Boston Public Library Lion Sculpture Commemorates Twentieth Massachusetts Regiment #civilwar #krnl_vic #amwriting #ammarketing

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 Ancestry * Biography * History

A long time ago when I was a student there were many occasions to visit, in all its grandeur, The Boston Public Library, and it was always impressive. Fast-forward some forty years, and on the many occasions that I revisited the library in researching my book, The Colonel and the Vicar, the lion sculptures that flank the grand marble staircase took on new meaning. One of them honors the Twentieth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment (shown) and the other the Second Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. Both were commissioned by the veterans of their respective regiment.

The lions, sculptured in marble, are emblazoned in bronze with the names of the battles which each regiment fought during the course of the American Civil War, including Ball’s Bluff, the subject of a series of recent posts. The works were delivered by their creator, Louis Saint-Gaudens, to the BPL in 1891.

The lion sculptures are majestic symbols of an effort made 150 years ago to tell the stories of the brave young men who fought in America’s single bloodiest war.

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October 1861: Aftermath – The Battle of Ball’s Bluff #krnl_vic #amwriting #ammarketing

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Ancestry ∗ Biography ∗ History

Fourth and final installment in a series commemorating “The Battle of Ball’s Bluff”, first action for Henry Martyn Tremlett and the Twentieth Massachusetts Infantry.

In the days following October 21, 1861, word of the defeat at Ball’s Bluff was horribly driven home by the ghastly sight of the bloated bodies of dead Union soldiers floating down the Potomac River as far as Washington. Onlookers were appalled, and outraged government officials called for action.

Comparative battle strength between South and North had been equivalent . . . about 1,700 Union troops had clashed with the same number of Confederate soldiers, but the Confederates earned a decisive victory. Union casualties numbered over 1,000, including 223 killed, 226 wounded, and over 50 missing. However the worst statistic was that some 500 soldiers were captured on the western flood plain of the Potomac, including the Twentieth’s regimental commander, Colonel Lee. The next day the prisoners were paraded on the town green in Leesburg amid the derisive taunts of the civilian population before being sent off to incarceration at Libby Prison in Richmond. By comparison Confederate casualties had totaled about 155, including 36 killed, 117 wounded, and 2 missing or captured. [1]

General William Schouler, adjutant general of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts reported to Governor Andrew:

The Twentieth was engaged with our Fifteenth at the Ball’s Bluff disaster, exhibited equal courage, and suffered a great loss of men and officers. Colonel Lee, Major Revere, and Adjutant Pierson are prisoners at Richmond, and confined in the cell. They are of the devoted band of hostages. In the battle, Captain Putnam lost an arm. Captains Dreher and Schmitt were severely wounded, and are now in the Massachusetts General Hospital. Colonel Lee is a graduate of West Point, and is an officer of whom any regiment might feel proud. The loss of his command, as near as can be ascertained, is about 208, in killed, wounded and missing. [2]

Ball’s Bluff was a small battle that cast a long shadow. General Stone, a West Point graduate and a career army officer, bore the brunt of the blame for the debacle. How could he have allowed troops to engage in battle with no clear path to retreat? He was vilified, humiliated, and even imprisoned for six months. The embarrassing defeat also resulted in the formation of the U.S. Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, which sadly only served to undermine Union generalship and initiative for the war’s duration.

Why such a lopsided victory? Poor, inadequate intelligence plus a logistical blunder that there simply weren’t enough boats. . . I’m sure that the Union troops had little or no amphibious battle training back in Boston. Perhaps add a modicum of Union overconfidence coupled with underestimating the Confederates. Moreover, the northern troops were mostly green while most of the southern troops had already experienced battle. Finally, the southerners were fighting on home soil and the North was the invader. One fights harder when defending the homeland. Perhaps an extension of the “home advantage” would also be a better knowledge of the lay of the land—all valid points in favor of the Confederates. Taken all together it sealed the Union defeat.

Those from the Twentieth who survived returned to Poolesville, Maryland and resumed their former charge of protecting Washington and wouldn’t see action for the balance of 1861. Henry was sent back to Boston to recruit replacements. So ended 1861 for Captain Henry Tremlett and the Twentieth Regiment. However, during that same year, a different war effort was being played out 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean in England involving Henry’s cousin, the Rev. Francis William Tremlett.

Next: Confederate Raiders and British Legalities

[1] : The Civil War Trust, http://www.civilwar.org/, accessed October 24, 2015.

[2] : William Schouler, Adjutant General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, for the Year Ending December 31, 1861 Boston: Wright & Potter, 1863), 46.

 

Find out more about Colonel Henry Martyn Tremlett and his cousin, the Rev. Dr. Francis William Tremlett during the American Civil War in my book, The Colonel and the Vicar, available on Amazon.com.

 

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October 21, 1861: The Battle of Ball’s Bluff #krnl_vic #amwriting #ammarketing

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Ancestry ∗ Biography ∗ History

Third in a series commemorating “The Battle of Ball’s Bluff”, first action for Henry and the Twentieth Massachusetts Infantry.

By the morning of September 21st, most of the troops planned for the offensive had been transferred to Harrison’s island, a 400-acre island located in the middle of the Potomac River, a result of a canal that had been dug on the Maryland side.

At 6:00 a.m. General Charles Stone ordered an initial force of 300 men to cross the Potomac into Virginia and the Confederacy. The 300 were selected from the Fifteenth and Twentieth Massachusetts, including Henry’s Company A, and placed under the command of Colonel Charles Devens, a native of Charlestown and a Massachusetts state senator. Devens’ orders were to determine whether it was safe enough to move the rest of Stone’s forces. Devens and his men embarked using four small boats, the only means available, each of which could accommodate at most ten men with gear at a time. The current in the river on the Virginia side of Harrison’s Island was very swift, the water deep, and the soldiers labored mightily. It was a lengthy process, after which it was necessary to scale the 100-foot Ball’s Bluff, described by Captain William Bartlett (20th Mass.) as steep, rocky, and overgrown.

When Colonel Devens and his men reached the top of the bluff, he noted that there was no sign of the  Confederate camp that Captain Philbrick had reported the previous night. Devens surveyed the terrain that lay before him, a large open field surrounded by thick woods, and he immediately deployed pickets from the Fifteenth Massachusetts forward and to the right of the bluff. The remainder of the Fifteenth was deployed further forward of the center-left, towards a location known as the Jackson House. Five companies of the Twentieth Massachusetts, all under the regimental commander, Colonel William Lee, remained stationed on the center of the top of the bluff to provide an avenue of retreat if needed.

With no resistance encountered Devens concluded that the opportunity to move on Leesburg was still there, so he sent word back to Stone to send the rest of the Union force across the river. Stone sent elements of the First California and Forty-Second New York regiments, which would raise the total number of men to about 1700. Colonel Edward Baker, a sitting U.S. senator, was ordered by Stone to take command of the entire field. When Baker arrived, he deployed companies from the First California to protect his left flank and held the Tammany Regiment, under the command of Colonel Milton Cogswell, in reserve.

All the Federal activity had not gone unnoticed, and the Confederate commander, Colonel Nathan “Shanks” Evans, had already called for reinforcements. Evans was a capable commander and had already earned a reputation for bravery and as a solid battlefield tactician in the First Battle of Bull Run.

Around 8:00 the battle began when an under-strength company (about 40 men) from the Seventeenth Mississippi attacked the pickets from the Fifteenth Massachusetts on the Union right and a small skirmish ensued. Skirmishing intensified throughout the morning as reinforcements began to arrive for both sides, but the Confederates were able to bring more men more quickly to the battlefield over land or rail, while Union troops had to continue to use the slower process involving crossing the river in the small boats. Around noon, nine infantry companies plus three companies of cavalry, all from the Eighth Virginia Regiment, joined the battle around the Jackson House and smashed into the Fifteenth Massachusetts. By 2:00p.m. Devens gave the order for the Fifteenth to fall back towards the bluff.

At 3:00p.m. the Eighteenth Mississippi Infantry arrived under the command of Colonel Erasmus Burt who wasted no time in hurling his regiment against the Union center on the bluff itself. The Twentieth was engaged in fierce, bloody fighting before the Confederates were repulsed, but each time the Confederates would reform their lines and attack again. The battle was chaotic, disorganized, and fighting was often at the company or even the squad level. Somewhere between 4:00 and 5:00pm Colonel Baker was mortally wounded by a volley of musket fire that riddled his upper torso, the only sitting U.S. senator to have ever been killed in battle.

The Confederates continued to gain the upper hand as the Union force was forced back to the bluff; Colonel Cogswell and the Forty-Second New York attempted to break out, but were unsuccessful. Suddenly the combined Seventeenth and Eighteenth Mississippi mounted another attack, a hellacious screaming charge at the bluff, and this time the Union troops could not withstand the onslaught and were overrun. The rout was on, and a general retreat was ordered—but to where? The only thing behind the Union lines was a 100-foot drop to the Potomac. There were not enough boats, and those that were available were quickly swamped or sunk by the men trying to escape the terror. Many who tried to swim across the river drowned or were shot. Henry later wrote a letter home of these particular moments that read:

“The river was at this time was full of swimming and drowning men—a dozen would go below the surface at the same time calling for help. The bullets falling on the river were so thick that the stream resembled a sheet of water during a heavy shower. For my part I expected to be hit every moment and would have been perfectly satisfied to have sent home a few kind words to you that I preferred dying on the field to deserting my men.” [1]

Over 500 Union soldiers, including Colonel Lee, regimental commander of the Twentieth Massachusetts, were still on the Virginia side of the river when the last of the meager supply of boats was lost. All they could do was press their faces so hard against the dirt so as to burrow into it if they could, while hellfire rained down upon them.

An “embedded” newspaper reporter from the New York Herald also wrote:

“Just after sunset a horrible scene occurred in this tragedy of blood. The only boat now available was filled with wounded, who endeavored to gain the friendly shore of Maryland; but the enemy fired volley after volley upon those poor, miserable men, until the boat was perforated with balls, and midway in the rapid current it sunk, with all on board, every one of whom drowned.” [2]

Henry was also among those trapped on the Virginia shore and realized that the chances of being killed, wounded or captured were increasing with every passing minute, so he gathered three other officers from his regiment, Captain William Bartlett, Lieutenant Henry Abbott, and Lieutenant Charles Whittier, along with about eighty soldiers mixed from the Fifteenth and Twentieth Massachusetts, the Forty-Second New York, and the First California regiments. Daylight was fading, and they slipped away carefully, making their way upriver on foot, always fearful of ambush at any moment from having so many men in tow. Their efforts were rewarded when they discovered a boat, which was damaged and hardly seaworthy, but they repaired it.

The boat was only large enough to transport five at a time, once again an arduous, time-consuming task, but it was eventually accomplished with all souls saved, Henry and Captain Bartlett being the last ones across. Again, in the same letter home previously mentioned, Henry wrote:

“… [Captain William] Bartlett and myself had made up our minds to see the men safe across before going ourselves. George [probably Captain Bartlett’s Lieutenant George Macy] was very loth [sic] to go indeed, preferring to remain with me. About 9½ p.m. we all got across and shall not very soon forget my moonlight paddle across the Potomac.” [3]

Henry had experienced his first combat. He had survived by luck and by his wits physically unhurt, and he had avoided capture; and he exhibited bravery and resourcefulness under fire in the process of saving some eighty lives. As regimental surgeon Dr. Nathan Hayward noted,

“All our officers of the 20th behaved bravely without one exception. Some showed more than personal bravery—endurance, caution and a power of command. Captain Tremlett rescued his whole remaining company.” [4]

Ball’s Bluff was not a large battle, more of a skirmish compared to many American Civil War battles to come, but it was another early Confederate victory and another ugly Union defeat at a time when Washington was growing more and more impatient over the lack of military success.

After Ball’s Bluff, the Twentieth Massachusetts returned to Camp Benson back at Poolesville. Members of the regiment that survived the battle were assigned once again to picket the Potomac and guard against any Confederate movement on Washington. They would remain there for the rest of 1861 and through the first few months of 1862. During that time, Henry was sent back to Boston to perform recruitment duty with a request to enlist 200 men in order to replenish the Twentieth Massachusetts’ depleted ranks.

[1] : Letters from Henry M. Tremlett, Reports, Letters & Papers Appertaining to 20th Mass. Vol. Inf by Association of Officers of the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, Boston Public Library Rare Books Collection; 165:168.

[2] : “The Fight at Ball’s Bluff,” Our Poolesville Correspondence, New York Herald, 28 Oct. 1861; 5.

[3] : Letters from Henry M. Tremlett, Reports, Letters & Papers Appertaining to 20th Mass. Vol. Inf by Association of Officers of the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, Boston Public Library Rare Books Collection; 165:168.

[4] : Letters from Nathan Hayward, Reports, Letters & Papers Appertaining to 20th Mass. Vol. Inf by Association of Officers of the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, Boston Public Library Rare Books Collection; 347-348.

Next: Aftermath

Find out more about Colonel Henry Martyn Tremlett and his cousin, the Rev. Dr. Francis William Tremlett during the American Civil War in my book, The Colonel and the Vicar, available on Amazon.com.

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October, 19th & 20th, 1861: Ball’s Bluff – Prelude to Battle #krnl_vic #amwriting #ammarketing

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Ancestry ∗ Biography ∗ History

Second in a series commemorating “The Battle of Ball’s Bluff”, first action for Henry and the Twentieth Massachusetts Infantry.

Two more weeks would pass on the Maryland side of the Potomac River with very little action worth mentioning. Perhaps an occasional cannon or musket shot across the river would remind the majority of as yet untested soldiers of the danger not far away.

Henry’s regiment, the Twentieth Massachusetts Infantry, along with the Nineteenth Massachusetts Infantry, the Seventh Michigan Infantry, and the First Company of Massachusetts Sharpshooters formed First Brigade under Brigadier General Frederick Lander. First Brigade, along with two additional brigades, plus unassigned regiments, cavalry, and artillery all comprised a division under the command of Brigadier General Charles Stone.

Stone was a native of Massachusetts, a graduate of West Point, and had served with distinction during the Mexican-American War. In addition to his military exploits he had been a civil engineer and surveyor. Now in command of a division called “The Corps of Observation”, his orders were to protect Washington from any Confederate incursion.

On October 19th, Stone’s original orders were vaguely updated by a telegram from General McClellan to “keep a good lookout upon Leesburg, to see if this movement [several Union reconnaissances] has the effect to drive them [Confederate forces] away. Perhaps a slight demonstration on your part would have the effect to move them.”[1] Besides the propaganda value, Leesburg was also a Confederate transportation hub, and therefore a significant military objective.

On that night a deserter from the Thirteenth Mississippi Regiment was captured by Union pickets and brought to General Stone. “General Stone, on examining a deserter, a colored teamster of the Thirteenth Mississippi, was told that the rebels in Leesburg were in alarm because they expected General Stone to attack them, and had sent back their heavy baggage, evidently expecting to be driven back to Carter’s Mills and Manassas.” [2] This suggested to General Stone that this might be a good opportunity for an attack in the direction of Leesburg. By now, part of the Union force at Poolesville had occupied Harrison’s Island by crossing the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal using four small boats, an arduous, time-consuming task.

With McClellan’s wire fresh in his mind, taken together with the deserter’s report, on the night of October 20th General Stone ordered twenty men under the command of Captain Chase Philbrick of the Fifteenth Massachusetts to cross the Potomac before dusk in the same small boats to ascertain intelligence about Confederate troop locations and movement in the area. Philbrick returned with information that he had found a deserted Confederate camp, which further encouraged Stone to consider an offensive movement across the Potomac and at least gain some strategic presence in Virginia. However Captain Philbrick, an inexperienced officer, had misinterpreted a line of trees as a line of tents, and his report back to General Stone that he had discovered an unguarded Confederate camp was inaccurate.

Moreover, General Stone wasn’t the only one with newly-acquired intelligence. On the same night, Confederate cavalry was ordered to conduct reconnaissance for Union positions; they returned early on Sunday morning with “… a federal soldier as prisoner, and when he was searched dispatches from McClellan to Gen. Meade were discovered. His dispatches were of course seized, which revealed the fact that the enemy was advancing in the direction to the number of ten or twelve thousand, the object of whose mission was to ferret out a route by which a successful flank movement could be made upon Manassas.” [3]

General Stone, oblivious to this, spent the night planning for battle the next morning.

 

[1] : Scheel, Eugene, With Leesburg in their Sights, Union Troops Caught By Surprise At Ball’s Bluff; History of Loudon County, Virginia; http://www.loudounhistory.org/history/loudoun-cw-balls-bluff.htm, last access: 10/18/2016

[2] : Bruce, Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel George A., The Twentieth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry 1861–1865, 24.

[3] : Newspaper account originally published October 1861 from the Loudon Times Mirror;  B. F. Sheetz, Editor & Proprietor – Civil War and Historical Edition, Vol. 162, No. 46, 11/16/1961.

Next: First Blood

The story of the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment is part of my book, The Colonel and the Vicar, available on Amazon.com.

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October 5, 1861: The 20th Massachusetts at Camp Benton, Maryland #krnl_vic #amwriting #ammarketing

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Ancestry ∗ Biography ∗ History

In the aftermath of their defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run, Union troops had been rushed to the front in great numbers for fear of an incursion on Washington. The Union defeat had been a shock, and Union President Abraham Lincoln replaced then-commander Brigadier General Irvin McDowell with Major General George McClellan. Placed in command of the newly-named Army of the Potomac, McClellan would play an important role in raising a well-trained and organized army, and the troops at Camp Benton were now consumed by daily drills, shooting practice, and strict discipline, including no noise allowed after taps.

Camp Benton was situated outside Poolesville, Maryland, on the east bank of the Potomac River, barely 35 miles from Washington. By this day in American Civil War history, a month had passed since the Twentieth Massachusetts left the capital. The west bank was Virginia, so the river was the boundary between the Union and the Confederate states. The relevant part of the river also had an odd topography; the river at that point doglegs southwest to southeast and splits the Potomac River proper between itself and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, with 400-acre Harrison’s Island in between. The Virginia shore of the river was dominated by Ball’s Bluff, a 100-foot cliff.

Henry describes an early October day on the east bank of the Potomac in a letter home:

Edward’s Ferry, Md.

October 6, 1861

Dear folks at home,

         Nothing has occurred since I last wrote you until Friday, when the rebels had the impudence to fire 8 or 10 shot and shell across the river. Artillery was immediately sent to the river from Poolesville and sent back 32 shot and shell in return. None of the rebels’ guns did any harm and they withdrew their battery into the woods. . . General Lander detailed my company to march to the river after supper and support the artillery. . .  Here we have been ever since bivouacking in the woods, having erected huts to protect us from the dews and rains.

          I took a stroll at five o’clock this morning, alone down by the river and again later in the morning, and although there are plenty of rebels in the neighborhood on the other side not one was in sight. Whether they will cross or whether we shall go to meet them I cannot find out nor even find anyone who does know—my own opinion is that they shall not cross.

                                                      Henry M. [1]

War has often been characterized as long periods of boredom punctuated by sudden instances of sheer terror. This was the calm before the storm. For many men new to the army, including Henry, no thoughts, no fears, would prepare them for what they would soon witness and experience.

[1] Letter from Henry M. Tremlett, captain, Co. A, 20th Mass., in Reports, Letters & Papers Appertaining to 20th Mass. Vol. Inf by Association of Officers of the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1868, Boston Public Library Rare Books Collection, 2:162–163.

Next: Prelude to Battle

The story of the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment is part of my book, The Colonel and the Vicar, available on Amazon.com.

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September 4, 1861: The 20th Massachusetts Is Ordered To The Front #krnl_vic #amwriting #ammarketing

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Ancestry ∗ Biography ∗ History

The attack on Fort Sumter occurred on April 12, 1861. On April 25, my great-great-granduncle Henry Tremlett joined the Massachusetts Militia, fourth battalion at Fort Warren, located on Georges Island at the entrance to Boston Harbor. There he rose to the rank of sergeant in a few months. On June 28, 1861, Massachusetts governor John A. Andrew appointed Colonel William Raymond Lee to command the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

Less than three months after his time began at Fort Warren, Henry enlisted in the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment on July 10, 1861, which was forming up at Readville, south of Boston. The camp at Readville was named Camp Massasoit after the great Wampanoag Grand Sachem, but the regiment was often referred to as “The Harvard Regiment” because many of its officers were educated at Harvard University. Many were also descendants of major figures during the American Revolution, including Captain John C. Putnam and Major Paul J. Revere. Lieutenant Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Henry’s first lieutenant, would go on to become an associate justice and later an acting chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Lt. Colonel Francis W. Palfrey may ring a bell for any readers familiar with my home town, as the largest hill in the town bears his name.

The Twentieth Massachusetts was organized into ten companies. Henry was commissioned to the rank of captain and assigned to command Company A. A company was comprised of about 100 men. The regiment was initially part of Lander’s Brigade, Second Division, Second Corps.

On September 4, 1861, two months after First Manassas, the Twentieth Massachusetts received orders to leave for the front. They left Boston without any fanfare; they simply and quietly boarded trains for Washington.

After stops in New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore they reached their final destination, Washington, on September 7. On September 12, the regiment was given orders to march to Poolesville, Maryland. Poolesville was located on the east bank of the Potomac River, thirty-five miles north of Washington. Virginia and the Confederacy were located on the west bank.

The Twentieth was joined by at least two other Massachusetts infantry regiments, the Fifteenth and the Nineteenth, as well as Vaughn’s Rhode Island Artillery Battery and others in the order of battle, all under the command of Brigadier General Charles Pomeroy Stone and ultimately General of the Army of the Potomac George McClellan.

The army would remain at Poolesville a full month, assigned to picket duty along the Potomac River, and consumed by daily drills, shooting practice, and strict discipline, including no noise after taps… until October 21st.

Next: Baptism By Fire: Battle of Ball’s Bluff

The story of the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment is part of my book, The Colonel and the Vicar, available on Amazon.com.

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#krnl_vic Book Cover Done! Please kindly retweet. #amwriting

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Hello campers! At long last the design for the cover of The Colonel and the Vicar has been finalized, and I’m happy to provide a “sneak peek” for all my followers on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

The front cover, back cover, and spine is emblazoned with three flags that symbolize the story’s politics: the United States and Confederate States crossed together with the British Union Jack between them. If you’ve been following along, then you know that during the Civil War the U.K. built ships for the Confederacy, hence the Union Jack in the middle.

The front cover image is actually from a stock photo (i.e., inexpensive) that is supposed to depict Henry’s first battle experience with the 20th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff in October, 1861, near Leesburg, Virginia. 1700 Union troops squared off against about the same number of Confederates and the Rebs scored a decisive victory largely due to a problem that plagued the Union army especially in the first two years of the war: poor generalship. Over 500 Yankee troops were taken prisoner, including the Twentieth’s regimental commander,  Colonel William Raymond Lee. Henry was not only fortunate to have survived but also lead some eighty men upriver where he paid $5 to a slave for a small boat that was used to ferry the men across the Potomac River to the safety of their camp in Maryland.

The back cover image is an actual painting of the “Duel Between the Kearsarge and the Alabama”. I was lucky to find the artist, Edward D. Walker, who makes his home in Liverpool. We struck up a conversation over the painting, as I’d noticed that the painting correctly replicated the result of the Kearsarge’s opening volley, which struck Alabama’s spanker-boom sending her naval battle ensign away into the wind. When I mentioned this to Ted, he explained in an email, “There are many reputable historians behind every painting I work on, in fact I would be lost without them. In 1987 a group of historians and enthusiasts  in the Liverpool & Cheshire area set up a charity to build a replica of the “Enrica” with the help of Cammell Laird’s who retained the plans and the builders model. I was appointed the official artist for the project and relied on guidance from the historians to paint the “Alabama” story. I was told of a quote made during the battle that a volley of shots blew the Confederate emblem away and a cheer rang out from the opponents”. I knew the exact quote because I had used it in the book: Kearsarge returned fire for the first time, and the first salvo “shot away Alabama’s spanker-gaff, and the Confederate Naval Ensign came down by the run. This was immediately replaced by another at the mizzen-mast-head” (from Memoirs of Service Afloat During the War Between the States, by Raphael Semmes, captain of the Alabama).

Up until finding Ted I was having a devil of a time finding an appropriate painting involving the Alabama without running into copyright issues. There were many paths that lead to dead ends, and I started to feel like I was never going to realize the design I wanted until persistence research finally paid off. It cost 200 English pounds but it was worth it.

As a final bit of historical irony, Ted’s wife Susan and her parents lived for a time in a house situated in Cambridge Road, Waterloo, about ten miles outside Liverpool. The house is still standing, and the occupier of the house during the Civil War was one James Bulloch, the Confederate agent who arranged for construction of the Alabama. Bulloch is just one of many interesting characters that is prominently featured in The Colonel and the Vicar as a close friend and collaborator with Father Frank.

This means that I’m within striking distance of publication. The book’s materials are all in CreateSpace’s hands (the primary network publishing platform that I use). Hopefully it’ll all be clean or require only minimal modifications.

That’s it for now. Feel free to browse my earlier posts and comment if you like.

Until next time I remain, yours truly…

Ed

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I Doth Protest! #amwriting #krnl_vic

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 Last night I watched a production of the civil war on cable station AHC (American Heroes Channel) called “The Civil War”. I was especially interested that the series prominently featured the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, an important subject of my forthcoming book, “The Colonel And The Vicar”.

However I was quickly disturbed by inconsistencies in the portrayal of the regiment, particularly at Ball’s Bluff and during the Peninsula Campaign. The story was told by re-enactors who portrayed Lt. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. and Lt. Henry Abbott. These were not the men who led the Twentieth at Ball’s Bluff. Holmes was first lieutenant to Captain Henry Tremlett, Company A; Abbott was first lieutenant to Captain William Bartlett. The Captains (of course) were the ones initially in charge of covering a retreat across the top of the bluff.

The Twentieth was joined by the Fifteenth Massachusetts, 42nd New York and 1st California regiments. The battle lasted about 12 hours, from dawn to dusk. Holmes was indeed wounded at the outset of the retreat and carried from the field to a hospital. It’s also true that it was a debacle for the Union and the Confederates won in a rout.

There was nowhere to retreat; just a hundred foot drop down Ball’s Bluff where hundreds of men tried to burrow into the dirt. Others were not so lucky. The four meager boats that were used to transport reinforcements were now quickly swamped or shot to pieces. Some men tried to swim. Some drowned. All true. Some were shot in the water (they left that out). Bodies floated down the Potomac as far as the Capital (true).

They also left out the part of the Battle of Ball’s Bluff where Captain Tremlett, Captain Bartlett, Lieutenant Abbott, and  Lieutenant Whittier led 80 Union survivors up the Potomac shore at nightfall until they found a boat, whereupon they transported all the men back to the safety of the Maryland side of the Potomac. Tremlett and Bartlett went last. Tremlett wrote in a letter home, “About 9½ p.m. we all got across and shall not very soon forget my moonlight paddle across the Potomac.”. (according to Letters of Nathan Hayward, MD, surgeon, 20th Mass., in Reports, Letters & Papers Appertaining to 20th Mass. Vol. Inf by Association of Officers of the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1868, Boston Public Library Rare Books Collection, 1:347–348).

The numbers were pretty close. Union casualties numbered over 1,000, including 223 killed, 226 wounded, and over 550 captured or missing; but they didn’t even mention that the revered (no pun intended) Colonel William Raymond Lee, commander of the Twentieth was among those taken prisoner and spent time in the infamous Libby prison.

I know that they usually warn you about “fictionalized” accounts, but if you’re shootin’ for authentic, leave things like the civil war alone unless you hire better researchers.

If you’re interested in the true story of Captain Tremlett and the Twentieth Massachusetts at Ball’s Bluff and the Peninsula Campaign, you might be interested in my forthcoming book, “The Colonel and The Vicar” (currently in final edit). I hope to have it published and on the market by Spring.

Join the blog and follow me along the wonderful road of self-publishing until the day I tell ya it’s “on Amazon”.

Careful out there…

E.M.R.

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Ball’s Bluff: Aftermath #KRNL_VIC

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Ball’s Bluff was not a large battle, especially compared to what was yet to come in the following four years.  Comparative battle strength between South and North was even… about 1700 Union troops clashed with the same number of Confederate soldiers.  However the Confederates won in a rout.  Union casualties numbered over a thousand, including 223 killed, 226 wounded, and over 550 captured or missing.  From Captain Tremlett’s Company A, 6 men were killed, 11 were wounded and 14 were captured.

By comparison, Confederate casualties totaled about 155, of which 36 were killed, 117 wounded, and 2 captured or missing.

Why such a lop-sided victory?  One could say that the Northern troops were mostly green while most of the Southern troops had already experienced battle.  The Southerners were fighting on home soil and the North was the invader.  One fights harder when defending the homeland.  Perhaps an extension of the “home advantage” would also be a better knowledge of the lay of the land.  All valid points.

However The Battle of Ball’s Bluff had far-reaching repercussions beyond the stinging defeat.  In the aftermath, bloated corpses floated down the Potomac River, even reaching Washington for all to see.  Washington went ballistic, and General Stone bore the brunt of the blame for the debacle.  Stone was a West Point graduate and a career army officer… how could he have allowed troops to engage in battle with no path to retreat?  He was vilified, humiliated and even imprisoned for 6 months (though reportedly for political reasons).

Poor, inadequate intelligence… plus a logistical blunder that there weren’t enough boats… I’m sure that the Union troops had little or no amphibious battle training back in Boston… perhaps add a modicum of Union overconfidence coupled with underestimating the Confederates, taken all together they spelled the Union defeat.

After Ball’s Bluff, the 20th Massachusetts was assigned to Camp Benson back at Poolesville, Maryland.  Members of the regiment that survived the battle were assigned once again to picket the Potomac and guard against any Confederate incursion against Washington.   They would remain there for the rest of 1861 and through the first few months of 1862.  During that time Henry was sent back to Boston to perform recruitment duty with a request for two hundred men in order to replenish the 20th Massachusetts’ depleted ranks.

 

The Battle of Ball’s Bluff #KRNL_VIC

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I wonder if anyone slept.

At 6:00am on October 21, 1861 General Stone sent about 300 men drawn from the 15th and the 20th Massachusetts regiments across the Potomac River from Harrison’s Island into Virginia under the command of Colonel Charles Devens.

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Upon arrival, Devens determined that the field was unoccupied and deployed the men from the 15th Massachusetts well forward and to the left of the bluff with pickets out in front.  The men from the 20th Massachusetts, including Captain Henry Tremlett, were situated at the center of the top of the bluff to cover any retreat if necessary.  Devens concluded that the immediate locale was safe and that the opportunity was there to move towards Leesburg, a short distance away, however that would require a larger force, so he sent for reinforcements.

Around 8:00am Devens’ pickets encountered Confederate pickets from the 17th Mississippi commanded by Colonel Nathan Evans stationed along the tree line and a skirmish began.

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Evans had already demonstrated a reputation for bravery and as a solid battlefield tactician in the Battle of First Manassas.  Having encountered Union troops in Virginia and the possibility of a larger battle, Evans also requested reinforcements.

Back on the Maryland side of the Potomac, General Stone ordered Colonel Edward Baker, a sitting U.S. Senator, to head the Union reinforcement and ultimately take command of the Union forces at the bluff but at the time Baker and the needed reinforcements were still on Harrison’s Island or the east bank of the Potomac.  What was worse, Union reinforcements would have to be made by use of just four skiff-like boats, and it would take four hours to do so.  In the meantime, Confederate reinforcements began to arrive by rail or march, and Evans’ men were more quickly reinforced by elements of the 13th and 18th Mississippi and Virginia Cavalry.

Shortly after noon, significantly outnumbered, Colonel Devens and the 15th Massachusetts retreated back towards the bluff.  Colonel Baker arrived with Union reinforcements from the 1st California and the 42nd New York as the battle see-sawed back and forth.  Command was disorganized and chaotic, particularly for the Union side; most of the Union troops were experiencing their first taste of battle, and their officers were gentleman soldiers as well.

Around 5:00pm the advantage began to turn in favor of the Confederates, and Colonel Baker suffered a mortal wound, the only U.S. senator to have been killed in battle.  The combined 17th and 18th Mississippi mounted a hellacious charge at the bluff but are repulsed amidst bloody fighting.  They reformed and attacked again, and this time the Union troops could not withstand the onslaught, and a general retreat was ordered… but to where?  The only thing behind the Union lines was a 100-foot drop to the Potomac.

There was no retreat.  There were not enough boats and those which were available were quickly swamped or sunk by the men trying to escape the terror.  Many who tried to swim the river drowned or were shot.  Over 500 men surrendered and were captured on the Potomac’s western flood plain, including Colonel William Raymond Lee, commander of the 20th Massachusetts.

Captain Tremlett was among those trapped.  In an attempt to escape he gathered three other officers from the 20th Massachusetts, Captain William Bartlett, Lieutenant Abbott, and Lieutenant Charles Whittier, along with about eighty soldiers comprised of men from the 15th and 20th Massachusetts, the 42nd New York, and the 1st California.  They carefully made their way upriver, always fearful of ambush at any moment from having so many men in tow, though daylight was fading.  Their efforts were rewarded when they discovered a boat which was damaged and hardly seaworthy, but they repaired it.  Using this one boat they transported their whole party, five at a time.  Lieutenant Whittier was sent over in the second load to take charge of the men as they arrived, while the other officers waited for the last trip. All reached Harrison’s Island in safety, the last about 9:00pm.

The Battle of Ball’s Bluff was over.

 

Tomorrow: Aftermath