John Sedgwick and History of wood floors

sedgewick_main_pic[1]Major General John Sedgwick, known as “Uncle John,” to his troops, was shot and killed by a Confederate sharpshooter using a Whitworth rifle at a distance of about 500 yards.

The highest ranking Union officer to die on the battlefield during the Overland Campaign, Sedgwick commanded the VI Corps at Spotsylvania, and after his death General Wright took command.

Confederate sharpshooters had been harassing Union troops here the entire day, and the day before.  Lieutenant Colonel  Martin McMachon asked General Sedgwick not to go to this location, and Sedgewick replied that there was no reason for him to go here.  That same morning, sharpshooter had hit a staff officer, and had shot Brigadier General Morris off his horse.

But the constant activity demanded adjustment in the Union line, and unhappy with what he saw, Sedgwick moved up personally to direct the placement of the infantry alongside the battery.

As he directed troop placement, General Sedgwick, as was typical of commanders at this point in the war, made a point of not responding to distant enemy gunfire, and laughingly chided the soldiers who dodged when they heard the long shrill whistle of a Whitworth bolt cutting through the air.

“What!  What! men, dodging this way for single bullets!” said Sedgwick. “What will you do when they open fore along the whole line?  I am ashamed of you.  They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.”

A second Whitworth round whistled by, and a soldier spoke up and tole the general he believed in dodging, for he had once dodged a shell that would have taken his head off otherwise.  Good naturedly, Sedgwick told the man to take his position.

And now, the third shot from the .451 caliber Whitworth rifle came whistling in, as staff officer McMahon resumed talking to General Sedgwick.  According to McMahon, “For the third time the same shrill whistle, closing with a dull, heavy stroke.”

General Sedgwick began to fall, and McMahon tried to catch him, the two men falling together.  Blood spurted out from a wound just below General Sedgwick’s eye, on his left cheek.  Sedgwick died quickly, apparently still with a smile on his face, but his men, watching the scene, were incensed.  A need for revenge burned deep, and infantry patrols were sent out toward Laurel Hill to punish the sharpshooters, and a rifled artillery piece was turned upon them, but the Confederates simply melted back into the woods, and reappeared when the Union troops returned to their line.

While it isn’t known for sure which Confederate sharpshooter actually killed General Sedgwick, the most likely to me seems to be “Kansas Tom” Johnson, who himself died a few days later in battle. But the question has never been wholly resolved, partly due to the reluctance at the time for anyone to claim credit for it.

Major John Sedgwick was mourned by soldiers on both sides of the war, especially men who had served with him before in the old Army.  J.E.B. Stuart, about to be killed in action within a few days at Yellow Tavern, told a staffer that he would have gladly shared a blanket and his last crust of bread with him.

 

Battery Dantzler

A 7 inch rifled Brooke gun, at Battery Dantzler overlooking Trent’s Reach.  As much as it galls me to see a Union soldier standing inside the Battery instead of the men who served there, I know of no pictures of Battery Dantzler before it fell into Union hands.  If anybody knows of some, please let me know!

Battery Dantzler, named for Col. Olin Miller Dantzler, 22d South Carolina Infantry (killed in action nearby on 2 June 1864) was built in May 1864 to prevent the Federal army from using the James river to approach Richmond. Battery Dantzler was abandoned 2 April 1865 and it’s naval garrison marched west with Lee towards Appomattox.

Battery Dantzler held 6 guns; two seven inch Brooke rifles, two ten-inch Columbiads, and two siege mortars.  I have been unable to find a plan or blueprint of Battery Dantzler, but I have visited the site and mapped out what is visible among the earthworks that remain.

This is a seven inch rifled Brooke gun.  The gun is located at a sharp turn in the meandering river overlooking Trent’s Reach, and can fire to the right, down the river, and can swing to the left, to fire up the river.  In the distance, you can see the white line of the river turning back to the right again just above the hurdle revetment and going to the far right of the picture, where it turns left again and goes off out of view toward the left side of the picture, upstream towards Richmond.  The part of the river you see on the right in the near distance today is no longer open water – click here

The Dutch Gap (a narrow neck of land) is in the distance on the right, just out of the picture, a point where the river loops almost touch each other, and where General Butler attempted to dig a canal across so that Federal gunboats could bypass these batteries, but the canal was not completed until after the war had ended.

Plus, the Sons of Confederate Veterans have done some hurricane damage clean up there as well.  This is excellent local support.  They have some winter pictures of the site, and I’m thrilled to see that the river is visible – in the summer the overgrowth completely blocks the view of the river, and in my opinion needs to be cut back regularly.

Battery Dantzler, named for Col. Olin Miller Dantzler, 22d South Carolina Infantry (killed in action nearby on 2 June 1864) was built in May 1864 to prevent the Federal army from using the James river to approach Richmond. Battery Dantzler was abandoned 2 April 1865 and it’s naval garrison marched west with Lee towards Appomattox.

Battery Dantzler held 6 guns; two seven inch Brooke rifles, two ten-inch Columbiads, and two siege mortars.  I have been unable to find a plan or blueprint of Battery Dantzler, but I have visited the site and mapped out what is visible among the earthworks that remain.

This is a seven inch rifled Brooke gun.  The gun is located at a sharp turn in the meandering river overlooking Trent’s Reach, and can fire to the right, down the river, and can swing to the left, to fire up the river.  In the distance, you can see the white line of the river turning back to the right again just above the hurdle revetment and going to the far right of the picture, where it turns left again and goes off out of view toward the left side of the picture, upstream towards Richmond.  The part of the river you see on the right in the near distance today is no longer open water – click here

The Dutch Gap (a narrow neck of land) is in the distance on the right, just out of the picture, a point where the river loops almost touch each other, and where General Butler attempted to dig a canal across so that Federal gunboats could bypass these batteries, but the canal was not completed until after the war had ended.

Parker’s Battery – Petersburg

Richmond-Petersburg Campaign [June 15, 1864 - April 2, 1865]
Richmond-Petersburg Campaign [June 15, 1864 – April 2, 1865]

This is a rear view of Parker’s Battery, looking out over the Howlett (Confederate) Line towards the Union Line.  This was a four cannon battery.  Cannon would have been placed at the depression on the left, near the tree stump on the right, and flanking the tree in the center.  Of course, none of these trees were here when Parker’s battery was in operation in 1864.  And yes, Parker’s Battery is built more like a fort, with a rear earthwork visible in the foreground.  Technically, a battery in the Civil War didn’t have a rear wall, only forts did, but Parker’s men were here for a long time, without much to do, so adding a rear wall to their battery is not much of a shock.

I’ve got a warm spot for Parker’s Battery, I discovered this location by accident before I began documenting battlefields, and it was very close to where I was living, so I thought of it has kinda the hometown team.  Then when I was photographing the battlefield at Fredericksburg I discovered by accident the location of Parker’s Battery on Marye’s Heights, and now I keep an eye out to see what Parker and his men are doing at each battle.  They keep showing up, and I see them like an old friend in unexpected places across Virginia.

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This is a detail from the Park’s information board about Parker’s Battery, and I’ve numbered key points in this plan to correspond with their current locations in the picture below.

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Points 1 and 2 are cannon locations, and point 3 shows you where the earthworks ran off to the right.  Points 4 and 5 were likely bombproofs, and part of the rear wall of the battery, where as point 6 shows you roughly where a covered trench (not visible here) goes forward from the ditch in front of the battery.  This trench leads to additional infantry earthworks in front of the battery, and down lower on the ridge.

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Another view of Parker’s Battery from virtually the same position, just backed up slightly to let you see the full rear wall, at the cost of slightly obscuring the bombproofs and the interior of the Battery.  The current path runs inside this rear wall.

Note – all of these pictures were taken without walking on any of the earthworks.

You can move around a lot of these civil war earthworks without actually walking on them in many places.  It may mean cutting through some brush or going a long way around, but never, never walk on any Civil War earthworks.  Over time it breaks them down, and they are irreplaceable.

The Siege of Petersburg

When Grant’s first attempt to take Petersburg stalled in in June 1864, both sides dug in for what turned out to be a long series of battles fought using trenches and artillery.  The battlefields around Petersburg tended to be more typical of a WWI style stalemate, rather than a battle of maneuver, and the struggle ended only when the Confederate line was finally outflanked, resulting in the fall of Petersburg and Richmond, and in the surrender of the army of Northern Virginia a week later.

Battery Five

Slipping away from the disaster at Cold Harbor, seeking to outflank Robert E Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, Grant sent Meade’s Army of the Potomac across the James River at Windmill Point.  Butler’s lead elements crossed the Appomattox River at Broadway Landing, and attacked the Petersburg defenses here, at Battery Five, June 15, 1864.

Outnumbered, the defenders of Petersburg fell back to a second line as Lee sent reinforcements in a desperate attempt to keep the city from capture.  The Union troops gained more ground the following day, but by the 18th of June the defensive works were heavily manned, and the Federal assaults were repulsed with heavy casualties.  The Union troops began to dig in as well, and the siege began.

The Confederate parapets, long since obliterated, ran along to the right.  Most of Battery Five was built largely by slave labor in 1863; when the Union troops took it over they added the earth wall you see to the left of the pathway.

Battery Five was a four gun battery, with 16 gun positions.  While the original construction was that of a battery, the addition of the western earth wall facing the Confederate line by Union troops gives it the appearance of an enclosed fort, but in the original Dimmock line construction it was intended only as a battery.

For some reason, there are 5 guns located here at the moment, and the gun on the far right actually points down behind where the Confederate lines would have been, a rather unusual placement for a Confederate cannon.

A rare view of the interior of Battery Five, taken a few days after it’s capture on June 15, 1864.  Observers standing on the walls here could easily see the city of Petersburg a couple of miles away, virtually undefended  on the evening of June a5, when a continued push forward would likely have resulted in the immediate capture of the city

Jordan House

The foundation is all that is left of the Jordan House stood during the beginning of the Petersburg siege, a few hundred feet southwest of Confederate Battery Five.  During the siege, the house was dismantled by Union troops.

The Josiah Jordan house was owned in the late eighteenth century by William Cole, and called “Clermont” estate. It can be seen in a survey of May 179, and was some of the most valuable land in the county. The Estate was sold, and eventually ended up in the hands of Rebuke Jordan, the widow of Josiah Jordan, to whom he left the estate in his will.

The 1837 county map shows two structures with fence-enclosed yards on what was then known as the “Roane” property as Rebuke had remarried. She outlived her second husband as well, and left the land to her son, the younger Josiah Jordan.

Josiah Jordan also owned 16 adult slaves as recorded for tax purposes in 1860, and was the owner of the then 525 acre plantation until it was destroyed in either 1864 or 1865..

The site of the house is right behind the visitors center and a cemetery, or “old burial ground” associated with it is in the woods near the site of Confederate Battery 6.

Overall view of Battery Five, from what would have been close to the Jordan house (with some examples of the various cannon tubes used by both armies during the siege of Petersburg).  The Jordan House stood about 80 feet to your immediate left. The Confederate parapets, long since obliterated, ran along to the right.

Taylor house

Taylor house was constructed near the end of the 1700’s, possibly by Richard Taylor. His son George inherited the house and the plantation in 1790. Following George’s death around 1816, it changed hands between various owners and farmers until it returned to the Taylor family in 1848. William Byrd Taylor owned the plantation and dwelling, which stood with a least two other on a hill south of the town of Blandford at the time of the Civil War.

The Taylor plantation lay in the path of the attacking Union army, and was overrun by Federal troops on June 18, as shown in the following excerpt from the official report of General Wilcox, division commander in the Ninth Corps. The buildings remained behind Union lines for the duration of the siege:

…the division had a severe engagement, lasting nearly all day, moving up to, across, and beyond the deep cut of the Norfolk railroad, in front of the Taylor house, driving the enemy into his new works, not withstanding our very heavy loss, and finally establishing ourselves nearer to the enemy than any other portion of the army. (O.R. Series I, Vol. 40, Part 1:571)

The Taylor dwellings were destroyed by fire shortly afterward, and ruins were called the “Chimneys” in Union reports and on Union maps after that.

William Taylor returned to the property after the war and built a modest frame house on the brick foundations of his former kitchen. He lived there on the property until his death in 1875. In the early 1900s, a dairy farm worked the same land.   When the National Park System purchased the former Taylor farm, they removed the frame house, thereby exposing the brick foundations of the former kitchen and probable slave quarters.

Excavations on the Taylor site in the summer of 1978. failed to locate the earlier plantation manor building, but a ground-penetrating radar and proton magnetometer survey of the Taylor site detected a large rectangular anomaly approximately 60 feet north of the standing foundation. Further excavations were done, and artifacts recovered at that time indicated that the property had been occupied from the mid 1700s. Further excavations within the brick-lined cellar revealed an ash layer as well as melted bottle and window glass, which would confirm the structure had been destroyed by fire.

 

Early’s Raid and Operations Against the B&O Railroad [June – August 1864]

The Battle of Monocacy

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The Battle that Saved Washington

This contemporary map of the battle of Monocacy gives you a pretty good idea of how the battle went.  You can see Ricketts’ Division at the bottom center of the map being pushed backwards after Gordon’s Division crossed the ford over the river.  With the left flank turned, the Union army under Lew Wallace broke apart and fled down the road toward Washington, after forcing Early’s raiding army to stop for a day and fight, rather than march directly down to threaten Washington.

While this rather minor battle gets a lot of hype as “The Battle that Saved Washington,” I am not so certain that designation is deserved. Even if Early had reached Washington unopposed, he only had enough forces for a raid, not to conquer and occupy, and while he no doubt would have destroyed what stores he could have, and captured what he could have carried, Early himself figured he could have only remained in Washington for a day before being driven out by the rapidly arriving reinforcements from Grant.

Plus, after forcing Early to deploy for battle, the Union forces could just have easily used delaying tactics to slow Early, and avoided the battle altogether.

Wallace claimed after the fact that he expected to lose the battle, but felt it necessary to attempt a stand to protect Washington.  Whatever he expected, he deployed his troops poorly, allowed his left flank to be turned by troops crossing unopposed at a ford he neglected to protect, and ended up presiding over a rout of his own troops.  His troop deployment is a classic example of wishful thinking, of hoping the enemy will do what you want, rather than being prepared for what the enemy actually chooses to do.

In brief, Wallace expected Early to attempt to force a crossing at the bridge where the road to Washington and the B & O railway crossed the river, so he put his best troops, Ricketts’ Division there.  His militia and 100 day conscripts he placed north along Crumm’s Ford and the Baltimore Pike.  I have no doubt he fully expected to repel the attack, or at least force a lengthy battle that would cripple Early’s ability to threaten Washington.

Early, seeing the troops lined up along the far bank across the bridge thought so too, sent his cavalry to find an alternate crossing, and then assaulted Rickett’s exposed flank.  All that saved the Union from an even worse defeat here was the heroic fighting of Rickett’s division in a very difficult position.

Important note:  Early’s mission on this raid down the Shenandoah Valley was never to take Washington, nor Baltimore, but simply to force Grant to detach troops from around Richmond and Petersburg to deal with him.  That mission was fully achieved, as Grant sent first Rickett’s Division of 5,000 men, then the remainder of the entire elite VI Corps (Getty’s and Russell’s divisions) under H.G. Wright to the defense of Washington.

May 8 – May 21, 1864

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A view at Spotsylvania from near the Beverly House, looking north, with the Fifth Corps Artillery reserve in the distance, near the close of the battle, May 19, 1864
 

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A rough map of the major locations of the battle Click each link below to see pictures from that part of the battlefield

Union troops from Brooks division, under John Sedgwick, shortly after crossing theRappahannock. The following day their unsupported attack down the Orange Plank road resulted in early success, but they were ultimately driven back by greater numbers in a Confederate counter assault.

Chancellorsville is one of the greatest battles of the Civil War, with surprises and brilliance on both sides of the battlefield.

General Hooker’s original intelligence ruse that opened up a 20 mile gap in the Confederate left flank, and his exploitation of that gap to send his army across two two rivers undetected into the Confederate left just short of Fredericksburg is sublimely brilliant.

And General Lee’s response to that threat is just as amazing.  Faced with his flank turned by an enemy in greater numbers than his own, Lee used terrain and initiative to counter that threat with the most famous flanking maneuver of the war.  As well, he had to stop in mid battle and hold off an attack from Union troops that had broken through into the Confederate  rear