The “mutiny” in my ancestor’s Civil War regiment

I recently reread a book that I have not read in several years: The Mutiny at Brandy Station: The Last Battle of the Hooker Brigade : a Controversial Army Reorganization, Courts Martial, and the Bloody Days that Followed by Frederick B. Arner.  The book follows through events of early 1864 that led to the dissolution of my ancestor’s former unit, the 3rd Corps, and the assignment of his regiment to the 2nd Corps.  The author makes a compelling argument that one of the major reasons the former 3rd Corps units suffered so severely in the battles of Grant’s Overland Campaign is because the units’ morale had been shattered by the breaking up of the once-proud and distinguished 3rd Corps.

It’s (to me, at least) a fascinating story.  A large group of junior officers from the old Hooker Brigade (1st, 11th, and 16th Massachusetts; 26th and 84th Pennsylvania; 11th New Jersey) got together to discuss the plan to end the existence of the 1st and 3rd Corps and merge them into the three surviving Corps of the Army of the Potomac.  They voted on several resolutions to show their unhappiness with the decision.  But at least some of the officers present were unhappy with the tome of the meeting, and so they reported it to their superiors.  This led to the court martial in April 1864 of 5 officers, of whom 4 were from the 11th Massachusetts.  Among those officers was one Henry Blake, a Harvard graduate and attorney who would eventually write a history of the 11th Massachusetts Infantry.  Blake was a keen observer and a caustic critic of officers whom he felt did not live up to the expectations of their subordinates.  Thus I find his writing both compelling and entertaining.

Arner’s book details a lot of the political infighting in the Army of the Potomac, especially in the 3rd Corps.  I had no idea that the colonels of the 11th Massachusetts (William Blaisdell) and the 11th New Jersey (Robert McAllister) hated each other so much, even though I have read a good bit about both men and their respective regiments.  And it is heartbreaking to see what happened to those old 3rd Corps units like the 11th Massachusetts, who got passed from one brigade to another over the final year of the war.  I can’t help but wonder whether or not the units would have fought more effectively if they had been allowed to retain their old organization.  Certainly the enlargement of the 2nd, 5th, and 6th Corps made them much more unwieldy during the early parts of the Overland campaign.

I will write more about the campaign as we head into May and June.

~Geoff

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