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.

 

“a drink out of his enormous flask…”

May 14, 2017

I’ve been away a while. I’ve sort of been digesting the publication of Volume 3, and all the work entailed in the entire Chickamauga Campaign Trilogy over the past three years.

But historical stuff still catches my eye:

Whitaker, Miller Photo History

Back in 2010 I posted about Union Brigadier General Walter Whitaker, speculating on whether or not he was drunk on Horseshoe Ridge, September 20, 1863.

At the time I concluded that I didn’t find the accusation credible, but I did note that there were other such accusations. One such charge was lodged against the Kentuckian at in the Battle of Lookout Mountain, November 24, 1863.

In that engagement, Whitaker’s brigade supported Brigadier General John W. Geary’s division of the Union 12th Corps. Geary’s men swept the western and northern faces of the mountain clear of Mississippians belonging to Edward C. Walthall’s brigade, charged with defending Lookout’s lower plateau. Near the end of that fight, as Geary’s division bogged down near the Cravens House, Whitaker’s regiments charged through Geary’s line – mainly through the New Yorkers of Col. David Ireland’s brigade – to outflank a newly arrived brigade of Alabamians.

IMG_1747

The Cravens House

One of those New Yorkers was Lt. Albert R. Greene of the 78th New York, Aide-de-Camp to Col. Ireland at the time.

In 1890, Greene delivered an oration before the Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society, describing the Battle of Lookout Mountain. His essential point was the Ireland’s men did all the fighting, barely mentioning even his comrades in the other two brigades of Geary’s division. As for “Whitaker,” said Greene, he “was drunk; not fighting drunk, but complacently so.” Far from charging through Ireland’s line to engage the Alabamians at the Cravens House, Greene merely stated that “Whitaker . . . had gotten onto the plateau somehow.” There Greene found them “on the plateau, with stacked arms, the men resting. I tried to explain our urgent needs, and implored him to lend us a single regiment. He replied that his troops had carried the mountain, and had gone into camp, and that the battle was over. I hastened to report to Ireland, who went to Whitaker, begging aid. But all the aid that Whitaker would render was to offer a drink out of an enormous flask that he had slung to him. The two had a very sharp quarrel; but the tipsy brigadier persisted that the battle was over . . .”

Greene went on to insist that Ireland’s men never saw any relief, that no other troops supported them during the battle, and further, that Ireland had no idea that there were even any troops deployed to support them.

All in all, curious charges.

Leaving aside for the moment the question of their commander’s degree of inebriation, the historical record is pretty clear that Whitaker’s men were engaged at the Cravens House. They certainly suffered losses in about equal proportion: Geary reported 138 casualties out of about 2400 engaged; while Whitaker’s 6 regiments lost 82 men out of roughly 1450 engaged. (Even Geary’s own reported noted 52.) The regimental reports clearly reflect a spirited fight. Several regimental accounts mention Whitaker being in the thick of that action.

IMG_1717

It is impossible to square Greene’s account with the Official Records or the histories of those regiments who participated in the fight. It’s true that neither Geary nor Ireland give Whitaker much mention in their own reports, but some of Ireland’s regiments do a better job of describing Whitaker’s involvement, and the regimental reports from Whitaker’s brigade offer considerable detail as well.

IMG_1736

And herein lies the trouble with Greene’s anecdote, as colorful as it is. Greene is clearly mistaken on virtually every detail of what happened at the Cravens house. He reserved full and complete credit for all the fighting to Ireland’s men, ignoring almost every other Federal on the mountain. His account is easily refuted by copious evidence to the  contrary. And if he is so wrong about all those details, why should we assume he is spot on with regards to Whitaker’s drunkenness? Especially since it is not supported by any other account?

Now I suspect that Whitaker had a reputation for being a man who liked his bourbon – he was a Kentuckian after all. But so did many other officers; It was an era when drinking was much more acceptable – as long as you did not appear incapacitated.

It is interesting to note that in his modern work on the 6th Kentucky Infantry, the regiment Whitaker commanded before stepping up to a brigade, historian Joseph Reinhart found no accounts of Whitaker being intoxicated.

So what prompted Greene’s claims? Well, there was the matter of two Confederate cannon captured at the Cravens House, first by Ireland’s men, and then by two regiments of Whitaker’s line. Cannons were always trophies, and time and again, we see post-battle disputes arising between rival claimants. Then there is the matter of Easterners Vs. Westerners; Geary’s 12 Corps men came west to “save” the defeated Army of the Cumberland troops, who later strongly insisted that they did not need any “saving.” Rivalries can be persistent.

IMG_1725

The Trophies

So once again I am left with the same conclusion: I really don’t know if Whitaker was too drunk to command his men effectively on November 24, 1863; but I don’t feel Greene’s account accurately describes what happened at the Cravens House either.

Such are the small mysteries and loose threads of history’s tapestry.

 

CCNMP Study Group Update

January 30, 2017

Dear Study Group:

First if all, let me say thank you!

As of today, January 30, Friday’s Bus is SOLD OUT. 

If you have questions about whether or not you have a reservation, stay tuned. Check your bank to see if your check has cleared; I have only cashed the checks of those with confirmed spaces. If I receive additional reservation requests going forward, I will contact you personally to inform you that there is no additional space.

If you still want to attend Friday’s tour, I suggest the following:

Join the group at 8 am on Friday, at the Visitor’s Center. At that time, I will know of any cancellations, and will let folks know if there is additional space. Even if there is not space, you can still follow the bus in your personal vehicle, and meet us when we stop for interpretation. We will be spending a lot of time dismounted on the Resaca battlefield, so you will still be able to enjoy the stylings of Mr Jim Ogden and my own, less articulate contributions.

Saturday is of course, free and open to all.

this is the earliest we have ever filled the bus, and I am grateful for everyone’s continued interest in the group.

 

“Git! The Woods are full of Yanks!”

January 29, 2017

“Git! The woods are full of Yanks!”

With those words, mounted troopers from the 10th Confederate Cavalry pounded back into the morning sunlight of the fields around Jay’s steam Sawmill, disrupting the remainder of Brig. Gen. Henry B. Davidson’s cavalry brigade.

jaysmilllookingnorth1

the site of Jay’s Mill

The Yanks in question belonged to Col. John T. Croxton’s brigade, advancing through the timber towards Jay’s Mill. The time was approximately 7:30 a.m., September 19, 1863. Though the previous day, September 18, had already seen substantial fighting, and there had already been significant skirmishing prior to 7:00 a.m. on the 19th, this particular encounter has often been erroneously pegged as the “beginning” of the battle of Chickamauga.

The Chickamauga Study group has walked this ground many times, and explored many of the stories surrounding that fateful engagement.

But there are always more stories. After all, roughly 130,000 men were engaged at Chickamauga.

1st-georgia-cavalry

1st Georgia Cavalry monument

This story is about two of those people – Benjamin F. Hunt and William R. Hunt, both members of Company F, the 1st Georgia Cavalry. They were father and son; Benjamin was 43 at the time of the battle, his firstborn son William, a stripling at 17.

The Hunts lived in the small community of East Armuchee Valley, Walker County, in Georgia. According to the 1860 Census they were farmers; Benjamin, his wife Susan, five boys and two daughters. In the 1860s, Armuchee was pretty remote, located in the far southeast corner of Walker County. Today it is still quite rural, and one of the prettiest spots in northwest Georgia – reminiscent of another very scenic locale: McLemore’s Cove.

Benjamin F. Hunt enlisted in the 8th Georgia Infantry Battalion as a private, but he was elected to major in May 6, 1862. He then served in that capacity until he resigned on March 30, 1863. Hunt offered no specific reason for his resignation, noting only that “Circumstances rendered it necessary.” Presumably this meant problems at home, though he was absent sick for a time in August 1862.

Perhaps it was because his oldest son, William, was also absent from home. William joined the cavalry in March, 1862, despite being only two months past his 16th birthday. This left Susan alone at home with six children, several of whom were still infants or toddlers.

Benjamin presumably spent that summer at home in Walker County; where he would have been aware of the looming Union invasion of North Georgia. A man named B. F. Hunt sold a large quantity of oats and 120 pounds of bacon to the Confederate Army that summer, receipted at Dalton and Catoosa, respectively.

What is known that he re-enlisted for “three years or the war” on August 4, 1863; joining the 1st Georgia Cavalry, then stationed at Sweetwater Tennessee – about halfway between Chattanooga and Knoxville. He enrolled in Company F, alongside his son, as a private.

Benjamin could have just as easily joined one of the home-guard cavalry companies that were being called into service that August, answering the Governor’s mobilization order; several such were organized in Walker County.

On September 19, the 1st Georgia was serving in Davidson’s (until recently, John Pegram’s) brigade of Forrest’s Cavalry Corps. Davidson’s command included the 10th Confederate, 1st and 6th Georgia, 6th North Carolina, and Rucker’s Tennessee Legion; all cavalry. Most of the 1st Georgia was dispatched not to face Croxton, but up the Reed’s Bridge Road to deploy as skirmishers against Ferdinand Van Derveer’s Federal brigade. The 1st Georgia numbered about 295 men that day;  they suffered 10 identified casualties. 3 men were killed, 7 wounded. Benjamin Hunt was one of the wounded, which proved mortal. He died that night.

hunt-grave

On September 20th, 17-year old William brought his father’s body home, a 42 mile journey from Jay’s Mill to Armuchee.  Susan’s subsequent pension application stated that Benjamin’s body was “pierced through and bloody.” He was buried in the family cemetery in Villanow, Georgia.

William survived the war, but by only  few years. He died in 1870, aged 24; of consumption.

Susan lived until 1899, survived by only 3 of her seven children.

Thanks go to Dr. Keith Bohannon for information about the Hunts and the inspiration for this post.

 

 

Chickamauga Study Group quick update:

January 19, 2017

Just a quick note – the Study Group now has 36 sign-ups. We are slightly ahead of last year. Don’t forget to send that check!

See you all in March

Major Williard G. Eaton and the 13th Michigan Infantry

January 15, 2017

Civil War tourism is often about connections. Certainly it is for me.

The field pictured below was taken at Bentonville North Carolina in October, 2016. It is a fairly innocuous image; it could be of anywhere, in any number of states.

eaton-field

But I find it a significant place. Here Major Willard G. Eaton of the 13th Michigan Infantry was killed on March 19, 1865, a scant month before Appomattox and Durham Station brought the Civil War virtually to an end. A few skirmishes and an additional surrender or two were still in the future, but the major fighting was over.

Eaton, nominally still a major, had been the acting colonel of his regiment since February, and was leading it forward into action at the moment of his death.

I need not describe his role at Bentonville, the North Carolina state park website has done a fine job of that here:

Besides, this blog is devoted to all things Chickamauga. And Chickamauga is where I first met Major Eaton.

The 13th Michigan faced a brutal fight in that earlier action; blooded on both September 19 and 20, 1863. They entered the battle on the afternoon of the 19th down in Viniard Field, facing off mainly against Hood’s Texans. They suffered a heavy loss that day, including the wounding of Colonel Joshua Culver. Eaton assumed command.

13th-michigan

the 13th Michigan monument, Viniard Field

Eaton and his men faced their toughest moment the next day, in Brotherton Field. The 13th Michigan belonged to Buell’s Brigade, of Tom Wood’s division; it was their fate to be caught in the very center of the maelstrom that was the Confederate breakthrough, shortly before noon on September 20.

brothertonmidnecornerlookingssw

Brotherton Cabin and Field

They were not in line. Instead, they were moving to the left, marching in column, with the brigade battery (the 8th Indiana light artillery) just to their west.  the 26th Ohio was close by.

When struck, the 13th and 26th fronted, and opened fire. the 26th Ohio then began a fighting retreat back through the timber and towards Dyer Field. Eaton and the 13th made a gutsy move. Eaton  ordered a charge  – directly into the teeth of Bushrod Johnson’s advancing Confederate brigade (currently commanded by Col. John S. Fulton) which outnumbered the battered 13th by a ratio of about four to one.

There are plenty of such moments in the war where the men simply refuse to advance, into what looks like the very jaws of death. In this case, that didn’t happen. The 13th followed, 130 bayonets strong, and slammed into Fulton’s ranks. Surprisingly, the Rebels gave ground.

Eaton was not indulging in reckless heroics. He had a plan. As Fulton’s men fell back, Eaton ordered the 13th to break off their charge and fall back, firing; emulating the 26th Ohio.

the 13th Michigan’s charge bought enough time for both the Wolverine regiment and the 26th Ohio to retreat in an organized fashion. They came to rest on the west side of Dyer Field, supporting a Union gun line. There they would face another desperate fight, outnumbered and almost alone, until they finally were forced to fall back through McFarland’s Gap.

The 13th Michigan took 220 men into action at Chickamauga. Losses were 106 killed wounded or missing. they almost certainly would have been higher (especially in captured) if not for Major Eaton’s cool nerve on the battlefield.

 

2017 Study Group Update

January 2, 2017
waud_chickamauga

The 2016 Study Group facing a withering fire near Kelly Field

Hello all,

As of January 1st, sign-ups for the March 10-11 2017 Chickamauga Study Group are progressing well.

We have 21 reserved on the bus, out of 55 available seats. Since we usually get between 45 and 50 attendees, we are nearly halfway.

I also note that there are several familiar names who have professed an interest in going, but have not yet signed up. Don’t be Peter Procrastinator,  the guy who has to follow along behind the bus in his rental car because he forgot to get his check in on time!

For the details, follow this link: https://chickamaugablog.wordpress.com/2016/09/25/ccnmp-study-group-2017-seminar-in-the-woods/

Remember, all the money raised outside of necessary expenses (Bus rental and a little photocopying) goes towards preservation or National Military Park needs. Last year the $900 we donated was split between preserving acreage at Dalton through the Civil War Preservation Trust, and contributing to the Friends of the Park’s monument repair fund.

detail-13th-michigan-monument

Thank you, and see you all soon.

What’s in a name?

December 29, 2016

I’ve been on a short hiatus; the season has been busy. But I have some things lined up that should be appearing soon. until then, a bit about naming…

reeds

If you’ve heard of Chickamauga (and if you haven’t, how did you get here?) then I bet that t he very next phrase you saw or heard was “River of Death.” One follows the other, it seems, like day after night. Or maybe not.

No one really seems to know. But today I saw this article, written by Chuck Hamilton:

“Chickamauga does not mean “river of death”, or “bloody river”, or “dwelling place of the chief”, or ‘the stagnant stream”.  It is definitely not Cherokee, even the Cherokee themselves have always said that, nor is it likely Muskogean.  It almost certainly came from the closest allies of the Cherokee in the wars of the later 18th century, the Shawnee.”

Here’s the whole article, via The Chattanoogan.com

I find this sort of local history fascinating.