Monday, March 24, 2014

The Misfits of Reorganization

"Brandy Station, Va. Officers in front of Winter Quarters at Army of the Potomac Headquarters,"
Feb. 1864. Library of Congress.
To see previous entries in this series, click here. 

On March 23rd, 1864, General Orders No. 115 rocked the winter camps of the Army of the Potomac around Culpeper, Virginia:
By direction of the President of the United States, the number of army corps comprising the Army of the Potomac will be reduced to three, viz, the Second, Fifth, and Sixth Corps. The troops of the other two corps, viz, the First and Third, will be temporarily organized and distributed among the Second, Fifth, and Sixth by the commanding general, who will determine what existing organizations will retain their corps badges and other distinctive marks.
These orders abolished two of the most distinguished organizations in the army. The previous year's campaigns, and principally the Battle of Gettysburg, had essentially wrecked the First and the Third, and had severely depleted the army's other three corps. For George Gordon Meade, this reorganization accomplished several objectives. First, it streamlined the army's command structure and created three full strength corps. Second, the reorganization allowed Meade to put his forces under officers he trusted, and to dispense with weaker links in the army's chain of command. The orders left soldiers like John Newton and George Sykes without a command. Meade's plans also showed a deft political touch. He had sparred with General William French during the winter, blaming his slowness for the failure of the Mine Run campaign. Now French had no place in the army. And French's Third Corps represented the strongest element of support for Meade's bitter enemy Dan Sickles, who had hoped to return to the head of his old corps after recovering from the loss of his leg at Gettysburg.

In the ranks, the changes did not go over well. As The New York Times reported on March 26, "The men find themselves among new associates, surrounded by other traditions, and led by different leaders." Writing after the war, Meade's Chief of Staff Andrew A. Humphreys admitted that "the history and association of these organizations were different, and when they were merged in other organizations their identity was lost and their pride and espirit de corps wounded." Not everyone saw the practical reasons for the changes, and only saw political maneuvering. One soldier of the Third Corps's 17th Maine remembered:
It seemed hard to many of us that the organization that had furnished the country with such men as Heintzelman, Kearney, Howard, Berry, Hooker, Sickles, Richardson, Birney, Whipple, Jameson, Robinson, and a host of others, should lose its identity for the sake of personal feeling.
Yet not all the soldiers affected by the revamped command structure minded. Since it joined the Army of the Potomac following the battle of Gettysburg, the third division of the Third Corps had been treated as outcasts by the corps's original two divisions. The veterans of the corps resented French's ascension to command, and disdained the sparse battle record of the new division he brought with him to the army, labeling it "French's Pets." During the Mine Run Campaign that fall, a portion of the third division acquitted itself well against Lee's veterans at the Battle of Payne's Farm (Locust Grove), but French's overall slowness and indecision upset the timetable for Meade's plans. As the army went into winter quarters around Brandy Station, the third division had yet to win over their comrades.

Meade's plan for reorganization displayed an understanding of the realities of unit cohesion within the Third Corps. He decided to keep all of the First Corps together, consolidating the fighting force's three divisions into two and adding it to the Fifth Corps. He would not keep the Third Corps together however. Its first two divisions - the "old Third Corps" - joined the Second Corps, while the third division would move to John Sedgwick's Sixth Corps. While most of the veterans involved in the reorganization received permission to keep their corps insignia, French's Pets did not. Having failed to gain acceptance in the Third Corps, the third division would seek to forge a new identity in the Sixth.

The soldiers of the third division did not resent the change like many of their comrades with deeper connections to their corps identities. Some may have even welcomed it. A soldier of the 10th Vermont recalled that, while "some complaint followed the breaking up of Third Corps...there was no heart burnings with us." Meanwhile, Colonel J. Warren Keifer of the 110th Ohio, writing about corps ensignias, explained that the "Third Division for a time adhered to the 'diamond', but later, wore both proudly, and finally rejoiced alone under the 'Greek cross.'"

Yet once again, the soldiers of the new third division, Sixth Corps found themselves with the task of convincing hardened veterans that they belonged. "Thus when we cast off the diamond-shaped badge of the 3rd Army Corps," wrote Osceola Lewis of the 138th Pennsylvania:
and adopted the "Blue Cross" of the 6th, we found many veterans among our new comrades, who complained that we should assume the right and privilege. "What have they ever done," or "where did they ever see any service," they would sometimes ask, forgetting that the blood already spilled by the 3rd Division, if not great in quantity, was very precious in quality.
To many in the Army of the Potomac, the "quality" of the Blue Cross division remained to be seen. While their service at Payne's Farm in November of 1863 loomed large in the formation of their own identity, the small action accomplished little, and failed to impress the rest of the army. The division could not shake the reputation it had earned as a result of disastrous events in the Shenandoah Valley that some of its units had taken part in while under the command of Robert H. Milroy at the start of the Gettysburg Campaign.

James B. Ricketts. Library of Congress.
 A shakeup in the third division's command structure coinciding with the Army reorganization. At the end of April, Major General James B. Ricketts took over command. A native New Yorker and a graduate of the West Point Class of 1839, Ricketts had earned distinction commanding a battery of artillery at Bull Run, where he was wounded four times and left for dead on the field. Taken prisoner, Ricketts was exchanged in January of 1862, and returned to the field as a brigadier general, fighting at Cedar Mountain, Throroughfare Gap, South Mountain, and at Antietam, where had two horses shot from under him - the second injuring Ricketts when it fell on him. Ricketts relinquished his command following the battle to recover from his injuries, and the third division would mark his first field command in over a year.

Truman Seymour. Library of Congress.
The new look third division now contained just two brigades. The first, commanded by Brigadier General William H. Morris, featured the 14th New Jersey, 106th and 151st New York, the 87th Pennsylvania, and the 10th Vermont. Rickett's second brigade was commanded by Brigadier General Truman Seymour, another new officer to the division. A West Pointer from the Class of 1846, Seymour had been at Fort Sumter when the war began. He had seen service with the Army of the Potomac, in Charleston Harbor, and had been in charge of the District of Florida, where he suffered defeat at the battle of Olustee in February of 1864. Following the battle Seymour was relieved and returned to the Virginia theater to take command of this brigade, which featured the 6th Maryland, 110th, 122nd and 126th Ohio, and the 67th and 138th Pennsylvania.


As the temperatures rose and the roads continued to harden that spring, Ricketts and his men looked forward to the coming campaign season, and another chance to win acceptance in the Army of the Potomac.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Hiking through the Wilderness

After an unusually harsh winter by Virginia standards (or so I am told), the weather has started to turn the corner. With Saturday's forecast calling for sunny skies and temperatures in the mid sixties, I decided a day on a battlefield was in order, and headed out for the Wilderness.

I love my drive to this battlefield from Charlottesville. It carries me through Orange along Route 20, which traverses one of the roads that Lee's army took from its winter camps around Orange to confront the Army of the Potomac in the brambles of the Wilderness in early May, 1864. Route 20 also passes through the contested ground of Meade's aborted Mine Run campaign of November/December 1863.

The Federal Line Trail. Source: National Park Service Trail Brochure.
The Wilderness Battlefield features several hiking trails. I decided to start my day by exploring one I've never hiked, the Federal Line Trail, with Gordon Rhea's The Battle of the Wilderness in hand. This 3.6 mile (one way) trail winds along the remnants of the Army of the Potomac's earthworks that stretch between the Orange Turnpike (modern Route 20) and the Orange Plank Road. The trail head is located on Hill - Ewell Drive at a picnic area between stops 3 and 4 of the driving tour.

Confederate earthworks along the start of the start of the trail.
It begins along the main Confederate line of battle and follows a northeasterly direction toward the Orange Turnpike. Through these woods on the afternoon of May 5th the men of Gouvernour K. Warren's Union 5th Corps rolled forward on their way to assault Richard Ewell's men south of the Turnpike, and were repulsed.

Snow-covered earthworks of the Union 5th Corps.
Once the trail nears the turnpike, it turns sharply south and begins to wind along the remnants of entrenchments built by 5th Corps. The veterans built these works along a ridge line west of the Lacy Plantation clearing, where Warren had set up his headquarters. The earthen fortifications are in a pretty decent state of preservation, and white snow still clung to the mounds in places where the sun struggled the penetrate the Wilderness's canopy.

If you look closely you can see the half-moon shape of a lunette fortification here, built to protect an artillery piece supporting Warren's battle line.
Among the remains of the battle here are twelve lunettes dug to protect artillery pieces. Though the pieces were positioned along a fairly prominent ridge line, the dense foliage likely prevented the guns from having any significant effect in the battle.

The descent into the Wilderness Run Valley.
Eventually, the trail descends rapidly into a beautiful ravine cut by Mill Branch, or North Wilderness Run. The trail crosses over the small stream on a recently built foot bridge, ascends a slight ridge, and then descends again into a ravine through which Wilderness Run cuts through. This area seemed to me one of the battlefield's hidden gem locations in terms of obscurity and beauty, and it also gave me a new appreciation for the difficulties faced by the Federal troops during the battle.

Mill Branch.
On the morning of May 5th, the lead elements of Warren's 5th corps broke their camps around Wilderness Tavern. They left the Turnpike near the Lacy Plantation and blindly groped through this area, slogging along a narrow wagon path that cut through the ravines and lowlands toward Parker's Store, several miles to the southwest. Eventually, Warren's lead division emerged from the thickets on the high ground of the Chewning Farm, a clearing that if held, would have prevented the Confederate army's two wings from linking up. With arrival along the Turnpike of Confederate troops, this division later abandoned the strategically important position to link up with the rest of the 5th Corps attacking to the north. On May 6th, the men of the Union 9th Corps also plunged through the ravines of Wilderness Run in a vain effort to exploit the gap that existed between the two Confederate wings.

Modern footbridge over Wilderness Run, supported by stone abutments from an older structure.

Wilderness Run.
South of Wilderness Run, the Federal Line Trail narrows, along with the NPS Boundary lines. The path continues to follow Union earthworks, but the works run essentially through the backyards of housing developments.

Here the park land runs close up to housing development.
I considered pressing forward to complete the entirety of the trail, which round-trip would have been a hike of over seven miles, but I instead chose to return to my car and explore a few other areas of the battlefield.

I made two quick stops at Auto Tour stops 4 & 5, the Higgerson and Chewning Farms, both of which have fairly short paths that get you out of your car. Standing in the clearing on the Chewning Farm, you begin to contemplate the possibilities that may have existed had the 5th Corps maintained its hold on this vital position on May 5th. The commander of the division that took control of this farm was General Samuel W. Crawford. Assisted by Warren's aide Washington Roebling, Crawford argued unsuccessfully against orders to abandon the cleared heights. A more concerted effort to reinforce Crawford and hold the Chewning Farm perhaps could have permanently split the two wings of Lee's army, allowing the Army of the Potomac to deal with each in turn. It is up to debate however, whether such an opportunity truly existed.

Looking north from the Chewning Farm clearing toward the Turnpike.
After a brief lunch, I returned to the battlefield to explore a more commonly visited locale, Saunders Field. Rhea's book in hand I followed the path of the 5th Corps's noon-time assault across this field that met such a slaughter, and then moved on to take in the view from the Confederate lines opposite.

Looking back across Saunders Field from the Confederate perspective. The small white monument in the center-left distance is a memorial honoring the 140th New York.
All in all, I had a pleasant spring day on the battlefield. The Federal Line Trail is definitely something to check out if you want to explore an area of the Wilderness not often seen by general visitors. A word of caution however - the trail does not currently feature interpretive signage, and no NPS walking tour brochure exists as of yet. If you plan to try out this trail, you will need to bring your own maps and resources. Rhea's book is a great option.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

"Fighting Himself Out of His Own Coat"

We tend to make sense of our past political divisions by casting them in the light of our modern day political conflicts. More cynically perhaps, we look to add weight to our modern political persuasions by "claiming" luminaries from the past for our cause. Many of you have probably seen any number of bogus Lincoln quotations that float around on the internet, in which Lincoln seems more intent on staking his position with the modern Tea Party than in commenting on any possible issue that reared its head in Lincoln's own time. "Claiming" Lincoln though is not a partisan issue, both sides do it. I've often heard the argument that the Republican and Democratic parties have simply "switched sides" since Lincoln's time, an overly simplistic notion that fails to take into account the fact that we live in a different world today, with different issues to face.

Our tendency to fight over Lincoln's approbation is not a new tactic. Lincoln himself was guilty of the same sin, and used it to great effect. Take for instance a letter written by Lincoln on April 6th, 1859, declining an invitation to speak in Boston on the occasion of Thomas Jefferson's birthday:
...Bearing in mind that about seventy years ago, two great political parties were first formed in this country, that Thomas Jefferson was the head of one of them, and Boston the head-quarters of the other, it is both curious and interesting that those supposed to descend politically from the party opposed to Jefferson should now be celebrating his birthday in their own original seat of empire, while those claiming political descent from him have nearly ceased to breathe his name everywhere.
Remembering too, that the Jefferson party were formed upon its supposed superior devotion to the personal rights of men, holding the rights of property to be secondary only, and greatly inferior, and then assuming that the so-called democracy of to-day, are the Jefferson, and their opponents, the anti-Jefferson parties, it will be equally interesting to note how completely the two have changed hands as to the principle upon which they were originally supposed to be divided.
The democracy of to-day hold the liberty of one man to be absolutely nothing, when in conflict with another man's right of property. Republicans, on the contrary, are for both the man and the dollar; but in cases of conflict, the man before the dollar.
I remember once being much amused at seeing two partially intoxicated men engage in a fight with their great-coats on, which fight, after a long, and rather harmless contest, ended in each having fought himself out of his own coat, and into that of the other. If the two leading parties of this day are really identical with the two in the days of Jefferson and Adams, they have performed the same feat as the two drunken men.
Having claimed Jefferson for his own party, Lincoln's letter goes on to cloak the Republicans in the mantle of defending the principles of the Declaration of Independence:

But soberly, it is now no child's play to save the principles of Jefferson from total overthrow in this nation.
One would start with great confidence that he could convince any sane child that the simpler propositions of Euclid are true; but, nevertheless, he would fail, utterly, with one who should deny the definitions and axioms. The principles of Jefferson are the definitions and axioms of free society.
And yet they are denied and evaded, with no small show of success.
One dashingly calls them "glittering generalities"; another bluntly calls them "self evident lies"; and still others insidiously argue that they apply only to "superior races."
These expressions, differing in form, are identical in object and effect--the supplanting the principles of free government, and restoring those of classification, caste, and legitimacy. They would delight a convocation of crowned heads, plotting against the people. They are the van-guard--the miners, and sappers--of returning despotism.
We must repulse them, or they will subjugate us.

This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.

All honor to Jefferson--to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so to embalm it there, that to-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.
Your obedient Servant
A. Lincoln--
This 1859 letter previewed the rhetoric Lincoln deployed in the Gettysburg Address, which identified the Declaration of Independence as the founding principle of the country, and called for a new birth of freedom.

Monday, February 17, 2014

150 Years Ago This Month- Charlottesville's Brush with Civil War Combat

This month one hundred and fifty years ago, Charlottesville, Virginia found itself in the sights of George Armstrong Custer, and witnessed its brief and only encounter with Civil War combat.

Map of the counties of Greene, Madison, Page, and Rockingham, and parts of the counties of Albemarle, Augusta, Culpeper, Louisa, Orange, and Rappahannock, Va. Virginia Historical Society. Access full screen, zoomable map here.
In the pre-dawn darkness of February 29th, 1864, Custer led a force of 1,500 cavalrymen southwest out of Madison Court-House, leaving behind the security of the Army of the Potomac's 6th corps to plunge deep into enemy territory. The column included elements of several regiments, including the 1st, 2nd, and 5th U.S., the 1st New York Dragoons, 6th Pennsylvania, 1st New Jersey, and 6th Ohio. The troopers moved at a deliberate gait. At the small hamlet of Wolftown they dispersed a handful of rebel pickets, and then splashed across the shallow and sluggish waters of the Rapidan River at Banks Mill Ford with the first light of day. The pace quickened on the south side of the river, and the column traversed another six miles to Stanardsville by 8:15 in the morning. After scattering another picket post, Custer and his men took the road toward their objective: Charlottesville, another twenty-odd miles distant. For the second time in its history, the seat of Albemarle County was the target of a lightning cavalry raid. In 1781 Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton hoped to bag Governor Thomas Jefferson and disrupt the Virginia Legislature. Now, on Leap Day of 1864, Custer set his sights on the Virginia Central Railroad Bridge over the Rivanna River at the base of Jefferson's "little mountain." The Virginia Central was a critical link between the Army of Northern Virginia and the foodstuffs of the Shenandoah Valley.
This image of General Custer was
taken just weeks before
his raid into Albemarle County.
Source: Library of Congress.

Custer's raid was a diversion, intended to keep Confederate attention focused away from the true show: the Kilpatrick / Dahlgren Raid that aimed at nothing short of attacking the rebel capital and liberating thousands of prisoners-of-war. As Custer's troopers plodded along on this chilly February morning, their leader was well aware of the vulnerability of his small column. Maj. Gen. George Meade had ordered Custer to destroy the railroad bridge only if doing so was "consistent with the security of his return within supporting distance of Madison Court-House." Cavalry Commander Alfred Pleasonton added a stern caution to these instructions, explaining to Custer that "the enemy may be able to throw forward cavalry and infantry to interrupt your progress." The brash twenty-four year old took these ominous warnings to heart.

Along their path, the Yankee raiders attracted the curiosity of the local population. More than one hundred enslaved African Americans joined the column, in the hopes of finding their way to freedom, while many of the white men along the route found themselves forcibly attached to the column. Sketch artist Alfred Waud traveled with Custer and wrote a descriptive account for Harper's Weekly. "The men were exceedingly disgusted when they found they had to accompany the column as temporary prisoners," he wrote. "The female relatives of one person hung about him with outcries and shrieks, as if they imagined he would be led at once to execution."

Information collected along the route indicated that Fitzhugh Lee's division of cavalry awaited the raiders in Charlottesville. Unfortunately for Custer, the information was misleading. Such was the crisis in procuring and feeding mounts for the Army of Northern Virginia that winter, that Fitz Lee had at first dispersed his division on both sides of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and eventually disbanded many of the units to return home for horses. The only Confederate forces up ahead in Charlottesville were four batteries of the Stuart Horse Artillery--under the temporary command of Captain Marcellus N. Moorman.

Alfred Waud included these sketches with his account of Custer's Raid in the  March 26th, 1864 edition of Harper's Weekly.
Custer and his men reached the Rivanna River six miles north of Charlottesville at about 3:00 p.m., driving Confederate videttes before them. They crossed the river at Rio Bridge, and ran into their first serious resistance about a mile and a half south of the river. Disposed on a hilltop Custer observed what he believed to be a substantial force of cavalry supported by four batteries of artillery. Meanwhile, from the town in the distance Custer's men noted the hissing and chugging sounds of trains arriving from the direction of Gordonsville - certainly infantry reinforcements they concluded.

Captain Moorman had barely learned of Custer's approach from a Lieutenant in the 1st Virginia Cavalry when the federals had begun to cross the Rivanna. He frantically wired Lynchburg for reinforcements, but probably realized that no help was within reach. With no time to retreat, Moorman ordered four artillery pieces into battery on a rise of ground commanding his winter camp on Rio Hill, while his men pulled the rest of the guns back. He then drew up his artillerymen into a mounted formation supporting the guns, hoping to present the appearance of cavalry.

Custer summoned Captain Joseph Penrose Ash, a superb junior officer in the 5th U.S. Cavalry. Desiring to assess the enemy's true strength, Custer ordered Ash to take two squadrons and assail the enemy's right flank. Captain Ash and about 65 men moved off to the east and crossed the river downstream at Cook's Ford. The squadrons charged into the Confederate camps, scattering the mounted force deployed in front of Moorman's guns. The federals set fire to the camp while destroying six caissons and two artillery forges. Meanwhile Custer deployed two guns to duel with Moorman's four, and soon one of the Confederate artillery pieces exploded. The explosion evidently rattled and confused the federal cavalry, and the main body that had crossed the river at Rio Bridge mistook Ash's men for Confederates and opened fire. Just at this moment Moorman's make-shift mounted command launched a charge of their own.

Wary of his vulnerable position deep in enemy territory, Custer was in no mood to push his luck. Between the artillery fire raining down upon his men, the false information from citizens and prisoners, Moorman's bold show of force, and the noise of trains rattling in the distance, Custer convinced himself that his small command faced grave danger. The destruction of the Virginia Central Railroad Bridge would have to wait for another day. "Learning of the vast superiority of the numbers of the enemy," he wrote in his report, "I determined to withdraw my command."

Map of Albemarle : Made under the direction of Maj. A.H. Campbell Capt. Engs. in charge of Top. Dept. D.N.V. from surveys and reconnaissances, 1864. Virginia Historical Society. Accessed at Library of Congress website.
The federal horse soldiers repelled Moorman's charge, but then began to recross the Rivanna. Moorman and his artillerist had successfully defended Charlottesville. Custer's men put the Rio bridge to flames, along with a mill on the north side of the river, and began to retrace their route to Stanardsville. Hastened by an imaginary foe with great numbers, the tired command stumbled along until 9 p.m. that night, when it stopped to feed and rest the horses. The temperatures dropped and the night turned rainy and miserable. Alfred Waud recorded:
All had to lie upon the ground and get wet through. It was difficult to get fires to burn, and the rain began to freeze upon the limbs of the trees, so that by morning everything appeared to be cased in crystal.
Wet, miserable, and exhausted, the column set out again early the next morning. At daylight on March 1st, the hunt was on. Having received word of Custer's raid on Charlottesville, J.E.B. Stuart had gathered up several companies of the 1st and 2nd Virginia Cavalry, encamped about Orange Court-House, and set off in an attempt to cut Custer off from his infantry supports north of the Rapidan. Stuart's troopers clashed with Custer's men at several points between Stanardsville and Banks Mill Ford. "the cannon-shot made a wonderful crashing among the frost-bound limbs of the forest," recorded Waud. Eventually, Custer and his men slipped away from Stuart and recrossed the Rapidan at Banks Mill Ford unmolested.

You can follow most of the route of Custer's Raid today. As best I can tell based on first-hand accounts and period maps, this map marks out a pretty accurate approximation of Custer's route.

By dark of March 1st, the column was back within the safety of Union lines at Madison Court-House. Custer summed up his accomplishments in his report as follows:
My command returned to its camp without having suffered the loss of a man. While on this expedition it marched upwards of 150 miles, destroyed the bridge over the Rivanna River, burned 3 large flouring mills filled with grain and flour, captured 6 caissons and 2 forges, with harness complete; captured 1 standard bearing the arms of Virginia, over 50 prisoners, and about 500 horses, besides bringing away over 100 contrabands.
In the wake of the disaster of the Kilpatrick / Dahlgren raid, the top brass of the Army of the Potomac was anxious to tout Custer's accomplishments as a tremendous success. They were quick to accept Custer's report of significant opposition. Charlottesville, and the Virginia Central Railroad Bridge, remained within Confederate control for another year. But for over 100 individuals, Custer's brief raid brought freedom.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Following the Assault on Marye's Heights

Fredericksburg from Chatham Manor.
Sunday turned into a sunny, 65 degree here in Virginia - the kind of February weather I could get used to after living in Central New York for seven years. Emily and I decided to take advantage of the weather to make a visit to a battlefield. My wife is a fan of strolling through historic urban landscapes, and so I thought Fredericksburg offered the perfect setting to combine both of our interests. This visit marked my fifth to the Fredericksburg battlefield, and my first in about ten years. On all of my previous visits I crammed multiple battlefields into one day. Now that we live a short drive away, though, we decided to take our time. We ended up spending our whole day focused on the battle for the city and the assault on Marye's Heights, leaving Jackson's front for another day.

While the National Park Service preserves the Confederate positions along the sunken road, development took over the open fields through which the Army of the Potomac advanced against the heights long ago. I remember feeling disappointed on my first few visits by how little you could visualize standing along the stonewall. As a result, I spent most of my time elsewhere, studying the ground along Jackson's lines, or moving on to Chancellorsville.

Getting a good sense of the assault on Marye's Heights takes some work, but it can be done. You can find interpretive signage throughout the town, and the NPS has developed two excellent walking tour scripts, "Fire in the Streets" and "Assault on Marye's Heights," which you can download for free online. We however decided to make use of the Civil War Preservation Trust's Fredericksburg Battle App. The App has four tours total; we focused our attention on tour (1), "The Fight for the Town," and tour (3), "Marye's Heights." Each tour features excellent, GPS enabled maps that help you move from stop to stop, while each stop has a detailed description of what happened there, often including audio clips of first-hand accounts and videos of Park Rangers interpreting the combat. The Trust's Battle Apps are free to download, and an excellent resource to have with you if you own a smart phone.


We began our visit on the opposite side of the Rappahannock River at Chatham. The Georgian mansion built between 1768 and 1771 overlooks the city of Fredericksburg atop Stafford Heights. We were the first visitors of the day, and an enthusiastic volunteer greeted us as we entered, and happily answered any questions that we had as we toured the exhibits inside the house. The overlook on the river side of the house is the perfect place to explain Burnside's plan, the attempt to build the pontoon bridges, and the bombardment of the city on December 11th.

After spending a good 45 minutes at Chatham, we jumped into our car, took a short drive over the Chatham Bridge into the historic downtown and parked our car in a public parking lot along Sophia Street. We spent the rest of the day on foot. We strolled down Sophia Street to the site of the upper crossing site, and learned about the river assault of the 7th Michigan. Our path then turned left, up Hawke Street, following the soldiers of the 7th Michigan, along with the 19th and 20th Massachusetts. In the intersection of Hawke and Caroline Streets, we paused to hear NPS Ranger Frank O'Reilly recount the 20th Massachusetts' bloody encounter with William Barksdale's Missippians.

Photo taken at the upper crossing site, utilizing the Fredericksburg App's augmented reality "Field Glasses" feature.
The tour route then took us down Princess Anne Street, past many prominent buildings that stood in 1862, as we continued to learn about the urban combat of December 11th, the flight of terrified civilians, and the looting of the wrecked town that began that evening. At George Street, we turned right and began to make our way towards what would have been the edge of town in December of 1862. At Hurkamp Park we reached stop one of our second tour, the assault on Marye's Heights. This tour traced the route of the Army of the Potomac's multiple assaults against the heights on December 13th, leading us along George and Hanover Streets. While the development of the city has destroyed much of the distinctive landscape of the battlefield, such as the mill race federal soldiers had to cross under artillery fire, other features remain despite the development. The App and interpretive signage along the route did a nice job of pointing out the location of rises of ground and swales that still exist today and served as limited cover for the federal assault columns.

The Sunken Road.
We paused our tour for a quick, inexpensive, but excellent lunch at the Sunken Well Tavern at the corner of Hanover and Littlepage, the site of Sisson's Store during the battle, and continued our hike past the Stratton House and up Mercer Street. Here soldiers from the 12th New Hampshire made it as far as any federal soldiers, about fifty yards from the stonewall. Finally, after a mile or so of hiking, we arrived at the Sunken Road and NPS land. We toured the Confederate infantry posts at the base of Marye's Heights, climbed the hill to view their artillery positions, and took a brief stroll through the National Cemetery before looping back around to begin our march back into the historic downtown. We concluded our day with a stop at Hyperion Expresso on the corner of Princess Anne and William Streets, a excellent spot that fueled us for the drive back to Charlottesville.

While you have to use your imagination along the way, you can still get a sense of the terrain and obstacles that made the assault against Marye's Heights such a disastrous undertaking. If you have the time to spend, and feel up for a walk of two to three miles, it will give you a better appreciation for the assault on Marye's Heights from Union perspective.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Albert H. Campbell and the Mapping of Virginia

Recently I've been browsing Civil War maps of Virginia on the Library of Congress's American Memory website. In particular I've spent time studying an 1864 Confederate map of my new home county - Albemarle. The map is a part of the Gilmer Map Collection, named for Jeremy Francis Gilmer, Chief of the Engineer Bureau of the Confederate War Department.

Map of Albemarle: Made under the direction of Maj. A.H. Campbell; Held in the collection of the Virginia Historical Society.

I'll be the first to admit I'm no map expert. I enjoy books that provide high quality, modern maps to help explain combat, but if you asked me to name as many Civil War mapmakers as I could, I probably would stop after Jedediah Hotchkiss. But I was impressed with the detail of the Albemarle County map, and I wanted to find out more about those who made it. I started with the information written directly on the map:
CHIEF ENGINEER'S OFFICE D.N.V.
MAJ. GEN. J.F. GILMER CHIEF ENGINEER.
ALBEMARLE
From surveys and reconnaisances by C.S. Dwight Lt Engrs P.A.
Made under direction of A.H. CAMPBELL Capt. Engrs. in charge of Top. Dept.
I decided to start by tracking down A.H. Campbell. I thought it would be easier than it turned out to be, though in the process I became acquainted with the fascinating story of Confederate efforts to map the seat of war in the east.

Census records indicate that Albert H. Campbell was born in Kanawha County, [West] Virginia sometime around 1826 or 1827. Both Campbell's parents were Yankee-born, Mason Campbell in New Hampshire, and Mary Chaddock Campbell in Massachusetts. The Campbells were living in Kanawha County by 1824, but by the 1850 Census Albert's parents had removed to Washington D.C., where Mason Campbell worked as a clerk.

Campbell graduated from Brown University in 1847, and by 1850 the young man was out west. He is credited as a civil engineer on maps of San Francisco Bay completed in 1850 under the direction of Cadwalader Ringgold. In 1853 and 1854 Campbell accompanied another expedition under Captain A.W. Whipple from Fort Smith, Arkansas, via Albuquerque, to San Pedro, California to survey a potential Pacific Railroad. Then, in 1854 and 1855, Campbell was part of Lieutenant John G. Parke's expedition from San Francisco Bay to Los Angelos, San Diego, and on to El Paso and San Antonio. By 1861, Campbell had quite the impressive resume, and was serving as the superintendent of the Pacific Wagon Roads Office in Washington. Clearly, Campbell had connections in the North and the South, but he sided with the Confederacy. With their pre-war army and War Department connections, Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee would have been well aware of Campbell's talents at the start of the Civil War.

Campbell's role in Confederate map making appears to have begun immediately after Robert E. Lee's ascension to command of the Army of Northern Virginia in June of 1862. In the early campaigns of the war, maps used on both sides were woefully inaccurate, many based upon surveys completed in the 1820s at the behest of state legislatures. According to Campbell's own account in Century Magazine in 1888, Lee recognized his deficiency in maps immediately:
One of the first things that engaged General Lee's attention on taking command of the army was the organization of some plan for procuring accurate maps for his own use and that of his commanders. A few days after this event, on the 3d or 4th of June, the writer was sought by Major Walter H. Stevens, Chief Engineer of the army at that time, and Major Jasper S. Whiting, his associate, and was informed that they had been sent from headquarters by General Lee to find a suitable person to take charge of a topographical organization which he was desirous of having formed as soon as possible, and proceed to the field, as he found no maps of consequence on taking command of the army.
Campbell asked to have a previously-made request for an appointment as a captain of engineers expedited, and by June 6th he had his commission and began to organize field parties to survey and map the vicinity of Richmond. Eventually, he oversaw about thirteen parties in all, traveling across the countryside of northern and central Virginia, creating detailed surveys. By the end of the war, Campbell explained, his parties had mapped:
from the western part of Fauquier and Rappahannock counties to Wilmington, North Carolina; from the strategic lines on the eastward Piedmont region of Virginia; and down the valley of Virginia as far as the Potomac River in Jefferson and Berkeley counties; and in southwestern Virginia as far as Smythe county; and nearly all the counties south of James River east of Lynchburg unoccupied by the Federal forces.
The maps were done in incredible detail, and included not only significant geographic features and road networks, but also known fords, passes, and the houses and names of residents. The demand among Lee's officers for these maps was so great that eventually the Topographical Office created a process of utilizing photography to reproduce maps, so as to save time, effort and the cost of reproductions via tracings and lithographic prints.

Map of Louisa County, Virginia; held in the collection of the Virgina Historical Society.

After the war, Campbell became convinced that his maps had been lost to posterity during the fall of Richmond. He wrote that at about 10 p.m. on the night of April 2nd, 1865, "I placed in charge of an engineer officer and draughtsman, upon an archive train bound for Raleigh, North Carolina, a box or two containing all the original maps and other archives of my office." Campbell never learned the fate of these boxes. Luckily for modern researchers, the maps eventually turned up, and can be found in several archives, including the Virginia Historical Society. They were essential tools for Robert E. Lee and his officers during the war. They remain extremely valuable resources today for Civil War and 19th century historians, as well as genealogists.

Let me know if you can point me in the direction of more information on Major Campbell.

Sources Consulted
In addition to those sources linked to above, I also consulted a Library of Congress essay entitled History of Mapping the Civil War, reproduced from Richard W. Stephenson's Civil War Maps: An Annotated List of Maps and Atlases in the Library of Congress.

Personal info on Albert H. Campbell was also located in Through Indian Country to California: John P. Sherburne's Diary of the Whipple Expedition, 1853-1854, edited by Mary McDougall Gordon, and the Report upon United States Geographical surveys west of the one hundreth meridian, prepared by George Montague Wheeler, A.A. Humphreys, and Horatio G. Wright and published by the Government Printing Office in 1889.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Preliminary Schedule Posted for Wilderness & Spotsylvania Sesquicentennial Commemoration

As we move into 2014, I've started looking forward to the next big Sesquicentennial events here in Virginia. May will bring the 150th anniversary of Grant's Overland Campaign. Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park has posted a preliminary schedule for their commemorative events. The programs include real-time tours such as a "Sunrise in the Widow Tapp's Field" program on May 6th. Other events will include a vigil for the 22 hours of continuous combat at the Bloody Angle on May 12th, and a Celebration of Freedom to mark the ending of slavery in Virginia and commemorate the first combat between United States Colored Troops and the Army of Northern Virginia.

I've only been able to attend one commemorative event during the Sesquicentennial so far, at Gettysburg. But I plan to attend as many of the events that I can this May.