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.

 

Boydton Plank Road – Part 2

In this enterprise the now depleted ranks of the Fourteenth Regiment were called upon to take a prominent part. (Charles D. Page, History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Conn. Vol. Infantry.)

Last week we left our friends in the Fourteenth Connecticut after they, with lots of help from Federal artillery and other portions of Hancock’s Second Corps, had seized control of the vital Confederate supply route southwest of Petersburg, the Boydton Plank Road. In the vicinity of Burgess Mill on Hatcher’s Run, Confederate Gen. Henry Heth organized a strong counterattack of infantry and cavalry and sent them forward to attack the Second Corps from three sides simultaneously. The Wikipedia map below shows the scope of the battle during the afternoon of October 27th. The Fourteenth Connecticut was part of the Second Division, now commanded by Brig. Gen. Thomas Egan, because Maj. Gen. John Gibbon had been given a corps command.

Petersburg_Oct27Wikipedia

The Second and Third Divisions of the Second Corps were almost cutoff from the rest of the army, but they didn’t panic as they had at Ream’s Station. They fought hard and held their positions along the road until nightfall, when Gen. Hancock ordered the corps to withdraw. Sgt. and Color-bearer John Hirst of Company D provides interesting details about the regiments role in the battle:

Just then (about 1:00 p.m.) a heavy rain storm came up and drenched us to the skin, compelling us to lay still until it was over. After the storm was over the artillery upon both sides opened fire and the battle commenced again. The rebels were not idle. but hard at work upon our right flank where they drove in our cavalry and were making for our battery, which their guns were trying to silence. We were moved at double-quick for a little way when we saw the Johnnies forming behind a house and barn pretty close to our battery. We charged them and drove them down the road to a mill near a bridge where we captured a few of them, the remainder of them crossing the bridge and going up a hill into some woods.

They came near fetching me upon their last charge, a rifle ball cut the strap of my knapsack clean off my shoulder and went through my rubber blanket. The knapsack, lurching over to one side. nearly threw me down. Some of the boys reached for me and the colors, but I was all right, and if they don’t get nearer than that I shall remain so.

We next took possession of one of their rifle-pits on the brow of a hill opposite to the Rebels, but with the creek (Hatcher’s Run) between us. If we could have brought a few more men into action when we first came up, we might have captured that rebel battery, but we had to stop before reaching it as we were exposed to a flank attack and we had to fight upon both flanks as well as at the front while the rest of the corps was coming up. The rebels wanted the plank road real bad and during the day charged it three times, but were each time repulsed by portions of our Second and Third Divisions. If the Johnnies could have got the road our whole brigade would have been captured, for there was no getting out with the enemy fighting us on every side.

After dark we began to get out, a few men at a time, silently falling back over the hill, where we were reformed preparatory to moving back to camp. We left behind us one man from each company on picket and also Dr. Dudley with our killed and wounded who were unable to walk. I think the rebels had us in a pretty tight place and a part of the Fifth and Ninth Corps had to come out and open a road in our rear. The roads were ankle deep in mud. but we kept up our return march until two o’clock in the morning when we rested until daylight, when the Fifth Corps left us and our brigade was put on duty as rear guard. We finally got back into our lines all right and last night we got into our old camp, where I am now writing.

Casualties to the regiment during this battle were: 1 officer and 3 enlisted men killed, 1 officer and 11 enlisted men wounded, and 14 enlisted men captured by the enemy.

 

 

 

 

Boydton Plank Road – Part 1

The idea for Federal forces to go on the offensive one more time before winter descended upon the siege lines around Petersburg originated with Maj. Gen, George Meade. On the evening of October 23, 1864, he discussed his plan with Lt. Gen. U. S. Grant. It was similar in design to the strategy of attacking both flanks simultaneously that had been used with mixed results throughout the summer and early fall, but the force employed would be larger, and the attack on the western front would cover a wider section of the Confederate line. Intelligence Meade had gathered from Confederate prisoners indicated that the entrenchments west of the Union line at Fort Cummings were poorly constructed and there were but few defenders.

BoydtonPR-1c

The map above was drawn in 1865. Fort Cummings is marked in bright red and in October 1864, no Federal fortifications had been built to the south and west. Fort Cummings was the end of the line. Meade’s strategy was simple. While Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler demonstrated against the Confederate lines east of Richmond with the Army of the James, the Army of the Potomac would assault the weak Confederate lines southwest of Petersburg with three corps of infantry—about 35,000 men. The three corps were the Second under Maj. Gen Winfield S. Hancock, the Fifth under Maj. Gen. G. K. Warren, and the Ninth under Maj. Gen. John Parke. The Fifth and Ninth were to drive hard against the Rebel works and be ready to instantly exploit the breakthrough that was sure to come. It was the Second Corps’ job to march hard for the Boydton Plank Road and, once it was securely in Federal hands, strike northward toward the South Side Railroad. To the left (south) of the Second Corps, Gen. Gregg’s division of cavalry guarded the flank.

At about 3:30 a.m. on Thursday, October 27, the three columns of infantry moved out. Things went poorly from the start. Parke’s Corps moved slowly westward. Light rain and mist made the way slippery with mud. Officers didn’t know the roads and sporadic Confederate sharpshooting hindered their progress. When they finally did come upon the main Confederate line, it proved to be much stouter and more heavily manned than they had been told. No further progress was made and with the day but half spent, Parke’s men dug in.

Warren’s Corps fared little better. They lost their bearings in the dark and when they finally did get headed in the right direction, they ran into Confederate resistance north of Armstrong’s Mill. Pushing on a little farther, Warren’s men also discovered that Federal intelligence was wrong. A strongly enemy line of entrenchments lay across their line of advance. Warren, who was an engineer before the war, stopped and analyzed the situation.

Hancock’s Second Corps had marched farther than either of the other two corps to take part in this assault on the Boydton Plank Road, and again on this day they would be required to march the farthest. I drew the route of the Second Corps, which included the two hundred or so members of the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, on the map above. After marching south on Halifax Road, they turned west toward Hatcher’s Run where they came upon resistance. Sgt. John Hirst (Co. D) wrote, “There was one regiment from Georgia that tried to hold the works, but it was broken and scattered through the woods.”

Once across Hatcher’s Run, the corps turned northwest an marched along a very narrow road past Dabney’s Mill. As the column approached the Boydton Plank Road, Confederate artillery opened up on them. Sgt. Hirst again describes the action, “Our skirmishers on one side and our cavalry on the other soon outflanked them and they had to fall back. In the meantime our artillery came up and opened fire, under cover of which we got possession of the road.”

Another of Gen. Lee’s vital supply routes was now in Federal hands, but Confederate forces were rushing to face this new threat. The Second Corps was once again dangling unsupported at the end of the line, just as it had when the Confederates had almost destroyed the corps at Ream’s Station. Hancock had been personally humiliated then and his confidence in his men was shaken. Next week, we’ll see if the once superb Hancock had one more great fight left in him.

Blue October

It has been three months since I last wrote about the progress of the war. During the autumn months of 1864, many battles and smaller engagements were fought in which Federal forces were more often victorious. The tide of war had indeed shifted against the South and Confederate commanders, with the exception of Gen. Lee, employed strategies that were more desperate and risky.

In Georgia, after the fall of Atlanta, Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood regrouped what remained of his beaten army and marched to the west and north around Gen. William T. Sherman’s Federal forces. Hood pounced on Sherman’s main supply line, the railroad from Chattanooga to Atlanta. On October 5th, A small Federal garrison at Allatoona Pass held fast despite taking heavy casualties. Hood was forced to withdraw. Sherman was faced with a difficult choice—either use his veteran army to protect the railroad all the way back to Nashville or abandon the railroad and allow the army to live off the land. Sherman proposed this strategy to Gen. Grant. On November 15th Sherman’s notorious “March to the Sea” began while Hood moved west across northern Alabama in preparation for his daring and ill-fated invasion of Tennessee.

Rear Admiral David D. Porter, who commanded the Mississippi River Squadron during the Vicksburg campaign was given command of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron on October 12th. Almost immediately he began laying plans to take Fort Fisher that guarded the Confederacy’s only major port on the eastern seaboard.

In the Shenandoah Valley, on October 19th, after three months of back and forth fighting, Confederate Gen. Jubal Early launched an early morning attack against Gen. Philip Sheridan’s much larger army that was dug in along Cedar Creek south of Winchester, VA. The attack was initially successful, but the Federals rallied, and Sheridan, who arrived late on the field of battle, led his troops to victory. Early’s force ceased to be a threat in the valley, and Sheridan would soon be called to serve as a corps commander at Petersburg.

curtis_web

Maj. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis

At the end of August, Confederate Gen. Sterling Price started his 12,000-man army northward from Arkansas. His goal was to take Missouri back for the Confederacy, along with the vital city of St. Louis. Price accomplished neither objective. Although he did win several engagements over inferior Federal forces, Union Gen. Samuel Curtis brought several commands together a few miles southeast of Kansas City. At Westport on October 23rd, in what became known as “The Gettysburg of the West,” Price’s army was soundly defeated and would not present a threat for the remainder of the war.

While the stalemate of Petersburg entered its fifth month, forces in blue were gaining victories throughout the theater of war. Rebel forces that had been viable and strong were so decimated that many of the Federal troops that had been used to defeat them would be used in Virginia or elsewhere to finally bring an end to conflict.

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.

Lee Loses a Stronghold

As September 1864 drew to a close, Lt. Gen. U. S. Grant renewed his efforts to cut Petersburg off from its supply routes. Only two such routes remained south of the Appomattox River, the Boydton Plank Road and the South Side Railroad. As a rubber band can only stretch so far before it breaks, so Grant tried to force Gen. Lee to stretch the Confederate lines at Petersburg beyond their breaking point. This strategy became action in twin battles at opposite ends of the long siege lines, Chaffin’s Farm at the northeastern end and at Peeble’s Farm at the southwestern end.

Grant ordered Gen. David Birney’s Tenth Corps and Gen. E. O. C. Ord’s Eighteenth Corps of Gen. Benjamin Butler’s Army of the James to cross the James River at Deep Bottom, just as the Second Corps had done twice before. The long columns of troops, about 26,000 in all, quietly crossed the pontoon bridges late at night on Wednesday, September 28th.

The following morning Birney’s corps attacked Rebel positions at New Market Heights. The assault was led by a division of U. S. Colored Troops, and the approach to the Confederate works was covered by all sorts of obstacles, including abatis (below left) and chevaux de frise (below right). The black soldiers fought their way through, all the while taking heavy casualties, until finally they drove the Confederate defenders from their entrenchments. This display of courage silenced many who said negro soldiers would never make good soldiers and do their duty in a fight.

Abatis

Chevaux de frise

 

 

Meanwhile, Ord’s corps, at about 1:00 p.m., with Gen. Stannard’s division leading the way, stormed and took Fort Harrison. The fort was thought by many to be the strongest point in Richmond’s outer works and vital to its defenses. About an hour later, U. S. Colored Troops assaulted Fort Gilmer, just to the south of Fort Harrison. Again, the black soldiers fought very well, but they were not successful. A few did make it so far as to stand upon the rampart, but they were immediately shot down.

The following day, September 30th, Gen. Lee assembled eight brigades of veteran troops. During the afternoon these troops tried desperately to retake Fort Harrison, but the Yankee defenders had turned the fort into a bastion of their own. Every Confederate charge was met and shattered with heavy, deadly fire. Fort Harrison remained in Union hands and became a strong-point in their newly advanced line of fortifications.

BTW: Fort Harrison is part of Richmond National Battlefield Park. It can easily be found on Google Earth by searching on “Fort Harrison, Henrico, VA.” Next week we’ll look at the Battle of Peeble’s Farm which was fought September 29 to October 2, 1864 and set the stage for action the Fourteenth Connecticut would see later in October.