John Parke Receives the Mission to Invest Fort Macon

John Parke Receives the Mission to Invest Fort Macon

The preparations for the siege of the Confederate stronghold of Fort Macon and its eventual capitulation were foremost in the minds of Ambrose Burnside and his subordinate commanders as spring arrived along the Carolina shore in 1862. The expedition commander had always placed the reduction of Fort Macon as one of his highest priorities in order to open a deep-water port on the North Carolina coast for the Union fleet. To complete this important mission, Burnside entrusted his brigade commander, Brigadier General John Grubb Parke, with the task of investing and reducing Fort Macon.

Parke is as closely tied to the Civil War service of Ambrose Burnside as any other officer who served during the conflict. An 1849 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Parke ranked second in his class just behind classmate and fellow Union general Quincy A. Gilmore who in the spring of 1862 was, ironically, preparing an assault against the Confederate-held Fort Pulaski near Savannah, Georgia. After serving as one of Burnside’s brigade commanders for the operations in North Carolina, Parke was promoted to Major General and served as Burnside’s Chief of Staff for the Maryland Campaign and the Battle of Fredericksburg. He would later succeed Burnside in command of IX Corps following the debacle at the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg in 1864.

John Grubb Parke photo

Brig Gen John Parke, charged by Burnside with seizing Fort Macon

 

Only three days following the capture of Newbern in March of 1862, General Burnside conducted a reconnaissance to the south toward the Bogue Banks with the purpose of assessing the feasibility of moving at least one of his brigades toward Fort Macon. On that very day, the Confederate command, likely anticipating Burnside’s next move, had burned a railroad bridge spanning the Newport River. This prevented any force of Union troops from being quickly resupplied in an action against Fort Macon. It also hindered Burnside from moving the required heavy siege guns and ammunition to support an assault against the fort. However, the Confederates had failed to destroy the road bridge over the Newport River which would allow passage of troops and wagons until the railroad bridge was repaired.

General Parke’s advanced guard of troops was able to reach Carolina City by March 22nd with the main body and the general close behind them. Leaving the 5th Rhode Island to repair the railroad bridge, Parke and the remainder of his brigade including Oliver Case and his fellow troops in Company A of the 8th Connecticut occupied Carolina City preparing for operations against Fort Macon. The soldiers were glad to be done with the marching as it was “a hard march…raining most of the time the road was full of mud & water & we had to march through one continual swamp…”

Parke’s first action was to send the Confederate commander of Fort Macon, Colonel Moses White, a note under a flag of truce demanding the surrender of the fort and its garrison. Even in the face of a certain capitulation, even after a potentially lengthy siege, Colonel White refused Parke’s terms and prepared his garrison for the attack.

Beaufort NC Ft Macon in distance

Beaufort, North Carolina after capture by Parke’s troops; Fort Macon in distance at right

 

For his part, General Parke immediately took actions aimed at getting all required troops and armament into position. He secured approaches to Carolina City from Morehead City but decided to wait until the railroad bridge was operational and more troops arrived to attempt an attack on Beaufort. By the 26th of March, one company each from the 4th Rhode Island and 8th Connecticut had conducted a secret night crossing of the Newport River and seized Beaufort fully surrounding the garrison at Fort Macon. As Lieutenant Wolcott Marsh of the 8th Connecticut put it, “Our being here completely cuts the rebels in Ft. Macon off from all communications with the rest of seceshion…although they say they will fight to the last.”
Soon enough, Lieutenant Marsh and her friend Oliver Case plus the rest of Parke’s Brigade would see if the rebels could hold true to their promise.

ENDNOTES:

  1. Letters to a Civil War Bride: The Civil War Letters of Captain Wolcott Pascal Marsh,” Compiled by Sandra Marsh Mercer and Jerry Mercer, Heritage Books, Westminster, Maryland, 2006.
  2. From Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, April 26, 1862.
  3. Mercer, 2006.
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A New Home for Independence Day

A New Home for Independence Day

By the end of May 1862, Ambrose Burnside and his expeditionary force had spent five difficult, but rewarding months conducting operations against the Confederates on the North Carolina coast. Combat success at Roanoke Island, Newbern and Fort Macon had battle hardened Burnside’s troops who now turned their attention to occupation duty as the Union high command contemplated their next mission. Oliver Case and his comrades in the 8th Connecticut where given various missions in and around the city of Newbern. In late June 1862, after enjoying an extended stay in what Oliver called “one of the pleasantest cities I ever saw for its streets are shaded by large trees which meet overhead which makes the streets pleasant,” the expeditionary force commander received an urgent telegram from the Secretary of War.

WASHINGTON CITY, June 28, 1862.
Major-General BURNSIDE,
New Berne, via Fort Monroe:

We have intelligence that General McClellan has been attacked in large force and compelled to fall back toward the James River. We are not advised of his exact condition; but the President directs that you shall send him all the re-enforcements from your command to the James River that you can safely do without abandoning your own position. Let it be infantry entirely, as he said yesterday that he had cavalry enough.

EDWIN M. STANTON,
Secretary of War.

Ambrose Burnside was now forced to change his focus from future offensive operations toward the inland of North Carolina and the monotony of occupation duty. His force had a new mission that would eventually bring them to northern Virginia to support the embattled forces of Union commander George B. McClellan. During the past four months, McClellan had deliberately marched his army from Fortress Monroe up the Virginia peninsula to the gates of the Confederate capital city. The Union army stalled outside of Richmond as its commander prepared for a long siege against an enemy force that he believed to be 2 to 3 times its actual size.

After the Confederate commander, Joseph Johnston was wounded by an artillery shell on June 1, 1862 during the fighting outside of Richmond, he was replaced by the more aggressive Robert E. Lee. Lee began to reinforce the defensive positions surrounding Richmond during a long lull in the fighting for most of the month of June. On June 25, 1862, Lee began a series of bold attacks that caught McClellan’s divided forces by surprise and began a series of events that would lead to a change of mission for the Burnside expedition. Known as the Seven Days Battles, this series of engagements caused McClellan to panic and he soon began the withdrawal of his army back down the peninsula toward Fort Monroe. The “large force” referred to in Secretary Stanton’s telegraph message to Burnside was a Confederate force of about 50,000 troops attacking a total Union force of over 100,000. McClellan’s proclivity for overestimating the enemy troop numbers and calling for reinforcements caused the Lincoln administration to recall Burnside from the coast of North Carolina.

The previous evening, McClellan had sent an urgent message to the Secretary of War creating the urgency to act on the part of the administration.

McCLELLAN’S HEADQUARTERS,
June 27, 1862-8 p.m.

Honorable E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War:

Have had a terrible contest. Attacked by greatly superior number in all directions on this side; we still hold our own, though a very heavy fire is still kept up on the left bank of Chickahominy. The odds have been immense. We hold our own very nearly. I may be forced to give up my position during the night, but will not if it is possible to avoid it. Had I 20,000 fresh and good troops we would be sure of a splendid victory to-morrow.
My men have fought magnificently.

GEO. B. McCLELLAN,
Major-General.

Unknown to “Little Mac,” the President sent a personal message to General Burnside the following morning to warn him that his forces were needed in Virginia.

WASHINGTON CITY, June 28, 1862.

General BURNSIDE:
I think you had better go with any re-enforcements you can spare to General McClellan.
A. LINCOLN.

A few days earlier, McClellan had issued conflicting guidance to Burnside with the warning that “every minute is a great crisis” while simultaneously prescribing an overland route that could take up to two weeks for the troops of Burnside to cover. McClellan’s suggested route of march would take the three divisions initially to the northwest and then to the north crossing into Virginia approaching Petersburg from the south. It’s certainly possible that McClellan believed that Confederate intelligence reports of Burnside’s movement from the south could cause Lee to suspend offensive operations and focus on defending Richmond and Petersburg against this new threat.

Whatever McClellan’s logic, Burnside would not use the overland route. Within the week, the expeditionary force would begin loading ships for a trip to Virginia. On the 2nd of July, the 8th Connecticut and other regiments of Burnside’s Expeditionary Force were transported by rail to Morehead City, NC where they boarded the steamer “Admiral” and travel to Newport News, VA.

Croffut and Morris, historians of the Connecticut regiments described the movement and the soldiers’ new home at Newport News:

On July 2, the Eighth moved to Morehead City, and thence on the transport Admiral to Newport News, where a camp was set on an exposed sandy plain. The Eleventh followed closely. The beach of Hampton Roads, near at hand, protracted the delight of bathing. A few oysters were scattered along the clean bottom; and the boys felt out with their bare feet, dived down, and captured enough of the toothsome bivalves to break the monotony of salt pork and hard-tack.[1]

Another regimental historian of Burnside’s force offered a detailed view of Newport News:

At first view, Newport News had the appearance of a place where nothing new ever occurred or was likely to happen. A sandy plain, fifteen or twenty feet above the river, with a few old barracks, and some earthworks and ditches, constructed by General Butler’s troops; a gray sky, with spits of rain, made up the desolate picture. Beyond the plain was a swamp, with immense southern pitch-pines…[2]

Newport News 1861

View of Civil War Newport News from the James River

 

Oliver Case and all of Burnside’s Expedition would now have a new home from which to celebrate the 86th year of the Nation’s independence. For the next month, Burnside’s troops would sit at Newport News and wait for the call that would never come to assist the embattled Army of the Potomac.

 

ENDNOTES:

[1] The Military and Civil History of Connecticut: The War of 1861-1865, W.A. Croffut and John M. Morris, Ledyard Bill, New York, 1868

[2] History of the Thirty-Fifth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers, 1862-1865; Mills, Knight and Company, Boston, 1884.

 

A Perfect Rain of Shot and Shell: The Surrender of Fort Macon

A Perfect Rain of Shot and Shell: The Surrender of Fort Macon

The rebels came out with a white flag about four o’clock… – Oliver Cromwell Case

By the middle of April 1862, John Parke’s Brigade of the Burnside Expeditionary Force began the slow, steady work of investment to close the noose around Fort Macon on the Bogue Banks of North Carolina. Parke’s troops earlier captured the coastal towns of Morehead City and Beaufort before crossing the Bogue Sound to fulfill Burnside’s objective of taking the fort. General Burnside understood the fort prevented full Union control of the Beaufort Inlet, a key route for facilitating the sustainment of operations in North Carolina.

Located on the eastern tip of the 21-mile long Bogue Banks barrier island, the fort was strategically placed to protect the approach through the Beaufort Inlet Channel to the mainland of North Carolina. The pentagon shaped masonry fort contained twenty-six casemates and its outer wall averaged better than four feet of thickness. Construction on the structure had begun in 1826 with the first garrison arriving in 1834. Robert E. Lee had been assigned to help correct the erosion control problem faced by the fort in the 1840s. Within two days of the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter, South Carolina on April 12, 1861, North Carolina forces had seized the fort and claimed it for the Confederacy.

As Parke positioned his forces for a final assault against the fortification, a 27-year old Confederate Colonel named Moses J. White prepared his 400 defenders to meet the Union troops. Colonel White, a native of Mississippi, held an impressive record as a student at the U.S. Military Academy for the Class of 1858 graduating second. Originally assigned to the western theater at the beginning of the war, he was given command of Fort Macon on October 5, 1861. During the siege, White struggled with health problems that had first appeared during his time at West Point. However, he continued to encourage his officers and soldiers during the Union bombardment until he was completely exhausted. Even though he was hopelessly surrounded and his men were exhausted, Colonel White refused to surrender the fort.

James Parke

Moses White

The opposing commanders at Fort Macon, James Parke and Moses White.

Oliver Case and his fellow soldiers of the 8th Connecticut were given a key role in the investment of the fort. However, they were missing their leader during this important work. Like Confederate Colonel White, the commanding officer of the 8th Connecticut, Colonel Edward Harland, was sick and, by mid-March of 1862, he had become bed-ridden with typhoid fever. Under the command of Major Hiram Appelman, the regiment was divided into three parts to support the operations against Fort Macon and the coastal cities. Two companies were sent to occupy Beaufort and a few of the other companies were sent to secure Morehead City. The remaining companies including Company A crossed over from Carolina City to the Bogue Banks to begin movement toward Fort Macon. Private Oliver Case of Company A had been on picket duty seven miles away from camp near Carolina City when his company departed without him. As Case caught up to his fellow soldiers over on the Bogue Banks, there was much work to be done in preparation to lay siege to Fort Macon and its Confederate garrison.

On April 12th, the 8th Connecticut, still under the command of Major Appelman, led Parke’s Brigade in forcing the Confederate defenders to withdraw into the confines of the fort.

Connecticut regimental historians, Croffut and Morris describe the action:

Major Hiram Appelman, now in command, marched his regiment by the right flank up the beach, and, when within three miles of the fort, filed across the island in line of battle. Company G, Capt. James L. Russell, was thrown out as skirmishers; and the regiment waded forward knee-deep in the yielding sand. The rebel skirmishers contested the advance, but were driven steadily back; and, while they retreated, they shouted, with absurd inaptness, “Come on, you d__d Yankees! we are enough for you !” Company H, Capt. Sheffield, was now deployed to skirmish; and the captain was severely wounded in the body. The exultant rebels continued to move back until they entered the fort; the Eighth having passed through a cedar-jungle, about a mile from the fort.[1]

Colonel White, likely realizing that he was being trapped in the fort, took the unusual step of conducting a night attack in an attempting at breaking the developing siege. As the 8th Connecticut began to construct defensive positions in case of a counterattack, the Confederates stuck the regiment with the cannons from the fort.

The enemy made two ineffectual attempts at night to dislodge us from our advanced position, in one of which Lieutenant Landers and a private of the Fifth Rhode Island Battalion were slightly wounded, and in the other Major Appleman and a private of the Eighth Connecticut Regiment received severe contusions from a discharge of grape while digging rifle pits within 750 yards of the fort.[2]

On April 17th, Oliver’s tone about his fate in the impending battle had softened considerably from his first combat experience only one month earlier at New Bern. The “dread of death that one naturally expects” had morphed into a feeling that “I may not live to get home…”[3] However, the optimistic tone found throughout Oliver’s letter had not completely escaped him as he professed, “but I think I stand as good a chance as anyone in the company…”[4]

Oliver’s letter of 17 April 1862 does not comment on this operation carried out by the 8th. He does describe the work being done to affect the siege of Fort Macon.

Some of the companies are detailed each night to help build entrenchments and I think that by three or four days at farthest we shall open fire upon the fort. The mortars and field pieces are nearly all in position, and part of the howitzers.[5]

Oliver’s prediction is fairly accurate because the siege will begin in about 7 days. In the meantime, life on Bogue Banks is filled with the work of preparing positions for mortars being floated across the sound. The guns were moved up the island at night to avoid detection by the Confederates within Fort Macon. Protected firing positions were constructed for the guns using sandbags. Conditions were difficult for Oliver and his fellow soldiers as they worked.

The Eighth Connecticut Volunteers and 4th Rhode-Island were alternately on duty; when off duty, occupying an uncomfortable camp down the island. Rifle-pits were dug at night within two thousand feet from the fort, and constantly occupied. In front of them, in storms, the sea surged over the island. The sand was so movable, that the men were sometimes half covered.[6]  

The firing positions constructed by the 8th Connecticut and the 4th Rhode Island would prove to be very effective during the final attack against the fort and by the 23rd of April, Burnside determined that it was time for the final assault. He once again offered Colonel White the opportunity to surrender the fort with generous terms including the parole of all the Confederate defenders. As with previous demands for surrender, the young Confederate commander refused to accept the terms and prepared his soldiers to defend the fort. In the early morning hours of April 25, Parke ordered the bombardment to begin in earnest.

bombardment of fort macon harpers weekly

The bombardment of Fort Macon, April 25, 1862

For the next eleven hours, the Union artillerymen with assistance from the soldiers of the 8th CVI kept up the bombardment. The masonry fort was no match for the modern rifled artillery and several large openings appeared in the walls and gun after gun was disabled. Through it all, the 8th CVI was in the thick of the action. Oliver writes to Abbie:

The work was completed Thursday night and the bombardment commenced early the next morning and continued without intermission until four in the P.M., our regiment meanwhile lying behind the breastworks while a perfect rain of shot and shell came upon all sides of them, many times caving the banks upon them so it was necessary to dig one another out with shovels. Several of our men were hit by balls rolling into the trench upon them, but none were wounded. The artillery lost one killed and two wounded.[7]

Croffut and Morris confirm the role of the 8th during the bombardment:

The Eighth was alone in the rifle-pits, between the thundering cannon, shooting the rebel gunners and infantry whenever a head was visible.[8]

As the land-based Union guns began to fire on Fort Macon, several ships from the Blockading Squadron appeared near the fort and attempted to participate in the shelling. While the Navy had not been included in the planning for the reduction of the fort, Commander Samuel Lockwood responded to the sound of the artillery. However, the four ships were unable to bring effective fire on the fort due to rough seas and soon abandoned the effort after two of the ships received minor damage from Confederate counter fire.

The Union guns ashore were initially wildly inaccurate doing little damage to Fort Macon during the few first hours of the assault. After Union Signal Corps officers in Beaufort established communication with the gun commanders on Bogue Banks, they were able to accurately direct the mortar fire so that by noon almost all shots were on target and the fort walls began to crumble. In response, Confederate gunners attempt to counter the fire from the mortars, but the protected positions among the sand dunes limited damage to the Union guns. As the bombardment continued into the early afternoon, Confederate guns in the fort were damaged and destroyed and Colonel White realized that he could not hold out much longer as the powder magazine was in great danger of being hit.

Around 4 o’clock in the afternoon, it was evident that the fort and its garrison could not withstand much more of the devastating fire from the Union guns. After meeting with his commanders, Colonel White ordered the flag of surrender to be raised.

The rebels came out with a white flag about four o’clock and a messenger was sent for. Gen. Burnside, also, arrived in the evening. Capitulations were agreed upon before morning…[9]

The Union forces entered the fort and raised the national colors igniting a controversy between two of the regiments.

…early the next day the “Stars and Stripes” were run up by the 4th R.I. Regiment. The 8th Conn. were not very well suited to do all the work and have the 4th R.I. hoist their flag, but that is all right; it is “Uncle Sam”, anyhow.[10]

Croffut and Morris identify the Rhode Island regiment as the 5th and give additional details on the honor bestowed on them in lieu of the 8th.

…the 5th Rhode-Island; and to this fragment of a regiment the rebel flag was given as a trophy next morning, when the formal surrender was made, and the regiment took possession of the fort. The Eighth considered itself again defrauded of its just rights; and the Tribune’s narrative said, “But for the accident that the 5th Rhode-Island had relieved the Eighth Connecticut the previous evening, the captured flag would have gone to grace the legislative halls at Hartford.” Gen. Parke justifies giving the preference to the Rhode-Island regiment by the fact that the Eighth Connecticut Volunteers had no field-officer present to receive the surrender.[11]

after siege of Fort Macon

The Surrender of Fort Macon, April 26, 1862

In a happier ending to the story for the Confederate officers and soldiers of Fort Macon, Oliver relates that many of them, after their parole, were reunited with their family members.

The prisoners were discharged on parole, much to their gratification and some of our boy’s displeasure. Sightseers say that they had a great time over in Beaufort Saturday when the garrison was set free. Children looking for their parents, wives for their husbands, fathers for their children and when they were recognized in the crowd such a hugging and kissing as was not often seen was carried on.[12]

ENDNOTES:

[1] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[2] OR, Parke, May 9, 1862.

[3] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (17 April 1862)

[4] IBID

[5] IBID

[6] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[7] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (28 April 1862)

[8] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[9] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (28 April 1862)

[10] IBID.

[11] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[12] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (28 April 1862)

 

The Common Fate of Two Soldiers

The Common Fate of Two Soldiers

War brings the strangest of twists of fate. It also brings a common destiny between its participants even among two men from opposing sides of the conflict. At the battle of Newbern, so began this shared fate for Private Oliver Cromwell Case of the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment and Brigadier General Lawrence O’Bryan Branch who would command a brigade at the Battle of Antietam.

First, the fallout over losing the city of Newbern would bring the two men together for the second time on the field of battle.

Blame for a military defeat is always messy business in time of war. The Civil War was no different. The military and political leaders plus the general citizenry of both the Union and Confederacy wanted someone to accept blame and its ugly consequences for a defeat on the field of battle. This phenomenon gives historians to this day a rich trove of study and cause for extensive opining. Among the most famous of these incidences is the defeat of Lee’s army at Gettysburg for which James Longstreet would take a large share of the responsibility among the post-war Confederate writing.

The Battle of Newbern was no different albeit one of the least known in the blame game. The total defeat of Confederate forces defending Newbern was a severe loss for the leadership in Richmond and especially for the state of North Carolina. Only a few weeks before this battle, the Confederates troops defending Roanoke Island quickly gave way to the first of Ambrose Burnside’s amphibious assaults. Now, one of the gateway cities controlling the inland approaches to the transportation hubs of North Carolina had fallen with seemingly little resistance from the Confederate and state troops stationed in a series of fortifications below Newbern.

The immediate commander on the field was Brigadier General Lawrence O’Bryan Branch, a former United States Congressman from North Carolina. Branch had succeeded Brigadier General Daniel Harvey Hill as the commander for the district covering this part of the North Carolina coast but, much like Hill, had no success in convincing the Confederate government in Richmond of the importance of defending this area. While Branch continued to send requests for reinforcements, ammunition and other supplies, Burnside began his assault against the undermanned Confederate defenses. Branch had only 4,000 poorly trained and armed troops with no naval support while Burnside’s forces numbered over 10,000 with gunboat support from the Union Navy. The result of the battle should have been a foregone conclusion.

Branch_Lawrence_O_Bryan_LoC_26684u

A pre-war photograph of Lawrence O’Bryan Branch [1]

 

Branch’s immediate superior commander was Brigadier General Richard Caswell Gatlin, a West Point graduate and native of North Carolina, commanding the Confederate Department of North Carolina responsible for the overall coastal defense of the state. From his headquarters in Goldsboro, Gatlin also requested reinforcements for the coastal defenses to no avail. Born in 1809, the aging Gatlin was suffering from an illness at the time of the battle and was relieved of his command just five days later making it convenient for the Confederate government to pin their scapegoat. Gatlin’s report on the battle admitted the failure of leadership to stop Burnside and “maintain the ascendancy on Pamlico sound, and thus admitted Burnside’s fleet without a contest; we failed to put a proper force on Roanoke island, and thus lost the key to our interior coast, and we failed to furnish General Branch with a reasonable force, and thus lost the important town of New Bern. What I claim is that these failures do not by right rest with me.”

Richard Gatlin

Brigadier General Richard Caswell Gatlin took the fall for the Confederate defeat at Newbern instead of Lawrence Branch

 

The North Carolina press was not kind to either of the generals in command during the Battle of New Bern. One newspaper, in a backhanded jab at Gatlin, wrote, “Schooling never puts brains in a man’s head, nor can West Point make a General who was not born with it in him.”[2] While the paper claimed to believe Gatlin was competent for command, it also stated that “the government should investigate the matter, and if he be found incompetent or derelict, he should be removed.” [3]

On the subject of Branch’s leadership, the same newspaper was even more direct about his responsibility for the defeat at New Bern. Claiming to have originally opposed his appointment to the command position, the paper opined that they “knew he would try, and we had no doubt that he would do his very best to make a General; but we knew, at the same time, that it was not in him, as the disaster at Newbern plainly proves.” [4] The call was for Gatlin, Branch or any other individual or party responsible for the loss of New Bern to “be dealt with promptly and deservedly.” [5]

Gatlin was relieved of his command and formally resigned in September of 1862. Branch was moved north to join the division of A.P. Hill where he would successfully lead troops in the battles of Hanover Courthouse, Seven Days, Cedar Mountain, Second Manassas, Chantilly, and Harper’s Ferry. After pushing his soldiers through a 17-mile roadmarch from Harper’s Ferry directly onto the field in Sharpsburg, Branch helped save Robert E. Lee’s Army of North Virginia from defeat on the afternoon of September 17, 1862.

Branch’s Brigade pushed back forces from Ambrose Burnside’s IX Corps attacking toward Sharpsburg, most notably they poured a galling fire into the flank of the 8th Connecticut Infantry Regiment. Based on my research, there is a high probability that one of Branch’s regiments, the 7th or 37th North Carolina Infantry, fired the shot that struck and killed Oliver Case during their desperate stand near the Harper’s Ferry Road. In a twist of fate, Oliver Case had faced the troops of Lawrence O’Bryan Branch in his first and last combat action.

General Branch would also share another experience with Oliver Case that day. After the timely arrival of his brigade and repelling the attack of the Union IX Corps, Branch and the two other brigade commanders in A.P. Hill’s Division gathered with their division commander and General Lee just east of the Harper’s Ferry Road to confer on the next action of the Confederate forces. As the discussion ensued, an opportunistic Union soldier on a distant hill fired a single shot that hit General Branch in the face and slightly injured fellow brigade commander Maxcy Gregg. The shot was instantly mortal for Branch who fell into the arms of a staff officer.

McIntosh Battery (3)

In the fields beyond this gun, Oliver Case and Lawrence Branch met their shared fate

 

Within mere minutes and a few hundred yards of each other, Oliver Case and Lawrence Branch had sealed their shared fate by a deadly single shot.

 

NOTES:

1. Library of Congress collection.

2 through 5. Semi-Weekly Standard (Raleigh, North Carolina), March 22, 1862 from the Chronicling America: Historic Newspapers collection in the Library of Congress

The Balls Rung Tunes

The Balls Rung Tunes

The mud soaked roads and swamps leading the Union forces of Burnside’s Expedition toward the Confederate forces defending Newbern made marching miserable for Oliver Case and the other troops in the 8th Connecticut. Bedding down for the night on March 13, 1862 brought little relief to these boys in blue as the North Carolina coastal weather continued to dump rain. Oliver observed that the milder southern climate granted some relief when the order to move out came at 6 am on the morning of March 14th, although “our blankets were as heavy as 8 ought to be.”

The regiments and brigades of Burnside’s expedition were up and moving again on the morning of 14 February 1862. At 7:00 am the units were advancing toward Confederate breastworks that, unlike those of the first day, were occupied by soldiers in gray and butternut. The First Brigade quickly became engaged by Confederate forces in entrenchments along the Fort Thompson line closer to the river. Colonel Rodman, of the Fourth Rhode Island, discovered an opening in the entrenchments by which the Confederates could be flanked and reported this fact immediately to his brigade commander, General Parke. Parke did not hesitate to order an attack by the entire brigade who were positioned in the center of the Union line of advance. The entrenchments were soon overwhelmed by Parke’s troops and the Confederate defenders were flanked because the center of the Confederate line was manned by green militia units. Seeing the advancing Union regiments of Parke’s Brigade, these militia troops quick broke and ran to the rear.[1]

As the 8th Connecticut approached the still-occupied earthworks, it was the moment of truth for Private Case. “[T]he balls rung tunes over our heads and occasionally played a little nearer our heads than we cared for” as the remaining Confederate defenders fired upon the advancing Union troops. For Oliver, his baptism of fire had finally arrived.

To those who have not experienced it, the emergence of humor while under enemy fire may seem an impossibility. This phenomenon, as difficult as it may be to understand, is real. In the midst of battle there is still room for humor. So it was for Oliver Case and the soldiers of Company A, 8th CVI:

Philo Matson, from out on Firetown mountains, was in the rank ahead of me and was much frightened; he would have fell out if possible. The orders were given to fall down, right up, fix bayonets, fire. As soon as I had fired, I heard Philo say, “Oh, I’m killed”, turned and saw a slight flesh wound on the top of his head. I certainly could not help laughing to see him. He turned to the orderly and asked him if he thought he was killed and, when he found out that he was still in the land of the living, took his gun and made himself missing as soon as possible.[2]

Here stands Oliver Case, with of bullets flying over his head, any one of which could strike him and cause instant death, yet he’s laughing. Obviously, Private Philo A. Matson of Canton, Connecticut was giving verbal or non-verbal indications that he wanted to run away as the regiment marched into the hail of bullets. Certainly, his fellow soldiers were afraid of what was ahead but none would dare let it show and be labeled a coward. Matson had no such inhabitations and made a spectacle of himself after suffering a minor flesh wound. His cowardness manifested itself as Maston “made himself missing” on a permanent basis being listed as a deserter in April 1862.

The humor of the Connecticut troops was short-lived as some of the Confederate rounds found their mark. Two companies of the 8th (G and H, actually K) were sent out as skirmishers as company A and the remainder of the regiment lay on the ground with the bullets buzzing just above them. Oliver reported to Abbie on the first causalities of the battle:

Capt. Epham [This name was unclear to the original transcriber] of Co. H was wounded in the shoulder at this time; it is feared mortally. Howes Phelps from Co. B was killed.[3]

In fact, there is no record of a Capt. “Epham” in the 8th CVI. The company commander of company H at this time appears to have been Capt. Thomas D. Sheffield of Stonington who had replaced Capt. Douglass Fowler. Sheffield originally enlisted in company G as the 1st Lieutenant and it is assumed he was promoted and transferred to company H upon the resignation of Fowler. He was honorably discharged on January 17, 1863. Rolls of the 8th confirm that Houlsey F.D. Phelps (aka “Howes”) of East Windsor (likely a distant cousin of Oliver), was killed at the Battle of Newbern on March 14, 1862. Capt. “Epham” was likely Capt. Charles L. Upham, commander of company K, who was reported as being wounded in the battle by the account of Croffut and Morris, but this status is not found on the company rolls.

Storming of Fort Thompson Battle of New Bern

The Union assault on Fort Thompson at the Battle of Newbern

 

These causalities occurred during the assault of the Confederate battery known as Fort Thompson described by Oliver:

At this time, word came that the 21st Mass. had charged upon the battery and were repulsed. We were ordered on double quick through [word unreadable] until we reached the rail road where was a high embankment where we halted to form.[4]

Moving quietly down the railroad, Colonel Harland had positioned his regiment to assault the battery from the flank. Oliver observed some deception in the works:

We were then ordered to fall and by mistake our colors fell too, and the rebels, deceived by our gray coats, took us to be rebel reinforcements arriving by rail road and ceased firing upon us; this mistake probably saved many lives.[5]

The soldiers were ordered to fix bayonets and the charge was then directed by Colonel Harland:

“…with a clear, shrill voice, and the emphasis of coming victory, rang the orders, “By company into line!” An advancing front of forty men appeared before the astonished rebels. ” Fix bayonets ! ” It was done at a rapid walk. ” Forward into line ! ” Up the embankment, and across the railroad, dashed the rear companies, coming into line within a hundred paces of the works. “Steady, guide center, forward, double quick !”[6]

And here is one of those points of disputed history. From Oliver’s view:

When we started from there we went double quick to charge their battery, but as they did not like the look of cold steel they left in a hurry. The color guard immediately ran up to the battery and planted the colors which were the first upon the battery.[7]

At least three regiments including the 8th CVI would claim the title of “First to Plant the Flag” upon the Confederate works. The 11th CVI and the 4th Rhode Island would also declare that they were the first regiment to the top. Croffut and Morris reported it this way:

The Eighth contests the claim of the 4th Rhode- Island to having first entered the enemy’s works; and it is certain that the flag of the Eighth was first displayed therein.[8]

Of course, the 8th CVI had a significant advantage here as “Morris” was the Rev. John M. Morris who would become the regimental chaplain just over one month after the Battle of Newbern.

Writing after the battle, General Parke reported that all the regiments “were under fire, and the officers seemed proud of the men they were leading and the men showed they had full confidence in their officers.”  Two soldiers are killed in action and four are wounded.

The attack upon the defenses of Newbern (March 14th) was made at an early hour, and the Eighth assisted in the capture of about five hundred Confederate troops. This was the regiment’s first baptism of blood. Its killed were privates Phelps of Company B and Patterson of Company I, with four wounded. The personal bravery of Colonel Harland amid the whistling bullets at Newbern, together with his skill and cool-headedness as a tactician, and his evident desire to shield his men from harm whenever possible, gave them a confidence in him which was never afterward shaken.[9]

The 8th was first in the battle in which they fought bravely…Gen Burnside came along up side of our Regt an[d] order[ed] us to charge on them in which we did in double quick time in which they fired upon us killing 8; wound[ed] several. It was a bold attempt but we won the victory driving the rebels in every direction.[10]

 

ENDNOTES:

[1] OR, Parke and Harland March 22, 1862.

[2] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (16 March 1862)

[3] IBID

[4] IBID

[5] IBID

[6] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[7] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (16 March 1862)

[8] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[9] History of the Eighth Regiment C. V. Infantry, J.H.Vaill, Case, Lockwood, and Brainard Co, Hartford, 1889.

[10] Letters of Cyrus B. Harrington, Connecticut Historical Society, March 15, 1862.

Douglass Fowler: What Might Have Been

Douglass Fowler: What Might Have Been

Douglass Fowler 8CVI and 17CVI

Studying the Civil War and its participants inevitably leads one to the “what might have been” questions. This is acutely true when focusing on the experiences of the soldiers who lost their lives in the conflict. I cannot count the number of times I’ve asked this question regarding Oliver Case. His life held so much promise for great things beyond his service to the Union.

So it is with the subject of one of Oliver’s letters, Captain Douglass Fowler of Norwalk, Connecticut. Fowler had originally enlisted in the 3rd Connecticut Infantry, a three-month regiment, as the commander of Company A on May 14, 1861. While in the 3rd Connecticut, Fowler served alongside the future 8th Connecticut regimental commander Edward Harland during the First Battle of Bull Run and was honorably discharged on August 12, 1861 at the expiration of the regiment’s term of service.

Fowler soon returned to service with the 8th Connecticut as Commander of Company H on September 23, 1861. The records for the 8th indicate that he resigned on January 20, 1862. Based on Oliver Case’s letters to his sister, this was likely the date that Fowler submitted his letter of resignation for approval up through his chain of command. Oliver’s letter dated February 27, 1862 relates that Captain Fowler’s approved resignation had recently been returned from Washington and he would be heading home soon.

Most fascinating is the reason Oliver provides for the sudden resignation. Oliver writes to Abbie that “Capt. Fowler got into a fuss with the Lieut. Col. at Annapolis and sent in his resignation.” Arguments and rivalries between officers in Civil War volunteer regiments were not uncommon and the 8th Connecticut had it’s share of issues especially during the first few months of service. Trying to identify the Lieutenant Colonel that caused Douglass Fowler to resign is difficult to determine with exact certainty. The two Lieutenant Colonels that served in the 8th Connecticut during this period were Peter L. Cunningham followed by Andrew Terry.  

Peter Cunningham became Lieutenant Colonel of the 8th Connecticut soon after its formation. However, he was not a man well suited for the duties or for military service. As Oliver Case writes, Cunningham became the “laughing stock of the whole brigade” due to his lack of military presence and drilling acumen. Likely pressured by the regimental commander, Colonel Edward Harland, and possibly other senior leaders, Peter Cunningham submitted his resignation from the 8th Connecticut on the 23rd of December 1861 and soon returned to Connecticut.

cunningham

Peter H. Cunningham, Lieutenant Colonel of the 8th Connecticut, October 5, 1861 to December 23, 1861

 

Promoted from his initial rank of Major upon the resignation of Peter Cunningham, Andrew Terry assumed the duties of Lieutenant Colonel of the 8th Connecticut on or about December 24, 1861. According to the official records, Terry hailed from Plymouth, Connecticut and enlisted in the 8th Connecticut on October 5, 1861. He served as Lieutenant Colonel for the regiment until March 28, 1862 when he resigned. Andrew Terry was born on December 29, 1824 and married Susan H. Orr sometime before 1847. He died on August 26, 1877 and is buried in the Hillside Cemetery in Terryville, Connecticut.

andrew-terry-photo

Andrew Terry, Lieutenant Colonel of the 8th Connecticut, December 24, 1861 to March 28, 1862

 

So, will the offending Lieutenant Colonel please step up? Oliver gives us the one clue to solving the mystery that the incident happened at Annapolis. This means it could have involved either officer since the regiment did not sail from Annapolis until after the new year. However, it is more likely that Andrew Terry was the reason behind Fowler’s resignation since the resignation and departure of Cunningham would have removed the officer from having an impact of Fowler’s future service. The other clue that may support this theory of Terry as the offending party is found in Oliver’s statement “[Fowler] should have been Maj. Instead of Capt. Appleton.” When Andrew Terry was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, this left a vacancy in the position of Major for the 8th Connecticut, the third highest ranking officer in the regiment. As the new Lieutenant Colonel for the regiment, Terry’s opinion would have carried great sway with the regimental commander, Colonel Harland. The “fuss” that Oliver writes about could have been a dispute between Fowler and Terry regarding the recommendation for promotion to Major.

Douglass Fowler 8CVI and 17CVI

Douglass Fowler resigned from the 8th Connecticut on January 20, 1862

 

Whatever the issue, Douglass Fowler wanted no more of the officer politics in the 8th Connecticut and so he resigned and returned to Connecticut by the end or February or early March of 1862. He would not stay home for long as Fowler joined the 17th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry to serve as the commanding officer of Company A on July 14, 1862. He participated in the Battle of Chancellorsville. Fowler would finally get his promotion to Lieutenant Colonel after the wounding and death of the regimental commander. Lieutenant Colonel Fowler found himself in command of the 17th on the first day of Gettysburg leading his regiment into action on Blocher’s Knoll. As Fowler bravely rode forward on his white horse, he encouraged his men to keep moving into the fight. Many of his soldier remembered his fearless example with Fowler urging the soldiers to “Dodge the big ones Boys” as the Confederate artillery reigned in on their position. Only moments after these words of encouragement, Fowler was partially decapitated by a Confederate solid shot. His remains were never recovered, but he is memorialized in the Gettysburg National Cemetery. John Banks has an excellent post about Lieutenant Fowler at Gettysburg.

The what might have been for the Douglas Fowler in the 8th Connecticut remains unknown…

NOTES:

Information on Douglas Fowler from the 17th Connecticut website (http://seventeenthcvi.org/blog/) and John Banks’ excellent Civil War site (http://john-banks.blogspot.com/2014/05/gettysburg-death-of-17th-connecticut-lt.html)

Photo and other information regarding Andrew Terry: From Find-A-Grave (https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=82779851)

 Lieut. Col. Douglass Fowler, 17th CVI , Photo courtesy of Bobby Dobbins/17thcvi.org

From THE MILITARY AND CIVIL History of Connecticut THE WAR OF 1861-65, BY W. A. CROFFUT AND JOHN M. MORRIS:

Lieut.-Col. Douglass Fowler of Norwalk was shot dead during the first day’s fight. He had been in the war from the beginning ; having led a company in the Third Regiment through the three-months’ service, and afterwards raised a company for the Eighth. When he resigned his commission in the latter, he recruited a company for the Seventeenth. He was sick before the battle of Chancellorsville, and was borne to the fight in an ambulance ; but he afterwards fought with great endurance, being among the last to retreat. He was by nature a true soldier, brave and skillful ; and his genial temper, generous disposition, and buoyant spirits, united with a fervent interest in the loyal cause, had won for him an enthusiastic regard ; and the men followed him willingly into the deadly strife. He was struck down while leading them in a charge ; and still he sleeps in his unknown grave upon the battle-field of Gettysburg.

Additional info on Douglass Fowler can be found at:

17th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry

The American Civil War: Battle of Gettysburg (17th CVI page)

 

Crossing the Bar, 29 January 1862

 

By the final week of January 1862, Ambrose Burnside’s grand expedition to launch an invasion of the North Carolina coast seemed to be in real danger of failure. As the flotilla arrived off Hatteras Inlet during the second week of January, they were greeted not by Confederates but with the furious seas of the mid-Atlantic in winter. For soldiers in cramped quarters aboard the ships, the sight of these raging waters fell somewhere between awe-inspiring and dread. One Massachusetts soldier described it for his diary:

This is indeed the wildest, grandest scene I ever beheld. As far as the eye can see, the water is rolling, foaming and dashing over the shoals, throwing its white spray far into the air, as though the sea and sky meet. This is no time for man to war against man. The forces of Heaven are loose and in all their fury, the wind howls, the sea rages, the eternal is here in all his majesty.[1]

Since the arrival of the fleet in mid-January, General Burnside, the Navy commanders and the civilian captains of the contracted vessels hauling troops and supplies had struggled to “cross the bar.” This term described the effort to move the ships into the relative calm of the Pamlico Sound by crossing a narrow and shallow opening in the barrier islands protecting the sound known as Hatteras Inlet. This was a difficult task in fair weather conditions but the winter storms made it doubly challenging to complete. Several ships such as the 600-ton steamer City of New York had determined captains who refused to wait for the storm to pass and began making runs at crossing the shoals. However, repeated groundings pounded the underbelly of the City of New York caused it to take on water and after permanently grounding on its last run, the leaks became serious in the midst of the storm. It appeared all the crew and passengers would be swept away until nearby ships sent their lifeboats and rescued them.

Oliver Case and his fellow soldiers from companies A, D, F and I of the 8th Connecticut were riding out the storms aboard the Army gunboat Chasseur when he penned a letter to his sister Abbie on January 26, 1862. Oliver’s home on the rough seas, the Chasseur, was a 330-ton steam propeller gunboat armed with two 12-pound rifled cannons. Not only had Oliver rode out the storm of 12-15 January 1862 described above, another winter storm had swept down the coast since that time again delaying Burnside’s efforts to move the ships to the safety of the sound. Oliver, the prolific writer, had been stymied in his efforts during the storms, but today the weather allowed him to return to his task.

We still remain in the Inlet as when I last wrote you but are expecting to go over the inside bar and land somewhere in “Dixie.” Today is the first fair day since our arrival and for the last week we have had a terrible storm at time endangering many of the fleet by causing the vessels to drag anchor and to smash into each other. For the last three or four days there has hardly been a time but what there were two or three signals of distress to be seen flying but of course no relief could be given them until after the abatement of the storm. I think that there has been no accident to any person happened and none very disastrous to the shipping.[2]

As the ships fought to move into the sound and safety, many of the soldiers in the fleet faced shortages of fresh water and food because the storms prohibited resupply missions. Oliver and the other Connecticut soldiers aboard the Chasseur were fortunate to receive a visit from the sutler’s ship during one of the rare fair weather periods:

Eatables are brought from the Sutlers boat but are held at rather high prices; apples $.05 to 10 cents each, figs .02 to .05 each, raisins $.20 per pint, [?], Oysters, Turkey Peaches, tomatoes etc. in quart cans from $1.50 to $2.00, Current, Plum, Rasberry, Grape, Pear and Strawberry jellies $1.50 to $2.00, sweet crackers $.15 per dozen and everything else in the same proportion.[3]

chassuer

Oliver Case’s home upon the seas, the Army gunboat Chasseur[4]

Although Oliver and his buddies were enjoying “ourselves quite well on ship board,” he continued to recover his strength from a bout of fever only a few weeks prior and seemed done with life on the high seas being “now finally very anxious to again place my feet on ‘terra firma’” of the North Carolina coast.[5] Oliver would have wait for several more weeks to fulfill his wish for dry land. The next best thing, a calmer sea, was in his immediate future as the ships of the fleet continued to take advantage of better weather during the final week of January. Finally, at 9:15 AM on the 29th of January 1862, the Chasseur safely “crossed the bar” of Hatteras Inlet arriving in the calm of Pamlico Sound. Oliver Case and the 8th Connecticut would soon gain their first taste of combat against the Confederates in North Carolina.

 

ENDNOTES:

[1] Day, David L., My Diary of Rambles with the 25th Mass. Volunteer Infantry with Burnside’s Coast Division, 18th Army Corps and Army of the James, Milford: King and Billings, 1884.

[2] The Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case (Unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, CT, 1861-1862.

[3] IBID.

[4] Shadek, Joseph E., Sketchbook: Company A, 8th Connecticut Volunteers 1861-1862 (unpublished), Bridgeport History Center, accessed from http://bportlibrary.org/hc/

[5] Case letters, 1861-1862.