Edwin Burt: From Savannah to the Wilderness

The May 11, 1864 edition of the Daily Eastern Argus, of Portland, Maine ran this list of casualties from the state’s regiments as reported by that time in the Overland Campaign:

Daily Eastern Argus_May11_1864_Burt

The 3rd Maine Infantry was part of Brigadier-General J.H. Hobart Ward’s brigade, of Major-General David Birney’s division, in the Second Corps.   On May 6, 1864, the 3rd Maine was part of the Federal line rolled up by a flank attack directed by Confederate General James Longstreet.  Like most of the Federal regiments, the 3rd Maine was unable to turn facing in the confusion and tangled woods, so they fell back.  The regiment, as did others, rallied near the intersection of Brock Road and the Plank Road. There they fought for possession of the earthworks along the Brock Road.

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In “Maine at Gettysburg” the Maine Gettysburg Commission noted, “The regiment made and repelled several charges during this memorable battle, and its men won fresh laurels by their courage and steadiness under the furious attacks of the enemy.”

Somewhere in the fighting, Lieutenant-Colonel Edwin Burt fell while leading the men.  I suspect his body was originally buried just down the Plank Road where a cemetery was established after the battle.  Later his remains were removed to the Federicksburg National Cemetery – Grave plot 3953.

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Before the war, Burt had been an Ordnance Sergeant. Readers may recall that in January 1861 Burt, alone among military officials in the state of Georgia, refused to surrender his responsibilities until given orders to do so.  (And you might also be interested in the background work done by Robert Moore on Edwin Burt.)  Burt experienced the Civil War at the fore from the very start.  Eleven months from the end, it came to an abrupt end.

This Memorial Day, let us consider these 150 year old reverberations.

Wilderness 150, day two – First Chapter for the Overland Campaign concludes

Yesterday, I attended all of the ranger led real-time hikes offered for the second day of the Wilderness 150th observances.  A rich day of history that now passes into my own personal “history” which I’ll remember fondly.  Here’s a few photos from what will become my sesquicentennial scrapbook, in the Wilderness Chapter – as we recalled the opening chapter of the Overland Campaign, 150 years before.

The first hike of the day covered Widow Tapp’s Field.  A few of the sights, as I cannot share the full sensation through the web:

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The second hike of the day covered the ground used by Longstreet’s men making the flank attack on the Federal Second Corps.  At times the going was difficult, giving us an appreciation for the problems faced 150 years ago.

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After a mid-day break, we started the third hike, covering familiar ground near the Brock Road/Plank Road intersection.  We had an “interactive” session during that hike.  Rangers Beth Parnicza and John Hennessy lined us up across the woods, asking us to advance as the Confederates would have at that time 150 years earlier.

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The “formation” broke up after only a few strides.  We were an “undisciplined mob” and quickly brought back on the trail for more hiking!

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The last hike of the day went to the other end of the battlefield, to look at Gordon’s Flank Attack.   The crowd did not thin despite the late hour:

Wilderness 150 066I didn’t get many photos for this last hike.  After 14 hours, my phone was running on those last heartbeats.

So from 6 AM until 8 PM, we walked the fields of the Wilderness.  We covered many miles of ground.  All of it well interpreted by the staff from Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania NMP.  I’m looking forward to the next round at Spotsylvania, which kicks off tomorrow.  Please do follow along on Twitter and Facebook!


Wilderness 150 – some photos from the first day

I’d been waiting for Monday, May 5 all winter.  The first day of “real time” hikes over the Wilderness was superb.  The staff at Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania seem to step it up a notch with every 150th!

A few photos of the crowd at Saunders Field for the afternoon hike:

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Later we hiked along the south side of the Orange Plank Road, up to the intersection of Brock Road. This is, if I have my facts straight, a new trail setup in recent years. Here’s how it looks before the tour:

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And during the tour:

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Excellent management by the park staff handling an extremely large group over what would be a difficult area to move around, much less offer a program!

The experiences throughout were rich.  We looked across the fields where the 140th New York charged; walked where Shelton’s guns were captured; stood where the Vermont Brigade defended in, and then assaulted through, the Wilderness; we discussed Lane’s North Carolinians and their predicament at sunset of the first day of battle…. and all at 150 years to the hour, if not the minute, from the time these things happened!

The park has many, many photos posted, in album format, to their Facebook page.

If you can’t be at the battlefield today, browse over there and throw down a few likes.

Today I’m out early – sunrise tour at Widow Tapp’s and from there back-to-back hikes.  Will be a long, and enjoyable day.  I’ll post on Twitter and Facebook, if you want to follow along.

“There is a general attack as per diagram”: Wilderness Day One – No overlays, or Blue Force Tracker, just hand-drawn maps

One interesting set of artifacts from the Official Records pertaining to events 150 years ago today (May 5) is a couple of maps added to correspondence between officers in the Army of the Potomac.  There are actually several of these, but let me focus on two in particular.

First there is this message from Major-General Winfield S. Hancock, commanding Second Corps.  Hancock sent this message to army headquarters around mid-day:

Hdqrs. Second Corps, Army of the Potomac,
May 5, 1864.
General Humphreys:

The infantry of this corps hold the intersection of the Brock road with road from Furnace. Two small scouting parties of cavalry have connected with my left to-day, but none have been seen on the Brock road. A company 100 strong (infantry) just went out on a crossroad leading to Catharpin road from Brock’s and encountered about three-quarters of a mile out 1,000 enemy’s cavalry in three lines and one battery. This cavalry may have been a mask. It was near the intersection of roads, as shown on the inclosed sketch. Two companies of infantry are out on the Brock road, but have met nothing. The enemy do not appear yet in force on the plank road. The skirmish line has advanced, say, three-quarters of a mile without strong resistance. Some men wounded. The line is still being pushed out.

Winf’d S. Hancock,

With that message was this diagram:


Notice the annotation to the right – “A” marked the spot where the Confederates were entrenched.

Later in the afternoon, Lieutenant-Colonel Theodore Lyman, aide-de-camp from Army Headquarters assigned to facilitate communications with Second Corps, provided an update on the situation:

Headquarters Second Corps,
May 5, 1864–5.05 p.m.
Major-General Meade,
Headquarters Army of the Potomac:

General: There is a general attack as per diagram. It holds in some places, but is forced back to the Brock road on the left. Gibbon <ar68_411> is just coming up to go in, and Barlow is to try a diversion on the left; a prisoner of Archer’s (Tennessee) division says he was told that Longstreet was to-day on their right.

Theo. Lyman,
Lieutenant-Colonel, Volunteer Aide-de-Camp.

And he attached this diagram:


Now there’s a lot of context here I’m leaving out.  The tactical situation in the Wilderness; the limited communications between commanders; friction between commanders; and just plain old confusion.  I cannot possibly due justice to the events occurring between noon and 5:05 pm, May 5, 1864 in a single blog post.  (And there are plenty of authors who have done a far better job of it than I could ever attempt.)

But my point with these two artifacts is to highlight just how the officers directing this battle were conveying information.  They were using crude graphic displays.   Simple sketch maps.  Did those get the point across?  In a rough way, yes.

Fast forward about 100 years.  In the 20th century the U.S. Army benefited from topographical maps based on detailed surveys – often using aerial photography.  Often these maps were laminated for use in the field.  But for communicating the status between commands, the preferred way was an acetate overlay.  Something like this:


Notice the cross hairs on the upper left and the lower right. Those referenced the grid lines on the map, to allow the acetate overlay to mach up with the map.  For higher security, those were often not labeled.  The separate coordinating instructions carried a list of reference points used for overlays in that particular operation.  But that aside, you get the picture (I hope).  Similar crude sketch, but with a fine detailed topographical map to back up the situational diagram.

Looking at the 21st century – or to be more precise, stating in the 1990s – the U.S. Army turned increasingly to computer systems in order to relate these tactical and operational diagrams.  And with that came the ability to visualize the battlefield real-time.  One example is Blue Force Tracker.  That system uses a myriad of devices and relies on a robust data network.

I could tell you more about Blue Force Tracker, but it would probably bore you to death…. (and if you were still alive after that, I’d probably have to kill you due to security concerns….).  But consider a screen shot from one of the component applications deployed as part of the Blue Force Tracker system:

The map, in this case of Baghdad, showing the location of friendly units. This being derived from automatic input, manual entry, and other sources on the vehicles and command centers.

Is it accurate?  Um… it is only as good as the data fed into it.

Were Hancock’s or Lyman’s diagrams accurate?  Well as accurate as the men putting pencil to paper could make them.  Be it on paper or by computer, the diagram helped relate to others what the situation “looked” like on the firing line.

(Citations and Civil War illustrations from OR, Series I, Volume 36, Part II, Serial 68, pages 408 and 410-11.)

Cannons on the Wilderness Battlefield

Today I’m off to the Wilderness Battlefield and will hit the trails for the real-time tours offered by the Park Service. As I’ve done for the other 150ths, here’s a bit for those who won’t be able to tour the battlefield in person today – Wilderness by cannons:

There’s not a lot of guns on the Wilderness battlefield. The battle is not known as a big artillery fight.  But there were several episodes in the battle where artillery played a role.  In fact, Colonel Charles S. Wainwright’s guns were at the fore, with a few of them becoming much fought over prizes, on May 5, 1864.  Yet, there are just a few artillery pieces on the Wilderness battlefield:  Two James Rifle (altered to look like a Napoleons), a 6-pdr field gun (also altered to false Napoleon standards), two 12-pdr field howitzers, and a 42-pdr seacoast gun which serves as a memorial for General Alexander Hays.

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I’ll take up tweeting from the events today as we return to the park for real-time tours. Plan to use the #overland150 and #Wilderness150 hash tags if you want to follow. If you are out at the events, look me up.

Wainwright’s Diary, May 3, 1864: “we only wait the hour of midnight in order to start”

This morning, I am making preparations to begin my trip to the Wilderness for the 150th anniversary events.  Remembering those events, let me share what is effectively the last Winter Encampment diary entry by Colonel Charles S. Wainwright.  He, too, was getting ready for a trip into the Wilderness:

May 3, Tuesday.  Everything is packed, and we only wait the hour of midnight in order to start. Orders have been coming in thick and fast all day; an army is bad as a woman starting on a journey, so much to be done at the last moment….

It seems notwithstanding General Meade’s appeal to their honour, there are a number of men inclined to be fractious under the idea that their term of service is already out; he now sends notice that all such be shot without trial if they do not step out to the music….

I found yesterday that General Warren, I suppose by order, was building several redoubts on the heights south of the town, and rode around to see them, thinking that I might be called upon to have something to do with them, especially as the General asked me to examine whether the parapets were too high for light guns. I thought to meet him there but did not.  I, however, came across General Wadsworth. The old gentleman was talkative as usual, and said that he did not know very much about engineering, though he did claim to be otherwise pretty well up in military matters.  I agreed with him perfectly as to his ignorance of engineering, and thought he would be wiser not to attempt to use terms belonging thereto….

This afternoon General Warren had his division commanders and myself at his quarters, shewed us his orders, and explained tomorrow’s move.  This Fifth Corps leads off, followed by the Sixth; we are to cross at Germanna Ford again and go as far as the Old Wilderness Tavern tomorrow.  The Second Corps, all the heavy trains, and also the Reserve crosses at Ely’s Ford and goes to Chancellorsville; the Ninth Corps does not move until the next day.  We are to try and get around Lee, between him and Richmond, and so force him to fight on our own ground.  My batteries, with two forage waggons each, start at midnight, pass through Stevensburg, and then follow in rear of the First and Third Divisions. The ammunition and all the rest of the waggons, together with half of the ambulances, move off to Chancellorsville and we are warned that we shall not see them again for five days.  The night is soft but cloudy, with some signs of rain; now the roads are capital. Our general officers, that I have talked with, are very sanguine; Grant is said to be perfectly confident.  God grant that their expectations be more realized.

When I reached Warren’s quarters Wadsworth only was there.  He insisted on having my opinion as to which way we were to move, whether around Lee’s right or left; and when I told him I had no opinion, having nothing to found one on, declared I must be a regular, I was so non-committal.  Would that it were characteristic of all regulars never to give an opinion on subjects they knew nothing about; and if the people at home, newspaper editors and correspondents, and also the politicians at Washington, would take a leaf out of the same book, it would save the country millions of money, and many a poor fellow in our army his life.  During the interview I could see that Warren paid especial deference to Griffin, whom he evidently fears. I do not wonder much at it except that Griffin has no influence; but then, he is such an inveterate hater, and so ugly in his persecutions.  I was gratified at being summoned with the division commanders….

If you are visiting the Wilderness battlefield today, I encourage you to take the short drive up Virginia Highway 3 to Stevensburg, and all the way into Culpeper if you can.  150 years ago tomorrow – very early tomorrow morning – was the first of many marches made by the Army of the Potomac during the Overland Campaign.

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(Citations from Charles S. Wainwright, A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journals of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright, 1861-1865, edited by Allan Nevins, New York: Da Capo Press, 1998, page 347-8.)

On to the Wilderness! 150th Events starting the Overland Campaign

Though it amounts to re-posting something I posted earlier in the winter, I do want to bring mention the events kicking off this weekend at the Wilderness and continuing through the month of May at Spotsylvania.  Since that earlier post, the National Park Service has added more details to the listings.  The full list of activities, running from May 3 and concluding on May 26 (Memorial Day) is available on the Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania website.

However, let me also echo the posting from the park staff on Mysteries and Conundrums blog.  There are some events going to seldom seen portions of the park that are worth a little added emphasis.

If you are “on the fence” about attending, please follow that link and take a minute to consider those events.  Hikes and ranger led tours over some “off the beaten path” areas of these battlefields (which, oh, by the way, are themselves the “off the beaten path” sections of the more heavily toured Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville battlefields).

If you are already planning to attend, then let me repeat what the staff wrote over there on Mysteries and Conundrums – “There is much more than this going on. We hope to see you. And if you do come, announce yourselves. We would love to meet you.”  I’m planning time off from work to make as many of these events I can.  So by all means, let’s meet and greet!

In addition to this blog, I will be using my Twitter page (the hashtag in use is #Overland150),  Facebook page, and Tumblr feed to post activities.  I may even Reddit, if the staff over there allows me spamming!  So if you are not able to attend, then throw down a “like” or a comment or a re-tweet, so as to virtually “meet and greet!”

And before “leaving” on this Overland Campaign, I have a few more posts about the Winter Encampment of 1864 to complete.  Good stuff.  I promise!