The General

Eric J. Wittenberg is an award-winning Civil War historian. He is also a practicing attorney and is the sole proprietor of Eric J. Wittenberg Co., L.P.A. He is the author of sixteen published books and more than two dozen articles on the Civil War. He serves on the Governor of Ohio's Advisory Commission on the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, as the vice president of the Buffington Island Battlefield Preservation Foundation, and often consults with the Civil War Preservation Trust on battlefield preservation issues. Eric, his wife Susan, and their two golden retrievers live in Columbus, Ohio.


Here’s the next in my infrequent series of profiles of forgotten cavalrymen of the American Civil War.

George S. Acker was born near Rochester, New York on December 25, 1835. In 1839, his family relocated to Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he lived the rest of his life. “He was a bright and chivalrous young man,” recalled a local resident. He worked in a Kalamazoo hotel before the outbreak of the Civil War, where he was a “popular assistant.”

With the coming of war, he decided to enlist. He helped to recruit a company of the 1st Michigan Cavalry and was commissioned a captain. While serving in the 1st Michigan Cavalry, Acker “took an active part in the contests at Winchester, Orange Court Honse, Cedar Mountain, and the second Bull Run, where, a charge that he led freed Lt. Col. Charles H. Town, who had been captured, and brought him back into the Union lines, badly wounded. He was made Major on September 2, 1862 in recognition of his gallantry.

Lt. Col. George S. Acker, 9th Michigan Cavalry

When the 9th Michigan Cavalry was formed that fall, he was assigned as its lieutenant colonel.The 9th Michigan Cavalry was mustered into service in May 1863. The 9th Michigan, then commanded by Col. James L. David, was ordered to Covington, Kentucky, leaving by detachments, on May 18, 20, and 25, 1863, respectively. Then, on June 4, the regiment marched to Hickman’s Bridge, where on June 12, they were ordered to Mount Sterling, to pursue guerrillas, whom they overtook at Triplett’s Bridge, then completely routed.The regiment then joined the pursuit of Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s cavalry, which invaded Indiana and Ohio. Acker “was very prominent in the pursuit and capture of the notorious rebel Gen. John H. Morgan in Ohio in July and August 1863,” noted his obituary, which also said, “He said to his command, ‘Come,’ and led them wherever the enemy opposed or danger threatened.” The 9th Michigan played a significant role at the July 19, 1863 Battle of Buffington Island in southeastern Ohio. In November 1863, Acker was commissioned colonel of the 9th Michigan Cavalry.

The Detroit Free Press described Acker’s role in the battle of Morristown, fought on December 10, 1863 as part of the Knoxville Campaign: “Col. Acker threw himself at the head of his regiment and shouted: “Boys, charge the rascals with a yell,’ and himnelf setting the example, with revolver in hand, charged full speed up the hill. The enemy broke ranks and ran in confusion to the rifle-pits, and when the boys saw Col. Acker standing in the rifle-pits sending its contents along the trender, it was enthusiasm run mad that sent his men like a swarm into tbe ditches. It was in vain the rebels tried to stay the storm. After the first charge was fired our boys clubbed their muskets, and thus fought their way through their fortifications.” Acker was wounded in the right leg in combat at Bean’s Station on December 14, 1863 during the Knoxville Campaign. Acker returned to duty in March 1864, in time for the beginning the Atlanta Campaign and commanded his regiment throughout that critical 1864 campaign.

He briefly commanded a brigade during the March to the Sea, and retained command of his regiment for the rest of the war, participating in the battles of the Carolinas Campaign and then in the pursuit of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s army to Raleigh, North Carolina. A soldier of the 92nd Illinois remembered him as “a cool and brave cavalry soldier.” He was brevetted to brigadier general of volunteers at the end of the war, and mustered out in June 1865. His obituary noted that “His services are often referred to as among the most valuable and gallant of the many excellent officers of Michigan regiments.”

After the Civil War, he led a quiet life, working as a hotelkeeper and milkman. Acker died on September 6, 1879 at the young age of 44. He apparently never married, as his obituary indicates that he was survived by his mother and sister. He was buried in Riverside Cemetery in Union City, Michigan.

Here’s to Bvt. Brig. Gen. George S. Acker, forgotten cavalryman, who did his duty well and honorably throughout the Civil War.

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William Douglas Hamilton was born in Lanarkshire, Scotland on May 24, 1832. He immigrated to the United States with his parents and two siblings six years later, and the family settled on a 200-acre farm near Newark in Licking County, Ohio. Two uncles had had settled in Ohio three years earlier, and parents followed their brothers to America, settling in a a Scottish enclave that developed along the National Road in Central Ohio.

As a youth, he worked on the farm and then taught school to earn his way through college and then law school. He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan College in Delaware, Ohio and from the Cincinnati Law School in 1859. He then established a law office in Zanesville and practiced law until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. When Fort Sumter was shelled in April 1861, Hamilton was recuperating from typhoid fever. He immediately decided to enlist.

Abandoning his law practice, he raised the first company for three years’ service in that part of Ohio, and was assigned to the 32nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry as captain of Company G. He served in the West Virginia and Shenandoah Valley campaigns of 1861 and 1862. Fortunately, he was at home in Zanesville on recruiting duty when his regiment surrendered to Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s troops at Harpers Ferry in September 1862, so he avoided that disgrace.

In December 1862, Ohio Governor David Tod directed Hamilton to recruit the 9th Ohio Cavalry. The regiment was organized in 1863 for three years’ service. The first four companies mustered in at Zanesville in January 1863, and it took until September, October, and December for the remaining eight companies to be mustered into service. The first four companies were organized as a battalion and placed under Hamilton’s command. The regiment was finally completed and united in Alabama in early 1864. Hamilton was originally commissioned as a major of the new regiment, earning promotions to lieutenant colonel in 1863, and finally to colonel later that year. He was known as an officer who “takes great care of his soldiers” and who “does not let them suffer.” Two brothers, Robert and Henry, also enlisted in the same company and were killed during the war.

Col. William D. Hamilton, 9th Ohio Cavalry

The 9th Ohio Cavalry served honorably in the Atlanta Campaign, the March to the Sea, and the Carolinas Campaign. In particular, Hamilton and the 9th Ohio served critical roles in the December 4, 1864 Battle of Waynesboro, Georgia during the March to the Sea, and at the February 11, 1865 Battle of Aiken, South Carolina, where a cousin, Lt. Arthur Hamilton, the regimental adjutant of the 9th Ohio Cavalry, was mortally wounded.

In all, William D. Hamilton served one year in the infantry and then three years in the cavalry during the course of the American Civil War. Among the battles he participate din were Cheat Mountain, Decatur, Buckhead Creek, Waynesboro, Aiken, Averasboro, and Bentonville. He was brevetted to brigadier general of volunteers for “gallant and meritorious service rendered during the campaign ending in the surrender of the insurgent armies of Johnson and Lee” upon recommendation by Sherman and Judson Kilpatrick.

Bvt. Brig. Gen. William D. Hamilton late in life.

After the Civil War, Hamilton abandoned the practice of law and became an industrialist in the coal and iron business. He successively was president of a rolling mill company located in Newark, Ohio. He organized and served as treasurer of the Newark, Somerset and Shawnee Railroad, which was later purchased by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. He then served as president of the Ogden Iron Company at Orbiston, Hocking County, Ohio, which later merged with another company. Then, he acted as president of the Hamilton Coal and Iron Company, operating in Athens County, Ohio. Finally, his last role was as president of the Southern Slate Company.

Hamilton was a Republican, a member of the Wells Post, G.A.R., in Columbus, Ohio, the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, and the First Congregational Church in Columbus. He published a well-regarded memoir of his wartime service in 1915 titled Personal Recollections of a Cavalryman After Fifty Years.

Hamilton married Sarah Cheaver Abbott of Zanesville in 1866. The couple had two daughters, Mrs. C. E. Gillette, wife of Major Gillette of Philadelphia, and Mrs. Charles E. Sudler, of Chilhowee, Tennessee and two sons, William E. Hamilton of Columbus and Charles R. Hamilton of Cleveland. His grandson, Douglas Hamilton Gillette, was a member of the West Point Class of 1915, and Hamilton dedicated his memoir to his grandson.

Hamilton died in Columbus, Ohio on January 22, 1916, and was buried in an unmarked grave in Greenlawn Cemetery. Sarah Hamilton died in 1920 and was buried alongside her husband. She also rests in an unmarked grave.

The Central Ohio Civil War Roundtable has made the marking of General and Mrs. Hamilton’s graves a group project. We hope that it will come to fruition during 2018, as this forgotten horse soldier deserves recognition for his honorable service during the Civil War.

Here’s to William Douglas Hamilton, forgotten Ohio cavalryman.

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It’s been a very long time since my last post, and even longer since my last Forgotten Cavalrymen profile. I’ve been working on the February 11, 1865 Battle of Aiken, South Carolina, which will spur several of these profiles. Here’s the first one, of Lt. Col. Matthew Van Buskirk of the 92nd Illinois Mounted Infantry.

Matthew Van Buskirk was born in Buckmantown, Clinton County, New York, on January 1, 1835. He was the son of Lorenzo Dow Van Buskirk and Louisa Van Buskirk, and had one brother, Albert, born March 20, 1841 (Albert Van Buskirk was killed in action at the Battle of Drury’s Bluff near Petersburg, Virginia on May 16, 1864). After completing his education, the young man relocated to Illinois in 1851, and was still living there with the coming of war in 1861.

Capt. Matthew Van Buskirk, 1863.

He enlisted in the 92nd Illinois Volunteer Infantry, which was organized at Rockford, Illinois, on September 4, 1862, and was quickly elected captain of Company E. The 92nd Illinois consisted of five companies from Ogle County, three from Stephenson County, and two from Carroll County.

The newly formed regiment left Rockford, 11 October 1862, with orders to report to Gen. Horatio G. Wright, in command of the defenses of Cincinnati, Ohio. The regiment was assigned to Gen. Absalom Baird’s Division of the Army of Kentucky. These men soon marched into the interior of Kentucky and was stationed at Mt. Sterling in October to guard against rebel cavalry raids during Braxton Bragg’s invasion of Kentucky. Later, it was assigned to Danville, Kentucky. On January 26, 1863, Baird’s division, including the 92nd Illinois, was transferred to the Army of the Cumberland. The division was assigned to serve in Franklin, Tennessee, and assisted in the pursuit of Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn’s Confederate cavalry raiders. They advanced to Murfreesboro,and occupied Shelbyville, Tennessee on June 27, 1863.

The 92nd Illinois Infantry converted to mounted infantry on July 22, 1863 and was rearmed with Spencer repeating rifles. It was then assigned to join Brigadier General John T. Wilder’s Lightning Brigade for the rest of Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans’ command of the Army of the Cumberland. During the early phases of what became the Chickamauga Campaign, with the Lightning Brigade leading Rosecrans’ advance, the 92nd Illinois crossed the mountains at Dechard, Tennessee, and took part in the movements opposite and above Chattanooga. The 92nd Illinois then crossed back over the mountains and joined Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas at Trenton, Alabama. On the morning of September 9, the Lightning Brigade led the Union advance to Chattanooga, helping to drive the Confederates from Point Lookout. The 92nd Illinois then entered Chattanooga, unfolding the Union banner on the Crutchfield House. They then pursued the retreating Confederates. Brig. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry attacked the Lightning Brigade near Ringgold, Georgia, inflicting significant casualties on the Federals. At Chickamauga, the 92nd Illinois supported Maj. Gen. Joseph J. Reynolds’ Division of Thomas’ 14th Corps.

In April, 1864, the 92nd was doing picket duty at Ringgold, Georgia. On May 7, 1864, the 92nd Illinois, which had now been converted to light cavalry and armed with cavalry weapons, began Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign as part of Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick’s Third Cavalry Division. The 92nd Illinois participated in the Battle of Resaca, Kilpatrick’s failed raid around Atlanta, as well as the Battles of Bethesda, Fleet River Bridge, and Jonesboro, where the regiment lost one-fifth of the men engaged. The regiment moved from Mount Gilead Church, west of Atlanta, on October 1, and took an active part in the operations against Hood’s army, including taking heavy losses at Powder Springs. About this time, Van Buskirk was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 92nd Illinois after Col. Smith D. Atkins was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers and assumed command of a Federal cavalry brigade.

The 92nd Illinois then participated in the various engagements and skirmishes in Sherman’s March to the Sea and then through the Carolinas Campaign of 1865. During its term of service, the 92nd Illinois participated in some forty battles and skirmishes. The regiment was mustered out at Concord, North Carolina, on June 21, 1865, and was then discharged at Chicago, Illinois, on July 10, 1865.

Lt. Col. Matthew Van Buskirk later in life.

Van Buskirk “was popular with his soldiers and trusted by his superior officers,” noted one biographer. With the end of the war, he settled in Iowa Falls, Iowa, where he successfully operated a store selling boots, shoes and crockery and later dry goods and other items, growing his business into a general merchandising business. Later, he became a gentleman farmer. He married Nellie C. McGiven in 1866, and they had seven children together. Van Buskirk died on January 10, 1901 and was buried in Iowa City’s Union Cemetery. “He was a clear-brained, noble-minded man of action and his life record is worthy of emulation by the youth of this locality whose careers are yet matters for the future to determine,” declared his biographer.

Here’s to forgotten cavalryman Matthew Van Buskirk, who performed his duty capably and with honor throughout the American Civil War.

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My old friend and fellow cavalry historian Bob O’Neill has started a new blog that I want to recommend to you. Bob is THE authority of the cavalry battles in the Loudoun Valley of Virginia during the Gettysburg, and that’s one of the focuses of the blog, which is called Small but Important Riots. That’s the title of Bob’s excellent but LONG out of print on these engagements from 1993. Bob’s working a new edition–truly excellent news for those of us interested in these fascinating engagements–and has also written a very good book on the cavalry division assigned to the defenses of Washington until just before the Battle of Gettysburg that I commend to you.

Bob’s new blog, which I have added to the blogroll, focuses on cavalry actions in the Loudoun Valley, and contains some really interesting bits. If you have an interest in Civil War cavalry, please check it out.

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An 1876 portrait of Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade. Many of Meade's possessions are in this collection

An 1876 portrait of Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade. Many of Meade’s possessions are in this collection

From today:

Civil War Museum transfers collection to Gettysburg with Constitution Center exhibit planned
Updated: May 4, 2016 — 3:22 AM EDT
by Stephan Salisbury, Culture Writer

The homeless Civil War Museum of Philadelphia, steward of what scholars regard as one of the finest collections of Civil War materials anywhere but possessing no place to display them, reached an agreement Monday to transfer ownership of its roughly 3,000 artifacts to the Gettysburg Foundation, the private, nonprofit partner of the National Park Service.

At the same time, the National Constitution Center on Independence Mall has agreed to mount a permanent exhibition exploring the constitutional impact of the Civil War, using artifacts drawn from what is now the foundation’s Gettysburg collection.

It is believed it will be the first museum exhibit exploring the war’s constitutional legacy.

Like the Flying Dutchman, the Civil War Museum has traveled for years, rich in its memories of the dead, but invisible and portless in the land of the living.

“Our goal is to preserve the collection with integrity and to ensure the collection will be available to the citizens of Philadelphia,” said Oliver St. Clair Franklin, board chairman of the Civil War Museum. “And we’re very pleased the National Constitution Center is going to preserve space for an exhibition to explore what was our greatest constitutional crisis.”

Joanne M. Hanley, president of the Gettysburg Foundation, which owns and operates the visitor center and 22,000-square-foot museum at Gettysburg National Military Park, called the collection “priceless.”

“The significance of these pieces, you can’t put into words,” she said. “There’s no hyperbole that can describe them.”

Jeffrey Rosen, chief executive and president of the Constitution Center, said the future constitutional exhibition, focusing on passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, would be a few years in the making.

For one thing, he said, all money for the exhibition, which he estimated might cost up to $2 million, would have to be in hand before proceeding.

“Our exhibition is contingent on securing funding in advance,” he said. “As soon as the funds are secured, we’ll have a better sense of the timeline.”

The postwar constitutional amendments, among other things, abolished slavery, addressed equal protection under the law, defined citizenship, and guaranteed the right to vote.

Sharon Smith, president and chief executive of the Civil War Museum, said the collection was currently in storage at Gettysburg, where it played a central role in the Gettysburg Foundation’s commemorative exhibition related to the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Gettysburg.

That exhibition closed last year, but Hanley said the collection would be deeply mined for a long-term exhibition scheduled to open at the end of June on the art of the Civil War.

“We will always have major pieces on view,” Hanley said.

Smith said she believed the agreement with the foundation and the NCC would conclude the Civil War Museum’s odyssey, which began in earnest about a decade ago and has included lawsuits, virtual closure, failed partnership efforts, an aborted relocation to Richmond, Va., a failed state bailout, a failed deal with Independence National Historical Park, and seemingly endless searches for a home.

“It’s been like a soap opera,” Smith said. “It’s been going on for years and years.”

The roots of the museum go back to the end of the Civil War, when Union officers formed the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS). In 1888 they founded a museum in Philadelphia, and over the years, Union officers and their descendants donated a rich array of artifacts, including plaster casts of Lincoln’s hands and face, battle photos, Jefferson Davis’ smoking jacket, battle flags, the first John Wilkes Booth wanted poster, bullet-riddled tree trunks, photos of black soldiers and regiments, diaries, letters, drawings, swords, and firearms – a seemingly endless stream of personal, quirky, evocative objects.

For years, the collection was housed in a stately Pine Street mansion. But internal squabbles broke out in 2000, sparked by dwindling finances, declining visitation, a failed affiliation with the Union League, and an incendiary proposal to move everything to a new museum in Richmond, former capital of the Confederacy.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office stepped in and blocked the Richmond move. In the next several years, the Pine Street building was sold. An effort to move into the historic First Bank of the United States, located in Independence Park, fell through. The artifacts found homes in boxes, and the museum searched in vain for a home in Philadelphia, city of its birth.

On the plus side, however, a strong affiliation grew with the Gettysburg Foundation, which has conserved and stored much of the museum’s collection and now stores it, officials said.

(The famous preserved head of Gen. George G. Meade’s horse, Old Baldy, which was displayed by the Civil War Museum for many years, was returned to its owner, the Grand Army of the Republic Museum and Library in Frankford, in 2010.)

The framework of the agreement just announced – the transfer of ownership of artifacts to Gettysburg, with a subsequent long-term loan to the NCC – emerged in the last two years as the best alternative to a stand-alone Philadelphia museum housing the collection.

In an April 25 letter to museum chair Franklin, the head of MOLLUS in Pennsylvania said his organization was “saddened” to learn that despite “a decade of work,” the museum would not have a new museum home in Philadelphia.

That said, commander-in-chief James Alan Simmons wrote that the museum’s plan of transferring the artifacts to the Gettysburg Foundation is “prudent and appropriate” and “the best alternative.”

The Civil War Museum, while giving its artifacts to Gettysburg, remains owner of an archive of more than 10,000 documents – journals, diaries, papers, photographs, books. Those materials are housed at the Union League, under a separate stewardship agreement, and are available for research.

“We’re running on fumes,” Smith said, regarding the museum’s finances. “There’s virtually no money. We’re down to a very small amount. That’s why it’s important to make sure all this is taken care of.”



Count me as being vehemently opposed to this arrangement. Having seen that collection, I know it is nothing short of spectacular. The airport terminal that is the Gettysburg Visitor Center already fails to display the vast majority of the artifacts in the Rosensteel Collection, claiming lack of display space. If that’s the case, what are the odds of even a small percentage of these items ever being displayed again? Slim to none.

Shame on former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell for breaching the agreement to fund a new museum.

These items should be on display at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, where at least they would be seen, instead of languishing in storage.

The Constitution Center exhibit will be great. I attended an event with Jeffrey Rosen at Dickinson College in March, and know him to be a dedicated and enthusiastic director of a great project. But that exhibit is NOT a Civil War exhibit. It’s constitutional law exhibit, and there is no place in it for most of the artifacts in the MOLLUS Museum’s collection.

I will, however, be pleased to see some of those artifacts back home in Philadelphia where they belong, which will be the best thing about that exhibit.

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I just found a very interesting tidbit….

A certain Gettysburg licensed battlefield guide has stated a theory that Farnsworth’s Charge occurred a mile or so away from where traditional accounts place it. I’ve always maintained that that theory is just that–a theory. J David Petruzzi and I wrote a very lengthy essay rebutting this theory that appears as an appendix to the second edition of my book Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions, the content of which was largely based on the words and comments of the veterans of the battle.

I just found a new one. In this one, a private of the Fifth Corps, wrote, “During this time the Union cavalry made its appearance on our left in rear of Hood’s division. Kilpatrick sent Farnsworth forward across Plum Run. He charged the infantry, and endeavored to capture their reserve artillery and supplies. Though unsuccessful, and its leader and many of his men were killed and many made prisoners, yet it proved a useful diversion. It told upon the final issue of the battle by preventing Longstreet from reinforcing the rebel centre, to assist in the final and main attack which Lee was maturing. It also spoiled the execution of a plan Hood had formed to capture our supply trains.” The source for this is Warren Lee Goss, Recollections of a Private. A Story of the Army of the Potomac (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 1899), pp. 211-212.

The course of Plum Run.

The course of Plum Run.

This demonstrates that the other theory is just plain wrong–Plum Run flows nowhere near where that theory places the charge. If, indeed, Farnsworth’s Charge crossed Plum Run as Goss contended, it had to have occurred where the traditional interpretations of the battle place it. This map shows the course of Plum Run, which empties into Rock Creek far from the southern end of the battlefield (to see a larger version of this map, simply click on it). That alternate theory says that the charge happened along the Emmitsburg Road near where Wesley Merritt’s Reserve Brigade fought. Plum Run is nowhere near there.

So much for that other theory…

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AlfieIt’s an open question as to who was the worst, biggest, most pathological liar: Alfred Pleasonton or Phil Sheridan. Both were incapable of telling the truth, and both were known for prevaricating in the interest of self-promotion. As I have described him here previously, Pleasonton was a lead from the rear kind of a guy who was a masterful schemer and political intriguer. Pleasonton was the sort of guy who would start a fight on the playground and then step back and watch the chaos that he had started. And he was known for telling whoppers in the hope of promoting himself and his moribund career; his persistent lying and scheming ultimately cost him his command with the Army of the Potomac and found him banished to the hinterlands of Missouri, where, shockingly, he actually did quite well in running down the command of Maj. Gen. Sterling Price in the fall of 1864. He carried the mocking nickname of “The Knight of Romance” for good reason.

I recently came across an epic whopper by Pleasonton wherein he took credit for wounding Stonewall Jackson, a claim so outrageous as to have caused me to laugh out loud when I read it. This is Alfred Pleasonton’s account of the Battle of Chancellorsville, wherein he was clearly the hero of the battle (at least in his own mind):

In this campaign my command was the first cavalry division of the army of the Potomac, the first brigade of which during the battle was with General Stoneman on his raid towards Richmond, in rear of Lee’s army. With one brigade I preceded the 11th and 12th corps as far as Chancellorsville. The movements of the 5th, 11th, and 12th corps across the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers were very fine and masterly, and were executed with such secrecy that the enemy were not aware of them; for, on the 30th of April, 1863, I captured a courier from General Lee, commanding the rebel army, bearing a despatch from General Lee to General Anderson, and written only one hour before, stating to General Anderson he had just been informed we had crossed in force, when, in fact, our three corps had been south of the Rapidan the night previous, and were then only five miles from Chancellorsville. The brilliant success of these preparatory movements, I was under the impression, gave General Hooker an undue confidence as to his being master of the situation, and all the necessary steps were not taken on his arrival at Chancellorsville to insure complete success. The country around Chancellorsville was too cramped to admit of our whole army being properly developed there; and two corps, the 11th and 12th, should have been thrown on the night of the 30th of April to Spotsylvania Court House, with orders to intrench, while the remainder of the army should have been disposed so as to support them. This would have compelled General Lee to attack our whole force or retire with his flank exposed, a dangerous operation in war, or else remain in position and receive the attack of Sedgwick in rear and Hooker in front, a still worse dilemma.

In the third day’s fight at Chancellorsville General Hooker was badly stunned by the concussion of a shell against a post near which he was standing, and from which he did not recover sufficiently during the battle to resume the proper command of the army. The plan of this campaign was a bold one, and was more judicious than was generally supposed from the large force General Hooker had at his command. There is always one disadvantage, however, attending the sending off of large detachments near the day of battle. War is such an uncertain game it can scarcely be expected that all the details in the best devised plans will meet with success, and unless a general is prepared and expects to replace at once, by new combinations, such parts of his plans as fail, he will be defeated in his campaign, and as these changes are often rapid, he cannot include his distant detachments in his new plans with any certainty, and the doubt their absence creates, reduces the army he can depend on to the actual number of men he has in hand. If General Hooker had not been injured at the commencement of the final battle, I am not certain his splendid fighting qualities would not have won for him the victory. It was in this battle that with three regiments of cavalry and twenty-two pieces of artillery I checked the attack of the rebel General Stonewall Jackson after he had routed the 11th corps. Jackson had been moving his corns of twenty-five or thirty thousand men through the woods throughout the day of the 2d of May, 1863, from the left to the right of our army, and about six o’clock in the evening he struck the right and rear of the 11th corps with one of those characteristic attacks that made the rebel army so terrible when he was with it, and which was lost to them in his death. In a very short time he doubled up the 11th corps into a disordered mass, that soon sought safety in flight. My command Of three cavalry regiments and one battery of six guns happened to be near this scene; and perceiving at a glance that if this rout was not checked the ruin of the whole army would be involved, I immediately ordered one of my regiments to charge the woods from which the rebels were issuing and hold them until I could bring some guns into position; then chaining several squadrons into our flying masses to clear ground for my battery, it was brought up at a run, while staff officers and troops were despatched to seize from the rout all the guns possible. The brilliant charge of the regiment into the woods detained the rebels some ten minutes, but in that short time such was the energy displayed by my command I placed in line twenty-two pieces of artillery, double-shotted with canister, and aimed low, with the remainder of the cavalry supporting them. Dusk was now rapidly approaching, with an apparent lull in the fight, when heavy masses of men could be seen in the edge of the woods, having a single flag — and that the flag of the United States — while at the same time they cried out, “Don’t shoot; we are friends!” In an instant an aide-de-camp galloped out to ascertain the truth, when a withering fire of musketry was opened on us by this very gallant foe, who now dropped our ensign, displayed ten or twelve rebel battle flags, and with loud yells charged the guns. I then gave the command “fire,” and the terrible volley delivered at less than two hundred yards’ distance caused the thick moving masses of the rebels to stagger, cease from yelling, and for a moment discontinue their musket fire; but they were in such numbers, had such an indomitable leader, and they had so great a prize within their reach, that they soon rallied and came on again with increased energy and force, to be met by the artillery, served well and rapidly, and with such advantage that the rebels were never able to make a permanent lodgement at the guns, which many of their adventurous spirits succeeded in reaching. This fight lasted about an hour, when a final charge was made and repulsed; they then sullenly retired to the woods. It was at this time that General Jackson was mortally wounded; and as the rebel authorities have published he had been killed by his own men, I shall mention some facts of so strong a character as to refute this statement. Soon after the last attack I captured some of the rebel soldiers in the woods, and they told me it was Jackson’s corps that had made this fight; that Jackson himself had directed it, and had been mortally wounded, and that their loss was very heavy. I have since met rebel officers who were then engaged, and they corroborated the above statement, and they added, that it was known and believed among Jackson’s men that he had been mortally wounded by our own fire. Again, one of my own officers who had been taken prisoner in that engagement told me, after he was exchanged, that he had been taken up to Jackson soon after his capture; that Jackson questioned him about our force, and that he then was not far from our lines. This clearly proves that Jackson was on the field, in command, and had not been wounded up to and until after the fight had commenced. Now, when it is remembered the entire front of my line did not occupy six hundred yards; that the opposing forces were in open ground, not three hundred yards from each other, and so close that no reconnaissance in front was necessary by an officer of Jackson’s rank, and taken, in connection with the fact that the fierce characteristic of the attacks of the man did not cease until he was wounded, and were not renewed after he was, the conclusion is simple, natural, and forcible that Jackson commanded and fell in his attack on our guns. In justice to the high character, as a general, of Jackson, I am free to admit that had he not been wounded, and had made another attack, as he undoubtedly would have done, he would have carried my position, for my losses had already disabled more than half my guns, and the few that were left could have easily been overpowered. There seemed a providential interference in Jackson’s removal at the critical time in which it occurred, for the position fought for by him commanded and enfiladed our whole army; and had he won it on the rout of the 11th corps, the disaster to us would have been irreparable.

Wow. There’s not much else to say but wow. Too bad this is all fiction….

It bears noting that George Stoneman intentionally left him behind when the Cavalry Corps went off on its raid during the Chancellorsville Campaign. Pleasonton should not have even been at Chancellorsville, but for the fact that Stoneman didn’t want him along on the expedition.

He reminds me of the Jon Lovitz “Lying Man” character from the 1990’s edition of Saturday Night Live:

This little prize is part of a very long letter that Pleasonton wrote to Sen. Benjamin F. Wade, the chairman of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, in the late fall of 1865, reporting on his activities in the Civil War. It’s a flight of fancy that is jam-packed with lie after self-aggrandizing lie that is epic even by Alf Pleasonton’s standards. As time progresses, I will probably put up some other bits and pieces of this doozie.

For now, though, enjoy this epic flight of fictional fancy by one of the great liars of the 19th Century.

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Yesterday was the 152nd anniversary of the Battle of Morton’s Ford, fought on February 6, 1864. I had wanted to get something posted yesterday, but I was presenting at a symposium and then had a 7.5 hour drive today to get home. So, unfortunately, this is a day late. Let’s hope it’s not a dollar short. 🙂

Waren-MFFor a larger view of this map, please click on it.

Second Corps division commander, Brig. Gen. Alexander Hays, whose troops fought at Morton's Ford

Second Corps division commander, Brig. Gen. Alexander Hays, whose troops fought at Morton’s Ford

This is a brief but comprehensive article on the battle written by Clark B. “Bud” Hall that appeared in the :

“A Curious Affair:” The Battle of Morton’s Ford, February 6, 1864 Proceeding south on Batna Road (Rt. 663), one observes an isolated hillock to the west. Called “Stony Point” in the Civil War, this knoll was home during the winter encampment of the Army of the Potomac to 2,000 soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division of the 2nd Army Corps. In early February 1864, little did these peacefully reposed troops realize they would soon help initiate one of the strangest and least known of all military actions occurring in and about Culpeper County.

In order to support a planned cavalry-infantry raid on Richmond, Union strategists in Washington instructed the Army of the Potomac to initiate a diversionary attack against entrenched Confederates south of the Rapidan. Although stoutly opposed to the impending assault against the enemy’s “strongly entrenched line,” Federal commander Gen. John Sedgwick selected Morton’s Ford as the avenue of attack.

On the morning of February 6, 8,000 soldiers of the 3rd Division secretly amassed north of Stony Point. Once his ranks were formed, Gen. Alexander Hays ordered his division to move out quickly toward Morton’s Ford, located just over a mile south. As it turned out, this stealthy advance would be the only positive thing the Yankees accomplished for the remainder of a
long and bloody day.

Crossing in front of Powhatan Robinson’s house, Struan, the 3rd Division rushed toward Morton’s Ford. Near the head of the assaulting force rode General Hays, who “had added two or three extra fingers to his morning dram.” Actually, this was a polite way of revealing that General Hays was stone drunk. As his advancing soldiers leaped into the icy river, General Hays followed closely behind swinging an ax high over his head at tree branches while shouting, ‘We will cast then down as I do this brush!”
Ignoring Rebel musket fire, Hays’ men dived for cover to escape their “reckless and incoherent” commander’s wildly heaving blade. With inebriated leadership at the fore, the dubious operation kicked off. Over on the Southern side, one artillerist described a “rather sudden transition from peace to war.” Undaunted, the famed Richmond Howitzers opened up on the Yankees now pouring across the river. Riding up quickly, Gen. Richard Ewell asked in amazement, “What on earth is the matter here?” Convinced his corps was under attack, General Ewell focused the plunging fire of his big command on the soon outnumbered attackers. “We crossed the river to feel the enemy, “one bluecoat wrote, “and we got the feel badly.” Another Yank pointed out the obvious, “The enemy was not badly scared.” Under direct fire from Rebel works located a mile back of the ford, the courageous but poorly led Federals withered and their “attack” ground to a halt. One Federal officer theorized the “purpose of our attack was to draw a force of enemy to our front.” The Federals achieved that objective as the cool Southerners responded “in a deadly focus of fire.” Northerners fell dead by the dozens.

Late in the day, things only got worse for the besieged Federals as the Confederates initiated a bold counterattack. One Union officer—obviously a future politician—artfully described this Rebel thrust as the “enemy retreating toward us.” Disingenuous semantics aside, the Yankees withdrew after dark over the river, losing near 300 casualties in the process while Dick Ewell’s corps incurred about 55 casualties. R.E. Lee’s great biographer accurately termed the daylong battle a “curious affair.” And also stupid in the extreme, one might offer, as this pointless action accomplished nothing but death and misery.

Following the battle, General Sedgwick complained bitterly that Washington authorities should not have initiated orders resulting in the disastrous Battle of Morton’s Ford. But with General Sedgwick’s castigations of higher-ups noted, this debacle on the Rapidan would not represent the last time American warriors entered a battle with an ill-defined mission, while engaged in an action counseled against by generals in the field, and also fighting in a locale wherein they were not wanted to begin with.

MF_Fd_to_south_(1)2This is what Morton’s Ford looks like as of last week.

Struan_ Jan_19_2016_v2This is what Struan looks like today.

Both photos are by Clark B. Hall.

The Battle of Morton’s Ford, although a small engagement in terms of numbers involved, was an important engagement that had strategic implications for the coming campaign seasons, and which was remembered by the soldiers who fought there. Let’s remember their sacrifices there. Hopefully, some or all of this pristine battlefield will be preserved some day.

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One of my partners in the law firm where I practice law mentioned to me last week that he had an ancestor who was a Civil War soldier, and that one of his letters home had survived. Those sorts of things always interest me, so, at my request, John brought me a copy of the transcription of the letter today. After reading it, and realizing that its content was both very rare and very interesting, I asked John for permission to share it here on the blog. Thanks to John Cook for giving me permission to do so.

John’s ancestor was Maj. Alonzo W. Baker of the 139th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.The 139th Ohio Infantry was organized at Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio, and mustered in May 11, 1864, for 100 days service. The 139th departed Camp Chase for Washington, D.C., on May 20. It was assigned to do prison guard duty at the very large prisoner of war camp located at Point Lookout, Md., on June 1, 1864. The 139th Ohio Infantry mustered out of service August 26, 1864. John’s ancestor’s letter was written on August 11.

Baker was an attorney from Van Wert in northwestern Ohio, and his intelligence comes through in the letter. He wrote to his brother, Charles Eber Baker (known to the family as Eber), who served in the 64th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, which was part of the IV Corps of the Army of the Cumberland. Here is the letter, in full:

Point Lookout, Maryland
August 11, 1864

Dear Brother,

Your last letter like bread cast upon the waters, came to me after many days, but after its many wandering was none the less thankfully received. And now while everything here is again “Quiet on the Potomac” I have thought it a good opportunity to pen a reply. I am happy to learn (as I do from Lottie’s last letter) that up to the last letter received by Father you were still safe and free from harm. I suppose you were not engaged in any of Sherman’s last battles yet might be exposed to some of the dangers of battle. Sherman from all accounts must have had a series of victories although the Rebs claim some triumphs.

I sincerely wish the Army of the Potomac might have as much success. Grant’s last engagement was a failure “Somebody to blame” as there eternally is in this Army. It was too long under control of McClellan. But I do hope Grant will weed it out and then he will be successful here. I think Sherman lost a good officer when old Joe Hooker left. The Rebs have got another big scare in Pennsylvania and Maryland but I guess it is about played out. Grant threw up the 6th and 19th Corps in short metre the second time.

We had a big scare here at the time of the first raid into Maryland, throwing up entrenchments &c. All bustle and excitement that has now played out, although we are now building a very respectable Fort, by rebel labor, it being voluntary on their part, preferring to to lying idle in the pens. One of the guards shot one dead last Sunday.

Last Saturday we had a large water spout pass over the extreme south part of the point, destroying everything it came in contact with. Destroying two commissary buildings each at least 100 feet long–the dead house, Sutler Store, two wards in the General Hospital each probably 100 feet long, the roof and the sides tumbling in smashing beds, etc. and yet not a sick man was hurt in either. One sentinel was picked up and carried 100 yards, had both legs broken by striking timbers in the air or when he lit, and he does not know which. Another was carried a considerable distance but lit in the bay and was not injured. But two men in all were hurt, lumber, bales of hay, and pieces of roofs, large limbs of trees etc. sent whirling in the air. It was a scene only witnessed in a life time. I did not get to see it, only the effects just having come off duty as Field Officer of the Day. I had lain down and was asleep. I would not have missed seeing it for $25–but so it was.

I visited the Roanoke (doing guard duty off the point) a few days ago. She is claimed as the most formidable vessel in the world in an engagement. Is about 225 feet long, has three turrets each 11″ thick, was plated 4 1/2 inches on the sides extending 6 feet below the water edge. The front turret has one 15 inch one 200 lb. Parrots gun. The rear one the same. The centre one two 11 inch guns. All the handling on the guns is done by machinery and by steam, having for all purposes 24 engines on board. She is indeed worth seeing.

Well we expect to start for home next week, or time being out on the 20th. The detachments are ordered in today and General Barnes says we will start next week.

Lottie has returned to Van Wert from her visit to Marion all well. And strange as it may seem after the experience I had my brother and Irene is said to be carrying on a correspondence. Be careful Boy, how you take a fancy to a Peter’s girl or a Nathan may get after you.

Well Irene is a good girl, but be careful of your heart for I tell you this girls take a fellows heart right away from him. At least that’s the way one of them served me–so look out. Well answer this soon & direct to Van Wert as I expect to be there at the farthest by the 1st of September and if your letter should best me, a day or two, it will be all right–but don’t delay a day after you receive this.

Our Col. has gone to Washington and I subscribe myself your brother.

A. W. Baker
Maj. Comding.
139th OVI

Here are a few random notes on this outstanding letter.

Baker referred to Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early’s invasion of Maryland in July 1864. Brig. Gen. Bradley Johnson was supposed to lead a cavalry raid consisting of his brigade and Maj. Harry Gilmor’s 2nd Maryland Cavalry intended to free the prisoners of war being held at Point Lookout. Their approach did indeed cause quite a scare at Point Lookout. The raid only made it as far as the Baltimore area before Johnson called it off. This episode has received little attention over the years.

The U.S.S. Roanoke was a U.S.S. Merrimack-class wooden frigate that was converted into an ironclad monitor in 1862-1863. As Baker correctly pointed out, it had two turrets, and the design did not work well. She was too heavy and she had too deep of a draft to be useful in shallower waters. She was part of the blockading flotilla assigned to Hampton Roads, Virginia.

The General Barnes referred to by Baker was Brig. Gen. James Barnes, who commanded a V Corps division at Gettysburg. Barnes was badly wounded at Gettysburg, and, after recuperating and unfit for duty in the field, was assigned to command the District of St. Mary’s, Maryland, which included the POW camp at Point Lookout, as part of the Middle Military District.

Lottie was Baker’s wife, Charlotte. Irene’s identity is unknown.

Finally, I have never before seen a description of a tornado, or the damage caused by one, in a Civil War soldier’s letter, and find it to be one of the more fascinating aspects of this interesting letter.

Thanks again to John Cook for allowing me to share it with you here.

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Ten years ago today–September 24, 2005–I made the first post on this blog. 1395 posts later, I’m still here.

I had been intrigued by the concept of blogging, which was still a relatively new phenomenon, and I saw a blog as an opportunity to address things that I wanted to address, whether it was trying out theories or ideas, or spreading the word about battlefield preservation, or telling the stories of forgotten cavalrymen. For a long time, I posted several times per week, and nearly burned out from doing so. I post much more infrequently now–now, it’s when I have something that’s worth saying, but I still use this blog as a forum for trying out new ideas. As just one example, in July, I ran a long series of posts about George Meade, the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, and the retreat from Gettysburg that served as a sounding board and will ultimately lead to the publication of a book on the subject. It began here. Along the way, I have made a lot of wonderful acquaintances here and have exchanged a lot of ideas with you here, and I would not trade those interactions for anything.

Thank you for ten wonderful years. While I may post much more infrequently now, I’m not going anywhere, and there will be more to come….

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