Historical ruminations and reflections from a Badger horseman
On picket . . .

The gritty tale of Sergeant Major Patrick V. Fitzpatrick and the Ninth Illinois Volunteer Cavalry’s fight near Moscow, Tennessee, December 4, 1863

Sergeant Major Fitzpatrick’s memories of the Ninth Illinois Volunteer Cavalry’s “affair” at Moscow, Tennessee, on December 4, 1863: 

“. . . My recollections of the fight at the long bridge crossing Wolf River at Moscow are about as follows:

After leaving Summerville, the regiment moved south to La Grange, halting, I think, a short while there, and then moved west toward Moscow, arriving at the latter place about 2 o’clock p.m.  There appeared to be some delay in crossing the river, of which the men took advantage to feed their horses and themselves . . .

The command being again ready to move, the regiment in the advance of the Ninth, which, I believe, was the Sixth Illinois Cavalry, had crossed the bridge, when a few shots were fired on the advance, followed by a volley.  Captain Cameron, who was riding at the head of the Ninth, gave the order “forward,” and ordered me when across the bridge to have every fourth man hold horses, and to have the horses led off to the left, out of the way, for security . . . the two leading companies dismounted, or partially so, when the enemy began to fire rapidly, and disclosed a large force greater than we had any idea of.  It was soon decided that [Confederate] General Stephen D. Lee with his entire command, upward of five thousand, were in our front . . .

About this time my pony had both of his forward legs broken by shot, poor little fellow.  How pitiful he looked as I dismounted to leave him . . . Being dismounted, I went toward the bridge to see how things went on there . . . There was great confusion on the bridge.  Men and horses were greatly mixed . . . [soon] the enemy began to close in on our troops, who were falling back rapidly, so that the jam on the bridge was very great.  The planks of the structure got loose and fell into the river, men and horses following; soon the waters under the bridge were covered with planks, men and horses in great confusion.  The fire from the enemy getting closer and hotter, I felt decidedly the opposite of Peter on the mountain; “It was good not to be here,” so I went back to where the horses were, where I was joined by Chief-Bugler Hazel; on looking about me I saw that the enemy was coming quite close to the river along our entire front. . .

During this time the bullets were thrown rather freely and carelessly, and the enemy kept moving toward the Sixth Illinois, driving them back on the bridge . . . the enemy gave a yell and made a charge, completely driving the remainder of our troops back to and into the river . . . I took a hurried glance about me, only to see the enemy very close indeed.  I threw my Spencer carbine into the river, and made a plunge, intending to force myself as far as possible out into the river, and swim the remainder of the distance, which I thought I could do.  I went into the water with my clothing, saber, revolver, belt, heavy boots, and everything that I had when I dismounted from my horse. 

I had no sooner touched the water than I heard a splash back of me and something grasped me by the shoulder; turning my head I saw that it was Hazel . . . he forgot that he could not swim, and seeing me make the plunge, he instantly followed.  The added weight of Hazel’s body on my shoulder stood me straight up in the water.  I managed to keep afloat by paddling with my hands . . . but my clothing and Hazel’s was becoming rapidly saturated with the water of the Wolf River, and after struggling a little while, we both went down under the water.  Coming up again I made desperate efforts with my hands and feet to keep from going down again . . . Thoughts come rapidly to persons in danger such as ours; I know they did to me.  I was young, and did not want to die then, but how to save myself, as long as a strong, powerful man held me in a death grip.  True, he was a friend, but could he, if he would, let go on that score?

 . . . on coming to the surface again, I opened my mouth to tell Hazel to let go, as it would do him no good and was sure to drown both of us if he held on to me . . . [I] made a motion with my shoulder to which he was clinging, when, Heaven be thanked, I found myself free . . . I looked carefully about to see what had become of Hazel.  He was gone; I never saw him again.  I was told afterward that his remains were found next day in the river, shot through the heart.  Poor fellow, I suppose that upon rising from our second immersion, he may have exposed his body sufficiently to the enemy on the banks of the river a little downstream, and was shot.

On gaining a little strength I began to take observation of my surroundings.  I found myself under the bridge and drifting with the current, which would soon bring me, if I could keep afloat, close down to the enemy who were on the bank lower down; fortunately, a dead horse drifted toward me, which I grasped by the tail and raised my head more out of the water to rest before starting out for the opposite side on which were our own troops.  As I was about to let go and strike out I felt a sharp shot in the head and the sensation of a hot, sharp instrument sunk under my scalp for about three inches, and then blank darkness followed.  I knew I was wounded in the head and had lost my sight in consequence, but fortunately, I retained my reason and knew the direction I wanted to go and struck out for the shore, which I reached, and threw myself flat on my face.

I lay under the bridge until I began to grow numb with the cold, it being the 4th of December, and I in the water for so long, besides the loss of blood, I felt quite weak.  I crawled from under the bridge by feeling my way, being directed by the sound of the guns.  I managed to get on the sloping side of the bridge approaches, where I rested.  Soon somebody spoke to me, and asked me if I was much hurt; he said he was back of the stump close by me.  I told him that I was shot in the head, and that I had lost my sight, and asked him to lead me back to the rear.  He replied that the rebs were on the opposite bank, and that if he left where he was that he would surely be killed, and for me to remain where I was until the rebs were driven back, so there I had to lay . . .

I felt myself getting stiff and sore and that I was about to die.  I could feel my limbs straightening out, a drowsy unconsciousness coming over me, and to lose interest in my surroundings, when I was made aware that someone was talking to me.  Lieutenant David Hillier, of Company A, with some men of his troops, happened to come that way, and, seeing me, stopped.  He asked me if I was hurt.  I replied that I was shot and had lost my sight, and how I asked the chap back of the stump to lead me back and what he had said.  I am not sure, but I thought that I heard somebody being kicked and punched, and I think it was that chap back of the stump, and that Dave Hillier had done the kicking and punching. 

Dave said he would lead me back.  I sad that I did not think that I could walk.  He then said that he would carry me.  I told him then I was about gone, anyhow, and that he would only risk his own life, and do no good; he said he didn’t care a damn, that he would not leave me there, and he then told, I think, Sergeant [William] Crawford to form line in front to keep the rebs in place and he would take me on his back and carry me to the rear . . . So brave, big-hearted Dave Hillier carried me on his back to the rear, where the ambulance was waiting.  The ambulance conveyed me to the local hospital of the colored regiment stationed at Moscow, where I was undressed and wrapped up in blankets.  Assistant-Surgeon Stacy Hemenway probed for the ball, which he found divided into two parts; one part had remained where it struck the skull, the other part had traversed about three inches of my head under the scalp, both of which he removed . . .

                           

                                       Assistant Surgeon Stacy Hemenway. Hemenway
                                       removed the bullet, which had split into two pieces,
                                       from Fitzpatrick's head (Image compliments of
                                       Henry Pomerantz)

After a stay of three or four days in the hospital in Moscow, I was removed to our regimental hospital at Collierville, Tennessee, where Surgeon George B. Christy performed the operation which saved my life.  He removed part of the skull which pressed on the brain.  Frank Halladay was then the hospital steward and he administered the chloroform.  Chaplain [Gideon F.] Brayton and [Frederick C.] Feigel were present during the operation, which was both painful and bloody.  However, through the kind nursing I received, I was able to travel, and received a furlough from Lieutenant Colonel Harry B. Burg from the 30th of January to the 18th of March, 1864; but being still unable to ride on horseback at the end of my furlough, was discharged from the service on the 9th of April, 1864, by reason of wound received in action . . .”

                            

                                        Surgeon George Christie. Christie removed part of
                                        Fitpatrick's skull, which saved the latter's life. (Image
                                        courtesy of Henry Pomerantz)

(Fitzpatrick’s complete account of his regiment’s fight at Wolf River bridge near Moscow, Tennessee, can be found in Edward A. Davenport’s  History of the Ninth Regiment Illinois Cavalry.  Chicago: Donohue & Henneberry, Printers and Binders, 1888, pgs. 74-79)

Summer of 1918 in the Jordan River's "Valley of Desolation"

One of the most trying periods for the men of the Desert Mounted Corps was the five-month (May through September) period they and their horses spent in the Jordan River Valley during the summer of 1918.  Most of the survivors would never forget their experience in “The Valley of Desolation” . . .

BACKGROUND

In the spring of 1918, General Edmund Allenby’s forces were poised in a rough line that extended east from Jaffa on the Mediterranean Sea, through Ramle and Latron all the way to Abu Tellul (located some 30 miles northwest of Jerusalem) in the Jordan Valley.  Most of the Turkish forces on Allenby’s right flank had fallen back east across the Jordan River.  In an effort to keep much of the Turkish Army east of the Jordan Valley, Allenby ordered an April offensive across the Jordan River toward Es Salt.  The British commander hoped to capture and occupy the Es Salt and the surrounding hills “thus sparing his troops the ordeal of a summer in the Jordan Valley.”  Though elements of the Australian Mounted Division managed to occupy Es Salt on April 30, stiff Turkish resistance eventually forced Allenby to withdraw his infantry and horsemen back across the Jordan River a few days later.

             

                  The Jordan Valley in 1918 (map in Lord Anglesey's Volume 5: 1914-1919 Egypt, Palestine and
Syria)

Allenby was now faced with a difficult decision.  If he allowed his troops to spend the upcoming summer in the hills surrounding Jerusalem - a much more hospitable environment for both men and horses - he would have to abandon the Jordan Valley and the river’s bridgeheads at Ghoraniye, Hijla and Damiye.  This would open up his right flank to potential attacks from Turkish forces east of the Jordan River . . . forces that had been significantly reinforced since the failed attempts to capture Amman and Es Salt.  Allenby ultimately left the decision up to the Desert Mounted Corps commander, General Harry Chauvel.  “He gave me the option of withdrawing from the actual valley if

I thought it better, Chauvel later wrote, but he told that, if I did so, I would have to retake the bridgeheads over the Jordan before the autumn advance.  I considered that I would lose more lives retaking the Valley than I would through sickness in holding it . . . I told him I considered it better to hold the Valley.  He agreed and I was instructed to do so.

Perhaps the best description I’ve come across of what the Jordan (River) Valley was like during the summer of 1918 is that presented by the Marquess of Anglesey in his seven-volume account titled, A History of the British Cavalry 1816-1919.  The Jordan Valley narrative, which will be presented in this blog, is located in Volume 5: 1914-1919 Egypt, Palestine and Syria.  I highly recommend this volume for anyone interested in the British Cavalry’s actions during the WWI Sinai-Palestine Campaign against the Turkish and Germany Armies.  While machinations of the Australian Light Horse and New Zealand Mounted Rifles are included in this volume, Anglesey also focuses on the lesser publicized British Yeomanry’s and Indian Lancer’s contributions to the campaign.  The addition of these cavalrymen’s exploits clearly sets Anglesey’s history of this campaign apart from others.

THE VALLEY (according to Anglesey)

The official military handbook for Palestine stated that ‘nothing is known of the climate of the lower Jordan Valley in summer time, since no civilized human being has yet been found to spend a summer there.’  Even the local Arabs, except for a small tribe of negroid origin, invariably left the district during the summer.  Each day from mid-May onwards the temperature rose until during July it reached as much as 130F in the shade and on occasions a degree or two higher.  In that month the maximum daily temperature in 1918 on top of a hill near Jericho was 113.2F in the shade.  At its foot it was 3 degrees higher.  For an eight-week period the thermometer seldom registered less than 100F day or night.  All wheels had to be covered over during the day to prevent the heat and humidity from shrinking the wood.

       

                           New Zealand Mounted Riflemen digging trenches in the Jordan Valley (unusually
in daylight; image in Kinloch's Devils on Horses)

The southern end of the valley, in places fifteen miles wide, lies 1,290 feet below sea-level, but the mountains which enclose it are some 4,000 feet high.  The humidity is excessive.   The Jordan discharges about six million tons of water a day into the Dead Sea.  All of this is lost by evaporation during the summer months.  The appalling degree of moisture and abnormal heaviness of the atmosphere induced in everyone a ghastly feeling of physical oppression and mental hopelessness.  An officer [Lieutenant George Berrie] of the 6th Regiment [Australian Light Horse] described what it was like to return from the cool joys of the high ground to the purgatory of the great gorge:

‘The clear air of the uplands had completely gone.  The heat became more stifling with every mile of the descent and its sudden upward rush a quick intervals made body and brain shudder.  Unrelieved, save by two touches of color, the green which enveloped the hideous squalor of Jericho and the distant lifeless blue of the Dead Sea, the Jordan Valley, steeped in the breathless heat in the forenoon, lay in all its dreadful reality.  The vast expanse of white dust extended from foothill to foothill . . . As if in mockery of the morning stillness, dust rose in funnel-like whirwinds into the very heavens and on every side desolation, disease and death reigned supreme.’

The valley bottom is covered with a layer of white marl impregnated with salt, several feet deep.  In winter a little thin grass sprouts.  In summer the fierceness of the sun scorches this into brittle dust.  Constantly disturbed by the feet and hooves this was so pulverized into a powder of the consistency of fine flour.  It was often so dense that a rider could not see his horse’s head. 

Invariably the night was breathless.  In early morning a strong, burning northerly wind arose to sweep the dust down the valley in thick, suffocating clouds.  Suddenly in mid-morning it died down as abruptly as it had arisen.  A good half hour of utter stillness and torturing heat was followed by another violent draught of air, blowing now from the south and continuing until about eight o’clock.  The regular climate regime was regularly punctuated by ‘dust devils’ of inordinate height, capable of lifting a tent high into the air.  To add to the joys of life in the valley, every evening at sunset there arose ‘a sickening sulphurous stink.’

The chief inhabitants of this infernal region were, beside numberless flies, sand-flies, lice and malaria-bearing mosquitoes, elephantine black spiders, centipedes six inches long with pincers that could inflict an almost fatal injury, many varieties of snake and stinging scorpion . . .

Enormous efforts were made by the Medical Corps and Field Hygiene Sections to lessen the incidence of malaria.  Whenever possible, stagnant water was drained and where this was impossible it was oiled.  But there were gaps in the line where there was little that could be done to make the mosquitoes harmless.  Mosquito nets were, of course, provided – one for every ‘bivvy tent.’  Veils and ‘mosquito gloves’ also made their appearance.  In swampy areas a repellent paste for smearing on face and arms was issued.  The troops were kept away as much as possible from the scruby swamps, while the courses of streams ‘were contained within lines of carefully placed stones; the watering of horses, except at canvas troughs to which the water was lifted by pumping, was forbidden, because of the holes made by hoofs along the margins.’

The Turks took, and seemed hardly to need to take, any steps to prevent the disease, so that when the wind blew from the direction of their lines, the fatal insects descended on the luckless troops in their millions.  Large numbers of men had to be evacuated in consequence.  For instance more men had to go to the hospital in the 5th Regiment [Australian Light Horse], chiefly from malaria, but also from blood disorders, such as ‘sand-fly fever’, ‘five-day fever’ and stomach complaints, than during the previous eighteen months.  While 20th Machine Gun Squadron sojourned in the valley, it was deprived through illness of 116 of all ranks.  It had to have its numbers made up by recently dismounted yeomanry.  By the end of the first week of August, the net monthly loss from Australian units alone, owing to sickness was 600.  Deaths and evacuations averaged about 1% of the Corps’ total strength per day.  This would just about entail the replacement of the whole of it in three months.  Curiously enough the Indian native troops suffered even more than did the white troops.  Turkish airplanes dropped leaflets with the encouraging message: ‘Flies die in July, men in August and we shall come bury you in September’ . . .

The horses tolerated the conditions a great deal better than the men.  But they, too, often became tired and listless in spite of having very little work to do.  This was probably because their forage though sufficient in quantity, was lacking in nutritive value.  An average ration was six pounds of barley, four of gram and twelve of tibben.  The tibben was too great a proportion of it, while the more nutritious foods could not be easily procured.  Further, the horses lacked exercise, there being too few men to give it to them.  By the time the daily sick men had been evacuated and others been found for outposts, patrols and anti-malarial measures, there was on average only one man to look after six or seven horses.  On occasions in some regiments there was only one for every fifteen horses.  Lieutenant Wilson of the Gloucesters [British Yeomanry] says that three or four blankets had to be kept on the horses’ backs to prevent heat stroke to their spines.  Because of the dust raised, which attracted long-range [artillery] fire, the horses were mostly watered after dark.

       

                              A camp in the Jordan Valley (image in Olden's Westralian Cavalry in the War,
10th Light Horse A.I.F.
)

The camps and horse lines were exposed to continual shelling from long-range guns sited on both sides of the river as well as to aerial bombing.  Against this neither reply nor much shelter were possible . . . On 4 June 3rd Brigade and the Indians were badly bombed, 103 horses being killed or so badly wounded as warranting destruction.  Again on 16 July the horse lines of 1st [Australian Light Horse] Regiment were so badly shelled by guns firing across the river by direct observation that it lost in a few minutes fifty-eight horses killed and twenty-seven wounded.  This was ‘a great loss to the regiment, so many of the best horses being killed.’

Digging, wiring, standing to arms before dawn, interrupted by numerous patrol encounters, day observation and night outpost duties, comprised the weary daily round.  ‘The difference in climate between Solomon’s Pools [near Bethlehem] and the Valley,’ wrote an officer of the 6th Australian Light Horse, ‘was almost imaginable.  Horses had to be rugged, extra blankets and over coats were needed.’  The disparity in temperature was as much as 60F.

 

(References: Marquess of Anglesey. Volume 5: 1914-1919 Egypt, Palestine & Syria in A History of the British Cavalry 1816-1919 seven-volume series. 1998 Reprint: Great Britain, Leo Cooper; Kinloch, Terry.  Devils on Horses.  New Zealand: Exisle Publishing, 2007; Holloway, David.  Endure and Fight. Port Melbourne, Victoria: The 4th Light Horse Regiment Memorial Association, 2011; Olden, A.C.  Westralian Cavalry in the War, The Story of the Tenth Light Horse Regiment, A.I.F., in the Great War, 1914-1918.  Melbourne, Australia: Alexander McCubbin)

Even Civil War surgeons died from disease . . .

Harvey Merriman, a resident of Appleton, Wisconsin, was officially commissioned “assistant surgeon from civil life” by the Governor of Wisconsin, Edward Salomon, on December 10, 1861, at Baltimore, Maryland.  He was mustered into the 4th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry at Camp Parapet, Louisiana, on July 2, 1861, for three years of service in the Federal Army by the 31st Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry’s Colonel Oliver P. Gooding.  At the November-December 1862 Field and Staff muster he was “absent, detached and in charge of the general hospital at Carrollton, Louisiana."  He was also absent from the July-August 1863 muster “on detached service at Baton Rouge by order of Colonel John Fonda.”  From May through June 1864, Merriman was “in charge of the hospital at Baton Rouge, Louisiana."  He died of “congestive chills” in USA General Hospital at Baton Rouge on September 18, 1864.  During the morning religious service held on the first Sunday following Merriman’s death, the 4th Wisconsin Cavalry’s chaplain and Methodist Minister, George Honey, presented a eulogy in honor of the regiment’s assistant surgeon. 

                                      

                                            Post-war image of Chaplain George W. Honey
                                            as the state treasurer of Texas (Image in 
                                            Iconographics Collection, Texas State Historical
                                            Commission)

Merriman left behind his wife of 25 years, 42-year-old Abigail, and a 13-year-old daughter, Minnie.  On January 14, 1865, Abigail filed for a Widow’s Pension in Outagamie County, Wisconsin.  Abigail and Minnie eventually moved to Pomona, California, where the former died on February 27, 1923, at the remarkable age of 99. 

                              

                                    Merriman is buried in Baton Rouge National Cemetery,
                                    section 3, site 104 (Author's image)
                             

(National Archives: Soldier’s Service and Pension Records; Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers, Vol. 1, 156; Martin, M.J., A History of the 4th Wisconsin Infantry and Cavalry in the Civil War. El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beatie, 2006, pg. 368)

Federal "foraging" near Baton Rouge in 1864 was a dangerous occupation

Twenty-two-year-old Alexander Gilmore (also spelled “Gilman” and “Gilmer”) enlisted at Hudson, Wisconsin, on November 2, 1861, and mustered into Company G, 4th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, on November 11.  Gilmore was present for all company rolls until he was mortally wounded on Monday, September 28, 1864, while on a foraging detail along Greenwell Springs Road near Baton Rouge.  He died of those injuries the following day.  The 4th Wisconsin Cavalry’s Newton Culver recounted Gilmore’s wounding in a diary entry:


Came off of picket.  A forage party was sent out today two men of Company G strayed off from the escort and were attact [sic] near Price’s plantation both were wounded one so badly that he could not be taken off so we left him at Prices who sent in word   fifty men are out after the cowardly rascals . . .

 

                           

                         Alexander Gilmore is buried in Baton Rouge National Cemetery
section 12, site 709 (Author's image)

(References: National Archives, Soldier’s Service Records; Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers, Vol., 183; Newton Culver Diary and Papers, September 28, 1864 entry, Wisconsin Historical Society)

The Anzac Mounted Division’s remarkable advance from Beersheba to Jaffa: A feat attributed to the “the splendid horsemastership of all ranks”

With the fall of Beersheba on October 31, 1917, the main Turkish line, which was now anchored solely on Gaza, had been dealt a staggering blow.  The Ottoman 8th Army, whose defenses extended from Gaza east to Sheria, was still full of fight but in a precarious position as its primary support, the Turkish 7th Army had begun to consolidate (fall back north) toward the Judean Hills in the wake of the Beersheba disaster.  “General Edmund Allenby’s (commander of the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force) plan now was to break through at the foot of the hills immediately to the north of Beersheba,” recalled Lieutenant Colonel Guy C. Powles, late brigade major, New Zealand Mounted Rifles (N.Z.M.R.) Brigade.  “This plan would cut the Turkish force in two, separating the troops in the lines on the plains [8th Army], whose communications were the roads and railways running north to Ramleh, from the Ottoman troops in the Judean Hills, who were supplied by the motor road from Jerusalem through Hebron.”  Spearheading Allenby’s proposed thrust would be the men and horses of the Desert Mounted Corps. [The Desert Mounted Corps was comprised of the Australian and New Zealand (Anzac) Mounted Division, Australian Mounted Division, Imperial Camel Corps and Yeomanry (British Cavalry) Mounted Division.]     

                             
       With the formation of the Desert Mounted Corps (Anzac Mounted Division + Australian Mounted Division)
in 1917, the 3rd Light Horse Brigade was transferred to the Australian Mounted Division. (CMR:Canterbury
Mounted Rifles; AMR: Auckland Mounted Rifles; WMR: Wellington Mounted Rifles; Diagram from Devils
on Horses)
On the afternoon of November 6, Lieutenant General Philip Chetwode’s infantry finally breached the Turkish entrenchments at Kauwukah east of Gaza.  Sometime around nightfall the following day troopers in both the Anzac and Australian Mounted Divisions poured through that opening and galloped north into the great Philistine plain.  According to historian Henry Gullett, “The Anzac Mounted Division was ordered by Chauvel [General Harry Chauvel, the commander of the Desert Mounted Corps] to strike Jemmameh and the 60th Division [infantry] for Huj, with the Australian Mounted Division advancing in the gap between them [see map].”  Both objectives were achieved by the evening of November 8 whereupon “all Turkish positions in the Gaza-Beersheba line had fallen and the enemy was in full retreat.”

                 

      Lines of advance for the Desert Mounted Corps, November 1917 (map adapted
from the original in Endure and Fight)

The drive toward Jaffa and Jerusalem now commenced in earnest.  Nothing could stop the Anzac Mounted Division and its New Zealanders (not even the chronic shortage of water for men and horses) from reaching Jaffa.  Though bloodied by numerous enemy rear guard stands and a particularly potent Turkish counterattack near Ayun Kara, elements of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade finally rode into Jaffa on November 16.

 

The Anzac Mounted Division’s 65-mile advance against a determined enemy encompassed a mere eight days and was nothing short of remarkable.  These Anzacs, their fellow troopers in the Desert Mounted Corps’ other divisions and their horses “captured 5720 prisoners and upwards of 60 guns and 50 machine guns with an enormous quantity of ammunition and war material of all kinds and railway rolling stock.”  Lt. Col. Powles attributed the Anzac Mounted Division’s exceptional accomplishment to the “splendid horsemastership of all ranks . . . The horses were ever the first care [of the men]; and they started off the Beersheba operations in the very pink of condition.”

 

In an effort to understand how and why the division’s horses performed so admirably during this campaign, the Egyptian Expeditionary Forces’ Director of Veterinary Services, Brigadier General G.R. Butler, sent the following query to the, then, GOC (General Officer Commanding) of the Desert Mounted Corps, Major General Edward Chaytor:

December 31, 1918

I shall be glad if you will be so good as to let me have the following details as regards the animals of any of the units under your command during the period 1/11/17 (November 11, 1917) to 31/12/17 (December 31, 1917) –

     1. The longest period they were continuously without water.

     2. The work performed during this period.

     3. Whether they fed well when they were thirsty.

     4. The average number of times they were watered daily during the period specified or during any intermediate period.

     5. The smallest amount of grain and fodder they received at any time and for what period.

     6. The average amount of grain and fodder they received during the whole or any intermediate period.

     7. The maximum amount of grain and fodder they received at any time and for what period.

     8. To what extent were units able to supplement their forage locally, by grazing or otherwise.

     9. When was there any noticeable change in their condition in vigour as a result of work and privation.

 

Major General Edward Chaytor’s (then commander of the Anzac Mounted Division) crafted his response on February 12, 1918:

 

With reference to your dispatch . . . herewith report in detail as asked for: -

1. (a) One cable wagon team from D.H.Q. was without water for a period of 84 hours.

    (b) Several regiments in the two Australian Brigades were without water for a period of 60 hours.

    (c) The N.Z.M.R. Brigade was without water for 72 hours

2. By (a) above, almost continuous work, cable laying, which entailed heavy work partly over rough country.

    By (b) above, fast traveling and reconnaissance; averaging about 20 miles each day.

    By (c) above, first two days reconnaissance, averaging about 20 miles per day, remainder of period practically no movement.

3. Yes, up to 36 hours; after that, in most cases, they refused to eat.

4. During the period of the advance, once per day, i.e., to 15/11/17, after that twice daily.

5. 4 lbs. grain and no bulk fodder for 24 hours.

6. An average of 9 lbs. grain with average 4 lbs. Tibbin (Hay/chaff mix feed for horses and camels in Palestine) requisitioned from inhabitants up to 17/12/17.  From 17/12/17 to 31/12/17, 12 lbs. grain and an average of 4 lbs. haystuffs.

7. As shown in last period para. 6.

8. An average of 4 lbs. haystuff per horse was obtained from all inhabitants throughout the whole period of operations.  Grazing nil.

9. Decided falling off in condition and vigour after 36 hours without water.  With good food and water horses picked up remarkably, though it is to be observed that all units report that issue of grain on five consecutive days caused serious trouble, the horses suffering from diarrhea and laminitis and losing vigour.  With reference to the cable wagon team which was without water for 84 hours, though much distressed at the end of that period, these horses quickly recovered.  It is to be remembered that the horses of the Division commenced operations about 26/10/17, in excellent condition, which is largely responsible for the fact that evacuations on account of debility have been extremely small, both during operations and afterwards.

    Note. – The horses of the Brigade had an indifferent watering only on morning of 6th, and watering next during the action on the 8th, no more water until during the night of the 10/11th.  They were greatly distressed on the 10th, but by the 13th were, with the good water and rest, fit for work again, thought they lost considerably in condition.

 

                                 

                                   Major General Edward Chaytor, commander Anzac
Mounted Division (former commander N.Z.M.R.
Brigade (Image from The New Zealanders in Sinai
and Palestine
)

The above was drawn from the following: Kinloch, Terry.  Devils on Horses.  Exisle Publishing: Auckland, New Zealand, 2007; Powles, Guy C.  The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine.  1922.  (Reprint) East Sussex, England: Naval and Military Press, Ltd., Holloway, David.  Endure and Fight.  Port Melbourne, VC: The 4th Light Horse Regiment Memorial Association, 2011; Gullett, H.S.  Sinai and Palestine, Vol. VII, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918.  Sydney, Australia: Angus and Robertson Ltd., 1939.

The 7th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, its August 1864 Expedition to Tupelo, Mississippi, and a notable incident involving a captain’s pair of “buckskin breeches” . . .

Most Civil War cavalry historians are familiar with Stephen Z. Starr’s history of Colonel Charles Rainsford Jennison and his 7th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry (titled Jennison’s Jayhawkers) and most such historians probably have a less than admirable opinion of the regiment’s activities during the Civil War.  In his book’s preface, Mr. Starr frankly admits:

[I] did not ignore, try to explain away, or excuse the atrocities committed by the Seventh Kansas.  It is a fact that equally grave atrocities were committed by the other side.  And, inevitably, each side claimed, and perhaps believed, that its atrocities were merely reprisals for the atrocities committed by the other side.  One can only deplore this kind of ‘war’: but it would be absurd to declare one side wholly culpable and the other wholly free from blame.

Starr followed this confession with a well-written and balanced account of the regiment’s performance, which demonstrated that the “young men and boys who made up the regiment . . . were volunteers to a man, unashamedly patriotic, and devoted to their duty, to their regiment, and to the cause in which they believed and for which they fought.”


Not so familiar to historians is Simeon Moses Fox’s The Story of the Seventh Kansas, a 32-page “sketch,” as Fox called it, which he presented in an address “before the twenty-seventh meeting of the Kansas State Historical Society on December 2, 1902.” 

                             

                                 Simeon Moses Fox (courtesy of Ann Fox Gulbransen)

Fox, who was then Adjutant General of Kansas, was originally a native of New York.  In 1855, his father, followed a short time later by his mother, moved to Kansas.  Fox “remained East attending school” until the spring of 1861 when he joined his family in Kansas and promptly enlisted in Company C, 7th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry at Leavenworth on July 30, 1861.  The 19-year-old volunteer performed admirably and rose steadily through the ranks as a result.  By war’s end, Fox wore the shoulder boards of a first lieutenant and had risen to the post of regimental adjutant.  Simeon mustered out on September 29, 1865, and eventually settled in Manhattan, Kansas.  He served as the state’s Adjutant General for two terms and, according to his great grand-daughter, Ann Fox Gulbransen, was held in esteem as “a highly skilled and respected genealogist.”


Fox’s Story of the 7th Kansas, which was “prepared at the solicitation of the Kansas Historical Society,” is, in my estimation, superior to Stephen Starr’s lengthy tome.  In short, Lieutenant Fox was “there” and Starr was not.  Fox was an excellent writer as well and the story he weaved of his fellow Jayhawkers and their service in the war is replete with anecdotes, eye-witness accounts and humorous incidents.  His presentation to the Kansas Historical Society given that December day long ago must have easily engaged and held the attention of his fellow historians.


One of my favorite Fox tales concerns Company G’s Captain Edward Thornton and his improvised-in-the-field trousers.  The incident occurred on August 9, 1864, shortly after General Andrew Jackson Smith, at the head of “5,000 cavalry and 10,000 infantry,” had left La Grange, Tennessee, and marched into Mississippi in pursuit of Confederate Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his command.  The 7th Kansas Cavalry was now part of the First Brigade in the Cavalry Corps’ (District of West Tennessee) First Division.  In addition to the Kansans, the First Brigade included the 3rd and 7th Illinois Cavalries and the 12th Missouri Cavalry. 


The expedition would be one the Kansans would never forget.   Though August in northern Mississippi was normally considered a dry month, the 1864 version of that month would be remembered as one of the wettest on record.  “It rained constantly,” noted Stephen Starr, “and it rained hard; rivers and creeks were in spate, bottom lands turned into lakes and quagmires, and roads became nearly so impassable that Smith’s men expected the campaign to be abandoned . . . The Jayhawkers lived day and night in soggy uniforms, and they had to sleep, if they could, on the muddy ground under the useless shelter of waterlogged blankets.”  It was the inclement weather, as we shall see, that created the legend of Captain Thornton and his breeches.


Grim-visaged war, Fox began, if not always able to smooth his wrinkled front, must even in times of stress sometimes let a crease or two slip down to the corners of his mouth, to create the semblance of a smile; otherwise the monotony of solemn things would become too serious to be borne.  A smile may be permitted here after twoscore years, and all about a pair of trousers.

Just as the expedition moved from La Grange in the lightest marching order, Fox continued, Captain Thornton appeared arrayed in a pair of buckskin breeches.  ‘Not regulation,’ he said, ‘but durable.’  We had all recently returned  from a similar expedition with trousers showing many a gaping rift, created by the constant friction of the saddle, and he would not be caught that way again, he said, not he.  The day before the fight at Hurricane Creek it rained and we were in the saddle during the downpour and thoroughly wet through, and Thornton’s buckskin breeches, soaked and soggy, became a sort of tenacious pulp.  That night he improvised a clothes-line and hung them out to dry.  At early reveille he sought his trousers; they were there.  But you know what can be done with wet buckskin!  Some evil-disposed person, under the cover of the night, had stretched them until they looked like a pair of gigantic tongs – they were twenty feet long if they were in inch.  The cavalry battle at Hurricane Creek was fought that day, and Thornton led his company, but it was in a costume that must have made pleasant to him the knowledge that the exigencies of war debarred the presence of the female sex.  There was a hiatus between the extremity of the undergarment that obtruded below his cavalry jacket and his boots.  Thornton was a Scotchman, and we accused him of coming out in a kilt.  He turned his trousers over to his colored servant in the early morning, and the faithful darky rode that day in the wake of the battle with the captain’s breeches wreathed and festooned about his horse, industriously employed in trying to stretch and draw them back into wearable shape.  He reported progress to the captain’s orderly (sent back frequently during the day with solicitous inquiries), and by the following morning, after cutting off about five feet from each trouser-leg, the captain was able to appear in attenuated and crinkled small clothes, so tight and drawn that it was difficult to know whether it was breeches or nature that he wore.


The above came from the following: Starr, Stephen Z.  Jennison’s Jayhawkers, A Civil War Cavalry Regiment and its Commanders.  Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1973; Transactions of the Kansas State Historical Society 1903-1904, Volume VIII, Topeka: George A. Clark, State Printer, 1904;  A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume 39, Pt. II, pgs. 222, 333 (Reprint: Broadfoot Publishing Co., Morningside Press); many thanks go to Ann Fox Gulbransen, great grand-daughter of Simeon Fox, for graciously allowing me to use quotes and an image of Fox from her family genealogy website.

Did the 20th century mounted infantry and cavalrymen of the WWI Desert Corps have it worse than their 19th century American counterparts?

In his superbly written history of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles (N.Z.M.R.) Brigade and its WWI activities in the Sinai and Palestine between 1915 and 1919, Lieutenant Colonel C. Guy Powles, former N.Z.M.R. brigade major, politely makes the case that the cavalry in this desert war, which included the British Cavalry (Yeomanry), New Zealand Mounted Rifles, Australian Light Horse and Indian Cavalry, fought under

                  

       New Zealand Mounted Rifleman with mount. (Queen Elizabeth II Army Memorial Museum)

conditions that were significantly more severe than those that had been encountered by mounted troops in earlier European wars and America’s Civil War.  In the European wars of 1865 and 1870, Powles notes:

 . . . cavalry actions did not take place at any great distance from their base and even then there was food and water in plenty in the country.  Again in America the great raids of JEB Stuart and of Morgan [General John Hunt Morgan] were undertaken through country in which the raiders could live.  Our mounted troops (the cavalry of the Great War), on the other hand, have made their raids in the desert, where all supplies even so far as water for the horses had to be carried with the column.  Our mounted troops carried out their raids in a country where, if a man fell out of the column and wandered, alone, he perished miserably; where if a water bottle by mischance were overturned or leaked, there was no water for the owner for perhaps another twenty-four hours; and this under the burning sun by day and bitter cold by night, in which he became soaked to the skin with the dew; and man cannot march and fight for more than a very unlimited time without food and drink.                

While I don’t disagree with the majority of Powles’ above claims, I do feel his 
discussion does the United States’ mounted troops, i.e. dragoons and, later, cavalry,
a bit of a disservice.  I assume Lieutenant Colonel Powles was unfamiliar with
America’s Colonel Alexander Doniphan and his 1st Missouri Volunteers’ 3500-mile
ride from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to Brazos Santiago at the tip of Texas. During
the year-long (1846-1847) march “across deserts and mountains, through Indian
territory and into Mexico,” Doniphan and his men fought and won two major battles,
at Brazito and Sacramento, and played an instrumental role in the United States’
defeat of Mexico.

Powles must have also been unaware of the 2nd U.S. Dragoons (later the 2nd U.S. Cavalry) and their participation in the grueling 1857 Utah Expedition against the Mormons.  Their march, which began in early October at Fort Kearney, Nebraska, and ended at Fort Bridger in western Wyoming in late November, was, according to the 2nd U.S. Cavalry’s regimental historian Major Joseph Lambert,

a continual struggle against the elements, sometimes almost destroying the whole force.  Through the Rocky Mountains they experienced a succession of blizzards, the temperature ranging much of the time below zero.  There was a dearth of grass, and soon the animals began to die.  After a terrific struggle to save man and beast the command reached Fort Bridger and went into camp.  They had lost 134 horses out of 278 and a large number of mules.


And Lieutenant Colonel Powles appears to have been ignorant of the U.S. Cavalry’s war against the Apache Indian, e.g. Brigadier General James Carlson’s and Kit Carson’s 1863 Navajo Campaign and Major General George Crook’s Apache (1882-1886) Campaign to name a few, which was conducted for over a quarter of a century in the arid, desert-ridden and extremely inhospitable Arizona and New Mexico territories and western Texas.

          

   1886 image made of U.S. cavalrymen, probably from the 4th Cavalry, with Indian scouts the last
   year of the Apache Wars. (Arizona Historical Society Library collection)

Regardless of one’s stand on this blog’s central question, it is clear the world will never again see mounted soldiers like those who galloped throughout the 19th and early (WWI) 20th century.  In Samuel Carter’s (III) The Last Cavaliers, a history of the American Civil War’s most famous cavalrymen, the author ends his book with an address Confederate Colonel John Singleton Mosby gave to his men at an 1895 reunion of the 43rd Battalion, Virginia Cavalry.  Carter felt Mosby’s words were “something of an epitaph for the men of the Civil War Cavalry whose like would never come again . . .”  They are, in my opinion, a fitting tribute to the mounted troops and their officers who fought in the Sinai and Palestine during WWI as well:

Modern skepticism has destroyed one of the most beautiful creations of Epic ages, the belief that the spirits of dead warriors meet daily in the halls of Valhalla, and there around the festive board recount the deeds they did in the other world . . . A man who belonged to my command may be forgiven for thinking that, in that assembly of heroes, [he] . . . will not be unnoticed in the mighty throng.

(For further reading see Powles, Guy C.  The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine. Naval and Military Press, Ltd., 1922; Dawson, Joseph G.  Doniphan’s Epic March, The 1st Missouri Volunteers in the Mexican War.  Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1999; Lambert, Joseph I.  One Hundred Years with the Second Cavalry.  The Press of The Capper Printing Company, Inc., 1939; Bourke, John G.  On the Border with Crook.  New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1891; Sides, Hampton.  Blood and Thunder.  New York: Doubleday, 2006; Carter, Samuel.  The Last Cavaliers.  New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979)

Artificer James Thew, 9th Battery, Wisconsin Light Artillery

James Thew, from Warner (also spelled “Werner”), Wisconsin, volunteered for service in the 10th Battery, Wisconsin Light Artillery on November 28, 1861.  The battery was recruited and organized under Captain Yates Beebe at New Lisbon and mustered into service at Milwaukee on February 10, 1862.  The men traveled to Racine where they trained at Camp Utley until their departure for St. Louis, Missouri, on March 18, 1862.  They arrived at the Gateway City on the 20th where they were subsequently quartered in Benton Barracks.  On April 1, General Orders No. 57, issued by Major General Henry Halleck, resulted in the transfer of twenty-five men to the 8th Battery, Wisconsin Light Artillery, and forty-six men, including Lieutenant Henry Hicks and James Thew, to the 9th Battery, Wisconsin Light Artillery.

                        

                                                         Artilleryman James Thew

Following its receipt of six guns, “trophies from Fort Donnelson, with all the munitions and equipments,” the battery, one hundred fifty-five strong, and Thew moved west up the Missouri River to Leavenworth, Kansas.  Here, the battery received its horses, drilled and made preparations for a lengthy march across the plains to Denver City, Colorado.  On April 26, Thew and his fellow artillerymen commenced their 700-mile trek, by way of Fort Kearney and Julesburg, Colorado, to Denver City, which they finally reached on June 2.

 

At Denver City the battery was divided up into three sections.  James Thew and the right section, under the command of First Lieutenant James Dodge, were sent south to Fort Union, New Mexico, a distance of almost 260 miles.  Shortly afterward, the left section, led by First Lieutenant Watson Crocker, started on a 480-mile trek east to Fort Larned, Kansas.  Crocker and his men would remain at Fort Larned until December, 1864.  The center section, led by the battery’s commanding officer, Captain Cyrus Johnson, marched 246 miles south east to Colorado’s Fort Lyon on the Arkansas River.

On July 5, James Thew and the right section left Fort Union and began a 240-mile march east to join Captain Johnson and the battery’s center section at Fort Lyon.

 

Thew served at Fort Lyon for much of the remainder of 1862.  Battery musters listed him as being “on extra duty” by order of the fort’s commander, Colonel Jesse Leavenworth, from October 7 through the 20th and on the 31st he was on detached service with Lieutenant Henry Hicks.  On June 3, 1863, he was “appointed from private to artificer to take effect from April 30, 1863.”  Thew was listed as sick at Fort Larned on August 3, 1863.  He “rejoined his battery” at Fort Lyon on October 25, 1863.  How and why Thew wound up in the post hospital at Fort Larned remains a mystery.

 

On April 17, 1864, the battery’s center and right sections and James Thew finally left Fort Lyon and marched to Council Grove, Kansas, where they served as the town’s garrison until August.  During their stay at Council Grove, detachments from the battery “were continually escorting trains and United States mail coaches on the Santa Fe road for a distance of 150 miles.”

         

       Area encompassed by the 9th Battery, Wisconsin Light Artillery's, service during 1863-1864
               (Map generated from Plate CLXVIII in The Official Military Atlas of the Civil War)

In July 1864, Lieutenant John Edington, the battery's right section and James Thew, were sent west to Salina, Kansas, where they were to join an expedition under Major General Samuel Curtis whose objective was to clear hostile Indians from the area surrounding Fort Larned.  Before leaving Salina with Curtis's force, Edington left behind Lieutenant Henry Hicks and a small detachment of Badger artillerymen, one of whom was James Thew.  Thew, Lieutenant Hicks and this small detachment remained at Salina until they rejoined the battery’s right and center sections at Fort Riley, Kansas.

 

In October 1864, Captain James Dodge (he had been the battery’s commanding officer since Captain Johnson had been dismissed back on October 21, 1863), with the right and center sections (four guns total) and James Thew joined the Third Brigade in Major General James G. Blunt’s Provisional Cavalry Division (a part of Major General Samuel Curtis’s Army of the Border) and took part in the campaign against Sterling Price through Missouri and Arkansas. 

 

In the battle at Westport, notes William DeLoss Love, author of Wisconsin in the War of the Rebellion, the battery broke the charge of a column 6,000 strong, three successive times, and became so well known that a rebel officer, who participated in the charge, said, ‘the brass battery, which had made such great destruction in our ranks, advancing, caused so great terror and confusion that retreat could not be avoided.”

 

After participating in the pursuit of Price’s defeated Confederate forces, which included a grueling march to Fort Scott, then Keittsville, Missouri and, finally, Fayetteville, Arkansas, the Badgers turned back north, marched to Paoli, Kansas, and finally, Fort Leavenworth.  Here, Captain Dodge and his two sections, the center and right, were reunited with Lieutenant Crocker and the battery’s left section.

 

“After securing an entire new battery and equipments” in preparation for its reorganization as a veteran unit, Captain Dodge and Lieutenant Hicks, at their own requests, and some fifty fellow Badgers were mustered out."  An admiring William DeLoss Love would later write, “The aggregate distance marched by the battery and detached sections during these three years was upwards of 15,000 miles.  The loss by death during this period of continuous marching and exposure, in a country where the summers are intensely hot, and the winters are severely cold, was but six men.”

 

On January 26, 1865, James Thew and the other non-veterans were mustered out at Fort Leavenworth “by reason of expiration of [their] term of service.”  Thew left the service owing the Federal Government $0.48 for one canteen.

 

(Information for the above history was gleaned from James Thew’s Military Service Records @ The National Archives; William DeLoss Love’s Wisconsin in the War of the Rebellion. Chicago: Church and Goodman, Publishers, 1866; Edwin Quiner’s The Military History of Wisconsin in the War for the Union. Chicago: Clarke and Co., Publishers, 1866 – Reprint: The St. Croix Valley Civil War Round Table, 2000)

The 4th Wisconsin Volunteer Cavalry's Captain Levi Blake - ". . . he died in the cause of freedom and humanity"

Twenty-six-year-old Levi Blake volunteered for three years of service in the Federal Army at Sparta, Wisconsin, on April 20, 1861.  He was mustered into Company I, 4th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, as a 1st lieutenant at Camp Utley in Racine on July 2, 1861.  Blake was present for all company musters with the exception of June 1862, when he was “left sick in camp at Baton Rouge,” and February 1863, when he was “sick in New Orleans.”  On September 3, 1862, Levi was promoted to captain.  Shortly afterward, the paymaster noted that a “difference of pay [is] due between that of 1st Lt. and Captain of Company from August 11 to August 31, 1862 and as a commander of company from 15 July to August 11, 1862.”  On June 3, 1863, Captain Blake participated in the 4th Wisconsin Mounted Infantry’s fight at Clinton, Louisiana, and was “seriously wounded in the left arm.”  Levi’s arm was eventually amputated at USA General Hospital in Baton Rouge.  He died of “complications” a few days later on July 10, 1863.  News of Blake’s death elicited an outpouring of grief in the captain’s hometown.  A local Sparta newspaper published the following eulogy in honor of the fallen officer:

Capt. Blake was wounded in the arm at Port Hudson, underwent amputation, but after lingering a few days, passed away to his eternal home.  Thus has this accursed rebellion cost the life of another brave man, devoted patriot, and Christian soldier.  Among the first of Wisconsin’s brave sons, L.R. Blake offered himself for his country’s defence, and has faithfully and well discharged his duty, leaving for his many friends the glorious consolation that he died in the cause of freedom and humanity.

The sympathies of the entire community will be with the relatives of the deceased in this city, who are again called upon to pass through the deep waters of affliction.  Mr. L.S. Blake and family have indeed experienced the bitter evils of treason.   First, in the death of a nephew, (whom they loved as a son), Joseph Mann, member of the Belle City Rifles [Company F, 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry], who nobly fell facing the enemy in Virginia [Mann was killed at Gainesville, Virginia, on August 28, 1862].  Next they were called to mourn the death at Memphis of a brother, Charles Elliot, who in the battle of Holly Springs received a fatal wound.  In the battle of Prairie Grove [Arkansas] another brother, Lieut. Albert H. Blake [Company F, 20th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry], was severely wounded, and has only recently been able to resume his duties, and now we record the death of the youngest brother at Baton Rouge. 


                                   

                                        Captain Blake is buried in Baton Rouge National
                                                      Cemetery (section 3, site 101)

(References: Levi Blake’s military service records in the National Archives; Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers, Vol. 1, 189; Martin, Michael J.  A History of the 4th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry and Cavalry in the Civil War.  California: Savas Beatie, LLC, 2006, pgs. 173-185; Quiner, E.B.  Papers: Correspondence of the Wisconsin Volunteers, 1861-1865, Vol. 8, pg. 224, Micro 933 (microfilm), Wisconsin Historical Society)

The Two Sides of Colonel Frank Haskell . . .?

Iron Brigade authority Lance Herdegen summed up the physical appearance of the 6th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry’s newly minted Adjutant, 1st Lieutenant Frank Haskell, in one succinct line:  “. . . his receding hair was trimmed close to his head and sideburns and a carefully trimmed mustache framed sharp intelligent hazel eyes.”  Jerome Watrous, the 6th Wisconsin’s quartermaster (later captain), had “never [seen] a finer-appearing soldier” than Haskell.  Though other men, including Watrous himself, would succeed the Vermont native as regimental adjutant, “Frank Haskell never had a successor,” Watrous later wrote, “[and] was as perfect a soldier as I ever knew.”

 

Frank Aretas Haskell was born in Turnbridge, Vermont, on July 13, 1828.  After graduating with honors from Dartmouth College in the class of 1854, Haskell followed his brother and moved to Madison where he entered the law firm of Orton, Atwood & Orton in the autumn of that year.  Following the outbreak of the Civil War, the 33-year-old attorney, whose only previous military experience consisted of his participation in Madison’s Governor’s Guard militia, was commissioned a first lieutenant in the 6th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry’s Company I.  Lieutenant Haskell served as the regiment’s adjutant until April 1862 when he became aide-de-camp to the Iron Brigade’s newly minted commander, Brigadier General John Gibbon.  On July 2, 1863, during the battle of Gettysburg, Haskell’s gritty performance earned high praise from both Gibbon and the Second Corps’ commander, Major General Winfield Scott Hancock. 

 

                             

                                 Lieutenant Frank Haskell (WHS 3343)

On February 9, 1864, Haskell was finally promoted to colonel and assigned command of the fledgling 36th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry.  After spending the summer in Madison, where he oversaw completion of the regiment’s recruitment and organization, Haskell and the 36th Wisconsin Infantry joined the Army of the Potomac’s Second Corps at Spotsylvania Court House on May 19.  After crisscrossing the North Anna and Pamunkey Rivers in an attempt to flank Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, the Badgers arrived at Cold Harbor on June 2, 1864.  Early the following morning Grant ordered a general advance by brigades, massed in column by regiments, upon the entrenched Confederates.  “Advancing across an open field, under a heavy artillery fire, when about twenty-five rods from the enemy’s works . . . the Thirty-sixth took the lead of the brigade.  About this time Colonel Boyd McKean, brigade commander, was killed, and command devolved on Colonel Haskell, who ordered the brigade forward.  The men arose to obey and were met by a shower of bullets.”  Haskell quickly directed the men to lie down.  A few moments later he was killed by a single bullet to the head.

 

Haskell’s peers and fellow officers clearly considered him to be the idyllic soldier.  Francis Walker, author of The History of the Second Army Corps, thought the “intelligent . . . courageous . . . and generous” Haskell “was the bravest of the brave” when, on July 3 at Gettysburg, “he rode between the two lines, then swaying back and forth under each other’s fire, calling upon the men of the Second Division to follow him, and setting an example of valor and self-devotion never forgotten by any man of the thousands who witnessed it.”  Almost thirty-one years after the ill-fated Federal assault at Cold Harbor, Virginia, on June 3, 1864, Clement Warner, the 36th Wisconsin Infantry’s lieutenant colonel, submitted a letter to the Columbus Wisconsin Democrat in which he recalled his commanding officer’s performance during that final attack and, again, mourned his death . . .

 Frank A. Haskell was in every respect an ideal soldier, according to the highest and best definition of that term . . . [At Cold Harbor] he was standing nearly in front of the Second Division which had thus far pressed forward through the murderous fire, and apparently seeing the hopelessness of further advance, and willing to save this remnant of his men, gave the order, ‘Lie down, men,’ which was the last order he gave . . . For an instant it seemed he was the only man standing, and only for an instant, for as he stood surveying the havoc around him, and glanced toward the enemy’s line, he was seen to throw up his arms and sink to the earth, his forehead pierced by a rebel ball . . . Thus fell one of Wisconsin’s most gallant soldiers, a thorough disciplinarian, and an accomplished scholar . . .


Haskell has gone down in history as one of the Iron Brigade’s most rigorous mentors, a courageous officer and the author of what many historians feel is the best eyewitness account of the three-day battle at Gettysburg ever written.  Less well known, however, is the contempt many of Haskell’s men felt toward their “exquisitely cultured” commander.  Captain Jerome Watrous blamed the 6th Wisconsin boys’ dislike of Haskell on the fact that the former “were volunteers [and] they didn’t want to be converted into Regulars . . . They kicked and thrashed, but the harder they kicked and thrashed the more thorough was Haskell’s discipline.” 


While he was undoubtedly a strict taskmaster, it was the severe manner in which Haskell treated his men that especially rankled the 36th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry’s Guy Taylor. “I suppose you have hurd that our regt. has been badly cut to peases and our Cournal has been shot,” Taylor informed his wife in a June 6, 1864 letter . . .

 Their is not much morning with the men over his death, he continued, and a good meny thinks that the ball that hit him came from his own men, but I do not know nor do I cair he has killed a good meny of our boys, he made them march day and night, and a good many fell rite in the rode and died, and their was no call for such marching, but the tyrant wont kill any more men.


In February 1865, Taylor witnessed the punishment of several men in the nearby 19th Massachusetts Infantry for fighting.  Though his own colonel had been dead for over

                                   

                                               The 36th Wisconsin's Guy Carlton Taylor
(Monroe County Local History Room, Sparta, WI)

eight months, the method of punishment meted out by the 19th Massachusetts colonel quickly rekindled painful memories Taylor still harbored of the 36th Wisconsin Infantry’s past “tyrant [and] highway robber . . .”

My Dear Wife

 . . . There is nothing new hear only a fiss fite in the 19 Mass. Reg., and the fiters all got punished and maybe you would like to know how they was punished, well they put up two post and put a pole across from one to the other it was about 12 feet high, and then they had to get up on the pole and their hands was tied togeather in frunt of them their was 5 of them and they was kept their all day without anything to eat.  It made a genral show for all of the camp.  More than a thousand eyes saw them, and the remarks about them, and the officers that put them up their, I wood not like to be in their Colonels plais if one of them boys ever gets a good chance at him in time of battle.  He may lay as low as the Colonel of the 36 Wis. did, although he was shot by a reb (maybe) sharpshooter.  There is not many that moarns over his lost hear in the armey he is known all threw this armey, and no one thinks he got more than his gust due.”

Was Colonel Haskell a “tyrant?”  Was he a “perfect” soldier?  The truth is, likely, somewhere in between . . .


References for the above:  Alderson, Kevin and Patsy.  Letters Home to Sarah, The Civil War Letters of Guy C. Taylor, 36th Wisconsin Volunteers (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2012); Haskell, Frank A.  The Battle of Gettysburg, The Eyewitness Account by Col. Frank A. Haskell (Sandwich, Massachusetts: Reprint, Chapman Billies,Inc., 1993); Herdegen, Lance J.  The Iron Brigade in Civil War and Memory (California: Savas Beatie, LLC, 2012); Quiner, Edwin B.  The Military History of Wisconsin in the War for the Union (Chicago: Clarke & Co. Publishers, 1866).

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