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.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Getting the Guns Out Part 1

This is part one of a two part article on the story of William French an officer not generally know or highly regarded in the annals of Civil War, and his instrumental role in saving five valuable artillery companies located in secessionist Texas in the final weeks of the Buchanan Administration.  Part 1 is the story of French’s career as an artillery officer up to the beginning of the Civil War.

At the Battle of Antietam, William French commanded a newly organized infantry division in the Second Corps.  Before that he earned a reputation as a solid fighter leading a brigade in Israel Richardson’s division.  French earned a brevet for gallantry ninety days before Antietam at the Battle of Fair Oaks. Oliver Howard once said that his fellow brigade commander had “a mind of unusual quickness, well replenished by a long experience in his profession.  French somehow was able to take more men into action and have less stragglers than any of his parallel commanders.”[i]

While French had established a name for himself up till then as a competent infantry commander, he was much better known before the war as one of the United States Army’s premier artillerists.  William French was born in Baltimore on January 13, 1815.  His father William was a veteran of the War of 1812.  His mother was the noted singer Anna Rosetta Halverson who appeared in performances in Baltimore and Philadelphia.  He grew up with 3 sisters and two brothers.  His mother died when William was 13 shortly after the family moved to Washington. His father was an employee of the Post Office.   The youth received his appointment to West Point from the District of Columbia in 1833.  He graduated in 1838 and his classmates were a veritable stellar cast of future Civil War luminaries.  They included John Pemberton, Arnold Elzey, Braxton Bragg, Eliakim Scammon, Jubal Early, Bennett Hill, John Sedgwick, Joseph Hooker, and Robert Chilton.  Also attending the Academy at the time were future artillerists Henry Hunt and William Barry.  French’s ranking in the top half of the class earned him an appointment in the First Artillery. 

Upon graduation, French and Hooker were sent to Florida and saw action in the Second Seminole War.  In 1838 they followed each other to the Northern Frontier with Canada during border disturbances there.  Along the way French married Caroline Read, daughter of George Read III scion of one of Delaware’s oldest and most influential families.  All of their sons served in the military and their daughters both married military officers.  One grandson served in the Third Army with General Patton in World War 2.[ii]  Their first child, Frank was born on April 18, 1842 while the young couple was stationed at remote Hancock Barracks in Maine.[iii] Their second son, William followed two years later while the young couple was stationed at Fort Adams, Rhode Island.[iv]   In August 1845 orders came for the movement of Lieutenant French’s Company F to Louisiana to form part of Zachary Taylor’s Army of Observation.  Caroline took their two young boys back to her father’s house at New Castle Delaware as her husband prepared to move south.  Company F commanded by Captain George Nauman (USMA 1823) was a foot artillery company without guns or horses.  In the Mexican War these companies became known as red leg infantry and fought as such.  In May of 1846 the company went to Fort Brown on the Rio Grande in Texas.  For seven months French was stuck at Point Isabel Texas as a commissary officer.  In May of 1847 his fortunes changed when he was attached to Francis Taylor’s (USMA 1825) Light Company K, First Artillery.  The company was one of the Army’s original four light artillery companies.  It was mounted with horses and guns in 1838 by order of Secretary of War Poinsett.  Nine years later, Taylor a Virginian, was still in command.  In February 1847, Light Company K boarded the SS Arkansas and moved to Vera Cruz to join Winfield Scott’s army.  French was attached as acting Adjutant General to the staff of division commander Robert Patterson.  The 32-year-old French earned a brevet promotion for gallant and meritorious conduct at Cerro Gordo on April 18 1847.  He earned a second brevet at the Battle of Churubusco.  I cannot find any accounts of what French’s actions were at either battle.  At Cerro Gordo, he was on Patterson’s staff.  At Churubusco, the monthly returns indicate he was attached to Taylors Light Company K, a battery of six-pounders.  “K’ got hammered at Churubusco losing 2 officers, 20 enlisted men and 13 horses.[v]   

French served as aide de camp to future president Franklin Pierce in October and November of 1847. In December he was transferred to Captain “Prince John” Magruder’s Light Company I.  Magruder was sick at the time and French as the senior officer relieved Second Lieutenant Thomas J. Jackson of command.  French and Jackson’s associations over the next two years did no credit to either officer.  In January 1848 Jackson was promoted to First Lieutenant and transferred to Light Company I.  Another young Virginian, Lieutenant Ambrose Powell Hill took his place.  French served with Hill until October 1848.  In that month he was promoted to Captain of Company E.  Its previous captain James H. Prentiss (USMA 1830) died of yellow fever on September 22, 1848 at the company’s encampment at Fort Polk Texas.  Company ‘E’ was another foot artillery company and also fought in Mexico as red leg infantry.  One of French’s new lieutenants was John Brannan (USMA 1841).  Brannan later had a distinguished career in the Civil War rising to command a division of infantry at Chickamauga where he was brevetted for gallantry. He went on to serve as Chief of Artillery for the both the Army of the Cumberland and Tennessee.  The other lieutenant was Abner Doubleday who commanded an artillery company at Fort Sumter and an infantry division in the First Corps at Antietam.  In October 1850 as French’s company prepared to embark for Florida, Doubleday and Thomas Jackson traded companies.  Doubleday moved to Light Company K and Jackson moved under French’s command in Company E.  Jackson was unhappy about moving from one of the elite light companies into a foot artillery company.  He also deeply respected and admired Captain Francis Taylor, his commander at  ‘K’ and Taylor returned that feeling.  It was not to be the same with William French.  Almost immediately, sparks flew over French’s apparent tendency to micromanage the relocation of several of the buildings at Fort Meade to a higher more healthy elevation.  Jackson was in charge of the project and resented the perceived interference.  French’s wife Caroline lived at Fort Meade.  She was a kind and considerate woman who welcomed the awkward and shy Jackson into her home.  Caroline had given birth to their first daughter Annie and was frequently ill.  [vi]She had a servant named Julia.  Apparently the puritanical Jackson felt it was inappropriate for Captain French to escort Julia back to her quarters on the other side of the post at the end of the day.  Jackson who already smarted from his commanding officer’s micromanagement style felt compelled to formally prefer charges about this behavior.  The flurry of charges and countercharges between the two men roiled Company E causing another officer to request a transfer and the noncommissioned officers to take sides. It finally took General David Twiggs, the department commander to put an end to the bickering between the men.  He dismissed Jackson’s charges as without merit.  Jackson resigned from the Army to take a position at VMI.  French would not let the incident go but he too was finally ordered to move on by Twiggs.  French and his former subaltern would next find themselves in the fields around Sharpsburg Maryland nine years later.     
Company E left the miserable swamps and stifling heat of Florida and relocated to the Artillery School of Practice at Fort Monroe in December of 1853.  This move to the east coast brought a period of relative stability for French and his family.  A third son Frederick was born in 1855.[vii]  In May of that year, Francis Taylor the long serving commander of Light Company K was promoted to Major, of the First Artillery.  Regulations required that captaincies of light artillery companies be filled, not by the senior first lieutenant in the regiment but by the officer “best qualified” for the position.[viii]  It is a measure of French’s abilities that he was selected over the other eleven captains of the First Artillery to replace Taylor in command of Light Company K.  The company was located at Fort McHenry outside of Baltimore.   French, a Marylander was no doubt pleased with this new assignment.  It was also close to his wife’s ancestral family estate at New Castle Delaware.  The family’s fourth son, George Ross French was born in 1857. [ix]

At this time, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis selected French to be part of a three-man panel of light artillery company commanders to modernize the system of instruction for field artillery.  The other panel members were old friends William Barry and Henry Hunt, both captains in the Second Artillery.  Secretary Davis chose wisely.  Barry was an original officer in Ringgold’s battery C, Third U.S. Artillery the first light artillery company organized by the army back in 1839.  Barry had been an artillery company commander since 1852, most recently commanding Light Company Second Artillery.   Henry Hunt, like French was a combat veteran of the Mexican War and was the foremost champion and proponent of the light artillery in the army.  Hunt commanded Light Company M, Second Artillery.  The three men’s work, Instructions in Field Artillery was published in 1860.  Instructions was the primary artillery manual used by the army throughout the Civil War.  It standardized artillery organization, drill, tactics and ammunition supply for American artillery forces.  The importance of this work cannot be over emphasized. 

As part of the Army’s periodic reshuffling of artillery companies, Light Company K was ordered to Texas in June of 1859.  Caroline and the five children accompanied him on the move.[x]  Travelling by rail and river, the company reached Helena Arkansas on June 17.  The rest of the journey was an overland march of 700 miles to their new post at Fort Clark Texas where they arrived on September 26.  In June of 1860 the company moved to Fort Duncan at Eagle Pass, 45 miles further down the Rio Grande. 

There were two foot artillery companies of the First Artillery at Fort Duncan that were not mounted with guns or horses. Lieutenant Henry Clossen (USMA 1854) commanded Company F and Lieutenant James Robinson (USMA 1852) commanded Company L.  In total, 8 officers, 219 enlisted men, 60 horses and 4 guns garrisoned the post.[xi]  

At Fort Brown 325 miles down river were the other two other artillery companies assigned to the Department of Texas.   French’s West Point classmate and friend Captain Bennett Hill (USMA 1837), First Artillery commanded this post.  The fort was just outside of Brownsville opposite the town of Matamoros about 30 miles inland from the coast.  With Hill were his own Company M, First Artillery, and Light Company M, Second Artillery.  The captain of Light Company M was Henry Hunt, French’s colleague from the Artillery Board.  Hunt was absent on special duty commanding the arsenal at Harpers Ferry Virginia.  In Hunt’s absence, First Lieutenant Edward Platt (USMA 1849) was in command.  Light Company “M”s guns were particularly valuable because they were the new Model 1857 Light 12-pounders eventually known as Napoleons – the only company in the army equipped with these advanced weapons. The Fort Brown garrison had a total of 6 officers, 134 enlisted men, 60 horses and 4 guns.[xii]

With the election of Abraham Lincoln, the southern states began seceding from the Union.  On February 1, 1861 Texas became the seventh state to secede. There was great danger that the rebels would capture the men, guns and valuable artillery accouterments of the five artillery companies stationed along the Rio Grande.  While small in numbers of men and equipment, these artillery companies were extremely valuable.  In a future war, they could form the nucleus of a powerful artillery arm if they could be saved.

End of Part 1



[i] Autobiography of Oliver O. Howard 1907 New York, The Baker and Taylor Company, page 186
[ii] John French Conklin (1891-1973) graduated from West Point in the Class of 1915 “the class the stars fell on.”  Classmates were Dwight Eisenhower, Omar Bradley and James Van Fleet.  He participated in the expedition into Mexico in 1916 and World Wars I and II. He served as Company Commander, Regimental Commander, at the Command and General Staff School, at the Army War College; as an instructor at West Point and in civil assignments through the Corps of Engineers. He was an Engineer of the Third Army under General George S. Patton, preceded by his designation as Engineer of the I Armored Corps, also under General Patton. He saw service in North Africa and on the beaches of Normandy to the Bavarian Alps. He was engaged in the Battle of the Bulge, crossing the Rhine, the Isar and the Inn, en route to Austria. His conspicuous service won him promotion to General rank in 1945. Subsequent assignments were with the Office of the Chief of Engineers, 1945-1947 and in Japan. He retired in 1951, and died in 1973.
[iii] Frank Sands French (1842-1865) was born at Houlton Maine.  He was commissioned as a lieutenant in the First US Artillery on September 27 1861.  He was wounded at Ball’s Bluff and again at Antietam.  Frank earned brevets for gallantry at Fair Oaks, Antietam and Cold Harbor.  He never recovered from his wounds and died on September 6, 1865 at his grandfather’s estate at New Castle Delaware.
[iv] William Henry French (1844-1923) was born at Newport Rhode Island.  He was commissioned as a lieutenant in the 57th New York Infantry on March 8, 1862.  The 57th was assigned to his father’s brigade in the Second Corps.  French earned a brevet for gallantry at Cold Harbor.  He was transferred to the 61st New York in December 1864.  French was honorably mustered out of the Army in March 1865.  He accepted a commission in the 19th Infantry in 1866 and resigned from the Army in 1870.  He married Emily Ott in 1870 and had 15 children.  French died in 1923.
[v] Dillon, Lester R. American Artillery in the Mexican War 1846-1847 Austin TX Presidio Press 1975 page 46
[vi] Annie Read French (1852 - 1899), born the 24th of May, 1853, at Tampa, Hillsborough County, Fla., while her father was stationed there; married, the 24th of May, 1875, to Captain John M. Clem, of the United States army. He was born at Newark, Licking county, Ohio, in 1853, entered the United States army in 1862 as a drummer-boy, and distinguished himself in the battles of Chickamauga, and Shiloh, and became famous as the "Drummer-boy of Chickamauga," and for his distinguished services and gallantry was appointed, when only ten years of age, a sergeant in the United States army ; became second lieutenant in 1870, first lieutenant in 1874, and captain and assistant quartermaster in 1882. They had one son, John Clem.
[vii] Lieutenant Frederick Halverson French, (1855 - 1906)* an 1877 graduate of West Point in 1877, commissioned in the Third Cavalry.  Resigned in 1885.  Died, June 26, 1906, at Washington, D. C.: Aged 51.
[viii] War Department General Order 12 March 1, 1849.
[ix] Lieutenant George Ross French, (1857 - 1895) United States Navy, born 8th July, 1857, at Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Maryland, while his father was stationed there; a graduate of the Academy, Annapolis, in 1880; midshipman of the United States Navy in 1882; ensign, June, 1884; married, in Baltimore, 26th of March, 1885, Elizabeth Hollingsworth, daughter of Charles Findlay, Esq. Mrs. French was born the 17th of November, 1856. They have one son, Findlay French.
[x] Based on the 1860 census records for Fort Clark Texas that list Caroline, Frank, Willliam, Anna, Frederick, and Ross as family members.
[xi] At Fort Duncan were Light Company “K”, First Artillery with Captain William French commanding, First Lieutenant James Slaughter, and Second Lieutenant Douglas Ramsay, Post Adjutant.  There were 73 enlisted men, 60 artillery horses, and four guns.  Company “F”, First Artillery had First Lieutenant Henry Clossen commanding and Second Lieutenant Douglas Ramsay who served as Post Adjutant.  “F” had 70 enlisted men.  Company “L”, First Artillery had First Lieutenant James Robinson commanding with Second Lieutenant Richard Jackson and 76 enlisted men. 
[xii] At Fort Brown were Company “M”, First Artillery with Captain Bennett Hill commanding, First Lieutenant Lewis Morris and Second Lieutenant William Graham.  There were 71 enlisted men.  Light Company “M”, Second Artillery had First Lieutenants Edward Platt commanding, First Lieutenant James Thompson and Second Lieutenant Guilford Bailey.  There were 63 enlisted men, 60 artillery horses, and four Light 12 pounders.  Light Company “M” was Henry Hunts company but he was on detached service at the time commanding the garrison at Harpers Ferry Virginia.


[1] Autobiography of Oliver O. Howard 1907 New York, The Baker and Taylor Company, page 186
[2] John French Conklin (1891-1973) graduated from West Point in the Class of 1915 “the class the stars fell on.”  Classmates were Dwight Eisenhower, Omar Bradley and James Van Fleet.  He participated in the expedition into Mexico in 1916 and World Wars I and II. He served as Company Commander, Regimental Commander, at the Command and General Staff School, at the Army War College; as an instructor at West Point and in civil assignments through the Corps of Engineers. He was an Engineer of the Third Army under General George S. Patton, preceded by his designation as Engineer of the I Armored Corps, also under General Patton. He saw service in North Africa and on the beaches of Normandy to the Bavarian Alps. Conklin was engaged in the Battle of the Bulge, crossing the Rhine, the Isar and the Inn, en route to Austria. His conspicuous service won him promotion to General rank in 1945. Subsequent assignments were with the Office of the Chief of Engineers, 1945-1947 and in Japan. He retired in 1951, and died in 1973.
[3] Frank Sands French (1842-1865) was born at Houlton Maine.  He was commissioned as a lieutenant in the First US Artillery on September 27 1861.  He was wounded at Ball’s Bluff and again at Antietam.  Frank earned brevets for gallantry at Fair Oaks, Antietam and Cold Harbor.  He never recovered from his wounds and died on September 6, 1865 at his grandfather’s estate at New Castle Delaware.
[4] William Henry French (1844-1923) was born at Newport Rhode Island.  He was commissioned as a lieutenant in the 57th New York Infantry on March 8, 1862.  The 57th was assigned to his father’s brigade in the Second Corps.  French earned a brevet for gallantry at Cold Harbor.  He was transferred to the 61st New York in December 1864.  French was honorably mustered out of the Army in March 1865.  He accepted a commission in the 19th Infantry in 1866 and resigned from the Army in 1870.  He married Emily Ott in 1870 and had 3 daughters.  French died in 1923.
[5] Dillon, Lester R. American Artillery in the Mexican War 1846-1847 Austin TX Presidio Press 1975 page 46
[6] Annie Read French (1852 - 1899), born the 24th of May, 1853, at Tampa, Hillsborough County, Fla., while her father was stationed there; married, the 24th of May, 1875, to Captain John M. Clem, of the United States army. He was born at Newark, Licking county, Ohio, in 1853, entered the United States army in 1862 as a drummer-boy, and distinguished himself in the battles of Chickamauga, and Shiloh, and became famous as the "Drummer-boy of Chickamauga," and for his distinguished services and gallantry was appointed, when only ten years of age, a sergeant in the United States army ; became second lieutenant in 1870, first lieutenant in 1874, and captain and assistant quartermaster in 1882. They have one son, John Clem.
[7] War Department General Order 12 March 1, 1849.
[8] Lieutenant George Ross French, (1857 - 1895) United States Navy, born 8th July, 1857, at Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Maryland, while his father was stationed there; a graduate of the Academy, Annapolis, in 1880; midshipman of the United States Navy in 1882; ensign, June, 1884; married, in Baltimore, 26th of March, 1885, Elizabeth Hollingsworth, daughter of Charles Findlay, Esq. Mrs. French was born the 17th of November, 1856. They have one son, Findlay French.
[9] Rosalie French, (1861 – 1891) was born at New Castle, Delaware. She married Lieutenant J. Conklin, of the United States army. Their son John French Conklin (1891–1973) was also a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and a brigadier general in the United States Army.
[10] At Fort Duncan were Light Company “K”, First Artillery with Captain William French commanding, First Lieutenant James Slaughter, and Second Lieutenant Douglas Ramsay, Post Adjutant.  There were 73 enlisted men, 60 artillery horses, and four guns.  Company “F”, First Artillery had First Lieutenant Henry Clossen commanding and Second Lieutenant Douglas Ramsay who served as Post Adjutant.  “F” had 70 enlisted men.  Company “L”, First Artillery had First Lieutenant James Robinson commanding with Second Lieutenant Richard Jackson and 76 enlisted men. 
[11] At Fort Brown were Company “M”, First Artillery with Captain Bennett Hill commanding, First Lieutenant Lewis Morris and Second Lieutenant William Graham.  There were 71 enlisted men.  Light Company “M”, Second Artillery had First Lieutenants Edward Platt commanding, First Lieutenant James Thompson and Second Lieutenant Guilford Bailey.  There were 63 enlisted men, 60 artillery horses, and four Light 12 pounders.  Light Company “M” was Henry Hunts company but he was on detached service at the time commanding the garrison at Harpers Ferry Virginia.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Announcement of Antietam Battlefield Guides Written Examination

The Antietam Battlefield Guides (ABG) will be offering the written examination at 9AM on Saturday November 4, 2017 at the Sharpsburg Area Rescue Service, 110½ West Chapline Street, Sharpsburg, Maryland.

There is a $50 administrative charge associated with taking this examination.  

A prerequisite for becoming a guide is active participation in the Battlefield’s Volunteers in the Parks (VIP) program. Individuals must sign up to be volunteers at Antietam National Battlefield and be active park volunteers during the testing, mentoring and final evaluation processes and thereafter. You DO NOT need to be a volunteer to take the written test. However, to take the final evaluation with a park ranger and senior guide, you must have accumulated 100 volunteer hours at the battlefield. Antietam Ranger Olivia Black is the volunteer coordinator and can be reached at this email address: Olivia_black@nps.gov.

Test Description: This examination evaluates your knowledge of the Maryland Campaign. The test consists of over 200 questions.  They include true false, multiple choice, matching, fill-in-the-blank and short answer questions.  There are no essays. However, throughout the examination there are several short answer questions requiring you to BRIEFLY discuss a certain aspect of the campaign. You are not evaluated on writing style here. Simply communicate the information in short sentences, bullets or in an outline form that gets your point across. You should be able to answer these questions in the space provided in this test booklet. You will have four hours to complete the examination.

You will be tested on your knowledge of the following topics:

·           ·      The Civil War in general
·           ·      The Maryland Campaign and battles at Harpers Ferry, South Mountain, Antietam and Shepherdstown including:

o   Orders of battle down to division level including unit locations and movement on the field.
o   Backgrounds of the principal commanders, division and higher
o   Regiments of the more famous brigades, (Irish, Black Hat, Texas) and their commanders
o   Military objectives of both sides
o   Maryland Campaign timeline

·         ·      The Emancipation Proclamation
·         ·      History of Antietam National Battlefield and its memorials, monuments and landmarks, artillery positions, mortuary cannons, avenues, auto tour stops, and hospital locations
·         ·      Basic knowledge of Civil War weaponry (musket and artillery) and medical practice
·         ·      Knowledge of the town of Sharpsburg and the farms and families who lived on the battlefiel
      ·      The military aspects of terrain as they apply to the battlefield.

The test is organized in three parts. Part One addresses the Maryland Campaign in general. Part Two covers the Battle of Antietam specifically. Part Three covers other required knowledge including the aftermath of the battle, park history, civilians, military aspects of terrain and other information categories not included in the first two parts. There may be photographs of monuments that you will have to identify, photos of officers of both sides, a map section where you will be asked to identify geographic features, buildings, locations of divisions and select artillery positions.

To be accepted as a guide candidate, you must score 90% on the written test.  If you score between 85% and 90%, you will be eligible to retest no earlier than 60 days after you take the initial test. You will have one opportunity to retest and must score 90% or higher. Candidates who score below 85% on the initial test are not eligible to retest and must wait for the written exam to be offered again. You may take the retest at no additional charge.  See our list of recommended readings to prepare for the test at here.

When you pass, you will be assigned a guide-mentor and are then ready to proceed to the next step in the process. If you are not a volunteer at Antietam, you must sign up at this point. You are now considered and designated as a guide-candidate.

If you are ready to begin the process, please email Chief Guide Jim Rosebrock (pointsalines@yahoo.com) to receive a test application and a copy of the guide agreement.   The agreement outlines your obligations and responsibilities as a battlefield guide after you have completed all examinations and training. 


Complete the application paying particular attention to the areas where you address your current background and interests in the Civil War and the Maryland Campaign and why you want to become an Antietam Battlefield Guide. Also be sure to include two references. Submit your application no later than October 6, 2017. You may email your application to Chief Guide Jim Rosebrock (pointsalines@yahoo.com) or drop it off at the Museum Bookstore at Antietam National Battlefield.  Instructions for paying the guide test application will be provided directly to those who submit an application.  We look forward to hearing from you.