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.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Hence the dirt

For over two years, I have been going through every page of Henry Hunt’s papers that are located in the Library of Congress.  Unlike much of the Executive Branch which remains shutdown (my department included), Congress and it’s library were funded by a separate appropriation. While furloughed, I have been able to spend some time at the Library over the past several weeks continuing my research.

Henry Hunt was a prolific writer and it seems that he kept everything.  From battle reports, to target practice records, data on artillery horses, to proposals and sketches for a new and improved battery wagon, to the daily countersigns of the Army of the Potomac, nearly every aspect of artillery is addressed somewhere.

I have found some great things about the artillery of the Army of the Potomac in the Civil War.  I have scanned at least one hundred documents and the information therein will be part of my upcoming book.  

Nothing prepared me for what I found in Box 12, Folder 2 yesterday.  At the bottom of the folder beneath the other papers was a folded up parchment like document. I unfolded and unfolded and unfolded some more.   Suddenly there was a map titled Portions of Virginia and North Carolina.  It was about 3 feet by 2 feet long.  

What dumbfounded me was a note scribbled on the back of the map in Henry Hunt's handwriting:

This map presented to my by General Rawlins Chief of Staff to General Grant on the road from Petersburg to Jetersville and which had been frequently used by Genl Grant to that time. Was afterward used by General Meade and myself until the surrender of Lee’s Army at Appomattox C.H.
Genl Meade being unwell for a day or two had it in his ambulance with him and accidentally got his boots (muddy) on it hence the dirt.

Washington DC                                             Henry Hunt
Aug 11 1865                                                 Maj Genl
                                                                     Chief of Arty

It was so large and delicate that an archivist had to assist me in folding it back up. There was an index card in the folder that indicated that there are several other copies of the map in the Library.  I think that is only reason that this copy remains with Henry Hunt’s other papers.  

It is a rare and beautiful thing.  I am back at the Library today looking for more treasures.  

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Artillery Leadership in the Army of Virginia

Alexander Piper
Historians have not written much about the artillery leadership of the Army of Virginia. Henry Hunt the prolific artillery chief of the Army of the Potomac left comprehensive reports after each of his campaigns. His counterpart in the Army of Virginia left no report on the Second Manassas campaign. 

That officer was Captain Alexander M. Piper (1828-1902).  Piper’s was a regular army artillery officer from Carlisle Pennsylvania.  His family traveled in the same social circles as the McClellan’s and Porters.  Piper entered West Point in 1847. He ranked number five in his class upon graduation in 1851 and opted for an artillery commission instead of one in the engineers. He was commissioned in the Third U.S.  Artillery and after a brief hold over at West Point as an assistant professor, joined his regiment in the Pacific Northwest.  Piper participated in several expeditions against the Indians. Among his comrades in arms was Lieutenant Phil Sheridan who recalled that Piper commanded a mountain howitzer during one of the campaigns.[1]

In October 1860, Piper reported to West Point for another stint of instructor duty.  In February of 1861, the War Department directed Lieutenant Charles Griffin (USMA 1847) the chief artillery instructor at West Point to organize a battery composed of artillery officers, soldiers, and equipment from the training detachment at the Military Academy.  With the approach of Lincoln’s inauguration, the battery was ordered to Washington DC to help secure the capital from secessionist elements.  Known as the West Point battery, Piper was among the officers selected to be part of the new unit and accompanied it to the nation’s capital in February 1861.  In July 1861, he was detached from the battery and assigned as Acting Assistant Adjutant-General on the staff of Colonel William Tecumseh Sherman’s brigade. Piper served under Sherman, a former Third Artillery officer at First Bull Run.  Sherman reported that Piper worked “under fire all day, and carried orders to and fro with as much coolness as on parade.”[2]  That summer, Piper was promoted to captain of Company G Third Artillery but he never joined the unit.  Instead, he returned to West Point in September and taught Chemistry, Mineralogy, and Geology. 

Perhaps eager for front line service, Piper was posted back to Washington on June 12 1862 and at the age of 34, and became Chief of Artillery for Pope’s Army of Virginia.  Piper’s selection to be chief of artillery for a field army must have been a reflection of his competence and ability.  Unfortunately, little is known of Piper’s service under Pope.  He made no report that ever found its way into the Official Records. His service was significant enough however to earn a brevet promotion to major from Pope for gallant and meritorious service on August 30. 1862[3]  

Piper faced significant challenges.  The War Department constituted the Army of Virginia on June 26 and it went into action almost immediately.  Unlike the Army of the Potomac, it did not have an extended period to organize before entering combat.  William Barry and Henry Hunt who organized the Army of the Potomac’s artillery were recognized authorities on artillery organization and tactics with long years of experience. Piper lacked the same kind of experience.  Under William Barry’s system, he assigned a regular artillery battery to each infantry division in the Army of the Potomac. Pope’s army had no such system.  Where the Army of the Potomac had twelve regular batteries assigned to the infantry divisions, Piper had only three regular batteries assigned in the entire army.[4]  The Army of Virginia did not have an Artillery Reserve.  In the Potomac army at the Seven Days, Henry Hunt commanded a 19-battery reserve.  Of these, eleven were regular army batteries.

Louis Schirmer
The artillery components of Pope’s army came from three widely separate commands with completely different organizational structures.  Sigel had several good artillery batteries including Hubert Dilger’s Battery I, First Ohio Artillery and Michael Wiedrich’s Battery I, First New York Light Artillery. However, all Sigel’s batteries were assigned to individual brigades except for a small three-battery corps reserve. The corps had no regular batteries. Sigel’s artillery chief was Captain Louis Schirmer a Prussian-trained artillery officer. Schirmer immigrated to the United States in 1858 settling at first in St. Louis.  He was an officer in a militia company, the St. Louis Mounted Rifles until he moved to Memphis Tennessee.  In 1861 he fled to New York at the outbreak of the Civil War and enrolled in the 29thNew York “Astor’s Rifles - 1stGerman” Infantry.  At First Bull Run, Lieutenant Schirmer’s company of the 29th took the abandoned guns of Captain Varian’s battery, whose enlistment had expired on the eve of the battle, fought the guns, and returned with them to Washington. The company was permanently detached from the regiment, becoming the 2nd New York Independent Battery eventually commanded by Schirmer.  The battery fought at Cross Keys on June 8, 1862 as part of Louis Blenker’s “German” division.  By all accounts, Schirmer was a competent officer.  At Cross Keys he had command of all of Blenker’s artillery.    

Clermont Best
Nathaniel Bank’s Second Corps artillery was consolidated into a corps artillery structure.  Battery F, Fourth U.S. Artillery commanded by Captain Clermont Best (USMA 1847) was the only regular battery in the corps.  Best served as chief of artillery for the corps.  He was member of the West Point Class of 1847, which also included John Gibbon Ambrose Burnside, A.P. Hill and Henry Heth. Best had a solid if not spectacular career in the regular artillery for fifteen years serving in the Seminole War, the Kansas Disturbances and the Mormon Expedition.  His artillery had seen severe action recently in the Battle of Cedar Mountain on August 9 1862 but did not play a major role in the battle of Second Manassas.  

McDowell’s corps had the best artillery in the Army of Virginia.  John Reynolds and Rufus King’s divisions were originally assigned to the Army of the Potomac. Each had a regular battery.  Light Company B, Fourth U.S. Artillery was assigned to King’s division. John Gibbon (USMA 1847), another artillery theoretician along the lines of Hunt and Barry, commanded the battery at the beginning of the war.  Before appointment to brigade command, Gibbon had relentlessly drilled Light Company B and the three other volunteer batteries of the division.  At Second Manassas, Joseph Campbell commanded Light Company B.  The other regular battery in the corps was Dunbar Ransom’s Battery C, Fifth U.S. Artillery assigned to the Pennsylvania Reserve division.  Ransom’s predecessor in command Henry DeHart was mortally wounded at Gaines Mill on June 27 where the battery lost three of its guns to Hood’s Texas brigade.  

Davis Tillson
The chief of artillery in Irwin McDowell’s Third Corps was Major Davis Tillson.  Tillson was born in Rockland Maine in 1830.  He entered West Point in 1849 but resigned after two years because of an accident that required the amputation of his foot.[5]  He served in the state legislature of Maine in 1857 and the next year Governor Joseph Williams appointed him adjutant general of the state.  In November 1861 Tillson was commissioned as captain of the 2nd Maine Battery.  The battery arrived in Washington in April of 1862. It was attached to the 2ndBrigade of E.O.C. Ord’s division in the Department of the Rappahannock. Tillson was promoted to major in April of 1862 and the next month was appointed chief of artillery for Ord’s division now commanded by James Ricketts.   He served credibly at the Battle of Cedar Mountain under the eye of Irvin McDowell who afterward appointed him as chief of artillery for the corps.[6]

McClellan sent two corps of the Army of the Potomac to Pope before the battle.  Porter’s Fifth Corps arrived first and brought five of their eight batteries from the Peninsula. These included four crack regular artillery batteries.  They were Alanson Randol’s Battery E&G, First U.S. Artillery, and three batteries from the new Fifth U.S. Artillery - Battery D, the “West Point” Battery commanded by Charles Hazlett, Battery I commanded by Steven Weed, and Battery K commanded by John Smead. All were veterans of the tough fighting on the Peninsula two months before.  

The two divisions of Heintzelman’s corps on the other hand were pushed forward to Pope with only one of their eight organic batteries. A second battery, William Graham’s Light Company K, First U.S. Artillery was added from Hunt’s artillery reserve.[7]

The Ninth Corps recently assembled from troops in the Carolinas brought no artillery to Virginia.  Three batteries were hastily attached to General Reno’s command.  Samuel Benjamin’s Battery E, Second U.S. Artillery came from Hunt’s Artillery Reserve. George Durrell’s Independent Pennsylvania Battery D was detached from Rufus King’s division.  Asa Cook’s 8thMassachusetts Battery, a brand new untested unit organized in June 1862 was pulled out of the Washington defenses.

Then there was the matter of Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. 

In one of the rare instances of the war, the Confederates outnumbered the Federals in the numbers of batteries and numbers of guns. According to Jennings Wise, Lee brought 43 batteries and 175 guns to the fight.  Pope’s army had 28 batteries and 125 guns.[8]

Probably most important, Lee’s Army was in the process of organizing its artillery batteries into a battalion system with field grade artillery officers in command of the guns.  What Lee lacked in modern guns and reliable ammunition, he made up with a system that allowed the Confederate guns to mass fires at critical times and places on the battlefield.  

Despite these obstacles, the Union batteries fought hard and inflicted serious damage to their Confederate opponents.  Some examples are Campbell’s battery on the Brawner farm, Kern’s battery on Chinn Ridge, and the gun lines cobbled together on Dogan Ridge and Henry Hill on the afternoon of the 30th.  The Yankee gunners were never able to achieve anything like the concentrated fire that the Confederate artillery battalions could deliver.   Still Union artillery helped to slow the Confederate advance enough to prevent Lee from crushing Pope’s army completely. Ultimately, no amount of individual fame and valor earned by many of the Federal gunners could compensate for the strategic and operational blundering of the senior Union generals that lead to the Union debacle at Second Manassas in the first place. 

Henry Hunt tapped none of the artillery leadership of the Army of Virginia to serve in the Maryland Campaign.  As the Army of Virginia dissolved, Piper returned to Washington with his brevet promotion to major. He served as an inspector of artillery under William Barry in the Washington fortifications.  In January 1863, Piper received an appointment as Colonel of the 10thNew York Heavy Artillery.  In May of 1864, his “heavies” joined the Army of the Potomac. They served credibly in the siege of Petersburg where Piper received a second brevet.  The 10thNew York later operated in the Shenandoah Valley with Phil Sheridan, Piper’s old comrade from the Indian fighting in the Pacific Northwest. Colonel Piper ended the war as Chief of Artillery of the Middle Military Division. Mustered out of the volunteers, he returned to the regular artillery.  His long and distinguished career culminated in his elevation to Colonel of the Fifth U.S. Artillery in 1887. Piper retired in 1891 after 40 years of service and died in 1902.

Louis Schirmer remained with Sigel’s corps and was in the fortifications of Washington during the Maryland Campaign.  He was back in command of his battery at Fredericksburg but was then elevated to Chief of Artillery of the Eleventh Corps during the Chancellorsville Campaign.[9]  Like Piper, he got his own heavy artillery regiment, the 15thNew York in August of 1863. Schirmer’s regiment provided protection to the Artillery Reserve during Grant’s Overland Campaign.  He left the regiment sick on June 5,1864.   The former Prussian artilleryman got into trouble in the summer of 1865 and in August of that year a general court martial convicted him of various charges including embezzlement, drunkenness and destruction of government property.  He was cashiered, imprisoned and severely fined $10,000. Louis Schirmer thereafter disappeared from the pages of history.[10]

When Joe Hooker took over McDowell’s corps, he replaced Davis Tillson with Colonel Charles Wainwright, his own divisional artillery chief from the Third Corps. Ironically, Wainwright did not join Hooker until after the Battle of Antietam. Tillson like Alexander Piper was consigned to the Washington defenses as an artillery inspector during the Maryland Campaign.  Two months later, he was commissioned a brigadier-general of volunteers, to date from November 29, 1862. In April 1863, Tillson went west and served in a number of positions involving the construction of defenses first in Cincinnati and later in Knoxville Tennessee.  Tillson ended the war commanding the District of East Tennessee. Mustered out of the army in 1866, Tillson took charge of branches of the Freedmen's bureau in Tennessee and Georgia and planted cotton in Georgia for a year, before returning to Maine and engaging in various business ventures. He died in 1895.[11]

If Hunt was not going to use the Army of Virginia’s senior artillery officers, he desperately needed the battered and exhausted Federal batteries that contested Robert E. Lee’s gunners during the Second Manassas campaign. Henry Hunt hurriedly resupplied and outfitted 22 of Pope’s battle-worn batteries (nine regular and 13 volunteer) and rushed them northward into Maryland in pursuit of Lee’s victorious legions. Only 18 days after their defeat at Second Manassas, these weary gunners, would again face the Army of Northern Virginia on the banks of the Antietam.[12]  

[1]West Point Association of Graduates Report 1903 Annual Reunion, page 39
[2]OR 2 ”Report of Col. William T. Sherman, Thirteenth U. S. Infantry, commanding Third Brigade, First Division” page 368.
[3]Pope wrote “To my personal staff I owe much gratitude and many thanks. Their duties were particularly arduous, and at, times led them into the midst of the various actions in which we were engaged. It is saying little when I state that they were zealous, untiring, and efficient throughout the campaign. I desire also specially to mention … Captain Piper, chief of artillery.”  It is very possible that Piper spent much of August 30thon Dogan Ridge where much of Pope’s artillery was located and very effectively employed.  (OR 12:2 page 49)
[4]There were no regular batteries in Sigel’s corps.  Banks corps had Battery F, 4thUS Artillery commanded by Captain Clermont Best (USMA 1847).  McDowell’s corps had Battery B, 4thUS Artillery commanded by Captain Joseph Campbell (USMA 1861) and Battery E, 4thUS commanded by Captain Joseph Clark (USMA 1848). For purposes of this calculation, I do not count the Pennsylvania Reserve Division that had Dunbar Ransom’s battery.  
[5]The account of Tillson’s career is based on his biography in The Union Armyvolume 8, page 273
[6]OR 12:2 McDowell’s Report of the Battle of Cedar Mountain page 171
[7]Battery E, 1stRhode Island Light Artillery was the only organic battery that went with the Third Corps
[8]Wise, Jennings The Long Arm of LeeVolume 1 Richmond VA Owens Publishing Company reprinted 1988) page 270
[9]SO No. 4 HQ Grand Reserve Division Jan 14 1863 OR 21:1 pg 973
[10]“The Case of Colonel Schirmer”  Cleveland Daily LeaderAugust 21 1865; newspapers.com
[11]The Union Armyvolume 8, page 273
[12]The 22 batteries were the 6thMaine Battery, 8thMassachusetts Battery, 1stBattery New Hampshire Artillery, Battery L, 1stNew York Artillery, Battery L, 2ndNew York Artillery, Battery A, 1stPennsylvania Artillery, Battery B, 1stPennsylvania Artillery, Battery F, 1stPennsylvania Artillery, Independent Battery C, Pennsylvania Artillery,  Independent Battery D, Pennsylvania Artillery, Independent Battery F, Pennsylvania Artillery Battery C, 1stRhode Island Artillery,  Battery D, 1stRhode Island Artillery,  Battery E&G, 1stU.S. Artillery, Battery K, 1stU.S. Artillery Battery E, 2ndU.S. Artillery Battery E, 4thU.S. Artillery, Battery B, 4thU.S. Artillery, Battery C, 5thU.S. Artillery, Battery D, 5thU.S. Artillery, Battery I, 5thU.S. Artillery, Battery K, 5thU.S. Artillery.