Preservation Group Wants To Save Civil War Battlefield

Civil War
Wikimedia Commons “Cavalry Charge Near Brandy Station, Virginia,” a drawing by Edwin Forbes, 1864

A preservation group is trying to protect the site of the largest cavalry battle in North America.

The Civil War Trust has announced it has nearly reached its $3.6 million goal to preserve 56 acres of the site of the Battle of Brandy Station. The plot includes Fleetwood Hill, which was the center of the battle and the location of the Confederate headquarters.

On June 9, 1863, Union cavalry crossed the Rappahannock River and attacked the Confederate cavalry under the legendary general J.E.B. Stuart. A swirling battle of some 20,000 horsemen ensued and while the Union troops eventually retired, they had proven themselves. Before this, both sides saw the rebel cavalry as superior. The Battle of Brandy Station began to change that perception.

The Trust’s press release quotes historian Clark “Bud” Hall as saying that Fleetwood Hill is “without question the most fought over, camped upon and marched over real estate in the entire United States. This unpretentious little ridge has seen more military activity than any other piece of ground in American history.”

The Civil War Trust only needs to raise another $193,000 and they have matching funds from the American Battlefield Protection Program and the Commonwealth of Virginia. Donations can be made here. Considering the site’s historic importance, it’s certainly a better way to donate money than supporting someone’s Kickstarter vacation.

Otranto Cathedral: Where You Can See The Remains Of Catholicism’s Newest Saints

Otranto Cathedral
Pope Francis has beatified a long list of religious figures in the first creation of saints of his papacy, the Guardian reports. Included in this list are the 813 Martyrs of Otranto. These were victims of a massacre in the southern Italian town in 1480 when Ottoman soldiers beheaded them for refusing to convert to Islam.

It was common in Medieval and Renaissance Europe to display the remains of martyrs and saints, and the Martyrs of Otranto were no exception. They are on display in a huge ossuary in the Cathedral of Otranto. It’s a fitting home since many Otranto residents took shelter in the cathedral during the Ottoman attack on their city. Eventually, the Ottomans broke in, took away the people and turned the cathedral into a stable. The cathedral was reconsecrated the following year when the Italians recaptured Otranto.

The cathedral, first consecrated in 1088, has more to offer than the arresting sight of hundreds of bones stacked up on a wall. The floor is covered with one of the most impressive medieval mosaics in Europe – a complex 12th-century work of art showing Biblical scenes, Heaven, Hell and the Garden of Eden. There are also traces of early frescoes on the wall, a gilded ceiling and some fine Gothic tracery.

Some of the remains of the Martyrs of Otranto are kept in Santa Caterina a Formiello in Naples. Italy is one of the best countries to see bits of holy people from the past. There are numerous saints’ relics in Rome, including a crypt of mummified monks. The city even has a Purgatory Museum. The Basilica of Mary Magdalene at Vézelay, France, has Mary’s bones. Further east in Sozopol, Bulgaria, is a church with the bones of John the Baptist.

[Photo courtesy Laurent Massoptier]

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Gettysburg’s American Civil War Wax Museum Is For Sale

Civil WarA favorite destination in America’s most famous Civil War battlefield faces an uncertain future as its owners are retiring and putting the building up for sale.

The American Civil War Wax Museum at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was opened in 1962 and is selling for $1.7 million, the Evening Sun reports. Being a popular tourist attraction, the current owners say they are confident someone will buy it and keep it open.

The museum features more than 300 life-sized wax figures like these of Confederate Generals Joseph Johnston and Robert E. Lee shown here courtesy Flickr user cliff1066. Many of the figures are arranged into scenes of important moments in the Civil War.

In addition to the museum and a large gift shop, visitors can see reenactors demonstrating Civil War-era weapons and equipment most weekends from April through October.

Remarkably, the museum was founded by a Polish immigrant named C.M. Uberman, who moved to the United States shortly after World War II. This demonstrates the fascination this era of American history has for people all around the world. Here in Spain, history buffs ask me about the Civil War more than all other periods of American history combined. Hopefully if they make it to Gettysburg they’ll find the American Civil War Wax Museum alive and well.

Napoleonic Wars Refought In Spain

Spain, Napoleonic Wars
The second of May is a date that every Spaniard knows. In 1808 on that date, the Spanish people rose up against Napoleon and started a long struggle to kick his troops out of the country. They’d been occupied the year before when Spain’s weak king had foolishly allowed French troops march through his territory to invade Portugal. Napoleon, being Napoleon, decided to keep both countries.

The Peninsular War, as it was called, was long and bloody. At first the Spaniards were outmatched, but they developed an effective guerrilla war that stymied the invaders. In fact the term guerrilla (“little war”) originated in this conflict. The English moved in to help and in 1814 their combined forces kicked Napoleon’s troops back into France.

All across Spain in the first week of May, communities hold festivals to commemorate battles and celebrate local heroes. Here in Cantabria in northern Spain, the municipality of Camargo holds a reenactment in honor of Pedro Velarde y Santillán, an artillery captain who was born in the town and died heroically on the first day of the uprising.

Camargo is a small place that most foreigners and even locals miss. We’ve lived ten minutes away from it for a year and we had to look up how to get there. Despite this obscurity, they put on a good show. A big street fair sold food and local crafts. Strangely there was French cheese and wine for sale, a rarity in a country with enough excellent cheese and wine that there’s no need for imports. I suppose it was in the spirit of the occasion.

%Gallery-187602%Modern and traditional stalls sat side by side. Kids took burro rides while their parents looked through traditional clothing or modern trinkets made by local craftsmen. A local Moroccan restaurant had even set up a tea stall and hookah stand. Why not? Some Moroccans ended up in both armies. I wasn’t too happy to see a mother let her 10-year-old boy take a toke from a hooka, though. You should keep dangerous, addictive drugs like tobacco away from children.

In a nearby park reenactors portraying Spanish and French troops drilled and answered questions from curious onlookers, while a fencing master gave sword-fighting tips to the kids. Soon the reenactors marched into town, firing off their flintlock muskets with an ear-splitting roar. French cavalrymen rode around the crowd shouting to the Spaniards that they were going to occupy the country forever and sleep with all the women. The Spaniards called them “sons of whores.” All in good fun.

So if you’re passing through Spain in early May, keep an eye out for one of these festivals. There’s an especially big one in Madrid, which was the flashpoint of the uprising, but you can find them in most regions, even in little towns like Camargo that you’ve never heard of.

[Photo by Sean McLachlan]

Civil War Nevada: Commemorating The Fight For The Far West

Civil War Nevada
When we think of the Civil War, Nevada isn’t the first state that generally comes to mind, yet the conflict between North and South had as much of an impact there as it did in Pennsylvania or Virginia.

At the start of the war Nevada was a territory and its sentiments mostly for the Union. Its main contribution to the war effort was the plentiful supply of silver from its mines, but some 1,200 of its men volunteered for the Union. In May, 1863, they formed the 1st Battalion Nevada Volunteer Cavalry. The next summer, the 1st Battalion Nevada Volunteer Infantry was formed.

There were no battles between blue and gray in the territory. Instead the men guarded outposts and stagecoach routes, fought Native American tribes, and freed up other troops to fight the war to the east. Some men decided they wanted to see more of the action and headed east to join the Union or Confederate army.

President Lincoln, eager to get more votes in the difficult 1864 election, granted Nevada statehood that year even though it was well below the population requirements. As he predicted, Nevada voted for Lincoln.

The 150th Anniversary of the formation of the 1st Battalion, Nevada Volunteer Cavalry, will be commemorated in Virginia City, Nevada, May 25-27. A reenactor camp and battle will be staged, along with other living history demonstrations and a special temporary museum exhibit dedicated to the history of Civil War Nevada.

For more information see the Civil War Nevada Sesquicentennial Page.

[Photo courtesy Suzette Eder]