Category Archives: 1863 – Autumn

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.

The Greatest Battle Never Fought

150 YEARS AGO TODAY the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut drove a skirmish line of Rebel pickets down a gentle slope and across a marshy stream known as Mine Run. The main Confederate line lay a few hundred yards ahead at the crest of the opposite slope, so the Connecticut boys gave up the chase and withdrew to the relative safety of the Second Corps line.

Marching from its camps on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1863, the Army of the Potomac had advanced southwestward across the Rapidan River into Orange County. Maj. Gen. George Meade’s goal was to surprise the Confederates and turn their right (southern) flank. If successful, the movement would have put 81,000 Federal soldiers between Lee’s 48,000 and Richmond.

As had often happened before, muddy roads slowed the advance to a crawl, and Lee had time to react. The armies sparred at Locust Grove and Mt. Zion Church, but the engagements were small and not decisive. By Sunday the 29th, the armies faced each other across the shallow valley of Mine Run and all the signs pointed to pitched battle the next day.

That night was bitterly cold. No fires were allowed. The men of the Fourteenth Connecticut shivered uncontrollably. All night long the men heard the incessant chopping of Rebel axes. The enemy was building trenches and breastworks, and felling every tree in front of their works to create clear fields of fire. All would be ready for the expected dawn assault.

At two o’clock on the morning of Monday, November 30th, Meade ordered Maj. Gen. Warren, then in command of the Second Corps, to begin the assault at five o’clock. The corps formed in two lines of battle. The Fourteenth Connecticut took their place in the front line. They would be among the first to try the Confederate defenses. As dawn broke over those half-frozen men, the task before them became dreadfully clear. The Confederates had built a strong line of breastworks along the crest of the low ridge on the west side of Mine Run. Every man in the Union ranks knew his chances of surviving the day were small indeed.

In his History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, Charles Page recorded these words of one of the soldiers, J. L. Goss: “Lt. Col. Sam Moore, with his thin face, white and stern, walking slowly among his men said, ‘Men, there is no denying it, but three-quarters of you are to be left in that marsh with your toes turned up; but remember the Fourteenth never quailed yet, and I’ll shoot the first man that does it now.'” With trembling hands many of the men wrote their names, company and regiment on slips of paper and pinned them to their jackets. Worse than being killed was the thought that a man might end up in an unknown grave, and loved ones at home might never know what became of him.

Five o’clock came and no order was given to attack. The assault was delayed until eight o’clock. Lt. William Hawley (Co. B) added this description, as quoted by Page, of what I believe to be one of the most dramatic and pivotal scenes of the Civil War. “The Fourteenth was in the first line of battle where the bullets would strike the thickest in the charge. Knapsacks were ordered to be laid aside so that no useless weight might encumber the men. And now General Warren rides slowly down our lines, his sober face more sober than usual. He evidently dislikes to sacrifice his brave troops in such a desperate undertaking….Eight o’clock has arrived and we expect the order to advance. We hear the roar of cannon from our right. Gen. Meade has sent word from the right, asking Warren if the Second Corps can take the enemy’s works..’Yes,’ replied Warren, ‘they can take them, but there will be no more Second Corps.’ Then Meade himself arrives on the ground, surveys the works through his glass, reckons the time it will take to reach them, and shakes his head, saying ‘It is of no use to try to climb a wall with two ladders.'”

The assault was cancelled. Meade saw it would have been another Fredericksburg, perhaps even worse. To his credit, and probably at great cost to himself professionally, he saved his army to fight another day. The Army of the Potomac fell back north of the Rapidan to Culpeper County again, and went into winter quarters. Their next campaign would be directed by a man from the west, a man whose name they had heard, but whose face they had never seen—Ulysses S. Grant..

Beyond the Rapidan

On November 10th, 1863, the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry were near the town of Stevensburg in Culpeper County, Virginia. They were told to encamp and to expect an extended stay. The ground was suitable for supporting a long encampment and the army began to issue rations of that most coveted foodstuff, freshly baked bread, still warm from the huge ovens that were quickly built and fired. So for the second time that autumn, construction of winter quarters began, and the men began to settle in to the easy routine of camp life.

While most states already celebrated Thanksgiving Day, and many on the last Thursday in November, it was not until President Lincoln issued his “Proclamation of Thanksgiving” that it became a national holiday. The army was at rest, settling in for the winter, and the men gathered with great relish whatever edible delicacies they could find for the great day of feasting. It really didn’t get any better for the Civil War soldier. But just imagine how you would feel if having taken your place at the table, you were about to chomp down on a crispy-skinned turkey leg, but before you can enjoy even a single morsel, you’re ordered to drop it, fall in and march off to fight the Rebs.

And that’s exactly what happened. The extended stay lasted sixteen days. On the 26th of November, Thanksgiving Day, of course, the army was ordered out of camp to march against the enemy. The men of the Second Corps, still under the temporary command of Major General Gouverneur Warren, marched south toward the Rapidan. The men of the Fourteenth must have started early, because by ten o’clock in the morning, they had marched eight miles and were crossing the Rapidan River at Germanna Ford.

We can only imagine the coarse grumbling that must have run back and forth through the ranks, for not only did they miss their Thanksgiving dinner, but also the weather turned cold, very cold for late November, and no doubt, the men must have missed their log huts and warm fires even more.

To read how the men of the regiment spent Thanksgiving 1862, read my post of November 23, 2012, and I think you’ll agree, these guys and Thanksgiving were not the best of friends.

 

Rations and Ammo Restricted

In today’s world, headlines would scream: “War Department Orders Troops to Starve – Leaves Them Defenseless.” In November, 1863 the War Department issued orders that reduced the burdens Union infantrymen could be required to carry. Marching rations were limited to five days maximum and ammunition was limited to forty rounds maximum. Under the tagline “Almost Incredible Reforms,” our faithful correspondent, Dunn Browne (Capt. Samuel Fiske, Co. G, 14th Connecticut), expressed his opinion with his usual tongue-in-cheek frankness.

I am informed by a credible witness…that the men are not to be compelled to carry on their backs henceforth more than five days’ rations at any one time. I had utterly despaired of the thing; had seen the eight days’, the ten days’, and in one or two instances, the eleven days’ mule burden piled on the men’s backs, over and over again, cruelly, wastefully and uselessly, never once accomplishing the purpose, never in any single instance lasting over six days, till I had about concluded the administration was in some way politically committed to the arrangement, and that I might be unintentionally committing high-copperheadism by grumbling about it.

And another thing. You won’t believe me this time, dear Republican, I know. But it’s a positive fact nevertheless that only forty rounds of cartridges are required henceforth to be carried by our soldiers. I am afraid Secretary Stanton and General Halleck aren’t going to live long, they are getting so good and considerate all at once. But they couldn’t die in a better cause. Why, more cartridges have been wasted during this war by compelling the men to carry sixty, eighty, or even a hundred rounds when their cartridge boxes won’t hold but forty, than would carry on a small “scrimmage” like that of England and France in the Crimea. And besides the relief from the burden, the boys will no longer be liable to drink gunpowder coffee from a cartridge in their haversacks bursting into their sugar or coffee sack, or to be blowed up by a match setting fire to an extra package in their breeches pocket.

XVcorpsbadge copyDid You Know? While the Federal army corps that served in the Army of the Potomac adopted corps badges early in 1863, this practice was slow to be adopted in the west. When troops from the east were transferred to Chattanooga that autumn, members of the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps proudly displayed their badges, the crescent and the star. When some of these eastern chaps asked a soldier from the Fifteenth Corps (formerly commanded by Maj. Gen. W. T. Sherman) why he had no badge, the soldier simply patted the cartridge box at his side and said, “Forty Rounds is the only badge I need.” The soldier’s words were relayed up the chain of command and late in 1863, Maj. Gen. Logan made “40 Rounds” the badge of the Fifteenth Corps.

 

Rappahannock Station

As I mentioned in my last week’s post, General Robert E. Lee withdrew the Army of Northern Virginia slowly toward the southwest. He established a new line of defense along the Rappahannock River north of where the Rapidan River joins the Rappahannock. Key to this line were Confederate held fortifications near the town of Remington, at a whistle-stop on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad called Rappahannock Station. Lee believed a strong show of force here would cause Maj. Gen. George Meade to divide his army in an attempt to gain the Confederates rear and force them to retreat.

Rapp_Station_11-07-1863If that is what happened. On November 7, 1863 Meade sent the Third Corps, under Maj. Gen. William French, marching toward Kelly’s Ford, about five miles south of Rappahannock Station, and just off the bottom of the map at right. (Click the map for a larger view.) Meade also set the Sixth Corps, under Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick, in motion directly toward Rappahannock Station. At this point, General Lee made a rare blunder. He believed the Sixth Corps movement to be a feint intended to keep him from sending troops south to Kelly’s Ford. By noon, the ford was in Union hands and the Third Corps was crossing to the south side of the river. Believing this to be the real threat, Lee left two veteran brigades (about 2,000 men) to man the defenses at Rappahannock Station, and sent the rest of his men toward Kelly’s Ford.

Sedgwick’s artillery shelled the Confederate redoubts throughout the afternoon. When it was nearly dark, a small force of two brigades, also about 2,000 men, rushed toward the Rebel works. For the first time during the war, Federal troops assaulted and took control of a fortified position held by an equal number of Confederates on the first attempt. The fighting was hot, much of it hand to hand, but the issue was settled quickly. 1,670 (about 80%) of the Confederate defenders were either killed, wounded, or captured. Union casualties were 419 (about 20%), most of which were suffered by two regiments, the 6th Maine and the 5th Wisconsin, who were the first to charge the two redoubts.

The Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry took no part in this battle, but this short, sharp victory forced Gen. Lee to abandon the Rappahannock line and fall back into Orange County south of the Rapidan, exactly where he was before he set out on what came to be called the Bristoe Campaign, and where the two armies would square off face to face in just three weeks time.

Note:  The above map is from the Library of Congress Digital Maps Collection. It was drawn by Private Robert Knox Sneden. Sneden was just an average guy with a knack for drawing maps and sketching scenes from the war. He was assigned to the Third Corps staff as a mapmaker. Later in the war he was captured and sent to the Andersonville prison camp, and his descriptions of the horrors there are heart-rending. His book Eye of the Storm (Touchstone, Simon & Schuster) is a worthy addition to anyone’s Civil War library. His maps, artwork, and narratives gave me a deeper understanding of the war from an ordinary private’s perspective.

The Advance and Retreat Two-Step

After the defeat at Bristoe Station on October 14th, Lee’s Confederates withdrew slowly southwestward toward the Rappahannock River. The men of Meade’s Army of the Potomac followed, also slowly and carefully. Cavalry skirmishes were frequent. Columns of Union troops would march a short distance, an alarm would be sounded, and the men would deploy in line of battle. When nothing developed, the column formed again and the men marched forward another short distance.

At times during this slow dance of retreat and advance, particularly at night, the armies were within a few hundred yards of one another and did not know it. How could this be? They employed techniques for moving large bodies of men with a certain degree of stealth not unlike the “silent running” procedures of modern day submariners. Anyone that has seen one of the many submarine movies knows that a surefire giveaway of the sub’s presence is the dreaded metal on metal clank. It was the same with a column of troops during the Civil War. No fires could be lit on the wayside to make coffee to sustain the weary men during a long march on a cold night. Not even a match could be struck to light a cigar or pipe. And the men were ordered to march with their hands sandwiched awkwardly between their canteens and their tin cups, thus eliminating the constant clanking that usually accompanied the column whenever it moved out.

On October 23rd, the men of the Fourteenth marched only about four miles and encamped on good ground near Warrenton, Virginia. They were told that they would remain at this camp indefinitely, so the troops began to build log huts for winter quarters. Regular activities included daily drilling and rotating stints on picket duty. Sometime during the last few days of October or the first few days of November, Lieutenant Colonel Stanford Perkins arrived in camp. He had been seriously wounded at Fredericksburg and had been discharged because of medical disability. (See my post for Dec. 13, 2012.) What mixed emotions he must have experienced, gladness to be with his old regiment and visit with friends, but profound sadness when he saw how few of the soldiers he had commanded were still in the ranks.