Planning a Tour

This June I will lead an introductory tour of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania battlefields for Gettysburg College’s Civil War Institute. I will have approximately four hours and thirty minutes for this tour in terms of time at the site (I’ve already subtracted bathroom and lunch breaks, so this is tour time).

What should I show people? Remember: each stop involves having people get off the bus and back onto the bus, so there is a “bang-for-the-buck” issue here (walking the short walk to Grant’s headquarters site, for example, is probably not a useful use of time). I do not know yet whether Ellwood will be open. I can imagine two walks (Saunders Field and the Bloody Angle/Mule Shoe), with several shorter dismounts. Remember: this is an introductory trip, and the time parameters are fixed … so don’t go off on what you might do if you had more time … because that’s useless to me and to the people going on the trip (and suggests that there’s an inner McClellan in you, asking for more of this and more of that).



32 thoughts on “Planning a Tour

  1. jfepperson May 22, 2014 / 11:15 am

    I would include the Tapp Farm clearing as a place to discuss the Plank Road fighting and events such as Longstreet’s wounding. I think it is worth a “dismount.”

  2. Jeff Slunt May 22, 2014 / 11:17 am

    Widow Tapp field from the Orange Plank road parking lot to review the Lee to the rear episode.

  3. Bob Nelson May 22, 2014 / 11:32 am

    I don’t think Ellwood is that important to Wilderness/Spots. When Pete and Mike and I were there last September, it was closed and the only way we got in was that some state employees were mowing, trimming, painting. “Sure, take all the time you want,” they said. One of them even gave us a tour. The one thing I would have liked to see was the Mule Shoe from the Federal side, seeing those awful charges in my mind from that perspective. There may be a road there but we didn’t have time to find it. Frankly, we tried to cover too much ground in a week.

      • Bob Nelson May 23, 2014 / 12:47 pm

        And for Johnny Walker Black Label, right Mike?

  4. Damian Shiels May 22, 2014 / 11:48 am

    Having just visited the sites for the first time over the course of the 150th, it would strike me that Saunders Field and the Bloody Angle/Mule Shoe are the musts. If I was to look at any other section of the fields the other area that impressed me most was the Widow Tapp Field- it is relatively compact, easy to understand, has an element of drama with the ‘Lee to the Rear’ incident and shows just how quickly the tide of battle can swing.

  5. Shek May 22, 2014 / 1:49 pm

    What is the specific theme? Strategic Art? Operational Art? Tactical Art? Memory? Generalship? Or do you get to choose?

    • Brooks D. Simpson May 25, 2014 / 11:52 pm

      This is simply an introduction to the terrain and what happened there. So it would be part Operational Art, part Tactical Art, and part Generalship.

  6. rortensie May 22, 2014 / 2:06 pm

    I wish I had gotten your tour but got John Hennessy’s Fredericksburg: A City of Hospitals & a Community at War.

    • John Hennessy May 22, 2014 / 9:26 pm

      I see Brooks is now hiring people to loose zingers on his behalf. You could hardly have fulfilled his wishes more completely, I am sure. As we slog through Fredericksburg, I will know you by your far away, longing look–pining for the presence of Simpson. I’ve seen it before, though it befuddles still and completely.

      • rortensie May 23, 2014 / 5:18 am

        Yes John, Brooks and Al have primed me well….. 🙂

        I’m not disappointed in the tour selection as I’ve been to neither location.


        • Brooks D. Simpson May 23, 2014 / 10:27 am

          Just remember to tell your wife that it was John’s fault you bought so many books.

          • rortensie May 23, 2014 / 12:32 pm

            Yeah, the excuse last time that you said it was okay did not fly with her. Maybe if I say John said it was okay she’ll think twice? She actually accused me of being a hoarder the other day because of the books. Its not like I have a problem….especially when the publishers are sending me items as well….

        • Al Mackey May 24, 2014 / 5:28 pm

          I’m just sorry it’s not a full week longer so I could do more tours and breakout sessions.

      • Brooks D. Simpson May 23, 2014 / 10:26 am

        Trust me … I have plenty of volunteers. 🙂 However, I know from personal experience that those people who take John’s tour will be in for a treat.

        • rortensie May 23, 2014 / 12:34 pm

          I’m looking forward to it. I was just looking to heckle the individual who likes the Yankees….

  7. Clark B. Hall May 22, 2014 / 3:03 pm

    Coming south from Gettysburg, the bus must of course must journey through Culpeper County and then cross over the Rapidan (at Germanna’s Ford) to get to the Wilderness, and when considering the Overland Campaign actually began in Culpeper, I would proceed on Highway 29 south south of the Rappahannock and divert (conveniently) on a side road past Meade’s HQ site on northern Fleetwood; or, briefly visit General Grant’s HQ site in Culpeper, itself. If I can assist in either of those ambitions, please advise..
    A plus, for the time-strapped: One does not have to exit the bus to view either site.

    • Brooks D. Simpson May 25, 2014 / 11:53 pm

      Thanks for the offer, but on this particular tour, I would be pressed for time more than one would like.

  8. John Foskett May 22, 2014 / 3:51 pm

    “[A]n inner McClellan in you, asking for more of this and more of that.” Well done. Of course, I’m biased.

  9. Shek May 22, 2014 / 5:48 pm

    In answering my own question, I’d offer that you plan an itinerary that explores all of the themes I mentioned: strategic art, operational art, tactical art, generalship, and memory. While the stops on the battlefields will inherently involve tactics, the Overland Campaign is rich in all these other areas. Sorry for the length, but having done the campaign many times, I’m a big fan of all that you can draw out from it.

    I’d offer the following staff ride stands – when we use these stands, it takes about 4 hours, to include driving, offloading, etc. (the group size is about 20, which is probably half the size of the group I’d expect you to have). I’ve included some discussion points and questions to drive the conversation. As you can see, many of the questions drive you beyond the tactical and try to place the battles and campaign within a broader context.

    1. Germanna Ford – What is the strategic situation in 1864? What must both sides do to win / what is the strategic center of gravity for both sides? Whose side is time on? What are Grant’s options with the AoP? Why does he choose the “overland” route? How does topography play a role and why will this make his Eastern campaign differ from his Western campaigns? What is his operational design (simultaneous offensives with Banks, Sherman, Sigel, Hunter, and Butler)?

    2. Saunders Field – Why does Grant get off of the plan to move through the Wilderness as soon as contact is made? Discuss coping vs. controlling styles of generalship? Which one is Grant? Meade? Why? Discuss linear tactics and why it’s hard to fight in the Wilderness. Move to the UDC monument and introduce memory and the various Civil War narratives. Which one does the monument demonstrate? Wrap up Day 1 endstate.

    3. Widow Tapp Farm – Discuss the plan for Hancock’s attack. Discuss Lee’s plan, Longstreet’s role, and the challenges he faced. Did Lee have a good plan? Introduce the difficulties in exploiting a breakthrough because of the disorganization created by a successful attack. Discuss Lee’s personal leadership and his role in the ANV.

    4. Brock Road/Orange Plank Intersection – Recap Day 2 endstate and discuss Grant’s decision to move elsewhere. Why? Who won? Does it matter if you apply this question at the different levels of war: tactical, operational, strategic? Which is more important? So, who won?

    5. Laurel Hill – Use the ranger station bathroom. Discuss march to Spotsylvania and the Sheridan/Meade spat and the decision to send Sheridan south. Introduce fog, friction and chance. Why does Anderson arrive first? Why does Warren attack piecemeal when at the Wilderness, he refuses to do so?

    6. Upton’s Attack/Doles’ Salient – Walk Upton’s route. Discuss the general plan for 10 May, Upton’s specific plan, and his successful penetration. Why is he successful? Was it tactics, terrain, or chance? If it’s not tactics, should it be repeated? What does Grant believe? What does this result in? How do you solve a problem on the battlefield (technology, tactics, operational art, strategic art)? What is the problem (crossing the deadly space and defeating earthworks).

    7. Mule Shoe/Bloody Angle – Discuss the 12 May assault. Why do they have a successful penetration? Is it tactics, terrain, or chance? Is Lee responsible? Why can the AoP not exploit the penetration? How does this success bolster Northern will? Since Upton’s new tactics don’t create decision, what does Grant decide to do?

    8. Conclusion – Discuss the maneuvering for the next week at Spotsylvania. Discuss the failed assault on the second line. Discuss the Harris Farm engagement. What is Ewell’s Corps strength at the end? How does this compare to where it began two weeks earlier? Who won Spotsylvania (tactical/operational/strategic)? Discuss North Anna (Lee’s sickness and the fact that his subordinates aren’t prepared to exploit the “V”), Cold Harbor, and crossing the James River. Was the Overland Campaign successful? What was the perception of the Overland Campaign in the eyes of the Northern public? How did it interact with Sherman’s campaign in Georgia? Who was a better general, Lee or Grant? Why?

  10. Buck Buchanan May 23, 2014 / 9:43 am

    I think Shek hit it extremely well. I would add a quick stop at Todd’s Tavern to hilight how the events here drove the rest of the campaign…Hseridan v meade led to Yellow Tavern…and to Grant not having Cavalry to provide eyes and ears at Spotsylvania.

    You may want to also discuss (on the road from W to S if bus has PA system) the impacts of the mass casualties on the 2 armies…and how the movement South caused much of the medical staff to displace with the armies and the leave the wounded to uneven care at best. Also shifting of supply base from Brandy Station to the rivers.

  11. Charles Lovejoy May 24, 2014 / 11:29 am

    I’m still wanting to hear one of your lectures on Grant is person… a long and detailed lecture 🙂

  12. Mike Rogers May 25, 2014 / 8:15 am

    Dr. Simpson, Currently reading Gordon Rhea’s Spotsylvania book as background for your tour. Any other book recommendations?

    • Brooks D. Simpson May 25, 2014 / 8:23 pm

      Gordon’s Wilderness book, perhaps Matter’s Spotsylvania book, Grimsley’s And Keep Moving On, and Trudeau’s Bloody Roads South are very useful.

      • Mike Rogers May 26, 2014 / 5:19 am

        Thanks. I’ll see how many I can squeeze in the next couple of weeks

    • Ethan Rafuse May 25, 2014 / 7:22 pm

      If/when time-crunched, skip Lee’s Last Line.

      • Ethan Rafuse May 26, 2014 / 1:09 pm

        Then you might be able to get in Lee’s last line. Better to have time and not need it, than need time and not have it.

        • Ethan May 30, 2014 / 1:25 pm

          Contact Massaponax Church and you may be able to get your group into the church itself.

  13. Christopher Stowe May 30, 2014 / 2:26 pm

    If you’re going to come down from Gettysburg, a tour can only encompass four or five stands (five stands may even be too ambitious). I’d suggest these:

    1. Saunders
    2. Tapp
    3. Laurel Hill (you’ll likely have to stay near the Sedgwick Monument–pity that you’ll have no time to go to the Spindle Farm site, which offers the most revealing look at Warren’s dilemma)
    4. Landrum Farm Lane-East Angle-Bloody Angle Walk (a walk this extensive may even be too ambitious, given time constraints)
    5. Massaponax Church for campaign assessment & integration (plus you’re on U.S. 1 & nearly back to I-95 N at that point)

    You can provide good, albeit brief, drive-by narrative while on the bus for the following events/places: Grant’s HQ (if, of course, you’re approaching Saunders Field from the Wilderness Tavern area), Hancock’s Brock Road line, Grant’s march south, Todd’s Tavern cavalry action, the Sheridan/Meade encounter (do this while speeding down Brock Road after passing Todd’s), Upton’s 10 May attack, Burnside’s role at Spotsylvania, & Lee’s last line).

    Of all these stands, the Landrum/East Angle/Bloody Angle walk would be the most evocative & rewarding.and therefore the most indispensible (in my view). If you need to truncate (or eliminate) any of the suggested stands above to make the walk work, then Massaponax or Laurel Hill would be my choice.

    4.5 hours just *flies* by. I could only do four stands for my “Meade tour” at last year’s CWI, which involved a trip to Pipe Creek at Union Mills, MD. Just *one* more hour . . .


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