In this post, we’ll continue to look at Colonel Kozlay’s journal through the 1862 Valley Campaign.
The quality of leadership is referenced in Kozlay’s journal again and again, and the 1862 Valley Campaign is no exception. On April 15, 1862, in route to the Shenandoah Valley, about fifty-five soldiers were drowned in the Shenandoah River. They were not part of the 54th, but were actually in Bohlen’s regiment (the reader should recall from the last post that the 54th New York had been assigned to Bohlen’s brigade). Rightly or wrongly the soldiers blamed Bohlen for the disaster, saying he ordered too many men into a boat that could not hold them all. This may have been some kind of an omen of things to come.
Kozlay shows some sympathy for Bohlen in his journal. He does not like when Bohlen’s men shout “Hang him! Hang him!” when he walks by; they also yell “Coffee! Coffee!” when they go one day without the black brew. While Kozlay expresses sorrow for Bohlen, he also admits that these outbursts may be a result of Bohlen’s poor leadership (“I will not allow any such thing.”)
From the very end of April into the middle of May 1862, the 54th New York marched from Winchester west to Romney and south to Petersburg (in what is now West Virginia). They then continued their march south to Franklin, expecting to find Confederates, but none were there. In the midst of trying to march to the enemy, Kozlay found himself sitting on a court martial of Alexander Schimmelfennig. We do not know, from the journal, what the charges against Schimmelfennig were, but Kozlay considered them “malicious” and he was found not guilty. Marching back the way they came, the 54th and its brigade never found “Stonewall” Jackson and instead learned he was at Winchester while they were 90 miles away looking for him. By the end of May, the regiment crossed back into the Shenandoah Valley and camped near Strasburg.
Marching after Jackson, the 54th travels up the valley (that is, south… like going upstream on the North Fork of the Shenandoah is going south…). Travelling from Strasburg to Mount Jackson, Kozlay notes “This country is called the Shenandoah valley. Indeed it is fertile, beautiful, romantic. Good pasture all along, and good water. “ Rather a nice compliment!
On June 6, near Harrisonburg, the regiment heard rumors that McClellan had captured Richmond. Kozlay doubted their veracity but wished they were true. Having chased Jackson south for a week, the men begin to believe Jackson will not put up a fight; two days later, however, Kozlay recorded his impressions of the battle of Cross Keys in his journal.
“At last we met the enemy and had a fight. But what a fight! No head and no tail to it.”
Here are Eugene Kozlay’s thoughts in his own words (lengthy as they are) as it may be best to hear it from one who was there…
I was ordered to ploy my batallion into double colums, being the left wing of the brigade, and in the first line; and marching towards the battle field on the right of a road leading to the town. I told Bohlen to put forward skirmishers. He consented to it, and I extended my line to the right to cover my flank, and in front to join the chain of skirmishers of the 58 on my left. In this position we advanced about half a mile when, to my astonishment, I see the 45 Penn in front of my regt in colums, which I presumed to be in the second line of the brigade. This regiment had no skirmishers, and the enemy’s fire pouring upon them. The men laying on the ground and doing nothing but holding up and down their heads to avoid the whistling balls. I was ordered to go on the left of that regiment, my skirmishers having been recalled by Bohlen, and take position on the top of a small hill. Before I occupied the place assigned to me, I called Bohlen’s attention to the fact that it will be a dangerous place to post double colums on that hill without skirmishers. Bohlen said, “go as you are ordered.” I road up at the top of that hill alone, to see what way will be most advantageous for me; but I could not stay there, because the enemy was pouring his balls like rain towards me;
… … …
The first division, which nearly arrived at that point where I was, I drove down to the side of the hill to cover themselves against the fire. At this moment, the 75th was compelled to retreat, and I, seeing this, could not bring my men on the top of this hill without sacrifying one of them, and yet doing no injury to the enemy. At this moment I received order to retreat; and in my retreat I was compelled to cover with my colums the 45th against the enemie’s fire. I could hardly proceeded 40 or 50 paces in my retreat when I was looking round for Bohlen and his adjutant, but could see none of them. The 75th has left me already on my right and the 74 on my left. While looking round in my position and still retreating in good order, and amidst the joyfull expressions of my men, at once, as tho’ from the earth at once produced, Genl Blenker was coming towards me, alone, to whom I at once told my position and called his attention to the approach of the enemy, and asking him whether it would be in his opinion judicious to try to capture one regiment of the enemies forces, posted near to a house and on the end of the woods. He at once gave me order, by a flank movement, to try to go into the woods and try to flank that regiment. I did so at once, but the fences, ditches were very much impeding our progress. As soon as we arrived in the woods, I told my Lt. Col. to deploy in line of battle at once, and give the command to the right wing to begin to fire. I directed the left wing also to begin the fire. This of course has confounded the enemy, because they thought that we retreated, and the enemy under this severe fire gave away and run towards the other end of the open field. I cried to Holmsteadt, after seeing this, to change direction to the right, because I have seen that the enemy is approaching towards our battery. But this fire anyhow checked the enemy and prevented his design in regard to the capture of Widrich’s battery, which had caused great slaughter in the ranks of the enemy. At this time I received orders to make about face at once and to withdraw. This order was to me repeated twice, and I could not do otherwise but command about face and leave the retreating enemy to go unpunished. My men were excited on this order, they told and cried, why to retreat, when the enemy is running; but I could not help it. I was not allowed to pursue the enemy. I was glad anyhow that my loss was very light and that I was not repulsed by the enemy; but we repulsed them with a heavy loss and prevented them to take our Guns. I was the last regiment who left the battle field. Steinwehrs brigade had no part in the fighting. Who the devil managed this battle, I do not know; but it was a miserable wrong conducted affair. It turns out that every regiment on the whole line was repulsed excepting my regiment. And I am astonished how I was left, or could be left, without support, and to be at the same time Army Corps, Division, Brigade and Regimental commander. They left me alone to fight just as I please. If, however, at the commencement of the engagement, I would have placed my men on that hill where Bohlen ordered me, and stood there only for two minutes, I am sure I would have lost at least half of my men. And even on our march towards the battlefield, how many conflicting orders I received from Bohlen. I really think that man must be crazy, or he does not know anything at all. I am sure that Blenker is brave as lion. He came amongst us in that fire, alone, cool, collected and laughing.
I am informed that Bohlen was censured by Blenker and Freemont. Well, I do not know that Bohlen is alone to be blamed in this affair. I think there are many others who managed this battle in a very loose way. The disorder anyhow was great, and we were lucky that Jackson did not take it in his head to turn his colums against us, and weep [whip?] us, in return. Some regiments have suffered great deal; the 8th and 39th. Gilsa was wounded, but slightly. I am glad that my regiment stood his ground so nobly and bravely. The ground on which the battle was fought is called “Kross Keys.”
I am here with my regiment on outpost duty. The enemy is seen on the other side. Jackson escaped. He defeated Shield with great loss, I am informed, and burned the bridge accross the river, just before we arrived to this place, and which was built by Shield. We are played out this time. The weather is rainy and foggy.
The 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign was essentially over for the 54th New York; they marched back down the valley towards Strasburg. However, the Bohlen controversy would continue and would directly affect the 54th. Within two months, however, it would be over in an unexpected manner.
That is the subject of my next post.