Call for the Cavalry


“A Lone Grave on the Battle-field of Antietam” (1862) by Alexander Gardner. [1]

Today, September 17, 2014, marks the 152nd anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. At dawn on that morning, Union forces advanced on Confederate lines along the Hagerstown Pike just north of Dunker Church, a house of worship for local farmers near Sharpsburg, Maryland. Twelve hours later, more than 23,000 soldiers lay dead, wounded or were missing as the result of the bloodiest one-day battle of the American Civil War.

The roar of the distant battle was incessant; the low, subdued, blended noise of the mingled small arms, with the frequent heavier bursts of cannon. [2]

Such was William Harrison Beach’s personal account of the Battle of Antietam (1862). In 1902, Beach published The First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry from April 19, 1861, to July 17, 1865. This eyewitness account was taken from several reliable sources: his own diary, (which he regularly kept throughout his four years as an officer in The First New York Cavalry), letters written home, as well as diaries and communications of his comrades. The result of these compilations is an intelligent, detailed picture of the Civil War through the eyes of cavalry men.

President Abraham Lincoln authorized the raising of The First New York Cavalry in 1861. It was the first call of a federally-approved volunteer cavalry, which was organized into 12 companies, with each company consisting of about 100 men. The regiment was commanded by a commissioned officer, Colonel Andrew T. McReynolds. Since ten of the twelve companies came from New York, (with Pennsylvania and Michigan furnishing the other two), the entire regiment was assigned to that state and was comprised of “worthy men and boys who promptly responded to the President’s first call for volunteers, or who rather anticipated a call for volunteer cavalry.” As a result, it became known as The Lincoln Cavalry.

In general, the cavalry’s role in the Civil War was to support the infantry and artillery by gathering intelligence, scouting, and disrupting the enemy’s communications and supply line. Additional duties included shoeing horses, re-tiring wagon wheels, and protecting the lines of transportation (such as the Baltimore & Ohio railroad) from ranging bands of soldiers. By the end of the war, the Federal (Union) cavalry had developed into a powerful, offensive force.

War records indicate that The First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry was present at the Battle of Antietam. Beach’s particular company or detachment, however, was not one of them. They heard the battle in the distance (as they passed over South Mountain) and arrived in Sharpsburg, Maryland, shortly after deadly silence had settled over the valley. Two days later, September 19, Beach would write:

The 19th the entire regiment marched out on the field. The dead men had been buried, but there were many dead horses swollen to an immense size. Many troops were on the field, massed in solid squares ready to renew the battle. But Lee had crossed the river.


In 1862, the blood of soldiers Blue & Gray flowed ‘like a river’ along the Sunken Road, (pictured here, modern day), giving it the name Bloody Lane. — Antietam National Battlefield; Sharpsburg, MD

Charles R. Peterson of Company B had a brother, Lieut. Pierson B. Peterson, adjutant of the Seventy-eighth N. Y., one of the new regiments that had just come to the front. He learned that this regiment had been engaged in the battle. In his search for the regiment he heard that his brother had been wounded. …In some woods along the roadside near Keedysville many hospital tents had been set up. In front of one of these was a hospital nurse inquiring for Peterson of Company B, saying that his brother was lying in the tent, his leg having been amputated. The younger Peterson was absent from the ranks still engaged in his tireless search. A man of the company was directed to remain here, to tell Peterson, when he should find him, that he could stay and take care of his brother. This was a considerate act on the part of Colonel McReynolds. The wounded lieutenant was tenderly cared for, but he slowly failed. Finally after a period of delirium in which he seemed to be again in the front of the battle, giving orders for the line to stand firm, and then to move forward, he passed away. …This sad meeting of brothers after the battle was one of many similar incidents of the war. [3]

The Battle of Antietam left a deep mark on The First New York Cavalry. In late September 1863, a year after the bloody conflict, Beach records that the entire regiment found themselves marching below the Shepherdstown ford, over the Antietam battlefield again.

“The men were interested in identifying the places over which they had moved the year before. …The men studied the situation of Antietam, the sunken road, the cornfield, Miller’s barn, the Burnside bridge.” [4]

Among this band of brothers was a wagoner of Irish descent. Private John Sullivan, my great-great grandfather.


The First New York Cavalry (1861-1864); re-enlisted First Regiment New York Cavalry Veteran Volunteers (1864-1865)

The career of the regiment was not an unbroken succession of brilliant charges. Nor were the officers and enlisted men all knights ‘”without fear and without reproach.” But they did good service to the country, and the record of what they did, though imperfectly made up, deserves to be preserved.” [5]

[1] This photo by Civil War photographer, Alexander Gardner, is a “picture of a picture” that I took while visiting the Alexander Gardner exhibit on display at Antietam in 2012 to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. Gardner took this photograph just two days after the bloody Battle. Gardner’s visual documentation of the Civil War (over 70 preserved images) is both priceless and a graphic reminder of the stark realities of war.
[2] The First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry from April 19, 1861, to July 17, 1865 by William Harrison Beach, page 186.
[3] Ibid., pages 187-188.
[4] Ibid., page 294.
[5] Ibid., ix.

Spreading Its Wings to the South

I’m two shakes of a sheep’s tail away from carrying my camera around my neck at all times. I was leaving work this evening when a hawk glided into the courtyard below and perched itself on the railing.

After much rummaging, which I tried to do as quietly as possible, I managed to find my camera —in the very bottom of my handbag and hiding in a corner. Fortunately, the hawk was in no hurry. It let me take pictures to my heart’s content.


I thought it was unusual to see a bird of prey in the city of Durham, in a courtyard between two buildings; but apparently, Cooper’s Hawks (like this juvenile) are now fairly common in urban and suburban settings where they prey on such medium-sized birds as Rock Pigeons and Mourning Doves. — Duke Medical Center Campus; Durham, NC


Notice how this juvenile Cooper’s Hawk is standing on one leg. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, hawks sometimes do this while resting or roosting, perhaps to prevent leg fatigue or simply to be more comfortable. — photo taken on the Duke Medical Center campus in Durham, NC


Hawks have excellent hearing and the best eyesight of all creatures on earth. They can see eight times more clearly than humans. Because their eyes always face forward and are permanently fixed into their skulls, hawks move their heads from side to side when they need to shift their gaze. As in this picture of a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk, they can turn their heads up to 270 degrees. Hawks, it is believed, also see colors. — Duke Medical Center Campus; Durham, NC


To my delight, a wind gust ruffled the feathers of the juvenile Cooper’s Hawk so that I could get a better look at its tail feathers. Gorgeous! — Duke Medical Center Campus; Durham, NC

A pedestrian on the stairway disturbed the hawk and it took off with a few wing beats and a long easy glide. As the hawk soared up and out of sight, spreading its wings to the south, I was struck by the beauty of creation and I praised its Creator.

Meet Me at Yates Mill


If you had news to share or vegetables to sell, a sweetheart to romance or fish to catch, Yates Mill was the place for you in 19th-century Raleigh. [1]

Yates Mill was a thriving center of commerce—the hub where many roads met and where all the locals gathered. It’s now a National Register Historic Site and Wake County park. Dating back to the 18th century, (1756 to be exact), this fully restored, water-powered gristmill located at 4620 Lake Wheeler Road in Raleigh, provides a window into what early industry in the piedmont region of North Carolina looked like.


There were as many as 70 different mills operating at one time or another in Wake County. Yates Mill is the only mill in Wake County still standing, thanks to dedicated preservationists who have fully restored it to what it looked like in the mid-1800s. — Historic Yates Mill; Raleigh, NC


Not only is Yates Mill the only standing mill in Wake County, it is the only restored and operational automatic mill in North Carolina, and one of the few remaining in the country. Corn grinding is demonstrated on the third Saturday and Sunday of each month from March to November. Mill tours are available every Saturday and Sunday in March through November. — Historic Yates Mill; Raleigh, NC


Yates Mill used an automated milling system patented by Oliver Evans in 1790. This system reduced the amount of labor needed to run the mill and also improved the quality of the flour or meal. (Incidentally, George Washington also used the Evans system in his gristmill at Dogue Run Farm on his Mount Vernon estate.) — Historic Yates Mill; Raleigh, NC


Yates Mill Pond: In simplified terms, the pond provided water that filled the waterwheel, caused it to turn, and subsequently brought the machinery in the mill to life. — Historic Yates Mill County Park; Raleigh, NC


Cattails on Yates Mill Pond — Historic Yates Mill County Park; Raleigh, NC


The milldam at Yates Mill flows out of Yates Mill Pond, creating a creek that passes under Lake Wheeler Road. — Yates Mill Historic Site; Raleigh, NC


Like many mills, Yates Mill had a blacksmith who kept equipment running and who also shoed customers’ horses. This reconstructed log building, just east of the mill (which is in the background at left), is a replica of the original blacksmith’s shop. (Raleigh, NC)


The logs of the blacksmith shop at Yates Mill were salvaged from a tobacco barn destined to be flooded by Jordan Lake. Students from the NC State School of Design reassembled the timbers here in the mid to late 1970s. (Raleigh, NC)

From 1898 until the mill’s closure in 1953, Yates Mill was operated by John D. Lea, Sr. His daughter, the late Mary Lea Simpkins, grew up at the mill and provided artifacts, photographs, and oral history that helped to shape and preserve a view of life at the mill. She recalls,

Farmers would come to the mill and bring corn on wagons or mules….Daddy would weigh it and grind it for them….Sometimes while he was grinding he’d sing hymns. He taught me songs.


An old wagon behind the Research and Education Center is a recalling of the days when famers brought their corn to the mill to be ground or brought their produce to be sold. — Historic Yates Mill County Park; Raleigh, NC


Historic Yates Mill exists to preserve Wake County’s agricultural heritage, as well as it’s environmental and historical resources. — Historic Yates Mill; Raleigh, NC

In addition to the mill, Historic Yates Mill County Park is also a 174-acre wildlife park, complete with trails, a research center and exhibit hall (called the A.E. Finley Center for Research and Education), an outdoor/field classroom, and an outdoor amphitheater.

I traveled the Millpond Trail, parts of the High Ridge Trail, as well as the Wetlands Boardwalk leading to the Creekside Trail. Much to my disappointment, (and perhaps a testament to the time of year or the intense heat of the early afternoon), I didn’t encounter much wildlife. I saw a yellow swallowtail butterfly, a mess of dragonflies, three turtles, two skinks, a male cardinal, and a dead snake (which, according to the trusty Snakes of North Carolina Online Identification System, was most likely a worm snake). The swallowtail wouldn’t sit still for a second, and the snake was just too morbid to photograph.


A yellowbelly slider suns among the lily pads on Yates Mill Pond. — Historic Yates Mill County Park; Raleigh, NC


Plants along the pond’s edge provide food and shelter for animals. They’re pretty to look at, too. — Historic Yates Mill County Park; Raleigh, NC


A common whitetail dragonfly on the water along the Wetlands Boardwalk leading to the Creekside Trail. — Historic Yates Mill County Park; Raleigh, NC


Beaver make their homes along the creek and wetlands of Yates Mill. Did you know that young beaver are called kits? …That’s just one of the many informative facts you’ll find along the trails and in the education center at Historic Yates Mill County Park. (Raleigh, NC)


Can you spot the skink (lizard) in this photograph? I spotted him in the brush along the Millpond Trail. — Historic Yates Mill; Raleigh NC


A five-lined skink near the outdoor amphitheater. — Historic Yates Mill County Park; Raleigh, NC


An open field adjacent to the amphitheater. — Historic Yates Mill County Park; Raleigh, NC

Yates Mill was a gathering place for commerce, companionship, and community in the 1800s. Today, if my recent visit was any indication, it is still a gathering place for the local community. Several families, immediate and extended, assembled for professional photographs near the cascading falls of the picturesque mill. A young girl, field notebook in hand and her mother close by her side, stopped to tell a passing peer about some plants that she had discovered on her excursion into nature. As I took my final picture (above), a father sat on the highest row of the outdoor amphitheater beside his young daughter, while her older sister performed an impromptu skit. Her talent was uninhibited. Their applause was enthusiastic. New memories were in the making at old Yates Mill.

[1] Quote on exhibit in the A.E. Finley Center for Research and Education


Lake Wheeler Park


If you’re looking for a place to go boating or fishing in the city of Raleigh, North Carolina, then look no further than Lake Wheeler Park.

One of the city of Raleigh’s beloved recreation destinations, Lake Wheeler Park is located south of downtown just past North Carolina State University’s agricultural field labs, and it’s easily accessible from I-40. The park consists of Lake Wheeler, several picnic shelters, a park office with concessions, a volleyball court, a fishing pond (called Simpkins Pond), a small playground, public restrooms, and an outdoor fitness circuit with exercise stations. (A nominal use fee is associated with several of these amenities.)


A sun deck, complete with lush foliage, overlooks the lake and is connected to the park office, concession stand, and restroom areas. — Lake Wheeler Park (Raleigh, NC)


The old-fashioned rocking chairs overlooking Lake Wheeler on the sun deck near the park office and concession area invite relaxation and leisure. — Lake Wheeler Park; Raleigh, NC


Fishing on Lake Wheeler is restricted to the two piers or from fishing boats. Boats can be rented from the park, or personal boats can be put in at the boat launching area by the park office. (Raleigh, NC)


Petal boats, jon boats, kajaks, rowboats, and Sunfish sailboats (like the one pictured here) can be rented by the hour (half hour for pedal boats) or by the day. — Lake Wheeler Park; Raleigh, NC


A graylag goose along the sandy shore of Lake Wheeler. — Lake Wheeler Park; Raleigh, NC


Fishing on foot is permitted along the shoreline of Simpkins Pond (pictured here). A fishing license is required for bank fishing. — Lake Wheeler Park; Raleigh, NC


Lake Wheeler Park is primarily a fishing, boating, and picnicking spot. While there are trails, they lead to the various “fishing holes” and piers—they don’t connect to one another or make a loop.

After visiting quite a few of Raleigh’s parks, (Nash SquarePullen ParkLake Lynn, Fred Fletcher Park, Mordecai Historic ParkLake Johnson, Durant Nature Preserve, and now Lake Wheeler), I’ve discovered that each one is unique and has its own special charms.