Leaving Golovanevsk

Recent research of my family history has yielded a story of survival that has given me a new appreciation for my heritage. My paternal grandmother Betty Pritzker was from the last of 5+ generations of Jews, mostly Orthodox rabbis, to hail from the once thriving Ukrainian shtetl (Yiddish for “little town”) of Golovanevsk three hours south of Kyiv.

Family Photos – Left: my grandmother Betty Pritzker and my father Sam Smith, early 1950s; Right: my great-grandmother Yetta Pritzker, likely 1940s

As shown on this petition for U.S. citizenship, on October 5, 1914 her mother (my great-grandmother) Yetta Talansky married my great-grandfather Rabbi Samuel Pritzker from nearby Berdychiv. Also shown are my grandmother Betty (Basia in Yiddish), aunts Clara (Chaika) and Pearl (Perel). The Pritzker family emigrated to America in 1925 to escape anti-Jewish pogroms being committed across Ukraine in the aftermath of World War I.

Source: March 14, 1927 Pritzker family U.S. Petition for Citizenship; New York, U.S., State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1794-1943

More than 800 pogroms were committed in the territories of the Russian Empire between 1917-1920, claiming the lives of 50,000-100,000 Jews.[1] In Ukraine alone in 1919, 30,500 Jews were murdered in pogroms.[2] This violence was born out of the decline of the Central Powers in World War I. While occupying Ukraine at the end of the war, desperate German forces attempted to incite Ukrainian nationalism by installing a “social nationalist” puppet government which envisioned a strong national identity. Their version of Ukraine recalled a heroic past and nationalist future without Jews as part of the national state.[3]

In the power vacuum that followed, civil wars broke out between Ukrainian nationalists, Red and White Army Russians, and anarchists. In the region of Ukraine my great-grandmother and grandfather lived, White Russian Army forces loyal to the tsar targeted Jews as pro-Bolshevik and promoted antisemitic rumors to rile up citizens. A British war correspondent visiting White Army headquarters in Ukraine at the time observed: “The officers and the men of the army laid practically all the blame for their country’s trouble on the Hebrew.”[4] The people of my family’s hometown of Golovanevsk organized a self-defense militia unit after an incident on December 18, 1917, in which the Jewish stands of the town marketplace were looted and nine pogromists and civilians were killed in the ethnic violence violence that followed.[5]

Though the self-defense unit helped prevent further violence in this incident, it wasn’t as lucky in August 1919 when it was defeated by White Army forces under Lt. Gen. Yakov Slashchov. On August 4, 1919 Slashchov’s men killed 200 Jews in Golovanevsk as retaliation for the militia’s armed opposition.[6] In January 1920 my grandmother Betty was born, but the residence of Golovanevsk must have finally become untenable for the Pritzkers after another deadly pogrom less than a month later. This New York Tribune article from February 25, 1920 describes anti-Jewish massacres committed by Lt. Gen. Anton Denikin’s White Army forces, including “more than fifty victims…counted at Golovanesk” (sic).

Source: Newspapers.com by Ancestry World Collection

The Pritzker family finally emigrated on August 13, 1925, departing from Hamburg, Germany on the vessel Ohio according to Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934, available on Ancestry. The 1930 and 1940 U.S. Censuses give clues to their early immigrant lives in Brooklyn, New York. In the 1930 U.S. Census Samuel Pritzker is still listed as “Rabbi,” apparently combining faith and commerce as the industry listed next to occupation is “chicken market” in 1930 and “poultry wholesale” in 1940. My great-grandmother Yetta is listed as a “Housemaker,” grandmother Betty as a “floor girl” in a “watch factory,” and the family of five all Yiddish speakers. The total household income for their 1940 Brownsville, Brooklyn house was $3,898 (roughly $75,650 today).

Source: Find A Grave memorial page

My great-grandfather Rabbi Samuel Pritzker passed away from a blood clot in his heart on Christmas day 1940. From August 1941-January 1944 the Jewish population of his birthplace of Berdychiv, once the city with the highest density Jewish population in the Russian Empire[7] (78%), was exterminated in a series of executions committed by Waffen-SS forces during Nazi occupation, claiming 17,000 lives.[8] Four years after that in 1948, my father became the first Pritzker in our immediate family born in America. We never got a chance to thank his grandfather for giving us that opportunity.

Family Photo: Me and my dad on the National Mall, Washington D.C. in 1990 or 1991

Works Cited

Aly, G. (2017). Europe Against the Jews 1880-1945. New York: Picador.

Buryak, C. (2020). History of the Jewish Communities in Ukraine. Retrieved from http://jewua.org/golovanevsk/

Klinov, Y. (1921). A Chapter of Self-Defense: Trying to Reach an Understanding with the Ukrainians – The Pogrom of 18 December 1917. Retrieved from https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/Golovanevsk/gol157.html

Kobalia, A. (2018). Between the “Whites” and the “Reds”: Who carried out pogroms against the Jews during the Civil War? Ukrainian Jewish Encounter. Retrieved from https://ukrainianjewishencounter.org/en/between-the-whites-and-the-reds-who-carried-out-pogroms-against-the-jews-during-the-civil-war/

Yad Vashem: The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, Golovanevsk. (2021). Retrieved from https://www.yadvashem.org/untoldstories/database/index.asp?cid=883

Yahad in Unum: Berdychiv. (2021). Retrieved from https://yahadmap.org/#village/berdychiv-zhytomir-ukraine.12


[1] Kobalia, 2018

[2] Aly, 2017, p. 117

[3] Aly, 2017, p. 115-116

[4] Aly, 2017, p. 133

[5] Klinov, 1921, p. 157

[6] Yad Vashem, 2021; Buryak, 2020

[7] Aly, 2017, p. 45

[8] Yahad in Unum: Berdychiv, 2021

“Lewis, a servant of Colonel Cogswell”

“Lewis, a servant of Colonel Cogswell” – By Connor Smith

October 21st is the 160th anniversary of the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, an 1861 Civil War battle in Leesburg, Virginia known primarily as the only battle in American history where a senator was killed in combat. This was U.S. Senator (and Colonel) Edward D. Baker, a 50-year-old Republican from Oregon and best friend of Abraham Lincoln, who he had shared a picnic with on the White House lawn the previous day.[1] The volunteer force Baker commanded at Ball’s Bluff included dirt poor Bostonian shoemakers, Harvard students, and notably the first Black Union Army combatant of the war.

The battle turned into a Confederate rout after the death of Senator Baker, who was replaced in command by West Pointer Milton Cogswell. With his brigade backed up along the edge of a 100-foot-high bluff on the Potomac River, Colonel Cogswell abandoned a breakout attempt and opted to conduct a fighting retreat to safety on Union-held Harrison’s Island. During this desperate retreat, multiple sources record that a free Black man from Washington D.C. named Lewis A. Bell took up arms alongside soldiers of the 15th and 20th Massachusetts infantry regiments. This is an especially unique achievement because the Union Army did not officially enlist Black soldiers until January 1863 with the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Published in 1870, History of Worcester in the War of the Rebellion contains a chapter on the 15th Massachusetts at Ball’s Bluff, explaining 31-year-old Lewis Bell’s service:

“At this moment a negro first acted the part of a soldier in the war. Lewis, a servant of Colonel Cogswell, in the confusion, supplied himself with arms, and loaded and fired with great spirit, until captured with Lieutenant Greene. He was taken to Richmond, and treated as a prisoner of war.”[2]

Near this spot on 10/21/1861 Lewis A. Bell became the first Black Union Army combatant of the Civil War at Ball’s Bluff in Leesburg, VA.

Bell, a free Black man from Washington D.C., served as an orderly in the 42nd NY Infantry and during the Union retreat “supplied himself with arms, and loaded and fired with great spirit.”
Author’s Photo: Near this spot on October 21, 1861 Lewis A. Bell became the first Black Union Army combatant of the Civil War at Ball’s Bluff in Leesburg, VA. Bell, a free Black man from Washington D.C., served as an orderly in the 42nd NY Infantry and during the Union retreat “supplied himself with arms, and loaded and fired with great spirit.”

Since Black men were not yet allowed to serve in army combat roles, Bell’s baptism by fire came under duress when he was serving as an orderly (or paid servant) to Colonel Cogswell. There is convincing wartime corroboration for Bell’s service as an orderly in an October 25, 1861 Richmond Examiner article about the arrival of Union POWs from Leesburg to the Confederate capital in Richmond:


In the above account, the reporter claims that Bell was taken prisoner among Union soldiers at Ball’s Bluff and pretended to be a free Black citizen when he was really a fugitive slave from the Richmond area. In a follow-up on October 29, 1861 the Richmond Examiner continued to claim Bell had previously been enslaved in the area while acknowledging his claims of free status in Washington:

Another wartime account, “The Leesburg Battle” in the Richmond Whig, contains a claim that Bell was specifically targeted because he was Black:

“The same account mentioned several Confederates finally opening fire because they noticed that “a lusty negro, with brazen front, stood armed in the ranks,” a provocation that was “more than our mean could bear.”[4]

Despite his contested free status, Bell was released from a Richmond prison camp in February 1862. A February 22, 1862 column in the New York Daily Tribune filed from Fort Monroe contains a list of “prisoners who arrived here this forenoon by a flag of truce from Richmond.” The list is filled with Ball’s Bluff veterans and halfway down column two of page six we find Bell listed among a group of prisoners, of which “The last four are negroes.”

Curiously, he is listed as being from Ohio rather than Washington D.C. which one historian maintains is an accurate representation of Bell, whom he maintains was “a freed slave from Ohio.”[5]

Bell would have needed free status to serve as an orderly in 1861, meaning he was not enslaved at the outset of the war. But he may have been born to a free Black woman in Ohio before becoming enslaved, hence the Ohio hometown citation. Regardless of his birthplace, his wartime D.C. residency is confirmed by a “soldiers and sailors” burial citation on a Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery preservation website, a historic Black cemetery destroyed by development in modern Walter Pierce Park in Washington D.C.

Bell, Louis (Lewis), private, Co. E; widow Mary. Louis Bell died January 3, 1886, age 56, occupation laborer, at 1334 15th St. NW.

Bell’s 1886 death date suggests that he continued to live in D.C. after the war and gives us clues to his life after he was released as POW in February 1862. For example, he is listed as a Private in Company E of the 32nd U.S. Colored Infantry. This means that a few years after his release, he enlisted in a U.S. Army regiment organized outside of Philadelphia. The 32nd USCI provided mostly occupational duties in Hilton Head, South Carolina during William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea campaign beginning in 1864.

Bell’s postwar residence in the nation’s capital is further confirmed by 2 postbellum newspaper accounts. In the October 10, 1865 Cleveland Daily Leader, “Lewis A. Bell” is listed among the officers of the National Lincoln Monument Association organized in Washington (top).

And in the April 17, 1867 Washington Evening Star (bottom), “Louis A. Bell” is listed among other Black Union veterans in the marching order for an emancipation celebration procession in Franklin Square (right). Though his story has previously been lost to history, these primary documents enable us to recognize the service of the first Black man to take up arms with the U.S. Army during the Civil War, D.C.’s own Lewis A. Bell.

Works Cited

“Arrival at Richmond of Prisoners Captured at Leesburg,” October 28, 1861 reprint from Fayetteville Weekly Observer, and October 29, 1861 reprint from The Times-Picayune

Howard, B. (2018). The Battle of Ball’s Bluff: All The Drowned Soldiers. Charleston, SC: The History Press.

Marvin, A. (1870). History of Worcester in the War of the Rebellion. Worcester: The Author.

Morgan, J. (2011). A Little Short of Boats. El Dorado Hills: Savas Beatie.


[1] Howard, 2018, p. 103

[2] Marvin, 1870, p. 115

[3] “Arrival at Richmond of Prisoners Captured at Leesburg,” October 28, 1861 reprint from Fayetteville Weekly Observer, and October 29, 1861 reprint from The Times-Picayune

[4] Morgan, 2011, p. 148

[5] Howard, 2018, p. 80

Senator Revels and General Tubman: A Tale of Two Titans

Hiram Revels

Hiram Revels (2019). Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/other-sources/hiram-revels/docview/1959812534/se-2?accountid=131239

Prior to 1913, U.S. senators were elected by state legislatures. During Reconstruction, with the Republican Party in control of the Mississippi State Legislature in 1870, former U.S. Army chaplain Hiram R. Revels became the first Black man elected to Congress. Amazingly, since both U.S. Senate seats from Mississippi remained vacant during the Civil War, when Revels was seated in February 1870 he was the first Mississippi senator seated since former Confederate president Jefferson Davis. A February 24, 1870 New York Evangelist article rejoiced at the irony: 

Document Title: Jeff. Davis’s Successor in the Senate of the United States

Link: http://blackfreedom.proquest.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/revels3.pdf

Revels served a short, but distinguished, one year term in the Senate highlighting injustices against Black laborers and infrastructure investment in postwar Mississippi, and was one of two Black senators from Mississippi to serve in the Reconstruction-era Senate. However, after the 1870s there would not be another Black senator seated until Edward Brooke (R-MA) in 1967, and there were more Black senators elected during the Grant Administration (1869-1877) than during the Clinton Administration (1993-2001). 

Revels’s experience is symbolic of the Black Freedom struggle, described by historian Vincent Harding as “a river, sometimes running slow and narrow, at other times running swift and wide.” Though he soared to previously unimaginable heights for a Black man in America in 1870 by getting elected to the U.S. Senate, the progress for which he laid the groundwork was checked by systemic racism as it would be almost 100 years until another Black person was elected to the Senate.

Harriet Tubman

Daughters of the New Republic: Harriet Tubman and Sarah Bradford. Robertson, L. (Director). (2016, Jan 01). [Video/DVD] Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/audio-video-works/daughters-new-republic-harriet-tubman-sarah/docview/1892343317/se-2?accountid=131239

Though Harriet Tubman is posthumously revered as a hero for leading raids to help enslaved people emancipate themselves, during her lifetime her achievements fell victim to the open white supremacy of the era. By 1874 Tubman was nearly broke after a decade of accumulating debts while not being given any compensation by the Federal Government for her service as Union scout and spy. In the first session of the 43rd Congress in 1874, House Republicans introduced H.R. 2711, a bill to pay Tubman $2,000 for her Union war service.

A June 22, 1874, House Committee on War Claims report sourced from ProQuest Congressional shows the official war correspondence Republicans on the committee cited to prove Tubman’s value to the Union military cause. Included is a February 19, 1863 order by Union Major General David Hunter providing Tubman with a permanent wartime pass on all Federal Government transports:

Document Description: House and Senate Reports: On Harriet Tubman’s activities as a scout and a spy.

Link: https://blackfreedom.proquest.com/harriet-tubman/

This order assisted Tubman in the June 1863 Combahee Ferry raid, where she guided a Black U.S. Army regiment to emancipate enslaved people in a mission that further proved correct the moniker “General Tubman,” a pre-war honorific bestowed by antislavery raider John Brown. These enslaved Black men and women of the South Carolina Lowcountry had already been made legally free by the Emancipation Proclamation issued earlier in the year, but were still being kept in captivity. Many of the men freed on the raid were recruited to serve in USCT (Black U.S. Army regiments) regiments afterwards, increasing Union Army manpower in South Carolina.

The evidence provided in the committee report speaks to the open racism of the time. The only official correspondence in support of Tubman available to cite was written by abolitionist military officers. The aforementioned David Hunter was seen as a renegade abolitionist, issuing General Orders No. 7 on April 13, 1862 which immediately freed all enslaved people at the fort his Union force had just captured as well as the surrounding island. Though rescinded, it was briefly the most radical emancipation order issued by the U.S. Army. 

A letter from Colonel James Montgomery stating that he found Tubman “valuable as a scout” was provided as evidence of her service in the report. Montgomery was an ardent abolitionist associated with slave revolt leader John Brown before the war. The only other correspondence was endorsements of these messages by Brigadier General Quincy Gillmore, who commanded Black soldiers in South Carolina, and Brigadier General Rufus Saxton, an anti-slavery Medal of Honor recipient. 

Surely it would have helped the committee’s case to have endorsements from some moderate or conservative military figures, many of whom also used Tubman’s services as a spy. However, it appears the only war correspondence praising Tubman available to the committee was written by abolitionists, so the opportunity to showcase bipartisan support was lost.

H.R. 2711, for the relief of Harriet Tubman, passed the Republican House later that year, but in a cruel twist the bill was defeated by a Republican Senate due to lack of documentation. The Union Army scout, nurse, and spy whose portrait may soon be on the $20 bill, could not even receive $2,000 compensation (roughly $45,891 today) from the Federal Government in 1874 for her heroic work.

The 5th USCC at the Battle of Saltville

The legacy of the American Civil War for white Americans is a race-based reconciliation of “brother Americans” forging a new national identity. However, Black Americans were forging a new identity as free Americans, a fact history largely ignores.

Postwar battle reunions included white Union and Confederate soldiers but excluded Black veterans despite the fact that African Americans ultimately made up ten percent of the Union Army. Popular histories of the war offer views of Confederate generals who committed racial atrocities and fought to preserve the antebellum social order as innocuous figures. Meanwhile, modern battlefield preservation focuses on battles fought predominantly by white soldiers, including the 1,600-acre battlefield at Monocacy National Battlefield in Frederick, MD complete with a visitor center, multiple Confederate monuments, and annual remembrance programs. Meanwhile, the more strategically important Battle of New Market Heights in Henrico, VA, where 14 of the 16 Black soldiers who were awarded Medals of Honor during the war received this distinction, is entirely unpreserved by the NPS.

Postwar narratives favor northern whites reconciling with southern whites and ignore the reality of events such as the Battle of Saltville, where on October 2, 1864, a regiment of former enslaved people turned Union cavalrymen—the 5th U.S. Colored Cavalry (USCC)—fought against slaveholders and Confederate army regulars at the strategically important southwestern Virginia town of Saltville.


The position where the 5th USCC encamped before the Battle of Saltville; Photo By Connor Smith

Though volunteers for the Union Army who literally fought for their freedom, the Black veterans of Saltville are a footnote to history. The battle is remembered mainly as a racial massacre marked by Confederate post-battle atrocities against their Black adversaries. However, the Black cavalrymen of the 5th USCC in their first battle demonstrated bravery and a grasp of battlefield tactics that impressed even the most racist Union soldiers. Remembrance of the Battle of Saltville highlights the importance of conversations arising from ongoing Black Lives Matter protests and the role white Americans play in uplifting—or stifling—Black narratives of their fight for freedom, and why for so long systemic racism has quieted stories of Black heroism during the war.


During the war, Kentucky was a border state that, on paper, remained loyal to the Union and the Lincoln administration allowed to maintain slavery having excluded Union states from the Emancipation Proclamation. In the 1860 Census, enslaved people made up 20% of Kentucky’s population and the state had more slaveholders than the Confederate states of Georgia and Virginia.[1]

By 1864, Black soldiers were serving in multiple theaters of the war, but Kentucky had yet to recruit any until an amendment to the federal Enrollment Act was approved that February, which allowed draft eligibility for male enslaved people.[2] After a violent outcry from Kentuckians desperate not to lose their slaves to the U.S. Army and freedom, the spindly goateed general Stephen G. Burbridge, commander of all Union troops in the military district of Kentucky, issued General Order No. 24, which allowed the slaveholder Burbridge to authorize the raising of black regiments composed of recruited freedmen and ex-enslaved people admitted at the “request” of their owners in exchange for $400 compensation.[3] By summer, momentum to arm ex-enslaved people for battle progressed to the point that the War Department authorized Kentucky recruiters to accept any Black male attempting to enlist.[4]

One of the regiments borne of this recruiting effort was the 600-man 5th USCC, a cavalry regiment composed mainly of ex-enslaved people from Kentucky. Once organized as a regiment in Gen. Nathaniel C. McLean’s Kentucky Division, Black soldiers of the 5th USCC faced beatings by mobs of angry white Kentuckians in the streets simply for enlisting.[5] They were humiliated by fellow white soldiers with schoolyard pranks such as having their caps and horses stolen and endured “taunts that they would not fight.”[6] Whereas the two other white regiments of their brigade—11th MI Cavalry, 12th OH Cavalry—received multi-firing and accurate Spencer repeating carbine rifles, the Black men of the 5th USCC were armed with inferior single shot Enfield infantry rifles, useless to cavalrymen since it could not be loaded on horseback,[7] and were mounted on untrained horses.[8]

The Black recruits of the 5th USCC, however, maintained a desire to fight the southern rebels, despite northern white soldiers’ racial discrimination and inferior equipment that the Federal Government issued. In a September 24, 1864 poem published in the “negro” newspaper the Weekly Anglo-African, a Black Kentucky recruit referenced the mob beatings bestowed on Black soldiers: “You’ll see the rebels on the street, their noses like a bee gum. I don’t care what in thunder they say, I’m fighting for my freedom!”

The Battle of Saltville: October 2, 1864

The 5th USCC entered combat before officially being mustered in as a full regiment, but circumstances in southwestern Virginia called for this with Union Kentucky Division commander Burbridge planning an invasion on the town of Saltville. Dubbed the salt capital of the Confederacy, the town contained a saltworks Burbridge sought to destroy that was responsible for 66% of the south’s salt production, used to preserve food and sustain the rebel army.

Arriving at the outskirts of Saltville on October 1 after weeks of alternately marching and skirmishing with rebels along the way, the 5th USCC encamped with the other regiments of Col. Robert Ratliff’s Union brigade on the imposing Sanders Hill. They waited for orders to attack that never came, as Gen. Burbridge made a tactical mistake by camping for the night and allowing rebels defending the town to swell their tiny force of 300 militia soldiers into a formidable defense of 2,800 men. Though the Union force was 4,500 men strong, they faced formidable natural obstacles to attack the salt wells southwest of town.

The next morning, the 5th USCC on the far left of the Union line was tasked with attacking the rebel position on Chestnut Ridge. This involved marching down the mountain-like Sanders Hill, crossing the winding Cedar Branch stream under enemy fire, and scaling up a sheer ridge past three-foot high rebel rifle pits and earthworks. The Black cavalrymen, active for barely more than a month, faced seasoned Confederate soldiers from Brig. Gen. John S. Williams’s Army of Tennessee along with a brigade of guerrillas known for committing atrocities against Black soldiers.


The imposing Sanders Hill that the 5th USCC had to descend; Photo By Connor Smith

Though their first two assaults up the ridge failed, the third carried the ridge with the assistance of the 11th Michigan Cavalry and 12th Ohio Cavalry to their right. But while these regiments could fire 21 rounds of ammunition per minute with their Spencer repeating rifles and push the rebels back with superior firepower, the Black cavalrymen of the 5th overran their tasked portion of Confederate earthworks with remarkable willpower since their Enfield rifles could only fire two to three rounds per minute.


Cedar Branch stream and the position of Confederate rifle pits at Saltville; Photo by Connor Smith

The 5th USCC’s assault-by-manpower impressed their abolitionist commander Col. James S. Brisbin, who gushed “Of this fight I can only say that the men could not have behaved more bravely.”[9] Viewing the charge of the 5th USCC up the ridge from their stymied position north of the Holston River, even members of the Union 13th Kentucky Cavalry were moved. Though they had participated in the racist taunting of the Black cavalrymen before the battle, a white captain in the regiment wrote afterwards that he, “never saw troops fight like they did. The rebels were firing on them with grape and canister and were mowing them down by the Scores but others kept straight on,” adding that he “Never thought they would fight till he Saw them there.”[10] Col. Brisbin pointed out in his after-action report, “On the return of the forces, those who had scoffed at the colored troops on the march out were silent.”[11]


Chestnut Ridge position taken by the 5th USCC in the right foreground. The 2 other Union brigades were located in the center of this photo across the Holston River Bridge and off to the left out of photo; Photo by Connor Smith


Ratliff’s brigade held the captured Confederate earthworks on Chestnut Ridge until nightfall, but low on ammunition and cut off from the other brigades of the division stuck north of the river, they were forced to retreat. Finally, breaking a cardinal U.S. Army rule, Union Gen. Burbridge left his wounded on the battlefield and retreated into Kentucky, allowing angry rebels the chance to murder wounded Black soldiers. There is debate as to the exact number of murdered Black soldiers, but an analysis of casualty reports places a conservative estimate at 46.[12] Out of the 400 men of the 5th USCC engaged in battle at Saltville, 118 were listed killed, wounded, or missing for a 30% casualty rate.[13]

Fighting Ulysses S. Grant outside of Petersburg, Confederate Army of Northern Virginia Gen. Robert E. Lee, whose Richmond statue is currently at the center of a debate over white supremacy, wired Confederate Secretary of War James A. Seddon to update him on the result of the battle in Saltville where wounded Black soldiers were specifically targeted, and stated simply “All our troops behaved well.”[14]

Works Cited

Dobak, W., 2011. Freedom By The Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops 1862-1867. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History.

Glatthaar, J. (2000). Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers. LSU Press.

Mays, T.  (2001). The Battle of Saltville within Black Soldiers in Blue: African American Troops in the Civil War Era. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com

Mays, T., 1992. The Price Of Freedom: The Battle Of Saltville And The Massacre Of The Fifth United States Colored Cavalry. Master of Arts in History. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records

of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Government

Printing Office, 1880-1901), Hereafter footnoted as OR: 1st ser., XX(X):XXX


[1] Dobak, 2011, p. 381

[2] Dobak, 2011, p. 383

[3] Mays, 2001, p. 202

[4] Dobak, 2001, p. 386

[5] Mays, 2001, p. 202

[6] OR, 1st ser., 39 (1):556-557

[7] Mays, 2001, p. 206

[8] OR, 1st ser., 39 (1):556-557

[9] OR, 1st ser., 39 (1):556-557

[10] Glatthaar, 2000, p. 165

[11] OR, 1st ser., 39 (1):556-557

[12] Mays, 1992

[13] Mays, 2001, p. 212

[14] OR, 1st ser., 39 (3):786

Hue, Vietnam Battlefield Tour Chapter 2: Golf 2/5

This is chapter 2 of a 5 chapter battlefield guide covering major U.S. Marine sites from the Battle of Hue City in January/February 1968. You can find chapter 1 here. Stops 2A-2D are below and a Google Maps link of the associated sites is included in each stop title.


Above: Map depicting locations of tour stops associated with U.S. Marines of Golf Company 2nd Battalion/5th Regiment in Hue 1/31/1968

2A: Doc Lao Park

2B: Truong Tien Bridge

2C: Tran Hung Dao Street

2D: Thuong Tu Gate Road

STOP 2A: Doc Lao Park


What Happened Here

G/2/5 headed north from Phu Bai Combat Base at 10:30 AM on January 31, 1968 to relieve Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment (A/1/1), actively engaged with NVA forces in the southern New City of Hue attempting to seize the city as part of the nationwide enemy Tet Offensive.

The company first found signs of A/1/1’s fight just north of Stop 1D from Part 1, where they were hit by small arms fire from the fresh 810th NVA Battalion. Stalled under fire on the exposed road, G/2/5 was able to connect with A/1/1 and begin the process of retrieving the wounded.

Col. Marcus Gravel, now commanding the combined force, gave Lt. Col. Ed LaMontagne, an officer from the accompanying tank battalion, permission to simply bypass the NVA fire and speed to the MACV Compound (Military Assistance Command Vietnam) 900 meters north of Stop 1D for reinforcements to rescue A/1/1 and G/2/5. 

Pinned down under a metal pipe running under the causeway between culverts (Bowden, 2017, p. 139), the companies were successfully reinforced and able to reach MACV at 2:45 PM. The ease with which G/2/5 arrived at the compound with minimal casualties compared to A/1/1 occurred because the NVA soldiers facing the Americans were a fresh relief battalion more interested in reaching the Citadel than they were in engaging American forces.

Who Fought Here?

A relief force of 160 U.S. Marines and Navy Corpsmen from Golf Company, 2nd Battalion/5th Marines “chopped” (or attached) to the control of 1st Battalion/1st Marines commander Col. Marcus J. Gravel. Despite Gravel’s misgivings of the mission, at 4:10 PM following a rest at the MACV compound, G/2/5 and the command element of A/1/1 loaded onto trucks and advanced a block to the bridge approach 260 meters SW of Stop 2A with a plan to cross the Truong Tien Bridge, assault the Citadel via the Thuong Tu Gate entrance, and rescue ARVN soldiers besieged in the 1st ARVN Division HQ Compound.

The combined force had the following equipment for the upcoming Truong Tien bridge assault:

  • 5 Marine M-48 tanks
  • 2 U.S. Army M-55 quad-50 trucks
  • 2 ARVN Armored Cavalry Battalion M-41 light tanks
  • Unspecified number of hot-wired civilian vehicles used to rescue wounded

Golf Company was commanded by Capt. Charles L. “Chuck” Meadows and split into 2 platoons with 2 squads each:

  • First Platoon (2nd Lt. Mike McNeil)
    • 1st Squad (Corporal Glenn Lucas)
    • 2nd Squad* (unengaged; left on south bank to provide crossing with fire support)
  • Second Platoon (2nd Lt. Steve Hancock)
    • 1st Squad (Lance Corp. Barney Barnes)
    • 2nd Squad (Corp. Lester Tully)

They were opposed by the following battalions from the 4th NVA Regiment commanded by Lt. Col. Nyugen Van: (engaged forces bold, unengaged italicized, attached*)

  • 804th NVA Battalion
  • 810th NVA Battalion
  • 815th NVA Battalion
  • 818th NVA Battalion
  • 2 sapper battalions*

This stop itself is a park that was used as a friendly helicopter LZ (landing zone) to evacuate wounded troops as well as a supporting fire position for some Marines of A/1/1 for G/2/5’s assault on the Truong Tien Bridge (then known as Nguyen Hoang Bridge):

Above: Video of Doc Lao Park taken by author in March 2018

Who Commanded Here?

Col. Marcus J. “Mark” Gravel commanded the combined force of G/2/5 and the command element of A/1/1 48 hours short of his 38th birthday on January 31, 1968. The Korean War veteran was described as a kind and sensitive devout Catholic who took the unusual step of learning the names of every Marine under his command. In Mark Bowden’s Hue 1968 he is quoted as often saying, “Whenever one of my Marines gets a scratch, I bleed.” To show solidarity with the ARVN forces who fought alongside him in Vietnam, Gravel sported the rank insignia of an ARVN Lt. Col. on his helmet. After the war, Gravel was stationed at the Pentagon where he worked as a public affairs officer with the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Flores, 2006, p. 114). He died relatively young at the age of 62 on March 30, 1992 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.


Source: Eric Hammel Marines in Hue City: A Portrait of Urban Combat Tet, p. 88

STOP 2B: Truong Tien Bridge (formerly Nguyen Hoang Bridge)


What Happened Here

The planned mission was for G/2/5 to reach the besieged ARVN Compound was by following Highway 1 across the 400-meter-long Truong Tien Bridge, turning left on Tran Hung Dao Street parallelling the north bank of the Perfume River and proceeding 300 meters to the Thuong Tu Gate Road leading to the southeast corner of the Citadel. 

Above: Panoramic view originally facing NW of the Truong Tien Bridge spanning the Perfume River in Hue

G/2/5’s bridge crossing was complicated due to a number of factors:

  • Holes in the bridge span opened straight down into the river due to an unsuccessful NVA attempt to blow the bridge earlier.
  • ARVN Armored Cavalry Battalion soldiers were fought out and refused to provide M-41 light tanks.
  • Gravel feared the steel superstructure would not support Patton tanks so they were left behind instead to provide supporting fire from the south bank of the river.
  • No air support would be provided due to American fears of damaging important South Vietnam cultural sites in the Citadel.
  • Capt. Meadows reduced the size of the 160-man company to 100 for the bridge crossing and Citadel advance, leaving a reserve squad behind to provide supporting fire.

Who Fought Here?

Lance Corp. Barney Barnes’s squad of 2nd Lt. Steve Hancock’s 2nd Platoon served as the point team and set off at a crouched trot to this point at the crest of the arch of the bridge at Stop 2B where they began to take fire from an NVA machine gun in a bunker at the NW end of the bridge. Because of the arched roadway in the center of the bridge, Barnes’s squad could not see over the center of the bridge. Their view approaching the crest was similar to the below:

To combat the NVA .51 caliber machine gun fire, Pvt. FC Clyde Carter and a Marine machine gun team set up an M60 but Carter was quickly killed. As casualties mounted Barnes reached the northern end of the bridge and reserve squad leader Corp. Lester Tully, in an effort that would earn him the Silver Star, reduced the NVA machine gun position with a hand grenade, killing 5 NVA soldiers (Hammel, Fire Streets, 61). 

In a June 2013 Leatherneck article Army Sergeant Bob Lauver, who assisted in removing wounded G/2/5 men from the bridge, described the actions of Marines who tried in vain to disable the NVA machine gun bunker before Tully got to it: “I saw many Marines of Golf-two-five perform heroic actions that remain unheralded to this day. Many Marines were cut down trying to take out the machine gun in the bunker. I remember a Marine charging the bunker with grenades, only to not make it. Another Marine with an M60 or M16, firing from the hip, also did not make it to the bunker.”

Barnes’s Squad was the first to arrive across the bridge with Tully’s arriving shortly after, thanks in part to fire assistance from 2 U.S. Navy PBRs (riverine patrol boats) deployed from the Hue LCU (landing craft unit) ramp set up earlier in the day (Hammel, Marines in Hue, 97). Since 2nd Lt. Steve Hancock’s Platoon (Barnes and Tully’s squads) endured the heaviest fighting on the bridge, Capt. Meadows left them to hold the north end of the bridge while 2nd Lt. Mike McNeil’s 1st Platoon prepared to assault the Thuong Tu Gate and enter the Citadel.

Who Commanded Here?

Capt. Chuck Meadows was 28 at the time of the Battle of Hue on his second tour of duty in Vietnam. The beloved captain of Golf Company was an apolitical Marine unconcerned over the politics of the war. Hospital Corpsman Bruce Gant treated G/2/5’s wounded at Hue and said of Meadows: “He loved his men and they loved him. He was their skipper for life.” After the war, Meadows returned to Vietnam to work with Peace Trees, a nonprofit group responsible for finding and disabling unexploded ordnances. He also returned often to host veteran reunion groups. Meadows led a group of G/2/5 veterans across the Truong Tien Bridge on a reunion visit for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Hue. It would be his final visit to the country. Meadows died unexpectedly from a heart condition in his home in Oregon on March 1, 2018, just 3 weeks after leading the anniversary visit. Corpsman Gant said of the final visit: “When we said goodbye in Hanoi last month, I shook his hand and told him I loved him. That’ll always be with me,” (Nelson-Jones, 2018).


Source: The Seattle Times

Who Fell Here?

Plucky-eared 19-year-old Oklahoman PFC Clyde “Butch” Carter was the first member of Golf Company to be killed in the Battle of Hue. He was killed by machine gun fire from the NVA bunker on the north end of Truong Tien Bridge while attempting to set up M60 counter battery fire. On his Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund page a remembrance left for Carter from Eva Gilreath Johnson is addressed to “My close friend/first love, Clyde” and states, “I miss you and I love you, soulmate. You are my Special Angel. Our Memories are special.” Carter is buried at Sunny Lane Cemetery in Del City, Oklahoma.

Carter, Clyde Elmer

Source: Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

What did they say about it later?

In the aforementioned Leatherneck article chronicling a February 2013 veteran reunion in Hue, Larry Verlinde of 1st Platoon-2nd Squad remembered moving out for the Truong Tien Bridge assault shouting, “Whoopee! We’re all gonna die!” an apparent reference to the chorus of the 1967 Country Joe and the Fish Vietnam protest song “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag.”

STOP 2C: Tran Hung Dao Street


Who Fought Here?

McNeils undersized platoon containing only Corporal Glenn Lucas’s Squad was ordered to take over G/2/5 company lead and turn left at Stop 2C down Tran Hung Dao Street towards the Thuong Tu Gate Road and Citadel beyond. Hancock’s Platoon remained back at the bridge to interrogate captured NVA soldiers and recuperate during a period of relative quiet. Lucas’s Squad (of McNeil’s Platoon) continued on an uneventful, but eerily quiet walk to the Thuong Tu Gate Road intersection 300 meters south of Stop 2C

The above video shows McNeil’s Platoon’s journey to Thuong Tu Gate Road via Tran Hung Dao Street with relevant timestamps below:

  • 0:00-0:12 Turning left from the bridge onto Tran Hung Dao Street (NVA machine gun bunker site from Stop 2B at 0:10)
  • 0:13-0:17 View McNeil’s Platoon had as they advanced up Tran Hung Dao
  • 0:18-0:26 NVA view looking south towards Thuong Thu Gate Road/Tran Hung Dao intersection

What did they say about it later?

Many Marines of Lucas’s Squad later remarked about a movie theater they passed in the commercial district along Tran Hung Dao Street that stood out as they made their way to the Thuong Tu Gate Road. However either due to intense focus on the mission or the fog of war, veterans of G/2/5 remember differently what the theater was showing.

In Mark Bowden’s Hue 1968, the author quotes Capt. Meadows as saying the theater was advertising the Italian Western Tempo Di Massacre (Bowden, 2017, p. 146). However, in Eric Hammel’s Fire in the Streets he describes McNeil’s Platoon as passing a movie theater showing Gone With the Wind. (Hammel, 2006, p. 62). As you can see in the comparison photo below, a 1968 photo shows the actor name “Franco Nero,” the Italian Spaghetti Western film star from Tempo Di Massacre, putting the mystery to rest.


Top: The movie theater as it stood in March 2018. Photo taken by author

Bottom: The movie theater as it stood on January 31, 1968. Source: “Golf” Company at Hue Leatherneck June 2013, p. 40 Lance Corp. Ray “Q” Quist from the above photo was shot in both legs wounded on the Thuong Tu Gate Road shortly after this photo was taken. He survived the wounds, but later died of cancer.

STOP 2D: Thuong Tu Gate Road


What Happened Here

When the Marines of Lucas’s Squad arrived turned right at the Thuong Tu Gate Road intersection 100 meters south of Stop 2D, Corp. Lucas was rudely welcomed by NVA AK-47 fire from atop the Citadel wall at the Thuong Tu Gate entrance here. Though Lucas was wounded by gunfire, he led his squad to a point 50 meters north of the intersection where the point squad came under intense NVA small arms fire from atop the wall and inside the gate (Hammel, 2006, p. 63).

IMG_1147Above: Author’s photo the imposing Thuong Tu Gate NVA firing position taken March 2018

8 Marines of Lucas’s Squad fell seriously wounded and found themselves in a dangerous position exposed on both sides of the road. PFC Bill Tant frantically attempted to find cover, but finding all of the shop doors along the road locked he had to settle for a small tree 50 meters from Stop 2D. Corp. Lucas attempted to make the same tree but fell gravely wounded in the road. Hospital Navy Corpsman Donald Kirkham treated wounded Marines all along the dangerously exposed sidewalk, but was shot in the throat and killed while attempting to reach squad leader Lucas (Hammel, 2006, p. 64). 5 Marines now lay dying in the immediate area of Tant’s tree, with no way to move forward or retreat.

KirkhamAbove: Photo taken by Corp. William Peterson from the article “Golf” Company at Hue’ Leatherneck June 2013, p. 40 showing Corp. Lucas and Hospitalman Kirkham lying killed in action near Tant’s tree

With his company being cut to pieces, at this point in the sunny January afternoon, Capt. Chuck Meadows decided to find a spot closer to the action to command from: the front. Meadows made his way to a tree in front of a pharmacy just meters from the Citadel moat, the farthest G/2/5 advance of the day. He went to work trying to improve the outmanned and outgunned position his company found itself in. 


Above: Roughly Capt. Meadows view towards the Thuong Tu Gate Road from the pharmacy and witness tree. Photo taken by author

Below: Modern photo of pharmacy location. Photo taken by author


Standing as a blue and green 2-story building today, in 1968 the pharmacy was a white 1-story building that allowed for roof access, so Capt. Meadows ordered an M-60 machine gun team up to the roof to fire on NVA positions inside the Thuong Tu Gate. From this position it was evident that G/2/5 could move no further due to the imposing NVA defensive position, and the only thing left to do was evacuate the stranded men around Tant’s tree. M-79 smoke grenades fired from the pharmacy roof allowed G/2/5 to extricate all but 1 of their stranded casualties: PFC Gerald Kinny.

The above video shows relevant sites from Lucas’s Squad’s fight at the commercial intersection fronting the Thuong Tu Gate moat and entrance to the Citadel with relevant timestamps below:

  • 0:27-0:35 View of pharmacy and Meadows’s witness tree
  • 0:36-0:49 Likely location of Tant’s witness tree surrounded by wounded from Lucas’s Squad
  • 0:50-0:59 View of NVA defensive position atop the Thong Tu Gate from Meadows’s position in front of the pharmacy

Who Fell Here?

From his position in front of the pharmacy, Capt. Meadows could see the 18-year-old sibling-of-8 PFC Kinny lying motionless in the road. With the “No Man Left Behind” Marine mantra in mind, Meadows “ignored the heavy fire and sprinted toward him. His adrenaline pumping, with his rifle in one hand, he grabbed Kinny by the belt buckle and lifted him with one arm. Running for all he was worth, he half dragged and half-carried him” to a convoy removing the wounded though he was dead on arrival (Bowden, 2017, p. 148). 

After accounting for all of the men in McNeil’s Platoon involved in the mess in front of the Thuong Tu Gate, Meadows radioed back to the combined force commander Col. Gravel and told him he was pulling his company back to the MACV Compound on his own authority (Hammel, 2006, p. 65). Gravel ensured a military convoy of trucks would cross Truong Tien Bridge to assist in evacuating Golf Company’s wounded and the disastrous mission was complete with a withdrawal across the bridge complete at 7:00 PM.

From 4:10-7:00 PM on January 31, 1968 G/2/5 suffered a 33% overall casualty rate (7 killed, 45 wounded). However, this is a bit misleading since the number of forces who actually crossed the bridge was 100, making Golf Company’s engaged forces casualty rate 52%. With the 1st ARVN Division HQ Compound still under siege inside the Citadel and G/2/5 failing to penetrate the Thuong Tu Gate entrance, the company returned to the MACV Compound and regrouped for a new set of orders to fight the NVA block by block in the New City south of the Perfume River. In one day of fighting in Hue the 2 infantry companies of A/1/1 and G/2/5 suffered 80 casualties out of a combat force of 300 Marines, for an overall casualty rate of 27%.

  • Secondary accounts differ on the number of G/2/5 Marines killed in action on January 31 ranging from 5 to 10 KIA. I was able to account for 7 deaths attached to the fighting in this post from primary and secondary accounts. Of those 7 losses, below are 4 Marines mentioned in this post who have publicly available memorial pages:
    • PFC Clyde “Butch” Carter
      • Age at Loss: 19
      • Location of Casualty: Truong Tien Bridge
      • Casualty Detail: Gun or small arms fire
    • Corp. Glenn Lucas
      • Age at Loss: 21
      • Location of Casualty: Thuong Tu Gate Road in front of pharmacy
      • Casualty Detail: Other explosive device
    • Navy Hospital Corpsman Donald Kirkham
      • Age at Loss: 22
      • Location of Casualty: Thuong Tu Gate Road in front of pharmacy
      • Casualty Detail: Multiple fragmentation wounds
    • PFC Gerald Kinny
      • Age at Loss: 18
      • Location of Casualty: Thuong Tu Gate Road in front of pharmacy
      • Casualty Detail: Other explosive device

What did they say about it later?

George Haught served in Second Platoon gun squad and participated in the assault on the Thuong Tu Gate. When Capt. Meadows ordered a team of Marines to the roof of the pharmacy for a better position, Haught climbed on top of the pharmacy roof with the assistance of a boost from another Marine. During my March 2018 visit to Hue, I messaged with Haught and shared photos of the visit. Upon my sharing the below comparison photo of the Thuong Tu Gate destroyed in 1968 and intact in 2018, Haught said simply: “I am glad we never made it through that gate. We all would have been destroyed.”


Stay tuned for Chapter 3 of this series where we will follow the start of Fox, Golf, and Hotel Companies’ block-by-block fighting in the New City. 

Veterans mentioned in this piece are involved with the following charities. To donate to a good cause, please click below:

Peace Trees Vietnam: Donate 

Veterans Breakfast Club: Donate

Works Cited

Bowden, Mark. 2017. Hue 1968: A Turning Point Of The American War In Vietnam. Atlantic Monthly Press.

Flores, John W. 2006. When the River Dreams: The Life of Marine Sgt. Freddy Gonzalez. AuthorHouse. 

Hammel, Eric M. 2006. Fire In The Streets: The Battle For Hue, Tet 1968. Pacifica Military History.

Hammel, Eric M. 2015. Marines in Hue City: A Portrait of Urban Combat Tet 1968. Pacifica Military History.

Keene, R. (2013). “Golf” Company at Hue. Leatherneck. Retrieved from https://www.miltours.com/image/data/brochures/lneckhuepart1.pdf

Nelson-Jones, Diana. (2018). Chuck Meadows: an appreciation. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved from https://www.post-gazette.com/local/region/2018/03/05/col-Chuck-Meadows-obituary-vietnam-tet-offensive-marines-hue-city/stories/201803050125

Nelson-Jones, Diana. (2018). A return to Vietnam: Veterans occupy a former battleground 50 years after Tet. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved from https://newsinteractive.post-gazette.com/dispatches-from-vietnam-vietnam-veterans-pittsburgh-tet-offensive-hue-city-50-year-george-haught-marine/

The Battle of Baylor’s Farm


Order of Battle



In the predawn hours of June 15, 1864, with Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia too distant to reach the lightly defended “Cockade City” city of Petersburg, Virginia and its 18,000 residents, the Union Army of the James began the advance Ulysses S. Grant imagined would end the war.

Though the Army of the Potomac and a detached corps of the Army of the James suffered grievous casualties under Grant’s supervision at the Battle of Cold Harbor just 12 days before and morale in the army had never been lower, Union soldiers were still poised to advance on Petersburg in an operation Grant hoped would cut the vitally important Weldon & Petersburg and Southside railroads.

Cutting this rail junction would hamper Lee’s supplies arriving 20 miles from the south in Petersburg as well as place portions of a Union Army between Richmond and Petersburg.

The first stroke by Ulysses S. Grant and Army of the Potomac commander George Meade was a masterful one, with the combined Union force from Cold Harbor reaching the James River on June 14, 1864 poised to strike at Petersburg the following day. Grant’s transfer of Meade’s army south of the James River was a strategic boon after a terrible defeat at Cold Harbor, allowing Grant to continue to outflank Lee’s right.

While most of the Union force had arrived south of the James River via pontoon bridge at Weyanoke Neck 30 miles east-northeast of Petersburg, William F. “Baldy” Smith’s XVIII Corps from the Army of the James was only 8 miles from Petersburg since they were the only corps to be transported by boat to their river crossing destination and the other corps had marched overland after Cold Harbor. The XVIII Corps arrived at their river crossing destination at Point of Rocks on the north bank of the Appomattox River, at 11:00 PM on June 14, 1864.

William F. “Baldy” Smith was not unique in the eastern theater as a Smith, so he was given the nickname “Baldy” despite not being all that follically challenged. However, he was unique in the eastern theater in that he was the only army general commanding black soldiers.

In Baldy’s Army of the James, Brigadier General Edward W. Hinks commanded a 3,700 division entirely composed of black soldiers and since they were one of the only XVIII Corps divisions not engaged at Cold Harbor they were deemed healthy enough to lead the assault on Petersburg. 

This was a small step for the Petersburg assault, but a giant leap for black America. For the 3,700 men of Hinks’s division were about to conduct the first major offensive operation in Virginia by black troops.

34 years old at the time of the battle, Hinks was a seasoned vet who had been wounded twice in 1862, at Glendale and Antietam. The division of black soldiers he commanded was a disjointed one. The heavily “Jerseymen” 22nd U.S.C.T. was organized earlier in 1864 with 681 New Jersey residents on its rolls.[1]

The 4th U.S.C.T. (United States Colored Troops) was a 1,000 soldier regiment raised in Baltimore. The 6th U.S.C.T. was of similar size, raised in Pennsylvania and composed of many free black citizens. It distinguished itself as the first black regiment to parade in Philadelphia during the war.

While the 4th and 6th U.S.C.T. of Hinks’s division were commanded by progressive commanders with abolitionist leanings, the 5th U.S.C.T. was commanded by Col. James W. Conine, a fiercely unpopular politically conservative commander. While he commanded the regiment, Conine often made soldiers serve out punishments reminiscent of slavery.

For example, one soldier of the 5th was required to act as a personal servant for three months after an offense. Eventually Conine’s racism overtook his sensibilities, and in the days before the Petersburg assault on June 15th he faked an illness so that he would not have to command black soldiers in the assault.

Conine’s attitude was representative of white feeling in the Army of the Potomac and Army of the James about black soldiers. Though black soldiers had established themselves in combat across multiple theaters, they had yet to have a real opportunity in the eastern theater of Virginia. This theater was viewed as the most important in the war to Grant as evidenced by his decision to accompany Meade’s Army of the Potomac in the field on its 1864 Virginia campaign even though he commanded all Union armies.

Hinks’s division of black soldiers had previously participated in small-time war actions such as raids to free fellow slaves and fortifying a camp at Spring Hill outside Petersburg that oversaw POW exchanges. Undoubtedly, their favorite moment of the campaign to that point was their opportunity to whip a local slaveholder who was known for his propensity for whipping slave women in the nude.

The division was composed of two brigades, the aforementioned 4th/5th/6th/22nd U.S.C.T. made up the first brigade commanded by Col. Samuel A. Duncan, a 28 year old schoolteacher from New Hampshire. The second brigade was commanded by Col. John H. Holman and composed of the 1st U.S.C.T. Infantry regiment and 5th Massachusetts Cavalry, which included Frederick Douglass’s son, Sgt. Charles Remond Douglass

The division of black soldiers commanded by white men crossed a pontoon bridge at Broadway Landing on The Appomattox River before midnight on June 14th and began to mass on the south bank of the river at 2:00 AM on the 15th in preparation for the advance that might end the war.


Above: Modern site of Broadway Landing pontoon bridge crossing

Before Hinks’s division could begin their assault on Petersburg 8 miles to the south-southwest, Union cavalry under Brigadier General August Kautz was called upon to clear the way. Unfortunately, Kautz’s cavalry was beset by problems from the get-go. Though they were supposed to cross the pontoon bridge at Broadway Landing, they got a late start and didn’t fully arrive on the south bank until 5:00 AM. With the first streaks of dawn and 3:30 AM and sunrise at 4:38 AM that day, the opportunity for surprise was lost. Kautz’s cavalry set off southwest towards Petersburg along the City Point Road at 5:00 AM with Hinks’s division in its rear.

At 6:00 AM, Kautz’s cavalry encountered its first rebel resistance. A Confederate force of 850 soldiers and 2 artillery pieces stood in their way led by Brigadier General James Dearing, a shameless self-promoting 24 year old who had earned demerits at West Point before the war for singing the soon-to-be Confederate national anthem “Dixie.” After Gettysburg, the artillerist was rapidly promoted from major to brigadier general leading to ire from many of the Confederates under his command.

This smaller Confederate force (850 to 3,700) included two 12-lb. Howitzer cannons commanded by Capt. Edward Graham’s Battery from the Petersburg city defenses, and the horsemen of the 4th North Carolina Cavalry led by Col. Dennis D. Ferebee. Ferebee was a fascinating foil for his commander Dearing since he was unpopular in the south due to this anti-secessionist leanings. Typical of Tar Heel feeling during the war, Ferebee was one of a line of North Carolina Civil War figures who felt Confederate President Jefferson Davis paid too much attention to Virginia, while ignoring the safety of the strategically important North Carolina.

Dearing’s undersized Confederate brigade halted the lead element of Kautz’s Union cavalry force at Perkinson’s Mill on the City Point Road 5 miles northeast of Petersburg where elements of the 4th North Carolina had thrown up breastworks made from nearby fence rails. The Union cavalry was pinned in a ravine from 6:00-7:35 AM, forced to hunker down until Hinks’s infantry arrived.

Though the horsemen were briefly relieved by 14 rounds from an artillery piece of a 4th Wisconsin battery, this gun was quickly silenced and Kautz’s cavalry remained largely pinned down and out of the fight until Hinks’s division arrived shortly after 7:35 AM. What took place next was 25 minutes of battle that would announce the arrival of black soldiers in the eastern theater.


While Confederate general Dearing rapidly fired dispatches to Petersburg warning of the Union advance along City Point Road, Kautz’s cavalry removed itself from the action and Hinks’s division readied their advance at the order of  XVIII Corps commander “Baldy” Smith.

It began on a well intentioned, but embarrassing note. Eager to show his ability as a commander and fire up the black soldiers of his division before their first major assault, division commander Hinks spurred his horse to the front of the battle line but the animal got tripped up in a ditch and flung the commander from his saddle. Though he was able to remount his horse briefly, he gave most of his orders for the coming battle at ground level. To add further injury to insult, he reopened the wound he received at Antietam in the fall from his horse.

There was a hint of malice in Baldy Smith’s selection of Hinks’s division to be the infantry division to lead the assault on Petersburg. Though outnumbered more than 3:1, Dearing’s rebels occupied a strong defensive position. A thick woodlot flanked City Point Road beginning at the point of the Union advance and continued until the Union attackers emerged from the woods to continue to 300 yards of open field on a rapidly rising ground leading to the rebel earthworks in front of the local Baylor family farm. The two artillery pieces under Capt. Graham commanded this road approach, forcing the first Union attacking force to march through marshes and dense vines measuring 20 feet high.

Since this was such a difficult position for the attacking Union force to occupy, Smith wanted to preserve his seasoned white veterans of the XVIII Corps for the main assault on the Petersburg defenses that he believed would follow. In fact, Hinks’s specific mission as described by Smith was to clear the rebels from the City Point Road at this point southwest of Perkinson’s Mill.


Above: crude author-made comparison of Baylor’s Farm interpretive sign battle map and modern location in Google Maps

In addition to the thick woodlot, the soldiers of Hinks’s division would have to navigate around the narrow Cabin Creek in the middle of the woodlot. Nevertheless, morale was high as the first black soldier offensive in the eastern theater kicked off shortly after 8:00 AM with a cheer and artillery barrage by Battery B of the 2nd U.S.C.T. and Battery E of the 3rd New York Cavalry, still hanging around after Kautz’s withdrawal.

The cheer was the only positive from the first assault. Though 1st Brigade Col. Samuel Duncan had a sound battle plan directing regimental commanders to first pass through the woods and reform before opening fire on the rebels, as often happens in battle the best made plans go awry.

The combination of the strong defensive position, geography of the advance, and inexperience hurt the U.S.C.T. division badly at first. The 4th U.S.C.T. under Lieutenant Colonel George Rogers, perhaps too excitedly, started out of the woodlot and towards the rebel earthworks and emerged first from the woodlot. However, the swampy ground around Cabin Creek meant that each regiment would have different rates of advance and the 4th emerged alone from the woods, and ripe for enemy fire.

The regiment began across the clearing towards Baylor’s Farm without waiting for orders and were wrecked by case and canister shot from Confederate cannons as well as enemy musketry across the entire advance.

4th U.S.C.T. commander George Rogers saw the danger in his regiment attacking alone and chased after the men of his regiment during the messy charge in a futile attempt to call them back. The results of the charge were disastrous for the 4th: 120 casualties in a matter of minutes, an officer killed, and three captains wounded.

They had arrived at the clearing alone because Col. Joseph B. Kiddoo’s 22nd U.S.C.T got lost in a swamp before being found by elements Col. John W. Ames’s 6th U.S.C.T. and regrouping. Located in the center-left of the Union battle line straddling City Point Road, Col. Ames’s regiment attempted to relieve the men of the shattered 4th. However, the 6th’s relief attempt met similar results to the 4th’s initial assault on Dearing’s rebel earthworks. With consistent musket fire raking the 4th and 6th on the left side of the line, both regiments retreated to the relative safety of the woodlot to regroup.


Above: Battle map from Sean M. Chick’s The Battle of Petersburg p. 111

The men of the 4th and 6th became further rebel fodder when they had to halt in the face of a friendly fire attack by Col. Henry S. Russell’s inexperienced 5th Massachusetts Cavalry unit from Holman’s brigade in reserve. The 5th MA Cav were inexperienced as a infantry unit since they had been indifferently drilled for foot service and were said to be, “spiritless” being forcibly dismounted.

Russell himself fell wounded in the incident and Col. Dennis D. Ferebee’s 4th North Carolina Cavalry continued to rain down musket fire on the Union left. All seemed lost in a matter of minutes just after 8:00 AM. Enter Col. Joseph B. Kiddoo’s 22nd U.S.C.T. on the Union right.

While Ferebee’s North Carolinians focused on the Union left, Col. Kiddoo formed a coherent battle line with the 22nd and 5th U.S.C.T. on the Union right. The soldiers of these regiments were particularly enraged. From their part of the line, some men could see a Confederate officer riding his white horse along the horizon of battle, barking orders at his men seemingly unmoved by Union counter fire from black soldiers.

Sergeant Major Milton M. Holland of the 5th U.S.C.T., the son of a white slaveholding Texas Secretary of State-turned-Confederate-adjutant and an African American enslaved woman, saw race as a factor in the rebels’ carefree attitude towards Union fire writing, “We could see him plainly riding up and down the rebel lines, could hear him shouting from the top of his voice to stand, that they had only n*****s to contend with.” Holland was manumitted by his father Bird in 1850 and allowed to move to Ohio and attend a school run by abolitionists. Earlier that year, Milton’s father had been killed in combat in Louisiana during the Red River Campaign. Milton would go on to be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of New Market Heights later in 1864.


Above: photo of Medal of Honor recipient Milton M. Holland from W.E.B. Du Bois’s 1900 Negro Exhibit of the American Section at the Paris Exposition Universelle as part of an exhibit to show the economic and social progress of African Americans since emancipation

In addition to their anger of the rebel officer’s taunting, all of Hinks’s division at the Battle of Baylor’s Farm was angry over a massacre committed in April by rebels against surrendering black troops at Fort Pillow on the Mississippi River in Tennessee. At Fort Pillow, after overwhelming Union defenders and taking the fort Confederates “gave no quarter, shooting unarmed Union soldiers in the act of surrendering.” The results were 281 casualties, two-thirds of which were black soldiers.

Spurred on by artillery fire and anger, the 22nd U.S.C.T. advanced with their own version of the “rebel yell,” frantically shouting “Remember Fort Pillow” as they charged the rebel earthworks. The 5th spontaneously joined the charge and suddenly the 4th North Carolina Cavalry began to face a coordinated line of assault and had to expend more ammunition.


Above: Monument to the United States Colored Troops at Stop 3 on the Petersburg National Battlefield Eastern Front driving tour

As Dearing’s brigade became dangerously low on ammunition, the combined 22nd/5th U.S.C.T. force on the Union right overran the rebel earthworks, sending the rebels to retreat and finally giving black soldiers their moment in the eastern theater.

The flagbearer for the 5th planted the regiment’s colors on Dearing’s abandoned earthworks and claimed a 12-pound Howitzer left behind by Graham’s Petersburg Battery. Frederick Douglass’s son, Sgt. Charles Remond Douglass, and a guard of 50 soldiers carried the gun around Union lines after the battle and received cheers from the all-white 134th and 148th Ohio regiments. Milton Holland again recalled the Confederate general on the white horse taunting them and couldn’t help but see the irony in his taunts, writing that “in a few moments more we mounted the rebel parapets. To our great surprise, we found that the boasted Southern chivalry had fled. They could not see the n***** part as the man on the white horse presented it.”

The mood was jubilant all along the Union line. In the 117th New York regimental history, an unidentified black older of Hinks’s division was quoted saying “Tell you boys, we made um get. We druv (drove) em!” to the white soldiers of the 117th.

Though New York Herald correspondent John A. Brady reported that before the battle that all of the white soldiers of Baldy Smith’s XVIII Corps expected the black soldiers to run, in fact they did the opposite. And then some.

Lt. S. Millett Thompson of the 13th New Hampshire, a regiment that arrived shortly after Hinks’s division captured the rebel earthworks, wrote of the black soldiers’ resolve: “Black soldiers will keep on their feet, and move on, with wounds that would utterly lay out white men, and they stick like death to their guns. A white man severely wounded throws his gun away.”

In the 117th New York’s regimental history, the author described the change in attitude towards black Union soldiers after the Baylor’s Farm success: “On that occasion, those who were politically the most conservative, suddenly experienced an accession of respect for the chattel on this discovery of its ‘equal’ value in a possible emergency.”


Though Baylor’s Farm was secure, Dearing’s rebel brigade withdrew successfully and continued to fight with Hinks’s division and Kautz’s cavalry as they advanced towards Petersburg.

Union forces arrived at the Dimmock Line of Petersburg’s defenses at 11:00 AM, but no serious Union attack was organized until 7:00 PM. Although Hinks’s division had opened up the road to Petersburg, Baldy Smith was unable to organize the master stroke to end the war.

The Battle of Baylor’s Farm was a tactical Union victory because Hinks’s division drove Dearing’s brigade from the battlefield. However, it was a strategic Confederate victory because the two hours that Dearing’s brigade held the Union in check around Perkinson’s Mill and Baylor’s Farm was long enough to prevent an early morning assault against Petersburg’s defenses.

Battlefield Preservation


Though there is a small interpretive sign of the battle outside of the Hopewell-Prince George VA Visitor Center where Hinks’s division began their advance on the rising ground leading to Baylor’s Farm, none of the battlefield is preserved.

The modern geography of the area is entirely different than it was at the time of the battle. The woodlot Hinks’s division advanced through was taken down during the construction of the I-295 interchange at SR-36. The rising ground the black soldiers had to charge across is no longer visible due to commercial development. 

The site of the Baylor’s Farm is mostly located within a restricted area in the northeast corner of Fort Lee. There are no interpretive signs for the battle on base.



Chick, S. (2015). The Battle of Petersburg, June 15-18, 1864. Potomac Books.


Perdreau, C. (2018). A Biographical Sketch of Master Sergeant Milton Holland. Retrieved from http://grosvenor-cwrt.org/our-moh-recipients/more-about-master-sergeant-milton-holland/


Rhea, G. (2017). On to Petersburg: Grant and Lee, June 4-15, 1864. LSU Press.


Smith, J. (2001). Black Soldiers in Blue: African American Troops in the Civil War Era. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press.






Hue, Vietnam Battlefield Tour Chapter 1: Alpha 1/1


Above: Map depicting route of Alpha Co. 1st Bn/1st Rgt in Hue 1/31/1968

1A: Tank Battalion Rendezvous

1B: The Gauntlet

1C: Traffic Circle

1D: Hwy 1 Causeway

This is chapter 1 of a 5 chapter battlefield guide covering major U.S. Marine sites from the Battle of Hue City in January/February 1968. Stops 1A-1D are below and a Google Maps link of the associated sites is included in each stop title.

Stop 1A: Tank Battalion Rendezvous


What Happened Here

Beginning at 1:15 AM January 31, 1968, 2 battalions of the 6th NVA Regiment spookily sauntered through the Chanh Tay Gate west of the Imperial Citadel in Hue, Vietnam. These North Vietnamese regulars had arrived to invade the provincial capital city of 140,000 as part of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Viet Cong’s (VC) Tet Offensive, a joint military operation designed to turn the war upside down through a series of surprise attacks on South Vietnamese cities. Hue was bisected by the Perfume River, with the Imperial Citadel on the north bank and New City on the south bank.

In a coordinated assault, the 6th NVA Regiment proceeded to capture the Imperial Citadel (or Old City) while 3 battalions of the 4th NVA Regiment and two battalions of VC Sappers quickly overwhelmed ARVN soldiers and captured the New City south of the Perfume River. For psychological purposes, the Citadel was the more important capture since the walled city was the site of the government grounds used when Hue was the imperial capital of Vietnam. It was important for military purposes as well, due to the Tay Loc Airfield and the now-besieged 1st ARVN Division Headquarters being located within its walls.

However, the real military target was the New City, which housed the MACV Compound containing American soldiers and sailors as well as key administrative targets such as the Thua Thien Provincial Admin Complex, the local government complex for the province. Having been entirely caught off guard by the surprise NVA/VC assault that easily took most of the city, the Americans hastily assembled a reaction force of U.S. Marines to travel via military convoy on Highway 1 from Phu Bai Combat base 10 miles northwest to Hue to relieve the besieged Marines in the MACV Compound. The reaction force of Marines arrived near this spot to regroup for their relief mission in the foggy morning hours that rudely welcomed the Tet Offensive on January 31, 1968.

Who Fought Here?

A reaction force of 160 men from Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment (A/1/1) approached a bridge near Stop 1A three kilometers southeast of the MACV Compound around 10:30 AM. They arrived in a six-vehicle convoy containing:

  • 2 6×6 flatbed trucks
  • 2 light armored vehicles with twin 40mm guns (Fire Dragons)
  • 2 U.S. Army M-55 anti-aircraft machine-gun trucks (Quad-fifties)

Alpha Company was commanded by Capt. Gordon D. Batcheller, with Gunnery Sgt. J. L. Canley and company radioman Cpl. Larry Williams filling out his staff. The company was split into 3 platoons led by Staff Sgt. C.D. Godfrey (First Platoon), Cpl. Bill Jackson (Second Platoon), and Sgt. Alfredo “Freddy” Gonzalez (Third Platoon) respectively. North of Stop 1A, the convoy came across 5 M-48 tanks from Alpha Company, 3rd Tank Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, also on their way to the MACV Compound.

Capt. Batcheller asked the major of the tank battalion to support Alpha Company as they continued north to relieve the compound along Highway 1 on the Perfume River. He agreed, and Batcheller ordered the infantrymen of A/1/1 to dismount from their trucks and accompany the tank battalion across the An Cuu Bridge over the Phu Cam Canal into New Hue (or “The Triangle”).

Video: An Cuu Bridge over the Phu Cam Canal, Video Taken March 2018

The undersized Alpha Company (<160) was opposed by a much larger 3 battalion force containing mixed elements of soldiers from the 804th, 815th, 818th battalions of the 4th NVA Regiment as well as 2 VC Sapper Battalions. The Americans were equipped with M16 rifles and M60 machine guns and opposed by North Vietnamese regulars and VC carrying AK-47s. As Alpha Company arrived at Stop 1A, they were ominously greeted by a wrecked M-41 ARVN tank, with the burned body of a crewman hanging out of its turret hatch.

Who Commanded Here?

Born in Hingham, Massachusetts on October 16, 1939, In 1968, Capt. Gordon D. Batcheller was a rugged, intelligent 28 year old fashioning a shaved head at the time of the Battle of Hue. The Bostonian grew up as a military brat son of a Navy admiral and was described by a lance corporal in A/1/1 as, “a big dude who was always up in front when the shit hit the fan.” He received the Navy Cross for his actions as commanding officer of Alpha Company on January 31, 1968 at Hue. His wounds from the battle required a 10 month stay at a hospital back in the United States.

Capt. Batcheller retired a Colonel from the Marine Corps in 1991 and was a professor of military and strategic studies for seven years at the Army Management Staff College. In 2012, Col. Batcheller gave an interview to Crusade Magazine entitled “Why We Should Not Send Our Mothers, Wives and Daughters to Fight Our Wars” advocating against the U.S. military using women in combat. As part of his explanation he claimed, “The butchery of our wives and daughters and mothers would generate a national mood of sadness and shame. There has been no coverage of the killed and disabled women in Iraq and Afghanistan, even as we ‘celebrate’ the male wounded warriors. We’re proud of our fighting forces, but ashamed that they include women.”

Stop 1B: The Gauntlet


What Happened Here

750 meters southeast of here at Stop 1A around 10:45 AM, A/1/1 began to cautiously advance towards a T-shaped intersection where Route 546 branched off to the west and Highway 1 made a hard right turn that they would follow into New Hue (“The Triangle”). Along the advance up the left side of Highway 1, Staff Sgt. Godfrey’s 2nd Platoon began to take fire from AK-47s.

Small arms fire poured in from NVA soldiers manning a building near the Route 546/Highway 1 intersection. Using their open field of fire from the second stories of buildings looking down on the road below, the soldiers of the 4th NVA fired effectively at Alpha Company at a range of 50 meters. A bullet from one of the bursts of fire struck Staff Sgt. Godfrey in the right leg and he was thrown into a mud-filled drainage pit just under 100 meters south of Stop 1B. He was loaded aboard a truck with 2 other A/1/1 Marines wounded in this initial exchange of gunfire.

The convoy continued to advance towards the intersection at a slow pace while exchanging sporadic small-arms fire. After receiving input from Lt. Col. Ed LaMontagne, an officer from the accompanying tank battalion, Cpt. Batcheller ordered the men of A/1/1 to mount their tanks and trucks and prepare to run the 600-meter-long “Gauntlet” of small arms fire from brick buildings that they received while approaching a built up area south of An Cuu Bridge entering the Triangle.

Panning NW towards the end of the Gauntlet south of the An Cuu Bridge

When they reached the intersection, they turned right on Highway 1 towards the Triangle and advanced 100 meters to Stop 1B. The space between stops 1B to 1C is a 600-meter-long span that became known as “The gauntlet” due to the volume of fire the Marines received from the NVA while their convoy sped through. While running the gauntlet, Cpt. Batcheller ordered suppressing fire on flank and front by the infantrymen of Alpha Company in order to make the ride a little easier. Unfortunately, they had no such luck and received a deadly volume of fire.

Just after 12:30 PM, a volley of B-40 rocket propelled grenades hit the lead tank’s upper works and killed Cpt. Batcheller’s navy hospital corpsman sitting next to him. Navy hospital corpsmen were medics for the Marines that were not officially Marines even though they wore the same uniforms. Many were conscientious objectors who sought a nonviolent route of military service.

While Batcheller was unhurt by the fire, 18 year old Petty Officer 3rd Class Hospital Corpsman Robert Kemelmacher had his lower limbs sliced away by the red-hot RPGs, cauterizing his wounds so that they were not bleeding but he was still dead. Dozens of Marines lay wounded along Highway 1 in the aftermath of the gauntlet run between Stops 1B and 1C. Just south of the An Cuu Bridge near the end of the gauntlet there was a Marine missing both arms and legs, but still alive and screaming.

Stop 1C: Traffic Circle


What Happened Here

After crossing the An Cuu Bridge over the Phu Cam Canal and emerging from the heavy fire of the gauntlet around 1:00 PM, the men of A/1/1 again dismounted from their convoy vehicles and approached an open intersection with a large traffic circle. The satchel charges placed on the An Cuu Bridge by the NVA earlier in the day had failed to take it down, and failure to detonate the bridge would prove especially fateful, allowing American forces to cross into New Hue and attempt to relieve the MACV Compound.

Although they were in a safer spot in the now-quiet traffic circle, more ominous foreshadowing greeted the company in the form of 6 destroyed M-41 ARVN tanks. These tanks had been destroyed as part of 4 earlier failed attempts by the 7th ARVN Armed Cavalry Battalion to eject the Communists from New Hue. With the volume of fire having calmed down, Capt. Batcheller took time to reorganize his company and allow company corpsman to collect casualties.

As part of the reorganization, Batcheller ordered the lead tank to fire its 90 mm main gun into the Highway 1 causeway north of the traffic circle, where NVA soldiers were reported to be moving about in a sugarcane field bisected by the highway. Lt. Col Lamontagne deployed the quad-fifty trucks forward and ordered them to cover an advance on the MACV Compound to complete the relief mission. Around 1:30 PM, the dismounted infantrymen of A/1/1 began to advance from the traffic circle northwest along the right side of Highway 1, with widely separated supporting tanks advancing on the roadway to their left.

150 meters north of the traffic circle directly in the middle of Stops 1C and 1D, the convoy was hit again by NVA fire from buildings above. This time, Cpt. Batcheller was not so lucky. When the NVA suddenly erupted on the passing Americans, men from Alpha began to drop all over the road. Batcheller ignored his officer training and immediately ran over to one of the wounded men behind him. As he bent down to assist him, another burst of fire instantly blew the wounded man away, killing him and knocking Batcheller senseless into a coil of barbed wire at the base of a tree on the right side of the road between Stops 1C and 1D.

Batcheller was wounded, but conscious and responsive. After watching 22 year old corpsman Mike Fitzgerald of Dubuque, IA get gunned down by an NVA soldier while trying to save him, Batcheller ordered all men of A/1/1 to stay away from him and continue the approach to the MACV Compound. He transferred command of the company to Gunnery Sgt. J. L. Canley while he stared at the sky, out of the action and waiting for help. It was now after 1:30 PM, and the morning fog and haze had given way to clear blue skies and a more seasonable temperature of around 74 degrees Fahrenheit.

Who Fell Here?

22 year old Lance Cpl. Hospitalman Michael “Mike” Thomas Fitzgerald was killed when he attempted to treat wounded company commander Batcheller. While kneeling in the road and attempting to treat his wounds, he was fatally shot in the forehead. The shot knocked him backwards so that he was sitting on his rear upright, but still dead. The Dubuque, Iowa native was the second navy corpsman casualty of the day, along with Robert Kemelmacher.


Source: Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

Who Commanded Here?

John L. Canley is an 80 year African American retired Marine from El Dorado, Arkansas who now resides in Oxnard, California. In 1968, he was the 30 year old Gunnery Sergeant for Alpha Company 1/1. He was often seen during the Battle of Hue with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. In recognition of his actions at the battle, he was awarded the Navy Cross in 1968 and on January 29, 2018 his Navy Cross was upgraded to the Medal of Honor after a 3 year campaign undertaken by Rep. Julia Brownley and his fellow Marines from Alpha Company. In a press release acknowledging the honor, Canley bestowed the following advice: “Being a leader is about taking care of your people. If you do that, they will take your view, and you don’t have to worry about your mission.”


Above: Canley in 2018 (Source: El Dorado News-Times)

Stop 1D: Hwy 1 Causeway


What Happened Here

The burst of gunfire that wounded Capt. Batcheller came from the same NVA force that attacked the Marines when they ran the gauntlet. The enemy had fanned out from their original firing positions in brick houses along the gauntlet to elevated firing positions in houses on both sides of the sugarcane field bisected by Highway 1. As the highway spanned northwest to the MACV Compound its road became elevated into a causeway, which made any soldiers traveling on it sitting ducks.

Orientation SE looking down Highway 1 Causeway Berm Site

With Batcheller wounded and out of the fight, Alpha Company’s Gunnery Sgt. Canley decided that a dangerous charge was necessary to suppress the enemy fire and allow the men of Alpha Company to reach the MACV Compound, still ¾ mile away up Highway 1. To complete the charge, he selected Sgt. Alfredo Gonzalez’s Third Platoon. Canley even joined the platoon in the assault, gruffly challenging the men with the famous question asked by Sgt. Dan Daly when the Marines charged at Belleau Wood in World War I: “Do you want to live forever?”

To access the house with the heaviest volume of enemy fire coming out of it, Third Platoon first would have to cross the raised road under enemy fire, regroup in a ditch on the left flank of Highway 1, and then run more than 100 feet in knee deep muddy water to the house in the canefield. In the ensuing charge, multiple men of the lead platoon sank deep into the muddy water in the ditch after crossing to the left side of the road. In the first charge, 5 Alpha Company Marines fell wounded and PFC Marty Marquez was killed by a shot to the temple.

Those from the platoon who were not wounded by gunfire when exposed crossing the raised causeway made their way towards the house shielding the enemy. Along their muddy trudge, they were exposed to NVA light machine gun fire from above. As the Third Platoon began to creep just out of range of NVA machine gun fire, the covering fire from the Quad-fifties and Dusters in the traffic circle started to seriously suppress enemy fire.

A squad of men led by platoon commander Alfredo “Freddy” Gonzalez” reached the canefield house shielding significant portions of the 804th NVA Battalion and drove them from it, with Gonzalez emerging with a cache of enemy rifles. Although this charge found limited success, the tanks accompanying Alpha Company were stuck where they were because moving forward or reversing would cause them to bulldoze any of the dozens of Marines lying wounded.

With their company commander Batcheller on his way back to Phu Bai Combat Base wounded and facing an enemy with a seemingly endless amount of ammunition, Alpha 1/1 was in need of reinforcement in their exposed position along Highway 1. Fortunately, relief was about to arrive in the form of the 1st Battalion/1st Marines commander Col. Marcus J. Gravel and a relief force from Golf Company, 2nd Battalion/5th Marines. Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines sustained over 50% casualties in the 2 hours it took them to travel a single mile to from Stops 1A to 1D, with 3 men killed in action.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series G/2/5 where we will follow Golf Company in its relief of the MACV Compound and penetration towards the Citadel.

Who Commanded Here?

Southern Texas native Sgt. Alfredo “Freddy” Gonzalez’s actions on January 31 surprised no one in Alpha Company. The platoon commander who emerged from a Hue home carrying a cache of weapons and wearing a shit eating grin was “all over the place” and “charging machine gun nests” all day on the 31st at Hue according to fellow Alpha Company Marine Herbert Watkins. So nor is it a surprise that he was killed in action less than a week later on February 4, 1968 shot while knocking out an enemy rocket position with Alpha Company pinned down. His mother was awarded his Medal of Honor in his place. In a May 2016 article in the southern Texas newspaper The Monitor, his 86 year old mother lamented her almost-50 years old loss: “He wanted to be a Marine. He wanted to be John Wayne. John Wayne never went to war.”

Works Cited

Bowden, Mark. 2017. Hue 1968: A Turning Point Of The American War In Vietnam. Atlantic Monthly Press.

Hammel, Eric M. 2006. Fire In The Streets: The Battle For Hue, Tet 1968. Pacifica Military History.

Kisken, Tom. 2018. “Courageous, Quiet Marine From Oxnard On The Cusp Of Gaining Medal Of Honor”. Ventura County Star. https://www.vcstar.com/story/news/local/2018/01/29/courageous-quiet-marine-oxnard-cusp-gaining-medal-honor/1049683001/.

Nolan, Keith William. 1996. Battle For Hue. Novato (Calif.): Presidio.

Rasmussen, Peter. 2016. “Honoring Fallen Son Never Gets Old For Dolia Gonzalez”. The Monitor. https://www.themonitor.com/life/article_55b4d21e-2219-11e6-bdaa-ab2fc0d0272d.html.

Rigdon, Kaitlyn. 2018. “El Dorado Native To Receive Medal Of Honor”. El Dorado News-Times. http://www.eldoradonews.com/news/2018/feb/12/el-dorado-native-receive-medal-honor/.

Sisk, Richard. 2018. “Marine Gunny Gets Medal Of Honor Nod For Battle Of Hue Actions”. Military.Com. https://www.military.com/daily-news/2018/01/12/marine-gunny-gets-medal-honor-nod-battle-hue-actions.html.

Snow, Shawn. 2018. “The Marine Gunny Who Kept His Men Alive At Hue City”. Marine Corps Times. https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/military-honor/2018/01/30/the-marine-gunny-who-kept-his-men-alive-at-hue-city/.

The Truth Doesn’t Care About Your Feelings: Civil War Edition

The Truth Doesn’t Care About Your Feelings: Civil War Edition

In reality the American Civil War was effectively over on April 9, 1865 when Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant and the Army of the Potomac at Appomattox Court House. But in memory, many Americans are still fighting the Civil War today. From debate about the removal of Confederate statues to civil rights progress, the war is still a part of daily discussion in America. This debate is often emotional, revisionist, and informed by propaganda.


Confederate sympathizers are largely informed by the Lost Cause ethos, a watered down alternate history of the Confederacy originally pushed by ex-Confederate generals to sanitize the war and preserve the legacy of the Confederacy in the south. Among its other propagandist doctrine, the Lost Cause mythology contends that slavery was a cursory issue to states’ rights for the Confederacy and that the Union did not care about slavery.


This ethos contends that Confederates conducted themselves during battle in a manner consistent with southern nobility, therefore fighting more fairly and courageously. The Lost Cause movement is also largely responsible for the narrative that Union and Confederate soldiers considered each other “brother Americans,” and were deeply torn over Americans killing other Americans.


As with all wars, an analysis of the individual soldier’s experience using primary documents paints a more accurate picture of the conflict. Letters, compiled military service records, and pension records from the Civil War contain biases of the time, but are free of the hindsight that accompany secondary sources. Using primary documents from Civil War soldiers, generals, and politicians we can debunk the aforementioned Lost Cause myths that have dominated Civil War discussion in America.


Lost Cause Myth #1: Slavery was a cursory issue to states’ rights

Though a point of division in 2017, in the 1860s it was commonly understood by the Union and Confederacy that the war was about slavery. Then-President-elect Abraham Lincoln outlined the differences between the warring parties in a December 1860 letter to Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens: “You think slavery is right and should be extended; while we think slavery is wrong and ought to be restricted. That I suppose is the rub.”


Slaves dug entrenchments, raised food and forage for Confederate armies, and picked cotton that made it through the Union blockade, so their freedom made for a convenient Union war objective. Slave labor was also the backbone of the southern economy, and in his December 1, 1862 State of the Union address President Lincoln echoed this sentiment: “Without slavery the rebellion could never have existed; without slavery it could not continue.”


Politician, soldier, and citizen agreed: “This country without slave labor would be completely worthless. We can only live and exist by that species of labor; and hence I am willing to fight to the last,” wrote Confederate Lieutenant William Nugent, 28th Mississippi, to his wife in an 1863 letter. Southern slaveholder James Hammond, in preparing to have his slaves seized by William Tecumseh Sherman’s advancing Union forces in August 1864, lamented in his diary that the seizure of his slaves would be, “ruin to me & what is worse ruin to our Cause & Country” (sic)


Slavery at the heart of the rebel cause wasn’t just mentioned in private correspondence; it was being said plainly in public. In a March 1861 speech, Confederate Vice President Stephens said that the new government was founded upon, “the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.” And if seceding from the Union wasn’t about slavery, no one told the Confederate Congress. In the sessions of the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States of America from February 1861-February 1862, laws for the new “nation” were drafted to uphold existing slavery laws, chief among them the Fugitive Slave Act. Across five sessions of congress, there is not a single instance of the word “slavery,” Confederate lawmakers instead preferring the patrician “slaveholding.” Georgia politician Howell Cobb was President of the Provisional Congress and a Confederate military commander in addition to being a politician. He objected to a desperate proposal to arm slaves and employ them as Confederate soldiers near the end of the war, citing the righteousness of slavery as his reason in a letter to Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon: “If slaves will make good soldiers, our whole theory of slavery is wrong. But they won’t make soldiers. As a class they are wanting in every qualification of a soldier.”


Preservation and expansion of slavery is also at the heart of the Confederacy’s most sacred document: its equivalent Constitution. Section 3 of Article IV directly calls for its expansion, stating that if any Confederate states acquire new territory, “the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress.”


The legality of slavery was continuously affirmed in the south throughout the war, with Confederate state supreme courts actively hearing judicial cases concerning slavery. To establish a feeling of slavery’s permanence in the new Confederacy, state supreme courts were still resolving cases even when final victory became impossible. The Supreme Court of Georgia, for example, ruled against an injunction in Thornton v. Towns in March 1865 that called for the defendant Towns to be divested of funds received through slave labor obtained from the plaintiff. In this case, the plaintiff Thornton had leased his old plantation, slaves included, to the defendant Towns. When Towns mistreated Thornton’s former slaves, Thornton sought to avoid further cruelty for them by forcing them to stay at his house after the Christmas holiday. The court not only denied Thornton’s injunction, but also ruled in favor of Towns’ possessory warrant to regain possession of all of his slaves. With less than a month to go in the war, Confederate states were still trying to protect slavery.


Lost Cause Myth #2: The “Brother Americans” narrative

We have come to view the Civil War as something of a fratricide, Americans forced to kill their kin. While in some cases literal brothers fought against each other, there was nothing fraternal about the conflict. This can be seen in the way the sides referred to one another. Lee exclusively referred to Union soldiers and officers derisively as “those people,” and Union soldiers relied on the slang “rebel” and “secesh” (short for secessionist) instead of “Confederate.” William H. Medill, a major in the 8th Illinois Cavalry, outlined his regiment’s feelings towards Confederate soldiers in a September 1862 to his sister-in-law: “They are the most ragged, rude, filthy looking objects ever paraded as soldiers. Especially to a person of delicate feelings, they are enough to produce fits.”


At an attempted mediation between Union Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon and pro-Confederate Missouri Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson at the St. Louis Planter’s Hotel in June 1861, Lyon lashed out at the governor. His outburst summed up Union war feeling: “Rather than concede to the State of Missouri for one single instant the right to dictate to my government in any manner however important, I would see you, and you, and you, and every man, woman, and child in the state, dead and buried.”


The words were rough, but the fighting was savage, even in the cases of brothers literally fighting brothers. At the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862, Union General John Gibbon’s division engaged in hand-to-hand fighting with soldiers from the 28th North Carolina across a railroad on the southern end of the battlefield. The 28th was the regiment of John’s brothers Nicholas, a captain, and Robert, a surgeon. The hand-to-hand fighting that occurred between Gibbon’s division and his brothers’ regiment played a large role in the outsized 9,000 casualties (5,000 Union, 4,000 Confederate) that occurred at the southern end of the battlefield.


Photography was a rapidly developing medium during the Civil War and battlefield photographs show soldiers on both sides with their pockets sticking inside out, victims of posthumous pickpocketing.

pickpocket2Source: Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints. (2017). Library of Congress.

Despite the attempt made by the Lost Cause to sanitize the conflict, the primary documents show that this was war, not brotherhood.

Lost Cause Myth #3: Confederates fought braver/fairer/nobler

The Lost Cause propagates the myth that Confederates adhered to a higher code of conduct in battle, following the proper rules of war and bound by southern gentility. The rebels did appeal to southern principles in battle, such as kidnapping free blacks and sending them south into slavery during Gettysburg Campaign. But they certainly did not adhere to the proper rules of war.  The Lost Cause often portrays Union soldiers as more prone to committing atrocities and looting, keen to avoid a “fair fight.” However, at the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, while on the cusp of cutting off Lee’s route of retreat back across the Potomac River into Virginia and possibly ending the war, soldiers from the Union’s 16th Connecticut were ultimately pushed back after being blindsided by an instance of an unfair fight on the part of the rebels.


Confederate General A.P. Hill’s Division had participated in the capture of the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry the day before the battle at Antietam, and since they had to wait back at Harpers Ferry to parole captured Union POWs, they were late to arrive at Antietam. When they finally arrived in the late afternoon of September 17th, 1862 they smashed into the 16th Connecticut and cut them to pieces, many of the soldier’s in Hill’s division wearing stolen Union Army uniforms from Harpers Ferry according to multiple soldiers from the regiment: “We lost most of our men in a large cornfield where the rebels flanked us. They wore our clothes, flouted our flag, and told us not to fire on our own men. This put us in utter confusion.”


Proper rules of war call for prisoner exchanges and prisoner-of-war status for surrendering soldiers. Yet time and time again Confederate officers oversaw wholesale slaughter of surrendering black soldiers. At the Battle of Fort Pillow in Tennessee in April 1864, Confederate soldiers ignored the proper rules of war in a massacre of Union soldiers that disproportionately targeted black soldiers. A U.S. Army Campaign Guide describes that after overwhelming Union defenders and taking the fort the, Confederates “gave no quarter, shooting unarmed Union soldiers in the act of surrendering.” The results were 281 casualties, two-thirds of which were black soldiers. In July of that year the rebels struck again, taking advantage of Union folly at the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg, Virginia by purposefully killing surrendering black Union soldiers while processing white Union soldiers as POWs. Confederate soldiers shouted, “Take the white man. Kill the n*****.”


Confederate soldiers took particular exception to white Union officers who commanded black soldiers. At the Battle of Second Fort Wagner in July 1863, Confederate Commander Johnson Hagood had Union Colonel Robert Gould Shaw buried in a common trench with the subordinate black soldiers of his regiment. Rather than affording him the routine burial with honors for an officer, he sought to punish him in eternity for commanding black troops by giving him a thoughtless burial.


Much as our culture wars are fought over a Civil War as it exists in our collective memory as opposed to reality, Confederates have tended to see themselves as noble in memory whereas the reality is something very different. The final Confederate invasion of the north perfectly illustrates this false feeling of righteousness. In July 1864, a Confederate army under Jubal Early defeated a stalling Union force at the Battle of Monocacy in Frederick, Maryland and proceeded to ransack the Montgomery County countryside on its way to Washington D.C. As Confederate soldiers came upon the Silver Spring mansions of Union supporters Montgomery and Francis Preston Blair, they participated in “wholesale destruction” and littered the lawns with furniture. When Francis Preston returned to his vandalized mansion, he found a note: “a confederate officer, for himself & all his comrades, regrets exceedingly that damage & pilfering was committed in this house.”


Similar to the note left at the Blair mansion, the Lost Cause mythology has attempted to sanitize the sins of the Confederacy by preaching something different than what was practiced. This ethos has led to a campaign of disinformation about Confederate statues and the legacy of the war. Interpretations of the war should rely on primary sources, since they are free of the revisionism that has allowed the Civil War to become remembered in our collective memory as a noble struggle between brothers with slavery as a cursory issue when the reality is so different.


Works Cited

  • A Brief History of the 28th Regiment of North Carolina Troops from Entrance Into Service to October 1st, 1863. (1863). USGenWeb Archives. Retrieved 13 November 2017, from http://files.usgwarchives.net/nc/statewide/military/28ncreg.txt
  • Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints. (2017). Library of Congress. Retrieved 13 November 2017, from http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/cwp/
  • Cleveland, H. (1886). Alexander H. Stephens, in Public and Private: With Letters and Speeches, Before, During, and Since the War. Philadelphia.
  • Frisby, D. (2015). Campaigns In Mississippi and Tennessee February-December 1864. Washington D.C.: United States Army Center of Military History.
  • Hammond, J., & Bleser, C. (1997). Secret and Sacred: The Diaries of James Henry Hammond, a Southern Slaveholder. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina.
  • Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865. Washington D.C.: U.S. Senate Library.
  • Judicial Cases Concerning American Slavery and the Negro, Jul 01, 1767 – Jan 31, 1875. Carnegie Institution.
  • Loewen, J., & Sebesta, E. (2011). The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause”. Jackson, Miss: University Press of Mississippi.
  • Menaugh, J. (1943). Battle of Antietam: Letters from the Front by a Chicago Civil War Hero – Maj. William H. Medill. Chicago Sunday Tribune.
  • Murray, J. (2015). The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861. Washington D.C.: United States Army Center of Military History.
  • Richardson, J. (1905). A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Confederacy Including the Diplomatic Correspondence 1861-1865. Nashville: United States Publishing Company.
  • Woodworth, S. (2002). The Loyal, True, and Brave: America’s Civil War Soldiers. Wilmington, Del.: SR Books.

A true-hearted Union man

Editor’s Note: Below is the final part in a 3 part series of snippets from my upcoming biography about William H. Medill, a Civil War soldier who served in the 8th Illinois Cavalry Regiment. Footnotes are excluded on WordPress. Please contact me directly at okconnor@gmail.com for a Word doc file containing footnotes.


William Medill’s desire for redemption in combat after his Burkittsville blunder was not fulfilled in the months after the 8th Illinois cavalry was held in reserve at the Battle of Antietam. At Fredericksburg in December 1862, Medill decried new Army of the Potomac commander Ambrose Burnside’s misuse of his regiment as, “a great blunder” and the overall battle “a great slaughter.”


The boredom of the picket duty between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers that William and his regiment had settled into during the winter of 1862 into 1863 had given Major Medill plenty of time to stew. His complaints were typical of the Union officer in that he spoke bombastically in his hatred of the Confederacy. In a March 5, 1863 letter from Stafford Courthouse, Virginia simply marked “Dear Sister,” William ranted that the Virginia countryside is full of, “dirty, ignorant whites.” He ended the letter with this fire-breathing aside:


“The retribution of justice is falling upon the south, and her people will soon be cast forth to the world to be despised and kicked from door to door.”


While anger at “secesh” was typical of the Union soldier, hatred of slavery was not. And even with the benefit of historic hindsight, William’s words written in multiple letters read as pro-social progress paragraphs, free of racial bias.


“Even if the war terminates in favor of the Confederacy, and slavery is never abolished, I shall feel satisfied with myself and the part I put forward in the attempt made to put an end to the abominable institution.”


The cavalrymen of the 8th again went without combat at the Battle of Chancellorsville from May 1-6, 1863, failing to join Brigadier General George Stoneman’s Union Cavalry Corps in their failed attempt to cut off Robert E. Lee’s Army of the Northern Virginia communications between Chancellorsville and Richmond. William’s temper rising, he torched division commander (and former overall cavalry commander) Alfred Pleasanton in a May 15, 1863 letter again marked “Dear Sister:” from 8th IL camp at Potomac Creek Station, Virginia


“We started to join General Stoneman in his raid, but our commander, being either a coward or a traitor, failed to connect….Well, there is no use crying. Next time we will have a better opportunity.


Better opportunities presented themselves in the form of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia again crossing the Potomac River and marching on Pennsylvania. Northwest of the town of Gettysburg on the Chambersburg Pike on July 1, 1863, William played a large role in the 8th IL’s defense of a key Union position north of the pike.


However, after assisting on the first day of the battle, the regiment was again sent away from combat to begin a march to guard the Union supply base at Westminster, Maryland 25 miles southeast of Gettysburg. Medill and his men received news of the Union victory at Gettysburg on Independence Day 1863, and immediately took up a line of march to Frederick, Maryland.


The march was designed for Union forces to use Frederick as a launching point to intercept Lee’s retreating army by passing through the South Mountain gaps and getting between his army and the Potomac River. After a twisting-turning march through the South Mountain gaps and town of Boonsboro, the 8th finally caught up with Lee’s army at the C&O Canal boom town of Williamsport, Maryland. Major Medill’s chance for redemption was upon him.




Confederate right flank at Williamsport assaulted by 8th IL cavalry. Photo: Connor Smith

The stakes were high for the Army of Northern Virginia on the hilltop overlooking the Potomac River at Williamsport, Maryland on July 6, 1863. Three days after the rebel defeat at Gettysburg, Confederate Brig. General John D. Imboden and his undersized cavalry “brigade” of 2,100 dismounted cavalrymen and 24 cannons were responsible for overseeing the Potomac River crossing of the Confederate wagon train during the Army of Northern Virginia’s retreat through Maryland. The train consisted of wounded Confederate soldiers, approximately 4,000 wagons, and an estimated 10,000 animals.


The problem facing Imboden was that a viable river crossing no longer existed at Williamsport. The Federals had destroyed a rebel pontoon bridge during the advance to Gettysburg and early July rains made the river too high to ford.


Badly in need of reinforcements and stuck between an advancing Union army and an untraversable Potomac River, Lee’s entire retreat from Gettysburg to Virginia hung in the balance at Williamsport. Imboden knew as much:

“As we could not retreat further, it was at once made known to the troops, that unless we should repel the threatened attack we should all become prisoners, and that the loss of his whole transportation would probably ruin General Lee.”


John Buford and Judson Kilpatrick led the Union response at Williamsport, comprising a two-cavalry division of 7,000 soldiers. Buford had attained hero status in the wake of his actions to hold the Union line on Oak Ridge at Gettysburg on July 1st. Judson “Kill Cavalry” Kilpatrick achieved an opposite status because of his reckless piecemeal cavalry raid at the South Cavalry Field on July 3rd. Kilpatrick earned his nickname and the derision of the men of the 8th Illinois cavalry regiment since the failed raid killed Brig. General Elon J. Farnsworth, a former first lieutenant in the regiment.


Colonel William Gamble’s 1st Brigade of Buford’s division, which included the 8th Illinois, was first to arrive at Williamsport and challenge Imboden’s right anchored on the Potomac. Perhaps at no point in the war was hatred for the rebellion at such a fever pitch as it was during the Gettysburg campaign. An incident in the 8th’s regimental history illustrates this hatred well.


On July 5, 1863, the day before 27 year old Major William H. Medill and the 8th arrived at Williamsport, they were camped near Frederick, Maryland, in preparation for the 27 mile march northwest to Williamsport to attempt to cut off Lee’s retreat the next morning. A man named Richardson was passing out religious leaflets in the 8th Illinois’ camp and aroused enough suspicion in the provost marshal that he was interrogated. The interrogation led to the discovery of multiple letters from Confederate generals confirming his reputation as an intelligence officer responsible for passing information to the South. Richardson stated that he had just come from the retreating rebel lines to visit his three sons in the Confederate service. General Buford listened to his story and examined his papers, then simply said, “Hang him.” The first image of the 8th’s march to Williamsport the next morning was the spy Richardson’s half-naked, looted body hanging from a tree.


The march to Williamsport on the morning of July 6 went through Middletown, Maryland, over the South Mountain passes made famous in the battle preceding Antietam. From there, the regiment marched to Boonsboro before heading to their final destination, a cornfield at the base of a ridge overlooking the Potomac River and C&O Canal where Imboden was stalling. Buford envisioned a two-brigade afternoon attack to pin Imboden against the river, with Brig. General Wesley Merritt’s Reserve Brigade arriving from the east while the 8th Illinois and Gamble’s Brigade pushed from the south in an attempt to get in the rear of Imboden’s force, effectively cutting off Lee’s retreat.


Gamble’s Brigade arrived two miles south of Williamsport just before 5 p.m. on July 6 and Buford sent them forward to challenge a group of rebels in a cornfield at the base of the hill that held much of Imboden’s rebel force. Buford ordered half of the 8th Illinois to dismount as skirmishers to form a line in advance of the main body of cavalry. When the order to advance was given, Major Medill was assisting the rest of the regiment get into place and was positioned at the back of the line. In his absence, the force of skirmishers was led into battle by Capt. Dennis Hynes.


Regimental commander Major John Beveridge delivered the news to Medill that the regiment had gone into battle without him; he would have none of it. Mounting a horse and borrowing an officer’s carbine, he exclaimed to Beveridge, “A field officer should command the battalion. If you have no objections, I will go.” Major Beveridge watched as Medill spurred his horse and disappeared into the distance to join the men of his regiment on the battlefield.


When he reached the dangerously exposed skirmish line, Medill let out a hearty, “Come on, boys!” and led a march across the cornfield towards the far right of Imboden’s line. To further illustrate Imboden’s predicament, this portion of the Confederate line was protected not by typical combat soldiers, but instead 700 Confederate wagoners strung together at the last moment. Nonetheless, their position was a strong one, protected by barns and outbuildings while the 8th advanced across an open cornfield.


As the regiment made it to the halfway point of their planned advance, Medill decided that they were within range of the rebel line, enough to attempt a volley. As he raised his carbine to fire, a Confederate minie ball tore through the lower edge of his breastbone and downwards through his lungs, depositing itself near his tailbone. The same deadly volley immediately killed a soldier of Company G and mortally wounded two sergeants. When the smoke cleared, Medill was carried to a woodlot in the rear of the line.


William was shot just beyond the now-developed hill in the center of this shot. 

As the battle raged, Medill was stretchered to a church six miles south in the now-defunct hamlet of Stone’s Corners, where he suffered in agony for the remainder of the evening.  Meanwhile, the 8th Illinois desperately held on, their advance having fallen apart after the volley that took down Medill and two other officers. Imboden’s wagoners pulled off the unlikely and repelled the left wing of Buford’s attack on Williamsport. By nightfall, Gamble’s brigade had pulled back to a new line just in front of the church where Medill lay mortally wounded.


The next morning on July 7, Lee and two Confederate corps arrived at Williamsport to reinforce Imboden and protect the river crossing. The 8th was ordered to march back to Boonsboro, along with its wounded. Medill’s near-mortal wounds required a transfer to a hospital but were so severe that travel by ambulance was restricted due to poor road conditions. Always loyal, the men of the 8th picked up their major and carried Medill on a stretcher 25 miles southwest to the army hospital in Frederick.


Medill was admitted to the Area Hospital in Frederic on July 8, 1863, giving evidence of “pneumonia on right side,” but “none of peritonitis,” and was administered opium for pain relief. If his condition reached the level of peritonitis—an inflammation of the abdominal lining—death would only be a matter of time.


His family was notified of his wounding by telegram and brother Joseph immediately traveled from Chicago to Frederick by rail. By July 10, Joseph Medill was by his brother William’s side at the hospital as his doctor noted him showing “slight symptoms of peritonitis,” but positively noted “the patient is very hopeful.” As Major General George Meade and the Union Army of the Potomac let Lee slip back to Virginia, Medill remained true to character, ranting from his hospital bed about how Meade should be replaced by Joseph Hooker for allowing Lee to escape.


Since Medill’s wounding at Williamsport on July 6, it had become clear that Meade did not believe he had a sufficient force to challenge Lee’s river crossing back into Virginia at Williamsport. On July 12, Medill’s chances of survival began to mirror Meade’s when he developed inflammation in his lungs and abdomen from the minie ball wounding five days before. By July 13, he was exhibiting a rapid pulse of 130 beats per minute and having difficulty breathing. He assessed his chances in comparison with the army that moved on without him:

“I am going to die without knowing that my country is saved and the slaveholders’ accursed rebellion crushed. The capture of Lee’s army would have ended the war in sixty days; now it may drag on for years.


On July 14, the remainder of Lee’s army completed its crossing of the Potomac to the temporary safety of Virginia, and Medill’s condition worsened with his pulse skyrocketing to 144. In these final days he gave directions to his family regarding his body and funeral, including burying him in the full uniform in which he fell. A true-blue Union man to the end, he selected his burial place as Graceland Cemetery in Chicago because the administrator was a “true-hearted Union man.”


The hospital treatment notes on July 15 state grimly, “Death approaching.” In his final letter before Williamsport, he complained of a headache but wrote hopefully that “the sound of combat revives me already.”


But on July 16, with Lee’s army’s escape to Virginia complete, the sound of combat could revive him no more. William Henry Medill died at 10 A.M., three months short of his 28th birthday, his brother Joseph at his side. The cause of death was listed as, “Gun shot wounds of abdomen. Penetrating.”


Mistakes in Command

Editor’s Note: Below is part 2 of a 3 part series of snippets from my upcoming biography about William H. Medill, a Civil War soldier who served in the 8th Illinois Cavalry Regiment. Footnotes are excluded on WordPress. Please contact me directly at okconnor@gmail.com for a Word doc file containing footnotes.


Mistakes in Command

William Medill was fed up. After weeks of inconclusive skirmishing with the rebel line on Malvern Hill in July 1862, the 8th IL was bringing up the rear of a Federal retreat to Harrison’s Landing on the James River 15 miles southeast of Richmond. Major General George McClellan’s grand campaign to take Richmond had failed; from Harrison’s Landing, his Army of the Potomac marched to Williamsburg in preparation for a return-by-boat to Alexandria. From August 13th to 30th, William sat in camp raging over the failed campaign. On August 21, he wrote of his wish to resign in a letter to his sister Ellen in Ohio:


“I am utterly disgusted and disheartened. I have tendered my resignation and hope to have it accepted. I have no heart in this war and do not wish to fight any more battles until there is a change. We will never win a victory until we fight with a purpose and for an object.”


Since setting off for war the previous October 1861, the 8th Illinois had not seen any serious combat while waiting in camps in Washington D.C. and Alexandria maintaining the Union defensive line along the Potomac River. When the regiment was moved to Williamsburg, Virginia as part of McClellan’s Peninsula campaign to take Richmond in spring 1862, the 8th seemed sure to experience combat. However, all that resulted for the regiment was scattershot skirmishing along the previous week’s Malvern Hill battlefield while they guarded the Union retreat.


The previous campaign had seen McClellan and the Army of the Potomac come to the gates of Richmond with a full corps, only to be driven back to the James River in a series of succeeding battles by new Army of Northern Virginia commander Robert E. Lee. The campaign described by William as “one of the worst campaigns known to history,” took a toll on the morale of the army:


“From day to day I can see the disposition of the men to fight giving way and a feeling of hopelessness taking the place of former prestige. Men will straggle from the ranks, get taken prisoners in order to be exchanged, hoping thereby to get home.”


By the time they finally disembarked for Alexandria, Virginia on August 30, 1862 the Army of the Potomac was in a bad state. Unfortunately, it’s savior was in a worse one. While McClellan stalled at Harrison’s Landing, claiming he was simply changing his base of supplies as opposed to retreating, another Union army was strung together to challenge Confederate operations in the Shenandoah Valley. This force was led by General John Pope, a cocky Illinoisan who fought in the Western theater, and included elements of Major General John Frémont’s Mountain Department, Major General Irvin McDowell’s Department of the Rappahannock, Major General Nathaniel Banks’ Department of the Shenandoah, and Brigadier General Samuel Sturgis’ brigade from the Military District of Washington.


While William and the 8th IL were en route to Alexandria, Pope’s consolidated force, the Army of Virginia, pursued Jackson’s men in the Valley. They eventually clashed with Jackson’s force at the Brawner’s Farm in Groveton, VA just west of the First Bull Run battlefield. What ensued was two full days of the Union smashing Jackson’s Confederate left along an unfinished railroad. On the final day of the battle August 30, the plan was to use Fitz John Porter’s V Corps, recently arrived from the Army of the Potomac’s Richmond Campaign, to smash the Confederate center at a hill along the Deep Cut ravine. The attack was a failure and resulted in a counterattack that forced the Union line back nearly a half mile to Henry Hill.


At Second Manassas, John Pope’s short-lived Army of Virginia was decimated mostly due to a flank attack by James Longstreet that occurred just after Porter’s failed assault at the Deep Cut. The defeat at Second Manassas was not quite total, but it did leave the Union in the unenviable position of having to retreat from Manassas to Washington for the second time in as many years. Emboldened by the victory, Robert E. Lee decided to lead the Army of Northern Virginia into Union territory for the first time in the war by crossing various fords of the Potomac River into Maryland.

While Lee was beginning his invasion of the north, John Pope was recalled and George McClellan was once again placed in command of the Army of the Potomac. McClellan acted quickly, absorbing Pope’s Army of Virginia into his Army of the Potomac, and planning a campaign in Maryland to halt Lee’s advance. Since the 8th brought up the rear of the Federal retreat to Yorktown, they were the last to arrive at Alexandria on September 2, 1862.


The Richmond campaign had wreaked havoc on the 8th IL’s officer corps: Future Illinois governor John L. Beveridge, current regimental commander of the 8th, would be on sick leave until October 17, and Major David R. Clendenin was left sick at Alexandria, diseased from the previous campaign. As the 8th set out from Alexandria to scout for the army in advance of the Maryland Campaign, a power vacuum in the officer corps was about to enable Medill and the 8th to fight with a purpose and for an object.


September 3-September 12

Although he described the Richmond Campaign as one in which, “we have done nothing worth of note,” the early stages of the Maryland Campaign provided Medill with evidence of a change. After disembarking at Alexandria, the 8th mounted and marched to Munson’s Hill west of Arlington on the evening of September 2, 1862 for scout duty. The purpose of this scout was to keep an eye on Lee’s army’s movements to see which Potomac River crossing he might use to enter Maryland. After skirmishing with elements of the enemy advance on September 3, it became clear that Lee planned to use fords north of the Conrad’s Ferry crossing in Leesburg to enter Maryland.


Using this information McClellan attached the 8th to William Franklin’s Left Wing, whose goal was to interrupt the river crossings and keep between Lee’s army and Washington. On September 4, the regiment crossed the Potomac River in advance of a march to Darnestown, Maryland 21 miles northwest of the capital. Reaching Darnestown by 10:00 AM on September 5, the regiment went into camp having completed a 46 mile march in 48 hours without having fed any of its horses.


At Darnestown, the 8th was put into action with the 3rd IN, as part of a unified fighting force under Congressman/Colonel John F. Farnsworth, and ordered eight miles west to Poolesville to obtain information about the size of the rebel force there. Rumors of a large Confederate force capable of turning the Union left needed to be confirmed or debunked, and the regiment successfully debunked them upon entering the town and taking a few prisoners from the tiny rebel force.


The afternoon of the 7th, the regiment returned to Darnestown for much needed rest that included attending Sunday church services and singing patriotic songs like Lorena and Battle Cry of Freedom. That Sunday in September would also see a major reorganization of the cavalry. Earlier in the week, General Alfred Pleasonton was appointed as the new commander of the Cavalry Division by President Lincoln. Seeking a more coordinated fighting force as opposed to one attacking piecemeal, Pleasonton reorganized the cavalry into a single division containing five brigades. Previously, cavalry regiments were attached to infantry brigades.


Col Farnsworth was made commander of the 2nd Brigade, which included the 8th IL, 3rd IN, 1st MA, and 8th PA. With Farnsworth promoted to brigade command and Major Beveridge still on sick leave, the 8th IL was a command without a commander. Enter William Medill.


Though it would not be made official on the company muster roll until September 10, Captain Medill was promoted to Major Medill on September 7th, in temporary command of the entire 8th IL regiment at Poolesville. Since the regiment had no major combat opportunities to prove its mettle to this point, Medill’s promotion was made more out of necessity than merit. However, his popularity with the men of his company remained just as strong as when he was elected it captain, and there is little doubt personal popularity played a role in the selection. From bivouacking in Darnestown on the 8th to settling into camp outside Frederick, Maryland on the 13th, William and his new command engaged in some desultory skirmishing along the 30 mile northwest march while he awaited his first test in command.



Colonel Farnsworth, now in command of the entire 2nd Brigade of the 8th IL, 3rd IN, 1st MA, and 4th PA, decided to divide his force in pursuit of the Confederate rearguard of the advance into Maryland. The Confederate wagon train was reported by loyal locals to be moving in the direction of Burkittsville, likely to pass through Crampton’s Gap.


Crampton’s Gap played an integral role in the Maryland campaign. The southernmost of the three South Mountain Passes, it was the mountain pass the Confederate rear would have to defend in order to pass its wagon trains through. Burkittsville is a tiny hamlet with a couple hundred residents located 14 miles west of Frederick in the shadow of South Mountain. The town now boasts a smaller population than it did in 1860 (down to 151 from and 1860 population near 300). It is best known as the fictional location of the 1999 hit horror film The Blair Witch Project.


On September 13, 1863, Colonel Farnsworth sent half of his brigade to continue west from Middletown on the National Road. The other half of the brigade was sent southwest on the Marker Road towards Burkittsville in an attempt to cut off Jeb Stuart’s supply train at Crampton’s Gap. This force was led by William, whose first combat test as a major was upon him. His mixed detachment of soldiers consisted of a squadron of the 8th IL and 3rd IN. With an hour remaining until sunset, Major Medill began the force on a 7 mile march southwest to the gap from Middletown.


Another aggressive action was being undertaken by the Union Army of the Potomac in the Maryland Campaign. Unfortunately for the Union, it did not befuddle Stuart’s Cavalry Division in the least. While probing a position around Middletown, Roger Preston Chew’s rebel horse artillery battery noticed William’s advancing force and decided to fall back to Middletown to surprise the Union soldiers via the Burkittsville-Middletown Road.  


In combat, often the best made plans go afoul and Major Medill was about to get his dose of this reality of war. Though his flanking maneuver on the Marker Road successfully cut off Cpt. Chew’s horse artillery battery, Chew had been able to successfully guide his guns to a safe position on Crampton’s Gap.


Major Medill’s force continued its pursuit of the battery but found a Confederate force near Crampton’s Gap reinforced by Brigadier General Wade Hampton that was too large to assault.


William made the militarily savvy choice to withdraw so as to not risk lopsided casualties. After all, aside South Mountain with the rebels commanding the nearest mountain pass with their artillery, there wasn’t much else he could do. His precarious position would soon reveal itself.


Major Medill decided to rejoin the other half of Colonel Farnsworth’s brigade, six miles north on the National Pike, advancing on the mountain pass at Turner’s Gap. His options were to return to Middletown on the same route he advanced, the Marker Road, or to use a shortcut through a “rock strewn ravine, bounded on both sides by a worm fence” which led to a more direct straight-northern route to the National Road. He decided on the shortcut through the ravine.


Major Medill soon found out the responsibilities associated with that rank as his decision nearly got his force cut to pieces. Though the squadron of the 8th IL was able to advance successfully through the ravine, Cobb’s Legion of the newly-arrived Hampton’s Brigade hit Company F of the 3rd IN at the rear of William’s force. A two-pronged attack split the regiment, with regimental commander Colonel Pierce M. B. Young leading an attack from the south, while the other half of the regiment attacked from the north, trapping the detachment of Union soldiers in the worm fence with South Mountain in their rear and the rebels on their flanks.


In a chaotic fight lasting only a matter of minutes, Cobb’s legion laid into William’s mounted men with sabres and carbines, killing 8 and wounding 16. His decision to try and save some time had cost the lives of some of his men. As is the case in war, the time for grieving would come after the battle; William’s men needed to find a way out of their predicament.


The other obstacle to their escape was the worm fence they found themselves enclosed in. Cobb’s Legion had now wheeled itself around their position to get in between them and Middletown, and they were about to be totally cut off. Men began to rip apart the worm fence and enough of an opening was created for a successful breakout to Middletown. The Georgians of Cobb’s Legion decided not to pursue and the short skirmish was over.


Major Medill’s first command test in battle was a failure, the defeat so total that some Confederates soldiers found time to taunt a retreating Union private. The breakout to Middletown took place in an every-man-for-himself manner and Private Franklin B. Wakefield was taken prisoner, unable to escape. Rather than simply taking him to the back of the lines and processing him as a POW, Confederate soldiers walked Wakefield a short distance and taunted him with sabre slashes to the head. They left him for dead in fear of a Union pursuit.


The 8th completed their retreat to Middletown by the evening of the 13th. Though his actions at Burkittsville on the 13th did nothing to improve the Union military situation, events elsewhere had the rebels on the run. William and the men of his regiment were witness to Confederate Major General D.H. Hill being run off South Mountain at Fox’s and Turner’s Gaps, opening the National Road for the Union troops to traverse the mountain.


Once the road was open on the afternoon of the 15th, the 8th was sent at the head of a Union column advancing on Boonsboro, 7 miles east of the site of the future Antietam battlefield, where McClellan and Pleasonton expected a fight. Instead the Illinois cavalrymen encountered the Confederate rearguard, moving to a defensive position along the Antietam Creek in the hills of Sharpsburg, Maryland where the Battle of Antietam would take place on the 17th.


The Army of the Potomac’s moves in the run-up to Antietam were nearly perfect. General McClellan assembled an effective fighting force that caused D.H. Hill’s Confederates to withdraw from excellent defensive positions on South Mountain, giving the Army of the Potomac a much needed morale boost after multiple defeats. Also, in doing this, he began to divide and conquer Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, which he knew Lee had purposely divided from an intercepted movement order issued by Lee called Special Order 191.


But McClellan would go on to be heavily criticized for allowing Lee’s army to regroup in Sharpsburg after the Battle of South Mountain despite knowing the movements of Lee’s generals in the aforementioned Special Order. And the hits kept coming.

With Confederate General Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson investing the Union garrison at Harper’s Ferry, (then West) Virginia on September 15 and half of McClellan’s effective fighting force arriving later that same day, McClellan missed an opportunity to attack a Confederate force ⅓ the size of his own. On September 16, McClellan again passed up a chance to attack a smaller force. One reason for McClellan’s inaction is that faulty intelligence provided by his most trusted agent Allan Pinkerton stated that the Confederates had 100,000 soldiers or more gathered at Sharpsburg. This was, of course, ludicrous. All told, the Confederate effective fighting force from September 15-18 around Antietam Creek totaled no more than 38,000.

But McClellan came to believe the lie. And Lee’s disposition of his army in defensive positions west of Antietam Creek was done skillfully so that his fighting force appeared much larger than it was. This was largely done by stretching his lines from Rohrbach (soon to be known as Burnside) Bridge south of the town of Sharpsburg all the way to the Dunker Church and Cornfield that straddled the Hagerstown Pike 3 miles to the north. This was identical to the length of the Union line, but Lee had half the men of McClellan.

McClellan’s blunders at Antietam on September 17 were numerous. He provided vague instructions to his corps commanders, which led to the battle actually taking place as 3 separate battles in the Cornfield, at the Sunken Road, and Burnside Bridge, rather than a coordinated attack that would have prevented Lee from shifting his forces around to provide reinforcements at key moments. This led to a tactical stalemate allowing Lee to retreat across the Potomac River to the safety of the Confederacy in Virginia.


At the battle, William and the 8th IL were part of the Union force in the center that saw no action while held in reserve. However, the hard campaigning of September 1862 had left William with a series of command lessons, chief among them the necessity of clear communication between commanders and ensuring a safe route of retreat. The new major would get his chance at redemption nine months later at Williamsport, Maryland where his regiment once again attempted to cut off Lee’s force before it crossed the Potomac River back into Virginia.


Please stay tuned for part 3 of 3 “A true-hearted Union man” being released on the 155th anniversary of William H. Medill’s death this Monday July 16th