Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Civil War - Third Year
That is not to say that duty in Northern Virginia during the winter months had been pleasant. They were kept busy building and maintaining roads and bridges. It had been a bitter cold winter with more rain and snow than usual. But in winter quarters, there was safety from combat if not from disease and the boredom of winter quarters.
Also, the knowledge that the 128th Pennsylvania Regiment would be home soon, their nine month tour expiring on May 14, 1863, gave the Lehigh County citizens something to look forward to. Extensive plans were being made for a celebration of the return of the popular veterans of the Battle of Antietam. But this was not to be. Looming on the horizon was the ambitious campaign of General Hooker to flank the Confederate left by moving across the Rapidan River at Chancellorsville.
Just a mere twelve days before the 128th was scheduled to be discharged, the men found themselves locked in battle with the famed troops of General "Stonewall" Jackson. And to make matters worse for the folks at home the regiment that received the initial thrust of Jackson's troops was the 153rd Pennsylvania of Northampton County, all alone on the extreme right flank of the 11th Corps.
This "bad luck" regiment in which many Lehigh Countians served (Companies D & G), was smashed by an overwhelming and powerful force. On dropping back to protect the flank, now fully exposed, the men of the 128th were caught in a confusing night maneuver which found them within the lines of the enemy. About thirty men from Lehigh County were taken prisoner including Captain Huber of Company G.
Confederate General Thomas Jefferson "Stonewall" Jackson was shot and severely wounded by one of his own pickets when he ventured beyond the Confederate lines. Initially, his left arm was amputated in an effort to save him, but he would die several days later from pneumonia and complications from his wound.
The prisoners had all been paroled and returned to Harrisburg by May 19th and the two Lehigh County companies were mustered out with the rest of the regiment. A reception for the two companies of the 128th PVI was held on Thursday, May 21st in Allentown.
Company D of the 128th left Lehigh County with 84 men and returned with 75 - 2 were killed in battle, 2 died, 2 were discharged and 3 deserted. The 2 killed in battle were: Franklin Bloss and George Keck. Sylvester Burgen and Lew Frankenfield died; Edward Bloss and Theodore Seigfried were discharged and James Albright, Victor Faringer and James A. Jackson deserted.
Company G of the 128th left Lehigh County with 100 men and returned with 84 - 4 were killed in battle, 5 died, 3 discharged and 4 deserted. Henry Weller, Henry Lucenbill, Meno Miller and Franklin S. Ritter were killed in combat. Willoughby Knauss, Andrew Flata, L.W.O. Gorantio, Tilghman Jacoby and William Mertz died. J. Berkenmeyer, Hugh O. Davis and Franklin J. Keck were discharged and Charles A. Pfeiffer, Thomas J. Raynes, John P. Weaver and Joseph Barriss deserted. Barriss returned voluntarily and was transferred to the 145th PVI.
George Keck and Franklin S. Ritter are buried in the Union and West End Cemetery.
Local newspaper articles carried word of the deaths of Sgt. Charles Heil of the 176th and Henry Huff and Corporal J. Franklin Weiss of the 54th. There is no indication that Heil or Huff were returned home for burial. Corporal J. Franklin S. Weiss, Co. K of the 54th Pennsylvania Regiment was returned to Allentown and is buried in the Union section of the Union and West End Cemetery. The mood in Allentown was somber.
On June 16 the Confederate forces of General Robert E. Lee, began to cross the Potomac into Maryland on their way to Pennsylvania. The scene at Harrisburg was perfect panic. People began fleeing the city with their valuables piled high on wagons. State Officials drafted a directive which provided for all able bodied men between the ages of 18 to 60 to be accepted for Militia duty. In all, five militia companies were raised in Lehigh County. The emergency militia units, however, did not see action at Gettysburg.
After the discovery on June 30 that Gettysburg was occupied by a division of Federal cavalry, the Confederates on July 1 sent the divisions of Major General Henry Heth and Major General William Pender of Hill's Corps, down the Chambersburg Road to drive Gen. Buford away and occupy Gettysburg. The battle began at 5:30 a.m., when shots were exchanged over Marsh Creek. In the face of Buford's resistance, Heth pushed on cautiously until he reached a point about two miles west of Gettysburg. Here he deployed two brigades in line, and pressed ahead; it was nearly 10 a.m. Federal General John F. Reynolds, commanding I Corps, arrived on the field at this point, and determined to engage Herb. He ordered I Corps and Major General Oliver 0. Howard's XI Corps to march to Gettysburg. Soon after 10.30 a.m., I Corps arrived and engaged Heth along McPherson's Ridge. By 11.30 a.m., Heth had been defeated and forced to withdraw to Herr Ridge. Early in the action, Reynolds was killed, and field command devolved upon Howard. A lull now settled over the field as both sides brought up reinforcements. Howard left one division in reserve on Cemetery Hill. His strategy was simple: delay the Confederates long enough to enable the rest of the Federal army to concentrate. Lee arrived on the field after noon. He had initially hoped to avoid a general engagement since the strength of the enemy was unknown, and the terrain in the Gettysburg area unfamiliar. But, soon after noon, Rodes's division of Ewell's Corps arrived on Oak Hill and attacked the right of I Corps. At 2 p.m. Heth's division joined the attack on I Corps. At 3 p.m., the battle spread north of the town when Jubal Early's division of Ewell's Corps attacked down the Harrisburg Road and crushed the flank of XI Corps. At about the same time, west of Gettysburg, Pender's division relieved Heth and assaulted I Corps' position along Seminary Ridge. By 4 p.m., both Federal corps were in retreat through Gettysburg to Cemetery Hill. Federal losses numbered slightly over 9,000, including some 3,000 captured, compared with Confederate losses of about 6,500. The day's action had resulted in a Confederate victory, but Federal forces held onto the high ground south of Gettysburg, where their position was soon strengthened by reinforcements.
Next day, July 2, 1863, the success of his army in the fighting on July 1 encouraged Lee to renew the battle on July 2. An early morning reconnaissance of the Federal left revealed that their line did not extend as far south as Little Round Top. Lee directed Longstreet to take two divisions of I Corps and march south until they reached the flank of the Federal forces. They would attack from this point, supported by a division of A.P. Hill's corps - a total force of nearly 20,000 men. While Longstreet carried out the main offensive, Ewell was ordered to conduct a demonstration against the Federal right. However, he was given discretion to mount a full-scale attack should the opportunity present itself. The Federal army was well prepared for Lee's offensive. Six of its seven corps had arrived on the battlefield, and VI Corps was making a thirty-six-mile forced march to reach it. Meade had deployed his army in a fish-hook-shaped formation, with the right on Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill, the center along Cemetery Ridge, and the left on Little Round Top. The left of the Federal line was held by Major General Daniel Sickles's III Corps. Sickles was dissatisfied with his assigned position and in the early afternoon, without orders, he advanced his line nearly half a mile west in order to take advantage of the high open ground around a nearby peach orchard. Soon after Sickles took up this new position, Longstreet attacked. Third Corps was hard pressed and Meade sent V Corps and part of 11 Corps to reinforce Sickles in the Peach Orchard. But, after furious fighting, Longstreet's forces broke through, causing Sickles's entire line to collapse. The Confederates pursued to the base of Little Round Top, but Federal reinforcements, including elements of VI Corps, checked their advance. Farther north, elements of a division of the Confederate III Corps advanced to the slopes of Cemetery Ridge before they too were forced to retire. On the Federal right, Ewell did not attack until evening, after Longstreet's onslaught had subsided. The effort to storm Cemetery Hill was ultimately unsuccessful. Ewell's attacks were also repulsed at Culp's Hill, although a foothold was gained near the base of the hill. The second day's fighting had cost each army some 9,000 casualties. Lee's forces had again gained ground, but had failed to dislodge the Federal army from its strong position.
On the third day, July 3, 1863, Lee's confidence was unshaken by the events of July 2. That night, he ordered Longstreet, who had been reinforced by Major General George Pickett's division, to renew his assault on the Federal left. Simultaneously, Ewell, who had also been reinforced, was to storm Culp's Hill. Stuart's cavalry, which had rejoined the army late that day, was ordered to march well east of Gettysburg, and attempt to penetrate to the Federal rear where they might disrupt communications and distract Meade. Meanwhile, Meade had determined to hold his position and await Lee's attack. However, at Culp's Hill he authorized XII Corps to drive Ewell's forces out of the captured Federal trenches at daylight. The Federal effort opened with a concentrated artillery bombardment which precipitated a tremendous musketry battle. With Ewell already engaged, Lee rode to Longstreet's headquarters to observe his preparations for the attack on the Federal left. Longstreet misunderstood his orders and was planning instead a movement to turn the Federal left. With the hope of a coordinated attack now lost, Lee was forced to modify his plans. He determined to shift his main attack to the Federal center on Cemetery Ridge. Longstreet was placed in command of the effort. The plan was first to subject the Federal position to bombardment by nearly 140 cannon, then to send Pickett, Pettigrew and half of Trimble's divisions (formerly Heth's and Pender's) - nearly 12,000 men - forward to smash the Federal center. While Longstreet made his preparations during the morning, Ewell's forces were defeated in their counterattacks on Culp's Hill, and withdrew around 11:00 a.m. At l:00 p.m., Longstreet opened the great bombardment of the Federal line. The Federal army replied with approximately 80 cannon and a giant duel ensued which lasted for nearly two hours. After the bombardment subsided, the infantry went forward. This has subsequently been known throughout history as "Pickett's Charge." Federal artillery, followed by musketry, cut their formations to pieces and inflicted devastating losses. A small Confederate force effected one small penetration of the Federal line, but was overwhelmed. The attack ended in disaster, with nearly 5,600 Confederate casualties. Meanwhile, three miles east of Gettysburg, Stuart's cavalry was engaged by Federal cavalry under Brigadier General David Gregg. The cavalry clash was indecisive, but Stuart was neutralized and posed no threat to the Federal rear. The battle was effectively over. Federal losses numbered approximately 23,000, while estimates of Confederate losses range between 20,000 and 28,000.
The Battle of Gettysburg; three days of hellish fighting that ended with General Lee escaping back across the Potomac. Only two Lehigh units were engaged at Gettysburg. The Lehigh companies were attached to the 46th PVI and the 147th PVI. The 46th was lightly engaged but the 147th was in the thick of things. The 153rd from Northampton County, which contained many lehigh County men, also saw considerable action at Gettysburg.
The Lehigh Valley took little notice of the Battle of Gettysburg, but was relieved that Lee had once again retreated to Virginia. Also, very little notice was taken of the dedication of the first National Cemetery at Gettysburg or of President Lincoln's speech (November 19, 1863).
After Gettysburg, General Lee moved his Confederate forces south of the Rapidan River where they built entrenchments to prevent further pursuit by the Federal Army. There were a few minor clashes as each probed at the other seeking a weakness in the defenses. For the most part, nothing disturbed the existence of the two armies, each positioned on one side or the other of the Rapidan River.
South of Virginia, Things were heating up in Tennessee.
Battle of Chattanooga
The Battle of Chattanooga took place in November 1863. It resulted from the defeat of the Union's Army of the Cumberland, commanded by Ohioan William Rosecrans, at the Battle of Chickamauga. Following Chickamauga, the Army of the Cumberland regrouped at Chattanooga. Confederate forces seized the heights, including Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain, surrounding the city. Southern artillery prevented supply trains or reinforcements from reaching Rosecrans's army, while it also prohibited the Northerners from retreating. The Northern soldiers were in a dire situation. They had to surrender, starve, or attack a larger, well-fortified force. This set the stage for the Battle of Chattanooga.
Union military officials immediately dispatched reinforcements to the Army of the Cumberland, including twenty thousand men from Virginia under Joseph Hooker in October and an additional sixteen thousand men under Ohioan William T. Sherman from Mississippi. General George Thomas, the man most responsible for saving the Army of the Cumberland at Chickamauga, replaced Rosecrans, although Ohioan Ulysses S. Grant assumed overall command of Hooker's, Thomas's, and Sherman's men in October.
Upon arriving to take command of the Union forces, Grant immediately set about opening a safe supply line. He succeeded in doing so on October 28. For the next three weeks, Grant plotted his next move. It came on November 23, following the arrival of Sherman's troops to bolster the Union force. On that day, Grant ordered General Thomas to attack Confederate soldiers at Orchard Knob. The union soldiers drove the Southerners from the field. The next day, under the cover of fog, General Hooker attacked the Confederate stronghold of Lookout Mountain, securing the vast majority of the mountain for the Northerners.
Although the Northerners had enjoyed some initial success, Confederate forces still held Missionary Ridge. Grant ordered his men to attack this position on November 25. General Sherman was to attack the right flank, while Hooker attacked the left. Unfortunately for the Northern troops, Hooker's men faced difficulty crossing Chickamauga Creek and did not launch their attack at the planned time. This left Sherman's men facing the Confederate troops alone. Grant ordered General Thomas, who commanded soldiers in the front of the Confederate army, to attack rifle pits at the foot of the ridge. Grant hoped that this attack would divert some of the Confederates attacking Sherman's force and give Hooker time to make his assault. Thomas men easily captured the Confederate position and then launched an all out assault against the center of Missionary Ridge. Although Grant had not ordered the charge, Thomas's Army of the Cumberland succeeded in driving the Southerners from the ridge, thus bringing the Battle of Chattanooga to a close and securing virtually all of Tennessee for the Union, at least for the time being.
In March, 1864, General Ulysses S. Grant met with President Lincoln who placed him in charge of all Union Armies. He was the overall commander of all Federal forces in the field.
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