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Civil War Campaign Drive

a road-trip through Virginia, Maryland and Gettysburg in July 2003

by Bill McIntyre




For over fifteen years I had promised myself a tour of the US Civil War battlefields. In July 2003 I finally kept my promise.  Together with former Royal Hong Kong Police colleague Gavin Ure, I undertook a nine-day tour of civil war battlefields mainly in Virginia and points of interest en route.  Herewith an account of the campaign drive.

Although there was no plan for this grand tour, I believe that a sequence of battlefield visits emerged that in parts mirrored the actual course of the war in the eastern states and overall gave an insight into the logistical and strategic issues that determined the outcome of the war.

As general observations, I came away with no clear reasoning as to the causes of the war.  I did come to admire and respect those who played key roles in the conflict such as, on the Confederate side, President Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee and Lt. General  Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, and, on the Union side, President Abraham Lincoln, General Ulysses S. Grant, General George G. Meade, Brigadier Joshua L. Chamberlain, to name but a few.  Many of the major battlefields lie within a short distance of either Richmond the Confederate capital, or Washington the Federal capital – this theatre of the war was conducted within a surprisingly small area. The US National Parks Service performs an excellent job of providing facilities for visitors at each site including guided tours of the main points of interest.  As far as possible the sites and buildings that remain have been preserved and the preservation work continues. 


Richmond: Embattled Capital 1861-65


Friday July 11th 2003. Richmond, Capital of The Confederacy.


The starting point of the grand tour, and to my mind amongst the most memorable.  The Museum of the Confederacy and the adjacent White House of The Confederacy in Richmond are both highly recommend.  The museum houses the nation’s largest collection of civil war artefacts.  The historical tours of The White House, where Jefferson Davis resided with his family, give an invaluable insight into how the Confederacy was run.  Davis was formerly the US Secretary for War.  No photographs are permitted in The White House – one scene that I would like to have captured on film was the main living room complete with the very table at which President Davis sat with General Robert E. Lee and other Confederate military staff to plan and deliberate the war. 


Another happy memory I have of Richmond is the stunning Southern beauties that you will see in this city.   Refined, of good breeding and porcelain in complexion, I know of no finer city at which a gentleman may seek a wife.

Dinner in Richmond was at The Tobacco Company – an excellent place both for dining as also for solving the world’s problems at a fine saloon bar.  This is situated in the cobbled Shokoe Slip area of bistros and taverns that is centred on East Cary Street.


Battle of Fredericksburg: December 11th to 13th 1862

Saturday July 12th 2003. Fredericksburg, Virginia. (Exit 130, Interstate 95)


A Friday evening drive to the Hampton Inn in Fredericksburg ensured a morning start for the first battlefield. The US has excellent hotel chains such as Hampton Inns that provide a good standard of accommodation at reasonable cost.


National Parks Service Ranger tour of downtown area of Fredericksburg - the river is behind the house.


Lying within a fifty-mile radius of Washington, D.C., this historic town is now a gentrified commuter town for Washington.


The 'Stonewall' and sunken lane

Those who enjoyed “Gods and Generals”, the film depicting the life of General Stonewall Jackson, will appreciate Fredericksburg. At the Visitor Centre is the very stone wall behind which the Confederate defenders lined up in the Sunken Road to pour constant musket fire into the oncoming attack lines of Union troops.      


In addition to a guided walking tour of the wall area, the National Parks Service Rangers also conduct walking tours of the historic residential area down by the Rappahannock River.  The start location for the residential area tours is a short drive from the Visitor Centre.  Both tours are recommended, as is the Visitor Centre presentation.  Allow half a day to see both tours and longer should you wish to explore the other sites in this town such as Chatham Plantation House where the graffiti inscribed by union troops can still be seen, or the Stonewall Jackson Shrine located a few miles to the South where on May 10th 1863, Jackson died of wounds that had been inflicted by Confederate troops at Chancellorsville who had mistaken Jackson and his lieutenants for Union cavalry.


Lunch at a nearby chain restaurant “Bob Evans” was adequate but not commendable.  Lamentably, there are few worthy places to eat in the vicinity of the Visitor Centre.


First Manassas - First Battle of Bull Run: July 18th to 22nd 1861.

(Second Manassas – Second Battle of Bull Run: August 28th to 30th 1862.)


Saturday Evening and Sunday morning: July 12th and 13th 2003: Manassas, Virginia (Exit 47 on Interstate 66, take State Road 234 North from the town of Manassas).


The Stonewall Jackson Statue, First Battle of Manassas View of the stone house from the Confederate position, which served as a field hospital in both First and Second Manassas


The battlefield of First Manassas lies amongst pleasant rolling rural countryside. The large statue of Stonewall Jackson mounted on his charger, is emblazoned with the immortal line uttered by Brigadier Bernard Bee: "There stands Jackson like a stonewall".


Monument to Stonewall Jackson at

First Manassas (Bull Run) battlefield

Memorial to Stonewall Jackson at the location where he was tragically shot by Confederate troops who mistook him and his accompanying staff for the enemy


Bee was in fact wearing his Union blue frock coat when he led his troops into battle at the First Manassas, or First Battle of Bull Run as the Confederates named the battle.  He was killed in action later in the battle.


The First Manassas battlefield can be walked easily as the field of action was limited.  The duration of combat was short-lived primarily because the Union forces’ withdrawal rapidly degenerated into a rout.


The Second Manassas battle area is more of a driving tour and would have required a further day to capture the main points of interest.


The National Parks Service has preserved the field of battle; points of interest are well marked without detracting from the views from each vantage point. 


Monacacy: July 9th 1864


Sunday July 13th 2003: Monacacy Battlefield, 4801, Urbana Pike, off the Georgetown Pike (also known as Route 355 - travel south from Interstate 70), Maryland. (Visitor Centre: Tel: 301-662 3515).


Situated just South of the town of Frederick, Monocacy is a lesser known battle but nonetheless an important de facto Union victory.  Although the 2,500 Union forces commanded by Major General Lew Wallace were both outnumbered and raw, they fought a determined delaying action that enabled General Grant to reinforce the capital Washington so that it could be defended from imminent attack.  The superior Confederate forces of some 25,000 commanded by General Jubal Early had been ordered by General Lee to march on the unprotected Federal capital of Washington and the Maryland city of Baltimore.  Lee had seen the opportunity to attack as both cities had been left under-defended whilst the Union forces concentrated their efforts on the sieges of Richmond and Petersburg.


During July local farmers allow visitors to enter their land and the Parks Service Visitor Centre conducts walking tours of these usually out of bounds areas. The Centre provides driving tour leaflets.


“The Monacacy Crossing” (Tel: 301-831 4878) is recommended for lunch.  Very much a biker gourmet bar with ‘a fresco’ dining, one can watch the hogs accelerate up the hill whilst enjoying a Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay. The wine list is excellent.  Turn left out of the Visitor Centre and it is a mile or so on the right.


Antietam (Sharpsburg): September 17th 1862



Sunday Afternoon July 13th and Monday July 14th 2003: Antietam National Battlefield, North of Sharpsburg on Maryland Route 65. (Visitor Centre Tel: 301-432 5124).


More men were wounded or killed on this day than on any other day in the civil war.


The Confederate Force under Lee was initially outnumbered two to one and faced a Union army prepared because they had by chance captured Lee’s orders prior to the battle.  The arrival of Stonewall Jackson’s forces, and later those of General A. P. Hill (both marching from their actions at Harper’s Ferry) helped balance the battle. Lee ultimately failed in this attempt to obtain a much sought after victory on Union soil. Meanwhile, the lack of decisive action by Union General George McClellan allowed a golden opportunity to annihilate Lee’s army before it was reinforced slip by. 


A complex battle.  The scale of the battlefield and lie of the land make it confusing for those less well versed in the stages of the conflict.  One of the most impressive battlefield tour talks that I heard during the campaign was given by a junior National Parks Service Ranger at Antietam.  The narrator was a university history student from Michigan.  I observed a number of history students working as National Parks Service Rangers who follow their passion during their vacations by working at National Parks battlefields.  The presentation was one of the most succinct explanations of the reasons for a battle, the directions of each major unit, and the stages and progress of the battle that I have ever heard.  Without reference to notes and speaking to an audience seated not in an auditorium but on a grassy bank overlooking the battlefield, he was able to give an informative and lucid account of what happened.  Above all he enabled the audience to orient themselves before embarking on individual walking and driving tours. 


Park Ranger lecture on Antietam


Memorable sites are The Bloody Lane and the so-called Burnside Bridge.  The Union General Ambrose E. Burnside fought to take the bridge but was held off by a small unit of Georgia rifleman.  By the time he had taken the bridge and advanced to cut off Lee’s line of retreat, A.P. Hill’s forces had arrived on the field and stopped Burnside’s advance.


The "Bloody Lane" where for 4 hours Confederate and Union troops

contested this sunken road resulting in over 5,000 casualties

Burnside Bridge, Antietam


The immediate area of Antietam is not well served for accommodation or restaurants and local hotels book up quickly during the holiday season. There are a few modest hotels in nearby Hagerstown; there is a Texas Roadhouse (Tel: 301-739 2200) in Hagerstown that serves a good size steak in a raunchy but friendly atmosphere.  


The Battle of Gettysburg: July 1st to 3rd 1863


Monday July 14th and Tuesday July 15th 2003: Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. (Visitor Center Tel: 717-334 1124).


Cemetery Ridge, Gettysburg, from the Confederate position -

Pickett's Charge started from this location in the Confederate centre


Seemingly the largest battlefield, Gettysburg is the most crowded, most monumented, most emotional, most argued and written about, and the most famous civil war battlefield in the USA.  Pickett’s Charge, The High Tide of the Confederacy, Devils Den, Little RoundTop, The Peach Orchard, Culp’s Hill. And many more.  The driving tour is excellently markered.  Gettysburg is a day’s touring, at least.  However, even though each visitor wants to explore at his or her own pace I would recommend taking one of the two-hour guided tours.  The tour guide will drive your car allowing you to relax and better appreciate each place on the battlefield that you visit. Tours can be booked at the Visitor’s Centre but slots will be quickly booked during holiday periods and at weekends necessitating an advance booking. 


Devil's Den Devil's Den seen from the Union position on Little Round Top


One highlight of the visit was a lone Union fifer on Cemetery Ridge, immaculately turned out in the Blues of an Irish regiment, playing marching tunes from the era.  The fife playing echoed across the valley. 


Lone Fifer, Cemetery Ridge, Gettysburg


The battlefield adjoins the town of Gettysburg and the town is full of bookshops, civil war relic shops and other gift shops related to the era.  The town itself is historic containing many buildings that witnessed the battle – the pock marks of musket and shrapnel can often be seen.  And above all it is a walking town.       


Gettysburg has a wide range of accommodations.  For those who enjoy staying in a rambling mansion complete with oak staircase, a recommended bed ‘n breakfast is the Keystone Inn, 231 Hanover Street, Gettysburg, PA 17325 (Tel: 717-337 3888).


Gettysburg is well served with taverns and restaurants and also has some good bookshops.  Commercialised – yes. Crowded in the holiday seasons – yes.  But essential for students of The War Between the States.


Old Town Alexandria, Virginia

Washington D.C.

Tuesday Evening July 15th and Wednesday July 16th 2003.


To recuperate from the serious touring a side trip was taken to Alexandria, Virginia and to Washington, D.C.


Recommended lodging at a reasonable rate is the Best Western Old Colony Inn, 1101 North Washington Street, Alexandria, Virginia 22314 (Tel: 703-739 222; Fax: 703-549 2568). Old Town Alexandria is a walking town but the hotel does provide a shuttle bus to both the Alexandria downtown area and to the nearest Metro Station enabling one to take a train and visit Washington, D.C.


The Lincoln Memorial

A highly recommended American Revolutionary War period alehouse and tavern with  a genuine 18th Century atmosphere, is Gadsby’s Tavern, 138 N. Royal Street, Old Town Alexandria (Tel: 703-548 1288). George Washington dined there. The menu seeks to recreate the famous dishes of the day and staff wear period costumes.  Reservations recommended.  The tavern has been preserved and there are tours during the day of the floors above the dining area that for many years served as one of Alexandria’s inns.


Another famous mansion worth touring in Old Town is The Lee-Fendall House – the family of General Robert E. Lee resided here and they had strong connections with the family and descendants of George Washington. 614 Oronoco Street, Old Town Alexandria (Tel: 703-548 1789).


The visit to Washington D.C. was somewhat of a digression from the civil war.  There are many historical sites – too many for this report to do them justice. Arlington Memorial Cemetery, the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial and the Korean War Memorial are recommended sites to visit.  Interestingly, Arlington Cemetery is the former Lee Family plantation that was sequestered by the Federal government during the civil war to provide a military cemetery.  The ante bellum mansion remains open as part of the tour of Arlington Military Cemetery. A lesser known but magnificent monument at Arlington Cemetery is the Confederate memorial erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.


The Battle of Chancellorsville, April 27th to May 6th 1863

The Battle of the Wilderness, May 5th to 6th 1864

The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, May 8th to 21st 1864

Thursday July 17th 2003: Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, situated West of Fredericksburg, accessed from Interstate 95 exit 130.


The civil war park includes not only the Battle of Fredericksburg (toured earlier) but also the Chancellorsville Campaign that included the battles of Chancellorsville, Second Fredericksburg, the Battle of the Wilderness and the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse.  A fee paid at either the Fredericksburg or Chancellorsville Visitor Centres covers access to all of the military parks.


Each battle is a study in itself.  The driving tour is fairly well marked. Spotsylvania and The Wilderness do not have full Visitor Centres; only at Chancellorsville is there a full Visitor Centre.


At Chancellorsville, Stonewall Jackson marched 12 miles to attack the weak right flank of the Union forces commanded by the newly appointed Union General Joseph Hooker. Lincoln had replaced General Burnside with Hooker following the Union disaster at Fredericksburg.


Tragedy occurred on that fateful May 2nd day when Stonewall Jackson was shot in error by Confederate troops who were unaware that he was reconnoitring with his staff officers in their vicinity.  The location of the accidental shooting is marked by an obelisk.  Park Rangers are keen to avoid answering the question as to what would have happened at Gettysburg had Stonewall not been shot. 


The “Bloody Angle” at Spotsylvania marked some of the heaviest fighting and is now set amongst trees and pleasant rolling pastures. Very quiet and poignant. 


Petersburg, Virginia: Under Siege June 1864 to April 1865


Thursday afternoon July 17th and Friday morning July 18th 2003:  Petersburg – located South of Richmond on Interstate 95. The North side of the town is on the banks of the Appomattox River.  Visitor Centre: 425 Cockade Alley, Old Town. (Tel: 804-733 2400; 1-800 368 3595).


The longest siege endured by an American city in US history: 292 days. 


Petersburg was devastated during the siege and has been depressed ever since. A brick city that was rebuilt in brick in the 1830s following a disastrous fire, there are thus many buildings that have survived the civil war and show the scars of the siege.


The Siege Museum, 15 Bank Street (Tel: 804-733 2402) within walking distance of the Visitor Centre is a small but thoughtful display and account of what life was like during the siege.  The late actor Joseph Cotton was raised in Petersburg and recorded a short but eloquent narrative of the siege “The Echoes Still Remain” – shown regularly at the museum.


A short drive from downtown is The Blandford Church, 319 South Crater Road (Tel: 804-733 2396).  A historic eighteenth century parish church built in 1735, it became a Confederate memorial chapel decorated with magnificent Tiffany stained glass windows – each window was commissioned by each of the southern states that fought for the Confederacy.  The church served as a field hospital during the siege.


Petersburg: the longest siege in US history Siege of Petersburg: The Crater


A sixteen mile driving tour of the siege line follows the main siege defence points and includes The Crater where on July 30th 1864, Union forces attempted to break the siege by tunnelling under a Confederate fort and exploding a massive mine. Union forces then rushed into the immense crater created by the blast but found themselves trapped inside it and suffered heavy casualties – the siege continued.


A recommended bed n’ breakfast in Petersburg is The High Street Victorian Inn, 405 High Street, Petersburg, Virginia 23803.  Reservations recommended (US$90.00 to US$125.00 per night. (Reservations Tel: 866 477 8466; Tel: 804-733 0505; Fax: 804-863 4460; Email: 


Without a reservation it may be difficult to find suitable accommodation in Petersburg  - there are a number of hotel chains situated in the Colonial Heights area just north of the town on Interstate 95 e.g. The Comfort Suites, 931 South Avenue, Colonial Heights, VA 23834 (Tel: 804-520 8900) (Interstate 95 Exit 53).   


Dining options in Petersburg are limited but a highly recommended tavern is The Brick House Run a British style pub with excellent choice of ales and equally excellent tavern fare. Built in the old section of the town near to the Visitor Centre, it recreates a tavern of yore and the owners Ella and Steve Dickinson toured and studied historic taverns in Britain before setting it up. 407-409 Cockade Alley, Petersburg, VA 23803 Tel: 804-862 1815). Dining Tuesdays through Saturdays.


City Point, The James River (Hopewell), Virginia.


Thursday afternoon July 17th 2003: Grant’s Headquarters, Siege of Petersburg, Virginia.


City Point on the James River was Grant’s headquarters and is a modest drive East from Petersburg.  It was the main supply point for the Union effort to take Petersburg.  The National Parks Service has preserved the cabin in which General Grant slept and tours give an interesting account of the logistics involved in mounting the siege.


Richmond: The Seven Days’ Battles: Beaver Dam Creek June 26th 1862; Gaines Mill June 27th 1862 ; Cold Harbor May 31st to June 12th 1864. Richmond, Virginia


Friday afternoon July 18th Saturday July 19th 2003.  Battle sites surrounding Richmond, Virginia.


There are a multitude of battlefield sites and defence lines surrounding Richmond.  With limited time those touring the area will have to select those in which they have the greatest interest.


For those that have the time available there is an eighty-mile driving tour of the entire Richmond National Battlefield Park. Major sites include Cold Harbor which has a Visitor Centre and the battlefield sites of Gaines Mill, Beaver Dam, Glendale (Frayser’s Farm), Fort Harrison Visitor Centre, Malvern Hill, Drewry’s Bluff (Fort Darling), Richmond National Battlefield Park Visitor Centre at downtown Richmond (Tel: 804-226 1981).  


Richmond: the battle of Beaver Dam Creek


The Beaver Dam site is a sign by the road with a visitor car park and a walking tour conducted at certain times of the day by National Parks Service Rangers.  Gaines Mill Battlefield site also has a walking trail and scheduled walking tours with National Parks Rangers but no Visitor Centre.


Cold Harbor provides an informative Visitor Centre and a mile and a half driving or walking tour.  Despite decades of weathering, the trenches of both Union and Confederate troops are still clearly visible along the lines of the battle.


Views of the battlefield at Cold Harbor


Cold Harbor was a major chapter in the defence of Richmond.  On June 3rd 1864, an estimated 6,000 Union forces fell in one hour of disastrous assaults made on the Confederate lines.  Grant’s march on Richmond from The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House Battles was stopped at Cold Harbor.  In response to the heavy losses suffered from his attempt to take Richmond by a direct attack, General Grant moved South to lay siege to Petersburg, a major supply point for Richmond.  The eventual taking of Petersburg sealed the fate of Richmond. Although the Confederate capital had not suffered the same direct bombardment that had been inflicted on Petersburg, it had become the destination for thousands of Confederate civilian refugees who faced starvation, disease and lack of clothing and shelter.  The fall of Petersburg cut off supplies  essential to the viability of Richmond.


"The Echoes Still Remain"


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