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Mobilizing the Armies of the Civil War: Regulars, Volunteers, and Conscripts

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am pre-posting this article because we will be traveling to Germany today. If I get a chance I will post one of a number of articles I have been working on or thinking about over the past few days.

This is another part of my Civil War and Gettysburg text on the formation of the armies that fought the Civil War. 

When one thinks of our all-volunteer force today it is hard to imagine forming armies of this size and scope around such small regular forces. The story of how North and South raised their armies, and the stories of the volunteers of the first part of the war is amazing. I hope that you enjoy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Secession Crisis, Mobilization, and Volunteer Armies

The American Civil War was the first American war fought by massed armies of mobilized citizens. All previous wars had been fought by small numbers of Regular Army troops supported by various numbers of mobilized State Militia formations or volunteer formations raised for the particular war; “The fighting force of the 1860s was a conglomerate of diverse units, each with its own degree of importance, pride, proficiency, and jealousy. Whether of North or South, an army began as little more than a loosely organized mob actuated by more enthusiasm than by experience. Its composition ran the full gauntlet of humankind.” [1]

In 1860 the Regular Army numbered 16,000 troops at the beginning of the war. These included some 1105 officers, and were organized into “ten regiments of infantry, four of artillery, and five of cavalry (including dragoons and mounted riflemen)” [2] These regiments were broken up into small units and they and their soldiers were scattered about in far flung isolated posts around the country and in the new western territories. The units primarily fought Indians and performed what best could be described as constabulary duties. Others, mostly from artillery units manned the coastal defense fortifications that protected American’s key ports and entrances to key waterways along the eastern seaboard. Even so, after the War with Mexico “three quarters army’s artillery had been scrapped” and most of the army’s artillerymen and their units were “made to serve as infantry or cavalry, thus destroying almost completely their efficacy as artillery.” [3]

The secession crisis and the outbreak of the war fractured the army, particularly the officer corps. The officer corps was heavily Southern and many Northern officers had some sympathy with their Southern brothers in arms. It has to be said that of the men holding positions of high command from 1849 to 1861 that many were Southerners:

“all of the secretaries of war were Southerners, as were the general in chief, two of the three brigadier generals, all but one of the army’s geographical departments on the eve of the Civil War, the authors of the two manuals on infantry tactics, and the artillery manual used at West Point, and the professor who taught tactics and strategy at the military academy.” [4]

Most of the Army remained loyal to the Union, “except for 313 officers who resigned their commissions.” [5] Those who remained loyal to the Union included the General in Chief, Winfield Scott, as well as the professor who had taught so many of those now leaving to serve the Confederacy, Dennis Hart Mahan. However, of the others brigadier generals William Harney, David Twiggs and Joseph E. Johnston, Brevet Brigadier General Albert Sidney Johnston, and the army’s Adjutant General, Colonel Samuel Cooper, and the newly promoted Colonel Robert E. Lee all went south. “Even so, 40 to 50 per cent of the Southern West Point graduates on active duty in 1860 held to their posts and remained loyal to the Union.” [6]

A Political Backlash against West Point and the Officer Corps

The exodus of these officers created a backlash against West Point and the professional officers who remained in service of the Union, especially those who were Democrats and to radical Republicans were soft on slavery. Some Republican members of Congress including Senator Ben Wade of Ohio, “figured that political apostasy had been taught at West Point as well, and he didn’t know which sin was worse – it or treason.” [7]The fact that the leaders of the Union forces defeated at Bull run were West Point graduates added incompetence to the list of the crimes, real and imagined committed by the officers of the Regular Army. When Congress reconvened in 1861 Wade said:

I cannot help thinking…that there is something wrong with this whole institution. I do not believe that in the history of the world you can find so many men who have proved themselves utterly faithless to their oaths, ungrateful to the Government that supported them, guilty of treason and a deliberate intention to overthrow that Government which educated them and given them support, as have emanated from this institution…I believe from the idleness of these military educated gentlemen this great treason was hatched.” [8]

Wade did not mention in his blanket his condemnation of the “traitors” that many “West Pointers from the Southern States – 162 of them – had withstood the pull of birth and kin to remain with the Union.” [9]

Wade’s fellow radical Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan urged Congress to dissolve the Military Academy. The academy, he said “has produced more traitors within the last fifty years than all the institutions of learning and education that have existed since Judas Iscariot’s time.” [10] Despite the words and accusations of the radical fire-eaters like Wade and Chandler and other like them, more level headed men prevailed and reminded the nation that there had been many other traitors. Senator James Nesmith of Oregon said: “Treason was hatched and incubated at these very decks around me.” [11]

Politicians and Professionals: Building Volunteer Armies

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Many of the officers who left the army to serve the Confederacy were among the Army’s best and brightest, and many of them later rose to prominence and fame in their service to the Confederacy. In contrast to the officers who remained loyal to the Union, those that many in Congress despised and “pushed aside and passed over” in favor of “officers called back into service or directly appointed from civil life, the “South welcomed its professionals and capitalized on their talents. Sixty-four per cent of the Regular Army officers who went South became generals; less than 30 per cent of those who stayed with the Union achieved that rank.” [12]

The Union had a small Regular Army, which did undergo a significant expansion during the war, and the Confederacy did not even have that. During the war the “Confederacy established a regular army that attained an authorized strength of 15,000” [13] but few men ever enlisted in it. This was in large part due to the same distrust of the central government in Richmond that had been exhibited to Washington before the war.

Thus both sides fell back on the British tradition of calling up volunteers. The British had “invented volunteer system during the Napoleonic Wars, also to save themselves from the expense of permanent expansions of their army, and the United States had taken over the example in the Mexican War…” [14] The volunteer system was different from the militias which were completely under the control of their State and only given to the service of the national government for very limited amounts of time. The volunteers were makeshift organizations operating in a place somewhere between the Regular Army and the State militias and like the British system they saved “Congress the expense of permanently commissioning officers and mustering men into a dramatically expanded Federal service.”[15] As such the volunteer regiments that were raised by the States “were recruited by the states, marched under state-appointed officers carrying their state flag as well as the Stars and Stripes.” [16]

President Lincoln’s call for volunteers appealed “to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity, and the existence of our Northern Union, and the perpetuity of the popular government; and to redress the wrongs already long enough endured.” [17] The Boston Herald proclaimed “In order to preserve this glorious heritage, vouchsafed to us by the fathers of the Republic, it is essential that every man perform his whole duty in a crisis like the present.” [18] The legislature of the State of Mississippi sated its arguments a bit differently and asserted, “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest in the world.” Texas explained that it had joined the Union “as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery – the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits.” [19] A newspaper correspondent wrote:

“All, all of every name and every age to arms! To arms! My father go, my son go, my brother go, your country calls you.” He called out to Southern women as well, “mothers, wives and daughters buckle on the armor of loved ones, the correspondent urged, “bid them with Roman fairness, advance and never return until victory perches on their banner.” [20]

Those who went off to war left their homes and families. Young Rhode Island volunteer Robert Hunt Rhodes wrote that is mother told him “in the spirit worth of a Spartan mother of old said: “My son, other mothers must make sacrifices and why should not I?” [21] The bulk of the soldiers that enlisted on both sides in 1861 were single their median age “was twenty-four. Only one in seven enlistees that first year was eighteen or younger, and fewer than a third were twenty-one or younger.” [22]

Illustrious regiments such as the 1st Minnesota Volunteers, the 20th Maine Volunteers, the 69th New York Volunteer Infantry, and the African American 54thMassachusetts Volunteer Infantry were just a few of the many regiments mustered into Union service under this system. As the war went on and the initial regiments were decimated by losses in combat and to disease, Northern governors “preferred to organize new regiments rather than to replenish old ones whittled down by battle and sickness. Fresh units swelled a state’s contributions, and the provided governors an opportunity to win more political favors by appointing more regimental officers.” [23] This practice produced “an army of shadow units” as “it was up to the regimental commanding officer to keep up a supply of new enlistments from back home for his own regiment, but most commanders could ill afford to detail their precious supply of junior officers for recruiting duty behind the lines.” [24]

Even before secession many Southern states began to prepare for war by building up their militias, both in numbers as well as by sending agents to arms suppliers in the North, as was done by Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown who “sent an official north to purchase arms, ammunition and accouterments.” [25] After the bombardment of Fort Sumter both sides raced to build up their militaries. Jefferson Davis, the new President of the Confederacy who was a West Point graduate and former Secretary of War called for volunteers. On March 6th 1861 the new Provisional Confederate Congress in Montgomery authorized Davis to “call out the militia for six months and to accept 100,000 twelve-month volunteers.” [26] Within weeks they had passed additional legislation allowing for the calling up of volunteers for six months, twelve months and long-term volunteers up to any length of time. “Virginia’s troops were mustered en masse on July 1, 1861, by which time the state had 41,885 volunteers on its payroll.” [27]

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With the legislation in hand Davis rapidly called up over 60,000 troops to the Confederate Cause, and this was before Virginia and North Carolina seceded from the Union. A mixture of former Regular Army officers commanded these men, most of whom occupied the senior leadership positions in the army, volunteer officers, made up the bulk of the Confederate officer corps. “Well over 700 former students at Virginia Military Institute served as officers in the war, most in the Virginia Theater….” [28]Among these men was Robert Rodes who became one of Robert E. Lee’s finest division commanders.

In the North Abraham Lincoln was in a quandary. Congress was out of session, so relying on the Militia Act of 1795 called out 75,000 three-month militiamen to support the Union cause. The legislatures of the Northern States so well that the over-recruited and in this first call up the government “accepted 9,816 men, but governors clamored for the War Department to take still more troops.” [29] Dan Sickles, a rather infamous Democrat politician was one of these men. Sickles had been a Democratic Congressman representing the district of New York City that was in the control of Tammany Hall. In 1859 Sickles stood trial for the murder of Barton Key, the District Attorney for Washington D.C. and the nephew of Francis Scott Key. Key had been conducting an affair with Sickles’ young wife Maria and in a fit of anger Sickles confronted Key, who had been spotted attempting a liaison with Maria and shot him dead near Lafayette Square and the White House. Sickles was acquitted on the basis of temporary insanity becoming the first man in the United States to have that distinction.

The ambitious Sickles, “almost overnight, using flag-waving oratory, organizational skills, and promissory notes, had his regiment, the 70th New York Volunteers, well in hand.” [30] Not content with a regiment and knowing that a brigade would bring him his star as a brigadier general, he quickly the Excelsior Brigade in New York.

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Major General Dan Sickles

Within weeks Sickles had raised over 3000 men, a full forty companies and the New York Newspapers praised Sickles’ efforts. But partisan politics was at play. To Governor Edward Morgan, the fact that a Tammany Hall Democrat “was getting too far out ahead in the state’s race to supply manpower to the endangered Union” [31] was embarrassing and the Governor ordered Sickles to “disband all but eight of his forty companies.” [32] The incredulous, yet ambitious Sickles, knowing that Lincoln needed Democratic support to prosecute the war, traveled to Washington where after seeking an audience with the President. Lincoln was hesitant to infringe on any governor’s control of state units, but he was loath to lose the services of any soldiers. Lincoln discussed the matter with Secretary of War Simon Cameron and they ordered that Sickles “keep his men together until they could be inducted by United States officers.” [33] That process took two moths but in July Sickles was able to have the brigade sworn into service as a brigade of United States Volunteers.

For Sickles and most officers, volunteer and regular alike a regiment was a large military formation Likewise, a brigade massive and for most of these men divisions and corps on the scale of those found in Europe were almost unthinkable, but war was changing and this would be the scope of the coming war.

More troops were needed and with Congress out of session, President Lincoln acted “without legal authority…and increased the Regular Army by 22,714 men and the Navy by 18,000 and called for 42,034 three-year volunteers.” [34] On July 4th 1861 Lincoln “asked sanction for his extralegal action and for authority to raise at least another 400,000 three-year volunteers.” [35] Congress approved both of the President’s requests, retroactively, and in fact, “greatly expanded the numbers of volunteer recruitments, up to a million men – nothing more than the 1795 statute authorized either of these follow-up calls, and Lincoln would later have to justify his actions on the admittedly rather vague basis of the “war powers of the government.” [36]

In the North “the war department was staggered by the task of finding competent officers for an already numbering nearly half a million.” [37] There were so few professional officers available to either side that vast numbers of volunteer officers of often dubious character and ability were appointed to command the large number of volunteer regiments and brigades which were being rapidly mustered into service. Within months of the secession crisis the Regular Army of the United States, minus the officers who resigned to serve the Confederacy, “was swamped by a Union war army that reached about 500,000 within four months of the firing on Fort Sumter.” [38]

The Regular Army officers who remained loyal to the Union as well as those who left the army and joined the newly formed Confederacy were joined by a host of volunteer officers. Some of these officers, men like Ulysses Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, George McClellan, Braxton Bragg, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Jubal Early, and many others had left the army for any number of reasons only to return to the colors of the Union or the Confederacy during the secession crisis or at the outbreak of the war. Some of these men like George Sears Greene and Isaac Trimble Many were West Point graduates who had left the army decades before the war and almost to a man “nearly all of them displayed an old regular’s distrust of any general who had risen by political means.” [39] The hold of West Point and the teachings of Dennis Hart Mahan regarding professionalism had left a lasting imprint on these men.

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Another issue faced by all of the officers now commanding large formations in the Civil War was their inexperience in dealing with such large numbers of troops. When the war began, the officers educated at West Point, as well as others who had been directly appointed had previously only commanded small units. Even regimental commanders such as Joseph Johnston, Albert Sidney Johnston, and Robert E. Lee seldom had more than a few companies of their regiments with them at any given time for any given operation. Likewise, the men who had campaigned and fought in Mexico who had some experience in handling larger formations had for the most part left the service. The senior officers who had served in Mexico and that remained on active duty were handicapped because the Mexican war was still very much a limited Napoleonic War fought with Napoleonic era weapons against a more numerous but poorly equipped and trained enemy.

Other volunteer officers had little or no military experience or training and owed their appointments as officers to their political connections, business acumen or their ability to raise troops. It was not atypical for a volunteer officer to gain his rank and appointment based on the number of that he brought into the army, “if he recruited a regiment he became a colonel, while if he brought in a brigade he was rewarded with the shining star of a brigadier general.” [40] This led to a type of general “appointed for their political influence or – at least in the North with its more heterogeneous population – their leadership of ethnic groups.” [41] Despite the dangers of their inexperience, both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis had to appoint such men in order to maintain political support for the war.

Some of these men proved disastrous as commanders and their ineptness cost many lives. Henry Wager Halleck, wrote “It seems but little better than murder to give important commands to such men as Banks, Butler, McClernand, Sigel, and Lew Wallace…yet it seems impossible to prevent it.” [42] That being said some of the volunteer politically appointed generals proved to be exceptional learners of the art of war and impressive commanders in the own right.

Among the officers appointed for political considerations by Abraham Lincoln were the prominent Democratic politicians “Benjamin F. Butler, Daniel E. Sickles, John A. McClernand, John A. Logan.” [43] Among those commissioned to enlist immigrant support were Major General Carl Schurz and Brigadier General Alexander Schimmelpfennig who helped mobilize German immigrants to the Union cause. Both men were refugees from the failed revolution of 1848. Likewise, Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher, a survivor of the 1848 revolt in Ireland, who had escaped imprisonment in Australia helped to recruit and then commanded the famous Irish Brigade, whose regiments of Irish immigrants marched under the colors of the United States and the Green flag with the Harp of Erin.

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The Irish and the German soldiers volunteered in large part because they saw the Union as the hope of their people that had given them refuge from tyranny in Europe. The Irish, under the religious, political and economic thumb of Britain fled to the United States, many the victims of famine. The Irish were not sympathetic as a whole to the plight of slave and many sympathized with the South, their desire to save the Union was greater and they volunteered in overwhelming numbers. One Irish Sergeant wrote his family in Ireland who did not understand why he fought for the Union:

“Destroy this republic and her hopes are blasted If Irland is ever ever [sic] free the means to accomplish it must come from the shore of America…When we are fighting for America we are fighting for the intrest of Irland striking a double blow cutting with a two edged sword For while we strike in defense of the rights of Irishmen here we are striking a blow at Irlands enemy and oppressor England hates this country because of its growing power and greatness She hates it for its republican liberty and she hates it because Irishmen have a home and government here and a voice in the counsels of the nation that is growing stronger every day which bodes no good for her.” [44]

Thus for many Irishmen fighting for the Union had a twofold purpose, seeing the war as Americans as well as Irishmen, they were fighting for Ireland as much as they were fighting for the Union. Some too believed that the war would be a training ground for Irishmen who would someday return home to drive the English from their homeland. Thomas Meagher the commander of the Irish Brigade explained,

“It is a moral certainty that many of our countrymen who enlist in this struggle for the maintenance of the Union will fall in the contest. But, even so; I hold that if only one in ten of us come back when this war is over, the military experience gained by that one will be of more service in the fight for Ireland’s freedom than would that of the entire ten as they are now.” [45]

Many Germans and others were driven from their homeland in the wake of the failed revolutions of 1848. Having been long under autocratic and oligarchic rule in the old country many of the German, Polish and other volunteers who fled after the failed revolutions of 1848 “felt that not only was the safety of the great Republic, the home of their exiled race, at stake, but also the great principle of democracy were at issue with the aristocratic doctrines of monarchism. Should the latter prevail, there was no longer any hope for the struggling nationalities of the Old World.”[46] These immigrant soldiers saw the preservation of the Union in a profoundly universal way, as the last hope of the oppressed everywhere. Eventually the Germans became “the most numerous foreign nationality in the Union armies. Some 200,000 of them wore the blue. The 9th Wisconsin was an all-German regiment. The 46th New York was one of ten Empire State units almost totally German in makeup.” [47]

In the North a parallel system “composed of three kinds of military organizations” developed as calls for “militia, volunteers and an expanded regular army” went out. [48] A number of regular army officers were allowed to command State regiments or brigades formed of State units, but this was the exception rather than the rule. One of these men was John Gibbon who commanded the legendary Iron Brigade at the beginning of its existence through its first year of combat.

In the South too men without little or no military training and experience raised companies and regiments for the Confederate cause. Like Lincoln Jefferson Davis had to satisfy political faction as well as some prominent politicians aspirations for military glory. Thus Davis “named such men as Robert A. Toombs of Georgia and John B. Floyd and Henry A. Wise of Virginia as generals.” [49] These men were not alone; many more politicians would receive appointments from Davis and the Confederate Congress.

Some of these men were gifted in recruiting but were sadly deficient as commanders. Men like John Brockenbrough and Edward O’Neal were capable of raising troops but in combat proved to be so inept that they got their men slaughtered and were removed from the army of Northern Virginia by Robert E. Lee. But others including South Carolina’s Wade Hampton, Georgia’s John Gordon and Virginia’s William “Little Billy” Mahone, none of who had any appreciable military experience proved to be among the best division commanders in Lee’s army. By 1864 Gordon was serving as an acting Corps commander and Hampton had succeeded the legendary J.E.B. Stuart as commander of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Lower ranking officers in the regiments formed by the states on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, were most often elected by their units. During the war, some of these lower ranking officers rapidly progressed up the ranks and rose to command regiments and brigades, mostly due to their natural leadership abilities. That being said the volunteer system in which units elected their officers often to be fraught with problems. “Officers who might be popular as good fellows but who knew neither how to give orders and to get them obeyed nor even what kind of orders to give….At his worst, the volunteer officer could be as fully ignorant and irresponsible as the men he was supposed to command.” [50] Such officers proved to be a source of repeated concern for the professional officers who served alongside them.

John Reynolds, fresh from his assignment as Commandant of Cadets at West Point noted of the Pennsylvania volunteers that he commanded, “They do not any of them, officers or men, seem to have the least idea of the solemn duty they have imposed on themselves in becoming soldiers. Soldiers they are not in any sense of the word.” [51] In time both the Federal and Confederate armies instituted systems of qualifying exams for commissioned officers in order to weed out the worst of the incompetent officers.

Given the limitations of the volunteer officers who made up the bulk of the men commanding companies, battalions and regiments, “for the average soldier was that drill became his training for the realities of actual battlefield fighting.” This was helpful in getting “large and unwieldy bodies of men to the battlefield itself, but it generally turned out to be useless one the shooting started, especially as units lost cohesion and started to take casualties.” [52] This was much in evidence on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg when Brigadier General Joseph Davis’s untested brigade got caught in the Railroad Cut and was decimated by Union troops.

These men, the regulars and the volunteers, were now faced with the task of organizing, training and employing large armies made up primarily of militia units and volunteers. Most had little experience commanding such units and their experience with militia and volunteer formations during the Mexican War did not increase the appreciation of Regulars for them or for their leaders. J.F.C Fuller noted that at the beginning of the war “the Federal soldier was semiregular and the Confederate semiguerilla. The one strove after discipline, the other unleashed initiative. In battle the Confederate fought like a berserker, but out of battle he ceased to be a soldier.”[53] Both required certain kinds of leadership and Regular officers serving in both the Union and Confederate armies “embedded with the volunteers to give them some professional stiffening privately regarded them as uncontrollable adolescents who kicked off every back-home restraint the moment they were on campaign.” [54] Over the course of time this did change as the units of both armies learned to be professional soldiers.

At the beginning of the war General George McClellan successful fought the break-up of the Regular United States Army, “which some argued should be split up to train volunteer brigades” [55] as had his predecessor General Winfield Scott. He and Scott helped keep it separate from the militia units organized by the States, “keeping it intact as the nucleus of an expandable army.” [56] This preserved a professional core in a time where the new volunteer units were learning their craft, but McClellan did approve of a measure to have regular officers command some of the new volunteer brigades.

Regular Army units were formed for the duration of the war and were exclusively under the control of the Federal government. While comparatively few in number, they often held the line and kept the Army of the Potomac intact during some early battles where volunteer units collapsed. Volunteer regiments, often officered by regulars or former regulars “remained state-based, and they signed up for two- or three- year periods, after which they returned to civilian life and their evaporated without any further fiscal obligations.” [57] Some of the volunteer regiments were formed from various state militia units, but since few states had effective militia systems, militia units “were usually employed only on emergency rear-echelon duties, to free up the volunteers and regulars.” [58]

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The Confederacy faced a similar situation to the Union, but it did not have a Regular Army and all of its units were raised by the various states. “In early 1861 the Confederate Congress authorized the creation of a provisional army of 100,000 men. To get these troops [the first Confederate Secretary of War Leroy Pope] Walker asked state governors to raise regiments and transfer them to the national army. The War Office provided generals and staff officers and, in theory at least, could employ the troops and their officers in any way it pleased once they mustered the provisional army.” [59] Some states were quite cooperative but others were not and the tension between the central government in Richmond in regard to military policy and some states would continue throughout the war. The quality of these units varied widely, mostly based on the leadership provided by their officers. That being said, many of the regiments mustered into service early in the war proved tough and resilient serving with distinction throughout the war.

Like the Federal forces, Southern units were officered by a collection of professionals from the ante-bellum Army, militia officers, political appointees or anyone with enough money to raise a unit. However command of divisional sized units and above was nearly always reserved to former professional soldiers from the old Army, most being graduates of West Point. At Gettysburg only one officer commanding a division or above in the Army of Northern Virginia was a non-academy graduate. This was the young and dashing Robert Rodes, who was a graduate of VMI. The quality of these officers varied greatly, as some of the old regulars failed miserably in combat and some of the volunteers such as John Gordon were remarkably successful as leaders of troops in combat.

As in the North, Southern militia and home guard units remained to free up the volunteer regiments and brigades fighting with the field armies. However, due to the South was always wrestling with the intense independence of every state government, each of which often held back units from service with the field armies in order to ensure their own states’ defense.

The withholding of troops and manpower by the states hindered Confederate war efforts, even though “the draft had been “eminently successful” in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, but less so in Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.” [60] In the latter states, especially Georgia some Confederate Governors used militia appointments to protect men from the draft, classifying them as key civil servants in defiance of the needs of Richmond and the field armies for troops to fight the war.

The Changing Character of the Armies and SocietyFrom All-Volunteer to Conscription: The Beginning of the Draft

Gettysburg was the last battle where the original volunteer armies predominated as the nature of both armies was changed by the war. Initially both sides sought to fight the war with volunteers but the increasingly costly battles which consumed vast numbers of men necessitated conscription and the creation of draft laws and bureaus.

The in April 1862 Confederate Congress passed the Conscription Act of 1862 which stated that “all persons residing in the Confederate States, between the ages of 18 and 35 years, and rightfully subject to military duty, shall be held to be in the military service of the Confederate States, and that a plain and simple method be adopted for their prompt enrollment and organization.” [61] The act was highly controversial, often resisted and the Confederate Congress issued a large number of class exemptions. Despite the exemptions “many Southerners resisted the draft or assisted evasion by others” [62] The main purpose of the conscription act was “to stimulate volunteering rather than by its actual use” [63] and while it did help increase the number of soldiers in Confederate service by the end of 1862 it was decidedly unpopular among soldiers, chafing at an exemption for “owners or overseers of twenty or more slaves” [64] who referred to the war as a “rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight.” [65]

Some governors who espoused state’s rights viewpoints “utilized their state forces to challenge Richmond’s centralized authority, hindering efficient manpower mobilization.” [66] Some, most notably Georgia’s governor Joseph Brown “denounced the draft as “a most dangerous usurpation by Congress of the rights of the States…at war with all principles for which Georgia entered the revolution.” [67] Governor Brown and a number of other governors, including Zebulon Vance of North Carolina fought the law in the courts but when overruled resisted it through the many exemption loopholes, especially that which they could grant to civil servants.

In Georgia, Governor Brown “insisted that militia officers were included in this category, and proceeded to appoint hundreds of new officers.” [68] Due to the problems with the Conscription Act of 1862 and the abuses by the governors, Jefferson Davis lobbied Congress to pass the Conscription Act of 1864. This act was designed to correct problems related to exemptions and “severely limited the number of draft exemption categories and expanded military age limits from eighteen to forty-five and seventeen to fifty. The most significant feature of the new act, however, was the vast prerogatives it gave to the President and War Department to control the South’s labor pool.” [69] Despite these problems the Confederacy eventually “mobilized 75 to 80 percent of its available draft age military population.” [70]

The Congress of the United States authorized conscription in 1863 as the Union Army had reached an impasse as in terms of the vast number of men motivated to serve “for patriotic reasons or peer group pressure were already in the army” while “War weariness and the grim realities of army life discouraged further volunteering” and “the booming war economy had shrunk the number of unemployed men to the vanishing point.”[71] Like the Confederate legislation it was also tremendously unpopular and ridden with exemptions and abuses. The Federal draft was conducted by lottery in each congressional district with each district being assigned a quota to meet by the War Department. Under one third of the men drafted actually were inducted into the army, “more than one-fifth (161,000 of 776,000) “failed to report” and about 300,000 “were exempted for physical or mental disability or because they convinced the inducting officer that they were the sole means of support for a widow, an orphan sibling, a motherless child, or an indigent parent.” [72]

There was also a provision in the Federal draft law that allowed well off men to purchase a substitute who they would pay other men to take their place. Some 26,000 men paid for this privilege, including future President Grover Cleveland. Another “50,000 Northerners escaped service by another provision in the Enrollment Act known as “commutation,” which allowed draftees to bay $300 as an exemption fee to escape the draft.” [73]Many people found the notion that the rich could buy their way out of war found the provision repulsive to the point that violence ensued in a number of large cities.

The Union draft law provoked great resentment, not because people were unwilling to serve, but from the way that it was administered, for it “brought the naked power of military government into play on the home front and went much against the national grain.” [74] Open clashes and violence erupted in several cities and President Lincoln was forced to use Union Soldiers, recently victorious at Gettysburg to end the rioting and violence taking place in New York where protestors involved in a three day riot, many of whom were Irish immigrants urged on by Democratic Tammany Hall politicians, “soon degenerated into violence for its own sake” [75] wrecking the draft office, seizing the Second Avenue armory, attacking police and soldiers on the streets. Soon “the mob had undisputed control of the city.” [76]These rioters also took out their anger on blacks, and during their rampage the rioters “had lynched black people and burned the Colored Orphan Asylum.” [77] The newly arrived veteran Union troops quickly and violently put down the insurrection and “poured volleys into the ranks of protestors with the same deadly effect they had produced against the rebels at Gettysburg two weeks earlier.” [78] Republican newspapers which supported abolition and emancipation were quick to point out the moral of the riots; “that black men who fought for the Union deserved more respect than white men who fought against it.” [79]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.19

[2] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.141

[3] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.141

[4] McPherson, James M. Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1996 pp.17-18

[5] Ibid. Weigley, American Strategy from Its Beginnings through the First World War in Makers of Modern Strategy, from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Agep.419

[6] Ibid. Huntington The Soldier and the State p.213

[7] Ibid Waugh The Class of 1846, p. 513

[8] Ibid Waugh The Class of 1846, pp. 512-513

[9] Ibid Waugh The Class of 1846, p. 513

[10] Ibid Waugh The Class of 1846, p. 513

[11] Ibid Waugh The Class of 1846, p. 513

[12] Ibid. Huntington The Soldier and the State p.213

[13] Millet, Allan R. and Maslowski, Peter For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, revised and expanded edition The Free Press, New York 1994 p.175

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.143

[15] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.143

[16] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.142

[17] Moe, Richard The Last Full Measure: The Life and Death of the 1stMinnesota Volunteers Minnesota Historical Society Press, St Paul MN 1993 p.13

[18] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.6

[19] Glatthaar, Joseph T. General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse The Free Press, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2008 p.15

[20] McCurry, Stephanie Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South Harvard University Press, Cambridge and London 2010 pp. 82-83

[21] Rhodes, Robert Hunt ed. All for the Union: The Civil War Diaries and Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes, Vintage Civil War Library, Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 1985 p.4

[22] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.18

[23] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.24

[24] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.263

[25] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.15

[26] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defensep.165

[27] Sheehan-Dean, Aaron Confederate Enlistment in Civil War Virginia in Major Problems in the Civil War and Reconstruction, Third Edition edited by Michael Perman and Amy Murrell Taylor Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.189

[28] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.26

[29] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defensep.165

[30] Sears, Stephen W. Controversies and Commanders Mariner Books, Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1999 p.201

[31] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.201

[32] Swanberg, W.A. Sickles the Incredible copyright by the author 1958 and 1984 Stan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1991 p.117

[33] Keneally, Thomas American Scoundrel: The Life of the Notorious Civil War General Dan Sickles Anchor Books a Division of Random House 2003 p.222

[34] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defensep.165

[35] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defensep.165

[36] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.142

[37] Nichols, Edward J. Toward Gettysburg: A Biography of John Fulton Reynolds Pennsylvania State University Press, Philadelphia 1958. Reprinted by Old Soldier Books, Gaithersburg MD 1987 p.78

[38] Ibid. Weigley, American Strategy from Its Beginnings through the First World War in Makers of Modern Strategy, from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Agep.419

[39] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.202

[40] Ibid. Swanberg, Sickles the Incredible p.117

[41] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defensep.172

[42] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.328

[43] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.328

[44] Bruce, Susannah Ural The Harp and the Flag: Irish American Volunteers and the Union Army, 1861-1865 New York University Press, New York and London 2006 pp.54-55

[45] Ibid. Bruce The Harp and the Flag p55

[46] Gallagher, Gary W. The Union War Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 2011

[47] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.28

[48] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.143

[49] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.328

[50] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.245

[51] Ibid. Nichols Toward Gettysburg p.79

[52] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.246

[53] Fuller, J.F.C. Decisive Battles of the U.S.A. 1776-1918 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 2007 copyright 1942 The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals p.182

[54] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.12

[55] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.37

[56] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.38

[57] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.143

[58] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.143

[59] Thomas, Emory The Confederate Nation 1861-1865 Harper Perennial, New York and London 1979 p.74

[60] Gallagher, Gary W. The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism and Military Strategy Could not Stave Off Defeat Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1999 p.34

[61] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.152

[62] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.152

[63] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p. 432

[64] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.154

[65] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.431

[66] Millet, Allan R. and Maslowski, Peter, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States The Free Press a Division of Macmillan Inc. New York, 1984 p.166

[67] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.433

[68] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.431

[69] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.261

[70] Ibid. Gallagher The Confederate War p.28

[71] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.600

[72] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.601

[73] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.460

[74] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.635

[75] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.636

[76] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.637

[77] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.687

[78] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.610

[79] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.687

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Walking the Good and Bad Ground at Gettysburg


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I’m in Gettysburg this weekend getting a chance to do some research and walking areas of the battlefield that I have stopped at but never fully explored on foot. Trust me, there is a difference when you actually walk the ground versus making stops and looking around.


I drove up this morning and thankfully traffic was light and there were no traffic jams at any point along the way which meant I made the trip in just a bit over four hours. When I got here I checked into my hotel, unloaded my stuff and set to work walking the route I had planned out. My hotel is right at the base of East Cemetery Hill where the Union troops rallied on the night of July 1st 1863. I decided that I would walk through the town and up to McPherson’s Ridge where John Buford’s cavalry and John Reynolds’s First Corps fought A.P. Hill’s Third Confederate Corps, before turning north past the unfinished Railroad Cut and Oak Ridge on my way to Oak Hill where Confederate General Robert Rhodes’ division of Dick Ewell’s Second Confederate Corps went into action.


Oak Hill is the site of the Eternal Peace Monument which was dedicated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1938 as a symbol of reconciliation between the North and South. It bears the words “Peace Eternal in a Nation United”. That was a mere seventy-nine years ago and my heart breaks when I see the same forces at work which tore apart the nation in the years before the Civil War, and sadly they are being stirred up by President Trump who more resembles the incompetence of James Buchanan coupled with the malevolence of Jefferson Davis than Abraham Lincoln, or the loyal opposition of Stephen Douglas.



As I looked out from that high ground I saw the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside still covered in Fall foliage with fields of Sorghum ready for harvest, and cornfields waiting to be plowed over for the next season. Directly in front of me was the ground that two of Rodes’s brigades, those of Alfred Iverson and Edward O’Neal, both incompetent pro-secession political generals sent their units into the attack leading to their slaughter. As I walked into the field where those soldiers fell I felt a certain amount of sadness for them. Yes, most of them made the choice to enlist in the Confederate cause, while others joined out of peer pressure, or others because they were drafted: but none signed up to be slaughtered at the hands of their incompetent commanders. One regiment, the 23rd North Carolina lost 89% of the men it took into battle in barely half an hour of combat. As I walked across that swale in front of Oak Ridge where the men of John Robinson’s division awaited them I was struck by the tragedy of men who went into battle for an unjust and unrighteous cause who fell in such large numbers on July 1st 1863. I wrote in the draft of my yet unpublished Gettysburg book:

When the Confederates got to about fifty yards of Baxter’s troops the commander of the 83rd New York, the Swiss born lieutenant Colonel Joseph A. Moesch shouted: “Up men, and fire.” Moesch rode behind his line cheering his men on, but they needed no urging. In the words of one of one, “The men are no longer human, they are demons; a curse from the living here, a moan from the dying there. ‘Give them — shouts one.’ See them run’ roars another.” The well concealed veterans of Baxter regiments slaughtered them as they had O’Neal’s men just minutes before. “One regiment went down in such a neat row that when its survivors waves shirt tails, or any piece of cloth remotely white, Iverson thought that the whole regiment of live men were surrendering.” As the Confederate attack collapsed some “of the regiments in Robinson’s division changed front again, charged, and captured nearly all the men who were left unhurt in three of Iverson’s regiments.” Official Confederate reports list only 308 missing but that number differs from the Union reports, Robinson reporting 1000 prisoners and three flags and Baxter’s brigade nearly 400. As Robinson’s troops smashed the brigades of O’Neal and Iverson, they were joined by the remnants of Cutler’s brigade which changed its face from west to north to deliver more devastating fire into the Confederates.



From there I went over to Oak Ridge and then made my way to Blocher’s Knoll, now know as Barlow’s Knoll. Once you leave Oak Ridge the ground to the east is flat and relatively devoid of any good defensive positions. The Union Eleventh Corps Commander, Major General Oliver O. Howard sent two of his understrength divisions under the command of Carl Schulz to link up with the right flank of Robinson’s division and extend the Federal line to prevent it from being flanked. Unfortunately, one of the division commanders, Francis Barlow decided to advance his division to Blocher’s Knoll which was a mile in front of where Schurz and Howard intended. Noticing what was going on Schurz ordered the other division under the command of Schimmelpfenning to extend its line to maintain contact with Barlow’s division. But there were not enough troops to fill the gap. The line was barely a skirmish line and with no good defensive ground it could do little to stop a determined Confederate attack. Which was exactly what occurred.


George Doles’s brigade of Rodes division, strongly supported by artillery attacked the thin blue line of Schimmelpfenning’s division just as Gordon and Hays Brigades of Jubal Early’s division enveloped Barlow’s terribly exposed division. The men of Barlow and Schimmelpfennig’s divisions made a spirited and fierce defense before they were overwhelmed and retreated to Gettysburg, some making a fighting retreat, others fleeing the Confederate advance, many were killed, wounded or captured. Barlow lay wounded and was given aid by John Gordon who later became a lifelong friend. Schimmelpfennig was rescued from certain capture by a woman in the town who allowed him to hide in a shed behind her home as the Confederates moved into the town.


The memorials to these forgotten and often slandered soldiers line the road from the Mummasburg Road to Barlow’s Knoll. They did fight hard as A private of the 61st Georgia Infantry of Gordon’s brigade noted that the XI Corps troops “stood firm until we got near them. Then they began to retreat in good order. They were harder to drive than we had known them before….Their officers were cheering their men and behaving like heroes and commanders of ‘the first water’”

The 157th New York, was order to help shore up the line. The regiment advanced and engaged in a furious twenty minute fight, continuing the battle “in Indian fashion” until Schurz ordered them to retreat. The gallant 157th sacrificed itself buying time for others to withdraw and left over 75 percent of its men on the battlefield, when the order came, “less than fifty of the 157th were able to rise out of the wheat and follow.” “So the horrible screaming, hurtling messengers of death flew over us from both sides,” recollected a New York soldier. “In such a storm it seemed a miracle that any were left alive.” Krzyzanowski described the scene as “a portrait of hell.”

When one walks that ground it is impossible how that any unit of similar size or composition could have held against the massive pincer attack of Doles’s brigade and Early’s division on Barlow’s exposed position.


As I walked back into town I could imagine the chaos of the retreating Union troops as well as the victorious Confederates as day turned into evening. The Union troops who escaped made their way to link up with Steinwehr’s division and the Eleventh Corps artillery which had been positioned on Cemetery Hill as well as the survivors of the Union First Corps which had fought the Confederate Third Corps to a standstill before being forced back due to weight of numbers. I finished my walk by going up to Cemetery Hill where with the sun beginning to go down I walked among the graves of the fallen Union soldiers and a monument to John Reynolds who fell on McPherson’s Ridge.

As I noted a couple of months ago when I described my walk at Antietam, there is something immensely valuable about walking these battlefields. First, one gets to experience the elements of weather, distance, and terrain which are helpful in understanding what it was like for the soldiers involved. Second, one can see the battle from the perspective of those soldiers, imagining what it would be like to be deal with being under fire on that ground. One understands what men like John Buford and John Reynolds meant when they said that certain terrain was “good ground.” You don’t understand that until you walk it.


I finished tonight with a friend who met me here going to a number of pubs and walking through the town. While walking I saw a number of the churches that served as field hospitals, including Christ Lutheran. The horror of those hospitals is unimaginable to most of us. I have worked in inner city trauma centers and been in field hospitals in Iraq with our wounded and nothing can really prepare you for the horror of blown up, destroyed, and burned bodies of still living men on a such a massive scale.

But what I have experienced pales in comparison to what occurred at Gettysburg and Antietam, and what will certainly happen if war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula. I have been in the military all my adult life and I dread what I see coming, but since I know that chances are that it will happen I prepare myself and the men and women who serve under me for it. Sadly, most people, even those who have experienced combat in our recent wars are capable of imagining the carnage and horror of the next war. As a historian and a chaplain who has seen combat and a lot of other violent death I can well imagine it and no I don’t sleep well with that knowledge, especially when I see our President rattling sabers so often with seemingly little concern for the men and women that he will be committing to combat. In light of how he has dealt with the deaths of U.S. military personnel since he has been in office, taking no responsibility for any of them, passing the responsibility to military leaders, I tremble at the thought of what his next tweet might bring, but I digress.

Anyway, tomorrow begins another day of exploring parts of the battlefield on foot. Today I walked just over thirteen miles. I think that tomorrow I may well exceed that. I will tell you about that walk tomorrow night.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Cemetery & Culp’s Hill Pt 5

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am catching up from  from another trip with my students to Gettysburg, and happen to be posting my newest additions to my text, these dealing with the battles for Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill which occurred on the night of July 2nd and early morning of July 3rd 1863. I hope you enjoy.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

greene monument

When the divisions Alpheus Williams and John Geary marched away to meet the threat to Cemetery Ridge, only George Greene’s brigade remained to defend Culp’s Hill. In addition to his own position, Greene found his brigade “guarding nearly half a mile of Twelfth Corps works.” [1] Much like Joshua Chamberlain on the extreme left of the Union line, “Greene ended up with a much-thinned single-rank battle line without reserves.” [2] Greene only had between 1,300 and 1,400 men and one battery of artillery, but he made the most of them taking advantage of the natural terrain features as well as the entrenchments which his men and the other Twelfth Corps units had prepared. He “formed his brigade in a single line, with spaces between the men, regiments moving to the right as the line lengthened.” [3] In addition he sent out his smallest regiment, the 78th New York “The Cameron Highlanders” down the hillside to act as skirmishers where they joined with men of the 60th New York.

culp's hill

Allegheny Johnson and his division drew the toughest assignment on this warm summer evening. Since it arrived on the battlefield the previous night it was sheltered to the rear of Brenner’s Hill about a mile east of Gettysburg north of the Hannover Road, where with the exception of sending some skirmishers to Rock Creek, “Johnson kept his infantry concealed and quiet throughout the day.” [4] His four brigades, one of Louisianans under the Colonel Jesse Williams, and the brigades of Brigadier Generals John M. Jones, George “Maryland” Steuart, and James Walker, were primarily Virginians. His four brigades had sat inactive the entire day and impatiently awaited orders to attack, with one staff officer “prudently “conducting religious services…the men gladly joining the solemn exercises.” [5]

When Latimer’s battered artillery battalion withdrew from Brenner’s Hill, Ewell gave orders for the attack to begin. At about seven o’clock Johnson ordered his troops forward, but unlike Early’s troops who were well deployed in a position where they could immediately attack Cemetery Hill, John’s brigades had to make a march over bad, obstacle strewn ground in order to get to their attack positions, and the advance did not go according to plan. James Walker’s “Stonewall” Brigade had to be left behind “to settle accounts with aggressive skirmishers from General Gregg’s cavalry division who had persisted in harassing his left flank and rear.” [6] This stubborn fight of the Union Cavalry troopers prevented “the entire Stonewall Brigade from taking its place in Ewell’s assault column” as Walker “was so flustered by the resistance that he encountered that he deferred his movement to Culp’s Hill, fearing to uncover Ewell’s left to Union observers.” [7] This deprived the Confederates of a quarter of their strength before the attack even began.

ewells-attack-on-culps-hill

As the remaining brigades of the division, “Jones, Williams, and Steuart, in that order, reached Rock Creek, they discovered waist-deep water that would take time to negotiate.” [8] In addition to the high water the far back was very steep and “infested with Yankee soldiers ready to contest any passage.” The officer commanding the skirmishers wrote, “We held this point with the briskest fire we could concentrate…. I decided to…sweep them as the crossed the brook.” [9] The delay cost the Confederates another half hour and the Union troops slowly withdrew up the slope continuing to maintain fire as they withdrew “using “the heavy timber” to make “every tree and rock a veritable battlefield.” [10] As the New Yorkers withdrew, the brigades of Jones and Williams had to make the assault up the steep and rugged slope of Culp’s Hill, and by now it was dark. The main part of Culp’s Hill, where these brigades attack “with its steep, rock strew slopes broken here and there by cliffs fifteen to twenty feet high, afforded great protection to its defenders,” [11] who as previously noted had worked hard to fortify the already imposing ground. Johnson himself was concerned about the effect of the terrain on the advance as “the Confederate infantry halted from time to time, waiting for its advance to clear the way.” [12]

Johnson sent some 4,700 men up Culp’s Hill to attack Greene’s 1,300 dug in veterans. “That kind of manpower edge would have likely been decisive elsewhere on the field that day, but against Pop Greene’s providential and well-constructed breastworks the odds leveled out.” [13] The Confederate troops continued to move up the slope battling the persistent skirmishers the entire way when they discovered another unpleasant surprise. Greene had concealed his men, even hiding the colors below the barricades to disguise his positions and he waited until the Confederates were almost upon his positions and had stopped to dress the line, before opening “a general open fire “like chain lightening” from his brigade.” [14] The fire had a devastating effect on the Confederate’s, whose line wavered. A captain of the 44th Virginia remembered that “all was confusion and disorder.” Private Benjamin Jones of the 44th remembered the enemy’s works as “a ditch filled with men firing down on their heads.” [15] The volleys of Greene’s men from “in front and the abattis behind trapped John Marshall Jones’ Virginia brigade “scarcely thirty yards from the enemy’s breastworks,” [16] forcing them to take cover for nearly fifteen minutes while their officers figured out what to do. Finally they rose up and stormed the works. They charged four times, and General Jones was wounded in the leg, forcing him to turn over command of his brigade. The attacks of Jones and William’s brigades “were bloody disasters. The steep pitch of the hill and the darkness of the hour, compounded by the rocks and brush that everywhere hindered movement, rendered any sort of coherent assault an impossibility.” [17] Finally, the Confederates withdrew to the base of the hill where they established a foothold and tried to regroup.

Greene’s men fought hard but Greene was not ready to rest on his laurels. He requested reinforcements from First and Eleventh Corps on his left. Despite being under attack himself, James Wadsworth, who had fought his division so well at McPherson’s and seminary Ridge the previous day, “promptly sent two regiments, the 6th Wisconsin and the 84th New York. Howard, in response to Greene’s call had Schurz hurry over the 82nd Illinois, the 45th New York, the 157th New York, and the 61st Ohio.” [18] However, the six regiments that arrived had been reduced to fractions of their former strength by the first day’s battle “increased Greene’s force only by about 755 men.” [19]Additionally, Hancock who heard the battle raging “sent two regiments to the relief of Slocum as well.”[20] Greene’s after action report noted:

“we were attacked on the whole of our front by a large force few minutes before 7 p.m. The enemy made four distinct charges between 7 and 9.30 p.m., which were effectually resisted. No more than 1,300 were in our lines at any one time. The loss of the enemy greatly exceeds ours.”[21]

Further south, “Maryland” Steuart’s brigade entered the area of the Federal line which had been vacated by Geary and Williams’s divisions where it posed a brief threat. However, Steuart’s brigade fared no better as it hit the Federal line. Two of his regiments “got ahead of the rest of their command and hooked onto the right flank of the Louisiana troops. This had the unpleasant effect of funneling them into a deadly cul de sac, with unfriendly fire in their front and on both flanks” [22] His left regiments faced little resistance and began to look for a way around Green’s flank in the darkness.

As the night wore on Confederate attacks continued and in the darkness other Federal units arrived, including those from XII Corps which had gone earlier in the day. By mid-morning Johnson’s assault was done. His units had suffered severe casualties and his division had been drained of all attacking power by the time Lee needed it on the morning of July 3rd to support Pickett’s attack. “This division, formed by Stonewall Jackson was never the same again. Its glories were in the past.”[23] In the end the Army of the Potomac still held both Cemetery and Culp’s Hill, in large part due to the actions of the old soldier, George Greene who’s foresight to fortify the hill and superb handling of his troops and those who reinforced him kept Johnson’s division from rolling up the Federal right. However, Greene had refused his right and had occupied the traverse trench line that he had constructed earlier as a fallback position. From here, Colonel David Ireland’s 137th New York conducted a private war with them. Ireland’s men were joined by three companies of the 149th New York, and the 14th Brooklyn, recently arrived from First Corps as well as Rufus Dawes 6th Wisconsin of the Iron Brigade. Steuart wrote “The left of the brigade was the most exposed at first, and did not maintain its position in line of battle. The right, thus in advance, suffered very severely, and, being unsupported, waved, and the whole line fell back in good order. The enemy’s position was impregnable, attacked by our small force, and any further effort to storm it would have been futile, and attended with great disaster, if not total annihilation.” [24] Late in the night the leading elements of the Twelfth Corps units which had went to Cemetery Ridge fought a brisk fight the rest of the night and into the morning with Steuart’s men to regain their trench lines. The fight of the 137th New York until it could be reinforced was instrumental to Union success, but “the cost was high; that night Colonel Ireland lost a third of his men.” [25] As the night wore on across the hill scattered musketry attended the night and the Confederate attacks ceased.

Eventually, Johnson had to settle for the lodgment that he made at the base of the hill and with Steuart’s occupation of the Union trenches. He hoped that the following day, reinforced he might take the hill. Reinforced by troops from Rodes’s division, Allegheny Johnson made a maximum effort in the morning despite the objections of various brigade and regimental commanders, including George Doles and Maryland Steuart. The commanding officer of the 1st Maryland Battalion exclaimed “it was nothing less than murder to send men into that slaughter pen.” [26] The attack was a disaster, Johnson’s division suffered over 2,000 casualties, the supporting units suffered over 1,000 more.

Ewell’s troops would play no further role in the battle. In the end his presence around Cemetery and Culp’s Hill diminished the resources that Lee needed to support his other assaults on the second and third day of battle. In effect it left Lee without one third of his forces. The result was the sacrifice of many troops with nothing to show for it. Ultimately Lee is to blame for not bringing Ewell’s forces back to Seminary Ridge where they and their artillery may have had a greater effect on the battle.

Ewell’s attack was a costly mistake marked by the constant inability of the Confederate commanders to coordinate their attacks. Of the Confederate commanders, only Johnson led his troops into the fight, Ewell remained well behind the lines, Early gave tactical command of the cemetery Hill assault to Hays, and Rodes demurred to the caution of Ramseur and Doles. On the Union side, the splendid work by George Greene helped undo what could have been a disaster when Williams and Geary’s divisions were sent to Cemetery Ridge. Hancock and Howard responded quickly to all danger sending in reinforcement when and where they were needed the most. The stand of the artillery on Cemetery Hill and the counter-attack of Carroll’s Gibraltar Brigade to drive off Hays’s men also were decisive.

The real hero of Culp’s Hill was Greene. But Greene in many ways is a forgotten hero, he was not given much credit in Meade’s after action report though Slocum attempted to rectify this and Meade made some minor changes to his report. But it was in later years that Greene was began to receive recognition for his actions. James Longstreet gave Greene credit for saving the Union line on the night of July 2nd and said that “there was no better officer in either army” at the dedication of the 3rd Brigade monument on Culp’s Hill in 1888. Greene died in 1899 having been officially retired from the Army in 1893 as a First Lieutenant, his highest rank in the Regular Army. A monument to Greene stands on Culp’s Hill looking east in the direction of Johnson’s assault.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p. 204

[2] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.326

[3] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.347

[4] Ibid. Greene “A Step All-Important and Essential Element of Victory” p.121

[5] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.347

[6] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command  p.430

[7] Longacre, Edward G. The Cavalry at Gettysburg: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations during the Civil War’s Pivotal Campaign, 9 June-14 July 1863 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1986 p.212

[8] Ibid. Greene “A Step All-Important and Essential Element of Victory” p.123

[9] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.400

[10] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.348

[11] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command  p.431

[12] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.348

[13] Ibid. Sears  Gettysburg p.326

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.348

[15] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p. 216

[16] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.348

[17] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.400

[18] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command  p.431

[19] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command  p.431

[20] Jordan, David M. Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier’s Life Indian University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1988 p.94

[21] Ibid. Luvaas and Nelson The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg pp. 159-160

[22] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.400

[23] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.262

[24] Ibid. Luvaas and Nelson The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg p.155

[25] Ibid. Sears  Gettysburg p.328

[26] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.447

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Cemetery & Culp’s Hill Pt 4

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have just gotten back from another trip with my students to Gettysburg, and happen to be posting my newest additions to my text, these dealing with the battles for Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill which occurred on the night of July 2nd and early morning of July 3rd 1863. I hope you enjoy.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

robert-rodes

Major General Robert Rodes, C.S.A.

It would not be until the evening of the 2nd that Ewell’s troops went into action against the now very well entrenched, but depleted, Federal Forces on Cemetery and Culp’s Hill. The assaults began on Cemetery Hill where Jubal Early’s division attacked forces along the north and east section of the hill. This attack was to have been supported by Robert Rodes’ division on the west.

However as with most of the Confederate offensive actions of the battle this too fell apart as Rodes division provided no support to Early’s attack. Edwin Coddington explained that Rodes “did not give himself enough time to get his big division into formation for the attack. By the time he had completed the complicated maneuver of wheeling his brigades forty-five degrees to the left and advancing them half a mile to a good place from which to charge up Cemetery Hill the battle was over.” [1] However, this explanation gives Rodes too much of a pass, although he indeed failed to properly prepare for the attack, he decided not to attack based on the discretion given to him in Ewell’s orders.

Rodes’s division had lost about forty percent of its strength in the disastrous attack on Oak Ridge on July 1st. “Perhaps still shaken from the near disaster the day before, Rodes displayed a lack of diligence and energy which was untypical of his career, civilian or as a soldier.” [2] Robert Rodes was under general instructions from Ewell to support the attacks, which gave him some latitude in decided when and where to do so. As a result he “had been very careful and cautious in marching his men out of Gettysburg and into line across from the northwest corner of Cemetery Hill.” [3] Likewise, he “seems to have greatly underestimated how long it would take to move his five brigades out of Gettysburg and deploy them to the west of the town for an assault.” [4] His two leading brigades, those of Stephen Ramseur and George Doles which had distinguished themselves the previous day, “had covered about half an mile toward the enemy’s line when, in dusk, the two young brigadiers got a good and very sobering look at the Federal position.” [5] Rodes had given tactical command of the advance, and the final say in deciding on the attack, to Ramseur, an aggressive officer “who nonetheless paled when he saw the strength of the enemy defenses.” [6] When his brigade “came within six hundred feet of the Union line, the moonlight was apparently strong enough for Ramseur to observe the great strength of the position: batteries ready to pour “direct, cross, and enfilade fires” upon his lines, and two supporting rows of infantry well protected by stone walls and breastworks.” [7] Alfred Iverson, who had contributed to the disaster the day before claimed “we were advancing to our destruction.” [8]

This was enough for Ramseur who consulted with George Doles and Iverson, and told Rodes of their findings. “When Doles concurred with Ramseur in this report, Rodes cancelled the attack,” [9] and “deferring the attack until daylight.” [10] As the time was past when he could support Early, whose brigades had now ceased their attack, Rodes decided “it would be useless sacrifice of life to go on.” [11]

Despite the failure of Latimer’s barrage, and Rodes’s decision not to attack, “Johnson and Early rushed their men into action as if relieved that the tension of the long wait was over,” [12] and both would meet with bloody failure.

Storm on Cemetery Hill: Early’s Attack

Like the rest of Second Corps, Jubal Early’s division had waited throughout the day for the word to advance. Early had placed the brigades of Colonel Isaac Avery, who was commanding Hoke’s brigade, and Brigadier General Harry Hay’s Louisiana brigade, “in a protected position north of the town, from which they could easily storm cemetery Hill.” [13] He also moved John Gordon’s brigade into a supporting position while leaving “Extra Billy” Smith’s brigade to cover the Confederate rear along the York Road.

350px-Gettysburg_Cemetery_Hill

Assault on Cemetery Hill

It was Early’s division which came the closest to breaking the Union line and seizing the all-important position on Cemetery Hill. His line, with Avery left and Hays on the right, “some 3,500 men in all, stretched east from the town across the fields to within a short distance from Rock Creek. As Johnson closed in on Culp’s Hill around eight o’clock. Early began to whip his men into motion.” [14] Early put Hays in tactical command of the two brigades Hays exhorted his men, including the famed Louisiana Tigers, with the challenge that Early had ordered “the Louisianans and …North Carolinians to take the guns on the hill.” [15] But some of his officers, including Lieutenant Warren Jackson, “who had been on the skirmish line most of the day was not assured; he felt as though his fate had been sealed.” [16]

But some Union troops along the line had become complacent, assuming that the defeat of Latimer’s artillery at Brenner’s Hill meant that the threat had passed. One Union soldier wrote, “We did not expect any assault,” and “could not have been more surprised if the moving column had raised up out of the ground amid the waving timothy grass of the meadow.” [17]

From their starting positions outside Gettysburg, Early’s forces had to make a giant wheel to their right to strike the Federal line on East Cemetery Hill. Hays’s Louisiana regiments “extended out from the pivot of the wheel. Isaac Avery’s three North Carolina regiments, on the outer edge of the wheel had longer to march.” [18] The two brigades began their advance and were immediately assailed by the massed Federal artillery batteries on Cemetery Hill. Charles Wainwright wrote that the Hays’s Confederates “marched straight out of the town, and then facing to their right rushed for the hill.” [19] A Federal artilleryman described the advance, “When they came into full view in Culp’s meadow our artillery…opened on them with all the guns that could be brought to bear. But on, still on, they came, moving steadily to the assault, soon the infantry opened fire, but they never faltered.” [20]

The Confederates faced a fusillade of artillery fire from the guns of First and Eleventh Corps. Captain Michael Wiedrich’s Battery I, 1st New York, “closest to the Louisianans, went to canister almost immediately. Before long all the batteries were firing canister, then double canister. When they ran out of canister they fired case shot without fuzes, the missiles exploding as they left the muzzles.” [21]  However, much of the fire had little effect as the guns could not be depressed enough and many rounds went over the heads of the Confederates, protecting them from an even greater slaughter. Avery’s North Carolina troops suffered worse as they had more open ground to cover and Avery himself was killed early in the advance.

The hill “was ascended through the wide ravine between Cemetery and Culp’s hills,” and “a line of infantry on the slopes was broken,” [22] and “Hays’s men moved straight up the hill, taking three successive positions.” [23] The Union troops in this section of the line were the survivors of Barlow’s division now commanded by Adelbert Ames who manned a thin line along a stone wall near the base of the hill. Numbering just over 1,000 men the division held a line along the base of the hill along the Brickyard lane. The thin line was quickly overwhelmed in many places after a brief fight, while many accused the Germans of fleeing at the first sight of the enemy, some units gave a good account, the 17th Connecticut and 75th Ohio on the right of Harris’s Brigade occupied a spot of high ground from which they were not moved by the Confederates. However, the 107th and 25th Ohio occupying a salient at the extreme north of the Union line were overwhelmed after a brief but fierce fight. Soon “Ames’s brigades were dissolving into an uncontrollable spray of fugitives or inconsequential knots of resistance in the lane, as the rebel tide flowed beyond them.” [24]

cemetery hill

Soon the Louisiana Tigers were among the Federal artillery batteries and fierce hand to fighting raged among the guns and the Union gunners refused to withdraw. The Germans of Wiedrich’s and Rickett’s batteries went toe to toe with the Louisianans and North Carolinians who had gain the summit, and “Wiedrich’s men defended their guns with courage.” [25] As one of “Hay’s Louisiana Tigers confidently threw himself onto the muzzle of a Napoleon, he shouted, I take command of this gun! A German gunner with the piece’s lanyard in his hand replied, Du sollst sie haben (it was a line from a German birthday song – you can have it) and blew the rebel to smoking bits.”  [26] The German gunners fought with such tenacity that Charles Wainwright, a frequent critic of the German units wrote, “the men of “I” Battery, also Germans, fought splendidly, sticking to their guns and finally driving the rebs out with their hand spikes and fence rails.” [27] So it went along the gun line as the Union gunners fought the Confederate infantry matching pikes, rammers, pistols and sabers against the Confederate riflemen, but soon the guns were silent and it appeared “for one incredible moment, as Hays reported, “every piece of artillery which had been firing on us was silenced,” and two Confederate brigades possessed the enemy stronghold.” [28] But the apparent triumph would not last long.

“In the crisis the performance of Howard and Schurz showed up well.” [29] Seeing the chaos on Cemetery Hill, Oliver Howard and Carl Schurz reacted to this with alacrity and ordered Colonel Wladimir Krzyzanowski to take the 119th and 58th New York regiments “at double quick the short distance across the Baltimore Pike to Wiedrich’s battery…. The 119th New York, less than 200 strong…made a “vigorous rush” against the Louisiana interlopers and swept them down the hill. When they reached the base, Krzyzanowski’s men flopped down and Wiedrich’s guns belched canister at the fleeing Confederates.” [30] Howard also had the foresight to ask “for supporting troops from the Second Corps,” a request “Hancock had anticipated by sending out Carroll with most of his brigade, but with “no precise orders” about where he was to go.” [31] Hancock had heard the sound of heavy firing Hancock reacted, he recalled “I heard the crack of musketry on Howard’s front…. Recognizing the importance to the whole army of holding the threatened positions, I directed General Gibbon to send a brigade instantly to Gen’l Howard’s assistance.” [32] The sense of both Generals to order this movement as a precaution proved to be a decision that ensured that Cemetery Hill would remain in Union hands.

220px-Samuel_S_Carroll

Colonel Samuel Carroll

The brigade was commanded by Colonel Samuel Carroll, it was a crack unit, known as the Gibraltar Brigade, aside from the Iron Brigade, the only “Western” brigade in the Army of the Potomac. Carroll was one of the best brigade commanders in the Army of the Potomac. Carroll graduated near the bottom of the West Point class of 1856 and spent four years on the frontier before being assigned as a quartermaster at West Point and took command of the 8th Ohio in the fall of 1861. He soon was a brigade commander but at Gettysburg was still a Colonel, despite this he was a man of action and rapidly moved the brigade exactly where with was needed the most. Carrol had a full head of brick-red hair, which garnered him the name Old Brick Top. His personality and leadership style was such that it “often reminded people of his manic-aggressive division commander, Alex Hays, and this occasion was no exception.” [33]

Coming over from the west side of Cemetery Ridge the brigade appeared in the moonlight to Hays as a shadowy indistinguishable mass. Since Hays expect that Rodes’s troops might be moving in from the west, or Longstreet’s from the south. He was unsure of who the advancing troops were, and how many were advancing towards him. He wrote in his after action report, “I reserved my fire, from the uncertainty of this being a force of the enemy or of our own men, as I had been cautioned to expect friends both in front, to the right and to the left.” [34]

With little direction form either Hancock or Howard, “Carroll trotted him men in column…. He skillfully positioned his men in the dark for the attack, facing obliquely to the left and uphill. The debris of early fighting made it difficult to advance on a wide front, so Carroll placed the 14th Indiana in the advance and stacked up the other two regiments (the 7th West Virginia and 4th Ohio) behind it.” [35] Carroll had a booming voice and he called out to his troops “in a voice that was heard all over East Cemetery Hill: “Halt! Front Face! Charge bayonets! Forward, double-quick! March! Give them Hell!” [36]

The brigade charged the Confederates and “struck Hoke’s brigade and pushed it back. At the same moment some men from Hays’s brigade opened a brisk fire on his left flank from behind a stone wall. Carroll quickly had the 7th West Virginia change from and drive the Louisianans away.” [37] Even so the fight was fierce, “there was a confused sound of pounding feet and colliding human bodies, grunts, yells and curses and a crackling of rifle fire – and the last of the Confederates were driven out.” [38]

Though Early achieved some success his division was repulsed and the threat to the Union gun-line on Cemetery Hill was ending. “Hays, already staggered by three unanswered volleys – the third was especially destructive, delivered at such close range – gave the order at last for his men to return the fire.” [39] His troops fought back but he realized that no help was coming either from Rodes, or Gordon, whose brigade was withheld by Early when he realized that Rodes was not attacking, believing that it “would been a useless sacrifice.” [40] Without support and threatened by more Federal troops, Hays gave the order to withdraw. As one author noted, “Courage and determination could not offset superior numbers and fresh troops. With no help coming and enemy units swarming around them, all those Rebels who were still under some command and control began to fall back.” [41]

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Early’s attack which had been so promising ended in failure and would be the subject of controversy after the battle and after the war. Rodes’s failure to support his attack on Cemetery Hill, “angered Jubal Early, and he did not mince words about it. In his report, Early complained: “No attack was made on the immediate right, and not meeting with support from that quarter, these brigades could not hold the position that they had attained.” [42]

Whether the Confederates could have taken the position had Rodes delivered his attack is another matter which can only be speculative in nature. Had Rodes and Gordon supported the attack, had Ewell better coordinated with A.P. Hill in order to have Pender’s division support the attack, it might have succeeded Like the earlier Confederate failures of the past two days the issue came down to command and control, coordination, and vague orders. “Ewell had no control over his corps. Three division commanders were coordinating without a central control – and one failed.” [43] Likewise, there is no question that “if Rodes had been able to mount an attack in conjunction with Early, which under the circumstances would have been a miracle of generalship, the defenders of Cemetery Hill would have had a hard time of it.” [44] But the failure of Ewell and his division commanders to coordinate the attack speaks volumes about “the uncoordinated command style that had become Robert E. Lee’s habit, and for the paralyzing evaporation of initiative that crept over the senior generals of the Army of Northern Virginia the longer and deeper they remained in the unfamiliar environment of Pennsylvania.” [45]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command pp.429-430

[2] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.237

[3] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.407

[4] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.341

[5] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.238

[6] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.407

[7] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.439

[8] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.344

[9] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.341

[10] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.439

[11] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.238

[12] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.233

[13] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.430

[14] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.435

[15] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.339

[16] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.236

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.339

[18] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.334

[19] Ibid. Wainwright A Diary of Battle p.245

[20] Ibid. Gottfried  The Artillery of Gettysburg p.169

[21] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.334

[22] Hunt, Henry. The Second Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p.312

[23] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.235

[24] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.340

[25] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.269

[26] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.342

[27] Ibid. Wainwright A Diary of Battle pp.246-246

[28] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.236

[29] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.437

[30] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.272

[31] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.437

[32] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.339

[33] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.343

[34] Luvaas, Jay and Nelson Harold W. editors. The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg South Mountain Press, Carlisle PA 1986 p.163

[35] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.56

[36] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.339

[37] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.437

[38] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.303

[39] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.519

[40] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.340

[41] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.409

[42] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.281

[43] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.239

[44] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.440

[45] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.344

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Disaster at Blocher’s Knoll

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Today another section from my Gettysburg text, this on the disaster the befell the Union Eleventh Corps north of the town on the afternoon of July 1st 1863.

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

barlow_gordon

Schurz placed his own Second division under the acting command of Brigadier General Alexander Schimmelpfennig his senior brigade commander. Schimmelpfennig was a former Prussian Captain, an engineering officer, who had left the Prussian army to fight in the 1848 Revolution where he met Schurz and the two men became fast friends. When the revolution was crushed Schimmelpfennig, like Schurz fled Germany and was sentenced to death in absentia by the government of the Palatine region. He immigrated to the United States in 1853 “where he wrote military history and secured a position as an engineer in the War Department.” [1] He volunteered to serve at the outbreak of the war, and was appointed as colonel of the German 74th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Schimmelpfennig took command of the brigade when his brigade commander was killed at Second Bull Run, and he was promoted to Brigadier General by Lincoln in November 1862. According to an often told fable Lincoln supposedly promoted the German “because he found the immigrant’s name irresistible,” [2] but unlike so many other volunteer generals Schimmelpfennig was no novice to soldiering. It “took him aback to discover that American-born generals “have no maps, no knowledge of the country, no eyes to see where help is needed.” [3] He also criticized the method by which many American staff officers were selected, from their “relations, some of old friends, or men recommended by Congressmen,” [4] as compared to Molkte’s Prussian General Staff which prided itself on producing competent staff officers who could also direct troops in the heat of battle.

He too was a Chancellorsville and warned of the danger of the hanging flank and his troops were routed by Jackson’s, but as one writer noted “The brigade’s list of casualties indicates that it deserves more credit than it has been generally given.” [5] Schimmelpfennig too wanted to redeem himself and the Germans of his command as they marched to meet Lee again.

The First Division of Eleventh Corps was under the command of Brigadier General Francis Barlow. Barlow was a twenty-nine year old Harvard law graduate and Boston Brahmin was well connected politically with the more radical abolitionists of the Republican Party and had an intense dislike of Democrats. He volunteered for service and became the regimental commander and of the 61st New York Infantry. Though he did not have prior military training he “was a self-taught officer of resolute battlefield courage.” [6] His courage and competence were recognized and was promoted to Brigadier General after Antietam where he had been wounded in the groin by canister in the vicious battle for the sunken Road.

Due to his abilities the “Boy general” was convinced by his fellow abolitionist, Howard to command an Eleventh Corps division after Chancellorsville, but Barlow soon regretted his decision. Barlow, was to use modern terminology somewhat of an elitist and snob. He disliked army life and developed a reputation as a martinet with a boorish personality, who life in the army “very tedious living so many months with men who are so little companions for me as our officers are.” [7]

“Billy” Barlow was not happy with commanding the Germans, and he “disliked the beery and impenetrable Germans in his division as much as he disliked Democrats.” He admitted that he had “always been down on the ‘Dutch’ & I do not abate my contempt now.” [8] The feeling was reciprocal, his men considered him a “petty tyrant” and one wrote “As a taskmaster he had no equal. The prospect of a speedy deliverance from the yoke of Billy Barlow filled every heart with joy.” [9] As Barlow marched with his men into Gettysburg he had in his pocket a letter requesting to be given command of one of the new brigades of U.S. Colored Troops which were then being raised, something he felt was more attuned to his abolitionist beliefs and temperament.

Brigadier General Adolf von Steinwehr was another of the German’s and he enjoyed a solid reputation as a soldier. Steinwehr was a German nobleman, actually “Baron Adolf Wilhelm Augustus Friedrich von Steinwehr, a onetime officer in the army of the Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbutel.” [10] Steinwehr was a graduate of the Brunswick Military Academy came to the United States seeking to serve in the United States Army and served in the Coastal Survey as an engineer, but was not able to get a commission. He settled in Connecticut and volunteered to serve at the beginning of the war. He raised the heavily German 29th New York Infantry. He was made a brigadier general in October 1861 and took command of the Eleventh Corp’s Second division in in the summer of 1862 when the Corps was still under the command of Franz Sigel. A Pennsylvania soldier noted that Steinwehr was “accomplished and competent, and deserv[ing] of more credit than he ever received.” [11] At Chancellorsville his troops performed well and did some hard fighting before being driven back, Howard considered Steinwehr’s conduct and bearing at Chancellorsville as “cool, collected and judicious.” [12]

As Howard and Schurz consulted on Cemetery Hill, it was decided that Schurz would advance Schimmelpfennig and Barlow’s divisions to the north of the town in order to anchor the right flank of Doubleday’s embattled First Corps. “As Schurz remembered it, he was to take the “First and Third Divisions of the Eleventh Corps through the town and … place them on the right of First Corps, while he {Howard} would hold back the Second Division… and the reserve artillery on Cemetery Hill and the eminence east of it as a reserve.” [13] Schimmelpfennig’s division led the way through the town and deployed to the north, Barlow’s division followed moving to its right.

Schurz had two missions, to protect First Corps right flank and also to “guard against the anticipated arrival of Confederates from the northeast.” [14] Schurz intended to bring his two divisions into line each with one brigade forward and one in reserve. Schimmelpfennig’s brigade was placed at a right angle to the flank of Robinson’s division. It was Schurz’s intention that Barlow’s division “extend Schimmelpfennig’s front facing north” by keeping Ames’ brigade as a reserve in the right rear “in order to use it against a possible flanking movement by the enemy.” [15]

Both divisions were very small, especially compared to their Confederate opponents, consisting of just two brigades apiece. Schurz estimated that the two divisions numbered “hardly over 6,000 effective men when going into battle…” [16] and the ground that they had to occupy, being flat and open without and without any geographic advantage was hardly conducive for the defense, but it was necessary in order to attempt to secure the flank of First Corps and to prevent Doubleday’s command from being rolled up by Ewell’s Corps.

With the heavy pressure being put on First Corps by the Confederate divisions of Heth, Pender and Rodes; and the arrival of Jubal Early’s division of Ewell’s Second Corps Howard had few choices, and realistically Howard’s “only course was to delay the enemy.” [17] Howard has been faulted by historians Stephen Sears and Edwin Coddington for allowing Doubleday and First Corps to continue to fight on McPherson’s Ridge instead of withdrawing back to Seminary Ridge or even Cemetery Ridge during the lull in fighting early in the afternoon. [18] However, in defense of Howard, the only Confederate troops on the field when he met with Doubleday between Seminary and McPherson’s Ridge during the lull were those of Heth and Pender, as Rodes’ division had not yet arrived. As such, Howard promised to protect Doubleday’s flank without full knowledge of the situation, a promise that “would soon prove rash.” [19]

In making his decision to advance it was Howard’s intention was to get Schimmelpfennig and Barlow’s divisions up to Oak Hill to secure the right flank, but by the time his troops were moving into the open country north of the town, Rodes’s division was already there and the guns of Carter’s artillery battalion soon found the range on the Union troops. Because of this Schimmelpfennig “had to post his troops on the plain facing northwest off the right and rear of First Corps” [20] and his troops were never able to “make their link up with Robinson and the dangling flank of First Corps.” [21]

Schurz’s small divisions now found themselves facing elements of two veteran Confederate divisions; those of Robert Rodes and Jubal Early. Unlike the battle on McPherson’s and Seminary Ridge the Eleventh Corps troops did not have the advantage of good defensible ground. Likewise they had to cover a front that was much too wide for their numbers without fast reinforcements from Third or Twelfth Corps, which would not come.

Oliver Howard was counting on the timely arrival of either Slocum’s Twelfth or Sickles’ Third Corps which were in reasonable marching distance of Gettysburg, however Sickles was attempting to sort out conflicting orders from Meade and Howard, while Slocum who had just gotten the now hopelessly out of date Pipe Creek Circular waited for hours after receiving Howard’s message before putting his troops on the road to Gettysburg. Coddington argues that Howard’s hope for reinforcement at this point “was both unrealistic and unfair to the commanders of the other corps,” [22] but others have questioned that point of view, especially in regard to Slocum. Slocum’s most recent biographer Brian Melton notes that Slocum seemed to believe that “Reynolds and Howard were actively disobeying orders” [23] and wanted Slocum to do the same, and “because he deemed it contrary to Meade’s wishes, he did not want to come forward himself to take responsibility for the fight, or “of becoming a scapegoat for a lost, politically important fight someone else started against standing orders.” [24]

Melton attributes Slocum’s reluctance to take command and send his troops forward was that he had been McClellanized as a result of learned behavior in the politically charged Army of the Potomac. As such he was hesitant to jump into a situation that he had no control and then be blamed for the defeat.

“What historians see in Slocum at Gettysburg is not so much a failure of nerve (though it can be described as such) but, rather, the triumphant moment of his McClellanism. Slocum, with his tendency to absorb the philosophies of his powerful superiors, displayed conduct on day one and day two of Gettysburg that looks like McClellan in microcosm. He was absorbed with maneuver, over-cautious, focused on retreat, and scrupulously concerned with the chain of command (sometimes conveniently so). Like McClellan on the Peninsula he found excuses that kept him away from the fight, and therefore the responsibility.” [25]

What the Union command situation does show is that in a rapidly changing tactical environment that orders, no matter how well thought out, can become obsolete as soon as soon as contact is made. There it is imperative that commanders and staff officers adapt to changing situations. However, in the Army of the Potomac, which had been formed and taught by McClellan, and had endured command shake ups and the political machinations of many of its senior commanders, Slocum found that he could not take that risk. Melton wrote, “no matter what his reasons, Slocum missed an important opportunity to play an important role in the most famous battle fought on this continent, Acoustic shadows and conflicting orders kept him away from the fighting when other corps desperately needed him. Instead of covering himself with glory that day, the best he can hope for is to be quietly excused.” [26]

barlow

Major General Francis Barlow

“A Portrait of Hell”

Without reinforcements Schurz’s divisions moved north out of the town. Schurz had two missions as he moved north, “to protect Doubleday’s right and to guard against the anticipated arrival of Confederates from the northeast.” [27] to do this he had to keep his line compact enough on bad defensive ground with little natural advantage and maintain a reserve to parry any emerging Confederate threats from the northeast. The first issue was that to meet these missions Schurz only had about 6,000 troops, and these had to be spread along a line beginning at the Mummasburg Road to the York Pike. Even so there was a gap of about a quarter of a mile between Schurz’s left and Doubleday’s troops on Oak Ridge. It was the best he could do and for practical purposes the two Eleventh Corps divisions were only able to form “the equivalent of a strong skirmish line along their broad front.” [28] Had Barlow remained in place his troops would have been in a better position to receive the Confederate attack and protect Doubleday’s right flank.

However, this did not happen. Barlow did not comply with Schurz’s orders to simply extend Schimmelpfennig’s line and keep Ames’s brigade as a reserve to parry any attack on his right flank. Instead, as he moved his division through the town, Barlow secured the permission of Howard to take a small portion of high ground about a mile further north, called Blocher’s Knoll. There was a certain logic to the move, “to prevent the Rebel troops then visible to the north – George Doles’s brigade, of Rodes’s division – from occupying it and using it as an artillery platform.” [29] But the advance was to be a disastrous mistake as it left Barlow’s division exposed to Doles’s advancing troops, as well as Jubal Early’s division which then deploying for battle along the Harrisburg Road in perfect position to turn the flank of Schurz’s divisions. When Howard saw that deployment he countermanded his order that had allowed Barlow to seize Blocher’s Knoll. Howard wrote, “as soon as I heard of the approach of Ewell and saw that nothing the turning of my right flank if Barlow advanced… I countermanded the order.” [30] But the aggressive Billy Barlow continued to advance and left his own flank exposed to the attack of Early’s division which was “deployed in a three-brigade-wide battle front that was almost a mile across – and overlapped the Union line by almost half a mile.” [31]

Barlow was the only non-German division commander in XI Corps and he had little regard for Schurz. “Without consulting or even notifying his superiors, Barlow issued orders that got his division moving toward that point.” [32] Barlow advanced Colonel Ludwig Von Gilsa’s small brigade with two sections of artillery to Blocher’s Knoll placing it on the extreme right of the Union line. Instead of maintaining Ames’ brigade in reserve and slightly to the right of von Gilsa to guard against any potential flanking attack, Barlow deployed Ames’s brigade on the left of von Gilsa’s brigade facing slightly to the northwest. Barlow’s decision to do this left von Gilsa’s right flank hopelessly exposed and gave him no reserve to meet any danger on the right.

The orders that Barlow had previously had from Howard to move forward to Blocher’s Knoll were predicated on Oak Hill being unoccupied and Schimmelpfennig’s division being able to occupy it before the Confederates could do so. Barlow, on his own volition, knowing that the Confederates had taken Oak Hill and were assaulting Robinson’s division on Oak Ridge decided to advance movement placed Barlow’s division “where Barlow wished it to be” [33] and not where Schurz or Howard expected it, with disastrous results. Schurz noted:

“But I now noticed that Barlow, be it that he had misunderstood my order, or that he was carried away by the ardor of the conflict, had advanced his whole line and lost connection with my third division on the left, and…he had instead of refusing, had pushed forward his right brigade, so that it formed a projecting angle with the rest of the line.” [34]

There are still debates as to why Barlow advanced but one of the most likely explanations is that he saw the unprotected left of Brigadier General George Doles’s brigade of Georgians from Rodes division and wanted to strike them in the flank. [35]

To be sure, the position on Blocher’s Knoll “offered a cleared crown suitable for artillery and a good line of sight up the Heidlersburg Road,” [36] provided that it could be supported but it had a weakness in that “thick woods began about one hundred feet below the crest toward Rock Creek, severely limiting the field of fire in the direction of the anticipated Confederate advance.” [37] Barlow’s deployment provided Jubal Early with the perfect opportunity to execute one the hard hitting flanking attacks that had been the specialty of his old superior Stonewall Jackson.

The instrument of Barlow’s division’s destruction was Brigadier General John Gordon’s brigade of Early’s division. Gordon was a self-taught soldier whose army service began when he was “elected Captain of a mountaineer company” [38] called “the Raccoon Roughs” in the opening weeks of the war.” [39] As Georgia had no room in its new military for the company Gordon offered it to Alabama where is was mustered into the 6th Alabama regiment. Even though Gordon had no prior military experience, he learned his trade well and possessed “an oratorical skill which inspires his troops to undertake anything. His men adore him….he makes them feel as if they can charge hell itself.” [40] After Manassas, Gordon was elected colonel of the 6th Alabama. He commanded the regiment until he was wounded five times in the defense of the Bloody Lane at Antietam. His final wound that day was to the face, which rendered him unconscious. He fell “with his face in his cap, and only the fact that another Yankee bullet had ripped through the cap saved him from smothering in his own blood.” [41] Before Chancellorsville the gallant colonel was promoted to brigadier general and given command of Lawton’s brigade.

Gordon’s troops hit the exposed right flank of Colonel Ludwig Von Gilsa’s tiny brigade and that force was overwhelmed by the fierceness of the Confederate assault. Von Gilsa was a professional soldier by trade who had served as a “major in the Prussian army during the Schleswig-Holstein War before immigrating to the United States” [42] from 1848 through 1850. After coming to the United States Von Gilsa supported as a singer, piano player and lecturer in New York, and on the outbreak of the war he raised and was commissioned as the Colonel of the 41st New York Infantry. He was badly wounded at the Battle of Cross Keys in the spring of 1862 and was made a brigade commander when Julius Stahel was elevated to division command. His first battle as a brigade commander was Chancellorsville where on the extreme Union right he warned of Stonewall Jackson’s flanking move, but his reports were discounted. Von Gilsa was a colorful man who won the respect of his men and “was notorious for his genius for profanity in his native German.” During the difficult retreat from Chancellorsville, Oliver Howard reminded the German Colonel “to depend upon God, and von Gilsa poured out a stream of oaths in German with such vehemence and profusion that Howard thought he had gone insane.” [43] Admired by his troops, one officer noted that von Gilsa was “one of the bravest of me4n and an uncommonly good soldier.” [44] This did not keep his new division commander Barlow from taking a dislike to him and arresting the German on the march to Gettysburg for allowing more than one soldier at a time to break ranks to refill canteens. Barlow reinstated Von Gilsa to his command at 1 p.m. just as his brigade was entering Gettysburg and beginning its march to engage the Confederates north of the town.

The position occupied by von Gilsa’s brigade “was at once a strong and dangerous position, powerful in front…but exposed on both flanks.” [45] Thus the exposed position of Barlow’s troops on Blocher’s Knoll provided the advancing Confederates the opportunity to roll up his division and defeat it in detail before moving down the Federal line to deal with Schimmelpfennig’s division. The Confederate attack engineered by Jubal Early was a masterpiece of shock tactics combining a fearsome artillery barrage with a well-coordinated infantry assault.

Colonel H.P Jones who commanded Jubal Early’s artillery battalion opened up a crossfire on von Gilsa’s brigade from its positions east of the Heidlersburg Road as Gordon’s brigade struck assisted by pressure being put forth by Junius Daniel’s brigade of Rodes division which was attacking Ames’s brigade from the northwest. The concentrated fire of the artillery added to the din and furthered the destruction among the Union men as Jones’s battalion’s fire “enfiladed its whole line and took it in reverse.” [46] The artillery fire from Jones’s battalion supported Gordon’s brigade as well as Early’s other two brigades, those of Hays and Avery as they advanced. “A prominent member of Ewell’s staff later said he had never seen guns “better served than Jones’ were on this occasion.” [47]

Von Gilsa’s outnumbered and badly exposed Union troops attempted to make a stand but were slaughtered by the Confederates; soon the brigade began to unravel, and then disintegrated. But it was not the complete rout posited by the brigade’s critics. It took “fifteen to twenty minutes of hard fighting for John Gordon’s men, assisted by some of George Doles regiments, to overrun Blocher’s Knoll” [48]One Confederate soldier later recalled, “it was a fearful slaughter, the golden wheat fields, a few minutes before in beauty, now gone, and the ground covered with the dead and wounded in blue.” [49] Another of Gordon’s soldiers noted “The Yankees…fought more stubborn than I ever saw them or ever want to see them again.” [50] Von Gilsa himself displayed tremendous courage in trying to stem the tide of the Confederate advance. He had “one horse shot from under him, but jumped onto another and desperately tried to stem the retreat. On soldier saw him ride “up and down that line through a regular storm of lead, meantime using German epithets so common to him.” [51] Despite his best efforts, just as a Chancellorsville von Gilsa was unable to hold his position and his troops fled through crowded and chaotic streets of Gettysburg to Cemetery Hill where their retreat was halted and they joined the troops of Steinwehr’s division and the other survivors of the First and Eleventh Corps troops who managed to escape the Confederate onslaught.

gordon

Brigadier General John Gordon

As Von Gilsa’s brigade collapsed Gordon “focused on the exposed right flank of Ames’s brigade” and Doles’s troops, now supported by Ramseur fell upon its left and “Ames’s outnumbered troops also collapsed” [52] even as that young and gallant commander attempted to advance his brigade to support Von Gilsa’s now fleeing troops. Barlow was in the thick of the fighting attempting to rally von Gilsa’s troops when he was wounded. Ames, the senior brigade commander took command of the shattered remnants of the two brigades when Barlow, went down. The wounded Barlow would be assisted by Gordon and “carried to the shade” of a nearby farmhouse by a member of Early’s staff. [53] Barlow recovered and after the war “he and Gordon established a friendship that lasted for the remainder of their lives.” [54]

Adelbert Ames was a native of Maine and had a stellar reputation when he entered Gettysburg. The young officer “graduated 5th out of 45 students in the Class of 1861, which completed its studies just after the fall of Fort Sumter.” [55] He was commissioned into the artillery and was wounded at First Bull Run where he was awarded the Medal of Honor. After he recovered he was commended for his service during the Peninsular Campaign. Ames then returned to Maine where he organized and commanded the illustrious 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry, and after Fredericksburg was promoted to brigadier general. “Like von Gilsa’s brigade, Ames’s came under fire from both infantry and artillery.” [56] After Chancellorsville he was promoted to brigadier general and took command of his brigade in Barlow’s division. Ames was a brave and capable leader who would continue to serve with distinction throughout the war ending up as a Major General of Volunteers and serving as one of Mississippi’s Reconstruction governors after the war. He lived a long and eventful life and was the last Civil War general to die in 1933.

Amidst the chaos of the retreat Ames worked with von Gilsa to “try to gather enough men together around a cluster of buildings along the Heidlersburg Road which served as the Adams County almshouse,” [57] and upon assuming command he succeeded in “slowing the retreat and establishing a second line when Avery’s and Hays’s brigades came crashing in on the right.” [58] However, this line too was driven back in great confusion as the brigades of Gordon and Hays, supported by Jones’s artillery hammered the thin blue line.

Schurz attempted to recover the situation by extending Schimmelpfennig’s division to the right, and advanced his reserve brigade under Polish born Colonel Wladimir Krzyzanowski to support Barlow counterattacking against Doles’s brigade. Krzyzanowski too was a refugee from Europe, coming from a region of Poland occupied by Prussia. “Kriz” as he was known to many Americans had fled to New York following the failed revolution of 1848 and made his living as a civil engineer. When war came Krzyzanowski volunteered for service, and was allowed to recruit “a multinational regiment that became known as the 58th New York Infantry, the “Polish Legion.” [59] Following service in a number of campaigns he was given command of a brigade in June of 1862.

Krzyzanowski’s brigade achieved some initial success against one of Doles’s regiments and for a time engaged in a furious short range shoot out with two more of Doles’s regiments. The opponents stood scarcely seventy-five yards apart aiming deadly volleys at one another without regard for themselves, an Ohio solider recalled “Bullets hummed about our ears like infuriated bees, and in a few minutes the meadow was strewn with…the wounded and the dead.” [60] Despite their gallantry Krzyzanowski’s troops were also rolled up in the Confederate assault when Doles and Gordon turned his flanks. Both of “Krzyzanowski’s flanks received enfilading fire and the brigade fell back across the Carlisle Road toward an orchard on the north side of Gettysburg.” [61]

As the situation deteriorated Schimmelpfennig ordered the 157th New York Infantry to support Krzyzanowski. The regiment advanced and engaged in a furious twenty minute fight, continuing the battle “in Indian fashion” until Schurz ordered them to retreat. The gallant 157th sacrificed itself buying time for others to withdraw and left over 75 percent of its men on the battlefield, when the order came, “less than fifty of the 157th were able to rise out of the wheat and follow.” [62] “So the horrible screaming, hurtling messengers of death flew over us from both sides,” recollected a New York soldier. “In such a storm it seemed a miracle that any were left alive.” [63] Krzyzanowski described the scene as “a portrait of hell.” [64]

Harry Hays brigade of Louisianans joined the assault on the collapsing Federal right while on the left Schimmelpfennig’s line collapsed under the weight of Doles’s attack, which had now been joined by the brigade of Stephen Ramseur. The proud Schimmelpfennig joined his troops in retreat. Inside the town he was unhorsed by enemy fire. In the town Schimmelpfennig was knocked unconscious “with the butt of a musket – “by the blow of a gun” – as he tried to scale a fence.” [65] By the time he regained himself Confederate troops were swarming all around, and to avoid capture he prudently “took refuge in a woodshed, where he remained in hiding the next three days.” [66] The attack of Early’s division supported by Doles and Ramseur “completely unhinged the end of the long Union line and destroyed any opportunities for resistance on that part of the field.” [67]

Howard was still looking for relief from Major General Slocum’s Twelfth Corps and seeing the disaster unfolding north of the town sent the First Brigade of Brigadier General Adolph Steinwehr’s division from Cemetery Hill to support the fleeing men of Barlow and Schimmelpfennig’s divisions. The small brigade of about 800 soldiers under the command of Colonel Charles Coster advanced through the town to a brickyard on the outskirts of the town. Before this small force could get into position they were hit hard by Hays and Avery’s brigades of Early’s division. The Confederates again had a massive numerical advantage at the point of attack with “eight big regiments to face Coster’s three small ones” [68] and they too were able to find an open flank and envelop both flanks of the tiny Union brigade. Avery’s brigade took them in the right flank and with both flanks turned by the advancing Confederates [69] Coster’s little brigade broke under the pressure and began to retreat leaving many prisoners to be collected by the Confederates. The commander of the 134th New York exclaimed “I never imagined such a rain of bullets.” [70] In its fight with Avery’s brigade which had the New Yorkers in a crossfire, the 134th lost some forty men killed and 150 wounded. Coster had entered the fight with about 800 soldiers but by the end of the afternoon over 550 were casualties, with “313 of them left it as prisoners.” [71] Coster survived the assault but resigned from the army a few months later never having filed and official report. [72] As the Union right collapsed and the Confederate pressure on Robinson’s division on Oak Ridge mounted, von Amsberg’s brigade, without the 157th New York found itself without support and was forced to withdraw. However, the sacrifice of Coster’s brigade “succeeded in checking the enemy long enough to permit Barlow’s division to “enter the town without being seriously molested on its retreat.” [73]

In his after action report as well as in other correspondence Barlow was acrimonious toward the German troops who he had so carelessly exposed to the Confederate onslaught on Blocher’s Knoll. He wrote “We ought to have held the place easily, for I had my entire force at the very point where the attack was made….But the enemies [sic] skirmishers had hardly attacked us before my men began to run. No fight at all was made.” [74] However, more circumspect Union officers do not back the gallant, but arrogant Boston Brahmin’s statement nor do his Confederate opponents. The Union artillery commander Henry Hunt wrote that it was “an obstinate and bloody contest” [75] while Gordon, whose brigade had inflicted so much of the damage on Barlow’s divisions wrote:

“The enemy made a most obstinate resistance until the colors of the two lines were separated by a space of less than 50 paces, when his line was broken and driven back, leaving the flank which this line had protected exposed to the fire from my brigade. An effort was made by the enemy to change his front and check our advance, but the effort failed and this line too, was driven back in the greatest confusion with immense loss in killed, wounded and prisoners.” [76]

A private of the 61st Georgia Infantry of Gordon’s brigade wrote that the Eleventh Corps troops “stood firm until we got near them. Then they began to retreat in good order. They were harder to drive than we had known them before….Their officers were cheering their men and behaving like heroes and commanders of ‘the first water’” [77]

During the retreat the redoubtable Hubert Dilger whose battery had wrought such death and destruction on O’Neal and Iverson’s brigades and Carter’s artillery while supporting Robinson’s division on Oak Ridge continued its stellar contribution to the battle. Instead of withdrawing his battery completely he halted four guns north of the town to support the infantry. “The four cannon immediately banged away at the approaching Confederate infantry and helped hundreds of Federal troops successfully escape the clutches of the enemy.” [78] When he could do no more Dilger withdrew to Cemetery Hill where his guns joined the mass of Union artillery gathering on that edifice.

Collapse and the Retreat of First & Eleventh Corps

The retreat of Eleventh Corps “southward through the streets of Gettysburg exposed the rear of the First Corps at a time when Doubleday’s troops were already having to give ground before the superior numbers represented by” [79] the divisions of Harry Heth and Dorsey Pender of A.P. Hill’s Third Corps. The First Corps had been battling Hill’s troops for the better part of the morning and for the most part had gotten the better of their Confederate opponents, inflicting very heavy casualties on the divisions of Heth, Pender and Robert Rodes. The fierceness of the Union defense of the ridges west of the town wreaked havoc on the Confederate attackers. The remnants of the Iron Brigade supported by the brigades of Biddle and Stone, Gamble’s dismounted cavalry, and Wainwright’s expertly directed artillery inflicted massive casualties on their Confederate opponents.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Pfanz The First Day at Gettysburg p.218

[2] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.63

[3] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.166

[4] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.166

[5] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.139

[6] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.38

[7] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.181

[8] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.181

[9] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.126

[10] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.162

[11] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.63

[12] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.132

[13] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.198

[14] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.74

[15] Ibid. Guelzo . Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.181

[16] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.288

[17] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.74

[18] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg pp.193-194 and Coddington p.303

[19] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.142

[20] Ibid. Pfanz The First Day at Gettysburg p.140

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.166

[22] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.303

[23] Melton, Brian C. Sherman’s Forgotten General: Henry W. Slocum University of Missouri Press, Columbia and London 2007 p.125

[24] Ibid. Pfanz The First Day at Gettysburg p.143

[25] Ibid. Melton Sherman’s Forgotten General p.124

[26] Ibid. Melton Sherman’s Forgotten General p.128

[27] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.74

[28] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.76

[29] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg pp.193-194 and Coddington p.212

[30] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.77

[31] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg pp.193-194 and Coddington p.212

[32] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.217

[33] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.216

[34] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.77

[35] Ibid. From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership Greene p.78

[36] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.216

[37] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.78

[38] Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Gray: Lives of Confederate Commanders Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge 1959, 1987 p.111

[39] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.262

[40] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 p.41

[41] Sears, Stephen W. Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1983 p.242

[42] Ibid. Pfanz The First Day at Gettysburg p.224

[43] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.127

[44] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.61

[45] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.128

[46] Hunt, Henry The First Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War edited by Bradford, Neil Meridian Press, New York 1989 p.363

[47] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.291

[48] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.225

[49] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.79

[50] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.225

[51] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.128

[52] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.79

[53] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.188

[54] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.141

[55] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.129

[56] Ibid. Pfanz The First Day at Gettysburg p.234

[57] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.187

[58] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.292

[59] Ibid. Pfanz The First Day at Gettysburg p.236

[60] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.80

[61] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.80

[62] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.186

[63] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.225

[64] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.186

[65] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.139

[66] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.477

[67] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.292

[68] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.190

[69] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.241

[70] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.241

[71] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg pp.193-194 and Coddington p.217

[72] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.190

[73] Ibid. Pfanz The First Day at Gettysburg pp. 267-268

[74] Ibid Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.79

[75] Ibid. Hunt The First Day at Gettysburg p.365

[76] Report of Brigadier General J. B. Gordon, CSA, commanding brigade, Early’s Division, in Luvaas, Jay and Nelson Harold W editors. The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg South Mountain Press, Carlisle PA 1986 p.45

[77] Ibid. Greene From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.79

[78] Gottfried, Bradley The Artillery of Gettysburg Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville TN 2008 p.71

[79] Weigley, Russell F. A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History 1861-1865 Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 2000 p.244

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A Christian & an Enthusiast: General Oliver O. Howard

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

A change of pace as I get ready for a new class and a section of my Gettysburg Text about Major General Oliver O. Howard. Howard is interesting because alone of senior Union generals his Christian Faith guided his actions and he was maligned by some for that faith. 

This section is only biographic sketch before his Eleventh Corps went into action at Gettysburg. Likewise it does not discuss his very successful command of a corps and army in the West under William Tecumseh Sherman, nor his post war service. I think that he makes an interesting character study; after all, the one constant in history is humanity. We learn from men like Howard and that is important.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Oliver-Otis-Howard-9345101-1-402

Major General Oliver O. Howard, U.S. Army

With John Reynolds dead and Abner Doubleday directing First Corps in its defense west of Gettysburg Major General Oliver O. Howard, commander of Eleventh Corps assumed command of the Federal forces around Gettysburg. Howard was one of the more unusual characters in the senior leadership of the Army of the Potomac, and later when he served under William Tecumseh Sherman’s command in the west, mostly because of his strong Evangelical Christian religious convictions and the fact that he did not drink. Sherman remarked to a group of generals who were mocking Howard’s temperance, “Let Howard alone! I want one officer who don’t drink!” [1]

“A Christian and an Enthusiast”

The thirty-three year old Howard was from Maine, his father had died when he was ten and in 1846 at the age of sixteen he entered Bowdoin College. He graduated from Bowdoin in 1850 near the top of his small class, and education, far from being something simply to prepare himself for a career was important of itself, and he told his mother, “Education is my first aim…. I seek not money, but a cultivated and enlightened mind, becoming & corresponding with the age in which we live.” [2] During his time at Bowdoin Howard was introspective and frequently mused on his own shortcomings and failures. He also showed little interest in world or national events, including the war with Mexico, but in his first year at Bowdoin he did take an interest in the cousin of a classmate, Elizabeth Ann Waite, or Lizzie who eventually became his wife.

While he was finishing his time at Bowdoin he was still uncertain of what he would do. It was then that his uncle, Congressman John Otis who had help to raise him following the death of his father secured for him an appointment to West Point. He did very well academically but at times struggled with some of his fellow students, some of who considered him “priggish, self-righteous, and opinionated.” [3] This was most likely due to a number of reasons, first his moderate abolitionist views, which were unpopular with many cadets, his active participation in the Bible class, which some classmates ridiculed, and his high academic standing, which provoked the jealousy of others. Howard was also resented by some for his friendship with Sergeant Warren Lothrop, a Mexican War veteran, a childhood friend who was “the son of a close friend of his own father” [4] as well as maintaining a friendship with a cadet “who had been “cut” – shunned – by the corps.” [5] While he stood by the cadet, he was forbidden to maintain the friendship by the Commandant of Cadets due to rules on fraternization, but in the eyes of some classmates, the damage had been done. One cadet who never accepted Howard was Custis Lee, an academic rival and the son of Robert E. Lee.

Despite a rough start Howard became friends with many cadets, including some who had shunned him early in his West Point experience. However, one friend who stood by Howard throughout was a cadet from Virginia named J.E.B. Stuart, who he knew from the Bible class. Howard wrote of that friendship, “I can never forget the manliness of J.E.B. Stuart…. He spoke to me, he visited me, and we became warm friends, often, on Saturday afternoons, visiting the young ladies of the post together.” [6] Howard’s friends included cadets from north and south, and never appeared to let political or ideological differences influence his choice of friends.

He graduated fourth in the class of 1854 and commissioned as a Brevet Second Lieutenant in the highly technical Ordinance Corps. He married Lizzie the following year and held a number of assignments in his corps before being assigned to Florida at the tail end of the Seminole Wars where as an Ordinance officer he saw no action. However, during his time in Florida he experienced his conversion to Evangelical Christianity, following his attendance of a number of Methodist revival meetings and his future life would bear evidence of the influence of the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. His faith became a facet of his life that he would never waver from incurring the praise as well as the criticism of various contemporaries. He wrote Lizzie:

“I then bore hat the text above in mind, & said in my heart oh! My Saviour, I know that thou canst save me! I made an effort to fully believe that my sins were washed in the blood of the Lamb, that my dear Saviour had actually saved me at that moment, i.e. had pardoned all my transgressions of the laws of God, & all the wickedness of a corrupt heart – The fullness of the glow of happiness came into my heart, the tugging & burning left me – the choking sensation was gone…my mind is as clear as when making out an Ordinance Return…” [7]

Following his conversion he led prayers and Bible studies, had enlisted me to his quarters for morning devotions and even considered leaving the army for the ministry. It was fortunate for Howard that his commander, an elderly Colonel, Gustavus Loomis, was a devout Christian who had first taken him to the Methodist revival meetings, for many other senior officers would have not approved of such overtly evangelical behavior.

Howard was transferred back to West Point in September of 1857 where now as a First Lieutenant he was assigned as an instructor in Mathematics, and was able to again be with Lizzie and their children. At West Point he continued his religious activities, leading Bible studies and became the superintendent of a Sunday school for the children of enlisted men and briefly explored the possibility of entering the ministry with a local Episcopal priest and even studied Hebrew for a time.

During his time as an instructor at West Point the young officer, like many devout converts to any religion, wrestled with his faith. Always introspective Howard became even more so, do much soul-searching and with two issues that he recognized in himself, vanity and pride. He wrote: “the pride & haughtiness of my heart is more than pen can tell, but I believe God will so school me, by failures when I act without Christ, by disappointments & afflictions, as to bring my miserably foolish soul into full subjection to himself…. I fear if God would give me success with my heart as it is now, that I would be puffed up with pride & thus lose the countenance of my blessed Saviour.” [8] That struggle to harmonize the tension between his desire to excel in the army and life, with his concerns for his soul should he become consumed by ambition and vanity would become more pronounced within a few very short years.

As he had for most of his life Howard took little interest in political questions and the growing movement toward secession. This was not surprising because Howard, whose religious commitment was continuing to grow was planning to take a leave of absence from the army to attend Bangor Theological Seminary, where his brother, Charles was already a student. However, when Fort Sumter was fired on Howard “abandoned the plan to enter the ministry and determined to stay as a regular or volunteer until the war was over.” [9]

As the officers who made their choice to remain loyal to the Union were now confronted with the decision to remain in the Regular Army or join the new volunteer regiments being formed by Northern states. For many, loyalty and the desire to fight to protect the Union was mixed with a certain amount of pragmatic ambition. Remaining in the relatively small Regular Army might leave them in the position of assisting the training of new volunteer units, or involved with the administration or organizing and equipping them, possibly with limited promotion opportunity while taking a volunteer commission could lead to rapid promotion, command of a regiment or even a brigade.

But initially “the was “a prevalent opposition to regular officers accepting commissions in the volunteers,” [10] but soon the reality that the Regular army was insufficient to bring the rebellious states back into the Union caused the army to allow officers to serve with the volunteers. Howard’s fellow Mathematics instructor, Lieutenant Gouverneur Warren was one of the first young officers at West Point to accept a volunteer commission in the Fifth New York Infantry, the Duryea Zouaves. Howard wrote to Maine’s governor, Israel Washburne offering his services to the State, and after an initial rebuff was offered command of the Third Maine Volunteer Infantry. When he received the offer from Maine Howard took it to Lieutenant Colonel John Reynolds, the Commandant of Cadets and told Reynolds of the offer and asked, “I’ve had the tender, or what amounts to it, of a Maine Regiment. What answer would you give, colonel?’ Reynolds replied, “You’ll accept, of course, Howard,” [11] and then preceded to give the young officer a lesson on what colonels needed to know.

One thing Howard had settled in his mind was the legitimacy of war. As a cadet at West Point he had studied the works of Henry Wager Halleck, who wrote one of the first comprehensive books on strategy by an American and who included in his work a synopsis of the traditional Just War Theory. Halleck, like Howard, was a devout Christian and in his book he wrote “The prevention and punishment of crime causes much human suffering; nevertheless the good of the community requires that crime should be prevented and punished. So, as a nation, we employ military officers to man our ships and forts, to protect our property and our persons, and to repel and punish those who seek to rob us of our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness…” [12] When Fort Sumter was attacked and other Federal installations in the South being overrun Howard believed that “it was a citizen’s duty to defend his country just as a father would defend his wife and children from an assassin.” [13] When the regiment arrived in New York on its way to Washington it was presented a flag by patriotic Maine citizens living there. Upon receiving it, Howard thanked them and his words reflected his thoughts about war and duty, as well as his religious faith: “I was born in the East, but I was educated by my country. I know no section; I know no party; I never did. I know only my country to love it, and my God who is over my country. We go forth to battle in defense of righteousness and liberty, civil and religious. We go strong in muscle, strong in heart, strong in soul, because we are right…” [14]

Howard’s faith would be a source of personal strength throughout the war and while some like Joseph Hooker ridiculed his faith saying “He was always taken up with Sunday Schools and the temperance cause. Those things are all very good, you know, but have little to do with commanding an army corps. He would command a prayer meeting with a good deal more ability than he would an army.” [15] Likewise his “reputation as a Christian “hampered his acceptance by both fellow officers and enlisted men.” [16] Despite this, many soldiers and officers in every unit Howard commanded came to admire him

Despite this Howard did eventually succeed and became the only officer of his West Point class of 1854 to become a Major General in the Regular Army of the United States. It was not always an easy road, but Howard displayed a resiliency in the face difficulty and even defeat, a resiliency that enabled him to grow as an officer and commander as the war went on.

Shortly after the Third Maine joined the army at Washington Howard was made a brigade commander. His brigade was involved in the final attack at Bull Run were it was caught up in the disaster that overtook the army of Irvin McDowell. He was promoted to brigadier general and commanded a brigade during McClellan’s inept Peninsular Campaign and “at Fair Oaks on June 1, he was hit twice in the right arm while leading a charge; a second bullet shattered the bone near the elbow, and the arm had to be amputated.” [17] Howard’s bravery in the face of the enemy was noted, especially after having received the first wound he continued to lead his men despite having three horses shot from under him. One of his regimental commanders wrote, “The General was the only Brigadier that I saw on the field who led his men into battle & handled them there – He acted with a bravery bordering on rashness & nobly sustained his reputation as a brave and efficient officer.” [18]

Within two months Howard was back with the army, his former officers writing McClellan to recommend that Howard be given command of a division. He did not immediately get that, but was given command of a brigade of Pennsylvania Reserves, the Philadelphia Brigade in John Sedgwick’s division. He took command of that division when Sedgwick was wounded at Antietam. He commanded the division when it was thrown into General Ambrose Burnside’s ill-advised and doomed assault of Marye’s Heights at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Though his division could not break the Confederate line he was commended by Major General Charles Sumner and Major General Darius Couch for his actions. Sumner noted Howard’s “judicious disposition” in driving the Confederates from Fredericksburg” while “Couch, in speak of the corps losses, stated: “Howard, coming up late, lost 700 men, besides 150 on the 11th. He did well in the part assigned to him.” [19]

During the winter following Burnside’s relief and the appointment of Major General Joseph Hooker to command the Army of the Potomac, Howard remained in command of his division. The vanity that he wrestled with in his spiritual life got the better of him when Daniel Sickles, a political general with no formal military training was appointed to command the Third Corps. Howard, who was senior to Sickles protested to Hooker and was promised the newly arrived Eleventh Corps. The corps, which had just become part of Hooker’s army was never “accepted as a true part of the Army of the Potomac,” where it was viewed as a “foreign contingent,” [20] “and was looked upon by the older units with some distain, despite its having seen considerable action.” [21] The previous Corps commander, Major General Fritz Sigel had just left the army after a disagreement regarding not receiving a larger command during the reorganization of the army. When he left many of the corps’ soldiers remained very loyal to their old commander, and “thought Howard was being advanced at Sigel’s expense.” [22]

But Hooker had created a problem for himself. Eleventh Corps was the only large unit in the Federal Army with a high concentration of Germans. Many of the soldiers had enlisted to serve under men that they knew and trusted, Fritz Sigel and Carl Schurz. When Sigel left command Hooker could have appointed Carl Schurz to command the corps, but “Hooker had little use for Schurz’s generalship,” [23] and bluntly told Secretary of War Stanton that he would not appoint Schurz to corps command. For Howard, this was not good, for “in his anxiety to receive a command commensurate with his rank he had failed to consider all the consequences.” [24]

Howard took command of Eleventh Corps barely a month before Hooker launched his offensive against Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, which culminated in the Battle of Chancellorsville. Howard struggled to gain the acceptance of the German soldiers of his new command, many of whom were resentful of having to serve under a non-German officer who did not understand them. Howard’s overtly Evangelical Christian approach to command and stress on temperance, which included the distribution of religious tracts did not endear him to the Germans, many of who were Catholics, free-thinkers and beer drinkers. While Howard’s piety was appreciated many soldiers of English and Scottish descent with Protestant roots, the “Germans of the Eleventh Corps, many of whom were freethinkers, the activities of “Old Prayer Book” were not welcome…. The Eleventh Corps would go on campaign under a general it neither liked nor trusted, and Howard was marching quite out of step with his command.” [25] Some understood this, Colonel Charles Wainwright, commander of the First Corps artillery wrote, “Howard, who succeeds Sigel in the Eleventh is brave enough, and a most perfect gentleman. He is a Christian and an enthusiast, as well as a man of ability, but there is some doubt as to his having snap enough to manage the Germans, who require to be ruled with a rod of iron.” [26]

In the ensuing battle Howard’s Eleventh Corps was taken in the flank by Stonewall Jackson’s troops which outnumbered his badly situated corps by nearly three-to-one, his only reserve brigade having been taken by Hooker to support Sickle’s Third Corps. The ensuing action was a disaster as regiment after regiment was rolled up by the rapidly advancing Confederate phalanx.

Blame could be assigned to both Hooker and Howard, Hooker for leaving Eleventh Corps unsupported and isolated on the flank without a reserve, and Howard for not taking better precautions to secure his right flank from a surprise attack. Neither Howard, nor his senior division commander Brigadier general Charles Devens “personally investigated any of the reports of Rebel activity on their front, and Howard compounded his negligence by leaving his command for two critical hours.” [27] Only Carl Schurz took any action to protect the corps flank and rear by quietly facing three of his regiments west. When the night was over Howard admitted “I wanted to die…. That night I did all in my power to remedy the mistake, and I sought death everywhere I could find an excuse to go to the field.” [28] However, Jackson’s victory was more tactical than strategic and as one historian noted “the corps had generally acquitted itself well in a nearly hopeless situation and delayed Confederate progress until dark,” [29]at which time the Confederates experienced the loss of Stonewall Jackson who was mortally wounded in the darkness by his own troops as he tried to push his corps forward.

However, the morale of the Eleventh Corps was crushed and it would not get a chance to redeem itself during the rest of the Chancellorsville campaign. When Hooker lost his nerve, refused to counter-attack, and then decided to withdraw he was opposed by Howard, George Meade, Darius Couch and John Reynolds who advocated a renewal of the offensive against Lee who they knew to have taken heavy casualties and had to be outnumbered by the Army of the Potomac.

The ever insightful Charles Wainwright wrote, “Some of the papers are very severe on Hooker, and insist upon that he was drunk, which I do not believe. Others go quite as far the other way, and try to screen him from all blame, seeking to throw it on one or the other of his subordinates. The attacks on General Howard are outrageous. He had been in command of the Eleventh Corps but a month before the fight, and was previously unknown to its officers and men…. He is the only religious man of high rank I know in this army, and, in the little intercourse I have had with him, shewed himself the most polished gentleman I have met. I know that he was very anxious to attack Lee on Monday, and together with Couch, Reynolds, and Meade was decidedly opposed to our withdraw on Wednesday night…” [30]

But the damage to the Eleventh Corps had been done. In the search for blame the old line prejudice and sentiment of the “Know nothings” against the immigrant Germans was once again unleashed. Inside and outside the Army of the Potomac, the Eleventh Corps was given the derisive nickname of “the flying Dutchmen” despite the fact that approximately half of its soldiers were of old line Yankee stock. The Eleventh Corps was not without good soldiers or good leaders, the real issue came from “the prejudice of Americans and the defensive attitude of the Germans…” [31] The soldiers of the corps had to endure the mocking of soldiers of other units and the scorn of the press, which “spoke of the “unexampled conduct” of the Eleventh Corps and how “the whole failure of the Army of the Potomac was owing to [its] scandalous poltroonery.” [32] In defense of the Corps Brigadier General Alexander Schimmelpfennig wrote “It would seem a nest of vipers had but waited for an auspicious moment to spit out their poisonous slanders upon this heretofore honored corps…. I have been proud to command the brave men in this brigade; but I am sure that unless these infamous falsehoods be retracted and reparations made, their good will and soldierly spirit will be broken…” [33]

Like his army commander, Fighting Joe Hooker, Howard never “conceded that he was in any way negligent, but he once hinted that at Chancellorsville he was inexperienced and that he had learned a lesson. “When I was a lad, a larger boy gave me a drubbing, but I grew in size and strength till he could do it no longer. The war experience of some of us was like that.” [34] To his credit, Howard did learn from his mistakes and never was surprised again as Eleventh Corps commander or the Commander of the Army of Tennessee under the command of William Tecumseh Sherman. However, Hooker, not only refused to take any blame, but proceeded to blame “squarely upon three of the army’s eight corps commanders…” [35] Howard, John Sedgwick and cavalry corps commander George Stoneman.

The troops were discouraged and resentful of their treatment; one officer wrote of the corps’ withdraw from Chancellorsville “I recrossed with a heavy heart, and… I felt tears rolling down my cheeks. I was ashamed of the battle, and deplored the sad experience of the Eleventh Corps…” while Howard noted, “there was no gloomier period during the great war than the month which followed the disasters at Chancellorsville.” [36] Carl Schurz wrote “The spirit of this corps is broken, and something must be done to revive it.” [37] It was in this depressed environment, commanding a corps that was defeated and demoralized that Oliver Howard advanced into Gettysburg on July 1st 1863.

Notes

[1] Hebert, Walter H. Fighting Joe Hooker University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1999. Originally published by Bobbs-Merrill, New York 1944 p.178

[2] Carpenter, John A. Sword and Olive Branch: Oliver Otis Howard Fordham University Press, New York 1999 p.3

[3] Thomas, Emory M. Bold Dragoon: The Life of J.E.B. Stuart University of Oklahoma Press, Norman OK 1986 and 1999 p.24

[4] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.8

[5] Ibid. Thomas Bold Dragoon p.24

[6] Ibid. Thomas Bold Dragoon p.25

[7] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.17

[8] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.20

[9] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.21

[10] Jordan, David M. Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana 2001 p.34

[11] Howard, Oliver O. Autobiography of Oliver Otis Howard, Major General, U.S. Army Volume 1 The Baker and Taylor Company, New York 1907 Made available by the Internet Achieve through Amazon Kindle location1627 of 9221

[12] Halleck, Henry Wager. Elements of Military Art and Science Or, Course Instruction In Strategy, Fortification Tactics of Battles, &c. Embracing the Duties of Staff, Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, and Engineers, Adapted for the Use of Volunteers and Militia Third Edition D. Appleton & Company, New York and London 1862 Amazon Kindle edition location 149 of 6332

[13] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.21

[14] Ibid. Howard Autobiography of Oliver Otis Howard location 1983 of 9221

[15] Girardi, Robert I. The Civil War Generals: Comrades, Peers, Rivals in Their Own Words Zenith Press, MBI Publishing, Minneapolis MN 2013 p.92

[16] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.25

[17] Tagg, Larry The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle Da Capo Press Cambridge MA 1998 Amazon Kindle Edition p. 121

[18] Ibid. Girardi The Civil War Generals: Comrades, Peers, Rivals in Their Own Words p.91

[19] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.41

[20] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.178

[21] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.43

[22] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.178

[23] Sears, Stephen W. Chancellorsville Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 1996 p.64

[24] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.43

[25] Ibid. Sears Chancellorsville p.65

[26] Wainwright, Charles S. A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journal of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright 1861-1865 edited by Allan Nevins, Da Capo Press, New York 1998 p.183

[27] Ibid. Sears Chancellorsville p.270

[28] Ibid. Sears Chancellorsville p.286

[29] Greene, A. Wilson. From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.57

[30] Ibid. Wainwright A Diary of Battle p.210

[31] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.306

[32] Ibid. Green From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.58

[33] Ibid. Green From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.58

[34] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.49

[35] Sears, Stephen W Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Company, New York 2003 pp.193-194 and Coddington p.20

[36] Ibid. Green From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.57

[37] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.37

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Regulars, Volunteers and Conscripts: Civil War Mobilization

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

A bit of a break from the past few days of confronting the civil rights issues and racism at work in the aftermath of the Emmanuel A.M.E. church massacre. I’m sure that I will be doing more to follow that up in the near future, but it looks like the most prominent symbol of the ideological and sometimes religious hatred that has been at the heart of American racism since the Civil War is beginning to come down, even in the South as people finally begin to face up to the evil for which that flag stood.

This is another part of my Civil War and Gettysburg text on the formation of the armies that fought the Civil War. 

When one thinks of our all-volunteer force today it is hard to imagine forming armies of this size and scope around such small regular forces. The story of how North and South raised their armies, and the stories of the volunteers of the first part of the war is amazing. I hope that you enjoy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

MenBrooklyn

 

The Secession Crisis, Mobilization, and Volunteer Armies

The American Civil War was the first American war fought by massed armies of mobilized citizens. All previous wars had been fought by small numbers of Regular Army troops supported by various numbers of mobilized State Militia formations or volunteer formations raised for the particular war; “The fighting force of the 1860s was a conglomerate of diverse units, each with its own degree of importance, pride, proficiency, and jealousy. Whether of North or South, an army began as little more than a loosely organized mob actuated by more enthusiasm than by experience. Its composition ran the full gauntlet of humankind.” [1]

In 1860 the Regular Army numbered 16,000 troops at the beginning of the war. These included some 1105 officers, and were organized into “ten regiments of infantry, four of artillery, and five of cavalry (including dragoons and mounted riflemen)” [2] These regiments were broken up into small units and they and their soldiers were scattered about in far flung isolated posts around the country and in the new western territories. The units primarily fought Indians and performed what best could be described as constabulary duties. Others, mostly from artillery units manned the coastal defense fortifications that protected American’s key ports and entrances to key waterways along the eastern seaboard. Even so, after the War with Mexico “three quarters army’s artillery had been scrapped” and most of the army’s artillerymen and their units were “made to serve as infantry or cavalry, thus destroying almost completely their efficacy as artillery.” [3]

The secession crisis and the outbreak of the war fractured the army, particularly the officer corps. The officer corps was heavily Southern and many Northern officers had some sympathy with their Southern brothers in arms. It has to be said that of the men holding positions of high command from 1849 to 1861 that many were Southerners:

“all of the secretaries of war were Southerners, as were the general in chief, two of the three brigadier generals, all but one of the army’s geographical departments on the eve of the Civil War, the authors of the two manuals on infantry tactics, and the artillery manual used at West Point, and the professor who taught tactics and strategy at the military academy.” [4]

Most of the Army remained loyal to the Union, “except for 313 officers who resigned their commissions.” [5] Those who remained loyal to the Union included the General in Chief, Winfield Scott, as well as the professor who had taught so many of those now leaving to serve the Confederacy, Dennis Hart Mahan. However, of the others brigadier generals William Harney, David Twiggs and Joseph E. Johnston, Brevet Brigadier General Albert Sidney Johnston, and the army’s Adjutant General, Colonel Samuel Cooper, and the newly promoted Colonel Robert E. Lee all went south. “Even so, 40 to 50 per cent of the Southern West Point graduates on active duty in 1860 held to their posts and remained loyal to the Union.” [6]

A Political Backlash against West Point and the Officer Corps

The exodus of these officers created a backlash against West Point and the professional officers who remained in service of the Union, especially those who were Democrats and to radical Republicans were soft on slavery. Some Republican members of Congress including Senator Ben Wade of Ohio, “figured that political apostasy had been taught at West Point as well, and he didn’t know which sin was worse – it or treason.” [7] The fact that the leaders of the Union forces defeated at Bull run were West Point graduates added incompetence to the list of the crimes, real and imagined committed by the officers of the Regular Army. When Congress reconvened in 1861 Wade said:

I cannot help thinking…that there is something wrong with this whole institution. I do not believe that in the history of the world you can find so many men who have proved themselves utterly faithless to their oaths, ungrateful to the Government that supported them, guilty of treason and a deliberate intention to overthrow that Government which educated them and given them support, as have emanated from this institution…I believe from the idleness of these military educated gentlemen this great treason was hatched.” [8]

Wade did not mention in his blanket his condemnation of the “traitors” that many “West Pointers from the Southern States – 162 of them – had withstood the pull of birth and kin to remain with the Union.” [9]

Wade’s fellow radical Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan urged Congress to dissolve the Military Academy. The academy, he said “has produced more traitors within the last fifty years than all the institutions of learning and education that have existed since Judas Iscariot’s time.” [10] Despite the words and accusations of the radical fire-eaters like Wade and Chandler and other like them, more level headed men prevailed and reminded the nation that there had been many other traitors. Senator James Nesmith of Oregon said: “Treason was hatched and incubated at these very decks around me.” [11]

Politicians and Professionals: Building Volunteer Armies

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Many of the officers who left the army to serve the Confederacy were among the Army’s best and brightest, and many of them later rose to prominence and fame in their service to the Confederacy. In contrast to the officers who remained loyal to the Union, those that many in Congress despised and “pushed aside and passed over” in favor of “officers called back into service or directly appointed from civil life, the “South welcomed its professionals and capitalized on their talents. Sixty-four per cent of the Regular Army officers who went South became generals; less than 30 per cent of those who stayed with the Union achieved that rank.” [12]

The Union had a small Regular Army, which did undergo a significant expansion during the war, and the Confederacy did not even have that. During the war the “Confederacy established a regular army that attained an authorized strength of 15,000” [13] but few men ever enlisted in it. This was in large part due to the same distrust of the central government in Richmond that had been exhibited to Washington before the war.

Thus both sides fell back on the British tradition of calling up volunteers. The British had “invented volunteer system during the Napoleonic Wars, also to save themselves from the expense of permanent expansions of their army, and the United States had taken over the example in the Mexican War…” [14] The volunteer system was different from the militias which were completely under the control of their State and only given to the service of the national government for very limited amounts of time. The volunteers were makeshift organizations operating in a place somewhere between the Regular Army and the State militias and like the British system they saved “Congress the expense of permanently commissioning officers and mustering men into a dramatically expanded Federal service.” [15] As such the volunteer regiments that were raised by the States “were recruited by the states, marched under state-appointed officers carrying their state flag as well as the Stars and Stripes.” [16]

President Lincoln’s call for volunteers appealed “to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity, and the existence of our Northern Union, and the perpetuity of the popular government; and to redress the wrongs already long enough endured.” [17] The Boston Herald proclaimed “In order to preserve this glorious heritage, vouchsafed to us by the fathers of the Republic, it is essential that every man perform his whole duty in a crisis like the present.” [18] The legislature of the State of Mississippi sated its arguments a bit differently and asserted, “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest in the world.” Texas explained that it had joined the Union “as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery – the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits.” [19] A newspaper correspondent wrote:

“All, all of every name and every age to arms! To arms! My father go, my son go, my brother go, your country calls you.” He called out to Southern women as well, “mothers, wives and daughters buckle on the armor of loved ones, the correspondent urged, “bid them with Roman fairness, advance and never return until victory perches on their banner.” [20]

Those who went off to war left their homes and families. Young Rhode Island volunteer Robert Hunt Rhodes wrote that is mother told him “in the spirit worth of a Spartan mother of old said: “My son, other mothers must make sacrifices and why should not I?” [21] The bulk of the soldiers that enlisted on both sides in 1861 were single their median age “was twenty-four. Only one in seven enlistees that first year was eighteen or younger, and fewer than a third were twenty-one or younger.” [22]

Illustrious regiments such as the 1st Minnesota Volunteers, the 20th Maine Volunteers, the 69th New York Volunteer Infantry, and the African American 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry were just a few of the many regiments mustered into Union service under this system. As the war went on and the initial regiments were decimated by losses in combat and to disease, Northern governors “preferred to organize new regiments rather than to replenish old ones whittled down by battle and sickness. Fresh units swelled a state’s contributions, and the provided governors an opportunity to win more political favors by appointing more regimental officers.” [23] This practice produced “an army of shadow units” as “it was up to the regimental commanding officer to keep up a supply of new enlistments from back home for his own regiment, but most commanders could ill afford to detail their precious supply of junior officers for recruiting duty behind the lines.” [24]

Even before secession many Southern states began to prepare for war by building up their militias, both in numbers as well as by sending agents to arms suppliers in the North, as was done by Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown who “sent an official north to purchase arms, ammunition and accouterments.” [25] After the bombardment of Fort Sumter both sides raced to build up their militaries. Jefferson Davis, the new President of the Confederacy who was a West Point graduate and former Secretary of War called for volunteers. On March 6th 1861 the new Provisional Confederate Congress in Montgomery authorized Davis to “call out the militia for six months and to accept 100,000 twelve-month volunteers.” [26] Within weeks they had passed additional legislation allowing for the calling up of volunteers for six months, twelve months and long-term volunteers up to any length of time. “Virginia’s troops were mustered en masse on July 1, 1861, by which time the state had 41,885 volunteers on its payroll.” [27]

poster

With the legislation in hand Davis rapidly called up over 60,000 troops to the Confederate Cause, and this was before Virginia and North Carolina seceded from the Union. A mixture of former Regular Army officers commanded these men, most of whom occupied the senior leadership positions in the army, volunteer officers, made up the bulk of the Confederate officer corps. “Well over 700 former students at Virginia Military Institute served as officers in the war, most in the Virginia Theater….” [28]Among these men was Robert Rodes who became one of Robert E. Lee’s finest division commanders.

In the North Abraham Lincoln was in a quandary. Congress was out of session, so relying on the Militia Act of 1795 called out 75,000 three-month militiamen to support the Union cause. The legislatures of the Northern States so well that the over-recruited and in this first call up the government “accepted 9,816 men, but governors clamored for the War Department to take still more troops.” [29] Dan Sickles, a rather infamous Democrat politician was one of these men. Sickles had been a Democratic Congressman representing the district of New York City that was in the control of Tammany Hall. In 1859 Sickles stood trial for the murder of Barton Key, the District Attorney for Washington D.C. and the nephew of Francis Scott Key. Key had been conducting an affair with Sickles’ young wife Maria and in a fit of anger Sickles confronted Key, who had been spotted attempting a liaison with Maria and shot him dead near Lafayette Square and the White House. Sickles was acquitted on the basis of temporary insanity becoming the first man in the United States to have that distinction.

The ambitious Sickles, “almost overnight, using flag-waving oratory, organizational skills, and promissory notes, had his regiment, the 70th New York Volunteers, well in hand.” [30] Not content with a regiment and knowing that a brigade would bring him his star as a brigadier general, he quickly the Excelsior Brigade in New York.

Daniel_Edgar_Sickles

Major General Dan Sickles

Within weeks Sickles had raised over 3000 men, a full forty companies and the New York Newspapers praised Sickles’ efforts. But partisan politics was at play. To Governor Edward Morgan, the fact that a Tammany Hall Democrat “was getting too far out ahead in the state’s race to supply manpower to the endangered Union” [31] was embarrassing and the Governor ordered Sickles to “disband all but eight of his forty companies.” [32] The incredulous, yet ambitious Sickles, knowing that Lincoln needed Democratic support to prosecute the war, traveled to Washington where after seeking an audience with the President. Lincoln was hesitant to infringe on any governor’s control of state units, but he was loath to lose the services of any soldiers. Lincoln discussed the matter with Secretary of War Simon Cameron and they ordered that Sickles “keep his men together until they could be inducted by United States officers.” [33] That process took two moths but in July Sickles was able to have the brigade sworn into service as a brigade of United States Volunteers.

For Sickles and most officers, volunteer and regular alike a regiment was a large military formation Likewise, a brigade massive and for most of these men divisions and corps on the scale of those found in Europe were almost unthinkable, but war was changing and this would be the scope of the coming war.

More troops were needed and with Congress out of session, President Lincoln acted “without legal authority…and increased the Regular Army by 22,714 men and the Navy by 18,000 and called for 42,034 three-year volunteers.” [34] On July 4th 1861 Lincoln “asked sanction for his extralegal action and for authority to raise at least another 400,000 three-year volunteers.” [35] Congress approved both of the President’s requests, retroactively, and in fact, “greatly expanded the numbers of volunteer recruitments, up to a million men – nothing more than the 1795 statute authorized either of these follow-up calls, and Lincoln would later have to justify his actions on the admittedly rather vague basis of the “war powers of the government.” [36]

In the North “the war department was staggered by the task of finding competent officers for an already numbering nearly half a million.” [37] There were so few professional officers available to either side that vast numbers of volunteer officers of often dubious character and ability were appointed to command the large number of volunteer regiments and brigades which were being rapidly mustered into service. Within months of the secession crisis the Regular Army of the United States, minus the officers who resigned to serve the Confederacy, “was swamped by a Union war army that reached about 500,000 within four months of the firing on Fort Sumter.” [38]

The Regular Army officers who remained loyal to the Union as well as those who left the army and joined the newly formed Confederacy were joined by a host of volunteer officers. Some of these officers, men like Ulysses Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, George McClellan, Braxton Bragg, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Jubal Early, and many others had left the army for any number of reasons only to return to the colors of the Union or the Confederacy during the secession crisis or at the outbreak of the war. Some of these men like George Sears Greene and Isaac Trimble Many were West Point graduates who had left the army decades before the war and almost to a man “nearly all of them displayed an old regular’s distrust of any general who had risen by political means.” [39] The hold of West Point and the teachings of Dennis Hart Mahan regarding professionalism had left a lasting imprint on these men.

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Another issue faced by all of the officers now commanding large formations in the Civil War was their inexperience in dealing with such large numbers of troops. When the war began, the officers educated at West Point, as well as others who had been directly appointed had previously only commanded small units. Even regimental commanders such as Joseph Johnston, Albert Sidney Johnston, and Robert E. Lee seldom had more than a few companies of their regiments with them at any given time for any given operation. Likewise, the men who had campaigned and fought in Mexico who had some experience in handling larger formations had for the most part left the service. The senior officers who had served in Mexico and that remained on active duty were handicapped because the Mexican war was still very much a limited Napoleonic War fought with Napoleonic era weapons against a more numerous but poorly equipped and trained enemy.

Other volunteer officers had little or no military experience or training and owed their appointments as officers to their political connections, business acumen or their ability to raise troops. It was not atypical for a volunteer officer to gain his rank and appointment based on the number of that he brought into the army, “if he recruited a regiment he became a colonel, while if he brought in a brigade he was rewarded with the shining star of a brigadier general.” [40] This led to a type of general “appointed for their political influence or – at least in the North with its more heterogeneous population – their leadership of ethnic groups.” [41] Despite the dangers of their inexperience, both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis had to appoint such men in order to maintain political support for the war.

Some of these men proved disastrous as commanders and their ineptness cost many lives. Henry Wager Halleck, wrote “It seems but little better than murder to give important commands to such men as Banks, Butler, McClernand, Sigel, and Lew Wallace…yet it seems impossible to prevent it.” [42] That being said some of the volunteer politically appointed generals proved to be exceptional learners of the art of war and impressive commanders in the own right.

Among the officers appointed for political considerations by Abraham Lincoln were the prominent Democratic politicians “Benjamin F. Butler, Daniel E. Sickles, John A. McClernand, John A. Logan.” [43] Among those commissioned to enlist immigrant support were Major General Carl Schurz and Brigadier General Alexander Schimmelpfennig who helped mobilize German immigrants to the Union cause. Both men were refugees from the failed revolution of 1848. Likewise, Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher, a survivor of the 1848 revolt in Ireland, who had escaped imprisonment in Australia helped to recruit and then commanded the famous Irish Brigade, whose regiments of Irish immigrants marched under the colors of the United States and the Green flag with the Harp of Erin.

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The Irish and the German soldiers volunteered in large part because they saw the Union as the hope of their people that had given them refuge from tyranny in Europe. The Irish, under the religious, political and economic thumb of Britain fled to the United States, many the victims of famine. The Irish were not sympathetic as a whole to the plight of slave and many sympathized with the South, their desire to save the Union was greater and they volunteered in overwhelming numbers. One Irish Sergeant wrote his family in Ireland who did not understand why he fought for the Union:

“Destroy this republic and her hopes are blasted If Irland is ever ever [sic] free the means to accomplish it must come from the shore of America…When we are fighting for America we are fighting for the intrest of Irland striking a double blow cutting with a two edged sword For while we strike in defense of the rights of Irishmen here we are striking a blow at Irlands enemy and oppressor England hates this country because of its growing power and greatness She hates it for its republican liberty and she hates it because Irishmen have a home and government here and a voice in the counsels of the nation that is growing stronger every day which bodes no good for her.” [44]

Thus for many Irishmen fighting for the Union had a twofold purpose, seeing the war as Americans as well as Irishmen, they were fighting for Ireland as much as they were fighting for the Union. Some too believed that the war would be a training ground for Irishmen who would someday return home to drive the English from their homeland. Thomas Meagher the commander of the Irish Brigade explained,

“It is a moral certainty that many of our countrymen who enlist in this struggle for the maintenance of the Union will fall in the contest. But, even so; I hold that if only one in ten of us come back when this war is over, the military experience gained by that one will be of more service in the fight for Ireland’s freedom than would that of the entire ten as they are now.” [45]

Many Germans and others were driven from their homeland in the wake of the failed revolutions of 1848. Having been long under autocratic and oligarchic rule in the old country many of the German, Polish and other volunteers who fled after the failed revolutions of 1848 “felt that not only was the safety of the great Republic, the home of their exiled race, at stake, but also the great principle of democracy were at issue with the aristocratic doctrines of monarchism. Should the latter prevail, there was no longer any hope for the struggling nationalities of the Old World.” [46] These immigrant soldiers saw the preservation of the Union in a profoundly universal way, as the last hope of the oppressed everywhere. Eventually the Germans became “the most numerous foreign nationality in the Union armies. Some 200,000 of them wore the blue. The 9th Wisconsin was an all-German regiment. The 46th New York was one of ten Empire State units almost totally German in makeup.” [47]

In the North a parallel system “composed of three kinds of military organizations” developed as calls for “militia, volunteers and an expanded regular army” went out. [48] A number of regular army officers were allowed to command State regiments or brigades formed of State units, but this was the exception rather than the rule. One of these men was John Gibbon who commanded the legendary Iron Brigade at the beginning of its existence through its first year of combat.

In the South too men without little or no military training and experience raised companies and regiments for the Confederate cause. Like Lincoln Jefferson Davis had to satisfy political faction as well as some prominent politicians aspirations for military glory. Thus Davis “named such men as Robert A. Toombs of Georgia and John B. Floyd and Henry A. Wise of Virginia as generals.” [49] These men were not alone; many more politicians would receive appointments from Davis and the Confederate Congress.

Some of these men were gifted in recruiting but were sadly deficient as commanders. Men like John Brockenbrough and Edward O’Neal were capable of raising troops but in combat proved to be so inept that they got their men slaughtered and were removed from the army of Northern Virginia by Robert E. Lee. But others including South Carolina’s Wade Hampton, Georgia’s John Gordon and Virginia’s William “Little Billy” Mahone, none of who had any appreciable military experience proved to be among the best division commanders in Lee’s army. By 1864 Gordon was serving as an acting Corps commander and Hampton had succeeded the legendary J.E.B. Stuart as commander of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Lower ranking officers in the regiments formed by the states on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, were most often elected by their units. During the war, some of these lower ranking officers rapidly progressed up the ranks and rose to command regiments and brigades, mostly due to their natural leadership abilities. That being said the volunteer system in which units elected their officers often to be fraught with problems. “Officers who might be popular as good fellows but who knew neither how to give orders and to get them obeyed nor even what kind of orders to give….At his worst, the volunteer officer could be as fully ignorant and irresponsible as the men he was supposed to command.” [50] Such officers proved to be a source of repeated concern for the professional officers who served alongside them.

John Reynolds, fresh from his assignment as Commandant of Cadets at West Point noted of the Pennsylvania volunteers that he commanded, “They do not any of them, officers or men, seem to have the least idea of the solemn duty they have imposed on themselves in becoming soldiers. Soldiers they are not in any sense of the word.” [51] In time both the Federal and Confederate armies instituted systems of qualifying exams for commissioned officers in order to weed out the worst of the incompetent officers.

Given the limitations of the volunteer officers who made up the bulk of the men commanding companies, battalions and regiments, “for the average soldier was that drill became his training for the realities of actual battlefield fighting.” This was helpful in getting “large and unwieldy bodies of men to the battlefield itself, but it generally turned out to be useless one the shooting started, especially as units lost cohesion and started to take casualties.” [52] This was much in evidence on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg when Brigadier General Joseph Davis’s untested brigade got caught in the Railroad Cut and was decimated by Union troops.

These men, the regulars and the volunteers, were now faced with the task of organizing, training and employing large armies made up primarily of militia units and volunteers. Most had little experience commanding such units and their experience with militia and volunteer formations during the Mexican War did not increase the appreciation of Regulars for them or for their leaders. J.F.C Fuller noted that at the beginning of the war “the Federal soldier was semiregular and the Confederate semiguerilla. The one strove after discipline, the other unleashed initiative. In battle the Confederate fought like a berserker, but out of battle he ceased to be a soldier.” [53] Both required certain kinds of leadership and Regular officers serving in both the Union and Confederate armies “embedded with the volunteers to give them some professional stiffening privately regarded them as uncontrollable adolescents who kicked off every back-home restraint the moment they were on campaign.” [54] Over the course of time this did change as the units of both armies learned to be professional soldiers.

At the beginning of the war General George McClellan successful fought the break-up of the Regular United States Army, “which some argued should be split up to train volunteer brigades” [55] as had his predecessor General Winfield Scott. He and Scott helped keep it separate from the militia units organized by the States, “keeping it intact as the nucleus of an expandable army.” [56] This preserved a professional core in a time where the new volunteer units were learning their craft, but McClellan did approve of a measure to have regular officers command some of the new volunteer brigades.

Regular Army units were formed for the duration of the war and were exclusively under the control of the Federal government. While comparatively few in number, they often held the line and kept the Army of the Potomac intact during some early battles where volunteer units collapsed. Volunteer regiments, often officered by regulars or former regulars “remained state-based, and they signed up for two- or three- year periods, after which they returned to civilian life and their evaporated without any further fiscal obligations.” [57] Some of the volunteer regiments were formed from various state militia units, but since few states had effective militia systems, militia units “were usually employed only on emergency rear-echelon duties, to free up the volunteers and regulars.” [58]

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The Confederacy faced a similar situation to the Union, but it did not have a Regular Army and all of its units were raised by the various states. “In early 1861 the Confederate Congress authorized the creation of a provisional army of 100,000 men. To get these troops [the first Confederate Secretary of War Leroy Pope] Walker asked state governors to raise regiments and transfer them to the national army. The War Office provided generals and staff officers and, in theory at least, could employ the troops and their officers in any way it pleased once they mustered the provisional army.” [59] Some states were quite cooperative but others were not and the tension between the central government in Richmond in regard to military policy and some states would continue throughout the war. The quality of these units varied widely, mostly based on the leadership provided by their officers. That being said, many of the regiments mustered into service early in the war proved tough and resilient serving with distinction throughout the war.

Like the Federal forces, Southern units were officered by a collection of professionals from the ante-bellum Army, militia officers, political appointees or anyone with enough money to raise a unit. However command of divisional sized units and above was nearly always reserved to former professional soldiers from the old Army, most being graduates of West Point. At Gettysburg only one officer commanding a division or above in the Army of Northern Virginia was a non-academy graduate. This was the young and dashing Robert Rodes, who was a graduate of VMI. The quality of these officers varied greatly, as some of the old regulars failed miserably in combat and some of the volunteers such as John Gordon were remarkably successful as leaders of troops in combat.

As in the North, Southern militia and home guard units remained to free up the volunteer regiments and brigades fighting with the field armies. However, due to the South was always wrestling with the intense independence of every state government, each of which often held back units from service with the field armies in order to ensure their own states’ defense.

The withholding of troops and manpower by the states hindered Confederate war efforts, even though “the draft had been “eminently successful” in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, but less so in Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.[60] In the latter states, especially Georgia some Confederate Governors used militia appointments to protect men from the draft, classifying them as key civil servants in defiance of the needs of Richmond and the field armies for troops to fight the war.

The Changing Character of the Armies and Society: From All-Volunteer to Conscription: The Beginning of the Draft

Gettysburg was the last battle where the original volunteer armies predominated as the nature of both armies was changed by the war. Initially both sides sought to fight the war with volunteers but the increasingly costly battles which consumed vast numbers of men necessitated conscription and the creation of draft laws and bureaus.

The in April 1862 Confederate Congress passed the Conscription Act of 1862 which stated that “all persons residing in the Confederate States, between the ages of 18 and 35 years, and rightfully subject to military duty, shall be held to be in the military service of the Confederate States, and that a plain and simple method be adopted for their prompt enrollment and organization.” [61] The act was highly controversial, often resisted and the Confederate Congress issued a large number of class exemptions. Despite the exemptions “many Southerners resisted the draft or assisted evasion by others” [62] The main purpose of the conscription act was “to stimulate volunteering rather than by its actual use” [63] and while it did help increase the number of soldiers in Confederate service by the end of 1862 it was decidedly unpopular among soldiers, chafing at an exemption for “owners or overseers of twenty or more slaves” [64] who referred to the war as a “rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight.” [65]

Some governors who espoused state’s rights viewpoints “utilized their state forces to challenge Richmond’s centralized authority, hindering efficient manpower mobilization.” [66] Some, most notably Georgia’s governor Joseph Brown “denounced the draft as “a most dangerous usurpation by Congress of the rights of the States…at war with all principles for which Georgia entered the revolution.” [67] Governor Brown and a number of other governors, including Zebulon Vance of North Carolina fought the law in the courts but when overruled resisted it through the many exemption loopholes, especially that which they could grant to civil servants.

In Georgia, Governor Brown “insisted that militia officers were included in this category, and proceeded to appoint hundreds of new officers.” [68] Due to the problems with the Conscription Act of 1862 and the abuses by the governors, Jefferson Davis lobbied Congress to pass the Conscription Act of 1864. This act was designed to correct problems related to exemptions and “severely limited the number of draft exemption categories and expanded military age limits from eighteen to forty-five and seventeen to fifty. The most significant feature of the new act, however, was the vast prerogatives it gave to the President and War Department to control the South’s labor pool.” [69] Despite these problems the Confederacy eventually “mobilized 75 to 80 percent of its available draft age military population.” [70]

The Congress of the United States authorized conscription in 1863 as the Union Army had reached an impasse as in terms of the vast number of men motivated to serve “for patriotic reasons or peer group pressure were already in the army” while “War weariness and the grim realities of army life discouraged further volunteering” and “the booming war economy had shrunk the number of unemployed men to the vanishing point.” [71] Like the Confederate legislation it was also tremendously unpopular and ridden with exemptions and abuses. The Federal draft was conducted by lottery in each congressional district with each district being assigned a quota to meet by the War Department. Under one third of the men drafted actually were inducted into the army, “more than one-fifth (161,000 of 776,000) “failed to report” and about 300,000 “were exempted for physical or mental disability or because they convinced the inducting officer that they were the sole means of support for a widow, an orphan sibling, a motherless child, or an indigent parent.” [72]

There was also a provision in the Federal draft law that allowed well off men to purchase a substitute who they would pay other men to take their place. Some 26,000 men paid for this privilege, including future President Grover Cleveland. Another “50,000 Northerners escaped service by another provision in the Enrollment Act known as “commutation,” which allowed draftees to bay $300 as an exemption fee to escape the draft.” [73] Many people found the notion that the rich could buy their way out of war found the provision repulsive to the point that violence ensued in a number of large cities.

The Union draft law provoked great resentment, not because people were unwilling to serve, but from the way that it was administered, for it “brought the naked power of military government into play on the home front and went much against the national grain.[74] Open clashes and violence erupted in several cities and President Lincoln was forced to use Union Soldiers, recently victorious at Gettysburg to end the rioting and violence taking place in New York where protestors involved in a three day riot, many of whom were Irish immigrants urged on by Democratic Tammany Hall politicians, “soon degenerated into violence for its own sake” [75] wrecking the draft office, seizing the Second Avenue armory, attacking police and soldiers on the streets. Soon “the mob had undisputed control of the city.” [76] These rioters also took out their anger on blacks, and during their rampage the rioters “had lynched black people and burned the Colored Orphan Asylum.” [77] The newly arrived veteran Union troops quickly and violently put down the insurrection and “poured volleys into the ranks of protestors with the same deadly effect they had produced against the rebels at Gettysburg two weeks earlier.” [78] Republican newspapers which supported abolition and emancipation were quick to point out the moral of the riots; “that black men who fought for the Union deserved more respect than white men who fought against it.” [79]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.19

[2] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.141

[3] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.141

[4] McPherson, James M. Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1996 pp.17-18

[5] Ibid. Weigley, American Strategy from Its Beginnings through the First World War in Makers of Modern Strategy, from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age p.419

[6] Ibid. Huntington The Soldier and the State p.213

[7] Ibid Waugh The Class of 1846, p. 513

[8] Ibid Waugh The Class of 1846, pp. 512-513

[9] Ibid Waugh The Class of 1846, p. 513

[10] Ibid Waugh The Class of 1846, p. 513

[11] Ibid Waugh The Class of 1846, p. 513

[12] Ibid. Huntington The Soldier and the State p.213

[13] Millet, Allan R. and Maslowski, Peter For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, revised and expanded edition The Free Press, New York 1994 p.175

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.143

[15] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.143

[16] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.142

[17] Moe, Richard The Last Full Measure: The Life and Death of the 1st Minnesota Volunteers Minnesota Historical Society Press, St Paul MN 1993 p.13

[18] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.6

[19] Glatthaar, Joseph T. General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse The Free Press, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2008 p.15

[20] McCurry, Stephanie Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South Harvard University Press, Cambridge and London 2010 pp. 82-83

[21] Rhodes, Robert Hunt ed. All for the Union: The Civil War Diaries and Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes, Vintage Civil War Library, Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 1985 p.4

[22] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.18

[23] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.24

[24] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.263

[25] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.15

[26] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defensep.165

[27] Sheehan-Dean, Aaron Confederate Enlistment in Civil War Virginia in Major Problems in the Civil War and Reconstruction, Third Edition edited by Michael Perman and Amy Murrell Taylor Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.189

[28] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.26

[29] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defensep.165

[30] Sears, Stephen W. Controversies and Commanders Mariner Books, Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1999 p.201

[31] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.201

[32] Swanberg, W.A. Sickles the Incredible copyright by the author 1958 and 1984 Stan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1991 p.117

[33] Keneally, Thomas American Scoundrel: The Life of the Notorious Civil War General Dan Sickles Anchor Books a Division of Random House 2003 p.222

[34] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defensep.165

[35] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defensep.165

[36] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.142

[37] Nichols, Edward J. Toward Gettysburg: A Biography of John Fulton Reynolds Pennsylvania State University Press, Philadelphia 1958. Reprinted by Old Soldier Books, Gaithersburg MD 1987 p.78

[38] Ibid. Weigley, American Strategy from Its Beginnings through the First World War in Makers of Modern Strategy, from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age p.419

[39] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.202

[40] Ibid. Swanberg, Sickles the Incredible p.117

[41] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defensep.172

[42] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.328

[43] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.328

[44] Bruce, Susannah Ural The Harp and the Flag: Irish American Volunteers and the Union Army, 1861-1865 New York University Press, New York and London 2006 pp.54-55

[45] Ibid. Bruce The Harp and the Flag p55

[46] Gallagher, Gary W. The Union War Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 2011

[47] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.28

[48] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.143

[49] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.328

[50] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.245

[51] Ibid. Nichols Toward Gettysburg p.79

[52] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.246

[53] Fuller, J.F.C. Decisive Battles of the U.S.A. 1776-1918 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 2007 copyright 1942 The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals p.182

[54] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.12

[55] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.37

[56] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.38

[57] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.143

[58] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.143

[59] Thomas, Emory The Confederate Nation 1861-1865 Harper Perennial, New York and London 1979 p.74

[60] Gallagher, Gary W. The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism and Military Strategy Could not Stave Off Defeat Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1999 p.34

[61] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.152

[62] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.152

[63] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p. 432

[64] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.154

[65] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.431

[66] Millet, Allan R. and Maslowski, Peter, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States The Free Press a Division of Macmillan Inc. New York, 1984 p.166

[67] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.433

[68] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.431

[69] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.261

[70] Ibid. Gallagher The Confederate War p.28

[71] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.600

[72] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.601

[73] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.460

[74] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.635

[75] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.636

[76] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.637

[77] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.687

[78] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.610

[79] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.687

 

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