Tuesday, October 12, 2010

An Update

This blog is not in full retreat. I still have lots of good stories to tell. I've spent all my spare time the past month, preparing the latest web page for my website, www.13thmass.org. Consequently I haven't posted much here on the blog.

The new page will cover the history of the unit between August 11, 1862, through August 30, 1862; or, "General John Pope's Virginia Campaign." The campaign climaxed with the 2nd Battle of Bull Run which is a milestone event in the history of the regiment. It was the first major engagement in which the men played an active part, after more than a year of hard service. For many it was the last battle. The regiment did not participate in any heroic charges; but merely a delaying action; outnumbered 10 to 1 and surrounded on 3 sides by the enemy. The encounter bought time for General Pope to pull his lines back to high ground which prevented the capture and destruction of his little Army of Virginia.

The previous webpage ended with 13th Mass. accounts of the Battle of Cedar Mountain. The new page starts off the same way.

Because events changed rapidly from day to day during this campaign, the page requires more exposition than any previous page I've built for the site. The primary sources were quickly added and organized chronologically, last June. These include the usual letters, diary excerpts and articles from my collection. The three subjects the soldiers wrote about in general, were the Battle of Cedar Mountain, the three day artillery duel at the Rappahannock River Railroad Bridge, (Hartsuff's Brigade held a lodgement on the south side of the river) and the arrival of 90 new recruits to the regiment on August 18. This was also the day General Pope retreated from the Rapidan River to the Rappahannock River. The soldiers were mostly in the dark about other events; - and there is so much that happened.

During this time General Lee moved his army to Gordonsville and planned to attack and destroy General Pope's force while it was wedged between two rivers. Logistical matters postponed Lee's attack and Pope escaped. It isn't hard to guess what might have happened had Lee attacked as planned.

Colonel Thornton Brodhead's exciting raid to Verdiersville was a first class adventure worth including on the new page. It is mostly remembered as the raid in which Confederate Cavalier J.E.B. Stuart lost his hat. He was surprised by the large troop of Union Cavalry trotting up the road. Stuart fled so quickly he left behind his trademark plumed hat - which became a casualty of the raid. I particularly enjoyed the part of this tale in which General Robert Toombs recalled his Georgia infantry to camp, - moments before 1,000 Union Cavalrymen splashed across the Rapidan River at the very spot the Georgians were ordered to guard.

Also on this page: Pope's Retreat to the Rappahannock; the Artillery duels along the river; Stuart's Raid to Catlett's Station; (he avenged his hat by capturing Gen'l. Pope's dress uniform); General Sigel's ordeal on the 25th at Sulphur Springs; Stonewall Jackson's famous flank march, (50 miles around Pope's lines) and the sacking of Pope's supply base at Manassas Junction. There is the unraveling of the Union high command at this time; the clogged Orange and Alexandria railroad and Herman Haupt's gallant efforts to to keep the lines running. There is a lot more, you get the idea, and all of this is before the battle itself. My primary source for this narrative is John J. Hennessy's masterful book "Return To Bull Run." I wish I could just quote directly from the book, the story is so well told. I'm supplementing this narrative with other sources as always, but its really just a superb account of the campaign. (I discovered General Gordon's account from the 1860's too).

Consequently, it's taken a lot of time to carefully summarize these events within the context of the regiment's experience. I try very hard for accuracy. The military situation changed so much from day to day, I had to re-organize my source material to keep the story moving forward. The men were usually about a week behind in their news. The page page ends with just a short summary of the battle as described in Charles E. Davis' 1893 regimental history. I intend to devote another page entirely to 13th Mass. soldiers accounts of the battle. (That won't take as long).

In preparing this page, I've developed some more sympathy for General John Pope. I think he was a poor field commander for the most part, but he did a lot of things right, and he was under tremendous political pressure, like all the early Union Generals in the war. What if heavy rain had not forced him to call off his planned offensive on August 23rd? His plan was the same as Gen. Lee's; cross the Rappahannock and assault the enemy's right flank and rear. My dislike for him, and for General McClellan, is due to the large number of lives lost in this campaign, in large part because of ego, or professional jealousy. It was the poor foot soldier who paid the price in blood.

I'm almost done with the text of the new web page. A few pictures will be added next, and then I'll upload to the website, hopefully sooner rather than later. And then, perhaps I'll have more time for the blog ! A very tired adieu. Comments are appreciated.