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Saturday, October 22, 2016

General Grant and Cavalry at Vicksburg, in the Overland Campaign, and at Petersburg

Diversionary railroad raids exhausted General Grant’s repertoire when it came to cavalry.  During the climax of the Vicksburg Campaign, as his infantry crossed the Mississippi below that Secessionist citadel, Grant had sent a brigade of horse soldiers southward from LaGrange, Tennessee through Mississippi to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, ripping up rails, burning cross-ties, breaking bridges, destroying enemy supplies, tying down enemy infantry in defense of the vital rail link between Vicksburg and Jackson, and generally confusing the Confederates.[1]  The raid thus contributed to Grant’s investment and capture of the Gibraltar of the West.  During the Overland Campaign, the general-in-chief had dispatched Sheridan with three divisions of horsemen from Spotsylvania to defeat Maj. Gen. J. E. B. “Jeb” Stuart, disrupt the railroad lines supplying Lee’s army, and threaten Richmond.  Sheridan accomplished little beyond defeating and killing Stuart, whom Lee ultimately replaced with a better cavalry commander—Hampton, the war’s best commander of an army’s cavalry corps.[2]
By sending his cavalry off to divert his enemy’s attention by ripping up rails, Grant deprived himself of horsemen for screening and reconnaissance, their traditional functions.  The principal value of Sheridan’s raids lay in that they forced Lee to dispatch his cavalry in pursuit.  Unlike Grant, the Southern chieftain employed his horse soldiers extensively in reconnaissance and screening.  For Lee, cavalry functioned as a sensory organ.  The absence of most of Lee’s horsemen in pursuit of Sheridan on the Trevilian Raid left the Secessionist commander nearly blind and contributed to the success of Grant’s James crossing.  Grant no sooner gave up his assaults on Petersburg in June 1864 than he launched what cavalry remained with him on a raid against the Weldon, South Side, and Danville railroads.

[1] The great film director John Ford made a movie based on Grierson’s raid, entitled The Horse Soldiers (1959). 
[2] Though Nathan Bedford Forrest proved formidable in independent command, he performed poorly in command of part of the Army of Tennessee’s cavalry.  David Powell, Failure in the Saddle:  Nathan Bedford Forrest, Joseph Wheeler, and the Confederate Cavalry in the Chickamauga Campaign (El Dorado Hills, Ca., 2011), 205-212, 232-235.  

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Petersburg at Gettysburg, Douglas Southall Freeman Loses Count

Throw out your books on the second day at Gettysburg.  They all need rewriting.

Confusion still exists about what Mahone's Brigade of Anderson's Division did, or did not do, at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863.  We know that the attack of Anderson's Division broke down in Posey's Mississippi Brigade, to the immediate right (south) of Mahone's Brigade.  We know that a message for Mahone to advance was received with incredulity by General Mahone, who said he had just received an order from General Anderson to stay put on McPherson's Ridge.

There is no question but that Mahone received an order from Anderson to stay put on McPherson's Ridge.  Douglas Southall Freeman is among those responsible for the confusion.  Longstreet's memoir, From Manassas to Appomattox was available when Freeman wrote.  Longstreet was in charge of the attack on Cemetery Ridge on July 2.  He says the plan was for Anderson's division to attack with four brigades.  OR 27. 2:332, 343.  Anderson's division had five brigades.  Therefore one brigade was not to attack.  That this brigade was Mahone's would be apparent from its position alone if it were not for Mahone's account of the matter.  All Freeman had to do was remember that Anderson's Division had five brigades, not four.

As for what Mahone's Brigade did after the confusion caused by Anderson's contradictory orders was sorted out, there was a book in publication at the time Freeman wrote that should have informed him of the action of the Virginians.  That book is William H. Stewart's A Pair of Blankets, published in 1911 (at 97-98).  Mahone's Brigade sidled to the right and advanced behind the right of Posey's Brigade.  See also James Eldred Phillips Memoir, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia; Hampton Newsome, John Horn and John G. Selby, eds., Civil War Talks: Further Reminiscences of George S. Bernard and His Fellow Veterans (Charlottesville, 2012), 133, 155-156.  Posey confirmed that Mahone was ordered to the right.  Report of Brig. Gen. Carnot Posey, C. S. Army, commanding brigade, OR, 27, 2:634.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Did Mahone's Brigade Do Its Fair Share of Fighting in the Civil War? Did Virginia?

After I compiled the statistics on the 12th Virginia Infantry, it was easy to compare the regiment with many of its Federal opponents.  I had only to look up their statistics in Fox's Regimental Losses and a couple of post-war compilations from New York and Pennsylvania.

It was harder to compare the 12th Virginia's statistics with statistics on other Confederate regiments.  Such statistics are difficult to come by, but they exist.  I found a lot of partial statistics, only a few complete ones.  Some were published, and others I had to count myself.  Here's what I came up with:

                                                                                    Killed or Died             Percentage
Regiment                     Division                                   of Wounds                  Lost during War
8th Alabama                Mahone’s                                300*                            21.1%*

8th Georgia                 Hood’s                                     168*                            13.3%*

22nd Georgia              Mahone’s                                164*                            13.2%*

30th Georgia               Walker’s                                    85                                7.3%

48th Georgia               Mahone’s                                200*                            14.3%*

60th Georgia               Early’s                                     162*                            12.2%*

18th Mississippi           McLaws’                                 214*                            14.9%*

21st Mississippi           McLaws’                                 210*                            17.0%*                       

42nd Mississippi          Heth’s                                     150[1]*                           15.1%*

7th North Carolina      Pender’s                                  184*                            12.6%*

58th North Carolina    Stevenson’s                               91                                4.5%

16th Tennessee            Cheatham’s                             209*                            16.7%*

20th Tennessee            Breckenridge’s                        147*                            12.3%*

6th Virginia                 Mahone’s                                124                                7.5%

9th Virginia                 Pickett’s                                    76                                4.5%

12th Virginia              Mahone’s                               159*                            10.3%*

16th Virginia               Mahone’s                                  92[2]*                          7.5%

41st Virginia               Mahone’s                                 105                                7.0%

49th Virginia               Early’s                                     153*                            12.3%*

54th Virginia               Stevenson’s                               83                                4.5%

61st Virginia               Mahone’s                                   76                                6.5%

63rd Virginia               Stevenson’s                               68                                4.4%

Average Confederate Regiment  (Fox)                                              “almost 10.0%”

* Meets criterion for Fox’s Fighting 300 Regiments (130 or 10% killed or died of wounds).

[1] Up to March, 1865; probably lost around 155 killed or mortally wounded.
[2] The 16th Virginia fought with only seven companies.  The equivalent of 130 killed or mortally wounded among ten companies for a seven company regiment is ninety-one.

Now it's true, this is by no means a complete study of Southern regimental statistics.  Such a study will probably never exist because of the gaps in the records.  To me, the questions seem to jump out.  Did Mahone's Brigade do its fair share of fighting?  Did Virginia?

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Question about Southern Literacy during the Civil War

I'm currently writing about "Barlow's Skedaddle," also known as "the Petersburg Affair," in which three Confederate brigades of Mahone's division routed seven brigades of the Federal II Corps.  I have dozens of Unionist sources, mostly in the public domain.  Confederate sources, as usual, are proving more difficult to find.

You could call Mahone's division a rainbow division.  It had a brigade from each of five states:  Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and Virginia.  My text begins on the evening of June 18, 1864, and I aim to take the reader through June 22.  I've just finished the first two chapters, one for the evening of June 18, and the other for June 19.  I'm trying to get the reader through the preliminaries by generating a little human interest.  That's not hard with Northern sources.  Plenty of diaries, letters and memoirs are in the public domain, not to mention the ones in print or manuscript.  Southern sources are a different matter.

For the evening of June 18 through June 21, I have nothing from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, or Mississippi.  From Virginia, except for A Pair of Blankets by Lt. Col. William H. Stewart of the 61st Virginia, nothing but diaries, letters and memoirs from the soldiers of the 12th Virginia and their relatives in the Cockade City--the 12th was not called the Petersburg Regiment for nothing.  In fact, there are at least five soldiers in the 12th who left more material behind than did all the rest of their brigade or, indeed, their division.

For June 22 itself, there is something from every state involved.  (The Florida Brigade was not involved that day, though I'll be checking the Army Heritage & Educational Center for material soon anyway.)  The proportions of the material available raise a question for me about Southern literacy at the time of the Civil War.  I have two sources from Mississippi, four from Alabama, six from Georgia, and at least nine from Virginia.  My question is, did literacy diminish as one went west?  It looks like that to me.  

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Reward: $100 (One hundred dollars)

I'll pay $100 to the first person to reach me with the Letter of William S. Hubbard to "Dear Father," June 25, 1864.  Hubbard belonged to the 16th Virginia Infantry.  His letter describes his role in Mahone's attack on II Corps June 22, 1864.  I have seen this letter cited to Petersburg National Battlefield Park, but the response I have received from the park is that the letter is not there.  

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Staff officers v. Field and General officers

It is clear that Lt. Col. G. Moxley Sorrel led the flank attack of May 6, 1864 in the Wilderness.  Brig. Gen. William Mahone, the ranking officer involved. later claimed credit for the attack but all the evidence points to Sorrel as the leader of the attack. Sorrel was on the staff of Longstreet's Corps.

On June 23, 1864, the evidence points to Capt. Victor Jean Baptiste Girardey as the officer who led the Florida Brigade of Mahone's Division into position to cut off part of the Vermont Brigade of VI Corps near the Gurley House south of Petersburg.  Col. David Lang, the commander of the brigade, later claimed he led the brigade's attack, but the division commander, Mahone, vouched for Girardey.  Maybe we can harmonize these accounts by saying that Girardey led the Florida Brigade into position and Lang led the attack.  Girardey was on the staff of Mahone's Division.

A similar situation arose on July 30, 1864.  Girardey led the Virginia Brigade of Mahone's Division into position to attack at The Crater.  Girardey gave the order to attack while in front of the left of the brigade.  Colonel David Addison Weisiger, commander of the Virginia Brigade, may have given the order to attack while in front of the right of the brigade.  He certainly claimed to have done so.  Girardey had long since died, on August 16, 1864 to be exact.

On the whole, the evidence supports the staff officers over the field and general officers.  Girardey may have been the finest divisional staff officer of the war.  He was promoted to brigadier general after The Crater and died shortly afterward at Second Deep Bottom, August 16, 1864.  He may have been the actual leader of Wright's Georgia Brigade at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863.  

Saturday, September 10, 2016

A preview of "The Petersburg Regiment, 12th Virginia Infantry:" Federals faced by 12th Virginia Infantry and Mahone's Brigade

A preview from The Petersburg Regiment, 12th Virginia Infantry, Copyright John Horn 2016:

Table 7:  The Petersburg Regiment Compared with Some Foes[1]

            Sometimes, despite the confusion of battle (particularly in woods), it is possible to identify the particular enemy regiment or regiments opposing the 12th Virginia or a portion thereof in a given fight.  The Petersburg Regiment compared very favorably with the average Union regiment, which lost about five percent.  It often met some of the best regiments in the Federal army, yet compared favorably with some of them as well.
Regiment                                                         Killed or Died of        Percentage
(Foe of 12th Virginia at)                                 Wounds during War    Lost during War
5th New Hampshire                                        295*                            11.8%*[2]
 (Seven Pines, June 1, 1862)              

20th Indiana                                                    201*                            14.3%*
87th New York                                                 29                                2.8%
(King’s School House, June 25, 1862)

1st United States Sharpshooters                     153*                            10.9%*
(Malvern Hill, July 1, 1862)

18th New York                                                 39                                3.5%
31st New York                                                  71                                7.6%
95th Pennsylvania                                           182*                              9.2%
(Crampton’s Gap, September 14, 1862)        

8th Pennsylvania Cavalry                                 60
(Chancellorsville, April 30-May 1, 1863)

1st Delaware                                                   158*                              7.6%
12th New Jersey                                              177*                              9.5%
106th Pennsylvania                                         104                                9.7%
(Gettysburg, July 2, 1863)                 

140th Pennsylvania                                         198*                            17.4%*
(Bradshaw’s Farm, May 8, 1864)      

51st Pennsylvania#                                         177*                              8.6%
(Spotsylvania, May 12, 1864)

1st Vermont Heavy Artillery                          164*                              7.1%
62nd New York                                                98
(Gurley House, June 23, 1864)                      

Regiment                                                         Killed or Died of        Percentage
(Foe of 12th Virginia at)                                 Wounds during War    Lost during War
14th New York Heavy Artillery                     226*                              9.0%
(Globe Tavern, August 19, 1864)

155th New York                                             115                              13.8%*[3]
170th New York                                             129                              12.8%*
(Second Reams Station, August 25, 1864)

63rd Pennsylvania#                                         186*                            13.8%*
105th Pennsylvania+                                       245*                            12.2%*
(Burgess Mill, October 27, 1864)

12th Virginia                                                  159*                            10.3%*

Average Union Regiment                                                                     5.0%

* Meets criterion for inclusion in Fox’s Fighting 300 Regiments (130 or 10% killed or died of wounds).
# Lost a flag to the 12th Virginia that day.
+ Lost two flags to the 12th Virginia that day.

[1] My figures come from Fox, Regimental Losses; Samuel P. Bates,  History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, Prepared in Compliance with Acts of the Legislature (5 Volumes) (Harrisburg, 1869); and Frederick Phisterer, New York in the War of the Rebellion (5 Volumes) (Albany, 1912).
[2] Adjusted by Fox to 17.9%. 
[3] Despite the percentage loss, Fox did not include the 155th among his Fighting 300 Regiments.