Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Civil War at Berkeley Plantation

Berkeley Plantation
I just returned from a trip to Virginia and Washington, DC with my wife and granddaughter.  I promised not to drag them to Civil War sites in the area. So what did I do? We stopped at Berkeley Plantation en route to our hotel. The ladies were tolerant of the Civil War aspects of the site and we enjoyed a pleasant afternoon touring the house and gardens.

Berkeley Plantation
Berkeley Plantation contains about 1,000 acres on the banks of the James River in Charles City County, Virginia.  Berkeley Plantation was originally called Berkeley Hundred and named after the Berkeley Company of England.  Benjamin Harrison IV built on the estate what is believed to be the oldest three-story brick mansion in Virginia and is the ancestral home to two Presidents of the United States: William Henry Harrison, his grandson, and Benjamin Harrison his great-great-grandson.

Cols. A. V. Colburn and D. B. Sackett
and Gen. John Sedgwick at Harrison's
Landing, Virginia during the
Peninsula Campaign, 1862.

The Army of the Potomac escaped to Harrison's Landing following the last battle of the Seven Days Battles (June 25 to July 1, 1862) which were the concluding engagements of the Peninsula Campaign. The Army of the Potomac (140,000 men) encamped around Berkeley Plantation. The Union defensive position was a strong one that Lee did not consider attacking. With its back to the James River, the army was protected by Union gunboats, but suffered heavily from heat, humidity, and disease. The US Navy brought supplies and food from Hampton Roads to Harrison's Landing. President Lincoln visited there twice in the summer of 1862 to confer with General George B. McClellan. In August, they were withdrawn by order of President Lincoln to reinforce the Army of Virginia in the Northern Virginia Campaign and the Second Battle of Bull Run.

Daniel Butterfield

While at Berkeley, General Daniel Butterfield composed the familiar tune "Taps," first played by his bugler, O.W. Norton. The tune is a variation of an earlier bugle call known as the Scott Tattoo which was used in the US from 1835 until 1860.  and was arranged in its present form by the Union Army  General Butterfield, commander of the Third Brigade of the First Division in the V Army Corps of the Army of the Potomac, composed  while at Harrison's Landing, Virginia, in July 1862 to replace a previous French bugle call used to signal "lights out". Butterfield's bugler, Oliver Wilcox Norton, of East Springfield, Pennsylvania, was the first to sound the new call. Within months, "Taps" was used by both Union and Confederate forces. It was officially recognized by the United States Army in 1874.

William "Willie" Johnston from St. Johnsbury, Vermont, was a drummer boy in Company D of the Third Vermont Infantry. His service during the Seven Days retreat in the Peninsula Campaign was exemplary. He was the only drummer in his division to come away with his instrument, during a general rout. His superiors considered this a meritorious feat, when fellow soldiers had thrown away their guns. As a result, he received the Medal of Honor on the recommendation of his division commander, thereby becoming the youngest recipient of the highest decoration at 13 years of age for a deed performed when he was 11 years of age.


Visit Berkeley Plantation
Play Taps Audio File
Seven Days Battles

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