Monthly Archives: May 2007

Gettysburg Visitors Center

I drove by the new Visitors Center recently; progress is being made, and it looks like it will be ready in time for next year’s tourist season. The location is farther from tourist row and the battlefield proper, and I like the new design (the new Cyclorama building is reminiscent of a round red barn instead of the absolutely ugly concrete structure that now exists). Someone posted the floor plan on a Civil War website I frequent, and it looks to be a much broader experience for the casual battlefield visitor once completed. Galleries and displays will trace the events leading up to the battle, placing it in historic context, and then cover the three days of fighting and the withdrawal. Parts of the massive Rosensteel weapons and relics collection will be on display, and the remainder will be well cared for in a climate controlled atmosphere, unlike today’s VC. The library will be larger with better facilities for research and study, and the Cyclorama will have a new look after being restored and with ground level vignettes adding to the display. The bookstore will be under new managment (Eastern did not get the contract), so I don’t know what (if anything) that will mean for the sales of my books (which sell well at the current VC bookstore).

What is not present in the floor plans for the new VC is the time honored 30-foot by 30-foot square Electric Map that dominates the western side of the current building on Cemetery Hill. Its The current map was installed in 1963 in a new auditorium, replacing an older map designed by Joseph L. Rosensteel in 1938. Believe it or not, in all my visits to Gettysburg, I had never taken the time to view the map, even though the price is reasonable ($4 for adults). I finally went last year, just so I could see it before it is gone, sold, or moved elsewhere to a private facility (all of which are under consideration).

According to the Park Service, over 225,000 people paid the admission to see the map in 2006. It seats 554, but is rarely ever full. The largest crowds are usually busloads of school kids on their field trips to Gettysburg, and the electric light display probably bores the majority of them, who were raised on video games and MTV instead of history books and imagination. The new VC will have a 25-minute video that introduces the battle. Troop movements will be done by video graphics instead of by a painted floor display with 625 reddish orange, blue, and white light bulbs.

So, if you are planning a summer vacation trip to Gettysburg this year, make sure to stop by to see the old Electric Map before it is gone. It will evoke memories of the days when wires and light bulbs were the latest in technology before computer animation.

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The sad demise of a childhood love

Today is the scheduled running of the 91st Indianapolis 500, but rain threatens to postpone or significantly delay the classic event. I emphasize the word classic, because the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” is no longer that. Declining fan interest, dwindling attendance, reduced TV ratings, empty hotel rooms in Indy: all add up to the stark reality. The Indy 500 is not only no longer America’s favorite auto race, it’s not even the most popular on Memorial Day (having long since been supplanted by NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600).

For me, it’s a sad truth. I grew up in Ohio and was an open-wheel nut. I loved listening to the Indy 500 on my transistor radio or car radio as a kid and young adult, and then eagerly looked forward to ABC’s Sunday night tape delay broadcast to see the highlights. I created my own outdoor Indy track to race my Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, and in the winter had a cardboard track to run them in the off-season. As a young adult, I almost religiously played Avalon Hill’s USAC Indy 500 board game, and created my own driver cards each year for drivers that ran in the series but missed Indy. When AH discontinued making the driver cards, I made my own for years, as well as tracks for other races in the series.

Names like Foyt, Andretti, Sneva, Rutherford,  Johncock, Unser, Rahal, Sullivan, Danny Ongais (The Flyin’ Hawaiian), Mears, etc. were among my favorites. Al Unser Sr. was and is my favorite driver of any race series; Little Al became my son’s favorite driver. Ohio boasted two Indy car races every year – Mid-Ohio tracetrack in Lexington and my favorite, the temporary course in Cleveland at Burke Lakefront Airport, not far from my home. Walking around and seeing Mario Andretti, Big Al, and other drivers and owners close-up was an absolute blast!

The past few years, it’s been hard to really catch on to names like De Ferran, Castroneves, Hornish, Rice, Lazier, Cheever, Wheldon, etc. Most, despite being Indy 500 winners, don’t have the name recognition as most of the mid-pack runners in NASCAR. Some of the backmarkers in NASCAR are more widely known due to TV endorsements (can anyone say Michael Waltrip?).

Lack of effective marketing, the retirement or lack of performance from the household names of the 70s and 80s, the split with CART, etc. have all been blamed for the decline of Indy-style racing. As I get older, the more I appreciate my childhood and youth. The Indy 500 has become a fond memory for me, one that I will cherish and treasure. However, while I will watch today’s (or tomorrow’s) race with my son Tom, it won’t be with any passion. Oh, perhaps Michael Andretti will do OK, and perhaps Little Al won’t crash like he has so often recently, but the magic that made the Indianapolis 500 special for me is long gone.

Adieu, my old friend!

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Rebels read the Bible!?!

During the Gettysburg Campaign, many Pennsylvanians were concerned about the invading Confederates. Wild rumors spread that they were giants, with horns and tails, and were the Devil himself. Tales grew that they were purely evil, and planned to burn houses, destroy property, and even eat children. Several references exist for these stories, both in local PA literature and in the reminiscences of Rebel soldiers. A little girl in one Pennsylvania town exclaimed to her mother as they watched the Rebels march by, “Why mama, they haven’t got horns! They are just like our people.”

One Maryland soldier, Randolph McKim, the adjutant of Johnson’s Division, shocked a merchant in the village of Springfield, Pennsylvania. “At Springfield I bought seven copies of the New Testament for distribution among the men. The surprise of the storekeeper when an officer of the terrible Rebel Army desired to purchase copies of the New Testament may be imagined. Perhaps he thought if the rebels would read the Good Book, they might repent of their wicked Rebellion.”

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What if?

I had the privilege of sharing a little of my research on Confederate activity here in York County with Eric Wittenberg and J.D. Petruzzi as they were writing their outstanding book on Stuart’s ride. I have since collected my notes and research on Stuart’s movements into an article for The Gettysburg Magazine that will be published later this year.

Folks who routinely criticize Stuart keep missing one point in the big picture – if Lee had not recalled the troops to Gettysburg, or if the recall had occurred one day later, Stuart would  indeed have rendezvoused with Jubal Early in York. As Stuart stumbled northward from Hanover, his objective was York, where Early was supposed to be. He had left twelve hours earlier in obedience to Lee’s orders to move westward. Early had expected Stuart a day earlier, one reason he hung around York so long, and he had sent out patrols looking for Stuart. History might have treated Stuart totally differently if that twelve-hour swing had not occurred. If his cavaliers had arrived in York on July 1 with flags flying while Early’s bands played, writers might have marveled at how, once again, Stuart had ridden around the Union army, captured huge numbers of supplies that he turned into Early’s quartermaster, and again embarrassed the Federal high command.

It puts new light on the rather obscure fight at Westminster, one that I always have believed got short attention prior to Eric and J.D.’s book. Those of us who live here in York County and have studied local affairs realize that Stuart had an open path to Early, with absolutely nothing in his way, had he arrived in York County one day earlier.

Twelve hours too late… twelve hours of destiny. History might have been different.

Categories: Gettysburg | 2 Comments

The old family Bible

A friend of mine here in York County, Pennsylvania, and I were talking about the Civil War over dinner one evening. I gave him a copy of my new Gettysburg and Antietam human interest stories books, and we had a pleasant conversation on books, Civil War history, and a number of other interesting topics. Unlike me, who moved here from Ohio in 2001, Dick’s family has been here for several generations.

Sometime later, in looking through his old family Bible, he noticed a very old newspaper clipping, a Civil War poem written late in the 19th Century. It turned out that the poem was written by John Rice of the 208th Pennsylvania Infantry to commemorate the attack of the 200th Pennsylvania on Fort Steadman during the Petersburg siege, as well as their valor on other fields.

This led my friend and I to wonder what the connection was between his grandfather’s Bible and this old poem, and also led me to wonder why a man in the 208th PA would write a poem about another regiment. Today, with some time at lunch to do some digging, I found some answers. My friend’s great- grandfather, the Bible’s owner, was a soldier in the 200th PA – his name appears in the old muster rolls of this 1-year regiment that was raised in York, Cumberland, and Dauphin counties. I then found some more information on his grandfather in various archives, and will give him the information the next time we are together for dinner.

In Samuel Bates’ old book on the PA volunteers, I looked up the 200th PA. Lo and behold, the book includes a map (a rarity for this book!) of the fight at Fort Steadman which shows the relative position of the 200th and 208th. As the two regiments charged forward, John Rice and the men of the 208th had a clear view of the 200th as it advanced. Rice may have been an eyewitness to this attack, and he celebrated their bravery at this fight and others in his lengthy poem, which I will reproduce at some point in a future blog post.

I am a fan of old 19th Century Civil War poetry, and John Rice’s verses were new to me. I had never seen them before, or heard of a poem honoring the 200th, one of York County’s own regiments.

The moral – get out those old diaries, Bibles, letters, steamer trunks, etc. and have a look. You might find some connection to your ancestors’ Civil War heritage!

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A Civil War murder

Various elements of Albert Jenkins’ mounted infantry brigade passed through or stayed in York County, Pennsylvania, on June 28, 29, and 30, 1863. The most prominent of these was the 17th Virginia Cavalry under Col. William French, an officer suffering much during the Gettysburg Campaign from extreme fatigue and exhaustion, to the point where Jubal Early for several days rode with the regiment to personally command it. The 17th was on detached duty from the brigade, but other patrols and squadrons from Jenkins’ main force roamed northwestern York County while the main body was in the Cumberland Valley.

On June 30, a black servant of one of the officers somehow became separated and was walking down a road in Warrington Township (extreme NW York County). He had been spotted riding a stolen horse earlier and was thought to have been instrumental in helping soldiers locate hidden horses in the region. A gang of local farmers came upon him and, angry over his role in the thievery, gunned him down in cold blood in the roadway. They dragged his body to the side of the road and covered it with brush.

Years later, the five farmers, as well as a prominent Wellsville citizen who may have provoked the incident, were finally arrested and tried. However, they were found not guilty of the murder and freed.

Categories: Civil War anecdotes, Gettysburg | 2 Comments

Proud father!

Today I attended my daughter’s graduation from Elizabethtown College over in Lancaster County, PA. With her matriculation, now all three of my kids have completed their undergrads (my sons have also finished their masters degrees, and one is working on his PhD). 

Beautiful weather, outdoor graduation in a wooded commons area, great company, free food and beverages – life is good!

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New scenario series coming in hard copy CHARGE!

Mitchell Land is writing a new series of original miniature wargaming scenarios for publication in CHARGE!, starting in Issue #16. This series will focus in Sterling Price’s Missouri Raid and promises to offer a number of interesting engagements and battles for regimental-level miniature wargamers to try on your gaming tables.

 The first installment will be the Action at the Mounds, an unusual battle fought among two imposing prehistoric Indian mounds in Linn County, Kansas. This will be supplemented by two smaller scenarios for the delaying actions at Marais des Cygnes by Clark’s brigade. All are fun little scenarios designed for two players.

The highlight of this series (in print later this year) will be the Battle of Mine Creek, an engagement with over 10,000 mounted infantry and cavalry that will surely challenge the wargamer to learn to effectively manuever with these short-range troops.

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July 3 Gettysburg bombardment heard nearly 100 miles away

Nearly ninety miles south of Gettysburg in Virginia’s verdant Loudoun Valley, Captain Charles O’Ferrall of the 12th Virginia Cavalry laid in an Upperville house, clinging to life after a grievous wound suffered during the June 21 cavalry fight. He and his attendants, including his recently arrived mother, could clearly hear the bombardment that preceded Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg.

“As I laid flat on my back in my bed I heard distinctly the roar of the cannon… I did not know where it was, but I knew it was the resounding of cannon, and that a great battle was in progress somewhere beyond the waters of the Potomac. The sound kept me stirred and excited, so Dr. [Thomas] Settle, under the pretense of being afraid I would catch the ear-ache, to which I had been subject before leaving home, stuffed cotton in my ears to deaden the sound.”

It worked. O’Ferrall calmed down and lay still. He eventually recovered and returned home.

Charles T. O’Ferrall, Four Years of Service. (New York and Washington: The Neale Publishing Company, 1904).

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Yankee Gettysburg poetry

It was the languid hour of noon,

When all the birds were out of tune,

And nature in a sultry swoon,

            In pleasant Pennsylvania!

 

When—sudden o’er the slumbering plain,

Red flashed the battle’s fiery rain—

The volleying cannon shook again

            The hills of Pennsylvania!

 

Beneath that curse of iron hail,

That threshed the plain with flashing flail,

Well might the stoutest soldier quail,

            In echoing Pennsylvania!

 

Then, like a sudden summer rain,

Storm driven o’er the darkened plain,—

They burst upon our ranks and main,

            In startled Pennsylvania!

 

We felt the old ancestral thrill,

From sire to son, transmitted still

And fought for freedom with a will,

            In pleasant Pennsylvania!

 

The breathless shock—the maddened toil,

The sudden clinch—the sharp recoil—

And we were masters of the soil,

            In bloody Pennsylvania!

 

To Westward fell the beaten foe,—

The growl of battle, hoarse and low

Was heard anon—but dying slow,

            In ransomed Pennsylvania!

 

Sou’westward, with the sinking sun,

The flash of battle, dense and dun,

Flashed into fire—and all was won

            In joyful Pennsylvania!

 

But ah!—the heaps of loyal slain!

The bloody toil!—the bitter pain!

For those who shall not stand again,

            In pleasant Pennsylvania!

 

Back through the verdant valley lands,

Fast fled the foe, in frightened bands,

With broken swords and empty hands,

            Out of Pennsylvania!

 

Gilbert Adams Hays, Under the Red Patch, The Sixty-third Regiment
Pennsylvania Volunteers
1861—1864 (Pittsburgh: Regimental Association, 1908).

Categories: Civil War poetry, Gettysburg | Leave a comment

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