Fortification Friday: Wheeler’s expanded instructions for traverses

Last week, we saw that prior to the Civil War, Mahan felt one paragraph of instruction was sufficient for cadets to understand how traverses might be used between gun platforms of the batteries.  However, in 1882, Junius Wheeler, writing a textbook for cadets nearly two decades distant from the Civil War, felt the subject required much lengthier treatment.  Mahan used the “fancy” word Gabionade and mentioned two types – shot proof and splinter proof.  Wheeler dispensed with the label, simply calling these traverses, while holding there were still two basic forms:

Traverses. – The traverses constructed along a parapet are of two kinds, viz., the traverses built to afford shelter against slant and enfilading fires, and those built as a protection against fragments of bursting shells.

Wheeler’s definition discarded (as it was somewhat outdated by 1880) the notion of shot proofing.  The main nemesis was the shell. Note also that Wheeler adds that traverses should protect against slat fires. So imagine an arc of about 30° off perpendicular that must be addressed.

Wheeler provided considerably more information for the cadets in regard to construction of these traverses:

Traverses may be built at the same time that the work is constructed, or they may not be built until there is an immediate necessity for them.

In the former case, their construction is in all things similar to that of the parapet, viz., tracing profiling and execution…

Thus the cadets were referred back to all that applied geometry involved with building the parapet and planning relief. Such is fine for those who plan for every eventuality.  But who does that?  Procrastination is always an option!

In the latter case, they are generally built in great haste, and profiles are not used.  The construction is of the simplest kind, having for its object to interpose a mass of earth upon a line of fire, in the shortest time possible.  This is done by piling sand-bags, filled with earth upon the spot to be occupied by the traverse, and then raising there a mass thick enough and high enough to server the end required.  Gabions filled with earth are frequently used for the same purpose.

Swell!  If you didn’t have the presence of mind to sort this all out before hand, and waited for the enemy to point out the flaws of your fortification, you should start by filling some sandbags.  Lots of sandbags would be nice.

Wheeler continued on to relate the desired form of the traverse:

The top of the traverse is usually made ridge-shaped, so as to carry away the rain water which falls upon it.  The sides of the traverse are sloped, the inclination of the slopes being the same, or different, according to the degree of exposure of the traverse to the enemy’s fire.


The traverse shown in Fig. 40 is an example of a traverse built to shelter the men on the banquette from a slant or enfilading fire, coming in the direction shown by the arrow.  Its top is made ridge-shaped.  The side toward the enemy has the natural slope of the earth; the opposite side is made steeper, and should be revetted.

Note also the traverse can be higher than the interior crest.  Wheeler gave the engineer latitude to adjust according to the need – both for height and width.

The thickness of the traverse depends upon its exposure to the enemy’s fire. If a fire can be brought directly upon it, it should have the same thickness as that given to the parapet.

Its height and length depend upon the amount of banquette and terreplein which are to be defiladed by it.

The next structural question is how the traverse should link into the parapet, so as to avoid a mess or flaws.  And Wheeler had an answer:

The manner in which this traverse is joined to the parapet is shown in Fig. 41, which presents its plan.


The slope on the side toward the enemy is shown, in both these figures, to be uniform.  It is not always the case. The portion exposed to the enemy’s fire is given the natural slope of the earth; but below this plane of fire, the slope may be revetted, and made steeper.

Wheeler’s last remark about the form of these traverses allows for a modified profile:

Instead of being ridge-shaped, the traverses are, in many cases, made with a cross section similar to that of the parapet.

While an illustration would be nice here, I think we can imagine the suggested layout.  Instead of a central crest on the traverse, the highest point would be on the side furthest from the enfilading fires.  The top of the traverse would then slope down to the other top crest.  Such would serve to both drain the top and deflect enemy fires.

So.. Wheeler spent the better part of three pages just describing the layout and construction of one type of traverse – something evolved from Mahan’s shot-proof traverse.  Wheeler granted more latitude for the dimensions and put more emphasis on integrating the traverse into the overall fortification plan.  Most important, Wheeler’s traverse were not just something to protect the guns in battery, but also to protect the soldiers manning the works.

Beyond this, Wheeler also gave splinter-proof traverses expanded coverage.  We’ll look at that next week.

(Citations from Junius B. Wheeler, The Elements of Field Fortifications, New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1882, pages 128-30.)

Hennessy asks, “What’s up with Civil War Roundtables?”

Last Saturday, my friend John Hennessy offered his observations from the Civil War Roundtable speaking circuit, lamenting a fall-off of such venues.  Specifically, comparing to the 1990s, John noted fewer events.  And at those events, the audiences were somewhat smaller than in the past.  I think John has some sound “field data” for consideration.  And he offers questions that should also be considered:

While some CWRT’s continue to thrive, clearly, the Civil War Round Table as we have known it–once the foundation for interest in and advocacy for Civil War history–is stumbling, suffering from lack of interest.  Is it because interest in the Civil War is flagging across the board?  ….  Or is the Civil War Round Table format just not the medium people use to engage their interest in the war?  Or, as some have suggested to me, has the move to broaden interpretation of the Civil War–to address more than the traditional military story–turned off the traditionalists, the very people who are often most engaged with CWRTs?

I would agree that Roundtables are diminished in number and attendance.  However with that, I must put the asterisk out there – we don’t have empirical data to sort through and a lot of this is “what I’ve seen and heard” sort of evidence.  Not that it is bad evidence.  But we must admit this is not exactly Nielson Ratings we are sorting through.

There were many comments on John’s post and also on his corresponding Facebook status for the post. Lots of observations offered as folks addressed John’s questions.   Many approach the matter in generational terms, which is a good tacking approach.  But careful for the reefs there.  I don’t think we can attribute a roundtable decline simply because of Common Core or whatever the latest boogie man of the educational system happens to be. As I’ve often observed in regard to school lunches, we might change what is on the plate but consumption is still based on the student’s appetite.

Some responses turned directly to the last question in John’s list. Perhaps the decline due to an intellectual shift away from the gilded centennial, where the emphasis was on “battle history”, shifting to the complexities appreciated as we approached, and then passed, the sesquicentennial.  There’s a lot of between-the-lines implied with some of those answering the question, to be sure.

The problem I find with that approach is one must demonstrate that in the “golden years”, those roundtables eschewed certain topics.  We circle back to the “no empirical data” disclaimer there, even while one can find ample evidence a wide range of topics were presented back in those old days.  On the other hand, these organizations tend to be focused on the “Civil War”, you see.  And the Civil War, like most wars one is apt to study, includes a lot of battles, campaigns, and… well …. soldier and sailor stuff.  Criticism of a roundtable for discussing battles and leaders would be akin to complaining about getting wet while swimming.

From my perspective, as an officer in a roundtable and someone who has studied the Civil War for pretty much a lifetime, I don’t think the decline is something we must attribute to a specific cause.  Rather to causes.  I say causes because not all roundtables behave the same.  And not all factors play the same within that diverse set.

First off, we need to recognize what we perceive as the “golden age of roundtables” was not necessarily directly outgrowth to the original roundtables.  The earliest organizations I know of assuming the label of “roundtable” were formed in the 1950s.  And I think that decade was significant as we consider these things.  Approaching 100 years after the war, the first generations without direct attachments to the war came of age, and the last veterans passed away.  I would offer there is a cycle of the “memory” of such things.  And one manifestation of that cycle is how some once revered topics slide become simply gilded ideas (of course, then later, tarnished gilded ideas to be reshaped).

And in regard to that reshaping, I think John’s recollections hit upon an important thread. Many readers will recall those breathtaking evenings in the fall of 1990 as Ken Burns reintroduced America to the Civil War. (And do keep in mind I say “many” here and not “most” or “all”… hold on to that.)  While Ken Burns can’t take all the credit for what followed, his work certainly enabled a lot of that… for better or worse (um… like that movie with the beards).  The Civil War, the mini-series, touched a lot of people and made them rethink, and dare I say reconsider, the Civil War. Suddenly it was cool to be a Civil War buff. We can point to a lot of written works (to include John’s Return to Bull Run) that thrived in the light of the renewed interest.  Another manifestation was, as we are discussing here, a re-emergence of roundtables.

But I say “many” readers were familiar with the Ken Burns fad.  We must consider in perspective that documentary series first aired more than a quarter-century ago, at the end of the LAST century.  Attempts to ride on those coat tails, if not completely recapture the enthusiasm, have met with lesser degrees of success.  One might say that is because the public grew tired of the subject.  One might also say it is a fools errand to improve upon a great masterpiece.

I will say that, while I am very active in a roundtable now, I was not active during those “golden years” of the 1990s.  I attended a few events.  Even spoke at several roundtables (who were clearly desperately looking for speakers while the John Hennessys of the circuit were fully booked).  And that brings me to my second perspective point… being in my twenties, my time was prioritized to things that twenty-year-olds do.  The regular roundtable thing was for people with a regular schedule and time to pursue such enthusiasms… like my father and others in in their 40s and 50s.   Given that perspective, I’m not alarmed about the aging of the audience.

But what if the “kids” never find the Civil War?  Certainly a possibility.  But circle back to my premise about the “cycle of the memory” here. Maybe what we are transitioning through, with the observed demise of the Civil War roundtables, is the next progression.  If so, should this not be lamented but encouraged as we evolve on this subject?

We are in the middle of the 100th anniversary of World War I.  And we are soon approaching the centennial of World War II. Neither have, thus far, inspired a vast number of groups dedicated to the discussion those wars. A few, yes.  But maybe we are a few years short of that cycle kicking in.  Or, perhaps, the cycle will manifest through a different sort of medium, given more evolved platforms for communication.

Consider… very few, if any, of you readers would have seen my first Civil War related web page, which went live in 1993.  Maybe more than a few will recall the “Mason Dixon Line” chat forum on America-On-Line.  But here you are, reading about the Civil War across the world-wide-web at the close of 2016.  It’s actually kind of fun coming up with new ways to share the captivating story of the Civil War as the communication tools evolve.

Maybe that’s just my rambling way of saying that I’m not concerned about where Civil War roundtables are headed.  Nobody ever made a clean living off the roundtable circuit anyway.  Not like we are watching the demise of proper cabinet-making or other practical art form.  Civil War roundtables were always about the sharing and consumption of information about the Civil War…. sometimes “the Civil War, period” and perhaps more and more now days “the Civil War period.”  Matters little what venue or forum is used, that information will continue to entertain, and captivate, a select audience.



Summary Statement, 1st Quarter, 1863 – Vermont Batteries

For the fourth quarter of 1862, the batteries of Vermont got no love from the clerks at the Ordnance Department.  For the first of 1863, at least the batteries received mention:


A small state, Vermont provided only two light batteries up to this point of the war (a third would be mustered in January 1864).  Both active batteries served in the Army of the Gulf.  Likewise, both would play parts in the campaign against Port Hudson, Louisiana later in the spring and into summer.  The receipt date for both batteries is within bureaucratic tolerance – August and May of the reporting year, respectively.

  • 1st Vermont Light Battery: Listed at New Orleans, Louisiana with six 3-inch rifles. In January, Captain George W. Duncan resigned. Captain George T. Hebard assumed command of this battery at the start of the spring.  The battery was assigned to Second Division, Nineteenth Corps.
  • 2nd Vermont Light Battery: Placed at Baton Rouge, Louisiana with six 3.67-inch rifles. Assigned to Third Division, Nineteenth Corps under Captain Pythagoras E. Holcomb.

When attempting to identify the specific type of cannon assigned to these batteries, I have to pause to offer simply the calibers reported.  I’m most certain the six 3.67-inch rifles of the 2nd Battery were Sawyer 6-pdr Steel Rifles.  But, we see here those are reported as bronze rifles.  With so many case where columns were “re-purposed” by the clerks, why not one more.

And for the 1st Battery, the weapons assigned were specifically identified as steel rifles. However, there is much inconsistency in the reports, correspondence, and records in regard to “steel rifles”.  Some times standard wrought iron Ordnance Rifles were so identified.  However, the identification leaves open the possibility that Sawyer rifles, or even Wiard rifles, in that caliber were used by the battery.  And that would be just a short list of possibilities.  I would like to think, given 2nd Battery’s association with the Sawyer rifles, that 1st Battery also had weapons of that origin.

Moving past the speculation about the guns, let us find out what they fired.  No smoothbore weapons on hand, so no smoothbore projectiles.  So we skip forward to the Hotchkiss rounds:


And allow me to add to that snip the continuation columns on the next page:


The total tally for Hotchkiss projectiles looks as such:

  • 1st Battery: 120 canister, 444 percussion shell, and 625 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.
  • 2nd Battery: 939 fuse shell and 347 canister for 3.67-inch rifles.

The batteries did not report any Dyer’s, James’, or Parrott’s on hand.  Nor any Schenkl.  So we move directly to the small arms:


Of the two:

  • 1st Battery: Eighteen Army revolvers and thirty-three horse artillery sabers.
  • 2nd Battery: Eight Army revolvers and fifty-eight cavalry sabers.

Aside from the precise identification of the cannons, the two Vermont batteries offer a simple report to interpret.

Fortification Friday: Gabionades? Let’s get between the guns!

We’ve spent several installments discussing the evolution of shelters through, and after, the Civil War.  Before the war, Mahan gave the subject just under two pages in the manual.  By the 1880s, Wheeler would allocate a dozen pages to the topic.  And this did not reflect the introduction of any great technical advance in the art of fort-building.  Rather it reflected, in my opinion, specifically changes in the manner artillery was employed… but generally towards changes at the operational level.  But keep in mind, this “change” was more so a heavier allocation of ink in the manuals, which translated to different practices being taught to cadets… in turn translating, when that cadet pinned on lieutenant or captain bars, to the soldiers’ work priorities.

A similar evolution, reflected in the ink of the manuals, occurred with respect to the protection used within the batteries, between the guns. These were technically traverses. The intent was to provide safety to the gunners from enfilading fires. Before the war, Mahan offered:

Traverses. Those which are constructed to cover the flanks of the guns from an enfilade fire, are usually what are termed gabionades. To form a gabionade, gabions are placed in a row, side by side, enclosing a rectangular space of about twelve feet in width from out to out, and about twenty-four feet in length, perpendicularly to the epaulment.  A second row is placed within this and touching it.  The area thus enclosed is filled in with earth, to a level with the top of the gabions.  Four rows of large fascines are next laid on the gabions, to support a second tier consisting of one row. The second tier is filled in like the first, and the earth is heaped on top, making the gabionade nearly eight feet high. The work will be expedited by throwing up the greater part of the earth before placing the second tier.  Splinter proof traverses may be made by placing three thicknesses of gabions side by side filled with earth, with a second tier of two thicknesses on top.

Note here that Mahan described two classes of gabionades in this paragraph.  One was a shot proof and the other splinter proof.  The latter using about a third of the materials of the former.

Mahan offered this figure to illustrate a shot proof gabionade, as a type of traverse, in profile:


As described, we see two sets of gabions on each side (four rows total on each side) on the lower tier.  Atop that fascines provide a platform for the second tier, which was two more sets of gabions (two rows on each side).  Those walls defined, the gabionade contained earth providing the mass protecting the gunners.  The result was a twelve foot wide structure (which would run twenty-four feet from the epaulment (or parapet, if you prefer) across the gun platform, which was atop the tread of the banquette. The traverse stood eight feet high, perhaps a little more.  These dimensions were governed by the height of the gun and required dimensions of the platform.  Recall platforms were supposed to run between fifteen and seventeen feet back of the parapet.

However, at the time Mahan was considering pre-war field and siege carriages.  During the war, large Parrotts and Columbiads required adjustments to the formula.  And we see that in the photos taken on Morris Island during the war:


No doubt here, this is Fort Putnam, built atop what was Battery Gregg on Cummings Point. We see a 10-inch Columbiad on the left and a Parrott (8-inch or 6.4-inch) on the right.  Based on the height of the ammunition crates and grape shot, this traverse appears to be twelve to fifteen feet tall.  The traverse is also much longer than specified by Mahan.  However, other photos in the same area demonstrate these traverses were also being used as magazines and shelters.  Thus the larger footprint was partly due to that functional arrangement.  We also see the surface is sod.  Based on engineers’ reports, these were built with gabions but surfaced with earth and sod to prevent the beach sand from blowing away.

An interior view of the works on Morris Island better illustrates the gabionades, or traverses, where not used in conjunction with shelters:


Here we see the breech end of a Parrott (looks to be a 6.4-inch) and the transom of its carriage standing out from behind the traverses.  Note the wood beams sticking out from the traverse on our left.  Such implies a stacking of tiers within, hidden behind that sodded surface.  A presumption here, but I’m pretty sure there were tiers of gabions within.  The Ordnance Manual gives the height of the trunnions on a 10-inch Columbiad wrought iron barbette carriage as 79 inches, or roughly 6.5 feet.  Add to that the height of the gun’s breech over the bore’s center line, and we’d have about 7.5 to 8 feet.  The top of the traverse is just above that breech band, so let’s call it eight to ten feet?  In the background a fellow is posing nicely on the side of anther traverse.  Looks to me he’s about four feet above the platform.  Add his height, and we have a second data point to consider. No rush, just go out and find out who the soldier is, consult his service records to obtain the height, and get back with me…. or let’s just call it as six feet more or less.  So a ten foot tall traverse?

I should also mention here the tactical setting for these traverses.  Readers know well those batteries were subject to counter-battery fire from Confederate guns on Sullivan’s Island and James Island.  And that fire was not some paltry 12-pdr or 3-inch projectiles, rather the largest and heaviest stuff available at the time.  We are talking about 7-inch Brookes, 10-inch Columbiads, and 10-inch mortars.  So stout traverses were certainly needed.

These photos provide a nice redirect to Wheeler’s description of such traverses in his 1882 instruction.  Expanding Mahan’s one paragraph, Wheeler offered over four and a half pages!  So we’ll look at that next week.

(Citations from Dennis Hart Mahan, A Treatise on Field Fortifications, New York: John Wiley, 1852, pages 59-60.)

Summary Statement, 1st Quarter, 1863 – West Virginia Batteries

The section heading reads “Virginia”.  But we know the complicated why that section could not, officially at least, be “West Virginia” for another quarter of record keeping.


From the previous quarter, we saw two lines accounting for infantry serving as artillery.  For the first quarter, 1863, just one.  And that one is easily reconciled.  Company C, Sixth (West) Virginia Infantry was later reorganized as Battery F, 1st West Virginia Artillery come April 1863.  For simplicity here, I’ll adjust that entry line to the later designation:

  • Battery A: At Washington, D.C. with no cannon reported. This battery was in the Artillery Camp of Instruction, Camp Barry.  Captain John Jenks was dismissed in early March, replaced by Lieutenant (later Captain) George Furst. The previous quarter this battery reported six 12-pdr Napoleons. Although a return was filed, and some equipment and small arms were recorded, the battery had temporarily turned in those guns.
  • Battery B: At Winchester, Virginia with six 10-pdr Parrotts.  Captain John V. Keeper in command of this battery supporting Second Division, Eighth Corps, or Middle Department if you prefer.
  • Battery C: At Stafford Court House, Virginia with six 10-pdr Parrotts. Captain Wallace Hill commanded this battery. Through the winter, the battery remained part of Third Division, Eleventh Corps.  Before the spring campaigns, the battery became part of the consolidated Eleventh Corps Artillery.
  • Battery D: At Winchester, Virginia with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles. Captain  John Carlin commanded this battery which was also in Second Division, Eighth Corps.
  • Battery E: At Romney, (West) Virginia with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.Under Captain Alexander C. Moore this battery supported Campbell’s Fourth Brigade, First Division, Eighth Corps.
  • Battery F: Again, Company C, 6th (West) Virginia Infantry and carried on a line below.  Reporting at Martinsburg, Virginia, with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles. Captain Thomas A. Maulsby commanded the battery, supporting Third Brigade, First Divsion, Eighth Corps.
  • Battery G: At Beverly, West Virginia with two 6-pdr field guns and two 10-pdr Parrotts.  Captain Chatham T. Ewing commanded this battery, supporting Averell’s Separate Brigade, Eighth Corps.

Battery H is not mentioned on the report, as it would not be formed until January 1864.

Turning to the ammunition, starting with smoothbores:


As Battery A had apparently temporarily, at least, turned in its cannon, only one battery had smoothbore guns on hand:

  • Battery G: 182 shot, 140 case, and 56 canister for 6-pdr field guns.

Turning to the ammunition for rifled guns, we often associate Hotchkiss with the 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.  Such is the case here:


Three batteries reporting:

  • Battery D: 304 canister, 486 percussion shell, 240 fuse shell,  and 250 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.
  • Battery E: 142 canister, 357 percussion shell,  and 836 fuse shell for 3-inch rifles.
  • Battery F: 414 canister, 549 percussion shell, 450 fuse shell, and 1857 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.

And on the next page, we can focus just on the Parrott columns:


And those batteries:

  • Battery B: 873 shell, 614 case, and 334 canister for 10-pdr Parrott.
  • Battery C: 810 shell, 270 case, and 114 canister for 10-pdr Parrott.
  • Battery G: 105 shell for 10-pdr Parrott.

No quantities of Schenkl or Tatham’s reported on hand for the quarter.

So we can move on to the small arms:


By battery:

  • Battery A: Fifteen Army revolvers and eighty-five cavalry sabers.
  • Battery B: Seventeen Navy revolvers and fourty-eight horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery C: Ten Navy revolvers and nine cavalry sabers.
  • Battery D: Thirty Army revolvers and thirty horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery E: Twenty-nine Army revolvers and thirty horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery F: Twenty-five Gallagher carbines, twenty-five .58-caliber pistol carbines, seven Navy revolvers, and seventy-five cavalry sabers.
  • Battery G: Seventeen Army revolvers.

Other than Battery F’s odd assortment of small arms, not many surprises here.

We have two more sections before closing the first quarter of 1863 and will be looking to Vermont and Wisconsin in turn.

Fortification Friday: Some final notes from Wheeler

It’s Black Friday… so the only fortifications you wish to consider are those shopping carts arranged to block the other shoppers from your desired flat screen TV…. So I’ll keep this installment short.

Just a few more points to touch upon from Junius Wheeler’s post-war lessons on field fortifications.  Not so subtly, I’ve beaten the drum that the practice of fortification changed with experiences during the war.  And there were two more specifics that Wheeler mentioned.  First off, if we offer shelter for the troops and magazines for the ammunition, what about the guns?

Shelter for guns, etc. – Shelters are frequently provided for guns, implements, etc.

The thing to be sheltered, its dimensions, and its uses, will regulate the details of construction of the shelter.  The rules applicable for the shelter just described, apply equally to shelters of this class.

While brief, this passage stops short of specificity.  More importantly, Wheeler did not explain why one might place guns under shelter. Implements and other equipment, for sure.  But wouldn’t one want to keep the guns out in battery to fire at the enemy?  Well, maybe that depends on the situation.  Consider that a defender may wish to keep artillery in reserve to be employed as part of a counterattack.  Or perhaps the guns were only run out at certain times or under specific circumstances.  Recall that was the case with mountain howitzers at Fort Sumter (which were setup nightly as deterrence against boat landings).

Another reason to keep the guns under shelter was operations tempo.  Petersburg comes to mind here, and requires more than passing mention.  Recall that before the explosion of the mine, precipitating the Battle of the Crater, Federal artillery moved into positions across that sector of the line. In that case, the Federals spent many days constructing batteries.  But not all the guns were sitting in those batteries while all the other preparations were completed.  Where possible the guns were held off the lines under shelter, waiting for the time to commence the bombardment.  Now the massing, in time and space, of artillery for siege operations was not some new innovation from the Civil War.  That’s not why Wheeler offered a short passage. Rather, what we see is the practice of that massing had reach a level of complexity the instructor saw the need to mention the shelters… at least in brief.

Another note from wartime experience was in regard to construction materials.  We’ve seen Mahan mentioned wood (and derivations to include sticks woven into fascines and such) as the most important material, other than the earth itself, in construction of temporary works.  In the post war teachings, Wheeler maintained the importance of wood, but added more :

Materials used in the construction of shelters. – Timber has been considered to be the material used in the construction of the above shelters.  This material is so abundant in the United States that it can almost always be found in quantities near the work, and can be obtained quickly.  It will therefore be the material chiefly used in temporary fortifications.

No better material can be used for the traverse pieces of these shelters than railroad iron, if it can be obtained.  The form of the rails allows the pieces to be placed in juxtaposition without delay, and the strength of the iron makes the roof better able to resist the shocks of the projectiles, and makes the structure more durable in its character.

Certainly, we’ll get no argument, iron is stronger than wood.  Railroad iron, because of form, was most handy…. where obtainable, and not otherwise needed for its intended purpose.

But that brings up another aspect of these temporary, field fortifications and a transformation seen on the battlefield.  Prior to the Civil War, the instruction assumed armies in campaigns would march forth and depend upon trains of supply wagons to follow. That logistic tail could be ponderous and difficult, depending on the terrain.  In fact, some terrain would restrict or even prohibit campaigns.  Under such paradigm, a well placed salient fortification might be difficult for the enemy to get at without strenuous logistic effort.  Reach might exceed grasp.

Likewise, the defender might find supplying remote posts strenuous.  Although defenders could afford to conserve resources, perhaps only building limited works at remote points, logistics governed the size and strength of those works.

But the arrival of the “iron horse” changed campaigning.  Armies could receive supply in bulk, with in most cases less than a couple days wagon ride from a railhead.  By the end of the war, the campaigns followed, if not focused upon, the railroads.  And this meant an attacker was far more likely to arrive at that remote point in strength.  It also meant the defender could move mobile reserves.  Such justified more elaborate works those remote points.  Consider that in regard to placement of heavy Parrott rifles at Harpers Ferry.  Or Confederate intents to place 10-inch columbiads overlooking the Cumberland Gap.

Yes, I’m wandering far off from Wheeler’s lesson plan.  But circling back to a point.  The Civil War experience changed the way military professionals planned to fight the next war… even replacing, in part, Mahan’s textbooks.

( Citations from Junius B. Wheeler, The Elements of Field Fortifications, New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1882, pages 143-4.)

Thanksgiving, 1862: Saxton’s proclamation

But there was more than just feasting and festivities for Thanksgiving Day that year.  Brigadier-General Rufus Saxton, Military Governor, Department of the South,  issued a “Proclamation, for a day of Public Thanksgiving and Praise”:

I hereby appoint and set apart Thursday, the Twenty-seventh Day of November, as a day of public thanksgiving and praise; and I earnestly recommend to the Superintendents of Plantations, Teachers, and Freedmen in this Department, to abstain on that day from their ordinary business, and assemble in their respective places of worship, and render praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God for the manifold blessings and mercies he has bestowed upon us during the past year; and more especially for the signal success which has attended the great experiment for freedom and the rights of oppressed humanity, inaugurated in the Department of the South.  Our work has been crowned with glorious success. The hand of God has been in it, and we have faith to believe the recording angel has placed the record of it in the Book of Life.

You freedmen and women have never before had such cause for thankfulness.  Your simple faith has been vindicated.  “The Lord has come” to you, and has answered your prayers.  Your chains are broken.  Your days of bondage and mourning are ended, and you are forever free.  If you cannot yet see your way clearly in the future, fear not; put your trust in the Lord, and He will vouchsafe, as he did to the Israelites of old, the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, to guide your footsteps “through the wilderness,” to the promised land.

I therefore advise you all to meet and offer up fitting songs of thanksgiving for all these great mercies which you have received, and with them, forget not to breathe an earnest prayer for your brethren who are still in bondage.

Given at Beaufort, S.C., this ninth day of November, in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two.

This proclamation was pure Rufus Saxton.  We don’t remember Saxton for his military deeds (though, there was much that a casual observer overlooks…).  Rather we remember his role with the freedmen.  Indeed, Saxton should rightly be seen as the architect of “forty acres and a mule.”  It is not hard to take this Thanksgiving proclamation and logically walk over to Sherman’s Special Field Orders No. 15.

All of which brings me to that last sentence.  I will often trim out the flourishes and such to focus on the important parts of the text. But that line is significant, considering some events taking place here in 2016. Saxton issued this Thanksgiving for freedom (still weeks ahead of the Emancipation Proclamation, mind you) from Beaufort, South Carolina.  And Beaufort is in the news these days as an effort to designate sites in that area as a national monument, with focus on Reconstruction.

Beaufort would be a good selection for a Reconstruction-focused national monument. There is a story to be told. My hope is that, for full understanding of that story, the complete arc from Civil War to Civil Rights is explored within the scope of such a monument.  Saxton’s proclamation and many more of his efforts deserve mention as part of that story.