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PostPosted: Wed Sep 15, 2021 9:24 pm 
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Listening to Ed Bearss in an old interview he spoke of the importance of walking a battlefield to really understand it. He told a story from back in the 1960s when he was walking the Shiloh Battlefield for the first time with another former Marine discussing whether or not the Confederates could really have won on the first day by sweeping along the Tennessee River and attacking Grant's Last Line. He concluded that the terrain there in the Dill Branch south of the landing was so steep and challenging that even fresh troops would have had difficulty traversing the area with its very steep hills, heavy woods, and swampy lowlands.

I've walked those same hills at Shiloh and I can attest that I was absolutely gassed by the time I got to Grant's Last Line. Trying to do it under fire and carrying a musket would have been a nightmare.

It's interesting how you can read things in books and picture the battlefield in your head. But sometimes actually seeing it can really open your eyes as to what the terrain was really like, the challenges the commanders faced, and how certain events played out and why.

It's been 25 years since I was at Chancellorsville/Wilderness Battlefield. My only remaining memory that stuck with me was that I couldn't walk 10 feet into that jungle without feeling like I was in the middle of a "Lost World" novel.

Anyone else have any similar experiences?

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 16, 2021 7:24 am 
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Walking along the top of Missionary Ridge at Chattanooga I still found it difficult to believe the Rebs lost it in the manner they did..

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 16, 2021 9:32 am 
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In some cases this is difficult to relate to, at the time of the Civil War a lot of the woods now on the battlefields were not only much smaller but they had a lot less undergrowth. I recall the first time I took the wife to Gettysburg in 1976 and was telling her how the artillery was firing on the yankee position when she pointed out she couldn't see it from where we were standing. A few years later I was doing a walk through of Law's move over Big Round Top where the guide pointed out the remains of a stone foundation that was probably a small cabin at the time of the battle. Our guide pointed out that the heavy undergrowth we were having to negotiate was probably not there at the time of the battle since the primary source of cooking and heating was wood burning stoves and the fallen branches would be used for fuel while the farmers pigs would keep the ground clutter clear. Even without that it would be quite a hike, especially considering they had already marched over 20 miles that day.

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 21, 2021 12:31 pm 
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Yes. The micro-terrain is crucial to understanding the flow/results of a fight or a battle. At Spotsylvania, for example, it is hard to conceive of the fighting around the bloody angle for an entire day, but stand on the ground and look around and you can see the effect of the micro-terrain. Go 25 yards this way or that and what you can "see" or shoot at is entirely different. The key was the "angle" where you had a line of site across the Landrum farm from which the Union troops advanced as well as the entire west side of the Confederate salient/trench line. It was THE KEY ground!!

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 22, 2021 8:57 pm 
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Did Pea Ridge and Wilson's Creek a few years ago. It is a shame they have let the trees grow up like they have. However both battlefields struck me that the distances seem so different that the impressions you get in the books. Don't remember the name of the field or which Confederate units were charging which Union batteries across that field but driving up in the truck I looked at that and thought that isn't that far for troops hoofing it. Then I got out and tried it myself carrying no more then my I-Phone and let's just say I'm glad I wasn't making that charge. Same for field on the opening of the 2nd day of that battle. That hill doesn't look so imposing on the map but it really stands out when you are there.

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 11, 2021 10:47 pm 
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mihalik wrote:
Walking along the top of Missionary Ridge at Chattanooga I still found it difficult to believe the Rebs lost it in the manner they did..


Amen to that. I stood on top of Missionary Ridge, looking down, and decided Bragg wasn't quite as stupid as so many have made him out to be for thinking that line was impregnable. I couldn't see how any body of men could possibly have climbed that ridge under fire. I've read some of the reasons why the Rebel line fell apart (inability to depress their artillery far enough to fire at the advancing enemy, low morale due to seeing the entire Union force spread out in the valley below, no viable line of retreat, etc.), but these were from the benefit of hindsight.

I still wouldn't want him as my superior officer, but in this case I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 13, 2021 8:23 am 
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Fellow History Lovers:

Yes, indeed -- there's no replacement for standing on the real ground.

The NPS is making a determined effort at Gettysburg (45 minutes from my house) to restore the vegetation to that of 1863. I'm reasonably sure the same is being done at other battlefields as well; especiallyu the "more popular" of them.

As to the value of "being there," no one has ever said it batter than MG Joshua Chamberlain:

"In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.”

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 13, 2021 11:46 pm 
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Gentlemen, Sirs! <salute>

I had that feeling back in the mid 2000's when Larry 'Notso' Quick, Russ Daley and I were at Little Round Top. It was early February but as we walk to the area of the end of the line for the 20th Maine I was struck that when the thick foliage of the trees were present on the 2 of July a person couldn't hardly see 20 feet in front of him. It would have been a mad house with all the shouting and whizzing of the shot going by. It really brought life to that place.

Back in 1992, my wife and I visited the Antietam Battlefield in the summer. We were very lucky on our visit as there was a small reenactment group of about 20+ guys in grey uniforms in a little bivouac next to the sunken road. Then much to our surprised they formed in two lines of fire and shot off probably 3 rounds each. We were amazed at the amount of smoke that arose from that very small group. It wasn't hard to imagine the whole battlefield shrouded in smoke.

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Your Obedient Servant,


General Nick Kunz
Commandant, VMI

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