Gettysburg’s Brinkerhoff’s Ridge stone wall destroyed

This really chaps my saddle.

I spent the weekend in Gettysburg, not just for Remembrance Day but to do some ground research for a few final touches to the new book by myself and Steve Stanley, The Complete Gettysburg Guide.  Sunday morning, I took Steve out the Hanover Road to do a quick interpretation of the July 2, 1863 fight for Brinkerhoff’s Ridge so that he could get some photos.  One of the best places to stop there is along Hoffman Road, right in the middle of the battlefield, which affords a vistor a view of most of the terrain.

Late on the afternoon of July 2, the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the cavalry division of Brig. Gen. David Gregg came onto the right flank of the Federal Army and engaged the Stonewall Brigade of Confederate infantry there along the Hanover Road.  The fight, which lasted until dark, pulled the vaunted and experienced Stonewall Brigade out of the Confederate assault on Culp’s Hill, perhaps making a difference in the results.  The vortex of the fighting was an old stone wall that lined Hoffman Road (an unnamed road in 1863, more of a glorified farm lane that led to the many properties in that area north of the Hanover Road).  Gregg’s men took possession of that stone wall, and there were several Confederate assaults on it.  It was a natural breastwork that the Federal troopers took advantage of and were able to hold it until both sides withdrew.

There were, however, several consequences of that fight that had great impact on events of the final day, July 3.

Earlier in the fighting, newly-arrived Confederate commander Jeb Stuart watched much of the skirmishing.  Stuart sized up Gregg’s force, and saw how the area of Cress’ Ridge and the all-important intersection of the Hanover and Low Dutch Roads lent itself to cavalry fighting.  Undoubtedly, Stuart used what he saw to make his dispositions and calculations about a possible attack on Gregg the following day.  Gregg, in turn, realized the vulnerability of the road intersection – one that led right into the right rear flank of the Federal Army – and that it couldn’t be abandoned at any cost.

Many of us know the events of the following day.  Just a short distance away, Jeb Stuart battled with Gregg at the same time Pickett’s Charge began to the west.  Stuart’s movement back to the area had absolutely nothing to do with Pickett’s Charge (contrary to popular myth about Stuart’s attack being somehow coordinated with the infantry assault), but Stuart felt if he could successfully assail Gregg’s position there, then he could exploit any breakthrough and wreak havoc on the Federal lines of supply and retreat.

That old stone wall along Hoffman Road, then, has been all-important to the interpretation of the events of the fighting there on July 2, as well as the grand cavalry action at East Cavalry Field on July 3.

Well, yesterday I drove Steve there and turned onto Hoffman Road, intending to show him the stone wall (which had probably stood in that position for nearly or more than 200 years) and interpret the fighting so he could take pictures for the book.  As soon as I turned onto the road I got a shock I didn’t expect.

The stone wall, which I, Eric Wittenberg, and others who have studied this fighting, and which we use to demonstrate the actions, was completely gone.  And I mean gone.  Not a single pebble remained.  Nothing.

The property owner had cleaned up the field east of Hoffman Road (now admittedly affording a better view of the eastern part of the battlefield in that area) but he or she had also completely removed every single stone of the stone wall.  As I said, it had likely stood along this road for around 200 years.  There are Union trooper accounts of the Federals actually knocking rocks out of the waist-high stone wall in order to shoot through it.

That damn wall only stood about 2 feet high in recent years, and only took up about 3 feet of space along the road for a distance of maybe a couple hundred yards – a far cry from what it was 150 years ago, of course – but a tangible representation of what were there and fought over by both sides nonetheless.  The Stonewall Brigade made several valiant attempts to capture that wall, and Gregg’s troopers put up a very stubborn stand to protect it – many paying for it with their lives and blood.

Now it’s gone.  Lord knows where the rocks even are.  Of the thousands of stone walls in the area, some original and many not, this one had to be removed.  I don’t know if the landowner even realized the significance of the wall.  Perhaps not – it’s amazing how many folks you talk to around the battlefield who don’t have a clue that anything happened anywhere near them.  I can’t count the times I’ve spoken to landowners who had no idea that something of importance happened on their ground – whether it be an encampment, movement, skirmish, or even full-scale battle.  When they don’t know, they certainly have no reason to care.

Well, like the plowing under, development, and destruction of so much historic property on and near the battlefield, this is yet one more example.  And when I take folks on Hoffman Road to interpret the fighting for them, now I’ll be saying “you have to imagine the stone wall that used to be here.”  They can no longer see it, touch it, imagine what the rocks would say if they could speak.  Most of those rocks probably fill in some hole somewhere, never to be appreciated as a mute witness to a historic event ever again.

Thank you, Progress.  That 3 feet of ground the wall took up was, I guess, either too precious to waste (for what, I don’t have a goddamn clue) – or the owner was simply ignorant of what it meant.  Either way, we’ve all lost.


Published in: on November 24, 2008 at 11:29 am  Comments (21)  

Craig Swain’s report on the Gettysburg Retreat driving tours

Buddy Craig Swain has put up a post on his blog, giving his impressions and views about part of the driving tours featured in the back of our book, One Continuous FightCraig actually drove part of each tour backwards – what he calls a “good litmus test” of a driving tour – and he’s probably right!

Craig is known as the historical “marker hunter” ’round these parts, so we know he appreciates historic ground.  He found the GPS coordinates that we include in the tours (co-author Mike Nugent’s original idea) to be very beneficial. 

Click here for the link to Craig’s post, and we heartily thank him for his candid comments about our tours and are glad he found them enjoyable and educational.

Published in: on August 25, 2008 at 11:12 am  Comments (1)  

Monterey Pass Battlefield Association Seminar

Historian John Miller has put up a little teaser on his Monterey Pass Battlefield website about the seminar coming up on November 8.  Click on the link to read more.  John has asked me and my co-authors on the Gettysburg retreat book, Eric Wittenberg and Mike Nugent, to be the keynote speakers at the event.

The fight at the Monterey Pass is one of my favorites of the Gettysburg Campaign to study.  Taking place during a pitch-black rainstorm late on the night of July 4, Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick’s 3rd Federal Cavalry Division troopers were pitted against a rear guard protecting the escaping wagon trains of Ewell’s column.  We have an entire chapter devoted to the fight in our book One Continuous Fight, containing the most updated and detailed scholarship on the scrap.  I love exploring the area – the pass (as well as nearby Fairfield Pass) is some of the most beautiful country in that part of the Commonwealth, and since the terrain and roads are virtually unchanged save for the asphalt, interpretation of the fighting is easy to understand and appreciate.

John and his folks are doing yeoman’s work as they labor to save the area and bring publicity to the area’s history in the Civil War, and they deserve hearty kudos.  Historians such as Ted Alexander, Kent Masterson Brown and John Miller himself will be in attendance.

Watch John’s website for updates, and please plan to attend if you can.  If you want to get “off the beaten path” and learn about some of the “other” events surrounding Gettysburg, you’ll appreciate this event.

Published in: on July 29, 2008 at 1:16 pm  Comments (1)  

Great time at the Chambersburg Seminar

From this past Wednesday through Sunday, I participated in Ted Alexander’s Chambersburg Civil War Seminar.  It was a great time not only getting to stomp lots of battlefield ground, but meeting old friends and making new ones.  I finally got to meet Jeffry Wert – Eric and myself had a great panel discussion with Jeff to close the event on Sunday morning.  Jeff is a terrific guy and we got to talk a great deal when Eric and I took him to dinner at Dave and Jane’s Crab House near the Mason Dixon line south of Fairfield on Saturday night.  There we met Gettysburg locals Dave Moore and his wife Carol, and the Master of Adams County – Dean Shultz – and his wife Judy also met us for dinner.  Yes, I shocked everyone again with my eating prowess and we left the table in quite a mess!  Of course, this great seafood restaurant is used to that.

I made fast friends with the folks who work Ted’s seminar and do so much work behind the scenes to make it a terrific and successful event year after year.  It was wonderful meeting folks such as Ethan Rafuse, John Schildt, and Steve French.  Steve and I have corresponded over the years but it’s always nice when you get to shake the hand of a friend.

On Thursday, Eric and I gave about 20 folks a full-day tour of Jeb Stuart’s ride to Gettysburg based on our first book, and at the end we threw in a tour of Fairfield for them as well.  On Friday Eric and I took the day to make a run to DC, where we got to see Forts Stevens and DeRussy.  DeRussy sits in the heavy woods in Rock Creek State Park, and I was amazed that one is able to walk all over the parapets.  We visited the beautifully restored Lincoln Cottage at the Soldier’s Home, and visit that I recommend to all. 

On Saturday, after spending the morning in Gettysburg, Eric (with a little assist from me) gave a tour of South Cavalry Field – Merritt’s and Farnsworth’s actions – to a group of about 8 folks.  At the end, we threw in another tour of Fairfield for this group, and I spent a little time at the end wrapping up all the events of the Reserve Brigade for the folks.

Saturday morning, Eric and I joined Jeff Wert for a panel discussion of Stuart’s role in the Gettysburg Campaign, and then we had lunch and parted ways.  It was a wonderful four days and I learned much more than I taught – which is always a winner for me.  Once again, I bought way too many books, and I’m hoping that Jim McLean of Butternut&Blue names that new wing on his house after me…

Ted Alexander is planning several cavalry-related topics for next year, so I’m very much looking forward to participating in future events.  Everyone involved deserves a hearty congrats for all their hard work in making the event a rousing success, and for raising some $5000 for battlefield preservation.  If you haven’t attended this event, please consider doing so.

Published in: on July 28, 2008 at 4:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Galloping to Chambersburg

Tomorrow afternoon (Wednesday) I’ll be heading off to Chambersburg to participate in Ted Alexander’s Mother of All Gettysburg Seminars.  There will be a nice reception Wednesday evening at Seminar headquarters (the Chambersburg Quality Inn).  On Thursday, Eric Wittenberg and I will be leading an all-day bus tour of Jeb Stuart’s ride from Westminster MD to Gettysburg.  Eric and I have a lot of fun leading this particular tour, and we enjoy showing folks sights that people rarely get to see (or understand).  One of them is a recent addition, and something that didn’t make it into the tour in our book – the precise location of the initial skirmish that started the Hanover fight of June 30, 1863.  Working with local historians and pouring over old maps and road traces last month, I was able to finally re-discover the route taken by Capt. Thaddeus Freeland of the 18th PA Cavalry’s rear guard detail, and where the clash happened between his troopers and an advance guard of Col. John Chambliss’ 13th VA Cavalry.  We’ll be showing the folks that location.

On Friday, Eric and I are going to make a run to the DC area to check out Ft. Stevens and several other sites.  Saturday I have a tour or two I wish to attend, and in the afternoon Eric will be leading a walk of Farnsworth’s Charge on South Cavalry Field.  Then on Sunday morning, Eric and I and others are participating in a panel discussion entitled “Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Stuart’s Ride Revisited.”  I’m looking forward to that.

Many of the country’s top Gettysburg/Civil War historians are participating, and it’s great company to be in – Ed Bearss of course, Ted Alexander, Joe Bilby, Eric Campbell, Steve French, Gary Kross, Dave Martin, Ethan Rafuse, Richard Sauers, Dean Shultz, Wayne Wachsmuth, and Jeff Wert just to name a few.

I look forward to seeing many friends at the conference, and making many new ones.  I’ll give a full report next week when I return.

Published in: on July 22, 2008 at 11:11 am  Comments (1)  

The Monterey Pass Battlefield Association

I’d like to commend a terrific website to my readers – The Monterey Pass Battlefield Association, run by historian John Miller.  John also has the terrific website.  The Battle of Monterey Pass receives an entire chapter-length treatment in our new book One Continuous Fight on the retreat from Gettysburg.  Taking place in a dark, pounding rainstorm the night of July 4, 1863 between the troopers of Federal Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick and retreating Confederate forces, the battle is one of the little-known but very interesting fights during the ten days of the retreat.  The battlefield is also unprotected because it is entirely in various private hands.

John’s website is terrific and I encourage you to take a look at it.  At the end of September this year, there will be a program on the battle at the Pass, and the three of us – myself, Eric Wittenberg, and Mike Nugent – have been invited to participate.  I will post more here as the details are worked out.

Published in: on May 16, 2008 at 3:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Inspiration at Gettysburg

I try to make the trip to Gettysburg for each Remembrance Day anniversary weekend each year.  The past five such events in November have been for me (and I’m sure thousands of others) very inspiring.  Five years ago, the Friends of the National Parks at Gettysburg in conjunction with several other groups have sponsored a Luminaria in the National Cemetery.  It’s similar to the one held at Antietam.  At Gettysburg, small white bags holding candles are placed at each Civil War grave throughout the cemetery, as well as along the walking paths and the Soldier’s National Monument.  This past Saturday night had a pitch-black sky, and the candles were something to behold.  Besides giving one a tangible reminder of how many hero dead are in the cemetery, the sight is quite inspiring – it always gives me a feeling that, for just those few brief hours, each of the Gettysburg dead have life in those flames.  Each of them has identity, especially the hundreds that have only the word “Unknown” upon their final resting place.

I have to admit that each Luminaria has inspired my research and writing, giving my creative batteries a boost each year.  I do much of my writing over the winter months, so the timing is fortuitous in that respect.  Seeing those flames and each of those lives snuffed out by the hand of war inspires my efforts to memorialize them in my own small way by writing about their deeds.  For me, that’s what it’s all about – my writing has never been about my own recognition or ego… it has always been about putting down on paper what they did.  In the vast majority of cases, those soldiers and civilians did what I could never do.  They were much braver, clever, and experienced than most of us could hope to be, just like the thousands of heroes today who wear the uniform.

I’ve always felt the same about my reenacting and living history portrayal – I believe that reenactors and historians, if they do it right, are some of the most unselfish folks around.  We portray souls of the past, and try to bring them to life for others.  We all know living historians who seem to pretend to be the person they’re portraying – almost as if they are them.  Sometimes they seems to have a problem separating themselves from their persona.  When they have this attitude, in my opinion, they’ve taken it too far and simply don’t have a clue how to properly memorialize the person they’re portraying.  Those who portray individuals of history with respect, humility, and a proper sense of place have it right.  In other words, if you bring respect to the memory of that individual, regardless of who they were – Meade, Forrest, Sickles, Hancock, Lee, you name it – then you’re on the right track.

Perhaps, I’ve thought for some time now, the flickering flame of a candle brings as much or more light and respect to all of those heroes than we could ever hope to, whether it’s by donning a costume or putting pen to paper.

If you haven’t yet been able to attend a luminaria at a battlefield or cemetery, consider doing so.  Even on a chilly night, the warmth from those little flames will warm your heart and your own soul.  And spend it with best friends like I did… there’s nothing more inspiring in the world.

Published in: on November 20, 2007 at 10:50 am  Comments (3)  

“Go ahead, Honey – stay another day”

After speaking at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and signing books, I had planned to come home on Saturday afternoon.  However, when I called my wife to let her know I was ready to leave, she gave me permission to stay out and play a while.  More on that in a moment…

I left home on Friday morning and headed the truck for Carlisle, PA, and arrived at the Army History Center around 1pm.  The folks there, always very helpful, pulled the couple dozen files of the Robert Blake Collection for me, as well as several other books we’d been looking for for the Gettysburg Retreat manuscript.  Two of the four books proved helpful, and I got through about half the Brake material when the center began to close at 4:30.  I copied several diaries and letters in Brake that I’ve recently worked into the manuscript.

That evening I drove to Gettysburg for dinner and a couple trips around the battlefield, and then met my long-suffering hosts Dave and Carol Moore – who allow me to stay at their Herr’s Ridge home when I visit.  It was terrific to take a drive around the battlefield before dark… I’ve hardly been on the field at all the last three trips or so.  It seems I’m always too busy!

I needed to be at the Museum in Harrisburg by 10:30 Saturday morning, so after breakfast I was on my way by 9:30.  The last time I was at the Museum was shortly after it opened on a visit with Eric.  Luckily, the signage in the city pointed me right to the Museum.  I got there a bit early, so I walked around the surrounding park a bit and enjoyed the view to the river.

I walked into the gift shop and was warmly greeted by the staff.  One of the security officers showed me the lecture room for my talk, and then they allowed to to take a trip through the displays – teasing me that I had JUST missed the Custer collection!  Apparently it had been on display the previous week, and they were just loading the collection into trucks.  My pleadings to be allowed to go through the trucks went unheeded 🙂

At the end of my tour, I was set up for the book signing in the main foyer, where I signed about 10 books for folks.  At 1pm, I began my talk on the Stuart’s Ride book for a group of about 40 people.  It went very well, and there were lots of great questions at the end.  I signed a few more books for attendees and had a very enjoyable day. 

I hadn’t yet had lunch, so I decided to drive to the Marketplace to find something to eat.  If you’re not familiar with this area, it’s not too far from the Capitol.  The Marketplace is a very long building which houses several dozen vendors, all in an open atmosphere.  You name it, you can find it there – fried chicken, ribs, steaks, all kinds of sandwiches, fruit, meats, fish, etc.  I got a fried chicken dinner and took it outside to enjoy the beautiful afternoon and a spectacular view of the Capitol grounds and the river.  After lunch, I drove around Harrisburg for an hour or so, checking out the sites on a visitor’s map I had picked up at the Museum.  I saw the Governor’s house (nice place but not as spectacular a home or location as I had envisioned) and a few historical sites.  I also drove through the Harrisburg Cemetery and saw the final resting place of some local notables.

When I got back across the river, I called my better half to let her know I was on the road for home.  She had been decorating the house for autumn in my absence, and told me I could “stay another day” if I wished (seems she gets more done when I’m not around to annoy her!).  The following day was Sunday, so I knew I couldn’t get back to Carlisle, so I had to come up with a plan.  After racking my brain as to “what to do” with my free evening and day, I decided to head for Leesburg, Virginia and do some prowling around.  I love the town, and obviously there’s lots to see in the area.  I had never seen the Ball’s Bluff Battlefield yet, so I put that on my list.  My very good friend Jim Morgan is a volunteer guide there, so when I told buddy Steve Basic that I’d be visiting there tomorrow, he sent an email to Jim with my cell number to call me. 

I also wanted to find Elijah Viers “Lige” White’s grave in the cemetery there, and also make a run to nearby Waterford where I would be at the stomping grounds of the Loudoun County Rangers, the only Federal unit raised in the Old Dominion.  My July 2006 article in America’s Civil War magazine featured Lige, his 35th Battalion Virginia Cavalry, and one of their major clashes with the Rangers at the Waterford Baptist Church in August 1862.  I knew the church still existed, and that the mill the Ranger’s founder Sam Means operated was still there, so I’d find plenty to see.

Just before arriving at Leesburg around 6pm, I went down to White’s Ford on the Potomac, another spot I hadn’t yet been to.  This was Lige White’s farm and the ferry that he operated after the war.  White’s Ford was also one of the major crossings during the war.  It’s a beautiful place, the the only still-operating ferry on the Potomac.  Busy, too – when I got there, about a dozen cars were being ferried across the river, and there were more waiting on the other side.  Very cool to watch that.  The ferry is called the “Jubal A. Early” after one of White’s closest benefactors.  As I watched the ferry, I called Eric and told him he definitely needs to visit the spot on a future trip.

It was getting dark, so I headed in to town and found a hotel room.  The Comfort Inn, brand new, sported a swimming pool and even a popcorn machine in the lobby.  I enjoyed the popcorn (several bags) and lamented that I never thought to pack my swimming trunks!

I was up early on Sunday, and mapped my route to Waterford via the Old Waterford Road.  I had just pulled out of the hotel parking lot when Jim Morgan called – he was doing tours of Ball’s Bluff at 10am and 12pm and invited me along.  It was already about 9:45, so I told him I’d make the noon tour.  I really looked forward to seeing a battlefield for the first time, and getting a tour from the expert.

I easily found the Old Waterford Road northwest out of town.  Boy, did it turn into a turkey track after a couple miles – in fact, the asphalt quit and the dirt took over.  It obviously hasn’t changed much since the 1800’s.  In fact, I was thankful I took my 4WD Chevy 1500 pickup, because the road, in spots, was pretty awful.  But what I saw along the ride was quite surprising – there were multi-million dollar homes all along the road, and there was no other way to them, believe me.  I figured that these were the digs of Washington suburbanites who found quiet, off-the-beaten-path places for their beautiful homes and ranches.  No one would believe that such places were on this lousy road.  And scattered along the way were simply awesome 18th and 19th century homes.  I saw several that had signs they were built in the 1760’s.  If ever you find yourself in the area, drive this road – but make sure you have a truck or SUV!

After about 20 minutes on the road I arrived in Waterford.  The entire place is a National Historic Landmark (similar to Harper’s Ferry) and it’s a real step back in time.  Beautiful little quaint old town.  Nearly every home in this town is pushing 200 years old or older.  I easily found the mill that Samuel Means owned – there was a sign outside that stated it was owned and operated by the Historic Waterford Foundation (I think that’s the name).  They even had waysides on the property.  Sam Means, a loyalist who raised and commanded the Loudoun County Rangers (USA) had his milled robbed several time during the war, and it literally broke him.  At the end of war, he went to Washington DC to live with his daughter, and drank himself to death.  He was a Quaker, like many in the area, and had friends and family that served the Confederacy.  The Rangers clashed with Lige White’s Comanches many times in the in-fights during the war.

One of the worst of those clashed happened at the Waterford Baptist Church, which I found a block off Main Street.  I pulled into the parking lot – the church was having its 11am services, so unfortunately I wasn’t able to enter the building.  In August 1862, White’s men ambushed Means’ men here, and killed, wounded, and captured nearly all of them.  There is a plaque on the building near the entrance recounting the event.  One of Means’ men drew a map of the action later, so I was able to walk the property and surrounding area and follow White’s ambush the way it played out.  I’m sure any of the locals watching me were wondering what the hell I was doing, but I was having a great time playing the event out in my head.

It was getting time to get back to Leesburg, so I pointed my trusty pickup back down the Old Waterford Road, ready for the bumpy ride back.  I had a noon appointment with Jim Morgan and the little battlefield of Ball’s Bluff, which I’ll post about next.

Published in: on September 18, 2007 at 2:33 pm  Comments (3)  

Full Weekend continued

Sunday we rose early again and we soon headed on the road to Antietam battlefield – in separate vehicles since we each would be leaving from there later that day.  We quickly met up with Ranger Mannie Gentile, and Dimitri met us out front of the Visitor Center.  Mannie was set to give visitors a general overview tour of the field at 10:00 am, so the four of us decided to tag along.  We promised Mannie that we wouldn’t heckle him 🙂

Although I’m pretty well versed about the battle and the Maryland Campaign, I was extremely impressed with Mannie’s talk and tour.  Everyone who attended listened to him with rapt attention.  It was a great introduction for Dimitri, since he hadn’t yet had a good overview of the field [in the picture, that’s Mannie on the left, then Eric, myself, and Dimitri on the right].  Mannie started with a talk about the state of the war and the elements of the campaign, then we stopped at The Cornfield.  After describing the initial action there (truly, it’s called The Bloody Cornfield for good reason) we then went to the Sunken Road.  I get chills there everytime.  Mannie finished up at Burnside’s Bridge.  Afterwards we talked for a while, then Dwayne, Eric and I took Dimitri on a walk around the famous bridge.  The gnats (Antietam’s official bird this time of year) were getting pretty bad, and we needed to get on the road to our next stop at Harper’s Ferry, so we said goodbye to Dimitri and piled into my truck for the trip.  Dimitri is a terrific fellow, and we enjoyed spending time with him.  We all agreed that we’ll have to have another Blogger’s Convention very soon.

Driving the old Harper’s Ferry Road this time of year is visually stimulating.  Beautiful old war-time road trace through beautiful country – and along the beautiful river all the way to town.  We were amazed at the literally thousands – thousands – of folks out for the day biking, rafting, swimming, etc.  Everyone was enjoying the sunshine and heat.

We got there around 2:00 pm or so, found a place to park near the train depot, and walked over to a BBQ restaurant for lunch (my wife and I had eaten there a few years back and I recommended it to the guys).  After lunch, we took a walk down to the Armory, then to a bookstore on the main street that had opened last year.  None of us knew it was there until coming on it, and we were amazed at the selection.  Terrific store, and I heartily recommend it to you next time you visit.  We came out of there with some books we’d never heard of before but that will be great sources for future projects.  Turns out they want to stock Eric and my Plenty of Blame to Go Around book, so I got information to have our publisher contact them.

After spending time marvelling at the view from the Overlook, Dwayne and I marched Eric up to Jefferson’s rock.  Folks, if you’ve never been up there… it’s a climb.  Woooheee.  We all made it to the top and took some pictures.  I have a creaky left knee from an old football injury, and it started aching from the climb – in fact, it’s still a bit sore. 

We hated to part ways, but it was time for us to drive back to Antietam so Eric could get on the way to Ohio, and I had to get back home as well.  My wife had to drive to Pittsburgh that evening to help our daughter move to her college apartment, so I needed to be back by 9:00 pm.  We said our goodbyes, knowing we had capped off another great time with great friends (and making some new ones!).

Thank you Mannie, for a terrific time on the field, and great meeting you, Dimitri – I look forward to the next time.

Published in: on June 28, 2007 at 10:04 am  Comments (2)  

The 3rd (West) Virginia Cavalry

Hardly ever garnering much PR among the regiments in Gen. John Buford’s 1st Cavalry Division is the little contingent of the 3rd (West) Virginia Cavalry in Col. Thomas C. Devin’s brigade.  The visitor to Gettysburg’s Buford Avenue today will notice the plain, simple monument to the two companies present on July 1, and which participated in the opening of the battle.

Over the years I compiled a brief history of the regiment culled from rather elusive and obscure sources, and present it here.  This would also be considered a bit of an installment of “Faded Hoofbeats,” due to the information here about David Strother and Seymour B. Conger.

   Company A – Recruited primarily from Morgantown, mustered in at Wheeling on December 23, 1861
   Company C – Mustered in at Brandonville on October 1, 1861
   Regiment mustered out of service June 23, 1865
   Lt. Colonel David H. Strother
   Major John L. McGee
   Adjutant Barna Powell
Major Engagements:  Aldie, Bristoe Station, Chester Gap, Brandy Station, Beverly Ford, Upperville, Gettysburg, Boonsboro, Funkstown, Falling Waters, Culpepper Court House, Averell’s Raids, Sheridan’s Raids, Winchester, Five Forks, Appomattox Campaign
Regimental Casualties:
   Killed and mortally wounded:  6 Officers and 40 Enlisted men
   Died of Disease and as Prisoners of War:  136 Enlisted men

Upon muster, the companies of the regiment (actually there were not enough recruits to form a full regiment) was led by Lt. Colonel David Hunter Strother (pictured), a nationally-known artist and writer.  He was among the first in the country to illustrate his own writings, depicting Southern life and events, prior to the war, in Harper’s Magazine.  Strother used the pen name “Porte Crayon.”   Strother was born in Martinsburg (now in WV) in 1861 into a slave-owning family of farmers (Strother died in 1888 of pneumonia).  Major McGee had seen much active service prior to his promotion into the 3rd, and had served as Chief of Staff under General Robert Huston Milroy.  McGee began as a Captain in the 1st West Virginia Cavalry, the first such unit raised in the state.  On October 2, 1861, McGee became Major of the newly-formed 3rd.  Company C was stationed at Clarksburg until January 1862.

The battalion comprising Companies A and C was attached to General John C. Fremont’s command in the Shenandoah Valley when formed in February 1862, with Major McGee in command.  Until March of 1862, the regiment was attached to the Railroad District, West Virginia, then to the Railroad District of the Mountain Department until May.  Company C was led by Captain Seymour Beach Conger.  During the pursuit of Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s infantry in his retreat up the Shenandoah Valley, Captain Conger and his company frequently engaged them.  During an especially notable assault by the company near a bridge at Mount Jackson VA, the Union position was saved and special mention was made of the company by General Fremont.  The troopers of the 3rd would continue to make themselves conspicuous with gallant bravery and determination in numerous skirmishes and battles.  In late 1862, the battalion primarily served as scouts in northern Virginia.

When the Army of the Potomac was reorganized in January of 1863, companies A and C were detached for special duties at General Sigel’s “Grand Reserve Division” headquarters.  Company H, commanded by Captain W. H. Flesher, was detached to Parkersburg, and company G, under Captain John S. Witcher, was in Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes’ brigade in the Kanawha Valley.

In June 1863, companies A and C, both under Captain Conger (who himself had recruited Company A), were attached to the cavalry brigade of Colonel Thomas C. Devin, in Brigadier General John Buford’s 1st Cavalry Division.   The unit would see heavy action in the battles at Brandy Station, Beverly Ford, Stevensburg, and Upperville.

As Buford’s two brigades, the 2nd under Devin and the 1st under Colonel William Gamble, made their way north through Maryland and over the Pennsylvania border, the unit would see its most desperate action since Brandy Station.  Entering the small town of Gettysburg around noon on June 30, the 59 men of Companies A and C of the 3rd, and the rest of the two small brigades, were met with cheers and shouts by the excited townspeople.  In the morning, the two companies of a newly-created Union state found themselves in the midst of very hot work northwest of the town, holding back a Confederate infantry advance until their own infantry could arrive on the field.  The 3rd was positioned near the unfinished Railroad Cut, on the left flank of Devin’s brigade, connecting with the right flank of Gamble’s troopers.  Their two companies held a narrow front that morning, but the troopers, who were growing accustomed to such hot work, held their line with the rest of the brigade until finally relieved by the Union 1st Corps.  Devin’s brigade was positioned northeast of the town to picket the approaches from that direction.  As the newly-arrived Union 11th Corps were pushed back in the fields north of Gettysburg in the early afternoon, the 3rd West Virginia and Devin’s brigade slowed the Confederate advance long enough to allow the infantry to rally on Cemetery Hill and Ridge to their rear.

This small group on the battle line that morning was quite different from the other troopers.  While they may have had many of the same reasons for being there as their comrades from Pennsylvania, New York, and Illinois, on factor set them apart from the others; the men of the 3rd were Southerners, men who, until recently, had called themselves Virginians.  

The path that the men of the 3rd took to reach that ridgeline that morning had been a long and complicated one.  Like many of the citizens who lived in the mountainous western and northern counties of Virginia, these men had felt “abandoned” when the Old Dominion, Virginia, voted to secede from the Union.  They saw no good reason to break up the Republic over the abstract ideas that the politicians were arguing over.  And, many of these people felt more of a kinship with their neighbors on the Ohio and Pennsylvania borders, than to the affluent farmers of the Virginia tidewater areas.  So, the Virginia counties in the west decided that if their state could decide to secede over their protests, then they themselves would secede from Virginia and form their own new state.

Companies A and C of the 3rd West Virginia Cavalry would serve in Devin’s Brigade until November of 1863, when they were ordered back to the Department of West Virginia.  Returning to Wheeling, it joined the other companies in the regiment and reorganized under Conger.  The following year, through continuous recruitments, the roster of the 3rd would be completed and would constitute a full regiment of cavalry.

Conger would live unscathed through the action at Gettysburg, but was  killed on August 7, 1864, as a Major, near Moorefield WV while the regiment was attached to the Army of West Virginia.  He is today interred at Arlington National Cemetery.  General Averell, lamenting Conger’s death, wrote in his official report, “…with our exultations is mingled a profound grief at the loss of Major Conger, 3rd West Virginia Cavalry, who found death as he had always wished, in the front of battle, with heart and hand intent upon the doing of his duty.  Brave, steadfast and modest, when he fell this command lost one of its best soldiers, and his regiment and general a friend.  The men who followed him in the charge will never forget his glorious example…”

The 3rd was in the Second Brigade (commanded by Colonel William H. Powell) in General George Crook’s Army of West Virginia.  During January and February of 1865 the brigade was commanded by Colonel Henry Capehart.  At this time the unit was stationed near Winchester VA, in picket duty and making frequent reconnaissance up the valley.  On February 27, the regiment broke camp and moved with Major General Philip M. Sheridan’s Cavalry Corps up the valley to Staunton, and participated in the battle of Waynesboro on March 2, where Confederate Major General Jubal A. Early was defeated.  Shortly after, the regiment would continue with Sheridan on his raid through the territory.

On the morning of April 1, the regiment participated in actions against the retreating Confederates, and on the 2nd at Ford’s Station the unit charged and drove a brigade of Confederate cavalry, killing General John Pegram.  The 3rd continued in the pressing actions that led to the Appomattox surrender.

The regiment participated in the Grand Review in Washington in May and was mustered out of the service on June 23.


Two companies, A and C, of the 3rd West Virginia Cavalry fought under Colonel Thomas C. Devin’s 2nd Brigade.  This monument approximates the center of their line on McPherson Ridge that first morning of battle.  The monument is located on Buford Avenue, north of the Chambersburg Pike, and was dedicated on September 28, 1898, the same day as the similar monument to the 1st West Virginia Cavalry monument on the Taneytown Road.

The monument’s very simple inscription, “Erected by the state of West Virginia to commemorate the valor and fidelity of the Third West Virginia Cavalry” was legislated by the state in 1897.  A total of $2000 was appropriated by the legislature for the four West Virginia monuments (2 cavalry, 1 infantry, and one artillery) to be erected on the Gettysburg Battlefield.Raised in Wheeling (formerly in Virginia), the troopers of Company A were mustered in on December 23, 1861 and Company C on October 1.  The companies and squadrons were not combined into an actual full regiment until 1864.The commander of the squadron at Gettysburg was Captain Seymour Beach Conger, born in Plymouth OH on September 25, 1825.  He was a farmer near Lexington OH and recruited Company A, becoming its Captain on November 22, 1862.  Reaching the rank of Major, Conger was killed on August 7, 1864, near Moorefield WV.  He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  No photograph of Conger is known to exist or yet been discovered.

Of the unit’s 5 Officers and 59 enlisted men at the battle, one was wounded, 1 was captured, and two were missing.  The troopers carried Gallagher and Smith single-shot carbines, and .44 caliber Colt and .36 caliber Remington revolvers. 

Gravesite of Seymour Beach Conger at Arlington National Cemetery.

Published in: on June 14, 2007 at 11:05 am  Comments (54)