The First Staff Ride?

A National Park Service historian explains troop movements to officer candidates during a modern day Staff Ride on the Chickamauga, <a href=

Staff rides have been officially used by the United States Army to enhance the training of military professionals since the early 1900s. At that time, they were introduced by Major Eban Swift into the curriculum of Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The term “ride” stems from the fact that these exercises were initially conducted on horseback. Yet, whatever the means of locomotion these immersion style training sessions have proved invaluable over the years in developing the next generation of military leaders and planners.

Staff rides generally include a guided tour led by a qualified military historian of a particular battlefield (often Civil War) with emphasis on leadership, tactics, and decision-making. But unlike a general tour, participants are required to play an active role in explaining and interpreting, among other things, how battlefield topography and terrain affected key decisions made by unit commanders during various phases of the battle being studied. Also analyzed are such variables as weaponry, force structure, logistics and backgrounds/personalities of key leaders involved. Exploring the actual terrain also underscores the importance of preserving yesterday’s fields of conflict as active proving grounds for young army officers and NCOs of today, linking past insights to present realities.

Major General Jacob D. Cox and members of his staff.

Major General Jacob D. Cox and members of his staff.

At least one Civil War commander was well aware of the educational value of such instruction when, in 1865, he conducted what was certainly one of the US Army’s first bona fide staff rides. That man was Union General Jacob D. Cox. Although born in Montreal, Cox established educational and business credentials in Ohio and was commissioned brigadier-general of that state’s volunteer forces in 1861. Active service in West Virginia, the Maryland Campaign of 1862, and the battles for Atlanta earned him both reputation and rapid promotion. By late 1864 he led the Federal XXIII Corps as Major-General and capably fought his way thru Tennessee and eastern North Carolina. At war’s end he was appointed occupation commander of the Greensboro Military District of North Carolina. His herculean mission was to effect a peaceful transition in Guilford and adjoining counties while collecting war material from and issuing paroles to surrendered soldiers of General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate forces.

Once things settled down a bit under Cox’s steady guiding hand, the inquisitive General sought to acquaint himself with the surrounding area. As a military man, he was obviously well aware of the region’s role in the American Revolution and the nearby battlefield of Guilford Court House. There the patriot forces under General Nathaniel Greene, although tactically defeated, inflicted staggering losses on the British army of Lord Cornwallis. So, gathering some key members of his veteran staff together, Cox organized what was certainly a precursor of what would become the latter day “Staff Ride.” His observations of that excursion, as described in his highly readable memoirs, are both trenchant and prescient:

“A summer ride which a party of us took to the battlefield of “Guilford-Old-Court-House” may be worth noting as an encouragement to believe that our descriptions of the scenes of our own engagements need not become unintelligible even in the distant future. Among the combats of our Revolutionary War, Guilford Court House ranks high in importance; for the check there given to the invading British army under Lord Cornwallis by the Continental forces under General Greene was the turning-point in a campaign. Greensborough is the present county-seat of Guilford County, and the “Old Court House,” a few miles distant, has disappeared as a village, a few buildings almost unused being the only mark of the old town.
Natural topography, however, does not change its material features easily, and in this case a cleared field or two where the forest had formerly extended seemed to be the only change that had occurred in the past century. With General Greene’s official report of the battle in our hands, we could trace with complete accuracy every movement of the advancing enemy and his own dispositions to receive the attack. We could see the reasons for the movements on both sides, and how the undulations of surface and the cover of woods and fences were taken advantage of by either commander.

Military principles being the same in all times, we found ourselves criticizing the movements as if they had occurred on one of our own recent battlefields. It brought the older and the later war into almost startling nearness and made us realize as perhaps nothing else could have done, how the future visitor will trace the movements in which we have had a part; and when we have been dust for centuries, will follow the path of our battalions from hill to hill, from stream to stream, from the border of a wood to the open ground where the bloody conflict was hand to hand, and will comment upon the history we have made. It pointed the lesson that what is accurate in our reports and narratives will be recognized by the intelligent critic, and that the face of the country itself will be an unalterable record which will go far to expose the true reasons of things,–to show what statements are consistent with the physical conditions under which a battle was fought, and what, if any, are warped to hide a repulse or to claim a false success.

Nature herself will thus prove the strongest ally of truth.”

Ironically, the validity of General Cox’s last statement is still being tested on the Guilford Court House National Battlefield today. During the last twenty years, based upon period first-person descriptions of the battlefield, the NPS has revised its markers denoting the actual position of General Greene’s famous “Third Line.” It was here that the Maryland regulars clashed with the British Guards regiment in a hand-to-hand melee. The new interpretation places the line 1/4 mile distant from the old one on land not under the ownership of the National park Service. Some students of the battle accept this; some don’t. But in this case, the accuracy of “reports and narratives” describing battlefield features, as noted by Cox above, seems to have trumped other evidence.

Who knows what future “staff rides” by amateur historians, military professionals or plain old battlefield trampers will uncover on other historic grounds?

A period map of the Guilford Court House battlefield from the memoirs of British Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton. Union General Cox may have used such a map in his staff ride. Map courtesy NPS files.

A period map of the Guilford Court House battlefield from the memoirs of British Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton. Union General Cox may have used such a map in his staff ride. Map courtesy NPS files.

by Bob Williams




Southern Underwear: The Cotton Mills of Franklin(s)ville, NC

Deep River

In our earlier blogpost dated 12/28/14 about the Crenshaw Woolen Mills mention was made of the reciprocal manufacturing arrangement that developed between the Richmond, VA based Crenshaw facility and the cotton mills at Franklinsville, NC along Deep River. Regimental member Dennis Brooks of Siler City kindly brought to my attention much additional information on the Randolph County mills and the vital textile manufacturing support they provided to both the State of North Carolina and the Confederacy. Further research on the subject soon proved this to be a little known story well worth the telling. Read on.

Quaker Levi Coffin, founder of the Franklinsville Manufacturing Company

Quaker Levi Coffin, founder of the Franklinsville Manufacturing Company

Deep River has its headwaters in northwestern Guilford County and flows in a generally southeastwardly direction. Along its 125 mile length the often rocky tributary passes through High Point, Ashboro, Franklinville and Haywood. There it joins the Haw River to form the Cape Fear River which thence flows onward to the sea. Beginning in the early 1800s numerous artisians and manufacturers harnessed the stream’s swift current for various business enterprises. One of these entrepreneurs was a dour, disenfranchised Quaker [he dared marry a Presbyterian!] named Levi Coffin who in 1838 established a Randolph County mill he christened the Franklinsville Manufacturing Company, named for a former governor. Coffin and his initial investors were strong abolitionists but as the years passed profit motives and business pragmatics seemed to temper their idealism.

The little community grew rapidly. A large brick “Factory House” was completed in 1840 that was the largest structure in Randolph County at the time. Dwelling houses for workers sprung up around the mill. Coffin’s initial success prompted him to organize another manufacturing company one-half mile further north, including his sons in the venture. The second factory was similar in appearance to the first but had a fourth floor lighted by a clerestory roof, a feature widely used in English and New England factories. These two facilities came to be known as the “upper” and “lower” mills, a distinction that still exists. The more than 40 worker dwellings supporting these enterprises soon merged together resulting in the incorporation of Franklinsville by the state legislature 1847.

The 1850s were a tumultuous time for the Franklinsville mills due to economic downturns, management changes, acquisitions, labor unrest, mergers, residual political differences over slavery, and even a major fire. By the end of the decade the upper mill was incorporated into the nearby Cedar Falls Manufacturing Company and the lower mill was named Randolph manufacturing Company. Coffin soon turned operational management of the companies over to a skilled textile expert named George Makepeace. The Massachusetts-born Makepeace had worked for Coffin since 1839. By that time the corporation had over 70 employees including many women. Its capital stock was valued at $30,000. Thanks to Makepeace’s guidance the revitalized manufacturing facilities were well positioned to provide high quality spun cotton goods to supply enthusiastic volunteers when sectional hostilities began in 1861.

Cotton undergarments such as this were manufactured by the tens of thousands in Franklinsville

Cotton undergarments such as this were manufactured by the tens of thousands in Franklinsville

The Franklinsville factories quickly emerged as North Carolina’s chief supplier of shirts and drawers to the Confederate States quartermaster. The cotton was spun and woven into sheeting and then cut and sewn by local seamstresses in piece goods fashion with material, thread, and buttons being supplied. The completed clothing items were then baled and transported by ox cart to nearby High Point on the North Carolina Railroad. From there they were shipped to Raleigh where government authorities distributed these garments to the troops. In 1862 Makepeace reported the factories “have been furnishing the State Government for the past year with a large amount of its manufactures for the use of the Army and is now under contract to supply fifty thousand shirts and drawers for the army.”

The Franklinsville mills furnished more than cloth to the Confederate war effort even though Randolph County was predominantly Union in sentiment. Directors of the Cedar Falls Company sponsored, organized, and equipped a company of infantry from the surrounding area. Known as the “Randolph Hornets,” the eager volunteers drilled at Middleton Academy, a local college preparatory school near Franklinsville. Both mills declared a holiday when the “Hornets” marched off to war on July 10, 1861. They became Company “M” of the 22nd North Carolina Troops and served throughout the conflict in the excellent Pender/Scales brigade of the Army of Northern Virginia. A unit of Home Guards was also formed early on to protect the valuable mills from the “Abolitionists and Lincolnites among us.” Threats had been made to burn the Cedar Falls complex once the first volunteers left the county although this did not happen.

A yarn bundle label from the Randolph "lower" mill

A yarn bundle label from the Randolph “lower” mill

As the war progressed the Federal naval blockade of Southern ports soon put a squeeze on spare machine parts, oil, and other specialty materials required for textile production. Blockade running efforts by intrepid sea captains only partially alleviated these shortages. Here is where reciprocal arrangements such as those with Richmond’s Crenshaw Mills proved valuable and necessary to maintain production demands. As cotton warp previously obtained from England became more difficult to procure, Richmond turned to the Franklinsville mills where an “ample supply, nearly as excellent in quality as British warps” was obtained. Likewise, the Cedar Falls Company obtained “woolen warps necessary for their business” from the Crenshaw firm. This would seem to indicate that Franklinsville included woven jeans uniform cloth among its products. The conscription of military age males also caused labor shortages that were in part alleviated by shifts, longer working hours, and an increased number of female workers.

Because of the value of the Franklinsville mills to the Southern war material production they were prime targets for Federal raids, roving bands of deserters, and saboteurs. As a result, the facilities were usually guarded by various Home Guard units. While many of the factories along Deep River were destroyed during the final weeks of the war by either Stoneman’s raiders or Sherman’s advancing armies the Cedar Falls and Randolph installations fortunately escaped overt military mayhem.

Ruins of the Cedar Falls manufacturing Company, also called the "upper mill."

Ruins of the Cedar Falls manufacturing Company, also called the “upper mill.”

Another view of the "upper mill" ruins

Another view of the “upper mill” ruins

Nonetheless, the Civil War left the factories, resources, and population of Randolph County in a sadly depleted state. Like much of the Old South the area soon rebounded with a new spirit of growth and the mills managed to soldier on until finally shutting down in 1977. As if to go with the changing times, Franklinsville officially changed its name to Franklinville in 1917. Fortunately for posterity Franklinville has preserved more of its manufacturing environment and structures than any comparable mill town in the state. Since 1984 its historic district has been officially listed on the national Register of Historic Places. A visit to this nearly forgotten mill town is truly like passing through a time warp (pun intended) for a look into North Carolina’s rich textile manufacturing history.

Thanks again to Dennis Brooks for bringing this fascinating subject to the fore and for his valuable input to this article. Kindly left click on images for larger views. All modern photos of Franklinville used here taken by author February 2015.

by Bob Williams

fville 003



Silent Sentinel: Confederate Fort Stevens


The roughly twenty mile segment of Interstate 95 that runs between Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia provides easy access to some of the most extensive Confederate earthworks remaining in America today. If one looks closely,  entrenchments can be seen nearly everywhere in the woods along this route. Many are from the Howlett Line that guarded Bermuda Hundred and include Battery Dantzler and Parker’s Battery. Additionally, atop nearby Drewry’s Bluff along the James River, stand the well preserved and foreboding ramparts of Fort Darling. Here, in May 1862, Southern artillerymen thwarted an attempt by the Federal navy led by the famous Monitor to ascend the James and capture Richmond.

Several sections of both the Richmond inner and outer defense lines also remain, including a hidden little gem of a fort that played a key role in the little known 1864 Battle of Drewry’s Bluff. This three-gun Condederate earthwork is known as Fort Stevens. It lies in a small park by that name in a quiet residential neighborhood just off the Willis Road exit of I-95. Back in 1864, Fort Stevens anchored the intersection of Richmond’s outer and inner defense lines south of the city. When Federal troops under General Benjamin F. Butler seized much of the abandoned outer line on May 14th, the earthwork assumed strategic importance. It soon became storm center of heavy Union artillery and sharpshooter fire as Confederate defenders sought to blunt further advances of Butler’s army.

A graffiti marked interpretive sign in Fort Stevens gives a good idea of its appearance on May 14, 1864.

A graffiti marked interpretive sign in Fort Stevens gives a good idea of its appearance on May 14, 1864.

Fort Stevens itself is a plump semi-circle of earth with a deep ditch in front and a traverse to the rear that does not completely enclose the work. Inside are two ground level positions for heavy guns and three elevated ramps for light field pieces. On May 14, 1864 the sand-bagged interior of the fort was manned by four guns belonging to Captain James D. Hankins’ Virginia battery, also known as the Surry Light Artillery. They were supported by elements of the 27th South Carolina Infantry of General Johnson Hagood’s brigade. That afternoon the Federals positioned portions of several batteries within fairly close range and attempted to reduce the bastion with concentrated artillery fire. They were unsuccessful despite the fact that two of the Surry battery’s limbers were exploded and the muzzle of one cannon struck. Additionally, Union sharpshooters concealed in the abatis of the abandoned exterior line made it difficult for the grey cannoneers to work the guns. Narrowly escaping a bullet in the head was QM Sergeant Servetus M. Williams, great-grandfather of your blog host. Another member of Hankin’s Battery opined: “Twelve hours under continued fire is enough to test the endurance of the strongest and hardiest of men.”

QM Sgt. Servetus M. Williams of the Surry Light Artillery. While resting against a cannon wheel in Fort Stevens a sharpshooters bullet took out the spoke above his head.

QM Sgt. Servetus M. Williams of the Surry Light Artillery. While resting against a cannon wheel in Fort Stevens a sharpshooters bullet took out the spoke above his head.

Surprisingly, the following day was quiet as Confederate forces under General P. G. T. Beauregard marshalled for an attack against Butler’s tentative legions, which seemed to be mostly content with making defensive preparations. In a dense fog on the morning of May 16th, Beauregard launched his expected counterstroke. Fort Stevens served a pivot for the two pronged Southern offensive led by North Carolina Generals Robert F. Hoke and Robert Ransom, Jr. Initially the fog produced considerable confusion among the two Confederate wings. Yet the assault was vigorous and persistant enough to convince the defending Federals to call it quits. Butler soon withdrew to his defenses at Bermuda Hundred and Richmond was saved. For many reasons however, it was not the stunning Confederate victory it might have been.

Fort Stevens saw no further combat during the war and slowly faded into obscurity. Thanks to fairly recent efforts The Chesterfield (VA) County Department of Parks it remains today preserved for posterity, along with several nice interpretive markers. While visitors other than recreational ones are few, it’s definitely worth a look by any serious history buff. And as an added enticement, there is a very good local BBQ place close by! Please left click on images for larger view.

By Bob Williams

The star on this interpretive marker shows the position of Fort Stevens in relation to other Confederate defensive works.



A Dam Fine Park

image064The only engagement worth noting during General George McClellan’s so called Siege of Yorktown, VA in 1862 occurred on April 16th along the banks of the Warwick River, several miles southwest of the old Colonial port town. Known variously as the Battle of Lee’s Mill or Dam Number One, this spirited skirmish was instigated by four companies of the 4th Vermont Infantry making a bold probe of Confederate defenses along the dammed up river. Taking advantage of shallow water just below the dam the Federals waded across at a point where the defensive lines were incomplete, initially scattering working parties of the 16th Georgia. When the nearby 15th North Carolina came to the Georgians defense, they too were manhandled and their young Colonel Edward McKinney killed.

Sensing the upper hand, local Federal commanders turned the supposedly limited incursion into a broader attack. They added the remaining companies of the 4th Vermont along with the 6th Vermont Infantry to the assault force. The breach of the Confederate defense line was widened, but not for long. After about an hour the Vermonters found themselves hard pressed by a number of revenge seeking Confederate units who poured a vicious converging fire into the erstwhile attackers. The beleaguered New Englanders had no choice but to recross the swampy river under a scathing fire and seek the safety of their own lines. In the end, the gallant Vermonters lost 44 men killed and 148 wounded. They gained nothing. Soon the minor skirmish at Dam Number One and the Siege of Yorktown passed to nothing, remembered only by locals and close students of The War. One participant called it a “Dam Failure.”

View of Confederate works captured by the 3rd Vermont after crossing dammed up river in background.

View of Confederate works captured by the 3rd Vermont after crossing dammed up river in background.

Fortunately for us the locals did something to memorialize the site of this unique little battle. Back in the 1960s the City of Newport News, VA found itself taxing its water supply. To alleviate the problem the city purchased several lakes in the Lee Hall/Warwick River area and established a watershed. The preserved area, which became Newport News City Park in 1966, included not only the site of the Battle of Dam Number One but miles and mile of some of the best preserved Civil War earthworks remaining in America today. Thank you Newport News City fathers!

Including over 8000 acres, the park is one of the largest city parks in the U.S. In addition to the usual recreational amenities considerable effort has been put into marking and identifying key historical sites. The intricate Confederate trenches for miles along the dammed up Warwick River are wonderfully preserved. Trails allow the visitor to see where the Vermonters crossed, where Colonel McKinney fell, and generally follow the course of the battle of April 16th. Another trail leads to the extensive fortifications guarding Wynn’s Mill, a key Confederate strong point during the Yorktown siege. Additionally, the park’s interpretive center offers a wonderful display of battle relics, including some rare Confederate buckles, uncovered within the park’s boundary under the direction of historically minded rangers. Relic hunting is not allowed. To paraphrase the battle participant cited above, it is a “dam fine park!” Give it a visit.

Colonel McKinney of the 15th NC was killed in this area while rallying troops to resist the Federal incursion.

Colonel McKinney of the 15th NC was killed in this area while rallying troops to resist the Federal incursion.

The extensive Confederate fortifications near Wynn's Mill remain heavily guarded to this day!

The extensive Confederate fortifications near Wynn’s Mill remain heavily guarded to this day!

By Bob Williams


Confederate Quartermaster Stores: Savannah Coastal Defenses


During a past visit to Old Fort Jackson in Savannah, GA,  I rediscovered a report by an unidentified Confederate inspection officer.  It details CS Quartermaster stores on hand in Savannah as of October 31, 1863. Since the Port of Savannah closed with the Federal capture of Fort Pulaski in April 1862, supplies for defense of the city had to be obtained from domestic sources or from the ports of Wilmington and Charleston. This missive provides a wealth of insight into the Confederate Quartermaster system in general as relates to procurement, variety, and quality of supplies on hand, etc. It also gives some wonderful insight as to the actual sources from which these supplies were obtained. There are some real pearls here! It is quoted verbatim below, allowing for some editing on my part to facilitate readability.

“The clothing on hand consists as follows:
Infantry Jackets: A lot [of 1300] made of English cloth, with metallic buttons, a good article and strongly put up; a lot [of 2600] made of Georgia jeans, from the Richmond [Georgia] factory, with wooden buttons, an inferior article compared to the first.
Pantaloons: A lot [of 150] made of English tweed pants, a good article (the artillery in and around Savannah has been provided with these pants for the last six months); a lot [of 800] made of Georgia homespun, manufactured in Savannah, a strong article of light gray but rather thin for winter; a lot [of 6,700] made of Georgia jeans, a pretty good article, off light gray. Besides the above, the Quartermaster has on hand a lot of 1400 jackets and pants of Georgia homespun which were turned over to him by the state of Georgia and which, as a last resort, might be used for the troops. It is a poor article, however, thin for the season, and almost white.
Drawers and Shirts: [A lot of] 8000, of white cotton. These shirts and drawers are made in Savannah, under supervision of the Quartermasters, who employ for that purpose the wives and female relations of Ga. soldiers.
Shoes: A lot of 150 pairs of shoes of different patterns; a lot of 200 pairs French army shoes of strong materials, but most of them do not match. Said lot hardly fit for issue.
[Miscellaneous:] 6000 pairs cotton socks; 2000 blankets. The QM has also a lot of 18 second handed blankets fit for use and another lot of 36 damaged, rotten blankets, entirely unfit for use. Oil cloth caps about 175; gray cloth caps [about] 300. Thread: 10,000 spools. Bone buttons for drawers and shirts 600 great gross; metallic buttons 700 gross; shirt buttons 400 gross.

Major George Robertson is the Chief Commissary of Subsistence at Savannah. He has on hand: bacon – 250,000 lbs. sides; sugar – 108,000 lbs; flour – 1,500 barrels; meal – 328,286 lbs; hard bread -587 furnaces making about 117,000 lbs. in all; vinegar – 1,600 gallons; candles – 7,600 pounds including 4,000 lbs. that were expected daily from Atlanta; soap – 14,000 lbs. on hand and 9,500 expected from Atlanta; whiskey – 5,000 gallons; molasses – 2,700 gallons; salt – 283 bushels (the commisary keeps but a small supply of salt on hand as he gets it readily from the Government Salt Works, seven miles from Savannah); fresh beef – 4,620 lbs. (this beef, says the Commissary, is unfit for slaughter). The corn stores and warehouses are kept in very good order, in large ventilated halls.”

Plain jackets such as this one with wooden buttons [reproduction] were included in Ft. Jackson's stock of supplies. Photo courtesy Andrew Kasmar.

Plain jackets such as this one with wooden

buttons [reproduction] were included in

Ft. Jackson’s stock of supplies. Photo courtesy Andrew Kasmar.

By Bob Williams


A Self-Guided Tour of Confederate Ft. Harrison

The Fall of Fort Harrison, September 29, 1864 as depicted by artist Sidney E. King. Photo by Author

In a continuation of our series of posts providing walking tour maps and guides to Civil War sites, we offer this close up look at Confederate Fort Harrison, a key work on the defense lines east of Richmond. Federals captured this large earthen fort on September 29, 1864 in a surprise pre-dawn assault. Although lightly defended, the small Confederate garrison waged a brisk defense, costing the attacking Union forces heavily. While the Federals maintained control of the fort they were unable to further exploit the dent in Richmond’s defense perimeter as Southern troops from other sections of the line heroically plugged the gap. It was, as they say, a near run thing.

Considering the recapture of Fort Harrison vital, General Robert E. Lee launched a counterattack the following day aimed at ousting the Unionists. The attacking Rebels never really stood a chance. Many of the defending Federals were armed with seven-shot Spencer carbines that poured out a literal sheet of fire. Casualties among the Confederate forces, including the North Carolina brigades of Kirkland, McKethan, and Scales, were devastating. Lee was forced to call off the assault as a bad enterprise.

In the end, Fort Harrison remained in Federal hands and was considerably strengthened into a fully enclosed earthwork. It was renamed Fort Burnham, in honor of Union Brigadier General Hiram Burnham who was killed in the September 29th attack. Confederate forces meanwhile constructed a secondary defense line in their Chaffin’s Farm defenses that effectively sealed off the breach. They made one further attempt to repair the broken line on October 7th but it too failed. However, it was not until Richmond fell on April 3, 1865 that Union troops ever reached the city.

Fort Harrison/Burnham today is well preserved, along with many secondary works, as part of the Richmond National Battlefield Park. Presented below is an excellent walking self-guided tour of both the Confederate and Federal sections of the fort. This brochure was printed in 1961 and has been long out of print. Your blog host is pleased to make this excellent tour map once again available to enhance your battlefield experience when visiting this fortification. Please left click on images for enlarged views.

FHI 001FHII 001FHIII 001

By Bob Williams


A Walking Tour of Cold Harbor

Cold Harbor

In June of 2009 the reactivated 26th North Carolina Infantry held a living history event on Cold Harbor National Battlefield Park, located in Hanover County, VA,  a few miles east of Richmond. Here in June of 1864 the Federal armies under general Ulysses S. Grant were handed bloody and decisive repulse by Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia. The regiment was allowed to camp just behind the well-preserved main line of Confederate earthworks at veritable “storm center” of the famous June 3rd assault. Weekend activities included living history in the trenches and the usual drill and firing demonstrations.

As part of the program I was asked to provide a walking tour of key points on the NPS property and relate events of the battle that occurred at those locations. More than 50 years studying and exploring the fields of this famous engagement provides me some credentialing. To assist in this interpretation I used as a primary map an excellent survey of the Cold Harbor trench lines rendered by author Earl Hess in his book Trench Warfare under Grant & Lee: Field Fortifications in the Overland Campaign. This map was the basis of our guided walking tour. Quotations from actual participants highlight events at key stops on the tour.

Since that time I have had several unit members ask for copies of this map and descriptive text. Assuming this information may be of interest to newer members and blog readers who might wish to tour the Cold Harbor battlefield in the future, it is being reproduced here in its entirety. You won’t find this anywhere else. Please left click on map for enlarged view suitable for printing. Happy battlefield tramping!

26th NC Cold Harbor Tour

 (1.) CS TEMPORARY LINE (KERSHAW’S SALIENT): “On examining the line I found it bent back at almost a right angle the point of which rested on a body of heavy woods . . . The right face of the angle ran along a slope with a small marshy stream behind and higher ground in front . The works had evidently been built just where the troops found themselves at the close of the fight [on June 1st ] . . . I proposed to cut off the angle and build a new line across its base which would throw the marshy ground in front. I procured a hatchet  . . . with an armful of stakes [and] went out after dark located the line and drove every stake upon it. The troops were formed on it at once and before morning the  [new] works were finished . . . the men having leveled the [old] works as much as possible before leaving them.” Gen. E.M. Law

 (2.) FALLIGANT’S LONE GUN: “ One of Calloway’s guns . . . under the command of Lieutenant Robert Falligant [Pulaski Georgia Artillery] . . . held and carried the right flank of  [Kershaw’s] brigade . . . After Falligant’s horses were shot . . . it was considerably in advance of Wofford’s left with which it was not connected at all . . . There [was not] at any time a Confederate soldier to the right of this piece, nor a spadeful of dirt, except the little traverse we threw up to protect the right of the gun . . . I have never witnessed more gallant action than this of Lt. Falligant and his dauntless cannoneers.” Maj. Robt. Stiles, Cabell’s Arty. Bttn

 (3.) JUNE 3rd KILLING FIELD (MUDDY RUN): “So far as the 18thCorps is concerned in this mornings assault Gen. Martindale’s Division moved down a ravine in the center of the 18th Corps lines; Gen. Brooks  moved in on the left of Martindale connecting with the right of the 6th Corps . . . They charged into an angle  . . . and were badly cut up losing a thousand men . . .  The right of our Regiment [13th NHV] here rests near a muddy and very wet bit of swamp called Muddy Run . . . It is not fortified excepting by a few logs and to pass up and down the line there requires much care.”  Lt. S. M. Thompson, 13th NHV.

 (4.) US MAIN LINE: “The skirmishers and pickets who preceded us on this line holding it after the charge of  . . . June 3rd, had seized it and made little pits but no regular entrenchments . . . Our men add to these with tin dippers and bayonets . . . The bodies of the Rebel dead lying about and the bodies of some  Union men also are piled up for a barricade , but separately, [and] a few logs and sand thrown upon the whole – anything to keep the Rebel bullets back . . .  Muddy run at our right opens a gap . . . for the enemy’s fire and we run traverses across the ditch of our entrenchments for every few men to prevent his enfilading any part of the curving line of our trench. . .  We could count 170 dead bodies lying unburied in the open field close in front of our entrenchments  . . . Our trench is about five feet thick and more than that thick.”  Lt. S. M. Thompson, 13th NHV.

 (5.) THE PINE: “ The center and left of our Regt. rises and entrenches on a small knoll but quite high . . .  Our entrenchments bend around a large pine tree standing near the highest point of the knoll . . .  possibly it stands fifteen feet in rear of the parapet .This tree is about 75 feet high and 2 and ½ feet in diameter and the boys call it “Our Pine.” This pine . . . is struck by hundreds of bullets and is the special target for every Rebel gunner in this part of the Confederacy.” Lt. S. M. Thompson, 13th NHV.

 (6.) CHARGE OF THE HEAVIES: “The field in front of us . . . was indeed a sad site . . . The 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery, a new regiment 1800 strong, had joined us a few days before the battle. Its uniform was bright and fresh; therefore its dead were easily distinguished where they lay. They marked in a dotted line an obtuse angle, covering a wide front with its aped toward the enemy, and there upon his face, with his head towards the works . . . lay the brave and genial Col. Elisha S. Kellogg.” Gen. M. T. McMahon

 (7.) JUNE 1st BREAKTHROUGH (BLOODY RUN): “Everywhere [on June 1st] the enemy were driven back promptly & decidedly except at the 50 yard gap between Hoke & Kershaw through which flowed a small stream bordered with woods and thicket. The enemy’s dense columns filled this wood which sheltered them from our view entirely & penetrated the gap & suddenly appeared on the flanks of the brigades on each side. Here they captured about 500 prisoners & a little of each end of the breastwork.”  Col. E. P. Alexander

 “The Yankees charged us and our left was entirely unprotected by the moving of Hagood’s brigade to the right . . .  [and] the enemy got completely round our left in overwhelming numbers. The 8th North Carolina on our left was almost completely surrounded but managed to get off . . . I rallied some men about 100 yards in the rear . . . when I received a tremendous blow which struck me about the knee making me fall like an ox..” Captain W.H.S. Burgwyn, 35th North Carolina

 (8.) CS GUN POSITION:  “Every night each gun was ordered to be double shotted for instant use . . . One of Cabell’s Napoleons had its wheels so cut and torn by bullets one evening it was thought best to put on new ones. This was done & the breech of the gun was elevated and 37 musket balls fell out which had gone down the muzzle during the day.” Col.  E. P. Alexander

 “Artillery was placed at both ends of the new line abreast of the infantry.” Gen. E. M. Law

 (9.) CS COMMAND POST: “General Gregg’s headquarters . . . consisted of a hole in the ground about 3 feet deep and about 8 by 4 in dimension. It was located about 20 feet in the rear of our main line trench which was here only about 150 yards from the Federal line on the edge of a wood. . .  A little narrow trench from one end led obliquely into the infantry line in front.” Col. E. P. Alexander

 (10.) CS MAIN LINE: “We now entered into eight days of life in the trenches which I think were the greatest eight days of hardship the army ever endured . . . the baking down of the summer sun became so unbearable that the men would canopy the whole trench with their blankets . . . [every] four men would reverse their muskets  . . . and let the hammers pinch down on the four corners of a blanket . . . Imagine how thick four men with canteen, blankets, and haversacks must lie to one single blanket, conceive that vermin . . . and all the nuisances attendant upon a great & crowded aggregation of humanity . . . and you begin to have a picture of the Cold Harbor trenches. To pass along the lines . . . I would have to literally have to crawl under every blanket and over every set of fours.”  Col. E. P. Alexander


By Bob Williams



A Guided Tour to Petersburg’s “Fort Hell”

FH Parapet

Few points on the opposing siege lines around Petersburg, Virginia were considered more dangerous than Union Fort Sedgwick, appropriately nicknamed “Fort Hell.” This prominent earthen fortification was strategically located astride the vital Jerusalem Plank road, just a few hundred yards southeast of Confederate Battery No. 29, variously called Fort Mahone or “Fort Damnation.”

 Construction on the vital entrenchment was begun in mid-July 1864, preparatory to the explosion of General Ambrose Burnside’s famous mine. Even as early as July 21st, Union Colonel Charles Wainwright noted: “The new work at the plank road gets on slowly. I was right in my surmise that the rebels would not like it; they make it so hot for the workmen that it has already been christened Fort hell by the men.” It was completed in time to furnish supporting artillery fire during the abortive “Crater” affair. Throughout the remaining siege, Sedgwick’s formidable walls seemed to act as a magnet in drawing extremely accurate artillery fire from Southern guns. In addition, opposing picket lines between the two strong points were separated by less than 100 yards, and the firing was generally constant.

 Thanks to Northern cameramen Timothy O’Sullivan and others, Fort Sedgwick was probably the most photographed of all Union works at Petersburg. Up until the 1960s, it was also among the best preserved. Particular interest in the site was generated by the discovery in 1925 of several Union and Confederate tunnels near the fort. Their popularity prompted landowner David Lyon to develop Fort Hell Park, a “famous Civil War Shrine.” Lyon constructed a wooden entrance into one of the tunnels, restored and rebuilt several of the bombproofs and living quarters, and established a self-guided walking tour. He even built a museum and gift shop stocked with numerous and assorted relics recovered on the grounds. A hefty display of 8 and 10-inch mortar shells testified as to the appropriateness of the fort’s sobriquet. Soon, the privately run, tree-dotted historical park was attracting daily “throngs of people from all over this and other countries,” reported Confederate Veteran magazine.

FHOQ Sadly, all vestiges of this unique site were bulldozed in 1967, to make way for a shopping center and parking lot. As a youth growing up in nearby Richmond during the ‘60s, this writer made numerous excursions to “Fort Hell” before its destruction. In addition to prowling the earthworks and tunnels, I soon became friends with the owner at that time and was graciously allowed to relic hunt in the back, non-public reaches of the work. In addition to a considerable number of Minie balls and shell fragments, I still retain a copy of the park’s tour brochure and map as a souvenir of long-lost Sedgwick.

 Reproduced here for the first time is the rare and long out of print “Your Guide to Tour Fort Hell,” with its highly detailed tour map. This map and guide become especially meaningful when utilized in conjunction with contemporary photographs of the earthwork found on the Library of Congress website:  http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/cwp/ [keywords Fort Hell; Fort Sedgwick]. Viewed altogether, they provide a fascinating insight into a typical Civil War earthwork. Please left click on images for enlarged views.

Fort Hell I 001         Ft. Hell II 001

 by Bob Williams