UNION ARMY OF THE TENNESSEE I

For some three years, the Army of the Tennessee took the lead in most of the Union’s western campaigns—in Tennessee and at Vicksburg, before going on to the Atlanta Campaign and then to the Carolinas, the final campaign of the Civil War. Except for the Army of the Potomac, no force was more important to the Union war effort. It was the first army Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, successively, commanded. Its victories were major Union breakthroughs and turning points in the war.

ESTABLISHMENT

Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant commanded predecessor units to the Department and Army of the Tennessee—the District of Southeast Missouri, District of Cairo, and District of West Tennessee—from September 1, 1861, to October 16, 1862. With Grant commanding, the Department of the Tennessee was created on the latter date, encompassing Cairo, Illinois (at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers), Forts Henry and Donelson, northern Mississippi, and those parts of Tennessee and Kentucky west of the Tennessee River. At first all troops in the new military department were lumped into a single corps, the XIII. It quickly became apparent, however, that the XIII Corps was the size of an army and therefore required more commanders and more flexibility. It was therefore divided into four corps—XIII, XV, XVI, and XVII—and designated the Army of the Tennessee on December 18, 1862, with Grant commanding both the department and the army. By April 30, 1863, the new army was a huge force of about 150,000 men—although its constituents were frequently attached to other armies as needed and so it was rarely fielded at anything approaching its maximum strength.

COMMANDING GENERALS

Grant, the army’s first commanding officer, led the organization from its creation as an army, October 16, 1862, to October 24, 1863, when Major General William Tecumseh Sherman took over. During Grant’s command, the Battles of Belmont, Forts Henry and Donelson, and Shiloh were fought, as were the Siege and Battle of Corinth and the Vicksburg Campaign and Siege.

When Grant was born in 1822, at Point Pleasant, Ohio, it was as Hiram Ulysses Grant, a farmer’s son. Enrolled at West Point in 1839, he learned that he was listed on the rolls as “Ulysses Simpson Grant.” The first was a name he sometimes went by, and the second was his mother’s maiden name. If that’s who the army wanted him to be, he had no objections, and he was Ulysses Simpson Grant from that day forward.

A mediocre cadet, Grant graduated in 1843, twenty-first of out of a class of thirty-nine. In September 1845 Second Lieutenant Grant was attached to Zachary Taylor’s command on the Texas-Mexico border, awaiting the outbreak of war. He fought with distinction during the US-Mexican War (1846–48) at Palo Alto (May 8, 1846), Resaca de la Palma (May 9), and Monterrey (September 21–24). When Winfield Scott replaced Taylor in March 1847, Grant, transferred to his command, fought at the capture of Veracruz (March 9–29, 1847) and in the battles of Cerro Gordo (April 18), Churubusco (August 20), and Molino del Rey (September 8). In the latter battle he earned a brevet promotion to first lieutenant for gallantry. He distinguished himself further at Chapultepec (September 13), for which he was brevetted captain. On September 16 he was formally commissioned first lieutenant.

After the war Grant was posted variously in New York, Michigan, California, and Oregon during 1848–54. Promoted to captain (August 1853), he grew impatient with the army’s glacial system of advancement and resigned—only to discover that he had little talent for anything other than soldiering. In 1860 he moved to Galena, Illinois, where he joined his father and brothers in the family tannery, and he was working in the business as a clerk when the Civil War began in April 1861. Grant was chosen to train the Galena militia company and then worked in the state adjutant general’s office until June 1861, when he was appointed colonel of the 21st Illinois Volunteer Infantry regiment. In August he was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers and took command of the District of Southeast Missouri, headquartered at Cairo.

Acting on his own initiative, Grant seized Paducah, Kentucky, on September 6, 1861, but, despite winning the Battle of Belmont (November 7, 1861, Missouri), had insufficient numbers to hold it and was forced to withdraw. The aggressive Grant found himself repeatedly at odds with his overly cautious superior, Major General Henry Wager Halleck. At length he nevertheless managed to persuade Halleck to allow him to move against Fort Henry on the Tennessee River, which he captured on February 6, 1862. This was followed by the Battle of Fort Donelson (February 11–16, 1862, Tennessee; Union victory). With these wins, Union forces seized the initiative in the Western Theater. When the commander of the Confederate garrison at Donelson presented his surrender terms, Grant replied that nothing less than unconditional surrender was acceptable. This gave him yet another name, and “Ulysses Simpson” became “Unconditional Surrender” Grant. Halleck, far from unconditionally satisfied with Grant’s victories, temporarily relieved him of command for insubordination—only to restore him late in March.

In a lapse of judgment, Grant allowed himself to be surprised at the Battle of Shiloh (April 6–7, 1862), but recovered and drove the Confederates back, albeit with heavy losses. This prompted Halleck to take direct command of western forces until he was elevated to general-in-chief of all Union armies, and Grant was returned to absolute command of the Army of the Tennessee. Under Halleck the army had fought the Siege of Corinth (April 29–May 30, 1862, Mississippi; Union victory), which positioned Grant to conduct the long siege against heavily fortified Vicksburg, key to the Mississippi River.

From December 1862 through March 1863, Grant tried various tactics to lay effective siege against the fortress town. After all of them failed, he marched his forces south of Vicksburg and, under covering fire furnished by Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter’s gunboats, led the Army of the Tennessee back to the east bank of the Mississippi during April 30–May 1. He took Grand Gulf, Mississippi, just below Vicksburg, on May 3, then captured Jackson on May 14. This split the armies of Confederate generals John C. Pemberton and Joseph E. Johnston. Defeating Pemberton at the Battle of Champion’s Hill (May 16, 1863), Grant at last laid siege to Vicksburg itself, which did not fall to him until July 4, 1863. With the Union victory at Gettysburg, which came on the day before, Vicksburg was a turning point of the Civil War and a triumph for the Army of the Tennessee.

Grant was promoted to major general in the regular army and was assigned command of the Military Division of the Mississippi on October 4, with command of the Army of the Tennessee transferred to Major General William T. Sherman on October 24. The first task Grant assigned to Division of the Mississippi forces was to break the Confederate siege of the Union’s Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga. This was accomplished in two battles, Lookout Mountain (November 24, 1863) and Missionary Ridge (November 25, 1863), the second of which involved the Army of the Tennessee (Sherman) as well as the Army of the Cumberland (now commanded by Major General George H. Thomas).

The performance of Grant and his two principal army commanders moved President Lincoln to promote Grant to lieutenant general on March 3, 1864, and give him command of all Union armies. Grant now focused on the Eastern Theater and, using the Army of the Potomac (commanded by Major General George Meade) as his primary weapon, conducted the Overland Campaign (May 4–June 24, 1864), which culminated in the campaigns and battles that led to the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. With the flagship army of the Confederacy lost, the war itself came to an end before the close of the following month.

Grant’s prosecution of the war’s endgame was extremely costly, but the victory it produced was decisive. After the war Grant returned to Washington, where he was put in charge of the massive military demobilization and the army’s role in postwar Reconstruction. In recognition of his services to the nation, he was promoted to the newly created rank of general of the army in July 1866. He served briefly as interim secretary of war under President Andrew Johnson during 1867–68, but his insistence on measures to protect the army of occupation in the South caused a permanent rift with Johnson, who, as a Tennessean, was sympathetic to the South. Grant then embraced the strong—often punitive—Reconstruction policies of the radical wing of the Republican Party and easily achieved the Republican nomination for president in 1868. He was elected to two terms, 1869–1877, both plagued by corruption and scandal, though none of it traceable to him. He unsuccessfully sought nomination to a third term in 1880, suffered ruinous financial reversals, and completed his masterful Personal Memoirs just days before his death, from throat cancer, on July 23, 1885. The proceeds of the tremendously successful book made Julia Dent Grant a wealthy widow.

Under the command of Major General William Tecumseh Sherman, which spanned October 24, 1863, to March 26, 1864, the Army of the Tennessee fought in the Chattanooga Campaign, including at the Battle of Missionary Ridge and the Battle of Meridian.

He was born in 1820, in Lancaster, Ohio, the son of an Ohio Supreme Court judge. After graduating from West Point in 1840, Sherman was commissioned in the artillery and saw action in the Second Seminole War (1835–42), gaining promotion to first lieutenant (November 1841). At the outbreak of the US-Mexican War (1846–48), Sherman was assigned to the staff of Brigadier General Stephen Watts Kearny, but was disappointed that he saw no combat, serving most of the war as an administrative officer in California until that territory joined the Union in 1848. Sherman became a commissary captain in September 1850 but, feeling profound dissatisfaction with what amounted to a desk career, resigned his commission and embarked on thoroughly unsuccessful careers in banking and in law during 1853–58. In 1859 he was appointed superintendent of the newly established Louisiana State Seminary of Learning & Military Academy, a position he relished—but resigned in January 1861, when it became clear that the country was about to fight a civil war.

After a brief interval as president of the St. Louis Railroad streetcar company, Sherman was commissioned colonel of the 13th US Infantry on May 14, 1861—a regiment yet to be raised by the time he assumed command of a volunteer brigade at the First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861; Union defeat). In August Sherman was promoted to brigadier general of US Volunteers and subsequently commanded the Department of the Cumberland in Louisville, Kentucky. Overcome by deep pessimism, he suffered a nervous collapse and asked to be relieved of command. By the end of the year, he returned to service under Henry W. Halleck in the Department of the Missouri (in March 1862 enlarged into the Department of the Mississippi). After Sherman successfully supported operations against Fort Donelson (February 11–16, 1862), Grant assigned him to command the 5th Division in the Army of West Tennessee. The fighting retreat Sherman led at the Battle of Shiloh (April 6–7, 1862) was instrumental both in averting a Union rout and in making Grant’s counterattack on April 7 a success. Twice wounded, Sherman showed himself heroic and steadfast under fire. He was promoted to major general of volunteers on May 1, 1862.

Sherman fought under Grant at the Siege of Corinth and the Second Battle of Corinth (April 29–May 30, 1862, and October 3–4, 1862, respectively) and during the Vicksburg Campaign (March 29–July 4, 1863). He was transferred to command of XV Corps, Army of the Mississippi, and successfully took Arkansas Post (January 9–11, 1863), after which he transferred with XV Corps to the Army of the Tennessee and resumed his support of Grant’s siege of Vicksburg. Sherman and his corps were instrumental in Grant’s capture of Jackson, Mississippi (May 14, 1863).

Promoted to brigadier general in the regular army in July, Sherman rushed to the relief of William Rosecrans and the Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga (September 21–November 25, 1863), succeeding Grant as commander of the Army of the Tennessee on October 24, 1863. Leading that army, he played a strong supporting role in coordinating with the Army of the Cumberland (command of which George H. Thomas had assumed from Rosecrans) and commanded the Union left at Chattanooga in the Battle of Lookout Mountain (November 24, 1863) and the Battle of Missionary Ridge (November 25, 1863).

During February 14–20, 1864, Sherman led the Army of the Tennessee in the Meridian Campaign, which culminated in the capture—and heavy destruction—of that Mississippi town, a railroad hub and the site of a Confederate arsenal, POW camp, and hospital. The following month, after Grant was elevated to Union general-in-chief, Sherman took his place as commander of the Military Division of the Mississippi, with control of the Armies of the Tennessee, the Cumberland, and the Ohio. He consolidated these forces—more than 100,000 men at this point—in a spectacular drive toward Atlanta, which he coordinated with Grant’s advance (using the Army of the Potomac) on Richmond. Sherman marched 100 miles in seventy-four days, pushing the Confederate Army of Tennessee (then commanded by Joseph E. Johnston) before him, fighting battles across Georgia at Rocky Face Ridge (May 7–13; Union victory), Resaca (May 13–15; inconclusive), New Hope Church (May 25–26; Union defeat), and Dallas (May 26–June 1; Union victory), always closing inexorably on Atlanta. Although he suffered a sharp defeat at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (June 27), he beat John Bell Hood (now in command of the Confederate Army of Tennessee) at the Battles of Peachtree Creek (July 20), Atlanta (July 22), Ezra Church (July 28), Dalton (August 14–15), and Jonesborough (August 31–September 1). On September 2 Sherman and his armies occupied Atlanta.

From Atlanta—which he left ablaze—Sherman set out on his March to the Sea (November 15–December 21, 1864) with the Army of the Tennessee and the newly constituted Army of Georgia (consisting of the XIV and XX Corps of the Army of the Cumberland). The march culminated in the occupation of Savannah, Georgia (December 21, 1864). From here Sherman led the Armies of the Tennessee, the Ohio, and Georgia on the Carolinas Campaign, which culminated in the capture and burning of Columbia, South Carolina (February 17), the Battle of Bentonville (March 19–21, 1865, North Carolina; Union victory), the capture of Raleigh, North Carolina (April 13), and Joseph E. Johnston’s surrender to Sherman on April 26, near Durham Station, North Carolina. With this, the last substantial Confederate force (the so-called Army of the South) had been defeated.

Sherman was appointed commander of the Division of the Missouri in June 1865 and was promoted to lieutenant general of regulars in July 1866. From his headquarters in Chicago, he directed much of the strategy and policy during the Indian Wars—although he participated on the field in no battles. In November 1869 he became commanding general of the army and was promoted to general. He held this largely ceremonial post until his retirement in 1884. Sherman died on February 14, 1891.

Major General James B. McPherson assumed command of the Army of the Tennessee on March 26, 1864, and led it through half of the Atlanta Campaign (May 7–September 2, 1864), until he was killed in action on July 22 of that year. McPherson was born in 1828 and graduated from West Point in 1853, a class that included both the future Union general Philip Sheridan and the future Confederate commander of the army defending Atlanta, John Bell Hood. Commissioned into the Corps of Engineers, McPherson was involved in such civil engineering projects as improving New York Harbor, building Fort Delaware, and building the fortifications on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay.

At the start of the Civil War, McPherson briefly served on the staff of Major General Henry Halleck before being transferred to the District of Cairo as chief engineer during Brigadier General Grant’s assaults on Forts Henry (February 6, 1862, Tennessee and Kentucky; Union victory) and Donelson (February 11–16, Tennessee; Union victory). McPherson fought at the Battle of Shiloh (April 6–7) and, promoted to brigadier general on August 19, 1862, fought at the Second Battle of Corinth (October 3–4), emerging with a promotion to major general of volunteers, effective October 8, 1862. Given command of XVII Corps in the Army of the Tennessee under Ulysses S. Grant, he served in the Vicksburg Campaign (March 29–July 4, 1863) and was promoted to brigadier general in the regular army on August 1, 1863. He took command of the Army of the Tennessee on March 26, 1864, after Sherman was elevated to command all armies in the West.

Under McPherson, the Army of the Tennessee was the right wing of Sherman’s combined forces in the Atlanta Campaign. At the Battle of Rocky Face Ridge (May 7–13, 1864), McPherson’s move to flank Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee failed because he was blocked by a much smaller Confederate force. He met another defeat at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (June 27, 1864).

On July 22, 1864, the Confederate Army of Tennessee, now under James Bell Hood, launched a sharp attack against Union forces and nearly captured McPherson, who was shot by skirmishers when he attempted to get away.

Advertisements

UNION ARMY OF THE TENNESSEE II

Gen. O. O. Howard (between 1855 and 1865)

After McPherson’s death, Major General John A. Logan was given temporary command, from July 22 to July 27, 1864, as the army continued to fight the Atlanta Campaign. He was replaced by Major General Oliver O. Howard, who led the army from July 27, 1864, to May 19, 1865.

Howard was born in 1830 in Leeds, Maine, and graduated from Bowdoin College in 1850, after which he enrolled at West Point, from which he graduated with the Class of 1854. Commissioned a second lieutenant, he was assigned as an artillerist, and then returned to West Point as a mathematics instructor. With the outbreak of the Civil War, he was appointed colonel of the 3rd Maine Volunteers in June of 1861. By the time of the First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861, Virginia; Union defeat), he was a brigade commander, and, in September 1861, a brigadier general of volunteers.

Howard served under George B. McClellan in the Peninsula Campaign (March–July 1862, Virginia; Confederate victory), fighting at Fair Oaks (May 31–June 1, 1862, Virginia; Union defeat), where he lost his right arm. Later returning to combat, Howard fought at South Mountain (September 14, 1862, Maryland; Union victory) and at Antietam (September 17, Maryland; Union strategic victory). In November 1862 he was promoted to major general of volunteers and divisional commander. He led II Corps of the Army of the Potomac at the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11–15, 1862, Virginia; Union defeat) and on April 2, 1863, was assigned command of XI Corps.

At the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30–May 6, 1863; Union defeat), Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson routed XI Corps, but Howard redeemed himself amply at Gettysburg (July 1–3, 1863; Union victory), when his corps performed with such distinction as to merit the special thanks of Congress.

In September 1863 Howard transferred to the Army of the Cumberland, where he won distinction in the Chattanooga Campaign (September 21–November 25, 1863, Tennessee; Union victory) at the Battle of Lookout Mountain (November 24–25, Tennessee; Union victory). In command of IV Corps, Army of the Tennessee (April 2, 1864), he served under William Tecumseh Sherman in the Atlanta Campaign (May 7–September 2, 1864, Georgia; Union victory) and was elevated to command of the Army of the Tennessee on July 27, 1864. He led the army at the Battles of Ezra Church (July 28, 1864, Georgia; Union victory) and Jonesborough (August 31–September 1, 1864, Georgia; Union victory) and in Sherman’s March to the Sea (November 15–December 21, 1864, Georgia; Union victory) and his Carolinas Campaign (February–March 21, 1865, South and North Carolina; Union victory). In December 1864 Howard was promoted to brigadier general of regulars and in March 1865 brevetted to major general.

Following the war, Howard was appointed commissioner of the Freedman’s Bureau, the agency charged with assisting freed slaves, serving in this capacity from May 1865 through June 1872. In 1867 he founded (and later became president of) Howard University in Washington, DC. The institution remains the most prestigious historically black university in the nation.

During the 1870s Howard was closely involved in Indian affairs and also served as military commander of the Department of the Columbia. In this capacity he unsuccessfully negotiated with a faction of the Nez Percé for their removal from lands desired by the government and led a military campaign against the faction and its leader, Chief Joseph the Younger. During 1878 Howard campaigned against the Bannock Indians, who were raiding in the Northwest. In January 1881 Howard was named superintendent of the US Military Academy at West Point, serving until September 1882, when he was appointed commander of the Department of the Platte (1882–86) and then the Division of the East (March 1886–November 1894). Belatedly, in 1893, Howard was honored with the Medal of Honor for action at the Battle of Fair Oaks during the Civil War. He retired the following year and founded Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee in 1895. He then returned to New England to write military history and an autobiography. Howard died on October 26, 1909.

The Army of the Tennessee ended its existence on August 1, 1865, with Major General John A. Logan returned to command beginning on May 19 of that year. He had been born in 1826 in rural Murphysboro, Illinois, and was largely self-educated before volunteering for service in the US Army as a second lieutenant in the US-Mexican War (1846–48). After the war he entered the University of Louisville (Kentucky), graduating with a law degree in 1851, and in 1858 he was elected Democratic congressman from Illinois. He resigned his seat in 1861 to join the Union Army as a private in a Michigan regiment. After fighting in the First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861, Virginia; Union defeat), he returned to Illinois to form the 31st Illinois Regiment and was appointed its colonel in September.

Colonel Logan served under Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant (then commanding the District of Southeast Missouri) at the Battle of Belmont (November 7, 1861, Missouri; Union victory) and in the assaults on Fort Henry (February 6, 1862, Tennessee and Kentucky; Union victory) and Fort Donelson (February 11–16, 1862, Tennessee; Union victory). Promoted to brigadier general in March 1862, Logan fought in the Vicksburg Campaign during January–July 4, 1863, commanding a division in General James B. McPherson’s XVII Corps, Army of the Tennessee. In November 1863 Logan was promoted to major general and given command of XV Corps in that army. When McPherson was killed during the Atlanta Campaign (May 7–September 2, 1864, Georgia; Union victory), Logan assumed temporary command of the army on July 22, but was relieved on July 27 by Major General William T. Sherman, who lacked confidence in his experience, claiming in particular that he paid insufficient attention to logistics. Sherman returned him to corps command and turned over the Army of the Tennessee to O. O. Howard.

After the war Logan was reelected to the House of Representatives (now as a Republican) and served from 1867 to 1871. He was then elected to the Senate and played a key role in the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson.

MAJOR CAMPAIGNS AND BATTLES

BATTLE OF BELMONT (NOVEMBER 7, 1861)

On November 6, 1861, Grant transported 3,114 troops of the District of Southeast Missouri by steamboats from Cairo, Illinois, intending to attack Columbus, Kentucky. On the next morning, he was told that Confederate troops had crossed the Mississippi River from Columbus to Belmont, Missouri. Grant responded by landing his troops on the Missouri shore and advanced on Belmont. The battle began at nine o’clock on the morning of November 7, and before the end of the day, Grant had driven Gideon Pillow’s Confederate forces out of their encampment in the town. Although routed, the Confederates were reinforced from Columbus, on the Kentucky side of the Mississippi River. Pillow counterattacked Grant, forcing his withdrawal to Cairo, Illinois. Strategically inconclusive, the battle did result in nearly twice as many Confederate casualties as Union losses: 966 Confederate killed, wounded, or captured versus 498 Union casualties.

BATTLE OF FORT HENRY (FEBRUARY 6, 1862)

During February 4–5, Grant landed troops on the east bank of the Tennessee River and on the high ground on the Kentucky bank. His objective was to capture Fort Henry on the Tennessee River. His troops on the Kentucky bank blocked any attempt Fort Henry’s Confederate garrison might make to withdraw in that direction, and Grant prepared an assault force on the west bank, where the fort stood. Once the troops were in place, Union navy flag officer Andrew H. Foote began bombarding the fort from his flotilla of seven gunboats on February 6. Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman, commanding the Confederate garrison, knew he could not long withstand the amphibious assault. While his artillery fired back against the gunboats, he removed the remainder of his garrison to Fort Donelson, ten miles away. This done, Tilghman returned to Fort Henry and surrendered. Casualties numbered forty for the Union and seventy-nine for the Confederate army.

BATTLE OF FORT DONELSON (FEBRUARY 11–16, 1862)

With Fort Henry taken, the way was clear for an assault on Fort Donelson, the other Confederate river strongpoint, this one on the Cumberland. Grant advanced against the fort and began a siege on February 11. The Confederate garrison responded with an all-out counterattack intended to break the siege lines. This failed, and on February 16 Confederate Brigadier General Simon Bolivar Buckner asked Grant for terms. The Union commander replied that the only acceptable terms were unconditional surrender—and thus he earned the wartime sobriquet of “Unconditional Surrender” Grant.

The Confederate loss of Forts Henry and Donelson not only opened up the Mississippi, Cumberland, and Tennessee Rivers to Union traffic in this region, but ensured that Kentucky would not join the Confederacy. The Union suffered 2,331 casualties, killed or wounded, and the Confederate army lost 15,067 men, most of them becoming POWs.

BATTLE OF SHILOH (APRIL 6–7, 1862)

The bloodiest battle in which the Army of the Tennessee engaged during the war, Shiloh pitted Grant and Major General Don Carlos Buell (commanding the Army of the Ohio) against the Confederate Army of Mississippi, under General Albert Sidney Johnston. Combined, the two Union armies fielded 65,085 men in this battle. The Confederate Army of the Mississippi mustered 44,968.

With Forts Henry and Donelson lost, General Johnston fell back, ceding to Grant Kentucky and a large part of western and Middle Tennessee. Intending to mount a counterattack, Johnston used Corinth, Mississippi, as a staging area. He was determined to make a preemptive attack on the Army of the Tennessee before it could link up with the Army of the Ohio. He retrenched his position, and Grant, at this point with some 40,000 men available in the Army of the Tennessee, prepared to attack along the Tennessee River, toward Pittsburg Landing. Major General Halleck, however, ordered him to await the arrival of the Army of the Ohio at Pittsburg Landing. Grant complied but declined to fortify his position as he waited. On April 6 Johnston made a surprise attack, nearly routing the Army of the Tennessee.

Union forces dug into a battle line at a sunken road. As Confederates made attack after attack against this position, only to be repulsed each time, they dubbed it the “Hornet’s Nest.” Finally, when infantry failed them, the Confederates unleashed their artillery, causing many Union casualties. Albert S. Johnston, however, fell mortally wounded in the combat, and General P. G. T. Beauregard assumed command. The Union troops withdrew closer to Pittsburg Landing and established a new battle line there, which was now reinforced by Buell’s Army of the Ohio. Fighting was extremely fierce, continuing even through part of the night. Come morning, Beauregard, unaware that Buell had reinforced Grant, counterattacked. Outnumbered and surprised, Beauregard ultimately withdrew from the field. The Union suffered 13,047, the Confederates, 10,699, killed, wounded, or captured.

SIEGE OF CORINTH (APRIL 29–MAY 30, 1862)

From April 29 to May 30, 1862, Major General Halleck led the three armies he controlled—Army of the Tennessee, Army of the Ohio, and Army of the Mississippi—in a siege against Corinth, a Mississippi town known as the “Crossroads of the Confederacy” because of the key rail junction there. Thanks to Halleck’s excessive caution, the operation was unduly prolonged, but the city nevertheless finally fell to the Union on May 30.

BATTLE OF IUKA (SEPTEMBER 19, 1862)

William S. Rosecrans’s Army of the Mississippi defeated Sterling Price’s Army of the West at Iuka, Mississippi, on September 19, after which Price withdrew and linked up with Major General Earl Van Dorn’s Army of West Tennessee. The combined force attacked what was now Union-held Corinth. Although the Confederates were repulsed, they withdrew intact.

VICKSBURG CAMPAIGN (MARCH 29–JULY 4, 1863)

Perhaps the most ambitious role the Army of the Tennessee played was in the Vicksburg Campaign, in which the army invested the Confederacy’s “Gibraltar of the West” beginning on May 18, 1863, forcing Vicksburg’s surrender on July 4. The Confederate Army of Mississippi, under Lieutenant General John Pemberton, bottled up in Vicksburg and was neutralized, and the fortress city fell, yielding control of the Mississippi River to the Union.

CHATTANOOGA CAMPAIGN (SEPTEMBER 21–NOVEMBER 25, 1863)

The western end of the Western Theater having been largely secured by the capture of Vicksburg, the Army of the Tennessee spearheaded the Chattanooga Campaign, the objective of which was to relieve the Army of the Cumberland, most of which was being held under siege in Chattanooga by General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee. Grant (commanding the Military Division of the Mississippi) established a line of supply to the besieged army (celebrated as the “cracker line”) and awaited the arrival of Sherman and the Army of the Tennessee. That came in November, and during November 23–24 Union forces took Orchard Knob and Lookout Mountain. On November 25 “Fighting Joe” Hooker waged the Battle of Missionary Ridge, routing the Confederates, liberating the Army of the Cumberland, and seizing Chattanooga, the so-called Gateway to the Lower South. From here Sherman would mount his 1864 Atlanta Campaign.

BATTLE OF MERIDIAN (FEBRUARY 14–20, 1864) AND THE ATLANTA CAMPAIGN (MAY 7–SEPTEMBER 2, 1864)

Before the drive to Atlanta could commence, however, Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee fought the Battle of Meridian (February 14–20, 1864, Mississippi; Union victory), taking this important railroad hub. The Atlanta Campaign then got under way on May 7, 1864, and was not concluded until September 2. Now commanding the Military Division of the Mississippi, Sherman had control of the Army of the Tennessee, the Army of the Cumberland, and the Army of the Ohio, all three of which were involved in the campaign against the Confederate Army of Tennessee, first under Joseph E. Johnston and then under John Bell Hood.

THE MARCH TO THE SEA (NOVEMBER 15–DECEMBER 21, 1864)

On November 15, 1864, Sherman and the Army of the Tennessee and the Army of Georgia divided into two columns and commenced a march from Atlanta southeast to Savannah, Georgia, with the purpose of demonstrating the vulnerability of the South and the incapacity of the Confederate government and Confederate military to protect its citizens. The 62,000 men Sherman led on the march tore a broad swath of destruction across the state, taking particular care to destroy railroad track and equipment. The march culminated in the capture of Savannah on December 21.

CAROLINAS CAMPAIGN (FEBRUARY–MARCH 21, 1865)

In January 1865 Sherman led the Army of the Tennessee and the Army of Georgia, now joined by the Army of the Ohio, in a campaign against the Confederate Army of Tennessee, which was once again commanded by Joseph E. Johnston. The campaign, led to Johnston’s surrender on April 26, 1865—and, effectively, the end of the Civil War.

Lee’s “War Horse.”

James Longstreet was of all Lee’s generals the least like what he appeared to be. There was nothing of Cassius’s “lean and hungry look” to hint at secret ambitions within the impassive Dutchman. A powerfully built man, deep in the chest, he glowed with the rugged health that suggested his pleasure in outdoor sports. A huge, bushy beard half-covered his stolid features, and clear blue eyes faced the world in aggressive self-assurance. On the surface, he appeared an uncomplicated physical type, and as such he was accepted then and has been historically.

Longstreet has been taken on his own evaluation. Studies have been based in general on acceptance of the substance of his many versions of his war career, though his accounts contains within themselves conspicuous inconsistencies and contradictions. Weighed against known facts, they contain gross inaccuracies Had he been a chronic failure and neurotic, like Braxton Bragg, the perversions of self-justification would have been expected; but hearty Longstreet, forthright and securely planted in a world of fighting men, boasted a superior combat record, a high reputation as a corps leader, and the confidence of General Lee. Then, the bitter, prolonged postwar arguments over Gettysburg tended to focus attention on his behavior in that battle, isolating this controversial action from his total record.

Far from being an isolated action of character, Longstreet’s conduct at Gettysburg was typical of episodes and events which, viewed in their entirety, formed a pattern of behavior totally at variance with the concept of the stolidly dependable “War Horse.” They reveal a Longstreet disturbed by ambitions beyond his limitations and confused, in his absence of self-knowledge, by his compulsion to present to the world the image of his self-evaluation.

The custom has been to pass over the separate incidents, some of which were explained away and others obscured by their historic insignificance. As early as the Battle of Seven Pines (May 31, 1862), there was criticism of Longstreet’s lack of cooperation, but the whole battle was bungled and the other generals involved faded from the scene. He was dangerously slow at Second Manassas, but criticisms were forgotten in the glow of final victory. In independent command, his futile siege of Suffolk (May, 1863) was overshadowed by the great victory of Lee and Jackson at Chancellorsville, and his gruesome failure at Knoxville was written off among the Western disasters in the winter of 1863-1864.

In personality difficulties, his earlier clash with A. P. Hill was explained by Hill’s emotionality, which led him also to clash with Jackson. Troubles with Hood and Toombs were blamed on these former subordinates. Longstreet’s current feuds, in May, 1864, with Lafayette McLaws and Evander Law, were waged through the war office and went largely unnoticed while all attention was focused on the gathering forces of the enemy. Besides, McLaws was a division commander of uninspiring competence and young Law was a bookish brigadier, and neither had strong supporters in the Army of Northern Virginia.

Yet Hill’s only two conflicts during the war occurred with Longstreet and Jackson, both of whom had long records of personality clashes. With Longstreet, Hill reacted to a spiteful gesture made by his then superior officer, when Longstreet grew resentful of a newspaper account which glorified Hill during the Seven Days.

With Law and McLaws, the War Department supported both against the persecutions instigated by Longstreet, and the ignored McLaws case was particularly revealing of Longstreet’s disturbance. In that, he falsely accused McLaws, as the subordinate, of precisely the same conduct of which Longstreet boasted in himself when he was Lee’s subordinate at Gettysburg.

Longstreet’s accusal of McLaws read: “You have exhibited a want of confidence in the efforts and plans which the commanding general has thought proper to adopt.” In writing about Gettysburg, Longstreet blamed Lee for not changing plans when he, the subordinate, showed his “want of confidence in them.” Lee knew, Longstreet wrote, “I did not believe in the attack.” Since Longstreet showed his opinion of such an attitude by using it in a trumped-up charge against the outraged McLaws, it would seem that he had not regarded himself as a subordinate at Gettysburg. Since that manifestly was his status, Longstreet was clearly a confused person beneath the exterior of bluff self-reliance.

His disturbance did not affect his considerable abilities in fighting and commanding troops at corps level, when he accepted corps command as his post. Beginning in the early winter of 1863, however, the good combat soldier was seized with ambitions for high command. As with many men overtaken by dreams beyond their limitations, he attributed to himself the necessary qualities. Not guileful by nature nor largely shrewd, his maneuvers for high command were clumsy. When he failed in his small independent venture during the winter of the Knoxville campaign, his goaded lunges at McLaws and Law, along with the dismissal of Dr. Jerome Robertson of Hood’s old brigade, brought him into the strong disfavor of the President and the war office. Then Longstreet blamed the administration for his troubles.

This personal record was not known in its entirety when Longstreet, having recently rejoined the army, met Lee and his fellow generals on Clark’s Mountain. Nor did anyone suspect that he had no liking whatsoever for the role of anybody’s “war horse.” Nothing in his personal history, as generally known, indicated either his ambitions or suggested his banked resentments of some of his brother officers.

Before the opportunities suddenly presented by the war, Longstreet probably had been the well-adapted extrovert which he appeared. Though born in South Carolina, he came of Dutch stock from New Jersey, moved early to the Lower South, and was not influenced by the strong place-identification of his fellows in the army. In the old army, as typical of all Southerners, his friendships had been formed non-sectionally on a basis of mutual tastes. Much could be learned about the personalities of Lee’s officers from the Northerners who had been their friends. A. P. Hill’s close friend, for instance, was brilliant, charming McClellan of privileged background; Longstreet’s was plain Sam Grant.

As captain in the old army, he transferred from the line to the paymaster department in order to achieve the higher rank and higher pay of major, saying he renounced all dreams of military glory. When he enlisted with the Confederate army, not with the troops of any state, he applied for a secure paymaster post. Having come to Richmond from a New Mexican garrison by way of Texas, he arrived later than most of the officers who came home from army posts, and appeared in the war office precisely when a brigadier was needed for three regiments of Virginia volunteers. By this circumstance, he began as a brigadier when his contemporaries were colonels and at promotion time went to major general when they made brigadier.

When Lee emerged into power and formed the loose hodgepodge of units into two corps of four divisions each, Longstreet was given the First Corps both by seniority and on performance. Jackson’s rise to Second Corps command from colonel was more meteoric, and his brilliance caught the imagination of the world as well as the South. Nobody suspected Longstreet’s jealousy of Jackson’s wider fame. While the army and the public held Old Pete in deep regard as Lee’s “War Horse,” prudent Longstreet suffered a middle-life resurgence of lust for glory.

It is possible he was influenced by the rise of his friend Grant, a man of his own type, whose similar traits of stubborn tenacity had carried him by 1863 to army command. Also Grant operated in the West where, with competition thinner among gifted leaders, the opportunities to shine were greater. Early in 1863, Longstreet began to maneuver to remove his corps from Lee’s army, where he was overshadowed by Stonewall Jackson.

It was when detached from Lee, and trying to effect a transfer of his corps to the poorly commanded Confederate Army of Tennessee, that he failed in the pointless siege of Suffolk, while the army was winning its greatest victory at Chancellorsville. Then Jackson’s death in May, 1863, removed his rival from the Army of Northern Virginia, and Longstreet returned to Lee with the undeclared purpose of replacing Jackson as Lee’s collaborative right hand. What Longstreet failed to perceive was that Lee and Stonewall had held similar concepts of war, of the strategy for implementing it and of the tactics for executing the strategy. With nothing too audacious for Old Jack, Lee had employed Jackson’s mobile striking force for the bolder aspects of his strategy. With Longstreet defense-minded and methodical, Lee had employed his dependables for the orthodox work.

The misunderstanding in the Gettysburg campaign arose when Longstreet, in the thrall of his ambitions, presumed the collaborative partnership with Lee and sought to impose on the commanding general his defense preferences. In seeking the glory, he lost a sense of reality. His mind dominated by a determination to fight a battle under conditions which gave opportunity to his special gifts, the corps commander ceased to react responsibly to the actual conditions on the field. Afterwards Longstreet was never clear about what happened. In some twisted self-justification he opened the Gettysburg issue in a period of bitter feeling between himself and his comrades. The trouble really began when security-minded Longstreet accepted a Federal job in New Orleans from his friend, then President Grant, and of necessity became allied with the Reconstruction occupation government against former Confederates.

Although there is even argument about who started the argument, the first public criticisms of Longstreet came in answer to a letter he allowed to be circulated. Then Longstreet publicly justified his Gettysburg behavior by denigrating Lee, shortly after his death. Already regarded as an apostate, Longstreet brought down on his head the outraged fury of Lee’s veterans, a number of whom had apparently been doing some brooding over Gettysburg.

The curious feature of the controversy was that the charges and countercharges ignored what Longstreet actually did to contribute to the Confederate failure in the battle. The arguments centered chiefly on Longstreet’s slowness, which was involved in an alleged conflict with Lee over strategy. He undeniably delayed going into action in a sullen spirit observed by many, but this deliberate procrastination was a symptom of his disturbed state and not in itself a decisive factor in the battle.

In the controversy over this red herring, Longstreet justified his slowness on the grounds that he opposed Lee’s plans and procrastinated in order to persuade the commanding general to follow his, the subordinate’s, superior strategy. In contradictory accounts, Longstreet wrote some highly dramatic scenes describing arguments with General Lee that seem, at best, improbable.

Considering that the accounts were written after Lee’s death, and not one witness of that thoroughly reported battle ever referred to the high-flown dialogue which Longstreet attributed to himself, it is amazing that Longstreet’s conflicting versions were ever studied seriously. His after-the-fact rationale of the strategy he claimed to have presented is so at variance with the facts of his erratic behavior that most likely little of his drama with Lee ever happened.

What did happen was glossed over by Longstreet and has been strangely ignored. Four generals and one colonel of his corps, each writing independently of the others and none involved in the controversy, gave a composite account which traced those irrational actions of Longstreet that did seriously affect the outcome of the second day’s battle. In a mutinous mood which made him scarcely responsible, he insisted on his subordinates’ obeying an old order of Lee’s after Longstreet perceived the conditions on the field to be different from the conditions presumed in the order. Except for the refusal of subordinates (particularly Brigadier General Evander Law) to follow his senseless command, Longstreet would have committed two divisions to mass suicide. As it was, he directed one of the most disjointed, ill-managed assaults in the war.

Lee never knew the details of Longstreet’s mutinous bungling on the second day and Longstreet never appeared to remember it. Perhaps his memory drew a curtain over the details. Evidently he did recognize that he was not to be Lee’s collaborator and replace Jackson, for immediately after the battle Longstreet reverted to the West as the more fertile field for advancement. At Chickamauga, in command of an army wing under Braxton Bragg, he performed at his battlefield best. However, the field victory was negated by Bragg’s neurotic ineptitude. Longstreet, instead of finding opportunity, found himself in a disastrous command situation which, he wrote, “called for some such great mind as Lee’s.” Partly to resolve his difficulties with Bragg, Longstreet was given the independent assignment of the siege of Knoxville. Of this Mrs. Chesnut, the outspoken diarist, recorded: “Away from Lee, what a colossal failure is Longstreet.”

It was in trying to avoid this verdict and the consequences that Longstreet became embroiled with subordinates, particularly Major General McLaws and Evander Law, and with maladroit stubbornness tried to impose his will on the President and the War Department. By then the spring campaign was approaching and Lee wanted him back. In a final floundering to retain independent command, Longstreet became suddenly offense-minded and turned to vaporous schemes for taking the war to the enemy.

It was a time when many Confederate leaders, despairing of their fortunes under the existing policies, began to clamor somewhat unpractically for counteroffensives. Joining this trend, Longstreet not only abandoned his orthodoxy but also those rudiments of supply and logistics about which, at corps command, he was most meticulous. Before the President decided that Longstreet must return to Lee’s army, and while his two divisions were being considered for various of the fanciful strategies then in the air, Longstreet sent the war office a plan which read like the daydream of an amateur Napoleon.

As by then Longstreet enjoyed no friends at court, his suggestions were dismissed with no regard for his feelings. Having grown understandably touchy himself, Longstreet became convinced that, as he phrased it in quotation marks, the “authorities at Richmond” had it in for him. The effect of the administration’s rejection of his last desperate effort toward independent command was to turn Longstreet to Lee as his one friend. A thoroughly bewildered Cassius, Old Pete was at last willing to return to his familiar role of Lee’s “War Horse.”

It is significant that Longstreet’s Tennessee campaign was extremely important to him. In the book he wrote thirty years after the war, he devoted more attention to his independent command than to any other aspect of the war. The lack of interest inherent in an abortive secondary campaign, along with the obscuring effects of the Gettysburg controversy, caused this phase of Longstreet’s war career to be ignored. If his failure in the West is viewed in the significance which it occupied in Longstreet’s mind, his attitude to the war-horse role becomes clearer.

He returned to Lee’s army when no other avenues of advancement were open to him, but all evidence indicated that he returned more in a spirit of relief than of reluctance. Whatever of his ambitions may have lingered, he was at last back on familiar ground, where he was welcomed and respected. There was another thing too. A devoted Confederate and a practical man, Longstreet recognized that the South’s chance of independence and his family’s future resided largely in the ragged forces fielded by Lee.

It is likely that the outwardly stolid Dutchman was in a sounder mental attitude when he took his place among the other generals on Clark’s Mountain than he had been since his aspirations began to disturb him in the winter of the year before. Though no one could presume to know his exact state of mind, General Longstreet at least appeared the dependable subordinate of the good days of the army. Certainly General Lee accepted him as such.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine

RupertRoyalColl

The constitutional confrontation of King Charles I with Parliament became more serious in early 1641 when the king ordered the arrest of the House’s leaders, then it became outright war in August 1642. Many of the shires were dominated by Puritans, hence sympathetic to Parliament, and when the Scots abandoned the alliance with the king, Charles authorised his supporters to raise money and conscript troops however they could. His strongholds were in Oxford and York, so when the allied Parliamentary and Scottish armies closed in on York in 1644, the king sent a relief army north under his nephew, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, the dashing son of Frederick of the Palatinate, the ‘Winter King’ of Bohemia. No one was more ‘cavalier’ than Rupert, no one less a ‘Roundhead’. This army represented a combination of the king’s last money and best hopes.

Rupert, whose parents were exiles from their own lands, grew up at the court of William II of Orange. Early demonstrating an ability to master languages, mathematics, and the arts, his military career—notable for his reckless bravery—began at the age of fourteen. He made a good impression on King Charles during a visit to England, after which he had distinguished himself at the 1637 siege of Breda. The next year, serving as an officer in a company of Scottish mercenaries, he was captured by the imperial army and held prisoner for three years in Austria—resisting all efforts to convert him to Catholicism. When the Civil War began, he and his brother Maurice brought a company of Scottish mercenaries to the king’s aid, and Charles gave him the command of the royal cavalry. His dashing leadership inspired the horsemen and almost won the war, but his arrogant manners offended prominent nobles around the king.

Rupert brilliantly marched around the allied position at Marston Moor on 1 July 1644 and disrupted the siege of York, but when he announced to the other officers that the king had ordered him to engage the parliamentary forces in battle and crush them, his hearers were disconcerted—the opposing army outnumbered them by 27,000 to 17,000, and it was led by the Earl of Leven, one of the finest commanders of the age, and Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), an amateur who was proving himself equal to Leven. Rupert, however, insisted that his army contained better soldiers—professionals. That is, they were mercenaries with foreign experience. He also believed that he could catch the enemy coalition dispersed and unready for battle. Rupert’s officers were not sure—there were many experienced men in the enemy ranks, too, especially Campbells who had served in the Swedish army. Moreover, knowing that the king’s advisors usually counselled caution, they spoke against taking rash action now. Still, they gave way to the stronger personality.

Rupert put his men on a forced march to Marston Moor. Although he arrived at the allied camps too late to catch them by surprise and his men were exhausted, he ordered an attack before Leven could pull his scattered units together. At that moment some of his mercenaries refused to fight until they were paid. While Rupert negotiated, Leven put the Scots and Parliamentary forces into a line of battle behind a marsh, then, seeing that Rupert had chosen a strong position opposite him, he stood on the defensive. Not far apart, the two armies waited for reinforcements, watching each other cautiously. Rupert’s reinforcements came in first, fine units from York. Although it was already late in the afternoon, Rupert announced that he would attack immediately. Again, his officers objected—the reinforcements were tired, as were his own men, and it was time for supper. Moreover, the commander of the York troops, James King, Lord Eythin (1589-1652), had long mistrusted Rupert’s love of the wild attack; he spoke for fighting on the morrow. His was not a voice to be dismissed lightly. King had served in the Swedish army from 1609-1636, then in the army of the Landgraf of Hesse. At that time he had fought alongside Prince Rupert and quarrelled with him over tactics, now as then, considering the prince reckless and overly-daring. His counsel prevailed. As both armies began making camp, Rupert left the field, and his troops left their ranks. At that moment Leven ordered an attack. Cromwell was fortunate in that the opposing cavalry commander ignored orders to wait until the Parliamentary horsemen had floundered across the marsh, then been decimated by musketeers, before charging to meet them; unwilling to endure artillery fire longer, he rode through his own infantry, only to founder in the marsh. Cromwell’s Ironsides scattered the disordered royalist cavalry, then swept through the gap in Rupert’s lines and into the rear of the royal army. It helped that some royalist units preferred looting the campsites to fighting, while Cromwell’s men concentrated on winning a victory, then pursuing the beaten enemy.

The traditional mercenary army composed of disparate units, unevenly trained and equipped, was clearly out of date; not even a solid core of officers coming home from the Thirty Years War sufficed to make up for its defects. Subsequently, Cromwell persuaded Parliament to reform the army along the lines of his troops—the ‘New Model Army’. He standardized the composition of regiments of infantry and cavalry, cladding many in red uniforms; the state was henceforth responsible for pay, not the commander; and politicians were excluded from leadership positions. Discipline was emphasised, as was religious fervour. Cromwell’s opponents, especially in Ireland and Scotland, were highly motivated, but they lacked discipline—a trait they would learn too late, but in the future apply effectively on foreign battlefields. It may have been Prince Rupert who first called Cromwell’s cavalrymen ‘Ironsides’, but it was a name that distinguished them from the ‘Roundheads’ who formed the earlier parliamentary armies—enthusiastic but undisciplined warriors.

Rupert continued to inspire and offend, leading his ‘Cavaliers’ to unlikely victories until 1646, when the king surrendered to Leven and made peace with Parliament. Unwisely, however, Charles believed that his bickering enemies were so divided that he could overthrow them one by one. Parliament sought to reduce the danger of renewed war by exiling the men most likely to assist him—most notably Rupert and his brother, Maurice. Rupert went to France, where he served in the English troops fighting for France against Spain; wounded in 1647, he returned to the court in exile, where he quarrelled with the queen’s closest advisors—whose counsel hurried her husband to the block in 1649. As soon as Rupert recovered his health, he led an expedition to Ireland, where he operated more as a pirate than a soldier, then fled ahead of the English navy to Portugal, where he resumed his piratical activities until 1650, when the English fleet trapped his ships in the River Tagus.

In typical heroic fashion, Rupert escaped, to attack English and Spanish ships in the Mediterranean and on the African coast. In 1652 he sailed to the Americas, but found the colonists there reluctant to join the royalist cause—not surprisingly, considering that many Puritans had gone to America as much to escape royalist oppression as to improve their lot. In 1653, after Maurice was lost in a storm, Rupert joined Charles’s court in Paris. He left for Germany in hope of finding employment, but found nothing to do except quarrel with those who should have been his closest friends and allies.

After the Restoration in 1660, Charles II gave Rupert a post in the Navy, where he served honourably in the wars against Holland and made important contributions to the exploration of the New World. His career was a fine example of the ways that personal, family and national ties intertwined with the great events of the times, especially in making nobles into quasi-mercenaries. In Rupert’s case, he was able to make a career as a soldier while serving his family’s interests. Not every exile was so fortunate.

James Butler (1610-88), the Earl of Ormonde

james_butler_1st_duke_of_ormonde_by_sir_peter_lely

James Butler (1610-88), the Earl of Ormonde, was among the most prominent royalist leaders who survived to enjoy the Restoration of the Stuarts to the throne. An Anglo-Irish nobleman of Catholic ancestry but Protestant persuasion, he had joined the hard-fisted administration of the Duke of Strafford in 1633, and was deeply involved in the confiscation of Catholic lands and their distribution to English immigrants. When civil war broke out in Ireland in 1641, he successfully held off both Parliamentary and Confederation forces. In 1646 he almost brought the royalists and Catholics together, but was thwarted by the papal legate, Rinuccini, who had brought arms, ammunition and bad advice to Ireland. Frustrated by his feuding allies, Ormonde came to terms with Parliament, saying that he preferred the rule of English rebels to Irish ones.

The execution of Charles I in 1649 put Ormonde back in royalist ranks, this time trying to hold Ireland for Charles II (1630-85). The Catholic Confederation made him their general, but never trusted him. The massacre committed by Cromwell’s besieging forces at Drogheda demoralised Ormonde’s troops momentarily, but left the Irish with another bitter memory of Protestant oppression. In 1650 Ormonde’s Protestant troops deserted en masse to Cromwell; following that, the Catholics rejected him as well, causing him to go into exile at Charles II’s court in France.

Cromwell’s army was no longer composed of psalm-singing Puritans, but of rough conscripts hammered into a truly professional army; he ended the war by using methods that memory and myth burned into Irish consciousness forever. Altogether, 7,500 soldiers were paid in Irish land, the original inhabitants moved west to counties where, as one of Cromwell’s officials put it, there was not enough water to drown a man, nor wood to hang him from, nor dirt to bury him.

Ormonde returned to Ireland in 1661 as Lord Lieutenant, quickly making himself highly unpopular among all factions. His efforts to govern with moderation offended Protestants, his attempt to govern at all offended Catholics. In 1670, a year after being removed from office, he was briefly kidnapped by the infamous Colonel Blood, but managed to escape.

In 1677 Ormonde returned to power, only to be criticised by the Irish for being too harsh and too English, and by the English for being too lenient and too Irish. In 1682 the king enhanced his title to duke, but never again gave him a significant role in the government. Although Charles II allowed Ormonde’s enemies at court to attack him, Ormonde remained loyal to the Stuart monarch. James II’s efforts to put Catholics in positions of authority, was another matter. The earl disagreed, but he died before the contest reached its climax in what Whigs called the Glorious Revolution.

Another Irish soldier who did well was the Protestant Murrough O’Brien (1618-74), whose military career had begun in the Spanish army in Italy. In 1641 he took command of the Protestants in Munster, successfully fending off all opponents. Snubbed by Charles I in 1644, O’Brien went over to the Parliamentary party; reinforced, he ravaged Catholic lands until the execution of the king persuaded him to change sides again. He almost saved the day when Ormonde was routed outside Dublin in 1649, but the desertion of his troops in 1650 doomed his cause. Four years after joining the court of Charles II in exile, he was named the Earl of Inchiquin, then fought in the French armies in Italy and Spain. During these years he converted to Roman Catholicism, a choice that made him unsuitable for high office after the Restoration. He recovered his estates, but aside from leading an expedition to Portugal was never entrusted with military power or administrative duties.

Late-War Churchill

The Visit of the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill To Caen, Normandy, 1944

Perhaps his greatest contribution to the successful outcome of the war, at this stage, was his insistence on the right timing for Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of northwest Europe. This was necessary for the defeat of Germany, and Churchill made sure it worked and was achieved with minimum loss of life for so immense and hazardous an operation. He argued that an opposed air-sea landing against formidable defenses manned by large, prepared German forces was perhaps the most difficult military undertaking of all. With the costly failure of Gallipoli always in his mind, he insisted that D-day should not take place until overwhelming strength was established and there was a near certitude of success. The Russians had asked for the second front to be opened in 1942. The Americans were willing to risk it in 1943. The “dress rehearsal” at Dieppe in 1942, where Allied losses were unexpectedly high, had shown what hazards lay ahead. Churchill’s conditions could not be met until the early summer of 1944. Even so, Overlord might have failed or proved extremely costly had not a highly successful deception plan persuading the Germans that the Normandy landings were a feint and that the real invasion was planned for the Pas de Calais area—another idea of Churchill’s—prevented a massive German counterattack in the early stages. Thanks to Churchill, and his memories of the Dardanelles, Overlord was a dramatic success. He wished to be present on the first day to enjoy his triumph. It was the last major occasion on which his desire to participate in military action manifested itself. All those concerned in the operation were horrified. Indeed, the desire was foolish in the extreme, a grotesque exhibition of the childish side of his nature. But he persisted, despite unanimous opposition from the service chiefs, the cabinet, his own staff, and the White House. In the end it was only the opposition of King George VI, who said that if his prime minister risked his life he must do so himself, which scotched the plan.

The delay occasioned by Churchill’s ensuring the invasion succeeded necessarily meant the Western forces were behind the Russians in pushing into the heart of the Nazi empire. This had grave political consequences. Churchill sought to mitigate them by demanding a full-speed drive to Berlin by the Anglo-American forces. This was supported by Montgomery, the army group commander, who was sure it was possible and would end the war in autumn 1944, with the West in Berlin first. But Eisenhower, the supreme commander, thought it was risky and insisted on a “broad front” advance, which meant that the war continued into the spring of 1945, and that the Russians got to Berlin first—and Prague, Budapest, Vienna, too. In his last weeks of life, FDR, despite Churchill’s pleas, did nothing to encourage Eisenhower to press on rapidly. Montgomery wrote sadly: “The Americans could not understand that it was of little avail to win the war strategically if we lost it politically.” That was exactly Churchill’s view.

But if he was unable to stop Stalin from turning much of Eastern Europe and the Balkans into Soviet satellites, he did snatch one brand from the burning—Greece. He used British troops, against much well-meaning advice, to intervene decisively in the civil war raging there between Communist guerrillas and forces loyal to the Crown. The politics were complex and made it difficult to decide whom to back among the contending loyalist leaders. Eventually Churchill decided in favor of the republican, anti-Communist general Nikolaos Plastiras. He joked, “The evidence shows we must back Plaster-arse. Let us hope his feet are not of clay.” “Tommy” Lascelles, King George VI’s secretary, remarked, “I would rather have said that than written Gray’s Elegy.”

Churchill also saved Persia by negotiating a highly satisfactory deal with the Russians, which enabled the British eventually to reduce their influence to a minimum. He kept a tight grip on the Persian Gulf and its oil fields. Of course, by saving Greece, he also enabled Turkey to stay beyond the reach of the triumphant Soviet forces. What is more, by picking a first-class general and backing him with adequate forces, Churchill also made a major contribution to victory in the Far East. Field Marshal William Slim was, next to Montgomery, the ablest of the British generals produced by the war. His Fourteenth Army was often called “the Forgotten Army,” in contrast to Montgomery’s famous Eighth Army. But it was not forgotten by Churchill. With his encouragement and support it conducted a hard and skillful campaign in Burma, ending in complete victory, which did a great deal to restore British prestige so cruelly damaged by the Singapore disaster. Indeed within four years Britain was able to get back Singapore, Malaya, and Hong Kong. Of course the restoration of Britain’s power in the Middle East, South Asia, and the Far East could not be permanent. But for most of a generation, and in some cases longer, Britain was able to enjoy the economic advantages brought by her investments in Gulf oil, Malay rubber and tin, and the mercantile wealth of Hong Kong. For this, Churchill’s energy, foresight, and ability to seize on the essentials deserve much of the credit.

As the war drew to a close in the early months of 1945, Churchill visibly held back his efforts. His aggressiveness declined. He enjoyed his brief and successful intervention in Greece. But destruction now sickened him. He sent a memo to Harris to slacken off the attack on German cities as opposed to strategic targets, “otherwise,” as he put it, “what will lie between the white snows of Russia and white cliffs of Dover? ” Much of his imaginative energy was spent in trying to get the sick Roosevelt to do the sensible thing. “No lover,” he said, “ever studied every whim of his mistress as I did those of President Roosevelt.” The death of FDR, however painful to Churchill, came as a relief, especially as Harry S. Truman, brisk, decisive, much better informed on strategy, proved infinitely easier to deal with. When Churchill was tired, he talked, often off the point. He refused to read his papers. Colville noted on April 26: “The PM’s box is in a ghastly state. He does little work and talks far too long, as he did . . . before his Greek adventures refreshed him.” The businesslike and monosyllabic Clement Attlee, his deputy premier, sent him a sharp memo of complaint. Churchill is credited with many jokes about the Labour Party leader. “Yes, he is a modest man. But then he has so much to be modest about.” “An empty taxi drew up outside the House of Commons, and Mr. Attlee got out.” Sometimes they were mean and savage: “Attler, Hitlee.” One of Attlee’s staff used to whistle, a habit Churchill could not bear. His antipathy to whistling is curiously apt, for Hitler was an expert and enthusiastic whistler: he could do the entire score of The Merry Widow, his favorite operetta. It seems expert whistling by music lovers was a feature of pre-1914 Vienna: Gustav Mahler and Ludwig Wittgenstein were whistler maestros.

Tired as he was, Churchill treated the surrender of Germany with suitable rhetoric and champagne popping. He drank a bottle of his prize 1928 vintage Pol Roger. He was relieved by Hitler’s suicide. He had not relished the prospective task of hanging him. As Beaverbrook said, “He is never vindictive.” His saying had always been—it is one of his best obiter dicta—“In war, resolution. In defeat, defiance. In victory, magnanimity. In peace, goodwill.” Magnanimity came naturally to this generous, jovial old man (he was seventy at the end of the war). Lord Longford, the British minister for postwar Germany, showed notable compassion for the German people. Churchill came up to him at a Buckingham Palace garden party and said, slowly, “I am glad that there is one mind suffering for the miseries of the Germans.”

Battle-Group Langkeit in the fighting east of the River Oder, January 1945

Willy Langkeit (2nd from left)

Willi Langkeit was wounded in the fighting that took place in that area around Schaulen. He was hospitalized and sent to the homeland to convalesce, where he was placed in charge of the division’s replacement brigade in Cottbus. But he was not there for long.

By the end of January 1945, he was again leading armored forces, this time an element composed of forces from the replacement brigade, as well as cadre from the armor school in Wünsdorf. The Kampfgruppe was dispatched to the Eastern Front, where it reported to General der Infanterie Busse’s 9. Armee, which was facing the Soviets approaching the Oder.

At the time of Langkeit’s arrival, the Soviets were rapidly advancing with two large armored forces in the Oder-Warthe Bend, the main effort directed at Frankfurt an der Oder and Küstrin. Immediately after his arrival, Langkeit received orders to move through Frankfurt towards Reppen and bring the Soviet forces there to a standstill. It was imperative that the high ground east of the Oder, which dominated the entire region, remained in German hands.

Langkeit advanced with his forces, reached the high ground and turned back the Soviet forces. Langkeit’s actions were one of the few bright spots in the otherwise dismal situation facing the Germans all along that sector of the front. Busse later wrote about Langkeit’s operation:

The failure of the Soviet effort in that sector was primarily thanks to the noteworthy bravery of Oberst Langkeit, who personally got involved with complete disregard for himself and, as a result, helped rally the forces that had been hastily assembled and had not yet developed any cohesiveness. I personally witnessed his exemplary actions.

Langkeit’s feat of arms prompted Busse to submit the armor officer for promotion to Generalmajor ahead of his peers: “for recently demonstrated leadership performance and again demonstrating extraordinary bravery.”

On 20 April, the Armed Forces High Command approved the recommendation, especially since Langkeit had also been taking all of the forces pouring into his sector to form a new division-Panzergrenadier-Division “Kurmark”-which he was also earmarked to command. Indeed, he seemed the perfect choice for the upcoming struggle that was to decide the fate of Germany.

Generalmajor Langkeit experienced the final weeks of the war with his ad hoc division, first fighting his way out of encirclement west of the Oder and then taking it to Beelitz to the rear of General der Panzertruppen Wenck’s 12. Armee. During the last days of April, he received the third level of the Tank Assault Badge for having participated in 75 or more armored engagements.

On 7 May 1945, the young general went into captivity with his division, surrendering to U. S. forces.

Following the war, Langkeit entered the Bundesgrenzschutz-Federal Border Protection Service-in 1951. He helped form the coastal protective services of that agency and led them for a long time as a Brigadegeneral.

Willy Langkeit passed away in Bad Bramstedt on 27 October 1969.

#

It was not on the Western Front alone that the armies of the Third Reich suffered military defeats in the autumn and winter of 1944. An Allied advance in Italy, slow but maintained, drove the German defenders from below Cassino, northwards and almost to the plain of Lombardy, while in Greece Loehr’s Army Group began its long overdue withdrawal. Every theatre of operations had witnessed disasters but it was on the Eastern Front that Hitler’s hosts suffered their severest defeats in that autumn of reverses.

By the end of 1944, the vast expanse of Soviet territory which the Wehrmacht had conquered during 1941 and 1942, had been retaken by the Red Army until only a thin buffer, the western half of Poland, separated the spearhead forces of the Red Army from Germany’s eastern provinces. The Soviet summer offensive of 1944, Operation “Bagration”, had smashed Army Group Centre (soon to be renamed Army Group “A”) and had brought the Russian forces to the province of East Prussia which STAVKA was now preparing to take out in a major offensive. The once powerful Army Group North, by this time reduced to just a handful of divisions in Courland, had been forced back until it had the sea behind it and the Russians to its front and on both flanks.

Colonel-General Guderian, Chief of the General Staff at OKH, demanded that Hitler use the 30 experienced divisions in Courland to break through the Russian encirclement and to link up with other German formations in East Prussia where they, and the forces in East Prussia, would threaten the northern flank of any Soviet advance towards Berlin. Hitler rejected Guderian’s demand with the result that by December 1944, the encircling Red Army was so strong that an attempt at a link-up between the German forces in Courland and those in East Prussia had absolutely no chance of success. Guderian then proposed that Army Group North be evacuated by sea from Courland and moved to bolster the last remaining German-held sectors of western Poland. That suggestion, too, was turned down by the Fuehrer.

General Gehlen, head of the General Staff Department (Foreign Armies East) and a recognised expert on the Soviet Union, produced figures which showed that the Red Army’s Supreme STAVKA had planned for its nine military fronts to launch attacks between the Carpathian mountains and the Baltic Sea. The first blow would be undertaken by the 2nd and 3rd Byelo-Russian Fronts against East Prussia. The second blow would be launched from a start line in the bend of the Vistula by Zhukov’s 1st Byelo-Russian and Koniev’s 1st Ukrainian Fronts. STAVKA’s strategy on that sector, was to isolate and destroy Army Group A (formerly Army Group Centre) and to advance as far as the River Oder, a distance of some 300km. The STAVKA effort would employ 2.25 million soldiers on just Zhukov’s and Koniev’s Fronts. Between them they would control 163 infantry divisions, 32,143 guns and 6,500 AFVs. On the narrow but vital Baranov sector of the Vistula bend where the main attack was to be made, the Soviets enjoyed a superiority over the Germans of 9:1 in infantry, 6:1 in armour and 10:1 in guns. The Order of Battle of Army Group A was 9th and 17th Infantry Armies and 4th Panzer Army, controlling a force of 30 infantry, four Panzer and two motorised divisions. Strong though that Army Group seemed to be, most of its divisions were burned out and they were, in any case, too few in number for the battle which lay ahead.

In an effort to increase front-line strengths, Guderian ordered a thorough comb-out of rear echelon units and this, together with a regrouping and a thinning-out of formations produced 14 divisions. These he formed into a strategic reserve for he proposed, when the current Russian offensive eventually lost its momentum, as it must do after the mighty advances of the previous autumn, to launch a counter-offensive. That riposte would not be able to match the Red Army’s effort in size and weight, but the Chief of Staff was confident that it would gain Germany a valuable breathing space. Guderian was not able to deploy and use that strategic reserve as he wished. Hitler who had planned the offensive on the Western Front, which has become known as the Battle of the Bulge, promptly ordered that Eastern reserve to be sent westwards, assuring his Chief of Staff that its divisions would be returned as soon as it was clear that the Battle of the Bulge was being won. Hitler also comandeered all the construction and road building battalions which Guderian had assembled, together with the heavy artillery he had brought together to support the sectors of the battle line which in his opinion were most under threat. With the removal of so many of the formations essential to its defences the Eastern Front, already under strength, was so dangerously weakened that it would be certain to shatter when the new, major, Russian assault was launched.

Gehlen then reported that the Soviets had concentrated in their 90km-wide bridghead at Baranov, in Poland, five infantry armies and six armoured corps as well as a number of independent infantry and armoured formations. The imbalance of forces had now risen in favour of the Red Army to 11:1 in infantry, 7:1 in AFVs and 20:1 in artillery. The Russian superiority in artillery was so high that the local commanders could mass 250 guns on each kilometre of front. Back in the Ardennes it had become clear by the end of December that Hitler’s gamble had failed and that the German forces, which had advanced in the first days of the Battle of the Bulge, were now withdrawing in disorder. Guderian demanded the return of his Panzer divisions to enable Army Group A to meet the imminent Russian offensive. Hitler refused and instead reduced Guderian’s forces still further by despatching Panzer Corps Gille, Guderian’s sole reserve in the bend of the River Vistula, southwards into Hungary where he planned to open a new offensive.

The Chief of Staff sent Hitler a final piece of intelligence: “The new Russian winter offensive will open on 12 January”. Still the Supreme Commander refused to reinforce the Eastern Front. Then in the early hours of that day a barrage opened on the Baranov sector which lasted from 01.30 to 06.00hrs. When it ceased a deep silence endured for 30mins after which the bombardment began again. Behind the barrage as it marched across the cratered landscape, special Red Army detachments, punishment units put in as a human sacrifice, advanced to kill those German soldiers who had survived the shellfire. Behind the so-called “Strafbats”, an armada of tanks rolled forward followed by divisions of conventional Red Army infantry. That huge assault broke through the front of 4th Panzer Army and crushed all but the most minimal resistance in the front line sectors. Here and there a German machine gun went into action against the flood of Soviet soldiers marching across the open plains. But it was only machine guns which retaliated. Not one piece of German artillery had survived to fire back at the oncoming Russians. However, the rear units of 4th Panzer Army were not affected by the Russian attack and were able to retreat westwards.

Realising, at long last, the need to take action on the Vistula sector Hitler ordered the elite “Grossdeutschland” Panzer Corps, together with a few divisions from Hungary and the Western Front, to restore the situation in 4th Panzer Army’s area. It was a movement undertaken by too few forces and too late in time. Zhukov’s armies were advancing along a thrust line which aimed directly at Frankfurt-am-Oder and were moving with such speed that the probability existed they would reach the east bank of the river before the slower-moving German units and would destroy them before those units could cross to the safety of the west bank. Supreme STAVKA had planned the battle of Berlin as the final operation of the war in Europe and, to prepare the ground for that advance, Zhukov ordered his armies to race for the Oder and to establish bridgheads on the river’s western bank — springboards out of which the Red Army would make the advance to the Reich’s capital.

 

The race to the Oder can be said to have begun when, in the second week of January 1945, Zhukov’s armies stormed across the Vistula. Within a matter of days there was no longer a solid German battle line in that area. On 20 January, Colonel-General Schoerner, the new commander of Army Group A, committed 11th and 24th Panzer Corps to a counterattack to knit up the ruptured front of 4th Panzer Army. It was an effort too weak to achieve any sort of success. The Red Army counter-attacked 24th Corps and cut it off. It then became a “wandering pocket” trying to fight its way back to the German lines. “Grossdeutschland” was ordered to rescue 24th Corps and its assault made such good ground that by 22 January the advance guards from both formations had gained touch.

The Eastern Front was collapsing and, faced with that catastrophe, the only solution which suggested itself to the Reich’s leadership was that the creation of a few large and flexible battle groups would have greater offensive/defensive potential than several smaller battle groups. The latter had always lacked heavy weapons and had also experienced difficulties in the matter of supplies and replacements. In accord with that solution High Command directed “Grossdeutschland”, resting after its rescue mission, to create a strong all-arms battle group. Kampfgruppe Langkeit was created on 26 January 1945 and its chief infantry constituent, Corps Panzer Grenadier Replacement Brigade, was a unit unusual for that time since it was at almost full establishment. The other component of Langkeit’s KG was Major Petereit’s Alarm Group Schmeltzer, which also had sufficient soldiers to flesh-out the new, elite and very specialist battle group.

To counter the Russian race to the Oder, the German military commanders, lacking sufficient men or weapons, had only the advantages of familiarity with the terrain and an awareness that their officers and men were determined to defend their native soil. It was believed that a system of field fortifications had been set up to the east of the Oder, resting upon a chain of lakes, the so-called Tirschtiegel positions. A water barrier, such as a lake system, has the advantage that it compels an attacker to advance across areas of ground — land bridges — which the defenders can hold in strength. In the case of the Tirschtiegel positions this was not the case. There had been almost no work undertaken and responsibility for constructing the trench lines had been left to Nazi Party political officers who had deserted their posts and fled as the Reds approached. Such positions as had been constructed were rudimentary — a few trench lines, dug-outs and in some places an anti-tank ditch. All showed evidence of hasty and unplanned work. A second line of trenches and dug-outs was in a worse state than the first line, with only the most basic work begun but not completed. The military commanders withdrawing into the Tirschtiegel positions were thus faced with the dual problems that they must not only somehow find sufficient labour to complete the trench systems, but must also man those positions before the Soviet offensive reached them. The only military units immediately available were local militia and Volkssturm detachments, made up of poorly armed men who would be no match for Zhukov’s veterans. In an effort to fill the defence lines with troops the High Command raised units out of any available bodies of men. In some cases officers were appointed to take up Staff positions in formations which had been given grandiose titles but which had no troops. To begin with it was a nightmare scenario but slowly the efficiency and pragmatism of the German military system manifested itself and order was produced out of chaos.

The newly-created Kampfgruppe Langkeit was one of the formations which should have manned the Tirschtiegel positions. Its infantry component was renamed Kluever’s Panzer Grenadier Regiment, with Schmeltzer’s Alarm detachment, three Grenadier companies and a machine gun company forming its 1st Battalion. The men, although chiefly young recruits, had veteran instructors, officers and NCOs. Schoettler’s 2nd Battalion had three Grenadier companies, a machine gun and a mortar company. Few of that battalion’s rank and file were “Grossdeutschland” soldiers. No 7 Company, for example, was made up of men from other units who had been taken off trains passing through Cottbus, and taken onto the strength of the “Grossdeutschland” unit. The battle group’s artillery component had been, to begin with, just two heavy field howitzers. Then a battery of light field howitzers was formed and, finally, a light Flak battery with four 2cm guns, four twin-2cm guns and four 3.7cm motorised anti-aircraft pieces, came onto strength. A small SP gun detachment was also created. To obtain AFVs, Langkeit was not so much pragmatic as piratical. He comandeered machines from the factories in which they had been made and requisitioned other vehicles from the “Grossdeutschland” training depots. Many of these latter were powered by charcoal gas engines, others had no turrets and some had no guns — in short, the only factor which made them AFVs was the plating they carried. Nevertheless, Hudel, commanding the Panzer detachment, had soon created an HQ squadron, a Panzer company, a recce platoon, two tank destruction troops each armed with Panzerschreck rocket launchers, and two more troops armed with Panzerfausts. There was also an anti-tank company and a motor cycle company.

During the night of 26-27 January the Kampfgruppe, in no way completely raised or forming a homogeneous group, began to move towards the front. The divisional history records that despite the obvious shortcomings and deficiencies in equipment, the morale of the men marching out to give unequal battle was first-class. They were determined to win, even though they knew the enemy was vastly superior to them in number and equipment. Langkeit was ordered to concentrate his Kampfgruppe around Reppen and then to strike north-eastwards into the flank of the Red Army forces advancing upon Stettin. Following on from that operation the KG was next to take up its allotted positions in the Tierschtiegel defences. A few days later the entire battle group set out for Reppen, to undertake its first mission, to attack the flank of the Red Army advancing towards Stettin.

On its approach march it was surprised and attacked by strong Russian forces. The principal reason for the surprise encounter was that Langkeit had been given no information on the location of the Soviet forces. His battle group fought back and restored the situation and was then advised that Bittrich’s SS Corps was encircled somewhere near Sternberg. On 30 January, Langkeit sent a battle group, the 2nd Battalion of his Panzer Grenadier regiment, to break through the Soviet encirclement and to bring out Bittrich’s trapped formations. The battalion reached Pinnow and formed two small motorised battle groups to carry out the rescue operation. The Grenadiers were heartened as they carried out their attack to hear the sounds of small arms and artillery fire, believing these to be made by the SS. About midday the true explanation of those battle noises came when Soviet tanks appeared from the north-east and began firing into Pinnow. Patrols then reported to Langkeit that Russian armour and infantry, outflanking the Kampfgruppe to the north, were making for Reppen. Langkeit decided that his priority was to bring out the SS Corps and ordered 2nd Battalion to continue with its attack. By last light on 30 January, the Panzergrenadiers had smashed the Red ring and gained touch with the SS. Not long after that an independent tank-destroyer company of armoured vehicles also broke the encirclement, was immediately taken onto the strength of Bittrich’s group and went into action.

Covered by a rearguard formed by 2nd Battalion, the remnant of SS Corps, escorted by the tank-destroyer company, then pulled back towards Frankfurt. Langkeit’s 2nd Battalion then prepared to defend Reppen. Meanwhile, the situation in which the main body of the Kampfgruppe was placed had deteriorated with the report that Russian forces had now outflanked it both to the north and the south. There could now be no question of an advance to Sternberg and 1st Panzergrenadier Battalion, backed by 88mm guns and other artillery weapons, moved towards Reppen to reinforce the 2nd Battalion.

It had a nightmare journey. The Reppen road was blocked by columns of slow moving refugees who panicked when JS tanks appeared on the crest of the ridge north of the road and opened fire upon them. North of the road where there was good going, the Red Army commander concentrated the mass of his tanks. To the south of the road where thick woodland made the terrain unsuitable for armoured operations, he put in his infantry. At a point well behind Langkeit’s Kampfgruppe, Russian tank columns cut the road so that the battle group which had been put into action to smash one encirclement was now itself in danger of being surrounded and cut off. It was also dangerously split up. The 2nd Panzergrenadier Battalion was in Reppen, 1st Battalion was on the road to that place and the heavy vehicles and tanks of the main body were isolated from both those battalions.

Langkeit formed that main body into two columns and intended to lead them in a mass charge to break the Soviet ring. Such an attack did not and, indeed, could not, succeed because the columns could not deploy off the road and into open country. Trapped fast among the civilian carts they were the principal targets of Soviet infantry and tank gun-fire from north and south of the road — fire that smashed down into the press of carts and people and created enormous casualties. Here and there a few Panzers forced their way out of the press of civilian carts and charged the enemy road blocks but died in the concentrated fire of the Soviet tank guns. Back in Reppen the Panzergrenadiers of 2nd Battalion, squatting in their slit trenches, patiently endured strafing from the air and barrages from mortars and from tank guns. The houses in the town were soon in ruins. The Red commander, thinking that the German troops were now either dead or demoralised, ordered tanks and infantry to mop up the remnants. His decision gave the Panzergrenadiers the chance at last to exact revenge for the punishment they had suffered. A wave of 10 T34s was shot to pieces by the 88s and a Red Army infantry battalion which came in against No 6 Company was wiped out almost to a man. But it was clear the battalion’s ability to resist was nearly at an end and Langkeit ordered it to destroy its vehicles and fight a way through to the main body. During the night of 31 January, covered by a barrage, the heavy weapons were destroyed and the Grenadiers and artillerymen marched to join the main body.

The situation in which the KG was placed was desperate and Langkeit decided to make a break-out attempt through the woods south of the road. Once his units had grouped in the forest they would be faced with a difficult, tiring march but the Russian infantry in the woods were less strongly armed than the tank units on the main road. It should, therefore, be easier for the Kampfgruppe to fight its way through and escape. The battle group’s last surviving eight-wheeled armoured car went into the forest to reconnoitre the route and, although the first reports were encouraging, the situation deteriorated again during 1 February. The units filtering along forest rides and secondary roads, once again became closely entangled with civilian columns and came under fire from Soviet infantry forces which had now entered the woods in strength. Langkeit’s light Flak groups, heavy machine guns and Pak poured fire along the edge of the forest to beat back the Red Army units and to aid the slow-paced withdrawal. Stuka aircraft of Colonel Rudel’s tank-busting squadron were brought in to aid the escape but their efforts had little success.

Langkeit’s “O” Group during the night of 2 February, heard a bleak report. The guns were down to two rounds each and the break-out through the woods had not succeeded. He proposed that the Kampfgruppe make a swift, direct thrust along the road. This might succeed so long as it was covered by a strong rearguard. Spearheaded by a Panzer detachment, the first attack was made in the early hours of the morning of 3 February, but failed to smash through. Meanwhile, on the northern side of the road, 1st Grenadier battalion attacked and destroyed the Russian forces opposing them in hand to hand combat and drew the attention of the Red commanders to that sensitive area. That gave the chance for the “Hetzers” of the tank destroyer unit and the last of Hudel’s Panzers to carry out a second, and this time successful, thrust up the road. By 14.00hrs the Soviet ring had been ruptured and the westward withdrawal began. It was a shortlived move. At Kunersdorf more Soviet tanks had cut the road but, once again, the Panzer/SP group struck and destroyed them. During that battle Sergeant Riedmuller won the Knights Cross for destroying four T34s with successive shots and when the lie of the land prevented him from destroying the fifth, climbed out of his Panzer and “killed” it with a Panzerfaust.

A stream of military and civilian vehicles was now pouring through the broken ring and 2nd Battalion gave flank protection to the main body of the battle group as it pulled back towards Frankfurt. The artillery units, positioned in the streets of Damm, a suburb of that city, fired barrages to cover the retreating formations. Some detachments of KG Langkeit were first held in Damm but were then ordered to cross to the Oder’s western bank and take up defensive positions there. The remainder of the battle group continued to hold the bridgehead.

That eastern group fought bitterly to prevent the capture of Kunersdorf airfield which the Soviets needed as a forward base for the next stage of their offensive. In that fighting the bridgehead group suffered severe losses and even their most determined defence and skillfully mounted attacks could not prevent the Red Army from eventually crushing the Damm perimeter. On 3 February, an order was issued upgrading Kampfgruppe Langkeit to “Kurmark” Panzergrenadier Division. It is at this place, therefore, that we leave the battle group and consider another one which fought in the east when the Third Reich was in its death throes.

Grossdeutschland was sent to rescue the trapped units, but the front around them was crumbling. In response, the OKH was prompted to created some large Kampfgruppen to provide greater flexibility in defence. One of these new battle groups, Kampfgruppe Langkeit under the command of Oberst Willi Langkeit, was formed on 3 February 1945 and was made up from the Corps Panzergrenadier Replacement Brigade which was almost at full strength and Alarm Group Schmeltzer. It was organised as a Type 44 Panzergrenadier Division, with its Panzergrenadier battalions organised on the 1945 model, with three self-propelled gun companies equipped with Jagdpanzer 38s and one company with Pz IVs. The artillery battalion was organised from the 3rd Battalion, 184th (mot) Artillery Regiment. The Panzergrenadier regiment apparently had only a staff, a staff company, and two Panzergrenadier battalions. The order of 4 February 1945 gave the division an authorised strength of 4,559 men including 128 Hiwis.