About Me

My photo
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 teenagers who I love very much. I currently volunteer at the battlefield 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. These words often add a degree of color and character not found elsewhere in their stories. A feature of this blog is the presentation of some of these quotes. 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 that fortune could have gone either way. 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.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

What happened to the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, Twelfth Corps at Antietam?

Alpheus Williams
Occasionally we are asked why Alpheus William’s division at Antietam did not have a Second Brigade. A look at the order of battle indeed shows that there was a First Brigade commanded by Samuel Crawford, and a Third Brigade commanded by George Gordon. While the four Ninth Corps divisions at Antietam were also two brigade organizations, the normal divisional organization in the Army of the Potomac was a three-brigade structure. Is there a typo on the order of battle?  Is the Third Brigade actually the second brigade of the division?  If not, is the Second Brigade detached and serving elsewhere.

When George McClellan began his organization of the Army of the Potomac in August 1861, Major General Nathanial Banks commanded one of the divisions in that nascent army.  This division is the direct ancestor Alpheus Williams division, the organization that pushed down the Smoketown Road 13 months later.  In the beginning, Banks’ division had four brigades:  

First Brigade commanded by Alpheus Williams
Second Brigade commanded by John J. Abercrombie (USMA 1822)
Third Brigade commanded by George Gordon (USMA 1846)
Geary’s Separate Brigade commanded by John Geary

Nathaniel Banks
Bank’s division was stationed in Western Maryland. It was destined to play a major role the campaigns in the Shenandoah Valley through the summer of 1862. In March of 1862 when President Lincoln imposed a corps level organization on McClellan’s army, Banks was elevated to command of the Fifth Corps.[i] When he moved up to corps command, Alpheus Williams assumed command of his division.  Dudley Donnelly, commander of the 28th New York Infantry replaced Williams in command of the First Brigade.  James Shields commanded the second division of Bank’s corps.

The original Fifth Corps would last but three weeks.  On April 4, 1862 it was discontinued and resurrected as the Department of the Shenandoah remaining under the command of Banks.  Williams and Shields continued to command the department’s two divisions. 

George Hartsuff
This is where it gets a bit complicated.  On April 10, 1862 George Hartsuff (USMA 1852) replaced James Abercrombie in command of the Second Brigade.  The brigade was transferred to the Department of the Rappahannock on May 10th.  On May 25th, John Geary’s brigade (less Geary) was transferred to the Washington defenses.  A new brigade was created for him on June 6, 1862 consisting of the 5th, 7th, 29th and 66th Ohio Infantry Regiments.  For five weeks, this brigade continued in Alpheus Williams’ division as the Second Brigade.  During this period (May 27th), Donnelly turned over command of the First Brigade of William’s division to Samuel Crawford. 

But it’s not over.  On July 16th, Geary’s Brigade was transferred to Christopher Auger’s (formerly Shields’) division.  For a second time, William’s division was without a second brigade.  It would remain this way through the Maryland Campaign. 

Two brigades could therefore lay claim to being Alpheus Williams “lost” second brigade.  Both fought at Antietam.  The first one as we have seen, is the brigade of George Hartsuff.  It was a charter member of Nathaniel Banks division lead first by James Abercrombie and eventually commanded by Hartsuff.  At Antietam, it belonged to James Rickett’s division and fought in the Cornfield.

Hector Tyndale
The second is Geary’s “new” brigade.  It was only part of Williams’ division for five weeks until reassigned to Augur’s division.  Both Augur and Geary were wounded at Cedar Mountain on August 9, 1862.  This paved the way for George Greene to assume temporary divisional command and George Candy to replace the wounded Geary.  Candy was not in command of this brigade however at the battle of Antietam. For the two-day period of September 17 – 18 1862 Hector Tyndale commanded this unit.  The brigade advanced with other elements of George Greene division to the Dunker Church plateau.

After Antietam, William’s division would receive a new “second” brigade of green soldiers.  At Fredericksburg, this brigade was commanded by Thomas L. Kane and consisted of the 20th Connecticut, 123rd New York, and the 124th and 125th Pennsylvania.

While Alpheus Williams division only consisted of two brigades at Antietam, brigades previously associated with his command were not far away on the bloody northern flank of the battlefield. 

[i] This corps should not be confused with the provisional Fifth Corps that McClellan later created on the Peninsula.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


Assistant Marshall Peter Cannon was responsible for enumerating the 1850 census in the village of Cornwall, Orange County New York.  On October 22, 1850, he arrived at a dwelling he listed as number 538 in his record.  Seven young army officers live there ranging in age from 23 to 29.  They were all junior members of the faculty of the United States Military at West Point. Cannon started a new page in his census book and added the following names:
1850 Census Record for Cornwall Village

Fitz-John Porter, age 26 was born in New Hampshire.  Porter is a first lieutenant in the 4th Artillery. He was twice brevetted for gallantry (to Major) in Mexico at Molino del Rey and Chapultepec. His assignment at the Military Academy is Assistant Instructor of Artillery. He graduated from West Point five years ago in 1845.

George B. McClellan, age 23 was born in Pennsylvania.  McClellan is a second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers.  He was twice brevetted for gallantry (to Captain) in Mexico at Contreras and Chapultepec.  McClellan commands the company of engineer troops at West Point.  He graduated from the Academy four years ago in 1846. 

Francis Clarke, age 29 born was born in New York.  Clarke is a first lieutenant in the 4th Artillery.  The longest serving officer in this dwelling, Clarke graduated from the Academy in 1840. He has spent nine of the next ten years as an instructor there.  At the time of the 1850 census, Clarke has risen to be Principal Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Mineralogy, and Geology. 

James Duane, age 26 was also born in New York.  Duane is a brevet second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers.  Graduated just two years earlier in 1848, Duane never left the Academy and at the time of the census serves in the elite company of Sappers, Miners, and Pontoniers possibly under McClellan’s command.

Charles T. Baker, age 29 was born in Connecticut.  Baker is a first lieutenant in the 6th Infantry.  An 1842 graduate, Baker initially served in Florida and on the western frontier but has been stationed at the Military Academy since 1845. He did not see action in Mexico.  Baker’s assignment at the Military Academy is Assistant Instructor of Infantry Tactics. 

Truman Seymour, age 26 was born in Vermont.  Seymour is a first lieutenant in the 1st Artillery.  He was another Mexican War veteran twice brevetted (to Captain) for gallantry at Cerro Gordo and Contreras.  Seymour is a classmate of McClellan also graduating from West Point in 1846.  A talented artist, Seymour serves at West Point as the Assistant Professor of Drawing.

The last man enumerated and the only southerner in the house is Edmund K. Smith.  Smith was 26 years old and born in Florida.  Known as “Kirby,” he was a first lieutenant in the 7th Infantry.  Smith graduated from West Point in 1845 with Porter and was immediately dispatched to Zachary Taylor’s Army of Occupation.  He earned two brevets for gallantry (to Captain) under Winfield Scott at Cerro Gordo and Contreras. Smith is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at West Point.    

Also living at this dwelling is Joshua Holmes and his wife Jane.  The couple, both 39 years of age, were born in England.  They have two sons and two daughters Jane (age 14), James (age 11), Emma (age 8) and Alfred. (age 6).  The children were all born in New York.  (There is some evidence that one if not both of the boys enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War.)[1]  Mr. Holmes identifies himself as a laborer.  Perhaps he worked at the Academy while his wife rears four children and keeps house for seven young officers.

We don’t remember these men as young bachelors living together under one roof.  We don’t think of them indulging in all the things that young men in their 20s indulge in. We may not think to regard four of them as very young combat veterans of the Mexican War - exactly the same age as the young American soldiers whom today return from the wars of the 21st century.   We probably don’t envision them playing with the Holmes children after a day in the classroom or on the drill field.

Our view of them is based not on who they were in 1850 but on who they were in the next war some eleven years in the future. In 1850 they were all still relatively unknown.  Who of them could envision that in twelve years the youngest of their group would stand at the center stage of American military and political affairs commanding the nation's most important army, in the bloodiest conflict in our history?[2]  This would not be a foreign war like the one just completed in Mexico.  It would be a civil war that would tear north and south apart.  Another of the roommates would emerge as the trusted lieutenant of that future army commander. This man would ably lead a corps in the terrible battles of the summer and autumn of 1862.   From those heights of military accomplishment, he would descend just weeks later to become the defendant in a politically orchestrated court martial that would destroy his army career and set him on a lifelong path to seek redemption. [3]   

Who would know then that another roommate would be hailed as a hero of the first battle in that terrible future war at an unfinished fort in the harbor of Charleston South Carolina? This man would also fight with the first two as a brigade commander at a bloody battle in Maryland twelve years later.[4]

Two other roommates would be on that field as well.  One, an accomplished gunner would lead seven batteries of light artillery in some of the toughest and bloodiest fighting of the day.[5]  The other, one of the finest engineers in the army, would receive the key assignment to find a ford on a creek around the flank of formidable enemy defenses.  The ford he selected and his subsequent actions would significantly affect the outcome of the day’s fighting and remain controversial till the present day.[6] 

Surprisingly, one of the two officers with the longest length of service would play no role in the upcoming Civil War.  His resignation from the army a little over a year later would begin his a career as a farmer in Connecticut.[7] 

Maybe most unlikely was the idea at the time that one of these roommates would violate his sacred oath of appointment and take up arms against the United States.  This man twelve years later, would be one of the first two officers elevated to the rank of lieutenant general in the Confederate Army and the last to surrender a major command of that same army at Galveston Texas, six weeks after Lee surrendered at Appomattox.[8]  

That is in the future.  Those men just described are older, more serious versions of the seven men now living with the Holmes family in the village of Cornwall in Orange County New York.  For now, they are simply seven young army officer’s serving as junior faculty members or staff at the United States Military Academy.  All have promising futures.  None of them know what lies in store. It is October 22, 1850 and Assistant Marshal Peter Cannon is at the door.  

[1] According to the Civil War Database, there is only one Alfred Holmes from New York in the entire database.  His age is off by two years.  He enlisted in 1864 in Company G, 15th NY Heavy Artillery.  He shortly thereafter transferred into the Navy.  While there are 28 “James Holmes” entries from New York who served in New York outfits, there is one intriguing possibility.  James Holmes enlisted on May 9, 1861 in Company A, 15th Engineers.  This was a specialized unit specifically recruited and trained as engineers.  Given the Holme’s family proximity to West Point and its renown as an engineer school, is it possible that one of the engineer officers who lived with the Holmes family assisted young James in enlisting in this very elite engineer unit?  
[2] George B. McClellan (1826-1885) commanded the Army of the Potomac from July 1861 to November 1862. On November 1, 1861 he succeeded Winfield Scott as commander in chief of the United States Army. He held that post until relieved by President Lincoln on March 11, 1862.  He was the 1864 candidate of the Democratic party for President of the United States. 
[3] Fitz-John Porter (1822-1901) commanded the Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac at Antietam.  He was relieved of corps command and arrested on November 25, 1862.  Tried by general court martial for disobedience and misconduct at Second Bull Run, Porter was dismissed from the Army on January 21 1863.  He spent the next 14 years fighting to vindicate himself.  In 1878 the Schofield Commission exonerated Porter of the charges but it took an additional eight years for President Arthur to commute Porter’s sentence and restore him to the rank of Colonel in the United States Army.
[4] Truman Seymour (1824-1891) commanded Company H, 1st US Artillery during the battle at Fort Sumter in April 1861.  After the garrison surrendered, he returned to a hero’s welcome in New York.  At Antietam, Seymour commanded a brigade of the Pennsylvania Reserves that started the fighting in the East Woods on September 16.  Seymour retired from the Army in 1876 and eventually moved to Florence Italy where he took up painting.  He died and was buried there in 1891.
[5] Francis Clarke (1820-1866) was the Chief of Artillery of the Second Corps at Antietam.  He died shortly after the end of the war.
[6] James Duane (1824-1897) commanded the regular army engineer battalion at Antietam.  He was ordered to find a ford on the Antietam Creek along the Union Army’s left flank that the Ninth Corps could advance across to outflank the Confederate defenses. He ended his career in the United States Army as a brigadier general and Chief of Engineers. 
[7] Charles T. Baker (1822-1881) served an additional year at West Point only to resign from the Army on December 31 1851.  He returned to his hometown at Windham CT and took  up farming there. While I could not find a record of subsequent service in the Civil War, there is a GAR placard on his grave at Windham Center Cemetery.
[8] Edmund Kirby Smith (1824-1893) resigned from the U.S. Army on April 6, 1861.  While five of his former roommates confronted Robert E. Lee’s army in the Maryland, Smith lead another army into Kentucky in the fall of 1862. He defeated a federal force at Richmond Kentucky on August 30 1862.  On October 9, 1862 he along with James Longstreet became the first two officers promoted to the newly created rank of lieutenant general in the Confederate Army.  (Thomas Jackson’s effective date of promotion was not until October 10, 1862.)  Smith commanded Confederate forces in the Trans-Mississippi for the second half of the war and surrendered the Confederacy’s last army-level command at Galveston Texas on May 26 1865.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Cool and Gallant in the Extreme

Top Row Lieutenants King, Cushing, and Evans at Antietam
On November 7, 2014, President Obama bestowed the Medal of Honor on First Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing for his actions in stemming the Confederate advance known as Pickett’s Charge.  Young Cushing, age 22 gave his life when he refused to withdraw to a safer position after being grievously wounded.  Instead, Cushing advanced two of his guns to a stone wall into the very teeth of the surging Confederates.  In agony from a wound to the abdomen, and his left thumb burned to the bone while venting the guns without a thumbstall, Cushing fired a last round of canister point blank into the faces of the Confederates before being killed instantly by a shot to the mouth.[1] After the action subsided, Cushing’s First Sergeant, Frederick Fuger tenderly carried his young commanders body several yards to the rear and buried the gallant lieutenant under an oak tree.  While it took 151 years for Cushing to receive his, First Sergeant Fuger, a native of Goppingen Germany was awarded the Medal of Honor in April 1897. [2]

Alonzo Cushing is perhaps the best known of an amazing group of young officers who lead the regular artillery companies in the Union Army during the Civil War. These young men, mostly in their early to mid twenties, were a mix of West Point graduates, former non commissioned officers, and civilian appointees. They served in sixty batteries in five U.S. Artillery regiments. Together, they not only lead their own companies but also were responsible for the training and development of the volunteer batteries making them a formidable force in their own right. Men like Randol, Terrill, Du Pont, and Guenther, mostly unknown today, were present in so many battles, great and small and made the Union artillery a feared and respected force everywhere.

This Veteran’s Day, let us follow the action of some other gunners who fought with the very same Second Corps that Cushing supported at Gettysburg.  This however is nine months earlier on America’s bloodiest day, the Battle of Antietam. 

Covering the advance of John Sedgwick’s division down the Smoketown Road were two Second Corps regular batteries.  One of these was Battery A&C/4th Artillery (Evan Thomas [Civ-1861, age 19).  These unit was a combination of two severely understrength batteries and had been combined to have a sufficient number of men to man the six guns assigned to one battery.  Neither of the two captains was present to command the consolidated unit. Francis N. Clarke of A Company was on detached service with Sumner as his Chief of Artillery.  Company C’s command slot was vacant with the recent death of George Hazzard from wounds suffered in the Seven Days battle of White Oak Swamp.  This left 19 year old Evan Thomas from Company C in command. Family connections (his father was Lorenzo Thomas, the Adjutant General of the army) secured the young man an appointment in the regular artillery the year before.  Thomas was a spirited and even hotheaded young officer. The other officer present from Company C that day was Rufus “Junior” King, scion of another influential family. His uncle Rufus was the first commander of the famed Black Hat Brigade.  Thomas and King are but two examples of how family connections secured many young men coveted appointments in the regular army in the first year of the Civil War. 
As the battery moved forward down the Smoketown Road, it started banging away at the surging Confederates who had waylaid Sedgwick’s division in the West Woods. Evans opened on the advancing enemy with spherical case, and then, as the rebels approached nearer, with canister.  He reports that only the arrival of the advance elements of the Sixth Corps saved him from being overwhelmed. Lending a hand was the Second Corps ordnance officer Alonzo Cushing.  Cushing, assigned to Company C was like Captain Clarke also on detached service on the Sumner’s staff. 

Not far away stood Battery I, First US Artillery.  Considered one of the elite batteries of the army artillery establishment, the command was rebuilt from scratch after being wrecked and its guns lost at First Bull Run.   Unlike A/C/4US led by former civilians, Battery I had West Point leadership.  First Lieutenant George “Little Dad” Woodruff USMA 1861 age 22 was in command that day standing in for Lieutenant Edmund Kirby who was sick.  Battery I’s captain wasn’t with the battery but he was not far away.  James Ricketts, now a brigadier general of volunteers
Lieutenant George Woodruff
commanded a division in the Cornfield 500 yards to the north.  Woodruff had a full complement of officers so all three gun sections were commanded by lieutenants.  They included recent West Point graduates Lieutenants Tully McRea (USMA 1862 age 23) and John Egan (USMA 1862 age 25).  Also assigned to the battery was Frank Sands French (CIV-1861 age 20).  Frank’s father William French (USMA 1837) was another legacy of the First Artillery in the old Army.  Like Ricketts that day, the elder French was also nearby commanding the 3rd Division, Second Corps in the Sunken Road. Like Evan Thomas, Woodruff had to contend with surging Confederate infantry in the West Woods.  Alternating between counter-battery fire and interdicting rebel infantry, Woodruff had little infantry support around his guns. McCrea said that “it [the battery] worked like a machine and we put two rounds of canister a minute in their faces at short range.” Egan described Woodruff’s handling of the battery as “masterful.”
[3]  At Gettysburg, “Little Dad” Woodruff would fall mortally wounded not far from his colleague Alonzo Cushing.

Lieutenant Samuel Elder
The concentration of Second Corps artillery behind Sedgwick’s division left little to support the attacks of French and Richardson further to the left in the Sunken Road.  The absence of artillery and the persistent and effective rebel fire from the Reel Ridge and around the Piper orchard led General Richardson to request a battery from the Artillery Reserve.  Battery K, 1st Artillery, commanded by Captain William M. Graham (CIV-1855 age 27) was soon dispatched.  Graham’s was not a West Point graduate himself but his father James D. Graham was a member of the West Point class of 1817, and a lieutenant colonel in the topographical engineers. His uncle and namesake, Colonel William Montrose Graham, was killed during the Mexican-American War while commanding the 11th U.S. Infantry at Molino del Rey.  Graham was appointed to the First Artillery in 1855 during the expansion of the Regular Army that year.  As a measure of his ability he was in just six years promoted to captain.  Graham’s battery took position in the plowed field earlier occupied by the Irish Brigade.  The battery came under severe artillery fire from rebel batteries.  Graham managed to silence one battery 700 yards away and repelled several infantry charges but his Napoleons were outranged by Confederate rifled guns on the Reel Ridge.  General Richardson ordered Graham to save the battery as much as possible and was mortally wounded by a fragment of spherical case while standing near the guns.  Under this galling fire stood Lieutenant Theophie Bhryd  von Michalowski from Prussia (ENL 1861 age 23).  The former sergeant major of the 11th US Infantry for a long time served one of his pieces with but one cannoneer, alternating with this man in loading and firing. Lieutenant Maynadier (CIV-1861 age 25) returned with First Sergeant Cooney and brought off the two caissons, under a heavy artillery fire.  Captain Graham saved his finest praise for First Lieutenant Samuel Elder (ENL-1861 age 33).  Elder, several years older than the other officers was a former non-commissioned officer in the Second Artillery with five years prior enlisted service.  Appointed in 1861, Lieutenant Elder at Antietam served his section with remarkable effect, and was principally instrumental in silencing the battery first engaged. His conduct, under an extraordinarily heavy fire, was cool and gallant in the extreme.[4]

[1] Made of leather, the thumbstall is used by the gunner to stop the vent when the barrel is being swabbed out so that no residue or hot ashes blow up the vent and prematurely ignite the next powder load.  The thumbstall protects the gunner’s thumb from the hot escaping gases.  Not wearing one causes serious burns to the thumb and repeated thumbing of the vent without a thumbstall will certainly burn the flesh away to the bone.  It must have been excruciating.
[2] Fuger’s citation read: “ All the officers of his battery having been killed or wounded and five of its guns disabled in Pickett's assault, he succeeded to the command and fought the remaining gun with most distinguished gallantry until the battery was ordered withdrawn.”  Four months later, Fuger was appointed a second lieutenant in the 4th Artillery rising to the rank of Major in 1899 retiring in 1900. He died in 1913.
[3] Haskin, First Artillery page 540
[4] Graham OFFICIAL RECORDS: Series 1, Vol 19, Part 1, Pages 343 - 344

Sunday, May 11, 2014

"Unwavering Fidelity to the Cause of My Country"

I almost missed George Dickinson.

Last year as I began my research, I assembled a list of officers assigned to the U.S. Artillery regiments.  With 441 officers discovered, I thought that I had all of them until today.   Going thru Volume 2 of Heitman’s Register doing some crosschecking for something else, I discovered George Dickenson. 

Having found Lieutenant Dickenson, I ran a query in Fold 3. One of the most common records contained there is a newly commissioned officer’s letters of acceptance.  This letter, addressed to the Adjutant General is a very dry affair.  The officer acknowledges the appointment, and indicates his age and home of record.  That is usually it.

George’s letter contained this and a lot more.  Dickinson was an enlisted man in Company K,  1st Missouri Light Artillery Regiment.  He came from perhaps the most bitterly divided of the border states.  But Dickenson knew exactly where he stood on the matter of the his country.

After he acknowledged his appointment, Dickenson had this to say:

“I am fully sensible of the high honor conferred upon me and shall endeavor by a zealous performance of my duty and an unwavering fidelity to the cause of my country to merit the confidence which in this hour of national calamity her rulers have reposed in me.  I am twenty one years of age and a native of Missouri.”[1]

Dickenson was first assigned to Company A of the 4th U.S. Artillery.  Within a month of his commissioning, he was promoted to First Lieutenant on November 29, 1861 and assigned to Company G.  Dickenson remained with Company A until April 1862.  There the young man from Missouri served with Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing who would achieve immortality at Gettysburg over a year later. when he reached his new command at Fort Monroe.  After the Peninsula Campaign, Dickenson was attached Company E and the Ninth Corps.  When Captain Clark commanding the company was wounded at Antietam, Dickenson assumed command. 

George Dickenson survived the bloodiest day in American history.  He zealously performed his duty and merited the confidence reposed in him.   Three months later on December 13th 1862, far from his Missouri home, George Dickenson was killed at Fredericksburg.

If I find out nothing else about him, Dickenson’s acceptance letter put into words the sentiment of many young Americans in the opening days of the war where patriotism still motivated men to serve their country.

I am glad that I found George Dickenson.

[1] Letter from Second Lieutenant George Dickenson to the Adjutant General dated November 7, 1861.