Friday, March 3, 2023

The Cast Iron Brigade Preserves Historic Tablets at Antietam National Battlefield

 On August 30, 1890, almost twenty-eight years after the bloody Battle of Antietam the United States Congress appropriated money for “surveying, locating and preserving the lines of battle of the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia.  In 1890 the Antietam Battlefield Board was created under the auspices of the Secretary of War to oversee the work.  The original members of the board were Union Colonel John C. Stearns and Confederate Brigadier General Henry Heth.  Stearns resigned due to ill health on July 31, 1894. He was replaced by Major George B. Davis, who had enlisted in the First Massachusetts Cavalry at sixteen, and later graduated from West Point, in October 1894. About the same time Jedediah Hotchkiss, was appointed to the board as an "expert topographer" and  Brevet Brigadier General Ezra Carmen, who had served with the Thirteenth New Jersey at Antietam, was appointed  as a “historical expert”.  In August 1895 Major George W. Davis, who had served with the Eleventh Connecticut during the Civil War replaced George B. Davis as board president.

 After locating the lines of battle of the Union and Confederate forces, and securing the permission of the War Department, the battlefield board set about marking the various positions of the two armies with cast iron tablets “bearing historical descriptions of the movement of troops”.  Carmen, and to a much lesser extent Davis, corresponded with veterans from both sides to obtain information about troop positions to write the text for the tablets.  Once the research was completed and the tablet text drafted the War Department let a contract to the Chattanooga Car and Foundry Company, of Chattanooga Tennessee, who was also casting tablets for the Chickamauga Battlefield in northern Georgia, to cast the tablets for Antietam.  Tablet production was in full swing in the first four months of 1895.  In May 1895 the foundry shipped the first batch of cast iron tablets and 105 smaller markers to Sharpsburg.  An additional 43 tablets were shipped in October 1895.  In 1896 ninety more tablets were cast and shipped.   By October 1897 the work was completed at a cost of $7,865.  In total 338  tablets were cast and erected, of which 313 were installed at Antietam, five at Harpers Ferry, five at Shepherdstown, six at South Mountain and nine at Crampton’s Gap.  After their work was completed the Antietam Battlefield Board was disbanded.   In their final report written on March 18, 1898 it was noted, in reference to the tablets, “with an occasional repainting at small expense they will endure for centuries.” 

Tablets Along the Sunken Road (Bloody Lane)

 Most of the tablets that were installed in the 1890’s on the fields of battle in Western Maryland and at Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown are still there. A few have been damaged and/or removed over the years. Some have been replaced by aluminum replicas.

 It is unknown how many times the tablets have been repainted in the 126 years since they were erected.  In 2016 or 2017 Antietam National Battlefield set up a special program which enabled a select number of volunteers to work under the auspices of the Cultural Resource Division and repaint the tablets.

 The first step involves removing the tablets from the field and taking them in to the maintenance warehouse.  Some of the original cast iron tablets weigh well over 100 pounds.


A Tablet Being Removed From its Pedestal.

After the tablets are unloaded at the warehouse and placed on sawhorses they are wire brushed to remove accumulated dirt, grime, organic matter and old layers of paint.  They are the cleaned and primed.

Preparing a Tablet for Repainting.

 The primed tablet is first painted with two coats of black paint.  Care is taken to ensure the paint is uniformly applied, that all letters and imperfections are covered. and there are no drips or runs in the paint.

Painting a Primed Tablet with a Coat of Black Paint.

 After the black paint dries a brayer (a small rubber roller) is used to paint two coats of white paint on the raised letters and the boarder of the tablet.  After the white paint dries the tablets are touched up to cover any areas where white paint might have overrun onto the black background. 

Two Fresh Coats of White Paint

 Once the paint has dried the tablets are put back on their pedestals on the battlefield. 

Reinstalling a Freshly Repainted Tablet on the Field.

A Tablet Before Repainting

The Same Tablet After it is Repainted

All is done “at small expense” for materials, in hopes the tablets will continue “to endure for centuries” and enable visitors to learn the history of the brave men north and south who fought in the Maryland Campaign and along Antietam Creek on September 17, 1862. 

For many of us who are privileged to work on this project I can unequivocally say it is a labor of love.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

MOH Awarded for Sinking CSS Albemarle: Part II

Abandoning Picket Boat No. 1 (US Naval Historical Center (NH 4222))

Edward J. Houghton

Edward J. Houghton, an ordinary seaman on the Chicopee, in October 1864, was the eldest of five sons of Irish immigrants Richard Houghton and his wife Catherine (Kelley) Houghton.  He was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1843.  Sometime prior to 1850 the family moved to East Boston, Massachusetts where Richard was a grocer. Catherine appears to have died in 1856 and Richard in 1860.  In 1860 the family lived in Suffolk, Massachusetts.  

On July 19, 1862, Edward Houghton enlisted in Company K, Thirty-ninth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.  Houghton was reportedly nineteen years of age, five feet four inches tall, had hazel eyes, black hair and a light complexion. His occupation was listed as mariner.*  He transferred to the navy on April 19, 1864.  Naval enlistment records for May 1864 show Houghton, a native of Mobile, Alabama enlisting in the navy in Brooklyn on May 4 for one and a half years as an ordinary seaman.  He was twenty-one years of age with hazel eyes, brown hair and a dark complexion and stood five feet five and one half inches tall. 

 On July 16, 1865, one day before he was to be honorably discharged from the navy, Edward J. Houghton was stabbed and killed by Henry Smith, at Gosport, Virginia, when a fight broke out amongst a number of sailors on shore leave. Houghton was originally buried in the Naval Cemetery at Norfolk, Virginia.  In 1890 he was disinterred and reburied at Holyrood Cemetery in Brookline, Massachusetts.  

*Naval enlistment records show an eighteen year old Edward Houghton who had been born in Mobile, Alabama, enlisting in the navy as an ordinary seaman in Boston for 2 years on December 6, 1861. Houghton was described as being 5 feet five inches tall with hazel eyes, black hair and a light complexion.  He deserted in December 31,1861.

Edward J. Houghton (Congressional Medal of Honor Society photo)

 Lorenzo Deming

Lorenzo Deming was a landsman on Picket Boat No. 1 in October 1864.  He was born on September 6, 1843, in Granby, Connecticut, the second youngest of five child of Gideon and Lovisa (Bidwell) Deming. Lorenzo was a mechanic in New Haven, Connecticut when he enlisted in the United States Navy, as a substitute, for one year, on September 8, 1864. (Navy enlistment records indicate Lorenzo had served one year in the navy prior to his September 8, 1864 enlistment.)  Deming was twenty-one years old, stood five feet six and one-hand inches tall and had hazel eyes, brown hair and a dark complexion.  He was captured on October 28, 1864, and died at the Confederate Prison in Salisbury, North Carolina on February 5, 1865.  Lorenzo Deming is probably buried within the grounds of what is now Salisbury National Cemetery.  

Henry Wilkes

Henry Wilkes was a landsman on Picket Boat No. 1 in October 1864.  Wilkes was born in 1845 in New York City, New York.  Henry was the oldest of John and Elizabeth Wilkes three children.   He was nineteen years old when he enlisted in the United States Navy, for two years, as a substitute, on September 13, 1864.  At the time of his enlistment he was employed as a printer.  Henry was five feet five and three-quarter inches tall, had hazel eyes, brown hair and a fair complexion. 

After being discharged from the navy Henry returned to New York and married.  He and his wife Louisa( Lucy) had two children before Henry's death on March 3, 1888.  Henry is buried in Beverwyck Cemetery in Rensselaer, New York.  

 Daniel Griffin George (alias William Smith)

Daniel Griffin George, was an ordinary seaman on the Chicopee, in October 1864, when he volunteered to serve on Picket Boat No. 1.  Daniel was born on July 7, 1840, in Plaistow, New Hampshire to shoemaker Lyman P. George and his wife Eliza.  He was the oldest of seven children.  Prior to 1850 the family moved to Massachusetts.  By 1860 they were living in Salem.

An article in the April 2, 1898, Brooklyn Eagle mentioned Daniel "sailed out of New Bedford for a three year cruise on a whaler in the Arctic Ocean" in 1857 when he was 17.  On September 16, 1861, he enlisted as a private in Company D First Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry, for three years.  At the time of his enlistment George was twenty-one years of age.  He was five feet seven and one-half inches tall, with blue eyes, brown hair and a light complexion. Daniel was promoted to sergeant February 8, 1863.  He was captured June 17, 1863, at the Battle of Aldie, Virginia and paroled at Annapolis in August.  

George reenlisted in the First Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry on January 1, 1864, and "transferred to the United States Navy on May 7, 1864, as an ordinary seaman under the name of William Smith."  George was captured on October 28, 1864. Upon being paroled he returned to the Chicopee and served on several navy ships, for a time as a coxswain, until being discharged on April 26, 1866. Upon being discharged from the navy Daniel George returned to New Hampshire.  

Daniel George married Florence A. Blake in Boston on February 23, 1864.  She died on bronchitis on August 4, 1866. On September 6, 1866, George married Mary E. Beardsley in Danville, New Hampshire.  They would have eight sons and two daughters before Mary's death in 1911.  The George family lived in New Hampshire, where George was employed as a shoemaker and later a farmer. By 1900 they were living in Massachusetts.  George died on February 26, 1916.  He and his wife Mary are buried in Locust Grove Cemetery, in Merrimac, Massachusetts.

*George purportedly "changed names" with William Smith when he joined the navy so he could serve on the Chicopee with his friend Edward J. Houghton.

Robert Henry King

Robert Henry King, a landsman on Picket Boat No. 1, in October 1864, was born in the Eighth Ward of the City of Albany, New York November 8, 1844.  He was the second child of Samuel W. and Susan M. King.  Robert had an older sister named Henrietta.  Robert's mother died on December 5, 1844, when he was less than a month old.  Samuel, who was a successful merchant, would marry a second time and father four additional children before passing away from dropsy on June 18, 1864, leaving Robert King an orphan.  

Robert enlisted in the United States Navy on September 10, 1864, as a substitute, in New York City.  At the time of his enlistment Henry was a nineteen years old laborer.  He was five feet three and one-half inches tall, with grey eyes, dark brown hair and a fair complexion.  King was captured on October 28, 1864.  After being paroled on February 21st he returned to Albany, New York where he died of typhoid fever on April 10, 1865.  He is buried in Albany Rural Cemetery, Menard, Albany County, New York.

    Robert Henry King (Congressional Medal of Honor Society photo)

Source information for this post includes, but is not limited too, newspaper articles from, records from and, and information pertaining to Medal of Honor recipients. 

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Medals of Honor Awarded for Sinking CSS Albemarle

Picket Boat No. 1 (US Naval History Center photo NH 63378)

 Lieutenant William Barker Cushing received the thanks of the Navy Department and the thanks of the United States Congress for leading the expedition that successfully sank the ironclad ram CSS Albemarle on October 28, 1864.   He was also promoted one grade from lieutenant to lieutenant commander.  There were fourteen officers and enlisted men that accompanied Cushing in Picket Boat No. 1, including:  

     Acting Asst. Paymaster Francis H. Swan, USS Otsego (captured)

    Acting Ensign William L. Howarth, USS Monticello (captured)

    Acting Master's Mate John Woodman, USS Commodore Hull (drowned)

    Acting Master's Mate Thomas S. Gay, USS Otsego (captured)

    Acting 3rd Asst. Engineer William Stotesbury, US Picket Boat No. 1 (captured)

    Acting 3rd Asst. Engineer Charles L. Steever, USS Ostego (captured)

    First Class Fireman Samuel Higgins, US Picket Boat No. 1 (drowned)

    Coal Heaver, Richard Hamilton, USS Shamrock (captured)

    Ordinary Seaman Bernard Harley, USS Chicopee (captured)

    Ordinary Seaman Edward J. Houghton, USS Chicopee (escaped)

    Ordinary Seaman, William Smith, (Daniel G. George), USS Chicopee (captured)

    Landsman, Lorenzo Deming, US Picket Boat No. 1 (captured)

    Landsman, Henry Wilkes, US Picket Boat No. 1 (captured)

    Landsman Robert H. King, US Picket Boat No. 1 (captured)

Cushing and Edward J. Houghton escaped. Samuel Higgins and John Woodman drowned.  Their bodies were recovered and taken to New Bern, North Carolina for burial in what is now New Bern National Cemetery.   The remaining eleven men were captured and sent to a number of Confederate POW camp, including Salisbury and Danville, North Carolina and Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia before being paroled on February 21, 1865.

The seven enlisted men of Cushing's crew, that survived, would ultimately be awarded the Medal of Honor.  Their citations read as follows:

[This recipient] "served on board the US Picket Boat No. 1, in action, 27 October 1864, against the Confederate ram, Albemarle, which had resisted repeated attacks by our steamers and had kept a large force of vessels employed in watching her.  The picket boat, equipped with a spar torpedo, succeeded in passing the enemy pickets within 20 yards without being discovered and then made for the Albemarle under a full head of steam.  Immediately taken under fire by the ram, the small boat plunged on, jumped the log boom which encircled the target, and exploded its torpedo under the port bow of the ram.  The picket boat was destroyed by enemy fire and almost the entire crew taken prisoner or lost."  

Five of the recipients including Richard Hamilton, Bernard Harley, William Smith, Henry Wilkes and Robert H. King would receive their medals from Commodore Montgomery in a ceremony at the Naval Yard in Washington D.C., on  March 15, 1865.  The March 16, 1865 Philadelphia Inquirer, reported, "The medals [were] prepared by the Navy Department.  Each medal was accompanied by a letter from the Secretary saying it was awarded for gallant and meritorious conduct."

Naval officers were not able to receive the Medal of Honor until 1915, however the five officers present with Cushing were advanced one grade for "conspicuous gallantry."

All the participants would receive a share of the prize money awarded for the destruction of the ram.  

Following are the stories of the  Medal of Honor Recipients. 

Richard Hamilton

Richard Hamilton, a coal heaver on the Shamrock, in  October 1864, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania January 23, 1836.  He was the eldest of six children, five sons and a daughter, born to George and Emma Hamilton prior to George's death in 1856.  Richard was employed as a cooper when he enlisted as a private in Company H, Seventeenth Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry on April 18, 1861.  The company was mustered in on April 25th.  The regiment  spent time in Maryland and western Virginia prior to mustering out after three months on August 2, 1861.  

On February 23, 1864, Richard enlisted in the United States Navy for one year.  He was twenty-eight years old, stood five feet seven and one-half inches tall, had blue eyes, brown hair and a light complexion.  Hamilton served on the USS North Carolina from February 23 to June 13, 1864.  On the 14th he transferred to the Shamrock.  Richard was captured at Plymouth, North Carolina, October 28, 1864, and was paroled March 10, 1865, at Cox's Wharf  on the James River in Virginia.  He was discharged from the navy March 20th.

 Richard Hamilton married Mary Jane Nugent July 3, 1856, in Philadelphia.  The 1880 Federal Census shows Richard living in Camden New Jersey with his wife Mary and a son George A. Hamilton age 9. Richard worked as a cooper.   

Hamilton died of paralysis July 6, 1881, in Camden New Jersey.  He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Camden.

Bernard Harley  

Bernard Harley, an ordinary seaman on the Chicopee, in October 1864, was born November 14, 1842, in Brooklyn, New York's Ninth Ward.  He was the second to youngest son of Irish immigrants Hugh and Ann (Boyle) Harley.  In the 1860 Federal Census Hugh, Sr was listed as an oil cloth maker.  Seventeen year old Bernard and his younger brother Hugh were employed as paper stainers, a printer who patterned wall paper.  

On October 19, 1860, Bernard enlisted in the United States Navy as a First Class Cabin Boy for three years.  At the time of his enlistment he was eighteen years old, stood five feet three inches tall, had grey eyes, light hair and a light complexion.  He must have been discharged in the fall of 1863 because he enlisted as a private in Company F, 84th New York Volunteer Infantry for three years on December 8th.  He was mustered in on December 13th.  The roster of the 84th New York notes Bernard transferred to the Navy on April 26, 1864.  Enlistment record's for the navy show Bernard re-enlisting in New York on May 5, 1864, for 2.75 years.  Bernard's occupation is listed as sailor in the naval records.

After being paroled, Bernard rejoined the navy. At some point he was assigned to the USS Delaware prior to being discharged from the navy on August 3, 1865.

After being discharged Bernard returned to Brooklyn.  On July 26, 2874, he married Annie Sutton.  Bernard was employed as a laborer at the New York Naval yard at the time of his death from Bright's Disease on Friday January 15, 1886.  he was buried on January 17, 1886, at Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

to be continued.




Thursday, October 27, 2022

"A More Gallant Thing Was Not Done During The War": Lt. William B. Cushing and the Sinking of the CSS Albemarle

William  Barker Cushing (The New York Public Library photo*)

 Albemarle Sound, North Carolina, October 30, 1864

Sir:  "I have the honor to report that the rebel ironclad Albemarle is at the bottom of the Roanoke River."  These were the opening words in an official report, to Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter, penned by navy Lieutenant William Barker Cushing two days after he returned to the fleet from a successful suicide mission to sink the Confederate ram docked at Plymouth, North Carolina.  The navy officer's exploits made the twenty-one year old an instant celebrity and a national hero as the "word of [his] deeds went all over the north."  He received the thanks of the Navy Department for the fifth time. On December 20, 1864, at the request of President Abraham Lincoln, Cushing would become the youngest lieutenant, and only the second junior officer, in the history of the United States Navy to receive the thanks of Congress, as the august body commended him and  "the officers and men under his command for the skill and gallantry displayed by them in the destruction of the...iron clad steamer...on the night of the twenty-seventh of October.**  Seven enlisted men with Cushing would be awarded the Medal of Honor on December 31, 1864, in accordance with Special Orders No. 45.

Sinking the Albemarle (US Naval Historical Center photo) 

The CSS Albemarle became the scourge of the the United State's Navy's North Atlantic Blockading Squadron upon its commissioning on April 17, 1864.  The steam powered ram had been built in Peter Smith's cornfield, adjacent to the Roanoke River near Edward's Ferry, upriver of Plymouth, between January 1863 and early April 1864. The ironclad was 158 feet in length, 35 feet wide and drew nine feet of water.  Its armament consisted of two 6.4 inch Brooke's Rifled Cannons, mounted fore and aft.  The guns could pivot 180 degrees and fire out of three gun ports.  

The  ironclad steamed down the Roanoke River under the command of Captain John W. Cooke on April 17, 1864  to assist Confederate infantry under Brigadier General Robert F. Hoke in retaking the town of Plymouth, which had been held by federal forces since May 1862.   By the evening of the 18th it was three miles above town.  Between 3:00 and 5:00 a.m. on April 19, the Albemarle and the CSS Cotton Plant engaged the USS Southfield and the USS Miami.  The Albemarle rammed the Southfield and sank her. She caused considerable damage to the Miami and drove off the other Union vessels supporting the federal garrison at Plymouth.  Lieutenant Commander Charles W. Flusser, of the Miami  a good friend of Cushing's was killed by a piece of shell, while actively engaged in firing his guns.  

Hoke and the Albemarle continued the attack on the Union Army forces at Plymouth, who were now without federal naval support, on the 20th. The garrison was forced to capitulate by days end.  Over 2,300 soldiers were captured.  Many of them wound up at Andersonville.  The Confederates had retaken Plymouth. 

On May 5th, the Albemarle, accompanied by the Cotton Plant and the CSS Bombshell, left Plymouth in route to assist Confederate forces in an attempt to retake New Bern on the Neuse River.  The ram first had to get by seven ships of the Union squadron blockading Albemarle Sound, who were laying in wait for the rebel ironclad and her support vessels.  About 4:40 p.m. a spirited engagement commenced which lasted until about 7:30 p.m.  Neither side was able to gain the upper hand.  As darkness settled over the sound and with her smokestack pierced with holes and the muzzle of one of her Brooke's rifles shot off the Albemarle broke off the contest and steamed back up the Roanoke River to Plymouth.  

Five enlisted men from the USS Wyalusing made an unsuccessful attempts to sink the Albemarle at Plymouth, with torpedoes, on May 24, as she was a continued threat to the federal blockading squadron, and tied up a considerable number of their resources in watching for her. In sheer desperation, in early July, the navy finally asked Lt. William Barker Cushing if he would make an attempt to destroy the ram.  He agreed to undertake the mission and proposed two options one of which was selected.  Cushing proceeded to the New York Navy Yard in August where he had two steam powered launches (picket boats) fitted out and outfit with spar torpedos.  The picket boats left New York on September 22.  One  was lost in the Chesapeake Bay.  Cushing and the second boat arrived at Hampton Roads, on October 13th.  On the 17th they proceeded to Albemarle Sound where he found the fleet at the mouth of the Roanoke River.  Cushing reported to Commander William H. Macomb, who commanded the "District of the Sound", on October 24, and final preparations were made to launch the attack.

At 10:30 p.m. on October 26 Cushing headed up the Roanoke toward Plymouth and the Albemarle, eight miles distant.  His picket boat ran aground and he had to abort the mission.  A second attempt was made on the 27th.

The night of October 27, 1864, was dark, stormy and rainy when Lt. Cushing and 14 men in Picket Boat No. 1 started up the river again about 11:30 p.m. They towed a cutter from the Shamrock containing two officers and 11 men. Cushing hoped to board the Albemarle and bring it down river to join the Union fleet.  If that failed he would attempt to blow up the ram with his spar torpedo.  

Cushing's boats "hugged the shore as close as possible," to prevent being seen by Confederate pickets and sentries as they quietly steamed up the Roanoke.  By 2:30 a.m. on the 28th the lieutenant and his men had made it too within a mile of Plymouth. They could see the silhouette of the Southfield. They were able to pass within thirty feet of the wreck without being detected.  As the picket boat approached Plymouth around 3:00 a.m. Cushing could see the outline of the Albemarle.

As Cushing steamed toward the ironclad his luck ran out and his picket boat was spotted by sentries who hailed him.  When he did not respond they lit bonfires on shore, "sprang their rattles, rang the bell and commenced firing, at the same time repeating their hail."  The lieutenant cast off the cutter and ordered it below to deal with the pickets on the Southfield, while he "made toward the [Albemarle] under a full head of steam."  

The light from the fires "showed the ironclad made fast to the wharf, with a pen of logs around her about 30 feet from her side.  Passing her closely [Cushing turned and] made a complete circle so as to strike her fairly and went into her bows on...The enemy fire was quite severe.  The air seemed full of bullets."  Paymaster Swan was wounded.  Bullets struck Cushing's clothing, "the whole back of [his] coat was torn off by buckshot and the sole of his shoe carried away.  A dose of canister at close range [from Cushing's 12-pound howitzer] served to moderate their zeal and disturb their aim" however.  

The speed of Cushing's picket boat forced the launch up onto the log apron where it came to rest.  The picket boat was "ten feet from the muzzle of a rifled gun [on the Albemarle] and every word of command on board  [the ram] was distinctly heard."  Cushing lowered the torpedo by vigorously pulling "on the detaching line and succeeded in driving the torpedo under the overhang [of the ram]."  He waited a moment for the torpedo to rise before pulling another line attached to the torpedo and exploding it at the same time that the gun on the Albemarle fired.  "One hundred pounds of grape crashed in [the] midst" [of the men in the picket boat] and a dense mass of water rushed in from the torpedo, filled the [boat] and completely disabled her."  The torpedo had blown a hole in the hull of the ram "big enough to drive a wagon through."

The Confederates continued to fire at Cushing and his men "at 15 feet range" and repeatedly demanded he surrender, which he twice refused.  After ordering his men "to save themselves" Cushing threw off  his overcoat, shoes, revolver and sword and jumped into the Roanoke River.  The cold water "chilled the blood while the whole surface of the stream was ploughed up by grape and musketry." Cushing and several others swam toward the "middle of the stream, the rebels failing to hit them."  

"The rebels were [soon] out in boats picking up [Cushing's] men." Eleven were captured.  Two were drowned. Only one man, ordinary seaman, Edward J. Houghton, escaped besides Cushing. After swimming for a time in clothing that was "soaked and heavy, Cushing, completely exhausted...reached the shore.  [He] was too weak to crawl out of the water until daylight, when he managed to creep into a swamp.  Some hours' traveling in the swamp brought [the lieutenant] out well below town, when [he] sent a negro in [to town to find out] that the ram was truly sunk."   

William B. Cushing "proceeded through another swamp [and] came to a creek where [he] captured a skiff, belonging to a picket of the enemy, and with this by [about 10:00 p.m. he] had made his way out to the mouth of the Roanoke River where he hailed a ship." "Boat ahoy! Send a boat!"

"A boat was sent out [from the Valley City]...Cushing was brought on  board in his stocking feet, with only a coarse flannel shirt and pantaloons to cover him. He was wet, cold, tired, hungry and prostrated.  [He was given a little brandy and water and taken to the Shamrock.]  [Rockets were fired and] Commodore Macomb ordered the riggings of the fleet to be manned, and at the general signal to give Captain Cushing three hearty cheers; and such cheering-it made those swamps, forests and waters resound with the voices of glad-hearted men."  

On October 29 Macomb's fleet steamed up the Roanoke River toward Plymouth.  They recaptured the batteries and the town on October 31, 1864, and also took possession of the sunken hulk of the Albemarle and Picket Boat No. 1

The Valley City was detached on October 30th and ordered to take Lieutenant Cushing to Fortress Monroe, Virginia.  On November 1st he was "received on board [Rear Admiral Porter's] flag-ship, with a salute of twenty-one guns." Cushing then proceeded to Washington D. C., and other northern cities, where he received a heroes welcome.

**Lieutenant John L. Worden received the thanks of Congress on July 11, 1862 for his action in command of the USS Monitor in March 1862. 

Information for this article is derived from various sources including but not limited to Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies, Series I, Volume 10, Outline Story of the War Experiences of William B. Cushing by Himself, US Naval Institute Proceedings, September 1912 Volume 33/3/145 and Reminiscences of Two Years in the United States Navy by John, M. Batten, Lancaster, Pa., Inquirer Printing and Publishing Co., 1881.

The words " a more gallant thing was not done during the war" come from the commander of the Albemarle, Lieutenant A. F. Warley.

*The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. Lt. William B. Cushing. Retrieved from

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Uncle Tommy Devin: The Saga of a Commander of Cavalry

 Brevet Major General Thomas Casimer Devin stands out as one of the most capable Union cavalry commanders in the American Civil War even when compared with colleagues who were graduates of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.  Devin was born on December 10, 1822, in New York City.  He was the oldest son of Michael Devin, born in County Louth, Ireland in 1788 and his wife Jane (Duffy) Devin who was also born in Louth, in 1803.  The Devin's immigrated to the United States from "the Wee County", which is located on the eastern coast of Ireland, and settled in New York City.

Thomas Devin had four younger brothers; John Joseph Connolly born on September 25, 1825, Nicholas born on October 10, 1829, Philip Michael, born September 23, 1832 and Michael born in 1834.  Michael died at nine months of age of whooping cough.  Both John and Philip were merchants in New York City.  John died in 1889.  Philip died in 1918.  Nicholas lived in Boston, Massachusetts prior to his death from bilious fever when he was thirty-seven years old.  

Little is known of Thomas Devin's childhood.  He appears to have spent all of it in New York City except for five years between circa 1837 and 1842 when he was in Missouri.  His father passed away on December 22, 1837, when Thomas was fifteen.  His mother died of consumption on February 11, 1843.  

Thomas Devin married Elizabeth May Campbell in New York City on December 3, 1846.  She was the grandniece of Sir Colin Campbell of Scotland.  They had a daughter Jeanette Elizabeth Devin born on September 28, 1848. She would marry Lieutenant Charles Braden (retired) of the Seventh U. S. Cavalry in 1879.

The 1848-1849 New York City Directory lists Thomas Devin as a painter residing at 611 Hudson.  Subsequent directories  also show his occupation as "painter" until he enlists in the United States Army in 1861. The 1852 Directory indicates he was a retailer of "paint, oil, etc." 

Devin was commissioned  as the captain of Company B, First Regiment, First Brigade, New York State Militia Cavalry, January 1, 1858, with rank to date from November 22, 1857.  There were 23 enlisted men in the company and three officers.  On July 2, 1859, he became the lieutenant colonel of the First Regiment, First Brigade, First Division, New York State Militia Cavalry which was commanded by Colonel Spencer H. Smith.  

Brig. Gen. Thomas C. Devin circa 1865

Following the firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861, President Lincoln called for 75,000 men to "suppress treasonable combinations and cause the laws to be executed."  New York's quota was 13,280. General Winfield Scott requested the governor of New York, Edwin D. Morgan, furnish "100 mounted men from the First Regiment New York State Militia, with their own horses and equipment."  In 1878, Thurlow Weed, a newspaper publisher and New York politician, remembered meeting a stranger on the steps of the Astor House in July 1861, "who said he desired authority from the governor to raise a volunteer company of cavalry for immediate service.  [The stranger] said his name was Devin, that he was a painter by trade, and that he belonged to a cavalry regiment of the city, from which he could recruit a company in twenty-four hours."  Weed later wrote "I was so much impressed with Mr. Devin's bearing and manner that I asked him to come to my room in two hours.  Meantime I sent a dispatch to Gov. Morgan, asking him for the appointment of Mr. Devin as captain, to which I received an affirmative reply.  He [Devin] returned promptly at the appointed time.  He was evidently delighted when I addressed him as 'Captain Devin' saying that he would report next day, and immediately took his leave...The next day, Captain Devin returned with his muster rolls, showing that he had a full company, for which he required subsistence and transportation, both of which were immediately provided and on the following morning Captain Devin and his company were on their way to Washington."

Captain Devin's Company, also known as the Jackson Horse Guards, consisted of one hundred men, principally from Company A of the First New York State Militia  Cavalry, from New York City who had volunteered, upon the request of the General Government for some cavalry, for a service of three months.  Devin and his company were mustered into the service of the United States at Washington D.C.,  to date from July 14, 1861.

The Evening Star published in Washington D. C., reported on July 18, 1861, "About one o'clock this morning a detachment of [the] First Regiment of New York State Cavalry arrived in a special train under command of Lieutenant Colonel Devin.  Their horses [three hundred and fifty] had arrived several hours before them and had been conveyed to the government stables; so the men marched to their quarters in the first ward.  They came over the Northern Central road to Baltimore.  The detachment have not been sworn in for any stated period; but it is understood they will serve for three months, after which many of them will volunteer for the war.  The officers of this regiment are - Lieutenant Colonel T. C. Devin; Quartermaster, George W. Maxwell; Captains, W. E. Duding, J. F. Barkley, George Mundorf; First Lieutenants Frederick Kuebel, F[rancis] Reiss, K[yrion] Honan; Second Lieutenants John McAuliff, John Haggerty and William McGoldrick."

At least part of the time Captain Devin's Company was in the Washington D.C. area they were stationed at Camp Lyon south of Alexandria, Virginia.  While not drilling, Devin's command was engaged in provost duties in the defenses of Washington.   The cavalrymen were also engaged in skirmishes in Falls Church, Vienna and Lewinsville, Virginia.  At some point Captain Devin was ordered to report to Brigadier General William F. "Baldy" Smith for scouting duties in Loudoun County, Virginia.   In late September 1861, Devin was temporarily assigned to the staff of Brigadier General Isaac Stevens where he served as a brigade inspector.  When the three month term of service of Devin and his company expired the unit returned to New York and mustered out on October 23, 1861.

Thomas Devin was mustered in as colonel of the Sixth New York Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, "on the earnest recommendation of General Stevens and Senator [Ira] Harris" on November 18, 1861, by New York City's Mustering and Disbursement officer Colonel Delos B. Sackett.  Sackett, who graduated from West Point in 1845, had been an Assistant Instructor of Cavalry Tactics at the United States Military Academy between 1850 and 1855.  After quizzing the Irishman, to ensure he was competent to command the regiment, Sackett reportedly wrote "I can't teach Col. Devin anything about cavalry; he knows more about the tactics than I do."   At the time the freshly minted colonel stood five feet eight and one half high.  He had brown hair, grey eyes and a fair complexion. 

The regiment, known as the  Second Ira Harris Cavalry, because it was originally intended to be part of the Ira Harris Brigade, set up recruiting headquarters at Number 4 Pine Street in New York City.  Volunteering commenced in July 1861 and was completed by October 24th.  The various companies mustered into the service of the United States between September 12 and December 19, 1861.  The regiment's original camp of instruction, was at Camp Scott which was located at Oldtown on Staten Island.  On December 21, The New York Herald reported,  "The Sixth New York Volunteer Cavalry, will leave for the seat of war on Saturday Morning next.  The regiment is being proficient in their drill, and will give their last dress parade in this vicinity today at their camp at half past two P.M."  

Colonel Devin and his Empire Staters left New York for York, Pennsylvania on the New Jersey Central Railroad on Monday December 23, 1861.  The New York Times noted, "The men are in an efficient state of discipline, and in numbers amount to nearly nine hundred, and will no doubt prove a valuable acquisition to the service."  The dismounted regiment spent the winter in the Keystone State building barracks and stables and receiving instructions in the school of the trooper.  

On January 3, 1862, while at his "Camp Harris" headquarters, Devin had an order published in the York Gazette notifying "all vendors of intoxicating liquors who shall hereafter be found furnishing such intoxicating liquors to any of the enlisted men connected with this Regiment, in any quantities or form, that upon proper proof of such offenses, their places of business  will be indicted and the full punishment of the law inflicted."  

On March 6, 1862, the Sixth New York was sent to Perryville, Maryland to guard depots and stores.  Shortly after their arrival in Maryland four companies under the command of Major Floyd Clarkson joined McClellan's Army of the Potomac on the Peninsula.  

While Devin and the remainder of his command was camped in the vicinity of Washington D. C., on June 20, 1862, the non commissioned officers and privates of the Sixth New York presented their colonel with "a splendid sabre."  The Evening Star reported, "The sabre is gotten up in the approved regulation style and is a very superior article.  The scabbard is of very highly polished steel, very richly chased, the devices being swords, battle axes and arrows bound together in bundles...The scabbard bears the following inscription: 'Presented to Col. Thos. C. Devin by the non-commissioned officers and privates of the Sixth New York Cavalry June, 1862'.  Accompanying the sabre is a scabbard for service, sword belt, shoulder straps, sash and spurs, all enclosed in a splendid rosewood box lined with white satin."  Senator Ira Harris presented the sabre to Devin "as a memorial of trust and confidence from soldiers to an accomplished officer and leader."  Upon receipt of the sabre "Colonel Devin replied he had no words to express his thanks for the testimonial.  He knew not why he deserved it.  All he had ever done was done in the execution of his duty...he had done that duty to the best of his ability, in studying the comfort of hims men and properly disciplining them...He trusted the regiment would never be ashamed of its Colonel; and he pledged himself that his saber would ever be ready to leap from its scabbard in the cause of his country, and the regiment should never be ashamed to follow his lead."

 Devin and the eight remaining companies remained in Maryland until July 15, 1862, when they were ordered to Warrenton, Virginia to join Major General Irvin McDowell's command, where they were engaged in scouting south of the Rapidan River.Following  Major General Pope's defeat at Second Manassas Devin and his troopers covered the evacuation of Fredricksburg and Aquia Creek.  

In a September 30, 1862, letter Colonel Devin wrote, [from August  29 to the 31st], "the 6th Reg[iment] alone held the line of the Rap[pahannock] from Fredericksburg to Rap[pahhanock] Station 40 miles, although constantly threatened by an overpowering force.  It was then reinforced by the 4th Reg[iment] Ca[valry] 1 squadron of Infantry and a section of Artillery all under Col. Devin.  

The command was then ordered by Gen. Burnside to retire to a position behind Deep Run.  The next day it was ordered to retire upon Falmouth which place I reached at 5 P.M. on the day of the evacuation.  I was ordered to feed my command and hold Falmouth for two hours after all the other troops had left and then to march to Stafford Court House and hold the place to cover the embarkation from Aquia Creek.  I held Stafford for two days and was ordered to fall back to Brooks Station - held that place one day and was ordered to Aquia Creek which I reached   as the last regiment marched on the transports - at 1 A.M. embarked my regiment and at daylight was in Wash[ingto]n, having acted as a rear guard covering the right flank of Burnsides Corps for 12 days after Pope had left it - the enemy being on three sides of us our only avenue of escape the Falmouth road.  It was reported for a week that we were cut off and it was only owing to the extent of the country we covered and the belief that we had a much larger force that the enemy did not gobble us up.  I was so worn out with fatigue that I slept on my horse during the journey to Stafford.  For seven nights I had not slept.  We arrived in Wash[ington] Friday morning [September 5] and on Sunday at 12 N. [September 7] we were ordered to take the advance of the army through Maryland."    

To be continued.....

I would like to thank descendent of Thomas Devin for providing information on his family.

Monday, September 14, 2020

A Valiant Coup: Colonel B F. Davis and the Exodus of the Union Cavalry From Harpers Ferry

In the book " The United States Cavalry: An Illustrated History, 1776-1944, Gregory Irwin wrote: "Davis's Valiant Coup compared favorably with anything Stuart had ever done, and it stands as an unrecognized omen of what was to come." Yet 158 years later this amazing accomplishment is still overshadowed by the magnitude of the losses when the Union Garrison surrendered at Harpers Ferry, Virginia on the morning of September 15, 1862 as well the losses at Antietam on September 17, 1862, and seems, to some extent, to have been relegated to the position of a footnote in the study of the Maryland Campaign. Maybe it is time to explore this subject once again and bring it out of darkness into the light.

What is the "Coup" Irwin refers to anyway? It is described below.

On the evening of September 14, 1862 the approximately 14,000 United States soldiers of all arms who made up the federal garrison at Harpers Ferry were surrounded on all sides by a much larger force of Confederates under the overall command of Major General Thomas J. Jackson. They were "trapped" in an indefensible town with no hope of escape. An ignominious surrender seemed inevitable. Or so it seemed.

At least one man in the town, Colonel Benjamin Franklin Davis, commander of the Eighth New York Volunteer Cavalry, had different ideas, however. He had no intention of throwing in the towel. He was reportedly overheard telling the commanding officer of the garrison, Colonel Dixon S. Miles, a regular army officer he had know since 1856 when both were stationed at Fort Fillmore, New Mexico Territory, that "he would never surrender his force to a living person without a fight." As early as the afternoon of September 13, after Maryland Heights had been evacuated, he "was busy, for he was going to take his regiment out, and not stay there and be gobbled up by the rebels without making an effort to get away." He was actively engaged in getting support for and making arrangements to cut his way out. "To be compelled to surrender without a fight was not Colonel Davis's purpose." The colonel’s education, training, experience, natural aggressiveness and bravery made the thought of surrender totally repugnant to him. He was “tough, daring and resourceful” and was not about to wind up in some Confederate prison if he could help it.

Colonel Benjamin Davis, nicknamed "Grimes" by his West Point classmates had not come to Harpers Ferry to surrender and had no intentions of doing so. He consulted with at least some if not all of the other commanders of the six cavalry regiments at Harpers Ferry. They agreed they should make an attempt to get out of the beleaguered town. Davis then went to speak with Miles, and implored him to a give his permission for the movement noting "the horses and equipment would be of great value to the enemy if captured, and that an attempt to reach McClellan ought therefore to be made". Miles was reluctant to do so at first but finally late on the afternoon of September 14, he gave his permission for the attempted breakout, in hopes the cavalry might be able to reach George B. McClellan's Army, which was known to be in Maryland, and that he would come to the garrisons rescue before it was to late.

Once a decision had been made Colonel Miles had his Assistant Adjutant General, Lieutenant H. C. Reynold draft the orders for the cavalry to leave Harpers Ferry.

Harpers Ferry, Va., 14 Sept., 1862


1st. - The cavalry forces at this post, except detached orderlies, will make immediate preparations to leave here at eight o’clock tonight, without baggage, wagons, ambulances or lead horses; crossing the Potomac over the pontoon bridge, and taking the Sharpsburg Road.

2nd. - The senior officer, Colonel Voss, will assume command of the whole; which will form in the following order: the right at the Quartermaster’s Office; the left up Shenandoah Street, without noise or loud command, in the following order: Cole’s Cavalry, Twelfth Illinois Cavalry, Eighth New York Cavalry, Seventh Squadron Rhode Island Cavalry and First Maryland Cavalry. No other instructions can be given to the Commander for his guidance than to force his way through the enemy’s lines and join our own army.

By order of Colonel Miles,
H. C. Reynolds,Lieutenant and A.A.G.

Once the orders had been issued cavalry commanders went to their respective regiment to inform the rank and file of the decision. When the Seventh Rhode Island heard the news about four o’clock Major Corliss also reportedly told his men that by the “next morning they would either be in “Pennsylvania, or in hell, or on the way to Richmond.” In some case’s men were given the option of staying at Harpers Ferry when the rest of the regiment left. There is no evidence well, able bodied men with a fit horse chose to stay however. The soldiers quickly prepared to leave Harpers Ferry. Horses were groomed and fed what forage was available and led to water. Saddle girths were checked. The men discarded all non-essential items including, tents, overcoats, blankets, extra paraphernalia and accouterments. They were issued extra ammunition. They might have eaten what food they had available and filled their canteens with water.

The individual regiments began to gather at the rendezvous point on Shenandoah Street around 8 o’clock at night. Some of the troops probably also lined up on Potomac Street. By then it was dark. Commanders whispered last minute instructions to their men. Henry Norton wrote “We were drawn up in line, and our sutler, knowing that he could not get out with his goods, went down the line and gave the boys what tobacco he had. Before we crossed the pontoon bridge each captain gave orders to his company that each man must follow his file leader and that no other orders would be given.

Each regiment formed in a column by two’s, in the order specified by Mile’s Special Orders 120. They began walking across the bridge, between 8:00 and 8:30 p.m., behind at least two guides who knew the country well. One of the guides was Second Lieutenant Hanson T. C. Green of Company A, Cole’s Cavalry, who had been seriously wounded at Leesburg on September 2, “when he was struck a crushing blow to the face with the butt end of a large army revolver, and across the head with a sabre.” Another guide was Thomas Noakes of Martinsburg, Virginia who had been employed for some time as a guide and scout by Major General Nathanial P. Banks and others. Noakes was reportedly “tall and athletic, brave and cruel, a Spartan in his indifference to physical comfort…a man of great prowess, and a valuable adjunct to the brigade.” Some participants noted that Colonel B. F. Davis and Lt. Colonel Hasbrouck Davis, of the Twelfth Illinois Cavalry were in the advance directly behind the guides. They were followed by the squadron of Cole’s Cavalry, some of whom had lashed their sabers to their saddles in an attempt to reduce the noise they made.

The rushing water of the Potomac and the sod and dirt placed on the bridge’s wooden planking helped muffle the sound of the horse’s hooves as the cavalry crossed the span. When the head of the column reached the Maryland shore they turned left onto the “Harpers Ferry-Sharpsburg Road”, also referred to as “the John Brown Road” that ran between the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath and the bluff at the base of Maryland Heights and spurred their horse to a gallop. The column was well spread out as it moved northward in the inky darkness. It took almost two hours for the group of horsemen to cross the Potomac. Captain William H. Grafflin of the First Maryland Cavalry, who brought up the rear, testified before the Harpers Ferry Commission that he did not start crossing the river until about 10:30 p.m.

One mishap occurred aa the column crossed into Maryland. Some men from Company D of the Twelfth Illinois turned to the right toward Sandy Hook after getting across the Potomac. They quickly discovered their error and turned around after being fired upon by a few Confederate pickets. It is unclear if they all rejoined the rest of the column or if some re-crossed the pontoon bridge back into Harpers Ferry which they probably could not have done until the main column was all across.

Not long after crossing the river the lead elements of the main column also encountered a few Confederate pickets, from the 13th Mississippi Infantry of Brigadier General William Barksdale’s Brigade, which had been left on Maryland Heights with two Parrott rifles when Lafayette McLaws pulled the rest of his command off the hilltop and took them to Pleasant Valley to confront the Union 6th Corps which was in his rear. Thomas Bell wrote “after a spirited response from Lieutenant Green, in which the enemy retreated up the road to Maryland Heights, the column was under full headway.” Another member of the Eighth New York wrote in a letter to his father “we came to the rebel pickets and they were so scart (scared) they could not fire so we bound and gagged them and on we went. We passed within 80 rods of their cannon on both sides of us but they had no idea of our trying to escape and we rode by safe.

The column followed the Harpers Ferry - Sharpsburg road along the river for about a mile. While doing so they tried forming up as rapidly as possible by four, which was probably easier said than done. The road then took a sharp turn to the right and a steep climb up to the top of the Maryland Heights. One soldier noted the climb was so steep “that he had to grasp the mane of his horse to stay safe”. The column quickly became strung out. Henry Norton wrote “the only way we could tell how far we were from our file leaders was by the horses shoes striking against the stones in the road. Sometimes we would be twenty yards from our file leaders, and then we would come up full drive; then we would hear some swearing. That was the way we went for several miles”, sometimes on the road and other times across fields and open country. Thomas Bell also noted “the increasing pace of the head of the column making it difficult for those in the rear to retain their proper intervals. Until we reached Sharpsburg it was everyman for himself. The only clew was the clatter of hooves” and the rattle of sabers. “To those in the rear of the column the direction of these sounds was not easy to determine”.

At the intersection of the Harpers Ferry – Sharpsburg Road and the Lime Kiln Road the column veered to the left and at times followed the route of the Lime Kiln Road toward Antietam Iron Works. When not on the roads the column went “across, flats, over fences and through creeks.” At the iron works the horsemen crossed the Antietam, not far upstream of its confluence with the Potomac and then took the Harpers Ferry – Sharpsburg Road again, northward toward Sharpsburg. The head of the column arrived at the outskirts of the town around midnight. Campfires helped the men avoid the bivouacs of the Confederates that had retreated from South Mountain late on the 14th. Norton reported “at Sharpsburg, the advance made a halt for about half an hour, so we could close up and let our horses get their wind.

On nearing Sharpsburg, and thinking they might be in the vicinity of the Army of the Potomac orders were given to reply to any challenge that might be made. William Luffs of the Twelfth Illinois wrote, “the night had now become starlight, and as we approached the town, several cavalry vedettes were discovered in the road. To the challenge, “Who comes there?” the answer was “Friends of the Union.” This reply was unsatisfactory for the pickets fired upon the column. But without effect. A charge was ordered and promptly executed, driving the pickets in and through the principal street of Sharpsburg on the road toward Hagerstown.

As the Union cavalry headed northward out of Sharpsburg on the Hagerstown Pike the glow of campfires could be seen in the distance. Sounds carried through the night air including the loud voices of officers giving orders and the dull rumbling of wagon and limber wheels against the roadway, which indicated enemy camps could be nearby. “A civilian informed an officer of the 8th New York that the column was going right into Lee’s Army”. In actuality, Colonel Henry L. Benning’s Confederate Infantry of Brigadier General Robert Toombs Brigade and the Army of Northern Virginia’s reserve artillery under Brigadier General William N. Pendleton were both moving southward on the Hagerstown Pike toward Sharpsburg during the early morning hours of September 15 as the Union forces traveled north. The regimental officers and guides stopped the column to discuss the situation. The guides selected an alternate route, “a circuitous path through the lanes and by-roads, woods and fields” to the north and west of the Hagerstown Pike. The column marched steadily and silently threading their way between the camps of the foe” until it emerged at a point on the Boonsboro-Williamsport turnpike about two miles east of Williamsport. While Colonel Voss remained the titular commander of the cavalry column it is pretty evident by this time that Grimes Davis had assumed tactical command of the same and “took charge when trouble loomed”.

William Luffs of the Twelfth Illinois noted, “It was now just in the gray of morning. Fires of a large camp of the enemy could be seen, near Williamsport.” Henry Norton wrote, “just before we got to the pike we halted in a piece of woods. As the advance of the column approached the pike the rumbling of wheels in the distance toward Hagerstown was heard. Colonel (Davis) went ahead to reconnoiter, and when he got to the road, he soon found out it was a rebel wagon train principally loaded with ammunition and escorted by infantry with a detachment of cavalry in the rear.” The ordnance train was commanded by “London-born” First Lieutenant Francis W. Dawson, who was an assistant ordnance officer with Longstreet’s command. “It was an anxious moment, but Colonel (B. F.) Davis of the 8th New York and Lt. Colonel (Hasbrouck) Davis of the 12th Illinois, who were at the head of the column, were equal to the occasion.” The Eighth New York was immediately formed in line facing the road on the north side, the Twelfth Illinois in the same order south of the road, the Maryland and Rhode Island Cavalry were held in reserve; while Colonel Davis with a squadron of his regiment, advanced and took possession of the road so as to intercept the enemy. “All was done in silence, and it was still too dark for our troops, concealed in the timber which skirted the road to be seen”. The concealed Union horsemen watched Dawson and a small body of cavalry appear over a hill that rose to their right, followed by the ordnance wagons. As Dawson and the other unsuspecting Confederates rode toward the concealed Union troopers Colonel Davis reportedly quietly told his command “don’t shoot boys”.

“When the head of the train came up” Colonel Davis ordered it to halt, which it did without a shot being fired.” Dawson later wrote “the gloss was not yet off my uniform, and I could not suppose that such a command, shouted with a big oath, was intended for me.” When the command was repeated Dawson road forward and found himself at the entrance of a narrow lane which was filled with men on horseback. He could not tell if they were friend or foe in the predawn darkness. He confronted the Union cavalryman who he thought had ordered him to stop. “How dare you halt an officer in this manner. The trooper responded surrender and dismount. You are my prisoner.” When Dawson asked who he was speaking to the cavalryman reportedly answered, “Colonel B. F. Davis, 8th New York Cavalry.” Colonel Davis then ordered Captain William Frisbie, Company D, Eighth New York to take the train, “turn it right on the turnpike that ran to Greencastle, Pennsylvania and run it through to that place at the rate of eight miles per hour”. Frisbie purportedly “innocently” asked Colonel Davis where the road was, “and he was peremptorily ordered to “find it, and be off, without delay”.

Charles D. Grace described the capture of Longstreet’s train from the Confederate perspective in an October 16, 1897 letter to Ezra Carmen head of the Antietam Battlefield Board. He wrote, “If I remember correctly there were no guard for Longstreet’s train. The only guard, if guard at all were the details sent back to cook rations and a few on the sick list. We passed through Hagerstown and were nearing Williamsport about half past four o’clock a.m., on the 15th. The moon would occasionally show itself brilliantly through the drifting clouds. At a point about a mile east of Williamsport at a knoll of timber on the south side of the pike a road supposed to be the river road intersected the pike at right angles. The knoll on which the timber stood had been graded down to the west side to a level with the pike. To the west as far as the river or Williamsport was cleared land. As I came up to the junction of the road I found the men stopping and noticing some cavalry back behind the knoll, perfectly concealed from view, approaching from the east. I demanded to know by what authority the men were halted – the train still moving on – when two or three cavalrymen threw their guns down on me, saying “by this authority” their barrels glistening brightly. I replied that authority was sufficient. Just at that moment Colonel B. F. Davis came up, his horse on the gallop, his pistol in his right hand and in a perpendicular position above his shoulder, remarking to the men, “stand fast men and we will cabbage a hell of a lot of them.” I said being a little petulant. “Yes sir, I hope you will have them do so for General Jeb Stuart will have you in our condition in a few minutes as he is on his way this side of Hagerstown. The remark was either fortunate or unfortunate because he immediately ordered the men to throw down the rail fence on the west side of the road, at the same time ordering the prisoners, who numbered sixty-one, to move out and get in the wagons, which they did of course, and as soon as the prisoners were in the wagons Colonel Davis ordered four men to ride up by each team. As soon as everything was ready, the order was given to move off as fast as the teams could be made to travel”.

Elements of the First Virginia Cavalry harassed the rear of the Union column and it’s captured wagon train as it sped toward Greencastle. The Union rear guard was able to fend them off. The Virginians were not able to recapture any of the wagons or prisoners or inflict any casualties on the jaded Union horsemen. The command with their prisoners and captured wagons reached Greencastle about 9:00 a.m., on the 15th after riding fifty miles in twelve hours. The exhausted, hungry cavalrymen were warmly welcomed by the town residents, who plied them with every type of food imaginable. A trooper from the Fifteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, who was in town when the column arrived wrote, “I saw the dusty procession marching into Greencastle, and had the honor of being placed, loaded revolver in hand, on the hind seat of an omnibus, to stand guard over the rebel prisoners, whom I conducted to the county jail”.

Not long after the Union Cavalry column arrived in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, the news was telegraphed to Harrisburg and Baltimore. The first telegram announcing the columns arrival in Pennsylvania was dated 8:00 a.m., from Greencastle. It noted “sixteen hundred of our cavalry are coming into town – they cut their way out from the neighborhood of Harpers Ferry”. At 9:00 a.m., Governor Curtin, who was in Harrisburg, telegraphed a message to Edward M. Stanton the Secretary of War; “United States Cavalry, from Harpers Ferry, has arrived at Greencastle, under command of Colonel Davis, Eighth New York. The force is 1,300 strong. They left Harpers Ferry at 9 o’clock last evening. One mile from Williamsport, they captured Longstreet’s ordinance train, comprising 40 wagons; also brought in 40 prisoners. Fighting has been going on for two days at Harpers Ferry. Colonel Davis says he thinks Colonel Miles will surrender this morning. Colonel Miles desires his condition made known to the War Department.

The breakout of the Union Cavalry from the surrounded town of Harpers Ferry on September 14, 1862 succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. It compares favorably with Nathan Bedford Forrest’s breakout from Fort Donelson with his Confederate Cavalry, prior to the forts surrender, in February 1862. While there is no question according to Special Order 120, that Colonel Davis was not in “official” command of the cavalry expedition, at least on paper, there is ample evidence that he had a great deal to do with initiating the idea and persuading Colonel Miles to allow the column to depart. In route he was instrumental in helping ensure the success of the venture and in the capture of Longstreet’s train. William H. Nichols of the Seventh Rhode Island would pen words that were reiterated by many others authors and army officers after the successful breakout. Nichols noted, “much of the success of the expedition was due to Colonel B. F. Davis of the Eighth New York Cavalry” who was afterwards recommended by Major General McClellan, for the brevet of Major in the regular army for “conspicuous conduct in the management of the withdrawal of the cavalry from Harpers Ferry”. In a September 23, 1862 telegram to Major General Henry Halleck, General-in-Chief of the United States Army, McClellan wrote, Captain B. F. Davis merits the notice of the government. I recommend him for the brevet of major. The honorary rank was confirmed to date from September 15, 1862.

It is unclear what the losses were in the ranks of the cavalry regiments that broke out of Harpers Ferry on September 14th, 1862, although the Eighth New York regimental history reported an enlisted man missing at Williamsport of the 15th. Some men were “lost” in route but many reportedly eventually rejoined their commands. A number of soldiers stayed in Harpers Ferry, either because they were sick or because they did not have a serviceable horse. The official records indicate the Twelfth Illinois reported two enlisted men wounded and four officers and 153 enlisted men missing. The Eighth New York’s casualties included 5 officers and 87 men missing. The First Maryland Cavalry lost 23 men when Miles surrendered. The men captured at Harpers Ferry were paroled. Many, including eighty members of the Eighth New York, wound up at Camp Douglas in Chicago, Illinois where they remained until they were exchanged in late November 1862.

Stonewall Jackson was deeply disappointed when he arrived in Harpers Ferry on September 15, to find the Union Cavalry gone. The New York Daily Herald reported on September 18, 1862, “His first question, after glancing over the eight thousand infantry drawn up unarmed in line before him, was, “where is all the cavalry you had”? And on being informed that they had escaped the previous night, en masse, he was silent, but his face, and the countenance of the rebels about him, wore a look of disappointment and chagrin.” He purportedly cried, impossible! I would rather have had them than anything else in this place.” James Ewell Brown Stuart was no happier than Jackson, in part, because he had admonished Lafayette McLaws to watch the Harpers Ferry-Sharpsburg Road. Captain William Blackford, a member of Stuarts staff wrote,” To think of all the fine horses they carried off, the saddles, revolvers, and carbines of the best kind, and the spurs, all of which would have fallen to our share, and the very thing we so much needed, was enough to vex a saint”.

In his September 21, 1862 report to President Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee would play down the escape of the Union Cavalry from Harpers Ferry and the loss of Longstreet’s wagons when he wrote “unfortunately on September 14, the enemy cavalry at Harper’s Ferry evaded our forces, crossed the Potomac into Maryland, passed up through Sharpsburg, where they encountered our pickets, and intercepted on their line of retreat General Longstreet’s train. Some historians contend the loss of Longstreet’s ammunition had an adverse impact on Lee’s forces during the Battle of Antietam. The enemy captured and destroyed forty-five wagons.” Lt. Colonel Edward Porter Alexander, Chief of Ordnance for the Army of Northern Virginia would later write “the loss of forty-five wagons” loaded with ammunition and subsistence” had been a severe blow at such a distance from our base at Culpeper, Virginia. “On the 16th I was ordered to collect all empty wagons and go to Harpers Ferry and take charge of the surrendered ammunition; bringing back to Sharpsburg all suiting our calibres”.

Portions of this blog are extracted from the draft of a biography about Benjamin F Davis that is in in the process of being written by your truly titled "An Ornament to His Country". The source document from which this is extracted is copiously footnoted. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Benjamin Franklin Davis: Service in the 1st U. S. Dragoons part IV

Jonathan Lettermen would reminisce about his friend and fellow army officer Benjamin Franklin Davis when he wrote Medical Recollections of the Army of the Potomac in 1866. "This officer, who so successfully extricated his regiment from Harper's Ferry when the post was surrendered by General Miles - who fought so gallantly on our march through Virginia in the autumn of 1862 - had been my companion in more than one campaign among the Indians; my messmate at stations far beyond the haunts of civilized men.  This long, familiar intercourse produced the warmest admiration for his noble character, which made him sacrifice friends and relatives to uphold the flag under which he was born and defend the Constitution of his country.” 

When the Pah-Ute Campaign commenced there were three officers with the command, Brevet Major James H. Carleton commanding the expedition and Company K, 1st Dragoons and 1st Lieutenant Milton T. Carr and 2nd Lieutenant Benjamin F. Davis attached to Company B.  Lieutenant David H. Hastings was assigned to Company K however he had been absent from Fort Tejon since April  12, 1858.  The young lieutenant had been severely injured October 7, 1857 while in pursuit of Indians near Fort Buchanan.  “While making a charge down a steep rocky hill, Lt Hastings was thrown from his horse with great violence, had his leg and collar bone broken, and his chest so severely crushed, that for sometime his life was despaired for.  His injuries necessitated an extended sick leave.   

Lt. Hastings was well enough by January 1860 to be promoted Captain on January 9, 1860 and transferred to Company D, 1st Dragoons to replace Captain Edward H. Fitzgerald.  This left an opening for a 1st lieutenant in Company K and Grimes Davis was promoted to that rank as of January 9, 1860.  The word of Davis promotion appears to not have reached him until early July 1860.

Following his promotion 1st Lieutenant Benjamin Davis, took a well deserved 60 day leave of absence from July 30 to September 25, the first leave of absence he had enjoyed since joining the ranks of the 5th U. S. Infantry at Ringgold Barracks on December 24, 1854.  1st Lieutenant Davis would not return to Fort Tejon to officially join Company K until September 25, 1860. With steamship traveling along and up both coasts and the railroad across the Isthmus of Panama B. F. Davis would have probably had time to go to Mississippi and spend time with his extended family and brothers who still lived there, however it is not known what he did or where he went during his time away from the army.  One thing is certain, much had changed in the young man’s life since December 1854 and he was receiving well deserved recognition from his superiors as a promising young officer in the United States Army. 

Upon his return to Fort Tejon Grimes Davis was appointed AAQM and ACS for the post. He would continue to exercise these duties until April 25, 1861 when he was replaced by the regimental quartermaster Henry B. Davidson.  While 1st Lt. Davis was occupied with his quartermaster and commissary responsibilities his comrade 1st Lt. Milton T. Carr was assigned the daily duty of commanding the 1st Dragoons Regimental Band and acting as the post adjutant, who was responsible for assisting the commanding officer with correspondence and issuing orders.

A number of changes took place in the Department of California in early 1861.  The Departments of Oregon and California were merged together into the Department of the Pacific on January 15.  Brevet Brigadier General and Colonel, 2nd U. S. Cavalry Albert Sidney Johnston, assumed command with headquarters in San Francisco.  There were 143 officers and 2,245 enlisted men present for duty, in what was now the Department of the Pacific, as of December 30, 1860.

There had been sectional tensions in California, particularly in the southern part of the state for years, both before and after it had been admitted to the Union September 9, 1850.  As tension continued unabated, in isolated sections of California, Colonel A. S. Johnston continued to do his duty as a military officer however, in part, because of his  strong ties to the south including his adopted state of Texas, which had succeeded on February 1, 1861, he was replaced by Brigadier General Edwin V. Sumner on March 23, 1861.  Johnston would eventually resign from the United States Army May 3, 1861 and enter Confederate service as one of their fledgling army’s highest ranking officers.  He was killed at the Battle of Shiloh April 6, 1862.

On April 15,1861 when President Lincoln called for 75,000 troops tensions in Southern California rose.  Captan Hancock was concerned about the safety of the vast quantity of government military stores and armaments he had in Los Angeles, as he was the only officer on hand.  Upon assuming command, of the Department of the Pacific on April 25, Sumner noted “There is a strong Union feeling with the majority of the people of this State, but the secessionists are much the most active and zealous party, which gives them more influence than they ought to have from their numbers.”   On April 29 Sumner ordered Fort Mojave abandoned and and the garrison sent to Los Angeles to make a show of force and assist Hancock.  On May 3 Special Order No 71 directed “Company K, 1st Dragoons, will be detached, from Fort Tejon, and will proceed and take post at Los Angeles.   Major James Carleton was directed to establish a camp at the most eligible position in the immediate vicinity of Los Angeles for his dragoons and the companies of infantry in route from Fort Mojave. 

A number of Grimes Davis’s classmates who were with the 1st Dragoons, including William Dorsey Pender, Alfred B. Chapman, John T. Mercer and Horace Randall, resigned from the United States Army in the winter and early spring of 1861.  All except Chapman donned Confederate Gray.  Officers of the Army were required by General Order No. 13, issued by the War Department April 30, 1861, “to take and subscribe anew the oath of allegiance to the United States of America.”  Special mention will be made of the failure to comply with the requirements of the order. Lieutenants Milton T. Carr and Benjamin Franklin Davis honored both the oath of allegiance they had sworn to uphold at West Point and the one mandated by the April 30 order and stayed in the United States Army.

Fort Tejon was closed, for all intents and purposes, on May 11, 1861. The troops manning garrison were moved closer to Los Angeles. Carleton, Davis and the rank and file of Company K left the post on that date in route to the City of Angles.   On the 14th Major Carleton and “fifty mounted troopers from Company K” reportedly “trotted into Los Angeles, to the immense relief of Captain Hancock and the Union sympathizers in town.  The officers and enlisted men of companies B and K 1st Dragoons were transferred to Camp Fitzgerald which was “on the southern outskirts of (Los Angeles), in line-of-sight with Captain Hancock’s Quartermaster building…Its location was at the base of the hill between 1st and 2nd Streets, on Front Street (now Broadway), and it initially consisted of eleven tents in a cleared area 100 yards wide and 150 yards long. ” They arrived there on May 15.  This enabled “soldiers in blue to patrol the streets of Los Angeles”.   A  “Grand Union Demonstration” was held in Los Angeles on May 25.  Union sympathizers “from as far away as San Pedro, guarded by army dragoons in full dress, gathered in the Plaza.  The 1st Dragoon Band struck up a march.  Civilians and soldiers marched toward the courthouse where Phineas Banning spoke as did Major Carleton and Captain Hancock.  The dragoons “with their glittering sabres and burnished carbines” added to the dignity of the occasion”.  

 The most eventful thing that probably happened to Lt. B. F. Davis while stationed at Camp Fitzgerald in the spring of 1861 occurred on May 23 when he had a run in with Company K’s farrier Morris Hurley.  Private Hurley had enlisted in the 1st Dragoons in Boston, Massachusetts on September 8, 1857.  His records of enlistment show him as a  twenty-one year old blacksmith born in County Cork, Ireland, who stood five foot eight and one half inches tall, had grey eyes, brown hair and a fair complexion.  If Hurley was 5’ 8” tall he would have been about as tall as Grimes Davis who, at age 18 in 1849, was 5’ 9 or 10” tall and weighted about 130 pounds.

Davis’s run in with Hurley is described in Three Dragoons on Trial a July 26, 2016 post by Will and John Gorenfield author’s of Kearny’s Dragoons Out West The Birth of the U. S. Cavalry.  The two historians wrote: `It seems on the morning of 23 May 1861, Lt. Benjamin Davis found Farrier Hurley drunk. Hurley got into an altercation with Davis who had a sergeant arrest him. While in the guard tent, Hurley became loud and ill mannered, telling the other prisoners to leave the tent. Hearing the commotion Lieutenant Davis entered the tent and told Hurley to stop making noise. Hurley called the lieutenant a “damn son of a bitch,” ordering him out of the guard tent and threatening his life. Davis testified the drunken farrier began to shove him, first with his hands and then threatening death by pointing the muzzle of a Sharps carbine at Davis.
Hurley denied aiming the muzzle at Davis or threatening to kill him. He admitted to using the butt of the carbine to strike the lieutenant and produced witnesses to give his side of the fight. Unfortunately, most of the disturbance occurred inside of the guard tent and the prisoner’s witnesses did not observe what took place.
The lieutenant claimed he left the tent and ordered a sergeant of the guard to take a file of men to the tent and secure Hurley, but they did not do so as they were afraid of the belligerent Hurley. A frustrated Davis stormed back into the guard tent and attempted to seize the carbine. He was not successful. The sergeant and his men were again ordered by Davis to secure Hurley. The prisoner once again threaten the guard, fought them, lost the struggle, was retrained, and then tied up and taken to the city jail.
The Army charged Hurley with conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline. Hurley wasn’t charged with a violation of Articles 7 and 9 of the Articles of War with mutiny and striking a superior officer, each of which allow for the imposition of the death penalty. On 5 July 1861, the general court-martial panel, headed by Capt. John W. Davidson, 1st Dragoons, found Hurley guilty of the specifications and charge. It ordered him to suffer a forfeiture of pay and to be confined under guard for six months. During his confinement the farrier was to carry each day in prison a pack weighing fifty pounds.
It is unlikely that Hurley served the entire sentence. Skilled farriers were difficult to come by, all the more so during wartime. Consequently, Maj. James Carleton testified Hurley, when sober, was a valuable soldier in his company. In the fall, Company K sailed for the East Coast and the civil  war. Army records reveal Hurley served his full five year term enlistment and was honorably discharged in Mechanicsville, Virginia on September 8, 1862. 

In June the dragoons at Camp Fitzgerald were joined by Companies I and F of the 6th Infantry who arrived from Fort Mojave and San Diego.  Lieutenant Davis was relieved as AAQM and ACS on June 20.  He was then appointed post adjutant and took over commanded of the regimental band from Milton Carr.  Camp Fitzgerald, which would be moved a total of three times during its short tenure as an army post at the start of the Civil War was relocated two miles south of Los Angeles adjacent to the San Pedro Road.  The new camp site reportedly was able to accommodate a larger number of troops and provided better grazing for the horses. 

Benjamin Davis continued his duties as post adjutant and dragoons regimental band commander into July 1861.  On July 14 Lt. Davis left Camp Fitzgerald on a special assignment and made a trip back to Fort Tejon to determine if there was any validity to the reports of citizens accusing Indians in the area of depredations  and “threatening to make war”.  On July 23 he submitted a report of his findings to Major Carleton.  The report reads as follows:

Camp Fitzgerald
Near Los Angeles, Cal., July 23. 1861

Brevet Major Carleton,
Commanding Camp Fitzgerald near Los Angeles:

Major:  I have the honor to report that in compliance with your orders I left this camp the morning of the 14th and proceeded to Fort Tejon for the purpose of ascertaining the facts concerning certain reports made by the people of the vicinity that the Indians were committing depredations and threatening to make war on them.  I arrived at that place on the 28th and made careful inquiries of Messers. Alexander, Barbee, Halpin, and other residents of the canon.  From their statement it appears that when the troops left the fort the Indians came about in considerable number to pick up old rags, shoes, &c., as is usual with them in such cases, and Lieutenant Carr, the officer left in charge seems to have had some difficulty in getting rid of them.  A few days afterwards two or three of these Indians got drunk at the “Yews” and on their way home attempted to throw a lariat over the head of a man whom they met coming up the can n a buggy.  They also tried to break into the house of a Mrs. Welt, who lives below the fort, but she easily frightened them off by firing a pistol out the window.  This seems to have been the extent of their depredations, and since that time they have been quiet and friendly.    The apprehension that the people are under from the Indians may be judged of by the fact that most every family has them employed either as house servants or laborers, and they are well aware that it is in their power to prevent all trouble in the future by simply prohibiting the sale of liquor by any member of the community.  I then proceeded to the settlements on the slough or South Fork of Kern River to inquire into the threatened depredations in those quarters.  The story that these people  tell is that an Indian boy told a Mrs Cottrell or Cottring that the Indians from the reservation were coming down when the corn got ripe to eat it up, and were then going to kill all the whites.  This woman lives near her father, an old man named Bonny, who has also another daughter, Mrs Greenlis, who lives eight or ten miles down the slough.  The old man becoming alarmed sent for this daughter, which caused the panic to spread to two or three other families in the neighborhood.    They collected at his house and remained together three or four days, when, their fear having subsided, they returned to their homes.  According to their own showing this is the only foundation for the reports which they circulated and the petition which they signed praying for protection.  It is possible that some idle Indian boy may have amused himself by playing upon the fears of the women, but I believe the whole story to be a fabrication.  Mr. Gale, an old mountaineer, who lives within a mile of Mr. Bonny, says he heard nothing of the matter until the people had returned to their homes, and James McKenzie, who lives near Greenlis, makes the same statement.  I returned by the way of the reservation and had an interview with Mr. Bagchart, the newly appointed agent.  He says that these reports about the Indians are false; that they are contented with their condition, and that he is well satisfied with their conduct.  He also stated that he wanted no troops for protection against Indians.  In this connection I would respectfully refer the general to the report which the gentleman has recently made to the Superintendent of Indian Affairs on this very point.  The truth is that the people in the vicinity of Fort Tejon have lived so long upon Government patronage that they now find it difficult to do without it, and they will use every means to have troops restationed at that place.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
    First Lieutenant,&c. 

In late July 1861 the headquarters of the 1st U. S. Dragoons was moved from Los Angeles to Fort Churchill, Nevada Territory.  This did not affect Companies B & K who remained at Camp Fitzgerald near Los Angeles.  On July 30, 1861 Lieutenant Benjamin F. Davis was promoted to Captain upon the dismissal from the service on the same date of Henry B. Davidson who had been the regimental quartermaster for the 1st Dragoons since December 5, 1858.  2nd Lieutenant George B. Sanford, who was attached to Company K but who had yet to join the regiment, was promoted to 1st Lieutenant filling Davis’s slot. 

The 2nd U. S. Dragoons were also going through a transformation in July 1861.  Colonel Philip St. George Cooke, who had 28 years of service with the dragoons, commanded the regiment and the Department of Utah from his headquarters at Camp Crittenden, Utah Territory.  In late July the military forces at Camp Crittenden which included 4 companies of the 2nd U. S. Dragoons, 3 companies of the 4th U. S. Artillery and 2 companies of the Tenth Infantry were ordered to vacate the post and head east.  They left there July 27 in route to Washington D.C.  After leaving Fort Laramie Colonel Cooke left the group and took the stagecoach to Fort Leavenworth.  On November 28 he assumed command of the regular cavalry serving with the Army of the Potomac outside Washington D.C. 

On August 3, 1861 the 1st U. S. Dragoons, the oldest, longest serving mounted regiment in the United States Army would be renamed the 1st U. S. Cavalry.  Many in the ranks of the Dragoons who had a proud history of service to the country were not happy with the new designation.  The 2nd U. S. Dragoons would become the 2nd U. S. Cavalry.  The original 1st and 2nd  U. S. Cavalry, which dated from 1855, became the 4th U. S. Cavalry and 5th U.S. Cavlary.

To be continued.

Most of the information in this post comes from Returns of U S Military Posts and from the Returns of the 1st U. S. Dragoons, and the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. Additional information is extracted from newspapers, (Three Dragoons on Trial, July 26, 2016, and Los Angeles in the Civil.