Civil War

KN, p. 238 “American Civil War Battles of Manassas”

 

First Battle of Manassas was the first major battle of the American Civil War. It’s also known as the Battle of Bull Run because of its proximity to the Bull Run River in northern Virginia. Manassas is located 30 miles from Washington, D.C., about a ten hour walk. There are two battles with that name: the Battle of First Manassas was fought in 1861; the Second in 1862 when the Union general decided that it was time to get revenge for the first rout.



In late June, 1861, President Lincoln, who had been elected to office only a few months before, got word that there were Confederate troops guarding strategic locations near the Manassas railway junction. This proximity to D.C. made President Lincoln more than a little nervous (he had been surprised by the fall of Fort Sumter in April) and he wanted the Confederate Army quashed. This had become an in-your-face armed conflict, not just a small rebellion aimed at the policies of the newly elected government.



Early in July of 1861, Gen. Irvin McDowell’s army of 35,000 very green, 90-day volunteers left Washington, D.C. and headed toward the railroad at Manassas. McDowell hoped to capture the junction, then travel to the newly proclaimed Confederate capital of Richmond. The goal was to capture Richmond and end the war. A Union defeat was not remotely anticipated, and as was the custom at the beginning of the Civil War, people were prepared to line up with picnic baskets to observe the show.



McDowell arrived in the area on July 18, astonished to discover that the Confederate contingent was 22,000 strong. He attempted to approach both left and right flanks for the next two days. During that time, the Confederate General Beauregard sent word to Richmond for backup. 10,000 additional troops under command of General Johnston from Shenandoah Valley, gave the Union Army the slip along the way and arrived on July 20-21. Now the two armies were essentially equal in size.

Stone House, located at intersection of Warrenton Turnpike and Manassas-Sudley Road. Used as a field hospital by the Union army in both Battles of Manassas.


McDowell’s plans of distraction and surprise under the cover of darkness and from different directions might have succeeded if he’d had a more seasoned fighting force. However, unfamiliar woods and hilly terrain were the Union Army’s enemy on the 21st. The Confederate Colonel Evans figured out that the attack at his location was a diversion and was able to briefly check the forward movement of McDowell’s troops at Matthew Hill.



But then, even with help, the Confederates had to fall back to Henry Hill, a relatively high position in the area. At that point, new brigades arrived to bolster the Southern troops (the nickname ‘Stonewall Jackson’ may have originated at Henry Hill).



Timing is everything in battle, and sometimes, taking a break to reorganize can be disastrous, even if necessary. The Union side paused for about an hour to regroup, and during that time, the Confederates took advantage of the reprieve to reform their own lines. The goal didn’t change for either side: to retain claim of Henry Hill. Renewed fighting went on for several hours until new Southern troops arrived to join the fray, forcing McDowell’s men to retreat.



In the long run, July 21st did not end all that well for either side. The withdrawing Union volunteers found the road back to Washington crammed with sightseers, preventing an orderly retreat. Panic ensued. The Confederates were too tired and disorderly to follow up on their success, so by the morning of the 22nd, the defeated Union army was safely back behind their lines.



Learning from that defeat that taking poorly trained and undisciplined soldiers into battle would end badly, Gen. George B. McClellan took charge of the Washington based Federal forces, established the Army of the Potomac and whipped them into combat readiness. The Union plan was to still to stop the Confederates by attacking Richmond, the Southern capital. When McClellan was ready in March of 1862, he left D.C. and had Richmond in his sights by May.



The Southerners left the Manassas position and after a series of bloody battles and a change of Confederate leadership to Robert E. Lee, pushed McClellan away from Richmond. In the next few weeks, Lee’s tactical advantage would shift back and forth, and he knew that to finally defeat the Union troops, he would have to send Jackson to outflank and defeat them decisively. On August 27th, Jackson’s well-trained troops seized the supply depot at Manassas Junction, burned the Union supplies, and moved to the woods near the first Manassas battlefield to wait for the Confederate army to return.



General Pope was angry that his supplies had been destroyed and left a successful battleground to take revenge on Jackson at Manassas. But, Jackson was ready and attacked part of the Union line as it passed on Warrenton Turnpike in a nasty battle that lasted for several hours. On the 29th, Pope’s information was faulty and hampered by a lack of strategic planning, kept throwing his men at Confederate positions, without doing sustained damage to their lines.

Re-enactment of cannon firing at Manassas

On the 30th, with poor intel again, Pope thought that the Confederates were in retreat, but in fact had not gone anywhere. Pope sent more men at Jackson’s line, a group attacked at the unfinished railroad’s Deep Cut area, but the Southerners prevailed in another bloody action. The Union Army was in disarray, and the Confederates pressed their advantage. Heroic fighting by the Union soldiers saved them from annihilation, and after dark, the remaining Union forces were able to escape back across the Bull Run River to Washington, D.C.

 

 



The Second Manassas campaign opened the way for the south’s first invasion of the north.

 



Stats:

First Battle of Manassas lasted one day.
Combined forces of Union and Confederates:  59,200
Death toll: 870
Wounded: 2600
Missing: 1200+

In the year between the First and Second Battles of Manassas, the weapons became deadlier, the soldiers better trained, and the generals more determined to wipe out the opposing forces. Each side was deeply committed to the rightness of their own ideals.

Second Battle of Manassas lasted three days.
Combined forces of Union and Confederates: 125,000
Death toll: 3,300
Wounded: 14,654
Missing or captured: 5,000+



Not long after, the two armies would meet again at Antietam, the bloodiest battle in American history.

 

 



Memorial Day now falls on the last Monday in May in the U.S. It is a day to honor and remember those who gave their lives in active duty military service. If you have the opportunity, a visit to one of the national battlefield parks will explain in depth why we were at war, while paying tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

 

https://www.nps.gov/mana/index.htm



*Photos by Patti Phillips

 

KN, p. 171 “Visit to Antietam”

 

Dunker Church
Dunker Church

We are a military family and in honor of those who served, Sheila and I have visited several battlefields/military cemeteries in recent years. The 2016 destination? Antietam – a Civil War battlefield in Maryland named after the creek in Sharpsburg.

 

The night before the Battle of Antietam was to begin in the farming town, soldiers gathered in the woods behind Dunker Church. On September 17, 1862, Generals Robert E. Lee (Confederate) and George McClellan (Union) made their stands, determined to break (or hold) the Union front.

 

Antietam is remembered not only for its political importance, but also for being the bloodiest single day in American military history. About 23,000 souls (out of combined forces of about 100,000) were either killed, wounded or lost – a quarter of the area soldiers were out of commission, a devastating toll.

 

A film shown at the Antietam Visitor’s Center revealed that the battle itself was the result of accidentally acquired information about Lee’s plans, but some say that the incredible losses were the result of poorly formed battle strategy on both sides. Communication between the generals was spotty and at times, the enlisted men took things into their own hands after their officers were cut down.

 

The Sunken Road was the center of intense fighting for several hours and when the outnumbered Confederate forces were finally surrounded and killed, hundreds of bodies lay piled high throughout the length of what came to be called Bloody Lane.

The Sunken Road
The Sunken Road

 

 

Burnside Bridge changed hands several times during the day. Whoever held the high ground was able to see the enemy approach and could easily pick the soldiers off, one by one.

Burnside Bridge
Burnside Bridge

 

Eye witness accounts in letters reveal that often, single lines of men walked straight into the fire of the opposition, with little or no cover. Small groups continued to be picked off and there were so many bullets flying that it was hard to keep out of the way.

 

Nestled in a rolling valley in Maryland, today’s landscape is peaceful, beautiful – devoid of any signs of war except for the occasional statue or monument to the sacrifices of the brave men that lost their lives almost 154 years ago. Those rolling hills created several areas of high ground for the 500 cannons employed effectively by both sides.

Cannon with New York
Cannon with New York Monument in background

 

That restful view belies the actual aftermath of the Battle. So many men were wounded

Maryland Monument
Maryland Monument

that every building for miles around – school, home, business, barn – was used as a hospital. Never before had battlefield medicine been so severely tested. While the U.S. Sanitary Commission had been established the year before to help with distribution of supplies to hospitals, the aide was stretched beyond its limits.

 

The Sharpsburg region was devastated by the battle, racked by death and disease, stripped of food and supplies by both armies, and transformed forever by the impact of the fighting. Many local civilians lost their homes and farms to the combat and were never compensated by either side for that loss and destruction, despite their loyalty to the cause.

 

Clara Barton, who would later form the Red Cross, gave aid to soldiers from both sides and eventually organized the practice of giving assistance to civilians after natural disasters.

 

Neither side was a clear winner at the end of the day, but when the out manned and under supplied Confederates retreated back into Virginia, the Union counted it as a victory and Lincoln was able to use that as a bargaining chip to push the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation forward.

 

September 18, 1862 was a day that both sides gathered and tried to bury the dead, but

Antietam National Cemetery
Antietam National Cemetery

it took days to bury the 3,500 bodies. Union soldiers were re-buried in the area now known as Antietam National Cemetery, while Confederate soldiers were ultimately buried in local graveyards.

 

For more information about Antietam, the battlefield, and the museum, please visit:

 

https://www.nps.gov/anti/planyourvisit/hours.htm

 

http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/antietam.html

 

https://www.nps.gov/anti/index.htm

 

http://www.npr.org/2012/09/17/161248814/antietam-a-savage-day-in-american-history

 

https://www.nps.gov/anti/learn/historyculture/arty.htm

 

Our visit to Antietam was a sobering experience; the exhibits pointing out so clearly  the terrible price that both soldiers and civilians pay for the freedoms we enjoy. If you truly want to understand the importance of what transpired at Antietam on September 17, 1862, read up on it. Better yet, take time to visit the area.

 

*Photos by Patti Phillips

 

 

 

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Visiting Detectives – Sheriff Will Denton

 

 

It’s no secret that I’m a Gettysburg/Civil War buff.  The local bookstore got a new title in, “Last Stand at Bitter Creek,” written by Tom Rizzo, who seems to share my interest in 19th century law enforcement. As I read his tale of a Sheriff back in that era, I began to imagine what it would be like to sit down and chat with that Sheriff about a case.

 

Meet Sheriff Will Denton.

 

 

 

Sheriff Will Denton leaned back in the chair and stretched his legs in front of him, which gave him a little relief from the pain. A constant reminder that no one can outrun a bullet. He flashed a tired smile at Charlie Kerrian, and wondered how many other lawmen, or detectives, sought this man’s counsel.

 

Denton occupied the middle ground between the mid-forties and mid-fifties, his face a pattern of deep lines reflecting his experience and competence. His laid-back demeanor wasn’t accidental. It served the purpose of luring most bad eggs he confronted into a false sense of comfort. He wore his holster low and strapped down, the sign of someone who meant business.

 

“So here’s my problem. I got this railroad detective coming who thinks someone he’s hunting is holed up in my town. But I hear he’s a trigger-happy hothead. I don’t want the folks nervous, scared or edgy in anyway, and I’m trying to figure out how best to handle this.”

 

Kerrian took a sip of coffee from the mug he was holding and swallowed.

 

“From my understanding, Sheriff Denton, you have a reputation of being able to handle anything that comes your way. So, why seek input from me on this particular occasion?”

 

Denton hadn’t realized Kerrian knew anything about him. He admired his thoroughness. “Truth is, I’ve never enjoyed the luxury of talking things out with anyone. The town can’t afford to hire me a deputy. The only ones I ever confide in about anything are Hiram who owns the livery. He does a good job as my unofficial eyes and ears since I spend so much time roamin’ the countryside. And, I share my concerns on occasion with Ms. Brennan, who runs a local tavern.”

 

Denton, absent-mindedly slid his hand back to the handle of the Peacemaker he wore, making sure the small leather strip at the back of his holster was still looped over the hammer to keep it in place.

 

“I make it a point to learn everything about strangers who visit our fine town—even if they wear a badge,” Denton said. “Hotheads make me nervous. The last one I confronted put a bullet in my thigh.”

 

“And, what happened to him?”

 

Denton frowned. “He’s pretty much dead.”

 

“I have a feeling strangers who visit your town don’t stay long, Sheriff.”

 

Denton’s green eyes flickered with amusement. “We’ve had our share of roustabouts with the war ending. I tend to be an impatient sort when it comes to trouble. I figure it’s best to head off a problem rather than fix one. But, just the same, it wouldn’t do me or the town much good to have to shoot Mecklin.” He smiled. “That’s the railroad detective.”

 

Kerrian returned the smile. “Why does this man concern you so much?”

 

“From what I’ve heard, he’s quick to take charge. Prides himself on always getting his man.”

 

“Is that so bad?”

 

“Only when the innocent get in the way. He’s always left a few bodies between him and the man’s he’s hunting. No one has ever called his hand. Seems to have free rein wherever he goes.”

 

“Why?”

 

“It’s all about accommodation. The railroad pretty much calls the shots in small towns like ours. Money talks,” Denton said, lifting his hand to the side of his face and rubbing his thumb back-and-forth against the tips of his four fingers. “If your town’s lucky enough to be touched by the magic wand of the iron rail, it can’t help but grow.”

 

“And?” Kerrian said, squinting at his visitor.

 

“And, if the railroad decides to pull up stakes and leave, bad things happen. Those places just die up. They wither away. Become ghost towns. We fought long and hard to attract the railroad. Mecklin is the lead detective, with a long record of success and he pretty much can do what he wants because he has brought bad people to justice and recovered thousands of dollars in stolen gold.”

 

“What’s your end game, sheriff?”

 

“I don’t want him turned loose to do as he pleases.”

 

“So, don’t let him.”

 

“Easier said than done, Detective Kerrian. The town council has pretty much told me to butt out. Or, if I do butt in, to let Mecklin call the shots and not interfere in a way that puts the town at risk of looking uncooperative in the eyes of the railroad.”

 

Kerrian didn’t say anything, and closed his eyes. Seconds later, he opened one eyelid and squinted, and then opened the second one, seeming to bring Denton into sharp focus. The movement of the eyelids reminded Denton of a couple of windows opening.

 

“My intuition tells me you’re not going to allow Mr. Mecklin to have his way, no matter what the risk. No matter what the consequences.”

 

“Is that your advice?”

 

“You don’t need advice, sheriff. You just needed to hear the words out loud.”

 

A smile played on Will Denton’s lips.

 

“Reckon you’re right about that, Detective. My town. My rules.

 

A door to another room opened, and a gentle-looking woman smiled at Denton, and nodded to her husband, who glanced at his pocket watch.

 

“Will, we’d like you to join us for a home-cooked meal and a glass of sweet tea. And, one of Sheila’s wonderful desserts, of course.  Would you do us the honor?”

 

Denton stood up, unbuckled the gun belt, and draped it over the arm of the chair. 

 

“Best offer I’ve had today, Charlie.”

 

# # #

Thanks to Will Denton (aka Tom Rizzo) for stopping by Kerrian’s Notebook and giving us a glimpse into the life of a cop from another century. If you have any questions for Tom, please leave them in the comments. Tom posts some great articles about the West, so be sure to look for him online.

 

About the Author:

A passion for 19th century American history, Tom’s debut novel—LAST STAND AT BITTER CREEK—includes several elements of historical fact. The novel was a finalist for the Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award for Best Western First Novel.

 

His second book is entitled HEROES & ROGUES: THE GOOD & THE BAD OF THE AMERICAN WEST.

 

His writing journey has taken him from radio and television news reporting to the Associated Press, where he worked as a correspondent, followed by several years in advertising and public relations.

 

He grew up in central Ohio, lived in Great Britain for several years, and now calls Houston, Texas, home.

 

Tom is a member of Western Writers of America, Wild West History Association, and Western Fictioneers.

Contact Info

Blog:          http://tomrizzo.com/ 

Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/TomRizzoWrites

Twitter:      http://twitter.com/TomRizzoWrites     

Email:       Tom@TomRizzo.com

 

 

 

 

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