Category Archives: 1864 – Autumn

Trial By Wood

PLEASE NOTE: Because of the Christmas and New Year holidays, my next post is scheduled for Friday, January 9, 2015. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a safe and healthy New Year.

As you warm yourself at your fireside during this yuletide season, consider the following quest for firewood as related by Sgt. B. E. Stannard (14th CT, Co. G) in History of the Fourteenth Regt., Connecticut Vol. Infantry by Charles D. Page:

At Fort Morton, on the line before Petersburg, in the winter of 1864-5, wood became a scarce article, and it was no small part of our work to find a supply and get it into the camp. Every tree for miles around had been cut, even to the roots. There was also a class of men who were very shy about exerting themselves to do such work as required them to cut and carry wood into camp and cut it again ready for use. As the men were usually in ‘a mess’ of from four to six that tented together (when we had tents) it was the custom for each to do his part toward keeping up the supplies of wood and water. A certain mess consisted of four, and among them was a man of the class noted for lack of energy such as required him to gather wood. This man we will call George.

The fort was located on the line where the sharpshooters had a good range and were not slow to fire at anything that offered a target. A tree stood in front of the fort on the slope and in full range of the sharpshooters and exposed to the extent that no one had ventured to go out and cut it. One day wood was especially scarce and George was invited to contribute a little of his energy toward increasing the supply. As usual he had some very important excuse and could not assist in the undertaking. The patience of the other three became exhausted and he was given to understand that he should do his share in replenishing the supply, and do it at once, or take the consequences.

He said he didn’t know where to get any. The tree standing in front of the fort was pointed out to him and he was told to go out and cut it. He demurred, saying he did not believe any of the crowd would dare to go out there and cut it. One of the boys took this for a challenge and said, ‘I’ll go out and cut half way into the tree if you’ll expose your carcass to cut the other half.’

Well, George could do nothing but accept, so an axe was found and the challenger started over the fort and made quick time to the tree. He didn’t stop to make many observations, not much, Johnny Reb would find him quick enough. He put in his best strokes and soon had his half of the tree cut, meanwhile the sharpshooters had got the range and were prepared to give George a warm reception. George was gritty enough to fell the tree and ran for the fort. The tree was left until dark and then cut up and taken to the ‘gophers,’ as our bomb proofs were called. George was not called on for wood again for some time.

Winter Quarters: Take 3

With the end of the autumn campaign season, it was time for the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry to build quarters in which they would live for the winter. It would be the third winter in the field for the veterans who had been mustered in August 1862. Their previous two experiences with building winter quarters were not pleasant. In my post of 12/07/2012 “Eve of Battle,” I wrote of how the men had to stop building their log huts and march across the Rappahannock River to fight in the disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg. The following year, as I related in my post of 12/13/2013 Winter Quarters Again…and Again…and Again,” they built their log huts five times, because they were ordered to move their camp four times. Their experience in December 1864 would be little different.

On the 30th of November, the Fourteenth Connecticut, along with the rest of their brigade, marched to relieve a portion of the Ninth Corps near Fort Morton on the southeast side of Petersburg. The men had just begun building log huts when on Dec. 5th, they were told to march early on the 6th to relieve the Fifth Corps that was departing on its mission to destroy the Weldon Railroad (see last week’s post).  The men spent several days here, using their tents for shelter, then moved about a mile to Patrick Station. This place was probably a depot, named for Gen. Marsena Patrick, on the US Military Railroad that brought food and ammunition to the men from City Point.

At Patrick Station good fortune smiled on the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut, for a few days anyway. They moved into log huts that had already been built by someone else. However, on Dec 13th they were marched back to Fort Morton where they first started to build their huts two weeks before. Their huts were no more. They had been broken down and all the logs the men had cut and all the planks they had hewn had been carried off to some other encampment. All of their work been for nothing.

But they would remain near Fort Morton, directly across from The Crater where the mine had exploded under the Rebels’ works back on July 30th. There was nothing for them to do but break out the axes, saws, adzes, and spades and begin again.

Destruction of the Weldon Railroad

On December 7, 1864, a strong force of infantry, cavalry, and artillery under the command of Maj. Gen. G. K. Warren left the Petersburg entrenchments and marched south along the Jerusalem Plank Road. Their mission was to destroy as many miles of the Weldon Railroad as they could, making it impossible for the Rebels to rebuild, and the task of getting much needed supplies into Petersburg all the more difficult. The infantry was comprised of Warren’s Fifth Corps augmented by Mott’s Third Division of the Second Corps. The other two divisions of the Second Corps, including our friends in Fourteenth Connecticut were not involved in what became known as “Warren’s Raid,” but were ordered to occupy the works vacated by the Fifth Corps.

The letter below was written by Capt. Benjamin F. Oakes of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery. This letter is from the Civil War Archives at Virginia Military Institute and is used with their permission. I include it here because it describes activities very similar to those the men of the Fourteenth were engaged in before they were sorely defeated at Ream’s Station. (Click to review my post.)

Headquarters, 1st Maine Heavy Artillery
In the Field
December 13th, 1864

Dear Sir:

Yours of the 8th inst. reached me this morning and found me roughing it as usual.

The 5th Corps and one Div. of the 2nd (3rd Div) have just returned from a raid on the enemy’s communications. We started at daylight last Wednesday morn, taking the Jerusalem Plank road and crossed the “Nottoway” the first night and there camped, making some 20 miles from camp the first day.

Started at daylight next morn and marched all day without accident, the 5 corps in advance, camping at night near “Jarratt’s Station.” The 5 corps were busy tearing up the railroad (Weldon) that night, and in the morning we commenced following their example. We have made a complete wreck of the Weldon road for nearly 20 miles, viz. from above “Jarratt’s” to “Hickford” (now Emporia) on the Meherrin river.

It would have done you good to see how we destroyed this great artery of rebel life. In the first place we stacked arms alongside the road and the line marched on it and grasping the rails and ends of the “sleepers” on one side, we just turned it right over! Then commenced the work of separating the sleepers from the rails, which was no easy job, for it was a very well constructed road, and of the best material both the iron & wood. Northern “mudsills” soon found a way, however, by means of the Telegraph posts which stood by the road at short intervals.

The sleepers separated, we built piles of them, and dry fence rails, which were also handy, and piled the rails across the top of the pile with a short bearing in the center, and set fire to it. The fire burned everything in the wood line, and so heated the rails, that the ends bent to the ground thus rendering them useless. Our boys made short work of it I tell you. But a few minutes elapsed from the time of taking hold until the rails were heating.

Coming back, we made clean work of the buildings on the route in retaliation for some of our men who were unable to keep up with the column, being murdered and mutilated. Sussex C. H. went up with all the buildings thereabouts. I enclose an ancient specimen of book keeping, which came from a store near the C. H. I would like to write you a long letter about the incidents of the raid, but have not time. We arrived back in camp yesterday (Monday) afternoon.

Remember me to all the family, and friends.
B. F. Oakes

J. S. Richardson, Esq.
P.S. I think Warren is a prisoner

Below are four sketches by A. A. Warren of Warren’s destruction of the Weldon Railroad that appeared in the December 31, 1864 issue of Harper’s Weekly. It’s exactly the way Captain Oakes described it.

warrens raid 1weldon-railroad-1weldon-railroad-2warrens raid 2

Trading Aytches

HancockOn Thanksgiving Day, 1864, Nov. 26, Major General Winfield Scott Hancock resigned from command of the Second Corps of the Army of the Potomac. It was Gen. McClellan who first called Hancock “superb” for the way he commanded his brigade in the Battle of Willamsburg, VA in May, 1862. In September, during the Battle of Antietam, Hancock took command of the First Division of the Second Corps when Maj. Gen. Israel B. Richardson fell mortally wounded near Bloody Lane. Hancock commanded the during the futile assaults at Fredericksburg (December, 1862) and was wounded, though not seriously. He was again wounded at Chancellorsville (May, 1863) while his division covered Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s withdrawal. Maj. Gen. Darius N. Couch, then in command of the Second Corps, resigned from the Army of the Potomac in protest of Hooker’s ineptitude and Hancock assumed command of the Second Corps.

During PIckett’s Charge on July 3, 1863, Gen. Hancock was seriously wounded in the upper right thigh. The wound took a long time to heal, and he did not return to command of the corps until the following spring. The rigors of the Overland Campaign took a heavy toll on Hancock. It was very difficult for him mount a horse and ride in the field of battle. After taking a medical leave, returning to command, and seeing his corps needlessly wasted at Reams Station, and unsupported during the fight at the Boydton Plank Road, he believed the time had come for him to step aside. Gen. Grant wrote of Hancock in his memoirs, “No matter how hard the fight, the Second Corps always felt that their commander was looking after them.”

HumphreysHancock’s successor was Maj. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys, at 54 an older man by Civil War standards. Humphreys had served as McClellan’s chief topographical engineer. His engineering sill was used in planning the defensive ring of forts around Washington. Humphreys was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers in April, 1862 and in September he was given command of the Third Division of the Fifth Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Humphreys earned the reputation as one who led from the front. During the Battle of Fredericksburg, he led his division on horseback from the front to within 50 yards of the Sunken Road, closer to the Confederate line than any other assault. Five of his seven staff were shot from their mounts, and two horses were shot from under him, but he emerged from the battle unscathed.

After the Battle of Chancellorsville, Humphreys was transferred to the Third Corps (under Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles) to command the Second Division. Just prior to the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863), when Maj. Gen. George Meade was placed in command of the army, Meade asked Humphreys to be his chief of staff. Humphreys declined, preferring to remain in field command. However, on July 2, Sickles, without orders, advanced the Third Corps  about half a mile in front of the rest of the Union line along Cemetery ridge. Humphreys division was the most exposed along Emmitsburg Road. Confederate assaults that afternoon virtually destroyed the division at the Peach Orchard, and what was left of Humphrey’s command fell back to Cemetery Ridge.

A few days after the battle, Humphreys was promoted to major general of volunteers and accepted Meade’s offer to be his chief of staff. Humphreys served in this capacity over fourteen months until he was called upon to take command of the Second Corps. Maj. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys would command the corps for the remainder of the war.

On the Road Again

Two sentences from History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Vol. Infantry by Charles D. Page told me almost nothing. I was trying to piece together what the men had been up to since they withdrew from the Boydton Plank Road affair at the end of October. Page wrote:

“The regiment was moved to Fort McGilvery in front of Petersburg. Here it remained until November 29th, when they were ordered to be ready to move in the direction of Fort Bross.”

Two more forts in the Union siege lines that I had never heard of before, and the only clue was that McGilvery was “in front of Petersburg.” All of the forts south of the Appomattox River were in front of Petersburg. So, it was back to the Library of Congress Digital Maps Collection to see if any of the many maps of the Petersburg fortifications showed either of these forts. As you can see from the map below, my search was successful.

Petersburg Forts-cropped-1Fort McGilvery was located on the east side of Petersburg between the City Point Railroad and the Appomattox River. So after the Boydton Plank Road fight at the western end of the lines, the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut marched all the way around to the east end. Fort Bross was located beside the Norfolk & Petersburg Railroad to guard against any surprise attack from the rear. Click here to view the original digital map.

Sometimes, while following such a research rabbit trail, I run across something really interesting. The map was drawn just after the war by a Union officer for Jarratt’s Hotel, where “every attention is paid to visitors to render their stay agreeable and interesting.” The Petersburg hotel published a booklet for its guests that included the map, a history of the siege, a field guide for visiting the battlefield, and advertisements for local businesses. You can download a PDF of this unique booklet free of charge at A Guide to the Fortifications and Battlefields Around Petersburg. I highly recommend it.

A Tale of Two Chaplains

ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY YEARS AGO YESTERDAY the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry got a new chaplain. He was a Baptist pastor from New Britain named Emmons P. Bond. The regiment had been without a chaplain for eleven months and had to rely upon chaplains from other regiments to fill the void. For related reading see my post of April 18, 2014.

Chaplain Henry S Stevens The regiment’s first chaplain was Henry S. Stevens from Cromwell, also a Baptist pastor. The photo at left was taken may years after the war. Stevens was very active in the life of the regiment, both during the war and after. He was mustered into the regiment along with the men that filled the ranks on August 21, 1862. He served faithfully during the battles of Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Bristow Station, and Mine Run. He was discharged on December 22, 1863.

Stevens had a tender heart toward every soldier. He followed them into battle, prayed over them as they lay dying and comforted the wounded. He visited the sick and wounded in the hospital and sometimes presented them with Bibles that he personally inscribed for them. (One of those Bibles still survives and can be seen here.) Chaplains were often given one year’s leave from their congregations to serve in the army, but Stevens extended his leave to sixteen months. He enjoyed the camaraderie of the army and was the kind of man that could take a practical joke.

After the war, Chaplain Stevens was instrumental in founding the “Society of the Fourteenth Connecticut Regiment.” He also assisted greatly in the writing and preserving the regiment’s history. In July, 1883, he traveled to Gettysburg along with 78 members and friends of the Fourteenth for the twentieth anniversary of that great battle. On July 3, at two o’clock in the afternoon, the Fourteenth’s monument beside the rock wall was dedicated. Then Chaplain Stevens gave a passionate and memorable address to the gathered crowd.

Chaplain Emmons BondChaplain Bond was a different sort of man. Very little is known about him. From the history of the regiment we learn that Bond was born in Canterbury, CT and attended Brown University. For ministerial training he attended Madison University Theological Seminary (now Colgate University in Hamilton, NY). Upon graduation in 1851 he accepted the pastorate of the Baptist Church of New Britain, CT. Bond served as chaplain of the Fourteenth Connecticut from November 13, 1864 until April 26, 1865. The history concludes with this statement: “Chaplain Bond was scholarly and refined and was much esteemed in the communities where he labored. His service with the regiment covered so brief a period, that but few of the men became personally acquainted with him.”

Civil War Fort Engineering

My previous two posts dealt with the unsuccessful attempt by combined Federal forces to take control of the last two supply routes into Petersburg, the Boydton Plank Road and the South Side Railroad. Union troops outnumbered their Confederate opponents by a wide margin in nearly all of the battles during the siege, so why was it so difficult for them to be victorious and bring an end to the war?

Throughout the Civil War, the army that fought from behind prepared defenses usually defeated the attacking army, even if the attackers outnumbers the defenders. Some earthworks were hastily constructed, such as the Union position along Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg. A low rock wall served as a base upon which the soldiers heaped earth dug out from behind the wall. This both added height to the protecting wall and provided them with a shallow trench in which to kneel.

But at Petersburg, the entrenchments were far stronger and much more complex. Mountains of earth were moved. Forests of trees were cut down and the timber added to the fortifications. Deep trenches protected the men from sharpshooters’ bullets and bombproof shelters provided protection from artillery shells. To give you a better understanding of the difficulty of taking a portion of these entrenchments by direct assault, the photos below show various features of the siege lines.

Pburg lines photo 2This photo is from Civil War Journeys. The line of earthworks in the background is certainly the main line. Notice the torn up railroad bed going across the middle of the photo. The pile of brush in front of the crude barricade in the foreground is called abatis. I could be wrong, but it appears the enemy would attack from the left, and this barricade position would be used if any forced their way into the railroad cut. Notice also the piles on things that look like barrels near the upper right.

Pburg lines photo 1

 

This is another photo from Civil War Journeys. This is what we normally refer to as breastworks. An earthen trench with a log wall for protection. Earth was often piled against the outside of the works. Sometimes, the topmost log was raised a few inches so that the soldiers could fire their weapons through the gap.

fort sedgwick

 

This is a portion of the Union works known as Fort Sedgwick. The photo is from the U. S. Corps of Engineers Digital Library. Notice the use of pointed sticks (chevaux de frise). The works were also built with arcs and angles to funnel approaching enemies into areas of concentrated fire. Notice also the neat lines of those barrel-looking things along the top of the works in the background.

 

Pburg lines photo 3

Those things that look like barrels are called gabions (yes, another French term.) They were widely used in the Petersburg works because gabions could be easily made from what they had on hand, lots of small tree branches. A great article on the construction and use of gabions can be found on the To the Sound of the Guns blog.

I hope you found this information helpful. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please submit them and I will happily answer.