“Into a Marshy No-man’s Land” – Fort Sumter Civil War Roundtable

Save the date! As mentioned earlier, I will be speaking at the Fort Sumter Civil War Roundtable on June 10. Here are the particulars:

  • Program: Into a Marshy No-Man’s Land: Intelligence and Special Operations on the South Carolina and Georgia Coasts, 1862-65.
  • Date: June 10, 2019
  • Time: Gather at 6:00 for a bit of socializing; program begins at 6:30.
  • Place: The Citadel, Jenkins Hall

So if you live around Charleston, you have my “special” invite to this discussion of “special” operations in the Civil War.

A little more about the topic:

Through much of the Civil War neither side firmly controlled the marshlands of South Carolina and Georgia. While the Federals established bases on the coast (starting with Port Royal in November 1861), the topography of the low country favored the Confederate defender.  Yet, the Confederates were unable and unwilling to establish permanent garrisons out to the coastline.  Major operations, such as against Fort Pulaski or on Morris Island, were rare with neither side able to gain a firm upper hand. As result, the marshes and coastal estuaries were in effect a no-man’s land in which scouts, spies, raiders, and irregulars operated.  The Confederates, with local knowledge of the terrain, scouted Federal activities; ambushed Yankee patrols; monitored communications; and maintained supply routes skirting the blockade.  The Federals, employing escaped slaves, trained “marsh scouts,” and naval landing parties, sent out raids to disrupt rice and salt production; spied on Confederate operations; interdicted blockade runners; and “hacked” communications lines.  These intelligence gathering activities and special operations continued right up to the end of the Civil War.

Readers are well aware from my blogging missives of my definition of the “Charleston Theater” which includes the South Carolina, Georgia, and northern Florida coastlines. In that theater, most – if not all – operations were focused toward control of Charleston. And within that broad scope, we tend to focus on operations directly at Charleston – Morris Island, bombardment of Fort Sumter, and blockade operations there. Yet there were many operations conducted along that coast which supported and sustained the campaign which escape attention as we summarize the high points. And those operations often took the color of what we’d characterize today as “special operations.” Not so much Rangers, SEAL teams, Delta Force, and guys with green berets… as such “special” units did not exist at the time. Rather operations that fit the definition of “special” often being conducted by regular forces – infantry detachments or naval landing parties for instance. And at the same time, we also find true “irregular” or at least “unconventional” players operating in those marshes.

With that teaser out there, please mark this on your calendars and plan on attending. The Fort Sumter Roundtable is a new group, with my friend Jim “A Little Short of Boats at Balls Bluff” Morgan a co-founder. They have a lot of interesting programs scheduled for upcoming months.

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Mahan on Artillery Tactics, Part 4: More on the Defense

Let us continue the discussion of artillery as used on the defense, according to Mahan. And we again turn to Chapter II, verse 151…..

Those positions for batteries should be avoided from which the shot must pass over other troops, to attain the enemy. And those should be sought for from which a fire can be maintained until the enemy has approached even within good musket-range of them.

Outpost, 60-1.

Common sense at play here. Fuses are not fail-proof, no matter how good the quality control is at the arsenal. Short rounds were a concern then as they are today. A further concern was the ballistic path of the sabot used behind many projectiles. Though made of wood, that could still injure or kill. With the introduction of rifled guns, another concern entered play – the lead or soft iron sabots often sheered off after the projectile left the muzzle. Those fragments took less predictable paths.

The other part of this is the desired effect of allowing the cannon to engage right up to… and inside of… musket range. The “skirmisher” community will note that Mahan was writing this passage before the rifled-musket was in widespread use. However, we should note that well into the Civil War, 100 yards was still considered the effective range of those rifled-muskets, as the practitioners were focused on volley fire effects as opposed to the effective range of individual weapons.

Where the wings of a position are weak, batteries of the heaviest caliber should be placed to secure them.

Outpost, 61.

Another sensible suggestion here. But one that must play with earlier passages that dictated the bigger caliber pieces be placed on “the more retired points” as opposed to advanced positions. Looking back at the “taking away a course of action from the enemy” mindset, those batteries assigned to support the flanks would be there to remove an option to attack on a flank. Such implies, generally speaking, that in the defense the flanks should be tucked in or refused. I would not argue against that as a general application, but certainly not submit flanks should always be refused. Given terrain or other factors, one might extend a flank position to cover the front of the main defensive line…. you know… like in those simple entrenchments that Mahan wrote of in other volumes.

Thus far, Mahan has placed the light batteries (shall we say the “mounted” batteries?) and the heavy (or “foot”) batteries. What about the horse artillery?

A sufficient number of pieces – selecting for the object in view horse-artillery in preference to any other – should be held in reserve for a moment of need; to be thrown upon any point where the enemy’s progress threatens danger; or to be used in a covering the retreat.

Outpost, 61.

Stomp your feet here to ensure all the cavalrymen hear and heed this. Horse artillery, in the defensive, was not simply attached to the cavalry for support of the troopers doing what ever it is they do on the defensive. Instead, the horse artillery was a reserve force to be used when pressed. If we turn again to “taking away courses of action” then here we are considering how an enemy commander would follow up behind initial success. If that assault has indeed achieved a lodgement on the main defensive line, the next step would involve pressing reinforcements forward to enlarge gains and break the line. The counter, Mahan proposes here, is the rapid, flying batteries of horse artillery introduced to seal that fissure.

And if that cannot be attained, at least have those horse artillery batteries in position to dissuade the enemy from following up with a close pursuit. A handful of well placed shells from the horse artillery should at least cause pause.

Everything thus far we might summarize as “use common sense and good judgement.” But the next paragraph is where the armchair generals will set up and start typing comments….

The collection of a large number of pieces in a single battery, is a dangerous arrangement; particularly at the onset of an engagement. The exposure of so many guns together might present a strong inducement to the enemy to make an effort to carry the battery; a feat the more likely to succeed, as it is difficult either to withdraw the guns, or change their position promptly, after their fire is opened; and one which, if successful, might entail a fatal disaster on the assailed, from the loss of so many pieces at once.

Outpost, 61.

Yes, at first glance, Mahan is laying out an argument against massing artillery on the battlefield. And our latter-day Stonewall Jacksons are quick to point out massed artillery is often the key to victory!

The important part of this passage is “large number of pieces in a single battery.” This is a “battery” not as an organizational unit, but as a position. Reading as such, this is a warning about putting multiple batteries in one contiguous position. If those guns are not arrayed as discussed at earlier points in this discussion of artillery on defense, then such a collection would be a vulnerable, tempting target. Placing the guns hub to hub is not “massing the guns.” But arranging those guns, in accordance to the guides presented by Mahan, is.

What I’d contend is that Mahan was not arguing against what Henry Hunt would do at Malvern Hill. Just the opposite. Prior to July 1, 1862, Hunt organized and emplaced the artillery into a fine example of what Mahan encouraged through these couple of pages on defensive arrangements. Go through the checklist – good engagement ranges, cleared fields of fire, complementing postings, light batteries advanced, heavy batteries retired, wings protected, infantry kept clear of the guns, and all well supported. And that arrangement allowed Hunt to introduce fresh batteries and withdraw tired ones, with relative ease. Thus, what Hunt had at Malvern Hill was not a “large number of pieces in a single battery” but instead a massing of combat power on a good position which maximized the capabilities of the artillery. Famously, one year and two days later, Hunt will accomplish the same feat on another battlefield while defending Cemetery Ridge. We might easily turn to the other side of the war and point to good use of massed artillery at Fredericksburg.

I think what Mahan is arguing against in this passage is actually instances like Missionary Ridge. One might say the Confederate artillery positions on that ridge were well placed for a siege in which their fire would be focused on distant Federal lines. The problem was no proper adjustment was made when that position transformed, due to the shifting of tactical situations, to a defensive one. And so that checklist that Hunt met on those hot July days was not met on that autumn day outside Chattanooga – dead space under the guns even past musket range, no complementary postings, no advanced or retired positions, infantry lines interspersed with the artillery, and little room to move the batteries around. And if we circle back to the “taking away a course of action from the enemy” notion here, I’d posit this counter-intuitive thought with a wry smile: the position on Missionary Ridge was so bad that it invited Federal commanders to accept and pursue a direct assault as a course of action. And as a demonstration, at that!

The last paragraph in this section on defensive arrangements for artillery strikes to the logistics of keeping those guns feed:

In all defensive dispositions the ammunition should be most carefully husbanded. A fire should never be opened until the enemy is within good range; and, when once opened, be continued with perseverance and coolness up to the last moment in which it can be made effective.

Outpost, 61.

I’ve mentioned this a time or two before, expressed as “staying power” of the guns. By this I mean the time for which the gun can remain at a position and actively part of the battle before having to replenish ammunition. Obviously many factors come into play here. Not the least of which is the number of rounds in the ammunition chests (in other words, the smaller-bore weapons had more rounds to shoot, all things being equal… yet another reason to have those big guns at retired positions). As we alluded to above (and at other places on this blog), Hunt and other good artillery commanders mitigated this with a good system to rotate batteries in and out of the line. Hunt also devised a very healthy system to push full ammunition chests up to the points where needed. Such adds another requirement here to those “good position” checklists, in that we must also consider allocating space to allow all the traffic needed in order to maintain a position “up to the last moment.”

And I stress “staying power” over perhaps the cyclic rate of fire. More so than simple weight of metal, it was the paced, deliberate, and measured fire which was desired. So let’s cast off these notions that artillery was just there to belch out canister, send smoke into the air, and make a lot of noise. The impact of those big guns, particularly on the defense, was to shape the flow of the battle… taking away courses of action available to the enemy.

(Citations from Dennis Hart Mahan, An Elementary Treatise on Advanced-guard, Out-post, and Detachment Service of Troops, and the Manner of Posting and Handling Them in Presence of an Enemy, New York: John Wiley, 1861, pages 60-1.)

Virginians! Time to make a call, for the Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain Battlefields

This post goes out to all readers in Virginia…. and to those who have relatives and friends in Virginia.

I bring to your attention a set of budget amendments – 363 #7s, 363 #8s, and
363 #12h – presently under consideration by the state legislature. Each of these carry the explanation:


This amendment directs DCR to make recommendations as to the potential suitability of Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain Battlefield as potential recreational areas or state or regional parks and report its findings to the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees by October 1, 2019.

These are “budget neutral” amendments that would direct the state Department of Conservation and Recreation to review options to create a park comprising of the Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain battlefields. In short, this would prompt a study which gets the proverbial foot in the door towards the creation of a battlefield park. And that’s something you’ve heard me campaign towards for some time.

The American Battlefields Trust has made it easy for Virginians to reach their representatives to express thoughts about these amendments, as well as a few others related to preservation efforts in our state. As the Trust says, a couple of phone calls of support could go a long way – both to getting to our goal of a battlefield park, for those two important battlefield, and for funding other state preservation projects.

History and Hops: February

As mentioned earlier, I will be speaking at Dragon Hops Brewing on February 21 as part of the series “History and Hops.” As promised, here are the details:

What could be better? Enjoying a beer as we discuss the Civil War…. the Civil War in Charleston on top of that! Readers well know, this is a favorite focus of my research. We tend to bypass this story, treating Fort Sumter as just the place where the war started. In reality, Fort Sumter was the subject of an ongoing campaign as the Federals attempted to wrestle control of Charleston harbor. This focus on Fort Sumter was, in terms of days, weeks, and months, the longest battle of the war. Oh, and did I say there would be beer?

If you plan to attend, please stop by the event page on Facebook and make your mark. That way the staff knows how many folks to expect. This is an open event, with no tickets or such. Just have to be 21 or older, as there are alcoholic beverages served. Did I mention there would be beer?

So if you are in the area, save the date and make plans to stop by. We’ll warm up the winter with a talk about the warm(er) waters of the South Carolina Low Country. And did I mention the beer?

Summary Statement, 3rd Quarter, 1863 – Miscellaneous Ohio artillery

The last battery in the long list of Ohio independent batteries is the 26th Ohio Independent Battery.  The transformation of “Yost’s Captured Battery” of the 32nd Ohio Infantry into the 26th Ohio Battery… administrative that it was… is a good starting point for discussing a couple of lines from the third quarter 1863 summary statements from Ohio.  These two lines cover infantry regiments reporting, dutifully, about cannon in their possession:

0281_1_Snip_OH_Misc

Those two lines, for those who won’t click the image to “embiggin,” read:

  • Company K, 86th Ohio Infantry:  Indicating “Artillery Stores” on hand at Cumberland Gap, Tennessee. The company reported one 6-pdr field gun, two 12-pdr mountain howitzers, one 12-pdr field howitzer, one 3-inch (steel or iron) rifle, and one 3.80-inch James rifle.  I’ll discuss this company and regiment in more detail below.
  • Company H, 71st Ohio Infantry:  Again “artillery stores” on hand.  In this case at Carthage, Tennessee.  The 71st Ohio reported two 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.

Let’s look at these in detail.

86th Ohio Volunteer Infantry

First in the queue and perhaps the most interesting in regard to the background story is this less-well known regiment.  First off, there were two 86th Ohios during the war. The first mustered in the June 1862 as a three month regiment.  They mustered out in late September 1862.  So not the 86th we are looking for here.  The second 86th Ohio mustered (or re-organized, as some sources indicate) as a six-month regiment on July 17, 1863 at Camp Cleveland, Ohio.  The muster was in response to Confederate activity, and akin to the militia and other emergency musters seen in other northern states.  Colonel Wilson C. Lemert (formerly the major of the original 86th) commanded.

The “hot issue” in Ohio at that time was Morgan’s Raid.  So the 86th moved to Camp Tod, Columbus, Ohio, and operated in pursuit of the raiders.  On August 11, the regiment moved to Camp Nelson, Kentucky.  There, the regiment joined Colonel John De Courcy’s brigade which was moving on the Cumberland Gap.  On September 9, the 86th deployed on the Harlen Road, leading into the north side of the gap, along with two guns from the 22nd Ohio Independent Battery, confronting one of the Confederate forts.   Concurrently, other Federal troops deployed to cover approaches on both sides of the gap.  This compelled the Confederates to surrender.  A bloodless victory for Burnside.

And with that surrender, a substantial amount of stores fell into Federal hands.  Captain Henry M. Neil, 22nd Ohio Battery, provided a list of those in a detailed report:

CumberlandGapCapturedStores

Most of these cannon and ordnance stores were repurposed by the Federals to help establish their garrison in the Cumberland Gap.  And the 86th Ohio was part of that garrison. Matching Neil’s report with the summary, it seems one of the bronze 6-pdr field guns, the two 12-pdr mountain howitzers, and one James rifle were assigned to the 86th. Those are simple, easy matches.

The summary indicates the 86th had a bronze 12-pdr field howitzer, but Neil indicates two iron 12-pdr field howitzer among those captured.  So we have to consider if the clerks in Washington simply tallied an iron howitzer as bronze; if the 86th reported a bronze howitzer where in fact that was an iron howitzer; if Neil got the description wrong; or… if the 86th received a bronze howitzer from another source.

Lastly, Neil did not mention any 3-inch rifles among the captured guns.  Or for that matter any 3-inch ammunition.  I suspect this came from another source (other than the captured lot).  However, we might entertain the possibility that a Confederate 3-inch rifle was among those turned over to the 86th Ohio.  Perhaps a slim possibility.

Either from capture or reorganization, the 86th Ohio had six cannon by the end of September, 1863.  These were commanded by Captain James W. Owens of Company K.  The 86th Ohio remained at the Cumberland Gap through the middle of January 1864.  At that time, they started a long seven day winter march out of the mountains and back to Ohio.  They were mustered out on February 10, 1864.  The cannon, however, were left up at the Cumberland Gap.

71st Ohio Volunteer Infantry

In the words of one historian, this regiment had a checkered wartime service but in the end was “redeemed” in battle. Suffering from a bad reputation after Shiloh and having been captured in August 1862, the regiment was mostly assigned to garrison duties.  In the summer of 1863, the regiment was assigned to First Brigade, Third Division, Reserve Corps, Army of the Cumberland.  The regiment had duties protecting the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, with headquarters at Gallatin, Tennessee.  Colonel Henry K. McConnell commanded.

Carthage, Tennessee, was indeed one of the points garrisoned by the Third Division of the Reserve Corps.  But there are no specific details I’ve found regarding details from the 71st assigned to that garrison.  Though it was a concentration point for Tennessee unionists being formed into regiments.  Furthermore, as Burnside reached Knoxville, Carthage, with its position on the Cumberland River, became an important connection between two armies then operating in Tennessee.

We can confirm that two 3-inch Ordnance rifles were at Carthage, however.  In a January 14, 1864 report on the artillery within the Department of the Cumberland, Major John Mendenhall commented that a lieutenant and thirteen men from the 13th Indiana Battery were at that post with the two rifles. So perhaps, for a short period during the summer and fall of 1863, the 71st Ohio had charge of those guns in Carthage.  If I read the column correctly, and that assignment was to Company H, then Captain Elihu S. Williams of that company was responsible for the guns.

Ammunition reported

Smoothbore first:

0283_1_Snip_OH_Misc

  • 86th Ohio: 203 shot, 100 case, and 95 canister for 6-pdr field guns; 6 shot for 12-pdr field guns; 34 shell and 13 case for 12-pdr field howitzers; and 26 canister for either 12-pdr field howitzers or 12-pdr mountain howitzers.

Referencing Neil’s report, it appears the 86th Ohio received only a portion of the overall ammunition stores.  Perhaps only a portion issued for ready use, while the rest remained in centralized magazines?  The presence of shot for 12-pdr field guns opens questions. Neil reported the Confederates had, what would be non-standard, 12-pdr shot for their howitzers.  So is this six 12-pdr shot for field guns? Or for howitzers?  I could see either being the case.

The 71st Ohio reported Hotchkiss rounds for their Ordnance rifles:

0283_2_Snip_OH_Misc

  • 71st Ohio Infantry:  43 canister, 9 percussion shell, and 290 fuse shell for 3-inch rifles.

Now back to the Cumberland Gap, where the 86th reported James projectiles on hand:

0284_1_Snip_OH_Misc

  • 86th Ohio Infantry: 61 shot and 77 shell for 3.80-inch James.

The questions here, with respect to what Neil reported, is if the shells are percussion shell and if these are “Federal” James projectiles being recaptured…. or Confederate copies.

Neither infantry regiment reported Schenkl projectiles on hand.  And they did not tally any small arms for these detachments.  But I’ve posted those blank pages out of habit.

Before leaving this discussion of Ohio’s non-artillery formations that happened to have cannon on hand, we have one other organization that is not listed on the summary.  In mid-1863, returns from central Tennessee included an organization titled “Law’s Howitzer Battery” or simply “Mountain Howitzer Battery” under Lieutenant Jesse S. Law.

We can trace that battery back to a report from Colonel August V. Kautz, 2nd Ohio Cavalry, written on June 11, 1863 concerning a demonstration made to Monticello, Kentucky a few days before.  A minor affair of only passing interest.  But what concerns us is this accolade:

I must not forget to mention the gallant conduct of Private Jesse Law, commanding the howitzer battery.  This man well deserves a commission, and has been recommended for promotion.

And indeed, Private Law was soon Lieutenant Law. And he remained in charge of four mountain howitzers. This battery supported Kautz’ brigade, First Division, Twenty-Third Corps, which was part of Burnside’s campaign in east Tennessee.  Late in the campaign the battery remained intact, but serving separate from the 2nd Ohio Cavalry.  With that, we can place the howitzers, and Law, somewhere around Knoxville at the close of the third quarter, 1863.  However it appears by the end of the year Law’s howitzers were turned over to some other organization and the Lieutenant resumed cavalry duties.

As for Law himself, I’ve got a lot of information about his career still being complied and organized.  Not ready to post that just yet.  I am fairly confident in saying he was an artilleryvman before the war with Battery G, 4th US.  And he was discharged just after the battle of Antietam.  From there, he enlisted in the 2nd Ohio Cavalry and later received the promotion mentioned above.  Unfortunately, Law didn’t retain those lieutenant bars long.  Law was dismissed from the service in December 1864.  The details of that part of the story I am still working on.

 

Hops and History – September 20

Another event coming up in the next few months that I’d bring to your attention:
HopsAndHistorySept20

Loudoun County Public Library’s program of “Hops and History” aims to bring history out to a less formal setting.  In this case, Dragon Hops Brewing, in Purcellville, Virginia.

My talk will focus on the Army of the Potomac’s movements through Loudoun County in June 1863.  With this being a localized event, I will provide more coverage of the stories, places, and participants in Loudoun… and less so to the grand strategy and operations.  In short, we will consider the marks left behind by the passing of that army… in addition to how the army’s stay in Loudoun affected its performance on the fields at Gettysburg.

Again, the event details:

Location: Dragon Hops Brewing, 130 East Main Street, Purcellville, Virginia 20132

Date/Time: Thursday, September 20, at 7 p.m.

Hop…. um… Hope to see you there!

Upcoming event: Big Gun Expedition to Bull Run

I have a couple of events, or should I say appearances, to announce. The first of these, as Harry Smeltzer posted last week, is an artillery-focused tour of First Bull Run. Here’s Harry’s pitch:

If big guns are your bag, you won’t want to miss a day at Manassas National Battlefield Park retracing the steps of the Union and Confederate artillerists during the First Battle of Bull Run with widely regarded expert Craig Swain and your humble host, me. Same game plan – no fees, everything is on your own (food, lodging, transportation). We’ll meet up at 9 AM on October 20, 2018 and head out onto the field. Dress appropriately – tour is rain or shine.

Expect to discuss all aspects of artillery: gun manufacture and capabilities, tactics of the day, and the action. We’ll also discuss some of the personalities involved.

This will be the FIRST artillery tour of First Bull Run since Henry Hunt led a staff ride over the field in March of 1864….

NO… I’m making that up.

But I would say the artillerymen have been given less attention than deserved for their actions at First Bull Run.  Much attention is focused on the employment of batteries on Henry House Hill which proved a crucial turn in the battle.  And much has been heaped – wrongly in my opinion – over the notion of “flying batteries” or “artillery charges.”   Though little has been mentioned of the other ten Federal in the campaign… or the more than a dozen Confederate batteries on the field.

When Harry first proposed this tour subject, he promised  a “no holds barred” concept.  Mostly, we’ll consider the nuances of drill and tactics as employed in this “early war” setting.  But be prepared for discussions of the “metallurgical art of cannon making” along with some “practice of battery command” topics.  I promise not to break out the trigonometry tables, however, as we won’t actually be shooting off anything!

If you are interested, Harry has setup a Facebook event page.  Please let us know if you plan to attend, so we can best factor logistics.