Thursday, May 31, 2012

Jackson Stopped

150 years ago, a small and little-known episode of "Stonewall" Jackson's famous 1862 Valley Campaign occurred on the outskirts of Harpers Ferry.  Something that could not be said very much in the spring of 1862 could be said on the night of May 30, 1862 and the morning of May 31, 1862: "Stonewall" Jackson had been stopped.

After "Stonewall" Jackson defeated Nathaniel Banks' Federal army in the Shenandoah Valley at Front Royal, May 23, 1862, and Winchester, May 25, 1862, Jackson began a northward movement to expel the last remaining Federal force in the Lower Shenandoah Valley: the garrison at Harpers Ferry that consisted of 8,000 men under the temporary command of Brigadier General Rufus B. Saxton. 
Rufus B. Saxton (

Saxton was assigned to the post on May 25 due to the growing fear in Washington that Jackson's move would threaten the Northern capital.  Along with Saxton, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton rushed reinforcements to Harpers Ferry using the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.  The most notable reinforcements in this episode of Jackson's Valley Campaign were 300 sailors from the USS Satellite, which was stationed in the Washington Navy Yard at the time of the crisis.  These sailors would also bring three 9-inch Dahlgren guns with them to aid in the Ferry's defense.  Saxton moved these guns halfway up the slope of Maryland Heights and established what is now known as the Naval Battery.  These guns would be able to check any attack that Jackson made against Saxton's line on Bolivar Heights west of Harpers Ferry. 
Modern view of the Naval Battery

View from the Naval Battery.  The Harper Cemetery, on the west side of Camp Hill, can be seen in the left of the picture

As Saxton and his garrison awaited Jackson's force, Saxton set to work "moving the stores across the [Potomac] river" using the former slaves that had escaped behind Union lines; they are more commonly referred to as contraband.  Saxton also put his infantry and artillery in a line on Bolivar Heights that stretched nearly 2,000 yards.  These were the Federal dispositions at the Ferry when Jackson's force arrived around Charles Town and Halltown, only a few miles west of Harpers Ferry, on May 28. 

Location of Saxton's line on Bolivar Heights

Jackson's first move was to send the 2nd Virginia Infantry, most of which was composed of local men, up Loudon Heights, across the Shenandoah River from Harpers Ferry.  They seized the heights on May 29.  Fearing a flanking movement by Jackson, Saxton pulled his line back from Bolivar Heights to Camp Hill, a lesser but still impressive rise east of Bolivar Heights.  This consolidated his line and greatly improved his position, which now stretched only 900 yards with both of his flanks anchored on a river. 

View of Camp Hill (with the large brick structure known as the Barbour House at its center) from Bolivar Heights. The town of Harpers Ferry lies behind Camp Hill

May 30 came and everyone wondered what Jackson was up to.  The afternoon came and went and still Jackson made no serious attempt to seize Harpers Ferry.  Then just before dusk, Jackson rushed east from Bolivar Heights towards Camp Hill in a terrific thunderstorm.  His assault was stopped by the Federal troops on Camp Hill and the Naval Battery on Maryland Heights.  When the sun rose the next morning, Jackson's troops were racing south to avoid being trapped by two Federal forces commanded by John C. Fremont and James Shields; his attack had only been a diversion to cover the retreat.  Harpers Ferry was saved.  For his defensive stand 150 years ago, Rufus Saxton earned the Medal of Honor in 1893.  Saxton left the Ferry on June 2, 1862.

This small event at Harpers Ferry marked one of the first instances during the Civil War when United States soldiers used a railroad to strategically move troops.  It also marked a rare occasion when "Stonewall" Jackson was stopped, but this did not slow his momentum and Jackson would continue to deceive and defeat Union armies in the Shenandoah Valley for the next couple of weeks.

Sunset from Bolivar Heights

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Hellmira Prison Camp

Over this past weekend at home, I had the chance to visit one of New York State's greater Civil War sites, Elmira Prison Camp and Woodlawn National Cemetery, the final resting place of the 2,973 Confederate soldiers who perished at "Hellmira" from July 1864-July 1865.  The 40 acre prison camp is infamous for having the highest death rate per capita of any Civil War prison camp: 2,963 out of 12,123 prisoners, or roughly 24 percent.

Confederate Prisoners in line for roll call at Elmira Prison Camp.
Courtesy of Binghamton University

 Here are a few pictures that I took during the weekend.
Map Legend for the following map of Elmira Prison Camp (below)

Map of Elmira Prison Camp

The original flagpole of Camp Chemung
Inscription of the monument in front of the flag pole

Confederate Monument at Woodlawn National Cemetery

Graves of Union Soldiers surrounding those of the Confederate soldiers to forever keep the Confederate prisoners guarded

Monument to the Union and Confederate soldiers who perished in a railroad accident near Shohola, Pennsylvania. The unidentified remains from the accident were interred in the cemetery
The sexton of Woodlawn Cemetery during the time of Camp Chemung's use as a prison camp was a freed slave named John W. Jones.  It is said that Jones helped nearly 800 slaves escape bondage via the Underground Railroad.  Jones is also responsible for meticulously recording the name, rank, regiment, and date of death of every Confederate soldier that perished in the camp and for interring their remains in Woodlawn Cemetery.  He is the reason that there are so few unknown Confederate soldiers buried in Woodlawn National Cemetery.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Abram Duryee's Brigade (US)

Abram Duryee’s Brigade

1st Brigade, 2nd Division, I Corps

97th New York
201 men present commanded by Major Charles Northrup

104th New York
Approximately 246 men present commanded by Major Lewis C. Skinner

105th New York
Approximately 236 men present commanded by Colonel Howard Carroll

107th Pennsylvania
190 men present commanded by Captain James MacThomson
Duryee's Brigade, located north side of Cornfield Avenue.
            The commander of the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, I Corps at the Battle of Antietam was Abram Duryee, aged 47 at the time of the battle and born a native of New York City.  He joined the city militia at the age of 18 and was one of the first to volunteer when the Civil War began in April 1861.  Duryee raised the 5th New York Infantry, who came to be known as “Duryee’s Zouaves” and who distinguished themselves on many battlefields throughout the war.  Duryee took command of the 1st Brigade at the end of June 1862.
          The four regiments of Abram Duryee’s 1st Brigade were first together in the Department of the Rappahannock during May and June 1862.  The brigade was designated as the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, III Corps, Army of Virginia under Major General John Pope and as such, was engaged at the Battles of Cedar Mountain (August 9, 1862) and Second Bull Run (August 28-30, 1862).  After the defeat of Pope’s army and the reshuffling of Federal forces inside of Washington City, Duryee’s Brigade became the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, I Corps, Army of the Potomac.  The division was under the command of James B. Ricketts, the corps under Joseph Hooker, and the army under George McClellan.  I Corps moved out of Washington City on September 6 and, along with IX Corps under Jesse Reno, constituted the Right Wing of the army’s advance into western Maryland. 

            Eight days into its campaign, Duryee’s Brigade and the rest of I Corps encountered D.H. Hill’s and Longstreet’s Confederates at Turner’s Gap at South Mountain.  Ricketts’ Division played a supporting role and thus, casualties in Duryee’s Brigade were relatively light: 5 killed and 16 wounded.  After the battle, Duryee’s Brigade advanced to the east side of Antietam Creek and at 4 P.M. on September 16, crossed the creek at the Upper Bridge.  The brigade then moved to a position in a small woodlot on the Smoketown Road just northwest of the Samuel Poffenberger farm where it would bivouac for the night, lying in line of battle and on their arms ready for the action that was sure to come in the morning. 
Bivouac of Duryee's Brigade looking east.  The plowed field is on the other side of the Smoketown Road. 

            The attack of I Corps on the morning of September 17 called for a two-prong attack whose objective was to advance towards the Dunker Church, whose white walls stood out in the morning light against the dark backdrop of the West Woods, and occupy the Dunker Church Plateau, where today’s Visitor Center stands.  Hooker’s First Division under Abner Doubleday would advance along the Hagerstown Pike towards the church; James Ricketts’ Second Division would advance along the Smoketown Road, and George Meade’s Third Division would hold the center of the line in reserve.  The hope was that Doubleday’s and Ricketts’ divisions would converge directly in front of the Dunker Church. 

            Ricketts’ assault would be led by George Hartsuff’s Brigade on the west side of the Smoketown Road and William Christian’s Brigade on the east side of the road.  Duryee’s Brigade would advance in close support of Hartsuff on the right.  However, almost from the outset of the attack, the wheels quickly came off; George Hartsuff was looking over the terrain of the field when he was wounded and had to be taken from the field while William Christian fled his command as soon as it came under fire.  Into this void in Ricketts’ Division would come the four regiments of Abram Duryee’s First Brigade.
Movements of Duryee's Brigade, Daybreak, September 17
            From their bivouac on the night of September 16 and the early morning of September 17, Duryee moved his brigade west to the fields around the Joseph Poffenberger house and barn.  In preparation for their reserve role in the assault, each regiment formed into a column of divisions.  Simply put, a column of divisions is two platoons lined up in front with two more behind them and so on (see diagram). 
Column of Divisions
         Between 5:15 and 5:30 A.M., the brigade moved from its position east of Joseph Poffenberger’s south through the North Woods and into a plowed field beyond where it halted for about five minutes.  These men were easy targets for Jeb Stuart’s guns on Nicodemus Heights and were subsequently fired upon.  Reports conflict about the effectiveness of this fire.  Captain James MacThomson of the 107th Pennsylvania wrote in his official report, dated October 7, 1862 that the Confederate shots flew “about us like hail killing and wounding some of our poor fellows.”  However, Isaac Hall of the 97th New York “did not think a man in Duryea’s [sic] brigade on that day, was hurt by a cannon shot.”  Whatever the case may be, the men of Duryee’s command, accompanied by the four guns of Captain James Thompson’s Battery C, Pennsylvania Light Artillery, reached the north fence of David Miller’s cornfield at approximately 5:45 A.M. and deployed into line of battle. 
Duryee's Brigade halted here and received fire from Nicodemus Heights.  This view is looking west towards the Nicodemus Farm.
Thompson's Battery looking south.

Duryee's Brigade deployed along this fence line.  104th NY would have been to the immediate left of the gap in the fence with 105th NY to their left.  97th NY was to the right of the gap in the fence with 107th Pennsylvania to their right. 

         At 6 A.M., Duryee led his men south into Miller’s cornfield.  As the brigade came to the southern edge of the cornfield and a low Virginia worm fence, Georgians under the command of Colonel Marcellus Douglass rose up from the ground approximately 230 yards south of the cornfield and unleashed a deadly volley into Duryee’s ranks.  For the next several minutes, both sides stood in the open and poured lead into each other.  Then, the 105th New York, on the far left of Duryee’s Brigade, and the 104th New York, to the 105th New York’s right, advanced over 100 yards south of the cornfield.  However, combined fire from Douglass’ Brigade, the 12th Georgia of James Walker’s (Trimble’s) Brigade, and Stephen D. Lee’s 19 cannon posted on the Dunker Church Plateau forced the New Yorkers back into the corn.  During this advance, the native Irishman and commander of the 105th New York, Howard Carroll, fell mortally wounded with a bullet through his left calf and was carried from the fight, though the wound was not thought to be life threatening.  However, during the ambulance ride to Washington, Carroll developed a fever and died on September 29, 1862.
 View from the south edge of the cornfield.  Douglass' Brigade stood approximately where the treeline is south of Cornfield Avenue
 Ground over which the 104th and 105th NY advanced from left to right.

            On the right of the brigade line, the 107th Pennsylvania and the 97th New York were not able to advance out of the corn.  Flanking fire from elements of the Stonewall Division on the west side of the Hagerstown Pike and the 26th Georgia of Douglass’ Brigade kept the two right regiments from doing anything besides returning fire as effectively as they could.  Thus far, Duryee’s men had kept up a ferocious firefight with Douglass and Walker but would soon be compelled to retreat by forces outside of their control.
Position of Duryee's Brigade, 6 A.M.

            Loosely supporting the left of Duryee’s line was the remnants of Truman Seymour’s Pennsylvanians, mainly the 2nd Pennsylvania Reserves who were engaged with Walker’s Confederates posted near the intersection of the Smoketown Road and the Mumma Farm Lane.  “With the view of breaking the enemy’s line,” Walker ordered the 21st Georgia and 21st North Carolina to advance into the East Woods.  These two regiments pushed the 2nd Pennsylvania Reserves back slightly but not completely out of the woods.  This action led to an erroneous report that Duryee’s left flank was in danger and “without verifying the report,” Abram Duryee ordered his brigade to fall back at about 6:30 A.M.  Just as the 105th and 104th New York were falling back into the corn, they received this order and continued its rearward movement to the northeast section of the cornfield.  The right side of Duryee’s line also fell back at this time, though in a more confused manner.  The left of the 107th Pennsylvania and the right of the 97th New York did not receive orders and could not see their comrades retreating due to the smoke of battle and “the density of the corn.”  They only remained here a few moments more before these detachments of the regiments fell back to the north side of the cornfield.  The brigade reformed in the northeast sector of the cornfield and supported batteries in that area until approximately 8:30 A.M., when they reformed along with the rest of Ricketts’ Division north of the Joseph Poffenberger farm and remained there for the rest of September 17.
Position of Duryee's Brigade, 6:45 A.M.
Position of Duryee's Brigade, 8:30 A.M.
          The 1,100-man brigade of Abram Duryee opened the Battle of Antietam in earnest on the morning of September 17.  It was the first to enter what is now the infamous cornfield and paid heavily for it, suffering approximately 33% casualties.  After Antietam, the core of the brigade would remain together until it was mustered out in July 1865.  As for its commander, Abram Duryee went on furlough in October 1862 and upon his return to the brigade, he resigned from the army due to his post being given to “an inferior” and he resigned January 5, 1863, only to be brevetted as a Major General of Volunteers on March 13, 1865.  Duryee returned to New York City after the war and died there on September 27, 1890 at the age of 75.   

Captured or Missing
Captured or Missing

Enlisted Men
Enlisted Men
Enlisted Men

97th NY
104th NY
105th NY
107th PA

104th New York Monument, north side of Cornfield Avenue

Looking south beyond 104th New York Monument