Thursday, July 16, 2020

What's in a Formation? Examining John Hatch's Attack Formations at Second Manassas and South Mountain

John Porter Hatch
There are many books and sources related to the American Civil War (okay, that's an understatement). Despite that fact, it always amazes me how much we still do not know about that war and its participants and battles. As historians, we always need to ask the "why" questions to learn more: why did an event transpire the way it did and why is that event worth telling? Of the five Ws always worth asking, "why" is, at least to me, the most intriguing.

Sorry for my history soapbox here, but asking why something happened or why someone made one decision over another can lead us down interesting investigative paths that may force us to think about outside influences on a battlefield commander's decision-making process and what their intent may have been with the decision path they chose.

Take, for example, the attack of Fitz John Porter's Fifth Corps (with John Hatch's division attached) against "Stonewall" Jackson's lines at the Deep Cut during the Battle of Second Manassas on August 30, 1862. It's a story of incredible human drama and carnage, the largest Federal attack during that battle, and, it could be argued, it paves the way for John Pope's defeat on the Manassas battlefield. But it is also a unique attack during the Civil War. At its onset, Porter's command was stacked in a formation six lines deep with a frontage of approximately 400 yards. Sacrificing width for depth, the attack formation eventually expanded to a frontage of about 830 yards, more than double its initial width. Naturally, while examining this assault, the question came up in my mind: "Why is Porter's command in this formation for its attack?"

Friday, May 15, 2020

"Straggling is a crime which cannot be to strongly reprehended nor too severely punished": The Sixth Corps' Orders Against Straggling in the Maryland Campaign

William Franklin
The stay-at-home orders across the United States have provided me with time to dust off some old research files from long ago. Recently, I was sorting through what I found on a past trip to the National Archives, where I spent the day looking through the records of William B. Franklin's Sixth Corps in the Maryland Campaign. In one of the bound books containing these records, I found an unpublished copy of General Orders No. 30, issued within that corps on September 9, 1862. The first section of the order said:

"Until further orders the rear Guards will be 'Brigade rear Guards' and will be composed of half a Regiment to each Brigade. Commanders of rear Guards will be held responsible by their respt. Brigade Commanders for a vigorous performance of their duty, [with?] respect to Stragglers. The cmdg General has noticed a great increase of stragglers in the recent marches of the Corps. Straggling is a crime which cannot be to strongly reprehended nor too severely punished. Division Commanders will use all possible means to stop it in future."

This internal order was no doubt issued in response to General Orders No. 155, issued from Army of the Potomac headquarters earlier on September 9. This order's sole purpose was to clamp down on straggling within that army.(1) That same day, a circular went forth from army headquarters, holding "superior officers" accountable for the army's straggling problems. "Inattention and carelessness on the part of those in high rank has been one fertile source of the straggling and want of discipline which now obtain in the various corps," said the circular.(2)

Headquarters issued the orders. It was now up to the individual commanders within the column of march to end the straggling problem in the Army of the Potomac. General Orders No. 30 was the Sixth Corps' current answer.

Stay safe everyone!

1. OR, vol. 19, pt. 2, 226-27.
2. Ibid., 225.

Bonus: For statistics of straggling in the Ninth Corps' Kanawha Division on September 8, 1862, head over to Dan Vermilya's blog, Our Country's Fiery Ordeal.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Antietam Pronunciations

As the ink dried on the September 25, 1862, edition of the Louisville Daily Democrat, the word "Antietam" was still a new edition to the American lexicon. The battle was just eight days old and still occupied plenty of space in newspapers around the United States and the Confederate States.

Courtesy of
The Louisville Daily Democrat's editors wanted to ensure that its readers could spell and pronounce "the name of the creek on the banks of which McClellan fought the greatest battle and gained the most glorious victory of the war." After all, they had to make up for the earlier misspelling of the word, which "the telegraph has shockingly mutilated."

"[T]he name is destined to be a household word in all time to come," they wrote. "The name is Antietam--pronounced An-tee-tam, with the accent on the second syllable."