Thursday, July 24, 2014

Passing Through the Old Stomping Grounds, July 1864

Following Jubal Early's defeat at the gates of Washington in July 1864, the Army of the Potomac's VI Corps pursued the Confederates westward to the Shenandoah Valley. Among the Union ranks were men who had spent the first winter of the war at Camp Griffin near Lewinsville, Virginia. They belonged to various units, including the 5th Wisconsin, 7th Maine, 43rd New York, 49th New York, 49th Pennsylvania, and 77th New York, as well as the famed First Vermont Brigade. My ancestor, Pvt. William Baumgarten of Co. K, 102nd Pennsylvania also marched with them. He had only joined the army in March 1864, but had already seen his share of horrific combat during the Overland Campaign.

A stereoscopic view of the 43rd N.Y. at Camp Griffin (courtesy of Wikipedia).

July 20-21, 1864: The Valley to Goose Creek

After suffering defeat at Rutherford's Farm on July 20, Early withdrew up the Valley to Fisher's Hill. The Federal commander, Gen. Horatio Wright, considered the Confederate threat eliminated and ordered the VI Corps and the rest of his force to return to Washington. There the Union soldiers could rest, resupply, and await further orders. (OR, 1:37:2, 419-20.)

Gen. Horatio Wright took command of the VI Corps following Gen. John Sedgwick's death at Spotsylvania (courtesy of Wikipedia). He led his men to the defense of Washington and battled Early at Ft. Stevens.


The VI Corps, along with elements of the XIX Corps, set out during the evening of July 20 from their position near Berryville. The Second Division, including William and the 102nd Pennsylvania, took the lead position in the VI Corps' line of march. [1] Headquarters directed that "[t]he troops will be made to understand that their rations must last them until they reach Washington." (OR, 1:37:2, 406.) After wading across the Shenandoah River, the men pressed on through Snicker's Gap and marched the entire night in wet clothes, taking "brief halts for coffee." (Benedict 492.)

As the sun rose over the Northern Virginia countryside, the columns continued to snake along the turnpike. The tired men of the the 49th Pennsylvania decided to stop in Hamilton for breakfast. According to one diarist from the regiment, "the citizens waved the stars and stripes as we passed through the little village; our bands played and our colors were unfurled." (in Westbrook 213.)

In the afternoon the VI Corps marched through Leesburg and halted near Goose Creek. Here the soldiers rested their sore feet and camped for the night. Those lagging behind on the march were not so fortunate. As the diarist from the 49th Pennsylvania wrote that day, "[John] Mosby is reported in the rear, gobbling up stragglers." (in Westbrook 213.)

July 22, 1864: Goose Creek to Difficult Run & Environs

The wagon train got underway at 4 a.m. on July 22, followed by the VI Corps and the XIX Corps. The day's route took the troops along the Leesburg-Alexandria Turnpike (today's VA-7). Seeking to protect his columns, Wright ordered that "[t]he cavalry under Colonel [Charles Russell] Lowell. . . be kept well out to the front, flanks, and rear, and endeavor to break up the guerrilla parties in the line of march." (OR, 1:37:2, 412.)

The divisions filed past Dranesville, where the Lees burg-Alexandria Turnpike intersected the Leesburg-Georgetown Turnpike (today's VA-193). Both roads led towards Washington. To avoid any confusion among his commanders, Wright made clear in his orders that the two corps were to continue on the Leesburg-Alexandria Turnpike.  

After another long march through heat and dust, the Federal force halted for the night in the vicinity of Difficult Creek. Some of the troops progressed as far as Freedom Hill and Peach Grove Post-Office (today's Tysons Corner) before setting up camp.

July 23-26, 1864: Lewinsville, Langley, and Beyond

The next day, July 23, followed a similar pattern. The two corps began their march around 4 a.m. Before long, they would enter the tiny hamlet of Lewinsville (part of today's McLean). Their route took them past the battlefields where some of the men had fought J.E.B. Stuart in September 1861. They also moved over the very ground once occupied by Camp Griffin. Some of these soldiers had lived here during winter 1861-62 as part of Gen. William F. "Baldy" Smith's division. The diarist from the 49th Pennsylvania observed a few differences from those early days:
 [O]ld Camp Griffin has been changed into contraband farms, and our old parade ground is growing a crop of corn. . . . (in Westbrook 213.) [2]
Union Army map showing Lewinsville and vicinity (courtesy of Library of Congress). Wright's men took the road from Peach Grove P.O. (far left), through Lewinsville (center), to Langley (far right). There the VI and XIX Corps picked up the Leesburg-Georgetown Turnpike to Chain Bridge. Camp Griffin sat on the Mackall, Johnston, and Smoot properties and the surrounding land. Living in this area, I am moved to think that 150 years ago, my ancestor was marching past my very neighborhood on his way to Chain Bridge. How the world is small, even across time!
Wilbur Fisk of the 2nd Vermont even located his former campsite. As he wrote in a letter on August 8, 1864:
There was the same excavation that we had made for the floor of our tent, the same fire-place and chimney and the same log basement. There was my old bedstead made of barrel staves nailed to two poles, and there was my old stool, which I remember used always to be in the other boys' way and which was always a reproach upon my woeful lack of ingenuity. I found too, the identical cup which has served me with coffee many times -- a good one once, but now rusty and half filled with dirt; and there were many other things that I saw around that little spot, uninteresting to others though quite interesting to me. . . . .  An eventful  season of war and strife has passed since we left that ground, and many that were with us then have been laid low by rebel hands; but peace comes not yet. Our regiment was full and strong when it left Camp Griffin, but not one-tenth of those men are with us now. (in Rosenblatt 243-44.)
Continuing along the pike beyond Langley, the VI Corps headed in the direction of Chain Bridge. Some of the men entered familiar territory once again -- on the high ground near the bridge was where soldiers under Gen. Smith had established Camp Advance and started construction of defensive works in September 1861.

Proceeding down a steep hill, Wright's corps reached Chain Bridge, crossed the Potomac, and halted in a rough line stretching from from Battery Vermont to Fort Gaines and Tennallytown. The general immediately took steps to ensure that his corps received adequate supplies. He urged his commanders to "have the wants of their men supplied as rapidly as practicable." (OR, 1:37:2, 425.)

In the end, Wright spent very little time around Tennallytown. Instead of returning to the front before Petersburg, he was dispatched to deal with a new threat from Early. By the morning of July 26, the men were once again on the move. They broke camp and marched that day to Rockville. The campaign against Early was entering a new and prolonged phase.

Postscript

The march of the VI Corps through Lewinsville and Langley was a bittersweet homecoming for some. By summer of 1864, the war had taken a terrible toll, and many soldiers never lived to see the old campgrounds for a second time. Others had left the ranks due to wounds, disease, or the end of enlistment. The survivors also looked upon a landscape that had undergone a revolutionary transformation. In place of picket lines, drills, and military parades were contrabands, marking the transition from slavery to freedom. A return to the "stomping grounds" of 1861-62 symbolized just how far the war had progressed since those early days of relative calm and innocence, before the massive bloodletting and the fight for emancipation.

Notes

[1] Incidentally, William received a head wound in skirmishing around Snicker's Gap a few days before and may possibly have made the trip by ambulance. The exact timing and circumstances of William's wounding is somewhat uncertain based on available sources.

[2] By summer 1864, the contraband farm, Camp Wadsworth, sat on land where Camp Griffin was once located. (See my post here for more information.) Camp Beckwith, another contraband farm, sat north of the village of Lewinsville.


Sources

George Grenville Benedict, Vermont in the Civil War, Vol. 1 (1886); Butler County PAGenWeb, "Genealogical Inquiries" (contains excerpt on Wm. Baumgarten from 1889 book, Presidents, Soldiers and Statesmen, Vol. 1); John H. Niebaum, History of the Pittsburgh Washington Infantry: 102nd (Old 13th) Regiment Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers and Its Forebears, 1792 to 1930 (1931); Official Records, 1:37:1, 406-457 & 1:37:2, 272 et seq.; Emil & Ruth Rosenblatt, Hard Marching Every Day: The Civil War Letters of Private Wilbur Fisk (1992 ed.); Robert Westbrook, History of the 49th Pennsylvania Volunteers (1897).

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

An Excursion to Ft. Ward for the 150th of Early's Raid on Washington

Last week marked the 150th anniversary of the Confederate raid on Washington. The National Park Service and local governments hosted a multitude of events to commemorate Gen. Jubal Early's daring advance into Maryland, his victory at Monocacy, and his failed attack on Ft. Stevens. I have been pretty busy recently, so I wasn't sure what, if anything, I could attend.  That said, I managed to find some time this past Sunday to go with my twin boys to the Ft. Ward Museum and Historic Site in Alexandria, which was holding a living history weekend to observe the Sesquicentennial of the Battle of Ft. Stevens. The fort is one of my all time favorite Civil War sites in the Washington area. I've seen a lot of living history events these past few years, but this one promised some great photo-ops and featured a concert by the renowned Federal City Brass Band. My boys also like the place as much as I do, and I thought they'd enjoy seeing and learning a few things about the Civil War while Mom was away at a meeting.

The camp of Co. K, 3rd U.S. Infantry, just outside the reconstructed gate of Ft. Ward.
The boys meet President Lincoln and Mary Todd.  Given that Old Abe personally observed the Battle of Ft. Stevens, I suppose you could say that his attendance at the event was a prerequisite!
Stacked rifles of Co. F, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry.
A view of the camp of Thompson's Independent Battery C near Ft. Ward's reconstructed northwest bastion. The howitzer seen here is usually positioned on an emplacement inside the bastion, but was moved to make way for a firing replica used in Saturday's reenactment of the Battle of Ft. Stevens.
Thompson's Battery's very own Parrott gun and limber inside the fort's northwest bastion.
Looking at the interior of the reconstructed northwest bastion. I never get tired of this site -- no other place related to the Defenses of Washington can compare!

Union reenactors from the 3rd U.S. Infantry held a skirmish drill on the museum's lawn.  Here, an officer explains the maneuvers to the crowd.
The reconstructed officers' hut at the fort was open for viewing. 
One of the exhibits at the event featured Civil War railroads. The living historian is pictured here with his collection of Civil War-era railroad relics such as spikes and link and pin coupling.
Jack enjoys the assortment of 19th century toys, including a cup-and-ball and Jacob's ladder.
The Federal City Brass Band plays on the lawn in front of the Ft. Ward Museum building. At the start of the concert, the group struck up Hail to the Chief  as Lincoln and the First Lady took their seats at the front of the audience. The group performed a wide array of patriotic tunes, including Battle Cry of Freedom and Yankee Doodle. The sound of period brass instruments on a hot summer day carried me right back to 19th century America.

All told, the commemorative event at Ft. Ward was a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon in a picture-perfect, family-friendly setting. The museum did a commendable job of putting together an informative living history program, and I am sure that Saturday's reenactment of the attack on Ft. Stevens brought the battle alive for many. Such events go a long way to helping the public connect to and understand the Civil War, including my own very curious preschoolers!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Putting a Face to a Name

This past March I confirmed my own family connection to the Civil War when I was contacted by one Katie Baumgarten, who had come across my blog while doing her own genealogical research. Thanks to Katie, I learned that I was related to Pvt. William Baumgarten of Co. K, 102nd Pennsylvania. If you read this blog on a regular basis, you may have seen my earlier posts about William. I've also started using Facebook and Twitter to retrace William's steps 150 years ago to the day. As I've said before, I am not sure of William's exact relationship to my part of the family line, but I think that he was either a cousin or brother of my Great Great Grandfather John Baumgarten.

Katie had earlier sent me a photo of William later in life. In that picture, he is seated with his brother, Reinhard. I still had no clue as to what young William looked like during the Civil War. I could only squint at that one photograph and imagine William many years before.  However, when doing some research on Ancestry.com, I checked out Katie's family tree. I was excited to discover the following photograph of William in uniform!:
(Courtesy of Katie Baumgarten)

The photograph contains one oddity -- the label about William's wounding appears incorrect. According to my research, William was wounded at Snicker's Gap (July 18, 1864), Third Winchester (September 19, 1864), and Fisher's Hill (September 22, 1864). At some point in the fall of 1864 he was sent to Satterlee General Hospital in Philadelphia to recover for several months prior to discharge from service in June 1865.

I informed Katie about the apparent discrepancy. She told me that her grandfather maintained the old photo album containing this picture and that he may have gotten his facts wrong. In any event, I hope to figure out why the photograph states a wounding date of November 24, 1864.

Until earlier this year, I had no confirmation of my personal tie to the Civil War. And now, after only a few months, I am fortunate enough to have a wartime portrait of my ancestor. I can actually see William as I read about the movements of the 102nd Pennsylvania. Needless to say, a copy of the photograph will soon occupy a cherished place on my office wall.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Odds and Ends, June 2014

That time of the year has arrived once again. I am soon off to the Bay State for my family's annual pilgrimage, meaning that I will be on vacation from the blog for a little while. I plan to fit in some antebellum and Civil War-related sightseeing while I am away and promise to report back upon my return. As always, I will remain active on Facebook and Twitter as much as I can. In the meantime, here are a few odds and ends:

*The Sesquicentennial of Jubal Early's raid on Washington is fast approaching. In that vein, there are a myriad of activities being planned at the federal and local level:
The Monocacy National Battlefield will mark the 150th of the  "Battle that saved Washington" from July 5-13. Activities include "real time" walking tours, living history demonstrations, and a "Remembrance of the Fallen" program. Additional information can be found here
The Civil War Defenses of Washington unit of the National Park Service (NPS) will be commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Ft. Stevens, where President Lincoln himself came under fire. Highlights include walks and lectures, a hike in the nation's capital from Battery Kemble to Ft. Stevens, living history encampments, and a memorial program at Battlefield National Cemetery. See here for a full schedule. This flyer from the NPS lists numerous other commemorative activities in the Washington, DC area.  
One of my favorite local Civil War parks, Ft. Ward Museum & Historic Site, is hosting a "Battle of Fort Stevens Reenactment Weekend." Groups representing Union and Confederate regiments will recreate the engagement at the reconstructed northwest bastion of Ft. Ward, which will serve as a stand-in for Ft. Stevens. More details can be found here, on the museum website.
Modern view of restored portion of Ft. Stevens (courtesy of Wikipedia). The marker in front of the guns commemorates Lincoln's visit to the fort. 

*Readers may recall that I have recently written about the appointment of Lydia T. Atkinson to serve as a teacher at the contraband camp in Langley. (See here and here.) The Friends' Association for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen decided to send her to Camp Wadsworth upon finding egregious violations of rules governing labor by school-age children. Last month I discovered that the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College has Atkinson's diary from her time in Northern Virginia. I wrote to obtain copies and just received excepts on Monday. Needless to say, I am ecstatic. Atkinson's words shed some light into life at Camp Wadsworth from summer 1864 through the end of the war. I will be featuring a future post of two on the diary once I have had the opportunity to study and analyze this precious primary resource.

*And last but not least, I'd like to wish everyone a Happy Fourth of July!


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

An Afternoon at the Langley Ordinary

This past Saturday I had the pleasure of visiting the Langley Ordinary and participating in a living history event on the lawn outside of the historic home. Since starting All Not So Quiet Along the Potomac, I've featured the Langley Ordinary in several posts. The dwelling sits not more than a mile and a half from my home in McLean.

George F.M. Walters built the Ordinary in 1850, or at some point between 1856-61, depending on the source. Gen. George A. McCall, head of the Pennsylvania Reserves, established his divisional headquarters there in October 1861. After McCall left Langley with the Reserves in March 1862, the Union Army took over the building for use as a hospital.

Owner Doug DeLuca of Federal Home Co., and his business partner, Matt Bronczek, helped to save the Langley Ordinary from almost certain destruction. At the time that Doug bought the property, the structure was riddled with mold and water damage. Three days before closing in 2011, two large trees fell on the house and crashed through the attic and second floor ceiling. (See here.) Doug and Matt worked tirelessly to restore and renovate the house. Thanks to their efforts, the Langley Ordinary survives.

The restored Langley Ordinary sits along Georgetown Pike (VA-193) near the intersection with Chain Bridge Rd. The property, along with a few others, forms part of the Langley Fork Historic District in McLean, Virginia.
This past Saturday Doug hosted a book signing for Mary Randolph Carter's Never Stop to Think...Do I Have a Place for This? The lavishly illustrated book, which focuses on home decorating with antiques and heirlooms, features the Langley Ordinary. Doug invited my friend Keith Foote and other reenactors from Cooper's Battery B, 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery to provide a living history demonstration on the grounds of the Ordinary. The choice of the unit made a lot of sense. Attached to McCall's division as part of the 14th Pennsylvania Reserves, the battery was quartered at Camp Pierpont in Langley during the first winter of the war along with the rest of the Reserves. Their camp site sat along the Leesburg-Georgetown Turnpike, not far from the Ordinary.

Keith asked if I would like to attend the event at the Ordinary with his reenactment group. I gladly accepted his invitation, and on Saturday afternoon Keith dropped off a uniform for me. Dressed as an artillery corporal (a promotion already?), I headed off to the Langley Ordinary to help with the living history side of the event. This was my first time doing any type of reenacting, unless you count those summer days as a kid when I ran around with plastic guns playing war.

A view from the front porch of the Ordinary. As I stood here, I imagined the Union officers and enlisted men who once walked across this very spot over 150 years ago.

I had a chance to walk through the Langley Ordinary during my time there on Saturday. The above picture is a view of the library. Doug has decorated his home with numerous pieces of Americana, including the portraits of Lincoln and Washington seen here.

The stairwell at the Langley Ordinary. Doug preserved much of the original flooring throughout the house.
A view of the attic, which likely served as sick ward for Union soldiers from nearby posts. 
The walls and ceilings of the Langley Ordinary are dotted with graffiti from occupants, Union soldiers, and other visitors. Most of the inscriptions in the attic (seen here) date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Other graffiti was lost when trees fell on the roof of the Ordinary. 
Acting as the No. 5 man on the gun crew, I advance the round to the No. 2 man in preparation for firing.
The crew fires the replica 10-pounder Parrott. Langley had not heard such sounds for well over 150 years. All told, the crew fired four blank rounds for the benefit of the guests at Doug's event.
The gun crew poses in front of Langley Ordinary. I am standing to the far left in the first row. Keith Foote is just to my left.
All told, I had a great time at the Langley Ordinary on Saturday. Thanks to the owner's hospitality, I was finally able to walk around a historic residence that I have written so much about. Participating in a living history demonstration with Keith and the other members of Cooper's Battery was an added bonus. I also enjoyed chatting with the reenactors and local residents about the Civil War history of McLean. It just goes to show that you don't always need to go more than a few miles from home to have a rewarding historical experience.

Sources & Notes

Harry English, "The Langley Ordinary," Echoes of History, Vol. 1-5, 1970 (on file with author); Scott Sowers, "Restoring ‘Langley Ordinary’ a project of passion for builder Doug DeLuca," Washington Post, June 27, 2013; Scott Trompeter, "Local Builders Restore, Modernize Antebellum Langley Ordinary," Inside NOVA, May 1, 2013.

Doug has put the Langley Ordinary up for sale. Information about purchasing the property can be found here.

Keith has written a history of Cooper's Battery entitled "Mark the Lines of Your Weary Marches." A signed copy can be purchased for $30 plus shipping. Contact Keith at parafeet@hotmail.com or at 570-975-5034.