Tuesday, October 27, 2020

After-Action Report of Maj. Hilary Herbert, 8th Alabama Infantry

Richard H. Anderson (courtesy of
National Park Service)
While the actions of Richard H. Anderson’s division on September 17, 1862 are generally known, pinning down specifics has always been difficult. Mostly, that is due to the fact that only one after-action report from the entire division (and it is not from Anderson himself) was reproduced in the Official Records. Robert K. Krick, in his essay about Confederates in the Sunken Road in Gary Gallagher’s The Antietam Campaign anthology illustrates the issue of determining the movements of Anderson’s division and its various brigades:

The disintegration of R. H. Anderson’s division can be seen distinctly from the official reports of its brigades: there are none. Not only did no official report for the division find its way into the published Official Records; there is also none for any of its six brigades, and only a report for one of the twenty-six regiments that made up those brigades. The report of Capt. Abram M. “Dode” Feltus, senior officer present with the 16th Mississippi, is the only one in that standard source out of a potential thirty-three documents. The lacuna frustrates historians; it also illustrates the paucity of command in the division on September 17 (and the haphazard way in which R. H. Anderson administered his division when he returned to its command).[1]

Volume Three of the Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, published in 1994, contains a brief (and useless when it comes to Antietam) paragraph written by Col. William A. Parham, commanding Mahone’s brigade, and a report for Ambrose Wright’s brigade written by Col. William Gibson, third in charge of the brigade and its commander at the close of battle on September 17. These two sources bring the number of documents from Anderson’s division up to three out of the 33 Krick counted. Now, here is the fourth (Krick cites Herbert's report but since it was written in 1864 likely does not count it as an after-action report). It has been cited before in other works but has been used sparingly in studies of the Maryland Campaign.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Bombarding the Burnside Bridge

The 51st Pennsylvania's Lt. Col. Thomas Bell
fell mortally wounded from a Confederate artillery
round within 50 feet of the Burnside Bridge
(digitalcommonwealth.org)

Standing at the Burnside Bridge makes one feel cut off from the rest of the Antietam battlefield. Antietam presents great vistas that allow visitors to examine large swaths of the battlefield at once. Not so at the Burnside Bridge. There, after a long drive from the Bloody Lane on the auto tour, visitors stand and look into two hillsides, their visibility limited to just a few hundred yards. At the bridge, you are down in a deep swale that you can hardly see out of when you are in it and you can barely see into it unless you are standing on top of the hillsides that surround it.

Then how, in this secluded low point on the battlefield, do numerous Union accounts at the bridge mention coming under Confederate artillery fire? No Confederate guns were perched alongside Henry Benning’s Georgians overlooking the bridge and Antietam Creek. What is to account for these Federal tales of being struck by enemy artillery shells?

At least two mentions of this made their way into Ezra Carman’s chapter on the fighting at the Burnside Bridge. First, when relating the attack of Crook’s brigade, Carman mentions the left-wing of the 11th Ohio Infantry being exposed to a “severe fire of infantry and artillery.”[1] Later, after the 51st Pennsylvania and 51st New York carried the bridge, “Confederate guns on Cemetery hill threw their shell and shrapnel into the ranks of the [Federals] lying in the road near the bridge, killing and wounding many…”[2]

Monday, September 14, 2020

Christie, Cox, Crook, Confusion, and the Burnside Bridge

George Crook
Sometimes, going down rabbit holes of research will lead you to unexpected places. Occasionally, they lead nowhere. But every once in a while, you get rewarded. Hence, the case of Lt. Samuel L. Christie of Jacob Cox's staff during the Maryland Campaign.

It all started by reading George Crook's Autobiography. “About ten a.m.,” Crook remembered, “Capt. Christ on Gen. Cox' staff came to see me, and said, ‘The General wishes you to take the bridge.’ I asked him what bridge. He said he didn't know. I asked him where the stream was, but he didn't know. I made some remarks not complimentary to such a way of doing business, but he went off, not caring a cent. Probably he had done the correct thing.”[i] This story of miscommunication and poor intelligence has always astounded me. How could Crook, who had two companies of the 11th Ohio Infantry overlooking the Burnside Bridge since 7:00 a.m., not know where the bridge was located? And how could a staff officer of corps commander Jacob Cox not know the location of Antietam Creek or have an answer to Crook’s query? Attempting to answer these questions is beyond this post (if they are even answerable) but my affinity for staff officers in Civil War armies forced me to look into this Capt. Christ.

In his after-action report of the Battle of South Mountain, Cox personally thanks S. L. Christie and one other staff officer “for the devotion and courage displayed by them in the laborious and hazardous duties of the day.”[ii] Crook got the name wrong in his autobiography, but not by much. Thanks to some Googling and searching through various books in my library, I was able to find a Samuel L. Christie, born in 1837 and listed as a Captain of the 1st Kentucky Infantry.[iii] Fold3 has all Kentucky’s Compiled Service Records (CSR) digitized; I obtained more information about Christie here.