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.