Category Archives: General Information

Peeble’s Farm

Gen. Grant’s strategy for victory at Petersburg remained basically unchanged from mid-June, when all out assaults failed to produce any positive results and only added to the ever-lengthening lists of dead and wounded Union soldiers. This strategy had two main parts. First, Grant tried to keep pressure on Lee to keep him from dispatching troops to other threatened points (such as the Shenandoah Valley of Atlanta). Second, Grant wanted to cut Petersburg off from all supply routes so that the Confederates would have to surrender or abandon the city.

blg101014-1In the map above (L.O.C. Digital Map Collection http://www.loc.gov/item/99448332/) Confederate lines are drawn in blue and the Union in red. At the end of September 1864 the western end of the Union Line ran from Fort Wadsworth at the north southward along the western side of the Weldon Railroad, which is just right of center above. Grant’s two objective’s can be seen at the upper right, the Boydton Plank Road and in the upper right corner the South Side Railroad. Seize these two vital links to the rest of the Confederacy and the situation in Petersburg would become dire indeed.

Early on the morning of September 30th, while Lee was doing everything possible to retake Fort Harrison 32 miles away, the First and Second Divisions of the Fifth Corps, under Gen. G. K. Warren, and the Second and Third Divisions of the Ninth Corps under Gen. John Parke, marched westward from Fort Wadsworth toward the Confederate line along Squirrel Level Road. Early in the afternoon Griffen’s Division of Warren’s Corps charged from the vicinity of Poplar Springs Church across the fields of Peeble’s Farm (misspelled Peeple on map). The Confederates resisted at first, but could do nothing to stop the attack. Fort Archer, the strongest point in the Squirrel Level line was soon taken. Federal engineers reversed the fortifications and it was renamed Fort Wheaton.

Confederate Gen. Henry Heth scraped together every man he could find and counter-attacked late that afternoon. The furious attack fell upon the left flank of the Ninth Corps who had taken a position just south of the Fifth near Peeble’s Farm. The Ninth Corps was routed by Heth’s sudden assault, but Warren rallied both his and Parke’s command and forced Heth to give up the fight for the day. The next day both Gen. Heth and cavalry Gen. Wade Hampton attacked the advanced Union positions, but both attacks were repulsed.

On October 2nd, a division of the Second Corps reinforced the Fifth and Ninth Corps and the Confederates were forced to retire to their main fortifications that paralleled the vital Boydton Plank Road. The stage was now set for Grant to try to seize that road and tighten his strangle hold on Petersburg.

Just the Facts, Please

150 YEARS AGO TODAY Lt. Col. Samuel A. Moore sent the following report to Gen. 
Hancock's headquarters. The general had directed the commanding officers of all 
units under his command to submit similar reports so that he could assess the 
actual fighting strength of the Second Corps.

Headquarters Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteers, September 26th, 1864.

Lieutenant Theron E. Parsons, Acting Assistant Adjutant-General, 3d Brigade. 

Lieutenant:
I have the honor to submit the following report in compliance with circular of 
September 25th, from Headquarters 2d A. C.

I. Date of Organization of the Regiment, (muster into service) August 23d, 1862. 
     Original strength, (aggregate) - - - - - - 1,015 
     Recruits received since organization - - - 1,000 

II.  Present strength. For duty - - - - - - - - 236 
     Borne upon rolls, (aggregate)  - - - - - - 663

III. Names of Battles in which engaged.
     Antietam, Sept. 17, 1862.         Wilderness, May 6, 1864. 
     Fredericksburg, Dec. 13, 1862.    Laurel Hill, May 10, 1864. 
     Chancellorsville, May 3, 1863.    Spottsylvania, May 12, 1864. 
     Gettysburg, July 3, 1863.         Cold Harbor, June 3, 1864. 
     Bristoe Station, Oct. 14, 1863.   Cold Harbor, June 6, 1864. 
     Morton's Ford, Feb. 6, 1864.      Petersburg, June 17, 1864. 
     Wilderness, May 5, 1864.          Ream's Station, August 25, 1864.

     Names of Skirmishes in which engaged.
     Falling Waters, July 14, 1863.    North Anna River, May 24, 1864.
     Auburn, October 14, 1863.         North Anna River, May 26, 1864.
     Blackburn's Ford, Oct. 17, 1863.  Petersburg, June 16, 1864.
     Mine Run, Nov. 29, 1863.          Deep Bottom, August 15, 1864.

IV. Loss in action. 9 officers killed, 71 men killed; 41 officers wounded, 505 men
wounded; 5 officers missing, 138 men missing, (aggregate) 769. 

V. Colors captured from the enemy. Five, captured at battle of Gettysburg,
viz. 1st and 14th Tennessee, 16th and 52d North Carolina, and 4th Virginia.
Guns captured from the enemy. Two 3-in. rifled pieces captured May 12, 1864.

VI. Colors lost. None.

Note. At the battle of Ream’s Station, upon the 25th ult. (of last month), this 
regiment drew off from the field, thereby saving them from capture by the enemy, 
one brass cannon and one limber belonging to McKnight’s Battery, and one limber 
belonging to the 3d New Jersey Battery, also one caisson belonging to same Battery.

Very respectfully, Your obedient servant

S. A. Moore, Lieutenant-Colonel commanding regiment

Petersburg: A Digital Tour

As we have seen in posts to this blog throughout the summer months, the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry always seemed to on the move during the three months since the start of the siege of Petersburg in June 1864. We tend to think of the Petersburg campaign as limited to The Crater and the other sites we can visit just outside of the city, but the siege lines stretched across about thirty-five miles of southeastern Virginia and it’s to lose track of our little regiment. The following series of maps are portions of one large map of the siege lines from the Library of Congress Digital Map Collection, upon which I have drawn the movements of the regiment from June to September 1864. Union lines are shown in red and the Confederate lines in blue. Here’s the link if you wish to open the original map in a separate window  http://www.loc.gov/resource/glva01.lva00182/.

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Compare the 1865 map to a modern day map or Google Earth and you will see just how far the siege lines stretched. The northeastern end of the Confederate lines was close to Richmond International Airport while the southwestern end was south of the Petersburg airport.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Targedy at City Point

For the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, who continued to man the siege lines south of Petersburg, no particularly arduous duty was required of them during the beginning of August 1864. It seems their only complaint was that the country behind their lines had, in many places, already been stripped of most of its produce and livestock by the cavalry. As for those places that still remained untouched, Asst. Surgeon Levi Jewett wrote, “If any plundering was done it was by stragglers or deserters, but occasionally a wandering pig or an innocent calf or an unsuspecting lamb or a simple-minded goose found its way into the soldiers’ camp kettles.”

The 9th of August was hot with temperatures in the upper nineties, and for military personnel and civilians alike at the massive wharf at City Point, the day would be remembered as the hottest ever. Two Confederate saboteurs, named John Maxwell and R. K. Dillard, slipped past the Union picket line around City Point. Maxwell had invented a time bomb, then called a horological torpedo, and he was eager to test it on Union vessels tied up at the wharf.

The day started like any other. Soldiers and sailors frequented bath houses and barber shops along the waterfront. Sutlers (traveling merchants) plied the warehouses, filling their wagons with goods for resale to the men at the front. Here and there, civilians boarded one or another of the steamers bound downriver. Quartermaster clerks sweated in stuffy offices. Hundreds of black laborers formed a human chain and joyfully tossed artillery shells from boat to railroad car. Another train, filled with passengers and cargo, waited alongside the dock waiting to depart.

At about 10:00 a.m., amid the hustle and bustle of the extremely busy port, no one gave the solitary man carrying a wooden box under his arm a second look. Maxwell paused to set the timer and then approached a fully loaded ammunition barge, the J. E. Kendrick. A guard challenged him. Maxwell said the box belonged to the captain and one of the barge’s crewmen was summoned to carry the box on board.

A huge explosion ripped through the City Point wharf area shortly before noon. The Kendrick was completely destroyed as was a second barge next to it. Fire engulfed a large warehouse nearby. Artillery shells, musket balls, bodies and body parts, and all sorts of debris were blown high and rained down over a wide area. Several officers were injured at Gen. Grant’s headquarters, but he was unhurt.

The official death toll was 43, with 126 injured. But no one knows how many black dockworkers were killed. They carried no identification. They punched no time clock. No register was kept of who was working on that fatal day, and no burials were recorded.

Maxwell and Dillard escaped without difficulty. After the war Maxwell applied for a patent for his timed exploding device that had been proven quite effective and deadly.

Political Correctness Civil War Style

Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s plan for what would become known as the Battle of the Crater was fairly simple. At a point about a half mile southeast of Petersburg, where the Confederate works were only about 125 yards away from those of the Federals, a mine would be dug underneath the works of the enemy, The mine would be filled with black powder and exploded. Before the debris had even settled, a well-trained assault force would rush toward the breach and establish a foothold within the enemy lines that would then be exploited by tens of thousands of additional troops held at the ready.

Pennsylvania miners employed their brawn and skills in digging a 500-foot-long tunnel underneath the Rebel works. At the end of the tunnel chambers were dug to the right and left, large enough to accommodate six tons of black power. The assault force was drilled over and over. They would rush forward in three columns, passing to around the edge of the crater, rather than running down into it. Once inside the Confederate works, they would split into three sections. The first would engage the enemy to the left while the second did the same on the right right. The third column would drive straight ahead toward the Jerusalem Plank Road. In the words of their commanding officer, the men “practiced these movements till they could have been executed as perfectly in the dark as in the light.” The men were also trained in the use of the weapon of choice for this assault—the bayonet.

Late in July 1864 the tunnel was completed. The mine was scheduled to explode at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 30th. The black powder arrived and was carried keg by keg down the long tunnel and stacked in the two chambers. But there was only four tons rather than six, and the fuse, which should have been a single continuous strand from powder chamber to tunnel mouth, was supplied in short sections. Many splices were required to achieve the required distance.

Alfred Waud's sketch of fighting near the explosion of July 30 (Library of Congress Digital Collection)

Alfred Waud’s sketch of fighting near the explosion of July 30 (Library of Congress Digital Collection)

two days before the scheduled explosion, Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, made a decision that doomed the entire operation to failure. The troops chosen to lead the assault were the 43rd U. S. Colored Troops, and Meade thought it “impolitic” to trust these men with so important a job. They were a new division, untried in battle, but the real reason behind Meade’s decision to shelve the 43rd USCT was because casualties would likely be high in the lead units, and he feared the political and racial criticisms he would be subject to because of the loss of more black soldiers than whites in the assault.

The lead division was then chosen by lot, not by ability. The lot fell to Brig. Gen. James Ledlie’s Division. The explosion was delayed over an hour by the faulty fuses. And when it finally did explode, Ledlie’s untrained men, led by a man whom Gen. Grant considered the worst commander in the Ninth Corps, surged forward into the pit created by the explosion. Unable to climb out, they were trapped there, and what the Confederates called a “turkey shoot” was on.

The men of the Fourteenth Connecticut, along with the rest of Second Corps, stood ready to go forward should any success be achieved by Burnside’s Ninth Corps. But there was only abject failure and the Second Corps took no part in this disaster. Total Ninth Corps casualties were 3,800, with over 500 men killed, many of whom were black soldiers from the 30th USCT. Gen. Grant said it best—”the saddest affair I have ever witnessed in the war.”

 

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.

 

 

 

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