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Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Resiliency, or Lack Thereof, of Confederate Railroads

As I searched for something else in "Sixth Corporal," James Eldred Phillips' history of Company G, 12th Virginia Infantry, I came across something that I found very interesting.  In late December 1864, he took the cars of the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac from Richmond to Guinea Station, near Spotsylvania.  The Federals had probably damaged that railroad significantly during the Overland Campaign.

The Richmond & Danville was up and running by mid-July after the Wilson-Kautz Raid, which saw that railroad torn up from June 23 through June 25.

Wilson and Kautz also tore up the South Side Railroad from June 22 through June 24 and that railroad was running again no later than early September.

Though Federal infantry and cavalry ripped up the Weldon Railroad in late June, it was running again by the time V Corps cut it for good in August.

Richmond had so many railroads that it was difficult to take even without their restoration.  To the southwest ran the Richmond & Danville.  West ran the Virginia Central.  North went the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac, northeastward ran the York River Railroad, and south went the Richmond & Petersburg, which connected with the City Point Railroad, the Norfolk & Petersburg, the Weldon Railroad, and the South Side Railroad.

Atlanta, where I spent this Christmas, had but three railroads running into it, and one of the was the Federal supply line, the Western & Atlantic.  That left two for the Confederates, the Macon & Western and the Georgia Railroad.  The siege began with the Federals wrecking the Georgia Railroad, which ran east.  The Unionists compelled the evacuation of Atlanta by cutting the Macon & Western.  The Confederates lacked the time to repair the Georgia Railroad when Sherman swept around to the west to cut the Macon & Western.

Atlanta needed more railroads, particularly one running southeastward.  She also could have used another river.  The Appomattox added to the difficulties the James caused the Northerners.

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:


Saturday, October 13, 2018

A Really Helpful Website for Research

Here's a link to a really helpful website for research on the Civil War: Civil War Diaries  This website currently has 1,022 diaries available for downloading.  Googling the diaries you use will usually be necessary to find out if there is also a repository to credit.  Deciphering the handwriting is also up to you.

I drew on this website for research on my current project about Grant's Second Offensive at Petersburg, particularly about June 22, 1864.  The diaries I found at the website included those from

Barlow's division
John L. Ryno, 126th New York
William M. Horton, 26th Michigan

Gibbon's division
Charles H. Peterson, 12th New Jersey
Charles Rubright, 106th Pennsylvania (this is also at Auburn University)
Myron Owen, 8th New York Heavy Artillery
Wilbur Huntington Proctor, 10th New York

Mott's division
Benjamin M. Peck, 141st Pennsylvania
Jacob Lyons, 120th New York

Wilcox's division
W. A. Mauney, 28th North Carolina
W. D. Alexander, 37th North Carolina

Friday, September 28, 2018

Disappointing Regimental Histories

Sad when a regimental history does not measure up to its predecessor.  Wilkinson's history of the 57th Massachusetts does not measure up to Anderson's.  Brandt's history of the 87th Pennsylvania does not measure up to Prowell's.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

June 22, 1864 v. August 19, 1864

June 22, 1864 involved a rout of seven brigades of II Corps (about 12,000 men) by three brigades of Mahone's division (around 3,000 men) resulting in approximately 2,500 casualties.

August 19, 1864, involved a rout of five brigades of V Corps by three brigades led by Mahone (about 2,400 men) resulting in around 3,000 casualties.

Though June 22, 1864 is one of the hardest days to understand in the Siege of Petersburg (because of the complex movements involved), it is easier to write about than August 19, 1864.  This is because there are sufficient sources to piece together what happened on June 22, 1864, even though this is like assembling an enormous puzzle, one tiny piece at a time.  Many of the soldiers in the seven routed brigades of II Corps escaped to tell their stories.

The problem with August 19, 1864, is that relatively few of the five brigades of V Corps escaped to tell their stories.  Far too many perished in Andersonville and other Southern prison camps.  

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Plausible Timeline for June 22, 1864

This may have been the least understood day of the Siege of Petersburg.

Master Time Sheet June 22, 1864.  Criticism welcome.

12:50 a.m.  Barlow ready to advance.

2 a.m. Wheaton’s (Second) division crosses N & P RR.
3 a.m. VI Corps starts arriving near Jones house.

4 a.m. Wheaton’s division halts near Jones house on JPR for rest and breakfast.
4:50 a.m.  VI Corps mistakenly expected to advance but needs rest and food

7:30 a.m.  Barlow ordered to advance, swinging forward left, closing up on Mott who is occupying position pointed out June 21, notifying Wright.

10 a.m.  Barlow directed to advance without reference to Wright.  (Making explicit the difference in tenor between the messages of 4:50 a.m. and 7:30 a.m.)

              “ Wilcox directed to move.

10:30 a.m. Wilcox’s division moves.

11 a.m. VI Corps gets moving to left of II Corps.

              “ Lane’s brigade marches.

              “ Lee observes Federals in front of Mahone.

12:10 p.m. Ricketts on Williams road with Wheaton behind.  Russell’s skirmish line fired upon.

1 p.m.  Alabama, Georgia and Virginia drop out of Dimmock Line.

1:10 p.m. Ricketts has met enemy skirmishers, who drove his men back, but they have recovered.  “The country is reported as very thick.”

2 p.m.  Mahone’s men march.

              “ Wilcox’s men form, advance a mile, fight 30-45 minutes.

              “ Girardey reaches Hill.

2:30 p.m. Skirmishing mainly in front of Ricketts (on VI Corps left).  Russell on VI Corps right preparing to flank enemy. 
              “ Wright sends messenger to warn Birney.

              “ Girardey reaches Wilcox.

3 p.m.  Hill visits Wilcox.

              “ Mahone launches his attack.

              “ Birney saddles up staff to inspect front.

              “ Morgan rides out to see Barlow.

3:15 p.m.  Wright and Birney engaged; Warren and Burnside told to prepare to help.   
Wright driven from railroad.  Wheaton holding left flank.  Warren can supply a brigade each from Ayres and Griffin.  

3:30 p.m.  Blakemore reaches Wilcox, Mills captured by 26th Michigan.

4 p.m. First Brigade, Wheaton’s division ordered to right in reserve to Russell’s (First) division.

“              “  Mahone's fight over.

                Warren told to supply two brigades at double-quick.  Barlow and Gibbon broken but repaired.  Birney at Jones house.

One brigade on way from Warren.

4:30 p.m. messenger from Birney arrives at Wright.

5 p.m.  Wilcox hears first Federal counterattack.

5:25 p.m.  Wright has fallen back and sent a brigade to Russell’s right for Barlow.  

6 p.m. Birney ordered to attack at 7 p.m.

7 p.m.  Second Federal counterattack.

7:05 p.m. Gibbon attacks.  Next will be Barlow, then Mott.  

7:30 p.m., Sunset, Wilcox arrives.

7:45 p.m. Gibbon found enemy too strong but will try again.  Barlow advancing.  Mott engaged.  Wright not yet on right. 

8 p.m. Ricketts has advanced.  

9:03 p.m. Two brigades being returned to Warren.  Birney advance successful.  (?) 

10:00 p.m. Mahone starts withdrawing.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Report of J. W. F. Hatton's Death Prior to Petersburg Campaign Greatly Exaggerated

I'm happy to announce that reports of J. W. F. Hatton's death prior to the beginning of the Petersburg Campaign were greatly exaggerated in Goldsborough's Maryland Line in the Confederate Army.  The Daily Richmond Dispatch for October 27, 1864 reports that a writ of habeas corpus was necessary to obtain his discharge after he completed his term of enlistment.  That excellent memoir in the Library of Congress is therefore correctly attributed.  One of the other Hattons in the battery must have been killed earlier.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Who Really Authored the Hatton Memoir in the Library of Congress?

There is a splendid account of the fighting on June 22, 1864, in a memoir in the Library of Congress ascribed to "J. W. F. Hatton" of the Confederate 1st Maryland Battery.  However, page 261 of Goldsborough's "Maryland Line in the Confederate Army" reports that J. W. F. Hatton was killed in action earlier in the war.  Fortunately, page 271 lists two other Hattons who may have authored the memoir:  R. H. S. Hatton and Joseph Hatton.

Does anybody know which Hatton authored the memoir?

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Art of History

History is an art, not a science, just as war is an art rather than a science.  An historian would need all the facts to do history scientifically, and an infinite number of them slip away like tears in rain.  Relatively few facts remain for the historian to work with, especially if they pertain to the woods east of Richmond or south of Petersburg.

As a practical matter, historians rarely use all the facts at their disposal.  For example, as I write about June 22, 1864, I have access to at least a dozen diaries that I will probably not quote at all and may not even used in footnotes.  They do not provide any enlightening details.  Then there are the numerous accounts of the Yanks fleeing from the Confederate onslaught.  I will probably not use them all.  How many such accounts are necessary?  At some point, one reaches the point of diminishing returns.  Or take the Official Reports.  Who uses every fact set forth therein?  Nobody.

I used to think that writing history resembles assembling a puzzle, but like Leroy Brown's face, the puzzle has a couple of pieces gone.  The problem with this analogy is that a puzzle, when assembled, provides a complete picture and includes everything.  A more apt comparison is with a mosaic, where there are a lot of blank spaces between the shiny bits.  Another apt comparison is with a pointillist painting, which has a substantial amount of canvas between the colorful dots.  The art lies in the selection, organization and analysis of the shiny bits or colorful dots.

Then there is the drawing of conclusions from the facts, a totally different function.  For example, Gibbon wrote a wonderful factual history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.  Trouble is, he failed to draw the correct conclusions from the facts he established.  He concluded that Rome fell because of barbarians and Christians.  The facts show that Rome fell because it divided against itself, and a house divided cannot stand.  The Romans faced worse in the third century A.D. than in the fifth, but in the third, even though they split in three, they all knew they belonged to one.  When Aurelian reconquered the other two parts, the Empire was reunited.  In the fifth century A.D., the Romans divided against themselves then sicced the barbarians on one another.  The Western Romans even established barbarians in their territory. 

The Romans essentially committed suicide for fear of dying.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Observations on Grant's Second Offensive at Petersburg, Part III

Yet another misconception that has arisen about this offensive is that II Corps folded as soon as the Confederates attacked its left flank.  In fact, the two brigades in Barlow's return, the Irish Brigade (which formed the right angle with the front line) and MacDougall's brigade (at the end of the return) respectively stopped cold the Alabama Brigade and the Georgia Brigade of Mahone's Division.  Then Barlow stretched out a line of skirmishers from the left of MacDougall's brigade while Mahone deployed his Virginia Brigade against them.  The skirmishers could not stop the Virginians and then Barlow's men began to melt away, followed by Mott's front line and most of Gibbon's. 

In one of his reports after the blame game began, Barlow insisted that he could have done nothing to prevent the disaster.  Maybe.  If he had brought up Miles' brigade a little earlier, he might have positioned it at the end of the return where it could well have fended off the Virginia Brigade.  If Barlow had not sent Miles' brigade back to the second Federal line, which diverged from the first at an approximately sixty-five degree angle, a counterattack by Miles' brigade might have slowed if not stopped the Confederate onslaught.  On the other hand, it seems more and more likely to me that in the second line Miles' brigade fended off the advance of Lane's and/or Scales' brigades of Wilcox's division, not just the Georgians accompanying Maj. Mills of Mahone's staff.  It is hard to tell what might have happened if Miles' brigade not been there and if Lane and/or Scales had struck the second line of Mott's division instead.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Observations on Grant's Second Offensive at Petersburg, Part II

A misconception has developed that the 20th Massachusetts of Pierce's brigade in Gibbon's division stopped Mahone's rolling up of II Corps' front line on June 22, 1864.  The truth is that Mahone's three brigades broke down under the weight of prisoners they took.  The person in the best position to know was Capt. Henry Lyman Patten of the 20th's Company E, who commanded the 20th that day.  He wrote shortly afterward:

            “The affair on which the papers have so puffed your humble servant was not by any means of the importance which has been attached to it.
“The truth was the Rebs made no attack of any consequence on the 20th.  I was ready for them if they should.  But they did not attempt seriously, if at all, to dislodge me.  I am inclined to believe that a very little resistance, or even show of resistance, such as I made, would have stopped them anywhere in our Brigade.  But the regiments on my left were completely surprised.  It was very hot, the troops were utterly exhausted by their unparalleled hardships, and the first some of them, - as I am told, - knew of the matter, was waking up and finding themselves gobbled beyond escape.
            “You must remember it was in the middle of the day, hotter than tophet, the line was in thick woods, and our men had begun to believe that Johnny Reb was never going to attack again.
            “The most serious fault rests with some General, - I don’t know who, - who so disposed his troops that the enemy got square in the rear of the left of Gibbon’s division, unopposed.  Some say it was Birney’s fault and some whisper Meade
            “There may have been some troops who behaved badly, but they were not the 15th or 19th Mass….”
            Letter, H. L. Patten to “Dear Col.,” July 10, 1864. Association of Officers of the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, “Reports, letters & papers appertaining to 20th Mass. Vol. Inf. (Boston, Mass.:  Boston Public Library, 1868), 234-235.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Observations on Grant's Second Offensive at Petersburg, Part I

Brett Schulte, whose website is a highly helpful resource for students of the fighting around Petersburg in 1864-65, thinks Grant’s Second Offensive (June 20-July 1) is the least understood of his nine offensives around the Cockade City.  I agree, and June 22 may well be the least understood day of the fighting around Petersburg.

I’m working on a history of the Second Offensive up to June 22 and probably beyond.  At first I thought, like A. Wilson Greene in Volume 1 of his A Campaign of Giants, that Grant failed to allocate sufficient troops to the task of enveloping the Cockade City from the Appomattox below town to the Appomattox above.  Indefatigable researcher Bryce Suderow, however, pointed out to me that on June 20, Grant and Meade planned to use not only II and VI corps to envelop Petersburg, but also the three white divisions of IX Corps.  And I had already, pouring through the correspondence in the Official Records, seen that on June 21, Grant suggested to Meade that V and XI corps thin their lines east of the Cockade City to provide reserves to assist in the town’s envelopment.  By June 22, the day of the disaster known as “Barlow’s Skeddaddle” or “The Petersburg Affair,” V Corps had at least two and probably four brigades in reserve and IX Corps had at least one and probably three brigades in reserve though Meade summoned only two reserve brigades from V Corps and waited until the disaster had already occurred.  He ordered up Willcox’s division from IX Corps that night and employed it to relieve Crawford’s division of V Corps, which he used to relieve Gibbon’s division of II Corps.  Instead of employing Gibbon’s division to extend the Federal line toward the Weldon Railroad, however, Meade stationed it at the Williams house on Jerusalem Plank Road to guard the left rear of VI Corps—the kind of passive defense in which he engaged during Second Reams Station, as I pointed out in The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864.

Furthermore, a change in my perspective on the forces allocated to the Cockade City’s envelopment leads me to think that I underestimated the allocation in quantifying it by divisions rather than by brigades.  Initially, I compared the divisions allocated to the Second Offensive with those eventually allocated to the Fourth Offensive south of the James.  I thought the six divisions of II and VI corps (out of twenty infantry divisions in Grant’s army group) inadequate compared with the nine divisions of V, IX and II corps (out of seventeen in Grant’s army group) at Globe Tavern on August 21, 1864. 

But I ought to have looked at the allocation in terms of brigades, more uniform in strength than divisions, which included from two to four brigades.  II and VI corps in June fielded twenty-two infantry brigades.  Add the planned three white divisions from IX Corps to II and VI corps and we get twenty-eight brigades allocated to envelopment in June, leaving twenty-nine in the trenches.  Or add the estimated seven reserve brigades in V and IX corps and we get twenty-nine brigades allocated to envelopment in June, leaving twenty-eight in the trenches.  The Federal infantry at Globe Tavern on August 21, 1864 numbered twenty-one infantry brigades (twenty-three on paper but the equivalent of at least two V Corps brigades had been destroyed on August 19).  This left twenty-one brigades to hold the trenches.

Just as the Civil War was not fought in a phone booth, neither was the Siege of Petersburg.  On February 12, 1862, Grant had enveloped Fort Donelson with about 15,000 men in seven brigades on a front of almost three miles against light resistance.  On May 18, 1863, Grant had enveloped about six and a half miles of Vicksburg’s defenses with 35,000 men in twenty brigades against no resistance.  At Petersburg he had only to extend his lines around five miles, from Jerusalem Plank Road to the upper Appomattox.   Even facing Lee rather than Floyd or Pemberton, Grant could reasonably have expected to envelop the Cockade City employing around 45,000 men in twenty-eight or twenty-nine brigades.  Maybe not in a day, but surely in less than nine months.

The problem as I see it was not a lack of men in the Second Offensive, but that Grant and Meade improvised their plan in such as way that the Confederates did not have to face II, VI and IX Corps at once.  The Federals advanced their troops piecemeal and were defeated in detail, II Corps on June 21 by Barringer and June 22 by Mahone, then VI Corps on June 22 by Cadmus Wilcox and June 23 by Mahone.  IX Corps was not deployed west of Jerusalem Plank Road.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Scan of Original Map of the Battle of the Jerusalem Plank Road, June 22, 1864, from the Papers of John Willian

John Willian was a major on the staff of Maj. Gen. Gershom Mott, commander of the Third Division, II Corps, on June 22, 1864.  The accompanying map comes from Willian's papers.  I bought it July 5, 2018.  It should be cited as "Map of the Battle of the Jerusalem Plank Road, June 22, 1864, Papers of John Willian, Private Collection of John Horn, Oak Forest, Illinois."  (One day soon I'll be donating my very modest collection of Civil War documents to a more traditional repository.)

Note that the map's rear Federal line angles southwestward while the forward Federal line proceeds generally east-west.  The distance between the two lines increased from about half a mile in Gibbon's division on the right nearest Jerusalem Plank Road, to up to three quarters of a mile in Mott's division farther southwest, to a mile between Barlow's rear line and his forward elements.  The rear Federal line follows a road.  Mahone did not get between II and VI corps.  He rolled up the front line of II Corps and the rear line was too far back to interfere.

My scan was not perfect and left out some notations about enemy works at the top--the Dimmock Line.  The original is with me.  At last we are starting to get to the bottom of this least understood day of the Siege. 

Friday, July 6, 2018

Map of Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road from the papers of a New Jersey Officer in Mott's Division, II Corps

Lamar Williams informed me that a map of the June 22, 1864 fight between Mahone's division and II Corps was coming up for auction on, appropriately, June 22, 2018.  I put in a bid for it but did not get it.  By chance, I observed that the map had not sold and offers were being considered.  My offer prevailed on July 5.  The map was found among the papers of New Jersey's John Willian, an officer in Mott's division of II Corps.  Below is a link to the auctioneer's website.  I'll post the original when it reaches me.  As you can see, II Corps' first and second lines diverged.  Mott's first and second lines may have been 900 yards apart.  OR 40, 1:415-417.  This map indicates that Barlow's lines were farther apart and there was thus more room for Mahone to slip in between them.

Thanks again, Lamar!

Map of Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road

Friday, June 29, 2018

Dr. Richard J. Sommers Has a New Book published by Savas Beatie: "Challenges of Command in the Civil War."

All students of the Petersburg Campaign will want a copy of Dr. Richard J. Sommers' new book, Challenges of Command in the Civil War:  Generalship, Leadership, and Strategy at Gettysburg,  Petersburg and Beyond, Volume I: Generals and Generalship.  It is currently out from Savas Beatie.  I have just begun reading my signed copy and find it delightful.  Dr. Sommers is the dean of historians of the Cockade City's siege.

Volume II is expected out in January 2019.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

"A Campaign of Giants, The Battle for Petersburg: From the Crossing of the James to the Crater

A. Wilson Greene’s A Campaign of Giants, The Battle for Petersburg:  From the Crossing of the James to the Crater, the first volume of a projected three, is a must read for all students of the Petersburg Campaign.  It contains a lot of research that will prove helpful to future authors on the subject and will constitute one of the starting points for them.  Greene’s chronicle will serve as the base camp for the ascent to better and more accurate accounts of the fighting.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Love Your Proofreaders

Anybody who proofreads your work is doing you an enormous favor.  Proofreaders catch errors to which the author is blind.  I encourage my proofreaders to mark anything that strikes them as incorrect.  I then go through their assessments and apply such as I think are appropriate.  Experience has taught me not to try to explain why I disagree with a particular assessment.  That just invites argument, which is not an appropriate way of thanking proofreaders for their invaluable help.  Even explaining why I agree with a particular assessment can sometimes invite argument.  I find it best just to thank proofreaders profusely and, if they are hired, to pay them promptly.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A Different Perspective on the Petersburg Campaign

A while back I wrote that the Petersburg Campaign was a Rodney Dangerfield, getting no respect.  Now I think I may have overstated the campaign's importance.  Yes, indeed, it was a war in itself with approximately 100,000 casualties.  Yes, it pitted against one another the premier general of each side. 

But it was not the war's decisive campaign.  That was the Atlanta Campaign, which decided the election of 1864 and consequently the war   The Petersburg Campaign contributed to the Atlanta Campaign as a holding action that prevented Lee and his army from intervening, directly or indirectly, in the Atlanta Campaign.

The historical parallel that comes to mind is the campaign in Italy between Fabius Maximus and Hannibal Barca after the battle of Cannae.  Fabius held Hannibal while Scipio skinned the Carthaginian empire like Grant held Lee while Sherman skinned the Confederacy.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Advance Praise for "The Petersburg Regiment in the Civil War, A History of the 12th Virginia Infantry from John Brown's Hanging to Appomattox"

"One of a score or so of outstanding unit histories."

-- Edwin C. Bearss, former Chief Historian, National Park Service, author, The Petersburg Campaign

Regimental histories are, for the most part, necessary resources for campaign histories but rarely worth reading beyond that. John Horn’s The Petersburg Regiment in the Civil War is a decided exception to this rule. Charting the course of a single regiment from 1861 to the war’s end is a daunting challenge but Horn is up to the task. His handling of the numerous campaigns is solid, and he deftly fits his regiment into the mix, almost always adding vivid anecdotes to the overall narrative (many appearing for the first time) by skillfully employing an extensive selection of first-hand accounts drawn from published and unpublished sources. As an added plus, the maps are numerous and well-drawn. John Horn’s book is a model of its kind.

-- Noah Andre Trudeau, author, The Last Citadel: Petersburg, Virginia, June 1864-April 1865 and Lincoln’s Greatest Journey

     John Horn’s splendid history of the 12th Virginia will stand among the classics of the discipline.

     Long years of research and patient crafting allowed the author to deliver an account as detailed and precise, as honest and clear, as any regimental accounting we’ll ever see.  Following the men of Petersburg and its environs from the na├»ve enthusiasm of the war’s initial months through near-disaster amid the gore at Crampton’s Gap, and on through a series of tough stands in the Chancellorsville campaign to the blunt savagery of the war’s last year, this chronicle of one hard-used, heroic regiment is a true soldier’s book—and that is a great compliment.  John Horn takes us as close as words on a page can bring us to the soldier’s experience.  From merry snowball fights between entire brigades, to the final, bitter defense of their home city, the men of the 12th Virginia leap to life.

     Horn’s reliance on first-hand accounts reminds us of how casual death became—as well as how hungry those men in gray became as early as the winter of 1863, when at least a few acquaintances of the regiment found rat meat a tasty supplement to their rations.

    Simple pleasures and harsh punishments, battlefield confusion and clashes of character…informal truces on the picket line and the shock of finding your powder wet as the enemy approaches…so often, it’s the telling detail, the tidbit ignored by the proponents of grand history, that really bring those Civil War soldiers to life again.  And Horn is the master of such details.

--Ralph Peters, author, Cain at Gettysburg and The Damned of Petersburg

The culmination of years of study and research, John Horn’s definitive history of the Petersburg Regiment narrates the wartime adventures of the 12th Virginia Regiment with the skill of a master story-teller.  We meet the regiment’s members and experience with them the horrors of battle, the exhaustion of the march, and the tedium of camp life.  Grounded in primary source materials, told with engaging verve, and accompanied by an ample array of maps, this is Civil War history at its best. The Petersburg Regiment sets a new standard for regimental histories.

--Gordon C. Rhea, author, On to Petersburg:  Grant and Lee, June 4-15, 1864

John Horn has written important books on the entire Siege of Petersburg and on some of its most crucial battles.  His latest book focuses on the “Petersburg Regiment,” the 12th Virginia Infantry.  This hard-fighting unit of Robert E. Lee’s army was heavily engaged from early 1862 to the Civil War’s final days.  Its significant service is compellingly narrated throughout these pages.  Complementing this narration are keen analyses of the 12th’s strengths – and shortcomings.  This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the humanity of the military experience.

--Dr. Richard J. Sommers, author, Challenges of Command in the Civil War and Richmond Redeemed

The 12th Virginia had not consistently distinguished itself early in the war, John Horn writes, but in his stirring regimental history, the Petersburg Regiment finally gets its (over)due.  Horn writes with humanity of a band of brothers who push through the hard work of war across Virginia only to spend the last unhappy months fighting on their own doorsteps to protect their home town.  Horn’s book is a model for the way regimental histories should be written: compelling, empathetic, and highly readable.

--Chris Mackowski, editor, The Emerging Civil War Series, author, Hell Itself:  The Battle of the Wilderness, May 5-7, 1864

A comprehensive biography of a fighting regiment in the Army of Northern Virginia, especially useful in delineating the hometown support system that sustained the regiment throughout the war.

--Dr. William Glenn Roberson, author, The First Battle of Petersburg

Monday, June 4, 2018

Strength of the 12th Virginia Infantry

Space limitations required cutting the following table because all of the figures are already in the text and footnoted there.

Table:  STRENGTH (Officers/Men)

                                                                                                                                                            Present &

Date                Battle              Effective                     For Duty                     Present                        Absent

6/16/61                                                                                                            863 (47/816)

5/18/62                                                                                                                                                1100

6/23/62                                                                                                            691                                936

7/1/62              200

8/30/62            220

9/17/62              26 (3/23)

2/1/63                                                                          318                              425

5/1/63              400

6/14/63                                                                                                            434 (31/403)

6/21/63                                                                                                            396 (31/365)

7/4/63                                      224 (22/202)

7/30/64            150 (10/140)

8/15/64                                    237 (12/225)                246 (14/232)                297 (16/283)                  636 (38/598)

8/19/64              94

9/28/64                                    242 (13/229)                262 (15/247)                308 (17/291)                  645 (34/611)

10/31/64                                  238 (13/225)                287 (16/271)                311 (19/292)                  693 (32/661)

11/28/64                                  298 (23/275)                298 (22/276)                321 (23/298)                  691 (35/656)

12/28/64                                  259 (18/241)                275 (19/256)                313 (22/293)                  677 (33/635)

2/28/65                                    222 (15/207)                236 (15/221)                279 (17/262)                  654 (30/624

4/2/65                                                                                                              295 (18/277)

4/9/65                                                                                                              197 (17/180)

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Glossary: The World of the 12th Virginia Infantry

Below is one of the items that wound up on the cutting room floor because of space considerations as I prepared the manuscript of "The Petersburg Regiment in the Civil War, A History of the 12th Virginia Infantry from John Brown's Hanging to Appomattox" for publication.  Last I heard it's due out next January.

GLOSSARY:  The World of the 12th Virginia Infantry

The Petersburg Regiment                                           The 12th Virginia Infantry

A Saratoga Trunk Regiment                                       The 12th Virginia Infantry

The Cockade City                                                       Petersburg

The Herrings (Second Company H)                           The Meherrin Grays

The Kid Glove Boys                                                   The Mahone-Weisiger Brigade

Lee’s Regulars                                                            The Mahone-Weisiger Brigade

The Turkeys                                                                The Florida Brigade (1863)

The Gophers                                                               The Florida Brigade (1865)

The Norfolk Division                                                  The Huger-Anderson-Mahone Division

Mahone Men                                                               The Huger-Anderson-Mahone Division

Mahone’s Beauties                                                     The Huger-Anderson-Mahone Division

(Old) Porte                                                                     General Mahone

Bomb-Proof                                                                Safe

The Old Rag                                                               The Regimental Flag

The Gridiron                                                               The Federal Flag

Raghouse                                                                    Tent

The Blockade                                                              The Provost Guard

Run The Blockade                                                      Go Absent Without Leave

Take French Leave                                                     Go Absent Without Leave

The Rapid Ann                                                           The Rapidan River

“Soldiers’ Friends”                                                     Lice

“A Confederate Guard of Greybacks”                        Lice

“The Confederates”                                                    Lice

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Easy Cuts

Here's an easy way to cut a couple words a page, which adds up over hundreds of pages.

Eliminate "of the" whenever possible.

"The north bank of the Rappahannock" is six words.

"The Rappahannock's north bank" is four.

Just by making this type of cut, I've probably shortened a manuscript of around four hundred pages by almost a thousand words.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Herodotus versus Thucydides

The principle criticism of Herodotus is for his reporting what he was told in response to his inquiries, but he generally differentiates what he has seen from what he has been told.  For me, his strength is the vividness, the unforgettable nature of his stories--the tyrant throwing his ring into the sea and having it brought back in a fish, Croesus on the pyre, the two Spartan lads trying to explain freedom to a Persian, and of course the fight at Thermopylae.  When I was restoring stories to my history of the Petersburg Regiment, my criterion was my inability to forget the incident in question.

The strongest criticism of Thucydides I have seen is that he fabricated the speeches in his book, though he is considered to have written from contemporary accounts and on a relatively scientific basis.  His strength is his analysis.  But his accounts are less particular than those of Herodotus, and consequently less vivid.  I cannot imagine reading Thucydides just before going to sleep, but as a boy I used to read Herodotus before going to sleep.

So while I favor Herodotus, I think Thucydides a very great historian and probably a greater analyst of history than the other father of history, Herodotus.  Telling a vivid story is entirely compatible with providing analysis.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Last Battle Flag of the Petersburg Regiment

            Federal sources mistakenly claimed that on April 6, 1865, at Saylor’s Creek, two Federal cavalrymen of Custer’s division captured flags that belonged to the 12th Virginia Infantry.[1]  Neither banner belonged to the 12tb.  Its battle line did not participate in the battle of Sailor’s Creek.  Custer/s troops charged “the enemy’s wagon train” and captured 300 wagons and much of Ewell’s command.[2]  The flags that Custer’s men allegedly captured from the 12th bore neither unit designation nor battle honors.  On June 4, 1892, before any controversy regarding the regiment’s banner had arisen, Phillips wrote:  “The Flag we had at Appomattox was not surrendered but cut up in places….”[3] 

            In 1905, the United States government returned to Virginia the flags that now hang as WD 333 and WD 437 in the American Civil War Museum (formerly the Museum of the Confederacy).  Their misidentification as banners of the 12th touched off a flurry of letters from the regiment’s veterans.  “The 12th Virginia infantry flag was not surrendered,” wrote Phillips after explaining that the 12th had not become engaged at Saylor’s Creek.  “I with my own hands tore it to pieces….”[4]  He stated that he still had the star he had taken for himself.  Phillips’ granddaughter had it in her possession when I photographed years ago in Arlington Heights, Illinois.  Attached to it is Phillips’ inscription, which states that the star is “from the Battle Flag of the 12th Va Infantry, which I with my own hands tore it up at Appomattox when we surrendered on the 9th of April 1865….”[5]  Another source corroborates Phillips.  “The regimental flag…was not surrendered,” wrote Birdsong, who also insisted that the 12th did not fight at Saylor’s Creek.  “When the regiment stacked arms after surrender, the flag was cut up by the boys….”[6] 

            Conclusive evidence came from Corporal Francis C. Stainback of Company A, the Petersburg City Guard.  It is the portion of the flag that reads “12th. Va.” and it rests in the Museum of Virginia Military Institute.  His inscription, which accompanies the fragment, states that he brought it away from Appomattox in his shoe, that the flag was divided to keep the enemy from getting it, and that the 12th never lost a flag.[7] 

            In response to an email about a captured flag identified as that of the 12th at the American Civil War Museum (formerly the Museum of the Confederacy), Robert Hancock of the museum emailed me the following:

…The flag long associated with the 12th Virginia Infantry and captured at Sailor’s Creek is listed in the records as WD 437.  However, subsequent research has determined that there is not enough evidence to designate this flag as that of the 12th Virginia. 

            The only evidence we have that the flag captured by Lt. James Gibben, 2nd NY Cavalry, at Sailor’s Creek is that of the 12th Virginia Infantry i[n] the Register of Captured Flags which also assigned the flag its WD number.  As you state, further evidence indicates that the 12th was not engaged at Sailor’s Creek and subsequently tore up their flag to prevent its surrender at Appomattox.  WD 437 is without unit identification or battle honors, but testimony states that the one torn up at Appomattox certainly had battle honors.  I believe that the fragment containing the unit ID is at VMI.  If WD 437 is a retired flag of the 12th, it would probably have been festooned with battle honors and unit ID as was the one at Appomattox.  This is just speculation.

            As a point of pride, a unit would keep its flag until they had to get a new one due to excessive damage or loss.  There is very little damage to WD 437, so probably would not have been retired.  Off the top of my head, I cannot think of any unit that surrendered two flags at the same, or approximately the same, time; one that was being actively used and one in the baggage.  For these reasons, we have decided to list this flag as belonging to an unknown unit.  There was so much confusion, and things were happening so quickly, that we may never sort out most of the unmarked flags captured at Sailor’s Creek and Appomattox….


Robert F. Hancock

Senior Curator & Director of Collections[8]

            In response to an email about another captured flag identified as that of the 12th  at the Petersburg Siege Museum, Harold Jacobson of the museum emailed me the following:

…The flag…has been tentatively identified as belonging to the 12th NC Infantry but was once thought to be from the 12th VA. The American Civil War Museum has the complete catalog record and image online, located at:

            They have a second flag, also incorrectly identified from the 12th VA infantry, which can be found here:

Harold Jacobson

Curator of Collections

City of Petersburg[9]

            In conclusion, think it is possible that the wagons captured by the Federals at Sailor's Creek contained a retired battle flag of the Petersburg Regiment, but the 12th Virginia's last battle flag was torn up at Appomattox.

[1] OR 46:1, 591-592, 1258-1259  
[2] Ibid., 1:1132, 1136. 
[3] Letter, James E. Phillips to George S. Bernard, June 4, 1892, Bernard Papers, SHC.
[4] “Capt. Jim Has A Star From Flag:  Tore Up Twelfth Virginia Colors to Prevent Their Surrender at Appomattox,” unidentified newspaper clipping, n.d., Phillips Papers, Private Collection of Elise Phillips Atkins. 
[5] Star Fragment, Phillips Papers, Private Collection of Elise Phillips Atkins. 
[6] James C. Birdsong, “Error As To Flags Of 12th Virginia:  That Regiment Fought Its Last Battle Near Farmville, Not at Sailor’s Creek,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, March 31, 1907.
[7] Francis Charles Stainback Collection, Virginia Military Institute Museum, VMI.
[8] Email, Robert Hancock to John Horn, January 6, 2016, Private Collection of John Horn.
[9] Email, Harold Jacobson to John Horn, January 14, 2016, Private Collection of John Horn.