November 28, 2016

The Civil War and Patrick O'Conner

O'Conner, Patrick, Age: 20, cred. Bennington, VT; service: enl 8/15/61, m/i 9/21/61, Pvt, Co. A, 4th VT INF, pow, Savage's Station, 6/29/62, prld 9/24/62, dis/dsb 10/16/62 Born: abt 1841, Unknown; Died: unknown; Buried: Unknown

From this we gleam that Patrick O'Conner age 20 enlisted in the 4th Vermont Infantry on 8/15/1861 and on 6/29/62 he was taken POW at Savage's Station to be released on 9/4/1862. He was listed as died of disease 10/16/1862

The 4th Regiment, composed of members from the eastern part of the state, was mustered into the U. S. service for a term of three years at Brattleboro, Sep. 21, 1861, and ordered at once to Washington. Co. A was composed mainly of members from Bennington county, and Windsor, Orange, Orleans, Windham, Washington and Caledonia counties were all represented. The regiment spent just a few days at Washington and moved on to join the other Vermont regiments, stationed at Camp Advance, Va. It was assigned to the Vermont Brigade. Gen. W. T. Brooks, 2nd division. Gen. William F. Smith, 6th Corps, and remained with this corps during the entire war. The original members not reenlisted were mustered out, Sep. 30, 1864. and the 1st, 2nd and 3d companies of sharpshooters were assigned to the regiment, Feb. 25, 1865. The losses of the regiment were so heavy that in spite of the large numbers of reenlisted men and recruits, it was consolidated into eight companies on Feb. 25, 1865. The 4th is mentioned by Col. Fox in his "Regimental Losses" as one of the "three hundred fighting regiments." The active service of the command opened with the campaign on the Peninsula early in 1862, followed by the battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg of that year, the "Mud March," Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Mine Run campaign, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, the siege of Petersburg, the campaign against Early in the valley of the Shenandoah in the summer of 1864, and the final capture of Petersburg. The first winter was spent near the Chain bridge over the Potomac ; the second near Falmouth, Va. ; the winter of 1863-64 at Brandy Station, Va., and the final winter in the trenches before Petersburg. In all of the varied services of the Vermont Brigade, the 4th always played its part with steadiness and courage, meeting losses that were almost overwhelming. After the grand review at Washington in May, 1865, the regiment was mustered out (July 13), and received the welcome orders for the homeward journey.

The Battle of Savage's Station took place on June 29, 1862, in Henrico County, Virginia, as fourth of the Seven Days Battles (Peninsula Campaign) of the American Civil War. The main body of the Union Army of the Potomac began a general withdrawal toward the James River. Confederate Brig. Gen. John B. Magruder pursued along the railroad and the Williamsburg Road and struck Maj. Gen. Edwin Vose Sumner's II Corps (the Union rearguard) with three brigades near Savage's Station, while Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's divisions were stalled north of the Chickahominy River. Union forces continued to withdraw across White Oak Swamp, abandoning supplies and more than 2,500 wounded soldiers in a field hospital.

Initial contact between the armies occurred at 9 a.m. on June 29. On the farm and orchards owned by a Mr. Allen, about 2 miles (3.2 km) west of Savage's Station, two Georgia regiments from the brigade of Brig. Gen. George T. Anderson fought against two Pennsylvania regiments from Sumner's corps for about two hours before disengaging, suffering 28 casualties to the Pennsylvanians' 119. The highest ranking casualty was Confederate Brig. Gen. Richard Griffith, who was mortally wounded by a Union shell fragment.  Magruder, who was alleged to be under the influence of morphine to combat a bout of indigestion, was confused and became concerned that he might be attacked by a superior force. He requested reinforcements from Lee, who ordered two brigades from the division of Maj. Gen. Benjamin Huger to assist, under the condition that they would have to be returned if they were not engaged by 2 p.m.
Meanwhile, Jackson was not advancing as Lee had planned. He was taking time to rebuild bridges over the Chickahominy and he received a garbled order from Lee's chief of staff that made him believe he should stay north of the river and guard the crossings. These failures of the Confederate plan were being matched on the Union side, however. Heintzelman decided on his own that his corps was not needed to defend Savage's Station, Sumner's and Franklin's being sufficient, so he decided to follow the rest of the army without informing his fellow generals.

Magruder was forced to give up the two brigades from Huger's division at 2 p.m. and was faced with the problem of attacking Sumner's 26,600 men with his own 14,000. He hesitated until 5 p.m., when he sent only two and a half brigades forward. Brig. Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw commanded the left flank, Brig. Gen. Paul J. Semmes the center, and Col. William Barksdale (Griffith's Brigade) the right. Franklin and Brig. Gen. John Sedgwick were on a reconnaissance to the west of Savage's Station when they saw Kershaw's brigade approaching. Their immediate assumption was that these were men from Heintzelman's corps, but they soon realized their mistake. This was the first indication of Heintzelman's unannounced departure and Sumner, for one, was particularly outraged, refusing to speak to Heintzelman the following day. Union artillery opened fire and pickets were sent forward to meet the assault

Magruder's attack was accompanied by the first armored railroad battery to be used in combat. Earlier in June, General Lee had hoped to counter the approach of McClellan's siege artillery by rail by using his own weapon: a 32-pounder Brooke naval rifle, shielded by a sloping casemate of railroad iron, nicknamed the "Land Merrimack." It was pushed by a locomotive at about the speed of the marching infantry.  However, even with this impressive weapon, which outgunned anything the Federal artillerists possessed, the results of Magruder's decision to send only part of his smaller force against a much larger enemy were predictable.
The first Union unit to engage was one of Sedgwick's brigades, Philadelphians led by Brig. Gen. William W. Burns, but his defensive line proved inadequate to cover the two brigade front of Kershaw and Semmes. Sumner managed this part of the battle erratically, selecting regiments for combat almost at random. He sent in two of Burns's regiments, and then the 1st Minnesota Infantry from another brigade in Sedgwick's division, and finally one regiment each from two different brigades in Brig. Gen. Israel B. Richardson's division. By the time all of these units reached the front, the two sides were at rough parity—two brigades each. Although Magruder had been conservative about his attack, Sumner was even more so. Of the 26 regiments he had in his corps, only 10 were engaged at Savage's Station.

The fighting turned into a bloody stalemate as darkness fell and strong thunderstorms began to move in. The Land Merrimack bombarded the Union front, with some of its shells reaching as far to the rear as the field hospital. The final actions of the evening were by the Vermont Brigade, commanded by Colonel William T. H. Brooks, of Brig. Gen. William F. "Baldy" Smith's division. Attempting to hold the flank south of the Williamsburg Road, the Vermonters charged into the woods and were met with murderous fire, suffering more casualties of any brigade on the field that day.  The battle was a stalemate at the cost of about 1,500 casualties on both sides, plus 2,500 previously wounded Union soldiers who were left to be captured when their field hospital was evacuated.

Patrick O'Conner was brother to Anne O'Conner our great great grandmother.  Anne married Thomas Lynch.  Daughter Mary Lynch married James Keefe.  Their daughter was our grandmother Josephine Keefe.

Books to read:  My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

[Republished from October 2011]

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