Yesterday, I was one of the presenters at the 11th annual Civil War conference at Longwood University. My friend Patrick Schroeder, who is the National Park Service historian at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, puts on this event each year with Prof. David J. Coles of Longwood, who chairs the university’s history department.
The topic was cavalry operations, which is why I was invited. I accepted the invitation because it was Patrick’s event, and I helped him to identify speakers. Old friends Jeff Wert, Clark B. “Bud” Hall, and Scott Patchan were all to present at the conference, and it just seemed like too good a time to pass up. When I announced I was going to participate, fellow bloggers Don Caughey and Craig Swain indicated that they were going to come, as did some other folks that I have known over the years. Mix in a private tour of Appomattox Court House with Patrick, and staying at the spectacular Spring Grove Farm Bed & Breakfast, and I was sold on the thing.
The problem is that late February weather is always unpredictable, and Mother Nature surely didn’t cooperate with this. It’s about 7.5 hours from here to Appomattox. In order to get there in time to take Patrick’s tour, we either had to leave at like 5:00 AM on Friday morning, or leave Thursday night, drive part way, and then find a place to stay so we could get in in plenty of time. That’s what we did. We drove to Beckley, WV, and found a hotel room to spend the night. From the time we hit the Ohio River until we got to Beckley, it snowed hard, and the farther south we got, the harder it was snowing. By the time we got to Beckley, it was nearly a white out. It was snowing as hard as I have ever seen it snow, with 30 mph winds.
We got up early on Friday, loaded up and left, and as we headed first south and then east on I-64, it continued to snow very hard. Some of it was some real white knuckle driving, but it stopped about the time we hit the Virginia state line, and the sun eventually came out. By the time we got to Appomattox, it was still gray and very windy, but it was no longer snowing. It was cold walking around with Patrick, but it was well worth it. For those of you who have never been to Appomattox Court House, it is a pilgrimage well worth making. It’s one of those places where spirits linger, and visiting it is a very moving experience. One of Patrick’s real contributions has been to focus on the fighting that occurred there on April 8-9, 1865, and we saw all of those sites, including the recently acquired 47 acre parcel of the Appomattox Station battlefield, which was a neat thing to see.
The problem is that the weather was so bad that Jeff and Gloria Wert got snowed in and couldn’t make it. That left a gaping hole in the program. When it became obvious that there might be weather problems, Patrick asked me if I might be willing to do a second talk, and I agreed. My scheduled talk was based on my book Little Phil: A Reassessment of the Civil War Generalship of Philip H. Sheridan. Jeff was supposed to speak about Jeb Stuart, so I filled in with a talk based on JD’s and my book Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg. I spoke during both the morning and afternoon sessions.
The room was filled to overflowing. It looked like a room that seats 200 or so, and EVERY seat was filled, and then some. I had a chance to meet a number of readers of this blog, to meet folks who have helped me along the way like Ben Brockenbrough of Hanover Court House, Virginia, and new friends like Charlie Knight, who has a really good new book on the Battle of New Market coming out, as well as a new blog (which I have added to the blog roll), as well as some old friends like Harold Pearman and Charles Hawks of the Raleigh, NC Civil War Roundtable, who are both avid readers of my work. I also got to meet and make the acquaintance of Ranger Bert Dunkerly, who now works at Appomattox, but is an authority on the Revolutionary War in the Southern Colonies. We all sold lots of books yesterday.
My voice was completely shot by the end of the day, but it was a very good conference, and we had a good time. Susan, Bud Hall, Bud’s companion Kim, Don Caughey, and I all went to dinner together after the close of the conference, and then, after saying goodbye to Don, who had to get back to his hotel near the Richmond airport to catch his early morning flight home to Colorado, we went back to Spring Grove Farm for a nightcap.
After a lovely breakfast, Susan and I headed home and got home just in time to catch the last few minutes of the third period of the gold medal ice hockey game. Congratulations to the Canadians for winning the gold, but the US team has nothing to be ashamed of–they played great hockey, and Ryan Miller was nothing short of spectacular.
On the way home, we made a brief stop to check plumbing in White Sulphur Springs, WV. Right after we got off of I-64, I spotted a historical marker to the Battle of Dry Creek, which is also known as the Battle of White Sulphur Springs, which was completely unfamiliar to me. It was actually a two-day engagement where William Woods Averell–who has long been of great interest to me–commanded the Union troops, and now I’m interested in it. I may end up writing an article about it if I can find enough material. Time will tell. It was a surprise and completely unplanned battlefield visit.
So, it was an excellent weekend, filled with good friends, some wonderful battlefield stomping, good content, new book purchases on both the Civil War and the Revolutionary War, and beautiful surroundings. I’m a lucky guy.
As some of you may know, my 2003 book The Union Cavalry Comes of Age: Hartwood Church to Brandy Station, 1863 contains the most detailed account of the March 17, 1863 Battle of Kelly’s Ford ever published. Consequently, I have accumulated quite a bit of primary source material that will be a perfect addition to the project.
I’m looking forward to participating and I’m looking forward to seeing just how much information we can compile. Please check the site regularly.
Last night, in order to answer a question that someone sent via e-mail, I pulled out the H. E. Howard regimental history of the 16th Virginia Cavalry. After checking the roster to answer the question I’d been asked, I decided to have a look to see what the book might have about Monocacy, as the 16th Virginia was part of McCausland’s Brigade, which fought all day at Monocacy on July 9, 1864. There’s not much, a couple of paragraphs. However, there was a map that caught my eye.
This map indicated that there was a skirmish on July 7 between the men of McCausland’s Brigade and troopers of the 4th U.S. Cavalry at Hagerstown, after which the town was ransomed. This really puzzled me–not because the town was ransomed; I already knew that–but because I was completely unaware of there being any troopers of the 4th U. S. Cavalry still in the Eastern Theater in July 1864. So far as I knew, the entire regiment was serving in Col. Robert H. G. Minty’s brigade in the Army of the Cumberland as of that date. The histories of the other two regiments of McCausland’s brigade–the 14th and 17th Virginia Cavalry regiments–had the same map and even less detail in the narrative.
Consequently, I sent Don Caughey an e-mail asking him if he knew anything about this. Don’s done a great deal of work on the 4th U. S. Cavalry with the thought of a book project, so I figured that if anyone would know, it would be Don. Don wrote back and confirmed what I thought–the regiment was serving in the Western Theater. That, I thought, was that–another example of poor scholarship and poor fact checking in one of the H. E. Howard regimental histories.
Today, J.D. was going through some copies of some documents from the Cavalry Bureau that he’d gotten, and sure enough, he found a letter dated June 22, 1864, by a captain of the 4th U. S. Cavalry, discussing how the large detachment of dismounted cavalrymen from the Army of the Potomac that had accumulated during Grant’s Overland Campaign had been sent to Julius Stahel in the Shenandoah Valley to operate against Early.
So, I’m left with the fascinating question of just who these guys were that McCausland tangled with at Hagerstown on July 7, 1864. I suspect that this is going to be a difficult question to answer, so if any of you have any ideas, I’m more than happy to hear them. Please feel free to pass them along.
Don Caughey did an interesting post on his blog about his favorite Gettysburg cavalry regimental monuments. His favorite seems to be that of the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry. I can’t help but wonder whether he missed my favorite.
A Tipton photo of the monument to the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry appears with this post, courtesy of the Virtual Gettysburg web site. The monument features 6 full-scale, exact replicas of the lances carried by the men of the regiment for the first year and a half of the Civil War. The monument itself is made of granite, and has six sides, representing the numeric designation of the regiment. It also features the regiment’s logo, and is quite simple but elegant.
It also has architectural significance.
Born on November 11, 1839, Frank Furness was the son of a prominent Philadelphia clergyman and abolitionist, William Henry Furness. Frank elected to take up the study of architecture, apprenticing in New York under the famed architect Richard Morris Hunt. Instead of doing what most of his peers did, twenty-two year old Frank Furness did not flee to Europe to avoid military service. Instead, he enlisted in Company I of the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry and was quickly commissioned lieutenant. After a successful stint as a staff officer, on January 11, 1864, he was promoted to captain and assigned to command Company F.
Furness still commanded Company F in June 1864, when two divisions of the Cavalry Corps, now commanded by Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, went on an extended raid in the direction of Gordonsville, marching along the route of the Virginia Central Railroad. Departing from the main body of the Army of the Potomac on June 7, Sheridan’s force marched slowly west, arriving at Trevilian Station, in Louisa County, on the night of June 10. A heavy engagement on June 11 was indecisive, and the foes resumed the fighting on the afternoon of June 12.
The Confederate cavalry, positioned behind strong breastworks marked by a “Bloody Angle”, had a strong defensive position. The Federal cavalry launched seven desperate assaults on the Bloody Angle before a severe counterattack crashed into the Union flank, driving it from the field in confusion. The Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry held the end of the Union line. Positioned among the various outbuildings of the Gentry farm, perched atop a ridge, Furness’s Company F was the endmost company on the Union line. What follows is Furness’s narrative of his deeds that day:
On the afternoon of June 12th, 1864, the Reserve Brigade was engaged dismounted shortly after midday near Trevilian Station, Virginia. The Brigade had been actively been engaged in the battle of Trevilian Station, on the day previous, June 11th, 1864.
The Brigade was commanded by Colonel Alfred Gibbs, the Division by General Wesley Merritt.
Captain J. Hinckley Clark who commanded the 6th Penna. Cavalry, one of the regiments composing the Reserve Brigade, being taken seriously ill, the command of the 6th Penna. Cavalry devolved upon Captain Frank Furness.
The orders received by Officers commanding Regiments were to hold the ground at all hazards; it has since been learned that the ammunition which General Sheridan had with him on his raid was almost exhausted and it was necessary that a demonstration should be made in order to keep the enemy fully occupied until after dark when General Sheridan had concluded to continue his raid.
In front of the portion of the line occupied by the 6th Penna. Cavalry, about 50 yards in advance of the established line, was a farm house and out buildings; Captain Furness’s command occupied some of the out buildings. The Confederates occupied the house and the out buildings not occupied by the 6th Penna. Cavalry. It was a matter of the greatest importance that this position should be held for if it had been occupied by the Confederates our entire Federal line would have suffered. Therefore an outpost, so to speak, was established by the Commanding Officers of the 6th Penna. Cavalry occupying the outbuildings which particularly commanded the Federal line. At this particular spot the fighting was desperate although the entire line was fiercely engaged. The space between the house and outbuildings above alluded to, was entirely clear and open, it being a great field.
This was the position of affairs and some two hours after the time when the line first became hotly and fiercely engaged, that Captain Furness received word from the Outpost, above mentioned, through a non-commissioned officer, who crawled on his hands and knees through the grass from the Outpost to the main line, that the ammunition was almost exhausted and that if more was not immediately supplied the Outpost was in immediate danger of capture by the Confederates.
Captain Furness caused two boxes of ammunition to be taken from his already scanty supply and placing one on his head asked what officer or man would volunteer to carry the other Captain Walsh Mitchell at once seized the other, likewise placing it on his head, said that he would cheerfully follow Captain Furness. The two officers ran across the open space between the Outpost and the main line in clear sight of the Confederates and safely deposited the ammunition at the disposal of the Officer commanding the outpost, rendering it possible by carefully husbanding the ammunition, for the Outpost to hold its position, saving the Main Line from severe loss, which it did until long after dark.
Whether or not it was the Confederates were amazed at the audacity of the two officers carrying the ammunition, for some reason the fire encountered by the two officers on their return trip to the Main Line was very much fiercer than on the former one. The air seemed filled with lead, Captain Mitchell remarking to Captain Furness, ‘For God’s sake run zigzag so they can’t draw a bead on you.’ The words were no sooner out of Capt. Mitchell’s mouth than he received a bullet through the top of his cap and another through the skirt of his coat.
With no other damages than this Captain Furness and Captain Mitchell regained the Main Line of Battle.
As before stated the regiment remained holding its position, in spite of shot and shell, for they were vigorously subjected to these annoyances, until long after dark, and it was not until long after dark (through some oversight on the part of the Brigade commander no orders for withdrawal were received by the Officer Commanding the 6th Penna. Cavalry) the men crouching down and carefully holding their sabres and carbines to avoid all rattle, so close was the proximity of the enemy, did the 6th Penna. Cavalry rejoin General Sheridan’s command, finding their remounts and taking up the line of march, continuing the same throughout the remainder of the night and until the afternoon of the next day.”
Furness served out his term of enlistment and was discharged from the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry in the fall of 1864. Returning home to Philadelphia, he resumed his architecture career, designing nearly 650 buildings and becoming one of the highest paid architects of the time. Employing an approach based on the theory that architecture was more than just building, Furness employed a heavy Gothic style that was quite unique. Click here to see some of Furness’s works. In a Victorian Age noted for its aggressive architecture, Furness’s buildings were certainly among the most boisterous and challenging.
Working mostly between 1870 and 1895, his designs include some of Philadelphia’s most prominent structures such as the Philadelphia Zoo Gatehouses, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Merion Cricket Club. [links to the two books on Furness's works] He co-founded the Philadelphia chapter of the AIA, and is known as the founder of the so-called “Philadelphia School” or architecture. One of his most interesting designs is the handsome monument to the Lancers that graces the battlefield at Gettysburg, and which features full-scale replicas of the lances carried by the men of the regiment for the first year and a half of the war.
In 1899, Furness applied for a Medal of Honor. With the ringing endorsement of Maj. Gen. Wesley Merritt and Col. Albert P. Morrow, two veteran cavalry officers, and St. Clair Mulholland, the former commander of the Irish Brigade, Furness was awarded the Medal in September 1899 in recognition of his gallant service at Trevilian Station on June 12, 1864. The citation reads:
On this occasion, a detachment occupying an exposed and isolated outpost having expended its ammunition, Captain Furness, carrying a box of ammunition on his head, ran to the outpost across an open space that was swept by a fierce fire from the enemy. This ammunition together with that carried by another officer who had responded to Captain Furness’s call for volunteers, enabled the detachment to hold its position until nightfall, thus saving the main line from severe loss.
Furness is the only American architect of note to win the Medal of Honor. He was also the only member of the Lancers to win the Medal.
Although he is considered the first “All-American” architect, Furness eventually fell from favor. When he died in 1912, his work was largely forgotten. He was buried in Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery.
Furness designed the monument to the Lancers that appears with this post. The monument appears in every published catalogue of Furness’ work. It is the only monument on the Gettysburg battlefield that has architectural significance. It is, therefore, my favorite monument. Too bad it didn’t make your list, Don.
Here’s another in my periodic series of forgotten cavalrymen. I wish I had thought to name this series “Fiddler’s Green”, as Don Caughey calls this sort of profile on his blog. Ah, well.
Robert Horatio George Minty was born in Westport, County Mayo, Ireland, on December 4, 1831. His father was born in Ireland and his mother was born in Scotland. His father was in the British Army. In 1848, Minty entered the British Army as an Ensign and served five years in the West Indies, Honduras and the west coast of Africa. On November 11, 1857, he married Grace Ann Abbott of London, Ontario, Canada at St Paul’s Cathedral in Port Sarnica, Ontario, Canada, where his first child, Nan R. G. Minty, was born on September 29, 1858. After Nan’s birth, the family moved to Michigan.
Minty was commissioned a Major in the Second Michigan Cavalry in 1861, Lieutenant Colonel of the Third Michigan Cavalry a few days afterward, and was made Colonel of the Fourth Michigan Cavalry in July, 1862. He commanded the brigade of which the Fourth Michigan formed a part a greater portion of the time during its service in the field. Minty, an Irish-born soldier of fortune, was one of a kind, having learned to use the saber when fighting for the queen in Africa. Consequently, his brigade became known as the “Saber Brigade,” perhaps as a result of two successful mounted charges, both led by Minty, against Joseph Wheeler’s dismounted cavalry, which was trying to hold entrenchments at Shelbyville in June 1863. Minty received a brevet to brigadier general of volunteers in March 1863 in recognition of his brilliant service throughout the war.
Minty conducted one of the most effective covering force actions of the Civil War at first Pea Vine Ridge and then fell back to Reed’s Bridge, across Chickamauga Creek. Minty made a determined stand on Pea Vine that morning, including a section of the Chicago Board of Trade battery, and then covered his retreat across Reed’s Bridge with mounted charges from a battalion of the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry, which was known as the Saber Regiment. Minty’s stand is especially impressive because his brigade fought all day, with 900 men, opposing the four infantry brigades of Bushrod Johnson, numbering roughly 5000 Confederates. His men pulled up the planks to Reed’s Bridge, but the 23rd Tennessee re-planked the bridge (under fire) with siding from Reed’s Barn.
This was a textbook delaying action every bit as effective and every bit as important as that fought by John Buford at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. Unlike Buford, who could disengage after a couple of hours and let the I Corps take over, Minty’s troopers were engaged from perhaps 10:30 am until at least 4 pm. However, and also unlike Buford’s stand, it got little attention and even less praise, perhaps because Chickamauga was a debacle for the Union while Gettysburg was a signal Union victory. The tactics were identical, and the results nearly so.
After the war he settled in Jackson, Michigan and raised a total of 10 children. Minty was General Superintendent of the Grand River Valley Railroad. In Alameda County, California, on February 6, 1870, he divorced Grace Ann Abbott and subsequently married Laura Abbott in Maysville, Mason County, Kentucky on May 14, 1871.
Robert H. G. Minty died in Yavapai County, Arizona on August 24, 1906 and was buried with full military honors in Ogden, Utah on September 3, 1906.
He was one of the very best Union cavalry brigade commanders but has been largely overlooked because of his service in the Western Theater. Had he fought in the Eastern Theater and accomplished the things he accomplished in the West, he would be in the pantheon of great cavalrymen of the Civil War. He deserves to be included in those exalted ranks.
Don Caughey, a teacher who regularly visits this blog, has launched his own blog Crossed Sabers, which focuses on “the cavalry in the United States, primarily oriented on the forces of both sides during the Civil War.” Welcome to the blogosphere, Don. I’ve added a link to my blogroll.
And thanks for your very kind words about Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg. They’re much appreciated.