Archive for October, 2009

Three days in the valley…

October 27, 2009

No, not that Valley. The San Joaquin Valley, where I attended the West Coast Civil War Conference. This was the 25th year, and my first time attending. The theme was “The campaigns for Chattanooga” so naturally, I had to go.

Besides, we had copies of “the Maps of Chickamauga” to sell. Sell, sell, sell…

The conference was excellent, but then, I had every faith in the talent. James Ogden, chief historian of the CCNMP, Dr. W. G. Robertson, by any definition dean of Chickamauga studies, Dr. Steven Woodworth, who’s Six Armies in Tennessee is the best single overview of the campaign setting – well, you get the idea.

The format was pure lecture, what with us being 2000 miles or more from the Battlefields – and the schedule was packed from Friday evening until midday Sunday, when we hustled to the airport to run the guantlet of air travel back home.

They drew about 100 folks per lecture, and raised several thousand dollars for battlefield preservation – the lucky sites this year are (I think) Raymond MS and Spring Hill TN

I know a lot of Round Tables try and host such conferences – usually single-day affairs – but this one was quite ambitious in filling a whole weekend. Next year they go to San Francisco, talk about Coastal defense, and visit Civil War Alcatraz. I don’t know if I will attend, but I will think about it. This was a well managed, well-conceived affair.

CCNMP Study Group 2010 battle walks

October 17, 2009

As promised, here are the subjects for our 2010 scheduled battle walks. As we have done for the past two years, we will use a bus on Friday, and will car-caravan to our dismount points on Saturday.

CCNMP Study Group 2010 tours
March 12 and 13, 2010.

Friday Morning: Bragg in Command, part I
By Bus, we will trace Confederate Commander Braxton Bragg’s movements to the field between September 9th and 19th, discussing his command decisions and the information he had at the time. Stops will include Lee and Gordon’s Mills, Rock Springs, Lafayette, Leet’s Tanyard.

Friday Afternoon: Bragg in command, part II
By Bus and foot. We begin with a hike down to Thedford Ford, discuss Bragg reaching the field on the 19th and subsequent decisions that day, then hike back. From there we will discuss the morning confusion with Polk, the decision to order everyone into action, and later meetings. We will visit Brotherton Field and the 20th HQ site near Winfrey Field.

Saturday Morning: Cleburne Attacks
On foot. While Breckinridge’s Division overwhelmed John Beatty’s Brigade and nearly broke through into Thomas’ Rear, the southern end of Kelly Field was assailed by DH Hill’s other Division, under Pat Cleburne. Cleburne’s men had a difficult fight that morning, and it was not the command’s best performance. We will examine Polk’s attack, Wood’s delay and wandering, and finally, Deshler’s desperate action at noon. We will visit Polk’s tablet on Alexander Bridge Road, move overland to Wood’s approximate departure point, track his brigade’s attack with Stewart into Poe field (visit Alabama Monument) and work our way up the ridge to Deshler’s mortuary monument.

Saturday Afternoon: Final defense of Battle line Road
On foot, we will examine the defense of Battle line road, and the final retreat from that position on September 20th. We will focus primarily on Baird’s Division and the difficulties they experienced as they tried to disengage, on how well the overall retreat was managed, and on the nature of the final Confederate attack in this sector.

I hope to see many faces, both new and familiar, next March. Maybe it won’t rain…

A sample map

October 6, 2009


Folks have been asking me about the look of the maps. Here is a sample map from chapter Five, detailing fighting on September 19th in Viniard Field.

Back to the real world

October 5, 2009

I returned yesterday from a week-long trip away from the day job. I had a chance to visit friends, led a staff ride the first part of the week, and finished up with some research at the park library for two days.

First, a word about the staff ride. The unit was the 160th Special Ops Aviation Regiment out of Fort Campbell. These are the guys who support Delta, the Rangers, etc. Think “Blackhawk Down.” They are not Civil War experts, nor is leading a staff ride identical to leading a tour for a round table or the like. Here, we spent less time on the overall course of the battle and focused on leadership issues.

Chickamauga, of course, has a number of critical moments for leaders. Orders don’t get followed, or do, and disaster results. Generals leave the field, sometimes having to make rapid decisions without guidance from above. Careers are ruined, and troops pay with their lives. All of this means that the field raises meaningful leadership issues for modern soldiers as well as giving us a great sense of history.

The officers involved were impressive folks, from the regimental commander on down (this was a group of mostly Majors, Bn and Company commanders.) They were attentive, grasped issues quickly, and of course, had real-world combat experience to bring to bear as well.

Staff rides also allow us to use the field for one of its original purposes. The parks were created not just to memorialize the dead and recognize great deeds. They were originally created as field laboratories to train officers, which is one reason they were initially administered by the War Department.

We spent a day and a half on the field, and the evenings in Chattanooga. There I learned that I was partying out of my weight class with these guys. As much fun as I had every evening talking to them, I had slip back to the hotel early lest I be unable to utter a coherent sentence the next day. Of course, they are all about 10-15 years younger than me, so I have my excuse…