During the First Bull Run campaign, Capt. Romeyn Ayres commanded Company (Battery) E, 3rd US Artillery, the famous Sherman’s Battery, which was attached to Sherman’s brigade of Tyler’s division (see here); this despite his official assignment with the 5th Artillery. Being unable to cross Bull Run with his brigade, Ayres spent the day in reserve and covering the retreat, during which he repelled a cavalry charge. Ayres sent a wagon, three caissons and his forge ahead when preparing for the retreat, and reported all of these, plus seven horses and five mules, lost when fleeing volunteers cut the traces and stole the mounts (see his report here).
Later, he would advance through artillery positions to infantry brigade and division command, participating in the major campaigns of the Army of the Potomac through Appomattox. He was also sent with his division to put down the draft riots in New York City. The army must have been impressed, because in 1877 he was sent with a battalion to Mauch Chunk, PA, home to the Molly Maguires, to suppress the railroad disturbance there. I’m guessing Ayres was not popular with the AOH.
In Cullum’s Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of USMA (Ayres’s Cullum number is 1352), classmate Col. John Hamilton notes that (i)n the field his style was that of the brilliant executor, rather than of the plotting strategist. He had withal a remarkable eye to at once take in the situation on the field, and was the quickest of tacticians.
Hamilton provided a few anecdotes, demonstrating a sometimes brutal wit:
On march in Texas, during a few days’ rest he [Ayres] happened to pitch his camp near the permanent command of an officer who ranked him. The officer was a strict constructionist of Army Regulations, and had his reveille at daybreak. Ayres had ever liked his morning nap; and his senior, very unnecessarily, considering the transientness of the junction, assumed command over Ayres, and ordered him to comply with the Regulations.
After the interview, Ayres retired to his camp and issued the following order, sending his senior a copy:
Headquarters, Co.-, 3rd Artillery,
Camp —,—, 185-
Company Orders. Until further orders, daylight in this camp will be at six o’clock.
1st Lt., 3rd Artillery,
Commanding Co. –
During the Rebellion, a colonel of his brigade showed a timidity before the enemy too observable to the command to be overlooked by the brigadier. What passed at the subsequent interview nobody will ever know, but the next day the colonel was found in the hottest part of the action. Soon an officer of his regiment reported to Ayres, General, poor Colonel — is killed. Thank God! says Ayres, his children can now be proud of him.
I have some delightfully ironic trivia concerning Ayres’s grave, but will address that in a separate post later. Stay tuned.
This article was origninally posted on 6/29/2007, as part of the Romeyn Beck Ayres biographical sketch.