A Virginia private’s tough March to Maryland in August- September, 1862

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On August 18 of that year our brigade, composed of the First, Seventh, Eleventh and Seventeenth Virginia Infantry, set its faces northward from Gordonsville. Every knapsack and all camp equipage were left behind, and in light marching order, with 60 rounds of ammunition, a blanket over our shoulders and five days’ rations in our haversacks, we headed for the Rapidan river. Those five days’ rations, which lasted us two days, were the last we drew until September 21.

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The forced marches of August 28 and 29 to aid Jackson were a fearful ordeal, made as they were in the intense heat, with the roads deep in dust, but we reached Thoroughfare Gap in time, and the next day we fought the second battle of Manassas. Our men were so hungry that they gathered the crackers and meat from the haversacks of the dead Federals and ate as they fought. The next day we kept on to Chantilly and fought there; then, swinging to Leesburg, we struck for the Potomac. In all these weeks we had no change of clothing and we were literally devoured by vermin. We had no tents and slept on the ground, and slept soundly even though the rain was pouring in torrents. A prize fighter trains about two months to get himself in perfect condition, but we had been training in a more vigorous manner for nearly two years, and the men were skin, bone and muscle.

We lived on apples and green corn all of the time, and the soldiers began to drop out of the ranks at every halt. Then an order came for the barefooted men to remain behind and report in Winchester, and some thousands threw away their shoes. Every step our army made northward it became weaker. At last we stood on the long-dreamed-of banks of the Potomac. It was near Shepherdstown, and Maryland, my Maryland, met our gaze at last, which shone—

Fair as the gardens of the Lord

To the famished eyes of the rebel horde.

Alexander Hunter, “Battle of Antietam,” Southern Historical Society Papers (Richmond, Virginia: Southern Historical Society, 1903)

Maryland vs Maryland at Culp’s Hill (Gettysburg)

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Lee’s plan for July 2d was for Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell of the Confederate 2nd Corps to attack Culp’s Hill and East Cemetery Ridge simultaneously with Lt. Gen. James Longstreet’s attack on the Union left. With Longstreet’s delay in moving forward, Ewell was forced to wait as well.

When Longstreet finally started his attack about 4:30 p.m., Ewell’s artillery opened up a barrage on the Federals on Culp’s Hill. The Union guns answered with devastating results.

The union line here was held by units of the 12th Corps but most were pulled from the line to support the fight south at the Peach Orchard leaving only units of General George S. Greene to hold the hill. In a fight that started at 7 PM and was carried into night the Confederates were able to capture some of the lower trenches.

Late that night, the returning 12th Corps troops under the command of Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum found the Confederates occupying the breastworks they had so painstakingly erected. Slocum’s advice to his commanders was succinct: “Drive them out at daylight.”

It was during this engagement that Marylander fought Marylander, with one regiment in Johnson’s division opposing three from Slocum’s corps.

About 4:30 a.m., the Union troops threw themselves into furious battle against the enemy. It started with an artillery barrage that the rebels did not have the guns to answer. Historian Harry W. Pfanz note in his book, “Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill & Cemetery Hill,” that Battery A, 1st Maryland Light Artillery participated in the opening salvo.

“We can wonder if these Marylanders had any friends or relatives in the 1st Maryland Battalion that must have been at the bull’s-eye of their target,” Pfanz writes.

(And ironically enough two of the artillery batteries on Benner’s Hill which had supported the confederates on the previous day’s action were the Chesapeake (Md.) Artillery and the 1st Maryland Artillery.)

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Don Troiani’s “Band of Brothers”

The 1st Maryland Battalion Infantry of the Confederate Army attacked within 30 yards of the Union’s 1st Maryland, Potomac Home Brigade.

Goldsborough of the Confederate 1st Maryland Battalion Infantry and which evolved into the 2nd Maryland Regiment), which was part of Brig. Gen. George H. Steuart’s Brigade in Johnson’s Division, described the fight.

“To add to the horrors of the situation a battery or two opened upon the division at short range, and most of their shells fell among the men of Steuart’s Brigade, who were compelled to closely hug the ground behind the breastworks for protection. A more terrible fire men were never subjected to, and it was a miracle that any escaped,” he writes.

Steuart’s Brigade was ordered to charge the Union lines, leaving the protection of the heavily wooded area into open, unsheltered ground. The men of the regiments to the left of the Marylanders, when exposed to the fire, “threw themselves upon the ground, and despite the pleadings and curses of their officers refused to go forward,” Goldsborough writes.

“But the little battalion of Marylanders, now reduced to about 300 men, never wavered nor hesitated, but kept on, closing up its ranks as great gaps were torn through them by the merciless fire of the enemy in front and flank, and many of the brave fellows never stopped until they had passed through the enemy’s first line or had fallen dead or wounded as they reached it.”

“But flesh and blood could not withstand that circle of fire, and the survivors fell back to the line of log breastworks, where they remained several hours, repulsing repeated assaults of the enemy, until ordered by General Johnson to fall back to Rock Creek.

“General Steuart was heartbroken at the disaster, and wringing his hands, great tears stealing down his bronzed and weather-beaten cheeks, he was heard repeatedly to exclaim: ‘My poor boys! My poor boys!’

http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1998-07-02/news/1998183065_1_culp-hill-breastworks-gettysburg

for another excellent post about this action by Mdiesel go to: http://civilwartalk.com/threads/battle-flag-of-2nd-maryland-infantry-csa.78410/

 

The Civil War’s “Band of Brothers” – We’ve Drank from the Same Canteen poem

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There is an excellent book about everyday life in the Civil War by John D Billings called “Hardtack and Coffee”. In it there is a simply wonderful poem by a Private Miles O’Reilly. It goes:

There are bonds of all sorts in this world of ours,
Fetters of friendship and ties of flowers,
And true lover’s knots, I ween;
The girl and the boy are bound by a kiss,
But there’s never a bond, old friend, like this,
We have drank from the same Canteen!

It was sometimes water, and sometimes milk,
And sometimes apple-jack “fine as silk;”
But whatever the tipple has been
We shared it together in bane or bliss,
And I warm to you, friend, when I think of this,
We drank from the same Canteen!

The rich and great sit down to dine,
They quaff to each other in sparkling wine,
From glasses of crystal and green;
But I guess in their golden potations they miss
The warmth of regard to be found in this,
We drank from the same Canteen!

We have shared our blankets and tents together,
And have marched and fought in all kinds of weather,
And hungry and full we have been;
Had days of battle and days of rest,
But this memory I cling to and love the best,
We drank from the same Canteen!

For when wounded I lay on the center slope,
With my blood flowing fast and so little hope
Upon which my faint spirit could lean;
Oh! then I remember you crawled to my side,
And bleeding so fast it seemed both must have died,
We drank from the same Canteen!

By Private Miles O’Reilly
From “Hardtack and Coffee” written by John D. Billings

Confederate General D. H. Hill’s “spin” on the Army of Northern Virginia’s unfulfilled victory at Antietam

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The Battle of Antietam was considered a turning point in the Civil War since from it came the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.  The careful planning of this document, with Lincoln releasing it at just the right moment in the war, ensured that it had a great positive impact on the Union efforts and redefined the purpose of the war. That was one major reason that England did not come to the Confederacy’s aid. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation primarily as a war measure. Perhaps its most significant immediate effect was that it, for the first time, it officially placed the U.S. government against the “peculiar institution” of slavery, thereby placing a barrier between the South and its recognition by European nations that had outlawed slavery.

But Lincoln could not introduce the proclamation until there was a union victory. In a cabinet meeting two months before the battle he brought his proclamation up for consideration. Secretary of State William Seward said the proclamation should be postponed to a “more auspicious period” when it would not be “received and considered as a despairing cry—a shriek from and for the Administration, rather than for freedom.” Seward’s idea, “said the President, ‘was that it would be construed our last shriek on the retreat.’ And this “auspicious period” came since the Confederate invasion was turned back.

On the other hand Confederate General D. H. Hill considered it a Confederate victory and gave this opinion in his report after the battle. This is an excerpt from this report of of Operations July 23-September 17 later published in “The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies”. It is his explanation for how the Army of Northern Virginia won the battle but could have done more.

The battle of Sharpsburg was a success so far as the failure of the Yankees to carry the position they assailed. It would, however, have been a glorious victory for us but for three causes:

First. The separation of our forces. Had McLaws and R. H. Anderson been there earlier in the morning, the battle would not have lasted two hours, and would have been signally disastrous to the Yankees. 

Second. The bad handling of our artillery. This could not cope with the superior weight, caliber, range, and number of the Yankee guns; hence it ought only to have been used against masses of infantry. On the contrary, our guns were made to reply to the Yankee guns, and were smashed up or withdrawn before they could be effectually turned against massive columns of attack. An artillery duel between the Washington Artillery and the Yankee batteries across the Antietam on the 16th was the most melancholy farce in the war.

Third. The enormous straggling. The battle was fought with less than 30,000 men. Had all our stragglers been up, McClellan’s army would have been completely crushed or annihilated. Doubtless the want of shoes, the want of food, and physical exhaustion had kept many brave men from being with the army; but thousands of thieving poltroons had kept away from sheer cowardice. The straggler is generally a thief and always a coward, lost to all sense of shame; he can only be kept in ranks by a strict and sanguinary discipline.

The Civil War and Total War

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One of the members of the Civil War Talk forum I belong to brought up that Union General David Hunter was infamous for his ways of handling the confederate towns he was in, including burning homes on a seemingly indiscriminate basis. My response was thus:

Steve Knott from the US Army War College at at Carlisle, Pa gave an interesting talk about JEB Stuart and the Gettysburg campaign in June of last year. And he talks about the simple equation used by military strategists. It is Power of Resistance = Means x Will. And as he stated when the Power of resistance goes to zero the war is over. Robert E Lee could not attack the North’s means as they had infinitely more so he had to attack the North’s will. And that meant he had to destroy the Army of the Potomac and therefore destroy the North’s morale. And when morale goes to zero the north goes to the peace table. After his greatest victory he was quite incensed that the Army of the Potomac was allowed to escape after Chancellorsville. He knew that the clock was always ticking for him and his army.

In retropect I think that Hunter was a buffoon and that his methods were heavy handed to say the least. But as another one of my Civil War Talk members stated “Suspension of morality is a prerequisite for war making”. The Civil War has been seen as being on the cusp between old style war where honor was involved and modern war where anything goes. It starts out in heroic Napoleanic charges and ends up in World War I’s bitter trench warfare. So what the North was doing essentially with Sheridan and Sherman was the “scorched earth” policy the followed in later wars. Destroy the opposing army but if you can’t destroy the South’s will to fight by taking out their food supply, railroads, etc. As Sherman stated (and people thought he was crazy when he told what would to expect in the war) “War is Hell”.

The Piper farm- center of the Confederate line at Antietam

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This farm, owned by Henry and Elizabeth Piper, was home to the Piper family, several slaves, and a free black. Henry was known by the residents of Sharpsburg as “Old Stovepipe,” for the tall hat he wore. The center of the Confederate line stood in the area around the house. Generals James Longstreet and D. H. Hill established their headquarters there. After serving the Confederate officers dinner the night before the battle, the Pipers chose to leave the area, not knowing what to expect from the anticipated battle.

For several hours during the intense fighting, Hill’s outnumbered troops stubbornly held off General Israel Richardson’s Union advance across the Piper Farm, until they were eventually pushed back beyond the Piper cornfield. Later in the afternoon, Anderson’s brigade stopped another advance. During the fighting, many wounded Confederates found their way into the farmhouse, where they received rudimentary treatment.

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Piper barn​

After the battle, three dead Confederate soldiers were found in the house, including one who succumbed while lying under a piano in the parlor, according to records held by the 130th Pennsylvania Infantry. The Pennsylvanians reported that every stitch of muslin, linen, and calico in the house appeared to have been used to treat the wounds of the Confederates.

The family had mixed emotions upon returning home. Dead soldiers lay throughout the property. Henry Piper reported only minimal destruction from the actual fighting but claimed more than two thousand dollars in damages during the days after the battle, when the farm was occupied by Federal forces. Piper blamed the Third and Fourth Pennsylvania cavalries and the Eighth New York Cavalry for the losses. The barn, used as a hospital, is much larger today than it was at the time of the fighting. An addition was constructed in 1898.

James and Suzanne Gindlesperger “So You Think You Know Antietam? The Stories Behind America’s Bloodiest Day”

A 72d Pennsylvania Volunteer remembers the Miller Cornfield fight

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Remembrances of the Civil War as told by Thomas H. Eaton, Co. H 72nd Pennsylvania Volunteers Sept 17 1904 in Sharpsburg , Maryland on Pennsylvania Day.

It rained quite hard during the night. Roll call at 2.00 in the morning. 80 rounds of cartridges were distributed, shelling from the Confederates at 7.00. Gen. Hooker had opened the fight at daylight, Gen. Mansfield going to his support had met with such a severe fire that a movement to the rear was inaugurated. Hooker was wounded & Mansfield killed. At this time the Second Corps which had been prepared to move at daylight, started from Keedysville toward the right through some woods, then down a hill to the Antietam Creek which the men waded, taking care to keep their ammunition above the rushing water. The point of crossing was at the first ford above bridge No. 1. On the other side of the stream we ascended a hill then through the open country to the right until Miller’s house was reached, when the line of battle was formed by the left flank while marching. From this point to the point of attack was one mile.

As Col. Banes gave such a graphic account I will use his language.

“All of this distance was moved was in battalion front, the movement hurrying us through pieces of woods, across fences, through barnyards and other obstacles which continually threw the line into confusion. In addition to this we were subjected to a heaver artillery fire from the enemy, but in spite of all the opposition the advance never stopped until the fatal Cornfield was reached, &c. Here Gen Sedgwick gave the command “Push into the woods”

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We now cross the Hagerstown Pike into the West Woods. Inclined as we were to the left of the Dunkard’s Church, the men in the best of spirits when on our flank and left were seen the colors of the Confederacy a mighty host. It was a bad position, and the fact of our flanks having no support we were ordered to retire. It was at this time when the 34th NY fell back.

I wrote Gen Howard in relation to this critical movement. His reply was, “My dear Sir, I commanded Sedgwick’s Division after his wound, when the Division gave way to the rear, its flank was already turned. It only went from one piece of woods to another about a quarter of a mile. There was considerable confusion in the retirement, but I believe the movement was necessary to prevent annihilation or capture. What was true of the division was true of the Brigade.”

Ezra Ayers Carman papers, 1861-1909
Library of Congress online

Harper’s Weekly’s belated answer to Lee’s “Proclamation to the people of Maryland”

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The September 27th issue of Harper’s Weekly featured a cartoon over the byline “A pictorial commentary upon General Lee’s proclamation to the people of Maryland”. In this proclamation which was was written in Frederick, Maryland on September 8th Lee explained that he was invading in order to restore the freedoms of the State and throw off the yoke of United States’ transgressions against the state. He then outlined his mission in the state.

This, Citizens of Maryland, is our mission, so far as you are concerned.

No constraint upon your free will is intended, no intimidation is allowed.

Within the limits of this Army, at least, Marylanders shall once more enjoy their ancient freedom of thought and speech.

We know no enemies among you, and will protect all of every opinion.

It is for you to decide your destiny, freely and without constraint.

This army will respect your choice whatever it may be, and while the Southern people will rejoice to welcome you to your natural position among them, they will only welcome you when you come of your own free will.

Harper’s Weekly’s cartoon:

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The Army of Northern Virginia’s failed “recruitment” campaign before Antietam

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Part of the plan for the Army of Northern Virginia’s invasion of Maryland was to “liberate” the state from Lincoln’s holding it in the union by force. And Robert E Lee also hoped to get new recruits joining his army which was decimated from the 7 Days battles and 2d Manassas. Unfortunately, he invaded the wrong half of the state as the eastern half was more southern leaning then the western half. Gary Gallagher in his book “Lee and His Generals in War and Memory” discusses this salient fact.

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Lee’s expectation of gathering recruits in Maryland came to little. Indeed, illusions about pro-Confederate Marylanders waiting to break free of Union oppression disappeared even before the battle of Antietam. As early as September 7, Lee had cautioned Davis that despite “individual expressions of kindness that have been given,” he did not “anticipate any general rising of the people in our behalf.” The next day, September 8, Lee issued a proclamation informing Marylanders that “our army has come among you, and is prepared to assist you with the power of its arms in regaining the rights of which you have been despoiled.”
The numerous Germans in western Maryland turned a distinctly cold shoulder to the intruders. The ragged clothing and gaunt frames of the Confederates, as well as their lice and pungent odor, put off even sympathetic civilians. No more than a few hundred Marylanders stepped forward to join the thin ranks of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Illustration from Harper’s Weekly September 27, 1862

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