Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Welcone to Cedar Hill

One more thing before I leave...

 On the hill behind me is Cedar Hill the final home of Frederick Douglass.  This Anacostia home was purchased by Douglass in 1877 for $6,700; in today's money that would be 1.3 million dollars.  By the time Douglass lived here he had become a very wealthy man, deriving his income from his public speaking, his publishing ventures, his writing and his various public offices.

 This life-size bronze of Douglass allows visitors to see his great stature (physically and metaphorically).

High atop cedar hill the house has commanding views of Washington DC.

 This is the desk at which Douglass wrote his final autobiography.  His study contains a portion of his personal library of over a thousand books.

The east parlor was the formal parlor where Douglass met with VIPs including politicians, newspaper publishers, the old abolitionists, women's rights advocates, and other notables.

We are very fortunate to have a set of photographs of the rooms from the time Frederick Douglass lived here. The rooms are arraigned in the way they were in the time of Douglass and about 75% of the artifacts were his.

Pictured here is Douglass's first wife Anna Murray Douglass.  They were married for 44 years. She bore him five children and they had 21 grandchildren.  She was a free black woman living in Baltimore when she and Douglass met.  She sold many of her personal items to finance his escape from slavery.

 Two years following Anna's death in 1882, Frederick Douglass married his second wife, Helen Pitts.  It was a controversial marriage as she was white, and perhaps even more scandalous to the upper-crust of Washington DC society was that she was twenty years younger than Douglass,  She was the same age as Douglass's Daughter Rosetta and this was a source of friction between the two women.

The West, or Family parlor, was the scene of music, laughter, games and fun.  We seldom associate Frederick Douglass with the word "fun" but indeed he was - giving his grandchildren piggyback rides throughout the house, playing leapfrog from the family parlor well into the adjacent dining room, and instructing them in the finer points of croquet - one of his favorite pastimes.

The house is filled with a wealth of domestic items including this kerosene powered flat iron...

and this classic stove from Sears and Roebuck.

Many visitors (and this particular Ranger)  find themselves coveting this beautiful crock for ice water. Imagine using it for iced tea or lemonade.

"If these walls could talk"  The dining room table is set just a Douglass left it.  Luminaries including Susan B. Anthony and Harriet Tubman dined at this table.

Frederick Douglass was very much in demand as an orator, sometimes spending up to six months a year traveling to Europe where people wanted to hear the story of his life, his escape from slavery and his views on abolition, women's rights, and a variety of social justice issues.  This is his travel trunk with "F. Douglass" painted on the side.

The views from the upstairs hallway...

are nearly breathtaking.

This is Douglass's bedroom.  Note the dumbbells on the floor in front of the chair. Douglass was a very physically-fit and robust man who worked out every day.

This is Anna's room.  She was an invalid the entire time she lived at Cedar hill which was a scant four years.  A stroke ended her life in 1882.

Helen's room is just down the hall.  Helen was what could be considered a more "modern" woman as evidenced by her sewing machine and especially by her typewriter.  Helen was a clerk typist at the DC Register of Deeds office where she and Frederick Douglass met.  They married two years following the death of Anna.  They had many shared interests including travel, politics, women's rights, music theater and the arts.

Sunglasses worn by Frederick Douglass

The chimneys of Cedar Hill.

Treat yourself to a visit to Cedar Hill in the historic district of Anacostia. It's a fantastic resource that helps to tell the story of a truly great American.  Make a reservation for a tour at

I hope you've enjoyed this brief look into the life of Frederick Douglass through the lens of the house he lived  in for 18 years.

Still chasing history, from the heart of Anacostia,

Ranger Mannie

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Big News!

BIG NEWS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

After eight years of waiting and working I've finally received a permanent appointment with the NPS.  I start on the National Mall in Washington DC on September 8.  This is very (very) good news.

Now the hope is to work my way back to Antietam!

Soon from high atop the Washington Monument,

Ranger Mannie

Monday, April 14, 2014

Victory Lap and Fare-thee-well

This was a beautiful morning to take one last hike in the park.  I've been walking these trails for eight years now, usually with my camera and always on the lookout for the things that make this place so special.

You'd think that after so many years I'd have run out of special moments here, but every walk upon the battlefield brings something new - today it was the frogs singing from the Roulette pond.  Every day something new, every day another view.  I never know what to expect when I mount the steps to the observation room - the valley, Elk Ridge, and South Mountain never look the same way twice.  I'll miss giving programs in that room with visitors in front of me and that magnificent view behind me.

I've had many wonderful experiences here.

I met, proposed to, and married my wife here.

I've made lasting friendships here.

I've learned so much here.

And some day, I hope to return here.

Best wishes, from just north of Sharpsburg,

Ranger Mannie

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Moving On

Starting on April 22 I will be a park guide at Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (here)

It is with genuine sadness that I am leaving Antietam, but funding as it is, needs must.  Nonetheless I shall remain with the National Park Service and at Cedar Hill. a really exceptional holding of the Service.

I am very much looking forward to my new assignment and the opportunity to introduce visitors to a giant of a man -

                                                           Frederick Douglass

Wish me luck (commuting to DC from Boonsboro)


Saturday, March 01, 2014

Burnside Bridge in 54mm

Posted here simultaneously with my toy soldier blog an explanation of events at Burnside Bridge.

Burnside Bridge

A couple of years ago I made a 54mm model of Burnside Bridge (the beer, by the way, is non-alcoholic).  It was three weeks of delightful labor. You can see the entire process by going here:

Using the model and several hundred toy soldiers, let me illustrate the events of the morning of September 17th, 1862 in the area of Lower (Burnside) Bridge.

The crossing of the Antietam Creek south of Sharpsburg became, with the blunting of Federal efforts on the northern end of the field, the greatest hope of victory for McClellan.  To force the creek would be to get to Sharpsburg, to get to Sharpsburg would be to cut Lee’s army in half and cut Lee’s army off from its escape route.  It would be up to Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside's IX Corps to achieve this goal and attain the sought-after victory.

Defending the bridge were approximately 400 Confederates commanded by General Robert Toombs comprised of the 2nd and 20th Georgia regiments. The Georgians arrived on the western side of the creek on September 15th and had the luxury of time in which to prepare their positions. Digging rifle pits, bolstering fences, and piling rocks the men worked with a will. 

Although their numbers were few they determined to exploit to the fullest the terrain of their position.  They removed brush from both sides of the creek and felled selected trees to establish clear fields of fire.  The natural strongpoint of an abandoned rock quarry was fortified as a citadel against attack.  The quarry remains today, one hundred feet above the bridge, about five feet in depth and large enough to accommodate a company of men.  

And now the action begins.

Shortly after 9:00 a.m. two companies, A and B, of the 11th Connecticut opened the attack.  Their orders were to brush the Confederate pickets from the eastern side of the bridge, clearing the way for a comprehensive assault.  The two companies formed behind twin knolls on the Federal side of the creek opposite the bridge.  An orderly charge began with the men from Connecticut charging down the steep western slopes of the knolls and deploying on the floodplain below. 

Then the Confederates opened fire.  Upon open ground and without cover of any sort the two Connecticut companies were overwhelmed in a thunderclap of Confederate fire.  The avenue of approach from the two knolls had funneled the men of Connecticut directly into the line of fire from the Confederates.  Because of the alignment of the bridge within a crescent of high ground on the Confederate side the Federals were subjected to a killing fire from left, right, and center. 

 Utterly shattered, the Federals were forced to retire leaving the ground littered with their dead and wounded.  A dismal pattern had been established for the efforts of the IX Corps on that deadly morning.

The second assault upon the bridge was made by the entire 11th Connecticut commanded by Col. Henry Walter Kingsbury.  The Connecticut regiment advanced over the knolls and upon the floodplain to distract the Confederates from the twin flank attacks by generals Crook and Rodman who were moving upstream and down in an effort to ford the creek and threaten the Confederate's flanks.  The coordination of timing was critical.  For the strategy to be successful there had to be a clear understanding among all parties of their various roles in the effort and there needed to be good communications between each element of the attack, and it was also essential that each element knew exactly where it was going.  Given the lack of instantaneous communications of any sort coupled with the rugged and bewildering terrain of the area the flaws of the plan soon became apparent.

Kingsbury formed his lines of battle behind the protection of the twin knolls and began his advance to the floodplain below.  Predictably, as the Federal lines gained the flat, open ground the Confederates opened fire with devastating results. 

Federal losses in the initial volley were great and the attack began to stall.  Kingsbury, in an effort to restore the forward momentum plunged into the creek at the head of a small band of stalwarts. 

The men of Connecticut were pinned down on the deadly terrain of open ground.  Kingsbury, gamely leading a small group toward the Confederate side of the creek, was struck by multiple bullets and was carried from the creek, under fire, only to expire form his wounds.  

The diversionary attack by the 11th Connecticut was no more successful that the abortive attack that had preceded it, one hundred thirty nine  men, one-third, of the 11 Connecticut, were killed or wounded.  The regiment was shattered; meanwhile Crook and Rodman had yet to be heard from.

Kingsbury expected the bulk of the 11th Connecticut to follow him, but by that time they had gone to ground desperately seeking cover behind a stone wall and the meager protection of a post and rail fence. 

 Burnside devised the next plan that would entail a closely coordinated effort between the Divisions of Crook and Brig. Gen. Isaac Rodman.  Crook was to advance from the northwest to the bridge...

(Crook's Division)

while Rodman crossed the creek below the bridge to assault the flank of Toombs’ Confederates.  The plan, so clear in the mind, proved complex upon the terrain. 

The plan called for Crook’s brigade of 1,800 men to march to their jumping off point to the north east of the bridge and, covered by the diversion of the 11th Connecticut, to storm the bridge in a concerted effort.  Crook’s regiments were operating in unfamiliar territory and became disoriented in the scrubby woodland behind the twin knolls through which they proceeded. They were lost and moving 500 yards north of the bridge and far beyond their planned assembly point.  Emerging from the brush Crook realized he was out of position but improvised a new plan based upon the emerging situation.  By assaulting the bridge from the northeast he may have been able to take the Confederates unawares coming from such an unexpected angle as he was.  Ironically, had Crook had better information and had the area been better reconnoitered, he would have found a suitable ford only a short distance further north.  Had he found and exploited this crossing he would have emerged in a position on the flank of Toombs and squarely between Toombs and the only lightly defended heights outside of Sharpsburg - Lee’s weakest position.  In ignorance of the opportunity Crook attacked from the northeast.

As Crook launched his attack Rodman, to the south, had found his designated crossing point.  As the engineers had reported, the creek was shallow and easily fordable, however what the engineers failed to appreciate was the steepness of the bluff the Federals would face upon crossing.  Upon that bluff were dug-in Confederates who opened a blistering fire on the Federals of Rodman’s division who attempted a crossing.  Seeing the fruitlessness of the attempt Rodman, at the head of his column, proceeded further downstream into the great unknown looking for a more suitable crossing point.

(Rodman's division)

The forth attempt to storm the bridge was the effort of General Samuel Sturgis’ division.
Burnside ordered Sturgis to lead his division, in columns of fours as though on the march, to proceed at the double quick up the Rohersville road toward the bridge and to take it at the point of the bayonet. The time was about 10:30. Sturgis personally supervised the attack, which proved as doomed as the earlier attempts.  By advancing up the Rohersville road Sturgis’ division was exposed to a flanking fire for the entire 300 yard length of the road that ran parallel to the Confederate positions on the ground above.  Sturgis’ men were quite like targets in a shooting gallery


Under a withering enfilade fire the Federals ran the gauntlet, there was still 200 yards to the bridge and the Unions assault was melting away like candle wax.  Federals, returning fire, found the Confederates nearly invisible in their concealed positions and masked by battle smoke. 

But the Confederates too, were taking losses.

  Union artillery had found the range of the Rebel positions and the Georgians were suffering mounting casualties as their ammunition continued to dwindle.  As Sturgis ordered the withdrawal of his battered regiments the struggle entered its fourth hour with no gains made.  Sturgis, however, was not finished.

 Previously Sturgis advanced only half of his division in that ill-fated advance up the Rohersville Road toward the bridge.  He was now ready to commit the remainder of his force based upon lessons learned.  Burnside issued an unequivocal order to Sturgis to “carry the bridge at all hazards.” Sturgis selected two regiments – the 51st New York and the 51st Pennsylvania to make the assault.

Unlike the obvious and deadly approach taken by the regiments of his earlier attack Sturgis determined to use the terrain to his advantage.  He formed up the two fifty-firsts on the far side of the twin knolls on the Federal side of the creek.  Sturgis formed his line of battle with the 51st Pennsylvania on the right and the New Yorkers on the left.  At about 12:30 p.m. the order to charge rang out and the men of New York and Pennsylvania emerged from the tree line at the crest of the knolls and began a pell-mell charge forward with bayonets fixed.  Developing momentum as they raced downhill they crossed the two-hundred yard flood plain quickly. 

In what was essentially a spontaneous movement the two Federal regiments formed up in rough columns and rushed the bridge, the flags of both regiments crossing side-by-side.  The Confederates, after firing off desperate final rounds saw the handwriting upon the wall.  The men from New York and Pennsylvania, now across the bridge, were racing up the road from the bridge toward the Confederates.  The 28th Ohio had crossed upstream and the lead regiments of Rodman’s division were closing in on the Confederate right.  

As the Federals rushed the bridge, Rodman who had found a ford downstream now threatened Toombs' flank.

The rebel position became untenable and Toombs’s men, after a gallant four-hour defense were forced back into a fighting withdrawal. “The stars and stripes” reported Sturgis “were planted on the opposite bank at 1:00 p.m.” The struggle was over and the Lower Bridge had earned its new name as Burnside Bridge. The losses, compared to other areas of the field that day were light.  Casualties among the Federals were about 500 killed or wounded, the Georgians suffered about 120 to the same fates.  The number of casualties certainly did not match the effort and drama expended that midmorning, though for the Confederates those were irreplaceable losses. For as much time, blood, and ammunition was spent forcing the bridge, for Burnside and the men of the IX Corps, the really hard part was about to begin.

Its hard to believe today that such an epic and bloody struggle to place in such a tranquil setting.

Until next time...

Ranger Mannie