Civil War: The Untold Story released on DVD


Elizabeth McGovern of the wildly popular series Downton Abbey narrates this 5-episode, 2-disk DVD of the recent American Public Television series of the Civil War: The Untold Story. Producer Chris Wheeler focuses on the conflict in the Western Theater and presents it through battle reenactments, 3-D map images, period photographs, and through the thoughts and insights of several leading Civil War scholars and authorities. The 2013 documentary from Great Divide Pictures covers most of the key campaigns and leaders, with a strong focus on slavery and emancipation.

Bonus features includes 14 minutes of archival footage from the 50th anniversary of Vicksburg. The set also includes a 12-page viewers guide with a map, timeline, profiles of several personalities in the Western Theater, and articles on the role of black men as they fight in Texas for their freedom.

From-Episode-4-The-Battle-of-Chickamauga-saw-casualties-only-exceeded-by-the-carnage-at-Gettysburg-for-webCourtesy of Great Divide Pictures

The series has been drawing rave reviews in screenings at battlefield visitors centers, museums, historical societies, and other public settings, including at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Kennesaw Mountain and many other places. More than 100 public TV stations have aired or have scheduled the series. Click here to read the National Park Service’s comments and to see more stills from the series. Click here for a review on

Here is some more information…

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Work restarted on turning Goodridge-Dempwolf house into Underground Railroad Museum

IMG-20140415-00036William C. Goodridge was born a slave in Maryland, but became a free and prosperous business man in York, Pennsylvania, in the decades before the American Civil War. He owned a multistory emporium on York’s center square as well as a barbershop and other businesses, including a railcar manufacturing concern.

He was also a smuggler.

Of people.

Goodridge is known to have been active in the Underground Railroad movement in York County and often secreted escaped slaves in his properties. He reportedly also hid them in false bottoms in his railcars and transported them out of harm’s way.

His home at 123 E. Philadelphia Street was a way station on the Underground Railroad according to the National Park Service’s Road to Freedom group.

Donated to the local Crispus Attucks organization years ago by its owner, the house has sat empty for several years while funding was being secured to restore it as an Underground Railroad museum.

And now, thanks to the efforts of several concerned Yorkers, the work is back underway. Here are some photos I took of the work in progress, with so very, very much yet to go. I am looking forward to the day when I can give my PowerPoint talk on the Underground Railroad in York County in this museum!

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Kickstarter campaign to fund To Appomattox mini-series

TO APPOMATTOX is a meticulously researched, historically precise and dramatically powerful television series that thrives upon the emotional lives of some of America’s most revered notional icons—the Civil War generals, their wives and families—against a backdrop of a war that has never been accurately or fully portrayed on television. Michael Frost Beckner (SPY GAME, CBS’s THE AGENCY) created the series. The dramatic spine of his teleplay is based upon Ulysses S. Grant’s Memoirs, published by Mark Twain, that became the first “bestseller” in American history.
From West Point—where friends become our future “Band of Generals”—to the burning gates of Mexico City; from the corridors of Lincoln’s War Department and the intimacy of the bedroom; to gore-filled trenches of horrific slaughter; where friendships dissolve into hatred; enemies find grace in forgiveness. Beckner portrays this story of love and loss through the modern lens of intimate characterization, “So that the great divisions that confronted these men and women can provide fresh perspective on the divisions in our nation today”, says Beckner.

This TO APPOMATTOX crowdfunding Kickstarter campaign is designed for community participation to get everyone involved not only through the beginning but throughout the entire production of the project. “This campaign I’m presenting is a totally new, innovative, even subversive way to make television,” says Beckner. The supporters are the series audience, yet in becoming backers, they also become its STUDIO.

“Together we will make television history and, by participating, fans will CREATE the most exciting, emotional, and historically accurate Civil War drama EVER PRODUCED,” says Beckner. With the success of this campaign, TO APPOMATTOX will be the first audience demanded, audience-backed television Miniseries Event event ever.
With this war, thousands of men are thrust together as vast armies bringing with them musical traditions previously separated by regional, immigrant and slave boundaries. The American folk song, sentimental ballad, inspirational anthem and religious spiritual are suddenly shared by every American. And it spread like wildfire, flashing into existence the “music industry” we know and celebrate today. Jay DeMarcus (of Rascal Flatts, the most award-winning Country Music band in history) is composing a beautiful, haunting orchestral score as well as producing 10+ original/exclusive contemporary country songs for the entire miniseries.
This production is honored to have developed a connection between this ultimate American sport with the ultimate American story and is proud to announce an association between select NASCAR™ affiliated drivers and personalities for cameo roles that best exemplify this tradition of patriotism and competition in our production. Driver CARL EDWARDS and Fox TV NASCAR Announcer JEFF HAMMOND will be playing Generals John Gordon and Jubal Early, respectively. The connection between the Civil War and drivers who race NASCAR™ is simple: those values of the Civil War—the patriotism, the spirit of American competition, the regional and national pride that poured forth from and for its heroes—is best exemplified in the American Values and American Spirit embraced today by the NASCAR™ affiliated drivers and their fans and sponsors.


Check out this article from Variety:

Message from author J.D. Petruzzi:

“To Appomattox is America’s own personal story. Cast with many of today’s most popular actors and musical talent, the miniseries portrays our Nation’s painful recapture of its soul.  I am leading a team of respected historians who have helped to keep the production true to history, while dramatically bringing to life the Civil War’s most well-known participants and common soldiers. It can only happen with yours and your readers’ support! “

To Appomattox official website:

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Paddy Has Gone For a Soldier: Songs and Stories of the Soldiers of the Irish Brigade at York CWRT on April 16

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The York Civil War Round Table will feature Civil War Period musician Mike Plunkett at its monthly meeting on Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 7 p.m.  The presentation is called “Paddy Has Gone For a Soldier: Songs and Stories of the Soldiers of the Irish Brigade.” The meeting will be held in the auditorium of the York County Heritage Trust at 250 E. Market St. in downtown York, Pennsylvania. The presentation is free to the public and everyone is welcome.

Mike Plunkett has developed a one man show in which he portrays an Irish American Union soldier. Through stories and songs he brings to life the experience of an uprooted immigrant who becomes an American patriot. He performs in costume and in character. The music is lively and engaging with plenty of audience participation. He plays the guitar, mandolin, banjo, tin whistles and bouzouki. The songs range from old Irish ballads to Civil War era songs of both the North and the South. He also plays spirited jigs and reels and well known old time American tunes, many of which have Irish roots. The stories are drawn from his research into the daily lives of the Irish American soldiers and are of high interest and personally reveal the experiences of a typical soldier. The Irish faced many obstacles to acceptance in the New World and their contributions in the War made a significant contribution to their ultimate assimilation. Continue reading “Paddy Has Gone For a Soldier: Songs and Stories of the Soldiers of the Irish Brigade at York CWRT on April 16” »

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Lincoln reenactor plays piano as fundraiser for Steam into History

Duke LincolnSteam into History, Inc. and the Maryland Conservatory of Music are co-sponsoring a special evening with Dr. Duke Thompson as he portrays Abraham Lincoln and plays the piano. This event will take place on Sunday night, April 27, 2014, at 6:00 p.m. at St. John’s Evangelical Church, 175 E. Main Street, New Freedom. The cost is $25 for adults and $15 for children. To purchase tickets, call 717-942-2370, or get them at the door the night of Dr. Duke’s performance.

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York US Army Hospital patient wrote home 4 weeks before Rebels occupied facility

Penn Common 002

George D. Thomas hailed from Blair County, Pennsylvania. He joined the Union army on September 18, 1862, the day after the bloody battle of Antietam down in Maryland. Thomas mustered in as a private in Company H of the 110th Pennsylvania Infantry. He saw action at Fredericksburg later that year and again in 1863 at Chancellorsville.

He became a patient in the U. S. Army Hospital on Penn Common in downtown York, Pennsylvania. His father wrote him a letter, which he received on June 2, 1863, telling George that his mother had taken ill.

He responded the next day. He was trying to get a furlough from the surgeons (Dr. Henry Palmer and Dr. Alexander Blair) so he could go home to see his mom, but to no avail.

Here is the text of his brief letter to his father, courtesy of the Civil War Soldiers Letters and Diaries website.

Dear Father,

I will inform you that I received your letter on the 2 and was glad to hear from you. I am about as usual but have to go to my Regt. I will leave here this week. I am sorry I can’t come home as mother is sick. I have been trying to get a furlough but can’t get one. When I go back to the field I expect to see some more fighting but will have to run my chances of the risks that a soldier is liable to have. I want you not to fret about me. I will try and come home safe. I will not write long lines this time but will write as soon as I get to my Regt. Nothing more this time but remain your affectionate son.

G.D. Thomas

To Father

P.S. Please [do] not write again till you hear from me again.

It is not certain if George ever made it home to see his parents or not. He did rejoin his regiment in the field later that summer.  His health continued to be rather poor, and on November 23, 1863, he entered the Columbian Hospital in Washington, DC, suffering from chronic diarrhea. He was assigned bed #6949.

His sister Rebecca Rigeal wrote him on February 1, 1864, stating “I have not much to write brother for I hardly know what to write to you as you are not well. We have been very uneasy for the last week for we have not heard anything from you since last Friday… If you are not able to write to us get some one to write for you.”

No return letter is known to exist.

Private George D. Thomas died of his disease on March 26, 1864, just one of some 700,000 casualties of the American Civil War.



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“Antiques Roadshow”-type event in York County; concurrent book signing

MTHSThe Manchester Township Historical Society is sponsoring an Antique Appraisal Clinic (in the spirit of the popular TV program Antiques Roadshow). This popular event will take place this Tuesday, April 1, 2014, starting at 6:30 p.m. in the Municipal Building, 3200 Farmtrail Road (just off of I-83/Susquehanna Trail/Church Road). This is a half-mile west of the Tom’s gas station at Church and the Trail.

Admission is free, but there is a modest charge to have your antiques and valuables appraised. A portion of the proceeds goes to help the MTHS in its mission to document and preserve the heritage of Manchester Township.

Manchester Township Civil War author and tour guide Scott Mingus will be on-site as well to sell and sign copies of his popular Civil War books, including Flames Beyond Gettysburg: The Confederate Expedition to the Susquehanna River, June 1863. This book tells the story of the occupation of York by the Confederate army, as well as the burning of the world’s longest covered bridge.


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“Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas”


On Friday April 11th, the Harrisburg Civil War Round Table is proud to have John Hennessy speak to us. He is the author of more than 100 articles, reviews, and essays on the Civil War and preservation, most notably Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas – the topic of this month’s talk.

This talk might be titled, “What John Hennessy Used to Believe about Manassas, but No Longer Does.” It will be a critical look at what about the book has been (or should have been) revised by time – what endures, what doesn’t, and how our views (and the author’s view) of history have evolved in two decades. It’s an author offering up a critical review of his own work.

In late 1992, the Harrisburg CWRT received literally the first boxes of Return to Bull Run ever shipped – even before the author did. The first time he saw the book was when he boarded the bus to lead the round table on a tour of Manassas Battlefield. So, it’s entirely appropriate that all these years later we revisit the book – not to recite its content, but to critically look at where history stands upon 20 years of reflection.

John is a 30-year veteran of the history business – having worked for both the New York State Historic Preservation Office and the National Park Service. He started his career as front-line historian at Manassas National Battlefield and is presently the chief historian at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, where he has worked since 1995.

The Harrisburg Civil War Round Table meets at the Radisson Penn Harris Hotel & Convention Center, Camp Hill, PA, Camp Hill Bypass @ Routes 11&15. An informal reception starts at 6:00 PM, followed by dinner at 6:45. The cost of dinner is $22.00 and reservations must be made no later than 9 PM Tuesday, April 8th, by calling 717-512-9250 or email The program begins at 8:00 PM and is free to the public.

Contact Tom Kerstetter at  717-574-5797


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Sculptor Gary Casteel to appear at York CWRT on March 19

gary casteel

Historic sculptor Gary Casteel will be the featured speaker at the monthly meeting of the York Civil War Round Table on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 at 7 p.m. The presentation topic of the evening will be “Civil War Monumentation and the National Civil War Memorial.”  The meeting will be held in the auditorium of the York County Heritage Trust at 250 E. Market St. in downtown York, Pennsylvania. The presentation is free to the public and everyone is welcome.

Nationally recognized sculptor Gary Casteel will present a short history of past Civil War monumentation on various battlefields. Who erected them and why. The challenges, triumphs and rewards of honoring others with monuments. Then on to the National Civil War Memorial, why, when and where. All of this wrapped around the life of a sculptor. Why did he chose this path in life and what have been and are his challenges today. Gary believes that those who attend will walk away with a completely different appreciation for sculptors and battlefield monuments than before the presentation

Gary Casteel is a nationally recognized historic sculptor who was born in West Virginia. After high school, his love of the Renaissance period in art led him to study stone cutting under the direction of Italian marble carvers in Pietrasanta, Italy. After which, he furthered his studies by working in clay and in a foundry to better understand the process of bronze casting. With his keen interest in history, he enjoys researching an individual or event, then interpreting it into an art piece.

With major commissions including the Gen. James Longstreet Memorial in the Gettysburg National Military Park, the Kentucky State Memorial in the Vicksburg National Military Park and the 90th Pennsylvania Inf. Monument at Antietam National Military Park, just to mention a few, it is no wonder that Gary has been commissioned to create public art pieces for major cityscapes and is sought after by private collectors for individual works.

Gary continues to accept private commissions while working on his dream project, “The National Civil War Memorial.”

Gary, his wife Leslie, daughter Lydia Mae, together with two “tick” hounds, reside in Gettysburg, Pa.


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Lee-Jackson Statue in Baltimore

IMG-20140206-00298On a recent business trip to John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, I stopped by the Lee-Jackson monument, which I had previously seen. I took a few photos of this impressive commemorative equestrian statue, which is one of the few such memorials to have two riders instead of the usual single general.

The memorial is near the intersection of Art Museum Drive and Wyman Park Drive, with GPS coordinates of 39° 19′ 27.48″ N 76° 37′ 11.65″ W.  Dedicated May 1, 1948, the statues are the work of sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser, with the base designed by John Russell Pope. A wealthy businessman named Henry J. Ferguson, who strongly admired the generals in his youth, left $100,000 in his will for the monument.

Here are a few more photos:

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