Fortification Friday: Wheeler’s take on blockhouses

As we have often seen, when writing instructions for cadets in the 1880s, Civil War veteran Junius B. Wheeler put a twist or two on Mahan’s pre-war, and post-war, teaching about fortifications.  The blockhouse is yet another example of this.  For starters, Wheeler introduced the notions about using blockhouses with a different set of terms and classifications.  Instead of “safety redoubts”, Wheeler stated with…

Secondary interior arrangements. – Besides the interior arrangements which have been described, or mentioned, there are others which are secondary in their nature.  These are the arrangements which are to be used under certain contingencies, or in cases of emergency.  An example, would be  defense placed within a field work, which defense can be used only when the main work is no longer defensible, etc.

This is certainly keeping in line with the concepts we saw Mahan teaching, but is giving a broader sweep to things.  In the next paragraph, Wheeler jumped right to the blockhouse… but with some fresh considerations:

Block-houses. – It is frequently the case that a separate fortification is constructed, laying entirely within a work exterior to it, into which a garrison can retire and protract their resistance, even after the outer fortification has been taken, or has been made unfit for further defense.

If this interior work is a line of earthen parapet, it is called a retrenchment; if it is a defensible building, it is termed a keep.

The term, keep, is also applied to a work which is entirely separate and distinct from the work exterior to it, whatever may be the material used in its construction. In a field work, the keep is built of timber, and is called a block-house.

There you have it – in fortifications the engineer will consider “secondary interior arrangements” to include retrenchments and keeps.  And if the latter of which is made of timber, it is called a blockhouse.  It’s the same basic thing Mahan wrote, just using different terms.  But, as we all know, terms have meaning and are selected for reasons. In this case, I think Wheeler was simply saying there were many different options for these interior works, and the blockhouse was favored.

Regardless of the emphasis, Wheeler’s blockhouse keep differed little from Mahan’s in form and function.  Wheeler directed the blockhouse have “good command over all of the interior space” and “that all parts of the exterior work can be seen from it.” Wheeler’s blockhouse could be square, rectangular, and “even cruciform” in plan, just like Mahan’s.

However, there was some difference in the internal dimensions.  Rooms inside the blockhouse were to provide six feet of height, though eight or nine were suggested for ventilation.  And Wheeler suggested an interior width of nine feet, “as this is the least distance which can be used and give room for a passageway and a row of bunks.”  Recall, Mahan specified at minimum a nine foot height and a width of up to twenty feet.  But keep in mind Mahan’s dimensions were governed by the need for handling muskets within the blockhouse.  By the time Wheeler was writing, those Springfields had been converted to trap-door models.  Wheeler indicated the overall length of the blockhouse, including all rooms and spaces, would “depend upon the number of men it has to accommodate, after the width has been assumed.”

As to the thickness of walls, Wheeler gave no specification for single or double thickness of timbers.  Rather, he simply indicated, “Block-houses must be made strong enough to resist the projectiles which may strike them and should be proof against fire and splinters.”  Elaborating further, Wheeler said, “The conditions given for a bomb-proof are applicable to the block-house, with the additional one of arranging its walls for defense.”  And by defense, he meant loopholes.   To illustrate this, Wheeler recycled one of Mahan’s drawings:

WheelerFig53_54_55

So in form and function, Mahan’s post-war blockhouse remained the standard.

But what of Mahan’s “American blockhouse” for use as a stand-along fortification?  Well, Wheeler had a different label:

Isolated block-houses. – Timber blockhouses were used frequently in the war of 1861-5 in isolated spots, as independent works.

In these places, they were, as a rule, exposed to attack only from infantry or cavalry, or a few pieces of field artillery.

The construction shown in Figures 53, 54, and 55 is a type of these isolated block-houses.

It was found from experience that it required a thickness of forty inches of solid timber to resist the projectiles of field-guns.

These isolated block-houses were frequently built two stories high.  The upper story was usually placed so as to have its sides make an angle with the sides of the lower story. By this arrangement, the corners of the upper story projected over the sides of the lower.  This arrangement of the upper story removed the dead space near the sides of the lower story, and the sector without fire in front of the angles.  Block-houses exposed to artillery should not have a second story.

Again, very close to the words Mahan wrote, but mixing the pre-war with a bit of wartime experience.  There are a few points which followed in Wheeler’s text that we shall return to in time.  But for the most part, we see the “American blockhouse”, with a few new terms to describe its classification within the fortification form.

Wheeler’s manual was aimed at a generation of cadets some twenty years removed from the Civil War.  That generation would include men like John J. Pershing.  While some, as was the case with Pershing, would serve on the frontier where there was use for the old blockhouses.  And around that time, our romantic notions of the frontier posts took root.  So I close this discussion of blockhouses coming full circle to those movie props and toys which come to mind when that sort of fortification is mentioned.

(Citations from Junius B. Wheeler, The Elements of Field Fortifications, New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1882, pages 156-60.)

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Summary Statement, 2nd Quarter, 1863 – Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, and Delaware!

Well, well.  Finally!  In the second quarter of 1863, the bureaucrats of the Ordnance Department finally caught up with those fellows serving the Union out in the vast Trans-Mississippi theater.  Sloppy entries, but at least there are entries:

0177_1_Snip_AR_CA_CT_DE

Yes, right up top, we see “Arkansas” with two lines – one for an artillery battery and the other for a detachment serving with cavalry.  Below that we see formal headings for Connecticut and Delaware.  However, shoved under the Connecticut header are entry lines for a California cavalry detachment (with a howitzer on hand) and the 1st Colorado Battery.  This pulls several entries off the “Batteries that were overlooked” from the previous quarter.  Huzzah for good record keeping!

Kidding aside, let’s focus first on the batteries from Connecticut and Delaware, which carry over from the previous quarter:

  • 1st Connecticut Light Artillery Battery: Reporting at Folly Island, South Carolina with six 3.80-inch James Rifles.  Captain Alfred P. Rockwell remained in command, with the battery still assigned to Tenth Corps, Department of the South.  However, a more accurate location would be Beaufort, as the battery remained there until later in the summer, when it did move (with other reinforcements) to Folly and Morris Islands in support of the campaign against Battery Wagner.
  • 2nd Connecticut Light Artillery Battery: At Taneytown, Maryland with two 12-pdr field howitzers and four 3.80-inch James Rifles.  The Gettysburg nutcases fanatics students will remind us this was the only Federal battery at Gettysburg with James rifles and 12-pdr field howitzers.  As part of the transfer of garrison troops from Washington to reinforce the Army of the Potomac, Captain John W. Sterling’s battery became part of the 2nd Volunteer Brigade, Artillery Reserve.
  • 1st Delaware Light Artillery Battery: At Camp Barry, Washington, D.C. with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.  Captain Benjamin Nields’ battery traveled a lot during the spring and early summer of 1863… but never left the Eastern Theater.  In April, the battery proceeded to Norfolk, where it reinforced the Seventh Corps as Confederates threatened that point and Suffolk.  The battery was still with the Seventh Corps for Dix’s campaign, or demonstration if you prefer, on the Peninsula in June-July.  Then on July 8, the battery was ordered back to Camp Barry in Washington.

Please note we do not see a listing here for Battery M, 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery, which had on hand 4.5-inch rifles, and were in the field supporting the Army of the Potomac (if not actually at Gettysburg).

With those three batteries out of the way, let’s look to the “new comers” to the form:

  • 1st Arkansas Artillery Battery: At Springfield, Missouri with six 3-inch Ordnance rifles. The battery formed with troops at both Springfield and Fayetteville, Arkansas during the early months of the year.  Fully manned, the battery was posted to Springfield through the summer.  Captain  Denton D. Stark commanded this battery assigned to the District of Southwest Missouri.
  • Detachment of 1st Arkansas Cavalry: At Fayetteville, Arkansas with two 12-pdr mountain howitzers.  This regiment was among those defending Fayetteville against a Confederate attack in April.  I am not sure if the two howitzers were formally assigned to one of the companies.  The regiment, under Colonel Marcus LaRue Harrison, would see duties across Southwest Missouri and Northwest Arkansas through the summer and early fall.  I will save the rest of that story for someone to write on a “To the sound of Clashing Sabers” blog.
  • Detachment of 3rd California Cavalry?: The notation clearly says “Cavalry”… but there was no 3rd California Cavalry.  There was, however, a 3rd California Infantry and it had reported artillery on hand back in December 1862.  However, the location is given as Camp Independence, California.  And it is the 2nd California Cavalry which is most associated with that outpost in the Owen’s Valley.  Let us just say that “A California Detachment” had one 12-pdr mountain howitzer for our purposes.
  • 1st Colorado Artillery Battery: at Camp Weld, Colorado Territory with no cannon reported.  There is an annotation after the state name which is illegible.  Records show this battery posted to Fort Lyon, and under the command of Lieutenant Horace W. Baldwin, at the end of June 1863.  In July the battery moved to Camp Weld.  Not sure what cannon were assigned at this time.  However in December 1863 the battery reported four 12-pdr mountain howitzers.  So that’s the likely answer.

How’s that for “rounding out” the list?  We will see more of these missing batteries and detachments accounted for as we continue through the second quarter, 1863.

That introduction out of the way, let us look to these seven lines from five different states (or territories, as you wish).  Starting with the smoothbore ammunition:

0179_1_Snip_AR_CA_CT_DE

Three to consider for this page:

  • 1st Arkansas Cavalry: 36 shell, 132 case, and 36 canister for 12-pdr mountain howitzers.
  • 2nd Connecticut Battery: 160 shell, 120 case, and 13 canister for 12-pdr field howitzers.
  • California Detachment: 24 shell, 24 case, and 24 canister for 12-pdr mountain howitzers.

Those entries seem in line with expectations.

Looking to the next page, we look at the Hotchkiss rifled projectiles:

0179_2_Snip_AR_CA_CT_DE

Hotchkiss is normally associated with 3-inch rifles.  That holds true here, but there’s also some for the James rifles:

  • 1st Arkansas Battery: 84 canister, 84 percussion shell, 156 fuse shell, and 480 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.
  • 1st Connecticut Battery: 90 percussion shell, 120 fuse shell, and 468 bullet shell for 3.80-inch James rifles (and we’ll see another column of Hotchkiss on the next page).
  • 2nd Connecticut Battery: 49 fuse shell and 191 bullet shell for 3.80-inch James rifles.
  • 1st Delaware Battery: 172 shot, 238 canister, 545 percussion shell, and 121(?) fuse shell for 3-inch rifles.

Very interesting the Delaware battery had so many shot, or “bolts”, on hand.  Particularly given their service in southeastern Virginia. Though it is likely the result of them having on hand what was issued, as opposed to any specific tactical requirement.

Turning to the next page, we can narrow our view down to the extended Hotchkiss, Dyer’s, and James’ columns:

0180_1A_Snip_AR_CA_CT_DE

First off, that left over Hotchkiss entry:

  • 1st Connecticut Battery: 190 canister for 3.80-inch James.

We don’t see many Dyer’s projectiles reported, so this entry is noteworthy:

  • 1st Delaware Battery: 764 shrapnel and 37 canister for 3-inch rifles.

And the James-patent projectiles:

  • 1st Connecticut Battery: 185 canister for 3.80-inch James rifles.
  • 2nd Connecticut Battery: 28 shell and 80 canister for 3.80-inch James rifles.

The variety of projectiles continues as we look on the next page:

0180_2_Snip_AR_CA_CT_DE

Again, the Connecticut batteries.  And again, projectiles for the James rifles.  This time of Schenkl-patent type:

  • 1st Connecticut Battery: 978 shells for 3.80-inch James.
  • 2nd Connecticut Battery: 320 shells for 3.80-inch James.

So the 1st Connecticut had plenty of everything from everyone!

Something in regard to the small arms section, that readers might have picked up on this with some of the earlier posts, is the frequent use of written annotation on the column headers.  Almost every page set will have its own “custom” columns.  We see that here for the top of this page set:

0180_3_Snip_AR_CA_CT_DE

And one might think with all these Trans-Mississippi units reporting, we’d see a lot of long arms.  Not the case here.  Either those far western artillerists had no small arms, or (more likely) the officers reporting didn’t provide details.  So we’ll look to the three eastern batteries:

  • 1st Connecticut Battery: 135 Navy revolvers, thirteen cavalry sabers, and forty-six horse artillery sabers.
  • 2nd Connecticut Battery: Nineteen Army revolvers and sixteen horse artillery sabers.
  • 1st Delaware Battery: Twenty-four Army revolvers and thirty-one horse artillery sabers.

Yes, I would like to have seen a good accounting for the 1st Arkansas and 1st Colorado batteries here.  Would certainly add to some discussions about reeactor impressions, to say the least!  But from the data we do have presented here, I am most drawn to the 1st Connecticut Battery.  Not only did that battery, posted to South Carolina, have a wide variety of projectiles (by pattern, that is), but also a large number of pistols.

The Folwell letters, June 20, 1863: “We make the river 1475 feet wide”

On June 19, 1863, Captain William W. Folwell and Company I, 50th New York Engineers were among a detachment of engineer troops at the Mouth of the Monocacy.  Their original orders had them moving to Nolan’s Ferry with the intention of placing a bridge over the Potomac at that point.  They had even conducted a leaders’ reconnaissance of the site to determine the best way of handling equipment out of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal to the river.

But, we know, from the distance of 150 plus years, the Army of the Potomac wasted a lot of paper and telegraph transmissions changing and countermanding orders. The situation was in flux.  And as such, a soldier – particularly an engineer with the task of laying a bridge – went through the cycle of hurry up; wait; start; stop; repeat.  That, more so than pitched battles, was the experience of the soldier.

The next entry in Folwell’s diary/letters is actually transcribed (in the typewritten version on line) as June 26.  I believe that in error, with the correct date being June 20.  But thought I would mention that here in case my assertion is incorrect.  Regardless, we find Folwell at our favorite spot – Edwards Ferry:

Saturday, June [20], 1863.

Here we are at Edwards Ferry, 12 miles below Monocacy where we lay all day yesterday.  It was just dark when the order came for us to get down to this place.  No sooner had we started than the rain began pouring in torrents and continued for some hours.  About midnight it ceased.  We were going all night.  Fortunately, there are only three or four locks on the way, which allowed our men to get some rest.  Towards morning, I spread my blankets and lay down for a nap and took a very good one.

We still wait orders. Majors [Ira] Spaulding and [Wesley] Brainerd go to Washington this A.M. This leaves [Captain Michael H.] McGrath in command.  This grinds me, for I laid Pontoon Bridges before ever McGrath tho’t of getting in to the Regt. I have told the Major what I think, and hope that an arrangement will be made by which I can be relieved. We make the river 1475 feet wide, i.e., 75 bays of Bridge required, 74 boats.  We have only 64 along. The Major is writing a dispatch to Gen. Benham stating the case. What a change of base since last Saturday night when we took up the Bridge over the Rappahannock.  Of the situation, I know nothing.  Have heard no news in several days.  I am getting on better than you would think without my baggage and [my] chest.  It may be days before I see them.  My horse is safe; that is one comfort.

There’s a lot to consider in just two short paragraphs.  Let’s break this down in sequence.

Why were the engineers ordered to Edwards Ferry?  Or more accurately what drove that change?  Well, we can go back to correspondence between Army of the Potomac Chief of Staff Major-General Daniel Butterfield and Twelfth Corps commander Major-General Henry Slocum. That corps arrived in Leesburg on June 18, becoming the anchor for the army’s right flank as it pivoted to face west.  On the 19th, Butterfield pressed Slocum for, among other things, an assessment of Potomac crossing points.

Late in the evening, Butterfield asked, “What advantages are to be gained by putting a bridge at Edwards Ferry? Are there any reasons why we cannot cross at Noland’s and Hauling Fords?” To which Slocum replied, as if to deflect the subject:

I think the bridge should be built at Edwards Ferry to supply us. I have not force enough to keep the route to Vienna, or to hold many fords on the river in the country filled with guerrillas. Edwards Ferry is most accessible, and is covered by a strong redoubt on this side. Our supplies should be sent from Georgetown, by canal, to Edwards Ferry.

The dialog is important to the storyline.  Not only does this answer the why and what, but gives a glimpse into the situation as understood by the participants at the command level.  As I’ve tread over the commander’s intent at this stage of the campaign in earlier posts, let us focus for now on the intent for the bridges.  Up until at least midnight on the 19th, Butterfield (and by extension Major-General Joseph Hooker in command of the army) was focused on a bridge to move troops.  But Slocum wanted a bridge to shorten, protect his supply line.  Slocum’s reasoning won out by dawn of June 20.  And that, I would submit, tells us a bit about what Hooker had decided was the main course of action he should pursue at that point in time.  In other words – on June 20, the intent was to stay in front of Washington and anticipate battle in Loudoun.  Of course, that would change in a few days.

Moving beyond commander’s intent, we see again the heavens opened and the rain came down in buckets.  I contend that when the Army of the Potomac marched, the weather was always either too hot, or too wet, or a lot of both.  In this particular case, the rains would also have the effect of swelling the Potomac which the engineers would shortly need to bridge.

And to that point, the estimate was 1475 feet, with the particular equipment needed detailed by Folwell.  So let’s back up to June 16 and a report from Brigadier-General G. K. Warren.  While listing the various potential crossing points of the Potomac, assessed for ease of access, capacity, and river width, Warren wrote:

Conrad’s Ferry, near Leesburg, is a good place for a pontoon bridge, requiring 600 feet.  Above Edwards Ferry we can make a pontoon bridge, requiring about 700 feet.  There is here at least an outlet lock from the canal into the river; also a bridge over the canal.

Conrad’s Ferry is today’s White’s Ferry, and crosses upstream of Harrison’s Island and Balls Bluff. And readers should be familiar with Edwards Ferry’s location in relation to Leesburg.  If not, here’s the map again:

PotomacCrossings1A

But 600 and 700 feet, respectively?  No.  Not even in the middle of a hot, dry summer (which 1863 was not).  Today, the river at Conrad’s/White’s Ferry is 975 feet wide, based on my field notes.  Standing upstream from Goose Creek, the width at Edwards Ferry is 1,260 feet… again today, 150 plus years after the war.  Clearly Warren did not visit these sites in person… or if he did, his manner of estimating distance was faulty.  And this error by Warren would cost the engineers, and by extension the Army of the Potomac, valuable hours.  (Warren, I would offer, was much better at calling for reinforcements to beleaguered sectors of the battlefield than making proper engineering assessments… after all, what does a Chief Engineer get paid for?)

Let us give some allowances here for the river being up due to the rains that Folwell mentioned.  But more importantly, Folwell and team had to add some length to the bridging as they accounted for abutments and other needs – raw crossing distance vs. actual feet of bridging needed.  Still, Warren’s assessment was horribly wrong.  The impact?  The engineers at Edwards Ferry did not have sufficient equipment to do their job.  This became a problem for Spaulding, Brainerd, and… at the top of this all… Benham.

So the estimates were wrong.  Just order up some more pontoons, right?  Well in the first place, Benham was busy refitting, repairing pontoons which had just been used opposite Fredericksburg and at other points in the march north. Furthermore, we have to consider those pontoons as a strategic resource, to be husbanded by Hooker and even further up by Halleck and Lincoln in Washington.

Thus we see a curious exchange of messages between the engineers and headquarters. At 5:20 p.m. Butterfield ordered the engineers to lay a bridge at Edwards Ferry, along with a bridge over Goose Creek.  Responding at 7:20, Captain Charles Turnbull indicated he didn’t have enough pontoons, but would start the work anticipating more equipment from Washington.  But at 9:20, Butterfield inquired about the river widths at other points, adding, “If 1,400 feet, general [Hooker] does not want bridge laid at Edwards Ferry.”

My take on all this – Hooker had a card to play with these pontoons.  He was informed by his top engineer that 1400 feet would give him TWO crossing points.  But when it came time to play the card, he is informed the pontoons would not cover even ONE crossing point!  Granted, the army could get more pontoons.  But that translated into a little “rob Peter to pay Paul” when Hooker’s staff started projecting towards future operations.  Hooker would “pay” for that bridge, but it strained resource more than anticipated.

All of which impacted Folwell’s work.   In addition to the bridging, we see he was concerned about command arrangements.  I don’t have much on McGrath.  He mustered as a first lieutenant in Company F in July 1862.  Then was advanced to captain in October of  the same year (though his rank was only advanced on December 26, 1862, back-dated to October).  He replaced Spaulding in command of Company F.  So there would be some natural inclination from Spaulding toward his former command, perhaps.  But date of rank was more likely the justification. Folwell’s data of rank, to captain, was December 11, 1862.  In the military, with respect to command assignments, date of rank carries more weight than experience.

However, I find much of Folwell’s concern a minor issue, no matter how much it did “grind” him.  The man in charge of the bridging was Turnbull.  He “commanded” the engineers at Edwards Ferry on the evening of June 20.  And it was Turnbull who would give instructions to Folwell.  So as the afternoon turned to dusk and then to night, Folwell’s orders involved placing a bridge at Edwards Ferry.  That’s where we will turn next in this series.

(Citations from William Watts Fowell, Civil War Diary, unpublished, transcription retrieved from University of Minnesota Library, pages 412-13 (pages 418-9 of scanned copy); OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part III, Serial 45, pages 149, 208-9, and 229.)

The Folwell letters, June 19, 1863: “Farewell to my visions of clean shirts and stockings.”

In the previous installment, we followed Captain William W. Folwell as he, Company I of the 50th New York Engineers, and pontoon equipment barged up the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal on June 18, 1863, heading for Nolan’s Ferry.  At times, Folwell’s narrative seemed dreamy, somewhat distant from the war.  Yet at other parts, the war seemed poised to strike light lightning.  His letter closed with Company I nearing their destination… and expecting rain.  That is where his letter of June 18 picked up:

Monocacy Aqueduct, June 19th, ’63, 10 A.M.

The rain came on and fell in the biggest kind of torrents for three hours.  It, however, ceased as we were closing up on the main body of the train at this place, about 8 o’clock P.M. I got the order to tie up and lie by for the night.  The men spread their blankets on the boats, drank their coffee, and went to sleep.  Several officers got leave to sleep in a house on the tow-path side.  We left the door open, and so slept well till daylight.  The housekeeper made us a good breakfast of our own provisions and gave me some milk in addition.

First point of order here is an explanation of the location.  When departing Georgetown, Folwell’s party was going to Nolan’s Ferry.  But the party stopped instead at the Mouth of the Monocacy… or, well, technically at the Monocacy Aqueduct.  Let me pull up a map from the Sesquicentennial postings in order to put these placenames in perspective.:

PotomacCrossings1A

In the upper right we see were the Monocacy River joins the Potomac.  There were several named (recognizable names, to us Civil War types) in that vicinity.  Several transportation routes, including the canal, converged at that corner of the map.  However, Folwell’s engineers were supposed to proceed roughly two and a half miles up the canal to Nolan’s Ferry.  The pause at the Monocacy was in some part due to White’s raid at Point of Rocks on the night of June 17.  But also factoring here are the vaccinations as Hooker, and staff, tried to sort out the situation.  And that is the stuff I’ve built several blog posts about.

Moving back from the big picture, Folwell’s breakfast must have been a welcome departure from eating over a campfire.

12:15 P.M. Went up the canal with the Major and Capt. Turnbull of the Regulars, to select a point for getting our material into the river.  We have to unload balks, chess, etc., and carry them down to the river, and then haul the boats out on the tow path and drag them down the bank into the water.

Very interesting, and important, assessment of a tactical problem.  The equipment was but a few yards from the river.  But those few yards were the towpath and bottom land next to the river.  Queue up the “easier said than done” cliche.  We will see later the engineers found a better way to unload when actually putting up the bridges at Edwards Ferry a few days later.  But for now, let’s stick with June 18.

This we do when orders rec’d.  Meantime, we are encamping upon a nice piece of ground on the heel path.  Our company wagons have come up, also our horses.  By some ill luck, our own personal baggage has been left behind.  The Quartermaster in order to equalize the load, took this baggage from my company wagon, and put it on to a separate empty wagon, which vehicle has remained in Washington.  Farewell to my visions of clean shirts and stockings.  My company desk has all my private company papers in and your picture.

So it is “hurry up and wait” for Folwell.  Though I cannot pin it to a specific instance, the orders received were one of a series of commands and countermands while Hooker and staff sorted things out.  And we know Hooker would continue to change his plans with respect to bridging the Potomac through those late June days.  The next move would take Folwell back down the canal to Edwards Ferry.  And that’s the next installment.

(Citations from William Watts Fowell, Civil War Diary, unpublished, transcription retrieved from University of Minnesota Library, pages 411-12 (pages 417-8 of scanned copy).)

Summary Statement, 2nd Quarter, 1863 – 5th Regiment, US Regulars

We move now to the Fifth US Artillery, which will complete our look through the Regulars for second quarter, 1863.  For the reporting period in question, every battery of the regiment had something recorded.  Though, that was not always cannon on hand.  Three of the battery reports arrived at the Ordnance Department in 1864 or 1865.  Otherwise, the Fifth appeared to have their paperwork in order.  So let’s see if that was simply a false front:

0168_1_Snip_5thUS

Walking through the rows:

  • Battery A: At Portsmouth, Virginia with six 12-pdr Napoleons.  During the spring, Battery A transferred, with parent organization, to Seventh Corps.  Under the new arrangements, Lieutenant James Gilliss’ battery supported Second Division of that corps.  The battery had been at Suffolk, Virginia, but was moving over to the Peninsula for Dix’s brief demonstration toward Richmond in late June.
  • Battery B:  Reporting at Hagerstown, Maryland with no artillery!  Battery B was at Fort Hamilton through much of the spring, completing its training and such.  In June, Lieutenant Henry A. Du Pont led the battery, reporting to First Division, Department of the Susquehanna, within the Middle Department’s Eighth Corps.  And the battery reported there with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.
  • Battery C: Technically off by one day, the battery reported at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania with six 12-pdr Napoleons.  With Captain Dunbar R. Ransom taking command of the 1st Brigade of the Artillery Reserve (Army of the Potomac), Lieutenant Gulian V. Weir assumed command of this battery.
  • Battery D: Bealton, Virginia (?) with six 10-pdr Parrotts.  Lieutenant Charles Hazlett’s battery supported Fifth Corps. The battery’s location on June 30 of the year was, of course, in the vicinity of Union Mills, Maryland.  And, as many readers are well familiar, Hazlett’s tenure in command was to end a couple days later as he defended Little Round Top.  Lieutenant Benjamin Rittenhouse was his able replacement.
  • Battery E: At Fort Hamilton, New York but without cannons.  As with Battery B above, Battery E completed its training and organization during the spring.  And like that sister battery, Battery E was transferred to the Department of the Susquehanna in June.  Lieutenant James W. Piper was in command.  The battery had six 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Battery F: No location given, but with six 10-pdr Parrotts.  The proper location, we know, was with Sixth Corps, around Manchester, Maryland.  Lieutenant Leonard Martin commanded this battery, which would defend Cemetery Hill on July 3.
  • Battery G: Port Hudson, Louisiana with six 12-pdr Napoleons.  Lieutenant  Jacob B. Rawles commanded this battery from Second Division, Nineteenth Corps.
  • Battery H: Tullahoma, Tennessee with two 12-pdr Napoleons and four 10-pdr Parrotts.  This was “flip” from the previous quarter, which I believe is in error.  The battery likely had four Napoleons and two Parrotts at this stage of the war. Captain George A. Kensel assumed command of the battery in mid-spring.  And the battery remained with First Division, Fourteenth Corps.
  • Battery I: Reporting at West Point, New York with four 3-inch Ordnance Rifles. But we know that location is in error, possibly reflecting the 1865 report receipt date.   On June 30, Lieutenant Malbone F. Watson’s battery was with Fifth Corps along Pipe Creek.  Watson would lose a leg while leading his battery at Gettysburg on July 2.  Lieutenant Charles C. MacConnell took his place.
  • Battery K: No location given, but with four 12-pdr Napoleons. Another battery which we know was on the road to Gettysburg.  Lieutenant David H. Kinzie remained in command, but the battery transferred to the Twelfth Corps’ artillery.
  • Battery L: Reporting at Maryland Heights, Maryland with two 6-pdr field guns. Lieutenant Edmund D. Spooner’s battery was caught up in the disaster at Winchester, Virginia.  According to Spooner, eighteen men, armed only with sabers, escaped capture (having lost six Ordnance Rifles).  What remained of the battery reported to Camp Barry, which I’d submit is a more accurate location.  The report of two 6-pdrs points to some interesting inferences.
  • Battery M: At Warrenton, Virginia with six 12-pdr Napoleons. This location might be accurate for August, when the report was received. But at the end of June 1863 the battery was around Yorktown and was involved with Dix’s demonstration there. Captain James McKnight’s battery was assigned to Fourth Corps.

So we see the batteries of the Fifth Regiment were actively engaged across the board.  No easy garrison duty for those gunners!

Moving down the return… or more accurately, turning the page, we look at the smoothbore ammunition reported:

0170_1_Snip_5thUS

With the majority of the regiment’s batteries armed with Napoleons, we see those columns well populated:

  • Battery A: 192 shot, 96 shell, 288 case, and 192 canister for Napoleons.
  • Battery C: 465 shot, 162(?) shell, 369 case, and 100 canister for Napoleons.
  • Battery G: 217 shot, 352 shell, 438 case, and 132 canister for Napoleons.
  • Battery H: 172 shot, 64 shell, 171 case, and 100 canister for Napoleons.
  • Battery K:  36 shot, 5 shell, and 3 case for Napoleons.
  • Battery M:  288 shot, 96 shell, 288 case, and 96 canister for Napoleons.

The line that stands out is for Battery K.  Might those be the quantities on hand at the close of July 3, 1863?

Battery E probably had ammunition for its Napoleons on hand, but not reflecting on this report.

Spooner’s hard-luck, fought-out battery with their 6-pdrs reported:

  • Battery L: 96 shot, 56 case, and 48 canister for 6-pdr field guns.

Moving now to the rifled projectiles, there were two batteries with 3-inch Ordnance Rifles, but only one of which offered a full report.  Even with that, the Hotchkiss columns were noticeably short:

0170_2_Snip_5thUS

With Battery B still “new” and not fully reporting, only Battery I had Hotchkiss entries:

  • Battery I: 100 canister and 400 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.

For the next page, we can narrow the review down to three batteries with Parrott rifles:

0171_1A_Snip_5thUS

Those three were:

  • Battery D: 320 shell, 500 case, and 48 canister for 10-pdr Parrotts.
  • Battery F: 480 shell, 480 case, and 144 canister for 10-pdr Parrotts.
  • Battery H: 240 shell, 54 case, and 94 canister for 10-pdr Parrotts.

And the next page, there were quantities of Schenkl projectiles reported:

0171_2_Snip_5thUS

Two entries for Parrott batteries and one for the 3-inch battery:

  • Battery D: 360 shell for 10-pdr Parrott.
  • Battery F: 120 shell for 10-pdr Parrott.
  • Battery I:  300 shell for 3-inch rifles.

Overall, the two “pure” Parrott batteries seemed well provisioned.  Battery H, which was mixed, might be a little lean.  And Battery I, with its 3-inch rifles, seemed a bit short.  But that might, again, be due to what the battery did during those first days of July.

That leaves us the small arms to consider… and a lot to consider:

0171_3_Snip_5thUS

Yes, a FULL slate of small arms reported:

  • Battery A: Twenty-two Army revolvers and sixty-five horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery B:  A hundred Army revolvers and 138 horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery C: Fifty-five Army revolvers and nineteen horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery D: Thirteen Navy revolvers, fifteen cavalry sabers, and thirty-seven horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery E: Twelve Army revolvers and 107 horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery F: Twenty-four Army revolvers and twenty horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery G: Twenty-one horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery H: Sixteen Navy revolvers, five cavalry sabers, and thirty-nine horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery I: Twenty-one Army revolvers and thirty-five horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery K: Fifty-eight Army revolvers and sixteen horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery L: Nothing… not even the sabers reported carried off the field at Winchester.
  • Battery M: Twenty-four Navy revolvers and twenty horse artillery sabers.

We again must keep in mind the time frame and context.  These numbers on the sheet were cannon, ammunition, and small arms which would be put to use by these batteries in June and July 1863.

Fortification Friday: “Sufficient strength to resist” artillery taken on cavalry raids

Last week, we discussed Mahan’s American blockhouse and how that form of fortification became important during the Civil War.  During the war, the blockhouse became a common feature along railroads, roads, rivers, and other key points in the rear areas.  I don’t think this reflected a “brand new” use of the blockhouse fortifications, but rather one of greater significance as result of the needs of the war.

Pre-war thinking on such matters focused on a conflict against European powers, in a “War of 1812” scenario.  As such, the rear areas would be somewhat secure behind the Atlantic Ocean (with Mexico and the British in Canada assessed as more defensively oriented).  Only on the frontier would there be great need for blockhouses to secure supply and communication lines.  But the American Civil War upset that line of thinking.  With extended lines across half the continent, the armies could not expect to guard every quarter. This gave an opening for leaders with names like Stuart, Forrest, Wheeler, Mosby, and Morgan.  Yes, those glorious raiders riding about disrupting Yankee operations…

I would offer the Confederate raider threat reached its peak during the Atlanta Campaign.  Not to downplay other sectors, but the spring-summer of 1864 was somewhat a “point of no return” in many regards.  As a counter to the raiders, Major-General William T. Sherman directed the fortification of numerous posts along his supply and communication lines.  One of those we saw last week:

02151r

And as I pointed out last week, the blockhouse in the photo compares well to the figures offered by Mahan in his post-war manual:

MahanPage65Fig1_2

Assuming Mahan’s figures are indeed close matches, we can project all sorts of details not visible in the photo – such as internal arrangements.  And thinking of those, we have the other half of Mahan’s illustrations to consider:

MahanPage65Fig4_5_6_7_8

Now we might say a picture is worth a thousand words.  If so, I’d offer these detailed figures are worth a couple thousand more. Figures 4, 5, and 6 give us a measure of the loop-holes on the lower story.  Figures 7 and 8 provide the same for the upper story.  One might dismiss the details as simply “common sense.”  But my counter would be that “common sense” is usually derived from experience.  And in this case, the manual attempts to impart some experience onto inexperienced cadets… who definitely needed sage advice based on wartime experience.  Besides, as I like to say on such matters, “it goes to show us how THEY did it.”

The caption provided for this page of figures further solidifies the linkage to wartime experiences:

Figs 1, 2, 3, etc., represent the chief details of the two-story block-houses that have been adopted for the defense of railroad stations, bridges, etc., along the line of communications of General Sherman’s Army.  From experiments made upon them, the lower story, with its double row of heavy logs from three and a half to four feet in thickness, is regarded of sufficient strength to resist the field artillery usually taken with cavalry on their raids.

And that was the goal – a “keep” for an outpost garrison that would afford protection against the raider’s weapons.

Now some will point out that Forrest and Wheeler captured their fair share of blockhouses while out raiding.  I would offer that in most cases those captures involved a pause of action under a flag of truce.  Words like “… to prevent further effusion of blood” were mentioned.  So we might contend the blockhouse did indeed serve the “keep” function even if the garrison were captured.

(Citation from Mahan, An Elementary Course of Military Engineering: Part 1: Field Fortifications, Military Mining, and Siege Operations, New York: John Wiley & Son, 1870, page 65.)

The Folwell letters, June 18, 1863: “We live an Iliad every month….”

When we left Captain William Folwell, he had settled down for a night’s sleep, on the night of June 17, 1863, laying across bridging equipment on a raft heading up the C&O Canal, proceeding to Nolan’s Ferry.  That was an earned, uninterrupted sleep after a hard day of work.  Now we pick up on the morning of June 18:

When I fairly awoke, I stripped and jumped into the canal, and enjoyed a delightful swim.  During a short halt, we made to feed the animals, I had the men cut a quantity of boughs and stick them about the sides of the boats.  They furnish us a delightful shade.

I am half siting, half laying on my blankets, under the boughs dressed in the most free and easy stile. I wear simply my hat, shirt and trousers, boots and stockings, under clothing, – coat and vest are all piled at the end of my bed.  Now and then, I hand my legs over the side of the boat and let my feet drag in the water.  I intend jumping over-board soon and taking another swim. All aboard.  Level here – and away we go.

Folwell and his men seemed to enjoy the trip up the C&O Canal.  Other than their charges (equipment and animals), their duty was simply that of riding the rafts.  They could move no faster than the animals towing their equipment.  So nothing to do but sit and wait.  Such contrast to a report filed by Brigadier-General Henry Benham on the same day.  Benham painted the picture of an Engineer Brigade hard pressed.  He described the movement of Major Ira Spaulding’s detachment, of which Folwell’s command was a part, as delayed and somewhat frantic due to the need to cross-load equipment from steamers to the canal.  Benham cited a lack of manpower in Alexandria to recover and refit equipment recently used at Aquia Creek.

But all that mess was downstream from Folwell.  His ride up was as peaceful as one might have in a theater of war.  Folwell took the time to give us a description of his surroundings and the soldiers’ activities:

It is worth a while to make this voyage here for the scenery.  The canal (Chesapeake & Ohio) follows the Potomac river bank all the way. The banks are steep and thickly wooded.  The bed of the river is rocky and tortuous, and along the edge of the water grown many willows. Talk of going up the Nile.  That voyage could not be more interesting than this.  We have no naked Arabs and Fellahs, but we have half-naked Yankee soldiers who can make vastly more fun.  What fun to see them diving off the raft, and tumbling along in the water.  If they fall behind swimming, they only have to get on to the tow-path and run up and jump in ahead of us.  Yesterday, when several of them were merry, they sang Methodist hymns with great energy and not in bad taste.  [Artificer] Allen Taylor pushed [Sergeant] Tommy Owens overboard. I have given Tommy leave to dunk Mr. Taylor the first good chance he has.  On the other boats is a group playing Muggins very industriously.  Corporal [Charles] Bodle is mixing a lemonade.  [Sargent Levi] McGill has just finished a cup of bread and milk, and has promised to buy a canteen full for me at the first opportunity. This with some bread will make my dinner.

I like this passage for several reasons.  Foremost, this reminds me of those days when I “soldiered” when we were, like Folwell’s command, in transit with nothing to do but wait for journey’s end.  And during those intervals, you see the personalities come forward.  Folwell mentions these men, all enlisted, in a familiar tone.  This is not the “fatherly” tone one might see from a commander.  Rather one who wishes he too could partake of such play, condoning it as a break in the military discipline, but recognizing he, as the captain, cannot pass over that line.  We will read more on this later in the letter.

And this all stands in sharp contrast to Benham’s report… not to mention the infantry on those hot, dusty marches into Loudoun County!

Folwell seemed to enjoy this way of “going to war.”  But he stopped to add context:

Do you wonder how I can rattle on at this rate, as if I were on a pleasure excursion, and the salvation of the country did not depend on our having a Bridge down at Nolan’s Ferry by dark of to-day.  What do I know?  I have seen and read one or two newspapers this week, but with so much on my mind I could not fairly make out their contents. I think I understand that the Rebels are advancing up the valley, and that their Cavalry is threatening Pa. and that Hooker’s Army, having broken “camp near Falmouth,” has fallen back to cover Washington and possibly to follow Lee into Maryland.  I am inclined to think that Hooker’s Army or some portion of it will use this Bridge, which I understand is to be laid at Nolan’s Ferry near the mouth of the Monocacy.  What a trepidation must the Dutchmen of Penna. be in, and I dare say the people of this “Southern Hier” begin “to tremble in their shoes”. On some accounts, I am not sorry for this demoralization of the Rebels.  Our Copperheads used to see what kind of a war they are waging.  We have had no mail since last Saturday, and it will be some day before one can reach us.

Folwell seemed to grasp the general situation of June 1863, perhaps better than some of the generals did at the time.  I think it significant, though don’t know what to make of such, the reference to “Hooker’s Army” instead of “our Army” or other phrase.  Not to mention the remark about the Copperheads.

 

Bringing us back to the canal, Folwell recounted:

One of the mules has just been kicking, and has broken his harness.  While we lie still, a dozen men slide out of their clothing, and plunge into the water.

And that lead Folwell to channel classic figures of old:

One would think some of the fellows to have been sons of Neptune and Amphitrite, and to have been reared in the rocky mountains of the Hereids and Oceanidae.  Oenid. Bah for classics.  We live an Iliad every month, and the wanderings of Ulysses are of no account in comparison with the devious marches of the Engineer Brigade.  The charms of the Siren fade beside the blandishments of Georgetown apple and cider women.  Scylla and Charybdis present no great difficulties than the narrow lock gates of the Chesapeake & Ohio canal.  The rocks of Ithaca and the sands of Pylus all find counterparts in the bed of the Potomac. We have met no Polyphemus yet.  It is curious to see a snake swim.  There’s one and a dozen men a swimming.  What do they care.

And from there, Folwell began to think to a future beyond the war.

This is a suitable dolce for niente. I wish I had the Lotus Eaters here to read, for I can’t recall a line of it now.  I know how we can have fun if we have leisure.  Take our Yacht from Venice to Montreal and thence to Lake Champlain, and down the Hudson to N.Y.  Up the Passaic and then through the canal in to the Delaware river, down that and across in to the Susquehanna and so on, as we like. All the way around to New Orleans, then up the Mississippi, and through the Illinois canal into Lake Michigan and so home.  Was sagst du? Another lock.  The sun gets around and I shall have to move to keep in the shade.  I think I must swim. There.  I feel as cool and moist as a cucumber pickle just from the cellar.

These luxuries you women know nothing of.  Possibly, I ought not to mention except under the disguise of six syllabled words.  Here are some beautiful bits of scenery around the bend in the river. I can not tell you how the luxuriance of the trees and grass delights me.  The other day, I told Col. [William H.] Pettes that in case my brother couldn’t be mustered in and should be discharged that I should offer my resignation.  “No use, sir.  I shouldn’t let you go,” he said, and I suppose it would be impossible for me to get out of service now.  The more I think about Venice, Ohio, the more I am persuaded that I should like to go there, if I were sure you would enjoy health there.

And here we see a personal reflection, which I think relates to the familiar tone used about the men in the earlier passage:

When I come from the War, I shall be a very different man from the one you first knew.  I am forgetting and losing my taste for poetry and literature, and find myself less susceptible of fun and frolic.  Sterner and busier. The habit of command, forming now, will probably remain during my life, and I fear I am becoming captious and impatient of control.  You will have to tame and soften and civilize me when I get back home….

I hate to read into things, but considering this passage with the earlier one strikes a cord with me.

Ah, it gets hot.  I think I will put up a piece of tent to make shade.  With a little help from [Private Ira] Decker, I have a shelter under which a breeze sucks through deliciously.  We have just lengthened out the tow line to relieve the team, and to keep the head of the raft from inclining toward the tow path.  It will be night when we reach our destination.  I fear in that event we shall have to work all night.  Well, that will be nothing new.  I am getting too lazy to write and I think you are probably glad of it.  Nicht wahr? Whew!  how hot the sun is the moment the wind dies away.  I must get in the canal again.  here goes.

Perhaps we can forgive the engineers for “recreating” on the canal, because we know they would put in some very long hours doing difficult work in the days that followed.

1 P.M. Been dozing.  Allen Taylor being still drunk, discharged his gun without leave, and I have put him in arrest.  What a fool the man is.  Besides, he might shoot some one of us.

Records show that Artificer Allen Taylor was demoted to private on July 11, 1863.  I will have to research more to determine if the incident of June 18 was the cause of Taylor’s demotion.

Corporal McGill does not get back with the milk for dinner.  I grow hungry.  It is advisable to eat lightly on marches, when it is impossible to take meals statedly. Wonder where the boy is they have sent us from home.  I presume we shall get it at length. Shall I get in the canal again.  It’s “awful hot.” No, the sun will scorch my back.  I will wait till later in the day.  Here’s McGill come back with empty canteens.  So, no dinner.  Never mind, try again.  He brings news told him by the Capt. of the tug we just met.  That some Rebs. crossed at Point of Rocks last night and burned the town. It is not known whether they returned to Va. or have gone over to Md.  We may have a fight before night.  I suppose I ought to put my boots on and be ready to fall my men in.  I hope, however, the Rebs.will not molest us.  The “joys of battle” are very fine in the story-books.  The poets rejoice in them, but soldiers are not eager for the fray as said poets feign.

The Confederate raid alluded to here was on the night of June 17, and conducted by Lieutenant-Colonel Elijah V. White against the stations at Catoctin and Point of Rocks.

Starting the next passage, Folwell mentioned an eight mile stretch between locks.  I will venture a guess this was either just below Edwards Ferry’s lock, or just above. The time was late in the afternoon.

Here’s a long level – 8 miles, they say.  The sun is under a cloud.  There’s a breeze. I am cool and comfortable.  What a delicious little nap I have had.

8 P.M. Another nap and another swim.  The mules stopped for a drink.  It was hot, oh, beastly hot.  I slid in the water. The men followed my example and 20 of us were paddling around the raft.  Here are some magnificent elms on the heel-path.  Oh. how cool I am under my tent, barefooted.  Quite a different individual from him of the “tea-pot photograph.” This life will make a barbarian of me.  Any man is a barbarian away from home and the Church.  There’s a shower in the clouds.  It thunders in the distance. As the showers usually follow the water-courses, I think it best to provide against this by rolling up my blankets and dressing myself. I will fold these sheets which I have written over and enclose them.  I hope they will amuse you a little.  I have whiled away several hours of what otherwise would have been a tedious day.  The rain is coming.

And with that, Folwell closed his letter and thus the narrative for the day.  I’ve let this post run on longer than normal, as the letter offers an insightful view of “soldiering” from the perspective of a company commander.  And… a wandering mind!

The next installment will pick up with Folwell and command at the Mouth of the Monocacy, amid a heavy rain.

(Citations from William Watts Fowell, Civil War Diary, unpublished, transcription retrieved from University of Minnesota Library, pages 406-11 (pages 412-17 of scanned copy).)