One of the things I like about volunteering at Governors Island on Sunday as opposed to Saturday is that the morning commute is quiet and easy. There are so few people around and one usually has the sidewalks to oneself. It is not unusual to see film crews out-and-about taking advantage of the quiet to shoot commercials, tv segments, and movies. The rest of the week it is usually just not possible. The film industry is a big part of the local economy and I don’t just mean the actors. Carpenters, craft service persons, and others are all necessary to make it happen. I have seen it so many times over the years now that I hardly think of it. This morning at 8:30 however, I could not help but pause when I saw this just south of Wall Street.
I visited relatives last weekend and while there my uncle took me to several WW1 monuments, markers, and tablets spread across numerous towns around Boston. It seems that all of the small communities in the area left some kind of marker to remember the events of the Great War. One of them even commemorated a doughboy killed in France in early 1919, a reminder that the danger did not end with the Armistice in November 1918 and that Americans were in harm’s way for some time thereafter. I intend to share these monuments in greater detail over the course of the rest of the summer, but wanted today to show a few pics from last week.
My uncle was extraordinarily kind and generous; he researched all of the monuments himself and drove us to each one, which was no easy task. It was also the hottest weekend of the year with temperatures in the mid-90s on both days. It would have been so easy for us to call it a day at any given point. Still, it was such a good time. Again, I will go more into these in the near future but here are a few snippets from our two excursions.
This is the town square in Hopedale. The statue in the background is General William F. Draper who fought for the Union in the Civil War. The statue is beautiful and was sculpted by none other than Daniel Chester French. Noting this, my uncle and I discussed how the veterans of the North had the financial resources to build these types of monuments to a degree that the veterans of the physically and economically devastated South did not. (Seeing the ghastly Stonewall Jackson statue at Manassas yesterday only drove the point home.) Hiring French cost General Draper’s widow a fortune. Still the Draper family was part of the industrial boom taking place during the Gilded Age and had the means to do it. The WW1 monument we came to see was directly behind where he is standing.
Some of the monuments are small and easy to miss. This one above was dedicated to a particular individual and is in remarkably excellent condition.
You can barely make it out but the marker, again dedicated to an individual, is on the pole just to the right of the small American flag. I imagine that when the marker was dedicated, presumably in the 1920s, there were still a few GAR members around to witness the occasion. This Grand Army of the Republic post is today an animal hospital.
Another town, another WW1 memorial. This one dedicated in 1935. When recording these things, one should always try to put the marker/tablet/memorial into its context and not just capture the object itself. The old New England church across the street adds to the poignancy. On the other side of the street, behind me where I took this picture, was an American Legion post with people coming and going.
These were a great couple of days all the way around, and I look forward to digging deeper into the stories of what we saw and sharing it here.
We were up and out early this morning to attend an event at the Manassas battlefield. When we got there at 7:45 there was only one other person there, a gentleman from Texas who was playing Pokemon Go on his phone sitting on the porch at the Henry Hill house. He and I had a good conversation for about twenty minutes between ourselves while the Hayfoot stayed back at the visitors center. It was so nice being there early before people began showing up to mark the anniversary of the first battle. I could feel he dew scrunching under my feet as I walked along. The rangers and volunteers told me that most of the events are to be held this coming weekend. These images are all from today.
Incredibly I first posted this five years ago today. I remember being in DC, though not Manassas, that Thursday in 2011. The heat index was in the 120s but they still managed to get a sizable crowd for the 150th anniversary of First Bull Run. We were following it online. The sesquicentennial itself. is already receding into memory.
I am writing this from Washington, DC. Today marks the 150th anniversary of the First Battle of Bull Run, which took place only about thirty miles down the road. It was not until I began visiting DC regularly a few years ago that I realized just how close to the capital the Civil War occurred. Fifty years ago today New York State made some history of its own when it donated one hundred and twenty six acres of Virginia countryside to the federal government.
In 1905 and 1906 the New State legislature authorized the purchase of six acres of land for the construction of monuments for the 14th Brooklyn (later renamed the 84th New York), the 5th New York (Duryee’s Zouaves), and the 10th New York (National Zouaves). Each regiment was granted $1,500, which was the standard rate for such projects at the time. (The monuments for the latter two regiments were in recognition of those units’ actions during Second Bull Run.) The three monuments were dedicated together on October 20, 1906, with scores of veterans taking the train from New York City and elsewhere in a pounding rain.
Fast forward to the early 1950s, when New York State officials prepared to give the six acres to the Manassas National Battlefield Park. The deal became complicated, however, when the legislative Committee to Study Historical Sites realized that encroaching development threatened to cut the three monuments off from the rest of the battlefield. Chairman L. Judson Morhouse advised the state to buy an additional one hundred and twenty acres to ensure that the Empire State’s units would fall within the parkland. The state agreed and purchased the acreage in 1952. Later in the decade the New York State Civil War Centennial Commission, Bruce Catton Chairman, proposed to transfer the land to the Park Service during the 100th anniversary of First Manassas in 1961. Not surprisingly, the NPS was amenable to this and so fifty years today Brigadier General Charles G. Stevenson, Adjutant General of New York, handed over the deed to Manassas superintendent Francis F. Wilshin.
I had the good fortune to be introduced via email the other day to historian and filmmaker Richard Walling. Among other things, Rich is working on a project about the 15th NY/369th Harlem Hellfighters. He had a grandfather who fought in the war with a different unit and is passionate about the subject. Funding and production are quite an undertaking on these types of projects but Rich has already written, filmed, and edited one of the scenes, which you can watch here. These are such important stories to tell. I look forward to meeting Rich in person sometime this summer. He is a living historian as well, and hopefully will come out for WW1 Day at Governors Island on September 17.
They are playing the All Star game tonight in San Diego. During the Great War the best individual players of the American League did not yet play their counterparts from the Senior Circuit in the game that traditionally marks the half way point of a season. That is probably because the World Series itself had begun only in 1903 and the game was still institutionalizing itself. Still, even though the United States had not entered the war by 1916, baseball was catching on overseas; it was the war’s second summer and Canadians had brought the game with them when they packed their old kit bags and headed off to fight the Hun. There were even military leagues comprised of Canadians and other men from the colonies playing one another.
Men in uniform brought baseball to many corners of the globe over the course the twentieth century. The U.S. occupations of Latin and South America are what led to the rise of the Dominican, Puerto Rican and other Hispanic stars we see today. Baseball’s popularity expanded in Japan after 1945, though I hasten to add that the baseball was already going strong with the Japanese even in the 1920s and 1930s. William Howard Taft noted in the 1910s, after his presidency, that Filipinos were picking up the game during his years as Governor-General of the Philippines. Americans entered the Great War in 1917 and when they did of course brought their bats, balls, and gloves with them. Even stars like Ty Cobb ended up in uniform.
It is curious why the game did not stick permanently with Europeans after the war. Perhaps it was because the countries were too devastated and the populations of young men too damaged to take up the pastime. Or maybe cricket, soccer, cycling and the like were just too entrenched. Or maybe it was a combination of all these things. Again, I don’t know. We can only wonder might have happened to international baseball had the game not had more a fleeting moment in the sun during the First World War.
(images/Library of Congress)
Last week I posted an image of the plaque dedicated to James C. Andes on Governors Island. Yesterday I strolled down the southern part of the parade ground to take this image of the monument to Ewin V. Evans. This is just north of the Chapel of St. Cornelius. It is so quiet on the island before that first public ferry boat, and with the Manhattan skyline standing there looking like a cardboard cutout on a bright day the moment is sublime.
Like Andes, Evans was a 2nd lieutenant in the 16th Infantry Regiment. Evans was killed the day after Andrews during the Battle of Soissons. At least with the 16th, what the Army did was place a tablet on a boulder and name the facing road after said individual. It’s something that most–as in virtually all–visitors to the island walk past without realizing. From what I understand someone I know is contemplating a larger project with the various 16th Infantry and other tablets spread out across Governors Island. I do hope comes to pass. Over the rest of the summer, leading up to our World War 1 day scheduled for September 17, I am going to take a photo of as many as I can an post them here.
I have been plugging away so hard on the Civil War New York book this summer that it may seem like I have gotten away from the Great War centennial. I can assure you however that that is not the case. I first saw this clip over at Kevin Levin’s Civil War Memory blog the other day and thought I would share it going into the weekend. The British have held some quite moving centennial events marking the events of 1914-18. Of course we have been fortunate to have some memorable programs here in the United States as well, including the wonderful program held last May here in New York marking the anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania. It will only get more intense in April 2017 when we mark the entrance of America into the war. Enjoy this brief clip, and your weekend as well.
Over the weekend I read a fascinating memoir called Route 15 to Gettysburg: A Journey. The author is John Thomas Ambrosi, a retired Marine Corps officer who grew up in Rochester, New York. JT has traveled the road dozens of times over the past several decades and as seen many changes both on the battlefield and along the route to get there. Gettysburg is roughly equidistant from Rochester to Quantico, Virginia, which made visiting convenient during his military years. Gettysburg still resonates with JT today and continues to play a large role in his life. What I found so intriguing was the way he incorporates the battlefield and its rich history in with other events: his growing up years, his service in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, his family history, Rochester’s changing circumstances, and all the things he has seen over the years traveling Route 15 to Gettysburg. JT recently sat down and generously answered a few questions.
The Strawfoot: Your memoir is about Route 15. Where does this road begin and end, and what has it meant to you?
John Thomas (JT) Ambrosi: A lot of my life has been spent on and around the northern portion of Route 15 in New York and Pennsylvania but Route 15 extends much farther than that. It stretches almost 800 miles from Rochester,
NY to Walterboro, SC. Because of its proximity to my home and
Gettysburg, it became a natural focus for my memoir. The road acts as
a symbol tying together my childhood in Rochester, my love of studying
the battle of Gettysburg and my career in the US Marines as I used it
to travel to and from Marine training in Quantico, VA.
When did you decide to write the book?
I had just finished up a wonderfully productive decade at a local
telecommunications firm and wanted to try something else. So, while I
transitioned, I decided to put my thoughts on paper. It was a lot of
When you were younger were you conscious of Route 15 as
a heritage tourism destination?
No. Researching for the book opened my eyes, though. Route 15
intersects with quite a few remarkable geologic and historical places
in the eastern United States.
It is almost like there are two Route 15s, one through
scenic southern Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia and another
farther north through post-industrial America. You grew up in
Rochester in the 1970s. A major theme in your memoir is how towns like Rochester went from prosperity to Rust Belt malaise fairly quickly.
It’s so true. Rochester is a much different place now than it
was in the early part of the 20th Century. There are several complex
reasons why but mostly its because of the loss of manufacturing, white
flight to the suburbs and the concentration of poverty in the center
city. You see it in a lot of places in the northeastern United
States. The city is trying to make a come back, though. There are
lots of new developments and what is particularly exciting is the
number of new residential units going up in the city. But, it’s a
long, tough row to hoe. Route 15, the northern portion anyway, tells
the tale of Rust Belt America.
In hindsight, interest in American military history would have
been anomalous but I was too immature to think about it that way in
high school and, frankly, probably wouldn’t have cared. As an aside,
my experience coming home from the First Gulf War was accentuated by
the number of Vietnam veterans who showed up to the airport and at our
parades/celebrations because they wanted us to feel welcome back in
our country. That was simply awesome. Those guys deserved so much
and the country treated them badly. But, they put their past in the
rearview mirror and said, “Never again.”
How, if at all, did being a Marine influence your
views on Gettysburg?
Quite a bit. Being in the military teaches you not only tactics
but how to understand terrain, weather, etc. and how those factors
influence a battle. You can better understand why the decision makers
at Gettysburg did what they did. For example, why did Dan Sickle’s
decide to disobey General Meade’s orders on July 2, 1863 and push his
3d Corps out to the Emmitsburg Road? You get a different perspective
of that when you look at the terrain through military eyes.
Uniformed Service Persons are a frequent sight on the
battlefield. Indeed staff rides were a stated reason for putting Civil
War battlefields under the jurisdiction of the War Department in the
1890s. Ways of war change over time, but did Gettysburg have any
lessons for you as a Marine officer?
Absolutely. The Marines call an attack like Pickett’s Charge
the “Hey, diddle, diddle, right up the middle.” It’s one of the
simplest, and deadliest, forms of maneuver. It’s not the preferred
way to go after bad guys but sometimes you have no choice. Also,
required reading at officer training was Michael Shaara’s “The Killer
Angels.” It’s a tired and, perhaps, trite phrase but those who forget
history are indeed condemned to repeat it. The Marines do a great job
making sure their officers study the past and learn from it.
Tell us about Patrick O’Rorke and what he means to you?
A transplanted Irishman. His family made their home in
Rochester. He worked hard and got a ticket to West Point. He
excelled there and was quickly promoted after graduation. He was a
natural fit to command the 140th NYVI made up of men recruited in his
native Rochester. He and his regiment were headed out to bolster Dan
Sickle’s collapsing 3d Corps line on July 2, 1863, when the Union
Army’s Chief Engineer, seeing a bad situation developing on top of
Little Round Top, ordered him and his regiment to that peak’s defense.
It was in the nick of time too as Hood’s Texan’s were almost to the
peak. As he led the charge to repel them, a Confederate minie ball
hit him in the neck and he died on that hill. But, the 140th stopped
the attack. He is buried here in Rochester and I am a member of the
Patrick O’Rorke Memorial Society which keeps his name in the public
eye. He is a true American hero.
You were in Gettysburg the weekend after 9/11. What
was that like?
Two memories jump to the front. First, I remember the thousands
of people lining Route 15 in Pennsylvania just waving flags and
showing support for America. The second memory imprinted on my brain
is the eerie sight of contrails of jet aircraft back in the sky after
the attacks. The US had grounded all air travel for a couple of days.
But, when we arrived in Gettysburg on Friday evening the week of the
attacks, the jets traveling that particularly busy east-west corridor
painted a beautiful picture in the sky as the sun set over South
Since the publication of the book have you learned the
whereabouts of the banner from the U.S.S. Constellation?
I was serving as executive officer of the Marine Detachment on
board USS Constellation, a Vietnam era aircraft carrier. During a
visit to the Philippines, I had some local craftsman make me a banner
that we could hang in the Marine Detachment berthing. It was a
motivational piece of art quoting Henry’s band of brothers speech
before the battle at Agincourt. I never saw it again after I left the
ship and I’ve asked some of the Marines who served with me if they
recall where it went. No luck. Constellation is no longer around.
She was decommissioned and torn apart for scrap. I hope the banner is
in good hands!
Is there anything else you would like to add?
You too are a student of history and guys like me appreciate your
work in keeping people interested in it. Good luck with your work and
your blog and I appreciate you contacting me.
(images/Penn Motel by Mellinger Studios, Lancaster, PA; O’Rorke by Doug Kerr of Albany, NY, uploaded by GrapedApe; both via Wikimedia Commons; other image taken by The Strawfoot)
I was all Gettysburg and Vicksburg at Governors Island yesterday. Hancock, the Grants, Pemberton. So many of them spent time, often significant time, on the island in the years before and after the war. Many of the visitors to the island are casual visitors who know little of the place’s history. Most perk up when you help them make a connection, especially of 4th of July Weekend. I stopped in front of the Andes plaque and took these photos of the tablet dedicated to the doughboy from the 16th regiment who was killed at Soissons in July 1918. Eventually I am going to dig deeper into this one and send it off to Mark Levitch at the WW1 Memorial Inventory Project. The 16th had strong ties to Governors Island in the decades after the Great War. They were housed in Liggett Hall and left their legacy all over the place. It was the 16th that marched through Paris on the 4th of July 1917 to Picpus Cemetery in honor the Lafayette. I did also manage to squeeze the marquis in yesterday during my tour of Castle Williams, pointing across the harbor to Castle Clinton to show the group where Lafayette was fêted by enthusiastic New Yorkers in 1824.