Emerging Civil War welcomes back guest author John Roos…
Reflection is something we all do at some time or another. For many of us, we have that special spot where we can stop for a minute and reflect. We think about what is going on in our lives, try to come to a decision or conclusion, then move forward. I recently found myself in that state of mind with compounding issues. Where did I go to reflect? The Bloody Angle and Mule Shoe at the Spotsylvania Courthouse Battlefield. As I walked around that area on a cold January day, I found myself thinking a new thought. I looked around this peaceful setting and I asked myself, how can a spot that consumed 18,000 American casualties of war on May 12th, 1864 become a place of such tranquility? The irony of this consumed my thoughts and I realized how powerful the setting of a battlefield can be.
Chris Mackowski, historian and Emerging Civil War founder, said in a talk he gave at the American Civil War Museum, “I challenge you to find a prettier place on a battlefield.” This was in reference to the Bloody Angle at Spotsylvania. It was his words that were running through my mind as I walked that ground. From there I started to think about other locations on battlefields where I found myself at peace. Gettysburg hold a special place in the hearts of millions of people around the world. One location on the battlefield that brings the peacefulness of Gettysburg to life is Little Round Top. Staring out across the Gettysburg battlefield from Little Round Top is second nature for any visitor to this great battlefield. But as you gaze across the lush fields, you are reminded that these fields once ran red with the blood of soldiers. Yet, you find yourself in a place of calmness when you stand at the summit of Little Round Top. The Mule Shoe and Little Round Top are vast areas with open space. Places of peace and tranquility on a battlefield do not always have to be in such areas.
I have recently taken an interest in the Mine Run battlefield. Payne’s Farm is the only preserved area of this battle. Hiking through the woods and along the edge of the farm is peaceful. The farm is great, but what actually makes Mine Run a great place for reflection is the hidden gems. During winter time, and with a knowledge of the field, it is easy to find the long forgotten trenches of the Army of Northern Virginia. Sadly, many of the trenches have been obliterated by modern roads or are on people’s private property. There is one area however, that makes you feel like you are back in 1863 when the trenches were dug. Walking through the woods and following these trenches, one cannot help but to get lost in thought. The quiet surrounds you and you feel at peace while you think. Looking at these forgotten trenches, you also come to realize they were constructed in anticipation of a possible battle. This place of peace for you was once a place where a soldier thought he might have his last day on Earth.
These battlefields allow us to not only reflect on the soldiers that fought and bled here, but these are places many of us go to find ourselves when we are having a hard time. If you are lucky enough to live near a battlefield, or any historic site, you might know exactly what I mean. For others, you might be at home longing to get on the road and get to Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Chickamauga, Antietam, or a Fredericksburg area battlefield because that is where you feel the most at ease. It is interesting that we find peace and tranquility in these fields of death and destruction. It is this irony that I felt at the Bloody Angle. When I was having a tough time, it was this place that I needed.
John Roos is a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor’s degree in American history. He is currently working towards his Master’s degree, also in American history. John was an intern and volunteer with the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. After a period of time with the National Park Service, he moved with his wife Sarah back to Fredericksburg where he is a battlefield guide with Fredericksburg Tours and is a licensed teacher in Virginia with an endorsement in Social Studies. John began his love of the Civil War when he visited Gettysburg with his family when he was 10-years-old.
 Chris Mackowski, “A Season of Slaughter: The Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Book Talk” The American Civil War Museum, accessed February 12, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jGnEZaDrsBM&t=2824s.