About Me

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I am a lifelong student of military history with particular interest in the Battle of Antietam. I work for the federal government in Washington DC and have two young adult children who I love very much. I currently volunteer at Antietam and devote much time to the study of this battle and the Maryland Campaign. I enjoy collecting notable contemporary quotations by and about the men of Antietam. Since 2013 I have been conducting in depth research on the regular artillery companies of the Union Army and their leaders. I hope to turn this into a book on this subject in the future. My perspective comes from a 28-year career in the U.S. Army. Travels took me to World War II battlefields in Europe and the Pacific where American valor ended the tyranny of Nazism and Empire. But our country faced its own greatest challenge 80 years earlier during the Civil War. And it was the critical late summer of 1862, when Robert E. Lee launched the Maryland Campaign. It is an incredible story of drama, carnage, bravery, and missed opportunities that culminated around the fields and woodlots of peaceful Sharpsburg MD. So join me as I make this journey South from the North Woods.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Samuel Benjamin's Medal of Honor

Samuel Benjamin USMA May 1861
Samuel Benjamin was one of the best young artillerists to come out of the Civil War.  Born in 1839 at Manhattan New York, Benjamin received an appointment to West Point in 1855.  His father, attorney William Benjamin in making the application to the Buchanan administration for his son’s appointment, described his family as “Patriotic and Democratic” with a proud military heritage. Samuel’s grandfather Colonel Aaron Benjamin served in the Connecticut line under George Washington and participated in all of the early battles of the Revolution.  William Benjamin described his son as “exceedingly anxious to obtain the appointment [who] has from his earliest childhood set his head upon the Military profession.”[i]  Benjamin ranked number 12 out of 45 in his class but his near-sightedness almost kept him out of the Army.  He served his first year in the army on probation for defective vision but it obviously had no impact on his ability to accurately deliver ordnance on to the enemy. [ii]
Benjamin graduated on May 6, 1861. Half of the graduates were appointed into the artillery.  This was due to the great demands for artillery officers caused by the expansion of the regular army and loss of many artillery officers due to resignation, or appointment to higher-ranking staff and volunteer positions. Benjamin himself was commissioned into the 2nd U.S. Artillery, home of such legendary gunners as Henry Hunt, William Barry, and John Tidball.  Dispatched immediately to Washington D.C. Benjamin and the other new artillery officers were immediately assigned to artillery companies wherever there was a need without regard to their actual regimental commissions.  In Benjamin’s case, he found himself with Company G, 1st U.S. Artillery then commanded by Lieutenant John Edwards, 3rd U.S. Artillery.  The battery fought at First Manassas where the new lieutenant came under the critical eye of Henry Hunt.  At the battle Hunt’s battery for a time was situated next to Benjamin’s guns.  He proclaimed himself “impressed with the slowness and consequent destructive accuracy of his [Benjamin’s] shell practice.   Hunt could see that this youngster who was 21 at the time and “fresh from West Point, was a born artillerist.” Part of Benjamin’s success was that he took the time to carefully examine each and every shell and fuse for proper assembly and quality.  This undoubtedly slowed down the firing rate, but certainly assured the highest possible reliability of the ordnance.
By November Benjamin was in his proper regimental assignment - Company E, 2nd U.S. Artillery.  Right before the war this company under Captain Arnold Elzey guarded the Federal arsenal at Augusta Georgia.   In February of 1861 when Georgia secessionists forced its withdrawal, Elzey brought the company to Washington D.C. where he promptly resigned. He and the company's senior lieutenant Armistead Long soon headed south.  Long was the son in law of Union Brigadier General Edwin Sumner.  When Benjamin reported in, the company was under the command of Maine born Josiah Carlisle.  Carlisle also a West Pointer was 16-year veteran who saw combat service at the siege of Vera Cruz during the Mexican War. During the 1850s he served in Florida and other frontier assignments ending the decade at the Artillery School at Fort Monroe.  Carlisle’s company served briefly at Harpers Ferry after Robert E. Lee and the Marines recaptured the arsenal from John Brown’s incursion.  He had been a company commander since 1857. Benjamin benefitted from serving under this highly regarded officer.
The Army of the Potomac's Chief of Artillery William Barry initially assigned Carlisle’s battery to Fitz-John Porter’s division.  Carlisle and Porter were West Point classmates. Soon after, Henry Hunt incorporated the battery along with much of the other regular artillery establishment into his Artillery Reserve. Carlisle moved up to command one of the Reserve’s artillery brigades leaving Benjamin in day-to-day command of Company “E”. 
Benjamin had a fine group of artillery soldiers to work with.  Sergeant John Kaiser was the “old man” in the company.  Born in 1825 at Herzogenaurach Germany, Kaiser had been with the unit off and on since 1846. Sergeant Joseph Keeffe enlisted in the Army in 1853.  Born in Tipperary Ireland, Keeffe was 30 years old at the start of the Civil War.  On his second enlistment, Keeffe had served with the company for his entire career. A number of excellent men joined the company while it was stationed at Fort Leavenworth in the late 1850s.  This post was one of the Army’s artillery schools of practice.  Six artillery companies (five from the 2nd Artillery) were stationed there at the time[iii]. These new soldiers benefitted from rigorous artillery drill conducted at the post.  William Marshall from Limerick Ireland was 21 when he enlisted in May of 1859.  Andrew Eitelmann from Bavaria was also 21 when he joined the army a year later on May 7, 1860. Apparently the frequent practice at Fort Leavenworth paid off for the young Bavarian was considered an exceptional gunner and known for “some very fine shots.”  Albert Carew signed up the same day as Eitelmann and they were likely friends.  The Rochester born soldier was the son of Scottish parents and was 17 years old when he enlisted.   Both Lieutenant Benjamin and Sergeant Keeffe remembered Carew as an excellent soldier.  John Eichel also enlisted in the company while it was at Fort Leavenworth that summer.  Eichel was a big fellow nearly six foot tall.  He was originally from Saxe Meinengen and at 29 years old was much older than many of the other recruits.  He was a farmer before joining up.  Benjamin called Eichel “gallant” and always a good and faithful soldier.  Among an infusion of 59 new recruits who joined the company after the firing at Fort Sumter was John Buch.  Buch enlisted in June 1861 when the company was already in Washington D.C.  Born in Lebanon Pennsylvania, Buch was 21 years old as the Civil War began. 
Benjamin and the sergeants drilled the new recruits continuously on their 20-pound Parrott rifles.   Most batteries in the Army of the Potomac were issued either the light 12-pound Napoleons, 10-pound Parrots or 3 inch Ordnance Rifles.   While they packed an extra punch, the 20 pounders were more unwieldy and difficult to move around.  Company “E” and its big guns under their young lieutenant soon earned a reputation as one of the crack artillery units of the Army of the Potomac. 
A number of officers passed through the company during its formative stages but they moved on to other assignments due either to transfer or promotion.[iv]  The army was notoriously slow in keeping the officer ranks up to authorized levels.  Two brand new officers finally joined the company after it was shipped to the Peninsula.  On May 16, 1862 William Graves reported in.  Graves' family were wealthy and influential members of society in Louisville Kentucky.   His father was Congressman William Graves who died when the boy was very young.  When appointed, the younger Graves was studying engineering. Though a quick study, Graves who was 22 years old needed to be brought up to speed quickly.  He served with the company during the Seven Days and was recognized for “gallantry and fortitude.” The other new lieutenant was James Lord also 22 years old from Honesdale Pennsylvania.  Lord graduated from West Point on June 17, 1862 and was immediately ordered to Virginia.  He was attached to Company “E” in early July after the Seven Days fighting and served at Second Manassas and Antietam.  Benjamin was two years ahead of Lord at West Point and was undoubtedly acquainted with him.
On June 10th 1862 as the Army of the Potomac advanced down the peninsula toward Richmond, Benjamin was kicked by a horse and severely injured his right knee.  Despite the advice of surgeons, he refused to go to the rear. Benjamin advanced toward the Chickahominy lying flat on his back in the back of a wagon. [v]
The battery saw its first major action on June 25th and for the next week was engaged in heavy fighting as the Army of the Potomac slowly fought its way back to the James River.  Company “E” fired over 800 rounds in the course of these actions.  On the 27th Benjamin, was still disabled and unable to stand without crutches.  After his own battery withdrew, Benjamin remained with the battery commanded by his West Point classmate Adelbert Ames. He helped direct and encourage Ames’ men until the firing ceased at nightfall. Benjamin’s actions that day again caught the eye of Henry Hunt. 
It was Benjamin’s actions on the Peninsula that were the basis for his Medal of Honor award.  Henry Hunt initiated the nomination process in May 1877.  It was not until then that Hunt even knew of the existence of the 1863 law authorizing the Medal of Honor.  As he says “as chief of artillery of the Army of the Potomac at the time, I now make the recommendation I would have made at the close of the war had I then been called upon to do so or had I known of the existence of the law.”  Hunt’s letter is dated May 22, 1877.  Benjamin’s Medal of Honor file contains the following citations about the young officer’s service:

Adelbert Ames
Lieutenant Adelbert Ames was Benjamin’s classmate at West Point.  Ames was also awarded a Medal of Honor for his bravery at First Bull Run.  In the Seven Days, Ames commanded Battery A, 5th U.S. Artillery.[vi] Regarding Benjamin’s service with him, Ames reports that “My officers, First Lieut. W. D. Fuller, Third Artillery, and Second Lieuts. J. Gilliss and George W. Crabb, Fifth Artillery, conducted themselves most creditably. I consider it my duty to call your attention to the gallant conduct of First Lieut. S. N. Benjamin, Second Artillery. Although lame and obliged to use crutches he remained on the field after his own battery had retired, and greatly assisted me in the second cannonading.”[vii]

Captain Josiah Carlisle commanding officer of Company “E” 2nd reports:  “With the battery I had First Lieut. Samuel N. Benjamin, Second Artillery; Second Lieut. W. P. Graves, Second Artillery, and Second Lieut. J. P. Denike, Fifth New York Independent Battery (temporarily attached), who during all of this time conducted themselves with gallantry and fortitude. Lieutenant Benjamin deserves very particular mention.  As he has served much under your own immediate observation, it is unnecessary for me to recount his valor and untiring energy from the day the battery left Washington, and in the affairs of the last week he was always present with the battery, directing and encouraging the men, although so entirely disabled as to be unable to stand without crutches, and could only be carried on a gun-carriage. I would respectfully request that the particular attention of the general commanding be called to his service.”[viii]

Lieutenant Colonel George Getty commanded the 2nd Brigade of the Artillery Reserve:  “In this connection I respectfully call your attention to the gallant conduct of First Lieut. Samuel N. Benjamin, of Carlisle's battery, on the afternoon of the 27th June 1862. Although disabled and unable to stand without crutches, he remained with Lieutenant Ames' battery after his own had been withdrawn, and directed and encouraged the men until the firing ceased. He remained with the battery until it was withdrawn, after nightfall.”[ix]

In concluding his MOH application, Hunt briefly mentions Benjamin’s service at Antietam.  At the battle of Antietam September 1862 he so distinguished himself by the admirable handling and service of his battery that at a subsequent review of his corps on the field of battle President Lincoln had him called to the front and publicly thanked him for his conduct on that occasion.”  It took only two weeks for the award to be approved.  On June 4, 1877 the Secretary of War directed that a “ ’Medal of Honor’ be engraved for 1st Lieutenant S.N. Benjamin.”

Several of the Company E sergeants also served gallantly in the Seven Days battles and were recognized in the official reports.  Sergeant Keeffe rendered “ invaluable service” and was recommended for a lieutenant’s commission by Captain Carlisle.  Keeffe received an appointment as a second lieutenant in the 5th Artillery on October 22, 1862. Another was Sergeant Kaiser.  Benjamin, like Henry Hunt was unaware of the 1863 law authorizing the Medal of Honor.  After he received his Medal, Benjamin in 1878 nominated First Sergeant John Kaiser for a Medal of Honor for gallantry and meritorious service during the campaign. This is Benjamin's recommendation dated March 11, 1878:

I have the honor to recommend that Sergeant John Kaiser, formally of Company E Second US Artillery, now an ordinance sergeant U.S. Army be awarded the medal of honor for gallant and meritorious service during the “Seven days Battles "in front of Richmond 1862.
He especially distinguished himself on June 27th, 1862 by coolness and gallantry under a very warm fire. Acting as gunner as well as "chief of piece" his firing was very accurate and effective. A sponge staff was broken by a piece of shell close to his hand.
The next day he and another chief of piece, with their caisson horses were sent (under an officer) to bring off two guns which had been abandoned by another battery and were in eminent danger of capture by the enemies infantry, there being then no one near them.
He performed his share of this duty cooly and well; and the guns were saved. At the time, I was virtually in command of the battery – Captain Carlisle 2d Artillery Comdg (since dead) being in command of a brigade of artillery (4 batteries). 
I did not know until long after the war, that medals of honor were given.
Sergeant Kaiser also behaved with gallantry and skill at Malvern Hill, Groveton, 2d Bull Run, Chantilly, South Mountain, Antietam and other engagements. 

[signed] Samuel N. Benjamin Major, Assistant Adjutant General


By the end of July, Josiah Carlisle’s health, which was never good, broke down completely.[x]   On August 3, 1862 Lieutenant Benjamin relieved him of command of Company “E”.  Six days later the company began its withdrawal from the Peninsula and arrived at Falmouth Virginia on August 12.  It was assigned to General Isaac Stevens’ division of the new Ninth Corps.  Benjamin was thereafter associated with that corps for the remainder of his active service during the war.  He greatly distinguished himself at Second Manassas, Antietam and Fredericksburg before the Ninth Corps headed west with Ambrose Burnside.  Benjamin fought at such places as Vicksburg Mississippi and Knoxville Tennessee before heading back to Virginia in time to participate in the Overland Campaign in 1864.  He was severely wounded at Spotsylvania there ending his active frontline service.  In 1864 he was promoted to captain and served in the 2nd Artillery until 1875. In that year he was appointed a major in the Adjutant General corps.  Benjamin died suddenly on May 15, 1886 at the young age of 47 of chronic rheumatism.  He left behind his wife Julia, daughter of Congressman Hamilton Fish and four young children, a daughter and three sons (including a pair of twin boys.)  His son Julian (1877-1953) a graduate of the West Point class of 1900 was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action while serving with the 306th Infantry, 77th Division, American Expeditionary Forces, in France during World War I.  The proclivity for gallantry had been passed to another generation of the Benjamin family.

[i] U.S. Military Academy Cadet Application Papers, 1805-1866; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M688, 1 roll); Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s-1917, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C.1856 File 24
[ii] Mary Sergent, They Lie Forgotten The United States Military Academy 1856 – 1861 (Middletown NY, 1986), 121
[iii] At Fort Leavenworth were William Barry’s Light Company A, Arnold Elzey’s Company E, James Totten’s Company F, Horace Brooks Company H and Henry Hunt’s Light Company M.  John Bankhead Magruder’s Light Company I, 1st Artillery was also stationed there.
[iv] John Butler and William Dennison were the other lieutenants who served with the company before it went to Peninsula.  Also on the books was George Hartsuff who was appointed a brigadier general U.S. Volunteers on April 15, 1862.  Hartsuff never served with the company.
[v] Association of Graduates June 19 1886 Memorial to Samuel Benjamin page 129
[vi] Early in the war, only the 5th Artillery units were officially designated as batteries.  The other four U.S. Artillery regiments still referred to their units as companies. Referring to them all as batteries gradually became more prevalent as the war progressed.
[vii] OR 11, pt. 2, 259; Reports of Lieut. Adelbert Ames, Battery A, Fifth U. S. Artillery, of action at Garnett’s Farm and battle of Malvern Hill
[viii] Ibid, pt.2, 268; Report of Capt. J. Howard Carlisle[viii], Battery E, Second U. S. Artillery, and Fifth Brigade, Artillery Reserve, of operations June 27-July 4, including the action at Garnett’s Farm, engagement at Turkey Bridge, and battle of Malvern Hill
[ix] Ibid, pt. 2, 252; Report of Lieut. Col. George W. Getty, commanding Second Brigade, Artillery Reserve, of operations June 26-July 1.
[x] Carlisle was retired from active service for disability on November 4, 1863.  He died on December 16, 1866 at the age of 46.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Little Things…

It turns out that artillery companies leave a lot of stuff on the battlefield after an engagement.[i]  For most units, commanders report soldiers killed and wounded.  In artillery companies they also report their losses of horses.  This is logical as artillery horses are the prime movers for an artillery battery.  But the artillery even goes beyond that.  We get a good idea of the kinds of equipment necessary to keep the artillery running from the reports of two Federal artillery commanders at Antietam.

Captain William Montrose Graham
William Graham had been a soldier for seven years.  Unlike most ante-bellum regular army officers, he was not a West Point graduate.  There is some evidence that he applied to the Academy but for reasons unknown to me never got the appointment.  He certainly had an impeccable pedigree.  Both his father and uncle were graduates of the West Point Class of 1817.  His father James a noted explorer and surveyor was a Major in the Topographical Engineers when his son received his appointment as a lieutenant in the First Artillery in 1855.  His uncle William a hero of the Mexican War fell while leading his regiment at Molino Del Rey.  Graham followed the typical career path of a young officer in the pre-war army with duty at isolated posts in Florida and Texas.  William Graham must have been a very capable artillery officer.  In October 1861 when William French[ii], then captain of Light Company “K” was promoted to major, 27 year old William Graham was appointed to this coveted command and promoted to captain. Light Company K was one of the eight “light” artillery companies in the regular military establishment.  Selection for promotion to command a light company was not based on seniority, but on merit. [iii] It says a lot for William Graham that he got the appointment

On September 17th, 1862, Graham’s company was attached to the Artillery Reserve of the Army of the Potomac.  Around noon “K” was sent forward to support Israel Richardson’s Second Corps’ division advancing on the Sunken Road.  In the severe fighting there, Graham lost four soldiers killed and five wounded.  Seventeen horses were killed, and six wounded severely. So hot was the fire that General Richardson was mortally wounded by a shell fragment while standing in the battery. 

Graham’s full report is in Henry Hunt’s papers at the Library of Congress.  It contains information on the materiel losses of the battery that is not included in the report in OR 19:1.  Graham writes [in the full report] that “My loss in materiel was 192 rounds of ammunition expended, 2 trail hand spikes (1 broken), 5 wheel traces broken, 1 prolonge, 1 breech sight, 3 whips (drivers) two sabers and belts, 4 sets lead harnesses (single), 5 halters and straps, 5 nose bags, 2 pair spurs and straps.”

James “Jock” Stewart also followed an unlikely career path to command of a light artillery company.  At the start of the Civil War, Stewart, a ten-year army veteran was First Sergeant of Light Company B, 4th U.S. Artillery.  During his tenure, the immigrant from Leith Scotland saw hard frontier service in Texas and Utah.  “B” was another one of the “Elite 8.”[iv] John Gibbon who commanded the battery called Stewart “the best 1st Sergeant I ever saw in the service.”[v]  Elevation of an enlisted man to commissioned rank in the regular army was extremely rare before the Civil War.[vi]  Things had certainly changed by October 1861.  The establishment of the new Fifth U.S. Artillery Regiment created many new officer vacancies.  Additionally, the departure of many officers through resignation, or promotion to higher ranking volunteer and staff positions added many more openings. Due in some measure to Gibbon’s efforts, Stewart was appointed a second lieutenant in Gibbon’s battery in November 1861.  About that time, Gibbon accepted a volunteer commission to command a brigade of western soldiers. He was perhaps instrumental in keeping his old battery attached to his new command in what eventually became known first as the Black Hat Brigade, and later as the Iron Brigade of the West.  The brigade was part of Abner Doubleday’s division of Joseph Hooker’s First Corps during the Maryland Campaign.   It supported the infantry attack down the Hagerstown Pike in the early stages of the battle.  Joseph Campbell a 24-year-old graduate of the West Point Class of June 1861 who succeeded Gibbon was seriously wounded at the height of the Confederate counterattack at the Cornfield.   At 36 years of age, Stewart, the old man of the company and last remaining officer assumed command.   He not only led the company for the remainder of the battle but for virtually the rest of the war.[vii]  Light Company “B” suffered some of the highest casualties of any artillery unit in the Civil War. In addition to Captain Campbell who never returned to active command, “B” lost nine soldiers killed, and 30 wounded. 

A partial list of equipment
As a former first sergeant, Stewart was used to keeping detailed records.   Unlike William Graham who reported his losses on his official report, Stewart listed them in his monthly return for September 1862.   After detailing the movements of the battery for the month and the losses of men and horses, Stewart continues:  “All axle strips of battery more or less broken occasioned by rapid firing and the uneven nature of the ground not having cannoneers sufficient to run the guns to more favorable positions.  One limber disabled by cannon shot; 24 horses killed and 12 wounded; Required for use in the battery: 46 horses and 12 water buckets, 2 tar buckets, 1 sponge bucket, 60 blankets 50 curry combs, 50 horse brushes, 3 spare poles, 1 spare wheel and 6 to be exchanged; 6 picks and [illegible] 6 shovels, caisson, 4 hand spikes, trail, 4 sets lead harnesses, artillery, 2 near & 2 off; 15 wheel traces, 24 whips, 6 saddler's awls, and handlers, [illegible] lbs. square and flat iron, 25 head stalls and 4 bridles.”

The force of war knocks loose and breaks a lot of equipment. While the equipment listed above does not seem that important, these implements together contribute to the combat readiness of the company.  Some of these “little things” are needed for the care of the horses.  [The image from 1864 Field Artillery Tactics book lists some of this equipment.]  The rest are for servicing guns and ammunition.  An artillery company could not function without these seemingly little things.  In addition to all the other duties that company officers and NCOs performed after a battle, there was the lengthy painstaking inventory of lost, damaged and destroyed equipment. The Quartermaster Department demanded a thorough accounting of all equipment, big and little, before they would replace anything.  Graham and Stewart who were very good at their jobs give us an interesting perspective on this aspect of an artillery company. 

[i] Throughout this article, I refer to artillery units as companies.  For the First through Fourth Artillery at this time of the war, company was the term most frequently used.  The term battery at this time meant the horses and guns that are added to “mount” a foot artillery company.  However in the new Fifth U.S. Artillery, the units are referred to as batteries in their organizational orders.  As the war progressed the term battery became more frequently used even in the old legacy artillery companies.
[ii] This is the same William French who under his volunteer commission as a brigadier general commanded a Second Corps division in the Sunken Road at Antietam.
[iii] General Order Number 12, March 1, 1849: Vacancies occurring in Companies of Artillery designated by the President to be organized and equipped as Light Artillery, will be filled by selection.  If the vacancy happens to be in the grade of Captain, it will be filled by order of the Secretary of War, on the recommendation of the Colonel, who will name the Captain best qualified for the service.”
[iv] In 1860, the eight light artilleries in the regular army were Light Companies I and K of the First Artillery, A and M of the Second Artillery, C and E of the Third Artillery, and B and G of the Fourth Artillery.  In these eight companies, selection for command was based on merit and not seniority.  Selection for command in all other the other 40 (foot) artillery companies was based on seniority.
[v] Personal Recollections of the Civil War by John Gibbon. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1928 page 13
[vi] In December 1860 only eight of 219 serving artillery officers (under 4%) were former non-commissioned officers.  Two years later 29 officers were former sergeants.
[vii] Stewart remained in command of Light Company B until December 1864 when he was promoted to First Lieutenant and transferred to Company A.  He replaced Alonzo Cushing in that company who was killed at Gettysburg.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

“Well gentlemen, I guess they have our range”

John Calef
We remember John Calef as the young commander of Light Company A, 2nd U.S. Artillery[i] who was attached to General John Buford’s cavalry division on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.  Calef’s guns were the first Union artillery to be engaged at the battle.  Buford spoke highly of the young lieutenant’s actions that day. 
Calef however began his career with Company K, 5th U.S. Artillery.  A graduate of the West Point class of 1862, the young 21 year old from Gloucester Massachusetts was immediately was thrown into combat on the Peninsula and at Second Manassas. At the latter place, he saw his battery commander, Captain John Smead struck on the head by a cannon ball and instantly killed.  At Antietam, Battery K was now under the command of Lieutenant William Van Reed. Forty-six years after the battle, John Calef recounted his recollections of the battle in a letter to the Joint Military Service Institute of the United States:

“This (September 17, 1906) is forty-third anniversary of Antietam and how well I recall every event of that day. Just at this hour 10 AM Captain ‘Steve’ Weed, Randol and I walked up to the top of the hill under, or behind which our batteries were parked awaiting orders. From this point we saw the Irish brigade ‘go in’ in two beautiful lines, the National and Irish colors side-by-side. The sun was at just the right height to bring out strongly the green of Erin as well as the red of the ‘Old Glory,’ and when the front line reached the danger zone we saw the colors go down again and again, but instantly caught up, showing that at each fall color bearer was left behind killed or wounded. Twas a thrilling site and so absorbed were we watching the progress of the battle that we were insensible of the fact that we had become the target off a battery opposite to us. Rifle projectiles had been promiscuous all the morning, and it was only when a shot plowed up the turf under Weed’s left foot that he remarked in his quiet way ‘Well gentlemen, I guess they have our range close enough, we had better return to our batteries where we belong.’ But it was reserved for a sharpshooter at Devils Den to take the life of one of the bravest of soldiers.“ [Joint Military Service Institute of the United States Volume 41, page 276]

Calef, Weed and Randol were assigned to three different regular army artillery batteries that were attached to George Sykes Second Division of the Fifth Corps.  Captain Stephen Weed commanded Battery I, 5th U.S. Artillery.  First Lieutenant Alanson Randol was in command of Company E&G, 1st U.S. Artillery.  Calef as we have seen was with Battery K, 5th U.S. Artillery.  All were graduates of the Military Academy.
Stephen Weed
Of the three, Weed was the senior officer.  Born at Potsdam New York, Weed graduated from West Point in 1854 and was commissioned in the 4th U.S. Artillery. The Fourth at the time was employed largely as part of the frontier constabulary.  Weed fought with his company in the Third Seminole War, and helped quell the Kansas disturbances. He was part of the expedition to Utah serving with John Gibbon’s Light Company B, 4th U.S. Artillery and along the way was engaged in skirmishes against the Indians.  A First Lieutenant since November 16, 1856, he was assigned with Company K, 4th Artillery at Fort Ridgely Minnesota at the start of the Civil War.  In May of 1861, Lieutenant Weed, now 29 years old received a coveted battery command and promotion to captain in the new Fifth Artillery Regiment. Battery I and its commander fought with Fitz-John Porter’s Fifth Corps on the Peninsula, and at Second Manassas before the Maryland Campaign. Weed furthered his already solid reputation as a skilled artillerist.  While impossible to prove definitively, there is much evidence that during the Battle of Antietam, Weed aimed and fired a round of solid shot at a group of Confederate officers that included Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet and D.H. Hill.  Hill apparently ignored suggestions from Longstreet to dismount and reduce the likelihood of becoming a target.  Longstreet’s warning to Hill as he spotted the puff of smoke from the Federal battery across the creek and the outcome of the shot are reported here.   
Alanson Randol
The other officer was First Lieutenant Alanson Randol of Company E, 1st U.S. Artillery.  Born in Newburgh New York, Randol graduated from West Point in 1860. He probably knew John Calef as a cadet there.  Randol’s first duty station after graduation was as an ordnance officer at Benicia depot near San Francisco California.  At the start of the war, Randol was organizing John Fremont’s artillery in Missouri. In command of a battery of the 1st Missouri Light Artillery, Randol nevertheless sought service with a regular battery in the east.  His requests were eventually approved and on New Years Day 1862, Randol assumed command of Company E, 1st U.S. Artillery.  In his writings, Randol was very conscious of the honor of serving with this company.  Abner Doubleday commanded Company E at Fort Sumter at the beginning of the war. In February because of manpower shortages in the regular batteries, “E” was combined with Company G, 1st U.S. Artillery.  They would remain together for the rest of the war.  Randol lead his new command to the Peninsula. On June 30th at the bloody battle of Gaines Mill, Randol’s battery was attached to George Meade’s brigade of the Pennsylvania Reserves.  At the climax of that battle, Robert E. Lee threw more and more regiments in. Randol’s guns held off repeated charges of Confederate infantry until Union infantry supports scattered.  Meade fell wounded nearby as Rebel soldiers surged over top of the battery. In desperation, Randol led repeated desperate charges to regain his guns but they were lost.  With his battery shattered and his men temporarily assigned to other units, Randol assisted Henry Hunt in deploying the Federal artillery at Malvern Hill.  In early July, a Court of Inquiry cleared Randol after hearing testimony from Meade and others attesting to the young gunner’s ability and bravery.  His battery was reconstituted and attached to Sykes’ division.  Randol and Battery E were present at Second Manassas.  At 24 years of age, Alanson Randol had seen his share of bloody fighting. 
At 10:30 (see map) it is likely that Weed’s battery was already in action.  They may have already targeted that small group of Confederate officers on the bluffs east of the creek.  Possibly Randol and Calef, whose batteries were further back at the time walked forward to observe the fighting somewhere near Weed. 
Calef’s account of the attack by Meaghers Irish Brigade against the Sunken Road is particularly moving:  From this point we saw the Irish brigade ‘go in’ in two beautiful lines, the National and Irish colors side-by-side. The sun was at just the right height to bring out strongly the green of Erin as well as the red of the ‘Old Glory,’ and when the front line reached the danger zone we saw the colors go down again and again, but instantly caught up, showing that at each fall color bearer was left behind killed or wounded.

So engrossed were the three officers that they did not realize that Confederate guns had gotten their range.  Whether the officers were standing near Weed’s battery is not clear.  In any event when a shell landed near Weed’s feet, it was time to remove to a safer location.  ‘Well gentlemen, I guess they have our range close enough, we had better return to our batteries where we belong.’

Weed’s battery continued to good service for the remainder of the day.  Randol and Van Reed’s batteries would cross the Middle Bridge later in the day.  Pleasanton’s horse artillery batteries crossed the Antietam with parts of the cavalry division around noon.  As they began running low on ammunition, other batteries including Randol and Van Reed replaced them east of the creek.  All would eventually be withdrawn back across the creek later in the afternoon.

‘Steve’ Weed had nine months to live.  He continued win acclaim and demonstrate great ability leading federal artillery at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.  On June 6, 1863 Weed was appointed brigadier general and received command of an infantry brigade in the Fifth Corps.  On Little Round Top, a Confederate sharpshooter would take the life of this most promising officer. 

Alanson Randol also eventually left the artillery. In December 1864 he accepted a volunteer commission as Colonel of the 2nd New York Cavalry.  Randol fought with Phil Sheridan for the remainder of the war eventually receiving brevet promotion to brigadier general.  Randol survived the war and returned to his regular army rank of captain where he remained for the next seventeen years.  Promoted to Major in the 1st Artillery in 1882, Randol died of Bright’s disease six years later at his post in California.  He was 50 years old.

Unlike Weed and Randol, John Calef remained with the artillery for the rest of his career. He won two brevets during the war for gallantry including one for his role at Gettysburg, Promoted to first lieutenant in 1863 it took thirteen additional years to reach the rank of captain and 21 additional years after that to make major.  He spent many years at the Artillery School and with his mentor John Tidball established a reputation as a military scholar.  In 1900, a month before his retirement, John Calef was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 3rd Artillery.  John Calef died on January 12, 1912 at the age of 70.

Here are three young artillery officers who were the epitome of that particular breed. Indispensible to the war effort, they fought and often died with little recognition or acclaim. 

[i] Throughout this article, I will refer to the artillery units in the terminology used during the Civil War.  At the start of the war, the four artillery regiments were organized with twelve companies each.  Ten of the twelve were “foot” artillery companies.  They manned the seacoast fortifications and frontier posts but did not have guns or horses.  The other two companies in each regiment’s were mounted with a battery of guns and horses. They were the elite Light Companies. Light Company A was one of these companies.  These companies tended to keep the title of “light company” long into the war.  After most of the other ten companies in each regiment were mounted early in the war, they were still referred to as just artillery companies.  Everything was different in the brand new Fifth Artillery.  In the congressional statute organizing the Fifth Artillery, its company-size organizations were called batteries.  Thus when I refer to units of the Fifth Artillery, they are known as Battery I, Fifth Artillery for example.  As the war dragged on the distinction between artillery companies and artillery batteries began to blur.  By the end of the war, most units had adopted the term battery when referring to themselves in reports and monthly returns.  In this article, I will use the earlier terminology for the different units.