Col. W. T. Sherman, to His Wife, On the Battle

2 02 2009

To Ellen Ewing Sherman

Fort Corcoran

July 24, 1861

Dearest Ellen,

On my arrival back here carried by the Shameless flight of the armed mob we led into Virginia I tried to stay the crowd, and held them in check to show at least some front to the pursuing force.  Yesterday the President & Mr. Seward visited me, and I slipped over for a few minutes last night to see your father.  John S. and Tom have seen me and promise to write you – The battle was nothing to the absolute rout that followed and yet exists, with shameless conduct the volunteers continue to flee – a Regiment the N. York 79th Scots were forming to march over to Washington, and I have commanded them to remain.  If they go in spite of all I can do there will remain here but one company of artillery 90 Strong and a Wisconsin Regiment.  And Beauregard is close at hand – so it seems to be true that the north is after all pure bluster – Washington is in greater danger now than ever.

I will stand by my Post, an illustration of what we all know that when real danger came the Politicians would clear out – The Proud army characterized as the most extraordinary on earth has turned out the most ordinary.

Well as I am sufficiently disgraced now, I suppose soon I can sneak into some quiet corner.  I was under heavy fire for hours – brushed on the Knee, & Shoulder – my horse shot through the leg, and was every way exposedand can not imagine how I escaped except to experience the mortification of a Retreat route, Confusion, and now abandonment by Whole Regiments.  I am much pressed with business regulating the flight of all save the few to remain on this side [of] the River.

Last night I received several letters from you, and took time to read them, and now trust to Tom & others to tell you of the famous & infamous deeds of Bulls Run.

Courage our people have, but no government.

W. T. Sherman

Col. Comdg.

To Ellen Ewing Sherman

Fort Corcoran July 28, [1861]


Dearest Ellen,

I have already written to you since my return from the Unfortunate defeat at Bulls Run – I had previously conveyed to you the doubts that oppressed my mind on the Score of discipline.  Four large columns of poorly disciplined militia left this place – the Long Bridge and Alexandria – all concentrating at a place called Centreville 27 miles from Washington.  We were the first column to reach Centreville the Enemy abandoning all defenses en route.  The first day of our arrival our Commander Genl. Tyler advanced on Bulls Run, about 2 1/2 miles distant, and against orders engaged their Batteries.  He sent back to Centreville and I advanced with our Brigade, where we lay for half an hour, amidst descending shots killing a few of our men – The Batteries were full a mile distant and I confess I, nor any person in my Brigade saw an enemy.

Towards evening we returned to Centreville.

That occurred on Thursday.  We lay in camp till Saturday night by which the whole army was assembled in and about Centreville.  We got orders for march at 2 1/2 Sunday morning.  Our column of 3 Brigades – Schenck, Sherman & Keyes – to move straight along a Road to Bulls Run – another of about 10,000 men to make a circuit by the Right (Hunters) and come upon the enemy in front of us – Heintzelmans column of about similar strength also to make a wide circuit to sustain Hunter – We took the road first and about 6 A.M. came in sight of Bull Run – we saw in the grey light of morning men moving about – but no signs of batteries: I rode well down to the Stone Bridge which crosses the Stream, saw plenty of trees cut down – some brush huts such as soldiers use on picket Guard, but none of the Evidence of Strong fortifications we had been led to believe.  Our business was simply to threaten, and give time for Hunter & Heintzelman to make their circuit.  We arranged our troops to this end.  Schenck to the left of the Road, & I to the right -Keyes behind in reserve.  We had with us two six gun batteries, and a 30 pd. Gun – This was fired several times, but no answer – we shifted positions several times, firing wherever we had reason to suppose there were any troops.  About 10 or 11 o.c. we saw the clouds of dust in the direction of Hunters approach.  Saw one or more Regiments of the Enemy leave their cover, and move in that direction – soon the firing of musketry, and guns showing the engagement had commenced – early in the morning I saw a flag flying behind some trees.  Some of the Soldiers seeing it Called out – Colonel, there’s a flag – a flag of truce – a man in the Field with his dog & gun – called out – No it is no flag of truce, but a flag of defiance – I was at the time studying the Ground and paid no attention to him – about 9 oclock I was well down to the River – with some skirmishers and observed two men on horseback ride along a hill, descend, cross the stream and ride out towards us – he had a gun in his hand which he waved over his head, and called out to us, You D–d black abolitionists, come on &c. – I permitted some of the men to fire on him – but no damage was done he remained some time thus waiting the action which had begun on the other side of Bulls Run – we could See nothing, but heard the firing and could judge that Hunters column steadily advanced: about 2 P.M. they came to a stand, the firing was severe and stationary – Gen. Tyler rode up to me and remarked that he might have to Send the N.Y. 69th to the relief of Hunter – a short while after he came up and ordered me with my whole Brigade, some 3400 men to cross over to  Hunter.  I ordered the movement, led off – found a place where the men could cross, but the Battery could not follow.  We crossed the stream, and ascended the Bluff Bank, moving slowly to permit the ranks to close up – When about half a mile back from the Stream I saw the parties in the fight, and the first danger was that we might be mistaken for Secessionists & fired on – One of my Regiments had on the grey uniform of the Virginia troops – We first fired on some retreating Secessionists, our Lt. Col. Haggerty was killed, and my bugler by my side had his horse shot dead – I moved on and Joined Hunters column.  They had had a pretty severe fight – Hunter was wounded, and the unexpected arrival of my brigade seemed a great relief to all.  I joined them on a high field with a house – and as we effected the junction the secessionists took to the woods and were seemingly retreating and Gen. McDowell who had accompanied Hunter’s column ordered me to join in the pursuit – I will not attempt to describe you the scene – their Batteries were on all the high hills overlooking the ground which we had to cross, and they fired with great vigor – our horse batteries pursued from point to point returning the fire, whilst we moved on, with shot shells, and cannister over and all round us.  I kept to my horse and head of the Brigade, and moving slowly, came upon their heavy masses of men, behind all kinds of obstacles.  They knew the ground perfectly, and at every turn we found new ground, over which they poured their fire.  At last we came to a stand, and with my Regiments in succession we crossed a Ridge and were exposed to a very heavy fire, first one Regiment & then another and another were forced back – not by the bayonet but by by a musketry & rifle fire, which it seemed impossible to push our men through.  After an hour of close contest our men began to fall into confusion.  111 had been killed and some 250 wounded and the Soldiers began to fall back in disorder – My horse was shot through the foreleg – my knee was cut round by a ball, and another had hit my Coat collar and did not penetrate an aid Lt. Bagley was missing, and spite of all exertions the confusion increased, and the men would not reform – Similar confusion had already occurred among other Regiments & I saw we were gone.  Had they kept their ranks we were the Gainers up to that point – only our field Batteries exposed had been severely cut up, by theirs partially covered.  Then for the first time I saw the Carnage of battle – men lying in every conceivable shape, and mangled in a horrible way – but this did not make a particle of impression on me – but horses running about riderless with blood streaming from their nostrils – lying on the ground hitched to guns, gnawing their sides in death – I sat on my horse on the ground where Ricketts Battery had been shattered to fragments, and saw the  havoc done.  I kept my Regiments under cover as much as possible, till the last moment, when it became necessary to cross boldly a Ridge and attack the enemy by that time gathered in great strength behind all sorts of cover – The Volunteers up to that time had done well, but they were repulsed regiment by Regiment, and I do think it was impossible to stand long in that fire.  I did not find fault with them but they fell into disorder – an incessant clamor of tongues, one saying that they were not properly supported, another that they could not tell friend from foe – but I observed the gradual retreat going  on and did all I could to stop it.  At last it became manifest we were falling back, and as soon as I perceived it, I gave it direction by the way we came, and thus we fell back to Centreville some four miles – we had with our Brigade no wagons, they had not crossed the River.  At Centreville came pouring in the confused masses of men, without order or system.  Here I supposed we should assemble in some order the confused masses and try to Stem the tide – Indeed I saw but little evidence of being pursued, though once or twice their cavalry interposed themselves between us and our Rear.  I had read of retreats before – have seen the noise and confusion of crowds of men at fires and Shipwrecks but nothing like this.  It was as disgraceful as words can portray, but I doubt if volunteers from any quarter could do better.  Each private thinks for himself – If he wants to go for water, he asks leave of no one.  If he thinks right he takes the oats & corn, and even burns the house of his enemy.  As we could not prevent these disorders on the way out – I always feared the result – for everywhere we found the People against us – no curse could be greater than invasion by a Volunteer army.  No goths or vandals ever had less respect for the lives & property of friends and foes, and henceforth we ought never to hope for any friends in Virginia – McDowell & all the Generals tried their best to stop these disorders, but for us to say we commanded that army is no such thing – they did as they pleased.  Democracy has worked out one result, and the next step is to be seen – Beauregard & Johnston were enabled to effect a Junction, by the failure of Patterson to press the latter, and they had such accurate accounts of our numbers & movements that they had all the men they wanted – We had never more than 18,000 engaged, though Some 10 or 12,000 were within a few miles.  After our Retreat here, I did my best to stop the flying masses, and partially succeeded, so that we once more present a front: but Beauregard has committed a sad mistake in not pursuing us promptly.  Had he done so, he could have stampeded us again, and gone into Washington.  As it is I suppose their plan is to produce Riot in Baltimore, cross over above Leesburg, and come upon Washington through Maryland.  Our Rulers think more of who shall get office, than who can save the Country.  No body – no one man can save the country.  The difficulty is with the masses – our men are not good Soldiers – They brag, but dont perform – complain sadly if they dont get everything they want – and a march of a few miles uses them up.  It will take a long time to overcome these things, and what is in store for us in the future I know not.  I propose trying to defend this place if Beauregard approaches Washington by this Route, but he has now deferred it Some days and I rather think he will give it up.

The newspapers will tell ten thousand things none of which are true.  I have had not time to read them, but I know no one now has the moral courage to tell the truth.  Public opinion is a more terrible tyrant than Napoleon – My own hope is now in the Regulars, and if I can escape this Volunteer command I will do so, and stick by my Regular Regiment.  Gen. McClellan arrived today with Van Vliet -Stoneman, Benham – Biddle – and many others of my acquaintance.  Affecy. &c.

W. T. Sherman

[Simpson, Brooks D.& Berlin, Jean V. Sherman’s Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860-1865, pp. 121-125]

Col. W. T. Sherman on Blackburn’s Ford

1 02 2009

To John Sherman

Camp near Centreville,

July 19, 1861

Hon. John Sherman

Dear Brother,

I started my Brigade at 2 P.M. the day I wrote you viz. Tuesday the men with 3 days cooked provision in their haversacks.  We passed Falls Church in about two hours, took the gravel road a couple of miles then turned left to the village of Vienna, which is hardly entitled to the name.  There we camped, and next morning at 5 1/2 started, marched very slowly toward Germantown.  The road was obstructed by fallen timber but no signs of an armed opposition we found at Germantown an Earth parapet thrown across the road, but very poor – at or near Germantown we came into the Main Road back of Farifax C. H. which had been abandoned by 5000 men.  Had we reached their rear in time we might have Caught them – but their Knowledge of the Roads – and extreme ease of obstructing them by simply cutting down trees prevented us reaching the point in time.  We followed on to Centreville where also we expected opposition, but it too was evacuated, though the Strongest place I have yet seen to make a stand.  This was the point arranged for the Concentration of the Columns from Alexandria, Geo[‘]town & Long Bridge.  Our Division reached it first.  Richardsons Brigade in advance mine next – Gen. Tyler took two 20 pr. Rifled guns, some Dragoons & Richardsons Brigade to follow to discover the line of Retreat – Bulls Run was only 3 miles distant and it was distinctly understood it was not to be attacked by the Route of usual travel, which had been carefully studied and commanded.  I went into a large meadow with my four Regts. and soon saw the heads of Miles & Heintzelmans columns showing the details had been well planned.  About noon I heard firing in the direction of the Ford at Bulls Run – very irregular and though I knew McDowell did not want it attacked I felt uneasy – The firing was quite sharp at time, and I continued uneasy though my duty was plain to Stand fast – about 2 I got orders to come forward, and about that time I heard heavy musketry firing.  In four minutes we were hastening[.]  The distance about 2 1/2 miles – the road la[y]ing on the {illegible} or Ridge divide between heavy wooded slopes making a narrow Rocky road – we met too many, far too many straggling soldiers and soon came to the ambulance & Doctors with their appliances at work – I led the head of my column till I came upon our Batteries – that of 2 20 prs. – and Ayers field Battery.  I asked Gen. Tyler for orders, and was told to deploy and cover Richardson who was down a Ravine to the left – front was a small house, and Right an open field in which Ayres Battery was unlimbered – the whole comprising a small open farm just where you could look across Bulls Run – It was Known to be fortified, yet the Batteries could not be clearly seen, it was full a mile & half off – the cannonading was quite brisk at the time of my arrival, but the shots mostly passed over us, the Batteries were simply firing at each other.  Richardson had previously pushed his Brigade down close to the Run, but was repulsed, his volunteers breaking and not rallying.  Then the fighting was very brisk, and our loss heavy.  That occurred some twenty minutes beofre my arrival and it was the dispersed troops we met – After arranging my four Regts. under cover of timber, ready for any movement.  I went forward again to the Batteries, and there learned that we were to return.  Receiving the order I drew out my Brigade on the Back track and marched to this Camp – Gen. McDowell arrived during the cannonading and I think did not like it – Tyler never intended to attack Bulls Run Ford, but wanted to experiment with Rifled cannon and got a Rowland for his Oliver.  We have to cross Bulls run by some Route and attack Manassas.  No doubt the enemy is there in all force.  We are only about 6 miles off in an air line, but the Country is wooded, and Bulls Run with ugly ragged banks well known to them, and imperfectly to us still lies between.  Some manoeuvering must still precede the final attack – The volunteers test my patience by their irregularities Robbing, shooting in direct opposition to orders, and like conduct showing a great want of Discipline – Twill take time to make soldiers of them.  Send this to Ellen, to assure her of my safety – day is hot, and we have little shade.  Yrs.

W. T. Sherman

[Simpson, Brooks D.& Berlin, Jean V. Sherman’s Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860-1865, pp. 119-121]

The New York Times Tackles the Sherman’s Battery Controversy

24 11 2008


Thanks so much to reader Linda Mott for once again coming up with a link to a topical newspaper article, this time a New York Times piece from August 11, 1861 (see here).  A couple of things: 

Note that T. W. and W. T. were not classmates at West Point.  T. W. graduated 18th of 49 cadets in 1836.  W. T. was 6th of 42 four years later, 1840. (Cullum)

During the Bull Run campaign, T. W. was in Pennsylvania recruiting for the 5th U. S. Artillery. (Cullum)

As for the two men being “great friends”, they did serve together at Ft. Moultrie in Charleston, SC in 1846.  T. W. rejoined W. T. in the Army of the Tennessee very briefly after Shiloh, and ran into him again briefly in New Orleans in March, 1864.  W. T.’s references to T. W. in his memoirs are cursory, giving no hint that they were ever “great” anythings, friends or otherwise. (Memoirs of General William T. Sherman)

Notice too that the article refers to the famous Sherman’s Battery.

I wish I could figure out that mouseover trick of Robert’s – it would save me having to make these explanatory posts.

The Two Shermans

24 11 2008

The New York Times, August 11, 1861 (see here)

The Two Shermans.

From the Cincinnati Commercial.

Not a little error and confusion has been created by writers in the newspapers, especially since the recent battle before Manassas Junction, by confounding the names of two meritorious officers in the Army.  There are two Col. Shermans in the Army: Col. William T. Sherman, of Ohio, and Col. Thomas W. Sherman, of Rhode Island.  The former is the only one of the two who was engaged in the battle at Bull Run.  He is a brother of John Sherman, Senator from Ohio.  He is not the Capt. Sherman who first organized the famous Sherman’s Battery.

There are some points of remarkable similarity in the case of the two Shermans, which have easily led those ignorant of their history and position into confounding them together.  Their initials are similar – one being W. T. and the other T. W. Sherman; they both graduated in the same class at West Point; both entered the same regiment – the Third Artillery; both served in the Mexican War; and both have been recently appointed Brigadier Generals.

It is T. W. Sherman, of Rhode Island, who commanded and gave his name to “Sherman’s Battery,” which he organized in Mexico, where he served under Taylor and Scott, and which was doing duty on the frontier (Minnesota) when the difficulties with the seceded States broke out.

W. T. Sherman, of Ohio, was found at the beginning of these troubles at the head of a State Military Academy in Louisiana, and upon the secession of that State he resigned, refusing to serve in a State disloyal to the Government.  When the new regiments of the regular Army were formed, Sherman, of Ohio, was appointed Colonel of the Thirteenth Infantry, and Sherman, of Rhode Island, was made Lieutenant-Colonel of the Fifth Artillery, and shortly after, by promotion of Col. Hunter, became Colonel of that regiment.

Sherman’s Battery, although it still retains the name, is now really Ayres’ Battery.  It was Col. Sherman, of Ohio, who commanded the Brigade in the battle fo Bull Run composed of the following regiments:

Seventy-ninth New-York (Highlanders,) Col. Cameron.

Sixty-ninth New-York, (Irish,) Col. Corcoran.

Thirteenth New-York.

Second Wisconsin.

He also had accompanying his Brigade, and under his orders, the Battery of Capt. Ayres, (Shermans Battery,) which was not captured by the enemy, as claimed by all the rebel newspapers, but after a desperate contest every gun was brought off in safety, and was replanted on Capitol Hill, from whence it has since been removed across the Potomac.

Col. Sherman, of Rhode Island, was not in the battle, but was on duty elsewhere.  Both of the Shermans are regarded in the Army as among its best officers.  Both are now Generals, and there is little doubt that they will distinguish themselves in the service, and very probably their actions will be confounded in future as in the past, and each receive the credit due the other.  At this, the two Shermans will not complain, for they are great friends, although not related to each other.

(See explanatory comments here).

Sorry – Sherman’s Battery Yet Again.

2 11 2008

For some reason that escapes me now, I was looking at this site today, specifically at this picture:

This picture isn’t new to me.  I’ve used it in my round table program, and I’ve posted it here before.  It appeared in the June 8, 1861 issue of Harper’s Weekly.  The caption reads SHERMAN’S BATTERY OF LIGHT ARTILLERY, NOW IN VIRGINIA.  The word SHERMAN’S is hyperlinked to another issue of Harper’s Weekly featuring a story on William T. Sherman.  You’ll also notice that the Son of the South page is titled General William T. Sherman’s Artillery.  As you may recall from this series of posts, I contend that this battery, which is undoubtedly Company (Battery) E of the 3rd US Artillery, and which was undoubtedly attached to William T. Sherman’s brigade at Bull Run, was referred to as Sherman’s Battery not because of the commander of the brigade to which it was attached, but rather because of its commander in the War with Mexico, Thomas W. Sherman, who was not with McDowell’s army.  Seeing this link on this particular web page today set me off, and I had to find more to support my belief that people making this I.D. get it wrong.

It doesn’t seem that anyone at the time got it wrong – the mistakes get made later, by historians and other writers, including big shots like C. Vann Woodward.  On page 105 of Mary Chesnut’s Civil War, editor Woodward footnoted Chesnut’s mention of the capture of Sherman’s Battery, explaining that she probably meant Ricketts’s battery, “which was not a part of the brigade commanded by Col. William Tecumseh Sherman”.  She probably DID mean Sherman’s Battery, which was famous for its Mexican War service and just happened to be part of Sherman’s brigade, because ill-informed Confederate reports of its capture abounded.  But she probably never heard of the obscure colonel at the head of the brigade to which the battery was attached.

At the time, people writing about Sherman’s Battery knew just what they were talking about.  It seems obvious to me that artillery batteries simply were not named for the commanders of the infantry brigade to whom they may have been temporarily attached – can you imagine an artilleryman happily serving in a battery named for an INFANTRY commander?  But I wanted to see if I could find any mention of the battery in the ORs prior to the battle.

I found two, in the same volume of the ORs (Series I, Vol. 2) that contains the Bull Run reports and correspondence.  On page 39, NY militia Major General Charles W. Sandford wrote in a report on the advance of Federal forces to Arlington Heights and Alexandria, dated May 28, 1861:

Sherman’s battery of light artillery rendered prompt and efficient service throughout the movement, and one of the sections captured the troop of Virginia Cavalry at Alexandria.

On page 40, Samuel Heintzelman’s report of the same action mentions Sherman’s battery again, but that report is dated July 20:

Captain Brackett commanded the company of cavalry (I, Second Cavalry) that crossed the Long Bridge, and the artillery, I think, belonged to Maj. T. W. Sherman’s battery.

That seals it for me, in two ways.  First, Heintzelman refers to the battery (which was indeed Battery E, 3rd US: even the compilers knew that, because I found these two pages in the index under that heading) as T. W. Sherman’s.  Second, Sandford’s report, in which he mentions Sherman’s battery, was written on May 28, 1861.  William T. Sherman didn’t receive a brigade to command until a month later, on June 30.

The Sherman’s Battery Posts

21 12 2007


I’ve been getting a lot of hits on various posts in a series dealing with the confusion arising from the nickname of Battery E, 3rd US Artillery – Sherman’s Battery.  I thought it might be helpful to set up a little page so anyone looking can find them all.  Here are the links:

Sherman’s Battery, and Sherman’s Battery, Too, but not Really

This Battery Just Keeps Going, and Going, and Going…

Sherman’s Battery Had Some Kinda Juice!

Be sure to read the comments, and enjoy!

Sherman’s Forgotten General

30 10 2007


Right now I’m reading Sherman’s Forgotten General, a biography of Henry Warner Slocum by Brian C. Melton.  Slocum was the colonel of the 27th NY in Porter’s brigade of Hunter’s division at Bull Run, and Melton is an assistant professor of history at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA.  I had some misgivings about this book when I bought it and mentioned them here.  So far, the book is more than fulfilling those expectations.  But here I’m going to focus on the Bull Run section of the book.

Slocum’s father was born in Marietta, OH, and prior to settling in the Syracuse, NY area spent some time in New Port, RI.  Apparently some Slocum roots were planted in the seaside community, but Melton is very vague.  I don’t know if that’s because he couldn’t nail the family tree down, or if he felt it wasn’t that important.  Dude, it’s a thread.  Pull that sucker!  This fact (or possibility) came into play at Bull Run when Slocum was wounded in the leg at Bull Run and the colonel of the 2nd RI, John S. Slocum (whom Melton also refers to as Joshua), was killed.  Resultant confusion led to some tense, unsure moments for Henry’s wife back home in Syracuse.

I take issue with Melton’s assessment that McDowell’s plan for the battle was sound on paper and broke down in the execution.  But I won’t take him to task for it: that is the conventional wisdom, after all.  He does make some errors of fact, however.

On page 44, when summarizing the plan, Melton writes that [t]he army near Washington would march quickly south and west to engage Beauregard, while Patterson would keep Johnston busy in the Shenandoah.  Each Union army significantly outnumbered its Confederate counterpart, so if McDowell could fall on Beauregard before Johnston could reach him, he might devour the Confederates in detail.

Despite conventional wisdom (again), the above is not true with regards to McDowell’s plan.  Patterson’s actions were designed and directed by Scott, not McDowell.  In addition, Melton’s analysis employs some hindsight.  While it was true that McDowell’s force outnumbered that of Beauregard in June, his plan considered that the Confederacy would forward all available troops exclusive of Johnston to Manassas.  McDowell’s plan can be found in War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (ORs), Series I, Vol. 2, pp 719-721.  In this plan, written about June 24, McDowell uses some sound logic to deduce how many men the Confederacy might muster to face him, and at the same time give the lie to the notion that the rebels would need to rely on intelligence from folks like Rose Greenhow to track the movements of the enemy (see the whole plan here):

We cannot count on keeping secret our intention to overthrow this force. Even if the many parties intrusted with the knowledge of the plan should not disclose or discover it, the necessary preliminary measures for such an expedition would betray it; and they are alive and well informed as to every movement, however slight, we make. They have, moreover, been expecting us to attack their position, and have been preparing for it. When it becomes known positively we are about to march, and they learn in what strength, they will be obliged to call in their disposable forces from all quarters, for they will not be able, if closely pressed, to get away by railroad before we can reach them. If General J. E. Johnston’s force is kept engaged by Major-General Patterson, and Major-General Butler occupies the force now in his vicinity, I think they will not be able to bring up more than ten thousand men. So we must calculate on having to do with about thirty-five thousand men.

So as you can see McDowell had no plan to overwhelm Beauregard’s smaller force – he didn’t anticipate confronting a smaller force.  In fact, his plan would be a turning movement, the favorite grand tactic of Winfield Scott’s smaller army in Mexico.  McDowell expected to face 35,000 Confederate troops.  As it turned out, once Johnston’s forces arrived from the Valley, that’s about how many men they would have on hand.  A force roughly equal to that of McDowell.

zelig.jpgI won’t go into detail on the rest of the book, other than to comment on its thesis, that Slocum was a dynamic version of Locke’s blank slate.  That is to say, he was a reflector of light, and tended to absorb the characteristics of his commanding officers.  Melton’s Slocum, in other words, was akin to Woody Allen’s Zelig (left): a human chameleon.  It’s an interesting construct, but falls apart when facets of Slocum’s personality or actions appear at odds with the author’s preconceived notions of the characteristics of those Slocum was supposed to be emulating.  Either he was a reflector, or he wasn’t.  So far it’s looking like he only reflected what the author saw as his commanders’ negative attributes – any positive features were Slocum’s alone.  But then, I’ve only read through McDowell, McClellan, Burnside & Hooker.  Perhaps once Slocum comes under the influence of someone to whom history and historians have been more kind, like, say, Sherman, things will change in this book.  I suspect they will.

#25 – Col. William T. Sherman

3 10 2007


Report of Col. William T. Sherman, Thirteenth U. S. Infantry, Commanding Third Brigade, First Division

O.R. — SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, pp 368 – 371


Fort Corcoran, July 25, 1861

SIR: I have the honor to submit this my report of the operations of my brigade during the action of the 21st instant. The brigade is composed of the Thirteenth New York Volunteers, Colonel Quinby; Sixty-ninth New York, Colonel Corcoran; Seventy-ninth New York, Colonel Cameron; Second Wisconsin, Lieutenant-Colonel Peck, and Company E, Third Artillery, under command of Capt. R. B. Ayres, Fifth Artillery. We left our camp near Centreville, pursuant to orders, at 2.30 a.m., taking place in your column next to the brigade of General Schenck, and proceeded as far as the halt before the enemy’s position near the stone bridge at Bull Run. Here the brigade was deployed in line along the skirt of timber, and remained quietly in position till after 10 a.m. The enemy remained very quiet, but about that time we saw a regiment leave its cover in our front and proceed in double-quick time on the road toward Sudley Springs, by which we knew the columns of Colonels Hunter and Heintzelman were approaching. About the same time we observed in motion a large force of the enemy below the stone bridge. I directed Captain Ayres to take position with his battery near our right and open fire on this mass, but you had previously detached the two rifled guns belonging to this battery, and finding the smoothbore guns did not reach the enemy’s position we ceased firing, and I sent a request that you should send to me the 30-pounder rifled gun attached to Captain Carlisle’s battery. At the same time I shifted the New York Sixty-ninth to the extreme right of the brigade.

Thus we remained till we heard the musketry fire across Bull Run, showing that the head of Colonel Hunter’s column was engaged. This firing was brisk, and showed that Hunter was driving before him the enemy till about noon, when it became certain the enemy had come to a stand, and that our forces on the other side of Bull Run were all engaged—-artillery and infantry. Here you sent me the order to cross over with the whole brigade to the assistance of Colonel Hunter. Early in the day, when reconnoitering the ground, I had seen a horseman descend from a bluff in our front, cross the stream, and show himself in the open field, and, inferring we could cross over at the same point, I sent for ward a company as skirmishers, and followed with the whole brigade, the New York Sixty-ninth leading. We found no difficulty in crossing over, and met no opposition in ascending the steep bluff opposite with our infantry, but it was impassable to the artillery, and I sent word back to Captain Ayres to follow if possible, otherwise to use his discretion. Captain Ayres did not cross Bull Run, but remained with the remainder of your division. His report, herewith, [No. 27], describes his operations during the remainder of the day.

Advancing slowly and cautiously with the head of the column, to give time for the regiments in succession to close up their ranks, we first encountered a party of the enemy retreating along a cluster of pines. Lieutenant-Colonel Haggerty, of the Sixty-ninth, without orders, rode out and endeavored to intercept their retreat. One of the enemy, in full view, at short range, shot Haggerty, and he fell dead from his horse. The Sixty-ninth opened fire upon this party, which was returned; but, determined to effect our junction with Hunter’s division, I ordered this fire to cease, and we proceeded with caution toward the field, where we then plainly saw our forces engaged. Displaying our colors conspicuously at the head of our column, we succeeded in attracting the attention of our friends, and soon formed the brigade in rear of Colonel Porter’s. Here I learned that Colonel Hunter was disabled by a severe wound, and that General McDowell was on the field. I sought him out, and received his orders to join in the pursuit of the enemy, who was falling back to the left of the road by which the Army had approached from Sudley Springs. Placing Colonel Quinby’s regiment of rifles in front, in column by divisions, I directed the other regiments to follow in line of battle, in the order of the Wisconsin Second, New York Seventy-ninth, and New York Sixty-ninth.

Quinby’s regiment advanced steadily down the hill and up the ridge, from which he opened fire upon the enemy, who had made another stand on ground very favorable to him, and the regiment continued advancing as the enemy gave way, till the head of the column reached the point near which Ricketts’ battery was so severely cut up. The other regiments descended the hill in line of battle under a severe cannonade; and the ground affording comparative shelter against the enemy’s artillery, they changed direction by the right flank and followed the road before mentioned. At the point where this road crossed the ridge to our left front, the ground was swept by a most severe fire of artillery, rifles, and musketry, and we saw in succession several regiments driven from it, among them the zouaves and battalion of marines.

Before reaching the crest of this hill the roadway was worn deep enough to afford shelter, and I kept the several regiments in it as long as possible; but when the Wisconsin Second was abreast of the enemy, by order of Major Wadsworth, of General McDowell’s staff, I ordered it to leave the roadway by the left flank, and to attack the enemy. This regiment ascended to the brow of the hill steadily, received the severe fire of the enemy, returned it with spirit, and advanced delivering its fire. This regiment is uniformed in gray cloth, almost identical with that of the great bulk of the secession army, and when the regiment fell into confusion and retreated toward the road there was an universal cry that they were being fired on by our own men. The regiment rallied again, passed the brow of the hill a second time, but was again repulsed in disorder.

By this time the New York Seventy-ninth had closed up, and in like manner it was ordered to cross the brow of the hill and drive the enemy from cover. It was impossible to get a good view of this ground. In it there was one battery of artillery, which poured an incessant fire upon our advancing columns, and the ground was very irregular, with small clusters of pines, affording shelter, of which the enemy took good advantage. The fire of rifles and musketry was very severe. The Seventy-ninth, headed by its colonel (Cameron), charged across the hill, and for a short time the contest was severe. They rallied several times under fire, but finally broke and gained the cover of the hill.

This left the field open to the New York Sixty-ninth, Colonel Corcoran, who in his turn led his regiment over the crest, and had in full open view the ground so severely contested. The firing was very severe, and the roar of cannon, muskets, and rifles incessant. It was manifest the enemy was here in great force, far superior to us at that point. The Sixty-ninth held the ground for some time, but finally fell back in disorder.

All this time Quinby’s regiment occupied another ridge to our left, overlooking the same field of action and similarly engaged.

Here, about 3.30 p.m. began the scene of confusion and disorder that characterized the remainder of the day. Up to that time all had kept their places, and seemed perfectly cool and used to the shells and shot that fell comparatively harmless all around us; but the short exposure to an intense fire of small-arms at close range had killed many, wounded more, and had produced disorder in all the battalions that had attempted to destroy it. Men fell away talking and in great confusion. Colonel Cameron had been mortally wounded, carried to an ambulance, and reported dying. Many other officers were reported dead or missing, and many of the wounded were making their way, with more or less assistance, to the buildings used as hospitals.

On the ridge to the west we succeeded in partially reforming the regiments, but it was manifest they would not stand, and I directed Colonel Corcoran to move along the ridge to the rear, near the position where we had first formed the brigade. General McDowell was there in person, and used all possible efforts to reassure the men. By the active exertions of Colonel Corcoran we formed an irregular square against the cavalry, which were then seen to issue from the position from which we had been driven, and we began our retreat towards that ford of Bull Run by which we had approached the field of battle. There was no positive order to retreat, although for an hour it had been going on by the operation of the men themselves. The ranks were thin and irregular, and we found a stream of people strung from the hospital, across Bull Run and far towards Centreville. After putting in motion the irregular square, I pushed forward to find Captain Ayres’ battery. Crossing Bull Run, I sought it at its last position before the brigade crossed over, but it was not there; then, passing through the woods where in the morning we had first formed line, we approached the blacksmith-shop, but there found a detachment of the secession cavalry, and thence made a circuit, avoiding Cub Run Bridge, into Centreville, where I found General McDowell. From him I understood it was his purpose to rally the forces, and make a stand at Centreville. But, about 9 o’clock at night, I received, from General Tyler in person the order to continue the retreat to the Potomac. This retreat was by night, and disorderly in the extreme. The men of different regiments mingled together, and some reached the river at Arlington, some at Long Bridge, and the greater part returned to their former camps at or near Fort Corcoran. I reached this point at noon the next day, and found a miscellaneous crowd crossing over the Aqueduct and ferries.

Conceiving this to be demoralizing, I at once commanded the guard to be increased, and all persons attempting to pass over to be stopped.

This soon produced its effect; men sought their proper companies and regiments, comparative order was restored, and all were posted to the best advantage.

I herewith inclose the official report of Captain Kelly, the commanding officer of the Sixty-ninth New York; also full lists of the killed, wounded, and missing. Our loss was heavy, and occurred chiefly at the point near where Ricketts’ battery was destroyed. Lieutenant-Colonel Haggerty was killed about noon, before we effected a junction with Colonel Hunters division. Colonel Cameron was mortally wounded leading his regiment in the charge, and Colonel Corcoran has been missing since the cavalry charge near the building used as a hospital.

Lieutenants Piper and McQuesten, of my personal staff, were under fire all day, and carried orders to and fro with as much coolness as on parade. Lieutenant Bagley, of the Sixty-ninth New York, a volunteer aide, asked leave to serve with his company during the action, and is among those reported missing. I have intelligence that he is a prisoner and slightly wounded. Colonel Coon, of Wisconsin, a volunteer aide, also rendered good service during the day.

I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,


Colonel, Commanding Brigade

Capt. A. BAIRD,

Assistant Adjutant-General, First Division

Sherman’s Battery Had Some Kinda Juice!

27 09 2007


While at UNC’s Wilson library last week I copied Charles Frederick Fisher: A Contribution to the History of the First Battle of Manassas and How it Was Won, an address delivered at the Presbyterian College for Women in Charlotte, NC in 1901 by Hon. John Steele Henderson upon the presentation of a portrait of the 6th NC’s Bull Run martyr to Richmond’s Confederate Museum’s North Carolina Room.

twsherman2.jpgAs discussed here and here (be sure to read the comments), the renown of Battery E, 3rd US, commonly known as Sherman’s Battery for its service in Mexico under Thomas W. “Tim” Sherman (at left), was such that soldiers on both sides claimed to have supported, assaulted, or even captured it at various points at First Bull Run, despite the fact that it never crossed from the east side of Bull Run and in fact only lost some of its horses and a forge during the retreat on July 21st, 1861.  Letters quoted in Henderson’s address further illustrate the notoriety of the battery that day.

As described in what Henderson simply identified as “another” letter by Captain James A. Craige, Co. G, 6th NC (he would later become Lt. Col of the regiment), the men of the 6th charged upon and took the guns belonging to the celebrated Sherman Battery (i.e. Ricketts’) and considering the fearful odds against them, and the dangers of the exploit, the wonder is not that they suffered so much but so little.  Here, Battery I, 1st US has taken on the identity of Sherman’s Battery.  The irony of Ricketts’ Battery’s position on the field (at the point described by Craige, Henry House Hill) is that this battery is the one in which young Lieutenant Thomas Jackson served in Mexico, and in whose service he won his brevet.  Jackson and his line faced off against Ricketts’ guns.  Hat tip to friend Tom Clemens, who wonders if Jackson was aware of the battery’s identity during the fight (I think probably) and if he felt any twinge of guilt at its casualties or recognized any of the men (I think probably not).  Ol’ Blue Light was a black flagger.  Remember, he didn’t want the enemy brave – he wanted them dead.

Captain John M. Ramsay was quoted from a letter written within a week of the battle: onward, onward they [6th NC] went and arrived at the crisis of the afternoon, and poured a destructive volley into the batteries of Sherman and Ricketts, killing many of the men and most of the horses.  In this case, it is Griffin’s West Point Battery, D of the 5th, that is misidentified as Sherman’s Battery.

Eyewitness accounts.  You gotta love ‘em.

Sherman’s Battery, and Sherman’s Battery, Too, but not Really

25 06 2007

First let me apologize for the paucity of posts this past week.  I’m self employed, which means when I go on vacation (say, to Shiloh), I have to work frenetically to catch myself up before I go and when I get back.  And when I did get back, I had to get a little medical procedure out of the way.  I did post two brief articles, and outlined quite a few more, but in the process of writing another I got way off track, which happens to me all the time and is really what this blog is all about.

That post was one alluded to in my last, and concerns an article in the current issue of Civil War Times Illustrated.  No, not the Pete Carmichael interview of Gary Gallagher that burned up the blogosphere for a few days a couple of weeks ago.  The article in question here is First View of First Manassas by Joseph Pierro, which features a letter from a Virginia cavalryman to his wife.

I thought this would be a pretty straightforward look at a battle participant’s [William B. Newton of the Hanover Light Dragoons] letter home that would serve as a lead-in to a bigger piece I’ve been thinking about, one that considers the limitations associated with eyewitness accounts.  The apparent lust with which Newton and his cohorts – as described in the letter – assaulted unarmed Yankee soldiers and civilians also fit in with some research I’m doing concerning battlefield “atrocities”.  Instead, one seemingly insignificant, annotated sentence derailed me.

But no! the gallant 27th, envious of the glorious achievement of the 4th, at a sing[l]e dash, had charged a regiment of regulars, swept them from the field, and taken every gun in [Colonel William T.] Sherman’s battery.

Here’s a Harper’s Weekly engraving of Sherman’s Battery before the battle, and a photo of it shortly thereafter: 


No, it wasn’t the fact that not a single gun in Sherman’s Battery was lost in the battle that set me off.  That inaccuracy in fact fits in perfectly with the often significant inaccuracies associated with contemporary, first-person accounts.  Rather, it was the editor’s bracketed “clarification” of just who the Sherman in Sherman’s Battery was.  The problem is that the Sherman in question was not William Tecumseh.

grapeb.jpgIn 1861, Sherman’s Battery was the most famous company of artillery in the nation.  It had won its fame in the War with Mexico at the Battle of Buena Vista, where along with the battery commanded by Braxton Bragg (of whom Zachary Taylor requested “a little more grape”, see watercolor at left) it played a key role in the repulse of  an enemy counter-attack.  It would appear that editor Pierro is not the first to erroneously associate William T. Sherman with the battery of the same name, as this site claims that Bragg fought alongside “Cump” at Buena Vista (W. T. was in California during the war).  No, the battery otherwise known as Company E, 3rd U. S. Artillery was commanded at Buena Vista by Thomas W. “Old Tim” Sherman, and even after he moved on to other commands, the battery remained known as Sherman’s Battery.  That’s his photo below on the left, courtesy of the LOC.  Nice hairdo – I guess he wanted to be taken seriously (see this post). 


So, why the confusion?  Well, that’s where things get confusing.  First of all, (T. W.) Sherman’s Battery was attached to (W. T.) Sherman’s brigade of Daniel Tyler’s Division at Bull Run.  At the time it was under the command of Capt. Romeyn B. Ayres (to the right of Sherman above, also courtesy LOC).  So, technically speaking, the battery was W. T.’s.  But that is certainly not the Sherman to whom the letter writer was referring.  So, either the editor was unaware of the story of the famous Sherman’s Battery, or he was unaware that the famous Sherman’s Battery was on the field at Bull Run.  That’s not as unlikely as it sounds, if he used as his source the Orders of Battle included in three of the most recent studies of the campaign.

Stay with me.

There are eight “major” studies of the Campaign of First Bull Run.  The earliest work, R. M. Johnston’s Bull Run: Its Strategy and Tactics, includes an order of battle (OOB) and a table that identifies the battery in Sherman’s Brigade as E of the 3rd.  It takes some looking though and the book was written in 1913.  David Detzer’s Donnybrook, Russell Beatie’s Road to Manassas, and Ethan Rafuse’s A Single Grand Victory, only refer to the battery as being commanded by Ayres or as Ayres’s Battery.  Only William C. Davis’s Battle at Bull Run accurately identifies the battery as E of the 3rd, commanded by Ayres, and known both north and south as Sherman’s Battery.  Three “modern” studies include orders of battle: Ed Bearss’s First Manassas Battlefield Map Study, John Hennessy’s The First Battle of Manassas: An End to Innocence and Joanna McDonald’s “We Shall Meet Again”.  These are the sources a modern researcher would most likely use as a quick reference for what unit was where.  And they all get the identification of this battery wrong.

These three all list the battery in Sherman’s Brigade as Battery E, 5th US Artillery, under the command of Captain Romeyn B. Ayres.  In addition to being wrong, it’s impossibly wrong.  But maybe understandably wrong.

Here’s why Ayres’s command of Battery E, 5th US Arty in July 1861 is impossible: according to Dyer’s A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, that battery was not organized until May of 1862.  Now, why is such a mistake understandable?  I mean, we’re talking Ed Bearss and John Hennessy here!

I think the answer can be found in Ayres’s official report (I’ve made a new page for it here), and his Cullum and Heitman entries, the starting points for all biographical sketches of West Point graduates and regular army officers.  Ayres (I’ll post his bio sketch in the next few days) was first posted to the 3rd Arty as a First Lieutenant in March, 1852, and remained with the regiment at least until he made Captain of the 5th Arty in May, 1861, before Bull Run.  That much is clear in Heitman and Cullum.  But it’s also clear from his report that he was in command of a battery in Sherman’s Brigade at Bull Run.  But a less than careful reading of his report can lead to an inaccurate conclusion.

Ayres’s report, written just four days after the battle, is headed “Light Company E, Third Artillery”, which is clear enough.  But in the printed OR’s, Ayres’s report is prominently titled by the compiler as the report of Capt. Romeyn B. Ayres, Fifth US Artillery.  And to add to the confusion, he signed the report “R. B. Ayres, Captain, Fifth Artillery, Commanding Company E”.  So, if one has no idea of the history of Battery E, 5th US Arty, and merely reads the title of the OR entry and the signature line – and ignores the heading on the actual report and the name of the 3rd US Arty AAAG at the close of the report – one could understandably conclude that Ayres was in command of Battery E, 5th Arty.

So, did these three authors all make the same mistake and come to the same conclusion when compiling their OOB’s?  Or did one make the mistake first, and the others carried it over to their work?  Who knows?  I know that I had it wrong on my OOB until I read the CWTI article and started digging.  It’s not the first mistake on Bull Run OOBs I’ve found (I’ll try to get to that this week as well).

Why was Ayers in command of Sherman’s Battery at Bull Run when the records indicate he had been transferred to the 5th Artillery in May?  Either his commission was backdated and he had not reported to the 5th as of July 21, or there’s another reason.  It was not uncommon for Union officers, particularly 1861 academy graduates, to be on the field at Bull Run in some capacity other than their official assignments.  Just one more thing to add to my list of things to look into.

I’ll post more on Ayres later this week.



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