History 2019

Day 07

May 22

  We decide since we have a bit of distance to cover to hit Shoney's as soon as they open.  
  When we see the sign light up, we know we're in like Flint.  
  Their breakfast buffet is just as good as their supper buffet with lots of choices of hen fruit, pig meat and other assorted delicacies.  
  With enough food to travel for days, we settle up and hit I81 once again on our way to Petersburg. The thing that amazes all of us as how much distance the 17th Tennessee and JKP covered during the Civil War. And they sure didn't have interstates to travel or motorized conveyances to ride in.  
  It looks like we may be in for some liquid sunshine, but since I can see clear skies up ahead, we press on and take our chances.  
  We soon rewarded for our little gamble with beautiful blue skies.  
  Every time I pass an old house like this, I wonder if it was standing there during the Civil War. And if it was, did soldiers from either side pay it a visit looking for something to eat or something to take with them as often they did.  
  Later in the morning we arrive at the the marker for the next battle site - the Second Battle of Drewery's Bluff. And interesting point of history - at the First Battle of Drewery's Bluff the Monitor and the Merrimac - the first naval ironclads - fought to a stalemate. The second battle was not a naval battle but a land battle that stretched across a 3 mile front.  
  Andy gets a shot of us by the marker just for good measure.  
  But there is a little park that is much closer to where the actual battle took place so we head for it.  
  It is the site of the Fort Stevens, part of the Confederate line to protect Richmond their capitol. It is a very quiet, nice little park with a battle map that lets us know exactly where the 17th stood during the battle. Since they fought under General Bushrod Johnson, we can see where they were in relationship to where we stand.  
  From this location, Confederate General Beauregard order a counterattack to drive the Union forces from the field which was successful.  
  Sissy and I stand for another shot as we know now that the 17th Tennessee would have stood right behind us during the battle.  
  The story of battle is here -  
  The Second Battle of Drewry's Bluff (the first having occurred almost precisely to the day two years earlier in 1862) took place on a foggy May 16. While the tentative Federals built up for an all out attack on the fortress the Confederate leader decided to go on the offensive. In his instructions for a surprise attack Beauregard told MG Robert Ransom that "we shall attack and turn by the river road his right flank". To accomplish this he stacked four brigades, under Ransom, on his extreme left with orders to begin the assault early on the 16th. Beauregard stitched together three divisions under the commands of Ransom, Major General Robert Hoke, and Major General Alfred Colquitt. Ransom was given the brigades of Gracie, Terry, Lewis, and Barton. The morning of the assault found a dense fog enveloping the entire area. The poor visibility initially aided the attack force by masking their movements into their jump off positions. Anticipating a grand success Beauregard gave the attacking force a secondary mission of cutting the Union forces off from their line at Bermuda Hundred. The Confederate commander expected that Butler would give way under his attack and make for the safety of his own entrenched line. To assist Ransom in preventing the Yankees from reaching their line Beauregard ordered a secondary attack by a force from Petersburg. This force consisted of the Virginia brigade of BG Wise, the North Carolina brigade of BG Martin (with one regiment from Colquitt attached) and Dearing's cavalry brigade. It was a bold, imaginative and elaborate plan and Beauregard was supremely confident in it.
Fort Stevens was to be the center of attack with Hagood's South Carolinians posted there. Barton's (now under the command of Colonel Birkett D. Fry) Brigade was posted to the east of the fort, with the Lewis' Brigade to their left. In front of Barton's Brigade was Terry's Brigade and Gracie's Brigade was in front of Lewis'.
When visibility finally reached a minimum for operations Ransom ordered his division to advance. Ransom hit the Federals like a thunderbolt at 0445 to deliver a hammer blow to the right wing of the Army of the James. Gracie's Brigade stepped off first, followed by Terry's, then Lewis', and finally Barton's following several hundred yards behind Lewis'. Placed well in front of the main line, the 9th New Jersey of Heckman's Brigade was the first to see the Confederates emerge out of the fog and opened on them with musket fire before falling back to their position along the main line. However, in falling back, the 9th New Jersey opened up a gap exposing the entire right flank of the Federals and Gracie's Brigade was closing in. The entire right end of the Union line collapsed in confusion. A follow on assault by Hagood and Johnson met much stiffer resistance but still the blue line was pushed back. The 23rd, 27th, and 25th Massachusetts regiments stood firm and fired repeated volleys into Gracie's ranks. This stopped his advance and caused the Confederates to lie prone in order to avoid being hit. Ransom's hammer blow, thus far, was barely a pinch. Gracie asked Terry to bring his brigade forward in support. Advancing down the Old Stage Road (modern Coach Road), Terry's Brigade hit the 9th New Jersey again. The 1st and 7th Virginia outflanked the 9th New Jersey and caused the regiment to break.

The Massachusetts regiments had been holding their own against Gracie and Terry but soon they began to break and fled for the rear. The 25th Massachusetts tried to fix bayonets and attack the Confederates. However, the fog, prevented them from having a decent line of sight and with Confederates all around them, the attack fell apart and became a rout.

Lewis' Brigade came under devastating fire from Wistar and Wead's Brigades. The brigade became disoriented in the fog with two regiments moving southeast and two to the southwest. To make matters worse for them, the Federals to their front had strung telegraph wire around tree trunks so that the wire was raised shin high. The Confederates got "tripped up, tangled up, and eventually shot up, stopping their advance." Fry's (Barton's) Brigade came forward and filled in the gap created by Lewis' split brigade. Unfortunately, his brigade hit the telegraph entanglements that snared Lewis' Brigade and thus, met the same fate. All they could do now was attempt to stand up and fire back. Eventually their situation deteriorated so badly, that Ransom had to ask Beauregard for reinforcements in order to help Fry (Barton's) and Lewis' Brigades from faltering completely. Beauregard sent Colquitt's Brigade of Georgians to support Lewis and Fry (Barton). Each subsequent Confederate brigade that moved forward was greeted by telegraph wire.

By 6am, Ransom's attack was petering out. The Confederates had suffered heavy losses, became disorganized by the persistent fog, were exhausted, and their ammunition was almost depleted. The men had managed to chip a chunk out of the Federal right, but it was not bent back on its center as was originally planned. Heckman's Brigade had been routed and Heckman himself was captured when he wandered into a group of Virginians.

While Ransom's Division was being decimated by musket fire and telegraph wire, Hagood's South Carolinians stationed in Fort Stevens came under severe Federal artillery fire. Blinded by the fog, but thinking Ransom's Division was bending in the Federal right, they vacated the fort and moved forward. They soon found that not only was Ransom's Division not moving the right flank in, Ransom's Division had virtually ceased to exist. Moving ahead anyway, the South Carolinians soon became tangled in telegraph wire in front of Wistar's Brigade, which soon opened fire into the struggling Confederates. Hagood's South Carolinians were savaged in the days fighting. The brigade reported 664 casualties for their effort, by far the most of any Confederate brigade. His division struggled to move back to their outer entrenchments. Ransom saw what was happening and sent his only remaining regiment left in to help. This secured Hagood's left flank.

Despite this, Johnson's Brigade managed to dislodge the 8th Connecticut opening a gap in the Federal line which the Confederates took advantage of and captured some artillery pieces in the process. Despite this success, the fog and the disorganization it caused, affected both sides terribly and resulted in each withdrawing segments of their lines at various moments. The Confederates and Federals fell back to their defensive positions. After the battle, Major General Bragg ordered Beauregard to send the brigades of Lewis, Barton, Corse, and Terry north to Lee.
The fog made it impossible to take full advantage of the early success. The overwhelming success of the attack actually proved to be its downfall. The rapidly advancing Confederate lines became entangled and lost in the fog in their rush forward. Ransom and Hoke were forced to bring the advance to a halt to sort the scrambled units. These pauses, created by the confusion in the Confederate ranks, allowed Butler enough time to begin his fighting withdraw. The battle lasted thirteen hours as the Rebels pursued Butler's troops southward. Whiting's force, that was supposed to block the retreat route, never appeared. Suffering from poor communications and the extremely timid leadership of Whiting the blocking force did not reach the expected location in time and ended up bivouacking while Butler made good his escape. The action was costly for both sides. About 6600 equally divided causalities littered the field. Hundreds of Federal prisoners, including BG Heckman, five battle flags and several artillery pieces were claimed. Beauregard was disappointed that the complete destruction of the Federal forces had not been accomplished and placed a major portion of the blame on Whiting, who asked for and was given relief. Butler, however, was back where he started and now had very little hope of influencing the campaign.

  It is a very nice place to take a break after dealing with the traffic on and off the interstate.  
  Since we have plenty of daylight and I figure it will take some time to find the spot where JKP was captured, we head out for it.  
  I have spent many hours matching the location of the Shand House to modern topographical maps so I can get precise GPS coordinates. I also have studied at length the details of the action and gleaned every physical detail about the location I could find.  
  As I researched the capture of the 17th Tennessee, I could find no unit history of it. But then I looked for the history of the 17th Vermont and hit pay dirt -  
  Details Of The Capture Of The 17th Tennessee By The 17th Vermont

"I spent the entire night," says General Griffin, "moving my troops through the felled timber, getting them in proper position. I placed my brigade at the left of the Second Corps in a ravine immediately in front of the Shand house * * * with Curtin on my left, and a little further to the rear, I formed my brigade in two lines. * * My orders were not to fire a shot, but to depend wholly on the bayonet. * * * we swept their line for a mile from where my right rested, gathering in prisoners and abandoned arms and equipments, all the way; four pieces of artillery with caissons and horses, a stand of colors, six hundred prisoners and 1,500 stand of arms fell into our hands."
Had the other troops which were to follow up this attack advanced promptly, Petersburg would probably have been taken that morning. The stand of colors, two of the guns, and many of the prisoners thus captured were taken by the Seventeenth Vermont. The regiment, with the Ninth New Hampshire and Thirty-second Maine, assaulted the northerly face of the earthworks at the Shand house. The line was formed for the assault, with the Seventeenth on the right, in a ravine within a hundred yards of the enemy's works. The utmost silence was enjoined, and the canteens were placed in the haversacks to prevent rattling. At the earliest dawn, the command "forward" was passed along in whispers, and the troops moved noiselessly to and over the works in front, and bayoneted all who attempted resistance. The colors taken by the Seventeenth were those of the Seventeenth Tennessee, of Fulton's brigade, of Buckner's corps. The adjutant and 70 men of that regiment were captured at the same time. The Vermont regiment then moved along the enemy's line for some distance, and assisted in the captured made by the other regiments of the brigade. In such a brilliant manner did the regiment celebrate the anniversary of Bunker Hill12 and it was entitled to a large share of the praise accorded to the division by General Meade, who wrote to Burnside: "It affords me great satisfaction to congratulate you and your gallant corps on the successful assault on the morning of the 17th. Knowing the wearied condition of your men, from a night march of over twenty-two miles and the continued movement during the night of the 16th,their persistence and success is highly creditable." The losses of the regiment on the 17th were six killed and 20 wounded, of whom seven died of their wounds. Among the killed was Lieutenant Guy H. Guyer of company C, one of the bravest officers in the regiment, who fell early in the charge, shot through the left breast. The regiment was engaged on the skirmish line on the 18th, and had four men wounded, two of whom died of their wounds; and on the 19th had three men killed in the trenches and two wounded, one of whom died of his wounds.

"I cannot refrain from noticing the coincidence, that on the anniversary of the 17th of June the Seventeenth Vermont captured the
colors of the Seventeenth Tennessee, together with guns and prisoners number more than half their own number."-Lieut. Colonel
Cummings's report.


  Andy has entered the coordinates of the Shand House for me in his ETrek which is a hiking model. With it, I should be able to get within feet of the location. Because of the dense and tangled undergrowth, Sissy and Andy wisely decide to stay put while I proceed ahead. I find myself questioning my own decision as it is an area of dense, tangled wild grape vines that grab at your feet and trip you. More than once I find myself lying on the ground, thankful that I haven't broken any body parts yet.  
  But once I come to the creek where the Confederates retreated to after the attack, it becomes almost like a park setting. And for that I am very, very thankful.  
  The ETrek indicates that I am at the spot and sure enough in front of me is the ravine that the Union soldiers hid in before approaching the Confederate breastworks at 3 AM in the morning.  
  I look around to see if I can see any traces of the old house, but there are none that I can find. Then I notice a peculiar thing in front of me - there is a faint outline of a trench perfectly following the brow of the hill. Since the hilltop is as flat as a table top, it is obviously was not caused by water runoff. It is too uniform and wide to be an animal track. It suddenly dawns on me that this was part of the Confederate breastworks on that day in June. I will later learn the answer as to why there are no visible remains of the house when we visit the Petersburg National Battlefield.  
  And I notice that there is no old growth anywhere on the hilltop which is consistent with reports and pictures of the time. Every stick of wood that could be harvested was used in the building of breastworks by each side.  
  Since there ain't nobody but me, once again I take a selfie shot and am thankful that the camera still works afterwards. It is once again humbling and amazing to imagine that within 100 yards of where I am standing, my great great grandfather woke up at 3 am in the morning to a Union musket pointed at his head on June 17th, 1864. And at that point, his fight for the Confederacy was over and he would be engaged in his own personal war to survive horrific conditions as a POW.  
  Not wanting to fight my way back through the tangle of vines, I see a power line right of way to my left that is clearly cut. I don't know how far down the road it will take me from Sissy and Andy, but walking along the road ain't gonna be a tenth of the effort of struggling back through that mess.  
  I make it out to the road and it puts me about a 1/3 of a mile away from where they are parked. But it is a pleasure to walk along the side the road where no grape vines are grabbing at my legs trying to break my neck. Soon we are at the Super 8, our accommodations for the evening.  
  I figure now is as good a time to throw some dirty clothes in the wash. That should give me enough clean ones to finish the rest of the trip. I toss my clothes in before I go upstairs to clean up, figuring I can put them in the dryer on my way to supper. When I come back down, the washing machine has decide to dance and has moved quite a bit from where it was when I started it. But they are done, so I toss them in the dryer and feed it enough quarters to do the job.  
  Unless we want to do a lot of walking, food choices are somewhat limited. Sissy has checked the ratings of the Burger King next door and we decide we'll pass on that dining establishment. I know there is a Friendlys in walking distance, so we figure we'll give it a try.  
  The food is actually quite good and the service is excellent. I get some clam strips and I am pleasantly surprised at their freshness.  
  And I would be totally amiss if I didn't clean my plate like I was brought up to do.  
  And what better way to reward my appropriate behavior that a chocolate brownie sundae? And yes it is as good as it looks.  
  Since we have the 'capture site' visit out of the way, that will make for shorter day tomorrow - we think. And I am glad that I did it today because it would have been tough living in my sweaty, stinky clothes all day tomorrow if I had had the adventure first thing in the morning. I'm a tuckered out little feller and with the lovely generous dose of chocolate and sugar I just consumed, I'm out faster than a candle in a tornado.