Archive for August, 2010

Things to do in Fort Oglethorpe when you’re dead…(with apologies to Warren Zevon)

August 22, 2010

I try and visit Chickamauga every September, on the anniversary of the battle. I like to connect with the park staff whenever possible, and I also like to see the field at the right time of year. The Park usually organizes a program of tours, demonstrations, and events as well. This year is no different:

147th Anniversary Weekend

I intend to be at the park on Friday September 17th and Saturday, the 18th. I want to explore Viniard Field in more depth, do a little research, catch a demo or two, Watch my friends sweat in all that wool – that sort of thing.

I admit I will probably not be attending the “War Between The States Barbeque Contest” being held at the Gordon-Lee Mansion on Saturday, but it sounds like fun, if a bit of a mouthful. I don’t think that there is a reenactment this year, but that’s OK by me, too. I have largely moved on from the reenactment scene; and never really enjoyed them as a spectator. I’d rather be on the real field. I once went to a big reenactment at Shiloh, spent a week camping next to the place in a cow pasture, and never managed to actually get to the park. I started to realize then that I needed to get my priorities in order.

If you’re at the park, and see me, stop and say Hi. I might be the guy staring at the big map in the lobby, trying to work out something, or watching Jim Ogden push his blue and gray markers around as he explains something. I love that map. Wish I had space for one in my house…

Please come visit Chickamauga that weekend. The park gets used for all sorts of activities – running, riding, hiking, and the like – that make it valuable to different communites for different purposes. but it still needs visitors interested in the original reason it came to be: to study the battle and honor the veterans.

Who was that masked Battery?

August 21, 2010

In recent weeks I have been carefully working through a detailed narrative of the Viniard Fighting on September 19th, 1863. I keep saying that Chickamauga is complicated, and nothing proves that more than the fight here. The Study Group is going to examine this fight next March, and I figure I should have my facts correct when we do.

Along the way, I have come to realize that one of my key assumptions, now made permanent by the fact that I have set it to paper in The Maps Of Chickamauga, is incorrect. Get me some whiteout, stat!

(and whatever you do, nobody send this link to the publisher)

In the course of this action, the 6th Florida Infantry launched a charge across Viniard Field in an effort to capture a Union battery. This was supposed to be a brigade charge, but this being Chickamauga, not everyone got the word, and when brigade commander Robert Trigg set out across the field, he soon discovered that only one regiment – the 6th – followed him.

The 6th took 402 men into the fight, and lost 165 in this charge. They were subject to a crossfire from Union artillery and infantry, and as a result took a terrible pounding. Despite this loss, their regimental commander felt sure they could have taken the Union battery they were targetting had they been supported.

The 6th’s Colonel, J. J. Finley, asserted that they came near enough to the Federal cannon to pour a “well directed fire” upon them, forcing the crews to flee, “leaving the guns unmanned and the battery flag cut down.” Then, that support not coming, Finley was forced back himself, taking 40% losses in the process. (the 6th lost a total of 186 men in the battle, but the remaining 21 fell elsewhere.)

Which Union battery was this? I have assumed it was the 8th Indiana, of Buell’s brigade, Wood’s Division, XXI Corps. Buell was newly arrived on the field, in line along the Lafayette Road, with friendly troops ahead of him (Carlin’s men) when he was taken by surprise. His front line and his battery were routed. It seemed a natural fit.

Not everyone has agreed. Peter Cozzens, in This Terrible Sound, has Finley charging the 2nd Minnesota and 3rd Wisconsin Batteries, much farther to the south. Th only problem with this theory is that neither battery seemed to notice that they were being attacked. The 2nd Minnesota lost two men wounded for the whole battle. The 3rd Wisconsin did indeed suffer more severely – losing several guns and 26 men killed, wounded, and missing; but not until the next day and about 3/4 of a mile or more to the northwest.

In short, neither battery was seriously threatened during the fight in Viniard Field. Now it’s possible that Finley was just waxing enthusiastic, but he’s pretty specific.

Moreover, the commander of the 2nd Minnesota (and divisional artillery chief) Captain William Hotchkiss reported that an Indiana Battery did indeed rout (the drivers became panic-stricken, he wrote) leaving the guns on the field.

Ergo, I thought, the 8th Indiana. They were on the 2nd Minn’s left, several hundred yards to the north, reported getting overrun and leaving guns, all the pieces fit.

Except one. William Estep, commanding the 8th, reported that his battery unlimbered near the Lafayette Road just in front of the Viniard cabin, half of his guns in the woods and half in the field. That’s were the marker and the tubes are today.

That position is a little too far north, however, to fit my needs. In the end, I decided that the 8th was a bit further south than reported, and simply moved them on my map. I didn’t have another answer, so that would have to do.

But there’s another Indiana battery – or at least a section – in this fight, though it is unreported, unremarked, unmonumented, and, obviously, unnoticed; at least by me.

Two guns of the 7th Indiana battery were left behind at Lee and Gordon’s Mills when Van Cleve’s Division was ordered north on the morning of the 19th to go support Palmer’s Division as they became engaged in Brock Field. Van Cleve was then busy guarding the crossing, and while other troops were supposed to be on the way to replace him, they hadn’t arrived yet, so Van Cleve left a brigade and eight cannon – all of the 3rd Wisconsin and this section of the 7th Indiana – behind, with instructions to come up when they could.

Working through all of the artillery reports as I tried to peice together Viniard, I noticed that Major John Mendenhall (chief of artillery, XXI Corps) mentions that he placed the section of the 7th in the field “in the rear of where Wood’s division entered the woods.” Or, in other words, out in the field south of Buell’s Brigade, but north of the 2nd Minnesota. Bingo.

These had to be the Indiana guns that Hotchkiss mentioned. He wasn’t talking about the 8th at all. Since Hotchkiss never mentions the exact unit designation, I just assumed he was talking about the 8th.

This section found itself all alone out in the middle of the Viniard field when what seemed to be an entire brigade of Rebels charged them. No wonder they ran. Hotchkiss complained that their limbers crashed though his gun line, and for a moment endangered the 2nd Minnesota’s left section, but no real damage was done: the Floridians fell back when it became obvious they weren’t going to get any support.

The wayward section then reclaimed its guns and immediately left to go find the rest of their battery, commanded by Captain George R. Swallow, who was then deployed up in Brotherton Field. The section commander must not have told his boss about nearly losing his two cannon, because Swallow reported nothing about them being engaged in Viniard field.

And so another little piece falls into place. It would have been nice if I noticed this earlier, but hey, fodder for a second edition, right?

As icing on the cake, I mis-identify this section as one from the 26th PA, as well – which is completely wrong.

I sure would like to find an account of this section’s adventures somewhere, but so far, the written record is silent. No memoirs, no unit history, no newspapers, etc. As usual, if someone has a treasure trove of documents about the 7th Indiana Battery, please let me know.

Additions to the library…

August 1, 2010

The March tour usually raises some extra cash over and above the bus expense, and in the past I’ve used that extra money to add to the park Library. Currently, the Park does not have a budget line item for new research or enhancing their library. They rely on donations, basically.

This year I’ve been watching for titles that would be appropriate. First and foremost, I would like to thank Tom Clemens for sharing some of the Carman Papers from the New York Public Library with me. Carman, while most famous for his work at Antietam, also served at Chickamauga-Chattanooga, and acquired a fair amount of material on those battles. His papers are in several locations, including the Library of Congress, the NYPL, and up in Boston, I believe. Tom provided me with some very interesting pdf files of material, and in exchange I used some of our funds to help defray his costs. The most interesting part of this material seems to be some correspondence on Resaca, which was unexpected, but welcome.

I’ve also bought, at the park’s request, “The Great Blue Army Wagon” By Thomas Lindmier, which is just what you’d expect – a history of the army transport wagon. Not great armchair reading, but indespensible if you are, say, busy recreating or restoring civil war wagons.:) I hope the park staff spend many happy hours buring in this tome.

I’ve come across a new regimental history of the 99th Ohio, “A Shouting of Orders” by kevin McCray; it includes some nice, previously unused primary sources from the unit.

Another recent purchase is Kenneth Hafendorfer’s book on the Battle of Richmond, KY, which the park also asked for.

It was out of print, but I found a used copy on Amazon which should do the trick.

I still have a fair amount of money left to spend, so I will entertain suggestions. There are several more titles requested by the park guys, as well, that I am tracking down. Suggestions should have some connection to the battles at Chickamauga-Chattanooga, or to units who fought there, etc.

It’s always a lot of fun to track down these things, and I’m also pleased that the money we raise in March provides additional permanent resources for the park, staff, and visitors alike.

Now if we could just fund a librarian…Mr. Ogden needs some help in organizing his collection.