A Detour to Cowpens

Cowpens Cow Pasture
The sign at the first pull-off left me underwhelmed. Fortunately, my impression of the battlefield got better and better.

I know we’re getting close to the Cowpens battlefield when we pass Redcoat Drive and then Tory Trail. Unfortunately, my GPS takes us to the maintenance shed rather than the visitor center, but the park’s signage finally manages to get us where we need to go.

I know nothing about the battle of Cowpens, but my colleague Rob Orrison has strongly recommended I visit the battlefield. It involves some of the most colorful characters of the war, he tells me: Daniel Morgan and Banastre Tarleton. “The battle changed the course of the war in the Carolinas, in my humble opinion,” Rob adds.

That seems like a pretty ringing endorsement to me. My son and I, on our way back from Atlanta, decide to make the hop off I-85 for a visit. Continue reading “A Detour to Cowpens”

Standing in the Room Where American Was Born

Indep Hall WindowAs I stood in Independence Hall, in the room where the Founders debated the Declaration of Independence, I suddenly started thinking of the opening scene from the musical 1776, when John Adams cries for independence while everyone else complains about either the heat or the flies. “Won’t somebody open up a window?” one of the delegates pleads. “Too many flies!” others respond, shouting him down. Adams is advocating the most lofty of ideas but everyone else is mired in their own personal discomfort. What a great metaphor.

To stand in that room where Adams and the other delegates worked was a privilege. The tour group consisted of 50 people or so, so there was no opportunity for quiet reflection. There was no sublime, transcendent moment of awe or epiphany. The tour guide could not even tell me which table Adams sat at except “toward the back over here somewhere.”  Continue reading “Standing in the Room Where American Was Born”

A Visit to Moores Creek

Moores Creek-trail mapThe Moores Creek battlefield manages to look simultaneously well manicured and primordial. Encompassing only 87 acres, it’s a landscape from before the dinosaurs that happens to have a rubberized pathway winding through its tall, thin pines.

Tucked away in a forest some 22 miles northwest of Wilmington, North Carolina, the battlefield sits along a darkwater creek that spills its banks into even darker patches of swamp. This is Moores Creek itself, where, in February 1776, Patriots and Loyalists squared off with muskets, broadswords, and a pair of cannons. (And, yes, I did say “broadswords.”) Continue reading “A Visit to Moores Creek”

Charleston’s Horn Work Offers Glimpse Into the Walled City’s Colonial Fortifications

Charleston Horn Work.JPGIn Charleston’s Marion Square, an odd chunk of limestone, sand, and oyster shells sits inside a wrought-iron fence just beyond the normal boundaries of the weekend market. While shoppers buy their weekly produce or shop for gifts, the food court along King Street tempts them with just about anything you can image. Someone usually plays live music on the park-side of the market—and there, nearby, sits the hunk of rock. Continue reading “Charleston’s Horn Work Offers Glimpse Into the Walled City’s Colonial Fortifications”

A Stop at Newtown

Newtown-BritishSpring has not get touched the tree-covered hills to the east of Elmira, New York, but the Chemung River sparkles in quiet anticipation as it flows between them. The Newtown Battlefield State Park won’t open for another few days or so—it operates seasonally May through October—but I have stopped nonetheless to see what might be here.

“I am very apprehensive our Expedition will not appear in History,” wrote Lt. Obadiah Gore, Jr., of the Continental Army.

And indeed Gore’s worries seem to have played out just that way. I know almost nothing about this Revolutionary War battle, although I have driven by the battlefield for decades. In fact, for two full years not so long ago, as I was doing my Ph.D. at Binghamton University, I drove through the battlefield four times a week on my way from and to Saint Bonaventure University, where I work. I really need to stop sometime, I kept telling myself.

For years, the old State Route 17 passed through the battlefield with little more than a sign telling motorists they were passing through and an arrow pointing up a road that could have been someone’s driveway. The expansion of Route 17 into Interstate 86 now gives motorists the chance to whisk right on by even faster, giving even less notice, despite signs that still say I am passing through.

But today, I’m finally stopping. Continue reading “A Stop at Newtown”

The Ruins of Russellborough

Russellborough SignRussellborough doesn’t look like much now, but once upon a time, these ruins were one of the nicest homes along the North Carolina coast. Now, its spaciousness comes from the cavernous pavilion that protects the houses’ remains.

By the outline of stone and brick on the excavated ground, though, the house must have once been quite impressive. The stump of a stone fireplaces rise from the edge of the far foundation. A round brick cylinder marks the location of an indoor well. The house apparently had a secret passage that allowed residents to escape trouble, too. Continue reading “The Ruins of Russellborough”

The “Valley Forge” Winter of the Army of the Potomac

Layout 1Emerging Revolutionary War is pleased to present an excerpt from the forthcoming book Seizing Destiny: The Army of the Potomac’s ‘Valley Forge’ and the Civil War Winter that Saved the Union by Albert Conner, Jr., with Chris Mackowski, published by Savas Beatie. The book likens the AoP’s experience in Stafford County, Virginia, in the winter of 1862-63 to that of Washington’s army outside Philadelphia in the winter of 1777-78. The book contends that the AoP’s resurgence as a result of that winter represented the most significant non-battle turning point of the war. Seizing Destiny will be available the third week of March.

Dissatisfaction swept over the Army of the Potomac like a midwinter blizzard. Morale plummeted. Men grew bitter. Hope froze.

The chill was far worse than anything Rufus Dawes had seen back in Wisconsin, and it was only late December. The 24-year-old major of the 6th Wisconsin Infantry, born on the Fourth of July in 1838, had watched conditions worsen ever since the debacle in Fredericksburg earlier in the month. Major General Ambrose E. Burnside had led the army to its most lopsided defeat of the war thus far, and the ill winds began blustering shortly thereafter. The squall hit furiously, almost as soon as the army retreated across the Rappahannock River into Stafford County.

“The army seems to be overburdened with second rate men in high positions, from General Burnside down,” Dawes wrote. “Common place and whisky are too much in power for the most hopeful future. This winter is, indeed, the Valley Forge of the war.” Continue reading “The “Valley Forge” Winter of the Army of the Potomac”