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Thursday, September 28, 2017

"The Battle of First Deep Bottom," by James S. Price

Recently I finished reading "The Battle of First Deep Bottom," by James S. Price.  It gets off on the wrong foot with errors about Confederate activity during the establishment by the Federals of the Deep Bottom bridgehead.  The author did not examine carefully enough the Official Records of the Union and Confederate navies.  Those records make it clear that the Secessionists were engaged in a joint land and naval operation at the time the Northerners crossed to Deep Bottom.  Custis Lee's infantry from the Department of Richmond arrived at Deep Bottom as early as the afternoon of June 20, 1864, hours before the Unionists crossed, and that Col. Carter's artillery got there that evening--still before the Federals crossed.  ORN, 10:705-706.  This is surprising because the author did look at ORN.

The body of the book is a pleasant and informative read.  I am writing now about the establishment of the Deep Bottom bridgehead by the Unionists and was pleased to pick up some sources of which I was unaware.  The account of the first battle of Deep Bottom is informative and reasonably well, if not obsessively, researched. 

The book's epilogue includes the curious statement that "Grant's strategy of sending a force north of the James while simultaneously threatening Petersburg would not bear much fruit until the end of September 1864."  It bore fruit in August 1864, when Grant severed the Weldon Railroad south of Petersburg after luring Rebels north of the James by striking there first.

I'll be looking forward to reading the author's book on the battle of New Market Heights.  The publisher's format was a reasonable compromise between the superficial and the obsessive.  The maps were good.  The research was reasonable.  The modest footnotes were very well organized.  This was a good introduction to the subject, only slightly marred by its initial and final errors.  It is difficult to write about any segment of the siege of Petersburg without knowing something about all of it.  For example, knowing something about the August fighting is essential to assess the fighting in June.  

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Who captured North Carolina's Col. John Algernon Baker and Sgt. Fred C. Foard June 21, 1864?

Who captured Col. John Algernon Baker of the 3rd North Carolina Cavalry and Sgt. Fred C. Foard of Brig. Gen. Rufus Barringer’s staff near the Jerusalem Plank Road on June 21, 1864?  The 5th New Hampshire of Miles’ brigade, Barlow’s division, claims its skirmishers captured the two while they slept in a barn (Child's regimental history)  The 2nd United States Sharpshooters, detached from McAllister’s brigade of Mott's division to lead McDougall's brigade of Barlow's division, claims to have captured them in the fighting between the plank road and the Weldon Railroad (Stevens' regimental history).

If the 5th New Hampshire captured Baker and Foard, it probably would have happened before the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters caught up with Barlow's division.  The 2nd no sooner caught up and took the lead than Barringer's brigade sprung its ambush on the Federals.

September 29, 2017.  I'm satisfied for now that the 2nd United States Sharpshooters (Berdan's) captured Baker and Foard.  All the Tarheel sources in Clark's North Carolina Regiments indicate that, as does Stevens' history of the 2nd United States Sharpshooters.  I'll be getting Foard's memoir later and will see what it says.

Friday, September 15, 2017

"Judgment at Appomattox" by Ralph Peters is avaiiable now

I brought my copy of Ralph Peters' Judgment at Appomattox to a legal conference.  I read a little bit each night before I go to sleep.  It is hard to set the book down but I have to get up early every day.  Peters really brings history to life.  He uses a lot of alliteration, must have studied Old English, Gerard Manley Hopkins or both.

Historians need not despair.  We too can bring events to life, but that involves using the words of others as well as our own, as Gordon Rhea has done in On to Petersburg.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Help! Handwriting Expert Needed!

Can anyone read the following blank?

I know it says, "My tent is now up, and I am preparing for a good ____.  "For the first time in the history of the Second Corps, it is in reserve."

I think the first letter of the illegible word is "m" because it is made the same way as the "m" in the first word, "My."

Or could the word be "nap"?


Monday, September 4, 2017

Another Plan for a Seaborne Move in 1864

Grant's plan for a seaborne move in the East that may have obviated the Overland Campaign is at OR, Series 1, Vol. 33, 394-395.

A modified version of the plan is at OR, Series 1, Vol. 33, 602-604:

BALTIMORE, MD., February 26, 1864.
Maj. Ge. H. W. HALLECK,
General-in-Chief U. S. Army, Washington, D. C.:
 GENERAL: In a conversation with Grant at Nashville, Teun., on
the 12th instant, reference was made to a project of an operation
from the Eastern sea-board, to aid, by co-operation, the contem-
plated movements in Alabama and Georgia. He desired, as I under-
stood him, to have a column of 60,000 men move on Raleigh, by the
way of Weldon, and thence to co-operate with the Armies of the
Ohio and of the Cumberland. I have thought of th~ project since,
as I had, in fact, often before, while in command in North Carolina
and Virginia, and beg leave, respectfully, to present the following
plan, which will, I think, meet General Grants wishes, and also
attain some other important objects:
 I would respectfully propose that the force be collected in the
vicinity of Hampton Roads, in such a way as to excite the least sus-
picion of its real object; that the artillery and infantry be moved
by transports to Fort Powhatan, on the James River, landed at that
point and the one opposite, on the north bank of the river, and a
portion of the force put to work to intrench those points, so as to b

Page 603


held against any attacking force, while the remainder be rapidly
prepared for marching, the whole cavalry force to move at the
same time qnickly from Williamsbnrg to Bottoms Bridge, and make
a dash on Richmond. Failing in this, to attack the enemy in rear
at Malvern Hill or at Charles City Conrt-Honse, whichever place
may be their point of concentration to meet onr threatened advance
in force; and then to cross the James River at Fort Powhatan by
means of the steam ferry-boats, to be prepared at that point, and
make a dash on Peterbnrg, the Petersbnrg and Weldon, and the
Petersbnrg and Lynchbnrg Railroads. Sncceeding or failing in
this, to fall back toward Weldon, by the connty roads, on the flanks
of the main colnmn, which, by this time, shonid be in fnll march
for Weldon, destroying all bridges in their rear. Arrived at Wel-
don, to assanlt the works at once, and failing in this, to settle down
into a determined attack, opening the Seaboard and Roanoke Rail-
road for snpplies from Norfolk, and calling np the North Carolina
force from Plymonth to act on the rear of the enemy at Weldon.
After taking Weldon, to destroy the bridges at that place and at
Gaston, and to sweep throngh the State threatening Goldsborongh
and Raleigh,. and really only occnpying Raleigh with the cavalry,
while the main column moves directly for Wilmington as rapidly as
possible, living on the conntry. All the railroad and other bridges
are to be destroyed on the march. Reaching Wilmington, to attack
that town in snch a way as to succeed, opening at the same time a
landing for a base of snpplies at Masonborough Inlet. Capturing
Wilmington, all the defenses on the river and at its month are snre
to fall in snccession. This line of advance on Wilmington is the
only one that offers decided chances for snccess, inasmnch as it en-
tirely cuts off all re-enforcements from Virginia, and, if the cavalry
succeeds in cntting the Wilmington and Manchester road, from
Charleston also. It avoids the delays in crossing the White Oak
and New Rivers of a column moving from Morehead City; at the
same time it shuts off the troops that might, in the mean time, be
poured into Wilmington by the two railroads mentioned above.
 The reasons that I prefer the route by the way of the James River
to that by the line of the Seaboard and Roanoke Railroad to Wel-
don are that it avoids the delays consequent npon forcing the pas-
sage of the Blackwater, the Nottoway, and the Meherrin Rivers, and
of rebuilding the bridges over those streams, which the enemy will
be sure to bnrn to retard the march of our forces, and that the ronte
by Fort Powhatan and Prince George Court-House to Weldon turns
those rivers is likely to insnre the capture of the troops stationed
along them to defend their crossings and the salvation of the bridges;
also, that this way of coming down on Weldon cnts off the re-en-
forcements from Virginia, which might otherwise be thrown into
Weldon by rail.
 The reason that the main colnmn shonld be hnrried directly
through North Carolina without waiting to occnpy Raleigh in force
is that it saves precions time in getting at Wilmington. At the same
time the direct route lies nearer the bases of supply in North Caro-
lina, viz, Plymouth, Washington, and New Berne.
 The strength of the expedition should be fully equal to that esti-
mated by General Grant, viz, 60,000 men, to insure the snccess of
the movement, which covers a very long march, and must of neces-
sity involve some severe fighting, entailing considerable losses from
deaths, wounds, sickness, and straggling

Page 604


 I am confident that such au expedition of the above strength can
succeed in all the points that I have described above, provided it be
conducted with proper skill and determination.
 A lesser force could not make sure of Weldon, upon the attain-
ment of which everything depends. It could, howeVer, operate up
the James River, as a large water boyau, fortifying point after
point in succession, and at last lay siege to Petersburg with good
chances of success. Such a move would be important in view of
the effect it would produce on the enemy at Richmond and on the
Rapidan, but otherwise of very little value.
 The above is respectfully submitted with the hope that it may
meet the approval of the General-in-Chief.
 I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Major- General of Volunteers.

Little Mac's idea is at OR, Series 1, Vol. 11, 3:337.

Plans by Generals Barnard and Gibbon are at OR, Series 1, Vol. 21, 807-808, 812-813.

A plan by Generals Franklin and Smith is at OR, Series 1, Vol. 21, 868-870.

William Glenn Robertson has a fine summary of all these plans in "Back Door to Richmond" at pp. 13-16.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

"On to Petersburg: Grant and Lee, June 4-15," 1864, by Gordon Rhea

Gordon Rhea’s multi-volume history of the Overland Campaign is the first place to look if you want to know something about that campaign.  The volumes are well researched and give the reader plenty of individual perspectives on the battles they describe.  I read and enjoyed most of the fifth and final volume, On to Petersburg, in manuscript and the final chapter in a pre-publication copy.  My principal regret is that it is said to be the final volume.  It stops on June 15, 1864.  Maybe we can persuade Mr. Rhea to produce a sixth volume on the next three days of assaults on Petersburg.  Technically, the Siege of Petersburg did not begin until the evening of June 18.  I’d love to see the initial assaults depicted with this degree of research into original manuscripts.  That was one of the things I thought lacking in the most recent history of the assaults on Petersburg, Sean Chick’s The Battle of Petersburg.

On to Petersburg describes what may have been Ulysses S. Grant’s most brilliant achievement, his crossing of James River, as well as one of his worst lapses, his failure to coordinate the June 15 attack on Petersburg.  Rhea correctly gives Grant the credit due for the former and the blame due for the latter.

I differ with some of the judgments in the book’s Epilogue.  Rhea does not defend Grant adequately on the charges of butchery for the Overland Campaign.  Grant did not want to conduct an overland campaign--or a siege of Petersburg, for that matter.  Those who complained that he might have gotten his men to James River without any losses were unaware that he originally intended to do precisely that—his initial plan was to move his army by sea to Suffolk and march into North Carolina.  (Horn, The Petersburg Campaign, June 1864-April 1865, 14.)  For Grant to move to James River by sea was politically impossible for the Lincoln administration because it amounted to an admission that McClellan, Lincoln’s likely opponent in the November election, had been right in moving the Army of the Potomac by sea in 1862.  Lincoln bears responsibility for the bloodshed of the Overland Campaign as he did for the relatively slow start of the Atlanta Campaign—thousands of men Sherman expected to have at the start of the Atlanta Campaign were diverted and almost lost in April’s Red River Campaign, chasing hot cotton.  It speaks volumes for Grant’s loyalty to Lincoln that the general never said or wrote a word attempting to shift responsibility for the bloodshed of 1864 to where it belonged.

Nashville, Tenn., January 19, 1864.
Major General H. W. HALLECK,
General-in-Chief of the Army, Washington, D. C.:
GENERAL: I would respectfully suggest whether an abandonment of all previously attempted lines to Richmond is not advisable, and in lieu of these one be taken farther south. I would suggest Raleigh, N. C., as the objective point and Suffolk as the starting point. Raleigh once secured, I would make New Berne the base of supplies until Wilmington is secured.
A moving force of 60,000 men would probably be required to start on such an expedition. This force would not have to be increased unless Lee should withdraw from his present position. In that case the necessity for so large a force on the Potomac would not exist. A force moving from Suffolk would destroy first all the roads about Weldon, or even as far north as Hicksford. From Weldon to Raleigh they would scarcely meet with serious opposition. Once there, the most interior line of railway still left to the enemy, in fact the only one they would then have, would be so threatened as to force him to use a large portion of his army in guarding it. This would virtually force an evacuation of Virginia and indirectly of East Tennessee. It would throw our armies into new fields, where they could partially live upon the country and would reduce the stores of the enemy. It would cause thousands of the North Carolina troops to desert and return to their homes. It would give us possession of many negroes who are now indirectly aiding the rebellion. It would draw the enemy from campaigns of their own choosing, and for which they are prepared, to new lines of operations never expected to become necessary. It would effectually blockade Wilmington, the port now of more value to the enemy than all the balance of their sea-coast. It would enable operations to commence at once by removing the war to a more southern climate, instead of months of inactivity in winter quarters. Other advantages might be cited which would be likely to grow out of this plan, but these are enough. From your better opportunities of studying he country and the armies that would be involved in this plan, you will be better able to judge of the practicability of it than I possibly can. I have written this in accordance with what I understand to be an invitation from you to express my views about military operations, and not to insist that any plan of mine should be carried out. Whatever course is agreed upon, I shall always believe is at least intended for the best, and until fully tested will hope to have it prove so.
I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

OR, Series I, Vol. 33, 394-395.
When it comes to analyzing who won and who lost the Overland Campaign, I think it would be better not to analyze the Overland Campaign alone but to step back and look at the Virginia Campaign of 1864 and the national campaign of 1864.  Grant lost and Lee won the former because he neither destroyed Lee’s army nor captured Richmond.  Grant won and Davis lost the latter because Grant’s subordinate Sherman captured Atlanta.

But judgments are easy to make.  Facts are tough to ascertain.  Rhea has done most of the heavy lifting in determining the facts about this famous campaign.