Monthly Archives: March 2014

An Orphan’s War – Part 2

As we draw nearer to the start of the Overland Campaign during the spring of 1864, I thought it would be useful to present the second part of the uniquely interesting story of Private William H. E. Mott. I gave you the first part of this story, An Orphan’s War – Part 1, August 23, 2013, and it might be helpful to read that post again before delving into this second part. Note: The material below is from background material included in The Diary of a Dead Man, 1862-1864, the unedited diary and letters of Private Ira Pettit, compiled by J. P. Ray. Mott was instrumental in preserving Pettit’s diary for Pettit’s parents.

Returns of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Infantry (Co. F), acknowledged that Private William E. Mott was gained as a recruit at Cedar Run, Virginia, on August 11, 1863. The gaps left in the Union Army at Gettysburg were being filled.

During September, 1863, the Fourteenth Regiment advanced from the Rappahannock to the Rapidan. It participated in the Bristoe Campaign in October and the Mine Run Campaign in late November and early December. After those affrays it remained at Stevensburg, Virginia, until April, 1864. In the comparative calm of winter quarters during late February, 1864, Private Mott contracted a case of measles.

Grant’s Army of the Potomac started on its journey to Appomattox one early morning in May, 1864, although at the moment it was unaware of its exact and final destination. This army, whose polish paled the morning dew that rolled truculently off its boots and lay the early morning’s dust, began its journey through a thick, second growth forest in search of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Beyond that wilderness, Robert E. Lee, whose army had been washed in its own blood, seasoned by the salt of its own tears, and inspired by its own history, would not wait for the sophisticated and manicured Army of the Potomac. With the speed and agility of a moccasin in water, Lee’s army plunged into this wilderness to meet that army and to fight it wherever it was found.

In the bloody and fiery confusion that came to be known as the Battles of the Wilderness, William H. E. Mott became disconnected from the Army of the Potomac. Various records of the Fourteenth Regiment recorded various theories of his departure. On May 4 he was reported to have deserted on the march, and on May 6 it was recorded that he deserted at Wilderness. Finally, the company muster rolls stated that he was taken prisoner at the Battles of the Wilderness on May 6, 1864, thereby accounting for him, statistically, from desertion.

Wherever and whatever the circumstances of his departure from the Fourteenth Regiment, the Rebels took possession of his corporal limits at Wilderness/ Fredericksburg, Virginia, on May 8, 1864. Private Mott was confined at Richmond, Virginia, on May 9, 1864, and on June 8, 1864, he was sent to the Andersonville Stockade, Camp Sumter, Georgia. Confed­erate records do not provide any information concerning the terms, time, place or manner under which they dismissed William Mott from their custody.

Note: Yes, there will be a Part 3 to Private Mott’s story. Look for it next fall or winter.

Dunn Browne Goes Postal

The following account is just too good not to pass on. While on leave from the regiment (Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry), Captain Samuel Fiske, in command of Company G, stopped in Washington to attend to several matters of varying degrees of importance. Late in March, the following report appeared in the Springfield, Mass. Republican newspaper under Fiske’s pen-name, Dunn Browne:

One thing was to hunt up in the dead-letter office a package of important papers, directed to me in the mail, that had somehow gone astray. Nothing easier than that, certainly not, if there had been anybody in the proper office to attend to my case. But I called at the noble post office building; after some inquiries, found the office of the polite Dr. __, who attends to that branch of the business; was ushered into a fine apartment, elegantly furnished; and sat down by a cozy fire to wait for the officer, who happened to be out for the moment. It was right in the middle of the official day, but there I sat and waited five minutes, ten minutes, wondering whether the head of the dead-letter office was a dead-head or no.

After about fifteen minutes of impatient waiting, for my business pressed me (foolish fellow! I might just as well have waited there by that pleasant fire all the day), I rummaged around in the adjoining rooms, and asked various clerks for information of the good doctor. “Oh, he will be in in a few minutes.” “Well, but isn’t there anyone else who can attend to my business?” No, there was no one else. I must wait a few minutes. Twenty minutes, twenty-five minutes passed, but no Dr. __ came; and I left to fulfill an appointment in another part of the city.

Well, it was a small matter that a man should be out of his office for twenty-five minutes. Yes, and it was a small matter that I was attending to anyway. It was only some documents for half a dozen dead soldiers killed at Gettysburg, which, if I could obtain, I might draw the back pay due to the widows and mothers and orphans. I doubt very much if I could have gotten the pay in one day, if I had found the papers, judging from the rest of my experience. Here was one case of failure because a clerk wasn’t there when I wanted him. Most of my failures were because a clerk was there.

It certainly is a source of never-ending amazement and chagrin to me to see how little things ever change in Washington, DC.

The Grand Army Shuffle

Before we embark on our own spring campaign of posts on the brutal 1864 spring campaign, it would be beneficial to discuss some fundamental changes that were taking place in the Army of the Potomac. On March 9th, President Lincoln himself handed Ulysses S. Grant his commission as Lieutenant General in command of all Union armies. Grant decided to make his headquarters in the field, rather than in Washington, and Major General George Meade, still in command of the Army of the Potomac, found this to be a rather awkward, uncomfortable, and even difficult arrangement.

On March 26th, 1864, The New York Times ran an article titled “The Army of the Potomac and its Reorganization.” The article focused on the consolidation of the army’s five corps into three with a separate cavalry corps. The First and Third Corps would be disbanded an their units distributed among the Second, Fifth and Sixth Corps. This consolidation was necessary to simplify the command structure and to maintain the fighting strength of individual brigades, divisions and corps, but it must have been quite difficult initially. Some officers found themselves suddenly without a command, and brigades were formed with regiments that previously had not gone into combat together.

Ever since their arrival in Arlington, VA about August 30, 1862, our friends in the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry had been in the Second Brigade of the Third Division of the Second Corps along with two other regiments, the 108th New York and the 130th Pennsylvania. The men of 130th Pennsylvania enlisted for nine months service and they were mustered out May 21st, 1863. At Gettysburg, the Second Brigade consisted of four regiments—14th Connecticut, 1st Delaware, 12th New Jersey, 108th New York—and a battalion of the 10th New York.

But these five units would not escape the massive shuffling of the army in March 1864. Col. Thomas Smyth, a volunteer soldier who had risen through the ranks to command their brigade, was transferred to a brigade in the First Division. The old Second Brigade, Third Division was incorporated into the Third Brigade, Second Division, under the command of Col. Samuel Carroll, who was a West Point trained professional soldier. This new home for the Fourteenth consisted of nine units: 14th Connecticut, 1st Delaware, 14th Indiana, 12th New Jersey, 10th New York (Battalion), 108th New York, 4th Ohio, 8th Ohio, and the 7th West Virginia.

Desertion – The Other Way

As we have seen in previous posts, the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut, along with the rest of the Second Brigade, held an advanced and prominent position atop Stony Mountain during the winter encampment of 1864. As the harsh winter progressed, more and more Confederate deserters forded the icy Rapidan and surrendered. Late in February, Capt. Samuel Fiske was penning yet another letter to his faithful readers back home when he paused his political musings to record the following:

There, my reflections are interrupted by the approach of a corporal with two butternut-colored prisoners who have just deserted the the enemy’s picket post here at the ford, and waded the cold, deep stream to take refuge within our lines. They are men of some 40 years of age, with families in North Carolina, conscripted six months since, and apparently overjoyed at the successful opportunity of escape which they have long been watching for. They report the one uniform story we hear every day from such stragglers into our lines, of discontent in the rebel camps, especially among the North Carolina troops. Every camp is most carefully guarded, they say; no man allowed to leave on any excuse; rations very short and precarious; sometimes many days without any meat, and then a tiny bit of bacon or fresh beef, their staple article corn meal.

Throughout the Confederacy, there were pockets of strong pro-Union sentiment. This was particularly true in the high country of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. Imagine if you were conscripted into the army of a government you didn’t support to fight for a cause you didn’t believe in. The shoes you left home with were soon destroyed by hard marching and the army didn’t replace them—you took the nearly soleless ones you’re wearing now from a corpse. Your empty belly gnaws at you constantly, you’re sick all the time, and you just received a letter from your desperate wife telling you your children are on the verge of starvation. Across the river, just a short hundred yards away you see the warmly dressed and well equipped Union pickets eating well every day and enjoying real, hot coffee. What would you do?