“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:

[3]

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.

Endnotes


[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

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.

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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.

Kentucky

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.

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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.

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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]

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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

Conclusion

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

Endnotes

[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.

HueG25_Master

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

2A

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.

Gravel_ARVN

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


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

2B

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).

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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

2C

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.

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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

2D

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. 

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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

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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.”

Comp_ThuongTu_demolished

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/

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

HueMasterMap

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

1A

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

1B

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

1C

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.

16304_Fitzgerald_Michael_T_DOB_1945

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.”

Canley_Mug_t700

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


Stop 1D: Hwy 1 Causeway

1D

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/.

Sam and John Cassel of the 74th Indiana

Samuel Cassel, my 3rd great-grandfather on my mother’s side served in the Civil War alongside his son (and my 3rd great-uncle) John E. Cassel in Company B of the Union Army of the Cumberland’s 74th Indiana infantry regiment. Recently I completed an archival/genealogy research project examining their Civil War service. The bulk of the research for this project came from visits to the National Archives to view pension records and Compiled Military Service Records as well as analyses of family memoirs and the 74th Indiana regimental history, and personal Ancestry.com research. Here are Sam and John’s stories:

1_Moms_Side_ancestry_SHARPEN

Above: How I am related to Samuel Cassel on my mother’s side

Samuel “Sam” Cassel was born March 7, 1818 in an unincorporated town along the Monongahela River 30 miles south of Pittsburgh. Described as a “quiet, well-balanced man of few words and no gaudy enthusiasms,” Sam spent most of his childhood with younger brother Daniel in western Pennsylvania. In his teens, the family crossed the border west and moved to Stark County, Ohio where Sam learned millwork carpentry as a trade. The exact year of this move is unknown, but another move to farther-west Wayne County, Ohio came some time before February 18, 1839, the date of his marriage to Sarah (nee) Kimmerly.

The family that Sarah and Sam raised in Wayne County, Ohio is evidence of a time when sex was primarily for procreation rather than pleasure, with Sarah giving birth to 10 children from 1840 to 1861. Catherine (b. 1840), Amanda (b. 1841), Isabel (b. 1842), John E. (b. 1844), Mary (b. 1845), and Sarah “Jennie” (b. 1847) are all listed on the 1850 Federal U.S. Census for the Cassel household. Sam also welcomed carpenter younger brother Daniel into his home, with the bachelor listed as a member of the household on the 1850 Census as well.

Sam provided for the family by owning and operating a sawmill, a gristmill, and a woolen mill, where he employed his younger brother Daniel. Throughout the 1850s the Cassels maintained a relatively comfortable lifestyle during a difficult time to do so in America, sustaining themselves through Sam’s millwork. Sarah gave birth to 3 more children in 1852 (Daniel “Perry”), 1854 (“Worth”), and 1858 (Samantha), and miraculously the family of 11 had yet to lose any of their 9 children to infant death as was very common at the time. However, much as the country was soon to be torn apart by a violent struggle, so too was the Cassel family.

Sometime in 1860, Sam Cassel was financially ruined when a fire destroyed all of the mills on his property in Wayne County, as well as the family’s house and most of the their belongings. The fire forced Sam to once again go west, this time to Noble County, Indiana with his family and a salvaged team of horses and big wagons. Though his daughter Jennie recalled it as a “pioneering adventure,” 42 year old Sam was probably overwhelmed at the thought of having to provide for his family of 9 with only $1,000 to his name as shown in the “Personal Estate” section of the 1860 Census ($28,387 in 2018 dollars).

After settling in Columbia City, Indiana Sam returned to his trade operating a sawmill, but struggled to provide for his family due to the decrease in size/production of the operation. In 1860, toddler Samantha passed away at the age of 2. A seventh daughter Louella was born in August 1861, and although it was surely a personal joy to Sam and Sarah, the increasing financial burden of providing for a family of 9 with much lower wages was surely taking a toll.

The birth of Sam’s 10th and final child in August 1861 occurred at a time of great uncertainty in America. The American Civil War was raging in multiple theaters with no end in sight, just months after predictions on both sides of a short conflict. Similar to today, families often fell entirely along a single party line and the Cassels were no different. The Cassels identified as northern Democrats, the party generally associated with conciliatory sentiment towards the south during the war.

Sam did not stray from this platform, once stating to his daughter Jennie before the war that, “Even if the North wins, and sets the Negroes free to be on their own, without a dime or a mule or an acre or a hoe, will they be better off?” before somewhat prophetically also maintaining, “And wouldn’t a war put the North and South at everlasting loggerheads, no matter who won it?”

Sam maintained before the war that he had never owned any slaves and that wealthy New Englanders were the ones who had captured and marketed Black people for sale, not him. Also, he was in a bad financial situation that was quickly growing worse, pushing the war further from his mind. For example, in April 1862 he completed 2 major land transactions to provide income for his family: the first on April 5th to James S. Collins for $300 ($7,000 in 2018) and the second to his brother Daniel for $325 ($7600 in 2018).

Perhaps it was renewed patriotic fervor due to the desperate Union war situation in 1862 or his poor personal financial situation, but evidently Sam’s feelings changed dramatically enough by August 1862 for him and his son John to enlist in the U.S. Army at Whitley County. They were mustered into Company B of the 74th Indiana infantry regiment of Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio, both as privates. Beyond Sam’s pre-war political leanings, what makes the enlistment even stranger are the ages that both men enlisted: John E. at 18 and Sam at 44.

For reference, a few months later in March 1863 President Abraham Lincoln issued a conscription act calling for the drafting of all able bodied men for military service between the ages of 20-45. Even if both men had waited until later in 1863 before enlisting, they were unlikely to be drafted. And John had to obtain permission to enlist since he was between the ages of 18-20. Unfortunately no photographs of either man exist from their time in the army but Sam is listed in the Company Descriptive Book as 6 feet tall with a light complexion, blue eyes, and dark hair and John was 5’8’’ with black eyes and light hair.

Since he was one of the youngest soldiers in the regiment, my 3rd great-uncle John was assigned to be one of the two field musicians in their company. Companies in these regiments usually had a drummer and a fifer, though we do not know which instrument John played. The jobs of company musicians were to play pieces to initiate, accompany, or end military activities. Father and son trained and marched out of Louisville on October 1, 1862 with the 74th Indiana in pursuit of Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s army.

The job of Sam and John’s regiment was to reinforce Don Carlos Buell’s Union Army of the Ohio so that it could eject two Confederate armies from Kentucky that had invaded from middle Tennessee (Braxton Bragg and Kirby Smith). In August 1862, Kirby Smith’s Confederate army crossed into Kentucky through the Cumberland Gap and overwhelmed a smaller Federal force at Richmond on August 30, eventually setting up defenses in the town of Frankfort, just 45 miles from the Union border in Indiana. Seeking to get Buell to follow him into an envelopment by two Confederate armies and relieve pressure on the state of Tennessee, Bragg moved his army to Bardstown by September 30.

These movements set up a showdown in central Kentucky, since Buell decided to divide his force to meet both threats. He sent a large portion of his Union force south to Bardstown to follow Bragg and a smaller force on a feint north towards Frankfort to throw off the Confederates. Sam and John were part of the larger force that followed Bragg. On October 8, 1862, Buell and Bragg’s forces finally met and faced off on the soft rolling hills along Doctor’s Creek at Perryville, Kentucky.

Perryville was a tactical defeat for the Union, but a strategic victory. Largely because of Confederate breakthroughs by William Hardee’s Confederate left wing which collapsed Union I Corps General Alexander McCook’s front, the battle was a military calamity for the Union. Union commander Buell had no clue that a major battle was raging as he dined with III Corps commander Charles Champion Gilbert at his headquarters. Buell’s obliviousness greatly imperiled his army, with only 9 of his available 24 brigades being engaged in battle. The 74th Indiana was one of these regiments, and they were fuming while held in reserve behind Phil Sheridan’s division.

The 74th was highly critical of Buell, with regimental officer Col. Myron Baker blasting Buell as a traitor in a letter to his sister. Claiming that Buell missed a chance at a Waterloo defeat for the Confederacy he wrote, “All day the cannon thundered and the musketry rang along our line and all day Buell lay in his tent a mile and half from the line of battle and part of the day we were not 4 rods from the line of battle and all day our unsupported columns were thinned by the determined fire of the enemy and yet Buell says he did not know a battle was going on! Shame on the villain!”

Perryville_74_Map

Above: Map of Battle of Perryville, with position of 74th IN highlighted in bottom left

Col. Baker was not exaggerating about the 74th having to watch their unsupported Union Army comrades go down. Phil Sheridan, general of the division directly ahead of the 74th, had to literally watch McCook’s I Corps get crushed just to the north because he was obeying unchanged orders not to engage the enemy from III Corps commander Gilbert, still dining with Buell at his headquarters while the battle raged. Although Buell greatly mismanaged a battle in which he outnumbered the enemy more than 2:1, Perryville was still a strategic victory for the Union since Buell finally came to his senses and massed his entire force in front of Perryville that evening, forcing Bragg to retreat back into Tennessee through the Cumberland Gap along with Kirby Smith’s second Confederate army. The ejection of the Confederate army from Kentucky in October 1862 coupled with The Union Army of the Potomac halting Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Maryland 3 weeks earlier was a strategic boon for the Union.

However, Buell’s incompetence did not cease at Perryville. He failed to pursue Bragg and was replaced with William Rosecrans, fresh off a Union victory at the Battle of Corinth where he halted the final Confederate offensive in the Mississippi theater. On October 24, 1862 Rosecrans officially replaced Buell and renamed his new force the Army of the Cumberland.

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Above: William Rosecrans, nicknamed “Rosey” due to his red cheeks

Sam and John did not have much time to consider this major change in command, as they both had fallen ill during the arduous 170 mile march that the 74th Indiana was making from Perryville to Nashville after the battle. Neither man made it as far as Nashville.

Now-19 year old John contracted Typhoid fever during the march on October 29, 1862. Typhoid fever was known as “Camp Fever” to camp surgeons and it was caused by bacteria entering the mouth through contaminated water or food. Outbreaks usually occurred when waves of new recruits arrived, carrying the disease with them. Symptoms were horrendous, starting with sleeplessness and fever sliding down the scale to complete weakness, a distended abdomen, and rashes of pink spots on the skin. It killed 34,800 men in the Union army during the war, and 1 in 3 cases were fatal.

Meanwhile, now-44 year old Sam was unable to complete the march due to a pre-war condition of varicose veins and an ulcer that were making him an invalid to the 74th. On November 6, 1862 he was left sick at Bowling Green, Kentucky and admitted to Branch No. 2 U.S. General Hospital in Bowling Green, where his son John had been given a bed just a day earlier. The Cassel men remained in the Bowling Green hospital until January 1863. While they were away from their regiment the 74th Indiana was detached from Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland, hammering away at Bragg’s Confederates at the major Battle of Stones River in Murfreesboro, TN.

During this time the 74th was detached so that they could pursue Confederate Cavalryman John H. Morgan’s forces, who were attempting to cut Rosecrans’ supply line along the Louisville and Nashville Railroad in Kentucky. It was not the 74th’s finest hour in their first opportunity for significant combat, as they were part of an embarrassing Union defeat in which Morgan captured 1,800 prisoners, destroyed 35 miles of track and telegraph line, and burned a key bridge over Bacon Creek that shut down the railroad for 5 weeks in this section. However the bulk of the Army of the Cumberland was still successful at Stones River with Rosecrans forcing Bragg to retreat from Middle Tennessee, setting up a showdown campaign through southeast Tennessee.

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Above: Map of John E. Cassel’s whereabouts with the 74th IN, October 1862-June 1863

It seemed unlikely that John would join this campaign in January 1863. Typhoid relapses were very common and 1 in 3 sufferers remained carriers for at least 3 years afterwards. Sam received a Certificate of Disability for Discharge at Bowling Green on January 9 due to what the surgeon called, “an indolent ulcer on the right and varicose veins of the right leg” also commenting that these conditions “existed during enlistment but have been aggravated by the exposures (of) military life.” He didn’t participate in a single day of active combat, though he witnessed the action at Perryville. Even so, Sam’s service in the war was complete with his honorable discharge and he returned to civilian life in Columbia City, Indiana.

Beating the odds, John rejoined his regiment after being released from the Bowling Green hospital on January 25, 1863. The 74th was encamped at La Vergne, Tennessee 18 miles southeast of Nashville waiting to engage Bragg as part of the Union’s Tullahoma Campaign to drive the Confederates completely out of Tennessee. In company muster rolls, John is listed as present from late January to summer. During John’s time in camp the soldiers were visited and addressed by poet/painter Thomas Buchanan Read, an abolitionist who went on to write and paint the nationally famous poem/painting combo “Sheridan’s Ride.”

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Above: T. Buchanan Read’s 1871 painting of Phil Sheridan at Cedar Creek

Read’s speech to the 74th Indiana in March 1863 was part of a political push by the Federal government to endear Union Army regiments to antislavery ideas after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Though the men of the 74th Indiana came from a state that never had slavery, their general sentiment seemed to be respectful apathy. A March 19, 1863 letter from regiment Col. Myron Baker included in the regimental history accurately portrays this apathy:

“The Abolitionists are turning Heaven and Earth to Africanize the sentiment of the army. There is much mistake about it. The army is opposed alike to the “Copperhead” and the abolitionists. They are brave, true men generally, opposed to both and all factions, firmly bent if possible on restoring to our unhappy country one undivided harmonious government.”

Though most of the regiment did not identify as abolitionists, they had no sympathy for Confederates. In another one of Col. Baker’s letters included in the regimental history, he decried an order from President Lincoln to protect Confederate property while occupying cities in Tennessee and instead insisted on seizing rebel property: 

“They are all damned rebels and out (sic) to be cleaned out but our generals are careful to guard and protect their property while they are tearing down the very government under which they were born and acquired their property…It is such property…that he ought to strip them of instead of having guards set over and safeguards it by his commanding officers.”

There is no evidence of John E. Cassel’s political leanings. He was likely a Democrat because his father was, but he could not vote and was described later by a niece as never having been “rugged.” In June 1863, he marched with the 74th to their new headquarters 16 miles south to Triune. The regiment was preparing along with the rest of Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland for the famed Tullahoma Campaign, which eventually drove the Confederates from Middle Tennessee all the way to the vital Confederate rail junction at Chattanooga 120 miles southeast of their headquarters at Triune. But young John wouldn’t participate as he contracted bronchitis in camp on June 23, the day before the beginning of the campaign.

As the 74th finally made a name for itself in combat during the Tullahoma Campaign, John E. Cassel laid in a temporary field hospital in Murfreesboro before his condition worsened and he was admitted to the larger Cumberland U.S. General Hospital in Nashville on August 16, 1863 with chronic diarrhea. Though now a good excuse for me to get out of social events, diarrhea was no laughing matter during the Civil War. Soldiers called it “Quickstep” and nearly everyone got it at least once. Union officers were unaware at the time that fecal contamination of food was the main cause of diarrhea so they routinely set up bathrooms right next to water supplies.

The symptoms of chronic diarrhea began with severe expulsion, abdominal pain, and vomiting, and in many cases finished off soldiers due to dehydration, exhaustion, or a rupture of an intestinal wall. 1 in 40 cases were fatal and it accounted for 45,000 Union soldier deaths during the war. (3rd great) Uncle John basically lay dying for the next month and a half in a Nashville hospital while his regiment had its magnum opus moment at the Battle of Chickamauga. The finishing stroke for John was the return of his typhoid fever, which eventually led to his death on October 3, 1863. 19 years old and 400 miles from home, John was buried alongside his comrades from the Army of the Cumberland at Nashville National Cemetery. The war was over for John, but just beginning for his father Sam.

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Above: Graves of Army of the Cumberland soldiers at Nashville National Cemetery

After Sam’s discharge, his daughter Jennie recalled that he “plodded home with little to show for his experience but a well-developed taste for corn liquor.” There is no mention of Sam drinking alcohol before the war and his addiction likely either came from camp boredom or alcoholic medical treatments commonly used by army surgeons. Maybe it was the defeat he felt for losing to alcohol or the fact that he recently lost his brother-soldier and son John, but in the years after the war Sam’s daughter said that, “He often broke down and cried about it, but somehow, he couldn’t quit, though he was a good man.” From that point on, Sam veered between periods of constant drinking and relative sobriety. During one of these periods of sobriety Sam sought to prove to himself that he could still master his trade, building a walnut chest for his daughter’s fifteenth birthday that remained in the family until at least 1951.

In the postwar years Sam provided for his family by starting over with millwork carpentry, now working odd jobs at small mills and barns. And in the late 1860s/early 1870s he attempted to guide his family through an economic depression by running a hardware shop that mended broken farm tools. In the 1870 Census, 53 year old Sam’s real estate value was listed as a meager $150 ($2,720 in 2018) and his personal estate value was listed as $340 ($6,200 in 2018). His daughter (my 2nd great-grandmother) Mary also helped provide for the family, being listed as a member of the household at age 24 in the 1870 Census with the occupation School Teacher.

Evidently his final years were sad ones since his grandson Lloyd remembered him as “Unhappy Old Sam.” But the war veteran scarred by his experience attempted to not let it destroy his family as well. He continued to work odd jobs into his final years, including constructing coffins for local families and enlisting the help of his daughters to line the wood with fabric. His own coffin came calling on March 11, 1877 when he passed away at age 59 at his home near Wilmot, IN. He is buried alongside his wife at Salem Cemetery in Wilmot.

In May 2017 I visited my 3rd great-uncle John’s grave at Nashville National Cemetery, located on a small ridge in the corner of the cemetery. The peaceful scene called to mind the lyrics of one of the 74th Indiana’s favorite camp songs “The Last Call:”

Some sleep in unremembered graves, where sweet magnolias bloom,

And roses shed their fragrance on the air,

But the years roll by unheeded and our summons soon will come,

To join our fallen comrades over there;

And when at last we ground our arms and wait our summons home

And turn our steps toward the other shore;

May those comrades come to meet us and greet us in that land,

Where wars and fightings cease forevermore

And so they lay in eternal rest, 400 miles apart from one another but forever bonded in death by the experience of war. Rest in peace, Sam and John.

Reference List

Asher, T. John Hunt Morgan’s Christmas Raid. Hardin County History Museum. Retrieved from http://www.hardinkyhistory.org/morgan.pdf

Compiled Service record, John E. Cassel, Pvt., 74th Indiana Infantry, Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Who Fought in Volunteer Organizations During the American Civil War, compiled 1890–1912, documenting the period 1861–1866, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Compiled Service record, Samuel Cassel, Pvt., 74th Indiana Infantry, Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Who Fought in Volunteer Organizations During the American Civil War, compiled 1890–1912, documenting the period 1861–1866, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Douglas, L. (1951). Time to Remember. Houghton Mifflin Co.

Flagel, T. (2010). The History Buff’s Guide to the Civil War. Naperville, IL: Cumberland House.

Garofalo, R., & Elrod, M. (1985). A Pictorial History of Civil War Era Musical Instruments and Military Bands. Charleston, WV: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company.

John E. Cassel, Private, Company B, 74th Indiana Infantry; Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Veterans Who Served in the Army and Navy Mainly in the Civil War and the War with Spain (“Civil War and Later Survivors ’Certificates”), 1861–1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives Building,Washington, DC.

McPherson, J. (2010). The Atlas of the Civil War. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press Book Publishers.

Peddycord, W. (1913). History of the Seventy-Fourth Regiment Indiana Volunteer Infantry. Warsaw, IN: The Smith Printery.