Conrad’s GAR Medals

Once again, I am expressing my gratitude for my pack rat ancestors and especially in this case to my Uncle Don Wilkinson who gave these medals to my mother recently.   My plan is to dedicate a section at the end to Conrad’s Grand Army of the Republic activities but I wanted to share the photo with you now.  What do you think?  Should I clean and polish them or leave as is?  I know patina is a good thing but I would especially like to see the biggest one as it originally was.  I also found replacement ribbons for the one on the right.  This one is very threadbare.

 

The two round ones in the lower right look like cuff links.  They say AOUW which stands for Ancient Order of United Workmen.  Created by veterans shortly after the Civil War, it was one of the very first organizations that created “insurance” for its members.  More information can be found on Wikipeida.

DSCN1516[1]

The Battle of Fredericksburg – Part Two

[W]e had the first battle of Fredericksburg – two days of hard fighting with heavy loss.

~ Conrad Smith1)Conrad Smith, My Early Life and the Civil War, 1920, page 26

Map 9 just before dawn

The blue arrow  here and in the maps below indicates the position of Newton’s Third Division of which the 139th Pennsylvania was a part.

 

 

We slept on our arms last night and daylight this morning found us in line.

~ Elisha Hunt Rhodes2)Bert Hunt Rhodes, All For The Union, First Vintage Civil War Library Edition, 1992, pf 82

Once again the valley was covered with an early morning fog on Saturday, December 13, a day that was soon to terminate the career of many a good man.  A high wind and bitterly cold night had caused such discomfort to the thousands of men resting on their arms on that congested battlefield-to-be that the chance to get into blood-warming action, even if it should hasten death or dismemberment, was preferable to freezing to death from numbing inaction.

Burnside was at least correct in expecting that there would be a fog, as on previous mornings, but that it would be dissipated in a couple of hours, as indeed it was.  Meanwhile, as of 7:45 A.M., Franklin had his orders.  A few minutes later corps commanders Reynolds and Smith were given the bad news, and the Left Grand Division began to stir.

Since Burnside had refused to release any of Hooker’s divisions on the eastern shore, which would have freed Smith’s Sixth Corps for use as Franklin might see fit, without worrying about bridgehead security, Franklin assigned the attack mission to Reynolds and his First Corps.3)The Fredericksburg Campaign, 2nd Edition, Edward J. Stackpole, 1991, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA, pg 178-179

Wm FranklinAbout 7:45 o’clock in the morning of the 13th, Brigadier General Hardie arrived from general headquarters, and informed me verbally of the designs of the commanding general in reference to the attack, and that written orders would soon arrive by an aide-de-camp.  These orders arrived soon after 8 o’clock.  In the mean time I had informed General Reynolds that his corps was to make the attack indicated by General Hardie, and he ordered Meade’s division to the point of attack, to be supported by Gibbon’s division.  As Smith’s corps was in position when the order for attack was received, and as a change in the line would have been attended with great risk at that time, and would have caused much delay, I considered it impracticable to add his force to that about to make the attack.  I though also that General Reynolds’ force of three divisions would be sufficient to carry out the spirit of the order, the words of it being, “You will send out at once a division at least, … taking care to keep it well supported and its line of retreat open.”

~ Major General William B. Franklin, Left Grand Division4)Report of Major General William B. Franklin, U.S. Army Commanding Left Grand Division Headquarters, January 2, 1863, Official Records Series I, Volume 21, page 532, No. 207

Map 10 about noon

Saturday [December 13] the sun appeared [about 10:00 A.M.], bright and warm as on a spring morning.  The battle now commenced in terrible earnest.  First, on the left [south], the booming of heavy guns and the rattle of musketry told of hot work in our own front.  Then gradually the battled rolled on to the right [north]; and while it thundered there, our forces on the left remained comparatively quiet.  Then, back again came the roar of cannon, the shrieking and cracking of shells and the din of musketry.5)The Sixth Corps: the Army of the Potomac, Union Army, During the American Civil War, originally published in 1866 under the title “Three Years in the Sixth Corps: a Concise Narrative of Events in the Army of the Potomac, from 1861 to the Close of the Rebellion, April 1865”, reprinted 2007, Leonaur Ltd., ISBN: 978-1-84677-333-4 (softcover) pages 145-146

The battle began at an early hour and the shot and shell screeched and screamed over our heads.  To our right we could see the fight going on for the heights beyond and back of Fredericksburg.  General Sumner tried to take the hills but failed.  The city was on fire in several places, and the noise was deafening.  We could see long lines of Union troops move up the hill and melt away before the rebel fire.  But we were not idle, although at times there would be a lull in our front and we could watch the fight on the right.

~ Elisha Hunt Rhodes6)Bert Hunt Rhodes, All For The Union, First Vintage Civil War Library Edition, 1992, pf 82

Map 11 up to 130pm

The hills in our front were thickly wooded, and in these woods “Stonewall” Jackson had concealed his forces.  General Meade, with his division of Pennsylvania reserves, and Gibbons, with his division, both of Reynolds’ First corps, were sent to take and hold the Bowling Green road, which lay in the edge of the wood.  Gallantly and in splendid order, the two divisions moved up toward the edge of the wood.  Gibbons’ division halted at the railroad, near the wood, Meade’s pressed forward, and presently disappeared among the trees.  Although considerable resistance was met with, the gallant division continued to press forward, the rebels steadily giving way.  Suddenly, the roar of cannon became awful, and the fire of musketry almost deafening.  The rebels had opened an enfilading fire upon the division, which made fearful havoc.  The men who had so gallantly marched into the woods, came hurrying back in disorder; not, however, until they had succeeded in capturing several hundred prisoners from the enemy.  A flag, one or two mounted officers, and a squad of a dozen or twenty men were all that could be recognized as a regimental organization; all others had fallen before the deadly fire that met them, or had lost their commands.  The men quickly rallied about their flags and again charged into the woods, and again they were sent back in disorder.  They were now withdrawn, and the rebels charged upon the line of the Sixth Corps.  The troops of our Second division were lying down behind a slight elevation of ground, and, as the rebels charged down furiously upon us, our men suddenly rose and poured a deadly volley into them.  At the same time the troops of the First division met their attack with spirit, and sent them reeling back to their cover in the forest.7)The Sixth Corps: the Army of the Potomac, Union Army, During the American Civil War, originally published in 1866 under the title “Three Years in the Sixth Corps: a Concise Narrative of Events in the Army of the Potomac, from 1861 to the Close of the Rebellion, April 1865”, reprinted 2007, Leonaur Ltd., ISBN: 978-1-84677-333-4 (softcover) pages 145-146

Currier and Ives Fburg

John Newton

On Saturday, the 13th, the general attack upon the enemy having been made, my division in the afternoon was ordered to the left of the line, to report to General Reynolds as a re-enforcement.  I reported to that officer, and posted my division in three lines, behind General Berry’s brigade (Birney’s Division) to sustain him.  [See Map 12 below]

~ Brigadier General John Newton, commanding 3rd Division, Sixth Corps8)No. 260, Report of Brig. General John Newton, commanding 3rd Division, Official Records, Series I, Volume 21

 

 

Although they were not immediately involved in the heaviest fighting, the position of the 139th near the battle line was well within the range of Confederate cannons.  Taking shelter behind an earthen embankment, the regiment was exposed to an almost continuous barrage from Confederate artillery.  Robert Guyton described the way the men of the 139th spent the afternoon of December 13:

We were ordered to lie down in the ditch behind the embankment.  We lay there for some time with the Batteries in front of us playing on the Rebels whenever they showed themselves… we were lying along the embankment when all at once they poured in upon us a most terrific shower of shells from two or three batteries and as they had a perfect range of our position and the shells burst over us almost as thick as hail but we lay as still as we could behind the embankment and they only succeeded in wounding 1 or 2 men in the regiment and that slightly.  There was two or three times they threw dirt and mud all over and the pieces were whistling all around.9)Bartlett, pg 88

Map 12 220pm

Meanwhile, on the right, Sumner’s and Hooker’s forces were striving, with Herculean efforts, to dislodge the enemy from his strongholds, but to no avail.  His position was impregnable, and the Union forces only advanced against the works to meet with deadly repulse from the savage fire of the concealed foe, and to fall back with fearful losses.  Thus the struggle lasted until evening, when the roar of the battle was hushed, and our tired troops slumbered upon their arms.10)The Sixth Corps: the Army of the Potomac, Union Army, During the American Civil War, originally published in 1866 under the title “Three Years in the Sixth Corps: a Concise Narrative of Events in the Army of the Potomac, from 1861 to the Close of the Rebellion, April 1865”, reprinted 2007, Leonaur Ltd., ISBN: 978-1-84677-333-4 (softcover) pages 145-146

When Birney’s and Sickles’ divisions were placed in position it had become too late to organize another attack before dark, and all of the troops under my command had either been engaged or were in line, except Newton’s division, Smith’s Corps, which was held in reserve for both corps after the whole of Reynolds’ corps became engaged.

~ Major General William B. Franklin, Left Grand Division11)Report of Major General William B. Franklin, U.S. Army Commanding Left Grand Division Headquarters, January 2, 1863, Official Records Series I, Volume 21, page 532, No. 207

 Map 13 3pm to dark

 

 

 

 

 

 

At 3pm our regiment was sent down to the left of the line and ordered to support a battery.  This was no fun for us, for we had to stand the rebel shells fired at the battery.  Just at dark the firing ceased, but what a scene was before us.  The dead and wounded covered the ground in all directions.  Ambulances were sent out to pick up the wounded, but the enemy opened fire upon them, and wounded were left to suffer.  During the evening if a match was lighted it would bring a shell from the rebel forts on the hills.  At 8pm we were ordered to the rear and our division rested for the night.

~ Elisha Hunt Rhodes12)Bert Hunt Rhodes, All For The Union, First Vintage Civil War Library Edition, 1992, pf 82

This position [see Map 13 above] I held after dark, until ordered to encamp near corps headquarters by Major General Smith.  During this day the division was severely shelled by the enemy.

~ Brigadier General John Newton, commanding 3rd Division, Sixth Corps13)No. 260, Report of Brig. General John Newton, commanding 3rd Division, Official Records, Series I, Volume 21

Belles and the 139th fared relatively well at Fredericksburg considering the devastating Union losses incurred in the conflict.  Ordered into battle but halted near the river bank, the 139th suffered thirteen wounded from prolonged and intense Confederate artillery fire.  Three of the wounded men were from Belle’s company.14)Bardnell pgs 29-30

 

Casualty Records

In 1870, Samuel P. Bates wrote “History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5.”  In it he lists the members of each Pennsylvania regiment and a short description of each soldier’s service.  He only lists two members of the 139th who were wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg, although other sources say there were as many as thirteen.  More information is being sought.  The Pension Index Cards for the two soldiers Bates listed as wounded at Fredericksburg, William W. Fiscus and David P. Erwin, are shown below.

David Erwin index card Fiscus index card

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a discussion of how the battle might have turned out differently had Burnside’s order to Franklin had been more clear and had Franklin used more of the men in his Left Grand division, see The Fredericksburg Campaign by Edward Stackpole, pages 192 through 198.

References   [ + ]

1. Conrad Smith, My Early Life and the Civil War, 1920, page 26
2, 6, 12. Bert Hunt Rhodes, All For The Union, First Vintage Civil War Library Edition, 1992, pf 82
3. The Fredericksburg Campaign, 2nd Edition, Edward J. Stackpole, 1991, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA, pg 178-179
4, 11. Report of Major General William B. Franklin, U.S. Army Commanding Left Grand Division Headquarters, January 2, 1863, Official Records Series I, Volume 21, page 532, No. 207
5, 7, 10. The Sixth Corps: the Army of the Potomac, Union Army, During the American Civil War, originally published in 1866 under the title “Three Years in the Sixth Corps: a Concise Narrative of Events in the Army of the Potomac, from 1861 to the Close of the Rebellion, April 1865”, reprinted 2007, Leonaur Ltd., ISBN: 978-1-84677-333-4 (softcover) pages 145-146
8, 13. No. 260, Report of Brig. General John Newton, commanding 3rd Division, Official Records, Series I, Volume 21
9. Bartlett, pg 88
14. Bardnell pgs 29-30

The Battle of Fredericksburg – Part One

On December [10th] our pontoon boats arrived and the next night, after bombarding the city, we crossed the river on the pontoons in a rain storm and had the first battle of Fredericksburg – two days of hard fighting with heavy loss.

~ Conrad Smith1)Conrad Smith, My Early Life and the Civil War, 1920, pg 26

 

Drawing by Alfred R. Waud

Builidng Pontoon Bridges December 11, 1862, by Alfred R. Waud

Order of Battle- Units That Participated

The Army of the Potomac, like the other armies in the Civil War, was organized into Corps, Divisions, Brigades and Regiments.  The exact makeup changed as needs and the supply of troops changed.  For this battle Burnside also added three “Grand Divisions”, Right, Center and Left.    To give a perspective of where the 139th Pennsylvania fit into that order, the following is an abbreviated list of the Order of Battle for the Battle of Fredericksburg:

  • Right Grand Division
    • II Corps…
    • IX Corps…
    • Cavalry
  • Center Grand Division
    • III Corps…
    • V Corps…
  • Left Grand Division
    • I Corps…
    • VI Corps – Major General William F. Smith
      • 1st Division…
      • 2nd Division…
      • 3rd Division – Brigadier General John Newton
        • 1st Brigade…
        • 2nd Brigade…
        • 3rd Brigade – Col. Thomas A. Rowley/Brigadier Genl. Frank Wheaton
          • 62nd New York regiment
          • 93rd Pennsylvania regiment
          • 98th Pennsylvania regiment
          • 102nd Pennsylvania regiment
          • 139th Pennsylvania regiment – Lt. Col. James D. Owens

In the excerpts of reports below these commanders’ names will be highlighted to show which include the 139th PA.

Each regiment had approximately 1,000 soldiers so the total strength of the Army of the Potomac at this battle was about 120,000, of which about 114,000 were engaged in the battle.2)Eicher, David J. The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. ISBN 0-684-84944-5.  * O’Reilly, Francis Augustín. The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8071-3154-7. * Welcher, Frank J. The Union Army, 1861–1865 Organization and Operations. Vol. 1, The Eastern Theater. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989. ISBN 0-253-36453-1.  accessed at www.wikipedia.com 4/25/2015

 

General Burnside’s goal was to capture Richmond, Capital of the Confederacy.  He decided to move to Fredericksburg, despite having wider rivers to cross than a more westerly route through Warrenton or Gordonsville, because it would be easier to supply his troops by way of Aquia Creek.   This tributary of the Potomac River provided a secure line by water to Washington. 3)West Point Atlas of War, page 56

Water route from Aquia Creek to Washington DCAfter administrative and weather problems, the pontoon bridge equipment finally arrived on the east bank of the Potomac and six bridges were laid across the river.  Three were directly across from the town itself.  The other three were laid about a mile further down river.

Map  8 Battle Area

 

December 11th

At the three bridges south of Fredericksburg, December 11th was spent getting into position to cross the river.  Orders came to cross late in the day and were promptly obeyed only to be countermanded sending the troops back to the east side of the Rappahannock.

Adjutant Albert Harper described in a letter to his parents the tense anticipation he felt when they had awoken to the sounds of cannons blaring.  The reason for the firing, he wrote, “needed no explanation – we were to have a battle.”  On the march towards the front, excitement was the pervasive sentiment among the ranks, but it can be imagined that many of the men were as anxious as Harper, who wrote “I drew long breaths and made up my mind to be a man.”4)Sam Bartlett, “The Crack Regiment of Pittsburgh”, The Men and the Community of the 139th Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1860-1865, page 87

Major General William F. Smith, Commander of the Sixth Corps reported:

On Thursday, December 11, the corps marched from its camp toward the bridges, below Deep Creek [also known as Deep Run] the head of the column arriving at the river about 7:30am.  The bridges not being completed, the command was sheltered as much as possible from the view of the enemy, where it remained till about 4pm, when I received order to cross the river.  General Devens’ brigade, of General Newton’s division (Third), was ordered to occupy both bridges in the crossing, and after that the lower bridge was to be used by the division of General Brooks (First), while the remaining brigades of the Third Division were to cross on the upper bridge.  As soon as the skirmishers, under Colonel Wheaton, Second RI, were ready to cross, I opened a heavy fire of artillery on the houses on the plateau near the crossing, to drive out any enemy holding them, and this fire was maintained until our skirmishers reached the plateau.  The troops were being rapidly thrown across, when an order came to retire all troops but one brigade.

Owing to the lateness of the hour, there would not have been sufficient time for me to have deployed my command and taken any defensive position, and I was glad I was to have the daylight of the next day for that purpose.  General Devens was selected by General Newton to keep the bridge head, while the troops were kept at a convenient distance, to support him in case he was attacked.5)Official Records, Series I, Vol. 21, page 522-523

Brigadier General John Newton of the 3rd Division reported:

On the morning of Thursday, 11th instant, the division broke up its camp, near the White Oak Church [see photo below], and marched to the bank of the Rappahannock.  About an hour before sundown the division received orders to cross on the pontoon bridges below Fredericksburg.  General Devens’ brigade led (Colonel Wheaton’s Second Rhode Island Regiment in front as skirmishers)… Colonel Wheaton’s regiment met with opposition from five companies of rebel skirmishers, whom they succeeded in driving back without difficulty, after inflicting a slight loss of prisoners and killed and wounded upon them.  Immediately after crossing, all of my division, except Devens’ brigade, was ordered to recross the river.  I held General Cochrane’s brigade during the night close to the river bank, ready to go to the assistance of General Devens if necessary.6)Official Records, Series I, Vol. 21, page 534-535

During the Civil War in November 1862, White Oak Church became the center, for seven months, of an encampent of the Army of the Potomac. Around 20,000 soldiers of the VI Corps camped in the immediate area. At this time the church served as a military hospital, a United States Christian Commission station, and as a photographic studio.

During the Civil War in November 1862, White Oak Church became the center, for seven months, of an encampent of the Army of the Potomac. Around 20,000 soldiers of the VI Corps camped in the immediate area. At this time the church served as a military hospital, a United States Christian Commission station, and as a photographic studio.7)Wikipedia

Elisha Hunt Rhodes (in Wheaton’s Second Rhode Island) described the scene:

Thursday December 11th we left our camp about two o’clock in the morning and just at daylight reached the banks of the Rappahannock River below Fredericksburg.  The river is narrow and for about five hundred yards back the ground is nearly of a level with the river.  Back of this plain are high bluffs and here [on the east side of the river] we had nearly two hundred cannon in position.  These cannon were constantly firing and the roar was tremendous.  The air was filled with shot and shell flying over our heads and into Fredericksburg.  The Rebels did not often reply but would at times land a shot over onto our side.  Just at sunset the 2nd R. I. was ordered to cross the bridge at a place now called Franklin’s crossing.  It is opposite a plantation owned by A. N. Bernard and is about three miles below the city [other sources show the crossing about a mile down river from the city].8)Burt Hunt Rhodes, All for the Union, pages 81-82

The photo below shows Franklin’s crossing in April of 1863.  This is the same place where the 139th crossed on similar pontoon bridges in December 1862.9)photo accessed from Library of Congress collection here

Franklins Crossing

December 12th

The weather early on the morning of December 12 was a duplicate of that of the day before – a heavy, damp mist which served the Union army well in concealing its movements. … At the lower bridges where Franklin’s grand division crossed, Smith’s corps led the way, followed by Reynolds’ corps.  By late afternoon the entire force had completed the passage of the river and formed in a continuous arc composed of four divisions in two successive lines, Smith’s right resting astride Deep Run, Reynolds’ left on the Rappahannock; one division of each corps, Doubleday’s and Newton’s being held in reserve near the river.  There they bivouacked for the night, halted in place, without order from higher up for further movement or action and with nothing to do but wait for Burnside to release another fragment of his fuzzy tactical plan.  10)Edward J. Stackpole, The Fredericksburg Campaign, 2nd Edition, page 156

 

Major General William B. Franklin, commander of the Left Grand Division reported:

At daylight on the morning of the 12th, Smith’s corps began to cross… and by 1 pm the whole of the grand division was on the south bank of the river.  The crossing was made in excellent order, without the slightest confusion or stoppage.  Smith’s Corps had been previously ordered, in compliance with the directions of the commanding general [Burnside] to form parallel to the old Richmond road, with two divisions in front and one in reserve. … The disposition indicated were made in the face of some slight opposition by the enemy’s skirmishers, and a spiteful, though nearly harmless, fire from his artillery, and by 4 o’clock the troops were in the positions assigned to them.

[see map above for perspective on the following description] The ground upon which the troops were disposed is, in general, a plain.  It is cultivated and much cut up by hedges and ditches.  The old Richmond road traverses the plain from right to left, about 1 mile from the river and nearly parallel to it.  This road is bordered on both sides by an earthen parapet and ditch, and is an exceedingly strong feature in the defense of the ground, had the enemy chosen to hold it.  On the right of my position is Deep Run, and on the left, about 1 mile in front of Reynolds, is Massaponax Creek.  Both streams are tributaries of the Rappahannock.  The plain is bordered by a range of high hills in front, which stretches from Fredericksburg to the Massaponax, nearly parallel to the river.  In front of and nearly parallel to the Old Richmond Road, and about 500 or 600 yards from it, at the foot of the range of hills, is the railroad.  The ravine through which Deep Creek [Deep Run] runs passes through the hills near the center of my front.  Two brigades of Brooks’ division, Smith’s Corps, were in front of Deep Creek, forming the extreme right.  The remainder of Smith’s Corps was in the rear and to the left of Deep Creek, Reynolds’ corps being about 1 mile from the Massaponax.  The enemy had artillery on the ills and in the valley of Deep Creek, in the wood near Reynolds’ right and on the Massaponax, so that the whole field was surrounded by it, except the right flank.  His infantry appeared in all directions around the position….11)Official Records, Series I, Vol. 21, page 449

Major General William F. Smith, commanding the Sixth Corps reported:

On Friday morning, soon after daylight, General Brooks’ (First) division was crossed, and took position in front of General Devens, relieving his skirmishers.  General Howe’s (Second) division was then ordered across, and formed in line of battle on the left of Brooks.  Newton’s troops were then crossed and formed in columns in reserve.

As soon as the crossing was completed and the lines formed, I pushed the command forward, Brooks holding the Richmond road and Deep Creek [Run] with one line in front of the creek, while Howe occupied the crest of the hill, over which ran the Richmond road, his right at a sharp turn of Deep Creek.  These movements were all made, when the fog, which had concealed us, lifted, and our lines became visible to the enemy, who occupied the hills in front of us.

The troops were as well protected as the topography would allow, and there was nothing to be done but maintain our skirmish line, which was engaged nearly all the time, and to submit quietly to the feeble and spasmodic artillery fire of the enemy, which both encircled and commanded us.12)Official Records, Series I, Vol. 21, page 523

Brigadier General John Newton, 3rd Division reported:

On Friday, the 12th, the rest of the left grand division crossed the river, the remainder of my division leading the way.  Nothing occurred of note this day, except Col. (now Brig. General) T. H. Neill’s regiment, the 23rd Pennsylvania, being ordered to the left of the line, which was found to be occupied by the enemy’s skirmishers, whom they steadily pushed back, and held the position until it was occupied and extended by Genl. Reynolds’ corps, and a partial shelling of my command by the enemy’s batteries.  My division is now in reserve….13)Official Records, Series I, Vol. 21, page 535

Next time – The Battle of Fredericksburg – Part Two – December 13, 1862

References   [ + ]

1. Conrad Smith, My Early Life and the Civil War, 1920, pg 26
2. Eicher, David J. The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. ISBN 0-684-84944-5.  * O’Reilly, Francis Augustín. The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8071-3154-7. * Welcher, Frank J. The Union Army, 1861–1865 Organization and Operations. Vol. 1, The Eastern Theater. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989. ISBN 0-253-36453-1.  accessed at www.wikipedia.com 4/25/2015
3. West Point Atlas of War, page 56
4. Sam Bartlett, “The Crack Regiment of Pittsburgh”, The Men and the Community of the 139th Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1860-1865, page 87
5. Official Records, Series I, Vol. 21, page 522-523
6. Official Records, Series I, Vol. 21, page 534-535
7. Wikipedia
8. Burt Hunt Rhodes, All for the Union, pages 81-82
9. photo accessed from Library of Congress collection here
10. Edward J. Stackpole, The Fredericksburg Campaign, 2nd Edition, page 156
11. Official Records, Series I, Vol. 21, page 449
12. Official Records, Series I, Vol. 21, page 523
13. Official Records, Series I, Vol. 21, page 535

On the road to Fredericksburg, October 20 – December 4, 1862

The last of October, Lee broke camp and left for Fredericksburg, Virginia.  So we crossed the river, and six days later arrived at Falmouth, a few miles back of Fredericksburg, on the Rappahannock River.

~ Conrad Smith1)Conrad Smith, My Early Life and the Civil War, 1920, page 25

Conrad is not too specific with his dates here but according to Frederick H. Dyer’s Compendium of the War of the Rebellion: Regimental Histories2)accessed here,  Dyer compiled his information from the Official Records,  after the Battle of Antietam, the 139th, with the Sixth Corps, went into camp at Downsville, Maryland from September 23 to October 20, 1862.  Downsville today is an unincorporated locality about three miles south of Williamsport, Maryland along the Potomac River.  

Downsville MD google earth

 

From the 20th of October to the 18th of November, the Army of the Potomac moved south from Downsville, stopping at Stafford Courthouse, approximately eight miles northeast of Fredericksburg.  They remained there until December 4th.

Nov 1862 movements

Detail of map 70 from The West Point Atlas of War – The Civil War, Chief Editor: Brig. Genl. Vincent J. Esposito

 

 

November 2nd

Near Berlin, MD

… An Army pontoon bridge has been placed across the river and we expect to cross into old Virginia again very soon.  Gen. Burnside’s force has already crossed at this point, and we can hear cannon in the distance.  I hope we shall join his forces, and it looks now as if we were at last to attack the enemy.  Berlin is about six miles below Harper’s Ferry.  The cars run on one side of our camp and the canal boats on the other.  The first boat that passed attracted much attention from our men to whom it was a great novelty.

Gen McClellan’s headquarters are near our camp.  … At a place called Smoketown we passed the Army hospitals where our wounded men are treated.  It was a sad sight, and I thanked God that I have been spared.

We crossed the Potomac Monday night (2 Nov) and …3)Bert Hunt Rhodes, All For The Union, First Vintage Civil War Library Edition, 1992, page 79

Last Monday [November 2nd] we crossed over the river at Berlin.  The bridge was made on boats and the boats was [sic] anchored in the river.  There was about a hundred thousand troops crossed that bridge…   It took them from two o’clock in the morning till 7 at night to cross over. 4)Ron Bardnell, Preserve It Reader in Remembrance of Me, page 32

November 4-5

Near Union, VA, Nov. 5, 1862

[We] reached this place last evening.  Fighting has been going on in our front, but the Rebels retire as we advance.  The enemy are at Ashby’s Gap about nine miles from here.  … Oh how cold it is.  …

… Last night when we reached camp we were nearly starved, but we picked up on the road two turkeys and had them boiled for supper.

…After leaving Union we marched to within a short distance of Ashby’s Gap in the Blue Ridge and halted for the night.5)Bert Hunt Rhodes, All For The Union, First Vintage Civil War Library Edition, 1992, page 79

November 6-9

Near White Plains, VA on the Manassas Gap Railroad

On a company, regiment and even brigade level, the uncertainty that surrounded all of the Union soldiers could have important effects on their day to day activities.  Early in November, while the regiment was near White Plains, Virginia, the supply wagons of the Third Brigade were waylaid, leaving the men short of rations.  With little of their own food to consume, soldiers took it upon themselves to find the makings of a good meal.  Robert Guyton described the impact on the neighborhood supply of sheep, hogs and other small, edible animals.

“we have been short of rations this two days on account of the Brigade wagons not getting up with us but I tell you the Sheep and Hogs had to suffer in this neighborhood every one almost had a piece of mutton or Pork or Turkey or chickens we take almost everything that is edible… we expect the wagons will be in today if they don’t there will not be a Sheep Hog Turkey or chicken left in this neighborhood”

There was no hint of guilt in Guyton’s account, as all seemed justified by the fact that, “they are all rank secessionists about here.”6)The Crack Regiment of Pittsburgh, Sam Bartlett, 1996, page 84

White Plains, VA Saturday, Nov. 8th 1862

… We are now only fifteen miles from the old Bull run field.  The next place is Warrenton where we expect to go soon.  How I would like to have some of those “On to Richmond” fellows out here with us in the snow.  The ground is white with snow, and it is too cold to write.  This morning we found ourselves covered with snow that had fallen during the night.7)Bert Hunt Rhodes, All For The Union, First Vintage Civil War Library Edition, 1992, page 79

November 10-15

New Baltimore, Va

We camped on the side of a mountain and have hard work to keep from sliding off.  This has been a sad day for the Army of the Potomac.  Gen McClellan has been relieved from command and has left us.  He rode along the lines and was heartily cheered by the men.  Gen. Ambrose Burnside of RI is our new Commander.  He also rode along our lines and was well received, being cheered as he passed.  This change produces much bitter feeling and some indignation.  McClellan’s enemies will now rejoice, but the Army loves and respects him.  Like loyal soldiers we submit.

…New Baltimore is a lonesome little village at the foot of the hill on which we are camped.  From the hill we can see the deserted Rebel forts in the distance.8)Bert Hunt Rhodes, All For The Union, First Vintage Civil War Library Edition, 1992, page 80

November 16-18

I received your letter Sunday night [November 16] after marching all day. We encamped in the woods in a fair wilderness handy to Catlett Station on the Manassas railroad on the field where General Pope was defeated.  We staid there all night and took our line of march for three days in succession.9)Ron Bardnell, Preserve It Reader in Remembrance of Me, page 34

November 18-December 4

…We are now five miles from Stafford CH, twelve miles from Acquia Creek and fifteen miles from the city of Fburg.  We are encamped with our division in a large field….  It is still raining and we are very uncomfortable and cannot tell where we are to go next.10)Bert Hunt Rhodes, All For The Union, First Vintage Civil War Library Edition, 1992, page 80

Near Stafford CH, Va Nov 23/62

 I am cold, in fact half frozen.  As I write some of the officers who are hovering over a huge fire are singing “Home Sweet Home.”  Well I should like to see my home.  Our blankets are wet and we have had no sun to dry them in some time.  Yesterday our Regiment was on picket.  We struck a new section of country where rail fences were plenty and had good fires.  The roads are in bad condition from mud.  Supplies begin to come from Acquia Creek and we are happy.  I get a little home sick sometimes.11)Bert Hunt Rhodes, All For The Union, First Vintage Civil War Library Edition, 1992, page 80

Near Stafford CH Va Nov 26/62

Still muddy and more rain.  The Adjutant is sick, and I have been acting as Adjutant again.  We have had inspection of the Regiment.12)Bert Hunt Rhodes, All For The Union, First Vintage Civil War Library Edition, 1992, page 80

November 27

Thanksgiving Day in Rhode Island.  Well, I too have much to thank my Heavenly Father for.  He has preserved my life and given me health and strength to do my duty.  For all which I am devoutly grateful.13)Bert Hunt Rhodes, All For The Union, First Vintage Civil War Library Edition, 1992, page 80

December 4

I do not know exactly where we are.  We left our camp near Stafford CH this morning and marched to this place which is twelve miles below Fburg and half way between the Pot and Rapp Rivers.  I know one thing – it is very cold on the hill where we are in camp.14)Bert Hunt Rhodes, All For The Union, First Vintage Civil War Library Edition, 1992, page 80

… We are advancing on the rebbles [sic] at Fredericksburg where we expect to have a fight and a big one.15)Ron Bardnell, Preserve It Reader in Remembrance of Me, page 34

 

Next time – The big picture of the preparations for the Battle of Fredericksburg.

 

 

 

 

References   [ + ]

1. Conrad Smith, My Early Life and the Civil War, 1920, page 25
2. accessed here,  Dyer compiled his information from the Official Records
3, 5, 7. Bert Hunt Rhodes, All For The Union, First Vintage Civil War Library Edition, 1992, page 79
4. Ron Bardnell, Preserve It Reader in Remembrance of Me, page 32
6. The Crack Regiment of Pittsburgh, Sam Bartlett, 1996, page 84
8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14. Bert Hunt Rhodes, All For The Union, First Vintage Civil War Library Edition, 1992, page 80
9, 15. Ron Bardnell, Preserve It Reader in Remembrance of Me, page 34

“Homesick Camp” and Picket Duty near Hagerstown, Maryland

A few days later [mid-September 1862, after Antietam] we went into our “homesick camp,” near Hagerstown, Maryland for six weeks.  Oh!  The homesick boys!  I was out on picket duty on the Potomac River, watching General Lee’s army which was in camp on the other side, so I had no time to get homesick.  I’ll admit I did dream of home at night sometimes.

~ Conrad Smith1)Conrad Smith, My Early Life and The Civil War, 1920, page 25

 

Picket Guard

Picket Guard2)Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Catalog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An encampment can not be said to be guarded at all if the watch is maintained so loosely that the enemy may steal through the chain of sentinels or outposts.  The chief object of the outposts is to insure complete security in the rear, so that the troops may arise and delay an attack of the enemy, should he approach the outpost, and also prevent the enemy from getting OUT of the lines at all.  The distance between the adjoining sentinels is fixed by positions near enough to each other to prevent any one from passing between them without being seen.”3)Camp and Outpost Duty for Infantry 1862, Daniel Butterfield

Picket and Outpost Duty Diagram

Picket and Outpost Duty Diagram4)Camp and Outpost Duty for Infantry 1862, Daniel Butterfield

 

 

James Heaslett wrote to his niece, Isabella Guyton, how the men were placed on picket:

The regiment is formed in line and marched out perhaps two miles and sometimes more from Camp and they commence and leave 5 or 6 and sometimes 10 men and a corporal or sergeant and we ahve to waken up and place them on a post for two hours and we can lay down to sleep or sit at the fire for tow hours more and rise some other men and place on the post.”5)“The Crack Regiment of Pittsburgh”: The Men and the Community of the 139th Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1860-1865, Sam Bartlett, Thesis submitted to Dept. of History of Amherst College, April 12, 1996

In an October diary entry, Captain Abraham Snyder had written that he had been in charge of a group as large as twenty-five.  Picket duty afforded special opportunities to the men of the 139th, some more enjoyable than others.  In Snyder’s case, the chance to command men from outside of his company brought only headaches.  He wrote, “In our squad we have 10 men of Co. A (my own) 10 of Co. F (Capt. Marsh) & 5 of Co. D Capt. Monroe 0 these last gave me more trouble than all the others – in fact, if I had a Co. of just such men as these, I would resign at once – they keep by themselves swear constantly & play cards and are into almost every kind of mischief…”  Snyder’s experience with the men outside of his own company revealed the dual effect of local recruiting on soldier discipline.  If, for some, the local nature of companies created respect for officers that held prominence in their hometowns, for others, the chance to serve with friends had deleterious effects on behavior.6)“The Crack Regiment of Pittsburgh”: The Men and the Community of the 139th Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1860-1865, Sam Bartlett, Thesis submitted to Dept. of History of Amherst College, April 12, 1996

 

As the fall progressed, the men of the 139th became acquainted with life in the army.  In a letter home, nineteen year old Mercer County recruit John Beil reported that, “Soldiering agrees with me pretty well if my health only continues on the way it has I am very well satisfied.  I have not had no sick moment since I left Camp Howe.”  A soldier’s life seemed to agree with Adjutant Albert Harper also, who wrote home in late September, “I am well, never in better health or spirits, and my only complaint [is] that I am very sleep and dirty.”  Despite their good health, there were certain aspects of military service which took some getting used to.  Among those, both Beil and Harper had already become frustrated with the unpredictability of a soldier’s existence.  On October 21, he wrote, “Again we are under marching orders and one of the most disagreeable things in the army is to be under ‘marching orders’ without having any stated time for leaving.”  In another letter he commented, “The questions where are we going? when going [sic] to leave? and what are we going there for? are seldom asked by old soldiers.”  For Beil, the infrequency of a visit from the paymaster was of concern.  In his first two letters home he commented that he was in need of some money, as there was, “no knowing when we get Pay. [sic]”7)“The Crack Regiment of Pittsburgh”: The Men and the Community of the 139th Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1860-1865, Sam Bartlett, Thesis submitted to Dept. of History of Amherst College, April 12, 1996

Of equal importance [to letters and supplies from home] to the men of the regiment were the pieces of news that were enclosed in the letters that they received.  Often, parents, siblings, spouses and friends would enclose newspaper articles in their letters or at least apprise the soldiers of the local news.  Although the soldiers were directly involved in the war effort, they remained fairly ignorant about the general scope of the Union military campaigns and even the expected movements of their own regiments or brigades.  In the fall of 1862, Albert Harper wrote to his parents from Hancock, Maryland, “Perhaps you could tell me what we are here for?  I[‘m] sure I can’t tell you.”  Later in the month he commented, “by the papers I see they expect some big fighting here – so that is what we came up for – I have no idea where we are going ever.”8)“The Crack Regiment of Pittsburgh”: The Men and the Community of the 139th Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1860-1865, Sam Bartlett, Thesis submitted to Dept. of History of Amherst College, April 12, 1996

From the standpoint of military preparedness, the regiment made vast improvements in their first month of service.  Writing to the father of Albert Harper, Major William Moody commented that “The 139th Regt. is making rapid strides in drill and general proficiency if the compliments paid it both by General Couch[commander of the Sixth Corps, 3rd Division] and General Howe [commander of the Sixth Corps, 3rd Division, 3rd Brigade] may be considered honest and I think they were so intended.”9)“The Crack Regiment of Pittsburgh”: The Men and the Community of the 139th Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1860-1865, Sam Bartlett, Thesis submitted to Dept. of History of Amherst College, April 12, 1996

 

 

References   [ + ]

1. Conrad Smith, My Early Life and The Civil War, 1920, page 25
2. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Catalog
3, 4. Camp and Outpost Duty for Infantry 1862, Daniel Butterfield
5, 6, 7, 8, 9. “The Crack Regiment of Pittsburgh”: The Men and the Community of the 139th Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1860-1865, Sam Bartlett, Thesis submitted to Dept. of History of Amherst College, April 12, 1996

Regimental Flags

The second of two regimental flags or "state colors" carried by the color-guards of the 139th.

The second of two regimental flags or “state colors” carried by the color-guards of the 139th.1)Pennsylvania Civil War Battle Flags

Pittsburgh businessman William Semple, who was instrumental in the formation of four companies of the 139th, presented a national color to Company I, which was used as the regimental color from the time of the regiment’s muster September 1, 1862.2)Advance The Colors: Pennsylvania Civil War Battle Flags, Vol. 2, Richard Sauers, Capitol Preservation Committee, 1998

The first state flag was made Horstmann Brothers in September 1862 but somehow was lost and did not get to the regiment until sometime after the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863.  A replacement was requested during the winter of 1864-65.  The original was never returned to the state and its fate is unknown.3)Id.

The second state color was also made by Horstmann and was forwarded to the regiment in February 1865.  This flag, pictured above left, was carried during the final assault on Petersburg (April 2) and at Saylor’s Creek (April 6).   It was officially returned to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on July 4, 1866.4)Id.

In May of 1863, during the Chancellorsville Campaign, Color-Sergeant James S. Graham of Company E was severely wounded as the regiment charged forward.  Two other corporals were hit before a third color-guard grabbed the flag and kept it aloft.5)Id.

Major Robert Munroe was breveted lieutenant-colonel for retrieving the fallen banner after the color bearer was badly wounded during the Battle of Winchester in September 1864.6)Id.

David W. Young of Company E was promoted to Color-Sergeant on March 30, 1864.  He was wounded three times, at Wilderness, Fisher’s Hill and during the Siege of Petersburg.

Shortly after the end of the war, Young was honored by General Grant for his gallantry in the Petersburg assault.  The general had received a donation of $460 from a group of patriotic citizens who wished the money to be given to the man who raised the first flag over Richmond.  Since Richmond was evacuated and not taken by force, Grant decided to split the money among the three soldiers most conspicuous for gallantry at Petersburg.  Major-General Horatio Wright forwarded Young’s name and on July 22, 1865, Young received $153.33 for his gallant act of planting the first Yankee flag on Petersburg defenses.7)Id.

Flag ribbon commemorating the 139th's being the first flag planted at Petersburg.

Flag ribbon commemorating the 139th’s being the first flag planted at Petersburg.8)Pennsylvania Civil War Battle Flags

 

Officers of the 139th with the state colors to the left and the national colors to the right.

Officers of the 139th with the state colors to the left and the national colors to the right.9)Library of Congress

 

References   [ + ]

1, 8. Pennsylvania Civil War Battle Flags
2. Advance The Colors: Pennsylvania Civil War Battle Flags, Vol. 2, Richard Sauers, Capitol Preservation Committee, 1998
3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Id.
9. Library of Congress

Joining the Sixth Corps at Antietam

After burying the dead at Bull Run, the 139th “…hastened forward after the army, coming up with it on the 17th of September, the day of the battle of Antietam, and was at once put in line but did not become engaged.”1)History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, Samuel P. Bates, page 378

 

 

 

 

The Battlefield of Antietam

Map from the Philadelphia Inquirer sent home by Stephen Minot Weld.2)War Diary and Letters of Stephen Minot Weld, accessed here

Marker showing location of Couch's Division.

Marker showing location of Couch’s Division September 18, 1862.

Couchs Div movements Sep 16-18

My approximation of Couch’s Division’s movements based on the description on the marker above.

 

 

The day after Antietam, the regiment was pushed forward toward the Potomac, participating in a skirmish near Williamsport, Maryland, about nine miles northwest of their position on September 18th..3)Id.

 

The 139th was incorporated into the Army of the Potomac, being reassigned from the IV Corps to the VI Corps, commanded by William B. Franklin.  It was in the Third Brigade along with the 93rd, 98th and 102nd Pennsylvania regiments and the 62nd New York.((Id.  Although the brigade and division assignments changed occasionally, these five regiments would remain together for the remainder of the war.

Originally the 139th was assigned to the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division (Couch’s) IV Corps.  The marker shown below describes the movements of the Division on the Antietam Battlefield.  They were not engaged in the fighting.

 

 

 

 

 

References   [ + ]

1. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, Samuel P. Bates, page 378
2. War Diary and Letters of Stephen Minot Weld, accessed here

Marker showing location of Couch's Division.

Marker showing location of Couch’s Division September 18, 1862.

Couchs Div movements Sep 16-18

My approximation of Couch’s Division’s movements based on the description on the marker above.

 

 

The day after Antietam, the regiment was pushed forward toward the Potomac, participating in a skirmish near Williamsport, Maryland, about nine miles northwest of their position on September 18th..((Id.

3. Id.

 

The 139th was incorporated into the Army of the Potomac, being reassigned from the IV Corps to the VI Corps, commanded by William B. Franklin.  It was in the Third Brigade along with the 93rd, 98th and 102nd Pennsylvania regiments and the 62nd New York.((Id.

Elisha Hunt Rhodes Connection

Lt. Colonel Elisha Hunt Rhodes

You may recognize the name Elisha Hunt Rhodes if you have seen the Ken Burns PBS series The Civil War.  He kept a detailed journal during the war and wrote many letters home detailing what he was experiencing and how he felt about decisions made by commanding officers.  These writings were published by his great-grandson Robert Hunt Rhodes in 1985.   “All for the Union, The Civil War Diary and Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes” was featured prominently in the PBS series.

Rhodes enlisted in the 2nd Rhode Island at the age of nineteen in July of 1861 and was mustered out with the regiment when it was disbanded in July 1865.  The regiment was originally in the IV Corps and was transferred to the VI Corps in October 1862 at about the same time as the 139th PA.    Both regiments remained in the VI Corps for the remainder of the war and so were in generally the same places at the same time.  I will be highlighting some of Rhodes’ descriptions from time to time to help the reader get a feel for what the 139th was experiencing.1)All for the Union Introduction and Unit History Page of the Second Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry accessed here.

References   [ + ]

1. All for the Union Introduction and Unit History Page of the Second Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry accessed here.