Field Service In The Civil War


Originally Published September 1916

There were notable cases in the course of the Civil War where the military and naval services fought together, but they were mainly engagements in which the mission was the capture or reduction of fortifications open to assault from both land and water. Almost invariably the first stage of these combined operations included the convoy by fleet or squadron of army transports and the preliminary bombardment of the enemy's position. At times this bombardment was carried out with the men-of-war off soundings and the objective of their fire a fort or chain of forts guarding a deepsea harbor or an inlet entrance. In many cases the ships penetrated many miles up a river before actual hostilities were launched. Under cover of the bombardment landing parties of bluejackets and the marines of the fleet or squadron gained a foothold on beach or river bank and attacked one face of the works while the land forces struck from another quarter.

Such were the actions at Hatteras Inlet, where Fort Clark was captured by the Federal forces of both arms ; the engagement at Fort Macon; the reduction of Forts Gaines and Morgan and the two attacks on Fort Fisher, the second of which, one of the most sanguine of the war, resulted in its final capture. In all these actions the marines of the various units afloat took their part, and in countless other fights where all the forces engaged on the Federal side were mustered from the naval forces alone. There were also numberless boat expeditions, cutting-out exploits and minor engagements in which the sea soldiers of those days figured.

From the outbreak of the Civil War, however, until its close, there were but two well-known instances in which the Marine Corps fought in the field under conditions that exactly approximated those under which the Army carried out the great bulk of its fighting. In the first of these the Marines were not associated with the Navy, but fought as a battalion detached for duty with the Army. It was not an auspicious debut under such circumstances for the occasion was the first Battle of Bull Run where the Federal forces were routed. Major John G. Reynolds commanded the battalion, and it was brigaded with the command of General Porter and assigned as support for Griffin's battery. Throughout that inglorious battle Reynold's battalion, as did the other detachments of regular troops, acquitted itself with great credit.

The other instance is the only one in the long struggle where a combined force of bluejackets, marines and volunteers operated under one command without the material aid of the Fleet. The activities of the Fleet in this case were confined to landing the naval brigade prior to the first engagement in which the combined forces fought, and later embarking it to land it again on the following day at another point. Six weeks covered the operations of this mixed command and during that time it fought two battles, several skirmishes, with fighting in the open, in the woods and in the swamps of North Carolina, behind entrenchments and under cover of hastily thrown up rifle pits, with charges and counter-charges, marches and picket duty.

The mission of this force was to cooperate with the command of General Foster in establishing communications with Sherman. This in itself was a unique mission for naval forces and the complement of marines that did its bit towards the successful issue of the mission was one of the largest that fought on shore in the closing year of the Civil War.

Twelve vessels of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, the command of Rear Admiral J. A. Dahlgren, contributed quotas varying from eleven to twenty-nine men to the composition of the battalion of marines. In all they mustered 182 bayonets, and were commanded by First Lieutenant George G. Stoddard of the Marines. He organized this battalion, one of full numbers by the standards of those days, into three companies and chose his staff and company officers from the non-commissioned officers of the various detachments.

Lieutenant Stoddard was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps on June 14, 1862, and promoted to the next grade on June 10, 1864. As a result of his service in the operations above referred to, commonly known as the battles of Honey Hill, or Boyd's Neck, and that of Tulifinney Cross Roads, he was recommended for a brevet by Rear Admiral Dahlgren in the following report to the Secretary of the Navy:

"I desire to bring ist Lieut. Stoddard to the attention of the Department. He did good service in the field with the Marines of the Fleet Brigade at Boyd's Neck and Tulifinney, and now has command of the largest force of Marines that has been collected for some time. He has always acquitted himself with credit. I would respectfully suggest a brevet."

He received the brevet rank of captain for his commendable work, and it was dated from December 6, 1864, on which date, it is interesting to note, the engagement at Tulifinney Cross Roads was fought.

The total forces engaged in these combined operations were commanded by Brigadier General Hatch. They comprised the 25th and 32nd Ohio, the 127th, 144th and 157th New York, and the 34th, 35th, and 102nd Colored Volunteers with the Naval Brigade, under Commander George H. Preble, U. S. N., of which the battalion of marines was a unit.

The official report of the operations, on file at the Headquarters of the Marine Corps, is here given in full:


U. S. Ship New Hampshire,
Port Royal, S. C., Jany. 5, 1865.

I give you herewith a description of the doings of a Battalion of Marines of which I have had the honor to command the past six weeks. On the 25th of November I received an order from Rear Admiral Dahlgren, to assume command of a battalion of marines, composed of the guards of the ships in this squadron, to be assembled at Bay Point on the 26th. The Battalion was composed as follows: St. Louis, 19, Pawnee, 20, Canandagua 17, Flag 12, New Hampshire 29, Sonoma 11, Mingoe 14, Pontiac 13, Saratoga 11, and Jas. Adger 11, Total 157. Reinforced December 8th by guards of Cimarron 11, Donegal 14, Total 182.

Act. Ensign Woodward Carter of the New Hampshire, was ordered to assist me as Act. Major and Admiral's clerk J. R. Stanley as Act. Adjutant. I divided the men into three companies and officered them as follows:

The Battalion was a part of a Naval Brigade composed of eight howitzers and crews commanded by Lt. Comdr. Matthews. Four companies of sailor infantry commanded by Lieut. O'Kane and the Marines. The Brigade commanded by Commander George H. Preble of the St. Louis. The Guards did not all land until the evening of the 27th- the 28th was taken up by organizing and drillings as skirmishers. At dark we embarked on the U. S. S. Sonoma and at daylight were at Boyd's Neck, Broad River. The battalion landed in boats, and I deployed Co. A as skirmishers to cover the landing of the howitzers. About 7:30 a. m., commenced to advance, Cos. A and B deployed each side of the road, Co. C in reserve, howitzers and sailors in the rear. Advanced some six miles driving in the enemy's pickets with some firing, found we were on the wrong road and fell back at dark to a cross road about three miles from the landing where the Army came up under command of Brigadier General Hatch.

The morning of the 30th we took position on the left of the Naval Battery, advancing some five or six miles. The battle of Honey Hill commenced about 10 a. m. About noon the word passed for the Marines to advance. General Hatch ordered me to take position on the right of the advance line relieving the 144th New York-this we did, advancing nearly a mile through woods and swamps and coming into line on the double quick under heavy fire of canister. We immediately opened fire on the enemy and continued it until about 3 p. m., when the whole left of the line having fallen back and being unsupported we were obliged to follow their example. We then took up a position on the right on a cross road three quarters of a mile in the rear of the first position, opened fire on the pursuing enemy and drove him back. This position we held until about 6 p. m., when in obedience to orders we marched to the rear and took up our original position on the left of the battery. During the night we returned to the cross roads, where we spent the previous night, and covered the movements of the Army. The next morning, Dec. 1st, we occupied a hill half a mile to the left of the crossroads and during the next two days were busy throwing up field works and doing picket duty. The 3rd, 4th and 5th were spent in camp duty and drill. Soon after dark on the 5th I received orders from the Admiral to form my battalion and proceed on board the Flag Steamer Philadelphia for an expedition up the Tullifinny River. Embarked about midnight under orders to land the next morning, cover the landing of the artillery and advance on the enemy.

Owing, however, to our boats going ashore, the Army landed first. The battle opened about 9 a. m. We advanced on the right of the Naval Battery and came under fire about 11 a. m., deployed the whole battalion as skirmishers on the right, and advanced into the woods beyond Tullifinny cross roads driving the enemy before us. Afterwards moved across the front of the line and took position on the extreme left where the enemy were pressing us. We held the ground under heavy fire until dark, the left Co. C on picket duty under Actg. Major Carter, and the balance moved to the center where we remained during the night supporting an Army battery. At daylight the 7th, the enemy attacked in force, first on the center, then on the right and left at once. A body of colored troops on the left gave way and Co. C was in great danger of being captured but Major Carter finally brought them off in good order with the loss of but one man. About noon the fight having ceased, the Naval Brigade moved to the left & rear taking up a position at Talberds House, protecting the left flank. Here at dark the men received some bean soup sent from the Mingoe, the first food they had received for thirty-six hours. We had hot coffee on the Philadelphia at daybreak on the 6th and nothing from that time until this soup arrived -besides the men were ordered to leave; their coats and blankets behind them under a guard and had slept all night on the field of battle in a heavy rain without any cover. Certainly the men deserve a great deal of praise for their good conduct under such hardships. At 10 p. m. sent Co. A out on picket at midnight, Cos. B and C were turned out and worked throwing up rifle pits until morning.

The eighth was spent in working on the fortifications. At daybreak on the ninth the battalion was formed and moved to the front on the extreme right. Here deployed as skirmishers and waited for the battle to commence. At 9 o'clock a. m. the artillery opened a heavy fire along the whole line; this continued fifteen minutes and then the skirmish line of six hundred advanced, supported by a reserve of one thousand. The Marines had the right of the line. We soon met the enemy's pickets and drove them before us for some half a mile, through a dense swamp, from knee to waist deep. It was so thick that you could not see a man three or four paces from you. The Marines advanced to within fifty yards of the rebel works under a heavy fire of canister when the regiment on their left was ordered to fall back (127th New York Vols). This order was not passed to us and I was preparing to charge when the rebels advanced in force after the retiring line, doubling up our left and I found myself unsupported and nearly cut off.

I faced my men about but having no means of telling the proper direction kept too much to the right (now our left) and struck the Tulifinny River. This turned out to be fortunate as the enemy had pursued our left to and through the river, taking several prisoners.

We kept the bank of the river and by the time we had arrived at that spot, the rebels had retired a short distance and we were enabled to pass before they turned on us. After this we returned to the cross roads from which we started in the morning and then by orders from General Potter took up a new position on the left of the line of battle. About 3 p. m., the object of the expedition having been accomplished (cutting a road through the woods so as to see the railroad) the line commenced to withdraw. While this was being done the enemy attacked along the whole line with superior numbers. Our line was immediately reformed and the enemy repulsed, but only for a time. Charge after charge was made, up almost to our line, but every time they were driven back with heavy loss. At sundown they withdrew and about seven p. m., we returned to our camp. After this we had no serious fighting, though the battalion went out through the swamp on our left, with the naval battery several times, to shell the railroad. December 27th we received orders to return, embarked at sunset and landed at Bay Point at 7 a. m., the 28th. To-day the battalion has been broken up and most of the guards have returned to their ships.

We have lost in Killed, Wounded and Missing 23, a list of whom I send herewith. The Non-Commissioned Officers and Privates have all behaved in a most gallant manner and I am sure that by their bravery they added to the high reputation the Corps already enjoys. In closing I must express my thanks for the able assistance I received from Messrs. Carter and Stanley. I could not have done without them, for although Sergeants make good acting officers, still in action they do not feel the responsibility, neither do they have that moral effect on the men that a Commissioned Officer does.

In this connection please allow me to call your attention to the fact that with 200 Marines in this Squadron there is but one officer. If you should send any officers you would confer a great favor on me by sending my junior. I have commanded the battalion in this expedition in a manner satisfactory to the Admiral and as there will probably be others during the Spring I should like to continue the Senior Officer.

Please remember me to your family and believe me

Very respectfully,
Your Obt. Servt.

U. S. Marines.
Colonel J. Zeilin,
Commnadant, U. S. M. Corps.
Washington, D. C.