Civil War Wednesday: The Battle of Brown’s Mill

Major General William T. Sherman issued Special Field Orders, No. 42 on July 25, 1864, once again communicating his plans for taking the city of Atlanta. Sherman’s horse soldiers received special mention in the orders, which indicated the troopers’ main mission rested on destroying portions of the rail network lining the city.

Brigadier General Edward McCook.

Brigadier General Edward McCook.

Saddles began filling on the morning of July 28; soon, two brigades under Brigadier General Edward McCook left a dusty trail as they rode toward the Macon and Western Railroad. After destroying large sections of this line, the horsemen turned their sights toward the Atlanta and West Point Railroad. A surprise awaited the riders as they traveled the Ricketyback Road when Southern iron of a different form – the cavalry soldiers with Major General Joe Wheeler – twisted the Federals’ plans, much as they had intended to warp the tracks of the Atlanta and West Point.

Hard fighting, often hand-to-hand, took place along the Ricketyback Road, and when Confederate reinforcements, in the form of the 1st and 9th Tennessee Battalions blocked the intersection onto the Corinth Road, the battle turned into a rout. Wheeler smelled blood, rose in his saddle, and encouraged his soldiers from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Texas to “Follow me! My brave Men!” McCook, shaken with the sudden onslaught, sat in his saddle, almost as if in a daze, mumbling, “What shall we do? What shall we do?” Colonel James Brownlow, son of Tennessee’s infamous “Parson” Brownlow had the answer. Escape! As Brownlow maneuvered toward the Chattahoochee River, at a position near Franklin, McCook and company rode toward the New River. The brave soldiers of the 8th Iowa fought a strong rearguard holding action, which allowed several Federal troopers to avoid a trip to Andersonville’s Camp Sumter. Local African-Americans served as guides for both fleeing forces, as they attempted to navigate through the unfamiliar territory.

Major General Joe Wheeler.

Major General Joe Wheeler.

Early on the morning of July 31, lead elements of Wheeler’s force caught up with Brownlow’s command and took several prisoners. Crossing the Chattahoochee proved a very slow process, and those boys in blue remaining on the “wrong” side of the river became prisoners. In his after-action report, McCook stated, “At Brown’s Mill…I was surrounded by an overwhelming force.” A fitting summation for a costly defeat, one Sherman echoed in a communication to Washington, “The loss of this cavalry is a serious one to me.”

One bright moment for the Federals did emerge from their suffering at Brown’s Mill, when Private George Healey with the 5th Iowa Cavalry received the Medal of Honor for assisting in the capture of five Confederate soldiers. Federal casualties during the action numbered 1,400 with almost 1,300 taken as prisoners; Wheeler lost around 700 dead, wounded, or missing.

[1] David Evans, Sherman’s Horsemen: Union Cavalry Operations in the Atlanta Campaign (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), 261.

[1] Ibid., 264.

Images courtesy Library of Congress.

mikeMichael K. Shaffer is the Assistant Director and Lecturer for Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center. He is a Civil War historian, author, and newspaper columnist, and a member of the Society of Civil War Historians. He serves on the boards of the Civil War Round Table of Cobb County and the River Line Historic Area, and assists the Friends of Camp McDonald as a Civil War consultant.

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Civil War Wednesday: Nurses

Period Illustration depicting nurses.

Period Illustration depicting nurses.

Prior to the Civil War, no professional nursing schools existed in the United States, and males occupied the vast majority of all nursing positions, with the “Catholic Sisters of Charity” representing the only professionally trained group of female nurses at the outset of war. During the conflict, this newfound vocation for women, also provided opportunities for free persons of color, slaves, and convalescent soldiers. At war’s end, more than 20,000 women provided angelic care to wounded soldiers.

Many female nurses came from middle and upper-class families, so income probably did not serve as the prime factor, which motivated them to risk their own health while tending to the needs of others. In the North, white nurses earned $12 per month, while African American nurses received $10. In the South, where inflation ran rampant, a nurse working in early 1865 earned a monthly salary of $40. In 1892, Congress approved a $12 per month pension for those women who served in Federal hospitals.

Clara Barton

Clara Barton

Clara Barton, an employee of the U.S. Patent Office prior to the war, began her nursing career after the July 1861 Battle of Bull Run/First Manassas. Throughout the war, she followed the Federal armies from Virginia to South Carolina, instilling a level of professionalism and introducing standard practices and procedures for nurses. After the war, she assisted family members in locating their loved ones – men fallen on some distant field or incarcerated in one of many Southern prisons. In 1881, she formed the American Red Cross.

Kate Cumming

Kate Cumming

Alabamian Kate Cumming served as a nurse for the Confederacy in the western theater from April 1862, until the termination of hostilities. She experienced many of the same emotional struggles as nurses elsewhere, as witnessed in a September 1862 diary entry: “There is a good deal of trouble about the ladies in some of the hospitals of this department. Our friends here have advised us to go home, as they say it is not considered respectable to go into one [hospital]. I must confess, from all I have heard and seen, for awhile I wavered about the propriety of it; but when I remembered the suffering I had witnessed, and the relief I had given, my mind was made up to go into one if allowed to do so.”[1]

In April 1863, after almost one year spent tending the wounded, Cumming lamented, “It is sad to see so many dying with no kindred near them to sooth their last moments and close their eyes. What a sacred duty is here left undone by our women! I do not say all are guilty of this neglect, for I know there are many good women who have their home duties to attend to, and others who have not strength physically…”[2]

A poem, which Cumming penned after the war, perhaps captures the essence of the trials Civil War nurses endured North and South.

The wounds I might have healed –

The human sorrow and smart;

And yet it never was in my soul

To play so ill a part:

But evil is wrought by want of thought

As well as want of heart.[3]


[1] Kate Cumming, Kate, the Journal of a Confederate Nurse. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998), 65.

[2] Ibid., 99.

[3] Ibid., 4.

Michael Shaffer

Michael Shaffer

Michael K. Shaffer is the Assistant Director and Lecturer for Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center. He is a Civil War historian, author, and newspaper columnist, and a member of the Society of Civil War Historians. He serves on the boards of the Civil War Round Table of Cobb County and the River Line Historic Area, and assists the Friends of Camp McDonald as a Civil War consultant.

The Civil War Center

The Civil War Center

 

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Civil War Wednesday: The Navy

Montauk

Montauk (Photo Credit: The Soldier in Our Civil War: A Pictorial History of the Conflict, 1861-1865, Illustrating the Valor of the Soldier as Displayed on the Battle-field. New York: J. H. Brown publishing company, 1884-85).

Two vessels and their crews carried much history into a February 28 confrontation off Georgia’s coast near Confederate-held Fort McAllister. John L. Worden, former commander of the USS Monitor in the epic encounter with the CSS Virginia in the March 1862 Battle of Hampton Roads, now captained the ironclad USS Montauk. Although the Federals had battled Fort McAllister’s defenders, Worden ignored shelling from the Confederate bastion as he approached a vessel, which had run aground nearby.

Rattlesnake

The Rattlesnake (Photo Credit: Harper’s Weekly, March 28, 1863).

Slowly, the turret of the Montauk rotated toward the Rattlesnake, once known as the Confederate privateer Nashville. Soon, the remains of the sleek craft, which had once plagued Northern shipping, lay smoldering in the Ogeechee River’s murky waters. The Montauk received her only damage when striking a torpedo (floating mine) as she steamed away from the area.

Worden

John L. Worden (Photo Credit: The Library of Congress).

Michael Shaffer

Michael K. Shaffer is the Assistant Director and Lecturer for Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center. He is a Civil War historian, author, and newspaper columnist, and a member of the Society of Civil War Historians. He serves on the boards of the Civil War Round Table of Cobb County and the River Line Historic Area, and assists the Friends of Camp McDonald as a Civil War consultant.

The Civil War Center

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