Summary Statement: December 31, 1862 – Wisconsin’s Batteries

The last state with entries in the fourth quarter, 1862 summary statements was Wisconsin.  During the war, the Badger State provided thirteen light batteries.  One of those, the 13th Battery, would not be organized until December 1863 and thus falls outside scope for this post.  But the other twelve should be accounted for.  The summary carries six returns for those batteries on hand at the end of 1862, plus an additional line for weapons assigned to the 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry.


With a few gaps to fill in, here are the Wisconsin batteries:

  • 1st Battery:  Reporting at New Orleans with six 20-pdr Parrotts.  The location was valid for August 1864, when the return was received in Washington.  As of the end of 1862, Captain Jacob T. Foster’s battery was employed with Sherman’s forces in the action at Chickasaw Bayou (Third Division, Right Wing, Thirteenth Corps).  Foster’s men fired 2,380 rounds in three days there.  Foster reported his men were very fatigued after the battle, “…the guns were handled as rapidly as light artillery, whereas they are in fact siege pieces, and should have at least 175 men to maneuver there.”  Foster’s gunners would be in action again less than two weeks later at Arkansas Post.
  • 2nd Battery:  No return.  Captain Ernst F. Herzberg commanded this battery at the end of 1862, but was replaced by  Charles Beger within the first week of the new year. The battery served at Camp Hamilton, outside Fortress Monroe, Virginia, at this time of the war.
  • 3rd Battery: No return.  Lieutenant Cortland Livingston took this battery into action at Stones River, as part of Third Division, Left Wing, Fourteenth Corps (Army of the Cumberland).  The battery fired 358 rounds in the battle.
  • 4th Battery: No return.  Was also at Camp Hamilton, Virginia.  Captain  John F. Vallee commanded this battery.
  • 5th Battery: No return.  Captain Oscar F. Pinney was mortally wounded on the first day at Stones River.  Lieutenant Charles B. Humphrey assumed command.  The battery was in First Division, Right Wing, Fourteenth Corps. The battery fired 726 rounds and lost one gun in the battle.
  • 6th Battery: At Cartersville, Georgia with two 6-pdr field guns, two 12-pdr field howitzers, and two 3.80-inch James Rifles.  Another case of a location derived from a later reporting date.  In this case the battery was at Cartersville in October 1864.  In December 1862, the “Buena Vista Battery” was operating in northern Mississippi as part of Seventh Division, Thirteenth Corps.  Captain Henry Dillon commanded.
  • 7th Battery: At Jackson, Tennessee with two 6-pdr field guns and one 12-pdr field howitzer.  Lieutenant Galen E. Green commanded this battery, which was assigned to the District of Jackson, Thirteenth Corps.  A somewhat sedate assignment at the time for the “Badger State Flying Artillery.”
  • 8th Battery: No return. “Lyons’ Pinery Battery” also supported First Division, Right Wing, Fourteenth Corps at Stones River. Captain Stephen J. Carpenter, in command, was killed on the first day of the battle.  Lieutenant Henry E. Stiles assumed command. The 8th fired 375 rounds in the battle.  It lost a 6-pdr and a 10-pdr Parrott.  At the end of the first day, Stiles reported two guns serviceable (type not specified).
  • 9th Battery: Fort Lyon, Colorado with four 6-pdr field guns and two 12-pdr field howitzers. Captain Cyrus H. Johnson commanded this battery posted in the District of Colorado (alongside McLain’s Colorado Battery, I might add)
  • 10th Battery: At Nashville, Tennessee with six 6-pdr field guns.  Assigned to the Fourth Division, Center Wing, Fourteenth Corps.  Captain Yates V. Beebe’s battery did not see action at Stones River.
  • 11th Battery: No return. An interesting back story to cover this blank line.  Formed in February 1862 as the 11th, this battery was transferred out as Battery L, 1st Illinois Light Artillery.  So we’ve covered them in a previous post.
  • 12th Battery: At Germantown, Tennessee with four 10-pdr Parrotts.  Sort of the reverse happened with this battery. It was formed in Missouri, but under authority of the Wisconsin governor.  Captain William Zickerick commanded the 12th at the end of 1862.  It was part of the Seventh Division, Thirteenth Corps at the time.

And as mentioned, one additional line:

  • 3rd Cavalry:  Reporting at Fort Scott, Kansas with two 12-pdr mountain howitzers.  The company designation appears to be “E.” The 3rd Cavalry had a section of mountain howitzers at the battle of Prairie Grove.  So we might arbitrate the location given in the summary.

So we see the Wisconsin batteries were posted to the Western and Trans-Mississippi theaters and involved with (probably, counting the 3rd Cavalry detachment) three different battles in December 1862.

Moving down to the ammunition pages, here are the smoothbore quantities on hand:


And we have some entries to plant question marks next to:

  • 1st Battery: Seventy-one 6-pdr canister.  Now recall that 6-pdr caliber was 3.67-inch diameter, as was 20-pdr Parrott.  So this might be a case of “it fits in the bore, so we must be able to use it….”  to put things simply.  Plant a question mark there.
  • 6th Battery: 131 shot, 238 case, and 146 canister for 6-pdr field gun; 81 shell and 68 case  for 12-pdr field howitzer; 144 cainster for 12-pdr mountain howitzer.  Now 6th Battery was mixed with smoothbore guns, rifled guns, and field howitzers.  But were they using mountain howitzer canister in field howitzers? Or is that last entry a data entry error?  Again, we have a question mark.
  • 7th Battery: 60 shot, 80 case, and 45 canister for 6-pdr field gun; 15 case and 15 canister for 12-pdr field howitzer.  Small quantities might be explained by the battery having only three tubes on hand.
  • 9th Battery: 400 shot, 320 case, and 80 canister for 6-pdr field gun; 150 shell, 190 case, and 62 canister for 12-pdr howitzer.
  • 10th Battery:  598 shot and 550(?) case for 6-pdr field gun.
  • 3rd Cavalry: 69 shell and 7 canister for 12-pdr mountain howitzer.

While the smoothbore section leaves us some questions to ponder, the rifled projectile sections are noticeably empty…. starting with the Hotchkiss columns:


Hotchkiss was unknown, apparently, to the Wisconsin men.  Furthermore, Parrott and Schenkl were only a little more familiar:


Well… we can zoom in there…:


Two batteries with quantities to mention:

  • 1st Battery: 124 shell, 415 case, and 51 canister of Parrott-patent for 20-pdr Parrott.
  • 12th Battery: 502 shell, 149 case, and 119 canister of Parrott-patent for 10pdr Parrott; also 28 Schenkl shot for 10-pdr Parrott rifle.

But nothing further on the Schenkl columns on the next page:


So we are left to speculate about what projectiles were on hand for the James rifles.

On to the small arms:


For the four batteries reporting quantities:

  • 1st Battery: Sixteen Army revolvers and six horse artillery sabers.
  • 6th Battery: Sixty-six cavalry sabers.
  • 9th Battery: 135 Navy revolvers and twenty-three horse artillery sabers.
  • 10th Battery: Eighteen horse artillery sabers.

Closing this post, we come to the end of the fourth quarter, 1862 summaries. I’m going to take a short break on these posts before starting the first quarter, 1863.  There will be a few “administrative” notes to make as the column headers changed a bit with the new year.  But we’ll continue working through all these rows and columns in a somewhat orderly fashion.



Summary Statement: December 31, 1862 – Missouri’s First Regiment of Artillery

The Missouri section of the fourth quarter, 1862 summary statement lists sixteen batteries.  That covers all of the 1st Regiment, Missouri Light Artillery as a whole.  It also includes bits and pieces of what would become the 2nd Regiment and some militia batteries brought onto Federal service at the time.  For this installment, we will look at the easy to interpret 1st Missouri Artillery.  And “easy” is a relative term.

The First Missouri Artillery had batteries assigned to the Department of Missouri, Army of the Frontier, the Army of Tennessee, and the Army of Cumberland.  Four of the batteries – D, H, I, and K – served together as a battalion under the command of Major George H. Stone during the Battle of Corinth, earlier in October, 1862.  However, the remainder were, as was common among the volunteer batteries, scattered around as needs required.

Looking to the first page of the summary, note the date which the returns were received.  This factors into my interpretation of some entries:


To help identify the batteries further, I’ll mention the battery commander for each, though it is not indicated in the summary.  That may aid the “untangling” of some of the organizational nuances of these batteries and answer some underlying questions:

  • Battery A: Helena, Arkansas.  Four 6-pdr field guns and two 12-pdr field howitzers. This battery was part of the District of Southeast Missouri, but would shortly become part of the “new” Thirteenth Corps as reorganized under Major-General John McClernand.  It’s battery commander was Captain George W. Schofield, namesake of the post-war Schofield revolver and brother of Major-General John Schofield.
  • Battery B:  Brownsville, Texas.  Two 12-pdr “heavy” field guns and four 12-pdr field howitzers.  Captain Martin Welfley commanded this battery.  The location is certainly incorrect for December 1862.  Likely that is tied to the date of the report’s receipt in Washington – April 1864.  At the close of 1862, the battery was in Missouri.  Welfley took the two heavy 12-pdr guns to Vicksburg when sent to the siege lines in June 1863.  By September of that year, he reported four heavy 12-pdrs and only two howitzers.
  • Battery C:  No report. Part of the Left Wing, Thirteenth Corps in December 1862. Later reorganized into the Sixteenth Corps.  Commanded by Lieutenant Edward Brotzmann.
  • Battery D: Reporting from Corinth, Mississippi, with five 20-pdr Parrott rifles.  Captain Henry Richardson commanded this battery.  It was among those in Stone’s battalion earlier in the fall.  The battery would spend time in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Corps during the winter of 1863.
  • Battery E: At Fayetteville, Arkansas, with four 10-pdr Parrotts and two 3.5-inch “English Rifles.”  Several notes here.  First this battery was organized by Captain Nelson Cole, but by the Prairie Grove campaign, in the Army of the Frontier,  it was commanded by Lieutenant Joseph Foust.  Those English rifles were products of Fawcett & Preston in Liverpool, purchased by General John C. Fremont early in the war.  Like other Civil War ordnance “enthusiasts,” I class these weapons as Blakelys based on caliber, projectiles, and loose affiliation of origin.  By September, Foust increased the number of English guns by one.
  • Battery F:  No report.  This battery had also seen service at Prairie Grove. Captain David Murphy’s battery moved with a column to Van Buren, Arkansas after the battle.  From notes about Prairie Grove, this battery should have reported a mix of James rifles and those Blakelys (or Fawcett & Preston, as you may prefer).
  • Battery G: No report.  This is Captain Henry Hescock’s battery supporting Third Division (Sheridan), Right Wing, Army of the Cumberland at the Battle of Stones River.  Hescock was also the division’s chief of artillery at the time, and I’ve wondered if he performed both roles (division chief and battery commander) or delegated the battery to a senior lieutenant.  His official report reads as if he retained command of the battery.  The battery fired 1,112 rounds at Stones River, lost one officer and 21 enlisted men, and reported short 37 horses.
  • Battery H:  At Corinth, with two 6-pdr field guns, one 24-pdr field howitzer, and two 10-pdr Parrotts.  Was part of Stone’s battalion earlier in the fall.  Commanded by Captain Frederick Welker.  Also part of the Thirteenth Corps in December, 1862.  By the end of the winter, the battery was part of Sixteenth Corps.
  • Battery I:  At Corinth, reporting four 6-pdr field guns and two 12-pdr field howitzers. I don’t know exactly when, but command of this battery passed from Captain William Pile, who went on to command the 33rd Missouri Infantry, to Captain Benjamin Tannrath.  Like the other Corinth-based batteries, Battery I was part of the Thirteenth Corps at the end of 1862, but being part of the reorganization into the Sixteenth Corps.
  • Battery K: Reporting four 10-pdr Parrotts at Vicksburg.  They might have wished they were *in* Vicksburg that winter!  Maybe the Confederates would have appreciated the loan of those Parrotts that winter!   Certainly this is a transcription error.  This was George Stone’s old battery and part of his battalion at Corinth.  Captain Stillman O. Fish had command of the battery, with Stone managing a “battalion” and later unbrigaded artillery at Corinth.
  • Battery L:  No report. This was Captain Frank Backof’s battery which fought at Prairie Grove.  They had four James rifles and two 12-pdr field howitzers.  By the end of the month, the battery was at Van Buren, Arkansas.
  • Battery M:  No location indicated, but with four 10-pdr Parrott rifles.  The battery was part of the Left Wing, Thirteenth Corps (soon to be the Sixteenth Corps) and stationed around Jackson, Tennessee.  Battery commanded by Captain Junius W. MacMurray.

MacMurray went on to serve in the regular army after the war:


And many of MacMurray’s papers are in the Princeton University Library,which according to the description “include quartermaster’s lists, invoices, and returns.”  Should anyone have access to those, I’d be interested if copies of MacMurray’s Ordnance Returns and other “cannon” related documents are in that set.

Yes, from the perspective of organization (and to some degree the armament), the Missouri batteries were one bag of confusing entries.  I’m making it somewhat worse by going beyond what is written in the summary. Thankfully, the rest of the summary, focusing on ammunition, is less confusing.  Starting with smoothbore ammunition:


These lines are interesting, if for nothing else with the inclusion of the 24-pdr unfixed ammunition.

  • Battery A:  6-pdr field gun – 400 shot, 308 case, and 188(?) canister; 12-pdr field howitzer – 11 shells, 156 case, and 27 canister.
  • Battery B: 12-pdr field gun – 128 shot, 84 case, and 32 canister; 12-pdr field howitzer – 340 shells, 358 case, and 64 canister.
  • Battery H: Reporting nothing for the 6-pdr guns, but for the 24-pdr field howitzers – 109 shell, 62 case, and 66 canister.
  • Battery I:  6-pdr field gun – 169 shot, 437 case, and 222 canister; 12-pdr field howitzer – 120 shell, 109 case, and 145 canister.
  • Battery K: 6-pdr field gun – 98 case and 28 canister.

Moving to the rifled ammunition, first we consider the Hotchkiss patent projectiles:


Yes, just one entry – Battery D had 38 Wiard-type 3.67-inch shot.  Yes, 20-pdr Parrotts had a 3.67-inch bore, nominally.

Lots of entries for Parrott and Schenkl columns:


By battery:

  • Battery B: 20-pdr Parrott – 291 shell, 75 case, and 111 canister.  With the battery armed only with smoothbore, this might be quantity under the charge of the battery at a garrison in Missouri.  Or perhaps another transcription error, putting the entries for Battery D on the wrong line?
  • Battery E: Parrott projectiles for 10-pdr Parrott – 420 shell and 131 canister.  Schenkl for 10-pdr Parrott – 133 shot.
  • Battery H:  Parrott for 10-pdr Parrott – 13 shell and 69 canister.
  • Battery K:  Parrott for 10-pdr – 175 shell, 350 case, and 120 canister.  Schenkl for 10-pdr Parrot – 100 shot.
  • Battery M:  Parrott for 10-pdr – 152 shell, 250 case, and 94 canister.  Schenkl for 10-pdr Parrot – 80 shot.

Continuing with the Schenkl entries, we have Battery M with 98 Parrott canister by that patent:


Now for the small arms!


Let’s see how those gunners were armed:

  • Battery A: 9 Navy revolvers and 35 cavalry sabers.
  • Battery B: 19 Navy revolvers, 52 cavalry sabers, 10 horse artillery sabers, and 8 foot artillery sabers.
  • Battery D: 30 cavalry sabers.
  • Battery E: 85 Army revolvers and 53 cavalry sabers.
  • Battery H: 5 Army revolvers and 45 horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery I: 15 Army revolvers, 106 cavalry sabers, and one horse artillery saber.
  • Battery K: 4 Navy revolvers and 40 cavalry sabers.
  • Battery M: 13 Army revolvers and 7 horse artillery sabers.

The 1st Missouri Artillery entries were a lot of “finger work” and research on my end.  And I am still not happy with all the validations for the batteries and their armaments.  I would stress again this is the “summary” reflecting what was reported from paperwork received at intervals in Washington.  We don’t know if one clerk did all the work… or if a team of clerks were involved.  In short, we don’t have a clear picture of how the paperwork was processed.  Thus we have to add questions about data integrity.

On to the 2nd Missouri and the State Militia batteries….

More of Hindman’s suggestions to fix the Confederacy: Pay, conscription, and martial law

Back a few days I pulled a section from General Thomas Hindman’s official report from the Prairie Grove campaign. Well the general must have considered this report the vessel by which to air all his ideas about the war effort….

In the next paragraph in his report, he addressed a problem with pay, or more precisely regularity of pay:

Next in importance is the subject of the pay of the troops. Poor men almost invariably make up our armies. Their wives and children, left without protection, are exposed to absolute suffering unless the men are regularly and adequately paid. No troops that I have known during the war have been paid with anything like promptness. Immense arrearages are now due the men of this corps. Their families are in great suffering. The consequence is that very many desertions have occurred. If arrearages could be at once discharged, the evil would be checked. If the pay of the soldier was not only promptly given him, but made sufficient in amount to support his family as it should be, desertions would be unknown. This subject involves the fate of the Confederacy. Notions of false economy ought to be discarded in considering it.

Without pausing, Hindman rolled into the next recommendation:

The conscript act ought to be revised. Every man between sixteen and sixty, who is able to serve the Confederacy in the army, whether in the ranks or as an artisan or mechanic, laborer, teamster, cook, hospital attendant, or in any other capacity, ought to be put in service without regard to avocation or other plea. There ought to be no exemption whatever, except in the case of absolute and permanent physical disability. If by this means more soldiers are raised than necessary, it would be a very just and humane policy to grant furloughs to the old soldiers and put the young conscripts in their places. If the men out of the army are “the people” these ideas may fail of popular approval. That, however, in no way affects their merits.

There you have it. Draft everyone. No exemptions.

Under the same supposition, the last suggestion I have to make will be still more decidedly unpopular. It will be odious in the eyes of speculators, extortioners, refusers of Confederate money, evaders of conscription, deserters, harborers of deserters, spies, marauders, federalists, and that less respectable class who regard these others as the people, and pander to them for their votes. The obnoxious suggestion is, a vigorous and determined system of martial law, covering all classes of evil-doers mentioned above, and compelling them, by stern and swift punishment, either to leave the Confederacy or to bear their due part of the burdens of the war. Without martial law, loyal citizens and the fighting soldiers of the country, their wives and children, are literally the prey of the basest of the population. The civil laws, State organizations, rights on paper, and penalties on statute-books, are inert and powerless to help them. A living, active, fearless assertion and enforcement of martial law alone can do it. If much longer delayed, that remedy itself will come too late.

So how does this proposal square with the principle of states’ rights?

(Once again WordPress’s mobile app failed to update this post before publication.  Here’s the intended ending…)

Consider the context of Hindman’s proposals.  Four or more written pages within an official report of a failed campaign.  Almost like he felt this was his only chance to vent on these issues.  But at that stage of the war, sending recommendations to Richmond was like taking coals to Newcastle.  Perhaps we can characterize Hindman’s proposals as extreme attempts to deal with a sinking reality.  I’m reminded of an even more radical proposal by Patrick Cleburne, one of Hindman’s close friends, two years later.  Must have been something in the water around Helena, Arkansas.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 22, Part I, Serial 32, pages 145-6.)

150 Years Ago: Sound of the guns at Prairie Grove

NOTE:  This post is focused on the Federal artillery at the battle of Prairie Grove.  For more background information on the battle, I refer you to Civil War Daily Gazette’s entry or the Civil War Trust resource page for Prairie Grove.

On this day (December 7) in 1862, one of the westernmost battles of the Civil War took place at Prairie Grove, Arkansas. We don’t often think of artillery in the Trans-Mississippi, yet just as at Pea Ridge the “King of Battle” played an important role.

After the long, rapid march from Springfield, Missouri, Brigadier General Francis Herron advanced from Fayetteville towards the advanced position of Brigadier General James Blunt at Cane Hill to the southwest. Before he could link with Blunt, Herron ran into Confederate Major General Thomas Hindman’s defensive position outside Prairie Grove.

Prairie Grove 417
View Shoup’s Lines at Prairie Grove

Hindman chose good ground to defend. On the right side of the line, facing the advance of Herron’s Federals, were four batteries – Blocher’s, Marshall’s, and West’s Arkansas batteries along with Bledsoe’s Missouri battery. All told, these batteries fronted six 6-pdr field guns and four 12-pdr howitzers.

When Herron’s column reached Illinois Creek, they came under the Confederate guns. First throwing Captain David Murphy’s Battery F, 1st Missouri Light Artillery over a ford, Herron then moved the remainder of his force over. Rapidly, Herron established a gun line by adding the other three batteries under his command. These were Lieutenant Joseph Foust’s Battery E, 1st Missouri; Captain Frank Backof’s Battery L, 1st Missouri; and Lieutenant Herman Borris’s Battery A, 2nd Illinois Light Artillery. Twenty guns in total – four 10-pdr Parrotts, six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles, six James Rifles, one 6-pdr field gun, and three 12-pdr howitzers.

In his battle report, Foust described the initial phase of the action:

Arriving at the ford of the creek, I was ordered to halt out of sight of the enemy, and to advance and open the battery upon a signal to be given from Captain Murphy’s battery.

We went into action at the signal, under a terrible fire from the enemy while crossing the ford. About the third round the enemy’s guns were silenced. Another battery on our left having got our range, we were compelled to change position to the front….

In his report, Murphy elaborated further about the fire effects noting, “The fire was so well directed that the enemy retired, minus caissons, horses, and one piece disabled.” With the Confederate batteries silenced, and their infantry taking cover, Herron advanced his infantry. Backof’s and Foust’s batteries moved forward to support this assault.

Prairie Grove 444
View of the Confederate position from Herron’s line of advance

Backof wrote:

After silencing the enemy’s battery on the hill in front of us, I advanced 200 yards, flanked on the left by the Twentieth Wisconsin Volunteers and by the Ninety-fourth Illinois on the right, and sustained an effectual artillery fire at the enemy’s position (which they moved several times) for three hours. In the same time [the infantry] made a charge…on the hill and through the woods surrounding; meanwhile the shells of my battery did great execution amongst the enemy.

But the Federal infantry found themselves outnumbered when they closed with the Confederates on the hill. When the infantry fell back, Backof covered the retreat with canister. In the melee two of Backof’s guns were disabled (though he later reported only one out of action at the end of the day). His losses were one man killed, two wounded, and eight horses.

Prairie Grove 404
Confederate artillery position at Prairie Grove

Also in this forward position and facing Confederate attacks, Foust wrote:

At this time the enemy attempted to charge our lines, when the whole battery opened on them with canister, and they fell back in confusion. The infantry attempted to charge the hill, but were repulsed by an overwhelming force of the enemy, when we again forced them back with canister. Again the infantry attempted to carry the hill, but were driven back the second time, when we covered their retreat once more with canister, driving the enemy back again to the wood. The enemy seeing the battery without support, made a great effort to take it, but were driven back by the battery.

Herron summarized the defense of these guns,

Never was there more real courage and pluck displayed, and more downright hard fighting done, than at this moment by the above-named batteries. Advancing to within 100 yards of the guns, the rebels received a fire that could not be withstood, and retreated in disorder, receiving, as they ran, a terrible fire, causing great slaughter among them.

Foust would lose also eight horses, along with two men killed and six wounded. Herron would single out Foust for heroism during the repulse of the Confederate attacks.

At this phase of the battle, action shifted to the Federal right flank. Blunt had “moved to the sound of the guns,” quite literally, and arrived to smash into the Confederate left. There three Federal batteries also played an important role there, first defeating the Confederate artillery and then breaking up the infantry. Just as on Herron’s side of the field, the Federal artillery not only outnumbered the Confederates, they outgunned them with six 10-pdr Parrotts, four James Rifles, five 6-pdrs, and one 12-pdr howitzer. In the thick of the action, Captain John Rabb of the 2nd Indiana Battery, recalled,

A heavy musketry fire was then brought to bear on my command. I answered with canister. For fifteen minutes my men stood firm, firing their pieces with terrible precision, making roads in the ranks of the enemy, which were quickly filled by fresh men from the rear. Three times they advanced in heavy force upon the battery, but were driven back to the wood with heavy loss.

Prairie Grove 455
Overlook of the west side of the Prairie Grove battlefield

In the engagement, Borris reported firing 320 rounds from his two cannons. Foust fired “562 rounds of shot, shell, and canister.” Muprhy’s gunners fired 510 shells and solid shot. That is a lot of iron going downrange… particularly for a “small” battle in the Trans-Mississippi.

Prairie Grove is one of the best preserved battlefields outside of the National Park System. It is a bit out of the way, but worth the drive to visit. For those who haven’t, I’ve posted many of the historical markers on the battlefield in HMDB as a virtual tour.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 22, Part I, Serial 32, pages 100, 106, 112, 124,128-9, and 136.)

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.

A Unionist’s records: Private Henry Abbott, 1st Arkansas Cavalry

My fellow blogger Robert Moore is knee deep studying Shenandoah Unionists.  Great stuff.   An example of the full spectrum of colors that typifies the sesqucentennialist* study of the Civil War.   We learn more about the war when we consider these stories, which lay beyond the well defined boundaries that have so long defined the study of the war.

While Robert looks to the Virginians, my interest, perhaps due to my Trans-Mississippi roots, is towards those from Arkansas.  Not counting US Colored Troops units raised in the state, four regiments of cavalry, three regiments of infantry, six battalion-sized formations, and a battery of artillery fought under Arkansas designations.  That’s a sizable number considering Arkansas was not a populous state at the time (by comparison, the state raised 48 militia and volunteer infantry regiments for the Southern cause). Estimates are 10,000 Arkansans served in blue.

Most of the Unionist units had their roots in the northeastern part of the state.  Perhaps similar to the “hill-folk” of Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina, those living in the Ozarks of Arkansas were not staunch secessionists.  After early setbacks for the rebel cause in that sector, many families there complained of attacks by pro-Confederate raiders.  Many families fled their homes, seeking relief inside Federal lines.  Once there, many of the able body men began enlisting in the Union cause.  For those wishing to get a contemporary account of this unionist sentiment, there is Loyalty on the Frontier by Albert W. Bishop.  (Bishop was a Wisconsin officer, appointed Lieutenant-Colonel of the 1st Arkansas Cavalry.   So consider his intent and perspective when reading that account.)

Among the first Arkansas union regiments organized was the 1st Arkansas Cavalry (Union).  On May 31, 1862, the War Department authorized the formation of the 1st Arkansas Cavalry, drawing upon the Arkansans entering the Federal ranks.  The regiment spent most of the war patrolling and scouting.  At Prairie Grove, their first major battle, on December 7, 1862, members of the regiment were caught up in a route of adjacent Federal cavalry.  But the regiment performed well in the battle of Fayetteville the following April.  For the remainder of the war the unionist cavalry served to counter guerrilla activity.  While not an illustrious unit, the 1st Arkansas Cavalry served well.

Given that brief introduction to the regiment, let me focus one of those Arkansas unionists – Private Henry Abbott.  One of the service record cards provides several leads at to Abbott’s story:

Six foot two, with blue eyes, fair complexion and light hair… must have been a favorite with the ladies….   According to the records, Abbott was a farmer from Washington County. Abbott was twenty years old when he enlisted at Fayetteville (Washington County seat) in January 1863.  The date, I think, is important.  Barely a month after Prairie Grove, the Federals then occupied many key points in the hills of northeast Arkansas.

Subsequent record cards indicate Abbott served in the regiment without unaccounted absence.  Most interesting to me, he was detached for duty in a howitzer section (likely mountain howitzer) for much of his service.  He received his muster out in October 1864.

So what factors may have influenced Abbott’s choice to enlist in the Union cause?  Given the lead of Abbott’s pre-war residence and profession, a logical start point is the Census of 1860.  The only Washington County entry that *might* represent Abbott is that for a “James Abbott” who worked on the Sam Olde farm just northwest of Prairie Grove.  The entry matches Henry Abbott’s reported birth year.  Still, more circumstantial information than hard fact.

Of more interest to me, the record search for “Henry Abbott” also produces this record card:

Yes, that is for a Confederate unit – Company E, 17th Arkansas Infantry.  This Henry Abbott enlisted (I presume) in February 1862 for 12 months. Enlistment point was Bentonville, which is just north of Washington County.  The enlistment date is too early for the Conscription Act.  According to the record cards, Abbott was home sick practically from the date of enlistment.  There is no record of him getting paid.  No records exist for this “Henry Abbott” service in the Confederate army past October 1862.

So… are these Federal and Confederate Henry Abbotts one and the same?  Not enough information to say.  But one has to wonder.

At a minimum, one Henry Abbott of Washington County, Arkansas – an able body male of conscription age – waited to join the Federal army in early 1863.  A documented Southern Unionist….


* Yes, sesqucentennialist, as opposed to the centennialists.  If it hasn’t been invented already, let me be the first.