a web page by Don Roberson

First Manassas
(First Bull Run)
Manassas National Battlefield


It is hard enough to preserve and interpret a 150+ year old battlefield for the public; it is almost impossible to interpret two 150-year old battles that were fought on essentially the same spot. It is inevitable that only one battle can be properly highlighted -- and the Park Service has chosen to emphasize First Manassas With ~ 60,000 men involved (32K Confederate, 28K Union), First Manassas on 21 July 1861 involved less than half the ~124,000 soldiers engaged in Second Manassas, yet it is much better known to the general public, and was the first major Civil War battle in the East. Many civilians came to watch the fight. "Stonewall" Jackson got his moniker.

First Manassas swirled around Henry Hill, and here the battle is very well-interpreted with a well-preserved Henry House, a statue of Thomas J. Jackson, and good walking trails. But alas, the rest of the battlefield is broken up into small pieces, as modern and very busy roads bisect the site. Heavy traffic often interferes with battlefield visits.

T.J. "Stonewall" Jackson statue looks towards the Henry House on Henry Hill, First Manassas (June 2009)
June 1967,
1985, June

National Military Park


Union Gen. Ambrose Burnside launched his ill-fated attack on the CSA position on Maryes Heights in Dec 1862. He was delayed for 10 days when pontoon boats failed to arrive; during that time Confederate forces doubled to 80,000. At last, on 11 Dec, 106,000 federals crossed the Rappahannock to storm the town and the heights. Lee's troops were well-positioned behind a stone wall and it was a slaughter on 13 Dec. Yankees almost broke through in Jackson's area, but that not supported and fizzled. 12,700 Union were battlefield casualties (~2.5 times rebel losses).

The battlefield is incorporated within the old part of the town of Fredericksburg. The town is in moderately historic condition -- as is historic Chatham Mansion across the river -- and merges reasonably well into the battlefield (unlike the garish modern malls at Franklin). New for me in 2009 was a statute honoring a South Carolina soldier Richard Kirkland who bravely brought water to wounded Union soldiers on the field during the terrible night of 13 Dec.

Local cat sits atop remnant of the stone wall on Maryes Heights, the Confederate position; inset shows historic photo of the site (June 2009)
June 1967, June 2009

Seven Days Battle
Richmond National Battlefield


sign for Malvern Hill battlefield, the final day of the Seven Days

The Seven Days Battle was the culmination of Gen. George McClellan's effort to capture Richmond during his Peninsular Campaign in June 1862. Robert E. Lee took over from the injured "Joe" Johnston after Fair Oaks (Seven Pines), and attacked McClellan's army from 25 June-1 July, pushing the Yankees back from Richmond and to eventual withdrawal.

Today the sites are interpreted within Richmond National Battlefield, with varying degrees of success. depending on land preservation. "Living History" helps enliven visits in summer:

  • Fair Oak: a cemetery is set among the suburbs [not actually part of the "Seven Days"]
  • Mechanicsville: little to see beyond roadside signs
  • Beaver Dam Creek: nice small battlefield
  • Gaines Mill: large important battle, good-sized battlefield
  • Fraser's Farm, Savage Station & White Oak Swamp: not much beyond road signs
  • Malvern Hill: the site of main Confederate charge is preserved nicely

This is rapidly changing with the Civil War Trust's acquisition of a lot of battlefield land here. I hope much of it will be open and interpreted by the next time I get back to Richmond.

An old-style sign marks a site on the Mechanicsville battlefield,
the first of the Seven Days' Battle (Aug 1997)
June 1967, Aug 1997

National Military Park


Chancellorsville is Gen. Robert E. Lee's most famous victory. After the devastating Union defeat at Fredericksburg, Gen. "Fighting Joe" Hooker took charge of the Union Army's ~100,000 men. He devised a plan to envelop Lee's army. But on 2 May 1863, Lee sent "Stonewall" Jackson's corps on a 16-mile daylight march through the Wilderness to strike Hooker's exposed flank, splitting his smaller Army to do so. The flank attack was a great success, but Jackson was accidentally shot by his own men in the confusion [Jackson died on 10 May at Guinea Station; see below]. Lee wrapped up his "masterpiece" by 4 May, and Hooker withdrew. This led to Lee's 2d invasion of the North.

The Chancellorsville battlefield is wedged between two great battlefields in Grant's 1864 campaign, and is thus hard to interpret for visitors. It is also mostly dense woods (as it was 1863) but difficult to appreciate, compared to more open locales. Yet Civil War Trust acquisition of land has already significantly aided interpretation of Jackson's flank attack, and a visit now is much better than it used to be.

A gravel road follows a portion of "Stonewall" Jackson's flank march on 2 May 1863 (Aug 1997)
June 1967, Aug 1997, May 2013

Guinea Station
Stonewall Jackson Shrine, Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park


The office building on Thomas C. Chandler's 740-acre plantation "Fairfield" is the "house where Stonewall Jackson died," and is today termed the "Stonewall Jackson shrine." It is exceptionally well-maintained and interpreted, and one can see his room and bed where he died of wounds suffered at the Battle of Chancellorsville. During that 2 May 1863 battle, he was mistakenly shot at dusk by his own troops. The ambulance brought him here, near a rail station, and his wife Mary Anna and baby daughter arrived 7 May. Jackson died on 10 May 1863.

This small building is the only remaining structure at the Chandler plantation. The mansion and other buildings burned sometime after the Civil War. This building has been a Jackson "shrine" since the early 1900s. It was renovated in the 1920s and the 1960s, but still retains about 45% original material. The docents during my visits tended to consider Jackson a saint, but one can smile and just enjoy the site.

House where T.J. "Stonewall" Jackson died, on the "Fairfield"
plantation, Guinea Station (June 2009)
June 1967,
June 2009

The Wilderness
Wilderness National Military Park


The Battle of the Wilderness over 5-6 May 1864 is one of the great battles of the War, and the first between Gen. U.S. Grant and Gen. R.E. Lee. The tactics of the battle are interesting, and there were compelling stories, including the accidental wounding of CSA Gen. Longstreet by his own men, and the "Lee to the Rear" events when he ventured too close to the front. Over 163,000 men were engaged here (102K federal, 61K rebel) and casualties were heavy (17% federal, 13% rebel). The North lost six generals killed, wounded, or captured; the South lost seven.

The problem from a visitor's perspective is that the Wilderness is, er, dense woods. One cannot view topography from inside the forest. The paved roads with cars zipping through the woods don't help the experience. I admit, however, that things have improved recently. During a 2013 visit there were many more sites to see, trails to walk, and much better interpretive signs. New signs included period photos, or useful maps, or evocative art. A current visit is much more enjoyable than it was in my youth.

Canon at edge of Saunder's Field, The Wilderness (May 2013)

June 1967, Aug 1997, May 2013

Spotsylvania Court House
Spotsylvania Court House National Military Park


Just south of the Rapidan River in Virginia are three major battlefield sites, each merging into the next. To the north is the Wilderness (5-6 May 1864) and a few miles south is Spotsylvania Court House (9-18 May 1864), which are part of U.S. Grant's conclusive campaign that extends to April 1865. In between the two battlefields is Chancellorsville, fought the preceding year (4 May 1863). Because these locales are intertwined, it is difficult to interpret and a bit difficult to visit these battlefields.

Spotsylvania has more fields and less woods than the Wilderness, so there are markers and monuments to view, especially along a salient following a crooked country lane, known as the "Bloody Angle." Union Gen. John Sedgwick was killed by a sniper at Spotsylvania, and that spot is also commemorated.

Contemporary painting of fighting at the "Bloody Angle" (top; from a battlefield sign); view of the field near the Bloody Angle with 15th New Jersey monument (bottom; Aug 1997)
June 1967,

Cedar Creek
Cedar Creek & Belle Grove National Historical Park


While Grant and Lee were stalemated in summer 1864, CSA Gen Jubal Early's army briefly threatened Washington but returned to the Shenandoah. US Gen. Phil Sheridan was sent with a new army to retake that Valley for good. On 19 Oct, while Sheridan was away at Winchester, Early attacked across Cedar Creek and routed the Union left. After a dramatic ride on his horse Rienzi (renamed Winchester thereafter), Sheridan rallied the Union reserves and retook the entire field. See a fine animated battle map by the Civil War Trust. This Union victory, combined with the fall of Atlanta, assured Lincoln's second term election.

Cedar Creek and Belle Grove NHP was created in 2001; it is a park-in-development. 3,700 acres are authorized but over half are still privately owned. Our limited time in 2009 precluded a proper visit, but we anticipate improved access and interpretation in future years. [When Sheridan's horse Winchester died, it was taxidermied, and can be seen today at the Smithsonian Museum! Nice horse.].

Belle Grove mansion on Cedar Creek battlefield (June 2009)

Brandy Station
CWPT Brandy Station Battlefield, and Graffiti House


At the start of his Gettysburg campaign, CSA Gen. Lee ordered Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry to stage a diversionary raid on June 9, 1863. That day Union Gen. Alfred Pleasonton’s cavalry crossed the Rappahannock and unexpectedly hit Stuart’s massed horsemen. Northern forces had the upper hand until Stuart’s men arrived on Fleetwood Hill in time to hold that high ground. At one point Union forces might have captured Lee himself — viewing the fight from a nearby home —if they had known he was there. Pleasanton re-crossed the river at 5 p.m., leaving the battle as a “draw,” but this largest cavalry engagement of the War greatly improving the morale of Union cavalry.

This was not a public site until recently. The Civil War Trust has purchased over 1850 acres since 2011. During my visit in May 2013 they had not yet acquired the prime property atop Fleetwood Hill – but now they have. Someday a visitor will be able to explore extensively through walking trails and excellent signage. What makes a visit here unique is the 1854 two-story “Graffiti House” in the small town of Brandy Station. Used as a hospital by both sides, the walls of the second floor contain drawings and signatures of Civil War soldiers that remain vivid today. Be sure to see it.

Fleetwood Hill (where house stands in the distance), on the Brandy Station battlefield, was the key to this cavalry battle (May 2013)

Ox Hill

Ox Hill
Battlefield, Fairfax County Park


The fight at Ox Hill (or Chantilly to the North) is almost entirely overlooked in Civil War history. Yet here, in a pouring rainstorm on Sep. 1, 1862, Union Generals Isaac Stevens and Philip Kearny attacked 'Stonewall' Jackson's flank march, intended to cut off the Union retreat from the Second Battle of Manassas, and thwarted that aim. It was an incredible fight over 500 acres of farmland, leaving 800 Confederate and 1300 Union casualties. Both Gen. Stevens and Gen. Kearney were killed.

A hundred years later, Fairfax County was rapidly being developed. In 1987, a non-profit group managed to save five acres at the heart of the battlefield -- just 1% of the original battle site. It opened as a county park in Aug 2008. Yet, a remarkable site has been created with great maps and signage on the walking tour route and a reconstructed snake rail fence. I rate it very highly for working with what is available. There is also a fabulous animated battle map on the Civil War Trust site.

Os Hill battle site, with monuments marking the deaths of Gen. Kearney and Gen. Stevens at the far end of the field (June 2009)
June 2009


21. Battle of First Manassas (First Bull Run)

  • Media: The 2003 movie Gods & Generals, starring Stephen Lang (as Jackson), Robert Duvall (as Lee), and Jeff Daniels (as Chamberlain) is uneven and at some points exasperating, but Lang's portrayal of "Stonewall" Jackson was Oscar-worthy, and the re-creation of First Manassas pretty darn good. A longer review of this movie is under Chancellorsville, below.
  • Books: William C. Davis' (1977) Battle at Bull Run is a standard, and has some period photos, but now seems somewhat dated.

22. Battle of Fredericksburg

  • Media: The 2003 movie Gods & Generals, starring Stephen Lang (as Jackson), Robert Duvall (as Lee), and Jeff Daniels (as Chamberlain) includes the Battle of Fredericksburg, where it focuses on Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. The acting was fine but it is unnerving to see Chamberlain, supposedly in Dec 1862, looking ten years older then he did at Gettysburg in July 1863 (as shown in the film Gettysburg; Gods & Generals is a prequel but was filmed ten years later!). I also preferred Martin Sheen's portrayal of Robert E. Lee (in Gettysburg) over that of Robert Duvall as Lee (in Gods & Generals). Finally, although the budget for Gods & Generals was $65 million, the CG (=computer generated) version of the attacks on Maryes Heights, shown in the background of the Chamberlain sequences, are not up to modern standards.
  • In addition, there is an outstanding animated battle map on the Civil War Trust web site.
  • Books: I don't actually have a book focused on the Battle of Fredericksburg. There are some old standards on the topic, but these did not meet my personal standards for Civil War library ownership. However, the essays in editor Gary W. Gallagher's (1995) The Fredericksburg Campaign: Decision on the Rappahannock are excellent.

23. The Peninsular Campaign: the Seven Days Battle

  • Books: Stephen Sears' (1992) To the Gates of Richmond: the Peninsula Campaign was just fine, with maps and plenty of period photos. I also very much enjoyed the variety of historian essays in editor Gary W. Gallagher's (2000) The Richmond Campaign of 1862: The Peninsula and the Seven Days.

24. Battle of Chancellorsville

  • Media: The 3.5 hour 2003 movie Gods & Generals, directed by Ronald F. Maxwell (who had previously written and directed Gettysburg), and starring Stephen Lang (as Jackson), Robert Duvall (as Lee), and Jeff Daniels (as Chamberlain) is a prequel to the 1993 film Gettysburg. Lang played Pickett in Gettysburg, so his portrayal of "Stonewall" Jackson is fresh, and I thought worthy of an Oscar. The film concludes with the battle of Chancellorsville; Jackson's shooting, and his death at Guinea Station. These parts of the movie are reasonably accurate and well-done. Overall, though, this prequel suffered from continuity lapses (Jeff Daniels looks 10 years older -- and he was an actor -- but the movie was supposed to be a year earlier) and a misguided focus on Jackson minutiae (missing the forest for the trees in, say, its portrayal of African Americans during the Civil War -- yes, Jackson had a black slave who stayed with him despite opportunities to escape, but the movie misses the reality that the heavy majority of slaves not only favored the Union, but sought to fight for it). A director's cut was finally released in 2011 (but on BluRay, and I haven't yet seen it); Ted Turner provided the entire $65 million budget.
  • Books: Stephen Sears' (1996) Chancellorsville is the now-standard modern history, with plenty of photos well-printed, but could use more maps. As usual, editor Gary M. Gallagher's collection of essays by disparate historians in Chancellorsville: the Battle and its Aftermath (1996) is excellent.

25. Guinea Station: the Stonewall Jackson shrine

  • Media: The 2003 movie Gods & Generals, starring Stephen Lang (as Jackson)) and Robert Duvall (as Lee), includes Jackson's death at Guinea Station. That part of the movie is excellent. See a longer review above, under Chancellorsville, above.
  • Books: Jackson is an interesting and eccentric character (maybe even a nut-case), but he has been so long deified by the South that it is difficult to find literature that is unbiased. [I sold my 2 vol. set of Col. Henderson's (1899) Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War, as its apparent goal was to create a sainthood for Jackson.] James Robertson's (1997) Stonewall Jackson: the Man, the Solider, the Legend is considered the standard current biography, and it is surely the best researched (900+ pages, including footnotes). Alas, there is a whiff of hagiography, not withstanding the attempt to avoid it. Personally, I found Byron Farwell's (1992) Stonewall: a Biography of General Thomas J. Jackson to be more even-handed in attitude, but it is not foot-noted nor is it based on original research.

26. Battle of the Wilderness

  • Books: Gordon C. Rhea's (1994) The Battles for the Wilderness, May 75-6, 1864, is a very detailed history of this battle, with some maps, but could use more and would be improved by photos. There are many interesting elements to this battle, and a good numbers are covered by excellent essays in editor Gary W. Gallagher's (1997) The Wilderness Campaign.

27. Battle of Spotsylvania Court House

  • Books: Gordon C. Rhea's (1997) The Battles for Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern, May 7-12, 1864, is the now-standard military history for this battle, with good maps throughout. An exceptional set of essays are in editor Gary W. Gallagher's (1998) The Spotsylvania Campaign. I was particularly impressed by the essays covering both sides of the 'Bloody Angle' slaughter (Robert K. Krick on the Confederate experience; Peter S. Carmichael on the 15th New Jersey attack), and the excellent retrospective "Grant's Second Civil War: the Battle for Historical Memory" by William A. Blair.

28. Battle of Cedar Creek

  • Media: There is an excellent animated battle map on the Civil War Trust web site.
  • Books: Jeffrey D. Wert's (1997) From Winchester to Cedar Creek: The Shenandoah Campaign of 1864 is okay and covers this battle, but is a bit plodding, and I wanted more maps and photos. The essays in editor Gary Gallagher's (2006) The Valley Campaign of 1864 add much to the understanding of this campaign.

29. Battle of Brandy Station

  • Books: There are detailed published studies of this battle, but reviews are mixed. Instead, I thoroughly enjoyed Dan Beattie's (2008) Brandy Station 1863: First step towards Gettysburg. It is a slim 95-page paperback but is loaded with period photos and art, plus evocative "battle art" from recent artists, and current battlefield photos, and good large-scale color maps (by Adam Hook). It makes following what occurred on this sprawling battlefield much easier to understand.

30. Battle of Ox Hill (Chantilly)

  • There is also a fabulous animated battle map on the Civil War Trust site; the site also has photos and much information on battlefield preservation.
  • Books: David A. Wilker's (2002) Tempest at Ox Hill: The Battle of Chantilly is an excellent history, but could use better maps and photos.


or see the choices via links at right:



  page created 18-21 June 2011, updated 22 May 2014  
all text & photos © Don Roberson, except as otherwise indicated; all rights reserved