During the last week in September, I had a truly memorable experience while serving as the Historian for a wonderful group of travelers on the This Hallowed Ground tour of Civil War sites in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. After years of leading these tours, I cannot recall another instance in which men and women of different ages and backgrounds contributed so much to our shared understanding of the great national struggle as they did on this tour offered by Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours.
We began our journey along the path of war in the east from the battlefields of Manassas, where “Stonewall” Jackson earned his name near Bull Run Creek. Then we traveled through the ground over which Union and Confederate armies confronted one another at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and along Antietam Creek, by Sharpsburg, Maryland. From the start, these Stephen Ambrose campaigners contributed so much to our collective knowledge with their thoughtful observations, probing questions, and enthusiastic conversations.
And as we walked the route of Pickett’s Charge, to the “high water mark” of the Confederacy at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, we shared our thoughts about what the soldiers in blue and gray were thinking and feeling on that fateful day of July 3, 1863. The camaraderie that developed among our tour participants grew even stronger as we followed the course of the Civil War through the last two years of that conflict, all the way to the small brick home of Wilmer McLean in Appomattox, Virginia, where Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865.
With guests from four foreign countries and from throughout the USA, we never lacked for conversation over the excellent meals we enjoyed together, frequently in historic restaurants. We stayed in just three very fine hotels during the week-long trip, thus avoiding the daily “duffel bag-drag” on and off our bus each day. And, speaking of our bus, we rode in comfort thanks to the attention and skill of our excellent driver, who was totally familiar with every location we visited. It was with a real sense of regret that I bid farewell to the many new friends I made as we traveled together through the land we call “This Hallowed Ground.” I truly hope that many of these fine people will look to Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours for additional opportunities for enjoyable travel while learning even more about America’s rich history.
John W. Mountcastle, PhD
Brigadier General, USA (Ret)
About Historian John W. Mountcastle
John W. (Jack) Mountcastle graduated from Virginia Military Institute in 1965 and began serving as an Army officer in 1966. During his Army career, he commanded tank units at all levels from platoon through armored brigade, served twice in Vietnam and spent ten years in Germany during the Cold War. In addition to being an historian on our Civil War: This Hallowed Ground Tour, he teaches Civil War history courses at the University of Richmond, lectures at the Virginia Historical Society, and is past president of the Richmond Civil War Round Table.
Why Travel on our Civil War: This Hallowed Ground Tour
“Where do I begin? I just got back from This Hallowed Ground Civil War Tour. It was not just great, it was fantastic! I learned so much from an expert authority on the Civil War, Jack Mountcastle. His wealth of knowledge and understanding of what happened was far beyond my expectation. I am still thinking of all that we saw and heard as I go about my day. Special moments will live in my memory forever. Thank you for providing this type of experience to me. It was well organized with all of our needs taken care of. Happy traveling.”
“The planning of the tour was over the top. The battlefields that were chosen and why they were an important part of the war, the places we stayed were wonderful and who could complain about the food! Jack was able to put us right there with the feel and thought of the day. I will be remembering this trip for years to come.”