The Battle of Middleburg

150 years ago today, the cavalry skirmishes on the road to Gettysburg continued with the Battle of Middleburg.

There had been a small skirmish in Middleburg 2 days before, but now a more sizable force from both armies formed near the town. Once again, the result was a measured Union victory, in that the Confederates were eventually driven from the field (even though the Union forces took heavier losses). The southerners left in order to move farther west and strengthen their own screen against the Union cavalry; preventing them from encountering the main body of the Army of Northern Virginia.

There’s one more minor battle coming before the Union cavalry finally gives up and decides to move on to the north.

The Battle of Aldie

As the armies moved north through Virginia as part of what would become the Gettysburg Campaign, General Alfred Pleasonton continued to deploy his cavalry to the west in search of the main body of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

Today marks the 150th anniversary of one of the times they stumbled onto Confederate cavalry – this time under General Munford – the Battle of Aldie.

While a relatively minor engagement, it had some interesting consequences. For one, the Confederates abandoned the field after the fighting, moving back toward the west and the mountains to provide a more effective screen. They’d be pushed back even further over the next few days. This “loss” served to bolster the confidence of the Union cavalry after their good showing at the Battle of Brandy Station about a week earlier.

Captain George Armstrong Custer leads the charge at the Battle of Aldie.
Captain George Armstrong Custer leads the charge at the Battle of Aldie.

This battle also sparked the rise of one of the most famous cavalry commanders in American history: George Armstrong Custer. Custer was serving on Pleasonton’s staff as a Captain and was able to convince his commander to allow him to take part in the attack on this day. As the 1st Maine cavalry charged forward, the regiment’s commander fell dead and Custer took the lead in his place.

This act of bravery (combined with the fact that he was already a favorite of Pleasonton – the overall Union cavalry commander) led to Custer’s promotion to Brigadier General before the end of the month. As the youngest General in the Union army, he would lead a brigade of Michigan cavalrymen at Hanover and Hunterstown on his way to the East Cavalry Field at Gettysburg.

Of course, he’s most famous for being killed 13 years later with the rest of his command at Little Bighorn. But if not for his part at Aldie, he may never have become more than a mere staff officer.

Civil War Artillery: Bronze Guns

One of the things that I’ve become more interested in over the years is artillery – especially the artillery that was used during the Civil War. I started a series a few months ago to explain some of the basics of these weapons – it is best to see that article first to get familiar with the “anatomy” of the guns. Today, I want to explain how to identify some of the different types of bronze cannons, using familiar examples from the collection at Gettysburg.

There are a few main types of bronze guns that we’ll be looking at today:

Model 1857 12-pounder Field Gun (The “Napoleon”)

Overview: The most common type of bronze gun during the Civil War was the Model 1857 12-pounder Field Gun, commonly known as the “Napoleon” since this was an American copy of a French design that was popular with the famous general. There were 244 (though not all made from the US pattern) of these present at the Battle of Gettysburg.

While still a seemingly old-fashioned smoothbore, these weapons represented an innovative design, and were officially referred to as Gun-Howitzers, as they could operate effectively firing at either low (like guns) or high (like howitzers) angles. The “12-pounder” aspect of its name refers to the weight of the solid-shot projectile it would have fired. While a rifled weapon is more accurate at long range, the Napoleon’s large, smooth bore (4.62 inches in diameter) made it very well suited to fire canister rounds, making it absolutely deadly against troops at close range.

Photos:

Front View of the Model 1857 12-pounder.
Front View of the Model 1857 12-pounder.
Rear view of the Model 1857 12-pounder.
Rear View of the Model 1857 12-pounder.

How to Identify: The most obvious clue from a distance is the color, of course.  Since the Napoleons are bronze, they will be greenish in color. The shape of the gun is smooth. There are no ornamental beads running around the tube like you see on the older 6-pounders. The tube is tapered from the breech down to the muzzle, which is flared out. The breech of the gun is relatively flat on the back, with a flattened area on the bottom of the tube where the gun rests on the elevating screw. Napoleons generally have markings on the front of the muzzle, and a “US” acceptance mark on the top of the barrel between the trunnions. There may also be markings on the breech, and the ends of the trunnions, as well as a foundry serial number on one of the rimbases.

Exceptions: Gettysburg has a few Napolens in the collection that were rifled. There were 6 of these produced, and so far as anyone knows, these were experimental weapons. They can be easily identified at a distance – while they are shaped like regular Napoleons, they have a fin-shaped front sight on the muzzle as you see on the example below:

Experimental Rifled Napolean. Note the front sight at the top. Photo by John Dolan.
Experimental Rifled Napoleon. Note the front sight at the top. Photo by John Dolan.

Fakes: There are a few – about 15 – “False Napoleons” at Gettysburg (and maybe on some other fields, too). Since Napoleons are in short supply, and they share a similar shape, these are actually Model 1841 6-pounders that were modified in the post-war years to look like Napoleons so that they could be placed in battlefield displays. If you look closely, you’ll see marks on the barrel near the muzzle where the astragal was removed, as well as in front of the trunnions where the lip has been smoothed down, and on the breech where the base ring was shaved-down. These guns have also had the first 6 inches or so of their bore increased in diameter to the 12-pound size – the rest remains the 6-pound gage – so that they look right from a distance. This is the easiest clue to know that you’re dealing with a “False Napoleon”. See the section below on the Model 1841 6-pounder to get an idea of what I’m talking about.

The Confederate “Napoleon”

Overview: This is the Confederate copy of the smoothbore US Model 1857 12-pounder design. Because of a lack of resources (both in material and manufacturing capability) these are generally pretty stripped-down copies. There isn’t a muzzle flare on these, for example.

Photos:

Front View of the Confederate "Napolean".
Front View of the Confederate “Napoleon”.
Rear View of the Confederate "Napolean".
Rear View of the Confederate “Napoleon”.

How to Identify: These are about the same size as a US Napoleon, but there is no flare at the muzzle – that’s the main visual difference. The tube still has a taper from the breech to the muzzle. Since the Confederacy had some difficulty acquiring a supply of copper (especially as the war went on) some of their guns have a dingy gray-ish appearance rather than the bright green you normally see on an old bronze gun. This was due to lead or other metals being mixed-in in place of copper in the bronze (though not in the example above, it appears). Like their US counterparts, these will have markings on the muzzle, breech, or trunnions.

Exceptions: There is at least 1 Confederate Napoleon at Gettysburg that was manufactured by Quinby and Robinson. This particular gun has a very simple, flat astragal around the muzzle. There may be other slight variants.

Fakes: None that I know of.

Howitzers

Overview: Not terribly popular for field use (there were only 33 of all types present at the Battle of Gettysburg), these weapons were designed to lob munitions over fortification walls at a high angle. They have short, very cylindrical barrels. Gettysburg has both the 12-pounder and 24-pounder varieties in their collection.

Photos:

Front View of a Howitzer.
Front View of a Howitzer.
Rear View of a Howitzer.
Rear View of a Howitzer.

How to Identify: The short, cylindrical barrel is your best indication – you just have to learn to eyeball it. As you can best tell from the “front” photo above, there is no taper to the barrel – that’s your best clue. You’ll also note that the howitzer above has an astragal, a slightly thicker reinforce beginning just before the trunnions, and a raised base ring.

Exceptions: In the collection at Gettysburg, there are 2 Austrian-made 24-pounder Howitzers, currently located near the Mississippi Monument. These are easily identifiable by the large handles on top of the barrel at the trunnions.

Fakes: None that I know of.

Model 1841 6-pounder Guns

Overview: By the time of the Civil War, the 6-pounder gun was basically a pea-shooter. It was not powerful enough to really be considered serviceable in light of the advancement in weapons like the Model 1857 “Napoleon” 12-pounder, or the newer iron rifled guns. The Confederacy couldn’t always be so choosy though, and they had 1 of these guns in service at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Photos:

6-pounder Gun diagram. From the 1864 US Army Field Artillery Tactics manual.
Model 1841 6-pounder Gun diagram. From the 1864 US Army Field Artillery Tactics manual.

How to Identify: While physically smaller than the Model 1857 12-pounder Napoleon, they share a similar shape. Where the Napoleon is smoothly tapered from breech to muzzle, the Model 1841 6-pounder has a thicker reinforce that drops off sharply to the chase just in front of the trunnions, as you can see above. There is also a raised base ring, and an astragal near the muzzle. These elements give the guns a “fancier” look than the Model 1857.

Exceptions: There are 16 of the Model 1841 6-pounders on display at Gettysburg, but only 1 that is still in original condition. It is located along South Condeferate Ave., across from the Texas Monument. The other 15 have been converted to the “False Napoleon” design that I talked about above for battlefield display purposes.

Fakes: Since these weren’t in heavy use during the Civil War and there is plenty of supply, there’s been no need for fakes.

James Rifles

Overview: Another rare weapon (there were only 4 at the Battle of Gettysburg), the James was a relatively unsuccessful rifled bronze gun patterned on the 3-inch Ordnance Rifle design. Since bronze is a soft metal, it had a tough time holding rifling – repeated firings would wear the grooves down. Unlike the experimental rifled Napoleons, these guns were designed from the outset to be rifled. They fired a slightly heavier 14-pound round.

Photos:

Front View of a James Rifle.
Front View of a James Rifle.
Rear View of a James Rifle.
Rear View of a James Rifle.
The Breech and Cascable Knob on a James Rifle.
The Breech and Cascable Knob on a James Rifle.

How to Identify: As I explained above, this weapon is a bronze copy of the 3-inch Ordnance Rifle pattern, so it looks like a green 3-inch Rifle in its shape. It has a nice smooth taper down to the muzzle, and that fin-shaped front sight that the rifled Napoleons have. The 2 that are on the field at Gettysburg are along Hancock Ave., south of the Pennsylvania Monument.

Exceptions: As far as I know, there aren’t any variations on the James pattern, although there was a Confederate copy of this design.

Fakes: None that I know of.

In the next installment, we’ll look at some of the iron weapons on display at Gettysburg, and how to tell them apart.

Civil War Artillery: Ammunition

Before we get into more details about the weapons themselves, let’s look at the types of rounds they would have fired, and what they’d have been used for. Understanding these is critical to interpreting official reports from the battles, and getting a sense for what soldiers in the Civil War faced when they were in combat.

There are 5 main types of Civil War ordnance:

Solid-shot

A type of long-range ammunition, this is what people commonly think of as a “cannon ball”. In a smoothbore weapon, this type would be round, and probably called a “ball”; while in a rifled weapon, it would be more conical or “bullet”-shaped, and would normally be referred to as a “bolt”.

12-lb Solid-shot from a Napolean.
12-lb Solid-shot from a Napoleon. (Image from my recent trip)

As the name implies, this is a solid hunk of metal (usually iron) that is fired out of the cannon. It was used primarily against buildings or soft fortifications, but could also be fired into trees, turning them into deadly flying splinters, or heavy falling logs for anti-personnel purposes. Fired at a low angle against lines of troops in open fields, solid-shot would tend to bounce through the waves of men, taking them out 2 or 3 at a time as it did. This had more of a psychological impact than a physically-destructive one.

In some cases (like during J.E.B. Stuart’s bombardment of Carlisle) these rounds would be placed in a fire or furnace right before being loaded into a cannon so that they would become red hot. In this way, when fired against wooden buildings, the structures would likely catch on fire.

Shell

Another long-range munition, the shell is just that – a hollowed-out ball (for a smoothbore) or “bullet” (for a rifled gun) that contains some form of explosive (in the Civil War, that was gunpowder). The idea was to create a flying bomb that would detonate and spray shrapnel and fire in all directions. This was especially deadly against enemy artillery and munitions.

There were two mechanisms used to detonate the rounds: the newly-invented percussion fuse, or a more traditional timing fuse. These were screwed into the shell at the time of firing, so the cannoneer could select how his fire was going to behave each time.

The percussion fuse was designed to explode on impact. The jolt of the gun being fired armed the round, and then as soon as it struck something – the ground, a building, a tree – it would detonate. Since this was a relatively new technology, and the south didn’t have very good manufacturing facilities, their percussion fuses had a very high failure rate. Many Confederate rounds equipped with this type of fuse failed to detonate.

The timing fuse was used much more commonly. This consisted of a selectable paper fuse that would be ignited by the blast of firing the weapon, and explode after a few seconds. The idea was to time it so the ordnance would explode over top of other cannons, ammunition wagons, or troops so that the shrapnel would rain down on them.

Case-shot

A cut-away illustration of case-shot. (Image from Wikipedia)
A cut-away illustration of case-shot. (Image from Wikipedia)

Very similar to shell, this is a hollowed-out round that contained not only gunpowder, but small iron or lead balls, too. This was shell’s anti-personnel cousin. All the same information about fuse types and their purposes that I talked about for shell also applies to case-shot.

This type of munition was very commonly used (and with great effect) during the Civil War, and you’ll see it mentioned in official battle reports from both artillery and infantry commanders frequently. In some of those reports (especially when referencing rounds from smoothbore weapons) this round may be referred to as “spherical case“.

When used with timed fuses, the round could be configured (by cutting the paper fuse extremely short) so that it exploded just before it left the barrel. This method could be used in place of canister in a last resort, low-ammunition situation. Because of the dangers associated with knowingly setting off an explosion that could very easily end up just a few feet in front of your own men, this was not the preferred use.

Canister

This was the really nasty, short-range, anti-personnel stuff. Basically, it’s a large tin can (like an over-sized soup can) filled with saw dust and dozens of lead or iron balls. When fired, the can would shred immediately, creating additional shrapnel. Canister rounds effectively made a cannon into a giant shotgun.

A disassembled canister round. (image from Wikipedia)
A disassembled canister round. (Image from Wikipedia)

As you can well imagine, this was brutally deadly against the types of line-of-battle formations that were used during the Civil War. It certainly gives you an appreciation for what the men in Pickett’s Charge must have been thinking, knowing that they were walking into this type of ordnance.

Grape-shot

Grape-shot. (image from Wikipedia).
Grape-shot. (Image from Wikipedia).

Less commonly-used by the time of the Civil War, this was the precursor to the more effective anti-personnel rounds (like case-shot and canister) that came later. In battle reports, this type may simply be referred to as “grape” – a name that comes from its visual similarity to a bunch of grapes hanging on a vine.

There were several variations of this type of munition, but generally the round consisted of medium-sized iron balls, arranged on plates with a rod holding them together. The whole thing was then placed in a canvas sack. When fired, the round would split apart with the bottom plate pressing forward, sending the balls spreading out through the air toward the enemy.

You can see how the less-bulky and awkward case-shots and canisters would be much better than the heavy, overly-complicated grape-shot. Once troops began using trenches and other breastworks that couldn’t be effectively hit from straight on, case-shot (which could be exploded from above and had a much longer range) became the favored anti-personnel round.

So that’s the general overview of Civil War ordnance types. We’ll start examining how to identify the different models of field pieces used during the war in the next installment of the series.

Brandy Station’s 150th

150 years ago this Sunday, June 9, the Gettysburg Campaign started in earnest when shots were fired at the Battle of Brandy Station – the largest cavalry engagement to ever take place in the western hemisphere.

Almost 20,000 horse soldiers (and some Union infantry) clashed in the fields along the Orange and Alexandria railroad, south of the Rappahannock river. While casualties were relatively light as Civil War battles go (less than 1,500 between the two armies), and the engagement basically ended in a draw – with both sides returning to their original positions – it signaled the rise of the Federal cavalry, which up to this point had been easily whipped over and over by the southern forces under J.E.B. Stuart. This role reversal continued all the way up to Gettysburg.

It’s an exciting time of year for Civil War buffs, and with this year being the sesquicentennial, it’s even more so! Stay tuned for more posts as we follow the armies north.

Another Old Brochure

A few days ago, I posted about some old books I found among my grandpa’s things. One of those was a Ft. McHenry Visitor’s Brochure from the 1940s. It’s a really special artifact to me.

This was cool because I’m something of a collector of NPS brochures. Though I don’t have very many old ones, I always pick up a brochure when I go to a park. They always have some general overview historical information on them, and usually a map of the park with a driving tour. I have one from every park I’ve been to.

Cover of the 1961 Gettysburg NMP Brochure.
Cover of the 1961 Gettysburg NMP Brochure.

Some time ago though, I got a very special brochure: a Gettysburg one from 1961. I’m not even sure where I got it from – it may have been tucked inside a used book that I bought.

Either way, I’ve scanned it in so that we can all share in the fun.

I’m noticing something about these older brochures that I’m really liking, too – there’s TONS of text. The newer brochures focus on providing big maps and color graphics (usually photos of the people or artifacts associated with the park). It feels like the older ones were there to teach you something, not appeal to your senses. Maybe there’s something to that.

Just take a look at this one compared to what the NPS gives out at Gettysburg today. Talk about night and day, huh?

Anyway, the PDF of the 1961 brochure is here. Enjoy, fellow historical brochure fans!

Sickles’ Leg

A few weeks ago, I made a trip that I’ve been meaning to make for years – ever since I was a kid reading my old, beat-up Time-Life Gettysburg book.

Major General Daniel E. Sickles
Major General Daniel E. Sickles

Of course, the book talked about Maj. Gen. Daniel Edgar Sickles (who I’ve mentioned before) and his role as commander of the III Corps of the Union Army of the Potomac at the Battle of Gettysburg. As you may have learned from my previous posts about Sickles, he suffered a serious wound on his right leg during the battle (as happens when a 12-lb cannon ball hits one’s shin) and had to have the lower part of that leg amputated.

My childhood Time-Life book describes his wounding and tells the story of how Sickles (knowing of the Army medical service’s new training and education initiative) used his political influence to have the bones from his amputated leg sent to the newly-created Army Medical Museum to be made part of their collection. Creepy as it may seem, he became a regular visitor at the museum, and would use the opportunity to spend some quality time with his lost appendage.

The Army Medical Museum no longer exists as an institution, but it has morphed into the National Museum of Health and Medicine and moved around a few times. The current building is in Silver Spring, MD just north of Washington, D.C. About a month ago, I found out that they were going to have a living history encampment at the museum, and I thought that would be a fun day for me and little John. I ended up inviting my friend John Dolan, and my mother-in-law along, too. My wife, sadly, had to work that day.

It’s a good, if somewhat small, museum. There are a number of examples of gruesome injuries on display – mostly from the Civil War era. They also have some artifacts from Presidential deaths. Slices of U.S. Grant’s tumor are displayed on slides in one of the cases, alongside the bullet-holed spine of James Garfield. There is also a collection of artifacts from Lincoln’s autopsy including small pieces of his skull, and the bullet that killed him. All of this in a free museum! If you’re visiting the Washington, D.C. area, and have any interest at all in medical history, it’s well worth the trip.

Toward the back of the museum is what I came to see: General Sickles’ leg along with an example of the type of artillery round that caused the wound.

Sickles' amputated leg
Sickles’ amputated leg

As far as I know, the leg has been displayed like this – semi-reassembled with the metal rods and the wooden base – for years. At least in the new museum, it doesn’t really have a flashy, special place. If you weren’t looking for it, you’d probably miss it.

Since I had heard the story of the leg since I was a kid, I couldn’t resist the chance to get a picture with it. I’m left wondering whether Sickles himself – eccentric old character that he was – ever did something similar.

Posing with General Sickles' leg
Posing with General Sickles’ leg

Monocacy Visit

Earlier this week, a friend sent me a photo that she took at Monocacy. She knows that I’m interested in Civil War battlefields, and that I have a collection of photos that my friends and I have taken over the years on my work computer that I use when my screen is locked.

It got me thinking though – I’ve never been to Monocacy. I go to Gettysburg constantly. I’ve been to Antietam and Manassas a few times. I’ve even started to branch out to the Fredericksburg / Spotsylvania battlefields. But I’ve never been to Monocacy, and it’s closer to my house than any of those other fields. Since my wife was working this weekend, and I’d have to watch John anyway, I figured that we might as well have an adventure.

I wanted to do my homework first. I went looking for information about the battle in my “new” Time-Life Civil War books. Strategically, I thought the Battle of Monocacy was part of the Overland Campaign, but there was no mention of Monocacy in the book that covers it. No mention in the book about the Petersburg siege either. It wasn’t until I checked the book about the Shenandoah Valley that I found info. While Early did travel to Maryland via the valley, I don’t think I’d consider his move a part of those campaigns. Regardless, there was a decent overview of the action, and it gave enough context that I wouldn’t be lost when I got to the field.

The basics are these: The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia has been bottled up in the defenses of Petersburg, VA following Grant’s horribly bloody Overland Campaign. In an attempt to relieve some of the pressure of the siege, Lee sends Lt. Gen. Jubal Early with 15,000 men, north to threaten Washington, DC. Since the capital’s defenses had been more-or-less cleared-out to strengthen Grant’s army, Early didn’t expect much resistance. Major Gen. Lew Wallace, commanding the Middle Department, called for help from all quarters. He was able to pull together about 6,600 troops from militia units, emergency volunteers, and even the Washington defenses, and set out toward Frederick hoping to meet the advancing Confederates. Wallace knew he didn’t have much of a chance to defeat Early’s overwhelming number of battle-hardened troops, but he hoped to do exactly what he ended up doing – delay Early’s advance long enough for the reinforcements that Grant was sending to arrive in the capital.

Armed with my basic understanding, I packed John up this morning and got on the road west to Frederick after lunch. It took less than 45 minutes to get to the visitor center.

Now this was a pretty small battle by Civil War standards – only about 20,000 troops in total were engaged, and there were less than 25 cannons present between the two armies, so I went into this experience not expecting any artillery nerdery. My arrival at the visitor center got my hopes up though:

Revere Napolean#46 in front of the visitor center.
Revere Napoleon#46 in front of the visitor center.

Between the parking lot and the building itself, there’s a real, live Napoleon, and it’s a Revere. The muzzle markings are in fine shape and are as follows:

  • Manufacturer – Revere Copper Co.
  • Year Built – 1862
  • Serial Number – 46
  • Weight – 1231 lbs
  • Inspector – T. J. R.

My source shows this weapon as being held by the Antietam National Battlefield a few miles down the road, so this piece must have been recently transferred. That happens from time to time. According to the Register of Inspections, this gun was accepted into service on May 20, 1862, so not only would it have been on the field in time for Gettysburg, but for Antietam, too – which is probably why they were the owners of the piece at one time. Like the other Reveres, it has the ornate “U.S.” acceptance mark on the top of the barrel between the trunnions. This was fun (and unexpected) to see.

The visitor center is on the small side – it’s comparable in size to Chancellorsville’s. There’s an information desk and gift shop on the main floor, and museum exhibits upstairs. There’s more flashy interactive stuff there than actual artifacts, but it’s very well put-together. The whole building seems very new, although I’m not really sure when it was built.

I got my park map, and started out on the auto tour. One of the other nice things that the park management has put together is a downloadable audio component to complement the tour – it’s also sold as a CD in the visitor center for less than $3. Having that audio really made for a nice experience. Each of the 5 tour stops has about a 5 minute clip associated with it. Combined with well-produced wayside markers at each stop, and the fact that the battle only lasted for 1 day and didn’t have too many moving pieces, you can easily get a good understanding of what happened here back in 1864.

I had to do an artillery-related double-take at tour stop 1, though:

"Napolean" at the Best Farm.
“Napoleon” at the Best Farm.

From a distance, I saw a bronze-colored Napoleon. I’ve never seen this on a battlefield before (outside of a gun brought by re-enactors). This is what the guns would have actually looked like during the war – the familiar greenish patina on the bronze weapons is what happens to copper when it “rusts”. Was this an extremely well-kept Napoleon?

Sadly, no. On closer inspection, it was obvious that this was an iron weapon that had been painted a bronze color – there were areas on the gun where the paint had chipped and you could see black (or even rust) underneath. There are no markings on the trunnions, rimbases, or muzzle. These are clearly reproduction guns meant only for display. While that’s disappointing, it’s nice to see a gun presented to the public on a battlefield, looking the way it would have looked at the battle. I’m a little torn on this.

I saw one other reproduction gun like this one on the Worthington Farm (stop 3 on the tour), and no other weapons anywhere on the field. That’s a pretty accurate portrayal of the artillery at this battle so far as I can tell.

Monument to 14th NJ near Monocacy Junction.
Monument to 14th NJ near Monocacy Junction.

It’s a similar situation for monuments. While explanatory waysides were plentiful, I counted only 5 commemorative monuments. One of these – and certainly the grandest one – was a monument to the 14th New Jersey Infantry, which became known as the “Monocacy Regiment” because it had served in this area early in the war defending the railroads, and then returned after a stint with Grant in the Overland Campaign to defend it once again. While I haven’t established a full service history for him yet, I’ve known that a distant cousin, John B. Skillman, served with the 14th NJ at some point during the war. Since it would be a family connection to this battle, and since my infant son is named John, too, this may be one of those things that I need to research further.

Other monuments include one placed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy next to a more descriptive one placed by the State of Maryland. There are also two other unit monuments: one remembering the 87th Pennsylvania, and another across the road for the 10th Vermont. None of these is easy to visit because of parking challenges, though.

There are a few walking trails on the property, and from what I can tell on the maps and from looking at the ground in person, they look like they’d be nice. Several of them go right down to the Monocacy river. The scenery is peaceful, and there’s plenty of interesting old farm buildings, too. It was oppressively hot today, and I didn’t have a good way of carrying John with me, so I didn’t attempt to walk them myself.

All-in-all, I’m glad I went to see the field. To my mind, it’s a relatively minor and simplistic engagement tactically, but it does end up buying time to bolster the defenses of Washington, DC – stifling any chance that the Confederates had of creating serious political problems for Lincoln right before the 1864 election. In this light, it is strategically important to the war, and a strategic Union victory.

It’s worth taking a couple hours to pay tribute to the men who fought here and learn a little about this part of our history.

Historical Treasures from Grandpa

After the funeral, Grandma wanted to sort through some of the things Grandpa had kept in his office for years. He had an extensive collection of books, housed on shelves he made himself. The orders from Grandma were: any books that family members didn’t want were being donated to the library. Naturally, we all took a look.

My Uncle Tom from Canada wanted the Time-Life World War II collection. My dad and I split the Baltimore-related books (more on that in a minute). Near the top of one of the shelves, I found a collection of electrical engineering textbooks that I can only assume he used during his training in the Navy. They don’t seem like they’d be very old – they’re only from the 1930s – but one of the books admits right up front that we don’t really understand a lot about electricity, but that it is probably the result of a “tension or strain” in the “ether“. My how far we’ve come, huh? I had to take those.

Grandpa's Electrical Engineering Textbooks.
Grandpa’s Electrical Engineering Textbooks.

I was also lucky enough to be given my Grandpa’s entire Time-Life Civil War collection. I had the Gettysburg one as a kid, and I really beat it up, but boy did I love that book. I haven’t dug too deep yet, but the rest of the collection looks just as good.

The Time-Life Civil War Collection.
The Time-Life Civil War Collection.

Apart from books, there were some other valuable items: ship models, hats, old liquor bottles, carved wooden masks, and lamps. Many of the gathered family members were able to find something that was meaningful to them.

My dad was looking for one thing in particular: the family records. I didn’t know what the big deal was. I have an Ancestry.com membership. Distant Cousin Bill Skillman has assembled a very complete family tree. What’s so special about these records?

I found out as soon as my Cousin Kyle found a box near the bottom of the closet with my dad’s name on it. Apparently, Grandpa knew that my dad would want to be the keeper of the records. Inside was a hand-written family tree (in pencil) on the back of Skillman Baking Company paper. I haven’t had a chance to really examine it myself yet, but it looks amazing. I have no idea who wrote it, but it has to be at least 100 years old.

Another box was labeled “Mother Skillman”. I can only assume that this refers to my Grandpa’s mom, Sophie (Jory) Skillman. This box had a ton of pictures and letters in it. I also haven’t gone through all of it – we left it with my Grandma in Lewistown. There were two things that I took from that box though, and tonight I scanned them so they can be preserved.

1940s Fort McHenry Brochure.
1940s Fort McHenry Brochure.

One is an old brochure from Ft. McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine. I’ve collected quite a few of these myself over the years, but none as old as this one. Based on the the fact that Harold L. Ickes is listed as being Secretary of the Interior, and Newton B. Drury is listed as the Director of the National Park Service, the brochure would have to have been produced between 1940 and 1946. I guess my Great-Grandmother must have gone down the avenue (she lived at 1604 Johnson Street in Baltimore) to visit the fort sometime during those years.

It’s a cool document. Admission was $0.10 back then. The cover features a 48-star U.S. flag (shouldn’t it always be a Star-Spangled Banner?). I’m amazed that both my Great-Grandmother and then my Grandpa decided to keep this brochure around for all these years. Why? Was this a memento of a special visit for them? Was it just a familiar reminder of Baltimore for my Grandpa? I’ll probably never know.

Either way, I created a high-quality PDF of the brochure to preserve and share it. Feel free to have a look for yourself. See what the past thought of the past.

The other item from the box is equally interesting. My Great-Grandmother kept a small book (it’s more like a pamphlet) of photos from the 1904 Baltimore Fire. As best as I can tell, the book itself dates from 1904. Obviously, this was a major event in her life. Looking at the photos, you can see that the devastation was almost unbelievable. This story isn’t much told – even locally in Baltimore. We should try to change that.

Cover of my Great-Grandmother's Baltimore Fire book.
Cover of my Great-Grandmother’s Baltimore Fire book.

The cover announces that there was $175,000,000 of damage. That’s over $4.4 Billion in today’s dollars.

I also made a PDF from high-resolution scans of this book, and it’s worth a look if you have any interest in Baltimore’s history.

This is just a taste – I’m sure there’s plenty more in those boxes up in Lewistown. I’m so excited to see what else is waiting up there for us to discover.

Thanks for keeping this stuff around, Grandpa.

UPDATE: I’ve replaced the PDFs with much smaller versions (filesize-wise) that my dad created from my originals.

Guns in Lewistown’s Memorial Square

While I was up in Lewistown, PA for my grandfather’s funeral, I took a ride around town with my dad to get some photos of a few of the downtown buildings. My dad got some great nighttime shots, but I turned out to be more interested in getting some daytime shots yesterday, because the dominant feature in the town square is a Civil War monument with some guns on display surrounding it. I had to get a better look at that artillery!

All the guns in the square are real weapons, but two of them may not have ever been fired in anger. We’ll start with those:

Mortars in Memorial Square
10-inch Siege Mortars in Memorial Square

On each of the “skinny” sides of the square (the northwest, and southeast fronts) there are 10-inch siege mortars on display. You can see in the picture above a protrusion from the “bottom” of the weapon with a hole through it – this was used to lift the weapon from its mounts. That being said, it should be on the top – these weapons are mounted upside-down. The stats for both weapons are below:

  • “Northwest” Mortar
    • Manufacturer – S. McM. & Co.
    • Year Built – 1865
    • Serial Number – 7
    • Weight – 1950 lbs
    • Inspector – S.C.L.
  • “Southeast” Mortar
    • Manufacturer – S. McM. & Co.
    • Year Built – 1865
    • Serial Number – 23
    • Weight – 1959 lbs
    • Inspector – S.C.L.

The manufacturer of these weapons is listed on the muzzle as “S. McM. & Co.” this stands for Seyfert, McManus & Company, which made several different models of heavy siege guns for the U.S. Army in Reading, PA about 100 miles or so east of where the guns rest today. They were inspected by “S.C.L.”, or US Army Ordinance officer, Stephen Carr Lyford. Since these weapons were made in 1865, and the war ended in April of that year, I doubt these ever saw active service – they were probably made to fulfill a contract. If either of them did make it to the field, it would probably be the #7 one.

The other weapons in the square are what I was really interested in. These were 12-pounder Napoleons that someone – for some unknown reason – decided to paint black, forever destroying their beautiful bronze patina (though some streaky green shows through a little bit). This is especially sad, I’m sure, for one of these guns.

Ames Napolean
Ames Napoleon

The first of these guns is on the southwest side of the square. Despite being painted black, its markings are still plainly visible:

Muzzle Markings on the Ames
Muzzle Markings on the Ames
  • Manufacturer – A. M. Co.
  • Year Built – 1862
  • Serial Number – 58
  • Weight – 1224 lbs
  • Inspector – A. R. D.

As you can see, this gun is exciting for me because it’s certainly possible that it was at Gettysburg. There were 244 12-pounder Napoleons at Gettysburg on both sides, and since this gun was made sometime in 1862 (the Register of Inspections shows that it was inspected and accepted into Federal service on May 31, 1862), it’s absolutely a sure thing that it would have made it to the field by the summer of 1863. The only question is whether this gun went to one of the eastern or western armies. “A. M. Co.” is an abbreviation for Ames Manufacturing Company which still exists today. In fact, you may have used their more recent products in your garden. Their cannon manufacturing operations were headquartered in Chicopee, MA just north of the US Armory at Springfield. The inspector for this piece was Alexander Brydie Dyer, who was the commander of the Springfield armory at the time.

The second Napoleon, on the northeast side, is the one that makes the black paint especially sad. That one is a Revere:

Revere Napolean
Revere Napoleon

It is gut-wrenching to see this gun painted-over. Every one of the Revere Napoleons that I’ve ever seen has the most beautiful, bright, consistent green patina. It’s the mark of extremely high-quality metals and processes being used to make them. For a reason I will never understand, the people in Lewistown decided that these guns would be better off hiding their brilliant craftsmanship and masquerading as iron weapons.

Despite the abysmally ugly black paint, the markings on the Revere Napoleon here are in great shape:

Muzzle Markings on the Revere
Muzzle Markings on the Revere
  • Manufacturer – Revere Copper Co.
  • Year Built – 1863
  • Serial Number – 226
  • Weight – 1248 lbs
  • Inspector – T. J. R.

Once again, we have a gun that could have been at Gettysburg. The Register of Inspections is unclear on this particular serial number, but given the pattern of inspections from previous months, this gun was probably accepted into Federal service sometime in February of 1863, giving it enough time to have made it to the field by that summer. We still have the east or west question just like the Ames Napoleon above, too. The inspector, Thomas J. Rodman – the inventor of the Rodman Gun, and a more efficient type of gunpowder – is one of those legendary ordinance officers in the Civil War.

I’m going to try to dig into these pieces a little further to see if I can find any definitive service history for these serial numbers, but I doubt that any such document exists. We’re left to speculate by ourselves about the work these guns might have done 150 years ago.