(Photo Source: The Liljenquist Collection.)

I want to begin this post with a little bit of another Civil War blog post, from Elizabeth Goetsch’s blog History and Interpretation (I found it through another good CW Blog Interpreting the Civil War):

When I worked at the battlefield, I encountered a woman in her early 50s meandering through the museum. I approached her, as I would any time I roved the museum, and asked her how she was doing. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “those poor boys and their mothers.” I was startled. While visiting the battlefield could prove an emotional experience, I rarely encountered the raw emotion through tears. In the following conversation, I learned that her son had recently been deployed and she struggled with being a mother of a soldier in a war zone. She commented on the casualty numbers (around 24,000 killed, wounded, or missing during the Battle of Stones River), but specifically clung to the number of killed. That is a difficult number to pin down, but estimated about 3,000. She pointed out that “meant 3,000 mothers did not have a son come home because of this battle.” She personally related to that tragedy.

As someone who has cried at battlefields before, and as someone from a military family, I can completely understand the visitor’s feelings and also those of Elizabeth. But now that you’ve read it, scroll up and look at the picture again.

Look at that damned rosy paint that photographer added to the photo.

At the beginning of the war, Lincoln allowed children under 18 to enlist if they had their parents permission, but revoked it a year later. This did not stop recruiting officers from looking the other way when young boys enlisted.

Many boys became drummers, messengers, stretcher bearers, and of course, some served as soldiers.

In searching for statistics about exactly how many young men enlisted or served, I found this great website that provided some primary sources from boy soldiers. Here’s the story of Elisha Stockwell, who enlisted at 15 to spite his father:

We heard there was going to be a war meeting at our little log school house. I went to the meeting when they called for volunteers, Harrison Maxon (21), Edgar Houghton (16), and myself, put our names down…. My father was there and objected to my going, so they scratched my name out, which humiliated me somewhat. My sister gave me a severe calling down…for exposing my ignorance before the public, and called me a little snotty boy, which raised my anger. I told her, ‘Never mind, I’ll go and show you that am not the little boy you think I am.’

The Captain got me in by lying a little, as I told the recruiting officer I didn’t know just how old I was but thought I was eighteen. He didn’t measure my height, but called me five feet five inches high. I wasn’t that tall two years later when I re-enlisted, but they let it go, so the records show that as my height.

He soon came to regret his decision, he wrote this after Shiloh:

As we lay there and the shells were flying over us, my thoughts went back to my home, and I thought what a foolish boy I was to run away to get into such a mess I was in. I would have been glad to have seen my father coming after me.

Read on to learn about a 9-year who boldly shot an enemy officer in battle!

Read More

I’m going to go ahead and kick off this post with probably the best photo I have ever had the pleasure of being in:

Here I am with some folks from 4th Virginia, Co. A

Unfortunately, a combination of rain and bone-headedness on my part lead to us missing most of the reenacting, but tomorrow I’m going back for the rest of the action. Despite living right by it, I’ve never actually visited Manassas battlefield. Their visitor’s center was really nice - I recommend the 45-minute long movie called ‘Manassas: End of Innocence’, that covers both 1st and 2nd Manassas/Bull run. I went with my sister and we probably cried a combined total of 8 times.

(A cool LED display in the museum that helps one visualize battlefield movements.)

Click for a love story and Henry Hill.

Read More

By now you’ve noted the strange title. That’s because it was not really a day. If you read through this entire post, you’ll find out why (u mad, bro?).

This was the first event I saw this morning at the NPS’s Brawner’s Farm Living History program as part of 150th Manassas living history weekend. A cavalry demonstration by some stalwart reenactors, who, despite the rain, rode on in their quest for wider public knowledge.

Or maybe they just did it because they looked awesome, and it also probably felt awesome to do (I imagine).

Don’t know how the weather us where you folks were today, but in Manassas, VA, it was torrentially raining on and off all day. And just while these boys were finishing up…

I abandoned ship, and decided to get off of the open, possibly deadly, battlefield when there was lighting coming down just over the treeline in front of us. Soldiers from North and South fought sure far worse weather I’m sure.

There were only 2 soldiers camps or so at Brawner’s Manor who were hanging around in between demonstrations, though, and one of them I hung out with yesterday. This weekend it seemed like there were more reenactors who were recruited by Manassas City, or were hanging out at Manassas city events (Was it paid or volunteer? Does someone know?).

I did head over to Liberia Plantation (organized by the city of Manassas, it seemed) when it cleared up, where I met some folks interpreting slave life on that particular plantation, and after talking to them to a little, of course the heavens opened and it was monsoon-like. No photos from that, unfortch.

And that was the end of Manassas Sesquicentennial Living History Weekend for me.

Meanwhile, the Post did a lovely slide show of the events at Brawner’s farm here on Saturday, when the weather was much, much nicer.


As we have just emerged from the 150th of 2nd Manassas, a quick post relating to my family’s connection (in a sense) to that battleground, at 1st Manassas.

Above is a gentleman by the name of Sullivan Ballou, a major in the 2nd Rhode Island. He is well known among circles of teenage girls and older women alike thanks to his romantic, and sadly prophetic, letter he wrote to his wife before he died during 1st Manassas. Some of the letter goes as follows:

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

My sister, who is also a Civil War Buff, heard about this letter when she was studying the Civil War, and fell in love with it. And who’s to blame her?

We’re a tattoo family, and a Civil War family.

You can read Sullivan Ballou’s letter to his wife Sarah here on his Wiki page.

Tomorrow, I’m attending the 150th Antietam, which I’m super excited about, but I wanted to post on my experience at my first Civil War Round Table meeting last night:

First of all, I ended up deciding to go after approaching the President of the Bull Run CWRT at the 150th Ox Hill celebration. “Can I join?” I asked. “OF COURSE YOU CAN. We’re all so old! It does my heart good to see young people interested in the war.” So of course I went.

The speaker at last night’s meeting was Chuck Mauro, a independent historian who has written extensively on the Civil War in Northern Virginia (he described Fairfax as the DMZ during the war) including ‘A Southern Spy in Northern Virginia: The Civil War Album of Laura Ratcliffe’.His lecture was on the Battle of Ox Hill. Luckily, he was a very engaging speaker, which I was somewhat surprised about, since he started out by saying that he had planned his lecture around a series of maps (ugh, maps).

However, the maps worked. After explaining where things were on the maps as he went chronologically through the battle, he then flashed to pictures of what those same locations look like in modern day Fairfax (obviously, very different). Better still, the photographs were from 1996, so we could see even more the effect that 16 years of development had on those landmarks.

Here are some interesting facts I learned from Mr. Chuck Mauro that I did not previously know:

  • It was around this time that John Pope began to develop a harsher approach to warfare, and there was dissent in the Union Army over whether or not his policies were, well, appropriate. He urged his soldiers to live off the land, suggesting that they should only pay for goods if taken from loyalists to the Union, in other words, that if citizens sided with the CSA, their goods could be plundered freely. Another harsh order example, ‘if a Union soldier was fired at, the house from which that bullet was fired would be destroyed’ (paraphrasing). McClellan strongly opposed this type of warfare; he believed that detailed records be kept and that receipts be issued in all cases (regardless of loyalties).
  • After General Philip Kearny is killed, his body is taken by the Confederates. Robert E. Lee, who had fought with Kearny back in the Mexican War, sends his body and his sword back to his grieving wife along with a letter of condolence.
  • Clara Barton was waiting for many of the wounded Union men not too far down the road at Fairfax Station…
  • In 1883, a Confederate veteran and farmer named John Ballard is visited by Union soldiers going back to Ox Hill battlefield (on his land, I guess) to show him where the two generals fell. Ballard eventually donates a 50 x 100 ft plot of his land so that the Union soldiers coming to visit the battlefield had monuments in commemoration of their generals.

Something happened during the end of the round table during the Q&A session that kind of disheartened me, though.

This woman, who obviously had not been there before, raised her hand, and asked a question sort of like this one:

'I am 30 years old and this is the first time I've ever heard of a Civil War battle that happened in our area. I never learned about it in public schools here growing up and I was wondering if you guys are planning any sort of outreach.' (paraphrasing)

To be fair, this was not a question that Mr. Chuck Mauro could answer (some tried, ‘the state-issued curriculum hardly gives us time to teach…’/’they just don’t teach local history in schools, period.’), but he did answer it after some general response, “Well, that’s why we have Civil War Round tables.”

To this, people sort of laughed, because it was kind of a joke, but at the same time, I wonder. That woman was the 2nd youngest person in the room, I being the youngest (I assume).

Everyone in that room was incredibly passionate about their preservation work, their common interest, and there was clearly a great camaraderie, but everyone in that room was also mostly over 50. If they are truly interested in keeping their causes of preservation, 19th-century historical literacy, and an appreciation for the Civil War alive, then they best figure out an answer to that lady’s question, don’t you think? Shouldn’t that be the one of the main concerns for all Civil War organizations?

I can’t do it by myself, you guys.



The gentlemen in the photograph above, Love and Theft, had the number one song in country music back in August. It’s called Angel Eyes and you can listen to it here.

I started listening to mainstream country music only about 10 months ago. Bluegrass and Country made by the likes of Flatt and Scruggs and Hank Williams are more my style, but I do like me some pop music, and mainstream country these days is basically pop with twang.

For those of you who listen to country (I’ll stop calling it mainstream country like some sort of weirdo), you’ll know that many of the songs talk about having great pride in being from the ‘country’ (often the South), and the way of living is extolled (often mentioning prayer, southern food, honkey tonks/bonfires, etc). Songs such as Gretchen Wilson’s ‘Redneck Woman’, Jason Aldean’s ‘She’s Country’, Zac Brown’s ‘Chicken Fried’ are all good examples of this if you have no idea what I’m talking about and want to look up some lyrics.

Even though I listen to country music, I do not pretend like I’m southern. I mostly grew up in cities (I have lived in Tokyo, D.C. and Paris at points in my life), and even though technically my home base is Virginia, Country Culture is not my culture, although I do really enjoy the music.

Anyway - back to the song. The chorus of Angel Eyes goes like this:

There’s a little bit of devil in her angel eyes,
She’s a little bit of heaven with a wild side.
Got a rebel heart a country, mile wide
There’s a little bit of devil in her angel eyes.
A little bit of devil in her angel eyes.

This song, this chorus, NAY this line: “Got a rebel heart of country, mile wide.” The first time I heard it, I felt a little synapse fire in my brain. And a little twinge in my heart.

As someone who has never really had a home (my family moved every 2-4 years growing up), the idea of being Southern, being connected to the land you and your family were raised on, having tradition, a history - in a lot of ways, I wish I had these things.

More than that, the ‘rebel heart of country’ is obviously a wink in the direction to the culture of the Rebel South - not an explicit nod to the Confederacy, but a little flash of it. The song, and of course many songs and stories before it, have made the idea of being a southern rebel, especially a pretty southern rebel, romantic.

And yet I am conflicted. Thinking about the South in this context isn’t always healthy, or even honest.

I went to my first county concert not too long ago. A show with Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean, by all accounts a very good line up. As my sister and I and some friends were tailgating in the parking lot, we saw track after truck pull up with huge rebel flags on their trucks. I saw a bunch of girls with rebel flag bikini tops on too. To them, I’m sure the Rebel Flag just a symbol of ‘Being Southern’. But it isn’t.

The Rebel Flag was waved by students and demonstrators at rallies for Strom Thurmond, founder of the Dixiecrat party who held the longest, single man 24-hour long filibuster in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Strom Thurmond was notable for saying such things like, “All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, into our schools, our churches and our places of recreation and amusement.”

The fact of the matter is, regardless of what the Rebel Flag used to mean (it was just a battle flag for the South! That’s it!), in the 1960s, it took on a darker meaning that it still holds today.

Maybe my entire premise is wrong. Maybe there’s no unified sense of what”Southern” is, or to put it bluntly, maybe I’m not taking into account that fact that there are a whole lot of African Americans in the South too, and they certainly don’t fly the Rebel flag.


(The Stars and Bars behind a Kid Rock concert)

I am certain that not everyone who flies the flag does it with malicious intentions. Kid Rock, the artist in the picture above, has a bi-racial son! But I am also certain that people are incredibly offended by it, and for good reason. Not necessarily because some Southern states seceded because they were unable to bring their slaves into the territories (the flag doesn’t necessarily HAVE to be a symbol for that, even), but because in the mid-20th century the flag was used in not-so-innocent (i.e. racist) contexts.

I often hear people say that the flag is a symbol of heritage, of pride, and of history. But people who fly the Rebel flag should take both 19th AND 20th-century history into consideration before they do so.

Yesterday I went to the Battle of Cedar Creek up the Valley, as they say. It was a chilly day after apparently a bitter night on Saturday. This is the second Civil War battle reenactment that I’ve been to, and I must say it was far less stressful than Antietam. My blog post may have made Antietam 150th seem innocent enough, but the crowd was testy. A set of bleachers broke and people had to stand and there were some words exchanged over being able to see or not. One woman threw things at people who were in her field of vision when they wouldn’t move. Yeah - not pretty. Glad I didn’t pay $10 extra for the bleacher seats.

Anyway, back to Cedar Creek. Our story begins 148 years ago with the Union Army, who, on this foggy morning of October the 19th, are like sitting ducks. They are about to get positively creamed by the Confederates, lead by Lt. General Jubal Earley, who has been spying on them from a mountain and has seen their entire camp. This unsuspecting group of Yankees is under the command of Major General Philip Sheridan, currently absent due to a conference in Washington, D.C. He is on his way back west to his troops when the battle unfolds.

The twist? The Yankees won. Unlike this year-bahhhhhhhhh!

Click ‘Read More’ to see a play by play of the action with help from these reenactors.

Read More

Yesterday, I had the honor of marching behind the USCTs at the Remembrance Day parade held in Gettysburg on the 17th of November. Tomorrow is the 149th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, which is to be given by Steven Spielberg this year. They say that he and Daniel Day-Lewis were in Gettysburg the day of the parade, but I didn’t see them.

Anyway, here is the USCT contingent of the parade, which had members of the 1st, 3rd, (the 22nd?), 23rd, and 54th USCT units within it (although lead by the officers of the 3rd). Frederick Douglass is out front.

(The USCT Color Guard)

Not only was it my first time in uniform, but also my first time carrying a rifle musket for any extended period of time. And good lord, it was heavy. Luckily I was not in the rank and file so I did not have to drill according to an officer, so I could switch positions at will, which was a god send for my arms. I thought about all of the 12 year old boys that were fighting and had to carry guns, but my friends from the 23rd USCT pointed out that those boys would be used to doing farm work, so they were probably a lot stronger than I am!

Click to see more photos of the parade and of me as a soldier!

Read More


This episode of the Civil War tours, we provide a bit of context in the wake of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg. I speak to Chief Historian of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Military Park John Hennessy about what happened to the citizens of Fredricksburg, as well as to the Executive Director of the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust, Jerry Brent, about the difficulties of preservation.

Music Featured in episode: Rain and Snow//Obray Ramsey, Always Late//Lefty Frizzel, 1812 Quickstep as performed by The Carolina Fife and Drums.