Category Archives: Petersburg

Petersburg 150th Events

Petersburg National Battlefield has posted their 2015 schedule of events.  These include a good number sesquicentennial observances.  Some of those which caught my eye, as specifically timed to 150th events:

150th Anniversary of The Battle of Hatcher’s Run

Date: Thursday, February 5, 2015, 3:00 pm
Location: Five Forks Contact Station, 9840 Courthouse Road, Dinwiddie, VA

Lecture will commemorate the first of the 1865 battles aimed at cutting off supply lines to General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, and bringing about the fall of Petersburg.

The Saturday following (February 7th), the park hosts a set of talks.  One focuses on the death of “Sallie,” the mascot of the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry in the battle of Hatcher’s Run.  With the talk is a demonstration by the 544th Military Working Dog Detachment from Fort Lee.  “See the evolution of military dogs from mascots to modern day working dogs.”  (I don’t think that angle has ever been worked for Civil War interpretation… good one!)  The second talk, scheduled for 2 PM, as Emanuel Dabney discussing “how Confederate soldiers were dealing with the war in what turned out to be the last months of service for the Army of Northern Virginia.”

Civil War 150th : Battles of Ft. Stedman and Jones Farm Living History Weekend

Date: Saturday, March 21, 2015
Time:  Ft. Stedman 10:00 am – 11:00 am;  Jones Farm 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Locations: Ft. Stedman Tour Stop #5 Eastern Front, 5001 Siege Rd. Petersburg VA; and Jones Farm Tour Stop #3 Western Front, Church Rd. & Flank Rd. Dinwiddie Co. VA.

The weekend event matches to the “real time” observance which falls on the following Wednesday:

Civil War 150th: Battles of Ft. Stedman and Jones Farm Real Time Tours

Date: Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Time: Ft. Stedman 5:00 am -8:00 am;  Jones Farm 3:00 pm -3:45 pm
Locations: Ft. Stedman Tour Stop #5 Eastern Front, 5001 Siege Rd. Petersburg VA; and Jones Farm Tour Stop #3 Western Front, Church Rd. & Flank Rd. Dinwiddie Co. VA

The following weekend (March 28-29) feature living history displays at Five Forks, Fort Gregg, and Hopewell (in conjunction with a panel discussion about the River Queen Conference).  There is also a night-time tour of Five Forks on March 28, 6-8 pm.

Then over the first days of April, the observances come as thick as the action of 1865:

Faces of Five Forks
Date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015, 2:30 – 3:30 pm
Location: Five Forks Contact Station, 9840 Courthouse Road, Dinwiddie, VA

Civil War 150th: Breakthrough Real Time Tour
Date: Thursday, April 2, 2015, 5:30 am – 6:30 am
Location: Tour Stop #3 Western Front, Church Rd. & Flank Rd. Dinwiddie Co. VA

Civil War 150th: Breakthrough: Ft. Mahone Commemorative Ceremony
Date: Thursday, April 2, 2015, 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
Location: Ft. Mahone & Pennsylvania Monument on Wakefield Drive, Petersburg VA

Civil War 150th: Breakthrough: Battle of Ft. Gregg Commemorative Ceremony
Date: Thursday, April 2, 2015, 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Location: Tour Stop #4 Western Front, Sampson Rd. & 7th Ave. Dinwiddie Co. VA

See the Petersburg NPS website for more details on these events.

Couple these events along with those occurring at Appomattox starting on April 8 and you see the last spring of the Sesquicentennial will be a busy one!

 

Witnesses to a disaster: Napoleons (and an Ordnance Rifle) captured at Ream’s Station, August 25, 1864

150 years ago today, the Army of the Potomac suffered one of its worst defeats of the war at Second Ream’s Station.  I see Timothy Orr has a piece up looking at the 14th Connecticut in the battle.  And Civil War Daily Gazette has a nice overview for those unfamiliar with the battle.

Years ago when visiting the battlefield for the first time, I made a note the battle deserved a proper sesquicentennial post.  In particular I wanted to discuss how the Confederates were able to maneuver in front of, and over, the Federal earthworks.  A grand defiance in the face of the “stalemated” battlefield you read of in general histories of the war.  But… alas… I must plead the date slipped away and my writing hours were too few for the task to be accomplished.

One aspect of the battle that I’d highlight is the performance of the Federal artillery.  Or I should say – lack of dominance on the battlefield.  Partly due to poor positioning, but largely just a symptom of a generally poor performance by the force overall, the Army of the Potomac’s artillery had a bad day all around.  At the end of the day the Confederates boasted the capture of nine pieces of artillery.  And we know exactly what guns they captured, thanks to Major J. G. Barnwell, Chief of Ordnance, Army of Northern Virginia:

ReamsStationGunsCaptured

Of that list there are some survivors around today.  Start with Revere Copper 12-pdr Napoleon #253:

Petersburg 201

Today it is the centerpiece of an exhibit at the Petersburg Visitor center.

And #95 from Henry N. Hooper is at Manassas, near the 14th Brooklyn Memorial:

Manassas 11 Aug 12 030

Cyrus Alger 12-pdr Napoleon #45 has a home today at Pea Ridge, Arkansas:

pea ridge 273

Ames 12-pdr Napoleon #55 is today at Chickamauga-Chattanooga, but I don’t have a current photo of the gun.

Of the 3-inch Ordnance Rifles, #533 is at Gettysburg, guarding the wall near the Angle:

Gettysburg 4 Feb 12 187

While #541 is missing today, #542 is at Fort Sill, Oklahoma and #543 is on display somewhere in Boston, Massachusetts.

So that’s seven out of nine that survive today.  Apparently, being captured increases the survival rate of artillery pieces.

In closing, many, many thanks to the effort of Civil War Trust and other preservation organizations for their ongoing efforts to preserve the battlefield at Reams Station.

Mortars and shells wanted at the front: Importance of horizontal fires at Petersburg

We often read the Petersburg siege demonstrated the emergence of “modern war” in some fashion.  The “coffee table book” history draws the the comparison between Virginia trenches of 1864-5 to French trenches of 1915-8.  There is some resemblance, but no more than any functional nature would derive.  Men can only dig a hole in the ground for protection in a finite number of combinations.  Nice surface comparison, but for the most part the trenches are not exactly a mountain of evidence for the “modern war” argument.

If looking to draw positive connections between Petersburg and the tactical nature of warfare in 1915-18, there are two aspects I suggest we examine – the increased use of vertical fires and  changed operational tempo.  That latter point – what we call OPTEMPO in modern parlance – I’ll save for a later post.  But I have mentioned vertical fires earlier this year in relation to the Overland Campaign… particularly Cold Harbor.  And of course, mortars were heavily employed to support the assault after the mine went off.  In the late summer of 1864, the mortars took on added importance at Petersburg. A series of correspondence on August 14, 1864 demonstrates this. That morning, Brigadier-General Henry Hunt wrote to his capable subordinate, Colonel Henry L. Abbot in charge of the siege artillery, directing mortars to the front:

Four 10-inch mortars with a proper supply of ammunition are wanted in the battery near the Taylor house to control a battery of 32-pounder rifles just beyond the crest, distance from 1,200 to 1,500 yards. It would be well to get them out to-day ready to move; they may be ordered into battery to-night. I will inform you then whether to send them. Please answer.

Hunt’s request was to meet a specific tactical need – silencing a Confederate battery that occupied a particularly troublesome position.  The answer to this problem was not direct, or horizontal fire.  Rather he proposed using heavy mortars to fire indirectly, or vertically, onto the Confederate position.  Abbot answered almost immediately that morning and set in motion actions to place the mortars that night. Abbot later suggested a specific position for the mortars, based on earlier experience along that line:

If the 10-inch mortars are ordered forward, I would earnestly request that they be put in the fourteen-gun battery where Pratt’s 4½-inch guns were. The range is essentially the same. The approach to this battery is very good, and to the old battery very bad, a matter of great importance in supplying 10-inch ammunition on account of its great weight; and, moreover, this battery is well made and the old battery very ill constructed, constantly caving under mortar fire.

 Looking back at Hunt’s map illustrating the artillery support during the Battle of the Crater, Pratt’s battery is indicated by the number “24” and circled in blue below:

PlateLXIV_3D2

The correspondence does not specify which Confederate battery was the target.  For the map above, I’ve highlighted one such battery, which would be “beyond the crest” and approximately 1,500 yards distant.  Notice the close proximity to the mine crater. The range cited was well within the capabilities of field pieces. The Confederate guns mentioned were indeed large caliber weapons.  But the Federals might have concentrated the fires of several batteries to damage the battery.  However, having read about the thousands of shells dumped on Fort Sumter, we must ask how long and at what cost would that be completed? 

There is no mention if Hunt required the use of 10-inch case shot from the mortars, as used during the Battle of the Crater.  That particular projectile, of experimental nature, would have done well to silence the Confederate battery while field pieces demolished the earthworks protecting the guns with direct fire. 

Concurrent with the correspondence with Hunt, Abbot also opened a request for more mortar ammunition… and not just a routine request… to Captain Theodore Edson, Ordnance Officer at Fort Monroe:

I am out of my supply of Coehorn mortar shells and the rebels are taking advantage of it. Please send me any shells and wooden plugs which you can possibly procure, on the mail boat, telegraphing me when they start. I don’t care for prepared ammunition. Time is very important.

Backig this up, Abbot further explained the pressing need for mortar ammunition to Brigadier-General George Ramsay, Army Chief of Ordnance in Washington and indicted this was a long standing request:

I have sixteen Coehorn mortars in position and not a shell in depot for them. The rebels keep up a constant mortar fire on us. I don’t care for prepared ammunition; all I want are shells, fuse-plugs, and paper fuses. These must be received very shortly or the army will suffer. I wrote on 15th ultimo, and telegraphed on 19th ultimo and 11th instant for a large supply. Please inform me at once whether I am to be supplied. Please also send 2,000 Parrott time-fuse plugs for siege guns.

The Confederates had also learned the value of vertical fire, and were now in position to employ some of the heavy mortars from Richmond along with some expedient weapons.  And at the same time, the Confederates were commencing production of their own Coehorn mortars.

Fast forward to 1917. When preparing the American Expeditionary Force for combat in France, American officers found themselves short of artillery in general.  But most acutely they called for howitzers and mortars capable of high angle fires.  Henry Abbot would have given them an “I told you!” look.  Vertical fires would become the dominant form of artillery support on the battlefield.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 42, Part II, Serial 88, pages 182-3.)