I have an interest in the American Civil War that probably started because my dad was interested in it. I visited places like Gettysburg and Antietam as a kid. I’ve been up Lookout Mountain and walked around Chickamauga. In other words, I have a fair amount of experience with this subject. Looking back on things now, I wish I knew then what I know now. Back then my brother and I ran across the fields and climbed on the cannons. Most likely, I also wished that we could be moving on to other, more adventurous activities.
Now, I’m a dad with my own kids. My son is really interested in the whole aspect of the Civil War. My daughter is interested in it also. Each one thinks they would like to become a re-enactor, but they don’t really know what it takes. As I am now a grown man with my own resources, I have been lucky enough to have some opportunities to visit some of these places of interest. This page is my way of sharing these experiences with you. So sit back, get comfortable with the mouse and enjoy.
The first real “set piece” battle of the Civil War enticed the gentlemen and ladies of Washington City to come out to watch the festivities as the Union met the Confederates in the field. The Union drove hard on the rail junction of Manassas and soon met with the Rebels. Even though the Confederates were outnumbered, they won the day. The generals in Gray had actual combat experience while the generals in Blue mainly rode desks before the war. This battle shows that there’s a hell of a difference between theory and experience.
In 1862, Ambrose Burnside took command of the Union’s Army of the Potomac after Gen. George McClellan was removed. McClellan didn’t move fast enough to chase the Rebels when they retreated from the battle at Antietam and Pres. Lincoln demanded action. Burnside set the massive Army of the Potomac into motion and arrived on the banks of the Rappahannock River across from Fredericksburg, VA. He had beaten the Confederates in getting into position. All he had to do now was cross the river and march down the road to Richmond. But he had no way to cross – the river was swollen with winter rains and the pontoons were not at the front. It took nearly three weeks for the pontoons to arrive – enough time for the Confederate to concentrate their forces.
Once across the river, the Union army met defeat as wave after wave of blue-coated soldiers dashed themselves against the protected positions on Marye’s Heights. A separate attack to turn the Rebel flank was also beaten back by Stonewall Jackson’s troops. The Union would eventually pull back across the river and go into winter camp.
After the debacle at Fredericksburg, Burnside was relieved of command and Fighting Joe Hooker took command. After saying he would have no mercy on Robert E. Lee, Hooker moved his troops across the Rappahannock River in the vicinity of the Chancellorsville Inn. Here he hoped to go on the offensive and turn Lee’s flank, crashing into him with his massive Army of the Potomac. Well, things didn’t work out as planned.
Lee left his defenses in Fredericksburg lightly manned and turned to meet Hooker. Battle ensued as the forces met and clashed – Hooker went on the defensive. In a brilliant but fateful move, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson marched his corps through the area known as “The Wilderness” and attacked the Federal right flank. Surprised by this attack, the right flank of the Union army simply melted away. Only darkness halted Jackson’s continued advance. During a nighttime scouting ride, Jackson was shot by his own troops and was carried away, never to return to the army.
Hooker eventually withdrew his forces and retreated to the defenses around Washington. Lee had won the battle – many claim it was his best victory – but lost his right-hand man in Jackson.
This little out-of-the-way place served as a supply base and encampment location for Confederate forces. Then Grant’s Union army marched through this area during the Overland campaign. But Guinea Station is best know for what happened at Fairfield.
Fairfield was a farm in the area that played host to Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson after his wounding at Chancellorsville. Jackson’s left arm was amputated in the field and he was then transported south – out of the way of the fighting. He ended up at Fairfield. Here he succumbed to pneumonia, probably made worse by his injury. Before the battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson was reported to have a slight cough – this probably flared into the pneumonia that took his life.
A lot of “what ifs” are spawned by his death. What if Jackson were at Gettysburg? The fact was that he was dead and the Confederate army would not be the same.
The site of the largest cavalry action that took place during the American Civil War saw the gallant cavalier of the South, J E B Stuart surprised by Union cavalry. During the winter of 1862-63, Confederate forces camped in this area and prepared for the next year’s campaign. As he readied his troops and prepared for a grand review, the Southern cavalry was surprised by Union cavalry and troops under Alfred Pleasanton. One area of the battle occurred near a church. Here troops under Gen. John Buford attacked the Rebels head on. Fighting was continuous for quite a while.
Another Union wing was supposed to come and trap Stuart but they were held up by other Confederate forces. The plan if executed may have worked but the reality was that the Union forces could not support each other. Finally, on Fleetwood Hill, Stuart’s Rebel cavalry carried the day.
This battle was important for a couple of reasons. First of which is that the Union cavalry finally gave as good as it got. Up until this time, the Southern troopers had the upper hand. This battle showed that the odds were even now. Secondly, the gallant Stuart had been surprised. Many people think that this surprise had hurt his ego and led to him executing another ride around the Union army as Lee’s forces headed north. This ride effectively left Lee blind at the battle of Gettysburg.
U S Grant had taken command of the Union armies and came East to figure out the problem that all of the previous generals had faced: Robert E. Lee. Grant’s first battle was The Wilderness (yeah, I know – wanted to go but ran out of time). The second battle was near Spotslyvania Courthouse. After the Wilderness, Grant tried to turn Lee’s flank, trying to get on the road to Richmond. Instead, the two armies met in battle again.
The Confederates beat the Union into position and created earthworks for defense. One area of these defenses stuck out like a horseshoe and was named the Muleshoe salient. The Federals took the works only to be thrown back. Another attack was tried at a different place along these defenses – the Bloody Angle. Firefights were so intense in this area that the flying lead cut down trees.
Eventually, Lee pulled his troops back into a more defensible position, inviting Grant to do battle. Some other fighting took place, but Grant finally opted to try and turn Lee’s flank again. The fighting would last on until final surrender of the Confederates at Appomattox Courthouse.