Wednesday, November 25, 2020

'Awe-inspiring for the eye and ear': A walk at Fort Granger

Please heed the signage at Fort Granger so these historic earthworks can be preserved. 

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On Nov. 30, 1864, 1st Lieutenant Frederick Fout watched with a sense of wonder during the Battle of Franklin as the 1st Ohio Light Artillery Battery went about its deadly business from inside Fort Granger.

A cropped enlargement of a Battle of Franklin map
 shows Fort Granger at top. Four rifled guns at the fort
fired on William Loring's division (lower right.)
(Library of Congress)
"After sundown, the sparks of rifle fire and the lightning, thunder and groaning of the heavy cannons was splendid and awe-inspiring for the eye and ear," wrote the German immigrant in the 15th Independent Indiana Artillery Battery. 

The Ohio artillerists' four three-inch rifled guns fired 163 rounds, devastating brigades in William Loring's division as they advanced against the Federals' left flank across the Harpeth River, a little more than a mile away.

Trees and other clutter obscured my battlefield view from the fort, high atop Figuer's Bluff overlooking the Harpeth. But I wasn't disappointed with what I found in the city park tucked in an industrial area a short distance north of downtown Franklin. 

Massive, well-preserved earthen walls towered over me as I walked along a well-trodden path. From an observation deck, I looked down at the Harpeth River, perhaps the same vantage point John Schofield -- the Federals' commander at Franklin -- had the afternoon of the battle. In the fort's interior, I tried to imagine what this huge place was like on an especially taxing day --  more than 10,000 Federals were garrisoned in the area in the fort's heyday. (I also wondered where the hobos hung out here in the decades after the Civil War.)

And I thought about where those Ohio cannoneers toiled, sweaty and begrimed, as they poured death into those poor Confederate souls.

View of the Harpeth River from Fort Granger, high atop Figuer's Bluff.
Union General John Scofield viewed the Battle of Franklin from the fort.
A view of the preserved exterior wall of the fort, constructed in 1863
by U.S. Army soldiers and former slaves. 
A view from the interior of an earthen wall of the fort, named after
Union Major General Gordon Granger, whose troops occupied Franklin.
A view of the interior of the fort, a city park today.
This section is temporarily closed to prevent further erosion of the earthworks. 
Battery crews drilled once a week at the fort, firing artillery for practice.
An unusually shaped tree juts from an earthen fort wall.
Imposing walls remarkably survive 150-plus years after the Civil War.
A path winds along these massive walls.
Site of the sally port, the original entrance and exit of the fort. To the north was a
Federal camp and railroad.
A deep trench in the southeastern corner of the fort.

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 -- Fout Frederick, The Darkest Days of the Civil War, 1864 and 1865, Translation of Fout’’s 1902 Die Schwersten Tage des B├╝rgerkriegs, 1864-1865.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Stunning film of JFK at Antietam battlefield in April 1963

FRAME GRAB AT 2:58 MARK IN VIDEO: Visitors film Kennedy (right rear)
 as his open convertible travels on Cornfield Avenue at Antietam.

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On April 7, 1963, seven months before his assassination, President Kennedy made a nine-minute helicopter ride from the presidential compound at Camp David for a surprise visit to the Antietam battlefield. The previous Sunday, the president -- an avid student of history and a World War II veteran -- visited Gettysburg with his wife, Jackie. 

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A remarkable, seven-minute silent film of Kennedy's Palm Sunday visit --- posted on the JFK Presidential Library site -- shows the 45-year-old president riding in the back seat of an open, white convertible and visiting notable Antietam sites. The presidential security detail at the battlefield appeared to be less than robust. Kennedy, of course, was traveling in an open-top Lincoln Continental limousine when he was shot during a motorcade through downtown Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

Perhaps unremarkable then, this Antietam film is stunning today. Battlefield visitors, some filming the visit, stood steps from Kennedy as his car traveled slowly on Cornfield Avenue. (I wonder where their film is now.) As JFK examined a marker at Miller's Cornfield, a young boy stood nearby, apparently giddy because of his good fortune. Another visitor there, a woman in a floral print dress, appeared unimpressed with the world's most powerful man. Perhaps she was a Republican who voted for Richard Nixon in 1960. Kennedy's visit was such a well-kept secret that Sharpsburg, Md., residents didn't know about it until after he departed. 

This April 7, 1963 photo, included in a wayside exhibit
at Antietam, shows JFK at Burnside Bridge
 with acting Antietam superintendent
Robert L. Lagemann.
JFK spent 
about 90 minutes at Antietam with a small party that included his brother, Sen. Ted Kennedy, and the senator's pregnant wife, Joan; his longtime friend Lem Billings and Undersecretary of the Treasury James A. Reed. As Kennedy's presence on the battlefield became known to the public, his three-car caravan was followed by an ever-increasing number of vehicles.

Besides Miller's Cornfield, Kennedy made three other stops: Bloody Lane, the New York State Monument across from the Dunker Church and Burnside Bridge. Apparently he didn't have time to visit the national cemetery or the new visitors center, which opened for the first time earlier that year. (Sen. Kennedy climbed the old War Department tower at Bloody Lane, but neither his wife nor brother made that strenuous journey. You can make the climb with me here.) 

Relaxed and friendly, JFK chatted with tourists, including three girls whom he "cordially received" at the New York State monument. "He sincerely is gracious to people," said acting Antietam superintendent Robert L. Lagemann, who served as the president's guide.

On his last stop, Kennedy and Lagemann visited iconic Burnside Bridge -- about five minutes into the video a white car crossed the bridge, which wasn't closed to vehicular traffic until 1966. What seems crazy to us today was, well, normal back then. 

William McKinley, shown in 1865 and as president, 
visited Antietam under much different circumstances
than JFK. Kennedy's 1963 guide wanted to tell
McKinley's Antietam story, but the whirring  
of the president's helicopter prevented him.
(Credits: Mathew Brady | Library of Congress)
"Lagemann reported that the President showed intense interest in the troop movements over the site," the Daily Mail of Hagerstown (Md.) reported the next day, "and in the status of land acquisition." Kennedy, who had deep Irish roots, asked about an Irish Brigade marker and was amazed the battle resulted in 23,000 casualties.

The battlefield superintendent was impressed with Kennedy's keen knowledge of the battle -- the president eagerly read an Antietam guidebook Lagemann gave him and asked many questions.

"By the time I was halfway through an answer," he said, "the President was ready with another question."

Shortly before JFK boarded the presidential helicopter parked near Burnside Bridge for his return to Camp David, Lagemann wanted to tell him about another president who visited Antietam, albeit under much less friendly circumstances. But because of the racket from the whirring helicopter, he skipped the story of William McKinley. As a 19-year-old commissary sergeant in the 23rd Ohio, the future president served coffee and warm food to his comrades on Sept. 17, 1862, a short distance from where Kennedy and Lagemann stood.    

FRAME GRAB FROM 1:56 MARK: Kennedy arrives by helicopter
about noon at the Spong farm near Burnside Bridge in Sharpsburg, Md.
FRAME GRAB AT 2:21 MARK: In an open convertible, Kennedy and Lagemann (right)
 with JFK entourage.
FRAME GRAB AT 2:26 MARK: While his brother Ted and pregnant sister-in-law Joan
 stand at right, JFK listens to Lagemann, the acting Antietam battlefield superintendent.
FRAME GRAB AT 3:03 MARK: Near a visitor carrying a young boy and clenching a
pipe, JFK examines a wayside marker at Miller's Cornfield.
FRAME GRAB AT 3:05 MARK: This woman appeared unimpressed with the president.
FRAME GRAB AT 3:26 MARK: While battlefield visitors -- including a young boy -- stand
steps away, Lagemann explains action at Miller's Cornfield.
FRAME GRAB AT 4:23 MARK: Kennedy surveys the battlefield near
the New York State monument with Lagemann and an unidentified man.
FRAME GRAB AT 4:50 MARK: Kennedy (right) and his entourage stop at Burnside Bridge.
FRAME GRAB AT 4:58 MARK: A car crosses Burnside Bridge while Kennedy and
Lagemann visit the iconic structure, which was not closed to vehicular traffic until 1966. 
Note the 21st Massachusetts monument to JFK's right. It was long ago moved to the other 
side of Antietam Creek.
FRAME GRAB AT 5:16 MARK: Kennedy leans over Burnside Bridge
for a look at Antietam Creek. A Secret Service agent appears in the foreground.

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-- On excellent Gettysburg Daily site, see coverage of  JFK visit to Gettysburg on March 31, 1963.


-- Associated Press report, April 8, 1963.
-- Daily Mail of Hagerstown, Md., April 8, 1963.

Friday, November 20, 2020

A walk on Smoketown Road, key Antietam battlefield artery

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So much happened on and along Smoketown Road during and after the Sept. 17, 1862, Battle of Antietam. Troops streamed up and down this road, an artery that led into the East Woods and beyond. Wounded staggered back to aid stations and hospitals. Take a short trip with me on this important gravel road, usually overlooked by most battlefield visitors.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Worlds apart: How slaves, masters lived on a Tennessee farm

Two slave cabins remarkably survive a short distance (left) from  the circa-1840s
Owen-Primm antebellum farmhouse. (CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)

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On a gentle rise near a busy road in Brentwood, Tenn., the once-stately Owen-Primm antebellum farmhouse barely clings to life. Meanwhile, roughly 35 yards away stand two remarkable survivors: log slave cabins that a local developer plans to restore.  

Well-worn, stone steps lead to the humble interior of one of the slave quarters, which is packed with 21st-century clutter -- an exercise bike, a badminton racquet, part of a chicken coop. On the wall hangs a large, ancient horseshoe; a piece of a 19th-century ironing board lay on original wood flooring. Hand-chiseled blocks of stone form a fireplace, and a single-drawer table rests against a wall.

An old horseshoe hangs on
an interior wall of the
slave cabin.
Eight to 10 enslaved people may have lived in each of these cabins. Some of them undoubtedly slept in a cramped second floor, where standing was never an option. Who were they? Maybe someday we'll know their names.

Now abandoned, the dilapidated Greek Revival-style house at 8318 Moore's Lane, about 15 miles south of Nashville, was home to a succession of Primms, a family among the earliest to settle in the area. In 1845, slaveholder Thomas Perkins Primm is believed to have greatly expanded a log cabin built four decades earlier, probably by physician Jabez Owen.   

But many questions remain about the history of the house that time, nature and neglect have conspired to ravage. (Dairy farmer Charlie Primm, who died in 2011, is the last direct Primm family member to own the property.) Paint peels from each of the four, massive Doric columns at the entryway. On a small porch, weeds sprout from cracks in concrete near a pair of old rocking chairs. A decrepit shutter hangs precariously next to a sash window missing one of its 12 panes.

The expansive interior suffers, too. On the first floor, Inetta Gaines and Ashley McAnulty of the Brentwood Historic Commission, well-meaning developer Jerrold Pedigo and I gingerly stepped around gaping holes in the flooring. In a musty living room, near carpets that lay haphazardly on the floor, rests a 19th-century mahogany veneer couch. A 150-plus-year-old chest of drawers stands in the entry hall; nearby, a patch of  floral wallpaper -- probably original to the house -- offers a brief respite from the gloom. 

We didn't dare visit the varmint-plagued second floor, so our brief exploration ended in the dingy (and moldy) cabin basement, where a flashlight revealed a massive spider web. The visit was especially meaningful for Gaines, the only Black member of the 12-person Brentwood Historic Commission.  

The slave cabins will live on for others to appreciate, but sadly there may be no saving the farmhouse, owned by another developer. It's probably too far gone to restore without a substantial investment of time and money.  

MORE: Read Owen-Primm house National Register of Historic Places form 

Each log slave cabin is believed to have housed eight to 10 people.
The slave quarters shared this chimney.
The original vertical board door leads to a meager interior.
A handmade chain on the slave cabin door. Was it made by a slave?
Well-worn steps at a cabin entrance. 
An ancient fireplace amid modern clutter.
A single-drawer, wooden table, perhaps a long-ago hand-me-down used by the enslaved. 
A chunk of a period ironing board rests on the slave cabin's original flooring.
The Owen-Primm antebellum farmhouse dates to about 1845. 
A decrepit shutter hangs precariously by a window missing a pane.
Weeds, peeling paint on Doric columns and an old rocking chair at an entryway.
One of two towering brick chimneys. 
A once-impressive living room.
A close-up of the fireplace. 
A 19th-century couch, perhaps original to the house.
Original floral wallpaper exposed inside the Owen-Primm House. 
A sturdy original door. 
Windows include the original, 19th-century "wavy" glass panes.
A doorbell from a long-ago era.
A message from long ago.

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Friday, November 06, 2020

Zoom in for virtual visits to eight hospitals at Antietam

On a one-hour Zoom call hosted by Jake Wynn, director of interpretation at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, I talked about Antietam hospitals. Among the topics were:  

Monday, November 02, 2020

Honoring the sacrifice of a Connecticut citizen-soldier

A commemoration certificate issued by the state of Connecticut in 1867.

5th Connecticut Private Phillip Fisher's name on the document. 

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When we lived in Connecticut, I bought this large document in an antiques store in Coventry, not far from an ancient cemetery where three 14th Connecticut soldiers who died of Antietam wounds were buried. These beautiful commemoration certificates were given by the state to veterans or their families to honor the sacrifice of citizen-soldiers. This one, issued in 1867, cost me roughly $50. I’m eager to get it framed. 

The document, which includes illustrations of Connecticut-born Admiral Andrew Foote and generals John Sedgwick and Nathaniel Lyon, reads: 

 “The State of Connecticut, desiring to recognize in a permanent and appropriate form the faithful and heroic services of her citizen soldiers, has by unanimous vote of the General Assembly of 1867 directed the undersigned to present to Phillip Fisher, Private of Company K, 5th Regiment, C.V., this Testimonial of Honor, in grateful remembrance of the courage and patriotism by him displayed in the late War for the suppression of rebellion and preservation of Constitutional Liberty.” 

Fisher was wounded on July 20, 1864, at Peachtree Creek, Ga., north of Atlanta. The 20-year-old private died the next day.

In this illustration, a soldier leaves his anguished family behind ...

... and another is welcomed home.

Connecticut native John Sedgwick was killed at Spotsylvania Courthouse.

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