Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day in Culpeper

Today at Brandy Station: may 31, 2010

I attended the Memorial Day service at the Culpeper National Cemetery this morning. I have been to the site many, many times, but this was my first Memorial Day.

There were easily over 300 in attendance. I am not counting the Culpeper H.S. Band, the members of the various honor guards or the Cemetery staff. Over 300 who were compelled to honor the fallen. As a retired member of the U.S. Air Force, I was humbled to be counted among them

The cemetery was established in 1866 and originally laid out in a square form, with avenues dividing it into four equal sections. In the center, at the intersection of the avenue is a raised mound supporting a flag-staff.

The white picket fence has been replaced by brick, and unfortunately, the site has been expanded over the years.

Three Union officers who died in the fighting on June 9, 1863 are buried beneath the flag: Lt. Col Virgil Broerick of the 1st New Jersey Cavalry, Major John Shellmire of the 1st New Jersey and 1st Lieutenant Isaac Ward of the 6th United States Cavalry.

But what is as equally important to me are the over 250 Union soldiers who died between November 1863 and May 1864 from accidents and disease during the winter encampment. Many of these men were in the army for weeks, their first time in a camp.

We remember all who lost there lives, some were known and famous, most were not. Remember them. Remember them all.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Rappahannock Station 2010

The last couple of days I have been walking and driving around the Rappahannock Station Battlefield (the November 7, 1863 fight) in preparation for a tour I intend to lead in late July.

It is amazing how much of the fields survived. All of the entrenchments and redoubts are gone, long gone. In the history of the 20th Maine Infantry, they note that the regiment camped on the site of the two forts and knocked them down so they could build their cabins.

But the fields where the Louisianans and North Carolinian's stood remains. You can see the curve of the hills and imagine those young men standing there as the Federals came forward in the twilight of November 7, 1863.

Much of the property is owned by Fauquier County, and is intended to be a park. Other portions of the land is owned by developer. Maybe that will change someday soon.

As I drove though the area, I was also able to identify the positions where Federal and Confederate artillery were placed, and where the Yankees sat in the early afternoon and readied themselves for what was to come.

Some has been saved, much more can be.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Establishing a picket post

Today at Brandy Station: May 29, 1863

From the diary of Corporal Henry S. Seage, Co E. 4th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

"Regt. started this morn (from Hartwood Church) about 7 o’clock A.M. and went to Kelly’s Ford on the Rappahannock River. Pitched our Tents on a line and prepared for a general Camp. Awful tired & Sore. Phil and myself went after Boards & Sacking to the Old Camp."

Two days later (Sunday - May 31), Henry wrote that they didn't have Divine service due to three companies on picket, but he spent some time swimming and fishing with almost the entire company.

Confederate Cavalry was picketing on the south side of Kelly's Ford. I wonder how many jumped in along with the Michiganders...

The photo is a modern look at Hartwood Church, which I took last summer.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

To Active Service

Today at Brandy Station: May 25, 1861

It's a Saturday, and the Little Fork Rangers (soon to be Company D, 4th Virginia Cavalry) are drilling at Oak Shade, midway between Rixeyville and Jeffersonton. A courier, from the Court House arrives with orders, nearly killing his horse in the process. It is The orders.

Their Captain, Dr. Robert Utterback, calls them together. If there are men here who do not want to commit to service, now is the time to leave. Some will. The remainder, ride to the Baptist Church in Jeffersonton later this day.

Utterback reads the orders they all expected: Proceed to Camp Henry, Culpeper Court House on Monday, May 27, to be mustered into Confederate Service.

One wonders what passed through the minds of these young men - called to defend their new country. How many thought they would each kill 10 Yankees. It was heady times indeed.

There first assignment, however, would be on the mundane side. They are to guard the railroad bridge that spans the Rappahannock. The Little Fork Rangers would have their glory. But first things first.

Utterback would survive the war and become the Culpeper school superintendent in 1870.

Monday, May 24, 2010

An execution in Richmond

Today at Brandy Station: May 24, 1863

in the Richmond Daily Dispatch
--A negro woman named Clara Ann, slave of Mr. Blank, of Culpeper county, heretofore condemned to be hung for the murder of her mistress, who was removed to this city three weeks since for safe keeping, was executed yesterday in the interior yard of the Penitentiary, by order of the Governor. The culprit was put on the gallows at fifteen minutes past two o'clock, by Mr. Peter Phillips, Deputy Sheriff of Henrico county, and remained suspended until 3 o'clock. Rev. Mr. Sweeney offered an affecting prayer to the Throne of Grace prior thereto. But few spectators were present.

I can find no other references to this event, the story is out there somewhere, but it eludes me, for now.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Jeb Stuart arrives

Today at Brandy Station: May 20, 1863

JEB Stuart established his headquarters to day in Culpeper. He was broadly tasked to gather his Cavalry forces and prepare them for the summer campaign. He set up his headquarters tent on the property of the Bradford family, named Afton.

From this day until the first week of June, Stuart's cavalry and horse artillery will come into the county. Afton still stands today, located on Route 666, on the Northeastern edge of Culpeper.

By June 8, Stuart would have close to 10,000 under arms with him.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Jacob Kent Langhorne

Today at Brandy Station: May 18, 1863

There is a terrific website titled "Valley of the Shadow" (

Among other documents, newspapers and photos, the site contains letters and diaries from soldiers from Augusta County, Virginia and Franklin County, Pennsylvania. If you haven't visited this site, I highly recommend it.

The letters of Jacob Kent Langhorne are part of the collection. Kent is an 18 year old trooper who recently joined the Wise Cavalry Troop of the 2nd Virginia Cavalry. He would take part in his first fight at Brandy Station on June 9. It would also be his last fight.

On May 18, he penned a letter to his sister from Culpeper Court House. It read in part:
Culpeper CH
May 18th, 1863 Dear Sister
I received Mamas letter two or three days ago and received yours and cousin Kate's yesterday. I have had quite a nice time since I have been in camp. I have made the acquaintance of a good many nice officers. Capt Steptoe is one of the nicest gentleman I ever saw and is so kind to me. I understand that Floods & Pickets divisions are camped near here & Jones, Imboden, Hampton, Jenkins and W.H. Lee are and in fact all our cavalry forces are here. We expect to leave here for some unknown point in a day or two…. Love to all. I am your Bro, Kent.

It is almost a typical letter. Kent had received letters from home and was getting along well. He didn't mention his health, and his camp gossip was wrong, as no infantry had arrived and the cavalry was just beginning to gather in the county. And the cavalry would of course remain in Brandy until mid-June.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Restoring Civil Government

Today at Brandy Station: May 16, 1864

The Culpeper County Government reconvened today (the first time since November 7, 1863)and called for elections to restore Civil Government.

Twelve days ago, the Army of the Potomac pulled up stakes and entered the Wilderness. Now, with the exception of the remains of the Ninth Corps passing through to Orange County and some Virginia Cavalry patrolling the region, life is getting quiet. Of course they were unaware that the Army or Northern Virginia or the Army of the Potomac would not cross the Rapidan or the Rappahannock again. For the most part, the war in Culpeper County was over.

It is now up to the County to try to reestablish a government. The provost marshal's are gone and with them a level of law and order that had been in place since the previous November. The elections were held a week later and the Culpeper County citizens did have a challenge as many of those elected were considered shirkers or out right cowards. There was probably little support for these administrators and even less faith.

How do you start up a civilian government in Virginia when you are behind enemy lines?
The land has been stripped, few farms have the resources to plant, and there is little money. Times are indeed going to be tough.

Friday, May 14, 2010

CWPT History Under Siege

Today at Brandy Station: 14 May 2010

Actually it is yesterday that the CWPT released it's top 10 most endangered battlefields. I had the honor to represent the Brandy Station Foundation at the press conference that announced America's Most Endangered Civil War Battlefields. And later in the day I was at the Bull Run Civil War Roundtable. So it was after 10 pm when I got home.

There were no Culpeper sites on the list (a topic for another discussion), two sites are in the area made the top 10.

Wilderness: In August 2009, the Orange County, Va. Board of Supervisors approved a massive commercial center featuring a Walmart and four retailers at the gateway to the historic battlefield. A lawsuit to block the project is pending.

Thoroughfare Gap: In February, consultants began seeking comments from the preservation community regarding a proposal to build a 150-foot-tall communications tower within the core battlefield area at Thoroughfare Gap. Although construction of Interstate 66 in the 1960s saw portions of the mountain gap widened, the area retains much of its rural, scenic beauty.

Additionally, Manassas is listed as an at risk site.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A New Discovery

Today at Brandy Station: May 11, 2010

Today is one of those days when, nothing happened. I determined early on that when this occurred, I'd talk about the Graffiti House.
Recently, the Brandy Station Foundation has had an opportunity which it capitalized on, and it has paid off in spades. Christopher Mills of Christoper Mills Conservation Service has made two trips to Brandy Station this spring.
Chris was contracted by the Foundation to stabilize walls in the Graffiti House, where the pre-civil war plaster had separated from the lathing. This process is tedious and time-consuming, but ultimately he was successful.
His success has been more than could have been dreamed. In the course of repairing damage and reattaching plaster, Chris uncovered more graffiti. Additionally, while cleaning and prepping these walls, thanks to his work, what had been faded is now clear.
Names, statements, and drawings are now seeing the light of day for the first time since the mid-1860's. Researchers at the Foundation have already had some successes. Today, I will talk about one. His name is George.
George has been with us since the graffiti was discovered in 1993. George signed (at least) three walls in what we call the Dancing Lady Room. But is was always just George. We never new his story, until Chris arrived. In March, Chris uncovered Georges last name above a window. But it took a little detective work to figure it all out.
The name uncovered was Howver, George Howver.
So, into the databases and regimentals we go, but no George Howver. We were about to give up when was checked and we found our man. George Howver served in the 7th Virginia Cavalry. But in consulting the Virginia Regimental Series' volume on the 7th Virginia Cavalry, there was no listing under Howver. But there is an interesting note under George Hoover.
According to the book, George Hoover was born in 1847 (actually April 13, 1845) and served in Company H, joining the regiment as a substitute. He served until early 1864 when he was captured and eventually ended up at Fort Delaware in March 1864. He remained there until paroled in June 1865. Prison records indicate he was 5'8", had dark hair and eyes and a ruddy complexion.
The last notation is the money: Listed as Howver in the CSR [Compiled Military Service Records]. We have our man.
The 7th Virginia Cavalry spent time in Brandy Station during the Spring, Summer and Fall of 1863. Howver had opportunity to be in the Graffiti House. And at least once, George, picked up a piece of charcoal from the fireplace had told us he was there. George Howver died on January 1, 1916 and is buried in Singers Glen Cemetery in Rockingham County, Virginia.
The Picture, taken by Peggy Misch, is of Chris Mills hard at work, saving our walls, and above the window on the left side, you might be able to make out Howver. Thank you Chris for bringing lost history back to us.
If you havn't been to the Graffiti House within the last two months, it is time to come back. We have some new stories to tell.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Mosby raid into Fauquier

Today at Catlett Station, May 10, 1863.

This is one of those sorties into a neighboring county.

Yesterday, May 9, Major John Mosby and 40 followers departed Upperville for a raid on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. The target, the vicinity of Catlett Station.

Mosby arrived in eastern Fauquier County the following day. After tearing up some rails between Catlett and Bristoe Station (in Prince William County), which caused one train to wreck, his command set the trestle crossing Cedar Run ablaze. Heading Northeast, his goal was the bridge over Kettle Run. He got to it and began the destruction process. This time however, the bridge was saved by the timely arrival of Union Soldiers on a train.

The Federals extinguished the flames before they could do an damage. Mosby's command escaped.

(From the Virginia Regimental Series: 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry: Mosby's Command, by Hugh Keen & Horace Mewborn)

The image is a wartime view of Catlett Station, from the Library of Congress.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Another First

Today at Brandy Station: May 9, 1864

From the May 9, 1864 edition of the Richmond Times Dispatch
(Orange Courthouse, May 7) A Negro soldier, an infantry man, the first ever captured by this army, was taken near Brandy Station yesterday, and brought in here to-day. He says that he belongs to the 27th Ohio, Burnside's corps.

(Orange Courthouse, May 8) The negro troops occupying Brandy Station advanced out to Culpeper Court-House Friday and occupied it. Yesterday they went back to Brandy Station, set fire to the stores (principally quartermaster's) and then marched to join Grant.

The story of the United States Colored Troops in Culpeper County began on May 5, when General Edward Ferrero's 4th Division of General Ambrose Burnside's Ninth Corps crossed the Rappahannock at Kelly's Ford and 'joined up' with the Army of the Potomac at Paoli's Mill.

Two days later, these troops were involved in a small skirmish near Madden's Tavern with elements of Confederate General John Chambliss's Brigade of Cavalry. Atrocities were alleged.

Also, there is no evidence that the quartermaster's stores at Brandy Station were burned.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

My Dearest Wife

Today at Brandy Station, May 6, 1863

From Gordonsville, Philip Powers wrote a letter to his wife. Powers spends most of the letter describing General George Stoneman's raid through central Virgina and how the Rebels responded. It said, in part.

"I think it exceedingly doubtful of this ever reaching you, but I must write a line to let you know where and how I am. …I was just contemplating a trip to Warren [County]with a view of getting to Clarke [County] when the Enemy crossed the Rappahannock and drove us from Culpeper. I need not give you any details of the late military operation further than to say that the Enemy's Cavalry have gotten between this point and Richmond cut the R.Road at Louisa [illeg.] and other points below, penetrated to James River, and are running wild over this country plundering and robbing -- unfortunately we have but one brigade of Cavalry, a few infantry, and two Batteries here, Genl. Stuart being somewhere below towards Fredericksburg.[Stuart is of course leading Stonewall Jackson's Corps at Chancellorsville after Jackson and then his senior Division Commander A.P. Hill were wounded] And the force is by no means sufficient to oppose the Enemy, as they have some 14000 Cavalry. However Gen. Lee has gained a glorious victory at Fredericksburg, driven the Enemy across the Rappahannock, and Their Cavalry must leave at once if they can.

I am hoping my dear wife from day to day that the tide of war may bring me nearer to you, and enable me to see you once more, but now that I am regularly enlisted in the Army again I have no freedom of action, and must bear and endure with what patience and fortitude I can command. And have to beg of you my love to comfort me, by exhibiting also that degree of Christian resignation which I know will be vouchsafed to you -"

Stoneman and his forces were no where near 14,000; but, did cause damage and consternation in the region, but nothing that could not be repaired. Stoneman would become a scapegoat for the failed campaign and while on medical leave (he suffered from severe hemorrhoids -not good as he was in the cavalry) he would be replaced by General Alfred Pleasonton.

Philip Powers, who served with Stuart on the frontier before the war, would hold the rank of Sargent Major early in the war, and be offered (but refused) a commission as a Major and Quartermaster on Stuart's staff. He enlisted again in Company G, 1st Virginia Cavalry in late April 1863. He served throughout the war and surrendered at Appomattox. He postwar life included time as a member of the Virginia Legislature.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Decline acting offensively

Today at Brandy Station: May 5, 1864

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch, published on May 6, 1864

Our scouts went into Culpeper C. H. this morning, capturing about a dozen stragglers. The scouts report the country about Culpeper C. H. covered with the debris of the enemy's camps, including clothing and blankets. The enemy are imported still to hold out to Brandy Station, in Culpeper county. The Yankee infantry and artillery all crossed at the lower fords last night, and they extend this morning from Chancellorsville to Parker's Store, a point about twenty miles below here. It is reported that they are moving this morning out from Chancellorsville towards the Central railroad. Some slight cavalry skirmishing has been going on about twenty miles below here and near Parker's Store this morning. Grant's force has been variously estimated to be between one hundred and one hundred and eighty thousand men. The first number is most probably nearest the truth. From the fact that Grant only took four days rations on leaving Culpeper, it is not improbable he will decline acting offensively, and will fall back to the heights of Fredericksburg.

This story was printed while the Battle of the Wilderness for on-going. They estimate of 100,000 to 180,000 is within the total for Grant's army, with approximately 120,000 under arms. But, the paper got it very, very wrong with the last statement, "it is no improbable he will decline acting offensively..."

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

wearing a 'badge'

Today at Brandy Station, May 4, 1864

Throughout the day, soldiers left Culpeper County, crossing at Germanna and Ely's Ford. Theodore Lyman, aide-de-camp to Army of the Potomac Commander, “wonders if every man that crosses those bridges who is to become a casualty in the next six weeks, would wear a badge, what would it look like?”

In six weeks, nearly half would become casualties.

The image of the Army of the Potomac Crossing Germanna Ford is from the Library of Congress.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The 'General Call'

Today at Brandy Station: May 3, 1864

The word came down late in the evening to the common soldier, sometime after 10pm. "Strike tents!"

It have finally begun. The Winter Encampment was over and the Army of the Potomac was on the march. The soldiers did not know their destination, but they had no doubt as to whom they would be meeting -- Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia.

From the diaries and order books:
-141st Pennsylvania Infantry: "Orders for marching. To move at half past 11 o’clock P.M."
-86th New York Infantry: "Got orders to be ready to march at 11 PM. Marched all night."
-4th Michigan Infantry: "Went to bunk at 8 and awakened at 11 by the sound of the "General call" Struck tents and started at 12 M."
-91st Pennsylvania Infantry: "About 11 p.m. left Culpeper for Germanna Ford on the Rapidan."

I once saw a letter that I copied, I don't recall where, I know his name, but it isn't important. He is our everyman, and in this case just a Billy Yank. Portions of his letter are below:

Brandy station Va- May the 3d 1864
My dear Aunt
...I have not time to write you a long letter for we are going to advance on the enemy tomorrow morning so my dear Aunt is altogether likely that I shall be in a tremendous fight before the close of another week and is also likely that you'll not hear from me for a good while, but I request you not to be uneasy about me for I shall write as soon as I can after the approaching contest is over, if I am so fortunate as to escape. I have no fear for my personal safety but still I may fall.... remember dear Aunt that I always remembered and loved you to the last moments of my life. ...hoping that you will not fret yourself about me ...but ever remain your affectionate Nephew

PS. Dear Aunt and Uncle & Cousins I hope to me you once more on these earthly shores but if it is otherwise decreed I hope to meet you in the skies.

The author of the letter was captured during Battle of Wilderness, and dies in Andersonville.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

"A furious gale"

Today at Brandy Station, May 2, 1864

The armies are out of their cabins and in tents, toughening up a little before the movement that will begin tomorrow night. Most of the soldiers of the army have no idea of what is in store for them.

As the diaries tell, many face an interesting weather come evening:

--86th New York: "A terrible wind & hail, quite poor weather."
--4th Michigan: "laid in camp all day fine until about 4 pm when we were visited by an awful Gale and Clouds of dust. "
--2nd Rhode Island: "had a furious gale today with clouds of dust filling the air..."
--121st New York: "rather windy"

It sounds like typical severe Virginia weather roared through the camps on this Monday evening. There is no evidence, but you have to wonder if a small tornado touched down in Culpeper.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield

I had the pleasure tonight to attend the sold out 8th Annual Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield Annual Dinner, which was held at the Daniel Technology Center, Germanna Community College, Culpeper, Virginia

The goal of the event is to raise money for Ellwood Manor, a circa 1790 home located on the Wilderness Battlefield, that, among many other things, was the headquarters of Major General Gouverneur K. Warren (U.S. 5th Corps) during the Battle of the Wilderness and is the final resting place of Stonewall Jackson's left arm. The monies raised are for the restoration of Ellwood. The work on the first floor is complete, and now they have moved on the the second floor.

A worthy organization, the Friends of the Wilderness's mission statement is to assist the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park (FRSP) in its efforts to preserve the Wilderness Battlefield in Spotsylvania and Orange Counties. The Friends provide advocacy, educational programs, and service projects for the battlefield. Please take a few minutes and view their website: