Archive for May, 2012

History of the Warren Light Artillery

May 29, 2012

History of the Warren Light Artillery

Captain Charles Swett commanded the Warren Light Artillery, from Vicksburg, MS; and at Chickamauga, served as St. John Liddell’s divisional artillery chief. His ‘battalion’ consists of only two batteries – 8 guns – his own and that of William Fowler’s Alabamians. Like most gunners at Chickamauga, he had little opportunity to fight, and when he did find a place to drop trail, more likely than not he would be forced to think fast if he wanted to save his pieces.

In fact, each of his batteries temporarily lost a gun on the evening of September 20th, to the Mad Russian (John Basil Turchin) in the field directly north of the modern visitor’s center. Those guns were re-captured, because Turchin’s men were breaking out to Rossville from what they saw as an encirclement, and not interesting in trophy-hunting.

I bring up Swett because he penned a memoir that covers Chickamauga in some detail, and has a lot to say about Hill. Above is a link to a transcribed copy.


though the memoir was written when Swett was 80, it is clearly based on a diary or other more contemporary account. the detail matches very well with other accounts.

Mike Sweet, who transcribed this account, notes that Swett was a graduate of West Point and a serving artillery officer in the U S Army before secession, but resigned to go south. Unfortunately, none of that can be corroborated: neither West Point or Heitman’s biographical register of army officers shows him as either cadet or lieutenant. I contacted Mike, and he told me that information comes from a file at the Old Courthouse Museum in Vicksburg, but he has no further information either.

I find myself become really interested in this little condundrum. Was Swett a West Pointer? Or is that just family legend…

Up Came Hill…

May 16, 2012

Nathan Towne has posted two very interesting comments concerning my less than complimentary comments concerning Daniel Harvey Hill. Instead of replying in the comments section there, I thought I would offer up my position a little more clearly in a separate post.

I find Hill to be very problematic during his time with the AOT. I understand and am familiar with his work back in Virginia, and think, frankly, that under a man like Lee he might well have become a solid corps commander. I think he would have ultimately done much better than AP Hill managed, for example.

But the combination of unfamiliar circumstances and personality clashes that came about with his transfer to the already dysfunctional Army of Tennessee, however, meant that Hill was one of the worst possible candidates for that army. The AOT needed positive leadership, not pessimism.

Nor do I fault Hill overly much for the spectacular failure of the whole command apparatus on the night of September 19-20, either. I would concur that Polk is more at fault than Hill, though Hill is not entirely blameless. Hill’s failings in corps command are much larger than just the one incident, however.

In the first week of September, Hill wanted to cross the Tennessee River at Chattanooga and attack “Crittenden’s Corps” while Rosecrans was moving to the south. Hill not only mis-read the situation completely, mistaking two infantry brigades for a corps, but he advocated putting at least half of Bragg’s army on the wrong side of the river so that the AOT would have to fight with its back to the Tennessee, instead of the other way round. This is, IMO, a basic strategic blunder. While the obvious solution was to turn on one of Rosecrans’ isolated columns, crossing to the north bank of the Tennessee to do so was a very flawed idea of how to execute that basic strategy.

Hill’s performance at La Fayette in the second week of September is also quite poor. Not only was he unready to join in Bragg’s intended attack on Negley when ordered to; it seems clear that he invented excuses about why he could not do so. In fact, he didn’t want to attack Negley, and so invented reasons (blocked passes, Cleburne being sick) to not do so. Instead, Hill was overly fixated on McCook’s threat from the south.

This fixation continued up to at least the 13th. Hill’s panicky messages to Bragg while the AOT commander was trying to get Polk to attack at Lee & Gordon’s Mills completely mis-read what the Union XX Corps was doing at Alpine. In fact, Hill painted such an alarming picture of the threat that Bragg ordered the entire army back to La Fayette on the 14th, a move that delayed what ultimately became the battle of Chickamauga by three days and allowed McCook the time needed to re-join the Federal main body.

Hill struck a similar note on September 17th, when he reported a major Federal crossing at Owen’s Ford, aimed at Bragg’s supply line to La Fayette. This crossing was completely imaginary. It is a good thing that Bragg ignored it. If He had reacted, he would have again been marching south instead of north, exactly the wrong direction to cut Rosecrans off from Chattanooga, and dangerously weakening his main blow intended for the 18th.

I will say only this about Hill’s inability to find anyone’s HQ on the night of the 19th; I am bemused why he could not simply go back to Bragg that night, instead of riding around aimlessly. He knew where Bragg’s HQ was – after all, he’d been there at noon, when he reported in and got orders to shift Cleburne northward. No matter what Polk’s failings were that night, a trip to Bragg would have at least clarified what was supposed to happen on the morning of the 20th.

As to that attack on the 20th, I find fault both with Hill’s decision to array all six brigades in a single line instead of at least forming both divisions in a two-up-one-back deployment; or better yet, each division in columns of brigade. Each battle line was far too long to effectively control as deployed, and Hill made absolutely no provision for reserves. Hill later claimed that this was Bragg’s fault, but there is good evidence that Hill had considerable latitude in deciding how to deploy Breckinridge and Cleburne.

Hill compounded his formational problems by refusing to allow Walker to deploy effectively, and indulging in a completely bizarre argument on the morning of the 20th, effectively refusing all but one of Walker’s brigades when they were presented to him as supports for his attack that morning. Hill might be the only ACW general I know of who was incensed because he was given too many reinforcements.

Many of Adams’s and Stovall’s men paid for that bit of hubris with their lives. That sort of pique is unforgivable in a commander.

So yes, I am pretty hard on D.H. Hill.

I will also say that Dr. Glenn Robertson is if anything, harder on Hill. My first exposure to some of these ideas came from Dr. Robertson while auditing one of his CGSC courses back in 2004. It was Glenn who had his officer-students examine and analyze that inexplicable morning conference between Walker, Hill, and Polk; which resulted in a fair amount of incredulity among those same officers.

Thank you, Nathan, for a very thought-provoking couple of posts.


May 12, 2012

Thanks, Marc and Chris, for touching base.

Yes, it has been a while. Things have been a bit hectic lately, which explains my absence.

First, my aunt passed on at the end of March, shortly after the study group, and so I had to go to Kentucky for her funeral. Three weeks later, my mother – her sister – passed on as well. My mother’s passing was not unexpected, but of course, that doesn’t really make it any easier on everyone. I’ve been trying to spend more time with my father (who is 84, and in good health) as a result, since he has been left suddenly alone after 50 years of marraige. this is a big change for all of us.

Then there is the f act that we sold/merged the family business, with not just one but two other courier companies. We split off parts of our customer base to match them with the couriers who could best serve their needs, but doing that simultaneously with two seperate companies quadruples an already complex task workload.

Plus we are trying to liquidate the remaining business stuff, like selling off cars, selling the building, etc. Lots of work there, as well.

All delivery companies are going through big changes these days, what with the rise of the internet and increasingly easy digital delivery of even very large information files. Like the Post office or Kodak, we are less critical to the business world these days. For instance, I and my lawyer, my new partner and his lawyer, all negotiated and signed the contract for one of these deals entirely via email, no face to face or document hard copy delivery needed. In days of yore, my services as the letter carrier would have been critical to such a deal.

Then there is the book. I am trying to still find time to spend on it, as it is the most fun thing I am doing right now. I have about 50 of 55 chapters written, with about 410,000 words on the page (also digital, go figure.:)) and I am doing a pretty serious edit currently. I beleive that I will be finished with a full draft by late summer or early fall. I think it is coming along really well, but there is always more to do.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have blog post ideas. I do. Time to research and write them is what’s lacking. for example, in reading Watkins’ Company Aytch, I came across a reference to Colonel Hopalyte Oladowski, Bragg’s Polish-born ordnance officer. What was interesting about that was the fact that Watkins obviously confused Oladowski with the Perfidious Frenchman, Major Nocquet: Watkins claimed that at the end of the war, Oladowski stole a uniform from Bragg and deserted – which, in Oladowski’s case, wasn’t true. Nocquet deserted, stealing a payroll.

All of which got me looking at Oladowski, only to discover that there isn’t much on him. I’d like to do more digging on the man, but time is – as ever – the issue.

I think I will be on a more even keel going forward, which means I can start posting again.

Dave Powell