Monthly Archives: July 2014

Deep Bottom – Take One

“July 21st (1864) we drew potatoes, beets, turnips, onions, and pickles from the Sanitary Commission. They had previously issued good provisions to us and at this time we were living as good as anyone could ask.” – Sgt. Edward Wade (Co. F, Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry)

Today, some of us might turn up our noses at this fare, but for Union foot soldiers, the vitamins and nutrients provided were essential for maintaining their health. At this time in the siege, they were receiving regular rations of fresh bread baked in huge ovens at City Point. Herds of beef cattle were slaughtered and the men were regularly blessed with rations of fresh meat. Now imagine the enticing aroma of beef stew simmering in a smoke-blackened pot over your campfire.

The year before at Vicksburg, after the first few days of trying to take the city by force, Gen. Grant was content to besiege the city and wait for hunger and deprivation to bring the siege to its inevitable conclusion. Confederate forces under Gen. Pemberton sheltered in their earthworks and hoped for deliverance from the outside, namely a second army under Gen. Joseph Johnston that was rumored to be lurking in Grant’s rear ready to strike. We might view the siege of Vicksburg as a slow and steady strangulation.

The siege of Petersburg was different. Strategies were employed on both sides in attempts to gain a decisive victory. Grant scheduled the explosion of the mine under the Confederate breastworks for Saturday, July 30th. On the 26th he ordered the Second Corps along with most of Sheridan’s cavalry to move north across the Appomattox River. After a march of about twenty miles, the Union force marched over a pontoon bridge that had been laid across the James River at a place known as Deep Bottom.

Gen. Lee reacted to this threat to his eastern flank by sending two divisions from the Petersburg entrenchments. This was exactly what Grant had hoped for. On July 27th, Hancock assaulted the Confederate breastworks along Bailey’s Creek with his First Division. According to Sgt. Wade, this initial assault met with some success, but eventually the division was repulsed. (Click here to view a Civil War Trust battle map in a new window.) The men of the Fourteenth Connecticut were not involved in this fight. After the crossing of the James, they filed into a line of breastworks near the river and watched a large gunboat and a turreted monitor lob shells over their heads toward the enemy.

On the 28th, Sheridan’s cavalry tried to storm the works as well, but Confederate infantry under Gen. Richard Anderson counterattacked and drove the Union cavalry backward to the Darby farm. Sheridan’s men rallied. They stood firm and used their repeating rifles with deadly effect. The Confederate infantry assault was stopped and hurled back, and the Union horse soldiers took over 200 prisoners.

The Battle of First Deep Bottom was not a big fight with just over 1,000 total casualties for both sides. Initially, Grant’s plan worked well. Lee weakened his defenses around what would become known as “The Crater.” On July 29th, both Hancock’s and Sheridan’s troops recrossed the James and were marching hard back toward the Petersburg lines. And so, by evening of that day, an overwhelming force of Union infantry had been assembled opposite the thinly held works of the enemy, waiting for a match to be struck to the fuse and ready to go forward at a moments notice.

Seeing The Big Picture

As I alluded in last week’s post, the month of July was for the most part relatively quiet along the siege lines at Petersburg, but the Civil War was not being decided only in those entrenchments. Momentous events were taking place elsewhere, and Lt. Gen. U. S. Grant seemed to have a good understanding of the entire scope of the war. He was decisive, and decisions he made during this time would be of lasting benefit to the Union cause.

In June, unknown to Grant, Lee had sent Gen. Jubal Early’s Corps to deal with a Union force under Gen. David Hunter in the Shenandoah Valley. After a very minor engagement at Lynchburg, VA, Hunter retreated northward. His only opposition gone, Early lost no time marching up the valley to the Potomac. When Grant finally learned of Hunter’s complete failure and this new threat to Washington, he ordered Gen. Lew Wallace, in command of a garrison at Baltimore to march out and slow Early down. Then Grant ordered the Sixth and Nineteenth Corps to Baltimore immediately.

Wallace’s command of raw troops met Early’s veterans at Monocacy, MD on July 9th, and the result was predictable. The Union infantry never stood a chance of victory, but they did buy just enough time for reinforcements to arrive. On July 12th Early’s men approached Fort Stevens, just six miles north of the capitol building, Wright’s Sixth Corps was manning the parapets. After a brief fight, Early was forced to retreat back the way he had come. Washington was saved because of Grant’s quick and decisive response to the sudden threat.

In Georgia, by July 10th, Union Gen. W. T. Sherman had pressed the Confederate army under Gen. Joe Johnston south of the Chattahoochee River and into their defenses around Atlanta. The only worry Sherman seemed to have was enemy cavalry interfering with his supply and communications lines. Grant sent Gen. A. J. Smith out of Memphis to deal with the problem and on July 14th, Smith defeated the combined Confederate cavalry forces of Generals Stephen D. Lee and Nathan Bedford Forrest at the Battle of Tupelo, MS.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis relieved Gen. Johnson of command at Atlanta and replaced him with the impetuous Gen. John Bell Hood on July 17th. Hood attacked Sherman’s forces three times, and every time Hood’s veteran troops were soundly defeated: Peachtree Creek – July 20th, Battle of Atlanta – July 22nd, Ezra Church – July 28th.

Several times during the war, Lee had sent large bodies of troops elsewhere to try to stem the advances Union forces were making. (Early’s dispatch to the Shenandoah was just the latest example of the is strategy.) Grant knew this and he planned to do what he could to hold the remainder of Lee’s forces in and around Petersburg. The mining of the Confederate works mentioned at the start of last week’s post was part of this plan.

A second part of the plan was set in motion during the last week of the month. Gen. W. S. Hancock, now returned from medical leave, was ordered to take his Second Corps back across the James River to the north side, along with Sheridan’s cavalry corps. The idea was to attract Lee’s attention and force him to keep all of his troops close to Richmond and Petersburg. In this Grant succeeded well, but the results, as we shall see next week, were not what he had hoped for.

 

 

 

Siege Work – Can You Dig It?

150 YEARS AGO TODAY the siege of Petersburg continued into its fourth week. Men of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry of Burnside’s Ninth Corps, many of whom had been coal miners before the war, were busy tunneling under the Confederate fortifications along the Jerusalem Plank Road line about two miles southeast of the center of the city. The tunnel would extend over 500 feet. Chambers dug at the far end would be packed with 8,000 lbs. of black powder. On July 30th, at 4:44 a.m. a tremendous explosion would blow a huge hole in the Confederate line and the ensuing Battle of the Crater would prove exceedingly ghastly and bloody, particularly for the men of the Ninth Corps.

But little of great consequence, except for the incessant sharpshooting was happening elsewhere along the siege lines. When Confederate Maj. Gen. Jubal Early advanced into Maryland and caused panic to sweep through Washington, Wright’s Sixth Corps was dispatched to deal with the threat.

For our friends in the Fourteenth Connecticut, it was a time of being always at the ready, but not being called upon to go into battle. To celebrate July 4th, they turned out in their best, and probably only, attire for dress parade, their first in over two months. Over the following days, they formed up to march, but only went a short distance one way or another. On the 15th, the regiment marched some distance toward the rear, likely in the direction of City Point again, and it looked like they were in for an extended stay. “Clean up the area, lay out streets, and set up camp,” were the orders. No doubt the men were pleased with this development.

Then, at about 11:00 p.m., after most of the men were enjoying deepest slumber, their brigade commander, Brig. Gen. Thomas Smyth galloped through the quiet camp. “Fall in immediately,” he cried. “Light marching gear.”

We must be needed desperately at the front, the men must have thought. Battle must be imminent for such an alarm to be raised. The regiment was ready to march in eight minutes, but it was only a work detail. Just as the Pennsylvania men were doing miles away, the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut manned picks and shovels in the heat and dust to level a portion of the fortifications abandoned by the Rebels weeks earlier. The work lasted two or three days and then on Tuesday, July 19th, it rained long and hard, blessed and refreshing, the first such rain in six weeks.

 

Fabulous Photos For Your Fourth

The Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry wasn’t engaged in anything noteworthy during early July, 1864, so on this 151st anniversary of the capitulation of Vicksburg, I thought I would share a few photos I took when I visited that historic city during May of this year.

Old Courthouse Museum - VicksburgThe Old Courthouse Museum is a treasure trove of antebellum and Civil War antiquities. I spent hours searching the archives of the McCardle Library gleaning interesting tidbits for a future novel.

There are many residences and other buildings in Vicksburg that were built before the war. Some of the historic homes are now inns and open for tours. I stayed at the Duff Green mansion which was used as a hospital for both Confederate and Union soldiers during the siege.

Following are several photos of the siege lines in the National Military Park.

 

Battery De Golyer (Union)

Battery De Golyer (Union)

3rd Louisiana Redan

3rd Louisiana Redan (Confederate)

African American Soldiers Monument

African American Soldiers Monument

South Fort Battery (Confederate)

South Fort Battery (Confederate)

Site of surrender meeting between Grant and Pemberton

Site of surrender meeting between Grant and Pemberton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The USS Cairo Museum is located within the Military Park. Having read about its sinking and the discovery and raising of the hulk beforehand, I knew approximately what to expect, but I was still amazed. This is a must-see if you ever visit Vicksburg.

USS Cairo Museum - Beautiful restoration work

USS Cairo's gunports

The gunner's view

This last photo is a of a portion of a large mural in the Old Courthouse Museum. It depicts Admiral David D. Porter’s gunboats and transports passing the river batteries at Vicksburg April 16, 1863. The fireworks were particularly impressive that night.

Gunboats Running the Batteries