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.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Alfred Pleasonton's Intelligence Contributions to the Battle of South Mountain

Alfred Pleasonton
Brig. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton is rarely thought of as an able intelligence officer. But like any Civil War officer, his share of bad days were occasionally intermixed with good ones. The evening of September 13, 1862 and the morning of the next day was one of his better performances in gathering and effectively utilizing intelligence.

In the hours before dusk of September 13, Pleasonton's cavalrymen drove Confederate cavalry from Hagan's Gap in Catoctin Mountain west of Frederick and then likewise secured Middletown from the gray horsemen. Pleasonton requested support from Ambrose Burnside in his rear. In the meantime, he pushed his troopers to the base of Turner's Gap in South Mountain itself.

At the crossroads town of Bolivar, Pleasonton dismounted some of his cavalry and pushed them up South Mountain north of the National Road. This movement produced minor skirmishing. Standing at the base of Turner's Gap, where the National Road crossed South Mountain, Pleasonton recognized the strength of the position and the difficulty any Federal force would have seizing it. Thus, Pleasonton also authorized reconnaissance efforts while in the area, from which he learned that two roads, one north of and one south of Turner's Gap, reentered the National Road on the west side of South Mountain behind the gap. Pleasonton believed these roads "would assist us materially in turning the enemy's position on both flanks."

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

To Spurn the Southern Scum? Union Soldier Motivation to Liberate Maryland in September 1862

Maryland's state flag at the time of the Civil War
Accounts abound of Union officers exhorting their men during the Battle of Gettysburg to fight ferociously as if the safety of their loved ones and their homes depended on it. On July 1, 1863, retreating Union cavalrymen passed through the ranks of the 97th New York Infantry and yelled, "There are no troops behind you! You stand alone, between the Rebel Army and your homes! Fight like hell!" Generals Abner Doubleday and Thomas Rowley reminded the men of the 150th Pennsylvania Infantry "that they were upon their own soil, that the eye of the commonwealth was upon them, and that there was every reason to believe they would do their duty to the uttermost in defence of their State." The common soldier of the Army of the Potomac likely did not need these reminders of what was at stake fighting on Pennsylvania--and thus, Northern--soil, but officers attempted to squeeze every bit of motivation they could out of their men for the fight around Gettysburg.

Though it had its share of war detractors, Pennsylvania solidly remained a supporter of the Federal war effort. Its neighbor to the south, Maryland, however, repeatedly had (and still has) its loyalty to the United States during the Civil War questioned. While Union officers rallied their men to fight defiantly at Gettysburg because of Confederate troops in Pennsylvania, it appears that little of this occurred in September 1862 when Confederate forces marched on Maryland's soil. Perhaps this was because of Maryland's lukewarm allegiance to the United States. At least, such was the initial perception in the Federal ranks.