Mexican-American War 170th: Siege of Vera Cruz

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Morning of March 29, 1847 came and brought two long parallel lines of American troops. The soldiers, begrimed and dirty from the exertions of the past 20 days, formed a gauntlet that their defeated foe would march through. The rows of Mexican forces soon came out of their city, with its crumbling walls bearing testament to the ferocity of the American artillery fire. Stacking their muskets and presenting tallies of paroled prisoners, the Mexican soldiers turned over command of the city of Vera Cruz to Winfield Scott. The siege of Vera Cruz had concluded.

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Symposium Spotlight: Chris Kolakowski


2015-KolakowskiThe Fourth Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge will focus on “Great Defenses of the Civil War” this year. Presenter Chris Kolakowski contends that the Army of the Cumberland’s defense at Stones River ranks among the turning-point events of the war. His talk, “I Will Die Right Here’: The Army of the Cumberland at Stones River,” will focus on that pivotal stand.

“During the Battle of Stones River, the Union forces underwent a near-death experience unlike any large Federal army in the war to that point,” Chris says. “The political and military stakes of this battle were critical. As Lincoln said later, ‘the Union could have scarcely lived over” a Union defeat at Stones River.’” Continue reading

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ECW’s March 2017 Newsletter Now Available

March 2017The March 2017 Emerging Civil War newsletter came out yesterday. If you haven’t received your copy yet, you can view it here (and please sign up for the mailing list while you’re at it, too!).

This month’s newsletter reflects on Women’s History Month and its value to young girls, in particular, who might be interested in getting into history. It also touches on some of our WHM efforts here at the blog and also offers a few suggestions from our archives for other posts that highlight the stories of women from the Civil War.

Our “10 Questions” feature turns the spotlight on one of our important behind-the-scenes contributors at ECW, Hannah Gordon (who had good news to share over the weekend).

And speaking of “behind the scenes,” our “Behind the Scenes” feature returns this month with a brief discussion of the pros and cons of footnotes in our ECWS books.

Plus, we have our usual “News & Notes,” “Upcoming Presentations,” and a Symposium Spotlight update. (Tickets are still available!)

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Pontoon Bridges: The Great Crossings

Yesterday Sarah Kay Bierle looked at the ancient uses of pontoon bridges and its perspectives on the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg. While she addressed the difficulties of bridging rivers, I would like to look at the other side of the coin: the most successful river crossings in the past 155 years.

Students of the Civil War are no doubt familiar with the 1864 Overland Campaign and its GrantsArmyCrossingTheJamesCenturyMagazineApril1897bloody battles between the Federal forces under U.S. Grant and Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. But one aspect sometimes gets overlooked: the Federal crossing of the James River by ferry and bridge between June 13 and 17, 1864. The movement involved over 100,000 men, 5,000 vehicles, and 58,000 animals. Some moved by steamer and ferry, while two corps and the support elements of Grant’s forces crossed via a 2,200-foot pontoon bridge over the James, which is tidal at that point. This crossing was a triumph of logistics; the bridge over the James ranks as the longest pontoon bridge in military history. Continue reading

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Ike, JFK, and the Gettysburg Address

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Ike at the lectern for the 100th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address (photo courtesy The Gettysburg Times)

Today is the anniversary of the death of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1969. In commemoration, we offer the intertwined story of Ike, JFK, Lincoln, and the Gettysburg Address.

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For the 100th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, the Centennial Commission and National Park Service invited President John F. Kennedy to come to south-central Pennsylvania and offer a few appropriate remarks. Renowned for his writing almost as much as Lincoln was—Kennedy had won the Pulitzer Prize in 1957 and his inaugural address had become an instant classic—the president seemed the ideal choice for such an auspicious occasion. He had also visited the battlefield earlier that year, in March, and had enjoyed himself tremendously.

Kennedy demurred on a return trip, however. He had already committed to attend a political event in Dallas, Texas, at the request of his vice president, Lyndon B. Johnson. He sent, in his stead, (very) brief remarks: “On this solemn occasion let us all rededicate ourselves to the perpetuation of those ideals of which Lincoln spoke so luminously. As Americans, we can do no less.” Continue reading

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Pontoon Bridges: Hellespont & Rappahannock

Panorama view of Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Pontoon Bridges: an engineering construction used throughout history to get armies across rivers.

Prior to the First Battle of Fredericksburg, Union General Burnside delayed his forward advance toward Richmond at the banks of the Rappahannock River. The pontoon bridges he had ordered had not arrived on time. Concerned about the possibility of the river flooding and splitting his army on separate sides, Burnside refused to send troops to the other side via the upstream fords. By the time the long-awaited pontoon bridges arrived and were ready to be placed, Confederates had dug into the high ground outside Fredericksburg town.

Pontoon Bridges are associated with the Battle of Fredericksburg since they provided the advance and retreat route for the Union Army of the Potomac. (You can check out some replicas near Chatham House if you’re visiting Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania Military Park.)

Did you know General Burnside had something in common with Ancient Persian King Xerxes I? Both commanders ordered pontoon bridge construction to advance their armies in campaigns. Xerxes’s spanned the Hellespont in 480 B.C.E. No, pontoon bridges aren’t a modern warfare invention. Continue reading

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In Search of Sherman


Sherman’s grave at Calvary Cemetery

During the past week I have been on a campaign of my own seeking out historic sites associated with the famed Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman.  I began my quest in St. Louis, a city much loved by the general.  The best place to start would have been the Sherman home at 912 N. Garrison Avenue, but sadly it was demolished a century ago.  Instead, I made my way to his grave.

Fans of the general are often surprised that his bones rest in St. Louis instead of Lancaster, Ohio – the site of his family home and that of the Ewing clan.  Another surprise for those that know Sherman is that he is buried in a Catholic cemetery – Calvary.  Surely, Sherman would have opposed this as he had all efforts to convert him during his lifetime.  But, of course, when the time came the decision was not his; so he rests here. Continue reading

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Question of the Week: 3/27-4/2/17

If you could only keep one Civil War book in your library/collection, which book would you save?

(We know that’s a painful thought, but it might reveal favorite battles, commanders, or topics!)

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Scenes of Success from Kernstown


Jim Lighthizer at Kernstown

Civil War Trust President Jim Lighthizer at Kernstown last Thursday (photo courtesy of the Civil War Trust)

We’re pleased to share a little good news from our friends at the Civil War Trust and the Kernstown Battlefield Association. This week, to commemorate the 155th anniversary of the battle, they celebrated preservation victories that preserve land associated with First and Second Kernstown.

We’re pleased to share some of their photos from the battlefield and the event, but first, here’s a recap of Thursday’s news: Continue reading

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WHM Profile: Hannah Gordon


Gordon-Mugshot 2017Hannah Gordon isn’t a name most Emerging Civil War readers are familiar with, but over the past year, she’s become integral to our behind-the-scenes operations with the Emerging Civil War Series and the upcoming Emerging Revolutionary War Series. In this month’s newsletter, due out in just a few days, we’ll direct our “10 Questions” to Hannah, so ECW readers will have the chance to get to know her better and get a look at some of the stuff she’s been up to.

In the meantime, we’re pleased to share the news that Hannah, a graduate student at St. Bonaventure University in western New York, was recently honored as the 2017 recipient of the university’s Dr. Mary A. Hamilton Woman of Promise award.

(And yes, St. Bonaventure is the home to ECW’s editor-in-chief, Chris Mackowski, so you can probably already imagine how Hannah, a writer and editor, got roped into this Civil War thing….)

According to St. Bonaventure’s Office of University Relations:  Continue reading

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