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March, 2015

15 Mar 2015, by

Back in print!!!

UnknownI’m excited and very pleased to announce that one of my favorites of my titles, 2006’s The Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads and the Civil War’s Final Campaign is back in print after being out of print for four or five years. The folks at Savas-Beatie have just released a softcover edition of the book just in time for the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the battle, which was fought on March 10, 1865. For those attending the 150th commemoration of the Battle of Bentonville next weekend (March 21-22) or the 150th anniversary of Johnston’s surrender to Sherman at Bennett Place on April 18, I will have copies of both editions available for sale there. Signed copies are also available by contacting me directly.

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Ben Buehler Garcia hosts a weekly talk radio program on Tucson, Arizona’s KQTH called American Warrior that airs every Sunday from 12:00-1:00 PM PDT, or 3:00-4:00 PM, EDT. I was Ben’s guest today, where we spent an hour commemorating the 150th anniversary of the March 10, 1865 Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads. Those interested can download that hour-long discussion here.

Unlike some of the radio hosts that I have talked with over the years, Ben had read the entire book and was extremely well-prepared for our conversation. It was an interesting and enjoyable discussion, and I hope that some of you will check it out.

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Conclusion of a series. Cross-posted at Emerging Civil War.

Battle of Monroe's Crossroads, second phase

Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads, second phase

After rallying his troops, Kilpatrick found a ragged old nag of a horse, and ordered a counterattack by his men, who surged forward out of the swamp and engaged the Confederate cavalrymen. In the meantime, Lt. Stetson was able to man first one, and then other, of his guns near the Monroe house, taking the starch out of the Confederate attack. Butler ordered an attack on the guns, which was led by The Citadel Cadet Ranger Company of the 4th South Carolina Cavalry, led by Capt. Moses Humphrey. Leading his troopers forward, Humphrey and his horse were both felled by a blast of canister. The captain and his loyal steed were buried in the same grave. Lt. Col. Barrington S. King, the commander of the Cobb Legion Cavalry, was also mortally wounded by one of Stetson’s blasts.

Those blasts of canister served to rally the Union men. One of Kilpatrick’s troopers described the determined counterattack by the Union horse soldiers as “one of the most terrific hand-to-hand encounters I ever saw.” Blue and gray mingled promiscuously as they slugged it out for possession of the Union camps. One of Wheeler’s division commanders, Brig. Gen. William Y. C. Humes, was badly wounded in the leg, and a brigade commander, Col. James Hagan, lay on the ground bleeding from a severe wound.

Sign indicating the location of the battlefield. In the background are graves for unknown Union dead.

Sign indicating the location of the battlefield. In the background are graves for unknown Union dead.

Kilpatrick’s determined counterattack re-took his headquarters at the Monroe House and then began shoving the Confederate cavalry back toward the Morganton Road. They also punished those elements of Wheeler’s corps that had gotten bogged down in the swamp for the better part of 90 long minutes. After taking heavy losses—Wheeler had lost two division commanders and two brigade commanders badly wounded—and realizing that he had done all that he could, Hampton finally ordered his command to withdraw. Law’s reserve troopers came forward to cover the Confederate retreat and were joined by Brig. Gen. George Dibrell’s late-arriving brigade of Wheeler’s corps, and these troopers fended off Kilpatrick’s final attacks and allowed the rest of the Confederate cavalry to break off and withdraw safely.

Kilpatrick was happy to let them go. Having been caught by surprise and having taken heavy losses, he was in no hurry to pursue the grayclad horsemen. His command spent the rest of the day licking its wounds. Maj. Gen. James D. Morgan’s 14th Corps Division arrived to reinforce Kilpatrick after the battle ended, and the Union commander soon became a laughingstock when the story of his flight into the swamp clad in only his nightshirt spread. The foot soldiers quickly dubbed it “Kilpatrick’s shirt-tail skedaddle,” not without merit. So ended the final major cavalry engagement in the Western Theater of the Civil War.

Longstreet Church Cemetery. This cemetery is about a mile and a half from the battlefield. Many of the Confederate dead from the battle rest here.

Longstreet Church Cemetery. This cemetery is about a mile and a half from the battlefield. Many of the Confederate dead from the battle rest here.

In the end, Kilpatrick won the battle by retaining the field at the end of the day, and having driven off Hampton and Wheeler. However, winning or losing the battle was not the issue. Hampton’s plan was designed to buy time for Hardee’s infantry to make its escape, and in that, the Confederates were wildly successful. By keeping Kilpatrick’s cavalry tied up for the entire day on March 10, Hardee was able to reach Fayetteville unmolested, and to cross his entire command safely. Wheeler’s troopers served as the rearguard, and the last of them to cross the Clarendon Bridge set it ablaze as the lead elements of Sherman’s army entered Fayetteville on the morning of March 11. The destruction of the bridge forced Sherman to halt in Fayetteville for several days until his pontoon bridges could be floated up the Cape Fear River from Wilmington. Hardee’s command pulled back and established three strong defensive positions at Averasboro, where his small command of less than 10,000 men successfully held off fully half of Sherman’s army for a full day on March 16, 1865 before withdrawing after dark that night. Hardee’s command then joined Johnston’s army at Smithfield the next day.

In short, the determined attacks by Hampton and Wheeler at Monroe’ Crossroads made the Battle of Bentonville possible. But for the bold surprise attacks that nearly destroyed Kilpatrick’s command, Hardee’s troops might have been brought to ground at Fayetteville and the Clarendon Bridge might have been seized by Kilpatrick’s troopers and made available for use by Sherman’s army, which might have arrived before Johnston could concentrate his army for the battle that became known as Bentonville.

Battle monument erected by the U.S. Army.

Battle monument erected by the U.S. Army.

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Part two in a series. Cross-posted at Emerging Civil War.

Col. Gilbert J. Wright

Col. Gilbert J. Wright

Col. Gilbert J. “Gib” Wright, who commanded Hampton’s old brigade, was determined to try to capture Kilpatrick. He ordered Capt. Samuel D. Bostick of the Phillips Legion Cavalry to head straight for the Monroe farmhouse to capture the Union cavalry leader while the rest of the dawn attack launched.

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Col. George E. Spencer, 1st Alabama Cavalry (U.S.)

Col. George E. Spencer, 1st Alabama Cavalry (U.S.)

Joe Wheeler wanted to attack dismounted, as a thick swamp lay between his corps and Kilpatrick’s campsites. Hampton ordered the attack to be made mounted, and Wheeler rode off to prepare for the attack. At dawn, Wright’s men thundered into the sleeping Union campsite, catching many of Spencer’s men still in their bedrolls. Bostick and his company headed straight for the farmhouse. Kilpatrick, awakened by the commotion, came out onto the front porch of the house clad in only his nightshirt to see what was going on. Fortunately, he was a quick thinker—when one of Bostick’s men asked him where was General Kilpatrick, he pointed at a man riding away on a horse and told the Confederate soldier that the man was the general. The Confederates spurred off after the man, and Kilpatrick, now fully awake and aware of the grave threat, retreated to the swamp barefoot, without weapons, and dressed only in his nightshirt. In the meantime, the Southern horsemen surged through the camps, headed toward the Monroe house, freeing some prisoners of war that had been traveling with Kilpatrick’s command.

In the meantime, two factors came into play to stymie the Confederate battle plan. First, a significant portion of Wheeler’s command got bogged down trying to push through the nearly impenetrable swamp. Those who got through lost all sense of discipline when faced with the veritable bounty of Kilpatrick’s campsites. Famished men stopped to feast on the ample Union rations or to loot the camps instead of pushing on. The combination of these two factors allowed sufficient time for those elements of Kilpatrick’s command that had not been gobbled up by the initial Confederate assaults to escape into the swamp, where Kilpatrick began to rally them.

In the meantime, Wheeler himself drew his saber and pitched into the melee, and so did Hampton. The big South Carolinian—6’4” and about 240 pounds—carried a heavy broadsword and not a saber, and he ended up killing a couple of Kilpatrick’s troopers during the day’s fighting, the 12th and 13th men that he had killed in personal combat during the Civil War. The scene in the Federal camps was utter chaos. Hampton’s plan for a surprise attack had succeeded beyond his wildest expectations, but with the complete breakdown of discipline, and the nature of the terrain, which naturally funneled the action toward the swamp, the Confederate tidal wave was rapidly running out of steam.

In the meantime, Judson Kilpatrick was rallying his routed command and getting it organized to launch a counterattack. After his humiliating flight into the safety of the swamp, the Union commander was determined to regain his camps.

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Part 1 of a series. Cross-posted at Emerging Civil War:

The stakes were high. Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee’s 5,500 man corps was in a race for its life. If it could reach the Clarendon Bridge across the Cape Fear River in Fayetteville, NC first, Hardee could get his men across and then destroy the only crossing of the Cape Fear in the area. The Cape Fear is navigable as far north as Fayetteville, so it could only be crossed by bridge or ferry in the Fayetteville area. If Hardee could destroy the bridge, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s 65,000-man army would have to halt and wait for bridging materials to be brought up river from Wilmington. By the time that the bridging materials arrived and Sherman got his army across the Cape Fear, Hardee would be well on his way to joining the force that Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, who came out of retirement to assume command of the remaining Confederate forces in North Carolina in February 1865, was assembling near Smithfield.

kilpatrick_webLeading Sherman’s pursuit was the Third Cavalry Division, commanded by Bvt. Maj. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick’s division—consisting of three brigades of mounted men and an ad hoc brigade of those men who had lost their horses and had not been able to replace them—was the only cavalry with Sherman’s grand army. Kilpatrick, of questionable reliability, had already demonstrated that his command could be caught by surprise at Aiken, South Carolina on February 11, was the weak link in Sherman’s army. However, in the absence of any alternatives, Kilpatrick and his troopers would have to do.

wheeler_inlineClosely shadowing Kilpatrick’s pursuit of Hardee’s infantry was a large and still effective force of Confederate cavalry. Even at that late date, the Confederates could still put more than 5,000 horsemen in the field, consisting of f about 4,000 men under the command of Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler, whose command had been shadowing Sherman’s army since the beginning of the March to the Sea, and another 1,200 or so troopers from the Army of Northern Virginia under command of the newly-promoted Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton who had been sent to South Carolina at Hampton’s request in February to help defend against Sherman’s army. As the highest-ranking officer in the Confederate cavalry service, Hampton had overall command of this large force of Southern horsemen.

220px-wade_hamptonBy the afternoon of March 9, 1865, Kilpatrick’s command was only a few miles behind Hardee’s infantry. Each of Kilpatrick’s three brigades of mounted men used a different road to pursue the Confederates. Kilpatrick himself rode with the brigade of Col. George E. Spencer, which was accompanied by Lt. Ebenezer Stetson’s two-gun section of the 10th Wisconsin Battery, and the dismounted troopers, organized into ad hoc regiments based on which brigade they served in, all under command of Lt. Col. William B. Way of the 9th Michigan Cavalry. Nightfall came quickly on the short early March days, and Kilpatrick decided to halt at the intersection of the Morganton and Blue’s Rosin Road, not far from Fayetteville. Kilpatrick established his headquarters in the Monroe farmhouse, where he spent the night in the company of an unidentified woman who was traveling with his command and who was considered to be a woman of loose morals. That intersection, known as Monroe’s Crossroads, would become the site of the last large cavalry battle in the Western Theater of the Civil War the next day.

Kilpatrick was careless and sloppy in his dispositions. He had only a single company of the 5th Kentucky Cavalry of Spencer’s brigade deployed as pickets on the Morganton Road. Wheeler’s lead elements—scouts of the 8th Texas Cavalry (Terry’s Texas Rangers) under command of Capt. Alexander Shannon—caught the Kentuckians by surprise and captured them en masse, meaning that Kilpatrick had no other early warning system in place in case the Confederates approached. This was incredibly negligent and violated nearly every rule for cavalry in the field, and it nearly cost Kilpatrick dearly.

matthew_calbraith_butlerWheeler and Hampton recognized that Kilpatrick’s entire command was vulnerable. Hampton developed a plan whereby his entire command would pounce on Kilpatrick’s vulnerable camp. Wheeler, with his entire corps, would attack at dawn from the west, while Maj. Gen. Matthew C. Butler, commanding Hampton’s old division, would attack from the north with Col. Gilbert Wright’s brigade (Hampton’s old brigade), while the brigade of Brig. Gen. Evander M. Law would be held in reserve. It was a brilliant plan, and if it was executed properly at dawn as ordered, the grayclad horsemen would fall upon the sleeping Union camp like a tidal wave.

However, as the old cliché about the best-laid plans of mice and men goes, while the plan was brilliant, its execution left something to be desired.

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