Tuesday, April 6, 2010

James A. Hall and his battery

I spent 4 1/2 hours out on the field yesterday....studying and just enjoying the summer-like weather that we have been having. I spent the majority of my time studying the battery of James A. Hall. I guess Hall's Battery has been one of those batteries that I thought I knew a lot about...but until I did a detailed study of his actions, I didn't really understand just what Hall went through on July 1.

First, we have to understand that Hall was sent in with Cutler's brigade. As a matter of fact, when he was sent (by Reynolds) to relieve Calef, he had actually cut off the 147th NY from advancing with the rest of their brigade....which is probably why they ended up in the weird position that they ended up in.

But Hall's 2nd Maine Battery was placed on McPherson's Ridge. 2 of the guns were placed on the south side of Chambersburg Pike and 4 were placed on the north side. The six guns that Hall brought to the battle were 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.

The fighting in and of itself was complicated and hard to explain, but to make a long story short, Hall and his men were fighting the brigades of Davis and Archer. The fighting was short but intense. Many of Hall's men were wounded. I've read two different accounts as to how many men were killed: one source says 0 and the other source says 2. Hall also lost many of his horses.
After seeing the 76th NY and 56th PA retreating, Hall decided to pull his men out. What he didn't realize was that the 147th NY was still on the other side of the railroad cut. They ended up isolated and having to fight their way back to safety. Hall pulled his men out two guns at a time. The big problem was that by the time the last two guns went to pull out, there was no infantry to help cover their retreat. The final gun had to be abandoned after all the horses were shot.

Hall was able to pull his men all the way back to the eastern side of the Seminary. It took about an hour, but one of the other regiments was able to retrieve the lost gun for Hall.

They then retreated back to Cemetery Hill and that is where they stayed for that day and the next. Today, the Lincoln Speech Memorial is at the location of where Hall's battery was held. By the time they arrived at Cemetery Hill, they only had three of their guns in working order.

Hall's battery is just a small sample of the stories that we can find on the battlefield, whether its Gettysburg or any other battlefield from the Civil War. These guys fought hard. They sacrificed much. I'm so glad that today, we can go out on the field and learn about the sacrifices of these men....North or South. They gave so much that today I consider them ALL my heroes.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Lincoln Memorial

Due to my job, I was able to spend some time down in Washington, DC yesterday. The day was the perfect day for sightseeing....70+ degrees, no clouds in the sky, lots of sunshine. And many, many people were walking around looking at our nation's Capital. During my time down there, I spent quite a bit of it looking for Civil War history. Civil War history abounds down there and you don't have to go looking for it, it just shows up.
One of the key places to find Civil War history is none other than the Lincoln Memorial. The memorial is one of the most recognizable places in Washington. When you walk inside, there is a large sculpture of President Lincoln sitting in a chair right in the middle of the room. Lincoln had everything to do with the Civil War: the acting president during the war, commander in chief of the Union forces, delivered the Gettysburg Address, and the list goes on and on and on. When you walk into the memorial, if you move to the room on your right, engraved into the wall is Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address. The room on the left has the Gettysburg Address engraved into the wall.

I stood and watched the people reading the Gettysburg Address. I guess this has more importance to me because of the close proximity of Lincoln actually giving that address to my home. But watching the people (most of whom did NOT speak English...at least not out loud), I was struck by how they seemed to fully understand the importance of that short speech. They stood, quietly, seemingly reading and comprehending those few words that Lincoln spoke on that day in November, 1863. But do they? I'm not sure. One thing that I have noticed, both by being a tourist and by speaking to tourists, people from country's other than the United States seem to understand our history better than those who were born and raised here. I find this sad. Our students in our schools do not know who most of our early leaders were nor do they seem to care. Occasionally, you will find a student who does care and does know and when I stumble across one of these kids, I realize that maybe it isn't all a lost cause.

In the upcoming days, I will share some of the pictures that I took of Washington and things that I found that were affiliated with the Civil War. I learned quite a bit about the city this particular day and look forward to sharing it with you.

Monday, March 22, 2010

David McMurtrie Gregg

On July 3, 1863, the battle was going full fledged in Gettysburg. During the morning hours, Union General David McMurtrie Gregg's 2nd Cavalry Division was guarding the Baltimore Pike in case the Confederate's decided to attack the rear of the Union army. But Gregg looked at the maps that he had and decided that Baltimore Pike was NOT the place to be.....he felt that he needed to be on the Hanover Road. Hanover Road was the place that he felt was going to be attacked by the Confederates. And the feeling never left him.

Gregg let's General Alfred Pleasonton know that he is not comfortable guarding Baltimore Pike and that he feels the real threat is Hanover Road. Pleasonton doesn't agree with him. He tells Gregg to stay right where he is and to follow the orders given to him. Then Pleasonton tells him to get one of Kilpatrick's brigades and to place it on the Hanover Road. Gregg sends an aide to Two Taverns (which is where Kilpatrick was last located). When the aide gets to Two Taverns, the only brigade left in Two Taverns is Custer. So Custer comes to the rescue and moves his men to the corner of Hanover Road and Low Dutch Road.

Photo: David McMurtrie Gregg and his staff (Gregg, seated on right)

Thanks to Gregg's gut feeling and Custer's being eager to do whatever he could to fight, this move may have saved the Union right. To make a long story short, the battle takes place and thanks to the crazy charges made by Custer, the Confederates are forced back and that is where they stay until the Confederates leave Gettysburg.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Who were they?

I think about the civilians of the Civil War often. They had it rough. Not only did they have to hand over their loved ones to serve and fight in the war, but in many instances, they were forced to experience the war first hand. Often, these men, women and children were caught right in the middle of battle.

I was thinking these thoughts as I was walking around Harpers Ferry last week. For those who have never had the priviledge to go to Harpers Ferry, the National Park consists mostly of the lower town. As such, many of the buildings in this part of town (if not all of them) are owned by the NPS and are pretty much open to the public at any time. Most of these buildings are places where you can walk in the front door and stand in a little roped in area. What you see when you look into these buildings can only be described as stepping back in time. You can look into a room and see what shops looked like in the 1860's or someones living room or apartment, or just about anything. When I look into these glimpses into the past, I imagine what these shops and homes must have been like when things were bustling. I love to watch TV shows that are based on the 1800's. Mostly I watch (thanks to Netflix) Little House on the Prairie and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. As I look into these rooms, I picture the dry goods store to be the Olson's Mercantile or Loren Bray's General Store. I look into these homes and see the homes of the Ingall's, the Quinn/Cooper family, or any of the other characters in these homes. I see many people moving around inside these buildings....purchasing their food, shopping for yarn (to knit socks, of course), looking at bolt fabric, and children looking at the latest toys and yearning for some licorice sticks. What I see in my head is what I have seen on TV. I wonder what life was really like for these people? Life was tough, but life was so much simpler than it is today.

When the Civil War arrived, many of the civilians were forced to either leave their homes or to hide out in their basements. Neither plan was ideal. If you stayed in your basement, you ran the risk of getting hurt or worse, killed. If you left your home, you had a much higher chance of coming back to nothing. What do you do? They did both. And unfortunately, many people died in the process of doing both....not just at Harpers Ferry but at all the Civil War battlefields. These were innocent people.

As I walk around and look at these buildings...interiors and exteriors....I can't help but feel proud for these people. They worked hard and made themselves a life in which they were able to survive. But then the war came.....

Friday, March 19, 2010

Catoctin Furnace

After my adventure to Harpers Ferry the other day, I made a little side trip to Catoctin Furnace. The furnace is just off Rt 15 in Thurmont, MD. This is a little visited (I've stopped there 6 or 7 times in the past couple of years and have yet to see another car) Civil War site.

The ruins of the Furnace are sitting there just waiting to be explored. I highly recommend taking 1/2 hour and visiting this site. To explain the significance of the furnace during the Civil War, I'm going to write what it says on one of the wayside signs:

When Union General John F. Reynolds' I Corps marched by here on June 29, 1863 en route to Emmitsburg and soon to Gettysburg, his men were progressing "swimmingly". The workers of the Catoctin Furnace had little time to notice, since the charcoal furnaces were in full blast.

The landscape then looked much different than it does today. The air was filled with smoke and ash and smelled like rotten eggs, while temperatures inside the casting sheds reached temperatures upwards of 120 degrees. The mountainside was barren because it took an acre of trees a day to produce the charcoal needed to keep one furnace in blast. Large pits had been dug around the area to mine the valuable iron ore, and there were large piles of slag, the byproduct of iron making, scattered in every direction.

During the Civil War, John Baker Kunkel owned Catoctin Furnace. With two furnaces in operation, production was never interrupted during the war, and the furnace workers shipped three tons of pig iron a day east to the larger arsenals and forges that made war materiel. Iron produced here was used in the manufacturing of ironclad ships like USS Monitor. Employees worked around the clock in 12-hour shifts, earning credit at the company store. According to local tradition, lost and disoriented soldiers from both sides making their way south after the Battle of Gettysburg were offered jobs here because of the chronic labor shortage.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Frederick Roeder

When going around to historic sites, the thing that really brings home what occurred at these sites are the human interest stories. I hate that term. This isn't a "human interest" story....this is history....the kind of history that happened to a real person.....at a real time. Harper's Ferry isn't any different. There are stories all over town about things that happened to real people. One of the homes that you can go into (well....you can go inside the door but that's about it) was the home of Frederick Roeder. He was a baker. I'm going to put here what the marker says about him. The marker can explain his life far better than I can.


German immigrant Frederick Roeder was a prosperous baker, the father of seven children, and recent widower. Roeder was also about to die. The Fourth of July was normally a day of celebration , but not this year - not 1861. In March Roeder had buried his wife, Anna Maria; the following month the Civil War erupted, Virginia seceded, and Harpers Ferry became a war zone - businesses collapsed and the local economy collapsed.

A Union sympathizer, Roeder longed to catch a glimpse of the United States flag flying on the Maryland shore. Venturing out to the Potomac River, he gazed across to the Stars and Stripes , only to be struck down by a ricocheting bullet fired by a Union soldier. He crawled back to his building, his home, where he died.

Roeder was the first towns person to die during the war. His home, business and other property were confiscated by the Union army for use as a military bakery, post office and headquarters.

His orphaned children abandoned their home, but returned a year later and lived here until 1881. They filed claims with the government for extensive wartime damage to this house and other family property. They were finally approved for $504.00 in 1906.

John Brown's Body by Stephen Vincent Benet

I picked this book up while down in Harper's Ferry. Here is an excerpt from the book. It's about the Battle of Gettysburg:

Buford came to Gettysburg late that night
Riding West with his brigades of blue horse,
While Pettigrew and his North Carolinians
Were moving East toward the town with a wagon-train,
Hoping to capture shoes.
The two came in touch.
Pettigrew halted and waited for men and orders.
Buford threw out his pickets beyond the town.

The next morning was July first. It was hot and calm.
On the grey side, Heth's division was ready to march
And drive the blue pickets in. There was still no thought
Of a planned and decisive battle on either side
Though Buford had seen the strength of those two hill-ridges
Soon enough to be famous, and marked one down
As a place to rally if he should be driven back.

He talks with his staff in front of a tavern now.
An officer rides up from the near First Corps.
"What are you doing here, sir?"
The officer
Explains. He, too, has come there to look for shoes.
_Fabulous shoes of Gettysburg, dead men's shoes,
Did anyone ever wear you, when it was done,
When the men were gone, when the farms were spoiled with the bones,
What became of your nails and leather? The swords went home,
The swords went into museums and neat glass cases,
The swords look well there. They are clean from the war.
You wouldn't put old shoes in a neat glass case,
Still stuck with the mud of marching.
And yet, a man
With a tasted for such straws and fables, blown by the wind,
Might hide a pair in a labelled case sometime
Just to see how the leather looked, set down by the swords.

The officer is hardly through with his tale
When Buford orders him back to his command
"Why, what is the matter, general?"
As he speaks
The far-off hollow slam of a single gun
Breaks the warm stillness. The horses prick up their ears.
"That's the matter," says Buford and gallops away.

Chills. I get chills reading this. Awesome. But the proven wrong "shoes" theory is still included. Oh how I wish that STUPID theory would just die. There were NO SHOE FACTORIES in Gettysburg. The Confederates were NOT coming to Gettysburg for shoes. I don't care what Harry Heth stated in his report....he was just trying to cover his butt.