150th Bentonville 3/23/2015

Bentonville, NC

March 23, 2015

Per orders received from Major James Lynch of the Artillery Reserve, I proceeded to Bentonville, NC on March 20th with a detachment of Independent Battery C, PA Vol. Lt. Artillery and took command of Artillery Reserve Battery A, consisting of a 10 pdr. Parrott of Thompson’s Battery–1st Lt. Eric Stahley, a 3 inch ordnance rifle of Battery M, 2ndUS–Capt. Mark Milby, and a 6pdr. gun of Battery A, 1st New Jersey—Capt. Bill Piper. Each of these is a veteran unit well led by experienced commanders. Because of the rapidly developing battle situation, only one gun—and that without limber—of the two expected horse artillery pieces was able to join Battery A during the action of March 21st . Weather conditions during the journey to Bentonville were noteworthy: The journey from the Battery C point of rendezvous in central Pennsylvania began in the dark, in a significant snowfall. The snow continued to fall until Hagerstown, MD was reached, when it began to change over to rain. Snow remained on the ground until below Winchester, VA when it all disappeared in the space of ten miles travel. Below Richmond, VA the rain faded out and the weather began to clear. By the crossing into North Carolina, the sun was coming out and the skies remained only partly cloudy. The temperature had attained the upper sixties to low seventies by the time Bentonville was reached. There, the grass was up along with daffodils and many other plants and trees were flowering or beginning to open buds. It was a most agreeable transition after a long winter. Camp was established in a sandy pine wood across the road from the Artillery Reserve Command and contact was made with the other Battery A units. The ground was entirely of sand, with not even a stone larger than a pea. A legitimate rock could not be found anywhere. Some clearing of underbrush was required, but quickly done. There were no ticks evident and I, personally, did not see one the entire time on site. Toward evening, a group of Contrabands entered our lines seeking protection and food. I noted their general poverty and ragged appearance in cast off clothing, the women carrying their few possession in bundles upon their heads. They were, no doubt, generously received and provided for. Because of the sand, the Battery C transport was mired in several times, but prompt assistance from Batteries M and 1st New Jersey remedied the situation each time and by a team effort, all Battery A guns were transported and placed as directed throughout the Bentonville posting. Thompson’s Battery was also assisted by Battery M through the provision of two veteran cannoneers to replace Thompson men who were prevented from joining the march to Bentonville by the severe weather up north. All three units displayed teamwork and cooperation of the most exemplary kind. Orders for deployment were received and Battery A went into camp for the night. The next day dawned sunny, bright and warm. The four guns of Battery A were posted in a cornfield on the Morris Farm, forward of the edge of a wood , and provided fire in support of our infantry in a fast developing defensive battle. A brief exchange of artillery fire with the enemy was had upon the opening of battle. The gray infantry soon made its appearance from the left, crossed the line of artillery, and attacked a trench held by our own men situated at our right front and laid perpendicular to the line of guns. US reinforcements appeared quickly on the scene, and moved through battery to the attack—throwing a devastating fire into the enemy flank. We could only fire in limited support because our own men uickly got in front of the guns. The enemy was repulsed, but it soon became evident that the initial attack was merely a demonstration, as a large force in gray emerged from the woods to our front while all attention was on the initial force. A covering fire was maintained and the US infantry set to work digging. In an astonishingly short time a formidable set of earthworks over 100 yards in length was thrown up parallel to the battery front and about 50 yards in advance. As soon as our men were safely entrenched, our guns opened as the opportunity allowed. The combination of concentrated rifle and artillery fire stopped the enemy attack and rolled it back with loss. The field was secured and Battery A returned to park. The battle situation was such that only several rounds from each gun could be fired. The Battery C gun also had a most unfortunate misfire which took a long time to diagnose and clear. It was handled expertly by the crew, however and proved to be due to debris from a powder bag clogging the vent—a most unusual occurrence. While performing the necessary after battle gun maintenance, Battery A was informally inspected by Major General William T. Sherman, Commander of the Army of Georgia. Uncle Billy was very complimentary of the unit and a picture was taken with him. I received the bad news that the horse artillery was being entirely withdrawn from the field, thus reducing Battery A to three guns. Constant vigilance was maintained and reinforcements continued to arrive, but the evening and night passed without further contact with the enemy—though none doubted they were close by. When they did take the field the next day, it was in much greater strength that expected. The Battery C Commissary out did its own customary excellence for dinner and the troops were all entertained by the martial music of the nearby regimental band and the singing of the camping soldiers, some of which was quite good, and some of which wasn’t. On Sunday morning the weather was overcast, but without threatening rain, and continued warm. I was summoned to Artillery Reserve Headquarters to participate in a reconnaissance of the nearby ground and transportation routes with the engineers and Army of Georgia Command Staff. Expecting a renewed attack that day and while awaiting further reinforcements from the Army of Georgia, a piece of ground in a cotton field surrounded by pine woods, but with a good field of fire, was selected for the construction of field fortifications ordered by General Morgan—infantry trenches and revetments for the guns. Battery A took the field in the early afternoon and I learned from the engineers that the troops, were too exhausted after completing the infantry trenches to build revetments for the guns. However, a veteran crew of Michigan cannoneers with a 3” rifle was attached to Battery A, bringing it back to four guns. The Battery also received assistance from two Confederate deserters that were attached to Thompson’s Battery—but closely watched. Captain Bill Piper commanded the Battery A right section and Captain Mark Milby the left. The crews were posted, briefed and prepared for anything. About one o’clock and thirty minutes, a few pieces of Confederate artillery stealthily emerged from woods to the right front in which pickets had not yet been posted. They fired one round which did little damage because of the hasty set up of the shot, they having just come into action. Battery A immediately took the guns under fire, concentrating fire by the section upon individual enemy guns with good effect. While the counter-battery fire was underway a large body of enemy infantry flowed out of the woods to the right front and then soon after in front when a general and hard fought action ensued. Both sides pitched in mightily and smoke soon filled the field. Confederate infantry began to filter over to our left with the evident purpose of entering the oods to that side for a flanking maneuver. I ordered Captain Milby to have the Michigan crew, which was posted on the far left, turn and engage. The order was promptly followed and case rounds were sent flying into the massed gray ranks—sometimes the firing was through gaps in our own formation. The action moved in close and our guns had to be stopped for fear if hitting our own men. However, no attack developed from the woods on the left because of the well-directed fire of the Michigan gun, supported by riflemen, and a deadly fire of rifles and the other Battery A guns which continued to fire with great accuracy and effect into the CSA ranks in front. Coordination with the infantry was excellent. They kept our guns well screened from capture, while allowing us as much firing space as possible. Enemy casualties were very high and brave but dead soldiers in gray littered the field in clumps where they fell. Too many equally brave soldiers in blue were among them. After the battle the enemy withdrew and the signs were that a general retreat was underway, as reinforcements from the Army of Georgia continued to arrive. With the arrival of those reinforcements, a general retreat by the enemy, and the securing of the area, the units of Battery A were individually withdrawn—leaving the field with the Artillery Reserve Command Staff in late afternoon. The Battery C bivouac for the evening was near Raleigh with excellent quarters and food provided by the Battery C Commissary which supplied great meals and other necessities during the entire time of our posting in Bentonville. The next day the march north was resumed, all units arriving at their normal stations without incident. Thanks and honors are due to the officers and men of the Battery A units for the excellence of their skills, their cooperation, cheerful obedience to orders and, not the least, for their outstanding teamwork and mutual support, which made Battery A a seamless, effective and flexible defender of the Union. I would also like to take this opportunity to commend the Artillery Reserve Command Staff—Major James Lynch and Captain Bill Leonard for the command, organization and liaison work they did with skill and diplomacy in sometimes irritating circumstances. Thanks are due to the Battery C Ordnance Sergeant, Tom Shultz, who performed a miracle by replacing the failed transmission in the Battery’s transport truck on very short notice. Without his fine work, we would not have made the field. Also, Artificer Keith Kuhn constructed a wheel barrow which made the movement of equipment and firewood much easier. Overall, the 150 Battle of Bentonville was a great experience. Very much on the plus side—in addition to the battle action itself—can be numbered camping on the actual battlefield and the opportunity to view preserved 1865 field fortifications, the wonderful foretaste of summer, fighting in a real cotton field, running the Battery C gun through the middle of Richmond, and working with our comrades in the Artillery Reserve. The only down sides were the lack of firm ground for heavy transport and the intrusive and unnecessarily tight control presence of North Carolina State inspectors. G.V. Hoover, Captain, Commanding Battery A, US Artillery Reserve