Friday, June 27, 2014

Battle of Kennesaw Mountain

Positioning guns on Kennesaw Mountain
After his latest retreat, Joseph E. Johnston established a new defensive line on Kennesaw Mountain. 15 miles north of Atlanta. The mountain, which rises almost 700 feet above the surrounding countryside, was another strong defensive position. Sherman called it “the key to the whole country.” He did not want to attack this position head on, so he probed the flanks for an opening through which he could flank Johnston. Eventually he decided that instead of striking on the flanks as he had before, this time he would strike at the center, where he hoped the Confederates would least expect him. The Union plan was after an hour long bombardment to launch two feints and two attacks along the 8 mile long line. McPherson would feint on Kennesaw Mountain and attack Little Kennesaw Mountain. Schofield was to lengthen the Union right and demonstrate there, while Thomas launched a main attack along the Dallas Road.

The bombardment
At 8 am on June 27, 150 years ago today, 200 Federal cannon opened fire. The barrage back and forth was terrible, as the rebel guns responded. One hour later the guns fell silent, and the Federal infantry rose from their trenches and advanced against the Confederate line. The terrain they had to cross was difficult – filled with thick brush and in some places swampy.

A captain of the 103rd Illinois wrote:
The Rebels caught sight of us as we commenced moving, and opened a battery on us. It had the effect to accelerate our movements considerably. ... The ground to be gone over was covered with a dense undergrowth of oak and vines of all kinds binding the dead and live timber and bush together, and making an almost impenetrable abatis. To keep a line in such a place was out of the question. ... Not a man in our regiment knew where the Rebel works were when we started, and I think the most of them found them as I did. ... The balls were whistling thick around us, but I could see no enemy ahead. I did not even think of them being on our flank, until one of the boys said, 'Look there, Captain, may I shoot?'  I looked to the right, and just across a narrow and deep ravine were the Rebel works, while a confused mass of greybacks were crowding up the ravine. ... I shouted "forward" to my men and we ran down across the ravine, and about one-third the way up the hill on which their works were and then lay down. There was little protection from their fire, though, and if they had done their duty, not a man of us would have got out alive. Our men fired rapidly and kept them well down in their works. It would have been madness to have attempted carrying their works then, for our regiment had not a particle of support, and we were so scattered that we only presented the appearance of a very thin skirmish line.
Union entrenchments 
The 5,500 Federals who attacked the 5,000 Confederates on Pigeon Hill did capture some rifle pits, but they were unable to gain a foothold on the Confederate lines. It was a bad place to attack. The hill was steep, so steep that in some places the rock formed cliffs, and in others the Yankees would have to climb up on hands and knees. Swept by artillery and musketry from the Confederate defenders on top, it was clear that no assault would be successful.

While McPherson's men were fighting on Pigeon Hill, Thomas's men attacked in the center of the line, the area which is now called Cheatham Hill. The Federals chose to attack it because it was salient jutting out towards the Federal line, which meant a shorter charge. The position had some weaknesses. The trenches had been built on the very top of the hill instead of on the military crest, where the Confederates would have a clear shot to the bottom. However it was still strong, and defended by some of Johnston's best troops, the divisions of Cleburne and Cheatham. Column after column of Federal troops moved upon the hill. Sam Watkins, of the First Tennessee, was stationed on what was called "Dead Angle." He wrote in his famous book, Co. Aytch:
My pen is unable to describe the scene of carnage and death that ensued in the next two hours. Column after column of Federal soldiers were crowded upon that line ...  but no sooner would a regiment mount our works than they were shot down or surrendered, and soon we had every "gopher hole" full of Yankee prisoners. Yet still the Yankees came. It seemed impossible to check the onslaught, but every man was true to his trust, and seemed to think that at that moment the whole responsibility of the Confederate government was rested upon his shoulders.  ... The sun beaming down on our uncovered heads, the thermometer being one hundred and ten degrees in the shade, and a solid line of blazing fire right from the muzzles of the Yankee guns being poured right into our very faces, singeing our hair and clothes, the hot blood of our dead and wounded spurting on us, the blinding smoke and stifling atmosphere filling our eyes and mouths, and the awful concussion causing the blood to gush out of our noses and ears, and above all, the roar of battle, made it a perfect pandemonium.
For two hours this terrible fighting continued, and although they were hard pressed, the Confederates maintained their position. At one point the Federals reached the very parapet. Colonel Daniel McCook led his men up the hill and leapt over the entrenchment with the shout of, “Surrender you traitors!” The Confederates did not Unions and McCook was killed, sword in hand. After fierce fighting, at times hand to hand, the Northern generals finally realized after about two hours that this attack was useless. However, it would be more costly to retreat than to stay where they were, lying flat on the ground. So on this section of the line the Federals dug entrenchments a few dozen yards from the Confederate lines.

Confederate position
Sherman's attack on Kennesaw Mountain was not renewed. He lost 3,000 men in this attack, while inflicting only 1,000 on Johnston. Sherman had been shown again that his men could not storm strong entrenched positions, and that it only caused much lost of life. Sherman did not consider the attack a mistake. He thought that it was necessary to show his men that the maneuverings in the campaign were necessary and were not just because he was scared to fight. Instead of making another frontal attack or embarking a slow siege, he turned back to the flanking tactics that had gotten him all the way to Kennesaw Mountain.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Alabama vs. Kearsarge

The Battle of Cherbourg was fought off of France on June 19, 1864, between the United States warship Kearsarge and the Confederate raider Alabama. For months the Alabama had sailed the oceans of the world, wreaking havoc in the Union shipping. But when she came into Cherbourg for repairs she was caught by the Kearsarge. Raphael Semmes, the Confederate captain, had the option to remain holed up in port for probably the rest of the war, or to take a chance and take on the Union ship. He chose the bolder course, and so went out to battle. Semmes wrote of the battle:
We were three quarters of an hour in running out to the Kearsarge, during which time we had gotten our people to quarters, cast loose the battery, and made all the other necessary preparations for battle. The yards had been previously slung in chains, stoppers prepared for the rigging, and preventer braces rove. It only remained to open the magazine and shell-rooms, sand down the decks, and fill the requisite number of tubs with water. The crew had been particularly neat in their dress on that morning, and the officers were all in the uniforms appropriate to their rank. As we were approaching the enemy's ship, I caused to be sent aft, within convenient reach of my voice, and mounting a gun-carriage, delivered the following brief address.  I had not spoken to them in this formal way since I had addressed them on the memorable occasion of commissioning the ship.

“Officers And Seamen Of The Alabama!—You have, at length, another opportunity of meeting the enemy—the first that has been presented to you, since you sank the Hatteras! In the meantime, you have been all over the world, and it is not too much to say, that you have destroyed, and driven for protection under neutral flags, one half of the enemy's commerce, which, at the beginning of the war, covered every sea. This is an achievement of which you may well be proud; and a grateful country will not be unmindful of it. The name of your ship has become a household word wherever civilization extends. Shall that name be tarnished by defeat? The thing is impossible! Remember that you are in the English Channel, the theatre of so much of the naval glory of our race, and that the eyes of all Europe are at this moment, upon you. The flag that floats over you is that of a young Republic, who bids defiance to her enemies, whenever, and wherever found. Show the world that you know how to uphold it! Go to your quarters.” 
… My official report of the engagement, addressed to Flag-Officer Barron, in Paris, will describe what now took place. It was written at Southampton, England, two days after the battle. 

When within about a mile and a quarter of the enemy, he suddenly wheeled, and, bringing his head in shore, presented his starboard battery to me. By this time, we were distant about one mile from each other, when I opened on him with solid shot, to which he replied in a few minutes, and the action became active on both sides. The enemy now pressed his ship under a full head of steam, and to prevent our passing each other too speedily, and to keep our respective broadsides bearing, it became necessary to light in a circle; the two ships steaming around a common centre, and preserving a distance from each other of from three quarters to half a mile. When we got within good shell range, we opened upon him with shell. Some ten or fifteen minutes after the commencement of the action, our spanker-gaff was shot away, and our ensign came down by the run. This was immediately replaced by another at the mizzen-mastliead. The firing now became very hot, and the enemy's shot, and shell soon began to tell upon our hull, knocking down, killing, and disabling a number of men, at the same time, in different parts of the ship. Perceiving that our shell, though apparently exploding against the enemy's sides, were doing him but little damage, I returned to solid-shot firing, and from this time onward alternated with shot, and shell. 
After the lapse of about one hour and ten minutes, our ship was ascertained to be in a sinking condition, the enemy's shell having 'exploded in our side, and between decks, opening large apertures through which the water rushed with great rapidity. For some few minutes I had hopes of being able to reach the French coast, for which purpose I gave the ship all steam, and set such of the fore-and-aft sails as were available. The ship filled so rapidly, however, that before we had made much progress, the fires were extinguished in the furnaces, and we were evidently on the point of sinking. I now hauled down my colors, to prevent the further destruction of life, and dispatched a boat to inform the enemy of our condition. Although we were now but 400 yards from each other, the enemy fired upon me five times after my colors had been struck. It is charitable to suppose that a ship of war of a Christian nation could not have done this, intentionally. 'We now directed all our exertions toward saving the wounded, and such of the boys of the ship as were unable to swim. These were dispatched in my quarter-boats, the only boats remaining to me; the waist-boats having been torn to pieces. Some twenty minutes after my furnace-fires had been extinguished, and when the ship was on the point of settling, every man, in obedience to a previous order which had been given the crew, jumped overboard, and endeavored to save himself. There was no appearance of any boat coming to me from the enemy, until after my ship went down. Fortunately, however, the steamyacht Deerhound, owned by a gentleman of Lancashire, England —Mr. John Lancaster—who was himself on board, steamed up in the midst of my drowning men, and rescued a number of both officers and men from the water. I was fortunate enough myself thus to escape to the shelter of the neutral flag, together with about forty others, all told. About this time, the Kearsarge sent one, and then, tardily, another boat. … My officers and men behaved steadily and gallantly, and though they have lost their ship, they have not lost honor. … The enemy was heavier than myself, both in ship, battery, and crew; but I did not know until the action was over, that she was also iron-clad. Our total loss in killed and wounded, is 30, to wit: 9 killed, and 21 wounded.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Battle of Lynchburg

After defeating the Confederates which stood up to him at the Battle of Piedmont earlier in the month, David Hunter continued his advance into the Shenandoah Valley. After capturing Staunton, the first time it had been occupied during the war, he turned his attention to Lynchburg. On the way, when he passed through Lexington, he burned the Virginia Military Institute, where Stonewall Jackson taught before the war. Robert E. Lee sent Jubal Early and the Second Corps to defend Lynchburg. Around 14,000 men were assembled in the entrenchments around the town to meet Hunter's 16,500.

The Federals attacked on June 18, 150 years ago today. Hunter did not realize that reinforcements had arrived from Lee. An attempt by the Federals to find Early's flank was unsuccessful. The Confederates attacked the Federals, and although they were driven back into their earthworks, Hunter retreated that night. Hunter did not stop retreating. He left the Shenandoah Valley and moved into West Virginia. Early's path north was open, and he setout to implement the second part of his mission from Lee – the last Confederate invasion of the North. 

The Siege of Petersburg Begins

When Grant's men renewed their attack on Petersburg on June 18th, 150 years ago today, at first they made quickly progress. This was only because Beauregard had fallen back to a new line during the night. When the hit this second line they were stopped by heavy Confederate fire, and could make no more progress. More troops were brought up throughout the day, but they too were pinned down under murderous fire. Meade grew frustrated as his corps commanders yet again failed to cooperate. “I find it useless to appoint an hour to effect co-operation,” he complained, “and I am therefore compelled to give you the same order. You have a large corps, powerful and numerous, and I beg you will at once, as soon as possible, assault in a strong column. The day is fast going, and I wish the practicability of carrying the enemy's line settled before dark."

The troops went forward, but the men did not have their heart in the assault. They had made these attacks before, all over Virginia in the past weeks, and they were always bloody. “We are not going to charge,” said one solder as he went forward. “We are going to run toward the Confederate earthworks and then we are going to run back. We have had enough of assaulting earthworks."

The Union attacks were unsuccessful, as the reluctant veterans had foreseen. All, however, were not experienced in this type of attack. One regiments especially made a gallant and costly attack on the Confederate works, 1st Maine. It was a heavy artillery regiments that had been converted into infantry and sent to Grant. Inexperienced with combat, they didn't know what was in store for them. Stepping over the prone veterans, they boldly charged at the entrenchments. The rebels works exploded in flame, and the men fell down in rows. Not a man made it to their target. Of the 850 green soldiers who charged, 632 fell. Its 74% casualties were the most severe loss from any Union regiment in the war.

As the sun set on the bloody field, it was apparent that frontal attacks had proved useless. Over 11,000 men were lost by the army of the Potomac in this advance on Petersburg, compared to about 4,000 Confederates. Grant had a chance at a quick success by cutting Lee's supply line at Petersburg, but uncoordinated assaults and firm fighting by Beauregard's men deprived him of that victory. It was apparent as the rest of Lee's army moved into Petersburg that the active maneuvering in the field had given way, for a time, to a siege. Both armies were not the same as had began the Overland Campaign. Both sides had lost their aggressive edge, and the war in the east had turned into a siege, with the both soldiers reluctant to assault the enemy works.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Battle of Petersburg – Beauregard Holds On

150 years ago today the Confederates in Petersburg were still struggling to hold on, hoping that reinforcement arrived before the weight of Grant's numbers took their toll. Lee still did not have certain information that the troops opposing Beauregard were from Grant, not Butler. The Federals had been reinforced to 80,000 men by the arrival of Warren's corps, and Beauregard's 14,000 men should not have been able to maintain their line. But they were because of the failure of the Federal generals to coordinate the assaults and use their strength effectively. One Confederate wrote:
Three times were the Federals driven back, but they as often resumed the offensive and held their ground. About dusk a portion of the Confederate lines was wholly broken and the troops in that quarter were about to be thrown into a panic, which might have ended in irreparable disaster, when happily, as General Beauregard, with his staff, was endeavoring to rally and reform the troops, Gracie's brigade ... came up.... It was promptly and opportunely thrown into the gap on the lines and drove back the Federals, capturing ... prisoners. The conflict raged with great fury until after 11 o'clock at night.
After beating back the attacks all day, Beauregard's tired troops fell back in good order to a shorter line which had been had been marked out, and began digging defenses. Beauregard sent a staff officer to Lee with the message, “Unless reinforcements are sent before forty-eight hours, God Almighty alone can save Petersburg and Richmond.”

The report of the staff officer, along with recent messages from Beauregard, finally convinced Lee that Grant was indeed south of the James. Therefore he got two divisions moving before dawn on June 18th to reinforced the hard-pressed rebels in Petersburg. When these forces arrived, they brought the total forces defending the city up to 20,000.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Battle of Petersburg – Beauregard Holds On

After the Federal troops nearly captured Petersburg, Virginia the day before, Confederate commander P. G. T. Beauregard knew the danger he faced. He later wrote,
Petersburg at that hour was clearly at the mercy of the Federal commander, who had all but captured it, and only failed of final success because he could not realize the fact of the unparalleled disparity between the two contending forces.  
Beauregard brought up all the men he could to put them between Smith and Petersburg. He decided on his own authority to abandon the Bermuda Hundred position, as Richmond would not give him directions and he saw holding that Petersburg was much more important. During the night he had 14,000 men in Petersburg working on entrenchments a mile back from the line he had lost. When Lee heard the news of the attack on Petersburg he set his troops moving to reoccupy the Bermuda Neck and reinforce Petersburg. However, he was still looking for certain information that Grant's entire army had crossed the James before he would move his entire army to join Beauregard.

On June 16th, Grant arrived in Petersburg along with more troops, those of Burnside's IX Corps, and ordered that reconnaissance be made in preparation for an attack. All three Federal corps on the scene moved forward at 5:30 pm, and pushed hard on Beauregard's men in their new works. The 14,000 greybacks fought hard against greatly superior number of troops pressing them, and as breakthroughs were made, erected new defenses in the rear, or counter attacked to try to regain their line. Hard fighting prevented a complete breakthrough, though some progress was made by the Federals.

Confederate Major General Bushrod Johnson wrote in his report:
Our troops behaved very handsomely and a steady and deliberate fire, aided by Folds’ section of artillery did great execution and repulsed the assault.  It was repeated some four or five times and repulsed each time with greater loss to the enemy.  The enemy’s dead and wounded were seen lying in large numbers in front of our work. … The conflict continued until late in the night and the artillery fire was kept up till morning.  Under cover of the darkness of night the enemy carried the ravine and established a line about one hundred yards from the left of Johnson’s Brigade.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Battle of Petersburg – The Attacks Begin

While Sheridan was out on raiding the Virginia Central Railroad, and trying to attract the attention of Robert E. Lee. Grant and Meade began to put their plan to attack Petersburg into action. The movement began on the night of June 12, and work began on an over 2000 foot pontoon bridge across the James River. The Union army began crossing on June 14, and all the men were not across until the 18th. However, they did not wait that long to strike at Petersburg. The advance on that town began on June 15. Leading the Federal army was Benjamin Butler's Army of the James, which had already failed to capture Petersburg once during the Bermuda Hundred Campaign.

Petersburg was very weakly held. Lee had not realized that Grant was attacking Petersburg with his entire army, and so remained north of the James. The commander at Petersburg was P. G. T. Beauregard. He still had to deal with Butler on the Bermuda Hundred, so he only had 2,200 men to hold the Petersburg defenses.

As “Baldy” Smith, commander of the XVIII corps, approached Petersburg on June 15th, 150 years ago today, he was worried about the strength of its entrenchments. There were six foot high breastworks surrounded by a ditch six feet deep and fifteen wide. In front of this obstacle was a row of felled trees with branches sharpened to delay the attackers while they were shot at from the walls. Smith spent time examining the positions, and looking for weak spots. By 4 pm he had decided to attack with heavy skirmish lines, hoping that they would not suffer heavily from Confederate fire during the charge. He set the launch off time at 5 pm, but it was discovered that no one had told the artillery chief of the plans. The guns were needed for supporting fire while the infantry attacked. The artillery horses had been sent away for water, and could not pull the guns into position. Smith delayed the attack until 7 pm, when his troops were able to move forward.

When Smith's men charged these works, they found them much less formidable than they had imagined. As they pushed backed the skirmishers, crossed the abatis and climbed the ditch, they quickly gained the walls meeting little resistance. Many batteries were captured by Smith's advance over more than a mile of entrenchments. At this point, however, Smith halted the assault. The Confederates fell back to a weaker line, and Smith thought it likely that Lee had crossed the James and was in his front. He wanted to prepare his men to meet a counter-attack, not continue forward. Winfield Scott Hancock arrived, ahead of his corps, and although the senior officer on the field and normally aggressive, he acquiesced to Smith's decision. No more attacks would be made that night.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Leonidas Polk Killed

The second in command of Joseph E. Johnston's army in northern Georgia was Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk. Polk had attended the military academy at West Point, but after just a few months in the military he resigned and entered the ministry. By the time the war came he was Bishop of Louisiana in the Episcopal Church. He was also a friend of Jefferson Davis, who accepted his offer to serve in the Confederate military and made him a Major General. Although he made many mistakes throughout the war, and was said be incompetent by many, both then and now, he continued to rise through the ranks of the Confederate Army. As Braxton Bragg wrote, “Gen'l Polk by education and habit is unfit for executing the plans of others. He will convince himself his own are better and follow them without reflecting on the consequences.”

Polk Shot
The end of Polk's career came 150 years ago today, when the Confederate commanders, Johnston, Polk Hardee and various staff members, were assembled on top of Pine Mountain, observing the Federal positions. William Sherman too was on the front lines, with General O. O. Howard, and he spotted the group of Confederate officers. He ordered that his men fire on the council with their cannon. Minutes later the 5th Indiana Battery began unleashing its shells. The first two shells struck near the Confederate generals. As the soldiers began to disperse a third shell was fired and it hit Polk directly. It smashed through both arms and his chest, nearly cutting him in to, and then came out and exploded against a tree. The general of course, was dead.

Although Polk was disliked by many generals and historians, he was loved by the common Confederate soldier. Sam Watkins of the 1st Tennessee saw the corpse. He wrote:
He was as white as a piece of marble, and a most remarkable thing about him was, that not a drop of blood was ever seen to come out of the place through which the cannon ball had passed. My pen and ability is inadequate to the task of doing his memory justice. Every private soldier loved him. Every private soldier loved him. Second to Stonewall Jackson, his loss was the greatest the South ever sustained. When I saw him there dead, I felt that I had lost a friend whom I had ever loved and respected, and that the South had lost one of her best and greatest Generals.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Battle of Trevilian Station

After the defeat of the June 3 attack on the Confederate lines at Cold Harbor, Grant decided to change his plans. Through the Overland Campaign he had tried to crush Robert E. Lee, and after each failure he would move around the Confederate right, edging closer to Richmond. But unlike previous commanders of the Army of the Potomac, his end goal was not the capture of Richmond, but the destruction of Lee's army. He decided that he next step would be another move around Lee's right, but this one more drastic. He would cross the James River and aim to capture Petersburg, an important railroad junction south of Richmond.

To cover this movement, Grant sent his cavalry under Major General Philip Sheridan on a raid against the Virginia Central Railroad. Just as he was about to set out, news came of David Hunter's victory in the Shenandoah at the Battle of Piedmont. Grant ordered that Hunter join Sheridan near Charlottesville so that the united forces could pose a major threat to Lee's left.

Sheridan's men set out early on the morning of June 7. The weather was hot and the movement was slow. Many horses fell by the wayside, still not recovered from the hard riding the previous month that culminated in the Battle of Yellow Tavern. The Confederate cavalry, now under Wade Hampton, received of this movement the next day, and he assembled his division at 2 am on the morning of June 9th to head after Sheridan. Fitzhugh Lee's division would follow not far behind. Although the Yankees had nearly a two day start, the Confederate troopers were more familiar with the country and had the shorter inside track.

Map of Day 1
Both Union and Confederate forces camped near Trevilian Station on the Virginia Central on the evening of June 10, and the next morning Hampton told his brigade commanders that he planned to fight. He devised a plan to surprise Sheridan's men. He placed one division on each side of the crossroads, hoping the surprise the enemy and crush them in between the two groups of Confederates. As the battle began, Fitzhugh Lee did not arrive where Hampton wanted him, and in heavy fighting in the thick brush he was forced back by Sheridan's larger numbers. The situation worsened for the Confederates when Union commander George Custer led his brigade right down the road to Trevilian Station, and found Hampton's baggage and many of his men's horses left complete unguarded. He joyfully secured these, but the situation turned sour. Hampton redirected his men to met this surprise threat from Custer, and the Union commander found his men attacked on three sides. As he retreated with his spoils he found a Confederate battery directly in his escape route. With his force surrounded, Custer believed he was about to be overrun, so he pulled his flag down from its staff, and hid it in his coat. Disaster was finally averted when Sheridan led two brigades in a charge, driving Hampton's men to the west. Another brigade hit Lee's flank and he fell back to the east. Custer had lost hundreds of men, but he had been saved from complete disaster. When Sheridan asked him if he had lost his colors he triumphantly pulled them out of his coat and proclaimed, “Not by a d--- sight!”

Map of Day 2
That night Lee moved his men to the south and joined Hampton. Sheridan received several pieces of news that caused him to order a retreat. He head that Confederate infantry were nearby and that David Hunter was not – he had marched to Lynchburg instead. The next day, while some of his men wrecked Trevilian Station, he sent Torbet's division west where they encountered Hampton and Lee in an L-shapped position, well dug in. The Federals attacked again and again, but they were unable to break through this line. Instead they were met with a heavy counter attack from Lee. That night Sheridan withdrew and began a leisurely march back towards Cold Harbor.

In this battle Sheridan had lost just over 1,000 – 102 killed, 470 wounded and 435 missing and captured. The Confederates lost about 830. It was the largest and bloodiest cavalry fight of the entire war. On the first day of battle the Federals had clearly successfully, but they were unable to continue this on the second day. The campaign was also not an unmitigated success. It may have done something to distract Lee from Grant's movement across the James and Sheridan did destroy a section of the Virginia Central, but the Confederates were able to get the railroad up and running again in short order, and since Hunter did not join Sheridan there was no serious threat to Lee's flank. All in all this battle did little for the Union cause.  

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Battle of Brice's Crossroads

The Confederate cavalry under Nathan Bedford Forrest had long been a thorn in the side of the Federal forces in the west. He had caused much trouble with his daring and relentless raids on the Union supply line. William Tecunseh Sherman decided to put this to end once and for all. He ordered Samuel Sturgis to lead a force of 8,500 men to destroy Forrest, then in northern Mississippi or Alabama. This column set out on June 1. Forrest correctly guessed that they were first headed to Tupelo, Mississippi, and decided to try to strike them without waiting for reinforcements. He planned to hit the Union cavalry, which led the column, at a place called Brice's Crossroads. When some infantry arrived to reinforce them, he planned to drive them west on a creek and destroy the force he was facing.

The battle began around 10:30 on June 10, 150 years ago today. According to plan, the Confederate troopers pushed the Union cavalry hard, their their commander, Benjamin Grierson, called for infantry reinforcements. These around around 1:30, and the presence of these troops gave the Union the upper hand for a short time. But then Forrest sprang the trap. He launched heavy attacks on the Union right and left flanks, and the Union men were driven into a tight semi-circle around the crossroads. The 2nd Tennessee cavalry attacked the bridge over which the Federal forces had crossed the creek. Although they were driven back, the Federal forces panicked and Sturgis ordered them to fall back. This retreat soon turned into a route with the Confederate troopers right on the heels of fleeing bluecoats. In this fight the Confederates lost 492 men, the Federals 2,240 – mostly captured. In Sturgis' attempt to capture Forrest he had been ambushed and whipped. The “Wizard of the Saddle” had won yet another victory.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Battle of Piedmont

Part of Grant's plan in Virginia for the 1864 campaign was for Federal troops to move down the Shenandoah Valley. This was tried first by Franz Sigel, but he was defeated and thrown back at the Battle of New Market. Grant removed him from command and gave the army to Major General David Hunter on May 21, for him to try again. In less than a week Hunter had the Army of the Shenandoah moving, driving back light Confederate opposition under Brigadier General John Imboden. After New Market most of the Confederates had been withdrawn from the area to reinforce Lee in his struggle with Grant. As Hunter moved quickly towards Staunton, the Southerners scrambled to assemble an army to stand up with him. Lee sent Brig. Gen. William “Grumble” Jones and his 4,000 from southwest Virginia to the Valley. On June 4 Jones joined with Imboden, who had positioned himself in Hunter's path.

On the morrow Imboden skirmished with the Federal advance guard until they reached the good position chosen by Jones at the village of Piedmont. The Union infantry deployed and attacked. Their first advance was forced to halt after driving in the Confederate's advance positions, but the Union artillery were able to silence most of their enemy's pieces. The Federals again attacked and were driven back and the Confederate hastily counterattacked, but were forced back behind their works. Grumble Jones believed there was still an opportunity, so he began concentrating his troops to hit the Union brigade which had been assaulting the Confederate position. But in doing so a gap opened up on the Confederate right. Hunter ordered in troops to take advantage of this, and the Confederate flank was smashed. All along the line the Federals advanced, driving back the rebels. Jones hurried up his reserves, but they were unable to stem the Union advance. As he tried to rally his men, he was struck in the head by a Union bullet, and fell to the ground, dead. The Union lines continued to press forward, driving the Confederates against the Shenandoah Middle River and dividing them in half. The Federal cavalry were able to round up 1,000 prisoners. Altogether the Confederates lost 1,5000 men, the Federals 900.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Battle of Cold Harbor

Cold Harbor
The fighting between Lee and Grant shift next east again to Cold Harbor, a tiny town with great military significance as a junction of five roads. The Union cavalry captured the spot, and held it against Confederate attacks. Grant ordered Wright's XI corps to follow them in that direction. He knew that Lee would have to pass Cold Harbor if he was going to move, and Grant hoped to catch him on the road. Lee also was spoiling for a fight. He planned for Anderson's First Corps to join the cavalry, recapture Cold Harbor and ambush the Federal column on the march. Anderson arrived in the area before nightfall, and began pushing toward Cold Harbor before dawn on June 1st. He encountered the Union cavalry, and made his first serious attack around 8 am. The Union troopers held their fire until the Confederates were in close range, and then opened on them, quickly breaking up the attack with their rapid fire carbines. Another attack was launched, but it met the same fate. After this failure, the Confederate commanders became confused. Anderson did not press for the attacks to continue, and instead the men just remained where they were and dug. The offensive opportunity had been lost.

Confederate entrenchments at Cold Harbor
On the Yankee side, Wright's XI corps arrived at 1 pm and took over the line from the cavalry. Baldy Smith's XVIII corps which had been sent by Butler had been ordered to the wrong place, which meant they did not arrive at Cold Harbor until the afternoon. More time was spent planning the attack, and it was 6 pm by the time Wright and Smith were ready. Four Union divisions moved forward across the 1,200 yards that separated them from the Confederate line. They encountered formidable entrenchments, and from them artillery fire, and, as they advanced closer, a terrific small arms fire. The Federals were stopped cold all along the line, except at one point. Emory Upton, who had led a fairly successful attack on the Mule Shoe at Spotsylvania found the weak point in the Confederate line - an unguarded ravine. He pushed to within 70 yards of the Confederate position and was able to drive the Federal line back, capturing several hundred prisoners. But like at Spotsylvania, no more troops arrived to support him. The Confederates were able to maintain their lines until darkness, when Upton had to retire to his lines. Several thousand Federals were lost in this assault but only 600 Confederates.

Grant, however, saw opportunities. He ordered Hancock's II corps to Cold Harbor to renew the attack the next day. In their night march, they were led down the wrong road, which delayed their arrival time. When they did reach Cold Harbor the men were exhausted, and it was decided to delay the attack until the next day, June 3rd. Confederate reinforcements also arrived along with engineers who worked to improve the entrenchments and get the best fields of fire. At the ravine where Upton had gained success a new line was established to ensure the same thing did not happen again.

A light rain fell throughout the night, and the Union troops woke early to form for their attack. At 4:30 am, a signal round was fired, and an artillery bombardment was begun. For 10 minutes, shells were thrown into the Confederate works. Then the Yankee infantry jumped out of their works and went forward at the attack. Some Federals gained an initial success. Two of Hancock's brigades found a gap in the Confederate line, where a rebel commander had allowed his infantry to retire to a more pleasant camp. But along most of the line, the attacks met sheets of lead. One soldier wrote:
To give a description of this terrible charge is simply impossible, and few who were in the ranks ... will ever feel like attempting it. To those exposed to the full force and fury of that dreadful storm of lead and iron that met the charging column, it seemed more like a volcanic eruption than a battle, and was just about s destructive.... The men went down in rows, just as they had marched in the ranks, and so many at a time that many of the rear thought they were lying down.

The Confederates did not just fire from their trenches. They counter attacked in force, and sealed the gap that had been found in the line. Many Yankees were pinned down by the fire, and they tried to dig rifle pits with cups and bayonets. Based on some reports of a partial success, Meade ordered the attacks to be continued, but they were still not successful. Every Federal charge was beaten back with loss. At noon, Grant gave permission to Meade to call off the attack. The battle of Cold Harbor was over. The Federals had suffered tremendous casualties. Thousands of men fell in a very short period, while Lee lost only 1,500. The wounded and dead lay on the field where many of the wounded were unable to crawl away. Grant delayed agreeing on a truce for several days, and by the time one was called several days later, it was too late for any of wounded to be saved. All who had not already been carried off had died on the field.

Casualties of Cold Harbor
The battle of Cold Harbor was costly for the Federal army. They lost about 1,844 killed, 9,077 wounded and 1,816 captured. The rebels too suffered significant casualties – 788 killed, 3,376 wounded and 1,123 captured. Grant later regretted the attack at Cold Harbor, as he wrote in his Memoirs.
I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made. I might say the same thing of the assault of the 22d of May, 1863, at Vicksburg. At Cold Harbor no advantage whatever was gained to compensate for the heavy loss we sustained. Indeed, the advantages other than those of relative losses, were on the Confederate side. Before that, the Army of Northern Virginia seemed to have acquired a wholesome regard for the courage, endurance, and soldierly qualities generally of the Army of the Potomac. They no longer wanted to fight them "one Confederate to five Yanks." Indeed, they seemed to have given up any idea of gaining any advantage of their antagonist in the open field. They had come to much prefer breastworks in their front to the Army of the Potomac. This charge seemed to revive their hopes temporarily; but it was of short duration. The effect upon the Army of the Potomac was the reverse. When we reached the James River, however, all effects of the battle of Cold Harbor seemed to have disappeared.