Wednesday, September 10, 2014

150-years-ago -- THIRD BATTLE OF WINCHESTER, VA


Sheridan's last charge at Third Winchester (Library of Congress)



[Excerpted from Confederate States Rangers of the 10th Louisiana Infantry by Michael Dan Jones (Createspace.com 2013)] 

Maj. Gen. Jubal Early  




The second phase of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign began after the Confederate victory at the Second Battle of Kernstown when Grant was convinced that Early was not leaving the Valley and he would have to commit a larger force and a better general than Hunter to get rid of him. The Valley was effectively back under control of the Confederate States of America. In addition,  raiding Confederates had demonstrated they could retaliate against Northern cities for the Northern atrocities committed against the Southern civilians in the Valley. Grant  met with Lincoln July 31 and he told the Northern president that he needed the services of 33-year-old Major General Philip H. Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley, who at the time was the commander of the cavalry in the Army of the Potomac. Grant got the go ahead for the changes he wanted and made the desired assignments.  When Hunter learned that his duties had been reduced to administrative, he quickly submitted his resignation and Grant accepted it. Sheridan was just as ruthless as Hunter, but a much better general. The four Federal military districts then in the Shenandoah area were consolidated into the Middle Military Department under Sheridan. “Little Phil” was to take orders from no other general than  Grant. Not only would he command Crook’s 8th  Corps, but also Wright’s 6th  Corps and the 19th Corps under Major General William Emory. He also would have the cream of the crop of  young, combat tested, cavalry commanders – brigadier generals James H. Wilson, Wesley Merritt, and George Armstrong Custer. Sheridan took command on August 6 at Monocacy Junction. His army numbered 37,000 men.
While the Federals were receiving reinforcements, so was Early. Lee sent the Valley Army one of his top commanders, Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson, commander of the First Corps, and Major General Joseph Kershaw’s infantry division, Major General Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry division, and a battalion of artillery. This bolstered Early’s command to about 15,200. The Confederates also had the advantage of fighting on their home ground with the support of the people. Sheridan, by contrast, would earn the hatred of the people of the Valley. Colonel John S. Mosby’s 43rd Virginia Cavalry Battalion (Partisan Rangers) was wreaking havoc behind Federal lines. Mosby destroyed a large Federal wagon train destined for Sheridan on August 13. Now short of rations, and with Kershaw’s reinforcements on the way to Early, Sheridan withdrew to a more secure location further north. But the Federal cavalry division under Merritt turned the tables on the Confederates when he caught Kershaw’s division crossing the Shenandoah and attacked. He captured about 300 prisoners, but only momentarily delayed Kershaw. Sheridan had hoped that the Confederates would be drawn into a trap he was planning, but the wily old Early declined the invitation. Early withdrew into his entrenchments at Fisher’s Hill. He also received a new cavalry commander to take the place of the still ailing Ransom, Major General Lunsford Lomax. But the Confederate cavalry had been greatly reduced by the disaster at Moorefield and would be of limited use during the rest of the campaign. 
Early tried to make good use of his strengthened army. As indicated by Monier’s journal, there was a lot of maneuvering and skirmishing throughout August, but no major battles. Both sides were looking for an opportunity to strike. It was in the action on August 25 at Shepherdstown that the Louisiana Brigade suffered a serious loss. Colonel William Monaghan was killed in action. Unfortunately for Early and the Valley Army, heavy fighting at Petersburg August 26, made it imperative that Lee recall Anderson and Kershaw’s division back to the Army of Northern Virginia. But with all the Federal activity in the Valley, Kershaw wasn’t able to get back to General Lee for a couple of more weeks. Early was now hopelessly outnumbered and it wouldn’t take long for the aggressive Sheridan to make his move. Early’s army had been reduced to 8,500 effective infantry, 2,900 cavalrymen in both Fitzhugh Lee’s and Lomax’s divisions, three battalions of artillery – about 12,000 men of all arms.[1]
Third Battle of Winchester
Sheridan hoped to administer the coup de grĂ¢ce to the  Confederate Army of the Valley on September 19, 1864 at the Third Battle of Winchester, also called the Battle of Opequon Creek by the North. Early was not expecting an attack from the Yankees, having underestimated Sheridan, and had split his army, taking Gordon’s and Rode’s divisions with him to Martinsburg, with artillery and cavalry, 20-miles away, for a raid there. Ramseur’s division was solidly ensconced on a plateau outside Winchester with cavalry on each flank and artillery in support. Wharton’s infantry and McCausland’s cavalry, under Breckinridge,  were at Stephenson’s Depot six miles away. Sheridan had massed his army and found it the opportunity he had been waiting for – to destroy Early piecemeal. Wright’s 6th  Corps and Emory’s 19th Corps were to attack Ramseur, while Crook’s 8th  Corps would  flank him from the right. Merritt’s and Averell’s cavalry divisions would attack Wharton. But getting to Ramseur would not be easy. He was behind Opequon Creek and was well dug in on the plateau east of Winchester and between Rose Bud Run and Abraham’s Creek. When Early got to Martinsburg on September 18, he found messages which indicated that Grant had recently been there meeting with Sheridan. He was sure that meant an attack was imminent and ordered Breckinridge, Wharton, McCausland, Gordon and Rodes all back to Winchester to fall in on Ramseur This would be the third battle fought by the Louisianians at Winchester. The first was in the 1862 when the Hays’ brigade made a dramatic charge that helped win the battle. The second was in the Gettysburg Campaign when Hays’ brigade stormed a key Yankee fort at Winchester, and Stafford’s brigade helped cut off the Federal retreat at  Stephenson’s Depot. The third battle there would be dramatically different.
The battle started at about 3 o’clock in the morning when Wilson’s cavalry division crossed the creek at the Berryville Road, which ran through a ravine and some woods which shielded them from Confederate observation. They met Ramseur’s skirmish line at the base of the plateau and quickly drove them back. Three divisions of the 6th  Corps then came up as the Confederate artillery opened up on them. Ricketts’ division formed on the right and Getty’s division on the left. Brigadier General David A. Russell’s division was in reserve. Up to that point everything went smoothly, but the Sixth Corps had also brought up its supply wagons which clogged the road for the 19th Corps, and which delayed the whole attack. Early arrived at 10 o’clock before the main Yankee attack had begun.  Gordon’s division then arrived and he put his men in line of battle in a thicket and on the edge of a long field. Rodes soon arrived and his division and filled the a gap between Gordon and Ramseur. Captain George P. Ring of the 6th Louisiana gave an eyewitness account of the Federal attack. Ring said the bluecoats came “in beautiful order with their bright gun barrels reflecting back in the rays of the sun in a way to make your eyes water.” The Confederates then advanced their line to meet the enemy in an open field battle. Both blue and gray lines kept advancing without opening fire until they were about 200 yards apart. Halting, the opposing forces then exchanged volley fire for 10 minutes. Ring said that “Southern pluck was too much for our Yankee friends.” When the Federals retreated, he added, “We of course raised a Louisiana yell.” Gordon’s entire division charged after them, with the Louisianians in advance of everyone. York, seeing his brigade badly exposed, drew back a hundred yards and repulsed two counterattacks. Ring said, “. . . I think and firmly believe that every man in Hays’ and Stafford’s brigades killed his man that day.” At Stephenson’s Depot, which was Early’s left, Wharton’s infantry and McCausland’s cavalry, were pressed back by Merritt’s and Averell’s cavalry. Breckinridge, however, managed a fighting retreat in good order. The Confederates had to fight off Federal cavalry attacks the whole way to the main body and did not reach it until 2 o’clock that afternoon. When they did reach Early, Colonel George S. Patton’s brigade of Wharton’s division was sent to the Confederate left to bolster Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry on that flank. But the Confederates were being overwhelmed by sheer numbers as the 19th and 8th  corps became engaged. The gray jackets were driven back into a V formation and were being engulfed by a double envelopment on the flanks, much as they had done to Crook’s corps at Second Kernstown. When the a gap was opened in the Federal brigade, Gordon’s and Rodes’ divisions drove through it and the Northerners were in danger of a collapse. General Rodes, however, was mortally wounded when struck behind the ear by a shell fragment and Russell’s division came up to plug the gap, but Russell himself was killed. The counterattack by the Federals sealed the breach, but at a high cost to them. Finally, a massive cavalry charge by Merritt and Averell succeeded in collapsing the Confederate left flank and the whole gray line collapsed as well. Colonel George S. Patton, the grandfather of the
Brig. Gen. Zebulon York
famous World War II general of the same name, was among the dead. York’s Louisianians stayed put and fired volley after volley at the lines of bluecoats overwhelming them, but gave many other Confederates time to get away safely. All of the Louisiana officers who were mounted were wounded, including York who took a bullet in the left wrist and his arm had to be amputated later, leaving him unfit for further field service. The 10th Louisiana finally retreated through Winchester and went into camp at Middletown.
The Confederates suffered 4,000 casualties in the battle, and the Federals 5,081. Half of the Confederate casualties were captives, while 80 percent of the Federal casualties were killed and wounded. The Louisiana brigade’s share of the casualties was 154. The 10th Louisiana had four men killed, 4 wounded, one wounded and captured and five captured for a total of 15. Colonel Waggaman was wounded in the shoulder. The Confederate States Rangers had no casualties in the battle.



Friday, August 22, 2014

150-Years-Ago -- SIEGE OF PETERSBURG, VA

Richmond Times-Dispatch
22 Aug. 1864

The fight at Petersburg.

The Petersburg Express contains an account of the fight near that city on Friday. It appears that on Thursday our forces, after attacking the Yankees on the Weldon road and driving them one mile, ceased the pursuit, and fell back to a point nearer the city, leaving only a skirmish line in front of the enemy, which was also soon after withdrawn. The Express says:
The enemy did not discover our disappearance from their front until yesterday morning, when they immediately threw forward their lines of skirmishers and advanced their left to the battle-field of Thursday, in Davis's corn-field, throwing up, as they advanced, two lines of breastworks. Their right was extended in an oblique direction to the northeast of the railroad, and batteries were placed at favorable points along the whole line.
Gen. A.P. Hill
(Confederate Veteran Magazine)
This occupation of one of our main lines of communication with the South was, of course, not to be permitted without an effort to dislodge the enemy. Accordingly, all arrangements having been completed, General A. P. Hill, commanding Mahone's and Heth's divisions, attacked them between the hours of 3 and 4 o'clock. General Mahone commanded the troops to the left of the railroad, and General Heth those to the right. The attack was opened by Mahone, and was speedily responded to by Heth on the right, and the battle raged furiously.
On the right, General Heth, with the gallant brigades of his divisions — Davis's, Walker's and Archer's — struck the enemy's picket line in the cornfield a short distance beyond Davis's residence.--These were quickly forced back upon the first line of breastworks, held by a formidable force. With a cheer, the Confederate troops bounded forward and swept over all obstruction, pressing the Yankees back with severe loss into their second line; and charging onward, forced them thence with an equal lack of ceremony. Beaten from their works, and defeated in their every effort to retain them, the Yankees retreated to their main line of entrenchments, into which they had been driven on the previous evening. This line having been greatly strengthened, proved too strong to be stormed, and our troops were checked in the face of the slaughter which threatened a further advance.
           In the meantime, General Mahone, with Clingman's, Colquitt's, and his own former brigade, had struck the right of the Yankee lines and captured eight hundred prisoners. Pressing forward with his usual energy, he drove the enemy before him, successfully charging them wherever they made a stand.
Finding them strongly entrenched, however, in the thick woods opposite Davis's farm, it was determined to dislodge them by a flank movement. Clingman's and Mahone's old brigade engaged them in front, while, by a circuitous route, Colquitt's (Georgia) brigade was thrown on their flank. The movement proved a brilliant success, and caused scarcely any loss to our troops.
Colquitt's men were upon the Yankees almost before they were aware of such close proximity of the rebels, and surrender or fighting under fearful disadvantage was the alternative. Crawford's crack division, of Warren's (Fifth) corps, here fell a helpless victim to rebel strategy, and the greater part of two brigades — numbering over two thousand men--threw down their arms and surrendered. The prisoners were quickly placed under guard and sent to the rear, where they were formed into line and marched to General Hill's headquarters.
The battle still progressed successfully until the enemy was driven back to the position from which he advanced in the morning. At dark, our lines were close up to his works, and occasional volleys of musketry showed still farther fighting.
Among the prisoners taken is Brigadier-General Hays, of Massachusetts, several colonels, and other field officers of less grade. General Hayes was brought into town last night.
            During the engagement we left a number of men taken prisoners, but we understand they were afterwards recaptured. The success which followed the attack threw our men into the best spirits, and every soldier wore a smile of satisfaction upon his countenance.
The result of the attack is highly satisfactory to the officers in command, and is viewed in the most favorable light. The enemy has been materially weakened by the loss of three thousand of his best troops taken prisoners and several thousand killed and wounded. He is demoralized by his defeat, and though he may fight hard yet to hold the position he has gained, his prestige is gone, and he will not offer the front he has shown during the last few days.
The weather was rainy during the day, and especially so during the afternoon. The fighting was done amidst a series of heavy showers, which not only incommoded our men, but rendered the ground heavy and slippery. Most of the fighting on our left was done in a dense growth of underbrush and woods.
We can form no estimate of the Yankee loss other than the statement of officers that it was very heavy, Many of their dead and wounded fell into our hands. Nor are we able to form an idea of our own loss, as up to night but few of the wounded had been brought from the field. The great majority of those we saw were slightly wounded. We shall learn further particulars of the casualties and of the battle to-day. We regret to state, however, that General Clingman was painfully, though not seriously, wounded.
The battle for the possession of the railroad will probably be resumed this morning, and it is believed the enemy will not only be dislodged, but disastrously defeated. This expedition will turn out, in the end, to be the greatest disaster that has yet happened to Grant in this department.
Reports from the battle-field, late last evening, represent our forces between the enemy and the main army in front of Petersburg. If so, something interesting may occur to-day.
It is also stated that several hundred more prisoners have been taken, thus running the number above three thousand.

As the enemy still hold the railroad, it is impossible to state what damage has been done the track. It is believed, that instead of sending a body of raiders across towards the south side, the enemy's cavalry are operating on the Weldon road in the rear of the army.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

150-years-ago -- THE BATTLE OF MOBILE BAY, ALABAMA





            LAKE CHARLES, Louisiana -- An important artifact from the Battle of Mobile Bay, Alabama, which occurred August 5, 1864, is on display at  the Imperial Calcasieu Museum in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Admiral Franklin Buchanan
            The flag, a small boat  size flag, was rescued by a Confederate sailor off the C.S.S. Tennessee as the ironclad surrendered to the enemy fleet. The story of how it got to the Lake Charles museum is a dramatic sidelight to the famous battle.
             The battle began at 5:30 o'clock A.M. on the morning of the 5th of August when the U.S. Navy fleet of Admiral David Glasgow Farragut steamed into Mobile Bay. He had 16 warships, including four ironclad monitors, under his command. The objective was to silence the two Confederate forts at the entrance, Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines, and the Confederate fleet inside the bay, under the command of Admiral Franklin Buchanan.
             Buchanan's flagship was the Tennessee, which was under the immediate command of Lieutenant James D. Johnston. Other ships in the small Confederate fleet were the Morgan, Gaines and Selma. Also a heavy line of "torpedoes," which would later be called undersea mines, were strung across the entrance of the bay.
             On that morning 150-years-ago, the Federal warships lined up in formation outside the bay and immediately ran into serious trouble. The USS Tecumseh, a single turret ironclad with two 15-inch heavy naval guns, was the first to chance entrance and sank within minutes after hitting one of the torpedoes. Perishing in the explosion were 93 men out of a crew of 114. In the best tradition of the sea, Captain Tunis A.M. Craven went down with his ship after giving up his chance to escape to another crew member.
             The rest of the Federal fleet, which was also receiving a terrific pounding from the guns in the forts, faltered. This is when Admiral Farragut shouted his famous phrase, the full quote of which is, "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead, Drayton! Hard a-starboard! Ring four bells! Sixteen bells!"
              Added into the the drama was Farragut's position on his flagship, the USS Hartford. He had himself lashed far above the deck on the Hartford's port main rigging so he could get a better view of the battle above the smoke of the cannons. The 63-year-old admiral was utterly fearless and was a veteran of 54 years of uninterupted naval service at the time of the Battle of Mobile Bay.
             But an equally experienced, courageous and aggressive opponent to Farragut was in the person of Franklin Buchanan was on the Tennessee. Buchanan served in the U.S. Navy from 1814 until 1861 when he resigned to join the Confederate Navy. Although a strong Unionist, he was said to have been repelled by the coercive policy of the Lincoln administration. Hopelessly outnumbered, the audacious Buchanan nevertheless personally led his small Confederate fleet out to do battle with the Federals.
             The Tennessee was a formidable  warship for her time. She was constructed at the iron foundary in Selma, Alabama and was the most powerful casemated ironclad in the Confederate Navy. The Tennessee was 209 feet long from stem to stern, 48 feet abeam and drew 14 feet of water. Her sloping, 3-inch-thick iron plated  sides could resist the heaviest fire that could be directed against her.  The ship's battery included four 5.4 inch guns in broadside and 7-inch Brooke rifles on pivot mounts on each end of the casemate. She also had an iron ram designed to fatally impale  enemy warships.
             Using the tactics of a maddened bull, Buchanan had the captain of the Tennessee steer directly for the Federal flagship Hartford. Salvoes from the massive naval guns erupted and the wooden Confederate gunboat Gaines was quickly sent to the bottom of the bay and the Morgan was badly damaged and had to withdraw. The Selma, also a wooden gunboat, fearlessly took up position in font of the Hartford and darted back and forth raking the Federal flagship with deadly missiles. Farragut ordered the USS Metacomet, a wooden vessel, to chase the Selma up the bay where she captured Confederate ship after a sharp engagement.
              But contending with the Tennessee was a much more serious challenge to the Federal fleet. Farragut called it "one of the fiercest naval battles on record." While the Tennessee was blazing away with all her guns, the USS Chickasaw and other Federal ironclads pounded her with 11-inch guns while the wooden warship rammed her.
              After three hours of such punishment, Admiral Buchanan lay wounded in the leg., the Tennessee's steering chains were shot away, her smokestack had collapsed, all her gunports were jammed shut and she was unable to make steam or maneuver. Now a completely helpless hulk, the proud Southern ironclad surrendered. The Confederate fleet had lost 12 men killed, 20 wounded and 280 captured. The Federals lost 145 bluejackets killed and 174 wounded.
             At the moment of surrender a young Confederate sailor, Michael Kennedy, emerged from the Tennessee. He hauled down the ship's flag, tied it around his waist and dove into the water. He swam to shore thus saving himself and the flag from the humiliation of capture.
             Kennedy later gave the flag to his foster sister, Florence Newberry Wimberly, who gave it to her son, E.L. Wimberly. Wimberly eventually gave the flag to the late Miss Marie Ryan, who was a charter member of Robert E. Lee Chapter 305, United Daughters of the Confederacy, in Lake Charles. Ryan donated the flag to the Imperial Calcasieu Museum in Lake Charles, where it is on public display.