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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 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.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery

Today Antietam National Battlefield unveiled its own volunteer artillery detachment in a firing exercise for Junior Ranger Day. Under the supervision of Ranger Christie Stanczak, the volunteers who work at the Visitor’s Center, serve as battlefield ambassadors and support other volunteer efforts at the Park, have been drilling since last fall in preparation for today’s event. We decided to interpret Battery B, 4th United States Artillery, a regular Army battery which fought at the Battle of Antietam.
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In the photo shown here, several of the volunteers attempted to strike a pose similar to the famous photo of Antietam artilleryman Captain John Tidball’s and several of his officers from Battery A, 2nd United States Artillery. Well anyway we tried.

Before continuing, I would like to note that there is a great reenactor unit with the same name located in Wisconsin. They are an excellent resource for further study of Battery B. You can reach their link HERE

This is the first of a two part story on the history of Battery B. Today’s post covers the history of the unit from its organization to the start of the Civil War. I will follow this later on with the story of the Battery through its fight at Antietam.

As part of the regular Army, the unit already had a long and proud history of service. It was constituted on April 27, 1798 in the Regular Army at Fort Jay, New York, as Captain James Stille's Battery, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Regiment of Artillerists and Engineers. The battery is said to have served as infantry at the Battle of Plattsburg in 1814. On March 21, 1821, the Army’s artillery corps was reorganized and the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Artillery Regiments were organized with nine batteries each but only one battery of each regiment was actually equipped as light artillery. The others were equipped as infantry and assigned to garrison duty. In the 4th Artillery, Battery B was the one battery that was equipped as light artillery. It had four brass six pounders but no horses. The guns were hauled by the men with drag ropes. Captain Humphreys was the first commander. In 1837 during the Seminole War, Battery B, now under the command of Captain J. M. Washington received horses. However the terrain was not practical for employing artillery so the guns were parked in a fortified camp and the troops served as provisional dragoons for several months. In 1839, the four light artillery batteries, (one from each regiment) were reassigned to Trenton New Jersey “for a thorough course of drill and instruction”, based upon the “Instructions for Field Artillery, Horse and Foot, 1839-40” translated from the French by First Lieutenant Robert Anderson. Battery B was transferred to the Canadian border at Ogdensburg in 1842-1843 where trouble brewed with Britain. In 1845, it was sent to General Taylor’s “Army of Observation” on the Rio Grande. Captain Washington was still in command. First Lieutenant John P. O’Brien was second in command. One of the second lieutenants was Darius Couch afterward a division commander assigned to Major General Franklin during the Maryland Campaign. The Battery distinguished itself at the Battle of Buena Vista on Feburary 23, 1847. Lieutenant O’Brien particularly distinguished himself. General John Wool said in his report that O’Brien, "after having two horses killed under him, and being painfully wounded in the knee, took charge of his howitzer in person and continued to fire canister until the Mexicans had actually killed his No. 1 gunner and captured his No. 2 at the muzzle of the piece." Colonel William R. Morrison a future member of Congress from Illinois said that “he had never seen officers and men stand by their guns like O’Brien and his men stood by Battery B at Buena Vista." This desperate fighting foreshadowed a similar gallant performance by this battery some 15 years later on the Hagerstown Pike north of Sharpsburg. Battery B was not engaged seriously in the Mexican war after Buena Vista. After the war, the Battery served at Fort Brown Texas and at New Orleans during the mid-1850's. In March 1857 it moved to Fort Leavenworth to form part of General Harney’s Utah expedition. At the time, Fort Leavenworth was under the command of Colonel Edwin Vose Sumner, later of Second Corps fame at Antietam. For a part of this period. Lieutenant George Hartsuff later a brigade commander in Rickett’s Division of the First Corps at Antietam served in the battery. In Utah, the battery operating as cavalry protected parties of emigrants heading West, and kept open the mail routes. Lieutenant Stephen H. Weed, an artilleriest of note at Gettysburg, commanded a detachment of troops that clashed with 200 Indians near Egan’s Pony Express station in present-day Nevada on August, 11, 1860, losing three men wounded (one mortally). The outbreak of the Civil War found Battery B stationed at Camp Floyd, Utah, near Salt Lake City. The post was named after Secretary of War J. B. Floyd. The post was very large, containing around 3,000 troops. That was nearly 20% of the prewar Regular Army. The command at Camp Floyd consisted of two companies of the 10th U.S. Infantry, three squadrons of the 2nd U.S. Dragoons, Batteries A, B, and C, 4th U.S. Field Artillery, an ordnance detachment, and some civilian teamsters.

Initially, orders to Camp Floyd directed Battery B to St. Louis for further orders. The soldiers marched on foot across the twelve hundred miles to Fort Leavenworth. En route, they learned of the Battle of Bull Run from a pony express dispatch. Marching through hostile Missouri, the troops witnessed rebel forces organizing. Though ready themselves for an ambush or attack there were no incidents. At Fort Leavenworth, Captain John Gibbon the battery commander heard for the last time from his family in North Carolina. His three brothers were soon to enter the Confederate army. Arriving in St. Louis, the battery was ordered to Washington reaching arriving in the city in on October 18, 1861.

In addition to the great material I located at Battery B website, I also found a great read in “The Cannoneer” Recollections of Service in the Army of the Potomac by Augustus Buell, and “The Fourth Regiment of Artillery by First Lieutenant Alexander B. Dyer and finally information on Camp Floyd from Curtis Allen’s blog Utah War and Camp Floyd Cemetery.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Northern Battlefield Hike

Antietam Ranger Mike Gamble led another great hike last Sunday taking about 25 stalwart walkers around the northern part of the battlefield. Mike's hike was essentially a reprise of the spring hikes to date. We covered the Mumma Farm, East Woods, the pasture south of the North Woods, Miller Farm, the Cornfield, West Woods, and Dunker Church. Unlike our last foray into this area a couple weeks ago when we ran into a hail storm, this time the weather was perfect. In my series of photos on this hike, I invite your attention to the terrain. There are a number of views of such buildings as the Joseph Poffenberger barn, and the Miller farmhouse, taken at different angles and perspectives. The contrasts are often startling. The photos here in this article is a great example of this. It is from the edge of the East Woods and pasture looking northwest toward the Joseph Poffenberger Farm. Note that only the top of the barn roof is visible. From the middle of what was known then as the pasture, the view of the barn is much different. Here, most of the structure is visible. There are other examples of this difference in the terrain in the slideshow.

This Sunday, we shift to the center of the battlefield. While the hike is titled the Sunken Road, Ranger Brian Baracz who has taken us on some very interesting walks this year, will probably include the area around the Piper Farm, another under-explored part of the field, as part of the Sunken Road hike. Join us again on Sunday.

Monday, April 6, 2009

From Reel Ridge to the West Woods - The Advance of McLaws Division

On April 5th, over 30 hikers enjoyed another in a series of spring hikes at Antietam National Battlefield. This time, our objective was to trace the path of Major General Lafayette McLaws' division as it moved from reserve positions in Sharpsburg toward the West Woods. It was a somewhat different route than that taken in previous years but it gave many a lucky hiker a great opportunity to see parts of the battlefield little traversed. Ranger Brian Baracz developed this route and led another great hike. For a time we anxiously watched an ominous gray sky hoping that there wouldn't have a repeat of the heavy rain and hail storm that hit Ranger Mike Gamble's hike of the East Woods and Cornfield on March 29. And it was nice to see many who were rained and hailed on last week back again today.



We crossed Rt 65 south of the Visitor's Center and headed west to begin our ascent of the Reel Ridge. This land is owned by the Civil War Preservation Trust and is therefore accessible for those interested in this part of the battlefield. Robert E. Lee considered this ridge as a possible fallback position in the event that things went totally against the Confederates farther to the north. According to Carmen, he spent part of the early afternoon in this area. From the top of the ridge, looking south, we could see the Reel barn. David Reel and his family evacuated the area before the battle and the barn was used as a hospital for Confederate wounded. Union artillery fire hit the barn causing a fire which killed many of the injured Confederates. From the summit, we descended the western slope of the ridge and headed north. This was essentially the route that Lafayette McLaws division took to approach the West Woods. Around 8AM, Robert E. Lee called this division forward from Sharpsburg where it was resting after an all night forced march from Harpers Ferry. McLaw's and Anderson were the last two division commanders from the Harpers Ferry operation to arrive at Sharpsburg before the battle started. A.P. Hill's Light Division would not make its timely arrival from Harpers Ferry until the afternoon of September 17th.

As we headed north, we could see the Hauser Farm to our left. The farm in on Hauser's Ridge, another prominent high point on the western part of the battlefield. This area was the subject of our Nicodemus Heights hike several weeks ago. Reaching the dirt trail that connects the farm to Rt 65, we turned east and after crossing that highway were back on the more or less familiar territory in the park proper. The herd of 20 or so deer that swept by us on Confederate Avenue was a pleasant reminder that the park is home to sizeable wildlife populations of deer, various birds, and other animal species.

Brian now turned us into the West Woods and we headed north, emerging at Philadelphia Brigade Park (Stop 5 on the auto tour). It was there that I left the main group after discovering to my chagrin that I my jacket containing car keys had fallen out of my back pack. Fortunately, my friend and fellow volunteer Jim Buchanan helped me trace my foot steps and he found the jacket in the woods. This area is Jim's favorite stomping ground and it is likely that you will run into Jim if you happen to visit the Park on Saturday's or Sundays this spring.

The hike was a great success. The weather cooperated and we were treated to some grand views and a walk on some ground very infrequently travelled. Brian and Mike Gamble lead these weekend tours and put a lot of time and preparation into them. Take a look at my slide show here and get a feel for what you are missing if you can't make the hikes. Come out and see us sometime!