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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 4, 2014

Fort Ridgely Minnesota - An Antebellum Artillery Post


Fort Ridgely Minnesota
When South Carolina seceded from the Union in December 1860, the regular artillery establishment of the United States included four artillery regiments consisting of twelve companies per regiment.  These 48 companies were scattered around the country in little penny packets of at most, several companies per post.  Forty-one of the companies had neither guns nor horses and were simply referred to as foot artillery.  Take for example Company F, 4th Artillery stationed at Fort Ridgely Minnesota. On the December 1860 monthly return it was considerably under its peacetime establishment with only 49 men including four officers present for duty.[1] Foot artillery was sometime referred to as red leg infantry (for the color red used to identify the artillery branch).  All but four of the artillery companies that fought in Mexico thirteen years earlier did so as red legs.

The cost of a light artillery company was considerably more expensive than a foot artillery company. The parsimonious War Department of the late 1850s couldn’t afford the luxury of paying for horses and more important their forage.  During Franklin Pierce’s administration, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis compensated for the lack of horses and guns by assigning several foot artillery companies together usually with a light battery at so called artillery schools of practice.  These schools were located at such places as Vancouver Barracks, Washington Territory, Fort Leavenworth Kansas, and Fort Randall Nebraska Territory. The most important of these was Fort Monroe Virginia where a total of eight artillery companies were stationed.   Usually it was the first assignment of a young artillery lieutenant’s career to be temporarily stationed at Fort Monroe.  The post also trained artillery and ordnance sergeants.  

Fort Ridgely was another one of these artillery schools of practice. Erected in 1853 and located about 100 miles south west of Minneapolis, the soldiers at Ridgely kept an eye on the restless Dakota-Sioux tribes all around them. Ridgely was indeed the only army post between the Indians and the settled areas around Minneapolis and St. Paul to the east. 

Major William Morris, 4th Artillery commanded the post. At age 59, Morris was a forty-year veteran of the Army at a time when there was no such thing as a retirement pension.  A graduate of the West Class of 1820, Morris had slowly moved up the ranks of the 4th Artillery Regiment over the course of his career.  Brevetted major for “gallant conduct on several occasions, and general efficiency in the War against the Florida Indians”, he served in the Mexican War commanding a red leg artillery battalion at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. As of January 10, 1861, Major Morris was the senior active officer of the 4th Artillery and as such served as the acting regimental commander.[2]

Thomas Sherman
Morris commanded a post consisting of one light artillery company and three foot artillery companies from the Second, Third, and Fourth Artillery Regiments. The most famous was Light Company E, 3rd U.S. Artillery.  The only light company on the post, it had a complement of four officers, 55 soldiers 71 horses and four guns. Captain Thomas W. Sherman commanded the company. An 1838 graduate of the Academy, his classmates included P.G.T. Beauregard, Irwin McDowell, and William Barry.  Sherman and Light Company E earned great distinction during the Mexican War at Buena Vista where he was brevetted major for gallant and meritorious conduct in the battle of Buena Vista, Mexico.  In the 1850s, Sherman commanded an expedition to Yellow Medicine Minnesota and served in Kansas during the disturbances there.  His company had been at Fort Ridgely since 1858.  An eccentric and somewhat remote officer, his lieutenants called him “Old Tim” though never to his face.  Among Sherman’s subalterns in Light Company E were Lieutenants Dunbar Ransom, and Gabriel Hill. [3] His other lieutenant position was vacant.

The other three companies at Ridgely were foot artillery units from the Second and Fourth Artillery.    The smallest of these with just 35 officers and men present for duty was Company I, Second Artillery.  In the absence of Captain Augustus Gibson who was on a four-month leave of absence, First Lieutenant Albert Molinard commanded the company.  Molinard, the son of Julian Molinard, Teacher of French at the Military Academy was an 1851 graduate of West Point.  He served tours of duty in Florida, Fort Monroe, and as aide de camp for General Wool before his assignment to Fort Ridgely in 1860.  It was not all that unusual for a lieutenant to command a company.  Many captains often spent months and years away from their commands on special assignments, leave, or sick.  With Molinard were Lieutenants Judson Bingham and Thomas Grey.[4]  Grey was from Ireland and rose through the enlisted ranks of the Second Artillery to become regimental sergeant major before accepting a commission in 1855.

The two remaining foot artillery companies at Fort Ridgeley hailed from the Fourth Artillery.  

John Pemberton
John Pemberton from Pennsylvania commanded Company F, 4th Artillery.  His small company included 3 officers and 46 enlisted men present. Lieutenants Edward Bagley and Alexander B. Montgomery were with him at Fort Ridgely.   Lieutenant William Gill was on detached service with the Coastal Survey in Washington D.C.

Pemberton had enjoyed a very successful military career.  An 1837 graduate of West Point a year ahead of Thomas Sherman, Pemberton’s classmates included such notables as Braxton Bragg, Jubal Early William French, John Sedgwick and Joe Hooker.  He fought in the Second Seminole War and was stationed on the northern frontier during the Canada border disturbances in the early 1840s.  In Mexico Pemberton served for most of the war as aide de camp to Bvt. Brig.‑General Worth.  He nevertheless earned two brevets for “gallant and meritorious conduct in the several conflicts at Monterey, and Molino del Rey, Mexico.  He saw action in every campaign from Palo Alto to the assault and capture of Mexico City. The Pennsylvanian returned from the war to marry Martha Thompson of Norfolk, Virginia. Promoted to captain in 1850, he was back in Florida for the Third Seminole War, served in Kansas and Utah and arrived at Fort Ridgely in 1859.

G.A. De Russy
Gustavus Adolphus De Russy commanded Company K.  His company had 2 officers and 52 enlisted men present. With him was Second Lieutenant George Weeks.[5]  Lieutenant Stephen Weed was on detached service with Captain John Gibbon’s Light Company B, 4th Artillery in Utah.[6] De Russy’s other lieutenant; Edward Mc K. Hudson was on a four-month leave of absence.[7]

De Russy attended West Point while his father was Superintendent but resigned in 1838 without graduating. He undoubtedly knew both Sherman and Pemberton while at the Academy.  Despite his lack of a West Point diploma, he obtained a commission in the 4th Artillery in 1847. De Russy was brevetted twice in Mexico for gallant and meritorious conduct in the battles of Contreras-Churubusco and Chapultepec. After the Mexican War, he served as regimental quartermaster until his promotion to captain and assignment to company commander in 1857, De Russy reported to Fort Ridgely in 1859. De Russy was the brother in law of Henry Hunt. [8]

The Secession Crisis – The First Resignations

With the secession of South Carolina in December of 1860 and the subsequent departure of other states of the Deep South, a wave of uncertainty swept through the ranks of the Army.  Southern born officers and some northerners wrestled with decisions that would change their lives.  The officers at Fort Ridgely were not spared this difficult decision. 

The first to feel the impact was Pemberton’s company. Georgia-born lieutenants Edward Bagley and Alexander Montgomery took leaves of absence from the company in mid February and submitted their resignations that were effective March 1 and 3, 1861 respectively.[9] But they were not the first to go.  Back in Washington D.C., William Gill from Pennsylvania, on detached service with the Coastal Survey submitted his resignation which was accepted by President Buchanan effective February 4, 1861.[10]  One of Gill’s colleagues at the Coastal Survey happened to be Lieutenant A.P. Hill of the First Artillery who was also heading south.

April 1861 Orders to Washington 

As officers from the lower South began to follow their states out of the Union, there occurred the first of a series of troop reassignments.   The first occurred after the secession of South Carolina and was perhaps most immediately precipitated by South Carolina reaction to Major Anderson’s surreptitious move of his troops from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter on the night of December 26th 1860.  Three days later, Virginia-born Secretary of War John Floyd resigned to be replaced by the energetic and completely loyal Joseph Holt.  Within days, orders flew out of Washington directing three artillery companies stationed at Fort Leavenworth to proceed east via Chicago to Harrisburg, there to wait further instructions.  They began moving on January 8, 1861.  Upon arrival at Harrisburg, two were sent to Fort McHenry and one was dispatched to Washington. An artillery company at Fort Monroe was prepared to reinforce Fort Pickens.  By April with the exception of Fort Sumter and three forts in Florida, all other regular artillery companies in the south had been evacuated. It must be remembered that Holt’s measures to protect Washington occurred weeks before Lincoln’s inauguration and two months before any call for volunteers. 

The second troop redeployment occurred after the attack on Fort Sumter.  Despite earlier reinforcement, Washington D.C. and Baltimore Maryland were now even more vulnerable.  The surrender of Fort Sumter and Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers and threatened secession of Virginia and North Carolina pushed the boundary of the Southern Confederacy to the banks of the Potomac.  The January and February troop deployments around Washington were intended maintain order and prevent interference with Lincoln’s inauguration.  The move of regulars in April was much more serious designed to defend Washington and Baltimore from outright attack.

The closest available regular troops were located in the military departments west of the Mississippi River. For many reasons, artillery companies with their proximity to the coast or inland railroads and waterways were the most mobile of the available forces. Infantry and cavalry companies located in more remote areas far from road or rails would take longer to get east.   Orders were sent out to the frontier ordering troops to the east coast. 

Pemberton’s company absent all his lieutenants was the first to leave.  This small command left Fort Ridgely on April 13 1861, the day that Fort Sumter surrendered. Directed at first to New York City new orders awaited Pemberton on his arrival at St Paul Minnesota.  He was there directed to proceed to Washington City DC.  Four days later on the morning of the 18th, as the company changed trains in Harrisburg, raw troops from the 1st Pennsylvania Volunteers and Ringgold Artillery joined them on the way to defend the capital. It is very likely that that none of these Pennsylvanians had ever seen a regular army soldier in their lives.  And there is no record of the impression that the volunteers made on the regulars.   The trains were greeted in Baltimore by howling secessionist mobs inflamed by Lincoln’s call on April 15 for 75,000 volunteers. Pemberton’s troops, who were armed, were instrumental in screening the unarmed volunteers on their perilous march through the streets of Baltimore to catch their trains at the Camden Street station.[11] These Pennsylvanians were later to be honored with the title “First Defenders.”  It is more accurate to distinguish them as the first volunteers to reach the capital since Captain William Barry’s Company 2nd Artillery had been in the city since their arrival on January 16. 

Company F and their commander arrived in Washington on the night of April 18 1862 and took up residence at the Washington Arsenal.[12]  John Pemberton having accomplished his orders to move his company to Washington tendered his resignation as a United States Army officer effective April 29, 1861.[13]  Lieutenant Clermont Best from Company M, 4th Artillery was promoted to captain and assumed command of the company.  Company F, 4th Artillery has the dubious distinction of being the only company in the regular artillery to lose every officer to resignation.  [14]

Thomas Sherman’s company left Fort Ridgely on the 14th of April and arrived at Elkton Maryland on the 24th.  Upon arrival there, Lieutenant Gabriel Hill from North Carolina tendered his resignation.[15]  On April 27, Thomas Sherman was promoted to major in the 3rd Artillery filling the vacancy created by the resignation of Major John Winder.[16] Lieutenant Ransom was in temporary command until the arrival of Sherman’s successor. On the 8th of May Ransom lead the battery from Elkton and arrived in Washington DC on the 10th. The right section of the battery participated in the seizure of Alexandria on the 24th.[17]

While Pemberton and Sherman’s companies went to Washington. DeRussy and Molinard were assigned to defend Fort McHenry. 

DeRussy’s company left Fort Ridgely on April 25th 1861 and arrived at Perryville Pennsylvania on April 30 1861.  They proceeded onward accompanied by Major Morris and arrived at Fort McHenry early in May.[18]  The headquarters and band of the 4th Artillery that made its way from Fort Randall rendezvoused at Fort McHenry about the same.  The Fourth Artillery Regiment would be based at Fort McHenry for the remainder of the war.[19]

Molinard’s company made nearly an identical journey.  Interestingly while Pemberton and Sherman lost five officers between them to resignation, there were no losses in either De Russy or Molinard’s companies.  [20]


The significance of the departure of the artillery companies and other regular troops from Fort Ridgely was not lost upon the Dakota-Sioux nation.  The Minnesota frontier would explode seventeen months later in bloody warfare as the Sioux saw their opportunity to redress grievances by the sword.  Fort Ridgely itself would be the site of a desperate battle on August 20-22, 1862.

The four artillery companies from Fort Ridgely played an often forgotten role in the early hectic days of April and May 1861.  Much attention is given, and rightly so, to the arrival of the first contingents of volunteers troops, but the drilled, disciplined regular soldiers, many from regular artillery companies that had been previously stationed on the frontier, must also be given credit for their role in the early days for maintaining calm and stability in Washington and Baltimore.  These soldiers provided models for the rough undisciplined volunteers to emulate.  They would also be the core of the artillery force in the growing Union army that would soon begin gathering around Washington. 

[1] “Present and Absent” was a term used on a monthly return used to identify the total number of men on the rolls of the company.  Present and Absent included those present for duty but also soldiers absent sick, on special duty, or confinement.  A more accurate description is Present for Duty.  Company F had 53 men present and absent with 49 officers and men actual present at the time. The present for duty numbers are what I use here.
[2] The 4th Artillery regimental headquarters and band was located at Fort Randall, Nebraska Territory.  Both the colonel and lieutenant colonel were absent on leave.  Colonel Francis Belton born in 1791 had not been with the regiment since January 1, 1858.  He died on September 10, 1861.  Scottish-born Lieutenant Colonel John Munroe (USMA 1814) went on a leave of absence on January 10, 1861 and died suddenly on April 26, 1861.
[3] Ransom received considerable acclaim during the Civil War as an artillery company and brigade commander with the Army of the Potomac. Participating in all of the fighting in the eastern campaigns, he received brevet promotions to major (December 13, 1862); lieutenant colonel (July 3, 1863); and colonel (August 25, 1864).
[4] Bingham moved to the Quartermaster Department in May 1861 and remained in that service until retiring in 1895.  Grey later served as adjutant of the Second Artillery until 1863 when he assumed command of Company I.  He died in 1872, a soldier to the end.
[5] George Weeks transferred to the Quartermaster Corps in My 1861 and ended his military career 37 years later as the Quartermaster General of the Army
[6] Stephen Weed became a renowned artillery commander early in the Civil War distinguishing himself on the Peninsula and at Antietam.  Appointed a Brigadier General U.S.V. in June of 1863, he died at Gettysburg leading a brigade of infantry on July 2, 1863.
[7] In the expansion of the Regular Army in May of 1861, Hudson was accepted a commission as a captain in the new 14th Infantry.  He retired in 1870.
[8] De Russy had a distinguished career during the Civil War.  Among his assignments were Chief of Artillery of the 3rd Corps and commander of the Artillery Reserve during the Battle of Fredericksburg.  Later promoted to Brigadier U.S.V. De Russy commanded the Washington defenses until the end of the war. He retired in 1882 as commander of the 3rd Artillery Regiment.
[9] Bagley became a major in the Georgia Legion and was accidently killed on November 13, 1861 near Williamsburg by his own men. Montgomery was elected major of the 3rd Georgia and was seriously wounded at Second Manassas. He recovered and was elected colonel of that regiment in May of 1863. He lived to about 1899. 
[10] According to Heitman, Gill became a colonel in the Confederate Ordnance Department and died on June 7, 1862. Cullem says that Gill died in Augusta Maine however.
[11] Hoptak, John D. First in Defense of the Union: The Civil War History of the First Defenders. Bloomington Indiana: Author House, 2004, 22.
[12] RG-391 E-206 4th Artillery Regimental Monthly Returns Volume 3 of 9 1857-1872
[13] John Pemberton of Philadelphia Pennsylvania would join the Confederate Army and ultimately be promoted to a Lieutenant General in command of the troops defending Vicksburg.  He would surrender that place on July 4, 1863. 
[14] Company F, 4th Artillery became part of General Bank’s division in the Shenandoah and eventually the only regular battery in the Twelfth Corps, Army of the Potomac. It would serve with great distinction in both the eastern and western theaters during the Civil War.
[15] Hill commanded the Confederate Ordnance Works at Tyler, Texas, from October 1863 until the end of the Civil War. After the war, he lived in Danville, Missouri, and Charlottesville, Virginia, where he was a physician.
[16] Sherman shortly thereafter was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in the new 5th Artillery Regiment.  His star would continue to rise with an appointment as brigadier general U.S.V. on May 17, 1861.  He commanded the Port Royal expedition and later a division in the Army of the Tennessee.  He lost a leg in the fighting at Port Hudson but eventually returned to active duty.  At the end of the Civil War, Sherman reverted to his regular army rank of Colonel, 3rd Artillery.  He retired in 1870 and died in 1879. Sherman would take Light Company E with him on the Port Royal expedition and it would remain in South Carolina until
[17] RG-391 E-131 3rd Artillery Battery Returns Subsection 1 by date; 1858-1862 Box 2; Light Company E would have one of the most varied and distinguished careers of any regular artillery company.  It fought at First Bull Run and accompanied its old commander Thomas Sherman on the Port Royal Expedition which he lead.  It served in South Carolina and Florida in such actions as Secessionville, Fort Wagner, and Olustee before joining Butler’s Army of the James in the trenches at Petersburg in 1864.  It then participated in both expeditions against Fort Fisher in 1865 and was part of William T. Sherman’s Campaign in the Carolinas and was present at the surrender of Joseph Johnston’s army on April 26, 1865
[18] Company K, 4th Artillery would eventually move to Washington and become part of the Army of the Potomac.  It served with the Third Corps artillery until March 1864 when that command was combined with the Second Corps.  Thereafter, it was with the Second Corps Artillery Brigade until the end of the war.  The company fought in all the major campaigns of the Army of the Potomac except for the Maryland Campaign.
[19] Morris was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel of the Fourth Artillery on May 14, 1861 and Colonel of the 2nd Artillery on November 1, 1861.  To old for active duty, he commanded the Harbor Defenses of Baltimore until February 1, 1865,  and the Middle Department and 8th Army Corps until he died at the age of 64 on December 11, 1865.
[20] Albert Molinard spent the first year of the war with Company I in the Baltimore defenses.  In November of 1861, he was promoted to Captain of Company F, 2nd Artillery that was operating with the Army of the Tennessee.  He served in the West and was division artillery chief but retired from service October 1, 1863.  He died in 1872.; Company I, 2nd Artillery saw no active service in the war spending the entire period at either Fort McHenry (until May 1864) or the Defenses of Washington DC (until April 1865)

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