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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Please Pray for Dick Sommers

Please pray for Dick Sommers, author of the classic Richmond Redeemed.  He will be undergoing surgery tomorrow.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Will the Real Private Stone of the 4th Vermont Infantry Please Stand Up?

Tonight I came across the following article about a Private Stone of the 4th Vermont Infantry, age eighteen, hailing from Windsor, Vermont.  It was in the Vermont Watchman and State Journal (Montpelier, Vermont), July 22, 1864, at page 2.

     A private in the 4th Vermont regiment, named Stone, a young man of about eighteen years of age from Windsor, is reported to have escaped capture in the late affair on the Weldon Railroad, as follows:  Seeing the condition of things he fell among the dead, from whom he obtained blood and applying it to his own face laid on his back, and feigned himself dead.  The rebels passed him and when they were sufficiently distant, he had sudden resurrection, cut and ran, making his escape to our lines.

The only problem is that the roster for the 4th Vermont Infantry contains no Private Stone of that age who served at that time.  Maybe he served in the 11th Vermont Infantry, also known as the 1st Vermont Heavy Artillery, which also lost heavily in the same fight.  There's a Pvt. Charles T. Stone of Company (Battery) H of the 1st Vermont Heavy Artillery, about age eighteen, from Windsor.  He was promoted shortly afterward to corporal.

Does anyone know who the man in the article was?

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Vermont in the Civil War, Lest We Forget

Vermont may have more resources on the Civil War proportionately than any other state.  Its historical society is very helpful.  Another helpful resource is Vermont in the Civil War, Lest We Forget.  It is a very handy website with lots of information and some literature on Vermont units.  I've found it very helpful in the last few days writing an account of June 23, 1864, possibly the biggest disaster of the Civil War for Vermont, with about 600 casualties, many of whom were captives who perished in southern prisons.  Particularly helpful were the letters of Capt. Aldace Freeman Walker, commander of the 2nd Battalion of the 1st Vermont Heavy Artillery (aka 11th Vermont Infantry), and the diary of Walker's subordinate, Second Lieutenant Henry Edson Bedell, who survived the Confederate attack.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A Joy of Scholarship

Dr. Cross relates the death of Sgt. Peter Donnelly of the 1st Vermont Heavy Artillery at page 35 of his Melancholy Affair at the Weldon Railroad:  The Vermont Brigade, June 23, 1864, mentioning only that the Confederate soldier who killed Donnelly wrote a postwar letter to his sister and returned Donnelly's effects to her.  Luckily, Dr. Cross footnoted The Rutland Daily Herald of October 12, 1865.

I looked up the citation.  It told me that the Confederate soldier who killed Donnelly had originally enlisted in the Richmond Grays and received at the battle of the Crater a second serious wound from which he never recovered.  The only soldier who fit that description was Second Lieutenant John E. Laughton, Jr., who was in command of Company C (the 12th Virginia's) of Mahone's sharpshooter battalion.

This told me where the 12th Virginia was on June 23, 1864, and gave me a personal account from one of its soldiers for one of the few actions for which I lacked one.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

General Meade in June and August, 1864

In The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864, I pointed out General Meade's deficiency in personnel management.  He tended to overuse II Corps.  During the Fourth Offensive, he used II Corps twice; V, IX and X Corps once each; and XVIII Corps not at all.  We'll never know if XVIII Corps would have performed better at Second Reams Station than the exhausted soldiers of II Corps, but employing a fresh corps would have made more sense.

I'm only up to June 22, 1864 in my draft of a history of the Second Offensive, but Meade's over-reliance on II Corps appeared there as well.  He and Grant initially planned to use II, VI and XI Corps to invest Petersburg from the Appomattox River above the city to the Appomattox below.  Meade chose II Corps to lead the way and employed VI and XI Corps to relieve II Corps on June 20 and put it in reserve.  II Corps was the biggest corps in Grant's army, but VI Corps already had a division in reserve and it would have been just as easy to put into reserve the corps' other two divisions instead of using them to relieve II Corps.  More importantly, VI Corps had lost fewer than one-tenth as many men as II Corps in the First Offensive at Petersburg, June 15-18.  VI Corps' ambulances were employed hauling II Corps' wounded to the City Point hospital.  VI Corps was far fresher. 

Whether employment of VI Corps to lead the way on June 21 would have made any difference is doubtful given the performance of its commander, Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright, on June 22 and 23.  I also doubt that VI Corps would have behaved any better than II Corps on June 22 when flanked.  I think entire regiments surrendered that day because they were surrounded, not because their best officers had been killed or wounded in the Overland Campaign and the First Offensive.  Those officers were present in the Wilderness on May 6, 1864 and ran just as fast as II Corps did on June 22.  The difference was that the Confederates did not envelop any of II Corps' regiments on that occasion.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Happy Burgess Mill Day!

It occurred to me this morning that if Lincoln had not won reelection and the North had consequently lost the Civil War, the little known Burgess Mill might well be considered one of the decisive battles of world history. 

This is its anniversary, as well as the anniversary of a connected fight, Williamsburg Road.

Burgess Mill took place when Meade launched IX and V Corps against works between Hatcher's Run and Petersburg that he supposed unfinished.  At the same time, two divisions of II Corps were to swing across Hatchers Run at Armstrong's Mill, recross to the left bank at Burgess Mill, cut the South Side Railroad and force the Confederates to abandon Petersburg and Richmond.

North of James River, Butler was to demonstrate opposite the Confederate lines there.  On his own initiative, he launched an assault along Williamsburg Road with XVIII Corps.

Oddly, neither Meade nor Butler had reconnoitered.  If they had, Meade would have known that the Secessionist lines between Petersburg and Hatchers Run had been completed, and Butler would have known that the Rebel lines near Williamsburg Road were unoccupied.  (This tends to support the cover story advance after the offensive's failure that it was a reconnaissance-in-force, sometimes known as a forced reconnaissance.)

Longstreet mauled one of the thrusts north of the James, and Butler failed to support the troops who made their way into the Confederate works north of Williamsburg Road. 

Hampton and Mahone, under the nominal command of Heth, thwarted Hancock's crossing to the left bank of Hatchers Run.  The White Club (Second) and Diamond (Third) divisions of II Corps gave as good as they got in the fighting at Burgess Mill but failed in their mission.

To cover the failure of his Sixth Offensive at Petersburg, Grant advanced the story that the fight resulted from a reconnaissance-in-force rather than from his last desperate grasp at Petersburg and Richmond prior to the November 1864 election.  He could not be sure that the capture of Atlanta and the clearing of the Shenandoah Valley were enough to ensure Lincoln's reelection.

The definitive account of this offensive is in Hampton Newsome's Richmond Must Fall.  Eyewitness accounts of Burgess Mill are in Newsome, Horn and Selby, eds., Civil War Talks:  Further Reminiscences of George S. Bernard and His Fellow Veterans

So if you have never heard of Burgess Mill, be glad.  It would only be a household work if Lincoln had not been reelected and the North had consequently lost the Civil War.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Help Transcribing William M. Horton Diary, June 21 and 22, 1864

I'd be very grateful for some help transcribing Private William M. Horton's diary for June 21 and 22, 1864, especially with the cross-writing.

Here is what I have transcribed:

June 21

Relieved after daylight, “We come up with the regt about 8 o’clock.  We eat our Breakfast and lay Down for a little rest.  We are routed up and ordered to march until the middle of the Wms farm.  Our advance comes up with the enemy Pickets.  Drive them in a brisk skirmish….”

June 22

“We are shoved around from one place to another nearly all Day,” Horton recorded.  “At about 4 O’clock we advanced to the front about 5 ½ rods for the purpose of coming up but in double quick time to the breast works….”

The diary page is 41 of the following link: