Category Archives: Battlefield Tours

Vicksburg

Today the weather has held and allowed me to complete my visit to the Vicksburg Military Park. The capture of Vicksburg was critical to the Union strategy of splitting the Confederacy and dominating the Mississippi River. Prior to the final campaign several attempts to advance on Vicksburg were attempted and failed. However, in Grant’s successful campaign Grant he crossed below Grand Gulf and then advanced northeast. A series of battles followed, where Union success would eventually resulted in the Siege of Vicksburg. As pre-reading I would highly recommend Arnold’s “Grant Wins The War: Decision at Vicksburg”. It places the campaign and siege in context.

Today the Vicksburg Military Park encompasses both the Union and Confederate lines and the various assaults and trenches that were developed. Unfortunately, there are many more trees on the park than there were in 1863, which detracts from an understanding of events and terrain. However, in several parts visibility remains good. Further accessibility to portions of park are limited by extremely long grass which you are advised to stay out of due to the local wildlife.

These points aside there are some areas where visibility is excellent. One such part is the area around what is today called Battery De Golyer.

Above and below two of four sections of the battery which today comprises a total of 18 guns. Historically 22 guns were massed here.

In a central position the battery was opposite the Confederate Great Redoubt and diagonally opposite the Third Louisiana Redan. In the photo below the Great Redoubt is marked by the left monument while the Third Louisiana Redan is around two thirds of the way to the right. The right monument is the Illinois Monument and marks the advancing saps near the old Jackson Road.

Below, the Illinois Monument sits behind the advancing Union lines that push forward to the Third Louisiana Redan. In the background is the Shirley House, which is the only surviving structure on the field. Blue markers denote Union positions while red Confederate.

From the position above the Jackson Road passes to the left and then continues to Rebel lines where it passes in front and then to the side of the Third Louisiana Redan, the remains of the Redan are shown below.

Here a Confederate 20 Pound Parrot Rifle is positioned on the left. You will note the blue sign between the two Confederate cannon. This was the location of the crater nearest the Confederate line after the detonation of a mine around the 25th of June. The walls of the Redan were 12 feet high and 24 feet thick. The Jackson road passes in front and then to the right, though not shown in this photo.

Below, a view from the Confederate Great Redoubt. The Union battery position is visible in the distance. The Third Louisiana Redan is to the left and between the two the Jackson Road passes.

Further north we came to Sherman’s sector.

Below, the Stockade Redan can be seen in the centre distance. An attack here on the 19th of May was repulsed. Following this, like many sectors, saps were dug towards the enemy lines. Below, the blue markers that generally follow the road mark a series of trenches dug toward the Redan. In this case it is called “Ewing’s Approach”.

Below, a view from the Confederate Stockade Redan towards the Union line. The line of approach is clearly visible here. Other lines are also visible in the distant left.

The Vicksburg Military Park is of course very different to the other Battlefield Parks I have visited on this trip, being a park focussed on the siege rather than a battle. As such it is important to consider the time frames involved. The terrain is somewhat rugged and in the heat of a Mississippi summer the conditions must have been unbearable for all involved.

While there are several other forts and redoubts for the visitor to explore I hope these few photos prove of some interest and provide an overview for the reader.

Shiloh – To Pittsburg Landing

Rather than look at the flanks, which are interesting in their own right, let’s push forward to the final defence on the 6th of April. Grant has organised a last defence running from Pittsburgh Landing on the Tennessee River, west. Here some 50 cannon and many troops from various divisions were arrayed. Today, at Shiloh there some 25 artillery pieces, as well as numerous regimental markers, to draw our inspiration from. In front is the Dill Branch and ravine.

Yesterday I walked along the line, a second time, reading each marker and reviewing the guns representing the Union gun line. Some of the pieces were clearly accurate to the type deployed, while others perhaps less so. Though I’m unfortunately qualified to comment in detail.

The howitzer in the foreground is, I believe an 8″ Siege Howitzer which fired a 64 pound shell. It was manufactured in 1853. The siege guns behind are 1819 models. The first, which is limbered, was manufactured in 1837. The one gun behind that 1828.

Towards the right of the Union line was placed Schwartz’s Battery. Apparently it was the only position on the line where earthworks were erected. A situation which was to change as the war progressed.

But what of the ground the Confederates were attacking across and how would this impact the attack?

I had an impression of what the Dill Branch would look like. Seeing it caught me by surprise. It was an even greater obstacle than I expected. To place the photo in perspective I’m standing on a road way with the Tennessee River behind me. I am yet to drive up to the landing and the gun line. Yet I’m looking down into the ravine. The Dill Branch ravine is much deeper and more of an obstacle than I realised.

Trying to cover aspects of the second day is beyond the time I have. However, a couple of points must be mentioned.

Firstly, a photo of the Bloody Pond. The battery illustrated was positioned here on the 6th, on the 7th Buell’s Army of the Ohio was here and his unit markers are marked in yellow, rather than blue here. However, the photo illustrates the pond more clearly. Placing it in perspective, on the other side of the Wood is Sarah Bell’s Field.

On the opposite flank on the second day Beauregard was personally leading his troops in several furious counterattacks. Confederate infantry repeatedly charged through the water of Water Oaks Pond, visible below. Today it looks to be part of Woolf Field. Walking the area will uncover many markers at battery positions, as with other areas it’s fascinating to walk around these fields reviewing each in detail.

It seems a good point to finish on a quote on the battle at this point by General Beauregard:

Again and again our troops were bought to the charge, invariably to win the position in issue; invariably to drive back their foe. But hour by hour, thus opposed to an enemy constantly re-enforced, our ranks were perceptibly thinned under the unceasing, withering fire of the enemy, and… eighteen hours of hard fighting had sensibly exhausted a large number.

From my perspective Shiloh has been a wonderful battlefield to visit and I have enjoyed my two days exploring the field. It is compact and well documented, but it takes time to explore. Spending the time is however very rewarding.

As almost a postscript however, as I was leaving Savannah the following morning, As was my habit while visiting Shiloh I was having breakfast at a small but very popular establishment that served a wonderful breakfast – “Mollie Monday’s”. A waitress, detecting my accent was not local, engaged me in conversation around my visit. She pointed out the Headquarters of Grant prior to the battle was nearby and promptly enlisted another local to show me the route to Grant’s Headquarters, Cherry Mansion. I am grateful for his guidance, though I suspect he really had little choice in the matter as the waitress was truely determined.

Here of course is a photo of the mansion, on the other side of the mansion is the Tennessee River.

Outside the mansion is a description of the events, which made me smile. Ann Cherry, the wife of the owner, recalled Grant’s reaction to the sound of cannon fire on the 6th:

He was at my breakfast table when he heard the report of a cannon. Holding, untasted, a cup of coffee, he paused … at the report of another cannon he hastily arose, saying to his staff, … ‘Gentleman, the ball is in motion; let’s be off’.

I had been having my own breakfast, each morning of my visit, at “Mollie Monday’s” before heading down to the cannon fire at Shiloh Battlefield…

Shiloh – Fraley Field to Sarah Bell Field

The battle Shiloh in many ways was a battle that held so much hope for the Confederacy yet despite a solid plan it came apart and determined Union troops and commanders first held and then drove back the Rebels. In doing so casualties were significant for both sides. As with other battlefield visits I wanted to obtain a greater understanding of how the the battle developed and how the terrain impacted the battle between two green armies.

As with other Civil War Battlefields I started my tour at the visitor centre and armed with a park map I headed out. Unlike the tour map I’ve tried to start my article from early on the morning and progressively move towards Pittsburg Landing and Grant’s final defensive line. I will however split the record of my Shiloh visit over a couple of posts.

Let’s therefore start at Fraley Field where the Union skirmish line engaged the Confederates and from where the Confederates advanced.

In due course the Confederates would hit Sherman’s Division around Shiloh. The attack would come over Shiloh branch which today still is a significant obstacle.

Above, a portion of the east Shiloh Branch.

Above and below the Shiloh Church. The building is a reproduction based on drawings by a Union soldier in the area of the battle. The original was lost soon after the battle. Interestingly, the church was built after a split with a larger church group and the group that built the church was pro-slavery.

Duncan Field is of course a landmark at Shiloh. With Wallace deployed and Prentiss falling back Union forces held this wood line and what was to be known as the Sunken Road.

Above, the Union line formed along the wood edge and fence line with Duncan Field to the right. Below, a view from the Union lines across Duncan Field.

As the battle progressed and after several failed attacks Ruggles’ Battery was formed. Some 53 artillery pieces were deployed in April 1862. Today 35 Confederate guns extend along the southern edge of Duncan Field.

Another view from the Confederate lines across Duncan Field.

As famous as Duncan Field is the “Hornets Nest”. Below a section of the Hornets Nest.

Below, from the Rebel lines the area from which repeated Confederate attacks were launched from. Today four brigade markers mark the attacks into the Hornets Nest between 10.30am and 5pm over an area of less than 100 yards. Here, a marker notes the four attacks made by Gibson’s Brigade through the oak thickets.

Continuing east from the Hornets Nest we have another view of the Sunken Road. This section was near to the Peach Orchard.

Below, a view from the Peach Orchard from Union lines. Beyond is Sarah Bell’s farm and cotton fields. A number of young peach trees have recently been planted which in time will add further atmosphere. Today within the field are positioned several Union guns marking the various batteries. If you have time it’s well worth walking to each of these positions.

Now a view of Sarah Bells Field from the Confederate perspective. Behind me is where A.S Johnston was mortally wounded and beyond that in a ravine where he died. Again, take the time to explore these area and advance across these fields.

Well, having covered the battlefield from the opening actions through to the engagements along the Sunken Road to Sarah Bell Field and the Peach Orchard it seems an appropriate time to end this post. A very rewarding day…

Fort Donelson

Over the weekend I have started a tour that will take in several western battlefields. Today I spent a good part of the day at Fort Donelson in northwest Tennessee.

Now, I’ve been looking forward to visiting this National Military Park as it marks a significant part of the Western Campaign. There are several books and internet sources that provide an overview of the battle so I won’t not outline it here. However, I hope the following photos will be of interest to readers and at the same time help me document a few thoughts.

Unfortunately the Park Visitor Centre was being refurbished when I visited. Given they are operating from a temporary location the exhibits on hand were limited. However, as always the park service staff were friendly and informative.

In general Fort Donelson has three parts. The first is the defences of Fort Donelson, comprising four drive points including the Confederate Memorial. The second is the outer defences and covers five points over and extended distance. Finally there is the Dover Hotel where Buckner surrendered to Grant and nearby cemetery.

There are several outstanding points to the park. Without doubt one is the excellent water batteries that overlook the Cumberland River. Historically there were eleven guns divided between the lower and upper batteries. The lower battery today has six cannons today, two were silenced in the battle with the Union ironclads on the 14th of February 1862.

Above and below, various photos of the lower battery.

The upper battery has three guns, one rifle and to cannonades. The cannonades particularly look unusual, though historically they were ineffective. Unlike the lower battery, which has been rebuilt this battery is left in its natural state.

The land based fortifications are also in excellent condition given their age. Visible are many of the bastions, ramparts and ditches. Supported by selected artillery pieces the earthworks are even today significant.

Above and below, one of the two 9 pounders within the fort. Also on display, but not shown, is an 8 pound howitzer.

Outside the inner defences are the outer entrenchments. Again these positions are well preserved with selected field artillery placed where various batteries were placed. Most of the weapons are 6pdrs. Unfortunately many trees block the historic fields of fire. That said they provided significant and welcome shade today when the heat was withering.

Above, a portion of the outer defences, on the Confederate right. Below, the position behind the first line where Smith’s Union Division was held by Buckner’s defenders on the 15th.

Similar key locations, with selected artillery and rifle pits, are visible on the Confederate centre and centre left.

Finally, a photo of Dover Hotel, the site of the surrender of Confederate forces now under command of Buckner, to Grant. While it completes my summary of my visit to the battlefield it also provides a great place to nominally embark on my own Western battlefield tour.

Fredericksburg

This week I’ve been reminiscing a little on my trip in September 2015 to several American Civil War battlefields on east coast. Some readers may even recall a series of articles I compiled back then as I travelled from one battlefield to another. My aim was not to post an in-depth record, but rather my thoughts each evening, as I contemplated the day. Given I was visiting battlefields each day even a small delay would mean I would get behind. As a result several battlefields failed to gain a mention at the time. One of those battlefields that failed to be recorded at the time was Fredericksburg.

Fredericksburg holds a fascination for me. In part due to Burnside’s promotion after Antietam and part due to the complexity of the problems associated with such a crossing. Yet despite this I haven’t recreated the battle on the table top, though it continually beckons.

Prior to my visit it had been suggested by a couple of people that there was little to see at Fredericksburg as the field had been built over. To a point they were correct, but from another perspective I feel they were wrong. Indeed, I wish I had allowed more time at Fredericksburg.

My first stop when visiting National Battlefield Park sites is the visitor centres, in part due to a small fee at a number but in edition to collect a copy of the excellent park maps. These maps provide a few key points in what is typically a driving tour and tend from these points it is often worth striking out on foot. In the case of Fredericksburg I had earlier visited the other park office at Chancellorsville – four battlefields are administered by the same area and map. However, with another park office next to the Sunken Road another visit was called for. I’m so pleased I did.

While waiting to ask a question I was rewarded with a very informative explanation of the gentle slope from the Marye’s Heights and the Sunken Road to historic Fredericksburg being delivered to two visiting Americans. The park officer in question was explained how to view the streets leading up towards the Sunken Road and how, using parked cars, you could see even today the swale (or depression) which provided valuable but critical cover for the Union troops. I was impressed! Yet again the park staff are a wonderful source of information.

If you are visiting Fredericksburg there are a couple of things you really must see. Of course you must spend time at the Sunken Road, and consider both the original wall and reconstructed areas. An original section of the wall is shown above and a close up view of Innis House below. From this area you can also view the swale, or depression, that provided critical cover. While in the area take the short stroll to the nearby Confederate artillery positions. A simple map from the park office provides guidance.

After, a visit to Chatham Manor is required. Located across the Rappahannok River, on the Stafford Heights, the building provides good views of Fredericksburg and equally impressive Union siege guns deployed to provide supporting fire for the Union troops crossing the river.

In December 1862 Union artillery was deployed all along the Stafford Heights, but even this section will provide a sample. While at Chatham you will also be rewarded with a visit the the manor and with a reproduction of a pontoon bridge, though reduced in scale somewhat. I understand this was built for the movie “Gods and Generals”.

Below, a period view of a pontoon bridge at Fredericksburg, where General Franklin crossed. All the period photos show a very open battlefield and are ideal for gauging an understanding of how the battlefield today differs from that in 1862.

Having considered the battlefield from the Union perspective I returned to the Confederate lines and traced the Rebel positions from south of Marye’s Heights, via Lee’s Drive to view Lee’s Hill, Howison Hill and south towards Prospect Hill. Unfortunately the trees provide considerable visual obstacles today for viewing the battlefield, however the artillery and slopes ensures the visitor has clarity on the difficulty faced by the Union army in December 1862.

I was particularly surprised by the climb up Telegraph Hill (now called Lee’s Hill) to what was a commanding position and for much of the battle Lee’s Headquarters. Below, a 30-pdr Parrott on Lee’s Hill similar to the one that exploded here.

As we continue towards the Confederate right the ground has generally less height. Eventually we arrive at Prospect Hill which effectively marks the end of the battlefield and was held by Jackson. Prospect Hill is just to the south of Meade’s attack and breakthrough. Hopefully more ground in the area of Meade’s attack, between the Confederate positions and the river, will be added to the battlefield park in the coming years. Certainly I would have valued the opportunity to explore this area in more depth.

Unfortunately for me daylight was almost gone and I had to end my visit here.

If you are interested in reading more on the Fredericksburg Battlefield I encourage you to visit Peter Glyer’s excellent website Mercer Square. Peter’s site provides a range of interesting and very detailed articles on the battlefield. In addition, and in something of a twist Peter was the park volunteer I encountered on my visit to Fredericksburg and who provided such valuable input for my visit. In addition I suggest you visit the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania site Mysteries & Conundrums.