2020 CWTH Calendars now available!!

If you’re in Gettysburg this summer, stop by Civil War Tails to pick up a special souvenir that you’ll enjoy all next year — our BRAND NEW 2020 calendar! It’s not too early to start thinking about Christmas gifts, either!

Can’t make it to Gettysburg? Check out our Merchandise tab here (calendars are under “More“).

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Desperation at Skull Camp Bridge

Next Thursday is the anniversary of a little-known action that inspired one of the more striking dioramas at Civil War Tails. “Desperation at Skull Camp Bridge” is a good example of how our dioramas come to be. While reading a biography, we came across a few paragraphs describing a rear-guard action in Tennessee. While the action may not be significant in the course of the Civil War, we could not pass up the diorama idea! Read on to learn just what happened at Skull Camp Bridge.

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Gen. Joe Wheeler

On June 27, 1863, Confederate Gen. Leonidas Polk evacuated Shelbyville, Tennessee, so the Union army would not cut off his command as the Northern troops surrounded Gen. Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee. Gen. Joseph Wheeler’s small force of cavalry formed Polk’s rearguard, fighting Union Gen. David Stanley’s cavalry in the streets of Shelbyville through the afternoon to buy time for the wagon trains to escape. Wheeler also fought hard to hold back the Union cavalry because he expected Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s command to either join him or cross the Duck River over Skull Camp Bridge.

Forrest and Wheeler had a bit of a history. Less than six months before, at Fort Donelson, Forrest had served under Wheeler and lost approximately half of his command in two futile charges. That night, Forrest had declared that he would never serve under Wheeler again. Instead of ending their friendship and accepting Forrest’s offer to resign, Wheeler made arrangements so that Forrest would not have to serve under him.

2019-06-22 IMG_0163Now, Forrest rode to join Polk, but although he heard the firing, he could not catch up with the fight because Stanley’s cavalry pushed Wheeler’s men back so quickly. As the afternoon wore on, Wheeler decided Forrest was not coming and withdrew over Skull Camp Bridge. Just as the Confederates were about to burn the bridge, Maj. Rambaut of Forrest’s staff galloped up and said that Forrest was in sight of Shelbyville and would cross at the bridge.

2019-06-22 IMG_0030Wheeler and his second-in-command Will T. Martin took 400 volunteers back across the bridge. They put up a short, hand-to-hand fight with sabers and carbines, and pistol butts as clubs, but the Union cavalry broke through Wheeler’s line and overran the two cannons he had brought with him. A caisson overturned on the bridge, blocking it. Union cavalry now stood between Wheeler’s men and the river.

Some Confederates scattered up and downstream in the growing dusk. Others were captured. Sixty, with Wheeler and Martin in the lead, cut their way through the Union line and leaped at full speed into the river 15-20 feet below.

Despite being startled, the Union soldiers quickly recovered and fired at the bobbing heads in the water. Wheeler, Martin, and about 20 others made it across the river. Forrest, hearing the firing, judged that the way across Skull Camp Bridge was closed, and crossed four miles downstream.





Gettysburg Monuments—Memorials to the Fallen

This Memorial Day, we decided to “mews” on the monuments here at Gettysburg, specifically those that were designed, raised, and dedicated by the veterans in honor of their comrades who fell during the battle.

While not every monument was dedicated by a unit’s veterans, most of them were, and as such they bear various features with special meaning: the shape of the corps badge, the equipment the men carried, or symbols like laurel for victory. Often, there is even more to a monument. Many locations were chosen because they held special meaning, such the place where a beloved colonel fell or a specific boulder that sheltered the wounded. Sometimes a statue or bas relief carving shows an individual whose acts of courage remained engraved in the veterans’ memories. While we will look at a few of the monuments’ stories today, you can find more in Gettysburg: Stories of Men and Monuments as Told By Battlefield Guides by Frederick W. Hawthorne.

Just past the edge of town along Chambersburg Pike (Rt. 30 W), the monument for the 149th Pennsylvania sits near the McPherson Farm. During the fighting on July 1, their color guard took the flags fifty yards away from the regiment in order to draw away the heavy artillery fire. The granite soldier on the monument gazes toward the spot where the color guard risked (and, for several of them, sacrificed) their lives to protect their comrades.

The 38th Pennsylvania’s monument stands on Warren Avenue, at the base of Little Round Top. The solemn bas relief of a soldier standing “By a Comrade’s Grave” honors all of the men of the regiment who fell during the war. It is a simple but sobering reminder to all of us of the cost of protecting our great nation and the freedoms and rights that we enjoy.



As Sykes Avenue begins to ascend Little Round Top, on the left stands the monument for the 83rd Pennsylvania. Forbidden by the Pennsylvania State Monuments Commission to include inscriptions regarding specific individuals, the 83rd topped their monument with “a Union officer.” However, the figure is clearly Col. Strong Vincent, their original commander and, at Gettysburg, their brigade commander. On the afternoon of July 2, Vincent was mortally wounded while trying to rally the 16th Michigan on the right of his brigade. More than twenty-five years later, the veterans of the 83rd could think of no one more deserving of a memorial than their beloved colonel whose blood stained the hill that day.


On the crest of Little Round Top, the veterans of the 140th New York raised their monument in honor of their fallen comrades. In particular, they unanimously chose to honor their commander, Col. Patrick O’Rorke, who was killed while leading the regiment into the fray on July 2. Not only does the monument bear a bas relief of his face, but it stands on the place where he fell.

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2019-05-25 5th NHOne particularly interesting monument is that of the 5th New Hampshire on Ayres Avenue along the edge of the Wheatfield. It is quite memorable, formed by three large boulders supporting a massive slab on which another boulder sits. But even more striking is the choice of the veterans as they designed and located their monument. Commanding their brigade during the battle was Col. Edward Cross. While he was a fine officer who took good care of his men, his manner—including a highly critical personality and a strict sense of discipline—did not endear him to others, even prompting the officers of one regiment to view him as a tyrant. During the fighting near the Wheatfield on July 2, he fell mortally wounded. His last words were, “I think the boys will miss me. Say goodbye to all.” Mixed as feelings may have been of him on July 2, 1863, in 1886 the veterans of the 5th New Hampshire chose to honor him with their regimental monument. Not only is Col. Cross’ name included on the slab’s plaque, but the monument stands where he fell.

It is easy for us, a century later, to gloss over the thousands of monuments on the battlefield. But each one has a story, spoken in written words and symbols and often telling of those who paid the ultimate price for their country. To the veterans, the monuments did not mark the places where nameless soldiers stood and fought; they marked where comrades were killed or where a friend’s bravery was noticed by all—even the enemy. This Memorial Day, take a moment to ponder what the monuments of Gettysburg represent—maybe even take a drive around the battlefield if you can. We might not recognize a lot of the symbolism, but this can be a chance to reflect on the men who gave their lives for our country, no matter the decade or century.

Mother Bickerdyke

Last November, we looked at women in the Civil War who served as laundresses for the armies. Today, we are Mewsing about nurses, who cared for the wounded as though the men were their own family. Women who served as nurses had to be brave—and not only if they went on the field during battle. It took spunk and gumption to serve in hospitals, far from the firing line but alongside surgeons who might not like to have women helping, since women were not supposed to work like men. In honor of Mother’s Day, we look at just one nurse, Mary Ann Bickerdyke, who cared so much for her wounded men that she was known, quite fittingly, as “Mother Bickerdyke.”

Mother Bickerdyke

Mother Bickerdyke was a fiery lady who made sure she had things her way. She worked at the hospital in Cairo, Illinois, but when a new one was built, the surgeon in charge told her that she should leave. She went to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and complained. When she returned, she carried a note from Grant suggesting that she be made matron of the hospital.

As matron, Mother Bickerdyke was in charge of supplies and laundry, but she was told to stay out of the kitchen. At one point, she learned that supplies were being stolen. After trying various ways to stop the thievery, she finally baked some pies with unripe peaches. She hid and kept an eye on the pies. Before long, the culprits lay on the floor with stomachaches. When they didn’t learn from their lesson and kept stealing food, Mother Bickerdyke complained to Grant again. He had the hospital staff transferred and allowed her to pick a new staff.

Mother Bickerdyke did what she had to to help the wounded soldiers, ignoring rules and regulations. Once, when asked if she had ever heard of insubordination, Mother Bickerdyke replied, “You bet I’ve heard of it….It’s the only way I ever get anything done in this army.” Another time, when asked under whose authority she worked, she retorted, “I have received my authority from the Lord God Almighty; have you anything that ranks higher than that?”

Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman would have agreed with her on that point. Once, Mother Bickerdyke learned that a surgeon was arriving late at the hospital, leaving his patients without breakfast. She promised to have him removed from the hospital.

The angry surgeon stormed over to Sherman, ranting that false charges had been made against him. Asked who was accusing him, the man replied, “It was that spiteful old woman, Mrs. Bickerdyke.”

“Oh, well, then,” Sherman said. “If it was she, I can’t help you. She has more power than I…she outranks me.”

Another time, as some men marched past one of her hospitals on their way to the front, Mother Bickerdyke asked the captain to stop so she and her staff could give the soldiers something to eat. He refused. As the men marched on, someone shouted, “Halt!” Confused, the men slowed to a halt. Immediately Mother Bickerdyke and her staff served soup and coffee and gave the men more food to take with them. By the time anyone realized that Mother Bickerdyke had given the order to halt, the men had all been served.

Mother Bickerdyke served through the entire war, earning the respect of Grant and Sherman—who gave her anything she asked—and winning the hearts of the soldiers she served. Nevertheless, she continually butted heads with surgeons. Once, she served at a field hospital where the temperature was so cold during the night that the wounded began freezing. The surgeon was not allowed to send men out for more wood until dawn, but the fires died down. Mother Bickerdyke ordered that the breastworks nearby be torn down. The surgeon came over and told her she was under arrest. She replied, “All right, Major! I’m arrested! Only don’t meddle with me ‘till the weather moderates for my men will freeze to death if you do!”

When Mother Bickerdyke died in 1901, she was given a full military burial. In 1943, during World War II, a hospital ship was launched in California to take supplies to the American soldiers fighting in the Pacific. It was named the S. S. Mary A. Bickerdyke.

A Glimpse into Cavalrycat Rehab, Part 4: Mount Up and Move out!


At long last, “Come On, You Wolverines!” is ready to roll out on display at Civil War Tails! Come see the diorama, starting on Friday, May 3rd! In our past Mewsings on this diorama, we discussed various aspects of the making of it. But, what actually happened at East Cavalry Field?

The afternoon of July 3, 1863, found Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate cavalry facing off against Union horsemen under Gen. David McMurtrie Gregg at what is now East Cavalry Field, a few miles east of Gettysburg. Stuart arrived at the Rummel farm with four brigades and three artillery batteries. Blocking his path to the rear of the Union army was Gregg’s division of two small brigades and one battery, plus Gen. George Custer’s Michigan Brigade and their battery.

The fighting occurred mostly in open fields shaped roughly like a large rectangle running north-south. Low Dutch Road formed the eastern side of the rectangle, Hanover Road (Rte. 116 E) the southern side, and Little’s Run the western side. Col. John McIntosh’s brigade, along with two of Custer’s four regiments, formed a line along Little’s Run and also along the northern side of the rectangle. In the late morning, the Confederates arrived from the north, coming from the York Pike (Rte. 30 E). Skirmishing occurred along the line throughout the early afternoon, developing into fierce fighting around 2:00 p.m. between dismounted units around the Rummel farm, at the northwest corner of the rectangle.

After a brief lull, Stuart ordered the 1st Virginia Cavalry forward in a mounted charge. To meet them, Gregg ordered the 7th Michigan Cavalry forward from reserve. Sweeping across the open fields, the Wolverines topped a rise—and smashed into a low stone wall with a high post-and-rail fence on top! The fighting raged on both sides of the fence, with cavalrymen firing revolvers into each others’ faces over the rails. Some Wolverines opened gaps in the fence, allowing them to rush through. Chasing the Confederates, they nearly reached the Rummel farm, when gray reinforcements arrived. The fighting seesawed back and forth, until the 7th was forced to retreat, with two Confederate regiments coming in on their flank. They dashed to the rear, and flanking fire from McIntosh’s line halted the Confederate pursuit.

Another lull settled over the field, but only for a few minutes. “Severe as has been the fighting,” Gregg recalled, “as yet no advantage has been gained by the Rebels, & now the time has arrived for a supreme effort.” A little after 3:00 p.m., an awe-inspiring sight emerged from the trees north of the open fields. Union cavalrymen stared as “Squadron after squadron, regiment after regiment, orderly as if on parade, came into view, and successively took their places.” With drawn sabers “glistening like silver in the bright sunlight,” came two Confederate brigades under Generals Wade Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee.



20190427_172830The two Union batteries opened fire immediately. “Great gaps were torn in that mass of mounted men, but the rents were quickly closed. Then, they were ready.” As one, the massive column advanced. One Confederate recalled the anticipation: “It was the moment for which cavalry wait all their lives—the opportunity which seldom comes—that vanishes like shadows on glass. If the Federal cavalry were to be swept from their place on the right, the road to the rear of their center gained, now was the time.” The Confederates advanced in close columns of squadrons, first at a walk, moving “in superb style,” then at a trot. Finally, they leaped into a gallop, yelling “like demons.”

The batteries blasted the column with shell, firing as quickly as they could. As the Confederate juggernaut drew closer, the artillery switched to canister. The rear ranks filled the gaps in front “as if nothing had happened.” The situation for the Union line looked grim. Only one regiment, the 1st Michigan, remained in reserve. Gregg had no choice but to order them forward—one regiment against eight.


Col. Charles Town (black hat) and Gen. George Custer


Col. Charles Town, so weakened from tuberculosis that he needed help to mount his horse, led his regiment forward. As they drew sabers, Custer joined them. The 1st Michigan advanced at a trot, the bugle sounded, and they broke into a gallop. Just before the 1st Michigan crossed the artillery’s field of fire, the guns fired one last round of double canister, staggering the Confederate column. Custer pointed his saber at the Confederates, turned in the saddle, and shouted, “Come on, you Wolverines!” One observer recalled, “And with a fearful yell, the First Michigan Cavalry rushed on, Custer four lengths ahead.”

The two sides crashed together with a sound “Like the falling of timber,” a Union captain remembered, “so sudden and violent that many of the horses were turned end over end and crushed their riders beneath them.” The 1st Michigan struck the Confederate left and split the column like a wedge. “The clashing of sabers, the firing of pistols, the demands for surrender and cries of the combatants now filled the air.” The melee lasted only five or ten minutes, but those minutes “seemed like years” to the desperate combatants.


20190427_172502The Union line along Little’s Run fired into the Confederate right, and bits and pieces of regiments charged—here a squadron, there a couple dozen men. Even Col. McIntosh charged with his staff and headquarters escort!

“For a moment, but only for a moment,” Custer recalled, “that long, heavy column stood its ground; then, unable to withstand the impetuosity of our attack, it gave way.” The Confederates retreated to Cress Ridge and the woods behind the Rummel farm. Skirmishing continued until nightfall, when Stuart withdrew to the York Pike and returned to Gettysburg.

Had the Confederates succeeded in taking the intersection at Low Dutch and Hanover Roads, they could have caused chaos in the rear of the Union army and cut off the route of retreat down Baltimore Pike. Despite being outnumbered, Gregg had prevented disaster. Gregg’s actions, together with Hancock’s II Corps defeating Pickett’s Charge, helped to ensure the Union victory at Gettysburg.

The Battle of Shiloh

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Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard

Today is the anniversary of the beginning of the battle of Shiloh, which raged over two days near Pittsburg Landing in Tennessee. Ordinarily, we think of battles being fought by two armies. Shiloh involved four. On the Confederate side, Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston and Gen. Pierre G.T. Beauregard had joined their armies in the hopes of defeating the Union forces together. On the Union side, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s army lay encamped at Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River, and Gen. Don Carlos Buell’s army was en route to join Grant.

On the night of April 5, 1862, the Confederates lay ready to launch a surprise attack on Grant’s army. That evening, a Union captain saw campfires and heard bugles and drums. He told the officer of the day, Lt. Col. Graves, who went to Gen. Benjamin Prentiss, the division commander. Prentiss said it was just an enemy patrol. Frustrated, Graves and the captain went to see Col. Everett Peabody, who commanded a brigade under Prentiss. Peabody believed them. Taking full responsibility, he sent a patrol to investigate.

The patrol marched out of camp at 3:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, April 6. At 4:55 a.m., firing erupted as the patrol ran into Confederates. The battle of Shiloh had begun. The patrol held their ground for about an hour and a half, then a battle line of Confederates appeared and the Union soldiers retreated.

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Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman

Around 7:00 a.m., other Confederates launched a furious attack on Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s men. After heavy fighting, Sherman ordered a retreat, and his men reformed in a road about 500 yards to the rear. Suddenly a battery came galloping up. The infantry were unable to get out of the artillery’s way because of the brush on either side of the road. To add to the confusion, more retreating troops came running up. Everyone was in a jumbled mess when the Confederates arrived and fired a volley. They charged, and all but one brigade ran.

Meanwhile, Col. Peabody heard heavy firing off in the woods and ordered a drummer to sound the “long roll,” to assemble the men for battle. Suddenly, Gen. Prentiss appeared. Furious, he asked if Peabody had started the fight. Before the colonel could explain, Prentiss shouted, “Colonel Peabody, I will hold you personally responsible for bringing on this engagement!”

Peabody responded that he was always personally responsible for his actions, and the general rode off in a huff. Peabody advanced with his brigade into the woods. They stopped the Confederate advance for a time, but then two brigades charged, screaming the Rebel Yell. They sent Peabody’s men reeling back.

Peabody, already wounded four times, galloped among his retreating men, begging them to rally and fight. Before the battle he had had a premonition he would be killed and had said goodbye to his officers. Now the 31-year-old colonel fell with a bullet through his head. By 8:45 a.m., Peabody’s camps were in the hands of the Confederates.

Gen. Prentiss’ other brigade had formed by then, and the Confederates concentrated on it. The Union soldiers retreated. One regiment of the brigade, the 15th Michigan, had just arrived at Pittsburg Landing and hurried into battle. When they formed into a battle line, facing several Confederate brigades, they realized they did not have ammunition. They hurriedly withdrew. By now, Prentiss’ division was a wreck. Only a few regiments remained organized; most of the artillery had been captured.

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Gen. U. S. Grant

About this time, Gen. Grant arrived at Pittsburg Landing from Savannah, a town downriver. Realizing that a battle was being fought, he quickly sent word to Gen. Lew Wallace, whose division was farther down the river.

On the Union left, a lone brigade held the flank. The commander was nervous because he did not know from which direction the Confederates would come. As a result, his men marched here and there and everywhere. The Confederates saw the movement and were convinced they faced at least a division. As a result, Gen. Johnston sent reinforcements, weakening the rest of the Confederate line, most of which would soon be engaged at the “Hornet’s Nest.”

Gen. Prentiss’ men had reformed in a sunken road. To their left was Gen. Hurlbut’s division and to their right was Gen. W. H. L. Wallace’s division (not to be confused with Lew Wallace, whose division had been delayed by taking a longer route than expected). Around 11:00 a.m., the Confederates attacked. But the attack was made by only one brigade and failed miserably. Gen. Braxton Bragg ordered Col. Randall Lee Gibson’s brigade to charge next. They were met by a terrible fire from the Union line and forced to retreat. Bragg thought they retreated too soon and ordered them to charge again. Col. Gibson protested, but there was nothing he could do, so he led his men forward once more. When they were only twenty yards from the Union line, the Union soldiers rose and fired a volley. Again, Gibson retreated. His men said the bullets sounded like angry bees, and they dubbed the Union line the “Hornet’s Nest.” Bragg sent them forward a third time, and a fourth time. The decimated brigade was forced back a fourth and final time. Amazingly, Col. Gibson would be accused of cowardice, even though he had led his men in four hopeless charges.

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Gen. A. S. Johnston

On the Union left, the lone brigade was doing a good job of holding off the enemy. Finally, the Confederates, led by Gen. Johnston himself, pushed the Union left back. They now had a clear way to Pittsburg Landing and complete victory.

Around that time, a bullet struck Johnston behind his right knee, severing a major artery. The blood flowed into his boot, hiding the presence of the wound until he slumped in the saddle. His staff pulled him down from his big bay, Fire-Eater, and searched for a wound. By the time they found it, it was too late and Johnston died. It was 2:30 p.m. and a lull descended on the battlefield.

If the Confederates had pushed around the Union left and reached Pittsburg Landing, they could have surrounded the Union army. Instead, the Confederate commanders led their men to the sounds of firing at the ‘Hornet’s Nest.’ The Confederates struck the left of Hurlbut’s line, forcing him to retreat. Then Confederate artillery opened fire. There were 62 cannons in line, the largest gathering of artillery in North America up to that time. After the artillery blasted the Union line, the infantry advanced and forced W.H.L. Wallace to retreat. Only Prentiss remained and before long, he surrendered.

The Union army tried to reform on some bluffs near Pittsburg Landing. Just as the Confederates were about to launch a final attack, Gen. Buell’s army arrived, adding fresh troops to the Union line. Darkness put an end to the fighting.

The night was miserable for everyone. It began raining around midnight and continued until after 3:00 a.m. As if the rain were not enough to keep the tired soldiers awake, around 9:00 p.m. the Union gunboat Tyler began firing its huge guns every ten minutes. At 1:00 in the morning, USS Lexington took over.

On the morning of April 7th, Buell’s army attacked the Confederates. By 3:30 in the afternoon, after furious fighting, Beauregard ordered a retreat. The battle of Shiloh was over. It was the bloodiest battle in America’s history up to that time.

Not So Long Ago

“Give me liberty, or give me death!” Nearly two hundred and fifty years ago, in 1775, Patrick Henry spoke these words in a speech to the Second Virginia Convention in Richmond. His speech helped galvanize the colony and commit Virginians to the course of independence.

While we were pondering the anniversary of Henry’s speech today, we started thinking about the connections between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. We don’t mean connections of events or politics or ideologies, but of people. Sometimes, it is easy to forget that the Revolution was no farther away in time to the people of the Civil War than the Great Depression is to us—only a few generations, in fact. And how much history occurred during those few generations! The War of 1812, the Mexican War… Korea, Vietnam. Just as we remember our grandfather who fought in the Battle of the Bulge during WWII, so a Civil War soldier might remember his grandfather who fought alongside George Washington. Just as we meet Vietnam veterans today, so people of the Civil War would know uncles or fathers who fought in 1812.

In today’s Mewsing we are taking a look at some of the soldiers involved in Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. It is a small example, but they are representative of the armies on the whole, and of the nation.

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Gen. Lewis A. Armistead (lying wounded)

On the Confederate side, Gen. Lewis Armistead commanded one of the brigades in Gen. Pickett’s division. His uncle, Maj. George Armistead, had defended Ft. McHenry against the British in the War of 1812. Maj. Armistead’s defense inspired Francis Scott Key to pen “The Star-Spangled Banner.”


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Pvt. Robert Tyler Jones (lying wounded)

In Armistead’s brigade, Pvt. Robert Tyler Jones was the grandson of President John Tyler. Commanding the 53rd Virginia Infantry, Col. William Aylett was the grandson of none other than Patrick Henry.

On the Union side, the colonel of the 20th Massachusetts, Paul Revere, was a descendent of the Paul Revere of the American Revolution. Col. Revere fell mortally wounded in the bombardment before Pickett’s Charge.



Gen. Alexander Webb

Gen. Alexander Webb commanded the Philadelphia Brigade at the Angle, where Pickett’s Division would strike the Union line. His grandfather, Samuel B. Webb, was a minuteman at Lexington in 1775, where the American Revolution began with “the shot heard round the world.”