Search This Blog

Sunday, August 2, 2020

“Gentlemen, this is serious business.” A 57th Ohio Captain Recalls Kennesaw


Later this fall, Columbian Arsenal Press will be releasing Ohio Regimental Chronicles: 57th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry, 1861-65 by Robert Van Dorn. Bob has been a lifelong collector and student of the Civil War and this work on the 57th Ohio was originally issued as Narratives of the 57th O.V.V.I. in the early 2000s. Bob and I have been friends for many years and he had indicated an interest in re-visiting the regiment’s history and having his work republished as a hardbound book (the original was spiral-bound), so this project has been a labor of love for both of us. This updated version will feature newly discovered accounts and images that enhance the original work.  Anticipated release date in November 2020.


Today’s blog post provides a sample from this upcoming title. This account of the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia was penned by Captain Alvah Skilton of Co. I of the 57th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Skilton gives his  memories of the hours leading up the Federal assault on Kennesaw Mountain on June 27, 1864 and the desperate fight that ensured. As the senior captain in the regiment, Skilton was part of Colonel Americus V. Rice’s “inner circle” and described General Giles Smith’s instructions to the regimental commanders. Captain Skilton distinguished himself in this battle, noted for carrying the regimental colors off the field at the conclusion of the engagement as he describes below. Less than a month later, Captain Skilton would be captured during the Battle of Atlanta.

The 57th Ohio formed a part of General Giles Smith’s First Brigade of General Morgan L. Smith’s Second Division of “Black Jack” Logan’s 15th Army Corps. The brigade had seven depleted regiments in its ranks including the 55th Illinois, 111th Illinois, 116th Illinois, 127th Illinois, 6th Missouri, 8th Missouri, and 57th Ohio.

Captain Skilton’s account begins on the evening of June 26, 1864; he with the commanding officers of the 57th Ohio are enjoying a quiet dinner sitting around a camp chest in the Georgia forest when a courier arrived with an order…

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Horrors of War: A Chicago Gunner at Shiloh


The following intense and detailed battle account from Private James W. Milner of Battery A, 1st Illinois Light Artillery was written mere days after the Battle of Shiloh. Milner wrote with pride and sorrow of how his battery repeatedly engaged the enemy, but was forced to retreat, leaving a trail of dead and wounded comrades. Losses ran so high that by the second day of the battle, the battery only had men enough to man three of its six guns. His account was originally published in the April 18, 1862 edition of the Chicago Tribune.
 
Grant's last line of defense at Shiloh
Also known the at Chicago Light Artillery, Battery A belonged to Brigadier General William H.L. Wallace’s Second Division of General U.S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee. Under the command of First Lieutenant Peter P. Wood, the battery carried four 6-lb smoothbores and two 12-lb howitzers into action at Shiloh on April 6, 1862. The battery suffered heavily, losing four men killed and 26 wounded out of the 90 men engaged. It also lost 47 horses killed.

Pittsburg, Tennessee
April 11, 1862

Dear Father:
I thank God that I am still preserved, and am still permitted to communicate with my friends at home with my own right hand.  We have at last has our wish for a hard battle gratified, and never again do I expect to hear the same wish from the lips of our men. We are just as ready now to do our duty as we ever were, but to desire another hard battle; with the same chances of loss to our company is quite a different thing. The papers will give you an account of the battle before this reaches you, and I am glad to learn that no steamer carried the news of the battle from here until we routed the enemy. You will learn the story of the battle in the papers, so I will only inform you in regard what I saw, heard, and felt during those two terrible days.

The Sabbath dawned upon us clear and warm. At watering call, I took a team of extra horses, of which I have charge, and after letting them drink in the brook, led them into a meadow to let them feed on the new grass. While there, I heard what sounded like skirmish firing and thought it best to hurry towards camp. Before I arrived there, however, there was no mistaking the sound and the boom of artillery was heard with the crack of musketry. I found the postilions throwing the harness on their horses, the cannoneers filling the ammunition chests, packing knapsacks, and getting in order to move. After we had taken our positions, numbers of wounded passed our camp and the cowards, just as they did at Donelson, were hurrying by reporting their regiments ‘all cut to pieces.’ Our men ridiculed them and shamed some of them into going back to the front. But soon Parsons Rumsey, a Chicago boy on Gen. William H.L. Wallace’s staff, brought orders for us to move to the front. With the 9th and 12th Illinois, we went to our position on the left. Donelson had taught us what we were to expect, and we approached the scene of action. A few shells burst around us as we neared the line, causing us to involuntarily start a little, and then to laugh at each other for it.

We were now put in position as a reserve; in a place where we had received the severest shelling we had during the two days. Two horses were killed under their riders, and Sergeant Jerry Powell, whose name appears in a former letter, and one who was a particular friend of mine, probably the best gunner, had his right arm taken off by a shell and his ribs injured so severely that he died in a half hour after reaching the hospital. After remaining here about a half an hour, we were move to the left again, in range of the enemy’s shell, which burst around us without effect. Rifle balls fell around here, and while we were inactive availed ourselves of protection behind the trees, but we soon moved forward into battery and opened a fire of solid shot and shell.
 
General William H. L. Wallace
Died of wounds at Shiloh
My position on the gun is No. 4, the one who fires the piece. After firing here sometime, we moved farther to the front and right. Tom Burton, our gunner, said he would stop firing until he could see the enemy. I stepped upon the trail and watched till I saw the flame leap from the guns of the Rebel battery, showed Tom the direction, and we soon commenced a rapid fire that compelled them to withdraw, and place their battery in another position. A heavy engagement was going on to the left, a cross fire to ours, and as the ranks of the Rebels pressed our men hard, we opened a fire of shell and canister upon them, which was returned by a canister fire against us. But their range was too long to be effective and except when they fired shell; we cared little for the bruise from a spent grape. At last our lines gave way, the enemy pressing hard, and following as our men fell back slowly. We limbered up and were moving to the left when our attention was called to the cavalry of the enemy, who were watching a broken line to dash on. We unlimbered and commenced firing, and steadily the infantry crept a little to the left and rear of us, shoulder to shoulder, and holding their ground well as they poured in their volleys of musketry. The cavalry retired, and the infantry and artillery opened a terrific fire upon us, but still we held our own, pouring in shell and shot as rapidly as we could. We fired a few shots at their colors, stripping one flag, but we soon discovered that they were stuck in the ground and that the infantry parted to the right and left from the colors.

Right in front of our gun a poor fellow lay with a severe wound in the leg and the deafening reports of the guns jarred the air, he kept crawling around the tree by which he lay. I felt sorry for him, but had no time to carry him to a place of safety. While here, our gun became so hot that one charge fired of itself, nearly striking with the recoil that cool old gunner Tom in the face as he was deliberately sighting the piece. Let me say here that as fast as we served our posts, we dropped to the ground, rising again when our turn came. Doing this so quickly it caused no delay. As I lay down, I took my friction fuse from the pouch, hooked it into the lanyard and as soon as No. 3 removed his thumb from the vent, put it in, waited until Tom sighted the piece, stepped aside to watch the effect of his shot, gave the order ‘ready, fire,’ at the same time raising his hand (for I was deaf), and as I pulled the lanyard I fell on the ground. In this way, we probably saved ourselves from a good many wounds.

We were again moved farther to the left, for the enemy were now on our flank. We were near each other now, and they got our range almost as soon as we were planted. The right and center section fired to the front, while the fire of our section was directed against the flanking portion of their lines. Now we began to realize the horrors of war. The infantry poured a storm of balls against them, and as we saw the detested gray coats on the hill across the ravine, we poured in a well-directed fire of shell. As I dropped on the ground, I could see the shell bursting among them, the smoke from our own guns preventing me from seeing our own shots, but I knew Tom would do well. In this action, we suffered. Ed Russell, a young man whom you have often seen behind the counter of Smith’s bank, as gentlemanly a young man as we had in the battery, had his bowels torn out by a solid shot. He lived but a half hour. His last words were as he lay on his face, “I die like a man.” And good man [Daniel R.] Farnham, a Christian man, my tent mate for six months while I remained in squad one, was shot through above the heart while serving the same part that I was. [John L.] Flanigan, the merry hearted Irishman and the intimate friend of Ed Russell was shot through the mouth- also No. 4 on his gun. Several were wounded here, but still stood manfully at their posts. Our horses were shot here and some had to be replaced.
Battery A carried four M1841 6-pound smoothbores into action at Shiloh

When I could, I kept my eyes on the enemy and saw them bringing a battery to bear on the flank of our infantry; and soon a deadly fire raked the line to the right of us. Our lines broke and run, right across our front. We yelled at them to keep away from our fire, but they didn’t hear. I ran forward and waved my hat, but to no purpose and I went back to my post and fired through them. No lying down now; we fired and loaded so fast that it was one continued roar. The infantry would not be rallied; they were panic stricken and we limbered up and were ordered to retire on a walk, for fear of increasing the panic.

After we had moved back some distance, Lieutenant Wood came up and informed a few of us who were following our gun (next to the last when in marching column) that we would have to go and help squad two’s howitzer off the field. I went back with some others and we found the enemy running up the slope and pouring a destructive fire upon us. The nigh wheel horse had been shot before the wheel, and they had to disengage him and the lead and swing teams were so entangled that the drivers were recommended to take them off the field. When I got there, we were just starting; I took hold of two branches that answered for a neck yoke and helped pull. The off-pole horse, the only one and a balky one at that, seemed to catch the spirit of the men and started into a run and we saved the howitzer, having eight men wounded in the performance.

Charley Kimball, a boy of my size who has sold you lots of stone at Singer & Talcott’s yard, was badly wounded in the hip at this time. As I passed squad fourteen, one of the postilions hallowed out and as he fell from his horse, I caught him in my arms (he is six feet three and weighs about 200 pounds so that, of course, I could not sustain his weight). He said, “I guess I am not much hurt after all,” and took off his cap. I examined his head and found that the bullet had chipped off a piece of the scalp, laying bare the bone. He started on and someone else took his place- I think Ona [Omington C.] Foster.

In about a quarter of a mile, we again made a stand and unlimbered. I learned here that our No. 6 was shot (through the bowel), and I had to take his place, giving my tools to the gunner. But one shell was left in the limber. I gave it to No. 5 and looking around discovering the infantry still retreating, the enemy following us close. We limbered up by order of Lieutenant Francis Morgan and walked our horses still. This was our last stand. I now knew we were beaten and in full retreat. I stopped, and with the aid of some infantry, helped one of our guns out of a mud hole, and walked on till we came to a road jammed with wagons; I felt then that I had never witnessed so painful a sight as a disorganized army.
 
Battery A carried two 12-pound howitzers into action at Shiloh.
Here I found Billy Williams, our No. 6 riding in a baggage wagon. He said to me in a pitiable tone, ‘Jimmy, won’t you come and take care of me? I am shot through.’ I had to refuse. This to me was truly painful. I helped him down and put him into an ambulance and helped [James O.] Paddock in, too. I got up in the ambulance and examined Paddock’s wound, found that he was shot through the liver and that there was no blood coming from the wound, made up my mind that he was bleeding internally, he was very frail, and I thought he must die. [Paddock died April 13, 1862 of this wound.] I put his handkerchief over the wound and went back to my gun. I have learned that Jerry was dead, and my heart was filled with hatred and revenge against the enemy.

When we reached the landing as I talked about the deaths of the boys, I could not restrain the tears, and felt that I could hazard my life in any position to mow down their ranks with canister. After this, I had a feeling of utmost indifference to my fate. I could be taken prisoner, make a desperate resistance, or whatever the order, I would comply. Not surrender, the thought of that never came to my head. We moved almost directly to the landing at the foot of the bluff, and replenished with ammunition; returning, one of the caissons ran off a bridge and fell partly into a ravine, hanging by the off wheels on the edge of the bridge. Our line of battle was again forming, but we were in such close quarters that a gun planted anywhere along the enemy’s line would throw a shell to the farthest part of the ground we occupied, and while we were in this fix, the shell burst on the side of the bluff alongside us. The infantry were crowded in this low ground at the foot of the bluff, and neither eloquence of speech nor cursing could induce them to go to the front.

We moved up the hill and awaited orders. Buell’s reinforcements had arrived and were crossing the river as rapidly as possible. The line of artillery was keeping up a continual roar, and the gunboat was throwing shell as well as she could into their lines. Nelson’s division of reinforcements had arrived and were making for the front as fast as they could. It was now growing dark and we could see the flashes of musketry and gleam of light from the heavy guns. All at once there was an entire lull followed by a tremendous cheer, and again the artillery opened with a deafening roar. We knew at once that our men were charging and the cheer was taken up and echoed along the whole line and among the straggling squads of disorganized troops. It now began to rain and we were subjected to the discomforts of a wet night in the open air. The troops on the line lay on their arms and once in about ten minutes, a flash lighted up the sky, followed by the boom of a heavy gun; again a flash would be seen in front of our lines followed by the sharp report of a bursting shell. A weary night dragged slowly.
 
A variety of Civil War ordnance on display at the Libby Prison Museum.
(Library of Congress)
With the light of day, the battle was renewed. We had recovered nearly all the ground lost the day before. The fire opened fierce from the start, and we did not wait long for orders to the front. Our position was near the center, and we commenced shelling with the four guns we were still able to man. With the aid of two other batteries, and in spite of the fierce storm of shell, we succeeded in silencing the battery. But it was found that there were not men enough to man four guns and our gun was taken from the field. I volunteered to act as No. 4 on squad one’s gun and stood by watching a heavy engagement at the other end of the field, it was uncertain for a long time, and at one time our lines were driven back and pursued by the enemy nearly a quarter mile. They rallied and in turn drove the enemy, and a most terrific fire was kept up.

Again our lines began to waver, and General [William T.] Sherman galloped across the field and ordered us to the front. We mounted the chests and galloped forward at a swinging pace and went into battery at the front. The lines falling back to us again we had difficulty in keeping the infantry from in front of our guns, not now running as they were the day before but falling back steadily and shooting from behind the trees. I had to pull over the heads of some of them, and as the smoke cleared away, looked to see if any had fallen as we were firing canister now. They appeared to be standing yet and stuck to their positions. We fired canister for some time, running our pieces forward by hand until they fell back to a new position. General Sherman again rode up and ordered us to go to the new front. ‘Come on,’ he said, ‘I’ll lead you,’ and he did. We limbered up, mounted our seats, two postilions leaped in their saddles and we galloped forward through a fierce storm of shell and bullets. ‘Well up to the front,’ said Lieutenant Wood, and we took position in advance of the infantry and poured in a rapid shell of fire.
 
"Crazy" was a sobriquet thrown Sherman's way often in the
first year of the war. He was eventually proved not so crazy after all.
General Sherman who (as Gen. Wallace says is perfectly crazy on the subject of artillery) told a Louisiana officer in the presence of one of our men it was the grandest thing he ever saw done by artillery, and our caisson postilions, who were ordered to remain behind, said it looked like a charge. This was the liveliest engagement of all for the time it lasted and I really enjoyed it. The enemy gave way, and we were moved farther to the left, we were here supported by the 19th U.S. Regulars, who lay on the ground to the rear of the battery until we emptied our limbers.  We waited some 20 minutes for caissons, the Rebels coming nearer and nearer, and a battery to the right of us limbered up and retired. We limbered up and prepared to move off a little farther to the rear. The Regular officers called on their men to get up and advance. They sprang to their feet, went forward a few paces, and then broke and ran. We moved around to our first position on the hill and filled our chests again. We were tired out.

The rain was falling and I, for one, felt more dispirited here than at any other time. I went to the hospital which was close by and helped a while with the wounded, then returned to my gun and ate a few crackers from my haversack. Soon the cavalry rushed by in large bodies and we knew that the enemy were in retreat. Orders came for us to go to the front and we were led a mile or more farther out. The enemy’s guns were covering their retreat, but our ranks were between us and we could not open fire. We tried to get permission to return to camp for the night, but General Sherman sent his aide to us saying that too much praise could not be given us for our action during the day, and requesting us to remain there all night to be ready at a moment’s warning. I fixed a couple of rubber blankets so as to afford protection from the rain, and slept well.

All the next day, we were kept there, and the next night, the rain still pouring down, we were all wet. We are now in our camp and are comfortably situated again. I have gone into these tedious details to show you exactly what war is. I have since rode over the battlefield, but will spare you the horrid and disgusting details of the thousands of suffering, wounded, and mangled corpses I saw. Suffice it to say that the enemy’s loss far exceeds ours. I had many narrow escapes, but survive without the slightest injury. The wounded of our battery number 28. Four are dead. About 90 of us went into the field Sunday morning. 47 horses are killed and disabled. But we at no time abandoned a piece, and but one empty caisson was left stuck in the mud during the retreat Sunday, which was afterwards recovered.
Burning dead horses after the Battle of Shiloh. Milner's battery lost 47 horses killed during the engagement. 

I am in good health. Write soon. I hurry to close for I am informed of an opportunity to send a letter straight through. It is a request of the battery that none of our letters be published, even if they should be worthy, as we wish our conduct to speak for itself. I am proud of the battery, and without boasting, I know it isn’t surprised anywhere.

Yours & c.,
James W. Milner

Jonesboro Revisited: Why did Este's assault succeed?

The Federal victory at Jonesboro was the culminating event of Sherman's Atlanta campaign and was one of the primary events that prompted the Confederate evacuation of the city. One of the most dramatic scenes of that battle was the successful charge of Colonel George P. Este's brigade from the 14th Corps on September 1, 1864. Este's charge was one of the few if only occasions during the campaign when an entrenched force had been driven from their works, a feat for which the men of his brigade took tremendous pride for the rest of their lives. (see previous post here.)

Albert Castel in his work Decision in the West dismisses the successful Union attack at Jonesboro, stating that the victory lacked “strategic value” and that the success of the assault was more due to “fortune than fortitude, although the latter was in ample supply. Had not four brigades managed almost simultaneously to strike both sides of a weakly held and poorly fortified salient that was unprotected (this was the decisive factor) by abatis or equivalent obstructions, the Union assault would have ended in another bloody repulse.”

The key point of his argument is that the primary reason the Union assault succeeded was because the Confederate line at this point was not fortified, a statement that is patently untrue. Numerous accounts from Confederate participants describe how they spent the entire afternoon fortifying their position with field works including traverses and abatis. Federal accounts likewise make frequent reference to these obstructions[1] Speaking of "fortune," luck always has a role to play in any military endeavor. That said, it begs the question as to why did Colonel Este’s assault succeed when so many previous frontal assaults made during the Atlanta campaign had failed?

 I think at Jonesboro, Colonel George Este and men of his brigade (10th Kentucky, 74th Indiana, 14th Ohio, 38th Ohio) made their own "luck" through ample guts, smart tactics, small unit cohesion, and inspirational leadership. Let's look at a few of these factors and I'll leave it to the reader to determine how much they weigh in the final result. Feedback and comments are welcome in the comments section but please, keep it civil. 

Tactics:
Este’s assault depended on two factors: speed and ferocity. Este had witnessed the previous assault of Edie’s Regulars which bogged down in the abatis just in front of the Confederate line. The attack failed when the men went to ground and tried to slug it out with the Rebels; it didn’t work and Edie’s brigade suffered heavy casualties as a result. In the initial phase of the assault, Este directed his colonels to move towards a slight ridge about 100 yards in front of the Confederate lines; in so doing, he passed the line of the Regulars who were taking potshots at the Rebel line. As the Federal line approached this ridge, Este directed the men to plunk on the ground and thus they avoided the first volley from the Rebels. At this, the men rose up and charged the Rebel works stopping at the outside line to deliver one volley.
Colonel George P. Este

At the risk of diving into the weeds a bit, let’s look at the distance of 100 yards or roughly 300 feet. The charge was made at the double quick which equates to 5.1 miles per hour, or 26,928 feet an hour. A line moving at the double-quick covers 7.48 feet per second; which means that the Federal line closed in on the Confederates in roughly 40 seconds. As we all know, a well-trained infantryman could fire his black powder rifle musket three times in a minute; the 40 seconds we speak of means that the Confederates, particularly on their left where the line lay closer to the ridge from which the Federal charge commenced, had opportunity to make two aimed shots during the charge, and we know that they received one volley at close range from Este’s right regiments (74th Indiana and 10th Kentucky). Govan’s Arkansas brigade, therefore, delivered its first volley while Este’s men lay on the ridge, and then had the chance to fire two more rounds (reports are unclear but I’m going to wager that the command ‘fire at will’ was given as soon as Este’s men showed themselves over the ridge) before the line was upon them. The surviving Federals (a third of whom went down in the charge) can attest to the ferocity of the Confederates’ fire but it was too little, too late. The bayonet and clubbed musket played a rare role in combat in this sector, and in this case Colonel Govan and a good portion of his men were overwhelmed and captured.

The left-wing regiments of Este’s assault had a much harder time of it as they were exposed to at least one more and as many as two more volleys from Lewis’ Kentuckians. As shown on the map, the Confederate works held by Lewis lay from 75 yards (235 feet) within the wood line, 20 yards (60 feet) further in that the line held by Govan. This gave Lewis’ men eight seconds more than Govan’s men, but in reality they had more time than that as the 38th Ohio reported that they got bogged down in the abatis. As recalled by Lee Rudisille of Co. H, “the works no doubt would have been reached if it had not been for the scraggy, tangled brush the line here encountered. As it was, before the advance had forced its way more than half the distance through, it received a withering fire from the works that staggered it for a moment.” The 38th Ohio lost nearly half its numbers, showing the advantage that  a little bit of distance and abatis gained for Lewis’ Kentuckians.

Unit cohesion:
The four regiments of the brigade were hardened veterans: the 14th Ohio, 38th Ohio, and 10th Kentucky had been in service for three years, the 74th Indiana for two years. The cadre of men left had learned the art of war and the regiments had seen much action together. The 14th Ohio and 10th Kentucky had been brigaded together since late 1861; the 74th Indiana had been with the 10th and 14th since it began service in September 1862, and the 38th Ohio had been in the brigade for a year. Additionally, the 38th Ohio had been raised in the same section of the state as the 14th Ohio so the men knew each other as neighbors back home, and by hard service in the field. The shared experience of war gave cohesion to this brigade perhaps more than others; the men knew each other and knew that they could count on each other in a fight.

Leadership:
Division, brigade, regimental and company leadership was experienced and competent and had been in place for a lengthy period of time.

Starting at the brigade level with Colonel George P. Este. Colonel Este assumed command of the brigade early in 1864 so the various regiments of the brigade had gained many months experience with Este at the helm. They understood how he worked and had seen him under fire. One 14th Ohio veteran remembered that Este was not particularly well-liked in camp “but he’s a whole team in a fight and he’d do so well there that all would take to him and he’d be real popular for a while.” Este had led the brigade throughout the Atlanta campaign and was considered lucky; the story of his boots being a case in point. As remembered by Whitelaw Reid, Este had begun the campaign with “a pair of high glazed cavalry boots; by the time he reached Atlanta, they were fairly shot to pieces and he had received numerous contusions from half-spent balls which they served to check; so that it came to be a saying in the division that Este’s boots were a better coat of mail than the patent bullet-proof vests which the agents and sutlers had been trying to introduce.” At Jonesboro, Este’s horse was shot out from under him and his boots were struck a few more times, but he emerged unscathed. The fact that Este had stories being told about him gives him a touch of “legendary” status, and that alone inspires men. No matter how desperate the endeavor, maybe with Este at the front, we have a chance. And make no mistake, Jonesboro was a desperate military endeavor.
General Absalom Baird

Divisional level leadership from General Absalom Baird was also noteworthy. Baird rode through the battle essentially at Este’s elbow and was able to order up critical support from the 17th New York when the attack appeared about to falter. “I accompanied Colonel Este so as to be ready to give him any assistance he might require,” said Baird. Este noted that Baird’s presence inspired the men “by his splendid courage and his almost unauthorized and reckless exposure of himself to the enemy’s fire.” Thus Baird and Este met one of the crucial tests of Civil War combat: they would go where the men went and share in the dangers with them.

At a company and regimental level, by this point in the war, the political appointees had either learned their craft or left the army. This left the upper crust of the volunteer soldiers in regimental and company commands. Many of the company grade officers had served up through the ranks and had been promoted due to bravery and demonstrated competence. Likewise, with the regimental commanders- they were experienced and had the respect of their men.

Field works, Confederate Strength, and Timing:
The Confederate line at Jonesboro had been erected that very afternoon and, as a matter of fact, was still in the process of being strengthened right up to the moment of Edie’s and Este’s assaults on the line. Gervis Granger of the 6th Kentucky (Lewis’ Brigade) reported that “we went into the ground like gophers and in a short time had improvised breastworks which, though meager, were better than none.” John Green of the 9th Kentucky recalled that “we cut and piled logs and dug for dear life. The Yanks began to shell us but we could not stop.” One wonders that Hiram Granbury’s rapidly built line at Pickett’s Mill was not stronger than Lewis and Govan’s line at Jonesboro, but Granbury had the advantage of the higher ground at Pickett’s Mill. The fortifications were strong enough to allow Govan and Lewis’ men to turn back the first Federal assault by Edie’s Regular brigade with negligible losses. As the 38th and 14th Ohio of Colonel George Este’s brigade got briefly bogged down in the abatis until the timely arrival of the 17th New York diverted the Confederate fire and allowed the men to climb through, it is clear that fortifications and abatis were present and slowed the attack, but did not stop it.  While one cannot argue with that fact that the two Confederate brigades were small at this point in the line, both Govan’s and Lewis’ brigades numbered amongst the hardest fighting troops in the Army of Tennessee. A similar line of works at Pickett's Mill held by Hiram Granbury's Texans had inflicted devastating losses on the two Federal brigades that tried to assault them. 

The timing of Este’s assault (before the Confederate works were finished) no doubt played a role in making this assault a successful one. This does circle back a bit to Castel’s argument of Dame Fortune playing a role in the outcome, but isn't that true of every military endeavor? 



[1] I highly recommend reading the account of Sergeant Major John W. Green of the 9th Kentucky who describes building works and stopping their construction to halt the first Federal attack on September 1st. Gervis Granger of the 6th Kentucky stated that the works “were meager but better than none.” See Richard A. Baumgartner and Larry M. Strayer, Echoes of Battle: The Atlanta Campaign. Huntingdon: Blue Acorn Press, 1991, pgs. 299-311

Friday, July 31, 2020

A Dutchman at Belmont

The Battle of Belmont, Missouri is perhaps best remembered as being General Ulysses S. Grant’s first battle in the Civil War, a battle devoid of strategic intention, an engagement which stemmed from Grant’s desire “to do something” against the growing Confederate presence in Columbus, Kentucky. “I did not see how I could maintain discipline or retain the confidence of my command if we should return to Cairo without an effort to do something,” he recalled in his Memoirs. Gathering a force totaling a little over 3,000 men and escorted by a pair of gunboats, Grant set out from Cairo aboard steamboats intending to give the Rebs a sharp rap on the nose.

The general had received intelligence that indicated that the Confederates had crossed a small force over the Mississippi from Columbus to Belmont, Missouri. Grant’s idea was to swoop down on this Confederate detachment, rough it up, tear up its camps, then high tail it back to the steamboats before the larger Confederate force at Columbus had time to react. Things didn’t work out according to plan, and the Confederates, after initially being driven out of their camps, ended up driving Grant’s force back to the boats with a loss of nearly 500 Federals. But Grant’s men gave a good account of themselves, inflicting 642 casualties. The battle was ultimately indecisive and all things considered, a Confederate victory. But it showed that Grant was a commander who would fight.

For Otho Klemm, Belmont marked his first battle in the Civil War, too. The German-born Klemm moved from Toledo, Ohio to Chicago, Illinois just before the war and joined Battery B of the 1st Illinois Light Artillery on July 25, 1861. He served a three-year term of enlistment with the battery, mustering out July 23, 1864. This battery was known by a number of names but at this time was called Taylor’s Battery as it was led by Captain Ezra Taylor. Taylor’s Battery served in the Army of the Tennessee throughout the war, seeing action at Belmont, Fort Donelson, Shiloh, and numerous others engagements throughout the western theater. At Belmont, the battery was attached to Brigadier General John McClernand’s First Brigade which consisted of the 27th Illinois, 30th Illinois, 31st Illinois, two companies of Illinois cavalry, and Taylor’s battery.

Klemm’s account appeared in the November 30, 1861 issue of the Daily Toledo Herald & Times on page two.

Guarding the Arch-Traitor


Selden Allen Day had a distinguished and lengthy career in the U.S. Army, serving in both the Civil War and the Spanish American War. He was born July 22, 1838 in Chillicothe, Ohio and at the outbreak of the war was living in Wood County, Ohio. He enlisted in Co. C of the 7th Ohio Infantry and had been promoted to the rank of sergeant by the time he left in February 1863, seeing action at Kessler’s Crossroads, First Kernstown, Port Republic, Cedar Mountain, and Antietam. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 5th U.S. Light Artillery in April 1864 and was given a brevet promotion to first lieutenant in June 1864 for gallantry at Cold Harbor, and a second brevet promotion to captain in March 1865 for meritorious services during the war. Day later saw action in the Spanish-American War in Cuba and retired from the Army in 1902.

However, one of the more memorable events of Day’s service occurred away from the battlefield. In the fall of 1865, he was one of Jefferson Davis’ jailors and got to speak with the “arch-traitor.” In this letter dated November 1, 1865, Lieutenant Day wrote to Wood County Sheriff Charles C. Evers (a veteran of the 2nd Kentucky Infantry) about life at Fortress Monroe and his interactions with the “chief instigator of the rebellion.”

Jefferson Davis sitting atop his bed in conversation with a Federal officer while being guarded by two guards. Selden Day found the "old man" to be highly intelligent, patient, and very sociable. 
Carroll Hall, Fort Monroe, Virginia
November 1, 1865

                Being on guard this evening over the late president of the so-called Southern Confederacy and having to sit up with the same, like any other sick man, I have an opportunity in the idleness of my vigil to write you.

                Our regiment went on duty at this post today, relieving the 3rd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery, and everything accordingly has been reduced to a peace standard. Even the guard over Jefferson Davis and Clement C. Clay, who are both imprisoned in this building, were very much diminished in numbers this morning, though, mind you, I don’t say in force as I did take the place of three officers myself. The sentinel in the room with me relieved two volunteers who did the same duty before.

                I had quite a friendly talk with the chief instigator of the great rebellion before he went to bed this evening. The “old man” as he is familiarly called here is not very well just at present. He has been suffering with several boils for the last few days. He seems quite patient and very sociable and pleasant, and as he lays there so quietly sleeping, it seems quite impossible that the feeble old man whose breathing I hear so regularly could or would ever do harm in this world again.
Sergeant Selden Allen Day
Co. C, 7th Ohio Infantry

Don’t think though that I have been won over to sympathy for traitors, for I assure you I still think that treason shall be made odious for all time to come. But I can’t help pitying that unfortunate man whose fall has been so great. He talks freely on every subject to those with whom he is allowed to speak, and certainly seems to possess a marvelous store of information on almost every subject. His knowledge of the political history of the country is, of course, very extensive and to hear of him talk of “when I was in the War Office” is certainly quite interesting to us who have so much to do with that Department, and in fact, whose source all of it is.

Clay, the other prisoner for whose keeping I am responsible until tomorrow, there is a great deal of mystery about. It will be remembered that he was charged with complicity in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and a big price was set on his head when he delivered himself up in the Department of the Gulf last May, since when he has been well taken care of. [Clay served as U.S. Senator from Alabama from 1853-1861 and a Confederate state senator from 1862-1864. He was suspected of having hired John Wilkes Booth prior to Lincoln’s assassination and was arrested accordingly. He was released in April 1866] I am not far from home when on duty over these prisoners as my quarters are in the same building, but still, the officer of the guard is required to remain constantly in view of the principal of the two and it will be a relief indeed that lets me out tomorrow.
The "other" prisoner: ex-Alabama Senator Clement C. Clay