If you had to pick a Civil War officer to lead you (and a regiment) for a first experience under fire, who would it be?
The series “First Experiences Under Fire” continued this week and other highlights included posts for the historic anniversaries of Cedar Creek and Ball’s Bluff.
Monday, October 18:
Question of the Week asked about your autumn reading list.
Under Fire: Sarah Kay Bierle posted an account from A.F. Shaw’s reminiscence in the 4th Georgia Cavalry. Continue reading
When the 6th Pennsylvania Reserves formed in the spring of 1861, its men and officers elected William W. Ricketts as its colonel. The 24-year-old was a solid choice; he had attended West Point and though he hadn’t graduated, opting for medical college instead, Ricketts “possessed a most decided military genius,” a contemporary described. “He had a quick perception, and a facility in handling and commanding troops remarkable in one so young.” As the 6th Reserves deployed to Washington, D.C., it seemed they were in good shape and ready for combat.
Except, on the day that was to be their baptism of fire, Ricketts was confined to his tent, sick with some form of disease that proved all too common during the Civil War. In his place, the 6th would be led by its second-in-command, Lt. Col. William Penrose. A well-respected lawyer, Penrose lacked even the most rudimentary military training that his colonel possessed. The question then presented itself: how would Penrose and the 6th fare when the bullets started flying?
Article adapted from news on American Battlefield Trust’s website
A year ago, the American Battlefield Trust announced a fundraising campaign to protect 108 acres of property where two significant Civil War battles were fought, and where men on both sides, Federal and Confederate, stood their ground, engaged in fierce firefights, and lost their lives. They called this project “Pickett’s Charge Five Times as Large.” Thanks to generous support ABT is moving to the next phase of this landmark effort. Continue reading
As the end of October approaches, are you looking for a historic cemetery to explore? Or have you ever heard of a 5K race through an old graveyard?
Located in Washington D.C., the Congressional Cemetery has been a marked burial ground since 1798 and an official cemetery since 1807. Through the early 19th Century nearly every congressman who died in office was buried at this location. After the Civil War, Arlington National Cemetery took over in prominence, but the local preservation efforts followed by national assistance maintains the Congressional Cemetery today.
Congressional Cemetery (photo from website)
If you’re looking for an adventure in a old cemetery (with Civil War ties!), check out their calendar of events. You could “race for your life” in their 5K which begins with the tolling of a funeral bell or take a more leisurely and informative weekend tour with their guides to learn more about the history of the cemetery. Continue reading
The First Maine Heavy Artillery famously participated in the last desperate attempt in June 1864 to simply seize Petersburg by direct assault. Many incorrectly assume the battle was the first for these callups from the Washington defenses, though a Sesquicentennial post by Chris Mackowski showed that the regiment had already seen hard combat at Spotsylvania. Nevertheless, the newly converted infantrymen had a harrowing experience unlike any of the seasoned veterans of the Union II Corps.
Modern visitors to Petersburg National Battlefield have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the charge up to the point where it broke apart–at a spot afterward marked by a monument to the 632 casualties suffered by the regiment in just ten minutes. The map below offers a guide to touring this hallowed ground. Please note that the Union earthworks around and including Fort Stedman did not exist during the June attack.
“We crossed the river…under command of Colonel Lee, in all one hundred men, in a whale boat that would carry sixteen, and two small boats holding five and four respectively. I went over first, and found a steep bank one hundred and fifty feet high, with thick wood on it. There was not room enough to form ten men, and the banks were so slippery that you could not stand,” wrote Captain William Francis Bartlett describing his arrival at Ball’s Bluff. Commanding Company I of the 20th Massachusetts, Bartlett and his men had not been under fire before, but as the scouting probe of other regiments ahead of them turned into a real battle, they would be tested to their limits. Continue reading
Cannon at Ball’s Bluff (Bierle)
It was a battle that wasn’t really supposed to happen, and one combat that is often overlooked, though it had notable effects in 1861. A Union reconnaissance mission gone wrong launched the Battle of Ball’s Bluff on October 21, 1861, and throughout the day, the Confederates hurried more regiments to scene of action, determined to protect Leesburg, Virginia, and taking advantage of the situation of push the Union troops literally back into the Potomac River. Although Union reinforcements, including the California Brigade commanded by Colonel Edward Baker, attempted to hold the position, series of mistakes and the terrain itself worked against them.
Robert A. Moore, a soldier in the 17th Mississippi Infantry Regiment kept a pocket diary of his war experiences and left insightful commentary on the Battle of Ball’s Bluff.
In June 1861, the 17th Mississippi Infantry had mustered at Corinth, and they transferred to Virginia in time for the First Battle of Manassas. From Seven Pines during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign to Cold Harbor in 1864, the regiment would fight in the Army of Northern Virginia, except from the brief period in 1863 when they went with Longstreet’s Corps into Tennessee and fought at Chickamauga and Knoxville. They finally battlefield actions would be in the Shenandoah Valley during 1864 and in the Appomattox Campaign in 1865. The regiment’s second major engagement took place at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff on October 21, 1861, outside of Leesburg, Virginia. Continue reading