Saturday, November 12, 2022

A dozen of my favorite places for grub on Civil War road trips

Loretta Tacker, owner of Tacker’s Shake Shack in Marion, Ark.

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12: Frothy Monkey, Chattanooga, Tenn.: Breakfast, swirly coffee thingie, (Battlefields: Missionary Ridge, Lookout Mountain)

11. Ruby Sunshine, Franklin, Tenn.: New Orleans roast coffee, big portions (Battlefields: Franklin, Spring Hill battlefields)

10: Tacker’s Shake Shack, Marion, Ark.: Chocolate shakes! burgers. (Home of Sultana museum and Sultana burger)

9: Jimmy Madison’s, Harrisonburg, Va.: Caramelized brussel sprouts with bacon (Battlefields: Cross Keys battlefield, more)

8: Hagy’s Catfish Hotel, Shiloh, Tenn.: Ribs, sweet potato with cinnamon (Battlefields: Shiloh)

7: Heritage Bakery & Cafe, Harrisonburg,Va.: Coffee and neat, little outdoor courtyard, (Battlefields: Cross Keys battlefield, more)

6: Carter’s Pigpen, Bar-B-Que, Mechanicsville, Va.: Brisket sandwich, tea, (Battlefields: Cold Harbor, Gaines Mills, Malvern Hill, Beaver Dam Creek, more)

5. Walker's Diner, Farmville, Va.: Fast breakfasts (Cumberland Church, Appomattox Court House)

4. Beechwood, Vicksburg, Miss.: Steaks! (Battlefields: Vicksburg, Champion Hill, more)

3: Sweet Shop Bakery, Shepherdstown, W.Va.: Coffee, cheap oatmeal raisin cookies, (Battlefields: Shepherdstown, Antietam)

2. Bonnie’s At The Red Byrd, Keedysville, Md.: Breakfast, conversation (Battlefields: Antietam, South Mountain)

1. Dan’s Restaurant & Tap Room, Boonsboro, Md.: Regional beer, salmon, professional chef (Battlefields: South Mountain, Antietam)

The sign points to the greatness of Bonnie's At The Red Byrd in Keedysville, Md.

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

A spirited soldier image and the nighttime yips

A Yankee soldier with a little extra spirit?

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This ninth-plate photograph of a handsome, bearded Yankee soldier, his jacket tinted light blue, arrived in the mail recently with a note:

“Hello, John. Best of luck with the tintype,” Danny from Virginia wrote. “I’ve had it in my possession for probably 30 years with no issues. Not sure where I acquired it. It was never a problem until we moved into our 90-year-old home and my wife placed it with other military items.”

The “problem” started when Danny’s dog continually yipped in the middle of the night at the military display in the corner of their bedroom. The display included this photo.

The dog’s yipping made Danny’s wife nervous. So he placed the image in a shed. Near the shed one day, his wife felt something grab her, but no one was there.

“She got a little freaky about it,” Danny told me in a phone call.

Then she felt something grab her inside their house. Again, no one was there.

“You can stay here, but you cannot touch me, touch my dog or hurt us,” Danny’s frightened wife told the “spirit.”

By this time, Danny was flummoxed, too. So he put the image in his car. Then he placed it in his office. His wife has had no “spirited” encounters since.

Now I’m the caretaker of the image. This weekend, it goes to Daughter 1B for a test with her dog. Mrs. B is flummoxed now—with me.

Wish me luck. 😁

He spent the night with his pards.

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Sunday, October 23, 2022

Talking Civil War with a fellow Jew on the Franklin battlefield

Chuck Byrn and I on the Lotz House porch

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On a sun-kissed morning in Middle Tennessee, I power walk along Cleburne Street in Franklin, halfway to my starting point at Fort Granger on the north side of the serpentine Harpeth River. On Nov. 30, 1864, this ground — a residential neighborhood today — became a bloody hellscape during the Battle of Franklin.

I hang a right into a small park, passing cannons marking a U.S. Army artillery position, foundation stones of the old Fountain Carter cotton gin, and brilliantly colored trees just showing off. Then I spot a pipe-smoking dude in a vest, checkered shirt, and blue jeans.

“Hey, Chuck.”

Chuck Byrn often communes with the spirits 
in this park in Franklin, Tenn.
It’s my Civil War pal Chuck Byrn, a docent/tour guide at the historic Lotz House on Columbia Pike. He’s a proud Jew and a 110 percent colorful character. Byrn is eager to park himself on a bench, yards from the stony path marking U.S. Army earthworks of 1864. His back aches, the result of all that weightlifting from his high school football playing days long ago.

“I love this place,” he says as we stare at hallowed ground. This is where Byrn often comes to commune with the spirits.

Besides the Civil War, Byrn and I share a common heritage.

“You know I’m 2.6 percent Ashkenazi Jew,” I tell him as we walk to the Lotz House.” At least that’s what my 23andMe DNA test says. 

At the Lotz House, 75 yards or so behind the Union line, Byrn waves me inside. He shows off a six-pound solid shot unearthed in the side yard with several others and invites me to look around. In a corner, under Plexiglas, stands a large cooking pot containing 10,000 Minies, found years ago by a relic hunter. I wonder who counted ‘em. 

Outside, on the Lotz porch, Byrn and I shoot selfies and enjoy small talk. Then he greets guests from the comfort of a wooden bench and takes several tokes on his pipe. 

“Flip that sign around to ‘Open,’” he tells a man from Colorado. Then I bid Chuck goodbye.

“I need to get back to Fort Granger.”

“I love that place,” he says.


You might read more about Byrn in my book, “A Civil War Road Trip Of A Lifetime,” coming spring 2023. 🙏

Let’s keep history alive. 👊

In a small park along the Columbia Pike in Franklin, Tenn., a cannon marks a U.S. Army artillery position.
The stony path marks the line of Union earthworks.
Foundation stones of wartime Fountain Carter cotton gin — the site of intense fighting
on Nov. 30, 1864.

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Saturday, October 15, 2022

My adventure to graveyard where a Confederate heroine rests

We suspect this is the grave of Alice Thompson in Dungan Cemetery in Thompson's Station, Tenn. (CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)

Using my backwoods instincts honed by decades of easy living in the suburbs, I hacked through brambles, deftly eluded stumps, and climbed over fallen tree limbs to find the ancient cemetery where Alice Thompson rests in Thompson’s Station, Tenn. (The GPS of my new friend Bob, who accompanied me, helped a little, too. 😀)

Initially flummoxed by barbed-wire fences, we found a gap and exploited it to the max, making our way to a flat patch deep in the woods. Under a canopy of black walnut and cedar trees in Dungan Cemetery, we discovered the gravestone of two of Alice’s four children, Elijah and Mary, who died in 1867. 

That's me at the grave of Alice's children.
Nearby, steps from an old screw-top beer bottle, we found the gravestone under which we suspect Alice's remains rest. She died at 23 in 1870 of an unknown cause.

On March 5, 1863, as the Battle of Thompson’s Station raged around her, Alice found refuge in the cramped basement of the Homestead Manor plantation mansion astride Columbia Pike.  Not quite 17, Thompson—daughter of a physician for whom the town was named—peered from a window while cannons boomed and the muskets of grim-faced soldiers belched volleys of lead.

When a wounded 3rd Arkansas Cavalry color-bearer collapsed a few feet away, Thompson rushed from the basement and grabbed the soldier’s flag, waving it over her head.

" “Boys,” shouted a colonel, “a woman has your flag!"

An artillery shell landed near her, spraying Thompson with dirt, but it failed to explode. Then a Rebel soldier escorted the energized teen back into the basement, where she rejoined family members of the owner, his slaves, and neighbors.

Her 15 seconds of battlefield glory were over.

Bob Ireland with the gravestone for two of Alice Thompson's children, Elijah and Mary.

Gravestone of two of of Alice’s young children, Elijah and Mary. They died in 1867.
 Alice died in 1870 at 23.

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Sunday, October 02, 2022

See battle damage on house in Sharpsburg, Maryland

Historic house at 111 East Chapline Street in Sharpsburg, Md.
Artillery damage visible near a second-story window.

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Artillery damage to stairs railing.
The circa-1854 Gloss House on East Chapline Street in Sharpsburg, Md., was damaged by artillery and gunfire in September 1862. A U.S. Army artillery shot penetrated an outside wall and broke a stairs railing — that damage and bloodstains are visible inside. Over the past 40 years, I’ve visited Sharpsburg dozens of times but didn’t know about the battle-damaged house until longtime Save Historic Antietam Foundation board member Dennis Frye pointed it out on a tour during the Center For Civil War Photography’s excellent Image of War seminar. Bullet damage appears on a window frame in the rear. Federal artillery struck the roof of this house. 

Private property. Do not trespass.

            GOOGLE STREET VIEW: Battle-damaged house at 111 East Chapline Street. 

Artillery damage on side of the house on East Chapline Street
Longtime historian Dennis Frye points to an inscription on a brick.

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Sunday, September 04, 2022

Spared by the Union Army when it invaded Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Hey, that's me soaking in history (and beer) before the Utah State-Alabama football game.

This is the “Little Round House, one of the few buildings on the campus of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa not burned by the Union Army in 1865. It provided shelter for cadets on sentry duty in inclement weather. I think the Yankees also spared the football stadium. 

Roll Tide!

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Descending into a rabbit hole in 'Bloody Madison' County

Historical marker for the Shelton Laurel massacre.

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Seeking information about the Shelton Laurel Massacre of 1863, I connected last Saturday at coffee shop in the rural, hippy town of Marshall, N.C., with an “old, anarchist, ornery, hillbilly guy” named Shane, who connected me with the sweet lady at the hardware store down the street named Kathy, whose customer named Wilson, the dude with the excellent, braided gray goatee, warned me about traveling back into the area’s hollers without permission. That conversation led me to the funky bookstore across the street with the sign in a front window that read “Warning: No Stupid People Beyond This Point.” I went in anyway and visited with the proprietor, a man named Jamey, who suggested I visit in the department store across the street with Georgette, whose husband is a descendant of one of the massacre victims.

The 1970 slaying of VISTA worker Nancy Morgan
remains a mystery--at least officially.
Whew. I’m exhausted reading that first paragraph.

Georgette, who sold me an excellent fried apple pie for four bucks, connected me via phone with Vicki Lane, author of a novel on the massacre called “And The Crows Took Their Eyes.” She’s a longtime resident of this area in the rugged and mysterious Appalachians. And now I’m officially descending deep into the rabbit hole of this Civil War tragedy.

On Saturday afternoon, I had an enlightening conversation with Vicki about the massacre and the place she has called home since a move from Florida in 1975. As an outsider, she felt compelled to adapt to the ways of the locals in this county that earned the nickname “Bloody Madison.” 

“We came here to learn,” says Lane, who lives on a farm in the hills outside Marshall. “We learned how to make tobacco. We learned how to milk cows. And we learned how to butcher pigs.”

The Shelton Laurel Massacre cast a long shadow over this beautiful part of the country— once one of the country’s poorest areas. Some still live without running water. But “rich hippies” and other transplants have greatly changed the character of Marshall and the area.

“Marshall used to have a grocery store, a funeral home and two florists,” says Lane. “And a guy who swept the street with a push broom.” But most locals seem content with the changes, Lane says.

The Shelton Laurel Massacre—the murders by Confederate soldiers of area Unionists in January 1863—isn’t the only area tragedy to earn national headlines. In 1970, law enforcement discovered the body of a government worker for the VISTA program—an anti-poverty effort—naked and hog-tied in the back of her abandoned car off a mountain road near Hot Springs, N.C. The murder of Nancy Morgan remains unsolved, at least officially.

There’s no mystery who killed those Unionists. Lt. Col James Keith commanded the Rebel soldiers who murdered 13 near Laurel Creek—including members of the Shelton clan. Keith never faced justice, living out his final days in Arkansas.

Dozens of Sheltons still live in the area.

“A friend who was a mail carrier told me he’d have to deliver mail to 15 Daniel Sheltons and 18 John Sheltons,” says Lane. “He never knew if he was going to the right mailbox.”

For more, read my book, “A Civil War Road Trip of a Lifetime,” coming spring 2023. 🙏 For more on Lane’s book, go here or buy it on

VISTA worker Nancy Morgan was murdered near Hot Springs, N.C.

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Thursday, August 11, 2022

A slow-motion look at a vintage baseball game at-bat

A Nashville Maroons player in the Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball belts the “onion” — the baseball — to right-center during a game at Bicentennial Park in Nashville. Read my story in America's Civil War magazine about my playing experience in the association.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

'Incredible bravery': A visit to New Market Heights (Va.)

Tim Talbott stands by Four Mile Creek, an obstacle for the USCT on Sept. 29, 1864.

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Dripping with sweat on a sweltering Virginia morning, I trudge behind Tim Talbott deep into the woods, a half-dozen or so miles south of Richmond. In the distance, traffic drones on the interstate. But it seems like we’re in another world.

Talbott's T-shirt, drenched in sweat, features a copy
of a painting of a USCT soldier.
“Is this remote enough for you?” says Talbott, the 52-year-old chief administrative officer for the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust. We are tramping upon the New Market Heights battlefield, where, on Sept. 29, 1864, 14 U.S. Colored Troops and two of their white officers earned the Medal of Honor for valor.

Days before I set up my visit to Virginia, Talbott messaged me about New Market Heights: “It’s always an honor to be on that ground.” But this important battle gets stiff-armed in the history books.

Talbott grew up in Madison, Ind., a stop on the Underground Railroad—the network escaped slaves used to flee to free states and Canada. He has a deep interest in the experiences of Black people during the Civil War. The wallpaper on his phone is of Frederick Douglass, the famous orator, abolitionist, writer, and reformer. The copy of the painting on his maroon T-shirt, drenched in sweat, is of a one-legged USCT soldier on crutches. New Market Heights is his favorite battlefield.

During our nearly two-hour trek, Talbott and I examine the remains of earthworks of the famed Texas Brigade, swat away spider webs and mayflies, battle briars, remain wary of ticks, and explore Four Mile Creek—a major obstacle for the USCT as they advanced under withering fire toward the Rebel works. The USCT eventually forced the Confederates to abandon their line.

“Incredible bravery,” Talbott says of the Black soldiers at New Market Heights.

For more, read my book, A Civil War Road Trip of a Lifetime, coming soon.

Remains of earthworks constructed by the Texas Brigade
Tim Talbott navigates a path deep in the woods.

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Thursday, July 28, 2022

I love 'witness trees.' Plus, a true story about one in Nashville!

Sid Champion V, a great dude, at Champion Hill (Miss.) battlefield

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Mrs. B loves Civil War "witness" trees. So if you'd like to send me a hunk to add to my collection in the garage … 😁

True story: After a violent storm in Nashville, I noticed limbs from the witness tree scattered about. So, I called a friend, a lawyer and longtime relic hunter. My friend called the property owner, who let us inspect fallen limbs during a tree trimming.

“You get this one,” my friend told me. Several waves of his metal detector had determined no wartime metal embedded in my hunk.

Then he had five or six other large hunks of witness tree hauled away. A few waves of his magic wand over them indicated the presence of… well… something inside each.

Weeks later, he had the hunks X-rayed at his veterinarian, expecting the things to “light up like a Christmas tree” with battle relics. The result: Zip. My friend looked like his dog had just died. One of my hunks, probably filled with wartime lead, still rests in my garage.

In this post are a few of my favorite witness trees.

Let’s keep history alive. 👊

Nashville: Granny White Pike, on old Lea Farm
Antietam: Burnside Bridge
Antietam: West Woods. This one is probably gone.
Fisher's Hill (Va.) battlefield. Magnificent.
Nashville: Secret location
Nashville; This one toppled in storm. My brother-in-law Nels gives perspective.

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Thursday, July 21, 2022

5 minutes at grave of Confederate Lt. general John Pemberton

Born in Philadelphia to a prominent family, John Pemberton married a Virginia woman named Martha Thompson in 1848, and lived in the South before the Civil War. A captain in the regular army when the war began, the West Point graduate and Mexican War veteran marched his troops to Washington, resigned his commission, and joined the Confederate army in 1861. Pemberton became infamous in the Confederacy for surrendering Vicksburg, Miss., on July 4, 1863. He died on July 13, 1881, and was buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadealphia. Read more on my blog here.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Faceoff: 'Sledge of Nashville' vs. 'Wizard of the Saddle'

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At the excellent Tennessee State Museum in Nashville, Union General George Thomas, a Virginian and West Pointer who remained loyal to the United States, faces off against Rebel cavalry commander Nathan Bedford Forrest, a post-war KKK member and notorious slave trader. The life-sized painting of Thomas is something to behold. In July 2021, the bronze bust of Forrest was removed from the Tennessee State Capitol. The removal of Forrest followed years of protests and pressure by activists. In the summer of 2020, Gov. Bill Lee declared it was time for the bust to go. 

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Thursday, July 07, 2022

Then & Now: Preservation at Cold Harbor (Va.) crossroads

Cropped enlargement of June 1864 image by Timothy O'Sullivan (Library of Congress)

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I recently spent time reporting in Mechanicsville, Va., for a Cold Harbor-related story. It was good to see the American Battlefield Trust had purchased the site of one of the taverns that once stood at the Cold Harbor crossroads. A post-war structure already has been demolished. Two inns stood at the crossroads in 1864—one photographed by Timothy O’Sullivan on June 4, 1864. It was run by W.P. Burnett. The “Now” image shows that site, although not from the same angle as O'Sullivan's. Here’s an ABT video about the inn. I counted 15 soldiers in this cropped enlargement of the O'Sullivan image, which you can click on to enlarge further:

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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Then & Now: Deep Bottom Landing (Va.) at James River

1865 image of Deep Bottom Landing pontoon (Andrew Russell | Library of Congress)
Present-day view of the site, a popular fishing spot.

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After the Battle of Cold Harbor in June 1864, Ulysses Grant had Benjamin Butler place a small force from his Army of the James here at Deep Bottom Landing to protect the pontoon bridge that allowed Union forces to cross the James River. It’s an important but seldom-visited spot. Apparently it’s a good place to fish. The site is south of seldom-visited Fort Harrison, Confederate defenses south of Richmond. A fabulous bike trail nearby. I’ll be back.
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Thursday, June 23, 2022

'Are you Union?': My first ghostly adventure in Gettysburg

Weirdness at the Sachs Covered Bridge
Your adventurous blogger

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So I went on a paranormal adventure in Gettysburg over the weekend, words I never in the history of ever expected to type. It was a night of spirit meters, ectoplasm, EVP recorders, and a bump in the night on the Sachs Covered Bridge at 12:03 a.m., which is roughly five hours past my usual bedtime.

Oh, that bump in the night isn’t what you think. It was merely a Rem Pod placed on the bridge to detect spirits. You can get one of those merry-go-round-like thingies online if you are interested, according to Hayden, the dude from an after-hours paranormal place in town.

A Rem Pod used to detect ghosts.
At the bridge, things kind of got weird, and that was long before I met a woman from Ohio named Janet (completely sober), whom I observed holding a sticklike thing and asking the spirits at the bridge:

“Are you Union?”

“Are you Confederate?”

I was told that a Sachs Covered Bridge spirit nicknamed “Tennessee” will smoke your cigarette if you leave one on the railing. I got a chill just writing that sentence, and I don’t even smoke.

Our lead investigator told me of a soldier ghost she spotted on the Baltimore Pike one night after her shift at the Dairy Queen. So, I clutched the steering wheel extra-hard and kept my eyes peeled on the drive back to my hotel. Don’t worry, Mrs. B. All is well.

Much more on this adventure in my book, coming soon. 🙏

Let’s keep history alive. 👊

A skirmish was fought here near the McCurdy Schoolhouse. But I detected no ghosts.
A device used to detect spirits.

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Thursday, June 16, 2022

An adventure near the Big Black River in Mississippi

The muddy Big Black River.

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On a recent adventure with the inimitable Sid Champion V, we stopped to admire the mighty and muddy Big Black, near where Ulysses Grant pummeled John Pemberton on May 17, 1863. The Union victory led to the 47-day siege of Vicksburg. You can still see the foundation stones of a destroyed wartime bridge in the water.

Champion, as he often does, told a story. He was giving a Civil War tour here to a husband and wife. From a spot above the river, far from the slow-moving Big Black, the woman spotted an alligator, ran to car, and locked herself in.

“No alligator is gonna chase her up here!” Champion scoffed.

This backwoods adventure also included me shooting of a photo of a huge “witness tree” in someone’s front yard, examination of ground where Yankee artillery killed Confederate General Lloyd Tilghman, and a brief side trip to the restored wartime Coker house.

I think we also passed a chicken processing plant and talked about squirrel hunting and squirrel brains.

Let’s keep history alive. 👊 | For more, read my book, coming soon. 🙏

Witness tree on Smith Station Road.
Restored Coker house, a wartime residence.
Death site of Confederate General Lloyd Tilghman, killed May 16, 1863 at Champion Hill battle.

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