By The Banks Of Rock Creek

Rock Creek is a stream to the east of the town of Gettysburg. Reading historical accounts sometimes leaves a researcher with the impression that Rock Creek was omnipresent. (It’s not, it just happens to meander all over the east part of the battlefield zone.)

A tributary to the larger Monocacy River, Rock Creek became a semi-important landmark and high-dangerous enemy during July 1863. From peaceful stream to battlefield landmark to dangerous floodwaters, let’s explore some historical details of Rock Creek and how it was incorporated into my recent historical novel. Continue reading

General Ewell’s Gettysburg: Prudence or Folly?

The debate is endless…who’s to blame for the Confederate’s loss of the Battle of Gettysburg? While Longstreet and Stuart are primary scapegoats, General Richard Ewell acquires his share of blame too.

But, if this blog devolves to “blame-fest” and character besmirching, then I am not doing my job of teaching the facts. So, today, we’ll explore some biographical facts and another facet of Gettysburg history…and you can draw your own conclusions about the general.

A Warrior

Richard Stoddert Ewell was a warrior. Born in 1817, he grew up in Virginia, not far from the future site of the Battles of Manassas. He attended West Point, graduating in 1840, 13th in a class of 42 cadets. Commissioned in the U.S. Army, Ewell served during the Mexican War, and later had many adventures in the American Southwest. He returned to the east in 1860, suffering from bad health.


General Richard S. Ewell

Resigning from the U.S. Army in 1861 and offering his services the Confederacy, Ewell started his Southern military career as a brigadier general and was promoted to major general the following year.

Jackson’s “Trusted” Subordinate

During Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson’s Valley Campaign of 1862, General Ewell and his army were crucial reinforcements which allowed Jackson to undertake more daring moves against the enemy. Ewell and his troops won the battle of Cross Keys on their own toward the end of the campaign.

While Ewell held a key role in the Valley Campaign, he had some…um…challenges with Jackson. You see, Jackson didn’t tell anyone his battle plans, his strategies, or his military thoughts to anyone. Subordinate generals got seemingly random orders which they were supposed to obey to the letter, even if they didn’t understand them.

This annoyed Ewell! He was ready to fight, but he wanted to know the plan. Ewell eventually came to the conclusion that Jackson was crazy, yet he continued to serve with him for the next few months.

An artist's idea of a Confederate prayer meeting. General Jackson is standing at the center. The second man to the right of Jackson in the image appears to be General Ewell.

An artist’s idea of a Confederate prayer meeting. General Jackson is standing at the center. The second man to the right of Jackson in the image appears to be General Ewell.

A Changed Man

There was another thing that Ewell found disturbing…and intriguing about General Jackson. That was Jackson’s faith and complete trust in God’s providence. Profane, hard-fighting, and too busy for religion, Ewell could not escape the clear evidence of faith’s power that he observed in Jackson’s life.

Time marched on…the Valley Campaign ended in victory, the Seven Days’ Battles around Richmond were also a Southern victory, Cedar Mountain – Jackson’s wins again. Then the Second Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) was fought on August 29 – 30, 1862. On the first day of that battle, Ewell was badly wounded in the left leg; the shattered leg was amputated and Ewell was sent home to recover.

Ewell spent part of his recovery time with a distant cousin, Lizinka Brown – a widow. By the time he returned to the army in the spring of 1863, Ewell had “got religion” and he’d married Lizinka.

There was a definite change in Ewell’s attitude when he returned. His soldiers noticed that his profanity was diminishing. He was more calm, more at peace with life. His newfound faith had changed his life.

A Corps Commander

Around the time Ewell returned to the Confederate army, General Lee was reorganizing his troops. General Jackson had died in May 1863, and his corps needed a new commander. General Ewell was assigned to the position and took command of the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Ewell’s first campaign as a corps commander was the Gettysburg campaign. Wooden leg strapped to his saddle, he rode the dusty roads northward, leading his men through the Shenandoah Valley, across the Potomac, through Maryland, and deep into the heart of southern Pennsylvania.

Receiving new marching orders, Ewell started his corps toward a crossroad town on the map. It was called Gettysburg. He was following General Lee’s orders.

A Gettysburg Dilemma

On July 1, 1863, Ewell’s Second Corps found their route barred by Union soldiers north of Gettysburg. To the west of town, a battle was already raging, so the seasoned fighters of the Second Corps plunged into the fight, eventually breaking the Union lines and sending them fleeing for shelter on Cemetery Hill.

Twilight came. Some of Ewell’s subordinates were anxious to press on and attack the Union position on Cemetery Hill – or at least occupy Culp’s Hill, farther to the east. Ewell received a message from General Lee to occupy Culp’s Hill “if practicable.” Taking stock of the situation, Ewell was wary to launch attacks against unknown positions and foes in the gathering darkness. His men had been marching – and some had been fighting – most of the day. Ewell decided not to push them. He decided to avoid potentially high casualties by attacking unknown positions. To the disgust of his subordinates, Ewell waited and did not attack on the night of July 1st.

A sketch of the fighting on Culp's Hill on July 2nd or 3rd

A sketch of the fighting on Culp’s Hill on July 2nd or 3rd

On July 2nd and 3rd, Ewell’s men launched fierce attacks on Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill. Despite spirited attacks and hard fighting, the Confederates were not able to successfully gain and hold ground.

A Prudent…or Foolish Decision?

Was Ewell’s decision not to attack in the evening of July 1st wise? It’s a big debate.

At the time, some division commanders and staff officers wanted to press the attack. (At least according to their memoirs – written after the war!)

With hindsight – the blessing and curse of historians – Ewell should’ve occupied and fortified Culp’s Hill. No question. But at the time, with the limited knowledge he had, maybe Ewell made the right decision?

Surely Ewell knew about the Union debacle at Fredericksburg the previous winter, when a Union general launched endless attacks against a strong position. Maybe Ewell didn’t want to sacrifice his men. Maybe he was trying to earn the trust of General Lee by careful, cautious evaluation of the situation.

Ewell was a warrior, so it seems unlikely that he was afraid to fight. Perhaps a feeling of compassion for his troops or a spirit of prudence came over him. He was unwilling to make a risk – that ultimately proved disastrous to his cause. But can we blame him for caution in an unknown situation?

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. I want to know what you think. With the knowledge he had of the situation, should Ewell have pressed forward or was caution more prudent at the time?


10th Virginia: “We Almost Whipped The Yankees”

“I’m Harold Cooper, a private in the 10th Virginia Infantry,” he added with pride. “And we almost whipped the Yankees.” ~Harold Cooper, from Blue, Gray & Crimson

Many Confederate regiments could have said “we almost whipped the Yankees” after the fighting at Gettysburg, but a soldier from the 10th Virginia Infantry would’ve had special bragging rights. They had occupied a Union position for hours!

One of the fictional soldiers from Blue, Gray & Crimson served in the 10th Virginia Infantry and today, I’d like to share a little history about his regiment.

Shenandoah Valley areaMen From The Valley

I’ve written about the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia before, but today we actually get to talk about a regiment from that area. In the spring of 1861, Confederate regiments were organized at Harper’s Ferry, and the 10th Virginia was one of them. The men of the regiment came from the central/northern counties of the Valley.

The men’s pre-war occupation was farming or working in a small town. The most of the people of the Shenandoah Valley did not favor secession of the Southern states, but when the war started, they enlisted to defend their state and families, and most Shenandoah soldiers were adamant that they were not defending slavery.

Into Battle

The Battle of First Manassas (July 1861) was the 10th Virginia’s first large battle, and afterward they were transferred to the Shenandoah Valley military district to serve under General “Stonewall” Jackson. They fought in the Valley Campaign, and then joined the Army of Northern Virginia for the Seven Days Campaign, Cedar Mountain, and Second Manassas. They missed Antietam (Sharpsburg) because they were on detached duty elsewhere, but fought at Fredericksburg at the end of 1862. In 1863, the 10th battled at Chancellorsville and then marched northward with the rest of General Lee’s army.

During the Gettysburg Campaign, the 10th was commanded by Colonel Edward T.H. Warren and was in Steuart’s Brigade, Johnson’s Division, Ewell’s Second Corps. The regiment came to Gettysburg as a “veteran” regiment; they were battle experienced and enthusiastically hoping for one more battle before ultimate victory.

Confederate Infantry, Tom's Farm Re-enactment 2014Culp’s Hill

Although part of Ewell’s Second Corps, the 10th Virginia was not in combat on July 1, 1863. Their division arrived late and eventually maneuvered into position near Culp’s Hill, which was the Union’s right flank.

Most of July 2nd passed with skirmishing elsewhere on the battle lines and preparation on an assault. The position in front of the 10th was not going to be easy to capture. The hill was densely wooded, large boulders hid in the trees, and there was a creek in the assault line. Artillery support would be almost non-existent because of the wooded area. The soldiers may have heard their Union enemies digging fortifications and chopping down trees to make their position more secure.

The infantry waited. And they continued to wait, while the sound of battle came from the Union’s left flank.

Twilight Attack

The 10th Virginia was on the far left of the Confederate attack line as they moved toward Culp’s Hill on the evening of July 2. The attack was quite successful, partial because about 2/3 of the Union defenders had been moved to a different part of the battle area (see 27th Indiana: Bayonets & Flags). By dark, the 10th was in the Union fortifications, but fighting continued. It became disastrous as other Confederate soldiers accidently exposed the 10th to friendly fire. Confusion and terror continued throughout the night.

Detail of the Virginia Memorial at Gettysburg

Detail of the Virginia Memorial at Gettysburg

Morning Battle

In the morning of July 3rd, Union troops counter-attacked. Steuart’s Brigade eventually reformed and launched a new attack. The 10th was ordered away from the main unit to clear an area of flank skirmishers, and they were semi-successful. The regiment organized behind a stone wall (side note: different stonewall than the one the 27th Indiana charged; the 10th is facing the 20th Connecticut at this time). Colonel Warren reported that only 50 soldiers remained with him at this point; casualties had been heavy.

Ultimately, the Confederate attacks on Culp’s Hill did not succeed – though from the 10th Virginia standpoint their battlefield was “secure.” They remained in position throughout the day, but retreated under the cover of darkness.

Gettysburg Aftermath For The 10th Virginia

The 10th Virginia lost about 25% of its men at Gettysburg. The wounded who were within the Confederate lines were cared for by surgeons in gray and some were probably taken back to Virginia on the retreat. The injured soldiers outside of the Confederate lines became prisoners and were taken to Union field hospitals. The dead were probably left unburied on the battlefield and would have been interred by Union soldiers or civilians. Confederate soldiers were not buried in Gettysburg National Cemetery, so the fallen of the 10th Virginia would have remained buried on the battlefield, until the Confederate dead were removed and reburied in the South.

Why The 10th?

Honestly, because they were in the exact and correct area of the battlefield, and I needed a Confederate regiment in my story. But it’s a little more than that.

I’d met a re-enactor who encouraged me to research his regiment. And as I read about the unit, I was impressed by the “fighting record” they brought to the field. I was also intrigued by the hard-to-document fight that occurred when the regiment was sent to combat the skirmishers on the far flank. Then, of course, they’re from Virginia…and The Valley – so that was definitely a deciding factor because of the fictional character’s background…and I love Virginia.

The 10th may not be my “ultimate favorite Confederate regiment” but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed studying their military achievements, motivations for fighting and their courage. I hope you’ve enjoyed “meeting” a new regiment at Gettysburg…and remember “they almost whipped the Yankees!”

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Do you have a favorite Confederate regiment at Gettysburg? In a comment, shout out their name and their general fighting area at Gettysburg.

The 27th Indiana: Bayonets & Flags


No Copyright Infringement Intended. (

Then they charged forward with fixed bayonets. The Union flag unfurled and fluttered in the breeze made by the forward rush. It was a desperate attempt…

No, this isn’t the story of the 20th Maine. (You can read my thoughts on that here.) This is the story of the 27th Indiana Infantry at Gettysburg. One of the fictional soldiers in Blue, Gray & Crimson is in the 27th Indiana, so warning! This may contain a slight spoiler to the story. (Don’t worry I’m not giving away any key point to the plot, just some historical details!)

The Regiment: Fighting Record & Fun Facts

Mustered into the service on September 12, 1861 (exactly 5 months after the start of the Civil War), the 27th Indiana Infantry consisted mostly of farm boys from the countryside or young men from small towns. Prior to Gettysburg, the regiment fought at Battle of Front Royal, Battle of Newtown, First Battle of Winchester, Battle of Cedar Mountain, Battle of Antietam, and Battle of Chancellorsville. They also had their fair share of roundabout marching and “boring” life in camp.

Some of the regiment members were exceptionally tall; one man was 6 ft. 10 in.! (Remember the average height of the Civil War soldier was 5 ft. 8 in.) A couple of these Indiana soldiers found General Lee’s Special (Lost) Orders 191 during the Antietam Campaign, which provided valuable information to the Union generals.

The 27th had a fierce fighting record going into Gettysburg. They had held the cornfield at Antietam, a highly contested piece of ground. They had stopped a Confederate advance at Chancellorsville, giving other Union regiments time to reform. By the end of the war, the 27th would be in the top 20 regiments with highest losses.

27th Indiana Monument at Gettysburg (

27th Indiana Monument at Gettysburg ( union-monuments /indiana/27th-indiana/)

Gettysburg: A New Testing of Courage

So the men of the 27th were experienced fighters by July 1863. As part of the Union XII Corps, they took a position on Culp’s Hill on July 2nd and worked on building fortifications throughout that day.

In the early evening, with Union lines collapsing to the south, commanding generals were grabbing any available troops and hustling them down to the fighting. The brigade the 27th belonged to was ordered down to the Peach Orchard area. But somebody forgot to give them good directions and they got lost, therefore arriving too late to be thrown into that fight. In the twilight, the men turned around to march back to Culp’s Hill.

But there’d been some excitement in their absence. The Confederates had attacked and now had taken up residence in the fortifications. Night fighting increased in the darkness, but eventually faded. Regiment commanders plotted a counterattack.

The Charge: Heroic…But Unsuccessful

The next morning (July 3) the shooting began at daybreak. Union troops partially regained the lost ground, but the 27th and other regiments in the same brigade found themselves in the woods along Rock Creek, sort of northeast of Spangler Spring.

Across the creek, Confederate sharpshooters sniped at the regiment, until the Union commander convinced some artillerymen to lob a few shots that direction. The day progressed with Confederate attacks on other parts of the Culp’s Hill line. In front of the 27th Indiana, some Confederate regiments had set up a line across an open meadow and behind a stonewall.

This is the 27th marker in the meadow. The photo looks toward where the Confederate lines would have been. (

This is the 27th marker in the meadow. The photo looks toward where the Confederate lines would have been. (

Some Union commanders still hadn’t figured out that front attacks rarely worked and ordered two regiments into the field to drive away the Rebels. The chosen regiments were the 2nd Massachusetts and the 27th Indiana. The men from Massachusetts went first, the Indiana soldiers followed, rushing into across the open meadow.

The 27th charged farthest into the field. (Today, there is a stone marker showing their location). They held their line, exchanged fire with the Confederates. The Union flag changed hands almost constantly as flag-bearer after flag-bearer was shot. Eventually, seeing the hopelessness of success, the officers withdrew the regiment.

The rest of the day passed with skirmishing for the 27th. They did not repulse Pickett’s Charge, but rather maintained their position in the Culp’s Hill area. However, their difficulties that day were not over. The Confederates sniped at anyone venturing into the open field, making it impossible to remove or aid the wounded. This was a terrible situation for the injured men, and it must have been equally horrible for the survivors to see and hear their comrades pleas for aid and be unable to give relief or comfort.

After The Battle: Forgotten?

On the night of July 3, the Confederates retreated from the Culp’s Hill area. The wounded of the 27th Indiana were removed to nearby XII Corp field hospitals. The dead were buried.

And then the regiment departed with the rest of the Union army in a futile pursuit of Lee’s Confederates.

Years later the veterans of the regiment would return and dedicate memorials and position markers for their regiment, but this unit has been almost forgotten, except in the detailed texts.

That’s changing. I don’t want this regiment to be “lost and forgotten.” Here’s a sneak preview from the book:

“Our regiment got farther into the field. The fire was dreadful. I saw our flag, torn with bullets, fall from the bearers’ hands as they were shot, but I thought that flag was worth fighting for.”  ~Sergeant Edward Morten, 27th Indiana Infantry

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. What do you think? A new regiment of heroes? I’d like to hear your opinions!





Beyond The 20th Maine

I have something to confess. I committed sacrilege in the Gettysburg historical community. How? I didn’t write about (or even mention) Colonel J. L. Chamberlain or the 20th Maine regiment in my book.

gettysburg-1993-12I know, it seems unbelievable. And for your information, I have seen the movie Gettysburg, I have stood at the 20th Maine position on Little Round Top, and – being a young woman who’s not blind – I’ve swooned (a little) over The Colonel’s photos. So how did the un-imaginable, “horrifying” act of sacrilege happen?

Well, let me share three things I learned while reading a good-size stack of Gettysburg military books. And at the end of the article, I’ll share the regiments of the soldiers who interact with the civilians in my story.

1. The 20th Maine Was Not The Only Regiment At Gettysburg

We know this. (Or at least we think we do!) But I just LOVE – that’s sarcasm, there folks – how Every. Single. Book. published since about 1994 mentions the 20th Maine and the crucially dramatic fight on the Union’s left flank. It’s everywhere; the children’s books, the YA books, the large 3 inch thick history books. Chamberlain, Chamberlain, Chamberlain, 20th Maine, 20th Maine, 20th Maine.

However, the interesting thing? Chamberlain himself acknowledged that without the rest of the brigade – gracious, without the rest of the Union army – the battle wouldn’t have been won. (See I have read his writings!) Little Round Top wouldn’t have mattered if the 1st Minnesota hadn’t kept the Rebels off Cemetery Ridge. Little Round Top wouldn’t have mattered if the XI Corps hadn’t held onto to Cemetery Hill. And hey, why don’t we ever hear much about the units on Culp’s Hill, which was the right flank of the Union line? If they’d collapsed, Chamberlain would’ve really been in a mess. (Though he’d probably have said something like “Bayonet them both ways” – apologies to General Forrest for misusing his quote.)

So, there were hundreds of regiments holding the Gettysburg line. Many played a significant role in the defensive battle. And yes, there were other bayonet charges!


I’ve circled Culp’s Hill on the map

2. The Union’s Right Flank Was Far More Significant Than Most Of Us Realize

If you’d asked me when I was 14 about the Union right flank at Gettysburg, I could’ve told you it was on Culp’s Hill…and not much else. After all, most of the action was on the left flank with the 20th Maine, right? Wrong. Here’s what I learned later on –

Culp’s Hill (see map) was very important to the Union line. It was guarding their escape route, down Baltimore Pike. (Fortunately, General Meade never had to issue escape orders.) It was also guarding the rear of the Union position.

One startling reality for the Culp’s Hill fighting is that it lasted significantly longer than left flank conflict. Artillery fire toward the right flank began in the late afternoon of July 2, then faded off after a couple hours; the attacks disintegrated into confused night fighting, paused, and then exploded for another six hours of battle in the morning of July 3.

Keep in mind that artillery wasn't real effective on Culp's Hill - so this tree was shot down by bullets. This photo gives a dramatic example of how metal was flying through the air during this infantry fight.

Keep in mind that artillery wasn’t effective on Culp’s Hill – so this tree was probably shot down by bullets. This photo gives a dramatic example of how metal was flying through the air during this infantry fight.

3. The Culp’s Hill Conflict Is Unique At Gettysburg

As I’m writing this, I’m imagining the confused looks after that last heading, so let me explain. Culp’s Hill was densely wooded. True, the undergrowth had been cleared in previously years, so it was fairly “open”, but let’s just say it’d be hard to see the forest for the trees. All those trees meant something very significant – it was next to impossible to use artillery on this part of the battlefield. Culp’s Hill is an infantry – and infantry only – fight. No cavalry, limited, ineffective artillery. That’s very unique in the Gettysburg battle. (**Note: there was artillery around the Union right flank area, but as far as the attacks actually on Culp’s Hill, it is insignificant.)

Another interesting development in the Union right flank lines is the intentional order to build fortifications. Okay, yes, all across Gettysburg battlefield men piled up fence rails or stones for some shelter. But, on Culp’s Hill, the generals actually gave orders for the men to dig and build fortifications. This is one of the first times in Civil War history that trenches are built during a battle. Unfortunately for the Union soldiers the entrenching tools (handy shovels and big axes) were in the supply wagons, which were still a long distance away, so they had to use their cups, plates, and bayonets to construct their shelters!

So…Culp’s Hill (like other places at Gettysburg) evolves into its own unique conflict and it really deserves more study and “limelight.”

The Lucky Regiments

I didn’t write about the 20th Maine in Blue, Gray & Crimson. I decided it was time for new regiments to get some attention or glory. How about the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry, 27th Indiana, or 10th Virginia?

Since the book isn’t due for release for a few more l…o…n…g weeks (Yes, I’m having trouble waiting too!), I thought I’d introduce you to the real regiments featured in the story. Hopefully, you’ll enjoying “meeting” the real units of the fictional characters who interact with the civilians.

So unfurl your Union flag and polish those bayonets because next week we’re making a bayonet charge with the 27th Indiana Infantry Regiment at Gettysburg.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. What do you think? Time for some new regiments to have their recognized moment of glory? Or shall we continue watching the 20th Maine’s charge on replay?

(Where is my Gettysburg DVD anyway…that still sounds like an interesting way to spend the evening!)

Mad at me about my tirade about Chamberlain? Okay, here’s my four part series on that hero; Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4