Stop Here! George Washington’s Office Museum

Located approximately seventy-five miles west Washington D.C. at the northern end of the Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, Winchester offers rich history and well-preserved historic sites. Though Civil War or music history probably first comes to mind from Winchester’s past, George Washington actually spent time here in the Colonial Era and took his first political steps representing this area.

The small log building that Washington used as an office during his time here has been preserved by the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society and is open for touring April through October. Let’s stop here and take a look…

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1864: “We Must Make Free Men Of Them Beyond All Question”

Confederate Army of Tennessee – January 2, 1864

…Like past years, 1864 will diminish our ranks by the casualties of war, and what source of repair is there left for us? We therefore see in the recommendations of the President only a temporary expedient, which at the best will leave us twelve months hence in the same predicament we are in now. The President attempts to meet only one of the depressing causes mentioned; for the other two he has proposed no remedy. They remain to generate lack of confidence in our final success, and to keep us moving down hill as heretofore. Adequately to meet the causes which are now threatening ruin to our country, we propose, in addition to a modification of the President’s plans, that we retain in service for the war all troops now in service, and that we immediately commence training a large reserve of the most courageous of our slaves, and further that we guarantee freedom within a reasonable time to every slave in the South who shall remain true to the Confederacy in this war. Continue reading

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10 Things To Know About Civil War Maps

I’ve always been the type of researcher that wants a good map. Give me the battle details and a good map and I can follow along, but without a map – if I don’t already know the terrain and maneuver facts – I’ll be lost. Learning how to read the terrain of a battlefield is vastly different that just reading a map, but there are similarities.

Last year I had several interesting experiences: studying the creation of rather famous battle map through archived documents, learning how to read a battlefield accurately, and getting to work with a modern mapmaker to create essential maps for my new book. All of this got me thinking about mapping during the 1860’s.

To start off Gazette665’s January theme for Friday blog posts, here are ten important overview facts to know about Civil War maps and mapmaking. Continue reading

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Stop Here! Historic Places To Visit

Last year I made two trips to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley for research, and on one of those journeys my mom came with me. We’d be driving down a wonderful one and a half lane country road, and I’d call out, “Wait! Stop! That’s a historic marker.” So we’d pull off and check out the sign or site.

In the time I’ve spent in The Valley, I’ve found some really remarkable and wonderful places to visit. (There are even more on my list to go back and see!) For the first Wednesday blog series of 2019, I thought it would be fun to take you on a trip through words and photographs to some of my favorite sites in Virginia that are easily accessible. Continue reading

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Happy New Year – 2019

It’s a new year! And we’re wishing you a successful and happy 365 days ahead.

What’s Coming Next at Gazette665…

While there are a few surprises that will stay tucked away for now, there are definitely some plans for 2019 that I’m so excited to share with you. Here’s a little preview about what to expect on Gazette665 this year. Continue reading

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1863: “The Last Day Of The Eventful Year”

December 31, 1863

This is the last day of the eventful year and a general despondency prevails among us. Many are talking of the good old times we used to have at home about this time, or in camp. Story telling among us occupies the dark lonely hours from 6 to 10 p.m. A sickening feeling comes over us as we realizes that we are prisoners with no immediate prospects of being released by exchange….

The Rebel guard say that the “Yankees are dying right smart now at the hospitals.” We learned that they were buried in trenches out back of Libby Hill, which is next to Church Hill, east of us. So we die like dogs, and are buried like dogs! The Rebels furnished us with 300 sheets of coarse paper and brown paper envelopes so that we could write home today. We are limited to twenty words, envelopes to be left unsealed so that Turner may read them first before posting. We advise those to whom we write to enclose a 10 cent silver piece by return mail if they answer our letters or they would not be received over the Rebel lines. Pieces of lead pencil were furnished us also to write with. Very few of us wrote at all. Many had forgotten the addresses. Others would not let their friends or relations know how they were suffering. Nothing could be sent us by our friends, for the Rebels would appropriate the things to their own use. And, knowing that Turner would inspect and read every letter, many would not give him the grim satisfaction of doing so. Walsh, Halley, Rhineheart, and myself wrote home. We just said that we were captured by Mosby 27th November last at headquarters General French at Brandy Station, and that we were all well and in good heart looking for an early exchange….

Private Robert Knox Sneden, journal entry for December 31, 1863

John Mosby

Captured By Mosby

1863 had been a particularly good for Confederate Major John Mosby. Early in the year, he had got permission to create an independent group of partisans which was allowed to operate separate from the other cavalry commands in Virginia. Company A, 43rd Virginia Cavalry had its share of secretive and successful missions; they captured Union generals, regularly raided supply lines, and caused a lot of trouble for the Yankees.

Private Robert Knox Sneden was one of the unfortunates Yankees captured by Mosby during a raid on General French’s headquarters. A thirty-one year old Canadian who had moved to New York City a decade before the Civil War, Sneden had worked as an architect and then joined the 40th New York Infantry. During the war, he moved around, serving as a cartographer or working in logistics for several Union generals. Sneden had been assigned to William H. French’s staff during the Mine Run Campaign and on November 27th got captured when the Confederate partisans arrived.

Robert Knox Sneden

In Prison

Sneden spent his first months of captivity in Richmond, lodged in a tobacco warehouse turned prison that stood beside the infamous Libby Prison. His guards’ comments about dying Yankees would have been especially troublesome since he was fighting typhoid fever. In February 1864, Sneden would be moved south to a new prison camp called Andersonville. Ten months later, he would be exchanged.

One of the remarkable things about Sneden was his determination to create a record of his experiences. While some soldiers wrote detailed accounts (primary sources), Snowden went a step farther. He created illustrations. He sketched battles, camps, and prisons – and later – after the war, he turned the sketches into watercolor images. His journal and illustrations survived and are preserved and published, giving researchers a glimpse into scenes of historic importance through a soldier’s eyes. Even in Richmond’s prison and Andersonville, he created sketches and adding to the knowledge and memory of those places.

Virginia Historical Society and Library of Congress have preserved Sneden’s illustrations and the collection has been called “the largest collection of Civil War soldier art ever produced.” If you want to see the sketches, his maps are available here and some of the sketches here.

Historical Musings

For the Union soldiers in Confederate prisons, New Year’s Eve was not a joyous time. Still, they spent some time talking over the past year – something many of us will do at some point today. That part of the account really stood out to me because it’s a reminder that no matter where we are, no matter how rough or amazing the year may have been, it’s important to review the happenings and be thankful for the good times.

We weren’t captured by John Mosby and we aren’t sitting in a Richmond prison. But we have freedoms because those soldiers did. Maybe this primary source will add some perspective and new things to consider as we look back on our own experiences in 2018…just as the soldiers remembered 1863.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

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