Posts Tagged ‘Siege’

near Greenwood, S.C.
Visited: October 23, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 267 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Kosciuszko’s PrideWHAT IS IT?
Site of, on November 19, 1775, the first major land-based Revolutionary War battle south of New England as well as, in June of 1781, the War’s longest siege.

BEAUTY (6/10)
It would be difficult to imagine a more pleasant historical stroll than Ninety Six NHS’s Walking Tour. The walk begins in the shadow of towering pine trees, twisting its way before it makes a sharp left at the historic Island Ford Road. It is easy to imagine horseback riders and elegant coaches traipsing along this shaded thoroughfare.

Once you cross the road, a wide, treeless expanse become apparent. This is the siege ground, an undulating series of earthworks, gentle S-curves, manicured bright green grass and perfect blue skies. A helpful observation tower allows for a bird’s-eye view of the terrain; it looks more like a golf course than a battleground.

The walk passes the ruins of the British Star Fort, the siege’s target, before leading past the reconstructed remnants of the Town of Ninety Six, a Stockade Fort and the Black Swan Tavern. Ninety Six NHS is one of those subtle places that remind you of how gorgeous the day is without overwhelming you with beauty.

Ninety Six NHS is among the least significant of all the NPS Revolutionary War sites. The Loyalists successfully repelled the Patriots June 1781 but abandoned the Site less than a month later. Nevertheless, the Ninety Six siege saw military action from the incomparable engineer (and our favorite Revolutionary War Hero) Thaddeus Kosciuszko.

The dashing Pole designed the earthworks as well as underground mine shaft whose purpose was to lead under the Loyalist Star Fort and facilitate an underground Patriot bomb (a la The Battle of the Crater). The tunnel never worked but its bold path remains.

One of Michael’s Favorite ThingsCROWDS (7/10)
A motley mish mash of South Carolinians accompanied us on our leisurely walk. The lovely Sunday afternoon and the mildly interesting historical tale charmed us all. As we were leaving the Site, a large family was setting up a post-church outdoor barbeque at the Park’s picnic tables. Ninety Six NHS feels loved and enjoyed by its rural neighbors primarily as a superb public place and secondly as a place where light skirmish occurred over 200 years ago.

Ninety Six NHS, like Arkansas Post N MEM and Moores Creek NHS, commemorates a place that once was an important town but has since drifted in rural obscurity. There is zero chance that you could mistakenly find yourself in Ninety Six, S.C., one of two U.S. towns that are a number. The other is Eighty Four, Pa., birthplace of Gab’s dad.

If you want to visit Ninety Six NHS, carefully consult your road atlas. The closest sizable town is Greenwood, about nine miles to the west. Columbia is about 80 miles to the southeast; Greenville is 70 miles to the northeast. A spider web of two-lane roads weaves in and out of the Park’s vicinity.

The Resulting PhotoCONCESSIONS/ BOOKSTORE (4/5)
Most of what is sold here looks site specific. Where else could you find five books (pamphlets is more like it) dedicated to the Siege of Fort Ninety Six? The similar looking series that includes A Backcountry Herbal, The Backcountry Housewife and Old Timey Recipes we are guessing won’t be found at Barnes and Noble.

But, without doubt, the best Ninety Six-only items on sale are the $5 reprints of the pen and ink sketches that hang in the Visitor Center and honor the Siege’s heroes and villains. We might have to order the portrait of Thaddeus Kosciuszko, the War’s handsomest man.

COSTS (4/5)
The Site is 100% free.

One Ranger was ready to answer all of our Ninety Six-related questions but we did not have any. The Walking Tour is completely self-guided; living history performers and guided tours occur only a few times a year and on special occasions.

Three short sentences on the Site’s webpage summarize what one can do here: View the 10-minute interpretive video. Explore the museum and exhibits. Walk the one mile interpretive trail. Said activities will take about one hour to complete, and that’s just about enough time to learn all there is to know about Ninety Six.

We came to Ninety Six with the very vague idea that a Revolutionary War battle took place here. We found out about the later siege and our favorite Pole’s starring role as we watched the movie, went to the museum and took our recommended walk.

The best part about the walk is the interpretive panels which line the path and illustrate the actions of both Revolutionary events. They are really good! Although judging from the father and son in front of us who took turns reading the panels aloud, a phonetic spelling of Kosciuszko (koh-ZHOOS-koh) might have been helpful.

Historic RoadFUN (7/10)
Perhaps we were blessed with unusually sunny and warm weather; perhaps we could have been anywhere in South Carolina and we would have been happy. Or perhaps we just love learning more about a handsome Polish hero and his “Revolutionary” feats of engineering (sorry). We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Ninety Six, and it seemed like every other visitor did too.

We aren’t sure how or why the rest of the Site’s guests found their way to the Star Fort, but there was an air of intellectual curiosity that was contagious. No one among us looked like Revolutionary War buffs or scholars, but we all took turns stopping at each wayside exhibit and pausing at vantage points to try and understand the logic behind placing a fort with no natural water supply 100 meters away from an easily besieged town. So close, yet so far away.

We had a terrific time but Ninety Six is out-of-the-way, like going to Mars out-of-the-way. If the destination encapsulated a significant historic event or was a regional capital, a recommendation would be easier. Instead, Ninety Six was a generic frontier trading post where an anticlimactic, slightly important siege occurred.

That being said, we had a nice day, the grounds were pristine and the earthworks were among the best-preserved and best looking we have seen. If Gab never sees another earthwork, Michael is sure she will be content.

TOTAL 48/80


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Petersburg, Va.
Visited: October 11, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 256 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Pistol Petersburg
Site of the prolonged 9½-month long, 1864-65 U.S. Grant-led campaign and siege against Robert E. Lee and the War’s last Confederate stronghold, Petersburg, Va. The April ’65 fall of Petersburg resulted in Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House and the Civil War’s end.

BEAUTY (3/10)
Richmond’s sleek New South veneer did not travel the 25 miles down I-95 to Petersburg. At the Park’s most beautiful part, City Point, you can see bald eagles soaring over the confluence of the James and Appomattox Rivers and above heavy-duty industrial ships. This part of Virginia is not going to win any beauty contests.

Grant’s long-drawn-out siege of Petersburg won the Civil War for the Union. Whether or not the War’s outcome had already been decided in late 1864 is, ostensibly, the topic for historical debate.

The Petersburg NB contains sites vital to the siege like City Point, whose deep water aided in its transformation from plantation manor to the Union Army’s headquarters and the site of a massive makeshift port. The supplies that allowed the lengthy siege to continue came through City Point.

The Crater is one of the Civil War’s most infamous battles. Halfway through the siege, a regiment of former Pennsylvania miners felt they could build a tunnel directly underneath a Confederate fort. From beneath the fort, they would detonate explosives and then charge and take the Rebel base. African American troops were trained to lead the initial charge but at the last moment, Union General Meade replaced the black regiment with untrained men. The detonation worked, but the untrained men failed to defeat the Rebels.

The Union success at the April 1st Battle of Five Forks precipitated the fall of Petersburg and the fall of the Confederacy. The only supply rail line into Petersburg came through Five Forks. When Lee lost Five Forks, he lost Petersburg and the War. Lee’s surrender would come eight days later at Appomattox.

Infamous Crater Mine EntryCROWDS (6/10)
We saw few other travelers at any of our Petersburg NB stops. One couple, clearly tuned in, made both vital stops along the auto tour: hiking to the intriguingly named Dictator Cannon and taking the Battle of the Crater self-guided walking tour. The Petersburg NB travels directly through the much-larger-than-we-thought city of Petersburg. Traffic tends to inch along her crowded streets. Budget twice as much travel time as your innocent map seems to indicate.

Over 30 miles separates Petersburg NB’s furthest points, City Point in the northeast and Five Forks Battlefield to the southwest. The Park’s Main VC lies about 8-miles southwest of City Point. It takes about 25 minutes to drive this traffic light infested road.

You can only enter the auto tour portion of the Park (includes The Crater) from North. Approach from Virginia Route 36 a/k/a Washington Street. You should see signs. From I-95 take Exit 52 and go east. From I-295 take Exit 9 and go west.

For your own sanity, pick up a Park map before you get here. If you are visiting Petersburg NB, chances are you are a Civil War buff. Not too many casual visitors come to this part of Virginia. Depending on the direction you are traveling, there are good odds that you’ve come from another Civil War site. Appomattox in the west, Richmond to the north, Yorktown to the east and, well, you are on your own from the South. Pick up the Petersburg brochure at one of these sites. You will be thankful.

We did not have time to peruse the Petersburg NB Main VC bookstore because we arrived just before closing. The volunteer on duty would not even start up the electric map for us. It pays to be on time. A cursory glance revealed an entire shelf of the Pulitzer Prize winning fiction book turned Renee Zellweger movie, Cold Mountain. The book’s setting is a fictional Civil War battlefield, however, the movie moves the location to The Battle of the Crater, Petersburg, Va.

Grant’s Siege Headquarters

What Knee Deep in Hell: Trench Warfare in World War I is doing at a Civil War bookstore is anyone’s guess. Michael actually owns two copies of this book; an accidental double purchase during his freshman year at college.

We were impressed by the shimmery pages of the NPS publication, Battle of Five Forks. The large laminated papers show the intricate movements of troops on subsequent full color pages. The military strategy is so detailed that if you flip the book really fast it might resemble a animated cartoon. Cool stuff.

COSTS (3/5)
Three of the Park’s four attractions are free: Five Forks, City Point and the Poplar Grove National Cemetery. Entry into the Park’s four-mile Battlefield driving tour costs $5 per car, free with the National Parks Pass.

We got into wonderful history conversations with Rangers at both City Point and Five Forks. Our Five Forks talk revolved around what constitutes history, what matters for historical remembrance, Union cavalry General Sheridan, the Mexican War and the Indian Wars. Did we mention that Ranger discussions are infinitely better than any graduate level history seminar with which we have ever been involved?

Sadly, there were no Rangers at the Battlefield’s primary sector, the fee-based auto tour. We found the best educational rewards at Petersburg NB, like Richmond NBP and Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania NMP before it, off the beaten path and not at the main visitor centers.

Great Ranger discussions but we did have electric map difficulties. The Five Forks Battlefield electric map is a hand-me-down from Appomattox and tells the same story as the updated version at the more visited Park Site. And we were too late to see the siege recap electric map found at the Visitor Center. Petersburg NB feels almost forgotten by the Park Service despite the excellent stopgap support offered by Rangers, mimeographed handouts and waysides.

Petersburg Cannon

FUN (5/10)
The more you dive into Civil War sites, the more fun they get. Petersburg NB is a logical stop for the Civil War vacationer. First Fredericksburg, then south to Richmond, south to Petersburg and finally, west to Appomattox. The route even follows the chronological order of Grant’s 1864-65 campaign. Petersburg NB is a crucial piece in the Civil War puzzle and is much more fascinating when viewed as part of a whole rather than individually.

For casual travelers, Petersburg, while vital historically, does not make for the best Civil War introduction. Stop at Richmond or Fredericksburg instead. Petersburg NB is an upper level graduate class; important but esoteric and boring to all but the most interested.

Everyone and their mother suggested that we go to the privately-owned Pamplin Historical Park, entry fee $13.50. We didn’t but that doesn’t mean we can’t pass everyone’s suggestion onto you.

TOTAL 44/80

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part of Shiloh National Military Park
near Corinth, Miss.
Visited: February 13, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 153 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Fountain SculptureWHAT IS IT?
A newly opened Museum dedicated to explaining both the April 1862 Battle of Shiloh and the April and May Union siege and capture of Corinth, Mississippi, an important railroad center.

BEAUTY (6/10)
The Interpretive Center’s ads, found in all the tourist publication promote the “$9.5 million facility” that has “5,000 square feet of exhibit space” and an “open courtyard with a water feature”. The ads’ spartan word choice does not do to the Museum justice.

The Site’s is located across from a school and near the train tracks on the outskirts of town. We openly wondered why they would put a tourist attraction such an unappealing area. Closer inspection revealed that the red brick Museum is built on and around Battery Robinett, one of the Union’s primary defense positions. The Building incorporates the slope of the earthwork and mimics its shape.

The path from the parking lot to the entrance travels up switchbacks that are littered with bronzed Civil War-related items that have been paved into the walkway. The exhibit space is fantastic, incorporating large amounts of wood, colorful easy to read displays and lots of open space.

The “water feature” is actually an interpretive sculpture. The design is a minimalist representation of American history from the Revolution until 1870. It begins with a marble slab inscribed with the Preamble to the Constitution. The water flows steadily from the words and down a short staircase until it reaches a line marked 1861.

There it meets stacked bricks that represent over 50 Civil War battles. The bricks vary in size given the number of casualties suffered in the respective battle. At first, they appear to be haphazardly placed until you realize that they are in chronological order and curve to demonstrate Union or Confederate success.

The bricks alter and separate the water’s path until a year marked 1865. When the battles end, the water flows back into the same pool. It is simple, moving and inspired. If only it were that easy.

Why are both the Battle of Shiloh and the Siege of Corinth important to American history and the outcome of the Civil War? An exhibit posits this exact question and answers it in convincing detail. They were the first battles with large casualties. The War was not going to be short and easy. Corinth was a major southern railroad hub. The Union siege and capture further isolated the Confederate west from supplies and material help.

Corinth was the site of the Civil War’s largest Contraband Camp, a self-contained community populated by former slaves who had escaped their masters and found their way on to Union controlled soil. The federal government dealt with the issue by calling the escaped slaves contraband of war and allowing them to remain in the hands of the Union army.

Smaller contraband camps existed throughout the South. Corinth’s was the only one to move beyond temporary tent dwellings. Small cabins were constructed. A school and church were built. Years before the Emancipation Proclamation, black Americans received their first glimpse of life as a free individual. The original Contraband Camp has been unearthed and plans for an on-site memorial are underway.

Seven Screen Film
CROWDS (6/10)
We were the only people in the Museum on a lazy, rainy Sunday afternoon. There was plenty of space and exhibits to accommodate and entertain entire regiments of Civil War re-enactors.

Corinth is no longer the railway and commercial center that it was in 1862. It is 46 miles north of Tupelo and the four-lane Interstate-esque U.S. Route 78. The closest major city is Memphis, located 100 miles to the west. For tourism purposes, the most important nearby destination is Shiloh NMP, located a winding 20 miles to the north.

Incredible Civil War bookstore. What else is new?

COSTS (4/5)
The Corinth Interpretive Center, unlike its parent Site the Shiloh NMP, is absolutely free.

Even though the Interpretive Center is designed to be completely self-guided, there were two Rangers on duty to help.

The film about the Battle of Shiloh is indicative of Corinth’s stellar educational power. The film is shown in a small amphitheater with only one short bench for seats. Seven monitors tall and thin monitors are placed equidistant horizontally and stretch the limits of your peripheral vision. The middle screen primarily shows a map highlighting troop positions at specific times of the battle. The six other televisions rotate between re-enactors, drawings and Civil-War era photography.

Somehow, the multimedia presentation avoids the bug-eyed madness of CNN Headline News or the Bloomberg Channel. The videos are placed far enough apart that you can focus on only one the entire length of the film and go back to the map when necessary. The grounding force of the map is helpful. You always know where the Battle is talking place, where the fight is occurring.

FUN (8/10)
We claim not to be Civil War buffs, but nine separate Park Sites in ten days probably proves otherwise. Still, we left Shiloh NMP confused and ornery. Shiloh’s horrible film and long driving tour through monumented woods did not help us figure either out what had actually happened or why the Battle holds such an indelible historical presence.

We had a collective bad attitude and did not want to go to yet another Civil War Museum. The Corinth Interpretive Center was so well done that we left with our Shiloh questions answered, a greater understanding of Grant’s War in the West and smiles on our faces.

Michael at a DisplayWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10)
Should the in-depth educational part of Shiloh NMP be on the Battlefield’s grounds instead of 20 long miles south, in an urban setting and across the Tennessee state line? Probably not. The hard feeling between the two Sites is palpable. The Shiloh NMP Visitor Center does not advertise the Corinth Site. Corinth is not on the Park Brochure. Our request for directions was only grudgingly obliged with a small mimeographed sheet of paper that the Rangers kept behind their desk.

We know that everyone wants a piece of the lucrative Civil War tourist trade. Just ask Stephen Reed, the mayor of our fine hometown. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania just opened our own Civil War Museum. Sleepy Corinth, Mississippi projects that its Museum will bring in 250,000 people per year. Last year Shiloh NMP had 350,000 guests; Corinth’s projection is reasonable.

The Corinth Interpretive Center is a must see on any western Civil War itinerary. It is the best educational Civil War Site we have visited to date and is an essential stop before you travel to the Shiloh Battlefield. There is a good mix of esoteric paraphernalia and analysis (for the hardcore buff) and easy to understand explanations, charts and videos (for his loyal companion).

TOTAL 59/80

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