Battlefield Visits, Epic Man Trip Edition – Part 6: Colonial National Historical Park

From my travels, June 29, 2023.

Battle of Big Bethel – Civil War Battlefield #174

Since it occurred on June 10, 1861, some people consider the Battle of Big Bethel to be the first “real” land battle of the Civil War; that all the actions that came before were merely “skirmishes.” I don’t fall into this camp. For me, the Battle of Philippi (which I visited as battlefield #84 for me, all the way back in April of 2019) holds that title.

One of the monuments at the Big Bethel Park. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
One of the monuments at the Big Bethel Park. – Photo by the author

Either way, this was an early foray up the peninsula by a small Union force from Fort Monroe that was halted by some well-placed Confederate defenses. The rebels repelled multiple attacks and put up some counterattacks of their own, causing the Federal troops to retreat back to the safety of the fort. Union losses were 76 men in total – including some who were caught in an incident of friendly fire. As this was still early in the war, the Union 3rd NY infantry was still wearing their original gray militia uniforms. Men of the 7th NY mistook them for flanking rebels and opened fire, wounding dozens of their compatriots.

Today, almost none of the battlefield is still left. It is now neighborhoods – including housing for nearby Joint Base Langley/Eustis – and a large chunk has been covered by the modern Big Bethel Reservoir. There is a small park on the south side of the reservoir – maybe an acre or two – that has *14* monuments and markers on it! One of the most densely marked fields I’ve ever seen.

Colonial National Historical Park – Yorktown

Yorktown. There’s obviously Revolutionary War history here, but also some Civil War (which I’ll touch on in a minute).

We saw the film here, went through their nice museum (that included original tents used by George Washington!) and toured the field. Between this and Saratoga, we’ve now seen two British surrender sites. We also did the Junior Ranger program here.

Siege of Yorktown – Civil War Battlefield #175

Maj. Gen. George McClellan wanted to capture Richmond, and rather than assaulting “overland” (as Grant would successfully do 2 years later), he opted for a mostly naval approach. He landed his army at Fort Monroe and marched north along the peninsula.

The Confederates had converted some of the old British earthworks from the Revolutionary War and extended them to cover the ground from the York to the James River. When McClellan arrived, he became concerned about the fortifications here (and also paranoid that he was somehow outnumbered) so he spent weeks amassing the largest collection of siege artillery that had ever been assembled in America up to that point. The Siege of Yorktown was on. By the time he was ready to attack though, the few Confederates that were here had fallen back to a new line near Williamsburg. McClellan had given them plenty of time to prepare.

Some of the fortifications at Yorktown were re-used by the Confederates. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Some of the fortifications at Yorktown were re-used by the Confederates. – Photo by the author

The NPS doesn’t do much to interpret the Civil War actions here – they focus on the Revolutionary War. If you ask at the front desk, they can give you an additional pamphlet that discusses the Civil War actions at various stops along their normal tour route.

Colonial National Historical Park – Jamestowne

Jamestowne. Very cool to see the actual spot of the first permanent English colony in America. The museum here had a lot of relics that were found during archaeological digs in the past few decades. They have learned enough through that process that they’ve begun reconstructing the site as it would have originally appeared, though some of the original site has been eroded away by the James River.

In addition to the usual Junior Ranger program, the boys got to get their hands dirty making some pottery with a ranger. The decking across the wetlands also made for some good nature exposure. John spotted a baby turtle down in the marsh.

Battle of Williamsburg – Civil War Battlefield #176

Moving forward from Yorktown, the Union army attacked the Confederate defenses here at Williamsburg on May 5, 1862. In back-and-forth fighting, no conclusive advantage was gained. The Confederates pulled back toward Richmond overnight.

A Confederate monument at Fort Magruder. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
A Confederate monument at Fort Magruder. – Photo by the author

The site of Fort Magruder at the Battle of Williamsburg – including what look like some of the earthworks – is preserved, but the fenced-in area has plenty of “No Trespassing” signs. We were able to get some photos from the fence line.

Battle of Eltham’s Landing – Civil War Battlefield #177

While half of McClellan’s army attacked the Confederate fortifications at Williamsburg, Brig. Gen. William B. Franklin’s division was sent by boat up the York River to Eltham’s Landing in an attempt to get in behind the rebel lines. Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston had troops in place to watch for such a move and was able to attack with John Bell Hood’s brigade the day after the Union troops landed. The Federals fell back toward the landing, and the gunboats that had escorted their landing fleet were able to provide covering fire. The rebels disengaged, and the Federals didn’t follow them. The Battle of Eltham’s Landing was another inconclusive fight.

Today, there is a wayside and a small parking area near the heart of the battlefield.

The Confederates approached the Battle of Eltham's Landing along this road. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The Confederates approached the Battle of Eltham’s Landing along this road. – Photo by the author

Battle of Walkerton – Civil War Battlefield #178

In the spring of 1864, Union horsemen under Brig. Gen. H. Judson “Kill-Cavalry” Kilpatrick attempted a raid into Richmond with the hopes of freeing several Union prisoners held at the Belle Isle prison. The attempt failed because Col. Ulric Dahlgren’s men were unable to swing around Richmond and attack from the rear.

The marker at the site of Col. Dahlgren's death. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The marker at the site of Col. Dahlgren’s death. – Photo by the author

As his men tried to find their way north again, they were attacked by elements of the 9th VA cavalry here at the Battle of Walkerton. Several of them were captured, and Col. Dahlgren (son of the Father of American Naval Ordnance, RADM John A. Dahlgren) was killed. Confederates alleged that they found papers on the young Dahlgren’s corpse that ordered him to burn Richmond and assassinate Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The Lincoln administration denied the authenticity of these orders, but the entire “Dahlgren Affair” remains a point of some controversy to this day.

There is a single, lonely marker at the site where Col. Dahlgren was killed to commemorate this small, but quite consequential fight.

After 6 days visiting dozens of battlefields and historic sites across 3 states, that’s a wrap for our “Epic Man Trip”!

We stopped at my brother’s new house in Aquia Harbor, VA and had dinner with his family, before we made our way back home to Delaware later that night. It was an awesome trip.

Battlefield Visits, Epic Man Trip Edition – Part 5: Norfolk

From my travels, June 28, 2023.

Air Power Park

The museum at the Air Power Park. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The museum at the Air Power Park. – Photo by the author

This is a very cool city park in Hampton. Sadly, the outdoor aircraft display was closed because of construction, but the totally free museum here had HUNDREDS of model aircraft that people have built and donated. They also have an aviation-focused library, and some informational signs. The curator talked to us for a while, and you could tell that he really loved the subject matter.

Just a few of the hundreds of aircraft models that have been donated to the museum. The boys LOVED these! - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Just a few of the hundreds of aircraft models that have been donated to the museum. The boys LOVED these! – Photo by the author

As a bonus for me, the entrance to the museum is flanked by two Nike Ajax missles – like the ones that were stationed at my office when it was first built.

Fort Monroe

Fort Monroe. Lots of history here. While there were no Civil War battles fought here, this is one of the first places that was used as a “contraband” camp during the war. Confederate President Jefferson Davis was also held here after he was captured. The museums at the visitors center, as well as the Casemate Museum, were all awesome.

This is another site that is operated through some kind of joint partnership with a local group and the NPS doing different things. They have a Junior Ranger program here that the boys participated in, so that was good. And it was cool to be able to drive around such a large Third System fort.

Norfolk Naval Base Cruise

After grabbing some lunch, we took a tour of Norfolk / Hampton Roads by boat about the Victory Rover. Norfolk has the largest naval base in the world. It’s impressive to see not only the fleet, but all the other infrastructure that goes into supporting it.

The captain / narrator was very good about explaining what we were seeing as we went past – including the sites of some old forts and all the modern facilities. We got to see some LHDs in dry dock, some Arleigh Burke-class destroyers (including the USS Porter, named in part for Civil War Admiral David Dixon Porter), and some Ticonderoga-class cruisers (including the USS Gettysburg). None of the aircraft carriers were in port, though – they’re quite busy these days. As we were turning around to head back, we did get to see a Los Angeles-class submarine heading out to sea.

Battle of Sewell’s Point – Civil War Battlefield #173

The earliest naval fight of the war, the Battle of Sewell’s Point was between the gunboat USS Monticello and Confederate shore batteries that had been constructed on Sewell’s Point (now part of the Norfolk Naval Base). Over a few days, shots were fired by both sides, with very little effect. Combined casualties were less than 10 men.

Confederate batteries were here on Sewell's Point. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Confederate batteries were here on Sewell’s Point. – Photo by the author

I was able to get a photo of the area that the batteries were in while we were on our harbor cruise.

Norfolk Tides

Being native Baltimoreans, my boys and I are Orioles fans. So I couldn’t pass up the chance to see their Triple-A affiliate, the Norfolk Tides, while we were in town.

It was a beautiful night for baseball! We got tickets to the 6:35pm game against the Charlotte Knights. In the end, the Tides crushed them 12-5 and just check out that lineup for our baby birds: Mountcastle, Kjerstad, and Grayson Rodriguez pitching!

Also, it was $0.50 hotdog, popcorn, and soda night. That’s already a win and a dinner solution! Toward the end of the game they announced the attendance: 10,213, with 24,697 hot dogs sold.

Battlefield Visits, Epic Man Trip Edition – Part 4: Coastal North Carolina

From my travels, June 27, 2023

The next morning, we got up and had a quick breakfast at the hotel. It was about a 20 minute drive over to our first stop of the day.

Battle of Plymouth – Civil War Battlefield #167

There is a small museum in the town of Plymouth, NC and we spent a few minutes checking out their displays and artifacts. They have a lot of artillery rounds and bullets, as well as buttons and small camp items that were found during digs at known local army camp sites. The 3/8 scale model of the CSS Albemarle that they have floating in the Roanoke River was a highlight for us.

Some of the artifacts in the town museum include part of the smoke stack of the <i>Albemarle</i> - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Some of the artifacts in the town museum include part of the smoke stack of the AlbemarlePhoto by the author

As for the Battle of Plymouth, Union forces had occupied the town and were using it as a base of operations in the area. Confederates decided to re-take it, and a combined land and naval attack using the ironclad ram CSS Albemarle succeeded in destroying the Federal warships while Confederate Maj. Gen. Robert F. Hoke’s division of North Carolinians and Virginians forced the occupying Union troops out of town.

We just had to get a selfie with the model <i>Albemarle</i>! - <i>Photo by the author</i>
We just had to get a selfie with the model Albemarle! – Photo by the author

Battle of Albemarle Sound – Civil War Battlefield #168

Here at the Battle of Albemarle Sound, we have a rare, purely-naval Civil War action.

After helping to take back the town of Plymouth, the CSS Albemarle made her way out into Albemarle Sound on May 5, 1864 and found a small fleet of 8 Union gunboats waiting for her. Over the course of the day, the Albemarle held her own against multiple attacks from the gunboats. Attacks involving artillery, ramming, and even attempting to use a net to tangle her propulsion system all failed against the Albemarle. Though badly damaged, she was able to escape back to Plymouth. This fight was a stand-off, but it kept the Confederate naval weapon bottled up in port.

The Battle of Albemarle Sound took place out in these waters. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The Battle of Albemarle Sound took place out in these waters. – Photo by the author

Eventually, a raid led by William B. Cushing would succeed in detonating a naval mine (what they would have called a “torpedo” in those days) under the Albemarle and lead to her sinking.

We didn’t go across to Edenton, NC (where there is at least a wayside about this battle) for road trip routing reasons. We were able to get a photo from near where the action actually took place at the Waterside Resort.

Battle of Roanoke Island – Civil War Battlefield #169

In February of 1862, Union Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside was tasked with closing off the Outer Banks to Confederate shipping. As part of that effort, he landed 13,000 troops on the southern end of Roanoke Island and fought his way north. This action became known as the Battle of Roanoke Island. After flushing the rebels from the other forts on the island, the final fighting happened here at Fort Huger. The overwhelmed Confederates had no choice but to surrender.

The view looking out on Croatan Sound from near the spot of Fort Huger. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The view looking out on Croatan Sound from near the spot of Fort Huger. – Photo by the author

We stopped at Pineapple Beach – right off of US-64‘s William B. Umstead Memorial Bridge – to get a few photos and check out the markers. The visitors center at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site – which we would be visiting next – has some info on the fighting here, as well as the Freedmen’s Colony that was established once the island was under Federal control.

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site

What can I say about Fort Raleigh National Historic Site? There is a lot of history here: from the “Lost Colony” to Civil War fighting, to a Freedmen’s Colony, to the very first voice radio transmission. Definitely worth visiting if you’re in the vicinity of the Outer Banks!

Posing in the reconstructed Fort Raleigh - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Posing in the reconstructed Fort Raleigh – Photo by the author

We browsed the museum in the visitors center – critical to the completion of their Junior Ranger program – and checked out the movie, and the reconstructed Fort Raleigh. The rangers were very friendly, and in addition to awarding the boys their badges, gave us bonus Junior Ranger books for the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Those would come in handy a little later.

Fort Raleigh has two different designs for their Junior Ranger badges. The boys got one of each. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Fort Raleigh has two different designs for their Junior Ranger badges. The boys got one of each. – Photo by the author

We grabbed a quick lunch at the Olde Towne Creamery in Manteo, and then we made our way onto the Outer Banks.

Wright Brothers National Memorial

This one had been circled on the itinerary for a while. The boys were very excited to visit Wright Brothers National Memorial.

There is a very nice museum in the visitors center that talks about the brothers’ lives and especially their constant experimentation with powered and controlled flight. The 1903 Wright Flyer they display here is only a replica, but they have a few real pieces of the aircraft that were used here. I guess I’m starting to get over my aviophobia, because it was pretty magical to stand on the ground where it actually happened.

We made the hike up Big Kill Devil Hill so the boys could get their photo with the monument at the top. The view was very impressive.

After our visit, John told me that this was his favorite Junior Ranger badge so far because of the image of the Wright Flyer on it.

Battle of South Mills – Civil War Battlefield #170

There was concern among the Union commanders in North Carolina that the canal through the Great Dismal Swamp could be used to transfer rebel ironclads from Norfolk down to Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds. This would threaten the Federal troops in the area. In reality, there were no such ironclads, but the CSS Virginia at the Battle of Hampton Roads had created a lot of fear.

The canal at South Mills. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The canal at South Mills. – Photo by the author

To counter this supposed threat, Brig. Gen. Jesse L. Reno was sent with about 3,000 troops to destroy locks along the canal at the Battle of South Mills. Unfortunately, Reno opted for an overnight forced march, so when his troops arrived and encountered only about 900 Confederate troops, they were already exhausted and confused. They wasted hours trying to outflank the southerners, and ultimately left without doing any real damage to the canal.

There is a wayside that talks about the action next to the canal in the town of South Mills.

Siege of Suffolk – Civil War Battlefield #171

The “official” battles around Suffolk, VA are a little confusing. The CWSAC seems to list them multiple different ways, with at least two different “Battles of Suffolk” being contained within an over-all “Siege of Suffolk“. For my purposes, I’m listing the “Battle” as being the action at Hill’s Point, while the “Siege” is the action at the Norfleet House. As I learn more about these actions, I hope to get more clarity.

Union troops had occupied Suffolk – mainly as a way to protect land approaches to Norfolk – since the spring of 1862. The following year, Confederates under Lt. Gen. James Longstreet were in the area attempting to gather food and supplies. Longstreet decided to lay siege to the Union forces in order to keep them from interfering with those foraging operations. He was never able to truly *cut-off* Suffolk, but he did keep the Union troops occupied.

A roadside marker describes some of the action around Suffolk. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
A roadside marker describes some of the action around Suffolk. – Photo by the author

A rebel artillery battery was constructed across the Nansemond River from here, at the Norfleet House, to discourage and destroy Union supply ships from coming upstream. While they succeeded in disabling at least one such craft, Union gunboats as well as artillery positions that were constructed here forced the Confederates to abandon their position.

Within a few weeks, Longstreet was ordered to rejoin Gen. Robert E. Lee‘s Army of Northern Virginia at the start of the Battle of Chancellorsville, ending the siege. Though he never captured Suffolk, he was successful in gathering supplies. It’s unclear who the winner was here.

I wasn’t able to get a great photo at the spot that the Union artillery occupied. The area is now a neighborhood, and I didn’t want to get in anyone’s backyard.

Battle of Suffolk – Civil War Battlefield #172

The Battle of Suffolk here at Hill’s Point / Fort Huger is probably the most interesting of the actions around the Siege of Suffolk in the spring of 1863.

Fort Huger was another hastily-built earthwork fort along the Nansemond River that was meant to stop Federal supply ships. On April 19, Federal batteries opened fire on the fort all day, hoping to weaken the defenses there. Just as night was beginning to fall, about 300 Union soldiers landed from river boats near the fort, and assaulted the earthworks from the rear. The fort fell, and over a hundred rebel prisoners were taken.

The remains of Fort Huger at Hill's Point. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The remains of Fort Huger at Hill’s Point. – Photo by the author

The fort amazingly still exists. The boys and I walked down close to it to get a photo (earthworks are notoriously hard to photograph, so you may need some imagination). For many years, the remains of Fort Huger were contained within a golf course, but the property is now being converted into a neighborhood. There is still construction happening here, but the fact that there is a path laid out gives me some hope that the remains of the fort may be preserved. I know there is a local group that is active in trying to put together tours. Hopefully they are making some noise.

Battlefield Visits, Epic Man Trip Edition – Part 3: Fort Sumter and Patriot’s Point

From my travels, June 26, 2023.

We got packed up and checked out of the hotel with plenty of time. We were easily able to make it over to Patriot’s Point for our 10:30am ferry ride to…

Fort Sumter

The Civil War began here at Fort Sumter as the Confederates opened fire on the Federal garrison on April 12, 1861.

This is my second visit (I came here on a family vacation when I was in high school), and the first for the boys. Coming out here takes us (roughly) to the site of four Civil War battlefields, and it’s the best place to view two others:

A note on my battlefield numbering here – since I had visited the site when I was younger and not as much of a Civil War nerd, I consider that to be my visit for tracking purposes for the actions involving Fort Sumter. The two battles that took place on Morris Island were unknown to me at the time, and the area where they took place is now, sadly, under the Atlantic Ocean. This is as close as I’m reasonably able to get to them.

It’s a really pleasant and smooth 35-minute boat ride out from Patriot’s Point, and the hour we spent on the island felt like about 5 minutes. It’s an awesome place.

The boys were able to earn their Junior Ranger badges for Fort Sumter National Monument and had a ceremony to award them in front of some of the heavy artillery. The ranger suggested the site and I think it’s super cool!

USS Laffey (DD-724)

We started our visit at Patriot’s Point with the USS Laffey, an Allen M. Sumner-class, WWII-era destroyer, that is also known as “The Ship that Wouldn’t Die” as she took 4 bomb hits and 6 kamikaze attacks near Okinawa and – obviously – survived. She continued to serve into the Vietnam-era.

The Laffey as we approached to board her. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The Laffey as we approached to board her. – Photo by the author

While John was really anxious to get on to that other ship here, both boys ended up having a good time. We spent about 45 minutes touring the Laffey. There are a number of interactive exhibits aboard, including a really cool Soviet submarine hunting simulation in the CIC. Isaac in particular wanted to do that experience over and over!

Tracking Soviets in the CIC. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Tracking Soviets in the CIC. – Photo by the author

USS Yorktown (CV-10)

At last, it was time for the main event – the USS Yorktown, an Essex-class aircraft carrier from WWII that, like the Laffey, had a service that extended into the Vietnam-era. She was heavily modified in the years after WWII, and that is mostly how she is presented today. The most obvious upgrade is her angled flight deck.

We had a great view of the <i>Yorktown</i> from our ferry out to Fort Sumter. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
We had a great view of the Yorktown from our ferry out to Fort Sumter. – Photo by the author

John was extremely excited about this ship, and really wanted to get to the aircraft and the flight deck. He had to practice a little patience as we worked through all 4 tour routes that were offered. While we’re here we might as well see everything, right? It was a lot of fun for me to see the different aspects of the tour that excited the boys. I was a little surprised by this, but they really enjoyed all the aircraft models in the museum section of the ship.

As we were walking on the flight deck, John came close to tripping over one of the arresting cables. We had a bit of a laugh over that not being exactly the kind of landing he was looking for.

I took a ton of photos on the Yorktown – it was really hard to narrow down what to post here. This one is well worth the visit if you’re in the Charleston area.

The trip from Charleston to our next stop, Williamston, NC, took several hours and the boys slept most of the way. We got dinner once again at Buc-ee’s, and made it to our hotel just before midnight.

Battlefield Visits, Epic Man Trip Edition – Part 2: Sites Around Charleston

From my travels, June 25, 2023.

We were all set to spend a few days in Charleston, so we spent the first day going around town to a few different historical sites.

Fort Moultrie

We started our morning at Fort Moultrie. This is a very cool NPS site that covers the history of coastal fortification from the Revolutionary War through WWII. Each face of the fort is interpreted as a different era. It’s a pretty cool idea.

I think my crew most enjoyed the WWII-era Harbor Control Station, with it’s control tower and underground radio room. There were awesome views from the top of the tower of the entrance to the harbor – including over to Fort Sumter and Morris Island (not to get too ahead of myself).

The boys were also able to earn their first Junior Ranger badges of the “Man Trip” here. The ranger who helped us with that also gave us the packets and badges for our next stop, as it was not staffed on the day we visited.

Charles Pinckney National Historic Site

There isn’t a lot of historical interpretation going on at Charles Pinckney National Historic Site without the visitors center open, nor any NPS personnel of any kind, which is a shame.

The house that is here now is also not the original structure, and the story of the enslaved people who actually worked the fields is fairly weakly presented. Most of the property that was at one time a plantation is now neighborhoods.

Still, they have some nice nature paths (though the boys were a little freaked-out by warnings of venomous snakes, ticks, and fire ants). We saw rice and indigo growing – two crops that Pinckney had raised on the plantation.

The boys were able to get their Junior Ranger badges by filling in some blanks with our own research.

Battle of Simmon’s Bluff – Civil War Battlefield #162

Strap in, folks. The Battle of Simmon’s Bluff is a weird one.

Disrupting supply lines was a major theme of many Civil War operations. Perhaps cutting some of the rail lines into Charleston would cause the city to fall. That was the thinking from the US commanders in the summer of 1862.

Here at Simmon’s Bluff, a single Union regiment, the 55th PA, boarded a transport ship and – escorted by a single US Navy gunboat – steamed up the Wadmalaw River, landing at Yonges Island. Their objective was to attempt to wreck the Charleston & Savannah Railroad. During their march toward that objective, they came upon a Confederate camp that was not well guarded. The surprised rebels fled in panic and the Federal troops raided and burned the now-empty camp site. Apparently satisfied with their handiwork, they turned around, returned to their boat, and left.

There were NO casualties here at all. The attackers’ objective was not achieved even though there doesn’t appear to have been ANY defense mounted. It’s a…Union victory? There are no monuments. No markers. No road-side signs. You’d never know that anything ever happened here. I can’t find any maps of the “action” or the Confederate camp in the Official Records – the only way that I found out the location was to look at the CWSAC maps and poke around the general area they described.

The closest thing to a marker at Simmon's Bluff is a road sign. - <i>Photo by my son, John</i>
The closest thing to a marker at Simmon’s Bluff is a road sign. – Photo by my son, John

I’m really scratching my head and struggling to figure out how this was ever labelled as an “official” “battle” of the Civil War.

Battle of Grimball’s Landing – Civil War Battlefield #163

A small Union force was landed here as a distraction during the main attack on Fort Wagner at the mouth of Charleston Harbor. This “demonstration” attack was the Battle of Grimball’s Landing. Both failed. The Confederates were well-entrenched around Charleston.

The marker for the Battle of Grimball's Landing. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The marker for the Battle of Grimball’s Landing. – Photo by the author

One bright spot is that the rebels were not able to get around behind the Union forces to cut them off from an escape route because of the brave defense mounted by the 54th Massachusetts Infantry (of “Glory” fame). This was their first battle action and they performed very well.

There is a small monument here – mostly to the 54th MA – in front of the Seashore Farmers Lodge Museum. Not much else to see.

Battle of Secessionville – Civil War Battlefield #164

Believe it or not, the name of the town here pre-dates the Civil War. I believe it had something to do with a familial split of some sort.

One of the markers at the Fort Lamar site. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
One of the markers at the Fort Lamar site. – Photo by the author

Regardless, the Battle of Secessionville was one of the first attempts by the Union army to re-take Charleston by land. A set of clumsy, ill-planned, and uncoordinated attacks were easily repulsed by the strong Confederate fortifications – most notably Fort Lamar – here amongst the swamp land. The Union commander, Brig. Gen. Henry Benham, attempted to deflect criticism of the blunder by trying to claim that he didn’t “attack” but merely conducted a “reconnaissance in force.” I don’t think anyone believes that.

Finding the earthworks of Fort Lamar requires a little bit more imagination than usual. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Finding the earthworks of Fort Lamar requires a little bit more imagination than usual. – Photo by the author

There is a small park here, and a friends group of some kind who seems to care for the fort, but the interpretation requires A LOT of imagination. There’s only one section of earthworks left that looks anything like earthworks. One thing that’s easy to see is how impossible this position was to attack because of the narrow approach through the wetlands.

Angel Oak

Since we were on the southwest side of town anyway, we might as well stop by and see the Angel Oak – a massive oak tree that is estimated to be as many as 400 years old. It’s pretty incredible to be in the presence of a living thing that has stood that long.

A wide angle view of the Angel Oak. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
A wide angle view of the Angel Oak. – Photo by the author

After a busy day running around to different sites on the outskirts of Charleston, it was nice to get some pizza near our hotel and hang out by the pool. The next day would bring some really awesome activities.

Chilling out in the hotel pool. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Chilling out in the hotel pool. – Photo by the author

Battlefield Visits, Epic Man Trip Edition – Part 1: The Drive to Charleston

From my travels, June 24, 2023.

With my wedding fast approaching, I wanted to do something of a last hurrah. Long time readers can probably guess that I’m not a “bachelor party” kind of guy, so an absolutely epic history nerd trip with my sons is just about the best thing I can imagine. I spent months researching the coolest things we could see and planning the optimal route to see them. We were going to visit some museum ships, explore 31 Civil War battlefields – many of which I had never seen, and perhaps complete as many as 9 Junior Ranger badges within a week. I was thrilled to get on the road with my guys at about 6:30am and head south.

On the road with my "groomsmen". - <i>Photo by the author</i>
On the road with my “groomsmen”. – Photo by the author

Battle of Drewry’s Bluff – Civil War Battlefield #153

As part of the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, several Union warships – including the famous ironclad USS Monitor – went up the James River to attempt to shell Richmond. The flotilla did not make it past this bend in the river defended by Confederate batteries in Fort Darling on Drewry’s Bluff.

Corp. John F. Mackie was cited for his bravery serving aboard the ironclad gunboat USS Galena during the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff: “As enemy shellfire raked the deck of his ship, Corporal Mackie fearlessly maintained his musket fire against the rifle pits along the shore and, when ordered to fill vacancies at guns caused by men wounded and killed in action, manned the weapon with skill and courage.” He would receive the Medal of Honor for his actions here – the very first Marine to be so honored.

The boys pose with the Columbiad at Drewry's Bluff. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The boys pose with the Columbiad at Drewry’s Bluff. – Photo by the author

Today, the fort is preserved as part of Richmond National Battlefield Park, and is well-interpreted. They have a Columbiad and an observation platform with a view down the river. John was surprised to learn that earthwork forts were a thing – he thought that they were all masonry or stone. I guess we need to get out more! This was an excellent first stop for us.

Battle of Proctor’s Creek – Civil War Battlefield #154

Jumping to the spring of 1864 now, we join Maj. Gen. Benjamin “Beast” Butler in his half-hearted attack along the old Drewry’s Bluff defensive line. The Battle of Proctor’s Creek was the decisive battle of Butler’s minor Bermuda Hundred Campaign against Richmond’s railroads. We ended up visiting all five of the campaign’s actions, but out-of-order for road trip routing reasons.

While the Union forces met with some success here against Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard’s outnumbered Confederates, Butler didn’t press his advantage. When the weather degraded and the Confederates counterattacked, the Federals retreated back to their defenses at Bermuda Hundred.

The remains of Fort Stevens at Proctor's Creek. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The remains of Fort Stevens at Proctor’s Creek. – Photo by the author

There is a very small – almost hidden – park surrounded by a neighborhood here that includes a few markers and the remains of the earthworks of Fort Stevens.

Battle of Chester Station – Civil War Battlefield #155

The Battle of Chester Station is another smaller battle from Butler’s Bermuda Hundred Campaign. A light Union force attempted a raid to destroy part of the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad, but was thwarted by a larger Confederate force here. Federal reinforcements came up, but neither side really let loose. The battle was a draw, with the Confederates moving back toward Drewry’s Bluff, and Union forces returning to the Bermuda Hundred line. Only minor damage was done to the railroad.

The wayside at the YMCA is the best spot left for the Battle of Chester Station. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The wayside at the YMCA is the best spot left for the Battle of Chester Station. – Photo by the author

The wayside describing the battle is in really rough shape, but easy to find in front of the local YMCA. There isn’t much else left of this battlefield. My boys spent the rest of the trip calling it “The Battle of YMCA”.

Battle of Ware Bottom Church – Civil War Battlefield #156

Following their success at Proctor’s Creek (which we visited earlier today) P.G.T. Beauregard’s Confederates attacked Butler’s Bermuda Hundred defenses here, while beginning work on his own defensive works: The Howlett Line; sealing the Federal troops under Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler on their small peninsula. The Union Army of the James wouldn’t be a threat to Richmond anymore.

#SignSelfie at Ware Bottom Church! - <i>Photo by the author</i>
#SignSelfie at Ware Bottom Church! – Photo by the author

There are REALLY awesome earthworks at the Ware Bottom Church Battlefield Park that were part of the Confederate Howlett Line. We followed them back into the woods for a while. The boys really seemed interested in these old fortifications – much like they had been at Drewry’s Bluff earlier.

Battle of Port Walthall Junction – Civil War Battlefield #157

The opening battle of the Bermuda Hundred Campaign, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler’s troops were able to push aside Confederates here and disrupt the railroad operations at the junction. The rebels re-established their defense nearby at Swift Run Creek – which we’ll see next.

There are two markers for this battle along US-1, and that’s about it.

Battle of Swift Creek – Civil War Battlefield #158

Following their loss at Port Walthall Junction, Confederates under Brig. Gen. Bushrod Johnson attacked Butler’s Union troops here, but ultimately failed in the attempt, taking heavy casualties. Butler didn’t make a counterattack, instead settling for tearing up more railroad track. He would turn his Army of the James to the north to take on Richmond.

The boys and I have now seen all the battlefields of the Bermuda Hundred Campaign.

John looking out at Swift Creek. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
John looking out at Swift Creek. – Photo by the author

I love the old mill buildings (now a theatre) and the remains of the mill dam that are here. Very cool! John walked down to check them out with me.

First Battle of Ream’s Station – Civil War Battlefield #159

Even since before the days of I-95 (which the boys and I had mostly been traveling on) there have been major transportation routes running through this area south of Richmond. That’s the main reason there are so many battles that occurred here – Union forces were constantly trying to isolate Richmond by cutting off the railroads that supplied the Confederate capitol.

Here we see another example: During the Siege of Petersburg, Grant sent a cavalry force to raid along the South Side Railroad, and the Petersburg & Weldon Railroad. The two divisions of Union horsemen constituted what was later called the “Wilson-Kautz Raid“. On June 29, 1864 they converged on this station along the Petersburg & Weldon Railroad, hoping to destroy large sections of the tracks. Unfortunately, they were surrounded by Confederates and had to fight their way back to the Federal lines at Petersburg, doing only temporary damage to the infrastructure here in the process.

Oak Grove United Methodist Church is the best place to find information about First Ream's Station. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Oak Grove United Methodist Church is the best place to find information about First Ream’s Station. – Photo by the author

I hope it isn’t a spoiler that this action is known as the *First* Battle of Ream’s Station….

This battlefield was a little tricky to find at first. There is a Civil War Trails sign and a pair of waysides detailing the action here associated with the Wilson-Kautz Raid in the parking lot of the Oak Grove United Methodist Church.

Second Battle of Ream’s Station – Civil War Battlefield #160

Two months after the initial cavalry raid here, Union infantry under Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock arrived in this area as part of the push by Grant to encircle Petersburg. Hancock’s men succeeded in destroying some of the railroad, but Confederate reinforcements arrived and were able to outflank the Federals from the south, bringing on the Second Battle of Ream’s Station. Suddenly, some of the Union regiments panicked, and a gap opened in the line that rebels under Maj. Gen. Henry Heth exploited.

Hancock’s men were forced to retreat, yielding a tactical victory to the Heth in the process, but it became clear that the Confederates no longer controlled the Weldon Railroad north of this point. Only the South Side Railroad remained as a lifeline for Petersburg and Richmond.

Sign for the American Battlefield Trust's portion of Ream's Station. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Sign for the American Battlefield Trust’s portion of Ream’s Station. – Photo by the author

The American Battlefield Trust has a plot of land preserving a large chunk of the field. They have a short hiking trail marked out, and a few waysides.

Battle of Sappony Church – Civil War Battlefield #161

The cavalrymen of the Wilson-Kautz Raid were being pursued by rebel horsemen after their defeat at the Battle of Staunton River Bridge to the west. The Union boys were able to hold off the attacks here at the Battle of Sappony Church, but were forced to retreat to the north toward Ream’s Station, leading to a battle there the next day.

Sappony Baptist Church - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Sappony Baptist Church – Photo by the author

A wayside for this battle is in the parking lot of the Sappony Baptist Church.

So we were able to get to 9 battlefields on our first day – pretty good! It was now time for us to push south and head straight into the heart of secession – Charleston, SC!

Along the way, we stopped at the North Carolina Welcome Center and then I couldn’t resist taking my boys to South of the Border when we hit South Carolina. It was so much fun to see them experience an old-school roadside attraction like that. We went into the gift shop for a while and ended up leaving with bumper stickers.

My boys outside the gift shop at South of the Border. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
My boys outside the gift shop at South of the Border. – Photo by the author

And these days, if you pass by a Buc-ee’s, you simply have to stop for dinner and gas. We made it down to our hotel in Charleston by 8:30pm and were all settled in for bedtime soon after.

Buc-ee's in Florence, SC. Our last stop before the hotel. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Buc-ee’s in Florence, SC. Our last stop before the hotel. – Photo by the author

Battlefield Visits: South of Atlanta

From my travels, May 26, 2023.

Our family flew to Atlanta so that we could celebrate my niece’s high school graduation in Chattanooga. We left very early in the morning from Philadelphia, so once we got through the airport and got our rental car, we had some extra time on the south side of Atlanta.

During my last visit to the area, I wasn’t able to see all the fields of the Atlanta Campaign – the afternoon traffic around the city just wouldn’t allow me to make it with the time I had available. This was the perfect way to check out these remaining battlefields.

Battle of Lovejoy’s Station – Civil War Battlefield #151

A small field that is today partly preserved within a local park, the Battle of Lovejoy’s Station was a cavalry raid led by Brig. Gen. H. Judson Kilpatrick, that was attempting to disrupt the Macon & Western Railroad. The Confederates thwarted the attempt.

The rolling fields of the Battle of Lovejoy's Station. - Photo by the author
The rolling fields of the Battle of Lovejoy’s Station. – Photo by the author

There are a few markers and waysides in the area that tell a bit of the story. Pretty good interpretation as these “minor” actions go.

Battle of Jonesborough – Civil War Battlefield #152

Surprisingly, this is the only CWSAC “A”-level battlefield of the Atlanta Campaign. It doesn’t seem like much is left of it, either. The train station in town is not the one that existed at the time of the Battle of Jonesborough. It was this fight that resulted in the Union capture of the Macon & Western Railroad – at the time the only Confederate-controlled railroad left running into Atlanta. The loss of this supply line forced the rebels to evacuate the city the next day.

Isaac poses along the tracks of the old Macon & Western Railroad. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Isaac poses along the tracks of the old Macon & Western Railroad. – Photo by the author

Isaac got out of the car to explore the signs and take a few photos with me. It’s very sweet to spend time with my boys engaging with history.

Examining a wayside marker for the Battle of Jonesborough. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Examining a wayside marker for the Battle of Jonesborough. – Photo by the author

John Dickinson Plantation

From my travels, February 4, 2023.

Several months back, a good friend of mine who had grown up in Delaware, suggested that I check out the John Dickinson Plantation. We had a free afternoon, so it seemed like a good time to explore a bit.

Dickinson was an interesting guy. He is one of the rare founding fathers to have participated in all three of the important early documents: the Declaration of Independence (though he refused to sign it), the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution (which he signed as a representative from Delaware. A native Marylander, he was among the wealthiest men in the colonies, with holdings in Pennsylvania as well. He was a prolific writer, but seemed to hold a more moderate view than some of the others – perhaps because of his Quaker beliefs. He preferred the idea of a negotiated settlement of the grievances that existed with the British crown. Toward the end of his life, he expressed limited abolitionist sentiments, eventually freeing all his slaves.

Checking out the orientation film at the visitors center. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Checking out the orientation film at the visitors center. – Photo by the author

The historical site here consists mainly of the mansion on the property. There is a small visitors center with a very sparse museum, though the introductory film was good. One of the more bizarre aspects of the site is how it is affiliated. Up until the 1990s, Delaware had no NPS sites. There was a push to create what became First State National Historical Park by involving the NPS in a few of the state historic sites. There were no NPS employees here – it’s primarily run by Delaware, but they offer a limited Junior Ranger program. There was no book – simply participating in a tour earns the badge. They did have a few activity books about sounds in nature, so we took those, but that part of the park experience seems a little disjointed.

Moving on to the main house, the tour was interesting, but not as impressive as some of the other founders’ homes. For one thing, this was not Dickinson’s main residence, but I also think this was due to his Quaker lifestyle. Despite his wealth, he attempted to maintain a plain, modest lifestyle. One of the more interesting things that the tour guide pointed out is that his wealth was displayed in subtle ways in the home. They had extremely high ceilings, and portraits of the family members included their hands – notoriously hard to paint, and thus much more expensive.

In the end, we learned quite a bit about this founding father, and the boys got their First State Junior Ranger badges. It was a good use of a few hours.

Iron Hill Park

From my travels, December 4, 2022.

It’s been on my radar for a while to check out this small park that has some interesting historical connections. As we were on our way home from visiting family in Newark, DE, we decided to make a quick stop to check it out.

The main attraction that day was the dog park, which was wooded, but not very well maintained it seemed. There were just a few other dogs there, and our dog, Sallie seemed to enjoy herself. It was our first time taking her to any kind of off-leash area like that, so I don’t think any of us knew what to expect.

Isaac was my historical marker buddy. Everyone else wanted to stay in the warm car. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Isaac was my historical marker buddy. Everyone else wanted to stay in the warm car. – Photo by the author

Farther up the hill, there is a collection of wayside markers discussing the geologic history of DelMarVa, the Pencader Hundred, the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge & the Philadelphia Campaign, the historic iron mining operations here (hence, the name of the hill), and Isaac’s favorite: the New Castle & Frenchtown Railroad. He insisted on reading the entire marker out loud by himself. It was actually really nice (if not a bit cold that day).

Prior to the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge, Gen. George Washington and other officers observed the British landing at Elkton, MD from atop this hill. Some fighting also took place along the slopes.

Udvar-Hazy Air & Space Museum

From my travels, April 20, 2022.

The boys and I were on spring break and spending some time with their “Nene” and “Baba” in Columbia, MD. One of the things that we wanted to do together was visit the Udvar-Hazy Center of the Air & Space Museum in Northern Virginia.

We wandered around the impressively large museum for a while – they have a huge collection of aircraft – some with a particular historical significance. That day, we saw the Bell X-1 Glamorous Glennis that first broke the sound barrier (seemingly out here because of renovations happening to the museum in downtown DC). We also got to see the B-29 Enola Gay and I did my best to explain the complicated history around the use of nuclear weapons at the end of WWII.

The boys pose with the <i>Enola Gay</i> - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The boys pose with the Enola GayPhoto by the author

Both boys really enjoyed seeing the SR-71 in the collection – which set a speed record on it’s final flight from Los Angeles to Washington, DC, making the journey in 1 hour, 4 minutes, and 20 seconds, to become part of this museum. On the day we visited, they had something of a remote, Zoom-like setup going with a large TV and an expert on the SR-71 who was giving a presentation and answering questions. Isaac got to ask her a couple and felt like it was the coolest thing in the world.

Of course, the Space Shuttle Discovery was also a hit. It’s the centerpiece of the museum’s space wing, and it’s impressive to see not only its size, but to know that this vehicle went into space so many times.

With the Space Shuttle <i>Discovery</i>. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
With the Space Shuttle Discovery. – Photo by the author

One of the more interactive exhibits was done by Garmin. They had a computer game-like display with a yoke that was attached to a model plane suspended in a glass box. As you moved the yoke, the plane moved, too, demonstrating the concepts of pitch, roll, and yaw. That was pretty neat.

At the end of our visit, “Nene” wanted to go up in the observation tower. Isaac went along with her, while the rest of us stayed a little closer to the ground.

I really like this shot of John overlooking the main floor of the museum. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
I really like this shot of John overlooking the main floor of the museum. – Photo by the author

When we arrived back at “Nene’s” house, the boys showed her their latest open source video game obsession: Minetest. We had set up a server for the boys to collaborate on building structures together, and much to their delight, “Nene” fired up her computer and joined them. It was a very sweet cross-generational moment.

LAN party at "Nene's" house! - <i>Photo by the author</i>
LAN party at “Nene’s” house! – Photo by the author