MISSISSIPPI: Cannons Draw Visitors to Siege of Vicksburg Commemoration

VICKSBURG, Miss. — A program commemorating the 151st anniversary of the Civil War Siege of Vicksburg drew hundreds to the Vicksburg National Military Park over the weekend.

Saturday’s event included park rangers and volunteers, dressed in full Union uniform. The Vicksburg Post reports that the event also included demonstrations of cannon firings throughout the day.

Siege of Vicksburg--13, 15, & 17 Corps, Commanded by Gen. U.S. Grant, assisted by the Navy under Admiral Porter--Surrender, July 4, 1863, by Kurz and Allison

Siege of Vicksburg–13, 15, & 17 Corps, Commanded by Gen. U.S. Grant, assisted by the Navy under Admiral Porter–Surrender, July 4, 1863, by Kurz and Allison

Sam Hsu is a photographer from Dallas who wanted to take his daughter to the park after their vacation in Pensacola. It was Hsu’s first time witnessing a demonstration with a live cannon firing and he praised the rangers’ demonstrations.

“That was wonderful. I’ve never seen a muzzleloader shot before,” Hsu said.

Visitors also were able to tour the Shirley House, the only pre-Civil War structure still standing in the battlefield unit of the Vicksburg Military Park.

Wayne Hembach and his wife, who have been driving their RV cross-country from New York to Colorado, decided to stop at the park for the reenactment. Hembach’s great-grandfather fought in the Battle of Gettysburg and he came to Vicksburg to see if any of his family played a hand in the siege.

“My grandparents were wounded over there in Gettysburg. I’m trying to get background on them,” Hembach said. “I don’t know if they ever made Vicksburg. They were in the Pennsylvania regiment. It’s just interesting following it back, and I’m trying to find out if they were actually here or just in Gettysburg.”


VIRGINIA: Three New Civil War Highway Markers Approved

Highway markers in Fairfax County, Petersburg and Charlottesville commemorating a site or an event in the Civil War have been approved by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, continuing a statewide program begun in 1927 to identify historic locations.

In Fairfax County, a “Fields of Fire” marker will denote the area where the Union XII Corps camped early in the Gettysburg campaign. On June 17, 1863, the extreme heat of the day—99 degrees in the shade—forced commanders to halt the march northward at 11 a.m. Adding to the soldiers’ misery was “the dry old grass of the fields and woods got on fire, and filled the air with smoke and additional heat,” according to First Division commander Brig. Gen. Alpheus S. Williams. It will be located just north of the intersection of Water Falls Lane and Hunter Mill Road.

Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain is the subject of a new marker in Petersburg that commemorates the place where, as the sign states, he was “Promoted ‘on the spot,’” by Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to Brig. Gen. of Volunteers for ‘gallant conduct.’”

Chamberlain had received a near-fatal wound at that location as he led a Union brigade against Confederate works defending Petersburg. The marker will be located at the corner of East South Boulevard and Warren Street.

In Charlottesville, the Greek revival style mansion named Enderly will have a sign designating it as the home of William F. Gordon Jr. during the 1860s. Gordon served as a clerk in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1859 to 1865 and was the person who delivered a copy of Virginia’s Ordinance of Secession to Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Montgomery, Ala. He also served in the 19th Virginia Infantry. The sign will be placed at 603 Watson Avenue.

The cost of manufacturing each new highway marker is covered by its sponsor.

–Washington Post


GEORGIA: Chickamauga Ghosts Still Roam Battlefield

The ghosts are there. You just have to look hard enough.

You can see them standing in the tree line and hiding behind rocks. You can see them walking the battlefield the way they did 151 years ago. You can see them sitting and standing next to the huge, sometimes garish, monuments carved to honor what they did.

And if you squint really hard, you can probably still see the terror in their eyes.

This romanticized painting by Thomas Mast shows the moment when Lt. George Van Pelt's battery was overrun by Confederates at the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863. Van Pelt, from Coldwater, was killed during the battle. / Courtesy Chicago Historical Society

This romanticized painting by Thomas Mast shows the moment when Lt. George Van Pelt’s battery was overrun by Confederates at the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863. Van Pelt, from Coldwater, was killed during the battle. / Courtesy Chicago Historical Society

So the ghosts are everywhere, of that I’m convinced.

The Chickamauga National Military Park on the Georgia-Tennessee border, among the best-preserved and most-informative parks devoted to the Civil War, chronicles one of the bloodiest battles of the war.

Unfortunately that phrase has lost a good deal of meaning over the years since every battlefield site wants to claim it was one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.

But Chickamauga really was. Fought in late August and early September of 1863, it was ostensibly a Confederate victory that went unexploited as they drove Northern troops back through Chattanooga and back toward Lookout Mountain in Tennessee.

Two months later, under the command of Ulysses Grant, the Federals beat the Confederates in the so-called “Battle Above the Clouds” at Lookout Mountain, chasing the Confederates out of Georgia for the war’s duration.

A year later, with Georgia open to the Federals, Gen. William Sherman destroyed Atlanta and began his infamous march to the sea that would seal the South’s doom.

At the Battle of Chickamauga, named for a small creek outside town, it has been reported that the Federals lost nearly 1,700 dead, another 10,000 wounded and almost 5,000 missing. The Confederates suffered more than 16,000 casualties, (killed, wounded and missing) which was nearly a third of its force.

The park is beautifully maintained with an informative and detailed driving tour. But the key is to see the half-hour film in the pristine visitor’s center that must be viewed before any tour, just to understand what, and perhaps why, the battle happened.

Two soldiers are featured in the film — Confederate Lt. Joshua Callaway from Alabama and Union Lt. George Van Pelt from Coldwater, Michigan.

Van Pelt was the commander of the 1st Michigan Light Artillery, Battery A, and one of hundreds of Michigan soldiers in the campaign.

There are monuments all over the battlefield celebrating units on both sides. There are sites that show where key skirmishes were held and where key soldiers fell.

And there’s a monument for the 1st Michigan Light Artillery, Battery A, which held its ground longer than many Union units before being overrun by the Confederates. That’s where Van Pelt was killed — run through with a bayonet, according to the film.

Callaway, with a wife and small child at home, was killed the next day.

My lifelong interest in the Civil War has never been as much about strategies and battles as it has been about the ghosts and what they have to say.

What would George Van Pelt have said about being so far from home fighting for reasons that may very well have eluded him?

Did he join because he wanted to preserve the Union? Did he join to fight against slavery? Did he join, like so many others, because it sounded like a great adventure?

In the woods outside Chickamauga, did he know his days were numbered? Had he long ago reconciled in his mind that dying on the battlefield for a just cause was about the best any man could hope for?

Today, historians believe more than 750,000 men died in the Civil War, a significant increase from earlier estimates. And each one of them has a story.

What would George Van Pelt have done with his life? Would he have returned to Coldwater and resume a life that suddenly seemed all-too ordinary? Would he have gone on to true greatness and be celebrated for his stand at Chickamauga?

Every American, at some time, should visit the ever-shrinking number of Civil War battlefields, if for no other reason than to realize in ways we’re still understanding that war ultimately saved us as a nation.

I’m convinced George Van Pelt’s ghost still roams the hills and woods of Chickamauga. Maybe he’s still defending his battery or perhaps he’s standing by the monument bearing his unit’s name waiting for reinforcement. Maybe he’s just trying to get home.

But he is there and always will be.

And maybe that’s the way it was always supposed to be.

–Chuck Carlson, Battle Creek Enquirer