All Things Security
The Battle for Mount Longdon, which took place on June 11-12 1982, was an engagement between the 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment (3 Para), and the Argentine 7th Infantry regiment. It was one of many battles fought by Britain to recover the Falkland Islands during a 9-week campaign.
By June 11, one of the last remaining pieces of high ground still under Argentinian control was Mt. Longdon. Located 5 miles west of Port Stanley. After a grueling 4-hour night march in which 3 Para advanced carrying only the essentials, weapons, ammunition, and medical supplies, the battalion quietly maneuvered into assault formation and then crossed the start line. In a scenario similar to the Western Front in 1944, young men faced one another with rifles, bayonets, and grenades. Using artillery and naval gunfire support 3 Para pushed forward, slowly, bunker by bunker. Described as one of the fiercest engagements of the whole campaign, the outcome was a costly British victory.
Since 1982 many veterans have returned to the islands and walked the battlefields. Reliving memories of camaraderie and youth. Fixated on a circumstance when they couldn’t imagine thinking beyond the following day! Pondering as I did on more than one occasion, “will I still be here, this time, tomorrow?”
My own journey back to the Falklands was not by choice. In March 1988 while serving with Patrol Company 3 Para, which was an element of the newly designated British 5 Airborne Brigade, the company was tasked to act as Argentine Special Forces in an exercise to penetrate the new Mt. Pleasant Airfield.
After a tiresome 20-hour flight from RAF Brize Norton to Port Stanley the company was given two days rest prior to the exercise. I cannot speak for other veterans, but for myself, returning to those islands after 6-years evoked feelings of hesitation. War damage was still visible everywhere. Minefield signs, damaged homes, buildings, and artillery impact craters. When the company was given an opportunity to return to Mt. Longdon to walk the battlefield, those feelings turned to apprehension.
I’m sure walking the battlefield today can stir strong emotions in any veteran that took part. But back then, six years after the event, I was shocked to find Longdon still littered with battlefield refuse, boots, blankets, food tins, empty cartridge cases, field-dressing wrappers, and even a grenade. The experience was quite overwhelming! I could almost smell the phosphorus and cordite. It’s a strange circumstance to be involved in an exercise over the same ground where you took part in a major battle 6-years earlier. Playing out a similar scenario, only this time acting as the enemy. Where the ground is still littered with the signs of pain and distress, where so many lost their lives. I cannot think of any other situation where this is true! To this day the smell of damp gorse is a bone-chilling reminder of that night.
As I get older I constantly reflect back on those days, but strange, wouldn’t change a thing! The time I spent on the Islands in that South Atlantic winter of 1982 is some of the most cherished memories of my life. In later years, I’ve given thanks for the opportunity. I do not relish conflict, and I certainly don’t consider myself a warmonger. Like many, back in 1982, I was proud to serve my country. There was a feeling of National pride in what we were doing.
The lifelong friendships that are established through warfare go beyond big-screen movie heroics. The reality of these friendships is nothing more than a simple bond that’s inherited through a shared experience of fear. When you emerged from such an experience knowing that you’ve played your part, held yourself high in the eyes of others, and, more importantly, not let them down! That is an exhilarating feeling of self-satisfaction.
I’m not saying that facing death in any other manner cannot promote a bond of friendship. Anyone that’s shared a traumatic situation with another has a unique connection. Whether it is a natural disaster, a plane crash, or similar tragedy, facing death through trauma invokes feelings of self-preservation? If shared, it can display unique characteristics of self-sacrifice toward others. But situations such as I mentioned are short-lived. Admittedly, they can vary in length of time, but war is different! The deadly circumstances in which a soldier is involved are prolonged for weeks or months. Soldiers are expected to operate and function within this environment. Working together in situations of extended stress builds trust. Only war can provide this! But this unprecedented bond comes at a cost and it’s not cheap!
I can’t describe the heartbreak I felt when I learned the names of those that died; it turned me to tears. Not a simple welling up, but a full-blown heartfelt cry. I remember choking and sobbing in the dark, biting on my glove desperately trying to mask the sound of weakness from others. I had known everyone that was killed. All were young, lean, fit, and oblivious to danger. Private Jason Burt and Ian Scrivens were 17-years old when they were killed. Private Neal Gorse was killed on his 18th birthday. I still recall their boyish faces and remember our last conversations. I remember the immense fortitude of those that died, and for many so young, their immeasurable commitment to the task. I considered myself extremely fortunate to have served with such men.
My army career was a life experience; and, I wouldn’t seek a different path if by some miracle I were given an opportunity to do so. But the loss of close friends in a long-term military career is the inevitable outcome of service. I’ve lost friends through medical reasons, others through mistakes in training, and some, through senseless accidents. But nothing can quite prepare you for the experience of losing someone in your arms in the middle of a firefight. It’s a strange feeling when life is ebbing through your fingertips and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it!
Understanding the meaning of living day to day is something that is bestowed upon the very few. I lost that over the years. The simple prayers for survival that were offered up near the Murrell River so long ago; all those promises were broken. The loss of so many friends, the pain, the cold, the misery, were all for a greater good.
I witnessed that greater good on the face of one particular woman shortly after the Argentine surrender. She was liberated! That look of joy gave me a better understanding of why we were there. I’ve often fantasized about going back and reliving the whole experience again. I have often thought if things had been different; what if I had never gone, would I be who I am now? If those that died lived, and others died, would we be different people? It’s a complicated tapestry with multiple threads, each tugging on a different weave. The path I followed was worth the personal sacrifice. But tug the weave in a different direction, to keep a friend, and you could lose the look of joy on a woman’s face and the feeling of liberation.
Other than the 1988 visit, for one excuse or another, I’ve never made the journey back to the Falklands. Many have told me that it’s a healing experience, but other than a feeling of emptiness, through the absence of friends, I feel no reason to reconcile. The loss of so many good friends is the inevitable outcome of war, trekking across the Falklands is not going to bring them back.
~ Steve McConnell
I was once asked, “do you have any regrets from the Falklands War?” I’m not a religious man, but I do have one! That I didn’t have the strength of character to keep the hasty promises bargained, on a cold moonlit night 34 years ago, 9000 miles away.
Title: A Spanish EA-M5 Fragmentation Grenade.
Description: A Spanish EA-M5 grenade left over from the battle of Mt. Longdon, found during the March 1988 visit to the battlefield. The grenade could be used as a ‘Flash Bang’ for training, or turned into a fragmentation grenade with the use of a metal fragmenting sleeve (as seen in the photograph). It used a delay impact fuze mechanism.
Date: March 1988.
Source: © 1988 Stephen McConnell – www.stephenmcconnellphotography.com
The Colt Walker, occasionally referred to as the 44 Walker or the Walker Colt, was a heavy-duty single-action revolver, produced by American firearms inventor Samuel Colt. The Walker was a collaboration in design between Colt and Captain Samuel Hamilton Walker, of the Texas Rangers, in 1846. Samuel Walker conceived the design improvements after using the popular Colt Patterson, a 5-shot .36 caliber revolver, during an engagement with Comanche Indians at Walker’s Creek, San Antonio, Texas, in 1844.
Samuel Hamilton Walker was a Texas Ranger and Mexican War veteran. He was born in Toaping Castle, Maryland, on February 17, 1817, to Nathan and Elizabeth Walker. He was the fifth of seven children. His father Nathan has served in Washington’s militia during the Revolutionary War (1765-1783). As a child, he displayed a strong interest in becoming a soldier due to his father’s influences. Growing up Samuel attended a small local school, and upon leaving, took a position as a carpenter’s apprentice. Disillusioned with his chosen career, in May 1836, at the age of 19, he left Maryland for Washington, D.C., and enlisted in the Washington City Volunteers. Walker joined on the understanding he would be involved in the Creek Indian campaign in Alabama; despite these aspirations, he was stationed in Florida and saw no action (Creek War of 1836. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Wikipedia modified, 3 December 2015).
Walker remained in Florida until January 1842, when he traveled to Galveston, Texas. He enlisted in Captain Jesse Billingsley’s Company of Texas Militia. On August 30, 1842, General Adrián Woll and a force of 1,200 Mexicans invaded Texas; by September 11, Woll had captured San Antonio. Woll’s advance was checked by a troop of Texans at the battle of Salado Creek on September 18; forcing him to withdraw from San Antonio back across the border two days later. In retaliation to the Texas raid and capture of San Antonio, Walker joined the Somervell expedition into Mexico, a revenge raid, which departed in November 1842. He was captured and survived the Black Bean Episode (Peter F. Stevens HistoryNet.com 1997).
Upon returning to Texas in 1844, Walker joined Captain John Coffee Hay’s company of Texas Rangers and took part in the battle of Walker’s Creek (Robenalt Battle of Walker’s Creek and the Colt Paterson Revolver. 2011). It was during this engagement that Walker realized the importance of suppressing fire, and the advantages of a heavier bullet that could immediately incapacitate a human rider, or drop a horse. At Walker’s Creek, a handful of Texas Rangers successfully defeated roughly 80 Comanche’s on horseback using the new, revolutionary, Colt Patterson, a 5-shot revolving cylinder against a single stationary barrel. Walker realized that had it not been for the Colt Paterson, his small band (15 men) of Texans could not have repulsed such a large Indian force.
The Colt Paterson was designed in 1836, by Samuel Colt, and produced at the Patent Arms Company, in Paterson, New Jersey; named after the city in which it was conceived. The pistol was designed to fire a .28 caliber round ball or conical projectile. Further developments on the original design produced the No. 5 model, which fired the larger .36 caliber bullet. The No. 5 model was used at Walker’s Creek. After the Comanche incident, Walker noted some design improvements that would help a soldier in combat. These developments would eventually take the Colt Paterson from a commercially available handgun to a redesigned military firearm.
The Colt Paterson was unique in design for a pistol of that era. Aside from being a revolver, which in itself was revolutionary for the period, one of the major design features, unlike anything previous, was that the trigger was contained within the body of the pistol until the hammer was cocked and ready to shoot. As the hammer was drawn back during the cocking procedure, the mechanism would rotate the cylinder and drop the trigger into the firing position. Walker’s changes would incorporate an exposed trigger, protected with a trigger guard. In addition, adding a sixth chamber to the Paterson’s five-chamber design, and increasing the caliber to a .44, or .45-caliber projectile.
During the Mexican War, April 1846 – February 1848 (Virtual Programs & Services, Library of Congress), Samuel Walker served with the United States, 1st Regiment, Texas Mounted Rifles. It was during this period of service that he further developed the strategies of dropping a horse or rider while in the charge. His theories revolved around riding low in the saddle and firing two large caliber handguns at a closing horse and rider. The principle was to maintain a heavy rate of fire. With the ability to fire multiple shots while closing on the enemy, the chance of hitting the horse or rider improved exponentially. A large caliber bullet would ensure disabling the horse or rider taking them out of the fray.
In October 1846, Walker was mustered out of federal service. Holding the rank of Captain he went to Washington, D.C. in order to recruit a volunteer company of mounted infantry. It was at that time in Washington that he met with Samuel Colt and proposed his improvements to the Colt Paterson, which incorporated the much heavier .44 caliber bullet. The outcome of this collaboration of design was the largest and most powerful black-powder repeating handgun ever made, the 1847 Colt Walker.
Samuel Colt initially perceived two major problems with the proposal of a handgun of such magnitude. Firstly, the length of barrel required to stabilize a .44 caliber bullet in flight would increase from 7.5-inches to 9-inchs. And secondly, with primitive metallurgy, by adding a sixth chamber to a five-chamber design, you must increase the size of the cylinder in order to compensate for the expansion of 60 grains of black powder during discharge. 60-grains was more than twice that of any other conventional black powder revolver of the period.
As the design evolved into a prototype, a handgun weighing 4.5 lbs. with an overall length of 15.5-inches of solid steel emerged. To compensate for the heavier cylinder and longer barrel the pistol increased in size. Walker deemed the substantial weight tolerable, as the original design application was to carry the firearm in a saddle-mounted holster. It would be another 13-years in steel development and strengthening before the introduction of the Colt Army (1860) .44-caliber, could reduce the weight to 2 lbs. 11 oz.
Texas ordered 1000 of the new 1847 Walker Colts for their frontier war with Mexico. Although Samuel Walker took the Cold Walker .44 back to Texas and used it in the Mexican War, there was no further recorded documentation by him relating to its performance. There are no recorded cavalry charges in which his mounted strategies were applied against an enemy in the saddle.
The original Colt Walker had two major issues that were later corrected with the Dragoon model. The first was the loading lever. The recoil from 60-grains of black powder would cause the lever to drop, preventing the cylinder from rotating to the next firing position. Users improvised a fix with a small leather strap securing the lever to the barrel. The second problem was cylinder rupture. This could well be attributed to the quality of steel available in 1847. But also, at that time, many soldiers were unfamiliar with the concept of a revolver. When loading the pistols under fire soldiers would take shortcuts in the loading procedure. Allowing the powder to spill across the mouth of a chamber, by not greasing the ends of the chambers to prevent a spark from leaping into an adjacent chamber, causing a chain reaction. It has also been suggested by some historians that under the pressures of combat conical bullets were loaded upside down, which would also cause a cylinder failure.
One of the few reported accounts from the Mexican War referencing the 1847 Colt Walker was by John Salmon Ford, who had also enlisted into John Coffee Hays’ regiment of Texas Mounted Rifles. He was noted for carrying two Walker Colts and reported a Mexican soldier hit at a distance of well over one hundred yards. This statement is the only recorded source of information about their performance during the war. His comment: “The revolver would carry as far and strike with the same or greater force as the .54-caliber Mississippi Rifle” (John “Rip” Ford Wikipedia modified May14, 2016 Paragraph 2).
The closest reconstruction of Samuel Walker’s concept of firing a revolver from the saddle was in the 1976 western, ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’ (Eastwood, Carter The Outlaw Josey Wales 1976), directed by and starring, Clint Eastwood. In this screen adaptation of ‘Gone to Texas,’ a book by Forrest Carter, Wales (Eastwood) was filmed firing two 1847 Colt Walker’s on horseback. As the character fired each black powder revolver alternatively, he would bring each pistol into the vertical as the gun in the opposite hand was being discharged. It has often been considered that this method of firing was a Hollywood spectacle to show substantial recoil. But that is not true!
This method of firing cap-and-ball revolvers was a viable tactic to reduce stoppages. Once a firearm had been discharged in the horizontal aim, by using the slight recoil as the motion to bring the pistol immediately into the vertical, the hammer could then be cocked. By cocking the pistol in this manner the hammer was pulled back releasing the small brass percussion cap, allowing it to fall backward, free of the nipple, and clear of the rotating cylinder mechanism; this allowed the cylinder to rotate freely exposing a new chamber to the barrel. The pistol could then be dropped into the aim while conducting the same procedure with the discharged firearm.
My wife recently gave me a reproduction 1847 Colt Walker .44-caliber, by Uberti, for my birthday. I fired the pistol using a .457-inch (44-caliber) round ball using a black powder charge of 30-grains of FFFG (American Pioneer Powder). Taking into account the difference in black powder manufacturing since the 1840’s, this was half the original charge of 60-grains. Shooting the Walker is an experience one does not forget. The smoke from 30 grains of black powder is impressive; the recoil is surprisingly mild and does not offer the sharp jump of the .357 or .44 Magnum. Like any black powder experience, it’s more of a slow push. This is due to the slow burning of black powder and the almost 5.0 lbs. weight fully loaded. Even with its massive weight the Uberti Walker feels good in the hand, and balances surprisingly well.
To this day, the Colt Walker is regarded in many circles, ballistic experts, and vintage firearm historians, as the most powerful manufactured handgun of its time. From its introduction in 1847 until the invention of the .357 Magnum in 1935, the Colt .44 Walker was the most powerful revolver in the world.
~ Steve McConnell
Title: The 1847 Colt Walker.
Description: A reproduction of the 1847 Colt Walker .44-caliber revolver by Uberti.
Date: June 23, 2016
Source: © 2016 Stephen McConnell – www.stephenmcconnellphotography.com
Creek War of 1836. (n.d.). Retrieved June 23, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creek_War_of_1836
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Stevens, P. F. (1997). The Black Bean Lottery: October ’97 American History Feature | HistoryNet. Retrieved June 23, 2016, from http://www.historynet.com/the-black-bean-lottery-october-97-american-history-feature.htm
Robenalt, J. (2011, March 11).
The Battle of Walker’s Creek and the Colt Paterson Revolver.
Retrieved June 23, 2016, from http://www.texasescapes.com/JefferyRobenalt/Battle-of-Walkers-Creek-and-Colt-Paterson-Revolver.htm
A Guide to the Mexican War. (n.d.). Retrieved June 23, 2016, from https://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/mexicanwar/
Compiled by Kenneth Drexler, Digital Reference Specialist, The Library of Congress.
Colt Walker. (n.d.).
Retrieved June 23, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colt_Walker
Eastwood, C. (Director), & Carter, F. (Writer). (1976).
The Outlaw Josey Wales [Video file]. United States: Warner Brothers. Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0075029/
During a recent trip to the Irish Republic, I was having dinner in a small pub in the village of Clonbur, County Galway, when I heard a song by Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers. While introducing the song on a live performance CD, Makem states: “One of the great young heroes of Irish history was a young man who’s name would have remained oblivious had it not been for a song that kept his name alive.” They then played Rody McCorley, a story of a young folk hero of the 1798 Irish Rebellion against British oppression. As I was familiar with the song, I found the introduction was interesting because recorded history would hardly brand McCorley a folk hero!
An unknown author wrote the original Rody McCorley a few years after the 1798 uprising, although its verse and structure are largely unknown today. In 1898, to mark the centenary of the rebellion, a woman called Ethna Carbery wrote the version that’s become popular in modern culture. It was part of a collection of poems called ‘The Four Winds of Erin,’ and was published in 1904, two years after her death. According to Carbery’s song, Rody McCorley was one of the leaders at the Battle of Antrim, a significant battle, which took place in the north of Ireland on June 7, 1798. He is described as fearless and ferocious in battle, defeating numerous foes as he leads his men into the fray.
In my experience, when discussing the troubles in Ireland with Americans, in particular, the troubles in the North, opinions have been framed to suggest it was always a conflict of religion, Catholic against Protestant. That’s how the conflict developed since the early 1900’s, prior to the outbreak of the First World War. Once the British Government was committed to Europe in 1914, an opportunity was seized and the ill-fated 1916 Easter Uprising separated religion, making it a Catholic struggle for Irish independence.
But it wasn’t always that way! In fact, prior to the potato famine of 1845, Irish people of all religions had issues with the British government over the Land Law (Ireland) Act 1881, which was passed by Parliament in an effort to buy land from farmers and freeholders. It could be considered, in modern day politics, as zoning for political dominance. The land was purchased and leased back to farmers. Legal disputes over customary rights and exorbitant rents actually worsened landlord-tenant relations. In the late 1870s when depression struck, evictions for non-payment of rent mounted, tenants had no protection, and in reply ‘outrages’ and the campaign by the Land League, led by Michael Davitt, became known as the ‘Land War’. The government had to pass a Coercion Act in 1881 because of the increase in violence in Ireland.
So how does an unknown personality become the topic of a revolutionary song that carries a name into history? There is no documentary evidence to back up the description of his great heroics in the song, and most detailed histories of the battle of Antrim make no reference to McCorley as a leader or even prove that he took part at all.
Rody McCorley was the son of a miller, born near Toome in the parish of Duneane, County Antrim. His birthdate is unknown. Some accounts of his life suggest that prior to the 1798 rebellion McCorley’s father was executed for sheep rustling. Rody McCorley was a Protestant Presbyterian, believed to be a member of the Protestant “Society of United Irishmen.” Some references have suggested, though Protestant, he was a member or the predominantly Catholic Defenders, a Roman Catholic agrarian secret society founded in County Armagh in the 18th-century.
Ethna Carbery’s version of events suggests that after leading the rebels in the battle of Antrim, McCorley was captured and hanged from Toome Bridge. There is no doubt that McCorley was a real historical figure because his execution, which took place on Friday, February 28, 1800, was covered in the Belfast Newsletter. However, actual charges are sketchy, with no reference to the 1798 uprising, or the battle for Antrim. There are also references to whether the trial was staged to remove a local agitator at a time of great political unrest. After his execution, it is said that his body was dismembered and buried from the gallows along the main Antrim to Derry road, a lot of trouble for a common criminal.
Some of the questions this song raises are: Was this just a case of hanging a local troublemaker, a nobody pulled into Irish folk-law through propaganda, in the need to create a local hero to help promote the struggle against British tyranny? Or, was this, in fact, a government cover-up in the attempt to quash a martyr in order to quell a rebellion? Why such a public hanging off the Toome bridge for nothing more than a local activist with no ‘so called’ record of being involved in any violent struggle against the British army? Accounts have stated that his body was hung from scaffolding over the river Bann so that it could be seen from both banks. There are also references that he wasn’t dropped in order to snap his neck for a quick death, but eased out over the river to struggle and choke slowly.
It was British policy at the time that martyrs would be publicly hung in a strategy to deter others. But why such a dramatic hanging, and then make no documentary record of the execution, or, any form of official public announcement over a rebel leader being caught and hung?
From the other perspective, this history is dependent upon given testimony from those who wished to create a public hero. As I’ve clearly stated above there is no recorded narration of McCorley being involved in the battle of Antrim. The dramatic hanging over Toome Bridge is based upon local affidavits. There are no detailed records of the execution other than the Belfast Newsletter account, which I’m sure, would have dramatized any melodramatic execution, dismemberment, and subsequent secret burial along a road.
In addition to the official account of the execution that appeared in the Belfast Newsletter; an unsubstantiated letter seemingly appeared in the same publication two days later, Sunday, March 2, 1800. A transcript of this unproven letter states the following:
“Upon Friday last, a most awful procession took place here, namely the execution of Roger McCorley who was lately convicted at a court-martial, to the place of execution, Toome Bridge, the unfortunate man having been born in that neighborhood.
As a warning to others, it is proper to observe that the whole of his life was devoted to disorderly proceedings of every kind, for many years past, scarcely a quarter sessions occurred but what the name of Roger McCorley appeared in a variety of criminal cases. His body was given up to dissection and afterwards buried under the gallows…thus of late we have got rid of six of those nefarious wretches who have kept this neighborhood in the greatest misery for some time past, namely, Stewart, Dunn, Ryan, McCorley, Caskey and the notorious Dr. Linn. The noted Archer will soon be in our Guardroom.”
The letter is what it is, uncorroborated, and therefore no real evidence. If there is any truth to the letter, one has to remember, it was almost certainly written by a loyalist, who would have been opposed to the rebellion, and prejudiced against this Protestant group of troublemakers. It is also the case that while loyalists may have condemned the outlaws, many nationalists who saw them as opponents of the Crown and British rule would have accepted them.
The likelihood is that the accounts of his exploits were passed down through oral tradition. While it is possible he was just a local troublemaker hung, for a multitude of transgressions, the reports of him as a leader, and freedom fighter, have become exaggerated to meet a political need and the want of an inspirational hero.
~ Steve McConnell
The Rody McCorley Memorial, Toome Bridge, County Antrim, Northern Ireland: © 2016 Stephen D. McConnell
By the early summer of 1863, the American Civil War was in its third year. In the early days casualty figures that would have been considered unimaginable, were now becoming common statistics. By the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863, those statistics were about to soar to new heights. 51,000. Unlike modern warfare, Civil War casualties extended across the whole army. General officers, who led their divisions and brigades, were exposed to the same hazards as the private soldier.
I read on the Civil War trust website while researching this short piece, and I quote: “Of 120 generals present at Gettysburg, nine were killed or mortally wounded during the battle. No other battle claimed as many general officers.” (The Civil War Trust, “Ten Facts about Gettysburg”, 2014, page 1, fact 4).
I mentioned senior officer fatalities to introduce the difference between the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia, and how high-ranking fatalities placed confusion on the Confederate formations. When compared side by side, it’s easy to visualize why General Robert E. Lee was at a disadvantage. Not through lack of numbers, as some might think, but organization and funding! Those weaknesses likely contributed to periods of disorganization when the Confederate army was spread over large areas. To simplify this explanation lets look at two private soldiers.
A private soldier in the Army of the Potomac was organized and funded by the Federal Government and supplied through the Quartermaster General. The structure of the army was based on a standard military numerical system that remained constant. At Gettysburg, a Private soldier of Company D, 44th New York Infantry Regiment, was part of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, 5th Corps, of the Army of the Potomac. The army being administered through a single branch it was under no ‘state’ restrictions when organizing its brigades and divisions. Therefore, the 3rd Brigade consisted of the 16th Michigan, the 44th New York, the 83rd Pennsylvania, and the 20th Maine. The Private soldier I mentioned, if during the battle his brigade or divisional commander was killed, he was still a member of the 44th New York, in the 3rd Brigade, of the 1st Division, etc.
His Confederate counterpart, in the Army of Northern Virginia, was organized much differently. The South, who seceded from the north over states rights to self-government; locally funded their own regiments. If North Carolina for example, raised fifty-seven regiments, those regiments were funded by North Carolina. They consisted solely of North Carolina soldiers. If an officer was killed or wounded, a replacement had to be found within the regiment. Not necessarily the right man, based upon experience and tactical ability, but the right man geographically.
The Army of Northern Virginia was structured not around the more familiar numerical system used by many global armies, but a unique system of naming regiments, brigades, divisions, and corps, after their commanders. A Private soldier in Company D, 8th Virginia Infantry Regiment, was part of Garnett’s Brigade, Pickett’s Division, Longstreet’s Corps, of the Army of Northern Virginia. The army structure was based upon grouping regiments from within the same states for ease of funding and resupply. For example, Garnett’s Brigade consisted of the 8th, 18th, 19th, 28th, and the 56th Virginia Regiments.
Using the same comparison I mentioned above, Brigadier General Richard B. Garnett was killed during Pickett’s Charge. Therefore, the private soldier in the 18th Virginia would have started the battle in Garnett’s Brigade, and finished it in Peyton’s Brigade. As officers were killed units were changing names. Nobody knew what unit they were in until after the end of days fighting.
Title: Hancock at Gettysburg.
Description: Digital print based on the painting called Hancock at Gettysburg by Thure de Thulstrup, May 1887. Shows Major General Winfield S. Hancock riding along the Union lines during the Confederate bombardment prior to Pickett’s Charge.
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Bookmark of this record: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2003663828/
Original print by: Thure de Thulstrup
C. (2014). Ten Facts About Gettysburg. Retrieved April 25, 2016, from http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/gettysburg/assets/ten-facts-about/ten-facts-about-gettysburg.html
I have returned to Antietam to complete the story I wrote on the Rohrbach Bridge. I write these notes from the bluff overlooking the bridge where Colonel Henry L. Benning positioned his headquarters. On September 17, 1862, the 20th Georgia was on my left and the 2nd Georgia on my right. Before putting pen to paper, I walked General Isaac Rodman’s route to Snavely’s Ford.
In the first part of this article, we looked at the sequence of events that led to taking the bridge. Burnside failed to follow-up on the success, not through second-guessing himself, or being over cautious, but through the incompetence of subordinate officers. Officers neglected to bring forward ammunition, and now it was too late. The bridge was congested with troops and artillery.
The Rohrbach Bridge, or Burnside’s Bridge as it’s now known, fell at a cost of 500 Union dead. Those statistics could have been greatly reduced if General Ambrose Burnside had not tried to over think the attack. He was convinced he was facing superior numbers. I don’t think Burnside was a bad commander. I think he was an inexperienced Corps Commander. Possibly promoted three ranks above his abilities. His plan to take the Rohrbach Bridge was sound, but through lack of confidence and coordination it was poorly executed, and became far more costly than needed. If General Isaac Rodman’s 3rd Division had been deployed earlier to cross Snavely’s Ford, to coincide with General Samuel D. Sturgis 2nd Division attack on the bridge, things would have been different.
In part one, I mentioned two key factors. A small element of the 51st New York had forded the stream and scaled the rocks at the west of the bridge. This suggests that there was a viable crossing point that could have been utilized by a small number of men in the confusion of the attack. Secondly, Brigadier General Robert Toombs had received reports stating that a large Union force was crossing Snavely’s Ford, outflanking his brigade. With his position exposed, I believe this was the factor that forced him to withdraw. In his report to the Assistant Adjutant-General, Colonel R. H. Chilton, dated October 10, 1862, Lieutenant General James Longstreet writes: “General Toombs held the bridge and defended it most gallantly, driving back repeated attacks, and only yielded it after the force brought against him became overwhelming and threatened his flank and rear” (“Index to the Miscellaneous Documents of the House of Representatives of the First Session of the Fiftieth Congress”, 1889).
If the three options mentioned had been coordinated correctly, the attack on the bridge could have been far less hazardous. With Rodman’s 3rd Division pushing forward into Toombs right flank, The Kanawha Division, under Colonel Eliakim P. Scammon, could have been dispatched with Rodman, with orders to hold Snavely’s Ford and protect Rodman’s rear. As Rodman cleared the ford and pushed north, Sturgis 2nd Division would start the attack on the bridge.
The 2nd Division, 1st Brigade, under Brigadier General James Nagle would secure the eastern end of the bridge with two regiments. Under Lieutenant Colonel Eugene Duryea, the 2nd Maryland would hold the northern bank, north of the abutment along the stone wall and fire across the creek into the 20th Georgia. The 6th New Hampshire, under Colonel Simon G. Griffin, would hold the southern abutment, along the fence south of the bridge, firing into the 2nd Georgia. The 9th New Hampshire and 48th Pennsylvania, under Colonel Enoch Q. Fellows, and Lieutenant Colonel Joshua K. Sigfried, respectfully, would prepare to ford the stream and scale the rocks at the south of the bridge. Once Nagle was in position, Brigadier General Edward Ferrero and his 2nd brigade could make the assault to capture the bridge.
With concentrated artillery and a three-point coordinated attack, I think Toombs would have realized his position was precarious much earlier. After all, he had 600 men facing off 13,000.
In Confederate General Edward Porter Alexander’s memoirs, he states, that an 8 a.m. start on the bridge would have coincided with Major General Joseph Hooker’s initial success (Military memoirs of a Confederate: a critical narrative, 2014). I don’t think that attack time would have made any difference. Burnside would’ve still executed his original plan with two feeble unsupported attacks while moving Rodman to Snavely’s Ford. By 8:45 a.m. Major General Joseph Hooker’s advantage at the Miller Cornfield was lost. By 9 a.m. the defeat of the 2nd Corps under Major General Edwin Sumner removed any further Union initiative in the north. McClellan would shift his focus to the Sunken Road in the center. Antietam was now a stalemate. There was one slight possibility in the afternoon when Burnside finally crossed the bridge and pushed into Lee’s right flank, but the arrival of Major General A.P. Hill put an end to that.
If Rodman had been positioned at Snavely’s Ford at the start of the battle. If Burnside’s plan, uncoordinated as it was, had been executed at 5:30 a.m., to coincide with Hooker’s advance south towards the Dunker Church, it’s fair to say the bridge could’ve been in Union hands by 8 a.m.
At 7 a.m. when General ‘Stonewall’ Jackson’s line was starting to falter in the north, the bridge would have been under heavy attack. Toombs may have even started to withdraw. This would have put Robert E. Lee in a dangerous position. With both his flanks starting to falter and his army not yet complete on the field, his only option would be a retreat.
Some historians question Robert E. Lee’s strategic decision making during the Maryland campaign. These reservations are unjust. Up to this point, Lee had smashed everything put in front of him. Lee took a critical gamble by splitting his army, a gamble that paid off to a degree when he managed to reassemble his army in the nick of time. Being outnumbered two to one, reassembling a split army while under attack, and managing to slip the Army of Northern Virginia across the Potomac to safety is nothing to refute.
Lee was lucky at Antietam, lucky to be facing George McClellan. Throughout September 17, McClellan’s biggest failure was his lack of commitment. Historians agree that McClellan was under a lot of political pressure from the Whitehouse for a much-needed win. Yet, with a clear advantage in both supremacy and intelligence, his cautious strategies cost him a great victory.
It was no secret that McClellan had political ambition. This was mentioned in numerous letters to his wife. He intended to enter the political stage as a democrat and run against Lincoln in the 1864 presidential elections. Having a firm political career in mind, I believe this affected his ability to commit on the battlefield. His prudence was politically motivated. The war was becoming unpopular in the north. Casualty rates of 20-30% were becoming common. People were starting to question the war and the motives behind it. Congress was scrutinizing battles in an effort to find fault in such losses. A battlefield General with a history of carnage was hardly a good candidate for a political career.
Ambrose Burnside was specifically ordered not to attack the bridge, or move the 9th Corps over the Antietam until told to do so. This decision was disastrous! Instead of a single coordinated attack from Hooker and Burnside on Lee’s flanks, the Army of the Potomac mounted three separate uncoordinated battles. This allowed Lee to maneuver his outnumbered forces around the battlefield to counter each offensive.
The capture of the Rohrbach Bridge was a crucial part of the battle. It removed a major obstacle, the Antietam, which split McClellan’s army. McClellan failed to act upon vital intelligence that clearly indicated he outnumbered Robert E. Lee’s forces. When McClellan arrived at Sharpsburg, he paused for two days, second-guessing Lee’s strength and allowing Stonewall Jackson time to arrive from Harpers Ferry. McClellan’s cautious leadership and lack of commitment were based upon protecting his future political career. Unfortunately, through his misguided leadership, Antietam was not the great victory the Union claimed through propaganda.
With all the opportunities available to George McClellan, the bloodiest single day in American military history ended in stalemate. And at what cost, 22,720 casualties from both sides for no strategic advantage. Some could argue that Lee was pushed back across the Potomac, therefore ending the Maryland campaign, but a great opportunity was lost. The chance to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia! This was 1862, and the war would continue for three more, bloody years. Its destruction would’ve ended the fighting sooner. The successful retreat of the Army of Northern Virginia meant it could fight again. Chancellorsville, May 1863, 24,000 casualties, Gettysburg, July 1863, 51,000, and the Wilderness, May 1864, 29,800. I mention these battles, as they were statistically greater than Antietam. But there were others with lesser losses. These three battles alone cost a total of 104,800 American lives.
Labeled the war of ‘brother against brother,’ this title clearly defining the predicament many families faced on both sides of the divide. Antietam, in particular, the attack on the Rohrbach Bridge, was no stranger to its share of family grief. Brigadier General David R. Jones, a thirty-seven-year-old graduate of West Point, was the divisional commander responsible for the Confederate right flank. Jones’ soldiers in Toombs’ Brigade killed his brother-in-law, Colonel Henry W. Kingsbury, while commanding the 11 Connecticut, who led the first union attack on the bridge.
~ Steve McConnell
Antietam National Cemetery: Bissell, Henry, Private, 16th NY, Co. G, date of death unknown, grave 429, lot D, sect. 25: © 2016 Stephen D. McConnell
United States, Congressional Series of United States Public Documents, Volume 2572.
(189). Index to the Miscellaneous Documents of the House of Representatives of the First Session of the Fiftieth Congress (Vol. 2572, p. 840). Washington, CA: Government Printing Office.
Alexander, E. P. (2014). Military memoirs of a Confederate: A critical narrative. New
York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing.