Help support TMP

"Was Upton at Spotsylvania inspired by Hungarians?" Topic

30 Posts

All members in good standing are free to post here. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the posters, and have not been cleared with nor are they endorsed by The Miniatures Page.

For more information, see the TMP FAQ.

Back to the 19th Century Discussion Message Board

Back to the ACW Discussion Message Board

983 hits since 18 Aug 2017
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP19 Aug 2017 7:07 a.m. PST

Upton's cold steel assault at Spotsylvania is one of the most famous episodes of the ACW. I recently found a very similar episode occurred during the battle of Komarom (1849) (see TMP thread here: )
In a brilliant night assault, five Hungarian brigades – about 4,000 men – stormed Austrian siege lines with cold steel, with total success.

After their defeat by Austria, many Hungarians emigrated to the USA, and over 100 served as officers in the Union army. I note from here
that one Hungarian, Anton Gerster, was a captain in the 5th Missouri Infantry, which I believe was in Upton's first line in the assault at Spotsylvania. Obviously Komarom was not the only time a cold steel assault was ever used before, but is it too fanciful of me to think that Gerster and/or other Hungarian veterans might have suggested the tactic to Upton? Do any learned TMPers have any other insight into where Upton got the idea from?


Bloody Big BATTLES!

Personal logo Jeff Ewing Supporting Member of TMP19 Aug 2017 10:56 a.m. PST

It's an interesting idea, but I would guess both the Hungarian and Union officers got the idea from Jomini. It's hard to control troops in a night attack, so you'd want them in dense columns.

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP19 Aug 2017 1:04 p.m. PST

I was thinking less of the dense columns and more of the stricture against firing a single shot. It seems to have been distinctive and celebrated in ACW, at least. How unique an episode was it really? Was that in Jomini's advice too?


Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP20 Aug 2017 4:49 a.m. PST

What I find interesting is that the tactic worked so well it was never used again.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP20 Aug 2017 2:35 p.m. PST


All Upton did was have the troops form up in regimental columns at full distance. This produced a 'wave' effect to the advance. It was a Napoleonic formation used during that period.

It is the same method/formation used by the Hungarians in any number of battles… with varying success. If you look at the Osprey book by Paddy Griffith "French Napoleonic Tactics" there are several pictures of this kind of formation, though overall the book is not worth the price.

The cover even has an illustration of a similar formation:


While both the Hungarians [and Austrians] and ACW military men put their own bells and whistles on the open column, that is still what it was. Nothing particularly new, or new in attacking fortified defenses.

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP21 Aug 2017 3:56 a.m. PST

Winston, Bill, thanks for your replies. I wrote my initial post while I was away from my books but now I have access again to Gordon Rhea's "The Battles for Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern".

It seems Upton (and Sedgwick) had previous (pp163-164):
"[Upton's] success in capturing seemingly invulnerable positions gave his ideas a ring of authority. In early November, 1863, he had stormed a formidable Confederate bridgehead at Rappahannock Station and had carried it. […] Upton believed that he could break the campaign's pattern of unsuccessful attacks. The way to overrun Lee's works, he argued, was to reach them quickly. THE NONSENSE OF FIRING AND RELOADING WHILE CHARGING HAD TO END. [my caps] Lightning forays held the secret to breaching Lee's entrenchments."

This is my key point: it is not the columnar / wave formation that is distinctive, it is the cold steel, no-firing tactic.

On the Second Battle of Rappahannock Station, I don't have a good source to hand, but a quick search finds Wikipedia claiming:
"Maj. Gen. Horatio G. Wright noted that it was the first instance in which Union troops had carried a strongly entrenched Confederate position in the first assault."

The Civil War Trust says:
"Sedgwick's men skirmished with Maj. Gen. Jubal Early's Confederates before launching a brutal nighttime bayonet attack."
Does that imply the no-firing tactic was used there too? Not directly – but in that Upton drew the lesson from it that 'lightning forays held the secret', perhaps yes.

So while the columnar formation may have been 'nothing particularly new', I do suggest that the no-firing tactic was; and that that was what made Upton's attacks distinctive and successful. (And could have been inspired by Hungarians in 1863 rather than 1864.)

That said, ACW is not my specialist subject, and I would be happy to hear from TMPers who know more. Specifically, if you know of other cases of no-firing assaults – successful or otherwise – it would be great to learn of them.

Winston, great point about "What I find interesting is that the tactic worked so well it was never used again". As far as the ACW is concerned: maybe it was but we haven't heard about it? Maybe the right situation didn't arise again? There was less than a year of war left: maybe the Union army wasn't able to digest and disseminate the lesson that widely? Or maybe wide availability of repeating rifles in Union units changed the equation?

After all, just a month after Spotsylvania, over in Denmark, Prussian soldiers were also assaulting earthworks. The difference there was that they were carrying breechloading Dreyse needleguns. The weight of fire they could produce, and the skirmisher tactics they enabled, meant firing while assaulting became a much better idea. (And Austrian Stosstaktik in 1866 attacking Dreyses made no sense at all.)


Bloody Big BATTLES!

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP21 Aug 2017 4:11 a.m. PST

Just as a note, Upton's attack was made in broad daylight (around 6PM). It was the later attack with the whole corps that began in the dark.

Major Bloodnok21 Aug 2017 9:37 a.m. PST

The idea of a bayonet attack without firing is hardly an innovation of the ACW or the Hungarian Revolution. During the AWI the "Paoli Massacre" was the result of British General "No Flint" Grey's sucessful night attack against Rebel General Wayne. British General Whitelock attempted the same thing assaulting Buenos Aires in 1807. I'm sure there are many other pre 1848 examples out there.

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP22 Aug 2017 3:22 a.m. PST

Scott, Major Bloodnok, thanks for the comments.

Re night vs day: that wasn't the distinctive element I was after, it's the cold steel.

On precedents: yes, as I said in the OP, "Obviously Komarom was not the only time a cold steel assault was ever used before". Thank you for the AWI and Bs As examples which I was not aware of.

However, I don't suppose many veterans of either were serving with Upton in 1863. By contrast, we know that he had at least one Hungarian officer, who may have had relevant knowledge or even experience of the more recent Komarom example.

And nobody has offered any other ACW examples. Are there really none? If not, then why did Upton use this and nobody else? It surely can't be because he was the only one to have read Jomini.

And are there other examples from other 1848-1849 conflicts, or Poland in 1860, etc, recent enough that veterans of them could have served in Upton's ranks? And if so, any evidence that they or their compatriots did? If not, does that leave our Hungarian as the closest connection between Upton and a possible influencing episode?

Yes, I know, it's a very long shot and a probably unprovable speculation based on tenuous circumstantial evidence. But I'm inviting y'all to present evidence that would disprove or at least compete the claim, and I'm not seeing it yet.


Bloody Big BATTLES!

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP22 Aug 2017 7:42 a.m. PST

And nobody has offered any other ACW examples. Are there really none? If not, then why did Upton use this and nobody else? It surely can't be because he was the only one to have read Jomini.

If you are asking if there were other examples of infantry attacks where the attacker was ordered not to fire, then yes, there were other examples. Successful examples or examples where the attackers didn't stop to fire anyway, those are rare…. Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg is an example.

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP25 Aug 2017 9:18 a.m. PST

Thanks, Bill. Did it actually happen at Marye's Heights? Wikipedia (not the best source, I know) says, "Leading his two regiments on the left, Col. Nelson A. Miles suggested to Caldwell that the practice of marching in formation, firing, and stopping to reload, made the Union soldiers easy targets, and that a concerted bayonet charge might be effective in carrying the works. Caldwell denied permission."

Still, at least it shows someone other than Upton had the same idea. Maybe I need to check how many Hungarians were serving with Miles … ;-)


Bill N25 Aug 2017 9:57 a.m. PST

I don't know where Upton got the idea from. There were a number of examples of successful attacks by columns in earlier wars, and as a West Point grad Upton probably had read about some.

I think the success of Upton's attack at Spottsylvania were in part due to the circumstances. Against an opponent well supported with artillery and launched over a wider open field and the attackers would probably have suffered far greater damage.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP26 Aug 2017 6:48 p.m. PST


From what I understand, the Union advanced against Marye's Heights until forced to ground and generally did not stop to fire and load… when they did go to ground, then they attempted to fire back. Caldwell was only one brigade among three or more divisions--and waves of attacks.


ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP29 Aug 2017 3:26 a.m. PST

Hmm, I still haven't seen any evidence of anyone other than Upton explicitly ordering his men not to fire at all during an assault on defensive works. Surely someone somewhere in 4 years of ACW must have done?

And to make myself clear, since several responses so far suggest I have failed to:
- this is NOT about assaulting in column rather than line;
- it is NOT about assaulting at night rather than day;
- this is about NOT FIRING during an assault.


Sparta29 Aug 2017 3:41 a.m. PST

Not firing during an assault has been recommended as long as there was firearms. The old french guard at Montmirail apparantly had their flints out before storming. The french in 1859 consistently used this method, hence the term Furia Franchese.

A Clausewitz wrote, the attack has a destructive and a decisive phase. The problem has always been that it requires extremely well disciplined troops to start advancing again once they have fired. Therefore close order troops has always had a difficulty moving from the destructive to the decisive phase. A unit that starts shooting has in most cases failed its attack and made it degenerate into a prolonged firefight instead. Usually a new infusion of troops is necessary to renew the attack. This is why the destructive phase of the attack – the firefight – was usually done by skirmishers from the french revolution and forward – with the ACW and the austrians in 1866 standing as the exceptions.

Once you get breechloaders the destructive phase cannot be performed by closed order troops – that is what the austrians learned in 1866.

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP29 Aug 2017 4:42 a.m. PST

Sparta, I appreciate the general comments, but I am looking for specific ACW instances. As I have now said repeatedly:
"Obviously Komarom was not the only time a cold steel assault was ever used before".

Can you give me a specific instance in the ACW, other than Upton's, where troops were specifically ordered not to fire during an assault on defensive works?


Bill N29 Aug 2017 7:11 a.m. PST

I have read other commanders advocated having their troops close with the enemy in a charge without stopping to fire. I believe Trimble was one. The advantages of this are as Sparta indicated.

Advocating it is one thing. Pulling it off is another. Troops that have been subjected to heavy artillery and rifle fire as they approach and then are hit with an effective volley will tend to either stop and return fire or hit the ground. Training and experience, having the troops advance with unloaded weapons and putting troops in dense formations are all ways to try to overcome this human tendancy. Upton's attack stands out not because Upton tried to launch a cold steel assault, but because he succeeded.

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP29 Aug 2017 7:42 a.m. PST

Bill N: thanks! Now we're getting somewhere. Can you dig out specific references please? Where did Trimble try this?


Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP29 Aug 2017 7:51 p.m. PST

Most bayonet attacks were carried out in desperation rather than offensively as a plan. For instance at First Manassas when the 33rd Virginia charged an exposed artillery battery with bayonets, they weren't out of ammunition, they just attacked. Or Hancock at Gettysburg ordered a bayonet charge of the 1st Minnesota when he sent them into the gap in the Federal line and the were destroyed. And of course the 20th Maine on Little Round Top.

Too often, the order to fix bayonets came once a unit's ammunition supply was exhausted and the only option left was to charge, "We were now nearly out of ammunition , some having fired the last round. The order was given to fix bayonets, intending to give the enemy a bloody reception if they attempted to come over to us. Just at that instant they broke and ran leaving a perfect winrow of dead and wounded behind them, while cheers of victory went up from the gallant 64th.…" Persons, Warren B. 64th NY.

"Sometimes during a chaotic fight waves of men would charge back and forth, "They would alternately advance and retreat, charge bayonets, advance and form new lines of battle, change their front," wrote Thrall, Seneca B. 13th Iowa.

Robert Cruikshank of the 123rd NY Infantry was at Gettysburg on July 3rd and described a charge he was involved in: "We advanced into the woods and in the rear of the 20th Conn. where we could see our works, when the order came to charge. The men began to cheer and run forward, firing as they advanced, bayonets fixed. The battery ceased firing. On we went over the dead and wounded; the enemy falling back, we soon reached our works and held them. The rest of the Brigade advanced and took their old places in the line and the gap from Spangle's Spring closed."

Yet another soldier describes a perilous charge: "… we waited for nearly an hour while sharp shooters in the treetops beyond the peach orchard kept picking off our men our orders were to save our ammunition and not to fire a shot then came the command to fix bayonets and charge the rebel lines then we climbed out of our ditch and made a wild rush for the rebel lines the air was alive with whizzing bullets and the wild shooting of the enemy tore up the sand and filled our eyes with dirt we reached the rebel lines without firing a shot and strange enough we lost but a few men killed and wounded on our side the retreat of the rebels was complete" Cooke, Chauncey H, 25th Wisconsin

The utility of the bayonet was primary as a last result or to repulse a charge by the enemy. When we think of a bayonet charge, of course, Little Round Top comes to mind. But there were other charges that played important roles in their respective battles. One being at Battle of Opequon (Winchester). There the 8th Vermont was involved in a key bayonet charge, which involved troops from Upton's brigade and here is how it was described:

The First brigade, having repulsed the foe in their own front, have moved back to the woods as a reserve, and the Eighth Vermont and Twelfth Connecticut are now alone on this advanced line. Upton's troops of the Sixth Corps are on our left and rear, with quite an interval between us. It is three o'clock. The enemy are pressing out towards us from the woods in front. At this moment, some distance to our right and rear, great cheering is heard, and we discover a body of troop., advancing in magnificent array in solid column, with banners flying aloft, and moving rapidly up, with intent, as we suppose, to take position on our right as reinforcements to our thin line. It is Colonel Thoburn's division of Crook's corps, and as the solid column advances, the terrible flank fire from the enemy in our front mows them down like grain, leaving literally a swath of dead in their wake.

Colonel Thomas is not idle. The moment the enemy's fire is turned away from us, he makes a daring move on the checker-board of war. He sees an opportunity to hurl two veteran regiments like a thunderbolt against the enemy, which is concentrating every available gun to break Crook's exposed flanks. "Boys,'says he, "what we can't give them for want of powder and ball, we'll make up in cold steel. Fix bayonets!'

It gives one a peculiar sensation to hear the sharp rattle of steel, and the whole scene changes. It is ugly work, but the regiment is up and ready for the conflict. Colonel Thomas walks in front of his own regiment and talks tenderly with the men, as though they were of his own flesh and blood. He passes down in front of the Twelfth Connecticut, whose colonel has been killed, and asks the officer in command if he and his men are ready to join the Eighth Vermont in a bayonet charge. Many of the men respond by springing to their feet. The captain explains that his ammunition is exhausted. "So is mine." said Colonel Thomas. "Three times my regiment has fired the last cartridge."

"So has the Eighth Vermont," said their gallant old leader. Then walking back, he determines to lead his own regiment to the charge, and leave the others, believing they would follow. He moves forward, holding his sword high in air. His faithful men spring to the line, their bayonets glistening in the sunlight. The Twelfth Connecticut, inspired by this courageous dash, soon follow, and the enemy are driven at the point of the bayonet from their works in the timber, our own regiment capturing scores of prisoners who could not get away, so sudden and desperate was the assault. In vain do staff officers and General McMillan himself ride furiously after the men, shouting to Colonel Thomas to halt his lines the brave old commander—God bless him!—is riding with drawn sword, in front of a line of steel bayonets, and cannot be reached. Nor do they halt until the colors they bear are planted on the open plain in sight of Winchester. Not a Union flag to be seen in the wide sweep to the left, not a Union flag in front, not a Union flag to the right; only rebel flags and batteries, one above the other, with infantry massed between, frowning down upon us, who are amazed at the grandeur of the scene. The regiment awaits the next order, while their leader hastily scans the held, which at that moment his men hold in sole possession.

A flash, and an angry roar and a horrid screeching sound is heard, as a shot tears through the air a few feet over our heads, and then we discover immediately on our left and front two pieces of artillery. The enemy we have driven back has retreated to the battery. Quickly Colonel Thomas orders the regiment to double-quick to the tall trees ten or fifteen yards to the left, form on the colors, and give them a volley. In scarcely more time than it takes to write it, the regiment obeys, and the order to load and fire is accompanied by a queer remark about "riddling their shirts." It is literally carried out; the volleys which follow instantly silence both pieces, and sweep every sign of life from the guns. Among those killed here was Charles Jenks of company I. When the line reached the timber, where the enemy's dead and wounded were lying as they had fallen, showing the effect of our rifles, the attention of the regiment was attracted to a strange scene;—a dead rebel lay stretched on the ground and in front of him sat a little brown dog, trembling with fear, bolt upright but facing square to the front, faithful unto death. Not a bayonet or a foot touched the faithful creature; the line of steel parted and the human wave rolled on through the woods, leaving the little sentinel undisturbed in his death-watch.

This exciting affair is hardly over when white puffs of smoke dot the plain, and a storm of iron hail is rained upon our uncovered heads from guns planted further up the plain, one above and back of the other, and from different points, which bids fair, for a few moments, to completely wipe us out. But the Twelfth Connecticut has joined its on the right, and the advance lines of Crook's corps are rushing in from the same direction. Plunging shot and shell are creating terrible havoc in the tree-tops over our heads, when a Union flag bursts from the woods into the opening on our left; then another and another, and the plain for a long distance to our left swarms with Union troops of the Sixth Corps, the flags and regiments appearing en echelon, while almost at the same instant the cannonading concentrated on us is suddenly distributed along the whole line.

Now we realize for the first time how far the rushing bayonet charge has carried our regiment in advance of the main army. Meanwhile General Upton of the Sixth Corps, whose men are coming up on our left, rides up through the regiment and engages in hasty conversation with Thomas, concerning troops obscured by smoke still further to the left. When the cloud-wreaths lift, and we catch sight of the familiar southern cross on the enemy's battle flags, the colonel orders the sights on the muskets raised, and one or two (puck volleys are fired upon their confused lines. But our flanks are now up, and with infantry in front, cavalry and infantry on the enemy's left flank, with one grand rush the Union troops close on the Confederate army, and the finishing charge is sharp and crushing. Brave Colonel Van Petten, although wounded, moves to the right of the Eighth Vermont with the One Hundred and Sixtieth New York, and connecting with the right of Upton's troops, we advance rapidly toward the enemy's left centre, in the direction of their retreat, delivering an enfilading fire as we advance, and receiving in turn a heavy artillery fire. Men from Cook's corps, without any formation whatever, join us till we come to a stone wall, passing the bodies of the dead artillerists. But the enemy's artillery breaks down the wall, the stones of which flew in all directions under their fire, when we move back a few yards and then charge over beyond; and by this time the entire rebel army is on a race for life, and soon after Sheridan is able to telegraph to the war department that he has sent the enemy " whirling through ‘Winchester," and that "this army fought splendidly."

Horace Greeley, in his carefully prepared History of the Great Civil War, has singled out this bayonet charge as one worthy of special mention, for its national importance.

Bayonet has always held a weird emblem of the true soldier and the ultimate proof of combat prowess. In September 1943, the Army's bayonet manual, defined the "Spirit of the Bayonet" for the Greatest Generation:

"The will to meet and destroy the enemy in hand-to-hand combat is the spirit of the bayonet. It springs from the fighter's confidence, courage, and grim determination, and is the result of vigorous training."

There were bayonet charges by US Marines and Chinese during the retreat during the Korean War. There have been bayonet charges during the Iraq fighting.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP29 Aug 2017 7:55 p.m. PST

Most planned bayonet charges, during the ACW and later [The 1866 war is a classic example] were defeated.

Upton had artillery support and preparation and only 200 yards to cross, some of which was low enough to offer protection from fire as they advanced. That isn't to take away from Upton's 12 regiments, but they were in open column, four lines of three regiments each, so it wasn't a solid column, but an effective use of successive lines… the first three regiments suffered heavily, at least one 50% casualties.

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP30 Aug 2017 3:28 a.m. PST

Well it seems as if the answer to my question is still "No", since the question I have asked repeatedly is,
"Can you give me a specific instance in the ACW, other than Upton's, where troops were specifically ordered not to fire during an assault on defensive works?"

I'm not interested in charges in the open field;
I'm not interested in charges by units with no ammunition left;
I'm not interested in charges by units that fire on the way in.

All the responses above seem to fall into one of those non-relevant categories.


Bloody Big BATTLES!

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP30 Aug 2017 7:17 a.m. PST


I think you are hoping that there is an example of an assault that was successful. There are plenty of examples at Cold Harbor of planned bayonet assaults. Even the example I gave was an assault:

Colonel Thomas is not idle. The moment the enemy's fire is turned away from us, he makes a daring move on the checker-board of war. He sees an opportunity to hurl two veteran regiments like a thunderbolt against the enemy, which is concentrating every available gun to break Crook's exposed flanks. "Boys,'says he, "what we can't give them for want of powder and ball, we'll make up in cold steel. Fix bayonets!'

The circumstances where bayonets were used varied and were often spur of the moment decisions…usually close to the enemy, like Upton's attack--though his was better organized. At Cold Harbor one and two, the Union had to cross much wider distances than 200 yards.

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP31 Aug 2017 3:55 a.m. PST

Bill, thanks for persevering! I know I didn't make myself as clear as I should have in the OP. No, I'm not looking for an assault that was successful. I'm looking for one that was analogous in its situation. Thomas's situation isn't comparable. He has to deal with an immediate enemy threat, and what he has available is two regiments with no ammunition – of course they do a bayonet charge.

I want a case from the ACW where a commander was confronted with an enemy in a fortified defensive position – as Grant was at Spotsylvania – and in planning his assault against it, decided that the cold-steel tactic was appropriate, and specifically ordered his men not to fire.

It may be that these were commonplace, but I have yet to see specific evidence of any.

Of course Cold Harbor was after Spotsylvania, so examples from there are not really helpful, as it was a sequel to Spotsylvania so they could just be proof of Upton's lesson being implemented.


Sparta01 Sep 2017 3:57 a.m. PST

The description of the attack on Fort wagner looks like what you are looking for – allthough not explicitly mentioned as an order, there seems to be no indication what sop ever of anybody even thinking about shooting during the attack which is described as double quick time up to hand to hand combat:

ugust 8, 1863, page 510 (1-2)

We publish on page 509 an illustration of the unsuccessful attempt of General Gilmore's army to storm Fort Wagner, on Morris Island, on 18th ult. The bombardment of the fort by the iron-clads and our land-batteries on Morris Island commenced at noon that day, and lasted till the evening. The Tribune correspondent thus relates what then occurred:

"Something must be done, and that, too, quickly, or in a few days we shall have the whole army in Virginia upon us," said an officer high in command. "We must storm the fort to-night, and carry it at the point of the bayonet."

In a few moments signals are made from the top of the look-out, and soon generals and colonels commanding divisions and brigades were seen galloping to the head-quarters of the commanding general. A few words in consultation, and Generals Seymour, Strong, Stevenson, and Colonels Putnam and Montgomery are seen hastening back to their respective commands. Officers shout, bugles sound, the word of command is given, and soon the soldiers around, upon, and under the sand-hills of Morris Island spring from their hiding-places, fall into line, march to the beach, are organized into new brigades, and in solid column stand ready to move to the deadly assault.

Not in widely-extended battle line, with cavalry and artillery at supporting distances, but in solid regimental column, on the hard ocean beach, for half a mile before reaching the fort, in plain sight of the enemy, did these three brigades move to their appointed work.

General Strong, who has so frequently since his arrival in this Department braved death in its many forms of attack, was assigned to the command of the 1st Brigade. Colonel Putnam, of the 7th New Hampshire, who, although of the regular army, and considered one of the best officers in the Department, had never led his men into battle nor been under fire, took command of the 2d, and General Stevenson the 3d, constituting the reserve. The 54th Massachusetts (colored regiment), Colonel Shaw, was the advanced regiment in the 1st Brigade, and the 2d South Carolina (negro), Colonel Montgomery, was the last regiment of the reserve.

These brigades, as I have remarked before, were formed for this express duty. Many of the regiments had never seen their brigade commanders before; some of them had never been under fire; and, with exception of three regiments in the 1st Brigade, none of them had ever been engaged in this form of attack. All had fresh in their memories the severe repulse we had met on the morning of the 11th inst. For two years the Department of the South had been in existence, and until the storming of the batteries on the south end of Morris Island, the army had won no victory fairly acknowledged by the enemy.

Just as darkness began to close in upon the scene of the afternoon and the evening, General Strong rode to the front and ordered his brigade, consisting of the 54th Massachusetts, Colonel Shaw (colored regiment); the 6th Connecticut, Colonel Chatfield; the 48th New York, Colonel Barton; the 3d New Hampshire, Colonel Jackson; the 76th Pennsylvania, and the 9th Maine, Colonel Emery, to advance to the assault. At the instant the line was seen slowly advancing in the dusk toward the fort, and before a double-quick had been ordered, a tremendous fire from the barbette guns on Fort Sumter, from the batteries on Cummings' Point, and from all the guns on Fort Wagner, opened upon it. The guns from Wagner swept the beach, and those from Sumter and Cummings' Point enfiladed it on the left. In the midst of this terrible shower of shot and shell they pushed their way, reached the fort, portions of the 54th Massachusetts, the 6th Connecticut, and the 48th New York dashed through the ditches, gained the parapet, and engaged in a hand-to-hand fight with the enemy, and for nearly half an hour held their ground, and did not fall back until nearly every commissioned officer was shot down. As on the morning of the assault of the 11th inst., these brave men were exposed to a most galling fire of grape and canister, from howitzers, raking the ditches from the bastions of the fort, from hand-grenades and from almost every other modern implement of warfare. The rebels fought with the utmost desperation, and so did the larger portion of General Strong's brigade, as long as there was an officer to command it.

Sparta01 Sep 2017 3:59 a.m. PST

Also found a reference to the storming of fort Sanders at Knoxville. It said that the men (confederates) mostly did not bother to load since they would not fire during a storm.

Bill N01 Sep 2017 10:18 a.m. PST

I could not find Trimble's comment. Sedgwick's attack at Chancellorsville was somewhat similar, although perhaps not close enough for Chris.

Ordering his men to carry unloaded rifles so they would not stop to fire and reload, Sedgewick attacked again with a daring and gallant bayonet charge that drove the Confederates off the heights and back toward Richmond.

A better description that I read indicated the troops were attacking in what during the ACW passed for a column. On approach the column was hit with artillery fire. Then they were hit with a musket blast from Barksdale's troops behind the stone wall. An observer said the column stopped for an instant, then got going again and swarmed over the stone wall. My guess is what the observer actually witnessed was the rifle volley halting the advance of the front of the column which then was re-started due to the momentum of the troops behind them.

As I said above I don't see the idea of having attacking troops close rapidly with the enemy rather than stopping to fire as being a novel tactic to try in the ACW. Attacking in columns may have been dictated by the circumstances of the attack, or attacking in columns with unloaded weapons was a "gimmick" to discourage troops from stopping.

Still against a proper defense many of these efforts to close quickly failed, as Sedgwick's almost did, and as previous efforts to take the same position during the Battle of Fredricksburg did. Troops are not automatons. You don't wind them up, point them in the direction of the enemy and let them go. If they don't think they are going to make it, they either drop to the ground or pull up and return fire or even turn around and run away.

Ryan T01 Sep 2017 5:56 p.m. PST

I think the Hungarian connection is somewhat tenuous. Anton Gerster may have served with the 5th Missouri, but that regiment was not under Upton's control. He was provided with 12 regiments drawn from several different units: 5th Me, 121st NY, and 96th Pa from Upton's brigade; 6th Me, 49th Pa, 119th Pa, and 5th Wi from Russel's former brigade; 43rd NY and 77th NY from Bidwell's brigade; and 2nd Vt, 5th Vt, and 6th Vt from Grant's brigade. As far as I can tell the 5th Missouri never left Missouri and was disbanded by the end of 1862.

I also found two examples of charging under orders not to fire. In his charge against the rebel fortified bridgehead at Black River Bridge on 17 May, 1863, Lawler's Brigade formed up with the 21st Ia and 23rd Ia in line supported by the 11th Wi with the 22nd Ia following in reserve.

"Orders were further given that the men should reserve their fire until upon the rebel works. Finally the regiments that were to lead the charge were formed, with bayonets fixed, in the edge of the woods on the river bank." (OR, Vol. XXIV, Pt. 2, p. 137)

This charge was a complete success and broke through the Confederate fortifications.

Another similar charge took place in front of the Great Redoubt at Vicksburg on 22 May, 1863.

"… Stevenson organised his brigade into two assaulting columns – the left consisted of the 8th Illinois and 32nd Ohio, and the right of the 7th Missouri and 81st Illinois. After scaling ladders had been issued to the infantrymen, they fixed bayonets and loaded their rifle-muskets. As they did they were told by Stevenson that no shots would be fired until the brigade had gained a foothold in the enemy works." (Bearrs, The Campaign for Vicksburg, Vol. 3, (1986), p. 820)

This charge did not fare as well as the charge at Black River Bridge and Stevenson's brigade fell back after losing 272 officers and men.

I don't know what the paper-collar soldiers in the East were up to, but Western troops could use the bayonet when it was needed.

Ryan T01 Sep 2017 6:20 p.m. PST

As they did in the attack by C F Smith's Division at Fort Donelson on 15 February, 1862:

"His [Smith's] plan was to feint with Cook's smaller brigade while launching the main assault with Lauman's larger one. Riding over to his favorite 2nd Iowa, he shouted, "You must take the fort; take your caps off your guns, fix bayonets, and I will lead you." About 2:15 PM his division moved off its ridge-top toward Buckner's old works. The order held – rely on the bayonet, no firing until inside the enemy's works." (Cooling, Forts Henry and Donelson: The Key to the Confederate Heartland, (1987), p.185.)

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP02 Sep 2017 10:24 a.m. PST


The idea of attacking with the bayonet and not firing simply isn't anything new to the Hungarian War or the ACW.

There are many instances of such attacks, from Picton's Attack at Salamanca to the 52nd at Waterloo against the Guards.

There was no need for any Hungarians to suggest the idea during the ACW.

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP02 Sep 2017 10:30 p.m. PST

Thank you, gentlemen – I surrender! It seems I was chasing a wild goose with a red herring and my suggestion of a connection between Komarom and Spotsylvania was indeed almost certainly fanciful. (Ryan, good spot about Gerster: I evidently misread 5 ME as 5 MI on a fuzzy map.) I appreciate all your comments and thank you for patiently educating me. :-)


Sorry - only verified members can post on the forums.