Category Archives: Recruitment & Training

Battle at Bristoe

On October 3rd, 1863, Capt. Samuel Fiske wrote to his Springfield Republican readers: I am pleasantly disappointed in the behavior of these new recruits taken as a whole. There are some rough characters among them, and some state prison birds, but the larger part of those that are left (the worst deserted in the first few days) are doing their duty with a good will, and will make good soldiers. I have forty-five of them in my company, and am getting to be right proud of their drill and general appearance.

Only eleven days later, Fiske’s new recruits faced their first test in battle. At this time the Second Corps was under the temporary command of Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren because Gen. Hancock was still recovering from the wound he received at Gettysburg. On Saturday, October 10th, Gen. Warren started the corps on a march of more than a dozen miles, a reconnaissance in force to the north of Culpeper in search of Confederate forces that were known to be on the move.

Finding nothing, the Seconds Corps marched another eighteen miles on Sunday. They crossed the Rappahannock River and camped just west of Bealeton on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. On Monday, they inexplicably reversed course, recrossed the Rappahannock, and marched here and there chasing elusive Confederate cavalry units until 6 p.m. when, according to Capt. Fiske, “we halted, cooked our supper with about four miles of fence rails, and retired to rest.”

Bristoe_Campaign[This Wikipedia map shows the general movements of the armies during the Bristoe Campaign.]

Late that night, it was learned that Lee’s men had marched completely around the Army of the Potomac to the north. The enemy was perilously close to gaining a position between the federals and their capital city of Washington. The Second Corps marched back across the Rappahannock, now with a sense of urgency. By Tuesday evening they had covered twenty-five miles and bivouacked near Warrenton.

The enemy was close, very close. On Wednesday, October 14th, near the village of Auburn, the men of the Fourteenth loaded their weapons and prepared to battle Confederate cavalry, but Union artillery drove the enemy away before they could do much damage. The Second Corps turned southeast, reached the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, then marched along the east side of the railroad toward Washington. For many it seemed very much like another retreat.

Bristoe MapThe map at the right shows the placement of each regiment involved in the Battle of Bristoe. Please click on it to view a larger map from the Civil War Trust in a new window.

About 3 p.m. the Fourteenth Connecticut was marching in column parallel to the railroad, and about 500 yards southeast of it, when suddenly, they came under fire from enemy shot and shell. Col. Ellis recorded the action of the Fourteenth in his official report:

We were marching along the easterly side of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad when we came in sight of the enemy, posted on a hill some five hundred yards west of the railroad, our column marching by the right flank, being about the same distance east of it. Coming up opposite the enemy’s batteries on the double-quick, the regiment was marched to the front in line of battle across the railroad, and through a piece of woods to its farther edge, where we remained for some time in line of battle. In advancing toward the railroad we met with most of our loss, from a severe infantry fire from our front and right. (Note the advanced position of Smyth’s Brigade in the Civil War Trust map.)

The enemy being driven off from the position on the hill to our front, we were ordered to advance. After advancing a short distance, we observed a line of battle of the enemy through the woods to our left. We immediately changed front to left, and engaged such part of the line as could be seen through the openings. Receiving orders to fall back to the railroad, we did so, and remained lying in line of battle along its easterly side until the troops were withdrawn at night.

Although the brunt of A. P. Hill’s assaults on the Federal lines fell mostly upon Gen. Webb’s Division and Owen’s Brigade of Hays’ Division, the Fourteenth Connecticut still lost four men killed and twenty-six wounded. They had been tested in battle, and while there was some confusion with the new troops in executing complex movement and formation orders, they generally performed well. More importantly, the Second Corps stopped Lee’s final offensive campaign in its tracks, and the Confederates began a slow retreat southward back to Orange County.

The New Regiment

It is almost laughable to see the anxiety with which the stragglers from the various from the various regiments have been rushing back to their commands within the last few days, and the eagerness with which they put in their excuses.  (Capt. Samuel Fiske, Sept. 21, 1863)

Executions for desertion throughout the Army of the Potomac did cause many men to return to the ranks, but many more never did. At the end of September, 1863, the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry carried the names of nine hundred men on its active duty roster, but only five hundred and eighty officers and enlisted men were present for duty.

Colonel Theodore G. Ellis

Major Theodore Ellis (pictured at left) received two promotions in quick succession, to lieutenant-colonel on September 22 and to colonel on October 11. Captain Samuel Moore of Company F was promoted to major on September 22 and to lieutenant-colonel on October 11. Captain Carpenter of Company C was transferred to the Invalid Corps, a result of nagging wounds received at Fredericksburg, Finally, Captain Davis of Company H was called to account for his frequent lapses in judgement, and dismissed from the army for neglect of duty at a conscript camp near New Haven.

Barely a year in the field, none of the ten companies of the Fourteenth was commanded by its original captain. With the exceptions of Moore and Davis, the other eight were either killed, died of wounds, or discharged for medical reasons. Charles Page wrote in his History of the Fourteenth, “This may have given rise to the very common adage in the regiment that “if one belonged to the Fourteenth Connecticut he would either meet death or promotion within a year.”

Fiction Connection: 1st Lt. James Simpson of Company D would be promoted to captain of Company C on October 20th. In An Eye for Glory the new captain will, during the coming months, learn to rely heavily on the knowledge and skill of Sergeant Michael Palmer, who is now one of the few remaining “old soldiers.”

Out of Control

After his acquittal on the bogus court-martial charge, Captain Samuel Fiske served as an inspector-general for the army. One of the regiments he inspected in the course of his duties was his own, the Fourteenth Connecticut, which was now encamped at Elk Run.

Immediately upon his arrival, Fiske was told, “Only ten gone since last roll call.” Fiske wrote: Three thousand dollars worth of New England’s purchased heroes had vanished within the two hours previous to my arrival; $18,000 worth in the three days previous. Sixty out of two hundred and ten in one regiment, and the ratio increasing constantly. One of them boasted that he had already made $1800 in the substitute business. Several others had sold themselves twice. Another who had gambled away the most of the $300 that constituted his prize, in order to get himself in funds again (temporarily till the next sale), stole $75 which one of our good boys had just had paid him, on the night he left.

Three hundred passed our headquarters last night—all substitutes—at least one-third of them scoundrels who had been engaged in the New York riots, and found it convenient to retire a little while into the country, took the $300 to pay their expenses.

Some of them won’t go back. Two were killed and several wounded on their way here from the station, seeking to break guard. We can, probably, by letting the enemy go unwatched, and turning our whole attention to these northern friends, be able to catch some of them as they are deserting, and by shooting save ourselves from any further trouble from those individuals.

Fiske’s words would prove prophetic. Next week’s post will deal with one of the most tragic events in the history of the Fourteenth Connecticut: the execution of two men for desertion.


A Real Character

As an author of fiction, I’m always in need of colorful, true-to-life characters. One of the characters  we meet briefly in An Eye for Glory is the new recruit Caesar Ferretti. I based Caesar on two real new recruits who joined the Fourteenth Connecticut during August, 1863, Antonio Capellini and Joshua Tripp.

According to Charles D. Page, Antonio was “a small man of dark complexion and baboon face, all overgrown with hair. No one could converse with him or find out where he was born. He could be taught but one duty of a soldier and that was that of drawing his rations. He was most careless of Uncle Sam’s property and when on the march he always straggled and would throw away his gun, bayonet, knapsack, haversack and canteen. It was a common thing to see him brought back with his few remaining effects crowded into an old grain bag slung over his shoulder.”

Page wrote of Tripp: “Unlike his scriptural namesake, who led the children of Israel into the land of promise, Joshua was not designed by nature to assist in leading the Army of the Potomac into the promised land of victory. In fact this second Joshua’s intellect was so infinitesimal that he could hardly tell the muzzle of his gun from the breech and many remember the ludicrous attempts to teach him how to shoulder his gun. Few will forget his being mounted upon a barrel at the quarters of the Brigade Guard and the frequent trips of the major to attempt to teach him this first requisite of a soldier’s service. This, however. was useless and was only terminated when the head of the barrel gave way and poor Tripp passed temporarily out of sight.”

Such was the quality of some of the new members of the valiant Fourteenth Regiment. Here’s how Michael Palmer, who had been recently promoted to sergeant, described my composite character, Caesar Ferretti, in a letter to his wife. “He’s an Italian bricklayer about thirty years of age from Bridgeport. He’s short of stature with dark brown, almost black, wiry hair, a full, equally dark moustache, deep brown eyes, and a scruffy unkempt beard,… Although he speaks little English, Caesar made it clear he thought the army would be more enjoyable than masonry, but that was before he had been many days with us… Regular and repeated discipline has failed to produce any lasting positive effect—Caesar simply accepts his fate with a sheepish grin and a shrug of the shoulders. I can only conclude the cause is futile…. I can only hope when the fighting resumes, that Private Ferretti will cause no harm to himself or any others of the regiment who happen to be close by.”


An Orphan’s War – Part 1

Substitute conscript William E. Mott arrived at Cedar Run on August 11th, 1863. He was not extraordinary in any way. Mott was of average appearance—five-five, fair complexion, brown hair—and his service with in Company F, Fourteenth Connecticut would be unexceptional. Nonetheless, his story is a most compelling one, and it will require at least three posts to tell. Mott described how he became a soldier to the U. S. Pension Office in a series of letters written nearly fifty years after his enlistment.

“Dear Sir In regard about my certificate of my Berth, it will be Doubtfull if I can find eny statment ove my Bearth when I was Bornd ore where I was Bornd at but I think I herd my Mother say that I was in N.Y. city have sent on to see if it was on the Regster The first I remembr living was Wickford R.I. soon after we moved to Fairhaven Mass Mother died there when I was 8 years old and soon after Father died, the six children scattered two Brothers and one Sister I have not seen sence then tryed find them when I come out of the army but could not so you can see how I am fix and I think you will find houndreds of Soulders will be in the same fix.

“As I wer in R.I. State Reform School at Proverdence city R.I. James M. Talcot Superendent of the School at that time 1863 had A friend N. H. Luomes (Rev. Nathaniel H. Lewis) was Drafted A Hartford conn and they hird me to go as A subtuttet for him at $5.00 A month for three years, after I come out the army I was hired to work in the shoe shop at the school.

” In regard about my age from the school at Proverdence city R.I. I know I wer older than they clame I am. As I wer Perfect stranger to the Judge and court at New Port R.I. I clamed I was pass 18 years old at that time 1861 but the Judge thort I was not so old, so he must have put my age down lest so to get me in the school as I wer not known at New Port R.I. as I had jest come from New Bedford Mass, my mother dided when I was 8 years old as I had no home or eny one to look after me they sent me to the school.

“When I Listed 1863 I was pass 19 going on 20 when I Listed at Hartford I am not sure Whether I gived my age or the Officer From the school as the Officer come up with me to take me back to the school if I did not pass I did not have eny thing to say as I wer pushed in to tak another man place N. H. Loumes (Lewis) A Preacher as he was drafted. As there was no fight in him I was taken out R I in Conn. I cant see how it was don. I never got A dollar when Listed but was to $5 a munt when I come home but if I had got killed as soon as I got to the front I suppose he would never had to pay eny thing I think I was put in the army cheep dont you think so cant you find out my age by my Army Discriptive List I suppose I will have to stand in the school age as I cant do eny thing better co F 14 conn co D 2 conn H.A. W E Mott.”

Note: The above 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.

Cedar Run

On August 1st, 1863, after marching over 400 miles and fighting the Battle of Gettysburg since leaving Falmouth on June 14th, the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut, found themselves at Bristow, Virginia, on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. This weakened regiment was now less than a hundred strong. They were detached from the Second Corps, along with their comrades of the Twelfth New Jersey, for a period of rest and rebuilding.

From Bristow they marched a few miles southeast to Cedar Run. Although I haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact location of this encampment, I believe it was near the village of Brentsville between Bristow Road (Route 619) and Aden Road (Route 646). Even today there are many open fields for drilling troops, plenty of water for drinking, washing, and cooking, and woodlands for firewood and shade from the summer sun.

The two regiments would remain encamped at Cedar Run until August 18th. It was during these peaceful days that the first replacement recruits began arrive. As Charles Page related in his History of the Fourteenth Regiment, on August 6th, “Captain Davis, who had been detailed to go to Connecticut for recruits, returned to camp with forty-two out of one hundred and seventeen with which he started, the rest having deserted along the way, most of them when the boat arrived in New York.”

While some of the new men went on to become first-rate soldiers, most were what Page called “not only conscripts, but nondescripts.” They represented fifteen to twenty different nationalities, many different walks of life, and of course possessed varying degrees of basic virtues. The “old soldiers” viewed each new recruit with suspicion, and sometimes with open contempt, until the new man proved himself trustworthy.

As I remarked in my post “Filling the Ranks,” desertion on the way to the front could be a profitable enterprise for the repeat bounty-jumper. The army would react to counter these mass desertions with armed escorts from the home state to the front. There would also be an increase in executions for desertion, and as we will see, there would be tragic consequences for the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut.

A Day in the Life

Little of substance has been written about Lt. Col. Sanford Perkins. Sgt. Hirst blamed every misfortune and discomfort on his commanding officers, and he particularly didn”t like Perkins. Soldiers were always concerned with the smallest creature comforts, and it was common for a soldier to trim off the end of his belt so it fit just right. Immediately after the battle of Antietam, Lt. Col. Perkins ordered every man who had shortened his belt should to pay the price of a new belt.

Lt. Col. Perkins was certainly a strict disciplinarian, and discipline was something the Fourteenth Connecticut would need if the men were to fight well and survive. That Perkins was also a man of courage there can be no doubt. He would lead from the front, and he would pay a heavy price in the regiment’s next battle.

While at Bolivar the daily routine for the men was similar to the one below, as Charles Page recorded it in his History:

  • 5:30 – A five minute drum roll awakened the men. Any not standing properly attired for roll call when the drum roll ended would be placed on report for discipline.
  • 5:45-7:30 – Breakfast. The men had to fetch their own firewood and water to cook their meals.
  • 7:30 – Sick call. It was typical for the surgeon to perform a cursory examination of each man, and then return him to duty. Only the seriously ill would be sent to the hospital, and by then it was often too late.
  • 8:00 – Mounting of the guard. Thirty men would be selected from the ten companies of the regiment, and while the band played martial music, the guard detail would march outside the works to man the picket line for the next twenty-four hours.
  • 8:30-11:00 – Company or battalion drill. This was their basic training and it would have included marching and formation drills as well as the much needed manual of arms drill.
  • 11:00-3:00 – Down time for the men during which they would fix dinner, write letters, and see to maintaining and perhaps improving their daily existence.
  • 3:00-5:30 – More drill ending in dress parade, when the men were dismissed for the evening. After supper the men would gather in small groups to talk, play cards, or sing camp songs. It was also common for the regimental band to play evening concerts.
  • 8:00 – Roll call.
  • 9:00 – Lights out.