This will be my last post on Colonel Kozlay and the 54th New York for a while. I promised in my previous post that we would look at how Kozlay recalled the battle of Cross Keys in his regimental journal. As is inevitable, travelling down one path (the 54th New York Infantry) has led to a couple of divergent paths that are still 11th Corps related and will probably fill my next two posts.
When last we left the New Yorkers, they were marching “up” the Shenandoah Valley (south) in the Harrisonburg area, eventually becoming embroiled in the battle of Cross Keys. Placed under a withering fire by brigade commander Bohlen, Kozlay received an order to retreat but realized he could confuse the enemy and potentially capture one of their regiments.
Finding General Blenker, he got permission to send the 54th into a woods and fire upon this Confederate regiment from two sides. It so confused the Confederates that they began to retreat; unfortunately, Kozlay received another order to retreat and could not follow through on his victory. The men of the 54th were obviously upset with this order, but Kozlay reflected that at least his guns were saved and casualties were light.
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… (http://dmna.state.ny.us/historic/reghist/civil/infantry/54thInf/ 54thInfKozlayJournal1.htm)
As if fighting a losing battle were not enough, Kozlay’s troubles with Bohlen continued. When Kozlay was praised by Blenker, Bohlen was noticeably not pleased. Kozlay recounts in his journal how, after the battle, his men were on picket duty in foggy weather. Bohlen, thinking that the men moving through the dark and the fog were Confederates, ordered the artillery to shell the “enemy”. Fortunately, no New Yorkers were casualties of this friendly fire.
By July 5, Bohlen was reassigned to command of another brigade. Wladimir Krzyzanowski took his place as brigade commander. Kozlay does not portray Henry Bohlen as a very good commander. In my next post, I plan to look more closely at Bohlen’s life and career.
The headline quote for today’s post comes from Kozlay’s regimental journal. Unhappy that the 54th’s heroics at Cross Keys were not in the initial battle reports in the newspapers, Kozlay relates that General Fremont will include more details in his official report. Kozlay doubted this would do much good, as he believed that the public and the politicians didn’t read news after first reported.