Four forgotten Civil War battlefields

Civil War battlefields are some of the most popular tourist destinations in the U.S. The most famous battlefields, such as Gettysburg and Shiloh, attract hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. But there are many other battlefields that are just as interesting but little-known outside their local area. Here are four that any history buff will enjoy. You’ll notice all of them are west of the Mississippi River. After the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg fell on July 4, 1863, the Union gained control of the Mississippi, cutting the Confederacy in half. From then on the fight in the West was practically a separate war. It gets little press in comparison to the war in the East, but it’s just as interesting.

Lexington (September 13-20, 1861): September 1861 was a hopeful time for the Confederacy. General Sterling Price had defeated a large Union force at Wilson’s Creek in southwest Missouri and now marched through central Missouri gathering recruits. At the river town of Lexington he found a Union force under Col. James Mulligan defending the stone building of the Masonic College on a hill overlooking town. Mulligan had built earthworks all around the hill. Price’s inexperienced troops had trouble taking this tough position until they hit on the idea of lining up bales of hemp, the local cash crop, and rolling them uphill as a mobile wall. Bales of weed are apparently bulletproof and as the fort became hemmed in Mulligan had no choice but to surrender. This early rebel victory proved short lived, and soon Price had to retreat to Arkansas in the face of superior forces.

The Battle of Lexington State Historic Site has a good museum and remnants of the original earthworks. The town has many interesting old buildings. The courthouse has a cannonball lodged in one of its pillars!

Fort Davidson (September 27, 1864): By the autumn of 1864 the war was going badly for the Confederacy, especially in the West. Other than some raids and constant guerrilla activity, the rebels had been pushed out of Missouri and northern Arkansas. General Sterling Price hit upon a bold plan to march north out of Arkansas and take St. Louis just before the presidential election. This, he hoped, would make Lincoln lose, or at least take pressure off the beleaguered Confederates east of the Mississippi.

His first stop was Fort Davidson in the Arcadia Valley in southern Missouri. While some of his officers recommended bypassing the fort, Price wanted to give his troops an early boost in morale and capture supplies. The rebels charged across an open plain into withering musket fire and blasts of grapeshot. By the end of the day almost a thousand men lay dead around the fort, and the Union troops still held their ground. That night the defenders snuck out under cover of darkness, blew up the fort’s magazine, and slipped away into the night. This disastrous defeat so weakened and delayed Price’s army that he gave up trying to take St. Louis. His invasion became just another raid as he made a long loop through the state, ending in defeat at the Battle of Westport near Kansas City. Price’s invasion was the last major Confederate campaign west of the Mississippi.

Fort Davidson State Historic Site preserves the fort’s earthen ramparts and has an excellent museum about Price’s Raid.


Glorieta Pass (March 26-28, 1862): Throughout the war the Confederacy suffered from a naval blockade. The rebel army in Texas hoped that if they could take the sparsely defended Southwest they could march all the way to California. There they could exploit California’s gold mines and trade with the world with little interference from the Union. An army of about 2,500 hardy Texans and New Mexicans headed out. At first all went well and they captured several Union forts and towns, but waiting for them at Glorieta Pass in New Mexico was a determined force of local Unionists and soldiers from Colorado. The pass was narrow and restricted on both sides by steep slopes. The fighting raged over rugged terrain and the Confederates looked like they were going to finally force their way through the pass when they discovered all of their supply wagons and horses had been destroyed by some Colorado troops who had climbed over the mountains and snuck behind the rebel position. The Confederates had no choice but to retreat in a grueling, thirsty slog back to Texas. The dreams of a Confederacy stretching from sea to shining sea died at the “Gettysburg of the West.”

The battlefield is part of the Pecos National Historical Park and can only be visited as part of a park ranger guided tour. That’s a good thing, because the rangers really know their stuff and will point all the important spots.

Picacho Pass (April 15, 1862): During the Confederate campaign in New Mexico a small detachment of 54 Texans rode to Tucson and claimed it for the Confederacy. A Union column of 2,350 cavalry set out from California to take it back along with the rest of the Southwest. As they approached Tucson, a dozen cavalrymen and a scout ranged ahead to see what the rebels were doing. Fifty miles northwest of town they came across ten rebels camped at Picacho Pass, a towering mesa overlooking the northwestern approach to Tucson. There was a brief firefight in which three Union soldiers were killed and three wounded. Three rebels were captured and two were wounded. Considering the small size of the forces involved, in terms of percentages this was one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War! The rebels hurried back to Tucson to tell their commander that the Union army was on the way, and they retreated to Texas. The Battle of Picacho Pass is considered by many to be the westernmost battle of the Civil War.

Picacho Peak State Park is a fun day trip from Tucson or Phoenix. There’s nothing to see from the actual battle, but you can clamber up the peak and look out over a sweeping view of the Arizona desert, marred by the nearby Central Arizona Project and Interstate 10. The park has an annual reenactment.

Do you have a favorite, lesser-known battlefield? Tell us about it in the comments section!

The Western will never die at Old Tucson Studios

The Old West was a place where there were gunfights on every street, the bank got robbed every day, and every saloon was filled with girls dancing the can-can.

Well, actually it wasn’t, but that’s the way it seems from the movies, and a lot of those movies were filmed at Old Tucson Studios.

Located a short drive west of Tucson, Old Tucson Studios is the perfect place to film a Western. There’s an entire recreated Western town there surrounded by Arizona desert, with the Tucson and Catalina Mountains providing a scenic backdrop. Oh, and the sunsets are more beautiful than anything you’ll ever see on the screen.

The main attraction at the studios is the town itself, which has provided a backdrop for seventy years of films. Movie buffs will be in a constant state of deja-vu. Wasn’t that saloon in The Outlaw Josie Wales? Isn’t that the ranch from Bonanza? In case you’re having trouble playing Spot-The-Set, there’s a seventieth anniversary exhibit on right now showing never-before-seen production stills from some of the many films that used Old Tucson Studios. A preview video can be seen here. Some of the employees are really knowledgeable, so you might want to go on one of the historical tours.

There’s plenty going on too. Costumed performers rob the bank, there are gunfights full of stunts, and even magic shows and train rides. It’s all a bit hokey, but that’s part of the fun. Kids love it.

Unfortunately there was a bad fire in 1995 that destroyed many of the buildings and irreplaceable movie history, but there’s still plenty left to give you a good dose of movie nostalgia. So saddle up and ride down to Tucson, and while you’re there you might want to see some more of the Old West attractions southern Arizona has to offer, such as the ghost towns, the Saguaro National Monument, and the Old Spanish Trail. Tune in next time when I’ll be talking about Tombstone, a real Wild West town.

Destination spas hard up for guests, slashing prices

Upscale spas may not be accustomed to offering deep discounts, but the current economic situation has left them little choice. As a result, you’ll be able to take advantage of some fantastic deals and go to spas that might be out of reach otherwise. Live like the wealthy (used to) for a few days.

For the top shops in the spa business, the International Spa Association (ISPA) says that visits are down and shorter, and the people who are coming are spending less. Day spa trips are becoming more common than destination alternatives, which has kicked the industry into “survival mode.”

To bring more spa-regulars – and first-timers – in the door, several spas around the country are going to extraordinary lengths. The Lake Austin Spa Resort in Texas is offering a third and fourth night free for guests booking two nights (arriving on Sunday). Reservations must be made before October 15, 2009 for trips to be taken by the end of the year. Miraval Resort, outside Tucson, Arizona, has a $275 daily special (per person) through October 14 that includes almost everything (except spa treatments and taxes). And, Canyon Ranch, also near Tucson, is offering 15 percent off an all-inclusive package for first-time guests visiting by December 23. Visit between November 29 and December 23, and you could pick up a 30 percent discount.

Looking to make your first destination spa trip? Now is clearly the time to do it.

Chattanooga, Portsmouth among top art destinations in the U.S.

Who thought that Tennessee and New Hampshire would be some of the top towns in the country for art lovers. AmericanStyle magazine just issued the results of its twelfth annual arts destinations poll. Some spots are predictable. Others, like Chattanooga, will just blow your mind.

This is the first year Chattanooga made the list, shooting all the way up to second in the mid-sized city category. If you’ve been there, some of the surprise wears off. I hit Chattanooga back in 1999, and it was turning into a pretty cool small city. The past decade, obviously, has treated the city well. More shocking is the top mid-sized city: Buffalo, NY.

At the top of the small city list, Santa Fe is an utterly predictable #1 – like New York in the big city category. Portsmouth, NH, toward the bottom of the small city list, is a sentimental favorite. I had my first real job in Portsmouth and drank away many a Friday and Saturday (and Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday) night on its sidewalks.

See the full lists after the jump.Big Cities (population of 500,000 or more)

  1. New York, NY
  2. Chicago, IL
  3. Washington, DC
  4. San Francisco, CA
  5. Albuquerque, NM
  6. Boston, MA
  7. Seattle, WA
  8. Atlanta, GA
  9. Philadelphia, PA
  10. Los Angeles, CA
  11. Portland, OR
  12. Baltimore, MD
  13. Denver, CO
  14. Phoenix, AZ
  15. Austin, TX
  16. Charlotte, NC
  17. Columbus, OH
  18. Nashville, TN
  19. San Diego, CA
  20. Tucson, AZ
  21. San Antonio, TX
  22. Las Vegas, NV
  23. Milwaukee, WI
  24. Dallas, TX
  25. Houston, TX

Mid-Sized Cities (population of 100,000 to 499,000)

  1. Buffalo, NY
  2. Chattanooga, TN
  3. Pittsburgh, PA
  4. Scottsdale, AZ
  5. New Orleans, LA
  6. Charleston, SC
  7. Savannah, GA
  8. Cleveland, OH
  9. Ann Arbor, MI
  10. Minneapolis, MN
  11. Alexandria, VA
  12. Miami, FL
  13. Tacoma, WA
  14. St. Louis, MO
  15. Athens, GA
  16. Kansas City, MO
  17. Colorado Springs, MO
  18. Providence, RI
  19. Salt Lake City, UT
  20. Honolulu, HI
  21. Rochester, NY
  22. St. Petersburg, FL
  23. Cincinnati, OH
  24. Raleigh, NC
  25. Tampa, FL

Small Cities (population of below 100,000)

  1. Santa Fe, NM
  2. Asheville, NC
  3. Sedona, AZ
  4. Taos, NM
  5. Saugatuck, MI
  6. Key West, FL
  7. Berkeley Springs, WV
  8. Boulder, CO
  9. Carmel, CA
  10. Corning, NY
  11. Sarasota, FL
  12. Beaufort, SC
  13. Chapel Hill, NC
  14. Burlington, VT
  15. Annapolis, MD
  16. Aspen, CO
  17. Laguna Beach, CA
  18. Northampton, MA
  19. Eureka Springs, AR
  20. Brattleboro, VT
  21. New Hope, PA
  22. Naples, FL
  23. Cumberland, MD
  24. Berea, KY
  25. Portsmouth, NH

Tucson international airport, international no more

In another “sign of the times”, Tucson international airport is about to lose its last remaining scheduled international flight.

Aeromexico had been flying the Tucson – Hermosillo route since the 80’s, making the trip 4 times a week.

The irony of the situation is that the final international flight will depart the same day the new Tucson international terminal is scheduled to open.

What the loss of this sole international flight means for the airport is unknown, but it is just another episode leading to what the WSJ Journal calls “terminal illness”.

Many smaller airports around the country are losing flights, and some carriers are abandoning smaller regional airports completely.

When your airport relies on a handful of flight operations each day, the loss of just a couple of them could be catastrophic. Airports have pumped Billions into terminal renovations in recent years, and some airports have even resorted to paying departing passengers cash incentives to pick their location over more popular airports.

The combination of a poor economy, high fuel prices (for the airlines) and a general decline in air travel will probably mean we’ll see more airports close parts of their terminal buildings while they wait for things to pick up again, or for new carriers to give them a chance. What this means to us, is that those living in smaller towns may have to make an extra connection, or drive to a different airport. Either way, it’s all pretty depressing.

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