All posts by TWR

About TWR

Historical Miniatures Wargamer from Christchurch, New Zealand.

Stones River

Stones River has been on my radar for many years. I recall first reading of it when I was a lad and obtained a book from the local library. Today, I was joined by Eric, another wargamer and Murfreesboro resident, on a tour of the battlefield.

Only a portion of the historic battlefield is today part of the park, and that in two parts. These two parts comprise the Union centre and a portion of the Union left. It took me sometime to orientate but I found the most useful references were the old Nashville Pike which remains a public road and the historic path of McFadden’s Lane, a small road that runs north south within the park. Both are shown on historic maps and the excellent maps on the American Battlefield Trust website, though McFadden’s Lane is often not named.

If you visit the park a have some pointers. On arriving of course go to the Park Visitor Centre, collect a copy of the driving tour. In addition make sure you download the OnCell Park Service App for your mobile phone. Further, download the Battle Trust App, or ideally print the four maps prior to your visit. I found the combination of all important for my interpretation of Stones River.

The tour driving path comprises just six driving stops but they are logical. However, interpretation signage is limited so your maps are important. Now, to my actual visit.

Above, two guns from Palmer’s Battery. Initially on the 31st December 1862 they were in the area of Hazen’s Union Brigade. Later they would form the south corner of the Union line which is aptly described as a pocket knife that is being closed. The eight guns were to engage the enemy for four hours from around this position, reorienting during the course of the battle.

Charles Parsons, commanding the battery writes: “At about 8am our infantry came falling back through the pinewoods… our batteries were swung around and bought into action… when he arrived within about 300 yards we opened on his first line… [with] canister… the enemy fell back beyond our view. He reappeared shortly afterward to our left, but again, receiving our fire, fell back beyond our view… At about 12 [noon] just as I had nearly given out of ammunition, I received orders…to retire.”

Further down McFadden Lane you will come to the Slaughter Pen. This area is larger than I expected and clearly provided an ideal defensive position for Miller’s Brigade.

Above and below views of the Slaughter Pen, both viewed from a Union perspective.

As the Union right collapsed the troops defending the Slaughter Pen provided valuable time for the Union line to form along the Nashville Pike. In fact the Union right had moved to a position almost 90 degrees to its original position. In between the Union line and the Confederates was the Cotton field. Here a few photos capture the views.

Above the view from Confederate lines looking out towards the Union lines now formed along the Nashville Pike. The Union infantry line was reinforced by some 38 Union cannon. The park brochure notes a Texan recollection “the artillery opened up on us… and it seemed that the heavens and earth were coming together”

Above, the view from the Union line, just in front of the historic Nashville Pike. While below a view from across the pike where much of the Union artillery was deployed. This shows a slight rise in the ground. It is very open here!

Further along the Union line, parallel with the Nashville Pike, we come to the area held by the Union Pioneer Brigade and the Chicago Board of Trade Battery. The Confederate Brigades of Ector and Harper attacked here. For clarity we are slightly northwest of the Cotton Field now.

From around noon the advancing Rebels conducted three attacks. Despite at one point advanced to within 50 yards the attacks were held by the Union forces. The battery here fired some 1300 rounds during the afternoon action.

Above and below, further photos of the Chicago Board of Trade Battery.

The park tour now moves south east and across the Nashville Pike to the Round Wood or Hell’s Half Acre. From the location of the photo below Hazen’s Union Brigade stretched to the left, across the railway line that marks the park boundary. From here the Union line was extended further by Wagner’s Brigade to the banks of Stones River.

The combination of the river and deployment creating what the maps indicate is a funnel into which the Rebels advanced. The visuals of this location, above, are unfortunately reduced as it sits on the edge of the park with the main wood to the rear.

The final tour stop is across the rail line in a different sector of the park, and again on the park edge. Here on the high ground another massed Union gun line decimated the Confederate attack on the 2nd January 1863. Initially the Confederate attack was successful in driving Union troops from the east side of Stones River.

Today, at least on my visit, long grass and trees obscures the historic Union gun line from the Rebels who advanced on the east side of Stones River. The historic gun line is behind this position.

Thomas Crittenden, commanding the Union Left Wing wrote: “The sound judgement of Major John Medenhall, my chief-of artillery, enabled me to open 58 guns almost simultaneously… turn[ing] a dashing [rebel] charge into a sudden retreat and rout, in which the enemy lost… 1800 men in a few moments… The very forest seemed to fall… and not a Confederate reached the river.”

Well that summarises my visit to Stones River today, and a very interesting visit it was. On a side note, for those interested, I posted a few photos of a refight of Stones River which I participated in a couple of weeks ago in Nashville. You can find it here.

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Chickamauga

I have just spent the last three days exploring the battlefield of Chickamauga. While I had planned to spend two days spread between the battlefields of Chattanooga and Chickamauga and another day on other activities.

The 18th to 20th of September mark the 155th anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga and my visit landed at the very beginning of the anniversary activities. My plans, fortunately flexible, quickly changed when I realised the depth of the programme.

Chickamauga is an extremely complex battle and one that I have always struggled to understand. Determining how I may describe my visit has also caused me some thought. For example would I summarise my thoughts based on each day of my visit – which didn’t follow the timeline. Perhaps I then wondered if I should follow the driving tour schedule. In the end I just opted for something different.

The Chickamauga Military Park is around 5,300 acres and encompasses much of the historical battlefield. Like most Military Parks it has a driving tour. The tour however does not take in any where the near all of the features. In my view you need to explore further. Even if you just focus on the main driving tour to fully need Chickamauga you need to park and really explore on foot.

The park is heavily centred on the LaFayette Road which runs north to south. From here there are some intercepting roads and a couple that generally run parallel, at least in part.

A couple of places worth considering including on your visit are are the Lee & Gordon Mills, just outside the park, as well the Chickamauga Creek that runs down part of the parks eastern boundary. The section of Chickamauga Creek above is near the Alexander Bridge where Wilder was engaged on the 18th. Both are well off the driving tour, but provide some context.

On the first day of my visited I was rewarded by three events. First was a living history event describing one of the Confederate advances. This was then followed by two historical walks led by Park Historian Jim Ogden. In the first we looked at Confederate General John Jackson and George Maney’s brigades on the 19th. The second explored the fighting in Brock Field, also on the 19th. Both lasted around two hours. Jim’s talks were extremely informative and given his audience is frequently military groups, I was fortunate to be able to join the tour.

The following day I joined two more of Jim’s tours. The first looked Robinson’s Brigade, Hood’s old Texan Brigade, and its attack as part of Longstreet’s attack. Starting off deep in the woods where Longstreet’s brigades formed we followed Robinson’s route of advance, moved with his brigade as it advanced towards Dyer Field, below, and watched as Hood was wounded rallying his old Texan Brigade.

Above, the South Carolina Monument is just visible in the distance across Dyer Field. Jim really bought this advance to life speaking generally without notes he described the advance as well as nearby events in detail. His frequent use of large map boards was also of course useful.

The second looked at Harker’s Brigade at the time of the breakthrough. Starting at the original position prior to 11am near Brotherton Cabin, above, and then as it moved north and the counter marched.

Of course there were many other parts of the battlefield to explore. One obvious was Kelly Field, below.

Below, a very small section of the Union line around Battleline Road on the 20th. Union works were strong I spent considerable time reading each of the brigade and battery markers down this long road as well as several opposite.

One of the fascinating aspects of walking a battlefield is it helps you understand a little more of the terrain. For example at Brotherton Field the very pronounced ridge line on which the Union guns were deployed on the 19th, below, but which was not held on the 20th. George Buell’s Union Brigade instead forming along a wood line in a reverse slope position.

Below, another view of Brotherton, this time showing Confederate guns deployed on the 20th, part of the area where Longstreet’s attack broke through.

What would a summary of Chickamauga be without a couple of photos of Horseshoe Ridge?

Above, the Union left and below one of the many monuments that mark the line as it extends to the right, this one of the 2nd Minnesota.

One of the challenges I have had understanding Chickamauga is the density of the trees. Today much of Chickamauga’s woods have a heavier undergrowth than they did in 1863. However, the park mechanically creates the correct level of undergrowth in some parts of the park and replicates that which was created by grazing by stock.

I have had a fascinating three days at Chickamauga. Trying to capture the visit in photographs has been difficult. If however you manage to visit I do encourage you to try and walk at least a few of the attacks as I did.

Resaca Battlefield

Today I travelled north from Kennesaw Mountain towards Chattanooga. Despite a late start I had allowed a few hours to explore the Resaca Battlefield.

Resaca was the first major action in Sherman’s drive to Atlanta, yet it gains little historical acknowledgement. As with Kennesaw Mountain you must consider Resaca in the context of the Atlanta Campaign but also in terms of the strategic situation. Johnston was strategically trying to draw Sherman into Georgia and by so doing expose the Union lines of communications. Simultaneously Johnston hoped by use of strong positions his smaller army could counter Sherman’s numerical superiority. Outflanked from Rocky Face Ridge and reinforced by Polk Johnston deployed around Resaca. On the 14th and 15th of May the armies clashed inconclusively. Then, Sherman again turned Johnston’s position and the armies moved deeper into Georgia.

Despite some 98,000 Union troops and 60,000 Confederates being deployed at Resaca, and almost 8,000 casualties, few books focus on the battle. Those that cover it provide the briefest of overviews. Something I found frustrating as I prepared for the visit.

The Resaca Battlefield Park is primarily a local initiative. That is, it is not a National Park. It can be found on the western side of I-75 despite what your iPhone or Google Maps may report. Driving in you will be met by a serious of information boards. These are all excellent and should be reviewed. However, once you have read them do keep driving to the third and fourth interpretive areas.

The most useful source I have found is the America Battlefield Trust site. In addition to a useful website, they have recently built a mobile app so you can download maps for your visit, that said a hard copy is still arguably more useful.

Anyway, from these maps you will see that the Rebel divisions were deployed in an inverted fish hook, following a similar shaped ridge. The Union forces deployed opposite also on a ridge but of course Sherman had the burden of attack. The Rebel left rested on the Oostanaula River and the right extending to the Conasauga River. Running in front of much of the Confederate lines was Camp Creek.

The various interpretation boards, when cross referenced to various maps and supplemented by those on the Battlefield Trust website will provide a reasonable interpretation of events.

The photo above is in the area that Carlin’s Brigade attacked over. Here, we have a view of the Union lines. Camp Creek runs along the base of the high ground and in this sector another tributary provides yet another obstacle.

I am standing approximately between the lines. One of the interpretation boards is worth quoting at this point, at least in part:

General Carlin, who lay very near the creek mentioned, threw forward his skirmishers, driving those of the enemy within their works, and moved forward his lines across the creek. No sooner had his first line emerged from the cover of the woods than the enemy – infantry and artillery – opened upon it with terrible effect. Not withstanding this however, Carlin pushed forward both lines beyond the creek and nearly halfway across the open field. The passage of the creek had, however, sadly disordered his lines, and finding it impossible to reform them while advancing so rapidly as the emergency of occasion required, hopeless, moreover, of holding his position even if the assault should succeed, Carlin fell back to the cover of the creek, the eastern bank of which offered in some places all the protection of a well-constructed fortification.

Below, a view from the centre of the field, now looking towards the Rebel positions. I believe that this is where Polk and Lowrey’s Confederate Brigades we’re positioned.

Below, a general view now looking north. Several Union brigades moved left to right, a number of which failed to even cross Camp Creek. Some of these brigades are discussed on the various interpretation boards.

Below, a view of Camp Creek today looking south. The photo unfortunately does not due justice to the depth of the stream. In some places the banks are very steep and others less defined and swamp like.

After the last interpretation point I walked some 15 or so minutes along a trail that generally follows the Confederate lines. Unfortunately the only marker I found was that of this Union regiment, likely denoting a high point of that regiment.

Cross referencing this marker to the Order of Battle, and assuming the marker is correctly placed, I found it was part of Manson’s Brigade from Schofield’s XIII Corps. These maps indicate it attacked angle in the Rebel line, specifically between Lewis and Walthal’s Brigades and where a Confederate battery was placed. A clear weak point in the Rebel line, where artillery was needed to bolster it. Several Union brigades converged on this point.

I hope that over the years Resaca will receive further interpretation signage, particularly in the norther end and in the various walking trails. That said I have a much greater understanding of the field and therefore the battle. An interesting few hours.

Kennesaw Mountain

Having yesterday navigated my way from Vicksburg in Mississippi to Georgia today I ventured out to explore Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield Park. To understand the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain you need to consider it as part of Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign which effectively started after Grant’s victory Chattanooga until Atlanta was captured. As such it would have been ideal to have started in Chattanooga and travelled south. However, travel logistics for me didn’t allow for such an itinerary.

Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield Park is sprawling and unfortunately is not contiguous, at least from a driving perspective. To move from one driving tour spot to another you need to drive on some busy roads and drive some distance.

My visit started at the Visitor Centre where an excellent film will remind the visitor of some of the pertinent points of the campaign and battle. Afterward, I drove to the top of Kennesaw Mountain. From here you quickly gain an appreciation of the commanding location that Big Kennesaw Mountain is, as well as the barrier the successive hills provides.

Above, a view from Big Kennesaw Mountain towards Little Kennesaw Mountain. Below, a view from Big Kennesaw Mountain looking generally northwest to provide an impression of its dominating position.

Below, Confederate artillery on Big Kennesaw Mountain positioned to engage Union forces. From here, according to the interpretation boards, Lumsden’s Alabama artillery hit a railroad water tower “scattering both water and nearby Yankees”.

Soon Union rifled artillery was positioned to counter the Confederate artillery and both duelled day and night for a week. Confederate artillery, some nine guns, were also dragged up Little Kennesaw Mountain.

Much of the battlefield is well covered in trees today making it difficult to understand the battle. Historical photos show less trees, at least in places. Visiting the park in winter would have been more rewarding I suspect. The advantage of the increased number of trees however is to reduce erosion.

Below, a view from Union artillery positions on a low ridge that generally faces Kennesaw Mountain. From here some 24 guns, half 10-pounder Parrots and half 12-pounder Napoleons, bombarded Confederates on Little Kennesaw Mountain and Pigeon Hill. I spent some time trying to confirm the location using my phone, with limited success.

Continuing the tour we now move down Old Mountain Road towards Pigeon Hill, the location of a main attack on the 27th of June, rather than a feint.

This part of the field is easily accessible. Below, a view of Pigeon Hill looking northeast. Directly in front can be seen Burnt Hickory Road, which also marks the left flank of Cockrell’s position.

Now a view from the Confederate positions on Pigeon Hill looking west. These are the positions held Cockrell’s Brigade. I have included both a period photo and one taken today for comparison.

Note the three rocks in the foreground of both photos. The period photo provides details on defences and visibility. A field can be seen some distance in advance of the Pigeon Hill slopes.

Staying in the area below we look to the area south of Cockrell’s position.

We are now looking east over the ground that Williamson’s and Lightburn’s Brigades attacked. In the woods beyond Mercer’s Confederate Brigade was entrenched. To the left is Cockrell’s position and we can see cars travelling west on Burnt Hickory Road.

Moving south from Pigeon Hill we come to Cheatham Hill.

I approached the position from Sherman and Thomas Headquarters. Parking my car I walked across the park heading east, generally following the advance of Union troops as they advanced on the Confederate positions on Cheatham Hill.

From the Headquarters I advanced to a ridge line and then down into a valley. Crossing a deep creek, above, I then moved out of the woods and into a clearing, below. Here, the Illinois Monument is just visible in the upper centre which is just below the “Dead Angle”.

A steep and open field took me now towards the Confederate trenches to my front. There were a number of dips in the field that troops could perhaps gain a degree of cover if stationary. However, apart from this the ground was open with no cover. The last 20 or so metres were very steep and at the top a Rebel trench line the remains of which are very visible.

A view from just in front of the Rebel lines which partly captures the slope over which the Illinois troops advanced.

Below, the remains of Confederate entrenchments at the Dead Angle, looking generally south. The “Angle” is on the far side. Historically these entrenchments were significant with head logs and parapets, but 160 years has taken a toll.

It generally extended south, with a slight inclination to the west, until on Confederate left it makes a sharp change in direction, east. In doing so it followed the contour of the hill. The result is the “Dead Angle”. At the angle the southern side is protected by an even steeper hillside.

Below, the Illinois Monument that marks where the Union forces, specifically Dan McCook’s Brigade was forced back to and where they dug their own entrenchments, some 30 metres from Confederate positions. The remains of the Union tunnel is just to the left, which I foolishly failed to photograph.

The Confederate positions are just beyond the monument. Even today, and despite erosion, the Rebel entrenchments are perhaps 1.5m above the monument base, that is 1.5m from the top of the monument steps.

Moving back to the Rebel lines the entrenchments continue north and south. Below, the position of two Confederate 12-pounders which were kept camouflaged until the Union attack on the 27th of June when they fired at point blank range and, according to one Confederate officer, “did great execution”.

The final position I visited was in the area of Kolb’s Farm. Here Hood pushed two divisions of his 13,000 strong corps forward in an attempt to stop Union forces flanking of the Kennesaw Mountain position on the 22nd of June. The main axis of the attack went through the woods behind the cottage.

While the house remains, and is now restored to its original form, the area of the battle is cut by a very busy road that unfortunately makes exploring and understanding this portion of the battle difficult.

This completed my visit to Kennesaw Mountain.

Raymond Battlefield

I had been considering options for my final day in Vicksburg. Options included visiting several sites associated with Grant’s campaign, or a more limited visit to Champion Hill or Raymond Battlefield. After some consideration, and suggestions from the visitors centre, I opted to just visit Raymond Battlefield. It was a decision I was extremely pleased I made.

In general terms the situation was that Grant’s army was advancing along several roads southeast of Vicksburg after crossing the Mississippi. One of these columns, McPherson’s XVII Corps, was engaged on the 12th of May 1863 by a much smaller Confederate force under General John Gregg. Gregg had under command some 4000 men. Gregg, thinking he outnumbered the enemy attacked and tried to turn the Union right. Eventually, unable to hold the ever increasing Union force the Confederates were forced back. Soon the city of Jackson would be captured, the Battle of Champion Hill would be fought and in due course, Vicksburg would be under siege.

The land encompassing the battlefield has been purchased and developed by a group of volunteers and their efforts are simply amazing. By chance one of these volunteers was exercising his dogs at the park when I arrived. A conversation ensued about the battlefield, the volunteers and the battlefield park.

The preservation is focussed on four areas. First, the Confederate artillery positions to the rear. Secondly the Confederate right flank including Fourteen Mile Creek and where the historical road crossed the creek. Opposite this area is the main Union gun line, and to the left the area where the Confederate attacked the Union right. These areas are seperated by areas of private land so some walking or driving is required.

The Confederate artillery position is next to the Old Port Gibson Road. This was the road I approached the battlefield on an follows the route used by Grant and Sherman, though neither was involved in the battle.

Above and below, Confederate artillery, two smoothbores and a Whitworth Rifle. The Whitworth actual burst during the battle while being fired.

The main preserved area is on the Confederate right and includes the ground that 1st Tennessee Infantry Battalion advanced over. This comprises the field, the woods and Fourteen Mile Creek in the distance. The Confederate artillery is positioned on a knoll behind. This section includes a number of interpretive boards and a circular walk. A cannon near the old bridge marks the initial location of Union artillery before forced back.

Below, a section of Fourteen Mile Creek. I understand the creek is much as it was in 1863. A considerable obstacle with steep banks which would have made it a considerable obstacle.

To the left, and on the Union side of the creek another cannon marks the Union lines and a reconstructed split rail fence marks a location where the Union forces attempted to delay the Rebels. This section I believe is not fully developed.

Above, a cannon marks the position of four James Rifles of the 8th Michigan Light Artillery, commanded by Captain De Golyer on the right of the historic bridge. This battery was the first Union battery deployed. The James Rifles are rifled bronze pieces designed to take a James projectile. Two 12 Pound Howitzers were on the left of the historic bridge and today is represented by another piece. The position of the original bridge and old road are marked but are now gone. Heavy Confederate fire forced the battery of six guns to fall back to what would become the main Union artillery position.

Opposite the artillery and split rail fence a marker records the advance of the 7th Texan Infantry who splashed across the Fourteen Mile Creek around noon attacking the 68th and 20th Ohio. Around 4pm pressed to front and flank they were forced back.

The final section is the Union artillery line which is positioned on the Union left and opposite the Rebel right on the Union artillery ridge.

Here 22 artillery pieces were progressively deployed and today 20 cannon are placed. The spectacle is significant and certainly I pondered the amount of fire that these pieces would have put down. The cannon are reproductions, but comprise different models, the carriages were I understand, were supplied by the Vicksburg Military Park.

Above, a view looking towards the Confederate right which is along the woods to the front. Behind these woods on a knoll is the hopelessly out numbered Confederate artillery, perhaps 1000 yards distant.

This is a small but extremely well presented battlefield. I was taken back by the dedication of the volunteers that have done so much to preserve this significant battle of the campaign. If you have an opportunity I encourage you to include a visit to the Raymond Military Park on a trip to Vicksburg.