Sunday, May 18, 2014

Civil War Sunday - Feeling a Battlefield

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.

8 comments:

  1. It is fascinating how our interests in various topics come about. Do you have a Civil War site checklist of places of interest around the country that you want to explore?

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    1. Yes, I do have a checklist of sorts (including Mine Creek in Kansas, whose 150th is in October) but, due to a personal situation, I may not be doing extensive travel for a while. And, there's so much closer to my upstate New York home.

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  2. For those of us who live along the east coast, especially the mid-Atlantic, it can be easy to forget all the many battles fought during the Civil War that were not in and around Washington, DC, VA, MD, and PA. Thanks so much for mentioning Arkansas!

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    1. There is a LOT of Civil War history off the "beaten track" of Virginia/West Virginia/Maryland/DC/Pennsylvania. I'm glad I discovered some of it when I lived in Arkansas. I've also been to a major Civil War battlefield in Missouri and it was quite the experience.

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  3. I'm a history buff and actual just think about how the civil war change our country. And it still changing.
    Coffee is on

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    1. I believe that, in many ways, our country is still fighting the Civil War. It's just beneath the surface but sometimes it comes out into the open.

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  4. I always love reading your historical blog posts Alana; I feel like I've learned something new each time I read them.
    I'd never heard of 'Bloody Angle' ....until now!

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  5. Amazing that a tree was felled by so much firing. The link didn't work but am going to try to google it. Glad you took the time to discover the park you drove by daily! I am guilty of not seeing as much as I should that is in my own area!

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