Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Accidental Tourist

I had several planned stops on my long drive home to see Civil War sites of note, but I think I had more luck with the places that I stumbled upon accidentally than the planned ones. My wife usually navigates on our trips, and I definitely missed her presence on this trip.

Hartwood Church was my first stop. I was driving north on highway 17 just north of Fredericksburg, when I noticed a sign that said Hartwood. Just after that a large truck pulled out in front of me, forcing me to slow down. The next road was Hartwood Church Road, so I had to make a quick stop. The church was the site of an engagement between Confederate and Union cavalry forces on February 25, 1863. Confederate Brigadier General Fitzhugh Lee, with elements of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Virginia Cavalry, conducted a raid on the Union encampment here. He thoroughly surprised the Union forces, capturing over 150 men and numerous horses before escaping unscathed back across the Rappahannock. The best description of the engagement that I’ve seen is in Eric Wittenberg’s The Union Cavalry Comes of Age. It was nice to get to see the place after reading about it; it hadn’t occurred to me that it might still be intact. Although it was damaged severely over the course of the war, it was repaired and is still intact today as illustrated by the picture below.

My next stop was Harper’s Ferry, one of the planned halts. I’d hoped to find out more information on the breakout of the Union cavalry forces during the siege of the town by Jackson’s forces just prior to the battle of Antietam. I found the place rather disappointing, but this may have been because I was there for a specific purpose and they didn’t have what I was looking for. It just seemed to me that there wasn’t a great deal of energy amongst the staff there, and that given the history of the site there was potential for a lot more. If I was advising a traveler, I’d have to recommend it as a possible side trip, but not a destination.

The next leg was the fun part of the drive, from Harper’s Ferry to the Antietam battlefield. It was here that I missed my wife’s presence the most. I was so busy looking at the historic buildings in Boonsboro that I missed my turn. This actually turned out to be fortunate, as I realized that I’d missed it when I reached the site of the battle of Funkstown. Seeing the site gave me a better appreciation for the battle, as did the brief stop at the site of the cavalry skirmish at Boonsboro on my way back to the missed turn. The countryside is very pretty around there, well worth the drive even if one isn't looking for skirmish sites.

I really enjoyed Antietam, and think it is one of the best Civil War battlefields to visit, along with Chickamauga and of course Gettysburg. It was great to see it in such good condition. Alas, I didn’t get the chance to meet Ranger Mannie, but the tips Brian Downey sent for touring the battlefield proved to be a great help. Thanks again, Brian.

Putting Antietam behind me, I turned my trusty steed towards Gettysburg. Not always one for the shortest distance between two points, I also stopped on South Mountain, and was surprised to discover that it’s only 1200’ high. I’d thought it was bigger for some reason.

Upon arrival at Gettysburg, I visited South Cavalry Field for the first time. I’d never quite made it there on previous visits. I managed to find all of the Regular cavalry markers, even the two down in the low ground off of Ridge Road. And I finally got a picture of my own of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry monument nearby.

After my visit to South Cavalry Field, I stopped at the Nat ional Cemetery to find the graves of the 6th Cavalry troopers buried there. I don’t know where the few men killed from the other regular cavalry regiments are buried, but I couldn’t find a record of them there. I did find an intriguing reference to a diary of a 6th Cavalry soldier that I hadn’t heard of before, but I’m still in the process of trying to track it down.

A brief visit to the bookstore across the street at the visitor center revealed that Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions is indeed sold out, and has been for some time. Eric, if you still have a few copies stashed away, you might want to send them their way. It sounds like the book is missed on the bookshelves there.

I made a quick tour of the battlefield, trying to get pictures of all of the cavalry monuments. I didn’t make it to East Cavalry Field this time, but I think I already have pictures of those from my last trip. The only one from the rest of the battlefield that I know that I missed is the marker for Company A, 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry, as I ran out of film. I even found the markers for the 5th New York and the 1st Vermont that bloggers were discussing last week. I’ll have an entry soliciting votes for the best Gettysburg cavalry monument in the near future.

After dinner, I was able to walk Gamble’s and Devin’s lines as the sun set before returning to my hotel. It was a full day, but a very enjoyable one. The rest of the trip was faster, but not nearly as much fun.


Brian Downey said...

Dang, Don. That musta been one long day. Sounds like a great trip.

Please post also as you learn about the breakout from Harpers Ferry, would you? I doubt many people well understand how that went.

I agree the serendipity of missed turns and resulting wandering drives are more than half the fun. Thanks for posting about it. I've gotta get out more ...

Don said...

It was a really long day, but I left Williamsburg really early. 8^)

I plan to a post or maybe a series on the Harper's Ferry breakout. I wondered why no one had written much about it before, then I started researching. I really thought there would be more available. I have a couple of primary sources, and the B&L entry. That's why HF was so disappointing for me, but in retrospect I should have asked at Antietam since they're better staffed and have more resources. NOW I think of that....

Would you be interested in an entry of some sort for aotw on it? It is part of the same campaign, after all.

Brian Downey said...

A piece on the HF Cavalry breakout for AotW? Heck yeah. You write it, I'll publish.