Thursday, December 31, 2009
Saturday, December 26, 2009
On September 19-20, 1863, Confederate and Union armies collided in northern Georgia in one of the most violent battles in American history. By the time it was over, the Battle of Chickamauga had cost the two armies more than 34,000 men killed, wounded or missing in action.
The site of the massive engagement is now preserved as part of the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, which is located in and around Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Chickamauga Battlefield is the largest unit of the park and is located just south of Chattanooga at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia.
The battle developed when the Confederate Army of Tennessee, commanded by General Braxton Bragg, moved to intercept the Union Army of the Cumberland, led by General William S. Rosecrans. The two armies had waved a campaign of maneuver for several months as Rosecrans advanced on Bragg with an army of 60,000 men. The Confederate general had a much smaller force of 43,000, but held his army intact and withdrew down through Tennessee to North Georgia.
The tide of the campaign turned, however, when General James Longstreets Corps from the Army of Northern Virginia arrived in Georgia to reinforce Bragg. Now at the head of an army similar in size to that of Rosecrans, the Confederate general turned on the Federal army along the west bank of Chickamauga Creek.
The battle began on the morning of September 19, 1863, and for two days the two armies mauled each other on a battlefield that was heavily wooded in place. One the first day, Bragg pushed back the Union lines for more than one mile. Then, on the second day, he started a hammering attack on the Federal left flank that forced Rosecrans to begin shifting troops in that direction. In doing so, the Federals accidentally opened a gap in their lines. When Longstreet's Division attacked, Confederate soldiers led by General John Bell Hood stormed through the gap and pierced the Union lines. The Federal army crumbled and the Confederates won one of the most complete tactical victories of the war.
To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/chickamauga.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
The ground on which the Battle of Shiloh was fought was actually of great importance hundreds of years before that Civil War engagement.
Archaeologists believe that a section of the battlefield, overlooking the Tennessee River, was once the central town of a powerful Native American chiefdom that vanished an estimated 800 years ago. Because the Shiloh land was preserved as part of one of the country's first national military parks, the Shiloh Indian Mounds have also been protected from plowing, erosion, looting and other threats. As a result, it is one of the best preserved Mississippian era Native American sites in the country.
All but one of the mounds, which have been designated a National Historic Landmark, are pyramidal in form, with flat tops on which structures of various types once stood. The other mound, oval in shape, was used as a burial site for high status individuals. The entire site was surrounded by a strong palisade made of upright poles plastered with clay.
Surrounding the mounds, the villages of the town were built of "wattle and daub" construction, meaning basically that their walls were made by weaving smaller branches through stronger upright posts and then plastering the whole with clay. When the town was abandoned 800 years ago, the houses gradually collapsed, but the rings left by the falling walls can still be seen today. Shiloh is one of the few places where above ground traces of prehistoric Native American structures are visible.
To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/shiloh4.
Monday, December 21, 2009
In April of 1862, Confederate and Union forces mauled each other for two days around a small log church that gave the battle its name - Shiloh.
The Battle of Shiloh was so violent and deadly that it send shock waves across both North and South. The massive battle in the woods of Tennessee left more than 23,000 men and boys dead, wounded or missing. It forever changed the face of war and began to make clear the horrendous cost in blood that the nation would pay before the conflict was decided.
Shiloh today is one of the most pristine Civil War battlefields in the nation. Preserved as Shiloh National Military Park, the battlefield is still in fields and woods just as it was in 1862. Cannon and monuments dot the landscape and visitors can see such places as the Hornet's Nest, where more than 60 Confederate cannon destroyed a Union force of 6,000 men; Bloody Pond, where soldiers of both sides bathed their wounds and turned the water red with blood, and Pittsburg Landing, the objective point of the Confederate army.
To learn more, please visit our new series of pages on the Battle of Shiloh by clicking www.exploresouthernhistory.com/shiloh1. Be sure to check out the additional links at the bottom of the page.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
The Red River Campaign of 1864 was one of the most disastrous Union efforts of the entire Civil War.
The campaign as planned called for two Union armies to converge on the strategic city of Shreveport, Louisiana. The first, led by General Nathaniel Banks, advanced up the Red River to Alexandria, Louisiana, and was closing in on Shreveport when it was thrashed at the Battle of Mansfield by the much smaller Confederate army of General Richard Taylor. The defeat so unnerved Banks that he soon was in full retreat back for the Mississippi River, with Taylor nipping at his heels.
The second army, led by General Frederick Steele, marched from the Arkansas cities of Little Rock and Fort Smith and headed southwest for Shreveport. Confederate resistance stiffened as these forces joined and advanced, but supply shortages forced Steele into the fortified city of Camden in southern Arkansas. The Cofnfederates then won major victories at Poison Spring and Marks' Mills as Steele struggled to find provisions for his hungry army.
Finally deciding that he could do no more, Steele turned his army back for Little Rock. Confederate forces did their best to slow him until their reinforcements could come up. On the afternoon of April 29, 1864, they caught him as he was trying to move his wagon train across a pontoon bridge at Jenkins' Ferry on the Saline River.
The Battle of Jenkins' Ferry opened in earnest the next morning at dawn as Confederate troops surged forward into the river swamps of the Saline to attack the Union army. The Federal soldiers took up positions behind hastily constructed breastworks and beat back repeated Southern attacks. Unfortunately for the Confederates, their assaults were poorly coordinated and they were unable to prevail even after catching Steele's army in an exposed position.
The weather was extremely rainy during the hours leading up to the battle and the men of both sides fought in water that was from a few inches to a few feet deep. The conditions were among the most miserable of any battle of the war. It was the last significant encounter of the Arkansas phase of the Red River Campaign.
To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/jenkinsferry1.
Friday, December 18, 2009
The Historic Pensacola Village is a unique large scale exhibit of historic sites, structures and museums in downtown Pensacola, Florida. It provides visitors the opportunity to walk back in time through numerous eras of Gulf Coast history.
The structures preserved in the village and open for guided tour include homes dating back to the Colonial era. The LaValle House, for example, is a French Creole home that was built in 1805 when Florida was still a Spanish colony. Inside, visitors can see how Pensacola residents lived during that era.
Nearby stands the Julee Cottage, the home of a free black woman named Julee Panton during the years before slavery was abolished. It is one of the few places in America where visitors can learn about the lives of free African Americans during the slave years.
Other highlights of the village include Old Christ Church, built in 1832 and used as a stables by Union soldiers during the Civil War; the 1871 Dorr House and the Folk Victorian style Lear-Rocheblave House. Pensacola's Colonial Archaeological Trail also passes through the historic village, providing exhibits and other information on ruins dating from the colonial era that have been uncovered by archaeologists in the downtown era.
To lear more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/pensacola2.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
A new section exploring the history, historic sites and natural wonders in and around the beautiful Northwest Arkansas city of Fayetteville is now online.
To visit, please click www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fayetteville.
Consistently ranked as one of the top ten places in America to live and work, Fayetteville is a charming and progressive city located on a plateau surrounded by the beautiful Ozark mountains. Founded in 1828 and incorporated in 1836, it is the home of the University of Arkansas and sits in one of the most historic regions of the South.
During the Civil War, major engagements were fought within 30 miles of Fayetteville. The Battle of Pea Ridge, to the north, was one of the largest encounters of the war to that point when it took place on March 7-8, 1862. It was followed on December 7th of that same year by the Battle of Prairie Grove. Both battlefields are now beautifully preserved park areas within easy access of the city.
Other historic sites in and around the city include the site of the Battle of Fayetteville, numerous historic homes and structures, the Confederate and National cemeteries, Devil's Den State Park and the Cane Hill battlefield.
To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fayetteville.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
One of the most unique free attractions of the Christmas season is the statewide Trail of Holiday Lights promoted by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.
The state has put together a directory of the best lighting displays across the state, broken down by region, to help residents and visitors enjoy some of the prettiest scenes of the season. From the towns of the Delta to beautiful mountain settings in the Ouachitas and Ozarks, the driving tour is great family fun.
The photos seen here are of one of the stops on the trail, the courthouse and town square of Paris, Arkansas. Located almost in the shadow of Mt. Magazine, the tallest mountain in the state, Paris is a beautiful and historic community that has turned its central square into a winter wonderland of more than 100,000 lights.
You can read more about the Paris lights and follow a link to the official site of the Arkansas trail of Holiday Lights by clicking www.exploresouthernhistory.com/parislights.
Friday, December 11, 2009
If you are looking for something a little different to do with the family over Christmas vacation, you might be surprised to discover how wonderful of a place Alabama's DeSoto State Park can be during the winter.
This is the time of the year that the park's numerous small (and one huge) waterfalls are often at their best. The spectacular sight of crystal clear water tumbling over rocks and through the ravines and canyons of the park adds sight and sound during the season after the fall leaves are gone.
In addition, the park features miles of hiking trails, a very good restaurant, chalets, cabins and a hotel/lodge. The white lights of the lodge office combine with the beautiful green and red of wild holly to create a nice touch of holiday cheer.
In addition, DeSoto State Park offers easy access to the Little River Canyon National Preserve, a magnificent national park area just a couple of miles away. The canyon is quite picturesque during the winter, as the waterfalls flow well and the reduction in vegetation provides spectacular views.
To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/desotopark1 and to see photos of the park in winter, be sure to visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/desotowinter.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
A major and beautiful resort area on Georgia's Atlantic Coast, Jekyll Island is steeped in the history of America.
Guale Indians once occupied the island, followed in turn by the Spanish, English, Americans and Confederates. Now noted for its spectacular beaches, stunning marsh views and magnificent historic district, Jekyll Island was once a strategic point for the Confederate military as it tried to defend Brunswick harbor from Union attack.
Southern troops built earthwork batteries faced in part with iron taken from railroad lines and placed heavy cannon on the island. The batteries were occupied into 1862 when General Robert E. Lee, then assigned to oversee the defense of Georgia, decided that his limited forces and artillery were too dispersed. He recommended the evacuation of the batteries on Jekyll Island and the guns were moved to Savannah.
The remains of the Confederate batteries are one of the most overlooked historic sites on Jekyll Island. Although the earthworks themselves are located adjacent to the runways of the island's airport and are not open to the public, they can be viewed from a small picnic area on River View next to the airport.
To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/jekyllbatteries.
Monday, December 7, 2009
It was 68 years ago today that Japanese aircraft and submarines carried out an unprovoked attack on the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. In the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, it was "a date which will live in infamy."
Beginning that Sunday morning, three waves of Japanese aircraft as well as a small group of submarines attacked both military and civilian targets in Hawaii. It was an attack carried out without warning and without a declaration of war by the Empire of Japan. By the time the fighting was over, 2,345 U.S. servicemen and women and 57 civilians had been killed. Another 1,282 were wounded.
It was the attack that mobilized the Greatest Generation - men, women and children - to stand up for their country and win a war that preserved freedom for the citizens of our own country and many other countries fore 68 years (and counting). I have had the honor, in my life, of knowing several Pearl Harbor survivors and I remember them today with great respect.
There are many places across the South where you can learn more about World War II and the men and women who fought it. Almost every community in our region has either a World War II memorial or the graves of World War II veterans in its cemeteries. Here are a few that might be of interest:
- Battleship U.S.S. Alabama - Mobile, Alabama
- Fort Pickens, Gulf Islands National Seashore - Pensacola, Florida
- National Naval Aviation Musem - Pensacola, Florida
- F.D.R.'s Little White House - Warm Springs, Georgia
- Fort Gibson National Cemetery - Fort Gibson, Oklahoma
- Fort Moultrie - Sullivan's Island, South Carolina
Saturday, December 5, 2009
If the cold weather that swept across the South this week has you dreaming about warmer places, there is a place in Arkansas where the steam rises from the mountain sides 365 days a year.
Hot Springs National Park, located in the heart of downtown Hot Springs, Arkansas, preserves the famed "hot springs of the Ouachita." The stunning historic site is considered by many to be America's first national park, and with just reason. The U.S. Government set aside thousands of acres surrounding the springs in 1830 to prevent their exploitation by private developers and preserve them as a national resource.
Long before the action was taken, however, the hot springs had gained fame. They are mentioned in documents relating to the Hernando de Soto expedition of the 1540s and by the 1700s were frequented by early French explorers and fur trappers. President Thomas Jefferson sent an expedition to find the springs in 1804 and by the 1820s visitors from across the United States were already making the trek into the Arkansas mountains to soak in the mysterious waters that many still believe hold healing powers.
By the time of the Civil War, Hot Springs had become a major resort area. Soldiers marching past during the Red River Campaign described a community evacuated due to war. In the years following the War Between the States, the resort rebounded quickly and even attracted the likes of Frank and Jesse James, who vacationed - and committed at least a couple of robberies - in the area.
They were not the only unsavory types who made their way to Hot Springs. The community became known for its gambling and nightlife during the 1920s and 1930s and attracted the likes of Al Capone before Governor Winthrop Rockefeller finally shut down the gambling and cleaned up Hot Springs in 1967. Since then it has developed as a marvelous family resort and treasured historic site.
Steaming water flows down the mountain year round and visitors can even enjoy a soak in slightly cooled water from the springs in a restored historic bathhouse and at several other spas in Hot Springs. As a result, the city is popular year-round. Garvan Gardens in Hot Springs also boasts one of the finest Christmas lighting displays in the South.
To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/hotspringsindex.