Henry Hill Loop Trail (Manassas National Battlefield Park, VA)


Henry Hill Loop Trail, Manassas National Battlefield Park, April 2017

– Civil War Series –

The climax of the First Battle of Manassas took place on Henry Hill, a grassy pasture west of Bull Run and north of Manassas Junction, Virginia—the object of Union attack. On the afternoon of July 21, 1861, after a Federal victory in the morning at nearby Matthews Hill, fierce Confederate resistance at Henry Hill stopped the assault in its tracks, eventually forcing Gen. Irvin McDowell’s Union force to retreat back to Washington.

The Henry Hill Loop Trail is perhaps the most popular hike in Manassas National Battlefield Park due to its location just behind the Visitor Center. Clocking in at 1.2 miles, the hike covers many of the battle’s major landmarks, including the Henry House, Brig. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s artillery line, and Captain Charles Griffin’s two famed field guns. (Note: The loop is one of five hiking trails that trace the First Battle of Manassas; see also the First Manassas Trail, Sudley Loop Trail, Stone Bridge Loop Trail, and Matthews Hill Loop Trail.)

Henry Hill Loop Trail hike information Manassas

The hike

Manassas National Battlefield Park is located just off Interstate 66, roughly 30 miles west of Washington, DC. Henry Hill Visitor Center serves as the starting point for most visitors and marks the start of the Henry Hill Loop Trail. Ranger-led talks cover part of the trail and are offered daily at 11am and 2pm.

Looking north from the Visitor Center, the Henry Hill Loop Trail strikes out across a grassy ridge, heading toward the Henry House, visible from the Visitor Center.


Map of Henry Hill Loop Trail

The Union cannons on the left are arrayed as they were during the height of battle, around 2 pm on July 21, 1861. After a several-hour delay on Matthews Hill, Union Gen. Irvin McDowell finally directed two artillery batteries—11 guns in all—to seize the high ground on Henry Hill. When they arrived, however, they lacked sufficient infantry support and were immediately riddled with fire; Brig. Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson already had 13 short-range cannons in place along the reverse slope to the east. As Confederate divisions fled Matthews Hill in the morning, they rallied at Henry Hill behind Jackson, who had just arrived around midday. Here, the legend of Stonewall was born: Brig. Gen. Barnard Bee, regrouping after Matthews Hill, reportedly shouted to his men: “There stands Jackson like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!”

Looking east from the Union cannons, Jackson’s statue towers over the hill, with the 13 cannons just beyond. Continuing on the trail, stop to peer inside the reconstructed Henry House. As Federal forces advanced up Henry Hill, they came under fire from Confederate sharpshooters who were hiding inside the house. Capt. J.B. Ricketts’ artillery returned fire, riddling the house with bullets and killing 85-year-old Judith Carter Henry, who refused to leave her home and became the battle’s first and only civilian casualty. (Note: Behind the house is a stone monument, built in 1865 to commemorate the fallen.)


Henry House and Confederate Memorial

Beyond the Henry House, the trail descends gradually and approaches a lone cedar and a weathered wayside overlooking Matthews Hill and the Stone House. It was here that Confederate Capt. John Imboden had four guns, pointed north as the Federals streamed down Matthews Hill. For a brief moment, Imboden’s artillerymen were the only obstacle to a Federal attack; as reinforcements arrived, however, Imboden’s battery moved to reinforce Jackson.


View from Imboden’s battery

From this point, bear right as the loop trail drops downhill to cross a minor creek. At 4/10 mile, bear left on a wide track that cuts across an open field. The next junction has an interpretive panel discussing the much-hailed resistance of Confederate Col. Wade Hampton and his infantry; Hampton’s Legion took the brunt of the fighting in the interim period between the battles at Matthews and Henry Hills.


Foundation of Robinson House

Bearing right at the fork, the trail reaches the remains of the Robinson House at 6/10 mile. Owned by James Robinson—a free black man—the house escaped major damage during the battle; it survived until 1993, when it was felled by arsonists. Past the Robinson House, the trail heads back toward the Visitor Center, passing behind Jackson’s line of artillery at roughly .85 mile. Stay straight as the path intersects the 5.4-mile First Manassas Trail.


Jackson’s line

The final leg of the hike traces a key event, arguably the turning point in the battle: the capture of artillery Capt. Charles Griffin’s two howitzers. Facing merciless pounding from Jackson’s guns, Griffin decided to move two of his six guns beyond the right of Ricketts’ line in an effort to expose Jackson’s line to enfilading fire. By the time Griffin had unlimbered the two cannons, however, the 33rd Virginia Infantry emerged from the woods, seizing the position.


Site of Griffin’s two howitzers

With the Visitor Center parking lot off to the right, the trail approaches the position where Griffin’s guns stood at 1.1 mile. Fast forwarding two hours in battle time, a final interpretive panel 100 yards later tells the story of the Union retreat—scattered, chaotic, and humiliating. From here it is mere steps to the parking lot and Visitor Center, bringing the 1.2-mile loop to an end.

Allot around an hour for this circuit hike.

Extra credit

Four additional hikes traverse the terrain of the First Battle of Manassas, including:


Civil War Trust, “Bull Run,” https://www.civilwar.org/learn/civil-war/battles/bull-run

John J. Hennessy, The First Battle of Manassas, Revised Edition (Stackpole Books: 2015)

National Park Service, “The Battle of First Manassas (First Bull Run),” https://www.nps.gov/mana/learn/historyculture/first-manassas.htm

Posted in Civil War, Easy Hikes, Manassas National Battlefield Park, Virginia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Matthews Hill Loop Trail (Manassas National Battlefield Park, VA)


Matthews Hill Loop Trail, Manassas National Battlefield Park, April 2017

– Civil War Series –

The Civil War’s First Battle of Manassas comprised two major engagements: a Union victory at Matthews Hill in the morning, and a Union defeat at Henry Hill in the afternoon. With Gen. Irvin McDowell’s Federal forces crossing Bull Run at Sudley Ford, Confederate Col. Nathan “Shanks” Evans shifted 900 troops from nearby Stone Bridge to meet the challenge. Despite being outgunned and outmanned, the Confederate brigades—receiving back-up from Col. Francis Bartow and Brig. Gen. Barnard Bee—fought the Federals on Matthews Hill for nearly 90 minutes. The fighting would slow the Union advance, giving the Southerners much need time to bring in additional reinforcements that would ultimately achieve victory at Henry Hill later in the day.

Today, a one-mile loop hike circles the Matthews Hill battlefield. Situated 1.5 miles north of the Henry Hill Visitor Center at Manassas National Battlefield Park, the trail crosses open farm fields (owned during the war by Edgar Matthews) and briefly dips into the woods to the north and east. (Note: The loop is one of five hiking trails that trace the First Battle of Manassas; see also the First Manassas Trail, Sudley Loop Trail, Stone Bridge Loop Trail, and Henry Hill Loop Trail.)

Matthews Hill Loop Trail hike information Manassas

Matthews Hill Loop Trail map Manassas

Map of Matthews Hill Loop Trail, Manassas National Battlefield Park; created using National Geographic Maps/AllTrails, alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

Starting at the Matthews Hill parking lot—3/4 mile up Sudley Road from Warrenton Turnpike/Lee Highway—the Matthews Hill Loop Trail heads southeast amid tall grasses to the crest of the hill. (Note: Several paths converge at the trailhead; be sure to take the one marked “Matthews Hill Loop Trail.”) Tracking uphill, the trail reaches a junction after 250 yards. With a row of cannons to the right, take a left, peering out across the battlefield.


Firing the cannon…

The cannons on Matthews Hill mark the position of Captain William Reynolds’ Rhode Island artillery battery, which boasted six field guns on the day of battle. Looking south, one can see Henry Hill—the site of bloody engagement in the afternoon—in the distance. From here, two Confederate brigades under Col. Bartow and Brig. Gen. Bee came to Evans’ aid at Matthews Hill. It was too little, too late. After about 90 minutes of fighting, a Federal barrage led by Col. Ambrose Burnside sent the Southerners fleeing back to Henry Hill.

From the artillery display, continue northeast to the edge of the woods at ¼ mile. Bear straight ahead, into the forest, passing several panels that tell the story of individual Federal units and their roles in the battle. Stay straight as a bridle trail intersects the main path at 0.37 miles, then bear right—deviating from the First Manassas Trail—at around the ½-mile mark. Just beyond is the Stovall Monument, dedicated to an obscure member of the 8th regiment of the Georgia Volunteers. There is another trail fork at the monument; stay straight on the Matthews Hill Loop Trail.


Matthews Hill Loop Trail as it weaves through the woods

At roughly 0.65 miles, the trail reemerges onto the open fields. Stay straight as the path traces a lesser ridge where Confederate forces were position during the battle. Separating the trail from the summit of Matthews Hill is a small rail fence, a remnant of Edgar Matthews’ farm.

Although the Southerners would retreat from this position, the fighting at Matthews Hill played a key role in the eventual Confederate victory. As the three Confederate brigades bogged down McDowell’s forces, reinforcements were arriving from the south. Moreover, the battle convinced Gen. McDowell to temporary halt the Union advance on Henry Hill until the afternoon; it would be several hours until the US Army finally marched onward.


Matthews Hill from the Confederate positions

At ¾ mile, bear right at the trail fork. Walk up Matthews Hill, through a break in the rail fence, arriving back at the cannons at 9/10 mile. From here, it is a short walk back to the Matthews Hill parking area to the north.

Allot around 45 minutes to an hour for this one-mile walk. Pack sunscreen and bug spray, as the open grassland can be a haven for ticks.

Extra credit

Four additional hikes traverse the terrain of the First Battle of Manassas, including:


Civil War Trust, “Bull Run,” https://www.civilwar.org/learn/civil-war/battles/bull-run

John J. Hennessy, The First Battle of Manassas, Revised Edition (Stackpole Books: 2015)

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Stone Bridge Loop Trail (Manassas National Battlefield Park, VA)


Stone Bridge Loop Trail, Manassas National Battlefield Park, April 2017

– Civil War Series –

The Stone Bridge at Virginia’s Manassas National Battlefield Park was the site of the first action of the First Battle of Manassas on July 21, 1861. Destroyed during the war, the bridge has been reconstructed, just off today’s Warrenton Turnpike (Lee Highway), and marks the start of a short circuit hike on the west side of Bull Run Creek. The closest Manassas hike to Washington, DC—and one of the most scenic—the Stone Bridge Loop Trail is quite popular, especially on weekends. (Note: The loop is one of five hiking trails that trace the First Battle of Manassas; see also the First Manassas Trail, Sudley Loop Trail, Matthews Hill Loop Trail, and Henry Hill Loop Trail.)

Stone Bridge Loop Trail hike information Manassas

The hike

In the early morning hours of June 21, 1861, Union Brig. Gen. Daniel Tyler marched his division westward on Warrenton Turnpike to the Stone Bridge, where his forces kicked off the First Battle of Manassas with a volley of fire against Confederate Col. Nathan “Shanks” Evans’ brigade on the western bank. But this was not the Federals’ main line of attack; in fact, Tyler’s artillery fire was simply a demonstration—a show of force intended to deceive and distract the Confederates from a much larger movement of around 13,000 troops farther north at Sudley Ford.

Though surviving the First Battle of Manassas, the Stone Bridge was destroyed by Confederate forces in March 1862 to obstruct the passage of Federal troops over Bull Run. The bridge was reconstructed, however, in 1884, situated partway upstream from Warrenton Turnpike, now a busy throughway.

The Stone Bridge Loop Trail begins and ends at the Stone Bridge parking area off Warrenton Turnpike, just beyond the popular Winery at Bull Run. From the parking area, a paved path winds downhill to the bridge, crossing it after around 175 yards. The bridge over Bull Run is quite wide, making it an attractive transit point during the early stage of the Civil War.


Crossing the Stone Bridge

Once across, take a right at the trail fork. From here, you can get a side view of the double-arched bridge. The dirt path follows Bull Run’s western bank for the next half-mile.


Stone Bridge Loop Trail along Bull Run

At the hike’s half-mile mark, hikers have a choice: bear right to climb to Farm Ford, or take an easier shortcut to the left. Those with sufficient energy should head for the ford, where, on the morning of July 21, 1861, a young colonel named William Tecumseh Sherman would make his Civil War debut – crossing Bull Run en route to battle.


Overlook at Farm Ford

From Farm Ford, the trail leaves Bull Run behind and follows a pine-studded ravine to the west, emerging onto an open field at 0.75 miles. Take a left, skirting the edge of the woods, then stay right at the next junction. (Note: This is where the shortcut route reconnects with the main loop.) At 0.85 miles, the trail reaches the former site of the Van Pelt House.


Van Pelt House site

The Van Pelt family, staunch Unionists in a Confederate state, found their house at the center of battle on July 21. Col. Evans’ Confederate forces deployed here to defend the Stone Bridge, and according to Federal accounts, the Union’s historic “First Shot” of the battle crashed into the Van Pelt House at around 6 am.

From the Van Pelt site, bear left on the downward sloping route heading southeast. Here the Stone Bridge Loop Trail traverses a grassy knoll, passing an interpretive panel marked “Opening Shots,” which tells the story of Col. Evans’ brigade on the morning of battle…

After taking fire from Tyler’s Union forces, Evans directed a portion of his men to meet the challenge. At about 7:30 am, however, Evans unmasked his enemy’s deception: a nearby signalman, Capt. E. Porter Alexander spotted a much larger Federal contingent—around 13,000 troops—crossing Bull Run two miles north at Sudley Ford. Alexander immediately relayed the message to Evans: “Look out for your left, you are turned.” Evans responded quickly, withdrawing 900 of his 1,100 men to meet the advancing Federals farther north, leaving only a small contingent to hold the Stone Bridge. (Note: Later in the day, Evans’ forces would be routed at Matthews Hill, and Tyler’s brigade would push across the Stone Bridge—early Union victories that would belie an afternoon defeat at nearby Henry Hill.)


Boardwalk on Stone Bridge Loop Trail

Beyond the panel, the trail rounds a corner and descends steeply, losing around 60 feet in less than 75 yards. Paralleling Warrenton Turnpike on the right, the path then crosses a marshy flat, returning to the Stone Bridge at around the hike’s 1.5-mile mark. From here, it is a short walk back across the bridge and up a minor slope to the parking lot.

Allot around 1-1.5 hours for this short (and mostly easy) loop hike.

Extra credit

Four additional hikes traverse the terrain of the First Battle of Manassas, including:


Civil War Trust, “Bull Run,” https://www.civilwar.org/learn/civil-war/battles/bull-run

John J. Hennessy, The First Battle of Manassas, Revised Edition (Stackpole Books: 2015)

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Sudley Loop Trail (Manassas National Battlefield Park, VA)


Sudley Loop Trail, Manassas National Battlefield Park, April 2017

– Civil War Series –

On July 19, 1861—two days before the Civil War’s First Battle of Manassas—Union General Irwin McDowell dispatched John G. Barnard, his chief engineer, to identify a suitable place for thousands of Federal soldiers, horses, and artillery to cross Bull Run Creek undetected. Barnard found such a crossing at Sudley Ford, well upstream of the Confederate defensive positions protecting Virginia’s Manassas Junction, a vital rail link and the objective of McDowell’s offensive. Two days later, McDowell ordered two divisions (roughly 13,000 troops) to cross at Sudley Ford, the move that kicked off the Civil War’s first major engagement.

In 1861, the area around Sudley Ford was mostly barren, largely clear of trees and brush. Today, however, it has been overtaken by dense forest, an overgrown landscape now partially protected by Manassas National Battlefield Park. While Sudley Ford is on private land, the 6/10-mile Sudley Loop Trail explores the area just south of the crossing, including Sudley Springs Ford, where Union forces splashed across Catharpin Run (just after traversing Bull Run) on the morning of July 21, 1861. (Note: The loop is one of five hiking trails that trace the First Battle of Manassas; see also the First Manassas Trail, Stone Bridge Loop Trail, Matthews Hill Loop Trail, and Henry Hill Loop Trail.)

Sudley Loop Trail Manassas hike information

Sudley Loop Trail map

Map of Sudley Loop Trail, Manassas National Battlefield Park; created using National Geographic Maps/AllTrails, alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

Just off Sudley Road, the trailhead for this hike is situated in the extreme north of Manassas National Battlefield Park. Coming from the south, look for a small parking area on the left, just before the Sudley United Methodist Church. (Note: Fortunately, the Sudley Loop Trail is not popular because the parking area has only three spaces.) An interpretive panel at the site discusses the role of Sudley Church in the battle.


Sudley Church from the parking area

The trail begins across Sudley Road to the east. (Note: Use caution in crossing the road, where cars zip by at 50+ miles per hour.) Immediately, the path darts into the forest, following an elevated railroad bed that was unfinished at the start of the war; the lengthy ditch to the right was constructed to keep water from flooding the tracks.


Trail split, with the unfinished railroad ditch to the right

At around the 100-yard mark, the trail forks; stay right, following the sign reading “START LOOP 0.6 MI.” (Note: The trail to the left will be your return trip.) Off to the left, bits remain of the foundation of Christian Hill, once the home to Amos and Margaret Benson, who stumbled upon a wounded Union soldier and nursed him back to health following the battle. In another 100 yards, the Sudley Loop Trail approaches an overlook of Bull Run, now obscured by trees.


Descent to Bull Run

At this point, the trail bears left and drops steeply to cross a minor stream at around 0.15 miles. Off to the right is a short access trail to Bull Run, bounded by a rocky bluff on the west bank.


Bluff along Bull Run

Continuing down the trail, the terrain levels out and weaves amid the trees until briefly emerging onto the lawn of the Thornberry House at ¼ mile. This site, once a private home, is one of only three remaining Civil War-era structures in the park; during the battle, it was overrun by wounded Union soldiers who used the house to recuperate.

Stay on the trail as it darts right to the banks of Bull Run. At 0.3 miles, one can see the confluence of Bull Run and Catharpin Run, or “Little Bull Run,” on the right. Leaving Bull Run behind (Sudley Ford is upstream from here but on private land), the trail follows Catharpin Run upstream to Sudley Springs Ford.


Sudley Springs Ford

Shortly after crossing Bull Run, more than 13,000 Union soldiers traversed this ford on the morning of July 21, 1861 en route to battle. The travel was slow and tedious, especially for a force composed mainly of young and inexperienced soldiers. In fact, the march from Centreville, Virginia to the crossing of Bull Run took so long that it ruined McDowell’s element of surprise. At around 7:30 am, Col. Nathan G. Evans’ 7th Brigade—Confederate forces positioned at the Stone Bridge to the south—detected the movement and began to move troops to meet the advancing Unionists. The slow movement of Union troops—combined with Evans’ resistance at Matthews Hill—was sufficient to allow additional Confederate reinforcements to arrive, a critical juncture that eventually led to a Southern victory in the afternoon.


Sudley Loop Trail, heading back toward the trailhead

Beyond the ford, the trail heads south on a plywood boardwalk, then approaches the Thornberry House again, this time from the west side. Just beyond, the trail abuts Sudley Road, and a wayside provides a brief snapshot of the sleepy town of Sudley Springs, which awoke to the sounds of thousands of Federal forces marching to battle on July 21.


Thornberry House, from the Sudley Loop Trail

From here, the trail continues a gradual ascent back toward the trailhead, briefly dipping to crossing a small ravine at around 0.55 miles. Seconds later, hikers will return to the initial trail junction. Bear right, following the singletrack back to Sudley Road, and the parking lot beyond.

Allot around 45 minutes to an hour for this relatively easy and family-friendly hike through a slice of Civil War history.

Extra credit

Four additional hikes traverse the terrain of the First Battle of Manassas, including:


Civil War Trust, “Bull Run,” https://www.civilwar.org/learn/civil-war/battles/bull-run

John J. Hennessy, The First Battle of Manassas, Revised Edition (Stackpole Books: 2015)

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Fort Sumter (Fort Sumter National Monument, SC)


Fort Sumter, Fort Sumter National Monument, February 2017

– Civil War Series –

On April 12, 1861—after decades of fierce debate over slavery—South Carolina Confederates kicked off the Civil War with a barrage of fire on Union-held Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Surrounded, outgunned, and short on supplies, Major Robert Anderson was forced to cede the fort the next day—despite not losing a soldier, the surrender dealt a final blow to the prospect of a diplomatic solution. It would be another four years until the war would end, when Fort Sumter would finally return to Federal control.

Today, Fort Sumter is preserved by the National Park Service as part of a three-part unit—Fort Sumter National Monument—which comprises the island fort itself, nearby Fort Moultrie, and Liberty Square. In summer, several boats a day bound for Fort Sumter leave from Liberty Square in Charleston and Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant; each tour gives visitors a little over an hour on the island. (Note: Winter service is limited to just three boats a day.) The fort has changed over the years—during the Spanish-American War in the 1890s, the US Army added a massive steel and concrete installation to the mix; it was also manned and armed during World War I and II before becoming a national monument in 1948. (Note: Also check out nearby Fort Moultrie—see my post from May 3, 2017.)


One of a handful of shells remaining from the Battle of Fort Sumter


Cannon from the Civil War era


View toward Fort Moultrie from Fort Sumter


Flag atop Battery Huger on Fort Sumter


Artillery pointed toward the Atlantic


Fort Sumter, with Charleston skyline in the distance


Charleston from the boat ride back to Patriot’s Point

Posted in Civil War, South Carolina | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Fort Moultrie (Fort Sumter National Monument, SC)


Fort Moultrie, Fort Sumter National Monument, February 2017

– Revolutionary War Series –

– Civil War Series –

Fort Moultrie—built to defend South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor—has played an important role in several of America’s conflicts. First, under the leadership of Revolutionary Colonel William Moultrie, it fought off a British assault in 1776, and decades later, helped deter the British threat again during the War of 1812. In December 1860, as South Carolina seceded from the Union, the Federal garrison at Fort Moultrie abandoned the post, retreating to nearby Fort Sumter, where the Union forces—facing an artillery barrage from now Confederate-held Moultrie—would eventually be forced to surrender in April 1861. Following its capture, Fort Moultrie served as the primary defender for Confederate-held Charleston and endured heavy bombardment from the Union navy in 1863 before returning to Federal control two years later with the end of the Civil War. Since then, the fort has undergone several stages of modernization: the addition of heavy artillery and concrete and steel bunkers in the 1870s and 1880s, followed by more improvements during the two World Wars of the 20th century.

The result of all this today is a somewhat-jarring mishmash of old and new—brick, stone, concrete, and steel. Administered by Fort Sumter National Monument, Fort Moultrie is more easily accessible than its island-bound cousin, and its location near the beaches on Sullivan’s Island make it a popular weekend destination. The National Park Service offers ample wayside exhibits and guided tours for visitors, and the Visitor Center on Sullivan’s Island has an impressive array of exhibits covering Fort Moultrie’s rich history. (Note: For the actual Fort Sumter, see my post on May 13, 2017.)


Entering Fort Moultrie


View of Fort Sumter and Charleston Harbor from Fort Moultrie


Heavy artillery at Fort Moultrie


Civil War artillery at Fort Moultrie


Beaches at Sullivan’s Island


View of Fort Moultrie (and Revolutionary War-era artillery)

Posted in Civil War, Revolutionary War, South Carolina | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Charles Pinckney National Historic Site, SC


Charles Pinckney National Historic Site, February 2017

– Revolutionary War Series –

Charles Pinckney National Historic Site in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina commemorates the life of a “forgotten founder” who helped shape the American political system following the Revolutionary War. Most famous for writing 25 clauses of the U.S. Constitution, Charles Pinckney was a Jeffersonian Democratic-Republican and a favorite son of South Carolina, where he lived until his death in 1824. Much of his life was spent here at Snee Farm, a 28-acre slice of which is now managed by the National Park Service. Though no complete structures remain from Pinckney’s time, the stone foundations of several buildings have been unearthed, while the present Visitor Center occupies a tidewater cottage constructed in the years after Pinckney sold Snee Farm in the 1817. A half-mile nature trail traverses the farm and explores nearby woods and a tidal marsh.


Tidewater cottage housing the park’s Visitor Center


Foundation of former slave quarters at Snee Farm


Woods at Charles Pinckney National Historic Site


Boardwalk over a marsh leading to the banks of Wampacheone Creek


Gardens at Snee Farm

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North Pier Trail (Fort Pulaski National Monument, GA)


North Pier Trail, Fort Pulaski National Monument, February 2017

– Civil War Series –

While the fort itself steals the show, Georgia’s Fort Pulaski National Monument also contains a handful of hiking trails. Among the easiest (and mostly wheelchair-accessible) is the North Pier Trail, a 6/10-mile stem-and-loop which begins and ends at the northwest corner of the park’s main parking area on Cockspur Island. Highlights include a late 19th century naval battery and a palm-studded view of the Savannah River as it drains into the Atlantic. Perhaps most interesting about the hike, however, is the dense vegetation: a mixed forest of pines, hardwoods, and palms. (Note: As of early 2017, part of this trail was closed due to damage sustained by Hurricane Matthew, which ravaged the area in October 2016.)

North Pier Trail Fort Pulaski hike information

North Pier Trail map Fort Pulaski

Map of North Pier Trail, Fort Pulaski National Monument

The hike

After visiting the fort, return to the parking area and look for a large sign marking the start of the North Pier Trail, at the northwest end of the lot. Here, just beyond the trail panel, a wide and paved path plunges into the coastal forest, revealing wily branches, dense thicket, and flashes of palms. It’s flat and straight for the first 100 yards, after which the trail forks. Stay left to head toward the North Pier viewpoint.


Start of the North Pier Trail

As the trail snakes around a minor curve, it briefly emerges from the vegetation at Battery Hambright, a concrete structure constructed in 1901 (well after the original Fort Pulaski). The battery was part of a series of fort improvements completed after the Spanish-American War, though artillery was never installed at the site.


Battery Hambright

Skirting the battery to the left, the path continues north and splits again at around 0.13 mile. Head straight, with the pier now in sight. Scampering down to the sandy viewpoint, look off to the right: this is the mouth of the 300-mile Savannah River, a key avenue for blockade runners during the Civil War until the Union capture of Fort Pulaski in April 1862.


View downstream from the pier

Across the river is Jones Island—the southernmost tip of South Carolina—which was described by occupying Union forces during the war as “semi-fluid mud, which is agitated like jelly by the falling of even small bodies on it.” Downstream, one can also see the northern tip of Tybee Island, the primary staging point for Federal artillery during the siege of Fort Pulaski in April 1862. (Note: In its heyday, North Pier was a bustling port and key logistics hub for Fort Pulaski. Today, the granite block foundation and a handful of wooden pilings are all that remains.)


Looking up the Savannah River at North Pier

Once finished at the pier, double back to the second trail junction and bear left on a paved side route, which arcs around the grassy backside of Battery Hambright. This trail, which quickly reenters the thicket, leads to the John Wesley Memorial, a tribute to the founder of the Methodist Church who landed on Cockspur Island from Britain in 1736.


John Wesley Memorial, North Pier Trail, Fort Pulaski National Monument

The side circuit ends about 70 yards past the memorial, back at the first trail junction. Bear left, retracing your steps on the initial straightaway back to the parking area. (Note: The official Fort Pulaski Trail Guide records the North Pier Trail as being one mile round-trip. However, this includes the distance to/from the Visitor Center, past the parking lot, to the trailhead. The actual stem-and-loop walk is roughly 6/10 mile.)


North Pier Trail

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Fort Pulaski (Fort Pulaski National Monument, GA)


Fort Pulaski, Fort Pulaski National Monument, February 2017

– Civil War Series –

An imposing structure with walls 11 feet thick, Fort Pulaski was widely regarded at the start of the Civil War as an impenetrable fortress guarding Savannah, Georgia from a Federal naval attack. The U.S. Chief of Engineers, referring to the fort’s heavy masonry walls, once quipped: “You might as well bombard the Rocky Mountains.” (Note: Like Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina and Fort Monroe in Hampton Roads, Virginia, Fort Pulaski was part of the “Third System of Defenses” constructed after the War of 1812.)

Union Captain Quincy Gilmore, however, was determined to prove his doubters wrong, employing a relatively new and untested invention—the rifled gun—in a siege of Fort Pulaski in April 1862. The effect was devastating—two days of heavily artillery fire had blown two large holes in the fort’s walls, and the southeast corner was near collapse. On the second day of bombardment, the garrison at Fort Pulaski was forced to surrender.

The Union takeover of Fort Pulaski halted shipping in and out of Savannah and strengthened the Federal blockade. More significantly, however, the success of the rifled cannon made once-mighty forts of brick and stone obsolete. (Note: Later forts would be built of mud and earth, such as nearby Fort McAllister.)

Today, visitors to Fort Pulaski National Monument—situated on Cockspur Island, a 30-minute drive from Savannah—can explore the fort and see the artillery damage firsthand: though the southeast corner has been restored, dozens of scars and intrusions remain. The park is open 9-5 daily and includes a handful of hiking trails.



Demilune at Fort Pulaski


Inside Fort Pulaski


View toward the fort entrance from atop the walls


Southern wall of Fort Pulaski


Cannon at Fort Pulaski


Cratered southern wall and repaired southeast corner


Southeast-facing wall, riddled with artillery craters

Posted in Civil War, Fort Pulaski National Monument, Georgia | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fort McAllister (Fort McAllister State Historic Park, GA)


Fort McAllister, Fort McAllister State Historic Park, February 2017

– Civil War Series –

Roughly a 40-minute drive south of Savannah, Georgia, Fort McAllister State Historic Park preserves one of the country’s best remaining examples of a Civil War earthwork fortification. Constructed early in the war, Fort McAllister occupied a key position on the Ogeechee River and played an important role in facilitating the passage of legendary Confederate blockade runner, the CSS Nashville. Despite withstanding several assaults by the Union Navy in 1862 and 1863, the fort is most famous, however, for its ultimate surrender on December 13, 1864—the final notch in Union Gen. William T. Sherman’s famous “March to the Sea.” Savannah itself would fall by year’s end.

Today, Fort McAllister State Historic Park offers a self-guided walking tour of the fort, and has a surprisingly extensive Civil War museum. There are also two hiking trails that explore the area’s salt marshes and coastal woodlands.

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Ogeechee River from Fort McAllister State Historic Park


Inside the Fort McAllister earthworks


Ogeechee River from the fort


Fort McAllister


Wide path between the fort and visitor center

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