The Death of Charles Russell Lowell

Tags

, , ,

Lowell

Craig Swain’s post yesterday here on fallen leaders at Cedar Creek jogged a memory. I knew I had seen a contemporary account of the death of Charles Russell Lowell, but couldn’t remember where. Lowell had an interesting position during the battle. He was a captain in the 6th U.S. Cavalry and colonel of the Second Massachusetts Cavalry, both present at the battle, and in command of both regiments as the commander of the Reserve Brigade.

Today, I remembered where I had seen it. Charles A. Humphreys was the regimental chaplain for the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry from 1863 through the end of the war. As the chaplain, he frequently encountered the regimental commander, so one must expect a bit of bias. In his postwar history of the regiment, Field, Camp, Hospital and Prison in the Civil War, 1861-1865, Humphreys chronicles Lowell’s passing.

“I have already told how my gallant Colonel, in this month’s campaign in which he was every day under fire, seemed to bear a charmed life, having had thirteen horses shot out from under him — one of them struck in seven places — and his clothes riddled with bullets. He had not himself been touched till the third charge in the Battle of Cedar Creek, when a spent ball for a moment took away his breath and afterwards left him voiceless. General Torbert urged that he be taken from the field. But Lowell whispered: “No! It is only my poor lung. I have not lost a drop of blood yet. I want to lead in the final charge.” So a little parapet of earth was thrown up to shield him from the bullets of the enemy, and he lay there motionless for two hours, having exacted a promise that he should be told when the charge was ordered. This came about three o’clock. Then, though too weak to mount his horse without assistance, he said, “I am well, now,” and allowed his faithful men to lift him into the saddle, and he rode to the front amid the cheers of his troops. Then his strength rose with the occasion, and though the death flush was on his cheeks he rode firm and erect as ever, and though he could only whisper his commands to his aids, [sic] all saw by the pointing of his sword that he meant Forward to victory or death.

“Just as they were in the thickest of the fight, Lowell — still leading on his men — was pierced by a bullet from shoulder to shoulder and fell into the arms of his aids [sic]. Yet even thus he would not check the vigor of the assault, but allowed himself to be carried forward in the track of his rapidly advancing brigade till he reached the village of Middletown and saw that the battle was won. Then he lay down upon his death-couch as calmly as to a night’s repose, and, though partially paralyzed, he remained for a time conscious, and gave minute directions about the business of his command, dictated some private messages of affection, and twice directed his surgeon to leave him to look to the wounds of other officers and of some wounded prisoners whose cries of pain he overheard, and then quietly and contentedly went to sleep and waked no more on earth.”

Obviously Humphreys uses a bit of poetic license in his account. From the nature of his final wound and other accounts of his fall, it seem far more likely that he was in the village or on its outskirts when he was shot.

Lowell was mourned across the Cavalry Corps. His division commander’s comments were contained in the previous post, and his corps commander, A.T.A. Torbert, commented in this excerpt from official report:

“In this general advance Colonel Lowell, Second Massachusetts Cavalry, commanding reserve Brigade, First Division, while charging at the head of his brigade, received a second wound, which proved to be mortal. Thus the service lost one of its most gallant and accomplished soldiers. He was the beau ideal of a cavalry officer, and his memory will never die in the command.”

Sources:

Humphreys, Charles A. Field, Camp, Hospital and Prison in the Civil War, 1861-1865. Boston: Geo. H. Ellis Co., 1918. Pages 179-181.

Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume 43, Part 1, Page 434.

Photograph of Charles Russell Lowell in 1864, USAMHI.

150 Years Ago: Cedar Creek

Tags

, , , ,

150 years ago today, the battle of Cedar Creek was fought. The previous month’s defeat had all but ended the campaign the month before, but Confederate general Jubal Early cast one last throw of the dice to try to destroy Sheridan’s army.

I have decided to include two versions of the regular cavalry’s piece of the battle. The first and most direct, is an excerpt from the official report of the Reserve Brigade commander, Lieutenant Colonel Casper Crowninshield, on the battle. It is very brief and to the point, as he assumed command of the brigade toward the end of the battle.

“October 17, remained in camp, picketing on right of First Brigade. October 18, remained in camp, picketing as before. October 19, broke camp at daylight and moved to the right of the infantry on a reconnaissance for the purpose of ascertaining the position of the enemy; found their cavalry in force; skirmished with them about an hour, when orders were received to fall back, as the whole army had been attacked; proceeded to the left of the infantry and formed skirmish line, connecting with infantry on the right and First Brigade on left; Second Massachusetts made two charges on the enemy’s infantry, checking their advance; held our position until 3 p.m., when the whole line advanced, and this brigade, together with Second Brigade, charged a battery of the enemy’s artillery; were repulsed, with considerable loss, Colonel Lowell being mortally wounded while leading his command in the charge. Lieutenant Colonel Crowninshield, Second Massachusetts Cavalry, assumed command of brigade. The enemy’s line commenced to fall back, when we again charged, pursuing them down the pike and across Cedar Creek. Here we were halted and ordered to fall back, recrossed the creek, and camped on left of infantry.” (Official Records, Series I, Volume 43, Part 1, page 492)

The official report of the division commander, Brigadier General Wesley Merritt, is typically much more animated and verbose.

“HEADQUARTERS FIRST CAVALRY DIVISION,
October 24, 1864.

MAJOR: I respectfully submit the following report of the part this division took in the battle of the 19th and subsequent operations:

About 4 a. m. on the 19th an attack was made on the pickets of the First Brigade near Cupp’s Ford, which attack, coupled with the firing on the extreme left of the infantry line, alarmed the camps, and everything was got ready for immediate action. The First Brigade was at once ordered to move to the support of its picket-line, while the Reserve Brigade, which had the night before received orders to make a reconnaissance on the Middle road, was ordered to halt and await further orders. This brigade had advanced in the execution of its reconnaissance to the picket-line, and subsequently acted for a short time with the First Brigade in repelling the attack of the enemy feebly made on that part of the field. Soon after moving from camp the heavy artillery firing, and immense number of infantry stragglers making across the country to the Back road from our left, showed that it was in that direction the heavy force of the enemy was advancing. The Fifth U. S. Cavalry, attached to division headquarters, was immediately deployed across the fields, and, together with the officers and orderlies of the division staff, did much toward preventing the infantry going to the rear, and forced everyone to stop and form line. About this time the Second Brigade (General Devin) was ordered to move to the left of the line, cover and hold the pike, and at the saline time deploy men in that part of the field to prevent fugitives from going to the rear; this General Devin quickly accomplished, and did good service, especially in preventing the infantry straggling. On moving to the left General Devin ordered his battery to report to division headquarters, where Lieutenant Taylor, commanding, received orders to advance to an eligible position on the infantry line of battle, and use his pieces on the enemy till such time as it was unsafe to remain there. Great credit is due Lieutenant Taylor for the prompt and efficient manner in which he carried out this order. He was well advanced to the front of battle, without supports from his own command, and none save what was offered by the thin and wavering line of infantry near his position. The artillery of the infantry had gone unaccountably to the rear, or had been captured by the enemy, and Taylor’s was the only battery for some time on that part of the field. It is thought that his rapid and destructive fire did much toward preventing a farther advance of the enemy on that flank in the early part of the day. About 10 o’clock, in compliance with orders from the chief of cavalry, the First Division was moved to the left of the infantry line and disposed so as to connect with the infantry and at the same time cover the Valley pike and the country to the left. This was soon done — the Second Brigade (Devin’s) occupying the right, the Reserve Brigade (Lowell’s) the center, and the First Brigade (Kidd’s) the left of the division line of battle. Orders were then sent to each brigade to press the enemy warmly, and Lowell was cautioned to watch his opportunity and charge a battery of the enemy which seemed exposed in the open country to the left of the pike. Never did troops fight more elegantly than at this time; not a man shirked his duty, not a soldier who did not conduct himself like a hero. All through the day each man fought with the instinct and judgment of an officer and with the courage for which this division has become so celebrated. Twice or thrice by movements in the infantry line on our right the enemy got in the flank of the division line and subjected it to a murderous fire; but there was no movement on the part of the men save that demanded by superior judgment for a fresh disposition to meet the contingency; no running, no confusion, where at one time among so many others there was the most intense demoralization. The line at this time, in compliance with orders given as above stated, advanced nearly to Middletown, driving the enemy before it through the open country, the gallant Lowell, as usual, with his noble command forcing from the enemy every available inch of ground. This advance was handsomely made by all the brigades; at the time it was intended more as an offensive-defensive movement than one looking to a final victory. The enemy withdrew from the open country, evidently fearing the attack of the cavalry, and the battery which was marked for attack and possible capture also withdrew to a safer position. Sheltered by the woods on each flank and the houses and fences of Middletown, the enemy (Kershaw’s and Pegram’s divisions) in our front, Kershaw on the extreme right, continued a sharp skirmish, varied by attacks on both sides, until the final advance by the whole army under the major-general commanding Shortly after taking position on the left of the line as above described, Colonel Moore’s brigade, Second Division, was ordered to report to the First Division for orders. This brigade, having skirmishers on the line to the left of the pike, was ordered to advance with the line of the First Division; it did so handsomely, fighting with spirit while it remained with1 the command; it was ordered to the left toward Front Royal later in the day by the chief of cavalry. During the entire day the enemy kept up an artillery fire on our position whit h was truly terrific; it has seldom been equaled for accuracy of aim and excellence of ammunition. The batteries attached to this division did nobly, but were overpowered at times by weight of metal and superior ammunition. So excellent was the practice of the enemy that it was utterly impossible to cover a cavalry command from the artillery fire; a number of horses and men were destroyed by this arm during the day. As the news spread through the command that the major-general commanding the army had arrived a cheer went up from each brigade in this division; every officer in the command felt there was victory at hand; they all had confidence in him who had formerly commanded them more directly in trying circumstances, and when the order was given for a general advance each veteran in the First Division bent his brow resolutely and rode fearlessly toward the goal. Words are but poor vehicles to convey a description of the scene; suffice it to say, the charge was successfully made, each brigade doing its duty nobly. The Reserve and Second Brigades charged into a living wall of the enemy which, receiving the shock, emitted a leaden sheet of fire upon their devoted ranks; but the enemy were broken and fled before the resistless force of the blow, coupled with the stern, steady, unrelenting, yet swift, advance of the infantry, who, under the new regime, excited the admiration of all beholders.

The First Brigade, in column of regiments in line, moved forward like an immense wave, slowly at first, but gathering strength and speed as it progressed, overwhelmed a battery and its supports amidst a desolating shower of canister and a deadly fire of musketry from part of Kershaw’s division, at short range, from a heavy wood to our left. Never has the mettle of the division been put to a severer test than at this time, and never .did it stand the test better. The charge was made on an enemy well formed, prepared to receive it with guns double-shotted with canister. Into that fearful charge rode many a noble spirit who met his death. One more prominent than the rest, if individual prominence among a band of heroes is possible, received his death wound — the fearless Lowell, at the head of as gallant a brigade as ever rode at a foe, fell in the thickest of the fray, meeting his death as he had always faced it — calmly, resolutely, heroically. His fall cast a gloom on the entire command. No one in the field appreciated his worth more than his division commander. He was wounded painfully in the early part of the day, soon after which I met him; he was suffering acutely from his wound, but to ask him to leave the field was to insult him almost; a more gallant soldier never buckled on a saber. His coolness and judgment on the held were unequaled. An educated and accomplished gentleman, his modest, amiable, yet independent, demeanor endeared him to all his superiors in rank; his inflexible justice, temperate, yet unflinching, conduct of discipline made him respected and loved by his subordinates. He was upright as a mall, pure as a patriot, and preeminently free from the finesse of the politician. His last breath was warm with commendations of his comrades in arms and devotion to his country’s cause. Young in years, he died too early for his country, leaving a brilliant record for future generations, ending a career which gave bright promise of yet greater usefulness and glory.

After the charge our ranks were soon formed and the command moved forward resistlessly to Cedar Creek. Part of the enemy’s forces which had bed by the fords below were followed by detachments of the First and Reserve Brigades, which captured quite a number of prisoners, the First Brigade adding another to its trophies in the shape of a battle-flag. The Second and Reserve Brigades moved to Cedar Creek (the Second Brigade in advance), charged across the fords and bridge, pursuing the enemy with unparalleled vigor to his stronghold — Fisher’s Hill — leaving, like the whirlwind, nothing but the wreck in their track to be gathered up.” In this pursuit the Second Brigade lost heavily. I respectfully call attention to the report of General Devin, commanding Second Brigade, who ably conducted this movement. Great credit is due him for his untiring energy and determination in following up the victory, toward which he and his gallant command had done as much during the entire day as men could do. The Reserve Brigade was also ” in at the death,” but, in compliance with orders, halted and formed as a reserve, while the First and Second Brigades pursued the enemy on their different roads. Night alone saved Early’s demoralized army from total annihilation. As it was, he carried off with him but five pieces of artillery and but few other wheels.

The following morning (October 20) the division moved to Fisher’s Hill, where a small force of the enemy’s cavalry was found. This disappeared from our front and the command was pushed on to Woodstock. At that point it was ascertained from citizens and prisoners that the enemy was some distance in advice. The First and Second Brigades were halted and the Reserve Brigade ordered on toward Edenburg, beyond which point it went, without, however, coming up With the dying enemy. During this pursuit a number of wagons, ambulances, caissons, arms, &c., abandoned by the enemy, were found on the road and destroyed.

During the battle and subsequent pursuit the following captures were made and property destroyed by the division: 3 battle flags, 22 pieces of artillery, 8 caissons, 37 ambulances, 29 wagons, 95 horses and harness, 141 mules and harness, 389 prisoners of war, including 6 commissioned officers; two of the above wagons were loaded with muskets. Property destroyed; 12 army wagons, 28 ambulances, 81 muskets, 2 caissons
In concluding this report I must again return my acknowledgments to my staff and subordinate commanders for their untiring energy and zeal ill the performance of their duties and implicit and unquestioning obedience to orders; they are commended to the notice of superior headquarters.
The men and officers of the command have endured all the hardships of the arduous campaign without the comforts afforded by a regular system of transportation, oftentimes without regular issues of rations uncomplainingly and cheerfully. If there have been any instances of unsoldierly conduct they are exceptions to the rule. The command as a whole is gallant and well disciplined, confident in its own strength and justly proud of its prowess.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. MERRITT
Brevet Major-General, Commanding Division.” (Official Records, Series I, Volume 43, Part 1, pages 448-452)

Despite the effusive description of their role in the battle, casualties in the Reserve Brigade were relatively light. The total was only 37 killed, wounded and missing, broken down as follows:

2d MA Cav: 1 officer killed, 6 men killed; 3 officers and 13 men wounded; 1 man captured or missing. (24)
1st US Cav: 2 men killed; 5 men wounded. (7)
2nd US Cav: 2 officers and 4 men wounded. (6)
(Ibid., page 137)

More On Fort Garland

Tags

, , , , ,

I ended up with the cart a bit before the horse, but here’s the basic information on Fort Garland to go with its Civil War history.

Fort Garland was constructed in 1858 to help keep the peace between settlers in the San Luis Valley and their Apache and Ute Indian neighbors. It was actually the second fort built in the area. Soldiers had manned Fort Massachusetts for the previous six years. The original fort had a stout wooden stockade, and was similar in appearance to the common perception of a western fort. Although only six miles north of the new fort, Fort Massachusetts was at a higher elevation, and the inhabitants had been plagued by sickness, extreme cold in the winter and isolation, as the fort was over 30 miles from the closest town.

The new fort was named for brevet Brigadier General John Garland, commander of the Military District of New Mexico at the time the fort was constructed. A native of Virginia, Garland entered the army as a first lieutenant in 1813, and served stints in the 1st, 3rd and 4th U.S. Infantry before his promotion to colonel and command of the 8th U.S. Infantry Regiment. He was brevetted numerous times, though the first is one I had not seen before. He was brevetted to major on May 27, 1827 for ten years of faithful service in the same grade – captain. The brevet notwithstanding, he wasn’t promoted to major for another nine years. During the Mexican War he received additional brevets for gallant and meritorious conduct at the battles of Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, Contreras and Churubusco. He was not as well-known as his son in law, James Longstreet, who married his daughter in 1848. He remained loyal during the Civil War and was still on active duty in New York when he died on June 5, 1861.

John_Garland

Unlike Fort Massachusetts, Fort Garland was not constructed as a wooden stockade. Like many forts in desert areas, it was built of adobe. Soldiers took advantage of the rich clay and sand to make earthen bricks, which were coupled with wood from nearby slopes to build a very durable fort. Eventually the fort consisted of twenty two buildings, and the troops marched south from Fort Massachusetts and occupied the post. It was not a large fort with barracks buildings for an infantry company and a cavalry company, each of 50 men. The first photo below shows the plans of the fort, while the second is of a diorama currently on display at the fort. The infantry barracks are at the base of the picture, and the cavalry barracks and stables are at the top.

DSCN1855

DSCN1871

The mission of the fort’s garrison was to cover the entire San Luis Valley – an area 100 miles wide east to west and 75 miles long north to south. They were expected to provide protection to all of the inhabitants scattered across the valley in all seasons. Surprisingly, before the war there were frequently occasions when there were no cavalry assigned to the fort, which must have made patrolling the area difficult. Although sometimes full during the Civil War, the garrison was frequently 50 men or less during the fort’s existence. Below is a picture of the cavalry stables from across the parade field.

DSCN1868

The fort’s primary claim to fame was that Colonel Christopher ‘Kit’ Carson commanded the fort and its garrison of New Mexico volunteers from 1866 to 1867. During its existence, it was home to companies of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 7th and 8th U.S. Cavalry regiments. A company of the 9th U.S. Cavalry ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ garrisoned the fort from 1876 to 1879 during a Ute uprising. Once the uprising was quelled, troop numbers dwindled until the fort was abandoned in 1883.

The post is now a museum under the management of the San Luis Valley Museum Association, and they have done a tremendous job restoring the site. Five of the original twenty two buildings still stand, and visitors can tour the parade ground, both barracks, the commandant’s house and the gift shop located in one of the former officer’s quarters buildings. The interpretive exhibits are very well done. The site is open 9am – 5pm April 1st to October 31st, and 10am – 4pm the rest of the year. It is well worth a visit if you happen to be in the area.

Fort Garland – A Civil War History

Tags

, , , , , ,

Work sent me over to the San Luis Valley of Colorado a couple of months ago. Normally the valley isn’t much of a tourist destination, with the exception of land-locked natives in search of sand dunes and alligators. But it’s also the site of the first and second forts constructed in Colorado Territory, Fort Massachusetts and Fort Garland. While the former was quickly abandoned in the 1850s, the second figured slightly in the Civil War. This proved too long for a single post, so this one will focus on the fort’s Civil War history and I’ll do another on the fort itself.

1861

At the beginning of 1861, the fort was garrisoned by three companies of regulars: Companies A and F, 10th Infantry and Company G, 2nd Dragoons. The post was commanded by Captain Cuvier Grover of the 10th Infantry, and Lieutenant Ebenezar Gay commanded Company G. In February Company G was ordered to Taos, New Mexico, and in March to Fort Union. Major E.R.S. Canby, 10th Infantry, rejoined from an expedition into Navajo county in March, and resumed command of the post.

general_edward_canby

Edward Richard Sprague Canby, a native of Kentucky, graduated from West Point in 1835. He served in the 2nd U.S. Infantry until 1855, when he was promoted to major in the 10th Infantry. During the Mexican War, he earned brevet promotions to major at Churubusco and Contreras and to lieutenant colonel at Belen Gate, Mexico City for gallantry in action. Major Canby was ordered south to Fort Union in May, and Major Daniel P. Whiting, also of the 10th Infantry, arrived June 15th to assume command of the two infantry companies and the post.

danielpwhiting

David Powers Whiting graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1828, 28th in his class. He served in the 7th U.S. Infantry as a lieutenant and captain, and earned a brevet promotion to major during the Mexican War for gallant and meritorious conduct during the battle of Cerro Gordo. He was promoted to major in the 10th Infantry on December 20, 1860, and was a year senior to Canby.

Company F, 10th Infantry was ordered to Fort Union July 9th, leaving the understrength Company A to garrison the fort. First Lieutenant William H. Russell commanded the 22 enlisted men present for duty, as well as serving as the post’s acting assistant quartermaster and acting assistant of commisary services. Company I, 2nd U.S. Cavalry arrived at the post on October 9th. Captain T.J. Durnin of the 16th Infantry commanded the 30 enlisted men of the company present for duty.

Thomas James Durnin enlisted in Company G, 2nd U.S. Dragoons on June 14, 1855. He was promoted to corporal, sergeant and first sergeant in the company by the war’s outbreak. He was appointed a second lieutenant in the 16th Infantry in the orders expanding the regular army on May 14, 1861. Interestingly, though identified as a captain in numerous post returns, he was not promoted to first lieutenant until October, and was not actually a captain until December 1864.

The garrison remained unchanged for Major Whiting until December, which was a busy month for the post. Company A, 10th Infantry departed on the 10th for Santa Fe. Captain Theodore H. Dodd’s company of Colorado volunteers arrived on the 14th, followed seven days later by Captain James H. Ford’s company of Colorado volunteers.

1862

Garrison changes continued through the early months of 1862. Dodd’s Company stayed only long enough to recover from its long march and reprovision, departing January 3rd for Santa Fe. Ford’s Company left a month later, on February 5th. Company I, 2nd U.S. Cavalry, still commanded by Captain Durnin, was the post’s only garrison through spring and early summer.

In March 1862 the post was finally assigned medical staff. Civilian Lewis B. McLain was assigned as the acting assistant surgeon by the district’s medical director in Santa Fe.

July 1862 was another month of great change for the small fort. Major A.H. Mayer, 1st New Mexico Volunteers, arrived to take command of the post on July 17th. Daniel Whiting, now a lieutenant colonel in the 10th U.S. Infantry, departed to join his regiment on the 26th. He was the last regular army officer to command the post for several years. Company I, 2nd U.S. Cavalry was joined in garrison by Company D, 1st New Mexico Volunteers on July 30th.

Company I and Captain Durnin departed the post for Fort Union on August 9th, replaced two weeks later by Company H, 2nd Colorado Volunteers on August 24th. Company H and Company D, 1st New Mexico Volunteers departed on a ten day scout September 5th, marching 242 miles before returning to post on the 15th. They were joined by four additional companies the following month, raising the garrison to its largest size during the war. Company C, 3rd U.S. Cavalry arrived from Fort Union on September 24th, followed three days later by Company M, 1st New Mexico Volunteers. Companies H and K, 1st Colorado Volunteers, arrived under Major Edward W. Wynkoop on September 29th, bringing the garrison to 370 enlisted men by the end of the month. With only two company-sized barracks buildings, many of the men must have lived under canvas.

The garrison thinned considerably in October. Company C, 3rd U.S. Cavalry departed for Fort Lyon on the 3rd. Major Wynkoop left for Denver with Companies H and K, 1st Colorado Cavalry on the 26th, accompanied by Company H, 2nd Colorado Cavalry. Company D, 1st New Mexico Volunteers remained the sole garrison for the next few months, though the post commander changed several times.

1863

Major Mayer left the post on December 10th, ostensibly on 60 days leave, but he never returned. Captain Ethan W. Eaton of Company D, 1st New Mexico assumed command. The remainder of the winter was quiet, broken only by an expedition of 2 officers and 28 enlisted men to Conejos ordered by the Department of New Mexico in February. Captain Eaton established the garrison at Conejos under Lieutenant Moore and returned to the post.

April was evidently a confusing month for the post. Post returns at the time were filed every ten days instead of the usual monthly requirement. Early in the month, Captain Joseph B. Davidson and Company C, 1st Colorado Cavalry arrived at the post. Captain Davidson assumed command on the 16th, but on the 20th both he and Captain Eaton filed post returns stating they were in command. Closer examination revealed that Captain Eaton had been absent without leave until April 18th, and had apparently been submitting returns in absentia. When this started is unclear, but the May return shows that Captain Eaton was dismissed from the service by War Department Special Order 63, April 9, 1863. Captain Davidson remained in command of the post, and Captain Birney arrived to take command of Company D on May 30th.

There was also a murder on the post in May. According to the post return, “Private Lujan of Co. D 1st New Mexico Vol was Shot by Private Cambojar while asleep in his quarters.” It is unclear what the outcome of this event was, but the company was relieved from duty at the post the next month, departing under Captain Birney for regimental headquarters on June 6th. Company E, 1st Colorado Cavalry arrived on July 12th, bringing the present for duty strength of the garrison to 52 enlisted men.

August 1863 was a very active month for the post. Reporting requirements changed, with orders now coming to the post from the District of Colorado rather than the Department of New Mexico. Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Tappan of the 1st Colorado Volunteers arrived to take command of the post on August 12th. Colorado also sent additional forces to garrison the fort. The 45 enlisted men of Company F, 3rd Colorado Volunteers under 2nd Lieutenant Albert S. Gooding arrived from Denver on the 21st, and the 26 enlisted men of the Right Section, 1st Colorado Battery under 2nd Lieutenant Horace W. Baldwin arrived five days later. Lieutenant S.N. Crane of the 1st Colorado Cavalry and 30 men relieved 1st Lieutenant Moore’s garrison at Conejos, and he returned to the post and assumed command of the squadron on the 16th.

At the end of September, Governor John Lewis and Colonel Chivington briefly visited the fort while sending troops into the field against the Indians. Although there had been no issues near the fort, an expedition departed on the 29th. Lieutenant Colonel Tappan commanded a battalion consisting of Companies C and E, 1st Colorado Cavalry and the Right Section, 1st Colorado Battery. 2nd Lieutenant Gooding served as the battalion adjutant, and 1st Lieutenant David R. Wright assumed command of Company F, 3rd Colorado Volunteers and the post.

Tappan, Company E and the artillery section returned on October 10th, followed by Company C the next day. Company C was ordered to Denver on the 17th, and Company F of the 3rd Colorado was relieved and ordered to Fort Lyon on the 28th. There was apparently some difficulty with the artillery section during the expedition, as 2nd Lieutenant Baldwin was dismissed from the service at the end of the month.

Company E was reinforced by Company A, 1st Colorado Cavalry under Lieutenant Edward A. Jacobs on November 9th, bringing the squadron strength to 60 enlisted men. The Right Section, 1st Colorado Battery was commanded by a noncommissioned officer, and had only 10 enlisted men present for duty and no serviceable horses. This likely had something to do with Lt. Baldwin’s dismissal. On the 24th Lieutenant Moore and 40 men were dispatched to assist a supply train reach the post, most likely over La Veta pass.

1864

The winter of 1863-1864 was a quiet one for Lieutenant Colonel Tappan and the small garrison. In February, Lieutenant Baldwin returned to the artillery section, and in March the section changed from the right section to the left section. This appears to have simply been a change of designation, as no new troops arrived and Lt. Baldwin remained in charge of the section. The section departed for Camp Fillmore, Colorado Territory on April 16th.

On June 1st, Captain Charles Kerber’s Company I, 1st Colorado Cavalry relieved Companies A and E as the post garrison. With a strength of only 2 officers and 33 enlisted men, there was plenty of room for the newcomers. Captain Isaac Gray and Company E departed the same day for Spring Bottom on the Arkansas River, followed on the 14th by Lieutenant Jacobs and Company A. Captain Kerber assumed command of the post from Lieutenant Colonel Tappan on June 19th.

Despite the increasing hostilities with Indians elsewhere in the state that culminated in the Sand Creek Massacre in November, the remainder of 1864 was very quiet for the post’s small garrison. The company’s strength waned in the final months of the year. On November 1st, civilian F.R. Waggoner assumed duties as the post’s acting assistant surgeon, relieving Lewis McLain, the post longest tenured wartime resident. By December, the 37 enlisted men present for duty were nearly outnumbered by the post’s 24 civilian employees – a quartermaster clerk, a commissary clerk, two storekeepers, a wagon master, a saddler, a chief herder, two herders, , a cook, a butcher, eight teamsters and six laborers.

1865

1865 was uneventful for the post. Captain Kerber remained in command of the fort through the end of the war. In February, Company I was designated as “Squadron B, Veteran Battalion, 1st Colorado Cavalry.” Although the garrison’s strength had increased to 72 men present for duty by April, no new units arrived at the fort.

The wartime regular army commanders of Fort Garland did not fare well after the war. Canby, promoted to general in the interim, was killed by Modoc Indians during a peace conference in California in 1873. David P. Whiting retired before the war ended, on November 4, 1863. Thomas J. Durnin was transferred to the 25th Infantry Regiment as part of an expansion of the regular army on September 21, 1866. He was cashiered exactly one year from that date.

The following post will examine the post itself, and the efforts of a dedicated few to preserve it for future generations.

Sources:

Heitman, Francis B. Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1903.
Henry, Guy V. Military Record of Civilian Appointments in the United States Army, 2 volumes. New York: George W. Carleton, 1869.
National Archives, Record Group 94, Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General, 1861-1870.
National Archives, Record Group 94, U.S. Returns from Regular Army Non-infantry Regiments, 1821-1916: 2nd U.S. Cavalry
National Archives, Record Group 94, U.S. Returns from Military Posts: Fort Garland, CO
National Archives, Record Group 94, U.S. Army Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914

Fiddler’s Green – Richard Fitzgerald

Tags

, , ,

Richard Fitzgerald was born in County Waterford, Ireland in 1838. After immigrating to the United States, he worked as a fireman prior to serving in the army. He was enlisted into the General Mounted Service by Lieutenant Magruder in Baltimore, Maryland on January 20, 1859. His enlistment documents describe him as 5’ 10” tall, with brown hair, hazel eyes and a ruddy complexion.

At this period, the General Mounted Service meant assignment to the Cavalry School at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania and various recruiting assignments. Fitzgerald rose through the enlisted ranks, and was serving as a first sergeant in the permanent company at Carlisle Barracks service when he was appointed a second lieutenant in Company I, 5th U.S. Cavalry on November 7, 1863.

Cavalry depot commander Captain David Hastings of the 1st U.S. Cavalry submitted the recommendation for his appointment, which was also signed by every officer assigned to the depot. It read: “Sergeant Hastings is well instructed in all the details and duties relative to the mounted service, and will make an excellent Cavalry Officer. His character and services justly intitle [sic] him to that position: he done some good service, as first sergeant of the permanent company of this Depot, in the recent battles in Pennsylvania and Maryland.”

Lieutenant Fitzgerald joined his regiment at Mitchell’s Station, Virginia the following month. He served there through the winter and spring, including skirmishes at Barnett’s Ford, Charlottesville, Stanardsville, and Morton’s Ford. Although assigned to Company I, he spent very little time there. He was on special duty commanding Company E from January to March, then shifted to Company M in April as the spring campaign began.

He led his company ably in the Overland Campaign and Sheridan’s two raids toward Richmond. He was promoted to first lieutenant in Company I on June 12, 1864, replacing former sergeant major Joseph P. Henley when he was killed at Trevillian Station. Fitzgerald continued to command Company M as the regiment was transferred to the Shenandoah Valley.

Lieutenant Fitzgerald led his company well in the near constant skirmishing that comprised the first month of the campaign. During the battle of Opequon on September 19, 1864, “he was killed while gallantly leading his company in a charge against the enemy.” He is buried in the military cemetery at Winchester, Virginia.

LT Fitzgerald 1

Sources:
Heitman, Francis B. Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1903. Page 268.
Henry, Guy V. Military Record of Civilian Appointments in the United States Army, 2 volumes. New York: George W. Carleton, 1869. Volume 1, page 152.

National Archives, Record Group 94, Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General, 1861-1870.
National Archives, Record Group 94, U.S. Returns from Regular Army Non-infantry Regiments, 1821-1916: 1st, 2nd and 5th U.S. Cavalry

National Archives, Record Group 94, U.S. Army Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914

Price, George F. Across The Continent With The Fifth Cavalry. New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1883. Pages 507-508.

150 Years Ago: Battle of Opequon, or Third Winchester

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the battle of Opequon, or Third Winchester. While the cavalry was primarily involved in the larger fight at its culmination, with the first of the large scale charges that became its hallmark under Sheridan, they still had a busy day.
Rather than try to hastily sketch the battle into a blog post, I have decided to let one of the participants tell the story in his own words. For those desiring more in depth information on the battle, I strongly recommend The Last Battle of Winchester by Scott Patchan. It is the best treatment of the battle that I’ve seen.

The closest commander to the source for my purposes is Reserve Brigade commander Colonel Charles R. Lowell. He served through the Peninsula campaign as a lieutenant and captain in the 6th U.S. Cavalry before he was selected to command a regiment of volunteers, the Second Massachusetts. This was his first major engagement as a brigade commander.

The Reserve Brigade consisted of four regiments of cavalry for this battle. Since Colonel Lowell commanded the brigade, Lieutenant Colonel Casper Crowninshield commanded the 2nd Massachusetts. He was the senior regimental commander. Captain Eugene M. Baker commanded the 1st U.S. Cavalry. The 2nd U.S. Cavalry was commanded by Captain Theophilus F. Rodenbough until he was severely wounded near the end of the day’s fighting, then by Captain Robert S. Smith. Lieutenant Gustavus Urban, the former regimental sergeant major, commanded the 5th U.S. Cavalry. The 6th Pennsylvania, under command of Major Charles L. Leiper, was ordered to the remount camp at Pleasant Valley, Maryland on September 8th and was not present for the battle.

Colonel Lowell’s report for the period encompasses two weeks of maneuver by the brigade, so I have excerpted his words on the battle:

“September 19, marched at 2 a.m.; reached Opequon at Seiver’s Ford before daybreak. The enemy’s picket-line was driven in by Second U.S. Cavalry and Second Massachusetts Cavalry, about forty prisoners being taken, and the opposite bank of the creek occupied in a line of about three miles, the right connecting with the First Brigade. A very gallant charge was made by Second U.S. Cavalry on one of Breckinridge’s batteries, but was repulsed, the infantry supports being well placed behind rails breast high, a simultaneous charge by the First Brigade being also repulsed. Soon after noon the whole line was advanced to the Martinsburg pike; the brigade was necessarily much scattered. Two squadrons of the Second Massachusetts Cavalry joined the charge of the Second Brigade on the enemy’s infantry; the rest of that regiment got mixed up with the skirmish line of Averell’s division. The First, Second, and Fifth U.S. Cavalry advanced toward Winchester, on the left of the pike; charged a battery supported by infantry and cavalry; captured two guns, with their caissons and most of the horses and drivers. What part of these regiments could be rallied assisted in the subsequent charge of the First Brigade upon a brigade of the enemy’s infantry. After dark the brigade was moved through Winchester and camped two miles out on the Valley pike.”

The Reserve Brigade’s total casualties for the battle were 103, including killed, wounded and missing. This was a little more than a third of the First Division’s 288, but the brigade was roughly half the size of Custer’s First Brigade and Devin’s Second Brigade. One of the men of the Reserve Brigade, First Sergeant Conrad Schmidt of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry, earned the Medal of Honor during the battle, but that will be detailed in a separate post.

I was not able to identify the members of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry killed during the battle. Regimental casualties included 3 men killed, 3 officers and 8 men wounded, 1 officer and 5 men missing or captured. Those of the three regular regiments are listed below.

1st U.S. Cavalry
First Sergeant Henry Montville, Co. C, KIA
Corporal Jacob McAtlee, Co. G, KIA
Private Ledoux Lewis, Co. I, KIA
Private John Siedler, Co. C, KIA
One officer and 13 men wounded, 6 men missing or captured.

2nd U.S. Cavalry
Captain James F. McQuesten, serving on brigade staff, KIA
Corporal Edward Sheehy, Co. K, KIA
Two officers and 17 men wounded, 1 officer and 7 men missing or captured.

5th U.S. Cavalry
Lieutenant Richard Fitzgerald, Co. I, KIA
Corporal Michael Howard, Co. E, KIA
Private Albert Bigmore, Co. G, KIA
Private Henry Curry, Co. I, KIA
Three officers and 9 men wounded, 12 men missing or captured

Sources:

National Archives, Record Group 94, U.S. Returns from Regular Army Non-infantry Regiments, 1821-1916: 1st, 2nd and 5th U.S. Cavalry
National Archives, U.S. Army Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914
National Archives, U.S., Register of Deaths in the Regular Army, 1860-1889
OR, Series I, Volume 43, part 1, page 111. (task organization and commanders)
OR, Series I, Volume 43, part 1, page 117. (casualty totals)
OR, Series I, Volume 43, part 1, page 490. (Lowell’s report)

150 Years Ago: Trevillian Station

Tags

, , , , ,

150 years ago today, the cavalry forces of the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia collided in the largest all cavalry battle of the Civil War at Trevillian Station. For two days the forces went at each other hammer and tongs, in some of the fiercest cavalry fighting of the war.

Rather than craft yet another summary of the battle on its anniversary, I decided to focus on the official report of the battle and on identifying the casualties from the regular regiments.

The official report of Brigadier General Wesley Merritt, commanding the Reserve Brigade, covers the period from May 26th to June 25th, so I’ve chosen to excerpt only those sections relevant to the fighting at Trevillian Station.

“On the 7th the brigade marched with the division, crossing the Pamunkey on the second expedition. On the 8th, 9th and 10th of June the march was continued without event.

“On the 11th the brigade left camp at 5 a.m., moving toward Gordonsville. The Second Cavalry, forming the advance guard, soon encountered the enemy’s pickets, which were driven in and the main body of the enemy engaged. Captain Rodenbough handled his gallant regiment with great skill and unexampled valor, charging and driving the enemy mounted, and forcing him, as usual, to cover. Captain Rodenbough was here wounded, as also Lieutenant Horrigan, of the Second. Here also Lieutenant Lawless, of the same regiment, was killed. He was a fearless, honest, and eminently trustworthy soldier, “God’s truth” being the standard by which he measured all his actions. The entire brigade was soon engaged, the First on the left, and the First New York Dragoons on the extreme right. On the left of this latter was the Sixth Pennsylvania, and next the Second Cavalry, now commanded by Capt. D.S. Gordon. The Fifth Cavalry was held as a support to the battery. The enemy was driven through a thick tangled brushwood for over 2 miles to Trevilian Station, on the Virginia Central Railroad, but not without serious loss to ourselves, though we inflicted heavy punishment on the adversary in killed, wounded, and prisoners. [start pg 850] Among his wounded was General Rosser, commanding Hampton’s old division, and a colonel commanding a brigade was killed, his body, along with most of the enemy’s killed and wounded, falling into our hands. Few less than 200 prisoners, including 6 or 8n officers, were taken by the brigade. The enemy’s retreat finally became a rout, led horses, mounted men, and artillery all fled together in the wildest confusion. Williston, with his battery, took position near by, and did elegant practice with his guns, planting shells in the midst of the confused masses of the retreating enemy. Trevilian Station was thus gained. In this retreat part of the enemy went toward Gordonsville, while fragments were driven off on the road to Louisa Court-House. In their headlong career these latter came in contact with the First Brigade, which, being engaged toward its rear by the advance of Fitzhugh Lee’s division coming from Louisa Court-House, was compelled to abandon some captures it had made from the led horses and trains of the force that was engaging the rest of the First Division, as above described. This brigade soon formed a junction and took position to the left rear of the Reserve Brigade. In the meanwhile, Fitz. Lee’s division advanced on the Louisa Court-House road and took up a line on the left of the Reserve Brigade, his line being perpendicular to the last. The two parts of the line at this time formed a right angle, the Reserve Brigade occupying the right of the line, to the vortex of the angle, the second Brigade on its left, occupying part of the other line, and the First Brigade, with the Second Division, remained in echelon to the left rear, as above mentioned.

“On the night of the 11th the enemy retired from our left front and took up position on the Gordonsville front.

“About 3 p.m. on the 12th the brigade was ordered to attack the enemy’s left, while it was intended that the First Brigade should co-operate on its left, while the Second Brigade of the division was held in reserve. The brigade went in on an open field to its right and attacked the enemy’s left flank vigorously. It was slow work, however, and as the enemy was not pressed on the left he concentrated his force on the brigade, and by large numbers and fresh troops, gave the command as much as it could attend to. Still both officers and men stood up to their work, doing manfully all that their former prowess would lead the most sanguine to expect, holding everything they had gained on the left, where the line was weakest, and driving the enemy on the right before them in expectation of a general advance. In thus advancing the right of the brigade was so swung round as to be exposed to the enemy’s attack on its wing. This he was not slow to take advantage of, when a squadron of the Second Cavalry, my only remaining mounted support to the battery, was thrown in to meet the attack. Here again the Second did nobly. Coming up on the right of the Sixth Pennsylvania, which up to that time had been the extreme right regiment in line, they charged gallantly, and, though few in numbers, by the impetuosity of their onslaught, drove the enemy back and protected the right until relieved by two regiments of the Second Brigade (the Fourth and Sixth New York). After these two regiments got in position this squadron of the Second was withdrawn to again act as support to the battery, which was ordered to advance, a good position having been gained on the right. Right gallantly did the battery come up in the midst of a heavy musketry fire, we being at that time so close to the enemy that their shells all flew far over us. Planting three [start pg 851] guns of the battery in this position, where it dealt the enemy heavy blows, Lieutenant Williston moved one of his brass 12-pounders onto the skirmish line. In fact, the line was moved to the front to allow him to get an eligible position, where he remained with his gun, in the face of the strengthened enemy (who advanced to its very muzzle), dealing death and destruction in their ranks with double loads of canister. It was now dark and I was ordered to retire the brigade, which was done slowly and leisurely, the enemy not advancing. This day the loss of the brigade was heavy for the numbers engaged. The general advance was not made.” (Official Records, Vol. 36, Pt. 1, pgs 850-852)

While I was able to track down the names of almost all the casualties from the battle, I felt that listing all of the wounded made the post overly long. Only the names of those killed are listed, as well as the numbers of wounded and missing. The four officers killed in the battle will be featured separately over the course of the remainder of the month.

1st US Cavalry:

Killed in action:

1LT John H. Nichols

1LT Frederick Ogden

Sgt E. Jackson, Co. H

Sgt William Mulcahy, Co. M

Sgt James Rathburn, Co. C

Pvt Henry Lynch, Co. D

Pvt John Normyle, Co. E

Pvt George Ott, Co. K

Pvt H.S.P. Petro, Co. D

An additional 29 enlisted men were wounded, three of them dying of wounds later in the month. Six enlisted men were listed as missing in action.

2nd US Cavalry:

Killed in action:

1LT Michael Lawless, Co. A

Sgt Christian Fisher, Co. M

Pvt Thomas Corbett, Co. A

Pvt Edward Gorman, Co. B

Pvt James Ferris, Co. F

Pvt Ariel C. Chapin, Co. K

Pvt James Levens, Co. L

Pvt Patrick McArdle, Co. E

 

An additional two officers, including regimental commander Captain T. F. Rodenbough and 1st Lieutenant Patrick Horrigan, and 34 enlisted men were wounded. Captain Charles McK. Leoser and two enlisted men were listed as missing in action.

 

5th US Cavalry:

Killed in action:

1LT Joseph P. Henley, Co. I

Corp Charles E. Asher, Co. G

Pvt Patrick Keeney, Co. G

 

An additional two enlisted men were wounded, and two more were listed as missing in action. The 5th US Cavalry’s casualties appear light in comparison to the other two regiments, but over half of the regiment did not participate in the battle.

Fiddler’s Green: Samuel McKee

Tags

, ,

It seems appropriate to feature this officer on the 150th anniversary of his death. Due to the heavy fighting in June 1864, there will be several of these features this month.

Samuel McKee was born in St Louis, Missouri in 1835. He was appointed to the United States Military Academy from Utah in 1854 at the age of 19, and graduated 13th in the class of 1858. Upon graduation, he was initially appointed as a brevet second lieutenant of mounted rifles, and served his initial assignment at the Cavalry School for Practice at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. He was transferred to the 1st Dragoons on June 22, 1859, and conducted a party of recruits to join his new regiment at Fort Tejon, California.

He was promoted to second lieutenant in the 1st Dragoons on January9, 1860, and continued to serve with the parts of the regiment at Fort Tejon. Later that year he married Matilda Harris Finley, the daughter of Army Surgeon General Dr. Clarence A. Finley.

With the outbreak of the war, promotions accelerated rapidly. Samuel was promoted to first lieutenant in the regiment on May 7th, and appointed regimental adjutant on August 7th. In October tragedy struck the young family, as Matilda died in childbirth on October 31st at the age of 25. Their daughter was named Matilda Finley McKee. Samuel had little time to mourn, as he was relieved as adjutant when he was promoted to captain on November 14th. . The regimental headquarters departed by ship from Los Angeles for Washington, D.C. They arrived and established Camp Sprague in late January 1862, with Captain McKee in command of Company B.

The regiment spent the next two months drilling and preparing for the spring campaign as part of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Reserve. A career fellow officer in the regiment later noted in his memoirs that McKee was “perhaps the best drill officer I have ever known.” He participated with his regiment in the spring’s fighting on the Peninsula, distinguishing himself in the skirmish at Williamsburg on May 4th.

The following month he departed on a leave of absence to serve as lieutenant colonel for the 77th New York Volunteer Infantry, but rejoined the 1st Cavalry in September in time for the Antietam campaign. He served with the regiment through the winter of 1863, Stoneman’s Raid and the Gettysburg campaign.

He was again detached from his regiment on special service with General Ayres at New York City following the draft riots from August 23, 1863 to January 14, 1864. After a brief sick leave in Washington, D.C., he joined the regiment at Mitchell’s Station in February. He was engaged in picket duty and reconnaissance for the remainder of the winter, serving as the regimental commander until April.

Captain Nelson Sweitzer resumed command of the regiment for the spring campaign, but Captain McKee served prominently at Todd’s Tavern and during the fighting during Sheridan’s first raid. He was mortally wounded during the cavalry fighting at Cold Harbor, Virginia on May 31st, and died on June 3rd. He is buried with his wife in Los Angeles, California.

He was well remembered by peers and superiors alike. Catain George Sanford wrote of him that his death “cut short a most promising career and deprived the regiment of one of the finest and best loved officers who ever followed its colors.” His brigade commander, Brigadier General Wesley Merritt, called him “a pure, unaffected, moderate man, a chivalrous, educated, accomplished soldier.” General Alfred T.A. Torbert, his division commander, wrote “a more gallant and accomplished soldier has not given his life for his bleeding country.”

 

Sources:

Cullum, pgs 704-705.

Hageman, E.R., ed. Fighting Rebels and Redskins. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969.

Heitman, pg 438.

Jordan, F. “A Forgotten Captain.” Los Angeles Herald, Volume 37, Number 184, April 3, 1910, page 10.

Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Volume 36, part I, pages 806, 814 and 849.

Memorial Day: On the Death of Edward Falkner

Tags

, , , , ,

It strikes me as appropriate on Memorial Day, formerly Decoration Day for the Civil War dead, to post on a fallen soldier. And I do not think I can do so more eloquently than this family member did in 1863. Jimmy and I both loved this poem and had hoped to include it in our history of the 6th U.S. Cavalry, but unfortunately there wasn’t room.

“Lines on the Death of Mr. Edward Falkner, Jun., of the 6th Regiment U.S. Cavalry, Who fell in a Cavalry Charge at Brandy Station, on the ‘Rappahannock,’ 9th June, 1863.
The freest land the sun illumes,
Resounds with shouts of war;
The South a hostile form assumes
‘Gainst freedom’s sacred law;

And freedom’s sons pour out their life
Her Honour to sustain,
And kindred meet in bloody strife
Upon the battle plain;

And happy homes are rudely shorn
Of all that gave them joy,
For sire and son away are borne
Upon the field to die.

The maiden mourns in deep distress
For him she once caressed;
The widow strains the fatherless
Upon her sobbing breast.

Thousands that left their native land,
In search of peaceful toil,
Are stretched by war’s relentless hand
Upon the gory soil.

One home of five left England’s shore
With all she boasts behind,
And crossed the wide Atlantic o’er
A better land to fnd.

These dwelt in peace till age’s frost
Upon the parents came,
And boyhood of their sons was lost,
In manhood’s hardy frame; —

Who fired with zeal for freedom’s cause,
The Federal army join,
And in defence of righteous laws
Confront the Southern line.

The eldest chose the horseman’s ground,
Where swords and lances gleam,
And soon among his comrades found
Respect and high esteem;

For though his rough and stalwart frame
Could fearless meet the foe,
His dauntless heart knew mercy’s name,
And felt for others’ woe.

Long did the starry banner wave,
As emblem of the free,
Where manfully he fought to save
The flag of liberty.

But on the 9th of June he fell
By Rappahannock’s side,
When in a noble charge to quell
The advanced rebel tide.

Two thousand of the choicest horse
From out the Federal band,
Were marched against the Southern force
At General Lee’s command.

The armies met, the fight began,
And tumult filled the air,
While streams of fire like lightning ran,
Midst the conflict there.

Charge! Charge!! my men, their leader cried,
And ere the bugle sounds,
The gallant horsemen fiercely ride
Across the rebel bounds.

Where, through dense clouds of dust and smoke,
The bullets fell like rain,
While the hoarse cannon’s thunder spoke
A requiem for the slain.

But in that charge our hero died,
Pierced by a musket ball,
And o’er his foaming charger’s side
Was lifeless seen to fall.

The missile through his heart had broke,
And did its work too well;
For not a word the soldier spoke
When to the ground he fell.

Swift from its cell, amid the strife,
The soldier’s spirit fled,
Nor lingered long that moral life
‘Twixt dying and the dead.

With willing hands the corpse to save,
From the stern fate of war,
His comrades bore it o’er the wave,
To a more peaceful shore;

And dug with mournful haste a grave,
For him they loved so well,
While tears of manly sorrow strayed,
Down their rough cheeks, and fell

On the uncoffin’d form that lies,
In death’s cold slumber there,
And turned to heaven their tearful eyes,
In mute but earnest prayer.

Thus broke the sacred chain that bound
That home in life and love,
But firmer will its links be found,
That bind that home above.

Green be the memory of the brave
That fought for freedom’s right,
And nobly died her flag to save
From the slave tyrant’s might.

Honour to England’s sons of toil,
That left their native shores,
And fell upon a foreign soil
For freedom’s righteous laws.

J.F.
Birmingham, 1863.”

 

Edward Falkner was born in England in 1838, and was a farmer in New York before the war. He enlisted into Company I, 6th U.S. Cavalry at Rochester, New York on September 7, 1861. He was killed in action as the poem states at Beverly Ford on June 9, 1863.

150 Years Ago: Todd’s Tavern

Tags

, , , , , , ,

After the two days of heavy fighting in the Wilderness, General Grant decided to move around Lee’s flank toward Spotsylvania Court House. In order to get there, his cavalry would have to clear the Brock Road and take the crossroads at Todd’s Tavern to cut the Confederate route to Spotsylvania. General Lee, divining Grant’s intent, tasked his own cavalry to protect the Confederate route to Spotsylvania and slow down the Union advance. This would lead to some of the most intense cavalry combat to this point in the war.

Ironically, Major General Sheridan’s Union cavalry had held Todd’s Tavern during the previous two days of fighting in the Wilderness, but withdrew them on the night of May 6th toward Chancellorsville. This allowed General Fitzhugh Lee’s Confederate cavalry to reoccupy the crossroads and make improvements to earthworks previously constructed by Union forces.

Sheridan planned a two-pronged attack which would meet at the crossroads on May 7th. The First Division would advance south and clear the Brock Road from Catherine Furnace, while the Second Division would advance west up the Catharpin Road. Once the crossroads was seized, the Second Division would continue west and seize Corbin’s Bridge over the Po River, further hindering Confederate efforts to reach Spotsylvania.

General Alfred Torbert required surgery for an abscess in his back, so Brigadier General Wesley Merritt commanded the First Division, while Colonel Alfred Gibbs assumed command of the Reserve Brigade. Major General David McM. Gregg commanded the Second Division.

The Union plan was initially successful. Merritt’s division met Fitz Lee’s Confederates at 3 p.m. about a mile north of Todd’s Tavern. Gibbs, whose Reserve Brigade led the division, dismounted and deployed his lead regiment, the 6th Pennsylvania, as skirmishers to the left of the road. Gibbs’ official report describes the deployment of the rest of the brigade:

“Finding the enemy to be in force, consisting of, it is believed, Fitzhugh Lee’s division of cavalry, the First U.S. Cavalry and First New York Dragoons were deployed as skirmishers, on foot, to the left of the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry. The Fifth U.S. Cavalry was deployed similarly on the right side of the road.”

As Merritt engaged the Confederate cavalry, Gregg’s division arrived on their right flank, near Piney Branch Church. Lee conducted a fighting withdrawal to the south. Once Merritt had driven the Confederates south of the crossroads, Gregg advanced as planned toward Corbin’s Bridge. He was met a mile west of the crossroads by Rosser’s brigade of Confederate cavalry from Wade Hampton’s division. In heavy dismounted fighting, Gregg was able to force Rosser back to the bridge, but withdrew to the tavern after Hampton’s remaining two brigades moved to Rosser’s support.

In the meantime Merritt, aided by Davies’ brigade of Gregg’s division advancing on Lee’s right flank on the Piney Branch Road, forced Fitzhugh Lee’s division farther south. Two miles south of the tavern, Lee established a new defensive line in some existing log barricades. Merritt attacked him there in the late afternoon in the deadliest phase of the battle. The Reserve Brigade’s deployment remained the same, adding, “The Second U.S. Cavalry was held mounted on the extreme left, while Williston’s battery came into position on a high ridge in rear, where they did excellent service, silencing the enemy’s battery and killing and wounding several of their men and horses. After a sharp engagement, lasting until dark, the enemy were driven off, leaving many of their dead and wounded upon the field.”

400px-Spotsylvania_Court_House_May_07

***The map of the fighting taken from Hal Jespersen’s excellent map site at http://www.cwmaps.com/freemaps.html

Merritt succeeded capturing the fortifications at dusk, but withdrew back toward Todd’s Tavern after dark, concerned for the security of his flanks. Fitzhugh Lee lost no time in reoccupying the position. Gregg encamped his division at the crossroads.

General Meade, meanwhile, had begun his army’s advance toward Spotsylvania, with Warren’s Fifth Corps leading the march. Orders to Sheridan to clear the Brock Road all the way to Spotsylvania apparently miscarried, and he reached the tavern about midnight to discover Gregg’s troops encamped there. Furious, he ordered Merritt to finish clearing the road to Spotsylvania Court House and Gregg to seize Corbin’s Bridge and hold it to protect the army’s right flank.

Advancing, Merritt discovered that Fitz Lee’s troops had made good use of the night’s hours to reinforce their position of the previous afternoon. Attacking dismounted on both sides of the road, he eventually forced Lee’s men from the position but was unable to advance further. His men’s carbine ammunition was exhausted, and they were reduced to firing their pistols. The heavy woods prevented the employment of the battery.

General Robinson’s infantry division of the Fifth Corps passed through them and pushed the Confederates back to within two miles of Spotsylvania before they were reinforced by the lead elements of the First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. The Confederate cavalry had delayed the Union army long enough for Lee to win the race to Spotsylvania.

Losses were heavy, particularly in Merritt’s division. “In this severely contested action our loss in both officers and men was heavy. Ten officers were wounded and 4 taken prisoners, besides 141 enlisted men killed, wounded, and missing,” wrote Gibbs of his brigade. The Reserve Brigade suffered 198 of the 315 casualties in the division, compared to 62 in the First Brigade and 55 in the Second Brigade. The relatively inexperienced 1st New York Dragoons suffered the highest loss of any cavalry regiment in a single engagement during the war, with 20 enlisted men killed in action and 91 total casualties. This was a source of some bitterness during the remainder of their service with the brigade, but the other regiments were hard hit as well. The 6th Pennsylvania had three officers wounded, including their commanding officer, and 31 enlisted casualties. Two of the regular regiments suffered losses of almost 10 percent. The 2nd U.S. lost one officer wounded and 24 enlisted men killed, wounded or missing. The 1st U.S., suffered 45 casualties, including six or the eight officers present for duty wounded. Only the diminished 5th U.S. was relatively unscathed, with one officer killed in action and two enlisted men wounded.

Declaring a victor for the battle is somewhat problematic. Both sides lost heavily. While the Confederate cavalry was forced to yield its positions successively to the Union cavalry, it did fulfill its mission of delaying the Union advance and enabling Lee to reach Spotsylvania first. The Union cavalry’s tactical successes, however, made the race a near thing and denied Lee the opportunity to improve his position before the next battle. They also inflicted heavy casualties on the Confederate cavalry it could ill afford.

Sources:

OR, Vol. 36, Pt. 1, pages 115, 128, 811-812 and 845-847.

Price, George F. Across the Continent With the Fifth Cavalry, pages 123-124.

Rhea, Gordon. The Battles for Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern, pages 30-42.

Rodenbough, Theophilus. From Everglade to Canyon, pages 304-305.

Welcher, Frank, The Union Army, pages 531- 532.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 161 other followers