Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The press reports on a Mosby raid

Today at Gordonsville: November 30, 1863

It was reported from Gordonsville, in the Richmond Daily Dispatch, of an incident in Brandy Station.

-Gordonsville, Va., Sunday, Nov.29--1 P. M.
Major Mosby and his hand came upon the rear of Meade's wagon train, near Brandy Station, just before daylight Friday morning, capturing one hundred and twelve mules and twenty prisoners. --They also destroyed between thirty and forty wagons, and came very near capturing Gen. French, of the Yankee army. Mosby's men report the line of the Orange Railroad abandoned, and think Meade will go to Fredericksburg if defeated. The mules captured are all of the finest kind. X.

I do not know who X was, but he pretty much got the story correct. Mosby crossed the Hazel River and raided French's Headquarters (the Miller House atop Fleetwood Hill) and, while missing French, who was away, did nabbed a number of his detailed staff of enlisted. The most interesting capture was French's cartographer, Robert Sneeden.

Sneeden was an anonymous man until the 1990's when his diaries and more importantly his art, was uncovered in Arizona and Connecticut. Sneeden's work, published as "Eye of the Storm", and "Voices of the Storm" are must haves if you are interested in the 1862 Campaign around Richmond, the activities of the Army of the Potomac in the fall of 1863 and a inside look at the Confederate prison system.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mine Run

Today in Orange County: November 28, 1863

The Army of the Potomac has left what many thought was their winter quarters in and around Brandy Station. Today the army finds itself in Orange County, beginning what would be called the Mine Run Campaign.

One of the many writings detailing the Federal march to contact. This is from the diary of George Perkins, Sixth New York Independent Battery. It is from the book "Three Years a Soldier," Edited by Richard N. Griffin.

"Unharnessed at daylight. Commenced to rain...About noon the rain ceased and at the same "boots and saddle" sounded....whole brigade started toward the Rapidan crossing the plank road and following and exceedingly narrow and muddy road which forms an acute angle with the plank road towards the river. The way lay most of the way through thick woods."

Perkins of course had entered the western edge what we all now know as the Wilderness. He crossed at Germanna Ford(other forces crossed at Jacob's Ford), and using modern roads, left route 3 turning down route 601 and moved onto 603 and then to route 611, reaching Robinson's Tavern and the Orange Turnpike. The unit continued on to Parker's Store, where is remained throughout the fight. Perkins and the 6th NY Independent Battery missed the fighting at Payne's Farm, which took place the previous day. They crossed over that portion of the battlefield as they journeyed to Parker's Store

Monday, November 22, 2010

More food

Today at Brandy Station: November 22, 1863

While looking through the diaries, letters and other documents about today, rations again seem to be on peoples mind. Yesterday it was the 2nd Corps. Today the 5th Corps.

I am a little surprised. What would become the Mine Run Campaign is still four days off (actually, it was to begin on November 25, but weather postponed the beginning. Still, far be it for the army not to hurry up and wait.

A small portion of a letter from a soldier in the 146th NY: "Be ready to move at a moments notice with 8 days rations on your back is a standing order and he is a lucky man that has any writing paper or envelopes in his possession."

A circular from the 91st Pennsylvania:
Head Quarters 91. Reg. P.V Circular
In pursuance of General Order N. 50 dated Head Quarters 2nd Div. 5th Corps Nov 21/63
Hereafter the amount of subsistence required to be carried in the Knapsacks of the troops in active Campaigns will be 2 days of hard Bread, Coffee Sugar & Salt instead of Five as heretofore directed.
Three days full Rations will be carried in Haversacks & Company Commanders will see that the above amount will be in the hands of their men on the morning of the 23rd in not.

What makes this really interesting (and typical) is the mixed signal. The soldier in the 146th got the word for eights days rations, while the 91st states two days rations (vice the previous five days). But of course, we must confuse things by saying that company commanders will see that soldiers have three days full rations.

Confused? Try being there...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Not enough food, too much food

Today at Brandy Station: November 21, 1863

It is usually the case. Soldiers go for days and not receive their rations. Other times, they have more then they can eat. How can a soldier have to much?

Think about it. The soldier carries just about everything on his person, including food. The food of course is carried in his haversack. Inside that bag the contents (hardtack, coffee, tobacco, salted pork, maybe a potato or an onion) gets bounced around, dropped, used as a pillow or whatever else that could (and does happen). I guess it is the original casserole, uncooked of course.

Why do I mention this. Consider the experience of a soldier in the 111th New York Infantry. A portion of a letter to his father is below:

"Our Brig. Genl., is carrying things with a high hand, last night he ordered, 5 Days rations dealt out, which with the 6 Days we have on hand, would have made 11 Days, what do you think of that, for a load. Lusk [his friend], refused to take the Rations, & went to [Dir] Genl Hays, who [raved] around considerable & said his men, should not carry such Loads. We are on short Rations all the time, as we draw Field Rations, while we are in Camp, which makes a difference."

General Alexander Hays is the Hays our man refers to, is his Brigadier Commander. It took a little bit of courage to approach Hays. But as we see, Hay's concurred and after raving, agreed with Lusk.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Review by Foreigners

Today at Brandy Station: November 16, 1863

Major General William French's Third Corps held a review today (JEB Stuart didn't have a monopoly on reviews at Brandy Station). The reason for the event was the visit by four British officers: Lt. Col. Earle; Lord Castlecuffe (of the Grenadier Guards) and Captains Stephenson and Peel (of the Scotch Fusileer Guards).

The First (BG David Birney) and Third (BG Joseph Carr) Divisions were reviewed first, with some 48 pieces of artillery, and then separately the Second Division (BG Henry Prince). All before lunch. Lunch was at General French's Headquarters, which was at the Miller House, atop Fleetwood Hill.

The rank and file also commented on the event:

"A review today.'

"Grand review of our Corps (3rd) by Maj Gen French, commanding with staff and some foreign officers."

"Review this morning by Gen. French of two divisions of the corps. Some foreign officers were with the reviewing party. We did not march in review as usual, but stood in columns in mass while the reviewing party rode in front of the column. "

Monday, November 15, 2010

A heavy cannonading in the distance

Today at Brandy Station: November 15, 1863

As I reviewed what was on the minds of soldiers today, the sound of heavy cannonading was heard in many camps. It began around 9am and was "off to the left". The cause was unknown, but "...are anticipating a battle somewhere on the Rapidan River"

The firing was also heard in the Midland area, between Warrenton Junction and Bealeton. "This morning the day was opened with cannonading in our front; with what success is not known."

Orders were given throughout the army to be ready to move at a moments notice.

According to Theodore Lyman, of General Meade's staff: [written on November 16] "Yesterday morning we heard heavy artillery fire, apparently not over two miles away! It proved to be a reconnaissance by Custer at Raccoon Ford, 10 miles away. The damp air probably conveyed the sound; but there was some singular reflection, for at Stevensburg it was not heard at all."

It wasn't heard in Stevensburg (five miles), but it was heard in Midland (nearly 20 miles), Bealeton (15 miles), along the Hazel River (13 miles) and near Cedar Mountain (about 5 miles), and Brandy Station (10 miles). Acoustic shadow strikes again.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Lost near Brandy Station

Today at Brandy Station: November 14, 1863

As it appeared in the Richmond Daily Dispatch:

To officers and Privates of Gen R. E. Lee's army.
--I will pay a reward of $200 for my boy Thornton, if lodged in jail so I can get him again. He is 35 years of age, a mulatto, about 5 feet7 inches, weighs about 160 lbs, whiskers and moustache, intelligent, good looking, writes well, well built, one or two small hard lumps on side of his neck. He was formerly owned by Col. J. Willis, near Orange C. H., and left there two weeks ago for the army at Brandy Station. He left Montgomery in the charge of a Lt Brooks, and he may be in some Alabama regiment. He may go by some other name. Address me, at Montgomery, Ala.
S. P. Wreford.

I have no idea if S.P. Wreford ever saw Thornton again. There are many documented stories of the loyalty of slaves to stay with their masters throughout the war. There are just as many stories of slaves who took the opportunity and crossed over the lines into Federally controlled land. Thornton could have just as easily been in either camp.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Laundry Day

Today at Brandy Station: November 13, 1863

Sometimes, as I look over the events of a certain day, the mundane appears. For soldiers, life was hurry up and wait; days, weeks and maybe months between action -- then brief moments of shear terror. Those moments are what most remember.

But what is captured in the diaries and letters, is the mundane, day-to-day survival of the private. Their diaries tell of what they did, or what was important to them that particular day. It will never make the regimental histories, but nonetheless, doing laundry was an important part of life.

Today, in the diaries and letters, the simple, quiet life emerges.

141st Pennsylvania: "[I] had Dandy [Graves’ horse] shod all around."

4th Michigan: "Jimmy Washed Clothes"

86th New York: "Washed some clothes..."

91st Pennsylvania: "...continued occupying quarters at Mountain Run...'

49th New York: "[no] mail today."

20 Indiana: "I done some extensive patchwork on my pantaloons to day, as indeed it was getting about time."

Friday, November 12, 2010

Protecting Property

Today at Brandy Station: November 12, 1863

From the Diary of Edwin Weist, 20th Indiana:

"Camp in the woods near Brandy Station. Our camp is on land belonging to the Hon. John Miner Botts, and a circular was read on dress parade ordering all officers to protect his property as far as possible. He is living with his family but a short distance from here."

John Botts, owner of Auburn would spend a good portion of the winter protecting his wood lots, fences and farm animals from being 'liberated' by the boys in blue. He would become such an issue that units actually moved off his property so they would not have to deal with him and his allegations of impropriety. Botts would press for payment for wood cut/used during the winter and for years afterwards. His family would receive final payment after he died.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Colonel Duffie' - leading the charge

Today along the Hazel River: November 11, 1862

From the history of the First Rhode Island Cavalry, by Frederic Denison
Near Hazee [Hazel] Run occurred a smart skirmish – a battle, indeed – in which our squadrons participated, Colonel [Alfred] Duffie, with carbine in hand, leading our men, and himself emptying a rebel saddle. We had two horses wounded, but no men; and we rolled the enemy back to Culpeper Court House. We ought to mention the coolness, bravery, and executive skill often exhibited by Lieutenant-Colonel Thompson.

Throughout the war, around the big battles, small actions like this one occurred. May resulted in little or no casualties, such as this on. While these events get little or no attention, all it would take is a random shot to end a life. And to that soldier, it doesn't matter if it is at Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, Brandy Station, or along the Hazel River.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Today at Brandy Station: November 10, 1863

The Army of Northern Virginia has vacated Culpeper County, and into the vacuum swept the Army of the Potomac.

Soldiers will always take the path of least resistance, especially when it comes to "housing":

2nd Pennsylvania Reserves: "We marched to Mountain Run, where we also found comfortable quarters, which the enemy had erected in expectation of enjoying a pleasant winter’s rest. We remained here until the 24th..."

20th Indiana: "Camp in the woods near Brandy Station. This morning we changed front and went into regular camp. The rebels had up very good winter quarters here and left them a very great hurry leaving their rations of fresh beef behind. I got hold of a paper (Richmond Examiner)..."

141st Pennsylvania: "put up our tent by one of Johnny’s chimneys, for we have routed them out of their snug winter quarters."

Hey, they weren't going to be using them...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

First snow of the year

Today at Brandy Station: November 9, 1863

It is a simple statement on the wall: "First snow of the year November 9, 1863" The wall of course is in the Graffiti House in Brandy Station. This comment was revealed during restoration work completed by Christopher Mills this past spring.

All by itself, no other commentary. But true.

From the diary of a member of 3rd Massachusetts Light, Battery C: "There was a snow squall in the afternoon."

The History of the 40th Virginia Infantry reported: "...regiment marched through falling snow to the old camp along the Rapidan."

And Henry Seage of the 4th Michigan recorded in his diary: "It Snowed quite hard tonight the first snow of the Season"

The weather impacted the soldier greatly during the war, and diaries almost always included the local weather. It was important to the soldier to document how he endured the elements.

The 9th of November was also the last day the Army of Northern Virginia spent in Culpeper County. It's twin defeats at Kelly's Ford and Rappahannock Station by the Army of the Potomac closed the book on this portion of the ANV's storied history.

Personal note: between work and personal requirements and demands as well as my health, has caused this two month plus pause in the Today at Brandy Station blog. I hope most of these issues are behind me and I endeavour to again chronicle the daily passage of time and activities in and around Brandy Station.