side of Route 37, south of Cedar Creek Grade at Rose Hill Farm Park. It was cool to be there and see the terrain, even if the wall there is a reproduction. My son had had enough hiking at that point, so we didn’t go back in the woods to look for the remains of the original wall.

Second Winchester – Civil War Battlefield #31

My son in the middle of the Star Fort at Second Winchester. Very cool! - <i>Photo by the Author</i>
My son in the middle of the Star Fort at Second Winchester. Very cool! – Photo by the Author

The Second Battle of Winchester took place on the road to Gettysburg. A Confederate corps under the command of Richard Ewell attacked and completely overwhelmed the Union garrison in town under Robert Milroy. Milroy made the decision to try to sneak out of town overnight, and much of his force was captured in the process. But we’ll talk about that later.

I was thrilled to learn that the Star Fort – central to Milroy’s defenses – still exists! We got to explore it a little, and I even got some photos of the newly-installed (at the time) markers so they could be included in the Historical Marker Database. Probably the coolest part of the trip for me.

Rutherford’s Farm – Civil War Battlefield #33

The field of the Battle of Rutherford’s Farm has been completely changed. It is now a shopping center north of Winchester. At least there is a small cluster of markers in the parking lot to tell visitors of the area’s importance during the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign.

Stephenson’s Depot

While not an “official” battle, I tend to think of the Battle of Stephenson’s Depot as being a separate action from the Second Battle of Winchester. This is the spot where about half of Milroy’s fleeing Union command was captured by Confederate forces under Edward “Allegheny” Johnson. There are a few markers near where the railroad depot was (though when we visited, one was damaged to the point of being missing) and even a monument close by.

All-in-all, it was a great trip. A model for many more I’d take in the years ahead.

Battlefield Visits: Small Actions in Maryland

While there were many important events happening in Maryland concerning the War of the Rebellion, the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission identified only seven “official” battlefields here in my native state. There are a few that you may know of (and that I’ve covered here already – Antietam, Monocacy, and South Mountain) but some of the smaller ones remain under-the-radar for most folks (and even for some #CivilWarNerds). Today, I’ll be writing about those.

Boonsboro – Civil War Battlefield #24

The battlefield as seen from where the wayside markers are. - <i>Photo by the Author</i>
The Boonsboro battlefield as seen from where the wayside marker is. – Photo by the Author

After the Battle of Gettysburg, the Confederates started to pull back toward Virginia. The weather was bad, and it took a long time for them to retreat across southern Pennsylvania and through Maryland. Several small actions took place along the way – mostly involving cavalry units fighting each other. The Battle of Boonsboro was just such an action.

There is a wayside marker in the parking lot of Boonsboro Antiques and Collectibles that explains the action that took place mostly across the road. This rather messy engagement wasn’t much more than a delaying action for the Confederates.

The Washington Monument on South Mountain is just <i>barely</i> visible from the battlefield, as it would have been in 1863. - <i>Photo by the Author</i>
The Washington Monument on South Mountain is just barely visible from the battlefield, as it would have been in 1863. – Photo by the Author

Williamsport – Civil War Battlefield #25

Not really a single battle as much as a drawn-out series of small pokes and prods, the Battle of Williamsport was the final piece of the Confederate retreat following Gettysburg.

The bridge that carries modern-day Route 11 is roughly in the location where the Confederates crossed the Potomac in Williamsport. - <i>Photo by the Author</i>
The bridge that carries modern-day Route 11 is roughly in the location where the Confederates crossed the Potomac in Williamsport. – Photo by the Author

There are numerous markers surrounding Williamsport that discuss the various stages of the combat there. With no major action taking place, it is hard to direct you to any one place. I found a walk along the C&O Canal to be quite nice when I visited, as it affords an opportunity to learn about a little more than just the Civil War history of the area. One of the major visitors centers is located near the site of the Confederate crossing.

Folck’s Mill – Civil War Battlefield #57

The Battle of Folck’s Mill was a very minor action near Cumberland, Maryland. Mostly an artillery duel, it was fought by local militia protecting the city of Cumberland from a Confederate raid late in the war.

Sadly, what is left of the field is extremely difficult to access. The mill itself still exists – at least as ruins – but it is surrounded by highways and private property. You would never know it was there. There are some wayside markers located on the grounds of the Ali Ghan Shriner’s Hall that discuss the action, but the terrain has been completely changed by the modern highways and interchanges in the area. The approaches and artillery positions have been completely obliterated, so a fair amount of imagination is needed on a visit.

Hancock – Civil War Battlefield #58

Surprisingly, this is the ONLY “official” battle of Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Bath-Romney Campaign in the winter of 1862. Hard to believe since there was really no combat during the Battle of Hancock. Jackson showed up on the Virginia (present-day West Virginia) side of the Potomac and hurled some artillery rounds at the Union troops in town. After a couple of days, he moved on. Simple as that.

There are markers explaining some of the action on the Maryland side of the river, along the C&O Canal. The town itself has some character, and if you’re there on a day they’re open, the Hancock Town Museum is worth a visit.

Battlefield Visits: Ball’s Bluff 158th Anniversary

I’ve visited Ball’s Bluff a few times, but this past year I had the chance to be there for the 158th anniversary of the battle. A small but loyal group of local #CivilWarNerds puts on a reenactment and even an artillery demonstration.

Artillery fires in commemoration of the 158th anniversary of the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. – Video by the Author

I’ve written about my impressions of Ball’s Bluff before, so feel free to check that post out, too.

Battlefield Visits, Re-Visited

It has been some time since I posted here – a lot of “life” has been happening, and that has kept me away from publicly documenting my historical travels. I am hoping to make up for lost time.

With that said, I have decided that the “Battlefield Visits” format that I had originally chosen seems a bit too elaborate to be easily sustainable. My thinking was that it would provide a structure that I could just fill in, so that I could be sure that there was consistency in my write-ups. In practice, I’m finding that I prefer to use a more free-form style in my writing, and for smaller fields with fewer available resources, it is hard to fill out all that information. Also, I’m going to A LOT of battlefields, so it’s a lot of work to write up each on its own!

Instead, I think that I’m going to shift to more of a travelogue format, where each of my roadtrips becomes its own post and the battlefields visited are outlined within. This is similar to what I’ve been doing on Facebook, and should make these post easier to produce (hopefully leading to a clearing of some of the backlog).

As of this writing, I have been to 134 of the 384 Civil War Sites Advisory Commission “official” battlefields. From here on, I’ll also be marking my progress by noting the order in which I visited the fields as I write them up.

I hope you enjoy the journey!

Battlefield Visits #4: South Mountain

This prelude to the Battle of Antietam was fought in three mountain gaps along South Mountain in Maryland. Confederate forces were able to delay approaching Union units long enough for Lee to concentrate his army and set up a defense around Sharpsburg.

The North Carolina Monument on the South Mountain Battlefield. - <i>Photo by the Author</i>
The North Carolina Monument on the South Mountain Battlefield. – Photo by the Author

Campaign: Maryland Campaign – This battle took place just before Antietam, the major battle of the campaign.

CWSAC Rating: “B” – Having a direct and decisive influence on a campaign.

How to Get There: Since the fighting took place in multiple unconnected mountain gaps, there is no one place to go to see the battlefield. Driving along Alt. US 40 between Middletown, MD and Boonsboro, MD will take you through Turner’s Gap – the northernmost section of the battlefield.

For on the Field: For the newbie, download the American Battlefield Trust’s Antietam Battle App. It will really enhance your tour experience. Folks who want serious military history should pick up the US Army War College’s Guide to Antietam. I can’t recommend this book highly enough for its excellent tour of the field.

The Reno Monument on the South Mountain Battlefield. - <i>Photo by the Author</i>
The Reno Monument on the South Mountain Battlefield. – Photo by the Author

What I Love: There are a few things that make South Mountain unique.  Fox’s Gap is probably my favorite section, with the Reno and North Carolina monuments. The War Correspondents Memorial is a major landmark as well. While you may encounter the occasional AT hiker, or family picnic, it’s generally a pretty peaceful field.

The War Correspondents Memorial on the South Mountain Battlefield. - <i>Photo by the Author</i>
The War Correspondents Memorial on the South Mountain Battlefield. – Photo by the Author

What I Don’t: While it is a fairly small field in terms of total acreage, it is spread out as small pockets over a wide area, so it takes some time to explore.

Final Thoughts: South Mountain is one of those hidden treasures among Civil War battlefields. It is integral to the Antietam campaign, and fairly well-preserved and well-monumented, but it doesn’t get a lot of visitation outside of AT hikers and the occasional family picnic. It’s a nice spot for  serene contemplation.

Other Resources:

Official CWSAC Battle Summary – South Mountain

American Battlefield Trust – South Mountain

Wikipedia – The Battle of South Mountain