Class tours Civil War Battlefields in Virginia

Jacob Sheridan ’14 & Stephen Fenton ’14 – Se were at the Fredericksburg battlefield Friday visiting the other three civil war battlefields in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. The four battles together resulted in approximately 15,000 fatalities, making it the bloodiest area of the civil war. The tour guide we had was one of the best of the trip, and he wasn’t even a park ranger, but just a private historian.

Unlike most of our other battlefield visits, the Spotsylvania battlefield did not seem to be at all preserved. In fact, the tour guide told us how he has fought to preserve some of the battlefield, but unfortunately most of it has been lost to developers. We learned about General John Sedgwick whose troops were being harassed by confederate sharpshooters all day. Against the advice of his subordinate officers, Sedgwick moved towards the front line to personally direct the placement of the infantry and artillery. Once there, he saw that his men were literally trying to dodge the sharpshooter’s bullets, which disappointed him greatly. Sedgwick said, “They couldn’t hit an elephant from this distance.” Soon after uttering this phrase, Sedgwick was fatally hit by one of these confederate sharpshooters. We also visited the spot of the Bloody Angle where the bodies were stacking up three and four high due to the intense close combat. In fact, there was a large oak tree that was cut through on one side with so much musket fire that it was knocked over.

We also drove through parts of where the Wilderness battle would have taken place, but because the battle essentially happened in the woods, we did not extensively visit this site. It is believed that there are still many human remains on the Wilderness battlefield.

At Chancellorsville, we were able to follow the approximate path that Stonewall Jackson used to flank his 28,000 men in place to attack the union forces. They made this 12-mile trip with nearly 40 pounds of gear in around eight hours. Luckily for us, we drove the distance making much better time, but the feat of Jackson’s men was nonetheless impressive. This risky maneuvering, which had cost General Robert E. Lee at Antietam, proved quite beneficial at Chancellorsville where the confederates achieved victory.

Our final stop of the day was the spot where General Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded by friendly fire. On the night of May 2, 1863, during the battle at Chancellorsville, Jackson and his staff were riding back into camp when the 18th North Carolina Infantry confused them for Union cavalry. Jackson and his men tried to identify themselves, but the North Carolina men believed it was a trick and continued to fire. Jackson was hit by one bullet in the right hand and two more in his left arm. Several of Jackson’s staff was killed as well. Jackson’s left arm had to be amputated and he later died of the wounds and perhaps pneumonia. In response to the event, General Lee said, “Jackson may have lost his left arm, but I have lost my right.”

Fredericksburg Battlefield Holds Great Historical Importance

Sunken Road at Fredericksburg, VA. Bottom Row, left to right: Stephen Fenton, Nathan Whisman, Ryne Ruddock, Sam Schabel, Andrew Schmutte, Brock Hammond, Sam Mattingley. Top Row, left to right: Terrance Pigues, Blake Jennings, Jonathon Young, Quinn Bittle, Tracey Salisbury, Kenniss Dillion, Andrew Sunde, Robert Horsey, Bailey Combs, Jacob Sheridan, Robert Thompson, Aaron Morton-Wilson

Sunken Road at Fredericksburg, VA. Bottom Row, left to right: Stephen Fenton, Nathan Whisman, Ryne Ruddock, Sam Schabel, Andrew Schmutte, Brock Hammond, Sam Mattingley. Top Row, left to right: Terrance Pigues, Blake Jennings, Jonathon Young, Quinn Bittle, Tracey Salisbury, Kenniss Dillion, Andrew Sunde, Robert Horsey, Bailey Combs, Jacob Sheridan, Robert Thompson, Aaron Morton-Wilson

Bobby Thompson ’14 & Terrance Pigues ’15 -  Day five of our exciting tour through the Civil War battlefields on the United States East Coast lead us to the battle of Fredericksburg. This battle took place on December 11th through the 13th of the year 1862. Fredericksburg is part of the bloodiest county in all the Civil War, Spotsylvania County. This battle is primarily known for two reasons. The first is what it meant to the war. Fredericksburg was the first big victory for the Confederates giving them hope that they could win the war and march onwards to the North. The victory came at the feet of a Union mistake that opened the door for General Robert E. Lee of the South. Lee was paired with Stonewall Jackson as generals of the South; these two men are arguably the greatest generals in the war. Their opposite in this battle was generals Burnside and Hooker. The Union Army miscalculated the attack and will power of the South leading to their loss. After this Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant commander of the Union troops.

This battle is also known for two historic landmarks, the Sunken Road and the Chatham House. We were given a tour of Sunken Road. Sunken Road was where the Confederate line was drawn for the battle. The location is significant because it is behind a series of stone walls, which are great for protection. This line of Confederate troops consisted of only 5,000 men, which was significantly less than the Union army. These men caused 8,000 casualties, yet only suffered 1,000 despite being so outnumbered. This site is also home to the memory of Richard Kirkland, a South Carolinian troop who helped injured men of both armies by rushing water to them. His monument as well as a picture of Sunken Road can be seen here.

Another prominent landmark at Fredericksburg is the Chatham House. The house was built by William Fitzhugh between 1768 and 1771. The significance of this home occurs because it was used as the Union headquarters during the war. It has also been the temporary home of three presidents: Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. The house lies on the outskirts of Fredericksburg atop a hill, making it a great lookout spot.

Aside from the monuments and battle sites the trip has been filled with fun, enthusiasm, and laughter. It shows the typical Wabash experience, a bunch of men coming together to get stuff done. Our trip will continue with a Civil War adventure camp where we will spend the night at a camp, eat hardtack, and get fully dressed in Civil War uniforms representing the North and the South.

Wabash Men Tour Civil War Battlefields

Nathan Whisman ’14 & Drew Schmutte ’15 -  After an early breakfast, we set out to visit the battlefield of Gettysburg.  As we arrived, we viewed their exhibits, while watching a special presentation of the famous cyclorama of Pickett’s Charge.  This large circular painting is the largest work in North America, and it gives you a full view of the battle as if you are standing in a frozen moment of American history.

Leaving the exhibits, we began to tour the battlefield.  We were able to see sights such as Little Round Top, Devils Den, and The Angle.  Seeing and walking these places gives you a sense of walking across ground that was, for a brief moment, a center of death and violence.  Moments of the Civil War are romanticized by movies and authors, but when you walk the hallowed grounds of this war, you realize the gravity and magnitude of the casualties both armies sustained.

Andrew Schmutte at New York 51st infantry monument at Gettysburg

Andrew Schmutte at New York 51st infantry monument at Gettysburg

As I walked on the hill of Little Round Top, I imagined the confederate troops storming up the rocky slope of the hill.  As I walked up the slope of the hill I imagined what those men faced as they had to battle up the terrain of the hill while facing murderous fire from the union troops above.

At The Angle, I was taken away by the size of the space where the troops of Pickett’s Charge attacked and the distance that they had to cover while being under constant fire.  You have to admit their dedication and the bravery of the soldiers to endure what happened at Gettysburg.

In the evening, we are taken on a ghost tour of Gettysburg.  The tour guides gave us the viewpoint of the citizens of Gettysburg during the battle.  Hearing the stories of the fighting in the streets and the churches being converted into hospitals for unending waves of wounded soldiers gives the town a spooky vibe.  At one house that was considered “active” with ghosts, I was able to go down into the old basement.  While stooped over and looking at the basement with a flashlight, I was slightly spooked out by the basement’s past history (it served as a hospital for 5 wounded Union soldiers). After squeezing through a narrow gap into a smaller part of the basement, I noticed a very old metal spring bed frame in the dirt. It was amazing to learn about all the paranormal activity and ghost encounters in the area.

Students Tour Civil War Battle Sites


Ryne Ruddock ’15 & Andrew Sunde ’16 -  The sunbeams lit through the window and provided a confident feeling for the day. The troops awoke at 7 a.m., ate breakfast, and loaded up in the vans to explore the fascinating battlefield at Antietam Creek, Maryland.

After arriving at 9 a.m. the students were warmly greeted by John Hoptak, a tour guide at Antietam National Battlefield. Hoptak spoke for 20 minutes, spilling his knowledge of the battle and enlightening the students about every intricate detail encompassed in the battle. Hoptak discussed the misfortunes the Confederates faced. Stonewall Jackson and his army had to bring his men from Harper’s Ferry and defend the north flank Union General McClellan. Robert E. Lee defended the south, holding Brigadier General Ambrose Burnside on the other side of Antietam Creek. Ultimately the Union took the battlefield. Hoptak noted that Antietam was an important battle not only because it was the single bloodiest day in American history, over 23,000 wounded or deaths, but because it was General Lee’s intention to move the Civil War from the south and fight on northern soil. The Union victory at Antietam Creek was the lift President Lincoln needed to sign and announce the Emancipation Proclamation.

After Hoptak presented the events in the battle, the class went out to the different sites of the battlefield and observed up close what conditions the soldiers were pitted against. After visiting the hospitals and farm houses the soldiers commandeered during the battle, the class returned to the headquarters at the park and prepared to leave. Loading into the vans around one o’clock, food was the next thing on the agenda.

The long day at Antietam National Park had students craving some down home cooking. After eating in a small diner, filled with delicious home cooked meals, the students loaded back up in the vans and ventured to West Virginia to the historic Harper’s Ferry.

The small town located on the peninsula where the Potomac River and Shenandoah River merge and simply become a larger Potomac River. Harper’s Ferry was an important town. John Brown led his attack on slavery, where he was captured and later hanged for his radical actions. Harper’s Ferry was also the largest Federal surrender in the Civil War, as Stonewall Jackson decimated the Federals defending the town. Harper’s Ferry also started one of the earliest integrated schools to educate former slaves, Storer College. The school was finally closed in 1955.

The weather was absolutely perfect for walking and seeing all of the sites the sites had to offer. The long day took its toll on the students, however. Upon returning to the hotel to clean up and get dinner, many students went straight to bed, resting up for the long day ahead at Gettysburg.