Tuesday, February 27, 2018

"The River of Blood" Battlefield

In the Trump National Golf Club in Virginia, Donald Trump added  a flagpole along the river complete with a plaque commemorating the "River of Blood," The club, now known as Trump National Golf Course, is located at 20391 Lowes Island Blvd., Potomac Falls, Virginia. On the course is a plaque in honor of a Civil War battle. The plaque reads as follows:
Many great American soldiers, both of the North and South, died at this spot, “The Rapids”, on the Potomac River. The casualties were so great that the water would turn red and thus became known as “The River of Blood.” 
It is my great honor to have preserved this important portion of the Potomac River!  – Donald John Trump.

"The River of Blood"
The first thing that you notice about the plaque is the battle that "occurred" here is not specified. Next the date of battle is not mentioned. Most Civil War monuments contain a description of the engagement including officers and units involved.  This should raise some concern about its authenticity.  The title "The River of Blood" suggests a large engagement with many casualties. The closest battlefield is northwest of the golf course at Ball's Bluff.

Battle of Ball's Bluff

The Battle of Ball's Bluff took place on October 21, 1861. It is known as the engagement where Edward Dickerson was killed. Baker was a colonel in the Union Army, a US Senator from Oregon, and close friend of President Lincoln. Colonel Baker's force consisted of 1,720 men. Opposing Baker was Nathan G. Evans's 1,709 Confederates. The battle resulted in 921-1,002 Union casualties and the Confederate losses were only 155 (36 killed, 117 wounded, and 2 captured. The Union lost 223 killed, 226 wounded, and 533 captured. Baker was in command of the Third Brigade composed of four infantry regiments from California. Colonel Evans led the Seventh Brigade composed of three Mississippi regiments and one Virginia regiment.

After the battle many Federals, including some of the wounded, were drowned. Bodies floated downriver to Washington and even as far as Mt. Vernon in the days following the battle. These bodies might have turned the river red.

The Historical Record

Unfortunately, according to local historians there was no battle at this site or within eleven miles of the plaque. Actually, the distance between Leesburg (near the Ball's Bluff battlefield site) and Potomac Falls (near the Trump National Golf Club) is 11.6 miles.

In a phone interview with The New York Times, Mr. Trump described himself  as "a big history fan." Reporters from the Times told Trump that many local historians said there was no Civil War battle within 11 miles of the plaque. 

Trump countered with, "That was a prime site for river crossings." "So, if people are crossing the river, and you happen to be in a civil war, I would say that people were shot - a lot of them."
People crossed there, so surely, if there was a war, people were shot while crossing. It just makes sense.

Then Mr. Trump questioned the authority of local historians who called his plaque "a fiction."  Mr. Trump asked "How would they know that?" "Were they there?"

Mr. Trump challenged the historians with claims that "numerous historians" had told him that the golf club site was known as the "River of Blood." Regrettably, he said he did not remember their names. Then he said he had not spoken with the historians but "my people"  had talked to them. He refused to identify any of his people who might remember the historians' names.

The plaque and Mr. Trump's responses to The New York Times demonstrate a complete lack of scholarship. He does not name the battle, state the date, describe the combatants and their officers, and fails to identify his "numerous historians."

Neither the Civil War Trust or National Park Service websites mentions the supposed battlefield.  

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