Category Archives: Key Person

Someone important in Archie’s life.

Chasseur, For Sure

When my great-grandfather, Archibald Van Orden, enlisted the in the NY 12th Infantry of the US Army on January 27, 1862, General Daniel Butterfield was in overall command of that brigade. Just 30 years old, Butterfield was already renowned for three things. First, his career rocketed from Sergeant to General in just a few months, before he served on a battlefield (this earned him enemies). Second, he was fond of stylish military uniforms (this earned him critics). Third, he sported an awesome full mustache (this earned both admiration and jealousy.)

Daniel_Butterfield

A vain man, General Butterfield wanted his Corps to stand out for its uniforms. So he advocated purchase of French Chasseur uniforms for the 12th volunteers. If war was decided by style alone, his choice may well have been victorious.

Unfortunately, Chasseur uniforms were made in too small a size to fit most Americans. However, Archie being only 16 at the time he received his Chasseur uniform, was able to wear it with pride, no doubt cutting a fine-looking figure. This shows how he may have imagined it would appear in gallant warfare.

1861 Chasseur Uniform

In actuality, few (if any) Chasseur uniforms were ever worn on the battlefield.

Butterfield himself, however, went on to gain fame as the composer of “Taps”, the bugle call played at the end of the day, and also at funerals.  But he gained notoriety when he became chief-of-staff serving General Hooker. It was said that General Hooker’s command post was a sordid mixture of bar-room and  brothel. From this place came a slang term for prostitutes who were known as “hookers.”

A Fish Named Hamilton

Hamilton Fish was a boyhood chum of my great-great-grandfather, Abraham Van Orden, in NYC. They remained friends throughout life. As fortune would have it, his friendship not only helped Abraham in adulthood, he even rescued my great-grandfather, Archie Van Orden, during his days of direst war horrors in late 1864.

United_States_Representative_Hamilton_Fish_1844_Fenderich

Even in young adulthood, Hamilton demonstrated innate talent for politics. Perhaps this was a genetic predisposition, as he was a descendant of Pieter Stuyvesant, Director-General of the Dutch Colony of Nieuw Netherland in 1647 (which would become New York in 1664 ). From those 17th century roots, the Fish and Van Orden families became neighbors, collaborators, and friends. Hamilton’s parents, Nicholas and Elizabeth, named him in honor of their friend, Alexander Hamilton, who was a Founding Father of the United States of America.

Hamilton Fish would be elected by the people of New York to serve as State Representative, NY Governor, and U.S. Senator. An early and vital supporter of Abraham Lincoln as the Republican Party Candidate for President in 1860, Hamilton would be recognized by Lincoln for his exceptional abilities, with presidential appointments both during and after the Civil War.

Hamilton_Fish_Brady_Edited

Thousands of Union troops were spared horrible extremes of pain and death through the personal intercession of Hamilton Fish in southern prison camps. Thus, it is no surprise that Archie’s younger brother, my great-grand-uncle, was named Hamilton Fish Van Orden in honor of that great man and patriot.

Anaconda Strike

In 1861, Winfield Scott was Commanding General of the US Army. This old hero of the War of 1812 remained strategically sharp, though he became infirm and obese. Yet, as the painting shows, in his prime, Scott was an impressive officer.

Winfield_Scott_-_National_Portrait_Gallery

Building from his experience and advice from others, Scott proposed a Civil War grand strategy that was known colloquially as the Anaconda Plan. This name was inspired by the world’s largest snake, which crushes the life out of any prey.

Scott-anaconda

As we see in this illustration, a blockade of southern ports was key to the plan. In my own analysis, I would say his full strategy could be called “Three Lethal Cuts”: First, Cut Off (coastal embargoes); Second, Cut Down (amphibious assaults down the Mississippi River, severing the Confederacy in half); Third, Cut In (rampaging from west to east through Tennessee and Georgia, destroying many CSA assets).

My great-grandfather, Archie Van Orden may have read of Scott’s Anaconda Plan in northern newspapers of 1861, before enlisting, for this was no national secret. Carrying out the plan would take years and cost almost innumerable lives — but eventually the strategic brilliance of Winfield Scott won the day, and the war.

 

When Rights Collide

Recently, I concentrated on blogging about Key Persons, Key Events, Key Artifacts and Key Places in the life of my great-grandfather, Archibald Van Orden, during his service in the Union Army at the time of the Civil War. All of these posts reflect my research as I write the novel inspired by his exploits.

Now I turn back to societal context which spawned war itself, to set the stage.

Boiling it down, my studies lead me to conclude there were two irreconcilable positions held in the United States in 1860 (and all the years prior to that time).

The right to liberty collided with the right to property.

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It is nearly impossible for us today to conceive, or accept, that slaves were not only considered inferior, they were the personal property of their slave holders.

Alexander Stevens, who became Vice President of the Confederate States of America, boldly spoke a noxious belief in the right to property at its extreme: “the negro is not equal to the white man; slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” [I must add that I abhor and reject everything within his statement.]

On their right of personal property, the southern states would not budge an inch.

Against this stand stood the newly ascendant Republican Party in northern states, determined to restrict, diminish, and eventually destroy slavery in our nation. They believed in the self-evident and unalienable right to liberty, as written  in the Declaration of Independence, in which “all men are created equal.”

By 1861, the right to liberty became the unstoppable force believed in the North, while the right to property remained the unmovable object believed in the South.

No compromise was possible. The clash was inevitable, cataclysmic, and deadly.

170px-John_Brown_portrait,_1859

John Brown, an abolitionist executed for leading an insurrection to free slaves in 1859, expressed this certainty using these immortal words :

“I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land can never be purged away but with blood.”

—John Brown’s last words, written on a note
handed to a guard just before his hanging

Can You See The Connection?

What’s the connection between this first picture …

Sheep_Meadow-Central_Park-NYC

… and this second picture below?

RedRoverHospitalShip-001

The answer is found in this third picture below!

Frederick_Law_Olmsted

This man is Frederick Law Olmsted. He is renowned as the landscape architect of Central Park in NYC. My great grandfather, Archibald Van Orden, visited Central Park, including the sheep’s meadow shown above, when he was garrisoned in NY.

Mr. Olmsted’s greatest service to his nation, however, came during the Civil War, when he was appointed head of the US Sanitary Commission. This precursor of The Red Cross outfitted Hospital Ships, such as the one shown above, to care for Union wounded, near Virginia battlefields in the Peninsula Campaign of 1862.

After Archie was seriously wounded by a minie ball shot into his thigh during the Battle of Gaines’ Mill, he was a beneficiary of this brilliance by F.L. Olmsted. Archie was carried with other wounded soldiers on a horse cart until he reached Harrison’s Landing on the Pamunkey River in VA.

Harrison's Landing

Moved onto the anchored ship “Euterpe”, surgeons removed the minie ball from Archie’s leg, staunched the bleeding, and bandaged the wound. Though he would walk with a limp for the rest of his years, his life was saved by the doctors. Next Archie was transferred to the transport ship “Louisiana”, which would continue his recovery care, while carrying him towards Maryland on his way back home.

Angel of The Waterways

On the Steamer “Louisiana” Archie met an “angel of the waterways,” a nurse who would become one of the most important people in his life — and in mine. Their story and their destinies will be told in full when my book is finally published.

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.

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