Archive for October, 2010

Wanna buy a cannonball?

October 27, 2010

A short walk up a small wooded hill on the southwest corner of the Chickamauga National Military Park will lead any reasonably ambitious battlefield trekker to a very unusual monument. It is a cement triangle with a single row of 8-inch cannonballs imbedded, and in the center, a small iron tablet bearing the name of Union Brigadier General William Haines Lytle. At first glance, it does not look like any other monument on the field.

It isn’t.

Once upon a time it did, but not any more.

This monument marks the spot where General Lytle was mortally wounded at midday on September 20th, 1863. Lytle’s Brigade, part of Sheridan’s Division, was then rushing to the fight in the immediate aftermath of the Confederate breakthrough, and slammed into elements of Major General Thomas C. Hindman’s Rebel infantry division. A desperate fight ensued, in which Lytle did not survive. His brigade was broken and retreated to the west. His body fell into Rebel hands, were a number of Confederate officers commented on seeing his body or trying to help him in his dying moments. His corpse was temporarily buried on the field near Hall’s Ford, alongside Hindman’s field hospital, until a party of Federals reclaimed him under a flag of truce and moved his remains to Cincinnati, where he was formally interred at Spring Grove Cemetery later that fall.

Originally, Lytle’s shell pyramid was like all the other mortuary monuments to fallen brigadiers. For some reason, however, the pyramid became the source for replacement 8″ shells for the other pyramids – probably because Lytle’s location was more out of the way than the others.

You see, originally, these pyramids were simply stacks of original shells, stacked loose. As such, they were relatively easy (if you call carrying an 8 inch shell easy) to carry off as souviners. Eventually, all the shells were replaced with cast concrete replicas and cemented in place, to prevent this kind of ‘borrowing.’ For some reason, however, Lytle’s monument did not get rebuilt. It sits today, just off the trail, in a small clearing atop the hill that now bears the Brigadier’s name.

As you might infer from the link, however, there is now an effort to restore to Lytle his due. The Sons of Union Veterans, Lytle Camp in Cincinnati have undertaken to raise the money to rebuild the pyramid. At $200 per recast cannonball, it’s going to take a fair amount of cash to get the job done, but if you were on the Chickamauga Study Group last year, you have now helped: I have applied $121 dollars of the money raised last year, in conjuction with another $500 or so raised by the Northern Illinois Civil War Round Table from their tour a couple of weeks ago, towards the project.

the Cincinnati SUV folks are partnered in this project with the Friends of Chickamauga, and donations are being accepted by the friends.

CCNMP 2011 Study Group

October 18, 2010

CCNMP Study Group 2011 tours

I have finalized the itinerary for Next March’s Study group. Here are the details of the walks. I will publish all the details (How to sign up, cost, etc) by the end of the week.

Friday: All Day, on bus

By Bus, we will explore the near-battle of McLemore’s Cove, or Davis’ Crossroads. We will trace both Union and Confederate actions between September 9th and 11th that led to two Union divisions being exposed to disaster in McLemore’s Cove, and how they escaped. We will explore the Confederate decisions of the time, and the strained command relationships that let this opportunity slip through Bragg’s fingers. We will also explore how a significant defeat in McLemore’s Cove might have effected subsequent Union movements, and whether or not the battle of Chickamauga would have been fought at all.

Saturday Morning: Viniard Field, on foot.

Between 1:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. on September 19th, 1863, a desperate struggle surged back and forth in and around the Viniard Farmstead. Elements of seven Union and five Confederate brigades struggled for control of the woods and fields in this sector, producing some of the most confused and bloodiest fighting of the entire Battle of Chickamauga. Tracking this swirling action can be extremely difficult, and interpretations vary on the exact sequence of events.

We intend to take the group through the action step-by-step, explaining why the fighting unfolded as it did, in an attempt to see the fight through the eyes of the various commanders attempting to manage it.

Saturday Afternoon: Mendenhall forms a line, on foot.

In the late morning of September 20th, just before disaster struck the Union lines at the Brotherton Farmstead, Major John Mendenhall assembled a line of Union cannon atop a ridge overlooking Dyer Field. Mendenhall was the Union XXI Corps chief of artillery, and had already won notable fame for his used of massed guns at Stones River. There his cannon effectively shattered a Confederate attack on January 2nd, 1863, winning him a reputation as a heroic, even visionary gunner.

On September 20th, Mendenhall’s guns would not fare as well. Lacking infantry support and forced into a last-ditch effort to stop the Confederate breakthrough, many of Mendenhall’s guns would fall into Confederate hands that day. Several of the batteries involved were the same ones whose tales we told of their fight in Viniard Field in our morning walk.

We will discuss not only the formation of this line and the tactical outcome, but spend some time exploring the larger implications it raises in trying to determine William Starke Rosecrans’ intentions for his army’s constantly shifting right flank.


October 10, 2010

In the process of trying to figure out the 7th Indiana vs. 8th Indiana battery confusion, I also had to resolve the presence and actions of yet one more battery, the 6th Ohio. In the process, I found both an impressive tactical performance and and interesting character.

The 6th Ohio came onto the field at about 3:00 p.m., with the rest of Tom Wood’s 1st Division, 21st Corps, up from Lee and Gordons Mills. When the division halted along the Lafayette Road behind Heg’s and Carlin’s Brigades, the battery stopped as well, about 150 yards south of the Viniard farmstead. They remained limbered. Captain Cullen Bradley, who commanded the 6th, was also the divisional artillery chief; though in combat his battery usually operated with Harker’s brigade. At this point Bradley left the 6th to ride forward and confer with Harker and Wood.

A little later, Harker was sent into the woods farther north, eventually to outflank Rebels in Brotherton Field and help close the breach torn open by A.P. Stewart’s attack. The 6th, however, did not go with. Instead, they remained in the road for some time, awaiting orders.

The battle reached them sometime around 4:00 p.m. when Heg’s line collapsed, routing through Buell’s brigade to their rear; all just north of Bradley’s position. nearly simultaneously, Samuel Beatty’s brigade was enfiladed and routed, running through Carlin’s regiments. In short order, four Union brigades were temporarily all but destroyed as combat effectives.

The Rebels delivering this blow were Robertson’s Texans, though other Confederate regiments played a role (Trigg and the 6th Florida, some of Gregg’s regiments, etc.) With the infantry in retreat, the artillery was exposed.

As noted, the section of the 7th Indiana was temporarily abandoned. The 2nd Minnesota and 3rd Wisconsin shifted position. The 8th Indiana limbered, breaking through some of their own infantry (Buell’s Brigade, principally the 58th Indiana) and fled to the rear. Rifle fire from the 4th and 5th Texas swept through the 8th Indiana’s left section, killing enough horses to prevent one gun from escaping – it was abandoned on the field.

The 6th Ohio also fell back, ultimately taking up position along Wilder’s line about 200 yards west of the Lafayette Road. They suffered few losses.

However, this was not because they were not in the thick of things. The 6th was menaced by attacks from the 1st Texas and 3rd Arkansas, sweeping to close with Buell’s routing line. The 100th Illinois delivered a charge into the teeth of these onrushing Rebels, which provided at best a temporary check. Bradley and the 6th, however, were up to the task.

Bradley ordered the battery to retreat by section, firing as they went. The last section did so via prolonge, a fairly desperate technique that in this case worked like a charm. Firing and then being dragged back by hand, the guns of the last section negotiated the ditch (later famous as Benning’s ‘ditch of death’) and then the low breastworks flung up the night before by the 17th Indiana. In thinking about this manuever, I was struck by how effective and professional it was. It seemed more like the performance of a regular army unit than a volunteer battery. No slight is meant to the Volunteers, but the regulars sometimes brought an unmatched sense of hard-bitten professionalism to the task at hand that made RA units just a little bit more capable than their citizen-soldier counterparts.

Time for a little digging.

It turns out that Captain Cullen Bradley must have known his stuff. In 1861, he was First Sergeant Cullen Bradley of Battery D, 2nd US artillery. He enlisted in the regulars in 1846, rising through the ranks of Batteries B and D of the 2nd, to become top sergeant.

Bradley was born in North Carolina. His family moved to Lebanon Tennessee when he was young. He joined the army apparently out of a sense of patriotism, saw service in Mexico, and liked it well enough to stay on. More unusually, he was allowed to resign in 1861 to accept a Captain’s commission and take command of the 6th Ohio. My understanding is that few enlisted men were allowed to resign (as opposed to officers, who resigned in droves to take state commissions at much higher rank.) The 6th Ohio was being formed by John Sherman of Ohio, who intended to raise an entire brigade of infantry, cavalry, and artillery. Several regular officers were connected with this effort, since Sherman wanted to instill a sense of professionalism in his new command. Charles Harker was one such regular, and apparently he helped get Bradley into captain’s bars.

That effort paid off. Bradley and the 6th performed very well at Stone’s River, and he was Wood’s divisional artillery chief for several years. the 6th was often praised for their discipline and drill, as well as for their combat skills.

Bradley left the service in February, 1865, when the battery was mustered out. He’d gotten married the previous year, and, having been a soldier for 20 years, he settled in Clay County Indiana, and took up farming.

I’d like to know more about him. He wrote at least one article for the National Tribune, and I am now very curious to see if I can find any of his papers. They are not at the Indiana State Library, the Historical Society, or any of the major Universities, but they might well be in a county historical society. The most likely candidates are either Clay or Putnam Counties, Indiana.

The more I think of it, the more impressed I am with the 6th. Nice work in a tight spot.

CCNMP Study Group 2011

October 10, 2010

It’s time to start thinking about next March’s tours. This coming Spring, on Friday’s bus tour, we are going to spend the day on McLemore’s Cove and Davis’ Crossroads. This affair has to be one of the more discussed “lost opportunities” in civil war writing, and shows off the dysfunctional Army of Tennessee at its finest(?) We will do a fair amount of driving in the Cove, to get a sense of the terrain and the potential trap facing the Federals.

On Saturday morning, we will focus on the extremely confused fighting around the Viniard Farm. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I have spent a lot of time thinking (and re-thinking) through the sequence of events here. It’s one of the most confused parts of a very confused battle. leadership above the brigade level for either side is essentially non-existant. The Rebel commanders all go elsewhere, and while at least three divisional and one corps commander are present on the Union side, Federal actions are anything but co-ordinated.

My intent on Viniard is to take us through the fight step by step, focusing primarily on the Federal side, in order to try and present as clear a narrative as possible. There are some really dramatic stories that emerge from this sector of the field, and I hope to be able to share a number of them with everyone.

I am still trying to decide if Viniard will take all of Saturday, or if we will do something else on Saturday afternoon. Several of the Yankee batteries involved at Viniard’s also have a dramatic story to tell on September 20th, and I am thinking that we could finish them off in the PM.

On the other hand, I am still open to Saturday afternoon suggestions, so drop me a line if you have a burning desire to focus on something else.

pending confirmation with the Park, right now the dates for the Study Group are Friday and Saturday, March 11-12, 2011. Cost will be about the same, and we will reserve a bus for Friday. Saturday, of course, is all about the foot-slogging.

See you there. I will publish a formal announcement soon.