“Very few men suffered so much for their country”: How Private Cornelius Stone Beat the Odds at Cold Harbor

Cornelius Stone later in life. (Image courtesy of David Morin.)

Imagine being shot four times and wounded by artillery fire twice in an hour of ferocious combat. Imagine spending the next six days out in the open without even the most elementary medical attention. Imagine barely being able to crawl thirty feet with a broken arm and a shattered knee to safety. And then imagine spending a year recovering from this terrible collection of wounds. Cornelius Hathaway Stone of the 5th New Hampshire did not have to imagine these things; he lived them.

Stone was born in 1844 in Cornish, NH to a family of very modest means. After a stint in Weathersfield, VT, Stone’s father moved the family to Claremont, NH, where the Census of 1860 found him a “Laborer” with $800 in real estate and $100 in personal estate.[i]

Stone enlisted in the 5th New Hampshire in Manchester, NH, on February 12, 1862. Why he enlisted there instead of at home is puzzling; 1st Lieutenant Jacob Keller was then recruiting for the regiment in Claremont. Perhaps Stone, who was underage, sought to avoid detection by someone who knew him. Or maybe his father had tried to stop him from enlisting. Whatever the case, Stone was mustered in on February 28, 1862. A muster roll describes him as a “Laborer” with black eyes, black hair, and a dark complexion. He measured a mere 5’ 4”.[ii]

Stone’s first 18 months in the 5th New Hampshire proved uneventful. He passed through the fights at Fair Oaks, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg unscathed—something of a feat when so many of his fellow soldiers were killed or wounded in these battles. Stone’s odyssey only began when he was captured on July 26, 1863 at White Plains, Virginia.

Most of what follows comes from Otis Waite’s Claremont War History (1868).[iii] When the Civil War started, Waite, a wealthy local worthy involved in the insurance business, was designated Claremont’s semi-official “historiographer” to “keep a record of events” in town during the war. This task he faithfully pursued, writing a book that not only described what transpired in town but also included short biographies of every man from Claremont who served in the Union forces during the war. In a number of cases—including Stone’s—it’s clear that Waite spoke to the subjects of these biographies; the detail is such that one can almost hear these men talking.

Although Stone went into much detail about other events, he had nothing to say about the circumstances of his capture, and one wonders if these did not reflect well on him. He proved particularly unlucky in his timing; the 5th New Hampshire was shipped off to Concord, NH, to rest and recruit only a week after his capture. Stone was initially sent to Libby Prison before being taken to Belle Isle where he “was kept one hundred and fourteen days.” He was obviously proud of having survived this infamous camp, but he provided no details about his incarceration. Is it possible that he might not have been so proud of what he needed to do to survive? According to a number of accounts, starving, sick, ill-clad Union prisoners at Belle Isle frequently brawled over scarce food, blankets and clothing. The losers often perished. This experience must have been traumatic for young Stone.

Belle Isle (ca. 1863). This image was taken by photographer Charles R. Rees. (See Valentine Museum).

Although he may not have realized it, Stone was lucky in one regard. In February 1864, Confederate authorities sought to mitigate overcrowding at Belle Isle by sending Union POWs to Andersonville, Salisbury, and Danville—all of which were notorious for high mortality rates.[iv] Stone, however, was paroled and then exchanged on May 28, 1864—just in time to rejoin the 5th New Hampshire for the Overland Campaign.[v] Less than a week later, on June 3, 1864, he participated in the Army of the Potomac’s massive three-corps assault at Cold Harbor.

For the 5th New Hampshire, the early-morning attack began well. Although the regiments on either side of this unit had gone to ground seeking the shelter of the Dispatch Station Road, the 5th New Hampshire pressed on. Halfway through the assault, Colonel Charles Hapgood, then commander of the regiment, noticed that fire from the Confederate salient west of the McGhee House had slackened, largely because the 7th New York Heavy Artillery had overrun the Southern works in that area. Hapgood changed the axis of his attack by ordering the regiment to wheel right (northward) at the double-quick so that he, too, could push his men into the salient. The soldiers from New Hampshire punched right through a Virginia regiment, collected large numbers of prisoners, and without hesitation pressed westward till they had seized the McGhee House and its outbuildings. Here the 5th New Hampshire was met by the 2nd Maryland and Finnegan’s Florida Brigade who, by force of numbers, drove the Northerners back into the salient. A vicious melee ensued that included hand-to-hand fighting and the discharge of canister at extremely short range as the 5th New Hampshire along with the 7th New York Heavy Artillery clung to their dearly bought position inside Confederate lines.[vi] The outnumbered Northerners, “fired upon from front and both flanks, and failing of any support” (to quote Major James Larkin of the 5th New Hampshire), were eventually compelled to flee in disorder. In all, the 5th New Hampshire lost over 200 casualties.[vii]

Alfred Waud, “7th N.Y. Heavy Arty. in Barlows charge nr. Cold Harbor Friday June 3rd 1864” (1864): This sketch is often represented as depicting the 7th New York Heavy Artillery leaving its trenches to start its assault on the Confederate fortifications. The presence of Confederate prisoners in the foreground of the image, though, indicates that Waud sought to show the regiment fighting on or near the Confederate entrenchments. In attempting to maintain a toehold inside the rebel position, the New Yorkers were assisted by the 5th New Hampshire which was the only other Union regiment that breached the Confederate line. Both units suffered stiff losses from the intense close-quarters fighting that took place near the McGhee House. The 7th New York Heavy Artillery suffered 420 casualties while the soldiers from the Granite State lost over 200 men. (See Library of Congress.)

One of them was Stone. A bullet had broken his right arm. Two more bullets had struck him in the leg below the knee. A fourth bullet had pierced his side. He had taken some grapeshot in the knee while some shrapnel had struck him in the back. For the next six days, he lay in a Confederate-occupied rifle pit. During that time, according to Stone, the rebels took from him $50, his tobacco, and all his valuables (which is entirely believable). Also, during that time, Stone claimed he had “nothing to eat or drink” (which is less believable). Over those six days, he had plenty of time to contemplate what surely must have seemed like his impending death. On June 9, the rebels retreated, and Union forces had advanced to within “two rods” of Stone’s rifle pit. That night, Stone, who was “so weak from his sufferings and the loss of blood that he could hardly speak or move,” “crawled with the utmost difficulty” toward the Northern breastworks and fell into the hands of the 2nd Delaware Volunteer Infantry. His ordeal had just begun.

Gilbert Gaul, “Between the Lines during a Truce” from Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, volume 3 (1888): After the failure of Grant’s June 3, 1864 assault on Lee’s position at Cold Harbor, the two commanders bickered over the terms of a truce that would have permitted the two armies to collect their wounded and bury their dead. It was not until June 7 that Grant and Lee finally concluded an agreement. This delay spelled the doom of many Union soldiers who had been wounded in the June 3 attack and stuck between the two armies. It was nothing short of miraculous that Stone, who lay inside the Confederate position for six days, survived his ordeal.

Stone’s wounds were tended to on the morning of June 10, and he was taken to White House Landing, “riding fourteen miles over corduroy roads in an army wagon” (ugh!). From White House Landing, he traveled to Mansion House Hospital in Alexandria, VA (by steamer, I presume), where his leg was amputated above the knee. Over five months later, the stump nearly healed, he was forwarded to Boston, MA, for a stay at Pemberton Square Hospital (now the site of Government Center). While hobbling to the hospital, his crutch slipped on the sidewalk, and he injured his leg badly. Gangrene set in, and four more inches of his leg had to be amputated. The surgeon “told Stone and his friends that he probably could not live through the operation, though he could not possibly live without it.” Stone survived the 90-minute procedure and, after six weeks, was sent on to a military hospital in Manchester, NH. Eventually, he traveled to Central Park Hospital in New York City to be fitted with an artificial leg, and it was here that he was eventually discharged from the army on June 8, 1865. Waite concluded this tale by rightfully stating “very few men suffered so much for their country as did young Stone.”

Stone now faced the rest of his life minus a leg. How did he fare?

At this great remove in time with only the barest of documentation, it’s hard to say. Stone took a step in the right direction when he obtained a much-deserved pension in July 1865.[viii] In September 1865, he was back in Claremont where he married 15-year-old Harriet N. Chase.[ix] That he was married so soon after returning to Claremont suggests that Stone had known Chase before his enlistment (he had not been back to Claremont since then)—that is, when she had been 11 or 12.[x] Although marrying a girl of this age was legal and not unheard of, it was also a bit unusual and somewhat skeevy. In 1866, the newlyweds had a son—their only child—named Charles.

We next find Stone in 1880, living in Goodwin Township in the Dakota Territory, not far from the Minnesota border. While his wife “kept house” and his 14-year-old son worked as a “farmhand,” Stone plied his occupation as a machinist [xi] The township had just been incorporated a couple of years before and numbered only about 600 souls (four times larger than its current population of 140). What could bring a machinist to this end of the world?

Stone, however, was not done traveling. The 1890 Veterans Census placed him in Shelton, WA. Even had the form not indicated his regiment, it would be impossible to mistake him. Under “Disability Incurred,” we find the following laconic comment: “Six wounds; one leg amputated.” Under “Remarks,” there appears, “Prisoner on Belle Isle.”[xii] One can almost imagine Stone telling the census-taker the same story he told Waite—with perhaps a few embellishments that had sprouted up over time. What brought Stone to Washington is unknown. Since all we have from that year is the Veterans Census, we know nothing of his family situation.

What we can surmise, though, is that by the early 1890s, Harriet was out of the picture—whether through death or divorce, it is impossible to say. The reason we can make this surmise is because Stone married Gertrude Slade in 1894.[xiii] This marriage did not take, for by the 1900 Census, Stone was divorced. By this point, he was still working as a machinist. He lived in Hadlock, WA, with Charles who was now married and had two daughters and a son.[xiv]

Cornelius Stone after the war sporting some sort of fraternal regalia. (See FindAGrave.) 

Stone died in March 1901 in Shelton, WA.[xv] What are we to make of Stone’s post-war experiences? If we so wished, we could stress the signs of a life where all was not well—the young teenage bride, a marriage that produced only one child, the restless movement westward, the divorce, and the early death. Literature about Civil War veterans often tends to emphasize the lingering effects of trauma on men who suffered much during the conflict. While I certainly do not wish to minimize his pain, I’d like to point to evidence of ways in which Stone may have compensated for this suffering by finding meaning in his life. His headstone, which appears on FindAGrave, bears two important symbols. One, located above his name, appears to be associated with a fraternal order. Indeed, in one of the few photos I’ve seen of Stone, he is outfitted in the regalia of such an order (which one, I cannot tell). The other symbol carved into the side of his stone represents a Grand Army of the Republic badge.[xvi] Perhaps I’m reading too much into Stone’s headstone, but it appears that he found comfort in masculine associations of likeminded men with similar experiences. These may have substituted for the camaraderie he had experienced in the 5th New Hampshire and helped support him psychologically during difficult times for the rest of his life.

Stone’s marker in Shelton Memorial Park in Shelton, WA. The fraternal symbol appears above his name. On the other face of the stone visible to viewer, one can detect a representation of the GAR badge. Click to enlarge. (See FindAGrave.)

[i] “United States Census, 1860”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M7WG-PF3 : 11 November 2020), Cornelius Stone in entry for Geo D Stone, 1860.

[ii] “New Hampshire, Civil War Service and Pension Records, 1861-1866,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q27M-MB52 : 16 March 2018), Cornelius H Stone, 12 Feb 1862; citing Manchester, Manchester, Hillsborough, New Hampshire, United States, New Hampshire Secretary of State, Division of Records Management & Archive; FHL microfilm 2,257,887.

[iii] Otis F. R. Waite, Claremont War History; April, 1861, to April 1865 (Concord, NH: McFarland & Jenks, Printers, 1868), 138-141.

[iv] https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/belle_isle_prison#start_entry

[v] Ayling’s Revised Register has Stone re-enlisting on March 29, 1864 while Waite has the date as April 1, 1864. How Stone could have re-enlisted while he was still in prison remains unclear to me.

[vi] Gordon C. Rhea, Cold Harbor: Grant and Lee May 26-June 3, 1864 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2002), 324-327.

[vii] William Child, A History of the Fifth Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers (Bristol, NH: R. W. Musgrove, Printer, 1893), 270.

[viii] “United States General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QJDP-JNNG : 13 March 2018), Cornelius H Stone, 1865.

[ix] “New Hampshire Marriage Records, 1637-1947,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FLFH-P2N : 2 April 2020), Cornelieus H. Stone and Harriett N. Chase, 09 Sep 1865; citing Claremont, Sullivan, New Hampshire, Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics, Concord; FHL microfilm 1,001,307.

[x] The marriage record claims she was born in Claremont and resided there, but I have not been able to find her in the Census of 1860, when she was presumably ten years old.

[xi] “United States Census, 1880,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MCVQ-QJ7 : 12 November 2020), Cornelius Stone, Goodwin, Deuel, Dakota Territory, United States; citing enumeration district ED 46, sheet 500A, NARA microfilm publication T9 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), FHL microfilm 1,254,112.

[xii] “United States Census of Union Veterans and Widows of the Civil War, 1890,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K8S4-F1V : 11 March 2018), Cornelius H Stone, 1890; citing NARA microfilm publication M123 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 338,267.

[xiii] “Washington, County Marriages, 1855-2008,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QPMK-B914 : 28 November 2018), Cornelius H Stone and Gertrude Slade, 1 Dec 1894, Shelton, Mason, Washington, United States, Washington State Archives, Olympia; FamilySearch digital folder 102115024.

[xiv] “United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MMP6-6W9 : accessed 23 November 2020), Cornelius H Stone in household of Charles Stone, Chimacum and Hadlock Precincts, Jefferson, Washington, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 46, sheet 4B, family 108, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1972.); FHL microfilm 1,241,743.

[xv] https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/28474828/_

[xvi] https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/28474828/_

The “400”: Is This Sample Representative?

“Au travail!” as they say in France. Or, as they say in America, this is where the rubber hits the road. I thought I’d start analyzing the “400” by establishing if some companies were better represented than others in the sample. My motive consisted of ensuring that the “400” I had selected randomly were more or less representative of the 5th New Hampshire. As you’ll see, though, you never know where a question like this will take you. And this question took me far afield.

I started out by surveying a spreadsheet that contained information for all the original volunteers in the regiment and determined how many men were in each company. This was the spreadsheet from which I had randomly selected the “400” in the first place. I found the following:

Table 1

Co. A
Co. B
Co. C
Co. D
Co. E
Co. F
Co. G
Co. H
Co. I
Co. K
Band
F&S*
NCS**
104
87
101
86
103
88
101
93
101
100
24
8
5
*F&S stands for “Field and Staff” (i.e. the colonel, lieutenant colonel, major, adjutant, quartermaster, surgeons, and chaplain.)
**NCS stands for “Noncommissioned staff” (i.e. the regimental sergeant major, commissary sergeant, quartermaster sergeant, hospital steward, and principal musicians).

The total adds up to 1,001 men. That figure is a little smaller than the numbers that are commonly attributed to the regiment upon its formation, but that’s how many original volunteers I found in Ayling’s Revised Register. If I’ve made a mistake, it’s of the order of about 0.1%–no joke (Edward Cross, the regiment’s colonel, claimed he left Concord, NH, at the end of October 1861 with 1,012 men). I think I can live with that.

In any event, the total number of men in my “400” Excel spreadsheet is 403. So my “400” represent 40.3% of the original 1,001 volunteers. That being the case, I multiplied the figures in Table 1 by .403 to see what my sample of “400” would look like if it was perfectly representative of the regiment (and I did round to the nearest whole number):

Table 2

Co. A
Co. B
Co. C
Co. D
Co. E
Co. F
Co. G
Co. H
Co. I
Co. K
Band
F&S
NCS
42
35
41
35
42
35
41
37
41
40
10
3
2

But this is what my sample of the “400” actually looks like:

Table 3

Co. A
Co. B
Co. C
Co. D
Co. E
Co. F
Co. G
Co. H
Co. I
Co. K
Band
F&S
NCS
41
36
36
40
43
39
41
33
45
35
9
3
2

In some cases, the numbers match up very nicely. Look at Companies A, B, E, and G. The Band, the Field & Staff, and the non-commissioned staff are also in the right ballpark. But Companies C, H, and K are underrepresented while Companies D, F, and I are overrepresented. You might think that the discrepancies are not great, but we are talking errors of well over 10%. What happened?

My first thought was that this issue was due to the luck of the draw. I picked men randomly, so my thinking went, and random selections sometimes lead to these kinds of disparities. Maybe. But my second thought was this: what if some of the companies are underrepresented among my “400” veterans because these units disproportionately suffered from death due to combat or illness? I decided to try that hypothesis out. Among the original volunteers, 114 were killed in action, 62 died of their wounds, and 100 succumbed to illness. Surely death was not evenly distributed throughout the regiment.

This is what I found:

Table 4

A B C D E F G H I K Band F&S NCS
KIA 11 5 16 12 14 7 15 9 12 12 0 1 0
MW 6 6 6 2 7 7 9 5 5 9 0 0 0
KIA+MW 17 11 22 14 21 14 24 14 17 21 0 1 0
Disease 7 11 12 8 9 10 6 9 11 15 2 0 0
TOTAL 24 22 34 22 30 24 30 23 28 36 2 2 0

If you remember, Companies C, H, and K are underrepresented in my sample of the “400.” It certainly looks as if Companies C and K suffered a disproportionate number of deaths (they were the two companies that lost the most men). But the number of deaths suffered by Company H was disproportionately small. Something else must explain why there are fewer members of that company among the “400” than there ought to be.

Companies D, F, and I are overrepresented in my sample, and it looks like D and F suffered fewer deaths than most companies. But five companies suffered fewer deaths than I, so I’m not sure how to explain why so many men from that company ended up among the “400.”

There are some factors that could have corrupted my findings somewhat. For example, some men were transferred from one company to another or promoted to the Field & Staff before being killed; as I’ve set it up, their deaths would have been credited to their original company. And some men, while still belonging to their company, could have formed part of the color guard where they were much more likely to get killed. If some companies were overrepresented in the color guard, that could have influenced the findings somewhat. The number of men transferred or promoted, as well as the number of soldiers assigned to the color guard (nine at any given moment), was small, but cumulatively, these issues could have warped my figures.

It seems I have found only a partial answer to my question of why some companies were overrepresented and others were underrepresented in the sample. Maybe part of the answer really is just chance.

The foregoing calculations, however, led me to another line of inquiry: why had some companies suffered many more deaths than others?

I started thinking about combat deaths and surmised that the companies closest to the color guard (which always drew a great deal of fire) during a battle suffered disproportionate casualties (to be honest, looking at who served in the color guard itself would be helpful, but that information is not available to me right now). Testing this hypothesis by figuring out the deployment of companies in line of battle was something of a task. In General Order No. 6, Colonel Edward Cross assigned the position of companies according to the seniority of the captains who commanded them.

1st Company: Company A: Captain. Edward E. Sturtevant
2nd Company: Company B: Captain Edmund Brown
3rd Company: Company C: Captain James B. Perry
4th Company: Company D: Captain John Murray
5th Company: Company E: Captain Ira McL. Barton
6th Company: Company F: Captain H.T.H. Pierce
7th Company: Company G: Captain Charles H. Long
8th Company: Company H: Captain Richard R. Davis
9th Company: Company I: Captain Charles E. Hapgood
10th Company: Company K: Captain Richard Welch[i]

“Formation in Order of Battle” (1861): This image from Hardee’s Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics shows who went where when a regiment was drawn up in line of battle. In this particular illustration, eight companies are in line of battle and two are detached for skirmish duty.

So far so good. However, matters get a bit complicated when one starts discussing the actual deployment of the regiment in combat. According to William J. Hardee’s Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics, U.S. Infantry Tactics, and Silas Casey’s Infantry Tactics, a regiment arranged its companies in the following manner when it was arrayed in line of battle:[ii]

2nd

7th

10th

5th

8th 3rd 9th 4th 6th

1st

B

G K E H C I D F

A

Company A, which had the most senior captain (Sturtevant), occupied the post of honor which was the right flank of the regiment. This arrangement seems to indicate that Companies H and C were on either side of the color guard which was in the middle of the formation. While Company C suffered the second-highest number of combat deaths (21), Company H was definitely on the low end of the scale (14). Ok, scratch my theory about the color guard. Again, maybe I should try to figure out who was in the color guard and from what companies they were selected.

Edward E. Sturtevant (1826-1862), then living in Concord, NH, recruited and commanded Company I of the 1st New Hampshire, a three-month regiment. Shortly after that regiment was mustered out, he went on to recruit and command Company A of the 5th New Hampshire. It was this company that earned the post of honor on the right flank of the regiment when it went into battle. Sturtevant eventually attained the rank of major before he was killed at the Battle of Fredericksburg. (Image courtesy of David Morin.)

I then thought that maybe some companies were more frequently used for picket duty and skirmishing than others. The problem is that I didn’t know if Cross leaned on particular companies in this way let alone which ones they would be.[iii] In any event, my impression is that in a number of major battles (Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and Cold Harbor), the 5th New Hampshire went straight into action without deploying skirmishers.

And so I was left falling back on the last recourse of a scoundrel; perhaps this was all a matter of chance and circumstance. In the battles for which I have detailed records of casualties, I have noticed striking discrepancies in the number of dead and wounded suffered by each company. Take for example the Battle of Fair Oaks (June 1, 1862):

Company A: 3 killed, 2 mortally wounded, 20 other wounded
Company B: 2 killed, 2 mortally wounded, 19 other wounded
Company C: 4 killed, 3 mortally wounded, 17 other wounded
Company D: 4 killed, 6 wounded
Company E: 5 killed, 1 mortally wounded, 22 other wounded
Company F: 3 mortally wounded, 10 other wounded
Company G: 3 killed, 2 mortally wounded, 6 other wounded
Company H: 1 killed, 3 mortally wounded, 17 other wounded
Company I: 7 wounded
Company K: 3 killed, 13 wounded[iv]

To take the two extremes, Company E (Barton) suffered a total of 6 dead and 22 wounded for a total of 28 casualties while Company I (Hapgood) suffered a mere 7 wounded. It is worth noting that this battle (among other things) helped convince Cross that Barton was a drunken incompetent.[v] It is also probably worth noting that Hapgood later became the colonel of the regiment. So maybe the quality of company commanders had something to do with the distribution of casualties. Still, we should not disregard bad luck. A single shell burst could literally double a company’s casualties in a battle. For example, according to William Child’s History of the Fifth Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers (1893) a one charge of canister killed or wounded 8 men from Company G at the Battle of Antietam.[vi]

Ira McL. Barton (1840-1876) raised much of Company D in the 1st New Hampshire and led that company during it three months of service. He later recruited and led Company E in the 5th New Hampshire until he resigned his commission in September 1862. Surprisingly, Barton landed on his feet as Lieutenant-Colonel of the 1st New Hampshire Heavy Artillery and served in the regular army after the war. (Image courtesy of David Morin.)

We’ve covered combat, so what about disease? Why did some companies suffer so much more than others, especially when the sanitary arrangements laid down by the regiment’s commander applied equally to all companies? I think the answer has to do with the men and not the conditions to which they were subjected.

It turns out that the companies that suffered the fewest deaths from disease (A, D, and G) were also those that happened to be most heavily recruited from urban areas in the state. (When I use the word “urban,” I employ it in the same sense as the Census Bureau: a settlement of more than 2,500 people.) [vii] In all likelihood these recruits had been more heavily exposed to communicable diseases throughout their lives and proved less susceptible to various illnesses than men from small rural settlements. Over 40% of Company A was recruited from Concord, NH (10,867), the second-largest town in the state and the 86th biggest settlement in the United States. Well over half of Company D’s men came from three major towns that were right next door to each other: Dover (8,487), Somersworth (4,785), and Rochester (3,833). And Company G was the only one in the regiment where the majority of men (70% in fact) came from one urban settlement: Claremont (4,009). No other companies had such high concentrations of urban dwellers.[viii] I like this hypothesis, but I have no means of testing it.

Map of Claremont in 1860

So are some companies overrepresented in the sample? Yes! Do I know why? Maybe, but not with any certainty. Did I figure out why some companies suffered more deaths than others? Partially.

Did I learn something by asking a bunch of different questions? I think so.


[i] I have several copies of General Order No. 6 at my disposal, but the one I referred to in this instance was in William Andrew Moore’s papers at the New Hampshire Historical Society.

[ii] Hardee’s book was published in 1855 and became the bible for field and junior officers during the Civil War. See http://www.cs-cavalry.de/Hardees%201862.pdf (p. 8). U.S. Infantry Tactics was put out by the War Department in 1861 and appears to plagiarize Hardee’s work extensively. See https://www.google.com/books/edition/U_S_Infantry_Tactics/ 3kAWAAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=Hardee+light+infantry+tactics+ school+of+the+company&pg=RA1-PT3&printsec=frontcover. Finally, Casey’s work also draws heavily from Hardee. See http://64thill.org/drillmanuals/
caseys_infantrytactics/volume1/part01.htm#6
.

[iii] I know that at Fair Oaks, Companies A and C were used in this fashion, but I don’t know if Cross always used them this way. See https://archive.org/
details/historyoffifthre00chil/page/n115/mode/2up

[iv] This information was assembled by consulting Ayling’s Revised Register and the surgeon’s report for the 5th New Hampshire that appeared in the New Hampshire Statesman, June 21, 1862, p. 2.

[v] Mike Pride and Mark Travis, My Brave Boys: To War with Colonel Cross & the Fighting Fifth (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2001), p. 158. Interestingly enough, after Barton resigned from the regiment, he and Hapgood remained on good terms and continued to correspond.

[vi] See https://archive.org/details/historyoffifthre00chil/page/n163/mode/2up However, if one amalgamates information from Ayling’s Revised Register and the Surgeon’s Report that appeared in the New Hampshire Statesman, October 4, 1862, p. 2, it appears that while Company G suffered 15 casualties at Antietam, only one soldier died as a result of that battle.

[vii] https://www2.census.gov/geo/pdfs/reference/GARM/Ch12GARM.pdf

[viii] All information in this paragraph comes from the Census of 1860 and Ayling’s Revised Register.

George Gove at Fredericksburg

Today is the 157th anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg, perhaps the greatest disaster to befall the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War. I thought it would perhaps be appropriate to commemorate the battle by looking at it through the eyes of George S. Gove who provided a long account of his experiences in that fight.

Gove was born and raised in Raymond, NH, the son of a prosperous farmer. When he volunteered for the 5th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry in September 1861, he had no military experience and he was only 20, but he was over six feet tall, and perhaps his commanding presence led his superiors to think of him as a potential leader. He was enrolled as a sergeant in Company K.[i] He was wounded severely at the Battle of Fair Oaks (June 1, 1862) in the right arm and finger. He recovered in time to rejoin his regiment before the Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862) through which he mercifully passed unscathed. Fredericksburg, however, proved a much harsher test for Gove and the regiment.

George Gove (ca. 1863-1864) (image courtesy of Dave Morin)

We know about Gove’s experiences during the war because his letters to his sister Julia now rest at the University of New Hampshire Library’s Special Collections and Archives. Julia married Warren Parsons, and it is as part of the Parsons Family Papers that Gove’s letters have been preserved.

The day after the Battle of Fredericksburg, Gove, who was lying in a hospital, wrote to his mother who forwarded his letter to Julia. Gove had been hit in the shoulder by a shell fragment, and while lying on the field, he had been struck by two spent balls—once in the back and once in the leg. What follows is his story of the battle extracted from this letter.

On the landing, yesterday . . . we formed & started for the field. The reb shelled us all the way up thru the city, their batteries, raking the streets, just out of the city we crossed this canal & formed on line under a little rise. Then came the order forward. The Irish Brigade went in ahead of us, after us climbing this little rise we came upon a broad plain at least 2,000 yards across it at the further sides is a high ridge covered with trees & bushes, here the rebs had their batteries and rifle pits, here they powered an awful fire of shell grape and canisters & musketry. We had to advance across this plain in the face of all this. It opened on us the moment we showed our heads on the plain. Our men dropped fast large gaps were made by the shells. Still we kept on—“Forward boys, forward”, the Col. kept shouting. When we got within 100 yds their musketry opened on us from the rifle pits. Then our line melted away like snow, at this place & right in the way of us was a brick house our line had to break to the right to [illegible] it behind it was several fences, we had to climb over these to form on line. This got the boys into confusion. They could not form under such a fire. The colors fell back to the house & behind the fences. All the men fell back, then the colors fell—Frank Swift, an Irish man of our Co. caught the state banner, jumped the fence & marched out about 30 yds to the front waving it, he was all alone. I saw him and followed. I got to his side and told him to stick to the flag and I would stick by him. In a few moment he was shot down. I picked up the banner. Two men came up beside me. Perhaps 50 men came up The other color did not neither did the regt. I had not held the flag more than half a minute, before I was hit in the shoulder by a piece of shell & knocked down. One of the two men was shot down the other picked up the Banner & ran back to the house and fences. Most of our—what there was left had got behind the house and fences. I lay about 30 yds in front of them & about 30 yrds from the rebel rifle pits. I was between two fires. It was horrible. The bullets flew over me like swarms of bees. They were continually striking all around me. Two bullets hit me one in the back & one in the leg they probably were spent balls & only bruised the skin, and then the shells which our batteries threw over burst over me and pieces from them kept falling all about me, I felt that any moment might be my last. I lay there over an hour, I did not dare to get up to go back. Often our boys stopped firing & the rebs slacked theirs I crawled back to the house. There were more than 200 hundred men mostly wounded that had crawled behind it. I lay down in the mud with the rest. Soon we saw another line come up, on the plain. The reb batteries opened on them, when they got most up to us the rebs opened with musketry from rifle pits, they came up to the house, wavered tried to rally & fell back in confusion. Then came another line—it came up the same faltered at the house & fell back—then another line & the same with that. Towards the night a battery came up, took a position close to the house with a line of infantry to support it. They held the position perhaps half an hour, & then had to retreat, this was our last attempt. As soon as it was a little dark I got up & started for the city. I was afraid the rebs would come out & take us. I had expected every time one of our lines was driven back that they would charge down and take us. I came back across the plain, it was covered with killed and wounded—hundreds of lives lost & thousands wounded and maimed for life & nothing gained. I found our regt hospital I expected I was wounded in the back but found that the skin was not broken my shoulder, back & leg are much swelled today & are very sore & lame but I shall be all right in a day or two.[ii]  

How do we place Gove’s account in context? What exactly happened to him and the regiment during the fight? What else might he have seen that he did not describe?

The 5th New Hampshire had spent the night in Fredericksburg which had been badly pillaged by Federal troops (a point that Gove refers to elsewhere in his letter). By the time the regiment was assembled for action near the town’s landing along the Rappahannock River, the Union assault on the Confederate position at the foot of Marye’s Heights had been proceeding for some time. The three brigades in Brigadier General William H. French’s division (in Major General Darius N. Couch’s II Corps) had already launched attacks that had stalled short of the Confederate line. Next, Brigadier General Winfield Scott Hancock’s division (II Corps), which consisted of Meagher, Caldwell, and Zook’s brigades, was called forward. As Gove points out, Meagher’s Irish Brigade led the way, followed by Caldwell’s brigade (to which the 5th New Hampshire belonged). Mike Pride and Mark Travis state that the 5th New Hampshire, marching four abreast, trailed the Irish Brigade down Sophia Street and then turned left toward the Confederate position.[iii] Throughout its advance, then, the 5th New Hampshire would have seen the Irish Brigade’s dead, wounded, and stragglers.

Once it cleared the outskirts of town, the regiment advanced about 200 yards before encountering a mill-race (the “canal” that Gove refers to). This obstacle was usually five feet deep and 15 feet wide, but Federal engineers had partially drained it before the battle.[iv] George Rable claims the Irish Brigade crossed it in the following manner: “Some used a rickety bridge; others scrambled over on stringers; many seizing the quickest way to the relative safety of the far bank, splashed through the shallow water.”[v] Pride and Travis write that the 5th New Hampshire probably did much the same thing: “a narrow bridge crossed the canal, but most of its planks had been removed,” and so the regiment “faltered briefly here as men either crossed the bridge with difficulty or splashed through the shallow water.”[vi] Having crossed the mill-race, the regiment reformed on the other side under the shelter of a slight rise. Hancock’s official report captured the difficulty of this maneuver when he wrote: “It was impossible to deploy, except by marching the whole length of each brigade by the flank in a line parallel to the enemy’s works after we had crossed the mill-race by the bridge.”[vii] I assume that the bridge to which all these sources refer was where Hanover Street crossed the canal because the attack appears to have followed that thoroughfare, more or less, to the west.  

Whatever the case, once it mounted the rise that sheltered the mill-race, the 5th New Hampshire was still 400 yards away from the Confederate position located behind the infamous stone wall on Telegraph Road. The regiment advanced on the extreme right of Caldwell’s brigade with the 81st Pennsylvania immediately to its left.

This fantastic image (click to enlarge) captures a good portion of the ground over which the 5th New Hampshire advanced during the Battle of Fredericksburg. It looks west from the outskirts of Fredericksburg to the Confederate position. To the right, you can see Hanover Street. In the middle distance, stretching horizontally across the image, is the mill-race where Caldwell’s brigade had to cross. Some members of the regiment skipped across the mill-race while others took the narrow Hanover Street bridge which was partially dismantled. In the plain beyond, all by itself, is the Stratton House. Behind the Stratton House, on either side, are two light-colored structures. The one on the left is the Stephens House while the one on the right is the Innis House. Both abutted the stone wall behind which the Confederate infantry sheltered. Confederate artillery was located on the heights in the line of sight behind the Stephens House. This image was taken in 1863, probably after forces under Major General John Sedgwick drove Confederate troops from their positions during the Chancellorsville campaign. I have not been able to locate this image on the National Archives or Library of Congress websites, but it appears on the wonderful Mysteries and Conundrums blog. Excellent analyses of this photograph and others that cover the same ground appear on The Swale at Mercer Square blog, here and here

As Gove also relates, from the very start of the 5th New Hampshire’s advance, which commenced in the streets of Fredericksburg, the regiment was pounded mercilessly by Confederate artillery. This bombardment continued for the entirety of the regiment’s assault. Although several witnesses attested to the steady and disciplined character of the unit’s advance, the shellfire not only inflicted a large number of casualties (as Gove described) but also undoubtedly slowed the attack. The “large gaps . . .  made by the shells” wreaked havoc with the regiment’s command. When the regiment had advanced about hallway to the Confederate position, Colonel Edward Cross was badly wounded when a shell exploded right in front of him. Major Edward Sturtevant, the regiment’s only other field officer, was killed by a shell at about the same time.[viii] Interestingly enough, Gove claimed he was near enough to hear the colonel’s shouting, but he did not appear to see Cross fall. Cross must have been extremely close to Company A, though, because Captain James Larkin, then its commander, wrote home several days later,

Col. Cross was shot when the line had advanced about half way a shell exploded rite in his face I saw him fall and thought he was all stove in pieces but he is coming out all right but was badly hurt.[ix]

The condition of the battlefield also probably slowed the regiment’s assault. Contrary to popular belief, the day was not particularly cold; mud, not ice, was the greater obstacle. If the regiment had indeed crossed the mill-race on the Hanover Street bridge, it veered slightly leftward to remain in contact with the 81st Pennsylvania. This course brought it south of Hanover Street and towards the Stratton House. 


This detail (click to enlarge) from a National Park Service map shows the ground that the 5th New Hampshire covered during its assault. Fredericksburg sits on the right of the map while the Confederate position is on the left. The 5th New Hampshire started its advance northward on Sophia Street and probably turned west on Hanover. It crossed the mill-race (indicated as a “Canal Ditch” on this map) around Hanover Street, which is colored orange there. From there, the regiment veered west-southwest toward the Stratton House which appears as a reddish-pink block. Some men, like Gove, advanced beyond the Stratton House toward the “Sunken Road” where the Confederates were. The regiment was fired upon by Confederate infantry stationed behind the stone wall (clearly indicated on the map) between the Innis and Ebert houses. Confederate artillery was posted on the heights to the west-southwest of the Innis House. 

Exposure to heavy shellfire during an advance of about a third of a mile took its toll. The regiment’s morale was now brittle, and once it encountered Confederate small arms fire, the unit began to fall apart (the battle line “melted like snow”). Having to navigate its way to the right of the Stratton House and push through several fences under heavy fire, the 5th New Hampshire found it impossible to reform. The regiment appears to have broken apart into several knots of men with a number of individuals scattering in different directions. According to Gove, only 50 men moved up past the last fence to accompany him once he picked up the standard. I must admit that there are some difficulties in reconciling this part of Gove’s account with facts on the ground. First, Gove stated that the Confederate infantry opened fire on the 5th New Hampshire when it was about 100 yards away. At this point, according to Gove, the regiment had not reached the Stratton House yet. That does not square with what we know about the distance between the Stratton House and the stone wall, which is about 170 yards. Second, Gove mentions how the regiment had to scale several fences beyond the Stratton House as it worked its way closer to the stone wall. Eventually, Gove ended up with Frank Swift, waving the state colors some 30 yards beyond the last fence behind the Stratton House. Gove claims that this spot was only 30 yards from Confederate position. If that were the case, the last fence would have been 110 yards behind the Stratton House which seems unlikely. We can forgive Gove for miscalculating these distances; after all, he was undergoing a harrowing ordeal. But we must also recall that the soldiers of the 5th New Hampshire resented that no matter how hard they fought, the Irish Brigade always grabbed the headlines. One can’t help but suspect that under these circumstances Gove’s narrative was shaped by a desire to obtain credit for outdoing the Irish in advancing toward the stone wall.

In any event, after having been hit by a shell fragment and lying on the field for some time, Gove crawled back to the Stratton House where quite a crowd of wounded and demoralized men had gathered. Indeed, the crowd proved so large that later Union assaults found it difficult to push through the area. Successive waves of Union troops advanced into this portion of the battlefield. The last remaining troops in Couch’s II’s Corps came up: Brigadier General Oliver Otis Howard’s division, consisting of Owen, Hall, and Sully’s brigades. Owen’s brigade retraced the steps of Caldwell’s men and were stopped around Stratton House. Hall’s brigade advanced along the north edge of Hanover Street in a vain attempt to outflank the Confederate left. Finally, regiments from Sully’s brigade were supplied as reinforcement to supplement Owen and Hall’s efforts. Nothing was gained, and the killing went on. The battery that Gove noticed toward the end of the fight may have been Battery B of the 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery, which came up near the Stratton House in an attempt to silence some of the Confederate guns on Marye’s Heights that had inflicted such heavy casualties on the Union soldiers. But as Rable points out, although the battery “got off a few well-aimed shots, disabling at least one Rebel gun” some “fifteen horses and sixteen men . . . were out of action” after 30 minutes and the battery had to limber up and retreat.[x]

Eventually, Gove limped back to Fredericksburg. Even before night had begun to fall, large numbers of wounded men and stragglers had begun to make their way to town, so much so that regiments from Howard’s division had difficulty advancing forward through the crowd. How Gove found the regimental hospital and where it was remain a mystery to me. Pride and Travis indicate that John Bucknam, the regiment’s senior assistant surgeon, had set up a hospital near the regiment’s camp in the streets of Fredericksburg.[xi] William Child, who was then the regiment’s junior assistant surgeon, later wrote that he arrived in Fredericksburg on the afternoon of the 13th and reported for duty at “a large church, used as a hospital.” The next day, he found the regiment “and was at once detailed to assist Surgeon [Laurence] Reynolds of the Irish Brigade in operating.”[xii] But it is not clear where any of these hospitals were.

Gove reported that on the morning of the 14th, only 35 men in the regiment remained to answer roll call. In an addendum to his letter of the 14th, Gove wrote that on the morning of the 16th the number had swelled to only 50. Writing on that same day, however, Larkin, now the second ranking officer in the regiment, wrote that there were just over 80 men available for duty.[xiii] Whatever the case, William Fox’s Regimental Losses of the American Civil War 1861-1865, perhaps the most thorough work on the topic, reports that the regiment suffered 20 killed in action, 154 wounded (including mortally wounded), and 19 missing out of a total of 303 engaged.[xiv] Pride and Travis state the total as 57 killed and mortally wounded along with another 100 or so wounded out of 268 engaged.[xv] Whichever numbers you credit (and numbers are always a problem in the Civil War because despite their apparent exactitude they disagree with one another), the regiment lost just above or below 60% of its effective strength at Fredericksburg. In the several weeks that followed the battle, the letters of the men indicated they all felt quite low. Well might Gove have written in his diary several days after the battle, “The Fifth New Hampshire Regiment is played out.”[xvi]


[i] See “United States Census, 1860”, database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M7W2-GDJ : 14 December 2017), George S Gove in entry for Sherburne Gove, 1860.; “New Hampshire, Civil War Service and Pension Records, 1861-1866,” database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q2Q1-YFB6 : 16 March 2018), George S Gove, 17 Sep 1861; citing Rockingham, Newfields, Rockingham, New Hampshire, United States, New Hampshire Secretary of State, Division of Records Management & Archive; FHL microfilm 2,217,640.; New Hampshire Statesman (Concord, NH), June 21, 1862, 2;

[ii] George S. Gove to mother, December 14, 1862, Parsons Family Papers, Series 2: Correspondence, 1861-1865, Box 2, Folder 11 (Transcript).

[iii] Mike Pride and Mark Travis, My Brave Boys: To War with Colonel Cross & the Fighting Fifth (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2001), 171.

[iv] George Rable, Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg! (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 219.

[v] Ibid., 232.

[vi] Pride and Travis, 171.

[vii] Ibid., 171, 176.

[viii] Pride and Travis, 172.

[ix] James Larkin to Family, December 16, 1862, Larkin Papers, New Hampshire Historical Society.

[x] Rable, 258-259.

[xi] Pride and Travis, 178.

[xii] William Child, A History of the Fifth Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers in the Civil War, 1861-1865 (Bristol, NH: R. W Musgrove, Printer, 1893), 162-163. In his “official” history of the regiment, Child added that Reynolds’ hospital “was in a brick house directly west of the railroad on the main street.” “This house,” he wrote, “belonged to a merchant, whose name was Caldwell.” In a letter to his wife on December 18, Child was no more specific: “I arrived just before dark—the battle was raging furiously. I was there in a church among the wounded during the night under the shell of the enemy—we remained there until noon the next day—then all left for the other side of the river.” In this case, there is no mention of working with Reynolds in the brick house. William Child, Letters from a Civil War Surgeon (Solon, ME: Polar Bear & Company, 2001), 71.

[xiii] James Larkin to Wife, December 16, 1862, Larkin Papers, New Hampshire Historical Society.

[xiv] William F. Fox, Regimental Losses of the American Civil War 1861-1865 (Albany, NY: Albany Publishing Company, 1889), 35.

[xv] Pride and Travis, 171, 176.

[xvi] Child, 150.

Showing off Some Minié Bullets in Class

My MWF 1:30 History 103 section just raring to go. Today, it’s about the development of firepower. And no, I don’t have powers of levitation; I was standing on the desk at the front of the room. I took my chances, emboldened by the fact that I would be able to extract a workers’ comp claim should I fall down.

Yesterday, my course History 103: War and Innovation met, just as it does every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 1:30 pm. It’s a core course that satisfies the history requirement at the college, so the enrollment consists mainly of non-majors. There are, however, three history majors in the class who sit in the front row and and know the answers to lots of questions—although I do my best to compel other folks to talk. The course revolves around the textbook, Wayne E. Lee’s Waging War: Conflict, Culture, and Innovation in World History. I like this book a lot because it manages to deal with a number of complex issues while remaining accessible. I especially appreciate the fact that its definition of innovation is expansive and includes many fields beside technology; that kind of approach gets the students thinking more creatively about what an innovation is. And these days, isn’t innovation an important topic? I’m sure not all of the students would agree that the book is accessible. Having conceded that point, I will also make the following assertion: I do my very best to reach the students where they are, but I also feel that they need to stretch themselves to master the material. That’s the way learning takes place.

Here’s one of the Minié balls I bought at Gettysburg. One can clearly see the hollow base. If I put this bullet in some sort of solution, I’m sure I could make it clean and shiny, but I like how the accumulated filth makes it look old.

In any event, we’ve reached the beginning of Chapter 11, entitled “Men against Fire,” which traces “key changes related to the increase of firepower, especially infantry firepower, and the responses to that increase, culminating in the infamous trenches of the western front in World War I.” This “focus on firepower continues our examination of the consequences of industrialization” which began in the previous chapter. The chapter begins with a discussion of the American Civil War, moves on to the Prussian reforms that facilitated the forcible unification of Germany, continues by assessing the role of “industrialized firepower” in the “scramble for Africa,” and ends up exploring the role of firepower in World War I.[i]

Splat! This is another one of the Civil War bullets I bought at Gettysburg. This Minié ball obviously hit something and flattened out, but one can still see the hollow base of the bullet at the top. When I was younger, I used to imagine that this ball wounded somebody, and I was excited at the prospect. Now it makes my skin crawl just thinking about the kind of damage a projectile like this could inflict on a person.

Every time I teach this course and we start this chapter, I bring a couple of Minié “balls” to class. I think I bought them at Gettysburg when I visited there with my parents in 1982 (I could be mistaken about the date). I also seem to remember that they were cheap. I have this vague recollection that I picked them out of a large glass jar full of Minié balls and that they were 50¢ each. The price seems like a bargain for a piece of American history, but I’ve got to think that bullets at Gettysburg were a drug on the market. In Battle Tactics of the Civil War, Paddy Griffith estimated that at Gettysburg, it required 200 shots fired to produce one casualty.[ii] If you keep in mind that just over 50,000 men were killed or wounded at that battle, we are talking about 10,000,000 rounds expended. No wonder they were only 50¢ each.

Brooke is a Nursing major, and she is engrossed by this small messenger of death. And by the way, this photograph was totally candid.

They are a fun and interesting prop in class. The students get to handle them and feel how heavy one ounce of lead weighs. And the deformed bullet gives them a sense of how how lead spreads on impact and can cause catastrophic wounds. I often find that in this class the Nursing majors are especially interested in discussions about wounds and physical trauma.

Brendan is not a Nursing major (he’s majoring in Marketing), but he’s still interested. And no, this photo was definitely not posed.

In any event, the Minié ball solved an important problem that had bedeviled the muzzle-loading rifle. A rifle bullet had to be loose enough to get rammed down the barrel, but tight enough to take to the rifling. How could one accomplish both feats at once? Claude-Étienne Minié figured it out in 1847. As Lee explains it

His [Minié’s] conoidal bullet fit loosely in the barrel, allowing it to be rapidly rammed down the muzzle, but it had a hollow base with an iron plug. When fired, the base of the bullet expanded to grip the rifling and gain spin, therefore achieving greater range and accuracy. . . . So-called rifled muskets . . . designed to fire the new “Minié ball” could shoot accurately to five hundred meters and more, and were even equipped with long-range sites.[iii]

For a long time, scholars asserted that the Minié ball helped make the Civil War both bloody and indecisive. Because rifled small arms could hit soldiers at longer ranges, so the argument went, attacking units spent much more time in the killing zone than ever before. Instead of being exposed to accurate fire for 100 yards (as during the Revolutionary War), they took casualties at ranges approaching a quarter of a mile. Under these circumstances, the cost of launching a successful attack became prohibitive. As a result, battles became indecisive.

Due to work by Griffith, Earl Hess, Brent Noseworthy, and others, however, this conventional wisdom has been overturned (Lee arrays himself on the side of these scholars as well). These historians argue that a variety of factors limited the effective range of the rifled musket during the Civil War: topography (which rarely gave soldiers an unobstructed view of an enemy 400 yards away), the smoke generated by heavy fighting (same problem), the lack of training soldiers received in firing a black powder rifle at long range, and so on. Indeed, a Civil War firefight typically reached its critical moment at around 100 yards (I write “typically” because there were exceptions to this rule). The experiences of the 5th New Hampshire seem to bear out this view; at almost all the major battles in which the regiment fought enemy infantry—Fair Oaks, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Cold Harbor, and High Bridge—the effective range of engagement was either just over or under 100 yards (Cold Harbor is probably the big exception). But that’s a topic for another post.

So why was the Civil War so bloody and indecisive? We don’t need to look to the rifled musket for the answer. Think about the Napoleonic wars. Just using regular old smoothbore muskets, Napoleon’s armies and those of his opponents inflicted enormous casualties on one another.


[i] Wayne E. Lee, Waging War: Conflict, Culture, and Innovation in World History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 365.

[ii] Paddy Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), 84-85.

[iii] Lee, 366-367.