Monthly Archives: December 2013

1863 – The Year in Review

As the year 1863 began, it was a real possibility that the South could win the War Between the States, and that what had been the United State of America would be split into two countries. But 1863 was the pivotal year of the Civil War. In the west, Union forces seized control of the Mississippi River, and defeated their Confederate opponents at nearly every turn. In the east, two large scale battles were fought. Chancellorsville resulted in a resounding Confederate victory; Gettysburg ended in a resounding Union victory. At year’s end, the Army of the Potomac had held its own against Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Following their terrible defeat at Fredericksburg (Dec. 13, 1862), the Army of the Potomac settled into winter quarters on the north side of the Rappahannock River. Only about 200 soldiers of the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry were fit for duty at the start of the New Year. A few weeks later they were spared the worst of the hardships of Gen. Burnside’s infamous “Mud March” (January 20-23), and on January 25, they learned that the Army of the Potomac had a new commander. Gen. Burnside was out and Gen. Hooker was in.

The lot of the foot soldier began to improve. Fresh bread and regular fresh meat rations supplemented their diet. Corps badges and a furlough system helped to rebuild morale. On April 4, Adjutant Theodore Ellis was promoted to Major and given command of the Fourteenth Connecticut..

At the end of April, Gen. Hooker started the army in motion to the west and south. The several corps marched by different routes, and crossed the Rappahannock at several different fords to come together at Chancellorsville. During the battle that raged May 1-3, Gen. Hooker was completely outmatched by Gen. Lee. The Army of the Potomac was defeated handily, although more than half the troops saw little or no fighting, and Hooker withdrew the army during the night of May 5. However, Lee lost his “right arm” when Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded,and Lee would feel this loss for the remainder of the war.

On June 14, the Fourteenth Connecticut left Falmouth, Virginia and started on a long hot march north to Gettysburg. On June 30, the men learned that the army had yet another commander. Gen. George Meade. The regiment reached Gettysburg with 166 men at dawn on July 2, the second day of the battle, and were held in reserve. The next morning the regiment was detailed to cross the no-man’s-land between the lines to capture and burn a farmstead that was being used by Confederate sharpshooters. The barn and farmhouse were burned and then they returned to their position along the rock wall near “The Angle.” That afternoon the regiment held their section of the rock wall, about 120 yards in length, during the repeated assaults of Pickett’s Charge. They fought hard and stood their ground, and the charge was soundly defeated. This was the first time the regiment had tasted victory

Reduced to about 100 men, the Fourteenth Connecticut retired to an encampment along Cedar Run near Bristoe, Virginia. During August and September, new recruits were added through the draft, paid substitutes, and more volunteers. Over 900 names were listed on the rolls of the regiment, but only about 550 were actually present for duty. After the regiment rejoined the Seconds Corps, it advanced south of Culpeper, Virginia to Robinson’s Run where two deserters were executed in a particularly gruesome manner on September 17.

The new Fourteenth Connecticut fought well and was again victorious in a small scale battle along the railroad at Bristoe on October 14. The effect of Confederate defeats at Gettysburg and Bristoe was that Gen. Lee never again went of the offensive and chose to fight defensive actions for the remainder of the war.

Late in November the Army of the Potomac advanced against a heavily fortified line of Confederate works along a small marshy stream in Orange County, Virginia, known as Mine Run. It was certain that if the Federals tried to storm those works, casualties would be extremely high. Gen. Meade cancelled the scheduled assault, withdrew the army back to Culpeper County, and campaigning ended for the year.

As we look ahead to 1864, the Fourteenth Connecticut was involved in every battle of the Army of the Potomac. In fact, they saw more action during the month of May 1864 than they did in all of the year 1863.

The Essence of Winter Camping

It has always amazed me how much Civil War soldiers endured just trying to stay alive while not on the field of battle. Basic necessities that we take for granted, such as heat, light, clean and dry clothing, food sufficient to their needs, and a warm, dry place to sleep were a daily struggle. So while we are all snug in our beds, with visions of sugar plums dancing through our heads, let’s take a moment to consider how these heroes of old lived 150 years ago. The following is excerpted from a letter of Capt. Samuel Fiske (a.k.a. Dunn Browne):

Imagine your self carrying all that you have to eat, drink, wear and sleep under for five days on your back, and your weapons and your ammunition besides, and then march, not independently, or at your leisure, but in column, where you cannot dodge the ditches and puddles and other bad places, rapidly and through the warm portion of the day, say, at a moderate estimate, fifteen miles, till you are thoroughly saturated, as to all your clothes, with perspiration, as you surely will be even if the day be quite cold.

And then at dark or an hour after, as the cold night comes down around you, you turn out from the road, stumble across a field or meadow, thoroughly wet your feet and legs in crossing a slough or brook, spend fifteen or twenty shivering minutes in dressing the lines and stacking arms, and find yourself dismissed for the night. You know nothing where to seek for water for your coffee, or wood to cook your supper and dry your soaking feet, but you must go running round the country until you have supplied yourself in abundance, and that, too, when several thousand other soldiers are in competition with you at the same market.

Then you must kindle your fire, get out your little cup and make your coffee over a smoking, out-of-door fire, eat your hard crackers and pork, and dry off your clothes and persons as best you may by the fire, and exposed most likely to the chilling wind. Then you must select your place on the freezing ground, spread out your rubber blanket, and if you have a chum as every good soldier should, lay one of your woolen blankets under you and spread the other over the two of you, and the other rubber blanket above that and lie down, overcoats on, to the warmest sleep you can command.

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

Winter Quarters Again…and Again…and Again

After the expedition into Orange County known as the Mine Run Campaign, the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, at about 8:00 p.m. on December 2nd, returned to the camp of log huts they had built near Stevensburg. Within minutes campfires were blazing, coffee was boiling, and their log huts were warm and toasty.

But the very next morning the men were ordered to pack up and move to another campground only a mile away. Imagine all the “kind” words they had for the army when they arrived at the new location and began to build huts for the third time that autumn.

The morning of December 5th, the regiment was told to move another three miles. While the rest of the regiment marched out of camp, many of the new recruits refused to move and sat or squatted by their campfires drinking coffee. Lt. Col. Samuel Moore, who was then in command of the regiment, wheeled his horse about and dashed back into the camp. He rode back and forth among the groups of shirkers, striking many with the flat of his sword, herding them into line. The men pitched their tents at the new camp which was atop a wind-swept ridge.

From Charles Page’s History of the Fourteenth Regiment: “December 10th, the regiment was moved about two miles farther and the men were again engaged building log huts in the fond anticipation that they were to have a long rest.” Huts were usually built in about three days, but the work was interrupted by work details to Brandy Station, where they were put to work building corduroy roads for the army’s supply trains. (See my post A Road to…Anywhere.)

On Sunday, December 27th, the Fourteenth received orders to move for the fourth time since returning from Mine Run. Once again, the march was a short one, only three miles, but it must have been incredibly miserable They marched in heavy rain; mud was a foot deep; many lost their shoes to the mire. Their new camp was on the side of a rugged, rocky hill called Stony Mountain. It was covered with pine trees, brambles, and thick underbrush, according to one soldier, “just the spot for the Fourteenth. We again received our accustomed orders, ‘put up good huts for you will stay here all winter,’ and so we went to work.”

Soldiers, it seems, have never been lacking in sarcasm, because this same soldier went on to say, “By the end of the week (about Jan. 1st) we had them (the huts) all finished, good streets laid out, and in fact were all ready to move again.” I do hope he wasn’t too disappointed, because the men would call Stony Mountain “home” for the next four months.

 

 

Fear Within – Sgt. Tyler’s Mine Run

Before moving on to other subjects, I believe you will find the following first-hand account of Mine Run by Sergeant E. B. Tyler (Company B) to be compelling and deeply personal, because it gives us a better understanding of the infantryman’s thoughts and emotions immediately before battle. This account was included in Charles Page’s History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, and it is quoted here in its entirety.

The writer recalls no more serious occasion in his army experience than at Mine Run in the flank movement of the Second Corps when the Fourteenth was lying in the first line of battle, with knapsacks again discarded, a sure sign of the desperate nature of the duty expected of us. Just in front of us was a narrow belt of woods running parallel to our line. This screened us from the view of the enemy. Going through these woods to our picket line, at the further side we could look across the level open fields and plainly see the strongly fortified position of the enemy. How defiantly their flags waved, how heart-sickening the well-wrought abatis in front of their works, for we were only waiting for the signal from the right to charge across the open field amid the shot and shell and canister from the artillery and deadly volleys from the infantry, hoping against hope that a few of our first line might join with the others in clambering through the abatis and gain the works.

This time there was no secret made of what was to be our special duty. No forlorn hope ever faced a more desperate prospect and the old Fourteenth was to be in the first line. We were to be the living, moving breastwork that might in some slight measure afford a little protection to the second, third or fourth line of infantry that were to follow, some of whom it might he hoped would scale the works and gain the victory.

How slowly passed the time and yet we felt sure that for many of us these were the final moments of our lives. Somehow we never for a moment surmised that the old fighting Second Corps would either refuse or be refused an opportunity to fight, no matter what the chances against them.

General Warren, with his staff, was riding up and down our line, going from point to point in order to obtain a better view of the enemy’s lines and works. The men were at rest near their stacked arms, ready to fall into place at the first signal and as General Warren, who was to give the order that meant life or death, rode by, how we scanned his face for some inkling of  purpose or some sign of encouragement. We saw the care, anxiety and burden of responsibility resting upon him apparent in his countenance, serious almost to sadness, yet to us it was inscrutable as the ancient rock faced Sphinx. His record as an able, careful commander was not unknown to us, and trust him we felt we could and must.

The men stood mostly by or near their guns, but a little liberty was given them, and once and again, singly or with a comrade or two, we stole out into the woods a few rods in front of us to calculate the chances of the assault. There seemed to be a fascination in looking over the open field. The rebel flag as it waved from its staff sometimes seemed flaunting only defiance to us, and sometimes in the changing lights and shadows of that winter morning, the staff obscured, the flag alone visible, waving and furling and doubling against the background of some darkening cloud, seemed like the friendly invitation of some spirit hand whose dainty beckoning lifted our thoughts to the great beyond.

Then back again to our guns, waiting, yet dreading to hear the signal given. A deep reechoing sound comes rolling down from the distant right, then another and another. The men sprang to their places, some perhaps with faces a little paler than usual, but never a man wavered or faltered. Determined to do their duty unto death, they stood and waited. But the order to advance came not.

The gunners stood by their pieces to send back to the right the answering response if the attack was to be made, as it was to be made simultaneously on the right and by Warren on the left, if made at all. But the signal guns on the left responded not. The minutes became hours and gradually it dawned upon us that the battle planned for us was not to be fought.

General Warren had weighed the chances, had counted the cost, had become convinced in spite of bravery and courage that never had and never should be questioned, that to make the attack on that stronghold with his one corps miles away from any support would be more the folly of a rash harebrained madman than a wise and considerate officer. It was no lack of confidence in his men. It is reported he said he did not doubt but what his corps could take the works, but he feared it would be at the expense of the almost total loss of the same. He could not assume the responsibility of the sacrifice and for once the lives and the limbs and smarting wounds of the thousands in the ranks outweighed the temptation this slight chance offered to add new luster to a general’s stars.

That day and the next passed, then came the retreat, one of the best managed and entirely successful in the carrying out of all its details of any in the history of the war. After the long tedious march, second to none perhaps we ever made, unless that day we made over thirty miles on our way to Gettysburg, thoroughly exhausted, we reached our old camp near Stevensburg and found our company losses consisted of one or two of our new men, whether  captured as prisoners or voluntary deserters, we were not quite sure.