Civil War News Review

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Murphy’s Law Civil War Style

  1. Friendly Fire – isn’t.
There are a number of instances during the war when “friendly fire” occurred in the confusion of battle during the War. 
At Gettysburg on July 2, 1863 Confederate artillery on Warfield Ridge dropped rounds on the Texans and Georgians at the Devil’s Den.
At the skirmish at Dranesville, in 1861, J.E.B. Stuart accidentally ordered his infantry to fire into Confederate troops.

At the Dunker Church, as the 125th Pennsylvania fled down the Smoketown Road with the Rebels right behind them, Lt. George A. Woodruff (Battery I, 1st U.S. Artillery) ordered his guns to fire through them. One man recalled it was because “they were only volunteers.”

During the attack on the West Woods, the Confederate artillery on Hauser (Nicodemus) Ridge fired case shot and canister over the heads of their own men to stop Sedgwick’s advance. Confederate hit by artillery came from their own guns.

The 35th Massachusetts at Fox’s Gap, September 14, 1862, a new regiment with no combat experience in the dark fired at the 51st Pennsylvania from behind and missed. Their fire hit the Texans in the woods across from the Pennsylvanians. They fired back and hit both Yankee regiments.

  1. Never forget that your weapon was made by the lowest bidder.
At the Battle of Shepherdstown in September 1862, the 118th Pennsylvania sadly discovered that the nipples on their weapons broke off when the hammers struck them.
The same thing happened to a new regiment stuck in the Hagerstown Pike during the Rebel counterattack against the west Woods.

  1.  If your attack is going really well, it’s an ambush.
At Antietam, John Sedgwick’s Division (II Corps) entered the West Woods     without too much difficulty until it walked into Lafayette McLaws’ Division, which had just arrived upon the field and the Confederate artillery on Hauser (Nicodemus) Ridge. He lost 2500 men of 4500 in 20 minutes.

The same thing happened to the 3rd Arkansas, the 27thNorth Carolina, and remnants of other regiments when they flanked the Bloody Lane as the Federals overran it.  They captured Ohioans from Greene’s Division and swung into line perpendicular to the lane. 

After firing a few rounds, they ran out of ammunition only to discover that the Yankee cartridges were the wrong caliber for their weapons.  The Ohioans, rather than march to the rear, turned about, picked up their arms, and fired into the Confederates’ backs. The 7thMaine, coming in from the north, flanked the rebs and drove them from the field

  1. Make it too tough for the enemy to get in, and you won’t be able to get out.
The Confederates learned this the hard way at the Bloody Lane.  The Yankees trapped them in the lane from high ground on both flanks, making it nearly impossible to escape south over the high bank behind them. Many of them who tried ended up hanging on the fence on the crest - dead or dying. One poor fellow was shot through the rear about 17 times.  
  1. Professional soldiers are predictable; the world is full of dangerous amateurs.
George McClellan had at least 27 brand new regiments at Antietam.
The 35th Massachusetts stayed on the field after dark at Otto’s farm lane,      genuinely believing they were going to be relieved. Their shots in the dark probably killed Gen. L. O’Brien Branch of North Carolina.

The 130th Pennsylvania while moving toward the Bloody Lane around the Roulette farm buildings, rather than push down the picket fence surrounding Roulette’s beehives pulled it down- right on top of Pvt. Theodore Boyle. In the excitement of it all, their colonel rode over Boyle, driving a picket into his chest. Boyle became the regiment’s first casualty.

Some of the men in that same regiment, climbed over the fence behind which they lay and started down the hill over open ground to “bag” the Rebs. It was an ambush. Few of them returned.

  1. When in doubt, empty your magazine.
The smoke was so thick in the Cornfield (Antietam) that when Tyndale’s brigade (XII Corps) came on the field and approached the northeastern corner of the field the line halted uncertain who men were prone on the other side. A captain resolved the issue by ordering his “boys” to fire. At a range of about 10 feet, they slaughtered a Georgia regiment where it lay.

Both sides repeated that scenario again and again in the Cornfield, which explains why it had the largest number of casualties during the battle and why so many Rebels were knocked down in formation.

  1. If you find yourself in front of your platoon, they know something you don’t.
During A.P. Hill’s counterattack along the Harpers Ferry Road at Antietam. Brig. Gen. James Archer led the Tennessee Brigade in a charge across an open field but no one followed him.

At the Wilderness, a Confederate colonel jumped into a group of his own men and told them to attack. They refused so he leaped from cover to inspire them. He got shot to which they replied, “We told you so.”

The list could go on forever. Soldiers, through the centuries have changed very little. The equipment is “smarter.” Soldiers are better trained and educated than before but they generally experience the same frustrations. They share an immutable kinship with those who preceded them.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Windows to the Soul

Historians now estimate the war’s death toll at about 750,000, which includes men who died from war related wounds or illnesses after leaving the service. Many carried invisible scars, which plagued them for the rest of their lives. The stresses of campaigning and combat drained aged then and emotionally drained them. While by no means a mental health professional, I have observed the effects of post traumatic stress disorder upon civilians and veterans. I know the “Thousand Yard Stare” when I see it. Their eyes reflected their sorrow. The following images are of members of the 49th New York, which I have been researching for about 30 years.

Rudolph Muller, age 38, enlisted September 12, 1861, Buffalo, New York for 3 years. Mustered in, private, Company D, September 14, 1861. November 3, 1863, reported to hospital sick. Reported with a cold from October 23 – December 5, 1863. Reenlisted as a veteran, December 25, 1863. Wounded in ankle, May 5, 1864, Wilderness. Hospitalized, 7th Ward, Buffalo, New York. Transferred to Company B (probably absent in hospital), September 17, 1864. Absent, wounded at muster out, June 27, 1865. 

                                                 (Phil Palen Collection, USAHEC)
While listed as a private, his trousers have a non-commissioned officer’s stripe on them.  The badge on his lapel is probably a corps badge. He appears to have a veteran’s stripe on each sleeve.

Elijah H. Shippee, age 25.  Enlisted August 5, 1861 at Clymer, New York for three years.  Mustered in as private, Company G, August 30, 1861. Promoted to corporal before March 1, 1863.  Promoted to sergeant March 1, 1863. Known for being the best quoits player in the regiment. September 1 -2, 1863, kept in the hospital with diarrhea. Reenlisted as a veteran on December 16, 1863. Pioneer with the regiment.  Slightly wounded on May 5, 1864 at the Wilderness. Participated in the charge against the Bloody Angle on May 12, 1864 with one arm in a sling and an axe in the other.  After the battle, the men found his corpse hanging over the Confederate works, having been bayoneted six times.


Freeman Miller, age 18.  (He lied about his age.  He was 16.) Enlisted on August 21, 1861 in Buffalo for 3 years. Mustered in as a private, Company G on August 30, 1861. Promoted to corporal on May 4, 1863.  Re-enlisted as a veteran on December 16, 1863. Wounded in the head on May 6, 1864 at the Wilderness. Transferred to Company A on September 17, 1864. Wounded in the upper right arm on October 19, 1864 at Cedar Creek, Virginia. The surgeons recorded his age as 19. Surgeon George T. Stevens (77th New York) amputated his right arm below the shoulder on October 19, 1864. He received a medical discharge on March 16, 1865, though the roster reported the date as March 25. He appears to have been the youngest man in the regiment.


Born on July 17, 1842, in Brantford, Canada West, William Ellis enlisted in the “Prince of Wales,” 100th Regiment in Toronto in 1857 at the age of 15. He soon transferred to the Royal 22nd Regiment. He was promoted from private to regimental Color Sergeant. When the War started, he bought his discharge and went home briefly visit with his mother and sisters. From there, he went to Buffalo and after taking a preliminary oath to become a U.S. citizen, he enrolled in Buffalo on July 30, 1861 to serve 3 years. He lied about his age, stating that he was 21. He mustered in as 2nd lieutenant, Company E on August 28, 1861. He was promoted to captain, Company C on January 25, 1862. He mustered in as the major of the 49th on December 11, 1862.  On May 12, 1864, while leading a charge onto the works at the Bloody Angle, Spotsylvania, Court House, Virginia, a Confederate shot him point blank with a ramrod  It penetrated his left arm, missing the bone, struck him in the side and fractured a rib. Listed as non-fatal, he quickly returned to duty and a promotion as Assistant Inspector General, First Division, VI Corps.  On the morning of August 4, 1864, while rising from his bed, a bone chip from his rib passed through his heart, killing him. He was 22 years old.



He is wearing his VI Corps badge and his major’s insignia.

Their eyes reflect a line from Sigfried Sassoon’s, Suicide in the Trenches “Pray that you may never know the Hell where youth and laughter go.”

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Miniature Wargaming and Teaching Civil War History

I have played with toy soldiers since I was 5 years old. Whether I knocked them down with rubber bands or blew them up in forts with firecrackers, I played daily. When HO scale soldiers came out by Airfix, I played with them also but in a different way. My brother and I drew our own game boards, built our own terrain and we reenacted Civil War battles by creating our own set of rules.

I still wargame, but not with the real small figures. I use the 54mm (1/32 or 1/35 scale) figures. I got back into the hobby while teaching U.S. history in high school. Always fascinated by Civil War tactics, I decided to use toy soldiers to illustrate how to use linear tactics to fight battles in the era of muzzle loaded weapons and direct fire artillery.

At first, my students balked at the idea of playing with “army men,” but once it caught on, they loved it. They had to construct their own infantry regiments, and artillery batteries. If infantry, they had to determine whether they were armed with smoothbores or rifles. The idea was not to necessarily recreate the exact historical event, but to teach them how so many variables could affect the outcome of a battle. They had to determine their unit’s morale, figure out how much ammunition they took into a fight, learn very basic formations, maneuvers, and commands and then decide how best to deal with them in the heat of combat.
Besides accidentally learning tactics, they inadvertently learned something about themselves. Very often, they had to write after-action reports to explain what occurred during the engagement. Many accusations of cowardice, and negligence on the part of other commanders showed up in the reports, as well as some “fudging” of the facts on the part of their own units. 

Luckily, because I taught a Civil War course, I got away with using class time to game and teach. My administrators viewed the chaos and the noise as highly motivating yet when I tried to create a wargame club for after school activities, I had to call it an historical simulation because “war” seemed too belligerent. Go figure.

Because of the time required to play a game, I had to develop a system where the game could be picked up and stored. At one point, our librarian allowed me to cover the board with a sheet so we could leave it set up. It was best when I had my own classroom, where I could keep an eye on it. I had my own room for about 20 years but then had to float from room to room because I did not teach a state tested subject, which produced different challenges.

More often than not, we used masking tape to mark troop positions on the board when we picked up. The unpainted figures went into bags with the students names on them. The labeled board was leaned against the wall in the back of the room. Despite all of those hurdles, some of my fondest memories of teaching evolved around the games.

I quickly learned a great deal about my students. I had rules lawyers, who argued about every little thing, which they did not like. Fairness freaks complained about the effects of canister upon massed troops as unfair. The cheaters replaced lost pieces upon the field when my back was turned. Self-appointed generals quickly organized their commanders into teams. The bored students issued commands without looking at the field, which led to incidents of “friendly fire.” The sports enthusiasts did not handle defeat very well. Others “took care of” obnoxious officers by allowing them to hold untenable positions and be wiped out.

Others behaved rather badly. One student ate a cavalryman. Thank goodness, he was a plastic one. A Confederate color bearer disappeared from the board never to return. A few pieces ended up being crushed under foot. An aggravated student kicked the table and cried. At times, conducting a game seemed comparable to watching visitors at the zoo, standing outside of the monkey cage, trying to get the simians to behave more like monkeys. Overall, I enjoyed the experience as much as the students, but it took time to develop and time to analyze what had happened and correlate it to actual Civil War incidents.

They and I observed that no plan survived the first shot, that once the combat gets going, it draws units into a vortex, which all too often ignores the initial objective. I have seen some particularly goal oriented students allow their team mates get embroiled in the fighting as a diversion, while they sidestepped the action, unnoticed, and did what they had been directed to do. 

If you would like to hear more about how to orchestrate gaming, either for yourselves or for your students, please, leave a comment on the blog site and I will address your questions in another blog.