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Saturday, August 12, 2017

"The Army of the Potomac in the Overland & Petersburg Campaigns: Union Soldiers and Trench Warfare, 1864-1865

I finished reading the above book by Steven E. Sodergren this afternoon.  I generally agree with its thesis, that the Army of the Potomac revived in the trenches outside Petersburg.  The author, however, strikes me as weak on the particulars of the campaign.  That's not surprising, because he has not read the standard works on the August and October fighting, among other books.  He says nothing about the dramatic increase in surrenders by Federal troops in the month of August though no one can argue with his assessment of the reinvigorating effect of Sherman's and Sheridan's victories in September and October.  It would be helpful to know how he explains them.  More importantly, and even though he has read Earl Hess' In the Trenches at Petersburg, he says nothing about Hess' important suggestion that the Unionists at Petersburg dug so much that training suffered.  Finally, he does not seem to understand that desertion alone did not account for all the subtraction's from Lee's army--around seven thousand men were detached in 1865 to help reconstitute the Army of Tennessee wrecked by Hood and Davis.  With those men in Lee's trenches, and with the Western Army in its proper place in front of Sherman, the South might have put to the test Stanley Horn's thesis that the Northern government did not have the funds to wage the war past the summer of 1864.

Sodergren's book raises some interesting questions.  Trench warfare was greeted with horror when it began on the Western Front in 1914, but did it slow down the infliction of casualties as it did for the Army of the Potomac outside Petersburg?  Did the Army of the Potomac play at Petersburg a role similar to the role played by the Roman soldiers who stalemated Hannibal in Italy after Cannae?

Since Sodergren was inspired by Lee's Miserables, reading that will be my next project.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

CSS Atlanta/USS Atlanta

Another ship with an interesting history was Atlanta.  She began as CSS Atlanta, an ironclad built from a blockade runner and based on the Savannah River.  She was armed with 7-inch Brooke rifles at bow and stern and 6.4-inch Brooke rifles amidships.

CSS Atlanta

In early 1863, her commander intended for her to attack blockaders downriver while most of the Union fleet was bombarding Charleston, South Carolina.  Deserters revealed the plan and the Federals held some ships in readiness to intercept Atlanta.  The ship went aground, was attacked by USS Weehawken and USS Nahant, and could not bring her guns to bear against them.

USS Weehawken v. CSS Atlanta

After two or three 15-inch Dahlgren rounds smashed into her, the defenseless Atlanta struck her colors.  The Northerners pulled Atlanta free and refitted with 8-inch Parrott rifles at bow and stern and 6.4 inch Parrott rifles to port and starbord.  She served on the James River.

USS Atlanta

Decommissioned, she was sold to Haiti and in December 1869, she was lost with all hands off the Delaware Capes or Cape Hatteras as she steamed for Port-au-Prince.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Learning from Illustrating

To prepare an illustration guide for my next book, I took several months off from a book I was writing about June 18-22, 1864, at Petersburg.  To reacquaint myself with the text, I started illustrating it.  A minor naval action took place on June 21, and part of illustrating it lay in finding pictures of the weapons.  They included the 15-inch Dahlgren, which armed all four of the Union monitors on James River.  Only three rounds from this fearsome weapon had led the ironclad CSS Atlanta to strike her colors the previous year.

Just three 15-inch Dahlgrens remain above water.  (Two lie with USS Tecumseh at the bottom of Mobile Bay, two more at the bottom of the Pacific off Arica, Peru, and another at the bottom of the Pacific off Callao, Peru--but more about these South American Dahlgrens later.)  The first two Dahlgrens above water stand near the grave of John Ericsson, the designer of USS Monitor, in Sweden, his native land.  These two had armed a monitor he designed for Sweden.

The third sits at the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defense.  Quite a story lies behind how it got there.

After the war, the United States sold two Canonicus-class monitors, Catawba and Oneota, each armed with two 15-inch Dahlgrens, to Peru.  The Peruvians named Catawba after the last Inca Emperor, Atahualpa.  They named Oneota after Manco Capac, the founder of the Inca Empire.


Manco Capac

Both ships met their ends during the War of the Pacific, 1879-1883, during which Chile trounced Peru and Bolivia, leaving the latter country landlocked.  Manco Capac participated in the defense of Arica, and the Peruvians scuttled her when Arica fell in 1880.  Atahualpa helped defend Callao until the city fell in 1881 and the Peruvians scuttled her, too.

The Dahlgren at the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defense was apparently salvaged from Atahualpa and sold to the British.

The only other image of a Dahlgren I have found is the following:

The gun in the picture is often identified as a Rodman rather than a Dahlgren, though.

My wife and I expect to be cruising past the watery graves of Oneota/Manco Capac and Catawba/Atahualpa next year on a voyage that begins in Valparaiso, Chile, and ends at Callao, Peru.  Unfortunately, we will be unable to visit Talcahuano, a fair distance south of Valparaiso.  There floats the ironclad Huascar, built by the British in 1865 for the Peruvians and named after another Inca Emperor.  The Chileans captured her in 1879 and now she serves as a museum and memorial ship.

Seeing her will require another voyage.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

"The Petersburg Regiment, 12th Virginia Infantry, 1861-1865"

It looks like my next book, The Petersburg Regiment, 12th Virginia Infantry, 1861-1865, should be published next year by Savas Beatie.  John Wilkes Booth stood in the ranks of one of this regiment’s companies at John Brown’s hanging.  The regiment refused to have Stonewall Jackson appointed its colonel.  Its men first saw combat in naval battles.  In their first action on land, they embarrassed themselves.  Their role at Gettysburg remains controversial.  Yet by war’s end they would number among the Army of Northern Virginia’s most renowned shock troops.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Upcoming Books by Gordon Rhea and A. Wilson Greene

Be on the lookout for a book coming out this August from Gordon Rhea on Grant's crossing of James River and the first day of fighting at Petersburg, June 15, 1865.

Early next year we should see the first of a three-volume series on the Siege of Petersburg from A. Wilson Greene.  

Saturday, June 24, 2017

"Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the Petersburg Campaign"

Dr. Dennis A. Rasbach has written a convincing book about the charge of Joshua Chamberlain and his brigade at Petersburg on the afternoon of June 18, 1864.  Dr. Rasbach persuaded Virginia to relocate the marker for the charge about a mile from where Chamberlain thought it occurred to where the historical documents proved it occurred.  Dr. Rasbach writes compellingly.  His research is meticulous.  The maps are excellent.  The proofreading was spectacular--I did not catch a single error.  The most poignant part of the book for me was the last appendix, describing the gruesome nature of the wound Chamberlain suffered.  Though the wound would contribute to his death many years later and would have justified his resignation from the service, Chamberlain nonetheless returned to combat and made it to Appomattox.  What an example this hero set!  We can all look forward to hearing more from Dr. Rasbach.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Petersburg Campaign, Part X.B.2: The Battle of Fort Gregg

John J. Fox's The Confederate Alamo: Bloodbath at Petersburg's Fort Gregg on April 2, 1865 may well be the definitive account of one of the fights on Battle Sunday, April 2, 1865, the day the Federals also broke through the Confederate lines southwest of the Cockade City.  At least a whole Northern division spent several hours taking a Southern fort manned by the 12th and 16th Mississippi and fragments of other Secessionist units.  Fox's book gets down among the soldiers and puts you with the Unionists huddling in the cold water at the foot of the fortifications, as well as the Rebels desperately trying to hold the fort.  Fifty-five Confederate corpses remained in the fort when the fighting was finished.  My relative in the 12th Mississippi (Pvt. Thomas Mulkaha, Co. B) claimed to have been wounded at Fort Gregg, but he appears neither among prisoners taken by the Federals nor among the ranks of his unit at Appomattox.  I suspect that he just went to his wife's farm a mile or two to the southwest--he had married a Dinwiddie County girl at Dinwiddie Court House December 29, 1864.