Gods and Generals – Fredericksburg

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20th Maine assault up to Maree’s Heights, Fredericksburg 1862.

I’m again on this topic as I watched a brief scene last night before bed on my iPad; movie watching this way is punctuated and drawn out and takes me days sometimes.

From the movie we know that Burnside was a stubborn boob, Hancock was a prescient anti-boob, and Lee talks too much with a pseudo southern lisp. We also know that of all of the other brigades that stormed Maree’s Heights the Irish Brigade is most remembered. It’s a movie, so you have to cut some stuff.

General Sumner, in command of Burnside’s Left Grand Division, and Hancock have a little chat about the probably outcome of the battle and Hancock exclaims that Jackson’s line will not be turned. Well, it almost was in the real battle, not the movie one. Jackson’s Corps occupies Lee’s line on the right and extends along a treed and forested area parallel to the Mine Road and behind the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac railroad.

The following is excerpted from the NPS Fredericksburg web site about this action:

Burnside had reinforced Franklin’s sector on the morning of battle to a strength of some 60,000 men. Franklin, a brilliant engineer but cautious combatant, placed the most literal and conservative interpretation on Burnside’s ill-phrased instructions. He designated Major General George G. Meade’s division — just 4,500 troops — to spearhead his attack.

Meade’s men, Pennsylvanians all, moved out in the misty half-light about 8:30 a.m. and headed straight for Jackson’s line, not quite one mile distant. Suddenly, artillery fire exploded to the left and rear of Meade’s lines. Major John Pelham had valiantly moved two small guns into position along the Richmond Stage Road perpendicular to Meade’s axis of march. The 24 year-old Alabamian ignored orders from Major General J.E.B. Stuart to disengage and continued to disrupt the Federal formations for almost an hour. General Lee, watching the action from Prospect Hill, remarked, “it is glorious to see such courage in one so young.” When Pelham exhausted his ammunition and retired, Meade resumed his approach, Jackson patiently allowed the Federals to close to within 500 yards of the wooded elevation where a 14-gun battalion lay hidden in the trees. As the Pennsylvanians drew near to the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad north of Hamilton’s Crossing, “Stonewall” unleashed his masked artillery. Confederate shells ripped gaping holes in Meade’s ranks and the beleaguered Unionists sought protection behind wrinkles of ground in the open fields. Continue reading “Gods and Generals – Fredericksburg”

Drama or History? Who wins?

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“At the Double Quick”, bronze relief at the Corinth Interpretive Center, Corinth Ms.

Book #2 in my civil war series is finished as far as the first draft is concerned and now I’m knee deep in the rewrite. I had a character jump back into the WIP, a character I’d excised as the storyline just wasn’t feeling right. So, mid way through this year it made sense to reintroduce him and he plays a part in the climax of the novel after all. Actually, he has become one of the main characters again (I say again, he was a main character in TMAS). So, I’ve made one pass through my hard copy making notes and cutting sections out that didn’t fit or needed to be reworked and decided that this characters actions after Shiloh needed to be highlighted.

The campaign to take Corinth, Mississippi had been General Halleck’s goal since establishing a presence at Pittsburg Landing and ordering the Army of the Ohio to link up with Grant’s Army of the Tennessee. Pope’s Army of the Mississippi was also to cooperate, leading three armies to converge on Corinth, where Confederate General A.S. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard were concentrated. Shiloh disrupted all of that and nearly wrecked Halleck’s overall plans. Unfortunately for the Confederates Johnston is killed and they fail to destroy the Army of the Tennessee. Now, however, after a month of refitting Halleck is ready to try again at the beginning of May.

Book #2 (tentative title Certain Death) picks up after the battle of Shiloh where a new character has been captured and some old characters are preparing to march south from Pittsburg Landing to a fate unknown. In reading the report of Nelson’s division (where Ammen’s brigade is, a clue to anyone who remembers what characters were in Ammen’s brigade) I’d read that there was a delay in movement forward from Mount Olivet Church where the division camped for a few days before moving on due to two days of heavy rain fall that destroyed the bridges and corduroy roads they’d spent the first few days of May constructing (this area between Corinth and Pittsburg Landing is cut by numerous creeks and marshy lowlands that were impassable for heavy, wheeled artillery and supply trains as well as cavalry, barely so for infantry).

So, knowing all of this I decided to add this little happenstance as part of the story, the destruction of the bridges due to too much water flow, the problem of getting supplies to the forward divisions, the danger of trying to repair the pontoon bridges and keep them secure in the middle of the creeks overflowing, the possibility that someone will be swept downstream in an accident. So, I got to chugging along in a dramatic scene that was to chronicle the attempts to secure the pontoon bridge in heavy rain and a swift current and what that might look like. Soon my creek became a river of some unknown breadth from bank to bank and the pontoon bridge of perhaps thirty feet or more long and the water possibly above a man’s head.

Yesterday as I sat to finish the scene the disaster was complete and my MC was swept downstream. I stopped to go back to my source as it occurred to me that I should know where this little creek was to lead to, was it leading towards the confederate lines? How wide was it really if my MC is to let go of what he is clinging to and swim for the nearest bank? It was then that I realized I’d not gotten down to my regimental reports of the 30 day period and learned that my MC’s regiment wasn’t at Mount Olivet Church but still on the north side of one of these creeks and further was prevented from crossing due to damage done by this rain storm. I’d had them on the south side and going back to do the repairs.

These are niggling little details. What side of a creek a unit was on in this little narrative of a minor event probably does not deserve all of the angst and reworking of the details but it would have bugged me all the same. If I make a mistake in error and ignorance that is my bad, but to make it when I know better is something that I cannot abide. In this sense, the drama becomes emptied of its truth if I knowingly record some errors that are easily discovered if someone means to do so.

In the end, I altered some of the details of the event to fit the truth and kept the dramatic scene of the disaster in place, fixing some historic details to suit my own conscience. There’s detail in the reports of General Nelson (Division commander) that initially set me to building the scene but I’d neglected to dig down into the regimental reports where finer details existed and called my initial assumptions into question. But, in the end, history won out where it was important to me to get right and the scene of the disaster was honed to be more realistic for a creek based on the other details gleaned from the brigade reports of each regiment.

They Met At Shiloh

93rd New York in camp, 1863 contrast of uniforms

Civil War Federal NCOs enjoying a repast

(click image to enlarge, 93rd NY Volunteer Infantry Bealton, VA 1863)

The first thing that stands out in the image is that this is a long term camp or the term being long enough to afford some common comfort as these chairs and folding table. A constant argument in reenacting today is what level of camp presence do you portray when at a battle event. This image is proof that this level of equipage was used in camps, but what was common for a campaign? There are two camps (pardon the pun), one that wishes to portray as much of the comfort (for themselves) by using implements such as this table and chairs, tents, cooking and eating utensils etc. The common reply is “if they used them, why can’t I”. The problem is that they would not travel well requiring a large baggage train. The other camp are those who wish to portray a campaigner impression. My own reenacting battalion, The Army of the Pacific – a western reenactor group, does a campaign impression whenever possible. A motto is use only what you can carry on your back as being representative of what the common infantryman was allowed to carry with him. NCOs and officers were allowed more baggage, but an infantryman was only allowed what he could stuff into his knapsack. Tents such as what are in the background were cumbersome and necessitated a long and vulnerable baggage train to transport, meaning more animals to feed and more wagons to haul stuff around in.

I find it interesting that the photographer chose to arrange the men in rank order, the Corporals being in the middle flanked by the two Sergeants. Also note the booze on the table, at least what I’m guessing is probably alcohol. This was not uncommon to purchase from sutlers or from civilian sources. The army did allot a whiskey ration to their quartermasters, the higher the rank the more you were allotted and there are stories of soldiers breaking into Sutlers tents or pilfering the Officer’s allotment of whiskey at times, but for the enlisted men this would amount to barely a mouthful per man per day. This would have been a regulated allotment and kept under tight control.

From the uniforms, the federal Sack Coat or fatigue blouse is what is in evidence. This was a four button coat that is obsequious with the view of the common federal soldier.Original Sack Coat image This fatigue blouse was what the soldier wore for all normal duties as opposed to dress format for parade and other official functions. Volunteer units when raised were issued state level equipments and uniforms and once federalized would then often be issued federal kit that would have included the Sack Coats. But, this was not a universal issue as Ohio and New York in particular issued state militia jackets, a shorter waist and many more buttons on the front.

Another feature of this image is the forage cap dangling from one of the support legs of the foldable table. For the federal armies, this was the most common head ware used. Deriving its name from the deep, pocket like top of the hat that falls down unto the brim, the hat was used for gathering forage when sent out on such patrols where the goal was to by hook or by crook gather in as much food stuffs as the men could carry. Original Federal Forage CapForage caps were common issue as opposed to the head gear being worn by the sergeant to the far left of the image. He is wearing a Kepi, a shorter crown cap that is probably more synonymous with civil war headgear but less often worn by the enlisted men and NCOs. Kepis were most often worn by private purchase. Officers in the Federal army were given a clothing allowance as part of their pay and not issued uniforms, having the freedom to make their own. The most famous example of this is George Armstrong Custer whose uniforms were hyper customized. To this day it is the prerogative of Generals in the army to customize their own uniform wear. It is probable that this sergeant has privately purchased this Kepi for his own use. A close look at the Corporal second to the right shows the common look of a forage cap.

Another view of some of the variety evinced in this image is the wide NCO stripe down the trouser legs of the sergeant to the left of the table. NCOs were allowed to wear a distinction to their trousers denoting rank, a thinner stripe for corporals. The sergeant to the far right has not affixed any to his trousers.

The corporal third from the right is wearing, as near as I can tell from the research of other images for this unit, his NY militia frock coat and black rank. This is not the federal issue Frock coat as can be see here:
93rd NY, Bleaton VA 1863

The difference here can be clearly seen by the man standing second from the left. He is wearing the Federal Frock, high standing collar and infantry piping on the cuffs. There are other NY Frocks evident in this image as well sporting a traditional collar. The black chevrons on the above image on the man in question are of militia vintage for NY pre-war units. At the date that this these images were taken, the preponderance of militia uniforms is interesting as three years of campaigning had either not worn them out or that the state of New York was still suppling her regiments with materials.

If there are other items of interest I’ve missed or tidbits I’ve gotten wrong, please pitch in and let’s mine these images for what they tell us.

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