AAR - Wilderness Campaign - #0529-3014
Lt. General U.S. Grant
General in Chief of the U.S. Armies
Brigadier General Ian McKay
Chief of Staff to General Grant
Gentlemen and Ladies,
It is my pleasure to submit following account of the Northeast Topographical Engineer's movements and operations of this campaign.
The Command Train of the Topographical Engineer's departed prior to dawn on May 1st, 1864 and proceeded South with all due haste to join the Federal Forces prepared to fight in the Wilderness. With due military engineer precision the Command Train rendezvoused with the wagon train of Coast Survey Officer, Maxwell Shaw, outside Winchester, Virginia. Mr. Shaw, having scouted the area prior, led the Engineer Train into the Wilderness and to our destination. Upon arrival at about noon, contact was made with Major Don Ernsberger, Chief Engineer for this campaign. We were then directed to the location of the Federal Headquarters to find that the camps of General Grant and General Markijohn were already established. Major Ernsberger directed us to Engineer's Row, where our camp, too was soon in operation. Per order of General Markijohn, through Major Ernsberger, I was appointed Chief Topographical Engineer for this campaign.
We learned that this area had received up to 4 inches of rain in the past two days; and while the creeks and runs had been flooded, the water was just as quickly receding.
Field fortifications, brought by this officer, were erected at the West end of the Federal Headquarters to protect against Confederate attacks from the Wilderness.
This having been accomplished by 3:30 pm, this date, Mr. Shaw, who had previously walked the ground in detail, accompanied me as my guide on a scouting mission to familiarize myself regarding the terrain to be fought upon in the days ahead. Field sketches and notes were made to update details on our finished battle maps for the commanders.
Upon return to camp, Mr. Shaw and I worked diligently to complete our map sets while Lady
Heidi prepared an excellent evening meal.
After dinner, consultations were made with Major Ernsberger and other staff members regarding upcoming operations. Further work on our maps was done until nightfall. By that time we called it an early night as most of us had been traveling since well before daybreak.
Our day began early, about 5:30am on May 2nd, Friday. After a hearty and delicious breakfast prepared by Lady Heidi, Mr. Shaw continued to work on his maps while I accompanied an Engineer work party into the Wilderness to remove wire fencing in the proposed battle area. A detachment of Berdan's Sharpshooter's accompanied us as a security force. As the work party reached the work area, I separated from them to make a detailed scouting mission throughout the Wilderness area. I was accompanied by a Sharpshooter as we expected the Confederates to have their own scouts and skirmishers in the area as well. For the next 2 and 1/2 hours I made numerous notes and sketches of the terrain and features of the battle area within the Wilderness. The First Sergeant of the Berdan's, whom we met up with in the Wilderness, cautioned us that he had just observed a 4 foot long copperhead snake just to the East of our location.
Upon completing my scouting survey I returned to the Engineering Camp to work on my maps which went well into the afternoon. Mr. Shaw and I each had numerous copies to update with new and pertinent details.
After another fine evening meal prepared by Lady Heidi, Mr. Shaw and I were summoned by Major Ernsberger to participate in a Topographic briefing for General Markijohn and the six brigade commanders, as well as the artillery and cavalry commanders. Although the briefing did not go quite as planned or hoped for, Mr. Shaw and I were able to distribute map copies to General Markijohn and each of the subordinate commanders. Mr. Shaw did make a presentation of a large detailed linen map to General Markijohn for him to use and keep, as well as stating several facts regarding his position in the Coast Survey, attached to the Northeast Topographical Engineers. General Markijohn would later use Mr. Shaw's linen map to conduct his AAR, using matchsticks upon the map to designate the brigade's positions and movements.
At this meeting, plans for the next days battle of the Wilderness were discussed and set to start at 4:30 am.
After the conclusion of the meeting I was requested by the 5th and 6th Brigade commanders, BG Daniels (6th) and Col. Pepe (5th) to guide them and their staff officers through the positions they would be taking up in the darkness of Saturday morning's battle. Each
commander was shown his position and the fording site across the Wilderness Run to their secondary start position for the next morning. While we were doing so the skirmish line of Berdan's Sharpshooters engaged a force of Rebel skirmishers to our front. Major Ernsberger guided the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Brigades to their respective positions on the right of the Federal line.
After completing this mission I returned to our camp and visited and reflected with Mr. Shaw on the events of the day in the company of Lady Heidi, around several oil and candle lanterns. A pleasant evening was had, but as we were all tired, and tomorrow would come early, we turned in for the night.
Saturday, May 3rd, started at 4:30 am sharp with the roll of drums and the calls of bugle and fife as the six infantry brigades and cavalry and artillery were awakened and assembled. As per my arrangement with Major Ernsberger the previous evening, I was to guide in the left three infantry brigades (#'s 4, 5 and 6) to their starting points along left flank of the Federal line along Wilderness Run. Major Ernsberger guided the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Brigades to their respective positions on the right of the Federal line.
I entered the dark woods at 4:40 am and located the right flank of my initial (4th) brigade area. They had had several pickets in their breastworks there overnight. I ascertained the events of the evening and located the fording sites in the darkness that each brigade was to use. At 4:45 am the 5th Brigade approached and I guided their officers into their position and gave them their bearings on their ford. Quickly thereafter the 6th Brigade approached and they too were guided to their position on the left flank of the 5th Brigade. Next, the 4th Brigade arrived and took their position on the right flank of the 5th Brigade. All brigades sent their skirmishers out and up the ridge across Wilderness Run and were almost immediately engaged by Rebel skirmishers. It was now dawn.
Sporadic fire from both sides punctuated the, until then, still morning as I returned to camp, only about 150 yards away. There Lady Heidi was preparing a delicious breakfast and Mr. Shaw was getting prepared for his day.
As I began to eat, the fire across the Wilderness Run sharply intensified, and shortly seemed to have evolved into a rather large engagement. Confederate forces had not been anticipated so close to our encampment.
I hurriedly left camp and crossed the Wilderness Run and started up the ridge through the woods behind the 6th Brigade on the vulnerable left flank of the Federal line. Just as I reached the rear of their lines, which were now heavily engaged to their front, I saw off to the left flank, and to the rear of their lines, a dozen or so Rebel soldiers trying to work their way in behind us. At that point myself and General Daniels, on horseback, and one of his Colonels (also on horseback) and a lieutenant all opened fire with our pistols to stop this Rebel flanking maneuver. They were quickly with 25 yards of us before a Federal Company was detached and sent to our assistance.
While this attack was stopped, I now returned toward our camp to retrieve my second pistol, as I was out of ammunition. Upon crossing back over the Wilderness Run, I saw to the South a large company of Confederates coming around behind the Federal line, flanking us and approaching our camp.
I hurried to our tent to get my pistol, which was loaded, but not capped. I knew I was one of only 2 or 3 officers left in camp. There was no reserve force. I hurriedly capped my second pistol while Mr. Shaw volunteered to go out across Wilderness Run to alert the closest Brigade and get reinforcements. Since time was of the essence, I gave Lady Heidi my spare cylinder for my Remington and asked her to quickly 'cap' it, which she did perfectly, and just in time! I then hurried out behind the field fortifications I had erected protecting our camp with my pistol, one spare cylinder and my "Thundermug". By now the Rebel company was formed on line at the edge of our camp, 30 yards directly in front of me. I quickly fired off my first cylinder and reloaded with the second. There were two other Federal officers present, but were not armed and loaded. After firing my second cylinder I fired off several charges with the Thundermug to make as much noise and distraction as possible. The Rebels then faced to the left and headed off towards Wilderness Run, where they were engaged by the Federal 4th Brigade element that Mr. Shaw had gone to alert.
It should be documented at this time that the efforts of the Northeast Topographical Engineers; myself, Mr. Shaw, and Lady Heidi, had saved the Union Headquarters Camp. I would also like to make an honorable mention of Lady Julie Grant who also stayed with us, armed and ready with a large ladle in case things got really bad!!
Once the Rebel force moved away, it was engaged by more Federal infantry and cavalry. I continued to fire off the last of my charges (7 or 8) from my Thundermug in support of the counterattack.
In a short time the battle was concluded and the Rebs were slowly ejected from our infantry camps.
Once the camp returned to normal, Mr. Shaw and Lady Heidi and I went off to find the Sutler's Camp and procure some supplies. The walk was close to 3/4 of a mile away, but we took a nice, leisurely walk on this beautiful morning. After picking up a few items, we had lunch at the sutler's and caught a wagon shuttle back to the Federal Camp.
Mr. Shaw and I returned to working on our maps while Lady Heidi worked on repairing ripped garments and broken buttons, and cooking a wonderfully delicious homemade apple pie. I worked on copies of the maps for the next days Muleshoe Battle while Max watercolored two of his large linen maps.
After dinner we worked and visited at a leisurely pace, until the prescribed time of 8:00 pm for our Command Staff briefing for Sunday's battle came around. All my maps were ready; or so I thought. At about 10 minutes until 8:00 pm, General Markijohn and Major Ernsberger came over to our camp and wanted me to place all the brigades on my (8) copies of the Muleshoe maps for the briefing, which was to start in ten minutes! I then hustled through several versions of information and locations to place the brigades and their current commanders along with the brigades and commanders that they were going to portray. It was a hectic 15 minutes, with information coming at me rather quickly! Of course, I wanted to get it right, so I made sure I was clear on the General's directions. This having been accomplished, at least in a rough draft, the General thanked me for working hard under pressure and we started our rounds to brief all the infantry, cavalry and artillery commanders; going camp to camp.
This was to take almost the next two hours. General Markijohn, a very good commander to work with and for, in my estimation, introduced me to every commander as we arrived at the camps and explained what my position was. There seemed to be universally positive comments from each commander regarding the quality and accuracy of our maps that we provided. I had made a specific map (hurriedly) showing the position of each brigade where the General wanted them to deploy, and gave a copy to each commander for the next days battle. I was able to handily answer all questions regarding features, distances and positions for the commanders.
Upon arriving back at our camp at about 10:00 pm, I bade my goodnights to the General and Major and went to bed. It had been a long, but overall productive day.
Sunday morning, May 4th, started at a more leisurely time, although the drums and fifes woke us up only at 6:00 am.
After another fine breakfast I got my equipment ready for the days battle, set to start at 1:30 pm.
By 9:00 am, I was told by Major Ernsberger to have ready to transport all my field fortifications from our headquarters camp over to the Muleshoe battlefield. At the prescribed hour I was escorted to the main gate of our Federal Camps by Provost Captain Pollack while Mr. Shaw retrieved the Engineer wagon. Upon arriving back at our camp with the wagon, myself, Mr. Shaw and several volunteers from the Berdan's company assisted us in loading the field fortifications. The Berdan's company was camped across from us in the headquarters camp.
Mr. Shaw, at the helm, and I then proceeded to the Muleshoe battlefield where we were told we would be erecting my field fortifications (3 cheveuax de frize, 2 plank hurdles, 2 fascine hurdles, and some 30 fraise stakes) along the Confederate lines on the left flank of the Muleshoe. This, of course, never sat well with me. Upon arriving at the Confederate lines, I spoke with Confederate Provost Colonel Hildeman, whom after a few minutes discussion, he declined the use of my fortifications, officially. I responded to him, "Thank you, Sir, we will most kindly use them against you!". He then escorted us through his lines and we moved across the battlefield to our lines.
We then awaited the arrival of Major Ernsberger with soldiers to assist us in his placing abitis along the Federal line and us with erecting the field fortifications. Major Ernsberger eventually arrived, but unfortunately, sans soldiers to help. This made our job, and his, much more difficult and lengthy in time to complete. As the abitis had been dumped in incorrect locations, from 100 to 250 yards away, Mr. Shaw was good enough to volunteer his wagon and horsepower to drag 5 large pulls of abitis into their correct locations. After some two hours of work, the Federal line looked as presentable as it was going to get. I will dare to say that without my field fortifications hauled from Connecticut, it would not have been much of a line. The Topographical Engineers had saved the day for a second time.
Mr. Shaw and I then left his wagon in a convenient spot adjacent to the battlefield in the care of the local Sheriff; for it's quick retrieval after the battle to secure the field fortifications. We then returned to a concerned Lady Heidi who about ready to send (or bring) lunch out to us on the battlefield. After a quick lunch, Mr. Shaw and I reported to Headquarters for our assignment from General Markijohn for the battle. When I inquired if I could bring our Engineer pennant flag with us onto the battlefield General Markijohn replied, "By all means, do so!" Another feather in our cap!
At the same time, Lady Heidi was making her way to the battlefield to locate a good vantage point to conduct some battlefield photography. Many fine photographs were taken and will be distributed.
Mr. Shaw and I then fell in behind General's Grant and Markijohn and their staffs, with Mr. Shaw proudly carrying the Engineer pennant with castle for all to see. After lining up all the brigades in the correct order (of which I had the General's original order of lineup handy when asked to refresh his memory) we started our 1/2 mile march out to the battlefield, with the Engineers marching directly behind the General's Staff. Major Ernsberger, who had stayed on the battlefield, stated to me later he will never forget the sight of the Engineer pennant flying as we marched onto the field!
Once on the field myself and Major Ernsberger stood ready to assist General Markijohn in the correct placement of the brigades in their sections of the line. After conversing, several small adjustments were made. Upon the order of the Commanding General, the brigades then moved online into their prescribed positions along the Federal line of fortifications and entrenchments. Upon further orders, the brigades attacked in stages and the battle see-sawed back and forth for the next hour.
Post battle, Mr. Shaw left to retrieve his wagon and I began breaking down what remained of our field fortifications. Numerous obstacles has just been pulled up and cast aside. Upon reloading the wagon, Mr. Shaw, once again at the helm, and I returned to camp.
By this time the infantry brigades had arrived back at camp and were rapidly disbanding and departing.
Since we had arranged to spend one last night in the Federal Camp, we packed what we could and then settled in to relax and await the departure of most all of the rest of the camp.
Later in the evening we visited General Grant's camp and visited with General and Mrs. Grant, Alexandretta and their daughter, who were also spending one last night in camp. Stories were exchanged, and since we were all tired from the days events, we headed back to our camp at dusk. We had said our goodbyes as we would be leaving early the next morning for home.
By 5:15 am Monday morning we were up and by 5:50 am we were packed and ready for our departure. Goodbyes were made with Max, who proved to be an invaluable asset in this campaign. We all hated to leave, except for the promise of hot coffee and a hotter bath!
Overall, the campaign was a very good one, with just a couple of snags, although not really too big in the overall picture of things. Mr. Shaw and I learned much about working and operating with the USV, and will know better from our experiences what we need to do in the future. Breaking down our own assignments for ourselves and organizing our own assistance in the future being of top priorities.
I believe we had a successful campaign and did the Topogs and the Corps of Engineers in general, very proud. We were roundly appreciated by the Command and subordinate staffs and reached a positive milestone in the use of Engineers in re-enacting.Finished map packages will be made up and sent to General Markijohn at his request.
Humbly and respectfully submitted,
Major Greg Webster
Northeast Topographical Engineers