Yesterday evening, August 28th, I sat on our deck in Hoboken, New Jersey, right before sunset. I watched the sun sink below the horizon and thought about what was kicking off down in Virginia, 150 years ago. The battle at Brawner Farm began just before sunset, at about 6 p.m. in 1862, but now with time zones and other factors, it was nearly 8 p.m. here by the time the sky had turned to a gradient of orange upwards to dark blue, and everyday objects replaced their hard lines with shadows.
Brawner Farm was the first battle for the Union unit known as The Iron Brigade, a unit I’ve developed a particular fondness for. They didn’t have that name 150 years ago at Brawner Farm, though, not yet. They’d earn that at the battle of South Mountain in less than a month. On August 28th, they were known as the Black Hats. The unit was made up of entirely “western” soldiers, men from Wisconsin and Indiana; the only brigade in the eastern theater to be made up so. In order to further distinguish them, their commander John Gibbon outfit them in the regular army uniform of tall black hats, long blue frock coats, and even dress leggings. Imagine going into battle wearing that.
The unit was formed in late 1861, Continue Reading »
This past Sunday marked the 200th anniversary of USS Constitution’s victory over the British frigate HMS Guerriere. During the battle Constitution earned her nickname “Old Ironsides” when enemy cannonballs bounced off of her oak hull.
In honor of the event, the old ship sailed under her own sail power again on Sunday, making it only the second time she has done so in the past 116 years. It takes a lot of upkeep to keep a modern boat in good sailing shape, but make that boat 200+ years old, construct her of wood, and soak that wood in water for two centuries, and you can imagine how much of an achievement it was to get the old girl underway once more.
USS Constitution and her battle with the Guerriere was one of those major naval milestones for the United States (much like USS Monitor’s encounter with CSS Virginia during the Civil War), and after a visit to the ship herself in Boston when I was a child, it was a major formative milestone for me as well. Continue Reading »
When I was in the sixth grade and at a book fair, I chose a book based on its cover: a listing ship ablaze, black smoke in the sky, aircraft hurtling overhead. It intrigued me, to say the least. I didn’t realize it then, but I’d just selected my first book of many about WWII in the Pacific. That book wasn’t about Pearl Harbor, and I’ve never been a big student of that particular battle for several reasons, but I’ve always known the Arizona Memorial was one of the few places that I could “be where it happened” for a WWII naval battle. And so, for most of my adult life — and for a good chunk of my childhood — I’ve looked forward to visiting the USS Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor.
We got to the memorial visitor’s center early, and even at 8 a.m., Continue Reading »
In a state-of-the-art museum and conservation lab in Newport News, Virginia, sit large tanks of fresh water that hold large rusting chunks of iron that are over 150 years old. 150 years isn’t a long time for some museum artifacts; in Manhattan one can visit the Metropolitan Museum and see Buddhist statues over 500 years old, then walk several yards down the hall and see mummies thousands of years old. But the significance of the rusted iron from USS Monitor that rests in The Mariner’s Museum in Virginia isn’t in its age; it’s in the revolution that it brought.
The battle between USS Monitor and CSS Virginia 150 years ago today is one of the few naval battles, Continue Reading »
I wouldn’t say being in Hawaii particularly reminded me of my Navy days, but there were triggers, prompts to my memory of how, once upon a time, I sailed in large gray aluminum and steel warships, not unlike those that were stationed nearby at Pearl Harbor. But it wasn’t the proximity of those warships that brought back my Navy days. It was the Fruit Loops.
I hadn’t had them in years, but at the breakfast buffet our first morning in Waikiki, there they were. In one of those tall clear glass cylinders that look like a gumball machine. You turn a knob and out comes the sweet, crispy goodness inside.
As I munched on my cereal and my wife gave me the “really, you’re eating that?” look, I was reminded Continue Reading »
I’d never really thought about wedding rings much before. But, after getting engaged, it dawned on me that I might need one. Tradition and all that. I’ve had friends that had custom made items that look like the One Ring from “The Lord of the Rings” books, friends who wear family heirlooms, and others who have bought antique jewelry to suit their purposes. I came to realize fairly quickly that I wanted something historical to wear, something with some time behind it. I’ve always been interested in what once-was, and at the time of my shopping for a ring, I was well into my research period for a Civil War novel. I’d been spending a lot of time in Gettysburg.
148 years ago this past Saturday, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address to officially dedicate the Soldier’s National Cemetery in Gettysburg, PA, four months after the famous battle of 1863. The speech is noteworthy both for its historical significance, as well as its literary importance; very rarely have so few words said so much.
Edward Everett was the first to speak at the dedication and spoke for nearly two hours, and so, when Lincoln then stood to deliver his address, the photographers were prepared for another long presentation. They were caught off guard when Lincoln delivered his under-three hundred work piece in mere minutes. As such, there is only one known photo of Lincoln during the ceremony, shown below. Lincoln is highlighted in the very center, just sitting down after speaking.
My interest in the photo and the speech, for this post, though, is not on Lincoln. See the small tree in the background of the photo? That tree still stands in the cemetery in Gettysburg. In 2008 a storm brought down a large portion of it (it still survives, though, and is even showing new growth), and I was able to acquire part of it (Thanks, Bill!). Through a friend’s recommendation, I found Minter & Richter Designs on Etsy. A few emails were exchanged, I sent them the wood sample, and after various discussions and a few weeks time, they delivered my bronze-sheathed ring, with an inlay of wood from that tree that watched Lincoln speak 148 years.
The ring has developed a nice patina since the above photo was taken, and the bronze blends very well with the wood inlay. I’ve since moved on to other projects and and haven’t had the time to visit Gettysburg for the past two years, but it is nice to carry with me a piece of such a momentous historical event. Oh, and it’s nice to be married, too.
This past weekend Kristen and I joined some of the usual suspects from Altered Fluid and headed to the tunnels of Manhattan for story ideas and just general coolness. The yearly Nostalgia Train run happens every Sunday this month, running on the M line. Old trains, old advertisements, and lots of people who really go all out in period costumes made for an enjoyable afternoon.
Click on the photos for more… well, photos.
I’ve started my first scratch-build model project. The subject is USS Carondelet, a City Class gunboat of the American Civil War. You can see my progress so far HERE.
Apologies if the Blog and parts of the website appear wonky over the next few weeks. I’m finally in the process of updating my site, and it is very much a work in progress. I REALLY need to find a new theme for this Blog, as the formatting has gone haywire and I can’t seem to fix it!
Oh well, the price of technology.
Besides visiting the NASM while in D.C. this past weekend, I also spent more than my fair share of time out at the Manassas National Battlefield Park. It’s a beautiful woodland area now smack dab in the middle of urban sprawl. I have to admit to not knowing a lot about most of the first battle of Bull Run, and I have only studied about one aspect of the Second Battle.
My area of interest is Brawner’s Farm, where the Iron Brigade first saw combat as a unit on August 28th, 1862. The farm remained in private hands after the war and up until the late 20th century. It’s still a relatively unknown part of the park, as the National Parks Service is still restoring the site and mentions it only in passing in the park literature. It took me a while to find the place amidst terrific thunderstorms that moved through the Washington area on May 29th, but find it I did, at last, and during a 15 minute break in the weather I was able to walk the field completely alone.
The photos are random shots from the Henry Hill area of the First Bull Run area of the battlefield, and the shots of the white two-story house are the Brawner farmhouse.