1st Artillery Regiment (Light)
George Breck columns
1. McPherson, For Cause and Comrades, p. 11.
2. Rochester Union and Advertiser, Oct. 16, 1871.
3. Rochester would become notable in another way, as a prominent center for
the very movement Breck disdained: Abolitionism. Frederick Douglass, the
preeminent black spokesman of his era, made Rochester his home and published
his Douglass’ Monthly
there. Susan B. Anthony, the famous suffragette and abolitionist, also lived
in Rochester. John Brown was a frequent visitor to both in the years before
the war, and William Seward coined the memorable phrase “irrepressible
conflict” in a speech at Rochester.
4. Rochester Union and Advertiser, Oct.27, 1876; Daily American Directory
of the City of Rochester for 1849-50, pp. 70-71.
5. Breck, p. 91.
6. Breck, p. 121.
7. Breck, p. 144.
8. Breck, p. 95-96.
9. Breck, p. 119.
10. Breck, pp. 138-139.
11. Breck, p.117.
12. Wiley, p. 40.
13. McPherson, For Cause and Comrades, pp. 117-130.
14. Breck and the Union and Advertiser were perfectly suited to each other.
The U&A, one of three wartime dailies in Rochester, was staunchly Democratic.
Editor Isaac Butts, the “stormy petrel” of Rochester journalism,
adamantly opposed the Emancipation Proclamation, and during much of the conflict
criticized Lincoln’s handling of the war. Butts thought so highly of
Breck as to tell him he would have a job waiting for him whenever he left the
service. (Breck, pp. 107-108) The other two Rochester dailies, the Evening
Express and the Daily Democrat, were of Republican persuasion, especially the
Express. For a good description of these partisan newspapers during the war,
see Ruth Marsh’s fine overview of Rochester’s war effort, “A
History of Rochester’s Part in the Civil War.” The Rochester Historical
Society Publications, Vol. 22. Rochester: Rochester Historical Society, 1944;
see also Blake McKelvey’s “Rochester’s Part in the Civil
War,” Rochester History, Vol. 23, No. 1, January 1961.
15. McPherson, For Cause, pp. 176-77.
16. Breck, pp. 143-44, 98.
17. Breck ,p. 148.
18. Rochester Union and Advertiser, April 20 and Sept. 18, 1861.
19. Rochester Union and Advertiser, Oct. 7, 1861.
IV Who wouldn’t be a soldier
1. Marcotte, pp. 23, 62 and 109.
2. Bailey, a Regular Army captain and commissary of subsistence, was appointed
colonel of the 1st New York Light Artillery on Sept. 25, 1861. He was killed
in action at Fair Oaks, Va., on May 31, 1862, during the Peninsular Campaign.
(Phisterer 2:1220) Allan Nevins says he may have been shot in the back by
a resentful subordinate. (p. xii)
3. Brig. Gen. Van Valkenburgh was commander of the Elmira depot. (Phisterer
4. Rochester’s first volunteer infantry regiment to enter service during
the Civil War.
5. Quinby, a West Point graduate, was a University of Rochester professor and
the first commander of the 13th New York. He later commanded a division under
Grant during the opening stages of the Vicksburg campaign. Martin Anderson
was president of the University of Rochester. Palmer, an attorney and former
judge, was one of 16 men who formed Monroe County’s military committee
in charge of recruitment. He reluctantly accepted command of the 108th New
York Infantry the following summer as its first colonel, and led it during
its baptism of fire at the Sunken Road at Antietam. (Washburn, George H., A
Complete Military History and Record of the 108th Regiment N.Y. Vols. From
1862 to 1894, Rochester: E.R. Andrews, 1894, p.188)
6. Capt. John Reynolds’ brother.
7. The “First Cattaraugus Regiment” fought with the Army of the
Potomac from Yorktown through the end of the war.
8. The 1st New York Light Artillery departed for Washington on Oct. 29, though
still lacking some of the batteries that would ultimately be assigned to it,
including, as it would soon develop, Reynolds’ battery.
9. Fairchild, a Rochester insurance agent, was colonel of the 89th New York
Volunteer Infantry from December 1861 until August 1865. He was later breveted
a brigadier general.
10. Union privates were paid $13 a month, until June 20, 1864, when their pay
was increased to $16 a month. Commissioned officers’ pay ranged from
$105.50 a month for lieutenants to $212 a month for a colonel. (Boatner, p.
11. Crounse’s command became Battery K of the 1st New York Light Artillery.
(Phisterer II:1217) We will hear more of this battery later. It served in the
Shenandoah Valley, then with the Army of Virginia during the Second Bull Run
campaign, and with the Army of the Potomac from Antietam until the spring of
1864, when it was assigned to the defenses of Washington, D.C. (Dyer III: 1391)
12. The lake is part of western New York’s Finger Lakes region, so called
because the narrow lakes run roughly parallel to each other, like the fingers
of hand. It has since become a major grape growing and wine making region.
13. Zouaves were the well-drilled Algerian light infantrymen of the French
colonial armies. Their reputed prowess in battle – and their gaudy uniforms,
including gaiters, baggy trousers, short, open jackets and turbans or fezzes – made
them the envy of and model for militia units and several volunteer regiments
on both sides during the Civil War.
14. Breck is apparently referring to the shelling of Forts Beauregard and Walker
on Nov. 7, leading to the capture of Port Royal, S.C., which secured for the
North a haven and supply depot for its blockade fleet.
15. Brig. Gen. Rathbone was commander of the Albany recruit depot.
16. Indeed, by 1864, the various batteries of the 1st New York Light Artillery
were scattered from the Army of the Potomac in Virginia to Sherman’s
forces operating against Atlanta.
17. Barry, a Regular Army artillery officer before the war, was chief of artillery
for Gen. McDowell at First Bull, for Gen. McClellan during his Peninsular campaign,
and later for Gen. Sherman during his Atlanta and Carolina campaigns. (Warner,
18. Hillhouse, of Geneva, N.Y., was appointed the state’s adjutant general
in 1861. (Phisterer 1:14)
19. The Western House of Refuge opened in 1849 in Rochester as a detention
center and reform school for juvenile delinquents.
20. A trencher was a wooden bowl or plate.
21. George B. McClellan, whom Breck would come to idolize, was “one of
the most controversial figures in American military history,” notes Ezra
J. Warner. He was a West Point graduate and Mexican War veteran who left the
Regular Army in 1857 to enter the railroad business, eventually becoming president
of Ohio & Mississippi Railroad. At the outbreak of the war McClellan was
put in charge of all forces in Ohio and quickly distinguished himself not only
with his superb organizational skills but with a successful campaign to secure
the loyal areas of western Virginia. This prompted Lincoln in August 1861 to
put him in command of the Union forces that had been defeated at Bull Run.
In November he was appointed general-in-chief of all Union armies as well.
McClellan’s greatest contribution was whipping the Army of the Potomac
into a superb fighting force. Ultimately, however, he proved overly cautious
on the battlefield. (Warner, pp. 290-292)
22. A haversack was a bag for carrying rations, worn with a strap over one
shoulder and hanging at the opposite hip. A knapsack was a backpack used for
carrying clothing and other items.
23. Cothran’s Battery M of the 1st N.Y. Light Artillery was recruited
at Lockport, Rochester and Albany. It served in the Shenandoah, then with the
Army of Virginia during the Second Bull Run campaign, with the Army of the
Potomac from Antietam to Gettysburg, and with Sherman during the Atlanta campaign,
the March to the Sea and the Carolinas Campaign. (Phisterer 2:1210-1213) Wiedrich’s
Battery I of the 1st N.Y. Light Artillery, recruited at Buffalo, Lancaster,
Amherst and Elmira, followed a similar path. Wiedrich later served as lieutenant
colonel with the 15th N.Y. Heavy Artillery. (Phisterer 2:1210-1213) An incomplete
battery organized at Albany by Albert Von Puttkammer, 45, was consolidated
with another incomplete battery recruited at Buffalo and at Ashtabula, Ohio
to form the 11th Independent N.Y. Battery under Puttkammer's command. Initially
assigned to Pope’s Army of Virginia, it later served with the Army of
the Potomac until the end of the war. (Phisterer 2:1585-1587)
24. Fredendall, a captain in the 25th New York militia, was authorized to recruit
a regiment. However, his men were consolidated with another regiment, the 91st
New York, in which Fredendall was not commissioned. (Phisterer 4: 3025)
25. Sibley tents, invented by Henry Hopkins Sibley before the war, were conical
in shape, like a teepee, with a central pole. Each tent could accommodate 12
soldiers who would sleep in a circular pattern around the tent, with either
heads or feet pointing inward. Though frequently used in permanent encampments,
they were seldom used during campaigns in the field. (Garrison, pp. 227-228;
Boatner, p. 760)
26. Rochester Union and Advertiser, Dec. 3, 5, 1861.
27. Rochester Union and Advertiser, Dec. 21, 31, 1861.
28. Rochester Union and Advertiser, Jan. 22, 1862.
V Mud, mud, mud
1. The U.S. government issued orders, effective Jan. 1, 1862, placing recruiting
in each state under the charge of a general superintendent, and directing that
general depots be provided for collection and instruction of recruits. Major
John T. Sprague of the Regular Army was detailed by the War Department to be
general superintendent for New York State. (Phisterer 1:29) These orders remained
in effect only until April 3.
2. The Union Refreshment Saloon in Philadelphia became one of the most famous
stopover points for Union soldiers heading to the “front.” Boatner,
in his Civil War Dictionary, explains that the origins of this remarkable institution
can be traced to April 23, 1861, when “there occurred in a working-class
district one of those spontaneous outbreaks of good will during which the people
suddenly came pouring out of the houses bearing food and water for the thirsty,
tired men” of a howitzer battery passing through the city on their way
to Washington. Seeing this, Mary W. Lee “then set up a stove and coffeepot
in an old boathouse and called it the Union Refreshment Saloon. This grew to
include bathing facilities, dormitories, (and) a medical center, serving 4,000,000
during the war. (Boatner, p. 476)
3. Nevins, in his introduction to Wainwright’s war diaries, explains
that “Batteries had to possess much larger numbers both of men and horses
than most people at the time realized. Roughly twenty men, expertly trained,
were required for each gun.” Each gun, attached to a limber, required
a team of horses. In addition, each gun required a caisson, loaded with spare
parts and ammunition, also drawn by a team of horses. “To mount a light
battery of six guns properly, with a caisson to each gun, using six-horse teams,
demanded eighty-four horses,” Nevins notes. “A horse battery, in
which the cannoneers were mounted, required 149 horses. Then additional horses
were wanted for battery wagons and forage. We can understand why Wainwright
constantly worried over the losses among his horses from bad treatment – overstrain,
the wearing of harness day and night, insufficient shelter, and underfeeding … After
each action, the artillery commander first mournfully counted his dead and
wounded, and then reckoned the number of his horses slain.” (Wainwright,
4. Sprague’s death, on Jan. 12, was all too typical. Four weeks earlier,
he came down with the measles, seemed to recover, then caught a cold that “settled
on his lungs.” Measles was often the first disease to strike a new unit,
usually within months of its organization, especially in winter months. Improper
care or undue exposure often led to pneumonia or other serious complications.
By the end of the war, two soldiers would die of disease for every one killed
on the battlefield. (Rochester Union and Advertiser, Jan. 16, 1862; Wiley,
5. Forsyth, a former Rochesterian whose father still lived in the city, was
apparently a friend of Breck’s and is mentioned frequently by him. Forsyth
led a distinguished military career, ending the war with brevet rank of brigadier
general for distinguished service under Sheridan in the Shenandoah and at Dinwiddie
Courthouse, and later serving on Sheridan’s staff during the Indian wars.
(Boatner, p. 292) Rew was editor of the Rochester Evening Express newspaper.
6. The three-inch ordnance rifles used by Battery L had a theoretical range
of about 6,200 yards when firing solid shot at a 35-degree elevation. But in
actual practice, effective maximum range was about 2,400 yards. (Naisawald,
p. 537) The other two principal field artillery guns used in the Union army
were the smoothbore Napoleons made of bronze, and the rifled Parrotts made
of cast-iron with a distinctive reinforcing jacket of wrought iron shrunk around
the breech. (Naisawald, pp. 36-37)
7. Initially, the North was fighting to save the union and maintain the Constitution.
The Constitution legitimized slavery, so Union officers were instructed to
return escaped slaves to their owners, even in Confederate territory. However,
Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, who had moved on after securing Maryland to command
the federal garrison at Fortress Monroe in Virginia, soon found a way around
this distasteful requirement. When three slaves who had been working on Confederate
fortifications slipped into his lines, he declared them “contraband of
war” and refused to return them, because they had been employed by the
enemy for military purposes. Since Virginia had seceded from the Union, he
reasoned, the Fugitive-Slave Act no longer applied to that state. (McPherson,
Battle Cry, pp. 290-292)
8. Much of the Union strategy in the west involved seizing the Mississippi
River and its tributaries, which could carry invading armies into the heart
of the Confederacy. Control of the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers, for example,
would help the North control much of Kentucky and western Tennessee, Bruce
Catton notes. Forts Henry and Donelson guarded these rivers. Brig. Gen. Ulysses
S. Grant and Flag Officer Andrew Foote launched a joint Army-Navy operation
to seize them. Fort Henry was taken easily; Fort Donelson proved a tougher
nut to crack, but finally surrendered on Feb. 16. Grant took 15,000 prisoners
and the North had its first major victory of the war. (Catton, Picture History,
9. The seeming inability of the Confederacy to defend its extensive coastline
in the face of the North’s naval supremacy was demonstrated by the successful
army/navy capture of Roanoke Island in North Carolina by Gen. Ambrose Burnside
on Feb. 7 and 8. The capture gave the Union control of Pamlico and Albemarle
sounds. By April 1862, notes James McPherson, “every Atlantic coast harbor
of importance except Charleston and Wilmington (N.C.) was in Union hands or
closed to blockade runners.” (McPherson, Battle Cry, pp. 306-307)
10. Willie Lincoln, age 11, died February 20 of what was then called “bilious
fever.” Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd, were devastated.
11. Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott, hero of the war with Mexico 15 years earlier,
was general in chief of the U.S. Army when the Civil War began. However, he
was 75, “very old now, physically all but helpless, perhaps touched with
senility,” Catton has written. In November 1861 he resigned and McClellan
replaced him in overall command of Union forces – but not before Scott
had roughed out a strategy by which the north would eventually win the war.
He envisioned first a blockade of the Southern seacoast and a sealing of inland
borders, then a drive down the Mississippi “constricting the vitality
out of the Confederacy,” Catton notes. This would buy time to raise large
armies of invasion to carve up what was left. (Catton, Picture History, pp.
VI Too good to be true
1. McPherson, Battle Cry, p. 224.
2. The property, in fact, was on the estate of George Hume “Maryland” Steuart,
a well-to-do Marylander whose land and mansion were seized by Federal authorities,
and who figured prominently as a general with the Confederate Army of Northern
Virginia. (Sheads and Toomey, pp. 176, 191-192) Steuart commanded a brigade
at Gettysburg, and was one of two generals captured during Hancock’s
famous surprise attack on the Salient at Spotsylvania in 1864.
3. Maj. Gen.. John A Dix assumed command of the Department of Maryland in July
1861. He is perhaps most famous for co-signing, with Confederate Major Gen.
D. H. Hill, the Dix-Hill Cartel on prisoner exchanges the following year, and
for suppressing the New York City draft riots in 1863. McKim’s Mansion
was the estate and home of merchant John S. McKim. (Warner, pp. 125-126; Sheads
and Toomey, p. 129)
4. The battery later served in Louisiana and participated in the ill-fated
Red River campaign in 1864, losing all its guns in the Union defeat at Sabine
Cross-Roads. (OR 1:34/1, pp. 462-463)
5. Abram Duryee, a wealthy mahogany importer, had a distinguished militia career
before the war, and on the eve of the conflict recruited a volunteer regiment,
the 5th New York, known as Duryee’s Zouaves. This unit saw action at
Big Bethel in the first skirmish of the war. Duryee was then promoted brigadier
general of volunteers, and was later wounded at Second Bull Run, South Mountain
and Antietam. He resigned when a junior officer was promoted ahead of him for
division command. (Warner, p. 133)
6. Ross Winans, and his son Thomas, both of Baltimore, were railroad engineers
and shipbuilders. Ross was also a member of the Maryland legislature and was
arrested twice in 1861 for allegedly being a Confederate sympathizer, building
pikes and being “one of the disloyal members of the Maryland Legislature.” He
was released both times after giving his parole of honor that he would not
commit any act of hostility against the U.S. government. (OR series 1, vol.
2, pp. 639-640; series 1, vol. 5, p. 194; series 2, vol. 1, p. 671; Sheads
and Toomey, pp. 184-185)
7. Though many people in the North viewed Baltimore “purely as a rebel
stronghold,” note Sheads and Toomey, the city’s post-colonial development
as a major industrial center had created a new social structure that fostered
a strong core of Union sentiment. Granted, much of the city’s slave-owning
upper class was solidly pro-secession. However, waves of German and Irish immigrants
that had arrived in the 1850s were pro-Union, as were many of the wealthy industrialists
who had arrived from the North. Perhaps no better indication of the strength
of Union sentiment in the city and the state is the fact that Maryland enlistments
in the Union army outnumbered those in the Confederate army three to one. (Sheads
and Toomey, pp. 135-144)
8. William Yancey of Alabama was a leading proponent of secession, a member
of the Confederate Senate, and a Confederate commissioner to England and France.
Louis T. Wigfall of Texas was a member of the Confederate Senate, and became
an outspoken critic of Jefferson Davis. (McPherson, p. 606)
9. Loudon Park Cemetery on Frederick Road is the largest cemetery in Baltimore,
and contains the remains of about 2,300 Union and 650 Confederate soldiers.
(Sheads and Toomey, p. 185)
10. See Sheads and Toomey, pp. 110-111, for another description of this execution.
11. Columbiads were large caliber, muzzle-loading, smoothbore artillery pieces,
often used for coastal fortifications because they could fire a large projectile
at high elevation over a great distance.
12. Of all Civil War artillery ammunition, canister was the “only really
effective round,” L. Van Loan Naisawald contends. It consisted of a tin
can, filled with small cast-iron or lead balls that scattered immediately upon
leaving the muzzle, with the effect of a giant shotgun. It was lethal when
used against masses of infantry at about 400 yards or less, especially when
fired from smoothbore artillery pieces. Shells were any variety of hollow round
or spherical projectiles, containing black powder, which was supposed to be
detonated by a fuze, causing the shell to explode and spew fragments in all
directions. However, fuzes were often unreliable, and the black powder sometimes
did not properly fragment the shells. Shrapnel, or spherical case shot, was
also hollow but contained lead bullets and a powder charge. In theory, this
would extend the benefits of canister to longer ranges, but unreliable fuzes
often hindered this. Artillery pieces also fired solid projectiles, which could
be skipped into enemy troops like bowling balls. (See Naisawald, pp. 537-545;
Boatner, pp. 119, 738, 758-759)
13. On March 7, Gen. Joseph Johnston, commander of the Confederate forces threatening
Washington in northern Virginia, ordered his soldiers to withdraw behind the
Rappahannock River. On March 10, McClellan crossed the Potomac in pursuit.
It was soon apparent that the Confederate positions were much less powerful
than McClellan had claimed to justify his inactivity. (Bailey, Ronald H., Forward
to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign, Alexandria: Time-Life Books,
1983, pp. 83-86)
14. On April 19, 1861, the 6th Massachusetts Regiment, en route to Washington,
D.C., was confronted by a mob of Southern sympathizers in Baltimore. Four soldiers
and 11 civilians were killed in the ensuing melee. (Sheads and Toomey, pp.
15. The regiment was ordered to New Berne, N.C., and served in that state the
rest of the war. (Dyer III:1253)
16. James Wadsworth, a wealthy landowner and prominent Republican from Geneseo,
N.Y., was military governor of Washington, D.C., from March to November of
1862, and later served as a division commander in the Army of the Potomac.
17. This New York City regiment left Baltimore to serve in the Peninsular Campaign
with McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. It participated in the siege at
Yorktown, and suffered heavy losses in the fighting at Gaines’ Mill.
18. The shot tower, made of brick, was the tallest structure in America when
it was built in 1828. It survives to this day as a unique landmark. Molten
lead was dropped from the top of the tower through a sieve-like device into
a vat of cold water, forming lead shot. See National Park Service “Baltimore:
A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary” at http://www.cr.nps.gov/nr/travel/baltimore.
19. Congress, especially the Senate, was firmly controlled by “New England-born
radicals” after the southern states seceded. As a result, seven emancipation
or confiscation bills became law in the first half of 1862, including one to
abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, and another, passed March 13,
forbidding army officers to return fugitive slaves to their masters. (McPherson,
Battle Cry, p. 423)
20. Soldiers’ pay was often months overdue. This deliberate postponement
of pay was a persistent – and demoralizing – problem throughout
the war. Indeed, “No other government policy had a greater effect in
discouraging married men from volunteering …” Geary has noted.
When Gen. Grant asked why his troops had not been paid, Army Chief of Staff
Henry Halleck cited the “want of money in the Treasury,” and the
competing demands from contractors who provided the army with food, clothing
and ammunition. (Geary, p. 9)
21. By mid March, McClellan, at long last, was ready to advance on Richmond – not
overland, but by transporting his army by boat to Fortress Monroe, then advancing
up the peninsular between the James and York Rivers. Almost immediately, his
forces came up against a thinly-held Confederate line of defense extending
across the peninsula, anchored at Yorktown. McClellan, exhibiting his trademark
caution, settled in for a siege.
22. McClellan’s chronic hesitancy to move against the enemy, his inflated
estimates of enemy strength, his failure to capitalize on battlefield opportunities,
and his opposition to emancipation created a multitude of critics inside and
outside the Lincoln administration.
23. Fort Delaware, just up the coast from Fort McHenry on an island in Delaware
Bay, became the most dreaded of all Union POW compounds, notes Lonnie Speer.
Confederate prisoners were routinely tortured, bucked and gagged or left hanging
from their thumbs for the smallest infractions; forced labor was routine amid
muddy, squalid conditions. 2,460 Confederate prisoners died there. (Speer,
pp. 46, 143-145, 325)
24. Relay House, about 7 miles southwest of Baltimore on the Patapsco River,
was “perhaps the most important railroad station in the country in 1861,” note
Sheads and Toomey (p. 30). It was crucial to maintaining vital rail links to
Washington. It was near the turnpike linking Baltimore and Washington, but
even more importantly was at the juncture of the strategic Baltimore and Ohio
Railroad, which ran east and west, and a branch line running south to Washington.
The Official Records are replete with references by Union officials to Relay
House during the first weeks of the war.
25. Gen. Benjamin Butler, often derided as an inept political general, may
have made his most significant contribution to the Union war effort at the
very beginning when “he almost single-handedly saved the state of Maryland
for the Union,” note Sheads and Toomey. In addition to securing Annapolis
and the Relay House, Butler occupied this prominent hilltop in south Baltimore
on May 13-14, 1861, in effect taking Baltimore “out of the war as far
as the Confederacy was concerned.” A strong fortification was subsequently
built here, containing 42 guns by September 1861. (Sheads and Toomey, pp. 127,
26. This “first land battle” of the Civil War – actually
a minor skirmish – occurred June 10, 1861, near Newport News, Va., when
seven Union regiments under Butler attacked a Confederate outpost. The Federal
regiments became confused, fired into each other and were finally driven off
by artillery fire. Thirty of the 76 Union casualties were suffered by the 3rd
New York. (Phisterer 2: 1719-1720; Boatner, p. 63)
27. Civil War armies were organized as follows: Two or more regiments formed
a brigade. Two or more brigades formed a division; two or more divisions, a
corps. A major issue throughout the war, especially in the Union army, was
how to properly assign artillery batteries. Initially they were often parceled
out among the various brigades, coming under the control of the infantry officers
who commanded brigades. However, this hindered the ability to mass large numbers
of artillery at key points on the battlefield, and keep them properly supplied.
As we shall see later, various attempts were made to group batteries together
into artillery brigades or reserves, under command of artillery officers, so
they could be used to maximum effect.
28. When Flag Officer David G. Farragut’s fleet ran past Forts Jackson
and St. Philip on the Mississippi River on April 24, New Orlean’s fate
was sealed. The South lost its largest city and greatest seaport; the North
gained a foothold to begin securing the Mississippi and thereby splitting the
29. Though greeted in the North as a great “victory,” McClellan’s
protracted siege at Yorktown was a missed opportunity. When McClellan arrived
there the first week of April with 58,000 troops, only 13,000 Confederates
occupied a 14-mile defensive line between the James and York rivers, anchored
at Yorktown. Yet, McClellan, overestimating Rebel strength, settled into a
month-long siege, meticulously hauling up heavy guns and digging approaches. “No
one but McClellan could have hesitated to attack,” Confederate Gen. Joseph
Johnston remarked. The Confederates finally evacuated the night of May 3-4,
just as McClellan prepared to launch his grand assault.
30. The U.S.S. Merrimack was a forty-gun steam frigate that Federal authorities
scuttled in the Gosport navy yard near Norfolk, Va., after Virginia passed
its ordnance of secession. The hull remained intact, however, and was rebuilt
as the Confederacy’s first ironclad warship, the C.S.S. Virginia. On
March 8 it steamed out into Hampton Roads, destroying two federal warships
and running a third aground. The next day the North’s answer – the
ironclad Monitor – fought the Virginia to a draw, and in the process
made the world’s wooden navies obsolete. (McPherson, Battle Cry, pp.
31. In fact, Halleck was painstakingly closing in on Beauregard’s men
at Corinth, Miss. Beauregard evacuated the city by the end of May. (McPherson,
Battle Cry, pp. 349-350)
32. Ordinary dirt roads could quickly become pitted, muddy and virtually impassable
during bad weather, greatly hindering military movements. Hence Breck’s
appreciation for the macadamized roads he encountered in Maryland and, more
importantly, in Virginia. They were named after Scottish engineer John Loudon
McAdam, who was credited with developing the road-building method in England
during the early 1800s. Macadam pavement consisted of crushed rock packed tightly
into thin layers, then covered by a top surface of sand or finely crushed stone
that was rolled to provide “a well-bound surface resistant to the penetrating
damage of rain, ice and snow.” The thickness of these roads ranged from
seven to 18 inches or more. (“A History of Roads in Virginia: the most
convenient wayes,” Virginia Department of Transportation Office of Public
Affairs, 2002, p. 7)
33. Flora Temple, the "bob-tailed nag" of Stephen Foster's song,
Camptown Races, was a legendary trotting horse of the 1850s and early 1860s,
winning 92 races, and placing second 14 times. Source: Flora Temple Web page,
maintained by Sue Greenhagen, Morrisville State College, Morrisville, N.Y.,
34. The famous Confederate ironclad, “too unseaworthy to fight her way
into open water and too deep-drafted to retreat up the James River,” was
blown up by its crew on May 11 after Norfolk was captured by Union soldiers.
(McPherson, Battle Cry, p. 313)
35. When Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston evacuated the lines at Yorktown,
he left six brigades at Williamsburg to cover the retreat of his army. They
fought a bitter rearguard action against the advancing Federals on May 5.
36. This report was indeed false, but, as we shall see below, Gen. Nathaniel
P. Banks ran afoul of Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah, and would be in
full retreat by the end of the month.
37. This is an apparent reference to the five Federal warships that attacked
Confederate Fort Darling, about 8 miles from Richmond on the James River, on
May 15. The warships were stymied by obstacles in the river and by heavy fire
from the fort and from enemy sharpshooters. The warships withdrew after expending
their ammunition. (OR 1: 11/1, p. 636)
38. Saxton was the commander of Federal forces at Harpers Ferry.
39. On May 23, Stonewall Jackson overwhelmed the 1st Maryland at Front Royal
in the Shenandoah Valley, during the opening stages of his famous Valley Campaign.
The regiment, commanded by Col. John R. Kenly, a lawyer and prominent Maryland
militia officer, suffered 592 casualties – 514 of them captured or missing.
Kenly, initially reported killed in action, was wounded, captured and later
exchanged. Ironically, a Maryland regiment that had enlisted to serve the Confederacy
helped lead the attack. (OR 1, 12/1, pp. 553, 555-558; Sheads and Toomey, pp.
40. The erroneous news of Kenly’s death caused gangs of Union men to
take to the streets, Sheads and Toomey note, “threatening and beating
known Southern sympathizers.” During two days of unrest, gangs also gathered
in front of known Southern establishments, threatening violence if the Union
flag was not displayed. (Sheads and Toomey, pp. 48-49)
VII Soldiering in good earnest
1. This was not a happy time for the 8th New York Cavalry, which was recruited
in and around Breck’s hometown of Rochester. After six months in federal
service, it still hadn’t received horses. Five of its companies, sent
to Winchester to help Banks as infantry, were left to fend for themselves and
ended up being routed with the rest of his army. Morale in the unit soon hit
rock bottom. (Marcotte, pp. 84-86)
2. Dickinson, hobbled by a wounded foot, was captured. Babbitt was unharmed,
and retreated up the Valley Turnpike trying to relocate his scattered soldiers.
3. The view may have been splendid, but those magnificent heights surrounding
Harpers Ferry could spell doom for any garrison that did not adequately defend
them. When the Confederates seized those heights during the Antietam campaign,
for example, the Federal garrison was surrounded, isolated and compelled to
4. Commander of the 78th New York Infantry.
5. See OR series 1, vol. 12/3, p. 268 for Brig. Gen. Saxton’s brief account
of this expedition.
6. After his unsuccessful attempt to incite a slave uprising with his attack
on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry in October 1859, Brown and his surviving
followers were imprisoned and tried at nearby Charlestown. Brown was hung there
in December 1859.
7. McPherson, Battle Cry, p. 386.
8. After serving, as Breck notes, in Missouri and West Virginia, Saxton was
appointed a brigadier general of volunteers. He commanded at Harpers Ferry
for two months, then spent much of the rest of the war enlisting and organizing
ex-slaves into the Federal army. (Warner, pp. 420-421)
9. Invented by Admiral John A. Dahlgren, these artillery pieces were thicker
at the breech, tapering rapidly toward the muzzle, giving them a unique appearance
and nickname: “soda-water bottle.” They were used primarily in
the navy. (Boatner, p. 218)
10. Fremont and Shield’s division were indeed converging from west and
east on Strasburg, well to the south of Jackson’s men, hoping to cut
them off. But once again, hard, fast marching by Stonewall’s “foot
cavalry” enabled his command to scoot through Strasburg on June 1 before
the Federals could close the trap.
11. Sigel was a German military academy graduate who fled that country after
the revolution of 1848. He was director of schools in St. Louis, Mo., when
the war began, and was a leader in rallying the German-American community to
the Union cause. After serving in the West, he arrived in the Shenandoah Valley
in early June to assume command of the forces at Harpers Ferry from Rufus Saxton.
The two brigades of Brig. Gen. Cooper, including Battery L, and Brig. Gen.
John P. Slough thereupon became the Sigel Division. (Warner, pp. 447-448, OR
1: 12/3, p. 399)
12. The misfortunes of the 8th were about to be reversed with the appointment
of Benjamin “Grimes” Davis, a Regular Army cavalry officer, as
their new commander. The unit was finally outfitted with horses and went on
to compile an outstanding record. (Marcotte, pp. 84-88)
13. Fenn, of Batavia, N.Y., had Rochester connections. His father was still
living in the city.
14. From Breck’s perspective, limited to events occurring in the Shenandoah
Valley, Jackson’s campaign may indeed have seemed of little consequence.
Looking at the big picture, however, Jackson’s achievement can hardly
be overstated. As James McPherson notes, Jackson's campaign “had diverted
60,000 Union soldiers from other tasks and had disrupted two major strategic
movements -- Fremont's east Tennessee campaign and McDowell's plan to link
up with McClellan's right wing before Richmond." Indeed, "Jackson's
Valley campaign won renown and is still studied in military schools as an example
of how speed and use of terrain can compensate for inferiority of numbers." (McPherson,
Battle Cry, pp. 388-389)
15. Tennessee seceded from the Union in May 1861. Breck may be referring to
eastern Tennessee, which had rejected secession by more than two to one, and
where Unionist sympathies remained strong throughout the war. (McPherson, Battle
Cry, pp. 223-224)
16. Breck could afford to be much more candid in his private correspondence.
When, within two weeks, the battery was transferred to Slough’s brigade,
Breck expressed his relief in a letter to his sister Ellen. “We have
little or no faith in Gen. Cooper’s military capacity,” Breck wrote
on June 29. Cooper, 52, had been a lawyer, Congressman and U.S. Senator from
Pennsylvania. His “military antecedents” consisted of being a member
of the Frederick, Md., Home Guard. His military career was short-lived. Though
he briefly succeeded to command of Sigel’s Division in July, he was soon
sent to command Camps Wallace (for paroled Union soldiers) and Chase (a POW
facility), and died while on active duty at the latter in 1863. (Breck, p.
97; Boatner, p. 174; Warner, pp. 90-91)
17. Breck’s words are prophetic. The Shenandoah was vital to the Confederate
war effort, and not merely as an important breadbasket. It also served as a
convenient invasion route onto Northern soil. Fighting would continue to rage
in the valley, culminating in the summer and fall of 1864 when Sheridan finally
defeated Early’s army, but would even spill over into the following spring,
when the remnants of Early’s army were routed at Waynesboro just five
weeks before Lee’s surrender.
18. In one very important sense, everything was not “all right.” Fremont,
Banks and Shields had failed to corner Stonewall Jackson who, even as Breck
wrote this letter, was en route with his soldiers to reinforce Lee’s
army in front of Richmond. (Tanner, Robert G., Stonewall in the Valley: Thomas
J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley campaign, spring
1862, Mechanicsville, PA: Stackpole Books, 1996, p. 437)
19. Fremont, described as “precocious, handsome and daring,” was
also “mercurial, headstrong and unstable,” notes Ezra Warner in
Generals in Blue. He gained fame leading several important expeditions through
the American West and a played a “leading part” in the conquest
of California. However, he resigned from the army in 1848 after being found
guilty of insubordination and mutiny. He served a term in the U.S. Senate,
and was unsuccessful presidential candidate of the newly created Republican
Party in 1856. Lincoln appointed him a major general of the Regular Army at
the outbreak of the war. “Fremont was a controversial administrator and
was shunted from command to command,” Warner notes, finally arriving
in the Valley in the spring of 1862. (Warner, pp. 160-161)
20. Indeed. As noted earlier, Jackson and his men had already departed the
valley to do just what Breck feared: join Lee’s army near Richmond.
21. Breck’s source was a good one. Shields was eventually withdrawn from
the valley to rejoin McDowell’s corps, with every intention of reinforcing
McClellan. That didn’t happen, however, as McDowell’s forces continued
to be held in northern Virginia. See OR 1, 12/3 pp. 354-415 for the ongoing
debate among Union military authorities about where this division should go.
22. Ulric Dahlgren was the son of John Adolph Dahlgren, Union admiral and inventor
of the Dahlgren gun. Ulric served on the staffs of Sigel, Burnside, Hooker
(Chancellorsville) and Meade (Gettysburg). He was killed in the ill-fated Kilpatrick-Dahlgren
cavalry raid against Richmond in February and March of 1864. (Boatner, pp.
23. Blenker, like Sigel, was a German native who fled that country after participating
in the 1848 revolt against the monarchy. He recruited a New York regiment at
the start of the American Civil War, commanded a brigade at First Bull Run,
then a division under Fremont during the Valley Campaign. Although there was
no “overt criticism” of his conduct or dispositions at the battle
of Cross Keys, he was ordered to Washington shortly after Sigel’s arrival
in the valley, and died the following year. (Warner, p. 37)
VIII Under the new arrangement
1. This was the transfer from Cooper’s to Slough’s brigade alluded
2. John Potts Slough’s fiery temper sometimes got the better of him.
He was expelled from the Ohio legislature for striking another member. He managed
to pull off a victory at Glorieta Pass in New Mexico in 1862, “in direct
defiance” of his commanding general’s explicit orders. Perhaps
it is not surprising that his death, two years after the war, occurred during
an altercation in a billiard room with a member of the New Mexico territorial
legislature who had introduced a resolution censoring Slough for “unprofessional
conduct.” (Warner, p. 453)
3. Clay, the aging Kentucky senator, helped engineer the Compromise of 1850,
permitting California to enter the Union as a free state.
4. Buoyed by Union victories in the west in the spring of 1862, Secretary of
War Edwin Stanton on April 3 ordered all recruiting offices closed. “The
public perceived this as a sign that the armies were large enough to win the
war,” McPherson notes. “Stanton may have shared this belief; in
any case he considered the existing system of raising troops inefficient,” what
with “state governors, prominent individuals, and officers on detached
service from active regiments . . all beating the same bushes for recruits.” (McPherson,
Battle Cry, p. 367)
5. Fremont “was relieved from command at his own request after being
assigned to a command under General John Pope, whom he detested,” Warner
notes. With Fremont’s departure, Sigel ascended to command of the First
Corps, with Gen. Cooper temporarily taking over Sigel’s old division.
(Warner, p. 161)
6. Sutlers were civilian merchants who received approval to follow the army
and sell food and other goods to the soldiers. They were often criticized by
soldiers for the high prices they charged. However, the sutlers had to account
for the expense involved in transporting the goods long distances and in the
wastage due to exposure. And always there was the risk of losing everything
in the event of a military reversal. (Van Doren Stern, Philip, Soldier Life
in the Union and Confederate Armies, Bloomington: Indiana University Press,
1961, pp. 159-162)
7. This is an apparent reference to the reverses suffered by McClellan’s
army on the Peninsula.
8. On July 2, Lincoln issued a call for 300,000 more volunteers to bring the
war to a “speedy and satisfactory conclusion.”
9. Breck’s anger is apparently directed at the militiamen who remained
at home, and for whose benefit concerts were held.
10. In a July 19 letter to his sister Ellen, Breck noted “There is but
one physician in our Brigade, able to do duty now. They are all sick or absent.” (Breck,
11. And quite wrong: McClellan was to leave the Peninsula and join Pope instead.
Breck’s perplexity is reflected in his private correspondence as well. “I
regard the military operations here in Eastern Virginia as of a very queer
character. We have now been in the field over two months, but what has been
accomplished,” Breck wrote to his sister Ellen on July 19. “The
troops are scattered from Dan to Beersheba in this part of the territory, and
things look dark. But we won’t look on the dark side of the picture.
We will hope for the best.” (Breck, p. 100)
12. Letcher was governor of Virginia.
13. During the “Free Banking Era,” beginning in the 1830s, there
was no uniform national currency in the United States. By 1860, an estimated
8,000 different state banks were circulating notes of various denominations,
ranging from ½ cent to $20,000. Coin hoarding and the need to use metal
for war purposes created a shortage of coins during the Civil War, hence the
need for “shinplasters,” or so-called fractional currency of 3
to 50 cents. These were usually issued on paper smaller than other bills, and
were called shinplasters because soldiers would line worn-out shoes and boots
with them. In 1861, to pay for the war effort, the U.S. Treasury began issuing “Demand
Notes” in $5, $10 and $20 denomination. They were called “greenbacks” because
of their color. (Flamme, Karen, “A Brief History of Our Nation’s
Paper Money,” from 1995 Annual Report of the Federal Reserve Bank of
14. Slough, at his own request, was relieved of his command with Bank’s
corps on July 7. (OR 1:12/3, p. 459)
15. The confiscation act of July 1862 signaled a harsher war policy on the
part of the North. It punished rebel “traitors” by confiscating
their property, including slaves who were to be deemed “captives of war
and shall be forever free.” Pope’s first acts on assuming command
in Northern Virginia further reflected this hardening attitude, McPherson notes.
Pope issued a series of general orders to his army, “authorizing his
officers to seize rebel property without compensation, to shoot captured guerrillas
who had fired on Union troops, to expel from occupied territory any civilians
who refused to take the oath of allegiance, and to treat them as spies if they
returned.” (McPherson, Battle Cry, pp. 426, 501)
16. Breck was promoted to 1st lieutenant, to take effect from July 31, to fill
the opening created by Loder’s resignation.
17. John White Geary, a Pennsylvania native who officered a regiment from that
state during the Mexican War, was the first mayor of San Francisco and an antislavery
governor of the Kansas Territory before the Civil War. He was commissioned
a brigadier general of volunteers in April 1862. He later served as a division
commander at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and under Sherman during the March
to the Sea. He served two terms as a Pennsylvania governor after the war. (Warner,
18. Legislation adopted by Congress on July 17, 1862, abolished the 24-man
regimental bands that had been authorized the previous year, in favor of one,
16-member band per brigade. OR 3:2, p.278)
19. Breck is apparently referring to the bombastic message Pope addressed to
his army July 14, 1862, upon assuming command. “I have come to you from
the West,” he asserted. “where we have always seen the backs of
our enemies,” adding that he wanted the soldiers of his new command “to
dismiss from your minds certain phrases, which I am sorry to find so much in
vogue amongst you” such as "taking strong positions and holding
them," and “lines of retreat." “Let us look before us,
and not behind. Success and glory are in the advance, disaster and shame lurk
in the rear.” This “snide denigration” of eastern troops “won
Pope few friends,” McPherson notes. Especially among the higher-ranking
officers he would depend upon to execute his commands. (OR, series 1, vol.
12, part 3, pp. 473-474; McPherson, Battle Cry, p. 448)
IX Roughing it now as never before
1. Hennessy, Return to Bull Run, p. 28.
2. McPherson, Battle Cry, p. 449.
3. In fact, Jackson had a total of about 24,000 men, even after being reinforced
with A. P. Hill’s soldiers from Lee’s army. Of these, 16,868 were
actually engaged in the battle. (Boatner, p. 102)
4. George Sears Greene, born in 1801 in Rhode Island, was one of the oldest
field commanders in the service, yet had a distinguished career commanding
brigades and divisions in the east and later with Sherman’s forces during
the Carolina campaign. (Warner, pp. 186-187)
5. Printed as “Major R.” but it seems clear from the context that
Major K. was meant.
6. Prince was indeed captured, and not exchanged until December. (Warner, p.
7. Banks’ forces suffered 2,381 killed, wounded and missing at Cedar
Mountain. (OR 1:12/2, p. 139)
8. Charles Sidney Winder, killed by an artillery shell, commanded a Confederate
division at Cedar Mountain despite being sick and having to be carried into
action in an ambulance. (Boatner, p. 940)
9. McGilvery, in his official report, listed four men killed, nine wounded
and five captured – heavy losses indeed for an artillery battery. (OR
1:12/2, p. 419)
X A battle of blunders
1. The withdrawal from the Rapidan to the Rappahannock turned into a “mass
stand-around,” Hennessy notes, because the route of both Sigel’s
and McDowell’s corps took them through Culpeper, where the roads simply
could not handle “the immense crush of vehicles that preceded the foot
soldiers. The column quickly degenerated into ‘one heterogeneous mass
of vehicles’ that clogged the roads like ice in a straw.’” (Hennessy,
Return to Bull Run, p. 52)
2. Both regiments were from the Rochester area.
3. Hennessy, Return to Bull Run, p. 63.
4. “The New Yorkers opened a nasty fire that belied their inexperience,” Hennessy
notes. “Indeed the Confederates thought they confronted two Federal batteries,
not one.” (Hennessy, Return to Bull Run, p. 63)
5. As he was being carried from the field, the plucky Bower “urged us
to ‘give it to them with a vengeance,” according to an account
from a member of the battery, printed in the Evening Express on Sept. 5.
6. Hennessy, Return to Bull Run, p. 85.
7. Doubleday, “more famous for the canard that he originated the game
of baseball than for his military career,” notes Warner, served in the
artillery branch after graduating from West Point, and is said to have aimed
the first gun fired in defense of Fort Sumter. (Warner, pp. 129-130)
8. In order to stop a regular flow of official letters and telegrams from his “decidedly
leaky” staff to the press, Pope imposed a ban on all outgoing newspaper
dispatches and letters – even those of private soldiers. “The order
did little to stop the leaks,” Hennessy notes, “but it did diminish
morale, for mail to a solider was, and is, like nectar to a bee.” A “lively
business” in letter smuggling soon sprung up, he adds, with a large number
of letters making it home after all. (Hennessy, Return to Bull Run, p. 102)
9. Pope had sent Col. Herman Haupt, a first-rate railroad man, back home, thinking
his services unnecessary to maintain the Orange and Alexandria, Hennessy writes.
But the army’s quartermaster, Col. Robert E. Clary, was not up to the
task, and traffic ground to a halt by mid-August, seriously restricting food
and other supplies. (Hennessy, Return to Bull Run, p. 39)
10. Hennessy, Return to Bull Run, pp. 105-107.
11. Field guns were operated by a gunner and seven artillerymen, Ian Drury
explains. On a muzzle-loading cannon like those used by Battery L, the gunner
would give the command to load, and the artilleryman designated No. 1, standing
at the front of the gun, would sponge out the gun’s tube using a wooden
pole with a water-soaked sponge at one end, and an iron rammer at the other. “This
extinguished any smoldering residue in the barrel and cleaned the bore,” Drury
explains. Other artillerymen would then remove the next round from the limber
chest, cut the fuse and carry the round to the front of the gun where artilleryman
No. 2 would insert it into the barrel when No.1 was finished sponging it out.
No. 1 would then ram the round down the barrel. (Drury, Ian, The Civil War
military machine: weapons and tactics of the Union and Confederate armed forces,
New York: Smithmark, 1993, p. 76) No. 1, then, was not only in an exposed position
at the front of the gun, but was also directly in harm’s way in the event
the gun discharged prematurely before he had withdrawn the ramrod.
12. Hennessy, Return to Bull Run, pp. 167-190.
13. Actually Porter commanded the V Corps, which included two divisions. This
was part of McClellan’s army sent to reinforce Pope.
14. Hennessy, Return to Bull Run, p. 297.
15. Hennessy, Return to Bull Run, p. 299.
16. In organizing his army, Pope “clung to the obsolete tactic” of
assigning the batteries to the various infantry brigades and making them answerable
to the brigade commanders. This was a fatal flaw, notes L. Van Loan Naisawald,
in Grape and Canister, because it left no artillery in reserve and no one in
overall charge. Breck’s observations confirm this. (Naisawald, pp. 146-149)
17. The battery was on Dogan’s Ridge.
18. See, for example, Sgt. James Young’s letter in the Daily Democrat,
Sept. 10, 1862.
19. James Spoor of the battery wrote to his mother that “I have not changed
my shirt in three weeks, nor do I see a prospect of getting a clean one to
put on in three weeks to come.” (Evening Express, Sept. 5, 1862) “Well,
we are a tough looking party, tired, worn-out, ragged almost to nakedness,
and dirty; our horses reduced almost to skeletons,” another member wrote.
(Evening Express, Sept. 11, 1862)
XI The roar of artillery shook the earth
1. McPherson, Battle Cry, pp. 457-459.
2. This appears to be a reference to the death of Martin Van Buren on July
3. During the period Aug. 16 to Sept. 2, Patrick’s brigade suffered 568
casualties. (OR 1:12/2, p. 254)
4. There were 38 military hospitals in and around Washington at the time, with
about 31,000 patients and 224 medical officers, according to a report by the
Army of the Potomac’s medical director. (OR 1:19/1, p. 111) For Breck
to assert that all of these hospitals were “perfect in every particular,” is
simply fatuous. Some were cleaner and better administered than others; all
suffered from the Washington climate in which disease-bearing flies and mosquitoes
proliferated. And throughout Northern hospitals, the food tended to be of poor
quality, with fruit and vegetables particularly inadequate. Nonetheless, despite
these flaws, the Union military hospitals in Washington and other parts of
the country were “a credit to the nation,” asserts George Worthington
Adams. Indeed, the northern hospital system evolved into “one of the
wonders of the medical world,” treating more than one million white soldiers,
with a mortality of only 8 percent, the lowest ever recorded for military hospitals.
(Adams, George Worthington, Doctors in Blue: The Medical History of the Union
Army in the Civil War, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1952,
5. The Evening Express on Sept. 12 reported that Battery L was down to only
6. Sears, Stephen W., Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam, New Haven:
Ticknor & Fields, 1992, pp. 161-163.
7. This regiment, recruited at Rochester, N.Y., and the surrounding towns of
Monroe County in response to Lincoln’s July call for 300,000 volunteers,
was mustered into service Aug. 16-18. It had its baptism of fire in front of
the Sunken Road at Antietam. (Marcotte, pp. 80-83)
8. Battery C of the Pennsylvania Light Artillery.
9. Breck, too, had a narrow escape. In a letter to his sister Martha a week
after the battle, Breck described being struck by a “spent” round,
which did not have enough velocity to cause serious injury. This could happen
when not enough powder was used, or when the round had exceeded its effective
range. (Breck, p. 105)
10. The commander of the XII Corps was mortally wounded at the edge of the
East Wood when he rode out ahead of his troops, fearing they were firing on
Union soldiers. (Catton, Bruce, Mr. Lincoln’s Army, Garden City: Doubleday
and Co., 1951, p. 279)
11. Antietam was the single bloodiest day of fighting during the Civil War,
inflicting 12,410 Union casualties and 13,724 Confederate casualties. (Boatner,
12. The 12,000-man Union garrison there surrendered to Jackson on Sept. 15.
13. Marsena Patrick, born near Watertown, N.Y., in 1811, was a West Point graduate
and a veteran of the Mexican War and the war against the Seminoles in Florida.
He resigned from the army in 1850 to devote himself to scientific farming at
Geneva, N.Y. and to promoting the advancement of agriculture in the state.
Breck’s assessment of Patrick’s ability as a disciplinarian was
shared by McClellan, who appointed him provost marshal general of the Army
of the Potomac, a position in which he remained through a succession of commanders. “Despite
a stern manner and a voice reminiscent of the proverbial bull of Bashan,” notes
Warner, “General Patrick’s kindheartedness toward the helpless
and impoverished white Southerners in the District of Henrico (Richmond), which
he commanded after the surrender, led to his relief.” (Warner, pp. 361-362.)
14. Wainwright, like Breck, was a conservative Democrat and admirer of McClellan,
and a strict disciplinarian. After taking command of I Corps artillery, he
found fault with virtually all of the batteries. For example, he offered this
assessment of Battery L: “no credit to the regiment, everything slipshod
and slovenly; the men made no appearance at all on parade; still they seemed
to understand their duty so far as essentials are concerned.” (Wainwright,
p. 106) As we shall see, his estimation of the battery would soon improve.
15. Three of Porter’s brigades had crossed the river when they were attacked
by the Confederates, and had to withdraw.
XII Why are we lying still so long
1. It did not seem to occur to McClellan that Lee’s outnumbered army
was in worse condition that his own. Despite repeated prodding from Lincoln
and Halleck to move quickly while the roads remained dry, McClellan continued
to find excuses not to do so. (McPherson, Battle Cry, p. 491)
2. In a letter to his sister Martha, Breck could not help musing on the inexplicable
fortunes of combat. Annis “was hit by a rifle ball almost in the same
spot” on the battlefield where Breck was hit. “He was driving at
the time, as we were going off from the field. The ball that hit me was spent,
its force nearly destroyed. The ball that hit this young man came with death’s
velocity, and now he is no more. Why was he taken, and I left? God’s
love, God’s will, is the only explanation, and to Him my heart would
render praise.” (Breck, p. 104-105)
3. Straggling was a persistent problem for both sides. Weary soldiers who fell
out of the ranks during a long, hot march – but had every intention of
catching up with their unit later – were likely to be treated more leniently
by their commanders than soldiers who fled the scene of battle. Even then,
there are conflicting accounts as to how rigidly this was dealt with. When
Lee lost his temper, and ordered one of Jackson’s battlefield stragglers
shot as an example, Jackson instead merely sent him into battle. However, when
Jackson launched his famous flank attack at Chancellorsville, he reportedly
placed sharpshooters at the rear, with orders to shoot anyone who fell back
unless wounded. By 1863, notes McPherson, both Union and Confederate armies
had designated provost guards to drive stragglers back into line. “These
units functioned with varying effectiveness,” McPherson adds. “It
was not easy to get them to shoot fellow soldiers,” though they would
not hesitate to drive cowardly soldiers forward at the point of a bayonet.
Desertion – the leaving of ranks by soldiers who did not intend to return – was
a more serious offense, especially later in the war when the North resorted
to lucrative bounties to try to entice enlistment. Bounty jumpers would enlist,
desert, then re-enlist elsewhere, desert again, etc., to keep collecting bounties.
Both sides did not hesitate to shoot deserters to set an example. Even here,
however, the North shot only 141 deserters during the war, according to Catton,
which was only a small fraction of the estimated 200,000 some deserters from
the Union armies. (See Freeman, Douglas Southall, R. E. Lee: A Biography, Vol.
II, New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1934-35, p. 390; OR 1, 19/1, p.143;
19/2, pp. 615 and 617-619; McPherson, For Cause, pp. 49-52; Catton, Picture
History, p. 381; Geary, pp. 14-15)
4. The number was partially obscured on microfilm, but appeared to be 30,000.
5. Rogers was commander of the 21st N.Y.
6. Boatner, p. 814.
7. “A shame, that these rebel raids can’t be stopped,” Breck
wrote to Ellen on Oct. 12. “I sometimes despair of ever witnessing our
army manifesting that pluck and dash, so characteristic of the rebel army,
and so frequently attended with success. I am a stickler for McClellan, believe
from my heart that he is a pure patriot and a great general, but as remarked
once, in a private letter to Mr. Butts, I wish his movements were characterized
with more celerity.” (Breck p. 106)
8. Paul, a native of St. Louis, Mo., was a West Point graduate who distinguished
himself during the storming of Chapultepec during the Mexican War, and remained
in the Regular Army afterwards, reaching rank of major when the Civil War began.
He supported commanders who turned back a Confederate attempt to capture the
New Mexico territory early in the war, then came east as a brigade commander.
He was later blinded during the first day of fighting at Gettysburg. (Warner,
9. McPherson, Battle Cry, p. 492.
10. The gubernatorial election that fall in New York, as in other Union states,
became a referendum on the Lincoln administration’s conduct of the war.
New York Democrats criticized the Lincoln administration’s arbitrary
arrests and suspension of habeas corpus, and called the proposed Emancipation
Proclamation an unconstitutional exercise of power and a threat to free labor
in the state. They overcame their differences and nominated former governor
Horatio Seymour. Horace Greeley and the radical Republicans seized control
of their convention and chose Gen. James S. Wadsworth as their candidate. Wadsworth,
serving as military governor of Washington, D.C., staunchly defended Lincoln
and the Emancipation Proclamation. (Ellis, David. M. et al; A Short History
of New York State; Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1957, p.336)
XIII A sad, sorrowful day
1. McPherson, Battle Cry, p. 492.
2. The genial Burnside, a close friend of McClellan, was born in Indiana in
1824 and graduated from West Point in 1847. After serving on the western
frontier, he resigned to manufacture a breech-loading rifle that he had invented
while in the service. The venture failed and he later landed a job on the
Illinois Central Railroad under McClellan. He led a brigade at First Bull
Run, then commanded a successful expedition to occupy the North Carolina
coast line early in the war, leading to his promotion to major general. He
was well aware of his own limitations, however, and had twice before declined
offers to command the Army of the Potomac. This time he was not allowed that
option, thus becoming “the most unwilling and, perhaps, most unsuitable
commander of the Army of the Potomac,” Warner observes. (Warner, pp.
57-58; Marvel, William, Burnside, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina
Press, 1991, pp. 99-100, 111)
3. Buell’s account is an accurate one. Libby Prison, located in a building
amid warehouses, shanties, stables and vacant lots in Richmond, was the headquarters
for the Confederate military prisons, and in addition to housing prisoners
was also the depot to which all POWs were brought before being transferred
to other facilities in or outside the city. Belle Isle, just to the southwest,
was a small island in the James River that had been a favorite resort area
for Richmond residents. A POW camp was opened on six acres there in 1862, was
deactivated after prisoner exchanges began, then reopened in 1863. By November
that year 6,300 Union POWs were crowded there, half of them without even the
benefit of the ragged tents that Buell referred to. (Speer, pp. 89, 92, 93,
XIV What a sacrifice of human life is this!
1. Stackpole, Edward J., Drama on the Rappahannock: The Fredericksburg Campaign,
Harrisburg, Pa.: Military Service Publishing Co., 1957, pp. 79-97.
2. Burnside organized the Army of the Potomac into three wings or “grand
divisions” – Left, Center and Right – each wing consisting
of two corps, and each corps containing three divisions.
3. The Prince de Joinville, former vice admiral of the French navy, arrived
in the United States with two nephews shortly after First Bull Run. All three
served on McClellan’s staff, de Joinville as an unofficial private adviser.
He published a pamphlet about the Army of the Potomac, later translated into
English as The Army of the Potomac: Its Organization, Its Commander, and Its
Campaign. (Sears, Stephen W., George B. McClellan: The Young Napoleon, New
York: Ticknor & Fields, 1988, p. 115; Wainwright, p. 134)
4. Gen. Nathaniel Banks was indeed organizing an expedition. However, its destination
was not Richmond but Louisiana.
5. Stackpole, Edward J., Drama on the Rappahannock: The Fredericksburg Campaign,
Harrisburg, Pa.: Military Service Publishing Co., 1957, pp. 98, 106, 110; Foote,
Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative, Vol. 2, New York: Random House Inc., 1963,
6. Capt. Gustavus A. De Russy, 4th U.S. Artillery, was given command of eight
other batteries besides Battery L to cover Franklin’s crossing of the
river. (OR1: 21, p. 214)
7. Col. Robert Taylor of the 33rd New York from the Rochester area briefly
commanded a brigade in Howe’s Division of Smith’s VI Corps.
8. Bayard commanded a cavalry brigade, Vinton an infantry brigade.
9. Breck was much less confident in a letter to his sister Ellen, written the
same day as this column. “This sacrifice of human life is monstrous.
If it continues much longer, I believe the people and the two armies, whatever
may be the wishes and aims of military and political leaders, will demand a
cessation of hostilities, they will demand a Peace, I will not say at the sacrifice
of honor or principle, but at the cost, it may be, of a separation of the Union.
God grant that the Union may be restored and our Government preserved, but
oh, for a speedy and honorable termination to this cruel war.” (Breck
10. These English rifled artillery pieces, used in small numbers by the Confederates,
were capable of firing their projectiles with great accuracy at ranges of up
to five miles. Lee’s army had at least two at Fredericksburg and four
in 1863. (Boatner, p. 917)
XV The soldiers fail to see
1. Wadsworth, born in 1807, was a wealthy landowner from upstate New York.
He did not have military training, but was appointed for political reasons.
A staunch Republican, he had served as an aide to Gen. McDowell at First Bull
Run, commanded a brigade later that year, and while serving as military governor
of Washington, D.C., had disputed whether McClellan left sufficient troops
to guard the nation’s capital during the Peninsular Campaign. He arrived
at Falmouth to take command of the first division of I Corps after being defeated
in that fall’s race for New York governor. During the race, he had defended
Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and his conduct of the war. Small
wonder that Pro-McClellan officers immediately distrusted him, believing his
appointment a political “balm.” (Wainwright, p. 149) However, Wadsworth
proved to be courageous and caring general. (Marcotte, pp. 185-188)
2. Gen. William S. Rosecrans took command of the Union Army of the Cumberland
in Tennessee in late October. By December he was advancing against Murfreesboro
and a showdown with Gen. Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. (McPherson,
Battle Cry, pp. 501-502)
3. Brig. Gen. William Averell proposed taking 1,000 picked Union cavalrymen
on a raid from the Rappahannock all the way south of the James River, as far
as Suffolk or even North Carolina. Part of Hooker’s grand division was
to help secure fords for the cavalry to cross. However, the plan was nixed
at the last minute, and Averell’s men were directed to try to intercept
a force of 1,800 of Jeb Stuart’s Confederate cavalrymen who had staged
a raid in the area of Dumfries and Fairfax Station, Dec. 26-31. See OR1: XXI,
pp. 895-896; 901-902.
4. Soldiers disgruntled by defeat, lack of pay, shortages of food were deserting
the Army of the Potomac at the rate of a hundred or more a day during January,
McPherson notes. (McPherson, Battle Cry, p. 506)
5. On the evening of Jan. 5, 1863, just after returning to Richmond from a
visit to the western states of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis appeared on
the portico of the Executive Mansion and addressed hundreds of people who had
congregated for a serenade. He defended the South’s right to own slaves
and also excoriated the barbarism of the enemy, accusing the federal soldiers
of committing every crime from murder to burning to plundering. And now they
were trying “to be your masters, to try to reduce you to subjection” by “disturb[ing]
your social organizations on the plea that (emancipation) is a military necessity.” The
Emancipation Proclamation, he contended, would destroy the South’s very “social
existence.” The Yankees, he declared to shouts of approval, were worse
than “hyenas.” (Cooper, William J. Jr., Jefferson Davis, American;
New York: Alfred A. Knopf; 2000, pp. 420-421)
6. The Confederate congress enacted the first conscription law in American
history on April 16, 1862, declaring all able- bodied white male citizens between
18 and 35 subject to service for three years. (McPherson, Battle Cry, p. 364)
7. In fact, the Federal government did enact a conscription law in March 1863,
and conducted four drafts, the first that July, and the other three in 1864.
However, of 776,000 men chosen in the draft, only 46,000 actually went into
the army. How could this be? Part of the reason was that many were exempted
for physical or hardship reasons, or simply didn’t report. Others – some
73,600 – bought substitutes to take their place while 86,724 paid a $300
commutation fee, which exempted them. The bigger reason, however, is that the
draft actually served as a “carrot and stick” approach to encourage
voluntary enlistments. Communities would either fill their quotas with voluntary
enlistments, or see their men drafted instead. By and large, it worked. Some
800,000 men either enlisted or re-enlisted voluntarily after national conscription
was instituted. How was this achieved? In large part with the very “ten-fold” – or
more – increase in bounties that Breck was convinced wouldn’t work.
See Geary, pp. 65-166, and McPherson, Battle Cry, pp. 519-525 for a more detailed
discussion of this fascinating, often overlooked chapter of the war.
8. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and his 32,000 soldiers were repulsed at Chickasaw
Bluffs, a few miles north of Vicksburg, on Dec. 27-29, 1862, in the opening
stage of the campaign to capture that Mississippi River stronghold. Galveston,
captured by a Union naval force without resistance on Oct.5, 1862, was recaptured
by the Confederates with a surprise attack at dawn on Jan. 1, 1863. (Boatner,
pp. 153, 322)
9. The proclamation applied only to slaves in the rebelling states. Why? “Lincoln
acted under his war powers to seize enemy resources; he had no constitutional
power to act against slavery in areas loyal to the United States,” explains
McPherson. The bigger point is that “The Proclamation would turn Union
forces into armies of liberation after January 1 – if they could win
the war. And it also invited the slaves to help them win it.” (McPherson,
Battle Cry, pp. 480-481)
10. Privately, Breck had already decided against the Emancipation Proclamation.
It was an “ill-timed, mischief making instrument; of no good now, practically
and uncalled for, except by a crazy lot of abolitionists, who are bent on destroying
slavery, if it costs the life of the nation, and sheds oceans of blood,” he
wrote to Ellen on Oct. 17, 1862. (Breck, p. 109) In a Sept. 25, 1862, letter
to his sister Martha, he expressed his fear that the proclamation’s immediate
impact would be a “firmer cementing of rebel hands and hearts, and a
greater intensity of hatred and bitterness towards us.” (Breck, p. 105)
XVI Mortifying, isn’t it?
1. Rosecrans and his Army of the Cumberland won a Pyrrhic victory at the battle
of Stones River, or Murfreesboro, in Tennessee on Dec. 31-Jan. 2. He compelled
Gen. Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee to retreat, but was so crippled
by losses of more than 30 percent that he was unable to resume his offensive
for several more months. (McPherson, Battle Cry, pp. 501-505)
2. McPherson, Battle Cry, pp. 506-507.
XVII Keep trying men until the right one is found
1. Starr, Stephen Z., The Union Cavalry in the Civil War, Vol. 1, From Fort
Sumter to Gettysburg, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1979,
2. Each defeat of the Union army fed anti-war sentiment in the north, especially
in the peace faction of the Democratic Party. The movement took on added momentum
with the enactment of the federal conscription law in March 1863. Former Ohio
Congressmen Clement L.Vallandigham emerged as the leader of what came to be
called the “Copperheads,” so called because they wore copper pennies
as a badge of pride. To detractors of the peace faction, the term referred
to the poisonous snakes. Like Breck, Copperheads believed the Lincoln administration
had turned a war to save the Union into a fanatical, misguided crusade to free
the slaves, and urged an immediate armistice and peace conference. (McPherson,
Battle Cry, pp. 513-519)
3. Sumner was relieved at his own request; Franklin was relieved by Lincoln
in the same general orders appointing Hooker to command. Burnside, and later
the Committee on the Conduct of the War, blamed Franklin’s feeble effort
while in command of the Left Grand Division for the defeat at Fredericksburg.
(See, for example, Burnside’s official report on the battle, OR 1: XXI,
pp. 90-95.) Franklin later commanded a corps under Gen. Banks during the ill-fated
Red River campaign. (Boatner, p. 304)
4. Preston S. Brooks, a South Carolina congressman, gained notoriety when he
viciously caned Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner on the Senate floor in 1856.
Sumner had delivered an invective-laden speech decrying “The Crime Against
Kansas” by pro-slavery factions. During the speech he impugned the reputation
of a South Carolina senator who happened to be related to Brooks. The incident
further exacerbated the growing tensions between North and South. (McPherson,
Battle Cry, p. 117)
5. The Ninth Corps, under command of Gen. W. F. “Baldy” Smith,
left for Newport News, Va. on Feb. 6, 1863. Burnside was ordered to resume
command of the corps on March 16 and take two of its divisions to Ohio. (Welcher,
6. Wainwright, pp. 165, 175-176.
7. Breck appears to be taking the “Pope’s Bull against the Comet” comment
out of context. Lincoln made the comment on Sept. 13, 1862 – four days
before McClellan’s “victory” at Antietam. He told a group
of clergymen that the emancipation proclamation could help the Union cause.
However, given the bleak Union military situation at that point, such a proclamation
would be virtually unenforceable. “I do not want to issue a document
that the whole world will necessarily see must be inoperative, like the Pope’s
bull against the comet!” Four days later, after McClellan fought Lee
to a draw at Antietam and forced the Confederate commander to call off his
invasion of the North, the military situation had clearly improved – enough
so to allow Lincoln to issue the proclamation. (McPherson, Battle Cry, p. 433)
8. The same figure is cited by Brig. Gen. C. P. Buckingham, an assistant adjutant
general, in a report to secretary of war Stanton dated Feb. 9, 1863. (OR3:
3, p. 37)
9. Gen. William French, commanding a division in the Army of the Potomac, reported
on Feb.6, 1863, that the commander of the 132nd Pennsylvania had received an
anonymous note from a town in that state, “advising him that citizens'
clothing was being mailed to soldiers in this army to facilitate their desertion.
He had the mails supervised, and yesterday he brought to me two packages of
clothing (citizens') which had arrived in the mail. . . There was also a letter
of advice from a female relative, clearly stating the object of the transmittal.
The lieutenant-colonel of the One hundred and thirty-second Pennsylvania is
of (the) opinion that many men are assisted in this matter through the Government
mails. . .” (OR 1: 25/2, p. 73) Hooker was concerned enough to forward
the report to Brig. Gen. Lorenzo Thomas, the Adjutant-General of the Army in
Washington, D. C., urging that “such measures may be taken by the Government … as
will put a stop to the evil presented.”
10. The Eleventh Corps remained with the Army of the Potomac. Sigel had commanded
both the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps when they constituted the Reserve Grand
Division under Burnside’s reorganization of the army. However, he departed
in February when Hooker abolished the grand divisions and relegated Sigel back
to corps commander. Sigel, because of his rank, felt he was entitled to a larger
command. (OR 1: 25/2, pp. 70-71)
11. In fact, Lee had sent two divisions under Longstreet south, below Richmond,
to thwart federal movements from Norfolk and North Carolina, leaving his army
with only 60,000 men to confront twice that many in the Army of the Potomac.
(McPherson, Battle Cry, p. 552)
12. Tuesday was the 24th; Sunday was the 22nd.
13. The "rational" or "bloomer" dress first introduced
in 1851 by Amelia Bloomer, featured a skirt over full trousers, notes M. Cricket
Bauer in “Girls of ’61,” an on-line article written for Sally
Queen & Associates, a company that preserves historical garments and clothing
articles. Although the bloomer “never gained widespread acceptance as
a replacement for the long full skirts of the mid 19th century,” Bauer
notes, “the costume was deemed a suitable alternative for specific situations,
like gymnastics or certain types of manual labor.” It was particularly
favored by dress reformers and “women who stepped outside of conventional
stereotypes, such as Dr. Mary Walker, who wore Bloomer-inspired dress during
and well after the Civil War. Amanda Farnham, a nurse with the Sixth Corps,
sported ‘full pants buttoning over the top of her boots, skirts falling
a little below the knee, and a jacket with tight sleeves.’ Dorothea Dix,
head of the Northern Nursing Corps, did not approve of it.” See www.sallyqueenassociates.com/girls61.htm
14. Butterfield, a native of Utica, N.Y., commanded a brigade during the Peninsular
campaign, and led V Corps at Fredericksburg. In addition to helping design
the celebrated corps insignia that Hooker issued, Butterfield is even more
famous for the bugle call “Taps,” which he composed at Harrison’s
Landing in 1862. (Warner, pp. 62-63)
15. Breck is referring to the commutation fee, by which a person could buy
his way out of a particular draft. The $300 was not an inconsequential sum
in those days, being roughly equal to a common laborer’s yearly salary.
However, just as Breck predicted, it was widely taken advantage of – even
by laborers who could not come up with the money on their own. To buy exemptions
for these men, communities raised taxes; political machines collected money;
factories, businesses and railroads used funds contributed by workers or levied
10 percent from wages. Even draft insurance societies sprung up, in which a
worker would pay a premium of a few dollars a month, helping to build up a
pot from which the $300 would be paid for those members actually called. Despite
this, there was an outcry against commutation as a boon to the rich. Not surprisingly,
after Congress abolished the commutation fee in 1864, the price of buying a
substitute – another commonly used way to avoid service – skyrocketed.
(See McPherson, Battle Cry, pp. 521-522 and Geary, pp. 103-115, 140-144)
16. One of the provisions of the conscription act called for a Presidential
proclamation of amnesty, “declaring that all soldiers now absent from
their regiments without leave may return, within a time specified, to such
place or places as he may indicate in his proclamation, and be restored to
their respective regiments without punishment, except the forfeiture of their
pay and allowances during their absence…” The proclamation, issued
by Lincoln on March 10, set the deadline at April 1. (OR 3: 3, pp. 60-61)
17. The Official Records do not mention which correspondent Breck might be
referring to. However, run-ins between reporters and the army high command
were not unusual. In February, 1863, for example, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman
ordered Thomas Knox, a Herald reporter, arrested for, among other things, printing
accounts of Sherman’s aborted attack on the Chickasaw Bluffs at Vicksburg
that were not only critical of Sherman and other officers but allegedly revealed
the strength of Union forces. See OR 1: 17/2, pp. 889-897 for a fascinating
exchange of letters between Sherman, Knox and federal authorities. A circular
issued April 26, 1863, from the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac’s
cavalry corps specified that “ If there is in this command such a person
as the correspondent of the Philadelphia Inquirer, he will, by direction of
the commanding general of the Army of the Potomac, be immediately sent out
of the lines of the army, never to return.” The reasons were not specified.
(OR 1: 25/2, p. 256) Such incidents occurred throughout the war, but as a general
rule, the newspapers were allowed far more leeway in reporting military matters
than in more recent wars. Indeed, both sides read the others’ newspapers
as a possible source of military intelligence. For example, in a letter to
Jefferson Davis on June 9, 1863, Lee writes: “I see by the New York Herald
that the Twelfth New York Cavalry Regiment is on its way to New Berne, N. C.,
and that the transports Pocahontas and S. L. Tilley would sail from New Berne
for Boston on the 8th instant, with the Forty-fourth Massachusetts Regiment.” (OR
1:27/2, p. 294) And on May 27, 1863, Lincoln inquired of Hooker: “Have
you Richmond papers of this morning? If so, what news?” (OR1: 25/2, p.
18. Breck, like McClellan, grossly overestimates the 40,000 or so soldiers
that Lee actually had present for duty at Antietam.
19. Breck, in a letter to Ellen dated April 11, said the president, “poor
man, looks the picture of weariness, wornout-ted-ness, as if the fate of all
nations rested on his shoulders. He has a mouth of huge dimensions, stretching
almost from Dan to Beersheba. He looks as harmless as a dove, as if he wouldn’t
intentionally wrong a hair of a single individual.” (Breck, p. 123)
20. Pitching quoits is similar to a game of horseshoes, the main difference
being that rings instead of horseshoes are thrown at hubs placed only about
half as far apart as the 40 feet in horseshoes.
21. It did. The April 7 repulse of eight Union ironclads at Fort Sumter dashed
Union hopes for a quick capture of Charleston. However, Grant’s four-month
campaign to capture Vicksburg was about to enter a decisive phase. By the end
of the month, his army would be across the Mississippi 30 miles to the south,
ready to embark on a bold overland campaign that sealed the city’s doom.
And even as Breck wrote, the Confederates were giving up their siege of a small
Union garrison at Washington, N.C.
XVIII They will cross the Rappahannock again and again
1. Wainwright, in his diary, describes the location as a high open bank, beyond
a piece of wood to the west of the road leading down from White Oak Church, “just
above where Pollock’s Mill used to be.” (Wainwright, p. 185)
2. Hooker assigned V, XI and XII Corps to this task.
3. “I held the head of Charles Carpenter when he died,” Breck wrote
afterwards to his sister Ellen. “He was insensible. He was terribly mutilated.
These cannon balls and shells do awful havoc when they strike men.” (Breck,
4. In fact, the battery lost one killed, nine wounded. Breck corrects this
at end of his column dated May 15. Capt. John A. Reynolds, in his official
report on this engagement, praised his men for being “cool and collected.
Lieutenants Reynolds and Breck were especially so, watching carefully the effect
of the fire from their sections, and giving directions accordingly, inspiring
their men with coolness by their example.” He reported that the battery
had fired 303 rounds. (OR1: 25/1, pp. 275-276) Wainwright, commander of I Corps
artillery, commended the battery in his report, saying “Captain Reynolds
replied deliberately and with good effect … The battery was exceedingly
well handled, the firing being carried on coolly and deliberately.” (OR
1: 25/1, p. 259)
5. McPherson, Battle Cry, pp. 558-559.
6. This is probably a reference to Capt. George Cramer of the 108th New York,
which suffered 52 casualties, most while fighting in the Chancellorsville salient
the morning of May 3. (Marcotte, p. 106)
7. Boatner, p. 140.
8. The 33rd New York, also from the Rochester area, was within one month of
being mustered out of service. It suffered its heaviest casualties of the war – 221
killed, wounded and missing – during Sedgwick’s assault on Marye’s
Heights on May 3, and helping to defend his position near Banks’ Ford
the following day. (Marcotte, pp. 108-112)
XVIX A willingness to tarry
1. The Union artillery at Chancellorsville was gravely hampered because Hooker
had relegated his artillery commander, Hunt, to essentially the role of adviser,
notes Naisawald. Batteries were parceled out among the various infantry divisions
and placed under the command of their officers, repeating, in a sense, the
same mistake Pope had made with his army. During the chaotic fighting around
the Chancellorsville clearing the morning of May 3, for example, no one was
in overall command of the artillery to ensure that ammunition was replenished,
or that batteries withdrawn from the line were replaced. Clearly a reorganization
was needed. Moreover, as Breck notes above, it was apparent that because of
attrition, the infantry divisions were no longer the battlefield factors they
had been in 1862. Army corps, consisting of two or more divisions, were now
the key tactical unit. Hence, the May 12, 1863, reorganization in which batteries
were assigned to artillery brigades, under command of an artillery officer,
with one artillery brigade assigned per corps. Moreover, an artillery ammunition
train was created for each corps, under the control of that corps’ chief
of artillery. See Naisawald, pp. 272-273, 326-331.
2. Most regiments that were organized in the first months of the war enlisted
for two years. The length of term was extended to three years for most regiments
that were organized subsequently.
3. The mechanisms that needed to be established for the draft to occur were
more complicated than Breck realized. “Considering that some 185 district
enrollment boards had to be established, and given the inherent difficulties
in administering the law” – such as setting quotas for each of
those districts – it was “no mean achievement” that the draft
was implemented as early as it was, in October 1863, notes James Geary. (Geary,
4. Bower, it will be recalled, lost his left arm during the battery’s
first serious engagement along the Rappahannock the previous August. The indomitable
officer had “procured a false arm to supply the place of the one sacrificed
to the cause,” before returning to the battery, the Evening Express reported
on May 27.
5. Boatner, p. 332.
6. Boatner, pp. 309, 332.
XX The most desperate and bloody battle
1. Boatner, p. 81.
2. According to Bruce Catton, 141 Union soldiers were executed for desertion
during the war, “although a sympathetic President Lincoln granted an
untold number of pardons, preferring, he said, to ‘take the risk on
the side of mercy.’” (Catton, Picture History, p. 381)
3. This is an apparent reference to Brig. Gen. Gabriel Paul’s brigade,
which contained the 22nd, 29th, 30th and 31st New Jersey regiments. These nine-month
regiments, mustered into service the previous September, were mustered out
in June and July. (Dyer 1:178-179)
4. However, in a letter to Ellen the next morning, Breck wrote that despite
marching an average of 15 miles a day, “ a good night’s rest has
made me feel fresh as a Cock… All ready for another tramp. … I
look the picture of roughness, and my face is literally sun-burnt.” (Breck,
5. Reynolds had been put in command of I, III and XI Corps, constituting the
left wing of the Army of the Potomac. (OR 1: 27/3, p. 308)
6. As we have already seen, Lee was indeed invading the north, having persuaded
Jefferson Davis and his cabinet that more was to be gained on northern soil
than by reinforcing Bragg or Johnston. Indeed, Vicksburg was already under
siege by Grant’s army. And Gen. William S. Rosecrans’ Army of the
Cumberland, bloodied at Stones River in December, was about to launch a brilliant
campaign of maneuver that would force Gen. Braxton Bragg, commander of the
Confederate Army of Tennessee, to relinquish Chattanooga by Sept. 8.
7. See OR1: 27/1, pp. 58-60.
8. OR1: 27/1, p. 363.
9. Wainwright, p.235.
10. OR 1:27/1, p. 363.
11. Wainwright, p. 244.
12. OR 1: 27/1, pp. 174, 362-364.
13. Breck, pp. 131-133.
14. Welcher, pp. 757-759.
15. William Barksdale was a Mississippian and staunch advocate of secession.
He commanded the brigade from his state that had stubbornly impeded Burnside’s
efforts to lay down pontoon bridges at Fredericksburg by firing on the engineers
from houses on the opposite bank. Barksdale was mortally wounded on the second
day at Gettysburg during Longstreet’s attack, when his brigade crashed
through the Peach Orchard, rolled up Union formations along the Emmitsburg
Road, and was finally repulsed along Plum Run at the base of Cemetery Ridge.
XXI An army of observation
1. Newton succeeded to command of I Corps after Gen. John F. Reynolds was
killed at Gettysburg.
2. The Union cavalrymen crossed the river at Rappahannock Station late on the
morning of Aug. 1 “to gain information of Lee’s whereabouts,” Buford
reported. Two brigades of Stuart’s cavalry “made a most obstinate
resistance,” but were driven within1 ½ miles of Culpeper, where
Buford came up against A. P. Hill’s infantrymen and was compelled to
retire. (OR1: 27/1, p. 932)
3. Louis Napoleon, who harbored hopes of restoring a French empire in the New
World, sent 35,000 soldiers in 1863 to capture Mexico City, overthrowing the
government of Benito Juarez and installing Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian as “Emperor
of Mexico.” Confederate envoys contacted Maximillian, offering to recognize
him if he would help persuade France to recognize the Confederacy. However,
by January 1864, notes James McPherson, “Napoleon seemed to have lost
interest in the scheme.” (McPherson, Battle Cry, p. 600)
4. The recruiting system required each congressional district to fill a certain
quota. There was a great deal of pressure to fill those quotas without resorting
to a draft, by offering ever higher bounties or accepting substitutes. And
that meant there was a great temptation to accept men regardless of their fitness
to actually serve. Wainwright, in his diary, complained that “the surgeons
and provost-marshals pass anything in the way of a substitute. Being appointed
in the district in which they live, and most of them being political aspirants,
their object is to fill their quota, not to get good men for the army.” (Wainwright,
p. 275) Note, also, Bruce Catton’s observation that “The substitute
broker – the dealer who, for a price, would find substitutes for well-heeled
draft dodgers – would take any men he could get, and some of them were
mentally or physically defective. Through bribery, the broker could often get
these men accepted…” (Catton, Picture History, p. 485) As a result, “horrified
medical officers in the Army of the Potomac were finding that new lots of recruits
often included hopeless cripples, lunatics, and men far along in incurable
disease,” Catton adds. Of 57 recruits received by the 6th New York Heavy
Artillery, for example, 17 were so disabled “that even a layman could
see it – some, for instance, had but one hand, and a few were out-and-out
idiots.” (Catton, A Stillness at Appomattox, p. 24)
5. Welcher, p. 272.
6. Most Union regiments enlisted for three-year terms, and with many of those
terms set to expire in 1864, the Union army faced a dire predicament: It was
very unlikely it could successfully prosecute the war using only the “bounty
men” now being drawn into the ranks. It needed its veteran soldiers to
re-enlist, preferably in entire regiments, and strong inducements were offered.
Regiments that successfully re-enlisted at least three-fourths of their members
would be allowed to go home on 30-day furlough; soldiers would receive bounties
totaling about $700 and the regiment would be retained in service. This appeal
to unit pride helped create a great deal of peer pressure. In the end, 136,000
veterans re-enlisted; 100,000 did not. See Catton, Stillness at Appomattox,
pp. 33-36 and McPherson, p. 626.
XXII Expeditious marching
1. Boatner, p. 87.
2. Uncertain whether Lee was withdrawing or trying to flank him, Meade initially
ordered Buford to advance across the Rapidan on Oct. 10 and uncover Morton’s
Ford, allowing I and V Corps to cross over and move upstream. By the evening
of Oct. 10, however, Meade realized Lee was moving around the Union right,
and began pulling his army back to the Rappahannock and beyond. (Welcher,
3. Both Hill’s and Ewell’s corps participated in the movement.
4. OR 1:29/1, pp. 228, 406-408.
5. Rosecrans, who seemed bewildered after his defeat at Chickamauga, was relieved
on Oct. 20 by Grant, the hero of Vicksburg, who assumed overall command of
the Union forces at Chattanooga. Bolstered by the reinforcements from the Army
of the Potomac, and from other forces, it took only about a month for Grant
to open up a new line of supply called “the cracker line,” and
then push Bragg’s men off Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, back
into northern Georgia.
6. Meade did, indeed, propose attempting to turn Lee’s right flank, by
crossing the Rappahannock at Banks’ Ford and Fredericksburg, and securing
the heights behind that town. However, Lincoln and Halleck vetoed the plan.
(OR 1: 29/2, pp. 409, 412, 415)
7. The Veteran Reserve Corps, originally called the Invalid Corps, consisted
of wounded soldiers who were unfit for field service, but could still volunteer
to perform moderate duties, such as guarding prison camps and arsenals, acting
as hospital guards, and doing provost guard duty at draft sites, notes Bruce
Catton, who called it “as unusual a fighting force as the United States
ever armed and equipped for action.” (Catton, A Stillness at Appomattox,
8. Boatner, pp. 680-681.
9. Breck was misinformed. The two Confederate brigades in the bridgehead were
Hays’ Louisiana brigade and Hokes’ North Carolina brigade. See
Early’s report, OR1: 29/1, pp. 618-626.
XXIII We bade goodbye to General Lee’s army
1. It is not clear why the reference is to “greybacks,” since
federal currency was called “greenbacks.”
2. Felloes were the rims of the wheels, into which the spokes were fitted.
(Garrison, p. 76)
3. Longstreet’s soldiers, it will be recalled, had been sent from Lee’s
army to reinforce Bragg’s forces in northern Georgia. They helped Bragg
win the battle of Chickamauga in September and bottle up Rosecrans’ army
at Chattanooga. However, Longstreet soon became as disenchanted with Bragg’s
leadership as the other corps commanders in the unhappy Army of Tennessee.
He was detached with 15,000 men to try to recapture Knoxville, which had been
taken by Burnside on Sept. 3. This decision led to disaster. Longstreet’s
departure fatally weakened Bragg’s army, making it that much easier for
Grant to drive Bragg’s men off Missionary Ridge and end the siege of
Chattanooga. Moreover, Longstreet was repulsed in front of Knoxville on Nov.
29 and the following April was headed back to Lee’s army.
XXIV Every man is the architect of his own house
1. Captain Reynolds, it will be recalled, went west when XI and XII Corps
were sent to help relieve Rosecrans’ army at Chattanooga, as commander
of XII Corps artillery. He was in the thick of a fierce night battle at Wauhatchie,
Tenn., in October, when Longstreet attempted to prevent the opening of the “cracker
line” into Chattanooga. He remained as chief of corps artillery when
the XI and XII were combined into the XX Corps under Hooker the following spring,
and participated in Sherman’s Atlanta campaign.
2. Evening Express, Jan. 25, 1864; Daily Democrat, Jan. 12.
3. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and Harper’s Weekly were
the Civil War equivalent of the modern news magazine. The strict Wainwright,
describing Battery L’s camp in his diary, is as close to complimentary
as his exacting standards could allow: “Reynolds’s huts are quite
uniform in size, but they are too low; the chimneys are not all on the same
side, nor do they all open into the street, which he has made more than double
the width necessary … so as to form his company in the street for parade. … Reynold’s
stable is something unique, being the half of a hollow square, with his carriages
parked in the centre … The inner side of the stables is open: the other
is closed with split logs set upright. Roof and floor are made in the same
way, with not a nail in the whole thing.” (Wainwright, p. 317)
4. There was little, if any sense of a “terribly bitter” experience
at Albany in the columns Breck wrote at the time, when he apparently was putting
the best possible “spin” on the battery’s experiences to
5. The 54th, Rochester’s militia regiment, started toward New York City
to help quell the draft riots, but was detained at Albany. (Marsh, p. 43)
6. OR1:33, pp. 507-516.
7. The official tally was 255 casualties. (OR 1: 33, p. 118)
8. Two Stringfellows, John and his brother Ben, were both active in the leadership
of pro-slavery factions along the Kansas frontier. The Stringfellow “of
Kansas notoriety” that Breck refers to is likely John, who used his platform
as senior editor of the Atchison Squatter Sovereign and as speaker of the Kansas
Territory's House of Representatives to launch fiery, vindictive attacks against
free soilers. See various references to both in Alice Nichols' Bleeding Kansas
(New York: Oxford Universrity Press, 1954), pp. 9, 26, 39, and 105.
9. John Minor Botts was a “venerable Virginia unionist and former U.S.
congressman,” notes James McPherson, who was arrested and jailed by Confederate
authorities in 1862 on suspicion of being a “disloyal” citizen.
He was paroled from confinement on condition that he leave Richmond for some
other location in the “interior,” that he not travel more than
five miles from his new residence, and do nothing to aid the Union. (McPherson,
Battle Cry, p. 366; OR2:2, pp. 1545-7)
10. On March 4, 1864, Meade recommended to the Secretary of War that the five
corps of the Army of the Potomac be consolidated into three. He cited the reduced
strength of nearly all infantry regiments in the army. He was probably also
influenced by knowledge that Lee’s army had been well managed with only
three corps, and moreover by the fact that on several occasions some of his
corps commanders have given less than satisfactory performances. Consolidation
would enable him to reduce the number of commanders required, and hence allow
him to weed out the less capable ones. As a result, the 1st and 3rd corps were
discontinued, with the 2nd, 5th and 6th corps being retained under the command
of Gens. Hancock, Warren and Sedgwick. (Welcher, p. 278)
11. Lincoln had talked with Kilpatrick about conducting a raid deep behind
enemy lines to distribute copies of the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconciliation,
pardoning all who had participated in the rebellion if they took an oath of
allegiance. Meade approved the idea, tacking on an additional goal of freeing
Federal prisoners held at Richmond. Kilpatrick’s force, numbering 4,000
cavalrymen, left Stevensburg on Feb. 28, with Ulric Dahlgren leading the advance.
The raid fell short of its objectives, failed to free any prisoners and Dahlgren
was killed. Papers taken from his body allegedly disclosed that the raiders
hoped to burn Richmond, and kill Jefferson Davis and his entire cabinet, all
of which was stoutly denied in the North, but created a furor in the South,
further hardening attitudes on both sides. (Welcher, pp. 765-766; Catton, A
Stillness at Appomattox, pp. 4-18)
12. The Christian Commission was founded by YMCA leaders in November 1861 to
provide “blankets, clothing, books and physical as well as spiritual
nurture to Union soldiers,” McPherson notes. (McPherson, Battle Cry,
13. See Priscilla Astifan’s “Baseball in the19th Century,” in
the Rochester History quarterly series, Vol 52:3, pp. 17-19, for more on the
exploits of this early Rochester baseball team. It can be viewed at www.rochester.lib.ny.us,
then click on “Rochester History.”
14. “W.E.” – possibly Sgt. Webster Eaton – reported
to the Evening Express that the new recruits had brought the battery up to
155 men present for duty, in other words a full complement. (Rochester Evening
Express, March 21, 1864)
XXV They will stand by him through thick and thin
1. Indeed, it was in the Wilderness that First Sergeant Rooney, Corporal Blake,
and 12 privates found the battery on June 6, when they rejoined it at the expiration
of their veteran furloughs. (OR 1:36/1, p. 657)
2. The United States Sanitary Commission, organized by northern women and physicians
to supplement the outdated Army Medical Bureau, was one of the great success
stories of the Northern war effort. It was inspired by the role of the British
Sanitary Commission which, during the Crimean War, had exposed the filthy and
primitive conditions that had decimated the Allied armies. The U.S. commission
organized bazaars and fairs to raise money for medical supplies, sent volunteer
nurses to the army hospitals, and instructed soldiers in proper camp hygiene.
Eventually, the adversarial walls thrown up by the army bureaucracy were overthrown,
opening the doors to full cooperation between the commission and the military
establishment. One result was widespread acceptance of women nurses, and the
establishment of a trained ambulance corps. (McPherson, Battle Cry, pp. 262,
3. For most of the war, black soldiers in the Union ranks not only received
less pay than their white counterparts, but were not allowed to serve as commissioned
officers, hence the need for white officers to lead them.
4. The much-traveled IX Corps, after leaving the Army of the Potomac in February
1863, saw service in the Vicksburg campaign and during the siege of Knoxville,
Tenn., before being ordered back east in 1864. In April, it relieved Warren’s
V Corps guarding the Orange and Alexandria R.R. However, because Burnside and
his chief of staff held superior rank to Meade, Grant initially did not assign
IX Corps directly to the Army of the Potomac but kept it under his personal
control. (Welcher, pp. 420-430)
5. OR1:36/1, p. 12.
6. OR 1: 36/1, pp. 14-18.
XXVI Such terrible fighting
1. Shelton’s section was ordered to advance down the Orange Turnpike
where the road passed through Saunders’ Field, to support an attack being
made by a Union brigade that included the 140th New York from the Rochester
area. The Rochester foot soldiers, already suffering heavy losses, had to endure
the added insult of being fired into from the rear by Shelton’s artillerymen. “Our
shots, to reach the enemy, must hew their way through our men,” Shelton
later wrote from a Confederate prison. “To fire at all was almost deliberate
murder, and the two shots that we did fire was only to obey … the insane
order that sent us …” The 140th suffered 255 casualties out of
529 who attacked. (Marcotte, pp. 178-180) Shelton’s 10-month sojourn
in the south, being shuttled from prison to prison, making multiple escape
attempts, and finally succeeding with the help of Union sympathizers, is chronicled
in “A Hard Road to Travel out of Dixie,” an article he wrote for
Century magazine in 1890 (Vol. 40, pp. 931-949).
2. Breck’s reference is not clear, since there was relatively little
fighting on May 7, compared to the two prior days.
3. OR 1: 36/1,p. 657; Wainwright, p. 357.
4. Matter, William, If It Takes all Summer: The Battle of Spotsylvania, Chapel
Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1988, p. 126.
5. “Mr. Matthews was sitting upon a gun at the time he was shot, entirely
unsuspicious of danger,” the Daily Democrat reported on May 23. It was
probably at the Pritchett House that Breck had a close call. In a letter written
to friends on May 11, according to the Union and Advertiser, Breck said he “had
stopped a spent ball which struck his leg but inflicted no injury.” (Union
and Advertiser, May 17, 1864) More details of apparently the same incident
followed in the UA on May 19. “We are told that the friends of Lt. Geo.
Breck of Battery L have a letter from him which was perforated by a bullet
while in his port folio. He had partially written the letter and put it into
the leather port folio which he carried at his side. A spent ball passed thro’ the
porte folio, letter and all, and struck the metal clasp where its force was
exhausted and it could do no harm. But for the porte folio it is probable that
the ball would have entered the body of Lt. Breck.” Lt. Charles Anderson,
in his official report, said Breck had been “slightly wounded” on
the 9th, but did not leave the field. (OR 1: 36/1, p. 657)
6. OR 1:36/1, p. 657.
7. One of recaptured guns was the one that had been captured from Battery L
at Gettysburg. (Hazlett, James C., “The 3-Inch Ordnance Rifle,” Civil
War Times Illustrated, Vol. 7, No. 8, December 1968)
8. There are two radically different accounts of where Battery L was posted
on the 12th. Wainwright, in his official report, said Breck’s battery
had been moved to the extreme left of the V Corps. Lt. Anderson, in his report,
said the battery was placed on the right of V Corps, expending 378 rounds before
pulling out of the line at 5 p.m. and moving to the rear of the V Corps hospital.
See OR1:36/1, pp. 643 and 657.
9. Actually marching Friday night, May 13, into the morning of Saturday, May
10. OR 1:36/1, p. 643.
11. Wainwright, in his diary, explained that Meade wanted to break up the army’s
Artillery Reserve or send it back to Washington, since it had been little used
during the campaign. This would have meant breaking up or sending away entire
batteries. Hunt “tells me he means to hold on to all the organizations
he can,” and thus suggested a compromise: Reduce the number of guns in
batteries throughout the army instead, “rather than send off the batteries
themselves, so that they can easily be filled up again if needed.” (Wainwright,
12. OR 1:36/ 1, p. 658.
13. McPherson, Battle Cry, p. 641.
14. Lee, detecting Grant’s preparations to move, sent a force into the
rear of the Army of the Potomac in an attempt to sever Grant’s supply
lines. This attack was turned back during heavy fighting at the Harris Farm,
in the last of the battles around Spotsylvania, during which several heavy
artillery regiments, pulled from fortifications in places such as Baltimore,
had their baptism of fire as infantry.
15. Trudeau, Bloody Roads South, pp. 231-235.
16. On Oct. 21, 1861, a Union brigade commanded by Col. Edward Baker, an old
friend of Lincoln’s, crossed the Potomac at Ball’s Bluff, north
of Washington, D.C., as part of a demonstration aimed at driving the Confederates
out of Leesburg, Va. Baker and his inexperienced soldiers ran into a Confederate
brigade at the top of the 100-foot high bank. Baker was killed, and his soldiers
were driven in disorder back down the slope and into the river, where many
were drowned. More than half Baker’s 1,700 soldiers ended up casualties.
The debacle prompted radical Republicans in Congress to establish a Joint Committee
on the Conduct of the War to search for a scapegoat. The committee continued
to operate throughout the war. (McPherson, Battle Cry, p. 297)
17. OR 1:36/1, p. 658; Wainwright, p. 386.
18. Trudeau, Bloody Roads South, p. 239.
19. Trudeau, Bloody Roads South, pp. 252-257; OR1: 36/1, p. 658.
20. OR 1: 36/1, p. 647; Trudeau, Bloody Roads South, pp. 262-278.
21. OR 1: 36/1, p. 658.
22. Grant sent Sheridan with two cavalry divisions on a diversionary raid during
the movement of the rest of the army to the James. Sheridan’s target
was the Virginia Central Railroad at Charlottesville, but Wade Hampton caught
up with the Union raiders with two divisions of Confederate cavalry. Heavy
fighting around Trevilian Station on June 11 and 12 forced Sheridan to break
off his raid, rejoining Grant on June 28. (Boatner, p. 848)
23. OR 1:40/1, p. 481.
24. Smith, seeing how lightly defended the fortifications were, decided to
attack them with a heavy skirmish line, rather than a regular battle formation.
That would disperse his men, making them less of a target for the big guns
in the forts. The tactic worked: The Confederates held their fire, waiting
for battle formations which never appeared, and the skirmishers succeeded in
overrunning the forts. (Trudeau, Last Citadel, p. 41)
25. Anderson, in his official report, said the battery, along with Battery
B, 1st Penn., engaged rebel Batteries Nos.18 and 19, expending 200 rounds of
ammunition “with satisfactory practice.” (OR 1:40/1, p. 490) Col.
Wainwright, in his official report, said Breck’s battery was placed “to
the left of the Norfolk road and in front of the Deserted House, between this
road and the Norfolk railroad...” (OR 1:40/1, p.481)
26. OR1: 40/1, p. 481.
27. Trudeau, Last Citadel, p. 53.
28. Anderson reported that the battery had fired 480 rounds. (OR 1:40/1, p.
490) See appendix for full report.
29. OR1:40/1, p. 482.
XXVII Tired of fighting
1. Trudeau, Last Citadel, p. 6.
2. Lee reported that Mahone’s men captured 1,600 prisoners, four artillery
pieces and eight battle flags. (Trudeau, Last Citadel, p. 80)
3. Surely this was exactly the kind of “contraband” information
that Breck normally took care not to reveal. Coal miners serving in a Pennsylvania
regiment were indeed tunneling under a section of the Confederate defenses.
The plan was to build a chamber at the end, pack it with powder, detonate it,
and blow a hole in the Confederate line. Obviously, secrecy was of paramount
importance to the plan’s success!
4. Lt. Charles Anderson, in his official report, noted: “For a month
at this portion of the line the enemy continued a desultory fire, our instructions
being not to reply. The only compliments we could return him were those of
a contemptuous silence.” (OR1: 40/1, p. 490)
5. Not all soldiers in front of Petersburg were so fortunate. One soldier of
the 108th New York said the regiment’s wells yielded a “fluid that
resembled watered milk, which was palatable” – barring the frogs.
(Washburn, George H., A Complete Military History and Record of the 108th Regiment
N.Y.Vols. From 1862 to 1894, Rochester: E. R. Andrews, 1894, p. 81)
6. A surgeon’s medical certificate for leave of absence, dated July 24
in Breck’s military records, states Breck was “laboring under debility
resulting from malarial disease, from which he has been suffering for the past
three weeks; is feeble and emaciated and naturally of somewhat delicate organization.” He
was treated July 21 to 31, then received a furlough to recuperate in Rochester.
7. Anderson, in the battery’s official report, identified the position
as the “south front of Fort Warren.” (OR 1: 40/1, p. 490)
8. OR1: 40/1, p. 17.
9. Trudeau, Last Citadel, p. 174.
10. This was another name for Globe Tavern.
11. The problem in the besieged city, notes Noah Andre Trudeau, was not so
much the supply of food, which was generally adequate, but the prices that
were charged. Even before the siege, during the winter of 1863, flour cost$200
a barrel, butter $6 a pound, wheat $25 a bushel and beans $30 a bushel. Most
people managed to eke by, one resident proudly proclaiming she did not have
to eat rats, mice or mule meat at any point during the siege, instead getting
by on peas, bread and sorghum, and a little milk mixed with a drink made from
roasted and ground corn. The most serious threat of starvation, Trudeau adds,
was among refugees with no relations in town, or those abandoned by deserting
soldiers. One visitor to Petersburg in January 1865 related seeing several
women and young children who were compelled to go among the soldiers to beg
for food. (Trudeau, Last Citadel, pp.6, 258)
12. McPherson, Battle Cry, p. 652.
13. McClellan “professed to stand for restoration of the Union by military
victory,” McPherson notes. “But the Peace Democrats wrote the platform,
whose crucial plank…branded the war a failure and called for an armistice
and peace negotiations. The vice presidential nominee George Pendleton was
also a Peace Democrat.” As a result, most northerners – and many
Confederates – regarded the upcoming election as a referendum on the
war itself. (McPherson, For Cause, p. 176)
14. The U.S. Military Railroad ran from City Point, the army’s main supply
depot on the James River, all along the Union lines at Petersburg, which meant
it had to be extended each time the Federal trench lines crept farther west
below Petersburg. Trudeau, in The Last Citadel, quotes soldiers who marveled
at the way the rail line simply went up hill and down with “no pretense
of grading,” its undulations so marked “that a train moving along
it looked in the distance like a fly crawling over a corrugated washboard.” Nonetheless,
it was the army’s lifeline, with as many as 15 trains per day bringing
food and ammunition to within easy hauling distance of the front. (Trudeau,
Last Citadel, pp. 298-299)
15. The first medals of honor to be awarded during the Civil War were actually
presented more than a year earlier. On March 25, 1863, medals were presented
to six soldiers who, disguised as civilians, had participated the year before
in the hijacking of a Confederate train in an attempt to disrupt the rail line
between Big Shanty, Ga., and Chattanooga, Tenn. The award ceremony occurred
at the War Department after the six were paroled from Confederate prison. It
is worth noting that the Medal of Honor was awarded far more leniently during
the Civil War than it is now. (Kane, John F., The Medal of Honor of the United
States Army, Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1948, p.
7) Not until 1918 were additional, lesser medals created to reward valor, thereby
enabling the Medal of Honor to be reserved for only the most conspicuous acts
of gallantry “above and beyond the call of duty.” (Medal of Honor
Recipients: 1863-1978, Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, U.S. Senate, Washington:
U.S Government Printing Office, 1979, pp. 11-16)
16. When Confederate scouts discovered a large number of cattle at Coggin’s
Point, on the south bank of James River, Wade Hampton’s cavalry moved
out to capture them. During the ensuing fighting on Sept. 16, the cattle herders
broke down the fence of the corral and fired pistols in the air, trying to
stampede the cattle out of Hampton’s reach.
The Confederate cavalrymen – “born cowboys” – were
able to round up the animals and bring 2,486 cattle to Lee’s hungry army.
(Boatner p. 371-372)
XXVIII Politics are running high
1. One might also argue, of course, that once McClellan took it upon himself
to enter the rough and tumble arena of politics, he forfeited the right to
be treated with kid gloves.
2. The 104th New York, organized primarily at Geneseo, N.Y., suffered heavy
losses the first day at Gettysburg when Confederates poured through a gap between
I and XI Corps near the Mummasburg Road. It suffered an almost identical fate
in the fighting at Weldon Railroad, where the regiment was surrounded and captured.
After that, the only remaining members were assigned to provost guard at V
Corps headquarters. (Marcotte, pp. 122-125, 227-229)
3. Breck told his sister Ellen he had administered “something in the
neighborhood of 500 oaths” to enable soldiers to vote through proxies
back home for McClellan. “Hundreds of soldiers have been literally proscribed
from voting for McClellan by their officers,” Breck complained, “and
they have been obliged to get McClellan ballots from other sources and to get
other officers to administer the necessary oath to them.” (Breck, pp.
140-141) Wainwright, however, was apparently more realistic in his appraisal
of the soldiers’ political sentiments. “I was told yesterday that
Lincoln has a majority of about fifteen votes in every hundred in my command … The
new men, thousand-dollar patriots, all vote for Lincoln, while a majority of
the old soldiers go the other way. The army vote, however, will be decidedly
Republican.” (Wainwright, p. 476)
4. (Trudeau, Last Citadel, pp. 221-252.
5. While a victory no doubt would have benefited the president’s re-election
chances, the more important motive, suggests Noah Andre Trudeau, was Meade’s
desire to recover some of his lost prestige, especially after a New York Independent
article suggested Grant was anxious to get rid of him. (Trudeau, Last Citadel,
6. Breck, in a letter to Ellen dated Dec. 18, elaborated on his concern that
in defeating the Confederate armies, “only half the work will then be
done, for unless we can win these 8,000,000 people back, by satisfactory terms
of negotiation, by mutual and friendly concessions, we shall not have restored
the Union. We shall have a Union kept together by force only, and I wouldn’t
give a rush for such a Union. Better none at all.” (Breck, pp. 146-147)
XXIX The federal skies never looked so bright
1. Jubal Early, when last heard from, had advanced to the outskirts of Washington
in July. Timely arrival of the VI and part of the XIX Corps forced him to retreat.
But he continued to stir up trouble. Later that month he advanced into Pennsylvania
and burned Chambersburg before retiring back into the Shenandoah Valley. Grant
was exasperated by these tactics. He sent Maj. Gen. Phil Sheridan to take charge
of Union forces in the Shenandoah with two missions: eliminate Early and destroy
the valley as a Confederate breadbasket. Sheridan fulfilled the first part
of his mission by defeating Early at Winchester and Fisher Hill in September,
and pursuing him as far as Harrisonburg. He fulfilled the second when his army
then returned back up the valley, burning everything in his path. Early followed,
and on Oct. 19 launched a surprise attack at Cedar Creek. The Confederates
succeeded in routing most of the Union soldiers, then paused to regroup. Sheridan
was 15 miles away, returning from a strategy conference in Washington, when
he heard the sound of gunfire. He galloped toward the battlefield, rallying
and energizing his defeated soldiers. Sheridan’s counterattack that afternoon
routed Early’s army and destroyed it as an effective fighting force.
2. VI Corps rejoined the Army of the Potomac on Dec. 6. The two divisions of
the XIX Corps remained in the valley until the following year. (Welcher, p.
3. “The main and about the only thing that keeps me in the service beyond
my original time,” Breck wrote to Ellen on Oct. 23, “is that in
consequence of so many men going out, one third of them non-commissioned officers
of the Battery, it leaves the Battery in somewhat of a disorganized condition,
and I dislike very much to leave it in that shape.” When Lt. Charles
Anderson was mustered out Oct. 29, Breck was temporarily left as the battery’s
only commissioned officer. (Breck, p. 141)
4. Humphreys became commander of II Corps after Hancock took leave to recuperate
from his unhealed wounds from Gettysburg.
5. Breck, perhaps out of modesty, fails to mention his own promotion to brevet
major, for “gallant services during the operations before Petersburg.” Officially
it is dated Feb. 6, 1865, but Breck mentions it in a Dec. 18 letter to Ellen.
Boatner, in his Civil War Dictionary, explains that “For practical purposes
brevet rank can be regarded as an honorary title, awarded for gallant or meritorious
action in time of war, and having none of the authority, precedence, or pay
of real or full rank.” Unfortunately, he adds, there were occasions when
Civil War officers insisted their brevet rank be treated as real rank. Regulations
covering this were so vague that “controversies arose throughout the
war.” Moreover, about 1,700 volunteer and Regular Army officers were
breveted major general or brigadier general, most of them near the end of the
war, an abuse that eventually led to abandonment of the brevet system in the
U.S. Army. (Boatner, p. 84)
6. Trudeau, Last Citadel, pp. 264-285.
7. It is interesting that Breck, who normally keep apprised of such things,
either did not know or chose not to relate the events that precipitated the
destruction. As Warren’s men neared Sussex Court House on their return,
black civilians came in with news that Federal stragglers had been waylaid
and killed by Rebel guerrillas. Union detachments found the bodies, with throats
cut, heads bashed in with axes, others stripped of their clothing and apparently
shot in the head while the men were kneeling in a circle. This outraged the
Union soldiers. “We protected (the) houses, when we advanced, but on
our return, after witnessing the inhuman acts of the inhabitants, we fired
every building on the route.” (Trudeau, Last Citadel, p. 280)
8. The missing word appears to be “aflection.”
9. McPherson, Battle Cry, pp. 711-719.
10. Gouverneur Kimble Warren, a native of Cold Springs, N.Y., and graduate
of West Point, was a topographical engineer in the Regular Army, possessing
an “eye for ground as good as any in the Army of the Potomac,” Warner
notes. He was the hero of the second day at Gettysburg, rushing Union troops
onto Little Round Top just in time to prevent its seizure by the onrushing
Confederates. Warren’s later handling of V Corps during Grant’s
overland campaign “could hardly be taken exception to,” Warner
adds, “however, there seems to have been a personality clash among him,
U.S. Grant and Philip Sheridan.” As we shall see below, Sheridan relieved
Warren of command at Five Forks, a move which does not appear to have been
justified, yet which ruined Warren’s military career. (Warner pp. 541-542)
Warren may have appeared perfectly “agreeable and urbane” to Breck
in a social setting, but he was notorious for his black moods and foul-tempered
outbursts against subordinates. For example, Breck’s brigade commander,
Charles Wainwright, frequently commented on Warren’s moodiness in his
diaries, including this entry for June 1, 1864: “General Warren has been
in one of his pets all yesterday and today, as ugly and cross-grained as he
could be. One would suppose that a man in his position would be ashamed to
show that kind of temper … He has pitched into his staff officers most
fearfully, cursing them up and down as no man has a right to do ... (Wainwright,
11. McPherson, Battle Cry, p. 722.
12. Alexander Hamilton Stephens, the Confederacy’s vice president and
a voice of moderation, was among a three-member delegation from Richmond that
met with Lincoln and Seward aboard a steamer in Hampton Roads on Feb. 3, 1865,
to see if peace could be restored. The conference failed when Lincoln and Seward
insisted on 1) restoration of federal authority through all the states, 2)
no backing away from the Emancipation Proclamation, and 3) an end to the war,
including the disbanding of all rebelling forces. (McPherson, Battle Cry, p.
13. On the night of Jan. 23, three Confederate ironclads and a small flotilla
of wooden torpedo boats and gun boats, moved down the James River from Chaffin’s
Bluff to attack Union shipping at City Point. “A combination of Union
defensive fire, poor C.S. sailing, and mechanical breakdowns ended the raid
well short of its goal,” Trudeau notes. (Trudeau, Last Citadel, p. 299)
14. Trudeau, Last Citadel, pp.312-322.
XXX The rebellion is played out!
1. Warren was relieved of command of V Corps by Sheridan, who believed Warren
had mishandled the corps during the fighting at Five Forks. Warren was replaced
by Maj. Gen. Charles Griffin.
2. As mentioned earlier, after overthrowing the republican government of Benito
Juarez in 1863, Louis Napoleon installed Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian as the
Emperor of Mexico. Confederate envoys offered to recognize him if he would
help obtain French recognition of the South. The efforts came to naught. (McPherson,
Battle Cry, p. 600)
3. Given that Lee didn’t surrender until April 9, this letter was probably
written late that day or on the next.
4. Sheridan, who along with Grant and Sherman constituted the triumvirate of
famous Union generals, “may have been born in any one of several locations
on a date which he himself occasionally reestablished,” Warner notes.
Born in Albany, N.Y., according to his memoirs, he grew up in Ohio, graduated
from West Point after being suspended for a year for quarreling with another
cadet, then spent eight years on the frontier. Early in the Civil War, he served
as quartermaster under Halleck during the Corinth, Miss., campaign, then took
command of the 2nd Michigan Cavalry in 1862. “Thereafter his rise in
rank and responsibility was meteoric,” Warner notes. He fought with distinction
in several western battles, commanding a division at Chickamauga. It was Sheridan’s
soldiers who spontaneously stormed up Missionary Ridge and seized it, without
orders. Grant gave Sheridan the command of the Army of the Potomac’s
cavalry at the start of the overland campaign in 1864. As noted above, he commanded
successful Union operations against Early in the Shenandoah Valley later that
year, and played a leading role at Five Forks and the subsequent pursuit of
Lee’s army to Appomattox. After the war he was instrumental in forcing
Napoleon III to withdraw his military support of Emperor Maximilian in Mexico.
He helped direct operations against Native Americans, and eventually ascended
to commanding general of the army in 1884. (Warner, pp. 437-439)
5. Rather than simply accepting the surrender of Johnston’s army, Sherman
set forth, in effect, a national peace treaty that far exceeded his authority
and, in all probability, was more lenient than even Lincoln would have accepted
had he not been assassinated, Bruce Catton notes. For example, Sherman stipulated
that each southern state government would be recognized as lawful once its
officers took an oath supporting the U.S. Constitution. No one would be punished
for supporting the rebellion. All rights of person and property as spelled
out in the Constitution would be respected, which might, as Catton notes, “give
slavery a new lease on life.” In the vengeful atmosphere created by Lincoln’s
assassination, Sherman’s document didn’t stand a chance. Stanton
and the rest of the cabinet disapproved it; Johnston surrendered anyway on
terms identical with those Grant gave Lee. (Catton, Picture History, pp. 592-594)
XXXI Never were marching orders hailed with greater delight
1. The Dutch Gap canal was a pet project of Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler, part
of a “grandiose scheme to clear the way for Yankee gunboats to reduce
Richmond’s James River defenses,” notes Bruce Catton. Butler’s
soldiers removed over 65,000 cubic yards of dirt to bypass a loop in the James
River. “The canal was not completed until the war was nearly over, and
its only result was to straighten a bad bottleneck in the James, much to the
benefit of Richmond’s postwar commerce.” (Catton, Picture History,
2. Castle Thunder was yet another infamous Richmond prison, consisting of a
tobacco factory and two smaller buildings. Prisoners came up with the name
Castle Thunder, “evidently as a sardonic reference to having evoked the
thunder of the gods,” Lonnie R. Speer notes. (Speer, p. 93)
3. Davis, attempting to reach the last remaining Confederate forces in the
Trans-Mississippi, was captured in south Georgia on May 10 when Federal cavalry
caught up with his band. “When he emerged from the tent, he was wearing
a water-repellent cloak with wide, loose sleeves and a black shawl that (his
wife Varina) had thrown around his shoulders,” biographer William J.
Cooper Jr. notes. (Cooper, William J., Jefferson Davis: American, New York:
Alfred A. Knopf, 2000, p. 534)
4. The procession began when “on some impulse a few soldiers got out
candles, stuck them in the muzzles of their muskets, lighted them, and began
to march down a company street,” Bruce Catton writes in This Hallowed
Ground. Other soldiers joined in, until the entire corps was on the parade
ground, “nothing visible but thousands upon thousands of candle flames…As
they paraded the men began to cheer. They had marched many weary miles in the
last four years, into battle and out of battle, through forests and across
rivers, uphill and downhill and over the fields, moving always because they
had to go where they were told to go. Now they were marching just for the fun
of it. It was the last march of all and, when the candles burned out, the night
would swallow soldiers and music and the great army itself; but while the candles
still burned, the men cheered…” (Catton, Bruce, This Hallowed Ground:
The Story of the Union Side of the Civil War (edition for young readers), Garden
City: Doubleday and Co. 1956, p. 187)
XXXII Breck’s life after the war
1. Rochester Union and Advertiser, June 20, 1865.
2. Union and Advertiser, March 7, 1867.
3. Union and Advertiser, Jan. 5, 1870, Jan. 22, 1872.
4. Union and Advertiser, Dec. 16, 1874. Management of the hospital was turned
over to the Lady Managers of the Rochester Female Charitable Society.
5. Union and Advertiser, Oct. 20, 1875.
6. Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Aug. 24, 1911.
7. Letter in Breck’s Pension Application File, National Archives and
XXXV Breck’s address at dedication of Gettysburg monument
1. Fox, William F., New York at Gettysburg, Final Report on the Battlefield
of Gettysburg, Albany, N.Y.: J.B. Lyon and Co., 1900, vol. 3, p. 1255.
2. Battery A, 2nd U.S. Artillery was under command of Lt. John H. Calef at
3. Also called Chambersburg Pike.
4. Brig. Gen. Henry Hunt, commander of artillery for the Army of the Potomac,
reported that the loss of this gun and one from another battery were “the
necessary result” of the “obstinate” resistance the artillery
had put up to cover the withdrawal of the infantry. “Guns can be lost
with honor,” he later told the battery. (OR1:27/1, p. 231; New York at
XXXVII Palmyra and Battery L
1. Breck, pp. 113, 121-122. The two were tent mates for at least the time
the Battery was stationed in Baltimore and in the Shenandoah. Breck found himself
in an awkward position, being promoted to 1st lieutenant ahead of Anderson,
apparently due to Anderson’s bad relationship with Capt. John Reynolds.
Anderson and the captain had had several “spats;” Anderson at one
point even contemplated a transfer to another command. That didn’t happen,
and by Feb. 1863, he and Breck had become “very intimate and strong friends,” Breck
told his sister Ellen. “I like him much. He is very intelligent and sensible.
Has perhaps an hauteur of manner that is disagreeable to some. We are politically
opposed to Capt. and Lt. Reynolds, and have had many sharp discussions. They
think we, especially Lt. A., by our opposition to the proclamation of freedom,
create dissatisfaction among the troops in our own company … But that’s
all nonsense.” Anderson appears to have worked as tirelessly as Breck
in rounding up soldiers’ votes for McClellan during the presidential
election of 1864. (Breck, pp. 98, 112, 121-122, 141)
2. See page 302.
Back to 1st Artillery (Light)
New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military
August 16, 2006