Race Outta Richmond: Meadow Bridge Battle Map

This past weekend I tried following the path of the Union cavalry raid on Richmond during the Overland Campaign. I forgot that the Richmond Raceway was hosting the Toyota Owners 400 Nascar race and found myself stuck in traffic on Meadow Bridge Road for quite awhile. The Union troopers found themselves similarly penned in on May 12, 1864, but managed to break out of the trap set for them in between the Chickahominy River and the Richmond defenses.

At the early stage of the fighting at Spotsylvania, Phil Sheridan took his cavalry on a raid toward Richmond and its railroad connections. On May 11th, the Union troopers defeated their Confederate counterparts at Yellow Tavern. Private John A. Huff mortally wounded Jeb Stuart in the latter stages of that battle. Overnight, Sheridan continued south on the Brook Turnpike toward the Richmond defenses. The troopers easily overran the thinly held outer line of earthworks near Emanuel Church. Despite the temptation of continuing toward the capital, Sheridan wisely chose not to test the intermediate line the next morning. He attempted to skirt in between the Chickahominy River and the intermediate defenses to reach a safe rendezvous on the James River but found that route blocked near the Mechanicsville Turnpike.

James Gordon’s North Carolina cavalry brigade followed Sheridan down the Brook Turnpike and attacked David Gregg’s rear guard from the west. Two Confederate infantry brigades plus an assortment of local defense troops meanwhile ventured forward from the intermediate line to lend their support. Gregg and James Wilson’s divisions kept these attacks at bay but Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry meanwhile attempted to block Sheridan’s only exit at Meadow Bridge on the Chickahominy River. The Virginia Central Railroad paralleled the road and also crossed the swampy Chickahominy near its confluence with Brook Run.

George Custer’s brigade successfully forced their way across and repaired the destroyed bridge. This allowed the rest of the cavalry to safely continue their journey outside Richmond’s network of defenses. This earlier post by Dan Davis discusses the fighting at Meadow Bridge on May 12th that allowed Sheridan’s expedition to continue onward to the James.

The impact of Sheridan’s raid is still debated. Though the Union cavalry were tactically victorious at both Yellow Tavern and Meadow Bridge, they did not necessarily achieve their strategic goals. It perhaps was a morale booster for the north, due to Jeb Stuart’s mortal wounding at Yellow Tavern and the ability of the Union cavalry to match up against their Confederate counterparts. Riding within three miles of downtown Richmond only to have to scamper away may have had the opposite effect. The lack of cavalry around Spotsylvania certainly limited Union opportunity during that phase of the Overland Campaign.

Most of the Meadow Bridge battlefield is now developed. The raceway is located on the position of Wilson’s division. Several portions of the outer line of Confederate earthworks are preserved and interpreted, notably near the Mechanicsville Turnpike and Emanuel Church. Modern-day Laburnum Road roughly follows the Confederate intermediate defenses. The battle is featured on a Civil War Trails wayside exhibit near the modern Meadowbridge Road river crossing.

Springtime At Manassas Battlefield

Earlier this week, I visited some of the battlefield locations for the First Battle of Bull Run near Manassas. Early spring is blossoming here in Virginia, and this girl from California is delighted to see a real change in the seasons while driving through the Old Dominion State on a research trip.

At first, I wasn’t sure if I “liked” this battlefield’s springtime look since both First and Second Bull Run were summer battles with taller grass, hot and humid days, and plenty of bugs. Eventually, though I let the thoughts of “this wasn’t what it looked like when they lined up on the field” slip away, and I simply enjoyed the springtime moments…trying to captures some special images before the next rain showers started sprinkling the area.

Hopefully, you’ll enjoy this glimpse and be inspired to do a little battlefielding in the coming weeks!

Daffodils bloom near Henry House, quietly nodding at the silent cannons nearby.

Tiny flowers sprout near Judith Henry’s grave on Henry House Hill – a sweet, sad offering for this widow who was a civilian casualty during the first major battle of the war.

Don’t blink! These tiny shoots will become the trees’ bright green foliage of late spring and summer faster than you can say, “There stands Jackson like a stonewall! Rally behind the Virginians!” (Well, almost…)

And speaking of “Stonewall”… A new perspective with nature taking the focus and letting man (or in this image, the statue) become the background.

Red bud trees bursting into color – harmless, peaceful. Nothing like bursting shells seen long ago on this battlefield.

I wonder if this is what the fields might have looked like early in the spring of 1861, just as Fort Sumter’s fight erupted and the war began. The grasses just beginning to grow. As the volunteers made army numbers grow. White blossoms covering the trees. As red blood would cover summer’s fields.

I wonder about all this during a springtime wander…

ECW Weekender: Mary Todd Lincoln House

Heading south last weekend on I-75 from Cincinnati to Knoxville, I stopped with my family for lunch just outside of Lexington, Kentucky. Afterward, I finagled a second stop at the Mary Todd Lincoln House (MTL House) for a tour, and we arrived there around 1:15pm; the next tour was scheduled for 2pm. Now, if you’ve ever tried to entertain two young children for 45 minutes in an unknown place where they cannot touch anything, you can imagine that I was starting to sweat. I had already endured several rounds of “Mom, why does every trip have to include something related to history??” questions, so I tried to make the most of this lull in the plan.

Luckily, the grounds at the MTL House include a small area in the back that is surrounded by a brick wall featuring paths, hedges, a few signs, and some benches. We investigated every inch of that and also utilized four rocking chairs on the back porch, completed a survey from the local tourism bureau, and the kids found a fun way to play underneath the house. I’m sure this garden is beautiful in the summer when everything is in bloom. On our visit, we enjoyed the sunshine and passed the time (somewhat) patiently.

 

The family room

We were joined on the hour-long tour by two other visitors and commenced by examining the first floor family room. The tour guide was knowledgeable and pointed out which artifacts were authentic to the family and which were reproductions of period pieces. He also did a great job sharing anecdotes about various Todd family members. Mary was one of sixteen children born to Robert Todd by two wives; Mary’s mother, Todd’s first wife, passed away when she was six, and Mary did not enjoy an easy relationship with her stepmother. We came to understand however that Mary came of age with many of the modern amenities that wealth could buy at that time.

The kitchen eating space, roped off from the formal dining room.

In the dining room and kitchen, we discussed various features of the furniture and tableware and learned about the ways that 19th century families captured and reflected light prior to electricity. My daughters loved this part of the tour and listened carefully.

Across the hall in the formal parlors, we heard about how they could divide the room in half to separate men and women for entertaining. The guide elaborated on the difficulties that the Civil War caused in the Todd family, as it split the family along Union/Confederate lines based on their views about slavery. We learned too about Mary and Abraham Lincoln’s visit to the MTL House in the late 1840s and listened to some speculation about what they would have seen and heard there. The guide made sure to tell the children that the original hand rail that they used to walk up the steps was surely used by Lincoln as well.

The MTL House has done a wonderful job of continuing to seek family heirlooms, and several that we saw on our visit were acquired in the past few months. As we moved upstairs, we saw four large bedrooms, plus a nursery and a smaller bedroom off of the master. The house really is quite spacious and features furniture and other items that complement the stories that the guide told about the family and their prewar lives. They show the home without indoor plumbing and with English and French wallpaper from the era.

The painting above the fireplace is of Mary Todd Lincoln. The guide pointed out that most images portray her with dark eyes and hair but she actually had blue eyes and light blond/brown hair.

In the final bedroom, we heard about Lincoln’s assassination, Mary’s later incarceration in an insane asylum, her years abroad, and her eventual death. The house had fallen into disrepair at some point in the 20th century and was being used as a warehouse until the 1970s. It was scheduled to be torn down to make more parking spaces for the University of Kentucky’s Rupp Arena when it was saved by the efforts of the governor’s wife. Now, it is a functioning nonprofit historical landmark that adds much to our understanding of Mary’s background and life in Lexington in the mid-19th century. One of the guides told me at the end that a good day counts around 80 visitors; there were about 50 on the day we toured. They also have a gift shop on site.

In all, it was worth the slight detour in our trip. As we loaded back into the car to finish our drive to Knoxville, my older daughter said, “I liked that a lot more than I thought I would.”

Ah, victory.

 

Julie Mujic is a Scholar-in-Residence at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. She also owns Paramount Historical Consulting, LLC. Dr. Mujic can be contacted through her website: www.juliemujic.com.

Paying My Respects to Pap Thomas

Thomas GravesiteAs a Virginian who stayed loyal to the Union, perhaps it makes sense that George Thomas was laid to rest somewhere in the north. In that grand scheme of things, Troy, NY, seems as likely a place as anywhere. Troy was the hometown of his wife, Frances Lucretia Kellogg. The “Rock of Chickamauga” preceded his wife in death by nearly twenty years (he on March 28, 1870; she on December 26, 1889), so she had him interred in Troy’s Oakwood Cemetery where she, herself, planned to be laid to rest.

I’ve been through Troy dozens of times on my way back and forth to New England, but for most of that time, I never knew “Pap” Thomas was buried there. The town proudly proclaims its connection to “Uncle Sam” Wilson—the real-life prototype of Uncle Sam—but the Rock of Chickamauga has gone untouted. 

For fans of Thomas, that probably comes as no surprise. Today, he’s kind of like the Rodney Dangerfield of Union generals: he gets no respect. In life, he never got along with Ulysses S. Grant, which proved to be more and more problematic for his career as Grant advanced farther and farther. Grant didn’t outright harpoon Thomas’s career the way he did, say, William Rosecrans’s, but he didn’t give Pap a whole lot of love—or credit—either.

Even in death, even today, Thomas withers under the shadow of Grant. After all, just 40 minutes to the north, atop Mt. McGregor, the pageant of Grant’s final days played out. He passed away on July 23, 1885—fifteen years after Frances laid her husband to rest in Troy—and to this day, Grant Cottage remains a source of pilgrimage for thousands of people each year. I’ve been fortunate to make it up there annually for the past five years or so.

Thomas Bust @ Grants TombThomas does, appropriately enough, make a cameo of his own in Grant’s NYC tomb. The sarcophagi of Ulysses S. and Julia Dent Grant are surrounded by the busts of Grant’s top lieutenants from war, including Thomas. (If you think Thomas gets no love, try being George Gordon Meade, who was left out of the “top lieutenants” assemblage entirely.)

While Grant’s funeral was one of the largest events ever in New York, Thomas’s was a much different affair. Not a single one of Thomas’s blood relatives attended, bitter over his loyalty to the Union over Virginia. His wife’s family generously gave him a place to rest among them, instead, in a land far away from his own—and yet not. After all, Thomas believed we were all one country. New York, he had declared through his service, was his home turf as much as anywhere.

In fact, the Hudson Valley probably had a stronger claim on Thomas than most places. He’d attended West Point, downriver from Troy, from 1836-40—a formative period in the life of a man who became a professional soldier. He served until his death, in 1870, while stationed in San Francisco, California.

Thomas Gravesite MarkerLast week, I had the opportunity to speak to the Capital District Civil War Roundtable in Watervilet, NY—a suburb of Albany. Troy was literally right across the Hudson River, so I made a point to finally seek out old Pap. At Oakwood Cemetery, a series of small metal markers erected by the Col. G. L. Willard Camp of the Sons of Union Veterans pointed the way. The camp adopted Thomas’ grave and the graves of the entire Kellogg family, among whom Thomas and his wife were buried, and the pride of their work showed.

The Rock of Chickamauga stands tall atop a knoll at one of the highest points in the cemetery. The grave—a marble sarcophagus topped with an eagle—stands with dignity inside a small fenced-in area. An in-ground plaque provides details about Thomas’s military career. There’s no flash—just clean-white marble scrubbed bright by the conscientious attention of respectful admirers.

I have to think Pap would be pleased.

Thomas Gravesite Plaque

A Leg of Stuart’s Ride: The Clash at Linney’s Corner and Death of William Latané

A Freeman Marker related to Stuart’s Ride Around McClellan south of Haw’s Shop along Totopotomoy Creek

After speaking at the old Museum of the Confederacy on Friday afternoon, I spent this past weekend with family in Richmond. Clear skies and temperatures in the 70s gave way to cold rain Saturday and snow that evening (there was a coating  on my truck Sunday morning). Despite the weather, I did take an opportunity to get out and do a little battlefield tramping, or driving. While I did not have time to follow Stuart’s Ride Around McClellan in its entirety, I focused on the area south of Haw’s Shop which witnessed the only major fighting during the expedition and the birth of a Southern myth.

On June 13, 1862, a day after Brig. Gen. James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart left the outer defenses of Richmond on his famous ride, a squadron from Col. William Henry Fitzhugh “Rooney” Lee’s 9th Virginia Cavalry clashed with elements from the 5th U.S. Cavalry under Lt. Edward Leib. The commander of the 5th U.S., Capt. William Royall had dispatched Leib from the regiment’s camp at Old Church to picket the roads and watch for enemy activity in the direction of Hanover Court House.

Leib reached the outskirts of Hanover Court House that morning and observed Stuart’s column. He immediately sent a courier back to Royall for orders and withdrew to Haw’s Shop. Royall subsequently directed Leib to return to camp. The Federals had not gone far when some of Leib’s pickets warned of Confederates passing through Haw’s Shop. Leib immediately formed his men south of the road and dispatched a contingent under Lt. William McLean to the south bank of Totopotomoy Creek.

Lt. William Robins’s squadron from the 9th Virginia led Stuart’s advance. Initially stopped by Leib’s troopers, Capt. Samuel Swann’s squadron came to Robins’ aid and managed to push the 5th U.S. back across the stream.

Leib and McLean reformed their men on high ground near Linney’s Corner. Joined by Royall, they awaited the inevitable Confederate advance. Reaching the front, Stuart ordered Capt. William Latané’s squadron of 9th Virginia forward. The ensuing charge broke Royall’s line, leaving the Union captain wounded and Latané dead, struck in the chest by four bullets.

This historical marker stands along the ridge near the area where 5th U.S. Cavalry reformed after being driven across Totopotomoy Creek

Latané, a native Virginian, was born on January 16, 1833. In the fall of 1851, he entered the University of Virginia to study medicine, however, he eventually transferred to Richmond Medical College and graduated in 1853. At the outbreak of the war, Latané was elected third lieutenant in the Essex Light Dragoons, which eventually became Company F of the 9th Virginia Cavalry. Earlier that spring, Latané was elected the company’s captain.

When the smoke and dust had settled around Linney’s Corner, Latané’s body was taken by his brother John to Westwood, the home of Dr. William Brockenbrough. With her husband serving in the Confederate army, Dr. Brockenbrough’s wife, Catherine directed John to the home of her niece, Summer Hill. There, Latané was interred and remains in the family cemetery. A Freeman Marker, along with a headstone stand at Latané’s final resting place. The cemetery, however, is inaccessible to the public and Summer Hill is a private residence. Please respect owners’ rights.

Summer Hill

Latané’s death and burial soon became part of Confederate and Lost Cause lore. John R. Thompson penned a poem about the event which appeared in the July-August issue of Southern Literary Messenger. Late in 1864, Richmond artist William Washington had locals and members of Mrs. James West Pegram’s School for girls model for The Burial of Latané. After the war, The Southern Magazine distributed a copy of work to each yearly subscriber. “By pen and brush”, reflected William Campbell, a member of  Latané’s old Company F, his former commander was “enshrined…in the hearts of the people of our Southland that it will endure as long as men are admired for devotion to duty and and for risking their lives upon the perilous edge of battle in defense of homes and country.”

Another River Line Shoupade Site Endangered

Our friends at the Georgia Battlefields Association recently sent this update about their work in protecting some unique triangular forts. Read below for more information about their efforts to preserve these Shoupades and consider joining their effort by clicking here.

“Since 2003, the GBA newsletter has run several articles about the River Line, a unique system of fortifications featuring Shoupades, triangular forts designed by Francis Shoup and built by slaves. Shoupade Park, containing remnants of two Shoupades near Oakdale Road, was authorized by the Cobb County Board of Commissioners in 2004 and established two years later.

On 15 February, a GBA representative met with River Line Historic Area’s Roberta Cook and Steve Morrison and rezoning application Z-7 developer’s attorney and two contractors in hopes of saving the site of another Shoupade directly across Oakdale Road from Shoupade Park. This Shoupade was distinctly identifiable until about 30 years ago, when the then property owner bulldozed it because juveniles kept using it as a place to party. We hope the developer will at least leave the elevation on which the Shoupade once sat since the plan calls for the prominence to be graded down to street level. We’ll let you know what happens.”