Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Crater

Dates: 25 June to 30 July, 1864

Union: Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, Commander-in-Chief of the Union Armies, and Major General George Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac.

Confederate: General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia.

Prelude: Since 18 June, 1864, both the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia have been digging trench line and settling down for a siege. With the exception of some small scale action, the inactivity of a siege was already taking hold. Still there might be the possibility of pushing Lee’s army out of the way and taking Petersburg.

22 June, 1864: II Corps, under Major General David Birney and VI Corps, under Major General Horatio Wright attempt to extend the Union line by seizing a section of the Weldon Railroad near Globe Tavern, south of Petersburg. They run into the Confederate corps led by Lieutenant General A.P. Hill and are heavily repulsed.

Shortly after the battle, a proposal was made by Colonel Henry Pleasants, commanding officer of the 48th Pennsylvania, which was made up of coal miners. Dig a tunnel under the area between the lines to under the Confederate trenches. Then dig a gallery and fill it with gun powder. At a set time, set off the powder, blowing a hole in the Confederate lines, which can then be assaulted and the breach used to get Union troops into Petersburg.

The plan was enthusiastically by the commander of IX Corps, Major General Ambrose Burnside. However the response from Meade was lukewarm. Grant approved the plan on the off chance that it might work.

25 June, 1864: Digging started on the tunnel. The plan was to create a tunnel from the rear of the Union lines west to a salient, or fort, on the Confederate lines called Elliot’s Salient. The main tunnel would be 130 yards long with shafts for ventilation. Manually operated bellows provided the fresh air.

Digging with hand tool is a hard job even in the 21st Century, imagine doing this on the 1860s, as well as keeping the Confederates from learning what was going on. Even so they tried to dig counter tunnels to stop the Federals, but to no avail.

26 July, 1864: The tunnel and gallery were completed and transporting of tons of gun powder into the gallery had begun. Around the same time, the planning and training for the assault had begun.

The force for the initial attack would be led by the 4th Division of IX Corps, led by Brigadier General Edward Ferrero and made up of African-American troops. The plan was for the two brigades to skirt around the crater, hit the surviving trenches to each side, then seize nearby Cemetery Hill and open the way for three divisions of white troops to exploit the breach. Leading the attack would be the 1st Brigade, consisting of the 27th, 30th, 39th, and 43rd Regiments of United States Colored Troops. The 2nd Brigade, consisting of the 19th, 23rd, 28th, 29th, and 31st USCT, would follow in support.

28 July, 1864: Burnside reported that everything was ready for the assault when Meade ordered that Ferrero’s division would not make the initial assault. Meade also wanted a straight line assault instead of ant trench clearing. Burnside pled his case and Meade would take it before Grant.

29 July, 1864: Burnside has just started a briefing for his three white division commanders when Grant arrived. It was decided that Meade’s orders would stand and that Burnside would have to pick one of his other divisions to lead the assault.

At this point the plan began to fall apart, instead of simply ordering another division to lead the attack, he had his division commanders draw lots.

The lead division would be led by Brigadier General James Ledlie, a known drunkard and coward who still held command due to political connections. His division would skirt around the crater. The division of Brigadier General Orlando Wilcox would cover the left while the division of Brigadier General Robert Potter would cover the right. Ferrero’s division would follow in support.

The possible reason for Grant not allowing Ferrero’s division to lead the attack was the reaction of politicians and the press to heavy African-American causalities. Also the jury was still out on the ability of African-Americans to fight, despite the actions of those troops at Battery Wagner, SC and Olstree, FL, amongst others.

That night, the troops began to form into position. If the African-American troops were angry at being knocked from the lead position, they were too professional to show it.

3:00 a.m.: The fuse is lit. It would take 30 minutes to reach the powder.

3:30 a.m.: No explosion.

4:00 a.m.: Still no explosion.

4:30 a.m.: Still no explosion. Sergeant Harry Reese runs into the tunnel and finds that the fuse went out at a splice. He relights it and runs out.

4:44 a.m.: The fuse reaches the powder gallery and Elliot’s Salient went up in a giant gout of flame and dirt and killing scores of Confederates.

It took minutes for the dust to settle, but soon afterwards Burnside ordered the attack to commence. Ledlie gave the order to his division, then ran to a shelter to get drunk. As his division reached the crater, they either deviated from the plan or they never were told to go around. They all went in! This was promptly followed by Wilcox’s division. Soon the crater was getting filled with Union troops with no easy way out.

The Confederates around the crater recovered from the shock and began pouring troops into the area. Troops led by Brigadier General William Mahone soon reinforced the defense and began pouring musket fire into the crater, now containing Potter’s division as well. The Confederates were soon supported by mortar fire, shells plunging into the mass of Federal troops.

Ferrero’s division was ordered into the attack. The Confederates shifted some of their fire on the African-American soldiers. Finding the sides covered, Ferrero had no choice but to go into the crater as well. The Confederate fire was intense and many of the troops got angry at the sight of African-Americans, many of then former slaves, with weapons. Cannon were brought up and the area was getting swept with canister fire. For the next several hours the crater became a charnel house. By 9:30 a.m., Meade was calling for the attack to stop, but to no avail.

2:00 p.m.: Mahone was able to gather a large enough force to launch a counterattack. The resulting scene was horrific, as some African-American soldiers were killed, or captured then killed. Even those who were taken prisoner were treated so harshly, they probably wished they had been killed.

Still, the United States Colored Troops showed true professionalism in the face of certain death.

Finally, the survivors were able to get out of what they started calling The Crater.

Union causalities totaled 3475 with 1327 being African-Americans. This out of a total of about 20,000.

Confederate causalities totaled 1500 out of 11,000 engaged.

Twenty-four Medals of Honor were awarded for those who fought in The Crater. Four of those were given to members of Ferrero’s Division. Only one of those was given to an African-American, Sergeant Decatur Dorsey of the 43rd USCT.

Major General Ambrose Burnside was removed from command of IX Corps and sent home to await orders, which never came.

Ledlie was dismissed.

Wilcox and Ferrero were given light reprimands.

The siege would continue.


Dates: 1-9 April, 1865

Union: Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, Commander-in-Chief of the Union Armies, and Major General George Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac.

Confederate: General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia.

Prelude: For the past nine months, the Army of the Potomac had kept the Army of Northern Virginia pinned in the city of Petersburg, forcing them to endure siege conditions as the Federals extended their lines to the west, cutting rail lines as they went. The object was not only the rail lines, but also the over extension of the Confederate lines to the point of where it could be broken.

Grant had time on his side, with millions of tons of supplies stockpiled at City Point, a small river port on the James River where he made his headquarters, as well as being able to draw on manpower reserves to keep the Army of the Potomac well manned. Despite several setbacks such as the Battle of the Crater (30 July, 1864) and difficulties encountered in extending his lines, Grant felt that the time was fast approaching for the final act in a war that has cost the nation 650,000 lives on both sides.

Lee, on the other hand, knew that time was running out. He was in charge of a defensive line stretching from the Confederate capital of Richmond south to Petersburg. Supplies are short and getting shorter by the day, some of his men have resorted to picking out undigested corn from horse droppings in order to eat that day. Others have had enough of the war and deserted. As April 1865 approached, Lee commands fewer than 50,000 men. He faces a Union army of 125,000.

If Lee has any hope of continuing the fight, he must get his army out of the area and hopefully join with General Joseph Johnston’s army, presently in North Carolina and facing the onslaught of Major General William Sherman’s forces. The only other Confederate army in the field was General Edmund “Kirby” Smith’s army in the Trans-Mississippi, but they were too far away to be of any help. Lee decides to make what would be one last attempt to break through the Federal lines and escape.

March 25, 1865: A small group of Confederate soldiers approach Fort Steadman, a Union strong point. A Federal sentry spots them:

“Halt, who goes there?”

“Don’t mind us, Yank. We just gathering some corn. Food is mighty scarce here.”

“Go ahead, we won’t shoot you while you are drawing your rations.”

The Confederates were actually clearing away obstacles for three divisions led by General John Gordon. As dawn began to approach, Gordon’s troops assaulted the fort, seizing it and clearing a space 1000 yards wide. Federal troops on both sides of the gap were able to close the gap and retake the fort after sunrise. Gordon was forced to withdraw.

After recovering Fort Steadman, Grant decides that it’s time to extend his lines further. He decides to seize the road junction of Five Forks, which would deny Lee any easy chance for escape.

Lee also felt that five Forks was important, he sends a division under Major General George Picket and cavalry led by his nephew, Major General Fitzhugh Lee to secure the cross roads.

March 27, 1865: As Grant is preparing his next move, he attends a meeting aboard the steamer River Queen with President Abraham Lincoln, Admiral David Porter, and Sherman in attendance. The main discussion was the terms that would be given to the Confederates when they surrendered. Lincoln favored a softer approach than the more radical members of the Republican Party wanted. All three military leaders were in agreement.

In order to carry out the plan to extend his lines, Grant selected V Corps, under Major General Gouverneur Warren, II Corps under Major General Andrew Humphreys, who replaced Major General Winfield Hancock when the wound he suffered at Gettysburg developed complications, and a cavalry detachment led by Major General Philip Sheridan to seize Five Forks.

30 March, 1865: II and V Corps head west to Five Forks, hitting the confederate line at Hatcher’s Run and Gravelly Run. They are delayed by heavy rains. Federal cavalry under Brigadier General Wesley Merritt reached Five Forks but is halted by a line of Confederate entrenchments.

31 March 1865: Another group of Sheridan’s cavalry is repulsed at Dinwiddie Court House but Pickett’s troops are forced to pull back as Federal infantry begin to arrive. Pickett falls back on Five Forks but the main confederate line is now beyond the breaking point.

1 April 1865: Five Forks, VA. Sheridan’s cavalry is positioned on the left and V Corps is on the right as the Federal force approaches the cross roads. Pickett has his forces spread out on the White Oak Road, running east and west from Five Forks. Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry was placed on the Confederate right. The thing was, both commanders were not there. They were three miles back having a shad bake alongside a creek when the battle started!

Sheridan hits the Confederate center and left while V Corps was to swing around and hit the Confederate left. Problem was Warren was perceived to be taking his time doing it. Sheridan was given total command over the force earlier by Grant, even authority to relieve corps commanders if necessary. Sheridan ordered V Corps to move forward, relying on officers like Major General Joshua Chamberlain, once the commander of the 20th Maine at Gettysburg and now a division commander, and smash the Confederate left. As success was being realized, Sheridan yelling “By God, tell Warren he was not in the fight!”

As Pickett and Fitzhugh Lee were returning from their lunch, they finally heard the sounds of the battle. It is believed that the site of the shad bake was in an acoustic shadow, which masked the sounds from three miles away, but the battle was probably heard in Petersburg. The commanders raced to their lines to rally their men, but it was too late. The Confederate line collapsed and 5000 men were killed, wounded, or captured.

Later on that day, Sheridan relieved Warren of command of V Corps, replacing him with Major General Charles Griffin. Warren demanded a court of inquiry in order to clear his name. That court would clear his name, but Warren dies before the verdict.

Grant has his wish, Lee is now in a box with no easy way out to the south. The time has come for a general assault.

2 April, 1865: Dawn: Grant launches his assault with a heavy artillery bombardment, followed by infantry. Grant’s strategy has worked, the overstretched Confederate lines are shattered. During the battle, Lieutenant General A.P. Hill, one of Lee’s corps commanders is killed during the frantic defense.

Lee has no choice, he orders a general evacuation to Amelia Court House, 40 miles to the west. He then pens a letter to President Jefferson Davis.

Davis was attending church services when a messenger arrives with the letter from Lee. Not only is Lee abandoning his lines, but strongly recommends the evacuation of the Confederate Government. Davis leaves the church and rushes to the Executive Mansion. Richmond is thrown into a panic as government departments begin packing everything they could and destroying everything they could not take.

The James River Squadron, a naval force under the command of Admiral Raphael Semmes, once commander of CSS Alabama, is destroyed and the sailors became infantry, supported by cadets from the CS Naval Academy.

Supplies were put to the torch, causing huge explosions as ammunition reserves were affected. Fires swept the riverfront, aided by drunken mobs. The area is to this day known as “The Burnt District.”

The remnants of the Confederate Government boarded the last train to leave Richmond, headed for Danville, VA as the last troops fled west to join up with Lee.

That evening Petersburg is occupied by Federal troops.
3 April, 1865: Federal troops enter Richmond and raise the US flag over the state capital for the first time since 1861. It is noted that the first troops to enter the city were African-American soldiers. But the war continues.

4 April, 1865: Grant begins his pursuit of Lee, but decides not to bring about a general attack, instead moving his troops parallel so Lee cannot turn south.

Lee reaches Amelia Court House and finds a supply train waiting. He had ordered rations sent from Richmond before the city’s fall. Somehow the message was misinterpreted, for the train did not hold food, but ammunition and horse equipment. Lee orders the surrounding area searched for food, but there is no more to be had. This delay loses any advantage that Lee had.

5 April, 1865: Lee orders his army to turn to the south, but finds the way blocked by Federals. Movement resumes to the west, this time to Farmville. The lack of food and sleep is taking their toll on the fleeing Confederates, who are dropping out in bunches, either heading to their homes or getting picked up by Federal cavalry patrols.

6 April 1865: As the army of Northern Virginia approaches Farmville, the rearguard of that army, the corps of Lieutenant Generals Richard Ewell and Richard Anderson are cut off at Saylers Creek and captured. This leaves the corps of Lieutenant General James Longstreet and the cavalry left. They reach Farmville to find rations.

Grant decides to press in.

7 April 1865: Grant launched an attack on Lee’s shrinking army at Farmville. Using cavalry as a blocking force, Lee manages to pull his infantry out and on to the road to the next rail station, Appomattox Court House.

Grant pens a letter to Lee:

General R. E. Lee, Commander Confederate States Armies,

General- the result of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it is my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the C.S. army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.

Very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
Lieut-Gen. commanding Armies of the U. States

The message was sent to Lee via a truce rider. He reads it, hands it over to Longstreet who also reads it. Longstreet mutters, “Not yet.”

Lee then pens an answer;

To: Lieut-Gen U.S. Grant, Commanding Armies of the United States:

General- I have received your note of this date. Though not entirely of the opinion you express of the hopelessness on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, and therefore, before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer, on condition of its surrender.

R.E. LEE, General

It is during this time that a fateful decision was made. Several of Lee’s officers expressed the opinion that the army should be disbanded into smaller groups, fade into the mountains and try to reach Johnston in North Carolina. Failing that, the plan would be to stay in the mountains and carry on the war from there. Lee thought about and saw total bitterness and strife for the next 100 years. He said no.

Lee’s answer reached Grant but he was down with a migraine headache, so an answer was not available right away.

8 April, 1865: The Army of Northern Virginia reached Appomattox Court House.

The plan was to push through to Lynchburg, further west, then turn south. There was just one problem, Sheridan had managed to get past Lee and blocked the westward road.

Another message arrives from Grant:

General R. E. Lee, Commander Confederate States Armies,

General: Your note of last evening, in reply to mine of the same date, asking the conditions on which I will accept the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, is just received. In reply, I would say that peace being my first desire, there is but one condition that I insist upon, viz:
That the men surrendered shall de disqualified for taking up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged.
I will meet you, or designate officers to meet any officers you may name for the same purpose, at any point agreeable to you, for the purpose of arranging definitely the terms upon which the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia will be received.

Very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
Lieut-Gen. commanding Armies of the U. States

Lee was planning for one last try at breaking out to the west. He was nor ready to surrender just yet.

To: Lieut-Gen U.S. Grant, Commanding Armies of the United States:

General- I received at a late hour your note of today, in answer to mine of yesterday. I did not intend to propose the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, but to ask the terms of your proposition. To be frank, I do not think the emergency has arisen to call for the surrender. But as the restoration of peace should be the sole subject of all, I desire to know whether your proposals would tend to that end. I cannot, therefore, meet you with a view to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia, but so far as your proposition may affect the Confederate States forces under my command, and lead to the restoration of peace, I should be pleased to meet you at 10 a.m. tomorrow, on the old stage road to Richmond, between the picket lines of the two armies.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R.E. LEE, General, Confederate States Armies.

9 April, 1865: Lee orders Gordon to hit the Federal cavalry screen to the west. The attack is successful until additional Union infantry arrives in support. Add to that the presence of II Corps in Lee’s rear area and the reality of the situation finally hit home. The Army of Northern Virginia was no longer capable of fighting. They were surrounded and Grant had all the time in the world to wait.

Another rider under a flag of truce arrives with a message from Grant:

General R. E. Lee, Commander Confederate States Armies,

Your note of yesterday is received. As I have no authority to treat on the subject of peace, the meeting proposed for 10 a.m. today could lead to no good. I will state, however, General, that I am equally anxious for peace with yourself; and the whole North entertain the same feeling. The terms upon which peace can be had are well understood. By the South laying down their arms they will hasten that most desirable event, save thousands of human lives, and hundreds of millions of property not yet destroyed.
Sincerely hoping that all our difficulties may be settled without the loss of another life, I subscribe myself,

Very respectfully, your most obedient servant,

U.S. GRANT, Lieut-Gen. U.S.A.

After reading the letter and receiving reports about the position of the Federal forces (and noting that they were fully surrounded, Lee said, “I have no choice but to go see General Grant, but I would rather die a thousand deaths.”

White flags were ordered raised along the Confederate line and another message was sent;

General:- I received your note of this morning on the picket line, whither I had come to meet you and ascertain definitely what terms were embraced in your proposition of yesterday with reference to the surrender of this army.
I now request an interview in accordance with the offer contained in your letter of yesterday for that purpose.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R.E. LEE, General, Confederate States Armies.

To: Lieut-Gen. Grant, Commanding U.S. Armies.

When that letter was received, it was said that Grant’s migraine headache disappeared.

Quickly the order went out for all of his forces to freeze in place, but to be on the alert to resume action. Meanwhile, there was a search for a place to hold the talks. Finally the home of Wilbur McLean was selected. McLean was a sugar merchant who had lived near Manassas Junction in 1861. following the battle, he moved his family out to Appomattox Court House in order to remain away from the fighting. Now, the beginning of the end of the Civil War was about to take place in his parlor.

At about midday the two sides finally met. Lee wore a brand new dress uniform with a jeweled sword. Grant, having lost his baggage, came in his usual privates sack coat with shoulder straps noting his rank and trousers stained with mud. They chatted briefly about their experiences in the Mexican War until Lee gave a reminder of the reason for the meeting. The following was agreed:

The Commander of United States Armies will accept the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia with these terms:

1. Rosters of the surrendering army will be made for the use of the officers designated to conduct the surrender.

2. All officers and men will sign paroles, promising not to take up arms until exchanged for a Union soldier still in a prisoner of war camp.

3. All public property (muskets, cannon, equipment, flags, etc.) will be turned over to Union officers designated to receive them. Side arms and baggage of officers were exempt. Also agreed was that any horses and mules claimed as farm animals could also be taken.

Copies of the terms were drawn up and signed by both sides. Grant orders 25,000 rations sent to the former enemy. The formal surrender is set for the 12th.

As Lee left, Grant and his entire staff saluted Lee as he rode Traveler back to his army. As he arrived, he told his troops, “Go to your homes and resume your occupations. Obey the laws and become as good citizens as you were soldiers.”

As word of the surrender spread throughout the Union encampment, cannon were being fired in celebration. Grant immediately ordered it stopped, stating that the Confederates “are our countrymen once again” and did not want to compound their defeat.

10 April, 1865: Lee issues the last order he will write, General Order No. 9:

Headquarters Army of Northern Virginia, April 10, 1865

After four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources. I need not tell the survivors of so many hard fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to this result from no distrust of them, but holding that valor and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that would attend to the continuation of this contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past vigor has endeared them to their countrymen.
By the terms of agreement officers and men cam return to their homes and remain there until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend you his blessing and protection. With an increasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration of myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell.

R.E. LEE, General

12 April, 1865: During the formal surrender, as cannon were being parked, muskets stacked, and flags furled, the division of Lieutenant General John Gordon was marching to where they would give up their arms. They were passing a formation of Union troops commanded by one of the officers handling the surrender. Major General Joshua Chamberlain. Chamberlain quickly orders his troops to attention and then to order arms, raising their muskets in salute to their former enemy. Gordon notices this and shouts, “smarten up boys, the Yankees are saluting our flag.” Gordon then lowers his sword in returning the salute.

After all of the formalities were completed, each man was given a parole slip and then were free to go. The Army of Northern Virginia has passed into history.

This did not end the civil war, even though the largest Confederate army was out of the fight. Two armies were still in the field and the remains of the Confederate Government were fleeing south.

It would be weeks before the war was finally at an end.

Petersburg, VA

Dates: 12-18 June, 1864


Union: Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, Commander-in-Chief of the Union Armies, and Major General George Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac.

Confederate: General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia.

Prelude: Even as the Federals were recovering from the defeat at Cold Harbor, there were no plans to withdraw. As a matter of fact, Grant was still looking at splitting the Confederate line and resume the march on the Confederate capital of Richmond. Meanwhile, both sides were sitting in trenches and doing the occasional sniping as the stench from unburied corpses, made worse by the summer heat, cast a pall over everything.

It wasn’t as if everything was still; to the north, a Federal army under Major General David Hunter was poised to reenter the Shenandoah Valley and lay waste to the “Breadbasket of the Confederacy.” To the south, Major General William Sherman’s army was making progress into Georgia, hitting Confederate defenses north of Atlanta.

5 June, 1864: Major General John Breckenridge, a former vice-President of the United States and Democratic Party candidate for President in 1860, had been ordered to attach his troops to the Army of Northern Virginia, leaving a small force in the Shenandoah Valley. As Hunter’s troops enter the valley, a scratch force of 5000 is assembled under Major General William “Grumble” Jones, and engages Hunter at Piedmont, VA. The scratch force is destroyed and Junes is killed.

Seeing that there is still a threat to the north, Lee decides to detach his II Corps, under Lieutenant General Jubal Early, and send them north in order to keep Hunter occupied.

7 June, 1864: In order to assist Hunter, Grant orders two divisions of cavalry under Major General Philip Sheridan to the Shenandoah Valley.

Throughout all of this, Grant does not see a way through the Confederate lines, so he begins to plan a way around them. He will not, however, go to the north. Instead he will move once again to the south. He decides to seize the rail hub of Petersburg. This would hamper the already desperate supply situation the Lee’s army is enduring. To pull this off without alerting the Confederates, Grants orders several new roads made and a 700 foot pontoon bridge built across the James River.

9 June, 1864: Union troops under Major General Benjamin Butler attacks Petersburg and is repulsed by a smaller Confederate force led by General P.T.G. Beauregard.

When all is in readiness, Grant orders the redeployment to commence.

12 June, 1864: That morning, Early’s corps departs the Confederate trenches at Cold Harbor and begin moving north. At the same time, the Federals begin their move.

II Corps, under Major General Winfield Hancock, and VI Corps, under Major General Horatio Wright, hold their positions in order to keep the Confederates occupied.

V Corps, under Major General Gouverneur Warren, pulls out of their position near Malvern Hill, site of the 1 July, 1862 battle, and marches south to secure the approaches to the landing and bridge.

Lee receives reports of the Federal movements and believed that Grant will try to break through via Malvern Hill and White Oak Swamp and attack Richmond that way. He orders the remainder of his army to leave the Cold Harbor trenches and redeploy to block Grant.

13 June, 1864: XVIII Corps, under Major General William F. Smith, marches east to West Point, where they board boats for the trip down the York River, around Old Point Comfort and Fort Monroe, and finally up the James to Bermuda Hundred.

II Corps is pulled out of the trenches and is marched to Wilcox Landing, where the bridge was.

14 June, 1864: II Corps crosses the James in boats (the bridge was not ready). With XVIII Corps at Bermuda Hundred, they begin to march on Petersburg.

15 June, 1864: both Hancock and Smith have an opportunity to take Petersburg, but miscommunications, wrong maps, and other factors prevent the attack from launching until evening. Despite some progress, the attack stops when total darkness falls, despite a full moon. Smith orders his troops to entrench.

By this time, Beauregard has gathered 15,000 men and notifies Lee of the advancing Federals. This as the remainder of the Army of the Potomac, including IX Corps under Major General Ambrose Burnside and with the exception of VI Corps, arrives.

16 June, 1864: Lee still believes that Grant will try and break through his lines. Upon hearing of the Federal seizure of Bermuda Hundred, he sends two divisions under Major General George Pickett to take it back. By evening that is accomplished.

At Petersburg itself, Meade has arrived and ordered an assault with II, IX, and XVIII Corps. Despite cracking Beauregard’s line, a break through is not achieved.

17 June 1864: Beauregard launches a counterattack which fails to break the Federal line but provides the evidence that Grant and the Army of the Potomac are concentrating at Petersburg. That information is sent to Lee, who orders his army south to support Beauregard. That evening, Beauregard pulls his troops to the outskirts of Petersburg.

June 18, 1864: Dawn: 70,000 Federal troops launch an assault on Petersburg, but find empty trenches and a new Confederate line.

7:00 a.m.: Lee’s army begins to arrive at Petersburg, strengthening the Confederate line and closing the window of opportunity for Grant to take the town.

12:00: noon: Another Federal assault, this time led by the division of Major General David Birney, resulting in massive losses for the Union, including one of Barney’s regiments losing 632 out of 850 men who woke up that morning.

That evening, Grant arrived on the scene and after taking a look at the situation, decides to go back to the tactics that gave him victory at Vicksburg, MS the previous year. Grant orders trenches to be dug and preparations made for a siege.

Grant neither destroyed Lee nor seized Richmond. Instead he was forced into a siege situation that still favored the Federals. Grant can gather supplies and keep his troops fed while Lee was forced to rely on an endangered rail system to keep his men fed. Another effect of this siege was that the only Confederate army still able to conduct offensive operations was now pinned down on the James River. From this point onward, the countdown to the end of the Confederacy had begun.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

North Anna River and Cold Harbor, VA

Dates: 21 May to 3 June, 1864.

Commanders: Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, Commander-in-Chief of all Federal Armies and Major General George Meade commanding the Army of the Potomac.

Confederate: General Robert E. Lee commanding the Army of Northern Virginia.

Prelude: Grant has decided to make another flanking movement in another attempt to get his army around Lee. Each battle and following maneuver resulted in getting the federals closer to the Confederate capital of Richmond, at the same time wearing Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia down by attrition. Grant can afford to lose men, with the North’s surplus of manpower at his disposal. He even declared that he would “fight it out on this line if it took all summer.” Even so, as reports of causalities from The Wilderness and Spotsylvania battles reached Northern newspapers there were howls of protest at the butchery that Grant was perceived to be inflicting on his own troops. Grant, on the other hand, knew what it took to bring this to an end.

Lee had no such reserves. Southern manpower was such that boys as young as 15 and man as old as 55 were being drafted into Confederate service. Lee knew that his best chance was to delay Grant and bleed out his army. Problem was that he had less than 50,000 troops to do that with, and little chance of reinforcement. Grant had 110,000 to throw at him with reinforcements coming.

21 May, 1864: Lee learns of Grant’s movement towards the south and orders his army to fall back to the North Anna River. They end up on parallel routes only a few miles apart.

22 May, 1864: The corps of Lieutenant General Richard Ewell arrives at Hanover Junction, south of the North Anna River and begins to dig in. The Confederates manage to entrench just as the Federals arrive.

Lee places Ewell on his right at Hanover Junction, the corps of Lieutenant General Richard Anderson in the center, and the corps of Lieutenant General A.P. Hill, who recently returned to duty from illness, on the left.

As the Federals arrive, Major General Winfield Hancock’s II Corps is placed on the left, Major General Ambrose Burnside’s IX Corps takes the center, and both Major General Gouverneur Warren’s V Corps and Major General Horatio Wright’s VI Corps on the right. Wright was named commander of XI Corps following the death of Major General John Sedgwick at Spotsylvania.

23 May 1864: Hancock crosses the North Anna River at the Telegraph Bridge and engages Ewell. On the Federal right, Warren crosses at Jericho Mills and engages Hill. Hill launches a counterattack, which is repulsed. That night Waller crosses in support.

Lee sees an opportunity to split the Federal line, but is taken ill and confined to his tent.

24 May, 1864: Wright and Warren continue their assault on Hill’s line as Burnside crosses Ox Ford to hit the center, while Hancock continued to hit the Confederate right. Lee, despite his illness, places his troops in an inverted V, which splits the Federals in two and preventing one group from supporting the other.

25 May, 1864: Grant realizes that he can not break the Confederate lines, and decides to make yet another flanking maneuver to the south. One stroke of luck for Grant came in the form of Major General Philip Sheridan’s forces. Grant sends Sheridan on a mission to find crossing across the Pamunkey River.

26 May, 1864: Grant orders the Army of the Potomac to pull back across the North Anna and begin marching to the southeast.

27 May, 1864: Sheridan finds a crossing of the Pamunkey River at Hanovertown and promptly occupies the town.

As the Union forces march down the road towards the crossing, they are harassed by Confederate cavalry who were trying to determine the Federal’s movement. Once that was found, word got back to Lee, who orders his army to begin their movement to the southeast.

28 May, 1864: As the Federals reached the Pamunkey and begin to cross, Union cavalry fight a savage engagement at Haw’s Shop. Lee manages to get his troops to the town on New Cold Harbor by marching through the old Mechanicsville and Gaines Mill battlefields.

29 May,1864: Lee manages to entrench his army. He places a division under Major General Jubal Early on the left, anchored near Totopotomoy Creek. Anderson’s corps was placed in the middle between the Old Church Road and New Cold Harbor. Hill was placed on the right between New Colt Harbor and the Chickahominy River.

Union forces begin attacking Confederate positions along the Totopotomoy River. After failing to break through the lines, Grant is forced to move further south in order to outflank Lee.

30 May, 1864: Grant and Meade arrive and begins to place their troops. Hancock’s II Corps in on the left. To the right there was Wright’s VI Corps. A new addition to the Union force was XVIII Corps, under Major General William Smith. Warren’s V Corps and Burnside’s IX Corps anchored the right. Grant orders the Confederate line probed for weaknesses. Grant and his forces are now 10 miles from Richmond, exactly where Major General George McClellan was about two years ago.

An engagement at Bethesda Church, ends in a draw as Union forces drive the Confederate left wing back as their left wing was being driven back.

31 May, 1864: Sheridan’s troops seize the crossroads at Old Cold Harbor. Grant tries to extend his line past Old Cold Harbor but is stopped by Lee.

1 June, 1864: There is fighting along the line, including an attempt by Confederates to take the crossroads at Old Cold Harbor, which is repulsed.

2 June, 1864: The day is hot and humid. Grant decides to launch a frontal assault on the Confederate trenches the next day. Little does he know that Lee had his troops improve their lines with logs to provide overhead cover.

3 June, 1864: 4:30 a.m.: Grant launches an assault with 60,000 men on the Confederate lines. They were met by well placed infantry using interlocking fields of fire. The first 60 minutes became the bloodiest hour of the Civil War, with 7000 killed. Another account told of 20,000 falling within 20 minutes (not all being killed). The Federals managed to place musket fire on the Confederates but not many were getting hit. Grant orders more assaults but despite some of his men reaching the Confederate line, the defenses simply would not break. At noon, Grant calls off the attack. That night, according to one account, he isolated himself in his tent and cried for the losses suffered.

The area between the lines was covered in Federal dead and wounded and the Confederates were not making it easy. Any movement was met with musket fire. Those trapped between also suffered from thirst in the hot and humid weather.

There is a custom that if one side asks for a truce, then he had conceded the battle. Grant could have asked for a truce for the express purpose to evacuating the wounded, but delayed doing so. Finally Grant decided to break with tradition and call for that truce, but not before several hundred more died.

After the wounded were cleared, the two sides would snipe at each other for the next nine days.

Knowing full well that the Confederate line could not be broken without even more massive losses, Grant orders one last flanking maneuver, this time toward the rail junction of Petersburg.

Spotsylvania, VA

Dates: 8-19 May, 1864


Union: Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, Commander-in-Chief of all Federal Armies and Major General George Meade commanding the Army of the Potomac.

Confederate: General Robert E. Lee commanding the Army of Northern Virginia.

Prelude: General Grant, following his defeat at the Battle of The Wilderness (5-7 May, 1864), did something that the Confederates did not expect. In past battles, the Union forces simply pulled back across the Rappahannock or Rapidan Rivers to rest, reequip, and wait to fight another day. Grant was not doing what it was expected him to do. Instead of pulling back to the north, he ordered Meade to send his army to the south in a flanking maneuver around the Confederate right.

Perhaps it was numerical superiority that led Grant to press on with his advance. The Union still had a vast manpower reserve that could keep his troop levels in the 100-120 thousand range. Lee, on the other hand, had practically no reserves to draw on. Every battle from here on out would cost him troops that he could no longer afford to lose. Lee also had to know that if his army was flanked, cutting him off from the Confederate capital of Richmond, it was only a matter of time before the end came.

Grants plan at this point was to do just that. To the south was the crossroads of Spotsylvania Court House. Capturing that would hamper, if not cut off, Confederate communications. As the Union army was leaving the trenches at the Wilderness on the night of 7 May, those were the orders given.

Lee also knew about those crossroads and when he found out that the Federals were heading south instead of north, he ordered the corps of Major General Richard Anderson (who had taken over when Lieutenant General James Longstreet was wounded) to secure the crossroads. Lee also ordered his cavalry to harass the advancing Federals.

8 May, 1864: Anderson’s troops reach three-way crossroads northwest of Spotsylvania Court House literally seconds before Union troops under Major General John Sedgwick arrived. Fighting erupts, continuing throughout the day, which prevented the Federals from coming any further. Throughout the day, both sides dig entrenchments and bring up the remainder of their armies.

Soon the battle lines were drawn: On the Federal side, Sedgwick’s VI Corps held the center while Major General Gouverneur Warren’s V Corps took the right, anchored on the Po River. Major General Winfield Hancock’s II Corps and Major General Ambrose Burnside’s IX Corps would secure the Union left.

The Confederate line consisted of Anderson’s corps taking the left, from the crossroads where he stopped the Union forces to the Po River. From the crossroads to the northeast, was the corps of Lieutenant General Richard Ewell. His line looped around to the south at the McCoull Farm, the resulting line resembled a mule shoe and as such was called “The Mule Shoe.” The Confederate right, from the Mule Shoe to Spotsylvania was held by the corps of Major General Jubal Early (who had taken over for the ill Lieutenant General A. P. Hill).

9 May, 1864: Grant decides to open up the contest with a flanking movement around the Confederate left. Several brigades were sent across the Po River and were attempting to seize the Block House Bridge. They were stopped by a division under Major General Henry Heth.

In the Federal center, Sedgwick was inspecting the new trenches. He stands on top of one and looks on the Confederate entrenchments. Several bullets whizzed by, causing his soldiers to duck. Others pleaded with “Uncle John” to get down before a Confederate sharpshooter gets him. His response was. “I’m ashamed of you dodging this way. They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” One second later, a Confederate bullet strikes Sedgwick in the head, killing him instantly.

10 May, 1864: After a series of Federal probing attacks, at 6:00 p.m., a formation of 12 Union regiments, led by Colonel Emory Upton, assaults the Mule Shoe with fixed bayonets and manages to seize part of the trenches without firing a shot. Sadly there was no support for that attack and Upton had to withdraw. He would be promoted to Brigadier General for that action. Also by the end of the day, the Federal force at Block House Bridge was attacked and forced to pull back.

11 May, 1864: Grant repositions his troops for another assault on the Mule Shoe scheduled for the next day.

Lee, thinking that Grant is considering another flanking maneuver, pulls out the 30 cannon supporting the Mule Shoe in preparation for movement.

The Confederacy loses another of its ablest commanders when Lee’s cavalry commander, Major General J.E.B. Stuart is mortally wounded as his troopers were engaging Union Major General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry at Yellow Tavern, north of Richmond.

12 May, 1864: 4:30 a.m., Grant launches a massive attack on the Mule Shoe with 20,000 troops from Hancock’s II Corps. Lee orders those 30 cannon back to their former positions but its too late. The Confederate lines are breached and almost 3000 were captures, among those were two generals and almost the entire “Stonewall” brigade, which was formed and led by Thomas Jackson at the beginning of the Civil War and had earned their nickname at First Manassas. Now that unit was no longer combat effective.

It was said that Lee himself rode out there on his horse Traveler and rallied the fleeing Confederates. Seeing one group of Texans, Lee is believed to have shouted, “I’m ashamed of you.” The Texans rallied around Lee as he prepared to lead a counterattack personally. The Texans, joined by some Georgians and Virginians, were not having their commanding general lead them into certain death. Amid chants of, “Lee to the rear,” Major General John Gordon assures Lee that his men could get the job done but Lee had to stay back. Lee agrees and orders a serried of counterattacks, resulting in about 20 hours of the most savage fighting of the entire war. The apex of the Mule Shoe would become known as “The Bloody Angle.” Lee orders a new line dug at the base of the Mule Shoe for his men to fall back to. When the fighting finally dies out, 6800 Federals and 5000 Confederates lay dead.

On the Federal left, Burnside tries to break the Confederate entrenchments but is repulsed.

13 May, 1864: Grant decides to extend his line to the southeast, sending Burnside and Warren to find a way around the Confederates. Lee has his men in the new line, strengthening his hold on the area.

14 May, 1864: Both Burnside and Warren have concentrated their troops along the Fredericksburg Road, northeast of Spotsylvania Court House, but a planned attack for that day is stopped by rain.

18 May, 1864: After the rains stopped, Grant tries to launch another attack with Hancock’s II Corps on the Confederate lines south of the Mule Shoe and the Bloody Angle without success. Grant decides to make another move to the south.

19 May, 1864: Lee orders Ewell to send his corps forward to see what the Federals are doing. They manage to get past the Federals but is stopped at Harris Farm by a force made up of artillerists dragged from the Washington Defenses and deployed as infantry.

It is interesting to see that Ewell’s corps at this point was a corps in name only. He had 6000 under his command when he went forward. A full strength Civil War infantry regiment consisted of about 1000 men. Ewell’s fighting power was now the equivalent of six regiments, or two brigades. This was the level of manpower that the Army of Northern Virginia had to deal with now.

The entire Spotsylvania campaign ends with Grant ordering the Army of the Potomac to continue shifting to the south. Lee orders his army to fall back to the North Anna River. Grant failed to destroy Lee, but Lee also has failed to stop Grant.


Union: 17,500 but can replace them easily.

Confederates: about 11,500 but can not replace them.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Wilderness, VA

Dates: 5-7 May, 1864


Union: Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, Commander-in-Chief of all Federal Armies and Major General George Meade commanding the Army of the Potomac.

Confederate: General Robert E. Lee commanding the Army of Northern Virginia.

Prelude: Grant, recently promoted as the first Lieutenant General since George Washington, had decided not to run operations from a desk in Washington, but instead chose to attach his headquarters to Meade’s. Grant felt that he could better command in the field. He was running two massive operations; that of Major General William Sherman in the West, poised to strike into Georgia, as well as that of Meade. Grant reassures Meade that he will retain command of the Army of the Potomac. Despite calls from northern newspapers to advance on the Confederate capital of Richmond, VA, Grant decides that his sights will set squarely on Lee. If the Army of Northern Virginia can be rendered inactive, Richmond will fall and the rebellion will come to a halt. Lee’s army is the only Confederate force capable of sustained operations, and even that was dicey. All the hopes of a Confederate victory in the war were pinned in Lee, and Grant was about to dash those hopes.

To put his plan into place, Grant amasses 120,000 men into the Army of the Potomac. Included in this number are regiments of heavy artillery taken from the forts surrounding Washington and reorganizing them as infantry. Their years of spit-and-polish had come to an end as units such as the 1st New York Heavy Artillery, with crossed cannon badges on their kepis, arrived to the shouts of derision coming from the grizzled veterans.

One thing for sure, Grant was no George McClellan (who was campaigning for the Democratic nomination for President at the time), as soon as all was ready, he set out orders to begin moving across the Rapidan River.

May 4, 1864: The Army of the Potomac crosses the Rapidan and head into a region known simply as The Wilderness, an area thick with trees and undergrowth that grant hoped would screen the army’s movements. The area that the Union troops were marching through was where the May, 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville was fought. Along the roads heading into the Wilderness were the wreckage of equipment and the bones of dead soldiers that were never buried.

Lee was anticipating a Union advance to come at him, but it was not until Grant made his move that he made his decision on where to counter the Federals. He orders his army to move forward, using the Orange and Fredericksburg Pike and the Orange Plank Road. Lee decided to place the corps of Lieutenant General Richard Ewell on the left flank, the corps of Lieutenant General A.P. Hill in the center, and the corps of Lieutenant General James Longstreet on the right. Longstreet had the farthest to go so Lee ordered no engagement until all of the army was in position.

May 5, 1864: As the Union army continues through The Wilderness, forward skirmishers spot the Confederates deploying into battle formation. Word got back to Grant and Meade, who order the Federal forces to deploy. On the left was II Corps under Major General Winfield Hancock, the center by IX Corps under Major General Ambrose Burnside (a former Army of the Potomac commander), and the right by V Corps under Major General Gouverneur Warren and VI Corps under Major General John Sedgwick.

The Federals struck first, sending V Corps to hit Ewell’s corps along the Orange and Fredericksburg Pike. Ewell manages to stop the Union attack at Saunder’s Hill. At the same time, A.P. Hill launched an attack towards an intersection on the Orange plank Road, its capture would allow the Confederates to get into the Union rear. Grant orders Sedgwick to send a division to assist Hancock. Hill’s attack is repulsed. Nightfall puts an end to the fighting.

May 6, 1864: dawn: Hancock’s II Corps opens the day with a massive assault on Hill’s line, driving the Confederates back. The entire right line was collapsing when Longstreet’s corps arrived and went straight into the attack. Hancock’s troops were pushed back to their original lines. Longstreet was about to launch a flanking assault when a musket ball slammed into his throat. With the loss of the veteran commander, the attack faltered.

On the Confederate left, another attack was launched by troops under Brigadier General John Gordon, using an unfinished railroad cut. After gaining some of the line, darkness was falling and that prevented the breach in the Union lines from being exploited. Grant and Meade were able to reform their lines.

Throughout the battle, the heat of the musket flashes ignited the dry underbrush and a massive forest fire. At times both sides stopped fighting and tried to help each other’s wounded to that they would not burn. Sadly that was not the case with all the wounded. more than one wounded soldier chose to shoot themselves with their musket or pistol, preferring a quick death by a bullet to a slow death by burning.

May 7, 1864: Grant decides nothing more could be accomplished here. But instead of pulling back across the Rapidan to regroup, he orders the army to pull out of their lines and head south. Unlike past commanders, Grant will keep attacking the Confederates. He knows that he has the manpower to accomplish this task and get more from the North. The South no longer has any manpower reserves. They must win or lose with what they have.


Union: 18,000 Confederate: 12,000

Monday, November 06, 2006

CSS H.L. Hunley

Date: February 17, 1864

Place: Charleston, SC


Union: Captain Charles Pickering aboard USS Housatonic.

Confederate: Lieutenant George Dixon aboard CSS H.L.Hunley.

Prelude: Not many people know this, but the Hunley was not the first time the Confederates attempted to build a submarine vessel. In New Orleans, LA a vessel called the Pioneer was built with the aim to assist in the city’s defense. The vessel was completed in February 1862 and was towed to Lake Pontchartrain for tests. Following the completion of the tests, on March 12, 1862, a letter was sent to the CS War Department requesting that the vessel be commissioned in the CS Navy. The commission was secured with a CS$5000 bond by the submarine’s builders, Horace L. Hunley and Henry J. Leovoy.

Pioneer never had a chance to fight. As a Union fleet was sailing up the Mississippi River, Hunley was forced to scuttle Pioneer and flee with his diagrams to Mobile, AL.

It was believed that Pioneer was found in 1878 and was displayed at a Confederate Old Soldiers Home. It was handed to the Louisiana State Museum and put on display at the Presbytere in New Orleans. Recent research revealed that the vessel on display is not the Pioneer but a second vessel of that class. The Pioneer may have been recovered and sold for scrap.

In Mobile, Hunley set up shop at the Park and Lyons machine shop and went back to the drawing board. A request for assistance from the military commander in Mobile, Major General Dabney Maury, brought a mechanical engineer to the team, a British-born lieutenant in the 21st AL by the name of William Alexander. Alexander was already at the machine shop working on rifling musket barrels when Hunley requested him.

A second submarine was soon on the drawing boards. Called by most accounts the American Diver, she was planned to be fitted with an “electro-magnetic” drive for propulsion. Finding that system almost impossible to work, a steam engine was also tried. That was also abandoned and a hand-cranked propulsion system, adding four to the crew, was finally adopted.

In mid-January of 1863, American Diver was ready for trials in Mobile Bay. The initial trials showed that the hand-cranked propulsion system could only move the vessel at a speed of two miles an hour, making the vessel too sluggish to be maneuverable.

In late February of 1863, the American Diver sunk during another trial, with the crew managing to abandon ship. Hunley went back to the drawing board and a third submarine began to take shape.

They first took a long boiler, cut it in half, then bolted the two halves together using more iron boilerplate, lengthening it. A tapered section was then bolted to each end, giving the vessel a total length of 40 feet. Water tanks were installed at both ends with sea cocks to let water in and hand pumps to get the water out. On the top, a 12-inch wide strip of iron was bolted with two hatches installed. The hatches had rubber gaskets in order to have a proper seal. Also on the top were two snorkels for breathing air, but these soon probes to be impractical and were never used. On the keel, iron plates were bolted for ballast. These could be released by bolts on the floor of the submarine. The rudder was controlled by a wheel at the captain’s station, while diving and ascending was controlled by lever-operated fins, also at the captain’s station. A mercury filled tube served as the depth gauge. Propulsion was by means of a crank-turned shaft attacked to a screw. The crank required seven to operate it. With the Captain in the front and the Executive Officer in the rear, the new vessel would have a crew of nine.

The armament consisted of a single torpedo (what a sea mine was called in the 1860s) that was towed behind the vessel. The submarine was sent below the surface while the torpedo was dragged towards the target ship. As the submarine passed beneath the target, the torpedo made contact with the ship’s hull. The torpedo was studded with contact points containing large percussion caps. The cap would be struck by the impact, igniting the fulminate of mercury and sending a spark into the main explosive charge, several pounds of gun powder, detonating the bomb and blowing a hole in the hull.

While the new vessel was being constructed, Lieutenant George Dixon of the 21st AL joined the team.

July, 1863: The new vessel is launched at Mobile and christened H.L.Hunley after its builder. This provided a lift to the locals, who were just hearing of the twin Confederate defeats at Vicksburg, MS and Gettysburg, PA.

Sea trails proved the Hunley to be faster and better maneuverable than its predecessors. The only problem seen so far was that due to the snorkels not working, the air supply was limited to 25 minutes.

July 31, 1863: A trial was held in which the Hunley was sent under a flat boat. The torpedo was dragged against the flatboat and the resulting explosion destroyed it. The local naval commander, Admiral Franklin Buchanan, sent a letter to the commander of the naval defenses around Charleston, SC, praising the trials.

Soon, orders arrived to get the Hunley to Charleston as fast as possible.

August, 1863: The Hunley was pulled out of the water and placed on two rail cars for transport.
August 10, 1863: The train with the Hunley and its crew departs Mobile.

August 12, 1863: The Hunley arrives in besieged Charleston. The vessel was placed in the water shortly afterwards.

August 20, 1863: After a period of detached duty, Hunley himself arrives in Charleston.

An area known as The Cove, near Fort Moultrie, was selected as Hunley’s base. The object would be to attack Union blockading ships in the area.

During this time, Charleston was bombarded by Union warships as well as a massive cannon known as the “Swamp Angel.” Charlestonians were getting pummeled day and night.

The Hunley was seen going out of its berth, but was not able to reach the Federal blockade line. The crew was considered timid, however it seems that the opportunity had not presented itself for a strike.

August 24, 1862: Hunley is seized by the CS Navy and the crew replaced by Lieutenant John Payne of CSS Chicora and a volunteer crew. Hunley and his staff are kept as advisors.

August 29, 1862: During a practice cruise, Payne was caught in the forward hatch. While he was trying to free himself, one of his feet struck the lever controlling the diving fins. Hunley dove straight to the bottom with both hatches open. Four escape, including Payne, while the remaining five drowned.

From CSS Chicora: Frank Doyle, John Kelly, Michael Cane, and Nicholas Davies.

From CSS Palmetto State: Absolum Williams.

Ten days later, the Hunley was salvaged and the crew recovered for burial.

September 19, 1863: Hunley offers to form another crew, this time with himself in command.

During the first week of October, 1863, Dixon arrived in Charleston with a new crew for the Hunley. The submarine was soon back in service.

October 15, 1863: During another training cruise, with Hunley in command. The submarine was seen diving under CSS Indian Chief but not surfacing. After several minutes, it was plain that another accident had happened.

October 18, 1863: Hunley was found in 9 fathoms of water but it was several days before the submarine was brought to the surface and the bodies of the crew recovered. This time, the entire crew perished.
It was determined that the forward sea cock was left open while the aft sea cock was closed. Water had overfilled the forward ballast tank, making the vessel bow-heavy. Water pressure was such that the hatches were held down. The crew never had a chance.

Horace Hunley was 39.

November 14, 1863: It is clear by this time that Lt. Dixon has been given command of the Hunley and is spending his time cleaning up the vessel and recruiting a new crew. Alexander has become second-in-command.

Both men boarded Indian Chief and talked to the crew, asking for volunteers. Under orders from the military commander in Charleston, General P.T.G. Beauregard, the hazardous nature of the assignment was fully explained. There were five volunteers.

Joseph Ridgeway, C.F. Simkins, Frank Collins, Arnold Becker, and James Wicks. Two others from Mobile filled out the crew, one unknown and another possibly named White.

December 14, 1863: Dixon receives orders placing him officially in command of Hunley and ordered to commence operations against the Federal blockade.

That evening, the submarine was towed out towards Fort Sumter and cast off to begin training sorties.

During the training sorties, it was found that the rope attached to the torpedo tended to foul the propeller. Also it was found that the Federals had received word about the Hunley’s existence and devised chain curtains that could be hung over the sides of the warships, defeating and towed torpedoes. After talking with those who sailed in CSS David when she attacked USS New Ironsides on October 5, 1863, a long spar was placed on the bow of the Hunley. The torpedo was bolted to the spar. The idea was to run the vessel at the target and ram the torpedo into the hull. The spar was designed to break away as the submarine was backed away from the target. The captain then pulled a rope attached to a trigger, which sets off a percussion cap, which detonates the torpedo.

There were several more practice sorties in January of 1864, during which several Federal vessels were scouted for a possible target.

There was one such test in which the submarine was sent to the bottom and the crew tried to hold out as long as possible against lack of oxygen. There was only 25 minutes of air. The crew lasted an hour before a mad rush to the surface.

It was also during this time that Alexander was ordered back to Mobile, so he would not take part in the attack.

Soon the Federals positioned a warship near an area known as Rattlesnake Shoals to prevent blockade runners from escaping. Dixon spotted the vessel and identified it as USS Housatonic, a sloop-of-war of the Ossipee class with 13 guns. Throughout early February, 1864, Dixon and his crew kept Housatonic under observation. Commanded by Captain Charles Pickering, the ship had orders to keep an eye on the area and keep steam up in case they had to move quickly. Pickering also had information concerning the “infernal machine” that the Confederates were employing.

Dixon decides that Housatonic would be the target.

February 17, 1864: dusk: After a day of preparations, the crew enters the Hunley and takes their places. Because of the short distance, a tow was not required. When all is ready, the lines are cast off and Hunley pulls away from the dock and heads into the bay.

Everything from here on is speculation.

As night fell, Hunley was steered toward Rattlesnake Shoals. All this time they would have sailed on the surface, waiting to get close before diving. There was a pre-arranged signal for those watching from the nearby forts but beyond that, they were on their own.

As Hunley approached, Dixon might have been looking out the front hatch, guiding the vessel towards Housatonic. A Federal lookout might have seen the vessel approach and shouted an alarm. Housatonic’s compliment of Marines would have brought musket fire on the Hunley. Dixon, having finalized the attack course, would have ordered full speed ahead, slamming down the hatch as he came down. Hunley went down about 20-30 feet and bored on toward the Housatonic. On collision, the spar was smashed into the Federal ship’s hull. Dixon orders the Hunley backed away as he prepared to detonate the torpedo.

Either the submarine rolled, or Dixon was too eager. Either way, the trigger was pulled and about 20 pounds of gun powder exploded, tearing open the Housatonic. The Union warship sank rapidly but only five sailors were killed, the rest getting picked up by another Federal warship.

What happened to Hunley was something else. Perhaps the shockwave from the explosion damaged the vessel. It is also possible that the spar was caught in the hull of Housatonic. In either case, a crewmember on the Hunley managed to send a signal to an observer at Battery Marshall. That observer reported seeing a flashing calcium light, the signal that all was successful.

The next morning dawned to show that the Hunley did not return to her berth.

Who knows what happened in the submarine as it settled to the bottom. The water pressure prevented the hatches from being opened. The crew had a choice, either die slow as the air ran out or die quick as the sea cocks were opened and the Hunley was flooded. Either way, the crew died knowing that they made history, the first underwater vessel to successfully attack and sink a surface vessel. That would not be duplicated until the 20th Century.

Epilogue: In May of 1995, an expedition supported by author Clive Cussler found the Hunley.

August 8, 2000: CSS Hunley was raised.

April 17, 2004: Lieutenant George Dixon and the crew of the Hunley were laid to rest at Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, SC.

The Hunley is undergoing restoration work in preparation for display in a museum being built to house the submarine.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Mobile Bay, AL

Dates: August 5-23, 1864


Union: Rear Admiral David Farragut aboard USS Hartford

Confederate: Admiral Franklin Buchanan aboard CSS Tennessee

Prelude: As part of the overall plan to bring the Rebellion to a close, one of the things necessary was to bring all remaining ports of the Confederacy under Federal control. When Lieutenant General Ulysses Grant assumed command over all Union armies, he had set this as one of the benchmarks for victory. The other benchmarks were Major General William Sherman's campaign to take Atlanta, GA and Major General George Meade's Army of the Potomac taking on the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee.

At this point there were two active ports left to the CSA, Wilmington, NC on the Atlantic and Mobile, AL on the Gulf of Mexico. With both in Union hands, the flow of blockade runners would be cut off. That would cut off any supplies from Europe and cripple any remaining Confederate strength in the field. Even though there was an effective blockade of both coastlines, supplies were still getting through. The task of taking Mobile out of the picture was given to Admiral Farragut. Farragut had already achieved fame as the Naval commander who helped take New Orleans, LA and with other commanders, helped secure the Mississippi River for the Union.

Farragut assembled a formidable fleet for this operation. Beginning with the flagship, USS Hartford, the others included the warships, Brooklyn, Octorara, Metacomet, Port Royal, Richmond, Seminole, Lakawanna, Kennebec, Monagahela, Itasca, Ossipee, Onieda, and Galena. In support were the ironclad warships Tecumseh, Manhattan, Winnebago, and Chickasaw.

What Farragut had to do was neutralize the two forts which covered the entrance to the bay. Guarding the western end was Fort Gaines, on Dauphin Island. The east was covered by Fort Morgan, on Mobile Point. Between the forts was a series of obstructions, a lookout post, and a torpedo (mine) field across the main channel. Fort Morgan's guns also covered the channel. Backing up the forts was the ironclad ram CSS Tennessee, which Buchanan had placed his flag. Tennessee had been built up the Alabama river at Selma and towed to Mobile for completion. The other ships in the Confederate fleet were the Morgan, Gaines, and Selma.

Farragut planned for a land assault on the forts by adding about 1500 troops to his attack force. The army element was commanded by Major General Gordon Granger. A verity of transports and other ships (Stockdale, Estrella, Narcissus, J.P. Jackson, Conemaugh, Pinola, Pembina, Tennessee (Union transport), Sabago, Gienesee, and Bienville) would support the land assault. With a very strong force put together, Farragut was ready.

August 3, 1864: During the evening, about 1500 Federal troops with artillery were landed on Dauphin Island, west of Fort Gaines. They began marching toward the fort. A small Confederate garrison was pushed back but managed to delay the Union advance long enough to get some troops down from Mobile.

August 4, 1864: midnight: The land force is within 1200 yards of Fort Gaines.

August 5, 1864: dawn: Granger launches an artillery barrage on Fort Gaines as Farragut orders his warships to sail for the main channel. The warships were arranged by twos and lashed together. Hartford was on the right of the second pair. The formation was preceded by the four ironclads. The defenders at Fort Morgan see the approaching formation and began to open fire with smoothbore cannon.

7:45 a.m.: Up ahead in the formation there was a large explosion as USS Tecumseh struck a mine and sank with most of her crew. The attack stalls briefly, but Farragut is believed to have yelled out, "D**n the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!" It is possible that this was a 19th Century version of an urban legend, but it made for a great story. Another account tells of Farragut climbing the rigging of Hartford's main mast and rallying his sailors. A sailor climbs the rigging and ties Farragut to it. At 7:52 a.m. Hartford and Metacomet take the lead of the formation. At 8:05 a.m., Farragut orders Hartford and Metacomet to separate.

8:10 a.m.: The Confederate flotilla launches its assault on the Union formation. Of the four ships, Tennessee is clearly the strongest of the defenders. The other vessels were wooden and could not stand up to the Federal's rifled cannon. By 8:30, CSS Gaines was damaged and had run aground neat Fort Morgan. CSS Selma was also damaged and tried to get away, but was captured by Metacomet and Port Royal.

8:50 a.m.: Tennessee was not about to give upBuchananchannan ordered his ship to engage the Federal wooden vessels as all of the Union warships sail out of the range of Fort Morgan's guns. This also had the effect of blockading the two forts, as well as another fort, Fort Powell, from any reinforcements from Mobile.

For the next hour, the firing became intense, with ranges as close as three feet. There were point-blank broadsides exchanged between Tennessee and Hartford. Another tactic used was ramming, with Hartford, Lakawanna, Monongahela, and Ossipee taking turns ramming Tennessee. Finally, a well-placed shot hits Tennessee's steering chains, forcing Buchanan to disengage.

10:00a.m.: With extensive damage, Buchanan is forced to surrender Tennessee, effectively ending the Confederate Navy presence in Mobile Bay.

Farragut now turned his attention to the forts. He sends Chickasaw to Fort Powell to reduce it with the help of a few other gunboats.

2:30 p.m.: Fort Powell is bombarded by Chickasaw. The fort contains a garrison under Confederate Lieutenant Colonel James Williams, who decides that his guns can not repel that firepower that the Union warships were bringing. Williams orders the magazines destroyed and the fort evacuated.

August 6, 1862: Granger is reinforced by additional Union troops and uses the manpower to press a siege on Fort Gaines. To the west were 3000 Federal troops supported by artillery. To the east were the ironclad monitors. Those monitors could fire 100 pound shells while Fort Gaines guns could answer with 32-pounders. Granger was content to let the artillery do the work.

August 7, 1864: Farragut offered a flag of truce to Fort Gaines commander, Colonel Charles Anderson, who accepts. The formal surrender takes place on August 9.

Last on the list was Fort Morgan.

August 9, 1864: Federal troops are landed at Pilot Town, east of Fort Morgan and by dusk are to within 2000 yards of the fort.

August 15, 1864: The Union monitors began shelling the fort from the west while artillery begins shelling from the east. Sharpshooters also begin picking off defenders on the wall.

August 21, 1864: A general assault, with 25 cannon, 16 mortars, and the firepower of the entire Federal fleet, is launched on Fort Morgan. The fort's commander (and commander of the Confederate land forces in the area), Major General Richard Page, orders the magazine destroyed.

August 23, 1864: After a discussion with his officers, Page orders the colors brought down, and surrenders to Farragut and Granger.

The Union victory secured the entrance of Mobile Bay and stopped all blockade running in and out of Mobile. The city itself would remain in Confederate hands until April 1865. At this point, Wilmington, NC was now the only remaining active port left to the Confederacy.

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