My interest in Civil War battlefield came quite accidentally.
I've always enjoyed history. I started college with a history major, although I changed my major in my freshman year when the college courses I took didn't have something I was looking for. I found that "something" in cultural anthropology, but my interest in history remains.
Back in the 1980's, I lived in Arkansas. My trip to work five days a week took me right past an Arkansas state park that commemorated a Civil War battle, the Battle of Prairie Grove. One day, my spouse and I visited Prairie Grove State Park just because it was there. We had passed it so many times, we just wanted to see what it was all about.
Each September, they had an excellent crafts show there called the Clothesline Fair.
But that was the extent of my involvement with Prairie Grove State Park
The second battlefield was near a highway also traveled on to get to my employment - Cane Hill. All I knew of it at the time was a marker along Arkansas Highway 45. I only got to see the actual battlefield last year. There is no park, but historical plaques are now here and there.
The third battlefield was in Virginia, and was the one that ignited my interest in visiting battlefields - Spotsylvania Court House. I have no photos - my visit predated digital photography and are in an album somewhere needing to be scanned. But what I do have is my memories, as we commemorate the 150th anniversary of this terrible battle, May 8-21, 1864.
There is an area on the battlefield called the Bloody Angle, where a twenty hour sub-battle at close quarters was fought in pouring rain on May 12-13, 1864. It was the longest sustained hand to hand combat of the Civil War. In a Smithsonian museum in Washington, DC, the stump remains of what was once a mighty oak tree that fell as night descended is on display. The tree, felled by artillery and small arms fire in the unrelenting fighting, injured several Confederates as it fell.
At the end of the two week battle, 43 men had won the Medal of Honor. Five generals were killed or mortally wounded. One, John Sedgwick, had a major street in the Bronx named after him, near where I went to high school and college. I also lived for several years in Sedgwick County, Kansas, which is also named after him. And years later, we visited the battlefield where so many people - some 20,000 plus dead, wounded, missing, captured - fell.
As my spouse and I walked along the Bloody Angle, we felt an...energy, a....something. Perhaps the spirit of massive death in a small space. Perhaps, the fortifications that still remain helped us feel something of what happened that day. We have felt this feeling at other battlefields since.
But Spotsylvania Court House was our first.