Friday, March 28, 2008

Symposium Update

We're closing in the Rocky Mountain Civil War Roundtable's symposium. As I've mentioned before we've got good slate of presenters:
James Lee McDonough providing a Western Theater overview
Timothy Smith covering Shiloh
Kenneth Noe talking about Perryville
Matt Spruill discussing Stones River
Sam Davis Elliott presenting Alexander Stewart

We've been busy this past few weeks with last minute details. I've been pleasantly surprised with the increase in phone calls and emails about the event. I'll admit that a month ago I was starting to wonder if this might be a huge flop, but this past week I've fielded a ton of questions about the symposium. And its been questions like "where can I send my money?" These people will be there. And some of them are coming a great distance. I think some people are driving upwards of 12 hours to come to this. Now I hope it does well enough that we decide this will be an annual event. If the recent batch of new registrations is any indication this just might be an annual event.

If you're interested send me an email or a comment and I'll get some info out to you. Some forms are available on this blog, look at the right side of the screen in the section called files.

Hope to see you there.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Final musings from the road

After taking care of the funeral and divvying up pictures, Jess, son and I headed down to Aurora, Illinois to see her aunt and uncle (and get all sorts of food). On one day we went to a zoo (the name eludes me now) and while there I happened upon this pair of cannons. Truly big guns. I didn't see anything saying from what war they were from and the plaque nearby says it was dedicated to the local marines in 1957, so that doesn't clear up anything. I tend to lose focus in events past 1876 so someone with a better knowledge of overall history might instantly say, "that's obviously from WW2, you can tell by the banding" but I have no idea.

The zoo itself was pretty small but actually a good size for a four year old. I think this alligator was thinking of a little boy lunch.
The night before we left I told my fiance that we could be at Shiloh in one day's drive, maybe 8-10 hours, but she was having none of that.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sheboygan monument

The week before grandpa's funeral dad had gone back to see him. While there he snapped some photos of the town monument for its Civil War soldiers. As you can see its been a long winter in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. I'm somewhat surprised at the good condition of the monument. Its over 100 years old and usually monuments show a bit more wear from the weather, but this one seems to have held up well. I especially like the details on it denoting the different branches of service; infantry, artillery, cavalry and navy. Sheboygan is on Lake Michigan so I'm sure there were some boys who signed up for naval duty because their family had been in the shipping business on the lake. That's just a guess on my part but I think its a reasonable conclusion to make.


I'd like to thank everyone for the comments and emails expressing condolences on the loss of my grandfather. I appreciated it very much.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

My Grandfather

A week ago on Saturday morning my mother called to inform me that grandpa (my dad’s father) had passed away. This was no great shock, he was 93, he hadn’t been in the best of health for years (though few people don’t have some health problems by 93).

Initially I was not sure what I would do, would I go to the funeral or not? Its a two day drive to Wisconsin and I didn’t have the money for a plane ticket. I had barely started to hem and haw when Jess basically said we’re going. I’m not sure what her exact words were anymore but she was decisive when I needed it. Quickly we started packing the Jeep so that the three of us could make the trip back. I think my parents were a little shocked to hear that the three of us were going to join them in the drive back, forming a tiny caravan. I got the call at 7:30 and by noon we were on the highway. I think that’s pretty good considering we still had to drop off the dog at her parents’ house, go to the bank and get some other supplies before hitting the road.

The drive itself went pretty good, I was shocked how well it went. We convinced the four year old we were on an adventure and that kept him interested enough that he didn’t get too bored. We also had a DVD player (a godsend), some games and plenty of snacks. On the way home later in the week this combination would start to lose its magic but initially it was a success.

The funeral was a little odd in that it did not seem that sad. I don’t remember hearing anyone getting too emotional. It was harder for everyone at the cemetery but at the funeral home it did not seem, from where I was sitting, that there was any intense crying. But that is somewhat to be expected because grandpa was 93. This was not a huge shock so everyone had previously had their time to come to grips with it happening someday in the future, that someday turned out to be now. My dad had flown out to Wisconsin the week before to see his father, not knowing if he had two more years or two more months.

We debated what to tell our son. He had never been to a funeral before, the few we’ve attended together previously we’ve left him with a babysitter. Eventually we decided on telling him grandpa was sleeping (if the casket hadn’t been open it would have been easier to discuss, I think). So far he hasn’t had any sort of adverse reaction to going to sleep. I thought he might after he watched us put my grandfather in the ground. Maybe he didn’t see enough to realize what was happening, we sat near the back and at the cemetery he was also at the rear of the crowd.

I was a pallbearer, I wished I had the time to pack some better clothes instead of dark jeans and a black sweater. I could have packed my sportcoat and some actual black dress pants. I don’t feel too bad though as very few of my relatives were exactly dressed to the nines, I didn’t stand out for my lack of wardrobe and I think most people realized that we had packed quickly and hit the road so we did not have the perfect clothes.

It was good to see all my cousins and to introduce my family to my future wife and son. They got to meet my 21 first and second cousins, plus my aunts and uncles. In all I think they met about 30 relatives of mine. After the funeral we went to a sports bar and had a family dinner.

The next two days we went through grandpa’s house. The real treasure were the boxes of very old pictures that we did not know that he had. My cousin Daniel does genealogy and we both had a strong suspicion that there was some stuff in the attic but we were amazed by the riches. Daniel set up his printer as a copier and made a ton of copies for the various relatives that wanted them.

In our searching of the house we also found some old lace doilies that my grandmother made. We all took some, I think Jess and I ended up getting 4. We also got some old china, I believe mom said that it was my great grandmother’s but I don’t remember the specifics anymore, I’ll have to ask. I also took his old nightstand and its now next to my bed. I got some old books too, basically some Wisconsin Blue Books and a biography of George Washington. I also got his old wool coat, it fit me well and no one else wanted it so I took it for practical and sentimental reasons. The main haul was the family photos, if that’s all I would have gotten I would have been quite happy. I was also glad to get these few other pieces as they have a family history behind them. Lace doilies are nice but having ones your grandmother made is even better. Hopefully they’ll stay in pretty good condition and can maybe be passed on to the next generation. If that doesn’t happen its not a big deal but it would kinda be nice if it did happen.

One of the more interesting finds in the family papers was I found (and was allowed to keep the original after the copies were made) of promotion certificates for one of my uncles making him a corporal and a sergeant. I don’t have the originals in front of me (when I do I’ll probably scan them and post them here because they are kinda neat) so my memory is a bit sketchy but the one for corporal was in the 2nd Wisconsin (for the Spanish American War) and then the one for sergeant was for the 137th US Infantry (or it might be the 127th, the memory is hazy on the number right now)

I'm glad I went. I went more to support dad than anything else. I'm glad Jess was decisive and that all three of us went. That really meant the world to me.

One of my favorite photos of my grandpa is this one from a hunting trip. I believe that the story behind the photo is that he got his deer on Saturday, was home on Sunday for church and while still in his church clothes a friend stopped by to take the picture. So my grandfather is in his Sunday best with a deer. But at first glance it might appear that my grandfather was the gentleman hunter and did his hunting in a coat and tie with shined shoes. Ironically the wool coat he’s wearing is the same one I took out of his closet. The hat was there too but did not fit me otherwise I would have probably taken that too.

Walter John Kurtz
1 December 1914 – 15 March 2008

Saturday, March 15, 2008

No posts this week

My grandfather died this morning. I am heading back to Wisconsin right now. I will resume normal posting activity on March 24th.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Confederate Cemeteries in Chattanooga

This concludes my posts on Chattanooga. As has become customary I like to end a battlefield by showing the cemeteries associated with the battle. I've previously shown the National Cemetery so it is now time to show the two Confederate cemeteries in Chattanooga. The first, and the one actually associated with the battle, is located just east of downtown next to the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga campus. This is a very old cemetery. We also caught the trees in a lovely spring bloom.

The other local cemetery is east of town, pretty far east in fact. This cemetery is for the men who died in hospitals here in 1862 when the front was much closer to Nashville than Chattanooga. It seems quite large to only have 155 soldiers (all unknown) buried here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Rossville Gap

Here is the third Iowa monument at Chattanooga, the first two were mentioned here and here. Iowa monuments seem to all have text that offers a parting salvo to the Confederates. This one is no exception. The inscription reads:
"May this shaft register alike the sacrifice of our fallen brothers and our purpose to perpetuate their memory by citizenship worthy of the heritage they left us, a re-united and glorious union."

This monument is in Rossville Gap, in a sliver of land surrounded by roads. That makes some sense as the gap naturally constricts the flow of traffic to a smaller point. Add a monument to the mix and I'm sure the city traffic planners have long wished the monument was 100 yards up the ridge so they'd have a bit more room to add lanes. Interestingly if you stay on this road it will take you directly to the Chickamauga battlefield. As such I have driven past this monument probably more often than I have any other monument as I travel between Chattanooga and my normal hotel in Fort Oglethorpe.

This is the spot Hooker's column reached before turning and making their attack along the ridge back towards the north. Hooker and Sherman were to hit each flank and roll the line towards the center where Thomas was waiting. Instead Sherman failed, and Hooker and Thomas ended up winning the day.

On one of the last pieces of high ground of Missionary Ridge before descending into Rossville Gap is this Missouri monument, wedged into a sliver of land between two roads. I do not think there are any better pictures of mine that illustrate how the ridge has grown up around the monuments, which I'm sure seemed pretty isolated when they were erected a hundred years ago.

The monument is for the 3rd, 12h, 17th, 27th, 29th, 31st and 32nd Missouri Infantry and Battery F of the 2nd Missouri artillery (all US).

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Missionary Ridge views

After blogger prevented me from posting pictures yesterday I thought I'd make up for it today with a post loaded with pictures.

This was taken from near the center of Missionary Ridge, near Anderson's Brigade marker. Orchard Knob is that big patch of green in the center, where the foreground road ends. The Illinois monument can be seen on the high ground.

This house can be seen from Orchard Knob, the plaque in the front yard is for Anderson's Brigade. I don't have a picture from Orchard Knob showing this house but I included it here so that you'll have a reference when you visit the land.
The next seven pictures are a panoramic taken from in front of the Anderson Brigade marker. From left to right they show the valley from south to north.

And then the next four pictures are a panoramic taken from the farthest south part of Missionary Ridge that offered a view of the valley. From left to right they show the valley from south to north.

Missionary Ridge conditions

One thing that is amazing, especially for a first time visitor, is that there are monuments and markers among a community. A marker in a front yard is not unusual. Most dot the side of the road and because of the slope sometimes that means sometimes the marker is on the edge of a steep slope and sometimes it is in a yard. Viewing them all at first seems like a daunting task but I can assure you that you can walk the ridge. I did it and I didn't get run over once. I did though do it during the week and stayed away from times when people were likely to be coming or going from work.

One of my favorite oddities is this house. The two markers on either side of the driveway are for the right of Hindman's Division and the left of Cheatham's Division. I'd love to live here, then I'd tell people that I live at the junction of Hindman's and Cheatham's Divisions. Non Civil War people might never find the house but my friends would know in an instant, or at least need to consult a book before, finding my house.
The best (or worst) though is Mebane's Tennessee Battery. "Just drive Missionary Ridge until you see a cannon pointed at a front door, that's my house." I would have loved to see the ridge 100 years ago when it had very few houses and great views of the valley. Understanding the battle would have been tons easier. Some might question how I can call the battle here complex but there are some oddities in markers. For instance it appears that Hooker's column contributed a lot more to the ultimate failure of the line than is normally credited to them, (which will be the topic of a future post.) Plus along the face of the ridge open vistas might better enable us to figure out who may have been first on the crest or that might be a riddle that will never be solved.
Just an example of how markers are blended into the housing along the ridge. This is a brick wall bordering the property instead of a wood fence. Instead of the marker being on a post, since there is very little room, the marker has been built into the wall, or the wall has been built around the marker. In any respect it is a little odd.
Like at the Sherman Reservation many Ohio plaques have been removed, whether it was due to theft, theft prevention or a car hitting it. In this case I'd guess that its missing because of a car, or was removed because the park service figured it wouldn't last long this close to a driveway.
And here is an Ohio marker so that you can see that some do exist.
The homes on Missionary Ridge are mostly pretty impressive. This is a high priced neighborhood. Considering how close they are to the horrible neighborhoods near Orchard Knob and Glass Reservation I'm not sure I'd actually want to live here, but that's just me. Considering how nice these homes are it is especially sad the conditions I found along the road. Generally if the ground between the street and the front door was sloped enough that you could not see each other there was a ton of trash along the road, including on the house's property. There are areas where the ground slopes up abruptly 4-6 feet along the road and then appears to be flat going back to the house, it was in these areas that the roadside area was the worst. In other areas where the road and the front door were nearly level with each other the roadside was immaculate. And I'm not just talking leaves and newspapers, I saw nasty trash; broken bottles and diapers. Its amazing how if the homeowner couldn't see the trash from their door they didn't seem to bother to clean it up, they had to drive right past it everyday but that didn't bother them enough. To be fair there were areas that were kept up very nicely even if the trash wasn't visible from the house, all just a matter of who lives there. But generally if the curb couldn't be seen from the house it would be filled with trash.

FYI, this post was meant for Monday, March 10th, but blogger wouldn't let me download pictures yesterday so today you'll end up getting a double shot with a second post coming in the afternoon.

Friday, March 7, 2008

8th Kansas on Missionary Ridge

I just wanted to share some old pictures of Missionary Ridge that have the same monument in all of them, at least it appears to be the same monument. And from going through my collection of pictures it seems to me from the shape of the base that it is the 8th Kansas monument. Next time I'm there I want to try to recreate these old pictures if at all possible. I think it would be an interesting project. If someone lives there or will be traveling there and wants to try it I'd love to see the results, I could post them here as a guest blogger if you want. I have that itch to get back there I just don't know when that will be, probably not until 2009. The old pictures came from the Chattanooga library's photo database. They have a good collection available online.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Top 50 books final tally

Yesterday I noticed that Civil War Interactive published the results of their top 50 books poll. Faithful readers know that I did a post a few weeks ago on this poll. I thought it'd be fun to now go through the poll results and see what books I missed.

Right off the bat at #1 was Shelby Foote's trilogy. I didn't even mention this set but it was a good read. I like it, I would never have rated it as the best book all-time but that's the fun part of these polls.

My next big miss was Sam Watkins' Co. Aytch. Its a classic. I think its ranking, #7, is justified. There is a new edition out that has changes Watkins intended to make for a second edition that never was published. I'm interested in reading that one, I've heard good things about it.

I missed Wiley Sword's Embrance an Angry Wind at #9 but that miss doesn't bother me. With all the great books out there I think its ranked a bit high. I do think its the best book on Franklin and Nashville but not a top 10 of all time book.

At number 10 was E. Porter Alexander's Fighting for the Confederacy. I completely left this one off my list. Its good, not sure I'd rank it this highly but that probably my Western bias. Along those same lines at #13 was American Brutus by Michael W Kauffman. I've never read this book on Booth but that is because the assassination has never drawn much interest for me.

Pfanz's Gettysburg Day 2 also ranked highly, higher than I'd place it. But I understand that Gettysburg dominates readership and so a very good book on the battle is going to get a lot of votes. Two slots below it is Gettysburg: A Journey in Time by William A. Frassanito. Again I think its ranking is based primarily on it being a Gettysburg book. Don't get me wrong both books are fantastic, I just think #14 and #16 are due to it being Gettysburg. How come Frassanito's work on Antietam or the Overland Campaign were not ranked? Both are also very good books that I'm glad are on my shelves.

A few new books then came on the list, Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin and A Little Short Of Boats: The Fights at Ball's Bluff and Edward's Ferry by James A. Morgan. I enjoyed both books. One thing that surprised me is that very few of the books were books I'd never read. One such book was #20, Harvard's Civil War: The History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry by Richard Miller. Guess I'll have to go looking for it at the library to see what the fuss is about.

Outside the top 20 I started missing a ton of books. Most I'd read and while I enjoyed them I did not consider them among the top books all time. I think nearly everything outside the top 20 was not on my earlier post. I was surprised at the number of novels on the list. I was also surprised that Warner's Generals in Blue and Generals in Gray ranked so far apart (15th and 43rd respectively). The West was under represented among the campaign/battle histories but it was good to see that a trans-Mississippi battle; Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West by William L. Shea and Earl J. Hess, was ranked at all, plus in that group I don't think #37 was a bad ranking.

I had listed six books instead of three like the poll makers wanted as my top books. They were:
Service with the 6th Wisconsin by Rufus Dawes
Lincoln and His Generals by T Harry Williams
Gettysburg Campaign: Study in Command by Edwin Coddington
Controversies and Commanders by Stephen Sears
Champion Hill by Tim Smith
Maps of Gettysburg by Bradley Gottfried

Only Coddington's made the big list, but it came in at 6th which I think is a pretty fair ranking. I liked the poll and think maybe something like this should be done every year, but limit it to books published that year. Maybe someone already does something like that.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Missionary Ridge - monuments

Phelps mortuary monument. Colonel Edward H. Phelps was mortally wounded near this spot at 5:30 pm in the attack of November 25th. 8th Kansas monument. This is where they broke the Confederate lines. Some of the regiment then moved to the left towards tunnel hill while others followed the retreating Confederates due east across the ridge and down the other side.
As you can see the monument is inside the path of electrical lines.
11th Michigan marker
Missouri monument, nearly unreadable. I believe it is for Co. "F" of the 2nd Missouri Light Artillery.
29th Pennsylvania marker
111th Pennsylvania marker
15th Wisconsin marker
The 15th Wisconsin marker is next to the stop sign. This intersection gets a fair amount of traffic and I'm surprised a car has not plowed into the marker yet.