This Day in History: the Battle of Mill Springs

Today, January 19th, is the 157th anniversary of the Battle of Mill Springs, fought between Union and Confederate forces in south-central Kentucky in 1862. It was the first important Federal victory of the war after the terrible defeat at the (First) Battle of Bull Run the previous July.

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Winter is coming, finally

I love New England.  One of the things I love most about it is that is has four distinct seasons (five, if you count Mud Season).  So when the winter weather here starts acting like the winter weather in the South, i.e. rainy and cool with no snow, it kind of annoys me a bit.  I expect to have snow.  And we have had no snow (or bitter cold) since November.  We had a wet fall, and that seems to have extended into winter.

Well, it now looks like we will get our first winter storm of the season, some six weeks into calendar winter.  And for some of New England, it looks like it may be a real doozy.

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My Time as a VIP and the National Park Service

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Stones River.  I could do a long post about what happened on this day in 1863 but instead I want to talk about my own personal experience with the National Park Service, which is currently suffering from the government shutdown, and how that shutdown affects the NPS.

For over a decade I was a member of the Volunteers-in-Parks program for the National Park Service and really enjoyed it.  I spent most of my time at the Stones River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, although I also spent some time at other nearby parks, especially Fort Donelson National Battlefield and Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park.

When I first joined the National Park Service as a volunteer, it was so I could join the living history program at Stones River.  My first year I probably put in something like 150 to 200 hours of volunteer work, and afterward I was probably regularly doing at least 75 to 100 hours a year.  Even after I moved back to Huntsville and lived 2 hours away, I still managed to put in some hours for the NPS.  Why did I do this?  Because it was wonderful.  In fact, I view my time with the NPS as one of the most positive experiences I have ever had.  The people were just great, and I truly enjoyed interacting with visitors and the public in general.  Although I had done some public speaking before, I really developed that skill with the NPS.  It also gave me the chance to interact with some great historians, like Ed Bearss.

But right now, the NPS suffers from being massively understaffed.  The Trump administration apparently thought they could alleviate some of the effects of the shutdown on the National Parks by allowing them to be open during the shutdown, as opposed to closing them like the government did back in 2013.  It sounds great, at least on paper.  But allowing the public to continue to use the parks even though most park service employees are absent means that no one is cleaning the bathrooms, or handing out maps, or emptying the garbage cans.  It also means no one is collecting admission fees or enforcing rules.  And so the amount of wear and tear that is taking place is pretty bad.  And so many sites are being forced to close their doors.  A recent article from a Nashville TV station showed that many of the Civil War sites where I had volunteered are being affected by the shutdown.

So I hope that the shutdown does not last too long, as I hate to see so many of these parks get wrecked with no one to do any cleaning up.  And maybe one day I will be able to do some history volunteering again.  We’ll see.

~Geoff

Remembering my ancestor at Gettysburg, on the anniversary of the battle

I hadn’t been posting as much on the blog lately, and after writing about Aunt Donna I feel like I should distract myself a bit by writing about Civil War history.  So indulge me, if you will.

Among the Union troops at Gettysburg was a middle-aged French-Canadian soldier who had enlisted at the beginning of the war in the Boston Volunteers, a unit that later became the 11th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.  His name was Moses Beaulieu, and he was a widower who had left his 4 year old daughter in the care of the woman who ran the boarding house where they lived in South Weymouth, Massachusetts.  He was one of the first members of his family (my mother’s family) to move from Quebec to Massachusetts, where he had found work as a bootmaker in the booming shoe industry.

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The EL Faro disaster and lessons learned

In the April 2018 edition of Vanity Fair, there is an excellent article by William Langewiesche called “THE CLOCK IS TICKING”: INSIDE THE WORST U.S. MARITIME DISASTER IN DECADES.  It is the best article I have yet read about the loss of the SS El Faro on October 1, 2015, after the ship sailed into Hurricane Joaquin.  It was the worst American loss at sea since the 1983 sinking of the SS Marine Electric, which I wrote about here.  Thirty-three people died, including 8 crew members from New England and five Polish shipyard workers.

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An identifying video still from the US Navy showing the stern of the El Faro after the wreck was found some three miles underwater.

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My presentation to WIHA last week

As Kelly and I are both new members of the Winthrop Improvement and Historical Association, I was invited to do a presentation for them, and so I decided to do my Boston in the Civil War era presentation, basically a revised version of a presentation I wrote for Historic New England years ago.

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