Category Archives: Life in Camp

Tears of Joy and Sadness

The formal surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia took place on Wednesday, April 12th, 1865, exactly four years after the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Brig. Gen. Joshua Chamberlain was placed in charge of planning and conducting the ceremonies, and his only goal was to mark the occasion with an air of dignity, solemnity, and respect for the 28,000 Confederate soldiers who laid down their arms.

Chamberlain described part of the ceremony in his memoir The Passing of Armies: (Maj. Gen. John) Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,—honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!

The original members of the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry had enlisted during the summer of 1862 for a term of “three years or the duration.” By any measure they had done their duty. Joy turned instantly to deepest gloom when word was received on the 15th of the assassination of President Lincoln. A funeral service for their Commander in Chief was conducted at brigade headquarters on May 19th, even as the Lincoln’s state funeral was being held in the East Room of the White House.

Only one objective remained—return home to Connecticut, but it would happen on army time. They set up their tents near Appomattox the way they always had, in neat rows that formed streets, and camped out for three weeks. Finally, on May 2nd, they packed up their gear and began their last march. On May 6th, the Fourteenth held the lead position in the long Second Corps column as they marched through the ruins of Richmond. Then they passed in review before Gen. Henry Halleck, who watched from the steps for the former Confederate capitol building.

May 10th was a memorable day for the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut. In reverent silence they passed by the battlefield at Spotsylvania. They entered Fredericksburg from the south, passing over Marye’s Heights and down onto that dreadful plain of death where the regiment had been shattered nearly two and a half years earlier. Pontoons still bridged the Rappahannock and that evening they camped at Falmouth, very near the ground they had occupied during the long, cold winter of 1862-1863.

They reached Alexandria on May 15th, then marched in a grand review around the Capitol and down Pennsylvania Avenue. General Hancock was in attendance and one can only imagine the hearty cheers that arose from his old corps.

Finally, on May 31st, the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry received their formal discharge papers. They boarded a train and headed north through Baltimore and Philadelphia. At New York they transferred to a steamship bound for Hartford, where they arrived early on June 8th. It seemed the entire city had turned out to welcome them home, and after being suitably feted and fed, the men said their farewells and drifted away in twos and threes toward Union Station to begin the final leg of their long journey home.

PERSONAL NOTE: After almost three years and 161 blog posts, this is my last article about the Fourteenth Connecticut. It has been a privilege to honor these men and keep their record of service alive. I will keep this blog active so you can always reference it.

But do not despair. I’m starting a new Civil War video blog next Friday, May 1st, titled “Civil War Sites: On Earth and in Cyberspace.” Same schedule, same great author, new and interesting content about some of the neat things I’ve come across while researching my novels. I do hope you’ll join me. Follow me on Twitter to receive messages when a new blog is posted or you can always access my new blog (starting May 1st) through my website:  www.kbacon.com.

Andersonville – A Brief History

The tragic legacy of the treatment of prisoners of war on both sides of the Civil War is a dark stain on our national conscience and must not be forgotten. Therefore, I am planing a series of four posts during the coming weeks about the infamous prison stockade known as Camp Sumter, or Andersonville Prison. The subjects covered in the four posts will be: 1) a brief history of the prison, 2) Dorence Atwater, a true Connecticut hero, 3) the roll of members of the 14th Connecticut who died there, and 4) the final installment of the three-part story of William H. Mott of Company F.

A Brief History of Andersonville Prison

The first shipment of prisoners arrived at the tiny hamlet of Andersonville, GA on February 27, 1864. A new stockade named Camp Sumter had been built by slave labor in an effort to reduce overcrowding at other prisons such as Belle Isle in Richmond. Only enlisted men were to be kept in the stockade which was a rectangular enclosure of timber walls fifteen feet high. A small stream ran through the center of the prison for fresh water. Guard towers were built atop the walls and artillery pieces were strategically placed outside the stockade with fields of fire that could reach any place inside the prison.

Shortly after the prison opened, prisoner exchanges, a practice that had been ongoing since the start of the war, was abruptly ended by Gen. Grant. This caused the populations at prison camps throughout the south to skyrocket. By summer Andersonville Prison, which had been built to hold about 10,000 men, held about 35,000 prisoners. As might well be imagined, the small stream became polluted by both human and animal waste. The small valley through which the stream flowed became a morass of filth and came to known as “the swamp.”

A few men had died nearly every day since the prison opened, but during the summer months of 1864, men died by the hundreds of dysentery, chronic diarrhea, scurvy, typhoid fever, pneumonia, and massive edemas. Bodies were carried by the wagon load outside the camp for burial at an ever-growing cemetery.

To make matters worse a group of prisoners known as the Raiders, committed every sort of heinous crime upon other prisoners, particularly those who were “fresh fish.” Beatings and thefts of food, clothing and possessions were commonplace. Even murders occurred. Late in June an opposing group of prisoners asked and received permission from the commandant of the camp, Captain Henry Wirz, to raise a police force to subdue the Raiders and bring their leaders to justice.

As many as 150 Raiders were placed under arrest. The prisoners established a court and tried the worst of the criminals. Six were sentenced to death by hanging, and the sentence was carried out on July 11, 1864. Many of the other Raiders were beaten severely when they were forced to run a gauntlet between lines of enraged prisoners.

July was very hot and dry. All of the prisoners suffered grievously. The stream almost dried up completely. Fresh water was nonexistent. Some of the men dug wells and sold the water for whatever they could extract from their fellow prisoners. Earnest prayers wProvidence Springere sent heavenward for water. Early in August a severe storm lashed the stockade. The stream swelled to a flood and carried away a  portion of both the east and west walls. The fallen timbers were quickly seized by the prisoners and cut up for firewood. But the storm’s greatest benefit was that the deluge uncovered a fresh water spring just inside the dead line at the western side of the stockade. The spring became known as “Providence Spring.” (photo Dec. 2012)

When Gen. Sherman took Atlanta on September 2nd, Confederate authorities thought Andersonville would be his next target. Most of the prisoners in the stockade were loaded aboard railroad cars and sent to other prison camps such as Camp Lawton in Millen, GA, Savannah, Charleston or Florence, SC. When Sherman began his march to Savannah, about 5,000 men were sent from Millen and Savannah south to Blackshear, GA. Some of these prisoners were sent west to Thomasville, Ga, and then north back to Andersonville, arriving there on Christmas Eve, 1864.

With the end of the war certain, the prison began to shut down in March, 1865. Federal POWs were sent by trains and steamboats to holding camps where they were to be paroled and exchanged. April 28, 1865, is recorded as the date on which the last prisoner was buried at Andersonville. In its fourteen months of existence, approximately 45,000 soldiers had been imprisoned there. According to the list of graves compiled by Clara Barton, 12,912 perished there.

 

 

Trench Life

Life in the trenches around Petersburg during the winter months was no picnic, but the ever-present sardonic humor of the regular foot soldier shines through in this account of living conditions at Fort Morton by Sgt. Stannard (14th CT, Co. G) in History of the Fourteenth Regt., Connecticut Vol. Infantry by Charles D. Page:

Fort Morton was on the line of works not far from the Appomattox River. Sharpshooters used an old chimney back about two miles from the line. Saps and mines (trenches and tunnels dug toward the enemy) and any other old thing was a go in those days, every man had to look out for himself when a sharpshooter got after him. If a man got a hole through his body it was just a ‘ventilator.’

At this place we were obliged to live under ground, like a gopher. The shells from the rebels came into our camp too thick to make it healthy to live on top of the ground. The line of works was at the crest of the hill so that the ground descended in the front and at the rear. To build our ‘bomb proof’ we dug a trench about six feet running directly to the rear and about five feet deep. This carried the water off and left the ground dry. To make them bomb proof we dug a trench about three feet wide starting from the main trench and dug it about five feet long, then we dug out a square hole in the ground at the end of this trench, this was dug to a level with the first trench and made the floor to our house. (The photo below is of bombproofs a short distance to the north at Fort Stedman. Notice the barrels topping the chimneys.)

bomb_proofsWe then took timbers, logs or anything we could find long enough to reach across the hole and covered the hole over, excepting a small opening over which we placed a pork barrel with both ends out. This was to be the chimney for we dug out a fireplace near one corner and then covered the top over with the dirt taken out of the hole, this was piled up as high as we could get dirt to pile up. The entrance was through the trench, for a door we hung up a piece of bagging. The fireplace was a hole cut into the side of the opening and had a flue cut up to the pork barrel through which the smoke escaped.

For bunks the lower one was on the ground, the upper one was placed directly over the lower and was made with pine poles held up by crotches set into the ground at each end. In this hole four men could keep house and feel that they were safe while inside as no shell could reach them. (Four men and only two bunks meant they slept in shifts.) With a couple of hardtack boxes for cupboards and the army blankets men could make themselves comfortable, and feel that it was a luxury compared with some of the accommodations furnished by Uncle Sam. This was the usual way of building quarters when the lay of the land would permit it. In such a place four of us of the Fourteenth Connecticut Regiment kept house for several months and were comfortable as comfort goes in the army.

At four o’clock every morning we were called out to stand in the breastworks until after daylight. This was to prevent a surprise, for it would be at this time that the enemy would be most likely to
try to be familiar. But he never found us napping. Did you ever see a new recruit when he was first under fire? Well, the fool would run the risk of having his blockhead blown off if any one
should tell him to keep down out of sight of the enemy, they wanted to show what brave idiots they were. I saw one leap up on the breastworks one morning. Well, he came down again, but he had the compliments of a sharpshooter with him in the shape of a piece of lead in his hip.

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.

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.

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.