In July 1864, while my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was laid up in hospital, a thwarted Confederate attack on Washington marked an important turning point in the U.S. Civil War.
At the Battle of Fort Stevens, north of the city, Confederate forces from the Shenandoah Valley were repulsed by a hybrid mass of Union combatants — irregulars who were holding the fort reinforced at the eleventh hour by battle-hardened 6th Corps troops sent north from the Virginia front.
As shots whizzed by, Pres. Abraham Lincoln observed the battle from the parapet of Fort Stevens. Washington’s defenses were beefed up after the failed assault.
The Union’s Army of the Shenandoah was also reorganized to definitively drive the Confederates out of the Valley — and block further threats to the capital as the 1864 presidential election drew near.
As part of this strategy, my great, great grandfather’s unit — the 6th New York Heavy Artillery — was recalled from Virginia in mid-August and attached to the 1st Brigade, Hardin’s Division, 22nd Army Corps, Dept. of Washington.
Col. J. Howard Kitching, the 6th NYHA commander, was put in charge of the 1st Brigade when he arrived in Washington. He described where things stood in a 17 August 1864 letter to his father, reprinted in More than Conqueror:
I reported to General Augur, and was at once placed in command…There has been no system of management of the command till everything has gotten wrong end foremost. I have relieved the former staff and am trying to get matters regulated.
The command is large, comprising thirteen forts with their garrisons, extending about eight miles. I have not yet been able to ride over my line, and see what I have jumped into.
When my ancestor Arthur Bull returned to his artillery unit in September 1864 — after his discharge from De Camp Hospital — he reported to the capital.
Arthur, 29, had survived the bloody spring battles of the Overland Campaign in Virginia, then recuperated in July and August from war-related illness. Now he would be stationed north of the Potomac to defend Washington.
I wonder about my ancestor’s experience returning to active duty. What was the atmosphere in the capital? How was Union troop morale? Where would his unit be dispatched next? And how would Arthur hold up in the battles to come?
More in future posts as the research continues.
© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.