Action at the River Cabriels, 21 June 1808

Action at the River Cabriels, 21 June 1808

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Action at the River Cabriels, 21 June 1808

The fight at the River Cabriels, 21 June 1808, saw a French army under Marshal Moncey sweep aside part of a small Spanish force that had been left to watch the northern route between Madrid and Valencia. Moncey had been dispatched from Madrid towards Valencia at the head of a column of 9,000 men, with orders to put down what was believed to be a minor insurrection. In fact most of Spain had risen against the French. A Spanish army of between 7,000 and 8,000 regulars under the Conde de Cervellon, supported by much larger numbers of levies, was available to oppose Moncey.

Not realising this, Moncey had chosen to take a quick but mountainous route to Valencia. Cervellon believed that the French would take the easier route via Almanza, and so had moved the bulk of his army in that direction. A small detachment under Don Pedro Adorno had been sent to guard the mountain route. Adorno had further weakened his position by basing most of his force at Requeña, leaving a key bridge over the River Cabriel defended by one battalion of Swiss mercenaries (the first battalion of Traxler’s Regiment, 1,000 strong) and 500 new levies.

When Moncey reached the river he realised that it could be forded at a number of places. Accordingly, on 21 June he sent a small detachment to cross at each ford, while two battalions attacked across the bridge. A number of the detached columns were able to cross the river and attacked the Spanish from their flanks, at which point the levies fled. The Swiss mercenaries attempted to withdraw with their four guns. During this effort they were split in half. Half were captured by the French, and only 300 made their way back towards Valencia.

On hearing of the defeat at the Cabriels, Don Pedro Adorno fled back towards Cervellon at Almanza, leaving the route to Valencia almost entirely unguarded. An attempt was made to defend the Cabrillas Defile (24 June), but this too ended in a quick defeat, and on 26 June Marshal Moncey reached Valencia.

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Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort's Own)

The Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort's Own) was an infantry rifle regiment of the British Army formed in January 1800 as the "Experimental Corps of Riflemen" to provide sharpshooters, scouts, and skirmishers. They were soon renamed the "Rifle Corps". In January 1803, they became an established regular regiment and were titled the 95th Regiment of Foot (Rifles). In 1816, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, they were again renamed, this time as the "Rifle Brigade".

The unit was distinguished by its use of green uniforms in place of the traditional redcoat as well as by being armed with the Baker rifle, which was the first British-made rifle accepted by the British Army in place of smooth-bore muskets. The 95th was the first regular infantry corps in the British Army to be so armed. They performed distinguished service in both the First and Second World Wars. Post war, in 1958 the regiment formed part of the Green Jackets Brigade as 3rd Green Jackets and was amalgamated with the 1st Green Jackets (43rd and 52nd) and the 2nd Green Jackets (King's Royal Rifle Corps) to form the Royal Green Jackets on 1 January 1966.

Action at the River Cabriels, 21 June 1808 - History

A look at the historical maps that were used in the wargame.

Original orders and reports written by senior French officers during the opening days of theWaterloo Campaign -- mostly from 16 June 1815.

The importance of the walled farm of Hougoumont, lying in front of the western end of the Allied lines was emphasized by the elite troops that Wellington assigned to its defence.

A re-look at Marshal Ney's performance at Quatre Bras.

Rare accounts of the battle from two Dutch soldiers and the role of the Dutch in defeating the Imperial Guard.

This is the story of Napoleon's last campaign, culminating in his final defeat at Waterloo.

The definitive order-of-battle for the Allies!! Units and commanders are listed down to battalion and battery level.

A 19th Century account of a capture of an unknown French general.

The massive charge by the French cavalry. . .

Was d'Erlon responsible for the fiasco on 16 June?

Winfield Scott in the War of 1812

Life of General Winfield Scott, commander-in-chief of the United States army. Scott Meeting with Irish Prisoners. Page 23 Library of Congress Major General Winfield Scott Library of Congress

Standing at an imposing six-and-a-half feet tall and being the son of a Revolutionary War officer, Winfield Scott was bound to seek a career in the military. As the tensions between the United States and Great Britain grew in 1807, Scott found himself enlisting in his local Virginian militia cavalry troop where he would first see action. After aiding in the capturing of a boat of British sailors off the coast, Scott became drawn to a life in the military. The following year in 1808, after petitioning President Thomas Jefferson for a commission in the army, Scott was given the position of captain in the elite Regiment of Light Artillery, fulfilling his longing for military service. However, as Scott would bear witness to as he served in the garrison of New Orleans under the command of General James Wilkinson, a Spanish spy with little care for the welfare of his soldiers, the army was in a state of turmoil under incompetent, inexperienced, and outdated leadership. Repulsed by the state of the army and its leaders, the abrasive Scott promptly denounced Wilkinson as a “traitor, liar, and a scoundrel” which would ultimately lead to his court martialing and temporary suspension from duty. The time that Scott spent relieved of his duty would prove invaluable for him as he studied various European military manuals that he hoped to use in the future to modernize and instill discipline on the dilapidated and ill-led army.

Following the declaration of war in June 1812, the now 26-year-old Scott was transferred to the 2nd Regiment of Artillery in Philadelphia where he served as a lieutenant colonel under Colonel George Izard. Scott, a now ardent, demanding, and knowledgeable officer, quickly made a reputation for himself as he drilled his new regiment that quickly became widely considered throughout the army as the most competently led and well-disciplined. Despite his success in implementing modern drill to his regiment, Scott, longing for glory and action on the northern front, received permission in the fall of 1812 to join General Alexander’s Smith brigade in upper New York where preparations were underway for an invasion. Shortly after being transferred, Scott saw action at the ruinous Battle of Queenston Heights on October 13, 1812, where he volunteered to lead the expeditionary force across the Niagara River after his commanding officer was wounded. Although fighting and leading conspicuously, because of petulant disagreements of his superiors, one militia and one regular, Scott was not adequately reinforced and was forced to surrender to save his men from a massacre. After being exchanged as a prisoner of war later that year, Scott was then promoted to Colonel of the 2nd artillery on March 12, 1813, for his leadership in battle despite the failures of his superiors.

The capture of Fort George (Col. Winfield Scott leading the attack). Library of Congress

As a well-respected young officer, Scott aided Major General Henry Dearborn as an adjutant on his staff in the following campaign on the Niagara Peninsula in 1813. On May 27, 1813, at the Battle of Fort George, after helping in planning the attack, Scott personally led the first brigade onshore under volleys of fire against a fortified enemy, fighting tenaciously and forcing the British defenders to evacuate their positions. It was here again that Scott would encounter the ineptitude of his outdated, indecisive superiors. Although the retreating British under General John Vincent were greatly susceptible to be cut off and captured, Scott and his soldiers pursuing the defeated enemy were forced to retire after two direct orders from Scott’s superior, General Morgan Lewis, to halt the attack. This failure to seize the initiative would unnecessarily draw out the campaign and lead to more engagements with Vincent’s men, all of which cost the Americans greatly.

After participating in a brief raid on York, later that year Scott joined the massing regular soldiers under the command of General Wilkinson that was planning to attack Montreal. However, confirming the criticism leveled against him by Scott 5 years prior, Wilkinson bungled the campaign as he ignored the health and discipline of his soldiers while failing to adequately plan his army’s movements, turning what should have been a sure strategic victory into a humiliation of American arms. Following the conclusion of the campaign, appalled by what he saw, Scott returned to D.C. where he reported the dismal state of the army and its command. Impressed by the proactive and eager nature of this young colonel, the Secretary of War John Armstrong bestowed the rank of brigadier general to Scott on March 19, 1814.

Scott, now 28, became the youngest general in the U.S. Army and joined the ranks of a new generation of young determined officers who had distinguished and climbed ranks on merit rather than political favor. It was not long until Scott, now the commander of the 1st Brigade of General Jacob Brown’s Left Division in Buffalo, New York, would see action as a part of another invasion force on the Niagara Peninsula. However, unlike the previously failed expeditions of his archaic and inexperienced predecessors, who took little care in the training or morale of their men, Scott immediately set up a camp of instruction where his regiments could train. For the following 10 weeks, Scott oversaw a rigorous training regimen where his brigade, the 9th, 11th, 22nd, 25th U.S. infantry, and elements of General Ripley’s, the 21st, and 23rd U.S. Infantry, underwent intense drilling under a modern translation of a French drill manual. When the soldiers were not drilling discipline was of the utmost importance, with the strict enforcement of camp sanitation, dress, and military courtesy. By early July 1814, the soldiers under Scott were of a quality of American soldier that had little been seen thus far in the war, able to maneuver and fight with a precision rivaling their British counterparts.

The Battle of Lundy's Lane. Library of Congress

Scott’s drilled men were put to the test on July 5, 1814, at the Battle of Chippawa where his force, in the process of drilling and in parade uniform, was attacked by British General Phineas Riall’s soldiers. Fighting on an open plain in lines, resembling a European battle, Scott decisively defeated his enemy, exchanging disciplined volleys and outmaneuvering the battle-hardened and elite British lines. This feat of arms by Scott marked a turning point in the war in regard to the quality of American soldiers. For the first time in the war, American regulars had stood their ground and defeated British soldiers of an equal number in an open engagement on even terrain. With morale at a feverish high, the Americans advanced further into Canada, engaging the fortified British positions at Lundy’s Lane. Rushing ahead of the rest of the division, the perhaps overly aggressive and encouraged Scott attacked the British defenses directly with his depleted force, causing many unnecessary casualties in the process, including himself, taking a musket ball to the shoulder. While this battle was another testament to the new, hardened discipline of the Americans, it would ultimately end in a stalemate, having incurred dramatic casualties on both sides.

Thomas C. Davis (1779 - 1813)

Surgeon, 1st Rifle Regiment during the Battle of French Town on the River Raisin where he died.

February 15, 1808: married Elizabeth Dabney Chiles, daughter of Walter Carr and Phoebe Chiles. Elizabeth and Thomas were cousins. 1811: Settled in Franklin, Kentucky. November 2, 1811: Only surviving child, Captain Thomas Chiles Davis born in Franklin. June 4, 1812: applied to Governor Charles Scott for the post of Surgeon General. August 15, 1812: Appointed Surgeon, 1st Rifle Regiment. Moved with this unit into the northwest. January 22, 1813: according to her March 13, 1815 pension application, Thomas was "present on the 22nd January 1813, at the commencement of the action at French Town on the River Raisin, since which time he has not been heard of, and I have every reason to believe he was killed in action."

According to Clift (page 132): "A note in the Kentucky Historical Society's genealogical files points out that the miniature of Dr. Davis, in the Society's museum, he had painted while he was in Canton, China, indicating that he traveled extensively before settling in Frankfort."


Joseph-Napoléon Bonaparte (1768-1844), King of Naples (1806-1808) and King of Spain (1808-1813).

Elder brother of Napoléon Bonaparte, Joseph was a supporter of the French republican cause and sat as a member of the Council of Five Hundred under the Directoire and later on the Council of State and the Corps Législatif following the coup d'état of 18 Brumaire. A lawyer by profession, Joseph proved himself a skilled diplomat and represented France in negotiations that led to the 1801 Treaty of Lunéville with the Austrians and the 1802 Treaty of Amiens which briefly marked his brother's pacification of Europe. Following Napoléon assuming the position of Premier Consul in 1802 with the right to nominate his own successor, the question of succession caused friction between the two brothers. Whilst Napoléon favoured the son of their younger brother Louis, Joseph felt that he should succeed Napoléon as the elder brother. Napoléon offered Joseph the crown of Lombardy in return for his waiving all claims to Imperial throne, an offer which was refused. In 1804 Napoléon became Emperor and was crowned the King of Italy the following year. His Italian kingdom encompassed northern and central Italy but the Bourbon dynasty retained a weak foothold in the southern Kingdom of Naples. In February 1806 Joseph was dispatched to Naples to expel the Bourbons and was proclaimed King of Naples by Imperial decree on 30 March the same year extending French influence over the entirety of mainland Italy.

Spain had been allied with the French First Republic since 1796 and had suffered greatly as the result of wars with Great Britain. By 1808 King Charles IV and his son Ferdinand VII had both been forced to abdicate by Napoléon and together with Manuel de Godoy, the prime minister who had forged the alliance with France, were imprisoned in France. Spain was occupied by France and Joseph crowned King of Spain although control over the country was localised and only managed through the presence of military force. A reluctant Joseph found himself closely controlled by Paris in a hostile environment. Joseph's crowning in 1808 coincided with the beginning of The Peninsular War, a war of attrition that eventually led to a British army under the Duke of Wellington supported by Portuguese and Spanish regular and guerrilla forces to gradually weaken the French hold on Spain and push Joseph and his armies towards the Pyrenees.

The Battle of Vitoria (21 June 1813) was the final decisive battle of The Peninsular War and the action which ended Napoléon's power in Spain. The allied army under Wellington confronted the French army under Joseph in the basin of Vitoria. The French occupied defensive positions protected by mountains and the Zadorra River. Wellington advanced in four columns against the whole front eventually forcing the French into a rear-guard action followed by a near rout which led to the abandonment of much of the baggage and the capture of 151 cannon and nearly 3000 prisoners. Joseph himself narrowly evaded capture allegedly making his escape on a carriage horse unhitched from his barouche. Each side lost around 5000 men killed or wounded although French losses could have been greater if discipline in the allied army had held following the capture of Joseph's baggage train said to contain "the loot of a kingdom". The resulting plundering was blamed for the allied inability to organise a pursuit of the retreating French army.

Major-General the Honourable Sir William Ponsonby KCB (1772-1815).

Vitoria was largely fought by infantry, the hilly ground crossed by numerous ravines with rivers, streams and ditches being unsuitable for massed cavalry. As the allied army descended upon the French baggage train and the thousands of camp followers left behind by the retreating French army, Sir William arrived at the town of Vitoria at the head of his brigade in time to seize Joseph's baggage train and personally take possession of Joseph's dress sword, plate including a silver-gilt dinner and dessert service, a complete silver-gilt set of dessert cutlery and the present sabretache amongst other items. The sword was later presented to King George III and is now held at Windsor Castle by the Royal Collections Trust (RCIN 61170).

William Ponsonby, second son of William Brabazon Ponsonby, First Baron Ponsonby, began his military career in the Independent Companies of Captain Bulwer and Captain Davis first as an Ensign and then a Lieutenant. In September 1794 he obtained a Company in the 83rd Foot and in December that year achieved his majority in the Loyal Irish Fencibles. He joined the 5th Dragoon Guards in March 1798, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1800, assumed the command of 5th Dragoons in 1803 and advanced to a full Colonel in 1810.

Ponsonby had taken his regiment to Spain in 1811 where they joined Le Marchant's Heavy Brigade. The 5th Dragoons saw action at Villagarcia in April 1812 and played a prominent part in the stunning victory at Salamanca in June the same year where as part of Le Marchant's brigade they gained the top of the Greater Arapile plateau in unbroken order just as the French squares faltered under volley fire from British infantry. During the routing of two French divisions on the plateau General Le Marchant was killed and Ponsonby was appointed to Wellington's staff as Colonel and given command of the late le Marchant's brigade, a position he retained for the remainder of the campaign which led to Napoléon's exile to Elba in 1814 and the restoration of the Bourbons to the throne of France.

Peace in Europe was shattered with Napoléon's return to France in March 1815 in what has become known as the 100 Days. Now holding the rank of Major-General, Sir William commanded the Union Brigade of heavy cavalry comprised of the Royals, the Scots Greys and the Inniskillings at Waterloo. Mustering around 1,000 sabres on the morning of 18 June 1815, the charge of the Union Brigade proved to be a crucial episode that turned the tide of battle in Wellington’s favour and has become one of the most famous cavalry charges in British history. Following an intense cannonade from Napoléon's Grande Batterie, the Comte d'Erlon's Corps advanced in four columns against the allied left front held by Picton’s division, this last weakened having fought two days earlier at Quatre Bras. D’Erlon’s Corps numbered around 14,000 infantry, fresh and at full strength as they had not fought at Ligny or Quatre Bras, with horse artillery in support and with their flanks protected by cavalry. With at least two of d’Erlon’s four divisions in a new formation, this advance was intended as the great blow that broke through Picton’s division and then rolled up the allied line forcing Wellington to disengage and retreat towards the Channel ports. Ponsonby reacted quickly to the threat, ordering his Brigade to be brought forward and made ready to engage. The original intention had been for the Scots Greys to be held in reserve to cover the Royals and the Inniskillings, but the scale of d’Erlons advance required the entire Union Brigade to commit if it was to have a chance of turning the advance. Crucially d’Erlon’s formation offered no protection from a frontal cavalry charge or had such an attack been anticipated as Ponsonby’s Union Brigade was hidden from view by the ridge where the allies had formed their lines. The Union Brigade charging the leading French regiments just in time to save the allied line, taking two regimental eagles in the ensuing fight and killing, wounding or capturing around 5,000 of d’Erlon’s men. With elements of the Brigade spread out over field of battle, and without direct support from a reserve of fresh cavalry, it was essential that the advance was halted, the troops rallied and then withdrawn to the relative safety of the allied lines. The Royals, the most experienced of the regiments under Sir William’s command and mostly congregated on the left flank, were attempting to do this under heavy fire whilst driving prisoners before them but with the benefit of support from Picton’s infantry. Elements of d’Erlon’s infantry were retreating in disorder which proved too tempting a target for some of the less experienced British cavalry leaving many of them on the right flank of the attack scattered in small groups and exposed to a counter-attack. One group numbering around 50 men mostly comprising Scots Greys and led by Colonel Hamilton made an impetuous and ultimately futile charge towards the Grande Batterie. It was at this point that the French cavalry counter-attacked including regiments from Jacquinot’s 1st Light Cavalry Division which included the 3e Régiment de Chasseurs-à-Cheval and the 4e Régiment de Chevaux-légers (Lanciers) that were to cause many casualties amongst the Inniskillings and the Scots Greys including the party that had rashly attacked the Grande Batterie. Some regiments of d’Erlon’s infantry were still in good order and had formed squares to resist the rampaging British cavalry. Sir William had ridden across the field of battle to the left of his Brigade and was stationed with the bulk of the surviving Scots Greys. Having failed to stop Hamilton’s charge to the Grande Batterie he led his Scots Greys into an attack on the well-formed square of the 85e de ligne and it has been suggested he suffered a gunshot wound at this time. Sir William reformed his men into three ranks to face the new threat from the rapidly advancing Chasseurs and Lancers and although giving a good account of themselves they were overwhelmed and suffered terrible casualties. It was during this melee that Sir William was captured by Le Marechal de logis Orban of the 4th Lancers. Having handed his sword to Orban in a gesture of surrender it believed a group of Ponsonby’s men seeing their commander’s plight had ridden to attempt his rescue at which point Orban, allegedly with great regret, stabbed Sir William with his lance rather than see his high value prisoner released. His body was found stripped apart from his shirt the following morning and he was interred at St. Mary’s, Kensington in the family vault on the 10 July.

“… I have received a report that Major General the Hon. Sir William Ponsonby is killed and in announcing this intelligence to your Lordship, I have to add the expression of my grief for the fate of an officer who has already rendered very brilliant and important services and who was an ornament to his profession”. Extract from The Duke of Wellington’s dispatch to the Secretary of State for War following victory at Waterloo.

Joseph Bonaparte played no significant part in the 100 Days and following Napoléon's surrender and exile to St. Helena made his way to the United States and settled in New Jersey. He visited England three times during the 1830s, on one visit meeting his former foe the Duke of Wellington. Following a stroke in 1840 he moved to Italy, passing away in Florence in 1844 at the age of 77.

For further reading on Sir William Ponsonby please see John Morewood, Waterloo General (2016).

The 2e DI on the Aisne and Retourne Rivers - June 9-10, 1940

Post by David Lehmann » 18 Aug 2009, 23:12

The 2e DI on the Aisne and Retourne Rivers - June 9-10, 1940.


From north to south the area is split by the Aisne River, the Ardennes canal just next to it, the Retourne River 10 km more south and again further south the Suippe River. The Retourne does not really constitute an obstacle for vehicles or infantry and there are 12 bridges crossing it. In May 1940, the Germans were stopped on the Aisne by various elements from 14e DI and 10e DI for example. Defensive emplacements are almost inexistent early June, since these units were each overstretched on a 20-km front and had to prevent multiple incursions and crossing attempts. The 2e DI arrives on this front between May 31 and the 1st of June to deploy between the 10e DI (west) and the 14e DI (east).

Source for the map: "Le lion des Flandres à la guerre. La 2e Division d'Infanterie pendant la compagne de 1939-1940."

Re: The 2e DI on the Aisne and Retourne Rivers - June 9-10, 1940

Post by David Lehmann » 18 Aug 2009, 23:13

The 2e DI is a series A reserve division mobilized on 1939/09/07. It consists in:
• A divisional HQ (General Klopfenstein, HQ staff Lieutenant Colonel Villate)
• 3 infantry regiments each with a command company (CHR = compagnie hors-rang), a weapons company (CRE, compagnie régimentaire d’engins) and 3 infantry battalions (each with a command company, 3 rifle companies and a weapons company).
---o 33e RI (created in 1625, former Touraine regiment) (Lieutenant Colonel Vivien)
----- CHR
----- CRE (Capitaine Tissinier)
----- I/33e RI (Commandant Tissot)
----- II/33e RI (Commandant Labour)
----- III/33e RI (Commandant Vigreux)
---o 73e RI (created in 1674, former Royal Comtois regiment) (Lieutenant Colonel Terrier)
----- CHR (Capitaine Mauriaucourt)
----- CRE (Lieutenant Delfosse)
----- I/73e RI (Capitaine Dautel)
----- II/73e RI (Capitaine Barré)
----- III/73e RI (Capitaine Crochemore)
---o 127e RI (created in 1794, former 127e demi-brigade originating from Beauce regiment) (Lieutenant Colonel Gabriel)
----- CHR (Capitaine Mazaleyrat)
----- CRE (Capitaine Drouillet)
----- I/127e RI (Commandant Soulé)
----- II/127e RI (Commandant Grassart)
----- III/127e RI (Commandant Boutry)
• A (13th) divisional pioneer company (attached to 73e RI)
• A divisional reconnaissance "battalion", the 11e GRDI (Commandant Hennocque) of normal type (horse mounted cavalry, motorcycles/side-cars and light motor vehicles but no armored cars).
• A light artillery regiment, the 34e RAD (Colonel Henriet) (regiment created in 1873)
---o 3 artillery groups (36x 75mm Mle1897 field guns)
---o A 10th divisional AT battery (BDAC) (8x 47mm SA37 AT guns, horse drawn) (Capitaine Bernis)
• A heavy artillery regiment, the 234e RALD (24x 155mm C Mle1917 howitzers) (regiment created in 1917) (Lieutenant Colonel Streissel)
• 2nd divisional artillery park (PAD = parc d'artillerie divisionnaire) (Capitaine Liabastre)
• 2/1 and 2/2 sapeurs-mineurs companies (Capitaine Pennequin and Capitaine Leboulleux respectively)
• 2/81 telegraph company (Lieutenant Beuque)
• 2/82 radio company (Capitaine Lamarche)
• 2/1 horse-drawn HQ transport company (Capitaine Parmentier)
• 102/1 motor HQ transport company (Lieutenant Davidson)
• 2/1 divisional quartermaster service (Lieutenant Lessens)
• 2nd divisional medical group (Médecin Commandant Le Guillas)

The 2e DI is defending a front of 12 km (whereas a typical infantry division is theoretically in charge of defending a front of 5-7 km) on a depth of 10 km, between the Aisne and the Retourne Rivers included, despite the fact that the division is lacking manpower. The 2e DI is attached to 5th Army, itself arrived in the area only 15 days ago. All the parks, depots and main supplies are still 80 km more south. Advanced supply depots are only being created. The division is then shifted to 4th Army, whose supplies are even not installed before the battle. The 2e DI is under the newly created 23rd Corps. Drawing this picture explains to a large extent why defensive improvement of the area is at first very limited. The divisional elements did their best in the last days before the attack and the division receives 2,020 AT mines. On the assigned front, the elements of the 14e DI previously in charge are replaced by the 127e RI. The same in the western part with the elements of the 10e DI replaced by the 33e RI. The 2e DI is in charge of the front between Château-Porcien and Biermes (these points included).

Re: The 2e DI on the Aisne and Retourne Rivers - June 9-10, 1940

Post by David Lehmann » 18 Aug 2009, 23:24

Organization of the front:
• The main resistance line (LPR = Ligne Principale de Résistance) is materialized by the southern bank of the Aisne River.
• The “stopping line” (LA = Ligne d’Arrêt) is passing by height 131, Croix l’Ermite, Mommont woods, Ternes woods, height 135 and height 154, which are organized as closed strongpoints (point d’appui) with AT guns.
• The “rear barrage” (barrage arrière) is formed by the Retoune River.

These “horizontal” lines are divided in 3 “vertical” areas (“sous-secteurs”):
• West (sous-secteur de Château Porcien) = 33e RI
2 battalions on the LPR and 1 battalion on the LA
• Centre (sous-secteur de Barby) = I/73e RI
2 companies and 1 MG platoon from CRE on the LPR and 1 company on the LA
• East (sous-secteur de Rethel) = 127e RI
2 battalions on the LPR and 1 battalion on the LA

On the Aisne, there are only 70 MGs and 150 LMGs, meaning about 1 automatic weapon every 65 meters. There is also 1 60mm or 81mm mortar every 600 meters. It is far from being sufficient. Closed hedgehogs ("points d'appui" or PA) are formed to defend the Aisne River and the canal. For example, the I/73e RI has 8 PA (between Aisne and canal, others south of the canal) defend by infantry platoons. The platoons are lacking men and are only composed by 20-25 men. These PA are separated by 300-400 meters. There is not much barbed wire, no shelter and little ammunition. Despite this situation, the 2e DI will face have to face the assaults from 17.ID, 21.ID and 1.PzD.

Behind the LPR, the villages, towns, cities, woods are organized in strongpoints / hedgehogs. The points are listed below with the units in charge of the defense:

• Between Aisne and Retourne Rivers:
---o Avançon: elements from 33e RI
---o Perthes: elements from 127e RI
---o Tagnon: 1 company from III/73e RI (probably the command company)

• On and along the Retourne River:
---o Saint-Remy: elements from 234e RA
---o Bergnicourt: CHR from 33e RI and 2/1 company of sapeurs-mineurs
---o Châtelet-sur-Retourne: 11e GRDI (minus one motorcycle platoon)
---o Neuflize: 2 companies from III/73e RI
---o Alincourt: 1 company from III/73e RI and 2/2 company of sapeurs-mineurs
---o Juniville: CHR from 127e RI and other elements from 127e RI

• Between Retourne and Suippe Rivers:
---o Menil-Lépinois: CHR from 73e RI and the telegraph company
---o Aussonce: divisional medical group

• On the Suippe River:
---o Warmeriville: horse-drawn HQ transport company (Capitaine Parmentier, this company is only armed with obsolete Mle1874 carbines and rifles), command squadron from 11e GRDI, 2 platoons from 623e pioneers regiment and horse mounted cavalry squadron from 19e GRCA
---o Vaudétré: one motorcycle platoon from 11e GRDI and one MG platoon from 73e RI
---o Heutrégiville: 2 platoons from 623e pioneers regiment
---o Saint-Masmes: 2 platoons from 623e pioneers regiment and the radio company
---o Selles: II/73e RI and 2 platoons from 623e pioneers regiment
---o Pont Faverger: 2 platoons from 623e pioneers regiment, motor HQ transport company, motorized squadrons from 19e GRCA
---o Bétheniville: motorized group Prost-Toulant (?) and 2 platoons from 623e pioneers regiment

• More south (out of the enclosed map, roughly at the level of Reims)
---o Epoye: 1 company from 623e pioneers regiment
---o Beine: 2 platoons from 623e pioneers regiment

Originally all the roads, trails etc. in the area between the Aisne and the Retourne Rivers are planned to be blocked but time and means were lacking to materialize that. The strongpoints are ordered to fight on the spot, even if they are encircled and to wait for counter-attacks. At the division level, the units maintained in reserve for counter-attacks are:
• 11e GRDI deployed at Châtelet-sur-Retourne (minus one motorcycle platoon kept in Vaudétré)
• III/73e RI deployed at Neuflize (minus one company which is in Alincourt)
Under Army Corps command the units are:
• 19e GRCA (at Warmeriville for horse mounted cavalry and Pont Faverger for motorized cavalry)
• Prost-Toulant motorized group (?) at Bétheniville
• II/73e RI at Selles
• One company from 23e BCC (Renault R35 tanks)

Re: The 2e DI on the Aisne and Retourne Rivers - June 9-10, 1940

Post by David Lehmann » 18 Aug 2009, 23:25

The whole divisional artillery is deployed between the Aisne and Retourne Rivers.
• I/34e RAD in La Cervelle and Boucher woods
• II/34e RAD in Mommont woods
• III/34e RAD in Ternes and Faisanderie woods
• The 2 groups from 234e RALD are deployed east of Saint-Loup and in the south-west part of Mommont woods.
It is reinforced by 1 battery of four 220mm C howitzers deployed in the Crayère woods, north of Bergnicourt. The Army Corps is providing two 155mm GPF batteries (8 guns) and one 105mm L Mle1936 battery (4 guns) for counter-battery fire missions as well as general support to the 2e DI. The whole artillery able to act in support of the 2e DI consists therefore in 74 guns/howitzers. Note that a standard "tir d'arrêt" (stopping fire mission) can therefore be applied on only 2 km of the front, whereas the division is in charge of a front of 12 km. The 75mm field guns will have to fight on the spot against German infantry, firing canister shells at point blank range, and German tanks as well.

Concerning the anti-tank means there would be a (14th) divisional anti-tank company (CDAC, attached to 33e RI in March 1940) but I did not see mention of it in Villate's book. In the different "sous-secteurs", there are:
• West: 9x 25mm AT guns from 33e RI
• Centre: 3x 25mm AT guns from I/73e RI and 4x 25mm AT guns from the CRE of the 73e RI
• East: 9x 25mm AT guns from 127e RI
Deployed with the field artillery and in Tagnon, there are:
• The BDAC (8x 47mm SA37 AT guns)
• Several 75mm Mle1897 field guns used in AT role
• 1 platoon from the CRE of the 73e RI (4x 25mm SA34 AT guns).
To defend the Retourne River there is mention of the 504th AT company from general reserve (12x 24mm SA34 guns probably). The positions are also reinforced by 2x 25mm AT guns from 11e GRDI (further south, in Vaudétré, on the Suippe River) and 1x 25mm AT gun from a reserve battalion.

The divisional AA battery (BDAA) is formed with the 731/409e batterie de DCA (25mm AA guns) under command of Lieutenant Puerari. It is added to the division on June 6 only. One officer, 6 NCOs and 33 men were sent to the rear on May 25 to be trained and form the core of the BDAA. It could have been efficiently deployed on the plateau between Tagnon and Perthes but it is deployed more south on the Suippe River to complete training. The infantry regiments of the division are therefore devoid of AA defense. The German omnipresent observation planes do nonetheless not dare to fly below 1,500 meters since the AA guns from the 10e DI (formerly in that area) did shot down 2 of them at low altitude.

Positions of the different HQs and command posts:
• 2e DI HQ at Vaudétré.
• West "sous-secteur" HQ at Avançon
• Centre "sous-secteur" HQ originally planned at the La Cervelle farm, but since it is already destroyed it has been moved to Tagnon
• East "sous-secteur" HQ at Perthes
• Division reserve HQ at Châtelet-sur-Retourne
• Army corps reserve HQ at Epoye

Re: The 2e DI on the Aisne and Retourne Rivers - June 9-10, 1940

Post by David Lehmann » 18 Aug 2009, 23:26


On the Aisne River front, the 10e DI will face 3 infantry divisions (3.ID, 23.ID and 298.ID). The French 2e DI will have to stop 2 infantry divisions (17.ID and 21.ID) followed by the 1.PzD and later the 2.PzD supported by 29.ID(mot) and 52.ID.The 14e DI is attacked by 3 infantry divisions (73.ID, 82.ID and 86.ID). The French 36e DI is opposed to 3 infantry divisions (26.ID, 10.ID and SS-Polizei), whose task is to open the way to the 6.PzD and 8.PzD supported by 20.ID(mot). Each French division has to defend an overstretched front of 12 to 20 km.

On June 9, after an intense artillery preparation the German infantry from 17.ID and 21.ID, including assault engineers with flamethrowers, assault the 2e DI on the Aisne River. There are heavy fights in Château-Porcien and the southern part of Rethel. At first no German bridgehead can be established at each attempt the French troops launch a vigorous counter-attack that defeats the Germans. During the afternoon two breeches will be opened and enlarged in the French lines. West of Rethel, 6 assault groups from 3.IR (21.ID) crosses the River on a lock in Nanteuil despite heavy losses. This breakthrough allows the Schützen from 3.IR to take some hills south of Nanteuil and to cut the Avançon-Rethel road. Immediately the engineers from 21.ID build a bridge over the Aisne to allow the tanks to cross the River. A second breech is made east of Château-Porcien, which is now threatened to be encircled by the two breakthroughs. The front is broken in this area despite the resistance of the II/33e RI. The garrison in Château-Porcien fights until being out of ammunition and surrenders only after violent close combats, delaying the building of an engineer bridge for about 6 hours. In the area of Avançon, elements from 33e RI are moving back and a counter-attack is decided with:
• 2 companies from II/73e RI (the rest of the battalion is maintained on the Retourne River)
• 1 Renault R35 tanks company from 23e BCC
• 2 dismounted cavalry platoons from 11e GRDI, led by Lieutenant Heysch
• And rare retreating elements from 33e RI
The whole is placed under command of Lieutenant Colonel Vivien (commander of the 33e RI). The attack is blocked at the level of Avançon and Croix l'Ermite, where it joins 75mm field guns still in position, and does not manage to push the Germans back on the other bank of the Aisne. Nine out of 13 R35 tanks are out of combat (AT guns, artillery and air support). The counter-attack manages at least to restore the contact with the 10e DI at 16:00. The troops used for the counter-attack move back to the Retourne River. Several local counter-attacks will be launched on June 9 by the 2e DI. During these attacks 63 POWs will be captured. They belong mainly to 17.ID and 21.ID, but several of them are from 73.ID and there is even one POW already from a Panzerdivision. At 7:00 the Germans have achieved a bridgehead south of the Aisne River, deep of about 5 km from Château-Porcien to Avançon. The engineers build bridges for Guderian in Château-Porcien and Taizy. At 12:00 there is news that the division can receive 1,300 additional AT mines but they can hardly be brought from the depots to the front line. The II/73e RI kept in Army Corps reserve at Selles is boarded on trucks and unloaded in the woods south of the Retourne River at 21:00 on June 9. During the night, it moves north of the Retourne to reinforce the defense between La Cervelle and Châtelet. These troops reach Garenne de Saint-Loup, where they enter in contact with the enemy. Guderian is ordered to cross with the tanks as rapidly as possible and at first an attack against Tagnon is planned for 22:00. Organization problems postpone the attack to the morning of June 10. Guderian wants first to increase the bridgehead to allow all the tanks to cross the Aisne River more safely.

Re: The 2e DI on the Aisne and Retourne Rivers - June 9-10, 1940

Post by David Lehmann » 18 Aug 2009, 23:26


One June 10, the infantry having established bridgeheads, the assault is now led by the 1.PzD (apparently reinforced to 276 tanks at the time of Fall Rot) south of Avançon (followed by the 2.PzD, but this unit might have little participation on June 10) to increase the size of the bridgehead. The German infantry is also launching an attack towards Perthes. This offensive should crush the left flank of the 14e DI and force the French to abandon Rethel if they don't want to be outflanked and turned, leaving more space for the Germans to cross the River. Guderian himself leads the operations from Avançon and the offensive is launched around 5:00 after an intense artillery preparation. There will be intense combats around the French strongpoints from 2e DI. The French troops are ordered to hold the ground even if they are encircled. The goals is to cut the tanks from the supporting infantry, if they want to push deep inside the French positions, and to wait for a counter-attack led by armoured “groupement Buisson” (3e DCr and 7e DLM). The II/73e is wiped out on the spot by the 1.PzD. The battalion manages to slightly slow down the tanks and several survivors manage to withdraw to the Retourne River. The German infantry from 17.ID is tired from the combats of June 9 and has difficulties to follow the action of the 1.PzD.


The town is now defended by elements of the 11e GRDI (commanded by Capitaine des Roches de Chassay) and various troops from 73e RI and 127e RI. Commandant Hennocque (commander of 11e GRDI) has transferred his HQ in the woods south of the Retourne, next to the 2/3e BCC (Renault R35 tanks). At 5:13 German tanks are coming from N/W and N/E. The 2 first AFVs explode on AT mines and crew members bailing out are killed by LMG fire. Other tanks move back. A German mechanized column including also motorcycles and trucks is engaged by French MGs at 1,500 meters. The fire is causing significant losses. At 6:30 Le Châtelet is now directly assaulted. At 10:00, a French officer from an armoured car regiment (probably belonging to the 7e DLM) arrives at the southern blockade. He leads a reconnaissance mission prior to a French counter-attack. Enemy action is slowing down many elements are seen moving back (due to French mechanized troops?). At 18:00, the first German attack against Le Châtelet stops. After heavy artillery preparation, a second attack is launched at 19:30. German troops are progressing and moving south of the Retourne. French troops in the city are first ordered to regroup and to defend the southern part of the city. They will finally be ordered to retreat. The 2/3e BCC will cover the retreat of the 11e GRDI towards Warmeriville.

There are two "points-d'appui" defended by the III/73e RI (2 companies), 2x 25mm AT guns and 4x MGs. At 5:30 German tanks are spotted north of Neuflize. They attack only at 8:00 after having been reinforced by infantry. The bridge in the town cannot be destroyed because the French troops are ordered to keep it for the future counter-attack. The Germans trigger heavy artillery shelling at 7:00, under which French troops continue to add AT mines to the defenses. Around 7:30, about 150 tanks are spotted, several of them neutralized by AT mines. The 2x 25mm AT guns are both neutralized after having hit several tanks. The companies from III/73e RI are counter-attacking the Germans inside Neuflize. The blockades, which had been destroyed by the enemy, are quickly rebuilt. Three Panzers remain in the town and 2 of them are rapidly destroyed by men using AT mines. At 9:00, most of the German AFVs are seen moving east. One Panzer trying to crush a blockade is immobilized by an AT mine and finally improves the blockade.
Neuflize is now outflanked and Panzers are attacking from the south. Part of the French troops retreat to Menil-Lépinois, the 10th company (Lieutenant Leprince) remains in the town. At 11:30, Leprince tries to keep open the way to Menil-Lépinois. He launches a successful attack with 1 platoon supported by the fire of the 4 MGs. This platoon deploys 400 meters more south. Neuflize is completely in fire, the French troops are moving back but without stopping to fight. They continue to place AT mines in the tracks of the tanks in the streets. The last resistance is anchored in the Café de la Mairie, but tanks are embossed at short range and fire directly on the building. The Germans progress also in the streets using French POWs as human shields. At 18:30, Neuflize falls in German hands. The 12 last French soldiers surrender. The 1st platoon (Sergent-Chef Latour) manages to escape and will continue to fight later during the retreat of the division. A Renault R35 tank platoon from 2/3e BCC deployed in the woods on the heights behind Neuflize is engaged to cover the retreat of the infantry.

The town is defended by Lieutenant Charlier with 2 infantry platoons from 10th company of the 73e RI and an engineer company. At 6:00 they are attacked by more than 20 tanks, which are encircling the town but remain at distance. At 10:30 a major assault is launched against Alincourt with tanks and infantry. The houses are burning. Bayonet charges are necessary to regroup the French troops in the centre of the town. Lieutenant Charlier, Sergent Priau and Caporal Sauvage are KIA during this action. Three German tanks and 2 armored cars or APCs are destroyed by soldiers using AT mines. At 12:00 the battle is over in the town. There is a last stand with several men regrouped in the marshes south of the Alincourt. It will last until 18:00.

The Germans reach Juniville in the morning and launch 3 unsuccessful assaults against the outnumbered but entrenched French troops. Juniville will directly benefit from the French counter-attack led by the 7e DLM. The garrison will therefore manage to withdraw at the end of the day. Juniville is in French hands until 23:45

Re: The 2e DI on the Aisne and Retourne Rivers - June 9-10, 1940

Post by David Lehmann » 18 Aug 2009, 23:27


During the combat on the Retourne River, the battle continues nonetheless on the Aisne and between Aisne and Retourne Rivers.

During June 9-10 night, elements from III/127e RI are ordered to retreat from their emplacements on the Aisne River to restore liaison with the 73e RI around La Cervelle. Early on June 10, the Germans attack with many tanks supported by infantry. The French soldiers are grouped around Capitaine Dautel, Lieutenant Consille and Capitaine Fontaine. They have no AT weapons and lack ammunition. Lieutenant Consille and his platoon are destroyed at hill 152. Only few men manage to escape to Perthes, where they will join the French tanks from 3e DCr counter-attacking there.

At the tunnel (rail road?) of Tagnon there are various elements from I/127e RI and other troops having retreated from Rethel. They are heavily shelled by the German artillery, whose fire is directed by spotter planes. Most of the men will be captured while trying to avoid being encircled there.

3.2 3 TAGNON
Lieutenant Colonel Terrier (commander of the 73e RI) organizes the defense at Tagnon. On June 9 already, the German artillery shelled Tagnon from 5:00 to 7:15. Around 19:00, elements from 33e RI moving back are regrouped in Tagnon and integrated in the defense plan. At 21:30, trucks deliver 600 AT mines, which are stockpiled next to the church. On June 10, at 5:00 the German artillery continues to fire on Tagnon, especially on the rail station area. At 6:00, Panzers appear around Tagnon and wait for infantry and motorcycles. At 6:45 a German side-car stops in front of the PA on the south-western part of the village. An officer climbs on the blockade, shouting to the French the order to surrender. He is immediately shot. At 7:30 Tagnon is completely encircled. The German tactic, like is Neuflize is to shell the town to put all the houses on fire. German planes are also bombing Tagnon. Nonetheless, each approaching Panzer is welcomed by the fire of French AT guns. At 9:30, liaison by telephone is cut but the radio continues to inform the division about the situation and requests ammunition supplies. At 12:00 the Germans are still not able to enter in Tagnon. At 13:00 the encirclement becomes tighter. At 14:15 the last radio message is sent to the HQ: "lacking ammunition, still holding". All codes and secret papers are burned. Lieutenant Deconinck (3rd weapons company) alone destroys 5 German tanks with AT mines during the afternoon. At 16:00, out of ammunition, Lieutenant Colonel Terrier decides to stop the combat. Isolated elements will continue skirmishes during 30-60 minutes. Thanks to the stiff resistance at Tagnon, the 127e RI will be able to hold Perthes, where it will be rescued by chasseurs portés and B1bis heavy tanks from 3e DCr.

The German artillery starts to shell the town at 4:00. At 7:00 it appears that radio signals are only possible with the rear because close German radio sets are more powerful. Skirmishes with German tanks are beginning. At 14:00, infantry waves supported by mortars and using sometimes French POWs as human shields are launched on the 4 sides of the town. At 16:00, the Germans are incoming very close to the first houses. The 16e Bataillon de Chasseurs Portés and tanks from 3e DCr are attacking to rescue the garrison in Perthes. This counter-attack is led by a young cavalry officer: Capitaine De Hautecloque (as known as "Leclerc", future commander of the famous 2e DB, the 2nd French armoured division), he walks in front of the infantry and the tanks with his famous stick. Colonel Gabriel (commander of the 127e RI) orders the defenders to regroup in the southern part of Perthes and to join the French mechanized troops. Only 7 officers, 3 NCOs and 35 men are still alive. Together with the 16e BCP they will defend the town until they received the order to pull back. Thanks to this attack the 14e DI (General De Lattre) can retreat in good conditions.

Re: The 2e DI on the Aisne and Retourne Rivers - June 9-10, 1940

Post by David Lehmann » 18 Aug 2009, 23:29


During the whole battle, General Klopfenstein made reports of the situation to the Army Corps and insisted to obtain the promised counter-attack as soon as possible. The local reserves of the Army Corps are not available in the area of the 2e DI, since they have been engaged more west in support of the 42e DI and 10e DI. The "groupement Buisson" (3e DCr and 7e DLM) is the single unit able to lead a counter-attack.

The 3e DCr attacks north of the Retourne and has first to cross the River. The tanks reach their base line only at 14:00. At this moment the German bridgehead's size has already considerably increased. After refuelling, the unit is ready for action at 15:00 but the attack is only launched at 17:00. The 3e DCr is split in 3 groups:

• Northern attack on the Annelles/Perthes axis (groupement of Lieutenant-Colonel Maître): 17 Hotchkiss H39 (2/42e and 3/42e BCC), 9 Renault B1bis (2/41e BCC) and the 3 rifle companies from 16e BCP (bataillon de chasseurs portés). The 9 B1bis tanks are:
---o B1bis "Châteauneuf-du-Pape" (Capitaine Gasc)
---o B1bis "Aisne" (Lieutenant Homé)
---o B1bis "Yonne" (aspirant Laval)
---o B1bis "Corbières" (Sous-lieutenant Tuffet)
---o B1bis "Durance" (Lieutenant Carraz)
---o B1bis "Arlay" (aspirant Thoré)
---o B1bis "Bayard" (Sous-lieutenant Soulet)
---o B1bis "Villers-Marmery" (adjudant-chef Maréchal)
---o B1bis "Pinard" (aspirant Bergeal)
Perthes is reached at late afternoon by already exhausted troops. The 3e DCr enables and covers the retreat of the 127e RI and 14e DI at night. Heavy losses are inflicted to the German troops of the IR.3 and IR.5 (21.ID). A German artillery barrage added to the direct fire of the 8.8cm FlaK and 10.5cm leFH18 guns from 21.ID, reinforced by the Panzerjäger-Abteilung 560 (8.8cm FlaK), blocks the French advance, destroying 9 Hotchkiss H39 and 3 Renault B1bis tanks.
The action is here described by Sous-lieutenant Tuffet, commander of the B1bis "Corbières":
The Hotchkiss H39 are progressing in front of the B1bis tanks. After having crossed a hill the H39s are engaged by very numerous AT guns and HMGs deployed behind and along a road. The 9 B1bis of the 2/41e BCC charge then against the German positions to cover the Hotchkiss tanks.
With their 47mm turret guns and the 75mm hull gun the French B1bis tanks fire towards the flashes revealing the German AT guns positions. With its coaxial MG Lieutenant Tuffet kills a whole group of German soldiers moving along the road. A bit later he destroys 2 self-propelled guns (no information about the exact type).
Many anti-tank guns are firing on the B1bis "Aisne" which is hit many times but without effect and it fires intensively back. The B1bis "Aisne" reaches the road, crushes some German soldiers and AT guns under its tracks and destroys a MG nest.
The B1bis "Corbières" is hit by many 3.7cm shells, no penetration at all but the bad feeling of being a target. About every 5 seconds a 3.7cm shell is clicking against the armor. The periscope of the copula is destroyed. One bolt goes away and hits the helmet of the radio but without any injury. The B1bis "Corbières" fires with all its weapons while advancing in the German lines.
Added to the German AT gun firing, the German artillery barrage is always more intense. Lieutenant Tuffet sees the "Aisne" and "Yonne" tanks firing on the enemy's position. On the left he spots an AT gun firing on the "Aisne" and he destroys it with its 47mm turret gun. A running German soldier is also killed with the coaxial MG. Suddenly a violent shock, the 47mm gun sight is destroyed and the turret is blocked. Through the episcopes Lieutenant Tuffet sees the B1bis "Yonne" being abandoned and scuttled by its crew. The B1bis "Corbières" fires then only with the 75mm hull gun but a second very violent explosion neutralizes the 75mm SA35 gun too. The radio antenna is also destroyed. Unarmed, the B1bis "Corbières" moves back and recovers the crew of the "Yonne" which embarks thanks to the bottom hatch. Equipment stored on the tank roof (blankets) are put on fire. The tank pulls back in cover and Lieutenant Tuffet stops the fire with an extinguisher. It is about 20:30 and the B1bis "Corbières", damaged, moves back to the departure line in Annelles. Perthes is on fire and the German artillery barrage is still very intense.
The B1bis "Aisne" is still advancing in the German lines and destroys a German infantry squad hidden in a field. A violent shock on the hull is followed by a second one on the copula which destroys the binoculars. Lieutenant Homé is WIA and blind during several minutes. One fuel tank is also damaged and fuel is leaking on the floor. The "Aisne" pulls back in the French lines. It is more than 21:00, after more than 3 hours of combat.
The B1bis "Bayard" has its turret MG damaged by a 3.7cm shell at the very beginning of the engagement. A 10.5cm shell penetrates the right side hull and 1 crew member is lightly wounded but the tank is still operational and destroys many AT guns before retreating to the French lines.
From the 9 B1bis, 3 have been destroyed or abandoned ("Yonne", "Durance" and "Arlay"), 4 are damaged ("Aisne", "Corbières", "Villers-Marmery" and "Bayard") but returned in the French lines and 2 are still fully operational. All the surviving tanks are covered by numerous 3.7cm shells impacts that did not penetrate the armour. On the B1bis "Corbières" more than 100 gouges, as big as eggs, canb be counted."

• Southern attack on the Juniville/Tagnon axis (groupement of Lieutenant-Colonel Salanié) with: 25 Hotchkiss H39 (45e BCC), 10 Renault B1bis (1/41e BCC) and elements from 31e RDP (Régiment de Dragons Portés), the latter belonging to the 7e DLM. They meet elements from 1.PzD (including PzRgt.2) north of Juniville. The 10 B1bis tanks from the 1/41e BCC led by Capitaine Billotte (the famous captain from Stonne on May 15) are stopped next to Pommery farm. The company is encircled at 19:00 by tanks from Pz.Rgt.2, AT guns and field guns used in direct fire. The 1/41e BCC has to assault the German troops. Four Renault B1bis are put out of combat: "Silvaner", "Volnay", "Vauquois" and "Maury".

• A few B1bis tanks from the 3/41e BCC remain in Annelles as protection and take not part to the attack.

Re: The 2e DI on the Aisne and Retourne Rivers - June 9-10, 1940

Post by David Lehmann » 18 Aug 2009, 23:30

The 10e BCC (40 Renault R35) is attached to the 7e DLM (General Marteau). It counter-attacks earlier at the beginning of the afternoon and south of the Retourne River, towards Menil-Lépinois and Juniville in order to block the German movement to the south. The armoured means include 96 tanks (40 Renault R35, 22 Hotchkiss H35, 20 Hotchkiss H39 and 14 AMR 33/35 light tanks) and 10 Panhard 178 armored cars. But only 65 tanks actually took part (including only 20 with the 37mm SA38 gun, the others have the weaker 37mm SA18 gun). It clashes with the 1.PzD and the following combat turns in favour of the Germans, but they are also exhausted and out of supply. The French troops can regroup and reorganize on the Ménil-Lépinois – Aussonce – La Neuville line. At the end of June 10, several towns are still fighting on the Retourne River.

The French mechanized counter-attacks are launched without artillery or air support. The movements of the "groupement Buisson" are spotted by the Luftwaffe and will also be largely stopped by field and AA guns deployed in anti-tank role by the 21.ID.

The whole 2e DI is ordered to retreat because the road to Reims is threatened. The divisional artillery has largely been wiped out, often in close combats, during June 9-10. The VI/234e RALD will continue to fire on the Mommont woods on June 10, before scuttling and abandoning the last howitzers. Only 3x 155mm C Mle1917 will remain with the division on June 11.

Behind the 2e DI, the 235e DLI (9e RI, 108e RI)* is engaged as well to support the retreats and hold the front. The 9e RI is part of this weak division lacking men and weapons. Its operations are very detailed in the last reference listed in the sources but should probably be the subject of another summary. This regiment will have to defend a front of 9 km against a frontal attack from 2.PzD, 3.ID and 52.ID. The main combats will take place around Milan farm (against PzRgt 4), Epoye (against PzRgt 3, Schützen-Regiment 2 and 52.ID) and Saint-Masmes (52.ID). The line on the Suippe River is also organized by retreating troops. The very hard battle fought on June 9-10 up to close quarters and hand to hand combats led to very heavy casualties in all the units of the 2e DI. The Germans systematically put the towns on fire. On the other side, the Germans sustained heavy losses as well. Roughly 3,500 Germans were KIA on the Aisne River on June 9-10.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

James M. Myers, &ldquoBarkley, David Bennes,&rdquo Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 18, 2021,

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Datebook: Dirigibles, comic book noir and photos of the American West

Tijuana artist Hugo Crosthwaite is showing a new series of drawing installation works inspired by Edgar Allan Poe ‘s poem ‘Hymn’ at Luis de Jesus. Seen here: ‘Tijuana Radiant Shine #5,’ from 2014.

A sculpture that floats. Paintings that take a sculptural turn. Iconic imagery of the American West. Plus: a panel about black conceptualism, a show that touches on the Mexican Revolution, and lots of evil eye. Here’s what we have in our Datebook:

Chris Burden, “Ode to Santos Dumont,” at the L.A. County Museum of Art. The artist’s final work is a kinetic airship sculpture that pays homage to Alberto Santos-Dumont, the Brazilian-born pioneer aviator who flew a dirigible around the Eiffel Tower in 1901 in an act of flight that shocked and awed. Burden’s ship will take flight inside the Resnick Pavilion several times daily. Opens Monday and runs through June 21 check the website for flight times. 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Mid-Wilshire, Los Angeles,

Hugo Crosthwaite, “Tijuana Radiant Shine” and “Shattered Mural,” at Luis de Jesus. Crosthwaite’s signature black-and-white-noir-meets-Mexican-comic-books style of paintings take a sculptural turn in his latest solo show at Luis de Jesus. Looks like one not to miss. Opens Saturday at 6 p.m. and runs through 20. 2685 S. La Cienega Blvd., Culver City,

Nao Bustamante, “Soldadera,” at the Vincent Price Art Museum. A new multimedia installation by the well-known performance artist investigates the role of women in the Mexican Revolution — incorporating everything from bulletproof dresses to a cinematic project to hand-made objects created by a woman who survived the Revolution. It is a project that is years in the making here is the story behind it. Opens Saturday at 4 p.m. and runs through August 1. East L.A. College. 1301 Cesar Chavez Ave., Monterey Park,

Joaquin Trujillo, “Mal de Ojo,” at De Soto Gallery. A photographic exhibition by the L.A.-based artist plays with ideas of protection and enchantment and the Latin American superstition of the evil eye. Through June 28. 1350 Abbott Kinney Blvd., Venice

“C.O.L.A. 2015: Individual Artist Fellowships Exhibition” at the L.A. Municipal Art Gallery. The Department of Cultural Affairs recently announced the winners of its City of Los Angeles (C.O.L.A.) Individual Artists Fellowships, honoring mid-career artists working in various media — from architectural installation to sculpture to painting. This group show gathers the winners’ works. Opens Sunday at 2 p.m. and runs through June 28. 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood,

“Adams, Curtis and Weston: Photographers of the American West,” at the Bowers Museum. More than three dozen images produced by three of the most iconic American photographers tells the story of the American West — through dreamy images of landscape as well as the people that inhabited it. Opens Saturday and runs through Nov. 29 at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, photographer Arthur Ollman will give an opening-day lecture tied to the show. On 2002 N. Main St., Santa Ana,

“A History of Refusal: Black Artists and Conceptualism,” at the Hammer Museum. It’s an all-star lineup for this important panel, which brings together Thelma Golden of the Studio Museum in Harlem, with artist Rodney McMillian and Renaissance Society curator Hamza Walker, for a discussion about black conceptual practices and what could constitute a “black aesthetic.” Next Wednesday, May 20 at 7:30 p.m. 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood, Los Angeles,

Enrique Martínez Celaya, “Lone Star,” at L.A. Louver. The Cuban-born, L.A.-based painter has a show of ruminative works bookended by a pair of installations: a sculpture of a young boy with tears dripping into a pool and another boy trapped in a birdcage. Through Saturday. 45 N. Venice Blvd., Venice,

“Kaleidoscope: Abstraction in Architecture” at Christopher Grimes Gallery. A group show looks at the nature of abstraction at the intersection of painting, photography, video and the architectonic. This includes an installation made of cardboard boxes by Carlos Bunga and photographs of glass facades by Veronika Kellndorfer. Through Saturday. 916 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica,

Max Maslansky, “Jouissance,” at Honor Fraser. Paintings made from found bedsheets, pillows and curtains feature gauzy images of intimate and erotic activities. This is an artist who fuses an adept use of paint, colors and materials with subjects that are smutty and smart. The exhibition is held in conjunction with 5 Car Garage. Through Saturday. 2622 S. La Cienega Blvd., Culver City,

Diana al-Hadid, “Grounds and Figures,” at Ohwow Gallery. Lacy, gritty pieces made from materials such as Mylar, plaster and gold leaf are what you’ll find at Al-Hadid’s first solo show at Ohwow, where images often hover on the verge of being apparitions. Through Saturday. 937 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles,

Kim MacConnel, “Avenida Revolución,” at Rosamund Felsen Gallery. The first show at Felsen’s downtown L.A. space features MacConnel’s textile-inspired pieces from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Bright abstract patterns evoke African and Latin American painting, for works that take on the texture of fabric. Through Saturday. 1923 S. Santa Fe Ave., No. 100, downtown Los Angeles,

“The Book as a Work of Art for All” at Autonomie Projects. Books transformed into sculptures, from figurative to abstract, can be found at this Mid-City space. Through Saturday. 4742 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles,

“Henry N. Cobb: Hypostyle” at the SCI-Arc Gallery. In architecture-speak, a hypostyle is a roof supported by a series of many columns (as in Egypt’s Great Temple at Karnak). In a new installation, architect Henry Cobb, of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners Architects, plays with this design, filling the gallery with columnar structures made of hollow core doors. Through Sunday. 960 E. 3rd St., downtown Los Angeles,

“American Survey, Pt. 1" at Papillion. A group show — described as a “time capsule” of 2015 — gathers work by a variety of (mostly L.A.) artists both new (such as performance artist EJ Hill) and long-running (assemblagist Timothy Washington, who recently had a solo show at the Craft & Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles). Through Sunday. 4336 Degnan Blvd., Leimert Park, Los Angeles,

Robert Kushner, “Patois,” at Offramp Gallery. Collages that employ pages of books, pieces of musical scores, gold leaf and postage stamps bear gestural images of flowers. Through Sunday. 1702 Lincoln Ave., Pasadena,

“Guerrilla Girls: Art in Action” at Pomona College Museum of Art. Posters, handbills, books and newsletters chronicle the actions of the longtime feminist art-activists. Through Sunday. 330 N. College Ave., Claremont,

“Tom LaDuke: Candles and Lasers” at Kohn Gallery. LaDuke’s paintings feature a layer cake of techniques that come together to provide a wild feeling of depth, while his sculptures are crafted from earthy materials such as pewter, graphite and salt. Through Wednesday. 1227 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood,

“When the Future Had Fins: American Automotive Designs and Concepts, 1959-1973” at Christopher W. Mount Gallery. Car concept drawings from the Big Three American automakers — back when power and futuristic lines were rendered in pen and ink. Through Wednesday. Pacific Design Center, 8687 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood,

María E. Piñeres, “Sittings,” and the group show “Suggestive Roleplay” at Walter Maciel Gallery. Piñeres is known for stitched works that run the gamut from portraiture to collections of images that reflect her background. The series “Playland,” for example, uses as a point of inspiration the now-defunct Times Square arcade where she hung out as a youth — an adolescent gathering space surrounded by porn palaces. Through May 23. 2642 S. La Cienega Blvd., Culver City,

“Altered States,” a group show at Patrick Painter. Justin Bower, Valie Export, Mike Kelley, Martin Kippenberger and Rinus Van de Velde present their unique visions of altered reality through painting, photographs and conceptual works. Through May 23. Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Unit B2, Santa Monica,

“J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free” at the Getty Center. Turner’s canvases were expressive explosions of color and light at a time when many paintings were pretty literal — to this day, their power remains undiminished. This exhibition gathers more than 60 works from his last 15 years of life, a period when Turner produced some of his most enduring works. DO. NOT. MISS. Through May 24. 1200 Getty Center Drive, Brentwood,

Charles Gaines, “Gridwork 1974-1989,” at the Hammer Museum. The first museum survey of the L.A.-based artist brings together early works that play with ideas of mapping and gridding, taking images of trees and moving dancers and abstracting them into coolly mathematical pieces. Through May 24. 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood,

“Alien She” at the Orange County Museum of Art. An exhibition tracks the far-reaching influence of the Riot Grrrl movement of the early ‘90s, when artists, musicians and other cultural figures created a wide range of work that brought together punk music with gender, sexuality and feminism. Through May 24. 850 San Clemente Drive, Newport Beach,

Fred Tomaselli, “The Times,” at the Orange County Museum of Art. Since 2005, this L.A.-born, O.C.-raised painter with a knack for the hallucinogenic has taken to reworking the cover photographs of the New York Times in ways that are poignant, funny and just plain weird. Through May 24. 850 San Clemente Drive, Newport Beach,

“Provocations: The Architecture and Design of Heatherwick Studio” at the Hammer Museum. Architectural and industrial designer Thomas Heatherwick has designed everything from a handbag for Longchamp to the dramatic, dandelion-like Seed Cathedral, which was the U.K. pavilion at 2010’s Shanghai World Expo. This exhibition examines his prodigious output. Through May 24. 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood,

Hammer Projects: Pedro Reyes at the Hammer Museum. The socially minded Reyes has staged a people’s United Nations that employs techniques from theater games and group therapy as a way of resolving urgent issues. Through May 24. 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles,

Tanya Aguiñiga and Nancy Baker Cahill, “Shevening,” at Merryspace. This two-woman show features a series of works — both wall pieces and sculpture — that explore questions of the body: holes and vessels and delicately woven tissues. Through May 25. 2754 S La Cienega, Culver City, and

“State of Emergency: Big Brother Is Watching” at Winslow Garage. A crew of artists explores the nature of surveillance in contemporary society and the ways in which it is used to control. Through May 25. 3540 Winslow Drive, Silver Lake, Los Angeles,

Raymond Pettibon, “From my bumbling attempt to write a disastrous musical, these illustrations must suffice,” at Regen Projects. Pettibon marries disconnected texts and images in monochrome as well as richly colored pieces that owe as much to punk rock as they do to comic books. Through May 30. 6750 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood,

Mark Ruwedel, “Pictures of Hell,” at Gallery Luisotti. This photographer has truly been to hell — visiting places with all kinds of devilish names such as Hell, Devil’s Kitchen and Hell’s Gate and photographing them in the process. Through May 30. Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Building A2, Santa Monica,

Andrea Marie Breiling, “Stretchin’ It Out,” at Sonce Alexander Gallery. Plastic wrap, old bits of canvas, found objects, liquid latex and other found bits make their way into Breiling’s works, which straddle the gritty divide between painting and sculpture. Through May 30. 2634 S. La Cienega Blvd., Culver City,

Nery Gabriel Lemus, “Just So Stories,” at Charlie James. For his third solo show at the gallery, this L.A.-based artist appropriates the themes and tone of Rudyard Kipling’s 1902 book, “Just So Stories,” about how certain animals came to be, and uses them to weave his own creation myths. Through May 30. 969 Chung King Road, Chinatown,

Jack Davidson, Merion Estes, and a group show at CB1 Gallery. A trio of shows brings together the work of painter Jack Davidson, the bold abstract works of Merion Estes, and a group show that features works by five artists dealing with ground and landscape in their work. Through May 30. 1923 S. Santa Fe Ave., downtown Los Angeles,

Ed Templeton, “Synthetic Suburbia,” at Roberts & Tilton. The photographer and painter presents a new series of paintings and drawings inspired by the people and surroundings of his home base of Huntington Beach — figures engaged in the mundane, but touched by the weird. Through May 30. 5801 Washington Blvd., Culver City,

Kerry Tribe, “The Loste Note,” at 356 Mission. For her latest video/sculpture project, Tribe looks at the neurological condition of aphasia, in which the language centers of the brain are damaged -- hindering a person’s ability to communicate (even as a person’s personality and intellect remain unaffected). Through May 31. 356 S. Mission Road, downtown Los Angeles, 356mission.

“Robert Henri’s California: Realism, Race, and Region, 1914-1925” at the Laguna Art Museum. The exhibit gathers the California works of the noted American realist portraitist who spent long periods in Southern California painting a wide cross-section of locals — from business leaders to Indians. Through May 31. 307 Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach,

Armin Hansen, Jim Morphesis and Lars Jan at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. A trio of exhibitions includes a survey of Armin Hansen (1886-1957), a painter known for his oceanic scenes, as well as a show by L.A. artist Jim Morphesis, a painter whose expressionistic canvases combine elements of assemblage. In the project space, Lars Jan has an installation that explores ideas of disaster and survival. Runs through May 31. 490 E. Union St., Pasadena,

Robert Rauschenberg, “Photos: In + Out City Limits,” at the Huntington Library. The museum is showcasing 15 photographs the artist took in Los Angeles in 1981 — images of shapes, landscape and odd pockets of the city. Through June 2. 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino,

Zak Smith, “Shred,” at Richard Heller Gallery. In his first solo exhibition in Los Angeles, the artist who once created a picture for every page of Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow” (an epic undertaking he collected in a book), has a gathering of works that range from wild sci-fi worlds to erotic daily scenes from his life. Through June 6. Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., No. B5A, Santa Monica,

“Nature and the American Vision: The Hudson River School” at the L.A. County Museum of Art. Forty-five paintings by the best-known artists of the American landscape movement, including Thomas Cole, Albert Bierstadt and Frederic Edwin Church. Through June 7. 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles,

“Light Catchers” at the California African American Museum. A reprise of an exhibition organized by the Department of Cultural Affairs in the late 1990s, this group show features the work of seven African American photographers working in Los Angeles since the late 1940s. Through June 7. 600 State Drive, Exposition Park, Los Angeles,

“Bari Kumar: Remembering the Future” at Charles White Elementary. At LACMA’s satellite space, Kumar shows a series of paintings that combine bits of imagery that he harvests from fine art and popular culture. Through June 13, 2401 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles,

“Robert Harding Pittman: Anonymization” at Spot Photo Works. Parking lots. Strip malls. And cookie-cutter communities in which one house resembles the next. Pittman captures a globalized view of development and architecture in places as disparate as Spain and South Korea. Through June 16. 6679 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood,

“William Pope.L: Trinket” at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Among various other works, a monumental 54-foot flag flaps and snaps to a row of industrial fans in the museum’s Geffen space — a hyper-potent symbol of what true patriotism might mean. Through June 20. 152 N. Central Ave., downtown Los Angeles,

Peter Saul, “Some Crazy Pictures,” at David Kordanksy Gallery. Known for his lurid palette and dissolving figures, the painter, now in his 80s, is known for skewering the powerful in his work. In his first show at Kordanksy, he continues to set his sights on money and how it corrupts. Through June 20. 5130 W. Edgewood Place, Los Angeles,

“Mark Grotjahn: Fifteen Paintings” at Blum & Poe. Dense layers of striated oil paint in a rainbow of colors reveal subtle images in Grotjahn’s latest abstracted works, an ongoing part of his “Face” paintings series. Look once and you’ll see bulbous banana flowers and leaf-like ornamentation. Look even closer and you might find a warrior’s partially obscured face. Through June 20. 2727 S. La Cienega Blvd., Culver City,

Jimena Sarno, “Homeland” and “Mediations on Digital Labor: xtine burrough,” at the Grand Central Art Center. A pair of new shows explore the nature and history of surveillance in the U.S. as well as questions of cheap labor on’s Mechanical Turk. Through July 12. 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana,

“Ed Moses: Drawings From the 1960s and 70s” at the L.A. County Museum of Art. The drawings of this prominent Los Angeles abstract artist have historically served as the backbone of his work: intensely detailed graphite floral patterns as well as his later diagonal grids, which come together to evoke both natural and machine-like landscapes. Through Aug. 2. 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Mid-Wilshire, Los Angeles,

“Kahlil Joseph: Double Conscience” at the Museum of Contemporary Art. A 15-minute, double-screen film tells a nuanced story of life, death and moments of magic in Compton — all set to the poetic, often abstract lyrics of native son Kendrick Lamar. Joseph is blurring the boundaries between cinema, fine art and music video. Do not miss. Through Aug. 16. 250 S. Grand Ave., downtown Los Angeles,

“Light, Paper, Process: Reinventing Photography” at the Getty Museum. Photography isn’t just about the image on the paper. It’s also about the processes that lead those images to appear. This group show features seven contemporary artists who are all experimenting with ways in which light and chemicals form what we see on the page. Through Sept. 6. 1200 Getty Center Drive, Brentwood, Los Angeles,

“After Victor Papanek: The Future Is Not What It Used to Be” at the Armory Center for the Arts. A group show examines the legacy of the industrial designer who called for ecologically sound design and who didn’t believe in patents because he felt they stymied innovation. Runs through Sept. 6. 145 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena,

“The Art of Hair in Africa” at the Fowler Museum. This exhibition brings together an array of African hair ornaments made with wood, beads, copper wire and ivory — some of them embellished with delicate bas relief carvings. It will also include a film by Ghanaian American artist Akosua Adoma Owusu called “Me Broni Ba (My White Baby),” about the role that hair plays. Through Sept. 20. UCLA, North Campus, Los Angeles,

“Islamic Art Now” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Contemporary works from LACMA’s permanent collection by 20 artists who live in or have roots in the Middle East look at questions of society, gender and identity. Runs indefinitely. 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles,

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Carolina A. Miranda is a Los Angeles Times columnist covering culture, with a focus on art and architecture.

Action at the River Cabriels, 21 June 1808 - History

By Richard A. Gabriel

Safe behind its ocean barriers, the United States paid scant attention to the wars that raged abroad during the early 19th century, taking little notice of the lessons that might have been learned from the European experience with mass killing. With few opportunities for its own military medical establishment to acquire field experience, the U.S. Army’s military medical service remained primitive. In 1802, the U.S. Army Medical Corps comprised only two surgeons and 25 orderlies. By 1808, the number of surgeons had increased to seven and surgical assistants to 40. There was no ambulance corps during the War of 1812 after the battle wagons were sent to search for the wounded. There were no hospitals, either, and the wounded were treated in temporary shelters near the battlefield. Even these primitive facilities were dismantled when the war ended. In 1818, Congress finally authorized the appointment of Dr. Joseph Lovell to head the medical corps as surgeon general.

At the start of the Mexican War in 1846, the American medical corps consisted of one surgeon general and 71 medical officers. Statistically, the Mexican War was the deadliest ever fought by an American army. Of the 100,182 soldiers committed to the campaign, 1,458 were killed in action and another 10,790 died of disease, a disease mortality rate of 11 percent. This compared to a similar rate of 6.5 percent for the Civil War, 2.7 percent for the Spanish-American War, and 1.6 percent for World War I. The single medical contribution of the Mexican War was the first use of anesthesia by a military surgeon in combat. The medical service was once more reduced in strength when the war ended. At the outbreak of the Civil War, no one on either side was remotely prepared for the magnitude of the slaughter, forcing both sides to endure a medical catastrophe that was unprecedented in military history.

The Shocking Casualties of Total War

The Civil War was the first modern war in which the productive capacities of the industrial state were completely integrated into the war effort. The number of combat engagements was the largest in history to that time, and exponential increases in the killing power of weapons produced rates of casualties beyond the imagination of military medical planners. In a four-year period, 2,196 combat engagements were fought, in which 620,000 men perished—360,000 in the Union Army and 260,000 in the Confederate Army. Some 67,000 Union soldiers were killed outright, 43,000 died of wounds, and 130,000 were disfigured for life, often with missing limbs 94,000 Confederate soldiers died of wounds.

Deadlier Rifles

The minie ball (actually a bullet) caused 94 percent of all wounds, artillery shell and canister accounted for 6 percent, and the saber and bayonet fewer than 922 wounds, of which only 56 were fatal. Some 35 percent of all wounds were to the arms, 35.7 percent to the legs, and wounds to the head and trunk accounted for 18.4 percent and 10.7 percent, respectively. In a statistical sense, the Civil War was the most life-threatening war ever fought. The chances of not surviving the war were one in four, as compared to one in 124 in the Korean War.

The staggering increase in the number and seriousness of wounds was due to the .58-caliber rifle-barreled firearm, which was capable of propelling a bullet 950 feet per second to a range of 600 yards. The heavy, soft, unjacketed lead bullet flattened out on impact, producing severe wounds and carrying pieces of clothing into the wound. When the bullet struck a bone, its weight and deformation shattered the bone or severed it completely from the limb. The old tactic of massing troops to deliver mass fire, once made necessary by the inaccuracy and limited range of the musket, persisted, making troop formations extremely vulnerable to long-range rifle fire. The deployment of troops over greater frontages also increased the dispersal of the wounded, making it difficult to locate, treat, and evacuate them. The Civil War medical officer faced problems of wound management that were unique for the time.

More Limbs Lost Than in Any Other American War

The improved kinetic power of the rifle bullet made amputation the most frequently performed battlefield operation. Of the 174,200 gunshot wounds to the arms and legs suffered by Union soldiers, 29,980 required amputation. Confederate soldiers suffered 25,000 primary amputations. The mortality rate for primary amputation was 26 percent, compared to 52 percent for secondary amputation. Another 26,467 wounds of the extremities that were complicated by an injury to the bone were treated by expectation (left alone to heal), with a mortality rate of 18 percent. More limbs were lost in the Civil War than in any other American conflict before or since.

In the first years of the war, control of bleeding (hemostatis) was achieved mostly through the use of tourniquets and cauterization, methods dangerous to the patient when practiced by physicians with limited experience. As the physicians gained experience, pressure dressings and ligature became the primary methods for controlling bleeding. But ligature often led to infection. The mortality rate for these secondary infections was 62 percent. The usual array of infections—tetanus, erysipelas, gangrene, and various streptococcus infections—was always present, and the mortality rate in hospitals from such infections reached 60 percent in the early days of the war. By the end of the war, this had fallen to 3 percent. Hospital infection remained a major problem on both sides throughout the war, however. William W. Keen, a surgeon in the Union Army, observed in his memoirs that “it was seven times safer to fight all through the three days of Gettysburg than to have an arm or leg cut off and be treated in a hospital.”

Battlefield Drugs and Anesthetics

For the first time in history, anesthesia was used on an unprecedented scale by military physicians. No fewer that 80,000 applications of anesthesia were administered. General hospital records show that anesthesia was used in 8,900 operations, of which 6,784 used chloroform and 811 used ether. In 1,305 cases, a combination of the two was used. Remarkably, only 37 deaths were attributed to anesthesia. Advances were also made in the immobilization of limbs using plaster of Paris. In 1863 the famous Hodges splint, still used today in the fracture of the lower femur, was introduced by Union surgeon John Hodges.

The use of drugs was primitive at best. Calomel (mercurous chloride) was so heavily prescribed that the Surgeon General forbade its use as dangerous. The most useful drugs were morphine, opium, and quinine, the latter as a preventative for malaria. Morphine was usually dusted directly on the wound, and only occasionally injected hypodermically. The hypodermic syringe appeared in the 1850s but was used only rarely in the Civil War—at least on the physically wounded. Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell noted that in the army hospital for nervous diseases, more than 40,000 doses of morphine were given hypodermically to psychiatric patients in a single year. A staggering 10 million opium pills were given to patients during the war, along with 2,841,000 ounces of other opium-based preparations such as laudanum, opium with ipeac, and paregoric. In all, 29,828 ounces of morphine sulphate were administered. Not coincidentally, by 1900 there were 200,000 drug addicts in America.

A battlefield amputation is being performed at Gettysburg. Nearly 30,000 legs were amputated during the war by Union surgeons.

Disease: The Number-One Killer

Disease was the number-one killer of soldiers on both sides during the Civil War. Most recruits were physically unfit for the rigors of war. Three-quarters of the Union soldiers discharged from the army in 1861 were so unfit that they should never have been allowed to enlist. Most recruits came from isolated rural towns, and this isolation prevented them from developing immunity to a wide range of common childhood diseases. Being brought together in the close quarters required of military life, many fell ill with diseases to which they had never previously been exposed. Poor physical condition, few immunities, poor nutrition, and the general stress of military life reduced resistance to disease. Scurvy was endemic, and outbreaks of cholera, typhus, typhoid, and dysentery took a heavy toll. Disease killed approximately 225,000 men in the Union Army and 164,000 men in the Confederate ranks. It is estimated that disease killed five times as many men as weapons fire.

The Union Army Adapts its Medical Corps

The Union medical service was completely unprepared for war. In 1860, the 26,000-man army was scattered along the frontier and had no military medical service to speak of. The army had only 36 surgeons and 83 assistant surgeons, 24 of whom resigned to join the Confederacy. Medical supplies were in short supply, and there were no army general hospitals. There was no ambulance service to locate and evacuate the wounded. The incumbent surgeon general was Thomas Lawson, a sick and dying man who economized on expenditures by refusing to purchase medical books and supplies.

In the 1850s, then-Secretary of War Jefferson Davis had ordered two officers, one of whom was Captain George B. McClellan, to prepare a study of medical lessons learned from the Crimean War. The report recommended the creation of an army ambulance corps. But by 1860, no such corps had been established. For the first two years of the war, there were no systematic provisions to evacuate the wounded. At the Battle of Bull Run, wagons had to be commandeered from the streets of Washington to transport the wounded. In the Peninsular Campaign, a Union Army corps of 30,000 men had ambulance transport sufficient for only 100 casualties.

At the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, Missouri, in August 1861, the wounded could not be moved for six days due to the lack of ambulances. In November of that same year, Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant abandoned his wounded at Belmont, Missouri, because there were no ambulances. In 1861, Lawson was replaced by Dr. William Hammond, who appointed Dr. Jonathan Letterman as surgeon general of the Army of the Potomac. Letterman immediately set about creating an ambulance corps.

Each army corps now acquired its own organic medical transport. Each division, brigade, and regiment had its own medical officer who answered to the corps’ medical officer responsible for coordination at all levels. The chief surgeon within each division controlled the ambulance corps. Each regiment was assigned three ambulances and a complement of drivers and litter-bearers, and each division had its own ambulance train of 30 vehicles. The ratio of ambulances to men averaged 1 to 150. Only medical personnel were permitted to remove the wounded from the battlefield, a regulation designed to reduce the manpower loss that often resulted when several men left the line to transport their wounded comrades to aid stations. Ambulance wagons were removed from control of the quartermaster and used only for medical transport. They were posted near the front of the column to be within easy reach once a battle began.

Transporting the Wounded: Letterman’s Ambulance System

The first test of Letterman’s ambulance system came at the Battle of Antietam in September 1862. Union forces alone suffered 10,000 wounded scattered over a six-mile area. The system reached and evacuated most of them within 36 hours. A month later at Fredericksburg, the system worked so well that the wounded piled up at aid stations faster than they could be treated. Within 12 hours, all 10,000 wounded had been located, transported, and cleared through the aid stations. Letterman’s ambulance system was integrated into the larger network of casualty evacuation from field hospitals at the front to general hospitals in the rear. Railroads evacuated casualties from collection points behind the battlefields to the general hospitals. By the end of the war, Northern railroads had transported 225,000 sick and wounded men from the battlefields to the general hospitals.

The Union medical service also used coastal steamers and river steamboats under the control of the medical corps to transport the wounded. In 1862, the Union Army contracted for the use of 15 steamboats on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and 17 seagoing vessels for use along the Atlantic coast. In the last three years of the war, 150,000 casualties were transported by boat to the general hospitals. The first use of a hospital ship was at the Battle of Fort Henry in February 1862, when the City of Memphis transported 7,000 casualties to hospitals along the Ohio River. Also in 1862, the navy purchased the D.A. January as its first hospital ship. By the end of the war, January had transported 23,738 casualties on the Ohio, Missouri and Illinois rivers, with a mortality rate of only 2.3 percent, significantly lower than the rate in land-based hospitals. The first naval nurses in America, the Catholic order of the Reverend Sisters of Mercy, served aboard Red Rover, tending the wounded after the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi. In March 1862, Hammond recommended that all Union armies adopt Letterman’s system, which until then had been limited to the Army of the Potomac. Congress approved the recommendation in March 1864. It was only at the end of the war, however, that Letterman’s reforms were fully implemented.

Zouave soldiers prepare an injured comrade for the amputation of his right arm while surgeons stand by with their instruments.

Reforming the Field Hospital System

Letterman also changed the structure of the field hospital system by turning regimental hospitals into frontline aid stations. Treatment of the wounded at these stations was limited to control of bleeding, bandaging wounds, and administering opiates for pain. This allowed medical officers to hold the slightly wounded there and return them to the line, reducing manpower loss due to needless evacuation. Behind the aid stations, Letterman created mobile surgical field hospitals. These hospitals were the critical link between the frontline aid stations and the rear-area general hospitals. The system was tied together by the field ambulance corps, railways, and hospital ships.

The general hospitals were located in major cities along established water and rail routes. By 1862, a building program was undertaken in the North to construct additional hospitals. A year later, the Union Army had 151 general hospitals with 58,715 beds ranging in size from small facilities of 100 beds to the Mower General Hospital in Philadelphia with 4,000 beds. Some of these hospitals became treatment centers for medical specialties such as orthopedics, venereal disease, and nervous disorders. St. Elizabeth’s in Washington, D.C., became the first military psychiatric hospital in the country.

Another of Letterman’s innovations was the establishment of a modern medical supply system that worked well under field conditions. Until this reform, medical supplies and equipment were obtained from the quartermaster through the usual supply system. This often led to medical units not receiving adequate supplies. Letterman established basic medical supply tables, equipping all medical units from regiment through corps with basic loads of medical provisions. Each unit was to carry with it supplies for 30 days. A medical purveyor accompanied the army and was responsible for continually replenishing the medical supplies of each unit.

13,ooo Physicians and Surgeons

Most surgeons in both armies were commissioned by state governors to provide medical support for the regiments raised by the states. With few standard licensing procedures for medical certification, it is not surprising that basic competence was a major problem. Few of the physicians entering the state regiments had surgical training. As the war dragged on, however, many of the marginally competent physicians and surgeons became excellent practitioners as a result of their battlefield experience.

About 13,000 physicians and surgeons served with the Union Army. Of these, 250 Regular Army surgeons and assistant surgeons were appointed by Congress to serve as staff and administrators. Some 547 brigade surgeons were commissioned by Congress to assist the corps of regular surgeons. Another 3,882 regimental surgeons and assistants were appointed by governors to state regiments. These surgeons usually served in the aid stations and mobile field hospitals. The army hired 5,532 contract surgeons, mostly civilian doctors, to staff the general hospitals. An additional 100 doctors staffed the Veterans Corps to provide aid to the disabled, and 1,451 surgeons and assistants served with the 179,000 Black troops in 166 regiments. One of the Union surgeons was Mary Edwards Walker, the first woman in American history to hold such a position. Women mostly served as nurses, however. In the North, 3,214 female nurses served in military hospitals under the control of Dorothea Dix, who had been appointed as superintendent of Women’s Nurses. One of Dix’s nurses, Clara Barton, went on to found the American Red Cross. The special place of women in Southern culture militated against using women in military hospitals. Consequently, female nurses were not used there on a large scale.

With the end of hostilities, the Union Army was demobilized and along with it the military medical service. By the end of 1866, the Union Army had been reduced to a force of only 30,000 men. The army and its skeleton medical corps were scattered among the 239 military posts throughout the country. By 1869, the entire medical service corps consisted of only 161 medical officers. Most military posts had no surgeons at all, and they were forced to rely on contract physicians for medical support. Only 282 surgeons were available to the military. Letterman’s system for dealing with mass casualties disappeared virtually overnight.

The Confederate Medical Corps

In general, the Confederate medical service was organized and operated very much like the Union system, although it suffered more from shortages of personnel and equipment that magnified its shortcomings. The total number of medical officers in the Confederacy was 3,236, of which 1,242 were surgeons and 1,994 assistant surgeons. The Confederate naval medical corps had only 107 medical officers, including 26 surgeons and 81 assistant surgeons.

The South’s shortage of physicians was to some extent self-inflicted. For reasons that remain unclear, all medical schools in the South with the exception of the University of Virginia were closed at the start of the war, cutting off the Confederate armies from an invaluable source of trained medical personnel. Moreover, the Confederate surgeon general established unrealistically high qualifications for physicians wishing to join the medical service, causing still more shortages. Worse yet, he examined those physicians already in the medical corps for competency, forcing significant numbers to resign. The Confederacy was never able to provide adequate numbers of surgeons and other physicians to deal with the heavy casualties it suffered on the battlefield.

Deficiencies in Confederate Supplies

A double amputee.

The Confederate ambulance service was never adequate and suffered from a chronic shortage of wagons and other transport. In 1863, Confederate medical officers complained that there were only 38 ambulances in the entire Army of the Mississippi. The situation worsened as the war continued. In 1865, not a single ambulance could be found in the combat brigades of the armies of West Virginia and East Tennessee. The shortage of ambulances forced the South to make greater use of steamboats and railroads to transport its wounded. But the undeveloped nature of the Southern railroad system resulted in a shortage of efficient track routes over which to transport casualties. Small 100-bed hospitals were constructed at rail junctions to deal with the problem.

Shortages of vital medical supplies plagued the South until the end, including shortages of quinine and anesthetics. Paradoxically, these shortages sometimes produced beneficial if unexpected results. It had been the common practice on both sides to cleanse wounds with sea sponges kept in buckets of water next to the operating table. Squeezed in dirty water and used repeatedly, these sponges became major sources of infection transmission. The shortage of sponges in the South as a result of the Union blockade forced Confederate surgeons to use cotton rags instead. Since the rags were used only once, disease transmission was reduced considerably.

The used rags were recycled, a process that required them to be washed, boiled, and ironed, and thus made sterile. Bandages, too, were better in the South since they were made of cotton that had first to be baked to be made useable. It had been common practice to use harness-maker’s silk for ligatures and sutures. With no silk available, Southern surgeons used horsehair instead. To make horsehair pliable enough for suturing, it first had to be boiled. Boiling made the suture material sterile.

The South recognized dentistry as an important medical specialty. As secretary of war before hostilities broke out, Jefferson Davis had tried to convince the army to establish a separate dental corps, but had failed to do so. The South had a more comprehensive dental care program than the North, which contented itself with transferring to the artillery any toothless soldiers who could not bite off the ends of their cartridge packets.

Medical Personnel Become Noncombatants

The Confederacy’s general hospital system was perhaps the only element of the military medical service that was somewhat equivalent to the system in the North. The largest hospital on either side was the 8,000-bed Chimborazo Hospital outside of Richmond. With 150 single-story pavilions organized into five divisions, each with 40 to 50 surgeons and assistant surgeons per division, it was the largest military hospital ever built in the Western world. The pavilion-style hospital proved to be the best design for reducing infection by improving ventilation and isolation. These hospitals consisted of a series of long, single-story buildings isolated from each other. High ceilings with vents at the top and sufficient windows provided ventilation. Usually connected to a central semicircular corridor, these 60-patient buildings were sometimes unconnected, providing excellent isolation for disease wards. The pavilion-style hospital is generally credited to Dr. Samuel Moore, the Confederate surgeon general, who supposedly got the idea from British hospitals used in the Crimea. In fact, the design is actually much older and reflects the design of legion camp hospitals used by the Roman medical service.

One of the more significant military medical contributions of the South is attributed to Lt. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. In 1862, Jackson ordered all Union medical officers held by his command to be released and henceforth treated as noncombatants. By June of that year, both Lee and McClellan agreed to a similar practice. Medical personnel were no longer to be subject to capture. If taken, they were to be allowed to treat their wounded and immediately released. All medical personnel held in Union and Confederate prison camps were freed in 1862, and exchanges of captured medical personnel continued until the end of the war. Jackson had instinctively anticipated the regulations dealing with medical personnel that were adopted by the First Geneva Convention a few years later.

Medical Advances of the Civil War

A number of advances in military medicine resulted from the Civil War. Hammond created the Army Medical Museum to collect and study artifacts and information relevant to military medical care. John Shaw Billings began the Library of the Surgeon General’s office which remains the largest military medical library in the world. Congress established a pension system for disabled soldiers far more generous and comprehensive than anything seen in Europe at the time. The
pension system was chosen over the asylum system of permanent care because it provided the disabled soldier with more freedom and mobility. For the first time an accurate medical records system was created that made it possible to track casualty records for every soldier. One consequence was the publication of the massive Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, which remains the standard against which all such works are judged.

The Civil War saw the development of the first effective military medical system for dealing with mass casualties, including aid stations, field and general hospitals, ambulance and theater-level casualty transport, along with an effective staff to coordinate it. For its time it was the best military medical system ever deployed, and it remained a model for other countries for decades. The introduction of the pavilion-style hospital was so effective in reducing disease mortality that it became the standard design for both military and civilian hospitals for the next 75 years. Wide use of anesthesia, primary amputation, the splint, and debridement (cutting away dead tissue) were the first effective methods of wound management in the modern age. These techniques, taught to thousands of physicians through hard experience, were carried back to civilian life, elevating the general level of medical care available to the nation as a whole.

The prevalence of facial injuries encountered during the war stimulated the development of the new medical specialty of plastic surgery. Civil War surgeons performed six reconstructions of the eyelid, five of the nose, three of the cheek, and 14 of the lip, palate and other parts of the mouth. Dr. Gordon Buck performed the first total face reconstruction in history. Joseph Woodward, another war surgeon, became the first person to link the new technology of the camera to the microscope, and he published the first microphotographs of disease bacteria. He is also credited with the technique of using analine dyes to stain tissues for microscopic analysis. The advent of microphotography served to make the American military medical establishment receptive to the germ-fighting discoveries of Pasteur and Lister when they came along a few years later.

Despite the terrible slaughter and suffering that it caused, the Civil War ironically marked one of the most progressive periods in the history of military medicine. That it came at a cost of hundreds of thousands of ruined lives and shattered families goes without saying.

The Battles for Richmond, 1862

It was mid-May 1862 when Jefferson Davis of Mississippi came to the great crisis of his life. Davis had devoted his existence to serving his home state and his country, and that path had led him to the presidency of the Confederate States of America. Yet a lifetime of labor and commitment to principle had brought him no repose to enjoy his accomplishments. Indeed, in that spring of 1862, he found himself standing not on a pinnacle of power but a precipice of defeat. His world appeared to be on the verge of collapse, and he was virtually powerless to stop it.

By mid-May 1862, newspaper editors across the divided nation openly declared that Davis's battered Southern Confederacy was doomed. Confederate troops had triumphed in the war's first major battle, at Manassas, Virginia, in July 1861, but since then the litany of Southern defeats was long and almost unbroken: in Tennessee at Forts Henry and Donelson and at Shiloh, in Arkansas at Pea Ridge, in North Carolina at Hatteras, Roanoke Island, and New Berne, in Georgia at Fort Pulaski, and in Louisiana, where New Orleans, the South's largest and wealthiest city, lived under Federal martial law. In Virginia, an army of more than 100,000 Federals, the largest army in American history to that point stood just 25 miles from Richmond—the Confederacy's capital and its leading industrial city. Richmond's defense depended upon an army of 60,000 inexperienced and poorly organized troops. Few disagreed when on May 12, the New York Times declared: "In no representation of the rebel cause is there a gleam of hope."


It was in an atmosphere of desperation, therefore, that President Davis convened his Confederate cabinet in mid-May. Davis asked these men to consider the Confederacy's last ditch—what should they do if Richmond were lost? Present at the meeting was Davis's military adviser, General Robert E. Lee. Lee was a Virginian. His mother's father had been one of the wealthiest landowners in the state. Lee's own father had led troops under Washington in the Revolution and had served as governor of Virginia. The fate of Richmond was therefore of more than professional concern to the 55-year-old soldier. He courteously advised the president that if Richmond fell, the next militarily defensible line in Virginia would be along the Staunton River, about 100 miles southwest of the city. Then, much to the surprise of the men present, Lee added a personal opinion, almost a plea: "But," he said, in a firm voice, "Richmond must not be given up" tears welled in his eyes, "it shall not be given up!"

Coming after months of Southern defeats, Robert E. Lee's emotional declaration stands as a watershed in the early history of the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis's dedication had been powerful and unwavering in the first year of the war, but the South's oft-defeated generals had been at best merely competent. Lee's ardor on behalf of Richmond and all it symbolized suggested that perhaps he was a different kind of soldier. Here was a military man who seemed touched by powerful, even passionate determination. Within six weeks, the courtly Virginian would reveal for all to see another side of his character—a boldness and decisiveness that would very suddenly turn defeat into victory and completely reverse the course of the war.


Before Davis appointed Lee to be his adviser in mid-March 1862, all of the military problems of defending Confederate Virginia were laid at the feet General Joseph F. Johnston. Small, trim, and meticulously neat, the 55-year-old Virginian was a career soldier. Though popular with his men, Johnston was proud to the point of perceiving slights where none existed. After the Confederate victory at the Battle of Manassas on July 21, 1861, a victory that owed much to Johnston's leadership, the general seemed jealous of credit going to anyone but him. Relations between Johnston and his civilian superiors in Richmond were stormy, and the general and President Davis seemed to be as much private adversaries as public allies.

Perhaps worse than his strained relations with Davis was the condition of Johnston's army. In April and May of 1861, a great many Southerners had enlisted to fight for one year. Those enlistments would expire in the spring of 1862 with the war far from won and as the Confederacy was to face its greatest crisis. The Confederate Congress passed a conscription act—the first in American history—which drafted recruits and forced current soldiers to remain in the ranks. The veterans were outraged, and morale and discipline declined.


Greatest of all of Johnston's concerns, however, was the position of his army. His troops had spent the winter in camps around Manassas, a railroad town about 30 miles west of Washington. By spring 1862, Johnston could marshal only about 42,000 men and worried that the Northerners would discover his weakness. In February, Johnston conferred with Davis about pulling the army back from its advanced position to a defensive line nearer the capital. The only results of the seven-hour meeting were confusion and hard feelings. Davis later said he had directed Johnston to stay at Manassas as long as possible. Johnston believed he had discretionary power to withdraw whenever he deemed it prudent. The misunderstanding led to a widening of the breach between the general and the president, and as the battle for Richmond loomed in the spring of 1862, the two men remained more than ever disaffected partners in an unsteady alliance to save the Confederacy.

But by the spring of 1862, the Federal army had grown so powerful that the Confederates' plans seemed almost unimportant. The size of the Federal Army of the Potomac—more than 200,000 men—led many in Washington to think it virtually invincible. The great army's commander, Major General George B. McClellan, "The Young Napoleon," as the newspapers called him, was already the idol of his army and had many admirers among the people of the North and the powerful of Washington. If he took Richmond and ended the war, McClellan would be hailed as the greatest hero of the age, and he knew it.

The mustachioed young general—he was only 35—was the product of Philadelphia society. Graduated second in his class at West Point, he had distinguished himself as a military engineer in the war with Mexico and after. His superiors saw him as a rising star and cultivated his professional growth, but despite his many accomplishments, the young captain grew impatient with the slow promotion and low pay in the army. He resigned in 1857 to begin a promising and initially highly successful career as a railroad executive. When the war came in 1861, George McClellan was considered brilliant and popular and had been extraordinarily successful in the army and in private business. It was logical that Northern leaders looked to him to lead troops when the war broke out. Just three months after the beginning of hostilities, President Abraham Lincoln called McClellan to Washington to sort out the confusion in the wake of the debacle at Manassas.



McClellan arrived in Washington in late July 1861 to find a disorganized and defeated army of about 52,000 and a city full of politicians near panic. Radiating competence and self-assurance, the general soon calmed the hysteria. Within three months, he had 134,000 soldiers trained and armed around Washington, and the army was growing by the week. The Northern states demonstrated their tremendous power and commitment to the cause by sending tens of thousands of recruits and hundreds of cannon to McClellan so that by the end of December 1861 the Army of the Potomac numbered 220,000 men and more than 500 cannon—a force many times greater than the largest army in the nation's short history.

President Abraham Lincoln watched this impressive performance by the young man and was inspired to give him even greater authority in directing the Union war effort. On November 1, 1861, Lincoln appointed McClellan to command "the whole army" of the United States. McClellan would be responsible not just for the actions of his own army, but for the movements of all the Federal armies in all the theaters of war. Lincoln expressed concern that perhaps the job was too big for his young general. McClellan's self-assurance seems to have had no bounds. He told the president, "I can do it all."

But "Little Mac" had considerably less confidence in others. Washington politicians in general and the president in particular appear to have merited neither his admiration nor his trust. McClellan was a conservative Democrat in a town where liberal Republicans held power. Many Republicans wished to replace him at the head of the army with one of their own. That Lincoln was not among these seems not to have mattered to McClellan, for he clearly did not respect Lincoln as a man or a leader. The general was negligent in paying to Lincoln the courtesy traditionally due the president and on occasion referred privately to the commander in chief as a "gorilla." Matters of decorum aside, McClellan took pains to conceal from Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton his plans for the spring campaigns. The general was understandably concerned about security, but by showing such disrespect for his civilian collaborators, who were also his legal superiors, he almost certainly undermined their confidence in him.

As the winter weeks passed and the army grew, so did the outcry for McClellan to do something. Unfazed, McClellan developed with great deliberation his plan for a campaign he believed would end the war. His national strategy called for a simultaneous movement by Federal armies upon the heart of the Confederacy. According to his plan, Nashville would fall, followed by all of Tennessee Federal armies would secure Missouri and the Mississippi River, New Orleans, the Carolina coasts and, most important, Richmond. He thought the outcome by no means certain if the job was undertaken hastily. "I have ever regarded our true policy as being that of fully preparing ourselves, and then seeking for the most decisive result," he wrote the president. In other words, he wished no half measures he wished to make one grand, overwhelming, and irresistible effort.


By December 1861, McClellan, had sketched out a plan for a campaign in Virginia—a movement he would lead himself. His "Urbanna Plan" called for the movement of the Army of the Potomac from Washington, D.C., by water down the Chesapeake Bay to the river town of Urbanna, Virginia, on the Rappahannock River, 60 miles from Richmond. From Urbanna, the army would advance rapidly overland to Richmond. Despite his reservations, Lincoln approved McClellan's plan of campaign as long as the general would leave Washington secure in the army's absence.

But in early March, two events occurred that completely altered the strategic picture in Virginia. A bright, clear Saturday, March 8, 1862, became the most dismal day in the 86-year history of the United States Navy. The Confederate ironclad Virginia, a vessel unlike any warship ever seen afloat, steamed out of its homeberth at the Gosport Navy Yard near Norfolk, Virginia, and attacked Federal ships in Hampton Roads. Three hours later, two Federal frigates lay destroyed and 250 U.S. sailors and marines were dead or wounded. The Virginia, scarcely hurt, would be ready to fight again the next day. Navy pride, however, would be redeemed on that morrow by the just arrived little gunboat USS Monitor. The historic clash between these two ironclads on March 9 ended in a draw, and the Virginia retired to her moorings in the Elizabeth River to refit and prepare for another day.

It was the contemplation of another day like March 8 that dominated the thinking of Federal strategists for more than two crucial months that spring. Norfolk and its docks lay at the mouth of the James River. About 100 tortuous miles upstream sat Richmond on high bluffs overlooking the brown waters of the river that had helped make the city the South's leading manufacturing center. If the combined forces of the Federal army and navy sought a doorway to Richmond, the James was an obvious and very desirable option—but not so long as the fearsome Virginia guarded the entrance to Richmond's river. McClellan had to look elsewhere for a route to the Confederate capital. Simply by its existence, therefore, this single Confederate ship—the ugly, turtlelike craft with balky engines—dominated the early phases of the Federal conduct of the campaign.

The second pivotal event that March came when Johnston exercised what he believed was his authority to withdraw from Manassas. His army moved toward Gordonsville in central Virginia to a more secure position behind the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers, leaving or destroying more than 750,000 tons of food, thousands of tons of clothing and supplies, and dozens of heavy artillery guns at Centreville and Manassas. Davis was angry, not just that Johnston had evacuated his position but that he had been so hasty as to abandon food, supplies, and weapons precious to the Confederacy.

The Confederates now sat on a railroad just several hours' ride from Richmond. McClellan realized that his cherished scheme of an amphibious sweep around the enemy's flank would no longer work as he had hoped. "When Manassas had been abandoned by the enemy," he wrote after the war, "and he had withdrawn behind the Rapidan, the Urbanna movement lost much of its promise, as the enemy was now in position to reach Richmond before we could do so." In the game of chess for control of Virginia, Johnston had sidestepped the expected Federal offensive yet remained in a fine position to react promptly to any Federal movement on Richmond. Johnston waited for McClellan's next move.

McClellan, his generals, and the president finally agreed to proceed with plans for the now less-lustrous amphibious route down the Chesapeake Bay. The Federal commander planned to move to the Virginia peninsula formed by the York River on the north and the James River on the south. From Fort Monroe at the tip of the Peninsula, McClellan intended, with the help of the U.S. Navy, to force the small Confederate garrisons at Yorktown and Gloucester Point on the York River to retreat, opening the York to Federal shipping. McClellan then hoped to move his army by water up the river to West Point at the confluence of the Pamunkey and Mattaponi Rivers. From West Point, McClellan hoped to move quickly westward along the Richmond & York River Railroad to the capital of the Confederacy just 30 miles away.

(click on image for a PDF version)
General McClellan's original plan called for a landing at Urbanna on the Rappahannock River. From there the Army of the Potomac would march overland toward Richmond. The Urbanna Plan was quickly discarded, however, when General Joseph Johnston abandoned his position near Manassas Junction and ordered the Confederate army closer to Richmond. The move forced McClellan to revise his operation. He decided to land the Union army at Fort Monroe and march up the peninsula between the York and James Rivers toward Richmond.
McClellan was confident of victory, for his army seemed irresistible. His host of 155,000 was the largest armed force in American history to that point.

McClellan was confident of victory, for his army seemed irresistible. His host of 155,000 was the largest armed force in American history to that point—almost four times larger than the entire American army in the Mexican War and seven times bigger than the largest force McClellan had ever commanded in the field. "The Young Napoleon's" move to capture Richmond was nothing less than the most enormous and complicated military operation in U.S. history and would remain so even into the twentieth century.

On March 17, the first of McClellan's troops departed aboard ship from Alexandria, Virginia, and steamed down the Potomac. The Federals had assembled a fleet of 389 steamers and schooners to transport the army. For three weeks the waters of the Potomac churned with activity as the invaders shipped vast numbers of men, animals, cannons, and wagons southward. McClellan boarded a steamer at Alexandria on April 1 and cast off for his rendezvous with destiny. The general was deeply happy to leave behind the politics of Washington and join the army in the field. "Officially speaking," he wrote to his wife, "I feel very glad to get away from that sink of iniquity."

But McClellan's troubles with Washington were just beginning. Lincoln had stipulated that McClellan must leave about 40,000 men behind to ensure that Washington was "entirely secure." McClellan reported he had left more than 55,000 men behind, but the War Department learned that only about 19,000 men remained to defend the capital and that 35,000 of the troops McClellan counted as defenders of Washington were 100 miles away in the Shenandoah Valley. The War Department immediately withheld 35,000 men slated to join McClellan, infuriating the general, who called the order "the most infamous thing that history has recorded."



McClellan pushed onward from Fort Monroe toward the Confederate fortifications at the historic old town of Yorktown. Admiral Louis M. Goldsborough informed McClellan that the U.S. Navy could not assist him in forcing past Yorktown, so the general planned to outmaneuver the position and force the Confederate garrison to withdraw.

No sooner had McClellan's divisions moved forward than they encountered the unexpected. The roads, which McClellan had told the president were dry and sandy and passable in all seasons, were in reality small and muddy. The continuous passage of heavy wagons, artillery pieces, and thousands of men and horses churned the roads into morasses of mud. The "rapid marches" that had composed a significant component of McClellan's strategy, proved impossible, and every march became a slow essay in exhaustion for the men of the ranks.

Even more fatal to McClellan's intentions was the discovery that his maps were grossly inaccurate. The general was stunned to learn that the Warwick River lay athwart his intended path and that the Confederates had constructed elaborate fortifications on the west bank from Yorktown to the James. McClellan's chief engineer declared that the line of works was "certainly one of the most extensive known to modern times."

More distressing to McClellan were reports that the Confederates were present in great strength across the Warwick. Federal officers reported seeing long columns of Southern troops moving about and clearly hearing the creaking and groaning of wagons and artillery on roads behind the Confederate front lines. McClellan's intelligence operatives reported that the Confederate garrison along the Warwick numbered perhaps 100,000, and the general decided that formidable works manned by so many defenders were impregnable to assaults by infantry. An engineer by training, McClellan had studied siege warfare and had brought with him dozens of enormous artillery pieces—guns so large they could hurl explosive shells weighing 200 pounds more than three miles. The Federal commander knew that preparations for a siege would take many days, perhaps weeks, but he reasoned that even though he would be losing time, he would be saving lives.

The Warwick River defenses were not nearly as strong as he thought they were. John B. Magruder commanded perhaps 13,000 Southern men in Yorktown and along the Warwick, but he made the most of them. A career soldier known among his brother officers of the old army for his panache and theatrical flair, Magruder staged an elaborate show for McClellan's scouts. Throughout April 4, Magruder ran his troops to and fro behind the lines, across clearings and along roads, always with a view toward being seen by the enemy. The newly arrived Federals counted many thousands of gray-clad soldiers and reported to headquarters that the Confederates seemed to be receiving heavy reinforcements. Magruder's bluff helped convince McClellan that the Confederates were much too strong to be dislodged quickly, and the Federals resigned themselves to bringing up their heavy guns.

The high stakes of the Peninsula campaign—the fate of Richmond and with it, perhaps, the Confederacy—drove leaders on both sides to seek every advantage in battle, including using some of the latest military technology on land, sea, and in the air.

Probably the most famous new weapon of the Peninsula campaign was the ironclad warship. European naval engineers had experimented with ironclad ships, but not until the spectacular events of March 1862 in Hampton Roads, Virginia, did ironclads prove wooden warships were obsolete. The turtlelike CSS Virginia and the new USS Monitor, a "ridiculous-looking" vessel of radical design that one soldier thought looked like a cheesebox on a giant pumpkin seed, battled to an inconclusive draw on March 9, 1862, off the tip of the Peninsula. Their duel marked a turning point in naval history and revealed to the world that henceforth iron warships would rule the waves.

Hot-air and gas balloons were not new in 1862, but technical problems had limited the military uses of airships. An energetic 29-year-old New Hampshire native named Thaddeus Lowe convinced both McClellan and President Lincoln that balloons could be of great value in aerial reconnaissance. Though Lowe had built and ascended in his first balloon just four years earlier, Lincoln made him chief of army aeronautics in August 1861, and the young Yankee went to work creating a fleet of balloons, the most famous of which was the Intrepid. He worked out a way to get portable gas generators into the field and took them to the Peninsula, where he immediately proved valuable. He and army officers made almost daily ascents to gather intelligence on Confederate positions, and Lowe became the first person to communicate with the ground from a balloon via telegraph. Brigadier General Fitz John Porter went aloft to observe Confederate activity at Yorktown when a tether line failed and winds bore the balloon westward over enemy lines. Southern marksmen tried to shoot the airship down, but the wind shifted and took Porter back to his blue-suited friends.

Captain E. P. Alexander had charge of the Confederate aerial reconnaissance program, which enjoyed few of the advantages of its Northern counterpart. Lacking portable inflation machinery, the Confederates had to fill the balloon at the Richmond Gas Works, transport it by rail to the James River and tether it to a boat—the CSS Teaser —a bargelike vessel that was arguably the first aircraft carrier.

American businessmen had been using railroads for decades before the Civil War, but not until the Peninsula campaign did military men see what the iron roads could do for armies actively engaged in field operations. McClellan made the Peninsula's one rail line—the small Richmond & York River Railroad—a linchpin of his strategy. The enormous Army of the Potomac consumed 600 tons of food, forage, and supplies each day, every pound of which had to come hundreds of miles from the North. Ships carried the food and supplies to the Peninsula, and wagons took the materiel into the army's camps. Using the railroad lifted a tremendous burden from McClellan's supply officers because it could quickly move tons of rations to within a few miles of the army's camps on the Chickahominy. So dependent did the Federals become on the rails that one Union general stated that the Army of the Potomac could not survive more than 10 miles from a railroad.

The Confederates used the railroads most profitably by moving men. Five railroads converged at Richmond, and the Southerners brought troops over the rails from North Carolina and other parts of the Confederacy to defend the capital. Robert E. Lee's plan for a countermovement against McClellan late in June probably would not have been possible had not he been able to use the Virginia Central Railroad to move "Stonewall" Jackson's men rapidly from the Shenandoah Valley to Richmond.

By far the most innovative use of railroads in the campaign sprang from Lee's fertile mind early in June. Lee directed Confederate military engineers to work with the C.S. Navy in mounting a powerful Brooke Naval Rifle on a flatcar. This gun could accurately fire 32-pound explosive shells more than a mile. The Confederates mounted the 7,200-pound cannon behind a sloping wall of iron affixed to the flatcar and rolled the armored railroad gun—among the first in history—into action at the Battle of Savage's Station, June 29, 1862. The gun accounted for some Federal casualties, but its chief accomplishment seems to have been scaring Federal soldiers, many of them patients in a nearby field hospital, with the screech of its large shells.

More controversial were the shells deployed by Confederate Brigadier General Gabriel J. Rains. Just before the Confederate evacuation of Yorktown, Rains ordered his men to bury large artillery shells a few inches underground around wells and in roadways and rig the devices to explode when stepped on. Officers in both armies were still chivalric enough to denounce the land mines as barbaric, and angry Federals used Confederate prisoners to find and excavate the "infernal machines."

Of all the advanced implements of war used on the Peninsula, none better represented the terrible destructive potential of modern technology than Mr. Wilson Ager's volley gun.

Of all the advanced implements of war used on the Peninsula, none better represented the terrible destructive potential of modern technology than Wilson Ager's volley gun. Like the more famous Gatling gun, this rapid-fire weapon was a direct ancestor of the modern machine gun and spat scores of bullets per minute. Soldiers called it a "coffee mill gun" because gunners loaded ammunition into a hopper and turned a hand crank to fire the weapon. Several Ager guns saw action at Gaines's Mill, where soldiers reported hearing "the quick popping of a rapid firing gun" above the din of battle. The Agers had little effect at Gaines's Mill but had far more significant influence in inspiring inventors to create evermore devastating weapons and usher in the age of quick and efficient wholesale destruction that is the hallmark of modern technological warfare.

Watch the video: June 21, 2020


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