Archive for September, 2010

Anniversary weekend

September 26, 2010

I spent last weekend at Chickamauga, doing some book signing, a little research, and observing the park staff conduct a variety of programs appropriate to the 147th anniversary of the battle. It was time well spent.

As noted in a previous post, the park tries to hold events every year. Usually they offer tactical demonstrations, a variety of rangeer-led 90 minute or 2 hour tours of critical aspects of the battle, and other similar interpretive efforts. This year they had a fine line-up.

For the artillery demo, They crewed three artillery pieces, and portrayed Bridges’ Battery, Illinois Light Artillery. Bridges’ position was at the south end of McDonald Field, several hundred yards south of the Visitor’s Center, and Jim Ogden captained a really nice presentation. The three demo cannon were placed on line with Bridges’ other guns to give the crowd a sense of the amount of space a full battery occupied, and rather than just run through a firing demonstration, Jim talked about the tactical situation the battery faced on the morning of September 20th and how they fared.

Jim had some nice visuals – the battery had received new colors (presented to them by wealthy friends of the battery back home in Chicago) that summer, up near Tullahoma, and had a unit photograph taken with the new flags to send home. Jim had color images of the flags, plus an enlarged copy of the photograph to show off.

This being the 150th anniversary of secession, there were also a number of presentations revolving around that crisis – a series of political speeches were given, and real stem-winders they were. Then there was a tour that examined the consequences of those speeches, following a number of men around the battlefield to examine their fates once secession turned into a shooting war.

This last tour was shrewdly done, looking at the likes of Breckinridge, States Rights Gist (gee, where do you suppose his father was at, politically?) James Deshler, and several others. It was held at dusk, and we ended up down in Viniard Field, with night closing in. I always learn something on these trips – this time I learned that States Rights Gist not only had an iconic name, but he was born in Union District, South Carolina – the irony of it all.

Gist was born, by the way, in 1831; the era of nullification and of Jackson vs. Calhoun, which explains his unusual moniker. He died in 1864, one of the dead generals of Franklin.

While we were finishing up, near Heg’s pyramid, it occurred to me that another whole program could be held right there: one highlighting how differing views on slavery and emancipation effected the Federals. In a previous post I discussed the 81st Indiana, Jefferson C. Davis, and his brigade commanders – Carlin and Heg. We were even then standing in their midst. I mentioned as much to Park Ranger Lee White, and I think he liked the topic. I hope they use it next year.

And now for something completely different…

September 5, 2010

Normally, of course, this blog is all things Chickamaugish. But I just got back from another Civil War battlefield: Shiloh.

Frankly, as a field to study Shiloh only grew on me slowly. It’s an early war fight, and the rawness of both troops and commanders mean that the tactics (if we can call them that) are pretty primitive. Lots of charging, lots of routing. Not to take anything away from the men who fought there, but frankly, a good number of them were so new to soldiering that they never should have been there in the first place. We did things differently back then.

Over time, I have come to appreciate the battle more. I’ve started to collect primary sources on the subject, have read a lot of material, and walked the field several times. I’ve taken some groups there in the past, and got a chance to lead another small tour group this past weekend. Except for the heat (I know, August, what did I expect?) we had an excellent time.

However, what is leading me to post is how the park has improved in the past two years. First and foremost, Cavalry Road is now open, and the driving tour is now completely revised. Cavalry road gives battlefield stompers easier access to Jones Field and the vitally important Union right flank on April 6, where Sherman and McClernand decide to counter-attack at Noon. This part of the battle is usually overlooked, and is only now starting to come into it’s own as part of the story. Adding this road and these tour stops is a huge leap forward. The road only opened at the end of May or so, so this is a brand new experience for most students of Shiloh.

Additionally, the riverside road that wound down through Dill Branch and up to the Landing is now re-opened as well. For years, this road was closed to vehicles, as erosion had made the bank unstable. Now everything is fixed, and the tour ends up on this route.

All in all, if you haven’t been to Shiloh lately, go back. You’ll like what you see.

I think a big reason why Shiloh has been so successful in these endeavors is stable leadership: the park superintendent and chief ranger have both been there for many years, both are enthusiastic stewards of the field, and have accomplished a great deal in their time at the helm. Chickamauga, unfortunately, has not been so lucky. In the past few years they have lacked for a superintendent. They got a new one about two years ago, but I see now that he is moving on, up to regional HQ in Atlanta. Once again, the park will be looking for a new boss. While I think the interpretive staff can’t be beat, they cannot themselves make up for a leadership vaccuum at the top.

Now, to switch gears, I want to mention a book on another battle, one that also holds a connection for me – New Market. As a VMI Cadet, I did living history weekends at New Market in the early 1980s, and spent a fair amount of time there. For years, the only book on the subject was William C. Davis’ tome, published in the 1970s. This spring, Savas Beatie published the first new work on the battle in years, with Charles Knight’s Valley Thunder: The Battle of New Market. It’s a fine addition to the available literature, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Savas-Beatie also does book trailers for many of their books, and this one is pretty cool. If you are interested in the book, check out the trailer.

Charlie’s Blog can be found here.