Monday, January 24, 2011

The Places Where they Fought

Ft. Burnham, Virginia, October 1864

When studying ancestors who fought in the Civil War, I have come to realize how important it is to appreciate the places where they were, and engagements in which they fought.  Many places are noted on countless numbers of Civil War era maps and there are gazetteers and atlases that abound providing opportunity to learn more about the places where our ancestors fought. However----in an effort to tell the stories----we have to remember that the war was fought in places where people lived----small towns, settlements, farm, estates, and so many more countless unnamed places. 

The fate of the soldiers was at stake an also the fate of the women and children left behind.  In many places the wives and children of US Colored soldiers would become contrabands---but in some places--those opportunities did not present themselves so easily. BUT-----many slaves did live near those same battle sites, and we should take an interest in what took place there.

Battlefields particularly those in which many died are noted on the southern landscape in every state. Over the years as I have documented my own ancestors in their fight for freedom,   I have come to appreciate those sacred places such as Ft. Pillow,  Jenkins Ferry,  Honey Springs,  Cabin Creek and other places where many of theUSCTs that I research would have died.  

Monuments on Honey Springs Battlefield

Many of us read stories of incidents from the Crater in Petersburg, to Ft. Wagoner, to Olustee in Florida of the black soldiers from the Army of the Potomac, and the 54th Massachusetts.  But how many of us have ever sought to visit those areas? We must remember that these places are more than Civil War memorial battlefields that only Civil War buffs would have an interest in.  

We should see those places---and hold them reverently, as much as we hold the battlefields of our modern era---like Little Rock, Selma, Montgomery, and Birmingham.

The battles in which our ancestors gave their lives in the fight for freedom should be on our list of places to visit just as much as we visit Civil Rights landmarks today.  The Civil War was in fact the beginning of struggles for rights---Civil Rights----and the cradle of the 20th century struggles, came from those battlefields.  

Petersburg and Richmond battlefields are just as important the 20th century battlefields at lunch counters in North Carolina.  

Petersburg Battlefield, where more than 20 black Union Army regiments saw action

The actions in the 1860s at New Market Heights (Chapin's Farm) should be stops that we make while traveling in Virginia, just as much as we see the importance as  visiting the National Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham.  These sites pertain to our struggle for freedom and we should consider learning more of the history of what happened there.

I know personally that one of my trips that I hope to make in the next five years will be a trip to north Alabama, to Limestone County. My goal will be to stand in the same area, where my gr. Uncle  Sephus Bass was captured at Sulphur Branch Trestle.   The story of  the incidents at Sulphur Branch Trestle are well documented in the official records.

Sulphur Trestle, was  the site where the 110th & 111th US Colored Infantries were captured by NB Forrest in 1864.

Thankfully the Civil War was well documented and  the  movements of our ancestors should be studied and told when the family story is told. The next generation deserves to hear it, and our ancestors' stories deserve to be told. And the places where they earned their freedom, should be placed on our list of places to visit, reflect and savor the freedom that we have.


  1. Thank you for another inspiring message.

  2. I am surrounded by Civil War sites in Virginia. I promise to be more attentive now.

  3. My g-g-grandfather, William Beynon Phillips was one of 6 officers of the 2nd. PA Provisional Heavy Artillery to be captured at the Crater. The 2nd. PA “Provisionals” were the first regiment to enter the crater following the mine explosion. They replaced the USCT under General Edward Ferraro who originally were to lead the attack but were replaced due to “political” considerations. I visited the Crater several years ago while doing research on the letters written by my ancestor and it was a very emotional experience to stand on the site of the carnage of that “bloody pit” and try to imagine what he and the other men who fought there must have experienced. No amount of reading can match the feeling I got standing there where it happened.
    -Greg Taylor