Saturday, December 31, 2011

January 1, 1862 (Tuesday): Lincoln Usurps McClellan

President Lincoln

Washington, January 1, 1862

General BURNSIDE, Annapolis:
General McClellan will be glad to see you to-morrow. Please come as early in the day as you can. 

Assistant Adjutant-General. 

WASHINGTON CITY, January 1, 1862.

Brigadier-General BUELL, Louisville:
General McClellan should not yet be disturbed with business. I think you better get in concert with General Halleck at once. I write you to night.* I also telegraph and write Halleck.


Louisville, January 1, 1862.
There is no arrangement between General Halleck, and myself. I have been informed by General McClellan that he would make suitable disposition for concerted action. There is nothing to prevent Bowling Green being re-enforced from Columbus if a military force is not brought to bear on the latter place.


WASHINGTON CITY, January 1, 1862.

Major-General HALLECK, Saint Louis, Mo.:
General McClellan should not yet be disturbed with business. I think General Buell and yourself should be in communication and concert at once. I write you to-night and also telegraph and write him.


LOUISVILLE, January 1, 1862-11 p. m.
President LINCOLN:
I have already telegraphed General Halleck with a view to arranging a concert of action between us and am momentarily expecting his answer.

Brigadier-General .

SAINT LOUIS, MO., January 1, 1862.

To His Excellency ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President:
I have never received a word from General Buell. I am not ready to co-operate with him. Hope to do so in few weeks. Have written fully on this subject to Major-General McClellan. Too much haste will ruin everything.

Major- General.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 7, Part 1, Page 526.

Events conspired to push President Lincoln further into military affairs.  The Committee on the Conduct of the War, dominated by Republicans and pro-war democrats such as Andrew Johnson, had just come into being and was flexing its muscles against an Army command structure most members believed was slow to act and less than committed to abolishing slavery and punishing the rebellious states.  Lincoln had been pressing McClellan for a movement on the Occoquon to flank the Confederates out of Manassas and eliminate the humiliation of Confederate batteries on the Potomac, and McClellan was slow to move and now in bed with typhoid fever.  Lincoln, rather disingenuously, represented McClellan as being unable to conduct business when (as the first memo shows) he was still meeting with his generals on a limited basis. He wanted Buell to move to give relief to eastern Tennessee and Halleck to threaten Columbus to fix Confederate attention away from Buell.  McClellan, already unhappy with an administration incapable of keeping military secrets, now had more serious challenges to contend with, a President who fancied himself a strategist and a restive Congress, many of whom wanted to redefine the nature of the war. 

Friday, December 30, 2011

December 31, 1861 (Monday): Enter Pickett

General George Pickett

December 31, 1861.

Colonel Pickett has managed his command on both sides of the Rappahannock admirably well. He has organized and distributed the small force at this disposal in the most judicious and effective manner, but being junior to all the coloels I had no option but to relive him of a part of his command on the arrival of Colonel Brockenbrough at his present post in the lower Northern Neck, whee the two rivers are close to each other, and the original status would have produced a conflict of authority.
Respectfully forwarded to the Adjutant-General.

Major-General, Commanding District.
[Second indorsement.] 

JANUARY 4, 1862.
Respectfully submitted to the Secretary of War.
Colonel Pickett has the temporary appointment of colonel for the purpose of commanding on the Rappahannock. As he has been superseded in that command, it is possible he may be usefully employed elsewhere. 

Adjutant and Inspector General. 

Series I., Vol 51, Part 2, Page 428.

A lawyer by profession, George Edward Pickett finished 59th and last in the West Point class of 1846.  The war brought opportunity to make a reputation and Pickett succeeded in doing so, making Brigadier-General and being assigned to the Peninsula within weeks of this letter.  Brooke Station, Holmes Headquarters, was located in Stafford just north of Fredericksburg.  The site of the camp is near where the modern Amtrak Station is located.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

December 30, 1861 (Sunday): The Thanks of Congress

General Nathaniel Lyon

Thanks of U. S. Congress to General Lyon’s command.
        No. 111          }                   ADJUTANT-GENERAL’S OFFICE,
                                                            Washington, December 30, 1861.
   The following acts-of Congress are published for the information of the Army:
  *                *              *              *            *               *               *             *
JOINT RESOLUTION expressive of the recognition by Congress of the gallant and patriot services of the late Brigadier-General Nathaniel Lyon, and the officers and soldiers under his command, at the battle of Springfield, Missouri.

   Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, 1.  That Congress deems it just and proper to enter upon its records a recognition of the eminent and patriotic services of the late Brigadier-General Nathaniel Lyon.  The country to whose service he devoted his life will guard and preserve his fame as a part of its own glory.
2.     That the thanks of Congress are hereby given to the brave officers and soldiers who, under the command of the late General Lyon, sustained the honor of the flag, and achieved victory against overwhelming numbers at the battle of Springfield, in Missouri: and that, in order to commemorate an event so honorable to the country and to themselves, it is ordered that each regiment engaged shall be authorized to bear upon its colors the word “Springfield” embroidered in letters of gold.  And the President of the United States is hereby requested to cause these resolutions to be read at the head of every regiment in the Army of the United States.
Approved December 24, 1861.
3.     The President of the United States directs that the foregoing joint resolution be read at the head of every regiment in the Army of the United States.
By command of Major-General McClellan:
L.THOMAS, Adjutant-General.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 3, Part 1, Page 93.

The battle referred to here is more commonly known as “Wilson’s Creek”.  Outnumbered two to one, the Union force under Lyon blunted Confederate attacks before withdrawing from the field.  The battle did not have a lasting effect in Missouri, but Lyons himself certainly merited the thanks of Congress for his strong action at the war’s start to secure Saint Louis and its arsenal for the Union.  Had he not moved decisively it is possible the ultimate outcome in Missouri could have been very different.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

December 29, 1861 (Saturday): Johnson & Maynard Frantic, Lincoln Excited

Congressman Horace Maynard

Washington, D. C., December 29, 1861.

Brig. Gen. D. C. BUELL, Louisville:
   Johnston, Maynard, &c, are again becoming frantic, and have President Lincoln’s sympathy excited.  Political considerations would make it advisable to get the arms and troops in Eastern Tennessee at a very early day; you are, however, the best judge.  Can you tell me about when and in what force you will be in Eastern Tennessee?  Is Schoepf competent?  Do you wish any promotions made from your colonels?  Better get the Eastern Tennessee arms and clothing into position for distribution as soon as possible.  I will write you fully as soon as I am well enough.  Please answer by telegraph.
                                                                      GEO. B. MCCLELLAN,
                                                                                Major-General, U. S. Army

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 7, Part 1, Page 926.

McClellan had contracted typhoid fever during a visit to Fitz-John Porter’s camps.  It was unfortunate timing, as the new Committee on the Conduct of the War was pressing Lincoln on the inaction of the armies.  The Maynard and Johnson referred to are Congressman Horace Maynard and Senator Andrew Johnson, both of Tennessee who were urging a quick advance into Eastern Tennessee.  Maynard, with a reputation both for intellect and lack of manners, had urged General Thomas to move east to no avail in the wake of bridge burnings by Union sympathizers. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

December 28, 1861 (Friday): "Look For A Smash Up"

Rose Greenhow

                                    DECEMBER 28, 1861.
   DEAR GENERAL:  I wrote you yesterday, giving you some information additional to that contained in my dispatch the day before.  I omitted to say yesterday that I inclosed a dispatch from our friend Mrs. Greenhow, which I hope reached you to-day.  I also inclosed one from our friend in B.  To-day I have it in my power to say that Kelley is to advance on Winchester.  Stone and Banks are to cross and go to Leesburg.  Burnside’s fleet is to engage the batteries on the Potomac, and McClellan & Co. will move on Centreville and Manassas.  This move will be made next week.  This information comes from one of McClellan’s aides, and from Fox, of the Navy department.  As I remarked yesterday, be prepared for them on every hand and at every moment.  Mason and Slidell have been given up, and the Hall clique are furious.  Look out for a smash-up.  I send you the papers containing Seward’s letter, &c.
   Now, my dear general, look out for a large army, and tell your men (God bless them!) to cut and slay until the last man is destroyed.  Do not allow one to come back to tell the sad tale.  No living men ever made such a desperate effort as McClellan will make.  Nevertheless I believe he is a coward, and is afraid to meet you.  If some excuse is not hatched up you may certainly expect an attack next week.  My ___! General give them the most awful whipping that any army ever received.  McClellan’s army will certainly number 180,000 or 185,000 men—perhaps more.  Let our next meeting be in Washington.  You shall have a warm reception.  I write in some haste.

From Mrs. Greenhow.

                                                DECEMBER 26,
     In a day or two 1,200 cavalry, supported by four batteries of artillery, will cross the river above to get behind Manassas and cut off railroad and other communications with our army whilst an attack is made in front.  For ---‘s sake heed this.  It is positive.  They are obliged to move or give up.  They find me a hard bargain, and I shall be, I think, released in a few days, without condition, but to go South.  A confidential member of McClellan’s staff came to see me and tell me that my case should form an exception, and I only want to gain time.  All my plans are nearly completed.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 5, Part 1, Page 1038.

These letters were sent from Thomas Jordan, an aide to Beauregard who ran Confederate spies in Washington to the War Department on January 18.  It does not appear Jordan was in any haste to forward these messages given their original dates.  It is not clear who sent this information, which appears to describe Lincoln’s plan to turn the Confederates by crossing below them on the Occoquon.  However, the Mrs. Greenhow whose note was inclosed is the famous spy and Washington society matron Rose Greenhow.  In August Pinkerton had searched her home and found maps and documents leading to her being placed under house arrest (in mid-January she would be placed in the Capitol Prison, and in mid-May she was sent South).  There are two interesting points here.  First, it is possible the Confederate spies were being fed misinformation as nothing in the memo came to pass and the estimates of Union forces are badly overstated.  But the movement Greenhow warms of was contemplated by the Administration (Lincoln committed it to writing in a letter to McClellan) and the same report came repeatedly to Beauregard and Johnston from different sources.  This being the case, it is possible to better understand what modern historians are appalled by, which is the unwillingness of McClellan to disclose or discuss plans with members of an administration who leaked like the proverbial sieve.   

Monday, December 26, 2011

December 27, 1861 (Thursday): The Ridicule of Silly People

Montgomery Blair

FORT WARREN, Boston Harbor, December 19, 1861.

Honorable WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.

   SIR:  After an imprisonment of six months (since 18th of June last) I was yesterday offered release upon terms of taking oath of allegiance and stipulating to observe certain other conditions.  I extremely regret that the terms of the tendered release were such as I could not accept consistently with self-respect and a proper regard for the opinion of those with whom I live and am accustomed to associate. However willing and ready I may be upon all lawful occasions to take an oath of allegiance to the Government (and I hold myself ready upon all such occasions) I cannot reconcile it to my own self-respect to become the especial object of tests that are not prescribed to all others bearing the same relation to the Government as myself (that of a mere private citizen) nor justified by any law of the land. The oath of allegiance pro-posed has never been by any legal authority as you are aware directed or authorized to be administered to the citizens as such, but prescribed only and exclusively to a certain class of employees of the Government.  This oath then when proposed to me is entirely extrajudicial and subjects me to a test to which other citizens are exempt and in my conscientious view of the matter can only tend to degrade and humiliate me in the estimation of myself and others whose good opinion I value and esteem.
  If the oath were prescribed by any law of the land to the citizens generally or any occasion offered when it was lawful to administer it I should not hesitate about it or in the least object to it, but the objection now is that it was not intended to apply to me or to any other private citizen, and in submitted to its illegal administration I should humiliate myself and forfeit the good opinion of mankind.  This feeling though it may not be predicated upon the same reasoning that you would suggest yet being sincerely and conscientiously entertained I hope will be appreciated.  I have deemed it proper that I should thus state the reason for declining the terms of the tendered release.  If conditions be exacted of me I am willing to give any proper parole such as to commit no act hostile to the Government and not to go into the seceded States or communicate with persons therein.  This I feel justified in offered because of the great necessity for my being out of prison to attend to the wants of my family and the requirements of my business.  I must therefore again request that you will order my release without the condition of taking the oath.
I am, your obedient servant,

Official Records, Series II, Vol. 2, Part 1, Page 353.

Alvey was a noted Maryland attorney and had been arrested for speaking on the constitutionality of secession (favorably) in a public meeting.  Arrested without charges, he was sent to Fort McHenry (in Baltimore) and then on to Fort Warren (in Boston).  He objected to taking this oath: 

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support, protect and defend the Constitution and Government of the United States against all enemies, whether domestic or foreign, and that I will bear true faith, allegiance and loyalty to the same, any ordinance, resolution or law of any State, convention or legislature to the contrary notwithstanding; and further, that I do this with a full determination, pledge and purpose, without any mental reservation or evasion whatsoever: So help me God.”

Alvey was released after taking this oath (which he proposed himself)
I, R, H. Alvey, a prisoner confined in Fort Warren, do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution and laws of the United States and that I will not commit any act of hostility against the Government thereof, and that during the continuance of the present war I will not go into any of the seceded States or hold any communication with persons therein; and further that I will hold myself in readiness to return to any place of confinement or imprisonment at any moment I may be required so to do by the Government of the United States or by any of its properly constituted officers. So help me God.

Alvey was allowed to take the oath he proposed after the Postmaster General, Montgomery Blair, intervened on his behalf writing to the State Department:

It seems that Alvey has felt obliged to reject the liberty offered to him because of the oath required. It is very silly of him I think, and proceeds entirely from the sensitiveness which he has for the ridicule attached to it by still more silly people.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

December 26, 1861 (Wednesday): Jackson Lobbies A Congressman

Jackson's Winter Headquarters-Winchester

WINCHESTER, VA., December 26, 1861.

J. P. BENJAMIN, Secretary of War:
   DEAR SIR: I had an interview this morning with General T. J. Jackson, and learned that most of the troops of the enemy who were at the fight on Alleghany Mountain a few days since were now at Romney, and that he was very desirous that the forces on the Alleghany, under the command of Colonel Johnson, should be immediately sent direct to Moorefield, so as to form a junction with his troops when desired. The enemy is doing a great deal of mischief in Hampshire County, and should be driven out as soon as possible, or captured, if convenient. Jackson mentioned that he had written a letter directed to the Adjutant-General, requesting these troops on the Alleghany to be sent to Moorefield on the 23rd instant, in which his wishes are fully set out. Having called frequently at your department on business, and observed with pleasure your promptness in attending to all calls, I, with the approbation of General Jackson, write to you to request that you will look at General Jackson's letter of the 23rd, and, if advisable, adopt his recommendations. Here at Romney the enemy is concentrating all his forces from Western Virginia, leaving, as I am informed, very few troops on Cheat Mountain. Let us without delay meet them with our western forces.
I hope the deep interest I feel in this matter will be sufficient apology form my writing this letter.
With much respect, I am, yours, &c., 


Official Records, Series I., Vol. 5, Part 1, Page 1009.

Haymond, a Virginia legislator, was a member of the Virginia Congress’ committee on military affairs. Jackson again shows his political acumen, and no small amount of stubbornness, by again making an attempt to obtain Johnson’s forces for his expedition on Romney (the War Department already having determined to leave Johnson to guard the western approaches to the Valley).  Jackson, in planning operations, repeatedly discussed capturing the Federal forces at Romney.  This was no doubt due to his geographic knowledge of the area and the untenable nature of Romney as a defensive position.  Ironically, he would soon embroil himself in a controversy with General Loring over his desire to leave his troops in that very same untenable position.

December 25, 1861 (Tuesday): A Not So Merry Christmas For Some

Fort Holt, Kentucky (Opposite Cario, Il.)


Fort Holt, Ky., December 25, 1861.

    In pursuance to Special Orders, District of Cairo, Brigadier General U. S. Grant commanding, commanding officers of regiments and detachments at Fort Holt, Ky., are required to search or cause to be searched the quarters of their respective commands for fugitive slaves and have all such fugitives fortwith expelled from the lines of the camp.
   If hereafter any such fugitives are concealed or detained in or about the camp the party or parties so detaining will be brought to punishment.

By order Colonel John Cook commanding Fourth Brigade:

Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.

Official Records, Series II., Vol. 1, Part 1, Page 795.

General Orders #3, issued by Halleck in November, excluded slaves from Union lines.  Grant complied with the order, but in February would amend it to ensure slave owners were not allowed within the lines to recover fugitives.  In August, Congress had passed the Confiscation Act which prohibited claims for labor of slaves by civilians where the labor had advanced the war efforts of the Confederacy.  The fact of these contradictory orders and aims combined with resistance by military officials to admission into their lines of fugitive slaves presents a good picture of how war aims had not been clarified even as the first year of the war was coming to a close. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

December 24, 1861 (Monday): Jackson Prepares To Move

Romney WVA-Click to Expand (Google Maps)

                                        HEADQUARTERS VALLEY DISTRICT,
                                                  Winchester, Va., December 24, 1861.
Maj. Thomas G. Rhett,
       Asst. Adjut. Gen., Hdqrs. Department of Northern Virginia:
   MAJOR: I have good reason to believe that the enemy in Hampshire are nearly 10,000 strong, and that he continues to receive re-enforcements.
   As yet General Loring has not arrived, and he has not reported to me the strength of his command I am unable to give it, except by estimate based upon the number of his regiments.  According to this estimate I suppose my entire volunteer command, exclusive of McDonald’s cavalry, will, after General Loring’s regiments, now en route for this place, arrive, amount to 7,500.  But I must be borne in mind that the accessions from the Army of the Northwest are not well drilled, having passed the present campaign in the mountains, where the opportunities for drilling were very limited.
As I have reason to believe that the enemy has been re-enforced more rapidly than I have been, and as additional re-enforcements are expected, and they already outnumber me, I would respectfully urge upon the commanding general of the department the importance of sending me at once 5,000 good infantry and the First Virginia Cavalry, or its equivalent, and also a battery of four guns.  These forced asked for can be immediately returned to their present stations after the Federal forces shall have been captured or driven out of Hampshire County.  It may be thought that I am applying for too many troops,; but it is a miserable policy to merely base the estimate for troops on one side for future operations upon the enemy’s present strength when he is continually receiving re-enforcements.
   It appears to me that General Kelley’s true policy would be not to march direct from Romney upon this place, but to move first to Martinsburg, form a junction with General Banks, and then, with their united strength, move on Winchester over a road that presents no very strong defensive positions.
   If this place is to be held by us, our true policy, in my opinion, is to attack the enemy in his present position before he receives additional re-enforcements, and especially never to permit a junction of their forces at or near Martinsburg.
   There is reason to believe that the recent break in Dam No. 5 will destroy any vestiges of hope that might have been entertained of supplying Washington with Cumberland coal by the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and consequently their only prospect of procuring that coal must be the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and for this purpose near 25 miles  of track west of Harper’s Ferry must first be relaid, and this can be done under a much smaller protecting force stationed at Winchester than would be required if distributed along the railroad, and consequently I must anticipate an attempted occupation of this place by the enemy.  My present force of 7,500 volunteers, 2,234 militia, and 664 (McDonald’s) cavalry is insufficient for defending my position.
   General Loring has arrived.  He states that the Secretary of War left it optional with him whether to bring his troops from the Monterey line or not, and he has decided not to bring any more of these troops here.
  I have given the subject much thought, and as the enemy appears to be continually receiving accessions, and as I may receive no more, it appears to me that my best plan is to attack him at the earliest practicable moment, and accordingly, as soon as the inspection of General Loring’s forces shall be finished and the necessary munitions of war procured, I expect to march on the enemy, unless I receive orders to the contrary.
   Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
                                                                            T. J. JACKSON,
                                                  Major-General, Commanding Valley District.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 5, Part 1, Page 1004.

From the time Jackson left Manassas his mind was set toward offensive operations.  While strategy was giving way to the logistics of wintering an army in most quarters, Jackson remained determined to move to the attack.  Having applied for Loring’s force from southwestern Virginia, Jackson here prepares for re-enforcement and a forward movement.  Denied Alleghany Johnson’s forces (who the government thought needed to guard the western approaches to the Valley), Jackson had moved from earlier ideas of crossing the Potomac and ultimately into Pennsylvania and was now fixed on the more achievable goal of moving on Romney, disrupting the Union’s line of communication and supply to the west.  Jackson was ready to move.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

December 22, 1861 (Sunday): "The Men Sicken and Fall Like Leaves"

Governor Thomas E. Bramlette

                                                                        COLUMBIA, KY, December 23, 1861.
                                                                                    (Received December 25, 1861.)
   The enemy is closing in upon us; his pickets are near us in three directions, viz, Grider’s Ferry, on the Glasgow road, and Someret.  A skirmish took place this evening at Grider’s Ferry between 4 of our cavalry and 1 Home Guard against 15 of the enemy.  The firing was across the river; 2 or 3 of the enemy and 1 horse killed; no injury to our men.  The enemy fled, but returned with reinforcements, and I have ordered four companies of cavalry to sustain our men.
  In direction of Somerset, about 25 miles from this, 500 of the enemy have been encamped for two days.  In direction of Glasgow some 200 have been encamped for several days, 20 miles off.
   Haggard’s cavalry are not in condition for service.  His horses are not shod, and it seems impracticable to get it done here.  Wolford’s cavalry is too remote for any available use, imbedded in the Green River hills.
   Typhoid fever is striking our men a heavy blow; 233 of my regiment now down, and dying daily.  My loss is greater here than during all the preceding service.  Unless we are moved the regiment will soon become greatly weakened.  While marching we never have any sick; when we stop the men sicken and fall like leaves.  Safety to human life, aside from the defense of the country, demands our moving.  If we cannot get to move upon the enemy, it is our earnest desire that he will move on us, and the sooner the better for us.  We would rather die in battle than on a bed of fever.
                                                                                    THO. E. BRAMLETTE,
                                                                                  Colonel, Commanding Post.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 7, Part 1, Page 513.

Union accounts list 81,360 men dead from typhoid fever during the war.  Poor sanitation in camps caused contamination of drinking water leading to typhoid fever.  With a full strength regiment consisting of 30 officers and 930 men, the loss of 233 to typhoid would have been a crippling operational blow.  Bramlette, a lawyer before the war,  would become Governor of Kentucky in 1863.  His post, Columbia, was roughly half way between Lexington and Knoxville.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

December 22, 1861 (Saturday): The "Other Sherman" Edges Toward Charleston

USS Pawnee-Gundeck (

Port Royal, S. C., December 22, 1861.

Adjutant-General U. S. Army, Washington, D. C.:
   SIR:  I have just been informed by Commodore DuPont that a reconnaissance, under Commander Drayton, with the gunboats Pawnee and Seneca, has discovered that the rebel forts at both South and North Edisto are abandoned and guns withdrawn.  He also states that a camp of 500 men, in the vicinity of North Edisto, left with their arms on the approach of the gunboats, leaving tents, provision, and camp equipage in his possession.
   I think it would be well to occupy Edisto Island, and would do so with part of my own forces were it not necessary to remain here as much concentrated as possible, to be ready for movements already contemplated.  Troops pushed up towards Stono Inlet at this time would produce a good effect at Charleston.
   From all the information I can gather the South Carolinians are strongly fortifying Charleston Neck and James Island, on the Stono River, and are removing some of the guns from Sumter and the islands for that object, evidently supposing that Charleston is to be attacked by land.
   Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

   Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Official Records, Series I. Vol. 6, Part 1, Page 210.

T. W. Sherman, not to be confused with William Tecumseh Sherman, had lead the successful Port Royal expedition and was engaged in combined operations with Commodore DuPont’s shallow draft steamers in the rivers between Port Royal and Charleston.  With little opposition they quickly drove Confederate forces off Edisto Island, south of Charleston.  Worked progressed rapidly on defenses closer to the city, which had been badly damaged in an accidental fire on December 11.  Sherman and DuPont’s expedition had been a great success, but the public and the newspapers gave little credit due because they had expedited an immediate rush on to Charleston, seen as the home of the rebellion.  Sherman would soon move on to service in the Western theatre and attention would shift away from the foothold which had been established in South Carolina.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

December 21, 1861 (Friday): "Yes, we are the Bucktails, don't fire."

Dranesville Battlefield, Google Earth (click to enlarge)

Report of Col. Conrad F. Jackson, Ninth Pennsylvania Reserve Infantry.

                                                                                                December 21, 1861.
   SIR: In accordance with your order of this date, to make out an official report of the conduct of my command in the engagement at Dranesville, I would respectfully state that in obedience to orders I marched my regiment into the wood or copse, forming in line of battle, and advanced as directed, with difficulty restraining the men from double-quick.  As there was nothing to indicate the position of friend or foe, I advanced until we saw and heard the movements of troops in advance of the right of our line.  I halted, and formed my right within 60 or 70 paces of the left of the troops referred to.  My men showed a great anxiety to fire.  At this time an officer of my regiment reported that the troops opposite were the Bucktails.  Determined to avoid falling into the fatal error of killing our own men, I at once used all my energy to prevent firing, nor did we fire until after we received a volley from the enemy, as they proved to be.  We received their first fire as Captain Galway was in the act of reporting that he had obtained a view of them, and assured me in the most emphatic manner they were rebels.  The order to fire  was then given and promptly obeyed, but I found there still existed a doubt on the part of the men as to the true character of the troops we were engaged with, which caused considerable confusion in the ranks, which was overcome to a great extent with some difficulty.  I feel perfectly convinced, had the men been assured at the onset that the troops before us were rebels, we might have driven them from their position before they could have fired on us, as we could hear them distinctly load their pieces.
    I afterwards learned that the impression that the Bucktails were forming in my front was strengthened by the following occurrence:  One of the enemy called out, “Don’t fire on us.”  One of my men imprudently asked “Are you the Bucktails?”  The answer was, “Yes, we are the Bucktails,; don’t fire.”
   I enclose surgeon’s report of killed and wounded.*
    Your obedient servant,
                                                                                    C. FEGER JACKSON,
            Colonel, Comdg. Ninth Regiment Pennsylvania Reserve Corps.
General E. O. C. ORD.

*See report No. 10, p. 480

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 5, Part 1, Page 482.

Dranesville holds the distinction of being the first time Union forces in the Eastern theatre bested their Confederate counterparts.  The two forces met without design while both were scouting and foraging.  Stuart managed to get his wagons off safely, but Ord’s men held the field and the advantage in casualties (71 for the Union, 230 for the Confederates).  As seen in the Google Earth image above, little remains of the battlefield.  The Confederate advance was along Centreville Road (now Herndon Avenue) toward the Union position along the Leesburg Pike (Highway 7).  The Union batteries were just behind the present day intersection, the bulk of their force just slightly advanced Southward of the Pike, with cavalry scouts thrown out to the right of Herndon Avenue (facing from the Confederate advance) along the Pike.  The Potomac would be about five miles to the rear of the Union position.  This was the first battle of the famous 13th Pennsylvania Reserve (the ‘Bucktails’).  The regiment was composed of lumbermen known to be good shots.  They required new recruits to bring with them a buck tail to prove their ability with a rifle, and used their own weapons.

Monday, December 19, 2011

December 20, 1861 (Thursday): An Atrocious Act?

Herman Melville

                                      Coosawhatchie, December 20, 1861.
General R. S. RIPLEY,
Commanding, &c, Charleston, S. C.:

    General: Your telegram announcing the attempt of the enemy to shut the port of Charleston by the obstruction of stone vessels sunk in the channel has just been received.  This effort, prompted by feelings unbecoming a great nation, however abortive, I think plainly indicates that they despair of ever getting possession of the city, whether their attack be made by land or water.  While it should not cause you to relax your efforts to strengthen and complete the works now in programs, it may allow you time and means to expand your operations so as to give protection to the islands and points on the main which invite their predatory excursions.  I beg therefore you will give this matter your earliest attention.

I am, &c.,


Official Records, Series I, Vol. 53, Part 1, Page 201.

The blockade of Charleston by Union ships had not been effective, in large part because there were four separate channels leading into the harbor.  The sinking of 16 ships, mainly past their prime whaling vessels, filled with granite was designed to block access.  On December 19 and 20 they were anchored and their masts removed to one of the vessels so as to conceal their location after sinking and hinder salvage operations.  Then pipes were opened and the ships sunk to the bottom.  Lee’s reaction, interestingly, was not out of proportion at the time.  Although the sinkings were hailed in the North, reaction from France and England to the assumed permanent destruction of a harbor was immediate and negative.  The London Times said, “Among the crimes which have disgraced the history of mankind it would be difficult to find one more atrocious than this.”  To the Europeans it was an act of revenge by the North signalling there would be no quick end to the war.  Secretary of State Seward felt it necessary to term the sinkings “all a mistake” and claim no permanent obstruction was intended.  In any event the heavy granite caused the ships to sink into the harbor mud and all the channels into Charleston were soon open again.   In the words of Herman Melville's poem, "The Stone Fleet"

And all for naught. The waters pass--
  Currents will have their way;
Nature is nobody's ally; 'tis well;
  The harbor is bettered--will stay.
      A failure, and complete,
      Was your Old Stone Fleet.