Battlefield Guide Services

Friday, October 29, 2010

Related Lands: The Florence Stockade - Florence County, South Carolina

In the late summer of 1864, as Union General Sherman was pressing his forces around Atlanta, there was cause for concern that the POW stockade at Andersonville, Georgia could be overrun, allowing the liberation of the Union men held there. In an effort to prevent this, a stockade was prepared in Florence, South Carolina, approximately 90 miles north of Charleston, and it was to there that the able bodied prisoners of Andersonville were to be transferred by train. The first prisoners would arrive in September. In the five months this stockade was in operation, as many as 18,000 Union soldiers were held there. With an initial death rate of 20 to 30 men a day, a total of about 2,800 would perish. Among them were as many as 14 of the Pennsylvania and New Jersey soldiers captured on May 14, 1864 during the fighting on Myer's Hill, near Spotsylvania Courthouse. Accurate death and burial records failed to survive the war, and these men may likely be interred in the 16 burial trenches containing 2,167 "unknowns", at what is now the Florence National Cemetery.
We visited Florence on Monday, October 18, on our journey back to Spotsylvania from a family gathering in Charleston. My special thanks to NPS historian Eric Mink for his last minute trip advice as we traveled up Interstate 95.
Entrance to the Florence National Cemetery

One of the 32 upright marble headstones that mark sections of the 16 burial trenches.

On the south side of the cemetery, at the end of Stockade Road, is the site of the former prison camp, maintained and interpreted by the Friends of the Florence Stockade, who have a Facebook page currently here. The above photograph shows an informational Gazebo with numerous illustrated panels detailing the history of the site. It is stop # 1 on a 16 stop walking trail.
Map detailing the stockade and surrounding defensive works.
The stockade itself was 23.5 acres, 3 acres smaller than Andersonville.

This view is taken from near the south west corner of the stockade.
The path runs parallel to what was the south wall of the stockade.

This illustration looks from the south wall along the sole water source for the prison, the Pye Branch of Stockade Creek. The drawings were created by James E, Taylor for Ezra Hoyt Ripple's published account of his experiences as a prisoner of war. Drinking water was taken from the northern (far) third of the creek, the middle was used for bathing, and the final third was utilized for the latrine, a wooden, open air facility seen at lower right, running along the creek length. Conditions are said to have been at least equal to and in some estimations, worse than those suffered at Andersonville.
An incident at the Stockade, also illustrated by Taylor. Note the similarity to Andersonville's construction and prisoner living conditions.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Related Lands - Andersonville Prison, Macon and Sumter Counties, Georgia

On May 14, 1864, Pvt. Jesse A. Adams of the 10th New Jersey Infantry Regiment was captured by Confederate forces overwhelming his unit during fighting on Myer's Hill, near Spotsylvania Courthouse. The above image features an original photograph of Adams taken shortly after his enlistment, November 14, 1861, by the regimental photographer, J. B. Brown.
Adams was sent nearly 700 miles south to the Andersonville, GA prison camp.

Today, the former prison is now the home of the National Prisoner of War Museum,
administered by the National Park Service.

This is the reconstructed northeast corner of the stockade that contained the prisoners. The view is looking southwest. Towering above the walls are representatives of the guard towers that monitored the prisoner activities inside the compound.

Inside that compound today are a sampling of makeshift shelters that prisoners struggled to maintain inside the 26.5 acre rectangular enclosure. Barracks that had been originally planned to house the prisoners were never built due to shortage of materials and manpower.

A photograph taken on August 17, 1864 from one of the guard towers, looking northwest. The top of the stockade wall is running along the right hand edge of the image. At ground level, just to the left of the stockade, is the infamous "dead line", which if crossed, would mean being shot by the guards above.

Here is the rebuilt "north gate" into the compound on the west wall of the stockade. Its name derives from being on the "north" side of a creek that flowed through the compound. A fellow inmate of Adams wrote of the horrors new prisoners witnessed upon arrival, "Once inside... men exclaimed 'Is this hell?' "

One of the NPS interpretive signs inside the gate.

Looking across the site of the compound from near the southwest corner. The location of the stockade walls and dead line are indicated by white stakes. The location of the rancid creek flowing through the prison runs along the low area between the high ground. It served as a drinking and bathing water source as well as the latrine. Dysentery was rampant. Of the near 45,000 men held here, 12,913 would die from starvation, malnutrition, and disease.

Among the dead was Jesse Adams, who succumbed to pneumonia on August 2, 1864,
 a mere eleven weeks after his capture. His remains rest under the soil of Georgia.

For myself, as a student of the Civil War for now over forty years, my visit to the Andersonville Prison site in 2008 was a profound experience. I have visited many battlefields and had been to the location of POW facilities in Richmond, Virginia, chiefly Belle Isle, where approximately 1,000 prisoners died out of 30,000, and the former location of Libby Prison, but visiting Andersonville changed it all for me. I can't see the war in its entirety in the same light as I did before. It is no longer simply the strategy and tactics of battles or the clash of political ideals. It is no longer "Still Rebels, Still Yankees" as Donald Davidson opined.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Taming The Wilderness - Living History at Ellwood, September 26, 2010

The Spotsylvania County plantation house known as "Ellwood", was the site of an informative living history event on Sunday, September 26. The threat of rain kept some of the planned displays from attending unfortunately, but those that did set up provided a top notch presentation. Hosted by the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park and the Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, the theme for the day was "Taming the Wilderness: Featuring some of the key trades, skills, and crafts necessary to build a house and provide for a family on the Virginia frontier in the late 1700's."

Built in circa 1790, Ellwood was once the center of a 5,000 - acre estate.

Lively musical performances on Ellwood's front porch.

On the lawn, Melondy Phillips demonstrated the preparation of animal hides.
Here, she discusses the softening of deer skins. Very informative.

A member of the Fredericksburg Spinners and Weavers Guild
demonstrates a loom, using cotton threads to make kitchen towels.

"Wenches" Elaine and Robin discuss the contributions of 18th Century Tavern
Life to our modern day language, with idioms such as "mind your P's and Q's",
 "bottoms up!", and "he's not playing with a full deck."

Craig Jacobs, owner of Salvagewrights Ltd., chats in the afternoon shade with
some of his friends who presented information on log hewing, architectural and
decorative details, and antique woodworking tools and their applications.
Here, they are sitting on a partially hand hewn beam, which that morning had
been a standing tree. They are masters at their craft.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Rain.... a music video by a native Virginian, Scott Miller

Here's a song about the Battle of Spotsylvania. I happened upon this video just about an hour ago. Shortly thereafter I visited Scott Miller's website so I could see who this gentleman was. I was surprised to find that he is actually playing this evening, September 17, 2010, in Ashland, Virginia, just down the road a bit from Spotsylvania. From what I gather he currently lives in Tennessee and is presently on tour, making only two more stops in Virginia this time around.

It takes a minute and some eighteen seconds to get beyond the storm clouds and lightening, but for the rest of the video (and I can not tell if this is an official video released by the artist, or one assembled by a fan), but the remainder does have some footage of soldiers firing from a fixed position and then advancing into a dark and misty morning light. From the bio information I can find it appears Scott is a big fan of history, and a native Virginian from the town of Swoope, in the "breadbasket" of the former Confederacy.

Singer/songwriter, Scott Miller

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Time Keeps On Slippin' Into The Future........... April 1939 to August 2010

Seventy-one years ago, and seventy-five years after the conflict that raged over the landscape, the National Park Service treated visitors to extensive restorations of battlefield earthworks at the Spotsylvania unit of the F&SNMP.

The planning and construction of these sections has been recently detailed by NPS Historian, Eric Mink, in a three part series at the web blog "Mysteries and Conundrums". Readers can follow Eric’s presentation by clicking, here, for the first installment.

In the “then and now” slide show below, I reveal how the landscape has progressed over time. Most profoundly, the viewer will notice the disappearance of the hard surface road that had also been built in the 1930s. This view looks over the trench restoration, looking essentially south, toward the intersection of Bloody Angle Drive, Gordon Drive, and Burnside Drive. In the 1930s, Burnside Drive was called Grant Drive East. Bloody Angle Drive has been totally removed except for the grading over which it ran. The creation of a level base for the road to follow involved numerous, intrusive alterations that remain in place today, and can confuse the pedestrian experience. Unfortunately, it does not seem that detailed working plans of the 1930s road construction exist in archived files, otherwise a more thorough return of the 1864 terrain could be attempted.

The initial, black and white photograph seen here, was taken in April, 1939, for a collection of images to be displayed at the 1939-1940 World’s Fair in New York. It was part of the Commonwealth of Virginia exhibit in the Court of States.
Please click on the image, it will take you to a larger screen for greater detail viewing. When the "Picasa" window opens, click the "Full Screen" button at upper left to easily see a rolling slide show of the five images that make up the "then and now" transition.

The photograph below, taken around October of 1935, shows workers nearing the completion of the project. The view is looking roughly north from inside the salient. One has to speculate on the degree of arbitrary features built into this particular "restoration", despite documentation of a careful and studied process at other locations. A concerted effort was made to construct this in a deliberate perception of an 1866 photograph, although no hard evidence existed to substantiate the notion. A rendering of the 1866 photograph was later displayed in a weatherproof frame nearby, and undoubtedly led many visitors to believe they were witnessing a restoration of the genuine article. The 1939 photograph in the then and now study, shows visitors standing in front of the frame. Exactly when this restoration was dismantled is not clear, but its misleading features, without the log revetment, remain as a part of the present day visitor experience.

In the aerial photograph below, taken in October 2008, the red arrow points in the direction of the camera for the slide show image. This view also shows the pedestrian trail created by the removal of Bloody Angle Drive.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Living History Event at Stevenson Ridge, Spotsylvania: August 28, 2010

Beautiful weather made for a pleasant weekend at the Spotsylvania property of Dan and Debbie Spear, the proprietors of a unique bed and breakfast facility, offering rich historic charms as well as a soldier trodden landscape. Known now as “Stevenson Ridge”, a tribute to Union General Thomas Stevenson who was killed nearby on May 10, 1864, the 87-acres includes an extensive system of military entrenchments built by soldiers of the Union IX Corps, and later occupied by V Corps troops. National Park Service historians regard the trenches as some of the best preserved in private hands.
Dotting the landscape is a collection of 18th and 19th century structures that have been painstakingly moved from threatened sites and reassembled with expert craftsmanship. They are available for overnight accommodations and special events. Please visit their informative website by clicking here.
Two of the historic buildings brought here, the Riddick House at left and
the "Spy" House, are seen from a bridge spanning a stream fed pond
on the inviting pastoral landscape.
Members of the 13th Virginia Infantry, Company A, demonstrate Infantry
Drill for some of the Saturday visitors. Many Fredericksburg area residents
and numerous out-of-town travelers came by for the experience.
Colonel Troy Fallin, commander of the 3rd Regiment, Army of Northern Virginia,
is seen here with some of his staff members, providing background details to
 enthusiastic visitors. Many parents brought their young children who displayed a
 burgeoning interest in the history of the American Civil War. This young man was
 seeking information on how to become a drummer boy with a reenactment unit.  
The well trained members of the 13th Virginia, Company A,
provided an impressive window into the past.
The grounds of Stevenson Ridge provides an ideal setting for quality
"living history" events. The site served as a foothold of the Union IX
Corps during the opening days of the Spotsylvania Campaign.
All weekend long, visitors learned what soldier life was like in the 1860s.
Terry Thomann, of the National Civil War Life Museum and Foundation,, came out to demonstrate the wet plate photo process that
 was used at the time of the Civil War. The majority of battlefield images recorded
during the war were made as stereoviews, and were sold to a fascinated public.
Mr. Thomann speaks with visitors near the 1830s log home, moved
to Stevenson Ridge from Stanardsville, Virginia.

Colonel Fallin and his Adjutant, Captain T.J. Bartel.
Learn more about their organization by visiting
the 3rd Regiment, ANV, by clicking here.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Seventy-five years ago at the Bloody Angle... Then and Now

In 1935, the F&SNMP was not yet a decade old, but work was being done to optimize the visitor experience. A road was under construction to bring vehicles around the entire inside of the Mule Shoe Salient, soon to be named Bloody Angle Drive. A large orientation sign had been placed near the Angle, the first of many that would, over time, be installed, removed, rewritten, replaced by something better, and then, repositioned numerous times, only to now be declared obsolete. The black and white photograph below, was taken in September of 1935. Interestingly, the camera position is directly in front of the McGowan's Brigade Monument, installed in May of 2009. The view looks roughly 33 degrees north east.
As you watch the slide show, notice the subtle changes. The roadway, not yet completed in the 1935 view, is in today's shot, totally removed in favor of the more intimate, pedestrian experience.
The trees in this slide show are interesting to take note of, particularly the three oaks that dominate the right hand side of the image. The left and center of the three are still with us today, now probably at or approaching their own centennial anniversary. They flank the path that takes visitors to the bridge crossing at the monuments. The third oak, at far right, has been gone for many years, having stood near the orientation compass at the top of the rise. Also profoundly changing over the years are the trees of the distant horizon line, and barely visible in the oldest image. Today, they create a wooded buffer, separating the Park from its new subdivision neighbor to the north. Other trees that were permitted to grow out in the swales, beyond the trench line, can be seen achieving their stature on the landscape. Currently, some of those trees have borne the extremes of conditions and  have succumb.
Soon, the wooden bridge across the Bloody Angle will be removed. Time marches on.

Please click on the image, it will take you to a larger screen for greater detail viewing.
When the "Picasa" window opens, click the "Full Screen" button at upper left to easily see a rolling slide show of the five images that make up the "then and now" transition.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Myer & Brulle Office, 317 Commerce Street, Fredericksburg... Then and Now

The post-war business of John Henry Myer and Frederick Brulle, one block up William Street (aka Commerce Street) from the Myer residence and bakery at 212. The Germania Flour Mill was one of the highly successful businesses that helped Fredericksburg pull itself out of the financial wreckage wrought by the Civil War.
Myer himself is standing to the left of the center doorway, wearing a light colored suit and a derby hat. The viewer will note how the center doorway was later converted to a double width window. At one point, William Street was also lowered, which required the addition of two steps leading up into the doorway at right, whereas it used to be at street level.
The older image used for this slide show was taken in the late 1880s or early 1890s, after the mill converted from traditional stone grinding to a more productive roller system.
The actual mill structure stood on upper Caroline Street, across from what is today, Old Mill Park. It had stood in ruins since a fire gutted it in October of 1980, but it was totally leveled in late 2009, after many years of proposed adaptive reuse failed to take hold.
Please click on the image, it will take you to a larger screen for greater detail viewing.
When the "Picasa" window opens, click the "Full Screen" button at upper left to easily see a rolling slide show of the five images that make up the "then and now" transition.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Even If Etched In Stone...

Along the edge of the Wilderness Baptist Church cemetery, lie a cluster of graves belonging to the Todd family, a lineage dating back to the mid eighteenth century in Spotsylvania County. One of the stones marks the final resting place of Richard Lewis Todd, b. May 8, 1836, d. May 29, 1911. Sharing this marker is Charles Robert Todd, bearing the lines:
Killed By A Shell
October 7, 1865
At Rest

The inscribed date of death has led many visitors to speculate that Charles Robert Todd had perhaps been a civilian victim of an unexploded artillery shell, carelessly mishandled just six months after the war's end. Tragic incidents have been recorded that document such a fate. Often times children who would find "dud" projectiles, only to end up maimed or killed when a rock or hammer was applied by the hapless victim in an effort to break open their deadly find. Numerous incidents around Gettysburg are detailed by historian William A. Frassanito in his book Early Photography at Gettysburg.
The true fate of Charles Robert Todd however, is not as some have assumed, but no less tragic. The year of his death, as it is inscribed, is incorrect. The year was mistakenly entered as 1865, when the reality was 1864. The circumstances played out roughly seventy-seven miles south of Spotsylvania, near the Darbytown Road, south east of Richmond. On October 7, 1864, Private Todd of the Fredericksburg Artillery was killed during fighting  north of Fort Harrison. According to former NPS Chief Historian Robert K. Krick's The Fredericksburg Artillery, a Union artillery shell had struck the muzzle of the battery's No. 4 gun, killing Todd, and severely wounding four other members of the gun crew.
It is uncertain if Charles actually shares this grave with his younger brother Richard. His remains may in fact lie near the field of battle. Richard and another brother, Oscar, both served in the 9th Virginia Cavalry.
Due to contradictory birth years recorded in the only two census records where Charles is enumerated by name, it is uncertain of his age when killed. Based on the age given in the 1850 census, we can speculate he was born in 1832, given the entered age of 18. Ten years later, in the 1860 census, his age is given as 23, a five year variance during a ten year span.
The Todd's are known most famously in Spotsylvania for the tavern location on the Brock Road which carried their name. According to historian Noel Harrison's research, the Todd family had sold the property around 1845 to Flavius Josephus Ballard who then re-sold the property in 1869. The intersection where the tavern stood still maintains the name "Todd's Tavern".  
The former Todd residence, not the Tavern, as seen sometime after 1933,
 in a Photograph made for the HABS HAER collections.
The house stood north of Catharpin Road, off of what is today,
 Carriage Road.
An on the spot drawing made by newspaper artist William Waud, showing the October 7, 1864 battle of Darbytown Road. The position of the Fredericksburg Artillery is in the left distance, accented by the
billows of smoke emitting from the guns.
The same image as it appeared in Harper's Weekly newspaper,
October 29, 1864 issue.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Grave Torn Open In Freak Storm - Fredericksburg, July 16

About 6:30 on Friday evening, July 16, a freak storm took a powerful smack at downtown Fredericksburg, leaving many busted and uprooted trees, downed power lines, and damaged property in its wake. Weather forecasts had not predicted the event, and many visitors to the City were caught up in the tempest while attending a music festival along the Rappahanock River. The storm was over in less than half an hour. One woman was taken to the hospital for "a gash on her head, and another person was hit by a tent and treated for cuts by EMTs at the scene", according to the local newspaper, The Free-Lance Star.
On the other side of the City, to the west, a large tree uprooted in the Confederate Cemetery, tearing into the grave of Private Benjamin M. Blackwell, and busting numerous headstones. Blackwell had served in the 48th Virginia Infantry before being killed on May 5, 1864 in the battle of the Wilderness at the age of twenty-eight. The 1860 census shows he was a farmer, living with a relative who was a blacksmith. In the same record, Benjamin Blackwell claimed a value of $50 in personal property, not a rich man by any standard.
An interesting, and revealing article referencing Blackwell, in the journal "Civil War History", can be viewed here. A letter Blackwell wrote to his brother in late 1863, demonstrates his unease at the course of the war, and the Confederate nation's fate.
In September 2003, Hurricane Isabel left similar damage in the National Cemetery on Marye's Heights, tearing open the graves of two Union soldiers interred there.

The grave of Private Blackwell is seen here, burst open by the large tree.
A monument to to the Confederate dead is seen at center distance. 
The ruptured grave is marked by a simple stone with the inscription,
 B M Blackwell

In amongst the branches of the fallen tree can be seen numerous other broken stones.
This view shows the overall size of the tree and the extent of the damage.

All photographs shown were taken approximately 24 hours after the storm, Saturday, July 17, 2010.
Copyright 2010, by John F. Cummings III
 Images are clickable to allow for larger viewing.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Related Lands - Confederate Works at Germanna Crossing

In late November 1863, during the opening days of the Mine Run Campaign, newspaper special artist Alfred Waud sketched Union troops exploring the newly abandoned Confederate fortifications overlooking the Germanna crossing of the Rapidan River. The crossing at Germanna dates back to the colonial-era as a major transportation route, and also served heavily throughout the Civil War as a crossing point on the Rapidan for both armies in the campaigns of 1863-1864. In the Waud sketch below, looking north, the Germanna Highway (Modern Route 3), can be seen in the middle distance. The similar, present day image below that, is taken from approximately where the soldier is standing on top of the parapet of an artillery redoubt (quad 7-3). The quad graphing was added to the original sketch for the newspaper engravers that prepared the image for publication. Click on the images to enlarge.
Approximate modern view, looking north toward Route 3.
From atop the redoubt, looking downhill toward the highway.
Western wall face of the artillery redoubts.
Looking northwest at about 300 degrees, along the south side of the Germanna Highway. The terminus of the long trench section stands in the shade at left foreground. The remains of these works are today on the campus of the Germanna Community College. Other remnants of earthworks can be found in the wooded area just north of the Germanna campus parking lot, but these are not as well maintained, and tend to get lost in the landscaping efforts around them.
An aerial photograph shows the trenches running through the woods at center. A sidewalk runs up to the area, alongside the College building.
An overall view of the area with the works outlined at lower right, above the main building of the Germanna Community College. The Germanna Ford crossing site is now obscured by the modern, double span bridge near top left. The site of Alexander Spotswood's Germanna Colony, circa 1714, is located in the woods on the north side of the highway, at center. Although it is now in Orange County, this was the location of Spotswood's manor house (1722-1750). Spotsylvania County derives its names from the former colonial Governor. The University of Mary Washington Department of Historic Preservation maintains a website about the Germanna Colony here.