Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Inspecting the Third Brigade of the Pennsylvania Reserves in the Field of the Maryland Campaign

     In an army of units that saw heavy fighting since the beginning of the Seven Days, fewer Federal divisions suffered worse than the Pennsylvania Reserve Division under the command of John Reynolds. Total casualties during the Seven Days' Campaign total approximately 2,600 men. Another 610 names joined the list at Second Bull Run in late August. On the eve of the Maryland Campaign, the division was a shell of itself.(1)
     While researching in the National Archives today, I stumbled on this incredible inspection report of the division's 3rd Brigade, commanded by Lt. Col. Robert Anderson at the Battle of Antietam. It gives a good glimpse into the state of the brigade, and the division as a whole, on the eve of the battles of South Mountain and Antietam.
Brig. Gen. John F. Reynolds

Monday, April 29, 2019

Killing the Kinks: The Unlikely Command Relationship Between George B. McClellan and Joseph Hooker

     George B. McClellan is sometimes portrayed as one who promoted his advocates and damned his opponents within his own army. When it comes to McClellan's generalship in command of the Army of the Potomac, there is one major exception to that oft-held view--his appointment of Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker to take command of the First Corps during the Maryland Campaign.
     Hooker was an outspoken antagonist of McClellan's generalship and felt slighted by McClellan's report of the Battle of Williamsburg that did not give Hooker and his division enough credit. During the Peninsula Campaign, Hooker confided to a friend about McClellan, "He is not only not a soldier, but he does not know what soldiership is."(1) In the aftermath of Second Bull Run, artillerist Charles Wainwright noted in his diary this quote from Hooker: "if they had left McClellan in command this never would have happened." Wainwright, in his own words, followed up Hooker's remarks by saying, "This was a great deal for Hooker to say, as he had no love for McClellan."(2)
Joseph Hooker (left) and George B. McClellan (right) rarely saw eye to eye.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

McClellan's Guns of Position: Part 2

     In Part 1 of this series, I examined the makeup of the Army of the Potomac's "guns of position" during the Maryland Campaign before focusing on the core of that artillery grouping, the 20-lb. Parrott rifle. For Part 2, I will look at the effectiveness of these guns and their importance to the Federal army at Antietam.
     First, it is important to establish the fact that even though these guns remained on the east side of Antietam Creek for the entirety of the battle, they did not sit out the fighting. There is a tendency among people visiting the battlefield to think that Federal soldiers positioned east of the creek (with the exception being those around the Burnside Bridge) were merely spectators to the action on the other side of the creek. This is not true, especially in the case of the "guns of position." Even the Union infantry east of the creek fell victim to enemy artillery shells and did sustain minor casualties.
     With their extensive range and excellent fields of fire, McClellan's and Hunt's heavy guns played a large role in the battle and in McClellan's planning during the actions along Antietam Creek. According to the Table of Fire for 20-lb. Parrotts, they had a maximum reach of 4,400 yards or 2.5 miles. This distance could be reached by a shell fired at 15 degrees and would take the shell over 17 seconds from the time it was fired to reach its target.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

McClellan's Guns of Position: Part 1

     When George McClellan reached the eastern banks of the Antietam Creek on the afternoon of September 15, 1862, one of his first orders was issued in person to his Chief of Artillery, Brig. Gen. Henry Hunt. He told Hunt near sundown "to select places for our guns of position."(1) These guns had a large role to play in the upcoming fight and in McClellan's battle plan.
     A few months ago, I had the pleasure of being able to walk the ground where many of these guns were positioned on September 17 on a ridge owned at the time of the battle by the Ecker family. The wartime Ecker house still stands. This prominent ridge, what I will refer to as the Ecker Ridge, stands prominently along Antietam Creek's east bank and has a commanding view of much of the Antietam battlefield. It is easy to see why it was prized by McClellan and Hunt and why the guns posted there were so effective.
     Since it was such a rare treat to visit, I took plenty of pictures, trying to capture the Federal artillerists' views as best as I could. But before posting those, in what will be Part 4 of this series, I first wanted to take a closer look at these guns of position.
Most of the guns of position can be seen overlooking Antietam Creek on the Ecker Farm Ridge in this map of the Antietam Battlefield Board.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Close and Concentrated: 9th Corps Artillery Conquers the Burnside Bridge

     I had always thought of the fight for the Burnside Bridge as one of infantry. The 2nd and 20th Georgia stoutly defending the bridge and the charge of the 51st New York and 51st Pennsylvania dominate our interpretation of the action there. It was not until today while hiking the Burnside Bridge sector of the Antietam battlefield with my good friend and artillery guru Jim Rosebrock (check out his excellent blog here) that I realized how crucial of a role Ambrose Burnside's and Jacob Cox's artillery played in cracking the conundrum of how to get their men across Antietam Creek.
     The 9th Corps had 53 guns at Antietam, according to Curt Johnson's and Richard C. Anderson, Jr.'s book Artillery Hell. At various points of the fight for the Burnside Bridge, anywhere from 21 to 29 of those guns fired directly on the Confederate infantry defending the bridge or the nearby Confederate artillery that supported the infantry.
     As attack after attack against the bridge and its Confederate defenders failed, there is a marked effort on the part of Burnside, Cox, and 9th Corps artillery chief George Getty to use artillery to drive the enemy away from the banks of Antietam Creek. While the 9th Corps' position always allowed it to converge the fire of its artillery onto the Confederate defenders, as the day wore on, 9th Corps batteries began shrinking their ring of fire, ensnaring the Confederates and ultimately helping drive them away.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

A Game of Numbers: Robert E. Lee's Assumptions about the Federal Garrisons in the Shenandoah Valley

     Standing and fighting at Sharpsburg. Pickett's Charge. Each of these decisions could rightfully be labeled as Robert E. Lee's greatest mistake during his Civil War career. But one that often flies under the radar is the decision Lee made earlier in the Maryland Campaign to divide his army and send a large portion of it into the Shenandoah Valley to subdue the Federal garrisons positioned in Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry. A bold plan to be sure, this plan alone was not the undoing of Lee's campaign. Instead, it was the assumptions he made about how quickly his soldiers could open the Confederate supply line in the Shenandoah Valley.
Robert E. Lee
     Robert E. Lee was aware of the Union garrisons in the Valley before his men set foot on Maryland soil. But his crossings near Leesburg armed him with the belief that his intervention between those garrisons and Washington City and Baltimore would force the evacuations of Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry. It did not. Before Lee could advance his army farther north into Pennsylvania, he had to deal with the enemy in his rear to open the Valley as a supply route and, if needed, route of retreat back to Virginia.
     On the evening of September 9, 1862, staff officers and couriers emanated from Lee's headquarters outside of Frederick. The riders delivered multiple copies of Special Orders No. 191 to Lee's subordinates. The orders outlined the division of the Army of Northern Virginia into multiple pieces, three of which, led by Stonewall Jackson, Lafayette McLaws, and John Walker, would take different routes to intercept, destroy, or capture the enemy garrisons at Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry. When the orders went into effect the next day, Lee anticipated that these three wings would wrap up the operations in the Valley quickly--perhaps as early as September 12--before the army reunited and continued on its trek north.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

John Pope's Take on Joseph Mansfield

     John Pope's personality is often viewed negatively by historians. Quotes from Pope haters can be easily found and are often repeated in Civil War historiography. Sometimes, it reaches the point where one wonders if anyone could have gotten along with him or vice versa.
     Pope's Military Memoirs, edited by Peter Cozzens and Robert I. Girardi, offer an eye-opening look into this divisive general. One quote in particular though caught my attention. It was Pope's description of Joseph Mansfield and his personality, looks, and bravery. Quotes like this are revealing, especially when Pope ties Mansfield's personality traits to his fate at Antietam. The two served together in Mexico, Mansfield as Pope's superior officer. "Pope took to Mansfield at once," wrote Pope's biographer Peter Cozzens. It appears Pope's favorable view of Mansfield remained until his dying day.
Joseph K. F. Mansfield
General Mansfield was of middle height and robust figure. He had a broad and rather ruddy face, with a thick shock of white hair and beard. He was a man of kindly disposition and very just; but, as I have said before, he was rather fussy and fond of meddling with his subordinates, so that, although all of his officers exulted in his behavior in battle and were immensely proud of him for some time after the battle was over, he soon reduced them to their old feeling that he tormented and persecuted them unwarrantably. He was still a comparatively young man when he was killed at Antietam, but I think it may be said of him that his complete recklessness and his apparently irresistible inclination to seek the most exposed and most dangerous places on a field of battle, of necessity deprived him of the power to use his great military abilities and acquirements to the best advantage for the army or the government. He was a gallant soldier and a true and loyal man and will always be remembered with pride and respect by those who knew him in those old days.