Wednesday, May 28, 2014

"We will fight Grant on the Mississippi."

Saturday, June 4, 1864, Turkey Hill, Virginia

Our shoes are shot. We have done so much marching of late that those who did not pick up a spare pair or two from the Yankees at Spotsylvania are suffering for not having  done so. My own shoes that I wore into the battle were tossed along the side of the road. I do believe that I saw them later on a new pair of feet.

My new shoes, on my old feet, are not all that new. I should have taken two or three pair when I had the chance. Once these have served their purpose, I do not know what I will do for brogans. At the moment, we have stopped and are dug in at this place. We can easily see the Chickahominy to the south of us. A rock, well-thrown, would reach it.

We had been on the far left of the line. Now,we are on the far right. There is nothing any further to the right except the river. I suppose there could be some of our horse-soldiers somewhere south of the river. If so, Fitz Lee had better not be one of them or we might forget which side he is on and shoot him after what happened on the North Anna. The entire regiment numbers no more than one hundred. We had been half again as much when we marched into those woods to scatter some cavalry which he told us would be easily pushed aside. General Stuart would not have done that.

When we came to this hill, there were some Yankee cavalry already here. They were so few that it was no trouble to drive them off. I saw one tumble from his saddle but I do not think that I was responsible. 

Yesterday, while behind our works on the hill, we could hear quite heavy firing to the north. We strained to see what was happening but could see little detail. As best as we could make out, a large blue mass advanced upon our works in that area. It rapidly disappeared in the smoke. What we did not see was the blue wave advance beyond our works. We supposed that this represented another victory for General Lee.

What with the wounding of General McGowan and the capture of Colonel Brown, General Conner now commands the brigade. He is from Charleston. I remember seeing him there during the bombardment of Fort Sumter when we struck our first blow for Southern freedom. He was a gallant-looking captain of militia, commanding the Montgomery Guards. Now, he is a general. I was a private when I first saw him and am still a private some three years later. I do not mind.

In a flurry of feathers, General Conner and his new brigade were directed to prepare for an assault by those Yankees in front of our own selves. If the attack to our north had failed, might not the Yankees try their luck in some other place such as here? We checked our cartridge boxes and prepared to fix bayonets upon command.

Nothing happened. O, an occasional round or two was thrown our way but no damage was done. We did not observe any blue mass forming in our front. We think that if they will not move against us, they will try to move around us. It is what Grant has done since just before the battle in the Wilderness last month. We began this spring's campaign along the Rapidan. Not so many days ago, we were along the North Anna. Today, we are against the Chickahominy. Where will we be be tomorrow, the James? No matter. We will fight Grant on the Mississippi.

I Send You These Few Lines

The heavy firing Tooms and his pards observed was the slaughter at Cold Harbor. Grant thought that by mounting a massive frontal assault, he could break through Lee's lines. It didn't work. The fortifications Lee's troops had built were too strong to be stormed. Grant's forces bled themselves outing the attempt to break Lee and win the war.

Tooms and his pards were largely uninvolved in this battle. The regiment was very far on the right of the Confederate lines. Close to Fitzhugh Lee, as a matter of fact.

It is just another installment on the butcher's bill. Experts differ on how many casualties there were but 18,000 seems a safe number 65% of which were Union. Grant wrote in his memoirs after the war, "I have always regretted that the last assault was ever made." One dead Union soldier was found with his diary after the battle. It's last entry was, "June 3. Cold Harbor. I was killed."

"We Hornets were badly stung."

Tuesday, May 31, 1864, near Hanover Junction

We do not win every time. While most of the time, we give better than we receive, the tables were turned recently and we have suffered greatly for it. A week ago Monday, we met the Yankees again. They had done another march around our right towards the south. Our Lee, always knowing what the enemy is doing, marched us to Jerico Mills, on the North Anna.

General Fitzhugh Lee, the cavalryman nephew of our General Lee , told our General Wilcox that there were two brigades of Yankee cavalry, cooking rations and in all other ways ill-prepared to receive an attack, were on the other side of the river. General Wilcox was persuaded that his division could sweep them away without difficulty.

All four brigades of the division, including ours under  Colonel Brown from the Fourteenth, our own McGowan being absent wounded at Spotsylvania, advanced across a wheat field, went beyond some tracks and through another wheat field before entering some woods. Once we were in the woods, somehow, our regiment and the First became separated from the rest of the brigade. It was at that time, upon entering a clearing, that we found a skirmish line of infantry waiting for us. We saw no cavalry.

We recovered from this most unwelcome surprise quickly and drove away their skirmishers only to find their artillery had noticed us. We kept on after the Yankee skirmishers and moved out of sight of these guns only to  come attract the interest of different guns. Our muskets cut them down faster than they were doing to us and at the very moment when we were to charge and capture their guns, more of their infantry, in line of battle, made themselves known by their volleys in our flank. We could not hold our position against such odds, cut off from the rest of the brigade. We were ordered to withdraw and we did, all the time under fire, finally making it to this place.

D--n that whelp Lee for misleading us right into massed Yankee artillery and infantry. Sims is wounded, Sullivan is wounded, Corporal McAteer is wounded, Porter is wounded. Colonel Brown is captured, John Plyer is captured, Davis is captured and so is Fleming. Major Clyburn is wounded. Corporal Montgomery received a bad gunshot wound to the face. We Hornets were badly stung.

I Send You These Few Lines.

Even the best of armies, under the best of commanders, get bested themselves in battle. The battle of North Anna was nearly one of those. Grant was attempting an end run maneuver and Lee managed to blunt the move. This battle, also known as Jericho Mills, ended as a stalemated draw for both armies, according to some historians and a victory for Lee by others. As far as the 12th South Carolina was concerned, it was shot up rather badly. Many more stalemates or victories like this and the regiment will cease to exist.

The same can be said for a number of Confederate regiments. Casualties are mounting but the losses are not being matched by replacements. A good regiment, at full strength, should number 1,000. By this time in this war, Southern regiments are lucky to number 250. The 1st and the 12th, who were separated from the rest of the brigade, together numbered 350. They should have numbered 2.000.

The casualties are represented by more than just numbers. The war is taking a toll on the experienced talent in the field. In the 12th South Carolina, for instance, the regimental commander, Miller, is dead, The next in command is Lieutenant Colonel Bookter. He is absent, wounded as is the major, Clyburn. The regiment is now under the command of Robert Kerr, a captain.

The casualties mentioned above, are all confirmed by National Archives service records.

Robert E. Lee's nephew, Fitzhugh, is rather unpopular with Tooms at this point in the war and perhaps with many others. Tooms hopes that Fitzhugh Lee is somewhere far, far away. Maybe, maybe not.

Friday, May 23, 2014

" The great cavalier is dead."

Monday, May 23, 1864, Noel's Station

There has been so much happening of late that I have forgotten to mention something of great importance. The Great Cavalier is dead. We are told that at Yellow Tavern, he was in the thick of a fight with Yankee cavalry when he was cut down, how we do not know. No one understood the mounted arm like he did. His shoes boots will be very hard to fill.

We should be thankful that the Yankees have not attacked us for several days. However, we do wonder what they are up to that they should be so silent. This fellow Grant likes crossing rivers only if he is going forward. We think that he will start another move before too long.

General Hill has returned to us, having been sick for some time. General Early has left us as temporary corps commander.

There were reports of Yankee activity hear here so today, the entire brigade was put into line. Orr's Rifles was sent to investigate the woods. They found some Yankees but not enough  to cause the entire brigade to attack. We have all now stood down.

Just about all of us have new canteens and haversacks. Some, like myself, have new trousers. All of this and much more come to us courtesy of that original baboon Lincoln. It did require a bit of doing on our part in order to liberate these things. The Yankees were close enough to spy our movements and fire upon us. In addition to my new blue trousers, I have acquired three haversacks and a canteen.

From the three haversacks, I have taken all that I considered useful and put it in one haversack. The other two haversacks, with the contents that I didn't want, I have thrown them away. No one else wanted them as they had recently acquired new ones themselves. From all three of the haversacks I obtained one piece of cheese, eight crackers, a quarter-pound of sugar, three pounds of salt pork and a few other things. All this was combined and consumed in one very good meal, washed down with five cups of coffee, with the sugar, of course. Before the war, I was not fond of coffee, preferring tea. War changes things. My old drum canteen was leaking from a bayonet hole so the new one comes to me just in time. A new pair of brogans is lashed to my knapsack. I wish that I had new socks.

I Send You These Few Lines.

The Great Cavalier Tooms refers to is James Ewell Brown, "Jeb", Stuart. Stuart was an excellent cavalry commander, if a bit of a grandstander. His cavalry owned that of the Army of the Potomac. It took awhile and some getting beaten up but the Union cavalry was learning along the way. At Yellow Tavern, Virginia, Stuart met his match, a Union cavalryman named John A. Huff of the 5th Michigan Cavalry. The 5th was part of the Michigan Brigade, commanded by George Armstrong Custer. Huff was killed later in May in Hanover County, Virginia.

Tooms references a changing norm for the Army of the Potomac and Lee is realizing it, too. When it was commanded by such generals as Hooker, Burnside and McDowell amongst others, Lee would hurt the Union army which would retreat northward behind the rivers. There, the army would lick its' wounds and ready itself for the next battle.

Not so with Grant. When Grant was checked and defeated at the Wilderness, he refused to retreat anywhere. Retreat is not Grant's style. The continuing offensive is.

Grant has numbers enough to deploy on the march several columns of troops, each posing a different threat. Lee does not have the numbers to counter multiple threats. However, this strategy of Grant's has problems. If one column marches out of supporting distance of the other columns, Lee can pounce upon it and destroy it. This would even up the odds a bit.

Will Grant move against either Lee or Richmond? Or both? Will Lee seek out and destroy an isolated Union column? That is for a future diary entry, my friends.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

"A bayonet appeared from my right..."

Sunday, May 15, 1864, Spotsylvania

Everyone is dead. It seems to be so although from where I sit, I can see many soldiers moving around but I cannot say that any of them are alive. I doubt my own condition. If I were truly dead, I would be spared any more of the inhuman H--- that I have witnessed of late.

It began this Monday past. We were ordered to this place called Spotsylvania. Our own General Hill, being sick, was not in command. General Early commanded our corps. We did not exactly know where we were marching to. We did know that we were heading generally south and east. We were all glad to leave the Wilderness. My trousers, like so many other soldier's trousers and jackets for that matter, resembled rags. I had performed some repairs with what little spare fabric I had. Both legs were shredded. I felt like a London ragamuffin.

It was early when we reached this place. Much of Lee's army had arrived before us. The brigade was ordered to the right and a bit behind Ewell's corps. We spent the rest of Monday thinking we might be put in but it was not to be. We heard firing from in front of us and to both left and right but saw very little. We spent the night under arms.

The next day, the tenth, as the light got higher in the sky, we could better see where we were and what our situation was. We were quite close to a triangle pointed towards the Yankee lines.We then realized why we heard firing from three sides. There were Yankees on three sides of this area. This angle, which I have since heard called the muleshoe was strongly fortified. The earthworks were high and protected in front with the most ugly abatis. We were confident that any Yankees coming from that direction would be warmly met.

At about five and one half of the clock, it started. Stonewall's attack at Chancellorsville started about this same time and it was a fantastic victory. Had the Yankees learned a lesson from our Jackson? We waited to be put in but we were not needed. At times, through the smoke, we could make out some flags of Pennsylvania regiments. We have gotten good at telling the Yankees from their flags.

That night, off in the distance, we could hear our bands and their bands playing off and on. I think it was one of ours that started it off with, "Nearer My God to Thee".This compliment was returned with the, "Dead March". Our own, "Bonnie Blue Flag", followed. This raised a number of cheers from both sides, more ours than theirs. The Yankees came back with, "The Star-spangled Banner". Although the hour was very late, I think every Yankee woke up to add his voice to the resounding cheer. Not to be outdone, we responded with, Home, Sweet Home" Now that raised the loudest cheers from both sides. Amidst the cheering could be heard the moans of the wounded, stranded beyond help in between the lines. Again, we slept under arms.

The eleventh, was not much of a day. The brigade was still formed up a bit to the left rear of the angle. We stayed vigilant lest the Yankees try us again. All day long, we could see and hear the earthworks being strengthened. Water was running short. Our rations were scant and without variety. We considered ourselves lucky to have anything to eat. Ever since the death of Junior, the Dandy Eights mess has been reduced to six. We Eights who are left have been unable to talk about increasing our numbers.

Now, this entry arrives at Thursday and a worse day I have never spent. I should have been killed a dozen times but the Maker  decided otherwise. My turn will come another day. It was an early hour when the Yankees came. It looked as they were going to hit us in much the same place as they did on Wednesday. We heard the firing a distance to our left. We wondered if it would be our time.

And then it was. The firing became much more intense as did the yelling. The regiment was brought into line and dressed. We waited very long, it seemed. Repeatedly, we checked our cartridge boxes to comfort ourselves that we had enough ammunition. And we checked them again. Two of us who had a musket but no bayonet called to others in our rear in the name of God to give them a bayonet.

It was the ninth hour of the day, according to Jeffie Turner, who looked at his watch. General McGowan code by. "General Lee needs us, boys. The Yankees have broken through. General Lee needs us to save the day. On, South Carolina, on!" Lieutenant Williamson called for us to face left and go at the double-quick. We went and I will admit to checking my cartridge box more than once along the way. Their artillery found the range on us but we kept going.

The Yankees had broken through at the angle. There were more Yankees that I've ever seen. They resembled thousands of blue flies and we were just so much carrion. The fighting was bad and it got much worse rapidly. They poured over our works, driving everything away like chaff. I would swear that when we hit them, both sides groaned with pain. We did not fire but a few rounds into their faces. In a very short time, we fought with bayonets, claws and gunbutts. Hand-to-hand it became, not so much man-to-man as beast-to-beast.

It was the Excelsior Brigade that we were up against. It took a great deal of shooting back and forth but we finally drove them out. A gap in their lines appeared and for a moment, we thought that we could press on and and turn a flank. That thought vanished rapidly as those New Yorkers were soon replaced by more and more Yankees. Some of them dug themselves in just a few yards from our own works. They would have to be pried out. They brought up artillery to blast us out of our works at point blank range. I had never heard of artillery charging breastworks. We shot down their gunners as fast as we could until there were too few to work the guns.

We fought over a position to the immediate left of the apex of the angle. This we learned later. All we knew at the time was that every d--- Yankee in Yankeedom was here, right where we were standing. They would grab one of ours and drag him over the works to their side to capture him or kill him. We did the same to them. After but a few minutes, I don't think that I saw a bayonet that did not have blood on it.

At one point, after discharging my musket at some part of this blue mass, a Yankee came over the works straight at me with musket and bayonet. I was in a bad way and could not get at him or out of his way. As he made his thrust at my breast, I made rapid peace with the Maker. A bayonet appeared from my right and skewered him. I never saw who saved my life. The Yankee fell dead on top of me and pinned me under him. It was difficult to get up as others kept stepping on this dead Yankee.

When I did manage to roll him off of me, I saw that my musket had broken its stock. No matter as the Yankee had one he was not using. I turned it towards the enemy just in time to run through another Yankee bent on murdering me. He did not die but fought me even with my bayonet in his breast and I could not remove it. I pulled the trigger, praying that my piece was loaded. Down he went like a sack of potatoes, pulling my new musket from my hands as he did. There were plenty on the ground so I was not unarmed for long. Many times I heard the Yankees shout, "Remember Sedgewick". I suppose that general of theirs is killed.

I saw Duncan get dragged over the works and lost in the mass.All I could do was watch it happen. Poor Tom. Captain Stover was shot down. I heard someone yell, "Boys, I am killed". I could not tell if the voice was wearing blue or grey. We fought and we fought and we fought. They kept coming and we kept killing them, and they kept coming. There was no rest save for the dead.

Sometimes, we loaded our muskets and, without looking where we were shooting, poked them over our works and pulled the triggers with our thumbs. Anyone who stuck his head up above the works had his hair parted with a mini ball.

For several hours this continued. We would waver a bit and they would gain a little ground. Then we would recover and push them back. It got to where I could not take a step on the ground. The bodies were too thick not to step on. When we ran out of annumition, we took it from the dead. Twice I did this, each time lowering my guard to refill my box. I saw rocks, sticks and knives put to use. It stopped being war and turned to just plain killing.

It finally ended. We held our ground and prepared for another assault. The dead were scavenged for ammunition and water. There was a fair amount of the former and only a little of the latter. Some water had accumulated in pools. No matter what was in it, we drank it. I had to replace a bent ramrod.
That night, the dead and the living slept together. Quite late this night, those who could awaken were startled by a loud crash which we took to be another attack preceded by artillery. Nothing further happened so we gratefully returned to our slumber.

They did not come back the next day. Maybe we killed just too many of them. Today is, I think, Sunday the fifteenth. On Friday, the brigade was withdrawn from that angle. We are in new works somewhat in the rear. Jeffie Turner is dead. So is Belk. Richardson and Sistare are captured. Hagins, Plyer, Porter and Steele are wounded. I think Howell is dead but cannot say for certain. General Perrin who used to command this brigade, is dead. Duncan is missing, his fate unknown. We stuffed leaves in our noses because of the smell.

When I could take stock of myself, I found three holes in my jacket, one in my trousers and one in my slouch. As my trousers were so bad from the Wilderness, I exchanged them for Yankee ones. There were many to choose from and I got some good ones.

I have six rounds.

I Send You These Few Lines

About the Battle of Spotsylvania and the Mule Shoe/Bloody Angle in particular, Noah Andre Trudeau wrote in his book, "Bloody Roads South":

     Tactically the battle was over, but the fighting had slipped beyond tactics, beyond winning or        losing; it had slithered past whatever control rational men can have over something as irrational as organized slaughter. A pandora's box of hate and killing lust had been blown open, and seventeen more hours would go by before the exhausted men let it close again. Along those two hundred yards of mutually held trenches, men now killed each other with zealous abandon. In a war that had birthed its share of bloody angles, this day and the morning of the next at Spotsylvania would give birth to the bloodiest of them all.

On the day before McGowan's South Carolina brigade was committed, Union forces attacked the Mule Shoe. The effort nearly succeeded. Grant thought that if massive force could be brought to bear against the area, a large hole would be torn in the Confederate lines, allowing for the possibility to destroy Lee's army. It almost worked. The first attack involved just three Union brigades.  The second attack involved 11 brigades in the initial assault followed by 10 more. Some Union officers called for no more troops to be committed as the situation was crowded beyond control and it was too easy for the Confederates to hit something. These officers were just shoved out of the way by the masses.

The Sedgewick, mentioned by Tooms in this diary entry, is Major General John Sedgewick, commanding the Union VI Corps. The person generally credited with killing him is Ben Powell of the 12th South Carolina. When I came across that in my research for this entry, it threw me back. I looked him up to see if he might have been in Company I, the, "Lancaster Hornets", Tooms' company. He was. He was Benjamin M. Powell who enlisted in Company I of the 12th in April, 1861, in Ridgeville, South Carolina, which is not too far from Charleston. Like Tooms, Powell is not from the upcountry of the state as is most of the regiment.

The crash that woke everyone up was not artillery but a tree falling. It was an oak, 22 inches across, which was shot to pieces by small arms fire. Late that night, it fell over in the brigade's lines. A bullet-riddled piece of it is on display at the Smithsonian.

An abatis consists of sharpened sticks, some nearly the size of small trees, imbedded in the ground in front of an entrenched position with the points facing the enemy.

The account of the dueling bands is a true one as is the stuffing of leaves up the nose to quell the stench of rotting corpses.

All the casualties that Tooms mentioned, McGowan, Duncan, Turner and the rest, happened during the battle.

The battery of Union guns that advanced right up to the Confederate works was C, 5th U.S., a regular army battery. Two dozen cannoneers worked their pieces. Two survived.

The Excelsior Brigade that McGowan's brigade broke consisted of eight regiments, six from New York and one each from Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. McGowan had five, all South Carolinian.

The Battle of Spotsylvania is now over. It is the worst fight Tooms and the rest of the 12th has been in during the war, much more so that Gettysburg. It is the only time that Tooms is certain that he has killed someone. Will this be the worst time for the regiment for the entire war? That's future history. For the moment, things are quiet. For the moment.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

"Herds of African Elephants..."

Sunday, May 8, 1864, Chewning Farm

It is perhaps safe to write this. We have been entrenched here since Friday last when we were ordered out of that bad place called the Wilderness. When God was through making the Earth, he took all of the bushes, trees and vines that he could not use and tossed them there for the Devil to play with. Herds of African elephants could be lost there. My trousers are shredded. I hope never to go there again.

Our brigade was last in the line of march on Thursday. No one liked this. All of us wanted to be the first in line as we would then be the first to engage the Yankees. As we entered the Wilderness sometime after Noon, we could tell that if there was to be a fight, that it would be a hard one. Once formed into line of battle, it rapidly became impossible to maintain a straight line. One portion of the line would be stopped by the undergrowth while the rest would advance and then have to stop to allow the rest to catch up. Some time later, this same thing would happen to another part. We made little progress for the time that we spent there.

Some time, I know not how long, we heard firing coming from our front. We were following Heth's division and took it to be that Heth's men had met the Yankees. The firing rapidly became furious and we thought we would soon be engaged. Some bullets, perhaps intended for Heth's men found their way into our ranks.

Finally, we were ordered forward and forward we went, not to relieve Heth but to go through and engage the Yankees. We met them shortly and then began an exchange of volleys. There were no charges back and forth, in spite of officers orders to do so. The thickets would not permit rapidity of movement. Our lines were straight as a dogs hind leg. We were able to bring enough pressure to bear to cause a slow forward movement. We could tell by the flags that the Yankees opposing us were from New York and Delaware. It makes no difference where they are from; we shot them down just the same.

The undergrowth, as I have said, allowed for units and parts of units to become crooked and disconnected. Somehow, the regiment advanced beyond our supports. We found ourselves in advance of the rest of the brigade and we were being fired upon from three sides. In spite of the undergrowth, we got out of somewhat faster than we got in. We made connection with the rest of the brigade and left the thickness to encamp just north of the Orange Plank road. We did not make camp but slept in line under arms. A rumor passed  that Colonel Miller had been wounded.

On Friday, the Yankees hit us very hard, hard enough to put a hole in our lines right at the road. The brigade was closest to the road and we had to allow our right to be bent back. We were entrenched but not to any great extent. Even so, our little efforts allowed us to hang on for awhile. Our being bent back let us fire into the flank of the Yankees.

Our line on the other side of the road broke up and left the field in retreat, exposing all of us on the north side. I will admit that our part of the line was breaking up and a retreat if not a rout was in the cards when word was received that Longstreet was up. We left to this place and Longstreet's men took over and not a moment too soon. We started digging in.

All day yesterday, our division and Heth's have been entrenched and out of the battle. We have spent our time between looking over our works and putting ourselves back into some semblance of an army. We have had time to take stock of our losses. Colonel Miller is indeed dead and was replaced by Lieutenant Colonel Bookter who is now wounded. Perhaps Major Clyburn now runs the regiment; I do not really know. Tom Adams is killed. Bill Bruce is wounded. Our hardest loss is Junior.

We lost Bill Barton, Senior, at Gettysburg. He was one of the original members of our Dandy Eights mess. When we lost him, the mess became seven.  Junior was much troubled by the loss of Senior. He was never the same after Gettysburg. Junior had just returned about a week ago from furlough. They are together now. Our mess numbers six.

What happens now is no lon  

I Send You These Few Lines

Some years ago, a friend, Kimberly, and myself paid a short visit to the outskirts of the Wilderness. We parked the van at a NPS information stop. We walked into the Wilderness only a few yards before turning around. I cannot describe the entanglements adequately. To understand the Wilderness, you have to visit it.

There was something very bad that happened to some of the soldiers at the Wilderness. It caught fire.
As the fire spread, it threatened those of the wounded who could not get out of the path of the fire. Some made it. Others did not.

Thomas Adams enlisted in Lancaster, South Carolina on April 17, 1862. His widow, E.P. Adams, would file a claim with the Confederate government for recovery of anything owed from him. William Bruce enlisted in August of 1861 at Lancaster. Bruce was trained in Columbia at Camp Lightwood Knot Springs.

I have not been able to figure out the Bartons, William, Senior and William, Junior. Senior enlisted at the age of 25. Junior was 19 when he enlisted so they were not father and son. With two William Bartons in the same company, were the designations junior and senior used in-house to tell them apart?

Tooms did not mention it as he was interrupted but General Longstreet is also numbered among the casualties. His corps had been pushing to bring itself up to battle. The rest of Lee's army was trying to fix Grant in the Wilderness until Longstreet could come up and deal Grant a mighty blow. Longstreet arrived at just the right time; his corps charged into Grant's troops, forcing them back. However, Longstreet, as Jackson before him, was wounded by his own troops. He will be out of action for some time.

Grant's plan for the spring offensive was to send go into the Wilderness and exit out the other side to turn Lee's flank and threaten Richmond. Grant was planning that either he would capture Richmond, or better yet, lure Lee's army out into the open and destroy it. The Union Army of the Potomac was reorganized. George Meade retained command of the army but Grant, in the field with the Army, commanded Meade.

Grant also commanded a corps, the IX, not a part of the Army. The corps, under a former commander of the Army, was headed by Ambrose Burnside. and he reported directly to Grant, not Meade. What Meade commanded was the II Corps under Winfield Scott Hancock, whose nickname was, "Hancock the Superb." He still suffers from his Gettysburg wound. Gouverneor K. Warren has replaced George Sykes as commander of V Corps. John Sedgewick retains command of VI Corps. Alfred Pleasonton is out as commander of the Cavalry Corps and Philip Sheridan is in.

Two Union corps no longer exist. I Corps, under John Newton, was broken up and folded into V Corps. III Corps, under David Birney, was broken up to reinforce II and VI Corps.  This new organization represented the Army of the Potomac.

Lee has blunted Grant. By stopping Grant in the Wilderness, Lee has largely nullified the Union artillery and cavalry which cannot do well in the thickets of the Wilderness. Now it is time for the Army of the Potomac, as it has done several times before, to retreat away from the Confederates in order to lick its wounds and gird up for another try at Lee and Richmond.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

"Cook Three Days Rations!"

Wednesday, May 4, 1864, In camp near Verdiersville

Something has happened but I know of no one who knows for certain what has happened. There are as many rumors as there are trees in the forest. For myself, I can only think that there are two possibilities. Either the Yankees have come out in order to beat us or our General Lee has seen fit to unleash his army to destroy the Yankees. Either way, something is happening.

It began yesterday  morning. The stillness of the camps was broken with a series of couriers or dispatch riders. Of course, they imparted no information to us high privates, oh no. The officers received the news first and they passed it down the line. We saw Sergeant Harper call Corporals McAteer and our beloved Flynn to him. Some words were spoken but we could not hear what was said. From their looks we could tell that whatever it was, it was of some degree of urgency.

Curiosity got the better of Holton and Barton. They got up and went to them but were cut short by Flynn. "Get back there. All of you, right now. Cook three days rations. Be d'd quick about it."
We tried to comply but were interrupted by the long roll. Rations, cooked or not, were stuffed into our haversacks and we formed up into column on the double quick.

We bade goodbye to our winter quarters with little thought that we would ever see them again. We are an army on the march and have little need for static encampments. Almost all of our march was along the Orange Plank Road, some of which we had planked during the winter. We marched often and rested little. Our spirit, by itself, carried us an extra mile or two before encamping for the night.

It was during this last night, while we were frying our hoecakes, that Barton sprung a surprise on the Dandy Eights mess. Some time ago, he had traded some tobacco to a Yankee picket for some coffee. He had hidden the coffee, intending to keep it for a special time. He announced that the time was now and produced the desirable beans. We stared at them for a moment, taking them all in.

This pause did not last long. In a flash, we built a fire and started our boilers. We realized that we had not enough water in our canteens for all of us to have a decent cup. The march was long and hot and there was little opportunity to refresh our canteens. Hancock and Holton volunteered to take all of our canteens and fill them at a nearby run. We waited painfully for their return and almost attacked them when they got close. In the time it takes to curse Yankeedom, we forgot all about the war. We slept a good sleep.

Our breakfast was scant and quick this morning. We marched on, still not knowing why or where. Despite our all consenting to save some of the coffee for this morning's breakfast, we regretted not having done so. During the morning, we passed a dead Yankee cavalryman every so often. When we stopped around Noon, we heard the call of Yankee cavalry. We formed up into line. I heard some not too distant firing but saw nothing. Back on the road we marched. All during the afternoon we heard sporadic firing, too distant to tell much from it.

At present, the division is encamped around Verdiersville, which is not too far from New Verdiersville. We are not too far off of the Orange Plank Road which is to the south of us. I think we are near the Wilderness.

I must not write much as I am low on ink. I must conserve what I have left as there will probably be much to write about.

I Send You These Few Lines

Coffee. How could the war have been fought without it. Accounts in letters and diaries of the period confirm that coffee was high on the list of wants of the soldiers and sailors. Coffee ranked up there with tobacco as a delectable, addictable luxury.

Anytime someone directs that three days rations be cooked, it is certain that some active campaigning   is imminent. Exactly what is behind this flurry of activity is not for the lower ranks to know. Sometimes, the higher ranks don't know, either.