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 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.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

First Division, First Corps, Army of the Potomac

Irvin McDowell
The Department of the Rappahannock was created on April 4, 1862 by the War Department. It included Virginia east of the Blue Ridge and west of the Potomac River, the Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad, including the District of Columbia and the country between the Potomac and the Patuxent Rivers.  Irvin McDowell (USMA 1838) who had served as First Corps commander assumed command of the Department. 

The department originally contained the three divisions of the First Corps.  McClellan’s persistent requests for reinforcements caused the War Department to eventually release two of the divisions to the Peninsula.  William Franklin’s division went first.  On May 18, 1862 he was on the Peninsula and given command of the provisional Sixth Corps and his division now under Henry Slocum became the 1st Division of that new command.  By mid June McClellan also received George McCall’s Pennsylvania Reserve division. It became the 3rd Division of the Fifth Corps. 

Rufus King’s division remained with the Department of the Rappahannock. All of the brigades comprising the division were originally organized in October 1861 and commanded by Irvin McDowell. The original brigade commanders were:

Division Commander Irvin McDowell (USMA 1838)
·      1st Brigade - Brigadier Generals Christopher C. Augur (USMA 1843)
·      2nd Brigade - Brigadier General James S. Wadsworth
·      3rd Brigade - Brigadier General Rufus King (USMA 1833.) 

Rufus King
Augur and King were West Pointers and Wadsworth was politically connected.  Likely because of impending field operations and McClellan’s desire to have West Pointers command wherever possible, Marsena Patrick (USMA 1835) assumed command of Wadsworth’s brigade on March 7, 1862.  When King assumed division command, newly minted brigadier general John Gibbon (USMA 1847) assumed permanent command of his brigade on May 7, 1862. Also in May, a fourth brigade of troops was formed from three new regiments from New York and Pennsylvania manning the defenses of Washington that were sent to the Rappahannock and the veteran 7th Indiana Infantry, an older unit.  Commanded by Fort Sumter hero Abner Doubleday, it was for some reason numbered as the 2nd Brigade.  This numbering scheme then made Patrick’s brigade the 3rd, and Gibbons became the 4th.  By May of 1862, command of the brigades were:

Division Commander Brigadier General Rufus King (USMA 1833)
·      1st Brigade - Brigadier Generals Christopher C. Augur (USMA 1843)
·      2nd Brigade - Brigadier General Abner Doubleday (USMA 1842)
·      3rd Brigade - Brigadier General Marsena Patrick (USMA 1835)
·      4th Brigade - Brigadier General John Gibbon (USMA 1847)

The original core of this division was two brigades of New York soldiers signed up for two-years, and a brigade of Midwestern troops.  By the beginning of the 1862 campaign season, they were well-drilled forces who had been together since October 1861. The Midwesterners would one day be known as the Iron Brigade.  They were joined that spring by the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters armed with the Sharps rifle.  This regiment was assigned to the 1st Brigade. Doubleday’s brigade, the last to join the division, did not have the benefit of the winter in the Washington defenses to ready itself for combat.  Until the Second Manassas Campaign, only three regiments in the division had seen relatively heavy action.  The 2nd Wisconsin and 14th Brooklyn (or 84th New York) fought at the First Battle of Bull Run, and the 7th Indiana saw action with McClellan in West Virginia and later with James Shields in the Shenandoah Valley against Stonewall Jackson at Winchester and Port Republic.

John Hatch
On June 26, 1862 the Army of Virginia was created under the command of John Pope.  The troops of the Department of the Rappahannock were redesignated as the Third Corps, Army of Virginia.  On July 7, 1862, Augur was transferred to command the 2nd Division, Second Corps Army of Virginia and his place as brigade commander was taken by Brigadier General John Hatch (USMA 1845) who had previously commanded a cavalry brigade in the Second Corps, Army of Virginia.  Hatch a career regular officer in the old Mounted Rifles regiment did not take kindly to John Pope’s reassignment of him to the infantry.  By now, Rufus King’s epilepsy was increasingly affecting his ability to command.  During the Second Bull Run campaign, Hatch was temporarily placed in command of the division.  Colonel Timothy Sullivan of the 24th New York Infantry commanded the 1st  Brigade. As the division faced off for the Second Bull Run campaign, its brigade structure looked like this:

Division Commander Brigadier Generals John Hatch (USMA 1845)
·      1st Brigade – Colonel Timothy Sullivan 24th New York Infantry
·      2nd Brigade - Brigadier General Abner Doubleday (USMA 1842)
·      3rd Brigade - Brigadier General Marsena Patrick (USMA 1835)
·      4th Brigade - Brigadier General John Gibbon (USMA 1847)

All told, the division suffered 2,737 casualties at the Battle of Second Bull Run. The Black Hat Brigade suffered the highest casualties losing 894 men followed by Hatch’s brigade with 782. The 2nd and 3rd Brigades suffered 447 and 568 men respectively. Losses included three regimental commanders killed (30th and 80th New York, and 2nd Wisconsin), and four wounded (6th and 7th Wisconsin, 84th New York and 56th Pennsylvania).  Additionally, Colonel Sullivan would not be present for the Maryland Campaign and be replaced as the 1st Brigade commander by Walter Phelps of the 22nd New York.

The ending of the Second Bull Run campaign also meant the end of the Army of Virginia.  On September 12, 1862 the Third Corps, Army of Virginia was at last re-designated with its original corps designation.  It was once again the First Corps, Army of the Potomac.  King, increasingly stricken with ever more serious epileptic attacks, was permanently relieved of division command on the eve of the Battle of South Mountain.  John Hatch had commanded the division temporarily during the Second Bull Run campaign when King took ill and now assumed permanent command.  Hatch would himself be wounded at that South Mountain to be replaced by Abner Doubleday in command of the division as it advanced toward the Antietam. 

With the casualties of Second Bull Run, the 1st and 2nd Brigades were now commanded by colonels.  Colonel Walter Phelps of the 22nd New York Infantry assumed command of the 1st Brigade.  Colonel W.P. Wainwright of the 76th New York Infantry assumed command of the 2nd Brigade when Doubleday moved up to the division but he was also wounded at South Mountain.  Command of that brigade then devolved upon Lieutenant Colonel John W. Hoffman of the 56th Pennsylvania Infantry. 

Abner Doubleday
After Second Manassas, the division was terribly bloodied.  Doubleday was new to division command.  There were two new brigade commanders and eight new regimental commanders as a result of combat.  The 1st Brigade was heavily damaged and commanded by the unproven Walter Phelps (who would perform admirably at Antietam.)  The 2nd Brigade suffered the smallest number of casualties at Second Bull Run but was commanded by John W. Hoffman, only a lieutenant colonel.  Patrick and Gibbon’s brigade were perhaps the most solid in the division at the onset of the Battle of Antietam though Gibbon’s losses at Second Bull Run were extremely high. 

This division’s command structure looked like this on the eve of the battle.

Division Commander Abner Doubleday (USMA 1842)
·      1st Brigade – Colonel Walther Phelps, 22nd  New York
·      22nd, 24th 30th and 84th New York, 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters
·      2nd Brigade – Lieutenant Colonel Walter Hofmann, 46th Pennsylvania
·      7th Indiana, 76th and 95th New York, 56th Pennsylvania
·      3rd Brigade - Brigadier General Marsena Patrick (USMA 1835)
·      21st, 23rd, 35th, and 80th New York
·      4th Brigade - Brigadier General John Gibbon (USMA 1847)
·      19th Indiana, 2nd, 6th, and 7th Wisconsin

Doubleday’s division had a relatively large artillery complement consisting of four batteries. Eighteen of the 24 guns were the excellent Model 1857 Napoleons.  The other six were the equally capable 3-inch ordnance rifles.  Captain J. Albert Monroe was chief of the division’s artillery and personally commanded Battery D, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery.  He was apparently very competent.  In a division with two general officers who hailed from the old regular artillery (Doubleday, and Gibbon) Monroe, a volunteer, lead the artillery and not 21 year old West Point graduate Captain Joseph Campbell of Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery.  Monroe had served in a pre-war militia battery in Providence Rhode Island. Lieutenant Frederick M. Edgell commanded 1st Battery, New Hampshire Light Artillery.  Edgell’s battery had been cut up severely at Second Manassas.  It lost a gun there to Evander Law’s brigade and had seen it commander Captain Gerrish wounded and captured.  Both Monroe and Edgell appear to have received their Napoleons during Henry Hunt’s re-provisioning of the artillery during the first week of the Maryland Campaign. Captain John A. Reynolds commanded Battery L, 1st New York Light Artillery.  Reynold’s New Yorkers manned a battery of 3-inch ordnance rifles.  They were a recent addition to the division having apparently been attached there just before Second Manassas from Bank’s corps.  Reynold’s men were present at Cedar Mountain and Second Manassas. Like the other two volunteer batteries, they had apparently turned in their ten-pound Parrots prior to or during the opening stages of the Maryland Campaign for the better guns.

In keeping with the policy of artillery chief William Barry and later Henry Hunt, the division had one regular army artillery unit. This was Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery.  Battery B had been John Gibbon’s old command before the war and until he received his brigadier general’s commission as a U.S. Volunteer.  Now commanded by Joseph B. Campbell (USMA 1861), the battery contained six Model 1857 Napoleon guns.  Two officers and around 23 enlisted men were present for duty, with around 130 serviceable artillery horses.  The depleted ranks of the battery had been filled with volunteers from neighboring infantry regiments, many from Gibbon’s own brigade.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Memorial Day - On Keeping Faith

I was privileged to stand today on the rostrum at Antietam National Cemetery where for the last 145 years, the town of Sharpsburg has honored Memorial Day.  I was the keynote speaker for the wreath laying ceremony.  Here are my remarks today.

Superintendent Trail,  Mayor Spielman, other distinguished guests, fellow veterans, friends and citizens. 

It is truly a great honor to be accorded the privilege of paying tribute to the service of my comrades in arms past and present.  When I think of all those who have come before me to this very special place on Memorial Days in years past, I am proud and humbled to be included in their company.  This moment will be a memory that I will always treasure.

Today we stand at this place made sacred in our history by the sacrifice of thousands of Americans, north and south far from home and family.  In our entire history as a free nation, men and women have answered their countries call and placed themselves in harms way to defend our freedom and way of life.  The cost is great.  In every generation only fond memories remain of the loved ones who never returned from war.  Today we mourn their loss and honor their memory by the decoration of their graves with flags.

My father was an Army corporal in World War Two in the Pacific theater poised for the invasion of Japan. Two atomic bombs spared us that invasion and perhaps saved my fathers life.  Sixty-five years later, his grandson, my son is a lance corporal in the Marine Corps, destined later this year for deployment to the Pacific or perhaps elsewhere.  (If you are wondering why I stood for the Marine Corps anthem as well as the Army song just a few minutes ago, I stood for my son Jim.)   Here I am between my father and my son.  My service was during what we ironically call the Cold War, a time of our history where we in fact engaged in combat operations many times.  It was definitely not a period known for its pacific tendencies.  In October 1983, a suicide bomber attacked and destroyed the Marine Barracks in Beirut Lebanon.  I was a captain on the headquarters staff of the 82nd Airborne Division at the time.  With the news from Lebanon, we instantly went on alert and the next day we boarded aircraft fully outfitted for parachute assault.  But we didn’t head for Lebanon.  Instead, our destination was to the south, to the Caribbean island of Grenada off the coast of Venezuela.  It was an operation called Urgent Fury, mostly forgotten on the pages of history by all BUT those who served or the loved ones who prayed for their return.  American forces wrested control of a small island from a brutal Marxist dictator and heavily armed Cuban troops who threatened the lives of hundreds of American and other foreign medical students stranded on the island.  Compared to the toll of lives lost here at Antietam during those fall days of 1862, the losses were miniscule at Grenada in those autumn days of 1983. 
Wreath Laying at the Common Soldier Statue
But there were losses.  I was part of the assault command post, on one of the first aircraft from the 82nd Airborne to arrive.  My job at division headquarters was normally to arrange resupply of food, ammunition, and coordinate transportation to our soldiers.  But on our first night on the ground, a call came back to division headquarters.  There had been casualties. No, the wounded were being taken care of all right but there was no one to look after the dead.    The troops who normally handled that were not on the ground.  In a dark half built airport terminal on a warm humid tropical night punctuated by flashes of lightning and small arms fire, the colonel looked at me and said get down there.  Army rangers had just brought in three of their own who were killed during the day.  Nothing in my life ever prepared me for what I had to do next.  I had to go to each stretcher, unzip the body bags, find their military IDs, and identify these men.  I looked at these young faces, lives snuffed out as they were perhaps reaching their potential in life, All had parents, siblings, wives and even children who due to the fast pace of this operation out of the country, may not have even known that their loved one was here.   That was my case.  My parents tried for several days to reach me not knowing where I was.  As I stood over these men, I felt the looks of their buddies watching me, making sure I was treating their comrades with reverence and respect.  I remember thinking about their families back home as yet unknowing of the fate of this loved one.  After identification, I secured their personal effects, pictures, wallets, dog tags, and whatever was in the pockets.  Little things certainly that we would normally not give a second thought to, but precious fragments of a life that would certainly to be treasured by loved ones back home.  My last act was to arrange air transportation by an outgoing military aircraft to nearby Barbados the first leg on a sad, final trip home.  I worked through the night and hours later as the sun rose over the ocean, walked back alone to the concrete shell of an airport terminal that we used as our headquarters.  I dreaded the arrival of darkness for I now knew how the routine worked. Sure enough that night, the radio again crackled to life around midnight.  Again, the colonel sent me down.  Another walk down that long dark path to the makeshift morgue. Two Marines this time, pilot and co-pilot from a Cobra helicopter who had been shot down and crashed into the sea.  I repeated the identification and evacuation steps.  The same process.  The same thoughts.  The grim call again came the third night – fellow paratroopers from my own division this time. And then mercifully, the radio calls stopped coming.  But for as long as I was on that island, I feared the night.

The toll was small by the standards of Antietam’s cornfields, woodlots, hills and bridges, but the effect was the same in dozens of households around the nation.  Forever after an empty chair at the table.  Now memories only to recall that life.

I didn’t suffer so much as a scratch.  A week later I was home safe in North Carolina joyously telephoning my relieved parents in Buffalo New York to let them know I was safe.  I retrieved a pile of newspapers in my driveway.  In one of the papers were the names and pictures of the men killed in action. Men who I last saw on a remote island in the Caribbean Sea just a week ago.  Men I sent on their last, long journey home. Men around my age who if they survived, would now be around 50 years old. They might today be successful businessmen, teachers, career military men, farmers, or mechanics with families of their own.

But it is often sadly the fate of those veterans who do return, after having once again secured our freedoms and restored peace to our land, to be overlooked, forgotten, marginalized, and taken for granted by society. Sometimes Hollywood and media characterizations of combat veterans don’t always portray a positive or accurate image. The reality is that veterans simply seek to return to their families and to resume their lives. To use their experience, maturity, perspectives, work ethic, and skills to support their families, build futures and contribute to their communities.

Today when I look at Matthew Brady’s Civil War pictures titled the dead of Antietam, I recall that moment over 29 years ago when I looked upon the still forms and ashen faces of these men. This past week, I pulled out the old newspaper articles again.  I recalled those three nights long ago and the sights and smells and emotions returned.  I knew none of these men in life but I will always remember them in death.  A different generation certainly, a different place surely but nevertheless all united in death and by their service to America with the men who sleep here.
As a volunteer here at Antietam for the past five years, I have come to know this place well.  A battlefield where the ill winds of war reaped a terrible harvest. Today we consider that generation of the 1860s irreparably impacted by the bloodiest war in our history, and by the bloodiest day in that terrible war here at Antietam.  In this National Cemetery thousands of the men of the Union are buried, many unknown, and joining them are soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines from later wars.  The last warrior laid to rest is Patrick Roy, lost on the USS Cole on another autumn day in they year 2000.
Edward Bragg a citizen-soldier commanded the Sixth Wisconsin Infantry at Antietam until he was seriously wounded.  In a letter written four days later to his wife Cornela, Bragg said "No one can see such sights and not be deeply affected for life." Another veteran, Robert Park from the Twelfth Alabama says "Memories of scores of army comrades and childhood's friend slain at Sharpsburg came before my mind and kept away sleep for a long while.  The scars of war run deep and remain in the memory forever.  Some veterans emerge relatively unscathed. For others the pain and stress are much harder to cope with.   I believe that we all carry the memories somewhere in our minds.  For some more close to the surface than for others.
Another soldier here at Antietam was Wilder Dwight of the 2nd Massachusetts.  Wilder penned a letter to his mother on the morning of September 17th, 1862 that he began as his unit was advancing across the fields just north of here. In firm strong handwriting he writes,  “On the field Dear Mother, It is a misty moisty morning. We are engaging the enemy and are drawn up in support of Hooker who is banging away most briskly.  I write in the saddle to send you my love and to say that I am well so far. “  … But then a bullet strikes him down.  In a weaker shakier hand now, he continues his letter  Dearest mother, I am wounded so as to be helpless. Good-bye if so it must be. I think I die in victory. God defend our country. I trust in God and love you all to the last.  Dearest love to father and my dear brothers.  Our troops have left the part of the field where I lay.  Mother, yours, Wilder.  And then later, perhaps struggling to remain conscious, he ends his letter in a barely legible scrawl with All is well with those that have faith. Wilder Dwight died two days later in Boonsboro.  Three of the brothers he sends greetings to in this last letter also served.  One brother, Charles Wilder was for a time a prisoner of war in Libby prison in Richmond.  In May of 1863 the family learned of the death of Wilder’s younger brother, 26-year-old Howard Dwight who perished at Port Hudson on the Mississippi.

On this Memorial Day of 2012 in the 150th anniversary year of the Battle of Antietam we behold this field of white stones around us each signifying the life of a soldier.  We recall the momentous events of 150 years ago that brought many of these men to Antietam. It is important to recall Wilder Dwight’s last words about faith.  It is about keeping faith with these men and their descendents men and women who are serving today, whether here in our own country, or on the high seas or in foreign lands around the world.  Keeping faith can be about shaking hands with a veteran and thanking him or her for their service.  But we all know that it can and should be much more than that. It is supporting them in as many other ways as we can that lets them know that we appreciate their service and that they are indeed remembered, appreciated, and valued for the remainder of their days. It is what they deserve.   And on this Memorial Day, it is what those right out there, who rest for eternity, expect of us as well.   God Bless our Veterans and God Bless America.

(Photographs by Rachel Rosebrock)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Another Round with George McClellan

George McClellan Equestrian Statue in Washington DC
Brooks Simpson over at his blog Crossroads had a great post yesterday titled "Give George McClellan a Break".  I am glad there is a touch of this sentiment now.  Brooks has gotten a range of comments to his post.  Some are supportive of McClellan but others are the predictable replies that one would expect.  

Like I did here replying to a post at Harry Smeltzer’s Bull Runnings back in October about the rehabilitation of Little Mac , I felt compelled to weigh in with Brooks.  The following is my reply/comment to his blog post:

My own perspective on McClellan comes from 28 years as an Army officer but perhaps more importantly from five years of volunteering and interpreting at Antietam National Battlefield.  I am currently the head of Antietam Battlefield Guides, the guide service at the park under the Western Maryland Interpretive Association.  I walk the ground every week. I have studied McClellan for many years.  I hear the usual McClellan view frequently when I welcome visitors to the park.  Usually I am able to present enough of a perspective that folks are willing to give the man another look, an objective look this time.

I believe McClellan as a strategist was hard to beat.  I think the nation would have been better served if Lincoln had disagreed with McClellan’s early assertion that he could “do it all” and left him as commander in chief of the army upon the retirement of Winfield Scott and placed someone else in command of the Army of the Potomac.  McClellan’s indirect approach to Richmond was not understood and even feared by the politicians but if he had remained in Washington as CINC (an idea he would have abhorred) while the Army of Potomac advanced on Richmond… While personally a very brave and cool man under fire, McClellan seemed less fearless the further back he was.  By that I mean there were others who could have lead the operational battles better than he.  At least in the beginning.  And I would assert that he learned and improved after every campaign.

Read Rowena Reed’s Combined Operations in the Civil War and you will see McClellan’s flair for this aspect of the military art.  Even the McClellan bashers agree that he was a superb organizer and planner.  But operationally, it was under his watch that Burnside successfully invaded the North Carolina coastline and Farragut captured New Orleans, the South’s largest city.  Little Mac was in synch with Lincoln regarding the slow moving Buell and the political need of the administration to liberate eastern Tennessee. 

But he could be petty and he was ambitious.  His characterizations of Lincoln and his undermining of Scott are outrageous.  There is no excuse for his sentiments toward John Pope during the Second Manassas Campaign.  There is not a doubt that the attention and accolades of that heady summer of 1861 upon his arrival in Washington did him harm in the long run.  There is a touch of George McClellan in Douglas McArthur in the respect.  It is unfortunate that much of how we cast McClellan was based on his personal letters to his wife.  I dare say that few of us would care to have publicly revealed what we say in the privacy of our own families. 

There is no doubt that McClellan improved operationally as a battlefield commander as the war progressed.  I can’t address the Peninsula Campaign but McClellan definitely took his lumps there and learned from the experience.

In the crisis of the first week of September 1862, he was called upon by Lincoln to weld defeated and demoralized from five different elements (Army of the Potomac, Army of Virginia, Burnside’s North Carolina command, Cox’s Kanawha Division and thousands of green troops) into an effective command.  Who of McClellan’s detractors can suggest anyone better for that job?  In a week they were on the road moving northwest from Washington covering that city and Baltimore seeking out Lee’s Army.  In the second week, they reached Frederick, engaged parts of Lee’s army at South Mountain and defeated it, and set the stage for the final confrontation at Antietam.

Remember that McClellan is in the role of the attacker at Antietam essentially for the first time.  As an operational commander on the battlefield, he was careful and orthodox.  He preferred to keep a very large reserve and was unwilling to commit it unless and until he was sure that the risk was worth the investment. McClellan’s plan for assaults on the Confederate right and then left forced the early commitment of all of Lee’s reserves weakening the Sunken Road and Middle and Lower Bridge positions.  And despite the mantra of 20,000 troops dozing in the center and never engaged, the facts speak otherwise.  Pleasanton’s cavalry division and its horse artillery crossed the Middle Bridge and the artillery engaged Lee’s weakened center.  In the so-called “uncommitted” Fifth Corps, Porter pushed a brigade of regulars across the Middle Bridge and sent Warren’s brigade to the Ninth Corps.  He dispatched two brigades of Morell’s Fifth Corps division to Sumner.  I freely acknowledge that there were several times that day that McClellan’s forces could have broken through. Lee’s aggressive counterattacks after every Union offensive caused McClellan to hesitate to commit his remaining available troops at the end of the day and achieve a decisive operational victory.  Lee’s aggressive use of A.P. Hill’s arriving troops validated in McClellan’s mind this approach. This so-called operational “draw” so ravaged Lee’s Army that it took all the offensive starch out of the Army of Northern Virginia for many months. 

Too many people hang their hats on 150 years of homogenized interpretation done by others with various motives, not just about McClellan but about all aspects of the Civil War.  For the Maryland Campaign, it is necessary to read OR 19 AND OR 51 to get the full picture.  Murfin and Sears in their Antietam monographs did not use Carmen’s manuscript very much. It is arguably the best source of information on that battle.  Just jumping on the McClellan Merry Go Round as Joseph Harsh used to say, and re-parlaying the usual assertions about McClellan without exploring for yourself the first person accounts does not do a great service to your own understanding.  There is a lot of important new material coming out this year.  Tom Clemens completed edition of Volume 2 of the Carmen Papers at last makes that important historical document available to the public in a read-able form.  Students of the Antietam also eagerly anticipate Scott Hartwig’s long awaited epic account of the Maryland Campaign. That is a lot of good new material and a lot to read.  Dig in but also do yourself a favor this summer and come to Antietam and walk a mile in McClellan’s shoes.

In conclusion, McClellan learned from Antietam as well.  He conducted a careful campaign that began on October 26 1862 that was slowly pushing Lee back.  He realized the political realities in Washington.  But he refused to move until he was ready.  We seem to want to some how make preparation a vice in McClellan’s case  when elsewhere it is a virtue. Careful deliberate planning is usually the rule in American military operations.  Scott in Mexico, and Pershing in France, Eisenhower in various places in Europe, McArthur in the Pacific, and Schwartzkopf in Saudi Arabia; all prepared, planned, and provisioned before beginning their military operations. See Dmitri Rotov’s recent post  "In Praise of Slow Marching" here

I fully expect that for every point I make here, there will be an intelligent, well crafted counterpoint excavated from the mass of interpretation over the years. I often hear it on the battlefield.  Standing by here at Sharpsburg.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The (Re) Emergence of the First Corps Part One

Joseph Poffenberger Farm - First Corps assembly area on September 17, 1862
The Army of the Potomac adopted the corps structure on March 4, 1862 despite the misgivings of George McClellan (USMA 1846). He would have preferred to develop corps commanders based upon proven merit and experience in the field.  To make matters worse, seniority alone was the criteria for determining the first five corps commanders.  The men appointed by Lincoln were:

·      First Corps Irvin McDowell (USMA 1838)
·      Second Corps Edwin Vose Sumner (direct appointment 1819)
·      Third Corps Samuel Heintzelman (USMA 1826)
·      Fourth Corps Erasmus Keyes (USMA 1832)
·      Fifth Corps Nathanial Banks (appointed 1861).

When McClellan took to the field with the Army of the Potomac, he was “temporarily” relieved of his position as General-in-Chief of the United States Army on March 11, 1862.  No replacement was immediately named leaving Army affairs in the hands of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. 

McClellan planned for the First Corps to play a key role in his Peninsula Campaign against Richmond.  Scheduled to leave the environs of Washington after the departure of the Second, Third and Fourth corps, it was held back by the Lincoln administration when authorities decided that McClellan apparently did not leave the requisite number of troops back in the city for its defense.  Where McClellan counted Nathanial Banks Fifth Corps as part of the Washington defenses, Secretary of War Stanton did not.  Lincoln did not like McClellan’s indirect approach against Richmond. The President and Stanton particularly were concerned for the safety of the capital city. In particular they looked just now at the actions of Confederate Major General Thomas J. Jackson (USMA 1846) in the Shenandoah Valley. 

McClellan would eventually prevail upon Lincoln to send much of the First Corps to Virginia.  This corps in March of 1862 in no way resembled the organization that fought at Antietam six months later.  At this earlier date, it contained the divisions of William Franklin (USMA 1843), George McCall (USMA 1822), and Rufus King (USMA 1833). Lincoln would send McClellan both Franklin and McCall’s divisions and they would play key roles in the Peninsula campaign. Franklin’s division would form the basis of the Sixth Corps and eventually be commanded by William Slocum (USMA 1852) during the Maryland Campaign.  McCall’s Division was the Pennsylvania Reserves Division commanded at Antietam by George Meade (USMA 1835).  The departure of these two divisions left McDowell with just Rufus King’s division.

With McClellan no longer in command of the United States Army, the War Department on April 4, 1862 created two new departments west and south of the District of Columbia to address concerns for the safety of the capital. 

The Department of the Shenandoah included the Valley of Virginia and Allegheny & Washington Counties in Maryland.  Nathanial Banks commanded this Department. His Fifth Corps command also disappeared from the command structure but would reemerge on May 18, 1862 on the Peninsula as Fitz John Porters Fifth Corps. The troops of the Department were the divisions of Alpheus Williams and James Shields. 

The Department of the Rappahannock included Virginia east of the Blue Ridge and west of the Potomac River, the Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad, including the District of Columbia and the country between the Potomac and the Patuxent Rivers.  Irvin McDowell commanded this Department.  With the siphoning off of two of his original divisions, the First Corps for a time disappeared from the Army command structure.  King’s division was designated 1st Division, Department of the Rappahannock.  But a new division was being organized by the first week of May.