They Intended To Kill All Of Them – Battle and Death in Southwest Virginia

150 years ago today, 5,000 Union soldiers marched toward Saltville, Virginia, aiming to destroy the key saltworks at that town. Under the command of Major General Stephen Burbridge, the forces were made up mostly of Kentucky Mounted Infantry, plus a regiment each of Ohio and Michigan Cavalry, and the 5th U.S. Colored Cavalry.Saltville Massacre

On the heights north and northeast of town, the Federals ran into 3,000 Confederate defenders, who received reinforcements throughout the battle. Burbridge launched repeated attacks against the Confederate positions, but failed to break their line in heavy fighting. The overall Southern commander, Major General John C. Breckinridge, arrived on the field late in the day, and directed the final defense as dusk settled over the battlefield. Burbridge retreated that night, leaving his wounded behind under flag of truce. Continue reading

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ECW Welcomes Eric Wittenberg

eric-wittenbergSince the earliest days of Emerging Civil War, Eric Wittenberg has been a huge fan. He’s talked us up a lot, he’s offered advice, and he’s always had a lot of positive energy to inject any time we’ve turned to him as a sounding board for ideas. To be honest, it’s been a veritable Wittenberg-ECW Mutual Admiration Society. It was only natural, then, that we invited him to serve as our keynote speaker for the symposium this past August. (You can check out his fantastic talk, “The Battle of Trevilian Station,” on C-SPAN.)

Since then, Eric has played an increasingly active role in our internal planning and discussions. Somewhere along the line, we all realized, “Hey, he’s one of us.” So we’ve all decided to make it official!

We’re pleased to announce today that Eric has accepted our formal invitation to join the ranks of Emerging Civil War as a regular contributor. Continue reading

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Great Grandpa Scaled These Walls

NCM_1382The most rewarding experience for a public historian is the opportunity to tell a story to visitors whose ancestors were on that exact spot. This year I have retraced the 42nd Virginia Infantry’s assault on Forts Stedman and Haskell with descendants of a doomed 40 year old farmer captured in the attack. I also walked the route of the 126th Ohio Infantry with a nice midwestern couple as they drove in the Confederate pickets on Petersburg’s western front in the same day’s fighting. Sometimes visitors reciprocate my effort with information I had never seen before, like the North Carolinians whose ancestor’s letters continue late into the Petersburg campaign–a scarce primary resource to find from ranks of the Army of Northern Virginia in 1865. Other times I can only point to the steel mill that today stands on McIlwaine Hill as the closest landmark for a Georgia family to connect with their past.

This weekend when I overheard “Company H, Fifth Vermont” from the museum lobby I had to drop everything to investigate. Of the forty-six regiments belonging to the Sixth Corps on April 2, 1865, the file on the Fifth Vermont Infantry is by far the largest in the archives. Many of these accounts are from members of Company H, a storming party numbering only fifty strong who first successfully broke through the Confederate earthworks on the decisive day at Petersburg.

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What It’s All About

I was in Gettysburg this past weekend to take an all-day tour of the Union lines from Culp’s Hill down to Little Round Top. In total, the group walked about ten miles over the course of the day, and I got to see a lot of little nooks and crannies on the battlefield that I had never seen before. But, for me, the thing I get the most out of at Gettysburg is in the National Cemetery. There, surrounded by his comrades who were also killed in Adams County in the summer of 1863 is one of my ancestors, Monroe Quint.

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The Fourteen Medals of Honor at the Battle of New Market Heights

Today is the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of New Market Heights, an action in a larger series of battles that made up Ulysses S. Grant’s Fifth Offensive during the joint Siege of Petersburg and Richmond.

New Market Heights is north of the James River, and thus, on the operational level, the responsibility for attacking the Confederate positions there fell to Benjamin Butler’s Army of the James. Butler in turn gave the responsibility to E.O.C. Ord’s Eighteenth Corps, which attacked up from Deep Bottom towards the direction of New Market Heights.

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Sketches from the Shenandoah: James Taylor’s Scrapbook

In the collections of the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio rests With Sheridan Up the Shenandoah Valley. Leaves from a Special Artist’s Sketch Book and Diary. As the title implies, it is a book of incredibly realistic sketches and the diary of an artist named James Taylor. Today, Taylor is not one of the more well known artists who accompanied armies in the field and witnessed major battles. The Waud brothers, Alfred and William along with Edwin Forbes are more likely to come to mind when one is asked to name a Civil War artist.

Taylor hailed from Cincinnati and was a graduate of the University of Notre Dame. When war came in 1861, he enlisted in the 10th New York Infantry. When he mustered out in 1863, he took a job with Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper as a sketch artist. As fate would have it, Taylor would travel with the Federal army during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864.

As we continue to observe the Sesquicentennial and in conjunction with the Shenandoah Subordinates series, over the course of the next few weeks, I would like to offer our readers a glimpse of Taylor’s sketches. In fact, one has already been included in part two of the aforementioned series, which recounts David Russell’s actions at the Battle of Third Winchester. Each post will include a sketch and a brief description and hopefully bring to light the talent of James Taylor.

All sketches are courtesy of the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio.

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ECW Weekender – Front Royal, VA

The City of Front Royal saw a lot of activity during the Civil War, and these stories are told in various ways through museums, monuments, and several Virginia Civil War Trails markers. When visiting Front Royal, one should start at the Visitor Center located at 414 E Main St, Front Royal, VA. Maps and brochures are available to all the local Civil War museums, sites, and parks.

Warren Rifles Confederate Museum

Warren Rifles Confederate Museum

Must-see museums in town include the Warren Heritage Society Museum and the Warren Rifles Confederate Museum The Warren Heritage Society is a local historic non-profit that operates a nice museum and the Belle Boyd House (famous Confederate spy). Also a favorite among Civil War visitors is the Warren Rifles Confederate Museum. This museum was founded by the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and has exhibits and artifacts that relate to the Warren Rifles, famous Confederate generals, civilians, and the local battles that took place in the area. Continue reading

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Happy Anniversary, America’s Wars

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In my various jobs over the past few years, I’ve been involved directly or indirectly in planning and observing several of the major anniversaries of America’s military conflicts. This decade (2010-2020) seems to have quite a bumper crop, more than I can recall occurring at any one time before.

A partial list of this decade’s anniversaries includes:

- The Bicentennial of the War of 1812 2012-2015

- The Alamo 175th in 2011

- The Civil War 150th 2011-2015

- The 125th of Wounded Knee in 2015

- The First World War Centennial 2014-2018

- The 70th of World War II 2009-2015

- The 75th of World War II 2014-2020

- The 50th of Vietnam 2014-2025

- The 25th of the Persian Gulf War in 2016

- The 10th of 9/11 in 2011, Fall of Baghdad in 2013, and the Surge 2017-2018

Add in the 60th of Korea from 2010-2013, and the 65th of that conflict 2015-2018, and there are plenty of chronological milestones to mark the major events in American military history. Continue reading

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Coffee in the Civil War

Today, we are pleased to welcome guest author Ashley Webb.

If you’re like me, every morning, I wake up and have a cup of coffee (or two or three). Coffee was also an essential part of a Civil War soldier’s routine. They drank their coffee whenever they could, refueling themselves for the long days and nights ahead.[i]  And through the hardships of war, soldiers shared campfires, rations, and friendships.  Coffee wasn’t always part of a soldier’s ration, though.  It became a wartime staple thanks to President Andrew Jackson’s Army General Order No. 100 substituting coffee and sugar rations for alcohol in 1832.[ii] At the outbreak of the Civil War, and with the Union Blockade of Confederate ports in April of 1861, the availability of coffee to Confederate soldiers and families across the country dwindled.  As a result, Confederate soldiers and families on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line devised unique ways of obtaining their coffee.

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Coming Up This Weekend

This weekend C-SPAN 3 will be airing another Emerging Civil War Symposium lecture from this past August. On Saturday, at 7 PM & 11 PM, Meg Thompson’s lecture “A Bad Month for the President: Campaigning the Election of ’64″ will air.

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