Friday, February 22, 2013

The 48th/150th: Preparing to Head West With Burnside. . .

Maj.Gen. Ambrose Burnside
Following the disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg and the infamous "Mud March" in late January 1863, Major General Ambrose Burnside was relieved of his command of the Army of the Potomac, replaced by the ambitious and brash General Joseph Hooker. But President Lincoln was not quite willing to cut Burnside entirely loose from the army. Instead, recognizing Burnside's capabilities and skills, appreciating his aggressive command style and perhaps feeling a bit culpable for the defeat at Fredericksburg, Lincoln appointed Burnside commander of both the Army and the Department of the Ohio. The stout and heavily-whiskered Burnside would thus be heading west. . .and, at his request, his tried and true soldiers of the 9th Army Corps would be heading out with him.
On February 6, 1863, orders arrived for the 48th to report to General John Dix at Newport News, Virginia, "and the news," noted regimental historian Joseph Gould, "was received joyfully by the command."
The soldiers of the 48th now prepared for a new chapter in its history. Thus far in the war, they had served on the North Carolina coastline, fought with Pope at 2nd Bull Run, under McClellan at South Mountain and Antietam, and under Burnside at Fredericksburg, witnessing heavy combat and sustaining heavy losses at each of these engagements. But now their service in the east would be suspended, and for the next year, they would serve in the war's Western Theater, being first assigned to provost guard duty at Lexington, Kentucky, then serving in East Tennessee in a campaign that pitted Burnside against General James Longstreet's forces for control of this vital part of the state.
The first step of this journey for the 48th was from Fredericksburg to Aquia Creek then from Aquia Creek to Fortress Monroe and, finally, to Newport News. Having bid adieu to the Army of the Potomac, the soldiers of the 48th marched to Aquia Creek where they boarded the transport ship North America, which set sail for Fortress Monroe at 5:00 p.m. on the evening of February 9. "The North America was somewhat crowded," wrote Oliver Bosbyshell, "having on board the 6th New Hampshire, 2nd Maryland, and the 48th Pennsylvania, besides a provost guard of about sixty men and numerous handers on."

Soldiers of the 9th Army Corps (perhaps the 48th PA???) board steamers and transport ships at Aquia Creek on February 9, 1863, preparing to set sail for Fortress Monroe and Newport News

9th Corps Soldiers Boarding a Transport Ship. . .which looks awfully, awfully cramped and crowded!

The crowded vessel set sail early on Tuesday morning, February 10, steaming down the Potomac then entering the Chesapeake Bay around noon. That night, the ship drew up within sight of Fortress Monroe, where it anchored for the night. On February 11, the North America continued on its way up to Newport News, arriving there early in the afternoon. At 1:00 p.m., the cramped soldiers of the 48th disembarked, stretched their legs from the crowded voyage and set up camp "about three-quarters of a mile from the landing," explained Bosbyshell, "in rear of the fortifications, on the magnificent plain stretching along the James River."

The North America (left) and Albany

Thus ended the first part of their journey. The 48th remained encamped at Newport News for the next six weeks, from February 11 until March 25, 1863.
The weather that winter was poor. "It was very cold, and severe snow storms were frequent," remembered Sergeant Gould, "and the troops were suffering quite considerably from the inclement weather. Company and regimental drills were held almost day, and contributed very much in the solution of the question of keeping warm."
But despite the poor weather, it seems it did not take long for the 48th to settle in and get used to their new camp.  "Many amusements were indulged in," wrote Captain Bosbyshell, "horse racing, cricket matches, base-ball and the like."

Civil War Encampment at Newport News, Virginia
It was also during their stay at Newport News that the men received new weapons. They had been carrying .58 caliber Enfield smoothbores. Now, they regiment was armed "with the improved 'Springfield Rifled Muskets.'"