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Monday, April 29, 2013

Siege of Yorktown, 1862 - Then and Now

     Last week, on April 26, I had my first opportunity to visit the Yorktown, Virginia area. I set off on this adventure as part of a family visit. One of my stepdaughter's husband is stationed near there, and spending time with them was a welcome opportunity to see the sights. Initially, having no preconceived notions of what the battlefield park offered, I had one very specific goal, and that was to visit the Moore House, site of the October 18, 1781 surrender negotiations of British General Cornwallis's army. That event was the opening door to the final cessation of hostilities during the Revolutionary War. However, my primary focus was, predictably some would say, to examine the 1862 Civil War connection to the site, as well as the unfounded rumor that Colonial-era Governor Alexander Spotswood was buried on the property. (therein is my Spotsylvania County connection, and excuse for posting about it here.) Below, is a May 1862 Gardner photograph of the Moore House, showing damage it suffered during the first month of the Peninsula Campaign, April 5 to May 4, 1862. Ironically, the structure had escaped damage during the 1781 conflict, having been located well east of that fighting's concentration. Today it is beautifully restored and managed by the National Park Service, as seen in the modern view. This view is looking roughly 112 degrees southeast. 

     Arriving at the park's visitor center, I began to formulate where I would need to go to focus on the Civil War  story, of which very little is presented. Taking a fast perusal of the souvenir/book store, I was delighted to find a thin, but quite informative book entitled, A Guide To Civil War Yorktown, by Dr. Thomas Adrian Wheat, Col. USA Retired. Within its 46 pages was a well designed walking tour of the siege works and the town itself, all based around Civil War era images. Included are some well detailed maps that provide the location and direction of each image. It does not, however, provide modern comparison images, but they are easily ascertained with the use of the maps provided.  Having set out on my adventure with only two predetermined 1862 images on hand, I was extremely pleased to have found this volume. Armed with it, I was now able to assemble some interesting then and now comparisons. I recommend that visitors seek out this guide. Without it I would have been at a loss to understand how the 1862 campaign utilized a good portion of the former British fortifications. Beginning with the photo below, I will present some of the images covered in the book. I have attempted to create as accurate modern views as I could, but I acknowledge that some could benefit from a bit of tweaking. Two in particular have been deliberately shifted, slightly, to adjust for modern obstructions. Be sure to click on any image for larger viewing.

 Looking roughly 150 degrees southeast along a portion of the
 Confederate, "High Bastion", near the visitor center.

 Looking roughly 278 degrees west, within "High Bastion", toward the visitor center.

 On Main Street, looking northwest, from in front of the Nelson House, in the town.

 On Main Street, looking southeast. The Courthouse is on the left.

 A battery of eight-inch Columbiads, on the east side of Church Street,
 near Grace Episcopal Church. The view is looking southeast.

 Looking roughly northward at the end of Church Street, across the York River,
 with Glocester Point on the opposite shore. The modern view is shifted slightly.

 The Sessions House and the Nelson House, looking southwest, from within a deep ravine.
The Nelson House was used as a hospital in 1862, and had been Cornwallis' headquarters in 1781.
 Attempting to achieve the same modern view is difficult due to current vegetation.
 Moving forward of the vegetation provides a similar, but not identical view. The ravine is evident.
     The Custom House on Main Street at the corner of Read Street, looking south. Photograph by George Barnard. The building served as headquarters for Confederate General John B. Magruder. The ruins of the Ambler House are at right. It was destroyed most likely by Federal incendiary shells, around May 3, 1862, during the Confederate evacuation of the town.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Graves Torn Open and Headstones Damaged in Fredericksburg Confederate Cemetery, AGAIN!

     Nearly three years after a freak storm struck Fredericksburg's Confederate Cemetery, uprooting a large tree and tearing open graves (see story from July 2010), another fast, and violent storm swept through the area on Friday, April 19, 2013. This time the damage was manifest in the uprooting of a massive tree, the roots of which ripped open several graves and damaged numerous headstones. An examination of the site on Saturday did not reveal exposed human remains, but the damage to the ground and untold headstones was seen to be extensive. One marker was totally pulled from the ground and cast aside, unbroken. The massive tree appears to have stood approximately 108 feet, and probably 5 feet in diameter. As it came crushing down branches broke surrounding stones, and the giant trunk likely hammered several, straight down into the ground as it landed. This was the last of four historic trees that had been planted near the four corners of the center monument, dedicated in 1884. Further details of the storm and its wrath can be found by clicking here.
Click on any image for larger viewing.

 The massive root base opened numerous graves.
 This stone was uprooted and cast aside, unbroken.
 Its inscription indicates it was for a "Richard Jett", from Texas.
A search through several record sources did not reveal a positive
correlation to known soldiers from Texas fighting in the area.
The name engraved is perhaps a misspelling.
 Uprooted and broken stones abound.

 Approximately 108 feet tall, it effected numerous stones.
 Trees in the civilian sections also damaged stones.

 Your blog host stands next to the root base.
The roots tore through several graves.
The entrance gate to the cemetery, on Washington Avenue.
Additional damage, perhaps previous vandalism and not storm related,
is seen in the extreme shift of this column on the southwest corner of
the center monument. Could a 90 mile an hour wind gust shifted this?