Sunbright, site of the Third Corps Ball, Winter of 1864

Historian and friend Clark B. Hall passed along this comment regarding the Third Corps Ball, mentioned in today’s post:


The 3rd Corps Ball referred to took place in the big, beautiful home of Dr. Daniel Kennedy, “Sunbright.” This home sat on a prominent knoll near the Orange & Alexandria Railroad tracks about two miles south of Brandy Station. Serving as the Divisional HQ of General Joseph Carr, the home faced east, away from the tracks, and the image I am sending you by separate cover depicts Sunbright in March 1864, just a month or so after the 3rd Corps Ball.

A developer bought this house in 1988, and a week after I visited and photographed the house with the permission of the tenant, the house mysteriously burned down. You can  draw your own conclusions regarding that “coincidence.”

Sunbright was one of Culpeper County’s magnificent homes.. But, its sad fate placed Sunbright squarely within the gunsights of “progress.”

Here is the March 1864 photograph mentioned:


Indeed a wonderful home in all respects.  And a home that, if it were around today, would have many stories to tell. Perhaps just obscured only by a few layers of paint?

Speaking of graffiti under paint, there’s something else that comes to mind here.  Just a few decades ago, within our collective memory, Culpeper boasted numerous structures – beautiful homes – which stood witness to the war, each with a history and stories to tell.  Many of those are lost.  Likewise, some of the topographical features that played a prominent role in the war are grossly altered without regard to significance.  And what remains is at risk.  Just over a year ago another important site with respect to the Winter Encampment – Glen Ella, where General Gouverneur K. Warren spent the winter – was leveled to make way for a modern home.  And in just recent months, a large house went atop Cole’s Hill, marring the profile of a hillside which up until that time remained very close to what the soldiers called “cold mountain.”

Winter Encampment 097

This discarding, and in some ways destruction, of our history and heritage will continue so long as those in positions of leadership remain aloof to the problem. The Brandy Station Foundation should be at the fore of these issues.  But it is not.  Ever since the president of that organization, Joseph McKinney, pushed out a policy not to “oppose common property improvements,” the Foundation has remained quiet.  While the position of the Foundation spoke of “reversible change,” a proper definition of such (if there could be) was lacking.  The statement appears now, just as it did to preservationists in 2011, as just bunting.  Leadership in the foundation has not uttered a single word in regard to these irreversible damages seen to the county’s historical resources.  With that comes a shortfall towards the organization’s stated reason for being.  An organization chartered for preservation should, in fact, be an agent favoring preservation – not enabling destruction  – of those resources. The policy, crafted to allow the Brandy Station Foundation to save face, all the while turning a blind eye to what happened on the battlefield, has in effect been a “camel’s nose under the tent” which allowed this irreversible change.

It is impossible to reverse what was done over the last few years.  But to save what is left, it is time the Brandy Station Foundation recognizes the damage done by its policy of non-intervention in preservation matters.  It’s time for the Foundation to renounce its policy.  There is much still at risk and much preservation work to be done.

Wainwright’s Diary, January 31, 1864: Lots of recruits… and women

On the last day of January 1864, Colonel Charles S. Wainwright mentioned several subjects in his diary.  He first turned to recruitment and reenlistment matters:

January 31, Sunday.  The convalescent camp at Alexandria has been broken up, and the ground and buildings taken for a camp of distribution.  My first installment of recruits is there now …. New York, I hear, is alive with returning regiments, and squads of recruits marching off.  I hope to be there this day week.  My return of re-enlisted men shows 117; it is about done in my command.

Historian Allan Nevins dropped a note from this passage related to the recruiting efforts.  Reenlistments within the Army of the Potomac reached over 16,000 that winter.  That’s over one-eighth of the army which could have just went home for good, with no shame at all.  But they signed the papers and remained.  Well took a furlough and remained.  Nevins’ other observation here was to the positive effect on recruitment while these men were on the home front, making appearances.

One veteran who did not remain with the army was Wainwright’s surgeon, Dr. Mosser, who’d left in December. “He was only a contract surgeon, and has gone home to Pennsylvania on invitation of his old master, who offers him a partnership with half the profits.” Wainwright noted the young doctor should bring home “three or four thousand a year.” Not to mention, a lot safer than practicing his trade with the army.

Closing his entry, the bachelor colonel touched upon social events… that he was excluded from:

I am really without anything to enter today; have not been so hard pushed for material since last winter.  The officers of the Third Corps gave a grand ball last week; an immense room was put up; supper brought down from Washington, and so on.  It is said to have been a great success. I did not receive an invitation so was not there. There are lots of women in the army now.

The ball even made Harper’s Weekly, in the February 20 edition.  Thanks to Son of the South, that resource is readily available on the web. The accompanying article described the ball in detail, noting the dancing-hall was “made up of tents, and decorated with flags and evergreens.”


The article went on to say, “While the fortunate soldiers who have partners are at supper with their ladies, those not so successful are engaged in what is called the ‘gander’ dance, which our artist has faithfully represented on the same page” to the lower right.  The article concluded:

This ball was quite a success, a score of generals attended; and it was altogether an event to break up the monotony of every-day dreariness in camp.  It was the first opportunity that gave the ladies staying with their husbands in camp a chance to come together.

While in some measure a welcome “domestication” of the camp, the presence of so many women in camp interfered with some military actions.  The same issue of Harper’s Weekly discussed the actions at Morton’s Ford on February 6-7, reporting, “When the order came for this advance, Friday night, nearly a thousand ladies, wives of the officers and men, were in camp.”

Keep in mind, there was no family support plan in the Army of the Potomac as we know them today.

(Source: Charles S. Wainwright, A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journals of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright, 1861-1865, edited by Allan Nevins, New York: Da Capo Press, 1998, pages 317-8;  Harper’s Weekly, Volume VIII, No. 373, accessed from Son of the South website.)

“If I could get leather I could set 500 shoemakers to work”: Lee, ANV, and shoes for ’64

The Army of Northern Virginia had a thing about shoes.  Never seemed to be enough of them.  On this day (January 30) in 1864, General Robert E. Lee sent an inquiry to Brigadier-General Alexander Lawton, Quartermaster General for the Confederate Army:

Headquarters Army of Northern Virginia,
January 30, 1864.

Brig. Gen. A. R. Lawton,  Quartermaster-General,     C. S. Army:

General: I have sent two quartermasters over the ridge to purchase leather for the use of this army. The one in the lower valley reports that he has found 2,880 sides, all in the hands of original manufacturers except 220 sides, which are in the hands of speculators. The officer in the upper valley had only visited three tanneries when he wrote, and had only found 400 sides ready for use, but many were in course of preparation. Some of this leather could be bought at Government prices, though it was offered in exchange for rawhides. They asked as high, in some cases, as $10 a pound for upper and $7 for sole.

The chief quartermaster of the army brought me this morning a sample of the shoes recently sent from Richmond. One pair was of Richmond manufacture and another from Columbus, Ga. They were intended to be fair samples of each lot and were selected with that view. Neither could compare with the shoes made in this army. In the Richmond shoe the face of the leather was turned in, that is, the side of the skin next the animal was turned out, which is contrary to the practice of the best makers and contrary to the arrangement of nature. Without knowing the result of experiment in this matter, I should therefore think it wrong. The leather of the Columbus shoe was not half tanned and the shoe was badly made; the soles of both slight, and would not stand a week’s march in mud and water.

If I could get leather I could set 500 shoemakers to work. The scraps would answer for repairs. I have the workmen and tools. Can you get for me the leather I have referred to above, or authorize the chief quartermaster of the army to do so? I am not in favor of exchanging hides for leather at the rates established by the schedule, viz, 45 cents for the hides and $2.80 for the leather. The old rule in Virginia, and I believe it is still practiced, was to receive one-half of the leather produced by the hides. I do not know whether we could exchange at that rate. The army is in great distress for shoes and clothes. Every inspection report painfully shows it–artillery, cavalry, and infantry. The requisitions sent in are unanswered.

I am, with great respect, your obedient servant,
R. E. Lee, General.

So Lee, in command of the Confederacy’s most important field army.  His daily schedule ranked for only the most important activities requiring the utmost attention.  And here Lee spent what one must consider a good deal of that precious time addressing foot gear.   And not just making requisitions for more shoes, but going into considerable discussion about the manner of constructions and purchase of raw materials.  An important topic – the army could not move without shoes – but a topic which certainly distracted Lee from operational and tactical matters.

This is Exhibit A, demonstrating the collapse of the Confederate war machine in early 1864.

(OR, Series I, Volume 33, Serial 60, pages 1131-2.)

“The south angle was the object of their aim”: Another minor bombardment of Fort Sumter

Through much of January 1864, the Federal guns on Morris Island focused on Charleston.  Their nine day bombardment of the city was the heaviest, in terms of shots fired, up to that time.  The gunners fired an occasional shot at Fort Sumter, mostly as a reminder of the range.  But as January came to a close, the Federal guns on Morris Island turned on Fort Sumter for another “minor bombardment.”  This commenced on the evening of January 28.  Reporting on January 29, Lieutenant-Colonel Stephen Elliott, commanding the fort’s garrison, observed:

I have the honor to report that at 9 o’clock last night the enemy opened on us with mortars from the middle battery, throwing by morning 123, of which 82 burst in and over the fort. Two Parrott shots also struck. I ordered the steamer to return to the city before her cargo had been entirely discharged, as she was in evident danger. No injury was done to the work and no casualties occurred. The firing continues this morning from guns. The thick weather obscures the fleet. A tug was lying very close in at daylight this morning; I think she could have been struck by Sullivan’s Island guns.

Later that day, Elliott added an additional report:

The fire is from three 10-inch columbiads, and a 30-pounder Parrott is directed at the south angle, where some open arches have been recently filled from the outside, and which we suspect they have seen. Work going on as usual, and no damage done.

By 11 p.m., he tallied the overall figures for incoming rounds and damage that day:

Shots fired from 10-inch columbiads, 8-inch Parrott, 6-inch Parrott, 40 and 30 pounder Parrotts at south angle, 156; 129 hit. Mortar shells fired, 13; 7 hit. Damage, trifling. Casualties, 1 man wounded in ankle.

The bombardment continued the next day, with Elliott noting “The south angle was the object of their aim; an hour’s work at dark repaired the injury it received.”  For the garrison, the high point of the day occurred at 3 p.m. when the flagstaff was shot away.

…it was first replaced upon a small and afterwards upon a larger staff by Private F. Schafer, Company A, Lucas’ battalion, who stood on the top of the traverse and repeatedly waved the flag in the sight of the enemy. He was assisted by Corpl. L. Bressentiam and Private Charles Banks, of the same corps, and by Mr. H. B. Middleton, of the Signal Corps, who is acting as adjutant of the post in the absence of the regular officer.

They were exposed to a rapid and accurate fire of shells. At the close of the scene Schafer, springing from a cloud of the smoke and dust of the bursting shell, stood long waving his hat in triumph. It was a most gallant deed, and the effect upon the garrison was most inspiring.

Although at a slower rate than fired during the heavy bombardments of the previous November, shells continued to fall through the last day of the month.  Elliott provided a full record of all incoming shots for the month in his routine reports:


The spike in the numbers for those last four days of the month stand in contrast to only three days of very light firing earlier in the month.  Note that Elliott’s tallies provided in the daily reports often overlap reporting periods depicted in the table above.  So those looking to run the numbers need to shake them first.

The objective of this minor bombardment was, as Elliott observed, just to break up a section of the fort the Confederates had recently repaired.  That objective achieved, from the Federal perspective, all returned to normal… meaning skirmishing with heavy caliber guns and mortars.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 183-186.)

“We don’t need their infernal old sharp-sticks at all.”: Colonel Gibbs airs grievances, January 29, 1864

Colonel Alfred Gibbs commanded the Reserve Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division during the winter encampment of 1864.  His brigade picketed Rapidan River crossing points near Cedar Mountain and other points south of Culpeper.  This was part of the picket line established south of Cedar Mountain earlier in January. On this day (January 29) in 1864 he sent this report to division headquarters discussing the day’s activity:

Mitchell’s, January 29, 1864.

Captain Bacon,
Assistant Adjutant-General:

All quiet on the picket-lines except a few shots at Somerville Ford. The enemy continue the erection of breast-works and rifle-pits at that point. The brigade of infantry up on Cedar Mountain goes to Culpeper this morning, thus increasing my picket-line considerably.

Alfred Gibbs,
Colonel, Commanding Brigade.

Not mentioned in that brief report, Gibbs’ men had processed several Confederate deserters on that and the previous days.

Now that was the “official” report.  Appearing on the record is an “unofficial” report made from Gibbs to his commander, Brigadier-General Wesley Merritt, on the same day:

Hdqrs. Cavalry Reserve Brigade,
January 29, 1864.

Brig. Gen. W. Merritt,
Commanding First Division Cavalry, Culpeper:

Dear General: Since we have been deprived of the pleasure of judicially assassinating that deserter to-day, I shall endeavor to elevate my depressed spirits by literary composition. Now, general, when we were ruthlessly thrust out to the front, where we have since been kept at the point of the bayonet, we were promised a division of infantry to protect us. Well, they have never done it. These regiments of General Robinson’s have been in Culpeper all the time, and last night about 1 o’clock I was aroused from my nocturnal repose by General Robinson’s dispatch informing me that the Cedar Run brigade was to be withdrawn to-day, and that he wanted his pickets relieved by cavalry.

I understand that another division was ordered to relieve General Robinson’s, but mean time that division had erected a theater in town, and of course it could not be thought of that they should go to the front and leave the theater behind. Now, we don’t want their infernal old sharp-sticks at all, and I think we will be safer if they will withdraw the other brigade, so that if we are run back we won’t have to wait until they pack up their duds and skeedaddle back to their present position.

They have left 100 men as a guard to the four blind signal officers on Cedar Mountain. It is reported that some camp-fires were seen yesterday in the woods north and west of Thoroughfare Mountain; perhaps that will account for the brigade changing front to rear so suddenly. The patent-sight man yesterday took four shots while the enemy were firing at Somerville Ford, and says he hit two certain. Mr. Emmons, assistant adjutant-general, will communicate to you some views of mine with regard to the picket-line on our left, which I desire to have changed. Lieutenant Walker is still basking in the sunshine of beauty.

We still live, move, and have our being; somewhat muddy.

Very respectfully, yours,
Alfred Gibbs,
Colonel, &c.

If only we saw more of these “unofficial” letters….

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 33, Serial 60, pages 440-1.)

Wainwright’s Diary, January 28, 1864: Drill hard, fight hard

For Thursday, January 28, 1864, Colonel Charles S. Wainwright’s diary entry focused on the training of his cannoneers:

Last Friday I got out my order for drills and other duties…. I do not prescribe the exact time, nor the hours they are to give; only warn them that if any fail to work hard I shall do so.  I require recitations in tactics and regulations three evenings in the week, and drill at least two or three hours each day: when the ground will allow it, all else is to give place to the battery drill. Attention is also particularly called to the care of the horses.  I hope to turn out a pretty good command by spring, if we lay quiet as long as I think we are likely to….

An old adage, perhaps more from the post-World War II times but still applicable to any era, reminds that “the more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.”  A sergeant-major, of the type who carry hash-marks the length of a sleeve, once imparted to me a corollary of that adage –  “combat experience does not make a better soldier; but it provides the motivation to make things right and  meaningful in training, which makes him a better soldier.”  Considering the experience, just within the previous twelve months, of Wainwright’s command, there must have been plenty of motivation to get those drills correct.


By way of drill, Wainwright would indeed have a “pretty good command” when the campaign of spring came.

(Citations from Charles S. Wainwright, A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journals of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright, 1861-1865, edited by Allan Nevins, New York: Da Capo Press, 1998, pages 317.)

150 years ago: An objection to the use of USCT troops in Virginia

Francis H. Pierpont is most remembered as the “Father of West Virginia.”  Lesser known is his role as the Governor of “restored” Virginia.  After West Virginia was admitted as a state in June 1863, Arthur I. Boreman became the state’s first governor. But Pierpont remained governor of the areas of Virginia, outside of West Virginia, under Federal control.  That area included parts of Northern Virginia (where the provisional capital was in Alexandria), Hampton Roads, Norfolk, and the Eastern Shore counties on the DelMarVa peninsula. Around this time 150 years ago, Pierpont raised an issue with the way Major-General Benjamin Butler had garrisoned those Eastern Shore counties (the Virginia counties were placed in his jurisdiction, and administered separately from the Maryland Eastern Shore for this time).  Pierpont raised those issues in a letter to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton on January 27, 1864:

Hon. E. M. Stanton,  Secretary of War, Washington, D.C.:

SIR: It is with deep regret that I feel compelled in the discharge of my official duty, however humble, to call your attention to the occupation of Accomack and Northampton Counties with colored troops to act as a provost guard. I am informed that 600 colored troops are sent to those counties, I suppose to take the place of the white troops there. Two companies of white troops is a large estimate for those counties, and from the number of those sent, I suppose, as a matter of course, the white ones will be removed.

Discipline is the first requisite for troops of any color, but from my observation veteran troops soon lose their discipline when placed on a roving service such as required in those counties, and none but soldiers of the best habits should be placed on that duty. These colored troops are new recruits just from bondage. Their own welfare requires discipline, hence their place is in the field or fortification where they can be under the eye of their officers.

This disposition of troops will have a bad effect on the white soldier in the field. Evil-disposed persons will circulate the news through the army that colored troops are sent back for guard duty, where there is no danger, while the white man is sent into the front of the battle. Pardon these suggestions.

But the great objection is the positive insolence of these colored soldiers, undisciplined as they are, to the white citizen. It is at the risk of the life of the citizen that we make any complaint of their bad conduct. I know you would not leave your wife and daughters in a community of armed negroes, undisciplined and just liberated from bondage, with no other armed protection. My information is that it is a terrible stroke to the Union cause in that section. Union men are justly frightened for the safety of their families. The citizens there are disarmed. I am happy to say the Union cause was growing daily in those counties.

The Legislature of the State has ordered a State convention to abolish slavery in the State. The delegates are all elected, and I have not heard of a single man being elected who is not in favor of abolishing slavery. The people in Accomack and Northampton will lose from 6,000 to 8,000 slaves, but still they bear it–must bear it. A number of slave-holders are with us, and the Union cause growing. Is it right now to torture both parties with the terrible apprehensions that must haunt them by the presence of these troops, when all reflecting men must doubt the propriety of it, looking alone to the good of the soldier, the service, and the policy in reference to the white soldiers? The same state of affairs exists at Portsmouth.

It is painful to me to raise these questions, but I am sure the honor of your administration requires the correction of abuses where they exist. I am satisfied these things are not done by your orders.
I am, yours, &c.
F. H. Peirpoint [sic].

There are so many different threads to follow here.  Not the least of which is the presence of USCT units in an area where slaves were still held.  The sound of a record needle scratching the vinyl should be going through your head in that last paragraph.

But as I like to focus on the Emancipation Proclamation as an executive order with a decided focus on military operation and policy, let me take up that line.  The troops mentioned were the 10th USCT.  Lieutenant-Colonel Edward H. Powell, commanding the regiment, reported arriving and relieving parts of the First Maryland (Eastern Shore) on January 21, 1864.  When Butler sent Powell to the Virginia Eastern Shore, he provided instructions which read in part:

The officer in command of the Tenth U.S. Colored will caution all his officers that there must be the strictest diligence and vigilance that no outrages of any sort are committed by his troops, for both he and his officers will be held personally responsible by me if any such are committed. The inhabitants there fear greatly the quartering of negro troops in their midst. I depend upon him and the good conduct of his troops to correct that misapprehension, for I assure both him and them that the most summary punishment will be visited upon them for any breach of discipline, especially any that shall affect peaceable men. The commanding officer will immediately take measures to recruit his regiment to the fullest extent. He will give receipts to all loyal men who have taken the oath prescribed by the President’s proclamation for any slave which may be recruited. He will report to me immediately any deficiency in his officers, incompetency, or any vacancy that may exist, that the one may be taken notice of and the other filled….

Clearly Butler was aware of the issues later raised by Pierpont.  In fact, he addressed such in a letter to Elizabeth Upshur, a resident of Northampton County, on January 10, responding to her inquiry about rumors concerning a USCT garrison:

 If I could believe for a moment any of the consequences would follow which you detail it certainly should not be done. Experience, however, has shown that colored troops properly officered are less aggressive than white ones in the places where they are quartered, from the fact that they have been accustomed from their childhood to give up their will to the will of those who are over them.

Butler spent a paragraph assuaging her fears and dismissing reports of poor conduct by the regiments in North Carolina.  He concluded the letter, “Therefore calm your fears.  I will hold myself responsible that no outrage shall be committed against any peaceful citizens.

Again, looking at this as a military extension of the Emancipation Proclamation, consider the twist.  In a county that was except from militarily enforced abolition, emancipated slaves, which were formed into a regiment authorized by the Proclamation, were ordered to perform garrison details.  There was still significant reluctance, despite the performance of USCT regiments in the summer of 1863, to place those regiments on the front lines in the major field armies.  And as noted above, there was reluctance to have the USCT perform garrison duties in some areas to relieve white soldiers.  At some point, due to weight of numbers if nothing else, the USCT would have to be used for something.

Considering Butler’s remark about the “properly officered” USCTs, I am reminded of similar conclusions from Morris Island in September.  That’s where the “military thread” leads in this case.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 33, Serial 60, pages 371, 375, 432-3.)