Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Pennsylvania Reserves in Northern Virginia 1863, Part III: Military Duties in and Around Washington

Following a brief interlude, I return this week to the story of the Pennsylvania Reserves in Northern Virginia during the first half of 1863. The hard-fighting division had suffered heavy losses in the bloodletting of the previous year. Generals and politicians lobbied tirelessly to have the Reserves sent back to the Keystone State to recuperate and fill their ranks with new recruits. (See Part I.) In the end, the Union Army settled on an alternative course of action designed to accomplish the same goals. (See Part II.)

At the start of February 1863, the division's three brigades boarded transports at Belle Plain, Virginia and headed up the Potomac.* The Reserves were slated to join the newly-formed 22nd Corps of the Department of Washington, composed of soldiers who were assigned to the defense of the nation's capital. On February 7, the Pennsylvanians disembarked at the port of Alexandria and marched towards their old campgrounds around Fairfax Seminary.

Orders finally came on February 10. (OR, 1:51:1, 985.) Gen. Samuel P. Heintzelman, commander of the Department of Washington, directed the First Brigade to proceed to Fairfax Courthouse. The Second Brigade was ordered to Upton's Hill, while the Third Brigade was to occupy Minor's Hill.** The Reserves performed a variety of tasks, from the mundane to the downright dangerous.

Gen. Samuel P. Heintzelman, commander of the Department of Washington and 22nd Corps (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).
The experience of the 2nd Pennsylvania Reserves was typical of the regiments assigned to the area around Fairfax. The 2nd took the Orange & Alexandria Railroad from Alexandria to Fairfax Station on February 12 and established camp near Fairfax Court House. On February 21 the men received orders to guard the fords across Bull Run. The 2nd's picket line stretched for seven miles. As one regimental historian described duty there:
Our posts at the fords were almost nightly visited by the guerrillas, who exchanged a few shots with the pickets and disappeared. When a shot was fired, not knowing the strength or object of the enemy, the reserve at the post was turned out, and as this occurred several times through the night, the men's sleep was constantly liable to be disturbed. This tour of duty lasted sixteen days, and we were all glad when it was over. (Woodward, Our Campaigns, 254.)
During the night of March 8, the 2nd Reserves proceeded to Union Mills and the next day returned to camp at Fairfax. By March 16, the regiment was on the move again. This time they were assigned to dig rifle pits outside town along the road to Centreville. Finally, on March 28, the 2nd marched four miles to Fairfax Station, where the men established a more permanent camp. As May got underway, the partisan rangers became more active, and the 2nd had to contend with intensified attacks on the picket lines and the railroad around Fairfax.

The Bucktails, also from the First Brigade, proceeded to Fairfax on February 12. Here they engaged in picket and scouting duty, dug rifle trenches, cut trees, and buried dead horses. On the night of March 8, Confederate ranger John Mosby captured Gen. Edwin Stoughton in a raid on Fairfax. Accordingly, "to guard against a repetition of such a humiliating experience, the Bucktails were ordered to move their camp closer to the village." (Thomson & Rauch 47.) A regimental history claims that due to this precautionary measure, "Mosby's Rangers did not again penetrate the Union line in that vicinity" while the Bucktails were in Fairfax. (Thomson & Rauch 247.)

The 4th and 7th Pennsylvania Reserves performed guard duty at Camp Convalescent, a few miles from Alexandria along Four Mile Run.*** This massive facility was home to thousands of soldiers recovering from wounds and illnesses. Camp Convalescent consisted of fifty barracks as well as officers' quarters, dining rooms, cook houses, and hospitals.

Period engraving of Camp Convalescent, outside of Alexandria (courtesy of NYPL Digital Gallery). The camp was new when the Pennsylvania Reserves arrived for guard duty in early 1863. The conditions at the previous camp had become so bad that it earned the nickname, "Camp Misery."
Regiments from the Third Brigade were also detailed to areas outside Minor's Hill. The 11th Pennsylvania Reserves encamped in Vienna near the Alexandria, Loudoun & Hampshire Railroad. Private Lindley H. Addleman described the daily routine in a letter to his sister:
. . .we halve been doing fatigue duty pretty near every day since we came but it is easy [work] Some days we load carrs with cordwood and Some days we on load hay oats and corn and rashions for the cavalry well that is what we halve to do beside camp guarding. (Spelling and grammar as in original.)
The 12th Pennsylvania Reserves were assigned to a spot near the railroad bridge over Bull Run in February and early March. Sergeant Thomas Dick of Company H seemed far from bothered by his routine. As he told his brother in a February 22 letter, "[o]ur duty is not very arduous here." Dick came on duty "about once a week . . .to guard the railroad." The sergeant seemed almost nonchalant about the risks involved:
Have nothing to annoy us but the guerrillas They pop one over occasionally. Major Larimer of the 5th was killed a short time ago while leading a skirmishing party. (Grammar as in original.)
New orders arrived on April 19. Heintzelman directed the Second Brigade, "except the detachment now on duty at the Convalescent Camp," to "report without delay to Brigadier General John P. Slough, military governor of Alexandria." (OR, 1:51:1, 1008.) The commander kept the 11th Pennsylvania Reserves in Vienna, but ordered the remainder of the Third Brigade to report immediately to Gen. J.H. Martindale, the military governor of Washington. The First Brigade remained in Fairfax Court House and environs.

The 3rd Pennsylvania Reserves, along with other regiments in the Second Brigade, contributed to the defense of Alexandria. Following the Union defeat at Chancellorsville in May, earthworks were erected around the city. The 3rd encamped about a mile from the fortifications. An alarm was raised "a number of times, but no enemy appeared." (Woodward, The Third Reserve, 226.) Moreover, "upon several occasions," the regiment acted "as a guard to the railroad trains carrying forage to [Joseph] Hooker's army, they going as far as Warrenton Junction." (Woodward, The Third Reserve, 226.)

The regiments of the Third Brigade performed provost duty in Washington. The men maintained order and guarded Confederate prisoners and U.S. Government property. Private Benjamin Addleman of the 10th Pennsylvania Reserves and Lindley's brother, was quartered in barracks on East Capitol Hill. In a May 12 letter to his sister, Benjamin reported that "there has been a great many prisoners fetched to Washington from the army of the Potimack." Just the other day, he "helpt to fetch 795 rebls from the wharf. . . ." (Spelling and grammar as in original.) Thomas Dick of the 12th guarded Old Capitol  Prison at the end of May. As he told his sister, "we are off duty two days and on one: It is very nice duty."

Old Capitol Prison, Washington, DC (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons). The building served as the temporary meeting place for Congress (1815-19) after the British burned the Capitol during the War of 1812. Old Capitol Prison held Confederate sympathizers, spies, and prisoners of war. The Supreme Court now sits on this location east of the U.S. Capitol.  
By the start of June 1863, the three brigades of the Pennsylvania Reserves were scattered across Northern Virginia and Washington. Since arriving in February, the Pennsylvanians had fended off attacks by partisan rangers, built entrenchments, and performed other necessary but mundane tasks. As one history of the Reserves summed up military life during that time, "picket duty here [was] more arduous than it was with the Army of the Potomac, and altogether the duties were no lighter nor the quarters any better than they were in the active army." (Hardin 137; see also Sypher 434; Thomson & Rauch 245; Woodward, The Third Reserve, 226.) Men like Thomas Dick and Lindley Addleman, however, may have begged to differ. Whatever the case, much harder days were only a month away for many of the soldiers.


*The Pennsylvania Reserves were under the overall command of Col. Horatio G. Sickel. The First Brigade, led by Col. William McCandless, was composed of the 1st, 2nd, 6th, and 13th (Bucktails) Pennsylvania Reserves. The Second Brigade, under Col. Henry C. Bolinger, was composed of the 3rd, 4th, 7th, and 8th Pennsylvania Reserves. The Third Brigade, under Col. Joseph W. Fisher, was composed of the 5th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th Pennsylvania Reserves.

**Upton's Hill sits on the Arlington County-Fairfax County boundary. Minor's Hill is a bit farther to the northwest and also straddles the border between the two counties. Both eminences are to the east of Falls Church and northwest of Alexandria. For a period map, see here.

***Camp Convalescent sat on land belonging to the present-day Army-Navy Country Club in Arlington County.


"Brief History of the 7th Pennsylvania Reserves (36th Infantry)," from Samuel Bates, History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865 (1869-71) (courtesy of Pa. Res. Hist. Soc.); "Brief History of Company B, 7th Reserves, 'The Biddle Rifles,'" Perry County in the Civil War (courtesy of Pa. Res. Hist. Soc.); James G. Barber, Alexandria in the Civil War (1988); Civil War in the East (on-line database); Joseph Gibbs, Three Years in the Bloody Eleventh: The Campaigns of a Pennsylvania Reserves Regiment (2002); Martin D. Hardin, History of the Twelfth Regiment Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps (1890); Ltr. from Benjamin P. Addleman to Sister, May 12, 1863 (courtesy of Pa. Res. Hist. Soc.); Ltr. from Lindley H. Addleman to Sister, Apr. 30, 1863 (courtesy of Pa. Reserves Hist. Soc.); Ltr. from Thomas W. Dick to Brother, Feb. 22, 1863 (courtesy of Pa. Reserves Hist. Soc.); Ltr. from Thomas W. Dick to Sister, May 31, 1863 (courtesy of Pa. Res. Hist. Soc.); Ltr. from Americus Murray to Cousins, Apr. 19, 1863 (courtesy of Pa. Reserves Hist. Soc.); "Other Government Buildings: Old Capitol Prison," Mr. Lincoln's White House (website); J.R. Sypher, History of the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps (1865); O.R. Howard Thomson & William H. Rauch, History of the "Bucktails" (1906); Evan M. Woodward, History of the Third Pennsylvania Reserve (1883); Evan M. Woodward, Our Campaigns (1865).

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