Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Bleak Winter: 1862-1863

The Twenty-seventh Indiana infantry perhaps gets lost in the shuffle of hard fighting regiments of the civil war. Formed in July and August of 1861, these men came mostly from the south central section of the state, representing eight different counties. (Putnam and Daviess counties each contributed two companies.) By December of 1862 the had proven there mettle in the Valley at Cedarville and Winchester, and in Maryland at Antietam. At the time of the Battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862, the Twenty-seventh was just beginning to move toward the main body of the Army of the Potomac from the upper Potomac. As part of the Third Brigade, First Division, Twelfth Army Corps, they were picketing the river after the battle at Antietam between Williamsport and the mouth of the Antietam below Sharpsburg.[1]
Thirty-four years after the war, Edmund R. Brown wrote the history of the Twenty-seventh. He tells the reader that the regiment had missed the the bloody repulse at Fredericksburg and the feeling of the men at the time:

The same day we had started from Dam Number Four, our comrades at the front had dutifully moved out to assail the impregnable positions of the enemy about Fredericksburg. As we had journeyed laboriously along, making our tiresome marches, they had been fighting a hopeless, but heroic, battle. It was getting to be an old story, sickening its repetition, but we were forced to hear it once more: Our side had lost! This explained our current dillatoriness.” [2]

The Twenty-seventh had reached Fairfax Station by this time, and the Twelfth Corps was undergoing a series of forward motions, retreats, and full stops during the days following Fredericksburg. They would soon go into winter quarters there, to be rousted out by the second of Ambrose Burnside's winter campaigns; the Mud March. They would finally settle in for the winter, near Stafford Court House, not to be terribly disturbed until the Spring campaigning season.
Flag of the 27th Regiment Indiana Volunteer Infantry
The Winter of 1862-63 may have been the darkest for the Army of the Potomac during the whole of the war. Not only had Fredericksburg been devastating for much of the army, large portions (including the Twenty-seventh Indiana) had suffered through Pope's Virginia campaign and subsequent rout, Antietam, and earlier, the Seven Days down on the Virginia Peninsula. The army as a whole had been battered unmercifully with scarcely a regiment not experiencing some of the horrors. Add to that the dismissal of George McClellan, the favorite of the original Potomac troops, then prospects for a bright outcome were dim. The wet, cold winter weather did not help matters. It was during this winter that Brown in his history recalls the orders to guard against desertion.
For a while we had orders to shoot any person approaching the picket line from the inside [of the camp] without the countersign. And:

They were deserting at this time at the rate of nearly 300 a day.” [3]
Although Brown quickly points out that desertion was not much of a problem for the Hoosiers, he mentions the anti war sentiments, bordering on outright treason, contained in letters from home. He says these sentiments were “Wholly lost on the Twenty-seventh” and the men responded with letters of reply denouncing such rhetoric. [4]
Federal Soldiers under fire in the streets of Fredericksburg,
The Twenty-first Massachusetts was at Fredericksburg. They had very nearly been among the first troops to conduct an amphibious assault under fire on December 11, 1862. They, along with the 51st New York were ordered to use the pontoons for the bridges as boats, cross the river and clean out the Rebels that held the town. When they arrived at the riverbank, they were too late, as the 7th Michigan, 19th and 20th Massachusetts had already went across. The 21st and 51st returned to their camps. [5] They would have plenty to do in a couple of days though.
On the 13th, the Twenty-first watched as regiments of the Second Corps dashed themselves against Marye's Heights. Shortly after noon they would be ordered against the rebels on the same heights. They would reach a point about two hundred yards from the stone wall where they would shelter in a slight depression for the remainder of the day, unable to press the attack or retire without terrible casualties. It was here they were fired on by friendly troops. A raw regiment, the 163rd New York had crossed the same ground at a later time. Having been shaken by artillery and musketry from the Rebels, they began firing through the 21st Massachusetts. Only after bitter cursing from the Massachusetts men did they stop and the bulk hastily departed to the rear. A few would advance to the declivity and join the Twenty-first.[6] After dark they were relieved and returned to Fredericksburg, and would cross the Rappahannock on the 16th of December. They would leave behind 13 dead, 52 wounded and one captured. [7]
The Twenty-first Massachusetts would also soon go into winter quarters on the east bank of the Rappahannock River. They would be subject to Rebel incursions, rather visits, near Christmas. The author of the History of the Twenty-First Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers in the War for Preservation of the Union, Charles F. Walcott relates an interesting story. It seems that some Union soldiers had crossed the river to make merry the season with the rebels, at their invitation, on Christmas Eve. A few nights later a group of Rebels crossed the river, to make merry with their Yankee friends, again by invitation. They were arrested and made prisoners. When the true story behind the incursion came out, they were released and sent back to the Confederate lines. [8]
The Massachusetts men would also be involved in the Mud March, albeit indirectly. They, being a part of the Ninth Corps, would be part of a proposed attack on Marye's Height to keep part of Lee's army occupied while Burnside moved down the Rappahannock to attack Lee's left. The winter storm that blew through that area and gave the movement its sobriquet also canceled the proposed attack on the heights. [9]
The Mud March
The 21st (all of the 9th Corps) would remove from the Army of the Potomac in February. Walcott writes in a diary entry for February 25, 1863:
The corps seemed to enter on a new life since it left the jealousies and chilling influences of the Army of the Potomac, and we had a splendid review.” [10]
Part of those “jealousies and chilling influences” were no doubt the product of Ambrose Burnside, or rather his subordinates. He had written an order dismissing from the service several of the generals of the Army of the Potomac, “subject to the approval of the President of the United States.” Among them was his eventual replacement, Major General Joe Hooker, the commander of the Center Grand Division. Burnside charged him with being guilty of:
unjust and unnecessary criticisms of the actions of his superior officers, and of the authorities, and having, by the general tone of his conversation, endeavored to create distrust in the minds of officers who have associated with him, and having, by omissions and otherwise, made reports and statements which were calculated to create false impressions, and for habitually speaking in disparaging terms of other officers..., as a man unfit to hold a commission during a crisis like the present...” [11]

All told, this order, number 8, would request the dismissal of ten generals from brigade to corps level. The charges were much the same as those levied against Hooker, and in the estimation of Burnside, none were fit to hold command. The order was never officially issued since implementation was dependant on Lincolns approval, which he withheld. This order was presented to Lincoln in person by Burnside. In their meeting the general told the president that if the order was not approved, then the only option left was that he resign as commander of the army. On January 25, Burnside was relieved of command, “at his own request” and the same order elevated Hooker to the command of the Army of the Potomac. [12]
Yes, the winter of '62-'63 was bleak indeed for the Army of the Potomac. 1862 had definitely not been kind to them. From the top down. And 1863 was still unknown and yet to be reckoned with. 
The Picket

1- The Twenty-seventh Indiana Volunteer Infantry in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865, Brown, Edmund Randolph, pages 273-274 retrieved from
2-Ibid page 282
3- Ibid, page 289
4- Ibid page 290
5- History of the Twenty-first Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers in the War for the Preservation of The Union, 1861-1865, Walcott, Charles F., page 238, retrieved from googlebooks,
6-Ibid, pages 241-244
7-Ibid, page 250
8-Ibid, pages 257-258
9- Ibid, pages 259-261
10-Ibid, page 263
11- War of the Rebellion, Records of the Union and Confederate Armies [O.R.] Series 1, Volume 21, Part 1, pages 998-999 retrieved from ehistory,
12-Ibid, pages 1004-1005
Photo credits

Our soldiers in streets of Fredericksburg” Alfred Waud drawing, appeared in Harpers Weekly, volume 7, number 291, January 3, 1863. from Library of Congress,

Winter Campaigning. The Army of the Potomac on the move.” Sketched near Falmouth, Virginia, January 21, 1863 by Alfred R. Waud. From Library of Congress,

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