Civil War Sesquicentennial events: where to learn what’s on

Civil WarAs the nation continues to commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, an increasing number of reenactments, special exhibitions, lectures, and living history demonstrations are taking place. There are so many that it’s hard to know what’s going on when! Two websites will keep you informed of upcoming events.

Civil War Traveler bills itself as “your headquarters for 150th anniversary information” and it sure delivers. Broken down by state, it gives travel information and maps to all of the major, and many minor, historic landmarks. The events section gives a rundown of what’s coming up. Civil War Traveler also acts as a clearinghouse for state and local tourism agencies. If you fill out their online form telling which regions you’re interested in, you’ll get information from several sources in your mailbox.

Civil War News covers some of the same ground as Civil War Traveler, with a searchable calendar covering events. This site goes beyond travel to cover issues such as battlefield preservation and goings-on in the reenactment community. Some news stories are free, and the full bimonthly issues are available by subscription.

The Sesquicentennial has led to a wealth of blogs of the “this day in history” style. The best I’ve seen is the Civil War Daily Gazette, which is one of the only blogs I read on a daily basis. It’s addictive. See you in the comments section!

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Civil War Battle of Pea Ridge to be reenacted

Battle of Pea Ridge
One of the most important Civil War battles west of the Mississippi is going to be reenacted next month.

The Battle of Pea Ridge was fought from March 6-8, 1862, in northwestern Arkansas. In the first year of the war, Union forces had pushed most rebel forces out of Missouri. Now they moved into Arkansas and slammed right into a Confederate army on its way north to try to regain their losses. In a bloody battle involving some 26,000 soldiers, more than 3,000 men were killed or injured, including three Confederate generals killed. The Union army decisively defeated the rebels. This ended any serious chance for the rebels to take Missouri and was the first step toward the Union capture of Little Rock the following year.

One interesting aspect of the battle was the multiethnic nature of the two sides. Half the Union soldiers were German immigrants, some of whom didn’t speak English. The Confederate side included about 800 Native American troops from various tribes.

The Battle of Pea Ridge’s 150th Anniversary will be held on the weekend of March 9-11 and will include a mock cavalry fight, a concert of period music, guided hikes of the battlefield, lectures, artillery and rifle fire demonstrations, and encampments where you can see how the soldiers of both sides lived. Events will take place both at the Pea Ridge National Military Park and in the nearby town of Bentonville.

Image courtesy Library of Congress.

Civil War reenactor injured in groin by his horse

Civil WarTwo Civil War reenactors were injured yesterday preparing for a reenactment of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.

One man playing a Confederate cavalryman got pinned under his horse, while a Union cavalryman got injured when his horse stepped on his groin. Exactly how he got into a position where his horse could do that is unclear. Both were given medical attention but neither was thought to be seriously hurt.

The Battle of Wilson’s Creek was the first major Civil War battle west of the Mississippi. A Confederate army was menacing Springfield and a smaller Union force attacked the rebel camp on the morning of August 10. The Union army was defeated and its general, Nathaniel Lyon, was killed. Both sides suffered heavy losses.

Frank James, brother of Jesse James, fought on the Confederate side in this battle. He and his brother later became rebel guerrillas before ending up as famous outlaws.

Missouri had already been the scene of several small battles and skirmishes, including the Battle of Boonville, the first truly important battle of the Civil War.

A reenactment of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek will take place today through Sunday near Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Civil War’s first land battle to be reenacted in West Virginia

Civil War, Battle of Philippi, West VirginiaToday is the 150th anniversary of the first land battle of the Civil War.

After the April 12 attack on Fort Sumter kicked off the Civil War, there was a lull while both sides got ready. Some scattered skirmishes took place that had few casualties and no importance, but on 3 June 1861, the town of Philippi, in what’s now West Virginia, became the scene for the first big fight.

Philippi stood next to an important bridge and railroad line desired by both armies. The Confederates had made it there first with 800-1000 raw recruits, many of whom were unarmed. A Union force of 3,000 regular soldiers went after them. They came upon Philippi early in the morning in a pincer movement in the hope of surrounding the rebels. One of the pincers made it to the bridge first and found the rebel pickets asleep in their tents, hiding out from the cold rain. The Union force opened fire on the main camp and the rebels retreated after only a few minutes.

At this point they should have been cut off by the second pincer, but this Union column hadn’t made it to the right spot in time and most of the rebels got away. Only four Union soldiers were wounded and there were 26 rebel casualties.This early victory helped the career of Maj. Gen. George McClellan, the regional Union commander. After a few more little victories he became commander of all Union armies. Western Virginia, with its rugged mountains and small farms, had few slaves and the population was mostly Unionist or neutral, while the rest of Virginia depended heavily on the slave economy and therefore supported the South. West Virginia separated from the rest of Virginia and became a Union state in 1863, right in the middle of the war.

Philippi is commemorating the battle with five days of events, including a reenactment of the battle, talks, living history demonstrations, traditional music and crafts, and even a reenactment of a battlefield amputation. If anyone is going to this last event, please send me a photo to post on Gadling!

The Philippi reenactment starts a long series of events sponsored by the West Virginia Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission.

While the Philippi Races can claim to be the first land battle of the Civil War, the Boonville Races, more properly known as the Battle of Boonville, Missouri, was the first significant battle of the war. This equally easy Union victory on June 17 secured the Missouri River and went a long way to securing the entire state for the North.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Reenacting the Civil War’s first important battle

Civil War, Missouri, Trans-Mississippi Civil War
The Civil War started early in Missouri. In 1854 fighting flared up over whether the neighboring Kansas Territory would become a slave state. Pro-slavery Missourians raided Kansas to kill and intimidate abolitionists, and Kansans raided Missouri, killing slave owners and liberating slaves.

When the first official shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter on 12 April 1861, Missouri was already prepared for an all-out fight, yet nobody knew which side it would take. While Missouri’s legislature and much of its population supported the South, its large German-American population and many of its cities and towns were Unionist.

The Confederates made the first move. The secessionist State Guard camped on the edge of St. Louis, supposedly for their annual drill but really planning on taking the Federal arsenal. The local Federal commander, a hotheaded professional soldier named Capt. Nathaniel Lyon, gathered several units of soldiers, surrounded the State Guard camp, and forced them to surrender. The move caused a riot in the city in which one soldier and 27 civilians died. It looked like the war was on.

%Gallery-124755%Then everyone hesitated. Leaders from both sides met in St. Louis to try to salvage the situation. Heading the rebel delegation was Sterling Price, commander of the State Guard, and Claiborne Fox Jackson, Missouri’s governor. The Union delegation made the mistake of bringing Lyon along. The devoted abolitionist had no illusions about the possibility of peace. He shouted at the Confederates that he’d rather kill every man, woman, and child in Missouri rather than have the state dictate terms to the Federal government.

That was that. Price and Jackson took a train from St. Louis west to the state capital at Jefferson City in the center of the state, but decided there were too many abolitionist German immigrants in town for comfort. They decided to gather their forces at Boonville, a prosperous, and secessionist, town 50 miles west on the Missouri river. Soon state militiamen and excited farm boys were rallying to the cause in Boonville, ready to fight the Yankees.

Lyon and 2,000 troops arrived at Jefferson City on June 15 to find the rebellious state government had fled to Boonville. They set out to meet them in a flotilla of steamboats.

While the rebels should have been led by Sterling Price, he came down with a bout of cholera and was home stinking up the outhouse. Command fell to Col. John Sappington Marmaduke, Governor Jackson’s nephew, who had resigned his commission in the U.S. Army in order to throw his lot in with the Confederacy. Marmaduke didn’t want to fight. His “army” numbered about 1,500. Few had any training and only about a third of them were armed. Yet Governor Jackson insisted they make a stand. He feared a retreat would lead to the disintegration of their nascent army.

On the morning of June 17, Lyon landed about seven miles east of Boonville with 1,500 men. Marmaduke, alerted to the danger, marched about 500 of his men to the top of a long ridge four miles east of Boonville. The terrain was good, with a wheat field to hide his inferior numbers, and a house to hide sharpshooters in.

Lyon’s professional troops, accompanied by a battery of cannon, marched along the river road towards town. Soon rebel pickets fired at them, then quickly withdrew in the face of such a large force. The Union troops soon found themselves facing the long, low hill atop which Marmaduke and his men waited. Lyon ordered the cannon unlimbered and the battery sent shot after shot onto the ridge as the Union infantry slowly advanced.

Gritting their teeth and trying to ignore the cannonballs whirring through the air around them, the rebels shot at the advancing troops. Their untrained fire proved inaccurate, and the Union ranks moved resolutely forward. Their artillery knocked two holes into the wall of the house, forcing the rebels inside to run. Marmaduke ordered a general retreat.

A few Confederates made a second line on the top of another hill. Once again the two sides poured fire at each other, and once again Union discipline and marksmanship took their toll. The rebels retreated once more, this time in complete disarray. Accounts vary, but it seems that there were about a dozen casualties on either side.

The first Union victory in Missouri had taken only twenty minutes. The Confederates ran so fast both sides ended up calling it the “Boonville Races.”

The Battle of Boonville had a significance far out of proportion to its size. The Union now controlled the Missouri River, which cut from west to east through the center of the state. The northern counties never got to organize in support of the Confederacy. The river also kept open a vital Federal supply line to Kansas. If the Confederates had been able to hold onto it, Kansas and the loyal territories to the west would have been nearly cut off. While the Confederates continued to fight for Missouri, the prosperous state with its industry and agriculture was never under any serious threat of falling into their hands.

Although there were a few little skirmishes before this like those at Philippi, West Virginia, and Bethel Church, Virginia, the Battle of Boonville was the first battle to have an effect on the outcome of the war.

Now to celebrate its 150th anniversary, the Battle of Boonville will be refought. from June 17-19 there will be reenactments, talks, and living history demonstrations. I’ve been to several reenactments in Missouri and the folks that do them really know their history and put on a great show. If you’re in the area, be sure to mark your calendar.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]