Saving History Saturday: Memorial Day and Preservation in Their Words

Flags placed proudly in front of the near-200,000 graves at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri. Courtesy of Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.

On Decoration Day in 1871, Frederick Douglass spoke these words to a large crowd at Arlington National Cemetery:  “We must never forget that the loyal soldiers who rest beneath this sod flung themselves between the nation and the nation’s destroyers … we are indebted to the unselfish devotion of the noble army who rest in these honored graves all around us.” Douglass not only reflected on the meaning of sacrifice to millions of Americans who had broke the chains of bondage, but he also addressed the need of remembering them. His words, nearly 150 years old, still resonate with us today.

In just two days, Americans across the country will commemorate this special holiday. Some will visit cemeteries and plant flags at the headstones of veterans, and others will simply celebrate the freedoms they have.

No matter how you choose to commemorate Memorial (or Decoration) Day, we hope these words of Civil War veterans inspire you to continue their legacies by saving history. Continue reading

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These Men I Feel I Know, a Little, at Ox Ford

Chris at NARTo the west, the sounds of industry clank and crunch through the forest. The insistent warning of a backing-up truck beep-beep-beeps in discordant competition. The gravel pit, nestled up to the edge of North Anna Battlefield Park, does not rest today on the anniversary of the battle.

Aside from those audible reminders, there’s also the gravel path crunching beneath my footsteps to remind me that I am not far from civilization, although it otherwise might seem so as I make the trek out to Ox Ford. One of the things I love most about this battlefield is the immersive green in all its shades and hues. Continue reading

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“And over here we have…”

On this day in history, Colonel Elmer Ellsworth walked into a two-star inn-and-boarding house in Alexandria. It was early in the morning, and a man in his nightshirt and pants was the only person awake on the first floor. The colonel asked him about the massive Stars and Bars flag flying above the inn. The man professed ignorance, so Ellsworth and his small group of soldiers and newspaper reporters ascended the three flights of stairs to the roof. Ellsworth cut the flag down, and began to descend the staircases again. A different reaction met the party on their way down and within moments, both Elmer Ellsworth and a man with a shotgun were dead. Marshall House proprietor James Jackson had just made Colonel Elmer Ellsworth the first Union officer of the Civil War to die. Continue reading

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The Fox House at the North Anna River

Fox House May 2019

The Fox House today. A leaky roof has necessitated a blue tarp; damage inside has fortunately been limited.

On May 23, 1864–155 years ago today–Robert E. Lee sat on the porch of Rev. Thomas Fox’s home, drinking a glass of buttermilk, when Federals appeared on the north bank of the North Anna River a half a mile to the north and opened an artillery barrage. (Read more about that day in this Dec. 2017 post.)

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of joining the American Battlefield Trust for a series of Facebook LIVE events covering the 1864 Overland Campaign, including some time along the North Anna battlefield. One of the real thrills for me was the opportunity to show viewers around the Fox House, “Ellington,” which sits along modern Route 1.

In November 2017, the Trust undertook an effort to preserve the Fox House and 126 acres of surrounding property, which is just the latest effort on their part to save this forgotten battlefield. Meanwhile, since looking around inside the house, I’ve been trying to find out more about the house’s history. Continue reading

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New Market’s Memory Wars

VMI Alumni Veterans at New Market, 1914 (VMI Archives)

Remember what you ate for breakfast on Wednesday two weeks ago? And if you remember the meal, what time did you pour the cereal, turn on the stove, or place your order? Memory and remembering can be challenging. However, it is a crucial part of history and the creation of historiography. The history of New Market’s battle and different units’ roles in the fight became the subjects of debate and some emphatic wars of words as veterans tried to remember what really happened on that rainy May 15, 1864. Continue reading

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Thornsbury Bailey Brown – The First Casualty of Enemy Fire




These words add tremendous weight when attached to a person or event associated with the Civil War. The absolute enormity of the war makes it hard to fathom there being a ‘first,’ a ‘last,’ or an ‘only,’ and needless to say there’s always room for debate… Continue reading

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Symposium Spotlight: Books, Books, Books, Pt. 2


Welcome back to part two of our recommended reading list as part of our Symposium Spotlight series. We hope these books will get you excited about a summer reading list on this year’s theme “Forgotten Battles of the Civil War.” Have you picked up any books from part one of our series? Have you started reading yet? Let us know in the comments! Continue reading

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E.P. Alexander’s Research Methodology

Every Civil War scholar should be familiar with the writings of Confederate First Corps artillerist Edward Porter Alexander (no relation). Many know him through Gary Gallagher’s compilation of his papers from the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina, published as Fighting for the Confederacy by UNC Press in 1989. Nearly as familiar, too, is Alexander’s own publication, Military Memoirs of a Confederate: A Critical Narrative (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1907), which trends more toward the subtitle than offering itself as a reminiscence. Alexander’s writing offers one of the best insights of the Army of Northern Virginia. His research began with an attempt to write a history of his corps. Frustrated by a lack of assistance, he abandoned that project. If completed, it would have provided the information that every battlefield historian desires.

Continue reading

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ECW Podcast “The High Tide of the Confederacy, Part 2” Is Now Available

It’s been called “Lee’s Greatest Victory.” Why? And exactly why was it “all downhill for the Confederacy” after Chancellorsville? Chris Mackowski and Kris White continue their conversation about the high tide of the Confederacy on the Emerging Civil War Podcast! Continue reading

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From Spotsylvania’s Eastern Front

Stevenson Ridge, as seen from the Beverly House in May 1864

155 years ago this evening, Ulysses S. Grant began his withdrawal from Spotsylvania Court House, swinging once more around Lee’s right flank, moving south. To recap the anniversary of the two-week battle, I want to share a project I did in my capacity as historian-in-residence at Stevenson Ridge. (For those who don’t know, Stevenson Ridge is a historic property, owned by my wife’s family, on the eastern edge of the Spotsylvania battlefield.)

For Stevenson Ridge’s blog, I did a day-by-day account of the battle, focusing on action that took place on the oft-overlooked eastern front of the battlefield. I’ve collected the entire series for you here: Continue reading

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