“Here he lays far from home and kindred” – Assistant Surgeon Neil K. Gunn of Nova Scotia


From Eric Mink:

By the end of the Civil War, the United States Army employed nearly 11,000 doctors. That was a massive increase from a mere 98 surgeons and assistant surgeons on the army’s rolls when the war began. The high rates of casualties and sickness necessitated the assignment of a surgeon and an assistant surgeon to each regiment, as well as medical staff at higher levels and also those who worked in established hospitals. The commissioning of medical personnel to volunteer regiments often became the responsibility of the governor of the state from which the regiment was raised. Such was the case with the 1st Massachusetts Infantry when on March 18, 1863 Governor John A. Andrews appointed and commissioned 24-year old Neil K. Gunn to the position of Assistant Surgeon of that regiment. Gunn, who was not a citizen of the United States, had just seven days earlier finished his course work and graduated from Harvard Medical School.

Neill K Gunn Post

Neil K. Gunn

Neil K. Gunn was born in Scotland in 1839 to Catherine Gunn and her husband Reverend John Gunn. The following year the family sailed for Nova Scotia when John was recruited with four others to minister to the needs of the Scottish immigrants of Inverness County. The family settled in Broad Cove. At some point after 1860, Neil sailed for Massachusetts and enrolled in Harvard Medical School. Upon the completion of his studies and the receipt of commission and appointment Gunn joined the 1st Massachusetts Infantry in Stafford County, Virginia. He entered into his duties as the regimental assistant surgeon the final week of March 1863. Dr. Gunn arrived months after the disastrous December 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg, but just weeks before the Union Army of the Potomac took to the field again during the Chancellorsville Campaign. His introduction to war and military medicine must have been jarring.

Field Hospital Chancellorsville Post

A 3rd Corps field hospital at Chancellorsville, May 2, 1863. Drawn by Edwin Forbes, this sketch represents a scene similar to  one in which Dr. Gunn may have worked during the battle.

At Chancellorsville, Dr. Gunn’s position was on the field with the regiment.  More than likely, he was positioned near the front line and worked at the regimental field hospital. Warren H. Cudworth, chaplain with the 1st Massachusetts Infantry, remembered that Gunn “was the field surgeon for the regiment and almost constantly under fire with the rest of the men and officers.” Colonel Napoleon B. McLaughlen of the 1st Massachusetts reported a total of nine men killed and 44 wounded in the battle. Undoubtedly, Dr. Gunn treated many of those men. For the surgeons, the end of the battle did not mean the end of the treatment for many of the men required attention to wounds and injuries long after the fighting ceased. Chaplain Cudworth opined that because of Gunn’s exposure “to the fatigue, privation and inclement weather following that engagement, his constitution seems to have received a shock from which it never recovered.”

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Was it really a diversion?


From Peter Maugle

What was Burnside thinking? The question has been posed by innumerable battlefield visitors, historians, and even Civil War veterans in regards to Fredericksburg. The notable Union defeat leads many to ponder the Federal commander’s intent. Burnside indeed had a plan, however its premise has been debated since 1862.

One hypothesis regarding the Union plan postulates a primary effort by Major General William Franklin’s Left Grand Division against the Confederate right, while Major General Edwin Sumner’s Right Grand Division conducted a diversion on the Confederate left at the Sunken Road and Marye’s Heights. On the surface, this notion appears to explain an otherwise misunderstood tactical plan. But is it really that simple? How did an intended diversion result in 30,000 troops launching all-out attacks for six hours? A closer look at the facts seems to refute the diversion theory.

Major General Ambrose E. Burnside (Library of Congress)

To begin, consider the orders Burnside wrote on the morning of the battle. While they may lack clarity, these orders attempted to outline Burnside’s intentions. Here is the order issued to General Franklin on the morning of December 13th: [emphasis added]

“The general commanding directs that you keep your whole command in position for a rapid movement down the old Richmond road, and you will send out at once a division at least to pass below Smithfield, to seize, if possible, the height near Captain Hamilton’s, on this side of the Massaponax, taking care to keep it well supported and its line of retreat open. He has ordered another column up the Plank road to its intersection with the Telegraph road, where they will divide, with a view to seizing the heights on both of these roads. Holding these two heights, with the heights near Captain Hamilton’s, will, he hopes, compel the enemy to evacuate the whole ridge between these points …”

The order does not designate primary or secondary attacks. Consequently, in his testimony to the Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, Franklin claimed he was unaware that his assault held any precedence.

Major General William B. Franklin (Library of Congress)

Next is the order issued to General Sumner, which is similar to Franklin’s instructions: [emphasis added]

“The general commanding directs that you extend the left of your command to Deep Run, connecting with General Franklin, extending your right as far as your judgement may dictate. He also directs that you push a column of a division or more along the Plank and Telegraph roads, with a view to seizing the heights in the rear of the town. The latter movement should be well covered by skirmishers, and supported so as to keep its line of retreat open. Copy of instructions given to General Franklin will be sent to you very soon. You will please await them at your present headquarters, where he (the general commanding) will met you. Great care should be taken to prevent a collision of our own forces during the fog … The column for a movement up the Telegraph and Plank roads will be got in readiness to move, but will not move till the general commanding communicates with you.”

After the battle, Sumner testified to the Congressional committee, “I was ordered by the general commanding to select the corps to make the attack … They made repeated assaults … I do not think it a reproach to those divisions that they did not carry that position …”

Sumner did not mention any effort to distract the enemy, but rather he provided rationale for why his troops did not take their assigned objective, as was apparently expected of them. Surely, Sumner would have cited the intent of his orders if they had never stipulated success in the first place!

Major General Edwin V. Sumner (Library of Congress)

An eager contributor to the Congressional committee’s inquiry was Major General Joseph Hooker, commander of the Center Grand Division at Fredericksburg. Portions of his forces were engaged on both ends of the battlefield, and Hooker recalled, “But General Burnside said that his favorite place of attack was on the telegraph road. Said he, ‘That has always been my favorite place of attack.’ The army was accordingly divided to make two attacks.”

The most direct reference to the diversionary attack concept was during Franklin’s questioning by the committee. When queried about the potential for Union success, Franklin responded:

“It is my opinion that if, instead of making two real attacks, our whole force had been concentrated on the left – that is, our available force – and the real attack had been made there, and merely a feint made upon the right, we might have carried the heights.”

Franklin definitively asserted there was no diversionary demonstration, which in his opinion ultimately contributed to the failure of the plan. Admittedly, Franklin was under scrutiny by the committee and attempted to justify his actions. However, to declare a blatantly false statement would likely generate rebuttals, of which there were none. And as we have seen, this deposition by Franklin does not contradict any of the other testimonies.

Map by Hal Jespersen, http://www.cwmaps.com

Thus, it seems the actual plan was more complicated and nuanced than simply a main attack supported by a diversion. Burnside, in his testimony to the committee, stated:

“I wanted to obtain possession of that new [military] road, and that was my reason for making an attack on the extreme left. I did not intend to make the attack on the right until that position had been taken; which I supposed would stagger the enemy, cutting their line in two; and then I proposed to make a direct attack on their front, and drive them out of their works.”

In a letter to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck, Burnside reinforced his goal of seizing the Sunken Road and Marye’s Heights: [emphasis added]

“I discovered that he did not anticipate the crossing of our whole force at Fredericksburg, and I hoped, by rapidly throwing the whole command over at that place to separate, by a vigorous attack, the forces of the enemy on the river below from the forces behind and on the crest in the rear of the town, in which case we could fight him with great advantage in our favor. For this we had to gain a height on the extreme right of the crest which commanded a new road lately made by the enemy …”

Regardless of Burnside’s ultimate intentions, much relied on how well he communicated them and if they withstood the changing nature of a fluid battle. While legitimate criticisms may be leveled on Burnside for those shortcomings, there is no basis to misconstrue the assaults on the Sunken Road and Marye’s Heights as diversions or anything other than what they were meant to be – genuine attacks.

 

Franklin, William B. A Reply of Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin to the Report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1863.

U.S. Congress. Report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. 3 vols. Washington: GPO, 1863; 5 vols. 1865.

U.S. War Department. The War of the Rebellion: The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. 128 vols. Washington: GPO, 1880-1901.

“If these signatures could talk…” Innis House Graffiti


From: Eric Mink

Innis House

The Innis House – 2019

The Innis House is the last building along Fredericksburg’s Sunken Road to have witnessed the fighting that occurred there in 1862 and 1863. Built ca.1859, the small wood frame building is today an exterior exhibit, occasionally open to the public during the summer months. Visitors who walk along Sunken Road and stop to look through the windows of the house can see the lasting damage caused by two battles. The lead and iron missiles that filled the air in December 1862 and May 1863 passed into and through the Innis House, leaving their marks on the walls and the doors. Some bullets still remain lodged in the building’s framing timbers. The Innis House is a witness to the war and its appearance is an evocative display that conveys the destruction that twice visited Sunken Road.

Innis Interior

Interior first floor partition of the Innis House, showing the damage caused by the war – 2019

The National Park Service (NPS) acquired the Innis House in 1969. The agency stabilized the building in 1973 and four years later began the process of restoring and rehabilitating the house. Post-Civil War additions and vegetation were removed and a new wood shingle roof was added. In 1985 began the longer and more involved effort of returning the interior of the building to its wartime appearance. It was in the course of this work that park staff uncovered lasting evidence of the war.

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A Rarely Seen Panorama of Fredericksburg, and the Pictorial Legacy of Henri Lovie


from: Harrison

Note: for magnifications, click the photos and maps below, scroll down to right corner of dark-screen version, then click on “View full size” link.

Among the contemporary drawings of the December 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg, I find a little known panorama by artist-eyewitness Henri Lovie easily the most ambitious. With Battle of Fredericksburg, Dec. 13, 1862, he depicted in a single sketch the fighting at both ends of the battlefield that day–principal combat sites separated by four miles at the extremes. Lovie’s drawing measures four and one-half inches in height and nearly five feet in length. Beyond its own artistic power, it served as the main reference for a pair of grand-finale pictures in a striking sequence of eight wood engravings, or woodcuts, of the Fredericksburg campaign. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper published the eight over the course of five issues and four weeks, basing the other six woodcuts mainly on Lovie’s sketches as well and even incorporating the pictures into its editorial critique of the campaign. I only recently noticed his December 13 drawing in the digitized collections of the New York Public Library. The Library’s link to it and the means to magnify or download a high-resolution copy are here.

The right end of the sketch includes the only known—to me, at least—eyewitness rendering that looks northwest at the fighting outside Fredericksburg and in front of Marye’s Heights. For orientation, I made preliminary, estimated identifications of selected landmarks:

Detail from Henri Lovie, Battle of Fredericksburg, Dec. 13, 1862, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. Annotation and color contrast by Noel G. Harrison.

(I share this portion of the sketch, and those below, to advance the educational purpose of this blog, and in accordance with the New York Public Library’s posted belief that the item is in the public domain under the laws of the United States.)

The left end offers what I believe is the only eyewitness sketch of the fighting in the opposite, southern zone of the battlefield that includes, albeit faintly, the Confederate artillery defending Prospect Hill as well as many of the Federals confronting the hill from east of the Richmond Stage Road:

Detail of Henri Lovie, Battle of Fredericksburg, Dec. 13, 1862, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. Annotation and color contrast by Noel G. Harrison.

Lovie (1829-1875, born in Berlin, Prussia) sketched from a vantage point on the edge of the bluffs on the Stafford County (east) side of the Rappahannock River and near the pontoon bridges at Franklin’s Crossing:

Detail of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, Battle of Fredericksburg December 13, 1862 2:00-3:00 P.M., Map 4 of 5, Historical research by Frank A. O’Reilly, Illustrated by John Dove, Revised and produced by Steve Stanley (2001). Courtesy Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Directional arrow at upper left; north is toward right on map. Lovie-related annotation by Noel G. Harrison.

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Unknown Until Now–The Ongoing Effort to Identify the Dead in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery


By Peter Maugle

The officer stood over the freshly exhumed grave with a pencil and ledger in his hands. He told others to search the remains as he struggled to decipher the crude etching on a weathered piece of wood. The lettering was faded and worn, but seemed to read, “W.A.W.” A worker called the officer’s attention to a hat badge that indicated the deceased was from New Hampshire. The other workers shook their heads to signify there was no additional identifiable information to be found. The officer then recorded in the ledger book, “Grave # 1221, W.A.W., NH, removed from O’Bannon’s Farm.” A pile of bones and decayed clothing was then placed into a rough wooden coffin for transport to the newly established Fredericksburg National Cemetery.
Wilderness dead in open field

The aforementioned scene was repeated over 15,000 times in Fredericksburg and Stafford and Spotsylvania counties from 1866 to 1868. During this period, United States Army reburial details scoured the region cataloging and reinterring the remains of Union soldiers. Sadly, over 12,000 of the graves were simply marked, “Unknown.” It was the result of no standard issue identification for the soldiers, no protocol for properly identifying or marking graves, and the sheer magnitude of casualties incurred on a landscape that witnessed four of the costliest battles of the Civil War.

carpenter-farm-graves-327-smaller

Union graves on the Carpenter Farm, 1866. Note the identification on the board nearest the camera–Richard Ross, today buried in the National Cemetery.

However, in some instances, surviving soldiers took it upon themselves to identify and mark the graves of their comrades. This would likely be a difficult process in the aftermath of battle. Locating remains among the detritus of war surely complicated things, not to mention the armies were still in the midst of active campaigns. If a deceased soldier’s body was actually found, the next challenge was how to effectively mark the gravesite. Usually it was a shallow, hastily dug grave, and the marker would consist of writing or etching on various materials such as wood, metal, or even pieces of leather equipment. Not knowing who (if anyone), would ever tend to these graves, the soldiers did the best they could considering the circumstances.

Depending on when the death occurred, these graves, and their improvised markers, could remain untended for several years. During that time, the elements, animals, or unsympathetic locals could damage, remove, or destroy makeshift markers. Thus, the noble efforts of the living were for naught, as any indication of the grave’s occupant was compromised or simply disappeared. Continue reading

“The Little Regiment”: Stephen Crane’s Little-Known Story of Fredericksburg, pt. 2


from:  Harrison

In Part One of this post, I described Stephen Crane’s Civil War short story, “The Little Regiment,” with an overview of the narrative, its match to the general setting and timeline of the December 1862 battle of Fredericksburg, the fictional regiment’s connection to the actual Second Corps of the Army of the Potomac, Crane’s visit to the battlefield in 1896, and the adaptation of the story for television in 1954. In Part Two of the post, let’s consider a possible source of inspiration for his tale.

Ahead of the spoilers below, I again encourage you to read Crane’s text as first published, in June 1896 in McClure’s Magazine (beginning on page two of the public-domain pdf here): The Little Regiment

Caroline then and now

For a trip report in 1891, five years before Crane’s visit to Fredericksburg, the veterans of a Second Corps regiment sponsored this photograph of a segment of Caroline Street, extending north from its intersection with Fauquier Street, that had hosted their billets in December 1862. (Tall pump at left may predate the Civil War, lamp suspended over intersection dates to after the war.) Source: Henry S. Stevens, Souvenir of Excursion to Battlefields… (Washington, D.C., 1893), p. 77. Modern-counterpart image: Google StreetView.

Crane’s story ends with its Union-soldier protagonists back in the debris-littered streets of a fictionalized Fredericksburg. When their attack could advance no farther, they had fired a volley at the enemy held heights and withdrawn to the town. Crane continues: “After this episode the men renamed their command. They called it the Little Regiment.”

On an advertising page of the magazine’s May 1896 issue, a McClure’s publicist had announced Crane’s forthcoming tale: “the story of a heroic charge at Fredericksburg wherein ‘The Little Regiment,’ which gives title to the story, suffered a devastation almost without parallel in the annals of war.” Perhaps the publicist consulted only a preliminary, long draft, or read it partially or not at all. As I described in Part One of this blog post, the Crane story that McClure’s actually published in June 1896 specified neither a particular, historical regiment from the annals of war nor a historical battle, although Fredericksburg residents, veterans, and historians would have recognized the setting and events as the December 1862 clash. And as I note below, Crane did not emphasize devastation of the ranks of his fictional regiment.

Crane May 1896 advertising publish

McClure’s advance publicity for “The Little Regiment,” May 1896 (p. iv).

But in a 1967 article analyzing the story, C. B. Ives sought to recover the closer, historical specificity that the McClure’s publicist had implied in May 1896, arguing that Crane derived its title and at least some of its plot from the record of the 69th New York State Volunteers. Ives noted the Second Corps connection and considered candidates from among its units. Ives included in the article a Fredericksburg casualties table for the five regiments of the second (“Irish”) brigade of the Second Corps’ First Division. Of those, he wrote, the 69th “had the highest percentage of casualties…and came out the battle the littlest of all these little regiments.” “After Fredericksburg,” he reiterated towards the end of his article,” it was a very ‘little regiment’ indeed.”

Linson portrait 1894 Wikimedia Commons

Detail of Corwin Knapp Linson’s portrait of Stephen Crane two years prior to his 1896 trip to Fredericksburg. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

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Corporal Edwin Morton Platts – A Boy Soldier Killed at Fredericksburg


From Eric Mink:

Platts headstone

The Fredericksburg National Cemetery contains the burials of 15,436 servicemen, women and dependents. Of that number 12,793, or 83%, are unidentified individuals. Each burial, each person, had a story. For those buried as unknown, we will likely never know their stories. For those fortunate enough to have been identified, we have over time come to know a few – their families, their fates. From time to time, while researching one topic we occasionally stumble upon information related to another. Recently, while digging into information related to a Union battery’s winter campsite, a few sources crossed and began to illuminate the story of one of its members who lies in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery. Edwin Morton Platts was a favorite within the 5th Independent Battery, Massachusetts Light Battery (also known as Battery E, Massachusetts Light Artillery). His was the only death suffered by the battery during the December 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg and the loss was felt deeply by the members of the battery. They wrote about Edwin, his death and his burial. He is buried in Grave #2742. The fact that his grave on the battlefield was located and that he lies beneath a stone that bears his name is due to the care of his comrades. This is his story.

Edwin Morton Platts was born May 29, 1845 to John and Nancy Platts in Charlestown, Massachusetts. Nancy died during child birth two years later and in 1860 young Edwin worked as a “Store Boy” in Boston, living under the roof of Amos D. George, a salesman from New Hampshire. Edwin enlisted in the army on September 29, 1861 in Boston, at the age of 16, and agreed to serve three years. He was assigned to the 5th Independent Battery, Massachusetts Light Artillery. The cards in Edwin’s Compiled Service Record list him as 18-years old at the time of his enlistment, when in fact he was just four months past his 16th birthday. His service record also identifies him as “Edward” and not Edwin. Perhaps he boosted his age and provided a different name or perhaps it was simply a clerical error. Interestingly, his older brother John Franklin Platts served under the assumed name of Francis Poor in both the 4th Connecticut Infantry and the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery.

Edwin served through the spring 1862 campaigns below Richmond, Va., as well as at the Second Battle of Manassas. Edwin entered his final battle at Fredericksburg a corporal, having been promoted from private the previous month. On the afternoon of December 13 the battery crossed the Rappahannock River by the middle pontoon bridge. Private William Waugh, Edwin’s tent mate, remembered many years later encountering his friend while waiting to cross the pontoon bridge. The two had enlisted on the same day and had become quite close. Waugh remembered that while they waited to cross the river Edwin approached him and said “Now we are going into a hot place, look out for yourself.” Waugh responded with similar words of caution. “We talked to-gether for a short time when the bugler blew ‘Attention,’” recollected Waugh. “He left me to take his place. That was the last time I ever talked with him.” The battery pushed through the lower end of town and unlimbered its guns between the town’s poor house and John L. Knight’s brick kiln. The position was near the head of modern-day Dunmore Street, behind Walker-Grant Center. Captain Charles A. Phillips used the terrain to his advantage. He placed his guns behind the grade of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad.

Deeds_of_Valor detail

An early 20th century depiction of supporting operations for the final Union assault at Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862. The scene here may very well depict Captain Charles A. Phillips’ 5th Battery Massachusetts Light Artillery in action. From: Walter F. Beyer and Oscar F. Keydel, eds., Deeds of Valor 1: 108.

 we went into position on sloping ground where we were covered from the enemy’s fire from Marye’s Heights, the left of the Battery resting close to a two story brick building which had been the city’s asylum for the poor. Our right rested on a bank where the clay had been dug out for brick-making, and near the railroad, which passed near, curving past our front. The ground was cramped, the guns were in reduced intervals, close to one another. We could see the fight going on to our right over the plain, where Edward’s battery had been. The brick house stood on the side of the hill, the ground receding rapidly to its north front facing the city, thus forming a basement… We commenced firing at the rebel batteries with our rifled guns. After loading them, we would run them up the slope by hand, so the muzzles would clear the bank, take aim and fire, the guns running back to be reloaded. The enemy 1000 to 1200 yards away caught on to us, and opened their fire which was kept up till darkness closed the scene.” – Notes of 1st Lieutenant Henry D. Scott in History of the Fifth Massachusetts Battery (1902), 504

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Upton’s Attack at Spotsylvania: Giving Credit (Part 1)


Brigadier General Emory Upton.

From Eric Mink:

A previous two-part post (beginning here) took a look at the promotion of Emory Upton to the rank of brigadier general following his actions near Spotsylvania Court House. The legend of Upton and his May 10, 1864 attack goes beyond the recognition he received in the form of elevation of rank. The 6th Corps’ assault that afternoon has universally become known as “Upton’s Attack” and historians and battlefield guides have gone so far as to credit Upton with nearly every aspect of the attack’s planning. But just how much involvement did Upton really have in the conception and development of the assault that bears his name?

Assault Column – Whose Idea?

A commonly held interpretation surrounding the May 10, 1864 attack of the 6th Corps is that Colonel Upton developed the idea of attacking in a compact assault column – in other words, a reduction of the attacking formation’s front and stacking its regiments to create depth and power from behind. As the “Upton as lobbyist” interpretation goes, the young colonel had for some time recognized the folly of using linear formations for attacks against strong defensive positions and therefore advocated for the use of the assault column. This traditional interpretation implies that his views were so well-known, even to Army of the Potomac Headquarters, that on May 10 Generals George G. Meade and Ulysses S. Grant gave Upton the chance to prove himself. Although this interpretation establishes Upton as an easy protagonist in the attack story, it’s difficult to trace the origins of the storyline. A look through the writings of staff officers at the headquarters of both the Army of the Potomac and the 6th Corps fails to uncover any mention of Upton’s opinions on the matter. Postwar accounts of the fight by participants also don’t indicate that Upton had any influence on the decisions surrounding May 10. The first mention of Upton as a lobbyist for the assault column that could be located is in Bruce Catton’s A Stillness at Appomattox, the third volume in the author’s The Army of the Potomac trilogy and the recipient of the 1954 Pulitzer Prize for History.

Catton introduced Upton with a brief biographical sketch, in which he quotes a letter from the young colonel to his sister. The letter is critical of Union generalship and what Upton perceived as incompetency in ordering assaults against an entrenched enemy. This, along with a description of Upton’s successful November 1863 attack against a Confederate fortification at Rappahannock Station, helped set up the decision on May 10. On the Confederate position at the “Mule Shoe” of Spotsylvania, Catton wrote:

“Upton, in short, felt that he knew how to break through those Rebel entrenchments, and he spoke up about it, and on the afternoon of May 10 they gave him twelve picked infantry regiments, his own 121st New York among them, and told him to go ahead.” Catton, p 112

Furthermore, Catton inferred that not only did the idea of the attack originate with Upton, but the compact formation was also his idea.

“The obvious fact here – at least it was obvious to Upton – was that an assaulting column’s only hope was to get a solid mass of riflemen right on the parapet as quickly as possible…So Upton formed his men in four lines, three regiments side by side in each line…” Catton, p 113

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Armament of the Army of the Potomac and the 9th Army Corps at the Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House


114th Penn Brandy Station4

From Eric Mink:

The Union Army that crossed the Rapidan River in early May 1864 was a much different force than the army that made the same crossing a year earlier. Ulysses S. Grant’s force consisted of the Army of the Potomac, three army corps under George Meade, and an attached fourth corps under Ambrose Burnside. Gone were the 11th and 12th Army Corps, sent west the previous fall, and the 1st and 3rd Army Corps, abolished a couple months prior to the opening of the spring campaign. Another difference between the Army of the Potomac that fought at Chancellorsville and the Union force that opened the Overland Campaign was the improvements made in weapons they carried.

Commencing with the fourth quarter of 1862, the United States Army’s Ordnance Department compiled quarterly returns for all ordnance and ordnance stores on hand, as submitted by companies, regiments and batteries. These summary statements provide a good look at the armament of the armies in the field and the weaponry carried by their regiments and batteries. Based upon the companies that reported in the first quarter of 1863, the Army of the Potomac that fought at Chancellorsville was well-armed with 78% of its infantry weapons types that were considered first class, while second class weapons comprised 12% and the remaining 10% fell in the lower third class. A year later, the force that Grant wielded in Virginia’s Spotsylvania County had improved armament with first class weapons constituting 88% of the long arms among infantry companies and the third class weapons represented a mere 4% among the foot soldiers. This change was apparent in the continued decrease in use of the smooth-bored muskets. A third of those muskets remaining among Grant’s men were in the hands of the Pennsylvania Reserves, whose term of service was up a month into the campaign. Grant’s force also appears to have been much less reliant on imported weapons than Joseph Hooker’s army the previous year. Only a quarter of the guns carried by Grant’s men came from outside the United States, while imported muskets and rifled muskets had made up 44% of the weapons reported under Hookers command. The Springfield Rifled Musket, model 1855, 1861, 1863 remained the prominent type in early 1864 with 63% of the Union soldiers at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House equipped with that trusty gun, and the imported British Enfield Rifled Musket came in a distant second 21%.

Assessing the weaponry assigned to the cavalry regiments is a bit more difficult. Unfortunately, the ordnance returns for many of the cavalry regiments and companies were not compiled or are missing. The compiled returns are arranged by service arm and then alphabetically by state and then finally numerically by regiment or battery. For the 1st quarter of 1863, the compiled returns for cavalry regiments only exist for regiments from Arkansas through Indiana, as well as the Regular Army. That excludes 80% of the cavalry regiments with the Army of the Potomac and the 9th Army Corps. Among the artillery, 294 guns were reported with the 3-inch gun, nicknamed the “Ordnance Rifle,” as the most prevalent type and the Model 1857, Light 12-pounder Gun-Howitzer, nicknamed the “Napoleon,” coming in a close second. Minus the missing information on the cavalry, the returns reveal a marked improvement in weaponry over the previous spring and a reduction in reliance upon foreign imports.

Click  here to retrieve the document.

The attached statistics come from: Record Group 156: Records of the Office of the Chief of Ordnance – “Summary Statements of Quarterly Returns of Ordnance and Ordnance Stores on Hand in Regular and Volunteer Army Organizations, 1862-1867, 1870-1876.” (Microcopy 1281, Rolls 1, 3 and 6). National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

Eric J. Mink

Armament of the Army of the Potomac During the Chancellorsville Campaign


110th pennsylvania

From Eric Mink:

The winter of 1862-1863 saw the United States’ Army of the Potomac restructure, refit, reform and emerge from its winter camps a stronger, confident and more effective fighting force. Army commander Joseph Hooker instituted numerous reforms that raised morale and also worked to improve the army’s efficiency of command and control. He abolished the grand divisions, an unwieldy and unnecessary additional level of command instituted by his predecessor Ambrose Burnside. Hooker brought all of the cavalry brigades together into their own mounted corps under a single officer, not scattered among the various infantry corps as had been the army’s tradition. The 9th Army Corps left the army for another theater of the war, but the loss of that command was replaced with the addition of the 11th and 12th Army Corps’ following the army’s defeat at Fredericksburg. Another area where the Army of the Potomac improved during the winter months was its armament. Between the Battle of Fredericksburg and the Chancellorsville Campaign, the army made nominal gains in better, more dependable and accurate weapons.

Commencing with the fourth quarter of 1862, ending December 31, the United States Army’s Ordnance Department compiled quarterly returns for all ordnance and ordnance stores on hand, as submitted by companies, regiments and batteries. These summary statements provide a good look at the armament of the armies in the field and the weaponry carried by their regiments and batteries. The fourth quarter 1862 returns for the Army of the Potomac how that infantry regiments were pretty well armed with the majority of the long arms carried classified as 1st Class weapons, dominated by the Springfield Rifled Muskets, model 1855, 1861, National Armory and contract and the British Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifled Musket. In the artillery, the most common gun with the army’s batteries was the Model 1857, Light 12-pounder Gun-Howitzer, nicknamed the “Napoleon,” while the New Model 1859 Sharps Carbine was found in the hands of most of the army’s horsemen. In the first three months of 1863, a slight improvement is evident in the weapons carried by the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac.

The months following the Battle of Fredericksburg allowed for regiments to replace losses in both men and equipment. A look at the returns suggests that some regiments also improved the quality of their weapons. For instance, the 24th New Jersey Infantry reported on its fourth quarter 1862 return that all of its companies carried the 2nd class imported “Belgian or Vincennes Rifles, sabre bayonet. Calibre .69 to .71,” but on the returns for the 1st quarter of 1863 the regiment had upgraded to the 1st Class British Enfields. Overall in the army, the 1st quarter of 1863 saw an improvement from 74% to 78% of all infantry weapons being classified as 1st Class. The returns also show the continued reliance on imported weapons, as they constituted 44% of the long arms in the army, an increase of 6% from the previous quarterly returns. In the artillery, the 3-inch wrought iron field rifle, commonly referred to as the “Ordnance Rifle,” emerged as the most common gun found among the army’s batteries. The Sharp’s carbine still dominated the cavalry’s armament.

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The attached statistics come from: Record Group 156: Records of the Office of the Chief of Ordnance – “Summary Statements of Quarterly Returns of Ordnance and Ordnance Stores on Hand in Regular and Volunteer Army Organizations, 1862-1867, 1870-1876.” (Microcopy 1281, Rolls 1, 2 and 4). National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

Eric J. Mink