Battlefield Visits: Raleigh, NC to Petersburg, VA

I’ve written before about a business trip I took to Raleigh, NC back in 2017. What I didn’t include in that post is the stops that I made on the way home to Maryland. I made the most of that travel day by visiting more than a dozen Civil War sites along the way from Raleigh to Petersburg. I packed a lot of adventure in to that day.

Bennett Place

I left my hotel and headed over to the site of the largest Confederate surrender of the war – and the first that I’d ever visited. I arrived at around 10am. The retired lady working at the front desk was very personable and knowledgeable – we hit it off immediately. She showed my around the visitors center, started their orientation movie for me, and then gave me a tour of the grounds. It’s a pretty nicely-kept place. The house itself, while not the original (it burned in 1921) is an exact duplicate that was moved from a farm 4 miles away. I’m told that it’s a good example of a 19th century middle class southern homestead. Overall, it was a very cool experience.

Battle of Dinwiddie Court House – Civil War Battlefield #42

After a couple hours in the car, I was ready to start the Petersburg area tour. The first stop that I made on the trip north was at this small battlefield that was basically just a precursor to the Battle of Five Forks. There are a few monuments and markers in front of the titular court house, but not much else.

Battle of Five Forks – Civil War Battlefield #43

This was a battlefield that I had been anticipating visiting for quite some time. Not only is this the place where Maj. General George Pickett’s Confederate division collapsed – forcing the rebels to abandon Petersburg – but Brig. General Joshua L. Chamberlain played a major role in the breakthrough as well.

The famous Five Forks intersection. - <i>Photo by the Author</i>
The famous Five Forks intersection. – Photo by the Author

There is a satellite visitors center for Petersburg National Battlefield here, but it is quite small. The field itself is also small and frankly feels kind of barren. There are a couple monuments at the intersection, and a few waysides there and at the Confederate left flank to tell the story of the attack.

Battle of White Oak Road – Civil War Battlefield #44

Like so many of these “smaller” battlefields around Petersburg, the Battle of White Oak Road is one where the Civil War Trust has done a lot of the work. There are a few waysides, and a nice trail that leads you along the battle line where earthworks are visible.

Battle of Boydton Plank Road – Civil War Battlefield #45

Taking White Oak Road east, I arrived at the intersection with the old Boydton Plank Road – now modern US-1. This was the center of the fighting at the Battle of Boydton Plank Road. There is a roadside marker near the intersection, but I didn’t find much else.

Battle of Lewis’ Farm – Civil War Battlefield #46

Officially, this action is referred to as the Battle of Lewis’ Farm, but the roadside marker here calls it the “Quaker Road Engagement”. A lot of Civil War battles have at least two names, and it seems like they can get especially confusing around Petersburg. The field on the east side of the road seems to be well-preserved farmland, but there is 20th century housing on the west side. Brig. General Chamberlain received his final wound of the war here.

Third Battle of Petersburg – Civil War Battlefield #47

The final breakthrough of the Confederate line at Petersburg, the Third Battle of Petersburg was a full-blown disaster for the Confederates. Aside from the fact that the loss forced the abandonment of their entire Petersburg line, it also claimed the life of one of their senior corps commanders: Lt. General A.P. Hill.

This monument marks the spot where Lt. General Ambrose Powell Hill was killed during the Third Battle of Petersburg - just a week before General Lee surrendered at Appomattox. - <i>Photo by the Author</i>
This monument marks the spot where Lt. General Ambrose Powell Hill was killed during the Third Battle of Petersburg – just a week before General Lee surrendered at Appomattox. – Photo by the Author

Battle of Peebles’ Farm – Civil War Battlefield #48

The Civil War Trust has laid out an interpretive trail here at the Battle of Peebles’ Farm that leads up toward the Pamplin Historical Park property. I didn’t walk the full trail (nor visit Pamplin) on this trip, but I feel like both would be worth doing. There are a few waysides here to help explain the fighting.

Several pieces of the Petersburg battlefields have been saved by the Civil War Trust over the years. Signs like this one at Peebles' Farm are frequently seen along the roads here. - <i>Photo by the Author</i>
Several pieces of the Petersburg battlefields have been saved by the Civil War Trust over the years. Signs like this one at Peebles’ Farm are frequently seen along the roads here. – Photo by the Author

Battle of Hatcher’s Run – Civil War Battlefield #49

Several hundred acres of the field at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run have been saved over the years by the Civil War Trust. They have a small parking lot and some wayside markers that provide a jumping-off point for a trail.

Battle of Globe Tavern – Civil War Battlefield #50

Part of the fight for the Weldon Railroad, there are some good waysides here at the Battle of Globe Tavern. Also, Fort Wadsworth was quite large, and pretty intact. This site is part of the regular tour route for Petersburg National Battlefield, so it may see slightly more visitation than some of the other sites I visited.

First Battle of Petersburg – Civil War Battlefield #51

Maj. General Benjamin Butler’s attempt to take Petersburg ended rather quickly in the summer of 1864. It would take a prolonged siege – and far more troops than Butler had on hand – to get the job done.

Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road – Civil War Battlefield #52

The site of the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road is on the eastern end of Flank Road. Fort Davis is intact here as a city park, and there is at least one wayside.

Petersburg National Battlefield: Eastern Front Section

My next stop was the really awesome Petersburg National Battlefield Visitors Center. It’s a really nice (if not a little dated) facility, with a nice array of artillery pieces out front. Highlights were a Wiard gun, a Whitworth, and a 30-Pounder Parrott. Inside the museum, there is lovely Revere Copper Co. Napoleon on display.

There is an impressive collection of artillery in front of the Eastern Front visitors center. - <i>Photo by the Author</i>
There is an impressive collection of artillery in front of the Eastern Front visitors center. – Photo by the Author

The “Battery 5” area behind the visitors center was also quite cool – most especially the site of the “Dictator” siege mortar that rests on a trail a short distance to the north.

After picking up a tour brochure, I started on the auto tour route, which goes along a one-way road headed south. Stop #3 – Confederate Battery #9 – was particularly interesting in the way that the park has it preserved and interpreted.

Battle of Fort Stedman – Civil War Battlefield #53

Within the Eastern Front section of Petersburg National Battlefield, the Battle of Fort Stedman is Stop 5 on the official auto tour. The fort itself is fairly well-preserved, and there is a trail over to where the Confederate position was. Only a few hundred yards separated the lines at this point. While Lee’s attack against this position met with initial success, the Confederates were forced back before noon. It would be the last purely offensive attack that Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia every made.

Second Battle of Petersburg – Civil War Battlefield #54

Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant had beaten Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia in the race to Petersburg, but there was still a small Confederate defense force that had turned back Butler’s attack about a week earlier. The Union assaults didn’t go off well, and the fortifications the rebels had built along the Dimmock line were substantial, so when Lee’s reinforcements arrived, the fight became futile. The Union failure to break the line here brought on the Siege of Petersburg.

Battle of The Crater – Civil War Battlefield #55

At the southern end of the Eastern Front auto tour route is the highlight of Petersburg, in my opinion: The Battle of The Crater.

The remains of the Crater. - <i>Photo by the Author</i>
The remains of the Crater. – Photo by the Author

This was a very cool, bucket-list kind of experience. What is left of the crater today is much smaller than I had imagined. Once the battle was over, the area returned to being used as farmland, and over the years, the once-massive hole in the earth had been gradually filled in. The entrance to the mine has been re-created, and there are some cool waysides that explain the event for visitors. The biggest surprise to me was just how short the mine tunnel was. The Union and Confederate lines were VERY close to each other in this sector.

Battle of Yellow Tavern – Civil War Battlefield #56

My last stop as I headed home was north of Richmond. The Battle of Yellow Tavern is most famous as the place where the Confederate cavalry lost its most famous commander: James Ewell Brown Stuart.

This monument marks the spot where Maj. General J.E.B. Stuart was mortally wounded. He would die the day after the battle. - <i>Photo by the Author</i>
This monument marks the spot where Maj. General J.E.B. Stuart was mortally wounded. He would die the day after the battle. – Photo by the Author

Today, the battlefield has been consumed by the modern US-1 / I-95 corridor. The original Yellow Tavern has been replaced by gas stations, restaurants, and some neighborhoods. Within one of those residential areas, Civil War nerds can find a monument marking the spot where J.E.B. Stuart was mortally wounded. He was taken to Richmond, died the next day, and was buried in Hollywood Cemetery.

Battlefield Visits: Northern Virginia

Three years ago today, I took my boys on a day trip to Northern Virginia to check out some battlefields that we’d never seen before. It turned out to be a really cool experience and set many of our road trip traditions. Let’s dive in to the battlefields!

Aldie – Civil War Battlefield #34

One of the gaping holes in my list of battlefields had been the three cavalry actions that led up to the Battle of Gettysburg, so they were the fields I wanted to see most on this trip. Aldie was the first of these small battles, and I wrote a post about it a few years ago.

Aldie is a VERY small town. There is a cool-looking mill there, though it was closed when we visited. The fighting took place west of town, and there are markers and waysides there that do a good job of explaining the action.

Middleburg – Civil War Battlefield #35

The second of those closely-clustered, pre-Gettysburg cavalry engagements, the Battle of Middleburg has also been covered before on this blog.

The town itself is quite nice. In fact, it is the kind of place where you pass polo fields on the way in. The center of town has a few boutique-type shops and restaurants. It really seems like the kind of place that you could have as a destination with your significant other.

On the downside, I couldn’t find any signs discussing the battle action. It turns out of course that I just wasn’t looking in the right place. I’ll be making a return trip to the area one of these days.

Upperville – Civil War Battlefield #36

The third and largest of the cavalry engagements I wanted to see was the Battle of Upperville.

The fighting took place east of the town in a large, bowl-like area. It’s quite pretty there. The Goose Creek bridge is well-preserved and serves as the visual hallmark of the battlefield. A small park on Vineyard Hill has a wayside explaining the action and a great view.

Thoroughfare Gap – Civil War Battlefield #37

One of the actions leading up to the Second Battle of Manassas, the Battle of Thoroughfare Gap took place in the area where modern-day Interstate 66 crosses the Bull Run mountains.

There is not much here – a few roadside markers sit beside State Route 55 near the Broad Run Post Office and across the highway from the Chapman’s Mill ruins.

Buckland Mills – Civil War Battlefield #38

Not much of the field for the Battle of Buckland Mills is accessible though the Civil War Trust bought up some land here. It appears to be in a decent state of preservation. A small portion of the mill town still exists as well.

There is a marker explaining the battle along a small road right off of US 15 / 29 near Manassas. George Armstrong Custer fought here, which seems to account for at least some interest among history buffs.

Bristoe Station – Civil War Battlefield #39

The largest and best-preserved of the fields I saw that day was for the Battle of Bristoe Station. This was one of those forgotten battles (along with Mine Run) that took place in the autumn after Gettysburg. This offensive movement by the Confederates resulted in a small Union victory.

A park has been created out of the preserved land and it appears to be well-used by the community. There is also an audio tour that can be followed from your cell phone, and it really helps to explain Bristoe Station and the other area actions that led up to it. Since that first trip, I’ve been back to Bristoe Station a couple times and it is always nice.

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 #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

Battlefield Visits #3: Monocacy

Keeping it close to home for me, the next battlefield on my list is Monocacy. This engagement is commonly referred to as “The Battle that Saved Washington”, and while it was a strategic victory for the Union forces, the single-day action was tactically a loss. Maj. General Lew Wallace (in command of the VIII Corps, and later the author of Ben-Hur) successfully delayed Lt. General Jubal Early‘s advance long enough for elements of the VI Corps to move from the trenches of Petersburg to reinforce the defenses of Washington.

As a bonus, this park also preserves the spot where Special Order 191 was discovered by a couple of Union soldiers during the Maryland Campaign, so there is also some Antietam interest here.

I wrote about my first visit to this battlefield in a post a few years ago.

A beautiful Revere Copper Co. Napoleon outside of the visitors center. - Photo by the author
A beautiful Revere Copper Co. Napoleon outside of the visitors center. – Photo by the author

Campaign: Early’s Washington Raid and Operations Against the B&O Railroad – This was the first battle of the campaign.

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

How to Get There: The battlefield is located in western Maryland just south of Frederick, about an hour away from Baltimore. Modern day I-270 cuts the battlefield in half, but there is no direct access from the interstate. I use MD-355 to get there.

The Visitors Center is located at 5201 Urbana Pike, Frederick, MD 21704. There is no entrance fee, but you should stop there to pick up a brochure and get oriented. There’s a small gift shop, and a very well-done museum upstairs. The one real piece of artillery on the field is also located by the entrance – a beautiful Revere Copper Co. Napoleon. All other cannons on the field are reproductions.

For on the Field: You’re going to want to have a guide of some sort when you’re at Monocacy. There are not a lot of monuments, markers, or waysides, so having a way to interpret what you’re looking at becomes critical. Definitely get the park map / brochure for this one. Another wonderful resource that the park has put together is a freely-available audio tour of the field in mp3 format. If you’re going to use this (and you should) be sure to download it ahead of time as cell phone coverage can be spotty on the field.

What I Love: For me, Monocacy is the closest battlefield to home, so if I want to get a quick Civil War history experience, or take friends and family to something that’s a little off the beaten path, this battlefield is a good option. The field is usually pretty empty, and there are plenty of opportunities for non-historical activities. They have a few trails laid out that take the visitor along the Monocacy River, there’s a cool railroad junction and bridge that train nerds would enjoy, and some neat old farm buildings that are quite photogenic.

Some of the structures on the Best Farm. - Photo by the author
Some of the structures on the Best Farm. – Photo by the author

What I Don’t: Being such a small field, there isn’t that much to see. There are some moving pieces in the battle, so it isn’t boring to learn about, but it’s not as expansive a topic as something like Gettysburg or Antietam. As I stated above, there aren’t a lot of monuments or markers, so you’re kind of on your own while you’re out on the ground.

Final Thoughts: While Monocacy doesn’t get the attention of other nearby fields, it’s worthy of at least a quick visit. Antietam fans will appreciate the connection to Special Order 191, and Gettysburg fans will want to see the nearby place where Maj. General George Meade received the order to take command of the Army of the Potomac.

Other Resources:

Official CWSAC Battle Summary – Monocacy

American Battlefield Trust – Monocacy

Wikipedia – Battle of Monocacy

Battlefield Visits #2: Antietam

Antietam is another battlefield that is close to home for me. My family went there a few times when I was a child, but it didn’t leave the impact that Gettysburg did. There are many monuments dotting the field, and I feel like the battle is easier to understand than Gettysburg. For starters, the field is smaller than Gettysburg, and the action basically moves from one side of the field to the other as the battle progresses. This is also a single-day battle (albeit the bloodiest single day in American history). I’ve been to Antietam probably about a dozen times.

View from the observation tower on the Bloody Lane.
View from the observation tower on the Bloody Lane. – Photo by the author

Campaign: Maryland Campaign – This was the major battle of the campaign.

CWSAC Rating: “A” – Having a decisive influence on a campaign and a direct impact on the course of the war.

How to Get There: The battlefield is located in western Maryland just outside of Sharpsburg. It’s about 90 minutes from Baltimore. I usually arrive on the field by way of MD-34 through Boonsboro (which will also have an entry in this series).

The Visitor Center is located at 

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.

What I Love: Like Gettysburg, this battlefield is close to home for me. It is fairly well marked with monuments, and is small enough that one can get a feel for the action pretty quickly.

Thanks to organizations like the American Battlefield Trust, who have been working to buy-up land in recent years, more of the battlefield is publicly-accessible than ever before. Even as recently as 15 years ago, the NPS hardly owned any of the battlefield itself – they mostly just held the roads running through the battlefield. Just as one example, it is now possible to walk across the field that the II Corps divisions of French and Richardson traversed to assault the Bloody Lane.

The observation tower on the Bloody Lane is very cool, and the other major landmark – the Burnside Bridge – is serenely beautiful. It’s never seemed very crowded on the field when I’ve gone, though the exception to this seems to be their annual Memorial Illumination (which I’ve not yet had the chance to attend).

 

My boys on the banks of Antietam Creek, near the Burnside Bridge.
My boys on the banks of Antietam Creek, near the Burnside Bridge. – Photo by the author

What I Don’t: Probably the only downside to Antietam is the entrance fee. Currently, it’s $5/person or $10/car, but it’s been on the rise in the last few years. If you have an NPS annual or lifetime pass, they will accept those.

Final Thoughts: While the battle was indecisive tactically, it was close enough to a Union victory to allow Lincoln to feel like he had the freedom to announce the Emancipation Proclamation. September 17, 1862 was also the bloodiest single day in American history. Both of these facts come together to net Antietam an “A” level priority in the CWSAC survey, and make it a must-see for any Civil War enthusiast.

Other Resources:

Official CWSAC Battle Summary – Antietam

American Battlefield Trust – Antietam

Wikipedia – Battle of Antietam

Battlefield Visits #1: Gettysburg

I have to start this series with the battlefield that started it all for me – Gettysburg. It’s my first historical love, in a very real way.

Numerous volumes have been written about the battle. Absolutely everyone who was involved (at least on the Union side) wanted to have a monument there – even units who never made it to town. It is THE battle of the Civil War in the popular mind. All of these things come together to make a visit to Gettysburg a MUST for any Civil War buff. As of this writing, I have been to Gettysburg 57 times.

Looking at The Devil's Den from Little Round Top.
Looking at The Devil’s Den from Little Round Top. – Photo by the author

Campaign: Gettysburg Campaign – This was the major battle of the campaign.

CWSAC Rating: “A” – Having a decisive influence on a campaign and a direct impact on the course of the war.

How to Get There: Gettysburg is located in south central Pennsylvania. It’s about 90 minutes from Baltimore. When I go, I usually either take MD-97 through Westminster and Littlestown, or US-15 to the Emmitsburg Road. The view as you enter the battlefield from the south along the Emmitsburg Road is breath-taking. As students of the battle know, 10 roads converge in Gettysburg – the key reason the battle was fought there – so there are plenty of ways to go.

The Visitor Center is located at 1195 Baltimore Pike, Gettysburg, PA 17325. From there, you can get a brochure with the auto tour map and directions. If you’re so inclined, you can also hire a Licensed Battlefield Guide there.

For on the Field: There are a few resources that I always love having with me when I’m at Gettysburg. For the newbie, download the American Battlefield Trust’s Gettysburg Battle App. It will really enhance your tour experience. If you’re more interested in a book-based tour, my favorite is The Complete Gettysburg Guide by J. David Petruzzi. Folks who want serious military history should pick up the US Army War College’s Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg.

What I Love: As I stated, Gettysburg was the place that sparked my interest in history. I have a special connection with it for that reason. The new visitor’s center is beautiful. It’s very easy to find information on the battle – from the thousands of monuments on the field, to the countless books, articles, blog posts, documentaries, and even movies – you can develop as full a picture of the fighting as you have time for. The smaller places that make up the field are also legendary: The Railroad Cut, The Devil’s Den, The Wheatfield, The Peach Orchard, Little Round Top, Culp’s Hill, and on and on.

The view from Cemetery Ridge in the late afternoon.
The view from Cemetery Ridge in the late afternoon. – Photo by the author

What I Don’t: There’s not a lot to get upset about, honestly. It can get crowded in the summertime. And the “tourists” – especially the ghost tour crowd – can make the more serious buffs roll our eyes.

Final Thoughts: Everyone should go to Gettysburg. For the real Civil War nerds, this should not even be a question.

Other Resources:

Official CWSAC Battle Summary

American Battlefield Trust – Gettysburg

Wikipedia – Battle of Gettysburg