It seems that there is some dispute about the northern-most reach of the Confederacy during the Civil War.  There are some good candidates for the distinction: the June 1863 naval engagement at Portland Harbor, Maine; John Hunt Morgan’s raid into Indiana and Ohio during June – July 1863; and the October 1864 raid at St. Albans, Vermont.

     That said, let’s take a moment and complicate the matter further! The St. Croix Historical Society makes an excellent case that the distinction belongs to Calais, Maine: “On July 18, 1864 Confederate raiders attempted to rob the ‘Calais Bank’ and burn the city, hoping to obtain funds to finance the war and divert Union troops from the southern battlefields to defend against Confederate raids in the North.” Warned in advance, the plot was thwarted and the raiders were taken into custody.

     The St. Croix Historical Society website has a fascinating article (“Confederates Raid Calais,” posted April 11, 2022 by schsuser), which is well worth the read, at

Phil Schlegel, Editor


     As a Maine-based Civil War round table we have had occasion to examine the careers of many notable military leaders who hailed from the great State of Maine. A list would be extensive, but prominent among them would be our round table’s namesake, General and Governor Joshua L. Chamberlain, as well as Generals Oliver Otis Howard, Adelbert Ames, Hiram Berry, Charles H. Smith, and Admiral Henry Knox Thatcher.

     Among Maine’s many Civil War leaders was Greene Corner-born Aaron S. Daggett.

Figure 1. Aaron S. Daggett. Courtesy digitalmaine repository.

Daggett’s Civil War and post-war military service was extensive, but he became something of a celebrity late in life, eventually becoming the army’s oldest living officer. A teacher when the Civil War broke out, Daggett was 24 years old when he was mustered in as a lieutentant, Company E, 5th Maine Infantry, on June 24, 1861. He mustered out as major, Field and Staff, 5th Maine, on July 27, 1864, having been wounded at Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor.1

     Daggett went on to become a career officer in the regular army, serving first in the south, then in the west, in the Spanish-American War (Cuba), the Philippines (Philippine Insurrection), and the China Relief Expedition. He retired from active service in 1901 as a brigadier general.

     By 1936, Maine’s own Aaron Daggett was being recognized as the army’s oldest living officer. Daggett’s long military service entitled him to numerous campaign medals and honors, but a June 14, 1936, ceremony at his West Roxbury, Massachusetts, home evoked his Civil War service.2

     Thanks to the efforts of then Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur, on February 22, 1932, the Revolutionary War-era Badge of Military Merit had been revived as the now-familiar Purple Heart medal. At the time, one of the award criteria included: “A wound which necessitates treatment by a medical officer and which is received in action with an enemy . . .”3

Figure 2. Courtesy Department of the Army.

During the widely reported ceremony, General Daggett was awarded the Purple Heart medal, with an Oak Leaf Cluster signifying a second award, that recognized the wounds he received during the Civil War over seventy years earlier.*

     General Daggett passed away on May 14, 1938, at West Roxbury, a month before his 101st birthday. His remains were returned to Greene, where he is buried with his wife, Rose Bradford Daggett, at the Old Village Cemetery.4

P.J.S. Photo.

* It is notable that he also received the Silver Star for gallantry in action during his service in China at the same ceremony.


  1. “Maine, State Archive Collections, 1718-1957,” database with images, Family Search (Https:// : 20 May 2014), Maine > Military Records-Civil War > Civil War soldiers index Darcy, James-Doe, George W., 1861-1865 > image 6 of 1800; State Archives, Augusta.
  2. “Oldest Officer Will Be 99 Today,” The Sunday News (Lancaster, PA), June 14, 1936. [Accessed from,]
  3. “The Badge of Military Merit / The Purple Heart,” U.S. Army Center of Military History,
  4. “Oldest Retired Army Officer Dies as 101st Birthday Nears,” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 15, 1938. [Accessed from,]
Photo credits: Figure 1: Daggett, Aaron S., Civil War Era Soldiers’ Portraits, digitalmaine repository [Maine State Archives contributing institution] (Cropped for presentation.) Figure 2: “Purple Heart.” Department of the Army, Army Regulation AR-672-5-2: Decorations and Awards, Illustrations of Awards (Washington, D.C., 31 July 1967). [Accessed from HathiTrust Digital Library at] (Cropped for presentation.) Figure 3: P.J.S. photo

Phil Schlegel, Editor




P.J.S. photo.

     The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery is hallowed ground. Guarded reverently by soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier “. . . continues to be a powerful symbol of service and sacrifice, mourning and memory.”1

     Arlington National Cemetery also holds another memorial to the nation’s unknown soldiers—the Tomb of the Civil War Unknowns. The photograph of the monument, seen below, is found at Arlington’s website. It illustrates the monument’s consequence, as is stated on the inscription:

Tomb of the Civil War Unknowns. Courtesy Arlington National Cemetery,


     The care and disposition of the remains of fallen soldiers was a massive undertaking during and after the war. Responding to concerns that the remains of unidentified fallen soldiers were exposed at Manassas and other Virginia battlefields, on April 2, 1866, Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs advised Secretary of War Stanton that: “With a view to remedy this evil situation in the most practicable way, I have ordered a report as to the number of the remains to be provided for all along the line of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, and that they [the remains] be collected and placed in a vault or vaults of masonry in the National Military Cemetery, near Arlington. This plan will be immediately carried into execution.”3

     The original Tomb of the Civil War Unknowns was designed by General Meigs, whose name is indelibly linked to the founding of Arlington National Cemetery. His plan called for the unidentified remains to be reinterred in a circular, underground vault. The tomb was purposefully located near Arlington House, further advancing Meigs’ personal campaign to ensure that the placement of graves would discourage any attempt by the Lee family to return to the Arlington estate.4

     Work on the vault commenced shortly after General Meigs’ assurances to Secretary Stanton. A notice for proposals, published later in April, included a detailed description:

     Sealed proposals will be received at this Office [HQ, Dept. of Washington, Office of the Chief Quartermaster] until 12 o’clock noon, APRIL 30TH instant, for the excavation and masonry necessary for the construction of a Stone and Brick Vault at the National Cemetery at Arlington, Virginia, the required materials to be furnished by contractor or contractors.

     Said vault to be under ground, of an interior diameter between the walls of twenty (20) feet, ten (10) feet high, to springing line of arch, with walls three (3) feet thick, of rubble masonry, laid in mortar of part line and part hydraulic cement; to be covered with hemispherical arch of same material.

     The floor, walls dividing vault into compartments, and walls at opening at top, to be of brick masonry.5

     It appears that the remains of 2,111 soldiers were placed into the completed vault piecemeal, which was sealed in September. A reporter for the National Intelligencer (Washington D.C.) found the entire reinternment process disturbing:

     A more terrible spectacle, says the National Intelligencer, can hardly be conceived than is to be seen within a dozen rods of the Arlington mansion. A circular pit, twenty feet deep and the same in diameter, has been sunk by the side of the flower garden, cemented and divided into compartments, and down into this gloomy receptacle are cast the bones of such soldiers as perished on the field, and either were not buried at all or were so covered up as to have their bones mingle indiscriminately together. At the time we looked into this gloomy cavern, a literal Golgotha, there were piled together the skulls in one division, legs in another, arms in another, and ribs in another, what were estimated as the bones of the two thousand human being[s].

     They were dropping fragmentary human skeletons into this receptacle almost daily, and at that time it was perhaps half full. The first thought in looking down upon this revolting scene was that no such disposition should have been planned for these bones, that they should have buried as others were, in parcels as nearly those of a human body as possible, and marked as unknown soldiers.6

     The monument that was placed over the vault was designed by General Meigs. Meigs’ original design of the monument was adorned with the inscription and topped with a pyramid of round shot with a Rodman gun at each corner.

Civil War Unknowns Monument, designed by Montgomery Meigs and dedicated in 1866, at Arlington Cemetery [William M. Chase, photographer]. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-80078.

     The pyramid of round shot and four Rodman guns were subsequently removed and replaced with an unadorned top with embellished borders. The monument was also raised onto a base of stone blocks and finished granite.

Civil War Unknowns Monument, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia [ca. 1921-1923]. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by Harris & Ewing, reproduction number LC-DIG-hec-31493.


Decoration Day at Arlington Cemetery. Monument erected to the Memory of the Unknown Dead. Standing by monument Major H.L. Dean and Dr. A.J. Hunton, 5/30/1919. Photographs of American Military Activities, ca. 1918 – ca. 1981; Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, 1860 – 1985; National Archives and Records Administration. [NARA Identifier 86712938,]

     The Tomb of the Civil War Unknowns further illustrates the breadth of history that abides at Arlington. While these veterans are not known, they are not forgotten.


  1. “The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” Arlington National Cemetery,
  2. The inscription is taken from the image seen on Civil War Unknowns monument, designed by Montgomery Meigs and dedicated in 1866, at Arlington Cemetery, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-40178.
  3. “The Battle-fields of Bull Run,” The Brooklyn Union (Brooklyn, New York), April 9, 1866. (Accessed from, a subscription service.)
  4. “The Beginnings of Arlington National Cemetery,” U.S. National Park Service, Robert M. Poole, On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery (New York: Walker & Company, 2009), 72 – 73.
  5. “Proposals for Construction of Vault at Arlington, VA.,” Evening Star (District of Columbia), April 20, 1866. (Accessed from, a subscription service.)
  6. “The National Cemeteries, A Terrible Scene at Arlington,” Chicago Evening Post (Chicago, Illinois), November 23, 1866. (Accessed from, a subscription service.) Poole, Hallowed Ground, 73.

Phil Schlegel, Editor


     As the outbreak of Civil War neared, Fort Pulaski stood as a formidable masonry fortress, located on Cockspur Island in Tybee Sound, facing the Atlantic approaches to the Savannah River for the defense of Savannah, Georgia. Fort Pulaski was one of a system of about 30 forts, the majority of which dotted the Atlantic Coast from Maine to Florida, with several others on the Gulf coast, that were in various stages of construction through the first half of the nineteenth century. When 1860 came to a close, Fort Pulaski was neither adequately armed nor garrisoned. In January 1861, Georgia Governor Joseph Brown took advantage of the situation and ordered Georgia State Militia to seize and occupy the fort. Later that month, after Georgia formally seceded from the Union, Fort Pulaski was transferred to Confederate authorities. Over the next year the fort was rehabilitated, additional guns were brought in, and defensive positions were established along the contiguous coastal region.1

“Fort Pulaski, Savannah River, Georgia.” Harper’s Weekly 5, No. 231 (June 1, 1861): 343. Courtesy HathiTrust, (Digitized by University of Michigan. Cropped for presentation.)


“Fort Pulaski, Savannah River, Georgia.” Harper’s Weekly 5, No. 261 (December 28, 1861): 829. Courtesy HathiTrust,

     Shortly after the surrender of Fort Sumter in April 1861, the Lincoln Administration adopted an ambitious strategic objective—to impose a naval blockade of the Southern seacoast. An effective blockade would prevent the import of a wide range of civilian goods, food stuffs, and war materials. The blockade would also cut off Southern exports, significantly cotton, needed to maintain the Southern economy and to fund the Confederacy’s war effort. Establishing a blockade would also have profound international implications. The Lincoln Administration’s thinking regarding the international implications of the blockade is suscintly described by R. Scott Moore in The Civil War on the Atlantic Coast: 1861 – 1865 [United States Army Center for Military History]:

Desperate to limit the scope of the war to that of a domestic conflict, at least in the eyes of Europe, the blockade served notice to the European powers, especially Britain, that strict neutrality would be enforced. Under international law, it allowed Lincoln to close the rebellious ports, hault outbound trade, and use naval force to prevent any ships, foreign or otherwise, from entering them. Initially, the blockade was more a political gambit than a military reality. Once declared, however, foreign powers were expected to regulate their countries’ merchant fleets in accordance with accepted international protocols. Great Britain, a key buyer of Southern cotton and potential supplier of war goods, proved reluctant to challenge those precepts, having exercised them in the past.2

     It is one thing to announce a blockade, but another to enforce a blockade. Blockading the entire southern Atlantic and Gulf Coasts would require a vast expansion of naval capability: ships, crews, well-positioned operational bases for repair and reprovisioning, and, in an emerging age of steam-driven propulsion, coaling stations. With all of these factors in mind, preliminary planning and the initial joint army – navy coastal operations began in the summer of 1861. The mission of the naval forces included intercepting commercial traffic going in and out of Southern ports, engaging Confederate naval assets, the seaborne (and riverborne) bombardment of coastal defensive positions, and seaborne transportation. The army’s role was to assault, secure, and occupy coastal towns, ports, and defensive positions. Toward that end, the first joint army – navy operation successfully secured Hatteras Inlet in August 1861, a critical step in blocking North Carolina’s outer banks. In early November, after a somewhat fragmented start, an army – navy force led by Admiral Samuel F. DuPont (commander, South Atlantic Blockading Squadron) and troops under the command of Brigadier General Thomas W. Sherman seized the forts and approaches to Port Royal, South Carolina. March 1862 saw the successful seizure of Fernandia, Jacksonville, and St. Augustine, Florida.3

     Despite the fact that the Confederacy had occupied a number of formidable Atlantic coastal fortifications, they lacked adequate military personnel or logistical capability to effectively defend the entire coastline. Holding Savannah, Georgia, aptly described by the National Park Service as “the most strategic point along the Georgia coast,” was critical to Confederate economic and military interests. Not only was Savannah a major international port, the city was a key transportation and commercial hub. The U.S. Navy commenced blockading activities off the mouth of the Savannah River at the end of May 1861, but the Southern-held Fort Pulaski required that any interdictions occur from a distance. When Confederate authorities lost control of Port Royal Sound in November 1861, they made the fateful decision to evacuate Tybee Island, laying immediately adjacent to Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island. Recognizing the tactical gift that had been handed to him, Union General Thomas Sherman wasted no time to land troops and occupy Tybee Island. General Sherman and his chief engineer, Quincy A. Gillmore, concluded that Fort Pulaski could be reduced by artillery fire, a notion that ran contrary to orthodox thinking.4

Both men [Sherman and Gillmore] believed that they could reduce the fort from Tybee using a combination of mortars and breaching guns, the conventional armament for such a task. Within a week, Gillmore ordered twenty mortars, eight heavy rifled guns, and eight columbiads.

Conventional military doctrine called for plunging mortar fire to penetrate and disrupt the parapets and destroy the underlying casemate arches while the smoothbore columbiads slowly shattered the brick wall. Rifled guns were a new development, and few military experiments deploying them against masonry fortifications had been published. Rifled guns were reported to be more effective than smoothbore guns of comparable caliber when fired from distances of a mile away. Gillmore was familiar with these European reports and chose to add a few rifled guns to his requested armament as an experiment. Although General Sherman had little enthusiasm for the rifled guns (he believed that the mortars and columbiads could eventually reduce the fort), he consented to Gillmore’s experiment.5

     In January a Union scheme to attack the City of Savannah was abandoned and additional batteries were constructed on several nearby islands, but Gillmore’s siting of the mortar and battery postions on the north shore of Tybee Island proved to be a key decision. [Note: The NPS notes that five companies of the 8th Maine participated in the occupation of Tybee Island.] In February and March 1862, Gillmore assembled eleven batteries on Tybee Island under the cover of darkness. The array of artillery was extensive, as itemized on the map shown below. The

“Plate V [part]. Map showing the Position of the Batteries used by the U.S. Forces in the Reduction of Fort Pulaski, April 10th & 11th, 1862.” United States War Department, et al. The War of the Rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. [Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies 1861 – 1865.] Washington, Govt. Print. Off., to 1901, 1880. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress [Geography and Map Division], <>.

most significant among varied pieces of artillery were the rifled guns:

Gillmore had requested ten rifled guns for experimental use during the bombardment. Familiar with published reports of European trials, he wished to use the rifled guns against masonry Fort Pulaski. He originally located the guns too far to the east and it was through the cajoling of one of his engineer assistants, Horace Porter, that he eventually came to move them to the batteries closest to the fort. Had Gillmore initially believed the rifled guns would have been effective in reducing the fort, he would not have spent seven weeks moving the heavy mortars and columbiads into place before beginning the bombardment of Pulaski.6

     On March 15, 1862, Major General David Hunter was assigned command of the newly-created Department of the South, superseding Thomas Sherman in command of Union ground forces.7 Preparations to reduce Fort Pulaski continued into April under the direction of Quincy Gillmore. On April 10, 1862, the fort’s commander, Colonel Charles H. Olmstead, refused General Hunter’s offer to capitulate and Gillmore’s eleven batteries on Tybee Island (named after prominent military and political leaders) commenced the bombardment with devastating effect.

“Rifled Cannon” [30-pdr rifled cannon], Fort Pulaski National Monument Georgia, National Park Service, accessed July 29, 2022, (Cropped for presentation.)

After just a day, Union fire had reduced the wall facing Tybee Island from a height of more than seven feet to half that, with large cracks in the masonry as well as an everwidening hole. The next day, the fort surrendered when shells began passing through the wall and exploding dangerously close to the magazine. In just thirty hours, Gillmore had demonstrated the power of modern rifled artillery against fixed fortifications. At little cost, the Federals had closed the port of Savannah.8

Fort Pulaski, Georgia. Distant view showing the effect of the fire from the assault batteries [Timothy H. O’Sullivan, photographer]. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Civil War Photographs, reproduction number LC-DIG-cwpb-00775. (Cropped for presentation.)

     Colonel Olmstead surrendered Fort Pulaski on April 11, 1862. With that surrender, the Union’s stranglehold on the Southern coast was tightened, but it also signaled the end of an era—the predominance of fixed masonry fortifications as a credible means of defense had come to an end.

  1. United States National Park Service, Fort Pulaski National Monument, Georgia (Washington D.C.: National Park Service, 2011), [This document is a brochure/guide to the park.] “Fort Pulaski and the Defense of Savannah,” U.S. National Park Service [Civil War Series], accessed March 9, 2022,
  2. R. Scott Moore, The Civil War on the Atlantic Coast: 1861 – 1865 (Washington D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 2015), 11, [CMH Pub 75-4]
  3. Moore, Civil War on the Atlantic Coast, 8 – 22.
  4. “Fort Pulaski and the Defense of Savannah,” NPS.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. General Orders, No. 26, March 15, 1862; United States, War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series 1, Vol. 6, Ch. 15] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1882), 248, “Fort Pulaski and the Defense of Savannah,” NPS.
  8. Moore, Civil War on the Atlantic Coast, 23.
Editor’s Note: For a detailed examination of “Fort Pulaski and the Defense of Savannah,” including a number of interesting illustrations, see the National Park Service Civil War Series, “Fort Pulaski and the Defense of Savannah” at

Phil Schlegel, Editor



This Memorial Day we had an opportunity to recall the Civil War service and sacrifice of Jonathan S. Kelley of Unity. Jonathan served as a Corporal in Company A, 26th Maine Infantry (nine-month regiment) from October 1862 – August 1863. In February 1864 he re-enlisted as a private in Company D, 2nd United States Sharpshooters. He died in service to his country on November 3, 1864, as a prisoner of war at Georgia’s Andersonville Prison.1 Jonathan’s remains were buried in grave number 11767 at Andersonville.2

The stone bearing Jonathan’s inscription is located at Fowler Cemetery, a small burial ground located off Rt. 202 in Unity. Many thanks to Peter Tompkins, one of our round table’s able cemetery sleuths, for pointing out Jonathan’s service and the memorial inscription.

  1. “Maine, State Archive Collections, 1718-1957,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 20 May 2014), Maine > Military Records-Civil War > Civil War soldiers index Jones, Waldo B.-Kimball, John F., 1861-1865 > image 812 of 1410; State Archives, Augusta; and, “Maine, State Archive Collections, 1718-1957,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 20 May 2014), Maine > Military Records-Civil War > Civil War soldiers index Jones, Waldo B.-Kimball, John F., 1861-1865 > image 813 of 1410; State Archives, Augusta.
  2. Dorence Atwater, A List of the Soldiers Buried at Andersonville: Copied from the Official Record in the Surgeon’s Office at Andersonville (New York: John F. Trow, 1866), 71,

Phil and Linda Schlegel



General Ulysses S. Grant [Brady’s National Photographic Portrait Galleries, photographer]. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-58233. (Cropped for presentation.)

“I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made. . . . At Cold Harbor no advantage whatever was gained to compensate for the heavy loss we sustained.”

Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant


     June 3, 1864, was a dark day for the Army of the Potomac. In an effort to finally realize the elusive goal of taking Richmond, Lt. Gen. Ulysses Grant had launched his Overland Campaign on May 4. During the ensuing month, Grant battled Robert E. Lee through the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, again maneuvering south at the North Anna River. A Confederate attempt to turn the divided Union left flank at Totopotomoy Creek failed, but Lee’s army was in a strong position. Grant wanted to get his army between Lee and Richmond and Lee was maneuvering to protect his right flank. The opposing lines were shifting south toward the next stop on the road to Richmond—a crossroads named Old Cold Harbor.1

Cold Harbor Tavern, June 3, 1864 [Edwin Forbes, artist]. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-20704.

     Despite the staggering casualties already suffered during the Overland Campaign, Grant was determined to finish what he had started. On June 1 new lines were being established just west of Old Cold Harbor. Grant hoped to achieve a breakthrough before the Confederates could further strengthen their position, but the late afternoon attack failed in the face of a Confederate counterattack. Grant hoped to renew his attack the next morning and, toward that end, extended his line further south. Delays hampered Grant’s plan to renew the attack on June 2. At the same time, Lee was extending, bolstering, and reinforcing his lines. Lee’s army established a formidable line of defense consisting of two strongly entrenched corps (Anderson’s First and Hill’s Third) facing the Union II Corps (Winfield Hancock), VI Corps (Horatio Wright) and XVIII Corps (William Smith). The Confederate line extended well to the north of Old Cold Harbor, where Jubal Early’s Second Corps faced Ambrose Burnside’s IX Corps and Gouverneur Warren’s V Corps. In a report to Chief of Staff Henry Halleck, Grant was succinct: “The 2d was spent in getting troops into position for an attack on the 3d.”2

“Map 9: Battle of Cold Harbor, 3 June 1864.” David W. Hogan, Jr., The Overland Campaign: 4 May – 15 June 1864 (Washington, D.C.: United States Army Center of Military History, 2014), 64,

     By the early morning hours of June 3, the table was set for Grant’s final attack, but Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was ready and waiting. The map shown to the left and the commentary provided by David Hogan in The Overland Campaign: 4 May – 15 June 1864 (U.S. Army Center of Military History), clearly depict the magnitude of Grant’s massive assault on the Confederate lines that were situated in a way that subjected the advancing Federals to interlocking fields of fire.

     The Federal assault at Cold Harbor on the morning of 3 June was an unmitigated tragedy. At 0430, following a ten-minute bombardment of the Confederate entrenchments, the Union troops climbed from their fieldworks and charged. The Confederates sprang to their parapets and opened fire with a devastating combination of minié ball and case shot. Given the convex shape of the Union line and the lack of coordination, the attack formations soon diverged, leaving the advancing Federals even more exposed to a deadly crossfire.

     Here and there a few Union units enjoyed some limited success. South of the Richmond Road, near the extreme Federal left, Barlow’s Division struck a portion of Breckinridge’s line, where an excessively solicitous Confederate colonel had allowed his regiment to withdraw from their rain-filled trenches and dry out. Barlow’s men quickly overran the position, capturing over four hundred prisoners and eight artillery pieces, but they soon found themselves isolated and under a tremendous fire, which forced them back to a patch of sheltered ground fifty yards below the enemy works.

      Elsewhere, the attack soon stalled. On Barlow’s right, Gibbon’s division found its way barred by a swamp and suffered heavy losses in working around it. From a starting position ahead of the II Corps’ right, Russell’s VI Corps division waited to allow Gibbon to

Battle of Cold Harbor [Kurz & Allison]. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-pga-01881.

come up on its left, but Gibbon’s line was shattered before the connection could be made, leading Russell’s division to suspend its advance. Along the VI Corps’ center and right, Ricketts’ and Neill’s formations disintegrated in the face of an overwhelming Confederate fire. Meanwhile, on the XVIII Corps’ front, Baldy Smith borrowed a page from Upton’s Spotsylvania tactics and attempted to funnel Brooks’ division through a ravine with Martindale’s division advancing on the right, but intense enemy fire tore huge gaps in the XVIII Corps’ line, stopping its progress well short of the Confederate works.

    To the north, the V and IX Corps’ futile assault further inflated the Federals’ already prodigious losses. Although the Union attack had clearly sputtered out within a half hour of its start, a frazzled Meade hesitated to declare it over, leaving Grant to do so at 1330. The myth that the Union army had lost 7,000 men within a half hour on 3 June overstates the case, but the actual casualties were frightful enough; 5,000 to 6,000 killed, wounded, and missing—most within the first hour—compared to fewer than 1,500 Confederates.3

On Hancock’s front– the soldiers ha[ving] no picks and shovels used bayonets, tin pans, old canteens, and even their hands in throwing up breastworks ARW [Alfred R. Waud, artist]. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-20892.

     The opposing armies continued to clash for more than a week; moves and counter moves interrupted only by a brief truce on June 7 to remove the dead and those left wounded rotting on the field, but it was far too little far too late. The Overland Campaign was essentially over.

    Another campaign to take Richmond had failed, but Grant remained determined. He had already devised his next plan—shut down Lee’s supply lines.4 In a June 5 report to Chief of

Gen. U.S. Grant & staff in front of Hdq. Cold Harbor, Va. [June 11 or 12, 1864.] Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Civil War Photographs, reproduction number LC-DIG-cwpb-03543. (Cropped and enhanced for presentation.)

Staff Henry Halleck, Grant revealed his revised thinking two days after the fateful June 3 assault.

    GENERAL: A full survey of all the ground satisfies me that it would not be practicable to hold a line northeast of Richmond that would protect the Fredericksburg railroad, to enable us to use it for supplying the army. To do so would give us a long vulnerable line of road to protect, exhausting much of our strength in guarding it, and would leave open to the enemy all of his lines of communication on the south side of the James. My idea from the start has been to beat Lee’s army, if possible, north of Richmond, then, after destroying his lines of communication north of the James River to transfer the army to the south side and besiege Lee in Richmond, or follow him south if he should retreat. I now find, after more than thirty days of trial, that the enemy deems it of the first importance to run no risks with the armies they now have. They act purely on the defensive, behind breast-works, or feebly on the offensive immediately in front of them, and where in case of repulse they can instantly retire behind them. Without a greater sacrifice of human life than I am willing to make, all cannot be accomplished that I had designed outside of the city. I have, therefore, resolved upon the following plan: I will continue to hold substantially the ground now occupied by the Army of the Potomac, taking advantage of any favorable circumstance that may present itself, until the cavalry can be sent west to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad from about Beaver Dam for some 25 or 30 miles west. When this is effected, I will move the army to the south side of James River, either by crossing the Chickahominy and marching near to City Point, or by going to the mouth of the Chickahominy on the north side and crossing there. To provide for this last and most probable contingency six or more ferry-boats of the largest size ought to be immediately provided. Once on the south side of James River I can cut off all sources of supply to the enemy, except what is furnished by the canal. If Hunter succeeds in reaching Lynchburg that will be lost to him also. Should Hunter not succeed I will still make the effort to destroy the canal by sending cavalry up the south side of the river with a pontoon train to cross wherever they can. The feeling of the two armies now seems to be that the rebels can protect themselves only by strong intrenchments, while our army is not only confident of protecting itself without intrenchments, but that it can beat and drive the enemy whenever and wherever he can be found without this protection.5

Petersburg and the Shenandoah Valley would soon shift into focus.

  1. David W. Hogan, Jr., The Overland Campaign: 4 May – 15 June 1864 (Washington, D.C.: United States Army Center of Military History, 2014), 17 – 61, National Park Service Staff, “Cold Harbor,” Richmond National Battlefield Park, National Park Service,
  2. NPS, “Cold Harbor.” Hogan, Overland Campaign, 61 – 64. U. S. Grant to E. M. Stanton, July 22, 1865; United States, War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series I, Vol. 36, Ch. 48, Part 1] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891), 21 – 22,
  3. Hogan, Overland Campaign, 65.
  4. Hogan, Overland Campaign, 66 – 67. NPS, “Cold Harbor.”
  5. U. S. Grant to Maj. Gen. H. W. Halleck, June 5, 1864; ORA, Vol. 36, 11 – 12,

Phil Schlegel, Editor

Editor’s Note: Readers are encouraged to review Lt. Gen. Grant’s July 22, 1865, operational report to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, covering the period between March 1864 to May 1865. The lengthy report reveals much of Grant’s reasoning with respect to the Overland Campaign (including Cold Harbor, pages 18 – 23) and provides an interesting contemporary account of the last thirteen months of the war. The report can be accessed through the HathiTrust Digital Library at


     By May 1862 Union General George Thomas had defeated Confederate General Felix K.

Zollicoffer at Mill Springs in eastern Kentucky; Union General Ulysses S. Grant and Flag Officer

“Map 2: Kentucky and Tennessee, Areas of Operations, January-June 1862.” Charles R. Bowery Jr., The Civil War in the Western Theater: 1862 (Washington, D.C.: United States Army Center of Military History, 2014), 14 – 15,

Andrew H. Foote had taken Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River; Nashville, Tennessee had fallen into Union hands; and Union ground forces and the gunboat flotilla were advancing down the Mississippi River.

     Lincoln’s commander in the west, General Henry Halleck, intended to seize the important rail hub at Corinth, Mississippi. Taking Corinth would cripple Confederate communications, logistics, and supply lines while opening the Mississippi Valley to invasion.

Battle of Shiloh or Pittsburg Landing, Tenn., Sunday, April 6th, and Monday, April 7th, 1862. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-59397.

     In an effort to fend off the Union advance, Confederate General Albert Sydney Johnston surprised General Grant near Pittsburg Landing on April 6, 1862. As the battle called Shiloh unfolded, Albert Sydney Johnston was mortally wounded and his successor, P.G.T. Beauregard, failed to carry the day. Reinforced by General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio, Grant turned the Confederates back the following day, sending the Confederate Army into full retreat toward Corinth.

     Being at the juncture of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad and the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, the strategic significance of Corinth was unmistakable. After Shiloh, Halleck left his headquarters at St. Louis, travelled to Pittsburg Landing, and took personal command of Grant’s Army of the Tennessee, Buell’s Army of the Ohio, and General John Pope’s Army of the Mississippi.1

Map of the country between Monterey, Tenn: & Corinth, Miss: showing the lines of entrenchments made & the routes followed by the U.S. forces under the command of Maj. Genl. Halleck, U.S. Army, in their advance upon Corinth in May 1862 [Lith. of J. Bien, 1862]. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division. (Enhanced for presentation.)

     The Confederate defensive perimeter at Corinth was extensive, including an array of entrenchments and substantial natural impediments such as swamps and marshes. Halleck divided his command into three wings: the right wing under George Thomas, the left wing under John Pope, the center under Don Carlos Buell. A reserve force was under the command of John A. McClernand. General Buell’s after-action report succinctly described the new command structure:

     The force which advanced against Corinth, under the command of Major-General Halleck, was composed of the Army of the Ohio, under my command; the Army of the Mississippi, under the command of Major-General Pope, and the Army of the Tennessee, under the immediate command of Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas. The first formed the center, the second the left, and the third the right of the combined force. General Thomas’ division of my army was temporarily attached to the Army of the Tennessee, and continued with it until after the evacuation, and, indeed, is not at this time under my control.2

     Buell’s portrayal of General Thomas’ assignment to “immediate command” of the Army of the Tennessee was significant. When Halleck took personal command of the combined Union armies, he named General Grant as his second in command, thereby removing him from direct field command. Halleck made a feeble attempt to justify the appointment based on Grant’s rank, but considering the near calamity and staggering casualties at Shiloh, as well as concerns about Grant’s organizational skills, Halleck lacked confidence in Grant.

     Your position, as second in command of the entire forces here in the field, rendered it proper that you should be relieved from the direct charge of either the right wing or the reserve, both of which are mainly composed of your forces. Orders for movements in the field will be sent direct from these headquarters to commanders of army corps, divisions, brigades, or even regiments, if deemed necessary, and you will have no more cause of complaint on that score than others have.

     I am very much surprised, general, that you should find any cause of complaint in the recent assignment of commands. You have precisely the position to which your rank entitles you. Had I given you the right wing or reserve only it would have been a reduction rather than increase of command, and I could not give you both without placing you in the position you now occupy.

     You certainly will not suspect me of any intention to injure your feelings or reputation or to do you any injustice; if so, you will eventually change your mind on this subject. For the last three months I have done everything in my power to ward off the attacks which were made upon you. If you believe me your friend you will not require explanations; if not, explanations on my part would be of little avail.3

     Descriptions of Halleck’s month-long campaign to move the approximately twenty miles from Pittsburg Landing to Corinth vary, but the term that comes to mind here is deliberate. Grant had been stung badly at Shiloh and Halleck had no intention of suffering the same fate. Hence, the advance against Corinth that commenced on April 30 was highlighted by frequent reconnaissance operations, numerous skirmishes and, as the army advanced, establishing stout

Near Corinth, Mississippi, 1862 [Adolf Metzner, artist]. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-51248. The Library of Congress summarizes the context as: “Drawing shows soldiers skirmishing in a wooded area near Corinth, Mississippi.”

defensive positions (entrenching). Halleck’s dispatches to Secretary of War Stanton exuded his angst and his repeated requests for reinforcements finally led President Lincoln to point out that more troops were needed on multiple fronts and to offer some words of encouragement: “My dear general, I feel justified to rely very much on you. I believe you and the brave officers and men with you can and will get the victory at Corinth.”4

“Corduroying Roads to Corinth” and “General Buell’s Army Crossing Lick Creek on the Way to Corinth.” Harper’s Weekly 6, No. 284 (June 7, 1862): 357. Courtesy HathiTrust,

     Halleck’s apprehension was not the only obstacle that slowed the advance toward Corinth. Heavy rains further complicated movement through thick forest, streams, and marshy terrain, forcing the army to corduroy and bridge roads along the lines of march. Illness was widespread which, according to Halleck, was made worse by a degree of malingering.

     Despite Halleck’s real and perceived difficulties, by the end of May Beauregard felt compelled to evacuate Corinth. In a report to headquarters in Richmond, Beauregard emphasized that his army had been depleted by “disease, resulting from bad water and inferior food” and that Halleck had been heavily reinforced. Beauregard also blamed Halleck’s seeming unwillingness to do battle, asserting that Halleck diligently “avoided the separation of his corps, which he advanced with uncommon caution under cover of heavy guns, strong intrenchments, constructed with unusual labor and with singular delay, considering his strength and our relative inferiority in numbers.”5

Evacuation of Corinth, Mississippi, lately held by the rebel General Beauregard – Burning of stations, warehouses and supplies – Entry of National troops [Henri Lovie, artist]. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-USZ62-132568. (Cropped for presentation.)

     Tactical debates aside, Halleck had achieved his strategic objective—the critical rail junction at Corinth, Mississippi, was in Union hands. Halleck would soon be promoted to

“Advance-Guard of Major-General Pope’s Army Entering Corinth May 30, 1862.” Harper’s Weekly 6, No. 286 (June 21, 1862): 388. Courtesy HathiTrust,

General-in-Chief and called to Washington.6 As the ebb and flow of the war in the west continued the Confederacy wanted the critical rail hub back. In October 1862 a Confederate force under Earl Van Dorn tried, but failed to retake Corinth, further opening the door to Vicksburg.

  1. Charles R. Bowery Jr., The Civil War in the Western Theater: 1862 (Washington, D.C.: United States Army Center of Military History, 2014), 9 – 30, HistoryNet Staff. “Siege Of Corinth By Henry Halleck in 1862.” HistoryNet Staff – Accessed 4/6/2022. [This HistoryNet post notes that the article was written by John F. Marszalek and originally published in the February 2006 issue of Civil War Times Magazine.]
  2. D. C. Buell to The Adjutant-General U. S. Army, Washington, August 1, 1862; United States, War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series I, Vol. 10, Ch. 22, Part 1] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1884), 672,
  3. H. W. Halleck to Major-General Grant, May 12, 1862; United States, War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series I, Vol. 10, Ch. 22, Part 2] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1884), 182 – 183,
  4. A. Lincoln to Major-General Halleck, May 24, 1862, ORA, V. 10, Pt. 1, 667,
  5. G.T. Beauregard to General S. Cooper, June 13, 1862, ORA, V. 10, Pt. 1, 762 – 763,
  6. “Henry W. Halleck,” American Battlefield Trust, accessed April 29, 2022,

Phil Schlegel, Editor


The birthplace of Ulysses S. Grant. Point Pleasant, Ohio. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-pga-07615.


“Grant and His Generals.” Oil on canvas painting by Ole Peter Hansen Balling [c. 1865]. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; transfer from the Library of Congress.

     The fascinating portrayal of “Grant and His Generals” pictured above was painted by Ole Peter Hansen Balling. It is located at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. An exceptionally interesting description and history of the oil on canvas painting is available at the National Portrait Gallery website found at The description includes a list of the officers depicted in the painting, which is quoted from the Gallery’s webpage as follows:

Left to right: Thomas C. Devin (1822–1878), George A. Custer (1839–1876), Hugh J. Kilpatrick (1836–1881), William H. Emory (1811–1887), Philip H. Sheridan (1831–1888), James B. McPherson (1828–1864), George Crook (1830–1890), Wesley Merritt (1834–1910), George H. Thomas (1816–1870), Gouverneur Kemble Warren (1830–1882), George G. Meade (1815–1872), John G. Parke (1827–1900), William T. Sherman (1820–1891), John A. Logan (1826–1886), Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885), Ambrose E. Burnside (1824–1881), Joseph Hooker (1814–1879), Winfield Scott Hancock (1824–1886), John A. Rawlins (1831–1869), Edward O. C. Ord (1818–1883), Francis Preston Blair (1821–1875), Alfred H. Terry (1827–1890), Henry W. Slocum (1827–1894), Jefferson C. Davis (1828–1879), Oliver O. Howard (1830–1909), John M. Schofield (1831–1906), Joseph A. Mower (1827–1870).

     The chromolithograph presented below is a fascinating collage of scenes depicting General Grant’s military career. The Library of Congress describes the lithograph as follows:

Ulysses Grant, half-length portrait, facing left; surrounded by nine scenes of his career from West Point graduation in 1843 to Lee’s surrender in 1865, including artillery crew in the Tower of Chapultepec, Mexico, 1847; drilling Volunteers, 1861; Fort Donelson, 1862; Shiloh, 1862; Siege of Vicksburg, 1863; Chattanooga, 1863; appointment by Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief, 1864.

Grant from West Point to Appomattox / Thulstrup. Boston: Published by L. Prang & Co. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.

The Grant Centennial

Washington, D.C.

April 27, 1922

Unveiling Grant Memorial [Photo created/published April 27, 1922]. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-npcc-06154. (Cropped for presentation.)

     For additional information concerning the U.S. Grant Bicentennial, readers are encouraged to visit the U.S. Grant Presidential Library website at

Phil Schlegel, Editor



     Recalling Women’s History Month in the context of the Civil War quickly brings to mind well-known spies like Pauline Cushman and Belle Boyd; countless women who vigorously endeavored to realize the abolition slavery and women’s suffrage like Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Julia Ward Howe; the unknown number of women who clandestinely donned uniforms, picked up muskets, and endured the harsh realities that faced their brothers in arms. Many seemed to embrace it all, with a seemingly boundless commitment, such as that exhibited by Harriet Tubman. There were also prominent authors such as Louisa May Alcott and Harriet Beecher Stowe who, legend has it, President Abraham Lincoln greeted with the remark: “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!” The list goes on and on.

The Nurses Memorial, a granite statue of a nurse in uniform, is located in Section 21 in Arlington National Cemetery, June 15, 2015, in Arlington, Va. The memorial was originally erected in 1938 and rededicated in 1971. (U.S. Army photo by Rachel Larue. Photo courtesy Arlington National Cemetery.)

     Recognizing and honoring the vital work of nurses has received considerable, much-deserved attention in response to the ongoing COVID pandemic. For the countless service members whose lives and well-being have rested in the hands of a nurse, it is imperative that the debt not be forgotten. Despite the passage of time, the thousands of nurses who served during the Civil War are no exception. Recognizing the extraordinary need for nursing care, in 1861 President Lincoln’s first Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, appointed Dorothea Dix to help organize military hospitals and supervise women nurses under the auspices of the War Department.

Miss D. L. DIX:

     Be it known to all whom it may concern that the free services of Miss D. L. Dix are accepted by the War Department, and that she will give at all times all necessary aid in organizing military hospitals for the care of all sick or wounded soldiers, aiding the chief surgeon by supplying nurses and substantial means for the comfort and relief of the suffering; also that she is fully authorized to receive, control, and disburse special supplies bestowed by individuals or associations for the comfort of their friends or the citizen soldiers from all parts of the United States; as also, under sanction of the Acting Surgeon-General, to draw from the army stores.

     Given at the War Department this twenty-third day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-fifth.

                                                                                                            SIMON CAMERON

                                                                                                            Secretary of War.1

Miss D.L. Dix, Washington, D.C. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-59721. (Cropped for presentation.)
The Library of Congress notes that this photograph shows Dorothea L. Dix, Superintendent of Army Nurses for the Union Army, holding a book and sitting in a room with a medical bag on the floor.

     The War Department was not the only agency through which nurses served during the Civil War. As the war progressed, nurses were supplied by various state and national relief entities, such as the U.S. Sanitary Commission. In addition, women volunteered to serve, family members remained at the front, and nurses served under contract. There were also a significant number of Catholic nuns who provided care and comfort to sick and wounded soldiers and sailors.

The Nuns of the Battlefield Monument, M St., NW, Washington, D.C. (Carol M. Highsmith, photographer). Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith reproduction number LC-DIG-highsm-09888.

     A Civil War nurse’s duties were difficult and varied. A U.S. Army War College article summarized their duties: “In addition to providing medical care, the women nurses comforted and fed patients, wrote letters, read, and prayed. They managed supplies and staffed hospital kitchens and laundries.” The War College article goes on to point out the tragic impact of systemic racism even in this worthy endeavor: “African-American nurses were often confined to menial labor jobs, ordered to work among the most dangerously ill patients, or assigned to care for African-American soldiers.”2 The American Battlefield Trust provides an important article that chronicles the groundbreaking role of the female Civil War nurses, the inequities resulting from prevailing class, gender, racial, and ethnic disparities, and the jolting effect of first encountering devastating battlefield injuries.3

Annie Wittenmyer. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-USZ62-46308. (Cropped for presentation.)

     The roles of a nurse during the Civil War were not well defined. A noteworthy wartime innovation was the advent of “special diet kitchens,” championed by reformer and Civil War nurse Annie Wittenmyer, that were designed to facilitate the healing of wounded and ill soldiers with special diets designed for their particular needs. Wittenmyer was Ohio born, but joined the war effort from her adopted State of Iowa, first working as a nurse and state sanitary agent. Like many reformers and pioneers of her day, Wittenmyer’s story is multifaceted, at times tumultuous and controversial, but the successful promotion and operation of the special diet kitchens into the medical service community was an exceptional demonstration of dogged resolve. Operating under the auspices of the U.S. Christian Commission, Wittenmyer’s diet kitchens were groundbreaking. One historian characterized the diet kitchens as Wittenmyer’s “pièce de resistance,” as follows:

Distinct from the general hospital kitchens, special diet kitchens catered to sick or wounded soldiers who required a special diet because of the nature of their wounds or illnesses. Two women, appointed by Wittenmyer, managed each kitchen. The women were under the authority of the surgeon but were commissioned and compensated by the USCC. A special menu designed by the surgeon was given to the women, who supervised the preparation of the meals by convalescent soldiers or hired help and the distribution of the meals by army nurses in the hospital. In addition to their duties as superintendents, the women were encouraged by the USCC to visit the soldiers in the wards.4

Thanks to Wittenmyer’s perseverance, by the end of the war numerous special diet kitchens were in operation.5

     It is important to recall that the contributions provided by female nurses were not always well received. Social mores of the day generally dictated that the field hospital and the general hospital, let alone the battlefield, were a male domain. In some cases, soldiers who were recovering in the hospital were detailed to serve alongside physicians and hospital stewards, but the need was simply too great. With gender bias thriving in the mid-nineteenth century, many objected to the changing “role” of women that was accelerated by wartime exigency. Many women wanted to serve and, as female nurses and aid workers arrived in the field or in hospitals, their acceptance by the medical establishment was not a given and was sometimes met with contempt and outright hostility. Perceived notions of status, a belief that women lacked the physical or emotional ability to work in such settings, concepts of suitable work and financial autonomy, supposed problems arising from women mingling with large numbers of soldiers, questions of modesty, and a myriad of other engrained social mores often made the female nurses’ difficult tasks even more challenging.6 But thousands of female nurses persevered, much to the relief of those in their care.

     In the decades following the war, as federal pension legislation for Union veterans, widows, children, and dependent parents emerged and expanded, Annie Wittenmyer is widely credited with vigorously advocating for nurse pensions. The Civil War nurses received a measure of advocacy, recognition, and relief by way of congressional “Special Act Pensions,” through the GAR’s auxiliary Woman’s Relief Corps, and by the nurses themselves, but after years of disputes and political maneuvering, the work of Wittenmyer and her fellow advocates finally came to fruition in 1892 with the passage of “An Act Granting Pensions to Army Nurses.”7

     The implementation of the legislation by the federal Bureau of Pensions brought about its own challenges with respect to which nurses were eligible under the law. Pension applicants faced a myriad of problems including what constituted eligible service, literacy and, significantly, securing adequate documentation proving creditable service thirty years after the end of the war. Those significant issues aside, the passage of the act finally signified formal governmental recognition of nursing service during the Civil War.8

     The Library of Congress, Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs, includes a large number of photographs depicting Civil War nurses. It is unfortunate that some of the photographs are labeled “unidentified Civil War nurse,” but many are named and a search often reveals a compelling story.


Betsy Pennell, Civil War nurse. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-57906.
Pennell was a nurse from Portland, Maine. On the back of the picture frame it is noted that she died of tuberculosis while serving as a nurse during the Civil War.


Susie King Taylor, known as the first African American Army nurse. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-57593.
Taylor was a nurse with the 1st S.C. Volunteers (Union), later redesignated 33rd U.S. Colored Troops. (See


Annie Etheridge, Civil War nurse of 3rd Michigan Infantry Regiment with Kearney Cross medal. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-57125. (Cropped for presentation.)
Ethridge served as a nurse (in a role akin to what today is known as a medic) on the front lines in multiple battles and received the Kearny Cross for bravery. (See


Mary Ann Ball Bickerdyke, Civil War nurse and agent for the United States Sanitary Commission. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-57151.
The Library of Congress notes that Bickerdyke “cared for wounded soldiers on nineteen battlefields, including Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and Atlanta and improved or established approximately 300 hospitals as an agent of the U.S. Sanitary Commission.”

     The Army Nurse Corps was not established until 1901 (Navy Nurse Corps established 1908), but the work of the Civil War nurses was an important step toward improving and advancing the medical care of our military personnel and advancing the ongoing struggle for gender equity. National Women’s History Month provides an excellent opportunity to recall the patriotism and sacrifice of the Civil War nurses with thanks.

Anna Bell Stubbs, Civil War nurse, caring for wounded soldiers at No. 1 Nashville Hospital. (Morse’s Gallery of the Cumberland, photographer.) Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-69291. (Cropped and enhanced for presentation.)

  1. Simon Cameron [regarding D. L. Dix], April 23, 1861; United States, War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series 3, Vol. 1] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899), 107,
  2. “Nurses in the Civil War” [“Civil War Women”], U.S. Army Heritage & Education Center at Carlisle Barracks, accessed February 21, 2022,
  3. Paige Gibbons Backus, “Female Nurses during the Civil War: Angels of the Battlefield,” [October 20, 2020, updated June 1, 2021], American Battlefield Trust, accessed February 22, 2022,
  4. Lisa Guinn, “Annie Wittenmyer and Nineteenth-Century Women’s Usefulness,” [p. 366] The Annals of Iowa, accessed February 22, 2022, 366, [Requested citation: Guinn, L., (2015) “Annie Wittenmyer and Nineteenth-Century Women’s Usefulness”, The Annals of Iowa74(4), p.351-377. doi:]
  5. Rachel Williams, “The United States Sanitary and Christian Commissions and the Union War Effort,” [May 25, 2017] National Museum of Civil War Medicine, accessed February 22, 2022, Hannah Metheny, “‘For A Woman’: The Fight for Pensions for Civil War Army Nurses” (undergraduate honors thesis, College of William and Mary, 2013), [Requested citation Metheny, Hannah, “‘For A Woman’: The Fight for Pensions for Civil War Army Nurses” (2013). Undergraduate Honors Theses. Paper 573.] Guinn, “Annie Wittenmyer,” Annals of Iowa.
  6. Backus, “Female Nurses during the Civil War,” ABT. Metheny, “For a Woman,” W&M.
  7. An act granting pensions to army nurses, Pub. L. No. 52-379, 27 Stat. 348 (1892).
  8. Metheny, “For a Woman,” W&M. Claire Prechtel-Kluskens, “Anatomy of a Union Civil War Pension File,” National Archives and Records Administration,

     Editor’s Note: As is indicated in the endnotes, the American Battlefield Trust’s article entitled “Female Nurses during the Civil War: Angels of the Battlefield” provides an informative overview of the Civil War nurses, including references for “further reading.” The article is recommended and can be accessed at

     The in-depth assessment of nurse pension applications presented by Hannah Metheny in “For A Woman”: The Fight for Pensions for Civil War Army Nurses is a fascinating, multi-faceted scholarly study. Ms. Metheny’s analysis considers how various social, economic, and political issues impacted the effort to secure pensions for the Civil War nurses and presents compelling conclusions. “For A Woman” is also recommended and can be accessed at

Phil Schlegel, Editor


Thomas Morris Chester

War Correspondent

Chester, U.S. minister, Liberia ca. 1870 [D. C. Burnite, photographer]. From The New York Public Library

     Thomas Morris Chester was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 1834. Raised in relatively favorable circumstances, he and his family, even as free African Americans, endured the burden of systemic racism and lived in the shadow of the onerous Fugitive Slave Act (1850). In response to his life experiences and the conditions facing African Americans, Chester initially embraced Liberian colonization, but the Emancipation Proclamation changed the focus of the Civil War and, hence, Chester’s thinking.

     Chester successfully turned his attention to actively recruiting African Americans to serve in the Union Army. In August 1864, Chester accepted an opportunity to become a correspondent for The Philadelphia Press, thus becoming “. . . the first African American to serve as a war correspondent for a major daily newspaper . . . .” He actively reported from the front lines, primarily in Virginia. His reports concentrated on the service of African-American soldiers—their prowess in combat, the heightened perils inherent in serving as an African American and, ultimately, accompanying an African-American regiment into Richmond.1

     As we celebrate National African-American History Month, Thomas Morris Chester should be recalled as a pioneer. With the role and impact of the media being an ongoing source debate to this day, his legacy is significant.


  1. Gerald S. Henig, “Thomas Morris Chester: First Black War Reporter on the Front Lines,”, accessed January 15, 2022,

A note about sources: As is pointed out in the endnote, the material in this brief summary is drawn from an article by Gerald S. Henig, “Thomas Morris Chester: First Black War Reporter on the Front Lines,”, The website points out that the article was originally published in the January 2008 issue of Civil War Times.

There is a considerable amount of additional information concerning Thomas Morris Chester available through various internet sources. A publication entitled Thomas Morris Chester, Black Civil War Correspondent: His Dispatches from the Virginia Front (R. J. M. Blackett, ed., Da Capo Press, Inc., 1989, 1991) is also available.

Phil Schlegel, Editor

February 1862

     Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard was desperately attempting to gather and deploy a force to challenge General William T. Sherman’s relentless advance into South Carolina, perhaps facilitating a favorable peace agreement with Washington. But, by February 1865, Confederate military prospects were, by any practical measure, hopeless. In the midst of this bleak reality, February 17, 1865, was a particularly bad day for South Carolina and the Confederacy. Federal troops entered South Carolina’s capital city on the heels of fleeing Confederate defenders. That night Columbia burned.

“The Burning of Columbia, South Carolina, February 17, 1865.” Harper’s Weekly 9, No. 432 (April 8, 1865): 217. Courtesy of HathiTrust,

     Controversy surrounds who was primarily responsible for the conflagration—fleeing Confederates or Federals intent on retaliation. As is often the case, it seems that there was enough blame to be spread around.1 In an April 4, 1865, report to chief of staff General Henry Halleck, Sherman put the blame squarely on Confederate General Wade Hampton’s cavalry, but he did acknowledge that some of his troops “may have assisted in spreading the fire after it had once begun.” Apart from the debate as to who was most responsible, Sherman did not equivocate in stating that the soldiers under his command shed no tears as the capital city of South Carolina was engulfed in flames.

General Wade Hampton, who commanded the Confederate rear guard of cavalry, had, in anticipation of our capture of Columbia, ordered that all cotton, public and private, should be moved into the streets and fired, to prevent our making use of it. Bales were piled everywhere, the rope and bagging cut, and tufts of cotton were blown about in the wind, lodged in the trees and against houses, so as to resemble a snow-storm. Some of these piles of cotton were burning, especially one in the very heart of the city, near the court-house, but the fire was partially subdued by the labor of our soldiers. . . .

 Before one single public building had been fired by order, the smoldering fires, set by Hampton’s order, were rekindled by the wind, and communicated to the buildings around. About dark they began to spread, and got beyond the control of the brigade on duty within the city. The whole of Woods’ Division was brought in, but it was found impossible to check the flames which, by midnight, had become unmanageable, and raged until about 4 a.m., when the wind subsiding they were got under control. I was up nearly all night, and saw Generals Howard, Logan, Woods, and others, laboring to save houses and protect families thus suddenly deprived of shelter, and even of bedding and wearing apparel. I disclaim on the part of my army any agency in this fire, but, on the contrary, claim that we saved what of Columbia remains unconsumed. And without hesitation I charge General Wade Hampton with having burned his own city of Columbia, not with a malicious intent, or as the manifestation of a silly “Roman stoicism,” but from folly and want of sense, in filling it with lint, cotton, and tinder. Our officers and men on duty worked well to extinguish the flames; but others not on duty, including the officers who had long been imprisoned there, rescued by us, may have assisted in spreading the fire after it had once begun, and may have indulged in unconcealed joy to see the ruin of the capitol of South Carolina.2

     Beauregard also realized that defending the port city of Charleston was untenable and ordered that it be evacuated. As the capital city of Columbia burned on the night of February 17-18, Confederate troops under the immediate command of General William J. Hardee left Charleston, the “Cradle of Secession,” to its fate. On February 18 Mayor Charles MacBeth surrendered the City of Charleston to Lt. Col. Augustus Bennett, 21st U.S. Colored Troops. Before Union troops could be deployed the situation in the city was chaotic. Hardee had evacuated, but destruction continued. Lt. Col. Bennett described the resulting mayhem in his after-action report as follows:

 Public buildings, stores, warehouses, private dwellings, shipping, &c., were burning and being fired by armed rebels, but with the force at my disposal it was impossible to save the cotton and other property.

 While awaiting the arrival of my troops at Mills’ Wharf a number of explosions took place. The rebel commissary depot was blown up, and with it, it is estimated, that not less than 200 human beings, most of whom were women and children, were blown to atoms. These people were engaged in procuring food for themselves and families, by permission from the rebel military authorities. The rebel ram Charleston was blown up while lying at her anchorage opposite Mount Pleasant ferry wharf, in the Cooper River.

Ruins of Secession Hall, Charleston, S.C. [George N. Barnard, photographer]. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-stereo-1s02493. (Cropped for presentation.)

As Union troops arrived and deployed, Lt. Col. Bennett assured Mayor MacBeth that “the troops under my command will render every possible assistance to your well-disposed citizens in extinguishing the fires now burning.”3

     Despite the damage inflicted by the retreating Confederates, Hardee abandoned vast amounts of equipment, munitions, and stores in Charleston.4 The end of the Confederacy was near, but the fighting went on.


  1. Mark L. Bradley, The Civil War Ends:1865 (Washington D.C.: United States Army Center of Military History, 2015), 10 – 13,
  2. W. T. Sherman to Maj. Gen. H. W. Halleck, April4, 1865; United States, War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series I, Vol. 47, Ch. 59, Part 1] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1882), 21 – 22,
  3. Bradley, Civil War Ends, 10. A. G. Bennett to Capt. J. W. Dickinson, February 24, 1865; ORA, V. 47, Pt. 1], 1018 – 1020,
  4. A. G. Bennett to Capt. J. W. Dickinson, March 24, 1865; ORA, V. 47, Pt. 1, 1021.

Phil Schlegel, Editor


January 1862

     Important social, agricultural, commercial, strategic, and political considerations led the Lincoln administration to conclude that holding Kentucky was pivotal to preserving the union.1 In early September 1861 Confederate forces entered “neutral” Kentucky and Union forces soon responded in kind, and the fight for Kentucky was on.2 General Albert Sidney Johnston’s Confederate line in Kentucky stretched from Columbus on the Mississippi (General Leonidas Polk), east to Bowling Green (General Simon B. Buckner), and then to the Cumberland Gap (General Felix K. Zollicoffer). General Zollicoffer was ordered west to Mill Springs to monitor the Cumberland River. Meanwhile, Union General George H. Thomas’ division shadowed Zollicoffer’s movements in eastern Kentucky. In setting up his position at Mill Springs, Zollicoffer, who lacked any significant prior military experience, naively positioned his troops on the north side of the Cumberland River, leaving them sandwiched between Thomas’ federals to his front and the river to his rear.3

     In late December Union General Don Carlos Buell ordered General Thomas to move against Zollicoffer. On January 17, 1862, Thomas’ division reached Logan’s Crossroads, about ten miles north of Zollicoffer’s position on the Cumberland River. Confederate General George B. Crittenden, Zollicoffer’s immediate superior officer, recognized how precarious Zollicoffer’s position was and ordered him to recross to the south side of the river, but it was too late. With few options available, Crittenden opted to attack. During the early morning hours of January 19 eight regiments of infantry, supported by artillery, advanced against Thomas’ federals. Union cavalry heralded the advance and an infantry brigade was deployed to stall the Confederate advance while Thomas brought up his command.4

Battle of Mill Spring, Ky. Jan 19th 1862. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-pga-06136. (Cropped for presentation.)

     General Thomas quickly formed his division and attacked the advancing Confederates. Union regiments from Kentucky and Tennessee attacked the Confederate right; Union regiments from Minnesota, Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio attacked along the main Confederate line and the entire Confederate line soon collapsed. The federals reformed, were resupplied with ammunition, and continued to press the retreating Confederates until they reached the entrenchments directly in front of their encampment. Rather than attack the entrenched Confederates, Thomas ordered two Union batteries to open a barrage that lasted into the evening. In an effort to prevent Crittenden’s command from retreating back across the Cumberland River, Thomas also sent one battery to target the ferry crossing. As Thomas prepared to continue his attack the next day, Crittenden recognized that he was defeated. On the night of January 19 Crittenden was able to withdraw his command back across the Cumberland River, abandoning large quantities of artillery, small arms, ammunition, wagons, horses, and stores. The Confederate defeat was stunning. General Johnston acknowledged as much in his report to then Confederate Secretary of War Judah Benjamin, finally advising the secretary that Crittenden’s command was “in full retreat” to the southeast toward Knoxville, Tennessee.5

The battle of Logan’s cross roads, fought on the 19th of January, 1862 [illustrating death of General Zollicoffer]. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-pga-11687. (Cropped for presentation.)

     Confederate General Felix Zollicoffer did not survive the Battle of Mill Springs. The details of Zollicoffer’s death have been clouded by time, perspective, and a dose of historical license both in print and battlefield art, but the bizarre circumstances seem to reflect Zollicoffer’s catastrophic mismanagement during Confederate operations in eastern Kentucky and Tennessee. The following account appears in an online article from the American Battlefield Trust:

Gen. Zollicoffer was still hanging near the 19th Tennessee during the struggle for the fence. The 19th was fighting the remnants of the 10th Indiana on the road, but the Southerners could barely see the force opposing them. When a new group of men came into view roughly 100 yards ahead and to the right, Zollicoffer thought that they represented the left flank of the 15th Mississippi, although the direction of their shooting came dangerously close to the 19th Tennessee. The general, concerned about friendly fire and perhaps recognizing that his offensive was sputtering, rode through the smoke to reconnect with the wayward regiment and renew the attack.

 The mysterious soldiers were not Mississippians—they belonged to [Union Col. Speed] Fry’s 4th Kentucky Volunteers. Fry himself rode out to greet Zollicoffer, whose Confederate uniform was concealed by a long rain jacket. Zollicoffer drew rein about thirty yards from the Union line and the two officers came so close that their knees touched.

 “We must not shoot our own men,” Zollicoffer told the Union colonel. Fry was plainly wearing a Federal uniform, but Zollicoffer was near-sighted. Or perhaps he had realized his mistake, and was now bluffing for time.

 “Of course not,” Fry replied, “I would not shoot our own men intentionally.” He did not recognize Zollicoffer, but thought him to be an unmet officer from Sam Carter’s brigade, which had only recently arrived.

 “Those are our own men.” Zollicoffer pointed towards the 19th Tennessee.

 Now somewhat suspicious, Fry rode twenty or thirty yards past Zollicoffer to examine the situation for himself. As he peered through the smoke, a Confederate staff officer dashed from behind a tree and called to Zollicoffer, “it’s the enemy, General!”

 The unknown officer drew his pistol and shot Fry’s horse before turning to make his escape. A Kentucky rifleman shot him down. Zollicoffer pulled out his pistol and emptied it in Fry’s direction. Unscathed, Fry shouted, “that’s your game, is it?” and returned fire with his Colt Navy .36, striking Zollicoffer in the chest. Two more bullets from the Kentucky infantry killed him.

Fry jumped off of his horse and ran back to his regiment calling for more men to shore up the threatened flank. The men of the 19th Tennessee, frightened by the death of their general, withdrew when the Union reinforcements arrived. The 25th Tennessee advanced to take their place and the battle continued. 6

  1. William E. Gienapp, “Abraham Lincoln and the Border States,” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Volume 13, Issue 1, 1992, pp. 13-46,;rgn=main.
  2. Garry Adelman and Mary Bays Woodside, “A House Divided: Civil War Kentucky,” American Battlefield Trust,
  3. Henry M. Cist, The Army of the Cumberland (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1882), 9-12,
  4. Cist, Army of the Cumberland, 13-19. D. C. Buell to General George H. Thomas, December 29, 1861; Geo. H. Thomas to Capt. J. B. Fry, January 31, 1862; A. S. Johnson to J. P. Benjamin, January 22, 1862; G. B. Crittenden to Adjutant and Inspector General, January 29, 1862; United States, War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series I, Vol. 7, Ch. 17] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1882), 78-81, 102-104,
  5. Ibid.
  6. “Kentucky Chaos: The Battle of Mill Springs,” American Battlefield Trust,

Editor’s note: The articles cited in endnotes 1 and 2 (above) provide important, in-depth insights into how critical control of Kentucky was before and during the war. These articles are well worth study in their entirety. The January 1862 Union victory at Mill Springs is a reminder that Union General George H. Thomas is among the most under-rated and under-appreciated federal field commanders of the war.

Phil Schlegel, Editor



     In the early morning hours of December 31, 1862, the U.S.S. Monitor  which, the previous March, had driven off the C.S.S. Virginia  in the celebrated naval battle off Hampton Roads, foundered and sank in heavy seas off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

“The Wreck of the Iron-Clad ‘Monitor.'” Harper’s Weekly 7, No. 317 (January 24, 1863): 60. Courtesy of HathiTrust, (Cropped for presentation.)

     On December 24, 1862, acting Rear Admiral Samuel P. Lee, commander of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, ordered U.S.S. Rhode Island  to take the Monitor  in tow and “proceed” to Beaufort, North Carolina, as soon as possible, to support Union ground operations. The Rhode Island  left Hampton Roads with the Monitor  in tow during the afternoon of December 29. According to the Monitor’s captain, Commander John P. Bankhead, the weather was “clear and pleasant.” By 5 a.m. the next morning the sea had become more turbulent, with water breaking over the Monitor’s pilot house and surrounding the turret. Captain Bankhead “[f]ound that the packing of oakum under and around the base of the tower [turret] had loosened somewhat from the working of the tower as the vessel pitched and rolled,” but that the bilge pumps were doing their job and there was “no apprehension at the time.”

     As the evening progressed the sea grew angrier and the Monitor, still tethered to the Rhode Island, was tossed about in increasingly rough seas. By 8:00 p.m. the situation was becoming desperate:

[T]he sea about this time commenced to rise very rapidly, causing the vessel to plunge heavily, completely submerging the pilot house and washing over and into the turret and at times into the blower pipes. Observed that when she rose to the swell, the flat under surface of the projecting armor would come down with great force, causing a considerable shock to the vessel and turret, thereby loosening still more [of] the packing around its base.

     Seawater continued to inundate the ship and for a time the Monitor’s pumps held their own. But, at about 10:30 p.m., Captain Bankhead signaled the Rhode Island  that his ship was in distress and requested that Captain Trenchard “send boats to take off the crew.” In an effort to keep his engines and the pumps running, Captain Bankhead ordered the tow cable cut, but to no avail. By 11:30 it was evident that all was lost. Waves were “breaking entirely over the vessel, rendering it extremely hazardous to leave the turret.” The engines and pumps soon failed. Captain Bankhead described the death throes of the Monitor  in vivid detail:

Commander J.P. Bankhead, U.S.N. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Civil War Photographs, reproduction number LC-DIG-cwpb-06301.

The engine being stopped, and no longer able to keep the vessel head to sea, she having fallen off into the trough and rolling so heavily as to render it impossible for boats to approach us, I ordered the anchor to be let go and all the chain given her, in hopes that it might bring her up. Fortunately it did so, and she once more swung round head to wind. By this time, finding the vessel filling rapidly and the deck on a level with the water, I ordered all the men left on board to leave the turret and endeavor to get into the two boats which were then approaching us. I think, at this time, there were about twenty-five or thirty men on board. The boats approached very cautiously, as the sea was breaking upon our now submerged deck with great violence, washing several men overboard, one of whom was afterwards picked up by the boats. I secured the painter of one of the boats (which by the use of its oars was prevented from striking the side) and made as many get into her as she would safely hold in the heavy sea that was running. There were several men still left upon and in the turret who, either stupefied by fear or fearful of being washed overboard in the attempt to reach the boats, would not come down and are supposed to have gone down with the vessel. Feeling that I had done everything in my power to save the vessel and crew, I jumped into the already deeply laden boat and left the Monitor, whose heavy, sluggish motion gave evidence that she could float but a short time longer. Shortly after we reached the Rhode Island she disappeared. I must testify to the untiring efforts and zeal displayed by Captain Trenchard and his officers in their attempts to rescue the crew of the Monitor. It was an extremely hazardous undertaking, rendered particularly so by the heavy sea and the difficulty in approaching the Monitor.

In his report to Admiral Lee, Captain Bankhead stated that “I am firmly of the opinion that the Monitor  must have sprung a leak somewhere in the forward part where the hull joins on to the armor, and that it was caused by the heavy shocks received as she came down upon the sea.”1

     Forty-seven sailors survived the wreck of the Monitor. Sixteen of her crew perished, including 4 officers and 12 enlisted men, 3 of whom were African American. Among the lost was Maine sailor, George Littlefield, a 25-year-old stonecutter born in Saco. Littlefield was serving as a “coal heaver” when the Monitor  went down.2 Eight crew members from the Rhode Island  were also lost as a result of her rescue operations.

     The wreck of the U.S.S. Monitor  was discovered off Cape Hatteras in 1973, confirmed in 1974 and, in order to protect the site, was designated a National Marine Sanctuary on January 30, 1975. Recovery and preservation efforts have continued since the 1990’s.3 Work to recover and preserve the Monitor  was a laborious task. Her propellor was raised in 1998 and her steam engine was raised in 2001. While preparing to raise the turret in 2002, Navy divers discovered the remains of two of the Monitor’s crew. Despite careful examination of physical evidence and various recovered artifacts, the two sailors could not be identified. In keeping with time-honored tradition, the two sailors were buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on March 8, 2013. The sailors who perished aboard the U.S.S. Monitor  on New Year’s Eve 1862 are memorialized on the stone shown below.

U.S.S. Monitor Monument, Arlington National Cemetery. Photo courtesy Arlington National Cemetery.

A compelling description of the recovery missions and the effort to identify the sailor’s remains, including forensic constructions of their possible appearances, is found at the Arlington National Cemetery website at:

The Naval History and Heritage Command, National Museum of the U.S. Navy, USS Monitor (Ironclad), website shows a number of technical sketches, engravings, and photographs chronicling the history of the U.S.S. Monitor, at:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a number of informative and thoroughly enjoyable web pages that include commentary, relevant drawings, and photos concerning the recovery and restoration of the U.S.S. Monitor, at: __________
  1. S. P. Lee to Commander S. D. Trenchard, December 24, 1862, and J. P. Bankhead to Acting Rear-Admiral S. P. Lee, January 1, 1863, United States, Navy Dept., Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion [Series I, Vol. 8] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899), 338, 346 – 349,
  2. “The Lost Monitor Boys,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce, accessed November 9, 2021,
  3. “USS Monitor,” Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce, accessed November 9, 2021,





 Personal Valor

Luke M. Griswold

O. Seaman

U.S.S. Rhode Island

Loss of the Monitor

Dec. 31


Source and high-resolution photographs:

Phil Schlegel, Editor



     As November 1863 was drawing to a close, George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac was camped north of the Rapidan River while Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was camped south of the river. The month before, Lee had attempted to turn Meade’s flank in northeastern Virginia and slip between the Army of the Potomac and Washington. After a series of moves and counter-moves, Lee’s plans were foiled at Bristoe Station where, on October 14, Union General Gouverneur K. Warren’s II Corps soundly defeated Confederate General Ambrose P. Hill’s ill-fated attack on the trailing portion of the Army of the Potomac as it retired toward Centerville. Meade’s army was able to consolidate at Centerville and Lee’s campaign was finished.1

Culpepper, Va. Generals of the Army of the Potomac: Gouverneur K. Warren, William H. French, George G. Meade, Henry J. Hunt, Andrew A. Humphreys, George Sykes [September 1863]. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Civil War Photographs, reproduction number, LC-DIG-cwpb-03981.

     Washington was pressuring Meade to attack Lee. In mid-October Meade steadily, but cautiously (arguably too cautiously), was pursuing Lee’s army south. Meade maneuvered against Lee’s flanks as he advanced in proximity to the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, repairing the damage inflicted by the retreating Confederates along the way.2 By early November, Meade was north of the Rapidan in the vicinity of Culpepper Court House while Lee had withdrawn to his original position south of the Rapidan. According to Meade:

The position of the enemy was known to be behind his strong intrenchments on the Rapidan. These were known to extend from the junction of the Rapidan and Rappahannock Rivers to a point as high up as Liberty Mills, west of Orange Court-House.3

     As the two armies faced each other across the Rapidan, Meade perceived an opportunity was at hand. General James Longstreet’s Confederate First Corps was detached in Tennessee and there appeared to be a gap in the Confederate line, in the area of the Orange Turnpike and the Plank Road. Meade outlined his plan in his report to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck:

I could hear of no works or defenses on the Orange and Fredericksburg turnpike or plank road. Ewell’s corps, estimated between 25,000 and 35,000 men, held the line from Bartlett’s Mill to near Rapidan Station, and Hill’s corps, over 25,000 strong, held the left from Rapidan Station to Liberty Mills.

The plan I decided on was to cross the Rapidan at the lower fords, in three columns, and by a prompt movement seize the plank road and turnpike, advancing rapidly toward Orange Court-House, thus turning the enemy’s works, and compelling him to give battle on ground not previously selected or prepared, and I indulged the hope that in the execution of this plan I should be enabled to fall on part of the enemy’s forces before he could effect a concentration, and thus so cripple him as to render more certain the success of the final struggle.4

     Meade’s orders were detailed, intended to execute the main attack and to protect his flanks, the fords, and the army’s trains and artillery. The attack hinged on speed of execution.5 That is, the gap in the Confederate line had to be exploited before Lee had an opportunity to consolidate Richard Ewell’s Second Corps (then commanded by Jubal Early) and Hill’s Third Corps.

“The Army of the Potomac at Mine Run — Rebel Earth-Works Commanding the Passage at Germania Ford,” Harper’s Weekly 8, No. 366 (January 2, 1864): 12. Courtesy of HathiTrust, (Cropped for presentation.)

     The operational blueprint that Meade laid out seemed to be doomed from the start. Scheduled to commence on November 24, foul weather delayed the advance until the 26th. The Army of the Potomac moved out on the morning of November 26, but Meade’s plan to cross the Rapidan quickly broke down. General William French’s III Corps infantry moved too slowly, there were not adequate pontoons to cross the Rapidan, artillery had to be rerouted, and “the steep banks of the Rapidan at all crossings” caused backups, thereby hampering the several corps from moving into position.6 As November 26 ended, the Union Army had failed to rapidly attack, isolate, and defeat Early’s and Hill’s Corps in detail. Unfortunately for Meade, Lee utilized the delays of the 26th to move east of Mine Run on the Orange Turnpike and Plank Road respectively.

     In an effort to retain the initiative, Meade planned to renew the attack on the morning of November 27. By mid-morning Warren’s II Corps pushed back Early’s skirmishers and advanced to Robertson’s Tavern according to plan, but he was compelled to stop until French’s III Corps could support the attack. Despite repeated orders to make haste connecting with Warren, a series of missteps brought French’s Corps into contact with Johnson’s Division of Early’s Corps well to the north, in the area of the Raccoon Ford Road and the Payne Farm.

“The Army of the Potomac at Mine Run – General Warren’s Troops Attacking.” Harper’s Weekly 8, No. 366 (January 2, 1864): 12. Courtesy of HathiTrust, (Cropped for presentation.)

     To the south, on the Union left, the day opened with a cavalry engagement at New Hope Church where, according to Meade, the Union cavalry division of General David McM. Gregg “had a severe engagement with the enemy’s cavalry, in which he was successful in driving them until they were strongly re-enforced by infantry, when Gregg fell back and was relieved by Major-General Sykes . . .” The situation near Robertson’s Tavern gave Meade enough pause to halt Sykes’ V Corps advance near New Hope Church, thereby affording a route to swing north toward Robertson’s Tavern.

     November 27 turned out to be another disappointing day for Meade. French repulsed Johnson’s Division at Payne Farm, but it was far too late to support Warren’s advance along the Orange Turnpike. Meade took steps to consolidate his army by ordering VI Corps (Sedgwick) to move south and V Corps (Sykes) to move north and converge on Robertson’s Tavern but, again, it was too little too late. Meade was still east of Mine Run and the opportunity to turn Early’s flank had passed.7

     Meade held III Corps commander William French responsible for the failures of November 26 and 27 and French became the recipient of Meade’s well-known ire. On December 3 Meade’s chief of staff advised French that an “investigation” into the conduct of III Corps was in order and demanded that French provide a “full explanation” for the delays in advancing as directed.8 French responded in detail, but the explanation clearly did not satisfy his commander. In testimony before the U.S. Congress’ Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War (March 5, 1864), Meade again blamed the failures of November 26 and 27 on French:

Various circumstances occurred to cause delay which I had not expected—some arising from obstacles that I could not overcome or anticipate; others from the failure or neglect of subordinate officers to do what I had a right to expect they would have done. The first of these obstacles was the failure of the 3d corps, commanded by Major General French, to arrive at the Rapidan river within three hours of the time that the other corps arrived, having no longer distance to march than they had. This caused a delay in the movement of the whole army for three hours, because I would not allow the other corps to cross until he was ready to cross, not knowing what I should encounter on the other side.

In responding to a subsequent question as to whether he was “heartily sustained” by his corps commanders, Meade took another swipe at French:

I believe I have been; I have no complaint to make of want of assistance from all my corps commanders, except what is stated in my evidence in reference to Mine run.9

     Meade planned to renew his attack on November 28, but found Lee’s army had withdrawn to a “formidable” position on the west bank of Mine Run. Meade described the new Confederate position in his after-action report:

A reconnaissance of the enemy’s position showed it to be extremely formidable. The western bank of Mine Run, with an elevation of over 100 feet, had a gentle and smooth slope to the creek, averaging over 1,000 yards of cleared ground. The summit, on which was the enemy’s line of battle, was already crowned with infantry parapets, abatis, and epaulements for batteries. The creek itself was a considerable obstacle, in many places swampy and impassible.10

     A frontal assault being out of the question, on the evening of November 28 Meade (undoubtedly mindful of Washington’s ongoing insistence that he engage Lee) decided to send Warren’s II Corps, augmented with a division from VI Corps, to find and turn the Confederate right flank. He also ordered his corps commanders to probe the entire Confederate line for weaknesses. Warren moved left on November 29 as the probing effort continued. After considering the various reconnaissance reports, including personal assurances from Warren that he could successfully turn Lee’s flank, Meade ultimately decided to further reinforce Warren with two divisions from French’s III Corps and launch sequential attacks on the Confederate flanks: first, the main attack against Lee’s right flank with Warren’s heavily reinforced II Corps, then against Lee’s left flank with Sykes’ V Corps and Sedgwick’s VI Corps. In the event that the flank attacks were successful, Newton’s I Corps and the remainder of French’s III Corps were to join the attack at the center. Cavalry divisions under David Gregg and George Custer held the Plank Road and the upper river fords.11

Rebel line on the left at the railroad cutting. Mine Run–opposite Warrens last position. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-20968. (Cropped for presentation.)

     At 8:00 on the morning of November 30 Union artillery opened and skirmishers demonstrated against the Confederate center, but Meade’s plan fell apart almost immediately. Warren’s confident assurances made the night before proved to be woefully premature. He reported that the Confederate defensive works were so “formidable” that he suspended his attack, refusing to proceed without further orders from Meade. Since more than half of the Army of the Potomac was with Warren, Meade could no longer support Sedgwick, so the attack on the right flank was also suspended. Meade rode out to find Warren and, after meeting, agreed that a full-scale attack would be a fool’s errand. Without viable options, the Army of the Potomac “returned to their former positions” on the night of November 30.12

     Recognizing that the Mine Run operation had failed, Meade resolved to withdraw the Army of the Potomac. His preference was to withdraw due east, to “a position in front of Fredericksburg,” but General-in-Chief Henry Halleck had specifically precluded that course of action.13 In the alternative, Meade withdrew back across the Rapidan and into winter quarters.

Scene at Germanna Ford–6th Corps returning from Mine Run. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-21056.


  1. United States Military Academy. Department of Military Art and Engineering, Vincent J. Esposito, and Inc Frederick A. Praeger. The West Point Atlas of the Civil War. [New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1962] Map 118. [Retrieved from the Library of Congress.],-0.016,1.111,0.471,0.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Geo. G. Meade to Brig. Gen. Lorenzo Thomas, December 7, 1863. United States, War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series I, Vol. 29, Ch. 41, Part 1] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1890), 13,
  4. Ibid.
  5. “Circular,” November 23, 1863. United States, War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series I, Vol. 29, Ch. 41, Part 2] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1890), 480-481,
  6. OR, V. 29, Pt. 1, 13-14.
  7. OR, V. 29, Pt. 1, 13-15.
  8. A. A. Humphries to Commanding Officer Third Corps, December 3, 1863. OR, V. 29, Pt. 1, 746,
  9. United States Congress, Report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, at the Second Session Thirty-Eighth Congress [Army of the Potomac. Battle of Petersburg.] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1865), 344, 347,
  10. OR, V. 29, Pt. 1, 16.
  11. OR, V. 29, Pt. 1, 16-17.
  12. OR, V. 29, Pt. 1, 17. Esposito, West Point Atlas, Map 119,,-0.017,0.833,0.353,0.
  13. OR, V. 29, Pt. 1, 18. JCCW, 342. Halleck had refused Meade’s earlier request to shift the army’s operational base from the Orange and Alexandria Railroad to the Aquia Creek Railroad.

Acknowledgement: Much of this month’s summary of the Mine Run Campaign was derived from four main sources: General Meade’s December 7, 1863, after-action report to Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas; Vincent J. Esposito, ed., The West Point Atlas of the Civil War [available at,-0.016,1.111,0.471,0]; an American Battlefield Trust website article entitled “A Deluge of Lead and Iron” [available at]; and a March 1, 1990, U.S. Army War College Military Studies Program Paper by Lt. Col. Kavin L. Coughenour, entitled “The Mine Run Campaign – An Operational Analysis of Major General George G. Meade.” Lt. Col. Coughenour’s paper is an exceptionally thorough and insightful analysis. [Available at]

Phil Schlegel, Editor



     As students of the Civil War, I expect that we often find ourselves reading fiction and non-fiction books relating to the war’s battles and leaders by familiar and newly-published authors. We probably pick up magazines that detail the nuances of epic battles and countless skirmishes. Then there are the classic films, like Gettysburg, and web-based presentations that address every aspect of the conflict. On occasion we may visit national military parks and historic sites around the country. Lately, the fate of war-related monuments and evolving historical interpretations of the war have become the subject of considerable thought and debate among historians, politicians, and the public.

     While much discussion of the Civil War is focused on military personalities, battles, and campaigns, it is also important to consider the important social, cultural, and technological aspects of that era. Among the most important technological and engineering achievements was the completion of the transcontinental telegraph on October 24, 1861. This topic was the focus of a compelling 2019 in-depth lecture entitled United by Lightening: The Transcontinental Telegraph of 1861, presented by Edmund Russell, professor of History at Carnegie Mellon University and the Dibner Distinguished Fellow at the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California.1

Samuel F. B. Morse. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Daguerreotypes Collection, reproduction number LC-USZ62-110084. (Cropped for presentation.)

     By the time Civil War erupted in April 1861, the use of electronic transmission of messages—telegraphy—had evolved considerably since its inception in 1774. Samuel F. B. Morse made two particularly significant improvements, the single-wire telegraph line and a system of “telegraphic signs” (or characters) commonly known as the “Morse Code.”2 Utilizing a federal appropriation for an experimental telegraph line, on May 24, 1844, Morse sent “the first [sentence] ever transmitted from Washington to Baltimore.”  The message was succinct: “What hath God wrought?”3 As telegraph service steadily expanded in the east, it also began to emerge in the Pacific west and into Texas. Despite the remarkable expansion, when the first Confederate flag was raised over Fort Sumter, telegraph service remained essentially regional—the east was unable to “talk” to the west.

The signal telegraph train as used at the battle of Fredericksburg. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-21453. (Cropped for presentation.)

      Various technical improvements and the corporate machinations that ensued from the rapid emergence of numerous telegraph companies certainly would provide a lengthy and complex study for another forum. Those issues aside, the impact of the telegraph during the Civil War is beyond dispute. The telegraph enhanced command and control capabilities between military commanders and with the civilian leadership in Washington. Despite unfortunate and unnecessary personal and operational conflicts between the young Army Signal Corps and the independent U.S. Military Telegraph (which was seen as Secretary of War Stanton’s personal domain), as the war dragged on, important advancements were made in the increasingly critical arena of battlefield communications. An enduring image of the Civil War is the ever-tormented President Lincoln pouring over messages received from the field at the War Department telegraph office.4

     Connecting the existing eastern telegraph grid to the existing western telegraph grid in a mere five months was a monumental logistical accomplishment. In the lecture referenced above, Professor Russell describes the obstacles in considerable detail, characterizing the entire effort as an exercise in “muscle power,” both animal and human. Stringing 1,800 miles of telegraph line across dry, elevated terrain required 45,000 six-foot deep holes, each hand dug with pick axe and shovel. When the poles were placed a worker attached an insulator and, finally, the telegraph wire. Trees were a scarce commodity, there were no navigable rivers, and the

“The Overland Pony Express.” Harper’s Weekly 11, no. 566 (November 2, 1867): 693. Courtesy of HathiTrust, (Cropped for presentation.)

transcontinental railroad was eight years in the future, so the tens of thousands of telegraph poles and tons of supplies had to be hauled hundreds of miles overland by wagon. Fearing Native American reprisals for blatant territorial encroachments, armed guards were posted at intervals along the route which, eventually, became entirely “militarized.” Since the telegraph construction route closely followed the route of the soon-to-be-obsolete Pony Express, many Pony Express stations were “repurposed” into telegraph stations.5

     Like the Civil War itself, the completion of the transcontinental telegraph in October 1861 had implications that reached far beyond the circumstances of the day—it was far more than a feat of engineering. As a practical matter, communication across the nation was cut from weeks (via Pony Express) to hours, but closing the vast division between the eastern states and the two western states (California and Oregon) also had important national implications. In his lecture, Professor Russell succinctly points out that as the nation devolved into civil war, there was a concern that the western states might secede because they were “more tied to the Pacific economy.” Another concern was that the western states could be invaded by a European power. Considering the length of time it took to get information from the Pacific coast to Washington (about three weeks) and the time it would take to move troops west (probably months), an invader could take full control before Washington could respond to the threat. Finally, much of the area was not under the direct control of the United States. Native Americans controlled substantial areas and the intentions of the Mormon settlers in Utah remained an issue in the aftermath of the 1857-1858 confrontations with the U.S. Army.6

     Importantly, the completion of the transcontinental telegraph exemplified and accelerated the notion of technological “unification” through “new bonds of union.” Professor Russell aptly described the situation in saying “as slavery split the nation north to south, technology united the nation east to west.”7 Unification was a recurring theme in the numerous newspaper and journal announcements and the early cables that crossed the newly-strung lines. When the telegraph reached Salt Lake City, Utah, several days before the line to California was completed, Brigham Young sent the following widely published message to Hon. J. H. Wade, President, Pacific Telegraph Company, Cleveland, Ohio:

Sir: Permit me to congratulate you upon the completion of the Overland Telegraph line west to this city; to commend the energy displayed by yourself and associates in the rapid and successful prosecution of a work so beneficial, and to express the wish that its use may ever tend to promote the true interests of the dwellers upon both the Atlantic and Pacific slopes of our continent. Utah has not seceeded, but is firm for the Constitution and laws of our once happy country, and is warmly interested in successful enterprises as the one so far completed.8

At 7:30 p.m., October 24, 1861, Horace W. Carpenter, President of the Overland Telegraph Company, notified President Lincoln that the transcontinental telegraph had been completed:

Abraham Lincoln: President of the United States, Washington:

I announce to you that the telegraph to California is this day completed. May it be a bond of perpetual union between the States of the Atlantic and those of the Pacific.9

Ten minutes later, Stephen J. Field, Chief Justice of California, sent the following message to President Lincoln:

To Abraham Lincoln, the President of the United States:

In the temporary absence of the Governor of the State, I am requested to send to you the first message which will be transmitted over the wires of the telegraph line which connects the Pacific with the Atlantic States. The people of California desire to congratulate you upon the completion of the great work. They believe that it will be the means of strengthening the attachment which binds both the East and the West to the Union, and they desire in thisthe first message across the continent—to express their loyalty to that Union, and their determination to stand by its Government in this its day of trial. They regard that Government with affection, and will adhere to it under all fortunes.10

“The First Telegraphic Message from California.” Harper’s Weekly 5, no. 256 (November 23, 1861): 752. Courtesy of HathiTrust, (Cropped for presentation.)

      In The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters, eminent Civil War historian James McPherson describes the profound political, social, economic, and cultural transformations brought about by the Civil War:

In the process of preserving the Union of 1776 while purging it of slavery, the Civil War also transformed it. Before 1861 “United States” was a plural noun: The United States have a republican form of government. Since 1865 “United States” is a singular noun: The United States is a world power. The north went to war to preserve the Union; it ended by creating a nation. . . . The institutions and ideology of a plantation society and a slave system that had dominated half of the country and sought to dominate more went down with a great crash in 1865 and were replaced by the institutions and ideology of free-labor entrepreneurial capitalism. For better or for worse, the flames of Civil War forged the framework of modern America.11

    The completion of the transcontinental telegraph reflected another aspect of the fundamental change that was taking place in the American psyche—the shift away from a parochial, regional view to a national outlook. Notably, the successful telegraph project demonstrated that a transcontinental railroad was eminently viable. The New York Herald, in reporting the pending completion of the transcontinental telegraph, somewhat humorously described this profoundly significant event in Civil War America: “The work of the pony express will then be done in a twinkling, and New York and California will be within an easier speaking distance than New York and Cony Island.”12

  1. Professor Russell’s entire lecture (about 1 hour, 12 minutes) can be heard at the Huntington’s website at
  2. “Samuel Morse: A Better Telegraph” [Who Made America. Innovators.], Public Broadcasting System, accessed September 18, 2021,
  3. “Collection: Samuel F. B. Morse Papers at the Library of Congress, 1793-1919,” Library of Congress, accessed September 18, 2021,
  4. Rebecca Robbins Raines, Getting Message Through: A Branch History of the U. S. Army Signal Corps (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History U.S. Army, 1996), 3-6, 16-31,
  5. Edmund Russell, “United by Lightening: The Transcontinental Telegraph of 1861” (lecture, Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California, October 2, 2019). [].
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. “First Message over the Pacific Telegraph Line,” Fremont Weekly Journal (Fremont, Ohio) 9, no. 42 (October 25, 1861): 3, [Accessed at, a subscription online newspaper archive.]
  9. “Some of the First Dispatches,” Daily National Democrat (Marysville, California) 7, no. 64 (October 26, 1861): 3, [Accessed at, a subscription online newspaper archive.]
  10. Ibid.
  11. James McPherson, The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), Kindle edition, chap. 1.
  12. “The Pacific Telegraph Line,” New York Herald 26, no. 292 (October 21, 1861): 4,,+1861&sp=4&r=0.018,0.072,0.379,0.161,0. [Accessed at the Library of Congress website.]

Phil Schlegel, Editor



September 14, 1862

     On September 4, 1862, the Army of Northern Virginia began crossing the Potomac River into Maryland, thus embarking on a campaign filled with great expectations to improve the military, political, economic, and diplomatic fortunes of the Confederate States of America. Two weeks later the campaign would end in disappointment when, on September 18, Lee’s Army recrossed the Potomac back into Virginia, badly bloodied from the battles at South Mountain and Antietam. Lee’s campaign failed to achieve any of its objectives and the Union victories opened the door for President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862.

     Lee’s initial plan was to cross the Potomac into Maryland east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, thereby clearing Union forces from northern Virginia. By establishing a significant threat to Baltimore and Washington the U. S. government would have to respond. Lee planned to consolidate his army at Frederick, Maryland, with several goals in mind: to cause Washington to abandon the garrisons at Martinsburg and Harper’s Ferry (then Virginia), to threaten Pennsylvania, to secure his lines of communication and supply into the Shenandoah Valley and, conversely, to disrupt and extend Union supply lines for any subsequent operations west of the mountains (presumably in Pennsylvania). It was also hoped that a successful campaign would encourage Maryland, and its people, to throw in with the Confederacy. With those goals in mind, Lee deemed that the first order of business was to secure Harper’s Ferry and Martinsburg.1

     Simply put, Lee’s reckoning was wrong. Maryland did not rally to the “stars and bars” nor did Washington abandon Martinsburg and Harper’s Ferry. As a consequence, Lee was obliged to “dislodge the enemy from those positions.” To accomplish that unanticipated task, he divided his army:

Map 1. Perry D. Jamieson and Bradford A. Wineman, The Maryland and Fredericksburg Campaigns: 1862-1863 (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 2015), 10–11,

General Longstreet continued the advance to the northwest, toward Hagerstown, thereby covering Lee from the north and threatening Pennsylvania; Generals McLaws, Anderson, and Walker advanced west to envelop and capture Harper’s Ferry; and General Jackson crossed back into Virginia to secure Martinsburg and continue southeast to support the Harper’s Ferry operation. Finally, General Daniel H. Hill was ordered to position his division east of the Potomac River to prevent the escape of the Union garrison at Harper’s Ferry (up Pleasant Valley) and to protect the passes across South Mountain, a formidable geographic obstacle that stood between Lee’s army and the Army of the Potomac.2

     On September 4, 1862, General George McClellan and the Army of the Potomac left Washington in pursuit of Lee’s army. The Army of the Potomac was divided into three “wings” and advanced northwest toward Frederick. General Ambrose Burnside commanded the right wing (I and IX Corps), General Edwin V. Sumner commanded the center wing (II and XII Corps), General William B. Franklin commanding the left wing (VI Corps, reinforced), and General Fitz John Porter’s V Corps in reserve. Since Lee’s plans were unclear, McClellan established lines of march that considered various contingencies where Lee could turn back east and threaten Baltimore or the capitol. Then, on September 13, McClellan was handed a gift—Lee’s operational blueprint—when two Union soldiers found some cigars wrapped in Lee’s Special Orders 191.3

     The story of Special Orders 191* has been well told, but the tactical advantage McClellan had gained was obvious. Not only were Lee’s plans and dispositions more clear (albeit not current), it was evident that a Confederate incursion against Baltimore or Washington was not among the operational objectives of the campaign. With that concern removed, McClellan could operate more freely. But, true to form, McClellan underreacted.4

     After a delay of about 16 hours, McClellan belatedly set out to cross South Mountain during the early morning hours of September 14. The bulk of McClellan’s force advanced along the National Road toward Turner’s Gap.

Middleton M.D. [west of Frederick] near South Mountain. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-21011. (Cropped for presentation.)

General Burnside’s “right wing,” consisting of General Joseph Hooker’s I Corps and General Jesse L. Reno’s IX Corps, was tasked to secure Turner’s and, slightly further south, Fox’s Gaps. Just west of Middletown, Hooker’s I Corps deployed to the right, just north of the National Road. Reno’s IX Corps deployed to the left, south of the National Road, near Fox’s Gap. Given the terrain in front of them, Hooker and Reno faced a challenging assignment.5

     When it became evident that the Army of the Potomac was moving on the passes in force, General Daniel H. Hill reinforced the defenders and Longstreet was ordered to send additional troops in support. The battle commenced during the morning of September 14 when, acting on early-morning reconnaissance provided by General Alfred Pleasanton’s cavalry, Union General Jacob D. Cox’s Division of Reno’s IX Corps attacked the right of the Confederate line near Fox’s Gap. Reno’s troops advanced steadily despite stout resistance, finally driving the defenders back.

The battle of South Mountain, MD. Sunday, Sept. 14, 1862 [at Fox’s Gap]. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-pga-01231. (Cropped for presentation.)

Union reinforcements continued to arrive during the afternoon and the Confederate defenders launched several unsuccessful counterattacks but, finding their situation untenable, the Confederate defenders withdrew that night. General Reno was killed late in the day’s fighting and command of IX Corps temporarily fell to General Cox.6

     While IX Corps was engaged south of the National Road near Fox’s Gap, General Joseph Hooker’s I Corps arrived at the base of South Mountain and the ridges just north of the National Road, facing Turner’s Gap. Confederate forces held the summit of South Mountain and the surrounding ridges. What the Confederate defenders lacked in numbers was offset by the steep, rough, heavily wooded terrain. On orders from McClellan, Hooker launched his attack during the afternoon. General George G. Meade’s division deployed on the right and General John P. Hatch deployed his division on the left. Both met stiff resistance and difficult terrain. Meade was first to reach the summit of South Mountain and held it. On the left, Hatch’s hard-fought Union attack was successful as far as it went, but by nightfall they had not cleared the Confederate defenders from their front.7

Battle of South Mountain, Maryland, Sept. 14th, 1862. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-59398. (Cropped for presentation.)

     During the afternoon, on direct orders from General Burnside, General John Gibbon’s brigade had been detached from Hooker’s Division (to Hooker’s chagrin) and remained in close proximity to the National Road. By late afternoon, with Reno and Hooker continuing their advance, Burnside ordered Gibbon’s detached brigade, with artillery support, to attack the Confederate left on and around the National Road itself. Gibbon’s brigade fought well into the evening, steadily pushing the Confederate defenders back.8 During the night of September 14 – 15 the remaining Confederate troops withdrew along the entire front, southwest in the direction of Sharpsburg.

     With I and IX Corps locked in combat around Turner’s Gap, the continuing effort to reach Harper’s Ferry, which was surrounded and in serious jeopardy, fell to Union General William Franklin’s VI Corps. McClellan ordered Franklin to “secure and hold” Crampton’s Gap, which crossed the mountains about five miles south of Turner’s and Fox’s Gaps. Infantry and artillery from Confederate General Lafayette McLaw’s and Richard Anderson’s divisions were positioned on the hillsides to defend Crampton’s Gap. General Henry Slocum’s division led the Union assault, which began during the late afternoon. Despite Franklin’s delay in getting his corps into position, Slocum’s infantry, supported by artillery, drove the outnumbered Confederate defenders from their defensive lines and the surrounding woods and, ultimately, off the ridge.9

     When the engagements collectively known as the Battle of South Mountain ended well into the night of September 14, 1862, the Confederate defenders had succeeded in delaying the Union advance, but General Robert E. Lee’s original plan was in shambles. The Army of the Potomac had either taken, or was on the verge of taking, the passes crossing South Mountain and the adjacent ridges. The Union garrison at Harper’s Ferry would surrender on the 15th, but Lee’s army remained divided and vulnerable. With the entire campaign in jeopardy, Lee withdrew from the gaps and concentrated the Army of Northern Virginia near Sharpsburg, setting the stage for the Battle of Antietam on September 17.


* The full text of Special Orders 191 (issued September 9, 1862) was published in Official Records, as follows:

     The army will resume its march to-morrow, taking the Hagerstown road. General Jackson’s command will form the advance, and, after passing Middletown, with such portion as he may select, take the route toward Sharpsburg, cross the Potomac at the most convenient point, and, by Friday night, take possession of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, capture such of the enemy as may be at Martinsburg, and intercept such as may attempt to escape from Harper’s Ferry.

     General Longstreet’s command will pursue the same road as far as Boonsborough, where it will halt with the reserve, supply, and baggage trains of the army.

     General McLaws, with his own division and that of General R. H. Anderson, will follow General Longstreet. On reaching Middletown he will take the route to Harper’s Ferry, and by Friday morning possess himself of the Maryland Heights, and endeavor to capture the enemy at Harper’s Ferry and vicinity.

     General Walker, with his division, after accomplishing the object in which he is now engaged, will cross the Potomac at Cheek’s Ford, ascend its right bank to Lovettsville, take possession of Loudoun Heights, if practicable, by Friday morning, Keys’ Ford on his left, and the road between the end of the mountain and the Potomac on his right. He will, as far as practicable, co-operate with General McLaws and General Jackson in intercepting the retreat of the enemy.

     General D. H. Hill’s division will form the rear guard of the army, pursuing the road taken by the main body. The reserve artillery, ordnance, supply trains, &c., will precede General Hill.

     General Stuart will detach a squadron of cavalry to accompany the commands of Generals Longstreet, Jackson, and McLaws, and with the main body of the cavalry will cover the route of the army and bring up all stragglers that may have been left behind.

     The commands of Generals Jackson, McLaws, and Walker, after accomplishing the objects for which they have been detached, will join the main body of the army at Boonsborough or Hagerstown.

     Each regiment on the march will habitually carry its axes in the regimental ordnance wagons, for use of the men at their encampments to procure wood, &c.

Source: “Special Orders, No. 191.” United States, War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series I, Vol. 19, Ch. 31, Part 1] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1887), 42–43,

It is notable that Union General John Porter Hatch was severely wounded and was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his service at the Battle of South Mountain.

Photo Credit: John P. Hatch, Bv’t.-Maj. General. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Civil War Photographs, reproduction number LC-USZ62-113168. (Cropped for presentation.)   __________
  1. R. E. Lee to General S. Cooper, August 19, 1863, “Capture of Harper’s Ferry and Operations in Maryland.” United States, War Dept., The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [Series I, Vol. 19, Ch. 31, Part 1] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1887), 144–145,
  2. R. E. Lee to General S. Cooper, August 19, 1863, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 144–145. D. H. Hill to Gen. R. H. Chilton, – -, 1862, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 1019.
  3. Geo. B. McClellan to Brig. Gen. Lorenzo Thomas, October 15, 1862, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 24–26. Perry D. Jamieson and Bradford A. Wineman, The Maryland and Fredericksburg Campaigns: 1862-1863 (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 2015), 8–16,
  4. Jamieson and Wineman, Maryland and Fredericksburg, 16.
  5. A. E. Burnside to Brig. Gen. S. Williams, September 30, 1862, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 416–418. United States Military Academy. Department of Military Art and Engineering, Vincent J. Esposito, and Inc Frederick A. Praeger. The West Point Atlas of the Civil War. [New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1962] Map 65 – 66. [Retrieved from the Library of Congress.]
  6. J. D. Cox to Lieutenant-Colonel Richmond, September 20, 1862, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 458–460. D. H. Hill to Gen. R. H. Chilton, – -, 1862, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 1019.
  7. Joseph Hooker to Lieut. Col. Lewis Richmond, November 7, 1862, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 213–216.
  8. John Gibbon to Lieutenant-Colonel Richmond, September 20, 1862, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 247–248. A. E. Burnside to Brig. Gen. S. Williams, September 30, 1862, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 416–418. Geo. B. McClellan to Brig. Gen. Lorenzo Thomas, October 15, 1862, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 28.
  9. W. B. Franklin to Brig. Gen. S. Williams, September 30, 1862, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 374–376. Geo. B. McClellan to Brig. Gen. Lorenzo Thomas, October 15, 1862, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 25, 27–28. H. W. Slocum to Lieut. Col. Oliver D. Greene, September 24, 1862, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 380–381. R. E. Lee to General S. Cooper, August 19, 1863, OR, v. 19, Pt. 1, 148. Esposito, West Point Atlas, Map 66(b).

Acknowledgement: While most of this month’s dive into Civil War history was derived from the official reports of the commanders in the field, the general reference was Perry D. Jamieson and Bradford A. Wineman, The Maryland and Fredericksburg Campaigns: 1862-1863 (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 2015), 5–20, The online commentaries and detailed maps provided by the American Battlefield Trust were also helpful to understanding the profoundly significant, but relatively little-known engagements known collectively as the Battle of South Mountain. Anyone who is interested in developing a deeper understanding of the events of September 14, 1862, is encouraged to visit:

Phil Schlegel, Editor

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