Cincinnati bugle boy’s battlefield bravery earned Medal of Honor
6:03 PM, Sep. 15, 2013
Soon after the first shots of the Civil War were fired in April 1861, thousands of boys under age 18 joined Union and Confederate forces.
Some enlisted without their parents’ permission and lied about their age. Others went off to war alongside their fathers and brothers. They became drummers, stretcher bearers, orderlies, buglers and full-fledged soldiers.
It’s unclear how or why a boy from Hamilton County, Ohio, named John Cook joined the Union Army as a bugler in June 1861, two months before his 14th birthday. The Army assigned him to Battery B of the 4th U.S. Artillery.
What is known is this: At the Battle of Antietam, on Sept. 17, 1862 – the single bloodiest day in American military history – the bugle boy’s bravery earned him the nation’s highest military honor, the Medal of Honor.
Battery B consisted of 150 officers and enlisted men, and six Napoleon cannons that fired 12-pound solid balls. The unit spent the first year of the war defending Washington, then engaged in a series of actions that ranged from minor skirmishes to major battles.
In September 1862, the 4th Artillery moved into Maryland with the Union Army of the Potomac under the command of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan. At Sharpsburg, about 70 miles northwest of Washington, D.C., about 87,000 Union soldiers confronted 45,000 Confederates led by Robert E. Lee.
The Sept. 17 battle took its name from the stream that flows through the battlefield. It became known as “the day the Antietam Creek ran red” with the blood of thousands of casualties.
Cook had turned 15 a month before the battle. He was an orderly to Lt. James Stewart.
When the Union order to attack came in the morning, Stewart was in charge of getting two cannons into position. Capt. Joseph Campbell was responsible for the other four.
Stewart’s men set up in front of two straw stacks that faced a cornfield. Campbell positioned his four cannons to the left of Stewart. Cook served as a courier who moved between the lieutenant and captain.
Years later, Cook was asked to recount his role in the battle for a book called “Deeds of Valor: How America’s Heroes Won the Medal of Honor.” He said:
“No sooner had (Stewart’s men) unlimbered (set up the guns), when a column of Confederate infantry, emerging from the so-called west woods, poured a volley into us, which brought 14 or 17 of my brave comrades to the ground. The two straw stacks offered some kind of shelter for our wounded, and it was a sickening sight to see those poor maimed and crippled fellows, crowding on top of one another, while several, stepping but a few feet away, were hit again or killed.”
Cook rushed to Capt. Campbell.
“He had just dismounted,” Cook said, “when he was hit twice and his horse fell dead, with several bullets in its body.”
Cook moved the wounded captain away from the fighting so he could be treated. Campbell then ordered Cook to report to Stewart and “tell him to take command of the battery.”
Returning quickly to the front lines, Cook saw that two of the battery’s guns were silent. Dead and wounded soldiers lay nearby.
Cook removed a pouch of powder from a dead cannoneer, and he went to work.
Under normal battle conditions, a crew of at least five worked as a team to fire a Napoleon cannon: One man cleaned the vent with grease; another pushed in the shell and powder charge; another primed the gun; a gunner sighted for distance and trajectory. And a man pulled the lanyard at the command to “Fire!”
Cook did it all.
“We were then in the vortex of the battle,” he said.
“The enemy had made three desperate attempts to capture us, the last time coming within 10 or 15 feet of our guns.”
As he worked feverishly, another soldier arrived to help: Gen. John Gibbon, the brigade commander.
“This was certainly a unique combination, undoubtedly not duplicated in the war – the full brigadier general and a 15-year-old boy serving a gun together,” author Willard Allison Heaps wrote in his 1963 book, “The Bravest Teenage Yanks: True Stories of Extraordinary Heroism in the Civil War.”
Battery B managed to fend off the Confederates, but at great cost: 44 killed and wounded. And yet, those were but a fraction of the staggering casualties at Antietam: an estimated 22,717 killed, wounded and missing, including 12,401 Union soldiers and 10,316 Confederates.
Cook saw many more battles as a member of Battery B, including Gettysburg. There, Stewart, who had been promoted to captain, assigned Cook to carry messages through the battlefield. At one point the teenager set a fuse and exploded a damaged caisson to prevent its ammunition from being captured by Confederates.
Cook was not quite 17 years old when his three-year enlistment ended. After the war he moved back to Cincinnati, married and had three children.
He apparently was never recognized by his hometown for his war exploits.
There’s no indication that The Enquirer ever wrote about him, probably because he did not receive the Medal of Honor until 1894, almost 32 years after Antietam. By then, Cook was living in Washington, D.C., where he worked for the government printing office.
Among those recommending him for the medal was one of the officers with whom he served at Antietam, James Stewart, who said of his bugler: “His courage and conduct in that battle was the admiration of all who witnessed it.”
Cook died in 1915, and he is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
‘He is the essence of true heroism’: Army staff sergeant who braved ‘blizzard of bullets and steel’ to rescue wounded comrade during fierce Taliban assault is awarded Medal of Honor by President
Staff Sergeant Ty Carter was award the Medal of Honor by the President Monday (left) for his gallantry in an infamous 2009 firefight with Afghani insurgents. Carter received the award in a White House ceremony also attended by his wife Shannon (top). Obama praised Carter’s bravery and hailed him for ‘his courage in the other battle he has fought,’ in reference to the veteran’s ordeal with post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.
Carter’s finest hour came at the bloody battle of Kamdesh in eastern Afghanistan when he was a specialist stationed with the Army’s Black Knight Troop at Keating.
On October 3, 2009 more than 300 Afghan insurgents launched a coordinated attack at 3am on the remote outpost, a vulnerable position surrounded by the craggy Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan’s Nuristan province.
Of the 53 soldiers stationed at the base, eight were killed and 25 injured.
Astonishing Vietnam War photos reveal the moment U.S. troops unleashed hell on Viet Cong sniper in hills above an Army camp
Opening salvo: The assault on the sniper’s position begins with rounds fired from the 40mm auto-cannons on an M42 anti-aircraft tank
The soldiers then launched flares into the hills, as a pair of M-60 machine guns in guard towers began pelting the woods with hot lead. The machine gun’s tracer bullets can be seen in red
Unleash hell: The hillside becomes a sea of fire when the big guns on the tank begin firing, in addition to the bursts from the three machines
Korean War pilot veteran, 88, who promised to ‘come back’ for dying comrade after jungle crash keeps his promise 63 years later with emotional return to the crash site
A Korean War pilot who crash landed his plane to help a dying comrade is due to return to the battleground that claimed his friend.
Thomas Hudner crash landed his own plane during the dark days of 1950 when the US was locked in a bitter war with North Korea and China.
His friend Jesse Brown’s plane had been damaged while flying a mission near the Jangjin Reservoir – known as the Chosin Reservoir by Americans – in the northeast of North Korea.
Fallen comrade: When Jesse Brown (left) crashed his plane in North Korea, his friend Thomas Hudner (right) put down behind enemy lines to help his friend
Hero: Retired US Navy Capt Thomas Hudner has returned to the scene of his terrifying ordeal behind enemy lines
When Brown crashed, Hudner risked his own life and crash landed nearby with the intention of pulling Brown from the wreckage.
But Brown, who was the first African-American pilot, was trapped and Hudner was unable to free him.
When a Marine helicopter landed to rescue the pair, Hudner had to make the agonising decision to leave Brown.
Hudner promised Brown, who was mortally wounded, he would return for him.
Both men were in their early 20s but lived a world apart. Hudner was the white son of a successful grocery store owner in Massachusetts, while Brown’s father was a Mississippi sharecropper.
In an interview with CNN, Hudner said: ‘The Marine pilot pulled me aside and said dusk was approaching and he couldn’t fly the helicopter in the dark and the mountainous terrain, so he had to leave.’
The pair were well behind enemy lines and even if Hudner had managed to escape the clutches of the Chinese, it is unlikely he would have been able to survive the harsh winter.
‘I told Jesse that we had to get some more equipment because we couldn’t get him out with what we had. I don’t know if he even heard me, I’m afraid by this time he had passed.’
Combat: The F4 Corsair pilots flew missions throughout the Korean War, pictured here over aircraft carrier USS Boxe
The Korean War broke out in June 1950 when communist North Korea attacked its southern neighbour.
United Nations forces, made up primarily of US troops, fought on the side of South Korea. China fought with North Korea.
Choisin Reservoir was the scene of a harrowing battle waged during the brutal Korean winter, with frostbite a common injury. Arms and medical supplies also froze in subzero temperatures.
Of the 15,000 US troops involved, more than 3,000 died during the 17-day struggle.
But the Chinese forces paid a much greater price trying to force the allied troops from their positions — some 60,000 replacements were required to replace men lost to firepower and cold.
‘Of course, that olive branch has to be extended and accepted by both sides,’ said Hudner.
‘There’s an important factor that not many people talk about, but in World War II the Japanese and the Germans were our bitter enemies and now they’re some of our closest friends.’
An armistice agreement was signed on July 27, 1953, but a peace treaty has never been signed, meaning the two Koreas are still technically at war.
The 60th anniversary of the end of the war is just one week away and Pyongyang has planned a military parade and mass celebrations on what it calls ‘Victory Day’.
The group is not planning on attending the commemoration.
Brown’s widow and daughter, who was just a toddler when he died, are hopeful he will be found and eventually brought back home.
Big guns: USS Saint Paul fires from her eight inch guns as she steams out of Changjin harbor after an inshore firing run
December 7, 2012, 11:00 am
A Surprise Attack in Arkansas
By PHIL LEIGH
On the morning of Sunday, Dec. 7, 1862, Gen. James Blunt, commanding the Kansas division of Gen. John Schofield’s Union Army of the Frontier, heard “dull booming” over the northeastern horizon near Prairie Grove, Ark. Blunt was waiting for reinforcements, and he knew immediately where the noise was coming from: the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Army, which had been facing him the night before, must have wheeled around his left flank to attack the approaching Union divisions under Gen. Francis Herron, before Herron and Blunt could join forces.
As Shelby Foote would later remark, many historians played down the Civil War west of the Mississippi River as a “sort of running skirmish that wobbled back-and-forth” without purpose. But in doing so, they overlook a significant theater of battle. Well before Gen. William T. Sherman made his destructive March to the Sea in 1864-65, central Louisiana suffered enormous losses to civilian property during the Red River campaign in the spring of 1864.
Although small when measured against those east of the river, battles beyond the Mississippi were sizable compared with prior American wars. During the Mexican War, Mexico City was captured by an American army of no more than 10,000 soldiers — a number smaller than the Union or Confederate armies at the battles of Wilson’s Creek, Lexington, Pea Ridge, Prairie Grove, Arkansas Post, Sabine Crossroads, Mansfield, Jenkins Ferry, Pilot Knob and Westport. And the trans-Mississippi theater was a breeding ground for commanders like Ulysses S. Grant, Philip H. Sheridan and Schofield, each of whom would later become the commanding general of the United States Army, the highest rank in the military.
Through the fall of 1862, elements of the Army of the Frontier skirmished with Confederates across the Ozarks. It was a near miracle that the rebels could challenge Schofield at all, since the region had been emptied of defending troops following the loss at Pea Ridge, Ark., in March, after which the retreating rebels were ordered to join Albert Johnston’s concentration at Corinth, Miss., for a showdown against Grant. Although arriving too late for the cataclysm at Shiloh, nearly all Pea Ridge veterans remained distant from their trans-Mississippi homes while fighting on the east bank for the remainder of the war.
The loss at Pea Ridge had left most of Arkansas temporarily vulnerable to Union conquest. Arkansas politicians complained bitterly to Richmond about abandonment. Instead of sending troops, President Jefferson Davis dispatched an industrious general named Thomas Hindman. A Mississippi native who had settled across the river in the port town of Helena, Ark., in the 1850s, Hindman served in Congress before his state seceded, after which he joined the Confederate Army.
Hindman arrived in Little Rock, Ark., on May 31, 1862, and within 10 weeks he raised nearly 20,000 troops. He fortified Arkansas Post, a strategic settlement near the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers, with 5,500 soldiers to block potential upstream invasions. He organized 11,500 more into the Trans-Mississippi Army and took it to Fort Smith, on the western border with the Indian Territory. Hindman’s goal went beyond securing Arkansas: owing to Schofield’s harsh policies toward civilians in Missouri, guerrilla warfare was rampant, giving Hindman hope that he could recover the “show me” state.
Still, despite several attempts, Hindman was unable to create a favorable opportunity to attack Schofield’s army. After pushing Confederate cavalry southward at the Battle of Cane Hill in late November, Schofield assumed the Confederates would suspend further invasion plans because of approaching winter. At the same time, he realized his forces were stretched too thin for winter supply lines, so he split them in two, ordering the Kansas division to be supplied from Fort Scott, while the Missouri divisions at Springfield would be supplied from the railhead at Rolla. Schofield himself returned to St. Louis to convalesce from a stubborn illness.
But Hindman had not given up. Since Blunt and Herron were 130 miles apart, he resolved to attack the former’s 7,000 Kansans, which were just 40 miles away from Confederate campsites. After beating Blunt, he would attend to Herron’s 6,000.
When Union scouts learned that the Confederates had broken camp on Dec. 3, Blunt ordered Herron to rush to his aid. Although Hindman was much closer, the Southerners had to cross the Boston Mountains, the highest and most rugged range in the Ozarks. By the evening of Dec. 6, Hindman and Blunt were squared off for battle the next morning.
However, upon learning of Herron’s advance, the rebels decided to hit his road-weary Missouri divisions first, which had marched over 100 miles in three days. Hindman secretly marched around Blunt’s left and positioned his army on a low ridge at Prairie Grove to await Herron’s approach.
“The Bayonet or Retreat” by Andy Thomas is of the Battle of Prairie Grove in northwest Arkansas on Dec. 7, 1862.
The next morning opposing cavalry clashed before dawn, as Herron had sent his ahead to reach Blunt before the infantry. Assuming that the Confederate cavalry he met was just a small detachment, Herron had his infantry march directly into the jaws of rebel artillery. Not only did it absorb the bombardment, but Herron also recklessly ordered his foot soldiers to attack — without realizing that trees behind the rebel cannons obscured Confederate infantry.
Hindman was an excellent administrator but a diffident battlefield commander. Much of the Confederate action during the remainder of the day was piecemeal, as division commanders often acted independently. After blasting back Herron’s first charge, rebel units heedlessly charged federal artillery, with similar disastrous results. Meanwhile, too much of Hindman’s army went unengaged all morning because it faced away from Herron, a precaution against Blunt’s joining the fight from the opposite direction.
By 2 p.m. Confederate divisions were better coordinated and preparing a unified attack that could sweep Herron’s smaller numbers from the field. At that moment, Blunt’s Kansas division appeared. Moreover, it arrived from the northwest, instead of the southwest, which Hindman had assumed, and was able to take the Confederate attack on Herron by the flank.
After the rebels were stopped, Blunt hastily attacked the Prairie Grove ridge but was repulsed, much like Herron had been hours earlier. By nightfall, Hindman exhausted his ammunition and withdrew. Casualties totaled about 1,300 on each side.
Much to the absent Schofield’s chagrin, Blunt and Herron were promoted to major general for their performance at Prairie Grove, an honor he himself had received only weeks earlier. Eventually, however, Blunt and Herron couldn’t match Schofield’s political skills. He wrote his superior, Gen. Samuel Curtis, that Army of the Frontier operations “since I left have been a series of blunders from which it narrowly escaped.” Blunt and Herron “were badly beaten in detail.”
Schofield proved a devious career climber. His political ally, Missouri Governor Hamilton R. Gamble, accused Curtis of illegal cotton trade, and Curtis was replaced with Schofield. After being granted a transfer to the east side of the river, Schofield ingratiated himself with Sherman and Grant. While serving under Gen. George H. Thomas at Nashville, Tenn., he secretly criticized his superior to Grant, who already had unmerited misgivings about Thomas. After the war Schofield served briefly as secretary of war, where he nominated himself for – and was awarded – the Medal of Honor based upon action at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, seven years earlier.
Hindman was less fortunate. About a month after Prairie Grove, his detachment at Arkansas Post was overwhelmed by 33,000 federal troops under Gen. John McClernand and Sherman. Hindman was required to report to an ineffective theater commander, who ordered his army to Little Rock. That led to widespread desertions, since the move signaled an end to Confederate designs on Missouri.
Hindman requested a transfer east of the Mississippi to serve in the same army as his friend,
Gen. Patrick Cleburne. As a division commander under Gen. Braxton Bragg, Hindman was involved in one of the Confederacy’s greatest lost opportunities, at McLemore’s Cove, immediately prior to the Battle of Chickamauga. After the war Hindman returned to Helena. In 1868 he was killed while sitting in his parlor by shots fired through a window, a likely victim of Reconstruction politics. The murderers were never caught.
During the Grant administration, Schofield was asked to evaluate the strategic significance of the Sandwich Islands. He concluded that a naval base should be established at a site called Pearl Harbor, on the island of Oahu. In one of history’s odd coincidences, on a Sunday morning 79 years to the day after troops under Schofield heard distant rumblings from a surprise attack, soldiers across Oahu awoke to similar rumblings — including those posted to a facility 10 miles from Pearl Harbor called the Schofield Barracks.
July 3, 2013, 2:56 pm
The Sacrifice of the Second Wisconsin
By MICHAEL KIRSCHNER
On April 22, 1861, Philo Wright, a 19-year-old schoolteacher living in the far southwest corner of Wisconsin, answered President Lincoln’s call for volunteers and joined a budding local unit called the Grant County Grays. His life suddenly began to change rapidly: a month later the unit became Company C of the Second Wisconsin Volunteer Regiment, and a month after that the Second Wisconsin became the first three-year regiment to reach Washington. By July, three months after leaving his small-town classroom behind, Wright was fighting at the First Battle of Bull Run in a brigade commanded by William Tecumseh Sherman.
In the next two years, Wright and his fellow Wisconsinites rumbled around Virginia, fighting in the battles of Second Bull Run, South Mountain and Antietam as part of the famed Iron Brigade, so-called for its stalwart performance under fire. Wright was badly injured at Second Bull Run, but turned down a chance to remain at a hospital well behind the front lines as a surgeon’s aide in order to return to his regiment. On June 30, 1863, he was promoted to first sergeant, and tasked with carrying the Second Wisconsin’s colors in the upcoming battle at Gettysburg.
As its newly promoted color sergeant, Wright was not a fighting man, for he had no weapons with which to defend himself. Rather, he was a target. Once battle was joined, the rest of the regiment would know where to go by following the flag. Enemy troops would try to shoot him down in an effort to bring disorganization to the regiment on the battlefield. To prevent the loss of the colors, Philo had a color guard of eight men to protect him.
Philo Wright, years after the Battle of Gettysburg, holding the flag he carried into battle.
On July 1, as it approached Gettysburg from the south, the Second Wisconsin had only 300 men left out of the over 1,000 that had left Wisconsin two years earlier. Suddenly, the men of the Second Wisconsin, along with the rest of the Iron Brigade, received orders to get off the road and run over a mile directly across fields across Seminary Ridge to McPherson’s Ridge, a low rise west of town. If McPherson’s Ridge were lost, only Seminary Ridge would stand between the Southern troops and the prize, Cemetery Ridge. The key to McPherson’s Ridge was a five-acre stand of forest known as Herbst Woods; Southern troops under Gen. James Archer had already occupied a portion of the woods, and were quickly moving on the crest of the ridge.
The Second Wisconsin, when it arrived, was immediately put into the line of battle; the men didn’t even have time to load their rifles or wait for the rest of the Iron Brigade behind it. They were to charge directly into the woods at the top of the ridge and drive the rebels away. The men loaded their weapons as they advanced, again on the run, toward the woods. Gen. John Reynolds himself, in charge of nearly half the Army of the Potomac, urged the Second Wisconsin to make haste: “Forward men! Forward for God’s sake and drive those fellows out of those woods!“
Philo Wright, carrying the colors, led the Second Wisconsin into the woods at the top. The fate of the Union could well turn on what these 300 men would do against Archer’s 1,000 to 2,000 Confederates in the next few minutes.
Shortly after entering the woods, the Second Wisconsin ran into Archer’s brigade, which fired a devastating volley. Some 100 Wisconsin men fell before firing a shot. Directly behind the lines of the Second Wisconsin, General Reynolds was shot in the neck and fell dead from his horse.
The men of the Second Wisconsin did not do perhaps the most natural thing and retreat. Neither did they stand their ground and return fire stubbornly, as they had against Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson at the Brawner’s Farm firefight of Second Bull Run. Instead, the Second Wisconsin continued its advance into the lines of Archer’s brigade, forcing it backward, even as the Union troops fell left and right.
Wright had led the charge with the colors into the heart of Archer’s brigade. In that firestorm, two Minié balls had passed through his tall black hat but missed his head. Each of his arms had a flesh wound. The stout flagstaff had been split and its socket shot through. But Wright pressed ahead and the Second Wisconsin advanced. Finally, when he was within yards of General Archer and 50 feet of a Confederate battle flag, Wright was hit by a Minié ball that split his thighbone and he went down for good. He looked for his color guard to find someone to give the colors to, but all eight had been shot down. Instead, after handing off the colors to a man from Company H, he started the long, laborious and dangerous task of crawling off the battlefield.
Meanwhile, the left end of the Second Wisconsin’s short line of battle began to be overlapped by Archer’s much longer brigade line. The Southern line naturally curved around the end of the Union line, increasing the devastating fire pouring in on the Second Wisconsin. But in doing so, the right end of Archer’s brigade was now itself exposed and vulnerable to a flank attack.
Fortunately, the next three regiments of the Iron Brigade to arrive were formed into a line of battle to follow the Second Wisconsin into the fight. As they advanced, they hit the exposed right flank of Archer’s brigade. Very quickly, what was about to be the final immolation of the Second Wisconsin turned into a Union rout. With sudden surprise, the men of Archer’s brigade found themselves flanked and gave way under the unexpected pressure. While suffering very few casualties of their own, the arriving federal troops captured hundreds of rebels; General Archer himself was captured by a man of the Second Wisconsin, making the unit the first Union regiment to capture a general in Lee’s army during the war.
The Second Wisconsin’s bravery against Archer’s brigade, along with a similar whipping delivered to Confederate troops north of Chambersburg Pike, threw the entire rebel advance on its heels.
Through the rest of that first day of battle, the Union troops slowly withdrew in the face of a new Confederate assault. By the time the Southern troops got to Gettysburg, enough Union troops had occupied the high ground and the day was late enough that Lee did not attack Cemetery Hill or Cemetery Ridge on July 1. By the slimmest of margins, the Union had won the race to occupy and hold the battlefield’s high ground.
All that afternoon, Wright crawled back across the ground that he and the Second Wisconsin had just advanced through at such terrible cost. Prisoners from Archer’s Brigade, perhaps General Archer himself, passed him by. Wright came across one fellow member of Company C, Daniel Burton, who had been shot and was lying against a tree. Wright tried to attend to him, but Burton bled to death.
Wright then crawled to a nearby farmhouse; when he got inside, he found it filled with wounded men. He recognized one as his tent mate, Sgt. Spencer Train, who had also been grievously wounded.
The two men lay side by side as the battle moved in their direction near the end of the day. As it did, most of the men left to avoid capture by the rebels. But Train was too wounded to go any further and he begged Wright to stay with him. Against his instincts of self-preservation, Wright agreed. As the fire into the house got heavier, they found a hatch into the cellar of the house where they found safety and food. Exhausted, they fell asleep sometime during the night.
Early the next morning, Wright and Train awoke to footsteps overhead. At the end of his endurance and unable to stand the suspense, Wright called out to find out if the men above were Union or Confederate. They were in luck – a picket line from a New Jersey regiment had occupied the house. Both men were evacuated by ambulance through hostile fire to an area behind Cemetery Ridge, where they parted forever. Train lingered from his wounds before dying on Aug. 12 in Gettysburg.
According to family lore, the surgeons wanted to amputate Wright’s leg, but he refused. Somehow he survived the wound and was discharged for disability on May 25, 1864. He went on to become a doctor and a surgeon and settled down in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Philo Wright’s bullet-riddled hat
The Second Wisconsin had been annihilated by the day’s fighting. It had left Wisconsin in the spring of 1861 with 1,000 men and officers. When survivors regrouped on the evening of July 1 atop Cemetery Hill, only 34 were present for roll call. In Wright’s Company C, only 1 officer and 2 men were left out of the 108 who had left for Washington in June 1861. The Second Wisconsin was disbanded in June 1864 when its three-year term of federal service expired.
Years after the war, when the historian William Fox calculated the casualties of each of the 2,000 Union regiments in the war, the Second Wisconsin stood at the top of the list of regiments that Fox stated “fairly claim the honor of having encountered the hardest fighting in the war.” Out of 1,203 enrolled in the regiment during the war, 238 men were killed in combat – a combat death rate of 19.7 percent. “The loss in the Second Wisconsin indicates the extreme limit of danger to which human life is exposed in a war similar in duration and activity to the American Civil War.”
And yet with their sacrifice at Gettysburg, the men of the Second Wisconsin achieved so much. Had the Second Wisconsin failed, had it retreated in the face of Archer’s much larger force, it is possible that the rebels would have taken the high ground of Cemetery Hill and Cemetery Ridge before the Union had time to defend it. Then Maj. Gen. George Meade, in command of the Army of the Potomac, would have had to either assault the rebels on the high ground or retreat toward Washington. The course of the Civil War could have taken a very different turn but for the valor and sacrifice of America’s 300.
July 2, 2013, 11:39 am
General Ewell’s Dilemma
By TERRY L. JONES
Gen. Richard S. Ewell of the Confederate Army was frustrated and angry on the afternoon of July 1, 1863, the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg. The cause of his grief was Robert E. Lee, who had just issued a confusing order that forced Ewell to reconsider whether he should carry out an important attack. What he did next may have arguably decided the battle, and certainly became one of the most controversial series of events of the entire war.
Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia had unexpectedly encountered George Meade’s Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg that morning, and a battle no one expected sucked in reinforcements from both sides. Ewell’s corps, which consisted of two divisions under Robert Rodes and Jubal Early (a third was on its way), had rushed in from the north, smashing the Union’s right flank and sending the enemy fleeing back through Gettysburg. At approximately 3:30 p.m., the Union survivors took refuge south of town on Cemetery Hill, where Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock boldly decided to make a stand. What happened next became one of the Civil War’s most enduring controversies.
Gettysburg’s first day marked the third consecutive victory Ewell had enjoyed since taking over the corps from the fallen Stonewall Jackson. A West Point graduate, Mexican War veteran and seasoned frontier officer, Ewell was a bit eccentric, cursed liked a sailor and had recently married his first cousin (for whom he had pined for decades). He became one of the first Confederate officers wounded in the war when he got shot in the shoulder in an early skirmish, and he lost a leg at the Battle of Groveton after a minié ball shattered the bone. Ewell’s promotion to corps command was popular with the men, for he was a competent officer, and on July 1 he acted as Stonewall Jackson reincarnated, making bold that left the enemy broken and bewildered.
With Hancock digging in, Ewell had to consider a number of things before making his next move. Although victorious, his corps had suffered approximately 3,000 casualties, leaving him with about 8,000 men under arms. The charge into Gettysburg had also left Ewell’s two divisions badly disorganized, and there were thousands of prisoners that had to be rounded up and secured. The third division, under Edward Johnson, was rushing to the scene, but no one knew when it would arrive.
Weighing heavily on Ewell’s mind were orders issued by Lee instructing his corps commanders not to bring on a general engagement in Pennsylvania until his army, which was scattered across south-central Pennsylvania, had concentrated. When Ewell arrived at Gettysburg, A. P. Hill’s corps was already fighting desperately, so these orders were a moot point. But now the enemy was defeated and the battle was essentially over. Until he heard otherwise, Ewell had to assume Lee’s original instructions were again in effect.
As Ewell rode into Gettysburg, one of Lee’s aides, Maj. Walter H. Taylor, arrived with orders to take the high ground south of town “if possible.” Lee had seen the enemy reforming on Cemetery Hill and wanted them dispersed quickly before they fortified their position. This message relieved Ewell, because it seemed to supersede Lee’s previous order not to bring on a general engagement. He met with Generals Rodes and Early to discuss the situation. Both officers urged an immediate attack, but only if Lee could provide infantry support on their right. Ewell agreed and dispatched Capt. James P. Smith to Lee with their request.
While waiting for an answer, Ewell and Early rode out to get a closer look at Cemetery Hill. What they saw was sobering. At least one Union brigade and 40 cannons were visible, and there could be more infantry and artillery positioned out of sight behind the hill’s crest.
Smith shocked Ewell when he returned with Lee’s reply to the request for help. Lee informed him that he had no troops with which to support an attack on Cemetery Hill, and that Ewell should use his own discretion. He was to attack the high ground if it “was practicable.” But then, to add to the confusion, Lee reiterated his previous order not to bring on a general engagement until the rest of the army had arrived. This contradiction put Ewell in a dilemma. Based on what he had seen firsthand, Cemetery Hill could not be taken without serious fighting and a major commitment of troops. To follow Lee’s first order to take the hill would require him to disobey the second not to bring on a general engagement.
Frustrated, Ewell decided that Culp’s Hill might be a more suitable target. Reportedly undefended and situated just to the east of Cemetery Hill, its occupation would threaten the Yankees’ flank and might force them to abandon Cemetery Hill without reigniting a major battle. He decided to make the attempt as soon as Johnson’s fresh division arrived.
Before long, General Johnson rode into Gettysburg and informed Ewell that his men were only a mile away, but that it would take some time for them to reach town because a supply train was blocking the road. Unwilling to wait, Ewell turned to Early and asked if he could take Culp’s Hill, but that usually combative general snapped that “his command had been doing all the hard marching and fighting and was not in condition to make the move.” Johnson took offense at this remark – after all, his men had been marching for days – and the two bickered until Ewell told Johnson to halt when he reached Gettysburg and wait for further orders.
After an exhausting 25-mile march, Johnson’s division staggered into Gettysburg as the sun was setting. Instead of ordering Johnson immediately to Culp’s Hill, Ewell asked Rodes’ opinion of his plan. Rather oddly, Rodes simply shrugged and said that Johnson’s men were “tired and footsore” and that “he did not think it would result in anything one way or the other.” Early, who seemed to have regained his fighting spirit, disagreed and advised Ewell, “If you do not go up there tonight, it will cost you 10,000 lives to get up there tomorrow.” Ewell then ordered Johnson to advance and take Culp’s Hill if it was still unoccupied (rebel scouts somehow failed to discover that Union forces were already moving onto the hill). Sometime before daylight he sent an aide to Johnson to repeat the order. Ewell retired that night believing that he controlled Culp’s Hill, but he found out in the morning that Johnson had stopped short and never occupied the crucial high ground.
Fortune frowned on Ewell from the moment he rode into Gettysburg. While he could have cut the discussion short by ordering his reluctant generals to advance immediately upon Cemetery Hill, it is questionable whether his few thousand exhausted and disorganized men could have dislodged Hancock. Ewell realized the importance of the high ground, but he was not going to risk his men in a rash attack. Asking Lee to provide infantry support was the prudent thing to do, but Lee refused even though he had two divisions with him. This, and Lee’s insistence that he not bring on a general engagement, forced Ewell to focus on Culp’s Hill, instead. Ewell acted somewhat indecisive once Johnson arrived, but when neither Rodes nor Early seemed up to the task, he quickly sent Johnson forward. Inexplicably, that general failed to carry out his orders.
None of these events received much attention during the war. In his report of the battle, Lee only briefly touched on the subject when he wrote, “General Ewell was … instructed to carry the hill occupied by the enemy if he found it practicable, but to avoid a general engagement until the arrival of the other divisions of the army which were ordered to hasten forward. He decided to await Johnson’s division [but it] did not reach Gettysburg until a late hour.”
It was not until after the war, and Lee’s death, that Lost Cause supporters sought to explain how the infallible general could have been defeated at Gettysburg. Gettysburg was the largest battle of the war, and it came to be seen as the conflict’s turning point. In the minds of many, if Lee had won at Gettysburg, the South would have won the war. Confederate veterans like John B. Gordon, Isaac Trimble and Randolph H. McKim insinuated in their postwar writings that it was Ewell’s timidity that had cost Lee the victory. McKim’s 1915 article in The Southern Historical Society Papers was particularly damning. “Here then we find still another of General Lee’s lieutenants, the gallant and usually energetic Ewell, failing at a critical moment to recognize what ought to be done,” he wrote. “Had the advance on Cemetery Hill been pushed forward promptly that afternoon we now know beyond any possible question that the hill was feebly occupied, and could have been easily taken, and Meade would have been forced to retreat.”
Walter H. Taylor, Lee’s former aide, sided with the anti-Ewell faction in his memoir “Four Years With General Lee.” Taylor wrote that Ewell voiced no objection to the order he brought from Lee to take the high ground “if possible,” and that he returned to Lee under the impression Ewell would attack. Taylor also claimed that he asked General Johnson after the war why Ewell didn’t press his advantage that afternoon. Johnson “assured me there was no hinderance [sic] to his moving forward; but that, after getting his command in line of battle, and before it became seriously engaged or had advanced any great distance, for some unexplained reason, he had received orders to halt.”
Not everyone sided against Ewell. Maj. Campbell Brown, Ewell’s stepson and aide, observed that the “discovery that this lost us the battle is one of those frequently-recurring but tardy strokes of military genius of which one hears long after the minute circumstances that rendered them at the time impracticable, are forgotten.” And while Taylor’s story became an important part of the controversy, Brown was adamant that he never brought such orders. In an 1885 letter to Gen. Henry Jackson Hunt, the former chief of artillery for the Army of the Potomac, Brown wrote, “I say broadly that Col. Taylor’s account of this battle is utterly worthless — that he carried no such order to Gen. Ewell and had no such conversation with Gen. Edw’d Johnson. I do not impugn his veracity but his memory has been trusted and has deceived him.”
Brown’s claim to the contrary, Taylor probably did deliver the order, but Johnson’s known activities that day contradict what he supposedly told Taylor. It was after dark when Johnson moved toward Culp’s Hill. In his Gettysburg report he simply said that he advanced northeast of town late that night, formed a line of battle and had the men sleep on their arms. Ewell did not order him to halt; in fact, Ewell went to bed thinking Johnson had taken the hill. For whatever reason, it was Johnson who made the decision to stop short of his goal.
In his letter to Hunt, Brown also raised the most important question that no one wanted to consider: if Taylor was correct about Lee urging Ewell to take Cemetery Hill as soon as Ewell rode into Gettysburg, why didn’t Lee take action when Ewell failed to do so? Lee was with A. P. Hill’s corps a short distance away and was within sight of the hill. “Is it credible,” Brown asked, “that Lee would (if he attached the importance that Taylor seems to intimate, to the possession of Cemetery Hill) halt the troops under his own eyes & wait two or three hours in full sight of the troops of Ewell & Hill both, while the former was disobeying a vital order, without taking steps to have himself obeyed? NO — Taylor carried no such order, Ewell disobeyed none and evaded none.”
Brown asked Hunt, “Is it not plain that if it was a mistake not to attempt Cemetery Hill that afternoon, the mistake was Lee’s rather than Ewell’s? Ewell was assuredly right not to try it with his command alone. Whether Lee ought to have ordered all forward at once, is another question entirely, and one on which I do not feel competent to offer an opinion worth your reading.”
While most of Ewell’s former colleagues were critical of him after the war, some officers left accounts of Gettysburg that supported his decisions. Armistead L. Long, Lee’s military secretary, was one who believed Ewell acted correctly. Lee sent Long on a personal reconnaissance, and Long claimed that he “found Cemetery Hill occupied by a considerable force. … In my opinion, an attack at that time, with the troops then at hand, would have been hazardous and of very doubtful success. After making my report, no mention was made of a renewal of the attack that evening.”
Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, who commanded the Union troops on Cemetery Hill, also believed his defenses would have held against any rebel attack. That afternoon, he sat with Gen. Carl Schurz on a stone fence on Cemetery Hill watching the enemy through binoculars. Hancock told Schurz that with the artillery he had on hand he was confident he could hold out until more help arrived. He seemed even more confident when he sent a report to General Meade at 5:25 p.m. “We have now taken up a position in the cemetery,” he wrote, “and cannot well be taken.”
Whenever the Ewell controversy is discussed today, it is popular to ponder the intriguing thought of Stonewall Jackson surviving Chancellorsville and leading his corps at Gettysburg. Some officers and men even speculated on it at the time. It has been argued that the great Stonewall would have stormed up Cemetery Hill, defeated the Yankees and won Confederate independence.
The problem with this scenario is that no one can predict which Jackson would have ridden into Gettysburg. It is always assumed it would have been the brilliant Stonewall of the Shenandoah Valley, but it could very well have been the Jackson of Kernstown. In that battle, he rashly attacked a superior enemy force without proper reconnaissance and was defeated. Or it could have been the Stonewall of the Seven Days, where he twice failed to carry out his orders and caused Lee to miss opportunities to strike a decisive blow against the enemy. It might even have been the Jackson of Fredericksburg, where he scouted out the enemy’s position in preparation for a counterattack. When Jackson saw the large number of Union cannons across the Rappahannock on Stafford Heights, he changed his mind. The sight of thousands of Yankees and dozens of cannons on Cemetery Hill might well have led him to make the same decision at Gettysburg. If so, would Jackson have been made a scapegoat for Lee’s defeat, instead of Ewell?
July 8, 2013, 12:00 pm
Rashomon at Vicksburg
By THOM BASSETT
The fall of Vicksburg, Miss., on July 4 sent a shock wave through both North and South – it split the Confederacy in two and gave the Union nearly unfettered control of the Mississippi River. Less clear was what brought about the surrender. Indeed, the principal players in the surrender drama — John C. Pemberton for the South and Ulysses S. Grant for the North — insisted on very different accounts.
On the night of July 2, Pemberton laid out for his divisional commanders a dismal set of options. According to his subordinate S.H. Lockett, Pemberton said that they had the stark choice “either to surrender while we still had ammunition enough to demand terms, or to sell our lives as dearly as possible” in a doomed assault against the Yankees.
When virtually all his generals voted to surrender, Pemberton said that he would offer to give up the city on July 4. Pemberton (who was born in Philadelphia, but had married a Virginia woman) further stated that doing so would be to the Confederates’ advantage. “I am a Northern man,” he told his officers, and “I know my people; I know their peculiar weaknesses and their national vanity; I know we can get better terms from them on July 4 than any other day of the year.”
Accordingly, on the morning of July 3, Confederate Maj. Gen. John S. Bowen approached the federal lines under a white flag. Upon being met by Maj. Gen. A.J. Smith, he asked to see Grant, who refused to meet him (despite having been neighbors with Bowen in Missouri before the war).
Bowen, on his own initiative, then requested that Grant meet directly with Pemberton. He also passed along a written proposal from the rebel commander to appoint commissioners from both sides to establish terms for Vicksburg’s surrender as a means “to save the further effusion of blood, which must otherwise be shed to a frightful extent.”
Grant’s reply was twofold. First, he verbally expressed a willingness to meet Pemberton between the armies’ lines that afternoon. He also gave Bowen a written response in which he flatly stated that the rebel leader could stop the bloodshed “at any time you may choose, by the unconditional surrender of the city and garrison.” Grant then underlined his rejection of the appointment of commissioners “to arrange the terms of capitulation, because I have no terms other than those indicated above.”
Bowen delivered these messages to Pemberton, but for some reason he did not report that he had suggested the meeting between the two commanding officers. Instead, as Pemberton wrote later, Bowen said only that “General Grant would like to have an interview with me if I was so disposed.”
Pemberton was, and so he and Grant, along with a number of officers on both sides, met around 3 that afternoon. An awkward silence suffused the group while Permberton waited for the Union commander to open discussions regarding the surrender. He finally said that he understood Grant “expressed a wish to have a personal interview with me.” Grant denied this, which understandably surprised Pemberton. He quickly moved on to the matter of Grant’s written demand for unconditional surrender. In his typically laconic way, Grant confirmed that he indeed had no other terms to proffer.
It is at this moment that Pemberton’s and Grant’s accounts of the surrender negotiations differ in the most important respects. According to Pemberton, he replied, “Then, sir, it is unnecessary that you and I should hold any further conversation; we will go to fighting again at once.” He was also emphatic about what Grant did not do; specifically, he declared that an early Grant biography was wrong in saying that Grant at this point turned away, as if to return to his own lines. “He did not change his position, nor did he utter a word,” Pemberton said of Grant. “The movement to withdraw, so far as there was any movement, was on my own part.”
Further, Pemberton stressed that his subordinate Bowen did not at this moment step in to salvage the negotiations. Instead, “General Grant did at this time propose that he and I should step aside” and allow their officers to negotiate, something Pemberton acceded to.
In other words, in Pemberton’s narrative he outmaneuvered the Yankees in the resolution of the battle, if not the battle itself. His firm stand against unconditional surrender and resolve to continue the defense of Vicksburg cowed Grant into a negotiated end to the siege. Pemberton also claimed that he had gotten in substance his initial demand for surrender: “The discussion of the question of terms to a commission, although that commission was now necessarily an impromptu one.” Finally, he crowed that all the terms eventually settled on “arose directly from General Grant himself, and neither directly nor indirectly from me or my subordinates.” (Lockett claimed that Pemberton was so “bold and persistent” with Grant because the Confederates had broken the code he used to communicate with Admiral David Dixon Porter out on the Mississippi River by relying “on the principle of Poe’s ‘Gold Bug’” short story about cryptography.)
Not surprisingly, Grant gives us a very different account. In an 1884 letter to The Century magazine, he asserts that Pemberton was opposed to any sort of negotiated settlement, because as a Northerner leading a Confederate army he would be in surrender “an object of suspicion, and felt it.” He also asserts in his memoirs that Pemberton in particular wanted to avoid surrendering on July 4, and thus by holding out for better terms he defeated his own purposes.
More important, in the meeting that occurred in the afternoon of July 3, Grant has the Confederate Bowen play the role that Pemberton in his account assigns to himself. In his memoirs Grant states that when Pemberton turned to leave after Grant reaffirmed his demand for unconditional surrender, he merely replied, “Very well.”
It was Bowen, Grant says, who then stepped in, being “very anxious,” according to Grant, “that the surrender should be consummated. … He now proposed that he and one of our generals should have a conference.” Grant claims that he merely acquiesced in the request. (We don’t have Bowen’s recollection of the meeting; he died of dysentery on July 13 after being paroled along with the rest of the Confederate defenders.)
Grant also stressed in his memoirs how the final terms of surrender — settled upon after midnight on July 4 — worked in every way to the Union’s advantage. Paroling the rebels instead of taking them prisoner avoided the huge logistical burden of transporting them to a place of exchange.
In addition, the terms Grant got Pemberton to accept eventually further weakened the Confederacy. Since many of Pemberton’s troops were from the Trans-Mississippi region of the Confederacy and tired of the war, and because Grant paroled them in Vicksburg, “Fewer of them were ever returned to the ranks to fight again than would have been the case had the surrender been unconditional and the prisoners sent to [Virginia] to be paroled.”
In some ways, the dispute doesn’t matter. The loss of Vicksburg, along with the resulting surrender of Port Hudson a few days later, put the entire Mississippi River in Union control. The Confederacy was broken in two, the chances for Southern independence were considerably dimmed and Grant had successfully completed one of the most remarkable campaigns of American military history.
One is struck, though, by how as time went on, mere questions of historical accuracy regarding what happened to bring about the surrender of Vicksburg seemed to become less important to both Pemberton and Grant than assertions of honor and military prowess.
Both men, understandably if not forgivably, ignored inconvenient facts in telling their respective stories. Pemberton disregarded, for example, that the parole his army received was a far cry from the terms he wanted, and that he accepted Grant’s final offer mainly because it was backed by a promise to renew hostilities if not taken. Grant, for his part, papered over how quickly, for whatever reason, he gave up his demand for unconditional surrender and how hamstrung he was by transportation problems in deciding what to do with Vickburg’s sizable garrison. All in all, this episode demonstrates that for both victor and vanquished, what one can say after the fight matters in some ways as much as the battle itself.
September 11, 2013, 11:15 am 9 Comments
The Mistake at McLemore’s Cove
By PHIL LEIGH
Unlike Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, Confederate armies west of the Appalachians and east of the Mississippi River seldom won major battles. The biggest success, at Chickamauga in late September 1863, was a Pyrrhic victory, costing the Rebel Army of Tennessee more casualties than the defeated federal Army of the Cumberland. Kennesaw Mountain was a sizable Confederate win, but most of the other convincing victories in the region – Chickasaw Bayou, Holly Springs – were strategically small.
Yet there were at least two instances when the Army of Tennessee should have achieved a significant victory, but failed for mysterious reasons. The first was at McLemore’s Cove on Sept. 10 and 11, 1863, shortly before the nearby battle of Chickamauga.
Things had not gone well for the Confederates in Tennessee that summer. The Union general William Rosecrans had deployed his Army of the Cumberland with such skill in mid-June 1863 that it suffered minimal casualties when maneuvering Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee out of the central part of the state. Bragg was forced to retreat into fortified Chattanooga, which was barely within Tennessee state lines.
Then, on Aug. 21, Rosecrans began a follow-up campaign to dislodge Bragg from Chattanooga in order to capture the railroad center without storming its defenses. On Sept. 9 he succeeded, when Gen. Thomas Crittenden’s corps entered the town without the loss of a single man.
Ominously, however, the Union movements left parts of Rosecrans’s army widely separated and vulnerable to defeat by a larger, massed Confederate force. Rosecrans’s army was composed of three corps under Generals Crittenden, George Thomas and Alexander McCook. On Sept. 10, Crittenden was in Chattanooga, but Thomas was 15 miles southwest in the Stevens Gap area of Lookout Mountain, while McCook was another 20 miles southwest of Thomas at the town of Alpine. If the Confederates launched a concentrated assault on one of them, the others were too distant to provide support, particularly considering the mountainous terrain.
Rosecrans, however, was unconcerned, since he assumed that the rebels were desperately trying to retreat farther toward Atlanta. It was precisely what Bragg wanted him to believe. Earlier Bragg had directed selected rebel soldiers to pretend to desert and propagate phony reports among the federals of despondency within Confederate ranks. Rosecrans took the bait. He instructed a skeptical General Thomas, whose corps was in the center of the Union formation, to quickly push his divisions eastward through Stevens Gap in Lookout Mountain and continue through Dug Gap in Pigeon Mountain, several miles farther east. Thomas could then attack the retreating Confederates on their flank.
Along the way Thomas’s troops would enter a geological formation called McLemore’s Cove, a canyon-like feature with a broad floor plain and a steep dead end created by the conjunction of Lookout and Pigeon mountains. If attacked by superior numbers from the north and east, Thomas’s troops would have no way to escape.
General Thomas’s corps was composed of four divisions. Although he was opposed to Rosecrans’s hasty pursuit order, there was no choice but to comply. On Sept. 9 he sent Gen. James Negley’s 4,600-man division into McLemore’s Cove from the west. By evening it was camped just short of Dug Gap, through which it would march the next day across Pigeon Mountain, where Rosecrans hoped it would find Bragg’s demoralized army marching southward.
The Union forces were walking right into Bragg’s trap. The Confederate commander ordered Gen. Thomas Hindman’s division to block the northern exit from the Cove and attack Negley’s flank on the morning of Sept. 10. He also ordered Gen. D. H. Hill to dispatch Patrick Cleburne’s division – the best in his army – into Dug Gap, where it would simultaneously attack Negley from the east. “The destruction of Negley’s division was as certain as good generalship could make it,” wrote the historian Steven Woodworth. “Bragg’s subordinates needed only to carry out his orders and the Army of Tennessee’s first clear-cut victory would be a reality.”
It didn’t happen. Hill and Hindman responded inscrutably. Hill said he could not comply because Cleburne was ill and Dug Gap was too encumbered with obstacles. In truth, Cleburne was perfectly healthy and the Dug Gap obstacles could have been cleared in an hour. Hindman got into position O.K., but decided not to attack until he heard the guns of Hill’s assault, which never happened. Bragg temporarily accepted Hill’s excuses but almost immediately ordered Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner to reinforce Hindman with two additional divisions to compensate for Hill’s refusal to use Cleburne.
Hindman and Hill were mystifying officers. A year earlier, a copy of confidential marching orders for Robert E. Lee’s entire army addressed to Hill inexplicably fell into Union hands. The incident may have changed history by triggering a normally tentative Union general George B. McClellan into prompt action that stopped Lee’s first invasion of the North at the Battle of Antietam. Similarly, 10 months earlier, in Arkansas, Hindman brilliantly marched an army into an advantageous position, only to forfeit decision-making to subordinates once the fight at Prairie Grove got under way. The consequent uncoordinated rebel attacks resulted in an indecisive battle.
Despite his frustration, Bragg appreciated that the morning of Sept. 11 would give him a second chance, because Hill finally agreed to attack from the east and Butler’s two additional divisions were available to help Hindman from the north. Although by then Negley had figured out that the Confederates were out there, he did not know how many, and General Rosecrans, his superior, still believed the rebels were retreating on the east side of Pigeon Mountain. Rosecrans did not want any of Thomas’s divisions to backtrack. Although Thomas ordered a second division to reinforce Negley, the combined 10,000 federals still remained decisively outnumbered by 30,000 rebels on the morning of the 11th.
Unfortunately, on the evening of Sept. 10h Hindman became apprehensive that he was about to be attacked by unseen federals at his rear. He sent a messenger to Bragg, then encamped with Hill near the next day’s anticipated action at Dug Gap. The messenger was a French staff officer named Nocquet who could barely speak English and whose loyalty to the Confederacy was questionable. After listening to Nocquet’s message, Bragg asked an informed cavalry officer if enemy troops were near Hindman’s rear and was told there were none. Therefore, Bragg instructed Nocquet to tell Hindman that he was to attack on the morning of Sept. 11 as ordered, even if he lost his entire command.
Even though Nocquet returned by 6:30 a.m., Hindman spent most of the day rearranging troop attack formations and otherwise delaying. Nonetheless, the harmless rebel activities alerted Negley to his endangered position, from which he quietly withdrew. Hindman did not attack until 4 p.m., by which time there were few Union soldiers remaining to be trapped. Bragg was enraged, but Hindman later claimed that Nocquet told him Bragg’s orders were discretionary. The following month Nocquet infiltrated (returned to?) federal lines with $150,000 in funds intended for construction projects.
The Confederate failure at McLemore’s Cove wasn’t merely a lost opportunity to destroy 1 or 2 divisions of the 12 comprising the opposing Union army. Even some of the average rebel infantrymen were nearly in tears at the obvious mismanagement of a golden opportunity. As the historian Glenn Tucker explained:
Had Thomas’s corps, or a sizable portion of it, been captured in McLemore’s Cove, Crittenden’s corps isolated fifty miles from McCook could scarcely have escaped, and with Crittenden captured or driven beyond the Tennessee River, McCook would have been easy prey.
In short, Rosecrans’s army would likely have been decimated, and the Union push toward Atlanta halted. As it actually happened, however, the incident at McLemore’s Cove convinced Rosecrans that the Confederates were not retreating. Consequently, and fortuitously, he ordered his own army to concentrate. The result was the battle of Chickamauga, where the two mighty armies faced each other in full force.
October 17, 2013, 11:03 am
The Indian at Appomattox
By C. JOSEPH GENETIN-PILAWA
Secretary of State William H. Seward thought the Union Army was no place for an Indian.
In September 1861, Ely S. Parker, a Tonawanda Seneca from western New York and a close friend of the Union general Ulysses S. Grant, approached Seward requesting a commission. He refused, telling Parker that the war was “an affair between white men.”
“Go home, cultivate your farm,” Seward instructed. “We will settle our own troubles among ourselves,” he explained, “without any Indian aid.”
This was the third time Parker had attempted to volunteer for service and the third time he had been rebuffed. Years later, perhaps still angry from the numerous rejections, Parker recalled, “I did go home and planted crops and myself on the farm.”
Not only were Seward’s words insulting, but in retrospect they were also myopic. Parker later came to perform a key role in the Civil War. He ably served as General Grant’s aide and confidant, and on one occasion, saved the general from capture — perhaps even death.
Most memorably, Parker played a vital part in the final days of the war; it was by his own hand that the terms of surrender were inked at Appomattox Court House.
Despite these examples, Parker, like most Indians, has been almost entirely excised from our commemoration of the Civil War. If native contributions are remembered at all, they appear quietly on the margins. But they shouldn’t.
Parker’s long and often colorful relationship with the Union Army’s most revered general began before the war. The Seneca leader worked for the Treasury Department as a civil engineer in the 1850s; among other projects, he built a customs house and post office in Galena, Ill. There he befriended Grant, at the time a down-on-his-luck former Army officer.
In the years after the Civil War, Parker often told a story about an early encounter with the future war hero and president. One evening, as he walked past a barroom, he heard raucous noises. Upon further inspection, he soon realized that one of the voices belonged to his new friend, who was engaged in a fight against practically everyone else in the bar. Parker rushed to his aid and, in a scene reminiscent of later western films, the two men, pressed back-to-back, fought their way out of the establishment.
Eventually, Parker sidestepped the intractable Seward, and received a commission in the Union Army through another Galena friend, John E. Smith, who was a brigadier general and division commander in Grant’s army. Grant endorsed the commission request himself, noting, “I am personally acquainted with Mr. Parker and I think [he is] eminently qualified for the position.” Shortly after the fall of Vicksburg on July 7, 1863, Parker joined Smith’s Seventh Division, 17th Army Corps at the rank of captain, serving as assistant adjutant general of volunteers. Smith, concerned that his division lacked an engineer, soon assigned Parker to that duty as well. Parker was no doubt enthusiastic to serve in a capacity that so fully matched his training and previous experience, but he saw little action in the weeks after Vicksburg. Finally in September, he was transferred directly to Grant’s personal staff.
The “Indian at headquarters,” as many common soldiers referred to Parker, drew quite a bit of attention and became a noticeable fixture within Grant’s inner circle. In his mid-30s during the war, Parker stood 5 feet, 8 inches tall, and weighed about 200 pounds. Despite his robust frame, those who knew him well commented on his quiet and calm demeanor. Some remarked about his uncanny memory and knowledge by calling him “200 pounds of encyclopedia,” but Parker self-deprecatingly referred to himself as “a savage Jack Falstaff.” Although he served primarily as an “indoor man,” drafting orders and handling correspondence for Grant, he saw action at Chattanooga and later during the Wilderness Campaign in Virginia.
On May 7, 1864 — the night after the Battle of the Wilderness — Parker accompanied Grant and Gen. George Meade, along with a few others, in moving the general’s headquarters. As they traversed the roads and paths around the battleground, they found themselves surrounded by smoldering thickets and congested main paths. They took a side route to avoid these obstacles. Unbeknown to Cyrus Comstock, the aide-de-camp who was leading the group, they had stumbled dangerously close to the Confederate line.
Parker, riding in the rear, realized the perilous predicament and warned Grant and the others ahead. Before long, he took the lead, and, as he later wrote, “put the spurs to my black horse and galloped off in another direction and they full tilt after me.”
Parker spoke with a captured Confederate captain shortly after the ensuing Battle of Spotsylvania. The man had watched the Union officers gallop a mere 200 yards from his post and admitted that he and his compatriots were planning to ambush Grant and the rest of the men “in the next five minutes,” had Parker not led them away.
At the end of the war, Parker again demonstrated his poise and composure, this time in the front parlor of Wilmer McLean’s home at Appomattox Court House. After Grant had drafted the terms of surrender, he “called Colonel Parker to his side and looked it over with him.” Shortly thereafter, Grant asked his senior adjutant general, Theodore S. Bowers, to pen the final terms in ink. Bowers was too nervous to write, destroying several sheets of paper in the process. Grant then turned to Parker, who quietly transcribed the final copy, thus being the last person to put ink to paper before the two famous generals scrawled their names.
Native communities and the Civil War share a curious history. Native Americans largely disappear from our recollection of those events, save for the marginal locations where they act as sidebars to the events happening on major battlefields and campaigns. Or, when native people do appear in the geographic center of the war, they are depicted as people thrust into daunting and precarious positions, such as those of Southern Indian nations — the Choctaw especially.
All of these stories are important, but others are, too. Although Parker’s wartime career may have been exceptional, owing in part to antebellum friendships with men who found themselves in positions of power during the war, Native American contributions to the war should be highlighted more often and in the same breath as those of men like Grant, Meade and countless others. Indigenous men from across the United States joined both Union and Confederate armies and participated in ways far more meaningful than most Americans have remembered. During these sesquicentennial years of Civil War commemoration, it is important to remind ourselves that it was more than an “affair between white men.”
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