a web page by Don Roberson
Winchester / Kernstown
Battlefields National History District, Winchester


The site of five Civil War battles, the city of Winchester at the northern (lower) end of the Shenandoah Valley, changed hands over 70 times during the Civil War. Three battles are named Winchester: 1st [25 May 1862 in Jackson's Valley campaign], 2nd [13-15 June 1863, Ewell clears Valley of Yankees prior to Gettysburg] & 3rd [Sheridan pushes Early south]. Two more battles were at adjacent Kernstown: 1st [23 Mar 1862, Jackson defeated in his first Valley fight] & 2nd [July 24 1864, Early beats Crook during raid to D.C.]. In addition, "Stonewall" Jackson and wife lived here early in the War.

A non-profit NGO is actively attempting to save battlefield parcels, although none were open during our short visit in June 2009. There is a Winchester-Frederick County Civil War Orientation Center with good museum that is worth visiting, and they provide a great brochure. T.J. Jackson's home is operated as a museum with docents in period costume. Our visit was fun and we anticipate seeing actual parts of battlefields in the future.

"Stonewall" Jackson house in Winchester,
site of his headquarters Nov 1861-Mar 1862 (June 2009)
June 2009

McDowell Battlefield, Highland Museum & Heritage Center


McDowell was the first battle of "Stonewall" Jackson's 1862 Shenandoah Campaign, designed to draw Federal troops away from McClellan's effort to take Richmond. Jackson marched his brigades 92 miles in 4 days into the Appalachians to confront part of Fremont's army. Gen. Milroy's brigade was at McDowell. When the federals learned of Jackson's approach, Gen. Schenck marched his brigade 34 miles in 23 hours to Milroy's support. Despite being outnumbered, Schenck attacked the rebels on the heights above McDowell, and the battle raged into the night. Northern heroics contributed to rebel casualties (~500) that were double those of the attackers, until Schenck was withdrawn by Fremont. Jackson returned to the Shenandoah. Jackson could claim his strategic purpose -- Fremont was stalled (but Fremont wasn't planning to go anywhere) -- yet the battle was a tactical Union victory. This point is usually overlooked in Civil War literature.

Although there is not much battlefield to visit, a remarkable little museum is here, and the site is stunningly exotic in these rough mountains.

Painting of "Stonewall" Jackson & staff on heights overlooking McDowell (top)
and church at center of McDowell town (bottom; June 2009)
June 2009
Glorieta Pass
Glorieta State Battlefield

New Mexico

Only the keenest Civil War buff is likely to know that a battle took place in New Mexico on 26-28 Mar 1862, but it is called "The Gettysburg of the West." Confederate Gen. Henry Sibley led Texas Rangers into New Mexico to capture Ft. Union. They occupied Sante Fe on 23 March. A force headed for Ft. Union, led by Maj. Pyron, were surprised by Union troops & Colorado volunteers, led by Maj. Chivington, at Glorieta Pass. After two days of skirmishing, the major fight took place at the Pass on 28 Mar, while part of Chivington's force circled behind and burned the rebel's supply wagons. This forced a retreat and the end of southern plans to capture the Southwest. In all only 3000 men were engaged (<2% of forces engaged at Gettysburg) but the results were decisive.

My visit was over 40 years ago when there was simply this stone marker and a sign with a map illustrating the flow of battle. I understand that additional land has since been saved and some of it can be visited. I look forward to doing so again.

Old stone marker in rocky defile at Glorieta Pass (June 1970)
June 1970

Balls Bluff
Ball's Bluff Battlefield Regional Park


The public outcry after the skirmish at Balls Bluff on 21 Oct 1861 far exceeded its importance. Col. Edward D. Baker, former Senator and personal friend of Lincoln (who named his second son after Baker), led a "slight demonstration" against "Shanks" Evans rebel forces here. The brave but tactically inept assault got his command ambushed; Baker and 48 Union soldiers were killed. Baker's death shocked official Washington and led to the formation of the Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War.

Balls Bluff battlefield is now a very lovely regional park. Trails through the woods to the Potomac bluffs are complemented by excellent modern signs explaining the battle and its participants, including the "California Regiment" (actually the 71st Pa. regiment named to honor Baker, a leading San Francisco lawyer before the War). As I am from California, and physically far removed from Civil War sites, this sign was a nice touch.

A sign in the woods at Balls Bluff commemorates the "California Regiment" led by former Oregon Senator, and Lincoln's friend, Edward D. Baker (June 2009)

Olustee State


Far away from the focus of public attention on Richmond or Atlanta in 1864, Northern forces consolidated gains elsewhere in the Confederacy. Efforts to do so in the Florida panhandle, though, suffered a sharp setback at Olustee, Florida, on 20 Feb 1864. The battle was fought in pine woods and palmetto thickets, with CSA troops under Joseph Finnegan scattering Union forces under Gens. Seymour & Gillmore. The 54th Mass. Infantry, though, of Battery Wagner fame (see below), held the field in a rear guard action, permitting an orderly Union withdrawal. Casualties were ~1850 USA and ~950 CSA (of ~5000 troops on each site, so these are heavy casualties).

The battlefield site is very nicely preserved as a State Park, and well interpreted with modern signs. Of note to birders (like me), the piney woods has Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, a federally-listed Endangered species.

Pine woods with palmetto understory are features
of the battlefield at Olustee (Dec 2002)
Dec 2002

Fort Monroe
Fort Monroe National Monument



At the entrance to Hampton Roads, Virginia, and once the most impressive fortress on the Atlantic coast of North America, a long litany of history occurred here. The Fort was held by the Union throughout the Civil War. Several major campaigns were launched from here. Commanding Gen. Benjamin Butler announced his "Fort Monroe Doctrine" on 27 May 1861. Escaping slaves who reached Union lines would be considered contraband and not be returned to bondage. Thousands of slaves fled to Union lines. At War’s end, Jefferson Davis was confined in an unheated cell that is now part of its Casemate Museum. All these topics are covered in the Museum, in the catacombs beneath the walls. You can see Davis's prison cell; the quarters occupied by R.E. Lee (he had a major role in the final construction 1831-1834); and where Pres. Lincoln was a guest in May 1862. I ran out of time before I could visit everything, but the exhibits were much more impressive than anticipated

Fort Monroe was decommissioned in 2011; Pres. Obama then designated portions as a National Monument. Although not a battlefield per se, it is a “must see” Civil War site, as are the Confederate White House, Ford’s Theatre, and Andersonville.

Walls and moat at Fortress Monroe (above); room in which Jefferson Davis was imprisoned post-war (below; June 2013)

Grand Gulf
Grand Gulf State Park


During U.S. Grant's Vicksburg Campaign, Adm. Porter led seven ironclads in an attack on the Confederate batteries at Grand Gulf on 29 Apr 1863. Although the rebels withstood the Union bombardment, Union steamboats and barges ran the gauntlet after dark, permitting Grant to move his army across the river, disembarking them on the Mississippi shore below Grand Gulf. The set-back here was just a minor delay.

In March 1997 Rita & I had the extraordinary good luck to run into a tour here led by legendary historian Edwin C. Bearss. He graciously permitted us to tag along. It is said that a "battlefield tour with Ed Bearss is a transcendental experience," and having spent a couple hours listening to him bring history alive, we certainly agree! Those who have watched Ken Burns' Civil War series know his dramatic narratives. The battlefield is a State Park with a nice museum and ruined fortifications. It was partly flooded during our visit , but we — and Ed Bearss' tour bus — plunged right through the flooded road to get there.

Edwin C. Bearss narrates the Battle of Grand Gulf on the
battlefield there (March 1997)
Mar 1997

Five Forks
Five Forks Battlefield, Petersburg National Battlefield


In 1865, Union Gen. "Little Phil" Sheridan returned from his Shenandoah Valley campaign to join Grant at the siege of Petersburg. Grant sent Sheridan with 13,000 cavalry to the west in a plan to force Lee out of his Petersburg trenches. R.E. Lee countered by dispatching Gen. George Pickett with 19000 men, including Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry, to hold the Southside railroad, Lee's only means of escape. Sheridan attacked on 1 April while Pickett & Fitzhugh Lee were at a shad bake at Hatchers Run. Pickett ran a gauntlet of enemy fire to reach his army at Five Forks. Union Gen. Warren's troops helped win victory, but Sheridan relieved Warren for "lack of aggressiveness" during the fight. [A Court of Inquiry exonerated Warren in 1881, 16 years later]. The battle cut the last rail line supporting Petersburg, causing Lee to abandon that city and the defense of Richmond. Final surrender was at Appomattox Courthouse two weeks later.

During our 1997 visit, the battlefield was not yet well-interpreted. There was one monument, a crumbling historic house, and a driving route. I am uncertain if more can be seen today.

Hatchers Run on Five Forks battlefield,
site of Pickett's (in)famous "shad fry" (Aug 1997)

Battle of Carthage State Historic Site & Museum


The little battle of Carthage, in southwest Missouri, was the the "first serious conflict between U.S. troops and the rebels," preceding the First Battle of Manassas in Virginia by two weeks. Union troops under Col. Franz Sigel were outnumbered 6-to-1 by rebel militia and Missouri State Guard under pro-Southern Governor Claiborne Jackson. The running battle on 5 July 1861 spanned fields, streams, and the center of town, and included Sigel's use of European-style "infantry squares" as a tactic. At day's end, Sigel retreated to safety by marching to Sarcoxie.

Carthage has a Civil War driving route with a good brochure to sites of interest across the sprawling battlefield around the small town. There is an amazing little museum with a big 3D battlefield map with tiny soldiers, and on the museum walls hang striking art, including the painting of gray-clad Union soldiers retreating through Carthage [this was before "blue" and "gray" became standard colors of opposing forces]. It was a lot of fun to visit here.

Carthage city hall today (top) and art showing gray-clad Union troops marching through burning Carthage in 1861 (bottom; Mar 1997)

Sabine Pass
Sabine Pass Battlefield State Historic Site


On 8 Sep 1863, a Union flotilla of 4 gunboats and 18 troop transports carrying 5000 troops, under the command of Captain Frederick, steamed into Sabine Pass with the intention of reducing Ft. Griffin and begin the occupation of Texas. The Confederate gunners, commanded by Lt. Dick Dowling, had been practicing firing artillery at range markers on the oyster shoals in the river. This practice paid off. The Fort’s force of 44 men sank two gunboats and captured 200 prisoners. The Yankee fleet sailed back to New Orleans. The heroics at Fort Griffin—44 men stopping a Union expedition—inspired other southerners.

The historic site now sits at the edge of Sabine Pass. In the 150 years since the War, the river has changed course and the original Ft. Griffin is gone. More recent battlements, some of WWII vintage, dot the location. Yet a cleverly designed all-weather walk-in kiosk describes the battle well. There is a path with explanatory signage – including a “1863 view” of the battle through an all-weather viewer – and a statue to the Confederate gunners. Having rather little to work with, the battlefield park is very nicely done.



41. Battles at Winchester / Kernstown [First Winchester, Second Winchester, Third Winchester; First Kernstown, Second Kernstown]

  • Books: I don't have a definitive history of Jackson's 1862 Shenandoah Campaign; some that I looked at had a whiff of hagiography. The essays in editor Gary W. Gallagher's (2003) The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862 are good, and from a broad perspective deal with First Kernstown and Winchester. In a way, Robert K. Krick's (1996) Conquering the Valley: Jackson at Port Republic does so as well, but its real (and very detailed) focus is on Port Republic and Cross Keys. Jeffrey D. Wert's (1997) From Winchester to Cedar Creek: The Shenandoah Campaign of 1864 covers Third Winchester decently.

42. Battle of McDowell

  • Books: I don't have a definitive history of Jackson's 1862 Shenandoah Campaign; those I have looked it had more than a whiff of hagiography. But the essays in editor Gary W. Gallagher's (2003) The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862 are good, and one by William J. Miller entitled "Such Men as Shields, Banks, and Fremont," (pp. 43-85) has a decent one-page summary of this battle. Miller quite properly writes: "The fight at McDowell had national repercussions, at least for southerners, in providing a much-needed boost to flagging Confederate morale. Though Jackson's men had again been worsted tactically, despite immense advantages in terrain, they could claim a a strategic victory. To the Federals, however, McDowell meant little. ... In fact, Fremont treated the Virginian's foray into the mountains as merely an annoyance, after which he returned to his primary business: solving his supply problems and making a lodgment on the Southwest Virginia & Tennessee Railroad;" [emphasis added]. So much for the "first victory for Jackson" in his Valley campaign.

43. Battle of Glorieta Pass

  • Books: Don Alberts' (1998) The Battle of Glorieta: Union Victory in the West is an excellent book on this most western campaign. It has both perspective on the 'big picture' and has the battle details.

44. Battle of Balls Bluff

  • Books: I don't yet have a book on this small battle, but James A. Morgan III's (2011) A Little Short of Boats: The Fights at Ball's Bluff and Edward's Ferry, October 21-22, 1861 looks intriguing. I have not yet seen it.

45. Battle of Olustee

  • Books: I have not yet read any book on this battle, and know rather little beyond what I learned during my visit. I see that there are at least three choices on-line.

46. Fort Monroe

  • Books: The primary book is John V. Quarstein & Dennis Mroczkowski's (2000) Fort Monroe: The Key to the South. The directors of the Virginia War Museum and Ft. Monroe's Casement Museum, respectively, put together this slim, but very heavily illustrated, paperback that covers the topics one is likely to want to know about the Fort. However, it does so in photo captions, not an actual narrative, which makes the effort a bit choppy. Obviously, William C. Davis' (1991) Jefferson Davis: the Man and his Hour: a Biography will have details on his post-war confinement here.

47. Battle of Grand Gulf

  • Books: I have not read nor seen a book focused on this single battle. James Arnold's (1997) Grant Wins the War: Decision at Vicksburg, a fast-paced history of the entire Vicksburg campaign, includes details of this battle.

48. Battle of Five Forks

  • Books: I have three books in my library that cover this battle, and to tell the truth, I have not actually read any of them entirely. Ed Bearss & Chris Calkins' (1985) Battle of Five Forks, 2d. ed., is a well-researched but dry formal battle history; Chris Calkins' (1997) The Appomattox Campaign: March 29-April 9, 1865 is a more colorful account with sidebars and vignettes (and will be the one I read first); Richard Wheeler's (1989) Witness of Appomattox is a popularized account without footnotes (and presumably without any original research).

49. Battle of Carthage

  • Books: The standard work is David C. Hinze & Karen Farnham's (1997) The Battle of Carthage: Border War in Southwest Missouri. It is an hour-by-hour account of the sprawling little battle, enlivened by excellent maps and photos of the locales as they look today. In addition, Phillip Steele & Steve Cottrell's (1993) Civil War in the Ozarks, a slim paperback, is a lively retelling of the War in southwestern Missouri, and covers the highlights of the Battle of Carthage reasonably well in a few short pages. It also has lots of period photographs.

49. Battle of Sabine Pass

  • Books: The definitive account is Clifton & Shirley Caldwell's (2004) Sabine Pass: The Confederacy's Thermopylae. It has a thorough review of the battle, its setting, and the aftermath. Long after the War, Jefferson Davis called Sabine Pass "the Confederacy Thermopylae." It was was thoroughly educational to be properly reminded of that ancient battle between Greek and Persian empires. In the 19th century, it was familiar to all. Now, for most of us, long forgotten.

Other sites visited

  • Nashville, Tennessee
  • Spring Hill, Tennessee
  • Corinth, Mississippi
  • Tupelo, Mississippi
  • Raymond, Mississippi
  • Picacho Peak, Arizona

Civil War sites not yet visited include the following

  • Westport, Missouri
  • Arkansas Post, Arkansas
  • Cane Hill, Louisiana
  • Fort Jackson & Ft. St. Philip, Louisiana
  • Jackson, Mississippi
  • Fort Pillow, Tennessee
  • Richmond, Kentucky
  • Mill Springs, Kentucky
  • Fort Pulaski, Georgia
  • Kennesaw Mt., Georgia
  • Yellow Tavern, Virginia
  • Cedar Mountain, Virginia
  • Port Republic, Virginia
  • Cross Keys, Virginia
  • Monocracy, Maryland

For most of these listed, I believe that there is at least something to see -- at least a roadside historic marker, if nothing else -- and others have developed battlefields to visit. We shall aim at seeing some of these in coming trips "back East."

or the choices via links at right:



  page created 5-21 June 2011, updated 22 May 2014  
all text & photos © Don Roberson, except as otherwise indicated; all rights reserved