Our Country's Fiery Ordeal

A blog about the American Civil War, written and maintained by historian Daniel J. Vermilya, author of The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (History Press, 2014) and James Garfield and the Civil War (History Press, 2015)

Dedicated to my great-great-great grandfather, Private Ellwood Rodebaugh, Company D, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, killed at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.

"And may an Overuling Providence continue to cause good to come out of evil, justice to be done to all men where injustice has long prevailed, and finally, peace, quiet, and harmony to come out of this terrible confrontation and our country's fiery ordeal." -- Albert Champlin, 105th Ohio, Diary entry of June 19, 1864 (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Second Manassas, 149 years later...

With today marking the last of the three days marking the 149th anniversary of the Battle of Second Manassas, I decided to utilize my weekend (I have Tuesdays and Wednesdays off) to take a day trip to Manassas National Battlefield Park. While a largely overlooked and misunderstood fight, Second Manassas had implications which were more wide ranging than the first. For me, perhaps, the most significant consequence of this battle was that it was the precursor to Lee's invasion of Maryland and the Antietam Campaign.

As I drove around the park and did some hiking today, I was struck by the tranquility of the place. When I was there for the 150th of First Manassas in July, I didn't have much time amid the craziness to see the park, and I certainly did not have any time to view the Second Manassas sites. Today, visiting Brawner Farm in particular, I was actually surprised by the sparse numbers of visitors on such an historic occasion. As with the sparse crowds at the 150th of First Manassas in July, seeing so few people at the park today reminded me of how important it is to teach younger generations, especially mine, of the importance of these places.

Certainly, it being a weekday when many are heading back to school limited the number of visitors. At Antietam, we have been seeing fewer folks as of late as well. However, while it may be that interest in the Civil War is as high as it has ever been since the veterans of it passed away, we must work to make sure it stays that way. My trip today got me thinking about the hurdles facing Civil War historians in the years of the sesquicentennial and beyond. Civil War historians cannot assume that the general public knows about the importance of these places, and they certainly cannot assume that the general public can tell good history from bad.

It is up to those who are tasked with interpreting and preserving those fields to generate interest and teach others of the importance of these places. That is where battlefield preservation and GOOD historians come into play. On both accounts, I am extremely glad to say I work at Antietam, where a dedication to preservation and good history is a shared trait among my outstanding colleagues. Our task is not only to get people interested in history, but also to lead them beyond the history books and out into the fields themselves.

Now, back to my visit today.

On August 30, 1862, James Longstreet's men swept through onto the Union flank along Chinn Ridge, nearly destroying John Pope's Army of Virginia and securing a stunning Confederate victory. This afternoon, I was out on Chinn Ridge almost to the hour that this massive attack was occuring. Much to my surprise, I was alone. Well, almost alone...

Of course, this southerner wasn't intent on driving this Yankee from the battlefield today. Despite being a Confederate deer, I decided to let this fella wander in peace. He does help to illustrate my point though. 149 years to the day after one of the greatest Confederate victories of the Civil War was won, it was only myself, a few deer, and a few other visitors happening to drive past out on that part of the field from time to time.

While I wish that there would have been a few more folks at the battlefield today, it was a nice day to visit. The park was quite peaceful 149 years after Second Manassas. Let's hope that the mass of fast food places, shopping centers, and highways goes no further so as to keep it that way. If you are interested in helping with battlefield preservation, check out the link for the Civil War Trust on the right side of the screen under favorite sites. They do some greatly needed work on that front.

Let's also hope that the future years see a greater interest in not just reading about the Civil War in books, but in actually getting out onto the fields where our nation's character was tested in a fiery ordeal 150 years ago.

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