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, November 11, 2013

“A Remarkable Artillerist”

Getting our bearings
This Sunday, Jim Buchanan and I had the opportunity to visit the Greenbriar Farm located on the east bank of the Antietam north of Route 34. Owner Ann Corcoran was gracious enough to give us a brief history of the farm before we began our walk along the heights overlooking the creek.  As the area is teeming with hunters this time of year, Jim and I donned orange vests and cautiously proceeded south from the farm buildings along the ridge. I hoped I wouldn’t need to use my military skills of employing cover and concealment.

Carmen 0730 map.  Batteries center at bottom
On the Carmen maps, the property is known as the Ecker Farm.  The farm is located on a ridge up to 190 feet above the creek. It affords dominating positions for artillery and their shells ranged deep into the Confederate lines across the stream. Henry Hunt and his Artillery Reserve chief William Hays positioned four batteries on this high ground overlooking the creek. The were:

Assigned To
Capt Elijah D. Taft
5th Battery, New York Light Artillery
Artillery Reserve
20-lb Parrots
Lt. Alfred von Kleiser
Btry B, 1st Battalion New York Light Artillery
Artillery Reserve
20-lb Parrots
Capt Stephen H, Weed
Btry I, 5th U.S. Artillery
V Corps, 2nd Div
3-in Ordnance Rifles
Capt George W. Durell
Btry D Pennsylvania Light Artillery
IX Corps 2nd Div
10-lb Parrots
Stonewall Jackson accurately described the Union artillery, much of it coming from this position as inflicting “a severe and damaging fire.”[2]

The left: Miller's Sawmill Road
With most of the foliage off the trees, the views were stunning.  Behind us to the east, Red Hill loomed.  In front, looking west toward the battlefield, we could see the Tidball artillery position, the Observation Tower on the Sunken Road, and the Visitor Center (and the West Woods and Dunker Church behind it).  At the correct angle of view, the Philadelphia Brigade monument was directly behind the New York Monument.  The Hagerstown Pike south of the Visitor’s Center was clearly visible along with the Reel Ridge to the west.  Closer in, we could see the Boonsboro Pike. To the left of the road, we could plainly see the National Cemetery and the flag proudly flying over the graves of the fallen.  As we walked south and the views changed, the water tower in Sharpsburg emerged and to our great surprise, we saw the intersection of Branch Avenue and the Harpers Ferry Road and Miller’s Sawmill Road. 

The Right:  Sunken Road Tower and Visitor's Center
In the Civil War, the light artillery batteries employed by both sides were essentially limited to aiming and hitting targets that they could see.  Granted, shells fell short and others flew over intended targets out of view.  But under the stern tutelage of Henry Hunt, his Union artillerists were going to aim and shoot only at what they could see. Given the ranges of the guns on this ridge, everything that we could see, from the Sunken Road on the right to the final attack approach by A.P. Hill on the left was visible, within range and under the guns of the Union artillery. 

I couldn’t help but think as I viewed this position, of the story so well recorded by James Longstreet in his book From Manassas to Appomattox about one particular cannon shot fired from this position by Captain Stephen H. Weed.  Joseph Harsh in Sounding the Shallows puts the time of the shot at around 7:00 and 8:00 in the morning and the target as Cemetery Hill “twenty or so feet either north or south of the Boonsboro Pike.”[3]  Jim and I could plainly see the target. 

Lets follow Longstreet’s narrative which D.H. Hill subsequently described as “entirely accurate”:

"There is a shot for General Hill"
“During the lull after the reencounter of Walker’s Hill’s and Hood’s divisions against Mansfield’s last fight, General Lee and myself, riding together under the crest of General D.H. Hill’s part of the line, were joined by the latter.  We were presently called to the crest to observe the movements going on in the Union lines.  The two former dismounted and walked to the crest; General Hill, a little out of strength and thinking a single horseman not likely to draw the enemy’s fire, rode. As we reached the crest I asked him to ride a little apart, as he would likely draw fire upon the group. While viewing the field a puff of white smoke was seen to burst from a cannon’s mouth about a mile off.  I remarked, “There is a shot for General Hill,” and, looking towards him, saw his horse drop on his knees.  The dropping forward of the poor animal so elevated his croup that it was not an easy matter for one not an expert horseman to dismount a’la militaire.  To add to the dilemma, there was a rubber coat with other wraps strapped to the cantle of the saddle.  Failing in his attempt to dismount, I suggested that he throw his leg forward over the pommel.  This gave him easy and graceful dismount. This was the third horse shot under him during the day and the shot was one of the best I ever witnessed.”[4]

Longstreet goes on to record the statement of Union surgeon Major Alfred A. Woodhull who witnessed the shot from Weed’s position.

“On the 17th of September, 1862, I was standing in Weed’s battery, whose position is correctly shown in the map, when a man on, I think, a gray horse, appeared about a mile in front of us, and footmen were recognized near.  Captain Weed, who was a remarkable artillerist, himself sighted and fired the gun at the horse, which was struck. “[5]

The National Cemetery
Stephen H. Weed was indeed a remarkable artillerist.  The native of Potsdam New York graduated from West Point with the outstanding class of 1854.  A cadet at the academy while Robert E. Lee was superintendent, Weed’s classmates included Lee’s son Custis, Oliver O. Howard, J.E.B. Stuart, Stephen D. Lee, Dorsey Pender, Grimes Davis, and a host of other men who contributed significantly to the war effort for both sides.  Weed was commissioned in the 4th U.S. Artillery. The Fourth at the time was employed largely as part of the frontier constabulary.  Weed fought with his company in the Third Seminole War, and helped quell the Kansas disturbances. He was part of the expedition to Utah and along the way was engaged in skirmishes against the Indians.  A First Lieutenant since November 16, 1856, he was assigned with Battery K to Fort Ridgely Minnesota at the start of the Civil War.  A seasoned young veteran, Lieutenant Weed received a coveted battery command and promotion to captain in the new Fifth Artillery Regiment on May 14, 1861. Light Battery I and its commander fought with Fitz-John Porter’s Fifth Corps on the Peninsula, and at Second Manassas before the Maryland Campaign.  Weed’s star continued to rise after Antietam.  He commanded the Fifth Corps artillery with distinction at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.  Promoted to brigadier general of volunteers on June 6, 1863, Stephen Weed, age 30, was be killed instantly at Gettysburg defending Little Round Top on July 2, 1863.

[1] Johnson, Curt and Richard C. Anderson. Artillery Hell The Employment of Artillery at Antietam. College Station Texas: Texas A&M University Press 1995, pages 36-37.
[2] War of the Rebellion Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies Series I, Volume 19, Part 1, page 956.
[3] Harsh, Joseph H. Sounding the Shallows. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2000. page 203
[4] Longstreet, James. From Manassas to Appomttox. New York: Barnes and Noble. Originally published 1896. Page 208
[5] Ibid, 208