Colonel Arthur C. Ducat: one of the men behind the man

April 19, 2015

By virtue of their position, generals garner the fame – or the infamy.

Staffs, not so much.

Arthur C. Ducat

But no general succeeds without a solid staff behind him. For most of military history, staff officers were chosen by their commanders, often with few qualifications. In the Napoleonic and Freidrichian eras, staffs were often populated by nepotism and cronyism, often to the detriment of performance. The Civil War was no exception to this rule. Stonewall Jackson famously selected men of the cloth, perfering devotion to martial experience. Ulyssses S. Grant favored men from his old home town of Galena. John A. Rawlins proved a solid choice, but Clark B. Legow? Perhaps less so.

In fact, every shrewd general keeps a weather eye out for intelligent, promising officers who cross his path. William Starke Rosecrans was no exception. In the fall of 1862, One such path-crosser was Lieutenant Colonel Arthur C. Ducat of the 12th Illinios. Ducat’s energy, intelligence, bravery and military knowledge all made a  favorable impression on Rosecrans.

Ducat was born in 1830, in Dublin Ireland, to parents of Scots descent. His family was well-off, at least until his father died unexpectedly in 1842. Thereafter the family fortunes declined. At aged 15, Ducat was apprenticed to a mercantile firm in Dublin. He did not take to being a merchant. He returned to school for two years, studying civil engineering. His next career choice, however, was unusual: he enlisted in the Duke of Cambridge’s own Regiment of Lancers (the 17th.) Health reasons invalided him out of the British cavalry within a year, however. This was probably a lucky stroke for Ducat, for the 17th would later earn fame as one of the regiments in the light brigade at Balaclava.

In 1850 Ducat journeyed to New York. He had little money, but his timing was good. The great American railroad boom was beginning, and his civil engineering skills could be put to profitable use. Railroad business took him to Chicago. He worked in Illinois and Wisconsin for the next few years, building the Fox River Valley Road and the Chicago and Northwestern line. In 1856, however, he changed careers again, going to work for an insurance agent, Mr. Julius White.

Here his organizing talents came into play. Ducat became very interesting in organizing and improving Chicago’s volunteer fire companies. In fact, Ducat went much further, urging the city to form professional fire companies and acquiring the newest steam fire engines; all to the dismay of the volunteers. For a time, it was said, Ducat was the most unpopular man in Chicago. Then the first Great Chicago Fire (yes, there was more than one) came in 1857, and did so much damage to the business district that it convinced Chicago to adopt Ducat’s ideas. Ducat would become the first captain of the Chicago Fire Brigade, and in many ways can be regarded as one of the CFD’s founders.

Most of the various volunteer companies and the fire brigade took their organizational qeues from the militia, and so adopted a semi-military aspect. Ducat, not content to stop there, however, also joined the Highland Guard, a ceremonial militia and drill company of Scotsmen, based in Chicago. Never willing to be a mere dilettante, Ducat was soon voraciously reading military tomes of all kinds.

With the outbreak of war, Ducat strained to put those hard-won skills to good use. The Highland Guards offered their services to the state, but Ducat, impatient, decided to raise an independent force of pioneers, engineers and mechanics. He recruited 300 men, but neither the state of Illinois nor the Federal government saw a need for this sort of specialized force at the time, and refused the offer. Interestingly enough, most of Ducat’s defacto battalion instead enlisted as Company G, the 19th Illinois Infantry, later to become Bridges’s Battery of Illinois Artillery. They got around.

In the meantime, Ducat turned back to the Highland Guard, following his old militia commander John McArthur into the 12th Illinois Infantry, a.k.a. the “First Scotch” regiment. Ducat was named regimental adjutant. By the time the 12th was engaged at Donelson, Ducat was a major, and just before Shiloh he was elevated to Lieutenant Colonel.

After the capture of Corinth, Ducat garnered the attention of Brigadier General E.O.C. Ord, and served under that officer at Iuka. A month later, he was on Rosecrans’s staff at Corinth. He would remain a staff officer for the rest of the war. He would later express some disappointment over this change, since staff positions meant greatly reduced chances at promotion and higher command.

Ducat 2

He excelled as Rosecrans’s Inspector-General. When Rosecrans replaced Don Carlos Buell in command of the Army of the Ohio, Ducat went with. Rosecrans descended on Buell’s old command like a whirlwind. The Army of the Ohio was in ragged shape, having completed the fall campaign in Kentucky and returned to Tennessee. The men needed just about everything. Rosecrans took note of it all, and immediately began improving the state of the command. Ducat proved invaluable in this labor.

Ducat initially served as Rosecrans’s cheif of staff, at least until the arrival of Colonel Juluis Garesche. After that, Ducat returned to his duties as IG. He did everything from engineering work to helping re-organize the army. It was Ducat, for example, who created the Army of the Cumberland’s (renamed after Stones River) new system of corps, divisional and brigade flags, the better for identification in battle. He served with distinction on the field at Stones River, proving he still had the chops of a combat soldier as well as a staff officer.

At Chickamauga, Ducat served with distinction. He was present at headquarters when the breakthrough occurred, but like most of the staff, became separated from Rosecrans at the critical moment and so did not accompany the General back to Chattanooga. Ducat helped rally stragglers on the Dry Valley Road, eventually falling in with Sheridan’s men and accompanied them to Rossville.

After Chickamauga, Ducat stayed with the army, serving on George Thomas’s Staff when that officer replaced Rosecrans at the head of the Army of the Cumberland. Health reasons, however, forced Ducat to resign in February, 1864. He returned to Chicago to recuperate.

Ducat was a shrewd observer with a keen military mind. Based on his surviving writings, his insights into the inner workings of the Army of the Cumberland would likely have been a great boon to historians. Ironically for a man who spent so much of his life in the fire-fighting and insurance business, most of his military papers were destroyed in the better-known Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Not everything, however. Ducat retained a lifelong loyalty to Rosecrans, and, according to his memorialist, retained “strong opinions” on the question of Rosecrans’s relief by Grant. Unfortunately (as recorded in that same memorial) “among General Ducat’s [surviving] papers were found some copies of Chickamauga’s field dispatches which have a personal as well as military interest, but as they deal with questions that might revive old controversies it has been deemed wiser to supress them.” To date, I have not discovered whether or not “supress” meant that they were destroyed or merely kept private. If the former, then the history of the battle of Chickamauga is just a little bit more incomplete because of it.

After the war, Ducat returned to insurance, and continued to play a role in the world of fire-fighting. He kept his hand in on military affairs, being instrumental in the formation of the Illinois National Guard, which he later commanded as a major general. He also played a role in veterans affairs, joining MOLLUS, the Society of the Army of the Cumberland, and the GAR. He gave speeches and eulogies.

One fascinating tidbit of his life – for me, anyway –  was that he was the organizer and first captain of the Lake Geneva (Wisconsin) yacht club. Lake Geneva, about 80 miles from Chicago, has long been a resort community for Chicagoans, wealthy and otherwise, even Al Capone had property in Lake Geneva. I have visited Lake Geneva often, though admittedly, never been to the yacht club.

Ducat died of pneumonia and heart failure at his estate in Downers Grove Illinois on January 29, 1896.

 

Seminar 2015

March 14, 2015

Through the woods

Back from another weekend in the woods of North Georgia. I am a bit late in writing up anything on the 2015 CCNMP Seminar in the Woods because I came down sick just after I returned home (with an ineffective trip to Knoxville to give a CWRT talk – failed – in between) and haven’t been functioning well.

We had 30+ attendees, despite the record storms sealing off the north and northeast from Chickamauga during the week leading up to the seminar. We have a sizeable sum of money left over after expenses, and this year, by consensus, we are going to use it to support the Civil War Trust’s ongoing preservation efforts at Brown’s Ferry and around Dalton Georgia – both very worthy sites. More on that later when I contact the trust about the specific donations.

On Saturday afternoon, I had a bit of a funny – and humbling – moment. Just when you think you know the battlefield really well…

We were following John Turchin’s brigade, moving through the woods south of Brock Field (at the time, those woods were clear, just more of the much larger historic Brock Field.) We were tracking the markers for the 36th and 92nd Ohio, who moved in line facing south across the south end of the field. We were moving east, and in the middle distance – say 100 yards through the leafless timber – was another bright blue War Department tablet. It was facing east, not south.

That confused me. Who was that, I wondered. Suddenly, I was dislocated on what I have come to regard as “my” own battlefield. Was it a Union battery tablet? It couldn’t be another Union brigade, I thought, for I didn’t know of another tablet down here. I do know that some of the accounts of Dodge’s brigade, of Johnson’s 2nd Division XX Corps claim to have come down this far, but I didn’t know of a tablet to them. Could it be a tablet new to me?

Still confused, I called a head to Jim Ogden, the Park Historian. He would know, right? After all, it it is anyone’s battlefield, It’s Jim’s to call his own. I asked who’s tablet that was ahead of us. Jim, a little nonplussed, looked back at me and said, “Turchin’s.” He obviously wanted to ask if I needed a lie-down or something, but was too polite to say so in front of the group.

That snapped things into place. I had simply – like so many before me – lost my situational awareness on the battlefield.

IMG_1015

Above is a picture of the tablet. To be fair, it is confusingly placed. In addition to facing east (when we generally know that Turchin’s line faced south) it is also placed at the left end of Turchin’s line, beyond even the position marker for the 11th Ohio (the small stone pillar, not this tablet.) Typically, a brigade tablet is supposed to be placed in the center of the brigade line, oriented so that as you read it you face the way the brigade faced. This is important, because often these tablets use directions and distances that only make sense if everything is oriented correctly.

The tablet is actually only to the 11th Ohio of Turchin’s Brigade, which is another rarity. War Department tablets were placed for every brigade and battery as well as higher echelons – divisions, corps, and even the armies. They were not placed or authorized for individual regiments. As we stood in front of the tablet, I asked Jim if he was aware of any other tablet on the field (note, not monument, there is a difference) that was essentially marking the actions of a single regiment. He said no, at least not offhand. Neither could I.

The 11th Ohio’s commander was Philander P. Lane, a machinist and businessman from Cincinnati Ohio, and a man who prospered after the war, though he suffered from his various war wounds. In addition to the usual regimental history, Lane was the subject of a biography, published in 1920, of his wartime service – rare for a Colonel.  He held regimental reunions on his estate in Norwood Ohio, and clearly he pulled some weight in postwar Ohio politics.

I’ve yet to ferret out other connections, though one important link seems likely. Cincinnati was also home to Henry Van Ness Boynton and Henry M. Cist, two very important players in the post-war Chickamauga story – with Boynton, formerly commander of the 35th Ohio, was the Cincinnati Gazette’s Washington DC correspondent, and eventually became the park’s first and most influential historian.

Lane died in 1899, though he was an invalid for the last decade of his life, having suffered a stroke in 1889, before the park was established.

So if I got lost on my favorite piece of battlefield, one I should (by now) know intimately, at least I proved once again my own adage – that every time I come to the field I still learn something new.

Hopefully, over time I will find out a bit more about Colonel Lane and the “regimental” tablet.

 

 

Update on March Seminar

February 1, 2015

Folks,

We now have 35 attendees, so the bus is filling up; We should be close to a full load by the time March 6 rolls around.

We will be spending some time at Resaca, but probably not as much as I’d like. The park entrance is right by a highway overpass that is under construction. This work was supposed to be completed awhile ago, but has not yet been finished. In the past, groups have managed to get special access, but I am not sure if we will – apparently the contractor is going to try and finish the work soon, so that the park can finally open full-time later in the spring.

If we can’t get full access to Resaca, we will still visit there to discuss the place’s importance to Bragg, in 1863, and to look at the first efforts to really fortify the area in response to the Chickamauga Campaign.

Additionally, Jim Ogden and I discussed the feasibility of exploring the February action around Dug Gap through Rocky Face Ridge, near Dalton. This was a Federal movement that resulted in a small battle, initiated when Grant ordered George Thomas to occupy Joe Johnston’s attention while Sherman conducted his expedition to Meridian, Mississippi.

The February movement represents the first post-Chattanooga Union offensive, however small, and sets the stage for the larger effort to come, beginning in May of 1864.

So no matter what, we will have plenty to do on March 6. If you haven’t signed up and want to attend, please send me your reservation soonest.

 

https://chickamaugablog.wordpress.com/2014/10/12/march-2015-seminar/

 

Thanks,

 

Dave

Signing Books in Chicago

January 16, 2015

I will be at the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop on Saturday, January 31st, for a virtual book signing…

PowellandSommersAbrahamLincolnpressrelease_3_

Some business updates

January 11, 2015

First, and update on the March Seminar. Right now, I have 17 paid attendees, though a number more folks have told me they intend to come. If the same pattern follows from last year, we will once again be close to filling the bus on Friday, so if you haven’t yet paid to reserve your seat, please do so.

here is the post detailing the trip info:

https://chickamaugablog.wordpress.com/2014/10/12/march-2015-seminar/

Secondly, I am pleased to announce that we are begining final edit on Volume II of the Chickamauga Trilogy, Glory or the Grave. This means we are on track for a spring publication. With 29 chapters, it is quite the project.

A Mad Irregular Battle

December 28, 2014

I was at Chickamauga Park on Saturday, December 27, for a one-day book signing of my newest publication, The Chickamauga Campaign: A Mad Irregular Battle. I signed books from 10:30 to Noon, gave a talk about the two contending commanding Generals (Bragg and Rosecrans) at 1:00 p.m., and did more signing from 2:00 p.m. on.

TheChickamaugacampaignvol1djhires

It was a bit of a whirlwind tour, since I drove down on Friday and back on Sunday, but I had a great time, and met a number of friends, old and new.

I met two ladies who had fascinating personal connections to the battlefield. One was the G-Great grandaughter of Maj. James Clarke Gordon, who commanded the 2nd Battalion, 1st Georgia, a.k.a. the 1st Confederate Infantry, at Chickamauga. (His middle name is spelled “Clarke” the Official Records, but local sources seem to leave off the “e.”) She provided me with some interesting post-war background on Major (later Colonel) Gordon, including the detail that he lived and farmed a part of the battlefield after the war, perhaps a part of the old Alexander property – which was being leased by the Gordons at the time of the battle.

The other lady was in a G-Great granddaughter of Eliza Camp Glenn, famously known as the Widow Glenn. Eliza had two children, Avery and Ella Nora; This lady was descended from Eliza via Ella.

In a further connection to the battle, today she and her husband live in the Clarissa Hunt house, just outside Chickamauga, which you can read more about here:

http://www.lat34north.com/historicmarkers/MarkerDetail.cfm?KeyID=023-HT-C15&MarkerTitle=Clarissa%20Hunt%20Plantation%20and%20Confederate%20Courier%20Grave

I was delighted to meet both of them, and hear their stories.

I can’t help but wonder at what James C. Gordon must have thought about, all those years, living on a part of the battlefield where his command of 194 troops lost 83 of those men over the course of approximately an hour’s fight; all just a short walk up the road from his post-war residence. He could easily visit Private John Ingraham’s grave (officially the only remaining battle casualty still buried on the battlefield) who was one of those killed while under his command. Did he do so? What where his thoughts?

Here is a link to a nice photo essay concerning Ingraham’s gravesite:

http://civilwartalk.com/threads/the-grave-of-private-john-ingraham-csa.89684/

 

 

Need something to do for the weekend?

December 16, 2014

Here’s what I will be doing the Saturday after Christmas, for those of you who need some escape from all that holiday cheer.:)

EasternNationalBookSigning12.27.14

The First Thanksgiving

November 27, 2014

Missionary Ridge

On October 3rd, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed “the last Thursday of November next” to be set aside as “a day of Thanksgiving.” Much has been said and written about Lincoln’s proclamation, no more need be said here.

That last Thursday of November – the 26th – proved especially memorable for the men of the Army of the Cumberland, at Chattanooga.

Since Chickamauga, the Cumberlanders had been trapped in Chattanooga, enduring almost constant rain, cold, and considerable hunger. Chattanooga was a sea of mud. Thousands of horses perished, rendering the army nearly immobile. Things improved somewhat in early November, when the Cracker Line opened and restored better rations to the troops, but for many soldiers that fall would remain their most miserable experience of army life.

All that changed in the days leading up to the first Thanksgiving. General Ulysses S. Grant, with all his forces now at hand, was at last ready to move against Braxton Bragg’s encircling Rebels.

On November 23rd, The Army of the Cumberland marched out onto the broad plain between Chattanooga and Missionary Ridge, some two miles distant. They were there to seize Orchard Knob and Indian Ridge, intermediate heights between the city and the ridge; lightly held as outposts by the Rebels. Facing 20,000 troops in full martial array, those 600 or so Confederates had little choice but to fall back, leaving the Knob in Union hands and fulfilling Grant’s expectations; mainly to provide a diversion for William T. Sherman’s crossing of the Tennessee River some 6 miles upstream, all with an eye towards striking Bragg’s right.

On the 24th, two days before the new holiday, the second part of the plan unfolded when Joseph T. Hooker’s men (newly arrived Easterners mainly, but with a good mix of Chickamauga veterans included) attacked and captured Lookout Mountain. This fight was short, successful, and dramatic enough for any theater critic. Most of the action was obscured by clouds, but at the last the Union flags floated above all, in full view of both armies.

November 25th dawned, clear and cold. The rains were gone. Sherman attacked the north end of Missionary Ridge, while Hooker moved off of Lookout towards the south end of the ridge. The bulk of the Army of the Cumberland, those same divisions who marched out to seize Orchard Knob, had no role in the coming fight. They were to watch, holding the center. Grant had no intention of sending 20,000 men to storm the main Rebel line on Missionary Ridge, which by all evidence looked impregnable. Better to let the flanking efforts lever Bragg into ruin and retreat.
Things did not go as planned. Sherman fumbled, Hooker took much longer than expected. In response, Grant ordered Thomas to make a “demonstration” against the foot of the ridge, merely to draw Bragg’s attention and keep the Rebels from reinforcing the fight against Sherman.

At 4:00 p.m., Four Union divisions advanced. They captured the first line of Confederate works at the foot of the ridge easily, for the Confederates were undermanned here. For weeks Bragg had been sending troops away from Chattanooga on other missions, decisions which now would come home to roost with a vengeance.

Holding on at the foot of the ridge, however, proved difficult. There was no cover. Rebels atop the ridge could fire right down into the new Union position. Besides, there were scores to settle.

Grant, Thomas, their staffs, and other Union commanders watched in amazement and no small amount of unease as those 20,000 Cumberlanders kept right on going. Flags and regiments were suddenly scrambling up the steep slopes. Orders sent to stop them went unheeded. Suddenly, the flags were at the crest, and the Confederates were breaking. It was victory. unplanned, but no less of one for all that. 40 cannon and more than 4,000 prisoners were taken. As far as the Army of the Cumberland was concerned, Chickamauga was redeemed.

November 26th, then, was a day of Thanksgiving indeed. The rest of the week was clear, the rains seemingly having been stopped on command. A 34 gun salute was fired from Orchard Knob, marking the day. Bragg’s army was in retreat, and being pursued. Even the losses had been comparatively light for such a signal success: 5,800 Federal casualties, of which 753 were killed, vastly better than the more than 16,000 who fell the previous September.

In the bowels of the book factory…

November 18, 2014

Before you can read the books, the printer has to print the books. And, for some folks, I need to sign the books.

Here is a shot of my signing station:

Signing 2 (1)

For those of you who requested a signed copy, rest assured that all work here in the signing shop is lovingly hand-crafted in the old world tradition.

Let’s get the full ambiance, shall we?

Signing 2 (2)

Even as I type, the first books are already heading out across the country on their way to soon-to-be happy customers. I even have one book going to Norway! They must be Hans Heg fans…

Dave Powell

Opening shots

November 6, 2014

A couple of months ago, I was asked to read a book and provide a dustjacket comment. This is pretty common. Publishers (and authors) like to have other authorities endorse their work. It helps sell books, fills space on book jackets with supportive quotes, and add to the overall graphic appeal of the jacket. I’ve done a couple of these, and am always flattered to be asked.

The timing on this particular quote was tight, and I had to really cram to read the book. I feel honor-bound to read any book I review or endorse – that’s the right way to do it.

This one was a scramble, because it was going to press soon and they needed one more quote. I read each chapter, but my effort was more akin to speed reading than anything else. I liked the book, and I provided the needed quote.

Buford

That book is now available. It’s Eric Wittenberg’s new work on John Buford at Gettysburg, “The Devil’s To Pay,” by Savas-Beatie. Once I received a printed copy, I wanted to go back and read it again, this time for pleasure. I knew there was a great book there, and one I hadn’t fully had time to enjoy the first time around.

Now I am almost finished with it, and savoring every page.

“The Devil’s To Pay” is the culmination of decades of work on Wittenberg’s part. When I first met Eric years ago, it was at Gettysburg. He was studying John Buford and the Union cavalry in the Army of the Potomac. In the years since, he has become one of the leading chroniclers of that selfsame cavalry, recording their experiences across any number of Eastern Theater battlefields. But along the way, he always returned to Gettysburg.

This book is a joy to read, distilling all that work and knowledge into a fine tactical study. Since Buford’s stand on July 1 set the table for the entire battle to come, it deserves to be brought into the limelight. Eric Wittenberg has certainly accomplished that.

So why is this blog devoting attention to an obscure action fought outside a small, south-central Pennsylvania college town?

Simple. Because aside from “Devil” being an excellent read, any Chickamauga student will recognize the parallels between Buford’s fight on July 1, and that waged by Robert Minty and John T. Wilder on September 18, 1863.

The similarities to Minty’s fight are especially striking. Minty conducted a nearly perfect textbook example of what the modern military describes as a covering force action, and did so for many hours – from 11 am to 4 pm, a stand that was in fact longer and lonelier than Buford’s combat. In doing so, Minty and Wilder foiled Braxton Bragg’s offensive plans for September 18, and also alerted William Rosecrans to the need to change his own plans for the next day. Once again, a relatively limited action between small portions of two armies dictated the course of the main battle to come.

A few weeks past, I had the pleasure of meeting up with Eric and some other friends for a battlefield stomp – this time at Chickamauga. As you might have guessed, we focused on the cavalry. We explored Reed’s and Alexander’s Bridges, as well as places like Peavine Ridge and Peeler’s Mill. I got to show off my favorite park. We saw where the Civil War Trust has purchased important land at Reed’s Bridge, allowing for greatly expanded future interpretation of this fight in years to come.

4th US cavalry at Reed's Bridge

Over the course of that weekend, Eric mentioned the idea of writing a similar study on Minty and Wilder. I have long believed that the importance of the fighting on September 18 deserves such coverage, and also know that there is more than enough material to support such a work. While I cover Sept 18 in my own new book “A Mad Irregular Battle,” I simply couldn’t include all, or tell every story. There is more to mine here, and Eric is just the man to do it.

So here’s hoping that this project comes to fruition. One of my goals has always been to expand the Civil War community’s interest and understanding of Chickamauga. I suspect that an Eric Wittenberg study on September 18 would go a long way towards accomplishing those goals.


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