UPCOMING PROGRAMS 2017 - 2018
|Jun 1||Brady Hennigar||Why history? Why the ACW? Re-enacting. Buildup of the Union Navy: all seen through the eyes of our youngest member|
|Sep 14||Doug Huddle||While He Slept, I Was In the Saddle All Night|
|Oct 5||John Fox||The Great Train Heist|
|Nov 2||Derek Sykes||Lt. Gen. U.S. Grant|
|Dec 7||John Moyer||1861-65 "A Horse's Tale"|
|Jan 11||Paul Van Nest||Brandy Station: Largest Cavalry Battle in North America|
|Feb 1||Tarun Roy||A Visit to City Point|
|Mar 1||Murray Hogben||Col. Starkweather Holds On at Perryville|
|Apr 5||Gord Sly||Guerrilla War in the Civil War|
|May 3||Chris Hall||The Causes of the Civil War|
|Jun 7||Dr. Cheryl Wells||The Civil War from a Global Perspective|
Last Month's Presentation
presented by Gord Bell, CWRT-GK
The Civil War Round Table of Greater Kingston convened on the evening of the 155th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh to hear about another major engagement of that war, the Battle of Antietam fought on September 17, 1862 between the Army of the Potomac under the command of General George B. McClellan and the Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee. Our presenter was long-time member Gord Bell, who used one of a series of ten DVDs containing six episodes of a TV series produced by Antietam Cable Television, Inc. entitled The Civil War in Washington County as the centerpiece of his talk.
We began with an account of Harper's Ferry and the importance of its strategic location at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and the crossing of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Following the Union defeat at the Battle of Second Manassas on August 29-30, 1862, General Lee decided to follow up his victory by leading his Army of Northern Virginia on an invasion of the North in hopes of bringing the war to the enemy and encouraging Southern sym- pathizers in the border state of Maryland.
After crossing the Potomac River at White's Ford on September 4th, Lee thought it best to protect his vulnerable lines of communication and supply by moving them westwards to the protection of the Shenandoah Valley. This step, however, required the capture of Harper's Ferry. It was here that a 10,400 man Federal garrison had been left under the command of Colonel Dixon S. Miles, their main job being to protect the stores at Harper's Ferry and discourage Confederate attacks on the B&O Railroad. But Colonel Miles had an almost impossible assignment to fulfil when Lee ordered General Stonewall Jackson and six divisions of infantry to attack and capture the Union position. As the DVD made clear with its on location filming of Harper's Ferry and its environs, the town was surrounded by dominating heights of land-Maryland Heights to the north, Bolivar Heights on the westward side, and Loudoun Heights to the east and south. From these locations, any besieging force could wreak havoc by sending plunging artillery fire into the town below.
And that is pretty well what happened. By the morning of September 15th Jackson had established batteries on the high ground surrounding Harper's Ferry. Once the Southern guns opened fire, Colonel Dixon and his men were caught in a deadly three-directional crossfire to which their own artillery could make but a weak and ineffective reply. After enduring the bombardment for about an hour, Colonel Dixon ordered the white flag of surrender to be raised and was mortally wounded by one of the last shells to fall. Harper's Ferry and its abundant supplies of rifles, ammunition, food and clothing were now in the hands of Jackson's tattered butternuts, and the thousands of Union troops made prisoners of war.
The scene then shifted two days ahead to the battlefield of Antietam. Here Lee had taken position outside the town of Sharpsburg with about 19,000 men and the Potomac River at his back. Despite the precariousness of his situation-McClellan was facing him with over twice as many troops-Lee held his ground once he heard that Harper's Ferry had been captured and that the remainder of his army was on its way to join him. The host of the DVD program conducted an interview with the noted historian, Ted Alexander, probably the foremost expert on the campaign and battle of Antietam. With the assistance of maps and animated graphics to show the various troop movements, Alexander provided an overview of the roughly three stages of the battle fought on September 17, 1862.
The battle opened at the break of dawn on the northern part of the field when Union General Joe Hooker ordered the divisions of his I Corps to attack the left of Lee's line around the Dunkard Church. For the next several hours there was charge and bloody countercharge of Blue and Gray troops through farm fields and patches of trees thereafter famous as the Cornfield, the West Woods, and the East Woods. General Joseph Mansfield's XII Corps joined in the fight and there were moments when it appeared that Confederate line was about to collapse under the pressure of the Union assault, and that McClellan would succeed in dislodging Lee from his position and roll up his whole line of battle and throw the defeated remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia into the Potomac. But with the Union attacks being concentrated upon the left of his line, Lee was able to feed in reinforcements from his centre. Eventually the two Union Corps were fought out. Mansfield was killed and Hooker was forced to leave the field with a serious foot wound.
The fighting flared up again as the Union II Corps under General Edwin Sumner marched towards the centre of the Confederate line. Here General D.H. Hill and his division had secured themselves in a sunken road from where they poured a sustained fire against the advancing Union troops. The advantages and disadvantages of this position, and why it became known as the Bloody Lane, were readily apparent in the DVD. The battle waged back and forth for several hours in the most intense fighting of the day. Sumner's men lost heavily but so too did the Confederates when a misunderstood order resulted in General Robert Rodes' brigade abandoning their position and heading for the rear. Caught by Union enfilade fire, the rebels in the sunken road were mown down where they stood, their bodies falling layers deep in some places. At this point, McClellan would likely have carried the day if he had pressed his attack home and sent in even a portion of the thousands of troops he was holding in reserve. But McClellan deemed it "prudent" to stay his hand, lest these troops be needed to ward off some unforeseeable military masterstroke by Lee.
Finally, the scene shifted to the final act of the day, the Union assault on Rohrbach's Bridge, now usually referred to as Burnside's Bridge. On this sector of the field, McClellan had ordered General Burnside and his IX Corps to carry out an attack upon the Rohrbach's Bridge connecting the banks of Antietam Creek. This was intended to be a diversion carried out on the morning of the battle with the purpose of pinning down the right of Lee's line while Hooker and Mansfield were delivering their attack upon his left. But hours went by before Burnside was finally ready to send his men charging across the bridge, and instead of being a diversion, the IX Corps came within a whisker of achieving the battlefield victory over Robert E. Lee that had so eluded the Army of the Potomac since the Peninsular Campaign.
Burnside has often been criticized for interpreting his orders to "carry the bridge" literally by ordering his men to charge across Rohrbach's Bridge rather than simply ford Antietam Creek. The assumption is that troops could have crossed the stream en masse on a broad front rather than present a compact target to the Confederates by storming the bridge. However, a National Park Service battlefield guide pointed out in the DVD that wading across Antietam Creek with uncertain footing on the streambed and a steep bank to clamber up on the other side, all the time being under fire of the enemy, was probably a more hazardous undertaking than storming the bridge.
In any event, Burnside finally did get his men across the famous stone bridge that now bears his name, though he spent two more hours getting them reorganized and replenished with ammun- ition once they were across Antietam Creek. Even with the time granted him by Burnside, Lee was not able to muster enough of his battered troops to stave off impending disaster as Union troops began to outflank him on the right of his line and threatened to erupt into the streets of Sharpsburg. But then, as is well known, General A.P. Hill came up, having force marched his division from Harper's Ferry to the sound of the guns, arriving just in the nick of time to blunt Burnside's advance and send the IX Corps scrambling back to the banks of Antietam Creek.
So ended the Campaign and Battle of Antietam. Or did it? Perhaps the most interesting part of the particular DVD presented by Gord was the part devoted to historian Denis Frye and his interpretation of the final few days of the Antietam Campaign. Frye is the author of a number of books and articles on the Civil War, including September Suspense: Lincoln's Union in Peril, which deals with Lee's invasion of Maryland and the Battle of Antietam. According to Frye, Lee was still spoiling for a fight even after he re-crossed the Potomac into West Virginia two days after the battle. McClellan had launched a belated pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia with a force of cavalry under General Alfred Pleasanton and the unbloodied V Corps commanded by General Fitz John Porter. Porter crossed the Potomac into West Virginia and clashed with the Confederate rearguard on September 19th. The next day, A.P. Hill arrived on the scene and fought and won the Battle of Shepherdstown, throwing Porter and his men back across the Potomac. Despite Hill's victory, Frye argues that it was only after Shepherdstown that Lee finally conceded that the Army of Northern Virginia was in no condition to launch another invasion of the North and that his men needed time to rest and recover. Only now was the Maryland Campaign truly over as a result of McClellan's uncharacteristically aggressive advance against Lee at Shepherdstown, an achievement for which Frye believes McClellan deserves more credit than he has been given.
Written by Tom Brzezicki
The Origin of the Preservation Movement
As we recap some of the Civil War Trust's biggest accomplishments in the last 30 years, we have something especially significant to celebrate today. In April 1987, Donald Pfanz, then a supervisory historian at Petersburg National Battlefield, made a research trip to Fredericksburg. His meeting there with Robert K. Krick would turn out to be providential, for it resulted in a very important letter.
Pfanz's letter to historian Brian Pohanka on April 22, 1987, filled two typewritten, single-spaced pages. It was the spark that ignited the modern battlefield preservation movement and, eventually, led to the creation of the Civil War Trust. Pfanz envisioned active groups of local preservationists working alongside one national organization to protect hallowed ground.
It was the Pfanz letter - with the combined concern of Civil War preservationists such as Ed Wenzel and Clark "Bud" Hall - that got the ball rolling. In July 1987, a pivotal meeting took place in Fredericksburg, overlooking the historic Rappahannock River. Out of that meeting came the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites - the first national organization dedicated to saving and protecting Civil War battlefields. It took a year and a half before this group of volunteers had its first save: 8.5 acres of donated land at Port Republic, Virginia.
It is because of members like you that this humble grassroots group has endured and thrived. I am constantly astounded by the passion and generosity you've given these past 30 years. Since 1987, we have saved more than 45,000 acres of American battlefield land, and that number continues to grow. These past three decades have produced remarkable results, and I share the pride of these accomplishments with supporters like you.
'Til the Battle is Won,
EXECUTIVE - 2016-17
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