Tag Archives: Fredericksburg

Sherman’s March, May 14-17, 1865: Passing through old battlefields and crossing the Rappahannock

The last important river barrier for the armies of Major-General William T. Sherman in their march to Alexandria, Virgina was the Rappahannock River.  To gain crossing, the armies would cross through Spotsylvania and Stafford Counties, with one column traversing Orange and Culpeper Counties.  That area of Virginia was the stage for so much of the war in the east, with numerous battles fought.  For some members of Sherman’s command, this was a return to fields contested just a couple years earlier.  For most, however, this was a chance for the “Westerners” to see where the “Easterners” had fought.

The four corps fanned out in their march north, each taking a separate line for the most part:


The Right Wing used the direct route to Fredericksburg.  The Fifteenth Corps remained east of the Richmond & Potomac Railroad, generally using the Stage Road (the officers in Sherman’s command referred to this as the “Fredericksburg Road”).  Meanwhile, the Seventeenth Corps marched on the west side using the Telegraph Road.  Major-General Mortimer Leggett was in temporary command of the Seventeenth Corps, with Major-General Frank Blair at the time in Washington. Of these administrative marches, the commanders filed mundane reports of movement.  Typical was that of Major-General William B. Hazen, commanding Second Division, Fifteenth Corps, for May 16, 1865:

I have the honor to report that this division broke camp at 7 a.m., moving in the center of the column, the First Division being in advance and the Fourth Division in the rear, and went into camp about five miles from Fredericksburg at 4:30 p.m., having made a distance of twenty-two miles.

Yes, somewhat more distance than Sherman had preferred.  But the march was made over terrain familiar to military movements and where roads were well prepared.  While Hazen camped outside Fredericksburg that evening, Major-General Charles Woods’ First Division held a camp on the north bank of the Rappahannock River.   I believe the camp location used by Woods’ men was in proximity to the “Slaughter Pen” of the December 1862 battlefield.  But the records I have defy exact positioning.

The following day, Major-General John Logan officially assumed command of the Right Wing.  The Fifteenth and Seventeenth Corps crossed the Rappahannock using a pontoon bridge left by the Army of the Potomac at Franklin’s Crossing… yet another place name harkening back three years.  But only wagon traffic delayed the progress of the men as the Army of the Tennessee bounded the Rappahannock with relative ease, compared to crossings by Federal forces earlier in the war.

The Left Wing had a wider line of march.  To avoid congesting the roads through the Wilderness, the Fourteenth Corps took a route through Orange County to Raccoon Ford and thence into Culpeper County.  This route took the Fourteenth Corps, under Major-General Jefferson C. Davis, through one of the most heavily contested areas of the Civil War.  But the soldiers were not sight-seeing.  For them, a camp outside Stevensburg on May 15 was just one of over a hundred camps they made during the long war.   But it was the last made during the war in Culpeper County…  which had also seen hundreds of such camps.

The following morning, the troops marched north to Kelly’s Ford to cross the Rappahannock.  Again, lost on the soldiers on the march was the significance of that point on the map.  Armies had fought over and crossed that ford repeatedly over the four previous years.  The Fourteenth Corps was the last military command to splash through.  Just another river crossing for the soldiers, but a significant mark in the passing of the war.  The corps continued its march through places named Bristoe Station, Manassas Junction, Centreville, and Fairfax Court-house.  All of which were simply waymarks of the march home for these men.

Either by design or by serendipity, the men of the Twentieth Corps – formerly the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps – marched through Spotsylvania.  Major-General Alpheus Williams, commanding First Division, Twentieth Corps, recorded the progress:

May 14, the division having the advance marched, the same hour as yesterday, crossed the North Anna on pontoon bridge, and took a circuitous route toward Spotsylvania Court-House.  The Mat, Ta, and Po, and several other smaller creeks were crossed during the day’s march; encamped south of Spotsylvania Court-House after a march of sixteen miles.  Many officers and men embraced the opportunity to visit the famous battle-fields in this vicinity.

Yes, the Twentieth Corps’ men had reason, by connection, to be sight-seeing.  The next day’s march traversed Chancellorsville. Williams, who’d commanded a division of Twelfth Corps during the fighting there in May 1863, noted more “sight-seeing.”

May 15, the division moved out at 5 a.m. toward Chancellorsville.  The route was a portion of the section known as the Wilderness.  At Chancellorsville the division was halted for three hours upon the battle-ground to enable the officers and men of the division to visit the scenes of that memorable contest in which most of the regiments took part.  The division encamped for the night at United States Ford; marched fifteen miles.

Sherman himself traveled over to visit the Twentieth Corps that day, with Major-General Henry Slocum providing some orientation.

The next day, the Twentieth Corps crossed the Rappahannock at United States Ford… in different circumstances from the last time those men had crossed at that point.  The remainder of the march toward Alexandria took the Twentieth Corps through places such as Hartwood Church, Brentsville, and Fairfax Station. In more ways than one, the Twentieth Corps was going home.

On May 19 the Armies of the Tennessee and Georgia reached their designated camps outside Alexandria.  There, near the banks of the Potomac, the Great March which had started in Atlanta came to its last pause.  The last short march required of these soldiers was a Grand Review in the nation’s capital – a formal closure to the march… and the war.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page 605; Part III, Serial 100, page 509.)

Elevating Gear for your 30-pdr Parrott

I’ve used this photo a few times now. It is a 30-pdr Parrott rifle at Lee’s Hill at Fredericksburg.

Fredericksburg 24 Nov 12 051

30-pdr Parrott, registry #341, on Lee’s Hill at Fredericksburg

The carriage is a metal reproduction, replacing a wooden carriage which had badly deteriorated (and left the 4200 pound gun in an unsafe condition). The carriage is a close copy of a siege carriage. You see the rest or cradle on the stock and the traveling trunnions on the cheeks, which were used to situate the gun to the rear of the carriage while on the move. Notice also the carriage lacks the loop at the base of the trail, seen on the smaller field gun carriages. But there’s another fine point of detail to note about this carriage mounting.

Fredericksburg 24 Nov 12 056

Side view of the Parrott showing the elevating screw and gear

This Parrott carriage lacks the standard elevating screw and four handled head that is seen on most reproductions. Instead there is a long threaded screw, offset to the left, and a single crank.

Fredericksburg 24 Nov 12 052

Elevating gear on 30pdr Parrott

Notice how the screw is fixed with a single bolt to an eye on the carriage trail (bottom of this view). The single arm and handle at the top of the screw provides clearance for the gunner. The screw rotates through a brass nut. That nut has a pin fitting directly into a piercing within the knob of the gun.

Fredericksburg 24 Nov 12 053

Right side of Parrott Breech

Very simple in concept. Turn the elevating screw and the travel of the nut will impart elevation on the gun. The Navy and Army used elevating screws of this type on heavy guns. A good example of such wartime use is this photo from the Washington defenses.

The Parrot rifle on the left has the single handle elevating gear offset to the left.

Just a fine detail point to consider on your next visit to Fredericksburg. My contribution to the “how did it work” file for the day.

Fredericksburg Battlefield by Cannons

As I’ve done thus far throughout the sesquicentennial, allow me to offer a “tour” of the Fredericksburg battlefield’s cannons.

Fredericksburg battlefield features a small, but varied, set of guns. The largest are four 32-pdr seacoast guns in the National Cemetery, serving as memorials. As for those in the “field” there are two impressive 4.5-inch Rifles at Chatham.

Fredericksburg 24 Nov 12 201

Being on Chatham Heights, a visitor can take license and say they represent the guns that bombarded the city during the battle. But these are the type seen in wartime photos entrenched upon the heights in 1863.

In a position to “duel” with these are two 30-pdr Parrotts on the other side of the Rappanannock.

Fredericksburg 24 Nov 12 056

In between are 3-inch Ordnance, 3-inch Confederate, 12-pdr Confederate Napoleons, and several James Rifles. I’ve included an iron 6-pdr gun located downtown. Although it is not setup on a battlefield display, it is on the battlefield… as is this fellow…

Fredericksburg 19 Feb 11 002

… that I must leave off the list.

It’s all about the foundry numbers: 30-pdr Tredegar Parrotts at Fredericksburg

In a post last month discussing weapons shipped to Vicksburg, I closed off with a photo of this big 30-pdr Parrott at Fredericksburg.

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30pdr Parrott on Lee’s Hill, Fredericksburg

The gun is a 30-pdr Parrott of Federal vintage used as a “stand in” representing weapons of the same caliber, but produced for the Confederacy by the Tredegar Iron Works. Ells’s Georgia Battery manned two such Confederate 30-pdrs during the battle of Fredericksburg. There are only three known surviving Confederate 30-pdrs. So this is a necessary and acceptable substitute.

The story of those Confederate Parrotts is well known. In Ironmaker to the Confederacy, Charles Dew summarized the story from the perspective of the guns:

The Army of Northern Virginia received a few Parrott rifles in time to answer the mighty Union cannonade that descended on Fredericksburg in mid-December. For two months prior to the battle, ordnance officers had been urging Anderson and Company to speed up delivery of these powerful rifles. Four 20-pounder Parrotts were turned over to the Ordnance Department in October and two 30-pounders were completed late in November. Lee ordered the 30-pounders to the front immediately. On the evening of November 28, thirty Tredegar slaves labored for almost five hours … loading the two cannon on a special train and filling two box cars with ammunition. The guns arrived at Fredericksburg the next day, were tested, and put into previously prepared emplacements on Marye’s Heights. When Union troops attempted to storm the naturally strong Confederate position on December 13, the two Parrotts went into action. Confederate artillerists used the heavy guns with devastating effect on the assaulting Federals for several hours, but both guns burst during the battle, one on the thirty-ninth round, the other on the fifty-fourth. Lee, Longstreet, and other high officers were standing near one of the cannon when it exploded, but miraculously all escaped injury.1

The story matches well to the notion that the Army of Northern Virginia was making a desperate stand against an overwhelming enemy force. On face, it sounds plausible. But were the Confederates so hard pressed as to ship untested guns to the front?

To start with, Tredegar began producing 30-pdr Parrotts well before November. Here’s a summary of foundry numbers and casting dates based on the “Foundry Book” entries for entries in 1862:

  • No. 1631 – July 26
  • No. 1637 – July 26
  • No. 1645 – August 13
  • No. 1649 – August 19
  • No. 1662 – August 27
  • No 1673 – October 11
  • No. 1690 – November 12
  • No. 1698 – November 252

At first glance, yes, there were two of the big Parrotts produced in November of that year. So would those be the two guns in question? Maybe not.

Well first bit of documentation to consider is the hauling tally sheet mentioned in the previous post3:
Page 636b

This, as cited by Dew, leaves no doubt when two guns were loaded and shipped to Fredericksburg. But there are no foundry numbers recorded.

The next document to consider is a listing of guns received by the Ordnance Department in December 1862. Leading the list is a set of entries for December 3:

Page 670a

Clearly annotated is “4.2 rifled gun 30pdr No. 1690”. But not only is the date incorrect, but also the recorded destination. The gun was among a shipment bound for General Theophilus H. Holmes, Little Rock, Arkansas. (And yes, remarkably Tredegar gave away a water bucket at “no charge.” Wonders never cease!)

But… there’s a discrepancy. The same foundry number shows up again on a list of weapons received in February 1863.

Page 699b

Um…. did Tredegar sell the same gun twice? Or was there a duplicate foundry number issued? Is this a single digit transcription error, where #1698 was supposed to show? Your guess is as good as mine. The Tredegar Gun Book is known to have errors with respect to foundry numbers. So it’s certainly possible to see transcription errors for the receipts. Regardless these two documents rule out #1690 as one of the Fredericksburg guns.

Looking further at the tally sheet for February 1863 deliveries, one of the other 30-pdrs shows up on the list:

Page 699a

So #1662, cast in August, was not delivered until February, sent to Wilmington, North Carolina.

Another of the Tredegar 30-pdrs, #1645 also cast in August, shows up on a receipt for guns received in January 1863…. January 9 to be exact.

Page 656a

So of the eight Tredegar 30-pdrs produced between July and November 1862, at least three (maybe four) are accounted as delivered after the battle of Fredericksburg. Those three include at least one of the two November guns. The other two guns, delivered in 1863, were cast the previous summer.

It is possible that #1698 was cast on November 25, 1862, then three days later loaded onto the rail car. But how likely is that occurrence with at least two 30-pdrs cast in August, if not more, still at Tredegar? Or is it more likely that the two Fredericksburg guns were actually two from castings prior to November? If Tredegar was setting on cannons, maybe ordnance officers had good reason to urge delivery. That of course leads to the next logical question – why would Tredegar delay deliveries?

Regardless of the exact manufacture date, the guns almost struck a blow worse than the Stockton Gun. Throughout the war, Confederate manufactured (or modified) cannons exhibited a nasty failure rate. A burst Tredegar gun nearly killed General Leonidas Polk at Columbus, Kentucky in 1861. A burst gun, a modified 32-pdr, played a significant role in the fall of Fort Henry. And that 30-pdr at Fredericksburg nearly changed the course of the war in the east.



  1. Charles B. Dew, Ironmaker to the Confederacy: Joseph R. Anderson and the Tredegar Iron Works, Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1999, page 187
  2. “Table of Cannon Cast at J.R. Anderson & Company,” Larry Daniel and Riley Gunter, Confederate Cannon Foundries, Union City, Tennessee: Pioneer Press, 1977, pages 98-99.
  3. The sections of the receipts and tally sheets are from the Tredegar Folder, “Confederate Papers Relating to Citizens or Business Firms, 1861-65,” Record Group 109, NARA.

150 years ago: The Guns of December

So December is here.  For us 21st century-folks, our focus might be on gift lists and scheduling of festive events.  Of course just over a figurative hill are wars, in some cases held by cease fires.  We don’t see much in the way of major battles.  But that’s the nature of counter-insurgency, one might argue with respect to Afghanistan.

That was not the case in 1862.  News of battle after battle came nearly every day.  This was in the face of contemporary military wisdom that armies should “go into quarters” at the onset of winter.  Yet, there were several active campaigns resulting in important (if not major) battles:

  • Prairie Grove – December 7
  • Fredericksburg – December 11-15
  • Foster’s Raid (North Carolina) – December 13-20
  • Chickasaw Bayou – December 26-29
  • Stones River – December 31 – January 2

Taken in isolation, this activity might not be so noteworthy. Just another month in a major war.

But the activity in December happened after a very, very active late summer and early fall season.   Two major Confederate invasions, not to mention several smaller campaigns, drained the resources of both armies.  Again, under conventional military wisdom, following a major campaign armies would rest, recuperate, resupply, reorganize, and rest.  And yes, the respective armies on both sides did just that.  But in compressed cycles.  Sixty days after the invasions fizzled out, the respective armies lined up for another round of battles.

Reviewing the list of campaign activity, the odd one of the set is Prairie Grove – being the result of a Confederate offensive move.  At the theater level at least.  The others were result of Federal offensives from Virginia to Mississippi.  And even Prairie Grove, one might argue, was a function of the aggressive Federal stance.  By holding the northwest corner of Arkansas, the strategic flanks of forces operating along the Mississippi were more secure.

New commanders – Burnsides, Rosecrans, and Banks – with offensive oriented orders.  Existing commanders likewise given orders to press the Confederates.  Activity across one thousand miles from the Chesapeake to the tributaries of the Arkansas River (if I said Illinois River, folks would be confused).

What objective would prompt political leadership to issue such orders?  Think about it.

150 Years Ago: Hard war or conventions of war at Fredericksburg?

On this day, November 21, in 1862, Major General Edwin V. Sumner forwarded this demand to the city officials in Fredericksburg:

Mayor and Common Council of Fredericksburg:

GENTLEMEN: Under cover of the houses of your city, shots have been tired upon the troops of my command. Your mills and manufactories are furnishing provisions and the material for clothing for armed bodies in rebellion against the Government of the United States. Your railroads and other means of transportation are removing supplies to the depots of such troops. This condition of things must terminate, and, by direction of General Burnside, I accordingly demand the surrender of the city into my hands, as the representative of the Government of the United States, at or before 5 o’clock this afternoon.

Failing an affirmative reply to this demand by the hour indicated, sixteen hours will be permitted to elapse for the removal from the city of women and children, the sick and wounded and aged, &c., which period having expired, I shall proceed to shell the town. Upon obtaining possession of the city, every necessary means will be taken to preserve order and secure the protective operation of the laws and policy of the United States Government.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Bvt. Maj. Gen., U.S. Army, Commanding Right Grand Division.

Backing up the demand with iron, Sumner ordered up two batteries.

The reply from Mayor Montgomery Slaughter arrived later in the day.  After complaining of delays with delivery of the demand, and repeating the demands for clarity, Slaughter responded to the conditions noted by Sumner:

In reply, I have to say that this communication did not reach me in time to convene the council for its consideration, and to furnish a reply by the hour indicated (5 p.m.). It was sent to me through the hands of the commanding officer of the army of the Confederate States near this town, to whom it was first delivered, by consent of General Patrick, who bore it from you, as I am informed, and I am authorized by the commander of the Confederate Army to say that there was no delay in passing it through his hands to me.

In regard to the matters complained of by you, the firing of shots upon your troops occurred upon the northern suburbs of the town, and was the act of the military officer commanding the Confederate forces near here, for which matter [neither] the citizens nor civil authorities of this town are responsible. In regard to the other matters of complaint, I am authorized by the latter officer to say that the condition of things therein complained of shall no longer exist; that your troops shall not be fired on from this town; that the mills and manufactories here will not furnish any further supplies of provisions or material for clothing for the Confederate troops, nor will the railroads or other means of transportation here convey supplies from the town to the depots of said troops.

You must be aware that there will not be more than three or four hours of daylight within the sixteen hours given by you for the removal of the sick and wounded, the women and children, the aged and infirm from this place; and I have to inform you that, while there is no railroad transportation accessible to the town, because of the interruption thereof by your batteries, all other means of transportation within the town are so limited as to render the removal of the classes of persons spoken of, within the time indicated, an utter impossibility.

The assurances and explanations assuaged Sumner, who then replied:

Your letter of this afternoon is at hand, and, in consideration of your pledges that the acts complained of shall cease, and that your town shall not be occupied by any of the enemy’s forces, and your assertion that a lack of transportation renders it impossible to remove the women, children, sick, wounded, and aged, I am authorized to say to you that our batteries will not open upon your town at the hour designated.

General Patrick will meet a committee or representative from your town to-morrow morning at 9 o’clock, at the Lacy house.

Despite the tone of compromise in the last message, there were still details to work out and a few misunderstandings to resolve.  More negotiations took place the following day, and only then was the city spared the threat of bombardment (for the time being).

Not reflected in the dialog between Sumner and Slaughter was the input given by General Robert E. Lee, who had arrived outside Fredericksburg along with the lead elements of General James Longstreet’s corps.  Lee’s response was to withdraw his troops from the city and not use the city for military purposes.  Lee did, however, reserve the option to counter any move by the Federals into the city.  In short, Lee proposed, that while the city remained between the two armies, it would be spared the ravages of war.

Wishful thinking.  Perhaps the dialog reflected notions of earlier times – that warfare was an activity confined to the battlefields and fought out between organized armies.  (Although I’d be the first to point out such a time scarcely existed at any point in history!)  The “rules of war,” or more so the conventions of war, required the protection of civilians and private property.

Sumner’s initial demands had the weight of “hard war” in them.  Fredericksburg was an instrument of war as much as the Army of Northern Virginia was.  But Sumner, at heart, was not a true practitioner of “hard war.”  Perhaps John Pope or William Sherman would have responded with harsher terms, or followed through with more resolve.  Not “Bull Head” Sumner.

On the other hand, Robert E. Lee was willing to cast aside the conventions of war.  Within a few weeks, Lee changed the situation by not only reoccupying Fredericksburg, but fortifying it.  Lee was leading an army at the front of a rebellion and could little afford to give the enemy an opening.  Lee would put Fredericksburg back into the crucible of war.  There would be no safe zones on the Rappahannock in December 1862.


Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 21, Serial 31, pages 783-758.   Also see Frank O’Reilly, The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006), pages 36-37.

150 years ago: Moving trains by water to supply the army

Yesterday I left off noting that armies on the move need support in order to keep up momentum.  Even without suggesting General Sumner should have crossed the Rappahannock and occupied Fredericksburg – just to stay in front of Fredericksburg – the Army of the Potomac needed logistic support.  To continue the offensive, the army needed everything from axle grease to hard tack to bullets, and even more in-between.

However by early November 1862, the logistic tail following the Army of the Potomac lay back along the Orange & Alexandria Railroad.  Engines and their rolling stock worked the rails extending to the southwest of Alexandria.  With the change of objective, the army no longer needed depots at places like Manassas Junction or Warrenton.  Rather the army needed a line running due south towards Fredericksburg.  For General Ambrose Burnside’s plan to reach Richmond through Fredericksburg to work, the rail road had to move.  Problem was the old Fredericksburg railroad was not in shape to support anything, having suffered damage due to the war.  And even if built, railroaders feared the line was exposed to irregular activity.

To resolve the problem, the U.S. Military Railroad came up with a novel solution.  General Herman Haupt wrote of this in his reminiscences:

The reconstruction of the wharves and track from Acquia Creek to Fredericksburg was prosecuted with unprecedented expedition.  It was on November 10 that I directed W.W. Wright to hold himself in readiness to commence work so soon as General Halleck should decide upon its necessity. It was November 11 when a telegram was sent to Colonel Belger at Baltimore to provide canal boats, and five days later, November 17, considerable progress had already been made in the work of reconstruction.  The Superintendent reported that, in five days after commencement, a section of the wharf 1,000 feet long was completed, and a locomotive and cars landed and trains commenced running to Potomac Creek.  In five days more trains were running to the Rappahannock.

The Schuylkill barges answered admirably, and thus was formed a new era in Military Railroad transportation.  Two of these barges were placed parallel to each other and long timbers bolted transversely.  The length of the barges was sufficient for eight tracks carrying eight cars, and two such floats would carry the sixteen cars which constituted a train.

In this way hundreds of loaded cars were transferred from the advanced location of the Army, on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, loaded on the floats, towed sixty miles to Acquia Creek, transferred from river to rail, and sent to Falmouth without break of bulk, in about the same time required to march the army across the country by land.  Supplies were at Falmouth as soon as there were forces there for their protection.

We might fact-check Haupt’s claim about the arrival of supplies and troops coinciding.  Still the point made is valid – the railroad system shifted with remarkable speed and flexibility.  While the repair of port facilities was certainly nothing new, the use of barges to move the rolling stock was a new practice at the military operational level.

One wartime photo shows a pair of barges, as described by Haupt, with eight box-cars loaded.

Rolling stock on barges

Another wartime photo shows perhaps a variation on the theme – three lashed barges with more tracks.

Three barge floats

I’ll defer to the railroading experts out there.  But this seems to me a likely means to transport the heavier locomotives.

As a “trained” logistician, I’d point out the genius of this operation was not just floating the rolling stock, but alluded to in Haupt’s closing – no breaking of bulk cargo.  In other words, the cars were packed at a depot or warehouse and then shipped directly to the front without cross packing.  Such was a significant time savings. And time is everything when discussing transportation and logistics in the military context.

Fast forward a little over eighty years.  Different location, similar logistic problem, but larger scale.  For the armies going into Normandy in June 1944, logistic support was more so a monumental task.  A modern mechanized army requires more than just hay and hardtack.  No doubt, you’ve seen the D-Day documentaries that cite tens of millions of tons of supplies going ashore at the Mulberry harbors.  But just getting those supplies to the beach didn’t meet the needs of the front line soldier.  As the beachhead enlarged and extended, the supplies had to be transported over one-hundred miles (excuse me… kilometers) to the front line areas.  As with the Civil War days, the logisticians needed to save time by avoiding the practice of breaking bulk.  So they did this:

Rails allowed the LST to carry the cars from English ports to the French beaches.  There the LST opened its bow doors and the stock rolled down onto a pre-fabricated line across the beach.

Take away the trucks and helmets, and you have a scene not too far removed from Acquia Landing in November 1862.