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.

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