Category Archives: American Civil War

March 30, 1865: “There is a profound feeling about Charleston…” Henry Ward Beecher excited about raising the flag at Fort Sumter

On March 30, 1865, abolitionist leader Henry War Beecher and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton exchanged telegrams.  Beecher, as mentioned earlier, was selected as the guest of honor at the ceremony to raise the surrender flag at Fort Sumter, scheduled for April 14.

Beecher sent a pair of telegrams starting around mid-day:

There is a profound feeling about Charleston celebration.  It grows daily. It is a grand national event. Many eminent men desire to see this great occurrence of their lives. Could not a passenger steamer under direction of Collector Draper be allowed to go?

Then later Beecher, having not heard from Stanton, pressed the matter again:

Have received no word.  I am at a loss to know what arrangements to make and for what date. Can I take some of my family? A.A. Low, president of New York Chamber of Commerce, wishes to go with his wife.  He is one of our first citizens, and early and late energetic for Union, with hand, heart, and purse.

Stanton, with a full slate of business in his office, did not respond until well into the evening:

In conference with General Anderson final arrangements for the celebration of Fort Sumter were concluded yesterday.

First. The Steamer Arago will sail with General Anderson and yourself from New York on Friday, the 7th of April.

Second. Your family can accompany you.

Third. Tickets for you and for them will be forwarded by mail to-day.

Fourth. Mr. Low and his wife can accompany you, and tickets for them will be sent with yours.

Fifth. I expect to join you at Fortress Monroe if it be possible to leave here.

Sixth. The arrangements and ceremonies will be directed by General Gillmore.

I will write you more at length.

Interesting the exchange.  Not so much for the details, but the effort evident by the relating of those details.  These two men were living minute by hour by day at a time which you and I read about in the books.  Certainly they expected great things to occur over the weeks following this exchange.  Their focus was on a celebration … a very proper and visible celebration … of victory and achievement.   Had Stanton or Beecher been asked to predict what we’d be anticipating for our sesquicentennial observances between April 7th or April 14th, 2015, they likely would have mentioned the Fort Sumter flag raising.

Between April 7 and 14, 1865, several events would turn, making that week one of the most important in American history.  Events that would overshadow the “grand national event” planned at Fort Sumter.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part III, Serial 100, page 59.)

“These forts must have their artillery”: Hunt directs battle handover and transition to maneuver operations at Petersburg

150 years ago, the ninth and final offensive was underway at Petersburg.  Brett Schulte has several posts up on Beyond the Crater discussing the details of this operation – including some excellent map resources.  In particular, one of his posts covered the period from March 24 to 28, in which Federal leaders worked out the details of the offensive and began movement.  The movement boiled down to a shift of forces to the left.  Among those units moving to “jump off” positions for this offensive was the Second Corps, Army of the Potomac at that time commanded by Major-General Andrew A. Humphreys.  As the Second Corps moved, elements of the Army of the James would assume positions on the siege lines.  In short, the Second Corps would perform a battle handover to the Army of the James, preparatory to the offensive operations.

What is a battle handover?  According to the book it is a variety of “tactical enabling operation” – meaning an operation designed to facilitate a separate offensive or defensive operation.  In this case a flanking maneuver on the Confederate right.  In order to get the Second Corps in position to participate in the flanking maneuver, Humphreys had to disengage from the line he currently held, keeping the Confederates in place.  Then the Army of the James had to occupy the position formerly held by Second Corps and assume the mission of confronting the Confederate line.

Sounds simple, but battle handovers are notoriously complex. There are many moving parts.   Two soldiers cannot occupy the same place at the same time.  Likewise two regiments, brigades, divisions, or corps cannot hold the same point at the same time.  So part of the “choreography” is to rotate formations, unit by unit, points on the line.  Nowhere is that more difficult than with crew-served weapons… or in the Civil War conventions, the artillery.

In the Petersburg siege lines, the artillery pieces were in place to dominate sections of the trenches.  Each gun tube had a specific field of fire to address a particular tactical need – be that an approach the enemy might use or an enfilade of an enemy position.  Moving a gun would require repeated surveys, sighting, and registration.  Leaving the guns in place could ease the process of battle handover.

That is exactly what Major-General Henry Hunt had in mind on March 28, 1865 when he wrote to Lieutenant-Colonel John Hazard, Second Corps Artillery Chief:

General [Horatio] Wright says you propose to withdraw your guns from Forts Welch, Gregg, and Sampson to-morrow morning. General Meade says that General Wright will hold the Sixth Corps here to-morrow at least, and these forts must have their artillery. Arrangements must be made accordingly. The forts on your line, A, B, C, D, E, you report March 26 as having twenty guns; General Ord can replace sixteen. You reported Welch, Gregg, and Sampson twelve guns; sixteen are thus required for the lines.

The section of the line in question, Forts Welch, Gregg, and Sampson, formed a “refuse” on the Federal left flank, and thus were rather important shielding the preparations.  To keep up appearances, and retain the pressure to prevent Confederates from shifting their forces, Hunt wanted the same number of guns in those forts after the battle handover.

SecondCorpsFortsMar28_65

On the surface, Hunt is pointing out a mismatch of forces.  The Second Corps plan was to remove thirty-six guns off the line (in the batteries and forts) along with a dozen surplus weapons.  The Army of the James, wold bring in sixteen guns to fill the void.  That math does not work.  So Hunt turned to creative math to resolve the problem… specifically asking Hazard to organize his artillery to support the planned maneuvers and leave the remainder behind:

You report forty-eight guns in your corps, of these I understand that twelve are of surplus sections. If these are all sent back it will take twenty-eight guns from your artillery, leaving you but five batteries, and General Meade directs that rather than strip the forts you take but twenty guns, five batteries, with your corps. I wish you, therefore, to arrange to keep the guns in Forts Sampson, Welch, and Gregg. If you can put two surplus sections in, you will keep your six batteries with the corps. The batteries you propose to Send to Colonel Tidball will therefore be left, four guns with General Ord and twelve with General Wright, which will remain with him until the Sixth Corps line is abandoned, and will then report to General Tidball, unless otherwise ordered. These arrangements must be made at once, and you will report to me what batteries move with your corps, and that provision is made to leave the sixteen guns on the line as directed.

Very creative math.  But what supports this is the transition to a new phase of operations. Sitting in the siege lines, the Second Corps, as had all the Federal formations, had acquired extra guns to meet specific needs on the lines.  Now facing the prospect of quick maneuvers in pursuit of the Confederates, should all turn well, the Second Corps only needed five or six batteries.

Hazard responded promptly on this matter, but with a slight modification to the design:

I have arranged to leave four guns in Fort Gregg: four in Fort Sampson, and four in Battery A, and to take six batteries with me. If General Ord brings with him sixteen guns it will be sufficient to arm the line to the left of Battery A. Shall take two of my guns from Fort Welch, leaving four in it belonging to Sixth Corps. I trust this arrangement will be satisfactory. Shall take with me Battery B, Rhode Island; B, New Jersey; K, Fourth United States; M, First New Hampshire; Tenth Massachusetts, and Eleventh New York, leaving on the line, in command of Capt. C. A. Clark, Twelfth New York, Sixth Maine, and F, First Pennsylvania. Please answer by telegraph as soon as convenient if this arrangement meets with your approbation.

While not exactly as Hunt specified, the arrangement would allow Hazard to retain some organizational integrity within the artillery brigade supporting the Second Corps.  Please note that of those six batteries retained with the Second Corps, only one of them had been under Hazard’s lead during July 1-3, 1863.  Little wonder after the many reorganizations of the Army of the Potomac during the intervening time.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 46, Part III, Serial 97, pages 227-8.)

Driving Dixie Down: Stoneman’s Raid breaks out of the mountains – March 21-29, 1865

I think anyone who has spun the AM radio dial during a long night drive will find Virgil Caine a familiar name:

For many of us growing up in the 1970s, that was largest dosage of Civil War history outside the class room.   (Yes… I know the song was released in 1969.  Do I lose cool points for admitting a fondness for the Joan Baez cover? )

Those of us with a fine appreciation for historical details might quibble over the accuracy of the lyrics.  But such is the way of poets and songwriters, as they ply their craft.  Any rate, in those opening lines, Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm laid out the name we need to follow – Major-General George Stoneman.

Stoneman was the quintessential “old cavalryman.”  But he had a lackluster wartime record by the winter of 1865.  Two spectacular failed raids were at the top of his resume.  The assignment to lead a raid out of East Tennessee into North Carolina was for all practical purposes Stoneman’s last opportunity for redemption.  The objective of this raid evolved with time.  Early in the winter, Major-General William T. Sherman simply suggested a diversionary raid into western North Carolina to detract both from Sherman’s planned advance into South Carolina and, at Sherman’s urgings, an infantry advance by Major-General George Thomas into Alabama.  Lieutenant-General Ulysses S. Grant opted to refine that scope somewhat, with an objective of the railroad behind Columbia, South Carolina, to directly contribute to Sherman’s advance.  (And there’s a “what if” to ponder.)

But those plans were overtaken by events.  Stoneman could not get his force organized for movement prior to the middle of March.  Just the logistics of getting troops, horses, and supplies in the right place delayed the start.  Further disrupting the launch, the same rains which pinned Sherman’s march from the Catawba to the Cape Fear Rivers served to likewise hinder Stoneman’s preparations.   By the time Stoneman was ready to start, his objectives were refined to the railroad between Christansburg and Lynchburg, in Virginia, with a threat to Danville.  Such would cut off Richmond from raw materials – particularly salt and other minerals – in Southwest Virginina.  I would submit no other major operation in the Civil War had such swings in objectives before the first movement.  Coming this late in the war, this was as much a raid of “because we can.”

Stoneman’s command for this raid was officially the District of East Tennessee.  The main striking arm was a cavalry division under Brigadier-General Alvan Gillem.

Short version of his biography – Gillem was a East Tennessee unionist with personal connections right up to the Vice-President.  Gillem’s division consisted of three brigades with a supporting battery of artillery:

  • 1st Brigade, Colonel William Palmer, with the 10th Michigan, 12th Ohio, and 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry.
  • 2nd Brigade, Brigadier-General Simeon Brown, with the 11th Michigan and 11th and 12th Kentucky.
  • 3rd Brigade, Colonel John Miller, with the 8th, 9th, and 13th Tennessee Cavalry.
  • Battery E, 1st Tennessee Light Artillery, Lieutenant James Regan.

All told, Gillem had around 4,000 men.

Backing up Gillem’s cavalry, a column of infantry and artillery under Brigadier-General Davis Tillson would move to secure the passes over the mountains and repair railroads through which the column would be resupplied.  Tillson’s command consisted of two brigades and seven artillery batteries, numbering around 4,500 men.  Of note, Tillson’s command contained the 1st US Colored Heavy Artillery, serving as infantry, and several formations of Tennessee and North Carolina unionists.

Logistics and weather finally permitted the raid to get underway on March 21, aptly as the battle of Bentonville was winding down.  While I don’t have space, nor the grounding, to cover this raid in the detail provided for Sherman’s Marches, I would offer a view of Stoneman’s Raid from a high level so that readers might appreciate the movements within the context of other events 150 years ago.  To wrap up this, the first in a series on the raid, let me cover the first nine days of movement, to bring us up to March 29, 1865.

StonemanFirst

Oh… big map again… I’ll have that on sale at the gift shop if you’d like…. OK, let me break that into three phases so it is easier to sort out.  And please not these are not precise as to all the roads and camps used by the raiders.

StonemanMar21_24

The initial movement out of Knoxville stepped out, as mentioned, on March 21.  The cavalry lead the column, followed by Tillson’s infantry which repaired the railroad as they moved.  The column moved along the Tennessee & Virginia Railroad to Strawberry Plains, Morristown to reach Bull’s Gap in Bays Mountain on March 24.

StonemanMar24_26

At Bull’s Gap, Stoneman received word of Confederate forces occupying Jonesborough along his intended line of march.  To counter that force and maneuver them out of place, Stoneman dispatched Miller’s Brigade on a northern course towards the Holston River, with orders to get behind the Confederate position somewhere south of Carter’s Depot. The remainder of Gillem’s force went directly towards Jonesborough.  Tillson’s infantry followed up the railroad line.  The move had the intended effect.  After some light skirmishing, the Confederates fell back in the direction of Bristol, Tennessee.  On March 26, the cavalry columns were beyond Jonesborough near Elizabethton, while Tilson’s infantry camped a day’s march from Greenville on the rail lines.  Tilson would remain in that area for three days before disbursing his forces further east.

StonemanMar26_29

Stoneman made a treacherous crossing, with some of his men moving at night, over Stone Mountain to cross into North Carolina on March 27. Hearing of a gathering of North Carolina guards, Stoneman dispatched Major Myles Keogh in command of a detachment from the 12th Kentucky Volunteer Cavalry to Boone. Keogh “surprised and routed the rebels, killing 9 and capturing 68″ after entering town around 10 a.m. on March 28.

Reporting from Boone that day, Stoneman told Thomas of his success thus far into the raid, but determined to alter his plans.   “I shall be compelled to alter slightly from the proposed route on account of the great scarcity of forage and subsistence for the men.”  Instead of moving up the New River Valley from Boone, Stoneman preferred to move across the Blue Ridge and strike Wilkesborough.  The Yadkin River Valley offered much better grazing for his horses.

Stoneman, who loved to divide his forces for these movements, did so again when leaving Boone in two columns starting mid-day on the 28th.  Brown’s Brigade, with Miller’s following, moved through Watuga Gap, passing Blowing Rock, and down to the headwaters of the Yadkin River.  That force came across Patterson’s Factory at the foot of the mountains.  Before leaving, the Federals destroyed the yarn factory.  This column continued towards Wilkesborough on the south side of the Yadkin on March 29th.

Palmer’s Brigade reached Deep Gap on the evening of the 28th, then crossed over the Blue Ridge. The next morning, Palmer’s three regiments descended upon Wilkesborough on the 29th.  There the 12th Ohio Cavalry overwhelmed a small home guard force to take possession of the town.

Again, I’m working at a “quick” pace through Stoneman’s Raid. There are certainly fine points I’m skipping with an accelerated discussion of events.  Stoneman’s Raid, 1865, by Chris Hartley is among the recent book-length treatments of the subject, and which I’d recommend.  Much of my appreciation for the campaign was gained by running around photographing historical markers.  Speaking of which, North Carolina has several which relate to the events mentioned in this post – Boone, Blowing Rock, Patterson’s Mill, Deep Gap, and Wilkesboro.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 49, Part I, Serial 103, pages 330-1; Part II, Serial 104, page 112.)