how about this

A blog of Nineteenth Century history, focusing, but not exclusively, on the American Civil War seen through the prism of personal accounts, newspaper stories, administrative records and global history.
A thousand tales. A miscellany. A maze of historical tangents.

A Capitol View

A Capitol View
Images of 1861 juxtaposed- Union Square, New York vs. Capitol Square, Richmond

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Unamiable Firmness and General Wistar

Picture from the autobiography of Isaac Wistar, 1914

An incident at Yorktown during  April of 1864 gives, I believe, some idea of the mindset of Isaac Wistar, the general who so often chevauch├ęd his way through the Tidewater of Virginia.

In April, 1864, numerous regiments and batteries gathered from all parts of the Department, were sent me to be organized and Brigaded into the 18th Army Corps, which it was understood was to be commanded by the able and well-known General William F. Smith, then wearing his freshly-won Chattanooga laurels, at which place by rescuing the communications of the Western Army he had saved the army itself and thus rendered possible its subsequent success. Many of the regiments were old ones recently filled up with drafted or kidnapped men by certain iniquitous practices first made known to me by the following circumstance which, in the interests of humanity, one may hope could scarcely happen outside of a free (?) Republic. A New Hampshire regiment one night reported its arrival and was posted by one of the staff a couple of miles from the fort, to be inspected and provisionally brigaded next day. But early in the morning the Colonel personally reported that eighty of his men had deserted during the night! In reply to some sharp strictures on the quality and discipline of a regiment in which such things could happen, he explained that his command was an old and good one of long service, but having been reduced by various casualties to barely 150 men, had just been filled up with 600 drafted men. These were foreigners, mostly speaking foreign languages, who had been drugged and kidnapped in New York, there purchased by the 'quota agents' of his State, their muster papers regularly made out, then heavily ironed, confined in box cars, and shipped like cattle, to his regiment.
All this proved on inquiry to be true. One could not but sympathize with the poor wretches thus maltreated on their arrival in a land whither many of them had probably fled to escape a much milder military service at home; nevertheless their chains had been forged by experienced hands and were without a flaw. They came to me with all regular forms complete, as duly enlisted, sworn and mustered soldiers of their regiment, and I was bound by every consideration of oath and duty to treat them as such until discharged, regardless of their individual misfortunes. The deserters were of course trying to get to the enemy, but must all be retaken sooner or later by our pickets or patrols. Should their escapade be allowed to pass without special attention, as might have been possible under almost any other circumstances, the offense would be repeated indefinitely by them, as well as by the hundreds of similar unfortunates drafted like them into other regiments, and must at last be stopped at any cost, even by wholesale executions, if required.
It was therefore not merely in the interest of the Government, but of humanity as well, that I felt that such an example must be made of a few of those first caught as might serve to cut short the contagious and dangerous defection. The opportunity was not long delayed. Three poor devils were brought in that evening, immediately tried by special court martial, found guilty, condemned to death, and sentenced to be shot at sunrise next morning, in presence of their regiment. I approved the conviction and sentence, as plainly authorized to do by the Sixty-fifth Article of War; but to avoid all question of authority, telegraphed the facts and my intention to execute the sentence to the Department-Commander at Fortress Monroe. General Butler wished the execution deferred till he could receive and examine the record, but feeling very clear both as respected my authority and duty, I declined to so do on the ground that the efficacy of the punishment as a deterring influence, lay mainly in its immediate infliction, and plainly stated that if restrained in this exercise of judgment, I should decline further responsibility for the troops in this condition, and would ask the favor of an immediate assignment to the Army of the Potomac. Butler then contented himself with requiring the record of conviction to be telegraphed him, which process went on through the remainder of the night and was still being conducted long after the culprits had ceased to exist.
One reason for such unamiable firmness in the matter, was the prevailing feeling that among so many newly-drafted reinforcements, the prisoners could not be publicly executed without insubordination and perhaps mutiny. Even so good an officer as the colonel of their regiment, while concurring in other respects, begged that the execution might be private, or at least not in presence of his regiment, which he feared might not be controllable.
But his reason for privacy was mine for publicity, since the very existence of such doubts rendered it all the more imperative that the entire command should know by exhaustive public test, whether the Government with its officers, order and authority, was or was not stronger than the mutinous conscripts and drafted men, of whom the army was likely to become more and more composed.
The place of execution was selected near the center of a level plain south of the fortifications, extending from the high banks of the York estuary to a woods half a mile distant. Prior to the appointed hour, all troops having been first paraded in their respective camps, and the streets commanded by reliable artillery, the deserters' regiment was drawn up in line a few paces from the spot occupied by the prisoners, and a firing-party from their own regiment, closely watched by a picked detail of the provost guard. Opposite the flank of this regiment and at right angles with it, were posted two reliable regiments of my old brigade, one deployed in line of battle with a section of artillery in its center, the other in two columns each doubled on the center, in rear of the respective wings. A few squadrons of cavalry were drawn up at the edge of the woods, a quarter of a mile distant, a field battery, harnessed and mounted, was placed in position in the nearest bastion of the fort, and another was harnessed and standing ready on the road inside the nearest gate. It did not require a very experienced military eye to perceive that in case of any mutinous demonstration by the offending regiment, it could be mowed down by the enfilading fire of the regiment and guns on its flank, and if it broke, could be annihilated by the charge of the two infantry columns, and every straggler cut down or captured -by the cavalry in rear. The disposition being effectually, and therefore mercifully made, the ceremony was conducted deliberately and with perfect regularity. The men fell dead at the first discharge, and were buried where they fell, not another sound being audible from first to last, but the necessary officers' orders, till quick time beaten by the drum corps announced the ceremony completed.
The results justified the painful harshness of this measure. All the other deserters were captured and brought in within a few days and received less severe punishment, and not another desertion occurred except on a single occasion some weeks afterwards, when thirty-four of the same class of men deserted from a Connecticut regiment while in action at Drury's Bluff, but were mostly killed by our fire while running for the enemy's line. To say nothing of the necessities of the service and the interest of the Government and country, I believe that many lives were saved by this timely severity, and have always felt fully justified in it, even regarded as a measure of humanity alone. But it was none the less an infamous outrage not only on the poor ignorant victims, but on commanding officers constrained to such painful measures, that these should be rendered necessary by the base acts of those quota-hunting villains in northern cities, who, if justice could have been done, would have first felt the halter. Smarting under this feeling I wrote an indignant but unofficial letter to Major-General Dix, then commanding at New York, setting forth the violence and fraud by which emigrants and other friendless persons were dragged against their will into the service, by outrages committed in New York, worse than any acts of the old British naval press-gangs, and the responsibilities thus imposed on commanding officers charged with the duty of receiving such so-called recruits.

-Autobiography Of Isaac Jones Wistar 1827-1905, Vol. II
The Wistar Insititute Of Anatomy And Biology,
Philadelphia 1914

Here is where I pontificate.
That discipline is necessary for the ability of any military force to successfully carry out its mission goes without saying, however it also true that "discipline" and "firmness" can become the watchwords that cover a multitude of sins. That Wistar would try, convict, sentence and execute three members of his unit,  a) newly arrived conscripts, b) within 24 hours, c) not in the field but at his base of operations, d) without allowing any oversight by his superior officer, all the while admitting that the "draftees" had essentially been kidnapped off the streets of Northern cities is a black mark against him. That he then wrote "an indignant but unofficial letter" complaining of the prior treatment of the(now deceased) soldiers mitigates nothing, but instead smacks of a lethal hypocrisy. A hypocrisy all the more glaring, in that the war on the Virginia Peninsula, by 1864, had become one whose ostensible purpose was freedom and emancipation.

Monday, April 28, 2014

"In the Long Woods"- 150 Years Ago

Wistar and staff, photo from the HR History site of the Daily Press

Expedition from Williamsburg and skirmish at Twelve-Mile Ordinary, Va.

Report of Col. Benjamin F. Onderdonk, First New York Mounted Rifles.

                                 HEADQUARTERS FIRST MOUNTED RIFLES,
                                     Near Williamsburg, Va., April 29, 1864.
COLONEL: I have the honor to report, pursuant to orders of the 27th instant, I marched at an early hour. Nothing of importance occurred until we reached the long woods beyond Twelve-Mile Ordinary, where we were fired on by scouts, one of whom (Davis) we captured. The next picket, near Slatersville, we charged to New Kent, capturing 3. The most reliable information I could gain was that there is no force at Tunstall's Station, on the Pamunkey. I could get no information. At Bottoms Bridge are 2,000 infantry and artillery, with Holcombe's battalion of cavalry. Nine field guns are constantly on duty. All the public fords on the river above Fords Bridge are blockaded and heavily guarded. A large force is stationed at a central point, from which re-enforcements can be thrown to any point above New Bridge in half an hour. Fifteen thousand can be brought to the defense of Bottoms Bridge in that time. Fords Bridge Ford, three days since, was only defended by a small picket. There is also a picket at Charles City Court-House. The camp of this force performing this duty (supposed to be the Forty-second Battalion) is 6 miles from the court-house, toward Richmond. At the latter place the people are in great excitement. The enemy are strengthening fortifications, and troops are constantly arriving from the direction of Charleston. I believe the Charles City Court-House road is the least defended. There is no force this side of Bottoms Bridge except one troop of the Holcombe Cavalry, at Cedar Hill, 2 miles beyond New Kent Court-House, to picket the roads, but they retreat at the shortest notice. We reached New Ken Court-House at 12.45; rested an hour and a half; returned to Barhamsville, where we halted two hours to feed and supper. Finding the horses very fresh, I decided to return.
In the long woods, 1 mile beyond Twelve-Mile Ordinary, we were attacked at 9 o'clock by an ambuscade (supposed to be the Peninsula Scouts); they had scattered torpedoes or shells, with friction fuses, in the road, six of which exploded in my column, the fire of the fuses making. a strong light, of which the enemy took advantage to fire on the men. I wheeled into line, and gave the enemy a volley, which caused them to leave, but they returned again and kept up a continuous fusilade on my entire column as it passed. I did not deem it advisable to follow them into the woods, as I had reason to suppose their infernal machines might do me more injury than the random fire. Although the shells exploded in the midst of the horses and men, strange to say but one man and two horses were slightly wounded with pieces of shell. My men behaved as coolly as on parade, although the uncommon style of warfare was sufficient to destroy the equanimity of the best troops. I should judge the machines to be about 20-pounder shells; they seemed to be charged with canister. Major Hamilton deserves particular notice for his coolness and gallantry through the entire trip. My thanks are due Maj. James N. Wheelan for volunteering to lead a small party around from Barhamsville to cut off the picket at New Kent Court-House, which only failed on account of the bad road, causing him to be half an hour late. I returned to camp 12.30 this morning.
Casualties: Corporal Feiling, Troop B, wounded in shoulder by shell (slightly).
I am, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
                                        B. F. ONDERDONK,
                          Colonel, Commanding Mounted Rifles.

             Commanding Post.



                                  HEADQUARTERS SECOND DIVISION,
                                                      April 29, 1864.
Respectfully forwarded.
 I further learn from deserters and prisoners (of which latter 4 were captured and sent down this morning) that there is a regiment of infantry (Fifty-third Virginia*) at White House; an accession of cavalry near Charles City Court-House; twenty pieces light artillery, both of brass and iron, at Bottoms Bridge, & c.; also that a wagon-load of torpedoes came down from Richmond four days since, in charge of Hume's Peninsula Scouts, for use on the Peninsula. road. They are not self-acting, but are discharged by cords attached, and managed by men concealed in the woods. The commanding general can infer from the above and the inclosed how far the enemy are expecting our advance by the Peninsula.
                                                    I. J. WISTAR,
                                                        Brigadier- General.

-The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies.; Series 1- Volume 33

The Fifty-third Virginia Infantry* regiment had local components, the Pamunkey Rifles(Co. B), the Barhamsville Grays(Co. E) and the Charles City Southern Guards (Co. K).

Twelve-Mile Ordinary would be in the general location of what is now called Anderson's Corner, at the intersection of Routes 30 (New Kent Highway) and 60 (Richmond Road), to the west of Toano, Virginia.

COMING UP- General Wistar and "unamiable firmness" . . .

Saturday, April 26, 2014


 149 years ago, actor/espionage agent John Wilkes Booth was trapped and killed not far from Port Royal, Virginia. Ben Swenson at the excellent Abandoned Country tracks down the surprisingly obscure site at the Garrett farm.

Friday, April 25, 2014

"Blown to atoms"

Horrible Explosion and Loss of Life in Danville-

A Raid on the Commissary Department.

From a gentleman of intelligence, who has reached this city on foot from Danville we have some interesting particulars of events that occurred there after the surrender of Gen Lee's army. When this event became known in the town and surrounding country, a crowd of citizens of all classes, ages and colors, and a large number of soldiers, collected around the buildings in which were stored immense quantities of commissary stores, and after a short deliberation, made a general rush upon the establishments. The parties in charge of the stores at first attempted to resist the mob but were quickly forced to desist and seek their own safety in flight. The individuals of the mob scattered throughout every part of the buildings, each one plundering according to his or her fancy. In one of the buildings, it appears, there was a large quantity of arms and gunpowder in kegs and percussion caps. The soldiers and country people swarmed around the powder eager to secure it for fowling purposes. While they were thus engaged, by some means fire was communicated to the powder, and in an instant the building and its contents, including over fifty persons, were blown to atoms. This horrible tragedy for a time put a check upon the plundering, which, however, was soon recommenced, but with some what more circumspection.

 -Evening Star (Washington, D.C.) April 26, 1865

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

McClellan's Crimean Report VI

Plan des Attaques by Capitaine Charles Alexandre Fay, French staff officer

The general configuration of the harbor of Sebastopol, and the peninsula to the south of it, is too well known to require description. The most striking and, in their bearing upon the siege, the most important features are: First. The complete isolation of the high plateau of the peninsula from the main Crimea by the nearly continuous valleys of Balaklava and the Tchernaya. Second. The lofty and almost inaccessible escarpment which limits the plateau towards the east, south, and to a great extent on the north. Third. The deep and difficult ravines which intersect this very irregular surface.
Some points of the plateau exceed 700' in elevation the average height of the escarpment above the valleys of Balaklava and the Tchernaya may safely be taken at 400'. It need scarcely be stated that this plateau formed for the allies a position of great strength.
Of the many ravines by which it is intersected, it is only those from the Careening to the Quarantine bays, inclusive, that have an immediate bearing on the works of attack and defence. All of these have their origin quite close to the eastern border of the plateau.
The most important is the great central ravine, the main branch of which commences quite near the "Col de Balaklava"-the depression through which the main road from Balaklava to Kamiesch ascends the plateau -then runs a little west of north, forming, where it enters the town, the inner harbor, which separates Sebastopol from the Karabelnaia suburb. During nearly the first half of the siege the French approaches were confined to the west of this ravine, occupying all the space thence to the sea; while the English were on the east, occupying the ground only as far as the Otchakoff ravine; in other words the original French attack was directed against the city proper, while that of the English was against a portion of the Karabelnaia suburb.
It is now time to state that when the allies reached Balaklava the land defences of Sebastopol, on the south side, consisted of a loopholed wall, 4' 8" thick, and from 18' to 20' high, extending from the western point of Artillery bay to the position afterwards occupied by the Central Bastion; thence around the Karabelnaia suburb to the main harbor, the only defence consisted of the Malakoff tower, a semicircular structure, with two stories of loopholes and 5 guns in barbette.
To resume the description of the ground west of the central ravine: the Artillery Bay ravine commences about three-quarters of a mile outside of the city, and at first runs nearly north, being separated from a spur of the central ravine by a ridge about one-eighth of a mile wide; on the highest point of this ridge was situated the Flag-staff Bastion (Bastion du Mat;) the French approaches followed this ridge, and extended across the Artillery Bay ravine, which is here by no means steep or difficult, but becomes much more pronounced upon entering the city, when it for some distance runs off to the west of north.
Just before this ravine enters the city there commences to the west of it, and separated from it by a ridge about one-eighth of a mile wide, another ravine which runs into the Quarantine bay, and which we will call the Central Bastion ravine; the direction of this ravine is nearly northwest; near its head, and on the highest point of the ridge which separates it from the Artillery Bay ravine, is situated the Central Bastion, at an elevation of 217' above the sea.
The loop-holed wall, and the works constructed to replace or strengthen it, follow this ridge for about three-quarters of the distance to the Quarantine batteries, and then turn off to the north; from this angle to the batteries a line of works called the Quarantine redans was erected during the siege.
The French attacks against the Central Bastion followed the ridge on which it was built, and to the westward occupied the irregular ridge between the Central Bastion ravine and the Quarantine Bay ravine, then crossed this last ravine and terminated at the shore of the Black sea, where powerful batteries were erected. The Central Bastion ravine has rather gentle slopes, and is by no means so difficult as those on the eastern side of the great central ravine; in fact, approaches could be carried over it, and did, indeed extend into it.
Passing to the east of the central ravine, Cathcart's hill, which will be found on all the maps, may be taken as a starting point.
On the west and east sides of this hill two difficult ravines commence; the first, called by the English the Valley of Death, unites with the central ravine about one mile from the southern extremity of the inner harbor; the second, by which the Woronzoff road enters the city, joins the central ravine at the very end of the inner harbor. The isolated spur thus formed was occupied by the English lelt attack, the only object of which was to establish batteries to assist the French attack upon the Flag-staff Bastion, and the English right attack upon the Redan, as well as to protect the flanks of those attacks; for the ravines bordering this spur are so deep and difficult as to render it impossible to cross them either by trenches or assaulting columns.
Further to the east is the Otchakoff ravine, running nearly parallel to the Woronzoff ravine, much less difficult and directed upon the Dock Yard bay. On the highest point of the ridge separating the two ravines last named, and at its end nearest the town, were situated the Redan and the Barrack battery; the English right attack followed the ridge. To the eastward of the Otchakoff ravine, and nearly parallel to it, is the Careening Bay ravine, the most difficult of all. On the highest point at the end of the ridge thus formed was placed the Malakoff, at an elevation of 333'; the Little Redan (Batterie Noire) occupied a considerably lower point to the northeast of the Malakoff, while the work known as the Mamelon Vert, or Brancion redoubt, crowned a hill on the same ridge, about three-eighths of a mile to the southeast of the Malakoff, and 40' more elevated; the French attacks against the three works named occupied the summit and higher slopes of the ridge. 
Between the Careening Bay ravine and the main harbor is situated the high and narrow ridge known as Mount Sapoune. Points of this ridge were occupied by the Volhynia and Selenghinsk redoubts, (ouvrages blancs,) which acted upon the flank of the French approaches against the Mamelon, and would have taken in reverse the approaches thence against the Malakoff. The French approaches against the redoubts wound along the summit of the Sapoune ridge. In rear of the Redan and Malakoff, more especially in the latter case, the ground fell rapidly to the level of the Karabelnaia and the bay in rear of the loopholed wall the ground also soon fell rapidly into the Artillery Bay ravine, leaving, however a plateau of some little width immediately behind the defences, which thus screened the greater part of the town and harbor from the view of those in the trenches.    

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Association for the Relief of Maimed Soldiers

Some background on a not very well known organization of the Confederate war effort . . .

The object of the Association for the relief of maimed soldiers, is to supply artificial limbs gratuitously to all officers, soldiers and seamen who have been maimed in the service of the Confederate States; and to furnish to them such mechanical compensation of other lost parts of the human body, as may be practicable. Previous to the present war, only the few who were maimed in consequence of accidents or disease, required these substitutes, and such were readily obtained in the Northern cities, where mechanical pursuits were more practised.
It is probably correctly estimated that more than 10,000 men have lost limbs by casualties of battle, during this war, and the sight of empty sleeves, and of men hobbling on wooden pegs, or swinging on the galling crutch, is now familiar, and should suggest to all observers the necessity for organization for the relief of these sufferers, and for the encouragement of proper manufactures. As is not known to all, artificial limbs can be made so perfect in symmetry, motion and color, that the loss endured, or the loss supplied, can scarcely be detected by the observer. Considerable sums are required to buy these, and thousands of the maimed have no means to purchase; others cannot obtain for want of necessary information, while many more manufactories than now exist, are required to furnish these substitutes of human contrivance to those needing them.
In consequence of the publication of an earnest appeal from the present President of the Association, in the Richmond papers, and in printed circulars of date January 12th, 1864, after a preliminary meeting, this Society was formally organized on Friday night, January 22, 1864, at a large public meeting, in the African Church, Richmond, Virginia, by the adoption of a constitution, election of officers for one year, and the collection of large subscriptions.
The constitution provides for the cooperation of all persons favorable to its object, and contemplated aid or countenance from Municipal, State, and the Confederate Governments, yet it was designed to appeal principally to benevolent and patriotic Confederate citizens, to unite and present to each of those deprived of their limbs, an artificial limb, not as an act of charity, but of esteem, respect and gratitude .
The constitution further provides for an annual meeting, reports and re-election of officers, on the 22d of January; the Directors being empowered to act during intervals, as the Executive of the Association. The Treasurer is required to collect and receive all subscriptions to the finances of the Association, and appropriately acknowledge them, make disbursements, and report monthly to the Directors, an report annually to the members, the state of the finances. The Corresponding Secretary is the organ of the Association, under the direction of the Directors, in communicating with applicants for the benefit of the Association, with manufacturers, and in conference with other societies and the public.

 . . .
In February, 1864, the Directors invited the manufacturers throughout the Confederate States, to send in specimens of their work, with proposals, stating the number they could furnish, their cost, and the time and place of delivery. The three first manufacturers above named having complied with this invitation; contracts were made with Wells & Brother, on February 10th, 1864, with Hanger & Brother, on March 12th, 1804, and with Spooner & Harris, on January 2d, 1865, at the following rates:

For leg below the knee, $150,
For leg at the knee, $175.
For leg above the knee, $200.
For shoes to correspond, $65.

Wells & Brother have been paid for 309 legs already made. —
Hanger & Brother for 97, but Spooner & Harris are not yet in operation.

. . .

The Corresponding Secretary will give or send to the applicant, an order on a contractor for an artificial leg, and a suitable pair of shoes; with a ticket for admission into the Way Hospital at the Post— where board, lodging, and all necessary attention will be given during his stay. Manufacturers will send, if desired, a blank form for measurement, with directions. If taken accurately, legs may be made to fit well by these measurements, and sent by Express — but it is much preferable to have the persons present, and, consequently, all legs made for the Association, must be examined and fitted by Inspectors, to ascertain definitely their efficiency, and the fitness of the stumps to bear them. In future, when the agents and con tractors. of the Association are multiplied, such measurements can be taken by any one of these agents; but now if legs are made and furnished only on measurements forwarded, the cost will not be defrayed by the Association. It is important for his future comfort also, that each wearer of an artificial limb, should receive certain preparations and instructions from the manufacturers and Inspectors. The mechanism should be explained to him, as it is frequently necessary to tighten or loosen screws, springs or axis— to adapt them to his peculiar step or gait, or to repair displacements, and injuries, which at first slight may become serious by neglect. He should be instructed how to tightly bandage the stump, so as to compress, solidify and adapt it to a conical socket, and to obtain free and perfect action of the stump and joint, by passive motion, and never allowing them to remain flexed or semi flexed, if avoidable.

 -Brief review of the plan and operations of the Association for the Relief of Maimed Soldiers

"Taken from the Hall in the Capitol at Richmond, Va. - lately occupied by the Rebel Congress"
- manuscript note at head of title, dated April 20, 1865

An interesting exhibit from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Captain Pollard Requests a Leg

 James Pollard had less luck a few months after his run in with Dahlgren's troops . . .

I assume "G.S" stands for gun shot.

I respectfully apply to be furnished with an order on Wells Bro. Charlottesville Va., or whatever manufacturer may be designated, for an artificial limb. When a Capt. in Co. H. 9th Va. Cav. Regiment, on the 4th day of July 1864, at (Battle Field or Hospital.) Winder Hos.. My leg was amputated by surgeon Dudley* at (Seat of operation) Middle 3. on account of (Wound, accident or disease) G.S. receive in the service of the confederate States at (Battle Field, &c) Nance's Shop on the 24 day of June 1864.
My place of residence is New Kent Co., State of Va. and present address, In person

(signature) James Pollard
to Dr. Wm A. Carrington
Cor. Sec'y A.R.M.S.
Richmond, Va.

OFFICERS, SOLDIERS AND SAILORS desiring relief from the Association for the Relief of Maimed Soldiers, will fill up this form, make oath to the truth of it before a Justice of the Peace, Notary Public, or commissioned Officer, and forward to the corresponding Secretary at Richmond. An order will be returned for the desired limb, which will be manufactured as soon as possible.

* John Gibson Dudley. More on Dr. Dudley.

More on A.R.M.S. tomorrow. . .

 This is a cross posting from New Kent County History.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Up the Irawaddy Part VI


Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

September 18th. — Thermometer 104 degs. in sun, in shade 88 degs. Dull work lying here inactive, in a crowdy boat along the river's muddy bank, too hot to step ashore. The only break in our monotony is watching the natives, men, women, and children, come out to bathe, and swim astern of our boats, in which art all are alike adepts, hanging on from time to time for rest by our "painters," with the exciting change of watching their pantomimic critiques upon our manner, acts, and gestures, all squatting on their hams or "sit-upons," with arms across, both men and women, like so many overgrown apes. From morning to dewy eve they sit in wondering rows upon the summit of the bank, especially at meal times on deck, watching in jibbering amazement each movement of the spoon, or knife, or fork, to them great novelties, no doubt, chewing the eternal "betel nut," and chunem wrapped together in a green leaf, and carried by the convenient round perforation in the "ear-lobe." They use this betel preparation to blacken their teeth, and turn their lips a rose colour vermilion red; in Burmese man or woman, the outward proof of style, or fashion, in fact, the Burman equivalent for crinoline or peg top. As I was taking my accustomed bath at the stem of our boat this morning, an unmistakable sniff came floating down to leeward, I looked, and lo, a Burman corpse with bloated face upturned, swimming by me in the current, just clearing me in its course.

September 19th. — thermometer 103 degs air, shade 86 degs. Sunday, our usual tin of hot cocoa and biscuit at 5 a.m. Our more than usual dressing to-day after the swim, previous to the performance of Divine Service, after which (I presume the better day the better deed) we found ourselves in the midst of a rather strange scene. Our friend, the "Head man" of the town, having got up, I suppose for our amusement, a "piece" of a regatta with four of his war canoes, each paddled by some forty naked warriors accompanying each stroke most vigorously with all kinds of passionate gesticulations and outlandish yells. These canoes are low, and very long built of a single log, high-stemed where the steersman stands to ply his powerful guiding paddle— each carries a gingall in the bows; they are very swift, and with their many squatting paddlers convey to one's mind the idea of an enormous centipede, no doubt as venomous in war. The chief got up a "match," or kind of Indian ballet-dance, in which the Burmese women excel as in the drama too, to edify us barbarians when all the rank and beauty were assembled to gaze upon us "lions." One of our consorts went yesterday (to amuse a victim) to Sumbawa, a village said to be hostile, a short distance off, but returned at evening without the expected adventure. We also had a letter off, from the chief of a village a little higher up, scratched with a nail upon a piece of plantain leaf, most primitively, which being interpreted, we were told meant that the said chief being in league with Ava, challenged us to meet him at our own time. Our crafty chief of Hausedah (being a wooding station for our steamers) wished to destroy the message without interpreting it to us, fearing to lose the protection of our boats, being doubtless compromised with Ava, by aiding and supplying us with necessaries. Thermometer this day in air 102 degs., in shade 90 degs., water 85 degs.

Tuesday, September 21. — Glass in air 103 degs., shade 91 degs. Four or five cases to-day and yesterday occurred of vertigo and diarrhoea.

September 22nd. — Air 100 degs., shade 90 degs. ; wet and overcast. A boat came up to-day to say the Dacoits were at Sooloon, but not trusting to the informant's good faith or correctness of recital, we told the chief to send his war canoes to punish them.

September 24. — Air 103 degs., shade 91, weather hot and dry. I find that vertigo and diarrhoea are on the increase. Still at anchor; our first case of cholera appeared to-day.

On the 26th, I find that I have been so busy for the last few days that i can scarcely now collect and resume the thread of my subject. On the 24th we all went to a "sing song pigeon," or dramatic entertainment, got up by the Rajah in our honour, first having sailed some few miles up the river through a narrow creek— so narrow that we frequently got jammed in the coarse bulrushes, and had to drag the boat through it by main force, which, added to the invitation of the mosquitoes (now in full swing, as bad as ever), and a lurking attack by the Burmese being momentarily apprehended, exposed as we were to be raked by them from the canoes, whilst our gun could do nothing, made the prospect of a night spent so exceedingly uncomfortable, when, much to our relief by dint of sheer exertion, we found ourselves at midnight, again out in the open "Irrawaddi," and soon were back to our old anchorage. Tired out by the exposure of the day, I was in the land of dreams, of sweet and balmy slumber, when I was roused at three o'clock in the morning by an officer coming from one of our consort boats with a sick man who proved to be the most able of our party, now prostrate in the collapse of cholera. The pulse weak and fluttering, the countenance cadaverous, blue and pinched, not half the size of health an hour before, dry and parched, with eyes so far retreating as though the head were eyeless, having only hollow sockets, the extremities cold, shrivelled, bloodless, blue, in fact, a living corpse within three hours to be a corpse indeed. We interred him on the same morning on an uninhabited island beyond the river, marking his rude grave with a bamboo cross. Peace to his manes.

Friday, April 11, 2014

McClellan's Crimean Report V

The Return from Inkerman by Lady Butler

From the moment the allies occupied Balaklava and Kamiesch, the conduct of the Russian general deserves high commendation, and was in striking contrast with that of his antagonists.
The affair of Balaklava has been so often discussed, yet so imperfectly explained by the innumerable military and civil inquiries to which it and all connected with it, have been subjected, that it, would seem idle for one who visited the scene nearly a year after it occurred to pretend to comment upon it: but it may be permitted to say with regard to the ground over which the English light cavalry charged, that, if the eye were not raised from the soil under foot, no more favorable place could be selected for a charge of cavalry- it was on the smooth turf of the flat and level bottom of a wide valley; but upon turning the glance to the ground to the north and east, imagining the Russians in the positions which they occupied on the 25th October, 1854, it is difficult to divine how any officer could direct such a charge to be made; destruction was inevitable, and nothing could be gained. No doubt there often are cases in which one arm of service may consistently be required to sacrifice itself for the benefit of the others, but this was not such a case. The most appropriate criticism upon this exhibition of insane and useless valor seems to be that, no doubt, made by a well known French general: "C'est bien magnifique mais, ce n'est pas la guerre!" The Russians have been criticised for effecting "too much and too little" in the affair of Balaklava; too much in indicating to the allies the weakness of their right; too little in not availing themselves of this weakness to carry Balaklava. It is probable that their object was chiefly to slacken the operations of the siege by making a diversion; but it does not appear that they acted with all possible energy on this occasion.
As things went at Inkermann, the result as far as the English were concerned, appears to have been due to that steady and magnificent courage of their race, which has so often palliated or overbalanced the follies and unskilfulness of their commanders whether in victory or defeat. Their conduct on that day was worthy of the nation which gained credit alike at Malplaquet and Landen, Blenheim and Fontenoy, Waterloo and Corunna.
The position of Inkermann is the key point of the northeastern angle of the plateau of the Chersonese; it commands the road ascending the plateau by Cathcart's ravine, the only approach from the north side, and the road which follows the Careening Bay ravine the only approach from the city in that vicinity; it is the most elevated ground in the neighborhood, and is susceptible of a strong defence from whatever direction it may be attacked. Were it occupied by the Russians the siege of the Karabelnaia became impossible and the position of the allies dangerous in the extreme if strongly occupied by the allies their right became perfectly secure.
Could the Russians have anticipated a siege of Sebastopol, it would have been an unpardonable error not to have occupied the Inkermann by a small permanent work. How little they were prepared for an attack by land will probably be shown in the sequel; but as things were, it appears to be a grave error not to have intrenched the position from the beginning. It was still more inexcusable on the part of the allies to have omitted the occupation of the position in force; nor, with proper field works, would a very large force have been necessary.
The Russian plan for the battle of November 5 was most excellent in conception; and as far as mere orders could go, nothing seemed wanting to insure success, and drive the English partly over the steep borders of the plateau into the open arms of Gortschakoff partly into the sea and the rest to Kamiesch. It must be kept in view that the principal object of the Russians in giving battle at the Inkermann was to prevent an assault upon the town then regarded as too weak to resist it; in this respect, although at a heavy cost, they gained their point ,for they effectually rendered an assault impossible for many months thereafter. In considering the plan of attack, the Russian general rejected the idea of a movement on the allied centre, (by the ravine of the inner harbor,) because it was too effectually defended by the siege batteries of the allies; the attack upon their rear was rejected because the plateau was very difficult of access, strongly guarded and the affair of Balaklava had induced the allies to throw up works in that direction. It was therefore determined to attack the English right and centre making false attacks on the French left and towards Balaklava.
The spirit of the orders issued was as follows: General Soimonoff, with 16,200 infantry and 38 guns, to march up the Careening Bay ravine, ascend its western slope near the Victoria redoubt and attack the English centre. General Pauloff, with 13,500 infantry and 28 guns, to march from the north side, descend into and cross the Tchernaya valley at the head of the bay, ascend by Cathcart's ravine, and attack the English right; the attack of these two commands to be simultaneous. General Gortschakoff, with about 15,000 infantry, 4,000 cavalry, and 40 guns, to make a false attack upon Balaklava and the roads leading thence to the plateau. General Timofajeff, with some 2,500 men and 4 guns to make a false attack upon the French left, carrying their batteries, if any confusion were observed among them. The batteries in the town to keep up a warm fire.
A close examination of the ground would indicate the propriety of this plan of attack; the difficulty arose in the execution. It would appear that in the orders the expression "left of the Careening Bay ravine" was used for "western;" Soimonoff improperly interpreted this as meaning his own left, and thus brought his own and Pauloff's column into a state of confusion which paralyzed the efforts of both, so that but a portion of either command was at any one time engaged. 
As it was, the Russians were undoubtedly driving the exhausted English before them when Bosquet came up. Had the false attack towards Balaklava been properly conducted, Bosquet would have been unable to assist the English; but soon perceiving that the operations of Gortschakoff were confined to a simple cannonade at long range, he readily divined the true state of affairs, and by his prompt action saved the army.
Timofajeff succeeded in spiking fifteen guns, and paralyzed the French left.
It would thus seem that the result of the action was due partly to the courage of the English,partly to the mistake of Soimonoff,(who expiated his error with his life,) partly to the prompt and correct judgment of Bosquet, and mainly to the fact that Gortschakoff did not conduct his false attack with sufficient energy and decision.
The desperate courage of the Russians in this affair was fully acknowledged by all who participated in it.
In the battle of the Tchernaya the principal efforts of the Russians were directed against two points: The Fedukhine heights, occupied by the French, and the hills occupied by the Sardinians*, between the Fedukhine and the village of Karlofka Pus, directly opposite Tchorgoun.
A glance at the map will show the propriety of this attack; for had either of these points fallen the other must have followed and had the Russians followed; up the occupation by any active measures, the result must have been the suspension of the siege. The question will naturally arise, why did the Russians abandon these positions which were in their possession during a part of the preceding winter? The only reasonable answer is, that their force was then so small as to be entirely required for the defence of the city.
The Fedukhine heights the elevation of which is not far from 100, extend about two and a half miles along the Tchernaya; their horizontal plan is nearly a trident, with the points toward the stream, the central branch sending forth some five irregular spurs; towards the stream the slopes are sufficiently steep to render access difficult, while full sweep is permitted to the fire of artillery and musketry from the summit, and upon any one point from the collateral spurs.
The aqueduct, which is here a ditch so broad and deep as to be much in the way of troops, skirts the northern base of the heights along their whole extent.
The Traktir bridge is directly in the prolongation of the ravine which separates the central from the eastern branch of the trident; for more than half a mile on each side of the bridge the deep and vertical bed of the Tchernaya skirts the aqueduct.
The Traktir bridge was of masonry and covered by a weak tete-de-pont.
Either the acqueduct or the stream was in itself a serious obstacle the two combined constituted a formidable obstacle requiring the use of bridges situated as they were under the close fire of the troops occupying the heights.
The same difficulties, to a greater extent, existed at the foot of the Sardinian heights; but the attack in this quarter does not appear to have been quite so pronounced as that upon the French. Both of these positions were strengthened to a certain extent by field works especially that of the Sardinians.
It is certain that the allies had received intelligence, from a neutral capital, that the Russians intended attacking on or about the 18th of August, although the precise point was not perhaps specified. 
The Russian reports give their own version of the failure attributing it to a failure on the part of one of their generals to carry out his orders; but the foregoing description of the ground may render it probable that the repulse was due to the strength of the position and the gallantry of its defenders, without seeking for other causes; it may safely be said that the defeat of the Russians was not owing to any want of courage and impetuosity on their part.
The events of Inkermann and Traktir seem to lead to the conclusion that the Russians moved in too heavy and unwieldy masses; this system of tactics which would on many fields, no doubt, carry all before it if followed by a rapid deployment, in these cases exposed them to terrible losses, and rendered impossible that effective development of numerical force and individual exertion which was necessary to carry the day.   

*Here is an informative little piece on the Sardinian Army . . . by Frederich Engels.

Monday, April 7, 2014

McClellan's Crimean Report IV

Balaclava looking seawards, Roger Fenton Crimean War Collection, LOC

In considering the operations of the Russians at this period, it must be remembered that the nearest harbor to the north of Sebastopol that could at all answer as a depot for the operations of a siege was the poor one of Eupatoria, forty-eight miles distant; and that to the south of the city, the only harbors were Balaklava and the series between Cape Chersonese and the city. It was clearly the interest of the Russians to oblige the allies to attack on the north rather than on the south side; for the reasons that the former was already in an efficient state of defence, requiring open trenches to reduce it, while the latter was open; and more especially that their long line of communication with Eupatoria and the rear of their position would have remained exposed to the constant attacks of the reinforcements which might soon be expected by the Russians, while the city could still be supplied by the more circuitous route of the valley of Baidar, the allied force being too small to complete the investment. It was impossible for the Russians to oppose the landing because an army on land could never keep pace with the movements of a fleet. The only reasonable plan was to remain in position at Sebastopol, and act according to circumstances as soon as the allies showed their hand. But the landing being once effected, the Russian general should have annoyed and harassed them, by day and night, by unremitting attacks by his Cossacks and other light troops.
Instead of offering battle at the Alma, two other plans were open for the consideration of the Russian. In any event to destroy the harbors of Balaklava, Kamiesch, &c., and then, first, to leave in Sebastopol the garrison necessary to secure it against assault by a detachment of the allied army, and with the rest of his available troops to operate on the left flank of the allies, in which case his superior knowledge of the ground ought to have enabled him at least to delay them many days in a precarious position; second, to remain in the vicinity of the city, occupy the plateau to the south of it, and allow the allies to plunge as deeply as they chose into the cul de sac thus opened to them. 
A couple of vessels sunk in the narrow mouth of the harbor of Balaklava, or the employment of a few tons of powder in blasting the cliffs which enclosed its entrance would have effectually prevented all access to it. A few vessels sunk in the common entrance of the harbors of Kamiesch and Kazatch and the same thing at Strelitzka bay, would have rendered them also inaccessible. This should have been regarded as a necessary part of any system of defence for Sebastopol, and if carried out, would have placed the allies in a most unenviable position. The result of their expedition would have been disastrous in the extreme; and they might well have esteemed themselves fortunate if permitted to retrace their weary journey to the Old Fort, there to re-embark and consider more promising plans of campaign. I am not acquainted with the early career of the Russian commander, but cannot resist the conviction that the history of his operations will but present another example of the impropriety of intrusting military operations to any other than a professional soldier, or at least of the danger of attempting to combine in one person any such dissimilar professions as that of the sailor and the soldier. The moral courage and energy of the admiral in the early part of the siege, and his sagacity in detecting the merits of Todtleben, are above praise, but cannot efface the impression that he failed to take a sufficiently enlarged and military view of the events he so largely controlled.
To resume the movements of the allies The battle of the Alma was fought on the 20th of September; the two following days were spent on the field of battle; the 23d and 24th were occupied in marching a little more than ten miles to the Balbek; the 25th and half of the 26th were passed here, when at noon of the latter day, the flank march to the south side was commenced by the curious arrangement of sending the English artillery in advance, without escort, through a woods. This very original order of march was well nigh attended with disastrous consequences; for, as the head of the column approached the main road at Mackenzie's farm, a strong Russian column passed by. Fortunately for the English batteries, the Russians must have neglected observing the roads; and being ignorant of the true state of affairs, steadily pursued their march towards Baktschi Serai, thus losing an opportunity of striking a brilliant blow without risk to themselves. 
Finally, after darkness set in, the head of the English column reached the banks of the Tchernaya at the Traktir bridge, the rear closing up very late at night broken down by disease, burning with thirst and exhausted by fatigue. Next day the march was resumed; losing many men by the cholera, and much disorganized by the fatigues of the preceding day, they at length reached the welcome haven of Balaklava just as an English steamer glided in. Thus, on the 27th the communication with the fleet was regained, and the first episode of the campaign terminated. The French followed the movement, the armies ascended the plateau, Kamiesch was occupied; and now, instead of taking advantage of the exposed condition of the south side, the allies commenced the labor of landing, and moving up their siege material, opening the trenches, &c. 

To appreciate the position of the English army on the night it reached the Tchernaya, it must be borne in mind that it had in its rear the precipitous heights of Mackenzie, several hundred feet in elevation, with but a single road leading to the summit, and that they were thus cut off from the immediate assistance of the French. If the English had been attacked this night, the result must have been disastrous to them in the extreme. Had the harbor of Balaklava been destroyed, and the attack been made during the next day's march, it is probable that their annihilation would have been the result.

In considering this march, it is somewhat difficult to determine which party committed the greatest faults- the allies in so exposing themselves, or the Russian in failing to avail himself of the opportunities offered.

Thus far the allied generals displayed none of the qualities of great commanders; their measures were half-way measures, slow and blundering; they failed to keep constantly in view the object of the expedition, and to press rapidly and unceasingly towards it.


Friday, April 4, 2014

McClellans Crimean Report III

Eupatoria by George Byrant Campion (1796- 1870)

                               REPORT  OF OPERATIONS IN THE CRIMEA

Believing that the officers of the army have a right to know the opinions formed by one of their number who enjoyed the opportunity of visiting, in an official character the scene of the recent contest in the East, I somewhat reluctantly undertake the task of attempting to give a succinct account of those general points of the operations in the Crimea which are most important and interesting in their professional bearing.
For many and obvious reasons no attempt will be made to enter into details. The task would be an endless one were the means at hand; and nothing but an accurate survey or very minute and frequent examinations of every part of the vast field on which these operations occurred, combined with the advantage of having been an eye witness of the events themselves and the circumstances under which they took place, could justify any one in undertaking to give a detailed account of the campaign of the Crimea. It is known that circumstances rendered it impossible for the commission to reach the seat of war until a short time after the fall of the Malakoff. I have reason to expect that the other members of the commission will enter into considerable detail with regard to the condition and nature of the Russian defences as they existed at the close of the siege the amount calibre and effect of the artillery employed, &c. ,
Although fully aware that it is much easier to criticize operations after the result is known than to direct them at the time, I shall not hesitate to invite attention to what appear to be evident mistakes on either side; this, not for the purpose of finding fault, or instituting comparisons, but with the hope that it may serve to draw the attention of our officers to the same points, and perhaps assist in preventing similar errors on our own part hereafter.
From the general interest felt in the late war, it is more than probable that every officer of our army followed step by step the movements of the allies from Gallipoli to Varna, from Varna to Old Fort, and thence to the scene of the gigantic strife in the Heracleidan Chersonese.
It may seem absurd to compare small affairs with great, but it cannot fail to be a source of satisfaction to reflect upon the fact that in the operations against Vera Cruz, the first thing of that nature we had ever undertaken, we completed a difficult line of investment on the second day after landing while the experienced troops of the allies required nearly seven days to land and march about 15 miles to the Alma; bearing in mind that they landed, without knapsacks, (the English at least,) with nothing but a scanty field material, and that they were in constant communication with their fleet. It was twenty-seven days after the battle of the Alma that they opened fire upon Sebastopol, although the distance from the Alma to Balaklava did not exceed 30 miles; and their siege train was with the fleet and landed in the secure harbors of Kamiesch and Balaklava. In spite of the delays arising from mistakes in forwarding our siege train which was landed on an open beach, at a time when violent norther frequently suspended work and cut off all communication with the fleet, we opened fire upon Vera Cruz on the thirteenth day after landing.
Before entering upon the siege of Sebastopol, it may be well to refer to the battles which varied the monotony of that long period, during which both parties evinced so much gallantry and endurance in the usual operations of attack and defence relieved often by the gallant sorties of the garrison on the one hand, and on the other by the desperate assaults of the besiegers. In the battle of the Alma, important chiefly because it established the morale the attacking party, the allies seem to have been, judging from the statements of both sides of about double the force of the Russians. It does not appear that the position was really a remarkably strong one nor that it was at all improved by artificial means. The only field works were a few trifling barbette parapets in front of some of the batteries; while the slopes leading to the position seem often to have been particularly on the Russian left too steep to permit the effective operation of the weapons of the defenders Of the relative gallantry of the troops composing the allied army this is no proper place to speak. It need only be said that the column conducted by General Bosquet decided the retreat of the Russians, since it turned their left flank. Of the propriety of this movement doubts may be entertained, considering always the subsequent movements of the allies. It would seem natural that two plans ought to have been considered by the allied generals: the first, to cut off the Russian army from Sebastopol, and following the battle by a rapid advance upon the city, to enter it, at all hazards over the bodies of its weak garrison, effect their purposes and either retire to the fleet or hold the town; the second, to cut off the Russian army of operations from all external succor on the part of troops coming from the direction of Simpheropol to drive them into the city, and enter at their heels.
To accomplish the first plan, the attack of Bosquet, but should have been followed up by such an unremitting pursuit as that which succeeded the battle of Jena. To gain the second object, it would have been proper to attack the Russian right, and endeavor not only to cut them off from Simpheropol, but to throw them into the sea by pushing forward the allied left so far and so rapidly as to cut them off from Sebastopol, and thus annihilate them. Neither of these plans was fully carried out. The Russians retired in perfect order, abandoning only one or two dismounted guns, thus justifying the supposition that their general appreciated much more fully than did the allies the delicate nature of his position.
It must be stated that during the battle, the garrison of Sebastopol consisted merely of four battalions and the sailors of the fleet. The condition of its defences at that time will hereafter be alluded to.

Allied march to Sevastopol. Crimean War, September 1854. 


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

McClellans Crimean Report II

From The Mexican War Diary of General George B. McClellan
 George Brinton McClellan and his father Dr. George McClellan in 1846 shortly before leaving for Texas. The "girl" is his brother Arthur McClellan (1839-1904).

A little background on the young George McClellan before we go to the meat of his report . . .

"Before George B. McClellan enrolled at West Point, he was fluent in French and Latin. He was 15 when he arrived at the USMA. He graduated second in the class of 1846 and became a brevet second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers. He joined a newly formed company of sappers and miners at West Point that soon deployed to Brazos Santiago, Texas near the mouth of the Rio Grande. In January 1847, his company led a column on a 400 mile march from Matamoras to Tampico where they joined General winfield Scott's invasion force.

. . .

"Brevet Second Lieutenant McClellan was with one of the first groups ashore at Vera Cruz, Mexico. Although he was the most junior engineer officer at the siege of Vera Cruz, he soon earned a reputation as a fire eater and would frequently be found in the thick of the action.

 . . .

"After eight month‘s occupation duty in Mexico City, McClellan and his company returned to West Point. He continued to serve with his company while performing additional duties as Assistant Professor of Engineering. While at West Point, McClellan translated a French manual on bayonet combat and taught it to his company. The US Army adopted his translation as a manual in 1852.
In 1851, McClellan became the assistant engineer in the construction of Fort Delaware. During this time, he also taught himself German. In 1852, he joined an expedition to explore the Red River and Palo Duro Canyon in Texas. He became the chief engineer in the Department of Texas and surveyed the rivers and harbors of the Texas coastline. In 1853, he conducted an independent survey of the Washington Territory coastal area through the Cascade Mountains. In 1854, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis hand picked now Regular Army First Lieutenant McClellan for a secret mission that surveyed the Dominican Republic‘s harbors for a suitable American naval port. After successful completion of this mission, McClellan did a survey of the nation‘s railroads for Davis. Davis had convinced Congress to create two new infantry and cavalry regiments. McClellan applied for a captaincy in the cavalry and was accepted. A few days after his selection, he was summoned to Washington to serve on the Delafield Commission.

-The Delafield Commission: Forerunner of the FAO Program
By LTC Lester W. Grau, Army, 48E (Retired)