Sunday, June 30, 2013

As Ewell's Corps Marched to Gettysburg Where Was His Chief Engineer?

Where was Henry Richardson on June 30, 1863, as everyone was preparing for the battle? Ewell had apparently forgotten to tell certain key people that plans were changed and that he was heading south. Suppose Henry had missed the battle: a lowly captain's absence wouldn't have made much difference. But Ewell did depend on him for reconnaissance, and would be mighty angry if he wasn't there when needed. So where was Henry, and what were his excuses in case he wasn't in the right place? Here's a brief extract from my forthcoming book about Henry and his family:

By June 27th General Ewell’s Cumberland column had reached Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  Ewell’s objective then was to sever the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad and capture the state capital at Harrisburg.  One of General Early’s brigades had already reached the Susquehanna River and Early was preparing to move against Harrisburg from the south. Meanwhile, however, Lee had learned that the Army of the Potomac had crossed the Potomac, and called an abrupt halt to the Second Corp’s advance.  Ewell’s disappointment did not show in his report:
From [Carlisle] I sent forward my engineer, Captain [H. B.] Richardson, with General Jenkins's cavalry, to reconnoitre the defenses of Harrisburg, and was starting on the 29th for that place when ordered by the general commanding to join the main body of the army at Cashtown, near Gettysburg. 
Thus, Henry found himself on the outskirts of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on June 29th, along with two other officers from Ewell’s staff. Two weeks earlier Union volunteers had begun to throw up earthworks on high ground opposite the city on the western bank of the Susquehanna.  By the time Henry arrived, the new Union fortifications, baptized Fort Washington, were largely completed, and manned by 12,000 ill-trained militia men.   
Henry and his companions probably found Jenkins at Peace Church near Mechanicsville.  Jenkins had already sent out scouting parties on both sides of the main roads and when he described the lay of the land to Henry, it became clear that the best viewpoint over the fortifications was from Slate Hill, just southwest of Harrisburg.  Jenkins detailed a company of his cavalry to accompany Henry and his companions for more detailed reconnaissance.  In order that they might not be disturbed by Union patrols along the way, Jenkins’s main force began a diversionary artillery barrage against Union picket lines which had been sent out from Fort Washington.  The barrage lasted a good two hours, which was sufficient for Henry and his companions to complete their reconnaissance.
The view from Slate Hill 150 years later: the site of Fort Washington on the high ground to the left of Harrisburg

Henry’s two companions returned to Carlisle that evening, and reported to Ewell that Union forces around Harrisburg were scarcely prepared to meet a Confederate attack.  But it was already too late.  Lee’s orders  arrived about the same time as the reconnaissance report, and  Ewell immediately began the movement southward. 
It is not certain, however, that Henry Richardson returned to Carlisle on June 29th in time to leave with Ewell.  Jed Hotchkiss, who shared a mess with Henry, wrote in his diary, for June 29th:
Captain Johnson and Major Clark came up last night and went with Richardson down to near Harrisburg, today, to reconnoiter.  Johnson and Clark came back and spent the night with me.
Hotchkiss didn't say whether or not Henry returned with Johnson and Clark, although he should have known, since they were all quartered in Carlisle Barracks. Perhaps, thinking that Hotchkiss's spaces would be too crowded to sleep four officers, Henry found a bunk elsewhere. On the other hand, if Henry stayed with Jenkins near Mechanicsville, he did not return to Carlisle until June 30.  There, Jenkins found that Ewell had already left with Rodes's Division, moving about 31 miles south to Heidlersburg, where they camped for the night.  Jenkins followed them as far as Petersburg (now York Springs), which they reached about 2:00 A.M. on July 1st. Jenkins's Brigade did not rejoin Ewell's Corps until late in the afternoon of July 1st at Gettysburg.  
Whether or not Henry Richardson spent the night at Petersburg, he was well aware that Ewell would need all his staff at hand to coordinate movements, and eventually to carry out reconnaissance. Therefore, if he was not already riding with Ewell, he probably rejoined his staff, five miles down the road at Heidlersburg early on the morning of July 1st, but certainly at Middletown (now Biglerville), which Rodes's Division had reached toward 10:00 A.M. that morning. 

So it seems that Henry Richardson did not miss the first hours of the battle after all.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

150 Years Ago Today Ewell's 2nd Corps Was Moving Toward Gettysburg

Ewell had taken command of the Second Corps only a few days before on June 1st. He had followed Lee's advice and retained most of Jackson's staff, who knew how the Corps functioned from a practical point of view. Jackson's Corps Engineer James Boswell had been killed in the same friendly fire tragedy that brought Jackson down at Chancellorsville; Ewell replaced Boswell with Captain Henry Brown Richardson, who had previously been his and Early's Division Engineer. Lee had chosen Ewell to lead the advance through the Shenandoah Valley because he had been with Jackson during the first Valley campaign, and therefore knew the Valley well. Here is an excerpt from my forthcoming book:
Elements of Longstreet’s First Corps began moving up the Rappahannock on June 3 [1873], and Ewell’s Corps followed soon after, with headquarters breaking camp on June 5.  They were headed back toward the Shenandoah Valley, where Ewell’s men would be expected to clear the way for another invasion of the North.   Ewell’s Corps reached Front Royal in the Valley on June 12 and headed quickly toward Winchester.  On June 13, Ewell and his lieutenants mounted a perfectly planned and executed attack on the strongly fortified Federal garrison which numbered about 7000 men.  While Robert Rodes's Division moved north to cut off a Federal retreat, Edward Johnson’s Division took up positions directly south of town, and Jubal Early’s Division climbed the mountains to the west, from where they overpowered federal artillery positions protecting the town.  Perceiving their hopeless situation, Federal troops began their retreat the following morning.  Ewell had foreseen this move, however, and had ordered Johnson’s division to intercept them, which he did near Stephenson’s Depot northeast of town.  In all, Ewell’s Corps took 4000 Union prisoners in and around Winchester.
In fact, this was almost a repeat performance of the first battle of Winchester, except that Ewell had considerably more men under his command, and the advantage of hindsight, which enabled him to correct errors made during the first Valley campaign. Henry Richardson also remembered the first battle of Winchester, when as an ordinary soldier and mounted orderly for General Richard Taylor, he had received special mention for reconnaissance of enemy positions, which soon led to a commission as Lieutenant, CSA Engineers.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Another Writer's Trap

Yes, I am still bogged down in the First Great Awakening.
The research becomes so interesting that I don't want to leave it. The other problem is that I have to squeeze three books down into about three paragraphs (in order to avoid breaking the thrust of the main narrative) and that is really hard work.
What's needed is a simple but accurate summary of complex ideas. For example, it looks as though Jonathan Edwards started out as the last great defender of Puritan ideals.  He was in no way reactionary, however, since he based his theology on the "new science" of Newton and Locke. Then he quickly evolved to lay the theological and experiential foundations of the revival movement, which has been such an important continuing force in American Protestantism.
And since John Locke was such an important influence on Edwards, I had to go back and review some of his stuff.  Fortunately these men's writings are available for free on the internet, because my bookshelves are full.
Only two of my ancestors probably read as much of this as I have: the Reverend David Thurston of Winthrop, Maine and the Reverend Henry Richardson, and they came along much later.  Those living in Edwards's time were ordinary working people, but they were regular church goers, and thus in the middle of the actual revival controversies. So the book will have a few more paragraphs about that.
Now, back to the real work.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

If Jonathan Edwards Could Inspire Backsliding Puritans, There May Also be Hope for Lazy Writers.

I've been making better progress on this book lately. What's my secret? Plain old self discipline. I have somehow been able to work straight through every morning this week between breakfast and lunch.  That has meant three to five hours of writing, but it doesn't mean I have covered much space.  I seem to be advancing at the rate of one paragraph per hour.

It's not that I'm trying to cover a lot of space these days.  I've already got enough words for a book–more than 100,000 of them, most written a few years ago when I was younger and faster.  My problem now is filling in the holes that I left open the first time through because they were kind of tough to deal with.

This week my tough spot has been The First Great Awakening.  That's the religious revival of the 1730's-40's, NOT the problem of getting up in the morning.  How did I get that far back in history? If you've read the side bands, you noted that I'm also checking out Henry's ancestors and the how the big events of their times may have affected them and perhaps Henry. I can't overlook religious movements because Henry's father and grandfather were both Congregational ministers.

The two giant figures of The First Great Awakening were Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield.  The latter is pretty easy to deal with because he is mainly known as an eloquent and tireless preacher, but Edwards was something else.  It's not easy to get your head around his theology, but to the extent that you do, it's worth it.  And I write that as a staunch agnostic.  Perhaps that's why I've put off facing these religious questions.

I'm taking today off for blogging, but next week I may deal with The Second Great Awakening.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sorry for That Bad Arithmetic, Of Course I know that Gettysburg was 148 Years Ago

I have corrected that unfortunate figure on most but not all editions of this blog.

I Almost Never Happened, But My Ancestor Managed to Survive Gettysburg 148 Years Ago Today

Here we are at an important date in history, which also happens to be my birthday.  Being as egocentric as most, I tend to forget about the history and think of my own important dates.  But today Paul Krugman's Blog sent me over to the Youtube movies about Gettysburg, which are really worth seeing even if not quite professional.

These films reminded me that 148 years ago today my great grandfather lay critically wounded in a Confederate field hospital improvised in a Gettysburg farmhouse.  The day before, Henry had ridden to the southeastern edge of town with General Ewell, in order to get a better view of Union defenses on Cemetery Hill. Henry was Chief Engineering Officer for Ewell's 2nd Corps, but Ewell relied on him as much for reconnaissance as for engineering.  In any case, they had not gone very far when both were hit by Union sniper fire from a distance which both thought too great for accuracy.

In Ewell's case, the "wound" was not serious, because the bullet hit his wooden leg, and he could easily replace it with the spare that he kept back at his command post. Henry was not so lucky.  The bullet hit him near the shoulder blade and lodged next to his lung, where it stayed til the end of his life.  So that is why he lay inert and helpless as the battle raged nearby on July 3rd.

On July 4th, Lee's defeated army prepared to withdraw to Virginia, but the Confederate medics decided that Henry's condition was too serious to permit him to be moved. Henry never expressed much gratitude - at least not in writing - for the care he received from Union doctors who probably saved his life.  He was even less appreciative of those who took care of him for the next year and a half at the prisoner of war camp on Johnson's Island, Ohio.

Fortunately, this ancestor was so tough, as his survival enabled me to enjoy this Happy Birthday 148 years later.

Friday, July 1, 2011

This Book is Progressing Too Slowly. Suggestions Please.

Yesterday, I realized that I hadn't made any real progress on this book for several months now.  About the same time, I received an email from a so-called self publishing service, with advice on how to finish a book really fast.  The essential idea was to isolate oneself from as many distractions as possible by holing up in a cheap hotel, subsisting on deliveries of pizza and Chinese food, and to do nothing but write.  There were other good suggestions such as how to make an outline with 300 3x5 cards sorted out on the floor, and how to boost self discipline by forcing oneself to write 2000 words before breakfast.

But the essential lesson for me was that I was trying to spread myself too thin.  I used to be able to multi-task a little, but I'm getting too old for that.  So, I am going to try to isolate myself a little more during this month of July.  That means that I'm going to suspend my two other blogs and make posts here shorter.  I may also shirk my share of household chores by ordering Chinese and pizza instead of cooking and shopping.

I guess Henry, my ancestor, had similar problems.  When he was young he wrote lots of beautiful long letters, but they got fewer and farther between as he grew older and became immersed in a responsible job.

If you have any suggestions, please comment.