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.

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, 2 and 4). National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

Eric J. Mink

Rice Bull’s Legacy of War


From Beth Parnicza

When we prepare special programs, exhibits, or even blog posts, we often pull soldiers’ letters and diary accounts written immediately following the action. Untainted by the warm glow of nostalgia, such accounts have an authenticity that draws us in as historians.

With so much of our interpretation and research focusing on a battle or its immediate aftermath, we are sometimes guilty of forgetting that these moments are brief touchstones in the lives of soldiers, which, if they were lucky, stretched far beyond the few days that command our attention. One such account that we draw on to the point of canon is Rice Bull’s spectacular recollections of the Battle of Chancellorsville. Bull served with the 123rd New York Volunteer Infantry, and it was both his and his regiment’s first major battle. Bull completed the memoirs of his wartime experience in 1913, fifty years after the Battle of Chancellorsville, but his clarity and descriptive ability speak to a clear mind and a sharp memory of these transformative events.

Image of Rice Bull, 123rd New York, in uniform

Rice Bull volunteered with the 123rd New York Infantry in the spring of 1862, explaining, “it was our sense of duty; …if our country was to endure as a way of life as planned by our fathers, it rested with us children to finish the work they had begun.”

After describing a collective effort to overcome the fear of battle, Bull described being wounded as his regiment confronted Confederates attacking in the woods west of Fairview: “I had just fired my gun and was lowering it from my shoulder when I felt a sharp sting in my face as though I had been struck with something that caused no pain. Blood began to flow down my face and neck and I knew that I had been wounded.” As he moved toward the left and rear, “…when back of Company K felt another stinging pain, this time in my left side just above the hip. Everything went black. My knapsack and gun dropped from my hands and I went down in a heap on the ground.”

Bull’s account is particularly remarkable for his account of lying wounded on the field for nine days at a makeshift field hospital near the Fairview house. Beyond the agony of his wounds and the suffering cries of his comrades, Bull noted the weather, which took a turn for the worse a few days after the battle. A thunderstorm, followed by a cold, steady rain, made the unsheltered miserable and caused two men to drown. Bull wrote, “It is now fifty years since that day, but in my memory, I can yet see those wounded men as they lay on the ground half covered with the yellow mud and water.” Decades later, the horrible sights he witnessed were seared into Bull’s memory.

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William T. Sherman’s Army Group at Spotsylvania, Chancellorsville, and Fredericksburg, May 1865


from:  Harrison

Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, photographed at center in Washington in 1865 within a week or two of touring battlefields in the Fredericksburg area.  He rode with the Twentieth Army Corps and Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum, seated here at Sherman’s left, through Spotsylvania to Chancellorsville, and with the Fifteenth Corps and Major Gen. John Logan, seated at Sherman’s right, north from Fredericksburg.  Courtesy Library of Congress.

Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, photographed at center in Washington in May 1865, within a week or two of touring battlefields in the Fredericksburg area.  He rode with the Twentieth Army Corps and Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum, seated here at Sherman’s left, through Spotsylvania to Chancellorsville, and with the Fifteenth Corps and Maj. Gen. John Logan, seated at Sherman’s right, north from Fredericksburg.  Courtesy Library of Congress.

With the Civil War’s post-sesquicentennial era nearly at hand, and the centennial of the National Park Service coming next year, I’ve been considering public history practiced in the past at the sites of, or concerning, the Fredericksburg-area battles. Of course, we define “public history” variously. I adopt a broad understanding of it for the purposes of this article about an early episode of battlefield touring by U.S. military personnel: publicly funded, historical engagement with places that would eventually compose Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, and undertaken outside of commercial, private, or civilian-academic endeavors. That puts into play a wide range of both motivations and interpreters, eyewitnesses or otherwise.

Governmental Public History for the Fredericksburg-Area Battles

Smithfield postcard (2)

In May 1913, nearly half a century after Sherman and soldiers of his army group had toured the Fredericksburg-area battlefields, two dozen officer-students of the U.S. Army War College did the same for a staff ride and lunched at Civil War-era Smithfield on the Fredericksburg battlefield. Among the War College instructors and other personnel accompanying them was then-Brig. Gen. Hunter S. Liggett, destined to command the First United States Army during the final phase of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in 1918; among their guests was Maj. Gen. Francis L. D. Baldwin (Ret.), a two-time Congressional Medal of Honor recipient who had passed through the Spotsylvania and Chancellorsville battlefields (also toured by the class in 1913) with Sherman’s army group in May 1865. In October 1928, President Calvin Coolidge delivered a speech, on the opposite side of the Smithfield house from that shown here, dedicating Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Copy of postcard of Smithfield (renamed “Mannsfield Hall” after the Civil War) courtesy of the park.

In between, for instance, the official reports of Civil War officers and current National Park Service tours and exhibits stretches a long chain of governmental historical endeavor, whether undertaken on or away from the sites of the battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House, embodied in documents or events ranging from courts martial evidence; medical and surgical case-histories; damage/requisition claims submitted by civilians before and after 1865; soldiers’ pension- and service affidavits; United States Army staff rides beginning locally around 1909; federal legislative action beginning in 1898 towards creation of the park in 1927; and NPS living history programs of the 1970s’ and 1980’s.

Besides Confederate and Federal, national authorities, state governments participated as well. During the war New York soldiers contributed artifacts found in the combat zones to a “collection of relics” maintained by their state’s Bureau of Military Statistics. In 1898, Virginia’s General Assembly passed a bill incorporating the Fredericksburg and Adjacent National Battlefields Memorial Park Association of Virginia. A decade later, the New Jersey Legislature appropriated $6,000 for a monument to the 23rd New Jersey Infantry, dedicated on the grounds of Salem Church in 1907 to mark the regiment’s farthest advance there on May 3, 1863.

At almost any given moment, then, from the onset of the Civil War through the time that I write this, historical engagement with some aspect of one of the four battles (or with the collective legacy of all four) occurred, and occurs, as a function of government, including of the armed forces. Moreover, the recording or interpretation of civilians’ perspectives that I note above and below shows that much of this activity involved aspects of what we now call “social history.”

This month brings the sesquicentennial of some of the first instances of historical touring of the Fredericksburg-area battlefields during peacetime in Virginia (even if not yet during peacetime nationwide), by military personnel other than members of the units who had fought at those places.

The intermittent touring of mid-May 1865, ranging from the informal or self-guided to the planned and guided, was among the secondary activities of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman and some units of a four-corps army group that he commanded and accompanied through the Fredericksburg area. (The army group numbered around 60,000 men at the time of the Grand Review in Washington, one week later.) Although a majority of the regiments in one of the four corps had fought at Chancellorsville with the Army of the Potomac, they were strangers to the sites of the local battles that had occurred after Chancellorsville. Most of the men in the other three corps were seeing the Virginia combat zones for the first time. My article below charts the routes of the four corps, then samples impressions of the four battlefields penned by soldiers of three of the corps: the Fifteenth, the Seventeenth, and the Twentieth.

March Routes of Sherman’s Army Group

(Full map, above, and citation are here.)

Simple geography, not sightseeing, had dictated the course of his army group in mid-May 1865. It followed roads allowing for roughly parallel, simultaneous movement from Richmond to Alexandria, Washington, and the Grand Review. (For backstory on Sherman’s movements from North Carolina after his accepting there on April 26 the surrender of the Army of Tennessee and Confederate forces still active in that state, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, I recommend starting with Craig Swain’s post here.) With the same goal, most of the Army of the Potomac had already passed through the Fredericksburg area, on May 8-11, 1865.

Sherman’s troops came next.  On May 14 advance elements of his westernmost column, Maj. Gen. Jefferson C. Davis’s Fourteenth Army Corps, Army of Georgia, moved north to Raccoon Ford, where Davis established a headquarters on the south side of the Rapidan River.  His three divisions followed, the diary of the First Division noting passage on May 15 through the “vicinity of Wilderness battle-field.” On several sketch maps engineers plotted the corps’ route, more specifically, as extending to Raccoon Ford through New Verdiersville on the Orange Plank Road and west of the battlefields of Wilderness and Mine Run.  Most or all of the Fourteenth Corps crossed the ford on May 15-16.

To the east of the Fourteenth Corps came the northbound Twentieth Corps, also of the Army of Georgia and composing with the Fourteenth the “Left Wing” of Sherman’s Army Group under the command of Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum. Slocum, his Army of Georgia/Left Wing headquarters staff, and a division of the Twentieth had reached the southern fringe of the Spotsylvania Court House battlefield by May 14, 1865.

On May 15, 1865, much of the Twentieth Army Corps moved from left to right through this scene at the county seat of Spotsylvania Court House, passing in front of the brick hotel (Sanford's Tavern) in center background and behind the brick store in right middle-ground, then following the Brock Road through the Spotsylvania Battlefield and towards Todd’s Tavern.  Maj. Gens. William T. Sherman and Henry W. Slocum may have spent the preceding night in the brick hotel or on its grounds.  George L. Frankenstein would paint this watercolor in June 1865 or sometime thereafter.  Courtesy Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

On May 15, 1865, much of the Twentieth Army Corps moved from left to right through this scene at the county seat of Spotsylvania Court House, passing in front of the brick hotel (Sanford’s Tavern) in center background and behind the tall brick building in right middle-ground, then following the Brock Road through the rest of the Spotsylvania Battlefield.  Maj. Gens. William T. Sherman and Henry W. Slocum may have spent the preceding night in the brick hotel or on its grounds.  George L. Frankenstein would paint this watercolor in mid-June 1865 or sometime thereafter.  Courtesy Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

On May 15, the Twentieth Corps marched north from the Po River and through Spotsylvania Court House and the Spotsylvania battlefield to the Chancellorsville battlefield. Some of the regiments continued on May 15 to cross the Rappahannock River on a pontoon bridge built for the corps at United States Ford, then encamped. Evidently, however, the majority of Twentieth Corps units remained south of the Rappahannock at or near Chancellorsville, crossing the river on May 16. Topographical Engineer Oliver L. F. Browne sketched (north at top in both details below) the route of the Second Division of the Twentieth Corps:

(Full map above, Sheet 19, and full set of companion sheets are here.)

To the east of the Twentieth Corps moved Bvt. Maj. Gen. Mortimer D. Leggett with his northbound Seventeenth Army Corps, Army of the Tennessee, along the corridor of the Telegraph Road toward Massaponax Creek and Fredericksburg. Leggett established headquarters at Massaponax Church on May 15, with some elements of the Seventeenth Corps bivouacked on the Telegraph Road as far south as its crossing of the Po River. On May 16, Leggett’s troops headed into Fredericksburg. Engineer James B. Alexander plotted (north at top) the Fourth Division’s march past Howison’s Mill and pond, then along the Orange Turnpike/Hanover Street and George Street:

(Full map above, Sheet 33, and full set of companion sheets are here.)

…while traversing (red in my annotation below) the battlefield of December 1862 and May 1863:

Continuing through the town on May 16, 1865, the Seventeenth Corps passed over the Rappahannock River on a pontoon bridge erected at the foot of Hawke Street, where the Federals had erected spans in 1862 and 1863. By May 10, 1865, engineers had built a pontoon bridge at or very near this oft-used crossing site, “opposite the Lacy House,” for the Army of the Potomac’s northward passage. Presumably, they left the structure in place for the Army of the Tennessee. (Army of the Potomac engineers are known to have left one of their May 1865 pontoon bridges at another local, traditional spot, Franklin’s Crossing downstream from Fredericksburg, but I found no evidence of Sherman’s troops actually using the Franklin’s span.)

The easternmost corps, the Fifteenth of the Army of the Tennessee, paired with the Seventeenth as the “Right Wing” of Sherman’s army group, was the last to move over one of the Fredericksburg area battlefields.  Most of the Fifteenth approached Fredericksburg via the Richmond Stage Road on the evening of May 16, 1865, when two of its divisions bivouacked at or near the Stage Road crossing of Massaponax Creek.  All or nearly all of the Fifteenth Corps divisions passed through Fredericksburg and over the Rappahannock at or above the Hawke Street pontoon crossing the next day, May 17. (A sketch map plots a “May 17” headquarters- or camp symbol just south of the town and in the vicinity of the Stage Road crossing of Hazel Run, although it is unclear whether this references the night of May 16-17, the night of May 17-18, or sometime in-between.)

Sherman and His Troops Tour and Reflect

When penning his memoirs years later, Sherman would recall his personal desire, after leaving Richmond in May 1865, to “see as much of the battle-fields of the Army of the Potomac as I could.” His planned historical tour ultimately included Fredericksburg and was taking shape by May 12, 1865, when he wrote Maj. Gen. John A. Logan from Hanover Court House to report himself “anxious to see the ground about Spotsylvania Court-House and Chancellorsville…may accompany the Left Wing that far.”

Whether Sherman arrived at Spotsylvania on May 14 or May 15 is unclear, but a staff officer confirmed that Sherman accompanied the troops “through S[potsylvania] Court House” on one of those days. Late on May 14, another staffer had datelined an order at “Headquarters Twentieth Corps, Mr. McKenney’s House, Va.”—likely the home of Addison and Sally Ann McKenney one mile from Spotsylvania Court House—while a third officer had datelined an order that day at Army of Georgia Headquarters at “Spotsylvania C.H. Virga,” referencing Joseph Sanford, owner of the hotel “of this place.” Conceivably then, Sherman and Slocum had spent the night of May 14-15 in the McKenney House or the hotel at the county seat, or on the grounds of one or the other.

Next, Sherman “visited with Genl. Slocum the battle ground of Chancellorsville.” Sherman left Slocum at Chancellorsville at noon on May 15 and rode to Fredericksburg. Most of Sherman’s battlefield touring around Fredericksburg probably occurred on May 16, when an officer-diarist of the Seventeenth Corps encountered him “out riding and to my party of 4…raised his hat–saluted & smiled most pleasantly.” Sherman spent two nights in Fredericksburg (the specific location of his lodgings unknown to me, alas), departing there with the Fifteenth Corps on May 17.

Besides the logistics and progress of his four marching corps, Sherman was likely preoccupied during much of the Fredericksburg-area sightseeing by a bitter feud with Edwin M. Stanton, United States Secretary of War, and Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, former General in Chief of the Armies and newly appointed commander of the Military Division of the James. Perhaps for this reason, Sherman’s available writings do not record his direct impressions of the battlefields he traversed. Doubtless, though, someone who encountered or accompanied him recorded a version of those impressions–a document not yet available to us.  The irony of Sherman touring Chancellorsville in the company of Slocum, a key eyewitness, and where a number of Sherman’s other, future subordinates had been engulfed in controversy and some of the war’s heaviest fighting, surely proved irresistible to at least one chronicler.

Detail of portrait of Sherman painted the year after his battlefields tour in the Fredericksburg area, an experience bracketed by his writings recognizing a real, current peace and fearing a reconfigured, future sectional conflict.  Image of George Peter Alexander Healy portrait from: Wikimedia Commons/National Gallery of Art.

Detail of portrait of Sherman painted the year after his battlefields tour in the Fredericksburg area, an experience bracketed by his writings recognizing a real, current peace and fearing a reconfigured, future sectional conflict.  Image of George Peter Alexander Healy portrait from: Wikimedia Commons/National Gallery of Art.

Since lengthy historical treatments of the Sherman-Stanton-Halleck conflict and of Sherman’s late-war outlook and policies are readily available, a brief summary of the controversy suffices here. Sherman learned that the two men had implied that he was guilty of insubordination, bribery that allowed Jefferson Davis to remain at large, and treason in the generous terms Sherman had initially offered Gen. Joseph E. Johnston for the surrender of his command. Biographer Michael Fellman describes Sherman’s consequent, “towering rage,” which prompted a veiled threat of Halleck’s assassination, or other violence, if he appeared during the Western troops’ northward march through Richmond, and Sherman’s widely noticed and reported snub of Stanton’s proffered handshake at the Grand Review in Washington on May 24.

The upcoming historical tour that Sherman had outlined in the May 12, 1865 letter to Logan obviously reflected respect for the dedication and sacrifice of the Army of the Potomac in 1862-1864, an appropriate parallel to the courage and accomplishments of those Army of the Potomac soldiers who were transferred west and eventually served under him. Perhaps Slocum in May 1865 pointed-out to Sherman the sites at Chancellorsville of the death Maj. General Amiel Whipple and the mortal wounding Maj. Gen. Hiram Berry. Yet the sights and associations of the Fredericksburg area battlefields seemed to have left unchanged Sherman’s view, expressed in the second part of the May 12 letter, that the Army of the Potomac or Eastern troops generally, unlike his own army group, were susceptible to becoming the tools of Halleck and Stanton.

They would, Sherman wrote in the letter to Logan, “have the Army of the Potomac violate my truce” by attacking Johnston’s men, “discomfited, disheartened, and surrounded.” Sherman went on to indulge a fearful vision of his “West” letting the “East” and its troops thus fight it out with the former Confederates until the West’s “men of a different metal” step “in the ring.” He added, “Though my voice is still peace, I am not for such a peace as makes me subject to insult by former friends, now perfidious enemies.”

Sherman may well have forecast his own mood for much of the battlefields tour by forwarding these grim ponderings to Logan with the assumption, in Sherman’s words, that Logan would “chew the cud of ‘bitter fancy’ as you ride along.” Yet by Sherman’s second day in Fredericksburg, May 16, 1865, a staffer was noting, “I have never seen him in such good spirits.” Sherman reviewed at least one of the Seventeenth Corps regiments passing through town that day.

The ruins of Chancellorsville, another of George L. Frankenstein’s watercolors painted sometime during or after June 1865.  Courtesy Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

The ruins of Chancellorsville, a George L. Frankenstein watercolor painted sometime during or after June 1865.  Courtesy Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

Surely, however, the Fredericksburg area’s scars were effective in reinforcing or even elaborating on Sherman’s view of an economically devastated South. His route had taken him from dramatically holed buildings at Spotsylvania Court House past the ghostly shell of Chancellorsville, the chimney stack of Fairview, and another ruin at Tabernacle Church, and then into the wreckage of Fredericksburg. Alternating with these ravaged landmarks were splintered forests, fields torn by earthworks, and mangled or missing stretches of the wooden deck of the Orange Plank Road. On the one hand, Sherman believed in May 1865 that the South’s devastation would preclude it contributing to the revenues necessary for a radical, punitive military occupation, thus risking a confrontation between North and West if the latter was required to help pay the shortfall. On the other, Southern financial travails could foster lasting racial harmony and collaborative economic recovery, without such an occupation, through whites’ simple need to “sell or lease on easy terms part of their land to their former slaves.”

On the night of the day that he left Fredericksburg, May 17, 1865, Sherman wrote Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, by now in charge of the Army’s Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, to share his views on African American enfranchisement and Southern impoverishment. Although Sherman acknowledged to Howard the former’s ignorance of “the laws of Congress which originated your bureau, and repeat[ing] my entire confidence in your pure and exalted character,” Sherman also expanded on his vision of reconfigured sectional warfare.  “[I]f we attempt to force the negro on the South as a voter, ‘a loyal citizen,’ we begin a new revolution in which the [Old] Northwest may take a different side from what we did when we were fighting to vindicate our Constitution.”

Sherman’s implied interpretation of the Fredericksburg area battles was that the sites of those should now be places of history, of vindicating the Constitution and yielding a new but conservative birth of freedom, not figurative theatre stages awaiting further current events–a tragic Act Two. However, the passage in March 1867 of the first Military Reconstruction Act and its extension of the franchise to African American, male citizens of ten Southern states, and the ratification in March 1870 of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution and its extension of that right to them in Sherman’s native state of Ohio (for the first time), along with all other states, would not bring the Old Northwest to arms against the North, despite episodes of violent resistance in the South.

In June 1866, a year after Sherman and the Twentieth Corps had passed through the Spotsylvania, Benson Lossing made a sketch of a fortification-torn landscape there—a drawing soon converted to this woodcut.  Lossing identified the subject as “The Place Where Sedgwick Was Killed,” but the presence of a building in the background, seemingly in the area of the battle-destroyed Spindle House, suggests that some other area of the battlefield was his actual subject.  Source: Lossing, Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America 3: 306.

In June 1866, a year after Sherman and the Twentieth Corps had passed through Spotsylvania, Benson Lossing made a sketch of a fortification-torn landscape there—a drawing soon converted to this woodcut.  Lossing identified the subject as “The Place Where Sedgwick Was Killed,” but the presence of a building in the background, seemingly in the area of the battle-destroyed Spindle House, suggests that some other area of the battlefield was his actual subject.  Source: Lossing, Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America 3: 306.

In May 1865, lower-ranking soldiers of Sherman’s northbound corps were also touring battlefields and reflecting. Bvt. Maj. Gen. Alpheus Williams, a veteran of Chancellorsville but a stranger to Spotsylvania Court House, reported that in his division on May 14, “Many officers and men embraced the opportunity to visit the famous battle-fields.” Word spread that the Mule Shoe was a key destination for the military tourists. The Colonel of the 147th Pennsylvania Infantry went for a look, then shared with his men descriptions of the earthworks, unburied remains of Federal soldiers, and the stump of an oak tree felled by bullets. A group from the Third Wisconsin Infantry likewise visited the Mule Shoe, where they found a scene that “would have been appalling to a person not accustomed to see the hardships that one is obliged to see in the army—clothing, knapsacks, cartridge boxes lay scattered around showing how desperate had been the struggle.”

On May 15, 1865, an officer in another Army of the Potomac/Army of Georgia unit that had transferred west in 1863 undertook a similar self-guided tour of Spotsylvania, stopping to chat near the Mule Shoe at “a small house…in which a woman remained all through the battle. She was in the cellar. The house was riddled with bullet holes.” He then rode to “an open field to the right of the Wilderness Road,” perhaps the Spindle Farm clearing. “Strewn all over this…the skeletons of the men who had fallen in the charge, a year ago the 10th of this month;” he noted a “Second Corps badge on their caps.”

Yet neither special detours nor access to officer’s mounts were essential. Much could be observed from the main march-routes, especially Brock Road. A Massachusetts soldier later recalled seeing “houses riddled with balls and shells…. In the forests around the town, not one tree in twenty standing.” A man in the 70th Indiana Infantry, a regiment new to central Virginia, wrote of the Spotsylvania battlefield:

Everywhere were visible the terrible signs of the struggle—trees mowed down by artillery, lowly mounds with nothing to testify whose was the last resting place, and sadder still, unburied remains. Bones lay by the road side: and in a yard, where a woman stood and discoursed about the struggle to inquirers….

A Benson Lossing sketch of June 1866 was the basis for this woodcut of Union earthworks intersecting the Orange Plank Road/Orange Turnpike west of Fairview on the Chancellorsville battlefield.  Source: Lossing, Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America 3: 32.

A Benson Lossing sketch of June 1866 was the basis for this woodcut of Union earthworks intersecting the Orange Plank Road/Orange Turnpike west of Fairview on the Chancellorsville battlefield.  Source: Lossing, Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America 3: 32.

As the Twentieth Corps moved northward, entering the Chancellorsville combat areas on May 15, 1865, a number of regiments were granted a several hours’ halt to eat and to “look over the old battlefield.” A man who had fought on this ground two years earlier with the Eleventh Corps wrote that in 1865 his comrades who were not Eleventh Corps veterans “as they visited the field, now saw how it all was”: on May 2, 1863, the Eleventh had been “swung out, with flank and rear unprotected, where it was suddenly surprised.” The Seventieth Indiana spent the night of May 15-16, 1865 on or near the site of that surprise attack. At one of their campfires soldiers “gathered around the blaze” to hear another Chancellorsville veteran relate the story of the battle.

Some men of the Seventieth Indiana also ventured onto the Wilderness battlefield, even though it was bypassed by the main routes of Sherman’s army group. There they encountered more landscapes of combat and another civilian willing to discuss the struggle:

The commingled bones of horse and rider, all the possessions of the soldier, from the envelope with its fond address in a woman’s hand to the broken gun, lie scattered over the ground. Knapsacks placed together by companies before they made the charge, and for which the owners never returned, remain in decaying heaps…. An old, gray-headed man leaned upon his hoe handle trying to quiet his trembling head as he said, “Ah, sir. there are thousands of both sides lying unburied in the Wilderness.”

Members of at least two other Twentieth Corps regiments also reported visiting the Wilderness battlefield. 

John Adams Elder sketched his hometown of Fredericksburg sometime after the December 1862 battle, or shortly after war’s end.  This 1880’s woodcut adapted some of the Civil War-era Elder drawings as a panorama looking south along Sophia Street in the vicinity of the Upper Crossing of the Rappahannock, giving a sense of the landscape that would have surrounded Sherman and his men if they crossed on a pontoon bridge here on May 16-17, 1865.  From:  Moncure Daniel Conway, “Fredericksburg First and Last II,” Magazine of American History 17 (June 1887): 465-466.

John Adams Elder sketched his hometown of Fredericksburg sometime after the December 1862 battle, or shortly after war’s end.  This 1880’s woodcut adapted some of the Civil War-era Elder drawings as a panorama looking south along Sophia Street in the vicinity of the Upper Crossing of the Rappahannock, giving a sense of the landscape that would have surrounded Sherman and his men if they crossed on a pontoon bridge here on May 16-17, 1865.  From:  Moncure Daniel Conway, “Fredericksburg First and Last II,” Magazine of American History 17 (June 1887): 465-466.

To the east, the Fredericksburg battlefield made powerful historical impressions on some men of the Fifteenth Corps. A soldier in the 93rd Illinois Infantry, marching through the town with the Corps’ Third Division on May 17, 1865, wrote of spotting “but few houses in the place that had not been pierced by cannon shot.” Charles W. Willis, accompanying the Corps’ First Division described Fredericksburg in his diary as “the most shelled town I ever saw.”  Approaching the town from Massaponax Creek, Wills added, he had “passed over the whole line of Burnside’s battle ground.” The December 1862 battle “was no fight, only a Yankee slaughter,” Wills concluded.

Fredericksburg’s stone wall and Sunken Road, just over one year after the tour of the Fourth Minnesota Infantry in May 1865.  Source: Lossing, Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America 2: 491.

Fredericksburg’s stone wall and Sunken Road, just over one year after the tour of the Fourth Minnesota Infantry in May 1865.  Source: Lossing, Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America 2: 491.

The Fourth Minnesota Infantry of the Fifteenth Corps partook of a more formal tour that day. As would be the case in later years, battlefields in 1865 inspired differing interpretations. Colonel, John E. Tourtellotte, as tour leader, focused on the success of Sedgwick’s attack at Fredericksburg on May 3, 1863, not the slaughter of Burnside’s on December 13, 1862:

Grass is growing in the streets. …desolate; scarred; dead.  Earthworks on the heights in rear of the town, which Sedgwick took two years ago.  A halt was ordered in front of the stone wall and Colonel Tourtellotte explained to the men how our troops charged over the stone wall, over the crest and up the hill.

At least one group of Western veterans besides Sherman and his entourage toured both Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg. On May 16, 1865, Maj. Gen. Leggett and his staff left the Seventeenth Corps’ march along the Telegraph Road and proceeded to Spotsylvania Court House. There they engaged hotel keeper Joseph Sanford to ride along and “show us the position of our forces” the year before. (Sanford’s relations with northbound Federals in May 1865 were not entirely amicable. The previous week, he had lost from storage at his hotel an extraordinary relic of the 1864 fighting—a bullet-felled section of a 22-inch oak tree—to confiscation by Army of the Potomac officers.) Those segments of the Mule Shoe where “Johnson and his Division were taken prisoners” drew most, if not all, of the time and attention of Leggett’s party.  A sightseer in it looked over what he suspected had been a rifle-pit: “hundreds of dead were thrown in promiscuously–and covered….”  He traced the buried feature “by clumps of earth.”  It extended “into a field now ploughed and planted in corn…just sprouted up.”

Leggett’s group then rode to catch-up with the Seventeenth Corps. The staffer who had examined the buried ditch at Spotsylvania found Fredericksburg “much affected by the war…. nearly every house is perforated.” He found “no business doing—besides that of the Army Sutler.”

But a different Seventeenth Corps chronicler, reflecting upon this and nearby landscapes seen from the ranks of the 78th Ohio Infantry, found himself underwhelmed by the war’s visible impact:

We had heard much about the desolations of Virginia, but were surprised to see them so trifling compared with Atlanta, and the country through which the Western army had passed…. [T]he desolations from Petersburg to Washington will bear no comparison with the desolations from Chattanooga to Atlanta.

And in another category of the battles’ overall legacies, William T. Sherman and at least one of his regiments came away in 1865 with very different understandings. Whereas Sherman’s visit to the Fredericksburg area was bracketed by his thoughts of Southerners who had recognized military outcomes and made peace—and of how to protect them and it from men like Halleck and Stanton—soldiers of the 102nd Illinois Infantry concluded that many local citizens had never placed battlefield events into the realm of history, and intended to continue killing Federal troops. (Although outside my topic of military touring, I might also note that Northern journalist J. T. Trowbridge would visit the same battlefields four months later and derive a set of impressions of social and economic prospects, recorded in A Picture of the Desolated States; and the Work of Restoration. 1865-1868, that in some aspects also contrasted markedly with Sherman’s.)

Lieut. Jacob H. Snyder, 102nd Illinois Infantry. Copy from: Ancestry.com.

Lieut. Jacob H. Snyder, 102nd Illinois Infantry. Copy from: Ancestry.com.

After reaching Washington, D. C., Bvt. Bg. Gen. Benjamin Harrison, future President of the United States, reported that two soldiers of his Twentieth Corps brigade—Lieut. Jacob H. Snyder of the 102nd Illinois and Private W. O. Jones, Snyder’s orderly—had vanished after securing permission “to look over the battle-ground” of Chancellorsville on May 16, 1865. “It is feared they were killed by some guerrillas,” Harrison added.  When Snyder’s and Jones’ comrades published their regimental history later that year, they noted that another of the regiment’s officers had returned from Washington to search the Chancellorsville battlefield, without success. The Illinois veterans came to blame a group of about 20 local men whom others had encountered headed to Fredericksburg on the day of Snyder’s and Jones’ disappearance, supposedly to take the Oath of Allegiance. “When we reflect what villains a majority of the oath-loving citizens were,” the regimental history concluded, “we may well suspect that those men were none too good to waylay and murder a Union soldier.”

Noel G. Harrison

Special thanks to Keith Bohannon, Stephen B. Cushman, Emmanuel Dabney, Eric J. Mink, Erik Nelson, and D.P. Newton for research assistance.

Note on illustrations: my dating of George L. Frankenstein’s work to at least a month after the passage of Sherman’s army group is based upon Frankenstein’s painting (not shown above) of Wilderness National Cemetery No. 2.  Federal troops established it in mid-June 1865 (Donald C. Pfanz, Where Valour Proudly Sleeps: A History of Fredericksburg National Cemetery, 1866-1933, unpublished MS., Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, pp. 31, 36-37). My dating of the photograph of Sherman and his generals to May 1865 is based on the discussion here.

Sources in general order of use above—Smithfield and 1913 staff ride, 1928 speech: Eric J. Mink, “Calvin Coolidge Cruises Caroline Street and Dedicates a New Military Park, on Film,” Mysteries and Conundrums, March 4, 2014, at https://npsfrsp.wordpress.com/2014/03/04/calvin-coolidge-cruises-caroline-street-and-dedicates-a-new-military-park-on-film/ ; George S. Pappas, United States Army Unit Histories 1: 4; Robert H. Steinbach, “Baldwin, Francis Leonard Dwight (1842–1923),” Texas State Historical Association Handbook of Texas, at https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/baldwin-francis-leonard-dwight ; “War College Staff Ride,” Army and Navy Register LIII (May 10, 1913): 577-578;  Staff Rides generally, Federal Legislative Action:: Carol Reardon, Soldiers and Scholars:  The U.S. Army and the Uses of Military History, 1865-1920, pp. 60-62, 204; Army and Navy Journal, XLVI (June 5, 1909): 1127; Joan M. Zenzen, At the Crossroads of Preservation and Development: A History of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Administrative History, pp. 29-38; State-Level Public History:  Documents of the Assembly of the State of New York 10 (1867), pp. 650-651; Donald C. Pfanz, “History Through Eyes of Stone: a Survey of Civil War Monuments in the Vicinity of Fredericksburg, Virginia,” 2006, unpublished MS., Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, pp. 145-148; Zenzen, p. 29; Strength of Sherman’s army group at Grand Review: Mark L. Bradley, The Civil War Ends 1865, p. 70; Dates for Army of the Potomac’s March: Robert Goldthwaite Carter, Four Brothers in Blue…, p. 505; Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Ser. I (hereinafter OR), 46, pt. 1: 648; OR 51, pt. 1:  260-261; March-Dates 14th Corps to Rapidan River, 20th Corps to Spotsylvania: OR 47, pt. 1: 108, 113, 117, 605; OR 47, pt. 3: 496-497, 501; Robt P. Dechert to Commissary, Twentieth Corps, May 14, 1865, Collection of Devon Archer Schreiner, Warrenton, Va., copy at Library of Virginia, Civil War 150 Legacy Project, Record No. 000032341; Route of the 1st and 2nd Divisions; 14th Army Corps from vicinity of Raleigh, North Carolina, to Alexandria, Virginia. April 30 to May 19. Sheet 13. National Archives, Record Group 77, at https://catalog.archives.gov/id/171031431 ; Survey of the route taken by the 14th Army Corps from Raleigh, North Carolina, to Alexandria, Virginia. Major E. Hoffmann. Sheet 1. National Archives, Record Group 77, at https://catalog.archives.gov/id/171031420 ; March-Dates 20th Corps through Spotsylvania to U.S. Ford: Detail sketches showing survey of route taken by 2nd Division, 20th Army Corps from Raleigh, North Carolina to Alexandria, Virginia, April 30 to May 19 by O.L.J. Brown [Oliver L. F. Browne]. Sheet 19. National Archives, Record Group 77, at  https://catalog.archives.gov/id/171031475 ; Samuel Merrill, The Seventieth Indiana, p. 275; OR 47, pt. 1: 125, 140, 605, 631, 635, 639, 647, 655, 658, 673, 677, 742; Michael S. Schroyer, Diary, May 13-14, 1865, Beginning the Homeward March, The App Brothers in the Civil War Chapter 71: May 18-24, 1865, Homeward March, Larry A. App and Stories Retold, 2013; March-Dates 17th Corps, Rappahannock Pontoon Bridges: Carter, p. 505; OR 46, pt. 1: 648; OR 47, pt. 1: 94; OR 47, pt. 3: 446, 501, 507-508; Route of the 17th Army Corps from Raleigh to Washington, May 1865. Jason B. Alexander, engineer. William Kossak, Captain. Sheet 33. National Archives, Record Group 77, at https://catalog.archives.gov/id/171031371 ; March-Dates 15th Corps through Fredericksburg:  OR 47, pt. 3: 508-509, 515-518; Route of march of 15th Army Corps from Raleigh, North Carolina, to Washington, D.C., between latter part of March and May 19. Sheet 2. National Archives, Record Group 77, at https://catalog.archives.gov/id/171031460 ; William E. Strong to Oliver O. Howard, May 16, 1865, Oliver Otis Howard Papers, 1833-1912, George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, Bowdoin College Library, Brunswick, Maine; Sherman’s Touring, Movements to and Through Fredericksburg:  Dechert to Commissary, May 14, 1865; Bradley T. Lepper and Mary E. Lepper Sweeten, trans., Cyrus Marion Roberts, Diary, vol. 3, May 16, 1865; National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Registration Form, Kenmore, Spotsylvania County, Virginia; OR 47, pt. 3:  477, 496, 499, 508, 515; William T. Sherman, Memoirs of General William T. Sherman, 1876, p. 375; Strong to Howard, May 16, 1865; Sherman’s Conflict with Halleck and Stanton:  Michael Fellman, Citizen Sherman:  A Life of William Tecumseh Sherman, pp. 248-254; May 12 Letter to Logan: OR 47, pt. 3: 477-478; Sherman’s Mood:  OR 47, pt. 3: 478; Strong to Howard, May 16, 1865; Sherman’s evaluation of the South’s economy, and May 17 Letter to Howard: “Fifteenth Amendment,” Ohio History Central, at https://ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Fifteenth_Amendment; “Fifteenth Amendment (Framing And Ratification).” Encyclopedia of the American Constitution. Gale. 2000. HighBeam Research. 20 May 2021 <http://www.highbeam.com&gt;; OR 47, pt. 3: 515-516; Soldiers Touring Spotsylvania via Detours:  Robert Cruikshank, Diary, May 15, 1865, Town of Salem New York; Wilbur F. Haughawout, Diary, May 14, 1865, University of South Carolina Libraries; OR 47, pt. 1, p. 605; Schroyer, Diary, May 13-14, 1865; Touring Spotsylvania from Main Roads: Samuel Merrill, The Seventieth Indiana, p. 274; Adin B. Underwood, The Three Years’ Service of the Thirty-Third Mass. Infantry Regiment…, p. 296; Touring Chancellorsville: OR 47, pt. 1, p. 605; Edwin E. Marvin, The Fifth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteers, p. 383; Merrill, p. 275;  Underwood, p. 296; Touring the Wilderness: Merrill, pp. 275-276; Touring Fredericksburg:  Harvey M. Trimble, ed., History of the Ninety-Third Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry, p. 198; Charles W. Wills, Charles Wright Wills, p. 382; Fourth Minnesota at the Stone Wall: Alonzo L. Brown, History of the Fourth Regiment, Minnesota Infantry Volunteers, p. 419; Leggett and Entourage Tour Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg: Lepper and Sweeten, trans., Cyrus Marion Roberts, Diary, vol. 3, May 16, 1865; William D. Matter, If it Takes All Summer: the Battle of Spotsylvania, p. 373; Ohioan Underwhelmed by Landscape Devastation: Thomas M. Stevenson, History of the 78th Regiment O.V.V.I., p. 338; Disappearance of Snyder and Jones: OR 47, pt. 1, p. 793; Our Regiment: A History of the 102d Illinois Infantry Volunteers, pp. 170-171.

Civilian Conservation Corps at Chancellorsville – Camp MP-3 (NP-11)


From Eric Mink:

As has been mentioned in previous posts, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) established three camps to support development and conservation projects at the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park. One camp was located on each of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House and Chancellorsville battlefields. Throughout the 1930s, the companies that rotated through these camps developed the military park. The projects they undertook transformed portions of the battlefields through the construction of tour roads and trails for visitors and conservation practices that helped to preserve the natural and cultural resources of the area.

The CCC opened Camp MP-3 on the Chancellorsville Battlefield in October 1933. The selected site stood along Ely’s Ford at its intersection with the future park road Hooker Drive. The initials “MP” stood for military park and the companies stationed there supported park development and conservation projects at both the Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg battlefields. The first enrollees arrived with Company 281 on October 7, 1933, having transferred to Chancellorsville from Glacier National Park in Washington state. The men of Company 281 hailed from New York, New Jersey, as well as Virginia. Initially, the camp consisted of tents, but by the end of the year the barracks and other buildings provided more permanent quarters.

Camp MP-3 along Ely's Ford Road on the Chancellorsville Battlefield. The elongated NPS maintenance building south of Hooker Drive is still in use today.

Camp MP-3 along Ely’s Ford Road on the Chancellorsville Battlefield. The elongated NPS utility building south of Hooker Drive is still in use today.

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Morris Schaff’s Wilderness, pt. 2: Spirits, Ghosts, and Talking Plants on the Battlefield


from: Harrison

My previous post introduced Union veteran Morris Schaff and his authoring of The Battle of the Wilderness, the first book on its subject. That post also began considering why Schaff’s goal of writing careful, conventional battle history remains virtually unknown today. When we compare his ambition to the same ambition embodied in John Bigelow’s book, The Campaign of Chancellorsville, published the same year, 1910, and destined to garner wide respect for evaluating the tactics and grand tactics of another local battle, the obscurity that befell Schaff’s project is all the more striking.

This post explores the principal, ironic impediment to Schaff’s hope of being remembered for his conventional history: his book’s parallel, unconventional goal of understanding the battle and its participants as affected by activist spirits and ghosts, and intelligent, even compassionate, vegetation. As I noted earlier, a critic who reviewed Schaff’s book in 1911 marveled at an author “who, while framing a military treatise, can at the same time make it a new ‘Alice in Wonderland.’” A second reviewer, commenting on his book in The Dial in 1912, worried that the pairing of very different interpretive methods was “a stumbling-block” for many readers. The Dial critic went on to relate the response of a “distinguished fellow-soldier” to Schaff: “When you get done with your poetry and get down to history you will write a valuable book.”

Marginalia and an inscription in this copy of Morris Schaff’s book indicate that 49-year-old Franklin J. Roth read it over the course of three weeks in the fall of 1912. A 1920’s newspaper article described Roth as president of the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania School Board and “a collector of old documents and historical data.” Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park library.

Marginalia and an inscription in this copy of Morris Schaff’s book indicate that 49-year-old Franklin J. Roth read it over the course of three weeks in the fall of 1912. A 1920’s newspaper article described Roth as president of the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania School Board and “a collector of old documents and historical data.” Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park library.

If Schaff’s diversions into the supernatural had been less prominent, readers might have understood those as efforts to enliven the book with analogy and allegory, or to achieve other purposes common among writers of his era. For instance, some of Schaff’s passages reflect the view, shared by many of the Civil War generation, that battlefield death could bring nobility, individual peace in the Christian afterlife, and North-South reconciliation. His book at one point has the allegory of Death encountering the mortally wounded Lieutenant Colonel Alford Chapman of the 57th New York Infantry; likely at no other place in the Wilderness had Death “met more steady eyes than those of this dying, family-remembering young man.” At another juncture, the spirits of dead soldiers, from both armies, rise “above the tree tops…a great flight of them towards Heaven’s gate…. [T]wo by two they lock arms like college boys and pass in together; and so it may be for all of us at last.”

Yet Schaff’s supernatural characters appear even more dramatically, across some 25 per cent of his book, in repeated interventions that alter battle outcomes and soldier experiences. For starters, there’s “The Spirit of the Wilderness,” which in turn has the capacity to conjure The Spirit of Slavery. Schaff at several points describes The Spirit of Slavery as a single being and at another as “a resurrected procession of dim faces” moving “in “ghostly silence.” The Spirit of the Wilderness is determined to punish the Confederacy for the miseries suffered in the same forest a century earlier by those people while alive and enslaved on Alexander Spottswood’s vast local landholdings (and more generally by all slaves since then).

Even media not typically hospitable to supernatural interpretation conveyed the view that Stonewall Jackson’s mortal wounding in the Wilderness at Chancellorsville was an eerie, extraordinary event. Detail from Benjamin Lewis Blackford, "Part of Spotsylvania County," Gilmer Civil War Maps Collection, University of North Carolina.

Even media not typically hospitable to supernatural interpretation conveyed the view that Stonewall Jackson’s mortal wounding in the Wilderness at Chancellorsville was an eerie, extraordinary event. Detail from Benjamin Lewis Blackford, “Part of Spotsylvania County,” Gilmer Civil War Maps Collection, University of North Carolina.

(Click here for hi-rez version.)

First, The Spirit of the Wilderness in 1863 takes the life of Stonewall Jackson, who finds himself transformed into yet another specter haunting its depths. Then, a year later, the Spirit strikes down James Longstreet, “just as victory was in his [Robert E. Lee’s] grasp,” and in a battle where success was “absolutely necessary to save the life of the Confederacy.” Schaff’s very next paragraph describes the underlying forces at work, with “miraculous” by no means synonymous with “benevolent”: 

Reader, if the Spirit of the Wilderness be unreal to you, not so is it to me. Bear in mind that the natural realm of the spirit of man is nature’s kingdom, that there he has made all of his discoveries, and yet what a vast region is unexplored, that region among whose misty coast Imagination wings her way bringing one suggestion after another of miraculous transformations….

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The disgrace of the 11th Corps becomes a tool for discipline


From John Hennessy:

11thCorpsBadgeSometime we do big things here, sometimes small.  This is a small item I came across tonight.  It appears in a letter from “T.A.A.” of the 139th Pennsylvania (Sixth Corps), published in the Pittsburgh Evening Chronicle, May 26, 1863, written just two weeks after the Union defeat at Chancellorsville. It’s evidence of how powerful and pervasive the blame for defeat lay upon the 11th Corps of the Army of the Potomac, a corps that included many regiments composed of recent immigrants. The disdain for the 11th Corps found expression in the 6th Corps in the form of a novel punishment inflicted on ne’er-do-wells.  The letter was written from White Oak Church on May 22, 1863.

 I notice that a new mode of disgracing stragglers and shirkers has been adopted in this portion of the army.  It is by placing a large piece of board in the shape of a crescent, which, by the way, is the badge worn by the 11th corps, upon their backs, and forcing them to walk up and down in front of quarters of the General, or some other public place. This mode of punishment has become so popular that the men belonging to that [11th] corps are ashamed to wear their badges, and nearly all cases have taken them off their caps.” 

By the way, the Pittsburgh Evening Chronicle includes very nice runs of letters relating to both the 139th  and the 155th Pennsylvania.

Franklin’s Crossing, June 1863, pt. 2: Brandy Station Repurposed and Rare Pictures Considered


from: Harrison

In Part 1 of this article, I offered a preliminary take on the Army of the Potomac’s Rappahannock River bridgehead established June 5, 1863 at Franklin’s Crossing, a short distance downstream from Fredericksburg. Although the intermittent fighting there on June 5 and the week following is typically interpreted as the opening combat of the Gettysburg campaign, Part 1 made a case for “Third Fredericksburg” as an alternate designation (one that I’ll continue to use here).

The protracted occupation and safety of the Franklin’s Crossing bridgehead in June 1863, relative to its previous Union occupations, encouraged detailed artistic and written description by Northerners. Alfred Waud made this panoramic sketch of a fortification protecting Battery D (Williston’s Battery), 2nd U.S. Artillery inside the bridgehead sometime June 8-13. Waud’s sketch, likely appearing here for the first time with full identification, looks southwest with the river and bridges just outside the view to the left and left-rear. Courtesy Library of Congress.

The protracted occupation and safety of the Franklin’s Crossing bridgehead in June 1863, relative to its previous Union occupations, encouraged detailed artistic and written description by Northerners. Alfred Waud made this panoramic sketch of a fortification protecting Battery D (Williston’s), 2nd U.S. Artillery inside the bridgehead sometime June 8-13. Waud’s sketch, likely appearing here for the first time with full identification, looks southwest with the river and bridges just outside the view to the left and left-rear. Courtesy Library of Congress.

That earlier blog article also offered an interpretation that was critical of Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker. Since we’ve just closed-out the sesquicentennial summer for the bridgehead (abandoned after nine days, in the early morning hours of June 14, 1863), I’d like to balance my previous take with one that’s friendlier towards the Union commander. Once again, I’ll focus on what was known to Hooker (or imagined by him) and inspired the creation and holding of the bridgehead, as opposed what was known to his opponent. Equally important, comparing the planning and execution of Hooker’s June operations at and near Fredericksburg—whether implemented or cancelled—with that for his Chancellorsville moves helps us better understand both.

Some quick review: on June 5 Hooker concluded that Lee was likely leaving the Fredericksburg lines intending to either interpose his troops between Hooker’s army and Washington or cross the upper Potomac. Hooker ordered his engineers, supported by infantry of John Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps, to establish pontoon spans and a bridgehead at Franklin’s Crossing as a “demonstration,” albeit one with a fact-finding goal that initially made it more of a reconnaissance-in-force.

Franklin’s Crossing, June 1863, mapped by a member of the 15th N.J. Infantry (at “D” until June 9). Another Federal recorded that around 1,000 men from various regiments had spent the night of June 7-8 “digging rifle-pits, and breastworks for the artillery,” with dawn on June 8 revealing a new fortification “a mile long” (longest double line). This map errs in noting only one bridge, and places what is probably Battery D (location “B” at lower right) slightly too close to the ruins of Mannsfield but is useful for depicting the variety of earthworks, including what appears to be an earlier, “First” rifle pit (“M”). Detail of copy of map in collection of Fredericksburg & Spot. NMP.

Franklin’s Crossing, June 1863, mapped by a member of the 15th N.J. Infantry (at “D” until June 9). Another Federal recorded that around 1,000 men from various regiments had spent the night of June 7-8 “digging rifle-pits, and breastworks for the artillery,” with dawn on June 8 revealing a new fortification “a mile long” (longest double line). This map errs in noting only one bridge, and places what is probably Battery D (“B” at lower right) slightly too close to the ruins of Mannsfield but is useful for depicting the variety of earthworks, including what appears to be an earlier, “First” rifle pit (“M”). Detail of copy of map in collection of Fredericksburg & Spot. NMP.

By late morning that same day, however, Hooker had expanded his plan for the Franklin’s operation into a major attack that would see the Federals, in Hooker’s words, “pitch into” the rear of Lee’s possibly strung-out, departing army at or near Fredericksburg. Planning for the attack was soon cancelled; Lincoln and Halleck quashed the scheme in responses received by Hooker around 4 p.m. Meanwhile, Hooker received news from the bridgehead that Confederates were assembling in the Prospect Hill-Deep Run line “from all quarters…and still arriving.” Around nightfall on June 5, he notified the President that he had come to doubt the likelihood of a Confederate departure from Fredericksburg and vicinity, and that he now intended to maintain the bridgehead for only “a few days.”

Detail from Waud’s sketch, with the ruins of Mannsfield’s fire-gutted, central section partially visible through the trees at center, and the mansion’s relatively intact, smaller north-wing appearing clearly at right. The trees’ leaf-out shows that the “1862” date penciled on Waud’s drawing (possibly in a different hand from that part of the inscription identifying the battery as “Willistons”) is erroneous, since the only sojourn of Battery D in 1862 had occurred in December.

Detail from Waud’s sketch, with the ruins of Mannsfield’s fire-gutted, central section partially visible through the trees at center, and the mansion’s relatively intact, smaller north-wing appearing clearly at right. The trees’ leaf-out shows that the “1862” date penciled on Waud’s drawing (possibly in a different hand from that part of the inscription identifying the battery as “Willistons”) is erroneous, since the only sojourn of Battery D in 1862 had occurred in December.

Yet the prospect of striking the rear of a departing or dramatically weakened enemy someplace near Fredericksburg continued to intrigue the Union commander. Less than a day later, on June 6, cross-river observations of an apparent Confederate evacuation of positions north of Deep Run and northwest of the bridgehead prompted Hooker to order Sedgwick to make a “reconnaissance.” Sedgwick was authorized to commit his “entire corps, if necessary.” As it turned out, he needed only until midmorning on the 6th, and the services of the single division already present in the bridgehead (Albion Howe’s), to determine that, “The enemy are strong in our front,” and that “I cannot move 200 yards without bringing on a general engagement…. It is not safe to mass the troops on this side.”

The Franklin’s Crossing bridgehead in 2013, from a viewpoint not far from that used by Alfred Waud in June 1863, and from a similar angle. The estimated site of Mannsfield is hidden in this perspective by the modern house and trees at right; the site is around the bend of the street in far background, center, then up that same street two or three houses. Photo by Noel Harrison.

The Franklin’s Crossing bridgehead in 2013, from a viewpoint not far from that used by Alfred Waud in June 1863, and from a similar angle. The estimated site of Mannsfield is hidden in this perspective by the modern house and trees in right-middleground; the site is around the bend of the street in far background, center, then up that same street two or three houses. Photo by Noel Harrison.

Hooker again proposed a major thrust near Fredericksburg on the evening of June 10, with the bridgehead now occupied by John Newton’s division of the Sixth Corps. The army commander telegraphed Lincoln with a more elaborate scheme for an attack: “throw a sufficient force over the river to compel the enemy to abandon his present position” around Fredericksburg and then undertake a “rapid advance on Richmond.” Hooker characterized his plan as “the most speedy and certain mode of giving the rebellion a mortal blow.”
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A little perspective: the value of a view from above


From Hennessy:

This is a repost from a couple years back, germane to today’s 150th anniversary of the fighting at Fairview.

Over at Fredericksburg Remembered, I have also posted more reflective things, including my remarks at the opening ceremony for the Chancellorsville 150th: A Remembering People.  

I have also posted “Icons, the merely famous, and us”–my thoughts on Jackson on the anniversary of his wounding. 

Working on these fields, we are of course pretty familiar with them. But closeness doesn’t always make for clarity. No resource on our fields is more obscured by closeness than earthworks. At ground level it’s impossible to see them as anything but vertical features–now slowly fading mounds of earth. But with the advent of readily available high-resolution aerial photography from Google Earth or Virtual Earth, you can see these earthworks in a whole new way: as they relate to each other horizontally.

A case in point:  Fairview, on the Chancellorsville Battlefield. With all apologies to Jackson aficionados, I have always felt that if visitors can make one stop at Chancellorsville to get a general grasp of the battle, Fairview should be it. It was the fulcrum upon which the battle of Chancellorsville turned. That becomes apparent looking at an aerial view of the site (these views are from Google Earth).

I have labeled on the image the six artillery lunettes built by the Union army on May 2, 1863, when its attention was focused eastward and southward. But the aerial view shows the tangible impact of Jackson’s flank attack on the battle, as it crashed down on the army from the west (to the left). The new line of works built overnight May 2-3 is oriented westward, not south, to better defend against what changed front required by Jackson’s assault. Note too that the artillery here on May 2 was paltry compared to the extensive line constructed prior to the fighting on the morning of May 3–as many as 34 tightly packed Union guns fought along this line that morning. Fairview became the focal point of massive, life-eating attacks–some of the heaviest sustained combat of the war (no hyperbole there). For five hours, a man fell every second in the woods and fields around Fairview, more than 18,000 in all.

This change in the works and the relative scale of the lines can be seen clearly in this aerial view, but is much harder to grasp on the ground.

One other little observation. Continue reading

Stonewall Jackson’s Last Map


From John Hennessy and Beth Parnicza:

Jackson's map.1080

Jackson’s map. See the bottom of the post for a version with the modern landscape overlaid upon it.

It is perhaps the greatest artifact in the park’s collection, and we’re putting it on display for the Chancellorsville 150th. It’s a map in Jackson’s distinctive hand, showing the battlefield around Chancellorsville, with markings both random (seemingly) and purposeful. We cannot say when Jackson composed this map or how he used it. But there are clues, and questions.

First, some background: Robert E. Lee kept relatively few mementoes from the war, but this is one. After the war, he took the map and mounted it in his first-off-the-press copy of John Esten Cooke’s 1863 biography of Jackson. He also pasted into the book Jackson’s autograph, and then signed the title page himself: R.E. Lee.

The history of the book and the map is unclear, but by the 1890s it was in private hands. It came to the park in 1940, donated by Roland I. Taylor, who bought it an auction in Philadelphia for $750 (isn’t THAT painful to read in 2013?). The book and map (they are inseparable now) were on display at the Chancellorsville Visitor Center for more than four decades, though so unobtrusively that most visitors seemed to miss its importance.  We took it off display several years ago, fearful that continued exposure to light would damage it.  The book and map are now back on display for the 150th.

An early article about the map asserts it was used by Lee and Jackson at their final bivouac on the night of May 1-2. That may be true, but it’s also clear the map includes a good deal of information that suggests Jackson used earlier in the campaign: Fredericksburg, Hamilton’s Crossing, and, most tellingly, Tabernacle Church are all marked in Jackson’s hand.  These places mattered to Jackson on April 30 and May 1.

But, the map also includes features germane to Jackson’s flank march and attack on May 2: the Brock Road (almost perfectly drawn), Wilderness Tavern, and the fords on the Rapidan and Rappahannock (though they are not labeled).  Tellingly, it does not include the network of roads that would carry him to the Brock Road on May 2, and ultimately to the Union flank. Information about those roads did not emerge until the night of May 1-2.

A few intriguing marks and symbols appear, their purpose not entirely clear. Continue reading

Animals at Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg: further Options for Understanding Battles?


from: Harrison

This is an edited version of a post first appearing in September 2010 on our sister blog, Fredericksburg Remembered. A revision and reposting here seemed timely on the eve of Chancellorsville’s sesquicentennial.

I’ve often wondered how developments in the animal-rights movement will affect historical interpretation, including that of Civil War events. I’m thinking today of places related to the Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg campaigns, and eyewitness portrayals of animals there.

A pair of dead horses and, evidently, birds of prey sharpen the visual impact of the Chancellorsville battlefield in a June 1863 sketch, at left; a flock of chickens, in engraving at right, soften it at virtually the same spot 21 years later. Sketch by Confederate engineer Benjamin Lewis Blackford courtesy Library of Virginia; photograph-derived engraving by Charles Wellington Reed from Battles and Leaders of the Civil War.

Dead horses and, evidently, birds of prey sharpen the battlefield landscape at Chancellorsville in a June 1863 sketch, at left; a flock of chickens, in engraving at right, softens it at virtually the same spot 21 years later. Sketch by Confederate engineer Benjamin Lewis Blackford courtesy Library of Virginia; photograph-derived engraving by Charles Wellington Reed from Battles and Leaders of the Civil War.

Of course, the record of humans’ advocacy on behalf of animals is as ancient as the record of their affection for or, at the other extreme, mistreatment of animals. Yet I’m still struck by the prominence of recent, animal-centered legal developments, media programming, and product- and service marketing.

Lasting rights-revolutions for people have obviously wrought profound change in the way we talk about history. Will today’s ongoing, dramatic shifts in the status of animals exert comparable influence over our understanding of the past, of those moments when their ancestors shared the stage with ours and with equal visibility?

My preliminary thoughts include placing historical portrayals of animals along a spectrum. Anchoring one end are images of animals essentially as animated scenery for military events, with animals (in humans’ perception) granted only minimal influence or agency. My spectrum’s other end, however, is anchored by humans’ portrayals of animals’ agency or utility, sometimes to the extent of their intervening decisively in human affairs. I am also fascinated by the interplay, within this spectrum, of animals-as-individuals and animals-as-symbols.

Cattle and evidently at least two oxen accompanying the Federal army at Chancellorsville, amid the chaos just behind the gun line at Fairview. Detail from a sketch by Alfred Waud. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Let’s begin with portrayals of animals (again, in humans’ perception) as animated-scenery on battlefields. A Union veteran, describing events near Salem Church on May 4, 1863, wrote about a herd of cattle trapped between the opposing skirmish lines. Watching the animals, the man recalled, “it was very amusing to see them run and bellow, first to the right, then to the left, with tails straight out.”

Half of a two-part ox shoe found in area of Stafford County occupied by encamped Federals during the Fredericksburg-Chancellorsville period, and by units from both armies at other times during the war.  Courtesy White Oak Museum.

Half of a two-part ox shoe found in area of Stafford County occupied by encamped Federals during the Fredericksburg-Chancellorsville period, and by units from both armies at other times during the war. Courtesy White Oak Museum.

Recalling a different moment and place in the Chancellorsville campaign zone, another Federal remembered that whip-poor-wills responded to “the strange changes that have come over their usually quiet haunts” by making the night “hideous” with their calls.

Whip-poor-will.

Whip-poor-will.

In his own recounting of Chancellorsville, Confederate veteran and writer John Esten Cooke described the whip-poor-wills in a more interactive role: performing, however unwittingly, a funeral dirge. Their “mournful” call, he noted, was “that sound which was the last to greet the ears of so many dying soldiers.”
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