Steve Bartman and the Battle of Chancellorsville

In the past few weeks ESPN has been re-running the Alex Gibney film Catching Hell. The film focuses on Chicago and it’s reaction to Steve Bartman in 2003 after the Cubs lost that year’s National League Championship Series (NLCS). There is also a discussion of Boston and Bill Buckner after his error in the 1986 World Series.

Watching the film, I was struck by the group reaction to the Bartman play among the Cub fans and certain players, which led directly to the team’s collapse in Game 6. As I thought about it, I realized the Bartman story can help people understand the Army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville in 1863. 

For those who may not be familiar with the story: In 2003 the Cubs had enjoyed a magical regular season that raised hopes in Chicago. They entered the playoffs looking for the first World Series appearance since 1945 and their first title since 1908 (95 years at the time), and led the NLCS 3 games to 2 over the Florida Marlins (now Miami Marlins), having lost Game 5 in Miami. Game 6 occurred in Chicago on October 14, and the Cubs led 3-0 going into the top of the 8th inning. A foul ball along the third base line was deflected by a fan (later identified as Steve Bartman), and the Cub outfielder, Moises Alou, reacted in frustration. The Marlins started a flurry of hits, helped by a flubbed shortstop play by Alex Gonzalez that would have ended the inning with the Cubs up 3-1 or 3-2; instead, Florida buried the Cubs with 8 runs in the 8th, and the Cubs could score no more. Game 7 the next night went back and forth, but the Marlins again (for the third straight game) beat the Cubs and went on to their second World Series in franchise history, eventually defeating the New York Yankees. Steve Bartman, meanwhile, became the scapegoat in Chicago, blamed for the defeat.

In the film, Cub fans going to Game 6 are seen admitting their nervousness, and one stated “I’ve never been so nervous before a game.” Steve Lyons, who called the game for Fox Sports, said the whole stadium was “waiting for something crazy to happen.” Some people felt it in the 7th Inning Stretch, when Bernie Mac sang “champs” in Take Me Out to the Ballgame. But the Bartman play in the 8th (in the words of Cubs 1st Baseman Eric Karros) “took the air out of the stadium.” The team seemed to tense up, and that explains both Gonzalez’ error and the meltdown of Chicago pitching. After Game 6 many in Chicago felt it was already over; some Cubs players even booked flights home after Game 7, expecting not to go to the World Series.

This, in broad parallel, is the Army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville. After an energetic winter and spring during which Major General Joseph Hooker reformed, rebuilt, and re-energized the army, in late April 1863 it set off for its next contest against Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The last clear-cut offensive victory the Army of the Potomac had won over the Confederates was at Williamsburg, almost exactly a year earlier. A year is a long time to an army in combat, and that record weighed on the Federals as much as the 95-year drought weighed on the Cubs in 2003. Indeed, a sense of nervous energy emanates from some of Hooker’s statements before the battle and the way some of his commanders strained to get into the fight.

Lee’s unexpected strong reaction on May 1 caused Hooker to pull back, and a strange lethargy set in among the Federals. Seizing the opening created by this passivity, Lee flanked the Army of the Potomac, launching Stonewall Jackson’s famed flank attack on the evening of May 2. Jackson’s corps routed the Union XI Corps on the army’s western flank, driving it back over 2 miles before darkness ended the fighting. The attack did not win the battle, but left the Confederates threatening to win. A strong Federal defense, and/or a resolute counterattack, would recover the Army of the Potomac’s fortunes.

Yet the Army of the Potomac was like the Cubs after Bartman – the air had gone out of them. The troops themselves fought well on May 3, but the leadership was defeated and steadily pulled back. Hooker also ordered the 20% of his army at Fredericksburg to save the other 80% at Chancellorsville – a panicked order which shows how far he had melted down mentally.

Even thought the fighting on May 3 ended with the Federals in a strong position south of U.S. Ford, the battle was all but over in the mind of Hooker and many of his commanders. After some skirmishing on May 4 and 5, the Army of the Potomac quit the field. After the battle the XI Corps became the scapegoat for the army because of its failure to hold Jackson – much like Steve Bartman became the scapegoat for the foul ball play in 2003.  In both cases, the overall group saw these events as the turning points where it all went wrong and spiraled into the inevitable defeat.

The next time Catching Hell is on, take the time to watch it, as the group dynamics among the Chicago Cubs fans and players echo those of the Army of the Potomac leadership 140 years before.

Top: Steve Bartman and Moises Alou go for a foul ball in Game 6, with one out in the Top of the 8th. 

Bottom: Jackson’s flank attack on May 2.

Notice the reorientation of the Union line and the isolated position of the XI Corps “behind” the new Union position.

Expeditions Bold And Admirable: Conclusion

Conclusion of a series. You may read the Introduction, The First Battle of Hartwood Church, The Dumfries Raid and Raid on the Occoquon here.

Wade Hampton

The months of November and December, 1862 marked a transition in the career of Wade Hampton. For several weeks, Hampton and his brigade were thorn in the side of the Army of the Potomac. On three separate occasions, he led a handpicked force on expeditions behind the Union lines. At the behest of Robert E. Lee, Hampton crossed the Rappahannock on a scouting mission on November 27. The next day, he struck and captured a contingent of the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry at Hartwood Church and confirmed that the Federals remained opposite the Confederate lines at Fredericksburg. On December 12, Hampton captured a sutler’s wagon train at Dumfries. A week later he fell on yet another supply train, this time near the village of Occoquon.

Hampton’s performance did not go unnoticed by his superiors, especially Le. At the end of February, 1863, Lee issued General Orders 29, announcing the recent successes of his cavalry to the army. Hampton’s actions were mentioned in the order. “The commanding general takes great pleasure in advertising to the promptness of the officers in striking a successful blow whenever the opportunity offered,” it read. “These deeds give assurance of vigilance, activity, and fortitude.”

By the beginning of the new year, Hampton had established himself as one of the most aggressive commanders in the Confederate mounted arm. Not surprisingly, his star would continue to rise in the coming months. Wounded on East Cavalry Field at Gettysburg, Hampton performed well during the Overland Campaign in the spring of 1864. After Stuart’s death in May, he became the senior Major General in the cavalry corps. His performance in stopping Philip Sheridan’s raid toward the Shenandoah Valley at Trevilian Station ultimately brought him corps command. Hampton continued to fight well during the Siege of Petersburg. Early in 1865, he was transferred south to face Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s Union armies in the Carolinas. In the middle of March, Hampton turned in his finest performance. After a masterful display of reconnaissance and planning, Gen. Joseph Johnston accepted Hampton’s proposal to attack Sherman outside Bentonville, North Carolina. Johnston struck on March 19 and temporarily delayed the Federal march. On the last of the day engagement, Hampton directed and led counterattacks against a enemy force that helped secure the Confederate line of retreat. At the end of the war Hampton had compiled a record that rivaled if not surpassed that of any of his peers.

 

 

 

 

 


Year In Review 2017: #10

It’s a tradition at ECW to countdown to our most-read blog post of the year as we review the closing year. We’ll begin today with 2017’s #10 blog post. 

It started out as an unintentionally inflammatory comment, and the explanation of the comment become our 10th most-read post of the year. Addressing the Battle of Chancellorsville and Lee’s victory, this post reveals some details about the fight, Jackson’s goals, and the Union position.

Presenting #10: Jackson’s Wounding: The Best Thing That Happened To Lee At Chancellorsville by Chris Mackowski, posted on May 5, 2017.


Preservation News: June 1, 1864 at Cold Harbor

Recently the Civil War Trust announced an effort to preserve land related to the June 1, 1864 fighting at Cold Harbor. This combat has often been overshadowed by the Union assault which took place there on June 3. Cold Harbor had yet to become, in the words of Union staff officer Thomas Hyde, “the Golgotha of American history.” When I read through the announcement and examined the map which included the targeted tracts my eyes were immediately drawn to a particular segment of the property. It lays just north of the Cold Harbor Road and above and slightly to the right of the Miles Garthwright House.

On May 30, with Union cavalry operations heating up around Cold Harbor, Gen. Robert E. Lee began shuffling men there to secure the area. This effort continued the following day, as the Federal cavalry attacked and eventually captured the road junction. Late in the evening of the thirty-first, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Maj. Gen. George Meade also began to funnel infantry toward Cold Harbor. The crossroads was vitally important to the commanders. One road led directly to the Union supply base on the Pamunkey River while another ran directly to the Confederate capital at Richmond, less than a dozen miles to the southwest. Grant planned to attack there the next morning. The General-in-Chief, however, was asking too much of his soldiers.

Walking over the battlefield at Cold Harbor, one of the things that comes to mind is the condition of the men in both armies who fought there. The Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia had been locked in a desperate, non-stop campaign for nearly a month. They were completely exhausted. Grant’s expectation to immediately launch an assault following a harrowing night march was unrealistic. The first blue infantry to reach Cold Harbor was Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright’s VI Corps, which tramped in at about 10 a.m. It was not until 2:30 that afternoon that Wright’s last division arrive and deploy for battle. Wright was to coordinate the offensive with Maj. Gen. William “Baldy” Smith’s XVIII Corps, recently arrived from the Army of the James.  Smith’s orders had been botched, adding miles and hours to his march. His men finally arrived around mid-afternoon. The delay gave Wright’s men time to wait and contemplate the inevitable assault. Across the open space before them stood Brig. Gen. Robert Hoke’s division and Lt. Gen. Richard Anderson’s First Corps. The Confederates had spent much of the morning preparing and improving their defenses. Among those who waited anxiously to make the assault was a brigade commanded by a colonel from New York, Emory Upton.

A post war photo of Emory Upton. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

I’ve always been fascinated by Upton. Socially awkward but incredibly brilliant, he was the Sheldon Cooper of his day.  Upton had been one of the few men to recognize that the technology of the 1860s, especially the rifled musket and the advent of field fortifications, had rendered the tactics of the day obsolete. Just weeks earlier, Upton led an attack on the Mule Shoe Salient at Spotsylvania. He massed his twelve regiments in a column, three across and four deep. His men were directed not to open fire as they stormed the enemy works. The bayonet assault was initially successful, however, supporting troops did not arrive in time to exploit the breach. Impressed with the effort, Grant utilized Upton’s methods and sent the II Corps crashing into the salient on May 12. Once again, the attack was not properly coordinated which allowed the Confederates to recapture and hold part of the line.

As time ticked away that afternoon, Upton prepared for the assault. He formed his regiments into two lines. The 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery formed the first, with battalions stacked upon one another. Behind them was the 5th Maine, 95th Pennsylvania, 96th Pennsylvania and part of the 121st New York.

The 2nd Connecticut, led by Col. Elisha Kellogg, was a new regiment which had spent much of the war in the Washington defenses. Due to losses sustained in the campaign, they were converted to infantry and sent south, arriving with the army on May 21. I wonder what it was like for those men, who had never seen combat, to prepare for the attack. What thoughts went through their minds? What feelings did they have? One thing, I think, was certain. Derisively viewed for their lack of experience by their sister regiments, whose own ranks had been depleted by casualties, the Nutmeggers wanted to prove they were up to the task which awaited them.

Upton likely planned for his lines to move forward in concert. The “Heavies” were to carry the brunt of the assault while the remaining regiments awaited the outcome. If they were successful, Upton would send his second line forward to exploit the breach. Should Kellogg meet stiff resistance, Upon would send individual regiments from the second line forward with the expectation that the additional weight would break the Confederate position.

Kellogg took his place at the head of his regiment. He ordered his men to unsling their knapsacks and any other accouterments that might impede their movement. Around 6 p.m. the blue soldiers moved forward. “The Second Connecticut…moved to the assault in beautiful order,” Upton wrote. “Crossing an open field, it entered a pine-wood, passed down a gentle declivity and up a slight ascent. Here the charge was checked. For seventy feet in front of the works the trees had been felled, interlocking with each other, and barring all further advance. Two paths, several yards apart, and wide enough for four men to march abreast, led through the obstructions. Up these, to the foot of the works, the brave men rushed, but were swept away by a converging fire…I directed the men to lie down, and not to return fire. Opposite the right of the regiment, the works were carried…in this position, without support on either flank, the Second Connecticut fought, when the enemy fell back to a second line of works.”

Watching from the rear, a member of the 121st New York wrote “as soon as the heavies began to charge, the Rebel works were bordered with a fringe of smoke from the muskets and the men began to fall very fast, and many wounded began going to the rear.” The 2nd Connecticut approached Brig. Gen. Thomas Clingman’s brigade and a section of the line held by the 51st North Carolina. Aghast, the Empire Stater observed the Connecticut soldiers “fall in all shapes. Some would fall forward as if they had caught their feet and tripped and fell. Others would fall backward. Others would stagger about a few paces before they dropped.” Among the dead was Kellogg. Wounded early in the attack, he remained at the front before being shot down, struck multiple times. Kellogg’s personal example helped ensure that his regiment would no longer be called “band box soldiers.”

Although Upton’s attack had ground to a halt, on his right, Union infantry overran part of Clingman’s line. Upton quickly pushed elements from the 2nd Connecticut to his right and over the works. He then shifted to the left and managed to capture that portion of the entrenchments from which the Confederates had so badly mauled his men only minutes before. Later on, he pressed his second line up to hold against enemy counterattacks. Elsewhere, other units from the VI and XVIII Corps achieved similar results. This temporary success prompted Grant to launch his famous army wide assault on June 3.

2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery Monument at Cold Harbor.

Today, a monument stands within the National Park Service boundary to the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery. Some of the ground over which the regiment traversed during their attack has been identified by the Trust for this purchase. It represents an opportunity to further pay tribute to the valor of  Upton, Kellogg, the men who followed them and the other soldiers who fought at Cold Harbor that share in our American experience.

 

 

 


Christmas in the Cavalry

Holly still abounds on the outskirts of Camp Bayard, named for Brig. Gen. George Bayard, a Union cavalryman who was mortally wounded at Fredericksburg.

As 1862 faded into memory, Christmas approached for the horse soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia and Army of the Potomac. Camped in the Rappahannock River Valley following the Battle of Fredericksburg, their experiences that holiday varied from one man to the next. Away from their loved ones at home and caught in the midst of bloody conflict, many, in the words of Charles Dickens, simply hoped to turn their eyes “to the blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode.”

On Christmas Eve, Robert E. Lee dictated a letter of congratulations to his cavalry chief, Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart. Lee “took great pleasure in expressing…gratification” at the recent successful expeditions launched by one of Stuart’s brigade commanders, Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton. “Please express to General Hampton my high sense of his service, mys just appreciation of the conduct of the officers and men of his command, and my congratulations on his complete success without the loss of a man” he directed.

Stuart was also busy that day. At his headquarters several miles south of Fredericksburg along the Telegraph Road, he hosted a Christmas dinner for his officers. Among the fare was turkey, chicken, ham and apple brandy. For Christmas, Stuart joined Lee and Second Corps commander Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson in the manor house near Jackson’s headquarters, Moss Neck. Emboldened by Hampton’s recent success, Stuart launched a raid behind Union lines beginning on December 26.

Moss Neck

Union cavalry also remained active in the days leading up to and on Christmas. Brigadier General William W. Averell, who had been embarrassed at the end of November when Wade Hampton swooped down and captured a contingent from the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry at Hartwood Church, kept scouts and patrols out in the direction of Warrenton, west of the Union lines.

On the eastern end of Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s army, the 8th Illinois Cavalry went out on picket to relieve the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry in King George County. “On reaching the place” wrote the Illinoisans’ historian, “the officers of the latter regiment were found keeping a Christmas holiday, and were intoxicated. Lieutenant-Colonel [David] Clendennin, in command, reported them to headquarters, which created quite a sensation among those interested. If more such reports had been made it would have been better for the army.”

For troopers in the 6th New York Cavalry, Christmas Eve was “devoted to hunting turkeys for Christmas dinner.” The next morning, the men enjoyed pancakes for breakfast.

On Christmas Eve, in their camp on Potomac Creek, a member of the 1st Rhode Island quoted Clement Clark Moore’s poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, in a letter to the Narragansett Weekly. “We hardly expect “Santa” Claus will find us away out here, this dark night, in the pines of old Virginia, where desolation has marked the course of the contending armies” he lamented. Another comrade, J.A. Babcock also quoted Moore on Christmas Day. “What a flood of recollections rush upon my mind, as I think of former- anniversaries of the much-looked-for day, from the time when nothing but “visions of sugar-plums danced through my head,” down to later years, when social gatherings and reunions were sure to celebrate it  in perhaps a greater, but none the less happy manner. How different the surroundings here!…the merry jingle of Christmas bells is exchanged for the sounds of the bugle and drum.” That night, a concert was given by members of the regiment for the headquarters and staff. “We only missed the comforts, gifts, and “Merry Christmas” salutations of our New England homes” one soldier lamented.

On Christmas Eve, Pvt. Sidney Davis’ squadron from the 6th U.S. Cavalry left their camp and marched up the river from Fredericksburg and went on picket duty. Davis had been detached on other service and rode out on Christmas morning to join his comrades. Cresting the heights beyond Falmouth, a lone Confederate infantryman caught Davis’ eye. The Southerner shouted “Merry Christmas” and raised his canteen to Davis. The Regular saluted and continued his journey. A little farther on, Davis encountered a German from Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel’s XI Corps, who offered him a drink. Davis politely declined and wished him a “happy Christmas” before riding on.

And so Christmas came and went along the Rappahannock. Soon, the horse soldiers in blue and gray would meet in the new year on fields in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

 


Searching for George Brinton McClellan

George_B._McClellan_-_Brady-Handy

In preparation for Rob Orrison’s and my upcoming ECWS book, To Hazard All: A Guide to the Maryland Campaign, 1862, we closed the books and hit the trails and cement roads zigzagging through northern Virginia and central and western Maryland. At the end of one particular long day (soon to be even longer since we were squarely on the wrong side of rush-hour traffic), we made our last stop in the middle of bustling Rockville, Maryland. Our destination was the home of the Montgomery County Historical Society.

Before the historical society moved in, during the Maryland Campaign of September 1862,

 

the two-and-a-half story brick dwelling belonged to the widowed Jane Beall, “an old maid of strong Union sentiment.” Rob and I wandered around all four sides of the house, reading each interpretive marker dotting the property. None of them had anything to do with why we were there. They made no mention of the Maryland Campaign, only the Gettysburg Campaign that eclipses all others in public memory.

Despite the setback, there was no mistaking why we were there. George B. McClellan slept there his first night in the field–September 7–during his campaign to rid Maryland of the invading Confederate army. But still, no mention.

 

Rob turned to me and quipped, tongue in cheek, “You should write Searching for George Brinton McClellan,” calling to mind Tom Huntington’s Searching for George Gordon Meade. “Why isn’t Meade better remembered today?” Huntington questions in his opening pages. Here we were, at a point crucial to McClellan’s story in the campaign, and nothing. Why isn’t McClellan remembered at all here, today? I wondered. 

Of course, it is no secret that George McClellan is a lightning rod of controversy. It was not always so.

In the fallout of the Federal defeat at First Bull Run, a desperate Lincoln administration handed the 34-year-old general almost everything. “I seem to have become the power of the land,” he believed, as many in Washington appeared to bow down to him. “A better officer could not be found,” wrote William Tecumseh Sherman in the war’s early stages.

Sixteen months after McClellan arrived in the eastern seat of war, raised the Army of the Potomac from the ashes, and crafted it in his image, the relationship between McClellan, Lincoln, and some members of Congress dropped out the bottom. McClellan lost his job and never again rose to the pedestal he had occupied in the summer of 1861.

The war of words swirling around McClellan’s head began even in his moments of prominence in the nation’s vast struggle. “By some persons he is considered the greatest strategist of the age. By others he is regarded as unfit to command even a hundred men,” commented an early biographer. Indeed, Ulysses S. Grant tried to dodge the debate entirely: “McClellan to me is one of the mysteries of the war.”

No matter which way one sits in the ongoing conversation, very rarely does one find themselves wavering back and forth or sitting squarely on the fence in their deep-rooted opinions of the man. To have an unbiased discussion of McClellan is a rare occurrence at all.

Perhaps the turning point of all this comes when examining the general’s relationship with his most immediate superior, Abraham Lincoln. McClellan’s private letters to his wife demeaning (even dehumanizing) his commander-in-chief became public following his death. By that time, Lincoln had become a well-seated martyr for the Union cause and was well on his way to being memorialized on the National Mall in a temple of stone. Anyone anti-Lincoln was undoubtedly not a fan favorite.

On the flip side of that equation, McClellan sparred against a general viewed with much admiration throughout American history–Robert E. Lee. While not literally carved in stone to the extent of Lincoln, Lee’s symbolic figure equally seems untouchable. Indeed, George McClellan could not rival or best the Virginian Lee.

McClellan’s conflicts with Lincoln and Lee and the status those two achieved automatically places him at a disadvantage when it comes to being remembered. Additionally, his meteoric rise to fame and power followed by his corresponding fall from grace is something not easily equaled in the annals of history.

All of these factors, and probably more, combine to wane the memory of McClellan’s role in the Civil War. Like any career, his had its ebbs and flows. But for a time, perhaps George B. McClellan was the right man for the job, coming to Washington’s rescue in July 1861 and again when he rode through the night to reach his army’s camps around Rockville in September 1862. Despite this, he, like George Gordon Meade, appears to have been left behind it all.

McClellan Gun Club sign

It’s blurry, but that’s George Meade on the McClellan Gun Club sign. I guess they both shared the same first name, right?