Sunday, August 18, 2013

French's Pets: Meeting the Officers of the 3rd Division, 3rd Corps

See Part 1 of the Series.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, twelve inexperienced regiments joined the Third Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Though the veterans of the corps disdained the soldiers that made up its new Third Division, many of these new additions welcomed the change of pace after ten months of guarding railroads and canal locks. Let's meet some of the officers of this new division.

Major General William H. French and staff, September 1863. Library of Congress.

Maj. Gen. William H. French served as the Third Division's first commander, though not for long. When French's men joined the Third Corps, he became its ranking officer, and with Dan Sickles absent due to his Gettysburg wound, French assumed command of the corps. French was no stranger to the Army of the Potomac, he had served in the Second Corps until late June of 1863, as a brigade and division commander, and he had demonstrated an ability to command soldiers in the field. Yet the officers of the Third Corps viewed their new commander as an outsider. Colonel Regis de Trobriand, a brigade commander in the corps, noted that the way in which French "exercised his new authority was not calculated to render him popular." Some veterans thought he showed favoritism to the new Third Division.

Joseph Bradford Carr. Library of Congress.
With French commanding the corps, the Third Division fell at first to the command of Brigadier General Washington Lafayette Elliott. Elliot was a professional soldier who had seen service in the west as well as the east. But on October 3rd, 1863 he was ordered to report to the Army of the Cumberland. His replacement was a veteran of the Third Corps, Joseph Bradford Carr. Carr was born in Albany in 1828; his parents had both emigrated from Ireland just a few years earlier. Prior to the war he worked as a tobacco merchant and a dance master, but had also served as an officer in a local militia unit. In the spring of 1861, Carr received command of the 2nd New York. While serving on the Peninsula he swiftly rose to brigade command, and continued to head a brigade in the Third Corps until October of 1863, when he replaced Elliot. He was a veteran of many of the Army of the Potomac's battles, and had shown courage and skill as a combat leader.

The division's three brigades were commanded by Brig. Gen. William H. Morris, Colonel Joseph Warren Keifer, and Colonel Benjamin F. Smith. Though they commanded soldiers who had seen little or no combat, all three officers had been tested in battle to various degrees, and two of the three, Morris and Smith, were West Point graduates. Morris graduated in 1851. During the Peninsula campaign he served on the staff of General J.J. Peck. In the fall of 1862, he took command of the 135th New York, soon rechristened the 6th New York Heavy Artillery. For a time Morris and his men served in the defenses of Baltimore at Fort McHenry. They eventually moved to Harper's Ferry where, as a newly minted Brigadier General, Morris oversaw the garrison on Maryland Heights until the Gettysburg Campaign wrought vast changes in the structure of the defenses in Maryland. Once attached to the Army of the Potomac, Morris's brigade consisted of his old command, the 6th New York Heavy Artillery, as well as the 14th New Jersey, 151st New York, and the 10th Vermont. To this point in the war, none of these soldiers had seen combat, though they had all been in the service since the fall of 1862. Instead they had guarded railroad lines and other posts along the upper Potomac, or had marked time in the defense of Baltimore.

Brigadier General William H. Morris. Library of Congress.

Joseph Warren Keifer commanded the 2nd Brigade. Keifer was an Ohioan, and at the start of the Civil War he joined up with the 3rd Ohio and received a commission as its Major. He was further promoted to the position of Lieutenant Colonel of the regiment, and saw action at Rich Mountain and Cheat Mountain in West Virginia. In September of 1862 he left the 3rd to become Colonel of the newly formed 110th Ohio. The 110th made up part of Milroy's command at Winchester in June of 1863, and saw combat against Ewell there. When the 110th joined the Army of the Potomac, Keifer ascended to brigade command. Joining the 110th Ohio in this brigade was the 122nd Ohio, the 6th Maryland, and the 138th Pennsylvania. The two former regiments had also served with Milroy at Winchester, but the 138th had never seen combat, having spent its ten months of service guarding vital locations along the B&O Railroad outside of Baltimore.

Joseph Warren Keifer. Library of Congress.
Colonel Benjamin F. Smith was the third and final brigade commander in the division. A graduate of the class of 1853 at West Point, Smith was a captain in the 6th U.S. Infantry when war came. In August of 1861 he received a commission as the Colonel of the 1st Ohio Infantry, which had just organized for three years of service. As part of Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Cumberland the next spring, Smith led his men into battle on the second day of Shiloh. He received a brevet to the regular army rank of major for gallant and meritorious service at the battle. Later that spring, Smith returned to the 6th Infantry, where he saw service in the Peninsula Campaign and at Second Manassas before taking command of a new regiment that fall, the 126th Ohio. The 126th was assigned to Schenck's 8th Army Corps, and in June of 1863 was stationed at Martinsburg. The brigade that Smith took control of that July consisted of two units from Milroy's battered division, the 67th and 87th Pennsylvania, and two from Brig. Gen. Benjamin F. Kelley's old 1st division, 8th Corps - the 106th New York and Smith's own 126th Ohio. The 67th and 87th PA were the longest serving regiments of this new division for the Army of the Potomac, the only soldiers that had signed up in 1861. All of Smith's regiments had been in combat that June at Winchester or at Martinsburg.

Colonel Benjamin F. Smith. Library of Congress.
Thus organized, the division featured twelve regiments from six different states, all with little or no combat experience. For the men in this division, their first month of service with the Army of the Potomac featured hard marching and little fighting. The division first came under long-range artillery fire at the Battle of Wapping Heights on July 23rd, as the Third Corps tried to smash through Manassas Gap and cut into Lee's retreat route in the Shenandoah Valley. That August, the army came to rest on the north side of the Rappahannock River. For the next five weeks the men rested and recovered as best they could in the sweltering heat. The division received new uniforms and equipment, and on September 7th the Third Corps held a grand review for General Meade. It was this review that helped cement the Third Division's new nickname within the Corps. Chaplain E.M. Haynes of the 10th Vermont recalled the scene:
In their new uniforms and shining muskets, with full ranks and splendid drill, it was not strange that General French would have felt proud of us, or that some of the older soldiers, who had been put to the harder work, should have called us "French's pets."
French may have felt a great pride in the quality of his new fighting force, but had yet to lead it into action. For the veterans of the Army of the Potomac, soldiers earned their reputation on the field, not by the cleanliness of their uniforms. Theodore Lyman, a volunteer aide to General Meade who was also a new addition to the army that summer, captured the haughty pride of the two veteran divisions in the Third Corps as he described the September 7 review:
It was somewhat of a sad sight to look at these veterans, with their travel-stained uniforms and their battered canteens; many of the regiments had no more than 200 men, and their flags were so tattered that you could barely read such names as Fair Oaks, and Williamsburg, where so many of the missing 800 now lie. The men looked spare and brown and in good health; and also as if they would then and there fight French Zouaves or anybody else you chose to bring on.
Like these battle-worn warriors, it seems that the high command of the Army of the Potomac harbored doubts about the qualities of the men in the corps's Third Division. During the Bristoe Campaign that unfolded in September and October, the Third Division found itself relegated to a reserve role guarding the corps wagon train. This campaign came to an end in late October, and the Army of the Potomac returned to a position north of the Rappahannock. As the calendar flipped to November, French's Pets would finally get their chance to prove themselves in battle.

To be continued...

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