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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.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Northern Disturbances

Ft Kent Maine, D.H. Hill's first duty assignment
In the late 1830s a series of confrontations between disaffected lumbermen in Maine and New Brunswick over the disputed international border in that area caused the War Department to deploy additional military forces to the northern frontier.  Their mission was a show of force, but the regulars were also compelled to keep the unruly local Maine militias under control.  No actual fighting occurred and a diplomatic solution between Great Britain and the United States known as the Webster Ashburton Treaty resolved the border issues.

The Army was extremely stretched in 1838 when these troubles began.  A significant amount of the combat force was in Florida fighting the fiercely resistant Seminoles.  Other troops manned the western frontier of posts along the Mississippi River.  For many, their mission was disagreeable and consisted of moving the Cherokees and other eastern tribes from ancient homelands into the barren Indian Territories west of the Mississippi.  With a new crisis along the Canadian border, where would the forces that were needed for this new mission come from? 

The Army’s only true mobile forces in 1838 were the First and Second Regiments of Dragoons.  The First was stationed at Fort Leavenworth keeping an eye on the relocations of the eastern tribes and making occasional forays deep into the wilderness west of the Mississippi.  The Second after a brief respite at Fort Columbus NY was back in Florida.  Both regiments were not available.

Florida was consuming most of the infantry regiments in 1838.  Five of the eight infantry regiments (First, Second, Fourth, Sixth, and Seventh) were stationed in Florida along with the Third Artillery.  The Third Infantry was at nearby Ft Jesup Louisiana ready to deploy to Florida if needed.   The Fifth Infantry had headquarters at Fort Snelling Minnesota with its companies stationed in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Nebraska.  The Eighth Infantry had just been authorized by Congress in 1838 and was organizing in upstate New York.

This left the artillery regiments.  During this period, most of the artillery when it was not stationed in a coastal fort that had heavy artillery guns mounted fought as infantry.  A regiment was fortunate if even one company (the units were not yet referred to batteries) was outfitted as “light” artillery and equipped with guns and horses.  The troops not in coastal forts were used as infantry. 

The Army would use three of its four artillery regiments to meet the new emergency. The Third Artillery remained in Florida fighting Seminoles.

In 1838 the First Artillery was sent to the northern frontier to stations in Vermont and New York.  Shortly after their arrival, a new company was added to each of the artillery regiments. In 1840, the regiment redeployed eastward to the Maine frontier.

In the middle of the disputed area was Hancock Barracks located near Houlton Maine.  On today’s international border, Houlton was then a hotbed of local Maine lumberman and the center of the disputed area.  Built in 1828, Hancock Barracks became the headquarters of the First Artillery Regiment in 1840 and had up to four companies of the First Artillery deployed there.  Among the officers at one time or another were 1LT Joseph Hooker (USMA 1837) and 1LT William French (USMA 1837).
Before heading north, both French and Hooker served briefly in Florida after graduating from West Point in 1837. In fact with the exception of Israel Vogdes[1], all of the artillerymen from the Class of 1837 (French, Hooker and Sedgwick) saw action right after graduation in Florida.  They were no doubt pleased with the prospect of moving to the northeast frontier and serving in more reasonable climes.

Also pulling duty at Hancock Barracks (among other locations on the northern border) were newly graduated 2LTs James Ricketts (USMA 1839) and Alexander Lawton (USMA 1839).  West Point classmates and regimental comrades, Ricketts and Lawton would lead their respective infantry divisions against each other for possession of the bloody Antietam cornfield 23 years later.   Both men would be wounded there. 

In 1842 after graduation from West Point, Brevet 2LT Daniel H. Hill’s (USMA 1842) first posting would be at remote Fort Kent Maine, nearly the most northern point in the lower 48 states.  Hill would transfer to the Third Artillery in 1843, still as a brevet officer.  He would not receive a Second Lieutenant’s commission until an opening became available in the 4th Artillery in 1845.

In July 1838 as soon as its duties in the Cherokee country were completed, the Second Artillery was ordered to the Niagara frontier. A battalion went to Detroit, while the rest of the regiment went to Buffalo, where headquarters were established. Eight companies were at regimental headquarters during most of the time the regiment was on the Niagara frontier. Arriving at Buffalo New York in 1839 was First Lieutenant John Sedgwick and another newly commissioned West Pointer – Henry Hunt (USMA 1839.)  They were joined a year later by newly commissioned 2LT William Hays (USMA 1840).  Hunt who commanded the Union artillery at Antietam would supervise William Hays who commanded the Artillery Reserve at the Battle. 

In the autumn of 1839, the Fourth Artillery was ordered to the Lake Frontier.  Regimental headquarters and seven companies took station at Detroit. The regiment protected the border along the Michigan boundary with Canada. Companies A and K moved to Fort Gratiot, Company G, was at Cleveland, Ohio and Company H was sent to Fort Mackinac. Two graduates of the class of 1840 were immediately dispatched to Detroit as officers of this regiment.  George Getty (USMA 1840) went to Dearbornville Michigan.  Francis N. Clarke (USMA 1840) was at Detroit. Albion Howe (USMA 1841) joined the regiment in the summer of 1841 after his graduation from the academy.

With the exception of the First Artillery, which largely remained on the Maine-New Brunswick border until the beginning of the Mexican War, the other regiments gradually moved back to their former posts as the crisis subsided.

In the First Artillery Regiment, Hooker left the frontier and briefly served as adjutant at West Point in 1841 before being posted to Fort Columbus NY as regimental adjutant.  French would stay on the frontier a while longer. In 1843 he lead a detachment of sappers assigned to escort the Northeast Boundary Survey on their rounds.  Ricketts would remain in Maine until 1846 when the regiment was sent to Texas for the Mexican War.  For Alexander Lawton, this would be his only assignment as an officer of the United States Army. On December 31, 1840, he resigned his commission and return to Georgia.

The Second Artillery’s stint on the border was somewhat shorter. In August 1841, the regiment left Buffalo by canal.  Regimental headquarters and companies B, D and G went to Fort Columbus in New York harbor.  Company A was across the Narrows at Fort Hamilton with company E at Fort Lafayette, also in the New York harbor.  Companies F and I went to Fort Adams, Rhode Island and companies C, H and K moved to Fort Monroe. Sedgwick’s company was assigned at Fort Monroe Virginia.  William Hays soon followed him there in 1842.  2LT Hunt was reassigned in 1841 to Fort Adams. 

The Fourth Artillery’s headquarters moved to Buffalo in 1841 displacing the Second Artillery.  George Getty moved with it to the Niagara Frontier.  Francis Clarke served only briefly with the regiment in Michigan and as it took up new stations in western New York, Clarke joined Joe Hooker at West Point as an Assistant Professor of Mathematics.  Clarke who served at Antietam as Sumner’s Chief of Artillery would teach at West Point until 1852 later teaching Chemistry, Mineralogy, and Geology until 1852. In May 1842, the regiment was ordered from the northern frontier to the seaboard. Headquarters and all the companies, excepting B, arrived at Fort Columbus in June and July. It was again transferred with eight companies at Fortress Monroe, one at Fort McHenry, and one at Fort Severn. Getty was at Fort Monroe and Howe at Fort Severn.

For a brief period in 1840, a significant part of the military might of the United States Army was positioned on the Canadian border.  Even when tensions were highest, there was probably little prospect for a hot war.  Nevertheless, for soldiers like Hooker, French, Hunt, D.H. Hill, Ricketts, Lawton, Getty, Howe, and Clarke, the experiences and relationships formed along the frontiers of Maine, New York and Michigan would form life long impressions.  They could hardly know as young lieutenants where history would take them.  For Hooker and Ricketts it would be fighting in the Cornfield against Lawton.  French’s division would attempt to wrest the Sunken Road from D.H. Hill.   The others would adhere to their roots in the artillery and lead important elements of the Army of the Potomac’s artillery commands.  Henry Hunt commanded all the artillery; William Hays the Artillery Reserve; and Clarke and Getty, were artillery commanders for the Second and Ninth Corps respectively.

[1] Second Lieutenant Israel Vogdes (USMA 1837) spent the first twelve years of his career as an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the Military Academy.  It wasn’t until 1849 that he left West Point for assignment with his regiment that was back in Florida.  Vogdes may not be among those usually recognized as a participant in the Maryland Campaign.  However he served on the staff of Major-General John Reynolds on the Pennsylvania assisting in the mobilization of the Pennsylvania Emergency Militia.  Most of his subsequent duty however was in South Carolina and tidewater Virginia

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