“The garrison appears in good spirits.”: Huguenin takes command of Fort Sumter

With the death of Captain John Mitchel on July 20, 1864, Captain Thomas A. Huguenin arrived to assume command of Fort Sumter.  The moment was critical for the garrison, and to no small degree the defenses of Charleston.  Fort Sumter was the absolute front edge of the Confederate defenses and most exposed to Federal attention.  The Third Great Bombardment was at that time entering a third week with heavy, sustained fire.  The most important job for the men in Fort Sumter was upkeep of the rubble pile which the fine brick walls had become. So long as the walls presented a barrier to Federal landings, the fort could be defended.  There was the Confederate focus.

The following day, July 21, Huguenin provided a detailed report of the fort’s status:

I reported my arrival yesterday evening by telegraph. I regret to say that on my arrival I found Capt. J. C. Mitchel, First South Carolina Artillery, was dead from the wound he had received during the day. Captain Phillips, Thirty-second Georgia, the temporary commander, turned over the fort to me, and, after as careful inspection as could be made at night, I found the fort not seriously damaged by the present bombardment. Capt. John Johnson, engineer in charge, is endeavoring to repair during the night whatever damage may be made during the day; every effort will be made to effect this purpose. The fire from rifle guns has lately been directed upon the southwest angle with considerable effect, cutting away the exterior crest, and thus making a more easy ascent with the debris which falls. The loss of material at this point has required the abandonment of the most southerly casemate on the second tier of the western face, and if it continues will require a similar abandonment of the corresponding casemate in the lowest tier; these casemates are being filled up, and the only real loss will be the loss of quarters.

So as for the garrison’s primary mission of just “being” and remaining a point contesting the Federals, the fort retained its wall.  The Federals blast down parts during the day.  Johnson rebuilds at night.  Though some portions of the fort were by that time so badly damaged as to become useless to the garrison.

Huguenin went on to mention some fire shells, perhaps left over from trials the previous fall, were used against the fort:

The enemy are using some incendiary shell upon this point, and I have been compelled to remove the ammunition from the southwest magazine for fear that some incendiary matter may be communicated by the ventilator, which cannot be filled up at present.

Huguenin turned to the priority of work, specifically repairs:

The firing upon the gorge wall has been discontinued, and I hope that it will soon be repaired. The boom has been broken in two places near the southeast angle, and I would earnestly urge upon you the necessity of having it repaired at the earliest possible moment. Captain Johnson thinks it necessary that about a thousand bags of sand should be sent down every night whenever it can possibly be done, as if the present bombardment continues it will be required in large quantity. He desires it to be sent in bags, as it is easier handled. In the event of an attempt to assault the fort it will be important that the batteries on Sullivan’s and James Islands be apprised as soon as possible, and therefore I desire to keep a signal officer on the parapet all night, so that he may be able to communicate the intelligence of the enemy’s approach as soon as it is known to ourselves. I have only 2 signal men here at present on duty and I cannot carry out my wishes in the above respect unless the number is increased. I would therefore respectfully request that the signal force be increased to 4.

So add sandbags and signal officers to the list of requests, including the baskets and gabions Johnson requested earlier.  Closing he added, “The garrison appears to be in good spirits.

From June 21 to June 25, the Federals launched 1603 shots against the fort:

  • June 21 – 281 shots in the day, 38 at night, and 57 missed; Total 376.
  • June 22 – 214 during day, 35 at night, and 137 missed; Total 386.
  • June 23 – 155 during day, 32 at night, and 50 missed; Total 237.
  • June 24 – 94 during day, 32 at night, and 35 missed; Total 161.
  • June 25 – 298 during the day, 53 at night, and 92 missed; Total 443.

An average of over thirteen shots per hour.  Rather odd, however, is the high number of those which missed on June 22. On the Federal side, there is mention of new guns added to the batteries.  So some of the missed shots may be those expended registering new guns onto the targets.

Major-General John Foster was now determined, 150 years ago today, to level Fort Sumter.  And the garrison defending it was just as determined to rebuild the fort out of the ruble.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, page 227.)

July 22, 1864: Witnesses to the death of General McPherson

On this day in July, 1864, Confederate General John B. Hood launched a flank attack on the Federals on the east side of Atlanta.  This was the second such attack by Hood since taking command of the Army of Tennessee, following the Battle of Peachtree Creek two days earlier.

On the Federal left flank, which was Hood’s objective, was a string of Federal signal stations.  These signal troops supported the Army of the Tennessee, under Major-General James McPherson.  As the Confederates moved into flanking position, they came under observation of these signal stations.  Captain Ocran H. Howard, Chief Signal Officer of the Army of the Tennessee, reported:

Upon arriving before Atlanta stations of observation were established, overlooking the city and enemy’s works, from which stations much important information was transmitted to the commanding generals. From one of these stations on the 21st Lieutenant [Clifford] Stickney reported to General [Mortimer] Leggett the enemy moving a large force to our left, and on the morning of the 22d Lieutenant [Samuel] Edge reported to Major-General [John] Logan that the enemy were moving all available forces to our left. On the 22d the enemy attacked the Army of the Tennessee in front, flank, and rear.

The Confederate attack knocked the Federals back on their heels.  It also meant the signal troops shifted their activities to support command and control.  The Confederate advance, however, overran some of the stations with others dangerously close to the battle lines:

Lieutenants Conard and Stickney were in charge of a station in General Leggett’s front, from which they communicated to station at General Blair’s headquarters, in charge of Lieutenant [James] Dunlap. Lieutenant Conard’s station was entirely uncovered by the falling back of the left at the time of the attack on our left and rear, but this station was held until the last moment, and messages were transmitted to General Blair from Generals Leggett and Smith under a galling fire from front, flank, and rear. So nearly were they surrounded at one time that communication other than by signals could only be had at great risk. The last messages transmitted were read over the heads of the enemy. Lieutenant Edge had a station of observation in the Fifteenth Corps front, 100 feet high. He saw the enemy preparing for a charge upon the Second Division, and informed Brig. Gen. M. L. Smith, commanding, of the fact, and received the reply, “I am ready for them.” Lieutenant Edge remained at his station. The charge was made and our lines were broken and fell back past the station, and Lieutenant Edge was compelled to descend and retreat before the advancing enemy under a heavy fire of musketry.

But there was more activity than signal officers waving flags and climbing down from trees.  Howard and his fellow signaleers were witnesses to one of the pivotal moments of the Atlanta Campaign:

On the morning of the 22d, accompanied by Lieutenant Allen, I had visited the entire front, and the station in charge of Lieutenant Stickney.  We were returning toward the right when the attack on the extreme left was made, and immediately turned and accompanied General McPherson to the scene of action, to render such service in any capacity as best we could. By order of General McPherson endeavored to rally the broken left of the Seventeenth Corps, but with little success. We were here joined by Lieutenant [W. H.] Sherfy. We then accompanied the general through the broken line and into an ambush, where the general was killed, and we had a very narrow escape, Lieutenant Sherfy being badly injured by being thrown from his horse, and Lieutenant Allen badly bruised by coming in contact with a tree.

Howard was a “just the facts” reporter.  Lieutenant Edge, writing about himself in third person, offered more “facts” to include the time of day:

July 22, Lieutenant Edge took his position in large pine, Lieutenant Fish in station established by Capt. O. H. Howard and Lieutenant Allen. Lieutenant Allen reported to Captain Howard for duty. At 10 a.m. Lieutenant Edge reported to Major-Generals McPherson and Logan the movements of the enemy. At 11 a.m. he reported additional movements of an alarming nature. At 12.30 p.m. the enemy made an attack on our left wing. At 12.45 p.m. General McPherson, accompanied by Capt. O. H. Howard and Lieut. W. W. Allen of this detachment, with other officers and men, were fired upon by the enemy, resulting in the death of the general and the wounding of Lieutenant Allen, caused by the jumping of his horse against a tree, fracturing his ankle. Soon after this accident Lieutenant Edge saw the rebels massing in front of Fifteenth Corps, and reported the fact to Major-General Logan and Brig. Gen. M. L. Smith. The enemy charged, driving our men back some distance, which forced Lieutenant Edge to abandon his station. Our troops rallied, drove the enemy back, and the station was reoccupied.

Howard himself, working under the intent of his fallen commander, positioned a battery of artillery to help shore up the Federal lines.  The next day, the chain of signal stations on the Federal left was completely re-established.  From those stations, Howard, Edge, and his fellow officers could see “nearly all of the city of Atlanta, the rebel lines, and most of our own [Federal] works.”

Many years ago, I proposed Edge’s actions on July 22, 1864 as a subject for a painting.  I still think it would fill out the canvas well.  But what do I know? Better stick to the blogging, I guess.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 38, Part III, Serial 74, pages 81-2 and 121-2.)

 

 

Lessons for the learning at Rutherford’s Farm

Yesterday I attended the Rutherford’s Farm 150th tour, one of the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park’s “150 Years Ago… On This Day” programs highlighting the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaigns.  This was, as with the Cool Spring tour on Friday, a convenient early evening two-hour tour.  After all, the battle was not that large – though it was significant in the scope of the campaign which followed.

The 150th tour was fairly well attended.  Not a large gathering, as seen at some other events.  But considering the subject, a few dozen attendees is about what one would expect.  Those of us attending were treated to a detailed discussion of the battle and a hands-on, in the ranks demonstration of tactical movements.  And this was an important aspect of the battle, as the Federal troops had to move from column to battle line at a critical juncture of the engagement.  Good for us to understand why “column of fours” was the march order and what it took to transform from that into a line of battle.

We were also treated to an object lesson in battlefield preservation… though probably not the type we preservationists would like to see.  The heart of the battlefield at Rutherford’s Farm is gone.  Well to be accurate, it is still there, but not in the sense of being an interpretable battlefield.  It’s a parking lot.

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There is a pull off beside the old turnpike (now US Highway 11, and a divided highway at that point).  There are some waysides and state markers.  But there’s just nothing that visitors might point to with respect to the battlefield.

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I tweeted, half-joking, that the 14th West Virginia rolled up the Confederate flanks, fighting through the woods where Target now stands.

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I thought about taking a photo from inside the store. But thought better of it.   (And I do wonder why all of the ghosts which allegedly haunt so many Civil War battlefields are at peace with a store selling everything from lingerie to alcoholic beverages.   Then again, maybe that’s proof contrary to the paranormal activity premise….)

What little “green” appears in the photos is not long to remain green.

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As the curb suggests, plans call for another store in this area.  Construction is ongoing to the south side of the road, which will completely blot out the heart of this battlefield.

Honestly, we must rate Rutherford’s Farm as a lost battlefield… a preservation failure.  It was just not to be.  The development potential of that ground, being so close to an interstate and bisected by a major highway, was too great for any idea of preservation to hold back the bulldozers.  And this happened in recent memory, as this photo I took in 2007 documents:

Winchester 14 Sept 001

I think, as related several times before, that we are the last generation which will even have the option to preserve Civil War (and other war’s) battlefields here in the United States.  The pace of development and practices of land use are simply forces too great for these sites to remain fallow if unprotected.  My son’s generation will be far more engaged over “view sheds” and defining complementary activity near battlefields.  They won’t have battlefields left to preserve.

We here at the 150ths of these events might look back at earlier times when the battlefields were intact.  That’s because we can, in many cases, actually remember what the fields looked like.  Fifty years from now, Civil War Bicentennialists will look back with envy upon us sesquicentennialists who walked some of these sites.  And they won’t have a memory of Rutherford’s Ford … or Rappahannock Station … or Chantilly… before the development.

“You can’t save it all” will be the response. But should that deter us from, fighting the good fight, saving all that we can?