Subject: New Britain, AAR, April, (afternoon) 15-17, 2011
Lt. Gen. U. S. Grant, Commander, All Federal Armies;
Brig. General M. Burbank, Commander, New England Brigade (NEB);
Rear Admiral Lee, Commander of the Northern Blockading Fleet;
Captain Erickson, Commandant (acting)
U. S. Corps of Topographical Engineers.
I beg your indulgence to receive my report of the above activity I was notified at my office at Fort Trumbull, in New London, CT to be on station at the indicated location at the above time and date. I made arrangement to go by sea in the dispatch schooner assigned to Fort Trumbull and sailed down the coast of Long Island Sound and then up the Connecticut River, where we landed at Wethersfield Pond. From there we went on by horse and carriage to the Stanley Park in New Britain. The Union Forces were set up at the southern end of the pond, close by the waters edge, just North of the Stanley Park Road Bridge (Known locally as the Bass Brook Bridge No.1). By late Friday afternoon the Engineer's Field Office was set up and displays of maps, surveying equipment, and some "infernal devices" were on display.
In attendance from the Northeast Topographical Engineers (NETE) were the following personnel:
--Brig. General of Engineers, Ian McKay;
--Major James Duarte;
--Captain N. Reicke;
--Captain W. Lafleur;
--Lt. G. Webster;
--Corp. M. Grossman;
--Lady M. Mathews (teamster. paymaster);
--Lady H. Webster (asst. Artist).
Lt. Webster and Capt. Reicke were later detached to the Artillery for duty;
Capt. Lafleur was detached for Logistics duties;
Ladies Mathews and Webster were released for their duties outside of camp;
Corporal Grossman was detached to the infantry as requested by his Company Cdr.
I called on Brig. General M. Burbank to get an idea of what he wished to have from the Engineers. His response was to give me some maps, gained from the town, of the park area and he asked for them to be redrawn and upgraded to the present. Those efforts occupied both myself and Major Duarte for most of the remainder of the day Friday and Saturday. Friday night, Lady Mathews and myself left camp at about 7:00 P. M. for a quiet supper and lodging at a local inn. On Saturday evening, Lady Mathews and I were invited to attend a Birthday Party being celebrated by one of the local townspeople. The party and dinner following were held at a local German Restaurant. The crowd was quite congenial and we spent the night as guests of the town. Early Saturday morning, fortified with a hearty New England Farmer's breakfast, I was in camp and spent the day working the requested map project, and completing a detailed drawing of a large steamship, "Eastern City" which had been converted to a troop ship and equipment hauler for the government. This ship, after moving a number of troops South, just after Fort Sumter, had been given to the Corps of Engineers to establish some storehouses, and repair facilities on one of the "to be captured" offshore southern islands, when they had been taken back from the Confederate Forces. This steamship is currently in port undergoing conversion and upgrade prior to being loaded out. The drawing was requested of the engineers by the ship's Commander.
In addition to the ship drawing and maps, I was asked by one of the Corps of Engineers to produce my idea of a heavy fortress to be considered for construction on one of the southern islands. He asked that I give him a diagram of a medieval castle as his current library is not complete in that area, and he was looking for some new ideas that were not quite as extensive as the French sixteenth century fortifications utilized in european defenses.
In the afternoon, Brig. General M. Burbank and I met to discuss his battle plans for the day. I was honored to be asked to narrate to the crowd of spectators about the progress, tactics, and some basic artillery and infantry information, in order to make the skirmish more understandable and meaningful to them. During the skirmish on the field, just above the park road I was pleased to talk with the spectators there. The number of spectators appeared to be quite large, perhaps as many as some fifteen hundred or more. After the skirmish, Major Duarte and I spent some time answering questions of spectators who visited the Engineering office. The primary items of interest were the "infernal devices" being used and developed by the Confederates, and now also being used by the Federals.
Sunday morning dawned bright and clear after a horrendous rain and wind storm during the night. The Engineering Office fly fell victim to the wind, but some of the NEB staff very kindly put things aright before my arrival. My thanks to them for that extra effort. As a result of the rain, the earlier day's plans for the skirmish had to be revised to some degree and just prior to the skirmish, General Burbank again briefed me on his new plans for the engagement. I took charge of the spectator group, which was somewhat smaller on Sunday, likely because of the previous night's storm. I was joined in this, by a Major of Marines, who was acting as an escort for President Lincoln. I had the honor to meet President Lincoln as he visited the Union camp on Saturday and was very pleased to meet him again briefly on Sunday. The Major of Marines read out his orders to the spectator crowd, and the President Lincoln made a short speech to the crowd as well. The Major and I then went on to narrate the battle as it began.
Apparently, there was a group of Union Ladies who wished, for their own reasons, to visit the Confederate camp, and as they approached the Confederate pickets they were refused entrance, and were finally returned, escorted by two Confederate pickets, to a point midway between the lines. Whereupon, two Union pickets took over the escort duties. The women were very upset over the refusal and made a real fuss over it. Names were exchanged in loud voices and from somewhere there was a shot fired. The Confederate pickets returned fire thinking that the Federals were attacking. This quickly elevated into a full and complete military action with the infantry and artillery fully involved. The Confederates finally gained the high ground along the northern boundary of the pond, after some hard fighting, and were successful in turning the Federal flank. With this advantage, the Confederate's pressed the Federal forces back to the Federal Lines. The only saving grace was that the Federal Artillery, who continued to pound the Confederate's from across the pond was safely out of the way of the Confederate Attack. The Confederate artillery, on their side, also continued the action. However, the Confederate guns were of a smaller type, called Mountain Guns (howitzers), with a shorter overall range.
In the afternoon after the skirmish I was approached by several people who had questions about ancestors who had served in the Civil War. One woman had several items that she needed to have explained, having received some basic comments from historical documents. The remainder of the afternoon was spent answering questions about the engineering materials on display. Finally, when the spectators left, we packed our equipment and took the carriage back to the dispatch schooner and sailed downriver for New London. We had fair winds all the way, and the river was high, so there was no problem in the trip, and we arrived at Fort Trumbull in the early evening. We finished the day with an excellent barbecue dinner and then I sought my bunk for a long nap.
The event was a good one and I and the other engineers enjoyed ourselves immensely. The material done by the engineers, will be shared by all and all who are interested will have copies of the maps, drawings, and diagrams as requested. My personal thanks from the NETE to Marc and to General M. Burbank for a very good event. It was very obvious that a good deal of planning and effort went into this event, and all this work is much appreciated by the Northeast Topographical Engineers (NETE).
If invited next year, or in following years, I would be pleased to accept and attend with an expectation of a good event.
Ian McKay, Brig, Gen. of Engrs (by brevet)
Chief Engineer, NEB
Chief of Staff (acting)
Lt. Gen. U.S. Grant's Military and Personal Staffs