Category Archives: Men of the 14th

Fort Davis

During the middle and latter weeks of September 1864, the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry was not engaged in any fighting. Their duties included the usual manning of the picket line every four or five days and working at building and improving the fortifications at several points along the Union siege line.

One of the places the Fourteenth spent a couple of days was Fort Davis. John Hirst of Company D and younger brother of Sgt. Benjamin Hirst (wounded at Gettysburg), described the regiment’s short stay at Fort Davis: “As soon as we got nicely settled, we were ordered to leave and take a position near Fort Morton (on the Taylor farm near the site of the Crater explosion). The boys are on duty all the time, one day on the skirmish line (picket line) and the next on the reserve.”

Some of the fortifications the soldiers built during the siege can still be seen today. Fort Davis was built on the western side of the Jerusalem Plank Road and you can see what remains today on Google Earth. The Jerusalem Plank Road is now called Crater Road and the remains of Fort Davis can be found at the intersection of South Crater Road and Flank Road, right across the street from Fort Davis Shopping Center.

Fort Davis was originally named Fort Warren after the commander of the Fifth Corps, Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K Warren. However, it was renamed in honor of Col. P. Stearns Davis of the 39th Massachusetts Infantry, who was mortally wounded there by an artillery shell fragment on July 11.

From the Historical Marker Database website (www.HMdb.org) we have this description of the fort. “One of the Union soldiers assigned to this task recalled: ‘Covering about three acres of ground, it is capable of holding a brigade…. In building our fort, we dug a trench twenty feet wide and ten feet deep, and threw up the rampart on the inside. The fort was made square with a diagonal through it. We had a magazine in it, and two wells were dug for a water supply…it took eight men to get one shovelful of dirt from the bottom of the ditch to the top of the work, the men standing in little nitches cut in the side of the bank and passing the earth from one to another.’ The completed fort held a garrison of 550 men with eight field guns.” To watch a short YouTube video of the Fort Davis site, please click here.

Next week: A digital tour of the siege lines.

A Nickels Saved

Darkness ended the fight at Ream’s. Confederate Generals A. P. Hill and Henry Heth had managed the battle brilliantly. Nightfall ended the fighting. Federal reinforcements were rushing forward. With no reinforcements of his own to be had, Hill disengaged his troops, withdrew northward to the defensive perimeter around Petersburg, and the Weldon Railroad remained under Federal control.

On the battlefield, hundreds of small, private battles went on. In History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Vol. Infantry, Charles D. Page included this account of Sgt. Henry Lydall (Company F). Lydall tells of his own fight to escape the battlefield, and of his dedicated service to one of the regiment’s officers. (I have made a few minor edits to make it more readable.)

In the afternoon of August 25th, 1864, during a charge upon the Confederate batteries on the battlefield of Ream’s Station, our advancing line suddenly broke and retreated. Overwhelmed by the terrific fire that was raining down upon us, and being slightly in advance of our main line, I suddenly realized that our forces were on the retreat. I was left almost alone, and it seemed to me as though the whole fire of the enemy was directed at me. Realizing at that moment the wisdom of the old adage that “discretion is the better part of valor,” I immediately hunted for cover, which I found in a deserted rifle-pit a short distance to the rear.

Here I found a comparatively safe, but unpleasant shelter, where I was compelled to lie flat until the shadows of night concealed me from the view of the enemy. When peering forth I could see the flickering lights of many lanterns, and I knew that the human vultures were at their unholy work of robbing the dead and wounded. I crept from my place of concealment and began making my way cautiously over the field without knowing which way to go, when suddenly I heard a call from a comrade who had fallen wounded in two places. I stopped and made him as comfortable as possible with the means at hand, cutting cornstalks to make him a bed. Since he was suffering terribly from thirst, I started out in search of a spring that I knew to be somewhere in that vicinity.

Rounding a hill or knoll where I supposed the spring to be I found myself in the midst of quite a force of the rebs and a prisoner of war. Not forgetting my own terrible thirst, I managed to work my way through to the spring and was filling my canteen when I felt a hand upon my back. Turning with the expectation of seeing a rebel guard, I was delighted to find not only a Union soldier, but a member of my own company. Comrade Pardee and I determined to attempt to escape under cover of the darkness. Guessing as nearly as possible the direction necessary to seek for our forces, we worked our way cautiously over the battlefield until we came to the breastworks we had assisted in throwing up that day.

A voice called for assistance. Stopping to investigate, we found it came from Captain Nickels, Company D, who lay wounded, shot through the leg and unable to move. To add to his misery the rebel cavalry had been there and robbed him of hat, coat, watch, money and other valuables, and only desisted from taking his boots because, in trying to remove them from his wounded limb, they caused him such intolerable suffering as to touch the heart of even a rebel cavalryman. As if to add still more to the poor Captain’s suffering, the rain began to pour down in torrents, and not being able to carry him, we made him as comfortable as possible with our rubber blankets to protect him somewhat from the inclemency of the weather.

We started out, hoping to get assistance that we might return and bring the Captain within our lines where he could be cared for. We had proceeded perhaps two miles in the direction he had pointed out to us when we met Adjutant Hincks and another comrade. They had heard Captain Nickels was left on the field and were coming back in search of him. With them we retraced our steps and brought the wounded man to where our ambulance train was stationed. Adjutant Hincks left me to take charge of the captain until we should reach such a place as he could be attended to by the surgeons.

But the end of that night’s hardships was over, for after the ambulance had started, it went over stumps and stones and uneven ground, making such a thumping and jostling, that Captain Nickels was unable to endure the pain it caused. I was compelled to procure a stretcher and, with such help as I could procure from stragglers, I tramped along through that whole night. Sometimes I would be without help and would be compelled to wait. I accosted weary stragglers as they passed, imploring them to give the Captain a little assistance towards safety and the treatment he so much needed.

Fourteen weary miles we tramped carrying the wounded man that night, through woods and swamps and over rocks until, just as day dawned upon us, we reached the hospital tent, more dead than alive, and left the brave man to the tender mercies of the surgeons.

Foragers’ Delight

On Friday, June 24th, after the sad affair along the Jerusalem Plank Road, the Fifth Corps came up to the long line of earthworks along the road to relieve the Second Corps. The weary men marched a couple of miles east and camped in some woods for the weekend. The weather continued hot and dry. Dust and thirst were their constant companions. On Monday, the 27th they continued eastward, crossed the Petersburg and Norfolk Railroad, and then marched another three miles toward the James River. The total distance marched was only about five miles, but many fell by the wayside because of the intense heat.

The army was being supplied by scores of steamships that came up the James River from Hampton Roads every day. During the early weeks of the siege the U. S. Military Railroad had not yet been built, so the Union soldiers were being supplied the way they had during most of the conflict, by wagon trains. Gibbon’s Second Division was used as a strong picket line to protect the wagon trains from Rebel attacks. Their position was probably between Prince George and Hopewell.

A huge bonus in this guard duty was that food was abundant. According to Sgt. Edward Wade (Co. F, 14th CT), as recorded by Charles Page in The History of the Fourteenth Regiment, “There were quite a number of plantations around here, and plenty of hogs, cows, sheep, geese, and turkeys which were confiscated by the troops. The inhabitants had mostly cleared out and left what they couldn’t carry with them, which came very handy for us. Some of their provisions they had put in barrels and hid in the woods nearby, but soldiers’ eyes are ever open….” Wade also reported that they had to dig several wells to get suitable drinking water.

Now, here’s the weird part. This guard duty and foraging expedition lasted only for one day. On Tuesday, June 28th, at about eleven in the morning, the men were ordered to march back toward the front. But they must not have returned empty handed, because Sgt. Wade added, “We lived well for a while.”

Tribute to a Fallen Hero

Captain Samuel W. FiskeWhile the armies were locked in a deadly stalemate around Spotsylvania Courthouse, a private and poignant scene was being played out a several miles to the north at a Federal military hospital in Fredericksburg. Captain Samuel W. Fiske, Company G of the Fourteenth Connecticut, was dying with his young wife and his two little children at his bedside.

If you have not already done so, please read my post a.k.a Dunn Browne to learn more about how and why this minister of the gospel became an officer in the infantry. Also of special interest is my post Captain Fiske: Dead or Alive about his capture during the Battle of Chancellorsville.

In his last letter to the Springfield Republican, Captain Fiske revealed his pastor’s heart as he wrote of his belief that if the general officers would simply talk to the men, and explain what was needed and why, the men might be inspired to even greater service to the army and the country. He closed that final letter as follows:

I believe a good deal more might be made by a different course of proceeding, that our boys are something more than shooting machines, or if machines, that there are strings and pulleys and wheels in them that mere military orders don’t reach, and yet which might have much effect in deciding battles—these great and terrible battles that are to decide this opening campaign, and probably bring the war to an end—these coming successes (as we devoutly hope) that are to atone for the disgraceful reverses our arms have this spring sustained in every quarter where they have been engaged. Oh for power to speak a word that might thrill the breast of every Union soldier and rouse in him that holy enthusiasm for our right cause, which should make every blow struck irresistible, and carry our arms victorious right into the citadel of rebellion, and conquer a right peace. One or two of Meade’s modest, earnest orders, published to the army near the Gettysburg times, had a wonderfully happy effect. I trust more may be issued, and that every opportunity may be taken to inspire the patriotism and enthusiasm of our troops, and keep before their minds the great principles which first sent them forth from their peaceful homes to fight for endangered liberty and republican government, for God and freedom throughout the world.

Yours truly, DUNN BROWNE

Early on the morning of May 6th, during the Battle of the Wilderness, Captain Fiske was leading his company in an attempt to stem the frenzied assaults of Longstreet’s corps when he was struck in the chest by a single bullet. When his men were forced to fall back, they carried their stricken captain to the rear. After receiving cursory treatment at a field hospital, he was sent to Fredericksburg by ambulance.

The bullet had penetrated his right lung. At the time, internal surgery was in its infancy, and efforts to extract the bullet were not successful. The sad news was telegraphed to his wife, Lizzie, who traveled by train to Fredericksburg. She was able to spend several days with her husband, who was in good spirits until the end. But on Sunday, May 22nd, he knew his time had come. “Today I shall receive my marching orders,” he said. “Well, I am ready.”

Amen, Brother Fiske. You fought the good fight to the end.

Mud on the Wing

On Monday, May 2nd, the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry looked eastward from their camp atop Stony Mountain and saw an ominous red cloud swirling in their direction. According to Capt. Samuel Fiske, “one of the boys exclaimed, ‘That’s genuine Virginia mud taking to itself wings.'”

Fiske termed the storm a “tornado of dust.” Within minutes, strong wind gusts buffeted the encampment. the men were driven to shelter in their huts. “We could readily believe,” Fiske wrote, “that the earth was whirling from west to east as rapidly as the astronomers tell us, and moreover that she evidently meant to leave us behind.” Tree limbs snapped. Some trees were blown down completely. One large pine crushed the hut of Col. Ellis, but he was elsewhere.

The storm passed on as quickly as it had come up. Despite its fury, injuries were few and minor. But the dust was everywhere. The men spent the remainder of the day beating the dust out of their clothing and bedding. They swept every nook and cranny of their humble log huts, fixed canvas roofs, and cleaned the wind driven debris throughout the camp. By evening, order had been restored to the entire encampment and the men settled in for a quiet night’s sleep.

The very next day orders came down the chain of command to pack everything up, draw rations and ammunition, and be ready to move out by dawn on May 4th. The 1864 campaign season had begun.

Communion Before Battle

On Sunday, April 24th, 1864, a final worship service was held in the brigade chapel at Stony Mountain. At the time, the Fourteenth Connecticut was without a chaplain. Captain Samuel Fiske, on extended leave as pastor of the Congregational church in Madison, CT, was offered the chaplaincy, but declined, preferring to remain in front lines in the fight to preserve the Union. In the following letter which was dated the following day, we see Fiske as a participant in worship while others led the worship and administered the sacrament.

Dear Republican: We had a very precious day yesterday, and the thought of it was a comfort all through the hard work of the evening; for we sat down at the Lord’s table, and held sweet communion with him and with one another. Twelve men (of the 108th New York mostly, but one or two from our regiment) were baptized; about twenty-five professed their solemn faith in, and made everlasting covenant with, Christ, to be his henceforth. We had a short, comprehensive creed and covenant for them to assent to and take upon themselves; and then seventy-five or eighty, perhaps, partook of the sacrament.

I never had a sweeter time in my life. I have no doubt of the perfect propriety of our action in having this season; for the Lord was evidently present to bless. Mr. Grassey (108th New York) was very happy in all his remarks and services; Mr. Murphy (1st Delaware) assisted; Capt. Hawley and Capt. Price passed the elements. We had just our usual soldiers’ bread, and the wine in two pewter cups, poured from a brown stone pitcher; and there was no white linen to represent that which was wrapped around the Savior’s body: but every thing seemed decent and in order, and we all enjoyed the season as if it were the very institution of the ordinance in that upper room in Jerusalem.

It was the last service we shall have, I suppose, in our little log chapel. The roof comes down today to be carried back to the Christian Commission again; and we worship God in the open air for the summer.

 

An Orphan’s War – Part 2

As we draw nearer to the start of the Overland Campaign during the spring of 1864, I thought it would be useful to present the second part of the uniquely interesting story of Private William H. E. Mott. I gave you the first part of this story, An Orphan’s War – Part 1, August 23, 2013, and it might be helpful to read that post again before delving into this second part. Note: The material below is from background material included in The Diary of a Dead Man, 1862-1864, the unedited diary and letters of Private Ira Pettit, compiled by J. P. Ray. Mott was instrumental in preserving Pettit’s diary for Pettit’s parents.

Returns of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Infantry (Co. F), acknowledged that Private William E. Mott was gained as a recruit at Cedar Run, Virginia, on August 11, 1863. The gaps left in the Union Army at Gettysburg were being filled.

During September, 1863, the Fourteenth Regiment advanced from the Rappahannock to the Rapidan. It participated in the Bristoe Campaign in October and the Mine Run Campaign in late November and early December. After those affrays it remained at Stevensburg, Virginia, until April, 1864. In the comparative calm of winter quarters during late February, 1864, Private Mott contracted a case of measles.

Grant’s Army of the Potomac started on its journey to Appomattox one early morning in May, 1864, although at the moment it was unaware of its exact and final destination. This army, whose polish paled the morning dew that rolled truculently off its boots and lay the early morning’s dust, began its journey through a thick, second growth forest in search of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Beyond that wilderness, Robert E. Lee, whose army had been washed in its own blood, seasoned by the salt of its own tears, and inspired by its own history, would not wait for the sophisticated and manicured Army of the Potomac. With the speed and agility of a moccasin in water, Lee’s army plunged into this wilderness to meet that army and to fight it wherever it was found.

In the bloody and fiery confusion that came to be known as the Battles of the Wilderness, William H. E. Mott became disconnected from the Army of the Potomac. Various records of the Fourteenth Regiment recorded various theories of his departure. On May 4 he was reported to have deserted on the march, and on May 6 it was recorded that he deserted at Wilderness. Finally, the company muster rolls stated that he was taken prisoner at the Battles of the Wilderness on May 6, 1864, thereby accounting for him, statistically, from desertion.

Wherever and whatever the circumstances of his departure from the Fourteenth Regiment, the Rebels took possession of his corporal limits at Wilderness/ Fredericksburg, Virginia, on May 8, 1864. Private Mott was confined at Richmond, Virginia, on May 9, 1864, and on June 8, 1864, he was sent to the Andersonville Stockade, Camp Sumter, Georgia. Confed­erate records do not provide any information concerning the terms, time, place or manner under which they dismissed William Mott from their custody.

Note: Yes, there will be a Part 3 to Private Mott’s story. Look for it next fall or winter.