The Battle of Olustee: “The day is lost; you must go in and save the Corps.”

Sanderson, FL:  This has been a tough article for me to write because of the reasons in which it came to be.  In this tale from the trail, I try to walk through life and death under the hot Florida sun, both today and in 1864.  My reasons for going to Florida, and doing it on 40 minutes notice where extremely personal.  I had no chance to plan and was not even sure of the final destination until I had been on the road for 44 hours.  The weather threw me a number of curve balls and I was pushed to the limits of my endurance but 48 hours after I had left Kansas, I had arrived at my destination in Estero, Florida.  But we will talk about that in the paragraphs to come.  For now, let’s talk about the historical narrative of the Battle of Olustee; Florida’s most significant land battle of the US Civil War. 

The Union Army had established a number of enclaves along the Florida coast, to include the most significant one in Jacksonville in 1862.  For the most part, however, they had wisely decided to stay out of the interior of the State, for a number of tactical reasons.  This would change in the Winter of 1864.  History is divided on why the campaign was launched, but it really falls into two camps.  The first camp will tell you that President Lincoln was led to believe that the interior of northern Florida was ripe with pro-Union sentiment.  Though unlikely, this could be true.  After all, every State in the Confederacy, with the one exception of South Carolina, had provided at least one regiment of pro-Union white Soldiers.  Regions of States, such as eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina had provided thousands.  Western Virginia, even became its own state, loyal to the Federal cause.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that even Alabama supplied at least one regiment of Federal Cavalry.  So, this fact, and Lincoln with his eye on reelection may be why the operation was launched, but I don’t necessarily buy it.  The military reason for the offensive was to deprive the Confederate forces farther north of the food and salt resources of Florida.  Though in theory this makes sense, I am not convinced this is the reason for the campaign simply because, the Union Commander, Brigadier General Truman Seymour’s boss, Major General Quincy Gillmore, had left orders not to go on the offensive in the Florida interior.  I believe that Seymour’s military reputation was severely tarnished after his assault on Fort Wagner and he was looking for a military victory to rehabilitate his name.  In South Carolina, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard had correctly ascertained Seymour’s plans and dispatched a Confederate Irish immigrant by the name Brigadier General Joseph Finnegan and the experienced and hard charging Georgia Brigade under Brigadier General Alfred Colquitt to make sure that Seymour would not gain redemption in Florida, at least.  

In late 1863 and very early 1864, the Federal troops in Jacksonville received new crops of draftees in the case of the white regiments and brand-new volunteers in the case of the USCT’s, to include the famous 54th Massachusetts Infantry.  Members of the 7th New Hampshire Infantry were also ordered, just prior to the campaign to turn in their battle tested Spencer repeating rifles and were in turn issued battle worn and often inoperable Springfield rifled muskets.  So poorly was the equipment, that many of the muskets failed to fire when combat began on that February afternoon.  To summarize the battle, the Confederate forces under Finnegan and Colquitt had their issues, but largely were able to exercise their will over the poorly led Federal troops.  The one bright spot on the battlefield for the Federals was indeed the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, who did not arrive on the battlefield until late in the fight and did a masterful job of covering the Federal retreat back to Jacksonville.  That said, the 54th again would distinguish itself for the evacuation of the Federal wounded from the Olustee field of battle.  There are reports that they filled a train car with wounded and hauled the railroad car back to Jacksonville by hand to ensure as many Federal wounded were able to escape Confederate capture as possible.  After the battle, Union forces would not again enter the interior of Florida during the war.

A few weeks ago, my aunt called me and let me know that she had cancer.  My aunt is my father’s sister and ever since he has passed, 16 years ago, I had sort of been his proxy with her.  I did not mind this, as she surely did love and miss her brother.  As we talked again, she told me that her cancer was terminal.  She has small cell lung cancer and liver cancer.  She is now too weak to take chemotherapy.  As these reports came in and kept getting darker, I felt myself being pulled on a trip I had not planned and truthfully did not want to make.   When my cousin contacted me and let me know that my aunt was asking for her mother and wanted to go to hospice, I could no longer sit by in Kansas.  Both of my parents died so fast and unexpectedly that there was no opportunity to say goodbye.  Now, my father’s sister was in hospice and I had to go.  I may be in between positions right now, money may be a little tight, but I was sitting at lunch talking with Household 6 and I could no longer just sit on the sidelines.  My first thought was to take my daughter Rooster, because she is a better assistant driver than Moose.  Moose also has a restricted license while Rooster has a full license and I didn’t have time to research how that would play out driving out of state.  But alas, Rooster, though in High School, is taking college courses and had college finals this week and could not go, so Moose was my copilot.  I went to his high school, pulled him from his class and told him he had 40 minutes to get home and pack, we were leaving immediately.  If you haven’t noticed, in The Traveler household, a lot of life happens behind the dashboard.  The road trip is the perfect opportunity to coach, guide and mentor your kids and really find out where they are in life; and we did have ample opportunity for that.  Unfortunately, heavy rains blanketed the Midwest and Southeast, significantly adding time to the trip; causing me to worry that we would not get to Florida in time.  The weather was so unfavorable, that I had to scrap plans of overnighting just south of Memphis, in Mississippi, instead, opting for Trumann, Arkansas. 

In Georgia, we lost additional time because my tire light indicator came on and, on our car, that dang thing never lies.  So, I found myself in front of Michael, the Manager at the local Goodyear garage in McDonough, Georgia; in need of a couple of new front tires.  Now that the car had a new set of shoes, we were able to make it to Valdosta, Georgia for the night.  Where my son would see his first naked woman.  I have to be honest; we were not prepared for what was seen when we entered the hotel lobby; for what has been seen cannot be unseen.  Some people don’t understand that see through gowns are really see through and they don’t need to be in the hotel lobby.  But now we just refer to the incident as “The Georgia Peach” and somehow, I feel we are all a little bit diminished by experiencing it.  I guess I will just sum it up by stating “you see the strangest things at an interstate hotel.”  By lunch time the next day, we had arrived at our destination where I met my sister, also part of Team Traveler.  My sister Beth, is my copy editor and proofs everything I write before you read it.  We had the opportunity to spend the afternoon with my aunt.  My cousin tells me that she perked up considerably with our visit and is now, at the time of this being written, is still fighting.  I like my aunt, she’s a tough bird!  As a post edit, since the time of writing, she passed peacefully a couple of weeks ago.  She fought as long as she could.

After spending the afternoon with my aunt, we crossed the “Alligator Alley” to Florida’s eastern coast and spent the evening and next day with my sister and brother in law.  I will tell you that Monday’s in May at Delray Beach in Florida are wonderful.  The beaches and water are warm, public parking is plentiful and we were able to spend a nice day with lunch at Boston’s, on the beach; for Tuesday we would be heading north again for Olustee and home.

We arrived at the Olustee State Historical Park around lunch time and there were two things that immediately came to my attention.  The first is that we were in a National Forest, Osceola National Forest to be exact, and there was a plethora of outdoor activity opportunities that were just waiting to be taken advantage of.  I spoke with a local resident, and he said that there was even great fishing within a couple of miles.  The other thing I noticed, is that on Route 90, which leads you to the battlefield, you pass about 6 prisons or correctional facilities; or you pass one large one with 6 campuses.  I don’t know, but I am confident of one thing.  I drove by “Florida Man’s” house.  Also, a point of legitimate security, if you visit, don’t pick up a hitch hiker.  It may be “Florida Man” himself.  The battlefield takes about an hour and a half to two hours to tour and trail walk.  I honestly feel that the State of Florida missed a significant opportunity with the museum.  Though the video was good, the television had a very small screen and the displays were well, small too.  I think there is opportunity for a much more robust interpretive center not only dedicated to the battle, but the entire Civil War experience in Florida.  The coastal raids by Federal Marines and Naval forces, the Battle of Olustee, Agriculture and the African American experience.  Florida’s Civil War history is much more robust than given credit for.  When I began walking the battlefield, for some reason, I instinctively slouched over and tried to adjust my ALICE pack straps a couple of times.  Moose kind of looked at me strangely and then it occurred to me, that I mentally was out in the swamps of Verona Loop Training Area of Camp Lejeune, NC because the pine forest and topography was so similar.  I could still feel the “war belt” harness cutting into my neck as I walked the trail of the 7th New Hampshire and 7th Connecticut.  When Moose and I walked the position of the Georgia Brigade, you could almost hear that quiet forest come alive and that rebel yell.  Then the trail got quiet for me as I reflected on why I had come to Florida in the first place.  For me it was literally “Life and Death under the Florida Sun.”  I could see the signs of battle, I could feel the uniform against my body and the weight of the pack and rifle again, but I also felt the burden of impending loss from my aunt, one of the few members of my father’s family I actually knew.   

The Battle of Olustee Marque as you enter the State Historic Site.
Moose doing valuable service as my assistant driver. In the Traveler House, the assistant driver has many real responsibilities.
Mock up of a member of the 7th New Hampshire or one of the other Northeastern Infantryman at Olustee. It is not a member of the 7th Connecticut as they had Spencer Repeating Rifles.
Mock up of a Georgia Brigade Soldier.
Confederate National Flag on display.
Ah the pines of the southeast! The approach to the State Historic Site.
Diorama of the fight at Olustee.
It can’t be a Civil War site without the split rail fence.
Monument to the Confederate troops under General Finnegan built by the Daughters of Confederate Veterans.
Confederate National Flag lofting over the site in the lazy Spring afternoon.
May is “Love Bug” month. Be advised that traveling in Florida with a black car in May can result in a messy car.
The pine forests of the Southeast bring back many memories of Camp Lejeune.
The reenactor area.

Restaurant Review – Aunt Netter’s Café: Lecompton, KS

Venue Address: 336 Elmore St, Lecompton, KS 66050

Comments:  Aunt Netter’s offers a casual, relaxed American dining experience.  The cafe is a mixture of small-town Midwest charm and delicious comfort food.  Their menu is comprised of entrees you would expect to find in any local diner, but can they ever cook!  While Moose decided to confine himself to the ever-present Chicken Strip Basket, I decided to branch out and was very pleased with my decision.  Aunt Netter’s offered something that I had never thought about before, but once I saw it, I had to try it.  That was the Barbecued Pulled Pork quesadilla.  It was a plate-sized serving that features some deliciously cooked pulled pork topped with barbecue sauce and cheese.  The service was fast, efficient, and friendly.  I really felt that Aunt Netter’s also offered an excellent value for the dollar as lunch cost less than $20.00 for two entrees and drinks.  They also offered fresh homemade 3-inch-thick apple pie for dessert, but we decided to pass on that.  If you are in the Lecompton area touring, I can only offer the heartiest endorsement of Aunt Netter’s Cafe.  They did an outstanding job and we had an excellent lunch experience.  Make sure you check their hours on the website provided above so you can plan you day accordingly. 

4.5 Saber Rating

Hermann – “In that section the people seemed to be born fighters, the instinct being inherited from a long line of ancestors.”

Hermann, MO:  A few miles south of Interstate 70 about halfway between Columbia and St. Louis lies the small town of Hermann, Missouri.  As of 2016, the town has around 2,500 residences.  But I have to tell you that there is something special about Hermann.  Hermann was settled by German immigrants in the 1830’s who promptly began establishing vineyards and building wineries along the lush banks of the Missouri River.  The number of German immigrants increased in Hermann and the surrounding areas in the late 1840’s and early 1850’s due to the civil unrest in what today is Germany and the resulting Prussian crackdown.  At the onset of the Civil War in 1861, soon after Fort Sumter had fallen the local Germans formed a Regiment of Home Guards. They were tasked with guarding local railroad bridges from Missouri partisan rangers, i.e. irregular Confederate troops.  In the Spring of 1864, Captain Charles Manwaring had returned to Hermann to visit his family.  There he was confronted by a group of Confederate irregulars.  He attempted to arrest one, calling him by name.  Gunfire was exchanged and two of the Confederate partisans lay dead and Captain Manwaring lay mortally wounded, and died shortly after in the arms of his wife.  The townspeople now alerted by the gunfire pursued the group of Confederates, killing another one of them.  The people of the town were so distraught by the partisan rangers that they threw the bodies of the two men that Captain Manwaring killed into the nearby Missouri River.  Captain Manwaring was laid to rest on a bluff just to the east of the town, overlooking Hermann and the Missouri River.  During Price’s Missouri raid of 1864, the Confederate army again targeted the pro-unionist stronghold.  At the time, most of the men of Hermann serving in the Home Guards were away guarding nearby Jefferson City or the Union rail line in Rolla. Thus, the town was only able to put up a token resistance to the Confederates under Price.  They did however, manage to destroy one of Price’s cannons and dramatically slow down Price’s Confederates before the town fell. 

Today the town boasts a definite “old world” feel that translates well into this beautiful community. It is not only a must visit for the Civil War enthusiast, but also for the wine enthusiast, or even the outdoors lover.   I would even go so far to recommend Hermann to the food lover, as the wurst that I had there at the Wurst Haus is on par with the wurst I had in Munich last Summer. 

I was there to take part in Hermann’s Civil War Days reenactment which plays out both the assassination of Captain Manwaring and the taking of Hermann by Price’s Confederates.  Part of the event took place at the historically recreated White House Saloon, which is a 19th Century showpiece in the town.  The entire facility is outfitted with 19th Century artifacts and decor from the saloon itself to the hotel kitchen and dining room.  Unfortunately, the venue is not a functioning hotel, but now is a museum.  They are located at 232 Wharf St. Hermann, MO 65041.  If you are going to Hermann and would like to schedule a visit, you can contact them via their Facebook page or their website mentioned below.  As mentioned before, the most pleasant surprise i had, culinarily speaking, was at The Wurst Haus, located at 234 E 1st Street Hermann, MO 65041.  The Wurst Haus was so good, I stopped there twice in one day.  The “Best In Show” Brats with German potato salad and the chocolate lava cake for $14.95 was a heck of a deal.  The restaurant has the feel of part butcher’s shot and part German Beir Garten.  Again, a look at the inside had touched me with a nostalgic feeling for the Hoffbrau Haus in Munich, complete with Bavarian flags mounted on the ceiling.  I also want to mention how friendly and helpful the waitstaff was.  They were completely customer focused.  Google rates them a 4.7/5 and Facebook rates them a 4.6/5, but I don’t feel the ratings are high enough.  At the Wurst Haus, their wurst is 1st.  Another place that I highly recommend a visit to if you are in the Hermann area and looking for something a little more American would be the family restaurant/sports bar, Wing’s Ablazin.  They are located at 120 E 4th Street Hermann, MO 65401.  After a long day out in the hot sun at Hermann Farms, stopping in for a cold beverage and wings Saturday night was just what the doctor ordered.  It was a great low-key atmosphere to relax and just enjoy the experience.  One of the larger wineries in the area is the Stone Hill Winery, located at 1110 Stone Hill Hwy, Hermann, MO 65401.  They offer regular tours and tastings.  Stone Hill seemed to be a hit with many of the folks in town celebrating “Civil War Days.”  Hermann also offers a number of distilleries and lots of locally made options for whiskey.   There are a number of bed and breakfast options in the town too.  Household 6 and the family stayed home this weekend, but I have already mapped out a perfect get away for two to Hermann, as I know the wife would love it there.  A round trip Amtrak ticket from Kansas City to Hermann would cost $84 dollars.  The Amtrak stop is directly downtown within walking distance to a number of bed & breakfast operations.  From there, we could tour the many wineries, distilleries and museums in the area and ride the train back to Kansas City.  Though I have gone through my 47 years and have never really been called a “romantic” such a weekend in Hermann is all too possible.  I also want to point out with autumn quickly approaching and foliage starting to creep upon us as well as Oktoberfest, a celebration that Hermann seriously embraces, now is the time to put Hermann in your travel plans.  Next year, the town fathers are planning on having a significant artillery duel at their Civil War Days celebration.  That sounds like it would be fun to watch here, as the artillery had an effect with its echoing off the river and around the bluffs and valley this year. 

The Federal camp overlooking the peaceful and sleepy Missouri River.
Confederate Cavalry preparing for a charge.
Night life in camp.
Mountain Howitzer in the Federal Camp.
Who doesn’t love a campfire?
The Hermann locals are extremely friendly.
Part of the local scenery.
Historic Hermann.
Hermann Farms

If you have motored through Germany before, you would see that this is a common scene. This picture could have been taken in Europe and not Missouri.

One of the local distilleries.
The Wurst House. As you will see, their wurst is the first.
A shot of the County Seat overlooking the mighty Missouri.
Sampling the goods at The Wurst House.
The friendly staff of The Wurst House.
If in Hermann, The Wurst House is a must visit.
The final resting place of Union Captain Manwaring. There aren’t many more beautiful spots that I have seen than on this bluff, overlooking Hermann and the Missouri River.
Captain Manwaring
Beautiful Hermann
Captain Mike Sager taking a moment to pay tribute to Captain Manwaring. The spot was so beautiful that Mike was married here on this bluff.

Gettysburg 1st Trip – “If you go to Gettysburg and have the time, maybe take a tour, maybe just drive around. Read some of the monuments and plaques and you will come away changed.”

Gettysburg, PA:  Household 6 and I visited Gettysburg for the first time in 2008.  I had a lot of things going on in that summer.  My main focus was earning a Commission in the Army while still working my civilian career and raising a family.  But we had taken time out to visit Gettysburg and Williamsburg, VA.  We had a fantastic time, as we don’t often get the opportunity to travel without the kids, but in retrospect I largely regard the trip as a missed opportunity that would take us a decade to make up.  If I were to call the trip a failure, I would be categorizing it unnecessarily harsh and it would be intellectually dishonest.  However, in order to make the most out of Gettysburg, you have to thoroughly do your research of the campaign leading up to the three-day battle that saved the Union, and you must break down the Battle into four different parts.  One part for each day and one part for July 4th, 1863.  There was still active combat on July 4th and research into the US Sharpshooters (Berdan’s Sharpshooters) will bare testament to that fact. For as much historical maligning as Major General James Ewell Brown (JEB) Stuart (some of it is deserved) takes for leaving Lee blind to Union Army movements, he was being actively engaged on an almost daily basis beginning with the Battle of Brandy Station on June 9th by a quickly improving Federal Cavalry, as he was screening the Army of Northern Virginia’s movements up the Shenandoah Valley.  Major General Stuart’s orders were also extremely vague and legally speaking, he followed them. But ultimately, like Lee, when I showed up in Gettysburg that first time, I had failed to do a proper reconnaissance of the situation.

I have already said the trip could not be considered a failure, and there are a few reasons why.  The first reason was our accommodations were fantastic.  With no kids in tow, Household 6 and I stayed at the Battlefield Inn Bed & Breakfast, located at 2264 Emmitsburg Rd, Gettysburg, PA 17325.  They have a historical leg up on the rest of the lodging facilities in Gettysburg.  They are the only facility that was built and still in service during the Battle of Gettysburg.  As a matter of fact, they are proud of the fact, and they should be, that their building still has battle damage.  The B&B was clean, comfortable, cozy and intimate.  It is a great place for a couple to get away to.  I will also say that their blueberry pancakes were without equal.  As part of a living history program the Battlefield Inn put on for just Household 6 & me, we were taught the art of “Loading in 9 Times.”  Loading in 9 Times, is the manual of arms that a Civil War soldier would use to load and fire a musket.  Household 6 was resistant to the idea at first, but after some good-natured ribbing and what not, proved to be a good sport about it and participated too. 

The next thing that made the trip memorable in a positive way, was the evening activities in Gettysburg.  If you think I mean the “local club was hopping” you would be mistaken.  Long ago I retired my “groove thing” and the world truly is a better place for it. The National Military Park takes on a different personality at night.  The park stays open until 10:00 PM in the summer and it is completely different seeing the park and its stone sentinels at night.  Household 6 stepped out of her comfort zone and began to try to take pictures of Orbs.  The story behind capturing Orbs with a camera, is that the Orb is the soul of a soldier who was unable to leave the battlefield.  I don’t know if I believe that, but Household 6 does, and you know what, that is what makes Gettysburg fun for her.  I will admit from a photography perspective, the night time was a completely different and beautiful experiment.  We were really able to take some fantastic photos. 

The final thing that made the trip to Gettysburg a win, in spite of my lack of planning, was the venue its self.  How could you not stand on Little Round Top, The Peach Orchard or Devil’s Den and not feel the overwhelming sense of history?  How can you not walk the gun line on Seminary Ridge and not hear the echoes of the past?  How can you not feel your blood surge and heart race walking “The Angle” or the pounding of the hooves on the East Cavalry Battlefield?  For the history aficionado, a bad day at Gettysburg is a long sight better than a good day almost anywhere else.

I am going to wrap up this article a little differently, with a few lessons learned here that I applied on our next trip and all of our trips for that fact. To be honest, Household 6 has already said she wants to go back to Gettysburg a third time.  So yeah, it’s that good there.

Lessons Learned about Gettysburg:

  1. Pick a military unit or a couple and research their movements and actions prior to and during the battle.  You will “feel” the experience much more acutely then.
  2. Plan your agenda ahead of time.  Have a hit list of venues you wish to see and hit the NPS Website to ensure you get locked on to some free Ranger Programs.  They are truly experts.
  3. Have your spouse help with the planning.  This takes away their ability to sharp shoot the vacation.
  4. If you truly are devoted to the history of Gettysburg, contact a guide beforehand, tell them what aspect of the battle you want to focus on and hire them.  You will not regret it.  I am a firm believer in the fact that a licensed battlefield guide is a trip enhancer and for the money they charge, you are getting a heck of a deal for the value they bring.
  5. Make sure your trip includes spending time at the National Park’s Service Visitors Center, the Cyclorama and head over to the Cupula at the Lutheran Seminary.   
  6. Bug repellent and sunscreen are vital.
The yard of the Battlefield Inn Bed & Breakfast. It was a fantastic venue for a couple. When we returned with the kids, we made other arrangements. When we return next, I hope Battlefield Inn Bed & Breakfast is still going strong.
The main entry to the Battlefield Inn Bed & Breakfast. You won’t leave for the day hungry, that’s for sure.
General Lee stands atop the proud Virginia Monument.
The view of Devil’s Den from atop Little Round Top. You can see Slyder Farm off in the distance. Even farther back, that looks to be Seminary Ridge.
Devil’s Den in Black & White has a bit of a different feel to it.
A smooth bore standing sentinel in the peach orchard.
The High Water Mark of the Confederacy. Here fell Brigadier General Armistead.
The Battlefield at night has a much different feel to it. Especially when there were no lights in the background when we were there in real time.
Spangler Springs by night. Notice the Orbs. Are they just specs of dust on the camera lens?
We had a wonderful time with our Ghost Tour. I would give her a shout out, but she has retired since she gave us a tour. Here we are on “haunted” Sachs Bridge, learning of the three hapless Confederate stragglers that were hung by the residents of Gettysburg. Some claim they still haunt the bridge.
General Buford here in all his glory. I look at this picture and think about one of my planning short comings. Just down the road a piece, was the First Shots marker. With better planning and better research, I could have seen it. Seeing the first shots marker will have to wait.
The 11th New Hampshire along the Emmitsburg Pike.
The Trostle Farm. Another research short coming. My uncle, 7 back served here with the 150th New York when they helped retrieve a Battery that would have surely fallen into Confederate hands. I wouldn’t know I had a family connection to this spot until I returned the next time. By then I had a firm understanding of the battle and my family ties to it.
The 20th Maine Monument at night has a little different feel to it, but it was inspiring none the less. The courage of the 15th Alabama and Colonel Oates does the men from Maine honor.
Again with the Orbs?
Household 6 giving her Enfield “what for.”
Lincoln in the National Cemetery.
The Irish Brigade Monument at night. It was magnificent.
The monument to the men of the New Hampshire US Sharpshooters. The men in green provided immeasurable service on July 2nd, 3rd & July 4th. A great read that talks about the 2nd US Sharpshooters in The Civil War Diary of Wyman S. White.
Household 6 took many pictures of the North Carolina Monument. She’s a Carolina girl through and through. We are both alumni from East Carolina University. “Go Pirates!”
I feel a connection with the 1st Maine Cavalry. I read their unit history and was very intrigued. Both of my parents were Maine natives and in researching them, I found that they were the only Federal Cavalry Unit to be issued the Henry Repeating Rifle towards the end of the War.

Petersburg – “This is sad business, Colonel. It has happened as I told them in Richmond, as I told them it would happen. The line has been stretched until it is broken.”

Petersburg, VA:  What does it mean to be a soldier?  One definition of the term soldier is “one engaged in military service and especially in the army.”  While another definition of the word plainly states, “to push doggedly forward.”  Here at Petersburg, being a member of the Army of Northern Virginia, the Army of the Potomac or the Army of the James you were definitely a soldier in both aspects of the word. The patriotic speeches, bands, parades, pretty girls waiving handkerchiefs and thoughts of a quick victory had long been replaced by unending casualty lists, blood, sickness, draft riots, death and economic hardship, with no prospect of change on the horizon.  The Civil War had transformed in the East from a war of few pitched battles followed by a Union retreat, to a war of constant engagement, constant battle and constant casualties.  This was the “grind” of war.  The Federal objective was no longer to “take Richmond” but was to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia as a fighting force. Lt. General Grant initiated this phase of the war in May with his Overland Campaign.  Though there were many violent and large-scale clashes during the Overland Campaign followed by another “shift to the left,” the campaign culminated with the siege of Petersburg in June.  This siege would last more than 9 months, and places would adopt names that grew in infamy.  Names like “The Crater” and “Fort Hell.”  You were just as likely to catch a bullet from a sharpshooter as you were to die of dysentery, tuberculosis, exposure or any number of other sicknesses that followed armies in the 19th century.  It was the dawn of trench warfare and both blue & gray had to “soldier” in every sense of the word and it was the grind.   

We stopped off at the Petersburg Eastern Battlefield National Military Park on our way to the North Carolina coast from Washington DC.  We spent 5 days in Washington DC over the 4th of July and had an excellent time.  During our time there, we utilized the Visiting Officer’s Quarters and got a great deal.  Due to our family’s size, we had to rent two rooms with a shared bath.  The cost was only $109 a night; and that was for over July 4th week!  If you can stay on base at a military hotel, I highly advise it, as the cost savings are outstanding.  One of the highlights of the trip was watching fireworks while sitting on the lawn on Capital Hill and listening to the live concert broadcast by PBS.  That and our visit to the White House and the Marine Corps Museum were the highlights of the DC leg of that trip.  We decided to visit Household 6’s mom on the Carolina coast so we headed down east, with a stop at the Petersburg National Military Park as a break.

The site is located at 5001 Siege Rd, Prince George, VA 23875.  As luck would have it, we arrived at the Visitor’s Center just in time to join a Ranger Tour Caravan.  As learned on other visits, the National Park Service provides Ranger Tours of National Parks during peak visiting seasons.  I have been on many Ranger walks and have never regretted any time spent with them.  They are without equal in the areas of expertise and the Ranger Programs are always free of charge.  Our Ranger for the day was a retired Army Sergeant Major, now National Park Service Ranger and he was just such a wonderful guide and was able to impart his leadership wisdom upon us in the group. When we made our way around to The Crater, he became really quiet and then he became very emotional recounting the story of the fight at The Crater and the fact that there are still hundreds of soldiers buried beneath the surface of The Crater.  He then walked over to me and hugged me and apologized and told me that he got emotional when thinking about what we had to endure and costs that we all had to pay as soldiers.  I had never felt “The Band of Brothers” as poignantly as I did at that point in my life. This man, who had retired after reaching the top of his profession was embracing me, because of our shared hardships brought on by retelling the story of The Crater. The tour ended shortly thereafter and headed back to where we began at the Visitor’s Center.  I had been so moved by the entire experience, that I bought a copy of Don Troiani’s depiction of Captain Gould of the 5th Vermont in his headlong charge entitled “Medal of Honor.”  After leaving the Visitor’s Center, we continued on our way to the North Carolina coast.  I was quiet for a while on the drive.  I kept thinking of the emotions I felt when I saw that Sergeant Major get some rain in his eyes and truth be told, every time I look at that print on my wall, I think more of my brother, the Sergeant Major, than I do of Captain Gould.
The USCT’s played a significant part in the Petersburg Campaign and earned the respect of friend & foe alike.
My Brother in Arms, the Sergeant Major. A great guide and an even better man.
Fort Stedman
19th Century breast works. Imagine assaulting such a structure with single shot muzzle loading rifled muskets.
More earth works. We begin to see the face of warfare itself change.
Long gone are the massed formations of 1861 and 1863. Here we see where the evolution.
I had a conversation with author & historian Paul Brueske once and we agreed that by the end of the US Civil War, the battlefield largely looked like that of the fields of France and Belgium 50 years later.
Mine shaft entrance to the Crater.
A view of the inside of the shaft.
A fitting memorial for Confederate Major General Mahone, a Petersburg native.
The Crater. The final resting place of hundreds of Soldiers who gave their final measure of devotion.
Note the trench mortar on the right.
The Confederate Battle Flag holds a spot of honor with its Federal peers.
The 200th PA. Volunteers battle flag tells it’s own story of the hard service seen by many regiments.

Corinth – “If defeated here, we lose the Mississippi Valley and probably our cause.”

Corinth MS: One concept that a career in the military has taught me, is that all American, and in fact all nationalities of military personnel are largely the same type of people and though we have enough differences to make us unique individuals, as a body we are largely similar.  Now here’s the kicker, the same can be said about soldiers across time.  For those familiar with current military culture, I promise you that there was a “Carl” that served with Washington at Valley Forge, a “Carl” that served in Caesar’s Legions that conquered Gaul and a “Carl” that served in the fury and hell of The Hornet’s Nest at Shiloh.  Another timeless truth of soldierly life is that we understand that the Mission is the reason for our being.  The Mission may be to take a piece of ground, remove a target, or defend with your life if necessary, some nameless point on a map.  That is something that we know and accept and that hasn’t changed since before Alexander the Great pointed his chariots east 2500 years ago.     

In the Spring and Summer of 1862, one of the most hotly contested pieces of real estate on the planet was a small, unassuming railroad crossroad in a place called Corinth, MS. The strategic value of Corinth could not be understated to the Confederate cause.  It was the rail hub that linked the resource rich western Confederacy with the East.  A mere month and a half earlier, a major battle was fought just 20 miles away over the border in Tennessee at a place called Shiloh. The strategic objective of the Union forces at Shiloh was to penetrate south and take the strategic railroad crossroad. Pittsburg Landing offered the best place to land forces for a march south. After a successful siege operation, Union forces under General Grant were able to take Corinth at the end of May, 1862. The Confederates regrouped and in October launched a major offensive to retake the strategically significant crossroads.  It ended in savage hand to hand combat where cold steel ruled the day.

From a touring perspective, I would like to have the opportunity to revisit Corinth, now having a greater understanding of the roll it played in 1862.  Or at the very least, I would have liked to have spent more time there.  We had left Shiloh National Military Park and grabbed some lunch and headed right away to the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center located at 501 W. Linden St, Corinth, MS 38834, which is run by the National Park Service out of Shiloh National Military Park.  We arrived with only an hour left before it closed and decided to make the best of it.  We toured the facility and I really feel that I could have spent two additional hours there.  After the Interpretive Center closed for the evening, we went out and scoured the town and found the famous railroad crossroads.  I would also like to point out that the Interpretive Center is located at Battery Robinett so we did have the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the dramatic climax of the 2nd Battle of Corinth where the 2nd Texas Legion was held off by the 11th Missouri (US) and the 27th Ohio.  There is a rather famous picture of Colonel William Rogers of the 2nd Texas Legion leading his men over the parapet and being shot by a Federal Drummer Boy. We stopped at Corinth in the afternoon right after we had left Shiloh National Military Park. They are that close. It still gives me pause to think about the fact that I walked that ground.  After we toured the town to find the railroad crossing, it was time to finish the trip to Gulfport.  If you make it to Shiloh, I highly recommend finishing the story and going the Corinth the next day.  I am told that there is a place nearby where you can take your Jeep or other 4×4 off-roading.  That is something that I could definitely explore after a couple of fun days “battle fielding.”
Battery Robinett. Colonel Rogers may have fallen at the spot where I was standing. Here a desperate charge captured the Battery, but a swift and fierce counter charge proved too much for the hard fighting Texans.
Static display of Springfield 3 Band Rifled Muskets.
An impression of troops marching off to fight greets the traveler as you walk into the Interpretive Center.
157 years ago this was one of the most contested pieces of real estate on the planet. Over 8,000 Americans gave their lives for possession of this railroad crossroads in a small corner of Mississippi. This was also why the Battle of Shiloh was fought just over the Tennessee border. In total, the spot where I took this picture cost over 30,000 Americans their lives. That is a steep butcher’s bill to pay.
What’s in your kit?
Rooster found a friend.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Anyone who had service over in the middle east in the last 18 years will immediately identify these as 1862 style Hesco Barriers. “Ain’t No Party Like a Working Party!”

Andersonville: “All hope has banished, and we are not living but only drawing out a miserable existence. And death seems to be the only words of relief for us from our misery and sufferings.”

Have you ever walked on ground, and as odd as it is to say, felt the sadness in the soil?  As if you can actually feel the anguish of those poor souls who had to be here; as if their grief has forever permeated the soil and made it palpable for those of us who travel there for generations yet to come?  I have had that feeling wash over me while visiting two places thus far in my travels.  Though I have had my share of time in lands rife with great inhumanity, I have only ever gotten that feeling, the feeling that would inexplicably bring tears to my eyes and a deep sadness over me, at Dachau Concentration Camp on the outskirts of Munich, Germany and at Andersonville National Historic Site. However, I make no other historical comparisons between the two places.    

In late December of 2015, our son, Moose, was invited to play in the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl, being held in Daytona, FL.  As it would turn out, my wife, Household 6 and my daughter Rooster, would have cause to be at a soccer tournament in Omaha, Nebraska at the same time.  This trip to the sunny South would be a guys’ trip.  As I do with every trip I plan, I do a map exercise.  The years of military training just will not give up.  I determined this trip would take us close enough to Andersonville to make a side trip on the way down to Daytona.  We left the frozen confines of the Kansas City Metro and after a long day’s drive found ourselves at the Hampton Inn in Americus, Georgia for the night.  The Hampton Inn in Americus is located at 1609 E Lamar St, Americus, GA 31709, which is about 60 miles Southeast of Columbus, GA.   The next morning when Moose and I awoke, we ate breakfast and were soon at our destination of Camp Sumter, or more commonly known by the name “Andersonville.” Andersonville achieved infamy as a Confederate-run Prisoner of War Camp, where over 13,000 US Military Prisoners perished during its short, 14-month operation.  I will not delve too deeply into the history of the site as this is a travel blog and to be honest, the history is depressing on a number of levels.  But it suffices to say that Camp Sumter was built to house 10,000 prisoners on 17 acres.  At its peak operation, it housed 33,000 Federal prisoners mostly picked up from General Sherman’s march through Georgia.  With meager rations, squalid living conditions, access to little uncontaminated water, and no medical care, moral despair and the ever present “Deadline”, surviving Andersonville would become more of an ordeal for these men than combat.  It is important to note that conditions were so bad that even the Confederates lost over 200 guards to disease.  Today the National Prisoner of War Exhibit coupled with the monuments and rebuilding of portions of the prison facility give us a haunting yet excellent view into not only the life of the Federal Civil War Prisoner of War, but all American prisoners of war and the deprivations that await all of us who have served and continue to serve should we fall into unfriendly hands.   As we toured the historic site, I would like to make special mention of the feeling that I got when I walked through the double set of gates into the prison compound.  I can’t over emphasize the “feeling” of hopelessness walking through those gates, or later, walking through the mock ups of the “shebangs” and the “Deadline” that all prisoners were forbid from crossing, under penalty of an immediate death. 

After Moose and I finished up our tour, we were in need of lunch and some cheering up before we finished our trip to Daytona. So we went to see what Andersonville, Georgia had to offer the weary traveler and were we in for a treat.  Despite Moose’s misgivings, we stopped at the now closed Andersonville Station Confederate Restaurant.  Having lived in Texas for 5 years, I felt I had already sampled the best cobbler that could be offered, but ASCR’s peach cobbler left little doubt that I had to crown a new “King of Cobbler.”  I would also like to say that Frito-Chili Cheeseburger was absolutely fantastic.  Trip Advisor rated them 4.5 out of 5, but I don’t think that rating was high enough.  If they were to reopen under the previous management, I would highly recommend a visit.  After lunch, we walked next door to The Little Drummer Boy Museum, located at 109 E Church St, Andersonville, GA 31711.  The Museum entrance was close enough to the railway that bisected town.  That same railway brought thousands of hapless Union prisoners here where over a quarter would meet their destiny.  We were reminded of this by the painted footprints along the road from where the trains would stop and the prisoners would be marched off toward the camp.  Moose and I toured the Museum and there were many things to see.  The things that stuck with me was the diorama of Camp Sumter in operation and the many uniforms on display.  After touring the museum and reflecting on the whole site, it was time to head to Daytona and watch Moose play football.
A very moving monument to the suffering of all American Prisoners of War. It is a somber piece that effectively put the visitor in the proper mindset to see what is before them.
The “Shebangs.” Thousands of make shift tents like these were all that protected the prisoners from the elements. Prisoners were turned loose inside the camp with only what they carried on their body.

The view from inside the North Gate Entrance. Prisoners were herded into the vestibule between the internal gate and the external gate and this is the Prisoner’s first view of what did lay beyond.
There are a number of monuments here on site, many to the sacrifices made by many of the western states that remained loyal. As a New Hampshire native who lives in Kansas, I found myself drawn to this one. Though my home state and adopted home state did not sacrifice as many as Ohio and New York, they still paid the price.
There was a severe shortage of water during the Summer of 1864. Many Prisoners perished. There was a savage storm that blew in in August and a lightning strike within the Camp Prison Compound unleashed a new gushing stream, which washed away much of the camp filth and provided life saving water for the thousands of prisoners. It gave the prisoners hope and was named “Providence Stream.” After the war ended, this chapel was built on the site of the lightning strike.
Diorama of Camp Sumter in full operation at The Little Drummer Boy Museum.
An excellent Federal uniform display at The Little Drummer Boy. Note the Fire Zouave.
Andersonville Station
Federal Soldier in Winter dress.
Confederates in full uniform. The second mannequin looks to be in the Field Artillery.
The Little Drummer Boy Museum to the left and the former Anderson Station Confederate Restaurant to the right. It is a shame that the restaurant is now closed.

Shiloh – “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?”

Pittsburg Landing, TN: In the early Spring of 1862, Major General Grant was determined to cut the railroad cross roads of the Confederacy at Corinth, MS. By this time, with the fall of Fort Donelson & Fort Henry, the Union had control of the rivers into Tennessee. Grant wished to take advantage of the waterways and conducted a landing in force at Pittsburg Landing, as this was the closest he could get his river born army to his ultimate goal of Corinth, Mississippi. The Confederates, under General Albert Sidney Johnston rushed to meet this threat.  They swept down upon an unsuspecting Union force encamped at a meeting house, named after a place out of the Bible – Shiloh.  Genesis 49:10 defines Shiloh as “The Things Stored for Him.”  Shiloh, as the battle for Pittsburg Landing would become known as, would be what was at the time the largest Military Engagement in the western hemisphere. The Sabbath, April 6th 1862 had promised to be a beautiful day, but a killing wind came in from the South.  At about 5:00 a.m., shots rang out from a Federal reconnaissance patrol as Albert Sidney Johnston’s 35,000 strong Confederate Army fell down upon the relaxing Federal Army, under none other than Major General William Tecumseh Sherman. With victory nearly in hand and everything going the Confederates’ way, General Albert Sidney Johnson would be mortally wounded.  Command was then passed to the hero of Bull Run, P.G.T. Beauregard, who immediately ordered a halt to the Confederate advance.  This gave Federal forces time to regroup, recover, and allow for the very timely yet late arrival of fresh troops under Major General Lew Wallace. Wallace had taken a wrong turn earlier in the battle, and that had waylaid his troops from the field. In addition, Major General Don Carlos Buell’s troops arrived fresh from Nashville.  With reinforced troops and a consolidated battle line, it was now time for Grant to take the offensive, and that he did.  General Beauregard had ordered his battle weary Army to rest and refit in the captured Union camps.  Now it was their turn to be surprised by Federal forces.  By 5:00 p.m., the last of the Confederate Army had retired from the battlefield and headed the 20 miles back to Corinth, MS.

We arrived in Shiloh on a cold rainy day in March of 2017 while on our way to Gulfport for Spring break. Stopping at a National Park or a place of historical significance is something we tend to do on the way to a vacation destination. The kids always complain about “history” but my high school daughter, Rooster, is taking a college accredited history course now and my son, Moose, is following that same path. My son has even admitted to me that he enjoys “battle fielding.” I don’t know if he enjoys it on its own merits or just likes to hang out with me. Either way, for a teenager to admit that, it’s a “win.” We stayed at a local Hampton Inn, located at 90 Old South Rd, Counce, TN 38326.  We usually stay at a Hampton Inn or a Holiday Inn Express when we travel with the kids.  At our final destination, I have become accustomed to using to rent a house.  That allows us to save money on food that we prepare and also lets everyone enjoy their own space.  With two adult-sized teenagers, a boy and girl, they are long past the point of being willing to sleep in the same bed.  I can’t say I blame them.  When we travel without them, we like to stay in a Bed & Breakfast. We had a good time at Shiloh and the audio tour guide CD was adequate, but I will admit we would have had a great time if the Rangers were running a program and the weather had been more cooperative. I would recommend visiting Shiloh National Military Park between Memorial Day and Labor Day to get the most out of the experience and take advantage of any Ranger Programs that they may be hosting.   After we left Shiloh National Military Park, we headed straight for the Interpretive Center at Corinth, which will be the subject of another article. There we had a fine dinner at Russell’s Beef House located at 104 Highway 72 E Corinth, Mississippi 38834.  The food was simply amazing and the restaurant featured many fine artworks of Confederate commanders and battle scenes.  The steak was perfectly done and reasonably priced and it was enough to fuel me for the rest of the trip to Gulfport.
Deer roam the National Military Park freely.
Grant’s Headquarters location, now inside the US National Cemetery.
The cost of freedom. The US Flag flies over the National Cemetery where Service Members from all wars from 1862 forward lay at rest.
The Hornet’s Nest. Scene of some of the most violent and bloody fighting as Confederates reduced the salient.
The spot where General Johnston fell, mortally wounded taking with him Confederate hopes of victory at Shiloh.
Union Navy Artillery from gunboats in the Tennessee River hammered Confederate positions all night long April 6th/April 7th.
Ruggles’ Battery at Shiloh. At that time, it was the largest bombardment of artillery in North America.
Bloody Pond. Battle weary and thirsty Soldiers from both sides would come here to get water and would meet with each and do battle here until the pond ran red with blood.
Spot where a Federal reconnaissance first fired upon advancing Confederates.
Wildlife is always fun to be on the watch for.
Tennessee Monument
Shiloh Meeting House
A monument to the Confederates with the theme Defeat Stolen from Victory.
Rooster & Moose on The Sunken Road. Here Iowa stood tall against long odds.
The National Cemetery now overlooks Pittsburg Landing.

Vicksburg – “Vicksburg is Key.”

Vicksburg, MS: This is a repost of The Civil War Traveler’s page on Facebook.  This was our inaugural post from which we launched The Civil War Traveler.  I have decided to edit the original content to make it more robust and actually useful for the reader.  We visited Vicksburg over Spring Break in March of 2018.  I had lead an effort with my son’s Boy Scout Troop, Troop 487 out of Olathe, KS in order to terminate requirements for The American Heritage Merit Badge and some elements of the Eagle required Citizenship in the Nation Merit Badge. 

Our trip to Vicksburg had been long in coming.  In January on our way back home from a youth football event for our son in New Orleans, we had driven right by Vicksburg National Military Park.  We even stopped for lunch at China Buffet, located at 4150 S Frontage Rd, Vicksburg, MS 39180 which is a mere 500 yards from the entrance from Vicksburg National Military Park. However, I was threatened by my family under penalty of death that if I delayed our trip home, there would be “the devil to pay” per Household 6.  So I would have to wait until our planned trip with Boy Scout Troop 487 in March.

Having done some research prior to the trip and teaching the participating Scouts a class on the Vicksburg Campaign, and the role played by Kansas troops there, we were able to work with the National Military Park to receive an Educational Waiver to the fee to enter the park.  If anyone out there in Traveler Nation is reading this, please be aware that many, but not all National Military Parks have an educational waiver of fees.  In making plans for the actual visit, having greatly benefited from a guided tour of Gettysburg, I contacted the VNMP and asked about tour guides.  I was referred to the Vicksburg Chamber of Commerce at 601-636-3827.  There I was put in contact with Rick Martin, a brother retired Army Officer.  There, Rick let me know that he likes to conduct his tours in the manner of a Military Staff Ride and since we were doing it for the Boy Scouts, he was going to throw in a little something special.  Rick’s idea of “a little something special” was what truly made the trip special for the boys.  Rick taught them about life as a Civil War Infantryman and a Civil War Artilleryman which included bringing uniforms for the boys to wear, along with weapons and equipment to touch and feel.  This really brought the experience I wanted the boys to have to light; that of the American Soldier in the Civil War. 

In preparation for our trip as a Boy Scout Troop, I had the boys and some parental volunteers make some hardtack.  Our big meal Saturday night was an “authentic” Civil War meal of hardtack, bacon, baked beans and Johnny cakes.  It was actually quite a fine dinner, all things considered.  We had partnered with a local to the Vicksburg area Boy Scout Troop (Troop 7) to rent their camp for accommodations.  If you are reading this and considering reaching out to rent Camp Wilkerson, I highly recommend it.  It is a fine place for the boys and wants for nothing.  They even have patches that can be earned for touring and hiking the park and Johnny Mo is a real gentleman to work with.  For entertainment, we were joined by a Boy Scout Troop out of Texas. I had brought my laptop, screen and projector.  I had bought the movie “Cannonball Run” thinking that the rating of “PG” would be appropriate for the boys.  Though the movie was extremely entertaining and funny and our Scout Master really enjoyed it, I don’t know if it was right for some of the younger boys.  I reckon movie ratings in the 1970’s meant something different.  On Sunday we awoke and toured the USS Cairo, which will be covered in another feature. 

The tour was really made memorable by Rick’s leadership, knowledge and expertise.  Not only was Rick a retired Colonel in the Mississippi National Guard but he is also a retired Park Ranger and knows VNMP possibly better than the back of his hand.  For me there were two personal tie ins to the Vicksburg tour.  I had a relative who fought with the 3rd Louisiana Infantry Regiment.  I haven’t been able to find out much about my cousin, though the information I did find on him was from Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans.  I will write about that in another featured article.  The other personal tie in was from the Federal side.  I am a native New Hampshire man, from Cheshire County.  The 6th New Hampshire was formed in Cheshire County and were part of the IX Corps, which was sent West and took up a defensive position along the Big Black to ensure Confederate General Joe Johnston would not be able to relieve the besieged Confederates under Pemberton.  The 6th New Hampshire and the IX Corps would later prove their metal to the skeptical Western Troops in the Jackson Campaign, but that is a story for another day.
Perhaps the best photo I have taken as “The Civil War Traveler.” The morning mists clings to the Illinois Monument in the background.
The Veteran’s Memorial Arch marking the entry onto the Battlefield it’s self.
Major General US Grant himself, at the spot of his headquarters. Here Grant awoke one evening to the sound of soldiers tearing down his quarters to use the wood to help build breastworks. His only reply when hearing that his subordinate, Major General Sherman had ordered it was “That figures”, as the soldiers went about their business.
The Truce Spot. Here, Major General Grant and Lt. General Pemberton drew terms that put Vicksburg in Federal hands.
Rick teaching Troop 487 Civil War Artillery Drills.
Colonel Rick Martin explaining to the boys the deadly effects of cannister.
Moose as a Federal Infantryman.
Rick preparing Troop 487 for action.
I don’t know if my cousin, Isadore Gimbert fought here, but here I was walking in the footsteps of the 3rd Louisianna.
Monument to the US Colored Troops. Masterfully done and a fitting tribute to these American Soldiers.
The 6th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry at Vicksburg. Note the IX Corps Crest.
Massachussetts at Vicksburg
Monument to Iowa. The Federal War in the West could not have been as successful as it was without the hard fighting men of Iowa. Their mark was made here at Vicksburg and places like Shiloh, Franklin, Atlanta, Westport and every other hot spot in the West. There Iowa stood.
The seal of the Great State of Illinois
The entrance to the Illinois Monument. I tried to capture the grandness of the monument.
A monument to the three Kansas Regiments that fought in the Vicksburg Campaign.
Confederate Breastworks inside the Visitors Center
Lt. General Pemberton. A man without a country. Born a Yankee, never trusted and perhaps never given a job without resources.
Major General US Grant.
Grant’s headquarters tent.

Fort Donelson -“No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.”

It’s Saturday night and The Civil War Traveler is prime time. Welcome to the first inaugural post of, America’s premier historical travel review site. I find it somehow fitting with the first production post of, we talk about Fort Donelson; the first challenge of Brigadier General U.S. Grant, as a General Officer. So on this magical evening of firsts, without further delay, let us travel back to that turbulent times of early 1862 and talk about a young Brigadier General Grant and his first challenge as a General Officer, at a place called Fort Donelson.

Household 6 and I checked out of the Hilton Tru in Murfreesboro on Labor Day morning and stopped for breakfast at the nearby Mimi’s Café.  We used to frequent Mimi’s when we lived in Northeast Tarrant County, TX and the nostalgia of the café was nice.  After breakfast we went to the US National Cemetery to spend some time paying honor to the US troops that fought in the area.  Since we had done this for the Confederate troops at Carnton in Franklin, we felt that we must do the same for the Federal troops.  The US National Cemetery was beautiful and peaceful.  I don’t know if I have mentioned it before, but at some point in the future I will be spending a lot of time in a National Cemetery, so I don’t really like to go there now.  After we left the NPS property, it was time to start making our way back towards home in Kansas.   In doing so, we had planned to stop at Fort Donelson.  I wanted to see the place where a young Brigadier General by the name of Grant would see his star start to ascend.  The GPS put the end point at 1 hour and 58 minutes from Murfreesboro in a general northwesterly direction.  The trip was fairly quick and in Clarksville, home to the 101st Airborne, we passed another Confederate Civil War fort along the Cumberland River, Fort Defiance.  We earmarked the location for a future trip and later found out that it was run by a private organization and well worth the visit. 

The contest for Fort Donelson began in earnest on February 13th, 1862 after Brigadier General Grant had successfully reduced Fort Henry a week earlier.  He had surrounded Fort Donelson with his Army of 25,000 and laid siege the Confederate defenders force of 16,000 under Brigadier General Jon B. Floyd, a political appointment.  Federal forces attempted to reduce Fort Donelson first, utilizing their naval resources, but due to heavier counter battery fire, Fort Donelson was able to withstand the US Navy’s river-based bombardment and was able to successfully counter punch.  On the 15th of February, Brigadier General Floyd went on the offensive and attacked the Union Army’s right flank.  Despite the Confederates having some initial success, Brigadier General Grant was able to execute a successful counter attack in the afternoon, which sealed the Confederate breach and caused Brigadier General Floyd to order his forces to take refuge inside the earthen mounds of Fort Donelson.  Now that the Fort was firmly under siege, cut off from resupply and aid and able to be bombed into submission from the US Navy, Brigadier General Floyd abdicated command.  The next in the line of command was Brigadier General Pillow, who abdicated command as well and immediately excused himself to take his leave of the besieged fort.  Lt. Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest grew disgusted with the situation and ordered his command of 700 cavaliers to leave in the middle of the night. This left Brigadier General Simon Bolivar Buckner, a professional soldier and personal friend of his counterpart, US Grant in command to surrender the Fort.  When Buckner asked what terms, he would accept for surrender, Grant famously replied “Unconditional Surrender” were the only terms he would accept, thus earning his new nickname in the northern press and giving the nation a victory when it so desperately needed one.  The importance of the loss of forts Henry and Donelson cannot be overstated.  The Union Army and Navy now had ease of access to the heartland of the western Confederacy.  Very soon Nashville would fall and later on in the spring, the Union Army would push all the way south to a place called Pittsburg Landing to begin its land campaign against the rail hub at Corinth, MS.  Other than the huge strategic implications of the action at Fort Donelson, Ulysses Sampson Grant would become a household name across both North and South.  His star would now begin to quickly rise, while his eventual counter-peer, Robert E. Lee would sit and wait as an adviser to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.  The stage was slowly being set for warfare on an unprecedented level and little did anyone realize that the road to Richmond lay through Fort Donelson, TN. 

We arrived at Fort Donelson around 12:30 in the afternoon after the drive up.  The first thing we were made aware of is that the permanent Visitor’s Center to the National Park was closed for remodeling and that the National Park Service had set up shop about 300 yards up the road at the County Museum of History.  Both organizations were now sharing space,  coincidentally enough, right next to Mama Mea’s Pizza & More located at 1314 Donelson Parkway, Dover, TN 37058.  The temporary Visitor’s Center hosted a few features and displays, as expected.   It is our custom to always watch the movie and then walk the ground.  The impressive movie gave significant context to the battle for Fort Donelson. Household 6 and I also had the privilege of watching the swearing in of a couple of new Junior Park Rangers and it was great to see the excitement on the children’s faces as the Park Ranger swore them in.  We picked up a self-guided tour map and began our adventure of touring the fort.  Of all the places in the National Park, we spent most of our time at the river batteries, the Confederate monument, US National Cemetery and the spot of Buckner’s to Grant, the Dover House Hotel. There is a very good movie at the Dover House.  We spent about three hours all told visiting Fort Donalson.  After we finished the tour, we returned to Mama Mea’s Pizza & More for some excellent pizza.  The crust was nice and light.  I am usually a 1 piece of pizza guy, but the pie was so good that I ate two pieces and we took the rest to go for the trip home.  After we ate, we got in the car and pointed it homeward bound, thus, concluding our Labor Day weekend trip.  We toured Fort Davidson, Parker’s Crossroads, Franklin, Stone’s River, Nashville & Fort Donelson.  It was a good weekend and by the end of it we were happy to step off the trail.  We will see you on the trail for our next adventure.
The entry to Fort Donelson.
One of the cannonaids on display as you enter Fort Donelson.
The swearing in of Junior Rangers. It was a treat to witness the ceremony and see a new generation become interested in America’s past.
Union artillery and caisson.
Remainder of the Confederate Trench
Household 6 walking along the obligatory Split Rail Fence.
A cabin is all that remains of what was once the main housing area for Confederate troops manning Fort Donelson.
Confederate Battery defending the Tennessee River.
The spot where Federal River Boats came up the Tennessee and engaged Fort Donelson.
View from river defenses of Fort Donelson
Dover Hotel. Sight of where General Buckner surrendered to Brigadier General US Grant.
Monument to the Confederate defenders of Fort Donelson. The monument was built by the Daughters of the Confederacy and is a magnificent structure.