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Archive for the month “March, 2013”

General Edward Ferrero-Accomplished Soldier and Dance Instructor


Edward Ferrero was a nationally reknowned choreographer, dance instructor and ballroom operator in New York City.  He learned his technique from his Italian born father. He was retained as a part time ballroom dancing instructor at the United States Military Academy and in the process he became acquainted with many officers and cadets who became prominent leaders of the Civil War.  He was the author of the 1859 book Art of Dancing. He was well acquainted with New York society through his work with the elite and wealthy of New York. 

He had been a Lieutenant Colonel in the 11th New York Militia for six years.   Ferrero paid to raise the 51st New York Infantry with his own funds. He was appointed its colonel.  He was most well known for his role in the ill-fated execution of the assault at the Petersburg Crater 30 July 1864.  He was less well known for his unit being in the van of the storming of the Rohrbach (Burnside) Bridge at Antietam on 17 September 1862 where his personal bravery won him promotion the Brigadier General of Volunteers.  He led his Brigade with distinction at Vicksburg and commanding a division at Knoxville he was in command of the defense of Ft Sanders, where Longstreet was turned back on 29 November 1863.  He served through the Appomattox Campaign and was brevetted a Major General on 2 December 1864.

Upon returning to to New York he did not reopen his dance academy but opened a ball-room in a leased building which became the famous Apollo Theater in Harlem.  His second best selling book, The History of Dancing is still in print today.  Published by Kessinger LLC in paper and hard cover the 76 page book is considered a classic.  Ferrero retired in 1889 as the foremost dance instructor in the United States.


Boat Burner on St. Louis Levee Tells All

John B. Castleman recruited 41 men from Lexington, KY and formed the Second Kentucky Cavalry under John Hunt Morgan.  According to his own account, he led a group of men in St. Louis in burning riverboats on the St Louis levee.  The levee was a favorite target of the Order of American Knights (OAK) to generate logistic pressure on Grant’s Vicksburg effort. There were several multiple boat-burnings recorded but Castleman’s 10 boat effort has not been documented except by his own account.  His favorite weapon of choice was Greek Fire.  The recipe for Greek fire included at various times sulfur, pitch, charcoal, incense, tow, naptha, and petroleum.

Other boats were damaged or destroyed by the use of fake coal torpedos which were a disguised explosive introduced into a ships coal bunker.  Such a device was said to be used on the riverboat SS Sultana by Robert Louden, who made a deathbed confession to the vile act.  The coal torpedo was invented by Thomas Edgeworth Courtenay, a former resident of St. Louis.

City Point Explosion Nearly Kills General Grant

On 11 August 1864 an ammunition barge exploded near Grant’s headquarters near the Eppes Mansion “Appomattox” at Hopewell, Virginia.  The blast  killed over 200, wounding and maiming many more.  Over $2,000,000(US) in damage was sustained.  According to the report of Captain John Maxwell, of the Confederate Secret Service,  who along with a R.R. Willard penetrated the Union lines and made their way to the dock.  There on the deck of a supply barge, the  J.E. Kenrick, were some twenty to thirty thousand rounds of artillery amunition and some 75-100 thousand rounds of small- arms amunition. 

Next to the ammunition vessel was a canal boat loaded with Sheridan’s saddles being sent to Washington City to participate in the repulse of Early’s advance.  The explosion sent saddles flying like big-winged bats and the tack killed and wounded many in the area. 

The explosion killed the lemonade man who was the only authorized vendor of soft drinks at the depot. 

Maxwell claims in his report that the explosion was caused by a candlebox filled with 12Lb of explosive and a timer that he gave to a negro onboard the barge with instructions to “take it below as the your captain has requested “.  He had waited until he saw the captain leave the boat before he presented the “horological” device to the unsuspecting crewman. 

Nearby were Grant with his and Meade’s staffs and a Captain Clitz USN.

I’d say he got a good bang for his buck!  However the damage was soon repaired and operations continued to support the Petersburg siege until Robert E Lee’s army was brought to bay at the other Appomattox.




Blockade Runners Hide Themselves from Union Pickets

During the first year of the war blockade runners were 90% assured of making it through the the Union blockade, in and out. The owners of the runners reaped large benefits and could pay for a boat in one or two trips. But as the war progressed it became harder and harder to get through. Runners disguised themselves with camouflage and other techniques.

Blockade runners were built long and narrow to increase the speed with a shallow draft to cross the protective barrier reafs near the port. Most were sidewheel steamers but some later vessels had single and double propellers. They preferred to run in or out on moonless nights. They burned anthracite coal during the run because it produced low smoke and more revolutions than the bituminous supplies that were readily available in the South. Supplies of anthracite coal were found and located to support the trade and some was brought in by other blackade runners. Anthracite coal was mined in England, Russia and in Pennsylvania during the Civil War and was frequently smuggled into the Confederacy for metallurgical demands. Standard grade coal was burned once they were passed the barrier to conserve the valuable fuel. Confederate commerce raiders often captured merchant ships containing bunkers loaded with anthracite and they made every effort to off load the valuable commodity before scuttling the unfortunate merchantman.

Funnels were collapsible and ships were painted dark grey or black or sometimes white. Lifeboats were mounted so as to hide the ships profile. Lights were masked for obvious reasons and only the binnacle was left uncovered but protected for navigation. Speed and deception were paramount in gaining success. Masts were disuised or collapsable, again to disguise the ships profile. Oh, what is a binnacle? It is the light that illuminates the compass in the front of the helmsman.

The first successful run out of the Confederacy in June 1861 is credited to the CSS Sumter running out of New Orleans. The steamer SS Syren made 33 successful runs and is considered the most successful. The CSS Robert E Lee was the first to pioneer the camouflage techniques described above.

The SS Fingal was the runner that brought in the largest supply of military weapons and equipment in the war. Arriving 11-12 Nov 1861, her carge included 14,000 Enfield rifles, 1,000,000 cartridges, 2,000,000 percussion caps, 3,000 cavalry sabers, 1,000 short rifles with cutlass bayonets, 1,000 rounds per rifle, cannon, 400 barrels of coarse cannon powder, medical supplies, military clothing, and cloth for sewing more uniforms.

1100 blackade runners were destroyed during their efforts and 355 were captured.

Dirty Deeds Necessary for Confederacy to Surmount Union Advantages

Do to the many disadvantages the Confederacy had in relation to the Union they adopted some defensive novelties that were revolutionary and in some cases considered unworthy of the ethical standards of the period.  Land and water torpedos, now referred to as mines, were used to protect their ocean ports and the river access to Richmond.  The development of these “Infernal” devices required much ingenuity and inventiveness. 

I recently came across the writings of R. O. Crowley of the Confederate Torpedo Service where he describes some of the development work, operational techniques and logistical problems the service encountered.  Included in the material is some very interesting trivia which brightened my day.  Crowley (whose full name I have not been able to discover) had been the secretary to the General Superintendent of the Westrn Union Telegraph Company in Atlanta and served as an electrician in the Torpedo Service in the war.

Crowley writes in the June 1898 issue of Century Magazine about his exploits.  There was a need for a watertight fuse for electrical detonation.  A simple solution involved a piece of goose quill about 1/2 inch long, filled with fulminate of mercury and containing a fine platinum wire running through, which was then sealed on each end with beeswax.  The protruding wire was attached to insulated copper wire running to the battery.  The fuse was wrapped in a flannel cartridge bag stuffed with rifle-powder.  This device was inserted in a torpedo tank filled with cannon powder.  Quite ingenious don’t you think?

A brief discussion of the amount of available supplies demonstrates the very limited capacity the Confederacy had and underscores their need for secrecy and diligence in the use of the materials they had.  According to Crowley, the limited supplies in the Confederacy were: four to five feet of fine platinum wire and about five miles of insulated copper wire.  Battery acid was available only from the stocks of local druggists when the war broke out and the South had no production capability. Oh, did I mention the shortage of powder?  Not a good way to start a war.

The efforts of the Torpedo Service accompanied the efforts of the CS Navy in developing the submercible and semi-submercible vessels which ultimately sank the USS Housatonic outside Charleston Harbor.  But did you know that the first submarine attack on an enemy warship where the attacking crew survived was the Confederate David on the USS Minnesota on 9 April 1864 in Newport News, Virginia.  The Minnesota was the flag-ship of the Union force and the largest vessel in the fleet and was severly damaged in the attack.



March 2013 St Louis Civil War Roundtable Trivia Quiz

St. Louis Civil War Roundtable – March 2013 

1. Every regiment carried two sets of colors that identified the center of their line. What was the color of the National color of the Irish Brigade?

2. What future US President was one of only two US Presidents to have served as an enlisted man and who was eventually brevetted to major for his actions at Antietam?

3. What was the famous Marching Song of the 7th US Cavalry, and what regiment adopted this song before the 7th Cavalry?

4. What were the major points of contention of the Molly Maguire’s who caused serious disruptions to the anthracite coal mines in Pennsylvania in 1862?

5. Who was the Irish Brigade veteran who became President of Notre Dame University in 1867?

 6.  Why is Gen. James McQueen McIntosh unique among this group of West Point stalwarts?  George E. Pickett, Henry Heth, Laurence S. Baker and James M. McIntosh and George A. Custer.

7. How many Union and Confederate Generals were Irish-born?

8.  What did these Confederate Regiments have in common?  Wheat’s Louisiana Tigers, Cobb’s 24th Georgia Volunteer Infantry, 10th Tennessee Infantry, the      Charleston Irish Volunteers, the 33rd Virginia (Jackson’s “rowdy Irishmen”) and the 1st Virginia Infantry Battalion?

                                             Copyright© 2013 John A. Nischwitz

The answers will be posted on the website in the Bushwacker section after the March meeting 27 March 2013.  (jn)


Chancellorsville-Where Lee Defeated Hooker While Risking Decisive Defeat to The Army of Northern Virginia

While Robert E Lee’s army was deployed at Fredericksburg he sent Gen. Longstreet to Suffolk, North Carolina to recruit and gather supplies.  Longstreet never participated in the Battle of Chancellorsville because he could not return in time.  That was Lee’s first division of his force in the face of the massive Union Army of the Potomac. 

When Gen Hooker maneuvered to the north to flank Lee’s army, Marse Robert again divided his force by leaving Early entrenched at Fredericksburg while he and Jackson moved north to intercept Hooker. 

Hooker’s Army of the Potomac numbered 133,500.  Lee had 62,000.  Not good odds for the South.

Hooker had his corps deployed and were moving forward when for whatever reason he had a change of heart and began to assume a defensive posture, thereby losing the initiative. 

Lee again split his force and sent Jackson on a precarious end run that took the Union force by complete surprise.  Jackson was lost by serious wound and was replaced by the aggressive JEB Stuart.  Lee’s steady pressure pushed Hooker back on the Rappahannock River ford.  Meanwhile, Union General Sedgwick crossed the river at Fredericksburg and moved to take Lee in the rear.  Lee again split his force to maintain pressure on the backpeddling Hooker and then attack Sedgewick head on at Salem Church. 

Had Lee had the divisions of Longstreet available to commit at the appropriate time Hooker might have been cut off and surrounded at the river.  That conjures up interesting thoughts of the possible surrender of his army.  It probably would not have caused a federal collapse but the supply of guns and ammunition would have made Lee a much more potent force later in the war. 

Interestingly, what of the Confederacy if Lee is in fact surrounded and defeated.  Strategically, Lee’s bravura may have been necessary but I believe it came a a grave risk of decisive defeat for his force and possibly the Confederacy itself.  The Chancellorsville story is replete with examples of courage, confusion, consternation, frustration, solid leadership and risk.  It is considered Lee’s greatest victory but he just was faced with odds that kept getting worse for his cause.  

Decisive Defeat Was A Real Possibility for Robert E. Lee on Several Occasions

In my last post I asked the question, “What is decisive defeat?”  The answer lies in the result achieved in relation to the objective of the operation.  The first Principle of War is that of the Objective and is defined as directing all efforts to a decisive obtainable goal. Decisive means that the enemy loses a major element of his combat power or possibly even the war.  As in chess, losing the queen or a rook may be decisive but a checkmate IS decisive.

The Confederate States needed only to convince the Union that victory was not possible and then they would achieve their indepedence.  The Union, however had to bring the South to bay!  A much more difficult goal.

Since Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was in many ways the heart and soul of the rebellion, it’s defeat by annhilation or capture would be decisive on many levels.  Lee managed to stave off defeat until 1865 when the Union had massive combat power and Lee’s was rapidly dissipating with little or no hope of reinforcement or replacements not to mention rations and ammunition.  So in the end Lee was decisively defeated and the Confederacy collapsed.

Lee had been close before.  The Army of Northern Virginia was all but fought out at Sharpsburg.  McClellan had un committed reserves that for whatever reason he did not put into the fight.  Also, had the Federals attacked simultaneously the result may have been greatly different.  One can say that the battle’s conclusion allowed President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation which had a major impact on European intervention.  Neither France or England wanted to come out on the side of a slavery state.   This meant it was only a matter of time unless…the Northern will could be broken and a political solution achieved.

At Gettysburg,  Lee bled his army dry.  Seventeen miles of ambulance trains and a close escape at Falling Waters once more allowed a the Union victory to be clear but not decisive.  Had General Meade aggressively followed up and closed off the escape hatch at Williamsport Lee’s army would have been with its back to the raging Potomac and a general surrender possible.  What would that have meant to the continuation of the war?  An interesting conjecture indeed.

And what if Lee had somehow found a vulnerable flank and pulled another Chancellorsville with Longstreet?  Could he have brought Meade to a decisive defeat?  Probably not, in my opinion because the Union reinforcement capability was so large.  He may have decisevely defeated Meade but the effect on the Union could only be felt if political will failed.

Next time I will discuss the situation at Chancellorsville…it could have gone both ways.


Decisive Defeat and the Civil War

What does it mean to decisively defeat an enemy?  The definition is different when referring to an opposing army as opposed to an enemy nation.  In the Civil War there were several Armies that for one reason or another surrendered.  John C. Pemberton capitulated to US Grant at Vicksburg completing the opening of the Mississippi River.  This was a major strategic victory.  But the war continued for two more years!

Simon Bolivar Buckner surrendered Ft Donelson in 1862 and that allowed the Union capture of Nashville.  Another major event but the war went on.  Dixon Miles surrendered his army to Thomas J. Jackson at Harper’s Ferry.  Irwin McDowell was sent running back to Washington DC after 1st Bull Run.  John Bell Hood’s vaunted Army of the Tennessee was literally was destroyed by General George Thomas at Nashville yet the war kept on.

But when Lee was on the verge of defeat at Appomattox that became a decisive defeat for the Army of Northern Virginia and the Confederacy.  The surrender of Joseph E. Johnston in North Carolina was an after thought, a necessary event, but nowhere near the import as Appomattox.

Those were the big victories.  Lee won many other battles but he never felt he had the force to follow up and decisively defeat the Army of the Potomac.  Fredericksburg is a prime example.  2nd Manassas was another. If Robert E. Lee had had the luxury of another uncommitted corps as the Federals had several times, history might have recorded a real decisive defeat.  Had the Army of the Potomac been forced to surrender maybe the war would have ended promptly.

In my next post I will comment on the times that General Robert E. Lee could and maybe should have been forced to surrender. Also I will comment on the time that it could literally have gone either way.  I think you will find it interesting.  

Confederate Balloon Corps

The Union Balloon Corps, under Professor Thaddeus S.C. Lowe and John LaMountain, has a rather well known history.  Several balloons were used early in the Civil War especially during the Peninsula Campaign and at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.  Unfortunately, even when the information gathered was clear and correct, it was not used to particular advantage by the Army of the Potomac.  The Union had at various times up to nine balloons.  Union balloons were used in the Western Theater during the Federal offensive against Island No. 10 in the Mississippi River and John Steiner directed naval gunfire against masked targets. 

But what of the Confederates?  The South had two balloons and both were captured by Union forces.  Since the Confederacy could only get hydrogen in Richmond due to the limited availability of sulfuric acid, their balloons had to be fueled there and moved to the battlefield.  Confederate balloons were mostly filled with coal gas that only allowed about three hours stay time. To get to the Lower Peninsula they moved down the York Railroad on a flatcar.  Then transferred to the steam barge CSS Teaser and moved further south until reaching the launch point.   The barge ran aground in the James River during low tide and the balloon was captured by the crew of the USS Maratanza on 4 July 1862.  The other balloon was captured in Charleston when the city was taken and the balloon material was divided up as souvenirs of the US Congress.

The honor for the first successful military flight goes to Confederate Captain John R. “Balloon” Bryan on 13 April 1862 in observing dispositions at Yorktown. 

One of the ballons was named “Gazelle”.  Both balloons were referred to as “Silk Dress Balloons” or the “Lady Davis” because they were made from dress makers silk, however, no southern ladies ever gave up there wardrobe for the cause!!  The Gazelle was clearly visable during the Battle of Gaines’ Mill.

An interesting side point involves Count Ferdinand Von Zeppelin, the famous WWI airship namesake. No, he did not come to the U.S. to observe balloon operations. He served with Federal cavalry units in Northern Virginia. At the end of his visit, he wanted to see some more of the country. He travelled to New York City, up the Hudson, across the state on the Erie Canal, across the Great Lakes and out into Minnesota, where he met John Steiner, who had returned to his pre-war profession as an exhibition balloonist. Zeppelin flew with him and listened to his dreams of a navigable airship. Many years later the Count explained that the experience with Steiner had marked the beginning of his own interest in flight.

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