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 10, 2014

Cool and Gallant in the Extreme

Top Row Lieutenants King, Cushing, and Evans at Antietam
On November 7, 2014, President Obama bestowed the Medal of Honor on First Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing for his actions in stemming the Confederate advance known as Pickett’s Charge.  Young Cushing, age 22 gave his life when he refused to withdraw to a safer position after being grievously wounded.  Instead, Cushing advanced two of his guns to a stone wall into the very teeth of the surging Confederates.  In agony from a wound to the abdomen, and his left thumb burned to the bone while venting the guns without a thumbstall, Cushing fired a last round of canister point blank into the faces of the Confederates before being killed instantly by a shot to the mouth.[1] After the action subsided, Cushing’s First Sergeant, Frederick Fuger tenderly carried his young commanders body several yards to the rear and buried the gallant lieutenant under an oak tree.  While it took 151 years for Cushing to receive his, First Sergeant Fuger, a native of Goppingen Germany was awarded the Medal of Honor in April 1897. [2]

Alonzo Cushing is perhaps the best known of an amazing group of young officers who lead the regular artillery companies in the Union Army during the Civil War. These young men, mostly in their early to mid twenties, were a mix of West Point graduates, former non commissioned officers, and civilian appointees. They served in sixty batteries in five U.S. Artillery regiments. Together, they not only lead their own companies but also were responsible for the training and development of the volunteer batteries making them a formidable force in their own right. Men like Randol, Terrill, Du Pont, and Guenther, mostly unknown today, were present in so many battles, great and small and made the Union artillery a feared and respected force everywhere.

This Veteran’s Day, let us follow the action of some other gunners who fought with the very same Second Corps that Cushing supported at Gettysburg.  This however is nine months earlier on America’s bloodiest day, the Battle of Antietam. 

Covering the advance of John Sedgwick’s division down the Smoketown Road were two Second Corps regular batteries.  One of these was Battery A&C/4th Artillery (Evan Thomas [Civ-1861, age 19).  These unit was a combination of two severely understrength batteries and had been combined to have a sufficient number of men to man the six guns assigned to one battery.  Neither of the two captains was present to command the consolidated unit. Francis N. Clarke of A Company was on detached service with Sumner as his Chief of Artillery.  Company C’s command slot was vacant with the recent death of George Hazzard from wounds suffered in the Seven Days battle of White Oak Swamp.  This left 19 year old Evan Thomas from Company C in command. Family connections (his father was Lorenzo Thomas, the Adjutant General of the army) secured the young man an appointment in the regular artillery the year before.  Thomas was a spirited and even hotheaded young officer. The other officer present from Company C that day was Rufus “Junior” King, scion of another influential family. His uncle Rufus was the first commander of the famed Black Hat Brigade.  Thomas and King are but two examples of how family connections secured many young men coveted appointments in the regular army in the first year of the Civil War. 
As the battery moved forward down the Smoketown Road, it started banging away at the surging Confederates who had waylaid Sedgwick’s division in the West Woods. Evans opened on the advancing enemy with spherical case, and then, as the rebels approached nearer, with canister.  He reports that only the arrival of the advance elements of the Sixth Corps saved him from being overwhelmed. Lending a hand was the Second Corps ordnance officer Alonzo Cushing.  Cushing, assigned to Company C was like Captain Clarke also on detached service on the Sumner’s staff. 

Not far away stood Battery I, First US Artillery.  Considered one of the elite batteries of the army artillery establishment, the command was rebuilt from scratch after being wrecked and its guns lost at First Bull Run.   Unlike A/C/4US led by former civilians, Battery I had West Point leadership.  First Lieutenant George “Little Dad” Woodruff USMA 1861 age 22 was in command that day standing in for Lieutenant Edmund Kirby who was sick.  Battery I’s captain wasn’t with the battery but he was not far away.  James Ricketts, now a brigadier general of volunteers
Lieutenant George Woodruff
commanded a division in the Cornfield 500 yards to the north.  Woodruff had a full complement of officers so all three gun sections were commanded by lieutenants.  They included recent West Point graduates Lieutenants Tully McRea (USMA 1862 age 23) and John Egan (USMA 1862 age 25).  Also assigned to the battery was Frank Sands French (CIV-1861 age 20).  Frank’s father William French (USMA 1837) was another legacy of the First Artillery in the old Army.  Like Ricketts that day, the elder French was also nearby commanding the 3rd Division, Second Corps in the Sunken Road. Like Evan Thomas, Woodruff had to contend with surging Confederate infantry in the West Woods.  Alternating between counter-battery fire and interdicting rebel infantry, Woodruff had little infantry support around his guns. McCrea said that “it [the battery] worked like a machine and we put two rounds of canister a minute in their faces at short range.” Egan described Woodruff’s handling of the battery as “masterful.”
[3]  At Gettysburg, “Little Dad” Woodruff would fall mortally wounded not far from his colleague Alonzo Cushing.

Lieutenant Samuel Elder
The concentration of Second Corps artillery behind Sedgwick’s division left little to support the attacks of French and Richardson further to the left in the Sunken Road.  The absence of artillery and the persistent and effective rebel fire from the Reel Ridge and around the Piper orchard led General Richardson to request a battery from the Artillery Reserve.  Battery K, 1st Artillery, commanded by Captain William M. Graham (CIV-1855 age 27) was soon dispatched.  Graham’s was not a West Point graduate himself but his father James D. Graham was a member of the West Point class of 1817, and a lieutenant colonel in the topographical engineers. His uncle and namesake, Colonel William Montrose Graham, was killed during the Mexican-American War while commanding the 11th U.S. Infantry at Molino del Rey.  Graham was appointed to the First Artillery in 1855 during the expansion of the Regular Army that year.  As a measure of his ability he was in just six years promoted to captain.  Graham’s battery took position in the plowed field earlier occupied by the Irish Brigade.  The battery came under severe artillery fire from rebel batteries.  Graham managed to silence one battery 700 yards away and repelled several infantry charges but his Napoleons were outranged by Confederate rifled guns on the Reel Ridge.  General Richardson ordered Graham to save the battery as much as possible and was mortally wounded by a fragment of spherical case while standing near the guns.  Under this galling fire stood Lieutenant Theophie Bhryd  von Michalowski from Prussia (ENL 1861 age 23).  The former sergeant major of the 11th US Infantry for a long time served one of his pieces with but one cannoneer, alternating with this man in loading and firing. Lieutenant Maynadier (CIV-1861 age 25) returned with First Sergeant Cooney and brought off the two caissons, under a heavy artillery fire.  Captain Graham saved his finest praise for First Lieutenant Samuel Elder (ENL-1861 age 33).  Elder, several years older than the other officers was a former non-commissioned officer in the Second Artillery with five years prior enlisted service.  Appointed in 1861, Lieutenant Elder at Antietam served his section with remarkable effect, and was principally instrumental in silencing the battery first engaged. His conduct, under an extraordinarily heavy fire, was cool and gallant in the extreme.[4]

[1] Made of leather, the thumbstall is used by the gunner to stop the vent when the barrel is being swabbed out so that no residue or hot ashes blow up the vent and prematurely ignite the next powder load.  The thumbstall protects the gunner’s thumb from the hot escaping gases.  Not wearing one causes serious burns to the thumb and repeated thumbing of the vent without a thumbstall will certainly burn the flesh away to the bone.  It must have been excruciating.
[2] Fuger’s citation read: “ All the officers of his battery having been killed or wounded and five of its guns disabled in Pickett's assault, he succeeded to the command and fought the remaining gun with most distinguished gallantry until the battery was ordered withdrawn.”  Four months later, Fuger was appointed a second lieutenant in the 4th Artillery rising to the rank of Major in 1899 retiring in 1900. He died in 1913.
[3] Haskin, First Artillery page 540
[4] Graham OFFICIAL RECORDS: Series 1, Vol 19, Part 1, Pages 343 - 344

Sunday, May 11, 2014

"Unwavering Fidelity to the Cause of My Country"

I almost missed George Dickinson.

Last year as I began my research, I assembled a list of officers assigned to the U.S. Artillery regiments.  With 441 officers discovered, I thought that I had all of them until today.   Going thru Volume 2 of Heitman’s Register doing some crosschecking for something else, I discovered George Dickenson. 

Having found Lieutenant Dickenson, I ran a query in Fold 3. One of the most common records contained there is a newly commissioned officer’s letters of acceptance.  This letter, addressed to the Adjutant General is a very dry affair.  The officer acknowledges the appointment, and indicates his age and home of record.  That is usually it.

George’s letter contained this and a lot more.  Dickinson was an enlisted man in Company K,  1st Missouri Light Artillery Regiment.  He came from perhaps the most bitterly divided of the border states.  But Dickenson knew exactly where he stood on the matter of the his country.

After he acknowledged his appointment, Dickenson had this to say:

“I am fully sensible of the high honor conferred upon me and shall endeavor by a zealous performance of my duty and an unwavering fidelity to the cause of my country to merit the confidence which in this hour of national calamity her rulers have reposed in me.  I am twenty one years of age and a native of Missouri.”[1]

Dickenson was first assigned to Company A of the 4th U.S. Artillery.  Within a month of his commissioning, he was promoted to First Lieutenant on November 29, 1861 and assigned to Company G.  Dickenson remained with Company A until April 1862.  There the young man from Missouri served with Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing who would achieve immortality at Gettysburg over a year later. when he reached his new command at Fort Monroe.  After the Peninsula Campaign, Dickenson was attached Company E and the Ninth Corps.  When Captain Clark commanding the company was wounded at Antietam, Dickenson assumed command. 

George Dickenson survived the bloodiest day in American history.  He zealously performed his duty and merited the confidence reposed in him.   Three months later on December 13th 1862, far from his Missouri home, George Dickenson was killed at Fredericksburg.

If I find out nothing else about him, Dickenson’s acceptance letter put into words the sentiment of many young Americans in the opening days of the war where patriotism still motivated men to serve their country.

I am glad that I found George Dickenson.

[1] Letter from Second Lieutenant George Dickenson to the Adjutant General dated November 7, 1861.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Five Cents a Mile

William Ennis USMA 1864
The following story underscores how little things have changed over the years when it comes to the bureaucracies under which we live.  This is the story of the travails young Second Lieutenant William Ennis of the 4th Artillery.  Lieutenant Ennis was a member of the West Point Class of 1864.  He was the first of three generations of the Ennis family who would serve in the ranks of the artillery and reach general officer rank[1]. 

Ennis Letter Page 1
After receiving his commission in June of 1864, Bill Ennis was assigned to Battery M, 4th Artillery.  This unit was one of the relatively small number of regular artillery batteries assigned to one of the western armies during the Civil War.  First Lieutenant Samuel Canby commanded Battery M at the time that Ennis served there.  The twenty-five year old Canby was not a West Pointer. He started the war as a sergeant in the 4th New Jersey Volunteers.  Canby received a regular commission in the 4th Artillery in 1861 and saw action at Shiloh and Gettysburg[2].   

The newly minted lieutenant earned his spurs and was twice brevetted for gallantry at the Battle of Franklin on November 30, 1864 and at the Battle of Nashville on December 15 and 16, 1864.

Ten months passed and the war was over.  In October 1865, the War Department was downsizing the Army and converting most of the field and horse (or light) artillery batteries back into foot artillery.  That meant no horses and no guns.  In the 4th Artillery Regiment, only Batteries B and G kept their designation as Light Batteries.  The Department set about to fill up all the light battery officer slots.  At the same time, it ordered Battery G from Burton Barracks near St. Louis to Fort Wayne, Detroit Michigan.

Page 2
Lieutenant Ennis was now assigned on paper to Company F, but actually served with Company D at Brownsville Texas. In late November or early December, he received orders to report to Light Battery G.   As he scanned his orders, he observed that they did not identify the location of his new assignment.   All he knew was that the battery had some time earlier been ordered by General Grant to report to Lieutenant General Sherman’s Military Division of the Mississippi at Saint Louis.  Ennis settled his affairs at Brownsville, booked a passage to New Orleans and then journeyed up the Mississippi to Saint Louis.  When he arrived and reported to Sherman’s headquarters, he was told by a staff officer that he  believed that the battery was located at Little Rock Arkansas but that the young officer should go over to General Popes headquarters of the Military Department of the Missouri, also located in St. Louis and find out for certain.  At Pope's headquarters, he was told, yes, the unit was located in Little Rock.  Ennis travelled to Little Rock, 350 miles away only to learn that the company was actually located at Fort Wayne outside of Detroit Michigan.  Apparently, neither Sherman or Pope’s headquarters had any idea where one of their artillery companies was located. At least the staff officer who directed Ennis to Little Rock certainly did not know.  Bill packed his bags, proceeded to Detroit by way of Cairo Illinois and at long last found his new assignment.
The lieutenant was entitled to reimbursement for his transportation cost and accordingly submitted his travel voucher.  Those of us who work for the government know how that process works.   In those days, the Quartermaster Department settled travel vouchers.  Ennis received $66 for travel from New Orleans to Detroit but was not reimbursed for his detour to Saint Louis and then Little Rock. 

Page 3
Bill’s only recourse was to write a letter to the Adjutant General in Washington DC requesting that the additional sum of $72 be reimbursed to him for his “good faith” travel to Little Rock. On February 16, 1867 nearly a year after making the journey he penned his letter (see it at the right) and provided copies of all his documentation. By now, Ennis was a first lieutenant and served as aide-de-camp to Major General Schofield in Richmond. Would the War Department take note of an unknown lieutenant’s claim or had his mentor General Schofield maybe gotten involved on in the case.  Apparently the communication was routed to the Quartermaster General’s office, which on March 20th penned a 2-page memorandum back to the Adjutant General recommending that the lieutenant be reimbursed.  On March 26th, the Adjutant General wrote a three page memorandum agreeing that the lieutenant be reimbursed $72 for his expenses.  Presumably Bill Ennis got his money some time thereafter. 

Lieutenant Ennis’s 2,600 mile journey[3] with detours to Detroit Michigan ultimately cost the government $138.00 and five pages of memoranda by the Quartermaster General and Adjutant General’s offices.  That is about 5 cents a mile. 

 William"Bull" Ennis USMA 1901
Lieutenant Ennis had a long and distinguished career as an artilleryman in the United States Army.  A first lieutenant for twenty-one years, and captain for ten more, he thereafter moved more rapidly up the ranks.  During the Spanish-American War, among other duties, he commanded a battalion of siege artillery in Cuba. Ennis retired as a brigadier general on November 7, 1905. 

While on active duty, his son the legendary William Peirce “Bull” Ennis graduated from West Point in 1901 and followed his father into the artillery.[4]  He too reached the rank of brigadier general and became known in the artillery community as a foremost trainer and is acknowledged for his role in getting the artillery in shape for World War Two. 

William P. Ennis USMA 1926
William Ennis was alive when his grandson William Peirce Ennis Jr. graduated from West Point in 1926.  Perhaps the most well known of the Ennis line, he saw action in North Africa and Europe during World War Two. In the Korean War, he commanded the X Corps Artillery. The youngest Ennis eventually reached the rank of Lieutenant General and served for a time as President of the Army War College at Carlisle.[5]

When the first Bill Ennis, a veteran of the bloody battles of Franklin and Nashville died at the age of 96 on September 30, 1938.  He was the oldest surviving graduate of the Military Academy.  One wonders if he ever told his son and grandson about the $72 travel voucher.   

[1] Father of Brigadier General William Ennis Jr. 1878-1968; Grandfather of Lieutenant General William Ennis  1904-1989.  All three were artilleryman and West Point graduates.  I also discovered a William Waggaman Ennis (1921-1999), a 1942 graduate of the Naval Academy and highly decorated submarine officer in World War Two.
[2] Samuel Canby was from Delaware.  He entered the Army on April 25, 1861 as a sergeant and was later promoted to First Sergeant of the 4th New Jersey Infantry.  He was appointed a first lieutenant and served as adjutant of the 2nd Delaware Infantry until November 1861.  Canby was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 4th U.S. Artillery Regiment on October 21, 1861 and assigned initially to Company H where he received a brevet for gallantry at Shiloh. Promoted to first lieutenant and transferred to Company A on August 5 1862, he received a brevet at Gettysburg.  Canby returned to the west to Company M where he served for the remainder of the war.  He received a third brevet to major for his actions at Franklin Tennessee.  Canby resigned from the Army on July 1, 1868 and died on July 24, 1897.  [Source Heitman]
[3] Brownsville to New Orleans  700 miles; New Orleans to St Louis 675 miles; St Louis to Little Rock 350 miles; Little Rock to Cairo Ill 285 miles; Cairo Ill to Detroit 590 miles; Total 2600 miles

[4] See this link for more information on “Bull” Ennis. http://apps.westpointaog.org/Memorials/Article/4013/
[5] The information on Lieutenant General Ennis was found in his December 14, 1962 obitiuary in the New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1989/12/14/obituaries/william-p-ennis-85-headed-war-college.html

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Fort Ridgely Minnesota - An Antebellum Artillery Post


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Secession Crisis – The First Resignations

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

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

April 1861 Orders to Washington 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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