Thursday, February 26, 2009

Guide to the Atlanta Campaign: Rocky Face Ridge to Kennesaw Mountain

Guide to the Atlanta Campaign: Rocky Face Ridge to Kennesaw Mountain
Edited by Jay Luvaas & Harold W. Nelson
The US Army War College Guide to Civil War Battles

If you are familiar with the War College Guides then you already know that this is a book you need to own. If you are new to the series here is a brief overview. Each guide, this is the seventh, traces the actions of a battle or campaign with the Official Records as your guide. The editors put you in the place where the action occurred and then let the commanding officers' reports explain the fight to you. When the Official Records are skimpy the editors also rely on excerpts from the Battles and Leaders series as well as some memoirs, but most stops of the tour are explained with the Official Records.

There are a few slight problems in this volume that detract from its overall value. At the stop for some artillery positions on Rocky Face Ridge the directions tell you to walk along a concrete path marked "Personnel Only" near the Georgia State Patrol office. It does not then explicitly say that following this path is fine so one is left to assume that it is okay to disregard the "Personnel Only" sign since it says to walk the path in the book. Personally I would have liked a little more clarification that it is okay to walk the path.

Another thing I did not like were the maps. There is too much variation in the maps. Some use shading to denote elevation while some use topographic lines. None of these lines are marked so while I can figure out relative elevations it would have been easier if a few topo lines had been marked with elevations. Other maps do not use shading or lines to denote elevation, they simply show streams and roads. I'm also not a big fan of using gray maps. A gray map seems more cluttered than a white map with the same information on it.

One final map complaint is for the Picket's Mill section. The overview map shows the park's trail system but the detail map that shows the troop movements lacks the trail info. While showing the trails might have made this a very cluttered map it would have definitely enhanced the tour experience. I cannot remember from the last time I was at Picket's Mill if the park trail map shows troop movements but even if it did it would make more sense to have all the info on one map so that you did not have to worry about orientation and scale differences between the two maps.

I was surprised that the editors did not include any of the battles of Atlanta in the book. These battles were not even treated as a side trip. The tour ends with the fighting at Kolb's Farm at Kennesaw Mountain. The way the editors deal with this is by saying this set "the stage for the next phase of the campaign for Atlanta, which is best studied in textbooks rather than on sites covered with modern development." I can see their point but on the other hand there are still things to see in Atlanta which even if they do not offer great views can still give some appreciation for the amount of ground covered and how Hood dealt with the encircling Union army. They have brought you this far so to suddenly stop the tour seems a bit odd. Of the seven books in the series Luvaas and Nelson were part of six. The seventh was done by Matt Spruill on Chickamauga. Since then Spruill has done other guidebooks along the same lines as the War College books but he has done some on those sites that apparently Luvaas and Nelson find too overdeveloped for worthwhile touring, namely Stones River and Chattanooga.

Despite my complaints about the maps and the lack of anything on Atlanta I do this this is a worthwhile addition to the traveler's library. No other guidebook will provide you with this sort of detail in touring the sites from Rocky Face Ridge to Kennesaw Mountain. I'm sure the next time I'm in northern Georgia I will get good use out of this book.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Home library

I need some advice.

For awhile I've mulled the idea of having some sort of library stamp made for my home library. There are three routes to go that I've seen online. One is a sticker that I could buy in bulk as blanks and print myself. Another route is a rubber stamp (preferably self inking) that I'd have made. The other option is an embosser like the one shown here:

There are pros and cons to each option. With the sticker I could either go with something small and keep the text simple or go with something larger and have room for either a graphic or some other information. But this seems to be the least professional looking of the three options.

The stamp and the embosser are both things that I would have to decide how I wanted it to be for all time. Once I have it made I'm stuck with it until I tire of it enough that I'd get a replacement. The sticker allows the flexibility to change over time. I'm not sure I want to change but its something to think about.

Then there is the fact that all three options are permanent. Do I want to mark up my books in a permanent way? Right now I often write in pencil when I read the book or leave post-its inside the front cover with questions for future research. These can be removed quite easily. Then I've heard that as a book ages the embossed pages deteriorate worse than a stamped page.

Has anyone out there done this to their library? Any tips?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Once a Marine

From time to time I like to read something that isn't about the Civil War. Partly this is to remind myself that things have happened since 1876. I also do this to recharge the batteries a bit, as much as I like the Civil War sometimes I need to leave it for awhile to appreciate it more. In that vein the other day I picked up Once a Marine. Its the story of Gunny Sergeant Nick Popaditch. You might be asking who, but if you've seen the pictures of the Marine with a Marine Corps emblem on his glass eye you know who I'm talking about. I've seen lots of advertising for this book in magazines and on Ted Savas' blog, and finally decided to give it a try.

Gunny Pop is a Silver Star winner and first came to the public eye as "The Cigar Marine" when his tanks tore down the Firdos "Saddam" square in April 2003. The following year he was back in Iraq, and was severely wounded by a RPG (rocket propelled grenade). The RPG hit him in the head, messed up his hearing, vision, and smell. The book covers his recovery but much of the book deals with leadership issues, and what it means to be a good Marine. Then Gunny Pop is forced to struggle with how he can be a good Marine when he only has one eye, and that eye is not the best either. But he struggles to do what he can, and does make a difference as best he can. Its an amazing story, it hooked me right away.

Only the last fifth of the book is a detailed shoot-em-up memoir, the first part deals with his struggle to be an one eyed Marine, fight the system to stay a Marine, then fight to get his full benefits from the VA. The last section when Gunny Pop details what he did the day he won the Silver Star (coincidentally the day before his sever wounding) is amazing. It was amazing to read how the Marines actually get stuff done on the ground. I also wish Civil War veterans had written down the stories of what they did with this much attention to detail while the war was still fresh in their minds and not wait 20 years like many did. (Of course many did write it down immediately but generally if you find a memoir, not a collection of letters, it was written many years after the fact when memories were much more hazy.)

Gunny Pop's website is Thanks to Ted Savas for bringing this wonderful book to print. Next time Ted recommends a book I won't wait 3-4 months to take him up on it, I'll listen right away.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Fort Donelson National Cemetery

I always wander cemeteries when I visit a battlefield. The Civil War section is the low square stones in a circular arrangement. There are 670 Union soldiers here, with 512 being unknown. Incidentally the site of the cemetery was where the Union built their own fortification in 1863 after they abandoned the Confederate built fort.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Surrender & Escape

On the night of February 15th the Confederate high command faced a dilemma. They came to the conclusion that the escape route was no longer open (Forrest would scout it and determine that prompt action would still allow many men to escape but the high command was no longer listening to reason at that point). General John B. Floyd decided they must surrender but that he could not do it as he might end up facing a court due to his questionable practices as Secretary of War under Buchanan. He turned the command over to General Gideon Pillow. Pillow was also worried about surrendering so he turned the command over to General Simon Bolivar Buckner.

Buckner was an Old Army veteran and would do his duty no matter how difficult the particulars of it. The next morning Buckner wrote his old friend Grant a note asking what surrender terms he might get. Grant was with CF Smith at that moment, the two quickly hashed it out and Grant sent back his now famous reply, "No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works." Buckner had no choice but to surrender and his response was, "The distribution of the forces under my command, incident to an unexpected change of commanders, and the overwhelming force under your command, compel me, notwithstanding the brilliant success of the Confederate arms yesterday, to accept the ungenerous and unchivalrous terms which you propose."

Before this exchange of notes Floyd and Pillow worked hard to get as many men out of the fort as they could, mostly using arriving river boats to get their men out of there. Forrest also famously pulled his troops out, as well as about a 1000 other men who took the initiative to go along.

Grant was now a rising star in the Union. He would become a household name and people would say that US Grant stood for Unconditional Surrender Grant, not Ulysses S. Grant (actually born Hiram Ulysses Grant).

Up the Cumberland River is Nashville. The fall of Fort Donelson doomed Nashville and it would be abandoned by the Confederates in about two weeks.

A state historical marker for Forrest's escape.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Smith's Attack

While the Confederates tried to break out of the siege Grant was away from the army discussing with the navy what the next step would be. The navy was too battered to be of much use so Grant knew he'd have to finish the job alone. Upon his return to the army that afternoon he found out the extent of the damage and that an escape route had been cleared. Grant resolved to counter attack and win back what had been lost. In many places his men were able to recapture most of the lost ground, this was also because the Confederates had decided to return to their lines, get some rest and make their escape the next morning.

On Grant's left he ordered CF Smith's division to assault the lines closest to the fort, this area had not been part of the earlier fighting. The Confederates had pulled men from this area to make the breakout attempt, so Smith's men faced a much smaller force and were able to drive the Confederates back from these outer works. In the pictures you'll see a cannon, that cannon represents Jackson's Virginia battery and it had been pulled from the line earlier.

Monday, February 16, 2009

My recent absence

Since last Thursday I have not been feeling well. Staring at a computer screen gives me a headache. This weekend I found out I have bronchitis. I'm doing better but writing is still a difficult task. I will resume regular posting in a few days

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Confederate Outer Works

This series of photos takes us along the section of Confederate works near the Wynn Ferry Road. This is where the main breakout effort will take place, and succeed, on February 15th. The first position is French's Battery, at the time a four gun battery. This battery was placed here to prevent the Union from using Erin Hollow to pierce the Confederate lines. Maney's Battery is farther to the west (I have no digital pictures) and protected the other side of Erin Hollow.

Now we are near the Wynn Ferry Road. The attacks in this area pushed McClernand's Division back and opened the Forge Road. The way was now open for the Confederate army to escape from the siege. Instead the Confederate high command decided to return to their lines and have the men march out the next morning. Grant had been away conferring with the navy but returned in the afternoon, ordered a counter attack and secured most of what was lost. Forrest's scouts would find out that night there was still one road open but it was obvious that it would be closed at first light the next morning. Returning to the trenches assured the Confederate army of capture.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Texas Monument

The other monument at Fort Donelson is for the two Texas regiments who fought here, even though one of them fought here a year later.

The 7th Texas Infantry was part of the force that cleared an escape route for the Confederates before the high command gave up the effort and doomed the garrison to capture. A year later, 3 February 1863, the 8th Texas Cavalry fought here as part of General Wheeler's attack on Dover. That attack failed but the 8th Texas performed its job well, keeping Union reinforcements away from Wheeler's force.

This monument is similar to other Texas monuments in that it was placed during the centennial celebrations, this one actually was placed in 1964, not sure why they didn't hit the 1862 or 1863 anniversaries.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Confederate Monument

Fort Donelson does not have much in the way of monuments. In fact I can think of only two monuments in the park. Considering how this battle helped decide the fate of the war it seems odd that it lacks a monument to Grant's army.

The oldest monument is this one to the Confederate soldier. I've read that the monument rests on top of a mass grave. I've also read that the mass grave is just near here and the NPS is not sure where it is exactly.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Upper Water Battery

Since I first started going to Fort Donelson they have added guns for the upper water battery. This battery was intended more to disrupt a landing party than to drive off the gunboats. The Union never got close enough to try to land a force to assault the water battery. If there had been a landing the guns in the water battery could not have depressed their muzzles enough to hit the attacking force. But these guns would have been placed just right to sweep the slope in front of the water battery and would have caused much destruction and confusion.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Water Battery

On Valentine's Day 1862 the Union navy tried to do to Fort Donelson what they had done a week earlier to Fort Henry, reduce it by bombardment. This time though the fort was better situated and the Confederate guns won the day. Grant would have to find another way to capture the fort and its garrison.

The park has done a good job of recreating the battery with a full complement of guns. There were eight 32 pounders on wooden carriages and one 10 inch Columbiad on a metal carriage. The Columbiad's pivot point is in the center of the carriage while the wooden carriages pivoted at the front. Not a particularly important fact but something I found interesting.

As you can see one time I was there as they did work on the guns of the battery.

I put this picture in so you could see how little the Union gunboats had to shoot at. I'm sure it was hellish to load the guns during the bombardment but there is also plenty of cover for the men.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Fort Donelson - the fort

There are a variety of entrenchments at Fort Donelson. There are outer works which is a long trench with artillery positions. As the name suggests it is far away from the fort (and will be shown in a later post). There are two water batteries which were located right next to the river and were there to prevent Union gunboats from steaming up river. And then there was the fort itself. It was located on the high ground adjacent to the water batteries and was there basically to protect those batteries.

It also served as a campground for the troops especially int he early days of the fort when only 2-3 regiments were stationed here. As the threat from Grant developed more men came here and filled the outer lines. The park has two reproduction cabins so that you can see the kind of quarters the troops would enjoy. They claim there were about 400 of these huts. After the campaign Grant had these burned as they were a source of disease. New huts would be built to house the men that stayed in the area to secure the Union supply line.

Here are a variety of shots of the inner fort. It is in pretty good condition.

This old park photo shows how formidable the walls were. No direct assault was made on the fort itself. The main actions happened away from the fort at the water batteries and in front of the outer works.