Preservation Opportunity in the Western Theater

Our friends at the Civil War Trust sent along this announcement and opportunity to preserve more battlefield ground in the Western Theater. Continue reading for more information about this opportunity and how you can get involved.

“With the exception of Virginia, no state endured more significant Civil War battles than Tennessee. It was in Tennessee — during the war’s early stages — where Gen. Ulysses S. Grant first gained national recognition by demanding and securing the “unconditional surrender” of a Confederate army at Fort Donelson. In 1863, the nation’s gaze was again fixed upon the Volunteer State as Union and Confederate troops vied for control of Chattanooga. And it was in Tennessee that Gen. John Bell Hood launched a last-ditch effort to strike back at the Yankees, resulting in inconceivable suffering at Franklin and ultimate defeat at Nashville.

In recognition of the state’s importance during our nation’s defining conflict, you and I have already saved 3,491 acres in Tennessee, allowing future generations to walk the ground where history was made.

Today, we have the opportunity to save an additional 15 acres at three battlefields in Tennessee: Fort Donelson, Brown’s Ferry (near Chattanooga), and Franklin. We will be adding to the 639 acres we have already saved at these three battlefields—more tiles in the mosaic of Tennessee’s rich Civil War heritage. Thanks to a magnificent $21.17-to-$1 match, you and I can save this land—worth a combined total of $1.5 million—for just $73,250!

Help us build on our previous successes in Tennessee and save these three Tennessee battlefields.

’Til the Battle is Won,

Jim Lighthizer, President
Civil War Trust

P.S. Please join our efforts to save 15 acres at Fort Donelson, Brown’s Ferry, and Franklin. 

Bernard Slave Cabins

A new article by guest author Michael Aubrecht

One of the more overlooked spots on the Fredericksburg National Battlefield is the Bernard Slave Cabins. This area was the homestead of a number of enslaved African-Americans and a focal point of the fighting that took place near Prospect Hill and the Slaughter Pen Farm. Today the site is accessible via the Bernard Cabins Trail. According to the NMPS website:

Bernard Slave Cabin signs [Photo from Official NPS Website: Bernard Slave Cabins Site]

Halfway down Lee Drive, a little more than a half mile beyond its intersection with Lansdowne Road, begins one of the newest and least-known trails on the Fredericksburg Battlefield. The trail starts at the road and winds through the woods for half a mile before emerging into a large plowed field overlooking Shannon Airport and the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad (now CSX). It terminates at Bernard’s Cabins, the site of a small slave community. Bernard’s Cabins became an important Confederate artillery position on “Stonewall” Jackson’s end of the line. The center of his line was wooded, preventing the Confederate leader from placing any artillery there. Instead, he placed a large number of cannons on either side of the woods and angled the guns toward one another so as to catch any Union troops who might attempt to attack the woods in a deadly crossfire. To the left of the woods, at Bernard’s Cabins, stood nine guns of Capt. Greenlee Davidson’s battalion. The cabins and their occupants belonged to Arthur Bernard, the owner of Mannsfield, a plantation house that stood about one and a half miles to the east.

The NMPS tabletop marker that was erected on the site states: “On this knoll stood Bernard’s Cabins, a small community that in 1860 was home to about three dozen slaves. The complex consisted of three two-room cabins, a stone-lined well, and perhaps two additional buildings. This was only one of several such clusters of slave housing scattered across the 1,800-acre ‘Mannsfield’ estate. The men and women who lived here helped power the most prosperous plantation in the Fredericksburg area. Arthur Bernard’s plantation house, ‘Mannsfield’ (1766), stood about a mile east of here (it burned in 1863). During the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg it served as headquarters for three top Union generals – W.B. Franklin, J.F. Reynolds, and W.F. Smith.”

Slave women cultivating tobacco [Photo from Official NPS Website: Bernard Slave Cabins]

The Historical Marker Database provides detailed GPS data on this spot (38° 15.588? N, 77° 27.261? W), as well as photographs depicting the current site and markers. The Bernard Slave Cabin marker includes a 1798 Benjamin Latrobe illustration depicting two slave women preparing tobacco under the watchful eye of an overseer, as well as a 1770 advertisement seeking the return of a runaway slave from the Mannsfield plantation.

NMPS historian Frank O ‘Reilly describes the significance of the Bernard Slave Cabins grounds in his book “The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock.” These small cottage-like buildings presented a potential problem for Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s artillerists who were forward deployed and attempting to prepare a cross-fire in anticipation of the Federal’s advancement towards Prospect Hill. He writes:

Crutchfield offset the problem somewhat by Captain Greenlee Davidson’s small battalion of guns at the Bernard Slave Cabins to cover Brockenbrough’s left rear. Crutchfield believed that an attack against Brockenbrough’s battalion would expose its flank to a raking oblique fire from Davidson’s guns. Davidson used elements of three batteries with a combination of six 3-inch rifles, two Napoleons, and one light 6-pounder. The artillerist posted Captain William H. Caskie’s Hampden (Virginia) Artillery with another section of Ed Marye’s Fredericksburg Artillery and Lieutenant Charles W. Statham’s Lee (Virginia) Artillery. The batteries unlimbered behind a rise capped by Bernard’s Cabins, three hundred yards behind Brockenbrough, and a thousand yards to R. Lindsay Walker’s left. Some of Marye’s Fredericksburg Artillery fought within sight of their homes. The gunners tore down the Bernard Cabins to clear their field of fire.

Trail to the Bernard Slave Cabins Site [Photo from Official NPS Website: Bernard Slave Cabins]

This tactic would prove disastrous for those positioned at Bernard’s Cabins and tasked with covering the RF&P railroad. In an article written for The Free Lance-Star’s Town and County titled “Slave cabins were center of 1862 battle maneuverings” NMPS historian Donald Pfanz recalled the futility of the positioning and the resulting devastation that ensued. He wrote:

On the morning of Dec. 13, 1862, Union skirmishers crept forward through the mist-shrouded fields and began shooting at Brockenbrough’s exposed gunners. When Lane’s men were unable to drive them away, Brockenbrough opened on the pesky Union riflemen with canister large cylinders filled with dozens of marble-sized iron balls that had the effect of a giant shotgun blast. Brockenbrough’s guns drew the fire of Union artillery batteries on the plain ahead, and soon the Confederate guns were under intense fire from enemy sharpshooters and cannon alike.

The slave cabins and a small pine grove had stood between Davidson and his Yankee assailants, but no more. By the time he stopped shooting, the cabins were in ruins and the grove had been reduced to kindling. At Bernard’s Cabins, Union shot ignited one of Davidson’s ammunition chests, causing a terrific explosion. Fifteen of 20 shells caught fire and exploded, blackening the ground and stampeding the battery horses. One shell cut a Confederate gunner in two and threw his blackened clothing into a nearby tree; another took off the leg of an officer just above the knee. At one gun alone, five artillerists were injured. Jackson witnessed the vigor of the Union response and wisely cancelled the attack. South of town, at least, the killing was over.

Today, the Bernard Cabins Trail provides one of the most peaceful and enjoyable nature walks on the whole Fredericksburg Battlefield proper. Unfortunately, the cabins themselves are no longer standing and one has to depend entirely on their imagination to envision what this small slave community looked like. Perhaps in the future, either through traditional building reconstruction or virtual 3D-modeling technology, the Bernard Slave Cabins will be resurrected again. Until then, I highly recommend that visitor’s take a moment during their tour to leave the “main drag” of Lee Drive and hike the half a mile down to this unique and important site.


O ‘Reilly, Frank, The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock (LSU Press; 1st edition, April 1, 2006)

Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania National Military Park website:

Historical Marker Database:

Floodwaters and Ghost Fog at Catharine Furnace

When the weather’s been good enough, I’ve been jogging on the Chancellorsville battlefield (or, when I have my 10-month-old with me, walking him in his stroller). The past two days have drenched us with monsoonal rain, but the temperatures have been warm. When the rain finally let up this afternoon, the thermometer was just shy of kissing 70 degrees.

For my run, I decided to park down across from Catharine Furnace and run eastward toward the Lee-Jackson bivouac site. But when I descended the long hill from the Matthew Maury homestead to the bottomlands around the Furnace, I found myself entering a primordial world. 

Lewis Run flooded

Lewis Run, which winds across the bottomlands, had flooded because of the heavy rains, turning a stark, leafless landscape into something that looked more like a bayou.  A ghostly fog hovered over the water.

In just the time it took me to cross the bridge, park, and jog back to the bridge for a photo, though, much of the fog had evaporated.

Lewis Run bridge

Stonewall Jackson’s flanking column marched down this road on the morning of May 2. The road then was dirt, of course, and the current bridge didn’t come along until the CCC built it in the 1930s. On just the other side of the bridge, the 23rd Georgia Infantry peeled off to the right and fanned out to form a protective shield for the rest of the column, which veered to the left, past the Catharine Furnace complex, and on toward its meeting with destiny.



Preservation News: CVBT Announces Preservation Award Recipient

Our friends at the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust have recently released their Winter 2017-2018 newsletter, On the skirmish line. In this latest issue, they share the news of the recent recipient of their Dr. Michael P. Stevens Preservation Award, D.P. Newton. Keep reading below for the full story on this exciting announcement.

“The CVBT Board of Directors chose D.P. Newton to be the recipient of its Dr. Michael P. Stevens Preservation Award, which was created to recognize an individual or an organization that has made a significant and sustained contribution to our understanding of Civil War history. The recipient does not get to keep the award itself, which remains in the CVBT office, but they do get to keep a $1,000 contribution to that individual or organization.

We have said this before, but it bears repeating. The cash award does not come from CVBT member donations. Instead, it comes exclusively from the CVBT board itself, our way of honoring Dr. Mike. The recipients can use those funds in any way they see fit, although most use them to continue their respective preservation missions.

D.P. Newton is a native of Stafford County, Virginia who made his living as a waterman.
In his off-time, he explored the many places around his home that were associated with the Civil War, but he did more than just casually get out-and about with a metal detector. He has systematically and methodically recovered artifacts from thousands of hut holes in hundreds of Union winter camps, and developed maps and notes that are a significant resource for additional study. He has also explored the vast Federal supply depot at Aquia Creek Landing, as well as the shore batteries along the Potomac River that effectively blocked maritime access to Washington D.C. and which were subsequently shelled by the Union navy.

A lifetime of metal detecting provided a substantial collection of artifacts, some of them quite rare, and D.P. eventually decided to present them to the public. He worked diligently to adapt an old brick school house into a museum, whose setting is also of interest. The school house, now a museum, sits across the road from White Oak Church, a
sanctuary that dates back to Colonial days. The Union Sixth Corps had its camp in the White Oak area during the winter of 1862-63.

As for the museum itself, visitors can see the usual collection of bullets, belt buckles, projectiles, bottles, bayonets, etc., but there is so much more. As an example, D.P. has re-established a camp site, with three winter huts, in intricate detail. He displays a collection of coins and medallions that were adapted by soldiers to be identification tags. He has a section of timbers from an actual corduroy road. He found almost every piece of a 13-inch mortar round, fired from a Union naval vessel at one of the Stafford shore batteries. He built a replica cannon, in exact detail, that greets visitors at the museum entrance.

And then there are the maps and the notes. There are those relic hunters who find their metal artifacts and move on. D.P. Newton would take the extra steps to make sure that what he found in the field would be useful to other types of research. The White Oak Museum houses D.P.’s documentation of the camps he has searched and the historic sites he has explored. D.P. Newton has done a phenomenal job in establishing the means to display a lifetime of dedicated work and research. We are all the richer for his efforts and it is the CVBT’s great pleasure to recognize him with our Dr. Michael P. Stevens
Preservation Award. SL”

“The Valhalla of the South”

I found this text from an undated tourism brochure in my archives, which I thought was appropriate to share for Virginia’s Lee-Jackson Day, commemorated each year on the Friday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day:

Historic Lexington
“The Valhalla of the South”
is only 13 miles North of the beautiful Natural Bridge 

Here are the tomb of General Lee, the grave of General Jackson, and the grave of the New Market Cadets.

Here, too, are the Virginia Military Institute, with its Museum and colorful military parades, Washington & Lee University, the Lee Museum and Chapel, and General Lee’s Office.

The Shrines of Lexington are devoted to education and history and no admission is charged.

Not Just Antietam – September 17, 1862 In Perspective

Wednesday, September 17, 1862. is rightly classed as the bloodiest day in American history. In that 24-hour period, more Americans fell killed, wounded, captured, or missing, than in any like 24-hour period before or since.

This contention rests almost totally on the Battle of Antietam outside Sharpsburg, Maryland, where 23,726 (12,410 US and 10, 316 CS) soldiers fell in essentially 12 hours of combat that day.

But that horrific number does not cover all the losses on September 17.

Let’s not forget the war also occurred elsewhere that day. Dozens of people were lost in small skirmishes at places like Cumberland Gap and elsewhere (to include the high seas). Also, at 6 A.M. (local) that morning, 4,000 US troops surrendered at Munfordville, Kentucky, to Confederates under Braxton Bragg. All these numbers need to be added into the battlefield losses that day; this puts America’s bloodiest day at approximately 28,000 men killed, wounded, missing, and captured for that 24-hour period.

Two other notes about this day might be of interest. September 17, 1862, was the 75th anniversary of the signing of the US Constitution. The largest airborne operation in history, Operation Market-Garden in Holland, began on the 82d anniversary of this day.