Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Library Corner: A Few Battlefield Guides

As you might have guessed, my day job has kept me quite busy over the last month or two. Hence the lack of posts. Though I haven't had much time for blogging, I have squeezed in a few battlefield visits. At the end of July I spent a full day hiking at Manassas National Battlefield, while this past weekend I visited sites on the Petersburg National Battlefield and at Pamplin Park.

View looking over the Stone House and toward Buck Hill and Matthew's Hill at Manassas.

I have visited the Manassas National Battlefield before, though it's been nearly a decade and I never had much of a chance to take advantage of the park's forty-plus miles of trails. On the last weekend of July, I decided to change that. Armed with plenty of water and snacking provisions, a trail guide obtained at the Visitor Center, a copy of John Hennessy's Return to Bull Run, and the Civil War Trust's Second Manassas App on my phone, I set off on the 6.2 mile Second Manassas trail. This loop trail starts on Henry House Hill and covers most of the battlefield, including the Stone House, Buck Hill, a good portion of the Unfinished Railroad Cut, Groveton, and Chinn Ridge. I opted to hike an extra mile or two by adding on the Brawner Farm loop. All told, I was able to cover most of ground the battle was fought over - from the opening shots on the Brawner Farm on August 28th, 1862, to John Pope's attacks against the Railroad Cut on the 29th and 30th, and concluding fittingly with James Longstreet's counterattack that swept Pope's army from the field on the afternoon of the 30th.

The position of Stephen D. Lee's Confederate artillery, which was so effective
against Pope's assaults on the Railroad Cut.

When I finished my tour, I had just enough time to poke my head into the Visitor Center's bookstore. Here I picked up a nice looking guidebook for my next visit: Ethan Rafuse's Manassas: A Battlefield Guide. This book came out in 2014 as part of the University of Nebraska's This Hallowed Ground: Guide to Civil War Battlefields series. Though I wasn't able to use it on the field, I spent quite a few days after my visit perusing the guidebook, and it looks quite useful. The book contains detailed battlefield tours of both First and Second Manassas, as well as campaign excursions that guide you to sites further afield from the National Park. Each stop contains several subsection headings, including: directions, orientation, what happened, analysis, vignette, and further reading. The book also contains numerous illustrations and superb maps drawn by Erin Greb.

Monument to the 5th New York - Duryee's Zouaves. In just a short ten minutes, this regiment lost 332 men
of 525 engaged. Of these 121 were killed or mortally wounded.

I found myself pouring over the book for days after my visit. Those who cannot make it to Second Manssas will assuredly find it a useful resource, but the book is intended for use on the battlefield, and I can't wait to find an excuse to get back to Manassas with it in hand.

Just this past weekend, I took a trip down to Petersburg, another battlefield that I have not visited in nearly a decade. My wife came along for the ride - her first visit. We started our day poking around at the Eastern Front Visitor Center, and then followed the Eastern Front driving tour, getting out of car at several points to follow some of the short interpretive trails. We utilized the Civil War Trust's Petersburg App. I really cannot say enough good things about the various battlefield apps that the Civil War Trust has developed - they are incredibly useful on the battlefield.

Monument to the 1st Maine Heavy
Artillery. In their charge on June 18th,
1864, this unit suffered 604 casualties.
After following the interpretive trail around the Crater, we took a break for lunch. While we had originally planned to continue our tour by visiting the various forts of the Western Front, but the day was quite hot and humid, and we decided instead to spend our afternoon visiting Pamplin Park and the National Museum for the Civil War Soldier. I've always enjoyed the museum here, and thought it'd be a good way to beat the heat. For those have not visited, all guests receive an audio headset to guide them through the museum. As you enter each room, the audio player automatically begins to play an overview of the exhibit. Once the overview is done, you can enter numbers to learn more about any of the displays. Meanwhile, you are also assigned a particular soldier before entering the exhibit area, and as you progress through the museum special kiosks enable you to learn more about the soldier you've chosen to follow, through the soldiers own words and other primary sources. The museum hasn't changed much since my first visit ten years ago, but I still found it as enjoyable.

Outside of the museum, Pamplin Park preserves and interprets Tudor Hall Plantation and the site of the Battle of the Breakthrough on April 2nd, 1865. Tudor Hall was the home of the Boisseau family. Here they interpret not only life on an antebellum plantation, but also Tudor Hall's use as a Confederate encampment during the winter of 1864-1865. Visitors can take advantage of a number of programs and tours offered by living historians. We decided to simply use our audio guides as we traversed the plantation and the Breakthrough Trail, where we explored the Confederate earthworks that were carried by the Army of the Potomac's Sixth Corps, ending the Siege of Petersburg.

To cap off the day, I took some time once again to browse Pamplin Park's bookstore, and located another battlefield guide, this time a Guide to the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, edited by Charles R. Bowery, Jr. and Ethan Rafuse (again). This book features maps by the ubiquitous Steve Stanley.  Also published in 2014 (by the University of Kansas), this guide is a bit different from the Manassas Guide. As part of the U.S. Army War College Guides to Civil War Battles series, it is much more in-depth and designed for the serious student of military history. Clocking in at more than 400 pages, the book features two parts: part one explores the main portion of Petersburg National Battlefield, or the Eastern Front. Part two offers several excursion tours, including City Point, sites north of the James River outside of Richmond, and sites associated with Grant's westward movements and the fall of Petersburg.

At each stop, the book provides a brief overview of events, orienting the visitor and situating the combat in that particular area into the context of the overall siege. After these brief explanations, each stop then provides a series of lengthy battle accounts designed to be read while viewing the terrain. Most of these accounts are from the Official Records, and they are a mix of voices from the strategic and operational leadership of both armies. 

I've enjoyed browsing through both battlefield guides, and look forward to using them on the field.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Gettysburg's Hot Air

This past weekend my wife and I traveled back up to New York to participate in Utica's 15K Race, the Boilermaker. On our way home on Monday, we stopped in Gettysburg to stretch our legs and for a brief break from driving. We pulled into the old Cyclorama Parking Lot just as ominous storm clouds began rising up over South Mountain in the distance.

We decided to take a quick hike along Cemetery Ridge, but first I wanted to check in on the landscape rehabilitation of the old Visitor Center's parking lot.

The rehabilitation of the ground here has come quite a long way. The park has graded the terrain and green shoots of grass have begun to cover over the old lot. However, we found that something else caught our eye: a gigantic hot air balloon rising up in the background.

The Gettysburg Story Balloon, as they call it, is operated by the Gettysburg Heritage Center (the old Wax Museum, under new ownership). I have no idea how popular the attraction has become, but it certainly is noticeable for tourists along Cemetery Ridge (and probably many other locations on the battlefield as well). At least, unlike previous eye sores, the balloon is not a permanent fixture on the landscape. It is unclear if it is here to stay or not.

From the slopes of Cemetery Hill, we hiked down past the Brian Farm, and then descended the ridge toward Meade's Headquarters. As droplets of rain began to fall from the sky, and distant rumbles of thunder accompanied the approaching dark clouds, we headed back to the car to continue our journey south.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Exploring Kelly's Ford and Brandy Station

Just about a year ago last week I found myself in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania with thousands of others commemorating the 150th anniversary of the largest battle of the Civil War. I didn't make it for the battle anniversary this year, but my thoughts turned to Gettysburg, nonetheless. Last Monday, I decided to commemorate the campaign in a different manner, by taking my first trip to the site of its opening battle: Brandy Station.

Armed with driving tours put together by Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, I began my excursion with a visit to Kelly's Ford on the Rappahannock. Modern route 620 crosses the river about 300 yards upstream from the ford. Just before the bridge is a parking lot and a boat launch operated by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Rappahannock River at the Kelly's Ford Boat Launch. This is actually the site
of an old mill. The ford is 300 yards downstream.

The ford can be reached by following a well worn footpath along the river. A sign delineates its actual location.

Kelly's Ford.

Kelly's Ford served as a vital crossing during the war. In March of 1863 a small cavalry action took place here when 2,100 troopers and six cannon under the command of Brigadier General William Averell  forced their way across the river and engaged Confederate cavalry led by Brigadier General Fitzhugh Lee. Interpretive signs placed by the Civil War Trust near the ford explain the significance of this small action. Kelly's Ford also served as the crossing site of David McMurtrie Gregg's column of cavalry on the morning of June 9th, 1863, on its way to Brandy Station.

After working my way down to the actual site of the ford, I retraced my steps, got in my vehicle, and followed the NPS's driving tour for the Battle of Kelly's Ford. A portion of this battlefield is preserved as part of the Phelps Wildlife Management Area, including the location of the mortal wounding of the Confederacy's young and talented horse artillerist, Major John Pelham. After completing my brief tour of the Kelly's Ford battlefield, I moved on just a few miles to the Brandy Station Battlefield Park, site of the largest cavalry battle of the war.

On the morning of June 9th, 1863, Major General Alfred Pleasonton had orders to take a force of 8,000 cavalry and 3,000 infantry, cross the upper Rappahannock River, and "disperse and destroy" the enemy's cavalry. Pleasonton's forces crossed in two columns - John Buford's right wing crossed at Beverly Ford, while David McMurtrie Gregg took his troopers across at Kelly's Ford, six miles downstream. Believing Stuart's forces to be in the vicinity of Culpeper, the federals intended to link up at Brandy Station. Instead, they ran into Confederate resistance immediately.  When Gregg's column got off to a late start, Buford found himself fighting on his own on the south side of the Rappahannock shortly after dawn.

At his headquarters on Fleetwood Hill, a tall ridge near Brandy Station that dominated the surrounding landscape, Stuart was surprised by Buford's advance. Reacting quickly, he road to the northeast and established a strong defensive position along a ridge near St. James Church. After several hours of intense fighting on this front, things for Stuart looked under control until reports arrived indicating that Gregg's command was advancing up from Brandy Station in the Confederate rear. Rebel troopers rushed back to defend Fleetwood Hill, arriving in the nick of time. The hill became a witness to wild scenes of charges and counter charges, as the two foes struggled for its possession for the next five hours.

Eventually, Pleasonton realized that he did not have a force sufficient to destroy Stuart's command and withdrew his men back across the Rappahannock. In later years the federal cavalry chief would claim that he had uncovered the important intelligence that Lee's army was invading the north, but the reality is that Pleasonton failed to discover the presence of Confederate infantry nearby. And yet, despite failing in their principle objective of dispersing and destroying Stuart, and failing to discover evidence of Lee's movements, the federal cavalry earned a significant mental victory at Brandy Station. Out-fought throughout the war up until this point by their Confederate counterparts, on this battlefield they had stood toe-to-toe with their enemy and had proven that they could match them.

Today, Brandy Station stands as a preservation success story, as this recent article from the Civil War Trust reveals. The battleground stood nearly untouched, yet unprotected into the 1980s. From the late 1980s through the early 2000s, a succession of developers threatened the battlefield. Local and national preservationists rallied to resist each attempt, including plans for an office park and plans for a Formula One racetrack. They fought off each crisis, and eventually began to buy up and protect the land, little by little. In 2003, the Civil War Trust and Brandy Station Foundation were able to open the Brandy Station Battlefield Park. Perhaps the culminating moment came last year - when the Civil War Trust was able to purchase 56 acres atop Fleetwood Hill, the critical ground at the center of the battle. Today, the central core of the battlefield (1,860 acres) has been preserved.

I began my tour of Brandy Station by pulling my car off the road on Route 685 (the old Carolina Road) at a location that provides a nice vantage point from which to view Fleetwood Hill. Here two interpretive signs related "The Race for Fleetwood Hill" and "The Struggle for Fleetwood Hill." The high ground served as Stuart's headquarters during the battle, and as the highest eminence around, it was the key terrain. With its recent acquisition, I hope that the Civil War Trust will soon open up a hiking trail here with interpretive signage, as they have done so well in other locations at Brandy Station, and on other battlefields. For the time being, there is not much more to explore in this location, at least for someone unfamiliar with the battlefield, as I was.

Leaving Fleetwood Hill, I traveled northeast and turned onto the Beverly Ford Road, modern route 676. After passing by the Culpeper Regional Airport, I turned left into the Battlefield Park and left my car to enjoy the Buford's Knoll Interpretive Trail. This two mile out-and-back hike contains four interpretive markers.

The first markers describe Buford's initial advance along the Beverly Ford Road, the Confederate response, and the death of Colonel Benjamin "Grimes" Davis as he led the Union advance that morning.

After reading these signs I followed a mowed path that connected in with a gravel road. Hiking north the trail crosses Ruffan's Run and ascends a knoll used as a command post by General Buford. Here I found the trail's final two stops. These signs described Buford's attempt to swing his forces north and west around Stuart's left flank, and Rooney Lee's skillful use of terrain to block Buford.

Looking from Buford's Knoll toward the position of Rooney Lee's Confederate troopers.

After retracing my steps I hopped back in the car, drove a short distance on the Beverly Ford Road, turned right onto the St. James Church road, and arrived at the St. James Church Walking Trail. This five stop, one mile hike interprets the fighting around the church, where Stuart set up his initial defenses against Buford on the morning of June 9th. A few stops on the trail also discuss the Army of the Potomac's occupation of Brandy Station in the Winter of 1863/1864, and its encampments there.

The ground crossed by the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry in their charge. In the distance you can just make out the
rise of ground just above the lower tree line that was occupied by Confederate artillery.

Part of this trail covers the ground crossed by the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry on the morning of June 9th, as they charged into the very teeth of sixteen pieces of rebel artillery located along a plateau near St. James Church. The 6th Pennsylvania made it to the very muzzles of the guns, but were driven back with heavy losses. The regiment suffered more casualties than any other at the battle.

In all, I spent about half a day exploring Brandy Station and Kelly's Ford, and could have spent more time had it not been for the brutal heat and humidity. The same open fields that allowed for easy maneuvering of mounted troops left little shade for me. The Brandy Station battlefield is in an excellent state of preservation. With its rolling farmland and sweeping vistas, the ground seems as if it were an amphitheater especially designed for the largest cavalry battle of the Civil War. If you find yourself in Central Virginia and looking for a lesser-known battlefield to visit, Kelly's Ford and Brandy Station are both worth exploring.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Library Corner: Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers.

Rufus Dawes. Library of Congress.
First, a bit of an update: originally I had intended to keep pushing forward with posts in my series related to the third division of the Sixth Corps during the Overland Campaign. Those posts will still come, but my research and writing efforts have failed to keep pace with the real-time advance of the Overland Campaign's 150th anniversary, and so I am taking my time on them.

Today, I finished reading Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers, Rufus Dawes's personal memoir of his experiences as an officer in the Iron Brigade. This book has been high on my reading list ever since the Sesquicentennial of Gettysburg last July, when Scott Hartwig called it his favorite Civil War book during his interpretive program on the Iron Brigade. Hartwig's recommendation didn't disappoint.

Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers is part memoir, part diary, and mostly large selections of Dawes's own letters written to his wife during the war. While he weaves together his wartime writings with postwar analysis, Dawes lets his primary sources speak for themselves for the most part, interjecting only to provide needed context or explanation. I have sometimes found the writing style of many postwar memoirs and regimental histories somewhat dry, but Dawes clearly had a talent for writing that shines throughout this book and makes it a pleasure to read.

Dawes fought in the best-known brigade in the Army of the Potomac. He somehow managed to avoid getting wounded during his service despite his participation in more than twenty battles, including some of the bloodiest and most well-known struggles of the war. His narrative includes detailed accounts of the fighting in the Bloody Cornfield at Antietam, and of the 6th Wisconsin's charge on the Railroad Cut at Gettysburg. Yet it is not necessarily the battle accounts that sets this book apart. When Walt Whitman wrote that "the real war will never get in the books," I imagine he had in mind just the type of story that Dawes manages to tell. While so many Civil War books--primary and secondary--focus on battles and campaigns, Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers powerfully reveals the experiences of the war from a deeply personal perspective.

Through Dawes's letters, the reader is able to experience life in the Sixth Wisconsin in camp, on campaign, and in battle. We learn how close brotherly ties between comrades developed over time through shared experiences. It is through these close ties and shared experiences that regiments like the 6th Wisconsin became so fierce and dependable in combat. If you've ever wondered at the unflinching bravery referenced in so many Civil War accounts, Dawes gives perhaps the best explanation I've ever read:
The 'Iron Brigade' has a record beyond reproach, and a record it will always maintain, but the 'Iron Brigade' does not crave a battle. A battle to veterans is an awful experience. There is not with our men the headlong recklessness of new men, who start in, acting as though they would rather be shot than not, and then lose their organization and scatter like sheep, but there is a conviction from much experience in fighting, that safety is best had by steadiness, persistence in firing, and most of all by holding together. So, with the inducement of pride, duty, patriotism and personal preservation, they will stand together till the last.
We also learn of the psychological traumas of war. No other account I have ever read has allowed me to understand more fully the horror of the Overland Campaign of 1864 for both soldiers and loved ones at home. In this chapter, Dawes places his collection of letters up front and without comment in the order that they were received by his wife (they had married during the winter of 1864). This, he explains, is designed to give his readers "the most graphic as well as the most accurate manner of restoring the experiences of that time." We learn simultaneously not only of the army's progress and of the great slaughter daily occurring, but also of the fear that takes hold of Dawes's loved ones. Upon hearing of the start of the campaign, Dawes's new father-in-law drops everything to proceed to Washington, and then all the way to the front to find any news that he can of the safety of his daughter's husband. "You cannot conceive of the suffering here," Dawes's father-in-law writes from Fredericksburg on May 16th, "Every house, barn and shed is a hospital.... It is impossible to get reliable information from the front.... We know almost nothing, except that on every hand are thousands of brave men suffering and dying." Dawes himself is falsely reported dead in a newspaper account that finds its way all the way to his father.

As the Overland Campaign progresses, the reader can readily sense that the psychological horrors of combat begin to take their toll on Dawes as he commands the Sixth Wisconsin. On May 20th the Lieutenant Colonel writes to his wife: "Your letters came to me truly when I was 'sick with the horrors of war.'" On June 8th, just after Cold Harbor he writes that "it is impossible, for one who has not undergone it, to fully understand the depression of spirits caused by such long, continued, and bloody fighting and work." Dawes also explains to his readers that:
During this unexampled campaign of sixty continuous days, the excitement, exhaustion, hard work and loss of sleep broke down great numbers of men who had received no wounds in battle. Some who began the campaign with zealous and eager bravery, ended it with nervous and feverish apprehension of danger in the ascendancy. Brave men were shielded if their records on other occasions justified another trial, which ordinarily resulted well, but cowards met no mercy. They were dismissed and their names published throughout the land, a fate more terrible than death to a proud spirited soldier.
Modern readers can easily begin to recognize in such a description the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. As for Dawes himself, as more of his comrades die, his letters and accounts begin to reflect on his own strange luck. He wonders aloud why so many have died or been disfigured while his own life has been spared. Eventually, Dawes is offered a promotion to full Colonel with the stipulation that he would need to reenlist for three more years. Instead, he turns the promotion down and resigns from the army in July of 1864.

He concludes his memoir with a very powerful letter written to his wife in December of 1881. By this point, Dawes had become a congressman. He writes:
My dear wife:--I have today worshiped at the shrine of the dead. I went over to the Arlington Cemetery. It was a beautiful morning and the familiar scenes so strongly impressed upon me during my young manhood, were pleasant. Many times that I went over that road, admiring the beautiful city and great white capital, with its then unfinished dome, going to hear the great men of that day in Congress. An ambitious imagination then builded castles of the time when I might take my place there. Now at middle age, with enthusiasm sobered by hard fights and hard facts, I ride, not run with elastic step over the same road, with this ambition at least realized, and with warmth enough left in my heart to enjoy it. My friends and comrades, poor fellows, who followed my enthusiastic leadership in those days, and followed it to the death which by a merciful Providence I escaped, lie here, twenty-four of them, on the very spot where our winter camp of 1861-1862, was located. I found every grave and stood beside it with uncovered head. I looked over nearly the full 16,000 head-boards to find the twenty-four, but they all died alike and I was determined to find all. Poor little Fenton who put his head above the works at Cold Harbor and got a bullet through his temples, and lived three days with his brains out, came to me in memory as fresh as one of my own boys of today, and Levi Pearson, one of the three brothers of Company A, who died for their country in the sixth regiment, and Richard Gray, Paul Mulleter, Dennis Kelly, Christ Bundy, all young men, who fell at my side and under my command. For what they died, I fight a little longer. Over their graves I get inspiration to stand for all they won in establishing our government upon freedom, equality, justice, liberty, and protection to the humblest.
There are a lot of first-person accounts of the Civil War out there. But if you are looking for just one to read, you won't go wrong in selecting Rufus Dawes's Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Live Streaming Reverberations

This Memorial Day weekend, Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, Richmond National Battlefield Park, and Petersburg National Battlefield have teamed up with several communities across America to offer programs about how the news of the deadly spring of 1864 in Virginia reverberated across the nation. The three parks have sent rangers to Litchfield, CT; Nicholasville, KY; Bangor, ME; Dearborn, MI; Natchez, MS; Charleston, SC; and Stockbridge, WI. Programs will also take place at each of the three parks, and everything will culminate this evening with candlelight illuminations at 8 p.m. at each site, and the simultaneous playing of taps at 9 p.m.

What a brilliant and innovative program! This is a great way for the Park Service to reach beyond the battlefield to communities across the nation, and a thought provoking initiative that will hopefully inspire participants to take away a deeper meaning from these sesquicentennial events, one that goes beyond tactics and strategy and begins to come to grips with the realities of war. It's also a fitting way to reconnect our nation with the origins and true meaning of Memorial Day. Personally, I think Reverberations is one of the most interesting of the many programmatic offerings that have come out of the Civil War Sesquicentennial.

Some of these programs will be live streamed today - you can watch here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The First Memorial (Two Years Later)

Two years ago yesterday, I began this blog with a post reflecting on the 1st Minnesota's Memorial Urn in the Gettysburg National Cemetery.

All time is the millennium of their glory.

As we approach Memorial Day yet again, I thought it would be a fitting repost: The First Memorial.

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Visit to the North Anna Battlefield Park

Monument at the beginning of the Ox Ford Trail.
I've lived in Virginia for almost eight months now - and I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of the many battlefields within a short drive.With a beautiful Monday off from work, I decided to continue my recent exploration of the Overland Campaign with a trip to the North Anna Battlefield Park in Doswell, Virginia. This park preserves a small portion of the North Anna Battlefield, and is not run by National Park Service, but rather by Hanover County Parks and Recreation. This relatively obscure destination contains some of the best preserved Civil War entrenchments you will see.

Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee had battled each other to a stalemate at Spotsylvania Court House after nearly two weeks of fighting between May 8th and May 19th. Concluding that Lee's lines were too strong to carry by assault, Grant decided to move the Army of the Potomac again. On the night of May 20th, he sent the 2nd Corps on a twenty mile march to the south and east in an effort to threaten Lee's communications, and to pry Lee out of his entrenchments in pursuit. The maneuver succeeded, and the following day the roads leading south and east from Spotsylvania filled with the long columns of both armies. On the 22nd - the Army of Northern Virginia crossed over the North Anna and came to a halt. The south bank of this river provided a strong defensive line, and just below it ran the Virginia Central Railroad, Lee's critical link to the Shenandoah Valley. He chose to make his stand here.

On May 23rd, the Army of the Potomac closed to river, and secured two crossings, with the 2nd Corps securing Chesterfield Bridge on the Army of Northern Virginia's right flank, and the 5th Corps crossing upstream at Jericho Mills on Lee's left flank. Late in the day a Confederate counterattack failed to drive the 5th Corps back to the north side of the river. With his enemy across the river in two places, Lee devised an ingenious defensive line. He pulled back both wings of his army into strong natural positions so that his lines resembled an inverted V. The apex of his V stood on an imposing and unassailable bluff overlooking Ox Ford on the river, with both legs of his line running away from this point to the southeast and southwest. Having quickly learned the value of earthworks in this campaign, on the evening of May 23rd the Confederate army set to work building elaborate entrenchements all along their strong position. If they could hold the impregnable apex of their line at Ox Ford, the Army of the Potomac would be divided by the river at any point when assaulting Lee's lines. Because of a bend in the river at this point, Union forces on one flank would need to cross the river twice to come to the support of forces on the other flank. Lee hoped that this unique formation would allow him to concentrate his army quickly against one wing of the Army of the Potomac and crush it before help could arrive.

Timothy O'Sullivan photographed Quarles's Mills in late May 1864. Portions of the 9th Corps
crossed near here on May 24th.
Having gotten forces across the river at two places the previous evening, when they awoke on May 24th Grant and Meade assumed that the Confederate army had retreated during the night. They quickly ordered their forces to pursue - unwittingly putting their army into the jaws of Lee's trap. Yet Lee lay bedridden on this day, ill with dysentery. His high command had been decimated over the campaign to this point, and Lee had few subordinates he felt he could trust with an important offensive operation. Instead, he chose not to spring the trap if he could not lead it himself. Union forces probed and in some cases assaulted Lee's strong works - eventually figuring out that the Confederate army was not in retreat. They entrenched themselves and once again the campaign reached a stalemate. Grant would have to maneuver yet again if he wanted to defeat Lee.

Confederate entrenchments with a traverse.
The North Anna Battlefield Park preserves a good portion of the western leg of Lee's earthworks, extending all the way up to and including the apex of the Confederate line overlooking Ox Ford. Currently, there is a ten stop, 2.4 mile interpretive walk that follows this line. The preserved earthworks are unbelievable, complete with traverses built to protect against flanking fire from Union artillery opposite Ox Ford. Looking closely, you can see different styles of earthworks and artillery emplacements built by different units, and locate pits dug behind the lines to protect brigade commanders and staff.

An example of the excellent interpretive signage at the park, which includes great maps.
This map here gives a good view of Lee's inverted "V" line.
The interpretive signs along the trail also tell the story of an ill-fated assault on the works in this location. The Federal troops directly opposite Ox Ford consisted of Ambrose Burnside's 9th Corps. Ordered to pursue the enemy on May 24th, Burnside found Ox Ford held in force and impervious to assault. He sent forces upstream with orders to cross and outflank rebel forces at the ford. Leading the way were about 1,500 men under the command of Brigadier General James H. Ledlie. They splashed across a swollen river, getting wet up to their armpits in the process, and then closed on the Confederate main line along the western leg. As the union forces neared Ox Ford, they found Confederates dug in with infantry and artillery along a high ridge. Ledlie was under orders to use extreme caution, but he saw a chance to earn distinction here. Several accounts also reveal that the general was clearly intoxicated. In the midst of a tremendous thunderstorm, he sent his six regiments forward into a death trap. Captain John Anderson of the 57th Massachusetts remembered:
After proceeding a short distance all semblance of a line became lost. It was just a wild tumultuous rush where the more reckless were far to the front and the cautious ones scattered along back, but still coming on.... Many of the Confederate soldiers stood upon their breastworks and called out in a tantalizing manner, 'Come on Yank, come on to Richmond.'
Pinned down in a ravine in front of the Confederate works, Ledlie's brigade suffered 450 casualties, including a reported 150 captured. Among those mortally wounded was Lieutenant Colonel Charles L. Chandler, a 24-year-old Harvard graduate who commanded the 57th Massachusetts. Amazingly, Ledlie received no censure for his actions, and would soon command a division.

As we approach the 150th anniversary of the actions along the North Anna, the park is getting ready to unveil some new trails. Some 90 acres of land has recently been added to the park, more than doubling its size. These new paths take visitors north of the Confederate lines, and include some well preserved federal entrenchments as well as much of the route of Ledlie's advance. John Cumming's Spotsylvania Blog has a post exploring these new trails. I myself mistakenly explored part of the new network today as I attempted to follow the original ten stop interpretive trail. I am not sure if the new signage has yet been installed. The additional 90 acres will provide a great reason to return and explore the park once again.