As a special contributor to the weekly Civil War page of the Washington Times newspaper from 1997 to 2009, I traveled to many locations to discover what occurred during the tumultuous years of 1861 through 1865. The conflict affected communities throughout the North and South in a variety of ways.
Having just concluded a series of articles about a once-in-a-lifetime trip in 1995 (nearly 6,000 miles in 34 days) to discover the Civil War as it played out primarily in states bordering the Mississippi River (Coastal Point, Jan. 12 to May 25, 2018), my attention will turn to what was learned during subsequent travels. This sustained adventure over a 12-year period resulted in articles for the Washington Times.
Sequentially, these travels began in 1998, from my home base in Silver Spring, Md., with a visit to the obscure town of Wrightsville, Pa. Prior to the meeting of two contesting armies at Gettysburg in July 1863, this Susquehanna River community, with a mile-long covered bridge, played host to elements of the invading Confederate forces.
In 1999, my conversion van was on the road again to Aiken, S.C., a small, prosperous town just east of Augusta, Georgia. While not well known, Aiken played a role in Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s subsequent move northward following his famous (or infamous, depending on your Civil War perspective) “March to the Sea” through Georgia in 1865.
Later in 1999, I motored up to Hanover, Pa., which played a key role in the outcome of the Battle of Gettysburg. It was here that Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart was detoured from his attempt to rejoin Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army in late June 1863; therefore, Lee was without his primary intelligence provider for the first two days of the battle.
The next journey was to Jacksonville, Fla., in early 2000, to investigate that town’s role during the hectic war years. Controlled at various times by both Union and Confederate forces, Jacksonville suffered considerable destruction during this period.
Interspersed between these other excursions were frequent visits to the town of Gettysburg, Pa. Membership in the Friends of the National Parks at Gettysburg (now the Gettysburg Foundation) led to attendance at seminars, musters and volunteer workdays.
Another long drive took place in 2003, down to Wilmington, N.C. The port city on the Cape Fear River was the last lifeline for critical foreign goods supplied to the Confederacy, since the Union navy had blockaded all other Southern ports.
In early 2004, it was time to investigate the Deep South with a sojourn to Montgomery, Ala. This was the location of the first capital of the newly-established Confederate States of America, and the first Confederate “White House” — the home of President Jefferson Davis — remains open to the public.
Some 50 miles east of Montgomery is Selma, Ala. It was here that Maj. Gen. James Wilson’s Union cavalry crashed through Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s defense of this important munitions-producing and ship-building town in March 1865.
Later in 2004, Augusta, Georgia, was on the agenda for a visit. Although in the path of Sherman’s march through the South, the Union general’s army by-passed Augusta on two occasions — despite the fact it was a manufacturing center, and produced munitions and ordnance for the Rebel army.
There was a travel hiatus until 2006, when it was time for a visit to San Antonio, Texas. It was here that the German immigrant population paid a heavy price for remaining loyal to the Union and runaway slaves escaped south into Mexico.
By mid-2008, I went south one more time, to Columbia, the capital of South Carolina. Gen. Sherman’s army by-passed Augusta, but marched directly through Columbia — much to the detriment of this proud city that had fostered secession from the Union.
In subsequent issues, we will relive explorations of the above-mentioned cities and towns in detail. The information learned, for the most part, has not been well publicized, and made the extensive trips well worth the effort.
Tom Ryan is the author of the multiple award-winning “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign” and “Essays on Delaware during the Civil War;” signed copies available at Bethany Beach Books, at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach and at Allison’s Card Smart in Milford. Contact him at email@example.com or visit his website at www.tomryan-civilwar.com.
By Tom Ryan
Special to the Coastal Point