I have been distracted of late. Nose-to-grindstone stuff.
But, Savas-Beatie has a book trailer for The Chickamauga Campaign, Vol. I
I have been distracted of late. Nose-to-grindstone stuff.
But, Savas-Beatie has a book trailer for The Chickamauga Campaign, Vol. I
Last week about fifty people gathered at Chickamauga National Military Park for what has turned into an annual event: the CCNMP “Seminar in the Woods.” Now in its 11th (or possibly 12th, memories are a little vague) year, I first started organizing the Seminar in order to study the battlefield in more depth than a normal tour affords. I have deliberately kept structure informal and the costs low: I charge for the bus on Friday, but there is no cost for the tours on Saturday. For a variety of reasons, including the fact that Park Historian Jim Ogden spends two days with us, the lack of cost is simply much easier to manage.
Besides, I am not a tour director, meal organizer, or complaint guy.:) If you don’t like your hotel I take great comfort in knowing that I had nothing to do with booking it.:) You are on your own for meals and lodging.
This year’s event worked out well. Good weather both days, and we covered some ground that we hadn’t tackled before or had not revisited in a long time. We drove down into Johnson’s Crook, on the east side of Lookout Mountain, to at least see where most of the Union XIV Corps ascended Lookout, though taking a bus up Newsom Gap Road is impossible. On Wednesday I reconned this in my car, and discovered that even the term “gravel road” is too generous. Ruts and switchbacks, all the way. I was so nervous about running across a washout and having to back down the mountain (in most places turning around was not an option) that I forgot to take a single picture.
While discussing the XIV Corps, we talked quite a bit about logistics, and one of the items that came up was this excellent – if much under-used – book by Edward Hagerman:
I was so busy with the touring stuff that I didn’t take any pictures, though some other attendees have already posted some of their photos to Facebook. Of course, most of my pictures tend to be of monuments and War Department tablets anyway, so I am not so sure how exciting they would be for others.
We are already planning on next year. See you then.
Heads up if you hope to attend the Study Group on Friday – we stand at 49 pre-registered. The bus is almost completely full. It seats a maximum of 55. Walk-on space will be extremely limited, if any is available at all. We are very nearly sold out. If you hope to attend the Friday session, consider this LAST CALL. seats will be held on a first-come, first-serve basis.
I will post here when we officially sell out.
Of course, Saturday has no attendence limit, since we will be on foot.
thanks again for your support.
Things are progressing quickly. In the past few days I have received a number of registrations, and as of today, we now have 44 registered participants. That means there are only ten more spots available on the bus on March 7th. If you are interested in attending, please Register ASAP.
Mr. Jim Ogden and I both thank all of you who signed up. We expect an outstanding event this year.
Chickamauga is not known as an “artillery” battle. Just the opposite, in fact. All the woods make it very much a soldier’s battle, one into which artillery ventured at their peril. The Union XIV Corps lost a division’s worth of artillery on September 19, and several other Union batteries were overrun as well.
If anyone thinks of artillery at Chickamauga, they likely turn to Ambrose Bierce’s powerful description of Union guns in Poe Field, stopping Confederate General William Bate’s charge on the late afternoon of September 19:
“the field was gray with Confederates . . . .Then the guns opened fire with grape and canister for perhaps five minutes – it seemed an hour – nothing could be heard but the infernal din of their discharge and nothing seen through the smoke but a great ascension of dust from the smitten soil. When all was over, and the dust cloud had lifted, the spectacle was too dreadful to describe. The Confederates were still there . . . but not a man was on his feet . . . and so thickly were all covered with dust that they looked as if they had been reclothed in yellow. ‘We bury our dead’, said a gunner, grimly.”
A vivid word picture.
But there are cannon all over the field at Chickamauga, not just lining the north end of Poe Field. They have their stories to tell, as well.
Take, for instance, the 4th Indiana Battery position on Battleline Road. You can find the 4th Indiana’s guns just south of Tour Stop #2, where the Regular Army monuments stand, not far south of where the Shell Pyramids for Brigade Commanders Colquitt and Helm memorialize the deaths of those two men. Not many people pay a great deal of attention to the 4th, I suspect, as the monuments come thick and fast down the length of Battleline Road; too many to stop and think about each one individually.
But the 4th Indiana is special. Take a closer look. Note that that guns are angled, pointing northeast and southeast, not simply facing outward at random. Also note that the cannon are in the apex of Battleline Road’s most eastward bend, directly astride the ridge that defines George Thomas’s second-day position.
The battery began the fight on the 19th under command of Lieutenant David Flansburg, and was one of units which came to grief that morning. Flansburg was wounded and captured, and the battery lost five guns. Those guns and enough limbers were retaken during the day to restore four pieces – two Napoleons and two James Rifles – into full effectiveness. They were now positioned here, commanded by First Lieutenant Henry J. Willets of Valparaiso.
Taking advantage of a small bend in the ridge, Willits’ guns were posted at the curve in Baird’s line, between Scribner’s and Starkweather’s brigades, and angled forward so that in addition to firing straight ahead, their fire could also sweep the length of the Union front to either the north or south. Due to the cedar glade, “a clear space averaging 75 yards,” the Hoosiers’ field of fire was excellent, extending laterally to the left as far as the Reed’s Bridge Road. Any troops moving west against a Union line would thus expose themselves to a flanking fire from a brace of Union cannon.
If you walk the length of the Kelly field line heading south from the 4th Indiana, you will see a number of other cannon. Johnson’s and Palmer’s divisions formed here, and they had plenty of artillery. Baird’s batteries, however, were all wrecked on the 19th; of the eighteen guns taken into action on Saturday morning, now only four were fit for action. Willits would be the division’s only artillery support for the entire day on Sunday.
The Hoosiers acquitted themselves brilliantly.
First to come to grief was Helm’s Brigade of Kentucky Orphans. The brigade split here, with half going on out into McDonald Field, while the other half were pinned down in front of the 4th Indiana. A gap opened between Helm’s men, who were Breckinridge’s left flank, and Confederate Brigadier Lucius Polk’s Brigade, comprising Cleburne’s right. That gap would become an obsession with Daniel Harvey Hill, who spent the rest of the morning trying to plug it. Colonel Peyton H. Colquitt of South Carolina fell victim to this obsession about noon, attempting to move his brigade into that position; and at different times both the brigades of Edward C. Walthall and John K. Jackson also were sent in here.
Walthall’s deployment was especially unfortunate, not because Walthall’s Mississippians took heavy losses here – they did not, advancing very cautiously and not entering the Cedar Glade – but because Walthall’s line was stripped away from St. John Liddell’s division just as Liddell was supposed to advance and support John C. Breckinridge, then attempting to attack into Kelly Field from the north. the result: Liddell advanced too late with his remaining brigade, under Govan, and was repulsed in turn.
All morning long, the 4th Indiana helped break up attack after attack, and Rebels from each of the brigades unfortunate enough to face them recalled the heavy cannonading facing them – all from just four guns. The advantage terrain can sometimes provide should not be underestimated.
At about 11:00 a.m., in an effort to silence Willits’ storm of steel, Cobb’s Kentucky Battery tried to engage, with no success.
At about 1:00 p.m., looking for a place to be useful, Mebane’s Tennessee Battery tried the same thing, from virtually the same spot – another failure.
With that failure, the Confederate Right Wing ground to a halt. The fighting on the Kelly Field line would not re-commence until much later in the afternoon…
To all attendees: We are nearing the Feb 1st Deadline, when I have to pony up for the bus and cancellation becomes non-refundable. The good news is that we have more than enough folks signed up, so the bus is no problem, though there are still seats available. Between those already signed up and the NPS folks who usually attend, I expect we will have 30 attendees, just about the right sized group for what we like to do.
If you haven’t signed up and plan to, get your check in the mail, please. to make sure you get a seat. Here’s a link to the original post, BTW:
Rarely do you come across a completely new account of the breakthrough at Chickamauga, let alone a new view from Rosecrans’s Headquarters.
But thanks to Senator James W. Nesmith of Oregon, we have one.
Senator Nesmith was a War Democrat, elected as the Junior Senator from Oregon in 1860, a year after Oregon became a state. He was asked to run in order to replace Joseph Lane, who was elected to a special term in 1859, but who declined to stand for re-election in 1860, choosing instead to run as John C. Breckinridge’s running mate as the Democratic party fractured that election cycle.
Lane’s pro-slavery, pro-secession stance destroyed his political career in Oregon, a free state with strong abolition sentiments and an abhorrence of secession. Oregon Democrats, afraid of a Republican sweep, asked Nesmith to step in. He won.
Nesmith, despite his Democratic affiliation, came to be a steady supporter of the Lincoln administration. He served on the military affairs committee, was asked by Stanton to help provide oversight of the Union draft to make sure it was fairly administered, and undertook frequent inspection trips for the administration. He was the only Senate Democrat to vote for the 13th Amendment.
In early September, 1863, Nesmith traveled to join General Rosecrans and the Army of the Cumberland as they campaigned around Chattanooga. He reached Bridgeport on September 15th, in company with Colonel Henry C. Hodges, chief quartermaster for the Department of the Cumberland, and proceeded on to join Rosecrans. Nesmith met with Gordon Granger at Rossville on September 17th – Granger was an old friend, having served in Oregon with the US Mounted Rifles in the 1850s – and then moved on to Rosecrans’s headquarters at Crawfish Spring on the 18th. He and Colonel Hodges remained with Rosecrans until midday on September 20th, when they became separated from the army commander by the Confederate breakthrough.
Nesmith’s mission is still a bit unclear to me. This seems to be an official trip, and in discussing the topic with Jim Odgen at Chickamauga, Jim suggested that Nesmith’s inspection might be connected to the ongoing issue of supply. Rosecrans not shy about sharing his logistical difficulties during this campaign, especially with regard to the huge demand for horses and mules. The War Department in Washington tended to downplay those complaints, regarding Rosecrans as prone to exaggeration (to be polite about it.) In later weeks Union Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs would come to Chattanooga on just such a mission, whereupon Meigs immediately informed the War Department that Rosecrans was not embellishing a thing.
However, there is very little paper trail to follow. Nesmith is only mentioned a couple of times in passing in the Official Records. There is a note from Granger introducing “his good friend” the Senator to General Rosecrans, and General Hazen mentions him briefly as a witness to a dressing-down given to Hazen by Rosecrans on the night of September 18th. That episode affronted Hazen, and he mentioned Nesmith as a witness in a later effort to clear the matter up. If not for that mention by Hazen, I am not sure I would have tumbled to the fact that Nesmith was present during the battle. But that passing mention got me to wondering.
Nesmith described his trip both privately, in letters home to his family, and publically, in a lengthy epistle to the Oregon Statesman, under the pen name of Tillicum.
In a private letter, Nesmith noted that “from Bridgeport to Chattanooga is a terrible rough mountainous country, [with] as bad a road as I ever traveled over in Oregon.” Interestingly enough, he describes the dust as “shoe mouth deep,” a phrase that re-occurs often in descriptions of the time, including by Confederates. I wonder how common that phrase was in regular usage.
On the 18th, Nesmith recorded that the mood at army headquarters was uncertain. There was action unfolding at both Reed’s and Alexander’s Bridges, where Minty and Wilder held back many thousands of Confederate infantry, but Nesmith only noted “that the enemy is now in our front and skirmishing going on . . . there may be a battle at any moment though I hardly think that Bragg will attack our present positions and the . . . firing I imagine is only to feel our lines.”
On the 20th, Nesmith was near Mendenhall’s gun line north of the Dyer House when the crisis arrived. “The first intimation that we had of an attack in that quarter was our troops flying through the cornfield pursued by immense masses of rebel troops. Twenty pieces of artillery opened at once on the advancing host of rebels and mowed them down with great slaughter, but their numbers were such as to fill up the gaps, and advancing on the battery upon the crest of the ridge, took it with little opposition.”
After that, Nesmith rode west out the Dry Valley Road, through McFarland’s Gap, and into Rossville. Along the way he would only say that he “saw enough of cowardice and imbecility to disgust any . . . man.” Along the way, he must have encountered Alexander McDowell McCook, who did not leave a favorable impression. “McCook ought to try some other business besides fighting,” Nesmith confided to his cousin.
Was McCook counted among the “cowards and imbeciles” who raised Nesmith’s ire? The Senator doesn’t say. When he returned to Washington in early November, however, his opinions concerning the late disaster and the state of affairs at Chattanooga were much sought after. Publically, he reassured everyone that Chattanooga was a splendid position, that the troops – now under Grant and George Thomas – were still full of fight and in fine spirits, and that the Rebels, if they dared attack, would be soundly defeated. I have not found evidence of what he told Lincoln or other members of the government in private, but I suspect it wasn’t much good about Alexander McDowell McCook.
Nesmith’s account isn’t going to set our interpretation of what happened at Chickamauga on its head. But it is a fascinating new window into what was happening atop that knoll at just about noon, Sunday, September 20th, 1863.
Another project nears completion…
I have a couple of essays in this publication from LSU, and am honored to be among such august company. I have seen some of the other work included, and I think that this is going to be a very worthwhile new addition to the study of the Campaigns for Chattanooga.
Below is a picture of one of the more important markers on the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park.
It doesn’t look that important, but it and several others of its kind tell us a great deal about the battle. Some of you, I am sure, recognize this stone (at least the type) right away.
Robert and Brad pegged it – this is a field corner marker, and Brad also nailed the location – Winfrey Field near the Baldwin Mortuary Shell Pyramid.
These field corner markers were placed soon after the park was formed, in order to permanenty record the shape and size of the fields. They are important pieces in defining the physical space of the battlefield, and knowing what the historical fields should have looked like is very helpful in understanding many accounts from participants. A number of them have been lost over the years, but there are still several around. On almost every tour, someone asks what they are.
Some have been asking about pre-orders. Savas-Beatie will be setting up a pre-order process. There are a couple of ways to go about it.
First, go to www.savasbeatie.com and put your email in the top left box for the Savas-Beatie monthly e-letter libri novus. This is the best way to stay informed on all S-B releases.
Alternatively, email email@example.com and reserve a copy (no charge), or call
916-941-6896 and do the same thing. Savas will notify you when the book is going
to the printer and you can pay at that time.
Finally, there will be an icon going up this month on the S-B website (www.savasbeatie.com) with a “reserve now” button that will do the trick as well.