Monday, December 19, 2016

So Long, It's been nice to know you.

For those of you expecting a new blog, here is a reprint from the end of last week's.

This is my last blog. I have decided that I now need to shift my writing and focus to a book about the history of the U.S. from those places that I visited where history actually happened. I can’t continue this weekly blog and also write the book. I have enjoyed writing for you and am a bit saddened that I have to pull the plug, but I can’t devote the time needed to the blog. I want to thank you for reading and following me and also thank those Parkgonauts and community history scholars that I met along the way. This has been a great way to spend seven months, visiting over 100 NPS and historical sites and driving 20,000 miles. If you still want to read my take on the NPS and historical sites, you can always revisit my earlier blogs.


I am still driven by history, it’s just that now I will drive my desk, researching and writing and trying to make sense of my journey and our country’s past and present. Stay tuned—this is not the end of Driven by History. It is just the end of the road trip. The fun's over, now comes the real work—the book.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Goodbye to the Centenary of the National Park Service

As the year comes to a close on the Centenary of the NPS, so will my travels to our National Parks. The new year beckons with a new goal—turning this sabbatical of travel and blogging into a book. But first, here’s the last entry of “Notes from the Road.”
Aztec National Monument's central plaza (Photo by Hunner)

Last Monday, I left Durango and headed south to warmer climes. I visited Aztec National Monument, one of the places where people gathered after they left Chaco in the 12th century. A reconstructed kiva, the only such one in the National Parks, offered a great place to imagine dancers and drummers, priests and supplicants holding religious ceremonies. There, the walls echoed with a recording of such singing and drumming. Crouching through low doorways and walking around the ruins, I marveled at the window Aztec offered into the world of the Ancestral Puebloans. In the documentary film about Aztec at the visitors’ center, one of the Native American narrators commented about the transitory nature of the place. She said that her people have always been a migrating culture and that her ancestors left this and the other places that I have visited the previous week because it was time to move on. For me, this rings truer than drought, warfare, or other reasons offered by archeologists. Leaving Aztec NM, I drove through Farmington, Shiprock, and Gallup and hopped onto Interstate 40 to get to Grants at the base of the sacred mountain of Mt. Taylor.
Interior of the reconstructed kiva at Aztec (Photo by Hunner)
Grants has seen better days, evidenced by its closed restaurants and boarded-up stores. Perhaps it never recovered from the uranium mining boom of the 1950s and 60s with the consequential environmental and health challenges. I left Grants the next morning on my way to finally go to Sky City at the Pueblo of Acoma. I first stopped by El Malpais NHP just south of Grants where Ranger Dalton informed me that the Sky City is operating winter hours and is only open on weekends. So much for my advanced planning. So I quickly reorganized and headed for El Morro where over the centuries, people have carved names and symbols into the soft stone cliffs. From Native American petroglyphs to Don de Oñate’s “Paso por Acqui” (I passed by here) in the early 1600s to railroad surveying crews in the 1850s, El Morro has documented the many people who used the pond at the base of the cliffs for water in an arid land.
The cliffs of El Morro National Monument (Photo by Hunner)
The pond at the base of El Morro that has attracted travelers for centuries (Photo by Hunner)


Don Onate's signature at El Morro  (Photo by Hunner)
After marveling at this isolated outpost of the NPS and talking to volunteer Rob, I swung through the Pueblo of Zuni for a fill-up and turned south for Pie Town and U.S. 60. A quick coffee and some apple pie at Pie Town prepped me for a visit to the Very Large Array on the Plains of St. Augustine. Some might recall Jodie Foster in the opening scenes of the movie “Contact” in front of the large satellite dishes peering into space which was filmed at the VLA. At the site, scientists from around the world converge to listen to the full range of radio waves that emanate from stars, galaxies, and planets. Their research has changed our understanding of the universe. It was a great juxtaposition of the 21st century with the 12th century of Chaco and the other pre-contact Native American sites I had just visited.
The dish at the Very Large Array. Notice the line of the dishes that recede in the background (Photo by Hunner)
An example of the images of radio waves recorded by the VLA (From exhibit at the Visitors' Center)


I continued that Tuesday by stopping at the Bosque de Apache Wildlife Refuge south of Socorro, New Mexico. Here tens of thousands of Sandhill Cranes, Canadian Snow Geese, and various ducks winter.  At dusk, the cranes glide into a pond by the side of the road to spend the night protected by water from the predatory coyotes. As they flew overhead honking and softly landing in the ponds, avid birders with cameras the size of bazookas rapidly shot photos with the sunset in the background. I often stop by this time of year for some rejuvenation of the generosity and beauty of nature. I ended the day with a soak at Rivers Bend Hot Springs in Truth or Consequences on the banks of the Rio Grande.
Sandhill cranes settling in for the night at the Bosque. (Photo by Hunner)
Birders at the Bosque (Photo by Hunner)
So here’s the deal. This is my last blog. I have decided that I now need to shift my writing and focus to a book about the history of the U.S. from those places that I visited where history actually happened. I can’t continue this weekly blog and also write the book. I have enjoyed writing for you and am a bit saddened that I have to pull the plug, but I can’t devote the time needed to the blog. I want to thank you for reading and following me and also thank those Parkgonauts and community history scholars that I met along the way. This has been a great way to spend seven months, visiting over 100 NPS and historical sites and driving 20,000 miles. If you still want to read my take on the NPS and historical sites, you can always revisit my earlier blogs.


I am still driven by history, it’s just that now I will drive my desk, researching and writing and trying to make sense of my journey and our country’s past and present. Stay tuned—this is not the end of Driven by History. It is just the end of the road trip. Now comes the real work—the book.
Sunset at the Bosque de Apache (Photo by Hunner)

Monday, December 5, 2016

Notes from the Road, Dec. 4, 2016

As my sabbatical winds down and I start to wrap up my road journeys, I am taking a final spin through the Southwest. Since it is late November and early December, winter pops up its snowy head and changes plans. I wanted to first stop at Sky City at the Pueblo of Acoma, but it was closed due to some snow. So I went to Santa Fe instead (when in doubt, go to the City Different). In Santa Fe, I visited several interesting museums and something essential for any day trip to a museum, a good restaurant.
St. Francis Basilica in Santa Fe on a winter afternoon. (Photo by Hunner)
At the International Folk Art Museum on Museum Hill, I spent time going through a perennial favorite, the Girard Wing. Alexander Girard, a fashion designer in the post-World War II period, donated tens of thousands of folk art items that he and his wife collected over the years to the Museum of New Mexico. Dolls from the Underground Railroad, entire festival scenes with miniature figures from Italy, Mexico, Peru, and other countries, religious icons, carved figures from Africa, Asia, the Americas, all these folk art items testify to the ingenuity and wealth of culture that people around the world manifest in their lives.

Above, toy trains at the International Folk Art Museum. Below, street scene from the Girard Collection.
(Photos by Hunner)
After a nice lunch of albondigas soup and a tuna melt at the Museum Hill café, I then stepped into the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. I enjoyed the exhibit on the path breaking Native American fashion designer, Lloyd Kiva New, whose clothes and women’s hand bags from the 1950s and 60s brought indigenous sensitivities to the mainstream. Another exhibit on Native American superheros and cultural symbols also testified to the new ways that the museum is interpreting native peoples and their lives.
Apache dancer sculpture outside the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture on Museum Hill. (Photo by Hunner)
The next day, I attended the “Fractured Faiths” exhibit at the New Mexico History Museum. Several years ago, I served as the interim director of that museum and worked on the early stages of the exhibit. It is an ambitious account of the effect of the Spanish Inquisition on Jews living first in Spain and then in other countries of Europe and the Americas. Some Spanish colonists who migrated to New Mexico were Crypto-Jews who wanted to get as far away from the Inquisition as possible while still living under Spanish rule. New Mexico fit that bill. Curator Josef Diaz collected an amazing set of artifacts from the U.S., Mexico, and Spain to illustrate the diaspora of Jews from Spain after 1492.

West of Santa Fe, a volcano erupted in north central New Mexico. Granted that happened 1,000,000 years ago. At around 30,000 feet above sea level, this gigantic volcano blew its top and scattered debris across five states. As a result, it wound up a mountain range only 12,000 feet high. This mega-volcano was many times more powerful than Mount St. Helens and layered the landscape with hundreds of feet of hot ash and rock that fused together to form tuff. Its remnants now comprise the Jemez Mountain Range. In the Jemez Mountains, three units of the National Park Service exist—the Valles Caldera National Historical Park, Bandelier National Monument, and one of the Manhattan Projects National Historical Parks at Los Alamos.
Cavates (cave dwellings) at Bandelier. (Photo by Hunner)
Bandelier is one of my all-time favorites parks in the NPS. It has abundant flora and fauna, its steep canyon walls provide a dramatic landscape, and the rich heritage evidenced by the reconstructed ruins of a multi-storied pueblo, cliff dwellings, and a long string of houses built at the base of a steep canyon wall vividly evoke a civilization distinctly different than ours. Bandelier opens a portal to Puebloan culture, past and present.
Pueblo ruin of Tyuoni at Bandelier. (Photo by Hunner)
At the Visitors’ center, an exhibit quotes many Native Americans and their relationship with Bandelier. Here is one from the Affiliated Pueblo Committee: “Spiritually, our ancestors still live here at Bandelier. You see reminders of their presence here—their homes, their kivas, and their petroglyphs. As you walk in their footsteps, value the earth beneath you and show everything the same respect we do when we re-visit this sacred place.”[1]

Walking in their footsteps is amazing. The main loop trail of a mile passes through the pueblo ruin of Tyuonyi, by the cavates (caves where they lived and worshipped), and along the half mile Long House where two and three story houses were built against the base of the walls of Frijoles Canyon. The soft tuff rock is ideal for shaping blocks with stone tools as well as absorbent of precious water in their fields and heat in the cool summer nights and cold winter days. When I was there in early December with the temperature around freezing, I warmed myself next to the light colored south facing cliff walls.
Long House with the ruins of multiple rooms built against the cliff (Photo by Hunner)
The Ancestral Puebloan people who lived here in the 13th to 15th centuries immigrated from the Four Corners after the collapse of Chaco Canyon and its outlier settlements. They farmed the Three Sisters of corn, beans, and squash in waffle or grid fields. They hunted deer, elk, bear, turkey and other animals. They made pottery, wove clothes from cotton and yucca fibers, and carved petroglyphs on the canyon walls. We have a wealth of information about the people of Bandelier since archeologists have worked here for over a century and a quarter.

On the same day, I went to Los Alamos and one of the newest additions to the NPS—the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. Ranger Kirk Singer enthusiastically welcomed me to the small office in the center of town and shared the future plans to walk in the footsteps of our 20th century ancestors to changed history by unleashing the power of the atom.
Ranger Kirk Singer at the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. (Photo by Hunner)
I next left Santa Fe, and I revisited Chaco Canyon, one of my other all-favorite parks. In my experience, Chaco is the hardest park to get to in the lower Forty-eight states. Its twenty some miles of dirt roads, including the last four of bone jarring ruts and mud is well worth the effort. For 350 years-- from 800 to 1150 C.E.—a complicated civilization there built massive multistoried structures and a far flung road system, made exquisite pottery, and developed a precise knowledge of the solstices, equinoxes, and lunar stand stills.  Just one example of the incredible engineering and architectural expertise of the Chacoans—Pueblo Bonito was the largest built structure in the United States until the 1920s.
Pueblo Bonito at Chaco Canyon (Photo by Hunner)
Ranger Jackson Lincoln giving a tour at Pueblo Bonito. (Photo by Hunner)
Their kivas had foot drums that people danced on to aid in the ceremonies. Like at Bandelier, Native Americans view Chaco as a place where their ancestors still live. For all of us, it communicates a universe and world view and is like a foot drum that amplifies the Ancestral Puebloan peoples’ times. I wrote about Chaco in an earlier blog if you want more information.
Grand kiva at Pueblo Bonito. Notice rectangular foot drums on floor of kiva. (Photo by Hunner)

Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde. (Photo by Hunner)
Finally this week, I drove to Mesa Verde National Park. This also preserves the buildings and cultural remains of Ancestral Puebloan people in the Southwest. Set amidst steep canyons in southwestern Colorado and tucked in caves along the cliffs, Native Americans lived here in the 13th century. Connected to the Chacoans, the inhabitants of Mesa Verde continued a vibrant culture and understanding of the world around them. It fascinates with a silent tribute that speaks volumes.
Square Tower at Mesa Verde. (Photo by Hunner)
As I mentioned in a past posting, I am now struggling with how to turn this trip and these blogs into a book about the history of the United States from those places where history actually happened. If you know of any publishers or agents who might be interested, please let me know.

In the meantime, I am giving two lectures in the coming weeks about my travels. On Monday, Dec. 12th, I will offer Celebrating the National Parks: A Centennial Birthday Journey  for the Southwest Seminars series in Santa Fe. Thanks Connie and Alan for including me in this series. Then on Thursday, Dec. 15th in Las Cruces, I will give a lecture about my road trip for the Academy of Learning in Retirement. This will be the last in a series of four lectures beginning on Dec. 6th with Dr. Pete Kopp talking about the parks before the creation of the NPS, Dr. Dwight Pitcaithley on Dec. 8 going into the parks in the twentieth century, Dr. Carol Campbell presenting on the ecology of the parks on Dec. 13th, and me on the 15th. Come hear these illustrated presentations about our National Parks as we finish our celebration of the NPS.
Kin Kletso at Chaco Canyon (Photo by Hunner)





[1] Quote from Visitors’ Center exhibit at Bandelier NM.

Monday, November 28, 2016

How war deaths affect families

Most of the blogs for Driven by History the last month or so have focused on the Civil War. In addition to recounting the individual battles like Manassas, Shiloh, and Antietam, I have written on other issues, such as battlefield surgery and medicine, cannons, and riverboats. This posting will be a bit different since I won’t take up a particular battle but will talk about how fatalities affected those family members left behind. I don’t have ancestors who fought in the Civil War, but I do have some who fought in World War II. So, to look at the impact on family survivors, I will dive into my own past and explore how a combat death had a generational ripple effect which impacted people not yet born.

I have a black and white photograph taken in the jungles of Philippines. My brothers and I uncovered it as we divvied up the boxes of photos left over from Mom’s life. On the right in the photo is Capt. Daniel S. LaShelle in slouch hat and crumpled fatigues. He stands tall and slender with dark circles under his eyes. In his left hand burns a cigarette, and a wedding band glows on his ring finger. The ring joins Dan and Anna Jane, my mother, together. I never met Dan, my almost father.

Next to Dan stands a Filipino. He comes up to Dan’s shoulder with his bushy hair. Perhaps Dan has just given him a cigarette. Two more are tucked behind his right ear. He holds a machete at a downward angle in his right hand and carries several bags over his shoulders. A scarf wraps around his neck and bare torso, shorts hang loosely off his hips. Anklets ride above his bare feet.

To Dan’s right stands another GI with hands on hips, smiling at the camera. They are in the middle of a muddy clearing, surrounded by tall palm trees. This is early 1945, on the island of Luzon, as the U. S. Army wrestled back the Philippines from the Japanese. Dan served as a Captain in the 1st Infantry 6th Division.

I recorded an oral history of Mom about her World War II experiences in May 1990. In the interview, she talked about dropping out of the University of Kansas to work in an airplane factory in Kansas to support the war effort. While in Kansas City, she met Dan in the summer of 1942. They married in May 1943 and both went to San Luis Obispo for his military training.  She rented a place at Morro Bay with black-out curtains, and “Dan could come home most nights.” On some mornings, they walked along the nearby beach looking for any footsteps from infiltrating Japanese. In August or September of that year, she and the other wives drove up to San Francisco and watched the troop ships steam under the Golden Gate Bridge on their way to the war in the Pacific.  Neither Dan nor Mom knew where he was headed.

I asked “What was your feeling?”
She replied: “We didn’t have… so what do you think? We thought of course that we’d see ‘em,”
She drove back to Kansas and worked at Boeing in Wichita in the industrial engineering division in final assembly. She worked ten to twelve hour shifts in the factory that ran twenty-four hours a day making B-29s, the new Superfortresses that devastated America’s enemies in Europe and the Pacific. She worked at Boeing from January 1944 to February 1945.

On January 9th, 1945, the 6th Army landed at the Lingayen Gulf to fight their way south to Manila. In early February, Mom drove up to Junction City, Kansas to visit Dan’s parents. On her way back to Wichita, she stopped to see some friends in Salina. Her father tracked her down at her friends’ house and called her to say that the Western Union had a telegram for her and would only deliver it to her. He met Mom and Uncle Elmer Reed halfway between the two cities, about forty-five miles north of Wichita. They went straight to the Western Union office. The first telegram said that Dan was wounded. A second one several days later confirmed that he had died. She recalled: “He was wounded on [January] 24th and died on the 28th.”

My childhood memory comes into play. I remember Mom telling this story: one of Dan’s men in his unit, possibly the Filipino scout in the photo, was hit by a Japanese sniper. Dan crawled out to rescue him and was shot. He was officially listed as DOW—died of wounds. As the second telegram confirmed, he died several days after getting shot.

In the interview, Mom remembered that by the time she received the second telegram, she had gotten calls from several of the wives that she knew from San Luis Obispo. They had gotten letters from their husbands that said that Dan was killed. So Mom knew before she was officially notified by the War Department. Dan had been in the Philippines for two weeks.
           
I found a letter in Mom’s files from the Army to Mrs. Anna J. La Shelle, dated March 8, 1945. I found it as I prepped for my Introduction to U.S. History survey course. I had slipped the letter in my World War II file. In the letter, Major General C. H. Danielson wrote to Mom: “The War Department has informed me that your husband, Captain Daniel S. La Shelle, has given his life in the performance of his duty. It is therefore with deep sympathy that I address you in behalf of this Command and extend every possible comfort and assistance.” Gen. Danielson suggested that Mom contact a “Personal Affairs Officer in the vicinity” in Wichita, avail herself of any assistance such an officer has available, or contact the nearby Red Cross office “to provide counsel and assistance.” He concluded: “I hope that the passing days will bring you comfort and a consoling pride that your husband gave up his life to set men free. His name will be honored one among all who were privileged to know him.” I show this letter to my history classes as an example of the sacrifice and tragedy of the war.

In my oral history with her, Mom talked about how devastated she was, how she spent weeks crying in her room, and then how her father put her in his car and drove her back to the Chi Omega House in Lawrence. In the embrace of her sorority sisters, she began to return to the living although she never fully recovered.

After the interview, I went off to the store to get some things for dinner. Mom turned the tape recorder back on and added something to the interview. Later that evening, I listened to her addendum. She said: “That was so painful, losing Dan. I didn’t want to hurt that bad ever again, so I resolved never to love anyone again.” Many people loved Anna Jane throughout her life. She loved many people in return, but perhaps not very closely. For me, Mom had a hard time loving those close to her, a consequence of Dan’s death in World War II. 


Mom had lost her first husband. Dan La Shelle was one of the nearly 14,000 U.S. casualties in retaking the Philippines. My Dad, Paul Hunner, also fought in the invasion in 1944-45, and lived. I am here to tell the tale of my family because he survived, and Dan did not. So I bear witness to the effects of war deaths and combat injuries that last far beyond the immediate moment. They outlive even the survivors. World War II, the Civil War—these and all wars impact those combatants who survive, those who fight on the home front, and the children of the combatants. The story of Anna and Dan is repeated throughout the ages. It is also the story of war.  

Monday, November 21, 2016

Antietam National Battlefield, Sharpsburg, Maryland

As with almost all the Civil War battlefields preserved by the National Park Service, Antietam lies serene with its well-maintained fields and copses of trees. The place bears no resemblance to the ferocious place of death and destruction in 1862. To this day, Antietam remains the single bloodiest one-day battle in our nation’s history, worse even than D-Day or Iwo Jima in World War II. The Confederate defeat here ended Lee’s first invasion of the North and set the stage for Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Like other battlefields, Antietam place bears silent witness to the thousands of men killed in the savage fighting in these hills, swales, and streams.
The battlefield at Antietam  (Photo by Hunner)
Lee invaded Maryland for several reasons: first, he wanted to rattle the North by taking the war to their homeland. Second, the rich farmland of Maryland beckoned as a cornucopia. Third, a successful invasion might open the door to foreign recognition of and support for the Confederacy.

The South’s victory at Second Manassas opened the route north. Lee’s plan called for the Army of Northern Virginia to split in two, with General Stonewall Jackson’s troops going to Harper’s Ferry and the rest heading farther north. However, the Union forces at Harper’s Ferry held out longer than expected. Complicating the invasion, Union soldiers found Lee’s secret battle orders in a muddy field, wrapping three cigars, but Union General McClellan failed to exploit Lee’s divided army. The invasion stalled near the town of Sharpsburg, and Lee considered retreating to Virginia until news reached him that Harper’s Ferry had finally fallen. With those Confederate troops now free to rejoin his army, Lee braced for battle with nearly 30,000 troops. McClellan’s army held 60,000 men with another 15,000 in reserve nearby.
General Robert E. Lee (From exhibit at Antietam's Visitors' Center)
The Battle of Antietam took place in three phases. First, at the Cornfield and the North Woods at the north end of the battlefield, the armies clashed with ferocious intensity. Then as the Northerners pressed in from the east, the Confederates regrouped in a sunken farm road afterwards known as the Bloody Lane. And finally at the southeast part of the battlefield, just when it looked like the North would crack the Confederate right, more Southern reinforcements rushed from Harper’s Ferry shored up their defenses. As Civil War historian James McPherson notes: “The fighting at Antietam was among the hardest of the war.”[1]

When I visited Antietam at the end of August, I sat behind the Visitors’ Center looking out over the battlefield as Chief Ranger Keith Synder sketched out the action. The first phase of the battle took place over five hours during the morning of September 17, 1862. Wading through a ripened corn field, five Union divisions slammed into five Confederate divisions which resulted in 12,000 men dead or wounded. The combat so shattered these divisions that they backed off, and few of those survivors rejoined the fighting that day.

By midday, the battle had shifted to the center of the lines as Confederate soldiers ducked into a sunken road to resist the Union onslaught at the Bloody Lane. After a determined resistance, this fell to the advancing troops in blue. A northern war correspondent who arrived right after the Union captured the road commented: “Confederates had gone down as the grass falls before the scythe.”[2] Those who escaped fled to nearby Sharpsburg to regroup.

General Burnside commanded the Union left on the southeast section of the battlefield. As a divisionary action, he tried to pin down Confederates so that they could not reinforce the fighting to the north. Instead, the Georgia troops on a hillside above a strategic bridge devastated the squads of Union soldiers who tried to rush across. After many delays, the Union took the bridge and also forded the Antietam Creek at nearby fords and forced the Southerners back.
Burnsides' Bridge from the rifle pits that the Georgians used to pick off the Union soldiers as they tried to cross it.
(Photo by Hunner)
Just when it seemed that the Union troops were going to roll up the Confederate right flank, General A.P. Hill’s men arrived from Harper’s Ferry and blunted the North’s advance. The next day, both sides stayed in the area without any major engagements. Each side had suffered much in the one-day battle—17,000 wounded and 6,000 dead or dying. Nearly one-third of the Confederates who marched north became causalities. Both sides reeled from such losses, which perhaps explains why McClellan failed to capture the exhausted Southern army which retreated to Virginia.

The number of dead and wounded shocked the public. The toll was horrendous—as McPherson says: “The causalities at Antietam numbered four times the total suffered by American soldiers at the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944. More than twice as many Americans lost their lives in one day at Sharpsburg as fell in combat in the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Spanish American War combined.”[3] As the Civil War intensified, the body count mounted.
A Confederate cannon facing towards Burnsides' Bridge in the southern part of the battlefield
(Photo by Hunner)

One of the most lethal weapons on the Civil War’s battlefields was artillery which constituted its own branch of the army. Well placed cannons anchored an army’s position and blunted enemy attacks. 
Effective use of artillery required a well-trained set of soldiers and horses. A battery consisted of four to six guns manned by seventy to one hundred soldiers. Each unit consisted of a cannon, one or two limbers which carried between thirty and fifty rounds of ammo each, and a caisson with spare wheels and more ammunition. The limbers and caisson held between 120 to 200 rounds. The cannon, limber, and caisson in various combinations were pulled by six or more horses which made these weapons quickly responsive to a fluid battlefield.
Caisson and limber for a Civil War cannon (From Civil War Trust website) 
A cannon crew consisted of seven men. Four surrounded the gun with the Gunner in charge of aiming and giving commands. The other three at the gun washed and cleared the bore after every shot, rammed the ammunition and shell down the barrel, primed the powder bag, and lit the fuse or pulled the lanyard to fire the weapon. The final three in the crew ran ammunition from the caisson and limber (which were detached behind the cannon) to the gun and prepared the charges and fuses.

Two types of cannons blasted away during the war. Smoothbore guns fired round cannon balls. Rifled cannons had grooves cut inside the barrels which gave a spin to the fired round and proved more accurate. The range of many of the cannons at Antietam was around one mile.

These guns used four types of ammunition depending on the target. Smoothbores fired round shots while the rifled cannons used shells that looked like large bullets. Some ammo were solid projectiles while others had a fuse that exploded at its destination and scattered shell fragments. Case ammunition consisted of a shell packed with small balls that scattered once the fuse detonated while a canister shot contained golf ball size iron balls. Canister was used at close range—when soldiers were 100 to 300 yards away. Sometimes, the guns fired on opposing batteries to disable their enemy’s guns. Often however, cannons focused on charging infantry to disrupt advances.[4]

At Antietam, more than 500 cannons spewed lethal metal into the opposing side. Over 3,000 rounds per hour were fired, creating such a booming that “soldiers described the day as a ‘savage continual thunder’ and a ‘tumultuous chorus.’”[5] The effect of cannon balls, shell fragments, case, and canister on the human body was devastating.

As the Confederate army retreated, and the Union forces maneuvered to protect D.C., President Lincoln used the Union’s victory as an opportunity to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. On September 22, he issued a preliminary order which declared that on January 1, 1863, “all persons held as slaves within any state, or designated part of a state, the people whereof shall be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward and forever free.” This executive order focused on slaves in the Confederacy, but obviously, few if any were at first freed. The Emancipation Proclamation also opened the door to Blacks serving in the military of the United States.


The Proclamation changed why the United States fought. Prior to issuing it, Lincoln said: “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union and is not either to save or destroy slavery.”[6] On January 1, 1863, the reason for fighting officially shifted to ending slavery on the continent. Slaves did free themselves by escaping from plantations and walking to Union camps or the north. It would take another two and a half years of war to defeat the Confederacy and end slavery. Next week, I will explore the impact that war deaths have on those left behind while in future weeks we will visit Chattanooga and the other battlefields in the Civil War. Having said this, I am now finishing up my sabbatical and road trip. I am not sure how much longer I can continue to post a blog every week, especially once I start teaching again in January. I am also figuring out how to turn this into a book. Please let me know any ideas you have about both my blog as well as what you would like to see in a book. 

Cannon at Antietam (Photo by Hunner)



[1] James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom (New York: Oxford university Press, 1988), 540.
[2] McPherson, Battle Cry,” 541.
[3] McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom,” 244.
[4] “Artillery at Antietam.”
[5] Keith Snyder, “Artillery at Antietam,” a brochure published by the Western Maryland Interpretive Association.
[6] George Tindall and David Shi, America: A Narrative History, (New York: W. W. Norton  & Company, 1984), 720.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Shiloh National Military Park, Shiloh, Tennessee and Corinth, Mississippi

After the Confederate victory at Manassas and its invasion and retreat from New Mexico, both sides hunkered down, went into winter headquarters, recruited and trained new soldiers, and sought ways to implement their overall strategies. The focus of this posting is the Union campaign into the South using the waterways of the Ohio, Tennessee, and Mississippi Rivers. We will look at the Battle of Shiloh this week and Antietam next week.

The woodlands of the South hindered overland travel. The thick forests slowed foot and wagon passage and prevented the rapid movement of large numbers of soldiers and materiel. A better way, used by humans for millennia, is water. The major rivers that coursed through the South -- the Mississippi, the Tennessee, the Cumberland, and the Ohio -- opened up wide avenues for transportation and invasion. River travel became so important in this theater of the war that the Union leased almost 150 steamboats to prosecute the war.
Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River (Photo by Hunner)

The Union forces pried open the Tennessee River in February 1862 when General Grant’s troops captured Forts Henry and Donelson and forced the Southern troops to abandon northwestern Tennessee. Once those forts fell, Union troops steamed upriver in paddle wheeled riverboats to Pittsburg Landing, about thirty miles north of Corinth Mississippi. Corinth, a key railroad junction, connected the Deep South with its north and west and proved a prime target for the North to divide and conquer the South.






General Grant had fought gallantly in the Mexican-American War but grew bored with the peacetime Army and his drinking led to his resigning from the military. Once the Civil War started, he took over first supplying troops and eventually leading the soldiers from his state of Ohio. At Shiloh, he had 40,000 soldiers.

General Grant, left, and General Johnston below, faced each other at Shiloh.
Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston had other ideas. He marched his 44,000 men from Corinth to force the issue on open ground around the small Shiloh Church, near the Union beachhead at Pittsburg Landing. Over the thirty-four hour battle, nearly 24,000 men were killed, wounded, or captured.

Grant had orders not to engage the enemy until General Don Carlos Buell’s troops coming from Nashville joined him. But on April 6th, a Union patrol encountered a Confederate picket line around 5 am. They exchanged gunfire for an hour, and then General Johnston launched his Army of the Mississippi against the Union forces. For the rest of the morning, rebel troops pushed back the Northerners’ three-mile wide front in vicious fighting. 

At the Hornet’s Nest (so named for the buzz of bullets flying through the air) in the center of the Union line, forces defended at least three assaults. After six hours of intense and bloody combat, the Northerners still held the dense oak thicket at the center of the battlefield. Confederates brought artillery from other parts of the battlefield and pounded the Hornet’s Nest from 300 yards away into submission. 2,200 Union soldiers surrendered due to “the Confederates [concentrating on them] the greatest collection of artillery yet to appear on the American Continent.”[1] 

On top, the Hornets' Nest point of the battle.  Above, Confderate cannons lined up to pound the Hornets' Nest at the tree line in the distance. (Photo by Hunner)

After capturing the Hornet’s Nest, Johnston’s forces advanced, threatening the Union base at Pittsburg Landing. Northern soldiers straggled back to the earthworks around the landing all afternoon and aided by a heavily wooded ravine in front of them, held their position as the day ended. Johnston and his staff predicted an easy victory the next day.
The battle map toward the end of the first day, April 6th. (From  exhibit panel on driving tour of battlefield).
But the battle was already turning against the men in gray as the advance units of Buell’s Army of the Ohio were ferried across the Tennessee River and joined the defense of Pittsburg Landing. That Sunday night, more than 20,000 Northerners crossed the river. 
Steamboats supplying the Union war effort along a river in the SOuth (From exhibit at the Shiloh Visitors Center).
On April 7th, Grant’s and Buell’s Divisions attacked the Confederates and drove them back. Riding near the frontline, Johnston was struck by a bullet which severed his femoral artery, and he died on the battlefield. Thus fell the highest ranking officer from either side during the Civil War. Beauregard, who had already distinguished himself at Fort Sumter and at First Manassas, took over command of the Southerners. Pressed by the fresh Union troops, Beauregard ordered his troops to leave the field around 4 pm. They retreated to Corinth.
Gerneral PGT Beauregard who replaced Gen. Johnston (From exhibit in Shiloh Visitor's Center)
A total of 23,746 men were killed, wounded, or missing. Both sides suffered greatly but “the battle mutilated the western army of the Confederacy, which lost key officers, 10,000 men, and perhaps its best opportunity to destroy a Union army in the field.”[2]

The Union army followed the Confederates to the railroad town of Corinth, Mississippi for a final reckoning. Two of the most important railroads in the Confederacy crossed at Corinth—the Memphis & Charleston and the Mobile & Ohio. 
The crossroads at Corinth today (Photo by Hunner)
They linked the Mississippi River to the Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf Coast to Kentucky. This made Corinth the most strategic transportation hub in the western part of the Confederate states. Under siege from April 29 to May 30, Confederate troops built several miles of rifle pits, trenches, and earthworks around the small town. They abandoned Corinth in May but returned at the beginning of October to retake the town. One observer said: “In places, you could walk on the dead.” This intense assault by the Confederates on the earthworks that they had initially built earlier that spring failed with 8,000 men combined from both sides killed, wounded, or missing.

At the same time as the attack on Corinth in October 1862, a Confederate force under General Bragg marched through Kentucky toward Cincinnati, more important to the Union than Chicago as an industrial and railroad center. If the South could cross the Ohio River and capture Cincinnati, they could accomplish subject the Union with what Grant was trying to do to the Confederacy. Bragg’s invasion failed at the Battle of Perryville. As military historian John Keegan explains about the defeats at Corinth and Perryville: “the failure in the West was a grave blow to the Confederacy, reducing their range of strategic options to the well-worn pattern of keeping alive Union fears of an advance against Washington or feints at Pennsylvania and Maryland, theaters where the North enjoyed permanent advantages.”[3]

After May 1862, slaves who had fled their plantations found refuge in Corinth. Called “contrabands of war,” some 6,000 African-American ex-slaves created a thriving community of homes, a church and school, a hospital, and a cooperative farm. From the Corinth Contraband Camp, nearly 2,000 ex-slaves enlisted in the Union’s First Alabama Regiment of African Descent to join the over 150,000 Blacks who fought in the Civil War.
"Contrabands of War" African Americans who fled planations and found
refuge behind Union lines (From exhibit at Cornith Civil War Interpretive Center) 
Freed slaves fighting for the Union
(From Corinth Interpretive Center)
The soldiers required special care from the devastation that minnié ball bullets and artillery shells wreck on the human body. To care for the wounded, each regiment of 200-300 soldiers had a surgeon, an assistant surgeon, and a hospital steward. During a battle, the number of casualties often overwhelmed the surgeons, who treated them just behind the front lines. Triage was fast. Soldiers with minor wounds underwent dressing and then returned to combat. Those more seriously wounded were evacuated to a field hospital further away from the battle, often a barn or residence.

Wounded outside a field hospital in the Peninsular Campaign in Virginia, 1862 (From exhibit at Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center)
The surgeon's tool kit for treating the wounded from combat ( From exhibit at the Corinth Civil War Intrepretive Center)
Shattered limbs had little chance of healing as the many splinters of bone and open wounds proved difficult to treat. Amputation was rapid, partially because the ether or chloroform wore off quickly and partially because new casualties arrived constantly. Without antibiotics, gangrene from a wound could set in and kill a patient. If a soldier survived the cutting off of a limb, they still could succumb to complications like pneumonia.

Medical officers from both armies cared for the 16,420 wounded men after Shiloh. Once stabilized, most of the 8,408 Union wounded went by steamboat to Savannah, Tennessee. Most of the Confederate wounded first went to Corinth and then by railroad to other towns and cities in the western Confederacy. At Corinth, almost every building served as a hospital to care for the men. Churches, aid societies, and soldiers’ families rushed medical supplies and people to help. As with most Civil War battles, nearby towns served as hospitals for months afterward.
Kate Cumming, a nurse at Shiloh after the battle (From exhibit at the Shiloh Visitors' Center).

One of those who heeded the call for help was Kate Cumming, whose brother fought at Shiloh. Here are some quotes from her journal: “Corinth is more unhealthy than ever. The cars have just come in, loaded outside and inside with troops…they have endured all kinds of hardships; going many days with nothing but parched corn to eat, and walking hundreds of miles…without shoes.” Another entry: “I have been through the ward to see if the men are in want of anything; but all are sound asleep under the influence of morphine. Much of that is administered; more than for their good…. I expressed this opinion to one of the doctors; he smiled, and said it was not as bad as to let them suffer.” Here is another observation from Kate: “There is a Mr. Pinkerton from Georgia shot through the head. A curtain is drawn across a corner where he is lying to hide the hideous spectacle, as his brains are oozing out.”[4]
Bernard Irwin's field hospital at Shiloh lcreated a new way to take care of the wounded after a battle that was used throughout the war. (From exhibit at Shiloh Visitors' Center)
The battle at Shiloh Church and the subsequent siege and occupation of Corinth shifted the war in the West. Vital transportation and communication lines were severed for the Confederacy, and the paths to both Chattanooga on the Tennessee River and Vicksburg on the Mississippi River lay open to Grant and his men. If the Union could crack Chattanooga, a path to Atlanta would open up. But Chattanooga would prove a tough nut to crack.
Steamboats played a vital role in the river campaigns in the South. (From exhibit at the Shiloh Visitors' Center)
Shiloh became a National Military Park in 1894 managed by the Department of War and was transferred to the National Park Service in 1933.




[1] From the exhibit panel at the Shiloh NMP Visitors’ Center.
[2] From the Shiloh Visitors’ Center.
[3] John Keegan, The American Civil War (New York: Vintage Books, 2009), 160-61.
[4] Kate Cumming, A Journal of Hospital Life in the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Quotes found in the exhibit at the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Manassas National Battlefield Park, Manassas, Virginia and the Glorieta Battlefield unit of the Pecos National Historical Park, Pecos, New Mexico

The rupture had happened, the first cannons fired. Now how to put soldiers in the field ready to fight? And not just fight, but win? In this posting, we will look at two early battles in the Civil War that foretell the bloody future as well as the broad shadow it cast upon the continent —the First Battle of Manassas and the Confederate invasion of New Mexico culminating in the Battle of Glorieta east of Santa Fe. Manassas and Glorieta offer ample examples of how each side made mistakes and capitalized on the mistakes of the other side.
A Confederate cannon pointed at the Union stronghold of Henry House. (Photo by Hunner)

In the summer of 1861, as the nascent armies formed and moved towards each other, each side came up with their master plan. Lincoln and his generals decided to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond in Virginia and attack the rest of the South through the Ohio, Tennessee, and Mississippi Rivers. Davis and his Confederate generals chose a strategy similar to that of George Washington during the Revolution —fight a defensive war and keep the South’s armies in the field. With these best laid plans and with politicians and newspapers crying out for action, the North and South grappled near a stream called Bull Run.

Armies at the beginnings of wars often fail to fight effectively. Generals struggle to adapt to new weapons and tactics, inexperienced soldiers face death and mayhem, jealousy and infighting with officers all contributed to mistakes that cost men their lives and lost each side opportunities to seize a crippling victory and put an early end to the war. Manassas was just the beginning of the North and the South figuring out how to fight.

Two classmates from West Point’s class of 1838 commanded the opposing armies at Manassas. General P. G. T. Beauregard from Louisiana had distinguished himself in the Mexican American War and in 1861 was the head of West Point. He left there to take charge of the Confederate forces in Virginia. He had to protect Richmond and threaten Washington. Beauregard’s army on the eve of battle amounted to 20,000 troops, but Johnston’s soldiers in the Shenandoah Valley rushed to the battle at a key moment.

The commander of the Union forces, General Irvin McDowell, also served in the Mexican American War and was an instructor at West Point. On July 1, 1861, the Union Army had 186,000 soldiers, of which McDowell devoted 30,000 to attack Beauregard. Both sides thought that an early victory would led to a quick war. Both looked to Manassas for that victory.
A replica of the Henry House is the white one on the right  This would have been the view that Confederates had as they advanced on this strong hold of Union cannons. (Photo by Hunner). 
The Union’s march on Manassas slowed due to ambling troops and supply wagon delays. Men carried only three days of rations with not enough supply trains to deliver more. On July 21st, McDowell’s troops tried to skirt around the Confederate left, but scouts saw the glinting of the sun off of weapons in the slow moving columns and warned Beauregard that his flank was getting turned. Then the two sides fell on each other with fury and fear. At first, Union soldiers and cannonry pushed the Confederates back toward the railroad line. An eager battery led by Capt. James Ricketts advanced to the hill near the Henry House and blasted shrapnel into the advancing Confederates as sharpshooters picked off the Union artillery men.  
Enter General Thomas J. Jackson. Also a veteran of combat during the Mexican American War, Jackson commanded of a large contingent of Virginians. At Manassas, the arrival of his troops in the afternoon rallied the retreating Southerners and gave rise to “There stands Jackson like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!” 
Statue of Stonewall Jackson at the spot he stood to rally the Confederates at the First Battle of Manassas
(Photo by Hunner)
More Confederate troops arriving by train from the Shenandoah Valley flooded onto the battlefield and started pushing Union soldiers back. Perhaps the mad dash to the rear by a horse drawn wagons dispatched to get more ammunition for Ricketts’ cannons set off the retreat among the green Union troops.

Capture of Ricketts' Battery by Sidney King
Ricketts' batteries near Henry House (Courtesy Manassas NBP web site)
The retreat turned onto a rout as Northern soldiers fled to D. C. Union forces hunkered down around their capital with Confederates poised only twenty-five miles away. In the eleven hour long battle at Manassas, the South lost 2,000 men killed, wounded, or missing. The North lost 3,000.

The number of casualties shocked everyone. Much worse would come. Manassas smacked away any notion that this would be a quick war.
Confederate artillery proved vital for their victory at Manassas (Photo by Hunner) 
After Manassas, most northern states quickly responded to Lincoln’s call for more troops, but they saddled the federal army with a major flaw. Troops voted for their officers who sometimes had little combat or even military experience. Many Confederate officers graduated from West Point or fought in the Mexican American War. At first, Southern troops had better leadership, while Northerners had better engineers.  

An important lesson learned at this early point was the importance of railroads in the Civil War. They provided rapid deployment of troops as well as supplied the necessary materiel and food to keep men fighting. Railroads also brought the battered wounded back to hospitals. Railroad junctions proved vital for rapid responses to wide flung theaters of the war.

Another early lesson was to standardize uniforms and flags to prevent confusion in combat about whether you were fighting was friend or foe. 

In the same month as the First Battle of Manassas, action out West also gave the South an early victory. On July 24th, 1861, 250 Texans invaded southern New Mexico and captured the village of Mesilla in a brief exchange of muskets and mountain howitzer fire. That winter, General Sibley and his 2,500 men reinforced Mesilla with the ultimate goal of capturing the gold and silver mines in Colorado. If that went well, they wanted to continue onto the ports in California.

Once assembled at Mesilla, the Confederates marched up the Camino Real to Santa Fe. They avoided the strongly defended Fort Craig but did beat back the Union forces who guarded the ford of the Rio Grande at Valverde on February 21st. Union troops retreated before the advancing troops, burning supplies along the way. Within a few weeks, a Confederate flag flew over the Palace of the Governors on the central plaza in Santa Fe.
Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe (Photo by Hunner)

After resting in ancient Santa Fe, the Confederates headed east along the Santa Fe Trail towards Colorado. Twenty-five miles out, they ran into Union soldiers and cannons at Glorieta. The Union forces fell back, waiting for reinforcements and getting closer to their own heavily defended Fort Union fifty miles away.
Civil War event 2016
Live fire demonstration of a Mountain Howitzer at Glorieta (Courtesy Pecos NHP website) 
On March 28, 1862, the two sides with about 1,300 soldiers each clashed along the Santa Fe Trail. By day’s end, Union forces had retreated another mile or so. As both sides bedded down, news came to electrify the New Mexicans and Coloradans. The previous night, a column of Union soldiers led by Major John Chivington slipped around the Confederates and found the 100 plus wagons that held all of the Texans’ ammunition, supplies, and personal belongings. Although the South was winning on the battlefield, it had to retreat back down the Camino Real with little food and low morale. Several years later, Chivington led the raid at Sand Creek.

Why mention the Battle of Glorieta along with First Manassas? First, from Virginia westward, across farmlands, through dense forests, and over swollen rivers and parched deserts, armies fought in large and small battles. This was a continental wide conflict with many side theaters. In fact, two weeks after Glorieta, the Battle of Shiloh on the Tennessee River began to pry open the South to water borne invaders from the North. We will go to Shiloh and Corinth in next week’s blog.  Second, the Union forces that remained in New Mexico then targeted Apaches and Navajos for removal to an inhospitable stretch of the Pecos River far away from their ancestral homelands. Third, as a proud New Mexican, I take any opportunity to tell the history of my state.

The Civil War did not go well at first for the North. Both sides bivouacked for the winter of 1861-62, recruited and trained new soldiers, and looked for the weaknesses in their enemies. Each side hoped for decisive victories in the coming year.

The ruins of the Pecos Pueblo became a National Monument to preserve the Indian town and the Spanish colonial church. In 1990 with the addition of the Forked Lightening Ranch and the Glorieta Battlefield, it became the Pecos National Historical Park.