“At the crisis I fell” – James E. Love, 8th Kansas

December 8, 2017

Col. Hans Heg’s Brigade of the Army of the Cumberland is one of the more interesting units to fight at Chickamauga: containing as it did the only Kansas unit (the 8th) in the Army of the Cumberland and the only all-Scandanavian regiment (the 15th Wisconsin) in the Union army. It also has the dubious distinction of being among the hardest-hit of all the brigades  engaged in that battle, suffering nearly 65% casualties.

Irish-born, Love emigrated to America, and then spent time in Australia – where he prospered. When he returned to the states, he brought with him $6,000 in gold; he was a man of considerable means, settling in St. Louis.

When war came he did not gravitate towards one of the many Irish regiments recruiting across the nation. Instead, he apparently had an abolitionist bent, and began recruiting men for what was intended to be a brigade commanded by Kansas Jayhawker Jim Lane. Eventually, Love’s contingent was organized as part of the 8th Kansas.

Originally a member of Company K, James was promoted to Regimental Adjutant on November 17, 1862. The 8th Kansas Regiment saw split service  – half of it serving in the Trans-Mississippi and half in Tennessee – until February 1863, when the whole command was united at Nashville. From there it served in the Army of the Cumberland, 20th Corps.

Fortunately for history, James was a man in love, as well – because he recorded his wartime experiences in a series of very detailed letters to his fiance, Eliza Wilson – “Molly.”

The 8th Kansas went into action at Chickamauga between 1 and 2 p.m., September 19. Heg’s brigade, formed on the right of Union General Jefferson C. Davis’s division, entered the woods just north of Viniard Field, looking to find and turn the flank of Confederate troops engaged farther north, around Brock Field. Instead they ran smack into Bushrod Johnson’s Confederate division, deployed in that same timber about 600 yards east of the LaFayette Road.

Charge of the 15th Wisconsin at Chickamauga: the mortal wounding of Col. Heg

That fight surged back and  forth through the afternoon, with Heg’s men being driven back to the road. Here is how Love described that action in a postwar recollection:

At 8 o’clock . . . we marched 8 miles to the Widow Glens house, Genl. Rosencran’s Head Quarters, washed our feet and filled our canteens at Crawfish Springs, and then were rushed into the woods and into the battle under a terrible roar of musketry and artillery. We got on the double quick two miles from Widow Glens, our men falling, when line after line of Longstreets Corps [Johnson’s division, though not from Virginia, was part of Hood’s (Longstreet’s) Corps at Chickamauga] charged us, but we drove them for some time. they advanc[ed] again and again in Superior numbers, found several gaps in the line of the army, and flanking us we had to fall back after losing 5 Captains 3 Lieutenants and 150 men killed and wounded – I fell on the extreme front.

Love, badly wounded, remained on the field. He fell into Confederate hands. On September 23rd, he described the action in a letter to Mollie:

Mollie Dear,

I am laying out in a cotton field & doing well. I am at present within Bragg’s lines but hope to be exchanged at once as thousands of others are today and yesterday. We have just got some rations sent by Rosecrans, the first since the fight. When I closed this note [He means a letter written on the morning of the 19th] we started and marched rapidly 8 miles or more, and all at once got into a most terrific fight. I was under fire several hours, and rallied the men of my company and of other several times. I brought the flag back more than once when we were driven – but it was of no avail. The enemy overpowered us and drove us back.

At the Crisis I fell headlong among them, shot through the thigh in two places, and my clothes riddled besides. I am doing well, and I am I assure you in good spirits and suffered no pain – neither when wounded or since – I am weak as it bled freely – and the sinews are cut and the bone jarred very much – I expect to forward this from Chattanooga. I will write whenever I can; believe me I will suffer less from pain then you will from pity.

Love’s letter made it home, but he did not. Instead of being exchanged in the field hospital, Love was sent to Libby Prison in Richmond once he was able to travel; He spent the rest of the war in Rebel hands, until in March, 1865 he saw his moment to escape. He and several fellow officers slipped away from their guards in North Carolina, and after several weeks winding their way through the mountains of North Carolina, reached Knoxville. From there things went smootly – he was soon back in St. Louis, where he married Mollie on May 2, 1865.

All of Love’s letters to Mollie are online at the Missouri Historical Society, and have also been published in book form.

In March 2018, the Chickamauga-Chattanooga Study Group will explore Heg’s attack.

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“Colonel Timothy O’Meara: An Unknown Hero of the War.”

November 25, 2017

Those words title a memorial volume to Col. O’Meara, published in Brooklyn, in 1914. That title seems as fitting today as it did a century ago, for you don’t hear much about O’Meara in modern Civil War discourse.

 

 

Which is a bit surprising, given how Irish-centric we are these days. The Irish story is at once both romantic and tragic, a story of exile; but thanks to that exile, America is chock-full of Irish descendants. Once despised as immigrants, now St. Patrick’s Day parades are celebrated in cities across the country.

The Civil War community is no exception. We do love our Irishmen, in both blue and gray. The Irish Brigade, Philip Sheridan, or – arguably one of the two most famous Confederates outside of Virginia – Patrick Cleburne; all draw tremendous attention. And, as Cleburne’s story suggests, we love them even more when they are tragically struck down in battle. Colonel Patrick O’Rorke (or O’Rourke, it seems to be spelled both ways) of the 140th New York, whose shiny-nosed monument crowns Little Round Top at Gettysburg, is further proof.

A portrait of Colonel Timothy J. O’Meara, below:

So who is Colonel O’Meara?

The short answer is: he was the commanding officer of the 90th Illinois Infantry – Chicago’s Irish Legion – and he was mortally wounded at the foot of Missionary Ridge on November 25, 1863. He died early in the morning of November 26th.

He was only 27 at the time of his end. Born in County Tipperary, Ireland on August 15, 1836, he left Ireland at age 17, emigrating to New York City. Shortly thereafter he enlisted in the United States Army, serving in the Regiment of Mounted Rifles, which was on active service in New Mexico. In 1860, O’Meara translated those martial skills into a commission with Benito Juarez’s Liberal Army, in Mexico; which was in the throes of a civil war since 1857. O’Meara served as a major of cavalry.

His service under Juarez suggests something of his politics, since Juarez’s liberal reform government was fiercely opposed by the existing conservative aristocracy, the Catholic Church, and the Mexican Army – all of whom saw their influence waning under Juarez’s reforms. That struggle ended in December 1860, with Juarez successful; just in time for O’Meara to head back to New York. Another civil war was brewing.

He enlisted as a Private in the Tammany Regiment – 42nd New York Infantry – but by dint of his professional experience, soon rose to captain of Company E. He was involved in the disaster at Ball’s Bluff, where he distinguished himself, but where he was also captured. He would spend the next ten months in Rebel prison camps.

Exchanged in August 1862, he traveled to Chicago, where a number of fellow Irishmen hoped he would take command of the then-forming 90th Illinois Infantry. Though he was an outsider, his combat experience and the recommendation of Brigadier General Michael Corcoran – one of the most influential Irishmen then serving – won him a Colonel’s Eagles and command of the Irish Legion.

Once equipped and sworn into Federal Service, the 90th was sent to join Grant’s army in Mississippi, where they participated in the Vicksburg Campaign and fighting around Jackson. In the fall of 1863, their division was one of the four selected by Grant to be sent to Chattanooga. They and their fellows toiled across Northern Alabama. On November 22, the 90th reached Chattanooga, going into a concealed camp on the north bank of the Tennessee River opposite the city.

Though the “siege” of Chattanooga had already been broken at the end of October with the opening of the Cracker Line, Braxton Bragg’s Confederate army still occupied the surrounding heights of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. Determined to smash Bragg, Grant intended a full-scale assault. His chosen troops? The four divisions from his own Army of the Tennessee, of course, now commanded by William Sherman. The Chicago Irish would play a lead role in that fight.

O’Meara and the 90th belonged to Colonel John M. Loomis’s 1st Brigade, 4th Division, XV Army Corps; commanded by Sherman’s brother-in-law, Brigadier General Hugh Ewing. Grant originally intended to attack on November 23, but complications delayed the assault to the next day.

At dawn on November 24, Sherman initiated a surprise crossing of the Tennessee, debauching at the mouth of South Chickamauga Creek, catching Bragg unawares. What should have developed into an attack on the north end of Bragg’s position on Missionary Ridge, however, came to naught. Sherman, overly cautious, stumbled badly; never even reaching Missionary Ridge. Late in the day he was shocked to discover that he was atop another hill, well short of his intended objective, and he had barely come to grips with any Confederates. Only Joe Hooker, leading a scratch force assaulting Lookout Mountain, and very much an afterthought, achieved anything approaching success, in a fight that became known – inaccurately – as the Battle Above the Clouds.

Still, Grant persevered. Sherman would continue his attack – everyone else remained secondary. By taking Tunnel Hill (so named for the railroad tunnel that pierced Missionary Ridge here) Sherman would turn Bragg’s position, threaten Bragg’s rail connection to James Longstreet, besieging Knoxville, and drive the Rebels back into Georgia.

Again, Sherman stumbled. He commanded 4 divisions of some 20,000 men; and could call on the support of the Union XI Corps, another 5,000 or so troops. Of this force, his first attack was launched by part of one brigade – less than 1,000 bayonets. When it failed, Sherman sent another brigade in.

Sherman’s entire effort that day came to naught, a series of halfhearted probes by individual regiments and brigades that accomplished nothing but add to the Union casualty figures.

The 90th Illlinois and 100th Indiana assaulting Missionary Ridge

 

 

the 90th’s turn came at about 10:30 a.m., when Sherman, via General Ewing, sent Loomis’s men to support another assault on the ridge from the west. With the 90th leading, Loomis’s brigade moved in an arc around to the western face, reaching the Glass farmstead, some 200 yards north of the railroad tunnel.

O”Meara certainly drew the eye. He wore his best uniform, as well as an officer’s sash, which everyone else believed made him a conspicuous target. Despite his service in Mexico under Juarez, he remained faithful to the church: When Loomis urged O’Meara to at least rid himself of the sash, O’Meara indicated an image of the Virgin Mary which he wore on a chain around his neck. “They cannot hurt me while I have this.”

 

The regiment had to cross near half a mile of open ground before reaching the Glass farm. Lieutenant Colonel Owen Stuart was hit while crossing this expanse, and then, near the farmyard, O”Meara’s horse was shot out from under him. He grabbed a musket and kept going, but not for long. “Whilst in the act of charging up the ridge in front of the heaviest fire . . . our brave Colonel fell, mortally wounded.” Waving off help, O’Meara lay exposed for the rest of the day’s action.

Loomis’s attack faltered badly here. Suffering heavy losses, the brigade went to cover and spent most of the rest of the day pinned down by Rebel fire. The 90th suffered 94 casualties, including four of ten company commanders and the regimental Sergeant Major. Only the subsequent successful storming of Missionary Ridge by George Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland redeemed the day, forcing the Rebels holding Tunnel Hill to retreat and allowing the battered 90th to recover their dead and wounded comrades. O’Meara was still breathing, but died in the early hours of the morning.

In death, O’Meara was praised by Loomis, by Ewing, and even by Grant, who arranged that the Colonel’s body be transported as far as Nashville at army expense, and from where family & friends in New York could bring him the rest of the way home. Tributes appeared in the Chicago newspapers, as well as other cities with large Irish populations, such as Boston and New York. Private Hugh O’Neal of Company C was detailed to escort the coffin, O’Meara’s personal effects, and his surviving horses. The entourage arrived in New York on December 15, where after a requiem Mass at St. Mary’s Church he was buried at Calvary Cemetery, Queens, on December 19.

Colonel Loomis wrote that O’Meara’s death was “a severe loss to his country, to his companions, and to his command. The illuminated memory of a brave man and gallant soldier remains.”

 

“You ere this heard what we have done…”

October 3, 2017

Lately I have been trying to post personal letters or other writings of men who fought at Chickamauga. Of necessity I tend to post more Federals than Confederates, for the very simple reason I have far more Union sources than Rebel; and many of the Rebel sources have been made public in the past.

 

Here’s a letter from First Sergeant Andrew Augustus Stuart, Company A, the 5th Georgia Infantry – known before the war as the Clinch Rifles, from Richmond County GA.

The Clinch Rifles on May 10, 1861, the day before swearing in as members of Company A, the 5th Georgia

The Clinch Rifles were formed in 1851, as a militia company; their pre-war uniforms were dark green, and they carried Model 1841 Harper’s Ferry Rifles (aka Mississippi Rifles.) They mustered in as Company A on May 11, 1861. When the 5th arrived in Pensacola to join Braxton Bragg’s command later that summer, Bragg referred to the 5th as “the Pound Cake Regiment” because of the variety of pre-war militia uniforms found in the unit.

 

Stuart enlisted as a private, rising to First Sergeant. His regiment served in Brig. Gen. John K. Jackson’s brigade, of Cheatham’s Division. The 5th was engaged just north of Brock Field on the 19th, and opposite the Federal positions along Battleline Road (Kelly Field) on September 20th.

Stuart was one of the few in the regiment to escape injury. Here is a portion of his letter:In the Field

ear (2 miles) Chattanooga 

September 24, 1863

Dear Father,

You will perceive from the heading of this where now [we] are – you ere this heard what we have done, after two days hard fighting. Gen. Bragg has acheived through the aid of Almighty God a great victory over the enemy, thus far, he has driven him into Chattanooga, where he has made his stand, for the purpose I believe of covering his retreat across the river, but yet we may have to fight him here, this remains to be seen.

I was in all the fighting (2 days) (up to my post) and thank God I have not received a scratch. Our brigade drove them on Sunday evening from their breastworks where they ran like wild turkeys, throwing away their guns, knapsacks, and everything & that night we slept on the battlefield. 

The loss in our regiment is greater than any in the Brigade – as follows: 166 wounded 26 killed & 7 missing out of 332 carried in, our company lost 3 killed, 7 wounded and 8 struck by spent balls. 

I shall write as often as possible. Give my love to all.

                                           Your Affectionate Son, 

                                           Augustus

Two months later, Sergeant Stuart was captured on Missionary Ridge. He spent the rest of his war at Rock Island Illinois, as a prisoner there. He was released on June 20, 1865, having taken the Oath of Allegiance to the United States.

2018 Seminar in the Woods – details

September 28, 2017

Dear Friends at home:

Here are the full details of what is (I think) our 13th annual seminar in the woods. I hope you can join us.

CCNMP Study Group 2018 Seminar in the Woods.

Mission Statement: The purpose of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park Study Group is to create a forum to bring students of the American Civil War together to study and explore those events in the fall of 1863 that led ultimately to the creation of the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, as well as explore other nearby Civil War-related sites.

Tour Leaders:  Jim Ogden and Dave Powell

Date: Friday, March 9, and Saturday, March 10, 2018; By bus and car caravan.

All tours begin and end at the Visitor’s Center.

By Bus:

Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00: Battle of Resaca, May 14 – 15, 1864

On Friday we will finish our exploration of the Battle of Resaca, spending time on the area east of Camp Creek Valley (east of I-75) and the retreat from Resaca.

Friday evening, 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. – Q&A Panel with Jim Ogden, Dave Powell, and Lee White.

 Site: Constitution Hall, 201 Forrest Road, Fort Oglethorpe, GA

 Third annual open-forum question and answer period with Park Rangers Jim Ogden and Lee White.

 Car Caravan – Saturday Morning, 8:30 to Noon: Heg Attacks!

 On Saturday morning, we will explore the attack of Col. Hans Heg’s brigade of Federal Infantry, sent into the woods just north of Viniard Field in order to strike the flank of those Confederates then fighting in the area of Brock Field. Instead Heg’s four regiments ran headlong into Bushrod Johnson’s Division of Hood’s Corps. A long afternoon of deadly, see-saw fighting ensued.

Car CaravanSaturday Afternoon, 1:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.: Abandoned on Horseshoe Ridge.

 On Saturday afternoon, we will revisit one of the most famous stories of Chickamauga; the plight of the 21st Ohio, 22nd Michigan, and 89th Ohio. Essentially abandoned on Horseshoe Ridge, these three regiments ended up captured as two Confederate infantry brigades closed in on their position.

Costs:

Friday’s Tours will be via tour bus. Pre-registration and Fee required: $45, due by February 1, 2018.

 Sign-up after February 1 or on-site Fee (based on space available): $50 

 Saturday: no charge.

 Fees raised in excess of our costs (as well as any donations) will be used to support the causes of battlefield preservation, interpretation, and renovation.

 In 2017 the Study Group donated $500 to the Civil War Trust, helping to preserve battlefield land at Brown’s Ferry and Reed’s Bridge; and $500 to the Jewell Monument fund, run by the Friends of Chickamauga and Chattanooga, for maintenance and restoration needs.

 Send to (and make checks payable to):

David Powell

522 Cheyenne Drive

Lake in the Hills IL 60156

 Please also note that this fee is NON-REFUNDABLE after February 1st, 2018. Once we are committed to the bus, we will be charged the booking fee, no matter what.  

 

Please note that everyone is responsible for their own lodging, meals, snacks and incidentals.

 

Seminar Time: 2018

September 20, 2017

It is almost time to start public announcement of the 2018 CCNMP Seminar in the woods. A full announcement will follow, but just to let everyone know:

The dates for next year’s programs will be Friday March 9 and Saturday March 10, 2018.

We will again have a bus for Friday, and will be on foot (car caravan) for Saturday.

I am also happy to announce that the group raised considerable funds last year. $500 was donated to the Civil War Trust, to be spent on land acquisition in the Chattanooga Area, and we also gave $500 to the Jewel Monument Fund, which is a special fund administered by the Friends of the Park intended to aid monument restoration and repair.

 

 

“There is a day when I will get revenge from deserters.”

September 8, 2017

 

On September 8, 1863, Braxton Bragg abandoned the city of Chattanooga to Union forces without a battle. He hoped that this evacuation would be temporary, and that as soon as Rosecrans were defeated, his men would return.

I think this was a more dangerous and difficult decision than is usually realized. Despite an influx of new troops over the past few days, the Army of Tennessee’s morale was in a precarious state. Memphis and Nashville were already in Union hands, and had been since 1862. Knoxville was abandoned on September 1, with Bragg’s decision to pull Buckner south to join him instead of oppose Ambrose Burnside’s invading Federals coming from Kentucky.

And now Chattanooga, the last of Tennessee’s significant cities, would be given up as well.

Capt. Julius Gash commanded company D of the 6th North Carolina Cavalry, a part of Buckner’s command. His men were from Western North Carolina, and thus not overly committed to the Confederate cause in any case; abandoning East Tennessee hit them hard.

On September 5 – three days before Chattanooga was ordered evacuated – Gash wrote a letter home, expressing both his frustration and the perilous, fragile state of his regiment’s morale.

I quote parts of it below:

Charleston Tenn,

Sept 5th 1863

“Dear Col.”

“There are a good many troops at this place moving about but I have no idea if they intend fighting at this point. The infantry is all moving below [Chattanooga]. There will be a big two-horse fight somewhere in the country (but I know not when it will come off) upon which depends the fate of Tennessee and in fact has something to do with the fate of the Confederacy. I am strong in the faith that we are destined to be victorious in the pending battle. 

The officers of our command played the Devil generally while they were at the [Cumberland] Gap. Myself among the rest. We were a little fearful we could be gobbled up at the Gap & sent all our trunks to Knoxville for safekeeping and now the Yanks have possession & as a matter of course they are all ‘gone-up’ for ninety.

My company papers, receipts, muster-rolls and all gave up. I don’t care a D[am]n. My company has about gone up too! All deserted or at home without leave. Twenty-five men of our Regt started home about a week ago, but were nearly all apprehended! Two of my company among them. Gen. Buckner says he intends to shoot every man of them, and I do hope to God he will. 

Beard’s battalion and ours have been consolidated and formed the 66th N. C, Regt. [6th NC Cavalry] Both battalions can make about two good companies. There are now from both battalions 35 men in arrest who Buckner says he is going to have shot. 

Since the big stampede two of my men have deserted. Dick Osteen who had just returned from home, and the last man I would thought of deserting; and John C. Edney, who was a liut [Lieutenant] in Balums’ Co[mpany]. You know him very well, I guess. Dick was very much alarmed at Loudon. He told some of the boys that day if another Cannon ever got a chance at him it would be smart and sure enough that night he ‘took up his bed’ and skedaddled. 

I have learned during this war that there is no confidence to be placed in white men. I’ll swear men have deserted my company who I had the most implicit confidence in and men too who have been for near twelve months good soldiers as I thought was in the Confederate Army. I wish I could express the contempt I naturally cherish for a deserter, and men who will at this particular time desert. I do candidly think they ought to be shot. I think it is nothing more than what they justly merits. 

Why! Confound a man who is void enough of principal to desert his country in so perilous a time as now. Should all things work together for good and I live to see this difficulty adjusted. There is a day when I’ll get revenge from deserters, mark it. You are probably tired of this subject and so am I, for when I think of deserters I get so mad it bothers me to keep from saying Cuss words. 

Truly Yours,

Jule.” 

To me, Captain Gash’s letter illustrates the precarious morale precipice the Army of Tennessee skirted in early September. Yes, Gash’s company was probably not composed of ardent secessionists to begin with, but clearly they were losing even lukewarm enthusiam for the war.

If Bragg had suffered a defeat at Chickamauga, would his army have come unraveled? Arguably not, since the Army of Tennessee did rebound after Chattanooga – but what if they had a Chattanooga wihout the tonic of Chickamauga just two months before?

Slavery is Doomed!!

August 1, 2017

I have long been interested in the evolution of Union soldier opinion on the question of slavery. The Army of the Cumberland, being largely composed of Midwesterners, contained fewer men in the ranks who might be considered initially inimical to the Peculiar Institution when they enlisted. New England, after all, was considered the bastion of abolitionism in the United States.

That’s not to say  that there weren’t regiments imbued with anti-slavery fervor. The 92nd Illinois was certainly an “abolitionist” regiment, for example; as was the Norwegian 15th Wisconsin and most of the German units. A number of Quakers also left their faith to join what they considered a higher cause, as well.

The 27th Illinois was not such a unit. The regiment was raised in southwestern Illinois, near Saint Louis and along the Mississippi River. In general, the men fit the classical pattern of early-war Union troops: motivated to restore the Union but not caring all that much about Slavery.

Captain John F. Glenn commanded Company F of the 27th. Glenn was Irish-born, his birth date in the 1850 census given only as “abt [about] 1838. His family emigrated in the 1840s, possibly because of the Potato Famine. He enlisted as a sergeant, 22 years of age, and was promoted to Captain in January 1863, after the battle of Stones River.

Bu the summer of 1863, however, Glenn’s opinions on slavery had changed considerably:

Capt. John F. Glenn, 27th Illinois Infantry

 

Bridgeport, Ala. August 15, 1863

My dear Sister,

Yours of the 9 inst was received about ten minutes since. I was pleased [to] learn that you was at the time of writing well but I was not pleased at that part of your letter where you sympathize with the vile traitor Valandigham. “He is a much abused man” you say. I deny it and assert that if justice had been done he would have been in eternity. Have you read his speeches of the past two years? 

Within a few yards of my tent stands the gallows where on thirty two Union Tennesseans were murdered for being devoted to the Union and the old flag. Their wives and children can be seen at any time at this place or rather in the neighborhood. I can point you to the graves of old grey haired men who because they would not inform where their sons were that was hid in the mountains, were taken out and shot down like dogs. 

I have seen poor helpless women who were taken out of their houses tyed up stripped and whipped for expressing their loyalty to the old flag. When I look round and see such scenes as these and then remember that such vile damnably villains as the wretch they call a man –  Valandigham – has friends and sympathizers who call themselves Americans it makes me blush with shame for the honor of my country. For God sake if you know what you are about do not befriend this devil and his case. 

Slavery is doomed!! And all the powerrs of Hell can not prevent it!! This Union will be restored!! I fully believe it to be the Divine Will and His Will will be done in spite of the low vile Rebles of the North or South. It may reuqire years to do it but it will be done….

What a pitty that the pet institution of a few damned fools of the North is a “poor case.” I was a strong proslavery man when this war began but I would be false to every sence of honor and justice if I remained so after seeing what I have. 

Goodby

John F. Glenn

Interestingly, Glenn doesn’t really comment on the effects of slavery on the slaves themselves – he is more about ending slavery as a means to an end – but it also seems clear that he wouldn’t accept “the Union as it was” either.

Note: The John Glenn papers reside at the Abraham Lincoln Library, Springfield IL. Transcription originally prepared by Dr. William G. Robertson.

 

Target Practice

July 5, 2017

The tricky thing about muzzle-loading rifle muskets is that they are so hard to shoot accurately at distance. Although sighted to 800 or 900 yards, Joe Civilian couldn’t just pick up a Springfield or Enfield and hit anything with it. Even hitting much closer targets took training.

Two factors went into this training: range estimation and actual live fire at known distances.

Range estimation was crucial, because if you didn’t know the distance to your target, you didn’t know where to set your sight – especially on the Enfield, which had a more detailed and complicated sight than the simpler Springfield leaf sight.  The Enfield had 100 yard gradients and a sliding crosspiece, while the 1861 Springfield merely had leaves that could be raised or lowered for close, medium, and long range.

Enfield Sight

Springfield Sight

Why was range so critical? If the shooter estimated a target at 500 yards, but it was actually 400 yards distant, a wrong setting could actually lob the minie ball completely over the heads of the approaching enemy battle line. This problem only got worse the greater the range, since the actual beaten zone (that area within the lethal strike zone of the incoming round) shrank over distance.

So I take great interest in reading an account from a Civil War Soldier actually discussing range training, even in passing.

Take, for example, this transcription of a letter from one Hezekiah Rabb of the 33rd Alabama Infantry, written May 23, 1863, at Wartrace Tennessee:

550 yards is one of the longer distances I have seen referenced in such letters. The 33rd Alabama served in S.A.M. Wood’s brigade of Cleburne’s Division, and there is some corroborating evidence of range training in other units of the Army of Tennessee at this time, but usually more in the context of creating the Whitworth Sharpshooter detachments.

 

The Other Rock of Chickamauga?

May 30, 2017

Friends,

As some of you know, while the Chickamauga Blog remains my own project, I also post over on Emerging Civil War.

This particular post seems equally worthy of both sites, and so I am going to post the beginning of this post here, and then link it to the full post over at ECW. I think this little tidbit is particularly fascinating, I hope you all do, too…

 

Brotherton Field, Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park

One of the joys of research is turning an unexpected corner to find out something new. That happens every so often, and when it does, I always get a little buzz of excitement. Most recently, that buzz came when I stumbled across the name William W. Burns in the official records.

General W. W. Burns, 1862

Now, Brigadier General William Wallace Burns was not exactly completely unknown to me: I knew he was a brigade commander in the Army of the Potomac in 1862, serving in the Second Corps under generals Sedgwick and Sumner; and later, a divisional commander in the Ninth Corps during the Fredericksburg campaign. He distinguished himself as a first-rate leader and capable fighter in the Seven Days’ battles of Savage Station and Glendale. He took a severe face wound at Glendale, not returning to the army until the fall, when he was stepped up to divisional command.

But I was surprised to see him mentioned in a January 1863 dispatch sent by Union Major General William Starke Rosecrans to the War Department, inquiring about Burns’ availability for a command in the west. Burns was one of “several good officers” Rosecrans desired to have join his own command, the Army of the Cumberland.

Interesting.

The rest of the story…

Memorial Day: One Soldier

May 28, 2017

 

I took Killian the Research Hound for a walk this morning. In a departure from our usual practice of hitting one of the local walking trails, we went to Union Cemetery in Crystal Lake, Illinois. It’s not an overly large place, just a few acres, but it does have the Veterans Memorial pictured above. (forgive the quality – I took the image one-handed while convincing the Research Hound to sit still for a minute.)

Union Cemetery is the resting place of perhaps 100 veterans, of all wars; a couple dozen of them from the Civil War. There is a contingent of 36th Illinois men buried here – always a favorite regiment for me – but this is the grave that caught my eye:

This is the stone of the fascinatingly-named Private Demon (also spelled Deman, or Demman) F. Allen, Company G, the 44th Illinois Infantry. Allen was mustered into Federal service at Chicago (Camp Douglas) in September 1861. He re-enlisted as a veteran in February, 1864 near Chattanooga. He mustered out with the regiment on September 25, 1865.

The truth is I don’t have much information on Pvt. Allen. The 44th Illinois produced no regimental history, and and the regiment itself came from scattered areas of the state. Allen was living in Howard, Illinois a hamlet in Fulton County (mid-state) but he joined Company G which was raised in Winnebago County, on the Wisconsin line. When he re-enlisted in 1864 his residence was recorded as New Milford, which was in Winnebago County, just south of Rockford.

He applied for a pension in December 1884 on grounds of being an invalid. I haven’t found any evidence of his being wounded in action, but that is not uncommon for pension applicants; far more men applied on the basis if injury or disease than because of battle wounds.

I do have an interesting letter from Captain Alonzo M. Clark, who commanded Allen’s Company in action on September 20, 1863. The 44th was part of Laiboldt’s Brigade, which was unfortunately ordered by Major General McCook to charge down the slopes of Lytle Hill into the teeth of an oncoming Confederate division despite being improperly deployed. the 44th – along with it’s brother regiments the 73rd Illinois, 2nd and 15th Missouri, suffered severely.

 

Captain Clark didn’t describe that disaster in detail, but he did pen high praise for Colonel Wallace W. Bartlett. Clark noted that the 44th did not lose their colors, “and so long as her Col. stands to protect them she never will.”

Clark also provided some words about Major Luther M. Sabin, a former Captain of Company G:

“I will only say that his well know bravery and skill as an officer were fully developed, not only to his own regiment and company, but he will long b e remembered by  the 35th and 28th Illinois [Clark seems mistaken about the 28th, who were not at Chickamauga. He probably means the 25th.] and the 8th Kansas Infantry, who, in the confusion of the battle, had been separated from their commands, and stood in squads of from twenty to fifty, were addressed by the Major in a short and telling speech, urging them to remember Pea Ridge, Chaplin Hills and Stone River, and in defiance to the roar of the enemy’s artillery and musketry, rallied them around the colors of the 8th Kansas.”

I don’t know for sure if Private Demon Allen was one of those who rallied around the 8th’s flag, but I like to think he was.

Killian and I thank you for your service, Private Allen.