For Union Lieutenant Harrison Millard, it was an unsettling development. An aide on the staff of Brig. Gen. Lovell Rousseau, Millard had ridden out ahead of the lines on the morning of October 8, 1862. His division had formed up earlier that morning for an assault on Confederate troops in Perryville, Kentucky, but it looked now as if there would be no fight. Dust clouds in the distance, he thought, indicated that the Rebels were on the run.
Scouting a farmer’s woodlot in the company of a newspaper
correspondent, an incredulous Millard stumbled across a wounded but
talkative Confederate. “I asked him what he was doing there,” the
lieutenant recalled, “and he replied that he was wounded, and had been
left there by his regiment, which only a short time before had gone on.”
Millard dashed off to report his discovery to Rousseau but was
surprised that his chief simply brushed him off. “Oh bosh,” the general
dismissively replied, “it is impossible. There is no one anywhere near
Such hubris had already enabled a major Confederate thrust into the
heart of Kentucky. Reeling from the disappointing and bloody reverse at
Shiloh during the first week of April, General P.G.T. Beauregard’s Army
of the Mississippi fled Tennessee, abandoned its base at Corinth, and
retired to Tupelo to lick its wounds. Defeated, demoralized, and ill
disciplined, the army was described as being “little more than a mob.”
Exasperated by what he considered Beauregard’s timid strategic
posturing, President Jefferson Davis opted to replace him with a
personal favorite—General Braxton Bragg.
Despite a lack of experience at independent command, Bragg had much
to commend him to such a weighty assignment. A stern West Pointer and
Mexican War hero, Bragg projected competence. A skilled logistician and
fussy organizer, he worked tirelessly to feed and resupply his haggard
army, and his initial weeks in command at Tupelo seemed to justify
Davis’ decision. But as a leader of men, Bragg soon sowed seeds of ill
will that would compromise his ability to command. Despite his
organizational skills, Bragg was notoriously forbidding, contentious,
and given to castigating his subordinates. His icy personality, paired
with a vigorous restoration of discipline, quickly earned him the
distrust of his own men.
Bragg fretted about how best to employ his 32,000men at Corinth
against the Federals, who, with 110,000 troops, handily dwarfed the
Confederate Army of the Mississippi. Fortunately for Bragg, his dilemma
was partly solved due to the unorthodox decisions of his opposite
number. Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck, who assumed direct command of Union
forces in the theater following the bloodbath at Shiloh, inexplicably
decided to split up his forces at Corinth, dispatching troops to
relatively static posts throughout Arkansas and Tennessee.
The only troops likely to see any serious action were those of Maj.
Gen. Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio. Buell was ordered to strike
due east along the Memphis & Charleston Railroad on a roughly
230-mile campaign aimed at the vital junction of Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Opposed to such a move from the outset, Buell soured further when his
advance was stymied by elusive Confederate cavalry that wrecked roads,
bridges, and rail lines in his front, flank, and rear.
The sudden dispersal of Union manpower removed the immediate threat
of a major Federal thrust into Mississippi and afforded Bragg the
unexpected opportunity to seize the initiative. Unfortunately for the
Confederacy, Bragg remained puzzled by his options, and his subsequent
actions took shape somewhat haphazardly. Rather than aggressively
implement a coherent strategic vision, Bragg wielded the Army of the
Mississippi in passive reaction to the decisions of the enemy, as well
as the machinations of a particularly wily fellow officer.
Based near Chattanooga as the commander of the Department of East
Tennessee, Maj. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith had been contemplating a
startlingly ambitious campaign of his own. Seemingly disenchanted with
the job of occupying Unionist East Tennessee, Smith had formulated a
grandiose plan to assume the offensive, reclaim Kentucky for the
Confederacy, and achieve a measure of fame in the process. With Buell’s
army clearly aimed at Chattanooga, Smith issued desperate appeals for
reinforcement. Bragg accommodated by dispatching a division under Maj.
Gen. John McCown to Smith’s aid. In spite of his hysterical appeals for
support, Smith, who kept the lid on his Kentucky plans, tellingly posted
a sizable body of men at Knoxville, roughly 120 miles northeast of
In fact, Chattanooga was under no imminent threat. Buell’s
halfhearted advance bogged down near Decatur, Alabama, continually
harassed by enemy cavalry raids. Chief among the culprits were Brig.
Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and Colonel John Hunt Morgan, two inveterate
raiders who were making names for themselves by cutting Federal lines
of communication in Tennessee and Kentucky. Worse yet, Buell discovered
by the first of August that his path to Chattanooga was barred by a far
more formidable force—Bragg’s Army of the Mississippi.
Incessantly pestered by Kirby Smith’s pleas for reinforcement, Bragg
made the decision on July 21 to transfer his base of operations to
Chattanooga. With the Memphis & Charleston Railroad held by Buell,
Bragg plotted an elaborate alternate route through southern Alabama and
Georgia before entering Chattanooga through the back door. On July 31,
Bragg and Smith met to formulate a plan of action. The two men agreed on
a concerted move: after Smith dislodged Federal troops then occupying
Cumberland Gap, they would combine forces and strike Buell’s rear in
Bragg failed to take into consideration Kirby Smith’s underhanded
scheming. On August 9, Smith dropped something of a bombshell. Federal
troops at the Cumberland Gap, he claimed, were far too well supplied to
be attacked head on; he suggested a march of 130 miles in the other
direction, toward Lexington. Bragg left the door open for such a move,
demurring only that the idea might be “unwise.” At that, Smith was off
and running; by the middle of August he was headed pell-mell for
Kentucky. On August 30, Smith scored a lopsided victory at Richmond, and
on September 2 his forces occupied Lexington.
Pried away from his base in Mississippi and manipulated into assuming
the defense of Chattanooga, Bragg now found himself maneuvered into a
mad dash for Kentucky. What ensued was a whirlwind 300-mile race.
Finally deciding to lunge into the Bluegrass, Bragg made for Glasgow, 95
miles northeast of Nashville and within easy striking distance of the
Louisville & Nashville Railroad, as well as the Louisville Pike,
Buell’s primary artery of supply.
Buell, on edge over the threat to his supply lines, set out from
Nashville in a desperate attempt to secure the railroad. At breakneck
pace, the two armies raced north on converging routes. For his part,
Buell was mortified to implement such an embarrassing retrograde but was
granted permission by Halleck, who icily wired back: “March where you
please, provided you will find the enemy and fight him.”
The summer of 1862 had been one of the driest on record, and the
drought caused wells, creeks, and even small rivers to dry up. Mile
after mile during the relentless quest to get ahead of the enemy, the
troops tasted little but choking dust clouds kicked up by the passing
armies. Officers did what they could to alleviate the shortage, but much
of the available water was barely fit for human consumption. “Nothing
to drink but pond water,” recalled John Duncan of the 3rd Ohio,
“thickened with wiggletails, dead mules and horses.”
Footsore Confederates won the punishing race, securing Glasgow on
September 11. While Buell groped about for alternate routes, Bragg’s
luck began to run out. After one of his brigades was chewed up in an
abortive assault on Federal works at Munfordville, Bragg chose to invest
the town with his entire army. He easily bagged the Union garrison but
wound up losing three days in the process. Bragg painfully vacillated
over his options, at one point deciding to dig in and wait for Buell to
attack him, then suggesting an immediate link up with Kirby Smith, and
finally contemplating the seizure of Louisville.
By September 20, Bragg had decided on a concentration with Smith. As
he moved northeast, Bragg abandoned the pike and railroad to the Army of
the Ohio. Buell was only too happy to take the road, mercilessly
pushing his men toward Louisville. On September 25, the Federals entered
the city. Buell set to work immediately reorganizing his exhausted
army. With his supply hub at Louisville secure, he began making plans to
pursue Bragg and give battle. President Lincoln’s patience, however,
had run out. From Tupelo to Louisville, Buell had been outmaneuvered for
hundreds of miles. In the process, he had failed to fight a single
On September 29, Buell received stunning notification from Halleck
that he had been relieved, to be replaced by his second-in-command, Maj.
Gen. George H. Thomas. Not wanting to undermine Buell, Thomas demurred.
In a telegram to Halleck, Thomas pointed out that plans were already
underway to pursue the Rebels and he considered it injudicious to assume
command in the midst of an active campaign. His position, Thomas
argued, was “very embarrassing.” The matter was dropped. Buell,
belatedly realizing that his future military career hinged on the
outcome of the current campaign, got the Army of the Ohio on the move.
While Buell feinted east toward Frankfort with one division, the bulk
of the army angled southeast toward Bardstown. On the left was I Corps,
under the command of Maj. Gen. Alexander McCook. A West Pointer and
Indian fighter, the personable McCook was held in little esteem by
Buell; a less charitable Federal officer called McCook a “chucklehead.”
In the center, Maj. Gen. Thomas Crittenden, a Kentuckian and Mexican
War veteran, headed II Corps. He was accompanied by Thomas, who assumed
de facto control of the corps. On the right was III Corps, under the
command of Charles Champion Gilbert, whose actual rank was somewhat in
question. A mere captain just weeks earlier, Gilbert had been advanced
to “acting major general” through a bizarre turn of politically
motivated events. With fresh stars on his shoulders and a banty rooster
attitude about his new rank, Gilbert proved an instant success at
rendering himself obnoxious to every man who served under him.
Bragg, who had his army dispersed across Central Kentucky, struggled
to discern Buell’s intentions. Federal columns had fanned out from
Louisville in all directions, and it was something of a mystery where
Buell was leading the bulk of his army. Ultimately convinced that the
Federals were targeting the state capital at Frankfort, Bragg settled on
a concentration at Versailles, where he optimistically hoped to finally
combine commands with Smith, who characteristically dragged his feet
over such a move. As his army gave ground to the advancing Federals,
Bragg headed for Frankfort to personally assist in arrangements for
Kentucky’s new Confederate government. He left direct command of the
army to his senior wing commander, Maj. Gen. Leonidas Polk, an affable
Episcopal bishop turned soldier whom Bragg personally detested.
By October 6, however, Bragg’s other wing commander, Maj. Gen.
William J. Hardee, was being pressured by pursuing Federals. Polk, eager
to discern Buell’s intentions, directed Hardee to halt, stand his
ground, and “force the enemy to reveal his strength.” Hardee reined in
his men on imposing hills overlooking the sleepy crossroads hamlet of
Perryville, then requested reinforcements to drive off the enemy to his
front. Bragg remained convinced that Perryville was threatened by little
more than a demonstration, and he ordered Polk to lead another division
to Perryville, personally assume command, and whip the Federals who had
been harassing Hardee. Once he had all his troops up, Polk would have
just shy of 17,000 effectives.
Bragg’s guess was entirely erroneous. Hardee was confronted not with a
minor demonstration, but with the entire 55,000-strong Army of the
Ohio. Buell, who ironically was convinced that he was up against Bragg’s
entire army, began consolidating his troops west of town. To the north,
McCook’s I Corps approached on the Mackville Road. In the center,
Gilbert’s III Corps was coming up the Springfield Pike.
On the right, after a grueling march, Crittenden’s II Corps was
expected to move into position on the Lebanon Pike. Buell, who had been
injured during a fall from his horse that afternoon, set up headquarters
at the Dorsey House on the Springfield Pike and made plans to launch an
attack the following morning, as soon as all three corps were in
For much of October 7, Buell’s vanguard clashed with Confederate
horsemen under the command of Bragg’s cavalry chief, Colonel Joseph
Wheeler. Hardee grew increasingly alarmed that he was confronting a good
portion of the Army of the Ohio. That afternoon he issued an earnest
request to Bragg. “Tomorrow morning early we may expect a fight,” wrote
“If the enemy does not attack us, you ought to unless pressed in
another direction send forward all the reinforcements necessary, take
command in person, and wipe him out.” Bragg responded by hurrying Polk.
“Give the enemy battle immediately; rout him, and then move to our
support at Versailles,” he directed. With a major battle taking shape,
the Army of the Mississippi’s commanding general was absent from the
field. Buell, aching from his fall, was bedridden at his headquarters.
Neither commander was in position to lead his men.
Inevitably, the two thirsty armies converging on Perryville would
come to blows over water. When elements of Gilbert’s corps discovered a
few stagnant pools in Doctor’s Creek to their front, Buell ordered
Gilbert to seize the creek. In the predawn hours of October 8, Colonel
Daniel McCook led his inexperienced brigade toward Peter’s Hill, a conspicuous knob thought to be unoccupied that commanded the creek.
As McCook’s men mounted the slope, they were greeted by “a severe and
galling fire” from the 7th Arkansas. McCook’s outfit, bolstered by the
10th Indiana, easily drove off the lone Arkansas regiment, and the
Federals, anchoring their newly won position with artillery, stayed put
on Peter’s Hill. McCook’s position overlooked a narrow valley bisected
by Bull Run Creek. Confederate troops, Arkansans under the command of
Brig. Gen. St. John Liddell, formed up across the valley on Bottom Hill.
Fighting ramped up as both sides nervously felt out their opponents.
Unaware that Peter’s Hill was now held by a Federal brigade, Liddell
ordered his 5th and 7th Arkansas to retake the position. Union artillery
fire disrupted their advance, and the two regiments broke for the rear
after McCook’s men unleashed a devastating volley from a distance of 100
yards. The Confederates “wavered, broke and retreated to the woods,”
recalled one Federal gunner, “It was more than they could stand.”
Gilbert, who dashed off for direct instructions from Buell, clumsily
followed up on the Confederate repulse, ordering Captain Ebenezer Gay’s
cavalry brigade, without infantry support, to seize the valley. A
hesitant Gay led three regiments forward with predictable results.
Advancing dismounted, Gay’s troopers gave a good accounting of
themselves but were worsted in a sharp fight with Liddell’s men. Gay’s
outmatched horsemen, recalled McCook with dry detachment, “came back
Although the skittish Gilbert was apprehensive to bring on a general
engagement, his lead divisional commander, Brig. Gen. Philip Sheridan,
was not so disinclined. A scrappy little Irishman who possessed a giant
sized appetite for battle, Sheridan was new to division command and
itching for a fight.
Acting without orders, he brought up another of his brigades and
promptly ordered his men to clear the valley. With “iron nerve,” thought
one observer, Sheridan’s men drove into the Confederates, who broke for
the rear after a brief fight. The Federals kept up the pressure,
charging up to the crest of Bottom Hill. Liddell’s Arkansans, worn out
after fighting all morning, pulled out.
Sheridan was eager to press the fight. “Tell Buell that they are
fighting with a good deal of vim in my front,” he shouted to a staff
officer, “but if he will let me go, I can drive them to hell.” Gilbert
would have none of it. After consulting with Buell, the touchy corps
chief pulled his troops back to Peter’s Hill and ordered Sheridan to
cool his heels; the army would advance, it had been decided, only after
all three corps were in place.
Despite Buell’s timetable, both Crittenden’s and McCook’s corps were
tardy in arriving on the field. It was roughly 10 pm before the latter
began forming his men on the Federal left, on the high ground above the
Chaplin River. Still determined to hit the Confederates with nothing
less than the full weight of his army, Buell decided to sit tight and
launch his attack the following morning.
It was a reasonable decision. Sheridan had roughly handled the
opposition to his front, and McCook’s senior officers were equally
optimistic that the Rebels were retreating. While conferring with
artillery Captain Cyrus Loomis, 3rd Division commander Brig. Gen. Lovell
Rousseau remarked on dust clouds visible north of Perryville, likely an
indication of Confederate troops on the move. “I guess,” Loomis
offhandedly quipped, “we have tread on the tail of Mr. Bragg’s coat.”
In fact, Bragg was busy reorganizing his lines for an all-out assault
on Federal forces west of the Chaplin River. Alarmed that neither Polk
nor Hardee seemed eager to give battle, Bragg had personally arrived in
Perryville by midmorning and was not a little annoyed that Polk, in
contravention of orders, had adopted a defensive posture.
Still entertaining the notion that he faced only a portion of Buell’s
army, Bragg immediately ordered Polk to attack. While Hardee’s left
wing kept the Federals busy immediately west of Perryville, Polk would
launch a staggering attack en echelon from the right. To add punch to
the planned attack, Bragg ordered his left flank division, led by Maj.
Gen. Benjamin Franklin Cheatham, to pull out of line, reform on the
right flank, and open the assault.
Cheatham, a political general who lacked West Point training, was
nonetheless a decent choice to spearhead the assault. A foul-mouthed,
bullheaded brawler, his notorious fondness for the bottle was exceeded
only by his love of fighting. In preparation for the attack, a
Confederate cavalry probe determined that the Federal flank lay exposed
to frontal assault at a vital road junction known as Dixville
Crossroads. While McCook’s Federals lounged on the Chaplin Hills and
fanned out to find water, Cheatham readied his men, some of the most
experienced troops in the Army of the Mississippi, to assail Buell’s
At half past noon, Confederate artillery opened a barrage intended to
soften up the enemy position. George Landrum, who like Lieutenant
Millard had unsuccessfully warned Rousseau of the proximity of Rebel
troops, laughed out loud when the general and his staff scattered to
escape the artillery fire. “Such a skedaddling to get out of range,” he
recalled, “I never saw before.”
Federal batteries responded in a thunderous duel that was heard
nearly 10 miles away. As shells crashed through their ranks, McCook’s
troops grew jittery. Survivors described the barrage as sheer
pandemonium, but after an hour of terror Confederate artillery fire
abruptly ceased and an eerie silence descended over the hills. Some of
the Federals grew hopeful that there would be no fight after all and
surmised that the artillery fire had been little more than a noisy
distraction intended to cover a Confederate withdrawal.
At about 2 pm, such assumptions proved sorely optimistic. Streaming
out of the bed of the Chaplin River, Cheatham’s division advanced across
undulating terrain that served to mask its approach until the men
neared the Federal line. The lead troops, a Tennessee brigade commanded
by Brig. Gen. Daniel Donelson, headed straight for a Federal battery
visible on the ridge line.
Far too late, it became apparent that Donelson’s brigade was acting
on woefully inaccurate intelligence. Rather than striking an exposed
Federal flank, the Tennesseans were headed nearly for the center of
McCook’s I Corps. Donelson blanched when he observed enemy artillery
unlimbered far to his right on a bald hill known as Open Knob that
commanded the field and anchored the Federal left. “The whole face of
the earth,” thought Carroll Clark of the 16th Tennessee, was “covered
Donelson’s men entered a maelstrom. The I Corps gunners subjected the
Tennesseans to a merciless crossfire that tore great gaps in their
ranks. The men, reported Thomas Head of the 16th Tennessee, were “mowed
down at a fearful rate.” Pressing forward toward a gap in the Federal
line, the Confederates desperately sought cover behind farm buildings.
Cheatham scrambled to send support, while Federal regiments likewise
rushed into the fight; Donelson’s attack hopelessly stalled, then fell
With Union troops forming on Open Knob, Cheatham shifted one of his
best brigades, that of Brig. Gen. George Maney, to more advantageous
ground farther to the right. Maney was a solid field commander who led a
brigade composed largely of tough Shiloh veterans. An attorney in
civilian life, Maney was a Mexican War veteran. He had seen action in
western Virginia as well as at Shiloh. Hastily deploying three of his
regiments into a front line, Maney stepped off for Open Knob.
On the summit of the hill, Federal Brig. Gen. William Terrill had
deployed a single regiment, the 123rd Illinois, as well as eight guns of
Lieutenant Charles Parsons’ battery. With such a skeleton force,
Terrill was tasked with anchoring the left flank of the entire army. A
West Point graduate and former battery commander, Terrill was far more
comfortable manning big guns than maneuvering substantial bodies of
infantry. Due to the rolling nature of the ground, Maney’s lead
regiments escaped notice until they were a mere 200 yards from the
Federal position. Frantically ordering up the rest of his brigade,
Terrill directed the artillery to let loose on Maney’s line.
Firing a haphazard but deadly mix of canister, shell, and case,
Parsons covered the eastern slope of the hill with a nearly impenetrable
sheet of iron. Staggered, Maney’s veterans went to ground behind a rail
fence bordered by a belt of hardwood. It offered some cover, but men
were still dropping fast. “The battery was playing upon us with terrible
effect,” remembered Lt. Col. William Frierson of the 27th Tennessee,
“such a storm of shell, grape, canister, and Minie balls was turned
loose upon us as no troops scarcely ever before encountered.” As
Parsons’ guns splintered trees overhead, Maney’s troops lost momentum
and struggled to return fire.
At the top of the knob, the 105th Ohio arrived to reinforce the hill,
but Terrill seemed disinterested in directing his brigade. All but
paralyzed by a myopic fixation with the artillery, Terrill took over
personal direction of the guns and abruptly ordered the 123rd Illinois, a
green regiment, to charge the Rebels at the foot of the hill. The
results of the misguided order were tragically predictable.
The Illinois rookies advanced to within 100 yards of the enemy, where
the Confederates greeted them with a volley that decimated their ranks.
Broken and demoralized, the frightened Federals scattered back up the
hill in considerable confusion; about a quarter of the regiment had
fallen in minutes. An onlooker from the 105th Ohio was left dispirited
by the fruitless charge. “Such an order,” he later wrote, “was simple
In the wake of the bloody repulse, Maney sensed an opportunity and
ordered his men forward. Terrill grew frantic at the Confederate
approach and again ordered a foolhardy counterattack, exclaiming
excitedly, “Do not let them get the guns!” Elements of the 105th Ohio
responded to the order, but the bulk of Terrill’s men remained in place
as the two opposing lines blazed away at near point-blank range. “The
butchery,” recalled Confederate Captain Thomas Malone, “was something
Rushing uphill the last few yards, Maney’s troops seized control of
Open Knob amid the complete collapse of Terrill’s brigade. Divisional
commander Brig. Gen. James Jackson, who was desperately attempting to
rally his men from horseback, was shot dead during the struggle. As
Union troops fled the knob, Terrill succeeded in drawing off just one of
his beloved guns; his brigade had been wrecked in the vicious fight for
the hill. He withdrew his battered command behind another hill to the
west, an imposing ridgeline occupied by the Federal brigade of Colonel
Flushed with success after seizing Open Knob, Maney’s blood was up,
and he pressed his brigade forward for the next hill, optimistic that
unrelenting pressure would effect a complete rout of the enemy. He would
have help; on his left he linked up with elements of Brig. Gen.
Alexander Stewart’s brigade, which was likewise advancing as Bragg’s
planned echelon attack took shape. Hardee’s left wing also joined in,
although the inevitable fog of war ensured that the Confederate thrust
would be a savage and disjointed affair.
Colonel Thomas Jones’ Mississippi brigade, a painfully raw outfit,
went forward prematurely. Isolated and without proper support, the
Mississippians advanced gamely through a storm of Federal artillery
fire, targeting a section of the enemy line occupied by the brigade of
Colonel Leonard Harris.
“We could see awful gaps in their ranks,” recalled Frank Phelps of
the 10th Wisconsin, but the Confederates simply closed ranks and pressed
on. When the attackers “got within 30 rods of us,” wrote Phelps,
Colonel Alfred Chapin “called out for us to up & at them.” The
Mississippians were mangled by the ensuing volley. Breaking for the rear
in disorder, Jones’ shattered brigade left the hillside littered with
men; nearly half the brigade was dead, wounded, or missing.
Brigadier General Bushrod Johnson’s brigade advanced in even greater
confusion. Johnson had received orders to oblique left to avoid Federal
artillery, but not all his regimental commanders were informed of the
maneuver. While most of his brigade veered south, his 37th Tennessee
continued straight ahead. Before Johnson’s disjointed troops could even
come to grips with the enemy, they were subjected to unexpected
artillery fire that tore into their left flank. Overeager Confederate
gunners, mistaking Johnson’s men for fleeing Federals, had opened fire
on their own men.
Regrouping as best he could, Johnson led his men straight for key
ground on his sector of the field, the formerly obscure homestead of
Henry Bottom defended by the Federal brigade of Colonel William Lytle,
an idealistic warrior poet from Cincinnati who held his ground with grim
determination. The horrific fighting that ensued transformed the Bottom
farm into a veritable charnel house. Men fell by the score as the two
lines savagely mauled each other. The Bottom barn, which was being used
as a makeshift field hospital, burst into flames after it was hit by
Confederate artillery. Federal wounded, unable to escape the structure,
died in the inferno.
While McCook’s I Corps desperately struggled to hold onto its
position, Union headquarters remarkably had no idea that the army’s left
was on the verge of collapse. Due to the curious atmospheric phenomenon
known as “acoustic shadow” that masked sound waves, much of the army
had no idea that a major fight was even underway.
Ensconced at the insulated bubble of the Dorsey House, Buell read,
rested, dined rather well, and remained blissfully unaware that a third
of his army was fighting for its life. At one point he had heard the
faint boom of artillery and angrily snapped that such random cannonading
was “a waste of powder.”
It was not until 4 pm that Buell was informed of the Confederate
assault. Even then, the incredulous general remained skeptical. Focused
on executing his own attack the following morning, Buell failed to grasp
that the grand Confederate assault had rendered null his own plans. Due
to Buell’s intransigent tunnel vision, McCook’s beleaguered I Corps was
left to shift for itself.
Despite their commander’s stubborn disbelief, Federal troops arrayed
on the Chaplin Hills were all too aware that they were in the midst of a
serious fight. Itching to break the Federal left once and for all,
Maney lashed his brigade against Starkweather’s troops west of Open
Knob. His attack was ably supported by the battery of Captain William
Carnes, an enterprising young artillery officer who, largely on his own
initiative, unlimbered his pieces on high ground above the Federal left
from which he could readily pound Starkweather. His guns played havoc on
the hill’s defenders; among the casualties was General Terrill,
mortally wounded by shellfire while, fittingly enough, personally
manning his own cannon.
As the 1st Tennessee rushed forward, Federal gunners gave the
regiment a brutal reception. “The iron passed through our ranks,”
remembered Private Sam Watkins, “mangling and tearing men to pieces.” It
was, he thought, “the very pit of hell.” Perdition indeed waited at the
top of the hill, where Maney’s men engaged the Federals in a vicious
hand-to-hand struggle. Clubbing and cursing with wild abandon, the two
sides fought each other to a frazzle.
The battered and exhausted Confederates drew off to regroup, while
Starkweather executed a skillful retreat and regrouped. He chose his
ground well, rallying his brigade on an imposingly steep ridge that
would afford his troops a decided advantage. Hastily forming behind a
stone fence, Starkweather’s men poured a steady fire into the
Confederates. Although supported by Stewart’s brigade on the left,
Maney’s spent troops stalled and reluctantly fell back. They had beaten
in I Corps’ flank for nearly a mile but had reached the limit of their
endurance. Thanks to Starkweather’s stubborn stand, the Federal left had
Whether or not the rest of I Corps could hold fast was yet to be
decided. Although Lytle’s brigade had narrowly held its own against
Bushrod Johnson’s Confederates, it was soon assailed by overwhelming
force. While the Rebels kept up pressure on both of Lytle’s flanks, a
fresh enemy brigade appeared to his front. Composed of Tennessee and
Arkansas veterans of the Shiloh campaign, the outfit was led by one of
the most promising officers in the western theater, Irish-born Brig.
Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne.
Moving forward at double time, Cleburne’s men tore into the enemy at
nearly the same time that Lytle’s Federals, running low on ammunition,
pulled back from the ground they had so tenaciously defended. One
Louisianan paid grudging homage to the Federals’ grim dedication.
Corpses in blue appeared “in two straight lines as they had fallen. I
could have walked on their bodies without touching the ground several
hundred yards. Scarcely a man could be seen out of his place in the
line.” During the chaotic retreat, Lytle sustained what he initially
feared was a mortal head wound and was captured by the onrushing
Sweeping Lytle’s brigade out of the way, the Confederates made a
determined drive for the Dixville Crossroads. Cleburne, advancing
parallel to and north of the Mackville Road, linked up with Adams’
brigade, which moved forward on his left. The Confederates crashed into a
makeshift line composed of the 42nd and 88th Indiana, driving off the
Hoosiers after a brief but bloody fight and pressing on toward their
Despite such success, the Confederate juggernaut was losing momentum
in the face of stubborn Federal resistance. As dusk approached,
reinforcements arrived to relieve the battered I Corps. Gilbert released
Colonel Michael Gooding’s III Corps brigade just as Rousseau’s thin and
exhausted line was assailed by the Confederate brigade of Brig. Gen.
Sam Wood. Directing the newcomers to the scene of the thickest fighting,
McCook was clearly relieved. “I think this brigade,” remarked the
embattled corps commander, “will turn the scale.”
Racing into action, Gooding’s troops pitched into the Rebels and
plugged the gap at Dixville Crossroads. The battle raged furiously,
thought Gooding, as “one after one of my men were cut down.” In
something of an understatement, the colonel reported that his fresh
brigade “severely pressed the enemy.” In fact, his troops nearly folded
up Wood’s right, and Gooding’s 22nd Indiana mounted an impetuous bayonet
charge into the 32nd Mississippi. The action initiated a contagious
rout of Wood’s brigade, which hastily fled the field. The Hoosiers, in
turn, were greeted by an unexpected volley that sent them reeling.
Deployed directly in their front, and coming on for the crossroads, was
Liddell’s Confederate brigade.
Since opening the battle early that morning during the nasty tangle
with Sheridan’s men, Liddell’s Arkansans had rested and regrouped before
they were called on once more. General Hardee desperately sought fresh
troops to throw a final punch at McCook’s fragile line. Polk and
Cheatham, on hand as Liddell’s men went into action, were sure that the
brigade could finally break through to the crossroads.
Under simple orders to go where the fire was hottest, Liddell wryly
remarked that on the blood-soaked fields of Perryville the hottest place
“seemed to be everywhere.” As darkness descended over the battlefield,
Liddell groped his way toward the crossroads, unsure if there were
friendly troops between him and the enemy. When his men opened fire on
unidentified troops to their front, they were answered with a desperate
call to cease firing. “You are firing upon friends,” someone shouted,
“for God’s sake stop!”
Liddell was not the only disoriented soldier on the field that
evening. The order to cease firing had come from an officer of the 22nd
Indiana, who was convinced that his own regiment had bumped into another
Federal unit in the darkness. Polk, riding to the front, was equally
concerned lest Liddell precipitate a friendly fire incident. Determined
to sort it out, Polk brazenly rode up the ridge to have a look for
What followed was one of the more legendary cases of mistaken
identity in the Civil War. Polk happened upon a somewhat befuddled
officer and barked orders to cease firing. When the officer announced
himself as the commander of the 22nd Indiana and then asked Polk’s
identity, the corps commander blanched at the news but responded with
“I’ll soon show you who I am, sir,” he shot back. “Cease firing, sir,
at once.” Coolly riding back to his own lines, Polk repeatedly snapped
orders to cease firing. His bluff paid off; the confused Hoosiers let
him pass. Reaching the safety of Liddell’s line, Polk bellowed out his
discovery. “Every mother’s son of them,” he exclaimed, “are Yankees!”
Liddell’s brigade opened up on the unprepared Federals with a
point-blank volley that put the shocked Hoosiers to flight; two-thirds
of their number were left lying on the ridge. When Confederates began
pouring through the gap thus created, the rest of Gooding’s brigade
retreated beyond the Benton Road. Sensing that victory was within reach,
Liddell advanced his brigade to Dixville Crossroads, occupied the vital
road junction, and readied for a final push against the demoralized
remnants of I Corps.
He would never get the chance. Federal troops could be heard forming
off to his left. It was a second and final brigade of reinforcements
rushed to the scene by Gilbert, under the command of Brig. Gen. James
Steedman. Liddell, convinced that he could break the Federals once and
for all, was eager to press the fight. But Polk, rattled by his
uncomfortable brush with the 22nd Indiana, would have none of it. He
directed Liddell to sit tight. “I want no more night fighting,” the
As it turned out, Bragg wanted no more fighting—either night or day.
Contrary to Bragg’s repeated assertions that Union forces in front of
Perryville constituted no more than an isolated detachment of Buell’s
army, the day’s fighting had obviously demonstrated that the Federals
were present in strength.
Operating southwest of town on the Lebanon Pike, Wheeler’s cavalry
had sparred with elements of Crittenden’s II Corps, and elements of
Gilbert’s III Corps had made a late afternoon dash for Perryville
itself, indicating that a sizable Federal force lay immediately west of
the town. The day’s fighting had been excruciatingly costly for Bragg’s
army. Nearly a third of his available force was dead, wounded, or
missing. With no fresh troops at hand and no help expected from Kirby
Smith, Bragg decided to abandon the ground for which his men had paid
dearly in blood.
At the Dorsey House, Buell remained oblivious to the magnitude of the
day’s battle. The starchy general persisted in his belief that the
fight had been a middling affair and failed to grasp that McCook’s I
Corps had been thoroughly mauled. Sheridan, who dined at headquarters
that night, was startled by the army commander’s stubborn refusal to
acknowledge the obvious—that a major fight had taken place.
Dinner conversation, thought Sheridan, “indicated that what had
occurred was not fully realized, and I returned to my troops impressed
with the belief that general Buell and his staff-officers were
unconscious of the magnitude of the battle that had just been fought.”
Sheridan was not far off the mark. When II Corps entered Perryville
at midmorning on October 9, they found the town deserted. Under cover of
darkness, Bragg had pulled out. With the Rebels gone, the Federals were
left in possession of a field littered with dead and wounded, and Buell
was finally confronted with the staggering cost of I Corps’ stubborn
Both sides had suffered heavily in the fighting. Buell had lost at
least 4,200 men: 845 killed, 2,851 wounded, and 515 missing.
Proportionately, the Army of the Mississippi fared even worse: 510
killed, 2,635 wounded, and 251 missing. During a single afternoon of
fierce fighting, Bragg had lost 20 percent of his available troops.
Burial details labored for days at the unenviable task of interring
the dead. John Sipe of the 38th Indiana, who had volunteered for the
duty, hoped that he would “never witness the like again.” Blue and Gray
were scattered promiscuously, he wrote his wife, “with their limbs blown
off or shattered to pieces. One Rebel with both his arms blown off told
me if he were in his grave he would not suffer so.”
It soon became apparent that such horrific losses had largely been in
vain. As the Army of the Mississippi limped away from Perryville, Bragg
quickly reached the conclusion that the campaign for Kentucky was over.
Whatever chances he had once had for uniting with Kirby Smith and
offering battle on his own terms had clearly evaporated. Considerably
diminished by the battle at Perryville, the Confederates were in no
shape to confront Buell again. By October 13, both Bragg and Smith,
united at last in retreat, had their men on the move for Tennessee.
Slogging their way through the parched hills of eastern Kentucky, the
demoralized Confederates made their way through Cumberland Gap to
Knoxville. Defeatism infected the officer corps. In the wake of the
Battle of Perryville, the army’s senior officers sought to apportion
blame for the embarrassing debacle. A host of generals, including Smith,
Polk, Hardee, Buckner, Cleburne, and Liddell, angrily called for
Unsettled by such insubordinate gossip, President Davis ordered Bragg
to Richmond for a firsthand accounting of the disaster. Bragg put on a
brave face, casting blame for Perryville in every direction but his own.
Ultimately the president rallied to the defense of his old friend,
retaining Bragg in command of the army.
Despite the shakeup, the bitter controversy and mutual recriminations
spawned by Perryville continued to fester, ensuring that the army’s
senior command would degenerate into a fractious gaggle of quarreling
officers. The crippling distrust naturally filtered down to the men in
the ranks, and Bragg labored under a black cloud that would dog him for
the remainder of the war. “Not a single soldier in the whole army ever
loved or respected him,” recalled Sam Watkins, and the troops “had no
faith in his ability as a general.”
Buell fared little better in the court of opinion. Already out of
favor with the Lincoln administration in the weeks leading up the
Kentucky campaign, Buell’s fate was nearly a foregone conclusion after
his nonperformance at Perryville. His actions subsequent to the battle
didn’t help matters. With Bragg’s army in full retreat toward Cumberland
Gap, Halleck unsuccessfully prodded Buell to mount a vigorous pursuit.
He simply shrugged it off, opting to concentrate his forces at
Nashville. “I deem it useless and inexpedient,” he wired Halleck, “to
continue the pursuit.” For an exasperated Lincoln, such blatant
disregard for orders was the last straw. At the end of October, Buell
was relieved of command.
Ultimately, the bloody fight at Perryville came to be regarded as a
senseless waste of brave men. Bragg had flushed Buell out of Tennessee
and shifted the front, albeit temporarily, to the Ohio River, but the
entire campaign had been a misbegotten affair from the outset. Without a
rational end game, Bragg’s headlong drive into the Bluegrass State had
mystified both the Federals and his own men.
The “whole tour through Tenn & Ky,” wrote Edward Brown of the
45th Alabama, “is a foggy affair to me.” Once battle was joined, neither
Bragg nor Buell possessed a clear grasp of the situation. More
damningly, both generals were disengaged from the fight, leaving more
than 35,000 men to slug it out on their own. The indecisive results of
the battle were a sobering testament to the bitter fruit of maladroit
For the common soldiers who had grappled there, Perryville remained a
tragically senseless affair. Sam Watkins, whose 1st Tennessee had seen
some of the worst fighting on the Federal left, was dispirited by the
pointless and bloody stalemate. His own homespun assessment of the
engagement was likely the most accurate. “I do not remember of a harder
contest and more evenly fought battle than that of Perryville,” he
wrote. “If it had been two men wrestling, it would have been called a
‘dog fall.’ Both sides claim the victory—both whipped.”
Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle by Kenneth W. Noe
Perryville: Battle for Kentucky By Kenneth A. Hafendorfer
The Civil War at Perryville: Battling for the Bluegrass By Christopher Kolakowski
Friday, February 23, 2018
Monday, February 19, 2018
“You know,” said Marine Maj. Gen. Clifton B. Cates to a war correspondent on the eve of Operation Detachment, the invasion of Iwo Jima, “if I knew the name of the man on the extreme right of the right-hand squad of the right-hand company of the right-hand battalion, I’d recommend him for a medal before we go in.”
And for good reason. General Cates’s 4th Marine Division was tasked with conducting its fourth opposed amphibious landing on a heavily defended island. The 4th was the right flank division of General Harry Schmidt’s V Amphibious Corps and, together with Maj. Gen. Keller E. Rockey’s 5th Marine Division on the left, was about to begin one of the bloodiest battles in American history. Also taking part would be Maj. Gen. Graves B. Erskine’s 3rd Marine Division.
General Cates understood what his men were about to face. Born August 31, 1893, in Tiptonville, Tennessee, he was commissioned into the United States Marine Corps after receiving his law degree from the University of Tennessee. He fought in the Great War with the Marine Brigade of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Division at Verdun, Belleau Wood, Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne.
After inter-war duty in China and several military schools, Cates commanded the 1st Marine Regiment on Guadalcanal. Then, after commanding the Marine Corps Schools, he was sent back to the Pacific to command the 4th Marine Division, which had just completed the seizure of Saipan in July 1944. His many well-deserved decorations included the Navy Cross, two Distinguished Service Crosses, two Distinguished Service Medals, two Silver Stars, a Legion of Merit, and two Purple Hearts.
Whoever the unknown Marine on the far right flank was, he was a member of the 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division. Most of the men in the division had already made three or more opposed landings in the Marshall Islands, at Saipan, and most recently at Tinian, both in the Mariana Islands. Like General Cates, who had taken command of the division from General Schmidt after Saipan, they knew all too well what they were about to encounter.
They had learned fast. For a unit that had not existed when General Cates and the 1st Marine Division landed on Guadalcanal in 1942, the 4th Marine Division had been organized, trained, and took part in four amphibious assault landings in less than 13 months. And Iwo Jima, scheduled to be attacked on February 19, 1945, would be the worst.
Iwo Jima was also important. Lying midway along the direct path from Saipan to Tokyo, Iwo Jima had two airfields with a third under construction. From here Japanese fighters were able to attack B-29 Superfortresses on bombing raids to Tokyo or returning home to Saipan, picking off bombers that had been damaged by antiaircraft fire. As a result, the B-29s had to fly higher, along circuitous routes, with a reduced payload. At the same time, enemy bombers based on Iwo often raided B-29 bases in the Marianas. Iwo’s radar station also gave the Japanese defense authorities two hours advance notice of coming B-29 strikes.
Because of the distance between mainland Japan and American bases in the Mariana Islands, Iwo Jima, if captured, would provide an emergency airfield for damaged B-29s returning from bombing runs. The seizure of Iwo would also allow for sea and air blockades, plus strengthen America’s ability to conduct intensive air bombardment and degrade Japan’s air and naval capabilities.
Iwo was, and is, an isolated, sulfurous, seven-square-mile island that is part of the Bonin Group located 750 miles south of Tokyo. The Japanese, who considered the island part of the Tokyo Prefecture, had occupied it for decades and had spent all of 1944 creating a spider web of stinking, stifling hot underground tunnels, warehouses, command posts, fortifications, and fighting positions. Two airfields were spread across the island’s surface, and 14,000 soldiers and 7,000 Japanese marines manned the defenses. The island garrison’s commander, Lt. Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi, was confident that his position was as impregnable as anyone could make it.
The 4th Marine Division consisted of the standard three Marine infantry regiments (the 23rd, 24th and 25th) and one artillery regiment (the 14th). It included tank, engineer, and medical battalions as well as other supporting units. The 4th’s assignment at Iwo was to secure a beachhead, seize the first enemy airfield, and then pivot to the north and east, clearing out enemy opposition as it went. Critical to success was the reduction of the enemy’s ability to deliver flanking fire on the landing beaches from an area known as “the Quarry,” which overlooked them from the north.
The various Marine divisions and regiments had specific sectors of the two-mile-long beach assigned to them. In the first wave, Colonel John R. Lanigan’s Regimental Combat Team 25 would come ashore on Blue Beach on the right flank, Colonel Walter W. Wensinger’s RCT 23 was assigned the Yellow landing beaches (to the left of the 25th) and to assault the first enemy airfield. The 27th Marines would land on Red Beach to the left of center, while the 28th would hit Green Beach on the far left, closest to Mount Suribachi. The 24th was in reserve and would come ashore at about 5 pm on L-Day (landing day).
Softening up enemy defenses was deemed critical. After sustaining a terrific naval and aerial bombardment that lasted for days (but not as long as American commanders wanted), the Japanese, although a bit shaken and deafened, looked through their telescopes and field glasses to see the 450-ship American armada parked off the island’s southern coast.
At 6:45 am on February 19, 1945, Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner signaled, “Land the landing force!” It took hours to obey that order, but shortly after 9 am Marines of the 4th and 5th Divisions began hitting Green, Red, Yellow, and Blue Beaches abreast, initially finding little enemy resistance. Kuribayashi had ordered his men to hold their fire until the beaches were crowded with invaders; most would obey. There would be no suicidal banzai charges, either.
After wading ashore, the 4th Marine Division’s 25th RCT’s mission was to push forward to take the Quarry, a Japanese strongpoint, while the 5th Marine Division’s 28th Marines had the task of attacking Mount Suribachi, which loomed 556 feet above the invasion beaches. The 3rd Marine Division would be kept in reserve and land on L+5 to capture Airfield Number 2. More than 80,000 Marines would eventually take part in Operation Detachment.
The Japanese watched and waited as the Marines in their camouflage-speckled uniforms came ashore, followed by their great, lumbering Sherman tanks. Supplies began to pile onto the black sand. The Marines were obviously relieved that, thus far, everything was proceeding without a hitch. Few shots had been fired at them. Maybe the preliminary barrages had wiped out all of the enemy.
And then, at about 10 am, the calm morning was shattered as General Kuribayashi gave the signal and hundreds of guns, firing from hidden emplacements, opened up on the Marines.
Colonel Wensinger’s RCT 23 discovered that trying to run across the soft, yielding volcanic sand was like running through molasses. Struggling inland under increasingly severe enemy fire, they pushed forward until they reached the edge of Motoyama Airfield Number 1 in early afternoon. But enemy opposition had depleted the ranks of the leading battalion, and despite support from Lt. Col. Richard K. Schmidt’s 4th Tank Battalion, the attack stalled at the edge of the airfield. Even the tanks had difficulty reaching the airfield, several being lost to enemy mines buried in the soft sand and others temporarily stranded on the beach in that same black volcanic sand.
Wensinger’s 23rd Marines ran into a series of blockhouses and pillboxes manned by the 10th Independent Anti-Tank Battalion and the 309th Infantry Battalion. It was here that Sergeant Darren S. Cole, USMCR, a 24-year-old from Flat River, Missouri, serving with Company B, 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines, became the first Marine on Iwo Jima to earn the Medal of Honor. When his squad was halted by devastating small-arms, mortar, and artillery fire, Sergeant Cole led them up the slope to Airfield Number 1 and alone destroyed two enemy positions with grenades. He then identified three enemy pillboxes threatening his men.
Putting his machine gun into action, he managed to silence the closest pillbox. Suddenly, his weapon jammed and the enemy opened up a renewed fusillade, including knee mortars. Sergeant Cole, armed only with a pistol and one hand grenade, charged alone at the enemy, tossed his grenade, and then returned for more. He repeated this action twice more, each time knocking out an enemy position. As he destroyed the final enemy post, he returned to his squad only to be killed by an enemy hand grenade. His self-sacrifice had enabled Company B to continue its advance against Airfield Number 1.
Colonel Wensinger ordered his reserve battalion, Major James S. Scales’s 3rd, into the fight. As Major Scales’s men came forward, the tanks were forced to withdraw under an intense Japanese antitank barrage. Nearby, Major Robert H. Davidson’s 2nd Battalion couldn’t even get tank support, so intense was the enemy fire. Nevertheless, by mid-afternoon the Marines of the 23rd Regiment, through sheer guts, had reached and secured the edges of the airfield.
Colonel Lanigan’s RCT 25 was on the extreme right of V Amphibious Corps. Their assignment was twofold. After landing over the Blue Beaches, they were to attack in two directions; Lt. Col. Hollis Mustain’s 1st Battalion was to strike directly inland, protecting the right flank of the 23rd Marines attacking Airfield Number 1, while Lt. Col. Justice M. Chambers’s 3rd Battalion was assigned to take the Quarry. Because of concerns that fire from the Quarry and East Boat Basin would be severe against the landing beaches, Blue Beach 2 was not used, and Chambers’s battalion landed behind Mustain’s battalion over Blue Beach 1.
Because the two battalions followed each other across Blue Beach 1 under heavy enemy fire, some confusion and mixing of units resulted. The 3rd Battalion in particular was hard hit, with Company K losing eight officers by mid-afternoon; Company I lost six others and Company L another five. The supporting tanks of Company A, 4th Tank Battalion only drew more enemy fire. A bulldozer cutting a road off Blue Beach 1 was destroyed when it hit a large enemy mine hidden in the sand, and the tanks of Company A were halted barely 100 yards off the beach by a large enemy minefield.
Using their main 75mm guns, Company A’s tankers provided what support they could to the Marines attacking the enemy positions in the cliffs and pillboxes to the north. Engineers from the 4th Engineer Battalion worked under enemy fire to clear the blocking minefield.
Landing 15 minutes after H-hour, Lt. Col. Chambers’s 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, took the heaviest beating of the day on the extreme right while trying to scale the cliffs leading to the Quarry. “Crossing that second terrace,” Chambers recalled, “the fire from automatic weapons was coming from all over. You could’ve held up a cigarette and lit it on the stuff going by. I knew immediately we were in for one hell of a time.”
The enemy bombardment was unlike anything the Marines had ever experienced. There was hardly any cover. Japanese artillery and mortar rounds blanketed every corner of the 3,000-yard-wide beach. Large-caliber coast defense guns and dual-purpose antiaircraft guns firing horizontally caught the Marines in a deadly crossfire from both flanks.
Marines searched for cover in vain as the Japanese artillery and machine-gun fire cut them to shreds. One Marine combat veteran observing this expressed a grudging respect for the Japanese gunners. “It was one of the worst blood-lettings of the war,” said Major Frederick Karch of the 14th Marine Artillery Regiment. “They rolled those artillery barrages up and down the beach—I just didn’t see how anybody could live through such heavy fire barrages.”
At sea, Lt. Col. Donald M. Weller, the naval gunfire officer with Task Force 51, tried desperately to hit the Japanese gun positions that were blasting 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, from the Quarry. It would take longer to coordinate this fire: the first Japanese barrages had wiped out the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines’ entire shore fire control party.
As the two battalions of the 25th Marines attacked in different directions against strong enemy resistance, they soon lost contact with each other. This had been foreseen, and Colonel Lanigan called forward Lt. Col. Lewis C. Hudson’s 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines, from Blue Beach 1 to fill the gap.
With all his battalions now on line, Colonel Lanigan ordered a coordinated attack to clear the beaches and move on the airfield and the Quarry. This attack began well, but soon both the 1st and 2nd Battalions were forced to ground by enemy fire. The 3rd Battalion managed to clear about 200 yards before halting.
The 3rd Battalion commander, Lt. Col. Justice M. Chambers, USMCR, of Huntington, West Virginia, was already a legend in the Marine Corps before he ever set foot on Iwo Jima. Having served as a Marine Raider in the Solomon Islands campaign before joining the 4th Marine Division, he had earned a reputation as a daring leader in addition to several medals for bravery.
He was also a caring leader and trained his battalion hard. Chambers preached “mental conditioning” to his men and kept them for weeks on the rifle range to ensure accurate marksmanship. Not much for close-order drill, he kept his men out in the field, training at every opportunity. Some men groused and even considered revolt but gradually came to respect their battalion commander when they began to realize they were among the best trained battalions in the division. Now, after three campaigns, they would follow Chambers’s lead anywhere.
On L-Day at Iwo Jima, he led them against the Quarry. It was a bitter, brutal fight and cost the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines dearly.
By late afternoon, Chambers reported to Colonel Lanigan that of the 900 Marines he had landed with that morning only 150 were still on their feet as the first day ended. Lanigan immediately rushed up elements of the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, to the Quarry battle.
As night fell, Chambers’s battalion, or what was left of it, was relieved by Major Paul S. Treitel’s 1st Battalion, 24th Marines. For his personally courageous leadership of 3rd Assault Battalion Landing Team, 25th Marines, from February 19 to February 22, when he was seriously wounded, Lt. Col. Chambers was awarded a Medal of Honor.
Not far behind the thin line of Marine infantrymen, Colonel Louis G. DeHaven’s 14th Marine Artillery Regiment landed over the now secured beaches. Because of the heavy and accurate Japanese fire, only the 1st and 2nd Battalions came ashore on L-Day, the 3rd and 4th Battalions landing the following day.
The artillerymen had problems of their own. The beachhead was too small and did not include areas that had been preselected for the artillery to emplace their guns. There were no roads inland, and the soft sand hindered movement of heavy equipment. Casualties, including a battalion commander, further hindered the artillery. Even Lt. Col. Carl A. Youngdale’s 4th Battalion, which had spent the day aboard ships awaiting orders to land, suffered six casualties from enemy shells falling among the transports.
Japanese tactics so far in the Pacific War had been to launch a major counterattack on the first night of any invasion of their islands. This “defense at the water’s edge” doctrine had broken the back of Japanese resistance in many island battles. But not at Iwo Jima. Although enemy artillery and mortars pounded the Marines all night long, no serious ground attack was launched against the V Amphibious Corps’ beachhead. Iwo Jima was already showing signs of being a different type of battle than those the Marines had fought earlier in the Pacific.
The constant Japanese barrage took a toll, however. Both Lt. Col. Ralph Haas, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines, and his operations officer were killed during the night, and the supply dump of the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, on Blue Beach was destroyed by enemy rockets. Preliminary casualty counts showed that about eight percent of the 30,000 men who landed on L-Day had become casualties. Of these 2,420 casualties, about 20 percent, or 548 men, had been killed.
February 20 dawned clear and with good visibility. The 4th Marine Division attacked toward Airfield Number 1 with the 23rd and 25th Marines abreast; battalions of the 24th Marines reinforced both regiments. With the support of Company C, 4th Tank Battalion, the 23rd Marines secured the airfield, breaching an important section of the Japanese defensive line. Minefields, rough terrain, and fierce enemy opposition slowed the advance. Heavy rocket, artillery, and mortar barrages constantly struck the advancing Marines.
Late in the afternoon, the 23rd Marines made contact with the 27th Marines of the 5th Marine Division, forming a connected line of advance across the middle of the island. The 25th Marines advanced with two battalions, while the attached 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, held in place at the Quarry until the rest of the corps came alongside.
Again, the cost of the advance was high. A mortar shell knocked out the command staff of the 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines, and killed the commander of Company B, 4th Tank Battalion. Lt. Col. James Taul, the executive officer of the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, then in reserve, took command of the 2nd Battalion.
Meanwhile, the fight raged on. Lieutenant Arthur W. Zimmerman, seeing that tank support was desperately needed, constantly exposed himself to direct tank fire against a blockhouse that had his platoon pinned down. A tank commander, Sergeant James R. Haddix, volunteered to remain in an exposed position protecting several Marines who were pinned down in a shell hole, eliminating every enemy threat that came against them.
One of the participants, who wrote a brief history of the battle, stated, “There was no cover from enemy fire. Japs deep in reinforced concrete pillboxes laid down interlocking bands of fire that cut whole companies to ribbons. Camouflage hid all the enemy installations. The high ground on every side was honeycombed with layer after layer of Jap emplacements, blockhouses, dugouts, and observation posts. Their observation was perfect; whenever the Marines made a move, the Japs watched every step, and when the moment came, their mortars, rockets, machine guns, and artillery––long ago zeroed-in––would smother the area in a murderous blanket of fire.
“The counterbattery fire and preparatory barrages of Marine artillery and naval gunfire were often ineffective, for the Japs would merely retire to a lower level or inner cave and wait until the storm had passed. Then they would emerge and blast the advancing Marines.”
Fighting remained personal on Iwo Jima. A 24-year-old from Marvel Valley, Alabama, Sergeant Ross Franklin Gray, USMCR, was a platoon sergeant with Company A, 25th Marines, when his unit was held up by a grenade barrage near Airfield Number 1 on February 21. He pulled his platoon out of grenade range and then went forward alone to reconnoiter the enemy defenses. He discovered a large minefield and a strong network of emplacements and covered trenches.
Although under heavy enemy fire, Sergeant Gray cleared a path through the minefield and then returned to his platoon. He volunteered to lead an attack under the covering fire of three fellow Marines. Unarmed except for a huge demolition charge, he crawled to the first enemy position and blew it closed with the explosives.
Immediately taken under fire by another of the enemy positions, Gray crawled back to get another demolition charge. He then returned and destroyed the second enemy post. He did this again and again, destroying a total of six enemy pillboxes and killing 25 enemy soldiers. Not finished, he returned to the minefield and disarmed the remaining mines. He survived to wear his Medal of Honor.
As the battle slowly moved north, the 24th Marines came up against six pillboxes that were stalling the leading company. Two tanks came forward and tried to knock them out, but both tanks were themselves disabled by mines. The battalion commander asked a Marine “regular,” 43-year-old Marine Ira “Gunner” Davidson, from Chavies, Kentucky, if he could knock out the pillboxes.
Davidson rounded up a gun crew of six Marines and a 37mm gun. While running across 200 yards of open ground under enemy fire, one was killed, two were wounded, and one knocked senseless before they could get the gun into position.
Davidson then set his sights on each bunker in turn, aiming for the firing slits in each pillbox and blasting away. Now protected by some riflemen, the Marines moved up to find that in each pillbox were from two to four dead Japanese. Davidson’s exacting aim had knocked out all six pillboxes by exploding his rounds inside each without destroying the emplacement itself. Davidson repeated this exploit a few days later and was awarded a Silver Star for his skills and courage.
The time had come to take Airfield Number 2 in the island’s center. During the advance of the 24th Marines on February 21, a company commander in the 2nd Battalion, Captain Joseph Jeremiah McCarthy, USMCR, a 34-year-old Chicagoan, refused to admit his men were stymied by the Japanese defenses around the airfield.
Despite heavy enemy machine-gun, rifle, and 47mm fire directed at his company, he organized a demolition and flamethrower team, covered by a rifle squad, and led them across 75 yards of fire-swept ground into a heavily fortified zone of enemy defenses. He personally threw hand grenades into the successive pillboxes as his team came up to destroy each in turn.
Seeing enemy troops attempting to escape from a destroyed position, McCarthy stood erect in the face of enemy fire and destroyed the fleeing enemy. Entering the ruins of one pillbox, he killed an enemy soldier who was aiming at one of his Marines, then went back to his company and led them in an attack that neutralized all enemy resistance within his area. Throughout this battle, he had consistently exposed himself to personally lead and encourage his Marines. He received the Medal of Honor.
The situation was no less dangerous at the supply and aid stations in the rear along the waterline. Enemy gunners seemed to target supply dumps and aid stations, and many Marines suffered second and third wounds while lying helplessly in an aid station. Vehicles bringing supplies to the forward areas were also targeted.
On the beaches, a sudden storm made unloading difficult and delayed removal of the wounded to hospital ships offshore. During the landing of the 4th Battalion, 14th Marine Artillery Regiment, on February 20, over half the battalion’s 105mm howitzers were lost to the sea and two more were lost on the beach due to high surf conditions. The surviving guns were set up on Yellow Beach and provided support for the infantry.
Advancing painfully, the 4th Marine Division had lost too many men to cover the assigned front. To assist with this, General Schmidt gave General Cates the 21st Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, then offshore in reserve. Although he originally intended for the new arrivals to relieve the battered 25th Marines, General Cates was advised by his assistant division commander, Brig. Gen. Franklin A. Hart, that beach conditions and inland routes favored replacing the 23rd Marines instead, and it was so ordered.
Iwo Jima became a bloody battle between Marines above ground and Japanese deep underground, well camouflaged, and well supported by artillery, rockets, and mortars. Nights were full of enemy infiltration attempts and the occasional small counterattack. Single-plane enemy air raids dropped bombs at random, rarely hitting anything of importance, although one attack did hit the rear areas of the 25th Marines on Blue Beach on L+3. A cold, drizzling rain did little to cheer the exhausted Marines.
On February 23, L+4, a platoon of Marines reached the summit of the island’s most imposing feature: Mount Suribachi. Five men from the 28th Marines raised a small flag atop the volcanic mountain. Navy Corpsman John Bradley said, “It was so small that it couldn’t be seen from down below, so our battalion commander, Lt. Col. Chandler W. Johnson, sent a four-man patrol up with this larger flag….” Another group of men from the 28th Marines, including Bradley, raised the second, larger, flag––an event that was captured by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal and reproduced thousands of times. Although it was a photo that symbolized victory, final victory on Iwo Jima was still a long way off.
“It takes courage to stay at the front on Iwo Jima,” wrote Lieutenant Jim G. Lucas, a Marine Corps combat correspondent. “It takes something which we can’t tag or classify to push out ahead of those lines, against an unseen enemy who has survived two months of shell and shock, who lives beneath the rocks of the island, an enemy capable of suddenly appearing on your flanks or even at your rear, and of disappearing back into his hole. It takes courage for officers to send their men ahead, when many they’ve known since the [4th Marine] Division came into existence have already gone. It takes courage to crawl ahead, 100 yards a day, and get up the next morning, count losses, and do it again. But that’s the only way it can be done.”
Having secured the Quarry and the high ground above the East Boat Basin, the 4th Marine Division was now faced with a major enemy defensive enclave. This was a mutually supporting group of defensive positions known as the “Amphitheater.” The main defenses of this area in the central and northern sections of the island––Hill 382, Turkey Knob, Charlie-Dog Ridge, and Minami Village––would soon be collectively known as the “Meat Grinder.”
The enemy had done everything possible to build these defenses. Hill 382, also known as “Radar Hill,” had the remains of a radar station atop it, but the hill itself had been hollowed out by Japanese engineers and filled with antitank guns and artillery pieces. Each resided safely in a concrete emplacement. The hill gave the enemy excellent observation over all approaches.
The remainder of Hill 382 was a honeycomb of caves, ridges, and crevices containing light and medium tanks, 57mm and 47mm guns, and infantry armed with rifles, mortars, and machine guns. Turkey Knob, some 600 yards south, was a major communications center for the Japanese and housed reinforced concrete emplacements.
In the Amphitheater, a southeastern extension of Hill 382, the Japanese had taken the bowl-shaped terrain and filled it with three tiers of heavy concrete emplacements. Here, too, were extensive communications facilities along with electric lighting for the vast underground defenses. Antitank guns and machine guns covered all approaches to Turkey Knob.
Between each of these was a jumble of rocky ground, caves, crevices, and open ground offering little, if any, protection for attacking forces. Torn trees blocked approaches, as did blasted rocks, depressions, and a host of irregular ground obstacles. This was the eastern bulge of Iwo Jima––the core of the Japanese defense in the northeastern half of the island––and the 4th Marine Division’s objective.
On February 24, the 24th Marines began to move across those approaches.
After several hundred yards the Marines were stopped cold. From Charlie-Dog Ridge came heavy machine-gun, rifle, antitank, and mortar fire at point-blank range. From behind came antiaircraft fire using airbursts, antitank fire, and artillery. The Marines called for supporting fire of their own, but because they were so close to the enemy this was refused.
Only the 14th Marine Artillery’s 105mm guns were accurate enough, along with the infantry’s own 60mm and 81mm mortars; Marines of the Weapons Company dragged a 37mm gun forward and helped. Four machine guns were also pushed forward to help in suppressing enemy fire.
Then it began again. Advancing by rushes, individual squads of Marines attacked each enemy position in turn, working from one position to the next. Shooting, burning, and blasting, they fought their way to the top. By late afternoon, Companies G and I had made it and were mopping up the last of the defenders.
The 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines, was not so fortunate. They hit the Amphitheater itself, suffered heavy casualties, and had to use white phosphorous smoke shells to screen the evacuation of their wounded. Among these was the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Alexander A. Vandegrift, Jr., son of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, who was seriously wounded.
By this time, L+6, two-thirds of the 3rd Marine Division was ashore on Iwo Jima and had taken over the center of V Amphibious Corps’ front line. The 4th Marine Division continued on the right flank, facing the Amphitheater; one-third of the island lay in their sector. It was the most rugged terrain on the island and defended by determined enemy soldiers and sailors.
The 23rd and 24th Marines, the latter reinforced with the 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines, and Company A, 2nd Armored Amphibian Battalion, opened the attack with a fierce barrage from supporting weapons. Because enemy defenses blocked the use of tanks on the division’s front, permission had been given to move the 4th Tank Battalion’s tanks through the adjoining 3rd Marine Division’s sector. These were particularly helpful to the 23rd Marines’ advance, knocking out enemy pillboxes, machine guns, and antitank guns.
The 24th Marines and their reinforcements took on the Amphitheater and Minami Village. From offshore, the amphibian tractors tried to support the attack, but rough seas reduced their effectiveness and they were recalled.
Incredibly heavy resistance greeted the 24th Marines. Even the arrival of five tanks did little to aid the attack due to the rough ground and fierce enemy resistance. Once again, key leaders were among the first to fall to enemy fire. After gaining a few hundred yards, the attack halted for the night. General Cates alerted the 25th Marines to replace the 24th Marines in the morning. All three of its battalions, including the 2nd, which was already at the front, would resume the attack.
Using a rolling barrage, with the 14th Marine Artillery Regiment providing an artillery bombardment that advanced toward the enemy 100 yards at a time every five minutes, for 20 minutes, the 25th Marines advanced for the first 100 yards successfully. They then ran into a wall of enemy fire from the Amphitheater and Turkey Knob.
Tanks from Company A, 4th Tank Battalion, came up to assist, but they soon became targets of the enemy artillery. Attempts at counterbattery fire were frustrated by poor observation, even though two observation planes flew over the area attempting to locate the enemy guns. To the left, the 23rd Marines had doggedly moved on Hill 382 using flamethrowers, rockets, and demolitions to gain about 200 yards.
For the next two days the battle continued without pause. Time after time the Marines would gain the top of Hill 382 only to be forced back to cover by enemy artillery, mortar, and small-arms fire. Fighting became hand-to-hand around the ruins of the Japanese radar station.
As one Marine later remarked, “The easiest way to describe the battle … is to say that we took the hill [Hill 382] almost every time we attacked––and that the Japs took it back.”
Marine engineers and bulldozers finally cleared a path for tanks to move to the front, and Company B, 4th Tank Battalion, came up to support the 23rd Marines. But once again, the Marines were forced to withdraw for the night. That night Japanese planes were observed parachuting supplies to their troops; Marine artillery took the drop zone under fire.
No description of Marines in combat is complete without an acknowledgement of the brave Navy corpsman assigned to them. One such was Pharmacist’s Mate 2/c Cecil A. Bryan. During one battle on Iwo Jima, he saw First Sergeant Fred W. Lunch of the 24th Marines fall seriously wounded.
Despite heavy enemy fire, Bryan raced to the sergeant’s side and saw that his windpipe had been severed by a shell fragment. Unless something was done immediately, he would be dead within moments. Bryan knew he had to give Sergeant Lunch an alternate windpipe––but how? Thinking quickly, he reached into his medical bag and grabbed a piece of rubber tubing normally used for plasma transfusions. He cut off six inches and thrust it into Lunch’s throat. Then he carried his patient, barely alive and bleeding profusely, to an evacuation station. Lunch survived the war with no ill effects.
At the Amphitheater and Turkey Knob, the 25th Marines, with the 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines attached, continued their frontal attacks. There was no way to surround either terrain feature since they were mutually supporting. On February 27, the 1st Battalion attempted to flank the Amphitheater by moving through the zone of the 23rd Marines, but the latter had not advanced far enough.
Finally, late in the day an opening was cleared, and Company A, supported by tanks, moved forward. The advance soon turned into a disaster. Three tanks were quickly knocked out by enemy antitank fire, and enemy small arms, mortars, rockets, and artillery saturated Company A. Fire from Turkey Knob also ravaged the advancing Marines, and a withdrawal was soon ordered. The only significant success was the securing of the East Boat Basin by the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines.
The constant attacks day after day not only wore down the Americans, but the Japanese as well. By March 1, Hill 382 was surrounded, many of the heavier enemy guns silenced, and many of the Japanese defenders dead.
For several more days the battle continued. Company E of the 24th Marines repeatedly attacked, and it seemed as if every attack cost the company a commander killed or wounded. Second Lieutenant Richard Reich, who had been with the company since L-Day, remarked, “They [the new commanding officers] came so fast,” he said, “I didn’t even get their names.”
With such fierce fighting it was little wonder that the division’s combat effectiveness was down to 50 percent. Casualties as of March 3 were preliminarily reported as 6,591 Marines killed, wounded, or missing. While this number was about 37 percent of the total division strength, it represented 62 percent of its authorized infantry strength and, as usual, the infantry carried the burden of the battle.
In other words, two of every three infantrymen who came ashore on L-Day were casualties by March 3, 1945, or L+13, after two weeks on Iwo Jima. As just one example, Captain William T. Ketcham’s Company I, 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines, landed with 133 Marines in the three rifle platoons. Only nine of these men remained when the battle ended.
Although some replacements had arrived and joined the depleted regiments, they were not nearly enough to bring them up to authorized strength.
Although fighting still raged across, below, and above Iwo Jima, a signal moment came on March 4 when the first emergency landing was made by a B-29 bomber on one of the captured airfields. The aircraft was repaired, refueled, and took off to complete its mission. By war’s end, 2,400 B-29 bombers would make unscheduled landings on the island.
Meanwhile, the strong enemy defenses caused the Marine commanders to try new techniques. When two tanks fired directly into an enemy communications blockhouse atop Turkey Knob without result, the 14th Marine Artillery was asked to send up a 75mm pack howitzer. A gun was duly brought forward with its crew and fired 40 rounds directly at the blockhouse and, while it did not destroy it, the fire neutralized the garrison sufficiently for Company F to move forward some 75 yards to a position from which it destroyed the emplacement the next day. A demolitions crew and a flamethrowing tank completed the job.
By March 9, the Marines had outflanked Hill 382 and Turkey Knob, as well as the Amphitheater; the way to Iwo’s east coast lay ahead. Division intelligence reported that the main enemy core of resistance in the 4th Marine Division’s zone had been broken.
Signs that the Japanese were suffering were becoming clear. The one and only major counterattack against the 4th Marine Division came on the morning of March 9, when enemy troops were discovered infiltrating the lines of the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines and 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines.
This infiltration quickly turned into a major counterattack but was by no means a wild banzai charge for which the Japanese were known. The enemy troops worked their way as close as possible to the American lines before revealing themselves. Several managed to advance to the battalion command post of the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines, before being killed. Others carried stretchers and shouted, “Corpsman!” in English to disguise themselves while penetrating the Marine lines. Most of the fighting fell to Company E, 23rd Marines, and Company L, 24th Marines.
Daylight found some 850 enemy dead in and around the friendly lines; many more were thought to have been carried back to Japanese lines.
General Erskine’s 3rd Marine Division also encountered extremely stubborn defenses during its frontal assault to take Airfield Number 2, but take it they did. By nightfall on March 9, the 3rd had reached Iwo’s northeastern beach, cutting the enemy defenses in two.
Hard fighting was by no means over, however. When the 1st Battalion, 25th Marines, moved into rough terrain north of Turkey Knob, the unit went quietly, with no pre-assault bombardment. For a few minutes all seemed well, but then a barrage of rocket and mortar fire hit the battalion; close fire from enemy machine guns soon joined in the battle.
Friendly tanks and artillery answered. A thousand gallons of flamethrower fuel (jellied gasoline) and thousands of rounds of 75mm fire were hurled against the concrete communications blockhouse, which was again active. The battalion was nevertheless forced to withdraw; it spent the night absorbing replacements for the many casualties it had suffered.
Indeed, so short of men was the division that a “4th Provisional Battalion” was organized from supporting troops and placed under the command of Lt. Col. Melvin L. Krulewitch, who had been the 4th Division support group commander.
It had become common practice for companies to be shifted from one battalion to another simply to bring the assault battalion for that day up to near normal strength. The 24th Marines were forced to disband one rifle company in both the 1st and 2nd Battalions, using those men to strengthen the remaining companies.
The 4th Marine Division continued to clear its zone on Iwo Jima. Patrols sent out by the 23rd Marines on March 10 reported that they had reached the coast. The 25th Marines continued to advance on the right against strong but not determined resistance; the 3rd and 5th Marine Divisions would join them there. Clearly Japanese resistance had been broken.
A two-regiment attack on March 11 pushed forward against moderate resistance. Combat engineers followed and destroyed any enemy positions found. The 23rd Marines settled down for the night about 400 yards from the coast, the best position from which to cover their front.
The 25th Marines, facing more opposition, including rocket, mortar, and small-arms fire, continued forward. A prisoner captured during the day reported that about 300 enemy troops remained hidden in caves and tunnels in the small area left under Japanese control. He also reported that a Japanese major general commanded the group.
The remaining Japanese had good terrain from which to continue their resistance. Once again crevices, caves, and ridges covered the area. To avoid more casualties, a surrender appeal was broadcast to these defenders and the enemy general, thought to be Maj. Gen. Sadasue Senda, commanding the 2nd Mixed Brigade.
When the appeal failed, the attack began. Three battalions––2nd and 3rd, 25th Marines, and 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines––launched the 4th Marine Division’s last major attack on Iwo Jima. For the next four days the battle raged, too close for air support or artillery. It became a battle of small arms, mortars, and flamethrowers against Japanese hidden deep in caves and crevices. Tanks could only operate with caution, so close were the fighters.
Finally, Marines with flamethrowers, bazookas, rifles, grenades, and satchel charges decided the issue. Despite numerous attempts to convince the Japanese to surrender, they fought to the end. Some 1,500 Japanese dead were later counted in this area. Maj. Gen. Senda’s body was never identified, nor was Lt. Gen. Kuribayashi’s body ever found.
On March 14, 1945, the 4th Marine Division, or what was left of it, began departing Iwo Jima for Maui, Territory of Hawaii, and some well-deserved R&R. Fighting still raged on the island, but the division had accomplished its mission. Plans for the invasion of the Japanese home islands were already in progress, and the 4th Marine Division was included. Behind them, 9,098 of the 4th’s members were killed or wounded.
Indeed, for the 4th Marine Division the war was over. The division had spent a total of 63 days in combat during four major amphibious operations. The 4th’s casualties totaled 16,323, or 260 casualties per combat day. Only the 1st Marine Division suffered more casualties during the war, but it spent far more time in combat. Only the 1st and 4th Marine Divisions made four opposed amphibious landings during the war. The 4th Marine Division also suffered more combat fatalities than any other Marine division except the 1st.
It had been a short but a very difficult war for the 4th Division, a unit that did not even exist until after Guadalcanal. But they had performed magnificently.
Total casualties for all three Marine divisions and the Navy offshore during the 36-day battle were over 26,000 with 6,821 killed; the Japanese lost 20,000 men killed. Twenty-seven Medals of Honor were awarded to Marines and sailors, many posthumously, the most ever awarded for a single operation during the war, and one third of the 80 Medals of Honor awarded to Marines during World War II.
After the battle, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas, wrote, “The battle of Iwo Island has been won. The United States Marines by their individual and collective courage have conquered a base which is as necessary to us in our continuing forward movement toward final victory as it was vital to the enemy in staving off ultimate defeat.
“By their victory, the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions and other units of the Fifth Amphibious Corps have made an accounting to their country which only history will be able to value fully. Among the Americans who served on Iwo Island, uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
From the Volcano to the Gorge: Getting the Job Done on Iwo Jima By Ray Miller
Iwo Jima: The Dramatic Account of the Epic Battle That Turned the Tide of World War II By Richard F. Newcomb
Iwo Jima: Legacy of Valor By Bill Ross
Sunday, February 18, 2018
Sunrise was masked by thick fog that hung shroud-like over the city of Philadelphia on September 11, 1777. Shortly before 8 o’clock that morning, the people who had gathered in tight knots in the streets, squares and around public buildings heard distant thunder. It lasted until nearly noon, then ceased.
What had happened? Had this been the battle they had expected to be fought between General George Washington’s Continental Army and the British, who were marching on their city? A dispatch rider, his mount lathered, galloped through the thronged streets bearing one of the twice-daily dispatches Congress had instructed Washington to send. But no word filtered along the streets and alleys of the city. Later that afternoon, the thunder began again and lasted until after sunset. Still there was no news until almost midnight–and for Philadelphians who had joined the war for American independence, the report was not good.
The battle that was fought on that warm, foggy September day along Brandywine Creek southwest of Philadelphia had seemed inevitable. Washington and his British opponent, General Sir William Howe, had spent the spring ducking and dodging each other. Then Howe had loaded his regiments on a fleet of warships and transports and sailed from New York Harbor, clearing the sandbar off Sandy Hook on July 23. Sighted only briefly off the mouth of the Delaware Bay, the ships of the Royal Navy finally reappeared in the Chesapeake Bay. On August 25, Howe’s army began to disembark at the head of the bay, and on August 28 it started a slow, cautious march toward the rebel capital, Philadelphia.
The British reached the little Pennsylvania crossroads settlement of Kennett Square on September 10. As British, Hessian and Loyalist troops unhitched tired teams from the supply wagons loaded with rum, flour and salted meat and pitched camp, Howe learned that Washington had deployed his Continentals and Pennsylvania militia along the Brandywine, blocking the road to Philadelphia. The king’s commander in chief kept his staff up late that night, preparing for battle.
Howe’s plan was simple, elegant and risky–he would divide his army in half. One wing, under the Hessian Lt. Gen. Wilhelm von Knyphausen, would advance directly from Kennett Square to the main crossing of the Brandywine, Chadd’s Ford. His task was to engage the enemy as closely as possible, but only as a diversion. Meanwhile, the rest of the British army, with Howe and the talented Lord Charles Cornwallis in command, would march upstream, cross the Brandywine and sweep down the rebels’ right flank. The danger, of course, was that Washington might concentrate against each wing in turn and defeat, or at least cripple, the king’s army. But that was less risky than a frontal assault.
While the king’s men sat down to their rum and salt pork that evening, the Continentals camped along the Brandywine had the consolation of a sermon preached by the Reverend Joab Trout. ‘The doom of the British is near! intoned the minister to all who would listen. Most of the Continentals, though, were more interested in sleep. They had marched all morning and then spent the afternoon being jockeyed about as the generals deployed the army for the battle that all knew was coming.
Washington had posted his army at the last possible defensive position between the British and Philadelphia. Major General John Armstrong and the Pennsylvania militia held the left flank, covering a ford known as Pyle’s Ford (or Gibson’s, or any of a half dozen other names). On the heights overlooking the main crossing, Chadd’s Ford, stood the Continental divisions of Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene and Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne.
A battery of Colonel Thomas Proctor’s Pennsylvania State Regiment of Artillery (which later became the 4th Continental Artillery) was entrenched on a hill covering Chadd’s Ford. In reserve were Maj. Gen. Adam Stephen’s division, the division commanded by Maj. Gen. William Alexander (who was known to friends and foes as Lord Stirling), and the North Carolina Line under Brig. Gen. Francis Nash. Holding the right flank, and ordered to defend a series of upstream fords, was a division of Continentals led by Maj. Gen. John Sullivan. Under the smiles of Providence, Washington wrote to Israel Putnam, we shall give them a repulse.
Shortly before 6 o’clock on the morning of September 11, Knyphausen’s column filed off toward Chadd’s Ford. During the next hour and a half the British advance guard was ambushed three times.
When at last the king’s men neared a tangle of wooded hills, small streams and crisscrossing farm lanes adjoining the Brandywine, the Hessian general had had enough. He formed his brigades into line of battle, brought up his heavy 12-pounder guns and, at 8 a.m., launched a set-piece assault. It took more than two hours to push the rebels back to the far side of the Brandywine. Once the rebels were safely beyond Chadd’s Ford, Knyphausen ordered his men to ground their arms, sited his heavy guns and opened a barrage. The rebels returned the fire. The cannonade, which lasted until noon, was the morning thunder heard in Philadelphia.
The formation that delayed Knyphausen was the rebel army’s light corps commanded by Brig. Gen. William Maxwell, a hard-drinking (and often drunk) veteran of the French and Indian War. The corps, less than 800 strong, had been assembled only three weeks before, made up of detachments from each of the Continental brigades under Washington’s direct command and reinforced by a local militia regiment.
Howe’s column left Kennett Square between 4 and 5 a.m. Marching quickly, in spite of the 80 wagons (for the expected wounded) lumbering along behind them, the sweating British and Hessian troops made good time. Riding next to Cornwallis and Howe was a Pennsylvania Loyalist, Joseph Galloway, who knew the area intimately while another local Tory, Lewis Curtis, guided the advanced guard.
Only one small rebel patrol–with fewer than 100 men–was encountered. By 2 p.m., the British column had wheeled to the right, crossed both upper branches of the Brandywine and was closing in on the rebel flank. At 2:30 p.m. Howe called a halt to let the men eat their ration of salt pork and biscuits. It had been a most remarkable march for the British army–17 miles on a fog-shrouded, sweltering, blister-raising trek in nine hours.
While the troops rested, one of the advanced patrols of the Feldjägerkorps reported. To see for themselves what the Hessian riflemen had discovered, Howe and Cornwallis, mounted on fresh horses, rode forward to the crest of Osborne’s Hill. On the far side of the valley, deployed in ordered line of battle along the crest of a hill that had been plowed in preparation for planting winter wheat, 3,500 Continentals waited. Sir William had not anticipated such resistance at that point, but 8,000 men were in the woods behind him to deal with it.
Whatever their faults–and they had many–Howe and Cornwallis were superb tacticians. Instantly, orders were issued to form the battle line: the Brigade of Guards, two battalions, on the right; in the center, the British Grenadiers and light infantry and the Hessian Jägers; on the left, the 4th Brigade of the British Line; the Hessian Grenadier Brigade to support the Guards; the 3rd Brigade to the reserve.
Lieutenant Colonel William Meadows addressed his 1st Grenadiers: Grenadiers, for damned fighting and drinking I’ll match you against the world, he bellowed.
His band struck up the British Grenadiers, then the drums tapped out the cadence, and the British battle line, bayonets gleaming, advanced–right into a Pennsylvania farmer’s split-rail fence. The battle line paused, some regiments climbing the fence, others pulling sections down. The 4th Brigade fell behind, and the Jägers cut in front of the Redcoats. A gap opened between the Guards and the 1st Light Infantry, which the observant Howe sent the Hessian Grenadiers forward to fill. Then the British broke free of the tangle of wood lots and farm fields covering Osborne’s Hill. It was almost 4 p.m.
Washington had been summoned from his headquarters by an alarm gun fired at 7 a.m. Surrounded by a flock of aides and generals, he listened to the fog-muffled sounds of gunfire from Proctor’s Battery overlooking Chadd’s Ford. One question preyed on his mind: Was Knyphausen’s advance a feint, or was it the main British thrust? Howe had a penchant for flank attacks. Would he make one this day?
To guard his flanks, Washington had deployed almost all of his available cavalry under Colonel Theodorick Bland, with orders to keep the commander in chief informed of British moves. Patrols of Continentals guided by officers from the local militia regiment, the 8th Chester County and a detachment of 75 men from the Pennsylvania Line under Captain William Simpson had been sent out.
Upstream from the Continental Army’s main battle position, General Sullivan had posted one of his best units, the Delaware Regiment, to guard Brinton’s Ford. Still farther up the Brandywine, Sullivan had sent Colonel Moses Hazen’s regiment to watch two other fords. Officially Congress’ Own 2nd Canadian Regiment but better known as the Infernals, Hazen’s formation was made up of Canadians who had thrown in their lot with the rebels in 1775 and were now in exile along with a sprinkling of recruits from New York and Pennsylvania. Most of the officers and men were foreign born; many spoke no English.
No one thought it necessary to post troops any farther upstream. There were few crossing places, certainly none within striking distance of a slow-marching British army.
During the morning hours a steady stream of conflicting intelligence flowed in. A light cavalry major reported no enemy forces to the right. Hazen said the enemy was marching to outflank the army. Major Joseph Spear of the Chester County militia saw no sign of the enemy. From Lt. Col. James Ross of the Pennsylvania Line came a report that 6,000 British under Howe, with Joseph Galloway acting as a guide, were striking up the creek. Captain Simpson sent word via Colonel Ross that he had skirmished with the advance guard of a powerful British column. Sullivan’s aide, Major John Skye Eustace, swore during the court of inquiry held after the battle that Washington and the highly vaunted Brig. Gen. Henry Knox had laughed at him when he warned of British forces approaching their right flank.
By 11:15 Washington, at his wit’s end, ordered Bland to send a cavalry patrol under an intelligent, sensible officer to find out what, if anything, was happening on the right. He followed that with orders to Sullivan, Lord Stirling and Maxwell to make ready to cross the Brandywine and attack Knyphausen’s column. If Howe had indeed divided his army, perhaps it could be destroyed in detail. If not, perhaps some prodding could bring on a British attack.
Shortly before 2 p.m., a panting light dragoon delivered a dispatch from Sullivan. Washington read, Colo. Bland has this moment sent me word, that the Enemy are in the Rear of my Right, about two miles, [and] coming down. He also says he saw Dust Rise back in the country for about an hour. Bland included an estimate of the enemy strength–two brigades of light troops. Washington may also have received word of Howe’s march from a local squire, Thomas Cheyney. In any event, that authentic intelligence galvanized the commander in chief into action.
At about 2 p.m., Knyphausen’s staff noticed a curious movement on the hills beyond Chadd’s Ford–soldiers marching to the rebel right. They were the regiments of Stirling’s and Stephen’s divisions on their way to head off the flanking column. By 3 o’clock, they were deployed in an ordered line of battle on a hill near the Birmingham Meeting House, the field guns had been unlimbered and loaded, and skirmishers and light dragoons were probing for the enemy.
Meanwhile, Washington had once more become indecisive. Would two divisions, perhaps 3,500 men, be enough to stop the British? Could he trust Stirling, a make-believe earl, and Stephen, a lying braggart, both of whom were known to be fond of the bottle? At 2:15, Washington sent an order to Sullivan, which was received at 2:30, to wheel his division about, link up with Stirling and Stephen, and assume overall command of the right wing.
The Maryland regiments of Sullivan’s division swung about, struck out upstream along the Brandywine and then cut sharply to the right, following a twisting, narrow farm lane. The leading regiment bumped into Hazen’s men hurrying to join the column, and the division lurched to a halt. Word was passed along the column to Sullivan: The British not only had flanked the rebel army, they were at hand. Orders ran back down the column: March on at the quick step, with Hazen in the lead.
When the head of the column broke free of the trees and crested a low rise, Sullivan was at last able to see Stirling’s and Stephen’s troops on the plowed hill. To his chagrin, Sullivan found his division was a half mile to the left and in front of the other rebel formations. Sullivan spurred his horse and cantered off to confer with Stirling and Stephen and to order them to shift their men to the right to make room for his division on the hill. In command he left the 60-year-old Frenchman Brig. Gen. Phillipe Hubert de Prudhomme de Borre. It was 4 p.m.
Colonel Hazen, ignoring Sullivan’s and de Borre’s orders, swerved from the line of march. The other brigades followed a sunken lane toward the plowed hill. They were still a quarter of a mile in front of the nearest rebel troops–the New Jersey regiments of Stirling’s division under Colonel Elias Dayton–when they were suddenly attacked by the Brigade of Guards and the Hessian Grenadiers. In a matter of moments the 1st Maryland Brigade broke. Unable to deploy in the narrow confines of the sunken lane, the 2nd Maryland Brigade, from the colonels to the drummer boys, turned on their heels and ran. At the first glimpse of the bayonets of the Brigade of Guards, de Borre disappeared.
With fugitives swirling around them, Hazen’s 2nd Canadians continued their march toward the plowed hill until the Hessian Grenadiers struck their flank. Hazen’s regiment numbered between 350 and 400 officers and men, while there were three battalions of Hessians, each battalion roughly 430 strong. Nevertheless, Hazen’s troops formed into line of battle and met the enemy with steady volleys. When the New Jersey regiments opened fire, the Hessians fell back, allowing Hazen to link up with the left flank of Stirling’s division.
Sullivan was with Stephen and Stirling when his division fell apart. All he could do was direct Stirling to open fire with his artillery to cover the retreat while he and four aides rode off to try to rally the fugitives.
The rebels on the plowed hill caught sight of Sullivan’s division marching–so they hoped–to reinforce them at the same time the British appeared from the light woods covering Osborne’s Hill. In awed silence, the Continentals watched British guns unlimber and commence a covering barrage over the heads of the Redcoats starting up the hill. Then, when the British line drew closer, the Continentals received the order they had been waiting for: Fire!
There was a most infernal fire of cannon and musquetry, said one of the king’s officers, The balls plowing up the ground. The trees cracking over one’s head. The branches riven by the artillery. The leaves falling as in autumn by the grapeshot. Above the deafening roar of cannon and musket fire came incessant shouting: Incline to the right! Incline to the left! Halt! Charge! As the British closed with the Continental battle line, the rebel fire swelled to an ear-shattering crescendo and the British Grenadiers and light infantry were forced to go to ground in front of Lord Stirling’s division.
The initial British advance against Stephen’s division on the rebel right was also less than successful. Brigadier General William Woodford had posted one of his regiments, the 3rd Virginia under Colonel Thomas Marshall, in a wood on the right to cover his fieldpieces and flank. When Sullivan ordered the shift to the right to make room for his division on the plowed hill, Marshall’s 170 officers and men found themselves masking the advancing British from the fire of Woodford’s and Brig. Gen. Charles Scott’s brigades. Before Marshall could redeploy his men, the 3rd Virginia was attacked by the British 1st Light Infantry and forced to fall back to the Birmingham Meeting House, where they took positions behind a sturdy stone wall. Once Marshall and his little force were out of the way, the British moved on rapidly, only to be met by a withering blast of buckshot from Stephen’s division and enfilading fire from the 3rd Virginia.
A half-hour after it began, Howe’s flank attack ground to a halt. Sullivan’s division had been routed, but the rebels were clinging tenaciously to their hill, and it would soon be too dark to fight. Something had to be done–and quickly.
During the initial assault on the plowed hill, a Jäger patrol had circled the rebel right. When it was discovered that the enemy line did not extend beyond the Birmingham Meeting House, the whole Feldjägerkorps and the 2nd British Light Infantry began a flanking move. Howe noticed the movement of the Jägers and light infantry and brought up the 4th British Brigade. Three companies of the 2nd Light Infantry charged the 3rd Virginia and, after a brief but violent clash of bayonets against musket butts, drove them back. The Jägers on the rebel flank also fired on the retreating Virginians with their rifles and several fieldpieces.
Outflanked and with four fresh British regiments–the 33rd Foot, 37th Foot, 46th Foot and 64th Foot, totaling almost 1,400 men–pressing forward against it, Stephen’s division began to waver. Woodford’s brigade still stood, even though its commander was wounded and had to be carried from the field, until Marshall’s regiment made good its escape. Woodford’s troops then began to retreat, joined by Scott’s brigade. The rebels came off the hill in fair order, although without their guns (the horses had been early casualties), until the Jägers and the 2nd Light Infantry hit them sharply on the flank. Then the retreat became panic-stricken flight.
Cornwallis rode forward and joined the two battalions of British Grenadiers, who rose to their feet and charged with fixed bayonets. They got to within 40 paces of the Continental line before Stirling’s men opened fire. Again, the Grenadiers halted and dropped to the ground. The 1st British Light Infantry and the three battalions of Hessian Grenadiers, with the British Guards in support–their movement masked by the smoke billowing across the battlefield–worked around the rebels’ left flank and pressed in against Hazen’s Canadians and the New Jersey Brigade. The British Grenadiers again clambered to their feet and drove forward, angling slightly to their left and engaging Brig. Gen. Thomas Conway’s brigade.
Earlier in the day, while the British were forming for their attack on the plowed hill, Lord Stirling had been joined by a young volunteer from Chavaeniac, in the French province of Auvergne, Maj. Gen. Marie Joseph Paul Ives Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. As the British Grenadiers closed in on Conway’s men, Lafayette and some of his friends dismounted and joined the Continental battle line. Grabbing muskets from the men’s hands, they showed the rebels how to fix bayonets. In the smoky confusion, a British Grenadier’s musket ball struck Lafayette in the leg. An aide helped the Continental Army’s youngest general back onto his horse and guided him off the plowed hill.
The 33rd Foot, the right-hand regiment of the 4th Brigade, pivoted and opened an enfilading fire on Stirling’s division, forcing them to abandon the plowed hill. The retreat was covered by the New Jersey Line and Hazen’s Canadians. The last post taken by the Jerseymen was in a wood just north of present-day Dilworth. The Grenadiers, by then virtually out of ammunition, attacked with bayonets and drove off the rebels.
As the Continentals began to fall back, the three battalions of Hessian grenadiers and the Brigade of Guards became entangled in thick woods. Their role in the battle was over.
Soon after 4:30, Washington received word of the disaster that had befallen Sullivan’s division and issued new orders. Armstrong and his militia were to remain in place. Wayne, with his own division and Maxwell’s light corps, would defend Chadd’s Ford. Greene’s division and Nash’s North Carolina Line were to march toward the sound of the guns. Then the commander in chief mounted his horse and galloped toward his army’s right flank, trailed by a troop of dragoons and a dozen aides, including another foreign volunteer, Polish Count Kasimierz Pulaski.
Shortly before 5 p.m., Greene’s and Nash’s men were on the road, trotting toward the plowed hill, having covered nearly four miles in less than 45 minutes. As he neared the village of Dilworth, Greene met Washington, Sullivan and Lafayette. Without hesitation, Greene deployed his forces–Nash to the left, Brig. Gen. Peter Muhlenburg’s brigade to the center, and a brigade of Virginians and Pennsylvanians under Brig. Gen. George Weedon to the right. Meanwhile, Pulaski led the 30 dragoons who had ridden along with Washington in a mad charge against the Hessian Jägers he saw edging toward the right of Greene’s battle line. Nothing more was heard from the Feldjägerkorps that day.
The British Grenadiers, unaware that Greene’s division was forming up directly in their path, drove toward Dilworth. By mistake, the 1st Battalion inclined to the right. The 2nd Battalion pushed on until it was struck by heavy fire from the front and left flank. Not for the first time that day, the Grenadiers were thrown back in disorder.
The battalion commander, Colonel Meadows, asked Hessian Jäger Captain Johann Ewald to ride back and get help. Ewald found Brig. Gen. James Agnew of the 4th Brigade, explained the Grenadiers’ predicament and pointed out a low rise from which the Redcoats could effectively engage the rebels. Agnew detached his two left-flank regiments, the 64th and 46th Foot, and Ewald led them toward the rise.
We had no sooner reached the hill, Ewald recorded in his diary, than we ran into several American regiments, which were just about to take the grenadiers in the flank and rear. The rebels were Weedon’s brigade, sent by Greene to attack the Grenadiers, and their first volley dropped 47 officers and men of the 64th Foot. The stunned British jerked to a halt as the rebels repeatedly fired at a range of 50 yards. Nearly half the men and most of the officers of both British regiments went down, but neither regiment broke. The slaughter of the two king’s regiments was finally halted at 6:30 p.m., when a British artillery officer brought up a pair of light 6-pounders and opened fire on Weedon’s Continentals.
Recoiling from the British artillery, Weedon’s men encountered Colonel Marshall’s 3rd Virginia, making its way toward the Chester Road. In the gathering darkness, Virginians fired on Virginians. The other units of Sullivan’s, Stirling’s and Stephen’s divisions were luckier, drifting safely through Greene’s line. Some Continentals, like John Hawkins, the regimental sergeant major of Hazen’s Canadians, were ready to make yet another stand. But most joined the growing throng trudging along the Chester Road to safety.
The British, exhausted and out of ammunition, made one more brief effort before halting and then dropping back out of range of rebel artillery and muskets at 6:45. The battle on the right was over.
The barrage marking the British advance from Osborne’s Hill had alerted Knyphausen that the flanking column was in position and that it was time for an attack across Chadd’s Ford. Before the Hessian threw his regiments against the rebels posted on the heights on the far side of the Brandywine, he ordered his artillery to open fire. The rebel guns answered, and for an hour and a quarter an artillery duel went on, filling the valley with smoke.
At 5:15, the leading unit of the British assault column, the 4th Foot, advanced and plunged into the waist-deep creek. The Redcoats’ crossing was slowed by felled trees the rebels had anchored in the flow, and as they neared the far shore, the British were swept by grapeshot. A sergeant of the 4th recalled that creek was much stained with blood. But the 4th pushed on up the slopes, followed by the other regiments of Knyphausen’s column.
The left of the British line ran into Maxwell’s light corps and pushed it back. Knyphausen then fed additional regiments across the ford, and Maxwell’s troops retreated.
The 4th Foot, with the 5th Foot in close support, went straight against Proctor’s battery, clearly intending to storm it at bayonet point. The battery had been evacuated and the gunners ordered to deploy several hundred yards to the rear to cover Wayne’s troops as they re-formed to meet the British thrust. The two king’s regiments swept over the earthworks and bore down on the artillerymen, bayonets leveled. The gunners fled, led by their commander, Captain Hercules Courteney, who would later be court-martialed.
As he watched the British coming steadily forward and the men of the Pennsylvania State Regiment of Artillery scampering to the rear, Wayne ordered the 1st Pennsylvania under Colonel James Chambers to get the guns underway. Pennsylvanians and British met, and amid a raging firefight at 30 yards, the Continentals dragged off a howitzer and two field guns. The two remaining guns had to be left to the British.
The duel for the guns bought Wayne just enough time to form his division in a strong position behind a stone wall covering the road to Chester. The British advanced rapidly against the Pennsylvanians and were met with volley fire and grapeshot. More and more British troops crossed the ford and joined the battle line, until even the fiery Wayne had no choice but retreat. The Pennsylvania Line began a slow, orderly withdrawal, halting at every stone wall and fence line to loose off a volley or two at the king’s men.
Out of the growing darkness stumbled Armstrong’s retreating division of Pennsylvania militia. A soldier of the 3rd Philadelphia Associators remembered: Our way was over the dead and dying, and I saw many bodies crushed to pieces beneath the wagons, and we were bespattered with blood. As we marched directly under the English cannon, which kept up a continual fire, the destruction of our men was very great.
Once the militia were shepherded safely along the road to Chester, Wayne and Knyphausen, as if by mutual consent, broke off the action. It was 7 p.m. The Battle of the Brandywine was over.
Through the night Washington’s army staggered and stumbled along the road to Chester. Estimated casualties on both sides were almost equally high–about 900 British and 850 to 1,000 Continentals–but according to the 18th century’s rules of warfare, the British, who had held the field, were the victors. As Major Joseph Bloomfield of the New Jersey Line wrote in his diary, it certainly had been an unfortunate day for our army. Greene, however, was sure that Mr. Howe will find another Victory purchased at the price of so much blood must ruin him, and Weedon, whose brigade had fought so well, earnestly wished them the field again tomorrow on the same terms. The Continental Army had lost a battle, but it was not beaten.
Early the next morning, a detachment from Knyphausen’s column marched toward Chester but failed to contact the retreating rebel army. It would not be until September 15 that Howe could resume his drive on Philadelphia. On September 26, Cornwallis led the British and Hessian Grenadiers into the rebel capital.
The Battle of Brandywine displayed Washington’s generalship at its worst and at its best. The rebel commander in chief grossly underestimated the marching ability of the British and his opponent’s daring. Washington had no idea that the Brandywine could be crossed where Howe’s column forded the creek, an oversight that one of his officers, the thoroughly competent Colonel Elias Dayton, found truly astonishing.
Washington had, however, scattered patrols in a wide arc, covering flanks and front, and his scouts did not fail him. Later, Washington blamed the defeat, in part, on the contrariety of intelligence he had received, and he tucked the fault firmly into the stirrups of his cavalry commander, Colonel Bland. When faced with conflicting reports, Washington had dithered. But once it became clear what was happening–too late to prevent a defeat but just barely in time to stave off disaster–Washington was able to save his army to fight again another day.
As for Sir William Howe, who has been excoriated for more than two centuries for his battlefield performances, he fought a battle of which anyone could be proud. When one reviews the entire attack on the enemy, wrote the Hessian Johann Ewald, who would go on to become one of the foremost military theorists of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras, one will perceive that General Howe is not a middling man but indeed a good general. The Jäger captain added, It is really regrettable that the result of the battle fell short of the excellent and carefully prepared plan. But when does a battle ever go according to plan?
In spite of his tactical success, however, Howe had, in one very important sense, failed. The Continental Army was still in existence; the rebellion still lived. Bloodied though they were at the Brandywine, Washington’s men would be back, again and again.
Brandywine: A Military History of the Battle that Lost Philadelphia but Saved America, September 11, 1777 By Michael Harris
The Philadelphia Campaign: Brandywine and the Fall of Philadelphia By Thomas J. McGuire
The Philadelphia Campaign, 1777-1778 By Stephen Taaffe