Hampton Roads /
clash of the ironclads at Hampton Roads is among the Civil War's most
compelling stories. The South converted the captured steamer Merrimack to the ironclad Virginia at the Norfolk naval yard. On 8 Mar 1862, she sank two large wooden gunships. The next day the Union's innovative gunboat Monitor arrived, sparking the world's first battle between ironclads. The fight was indecisive as between them, but the Monitor saved the Union fleet. The Virginia withdrew and was later blown up by the South when they abandoned Norfolk on 9 May 1862. The Monitor was lost in a gale off Cape Hatteras on 31 Dec 1862.
The wreck of the Monitor was discovered in 1973; the anchor recovered in 1983; and the turret
and a gun in 2002. Preservation is underway at the Mariners' Museum
in Newport News, where a turret gun can be seen, visitors can walk
the deck of a full-scale Monitor replica, and experience
interactive exhibits. There are many artifacts to see, and hallway
walls are lined with period art of the battle. The actual site of the
clash can be seen while driving the Hampton Roads bridge tunnel
(Interstate 664), or by boat.
An original turret gun from the U.S. Monitor,
recovered from the Atlantic shipwreck in 2002, lies in a preserving
solution at the Maritime Museum, while a dramatic 360° recreation
of the "Battle of the Ironclads" is featured in the battle theater
(June 2009) |
Ford's Theatre National Historic Site, Lincoln Museum, and House where Lincoln Died
the night of 14 April 1865, just five days after Lee's surrender at
Appomattox, actor John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln at
Ford's Theatre during a performance of Our American Cousin.
The unconscious Lincoln was taken across the street to an upstairs
bedroom in the Peterson home, where he died early the next morning. It
was the tragic coda to America's monumental conflict.
Theatre, purchased by the federal government in 1866, is still used for
theatrical productions, but Lincoln's box remains preserved as it was
that fateful day, as is the Peterson house (House where Lincoln Died)
across the street. An excellent Lincoln Museum is in the theatre
basement. During our most recent visit (June 2009) the theatre and
museum were undergoing renovations, so we must visit again to see the
current interpretation. The site is a powerful and poignant one to
Ford's Theatre at 511 10th St., Washington, D.C. (June 2009) |
Museum of the Confederacy & Confederate White House
Museum of the Confederacy at 1201 E. Clay Street, Richmond, Virginia,
is right next door to the Confederate White House. Jefferson Davis and
his family resided there during the Civil War. The Museum is
spectacular, and each time I've visited it has taken at least a
half-day to view all the exhibits which cover the entire war. The
exhibits are superb and include many rare and evocative artifacts. One
must take a tour of the Confederate White House (shown at right in a
photo from the Internet) – it is lavishly decorated in Victorian
furnishings and very interesting. Given his dyspepsia (an old name for
acid reflux), he and wife Varina slept in a specially-made bed with a
45° upward angle at the head. They had six children here (two born
during the war).
Although not a battlefield,
this is the best museum in existence focused on the Civil War, and is
remarkably even-handed in its interpretation. Having the Confederate
White House next door just adds to the luster of this historic site.
New Market State Historical Site & Virginia Museum of the Civil War
is a fairly new battlefield site that did not exist during my early
trips back East. It is a jewel of a site in the Shenandoah Valley,
featuring both the New Market battlefield and the adjacent Virginia
Museum of the Civil War. As a battlefield there is not much beyond the
main field of CSA Gen. John C. Breckinridge's attack on the center of
Union Gen. Franz Sigel's troops on 15 May 1864, during the last
desperate southern push to drive the Yankees from the Shenandoah. Only
~10,000 men were engaged (5K per side), but these included 247 cadets
from Virginia Military Academy (inset left). Their story is heavily
featured at the site and in the Museum.
our visit in June, a "Living History" on farm life in the Shenandoah
was underway at the historic Bushong Farm at the heart of the
battlefield, adding much to the experience. The two-level museum had
many unique artifacts and fine exhibits, not to mention a good film in
the huge theatre. Although New Market was a small battle, and
unimportant in the 'big picture,' its interpretation here is
New Market Battlefield near Bushong Farm; living history at the Farm (inset; June 2009) |
historic photo of Battery 8, Dimmock Line, on Petersburg battlefield
National Battlefield preserves a campaign, not a single battle. When
Gen. U.S. Grant moved south in spring 1984, he was met by Gen. R.E. Lee
in numerous battles discussed separately in this project (e.g., The
Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor). Blocked from taking Richmond
frontally, Grant chose to bypass it and conduct a siege at Petersburg,
cutting Richmond's supply line to the south. The siege took almost a
year -- June 1864 to late March 1865 -- but did end the war. Important
clashes during the siege included the Battle of the Crater (following
the dramatic exploding of an underground mine below rebel lines on 30
July 1864) and Ft. Stedman (24 Mar 1865).
tour route takes the visitor along the siege lines; alas, time has
softened the landscape and, for example, "The Crater" now looks like a
mild depression. During the summer, "Living History" exhibits often
enliven visits; we certainly were entranced by the enactment of a
Confederate cannon team during an August 1997 visit. In addition, the
Civil War Trust has been acquiring additional land, and I suspect
future visits will be improved by new interpretation and new sites.
"Living History" at Ft. Stedman, Petersburg Battlefield, as re-enactors
load and shoot a cannon as a Confederate battery team (Aug 1997)
June 1967, Aug 1997
Wilsons Creek National Battlefield
1861, Confederate efforts to hold Missouri were supported by State Gov.
Jackson and Gens. McCullough and Price. Union Gen. Nathaniel Lyon
decided to attack combined Confederate forces camped at Wilsons Creek
in sw. Missouri. He planned a complicated assault that included an
attack on the Confederate rear by Gen. Franz Sigel. It was a daring
plan but much too complex for Union forces at this early stage of the
war. They were routed by rebel counter-attacks, and Gen. Lyon killed on
Oak Hill ("Bloody Hill") during the 10 Aug 1861 battle. The North would
not gain control of Missouri until the Battle of Pea Ridge in March
The battlefield is wonderfully preserved
as it was in 1861, in the "new style" without many rows of cannon or
monuments (except at the site of Lyon's death). The visitor center's
interpretive large-scale map of the battle strategy is excellent, and
the tour route through this large battlefield site is impressive for
its feel for the landscape.
Wilsons Creek meanders through the rolling foothills of southwestern Missouri within the preserved battlefield (March 1997) |
Grant's campaign to capture Tennessee in early 1862 was the Union's
first huge success. First, a combined river-boat & army operation
captured Ft. Henry on the Tennessee River on 6 Feb 1862 [the site is
today under a reservoir]. Then Grant marched overland and invested Ft.
Donelson on the Cumberland 12-16 Feb 1862. A rebel break-out attempt
was badly bungled, two southern generals slipped away at night (Floyd
& Pillow), leaving it to Grant's old friend Simon Buckner to
surrender the garrison. Grant answered Buckner's request for terms with
his famous "unconditional surrender" message, and captured 8000 rebel
This battlefield and the parapets of
the fort are well-maintained, and there is a spectacular view over the
Cumberland River. The Dover Hotel where the surrender took place is
preserved as a separate site.
View of the Cumberland River from Confederate battery
at Ft. Donelson (Dec 2002)
Chattanooga: Lookout Mt. & Missionary Ridge
Chattanooga National Military Park
the loss at Chickamauga, U.S. Grant was given command of the Union army
encamped at Chattanooga and surrounded by Braxton Bragg's Confederate
troops on the highlands above. On 24 Nov 1863, the federals assaulted
Lookout Mt. in the "Battle above the Clouds" and retook this high
point. The next day, across the city, Union troops stormed the base of
Missionary Ridge and kept right on going to the top, routing the entire
Confederate army in perhaps the most unanticipated breakthrough during
Lookout Mt. is well-preserved today,
with stunning views of Chattanooga. This is such a spectacular visual
treat that it rates highly, although a better designed battlefield
experience would be welcome. Missionary Ridge is not part of the
National Military Park. Unfortunately, it is a city park overrun with
graffiti and winos, and if that weren't enough, developed private
property everywhere precludes any decent views or interpretation. Some
headway is being made by the Civil War Trust to acquire some new sites,
but at the moment it is a work in progress with a gorgeous centerpiece
on Lookout Mt.
A cannon at the top of Lookout Mountain overlooks
the city of Chattanooga (March 1997)
Stones River National Battlefield
the southern loss at Perryville in Oct 1862, Confederate Gen. Braxton
Bragg withdrew south to Murfreesboro. The Union Army of the Cumberland,
under Gen. W.E. Rosecrans (replacing Buell), followed. By the last
month of 1862, the two armies faced each other across Stones River.
Both commanders had the same plan of attack for the morning: feint with
their right and attack with their left. In executing these maneuvers,
the armies were still positioned facing each other at day's end, after
incredible and heroic fighting, but at a 90° angle from where they
had started. Bragg tried another attack on 2 Jan 1863, but it also
failed; Bragg withdrew to Chattanooga. There is debate as to which side
"won" the battle, but strategically it was a great Northern victory.
battlefield road winds through thick cedars and the critical points
are nicely preserved. Unfortunately, the battlefield was created much
too small in size and urban shopping malls and car dealerships confront
the visitor at the edges, detracting from the visit.
Blooming redbuds brighten a forest at the center of
Stones River battlefield (Mar 1997)
Mansfield State Historic Site, and
back-to-battle battles in northwest Louisiana on 8-9 Apr 1864 turned
back Union Gen. Nathaniel Banks’ ill-fated Red River Campaign. No one
was really in charge of strategy, and things went awry when Banks’ Army
left the safety of Naval support about half-way up the Red River, and
marched inland. CSA Gen. Richard Taylor had spent a month retreating
but attacked Banks’ strung-out forces at Mansfield. The charge pushed
the Yankees back for miles but was costly in loss of field officers.
What Taylor didn't know was that A.J. Smith’s battle-hardened western
troops were in reserve near Pleasant Hill. When he renewed the attack
on 9 April, the rebels were crushed by Smith’s “great right wheel,” and
driven back to Mansfield. Smith urged Banks to continue the campaign
but Banks abandoned the fight and retreated to New Orleans, leaving
most of Louisiana in southern hands for the rest of the war.
Southerners view Mansfield as a great victory (and ignore Pleasant
Hill), but it was the Union command failures that doomed this campaign.
The Mansfield battlefield is preserved and
boosts an excellent museum. All sites for the Pleasant Hill battle,
fought the next day some 17 miles south, are in private ownership.
There, one can visit a small cemetery, view roadside memorials, and see
the fields across which the battle was fought. The Mansfield museum
covers both battles very well. Purely by luck we happened to visit on
27 Apr 2014 – weeks after the true sesquicentennial – and learned that
“phase three” of the Battle of Mansfield was to be re-enacted that day!
This occurred on a portion of the actual battlefield not usually open
to the public, and added immensely to our visit to this
See full page on the Re-enactment
Re-enactment on Mansfield battlefield includes the 165th N.Y. Zouaves (upper) and CSA artillery (middle). Pleasant Hill battlefield is in private hands, viewed from a public road (bottom; all Apr 2014) |
RECOMMENDED BOOKS & MEDIA :
11. Battle of the Ironclads at Hampton Roads
- Books: William C. Davis' (1975) Duel between the First Ironclads may be the standard work, but needs maps and more photos. Ivan Musicant's (1995) Divided Waters: the Naval History of the Civil War gives extensive coverage of the creation of the ironclads and this
Hampton Roads fight. There was a lot more information available in the
Mariners' Museum, including extensive information on the recovery and
preservation of the Monitor.
12. Ford's Theatre, Washington, D.C.
- Media: The 2010 movie The Conspirator,
directed by Robert Redford and starring Robin Wright Penn, Tom
Wilkinson, and Kevin Kline, focuses on the trial of Mary Surratt for
conspiracy in Booth's plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. As of this
writing, I have not yet seen the movie and will not prejudge it; it
could be fair and compelling. Unfortunately, promotional clips for the
movie suggest she was innocent [Mary Surratt certainly knew of Booth's
plot of kidnap Lincoln, and was likely complicit in the murder plot.]
Over the years I've read a number of books on the Lincoln
assassination, but most impressive so far is Edward Steers, Jr.'s
(2001) Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln,
which covers the entire Booth plot, the question of guilt or innocence
of both Dr. Samuel Mudd and Mary Surratt (both were in on Booth's
original plot to kidnap Lincoln), and the various attempts to rewrite
history in later years.
13. Museum of the Confederacy & Confederate White House, Richmond
- Books: William C. Davis' (1991) Jefferson Davis: the Man and his Hour: a Biography is an excellent introduction to the Confederate president, and, of
course, emphasizes primarily his years living in the Confederate White
House. Davis' (1996) The Cause Lost: Myths and Realities of the Confederacy make some fair points about nation-building.
14. Battle of New Market
- Books: William C. Davis's (1993) The Battle of New Market is the standard work, although I understand that another book on the topic has just been published (in 2011)
15. The Petersburg Campaign
I don't yet have a book focused on Petersburg; in truth, I am waiting
to see if Gordon Rhea writes it as the next in his series on Grant's
1864 campaign (I don't know whether or not he is working on it). In the
meantime, Chris Calkins' (1997) The Appomattox Campaign: March 29-April 9, 1865 covers the latter battles in 1865
16. Battle of Wilsons Creek
- Books: There are two excellent books: William R. Brooksher's (1995) Bloody Hill: the Civil War Battle of Wilson's Creek
is a lively read and has glossy photos, but could use better maps.
William Garrett Piston & Richard W. Hatcher III's (2000) Wilson's Creek: the Second Battle of the Civil War and the Men Who Fought It has
some decent maps and has a bit different approach to battle history,
emphasizing specific men in the fight through their letters, but that
does not distract from the main campaign history.
addition, on a personal note, I grew up along the shores of Clear Lake,
Lake County, California. When you drive to Lakeport, the county seat,
up the east side, you pass a small marker to "Bloody Island" (now a
hill in farmland, so sometimes calls "Bloody Hill") where a massacre of
local Native Americans occurred on 15 May 1850. Commanding the U.S.
dragoons that massacred men, women, and children: then-Captain
Nathanial Lyon. Lyon would meet his own demise at "Bloody Hill" at
Wilsons Creek; see Christopher Phillips' (1990) Damned Yankee: the Life of General Nathaniel Lyon, pp. 66-69.
17. Battles of Ft. Henry & Ft. Donelson
- Books: Benjamin Franklin Cooling's (1987) Forts Henry and Donelson: The Key to the Confederate Heartland is a first-rate account of this campaign, and has maps and period photos scattered throughout. Bruce Catton's (1960) Grant Moves South
is still a classic history of Grant's entire 1861-1863 western
campaign, while Thomas L. Connelly's (1967, 1971) two-volume history of
the Army of Tennessee [Army of the Heartland, Autumn of Glory] is a fine overview of the entire war in Tennessee & Kentucky from the Confederate perspective.
18. Battle for Chattanooga: Lookout Mountain & Missionary Ridge
- Books: Two excellent books: Wiley Sword's (1994) Mountains Touched with Fire: Chattanooga Besieged, 1863, and Peter Cozzens' (1994) The Shipwreck of their Hopes: the Battles for Chattanooga.
Both are well-written; Sword has more photos, Cozzens has better maps.
And long ago I was impressed with Missionary Ridge from, among others,
Bruce Catton's (1968) Grant Takes Command.
19. Battle of Stones River
There are two excellent battle studies: James Lee McDonough's (1980) Stones
River: Bloody Winter in Tennessee and Peter Cozzens' (1990) No Better Place
to Die: the Battle of Stones River. Each is similar in length (~220
pages) and each has maps, photos, or artwork. Cozzens is foot-noted;
McDonough is not but was an esteemed history professor. I've read both
at different times and been impressed, and cannot say I prefer one or
the other. In addition, the early Thomas L. Connelly's (1967, 1971)
two-volume history of the Army of Tennessee [Army of the Heartland, Autumn of Glory] has an overview of the entire war in Tennessee & Kentucky from the Confederate perspective.
20. Battles of Mansfield / Pleasant Hill
- Books: William Riley Brooksher's (1998) War along the Bayous: the 1864 Red River Campaign in Louisiana
is outstanding, and has some really good maps, photos, and contemporary
sketches but, like many Civil War books, could use even more maps and
photos. There are plenty to work with if the collection at the museum
on the battlefield is any example. I've read this book twice and found
it even-handed and exceptionally insightful. Michael J. Forsyth's
(2001) The Red River Campaign of 1864 and the Loss By the Confederacy of the Civil War
(reissued in paperback, 2010) also provides a lively summary of the
campaign, and then indulges in various "what if" scenarios which, he
contends, could have affected the results of the War. Had Bank's army
been trapped or destroyed, would it have affected the election of
November 1864? I'm not persuaded it would have mattered.
or the choices via links at right: