Monday, March 13, 2017

Chickamauga Study Group Weekend

OH...IO - The Ohio monument at the Cravens House on Lookout Mountain
Last weekend saw another edition of the Chickamauga Study group, hosted by Dave Powell and Jim Ogden.  I have talked about the study group previously so I will not delve into the details of how that weekend functions, but the amount of Civil War talk always sparks many ideas about what else I (and others) could be doing.  More on that in a moment.

The weekend really started on Wednesday as I arrived at the Cravens House on Lookout Mountain shortly before noon and met up with fellow study group members Andy and Bill.  We walked the trail from Cravens up to Point Park and explored the area's various markers, monuments, and tablets.  Bill had not been to this area, and it has been years since I was last at Point Park, and the weather was excellent for battlefield tramping.  From there we had a late lunch at the Chattanooga Brewing Company (not a bad joint for a good beer and a bite), and then headed down to Fort Olgethorpe to check into our motel.

Bill at Point Park

Historic Pickett's Mill Road
Thursday we drove south to Pickett's Mill State Park, site of one of the numerous Atlanta Campaign battles.  Author Brad Butkovich guided a small group through the woods and up and down ravines, giving us one heck of a perspective of the battle.  If you ever want to study Pickett's Mill, Brad is the guy to guide you.  The state park is in excellent condition, the trails (some of the historic roads) are well marked, and the visitor's center has solid displays and a good selection of related books.

The Cravens House
On Friday the study group headed to Resaca for the bus tour portion of the weekend.  I personally wanted to spend more time in the Chattanooga area as there is so much there to explore, and Resaca, which would have been an interesting trip, is just not on my radar at the moment.  So I skipped the bus portion this year and headed to Signal Mountain for some hiking.  The weather kept threatening rain, so I only explored a few miles of trails, then headed to the Cravens House area again.  By this time the clouds had dissipated and the day turned out to be another excellent day for being outdoors.  After nosing around the Craven House area, I headed to the National Cemetery, and stopped at Orchard Knob.  I had never taken the time to see the cemetery, and wow, what an impressive place.  Might have had something to do with the beautiful weather, the view of Lookout Mountain, and the flag flying at half mast, but it was a moving experience, and I wanted to see the Andrews Raid monument.  The boys from the 21st and 33rd Ohio are well represented.

Andrews Raid monument with Lookout Mountain in the distance

I met back up with the study group that evening for a round table-like discussion.  Headed by Ogden, Powell, and park ranger and author Lee White, it is a chance for the group to ask deeper questions than what we typically do while touring.

Saturday dawned cool and clear, but the cool turned to cold and the clear turned into solid gray skies as we knocked out the walking portion of the tour.  The morning was focused on Breckenridge's repulse from Kelly Field, with a lot of talk on Stoval's and Adams' Brigades, and there was a bit of talk on two of my favorite regiments, the 9th and 35th Ohio.  The afternoon walk was part of Longstreet's breakthrough, and a discussion on the order that moved Wood's Division out of line.  It was indeed a cold day, but the precipitation stayed at bay, and at least we didn't add wet conditions to the cold air.

Each evening a small group of us gathered in one of our motel rooms for our nightly bull sessions.  While mostly focused on Civil War topics, the chatter can turn quickly into either Cubs baseball or the Little Big Horn in a New York minute.  It is during these bull sessions that we gain some insight as to what Dave is working on for his next book project (can't wait for Chattanooga!) or some of the happenings at the park.  We also are building some great friendships that lead to other trips together (such as our recent Heiman, Henry, and Donelson excursion).  This is also where a lot of ideas are tossed about, including the Perryville study group idea....

I have previously mentioned trying to do a study group at Perryville.  While I do believe it is a great idea, it also has to have local support, and I am just not convinced that local support could be garnered in such a way to make a study group a successful annual event.  However, perhaps instead of complaining about the lack of local support, maybe it is time to drive this idea forward and try to establish relationships to create such an event....

Monday, February 20, 2017

Heiman, Henry, and Donelson...Oh My!

I spent a long weekend in western Kentucky and north Tennessee, exploring the forts and battles that make up the Henry/Donelson Campaign.  Joining me were three gents from the Chickamauga group - my fellow battlefield tramper Andy from Missouri, author Dave Powell, and Chicago's own Pat Mac.  Andy is the chap who brought his Civil War round table out to Perryville last year for a tour hosted by yours truly.   Having traveled with these gents in one form or another, I knew this would be an enjoyable experience, and one that would allow a more in-depth view of the campaign.  I wasn't to be disappointed.

I met Andy at Columbus-Belmont State Park, which overlooks the Mississippi River directly across from the battle of Belmont site.  This was my first visit to this area and this park, and for a state park Columbus-Belmont is a neat little visit.  One pretty much has to want to go there as it isn't exactly close to an interstate, but it is worth the effort.  The view alone is fantastic, the earthworks, whether original or not, are impressive.  Old Bishop Polk spent a lot of time and effort, wasted time and effort for the most part, turning Columbus into the "Gibraltar of the West" instead of perhaps training his troops, countering Federal thrusts more readily, and in general, creating a true deterrent.  Regardless, even though Columbus has some artillery incorrectly named (5 pound Parrott?), it is a nice site to explore and understand this part of the Henry-Donelson Campaign.

Example of the extensive earthworks at Columbus
The site of the Battle of Belmont from the Kentucky side of the river

32 pounder
On our way to Murray, where our hotel was located, we stopped at Southern Red's Bar-B-Que.  It is in a hamlet...really, about six to nine buildings along a state highway, in the middle of nowhere...in an old gas station with a less than appealing exterior.  Don't let that stop you from enjoying some excellent barbecue.  I got a half slab of ribs with a couple of sides, and that half slab was HUGE and quite good.  And no common sodas at Red's...RC Cola was the soda of choice on their fountain.  Great little dive joint.

We pushed on into Murray where we checked into the quaint Murray Plaza Lodge.  This old time roadside motel has about thirty rooms and is obviously an old school (pre-interstate) motel.  But it was rated very well on hotels.com and I can see why.  The rooms aren't necessarily super modern, but super clean and comfortable, with the standard amenities one expects from a motel.  Owned and operated locally, it made an affordable HQ for our forays into Henry and Donelson.  After checking in Andy and I headed to Fort Heiman, which I had never seen.  It is now a property of the Fort Donelson National Battlefield.  It is another place you want to have to go to as it is a few minutes and a few turns from the state highway out of Murray, but it does have some good views of the Tennessee River (now Kentucky Lake) and some excellent earthworks.

Small portion of earthworks at Heiman
View of Henry area from Heiman from heights above
Can you see Fort Henry?  Maybe with scuba gear!
Dave joined us in Murray that night, and we grabbed a bite, well, Andy and I went along as we were both still stuffed from our late rib lunch, at The Keg, a hopping joint north of the Murray State campus.  Good draught beer list to boot.

The next morning we ate breakfast at another local icon, Martha's.  Good food, good service, good way to start a day of battlefield tramping.

Dave had not been to Heiman either, so we made another stop on our way to explore the Henry area.  After spending some time at Heiman, we headed to Henry, and spent a couple of confusing hours trying to find the Henry interpretive panel that is shown in the 2011 Blue and Gray Magazine issue on Donelson.  We didn't find the panel, even though we thought we followed the directions correctly, but did stumble on an old interpretive trail that has mostly fallen out of use.

Ummm, just where is that interpretive panel again?

Example of signage from old interpretive trail
From Henry we drove the back roads and followed the Confederate retreat from Henry to Donelson, checking out the crossings of Standing Rock Creek, passing Jack Hinson's homestead, and then rolling into Dover and the National Park's temporary visitor's center.  We checked with the ranger there about the old interpretive trail at Henry, but he was a newer addition to the park and wasn't aware of that trail, but he did help us figure out where to go to see the Henry interpretive panel.

We grabbed lunch at Mama Mea's, a joint next to the temporary center, and enjoyed a solid local lunch (they have a ton of options on their menu).  After lunch we headed to the Dover Hotel, which Dave has never been inside as each visit he had made in the past found the place closed.  The ranger assured us it was open, promising a much improved newer movie was in place, and upon pulling into the parking lot and seeing the sign on the door confirming this fact, we tried the door, only to find it locked!  Denied!

The Dover Hotel
After our failed attempt we moved in the core park proper and went to the batteries as well as checking out the area of Smith's Federal division.  It was a gorgeous day to visit these areas, especially with late afternoon sun and mild temperatures.  We headed back to Murray (after a side trip to a little visited tablet on the north side of Hickman Creek) and took in a meal and some great adult beverages at Tap 216, an excellent gastro pub near the campus.  After dinner we returned to the motel and had our first bull session of the weekend, something that we always do at Chickamauga, which is mostly chatting about various Civil War topics (and a few others).

This view never gets old
Can you tell the barrel is plastic?
Saturday morning dawned overcast and rainy, and Pat came into town to join us for a day of walking the Donelson battlefield after breakfast at Martha's.  We went to the Graves' battery site, and walked the trail down the steep hill into the valley in which Indian Creek flows.  A climb up to Maney's battery position led us to a rarely visited portion of the park as no park road accesses this area.  We dropped down once again, this time into Erin Hollow, and then climbed the steepest hill to French's battery,  Walking this mile or so between the battery sites and looking at Smith's area the night before really provides that terrain perspective that one needs to understand the topography of any battle. 

Graves' Battery

Earthworks, of which there were many on our morning walk

Climbing up to Maney's Battery from Indian Creek
Maney's Battery position...needs an artillery piece
The meeting of the minds in Erin Hollow - l to r: Andy, Dave, and Pat
We headed to the Dover Hotel to check its status and this time it was indeed open!  We went back to the batteries where we not only enjoyed the view but also noticed a bald eagle on the large tree near the river battery.  We headed to the visitor's center again, lunched at Mama Mea's, then went to go walk the Dudley Hill to Wynn's Ferry positions.  For both our hikes we staged cars, so we walked from Dudley's Hill to the last tablets along Wynn's Ferry Road, covering the Federal positions and the Confederate advance.  Exploring this area, mostly by walking along roads, was a new experience for all of us, and added once again to our understanding of the breakout.  The park doesn't put this area as part of their driving tour, which I think is a shame as it really adds to the overall Donelson story.  There are a few tablets in this area that help a bit with troop positions and movement, and I venture that few casual visitors to the park see these tablets.

Artsy shot
Andy and Pat discussing the correct pronunciation of CarondaLET


Part of the Dudley Hill mass
One of the several War Department-like tablets along Wynn's Ferry Road
We stopped at the Forrest breakout area, and spent a few solemn moments at the National Cemetery, before heading back to town and a meal at The Keg.  The food was good, but alas, even though it is a non-smoking joint until later in the evening, they were folks smoking in there,  YUCK!  Another bull session, this one lasting a bit later in the evening, and then to bed.  I personally headed out of Murray by 7:30 a.m. and arrived back in Cincinnati by early afternoon.  

As Fort Donelson is the closest national battlefield to my home (by thirty minutes then Chickamauga), I do plan to make perhaps a yearly sojourn to the park.  There is some park history I would like to understand plus I want to photograph and gps each tablet on the battlefield.  The park doesn't mention the tablets on their materials, and I think if folks like me knew there was more to see the park might see a slight increase in deranged battlefield visitors.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

CBF - A Website and Online Membership

I really wanted to get this task tackled sooner, but holidays along with new job with a new schedule really kept me from working on the Cynthiana Battlefields Foundation website that I had started putting together last summer.  But, with a bit of focus last week I was able to put the (mostly) finishing touches on the new web home of the CBF.  And the site does have the ability for new members to join online and securely pay using PayPal (which in turn accepts credit cards).

There are several levels of membership to choose from, and one can also donate additional amount using our Hobson, Burbridge, and Morgan donation choices.

Please take a few moments and head on over to the website and become a member today!

Cynthiana Battlefields Foundation

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