Monthly Archives: December 2012

Deadly See-Saw: The Battle of Gaines’ Mill

It is June 27, 1862 — exactly 6 months after Private Archibald Van Orden enlisted in the NY 12th Infantry. He and his Union comrades are now near Richmond, VA, preparing to attack the capitol of the CSA. They are attached to the 3d brigade (General Butterfield), 1st division (General Morell), 5th corps (General Porter), Army of the Potomac, commanded by General George B. McClellan.

Their location is near a home owned by a Mr. Gaines. Colonel G. K. Warren posted his 3d brigade troops, including Archie’s company, on the far left flank of Union lines. To reach them, Confederate forces under General Longstreet attack across treacherous swamps. At 2PM, the Battle of Gaines’ Mill engages in full.

Gaines' Mill Battle

Major Henry B. Clitz, leading the 12th Infantry, counterattacks charging rebels, repulsing them in a cacophonous, back-and-forth struggle of muskets and men. Union forces held on for dear life. Confederate forces lashed out again and again.

As evening neared, southern General “Stonewall” Jackson erupted in a fury over inability to displace federals, exhorting his men to sweep ahead with bayonets. General Sykes was forced to withdraw to a second ridge, but ordered the 12th Infantry to stand their ground, protecting the rest of the brigade as it retreated.

Gaines' Mill Nightfall

By nightfall, 894 Union troops sacrificed their lives in the Battle of Gaines’ Mill. It was considered a tactical victory by General Robert E. Lee, because his men pushed Union lines farther away from Richmond. But it came with a cost of thousands of casualties from his Army of Northern Virginia. While battered, McClellan’s Army of the Potomac would live to fight again — for four more days in the Seven Days Battles, which ended the Peninsula Campaign of 1862.

USA General McClellan and CSA General Lee, opposing commanders in the Seven Days Battles.

USA General McClellan and CSA General Lee, opposing commanders.

One of the fallen at Gaines’ Mill was Private Archibald Van Orden. His wound, though grave, was not fatal. Archie, too, would live to fight another day. But there were daunting challenges standing before him until that day arrived in 1864.

From Union Square to Freedom’s Fortress

Three months after my great-grandfather, Archie Van Orden, enlisted in Company D of the NY 12th Infantry, orders were issued to move to Washington, D.C. The regiment assembled in Union Square of NYC, receiving a tumultuous sendoff from many residents. Marching along Broadway towards the wharfs, the clamorous cheering crowds grew in enthusiasm with every passing minute.

soldiers-marching

The soldiers then boarded the Steamship Baltic, bound for the Capitol of the USA, as the citizens of NYC continued to shout and wave with loud approval.

Steamship for NY Infantry

On the way to Washington, D.C, the 12th infantry was ordered by General Butler to proceed directly to Fortress Monroe in Virginia, preparing for battle. They transferred to a different steamship, The Goatzacoatcos, joining together with a grand fleet carrying Union troops, journeying towards the Peninsula Campaign.

Steamship Fleet of Union Soliders

Freedom’s Fortress

Freedom’s Fortress was the nickname given to Fort Monroe, VA by African-Americans seeking refuge from slavery they suffered from the CSA in 1861. Fort Monroe, though located in rebel territory, remained in Union control in the Civil War. It was even garrisoned by former slaves, in advance of their emancipation.

Since the shipping lanes from the north to Fort Monroe remained open, Union troops and military equipment arrived there before the Peninsula Campaign of 1862 aimed at the capitol of the south, Richmond. When my great-grandfather, Archie Van Orden, disembarked at Fort Monroe in May 1862, his NY 12th Infantry was eager to restore Union to the country,  thereby ending the stain of slavery.

Fortress Monroe, VA

Little Drummer Boys

My great-grandfather, Archie, enlisted in the 12th Regiment of the US Infantry at Forth Hamilton, facing New York’s harbor from Brooklyn,  on January 27, 1862. He soon met three young Union soldiers arrayed in their military regalia.

Fort Hamilton Trio

Drummers and buglers were vitally important to train new recruits in drills they would need to use in action one day. Drum tattoos and bugle calls initiated everything from charges to retreats, rallying troops in the din of warfare. Though still young boys, these three were already veterans of battle at Bull Run.

Remember The Forsaken

This is Thomas Corbett. He was known by his fellow Union soldiers as “Boston.” Boston served directly with my great-grandfather, Archie, in the NY 12th Infantry and the NY 16th Cavalry. After the Civil War, Boston Corbett became one of the most renowned people in the USA. Over time, his fame faded, he dropped from public view, and his reputation was sullied by much speculation. Archie’s view of what really happened to his sergeant and friend  will be revealed in my book.Thomas "Boston" Corbett

Do you know this warrior?

A few years before this photo was taken, this man served in the NY 16th Cavalry, alongside my great-grandfather, Archibald Van Orden. Fate brought them together to endure the same dangers as they fought the enemy in war. Do you recognize him?

Young GW jr.

In peace, destiny drove this man to patent the invention he envisioned when he was a prisoner of war in 1864. Do you recognize what this drawing shows?

1865 Patent Drawing

Later, this man became a key protagonist in the “battle of currents” with Thomas Edison. Edison backed Direct Current. This man backed Alternating Current. AC went on to predominance as the electricity that we use at home today.

As time progressed, his company grew into a 20th century manufacturing power, and continues even into our 21st century lives.

Salute of Arms

On April 9 – 12, 1865, Archibald Van Orden wore this ribbon on his uniform, signifying his position in an honor guard accompanying General Grant at ceremonies of surrender on the grounds of Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

Worn by Archibald Van Orden, 16th NY Cavalry, at Appomattox, VA, surrender of CSA to USA.

Worn by Archibald Van Orden, 16th NY Cavalry, at Appomattox, VA.

On April 9, General Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia. On April 10, the CSA cavalry surrendered. On April 11, the CSA artillery surrendered. On April 12, the CSA infantry surrendered. At this final occasion, Joshua Chamberlain ordered the US Army to salute the CS Army with a command of “Order Arms; Carry!” The surrendering forces returned this action of mercy with their own Marching Salute. By honor saluting honor, the two armies began the healing of repatriation.

The painting below depicts cavalry to cavalry surrender on April 10, 1865:

CSA Cavalry surrenders to USA Cavalry.

CSA Cavalry surrenders to USA Cavalry.