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.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Reel Ridge – Confederate Artillery Redoubt

As the Sunken Road fighting reached its crescendo in the noon hour, the Confederate position looked bleak.  Israel Richardson’s division had at long last ripped the center of the Confederate line in the Sunken Road.  A Longstreet-inspired counterattack by elements of Colonel Van H. Manning’s brigade against the Union right flank of the Sunken Road had been brushed back by Nathan Kimball’s veteran troops.  George Greene’s division continued to hold a bridgehead west of the Hagerstown Pike around the Dunker Church.  Further north, two divisions of the Union Sixth Corps were coming on line.  In the center, a cavalry division with its horse artillery elements clattered across the Middle Bridge and the gunners opened fire on Cemetery Hill.  Fifth Corps infantry lead by Buchanan’s brigade of regulars inched passed the Newcomer House toward Cemetery Hill along the Boonsboro Pike.  Farther south, Ferraro’s brigade of the Ninth Corps was launching its ultimately successful assault against the Lower Bridge as Rodman’s division capture Snavelys Ford.  A.P. Hill’s division was somewhere out there in the direction of Harpers Ferry but its arrival time was unknown.

It was a critical moment but the Federals had problems of their own.  In Richardson’s sector there was a definite lack of artillery to support a continued attack.  First, Second, Sixth and Twelfth Corps artillery was largely concentrated in the northern area of the battlefield.  Richardson got some support from the Artillery Reserve across the creek and from Pleasonton’s Horse Artillery led most famously by John Tidball.   These batteries however had other targets that they were engaging and were not solely dedicated to Richardson.  He possessed no artillery under his direct control until Fitz-John Porter dispatched William Graham’s Battery K, 5th U.S. Artillery to him late in the morning.

We tend to view the Sunken Road fight on a north-south axis with French and Richardson pushing south against D.H. Hill’s depleted division and Richard Anderson’s poorly employed brigades.  Richardson and French however had problems on their right flank which are often overlooked.  As mentioned, Van Manning brigade lead an unsuccessful attack against the Federal forces along the Mumma Farm Lane.  This is one of those actions that get little attention in the scheme of things at Antietam.  Longstreet is usually remembered for little more than stoically puffing on a cigar and sporting a red carpet slipper as his staff mans an abandoned gun from Miller’s battery at Piper’s Orchard.  In fact Longstreet played an active and aggressive role in confronting this Second Corps attack by orchestrating Manning’s counterattack against French.  Robert E. Lee also recognized the dire situation and beside sending McLaws and Walker forward, had taken other measures to shore up defenses in the threatened Confederate center.

West of the Hagerstown Pike south of the Dunker Church is the Reel Ridge.  The ridge is part of the network of high ground on that side of the road that begins with Nicodemus Heights, continues south to Hauser’s Ridge and ends as the Reel Ridge.  The ridge is the same elevation as the ground in the Cornfield and dominates the Sunken Road position.  Throughout the morning, units of the artillery battalions of the Richard Anderson, D.H. Hill, and John Walker’s divisions were positioned on the Reel Ridge.  All told, 20 guns were positioned on these heights.  While eight were the nearly worthless six-pound and ten pound short-range howitzers, twelve were the much more effective and longer range 10-pound and 3-inch ordnance rifles.  At right angles were 33 more guns in and around the Piper Farm Lane and on Cemetery Hill.  These 53 guns created a kill zone that it was very difficult for Richardson to counter. William Graham’s six Napoleons were woefully outranged and outgunned, as he would relate in his official report.  Our tendency to look only at the activities east of the Hagerstown Pike can cause us to overlook the critical role played by the Confederate artillery west of the Pike.

Looking east from the Reel Ridge toward Sunken Road

Zoom in of Sunken Road from Reel Ridge
These pictures shows this very clearly.  Taken today during a ranger-lead hike along the Reel Ridge, we can clearly see the Sunken Road and Observation Tower spread out before us.  Slightly to the left of the Observation Tower would have been the location of Graham’s Napoleons.  On the Carmen-Copes map of 12 o’clock we see the enfilading fire that the Confederate guns were capable of levying on Richardson’s advancing forces.  It is very possible that one of these guns on the Reel Ridge mortally wounded the aggressive Richardson and halted the Union drive over the nearly prostrate Confederate center.

Things would not go well for the Union on other sectors.  The Sixth Corps never went into action.  Greene’s division pulled back from its Dunker Church salient after running low on ammunition.  Syke’s regulars were halted short of Cemetery Hill and the Ninth Corp’s forward motion after its successful capture of the Lower Bridge stalled until fresh troops from Orlando Willcox’s division were brought forward to continue the advance.  So much time ensued that A.P. Hill’s division was able to arrive and halt Burnside’s final attack toward Sharpsburg.

A key to the Confederate success in denying the Army of the Potomac a decisive tactical battlefield victory on September 17th lay in Lee and Longstreet’s efforts in the center.  Skillful use of the terrain advantages gained by positioning artillery batteries on the Reel Ridge was instrumental.  The next time you visit Antietam, go to the Sunken Road and look west at the important Reel Ridge position.  You will appreciate the importance of that key terrain just as Lee, Longstreet (and I dare say Richardson) did.

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

Monday, March 4, 2013

Intermittent Streams - Avenues of Approach

Looking North on the Burnside Bridge
I spent much of Saturday hiking along the west bank of the Antietam with fellow guide and good friend Bill Sagle. We wanted to look at the points where four intermittent streams entered the creek.  The Antietam is fed by a number of such streams. Intermittent streams carry water a considerable portion of the time, but cease to flow occasionally or seasonally. They flow at lower elevations cutting through higher ground.  These streams are easily visible from the air by the trees that grow along their banks. They cut through the ravines that overlook the banks of the creek and form natural gateways away from the Antietam. The military term is avenues of approach.  As we walked the length of the creek, I realized how important these seemingly insignificant features are.  One need only look at the Carmen Copes maps to appreciate the degree of military activity that occurred around these four intermittent streams.

North of Middle Bridge
Stream 1
We began our hike at the Mumma Farm and the source of the first stream.  The stream begins at the Mumma springhouse.  It flows southeast to a pond on the Roulette Farm and then east for a quarter mile before making a slight turn to the southeast entering the Antietam one quarter of a mile north of the Middle Bridge site. While federal troops did not cross the Antietam at this stream, Richardson’s troops used its upper reaches as the staging area for his advance against the Sunken Road.

Stream 2
South of Middle Bridge
The second intermittent stream is the longest of the four. It begins on the Piper Farm and flows out of a depression near the northwest corner of the orchard in a southeasterly direction.  More often just a dry depression the stream bed crosses the Boonsboro Pike at the intersection with the Sunken Road and for the last quarter mile, flows through a very deep gorge behind the picnic area on Route 34.  It empties into the Antietam ¼ mile south of the Newcomer Barn.  The 1st Battalion, 12th U.S. Infantry and the 2nd and 10th U.S. Infantry of Syke’s Division used this streambed as an avenue of approach in their advance south of the Boonsboro Pike toward Sharpsburg. 

North of Burnside Bridge
Stream 3
The source of the third stream is a pond on the southeast corner of Sharpsburg.  This stream flows one half a mile in a southeasterly direction along the Burnside Bridge road. Passing between the Sherrick and Otto houses it empties into the creek just south of the new Burnside Bridge.  This stream has a constant source of water and flows year round.  This was the avenue of approach of Wilcox’s division.  Christ’s brigade advanced north of this stream and Welsh’s brigade advanced south of this stream on their attack towards Sharpsburg.   

Stream #4
Snaveley's Ford
The final stream has its source at a very small pond just each of Branch Avenue and 3/8ths of a mile south of the Otto Farmhouse.  The stream flows in a southerly direction 5/8ths of a mile and empties into the Antietam at Snavely’s Ford.  General Isaac Rodman’s division crossed at this ford and his division advanced northward along this stream as it linked up with the rest of the Ninth Corps to the north.

The intermittent streams of Antietam lay off the beaten path.  You can stand at the Mumma springhouse or look out across the Piper orchard and not realize that these seemingly unimpressive depressions are an important aspect of the Battle of Antietam.  However for serious students of the battle, they deserve your undivided attention.