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.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

“Well gentlemen, I guess they have our range”

John Calef
We remember John Calef as the young commander of Light Company A, 2nd U.S. Artillery[i] who was attached to General John Buford’s cavalry division on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.  Calef’s guns were the first Union artillery to be engaged at the battle.  Buford spoke highly of the young lieutenant’s actions that day. 
Calef however began his career with Company K, 5th U.S. Artillery.  A graduate of the West Point class of 1862, the young 21 year old from Gloucester Massachusetts was immediately was thrown into combat on the Peninsula and at Second Manassas. At the latter place, he saw his battery commander, Captain John Smead struck on the head by a cannon ball and instantly killed.  At Antietam, Battery K was now under the command of Lieutenant William Van Reed. Forty-six years after the battle, John Calef recounted his recollections of the battle in a letter to the Joint Military Service Institute of the United States:

“This (September 17, 1906) is forty-third anniversary of Antietam and how well I recall every event of that day. Just at this hour 10 AM Captain ‘Steve’ Weed, Randol and I walked up to the top of the hill under, or behind which our batteries were parked awaiting orders. From this point we saw the Irish brigade ‘go in’ in two beautiful lines, the National and Irish colors side-by-side. The sun was at just the right height to bring out strongly the green of Erin as well as the red of the ‘Old Glory,’ and when the front line reached the danger zone we saw the colors go down again and again, but instantly caught up, showing that at each fall color bearer was left behind killed or wounded. Twas a thrilling site and so absorbed were we watching the progress of the battle that we were insensible of the fact that we had become the target off a battery opposite to us. Rifle projectiles had been promiscuous all the morning, and it was only when a shot plowed up the turf under Weed’s left foot that he remarked in his quiet way ‘Well gentlemen, I guess they have our range close enough, we had better return to our batteries where we belong.’ But it was reserved for a sharpshooter at Devils Den to take the life of one of the bravest of soldiers.“ [Joint Military Service Institute of the United States Volume 41, page 276]

Calef, Weed and Randol were assigned to three different regular army artillery batteries that were attached to George Sykes Second Division of the Fifth Corps.  Captain Stephen Weed commanded Battery I, 5th U.S. Artillery.  First Lieutenant Alanson Randol was in command of Company E&G, 1st U.S. Artillery.  Calef as we have seen was with Battery K, 5th U.S. Artillery.  All were graduates of the Military Academy.
Stephen Weed
Of the three, Weed was the senior officer.  Born at Potsdam New York, Weed graduated from West Point in 1854 and 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 serving with John Gibbon’s Light Company B, 4th U.S. Artillery and along the way was engaged in skirmishes against the Indians.  A First Lieutenant since November 16, 1856, he was assigned with Company K, 4th Artillery at Fort Ridgely Minnesota at the start of the Civil War.  In May of 1861, Lieutenant Weed, now 29 years old received a coveted battery command and promotion to captain in the new Fifth Artillery Regiment. 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 furthered his already solid reputation as a skilled artillerist.  While impossible to prove definitively, there is much evidence that during the Battle of Antietam, Weed aimed and fired a round of solid shot at a group of Confederate officers that included Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet and D.H. Hill.  Hill apparently ignored suggestions from Longstreet to dismount and reduce the likelihood of becoming a target.  Longstreet’s warning to Hill as he spotted the puff of smoke from the Federal battery across the creek and the outcome of the shot are reported here.   
Alanson Randol
The other officer was First Lieutenant Alanson Randol of Company E, 1st U.S. Artillery.  Born in Newburgh New York, Randol graduated from West Point in 1860. He probably knew John Calef as a cadet there.  Randol’s first duty station after graduation was as an ordnance officer at Benicia depot near San Francisco California.  At the start of the war, Randol was organizing John Fremont’s artillery in Missouri. In command of a battery of the 1st Missouri Light Artillery, Randol nevertheless sought service with a regular battery in the east.  His requests were eventually approved and on New Years Day 1862, Randol assumed command of Company E, 1st U.S. Artillery.  In his writings, Randol was very conscious of the honor of serving with this company.  Abner Doubleday commanded Company E at Fort Sumter at the beginning of the war. In February because of manpower shortages in the regular batteries, “E” was combined with Company G, 1st U.S. Artillery.  They would remain together for the rest of the war.  Randol lead his new command to the Peninsula. On June 30th at the bloody battle of Gaines Mill, Randol’s battery was attached to George Meade’s brigade of the Pennsylvania Reserves.  At the climax of that battle, Robert E. Lee threw more and more regiments in. Randol’s guns held off repeated charges of Confederate infantry until Union infantry supports scattered.  Meade fell wounded nearby as Rebel soldiers surged over top of the battery. In desperation, Randol led repeated desperate charges to regain his guns but they were lost.  With his battery shattered and his men temporarily assigned to other units, Randol assisted Henry Hunt in deploying the Federal artillery at Malvern Hill.  In early July, a Court of Inquiry cleared Randol after hearing testimony from Meade and others attesting to the young gunner’s ability and bravery.  His battery was reconstituted and attached to Sykes’ division.  Randol and Battery E were present at Second Manassas.  At 24 years of age, Alanson Randol had seen his share of bloody fighting. 
At 10:30 (see map) it is likely that Weed’s battery was already in action.  They may have already targeted that small group of Confederate officers on the bluffs east of the creek.  Possibly Randol and Calef, whose batteries were further back at the time walked forward to observe the fighting somewhere near Weed. 
Calef’s account of the attack by Meaghers Irish Brigade against the Sunken Road is particularly moving:  From this point we saw the Irish brigade ‘go in’ in two beautiful lines, the National and Irish colors side-by-side. The sun was at just the right height to bring out strongly the green of Erin as well as the red of the ‘Old Glory,’ and when the front line reached the danger zone we saw the colors go down again and again, but instantly caught up, showing that at each fall color bearer was left behind killed or wounded.

So engrossed were the three officers that they did not realize that Confederate guns had gotten their range.  Whether the officers were standing near Weed’s battery is not clear.  In any event when a shell landed near Weed’s feet, it was time to remove to a safer location.  ‘Well gentlemen, I guess they have our range close enough, we had better return to our batteries where we belong.’

Weed’s battery continued to good service for the remainder of the day.  Randol and Van Reed’s batteries would cross the Middle Bridge later in the day.  Pleasanton’s horse artillery batteries crossed the Antietam with parts of the cavalry division around noon.  As they began running low on ammunition, other batteries including Randol and Van Reed replaced them east of the creek.  All would eventually be withdrawn back across the creek later in the afternoon.

‘Steve’ Weed had nine months to live.  He continued win acclaim and demonstrate great ability leading federal artillery at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.  On June 6, 1863 Weed was appointed brigadier general and received command of an infantry brigade in the Fifth Corps.  On Little Round Top, a Confederate sharpshooter would take the life of this most promising officer. 

Alanson Randol also eventually left the artillery. In December 1864 he accepted a volunteer commission as Colonel of the 2nd New York Cavalry.  Randol fought with Phil Sheridan for the remainder of the war eventually receiving brevet promotion to brigadier general.  Randol survived the war and returned to his regular army rank of captain where he remained for the next seventeen years.  Promoted to Major in the 1st Artillery in 1882, Randol died of Bright’s disease six years later at his post in California.  He was 50 years old.

Unlike Weed and Randol, John Calef remained with the artillery for the rest of his career. He won two brevets during the war for gallantry including one for his role at Gettysburg, Promoted to first lieutenant in 1863 it took thirteen additional years to reach the rank of captain and 21 additional years after that to make major.  He spent many years at the Artillery School and with his mentor John Tidball established a reputation as a military scholar.  In 1900, a month before his retirement, John Calef was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 3rd Artillery.  John Calef died on January 12, 1912 at the age of 70.

Here are three young artillery officers who were the epitome of that particular breed. Indispensible to the war effort, they fought and often died with little recognition or acclaim. 

[i] Throughout this article, I will refer to the artillery units in the terminology used during the Civil War.  At the start of the war, the four artillery regiments were organized with twelve companies each.  Ten of the twelve were “foot” artillery companies.  They manned the seacoast fortifications and frontier posts but did not have guns or horses.  The other two companies in each regiment’s were mounted with a battery of guns and horses. They were the elite Light Companies. Light Company A was one of these companies.  These companies tended to keep the title of “light company” long into the war.  After most of the other ten companies in each regiment were mounted early in the war, they were still referred to as just artillery companies.  Everything was different in the brand new Fifth Artillery.  In the congressional statute organizing the Fifth Artillery, its company-size organizations were called batteries.  Thus when I refer to units of the Fifth Artillery, they are known as Battery I, Fifth Artillery for example.  As the war dragged on the distinction between artillery companies and artillery batteries began to blur.  By the end of the war, most units had adopted the term battery when referring to themselves in reports and monthly returns.  In this article, I will use the earlier terminology for the different units.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

What happened to the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, Twelfth Corps at Antietam?

Alpheus Williams
Occasionally we are asked why Alpheus William’s division at Antietam did not have a Second Brigade. A look at the order of battle indeed shows that there was a First Brigade commanded by Samuel Crawford, and a Third Brigade commanded by George Gordon. While the four Ninth Corps divisions at Antietam were also two brigade organizations, the normal divisional organization in the Army of the Potomac was a three-brigade structure. Is there a typo on the order of battle?  Is the Third Brigade actually the second brigade of the division?  If not, is the Second Brigade detached and serving elsewhere.

When George McClellan began his organization of the Army of the Potomac in August 1861, Major General Nathanial Banks commanded one of the divisions in that nascent army.  This division is the direct ancestor Alpheus Williams division, the organization that pushed down the Smoketown Road 13 months later.  In the beginning, Banks’ division had four brigades:  

First Brigade commanded by Alpheus Williams
Second Brigade commanded by John J. Abercrombie (USMA 1822)
Third Brigade commanded by George Gordon (USMA 1846)
Geary’s Separate Brigade commanded by John Geary

Nathaniel Banks
Bank’s division was stationed in Western Maryland. It was destined to play a major role the campaigns in the Shenandoah Valley through the summer of 1862. In March of 1862 when President Lincoln imposed a corps level organization on McClellan’s army, Banks was elevated to command of the Fifth Corps.[i] When he moved up to corps command, Alpheus Williams assumed command of his division.  Dudley Donnelly, commander of the 28th New York Infantry replaced Williams in command of the First Brigade.  James Shields commanded the second division of Bank’s corps.

The original Fifth Corps would last but three weeks.  On April 4, 1862 it was discontinued and resurrected as the Department of the Shenandoah remaining under the command of Banks.  Williams and Shields continued to command the department’s two divisions. 

George Hartsuff
This is where it gets a bit complicated.  On April 10, 1862 George Hartsuff (USMA 1852) replaced James Abercrombie in command of the Second Brigade.  The brigade was transferred to the Department of the Rappahannock on May 10th.  On May 25th, John Geary’s brigade (less Geary) was transferred to the Washington defenses.  A new brigade was created for him on June 6, 1862 consisting of the 5th, 7th, 29th and 66th Ohio Infantry Regiments.  For five weeks, this brigade continued in Alpheus Williams’ division as the Second Brigade.  During this period (May 27th), Donnelly turned over command of the First Brigade of William’s division to Samuel Crawford. 

But it’s not over.  On July 16th, Geary’s Brigade was transferred to Christopher Auger’s (formerly Shields’) division.  For a second time, William’s division was without a second brigade.  It would remain this way through the Maryland Campaign. 

Two brigades could therefore lay claim to being Alpheus Williams “lost” second brigade.  Both fought at Antietam.  The first one as we have seen, is the brigade of George Hartsuff.  It was a charter member of Nathaniel Banks division lead first by James Abercrombie and eventually commanded by Hartsuff.  At Antietam, it belonged to James Rickett’s division and fought in the Cornfield.

Hector Tyndale
The second is Geary’s “new” brigade.  It was only part of Williams’ division for five weeks until reassigned to Augur’s division.  Both Augur and Geary were wounded at Cedar Mountain on August 9, 1862.  This paved the way for George Greene to assume temporary divisional command and George Candy to replace the wounded Geary.  Candy was not in command of this brigade however at the battle of Antietam. For the two-day period of September 17 – 18 1862 Hector Tyndale commanded this unit.  The brigade advanced with other elements of George Greene division to the Dunker Church plateau.

After Antietam, William’s division would receive a new “second” brigade of green soldiers.  At Fredericksburg, this brigade was commanded by Thomas L. Kane and consisted of the 20th Connecticut, 123rd New York, and the 124th and 125th Pennsylvania.

While Alpheus Williams division only consisted of two brigades at Antietam, brigades previously associated with his command were not far away on the bloody northern flank of the battlefield. 

[i] This corps should not be confused with the provisional Fifth Corps that McClellan later created on the Peninsula.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


Assistant Marshall Peter Cannon was responsible for enumerating the 1850 census in the village of Cornwall, Orange County New York.  On October 22, 1850, he arrived at a dwelling he listed as number 538 in his record.  Seven young army officers live there ranging in age from 23 to 29.  They were all junior members of the faculty of the United States Military at West Point. Cannon started a new page in his census book and added the following names:
1850 Census Record for Cornwall Village

Fitz-John Porter, age 26 was born in New Hampshire.  Porter is a first lieutenant in the 4th Artillery. He was twice brevetted for gallantry (to Major) in Mexico at Molino del Rey and Chapultepec. His assignment at the Military Academy is Assistant Instructor of Artillery. He graduated from West Point five years ago in 1845.

George B. McClellan, age 23 was born in Pennsylvania.  McClellan is a second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers.  He was twice brevetted for gallantry (to Captain) in Mexico at Contreras and Chapultepec.  McClellan commands the company of engineer troops at West Point.  He graduated from the Academy four years ago in 1846. 

Francis Clarke, age 29 born was born in New York.  Clarke is a first lieutenant in the 4th Artillery.  The longest serving officer in this dwelling, Clarke graduated from the Academy in 1840. He has spent nine of the next ten years as an instructor there.  At the time of the 1850 census, Clarke has risen to be Principal Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Mineralogy, and Geology. 

James Duane, age 26 was also born in New York.  Duane is a brevet second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers.  Graduated just two years earlier in 1848, Duane never left the Academy and at the time of the census serves in the elite company of Sappers, Miners, and Pontoniers possibly under McClellan’s command.

Charles T. Baker, age 29 was born in Connecticut.  Baker is a first lieutenant in the 6th Infantry.  An 1842 graduate, Baker initially served in Florida and on the western frontier but has been stationed at the Military Academy since 1845. He did not see action in Mexico.  Baker’s assignment at the Military Academy is Assistant Instructor of Infantry Tactics. 

Truman Seymour, age 26 was born in Vermont.  Seymour is a first lieutenant in the 1st Artillery.  He was another Mexican War veteran twice brevetted (to Captain) for gallantry at Cerro Gordo and Contreras.  Seymour is a classmate of McClellan also graduating from West Point in 1846.  A talented artist, Seymour serves at West Point as the Assistant Professor of Drawing.

The last man enumerated and the only southerner in the house is Edmund K. Smith.  Smith was 26 years old and born in Florida.  Known as “Kirby,” he was a first lieutenant in the 7th Infantry.  Smith graduated from West Point in 1845 with Porter and was immediately dispatched to Zachary Taylor’s Army of Occupation.  He earned two brevets for gallantry (to Captain) under Winfield Scott at Cerro Gordo and Contreras. Smith is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at West Point.    

Also living at this dwelling is Joshua Holmes and his wife Jane.  The couple, both 39 years of age, were born in England.  They have two sons and two daughters Jane (age 14), James (age 11), Emma (age 8) and Alfred. (age 6).  The children were all born in New York.  (There is some evidence that one if not both of the boys enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War.)[1]  Mr. Holmes identifies himself as a laborer.  Perhaps he worked at the Academy while his wife rears four children and keeps house for seven young officers.

We don’t remember these men as young bachelors living together under one roof.  We don’t think of them indulging in all the things that young men in their 20s indulge in. We may not think to regard four of them as very young combat veterans of the Mexican War - exactly the same age as the young American soldiers whom today return from the wars of the 21st century.   We probably don’t envision them playing with the Holmes children after a day in the classroom or on the drill field.

Our view of them is based not on who they were in 1850 but on who they were in the next war some eleven years in the future. In 1850 they were all still relatively unknown.  Who of them could envision that in twelve years the youngest of their group would stand at the center stage of American military and political affairs commanding the nation's most important army, in the bloodiest conflict in our history?[2]  This would not be a foreign war like the one just completed in Mexico.  It would be a civil war that would tear north and south apart.  Another of the roommates would emerge as the trusted lieutenant of that future army commander. This man would ably lead a corps in the terrible battles of the summer and autumn of 1862.   From those heights of military accomplishment, he would descend just weeks later to become the defendant in a politically orchestrated court martial that would destroy his army career and set him on a lifelong path to seek redemption. [3]   

Who would know then that another roommate would be hailed as a hero of the first battle in that terrible future war at an unfinished fort in the harbor of Charleston South Carolina? This man would also fight with the first two as a brigade commander at a bloody battle in Maryland twelve years later.[4]

Two other roommates would be on that field as well.  One, an accomplished gunner would lead seven batteries of light artillery in some of the toughest and bloodiest fighting of the day.[5]  The other, one of the finest engineers in the army, would receive the key assignment to find a ford on a creek around the flank of formidable enemy defenses.  The ford he selected and his subsequent actions would significantly affect the outcome of the day’s fighting and remain controversial till the present day.[6] 

Surprisingly, one of the two officers with the longest length of service would play no role in the upcoming Civil War.  His resignation from the army a little over a year later would begin his a career as a farmer in Connecticut.[7] 

Maybe most unlikely was the idea at the time that one of these roommates would violate his sacred oath of appointment and take up arms against the United States.  This man twelve years later, would be one of the first two officers elevated to the rank of lieutenant general in the Confederate Army and the last to surrender a major command of that same army at Galveston Texas, six weeks after Lee surrendered at Appomattox.[8]  

That is in the future.  Those men just described are older, more serious versions of the seven men now living with the Holmes family in the village of Cornwall in Orange County New York.  For now, they are simply seven young army officer’s serving as junior faculty members or staff at the United States Military Academy.  All have promising futures.  None of them know what lies in store. It is October 22, 1850 and Assistant Marshal Peter Cannon is at the door.  

[1] According to the Civil War Database, there is only one Alfred Holmes from New York in the entire database.  His age is off by two years.  He enlisted in 1864 in Company G, 15th NY Heavy Artillery.  He shortly thereafter transferred into the Navy.  While there are 28 “James Holmes” entries from New York who served in New York outfits, there is one intriguing possibility.  James Holmes enlisted on May 9, 1861 in Company A, 15th Engineers.  This was a specialized unit specifically recruited and trained as engineers.  Given the Holme’s family proximity to West Point and its renown as an engineer school, is it possible that one of the engineer officers who lived with the Holmes family assisted young James in enlisting in this very elite engineer unit?  
[2] George B. McClellan (1826-1885) commanded the Army of the Potomac from July 1861 to November 1862. On November 1, 1861 he succeeded Winfield Scott as commander in chief of the United States Army. He held that post until relieved by President Lincoln on March 11, 1862.  He was the 1864 candidate of the Democratic party for President of the United States. 
[3] Fitz-John Porter (1822-1901) commanded the Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac at Antietam.  He was relieved of corps command and arrested on November 25, 1862.  Tried by general court martial for disobedience and misconduct at Second Bull Run, Porter was dismissed from the Army on January 21 1863.  He spent the next 14 years fighting to vindicate himself.  In 1878 the Schofield Commission exonerated Porter of the charges but it took an additional eight years for President Arthur to commute Porter’s sentence and restore him to the rank of Colonel in the United States Army.
[4] Truman Seymour (1824-1891) commanded Company H, 1st US Artillery during the battle at Fort Sumter in April 1861.  After the garrison surrendered, he returned to a hero’s welcome in New York.  At Antietam, Seymour commanded a brigade of the Pennsylvania Reserves that started the fighting in the East Woods on September 16.  Seymour retired from the Army in 1876 and eventually moved to Florence Italy where he took up painting.  He died and was buried there in 1891.
[5] Francis Clarke (1820-1866) was the Chief of Artillery of the Second Corps at Antietam.  He died shortly after the end of the war.
[6] James Duane (1824-1897) commanded the regular army engineer battalion at Antietam.  He was ordered to find a ford on the Antietam Creek along the Union Army’s left flank that the Ninth Corps could advance across to outflank the Confederate defenses. He ended his career in the United States Army as a brigadier general and Chief of Engineers. 
[7] Charles T. Baker (1822-1881) served an additional year at West Point only to resign from the Army on December 31 1851.  He returned to his hometown at Windham CT and took  up farming there. While I could not find a record of subsequent service in the Civil War, there is a GAR placard on his grave at Windham Center Cemetery.
[8] Edmund Kirby Smith (1824-1893) resigned from the U.S. Army on April 6, 1861.  While five of his former roommates confronted Robert E. Lee’s army in the Maryland, Smith lead another army into Kentucky in the fall of 1862. He defeated a federal force at Richmond Kentucky on August 30 1862.  On October 9, 1862 he along with James Longstreet became the first two officers promoted to the newly created rank of lieutenant general in the Confederate Army.  (Thomas Jackson’s effective date of promotion was not until October 10, 1862.)  Smith commanded Confederate forces in the Trans-Mississippi for the second half of the war and surrendered the Confederacy’s last army-level command at Galveston Texas on May 26 1865.