Bull Run at Gettysburg: James McKay Rorty

10 12 2017

On Dec. 2, I was in Gettysburg for a gathering of friends. Arriving on Saturday afternoon and the meeting not set to begin until 6 pm, I decided to “get my steps in” and did a little loop on Hancock Ave. from the Alexander Hays statue to the First Minnesota July 2 monument and back, stopping at each marker along the way. This meant there was a lot of back and forth and backtracking. While there were plenty of Bull Run connections along the way, let’s just take a look at one: Battery B, 1st New York Light Artillery.

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Battery B, 1st New York Light Artillery, at Gettysburg

You’ll recall that Private James McKay Rorty of the 69th New York State militia was captured at First Bull Run, escaped from prison in Richmond and made his way back to Washington (read his Bull Run account here, and also read a more complete biography of Rorty here). Mustered out of the militia, he subsequently enlisted in what was designated the 5th Regiment of Thomas Francis Meagher’s Irish Brigade (read his letter to his father explaining his rationale for enlistment here). This turned out to be a battery of New York Light artillery – he had expected it would be cavalry – though his record of formal attachment to specific batteries thenceforth is murky. Regardless, by May of 1862 Lt. Rorty was serving as ordnance officer on the staff of Major General Israel B. Richardson.

At Gettysburg, now Captain Rorty was ordnance officer on the staff of Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, who had succeeded Richardson upon the latter’s mortal wounding at Antietam and was then in command of the Army of the Potomac’s Second Corps. Technically, Rorty was in command of the non-existent 14th New York Independent Battery of the Irish Brigade. At the same time, Rorty maintained his association with Irish Nationalist organization the Fenian Brotherhood, and was recording secretary in the group’s Potomac Circle. You can read about Fenians in the Civil War here – there’s a lot to it, and it’s not always what you think. Long story short, Rorty was a big deal in “the movement.”

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Artillery officers on the Peninsula, 1862. Rorty is seated on the right. Fellow Bull Run vet Alonzo Cushing is standing, center. From LOC.

On the afternoon of July 2, Rorty became anxious to join in the fighting, and petitioned his boss for assignment to a combat unit. Hancock acquiesced, and some time that day Rorty was placed in command of the 122 men and four 10 pounder Parrot rifles of Battery B, 1st New York Light Artillery, 2nd Corps’ Artillery Brigade. Late in the day, the battery was in place in the Plum Run Line that helped repulse the assault of Longsteet’s Corps’ assault on the Peach Orchard salient. The battery lost one man killed, eight wounded, and 13 horses rendered unserviceable.

On the morning of July 3rd, Rorty’s command was moved to a point about 250 yards south of the now famous “copse of trees” believed by most to be the focal point of General Robert E. Lee’s assault known as Pickett’s Charge. During the artillery barrage that preceded the infantry advance, Rorty advanced his guns to the stone wall in front of his position, and returned fire. His command began to suffer casualties, and Rorty moved from gun to gun, issuing orders and encouragement. Eventually three of his four rifles were out of action, and Rorty himself stripped down to his shirtsleeves, grabbed a sponge staff, and joined the crew of his last gun. The Captain called for help from the nearby 19th Massachusetts Infantry, and received about 20 men in reply. Then, the Confederate infantry moved out from the tree line to the west.

Rorty’s lone gun continued to fire on the advancing rebels, until the men of Brigadier General James Kemper’s brigade came past the barn of the Codori farm and into canister range. Some time before the advance petered out at the stone wall, Capt. James McKay Rorty was dead, killed instantly by a shot to the head or heart. Nine more of his command lay dead; another eight were wounded.

Two weeks after the battle, Rorty’s brother Richard gathered his remains from where he had been buried on the field and returned them to New York. He was reinterred in Calvary Cemetery on July 19, 1863.

6016383_1113996429586016383_1399684971Rorty’s grave in Calvary Cemetery, Woodside, New York, from FindAgrave

 





Preview: Ayers, “The Thin Light of Freedom”

1 12 2017

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The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America is Edward Ayers’s follow-up or companion to 2003’s In the Presence of Mine Enemies. Both works benefit from and are in part a product of Ayers’s groundbreaking Valley of the Shadow project (watch a video presentation of it here).

The Thin Light of Freedom follows the story of the people of The Great Valley, basically that area of Virginia and Pennsylvania comprising the Shenandoah and Cumberland valleys, through the latter stages of the Civil War and Reconstruction to Virginia’s return to statehood in 1870.

The focus here is not just on military voices but on those of the people of the area, who lived through the war and its privations and the social upheaval attendant to emancipation. Diarists and letter writers north and south are featured, with a heavy reliance on manuscript sources. Follow all the links I’ve given you above and you’ll get an idea of the extent.

You get:

  • 501 pages of text in 11 chapters plus prologue and epilogue, starting with “The Great Invasion” of 1863 and ending up in 1902 (though we go from 1868 to 1902 in one chapter)
  • 25 maps and illustrations
  • No bibliography but rather “A Note on the Documentation”
  • 45 pages of end notes
  • A full index

It’s a big honkin’ book.

Edward L. Ayers is Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities and president emeritus at the University of Richmond

 

 

 

 

 





Preview: Scales, “The Battles and Campaigns of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, 1861-1865”

30 11 2017

Layout 1The Battles and Campaigns of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, 1861-1865 is John R. Scales’s study not of the man, the myth, or the legend, but rather of his wartime activities. (Is it possible to examine these events without discussing the morals and politics of the man? Ummm, yeah, it is — don’t be fatuous.)

Essentially, this book serves as a staff ride of Forrest’s career. Each chapter discusses a particular raid or battle or campaign, for the most part. Each starts with a discussion of the operational environment. Then decisions made are examined. Each includes a driving tour, and each concludes with a review and evaluation of Forrest as commander.

You get:

  • 435 pages of text in 12 chapters, with plenty of charts and graphs, and 109 (one hundred and nine!!!) Hal Jesperson maps.
  • An epilogue with Scales’s assessment of Forrest.
  • A bibliography (primarily published works)
  • A full index
  • Bottom of page footnotes

John R. Scales is a retired brigadier general who served in Viet Nam and Afghanistan. He is the author of Sherman Invades Georgia and A Reluctant Hero’s Footsteps.





Preview: Savas Beatie Reprints Coco

29 11 2017

New from Savas Beatie are paperback reprints of two Gregory A. Coco titles, 1988’s A Vast Sea of Misery: A History and Guide to the Union and Confederate Field Hospitals at Gettysburg, and 1995’s A Strange and Blighted Land: Gettysburg The Aftermath of Battle. Each reprint includes a new preface by author and Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide James A. Hessler. These are must-haves for every Gettysburg student, and A Strange and Blighted Land appears regularly on general Civil War “Best Of” lists.

Layout 1A Vast Sea of Misery is a guide to 162 field hospitals that treated more than 26,000 wounded soldiers during and after the Battle of Gettysburg (an additional 14 identified after the 1st printing are listed as well). Nine maps show relative locations to help the tourist. The field hospital sites are broken down in three parts: Borough of Gettysburg area; Union Army areas; and Confederate Army areas. Additional sites are described in three additional parts:  other important sites; hospital sites in nearby towns; and Camp Letterman. Four appendices cover surgeons and physicians, how field hospital sites were selected, how wounded were moved to field hospitals, and general medical observations. There are seven pages of end notes and a full index.

Layout 1A Strange and Blighted Land is a detailed, heart-wrenching study of what came after the battle – the wounding, gathering, treating, assisting, obstructing, suffering, dying, interring, and remembering. I listed this as one of my ten favorite Gettysburg books. Relying mostly on eyewitness accounts, the reader learns of the scale of the suffering, the treatment of the wounded, the disposition of the dead, the establishment of the National Cemetery, the handling of prisoners and stragglers, and the preservation and establishment of the battlefield and its guides. This promotional passage sums this book up nicely, so I see no reason to rephrase:

Coco’s prose is gripping, personal, and brutally honest. There is no mistaking where he comes down on the issue: There was nothing pretty or glorious or romantic about the battle — especially once the fighting ended.

You get 377 pages of text, 27 pages of end-notes, a 14 page bibliography including three pages of manuscript sources, and a full index.

Gregory A. Coco was an army veteran who served in Vietnam, a degreed historian, a Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide, and a National Park Service Interpretive Ranger at GNMP. He  authored or edited of numerous books and articles on Gettysburg and the Civil War (I have had occasion to use his papers located in the Park’s archives). He died in 2009 at the age of 62.





Image: Corp. William Pittenger, Co. G, 2nd Ohio Infantry

28 11 2017
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Corp. William Pittenger, 2nd Ohio Infantry (from this site)





Corp. William Pittenger, Company G, 2nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, On the Campaign

28 11 2017

Army Correspondence of the Steubenville Herald.

————

Washington, July 23d

Dear Herald: – It is with emotions of grief, shame, and sorrow that I again write a few lines for you. We have met the enemy and they are not ours. The chivalry has gained the first great victory of the campaign, and all we have gained for the last few weeks is lost, and the work is to be done once more. But I will try and tell the sad history in order.

On Monday it was announced to us at dress parade that we were to march at 3 o’clock the next day. Many disbelieved and others thought that the march would be to Washington to be discharged. But when the day came our tents were struck, our knapsacks piled up, and after the usual amount of confusion and noise, we started — marched up the hill to Fall’s Church, saw the forces that were to join us, and really believed we were to go forward. That night we marched as far as Vienna, (rendered famous by the attack on the First Ohio) and there slept for the night. Early in the morning we moved forward. The day was intensely hot, and the men suffered for want of water, which was very scarce and bad. — About 10 o’clock a.m., we reached Fairfax, and as the enemy was there in force, we deployed over the fields, in line of battle. All expected to hear the cannons roar, and all were anxious to march forward. They were gratified; we advanced, but it was a hard task. Such jamming and crowding I never saw. Part of the way lay through very thick woods, and between pushing through brush and stumbling over stumps we began to realize some of the beauties of war. But soon we saw the “Secesh” in full retreat at the double-quick. They left many things behind in their hurry. This was a bloodless victory.

We rested two or three hours, and then moved forward, camping for the evening in a road. All were extremely tired, but arose next morning, refreshed by a good night’s sleep, and again took up the line of march. We reached Centreville at 10 a.m., and our regiments halted for the rest of the day. Centreville was a Rebel camp and was slightly fortified. The head-quarters were on a high hill, commanding a fine view, bounded on the west by the rugged line of the Blue Ridge, and extending four miles to the east and south. I was stationed there with ten others under the command of Lieut. McCoy, as a guard to protect the property. From here we had an outline view of the battle and Bull’s Run on Thursday. First the signal gun was heard, then others in rapid succession. In about half an hour the firing ceased. At this time our troops had taken the batteries, and were in full tide of success. An officer rode by and announced that victory was won, but even while he was speaking the firing commenced much more warmly than before. For some time the roar was incessant, almost as quick as the tapping of a drum. Then it became fainter, one shot following another at long intervals, and soon ceasing altogether. The scattered men from the regiments which were most disorganized came straggling by, and reported a very severe fight, saying that more than half their men were left on the field. This was soon found to be an exaggeration. They said they were at first successful, but the enemy receiving reinforcements, rallied and won the day, though with severe loss.

By this time all the troops were in motion and as the Ohio regiments filed past, the guard fell in with them, fully expecting that we were going to attack the battery. At about two miles distance from it, we formed in line of battle and moved forward a short distance and there halted, stacked our muskets, and lay down beside them for the night. Friday passed off without any movement on our part. On Saturday we heard we were to march the next day. This produced much dissatisfaction, particularly in the first regiment, as they thought their time had expired. So much was said about it that Gen. Schenk called them together and made an address, appealing to their patriotism and promising them that before the rising of an other sun we would be marched to the battle-field. This had the desired effect, and he was enthusiastically cheered, the men declaring that they were ready and willing to meet the foe. We arose at two o’clock, and started to our post, being assured that we were under the immediate command of Gen. Scott. The plan of battle was a good one, though it was scarcely so well executed. In front of us lay the low brush-covered hills near the junction. These were all planted with batteries, and could only have been carried with a great loss of life. — Two columns were to engage these, but not to risk an advance. The third proceeded due west for three or four miles, and then formed in a long line, of which Schenk’s Brigade, consisting of the New York second and the Ohio boys, was the left division. It was intended that this division should engage the western batteries of the enemy, while the rest of the column swung around and took them in the flank and rear. The march was rather a tiresome one, but at 6 1/2 o’clock we were in position. Hitherto all had been deep silence, broken only by the crackling of branches as we forced our way through the woods. We lay down, and all was as quiet as if two mighty armies were not preparing to shed each other’s blood — when, boom went one of our cannon. The ball sung along and burst right over our heads. This would never do, and we were moved further down into a ravine, and again lay down. The skirmishers were ordered forward, and soon the muskets were ringing sharply around. — We paid little attention to this, listening to the deeper music of the cannon, and were soon gratified. The battle first opened on the eastern part of the line. — The cannonading was heavy for some time, but soon ceased. Out men had driven them back to their trenches, and then retreated. It was our turn next. An officer came and told us that our forces had got into the enemies’ rear, and that we must advance to prevent them from retreating eastward. We jumped up with alacrity and marched down the ravine, which rapidly became wider and more flat-bottomed. Just as we came to the edge of a partially cleared space, and without any previous warning, a masked battery opened fire upon us — at point blank range, being not more than two hundred yards from us. The whistling of the bullets was more loud than pleasant, and in the surprise many dodged from the ranks into the bushes, but soon returned to their places. It was amusing, in spite of the danger, to see the ranks all fall as the cannon exploded, and then rise again. The order was given to retreat back into the woods a short distance, which was done in perfectly good order, and then all lay down. So far our line was unbroken; but the New York 2d, finding their position too hot for them, rushed back, trampling over us, and falling down among us, which somewhat confused us. Meanwhile the shot was flying thick around, crashing through the trees in every direction. Every little while we could hear the scream of a wounded man, as the balls struck him. [Illegible sentence.] One poor fellow who was lying not far from me, was torn to pieces by a [?] shot. The bombs, of which only a few were thrown, were most destructive. After nearly an hour, the New Yorkers were called away, and soon after I heard what seemed the sweetest music I ever heard — our own men on the hill north of us opening fire. They plied the enemy so hard that they soon ceased firing on us. We were then formed into line, and marched to the rear of our battery.

The roar of the artillery by this time was awful. The heavy thundering of the guns, the bursting of the bombs, the sharp singing of the balls, and the rattle of musketry on the right, where the columns approached within striking distance, all mingled together like the music of some grand orchestra. We were still within full range of the enemy’s guns, and were compelled to lie down to avoid the shot that whistled over our heads in unpleasant proximity. All this time our forces were rapidly gaining ground, and taking one battery after another, by the most desperate fighting.

The Rhode Island battery, on the extreme right was working with great rapidity and effect. A charge of the enemy’s cavalry was made upon it. They approached within one hundred and fifty yards without being discovered. Then the battery opened on them with grape, killing many, but still they advanced, and discharged their carbines on the artillery with such effect as to kill or wound most of the men and horses. The Fire Zouaves then gave them a volley, which sent them back at full speed, with half their saddles empty. This regiment did some splendid charging, and several times put the chivalry to rout, even against great odds.

All this time our troops had been slowly but surely advancing, and we were sure that the battle would soon be won. A few sharp volleys were heard and then all was silent, while an officer rode along our line, that was drawn up behind the battery in imposing order, and announced that the day was ours. A wild cheer rent the air, but the echoes had scarcely died away, when the firing again began, and dense clouds of dust were seen in the distance. “It is Patterson in their rear,” was the first exclamation; — the next — “God grant it may be Patterson.” The confused files of a regiment were next seen, and then the teamsters and citizens in their carriages, wheeled about and drove off the field at the top of their speed. Schenk’s brigade stood firm, but was ordered to take up a position on the edge of an adjoining wood, where we awaited the progress of events in intense expectation.

Up to this time (about 4 p. m.) there was no panic among the soldiers, but just then a corps of officers rode along the line in a very excited manner. One of them said that there was an immense body of the enemy supported by artillery charging on us and asked, “How can we meet it?” The advice of each was different, but enough was heard to know that our officers had caught the panic, and of course it was shared to some degree by the soldiers, but still they stood firm. The order was given to retreat, which was done slowly and in good order. The 2d Ohio in particular retreated very slowly, without the slightest disorder, and halted repeatedly in columns prepared to form a hollow square, but was ordered forward by the general officers. The cavalry, probably deterred by our being prepared, did not charge us, but attacked the hospital. The artillery gave them a few vollies, and the stragglers shot down many. We all earnestly hoped that a stand would be made, but in vain. Our Generals had other ideas. We retreated several miles, and at a large creek with only one small bridge over it, were attacked again. This was just on the edge of our temporary camp, and in a very good position for defense. The troops were drawn up in two long lines and in as good order as when arrayed in the morning. The slight attack was repulsed with ease, and it seems to me there would not have been the slightest difficulty in defending ourselves against any force the enemy could have brought against us so late in the day, and before morning we could have received many thousand fresh men to aid us in renewing the battle. But a retreat was again ordered, and commenced in good order. Our regiment kept its ranks unbroken for ten miles after leaving the battle field, and then became disordered from teams driving among us in narrow lanes, and from the men, overcome by thirst and fatigue, lying down by the roadside. I am thus particular on this point because it was stated in some of the papers that we became infected with the panic, and were the first to change a retreat into a rout. The enemy’s batteries first opened on us and soldiers who remain nine hours under fire and then retreat ten miles with their files unbroken, do not deserve to be charged with being panic-stricken. But I must close now, only saying that we will all be home in a few days. I may give you some incidents of the battle and retreat in my next.

Wm. Pittenger

Steubenville Weekly Herald, 7/31/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by Dan Masters

William Pittenger, Daring and Suffering: A History of the Great Railroad Adventure

William Pittenger at Wikipedia

William Pittenger at Ancestry

William Pittenger at Fold3

William Pittenger at FindAGrave 

 





Pvt. Ezra Greene, Co. H, 2nd Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry, On the Campaign

27 11 2017

Headquarters 2nd Regmt RIV Augst 4

Dear Granny,

I have a few leisure moments which I feel disposed to spend in writing a short sketch of our battle at Bull Run on Sunday July 21st. We left our camp July the 15th. Where we was going we knew not but we expected some fighting and we found it to be as soldiers said the hardest battle ever fought in America. The 2nd R. I. Regiment was in the engagement 4½ hrs and it was hot work all the time. We marched 9 miles the first day, slept on the ground, satisfied at that. Aroused at 4 1/2 marched 9 more miles to what is called Fair Fax Court House where we arrived at noon where we stopped until the next morning. We started and marched 3 miles and halted till 4 1/2 on account of a battle being fought 2 miles beyond by our cavalry. Then we marched 4 miles and halted for the night. Aroused at 6, marched into closer quarters, pitched our tents of rails and brush, where we slept one night with comfort. Next night which was Saturday night we had orders to march at 2 o’clock a.m. Was aroused at 1 and ordered into the line of battle without food or half enough sleep. We marched about 15 miles to what is called Bull’s run or OW Bloody run where the battle was at its hight. It was then 10½. We made a furious charge without fear of the consequences. We kept at our work and hot it was until 3 o’clock then we was forced to retreat but I did not leave the field until the regiment was about 3 miles ahead. After the regiment went out into the woods and halted to rest I went back through the field to where Peleg Card lay wounded. The shots flew thick and fast around me then. Peleg lived about 1 hour. I then lay down and slept 3/4 of an hour. While I lay there, a cannon shot struck within a few feet of me. It was then 5 o’clock. The reg’t was gone an hour and the enemy’s cavalry was close behind me. I was alone. I seized a rifle and 25 cartridges and started, intending to fight if I must. A great many threw their guns away but I brought home, tired and footsore. All we had to eat was hard bread and no sleep for 38 hours. A soldier’s life is a hard life and a lousy one. Our work is hard or else we have none at all. It is like being in state prison for we cannot leave the ground and have to do as the officers say and when they please.

From your affectionate grandson, — Ezra Greene

Camp Sprague,

Co. H, 2nd Regmt RIV

Washington

D. C.

Letter from the collection of Dr. Richard Weiner. Transcription (with some editorial notes) biographical data, and letter images can be found at Spared & Shared. Transcription used with permission of Spared & Shared.

Hat-tip to reader John Banks

Ezra Greene at Fold3

Ezra Greene at Ancestry

Ezra Greene at FindAGrave

Co. H, 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers roster

Interesting information on Ezra Greene’s house