Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Charles Heckman's Report on Roanoke Island 1862

On February 9,1862, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Heckman, of Phillipsburg, filed a report with NJ Governor Olden on the Ninth NJ Volunteer Regiment's actions during the Roanoke Island battle.

Heckman wrote, "Sir, I have the honor to report the following as the part taken by New Jersey's Ninth regiment in yesterday's battle, and victory of the 
union forces.  About three P.M. on the seventh, under cover of the heavy cannonade of our navy, our little army composed of three brigades, first, General John G. Foster; second, General Jesse L. Reno; third, General John G. Parke, effected an unopposed landing.  It bivouacked in a cornfield, and under the beating of a piteously severe storm gained its first experience in practical service.  At six A.M. on the eighth the command 'forward' was given.  The advance (Foster's brigade) soon engaged the enemy, and notwithstanding the obstacles encountered steadily pushed forward, and finally forced the enemy behind his works, but could make no further progress.  The foe was thoroughly entrenched in a fort (Defiance) located on the north side of a clearing, about four hundred yards square, on a point of land protected by water in its front and right and left flanks, which they believed to be impassable for troops.  The only solid ground available to the Union troops was a narrow cart road, which led from our bivouac ground in a southerly direction for about two miles, when it changes direction to the eastward, and at about two hundred yards further on, again changes to the north for the same distance, when it is cut by the ditch of the fort.  The nature of the ground prevented any proper formation for assault, and Foster's brigade was held in check by the well-directed artillery and small arms of the enemy.  Meanwhile, the men of the second brigade, who remained inactive about a quarter of a mile from the forces engaged, waited eagerly for orders to advance to the relief of their comrades.  Presently, in their stead, stretchers bearing the dead and wounded passed by them i9n a narrow road to the rear.  I greatly feared its effect on my raw troops, but the tremor was only momentary.  At eight o'clock an orderly appeared and delivered an order for the Ninth New Jersey to pass the Fifty-first New York (the Twenty-first Massachusetts men deployed on our left flank) and re3port at the front to General Foster, commanding the troops engaged. That order was executed in quick time, with files well closed up.  The general ordered me to form regiment in column by company, enter the swamp on our left, and engage the enemy.  Into the swamp, thigh deep in mud and water, the Ninth advanced to the edge of the timber, when it formed column by division at half distance, about one hundred yards from the right front of the fort, which completely covered the cart road, and defied assault from that direction.  Our first division opened a vigorous fire, which was returned with great vehemence.  The part of the regiment not engaged were orde3red to squat in the water, securing their ammunition from damage.  After a short time the first division was relieved by the second, and at length, the second by the third.  Presently, their effective firing was visible in the sudden slacking of the enemy's musketry.  Their battery still fired rapidly, but doing little damage to us.  Particular attention was now directed to the cannoneers, and the result was soon apparent.  So accurate was the aim of our men that all the guns were silenced except the one in the centre embrasure.  Selecting three marksmen of company D, they, at a given signal, fired into that embrasure, and silenced the last gun fired in defence of Roanoke Island.  

"The victory was ours, but the query, who shall be first to enter the fort was unanswered.   Hawkins' Zouaves (9th New York), 'who had previously made a charge by the road, but were repulsed,' were on solid ground.  One hundred yards of water was between us and the fort.  The order 'charge' was given, and a rush (go-as-you-please) was made, and the Ninth New Jersey (a squad of them) won the prize.  Simultaneously the colonel and major of the Twenty-first Massachusetts, and Major Kimball, of the Ninth New York (Hawkins' Zouaves) entered the works, at opposite points.  Each of them mounted a gun, and gave us a short, impromptu speech, and each claimed to have captured the fort.  And it must have been so, for those of us who were in the battery when they arrived declined to contradict them.  On entering the fort we found but two living souls - one a negro (servant of Colonel Shaw), the other Lieutenant Selden, of Wise's Legion, who was mortally wounded by three rifle balls.  This intrepid Confederate, had alone, as he told me, loaded and fired that centre gun three times, and as he fired his fourth and last round, received a message from those unerring rifles of Company D, which ended his earthly career.  

"On being driven from Fort Defiance, the enemy retreated to the north point of the Island, stacked their arms, and waited the approach of our troops, when an unconditional surrender was made.  The trophies are4 five forts, thirty-three pieces of artillery, two thousand eight hundred prisoners, with small arms, stores, etc.  Fort Defiance was unquestionably the key to the rebel's position, and the occupation of the swamp on it's right flank (by the Ninth New Jersey) secured the great success of the day.  After the battle, the Confederates admitted that they believed it impossible for 'troops to operate in that swamp.'  The loss of the Ninth is nine killed and twenty-five wounded, a full list of which will be sent to you at an early date.  Captain Joseph J. Henry, of Company H, who was killed by a round shot, was an accomplished, genial gentleman, and a gallant officer of great promise.  He fell as he would have chosen to fall, at the head of his division.  Isaac V. D. Blackwell, of Company F, a Christian gentleman, and brave soldier, expired in his brother's arms.  His last words were, 'Remember thy God.'  

"Among the wounded the brave corporal, John Lorence, and Jonathan A. Bural, of Company K, deserve special mention.  They have performed their whole duty to their country, and their country should never forget their sacrifice for the preservation of the Union .  

"The gallant behavior of the officers and men of the regiment, in its first engagement, prevents my making mention of individual bravery.  But I cannot refrain from expressing my admiration for our gallant young adjutant, Abram Zabriskie, who during the whole of the battle manifested the self-possession of a veteran.  That the future of the Ninth will be replete with brilliant deeds, I fully believe; and that the honor of the country and our flag will not be tarnished by any act of hers.  From first to last its conduct was, in the highest, courageous.

"The value of the Union, in this conquest, will readily appear in a glance at a map of Virginia and North Carolina.  It is the key to the rear of all the defences of Norfolk and Portsmouth."        

Friday, August 18, 2017

Robert McAllister's June 1862 Chickahominy River battle report

On June 27, 1862, the 1st New Jersey Regiment fought Confederate troops on the left bank of the Chickahominy River during the Peninsular Campaign in Virginia.  Lieutenant Colonel Robert McAllister, of Oxford Furnace (later of Belvidere) took command during Colonel Alfred T. A. Torbert's malaria illness.

On July 4, Colonel Torbert forwarded McAllister's battle report to the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac.  "Hdqrs. First Regt., First Brig., Sixth P.A.C. [Provisional Army Corps], Camp near James River, Va. July 4, 1862.   Sir: I have the honor to transmit herewith the report of Lt. Col. Robert McAllister, First Regiment New Jersey Volunteers, relating to the part which that regiment took in the engagement on the left bank of the Chickahominy River, on June 27,1862...At the time I was confined to my bed with remittent fever, but being informed that my regiment was going into action I started for the field of battle at once, and arriving there had to go to several points of the same before finding my regiment.  In the meantime I saw part of the  division falling back, and I went to work with other officers to rally and collect the men, and among them part of my own regiment.

"Sergeant-Major [William S.] Provost rendered me much assistance in this task.  From all the information I can gather Lieutenant-Colonel McAllister displayed great bravery and coolness during the action.  I cannot refrain from speaking of the valuable services rendered by Chaplain R. B. Yard in looking after and caring for the wounded and helping collect the regiment.  Surgeon [Charles C.] Gordon and Assistant Surgeon [Philip M.] Senderling did their duty nobly."

McAllister reported, "The First Regiment New Jersey Volunteers, together with the balance of the division, on the 27th of June was ordered across the Chickahominy River to support General Fitz John Porter's corps.  The regiment was hurried to the scene of action, and on forming line of battle was ordered to support a battery which was engaging the enemy.  Soon after General Porter ordered me to advance in the woods to support the Third Regiment New Jersey Volunteers.  Reaching the position ordered I made the regiment lie down, but three companies from the left, being uncovered by any troops in front, I immediately ordered them forward to engage the enemy, which they did most gallantly, Captains [Valentine] Mutchler, [John] Mount, and [Ephraim] Brewster in command.  In a short time the whole regiment was engaged, and a most terrific fire was kept up on both sides for about an hour and a half, while the regiment was engaged.  The regiments on my right and left having fallen back, and the enemy making a movement to outflank me on both sides, I ordered a retreat.

"During the early part of the action Major [David] Hatfield, while fighting bravely, was wounded on the head and had to leave the field.  Soon after I lost the services of Lieut. Frank B. Holt, of Company E, who was severely wounded in the arm, and Lieut. Charles W. Mutchler, Company D, severely wounded in the side.  While retiring from the woods the regiment was under a cross-fire from the enemy, and then it was that we lost both officers and men.  Capt. Ephraim G. Brewster, Company C, fell dead on the field of battle while fighting bravely.  Capt. John D. P. Mount, Company I, fell, severely wounded in the leg. Lieut. John Parker, Company B, missing supposed to be killed.

"Too much cannot be said in praise of Captains [Charles N.] Pelouze, [Enos] Fouratt, [Alexander M.] Way, [I. H.] Baker, and [John W.] Brown, Adjutant [William] Henry [Jr.], and all the lieutenants engaged.  To mention non-commissioned officers who distinguished themselves would be to name nearly all, for both non-commissioned officers and men could not have behaved better under fire."

Monday, July 13, 2015

1865: Henry B. Church at Appomattox

Henry Burnett Church, who was born Airewitt West and who became a runaway and a world traveler, returned to America in 1865 and joined the Union Army in Pennsylvania. 

Church had enlisted in the Confederate 2nd Florida Regiment in August 1861 but deserted to the Union troops after the Seven Pines battle in July 1862.  After traveling the world in the British Merchant Marine, he returned to Philadelphia on the British merchant ship GENERAL BARRY.

On March 8, 1865, he enlisted in Company I of the 210th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment under the name of Charles Gardner.  Church recalled in 1916, "I changed my name when I enlisted because I did not know whether I might be caught by the men I deserted in the 2nd Florida, who would have remembered me by my name, if not in person.  Oh yes, I was able to write my name at enlistment.  I signed my name as Charles Gardner.  The name just came to my mind.  I knew no one of that name and had no relatives of that name either."
In the 210th Penna., Gardner (Church) participated in the battle at Gravelly Run, Virginia on March 17, 1865.  The regiment was assigned to Colonel William Sergeant's 3rd Brigade of Brigadier General Romeyn Ayres' 2nd Division in Major General Gouvenor Warren's  5th Corps.  On April 1, 1865, the 210th Penna. was in the center of the Battle of Five Forks, VA.  During this battle, the 210th Penna. attacked General George Pickett's Virginia troops on the White Oak Road.
Church recalled, "After my enlistment in Philadelphia, we went directly to Petersburg, Virginia and by rail all the way.  We lay there quite a while until the Battle of Five Forks in the later part of March 1865.  From there we went, I think, to Bottoms Bridge [on the Chickahominy River - near where Church had deserted the 2nd Florida] and Pamplin Station, where we had a lot of  [captured Confederate] troops  come to us who did not have any guns...We participated in the Battle of Five Forks and several skirmished along the South side railroad. We had a skirmish also at Bottoms Bridge.  We had a few men killed, but none of our immediate officers were killed...I can't recall any battle at Mrs. Butler's house nor recall such a place, but we were on the White Oak Road.  I remember when I went to get water after the battle of Five Forks, and to fill the canteens with a man from another company, I don't know his name, we saw a lot of wounded men in the yard of a certain house. And there were some in the house, too, all had been wounded in the battle of Five Forks.  We lost quite a few men.  My file closer, Yates, of Adams County, Pennsylvania, was shot in that battle, and I fell over him.  I don;t remember the names of any others that were wounded there nor that were killed there...Yes, we were at Hatcher's Run; the battle was just a few days before I came there.  We were in the siege of Petersburg and very near what was called Fort Hell.
"We went to Appomattox from Pamplin Station, and we were there until after the surrender of [General Robert E.] Lee.  We gave his troops our rations and lived ourselves for several days on corn... They had us march double quick there at Appomattox for making certain remarks about the food.  The quartermaster was late in coming up , and everyone started calling out certain things when he came.  For this we were forced to march double quick, but Lieutenant Thomas M. Fisher, who was our commanding officer, took us out of sight of the camp and allowed us to rest."  Warren County historian Richard Matthews pointed out Fisher was Church's commanding officer later in Company B of the 190th Penna.  Matthews noted Captain James H. Foster was the commanding officer of Company I of the 210th Penna.
After reaching Arlington Heights, VA, Church transferred to Company B, 190th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.  Church recalled, "After the surrender, we marched back to Arlington Heights, Virginia, and about the second day of the march back, we heard of the assassination of [Abraham] Lincoln.  We stayed at Arlington Heights until after the Grand Review of the Armies of the Potomac and of the West, in which my regiment participated.  We then went to Harrisburg. After being mustered out and were paid off, I came home to Philadelphia.  He later moved to Belvidere, NJ where he married.
Copyright 1999-2015: Jay C. Richards

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

May 1864: The Wilderness

On May 4th, 1864, the 11th NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment was a part of Second Corps along with the old 2nd NJ Brigade [5th, 6th, 7th and 8th NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiments].  On that day, the 11th NJ crossed the Rapidan River and joined its new brigade at the Chancellorsville battlefield.  While General Gershom Mott was in command of the third Division, Colonel Robert McAllister, of Belvidere & Oxford Furnace, was in command of the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division. 

On May 5th, the troops entered the dense wooded area of Virginia known as The Wilderness. Lieutenant Colonel John Schoonover, of Oxford Furnace, reported, "After proceeding a very short distance through the dense underbrush, I was directed by the Brigade Commander to form in line of battle, which I did, so far as circumstances would permit.  With the regiments on the right and left crowding, and in the midst of almost impassable underbrush, it was found impossible to form a line of battle in the space I occupied on the road.  There was much confusion in the ranks 'till the regiment reached the crest of the hill, when, by detailing three left companies, I succeeded in placing the remainder of the regiment in proper line.  As yet, we had received no fire from the enemy, except for the occasional shot from the skirmish line, which was returned.  We had been in this position but a short time, when a few volleys of musketry was heard to the extreme left and rear, and immediately, the line the line of the left, as far as I could see, commenced falling back in confusion.  This was rapidly carried to the right, and when the 16th Massachusetts, which was on my immediate left, took up the movement, my regiment followed, and all efforts to rally the men were fruitless. 

"The troops seemed panic-stricken, and for what reason, I was never able to imagine.  They acted as if their only safety was the works which they had so hastily erected.  I desire to mention one exception.  The Color Company and color-guard, under the command of Captain [Edward] Kennedy [of Belvidere], retained its position for sometime after the troops on my right and left had disappeared, and until he received a direct order from me to fall back. The officers upon this occasion, so far as I could see, made every effort to keep their men in kine.  The regiment was reformed on the road, and the report showed a list of twelve wounded.
"At half-past four o'clock, on the morning of the 6th, we again advanced in line of battle through the woods.  We continued to advance slowly until seven o'clock, a.m., when heavy fire was opened by the regiments on my right and left, which was taken up for a short time by my regiment.  I soon, however, succeeded in stopping it, as I considered it perfectly useless, as we were at the time receiving no fire from the enemy - neither was he in sight.  The regiment continued to advance, with frequent halts, until about nine o'clock, a.m., when we received a heavy volley from the enemy.  Advancing some distance further, the line was halted, a skirmish line thrown out, and the regiment remained in this position until shots were received from our left and rear, when a change of front was ordered by Colonel [William]   Sewell, then in command of the 5th, 6th and 11th Regiments.  This change of front took place about half-past ten o'clock, a.m.  At eleven, the enemy was heard advancing in our front, with heavy firing and cheering; soon after, the troops composing the front line passed over us in much confusion.  I then passed along the whole length of my regiment, and directed them to reserve their fire until they received orders.  At this time, there were but few of the enemy's shots passing over us."
Schoonover wrote in his report, "The approaching yell and loud firing gave us sufficient warning of the advance and position of the enemy.  In a few minutes, I directed the regiment to commence firing.  The regiment, with scarcely an exception, acted with perfect coolness.  Not a man flinched.  There seemed to be a determination to retrieve what they had lost the day previous.  The fire was continued for some time, when the regiment on my immediate left fell back.  The one on my right followed.  I turned to ask Colonel Sewell for instruction, and I was told by one of my officers that he had gone to the rear with the remainder of the line. At this time, an officer from the left of the regiment came to me and said that Colonel Sewell had left orders for me to fall back.  As no troops were to be seen on either my right or left, I deemed it proper to do so.  The regiment retired to Brock Road, where it took position in the rear of the second line of works on the left of the 16th Massachusetts.  It remained in this position during the afternoon, assisting in the repulse of the enemy at four o'clock, and also took part in the charge upon the first line of works which had been captured by the enemy, and from which they were driven. At half-past four o'clock, p.m., May 7th, the regiment, after moving to the right of the plank road, with the brigade, was detailed for picket, where it remained until ten o'clock, a.m., the next day. "
Not long after the advance of the earthworks by the 11th NJ and the 16th Massachusetts, Colonel McAllister's horse was killed as he rode it, and a spent musket ball temporarily paralyzed his leg.  The Colonel returned to his brigade the next day.
Schoonover observed, "None who passed through the battle of the Wilderness will ever forget it.  On the night of the 7th, I was picket officer for the division; and this night's duty was one of the most unpleasant I ever performed in the army. To establish a picket line at night, in the almost impenetrable wilderness, would be at any time a difficult task, but in addition to this, it lay through the battleground of the previous day, and in many places the bodies of the dead strewed the ground so thickly that it was difficult to guide my horse among them.  At this point, which was on the right of the plank road, the two lines fought with a small stream between them, and on the brow of the hill on one side, the rebel dead lay in perfect line, for at least 200 yards, so closely as to enable a person to step from one to another for the entire distance."
Similar fighting was experienced by the men of the 15th and 10th NJ Regiments.
Copyright 1997-2014: Jay C. Richards  

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

February 1864: "The Gray Ghost" in Ashby's Gap

On February 19, 1864, Lieutenant Birdsall Cornell, of Company I, 1st NJ Cavalry Regiment, wrote a report to The Belvidere Intelligencer from a camp in Warrenton, Virginia.

Cornell wrote, "An expedition to Ashby's Gap yesterday, under the command of Lt. Colonel John W. Kester, of the 1st N.J. Cavalry, resulted in the capture of 31 of [John S.] Mosby's guerrillas, with their arms, equipments, &c., and about 50 horses.  Mosby, the famous guerrilla chieftain, it seems was absent at Richmond, where he has recently been promoted to Lt. Colonel.  The road that leads from Aldie to Winchester passes through Ashby's Gap, and it was at a small village in the Gap, called Paris, that the 'Rebs' were found, and where they have had their headquarters for some time.  One of the prisoners gave it as his opinion that the guerrilla system of warfare would soon be discontinued in this section, and that Mosby's men would be incorporated in the rebel regular army.  I incline to the belief that this statement is correct, as the sentiment of the people generally, in this portion of the state, is opposed to Mosby and his band of ragamuffins, adventurers and thieves.  They are a set of cut-throats and assassins, void of all those manly and chivalric feelings that inspire to noble deeds, are actuated solely by a spirit of avarice and love of gain, and who plunder alike from friend or foe. 

"The Union citizens of Loudon and Fairfax Counties will owe Lt. Col. Kester a debt of gratitude for capturing a considerable portion of their number, and dispersing the rest.  The only casualties on our side, one horse killed and Captain James H. Hart, of Company A, slightly wounded in the arm.  Capt. Hart is from Bucks County, Pa., and is one of the best officers we have."

Copyright 1997-2014: Jay C. Richards

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Union Soldier Stabbed Near Belvidere, 12 February 1864

On 19 February 1864, The Belvidere Intelligencer filed the following report under the headline "STABBING AFFAIR." 

The report stated, "A mysterious case of stabbing occurred on Friday night last [12 Feb. 1864] near this place, the particulars of which as are as follows, as near as we can learn: A German (name not known), belonging to the 9th NJ Vols., had put some $300 in the hands of Captain [Joseph] Lawrence [of Belvidere, commander of Company H, 9th NJV] to keep for him, and a few days since, he came to Belvidere, in the company of another German, to get his money.  On Friday evening, the two disappeared, and on Saturday morning, the soldier was found a short distance above town, near the Delaware [River], stabbed in the breast, almost insensible.  He was brought back to Cramer's Hotel, where he remains unable to leave.  The other German examined, but as no evidence could be found against him, he was allowed to leave.  We have not learned whether Capt. Lawrence paid him before the stabbing occurred, or not.  The whole affair seems involved in mystery, which we hope will soon be unraveled."

The mystery must have remained unsolved since there were no other news reports on the incident.

Copyright 1997-2014: Jay C. Richards

February 1864: 9th NJ Regt. at Deep Creek, Virginia

Colonel Abram Zabriskie had replaced Charles A. Heckman, of Phillipsburg, as commander of the New Jersey 9th Infantry Regiment in November 1862, after Heckman was promoted to Brigadier General of Volunteers.  In January 1864, Zabriskie secured a furlough for the soldiers who re-enlisted.  On 2 February 1864, the troops on furlough steamed north for Jersey City.  On 4 February, the people of Jersey City sponsored a parade in honor of the men of the Jersey Ninth.  The soldiers were later treated to dinner at Taylor's Hotel.  The men traveled by train to Trenton, where they divided up to return to their home towns.
The men of the Jersey 9th who did not re-enlist remained in Virginia.  They were sent on reconnaissance duty under the command of Lieutenant Thomas Burnett at Deep Creek, Virginia.  Unfortunately, the small reconnaissance group ran into four regiments of Confederate troops under the command of General Robert Ransom.  The group retreated after Privates Albert Nutt and Joel Hulse, both of Company D, were killed.  Their bodies were left behind and were mutilated by some of the rebels.
Brigadier General Heckman, commanding the Suffolk District, was at Getty's Station, Virginia when he received reports of the mutilations.  Heckman sent 500 soldiers to relieve the embattled reconnaissance unit and to drive the Confederate force back into North Carolina. 
Copyright 1997-2014: Jay C. Richards