A SHORT HISTORY OF INDEPENDENT BATTERY C
PENNSYLVANIA VOLUNTEER LIGHT ARTILLERY
By Gary V. Hoover
As of 12/14/2015
Recruited at Pittsburgh, September, 1861 by Captain James Thompson
The unit that would become Independent Battery C, Pennsylvania Volunteer Light Artillery, was initially recruited in Pittsburgh by Captain James Thompson in September 1861, under the authority granted Ward H. Lamon by President Lincoln to raise a brigade of infantry, cavalry and artillery. Captain Thompson had previously offered to raise a battery for Pennsylvania, but was turned down because, the federal government had not yet asked the state to supply any light artillery batteries. Therefore, James Thompson raised a battery for the Lamon Brigade, which was then recruiting in Pittsburgh as an independent unit. During the Civil War, ten independent light artillery batteries were raised for Pennsylvania. The term “independent” meant that they were without an artillery regiment affiliation: they were never part of the 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery regiment.
James Thompson was born on May 8, 1821 in County Down, Northern Ireland. He enlisted as a gunner and driver in the Royal Regiment Artillery on May 16, 1844 and was discharged with the rank of sergeant on June 30, 1856. That same year his family immigrated to the USA. James Thompson entered the “Volunteer Union Army” on September 24, 1861 in the Lamon Brigade and was there appointed a captain of light artillery.
-Captain James Thompson-
Thompson’s Battery Goes to War
Thompson’s first volunteers left Pittsburgh on September 24, 1861, arriving the next day at Camp Lamon, above Williamsport, MD. There the battery was added into the Lamon Brigade and became known as Captain James Thompson’s Company of Light Artillery. On November 6, 1861, Thompson’s Battery was formally mustered into the United States Volunteer Service for a term of three years. After his unit’s arrival at camp Captain Thompson continued to recruit volunteers in Pennsylvania, where the Governor had begun to crack down on recruitments not under state authroity, and also in Maryland. The battery was not issued any artillery while at Camp Lamon so the men drilled, trained and did picket duty along the Potomac—most notably at Shaffer’s Mills in December—as new recruits were added. Thompson’s Battery remained at CampLamon until February 3, 1862, when it was ordered to report to Major-General Nathaniel P. Banks at Frederick, MD.
Lamon’s Volunteer Brigade was raised via special permission granted Ward H. Lamon by President Lincoln to recruit volunteers from among loyal Virginians on his own and outside any state authority. The recruitment of Virginians did not go as fast as planned, however, and because Mr. Lamon had stretched the limits of his special permission to an unacceptable degree,and by recruiting in other states, he was forced to give up command and return to his duties as Marshal of the District of Columbia in November of 1861. The brigade was subsequently broken up and its subsidiary units were re-assigned. Although Captain Thompson’s men enlisted for the most part as Pennsylvania Volunteers, their recruitment through the Lamon Brigade meant they had no officially recognized state home when the Lamon Brigade was dissolved.
Thompson’s Battery then became known as the 2nd Maryland Battery when it was assigned to Brigadier-General James Cooper’s 1st Maryland Brigade. However, Captain Thompson began to document the Pennsylvania majority enrolled in his unit and eventually filed a copy of his muster role with the Pennsylvania Adjutant General’s Department showing the dates he and his officers enrolled for duty. On June 17, 1862 the Adjutant General’s Department acknowledged the filing and Governor Andrew G. Curtin approved Pennsylvania commissions on that date (issued June 27th) for the battery’s offices, with rank retroactive to each officer’s original battery enrollment date during the previous fall and winter. It is clear from the terms of the commissions that Pennsylvania was willing to officially own the unit retroactively from June 27th.
A change of name to reflect its now official Pennsylvania affiliation was Captain Thompson’s next objective. In an August 4, 1862 letter to Major Davis Tilson, Chief of Artillery, 2nd Division, Third Corps, Army of Virginia (with which the battery was then serving), he explained that his battery: “has been known in the service as the 2nd Maryland Battery, a name given to it by General Cooper when it was attached to his Brigade.” Captain Thompson went on to note that his men enlisted as Pennsylvania Volunteers and that all his officers had their commissions from Governor Curtin. He concluded by requesting permission for the battery to change its name to: “Pennsylvania Battery.” Permission was granted and from that point on his battery was officially called Thompson’s Pennsylvania Battery or Thompson’s Independent Pennsylvania Battery.
On May 1, 1863 the Adjutant General, State of Pennsylvania, officially assigned letters to the state’s independently raised batteries via General Order 41, Head Quarters, Pennsylvania Militia. At that time, Thompson’s Battery officially became Independent Battery C, Pennsylvania Volunteer Light Artillery.
Thompson’s Battery Original Compliment Facts and Figures
Fifty-two of the first 90 men to join were from Allegheny County, PA (twenty-seven from Pittsburgh, specifically). Seven listed Beaver County, PA as their place of residence. Thirteen were from Clear Spring, Maryland, another two lived in Hagerstown, Maryland and one more was from Washington County, Maryland. Most of the rest were from western Pennsylvania counties in ones or twos. However, one recruit was from Philadelphia, PA and the shoeing smith, Michael Keller, was from Carlisle. One man was from Farmington, Kentucky and another from Cleveland, Ohio.
The battery was a true citizen volunteer unit. The most common occupations recorded for the first 90 volunteers were laborer (24 men) and farmer (20 men). There were also five carpenters, four boatmen, four molders, three clerks, three miners, two painters, two tailors, two wagon makers and two engineers. Furthermore, these occupations were represented by one individual: dentist, bookkeeper, preacher, shoe maker, shoeing smith, teamster, blacksmith, wool spinner, peddler, druggist, carriage maker, glass blower, sailor, machinist, gardener and butcher. Three men were unemployed.
Thompson’s Battery Receives its Guns
On February 3, 1862 Thompson’s Battery was ordered to report to Major-General Nathaniel P. Banks at Frederick, Maryland where it was given two fully equipped 10 pounder Parrott rifles by Captain Robert Hampton’s Battery. That battery was also originally from Pittsburgh and its history would later be closely intertwined with that of Captain Thompson’s Battery. When General Banks’ Division moved to Harper’s Ferry on February 24th, Thompson’s Battery went with it. The Battery’s first assignment there was protecting the pontoon bridge at Harper’s Ferry from a position on Maryland Heights. An additional two guns were borrowed from Knap’s Battery E, 1st PA Light Artillery Regiment for that duty.
After the army crossed into Virginia, Captain Thompson’s men continued on with Bank’s Division, arriving at Winchester on March 14th. The battery was there attached to Brigadier-General John J. Abercrombie’s Brigade. After the army corps system was organized, Abercrombie’s Brigade was officially known as 2nd Brigade, First Division, Fifth Army Corps, Army of the Potomac. Captain Thompson had to return the borrowed guns to Knap’s Battery while on the march, but received two smooth-bored, 12 pounder field howitzers at Warrenton Junction, VA. In the latter part of March the Battery moved with its brigade back towards Washington and then to Warrenton, VA.
Baptism of Fire
Captain Thompson recorded that his battery (represented by the two Parrott rifles under Lt. John P. Barry) “fired its first shot and received its baptism of fire” on April 18, 1862 while on a reconnaissance to Rappahannock Bridge, Virginia. Lt. Col. Bryan, the expedition commander, found the Confederates strongly fortified on the far bank and in greatly superior numbers. Concerning the part played by Thompson’s Battery, Lt. Col. Bryan takes up the story as follows: “The fifth shot from Lieutenant Barry’s battery [section] blew up the magazine in that work and silenced their guns. When the magazine exploded dark objects were thrown upward, probably men, but I could not say whether they were troops or the logs of which the magazine doubtless was built. This silenced that work. Lieutenant Barry had thrown a shell through some tents and many in the parapet, tearing it terribly, so that this work was pretty well used up, when suddenly two masked batteries enfiladed us.”
The greatly superior Confederate force was now recovering from the surprise attack and bringing more and more smoothbore batteries into the contest. Therefore, having estimated the size and composition of the enemy troops and determined the condition of the bridge, Lt. Col. Bryan ordered the entire force back out of range. They returned to camp without incident. In May of 1862 the 2nd Brigade came under Major-General Irvin McDowell’s Department of the Rappahannock and June was assigned to the artillery brigade of
the 2nd Division, which came under the command of General James B. Ricketts, and was with the Third Corps, Army of Virginia. The Army of Virginia was organized on June 26, 1862 under the command of Major-General John Pope, and General McDowell’s Department became its Third Corps.
Cedar Mountain, A Most Sanguinary Battle
Thompson’s Battery fought in its first major battle at Cedar Mountain, Virginia on August 9, 1862, when General Banks clashed with Confederate Major-General Thomas J. “Stonewall “ Jackson and Rickett’s Division was sent to help. The main battle had already wound down and General Banks men were falling back by the time it got there. Thompson’s Battery arrived with its division, just at nightfall. As his battery was moving into its assigned position off the Culpeper Road, Captain Thompson came under fire, along with Hall’s Maine Battery, from a Confederate battery that, according to Major Tilson’s official Report, had slipped into position in the gathering darkness unobserved. That position was at the edge of the woods to the front of Thompson’s Battery.
After firing a few rounds, Captain Thompson found that his two Parrott rifles could not reach the enemy battery because of a rise in ground between the combatants. Captain Hall’s Battery had the same problem. Captain Thompson therefore used the Parrott rifles to fire on the adjacent woods and hit the enemy battery with his higher trajectory field howitzers. He found his battery’s howitzer fire to be “close and very destructive.”
The Confederate battery opposed to him was that of the famous Confederate Artillerist Willie Pegram. That veteran unit was silenced, badly damaged and forced to withdraw with heavy casualties. General McDowell reported that the above-described contest took place in the dark and that Captains Hall and Thompson had only the flash of the enemy cannon to use as aiming points! An 1862 letter from Lieutenant Brockway of Matthew’s Battery has since come to light that states Thompson’s howitzers were the only guns possessed by either Hall or Thompson that could reach the enemy battery and that to Thompson’s Battery alone belongs the credit for the duel’s outcome. The next morning, both forces buried their dead under a flag of truce and, seeing that a further attempt to advance would be too costly, the Confederates retreated across the Rapidan River.
In Harm’s Way Again
August 19th, 1862 found the 2nd Division holding the Rappahannock River line near Rappahannock Station at the railroad bridge. On the 20th, a section of Captain Matthew’s Battery F, 1st PA light Artillery Regiment and two regiments of infantry from Hartsuff’s Brigade were sent across the river to occupy two small hills and protect the approaches to bridgehead. Captain Thompson recounts the action in this hand-written report:
“River Rappahannock Va. August 21st, 22nd and 23rd / 62
Sir, on the 21st Aug. at about 9 AM was ordered by Maj. Gen. Pope to cross over to south side of river via tressle [sic.] bridge to the assistance of a section of Capt. Matthew’s 1st Penna. Battery then engaged with the enemy who retired [?] on (my) getting my Battery into position. Skirmishing during the day.
August 22nd Had occasional firing without loss.
August 23rd At daylight was ordered to retire to the north side of the river via the railroad bridge as it was endangered by portions of the tressle [sic.] bridge which was swept away during the night by the swelling current and lodged against it. The Brigade (Hartsuff) crossed also, leaving two companies as guard to collect tools and stores. My two Howitzers also crossed with them. When I observed the Enemy bringing a battery into a position to draw me off. When I immediately opened on them with my two Parrotts and engaged them at a range of 1,800 yds. causing them to frequently change position. At about 10:00 AM I observed a Brigade of infantry (rebel) crossing the hill to the right and immediately afterward another Brigade advancing in line in front—also cavalry in the wood to the left. When I directed the fire of one gun on the column to the right and one on the Brigade advancing in line on our front and fired my last shell. As I received orders to retire as I was in danger of being captured—and as the bridge had been frequently struck by the Enemy’s shot—was in danger of being cut off in the event of its giving way. Immediately on reaching the north side I got my howitzers in position, expecting that the Enemy would re-occupy the hill I had just left.
My anticipations were correct for I had no sooner got ready when I observed them bringing a battery to plant thereon, when I directed the Howitzers to be opened upon them. They finding that the fire would be severe retired without unlimbering. During the action of today the Enemy fired pieces of pig metal at us at different times.
One horse killed signed J. Thompson, Capt.”
The 2nd Division was ordered to retire toward Warrenton and destroyed the railroad bridge before leaving the river.
On August 25th, General Jackson’s Confederates moved north, Getting around General Pope’s flank, and Confederate Lieutenant-General James Longstreet’s force was sent to re-enforce them. General Ricketts’s Division (including Thompson’s Battery), which had been kept around Haymarket with orders to “march to resist” any Confederate advance through Thoroughfare Gap, was put in motion to stop General Longstreet.
Approaching the gap the afternoon of August 28th in support of the Second Division’s lead elements, Captain Thompson reported he found the road through the woods blocked by fallen trees (cut down by a New Jersey cavalry unit to slow the Confederates). There was a delay until the pioneers of the 9th New York infantry cleared a path. They did so and the Federals continued on. They met the 9th Georgia a quarter of a mile from the gap and the fight began. Thompson’s Battery initially went into position in support of Stiles Brigade on a ridge overlooking Thoroughfare Gap, and about a half mile away from it.
Captain Thompson sighted in on a stone gristmill north of the railroad where the Confederates made a stand. The artillery drove them back and Stiles Brigade moved after them. Advancing 2nd Division forces pushed the 9th Georgia back to the gap, where they found Confederate re-enforcements waiting. Though Federal forces advanced onto the slopes, they were soon forced back by overwhelming numbers.
However, The 2nd Division still held a quarter-mile line along a ridge commanding the eastern exit of Thoroughfare Gap, a good defensive position that General Ricketts was determined to hold as long as possible. Confederate troops eventually moved up and over the difficult slopes on both sides of the gap and also through Hopewell Gap to the north to flank General Ricketts’s position first from the right and then from the left as well. Federal skirmishers rushed out to meet them supported by Captain Thompson and the other batteries of the 2nd Division’s artillery. At one point, Captain Thompson reported firing on the Confederates at three hundred yards distance. Thompson’s Battery and the rest of the artillery were exposed to a severe fire from Confederate sharpshooters and ordered to withdraw. Flanked from both sides, General Ricketts ordered a retreat, which was accomplished in good order.
Disaster and Glory at Second Bull Run
When Stonewall Jackson arrived at Manassas, he set about removing or destroying captured Federal supplies. As General Pope’s forces began to arrive, General Jackson wisely withdrew to a very strong defensive position along the Warrenton Turnpike. The Army of Virginia launched attacks against him on August 29th that were repulsed with heavy losses on both sides. On the 30th, Pope renewed his attacks. A Federal assault was stopped and then was counterattacked in the largest, simultaneous mass assault of the war! The Union left gave way and General Pope was forced to retreat beyond Bull Run.
An effective rear guard action—in which Thompson’s Battery played its part—headed off a complete rout. The Army of Virginia was defeated but not destroyed. General Pope retreated to Centerville, VA.
We now turn to the specific role of Thompson’s Battery in this engagement. According to Captain Thompson’s hand-written report early on the morning of August 30th he was ordered into position on the right of the line occupied by Third Corps. At about 10:00 AM Captain Thompson passed around the woods to the right with the Parrott guns and opened fire on an enemy battery posted in the rear of the woods opposite the center and engaged them for a short time.
Soon afterwards, a six-gun Confederate battery appeared on Thompson’s right flank and began a severe crossfire upon him. That fire, plus infantry pressure from the front, caused Captain Thompson to change position. The battery returned to its original placement on the right. According to General Ricketts’s September 4, 1862 report, the battery was withdrawn to the right of Steven’s Division to unite it with Captain Matthew’s Battery F, 1st Pennsylvania. At 3:30 PM, the battery was again in action with other batteries on the right just west of Sudley Road. They were supported by Duryea’s and Thoburn’s Brigades of the 2nd Division and by Steven’s Division.
A little after 6:00 PM General Pope’s retreat order began to filter down to the Union right flank. At about the same time, General Jackson’s Confederate infantry began its advance. When General Winfield S. Featherston’s Confederate Brigade suddenly appeared in their front, Duryea’s men opened fire on them. Captain Thompson’s battery hit the advancing Confederates with canister—twice cutting down their colors. Someone thought they were friendly troops, however, and ordered the infantry to cease firing. Only Thompson’s Battery continued to pound the Confederates, and it was not enough.
When the Federal infantry gave way, the battery was left without support and with the Confederates only yards away! There was no time to limber up, so Thompson’s cannoneers towed the guns off by prolong, stopping every few yards to fire. Captain Thompson’s handwritten report (Thompson Papers, Gettysburg National Military Park Archives) confirms that the retreat was “with prolong hooked” until reaching the woods in the rear. At one point a gun got stuck between two trees and on-rushing Confederates demanded surrender. The answer came in the form of a pulled lanyard, with its resulting cannon blast!
Captain Thompson continues in his hand-written report:
“We limbered up for the purpose of passing through the wood—but were overtaken by the Enemy and part of them passed around the wood and fired upon us from the opposite side, killing several team horses, cutting down some of my drivers, wounding them and taking them prisoners. I then directed the drivers to dismount and escape through the thick underbrush on our left thereby effecting their escape. [Another of the Captain’s letters notes that the escape was accomplished with the free use of revolvers.] “But had to abandon one Parrott 10 pdr. and two howitzers 12 pdr. with limbers, horses, harness, etc., but saved the caissons as I had them in front of the guns when retiring and got clear before we were surrounded. I afterwards got clear before we went into position at the bridge with one of Captain Leppien’s (5th Maine), one of Captain Matthew’s (1st Pa.) and one of my guns and remained guarding it till all had passed over when the bridge was destroyed by Colonel Kane of the Penna. Bucktails when I retired to Centerville with these guns in the rear guard.”
At the Second Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) Thompson’s Battery lost ten men (wounded and captured), three guns and twenty horses! In addition, Captain Thompson’s men lost a lot of their personal equipment and the loss was not made good for some time. Cannoneer William Turpin wrote, in a November 3, 1898 letter to General E. A Carman of the Antietam Battlefield Board (Thompson Papers), that the battery lost most of its haversacks at Bull Run. He also said that there was no issue of clothing following the fight and as late as the battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862) “My entire wardrobe consisted of shirt and pants.”
General Ricketts stated in his official report: “Captains Matthews’ and Thompson’s Pennsylvania batteries and Captains Leppen’s and Hall’s Maine batteries deserve to be mentioned not only for their uniform attention to their duties, but for their efficiency throughout the 30th of August.”
Confederate General Winfield S. Featherson, whose men overtook Thompson’s Battery in the woods, confirmed that assessment. In his report of September 25, 1862, General Featherson commented on the engagement as follows: “The enemy’s artillery was served with great skill and effect upon our troops during the entire engagement, to which our greatest loss on the left must be attributed.”
Chantilly and The Road Through Maryland
According to General Ricketts’ September 4, 1862 report, the 2nd Division remained at Centerville on the 31st of August to re-supply. Presumably, this pause also allowed disrupted units to regroup and for scattered men to report for duty. Thompson’s Battery was at Chantilly on September 1st, when the 2nd Division was posted on the Aldie Road and acted with Reno’s Division to check Stonewall Jackson. At that battle, General Jackson attempted to turn Pope’s flank and cut off the Union retreat. He was stopped after heavy fighting against Union forces in a severe thunderstorm.
After the battle, General Pope ordered his army to continue its retreat to Washington. The 2nd Division held its position at Chantilly until September 2nd, when it was ordered to Hall’s Hill near the Capital. At that point, General Lee turned his forces to invade Maryland.
After Thompson’s Battery withdrew with the 2nd Division to Washington, it was immediately put in motion to meet the enemy. Historian Samuel P. Bates records that Captain Thompson received “four ten-pound rifled guns” from the 2nd Maine at Rockville, while on the march—he then sent back the guns from the other batteries that were collected at the Stone Bridge. However, an ordnance report filed by Captain Thompson on June 30, 1863 lists 3” ordnance rifles obtained in September 1862 from the 2nd Maine. Therefore, the guns discussed by Bates above were 3” ordnance rifles, rather than 10-pounders—a designation commonly applied to 10-pound Parrott rifles.
On September 12 1862, Third Corps, Army of Virginia, was re-designated First Corps, Army of the Potomac, by War Department Adjutant General’s Office General Order Number 129.
Major-General George B. McClellan moved in pursuit of General Lee with the Army of the Potomac to Frederick, Maryland and then turned toward South Mountain. On September 14th battles were fought for possession of the South Mountain passes, with Ricketts’s Division going into line of battle at 5:00 PM, about a mile north of the turnpike, at Turner’s Gap. The Confederate defenders were driven back by dark with heavy losses and the 2nd Division advanced through the next morning to encamp near Keedysville. Thompson’s Battery was present at South Mountain, but had no losses. In his report of September 21, 1862 General Ricketts’s noted: “the artillery were not engaged.”
The 2nd Division left its camp near Keedysville on the afternoon of September 16th, crossed the Antietam at the North Bridge, and moved toward Sharpsburg, Maryland—aiming for the Confederate left flank. Early on the morning of September 17th, the division, as part of General Hooker’s attack, deployed its three infantry brigades for the assault and advanced with its artillery from the right of the Union line to engage the enemy. That attack on General Lee’s left began the single bloodiest day in American Military History
For the battle, Captain Thompson was attached to Duryea’s Brigade. Captain Thompson recorded his specific battlefield movements in his report of September 22, 1862: He said his battery first opened fire from a position he selected in a grass field against a rebel battery to his right front. In an October 3, 1898 letter to General E. A Carman, supplied by the Thompson Family, Captain Thompson stated he was in this position for eight to ten minutes. He soon found, however, that an enemy battery on the left front “had got the correct range of our position “and he turned his fire upon it. The battery was next ordered to advance and went into action in a plowed field (near the north fence of the Miller cornfield—according to one of Captain Thompson’s undated post war letter drafts) for about the same amount of time it was in the grass field, after which it moved forward to a little knoll in the center of Miller’s cornfield.
General Ricketts stated in his report of September 21, 1862: “….Battery F, 1st Pennsylvania, under Captain Matthews and Captain Thompson’s Independent Pennsylvania Battery, each consisting of four 3-inch rifled guns. Taking advantage of the ground, both batteries opened with destructive effect, officers and men displaying great coolness while exposed to a severe fire of artillery and infantry.”
Cannoneer William Turpin remembered passing through the North Woods at about “a quarter to six” and that Thompson’s Battery took three positions before entering the cornfield:
“Since seeing the Captain I find that we did take three positions before entering the cornfield. The second position was obliquely from the first toward the Smoketown Road. All these movements took place very quickly and but little firing occurred until we entered the cornfield. As soon as we came into battery in our third position I saw a body of troops coming from the Dunkard woods directly towards us and, trying to train the gun on their flag, the stake of the fence of cornfield was directly in line with the flag. I took the risk of shot being deflected taking off about eighteen inches of said stake. The flag went down, no claim my shot done the business, and they were dispersed. We then tore the fence down and entered the cornfield.”
In the Miller Cornfield with Matthew’s Battery, in an exposed position and under heavy fire, Thompson’s Battery sustained the 2nd Division’s advance and covered its withdrawal. To do that, Captain Thompson had to use explosive rounds exclusively. Samuel P. Bates quotes him as saying they were fused at three, two and finally 1 ½ seconds, sequentially, as the Confederates advanced. The battery’s cannoneers could not use close range canister rounds because there were wounded US soldiers retiring in front of their guns.
Thompson’s Battery continued in action until about 7:00 AM.
General Hooker’s attack was eventually halted after inflicting fearful casualties on the Confederates. When Captain Thompson found that his division was pulling back and that he did not have enough unwounded men to service the guns, he retreated to the grass field.
In a draft letter written to General E. A. Carman by Captain Thompson after the war (March 6, 1901), he explains his movements after leaving the cornfield:
“My battery did not take any further part in the battle and was not required to go into position again. We retired to where we left the caissons. When I ordered the men to limber up, the movement must have attracted the attention of the enemy and caused them to concentrate their fire on us, as the three men at the right piece in the act of limbering up were wounded, one mortally. I dismounted and limbered the gun up. My leading horse was at the same time struck with three balls but not killed. When moving to the rear, I noticed blood spouting out of some of the horses and while we kept moving the horses kept on their feet but when we halted near the North Woods they all went down together at the same time. Seeing that the battery was so badly crippled I went back to the caissons and brought up fresh teams immediately and stripped the harnesses off the dead horses, hitched up to the guns and went back to the caissons. If the enemy followed us I did not notice as I was too busy saving the guns and getting them to the rear.”
In his report, Captain Thompson recorded that he later returned to recover the harnesses, but found them “cut and destroyed.” In the undated post war letter draft, Captain Thompson also notes: “When I returned with fresh teams to haul off my guns, I found about 20 men of the 3rd Wisconsin lying dead among my guns where they appear to have formed line.”
Captain Thompson said, in his Gettysburg Monument Dedication Sketch, that, during the Battle of Antietam, a nearby strike by a Confederate shell lit the fuse of a round Private Sullivan of his battery was carrying. Exploding in his hands, it tore off all his clothes and wounded him severely—but he lived. After the battle, Thompson’s and Mathew’s Batteries were commended by General Ricketts in his report for their “courage under a severe fire.”
That night both armies consolidated their lines. Skirmishing continued the next day but General McClellan declined to launch any serious assaults. Meanwhile, General Lee removed his wounded across the Potomac and that night, the rest of his force followed them—the Army of Northern Virginia had slipped away into the Shenandoah Valley. Except for recon missions and skirmishes, no serious advance by the Army of the Potomac would begin until late October—much to the dismay of President Lincoln.
On the other hand, the Confederate invasion of Maryland was repulsed and severe damage inflicted on the Army of Northern Virginia. Thompson’s Battery was subsequently assigned duty at and around Sharpsburg, Maryland, until the end of October.
The Army of the Potomac began crossing into Virginia on October 26, 1862 and started to move south in the general direction of Warrenton, Virginia. Major-General Ambrose E. Burnside was named General McClelland’s successor and took command of the Army of the Potomac on November 9th. There were also changes in the command of the Second Division, First Army Corps. On November 4th, Brigadier-General John Gibbon replaced General Ricketts. General Gibbon was wounded at Fredericksburg and Brigadier-General Nelson Taylor, of the division’s 3rd Brigade, assumed temporary command. Brigadier-General John C. Robinson shortly after relieved him.
General Burnside proposed to move against Richmond by driving south from Warrenton in the direction of Fredericksburg. Units of the Army of the Potomac first arrived in Falmouth, Virginia—across the Rappahannock from Fredericksburg—on November 17th, with the rest of General Burnside’s force soon to follow. The Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee concentrated at Fredericksburg proper and on a ridge of hills behind the town. On November 21st, General Burnside called upon Fredericksburg to surrender. The demand was refused and preparations for an assault began.
On December 11th Union Army engineers laid five pontoon bridges and the Army of the Potomac began its advance the next day. Thompson’s Battery helped cover the initial crossing and then advanced with the 2nd Division. Brigadier-General John Gibbon, 2nd Division Commander, said in his report that after crossing the Rappahannock the 2nd Division occupied the right of the First Corps, in rear of the Bowling Green Road.
Captain Thompson’s report of December 17th records his role:
“Sir: I would most respectfully report for the information of the general commanding the division, that, at about 9 a. m. on the 13th instant, I was ordered to a position in a corn-field on the right of the division, which was about to advance, and to fire upon the enemy posted in edge of wood to the right, so as to prevent the enemy from coming out and lapping on the right of the line, when the division was about to enter the wood. I had fired but a few rounds when again ordered to advance closer and more to the right, in which position I continued to fire upon the enemy’s infantry, and was subject to a cross-fire from a rebel battery, but did not reply to it until the division had fallen back some distance, when I engaged it until ordered to retire. One of the enemy’s ammunition chests was blown up.”
During the fighting, Thompson’s Battery had the following casualties: two men were wounded, two horses killed and one gun disabled. Thompson’s Battery returned to its camp at Fletcher’s Chapel. It participated in General Burnside’s abortive “Mud March” in January and was at Falmouth and Belle Plains, Virginia, until the end of April. That winter, General Burnside was relieved from command of the Army of the Potomac and replaced by Major-General Joseph Hooker.
Chancellorsville: An Overview
While the rest of the winter was marked by little more than skirmishes and recons on the Rappahannock front, behind the scenes General Hooker was planning a flank movement strike General Lee. The Army of the Potomac headed for the river crossings above Fredericksburg on April 27th. General Hooker’s force crossed the Rappahannock River and concentrated near Chancellorsville on April 30th and May 1st. General Lee discovered this move and took the bulk of his forces north to check it—leaving a covering force in place to hold Fredericksburg.
Below Fredericksburg Again
While most of the Army of the Potomac (some 70,000 men) was moving up the Rappahannock, General Hooker left a strong force under Major-General John Sedgwick at Fredericksburg to distract the Confederates, probe their defenses and tie down units that might otherwise strengthen opposition to the main attack. As part of this effort south of Fredericksburg, the 2nd Division [with Thompson’s Battery] moved from its camp near Fletchers Chapel about 1:00 PM on April 28, 1863 to encamp for the night at the edge of the woods in the rear of the Fitzhugh mansion. The next day Federal infantry crossed the river near Purdy’s Dam in boats at 10:00 AM to clear the rifle pits on the opposite bank, a bridge was laid and a crossing accomplished.
Captain Thompson exchanged Long-range (fourteen hundred yards) fire with the enemy early on April 29th. The next day was quiet until a little after 5:00 PM when Thompson’s Battery opened fire on an enemy battery of 20-pounder Parrott rifles at 3,700 yards distance until dark—expending 60 rounds. Captain Thompson reported more long-range fire on May 1st and 2nd. At 11:00 AM on May 2nd, his battery limbered up to move with the 2nd Division for United States Ford—a distance of about 26 miles. General Hooker needed more help at Chancellorsville.
Thompson’s Battery at Chancellorsville
As stated in his May 8, 1863 report, Captain Thompson’s men arrived on the Chancellorsville battlefield at 2:00 AM on May 3, 1863 and they were initially ordered into position on the right of the First Corps at 6:00 a.m. Relieved by “Captain Stewart’s Battery” at 11:00 a.m., Captain Thompson was ordered to join the reserve artillery. His next assignment came on the morning of May 4th, when he was ordered to report to General Slocum, commanding the Twelfth Corps. He was directed to re-cross the river at United States Ford and take a position lower down, from which he could protect the bridges that had been laid. Captain Joseph Knap (Battery E, 1st PA) was assigned to the Twelfth Corps on May 5th and also directed to protect the crossing at United States Ford.
In his report of May 7th, Captain Knap provided this version of the positions and work of his battery and that of Captain Thompson: “ During the afternoon [of May 5th], Knap’s Battery was placed in position, assisted by four guns of Thompson’s Pennsylvania, on the peninsula below the crossing, where it remained during the night. Being senior officer, I assumed command. At early daylight, I found the enemy erecting a breastwork directly in our front, and ordered Captain Thompson to fire an occasional shot to hinder his operations.
About 9 a.m. the enemy opened on us with two batteries, four guns each—one (four 24-pounders) directly in our front and four guns on our right, angling about 40 degrees, at 1,200 yards range. After a brisk fire for nearly an hour, we succeeded in silencing the battery in front, exploding two of his limbers, while Thompson silenced the guns on the right.
My loss was 3 men wounded and four horses.
It gives me pleasure to testify to the good conduct and bravery of the officers and men in the two batteries under my command; all did their duty nobly.”
Thompson’s Battery thus guarded the army’s re-crossing of the Rappahannock at United States Ford—a job it did so well that, according to Captain Thompson, General Henry J. Hunt, Chief of Artillery, thanked the battery’s officers and men. The battery’s losses: one man killed, two wounded severely. Three horses were also killed.
Thompson’s Battery Officially Becomes Battery C
On May 1, 1863 the Pennsylvania Adjutant General standardized the official designations of the eight independent Pennsylvania light artillery batteries then in service by General Order Number 41. Each battery was assigned a specific letter. Thompson’s Pennsylvania Battery was now, and for evermore, Independent Battery C, Pennsylvania Volunteer Light Artillery.
Assignment to the Artillery Reserve: Two Batteries Become One
Battery C returned to camp after the United States Ford action on May 6, 1863. The battery, along with Hampton’s Battery and others, was then ordered to report “without delay” to General Robert O. Tyler, Commander of the Army of the Potomac’s Artillery Reserve. It became part of the Volunteer Division—commanded by Major John A. Tompkins—that was organized on May 16th. Thompson’s Battery was specifically assigned to the Volunteer Division’s First Volunteer Brigade—commanded by Major Freeman McGilvery.
Army of the Potomac Headquarters Special Order number 151 attached Hampton’s Independent Battery F, Pennsylvania Volunteer Light Artillery, to Thompson’s Battery on June 3, 1863. Captain Robert Hampton had been killed at Chancellorsville and his battery “sustained severe losses.” The two batteries were now combined to form a six gun battery under Captain Thompson, the senior officer, as C&F Consolidated Battery. They would be one unit until March 25, 1864.
The Road to Gettysburg
In early June of 1863, General Lee decided the time was right to invade the northern states again. He began to slip units away from the Fredericksburg area to the northwest. The move was eventually discovered and the Army of the Potomac started in pursuit. C&F Consolidated Battery arrived in Gettysburg about Noon on July 2nd. It was initially placed overlooking the Baltimore Pike, but received orders to report to the Peach Orchard around 3:30 PM.
To better understand the part played on July 2, 1863 by C & F Consolidated Battery, a summary of the general action on the Union left is presented: Major-General Daniel Sickles advanced his command—Third Corps—off Cemetery Ridge to occupy a line well forward of that position on what appeared to him to be commanding ground along the Emitsburg Road. The movement exposed his left flank and invited an attack. The newly established line was subjected to Confederate artillery fire and then an infantry assault—eventually forcing the Union line back toward Cemetery Ridge and Little Round Top by nightfall
Gettysburg: A Whirlwind in the Peach Orchard
Survivors of the intense battle fought in and around the Peach Orchard at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863 remember specific points of the action differently. Therefore, the written record—both in official reports and as remembered long afterwards—is inconsistent and very hard to reconcile in some important points and also in many details. Between 4:30 PM and 5:00 PM, Captain Thompson’s command arrived at the Sherfy Peach Orchard, south of Gettysburg. Captain Thompson received orders to go into position in the Peach Orchard to relieve Captain Nelson Ames Battery G, 1st New York. “The center and left sections occupied their ground. The right section taken further to the right at crossroads. One gun placed in the yard of Sherfy’s House and one placed on the crossroads Emmitsburg Pike.” Lt. James Stephenson commanded the Right Section.
In “Gettysburg Campaign” written on the back of an October 3, 1898 letter supplied by the Thompson Family, Captain Thompson said: “We were in position but a few minutes when the enemy opened on the right sector on road with about 20 guns with canister killing the teams of both guns.” Captain Thompson reported in his Sketch “the first discharge swept the right section out of position like a whirlwind.” In “Gettysburg Campaign” he further stated that the enemy fire on the west-facing guns dismounted him, tore the boot off Lieutenant Robert Hazlett, and subjected the four south-facing guns to a severe flanking fire.
In a speech draft Captain Thompson said, in reference to Lieutenant Stephenson: “seeing that he could do nothing, ordered the men to cover and in a few minutes three gun horses were all killed. His saddle horse badly wounded and the revolver broken in the holster, all by canister shot. Abb Link mortally wounded and Edward O’Donell crippled for life.”
The advance of Confederate Brigadier-General William Barksdale’s troops eventually forced the Union infantry and artillery to retreat from the Sherfy buildings. In his Gettysburg battle report Captain Thompson said he: “…was engaged with the enemy’s infantry and artillery for about an hour, when the enemy advanced and drove back our infantry supports, capturing one of the two guns facing west, but our infantry, rallying, recaptured it, when I limbered them up and retired about 300 yards, as our infantry was again falling back, and brought them into action again with the four guns that were in action facing to the south, and fired a few rounds when we were driven back, having the horses in one of the gun’s limbers killed, and also in one of the caisson’s limbers the enemy again capturing a gun and one caisson.” Captain Thompson clarifies that the dead horses of one of the guns were disengaged and the piece moved off some distance by hand with the assistance of the infantry. But because the enemy was gaining ground rapidly, they were ultimately forced to leave the gun behind.
The Four South-Facing Guns
In his report of the battle Major Freeman McGilvery relates the battle situation that confronted the south-facing batteries—including the C & F Battery left and center sections:
“ At about 5 o’clock a heavy column of rebel infantry made its appearance in a grain field about 850 yards in front moving at quick time toward the woods on our left, where the infantry fighting was then going on. A well-directed fire of all the batteries was brought to bear on them, which destroyed the order of their march and drove many back into the woods on their right, though the main portion of the column succeeded in reaching the point for which they started, sheltering themselves from the artillery fire.
In a few minutes another and larger column appeared at about 750 yards, presenting a slight left flank to our position. I immediately trained the entire line of our guns upon them, and opened on them with various types of ammunition. At about a quarter to 6 o’clock, the enemy’s infantry gained possession of the woods immediately to the left of my line of batteries, and our infantry fell back both on our right and left, when great disorder ensued on both flanks of the line of batteries. At this period of the action, all of the batteries were exposed to a warm infantry fire from both flanks and front, whereupon, I ordered them to retire 250 yards and renew their fire.
Captain Thompson said in a post war speech draft: “The four guns in orchard continued firing until the rebel infantry was within a few yards of us. Our infantry (in “Gettysburg Campaign” he specifically identifies the 2nd New Hampshire) got in front of our guns and charged the rebels and drove them back several times and could not fire for our men were in front and seeing that our line in our rear along the pike were falling back and that we could not hold the ground, I sent them back a section at a time, with orders to come into action some distance in rear.”
According to Captain Thompson, the south-facing guns withdrew about two hundred yards north of the Peach Orchard—in the direction of the Trostle Farm. In his report, Major McGilvery states that Bigelow’s Battery “…retreated by prolonge, firing canister, which, with Captains Phillips and Thompson firing on his right in their new position, effectually checked the enemy in his advance for a short time. …The crisis of the engagement had now arrived. I gave Captain Bigelow orders to hold his position [near the Trostle Farm] as long as possible at all hazards. In the mean time I formed a new line of artillery about 400 yards to the rear, close under the woods, and covering the opening which led to the Gettysburg and Taneytown road.”
Captain Thompson’s speech draft provides additional information about the retreat from the Peach Orchard: “My horse was shot from under me so had to walk. A short distance in rear I found one of the guns abandoned with the 4 leaders dead and the off wheeler with a broken hind leg. I jumped on the dead horses and slacked up the traces until Casper Carlisle of battery F unhooked them.”
Casper Carlisle Wins the Congressional Medal of Honor
During the fighting retreat from the Peach Orchard, Private Casper Carlisle saved a gun by getting it off the field when most of its horses were killed and the drivers wounded. This was done while under heavy musketry fire from three directions. As noted above, Captain Thompson assisted him personally in disconnecting four dead horses. Casper Carlisle moved the gun toward the Trostle Farm. When he reached the Trostle gate at the lane leading from the farm to the Emmitsburg Road, the wounded horse collapsed. Assisted by a caisson driver, Casper Carlisle hitched two replacement horses to the limber and pulled his gun east, crossing over Plum Run, and into the 1st Volunteer Brigade’s new artillery line. Captain Thompson recommended a medal for Casper Carlisle and he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in December of 1892.
However, Casper Carlisle’s quick retreat was almost the undoing of Captain Thompson, according to his post war speech draft:
“He [Casper Carlisle] got in the saddle and took the gun and as I stopped to pick up my field glasses, the gun had got so far ahead that I was unable to overtake it. On looking around, I found that I was about ½ way between the rebel line advancing and our line retiring when our men called to me to hurry up as they could not fire for me being in their way.” In “Gettysburg Campaign” he adds: “When I reached our line, two of the men stepped out to let me pass through and as I was dismounted, I got on one of the 15th NY guns and rode to the rear.”
After the retreat from the second position north of the Peach Orchard in which the gun and caisson were lost, elements of C&F Battery (Major McGilvery said it was two in his report) formed a position with the Sixth Maine Light Artillery east of the Trostle Farm until nightfall calmed the fighting. Major McGilvery’s report records that Captain Thompson’s two guns helped hold this line until about sundown, when, being out of ammunition, they were sent to the rear. Battery C & F then drew back to the base of Little Round Top to refit, according to Captain Thompson. In his speech draft Captain Thompson said: “Some of our guns came into action about on the line occupied by the Reserve Batteries on the 3rd and fired a few rounds when the Reb retired and we went into park until morning.”
Captain Thompson summarizes the losses of this action as follows:
“The wounded were Abb Link mortally, Peter Low captured, Sgt. Stewart, J. Adams, P. Duffy, E. O’Donnell, W. Young, W. McLaughlin of Battery C; Captain Irish, H. Kidd, J. Becker wounded, Adam Rath killed, Battery F.”
In a speech draft prepared for the Battery C monument dedication, Captain Thompson made a final point on the placement of his battery:
“As several batteries claim to have occupied the Peach Orchard, you [evidently referring to the battery members expected to be present at the monument dedication] are all aware that we were the only battery in the orchard when the rebel advancing to the attack. Hart’s NY Battery was outside the fence, not inside. Ames NY Battery has their monument facing the Pike [Emitsburg Road], their guns were not within 150 yards of where they have it” (He probably means they were not that close at the time the Confederates actually overran the position). “This monument [Here the Captain is apparently referring to the Battery C monument] should have been the crossroad instead of Ames.”
Of Captain Thompson’s six guns, it appears at least two were able to withdraw in good order—later forming up with the 6th Maine Battery on the new reserve artillery line, one was spiked, abandoned under overwhelming enemy pressure, and captured. The other three were more or less safely withdrawn—but apparently unable to come into effective action before nightfall closed the July 2nd fighting and the battery re-grouped at the base of Little Round Top.
It the confusion of the hasty retreat from the Trostle Farm, it is likely that elements of the several batteries involved became tangled up and disrupted. It would take time after the battle to sort them out and for the commanders of the batteries to locate and reclaim missing units, some of which probably returned to the artillery park in the absence of specific orders.
Freeman McGilvery, Commander of the Artillery Reserve’s First Volunteer Brigade, said this in his official report: “On the 2nd of July, when the battle raged most furiously, Thompson’s C and F, Pennsylvania Battery, contested every inch of ground and remained on the field to the very last.”
An Intense Artillery Bombardment Begins
At dawn on July 3 C & F Consolidated Battery was ordered to a position on Cemetery Ridge, directly west of the present-day Pennsylvania Monument (a marker has been placed there). Because of losses, Thompson’s Battery was now operating with only seventy-six men and five of its original six 3” ordnance rifles. Very little happened all morning, other than the firing of an occasional shot at the enemy to get the range. Suddenly, at 1:00 PM, General Lee’s entire line of Confederate artillery opened a heavy, sustained bombardment of the Federal positions in preparation for Pickett’s Charge. Colonel H. C. Cabell, commander of a Confederate artillery battalion, described the resulting artillery duel in his August 1, 1863 report: “For over two hours the cannonading on both sides was almost continuous and incessant, far, very far, exceeding any cannonading I have ever before witnessed.”
The Artillery Reserve had been ordered to conserve ammunition by replying to any fire slowly and only when a good target could be clearly seen. In obedience to orders, C & F Battery at first delayed its fire, then shot carefully at the rebel batteries north of the Klingle Farm. Major-General Hancock, concerned that the low volume of Federal artillery fire was demoralizing his infantry, instructed all the Artillery Reserve right flank batteries to open fire in earnest.
Captain Thompson noted in his Gettysburg Sketch that he was glad to receive the order because “it is easier to fight than lay idle under such a storm of shot, shell and missiles.” The increased firing provoked a severe retaliation: two Confederate 20-pounder Parrott rifles positioned near the Klingle Farm hit Thompson’s Battery and put two cannons out of action. Ten men, four officers and a dozen horses were also down. Historian David Schultz recorded that Captain Thompson fought on with his three remaining guns until General Hunt, surveying the damage, ordered C & F Battery to withdraw to the reserve artillery park and send forward a replacement unit.
Added to the gun that was captured at the Peach Orchard and later hit by a solid shot while in Confederate hands, the two guns noted as put out of action above make a total of three guns disabled during the fighting at Gettysburg. Since Captain Thompson reported leaving Gettysburg on July 5th with five guns, it appears two of the three were repaired enough to be at least roadworthy in fairly short order.
Although the price was high, Captain Thompson and his men played their courageous part in the greatest battle fought in the Western Hemisphere. In his report of July 4, 1863, General Robert O. Tyler estimated that the Federal artillery expended 11,653 rounds of ammunition during the Battle of Gettysburg.
C & F Battery helped pursue the retreating Confederates to the Rappahannock in July and then fell back to near Warrenton, Virginia
The Bristoe Campaign: Thompson’s Battery Wins a Duel with the Whitworth Battery
Battery C &F—still in the Artillery Reserve—participated in the advance to the Rapidan in September and in the Bristoe Campaign in October. As noted in the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Battle Summary for Auburn:
“After the retreat from Gettysburg, the Confederate Army concentrated behind the Rapidan River in Orange County, Virginia. The Federals advanced to Rappahannock River in August, and in mid-September they pushed strong columns forward to confront Lee along the Rapidan. Early September, Lee dispatched two divisions of Longstreet’s Corps to reinforce the Confederate army in Georgia; the Federals followed suite, sending the XI Corps to Tennessee by railroad in late September after the Battle of Chickamauga (September 18-20). Early October, Lee began an offensive sweep around Meade’s right flank with his remaining two Corps, forcing the Federals to withdraw along the line of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad.”
As stated in Captain Thompson’s Monument Dedication Sketch, on October 14th Major-General Gouverneur K. Warren established his headquarters in view of Mitchell’s Ford, Bull Run. An enemy battery fired upon it and Captain Thompson was ordered to take Battery C & F and two other batteries from the Artillery Reserve and counterattack. C & F Battery unlimbered under heavy fire about twelve hundred yards from the enemy with men, horses, limbers and caissons well covered, and found it was fighting the celebrated Whitworth Battery. Captain Thompson noted “the boys called it “the swamp angel” from its long range and peculiar long shaped octagon shell.” The duel lasted about twenty minutes and ended when the rebel battery was silenced after the expenditure of forty-four rounds of ammunition.
Captain Thompson’s return of October 31, 1863 filed from near Warrenton, Virginia describes the action as follows: “Engaged with a rebel battery at Mitchell’s Ford of Bull Run and dismounted one of their guns and compelled them to retire—loss one horse.” Captain Thompson’s sketch states the horse was shot from under Lieutenant Paul. According to Captain Thompson, General Warren complimented C & F Battery and had it attached to the Artillery Brigade of the Second Corps—his own unit—in November.
General Warren’s official report of October 25, 1863 does not specifically name Captain Thompson or Battery C & F, but it does record the following:
“The last of my command crossed Bull Run at Blackburn’s Ford about 4 a.m. on the 15th, and bivouacked near by. [Blackburn’s Ford is about a mile below Mitchell’s Ford] I reported to the general commanding, as directed, between Centreville and Fairfax. Three rifled batteries from the Artillery Reserve were then sent to my command, and my own ordered to the rear to replenish ammunition. I returned to my command and took up the position assigned us at Bull Run. Skirmishing took place along the lines during the day, and about noon a battery of the enemy opened upon our position. The replies of our own soon compelled this to withdraw. The enemy made no further demonstration on my front, and we remained in this position. At this point the enemy’s advance ceased.”
The Mine Run Campaign
Brandy Station was the next stop for Captain Thompson’s men and then the Mine Run Campaign. According to Samuel P. Bates “Towards the close of November, the army was put in motion for a vigorous campaign. The battery [C & F Consolidated] crossed the Rappahannock at Kelly’s Ford and the Rapidan at Germania Ford.”
The CWSAC battle Summary for Mine Run provides an overview of the Mine Run Campaign:
“In late November 1863, Meade attempted to steal a march through the Wilderness and strike the right flank of the Confederate army south of the Rapidan River. Major-General Jubal A. Early in command of Ewell’s Corps marched east on the Orange Turnpike to meet the advance of William French’s III Corps near Payne’s Farm. Carr’s division (US) attacked twice. Johnson’s division (CS) counterattacked but was scattered by heavy fire and broken terrain. After dark, Lee withdrew to prepared field fortifications along Mine Run. The next day the Union Army closed on the Confederate position. Skirmishing was heavy, but a major attack did not materialize. Meade concluded that the Confederate line was too strong to attack and retired during the night of December 1-2, ending the winter campaign.”
According to Captain Thompson’s Sketch, on November 27th C & F Consolidated Battery moved to Mine Run with the Second Corps and was engaged at Robertson’s Cross Roads. He states that Brigadier-General Alexander Hays’ 3rd Division, Second Corps, supported his battery. In his report of December 3, 1863 Major-General Gouverneur K. Warren reported that Hays’ Division led the advance and “struck the advancing enemy at Robertson’s Tavern and drove them back along the turnpike.
Samuel P. Bates’s History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865 chapter on Independent Battery F indicates Captain Thompson’s men were also engaged at White Hall Church on November 29th and 30th. Bates says, “upon the abandonment of the campaign, it [C & F Consolidated Battery] re-crossed the Rapidan at Gold Mine Ford, and went into winter-quarters at Brandy Station.”
During December of 1863 and January of 1864, the enlistment of Captain Thompson’s original men expired. Seventeen of those still with the battery departed from its ranks. The rest of them re-enlisted as Veteran Volunteers for three years or the duration of the war.
Morton’s Ford, the Last Combat Action
C & F Consolidated Battery fought its last action at Morton’s Ford, Virginia, on February 6, 1864. At that time, the objective of the Federal forces was to divert Confederate attention from a planned cavalry and infantry raid against Richmond by a demonstration elsewhere. To accomplish the distraction, several crossings of the Rapidan River were forced on February 6, 1864, resisted by General Ewell’s Confederate Corps. Of all of them, the fighting was most severe at Morton’s Ford. The attacks stalled by February 7th and the Federal forces were withdrawn. During the battle—officially termed “a demonstration”—Battery C & F was posted on the Federal right flank, north side of the river, in support of the infantry. The Battery suffered no casualties in this, its last engagement. C & F Battery then went into winter camp at Camp Hancock near Brandy Station, Virginia.
An Independent Battery C Again
Battery F was separated from Battery C on March 25, 1864, according to a March 11, 1899 letter from the Adjutant General’s Office of the War Department found in the Thompson Papers at Gettysburg National Military Park Archives. At that point both units were recruited up to strength and each became an independent unit again.
Defenders of the Nation’s Capital
On April 5th 1864, Battery C was ordered from Camp Hancock to the Light Artillery Camp of Instruction (Camp Barry, Washington D.C.) and assigned to the Twenty-Second Army Corps, Department of Washington. The Official Records Organizational Listing of Troops in the Department of Washington for April 30, 1864 shows the battery stationed at Camp Barry. The Organizational Listings of Troops in the Department of Washington, Twenty-Second Army Corps, for May 31, 1864 and also for June 30, 1864 place Battery C with De Russy’s Division of the Twenty-Second Army Corps. While with that division Battery C helped man the defensive fortifications of south of Washington near Alexandria. Specifically, the battery was at Fort Williams and Fort Elsworth from the later part of May (the PA State Archives contains a letter written by Captain Thompson from Camp Barry as late as on May 15, 1864) until July 12, 1864, when Battery C was relieved and ordered to report to Camp Barry to refit for the field—probably in response to CSA General Jubal Early’s advance. However, the Confederate threat quickly ended in retreat and Battery C was retained at Camp Barry.
In official correspondence from Fort Williams on both June 15th and June 30th (PA State Archives), Captain Thompson reported the strength of Battery C to be three officers and one hundred eighty enlisted men. The Official Records Organizational Listing of Troops in the Department of Washington, Twenty-Second Army Corps, for July 31, 1864 shows Thompson’s Battery back at Camp Barry, as does the Official Records Organizational Listings for August 31, 1864, October 31, 1864, December 31, 1864, February 28, 1865 and April 30, 1865.
Ordered to the Front Once More?
On June 23, 1864 Confederate General Jubal Early left Lynchburg, Virginia heading for the Shenandoah Valley—Federal troops falling back before him. He reached Winchester on July 2nd and operated near Harper’s Ferry on July 3rd and 4th. Finding Harper’s Ferry too strong to take, he crossed into Maryland at Shepherdstown the next day—threatening the National Capital. Federal troops rushed to block the Confederate advance and skirmishing took place at many points. On July 9th a Federal blocking force of 6,000 men was defeated at the battle of Monocacy by General Early’s 10,000 Confederates, but it bought crucial time to shore up the Washington defenses. Early’s force continued on, slowed by continual skirmishing, reaching the suburbs of Washington on July 11th.
By Special Order Number 170, issued from the Headquarters Department of the Twenty-Second Army Corps dated July 11, 1864, Battery C (among other units) was relieved from duty at its station and ordered to Camp Barry for re-equipment as a four-gun battery. The Commander of Camp Barry was directed to “take the necessary steps to have these batteries mounted, equipped and fitted for the field with the least possible delay, reporting to these headquarters their readiness for the field by battery.”
Captain Thompson’s return for July 1864 was filed from Camp Barry on July 31, 1864. It contains the following notation: “July 12th relieved from duty at Forts Williams and Elsworth and ordered to Camp Barry to be mounted.” But by then the crisis had passed. Although fighting broke out at Fort Stevens and at other points, and General Early had ordered an assault for the 12th, it was too late. More than twenty thousand federal troops had now taken up positions against him in the vast ring of Washington’s fortifications. Seeing the forts so manned, the Confederates withdrew after extensive skirmishing. General Early’s force began to withdraw that night and by the 14th of July it was back across the Potomac.
After the Confederate withdrawal, plans to send Battery C back into the field were evidently scrapped. The Official Records Organizational Listing of Troops in the Department of Washington, Twenty-Second Army Corps, for July 31st still shows Battery C as posted to Camp Barry.
Battery C Graduates a Large Class
Battery C’s responsibilities as a veteran unit posted to the Light Artillery Camp of Instruction would naturally include training. That may explain why Samuel P. Bates’s history shows that on January 12, 1865 Battery C transferred seventy-three men to the 204th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers (also known as the 5th PA Artillery Regiment)—Batteries I, K, L and M. The majority of these men were mustered the previous August or September, but there were also some mustered early in 1864 and even a handful of veterans from as early as 1861. By March of 1865 Battery C’s strength had dropped to five officers and one hundred forty-six enlisted men.
Battery C and President Lincoln
When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theater, four members of Thompson’s Independent Battery C were present and, with two other soldiers, carried the dying President across the street. According to a January 16, 1936 article in the Westinghouse Valley News, they were: Jacob J. Soles, John Corey, Jacob (Jabez?) Griffiths and William Sample.
Jacob Soles is quoted in a February 11, 1933 article in the Washington Daily News, as saying: “ It was awfully still in the theater at that minute. Suddenly a shot cracked in the darkness. Mrs. Lincoln, I think it was, was the first to scream the President is shot! We were at Lincoln’s side in a second. We lifted him up. He felt limp, as if all the fight had gone out of him. Guards cleared the aisles and we walked to the door and then directly across the street—the six of us carrying him as gently as we could. We carried him across the street and up the steps of the house. Someone directed us to a room, where we put Lincoln in a bed. ”
Jacob Soles explained that the four artillerymen were late leaving the barracks that night and arrived after the first act was over. They were seated on the same side of the isle, about fifteen feet from the presidential box, and so, were quick to reach President Lincoln. Jacob Soles also notes some interesting difference from the usual historical accounts: While carrying Lincoln, he claimed he heard the President ask in a whisper “Where are they taking me?” Jacob Soles also said John Wilkes Booth did not catch his heel or a spur in a flag that draped the presidential box and fall to the stage—as in the story most people have heard. Soles stated that there was no drape on the box.
A great leader died and Battery C, with the nation, mourned an irreplaceable loss. The Washington Daily News article noted that Soles was an orderly and was frequently assigned to carry messages to the White House. He said President Lincoln would often nod or smile at the young messenger. Jacob Soles lived to be 90 and died in Turtle Run, PA—the last Civil War Veteran of his community.
Mustered Out in June of 1865
Thompson’s Independent Battery C, Pennsylvania Volunteer Light Artillery was ordered to Pittsburgh, leaving its last active post, on June 20, 1865. Home again, Captain Thompson and his men were mustered out on June 30, 1865—thus ending a long, honorable and distinguished service to its nation and its state.
The History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865—Volume V by Samuel P. Bates records that from 1861 through 1865, 320 men passed through the ranks of Battery C—not counting the men of Battery F who served under Captain Thompson during the temporary consolidation, or men listed in Bates (11) that “never joined.” Here is how they faired:
124 (39%) Mustered out on June 30, 1865 (One was absent in the hospital)
76 (24%) Transferred to Other Units:
-73 to the 204th Regiment, PA Vol. on January 12, 1865:
(17 to Battery I, 204th Regiment)
(19 to Battery K, 204th Regiment)
(18 to Battery L, 204th Regiment)
(18 to Battery M, 204th Regiment)
(1 to unspecified, 204th Regiment)
– 3 to the Veteran Reserve Corps
72 (22%) Discharged:
-27 by General Order of June 8, 1865
-22 by Surgeon’s Certificate or because of wounds
-17 due to expiration of three-year enlistment
– 5 no explanation given
– 1 by Special Order of June 20, 1863 (Robert McClelland)
25 (8%) Not Accounted For
12 (4%)* Died:
-7 of unspecified causes
-5 died of wounds or killed
8 (2%) Deserted (Not counting three who deserted, but later returned)
3 (1%) Resigned
320 (100%) TOTAL FOR BATTERY C
*The Thompson Papers include a March 11, 1889 letter from the Adjutant General’s Office of the War Department. The letter contains an official excerpt of the War Department’s record of Battery C’s deaths (all enlisted men) that is slightly at variance with the information found in Bates. The War Department record is as follows: killed in action—two, died of wounds—two, died of disease—eight, died of other causes—three.
Battery C & F’s Most Hallowed Ground
There is a monument to Battery C and another to Battery F in The Peach Orchard at Gettysburg—these represent the approximate positions of the left and center sections of the battery on July 2, 1863. Another marker is just west of the Pennsylvania Monument. It was placed where C & F Battery was posted on July 3rd. As noted in the July 1992 issue of the Civil War General News, directly east of the Pennsylvania Monument at Gettysburg is the recently re-discovered “Hampton’s Battery Rock.” This large rock has the very distinctive shape of a boulder on top of a boulder. It offered shelter to wounded men from the Battery F portion of C & F Consolidated Battery during the great battle. The Park Service has cleared the brush away so that this important site is once again visible and accessible.
Major Sources of Information:
Battery C Correspondence, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, PA, Record Group 19
Captain James Thompson Papers (Thompson Papers)—Gettysburg National Military Park Archives
The Civil War Day by Day—An Almanac 1861-1865, E.B. Long with Barbara Long, 1971
Civil War Sites Advisory Commission (CWSAC) Battle Summaries—American Battlefield Protection Program Website
A Concise Guide to the Artillery at Gettysburg, Gregory A. Coco, 1998
“Double Canister at Ten Yards”, The Federal Artillery and the Repulse of Pickett’s Charge, David Shultz
History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-65, Samuel P. Bates, 1869
Maryland’s Blue and Gray, Kevin Conley Ruffner, 1997, LSU Press
Pennsylvania Adjutant General’s Office Correspondence, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, PA, Record Group 19
Pennsylvania at Gettysburg Ceremonies at the Dedication of Monuments Erected by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, two volumes, John Nicholson, Editor, 1904, Harrisburg, PA 1904–Dedication of Monument, Battery “C” (Thompson’s) Independent Pennsylvania Light Artillery—Sketch by Captain James Thompson
Return to Bull Run—The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas, John L. Hennessy, 1993, Simon and Schuster
Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, edited by Janet B. Hewitt, 1994, Broadfoot Publishing Company, Wilmington, NC
Transcripts of Drafts of Captain James Thompson’s postwar letters, speech draft and other information supplied by the Thompson Family
The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 volumes, 1889-1901, US War Department—numerous reports and organizational tables