Monday, October 22, 2012

Intrigue and a Paint Brush

John Cochrane
In 1813, John Cochrane was born in Palatine NY. Cochrane studied law, entered the bar in 1834, and moved to New York City in 1846. In the 1852 campaign, Cochrane avidly supported Franklin Pierce who in turn rewarded Cochrane with the appointment of Surveyor for the Port of NY. Next Cochrane was elected as a Democrat to both the 35th & 36th Congresses where he served as a Representative until March 3, 1861. His bid for reelection to the 37th Congress was unsuccessful but he did serve as a delegate at the Democratic National Conventions in Charleston and Baltimore in 1860. In June 1861, Cochrane joined the Union army as Colonel of the 65th NY Infantry and was promoted to Brigadier in July 1862. During the Maryland Campaign, Cochrane commanded the 3rd brigade of  the 1st Division of the IV Corps. (1)

Cochrane was not a participant in the battle at Antietam because the IV Corps had been assigned to Harpers Ferry by McClellan. After the battle ended on the evening of 17th, McClellan assessed his situation and determined to renew the fight on the morning of the 18th. He sent orders to Couch to abandon Maryland Heights and move his IV Corps to Sharpsburg with haste. With the arrival of Couch (and Humphrey) on the morning of the 18th, as well as large portions of the V and VI Corps that had not been used in the previous day’s fighting, McClellan had nearly 30,000 fresh troops on hand. However, McClellan chose not to use these soldiers due to the strain of the night march. Instead, McClellan suspended orders to resume the fight and then succumbed to a case of dysentery. (2)

Although Cochrane missed being a part of this crucial battle, days later he made up for it by being part of a significant conversation. While this discussion is often referred to, it seems the importance of it is woefully understated. Members of what I call the “Emancipation Panel” included McClellan, Cochrane, Burnside, and Cox. On September 22th, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. As to why McClellan felt the need to respond to this proclamation is a mystery since he was well aware that he harbored powerful enemies in high places just waiting for a misstep to point to treasonous behavior. It would have been more appropriate and favorable for him to remain silent but that was not McClellan’s style. Nonetheless, he called these men together and, according to Cox, it was “for the purpose of asking our opinions and advice with regard to the course he should pursue respecting the Proclamation...and whether we thought he should say anything or should maintain silence on the subject”. The Panel questioned McClellan on his beliefs in regards to slavery and the war to which he responded “the war would work out the manumission of the slaves gradually...however, that the Proclamation was premature”. Cox stated that he, Burnside, and Cochrane all advised McClellan that “any declaration on his part against the Proclamation would be a fatal error...that any public utterance by him in his official character criticizing the civil policy of the administration would be properly regarded as a usurpation” and even though McClellan agreed, he declared that there were forces at work attempting to thwart the administration by organizing a coup with McClellan as leader of this insurgency. I think what needs to be most emphasized here is that it is extremely plausible that had McClellan decided to march upon Washington and topple Lincoln, that the Army of the Potomac would have followed him. The question that needs to be answered is--- who were these agitators urging McClellan to engage in treason? It can be surmised that John Garrett and William Aspinwall were likely whispering in McClellan's ear. Possibly even John Fitz-Porter. But who were the “others” McClellan referred to when he said “people assured him that the army was so devoted to him that they would as one man enforce any decision he should make as to any part of the war policy”? No doubt McClellan had a huge flair for drama, but in this case I do believe there was a ring of conspirators who were exerting undue pressure on McClellan to make a disloyal move on Washington. (3)

Jacob Cox

Ambrose Burnside
Nonetheless, it was discussed that if “there was agitation in camp on the subject, and intrigues of the sort...[was it not] wise for him to say something which would show, at least, that he gave no countenance to any would-be revolutionists”. The Panel agreed that McClellan should release general orders to “remind the army...that whatever might be their rights as citizens, they must as soldiers beware of any organized effort to meddle with the functions of the civil government”. On October 7th, McClellan released General Orders No. 163 which stated the afore mentioned.  (4)

George McClellan
 For whatever reason, Cochrane was so impressed with McClellan and his anti-slavery views that Cochrane ran off to Washington to meet with Chase who Cochrane correctly believed “constituted a central point, to which converged the multifarious strands of the radical web...[and was] a decided and resolute opponent of General McClellan”. Not only did Cochrane wish to change Chase and the Radicals opinions about McClellan, but he also held the bold notion that HE COULD REPLACE HALLECK WITH MCCLELLAN so that he could eliminate the “selfish machinations” that were endangering the successful prosecution of the war. Talk about intrigue! Gotta love Civil War politics! According to Cochrane, upon learning of McClellan’s true views in regards to slavery Chase agreed to reinstate him as the head of all armies. Satisfied that Chase was in his back pocket, Cochrane next took off for the Soldier’s Home to converse with Lincoln on the same subject. Cochrane presented the same argument to the President and claimed Lincoln “answered that the plan had occurred to him, and that it might, perhaps, supply the proper relief for the troubles we were enduring, and avert the dangers which menaced”. Wow! According to Cochrane, this scheme never played out due to McClellan being associated with the Democrats and this party’s open hostility towards the Lincoln administration during the 1862 election. After the election, McClellan found himself out of a job rather than being promoted to the top spot, ouch. (5)

As to what Burnside’s reaction was to this conversation with McClellan, Cox, and Cochrane, it’s hard to say. According to his biographer, Burnside “had actively enforced slave laws to win over uncommitted North Carolinians, [but] Burnside’s observations had convinced him that no amount of such currying would lure the South back into the would be more threaten them into a renunciation of secession on the penalty of total emancipation, while implying that slavery might continue (if it could) if the ordinance of secession were revoked”. Other than that, Burnside’s thoughts remain unknown. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any works written by Burnside covering the Maryland Campaign. The Rhode Island Historical Society has the majority of his papers but there is gap spanning June-November 1862. (6)

First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation (Located in Senate wing of US Capitol)
So now I come to the paint brush. In 1864, FB Carpenter lived at the White House for six months. During this time, he set up a canvas in the State Dining Room and painted the First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln. There are three things associated with this painting that I find to be truly interesting. First, Carpenter chose “not the signing of the final proclamation, but the July 1862 cabinet meeting at which Lincoln first told his ministers that he intended to issue the momentous order”. I think most would assume that this painting depicts the signing but as the title states, it is only the first reading. Second, although Carpenter hugely admired Seward, the painting actually shows Seward objecting “to the issuing of the proclamation until it could be sustained by a Union battlefield victory...the most famous painting ever made of the Emancipation Proclamation thus ironically depicted not its enactment but its postponement”. Bet that nugget of information would make a few modern day crusaders a little red in the face. (7) 
1860 Census Map
Third, and by far the most interesting and completely overlooked, are the two maps made by the United States Coast Survey in the painting. The first map in the lower right corner is the “Map Showing the Distribution of the Slave Population of the Southern States of the United States Compiled From the Census of 1860”. As the longest-ever-title states, this map shows the slave population in the South based on the statistics from the 1860 census. The 1860 census was the last time slaves were counted and this is the first map that shows the distribution of that last count. The amount of slaves per county is illustrated through the light/dark shading. It is abundantly clear where slave populations were highest (Mississippi River region and coastal South Carolina). Ironically, one can count the near order of secession based on the states slave population holdings.  Although there were a plethora of maps available (however, not always accurate), Lincoln chose this map to help with strategic planning since it clearly displayed the Confederacy’s labor system of slavery. It did not go unnoticed by Carpenter that Lincoln constantly referred to this map. Carpenter wrote that he wanted to display the map in his painting so “he carried it off one day, without the President’s knowledge, and as the copying of it was a tedious affair, it remained in the studio for some time...[until] one afternoon the President came in...[and] his eye fell upon the map...[and exclaimed] ‘you have appropriated my map, have you? I have been looking all around for it’”. (8)

1863 Map of the State of Virginia
The second map located on the table behind Seward is the US Coast Survey’s 1863 “Map of the State of Virginia”. This map too shares a military element. It displays concentric rings from Richmond outward every 10 miles as well as every rail line and mileage distance by rail.  In addition, all towns and terrain features are prominently displayed. These elements also factored into and guided Union strategy. It’s no surprise that Carpenter featured these two maps in his painting. (9) 
Concentric rings around Richmond

Rail Lines and Mileage

So in this blissful trip of a post I have gone from a New York Representative---who, after the crucial battle of Antietam, was included in a conversation about a newly issued proclamation--- back to an earlier discussion about the same  proclamation, whereby its release depended on that crucial battlefield victory, that later led to a painting---which included two maps that illustrated the Union war strategy that enabled and emboldened the release of the Emancipation Proclamation. I hope you followed along and had as much fun as I did!

1. &  Wikipedia
2. McClellan's War by Ethan Rafuse, 205. Pgs 327-328.
3. Military Reminiscences of the Civil War by Jacob Cox, 1900. Pgs 359-360.
4. Cox pg 361.
5. American Civil War by John Cochrane, 1879. pgs 30-33.
6. Burnside by William Marvel, 1991. Pg 153.
7. Six Months at the White House with Abraham Lincoln by FB Carpenter, ed. by Harold Holzer, 2008. Pgs 8-9.
8. Carpenter pg 234. Notes on maps from 2011 Geography & Map Division (LOC) Civil War Maps Seminar.
9. Notes on maps from 2011 Geography & Map Division (LOC) Civil War Maps Seminar

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The "Incomparably Incompetent" Roger A Pryor

The men advanced past a farm, briefly halted, collected themselves and continued on towards the next farm. They stumbled across a small enemy outpost at this farm, to which they easily brushed aside. For most, this was their first encounter with the enemy. So far, so good. Heading still in a southern direction, the men reached a limestone ridge and as they crested it they met a terrific wall of fire that violently erupted from a sunken farm lane teeming with the enemy less than 100 yards away. The enemy had been waiting in this sunken lane and held their fire until the blue silhouettes appeared before them. This initial volley brought down the approaching men “as grain falls before a reaper” and for the next two hours, a savage sanguine fight raged over this strip of depressed terrain once called Hog’s Trough Lane but from thereafter known as the Bloody Lane. (1)

(Roger A Pryor,
The story of the “incomparably incompetent” Roger A Pryor and his performance at Antietam is a classic example of why politicians should never become military leaders. Pryor was sent to the House of Representatives on December 7, 1859 to fill the vacancy of the deceased William O Goode. Pryor was elected to the 36th Congress in his own right but never took his seat because he resigned March 3, 1861 due to the secession of Virginia. He then served in the Confederate Congress until he entered the Confederate army as a Colonel with the 3rd VA.  He received a promotion to Brigadier General in April 1862 and initially commanded the 2nd FL, 14th AL, 3rd VA, and 14th LA.  Shortly before Antietam, Pryor received two more regiments, 5th & 8th FL, lost the 14th LA, and the brigade became known as the “Florida Brigade”. (2)

(End of Rodes line. Beginning of mixed brigades line to Hagerstown Pike)
In order to understand just how badly Pryor screwed things up, an explanation of what was occurring on the field during this time is necessary. I won’t go into every detail of the fighting at Bloody Lane, that in itself is a dissertation, but a general overview of what was happening on the Confederate line. DH Hill had ordered the brigades of Robert Rodes (3rd, 5th, 6th, 12th, 26th Alabama) and GB Anderson (2nd, 4th, 14th, 30th NC) to form a line in the sunken lane corridor as a rallying point for Hill’s three other brigades (Roswell Ripley, AH Colquitt, and Duncan McRae) who were located on the northern part of the field. Rodes was highly respected and considered to be a rising star (I would call him a total Confederate rock star!) and Anderson, while not as popular, was thought to offer as solid leadership as Rodes did. Both brigades were critically understrength, Rodes due to the severe fighting at South Mountain three days prior, and Anderson from general hard duty over the past summer months. To fill in the 150 yard gap that existed from the end of Rodes’ brigade west to the Hagerstown Pike, was placed pieces of brigades that belonged to Colquitt, McRae, and Howell Cobb. This conglomeration of brigades was commanded by William MacRae. (3)

(Union approach to the sunken lane)

William French’s division was on its (perhaps misguided) way to the sunken lane. This division was freshly reorganized and contained a plethora of new recruits. Brigadier Max Weber advanced to Roulette farm and shortly past it brushed aside a small rebel outpost at the Clipp house (interestingly enough, the house isn’t on any maps) and continued moving south until the brigade reached a limestone ridge. As the yankees crested this ridge, they met a blast of fire from a sunken lane filled to the brim with greybacks less than 100 yards away. Three times French’s division charged only to be bloodily repulsed without breaking Hill’s line. Next up was Richardson’s division. Again, the Union assaulted the rebel line and although casualties mounted, the Confederates held fast. (4)

(Rodes' position)

Rodes held a position which allowed a steady and general fire at the yankees while Anderson’s position was more exposed due to the terrain and thus faced a wider arc of incoming fire. As a result, Anderson’s brigade “followed a common theme...federals appeared at the crest; withering volleys stunned them and sapped their momentum; southern troops launched occasional futile and costly sallies; and then both sides settled down to enervating exchanges of musketry at short range” resulting in a bloody stalemate. Furthermore, “Confederate officers...fell so fast that command and control dissolved”. One of the first officers to fall was Anderson. A minie ball embedded itself in his ankle and he was removed from the field (he died on October 16 due to infection/amputation). Next in command was Colonel Charles C Tew. As Tew lifted his hat to acknowledge his new command, a bullet slammed into his head and killed him instantly. Third in line was Colonel Francis M Parker. As Tew, Parker acknowledged the courier and then took ten steps to the left to have his head meet with a killer bullet. Not a good day to be a Confederate officer. (5)

(CWT Map)

(At 10am RH Anderson's division moved east from Hagerstown Pike, across Piper Farm, and swung in a northerly direction to the sunken lane behind GB Anderson's brigade)


At 10am RH Anderson received orders to reinforce Hill’s line. Anderson offered the only reinforcements to be found. Minutes onto the field, Anderson was shot in the thigh and command was transferred to the “incomparably incompetent” Pryor. With Pryor, a tenuous situation was about to take a severe downturn as Pryor “neither knew RH Anderson’s plan nor what to do in the emergency [and] as a result, Pryor’s units filtered into the sunken road by regiments and companies. With Pryor in command, and the loss of officers within the Bloody Lane, there was no one in overall control of the Confederate right”. (6)

(On Hagerstown Pike facing east towards Piper Farm corn and orchard)
Further exacerbating the situation, regimental leadership was in shreds, especially for the Florida regiments in Pryor’s brigade. The Florida brigade “crossed Hagerstown Pike, passed the Piper farmstead, and took position near Piper’s apple orchard...lay prone to avoid unnecessarily exposing themselves to enemy fire” leading to a terse exchange between Rodes and Pryor. Rodes demanded of Captain William D Ballatine to know who they were and why they weren’t fighting. Ballatine informed Rodes that the brigade belonged to Pryor and that they had no orders to move, to advance, or for that matter, to do anything. Rodes immediately found Pryor to let him know his brigade was “behaving badly”. Pryor ordered the Florida brigade (2nd, 8th, 5th FL, 3rd VA, 14th AL) forward and it moved through Piper’s cornfield to the sunken road behind the 14th and 4th NC. Colonel RT Bennett stated in his after-action report that “word came for the command to keep lookout on the extreme right. While directing ourselves to that point, masses of Confederate troops in great confusion were seen...coming to our succor, broke beyond the power of rallying after five minutes’ stay”. In what Bennett labeled as the “stampede”, was the accidental order of a withdraw which caused the Confederate line to retreat and run. One of Rodes’ officers had shifted a company to meet the enemy on the left but an error in orders caused a withdraw instead and caused the whole line to collapse as the Union responded by flanking and enfilading the rebel defenses. Pryor’s scattered division was caught in the melee and retreated back through the Piper farm. (7)

In my search for information and primary sources in regards to Pryor’s Florida brigade and his extremely short command of RH Anderson’s brigade, I found next to nothing to put the pieces together. There are several collections of letters held at various Florida agencies that I couldn’t get to. Possibly, if I had the time I could have located rosters of the regiments filling RH Anderson’s division and then scoured the Library of Congress for diaries and journals, maybe I will at a later date. As far as after-action reports for RH Anderson’s division at Bloody Lane, there is only one report. In fact, in a footnote in Carman/Clemens it is stated “Anderson’s division poses a special problem in terms of gathering information about their role in the battle of Antietam. Anderson was wounded while marching toward the Sunken Road; neither he nor Gen Roger Pryor who eventually assumed command, wrote an after action report. None of the six brigade commanders wrote reports, and of the 26 regiments in the division, only one commander wrote a report”. (8)

The one report is by Captain Abram M Feltus of the 16th MS and seems to me to be the tip of the iceberg for a reassessment of Anderson’s brigade and what it contributed to the fight at Bloody Lane. A rather long but worthy quote from Feltus---“About 10am, being ordered to advance in the direction of the enemy, did so in good order...passing by a large barn, we proceeded, under a heavy fire of artillery and small-arms, several hundred yards further...confronted the enemy in line of battle, who were drawn up some 300 yards from the road, pouring a destructive fire in our ranks...this regiment gallantly held its position until ordered to retire, which it did in as good order as could be expected from its thinned ranks. When we retired as far as the road. A scene of great confusion ensued from the mingling together of different brigades. We continued to fall back until we reached the this position we advanced again upon the enemy, and met them in the corn-field beyond the barn. Here, after a desperate fight, we fell back, by orders, to our original position, on account of the terrific cross-fire of the enemy’s batteries”. This report clearly descibes a different situation than the one by Bennett. In Waters & Edmonds, there are several mentions of bravery as well as pointing out that RH Anderson’s division went with the flow of battle based on what Rodes’ and GT Anderson’s brigades were doing RATHER THAN RH Anderson’s division being the cause of confusion due to Pryor's ineptitude and poor deployment of reinforcements. (9)

1. Robert K Krick, "'It Appeared As Though Mutual Extermination Would Put a Stop to the Awful Carnage:' Confederates in Sharpsburg's Bloody Lane," in The Antietam Campaign ed. Gary W Gallagher, 1999. Pgs 230-233.
2. &
3. Krick pgs 224-228.
4. Krick pgs 230-231. A Small but Spartan Band by Zack C Waters & James C Edmonds, 2010. Pg 33.
5. Krick pgs 236-237.
6.  Waters & Edmonds pg 33.
7. Waters & Edmonds pgs 34-37. TR Bennett Official Report.
8. The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, Vol 2: Antietam by Ezra Carman, ed Thomas G Clemens, 2012. Pg 257 Footnote #31.
9. Abram M Feltus Official Report.