January, 2008

3 Jan 2008, by

A Tragedy

Almost a year ago, I noted here that Ira Shaffer, a descendant of perhaps the greatest cavalryman of all, Marshal Joachim Murat, Napoleon’s cavalry chief, had asked me to become a member of the board of trustees of Friends of the Alligator, a group dedicated to raising funds to build a museum to house a replica of Philadelphia’s own U.S.S. Alligator, the U. S. Navy’s first combat submarine, at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where the submarine was built. The Gator sank off the Outer Banks in terrible weather in 1862. It predated the C.S.S. Hunley. The difference is that the Hunley has been found, while the Gator has not.

Today, Ted Savas, who is also a member of the board of the Friends, shared some horrible, tragic news with me. From the January 1 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Ira Shaffer, 57, headed charitable group

By Sally A. Downey

Inquirer Staff Writer

A funeral for Ira Shaffer, president of the Pennsylvania and Delaware Chapter of Operation Homefront, will be at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Salvation Army, 1920 E. Allegheny Ave. Burial will be private. Mr. Shaffer, 57, of Fishtown, died Sunday at Hahnemann University Hospital from injuries suffered in a hit-and-run accident Dec. 5 outside the U.S. Post Office in Fishtown. Police are seeking the driver of a dark SUV with front-end damage.

Mr. Shaffer and his wife, Nancy Hayes Shaffer, had gone to the post office to mail envelopes from Operation Homefront donors. The organization, launched in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, assists active-duty National Guard and Reserve troops and their families, as well as wounded veterans.

When her husband was hit, Nancy Shaffer said, she watched the hundreds of envelopes he was carrying “going up in the air like snow.” She is grateful to postal workers who collected the envelopes and mailed them, she said.

Before joining Operation Homefront in September, Mr. Shaffer had been eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware donor-relations director for the Salvation Army for two years. He had been a development officer for several other nonprofits, including Volunteers of America Delaware Valley, the Visiting Nurse Association of South Jersey, and the Devereux Foundation.

He was passionate about his work and was proud of his success as a fund-raiser for causes that helped people, his wife said.

Mr. Shaffer graduated from Springfield High School in Montgomery County and earned a bachelor’s degree from La Salle University.

He was a community-relations director in the Philadelphia Managing Director’s Office in the 1970s and then was an advertising executive in New York City for three years before before joining the nonprofit sector.

A Civil War buff, Mr. Shaffer was president of the Friends of the USS Alligator. The Alligator, the first operational submarine to have an air-purifying system and the ability to deploy a diver while submerged, was built during the Civil War but sunk in a storm before seeing action.

Mr. Shaffer and his wife met at the Shore and married in 1996. He is also survived by brothers Ronald and Hal.

Ira only recently began the job with Operation Homefront. Just a few months ago, he excitedly told me about the new job in a series of e-mails, and he was very eager to do some good. That was Ira–his prior job was with the Salvation Army. He was a guy who did the right thing.

We had talked about trying to get together for lunch on one of my trips home, and due to my father’s stroke, we hadn’t been able to get it together yet. Now I deeply regret that, as I won’t have the chance.

Ira Shaffer is a loss to the City of Philadelphia, to the community of people at large, and especially to the Civil War community, and I will miss him. Let’s hope that Philadelphia’s finest find the bastard that did this, and that they exact the appropriate measure of justice.

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3 Jan 2008, by

Gregg vs. Gregg

In response to yesterday’s post, Todd Berkoff wrote, “There must have been some tension between John Irvin and his cousin David M. Gregg over that postwar appointment to the 8th US Cavalry. Like many people, we wonder why David M. Gregg left the service when he did…I tend to believe he couldn’t stand Sheridan’s ego any longer and refused to serve under him.” Stan O’Donnell echoed the sentiment, writing, “I’m wondering the same thing Todd is? You mentioned that Long John got command of the 8th US Cav in the post-war summer of 1866 and that David McM Gregg had covetted that same command. Is the implication that D MCM Gregg would have reentered the US Army had he been offered that particular command? Or am I interpeting that wrong?”

Let me address those two issues. I was originally going to respond in the comments section to yesterday’s post, but as I thought about it, I realized that there was enough of interest here to warrant a separate post. So, here goes…..

1. Regarding David M. Gregg’s resignation in February 1865: Gregg was very circumspect about the reasons, and never left any written evidence. His resignation letter says that he was resigning to take care of urgent personal business at home. The regimental surgeon of the 6th Ohio Cavalry, a man named Rockwell, wrote in a postwar memoir that he believed that Gregg was showing signs of what we today call PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, only Rockwell referred to it as Gregg’s nerves being shot. There is absolutely nothing to corroborate this, and I don’t believe it.

Here’s what I think happened.

First, I think that David Gregg was really miffed about being passed over for permanent command of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps in the spring of 1864. He was the ranking officer after Pleasonton, and he had commanded the corps from time to time when Pleasonton was away. Instead, the high command brought in an infantryman to take command of the corps, and I think that it really pissed Gregg off.

Then, the infantryman, Sheridan, hung Gregg out to dry at Samaria (St. Mary’s) Church on June 24, 1864, leaving Gregg’s two brigades all alone to contend with 7 brigades of Confederate cavalry. Gregg lost about 25% of his command in several hours of very, very hard fighting and was lucky to get out with the remaining 75%. That he did is a tribute to his skillful fighting withdrawal. Sheridan never sent anyone to reinforce or cover Gregg’s retreat, and I think he was rightfully very angry about that.

A few weeks later, Sheridan was ordered to the Shenandoah Valley (August 8), and he left Gregg in command of the remaining cavalry forces remaining with the Army of the Potomac. Again, the appointment was not made permanent, and I think that just added to his growing frustration and anger.

One of David Gregg’s closest friends at West Point was his classmate, William Woods Averell. Averell was entitled to command the Army of the Shenandoah’s Cavalry Corps by seniority, but was passed over by Sheridan in favor of Gregg’s other classmate, Alfred T. A. Torbert, over Averell’s very loud protests. Then, when Averell wisely declined to attack Early’s entire army with three brigades of cavalry on high ground, supported by artillery, the day after the Battle of Fisher’s Hill, Sheridan unceremoniously fired Averell without any real justification for doing so. Averell was refused a court of inquiry, and that trashed his military career. His career was finished.

Then, in the winter of 1865, Torbert himself was fired by Sheridan as punishment for his failure to accomplish Sheridan’s objectives for a raid into the Luray Valley of Virginia intended to punish John S. Mosby and is guerrillas. Torbert was also unceremoniously relieved of command just about the time that Gregg began the process of resigning his commission.

By that time, it was clear that with the bulk of Early’s force having returned to the Army of Northern Virginia and only a scratch force remaining in the Valley, Sheridan would likely return to the Army of the Potomac. While I can’t prove this, I genuinely believe that he couldn’t bear the thought of serving under Sheridan again and that he found it so unpalatable that he preferred to resign his commission than to run the risk of being next in Little Phil’s crosshairs. Given what had happened to his two old friends and West Point classmates, I think it’s a completely reasonable fear/assumption, and is probably the best explanation for his actions.

2. The 8th Cavalry commission: Gregg’s family did not necessarily support his decision to resign; a favorite uncle told him straight out that it was a bad mistake. Gregg attempted farming and fruit growing, but was not good at it. He evidently missed the military, because in 1868, he applied for reinstatement so as to be considered for the command of the 8th Cavalry. Instead, the command went to his first cousin, Long John Gregg. David Gregg’s reaction is not recorded, and we don’t know for sure why the decision was made. I suspect that it probably did cause some tension between the Gregg cousins, but David was too much of a Victorian gentleman to leave behind any written evidence other than some very gracious statements praising Long John’s abilities, integrity, and courage under fire.

Again, we can speculate a bit. Let’s not forget that in 1868, when these events occurred, Grant was the commanding general of the armies, now with four stars. Sheridan was in command of troops in the west, fighting Indians. Sheridan always had Grant’s ear, and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if Sheridan didn’t put the kabosh on Gregg’s reinstatement, reminding Grant of the circumstances of Gregg’s resignation in February 1865. Sheridan was that kind of guy, and Grant tended to listen to Little Phil, particularly when it came to the cavalry. Hence, I tend to think that this was Little Phil’s payback for Gregg’s resignation.

Or so I think.

Oh, yeah…one other interesting note about all of this….the lieutenant colonel of the 8th Cavalry during at least part of Long John’s tenure in command of the regiment was Thomas C. Devin, who had done such good service under John Buford. Devin was promoted to colonel and assigned to command the 3rd Cavalry, but fell ill with the cancer that took his life a few weeks later. Devin died in 1879, about the same time that Long John retired from the 8th Cavalry.

I hope that helps, guys.

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Stan O’Donnell specifically requested this one, so here’s a profile of forgotten cavalryman Bvt. Maj. Gen. John Irvin Gregg….

John Irvin GreggJohn Irvin Gregg was born on July 26, 1826 at Bellefonte, Centre County, Pennsylvania, his family’s home for nearly 100 years. His grandfather, Andrew Gregg, served two terms in the United States Senate. He was a first cousin of Bvt. Maj. Gen. David McMurtrie Gregg, and both were first cousins of Pennsylvania’s war-time governor, Andrew Gregg Curtin.

J. I. Gregg stood 6’4” tall, and was called “Long John” by the men who served under his command. He received a sound education in the academies of Centre and Union Counties. In December, 1846, he volunteered as a private for the Mexican War, and on reaching Jalapa received notice of his appointment as first lieutenant in the 11th U. S. Infantry, one of ten new regular regiments. He was subsequently promoted to Captain and recruiting officer, serving with honor to the close of the war, when the new Regular regiments were mustered out of service. Gregg mustered out on August 14, 1848.

Captain Gregg returned to Centre County, where he engaged in the manufacture of iron in the family business, Gregg & Co. He served in the “Centre Guards”, a local militia unit, as first lieutenant, captain, major, and lieutenant colonel. In November 1857, he married Miss Clarissa A. Everhart, “a lady of rare amiability and beauty, whose early death was deeply and sincerely mourned.” He later married again, to Harriett Marr, the daughter of a local Presbyterian minister. They had two sons, Irvin and Robert.

With the coming of the Civil War, Gregg was commissioned first captain and then colonel of the 5th Pennsylvania Reserves, but was shortly thereafter appointed Captain in his cousin David’s regiment, the newly-formed 6th U. S. Cavalry.

His duty in the field commenced with the Peninsula Campaign under Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, as commander of a squadron of Regular cavalry. He was present at the battle of Williamsburg on May 5, 1862, Kent Court House on the 9th, and on the 11th, his troopers occupied White House Landing on the Pamunkey River. He was with the Union advance at Ellison’s Mills on the 21st, and at Hanover Court House on the 27th.

In the preliminaries to the Seven Days’ battle he skirmished with the rebel infantry, and narrowly escaped capture. Then followed days and nights of weary marching, while the Army of the Potomac fought its way to the James River. Captain Gregg subsequently did important service in the army’s retirement from the Peninsula, and in the campaigns of Second Bull Run and Antietam.

In November, 1862, he was selected to command the newly-formed 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry. Early in January, 1863, he joined the Army of the Potomac, and was assigned to Brig. Gen. William W. Averell’s cavalry brigade. During the remainder of the winter he performed important outpost duty, and acquired a reputation for efficiency that he never lost. The first and only battle in which Colonel Gregg participated as a regimental commander was at Kelly’s Ford on March 17, 1863. After a long day of fighting, Averell withdrew from the battlefield, and left the field in the possession of the Confederates. Even though Kelly’s Ford cannot be considered a Union victory, it nevertheless marked a new era for the Army of the Potomac’s mounted arm.

Gregg commanded a brigade at the June 9, 1863 Battle of Brandy Station in his cousin David M. Gregg’s Second Cavalry Division. At Aldie (June 17) and Upperville (June 21), the fighting was severe, the combatants coming hand to hand. Gregg’s brigade was actively engaged in both actions.

In the battle of Gettysburg, his command was posted so as to protect the right flank of the Union army, and was engaged during the afternoon of the second day, and slightly during the third. After Lee made his escape to Virginia, Gregg’s brigade (along with the rest of Gregg’s division) crossed the Potomac to follow up the rebel rear, and ascertain his whereabouts. However, JEB Stuart covered his movements by leaving his best fighting troopers near the mouth of the valley. Near Shepherdstown, at noon on July 18, 1863, Stuart’s men drove in the Union skirmishers, and close upon their heels, the enemy advanced in force. For eight hours, and until night put an end to the contest, the heavy fighting dragged on, leading to heavy casualties on both sides.

Stuart’s horse artillery was especially effective that day. At first he concentrated his fire on the right, then on the left, and finally, just as the sun was sinking, a fire of “unwonted power and destructiveness” was opened upon the right center. The Confederate horse soldiers charged repeatedly, coming on in three columns, and gaining at times a point within thirty paces of the Union line; but nothing could withstand the withering fire that swept that gory field, and until darkness separated the combatants, Gregg’s small brigade held fast its position. When his brigade finally received orders to retire, they carried away 158 of their own casualties with them.

In the subsequent movement to Culpeper, Gregg was with the advance, and in conjunction with men of Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick’s Third Division, captured a body of the enemy who were there cut off. When General Lee commenced his flank movement towards Centreville, one regiment of Gregg’s brigade was left on the south bank of Hedgeman or Upper Rappahannock River, charged with picketing in the direction of Jeffersonton. At eight o’clock on the morning on October 12, 1863, Gregg received reports that the enemy was advancing in force. With only two small regiments of less than six hundred men, Gregg checked the right wing of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia for an entire day, enabling Maj. Gen. George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac to cross the stream and gain a day’s march on Lee.

In November, Gregg reported to Washington for medical treatment. He spent most of the winter there, receiving medical treatment. He reported back to the Army of the Potomac in time for the beginning of the spring campaigning season. In the Wilderness Campaign, his brigade was in Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan’s 12,000-man cavalry column, and for three days was engaged near the vital crossroads at Todd’s Tavern.

On the morning of May 10, Colonel Gregg had the advance in Sheridan’s raid on Richmond, and soon after starting encountered the enemy in force. A brisk skirmish ensued. On the following day, Gregg had the rear of the column, and before the Federals had all moved, the enemy attacked them with great impetuosity near Yellow Tavern on the Telegraph Road, a few miles north of Richmond. Stuart’s troopers doubled up a part of his brigade, and was near throwing the whole Union force into confusion. Gregg brought his artillery into position, and opened on the Confederates with grape and canister in rapid rounds, routing them.

Gregg particularly distinguished himself in the action at Meadow Bridges, in the fortifications of Richmond, on May 12, and again at Trevilian Station on June 11, for which he received the brevet rank of brigadier general. Then, in the engagement at Deep Bottom on August 16, he was wounded in the right wrist. He was also wounded in the ankle at Hatcher’s Run on February 6, 1865, the 6th of February, while charging at the head of a portion of his brigade against the enemy’s infantry.

In April 1865, during the pursuit of Lee’s army from Petersburg, he was slightly wounded at the Battle of Sayler’s Creek, and was captured the next day north of Farmville, Virginia. Fortunately, he was only a prisoner of war for less than a week, as Lee’s army surrendered at Appomattox Court House four days later.

At the close of hostilities, he was brevetted major general of volunteers for distinguished service during the war. He also received brevets to major, lieutenant colonel, colonel, and brigadier general in the Regular Army, for gallantry in action in the battles of Kelly’s Ford, Middleburg, Shepherdstown, Wilderness, Sulphur Springs, Samaria (St. Mary’s) Church, Deep Bottom, Stony Creek Station, and Hatcher’s Run.

He was appointed Colonel of the newly-formed 8th U.S. Cavalry in July 1866, a position his cousin David Gregg had desired. He reported for duty at Camp Whipple in the Arizona Territory. He led a series of expeditions into the Mojave Desert, campaigning against Indians. He was transferred to the New Mexico Territory, where he commanded Fort Union from 1870–72. While there, he attempted to pursue and subdue renegade Apache Indians. In 1872, he led a reconnaissance expedition to survey and map the panhandle region of Texas. General Gregg retired from active service on April 2, 1879, and spent the rest of his life enjoying his retirement and participating in various veterans’ activities. He died in Washington, D. C. on April 6, 1892, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

“Throughout his entire term of service, General Gregg displayed the best qualities of the intrepid soldier, and by his stubborn fighting on many fields fairly won the character of an heroic and reliable officer,” wrote historian Samuel P. Bates, “one who was not afraid to face superior numbers, even under the most unfavorable circumstances, and who made his dispositions with so much coolness and self-possession as to reassure his own men and intimidate the foe.” Frederick C. Newhall described Gregg as “cool as a clock.”

Here’s to Long John Gregg.

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My friend Dave Powell, who does not maintain a blog of his own (but probably should), asked me to post this for him about a tour he will be leading at Chickamauga in March. It sounds like a great program, and if I didn’t already have stuff booked two weekends in March, I would probably go. Anyway, Dave asked that this be posted, so here goes:

Chickamauga Tour: Friday, March 14, and Saturday, March 15, 2008.

2008 Theme: Friday: Wilder’s Brigade; Saturday: Defending (and defining) Horseshoe Ridge.

Tour Leaders: Jim Ogden, Park Historian, and Dave Powell

All tours meet at the Visitor’s Center parking lot 15 minutes before scheduled start time.

Friday Morning: 8:30 a.m. to Noon. Wilder’s Brigade, September 11-17. 1863.
By Bus, we will trace the route of Wilder’s Brigade in the days leading up to the battle, including significant stops at Ringgold, Tunnel Hill, Leet’s Tanyard, and Lee and Gordon’s Mills.

Friday Afternoon: 1:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Wilder’s Brigade, September 18-20, 1863.
By Bus, we will visit the various scenes of Wilder’s engagements on the field. Starting at Alexander’s Bridge, we will discuss screening operations, the retreat to Vinyard Field, the role of the Brigade there on September 19th, detached operations in Brotherton Field, and finish at Wilder Tower.

Saturday Morning: 8:30 a.m. to Noon. Benning and Robertson versus Brannan
On foot: We follow the Confederate attack through Poe Field and into North Dyer Field, ultimately to the foot of Snodgrass Ridge.

Saturday Afternoon: 1:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Gracie’s Horseshoe Ridge, The battles of 1863 and 1896.
On Foot: Horseshoe Ridge provides a dramatic conclusion to the battle of Chickamauga.. We will discuss the actual fighting and positions of the units involved, as contrasted with where the monuments are placed today.

Cost: Beyond the fee for Friday’s Bus, there is no cost for tour participation. Meals lodging, transportation, and incidentals, however, are the individual’s responsibility. Dress in layers, and prepare for some walking. On Saturday, we will walk extensively.
Friday’s tours.

Pre-registration Fee: $35 Due by February 1st, 2008; send to:

Please also note that this fee is NON-REFUNDABLE after February 1st, 2008.

Walk-on Fee for Friday only: $40. Saturday walk-on, no charge.

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1 Jan 2008, by

A Fun Poll

Old friend Ted Savas has a fun little poll on the first page of his blog. Some may recall Ted’s prior publishing venture, Savas-Woodbury, which he co-owned with fellow blogger David Woodbury. The quiz takes a walk down memory lane and asks readers to vote for their favorite Savas-Woodbury title.

Through Savas-Woodbury, Ted and David published two of my very favorite Civil War books. One was Mark L. Bradley’s excellent Last Stand in the Carolinas: The Battle of Bentonville, which is one of the best campaign studies I’ve ever read. It’s included in Ted’s poll, and was the book I voted for. The other is Chris E. Fonvielle, Jr.’s outstanding book The Wilmington Campaign: Last Rays of Departing Hope, which was not included in the poll.

Ted and David (and later, just Ted) did some terrific work with Savas-Woodbury, just as Ted continues to do terrific work with Savas-Beatie. Keep up the good work, T.

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