Joint Expedition against Franklin

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Joint Expedition Against Franklin
Part of the American Civil War
Virginia BattleField map JEAF extract.jpg
Extract from 1892 map detailing the subject area. The Blackwater River flows north-south in the left of the image. The image measures approximately 22.25 miles (35.81 km) × 8.5 miles (13.7 km), or 189.125 square miles (489.83 km2).
Date October 3, 1862 (1862-10-03)
Location Franklin, Virginia
& nearby Blackwater River
Result Confederate victory
Belligerents
United States Navy
United States Army
Confederate States Army
Commanders and leaders
C. W. Flusser
Edmund R. Colhoun
Charles A. French
Samuel P. Spear
Dennis Dozier Ferebee
J. K. Marshall
Edward Graham
Collet Leventhorpe
Strength
3 Gunboats
1,300 Infantry
   w/1 × Artillery section
10,000–12,000 Infantry
Casualties and losses
5 KIA, 21 wounded estimated 70–100
Joint Expedition against Franklin is located in Virginia
Joint Expedition against Franklin
Franklin, Virginia

The Joint Expedition Against Franklin was a joint engagement between the United States Army & Navy against the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. The engagement was intended to move Union forces into an area where Confederate forces were gathering as they prepared to move on Suffolk, Virginia. Originally planned as a coordinated two-pronged attack with a naval flotilla supporting an infantry advance on Franklin, Virginia, communications delays caused the Union Navy to start the mission before the Army was ready to support it. Instead, October 3, 1862 (1862-10-03) found Union Naval forces on the Blackwater River greatly outnumbered by Confederate infantrymen and ultimately forced to retreat. The naval action alone is also known as the Action at Crumpler's Bluff or the Battle of Crumpler's Bluff.[1][2]

Simultaneously, a nearby Army reconnaissance team conducted a failed assault on the town on the basis that the audibly nearby Naval forces—which they did not know were then in retreat—would bring support. The outcome left the Union forces with a combined 5 casualties and 21 wounded. Dialogue between officers following the conflict left the Union navy questioning the usefulness of gunboats in joint expedition settings in which they would not be capable of supporting themselves.

The conflict[edit]

Background[edit]

Receiving orders early September 12, 1862, the Confederate Army's 4th North Carolina (NC) Cavalry immediately proceeded from Garysburg, North Carolina to Franklin, Virginia, arriving late the next day. There, the 4th NC Cavalry, under the command of a Colonel Dennis Dozier Ferebee, was joined by the 52nd North Carolina Infantry, Edward Graham's Petersburg Artillery and (two weeks later) the 11th North Carolina Infantry. The 4th NC Cavalry's first major assignment was to construct a floating bridge across the nearby Blackwater River to replace the Seaboard and Roanoke Railroad bridge[3] and thereby facilitate the eastward transfer of men and equipment into Franklin; Col. Ferebee reported the bridge finished on the 18th.[4]

Major General Dix (c.1862 (1862)) developed the Union attack plan.

A small Union Army cavalry force was stationed in nearby Suffolk, Virginia under the command of Major General John J. Peck. On September 23, Peck sent Colonel Samuel P. Spear to reconnoiter Franklin and the Confederates therein. Spear reported back to Peck about the Confederate's replacement bridge capable of supporting artillery pieces, as well as an estimated Confederate concentration of 10,000–12,000 men.[4][5] Peck forwarded this information on to his commanding officer, Major General John Adams Dix who, in turn, developed a twofold mission to roust the enemy from Franklin and destroy the floating bridge with a joint service attack with the Union Army and Navy respectively.[3]

LCDR C. W. Flusser (1864 (1864))

Dix requested Union naval support from Acting Rear Admiral Samuel Phillips Lee.[5] Lee, in turn, sent orders to Lieutenant Commander C. W. Flusser, directing him to give all assistance to General Dix's purposes.[6] Three United States Navy steam-powered ferryboats stationed at Albemarle Sound were sent;[2][7] the USS Commodore Perry, commanded by Lieutenant Commander Flusser, the USS Hunchback, commanded by Acting Lieutenant Edmund R. Colhoun, and the USS Whitehead, commanded by Acting Master Charles A. French.[8]

Acting on Union picket intelligence of the Confederate's position in Franklin, both Generals Peck and Dix felt that it would be wiser to wait on the joint assault.[4] Unfortunately, because Dix's messenger arrived five hours late, Commander Flusser never received the word the former's forces were delaying "until about the 10th". Peck did however order a reconnaissance mission be undertaken in the area; at 9:00 p.m. on October 2, Colonel Spear left Suffolk with 1,300 soldiers, one Artillery section, and orders to survey Franklin and determine the extent of the Confederate forces south of Suffolk.[3][4][9]

Attack[edit]

USS Commodore Perry (1864)
Undated photo of the USS Hunchback and her crew
USS Whitehead (1864)

The evening of 2 October, Confederate pickets observed the three riverboats waiting around South Quay, Virginia, approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) downriver from Franklin.[4][10] At 5:45 a.m. the next day, the three ships began moving towards the city while shelling the nearby banks. The attack was led by the Commodore Perry, followed by the Whitehead astern the Hunchback.[10] While the Union shelled the banks of the Blackwater, Confederate troops began distributing themselves along the riverside to take advantage of the concealment there. Some of the 4th North Carolina Cavalry was dismounted and taken up by Colonel Marshall of the 52nd, and positioned along with his men at Crumpler's and neighboring bluffs to fire upon the riverboats. Colonel Ferebee took the rest of the 4th NC Cavalry and dismounted and positioned them behind the trees and bushes along the banks of the Blackwater, under the command of a Lieutenant Ruffin.[4] According to a Union naval officer later, the Confederate's forces along the Blackwater also included "some nonuniformed irregulars and even 'some negroes.'"[2]

At 7:00 a.m., approximately .75 miles (1.21 km) from Franklin, the Commodore Perry came under fire from the Confederate forces along the river and atop the bluffs. As the Perry was too close to bring her large-bore guns to bear, Commander Flusser ordered his sailors to shelter themselves as best they could while the ship tried to steam past the enemy. Unfortunately, due to the narrowness of the bend, the Commodore Perry ran aground;[10] Lt. Ruffin and his men were so close to the grounded riverboat, they later claimed to have heard the Perry's officers cursing her enlisted sailors.[4] Freeing herself, the Perry rounded the bend and maneuvered to provide suppressive fire to allow the Hunchback and Whitehead to follow;[10] the combined shelling of all three ships forced Lt. Ruffin and his detachment to withdraw from the banks of the river.[4] However, all three ships' progress was soon halted by a barricade in the river. While the barricade was removable with Commander Flusser's available manpower, he could not attempt to do so due to the "terrible fire to which [they] were exposed." While continuing to assault the Confederacy with their "IX-inch grape and shell" guns, "32-pounder" guns, field gun, and muskets, the three ships waited at the barricade hoping to hear the gunfire of General Dix's infantry forces.[10]

At 10:15 a.m., Commander Flusser ordered retreat from the river barrier. All three ships remained under heavy fire by enemy forces from multiple angles until between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m.[4][11] An incomplete rear barricade of felled trees failed to stop the ships which "[pushed through] with a heavy head of steam."[10] Flusser later opined that this new barricade would have been impassable had the ships remained north of it for several more hours, waiting for General Dix's quiescent forces.[11]

Meanwhile, Colonel Spear arrived around 1:00 p.m. and anticipating support from the now-retreating naval gunships, the Union infantrymen conflicted with the Confederates in Franklin. After six hours of combat, running low on ammunition, realizing that he only had 1,300 men and not the 1,700–2,000 he'd thought,[4] and losing two riflemen to Confederate defection, Spear withdrew the Union forces around Franklin, and returned to Suffolk abandoning one brass field piece, a few overcoats, and a horse.[3][4][9]

Aftermath[edit]

Upon return to Ablemarle Sound, Commander Flusser sent the Hunchback on to Plymouth to bury their dead sailors; at Roanoke Island, Flusser was lent the USS Emily to carry the wounded to Norfolk Hospital.[10]

Outcome[edit]

The Confederate forces around Franklin held back the Navy and ultimately forced them, and the Army reconnaissance team, to retreat. While the Union Navy lost no ships, they suffered four casualties and 15 wounded; the Army suffered one fatality and six wounded, although General Dix believed the infantry to have robbed the enemy of 70–100 in return.[8][9] For the Confederates, this was the 4th NC Cavalry's first combat action of the war, and gave Colonel Ferebee and his men confidence in their abilities; they and the other Confederate forces in Franklin spent the rest of October 1862 surveilling the Union forces across the river.[4] After the Union shelling, most of Franklin's civilians left the town, leaving it in the hands of the Confederate soldiers there; they did not return until after the April 1865 surrender of General Lee.[1] The Joint Expedition has been described as the only fighting of significance to occur in Southampton County, Virginia during the war.[2]

For their distinguished services in the battle, Union servicemen Thomas Barton, John Breen, James H. Burbank, Daniel Lakin, Alfred Peterson, Edwin Smith, and John Williams were all awarded the Medal of Honor.[12][13] In his summation of the Joint Expedition Against Franklin, Acting Rear-Admiral Lee said, "The Department will perceive that Lieutenant-Commander Flusser (senior officer present) displayed his usual gallantry, and that the officers and crews of the three gunboats did their parts well, under very trying and difficult circumstances."[8]

In his After Action Report to Admiral Lee of October 6, 1862 (1862-10-06), Lieutenant Commander Flusser described his losses as heavy and opined that it was "folly to fight these people on the banks, where they have every advantage", and that he could not be of any further service to the Army forces.[11] In the aftermath of the failed mission, both Navy and Army flag officers implied that the cause was attempting to cooperate with the respective sister service. Admiral Lee wrote to Naval Secretary Gideon Welles that "where the situation does not allow [...] gunboats to take care of themselves, they can not assist the army." Further, General Peck wrote to General Dix saying, "there is great uncertainty in operations with gunboats."[3]

References[edit]

1988 sign noting the occurrence of several Civil War skirmishes around Franklin in 1862 and 1863
  1. ^ a b "War Comes to the Blackwater (1862-1878)". Franklin, Virginia, USA: Downtown Franklin Association, Inc. 2009-04-21. Retrieved 2009-09-25. 
  2. ^ a b c d Crofts, Daniel W. (1992). "Civil War" (Google Book Search). Old Southampton: Politics and Society in a Virginia County, 1834-1869. Charlottesville, Virginia, USA: University of Virginia Press. p. 201. ISBN 978-0-8139-1385-8. Retrieved 2009-09-25. 
  3. ^ a b c d e May, LCDR James J. (1995-10-06). Joint Operations in the North Carolina Sounds During the Civil War. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. p. 155. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Raiford, Neil Hunter (2003). "First Taste of Fire: Skirmishes Along the Blackwater". The 4th North Carolina Cavalry in the Civil War: A History and Roster (Google Book Search). Jefferson, North Carolina, USA: McFarland & Company. pp. 13–20. ISBN 978-0-7864-1468-0. Retrieved 2009-09-21. 
  5. ^ a b Long, The Hon. John D.; Rawson, Edward K.; Stewart, Charles W. (1899). "Expedition against Franklin, Va., October 3, 1862: Letter from Major-General Dix, U. S. Army, to Acting Rear-Admiral Lee, U. S. Navy, asking cooperation. (September 24, 1862 (1862-09-24))". Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. 1 8. Washington, D.C., USA: United States Government Printing Office. pp. 104–105. Retrieved 2009-02-08. 
  6. ^ Long, The Hon. John D.; Rawson, Edward K.; Stewart, Charles W. (1899). "Expedition against Franklin, Va., October 3, 1862: Order of Acting Rear-Admiral Lee, U. S. Navy, to Lieutenant-Commander Flusser, U. S. Navy, to cooperate with Major-General Dix, U. S. Army. (September 24, 1862 (1862-09-24))". Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. 1 8. Washington, D.C., USA: United States Government Printing Office. p. 105. Retrieved 2009-02-08. 
  7. ^ Long, The Hon. John D.; Rawson, Edward K.; Stewart, Charles W. (1899). "Expedition against Franklin, Va., October 3, 1862: Report of Major-General Dix, U. S. Army. (12:46, October 5, 1862 (1862-10-05T12:46))". Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. 1 8. Washington, D.C., USA: United States Government Printing Office. p. 107. Retrieved 2009-02-08. 
  8. ^ a b c Long, The Hon. John D.; Rawson, Edward K.; Stewart, Charles W. (1899). "Expedition against Franklin, Va., October 3, 1862: Report of Acting Rear-Admiral Lee, U. S. Navy, transmitting correspondence and reports. (October 26, 1862 (1862-10-26))". Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. 1 8. Washington, D.C., USA: United States Government Printing Office. p. 104. Retrieved 2009-02-08. 
  9. ^ a b c Long, The Hon. John D.; Rawson, Edward K.; Stewart, Charles W. (1899). "Expedition against Franklin, Va., October 3, 1862: Letter from Major-General Dix, U. S. Army, to Acting Rear-Admiral Lee, U. S. Navy. (October 5, 1862 (1862-10-05))". Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. 1 8. Washington, D.C., USA: United States Government Printing Office. p. 106–107. Retrieved 2009-02-08. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Long, The Hon. John D.; Rawson, Edward K.; Stewart, Charles W. (1899). "Expedition against Franklin, Va., October 3, 1862: Report of Lieutenant-Commander Flusser, U. S. Navy, commanding U. S. S. Commodore Perry. (October 6, 1862 (1862-10-06))". Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. 1 8. Washington, D.C., USA: United States Government Printing Office. pp. 108–110. Retrieved 2009-02-08. 
  11. ^ a b c Long, The Hon. John D.; Rawson, Edward K.; Stewart, Charles W. (1899). "Expedition against Franklin, Va., October 3, 1862: Report of Lieutenant-Commander Flusser, U. S. Navy, commanding U. S. S. Commodore Perry. (October 6, 1862 (1862-10-06))". Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. 1 8. Washington, D.C., USA: United States Government Printing Office. p. 112. Retrieved 2009-02-08. 
  12. ^ "Medal of Honor Recipients: Civil War (A-L)". Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, D.C.: United States Army Center of Military History. Retrieved 2009-02-08. 
  13. ^ "Medal of Honor Recipients: Civil War (M-Z)". Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, D.C.: United States Army Center of Military History. Retrieved 2009-02-08.