Saturday, July 19, 2008

Viewshed Restoration

There has been much talk about Civil War National Parks doing viewshed restoration in recent years, Gettysburg and Vicksburg most notably. Here at Chickamauga we have been trying to do the same. The forest that exists today is more dense and overgrown than was normal for 1863. In a few spots on the battlefield, we have begun to cut the undergrowth, selectively fell trees, and begin the process of opening the forest back up. This has made those areas interpretative gold to us on staff. To further enhance the usability of one of the areas, a handful of interested parties are going to reconstruct a section of the temporary field fortifications built by Thomas' Corps around the Kelly Field area.

The tour stop for "Battleline Road" is in the position where the left of Scribner's brigade joined with the right of King's Regular brigade. We will build the works along the line of Ben Scribner's brigade. One of his units, the 33rd O.V.I. were in the center of the brigade line and their monument shows much of what we hope to accomplish. The relief shows the fighting in incredible detail. Check out the piles of logs there, interspersed with large rocks. They're likely not more than knee or thigh high, but just high enough to provide cover for a man lying or crouching down, which we can see here. Scribner initially had his brigade in two lines, and as the Confederates (first Helm's Kentuckians and later Colquitt's Georgians and S. Carolinians) attacked he ordered the second line up to the front to fire over the heads of the first regiment and then drop back down to the ground to reload. This essentially doubled the firepower-per-foot of line covered. On the monument you can see the 10th Wisconsin moving up and firing over the heads of the men of the 33rd OH, who are behind the works.

Scribner's account of all this from his memoirs, How Soldiers Were Made, is very good, and I quote...
We formed in two deployed lines along a wooded ridge, behind us an open field, and before us the ground sloped away from view in the timber. Our division was on the extreme left of the army and covered the road to Rossville and Chattanooga. The Third Brigade [Starkweather] was on my right and the regular brigade on my left. We hastily threw up breastworks of rails and such logs as could be found, in front of each line. The second line, owing to the declivity of the ridge, was very near the first. These dispositions had scarcely been made, when the enemy commenced a furious assault upon us. I instructed my second line to move to the works of the first and deliver their fire after the first, by my order, should commence to fire, then each was to load his musket shielded by the same shelter, and thus to alternately load and fire while the conflict lasted. The enemy prepared for this attack with much deliberation. Their battle flags (a white ball on a dark field) [this is Helm coming up] were planted along their line to form by, and their officers, with swords held across their breasts with both hands, facing their men, dressed their line with commendable coolness and vim [gotta love those Kentuckians!]. When they got ready, they made a dash upon us. We had reserved our fire while they were making these preparations, but now we gave them a warm reception with an incessant outpour of bullets. The battery of the Thrid Brigade [4th Indiana Battery] had a flank range along my front by some of their guns. This range was a narrow open space covered with green, mossy grass. In this space we held the enemy while the battery mowed them down.
While we are building we will interpret the tactical advantage given the US troops in these positions, and the changing nature of Civil War combat from "traditional" maneuvers of '61 to "modern" practices of the '64 campaigns, with Chickamauga as a transition. Before photo at left; check back early next week for after shots of the completed section of works.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Let me just say I am thrilled at the viewshed work. A number of works published at the time of the park's opening show the effects of the clearance done in 1896, to sometimes dramatic result.

the breastworks should be interesting. One guy in the 19th Illinois called the works his regiment used on Hill One as composed mainly of "trash" which I take to be ground litter and fallen timber.

In mapping the deployments along battleline road, I am having real trouble with clearly representing the brigade frontages. They were really packed in there in some places. Scribner's account illustrates why - four deep instead of two - but even allowing for that, it's crowded.

Dave Powell