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

“Battlefields Mean Business: Economic Benefits of Battlefield Preservation”

Many of our readers are familiar with heritage tourism. In fact many of us would say we are heritage tourists! Historic sites and the communities they reside in can mutually benefit from the visitors that they receive. The Civil War Trust recently released a detailed report of the benefits for these communities as they play host to our nation’s history and the many visitors that come to see it each year.  

The Civil War Trust released a report detailing the economic benefits that battlefield preservation can provide to U.S. communities. After investigating geographically diverse locations across the United States, the study found that historic sites support jobs, attract visitors, create opportunities for local business, and contribute to state and local coffers. Revealing what enhances the economic benefits of battlefields tourism, the report demonstrates that when more land is preserved, sites can become an even more powerful economic engine.

Irish-Americans Remembered On The Battlefields

It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and it only seems right to nod the kepis respectfully to the Irish-Americans who fought on both sides during the American Civil War.

From the Emerging Civil War editors’ photo collections, here are a couple photos of the Union Army of the Potomac’s Irish Brigade memorials at Antietam and Gettysburg. Let us know if you have a favorite Irish-American memorial on a battlefield, and we’ll try to get a shot the next time we’re in the fields.

Best of luck to you and yours this fine day, and don’t drink too much whiskey before the horse race! (If you’re not familiar with the 1863 St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the Army of the Potomac, you can find the details here on Irish-American Civil War.)

Images displayed as a gallery; click on a photo to enlarge.

Looking for some additional historical posts about the Irish and the American Civil War? We’ve got a few from our own archives:

Thinking About The Irish Brigade At Antietam

“Oh It Was A Terrible Day”: The Irish Brigade At Fredericksburg

My Favorite Historical Person: Thomas Francis Galwey

Gone For A Soldier: Journeys Of Irish American Music & Patriotism

Preservation Victory at Goose Creek Bridge!

For those of you familiar with the Gettysburg Campaign, Little Round Top was not the first time the famous 20th Maine or Vincent’s Brigade saw combat during the events leading up to the battle. The Civil War Trust and NOVA Parks recently announced a preservation victory at Goose Creek Bridge where these units, along with JEB Stuart’s cavalry squared off almost 155 years ago. Find out more about this success by reading below.

“Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe Announces Preservation Victory at Historic Goose Creek Bridge

The Civil War Trust and NOVA Parks recently hosted a news conference in scenic Loudoun County, Virginia, to announce the preservation of 20 acres associated with the Battle of Upperville—a small but significant early engagement of the momentous Gettysburg Campaign. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a longtime champion of battlefield preservation in the Old Dominion, served as keynote speaker. Thanks to four decades of work by the Fauquier and Loudoun Garden Club, the historic Goose Creek Bridge and its adjacent hallowed grounds will become Northern Virginia’s newest regional historic park.”

Check out the full story here.

ECW Weekender: Spot Where A.P. Hill Was Killed

It’s a bold claim to set in stone that you are on the exact spot of a historic event. In 1912 the Sons of Confederate Veterans felt confident enough in their research on the death of Lieutenant General Ambrose Powell Hill to make that statement. I’ve recently written a couple articles sharing new accounts about Hill’s death, discoveries I made after devoting a chapter of Dawn of Victory: Breakthrough at Petersburg to the story of the Third Corps commander’s final ride. Everything I’ve found since 2015 has built on that current accepted interpretation. For all I know Corporal John Mauk’s minie ball did strike Hill at the exact location that is claimed, but it can be a tricky place to find.

The thirty-nine year old Virginian began the morning of April 2, 1865 at the home of James M. Venable, a local mill owner, where Hill kept his personal quarters with his pregnant wife Dolly and two young children. Today the site is a Pepsi plant at 1501 W. Washington Street on the city of Petersburg’s western end. Kept awake by the sound of an overnight artillery barrage, Hill dressed at about 3 a.m. and crossed the road to the Third Corps headquarters at the widow Isabella Knight’s residence, “Indiana,” marked now by an Exxon gas station.

Accompanied by several couriers, of whom I’ve finally found better source material, Hill rode to Robert E. Lee’s headquarters at the William Turnbull house, “Edge Hill,” (the Walgreens at 26036 Cox Road, North Dinwiddie). Along the way he was alerted to the Union breakthrough of his corps’ lines (at today’s Pamplin Historical Park). Upon reaching the Turnbull House, Hill met briefly with Lee and James Longstreet before riding due south toward the Thomas Whitworth house (on the grounds of today’s Central State Hospital). That structure, “Mayfield,” still stands but was relocated further to the east as the psychiatric facilities expanded.

Hill then rode southwest along Cattail Run, shedding his companions as he traveled until only Sergeant George Tucker remained as an escort. He hoped to reach the division headquarters of Major General Henry Heth at the home of Zadok Wilson Pickrell, the “Century House.” That renovated structure still stands as a private residence on the south side of the intersection of U.S. Highway 1 and Virginia Highway 671 (today the latter is called Brownwall Road but its brief stretch follows the original bed of the historic Boydton Plank Road).

The two mounted Confederates remained hidden in the woods along Cattail Run until they reached a point nearly due north of Sheriff John W. Harmon’s house (burnt down postwar) at the intersection of Duncan Road with the plank road. They broke for the open and were intercepted at the end of a small meadow by Corporal Mauk and Private Daniel Wolford. Hill’s objective, the Century House, was still about nine hundred yards further southwest, though Heth had long since vacated the headquarters and Federals milled throughout the yard. Further brashness by Hill and Tucker placed them into a showdown where they were outgunned by the Pennsylvania infantrymen. Nevertheless, Wolford shakily began to lower his rifle musket when the Confederates demanded their surrender. Mauk refused to capitulate in the hour of ultimate Union triumph at Petersburg. The pair fired and Mauk’s bullet struck Hill, instantly killing the commander. Wolford’s aim was not as steady and Tucker survived to inform Lee (and the now-widowed Dolly) of Hill’s death.

Tucker’s escape also offered historians the opportunity to utilize primary accounts of the event from both perspectives. The Sons of Confederate Veterans relied on the descriptions of Mauk and Wolford when gathering evidence in the early twentieth century to place two markers to note the site of Hill’s death. (Newspaper articles from 1888, 1890, and 1903 all say the site had been marked in each of those years, but the SCV undertook an extensive study in 1911 to confirm and properly designate the location.) In the tradition of placing markers along areas of high transit, the A.P. Hill Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans placed their memorial to Hill at the intersection of Boydton Plank Road and Duncan Road. Hill’s widow and children attended the unveiling ceremony in April 1912.

The memorial’s text is not favorable to Mauk and Wolford. Though the two Pennsylvanians charged and broke through the Confederate fortifications that morning, personally pried up several rails of the South Side Railroad (a designated secondary objectives of the assault), and evenly matched Hill and Tucker in number during their standoff, the SCV inscribed them in history as merely “a small band of stragglers.” The stone still stands at the intersection. Visitors can turn onto Duncan Road and then park in an unpaved lot behind the marker.

Site of A.P. Hill’s death, click on image for full size (map by author)

Across Route 1 is a sign first placed in 1929 by the Virginia Historical Highway Marker Program denoting “Where Hill Fell.” As parking along the highway or crossing the road from the SCV memorial is not advisable, the text reads: “In the field a short distance north of this road, the Confederate General A.P. Hill was killed, April 2, 1865. Hill, not knowing that Lee’s lines had been broken, rode into a party of Union soldiers advancing on Petersburg.” (Every reliable firsthand Confederate account I’ve read acknowledges that the commanders at Edge Hill were aware of the Breakthrough when Hill departed to learn just how bad the situation had deteriorated on his front.) The worn sign was most recently replaced in 2015.

Thanks to the preservation efforts of the Civil War Trust who acquired the property, visitors have the ability to continue on to the actual location according to the SCV who placed an additional small granite marker in 1912. From the Route 1 marker, turn south onto the highway and then immediately turn right onto A.P. Hill Drive into the Sentry Woods subdivision. Turn right onto Sentry Hill Court and then drive to the back end of the neighborhood. Visitors may park on the shoulder next to the Civil War Trust boundary signs and follow the short trail downhill to the “Spot Where A.P. Hill Was Killed.”

As the map indicates, development is starting to sprawl down the Route 1 corridor from Petersburg into Dinwiddie County. The once rural landscape may one day contain only pocket battlefield parcels as the county modernizes. Nonetheless, in their own way, the three markers note Hill’s death in the immediate aftermath of the Breakthrough at Petersburg on April 2, 1865. Did I mention there are three burial sites as well… for another weekend trip.

CVBT Announces 2018 Annual Meeting

Our friends at the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust sent along some information on their annual meeting. It sounds like an event that shouldn’t be missed. Read below for more information and how to get involved with a great event and great preservation organization.

CVBT is Pleased to Present the 2018 Annual Meeting, Dinner & Tours

It’s that time again…The Central Virginia Battlefields Trust event that cannot be missed!
Our presenters and historians will guide you through some spectacular tours created especially with your requests in mind. Enjoy compelling sites, expert speakers, fantastic food, and more!

This year’s theme “Beyond Spotsylvania” will focus on events of the Overland Campaign after the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse.

To register for the 2018 Annual Meeting click here.