Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The 48th/150th: Fortress Monroe & Jake Haines's Encounter With General Joseph K.F. Mansfield

Fortress Monroe, Virginia

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Having been mustered into state service, the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania received orders to proceed to Washington, D.C. Departing Harrisburg on September 24, 1861, the regiment boarded the cars of the Northern Central Railway and headed south. Along the way, Colonel James Nagle received a telegram directing him to instead take his regiment to Fortress Monroe.

Within just a few miles from Baltimore, "a fiendish attempt" was made to throw the train from the track but, as Joseph Gould noted, "Only two of the cars were thrown off, and beyond a few bruises, none of the members of the Regiment were injured."

At last reaching Baltimore, many members of Companies B & G who had passed through the Charm City in mid-April on their way to Washington as members of the Washington Artillerists no doubt recalled those tense moments when their small band came under attack by a mob of Confederate-leaning Baltimoreans. There would be no repeat of hostilities this time; instead, the 48th marched through the city to the harbor where they boarded the steamer Georgia, which Oliver Bosbyshell described as "a precarious old craft, likely to fall to pieces." Bosbyshell further recalled the nerve-wracking trip down the Chesapeake: "The captain wisely crept along close in to shore, not knowing what moment the timbers of the old hulk would separate. He was all anxiety, and his constant call admonishing to 'trim ship' kept the boys moving. The night moved slowly away, the somnolent regiment unmindful of danger, although ever and anon through its weary hours the cry of 'trim ship' caused a shifting of position."

The Georgia landed at Fortress Monroe on the morning of September 26. The 48th disembarked, stretched their legs, and marched around the walls of the fortress and across the narrow land bridge that connected to Hampton. There, they settled in at Camp Hamilton. "Here we settled down into a soldier's life," wrote Joseph Gould, "as naturally and contentedly as though we were old veterans."

In command of Camp Hamilton and Fortress Monroe at this time was an "old veteran," General Joseph King Fenno Mansfield, fifty-years-old with four decades worth of service. The soldiers of the 48th came to appreciate Mansfield, a professional soldier's soldier. "His mild disposition and benevolent heart, that caused him to be ever on the lookout for the welfare of his soldiers, combined, however, with a firm, just discipline," said Oliver Bosbyshell, "endeared him to all with whom he came in contact."

General Joseph Mansfield

In an effort to demonstrate how easy it was to access the campsite of the 48th, Mansfield got into the habit of walking into the camp "night after night," each time dropping by Colonel Nagle's tent, letting him know that he was there. This surely embarrassed the colonel. "Day after day," said Gould, "while on regiment drill, Colonel Nagle formed the regiment in 'hollow square' and told of Mansfield's nocturnal visit to his quarters. He was greatly displeased at this seeming lack of vigilance on the part of the guards, and demanded greater care by officers and men; but the nightly invasions continued, though not so frequently."

During one of Mansfield's visits, he was able to slip past Private Jake Haines, who was on guard duty, without challenge. Mansfield instructed the officer of the guard to have Haines reprimanded, but Haines, as Bosbyshell described him, "was as deaf as a post," which most likely accounted for his lack of vigilance. Colonel Nagle understood and though he did reprimand Haines, he did so in a "low squeaking voice which the Colonel sometimes adopted." Nagle walked away and Haines turned to a comrade and asked, "What did he say?"

At last, Mansfield was stopped one night trying to get into the 48th's camp; a soldier named Rogers yelling to the aged warrior, "halt, or I'll prog ye!" Rogers, with bayonet forward, escorted Mansfield to the Officer of the Guard, who then walked with Mansfield to Nagle's quarters. There, Mansfield at last congratulated Nagle and his regiment. "This episode," summarized Gould, "occurring in the formative period of the regiment, the impression remained, and vigilance on camp and picket guard became a marked characteristic of the command. . . ."

Less than one year later, on September 17, 1862, General Mansfield was struck down with a mortal wound while leading the Twelfth Corps at the Battle of Antietam.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The 48th/150th: Becoming A Regiment & Receiving Its Flags

Soldiers Drill At Harrisburg's Camp Curtin

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One hundred and fifty years ago, the 48th Pennsylvania officially became a regiment.

Organized during the summer of 1861 from throughout Schuylkill County, the volunteers--1,010 of them--rendezvoused at Harrisburg's Camp Curtin where, on September 20, 1861, the regiment was mustered into state service (they would then become United States soldiers of October 1, 1861).

The soldiers of the 48th were presented two stands of colors on that same September 20. One flag was presented by Governor Andrew Curtin--Pennsylvania's "War Governor"--which he presented on behalf of the state. Curtin, said regimental historian Joseph Gould, "made a very eloquent speech to the boys, and was heartily cheered at its close." Oliver Bosbyshell of Company G agreed, writing that "the glowing words of his speech made a deep impression upon the command."

The second flag--the National flag--was presented by John T. Werner, a Pottsville attorney, described by Gould as "a grand old patriotic citizen--one of those men whom it was a pleasure to know and be associated with." Werner's eighteen-year-old son, J. Frank Werner, was at that time serving in the ranks of Company D. By war's end, the young Werner, a clerk before the war, was the company's commanding officer. Werner traveled to Harrisburg and presented the flag on behalf of the grateful people of Pottsville. It was a silk flag and upon its blue canton was a fitting inscription: In The Cause Of The Union, We Know No Such Word As Fail.

Later that evening, an appreciative Colonel James Nagle wrote a letter for publication in Pottsville's Miners' Journal:

"I desire to acknowledge through your valuable journal, the receipt of a beautiful flag, forwarded and presented to my regiment by our fellow townsman, John T. Werner, Esq. We feel very grateful to him, and return our most sincere thanks for the beautiful National Flag he saw fit to present to us-the flag we all swore to protect and defend, and I have every reason to believe that the 48th will do its duty, knowing our cause is just."

Oliver Bosbyshell later proudly wrote that throughout the conflict these flags "were gallantly defended, and although shattered and torn by bullet and shell, were safely returned to the State. . . ."

The 48th would receive new stands of colors in 1864 to replace these first ones, which were, as Bosbyshell attested, torn and shattered by war.

Being mustered into service, the regiment received orders to depart Harrisburg on September 24, 1861. They were on their way to war. . .

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The First Flags of the 48th!

This is all that remains of the 48th's first "state" flag, presented to the regiment on September 20, 1861, by Governor Andrew Curtin. Despite its condition, it is still in much better shape than the regiment's first "national colors," by presented by John T. Werner, on behalf of the people of Pottsville. . .

It is a real shame there is so little left of this. . .I would have loved to see that inscription:
In The Cause Of The Union, We Know No Such Word As Fail

Friday, September 9, 2011

“Here is a paper with which I will be bashed and vilified for for generations to come:” Some (generally rambling) Thoughts on Special Orders No. 191

A Clipping Of Special Orders No. 191. . .penned on September 9, 1862, and used to bash McClellan ever since.

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September 9 is an important date for students of the September 1862 Maryland Campaign, for it was the date on which General Lee dictated what became Special Orders No. 191, his plan of operations for the continuance of the campaign after first crossing the Potomac and moving north to Frederick. Following the instructions spelled out in 191, the Army of Northern Virginia began evacuating Frederick the following morning—September 10—then began spreading out across western Maryland and portions of northern Virginia (today West Virginia) in order to both continue with the movement northward and force the evacuation of the Federal garrison at Harpers Ferry. Several days later, of course, and just hours after the final elements of Lee’s army left town, George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac arrived in Frederick and on the morning of September 13, Corporal Barton Mitchell of the 27th Indiana happened upon the famous—or infamous—lost copy of Special Orders No. 191. Making its way up the chain of command, 191 ultimately landed in the hands of George McClellan.

Ever since this document has been used as even more ammunition for generations of historians and "Monday moring quarterbacks" to further bash McClellan for his supposed failure not to immediately capitalize upon this “amazing” discovery and not to achieve a “decisive” win during the campaign.

But Special Orders No. 191 contained outdated and inaccurate information that may have hindered McClellan more than it helped him. And, 191 or not, the fact of the matter was that McClellan and his men did emerge victorious during this consequential campaign.

Less than two weeks earlier, McClellan had been called upon (again) to take the helm of the Federal forces gathering in Washington in what was perhaps the darkest days of the Union war effort. . .and for a general typically characterized as slow and cautious, he immediately went to work, consolidating and organizing a new Army of the Potomac, which now included John Pope’s Army of Virginia and Burnside’s Ninth Corps, and setting off north and west from Washington in pursuit of Lee’s invading columns. A master strategist, McClellan realized that Lee’s overriding purpose of the invasion was to draw the Army of the Potomac to battle, and not to capture Harrisburg or Baltimore nor to attack Washington, as so many of the nation’s leaders feared were Lee’s intentions. Satisfied that Lee was heading west from Frederick, McClellan moved quick. . .so quick, in fact, that he caught General Lee entirely off-guard and unaware, ultimately forcing Lee onto the defensive at South Mountain. Even before McClellan was handed 191, his plan was to continue pushing west from Frederick and across the South Mountain range. Portions of army, including his cavalry and the Ninth Army Corps, were already advanced west of Frederick, and inching their way toward South Mountain with orders to continue their way across the following day.

George McClellan's Triumphant Arrival in Frederick, MD, September 13, 1862

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Special Orders No. 191 placed Jackson’s command at Martinsburg, (West) Virginia, and Longstreet’s command at Boonsboro, Maryland, at the western base of South Mountain. There was nothing in the document that dictated that either Jackson move toward Harpers Ferry--which he did after the Federal garrison retreated there from Martinsburg--and Longstreet take his command to Hagerstown, which Lee directed on the morning of September 11. As far as McClellan was concerned, and as was spelled out in 191, Longstreet’s entire command was still at Boonsboro along with D.H. Hill’s Division, which is why he ordered the bulk of his army toward Turner’s Gap, which traversed South Mountain just east of Boonsboro.

Special Orders No. 191 also stated that Lee wished his entire operation to be concluded and his army reunited by the afternoon of September 12, the day before McClellan received 191. It was only necessary, then, that he determine whether or not the Army of Northern Virginia was still following this timetable, or whether they had fallen behind schedule. Finally, Special Orders No. 191, of course, made no mention as to Lee’s numbers; it only told McClellan that Lee had ordered the wide separation of his army across many miles of largely unfriendly territory, an order, believed McClellan, that only confirmed the reports he had been receiving that he was up against tremendous numbers.

History always mentions this paranoia of McClellan’s—that he was outnumbered. Seldom is the tremendous pressure that was resting on McClellan’s shoulders discussed. Of course, we know the outcome of the war—that in the spring of 1865 the Union emerged triumphant. But in mid-September 1862 things were very much undecided and had Lee won another victory following a summer’s worth of success, who's to say but the Confederacy might have very well prevailed, especially with a victory fought on Union territory and with Great Britain at that point leaning very close to recognizing the Confederacy as a sovereign nation. It would have at least brought them one step closer to victory. . .

Still, despite the tremendous pressure he was under, the fact was, McClellan moved aggressively throughout the entirety of the Maryland Campaign and within two weeks—following a lamentable season of defeats—led the Union army to victory at both South Mountain and Antietam, drove Lee out of Maryland, wrestled the initiative from his opponent (who firmly held it since the Seven Days’ Battles in late June-early July), and kept Washington and Pennsylvania safe. As my friend and historian Tom Clemens often points out, from September 14-September 19, George McClellan planned and executed three offensive actions (South Mountain--Antietam--Shepherdstown), two of which resulting in victory.

This does not, by any means, sound like the actions of a timid general.

In terms of military consequences, the outcomes of the Maryland Campaign of September 1862 and the Gettysburg Campaign of July 1863 were very much similar: Lee's invasion repulsed with heavy loss, Lee holding his ground the day following the fight, Lee getting across the Potomac to fight another day. Yet, while history always declares Gettysburg a Union victory, too often Antietam is portrayed as a tactical "draw." Yet when we consider not only the military consequences of the two campaigns but also their social, diplomatic, and political ramifications, the Maryland Campaign--with the resultant Emancipation Proclamation--must emerge as far more consequential.

But it seems that history, for the most part, is simply not yet willing to credit McClellan with anything; thus, while Meade earned a win at Gettysburg, McClellan, at best, earned a "draw."

Perhaps we need to rethink this; perhaps it is time we more fully appreciate the thoughts of Lee himself who after the war claimed McClellan as his most feared opponent. Perhaps we need to wonder why it is McClellan earned a "draw" at Antietam. The argument goes that it is because he did not follow up his victory and attack Lee again. Following this logic, then, why is, say, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville not considered to be "draws." After all, Lee did not follow up these victories by assuming or re-assuming offensive actions. . .did he not also "allow" the Federals to escape across either the Rappahannock and Rapidan the same as McClellan and Meade "allowed" Lee to escape after Antietam and Gettysburg? Further, to say the war would have ended ignores the fact that there were still tens of thousands of Confederate soldiers still in Virginia and completely ignores the fact that this civil war extended far, far beyond the confines of its Eastern Theater.

Finally, perhaps it is time we rethink the value of Special Orders No. 191, examining it not by what we know now, but instead by what McClellan knew then. Doing so forces us to reexamine not only the Maryland Campaign of September 1862 but also the military career and legacy of George McClellan.

Just my (generally rambling) thoughts. . .

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Civil War Letters of John W. Derr. . .A New Blog With A Focus On The 48th!

John W. Derr was twenty-one years of age when he was mustered into service as a private in Company D, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, in late September 1861. A blacksmith by trade, Derr served throughout the entirety of the conflict, was wounded at 2nd Bull Run, and mustered out as a "Veteran" in July 1865.

Now, in commemoration of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, Private Derr's great-great grandson has launched a blog dedicated to his ancestor and his ancestor's service, titled "The Civil War Letters of John W. Derr." This is truly an excellent idea. . .In addition to posts on the history of the 48th Pennsylvania, the blog will feature, primarily, the many letters Derr penned home while in uniform. These letters will be posted over the next four years in chronological order, so that we can follow in those proverbial footsteps of Derr and his regiment as they fought their way through North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

Derr's first letter home has recently gone up, written soon after his arrival at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, where the regiment rendezvoused and was officially organized. In the letter, dated September 3, 1861, Derr rather matter-of-factly notes that he "made up my mind to go and fight for our country. . . .And I wish you wouldn't think hard of me that I left Deep Creek for I was tired of it long ago. . . ."

What an excellent way to kick off this blog; this letter providing some insights into soldier motivations.

I am looking forward to following this blog and reading Derr's letters homes. I have added the site to my links on the right-hand panel, or you can find it by simply clicking here.