John Sedgwick and History of wood floors

The Beginnings

Back in the old days in the architects of India, China, Jerusalem and Egypt devoted much attention to flooring layout and design. They realized that the appearance of the floor can both enhance the beauty of the interior space, or destroy it.

To the western world wood floors only came in the middle ages. Back then it was the board, roughly cut with an ax and planed by hand. Gradually, it became a fixture of European castles and houses of rich nobles, testifying to their high position in society.

In the beginning of the  18th century parquet floors ordinary “oak bricks” began to turn into a work of art. Stylistic development of the flooring had been seriously impact  by architecture of the buildings.

Wood Floors in America

When you visit an old house or step inside an old building, you almost expect to see a shiny old floor. But, it took a long time before it became that way.

In the Colonial Era, from about early 1600’s to the late 1700’s, continent’s abundant old-growth forests provided for popularity of wood floors. First floors were thick and very wide planks made from slow growth pine. Those trees were massive in diameter, and the desirable heartwood was extremely tight-grained, making the lumber harder and more durable than the relatively immature wood of the same species that is harvested today. Floors back then were not sanded nor finished. Smoothing and polishing of the floor was accomplished just by everyday walking on it.

It was in the American Victorian Era in 1850’s when the wood floors began to be manufactured on a large scale.

 

 

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.

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Hazel Grove, as seen from Fairview at Chancellorsville

The overgrowth in the foreground is the location of a Union artillery gun pit, and in the distance silhouetted against the trees you can see the shapes of four cannons, showing where the Confederate artillery was placed on the morning of May 3, 1863.

Nothing like a major event to bring the notables out.

For example, the Civil War Preservation Trust bought the 208-acre Slaughter Pen Farm in June for a record $12 million, and held a news conference there Monday October 16.  Afterwards, author and historian Frank O’Reilly gave the first public tour of the site. Guests included U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, Bill Howell, R-Stafford, speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, and state Sen. Edd Houck, D-Spotsylvania, as well as senators, bank presidents and what not.

Good people, every one of them.  They’ve done stellar work for battlefield preservation.

And who will I remember from this day?

Here we are on the tour, right on the ridge where the Confederate artillery finally opened up all at once on the approaching Yankee troops. The train going by in the distance marks the Rebel line.

I put a circle around him.

I didn’t recognize him.  But there was a bit of a buzz among the Civil War buffs around me, and they pointed him out.

“The guy on the cover,” they said. “Confederates in the Attic”

eah, that’s him.  But he’s not just the guy on the cover.

That’s Robert Lee Hodge.

I didn’t realize it at the time, thinking that he was just a re-enactor who was on the cover.  But no, Robert Lee Hodge himself.

Hardcore.

The man who starves himself to look the part for reenactments, the guy who crashes battlefields and sleeps overnight on the cold ground, the rebel yeller, and bona fide bloater.  The guy who uses sleep deprivation and hard driving to bash as many battle sites in one week as possible. The guy who virtually gave up reenacting battles to reenact marches and spooning and freezing in search of a period rush, the moment when you become one with the past.

That guy.

Hardcore.

I don’t bash a battlefield of my own without thinking of him.  This website wouldn’t exist. And in his spirit, I spent the night sleeping where the troops pulled out of Petersburg during the start of Robert E Lee’s advance to Appomattox.

Right on the tracks.  Well, where they used to be.  They’re gone now.

Spiritually, I was going too. Like Robert E Lee fled the dirt and trenches that bound him to Petersburg, I too was fleeing Petersburg.

Right there.

On the left track, just past the switch where it curves toward the station.  Nothing there but hard gravel and weeds now.  On the night of April 2nd, 1865, Lee’s men were destroying the rail cars that had to be left behind right in this area, before evacuating the city themselves.  In my night I did my own destroying.

And so back to Robert Lee Hodge.

His example threw my own love in my face.  Like him I have no blood ties to the war, no fuel for my own obsession.

Just the obsession.

Hardcore.

Posted by Indiana Reb on: Tuesday 17th October 2006, 12:16 AM

 

This is what all the fuss has been about since on this day’s fighting.  On the first day’s fighting, May 2nd, General Sickles’ III Corps occupied both sides of the area from Fairview to Hazel Grove, as well as Hazel Grove itself.  What you see here is about right, very much the way it was on the day of battle, although they say you could see the Chancellorsville house itself (behind you, and left in this picture) from Hazel Grove, which would mean the opening above was possibly wider.

Obviously, General Sickles occupied a very long, thin salient, one that would be difficult to defend (you can imagine how easily Confederate troops could have attacked either side and isolated the men on Hazel Grove, for instance), and Hooker decided to pull his lines back to the position at Fairview.  Unfortunately for him, that allowed the Confederate troops to move into Hazel Grove without a fight, and set up artillery there that enfiladed the line here at Fairview, facing Stuart’s men to the east (right in this picture).

From casually looking at maps of Hazel Grove and Fairview, I always thought Hazel Grove had a dominating view of Fairview, and that was the secret of their success on this day, but you can see this is not the case.  Instead, the Confederate forces under Archer were able to concentrate their fire on the Union artillery here, which was being used piecemeal, and did not effect any coherent counter-battery fire. With it’s superior ammunition, the Union artillery here could have possibly driven the Confederate cannon from Hazel Grove, rather than the reverse.   The Confederate ultimately placed about 40 cannon on Hazel Grove, while the Union troops had 36 here at Fairview.

In reality, by this time the entire Chancellorsville clearing (behind you in this picture) had become a salient, and Hooker would have been better to have withdrawn north earlier, where the Confederates eventually drove him, or to have counterattacked Jackson’s flank attack with Meade’s V Corps, and Reynolds I Corps, which had dug in along the Ely’s Ford Road and Hunting Run to the north (behind you, and slightly to the right in this picture, a mile or so away). Those two reserves alone were larger than Jackson/Stuart’s flanking force, and an aggressive commander would have realized the opportunity to flank it with those reserves, and destroyed it in detail rather than waiting defensively to see where the next attack would hit.  Ultimately, those two Corps remained in reserve, and never saw any real action during this battle.

On one hand, Hooker’s decision to withdraw from Hazel Grove makes sense, because it was going to be a salient I don’t think he could defend.  However, by giving the Confederates a place to set up their artillery and enfilade his line, he made a much greater error.  Realistically, the best action Hooker could have taken on May 3 would have been a bold and aggressive counter attack against Stuart, preventing Lee from reuniting his army, and overwhelming the separate pieces of it.

But by choosing to remain on the defensive, he had no chance to win on the second day’s fighting.

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.

 

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.