Author:

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.

Website: civilwarcavalry.com

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.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

In: Blogging | Tags:

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 Philly.com 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.”

ssalisbury@phillynews.com

215-854-5594

@SPSalisbury

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.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

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…

Scridb filter

Continue reading

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.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

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.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

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.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

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….

Scridb filter

Continue reading

In: Blogging | Tags:

John Watts DePeyster in 1863

John Watts DePeyster in 1863

There were many important early chroniclers of the American Civil War. Most have been long forgotten in the tidal wave of books on the Civil War that has marked the last 150 years. Few were more important than Bvt. Maj. Gen. John Watts DePeyster of New York. DePeyster wrote a number of very influential works on the war, including treatises on tactics and a vigorous defense of Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles’ conduct during the Battle of Gettysburg. DePeyster was very influential in his time, but he is almost completely forgotten by history today.

John Watts DePeyster was born on March 9, 1821, the son of Frederic de Peyster, a wealthy and powerful New York lawyer, investor and philanthropist. His great-great grandfather, Abraham de Peyster, was an early mayor of New York City, as was Abraham’s brother Johannes. His grandfather was a nephew of Lt. Col. Arent de Peyster, commandant of the British garrison at Fort Michilimackinac and Fort Detroit controlled during the American Revolution. John Watts DePeyster was a first cousin of Civil War hero Maj. Gen. Philip Kearny, the one-armed, swashbuckling general killed at Chantilly on September 1, 1862. He was also a nephew of the legendary dragoon, Brig. Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny.

DePeyster inherited vast wealth at a young age, more than one million dollars by the time he was twenty-one. He studied law at Columbia College, although he did not graduate on account of his poor health. He became an invalid at a young age due to a heart affliction he developed during service as a volunteer firefighter with the No. 5 Hose Carriage during his collegiate years, including a major fire in 1836 that caused his health problems. He helped to organize the New York Police Department and the Fire Department of New York.

DePeyster married Estelle Livingston (1819-1898) on March 2, 1841. They had five children: John Watts De Peyster was born 2 December 1841 and died 12 April 1873), Colonel Frederick De Peyster , who was born 13 December 1842 and married Mary Livingston, Estelle Elizabeth De Peyster Toler, (James B Toler), who was born 1844 and died 12 December 1889, Colonel Johnston Livingston De Peyster, who was born 14 June 1846 and married Julia Anna Toler and Maria Livingston De Peyster (born7 July 1852 and died 24 September 1857).

In 1845 he entered state service in New York and was soon named colonel of a militia regiment. The consistently poor state of his health prohibited him from commanding troops in the field. He served as state Judge Advocate General and then as Adjutant General, holding the rank of brigadier general, until he resigned his commission in 1855 after a conflict with the Governor of New York. He traveled extensively through Europe as a military observer, and implemented many reforms that modernized the militia for the upcoming conflict as result of his travels. He continued to serve in an administrative capacity throughout the war after his efforts to obtain a field commission.

In 1861, DePeyster went to Washington, D.C., to solicit a commission as a brigadier general in the Regular Army and offered to raise two regiments of artillery, which he felt best suited his expertise and physical condition. However, New York had already raised its recruitment quote of 75,000 men, so he met with no interest. Rebuffed, he returned home to New York. In June 1863, just before the Battle of Gettysburg, he turned down a commission as a colonel of cavalry offered to him by prominent New York Senator Ira Harris on behalf of Generals Joseph Hooker and Alfred Pleasonton—Pleasonton, a known careerist, may have thought that the wealthy DePeyster’s social connections could have helped his career.

All three of DePeyster’s sons served in the Union armies during the Civil War. His eldest son and namesake, John Watts DePeyster, Jr., served as an aide-de-camp and as an artillery commander with the Army of the Potomac and received a brevet to brigadier general of volunteers. His middle son, Frederic DePeyster, III, was a colonel and a regimental surgeon, and his youngest son, Lt. Johnston DePeyster, commanded a battery of artillery and received credit for hoisting the first Union flag to fly over Richmond in April 1865.

He penned a well-respected treatise titled New American Tactics that was serialized in The Army and Navy Journal that advocated using skirmish lines instead of main lines of battle, a revolutionary theory for the times. In spite of his ill health, DePeyster still achieved the rank of brevet major general of the New York State Militia in 1866. After the war, he was active in the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, a veterans’ organization for former Union officers.

DePeyster and his family resided on an estate–Rose Hill–located in Tivoli, Duchess County, New York. He was a prolific writer and an accomplished military historian. After the Civil War, he was known as “America’s foremost military critic.” In that capacity, he published hundreds of pieces, including, perhaps, approximately fifty under the pseudonym “Anchor.” One commentator noted DePeyster’s “keen eye for topography, his long and still unceasing military education, his uncommon memory, his power of description and his opportunities for using his abilities constitute him the only as well as the first military critic in America.” DePeyster “rejoiced in overriding conventionalities and often showed strong bias, particularly in defense of a familial connection, but his writings show exceptional knowledge of military history and science.” This kind of erudition comes through plainly in DePeyster’s writings.

He strongly supported his fellow Empire Stater and close friend, Daniel E. Sickles, and, using the “Anchor” pen name, vigorously defended Sickles’ role at the Battle of Gettysburg. He also defended Hooker’s role leading up to the battle, and harshly criticized the role of the XI Corps at Chancellorsville. He praised the generalship of George H. Thomas, helping to establish Thomas as one of the pantheon of great captains of the Civil War. In numerous articles, including The New York Times and various scholarly journals, he correctly predicted the coming of the Franco-Austrian War of 1866 and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

DePeyster was actively involved in alumni activity of his old friend Sickles’ former command, the III Corps. An organization called the Third Army Corps Union was formed as a beneficial society for the wives and children of veterans of the III Corps, and DePeyster helped write its history. Long his cousin’s advocate, DePeyster also wrote a fawning biography of Kearny. He was particularly interested in the Battle of Saratoga, and donated a memorial called the “Boot Monument” which commemorates Benedict Arnold’s heroic role and wounding in the battle (although he is not mentioned by name, and the memorial depicts only his boot), in 1887. DePeyster also authored numerous other well-regarded works of a military nature.

Because DePeyster enthusiastically defended Sickles’ conduct at Gettysburg, he took up his pen to attack George Gordon Meade. He penned a number of articles under the “Anchor” anonym that were published in a veterans’ publication in 1867, after the end of the war, and well after the release of the Joint Committee’s report. DePeyster then bundled them and published them under his real name in book format under the title The Decisive Conflicts of the Late Civil War, or Slaveholders’ Rebellion. He devoted half of his book to his criticisms of Meade’s conduct of the pursuit of Lee’s army.

His list of publications included Life of Field Marshal Torstenson (1855), The Dutch at the North Pole (1857), Caurausius, the Dutch Augustus (1858), Life of Baron Cohorn (1860), The Decisive Conflicts of the Late Civil War, or Slaveholder’s Rebellion (1867), Personal and Military History of General Philip Kearny (1869), The Life and Misfortunes and the Military Career of Brig.-Gen. Sir John Johnson (1882), and Gypsies: Some Curious Investigations, Collected, Translated, Or Reprinted from Various Sources (1887). He also contributed to numerous other books, biographies, publications, and articles.

DePeyster later in life

DePeyster later in life

After the war, DePeyster became a major real estate developer in his hometown of Tivoli, New York. In 1892, he constructed a large Methodist church that remains an active congregation to this day. He refurbished an old school house and turned into an industrial school for girls. Then, in 1895, he constructed a very large brick firehouse for the local fire department which remained in use until 1986. He eventually had a falling out with Tivoli’s mayor–his own son, Johnston–and DePeyster barred the mayor from entering the building, forcing the village government to relocate to another building until the old firehouse was restored in 1994, when the village government again too up residence in the firehouse.

A 1908 newspaper article stated:

Gen. John Watts De Peyster, the millionaire philanthropist, is living the life of a recluse at Rose Hill, the ancestral seat of his family, at Tivoli. He is reputed to be worth millions, much of his property consisting of real estate in the city of New York, which has been in possession of his family over a century. He had isolated himself from his kindred and it is believed will give his fortune at his death to the institutions he has founded.

Years before the death of his wife, the general and Mrs. De Peyster lived apart and Col. Johnson L. De Peyster, the general’s only son still living, lost his father’s friendship by espousing his mother’s cause. Father and son did not speak or hold any communication with each other, although their two estates adjoined. Gen. De Peyster was persistent in his estrangement from his son even up to the son’s death. He did not visit him or inquire about him when he was ill. When Col. De Peyster died in May, two years ago, the grim old general closed the gates of Rose Hill.

A delegation of villagers who wished permission to drape De Peyster hall in memory of the colonel, who was very popular in Tivoli, was turned away without an audience. Gen. De Peyster refused to attend his son’s funeral. His sole concession was to offer to the widow the keys of the family vault. The tender was ignored and Col. De Peyster’s remains were laid at rest in the vault of Johnston Livingston, an uncle of the colonel’s on his mother’s side.

In 1901, he donated several thousand books and maps to the Smithsonian Institution, one of many major philanthropic gifts he gave over the court of his life. He donated the money to construct the first library at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and donated one of the largest collections of rare books about European military history, a collection gathered while he traveled Europe to research a biography of Napoleon he published in 1896. He also served as Vice President of the American Numismatic Society. Post #71 of the New York G.A.R. in Tivoli, New York was named for him.

De Peyster died in 1907 of natural causes at a family residence in Manhattan. He was buried in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Cemetery in Tivoli. He willed his massive manor house Rose Hill to a local Children’s Home.

DePeyster’s vigorous defense of Sickles and his aggressive attacks on George Gordon Meade’s conduct of the pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia after the Battle of Gettysburg played a major role in relegating Meade to under appreciated obscurity in the years after the American Civil War, which makes DePeyster worthy of study.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

Capt. William W. Rogers, post-war

Capt. William W. Rogers, post-war

A guest post.

Today, we have a forgotten cavalrymen post on Capt. William Wallace Rogers by his descendant, Capt. John Nesbitt, III, formerly of the U.S. Army. Rogers served with honor in the Civil War and in the post-war Regular Army.

Captain William Wallace Rogers descended from William and Ann Rogers who immigrated to Wethersfield, Connecticut by way of Virginia in the mid-1630s, and then to Long Island, where they were early settlers of Southampton (the Southampton Historical Museum is housed in the Rogers’ mansion built on the Rogers’ homestead by a descendent of Obadiah Rogers, a son of William and his wife). William is also considered a founder of Huntington, L.I., having been one of the men who negotiated the purchase of the land for Huntington with the Native Americans. From there, their son Noah went back across Long Island Sound as an early settler of Branford, Connecticut where Captain Rogers’ ancestors resided for almost 200 years before migrating to Pennsylvania. Captain Rogers’ great-grandfather was Samuel Rogers, Jr. who served three times as a Private in the Connecticut militia in the Revolution – twice volunteering and once conscripted. This story as supported by Private Rogers’ request for his pension, and related family stories, surly was passed down to Captain Rogers as a boy, as it was to this writer and descendent of Samuel Rogers, Jr. by his grandmother a niece of Captain Rogers who was born in 1890, the year Captain Rogers died.

Captain Rogers was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, November 15, 1832, the eldest son of Minor and Elizabeth (Fretz/Fratts/Fratz) Rogers. The personal “Record of Service of William W. Rogers, Captain 9th Infantry United States Army.” dated September 24, 1883 and written down at Fort Bridger, Wyoming, says of his Civil War military service that he “Enlisted as private in Company B. 3rd Penna., Cavalry , (60th Pennsylvania Volenteers (sic)) July 23, 1861.” This was in Philadelphia. And, further, that he was “Promoted-2nd Lieutenant, Company “C” 3rd Penna., Calvalry (sic). December 31, 1861. 1st Lieutenant Company “C” 3rd Penna., Cavalry July 17, 1862.” and “Captain Company “L” 3rd Penna., Cavalry May 1, 1863.” About the time of the latter date, and before the Battle of Gettysburg, the Union Army changed the designation Companies to Squadrons for the basic assignment and maneuver elements within the cavalry battalions.

Captain Rogers further writes that he: “Served with the 3rd Penna. Cavalry in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania from July 23, 1861 until February 6, 1864-and participated in the following named engagements.

WILLIAMSBURG, VA, May 6, 1862. FAIR OAKS, VA, June 15, 1862. Horse Killed and received injury by his falling upon my leg. SAVAGE STATION, VA, June 29, 1862. CHARLES CITY, CROSS ROADS, VA, June 30, 1862. MALVERN HILL, VA, July 1, 1862. RAPPAHANOCH STATION, VA, February 15, 1863. KELLYS FORD, VA, March 17, 1863. RAPIDAN STATION, VA, April 9, 1863. ELYS FORD, VA, May 1863. BRANDY STATION, VA, June 9, 1863. BEVERLY FORD, VA, June 1863. ALDIE, VA, June, 1863. GETTYSBURG, PA, July 2nd and 3rd, 1863. Received gun shot wounds through right breast and left shoulder, July 3, 1863. OAK HILL, VA, October, 1863. BRISTOL STATION, VA, October 14, 1863. NEW HOPE CHURCH, VA, November, 1863. PARKERS’ STORE, VA, November, 1863. (capitalization of actions are this writers for emphasis and clarity

)

Of the initial engagement, the battlefield of Williamsburg, May 4 & 5, 1863, Captain Rogers wrote his father in a letter of May 17, 1862 that “I saw them wounded in every imaginable manner. Some shot in the mouth, in the head, in the stomach, feet torn off and gashed in the thighs, or body, or arm with pieces of shell. Being shot myself the sight of their sufferings was awful. I soon got over it however and could look at the surgeons take off arms and legs and pile them in the field.” and described the action as follows, “Advance the charge yelling like demons or stand and receive a charge of the rebel infantry who also fought like heroes in these conflicts between infantry of both sides, the batteries would cease and yells would take the place of the thunder of guns and in this way it continued during the whole day in which regiments were nearly torn to pieces.” (Source: Curt Harley, copies of W.W. Rogers letters home to his father originally in the possession of Curt’s father Rogers Harley)

Rogers with other officers of the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry

Rogers with other officers of the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry

Just over a year later, the action at Brandy Station was a major cavalry battle that was a prelude to General Robert E. Lee moving North that culminated in the Battle of Gettysburg. The cavalry battle at Gettysburg on the so called East Cavalry Field the afternoon of July 3, 1863, in which Captain Rogers was wounded, was both a major cavalry action and by many regarded as an important part of the Union victory that day.

My interest in the Civil War goes back many years, to the mid-1950s, and was at least partially inspired by my grandmothers’ stories of the “thirteen Rogers relatives” who served in the Union Army “from a thirteen year old drummer boy,” thorough a Rogers “who was shot but the bullet could not be removed and who died in the 1870s when the bullet reached his heart,” to Captain William Wallace Rogers the oldest sibling of my grandmother’s mother and her twin sister who married George Harley. Even though I learned from her of Captain Rogers’ Civil War service and heroism at the Battle of Gettysburg, as well as his service among the Indian’s “out west” in the 1870s and 80s, I didn’t have any real substance to the story or his service until I came upon a newsstand copy of Blue & Grey Magazine for October, 1988. It was an “Anniversary Issue” and featured the article “Gettysburg: Cavalry Operations June 27-July 3, 1863,” by Ted Alexander.” Therein, pages 32, and 36-39, it was related as to the action on the “East Cavalry Field” that:

At 1 p.m. ”…the artillery barrage that preceded “Pickett’s Charge” began and was distinctly heard by all the troopers.

“At 2 p.m., (John B.) McIntosh (commanding the 3rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry) decided to probe his front in order to determine the strength of his opponent. A dismounted skirmish line from the 1st New Jersey moved out about half a mile toward the Rummel farm. This prompted a counter movement by the Confederates at the Rummel farm and soon a brisk fight was underway as the opposing lines shot it out from behind parallel fence lines. Soon the Jerseymen were reinforced by two squadrons of the 3rd Pennsylvania (one of which, “L”, was commanded by Captain Rogers) and the Purnell Legion, all of which were dismounted and held the left,”

Reading on it is reported, “Reinforcements should have meant Colonel J. Irvin Gregg’s brigade, but that would take time since it was several miles away. Custer (newly promoted Gen. George A. Custer) was nearer but heading south to join Kilpatrick near the Round Tops. Therefore, General David McM. Gregg overrode Custer’s marching orders and sent him to help McIntosh take on the Rebels at Rummel’s farm. Custer, sensing this was where the action was, did not protest.”

And that, “A little after 3 p.m., the Federals noticed sunlight reflecting off something in the distance along Cress Ridge. It shone from the drawn sabers of (Wade) Hampton’s and (Fitzhugh) Lee’s brigades, massed in attack formation…Lieutenant William Brooke-Rawle of the 3rd Pennsylvania recalled, “In close columns of squadrons, advancing as if in review, with sabres (sic) drawn and glistening like silver in the bright sunlight, the spectacle called forth a murmur of admiration. It was indeed a memorable one.”

Then, “As the gray riders advanced, Gregg personally ordered Colonel Charles Town to take his 1st Michigan out to meet them.” And, Town being quite ill, “…Custer rode up to lead them. The gait of both columns increased as they drew nearer, first at a trot then a gallop.”

When, “The front rank of the 1st Michigan wavered for a moment, then Custer yelled, “Come on you Wolverines!” and the entire regiment spurred ahead.”

Gregg’s troops, and in particular Custer’s Wolverines, were outnumbered by General J.E.B. Stuart’s charging legions, and, “Although the Wolverines numbered less than 500 against more than six times that many, their wedge-like penetration parted Hampton’s formation.”

Fortunately, help was close at hand, “While the 1st Michigan slugged it out with Hampton, who by now was supported on the flanks by Lee and (John R.) Chambliss, additional bodies of Federals that had been scattered about the field rallied and struck the Confederates on the flanks. Among them were two squadrons of the 3rd Pennsylvania, under Captain Charles Treichel and Lieutenant William Rogers (should be Captain), who struck the Confederate right. Even Colonel McIntosh and about 20 officers and men from his headquarters group charged in to assist Treichel and Rogers.”

With the support of squadrons of the 3rd Pennsylvania also coming in from the Confederate left flank, the charge of Stuart’s brigades was turned back, in spite of the fact that, “Stuart had over 6000 men, a large proportion of them which he committed to the fight. Gregg had about 5000 men but only about 3000 saw action.”

Captain Rogers returned to service with the 3rd PA Cavalry following his recovery from his wounds September 28, 1863. February 6, 1864 he was appointed a Captain in the Veterans Reserve Corps serving in Washington, D.C. He was promoted for his gallant and meritorious service at the Battle of Gettysburg, his highest brevet rank being Lt. Col. as of March 13, 1865.

Curt Harley, a cousin of this reporter, wrote in 2006 that Captain Rogers was an officer of the honor guard for President Lincoln both at his 2nd inauguration and while he lay in state. He also says: that Captain Rogers was in command of the cavalry detail at Ford Theater and was one of the first to notice that Lincoln was shot; that he was a good friend of Custer; and, that he was also a friend of Buffalo Bill Cody. Captain Rogers, in his own report of his service of 1883, writes that he served in Washington, D.C. during 1864 and until 1867, including in the Office of the Military Governor of Washington, D.C.

He continued in the Army for the rest of his career, 1867 until 1869 in Tennessee in charge of troops during the Reconstruction Era with the 45th Infantry and the 14th Infantry respectively, and then in April, 1870 at Crow Creek Agency, Dakota as Acting Assistant Quartermaster and A.C.S. (Acting or Assistant Chief of Staff) and subsequently commanding Company B, 14th Infantry.

Now Regular Army First Lieutenant Rogers’ personally written “Record of Service” records that “5/22/1871 On duty with Company G. 9th Inf. 1st Lieut. A.C.S. Fort D.A. Russell Wyo.” The formal certificate of his appointment as an officer in the Regular Army, of which I have a copy from Rogers Harley, reads “…William W. Rogers, I have nominated, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, do appoint him First Lieutenant in the Ninth Regiment of Infantry in the service of the United States: to rank as such from the twenty second day of May eighteen hundred and seventy one,…” and is signed by the Secretary of War and President U.S. Grant. Over the next sixteen years Captain Rogers and his family served with the Ninth Infantry on posts in Nebraska and Wyoming- the overall command being called the Department of the Platt.

Florence Rogers, circa 1869

Florence Rogers, circa 1869

First Lieutenant Rogers was married- his first wife’s name was Elizabeth (Lizzie). They had a daughter Florence (Floe) while serving in Tennessee, and apparently an older son Horace Byron. Floe died young at Fort D.A. Russell, Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory on July 21, 1871. Floe was first buried there “where the prairie winds will sweep over her grave” (a quote of First Lieutenant Rogers included in a letter of Rogers Harley in January 15, 1992 to my mother Dorothy Nesbitt). Lieutenant Rogers’ wife Lizzie died April 30, 1874, also at Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory, and was buried in the Prospect Hill Cemetery, Omaha, Nebraska. In 1875 Floe was reburied beside her mother. Between these two tragic Cheyenne tours Lieutenant Rogers served at Sidney Barracks in southwest Nebraska. His son Horace it would also seem died rather young.

From “Nov. 28, 1875 to Sept. 12, 1876” Lieutenant Rogers writes in his personal “Record of Service” of September 24, 1883 that he was “Commanding Camp Sheridan, Neb., and Company F. 9th Infantry.” This conforms to the History of the Ninth Infantry: 1799-1909, by Capt. Fred R. Brown, Adjutant, Ninth Infantry (1909), page 116 where it is recorded as follows:

“Company F left post (i.e. Camp Sheridan, Neb.) on May 8th, under command of First-Lieutenant W. W. Rogers, Ninth Infantry, to scout the country between the post and Custer City, with Company K. Second Cavalry. The company returned from Custer City via Camp Robinson, Nebraska, on the 29th of May. Distance marched, 418 miles.”

On a driving trip to visit western U.S. National Parks, including in the Black Hills and the Little Bighorn Battlefield, my wife and I recently visited those locations where Lieutenant, and later, Captain Rogers served in the Department of the Platt in the 1870s and 80s where there are still structures and such to visit. The Camp Sheridan site lies east of Chadron and north of Hay Springs in Nebraska, and south of Oglala which is due north in South Dakota, but nothing remains of the camp to visit. We followed Nebraska Route 20, the Crazy Horse Memorial Highway, east from Fort Robinson turning onto Highway 385 north, the Gold Rush Highway, heading for Custer City, South Dakota just before reaching Chadron. For more background, the role of Camp Sheridan and its relationship to Fort Robinson in the 1870’s is described below:

CAMP SHERIDAN AND SPOTTED TAIL AGENCY

About ten miles north are the sites of Spotted Tail Agency and Camp Sheridan. Named for Brule Sioux Chief Spotted Tail, the agency was built in 1874 to supply treaty payments, including food, clothing, weapons, and utensils, under the terms of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. The army established Camp Sheridan nearby to protect the agency. A similar arrangement prevailed for the Ogalala Sioux at Red Cloud Agency and Camp Robinson forty miles west.

Spotted Tail Agency was generally quiet and peaceful throughout the Indian War of 1876-77. Crazy Horse surrendered there on September 4, 1877, after fleeing Red Cloud Agency. He was stabbed to death the next evening while being imprisoned at Camp Robinson, but his parents returned his body to Camp Sheridan for burial.

On October 29, 1877, Spotted Tail’s Brules were moved to present South Dakota. In 1878 they occupied the Rosebud Agency, where they live today. Camp Sheridan, with a peak garrison of seven companies of soldiers, was abandoned on May 1, 1881.

I had been wondering why Lieutenant Rogers’ “…scout (of) the country between the post (Camp Sheridan) and Custer City…” of May, 1876 received such specific attention in the History of the Ninth Infantry: 1799-1909, by Capt. Fred R. Brown (1909) supra. It is not the case for that work to give a routine “scout” such detailed attention. At the same time I was just finishing Thom Hatch’s recently published, early in 2015 by St. Martins Press, The Last Days of George Armstrong Custer, subtitle “The True Story of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.” When I connected the dots so to speak as I was finalizing this manuscript, I realized that Lieutenant Rogers, Co. F of the 9th Infantry and Company K, 2nd U.S. Cavalry weren’t just on a routine “scout”, but were undertaking what we would term today a Reconnaissance in Force. The reason, to be sure that the territory south of the Black Hills was secure from “hostile Indians” as the three prong approach into southeastern Montana of U.S. forces got underway in May of that year. This involved General Crook moving up the Rosebud Creek from northeast Wyoming, General Terry and Lt. Col. Custer coming from Fort Abraham Lincoln in the Dakota Territory and moving due west and Colonel Gibbons coming from Fort Ellis to the west in Montana along the Yellowstone River. The objective, to find and destroy “hostile Indians” who would not peacefully return to their assigned reservations, and ultimately to converge on the confluence of the Rosebud and the Yellowstone in Montana. This was an opening phase of the Indian War of 1876-1877. General Crook would fight the Battle of the Rosebud and turn back. Lt. Col. Custer and five companies, of his men of the 7th Cavalry, Companies C, E, F, I and L, would go on to lose their lives in the Battle of the Little Bighorn of that June 25, 1876. For most in the Army and of the country, the death of Custer and his men at the Little Bighorn came as a shock, and logically this would have been even more so for Lieutenant Rogers. The man of then modern legend who he had fought in support of at Gettysburg on that hot and pivotal July day in 1863, who by family tradition he considered a good friend as they crossed paths “out west on the great plains” in the early years of the 1870s, and, as has been pass down in our family, had discussed going into business ventures together when they eventually retired from the service was not only defeated, but was killed. It had to be one of the great shocks of his life, though not on a par with the loss of his little Floe and two years later his wife Elizabeth.

But change was coming for Lieutenant Rogers and his command. By his own record, he was less than three months from returning east. By “September 12, 1876” he was “On duty at Fort Lavaunio (hand corrected to Fort Laramie), Wyo., Comd’y. Co., F. 9th Inf.”

While it seems rather a fast trip, Lieutenant Rogers and Helen King Dewey, a relative of Admiral Dewey, were married on September 19, 1876 at Unity Church, Chicago by the Reverend Robert Collyer. Interestingly, General L. P. Bradley who married one of Helen’s three sisters had been Lieutenant Colonel of the 9th Infantry Regiment (source: manuscript Pvt, Dewey Rogers 1881-1900: Co. “G”-9th Infantry U.S. Army by Rogers S. Harley (1991)). The newlyweds then went on to New York and other locations in the east where Lieutenant Rogers’ duties focused on recruiting for the Ninth Infantry.

Lieutenant Rogers and Helen then went west again, where he continued with the 9th Infantry, with which he would remain. As of “Dec. 16, 1878” he was “En-route to join Company F. 9th Infantry at Fort McKinney, Wyo.”, west of Buffalo, WY. By “March 31, 1880” he was “On duty at Fort Sidney, Neb., as Capt. Co., B. 9th Infantry.” Until “April 22, 1880” when he was “Enroute with Company B. 9th Infantry from Fort Sidney, Neb. to Fort Niobrara Neb., engaged in building the New post.” Helen and Captain Rogers’ only child, Dewey, was born July 22, 1881 at Ft. Niobrara, Nebraska where they served through April 13, 1883. By “Aug. 17, 1883” Captain Rogers and his family were at Fort Bridger, where he further writes in his personal “Record of Service”: “With Company engaged in repairing wagon road from Fort Bridger, Wyo., to Fort Thoruburg (sic, should be Thornburg)), Utah.” Regarding Fort Thornburg, During the summer of 1881 the military troops were established in Ashley Canyon for protection against Indians. Moving to Fort Thornburgh in December, 1881. The fort was abandoned in 1884 and part of the supplies taken to Fort Bridger”. (source: on-line copy of marker for Fort Thornburg).

In 1886 the 9th Infantry was reassigned to the Department of Arizona. This was very much hardship duty given the sever conditions of the climate and terrain. In 1887, for whatever reason, Captain Rogers requests and receives written official confirmation that he was wounded twice in action on July 3, 1863 (of which the family has a copy). Question: Was his health already declining and he was looking ahead to retiring for medical reason, and/or possibly the memories of the young of the day about the Battle of Gettysburg and his service a quarter of a century on needed such written documentation? Today we would say that he was at the least entitled to the Purple Heart medal. He retired from the service because of severe illness in 1889, and he, Helen and Dewey settled in Chicago. Due to his illness, Captain Rogers went to California hoping it would be helpful to his health. He died there in San Diego, December 14, 1890. In Brown, Supra, page 145, it is reported that “As indicating the severity of service, discomforts , and exhausting climate conditions in Arizona from 1886 to 1891, the regiment lost: Five Captains by retirement for disability, (one of whom died soon after): Two Captains by death, and one First Lieutenant by retirement for disability:…” and the list goes on. It would seem quite probable that the Captain who died soon thereafter is a reference to the death of Captain Rogers.

Dewey Rogers, circa 1898

Dewey Rogers, circa 1898

Following his wishes, Helen took Captain Rogers remains to Omaha, Nebraska, where he was buried in the Prospect Hill (Old) Cemetery, Lot 746, E1/2, beside his first wife, Elizabeth, and their young daughter, Floe. Helen would go on to Tacoma, WA where she had close relatives. Dewey Rogers would graduate from high school with Honors in Tacoma in 1898. Not being happy with office work, his mother had at first objected, but finally gave Dewey permission to join the Army. “His ultimate dream was to earn a commission in the 9th Infantry…He could not, however, because of quotas and the political prestige required, gain a place at West Point.” Dewey joined the army in Portland January 10, 1900, with the goal of becoming an officer in the 9th Infantry. He was posted to San Francisco, and February 17, 1900 was shipped out to the Philippines where he joined Company “G” of the 9th Infantry. On June 27, 1900 the 9th Infantry sailed from Manila for China to join the International Force fighting the Chinese Boxers. Tragically, Dewey died July 13, 1900 in China storming the walls of Tien Tsin during the Boxer Rebellion. In 1901 he was buried in the Tacoma (Washington) Cemetery, Section 2, Sub-section “E”, Lot #2. The source of this information after Captain Rogers’ death comes from the manuscript, Pvt. Dewey Rogers, 1881-1900, Company “G”- 9th Infantry U.S. Army, by Rogers S. Harley (1991).

Thanks to Captain Nesbitt for his contribution, and thanks also to him for providing the images that appear here.

Here’s to Bvt. Lt. Col. William Wallace Rogers, forgotten cavalryman.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

The following editorial in support of the creation of the Culpeper County Civil War Battlefield State Park appears in today’s edition of the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star:

Editorial: A state park fitting for Culpeper Civil War sites
BY THE EDITORIAL PAGE STAFF OF THE FREE LANCE-STAR

Over the years, the green rolling Piedmont hills around Brandy Station in Culpeper County have engendered visions of hundreds of houses and condominiums, a multiplex theater, a water park, an equestrian center, a hotel and even a Formula One race track.

Each of the proposals generated high-profile struggles between the would-be developers and preservationists because these fields were the place where the largest cavalry engagement of the Civil War occurred.

Today, it appears the historic battles of Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain will be the key to the future of the rural tracts—if they become part of the Virginia State Park system.

Fighting at Brandy Station on June 9, 1863, is considered the beginning of the Gettysburg Campaign and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s last effort to take the fight north. The lesser-known battle of Cedar Mountain occurred about a year earlier. Here, Confederate Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson repelled Union forces, which had marched into Culpeper County with plans to capture the rail junction at Gordonsville.

Though the state park discussions are preliminary, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation officials and some county officials are speaking favorably about plans to spotlight Culpeper’s two most significant battlefields.

It makes a lot of sense for this to happen. Much of this beautiful, bucolic place where Union and Confederate horsemen clashed around Brandy Station off U.S. 29 will never be developed. Some of the land has been purchased by preservation groups and other parts are protected by conservation easements.

The Brandy Station Foundation, a nonprofit group that owns 38 acres at Fleetwood Hill—the heart of the cavalry battlefield—supports the idea. So does the Civil War Trust, which owns more than 1,000 acres of the Brandy Station battleground and another 164 acres at Cedar Mountain off U.S. 15. Altogether, 4,822 acres of the two battlefields are protected from development, which offers visitors a way to step back in time.

Members of the Culpeper Board of Supervisors, who in the past have backed modern-day development plans at Brandy Station, now say the park plan is worth pursuing. They like the idea of the state boosting tourism and helping to support businesses such wineries, distilleries, hotels and restaurants that thrive on visitors to Culpeper.

It would be the first state park in Culpeper County, and would fill a geographical gap in Virginia’s top-notch system. There are no state parks between Sky Meadows in northern Fauquier County and Lake Anna in western Spotsylvania County. The state and the Civil War Trust have worked together to open up historic sites at locations such as Sailor’s Creek Battlefield Park and High Bridge Trail, both near Farmville.

At a time when the nation is reassessing how to view and understand the Civil War and its symbols, the stories of sacrifice of American lives cannot be forgotten. Opening historic sites to the public at Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain is the right thing to do.

Preservation-minded residents and historians have spent countless hours and much treasure to preserve the land there. The Civil War Sites Advisory Commission, established by Congress years ago to pinpoint America’s most important unprotected sites, classified both battlefields as “principal strategic operations of the war.”

Now it’s up to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the Virginia General Assembly and Culpeper officials to see that all the efforts will bear fruit for all to hear the stories of Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain. It would be a fitting way to celebrate next year’s 80th anniversary of the Virginia State Park system.

Let’s hope that this happens. It should. The Commonwealth of Virginia is the best possible steward of these battlefields, and can oversee the expansion of them as time passes.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

Copyright © Eric Wittenberg 2011, All Rights Reserved
Powered by WordPress

Warning: substr() expects parameter 3 to be long, string given in /home/netscrib/public_html/civilwarcavalry/wp-content/themes/wittenberg/footer.php on line 54