Monthly Archives: August 2012

Fort Ethan Allen

We left the boys of the Fourteenth Connecticut late in the day on August 30, 1862, when they arrived at Fort Ethan Allen. A quick search on Google Earth (Fort Ethan Allen Park, Arlington, VA) will show you the precise location of the fort, several miles northwest of Washington near the Potomac River.

The 14th Connecticut was joined with two other brand new regiments, the 108th New York and the 130th Pennsylvania, to form a new brigade, under the command of Col. Dwight Morris of the 14th Connecticut, who was the senior ranking officer in the brigade. The brigade became the Second Brigade of the Third Division (Brig. Gen. William H. French commanding), of the Second Corps (Maj. Gen. Edwin V. Sumner commanding), of the Army of the Potomac (Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan commanding).

The Fourteenth spent eight days at Fort Ethan Allen, departing on Sunday, September 7. Some manual of arms drill must have occurred during that time, but I have not found solid evidence of it. The writings of Hirst and Fiske, and other sources quoted in Page’s history, make no mention of training with the new rifles. A prevalent attitude during the early part of the war was that individual marksmanship mattered little, it was the volume of fire that counted most. This was standard strategy during the age of smoothbore muskets.

As these men would prove just ten days after leaving Fort Ethan Allen at Antietam’s sunken lane, they would maintain their formations, and maneuver and march under fire. But would they be able to shoot straight?

Panic

Perhaps you noted the date on which the untried men of the Fourteenth Connecticut first set foot in Virginia, August 29, 1862, the same day the Second Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) raged just thirty miles away.

So, what happened to our boys from the Nutmeg State? The men crossed the Potomac on Long Bridge, which stood where the current Amtrak bridge is just north of Reagan International Airport. It was originally designed as a railroad bridge, but it was not strong enough to bear heavy locomotives. It was also narrow, and traffic could only move in one direction at a time. A long mule train had just started to cross from Alexandria when the men of the Fourteenth arrived at the eastern end of the bridge. There was nothing for them to do but wait for each of the wagons to pass.

Wagons of their own loaded with crates of brand new rifles awaited the men when they stepped off Long Bridge, but only A and B Companies were issued their Sharps rifles. Then the regiment marched southeast about a mile and camped for the night on Arlington Heights near what was then Fort Richardson.

A long, loud drum roll awoke the men before dawn on Saturday, August 30. It spoke of imminent danger. News of the fighting at Bull Run filtered down through the ranks. They might be attacked at any time. The crates from the Springfield Armory were hastily pried open and the rest of the men finally received their weapons. Every man was issued forty rounds of ammunition, but no training in loading and firing the rifles was given. There was no time.

The men were ordered to leave their knapsacks, warm woolen blankets, shelter tents and overcoats to ward off the cold and rain with the quartermaster, with the assurance that their possessions would be returned when they had need of them. Then, with only two hardtack crackers and a few swallows of tepid water for a day’s rations, the regiment set out on their first forced march to Fort Ethan Allen, a distance of about ten miles. And when they stumbled into the fort later that afternoon, they were immediately caught up in the swirling tempest caused by the Union disaster at Bull Run.

Their army was in full retreat. What could a few untrained new recruits from Connecticut do?

A Presidential Greeting

Having finally arrived in our nation’s capital at about 4 a.m. on Friday, August 29, the men were back in formation by 11 a.m. to march down Pennsylvania Avenue for review by President Lincoln and other dignitaries. Corporal Crittenden of the Fourteenth described the encounter with the president (from Charles Page’s History of the 14th Regiment:

“As we passed through Washington, I recall the reviewing stand where President Lincoln, General (Winfield) Scott, Secretary Stanton and other dignitaries stood while we passed in review. Our staff-officers and captains entered the re­viewing stand and were in turn introduced to the President and his staff of officials. When the head of B Company, the left of the regiment, reached the stand, President Lincoln was so busy we felt we were not to be noticed, so with one accord, we struck up loudly singing ”We are coming, Father Abraham, three hundred thousand more.” At once he faced us, straightened up his tall form, doffed his high silk hat and bowed and bowed until we were by. President Lincoln said of our regiment that we were the finest looking body of men that had passed through Washington. As we had the honor of being the first regiment of the second call for three hundred thousand men to pass through Washington, it is easy to conclude this was his mental reservation which made his statement a fact.”

After the review, the regiment marched past the capitol building, then down toward the Potomac and the enemy soil of Virginia.

 

Journey to the Front

By foot, by sea, and by rail. That’s how the more than one thousand new recruits of the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry travelled from Hartford to the seat of war in Arlington, VA. To drive that distance today would take about six hours, but in 1862, it took four days

They left Camp Foote on Monday, August 25, and marched in fine order to the city dock on the Connecticut river.. Their new colors proudly led the way; the band playing martial tunes; crowds of family members and well wishers cheered loudly, as these men began their. Two river steamers carried the men downriver to Long Island sound, then west toward New York, leaving the Connecticut shoreline behind as night fell. Charles Page lamented, “Alas, how many were never permitted to look upon it again.” At New York early Tuesday morning, relief volunteers boarded the ships and gave the men food. Then the regiment transferred to a large transport ship that carried them across the harbor and past Staten Island to Elizabeth, NJ, where they boarded railroad cars bound for Harrisburg, PA.

Page recorded this incident: “At Easton, Penna., occurred the first casualty to the regiment. When the train stopped, which was upon a trestle above the street, 2nd Lt. Frederick E. Shalk of Company E left the train for a moment and in attempting to again step upon the car, lost his footing and fell some thirty feet to the street, striking upon his head. He was taken up insensible and was left behind for medical treatment, but recovered soon after and rejoined his regiment, doing valiant service.”

Harrisburg was reached Wednesday afternoon. There was a long, hot delay while the army decided where to send the green regiment. Finally, the cars moved again, and after another long, slow ride, full of starts and stops, they arrived in Baltimore the next afternoon.

A fine dinner was had at the Soldiers’ relief Building. Afterward the men boarded a line of cattle cars that started for Washington at about nine o’clock that night and arrived at about four in the morning. They quickly pitched their tents and slept on the ground.

It has been reported by chroniclers of the history of the Fourteenth Connecticut that they were the first of President Lincoln”s “300,000 more” to arrive in the nation’s capital.

Arms of the Fourteenth

Wooden crates filled with brand new Sharps and Springfield rifles arrived at Camp Foote, but the arms would remain in their crates until the regiment arrived in Virginia. Eight companies would receive the new Model 1861 Springfield muzzle-loading rifles (photo below), which a trained soldier could load and fire two to three times per minute.

Model 1861 Springfield Rifled Musket

  • Springfield Model 1861 Rifled Musket (Muzzle-loaded)
  • Manufacturer: Springfield Armory, Springfield, MA (or subcontractor)
  • Weight: 9.25 Pounds
  • Length: 56 inches
  • Cartridge:  .58″ minie ball
  • Muzzle Velocity: 950 feet per second
  • Rate of fire:  2-3 rounds/minute
  • Effective range:  100-400 yards

The other two companies, A and B, were issued the Sharps breech-loading rifles, which a trained soldier could load and fire up to ten times per minutes. These were the same type of rifles that were made famous by Berdan’s Sharp Shooters, although without the special Berdan’s modifications, as far as I was able to determine. The extra firepower of the Sharps men could be used either to protect the flanks of the regiment or support the center. They sported green stripes on their trousers instead of the usual dark blue for easy identification.Sharps_rifle_1859

  • Sharps Rifle Model 1859 Rifled Musket (Breech-loaded)
  • Manufacturer: Sharps Rifle Co., Hartford, CT
  • Weight: 9.5 pounds
  • Length: 47 inches
  • Cartridge:  .52″ (475-grain projectile with 50-grain cartridge)
  • Muzzle Velocity: 1200 feet per second
  • Rate of fire:  8-10 rounds/minute
  • Effective range:  500 yards