Battlefield Visits #129 – The Battle of Cedar Creek

From my travels, August 1, 2019.

While on another road trip to visit Chattanooga – this time with more family members along, including my two boys – I decided that it would be nice to finally visit the site of the Battle of Cedar Creek. I could check it out for myself, and the boys could get another Junior Ranger badge. That’s fun for everyone!

The Visitor Contact Station at Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The Visitor Contact Station at Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park. – Photo by the author

Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park is a fairly new unit in the NPS – having only been established in late 2002. During our visit, it felt like a site that was still trying to figure itself out. For instance, the visitor contact station is at a strip mall in Middletown, VA. This is the only NPS site in the Shenandoah Valley, so I think they are trying to tell the whole story of both campaigns, with Cedar Creek as the climax of all that activity.

The visitor contact station had some cool museum stuff – including some interactive “try on” pieces for the boys. And you’ve got to love any battlefield with an electric map!

Isaac and "Nene" examine the electric map! - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Isaac and “Nene” examine the electric map! – Photo by the author

During our visit, I felt like the driving tour was a little rough, but thorough. The terrain here is gorgeous with rolling hills and valleys, and it isn’t too hard to imagine what it would have been like in the mid 19th century. It’s also pretty easy to see how the Confederates’ approach during their early morning attack would have been effectively covered by the lay of the land.

The standard Shenandoah Battle Plaque out on the field during the driving tour. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The standard Shenandoah Battle Plaque out on the field during the driving tour. – Photo by the author

Back at the contact station, I helped the boys work through their Junior Ranger books and struck up a conversation with the ranger about all things Civil War – including my goal of seeing all the battlefields. Like most rangers I’ve encountered on these visits, he was a pleasure to speak with – I could have stayed there all day. Eventually, the boys had their books checked, got sworn in, and made a nice memory with their dad, and their “nene” and “baba”.

Swearing in the Junior Rangers. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Swearing in the Junior Rangers. – Photo by the author

Battlefield Visits: Road Trip to Chattanooga, Part 5: Revisits

From my travels, May 30, 2019.

Chickamauga, Revisited

Since I was still in town – and largely done with the Atlanta Campaign – I decided to go back and really properly do Chickamauga since the only other time I had visited, I didn’t really know what I was doing. Luckily, my nephew was game.

The entrance to the visitors center at Chickamauga - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The entrance to the visitors center at Chickamauga – Photo by the author

We started, appropriately enough, at the visitors center. There is a great display of artillery out front, so I got to nerd out with my nephew about that. Around the side, they even have a mountain howitzer. Very cool! For the rest of the day, my nephew tried his hand at identifying the cannons – and he did pretty well!

After orienting ourselves, we did the standard auto tour. What really impressed me about the place was the old War Department tablets. There are similar monuments at Gettysburg – one for each corps, division, brigade, and battery. Here at Chickamauga, though, each unit has multiple tablets, at places where they fought or maneuvered. With enough time, you can follow the movements of individual units – with some markers even being hidden in the middle of the woods. It’s wild. I could spend a lot of time here.

One highlight of this visit was that I was able to get over my acrophobia enough to climb the Wilder Brigade Monument Tower. It honestly wasn’t that bad since the spiral staircase is enclosed. The view from the top was pretty cool.

We took a selfie at the top of the Wilder Tower. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
We took a selfie at the top of the Wilder Tower. – Photo by the author

The farthest “off the beaten path” we went, was to the far right of Maj. Gen. George Henry “The Rock of Chickamauga” Thomas’ line to find the monument to the 121st OH. My old high school buddy, Jim, had sent me a photo years ago of him shaking his fist at the marker. I really wanted to give a proper response. Being able to do that along with my nephew was a really special memory.

My response on behalf of Thomas' men. - Photo by my nephew
My response on behalf of Thomas’ men. – Photo by my nephew

Missionary Ridge

The Iowa Monument marks the start of the road along Missionary Ridge. Lookout Mountain is in the background. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The Iowa Monument marks the start of the road along Missionary Ridge. Lookout Mountain is in the background. – Photo by the author

After a quick stop for lunch, we headed north. I wanted to actually drive along Missionary Ridge and see what was left of the field. There’s not much – it’s mostly very expensive houses now. The route is utterly littered with War Department plaques, but I doubt anyone ever reads them. There is no where safe to pull off and park near the vast majority of these monuments and markers. You’d almost have to walk along the road to take them all in, and it’s a narrow road. I don’t think that would be very safe.

There are a few spots called “reservations” where there is about a block or so of “park.” While there weren’t very many of these to stop at, the views when you did were awesome. Not as good as Lookout Mountain, but better than your average Civil War battlefield.

Panorama of the view to the north from the Bragg Reservation. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Panorama of the view to the north from the Bragg Reservation. – Photo by the author

I had a great visit to Chattanooga and Atlanta. It was time to get on the road back to Baltimore. But there were a few more spots to hit along the way.

Battlefield Visits: Road Trip to Chattanooga, Part 4: Kennesaw Mountain and Beyond

From my travels, May 29, 2019.

Once again, we were able to get going from Chattanooga pretty early in the morning. I was really looking forward to finishing off the Atlanta area battlefields, and was pretty sure we were going to be able to do it. The universe had other plans.

Battle of Kennesaw Mountain – Civil War Battlefield #120

We were able to arrive at the NPS site for the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain by about 10am. It was a Wednesday morning. The parking lot was absolutely PACKED. Was I here on the battle anniversary or something? No that wasn’t until June 27th – almost a month away. What was going on?

My nephew and I got parked in a massive overflow lot about a half-mile away. Even that was filling up fast. What is the deal here? Either way, we were all set to start our visit by checking out the museum in the visitors center.

As we approached the building, I noticed that they had posted hours: they opened at 9am, but there is a separate vestibule with restrooms that opens at 7:30am. That seems a little odd. When we got into the main information desk, I asked the ranger about it. As it turns out – or so he told me – Kennesaw Mountain gets more visitation than ANY other NPS Civil War battlefield. This is because it is set right in the midst of the Atlanta suburbs, and is overwhelmingly used by joggers who like to run up the mountain. I would come to find out just how many in a little while.

The museum was pretty good. Being the only NPS site along the Atlanta Campaign, they tell the story of the whole campaign here – not just Kennesaw Mountain’s part. After checking out all the exhibits, we made the hike back to the car to begin the auto tour. Stop 1 was the top of Kennesaw Mountain itself.

There’s a two lane road up the mountain, but it was absolutely choked with joggers – most of whom did not want to move to the side of the road, and several of whom gave me irritated looks as I drove past them – as if I was using the park the wrong way or something. It is the most bizarre experience I have ever had on a battlefield. At the top, we parked and walked a trail along the ridge. There are a few artillery pieces up there, and one can see the skyline of downtown Atlanta if it’s a clear enough day – it was for us.

The skyline of Atlanta is just visible in the haze at center. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The skyline of Atlanta is just visible in the haze at center. – Photo by the author

We had to fight our way back down the mountain with the joggers, but once we moved on to the second stop and beyond, we barely saw another soul on the battlefield. I suppose it is nice that people visit, but it really seems to me like the vast majority of them are missing the point of the place.

The hike to the Illinois Monument was the one big highlight of our visit to Kennesaw Mountain. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The hike to the Illinois Monument was the one big highlight of our visit to Kennesaw Mountain. – Photo by the author

And part of me feels like the NPS has largely caved to that user base here. It certainly could be that the visit started with a bad experience and that colored the rest of it for me, but I honestly found the auto tour to be somewhat hard to follow, and the stops to be not well-interpreted. The one exception was the Illinois Monument, which we hiked to along the route of the Union attack. That was a really nice moment. Apart from the initial stops, the place is oddly peaceful. It’s one of the strangest battlefields I’ve visited so far.

Battle of Kolb’s Farm – Civil War Battlefield #121

While the CWSAC considers the Battle of Kolb’s Farm to be a separate action, the site is included as the final stop on the Kennesaw Mountain auto tour route.

There are a few markers here, and the field seems to be mostly intact – though the modern road intersections are larger than they were in 1864. Sadly, the disappointment continued, as one of the NPS waysides here had Brig. Gen. John White Geary’s name misspelled on a battle map as “Greary”. It was fitting, I suppose.

Atlanta History Center

It was time to finally head into Atlanta. I had been looking forward to seeing the newly-restored Atlanta Cyclorama at the Atlanta History Center ever since I heard about it online. I’ve been to see the Gettysburg one several times, and being able to see the only other surviving cyclorama is pretty cool. The restoration looked great – complete with a diorama as it would have been presented back in the late 19th century.

The Atlanta Cyclorama. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The Atlanta Cyclorama. – Photo by the author

The rest of the museum was great as well. They have a Civil War section that contains some cool weapons, along with the coat that Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon wore at Appomattox. At the time, they also had a large exhibit about the history of BBQ, which I’m sure my now-wife would have loved.

Battle of Peachtree Creek – Civil War Battlefield #122

As I mentioned in previous entries, the battlefields in modern metro Atlanta are all obliterated now by the sprawl of neighborhoods radiating from the city. Only small parcels here and there exist to memorialize these actions. The Battle of Peachtree Creek is an excellent example of this.

One of the tablets in the small neighborhood park that commemorates the battle. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
One of the tablets in the small neighborhood park that commemorates the battle. – Photo by the author

We visited Tanyard Creek Park, where a few markers exist in a variation of the “pocket park” from before. While the story is told on the tablets, the modern visitor simply can’t visualize what the fighting here was like. It’s a theme that will continue through the rest of our day.

That said, the park itself is lovely and peaceful with some trails. We walked down to Tanyard Creek and the rush of the water was calming. I’ve started to record the sound of the streams at all the battlefields that I visit, and I particularly enjoyed this one.

Battle of Utoy Creek – Civil War Battlefield #123

The landscape of the Battle of Utoy Creek is completely gone. We had no trouble finding the two markers that exist along Cascade Road, but they are entirely surrounded by neighborhoods that did not exist 150 years ago.

Battle of Ezra Church – Civil War Battlefield #124

The Battle of Ezra Church also has a small “pocket park” adjacent to the C.A. Scott Recreation Center, with several tablets attempting to explain the action to the modern visitor. Once again, though, nothing of the field remains as it was in 1864.

What can I say? I love a tablet with an embossed map. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
What can I say? I love a tablet with an embossed map. – Photo by the author

Battle of Atlanta – Civil War Battlefield #125

The action that the cyclorama was made to portray. And again, modern Atlanta has just wiped the field of the Battle of Atlanta right off the map. In addition to being packed with neighborhoods, modern I-20 bisects the battlefield and makes it impossible to visualize.

A vertical cannon marks the approximate spot of Maj. Gen. McPherson's death. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
A vertical cannon marks the approximate spot of Maj. Gen. McPherson’s death. – Photo by the author

I visited the intersection of McPherson Ave. and Monument Ave. to see the monument to the death of Maj. Gen. James Birdseye McPherson.

Just For Fun…

As we were driving down toward the Atlanta History Center, we passed by what was at that time Sun Trust Park – now Truist Park – where the Atlanta Braves play. I had never been to any MLB stadium outside of my beloved Baltimore Orioles, nor had my nephew. On a whim, I checked whether they were in town, and when I saw that they were scheduled to play the rival Washington Nationals that night, I made the rather spontaneous decision to buy a couple of tickets.

The view from our seats. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The view from our seats. – Photo by the author

We had a great time! And with former Orioles Kevin Gausman pitching, and Nick Markakis in left field for the Braves, it was almost like seeing my guys. Sadly, the home team was thrashed that night, 14-4.

A couple of happy guys at the ball game. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
A couple of happy guys at the ball game. – Photo by the author

After the game, we made the drive back to Chattanooga. There was one more day in town for me to revisit an old favorite, and see a couple of new places, too.

Battlefield Visits: Road Trip to Chattanooga, Part 3: On to Atlanta!

From my travels, May 28, 2019.

This was going to be an exciting day. My nephew and I were going to check a lot of battlefields off the list. We got up early (no small task for a teenager) and got on the road before 9:30am.

Battle of Ringgold Gap – Civil War Battlefield #109

Not too far down the road, we came to our first stop, the Battle of Ringgold Gap. While not considered part of the Atlanta Campaign, this was right along our route, and I’d never visited before.

The story here is that Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne’s men fought for over 5 hours as a rear guard after the Confederate army was forced off of Missionary Ridge outside of Chattanooga. The Union attack here was not well executed, and Grant made the call not to pursue beyond the gap, returning his troops to the defenses of Chattanooga.

Patrick Cleburne is the Confederate hero of the battle. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Patrick Cleburne is the Confederate hero of the battle. – Photo by the author

We checked out another of the New York monuments – very much like the one at Wauhatchie the day before. It was a little off the beaten path, so that was pretty cool. The main visitor focus for this battlefield is on the small “pocket park” that was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps back during the Great Depression. It’s a parking area with a few markers and picnic tables right off of US-41.

There are a lot of these "pocket parks" along the route to Atlanta. These maps they have are pretty cool. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
There are a lot of these “pocket parks” along the route to Atlanta. These maps they have are pretty cool. – Photo by the author

The gap itself has clearly been widened over the years to make room for I-75, but you can see that even in its natural state it would have been quite substantial in late 1863.

First Battle of Dalton – Civil War Battlefield #110

Fighting at the First Battle of Dalton took place in Mill Creek Gap. This is another location that is marked by a CCC “pocket park” just in front of the Georgia State Patrol Station on US-41.

I just <i>had</i> to take my nephew here. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
I just had to take my nephew here. – Photo by the author

There’s a trail near the parking area that leads a little farther up the ridge to the site of Fort Fisk – perhaps named for some distant relative of his? The surprise of seeing that sign definitely put a smile on his face. A nice memory to be sure.

Second Battle of Dalton – Civil War Battlefield #111

The field of the Second Battle of Dalton seems to have been obliterated by modern development. I had a hard time finding any markers for it, and even a couple of the visitors centers and museums in town were unable to direct me to anything concrete.

There is a statue of Joseph E. Johnston in downtown Dalton, but no trace of the second battle fought here. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
There is a statue of Joseph E. Johnston in downtown Dalton, but no trace of the second battle fought here. – Photo by the author

That said, my nephew and I got to spend a little time driving around the town, and it seems like a pretty nice place.

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The Tunnel Hill Heritage Center and Museum had this cool display outside. What are Sherman’s Neckties? They’re AWESOME – that’s what! – Photo by the author

Battle of Rocky Face Ridge – Civil War Battlefield #112

I know that a park has since been established north of Dalton to help preserve some of the history of the Battle of Rocky Face Ridge, but that did not exist at the time of my visit. My nephew and I took a look at the southern portion of the field, in Dug Gap.

There is a small parking area there and a few markers and waysides to give the visitor a little bit of the story. From there, we walked on a short trail up to the ridge and saw some of the rock formations and cliffs. It was a very peaceful spot.

Battle of Resaca – Civil War Battlefield #113

We hit the first of our disappointments for the day at the next stop: the Battle of Resaca. There is a nice park here preserving part of the Union section of the battlefield, but it is only open Friday – Sunday. Of course, we were visiting on a Tuesday.

Chevaux de frise guard the modern entrance to the Resaca battlefield park. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Chevaux de frise guard the modern entrance to the Resaca battlefield park. – Photo by the author

We were able to park just outside the gate, and see a couple of markers that were nearby, but neither of us wanted to press our luck exploring any farther. One thing that I really liked was the reproduction chevaux de frise that stand right next to the gate. At least there won’t be any cavalry attacks here!

Battle of Adairsville – Civil War Battlefield #114

There isn’t much going on at the site of the Battle of Adairsville. In truth – none of the battles of this campaign produced the kind of fighting and casualties that one would expect from major Civil War battles. This campaign was really a master class in maneuver given by Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman.

One of the markers at Adairsville. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
One of the markers at Adairsville. – Photo by the author

We were able to find a few, kind of rough-looking, roadside markers near a cemetery in town, but that was about it.

Battle of Allatoona – Civil War Battlefield #115

There have been a lot of changes to the field of the Battle of Allatoona since 1864. The most obvious one hits you as soon as you park your car and see the huge earthen dam that holds back the artificially-created Lake Allatoona. That means that a part of this field is now underwater. The day we were there featured plenty of activity going on, with people walking along the trails and taking out their boats.

Like so many of the battlefields we are seeing on this trip, the reason it came to be was all about the railroad. The Western and Atlantic Railroad cut right through a gap here, and that narrow channel through the mountain still exists. The railroad has been converted to a walking path, and about half way down the trail, there is a set of stairs leading up the side to the star fort which commanded the approaches here.

This trail lies where the railroad once came through. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
This trail lies where the railroad once came through. – Photo by the author

Apart from the remains of the fort, there are several waysides and even a few monuments – the coolest of which are stone markers that commemorate the different States that supplied men for this fight. I couldn’t resist having my nephew pose with the North Carolina one, since that is where he grew up. Sadly, there was no Maryland monument.

My nephew poses with the monument to North Carolina troops at Allatoona. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
My nephew poses with the monument to North Carolina troops at Allatoona. – Photo by the author

Battle of New Hope Church – Civil War Battlefield #116

The church from the Battle of New Hope Church still exists, and while there is another of the “pocket parks” here, I get the sense that the congregation takes a certain amount of pride in the field. There are worm fences and even some earthworks here, and they were in pretty good shape.

My nephew tries out the defenses at New Hope Church. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
My nephew tries out the defenses at New Hope Church. – Photo by the author

As we get closer to Atlanta, less and less land is preserved in the sprawl of the modern metropolis. Only small little landmarks are left in the wake of countless new neighborhoods. That’s the story here as well.

Battle of Dallas – Civil War Battlefield #117

I’ll be honest – I was very confused by the Battle of Dallas. And it isn’t like this is my first time on a battlefield. There are plenty of markers scattered around town, but the places that they seem to label as being part of the defensive lines don’t seem all that defensible to me. Maybe the terrain has changed in the last 150+ years with the massive growth of Atlanta?

I found these isolated signs, in the midst of new development, difficult to follow. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
I found these isolated signs, in the midst of new development, difficult to follow. – Photo by the author

This feels like the kind of place that I would need to study a lot, and come back with some period maps to try to get my head around it. I just wasn’t able to grasp it on the field.

I will add: the best wayside that I found was over behind the Chamber of Commerce building.

Battle of Pickett’s Mill – Civil War Battlefield #118

The Battle of Pickett’s Mill has been partially preserved as a Georgia State Park, but like Resaca, it wasn’t open on the day I can through. It’s a shame, because it seems like it may be pretty solidly interpreted. For now, my nephew and I had to settle for the marker in the small parking spot out front.

Pickett's Mill was closed. Bummer! - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Pickett’s Mill was closed. Bummer! – Photo by the author

Battle of Marietta – Civil War Battlefield #119

I was initially confused by the Battle of Marietta. It turns out that this was really a series of smaller actions that occurred around the area rather than one concerted fight. We visited the site of Gilgal Church, which had some cool reconstructed earthworks.

Field fortifications at Gilglal Church. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Field fortifications at Gilglal Church. – Photo by the author

11 battlefields was a fine number for one day. As it was starting to get late, we decided to head back to Chattanooga and resume closer to Atlanta in the morning. There would be a few surprises coming for us – mostly pleasant ones.

Battlefield Visits: Road Trip to Chattanooga, Part 2: Around Town

From my travels, May 27, 2019.

I arrived in Chattanooga by mid-morning, and met up with my nephew and brother-in-law. They joined me for the rest of the day of battlefield exploration.

Battle of Davis’ Crossroads – Civil War Battlefield #107

Our first stop was the farthest outside of town – well into northwest Georgia, in fact: the Battle of Davis’ Crossroads. It took quite a while to drive out to that fairly rural area from Chattanooga.

The fighting here was a prelude to Chickamauga, with the Confederates attempting to bottle up the Union forces in the mountain cove to the south. The Federals avoided the trap, and held off the Confederates, with neither side gaining a clear victory.

At the crossroads itself these days, there isn’t much more than a small restaurant – the Pigeon Mountain Grill. We back-tracked a bit to a small pull-off about a mile east of the crossroads where there were a few wayside markers from the American Battlefield Trust. They were in ROUGH shape and almost unreadable during our visit.

Trying to get the drone in the air. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Trying to get the drone in the air. – Photo by the author

My nephew brought along his drone and put it up a few times to get an aerial perspective of the field – something that I’d never attempted before. Sadly, his GoPro was not cooperating and we didn’t get any usable footage.

Battle of Wauhatchie – Civil War Battlefield #108

We packed up the equipment and made our way back toward town. Our next stop at the site of the Battle of Wauhatchie is one I’d been looking forward to seeing for quite a long time. The Federal troops who fought here were from the XI and XII Corps and had been part of the Army of the Potomac just a few months before. George Sears Greene, hero of Culp’s Hill at Gettysburg was still commanding his brigade here. Finally, some familiar faces!

This was a surprise night attack against the Confederate defenses of Lookout Mountain that succeeded in driving the rebels away and clearing a path for resupplying the encircled Union forces in the city of Chattanooga. The establishment of this “cracker line” meant that the Confederate hopes of re-taking the city were over.

Our first stop was the parking lot behind the nearby Walmart. I had read that this spot had the best view of the whole field, and boy was that true. The entire valley below was the battlefield, with Greene’s men holding a position at center-right.

The view of the Wauhatchie Valley from the Walmart parking lot. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The view of the Wauhatchie Valley from the Walmart parking lot. – Photo by the author

After taking in the spectacular views of Lookout Mountain from this side, we drove over toward the mountain, behind the McDonald’s and Hardee’s, and took the quick hike up to where the XI Corps New York Monument was – there were plenty of familiar names on that one, from Carl Schurz to Wlodzimierz Krzyzanowski. That was a really cool experience actually – checking out a monument that almost no one goes to just steps from I-24.

My nephew and I examining the XI Corps New York Monument at Wauhatchie. - <i>Photo by my brother-in-law, Jonathan Fisk</i>
My nephew and I examining the XI Corps New York Monument at Wauhatchie. – Photo by my brother-in-law, Jonathan Fisk

Once we were back at the car, we headed toward the southern end of the field, where Greene’s brigade had fought. There was a small monument to them there in the front yard of a light industrial building.

Lookout Mountain and Point Park

On my first trip to Chattanooga, I never actually got up onto Lookout Mountain. I had heard that the view from Point Park in particular is the greatest of the Civil War-related views. I really wanted to get up there, and luckily the guys were enthusiastic, too.

This is where the NPS memorializes the Battle of Lookout Mountain – or the “Battle Above the Clouds”. We took in the sights near the entrance – including the wide open vista of the city of Chattanooga – and all I can say is that it was absolutely incredible. The photos I took don’t do it justice at all.

My nephew and his dad, posing in front of Chattanooga. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
My nephew and his dad, posing in front of Chattanooga. – Photo by the author

We continued down the northern slope and got to the site of the Ochs Memorial Museum, and Roper’s Rock. Everyone who visited here during the Civil War wanted to get their photo taken, and I was no exception of course.

My nephew and I as close to Roper's Rock as we were allowed. Moccasin Bend is in the background. - <i>Photo by my brother-in-law, Jonathan Fisk</i>
My nephew and I as close to Roper’s Rock as we were allowed. Moccasin Bend is in the background. – Photo by my brother-in-law, Jonathan Fisk

A little farther down, my nephew indulged my nerdiness and got a photo of me near the spot where Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant also posed with his staff back in 1863. The angle isn’t quite right, but you can see some of the same rock formations.

My attempt at re-creating Grant's pose on Lookout Mountain - <i>Photo by my nephew</i>
My attempt at re-creating Grant’s pose on Lookout Mountain – Photo by my nephew

My first trip to Lookout Mountain was absolutely incredible. Truly a bucket list kind of thing. I’m lucky to have been able to share the experience.

Chattanooga National Cemetery

Since it was Memorial Day, there was no better way to commemorate the occasion than with a stop at the Chattanooga National Cemetery. I’m happy to report that it was quite crowded there when we arrived around 4:30pm. I’m so used to seeing people use the holiday as an excuse to go to the beach, and it was somewhat uplifting to see so many others paying their respects to our departed veterans.

Monument to Andrew's Raiders in Chattanooga National Cemetery. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Monument to Andrews’ Raiders in Chattanooga National Cemetery. – Photo by the author

The main focal point of the cemetery – at least from a Civil War perspective – is the graves of several of Andrews’ Raiders. These men captured a Confederate locomotive, The General, and attempted to tear up the Western and Atlantic Railroad as they drove from Atlanta toward Chattanooga. The mission ended with many of the men being captured and executed by the rebels as spies. There was even an old Disney movie made about the event.

The next day would have the real fun start: my nephew and I would re-trace the route of the Atlanta Campaign!

Fort Delaware

Even before I moved to Delaware, I had my eye on a visit to what I had heard was an excellent mid-19th century, Third System fort that sits on a small island in the middle of the Delaware River, appropriately named Fort Delaware. Back on May 25, 2019, my boys and I made our first trip over to Pea Patch Island to take in the sites of this wonderful old defensive structure. We have since returned a few more times – it’s a really nice experience.

Entry to the fort is from a small gift shop in Delaware City. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Entry to the fort is from a small gift shop in Delaware City. – Photo by the author

Today, the island and fort are contained within Fort Delaware State Park, and park staff engage in living history presentations on the island as if it was 1864. Most everyone on the island is “in-character” demonstrating various aspects of life in a coastal fortification turned prison during the Civil War.

Since the fort is located on an island, the only access is by ferry boat from Delaware City. It also operates seasonally, shutting down visitor access between October and April. We bought our timed tickets in advance online, but I think it is also possible to get walk-up tickets from the gift shop. After a quick stop at the restroom, we were ready to board the Delafort for the 10-minute ride over to the park.

The <i>Delafort</i> is the ferry that runs from Delaware City, to Pea Patch Island, to Fort Mott, NJ, and back. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The Delafort is the ferry that runs from Delaware City, to Pea Patch Island, to Fort Mott, NJ, and back. – Photo by the author

Once the ferry docks on the island, a tram takes visitors across the marshy part of the island over toward the historical fort. An audio presentation during the ride talks about some of the history of the island, as well as describing some of the wildlife that can be seen in the marsh as you go by. Eventually, as you make the transition to dry land, the massive fort comes into view.

My crew at the sally port. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
My crew at the sally port. – Photo by the author

Built with the intention of defending Wilmington and Philadelphia from naval attack, the fort was completed in 1859 – just in time to be garrisoned at the outbreak of the Civil War. Like many of the Third System forts, Fort Delaware went through a series of Endicott conversions in the late 1890s to install larger caliber guns in huge concrete emplacements. The remains of the Endicott batteries can be seen on the south side of the island near the modern restrooms, and immediately to the right as you enter the fort. These days, the concrete structures serve mainly as bat habitats.

One of the Third System-era structures within the fort houses a small museum and shows what mess, quartermaster, and medical facilities were like. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
One of the Third System-era structures within the fort houses a small museum and shows what mess, quartermaster, and medical facilities were like. – Photo by the author
Officers serving at the fort brought their families along. Here my boys learn about how laundry was done before the electric washing machine. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Officers serving at the fort brought their families along. Here my boys learn about how laundry was done before the electric washing machine. – Photo by the author

Every time we have gone, the interpretation of life at the fort has been wonderful. The staff does an excellent job of making the place feel alive as you tour through the various areas within the fort. Favorites for us have been the laundry, mess hall, and blacksmith shop.

But this was a fort after all, so the real draw is the artillery! Sadly, there isn’t much here in the way of guns, and I believe that what they do have are reproductions. They do a LOT of artillery demonstrations here and it’s generally not safe to do those with weapons that are over 150 years old at this point. A favorite memory for me is from our first visit, when the boys were able to man one of the guns themselves and participate in a firing drill.

My boys with one of the big seacoast guns. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
My boys with one of the big seacoast guns. – Photo by the author

As cool as the guns and casemates are, none of the fort’s defenses were ever tested by an enemy in any era. The main Civil War story here is of the island’s use as a prison camp. Thousands of captured Confederates were confined here. Many died, and there were even a few daring escapes that took place. At the height of it, there were dozens of prison barracks built outside of the fort walls for enlisted men. Captured officers were generally kept within the fort itself. The park has rebuilt one of the barracks from a set of original plans to give visitors a feel for what the conditions would have been like, but it doesn’t do justice to the scale of the prison population that was kept here.

The view inside the rebuilt prison barracks. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The view inside the rebuilt prison barracks. – Photo by the author

As a fort nerd, I really enjoy going to Fort Delaware. Between the ferry ride and the in-character interpretation of the place, each visit is a true experience. And the fort is in terrific shape – so many of the Third System forts have been messed with over the years – with some becoming almost unrecognizable after going through Endicott conversions. Seeing one that is still at its original height and with many of the interior structures still intact is a real treat. I can’t wait to plan my next visit in the spring.

Mr. and Mrs. Skillman

July 22, 2023 was a very happy day for our family. My boys and I are blessed beyond measure.

Emily and I got married! Photo by my new sister-in-law, Jill Taylor

Kid’s Day: Life of a Soldier – April 2019

I had heard about a special program for kids happening at Brandywine Battlefield Park, the site of the largest battle of the American Revolution, so I decided to take the boys up for the afternoon. It was a really great hands-on experience. My dad tagged along, too, since he had never visited the site.

We took a tour of both historic houses there, and the boys were engaged enough to ask questions and participate. After the tours, we formed up with some other kids in the field outside the visitors center to learn how new recruits during the American Revolution were trained. One of the museum guides in period dress taught the kids how to line up, and then walked them through the procedure for loading a mock wooden musket, and finally led them in an attack that ended with a charge! The boys had a great time getting to connect with the history in a very tangible way.

Our latest patriot recruits, in a ragged battleline. - <i>Photo by the Author</i>
Our latest patriot recruits, in a ragged battleline. – Photo by the Author
This drill instructor had his work cut out for him. - <i>Photo by the Author</i>
This drill instructor had his work cut out for him. – Photo by the Author

The British didn’t know what they were in for that day.

Valley Forge Day Trip – June 2019

One of my favorite things to do is have adventures with my boys. A few summers ago, we took a day trip to Valley Forge National Historical Park so that the boys could see some Revolutionary history (they both seem to have some interest there) and to give them a chance to complete yet another Junior Ranger program.

At the time we visited back in June of 2019, the Visitors Center was closed for renovations, and a series of temporary trailers were in place to allow folks to pick up maps, watch a short introductory movie, and purchase souvenirs. We especially enjoyed getting to pretend that we were General George Washington for a brief moment.

Isaac as General Washington in the makeshift visitors center. - Photo by the Author
Isaac as General Washington in the makeshift visitors center. – Photo by the Author

Once we’d oriented ourselves and got our Junior Ranger activity books, we set out on the standard auto tour route of the park. While not actually a battlefield, the encampment at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-1778 was a turning point for the Continental Army. Baron von Steuben developed a training program that brought the Colonials much closer to being a professional fighting force. And I really think there is something to the idea that the shared hardships forged bonds among the men that would carry them through the rest of the struggle.

Both boys were interested in exploring the reproduction huts along Muhlenberg’s brigade line. These show something of what the living quarters were like for the men that wintered here.

John and Isaac inside one of the soldiers' huts. - Photo by the Author
John and Isaac inside one of the soldiers’ huts. – Photo by the Author

Nearby, at Redoubt #2, we took our turn manning the outer defenses of the camp. With the British Army spending the winter in Philadelphia, this position had a great view of the likely approaches that would have been used if the red coats had decided to attack.

Manning a gun at Redoubt #2. - Photo by the Author
Manning a gun at Redoubt #2. – Photo by the Author

Continuing along the tour route, we came to an equestrian statue of Maj. General “Mad” Anthony Wayne – one of my favorite figures from the Continental Army. He played a prominent role at both the Battle of Paoli, and the Battle of Stony Point – both fields that I have visited and will need to write up one of these days. The Battle of Stony Point is especially cool and worth a visit for its views of the Hudson River alone.

The magnificent equestrian statue of "Mad Anthony" Wayne at Valley Forge. - Photo by the Author
The magnificent equestrian statue of “Mad Anthony” Wayne at Valley Forge. – Photo by the Author

Our next stop was at Washington’s Headquarters. The house was open on the day we visited, and it was really cool to have the ranger there explain how the house was used by General Washington and his staff. The building is in great shape and getting to see and use the original handrails that were still on the steps was a pretty awesome experience. Tangible connections to the past are always much more impactful.

The boys stand with General Washington's headquarters flag outside of the Isaac Potts House. General Washington used the structure as his headquarters that winter. - Photo by the Author
The boys stand with General Washington’s headquarters flag outside of the Isaac Potts House. General Washington used the structure as his headquarters that winter. – Photo by the Author

The visit ended with a return trip to the Visitors Center to have a ranger check our work on the Junior Ranger activities, swear in, and get our badges! We’ll definitely be going back to see the renovated Visitors Center and learn more about our country’s history together.

My Valley Forge Junior Rangers. - Photo by the Author
My Valley Forge Junior Rangers. – Photo by the Author

Battlefield Visits: Shenandoah Valley

During the Civil War, the Shenandoah Valley was both the breadbasket of the Confederacy, as well as a key transportation corridor used by both sides for their respective invasions. There was almost constant conflict in the region for the duration of the war, and large areas destroyed in actions like “The Burning”. A few summers ago, I toured many of the battlefields in this very important theatre of the war.


Battle of McDowell – Civil War Battlefield #60

Approaching from the east (in the Harrisonburg area), I lost cell service as soon as I hit the mountains. Such is life in the National Radio Quiet Zone. There is a cool overlook on top of one of the ridges along Rt. 250 that talks about a Confederate fort and earthworks there under Gen. Edward “Allegheny” Johnson. Very nice views and a few interpretive markers.

The view really is lovely from the rest stop. - Photo by the Author
The view really is lovely from the rest stop. – Photo by the Author

Just before the town of McDowell, the Civil War Trust has a small parking lot with markers showing the start of the trail they laid out on their property on Sitlington’s Hill. The signs mention a blueblaze trail, but I couldn’t find any blazes. Combined with the fact that it had just rained, was approaching dusk, and I had no cell phone service, I decided not to venture up the hill. The town was nice, though, and I was able to see the house that Stonewall Jackson used as a headquarters during the Battle of McDowell.


Battle of Cross Keys – Civil War Battlefield #61

A relatively small fight during Stonewall Jackson’s 1862 Shenandoah Valley campaign, Cross Keys is not far to the southeast from Harrisonburg. There’s a wayside marker – a series of them actually – near the cemetery on Battlefield Road. The terrain is very rolling. The Union line was more-or-less along modern Cross Keys Road, and the view to the southeast of the mountains was beautiful. The southern peak of Massanutten Mountain was clearly visible from here.


Battle of Port Republic – Civil War Battlefield #62

I love these metal map signs that can be found at several of the battlefields in the Shenandoah Valley. - Photo by the Author
I love these metal map signs that can be found at several of the battlefields in the Shenandoah Valley. – Photo by the Author

Just after the Battle of Cross Keys, the action of Jackson’s Valley Campaign moved farther to the southeast at the Battle of Port Republic. Naturally, we continued there on our tour, too.

Initially, I had some trouble finding the battlefield itself. There is a set of markers near “The Coaling” east of town. The battle took place mainly between that spot and the town. The terrain was basically flat farm fields that are bordered on the north by the south branch of the Shenandoah River.


Battle of Piedmont – Civil War Battlefield #63

More rolling terrain at this battlefield. It is fairly difficult to get a sense for where the lines were. But there are a few markers, and one wayside in the parking lot of the local community center that includes a map.


Battle of Waynesboro – Civil War Battlefield #64

This battlefield – the site of the last fighting in the Shenandoah Valley – has been entirely overtaken by the modern development of the town. I found one marker on W. Main Street near the Masonic Lodge, but there are no waysides here, so there are no maps to orient you to where the action took place.


Battle of New Market – Civil War Battlefield #65

The VMI-run Virginia Museum of the Civil War was fairly sparse during our visit. I got the impression that they were in the midst of re-arranging the exhibits. It’s nice to see them involved at the battle where the most famous aspect is the charge of their cadets. There is a sizeable collection of small arms downstairs which is probably the main attraction. $10 admission seemed a little steep for what it is, though my son was free. He really wanted to get a hat, so I bought him a super-FARBy, cotton kepi with (*UGH*) crossed rifles in the gift shop. It’ll be a fun souvenir for him, nonetheless.

The field itself is small. There is a trail that takes you along the path of the VMI cadets’ attack, and a few reproduction artillery pieces. There’s also a spot where you can get a nice view of the north fork of the Shenandoah River.

My son and I at the Virginia Museum of the Civil War. He really wanted that hat. - Photo by the Author
My son and I at the Virginia Museum of the Civil War. He really wanted that hat. – Photo by the Author

Battle of Tom’s Brook – Civil War Battlefield #66

You've gotta love a good roadside marker. - Photo by the Author
You’ve gotta love a good roadside marker. – Photo by the Author

There’s a marker for the Battle of Tom’s Brook along Route 11 in the town where the action took place, and a nice wayside that is deep in the nearby Shenandoah County Park near a storm water pond. A large patch of woods there means that the Valley Pike can’t be viewed from the wayside, so it’s a little hard to really see and appreciate the terrain. Some imagination is required.


Battle of Fisher’s Hill – Civil War Battlefield #67

There are a few markers along Route 11, but that’s not all. A totally separate section of the battlefield – Ramseur’s Hill – has been preserved on the northwest side of I-81. There are a few waysides and a walking trail there. During my initial trip, I didn’t get out to explore too much, as my son was already pretty burned-out on battlefields for the day, but I was lucky enough to come back for a special tour that was given on the 155th anniversary of the Battle of Fisher’s Hill, and the views are amazing from the top of the hill.

From the top of Ramseur's Hill looking roughly northeast. Another amazing vista. - Photo by the Author
From the top of Ramseur’s Hill looking roughly northeast. Another amazing vista. – Photo by the Author