The 45th New York’s First Fight

Annandale, December 2,1861

What happened?

Probably soldiers of the 45th NY at Centreville, Va. (Library of Congress)

The 45th New York, initially called the 5th German Rifles, entered service as part of Julius Stahel’s brigade of Louis Blenker’s division of the Army of the Potomac in October 1861. It was mainly composed of men from Austria and the German states. Its commander, Col. Georg von Amsberg, was an experienced military man, as he had been an officer in the Austrian army and, during the revolution of 1848, the Hungarian army. At the end of 1861, the regiment was stationed in the defenses of Washington. The men – there were about 900 present for service at the time – were still green when they went on picket duty in the area around Annandale [1].

After their victory at the Battle of Bull Run, the Confederates had cautiously followed the retreating Union army to the area around Washington. They established the so-called “Alexandria Line”, a thirty mile long perimeter to the West of the capital. The winter of 1861/62 found both armies eyeing each other, with numerous skirmishes erupting at different points of the line. On the Confederate side, the man responsible for cavalry patrols was Jeb Stuart, who had been promoted to brigadier general in September. An aggressive leader, he endorsed and encouraged his subordinates to harrass the Union pickets and make small-scale attacks and raids [2].

Such an attack hit Co. A of the 45th New York, which was picketing the area around Annandale, on December 2nd. One day earlier, one of the regiment’s lieutenants, a German-born baron named Marcel Wilhelm von Haxthausen, had deserted to the enemy, taking with him a horse belonging to the orderly of the 4th New York Cavalry. Maybe Haxthausen, who after the war would turn up as an editor of a German newspaper in Texas, had informed the Confederates of the pickets’ deployment and the weak points of the line. In any case, around 1 p.m. the pickets at Annandale spotted cavalry approaching. At first they thought it belonged to the 1st New York Cavalry, which was at that time patrolling the area [3].

The horsemen, however, belonged to the 6th Virginia Cavalry under Col. Charles W. Field. The 150-200 riders approached at a gallop and hit several picket posts at the same time. One detachment passed barricades erected on the Little River Turnpike about a mile beyond Padgett’s tavern, another one broke through at the unfinished railroad and a third dashed through the fields north of the turnpike.

The Rebel charge panicked the pickets, who fled into a nearby woodlot. There, they were rallied by Capt. Hermann Weller, after which they began to shoot at the enemy horsemen. Meanwhile, drummer Henry Feuerstein had, seemingly on his own initiative and with “commendable zeal”, beaten the long roll to alert his comrades.

The signal was heared by two companies of the 45th stationed at Cox’s farm, which, under the command of Capt. Adolphus Dobke, rushed to the site of the fight. They were joined by about 30 men from the 4th New York Cavalry under 1st Lt. William Parnell. After a short fight, the combined infantry and cavalry force drove the Rebel horsemen out of the Union lines. Passing the barricades again, the Confederates retreated in the direction of Centreville.

The fight had cost the 45th New York one killed. Twelve men were missing and presumed captured; however, eight of them seem to have returned by the next morning. According to Blenker’s report, the Confederates had lost two killed, which were found outside the lines, two prisoners and seven or eight wounded.

Who fought?

Col. Charles W. Field: Born in Kentucky in April 1828 to a wealthy family, he graduated from West Point in 1849 and entered the army, where he served with cavalry on the frontier. In 1856, he became an Assistant Instructor of Cavalry Tactics at West Point. When the Civil War broke out, he sided with the Confederacy and at first served as a cavalry instructor in Virginia. In November 1861, he became colonel of the 6th Virginia Cavalry. He quickly rose through the ranks and participated in many battles, finally surrendering as a division commander at Appomattox Court House. After the war, he mainly worked as an engineer [4].

Drummer Henry Feuerstein: The drummer is an example of the many men who served without leaving many traces in the public records. We know that he enlisted in September 1861 at New York and mustered in as a drummer. His age is given as 25 years. He didn’t stay long with the army, though: on March 1, 1862, he deserted at Hunter’s Chapel near Fairfax Court House, where Blenker’s division was stationed for winter quarters. There is a possibility that he is identical with the Henry Feuerstein who arrived in November 1852 at New York on the steamer Atlas. Hailing from Drulingen in the Alsace, at the time a largely German-speaking part of France, this man later ended up in Colorado, where he worked as a farmer and raised a family with three children [5].

1st Lt. William R. Parnell: Born 1836 in Ireland, Parnell joined the British army and participated in the famous Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. He went to the USA in 1860 and, when the war broke out, joined the 4th New York Cavalry as 1st Lt. After the action at Annandale, he was promoted to Captain and continued to distinguish himself as an audacious fighter. He was heavily wounded and captured at the cavalry battle at Upperville on June 21, 1863, but managed to escape from the Confederate prison and rejoined the army. After the Civil War, he stayed in the army and participated in campaigns against Native American tribes, where he earned a Medal of Honor. He died in San Francisco in 1910 [6].

Why did it matter?

The winter of 1861/62 saw an “obstinate petite-guerre of picket fighting” in the no-mans-land west of the Potomac. Both the Union and the Confederate high command were unwilling to commit themselves to a real battle, but both kept up a low-level probing and show of aggression. This early in the war, the press covered even the small skirmishes and careers could be made or destroyed by the outcome of such actions [7].

For the men of the 45st New York, as for many others mustered in after Bull Run, it was their first taste of war. The constant skirmishing was dangerous and exhausting. Some, like Haxthausen and Feuerstein, discovered that soldiering was not for them. Others, like Parnell, found it exhilarating. Most adapted to their new lives and learned to work together and to rely on each other.

However, fault lines already began to show. Germans had a mixed reputation – they were rumored to be boisterous and to love beer too much – and there was prejudice against them among American born soldiers. The report by Brig. Gen. Newton, whose brigade provided pickets alongside those of the 45th New York, raised doubts about the courage of the “German pickets of Blenker’s division”. He claimed that the Germans ran without firing a shot and insinuated that their pickets were drunk [8]. This, however, smacks of slander. There is no reason to doubt Blenker’s report, which is coherent in its details. Also, Newton obviously wanted to shift the blame for the embarrassing incident from his brigade, as the whole picket post of one of his regiments (the 31st New York) was found asleep and his own brigade also lost two men captured.

The Scenario


The unfinished railroad to the southwest of the map forms a shallow ravine. The gentle hill to the north of the turnpike does not form much of an obstacle, but blocks LOS. The barricades blocking the Little River Turnpike count as light cover and a minor obstacle.

The Union Primary Deployment Point is on the eastern edge of the table at Cox’s Farm, while the Union Secondary Deployment Point is placed on the Turnpike directly behind the barricades.

The Confederates have three deployment points: one on the turnpike, one on the unfinished railroad and one on the northerwestern edge of the board.

Victory Conditions

This is an encounter battle. To win, reduce the opponent’s Force Morale to 2 or less.

Special Rules

Pickets: Union Leader 1 and the Union skirmishers can only be deployed at the Secondary Deployment Point. No other units may be deployed there. If the Secondary Deployment Point is lost before all skirmishers are deployed, they are considered lost. Roll on the Bad Things Happen table for “Loss of Support Option”.

Reenforcements: At the start of the game, the Union player has only the Leader 1 card and the flags in the deck. After turn two, roll 1D6 for each of the other two Leaders. On a 4+, his card is added to the deck. Next turn, the target number is reduced to 3+, then to 2+ and, at the end of turn five, if any Leader is not yet in the deck, he will be added automatically.

Coordinated Strike: Before the game, the Confederate player must assign each of his Leaders to one Deployment Point. No other Leader may use this Deployment Point. The Confederate Cavalry must also enter the table mounted. It may do so at any gait.


As always, stats are given for TooFatLardies’ Sharp Practice.

Union: 2x Skirmishers (Leader 1, musician), 3x 45th NY (Leader 2), 1x 4th NY Cavalry (Leader 3)

Confederates: 4x 6th Virginia Cavalry (Leader 1, Leader 2, Leader 3)

Unit Rosters

[1] Halpin, William J. „A German Regiment in the Civil War: The 45th New York State Volunteer Infantry ‚5th German Rifles‘“. Military Images 21, Nr. 5 (2000): 20–23.

[2] Longacre, Edward G.: Lee’s Cavalrymen. A History of the Mounted Forces of the Army of Northern Virginia. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole 2002, pp. 51-62.

[3] OR 5, pp. 451-455; National Republican, December 4, 1861; New York Times, December 29, 1861; The Union army. A History of Military Affairs in the Loyal States, 1861-65. Volume V. Cyclopedia of Battles. Madison, Wis.: Federal Publishing Company 1908, p. 32. See also Longacre: Lee’s Cavalrymen, p. 60. For Haxthausen, see the records on His career as a newspaper editor in Texas is briefly mentioned in a city of Houston report:


[5] New York Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts, accessed via See also the Petition for Naturalization, which can be found at

[6] O’Neill, Robert: “William Parnell – A Forgotten Hero,” online at

[7] Cooke, John E.: Wearing of the Gray. Being Personal Portraits, Scenes and Adventures of the War. New York: E.B. Treat & Co. 1867, p. 194.; Poland, Charles P. Jr.: The Glories of War. Small Battles and Early Heroes of 1861. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse 2006, pp. 89-116. Parnell’s courageous behaviour during the skirmish at Annandale was reported in the National Republican, as was his promotion to captain. See National Republican, December 9, 1861.

[8] OR 5, p. 455.

Authority in a Citizen Army

Where does authority come from? In a regular army, authority is bestowed upon officers and non-commissioned officers by their rank. The rank is conferred by appointment. There are usually clear rules and laws governing appointment and promotion. Disregarding or undermining the authority of officers, for example by insubordination, is punished severely.

However, the Union Army was, for the most part, not a regular army – it was a volunteer army. And volunteers had ideas about authority that, in many cases, were incompatible with army regulations.

Lt. Col. Nathan Goff

Take, for example, the officers of the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry. In February 1863, their well-regarded Colonel Nelson Viall resigned because of an ongoing conflict with the state’s governor. Viall had been the regiment’s lieutenant colonel and became colonel when the former colonel, Frank Wheaton, was promoted to Brigadier General. Now everyone expected the current lieutenant colonel, Nathan Goff, Jr., to be promoted to the vacant position. To the officers’ suprise, a men from outside the regiment arrived to take command: Col. Horatio Rogers, former commander of the 11th Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry.

The officers were angry and told Rogers that they were “opposed to having him come to us as Colonel”. [1] This could be construed as a clear case of insubordination – the officers did not accept the authority of Rogers, who had been promoted by the Governor of Rhode Island, as was his prerogative in his state’s volunteer regiment.

Col. Horatio Rogers

What did Rogers do? It may be surprising to learn that he did not invoke his authority as bestowed upon him by his rank and his lawful appointment. On the contrary: he called all the officers into his tent and told them that, if they did not want him, he would send Lt. Col. Goff back to the governor with a request that he be made colonel and that Rogers would return to his old regiment. Every officer of the 2nd Rhode Island signed the request.

Was this weak leadership? Did Rogers undermine his own authority by bowing to the whims of his subordinates and allowing each and every officer of the regiment to state in writing that he was not liked here?

Interestingly, the opposite was the case. The officers immediately seemed to have changed their opinion of Rogers:

Colonel Rogers is a splendid fellow, and we like him already. If Goff cannot be our Colonel I had rather have Rogers than any other outside man I know. His generous conduct towards Lt. Col. Goff has made him many friends among the officers already. Instead of making a great show of authority, he was very mild in his manners and it has had a good effect.


It is tempting to see Rogers’ “surprise” over the unpopularity of his promotion as play-acting and his request to the governor as a trick – as the regiment’s quarrel with the governor was well known, it is not unlikely that Rogers was informed about the situation before he joined the 2nd Rhode Island. Perhaps he also knew or suspected that the governor would not grant his request to promote Goff. Because this is what happened: The Governor declined the wish of the officers and Rogers stayed in command of the regiment. But the men now accepted him, especially after he showed conspicious bravery at the Battle of Salem Church two months later.

However, the important thing is why exactely this strategy worked so well for him. And the reason is that Rogers’ actions directly referred to the tradition of officer elections.

For the political ideology of the American citizen-soldier, electing military officers was a key concept. [3] As citizen-soldiers served temporarily and voluntarily, they wanted to base their submissison to authority on a democratic procedure. Elections, so the thinking went, would provide a mutual contract between officers and subordinates: it would keep tyrannical inclinations among the superiors in check while, at the same time, make sure the soldiers followed the officers as they themselves had voluntarily put them into their position of authority.

At the beginning of the war, most of the companies and regiments elected their officers. Soon drawbacks of this system became appearant: Often, not the most competent, but the most popular men were elected, and officers were reluctant to order their men to do unpleasant tasks so as not to lose their consent. From 1862 on, there was what Andrew Bledsoe has called an increasing “regularization” of the citizen army and its methods as well as its culture were brought closer into line with the regular army. However, the ideology of the citizen-soldier never completely vanished. Promotion by election became rarer, but some regiments kept the procedure until the end of the war.

Men from the 2nd RI Infantry

While the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry did not hold a proper election in February 1863, it is clear that Col. Rogers signaled his intent to bow to the will of his subordinates as if the army was a democratic institution. No matter that this did not change the situation – it seems that the important thing was the show of intent. This, in the eyes of his subordinates, made him one of them, a citizen that served voluntarily in an army of equals and who denounced all tyrannical pretensions.

Of course, not all officers were as skilled as Col. Rogers in navigating the complicated social and cultural challenges of leading politically astute citizens to war. Civil War officers North and South used a variety of methods to assert authority, among them coercion, conspicious courage, a show of competence and personal bonds to their men. At the same time, subordinates used different ways to resist their superiors’ authority, such as arguments and complaints, petitions to army headquarters or civic authorities, refusal to work, violence and resignation (in the case of officers) or desertion (in the case of common soldiers). [4] In the citizen armies of the American Civil War, authority was always contested.

[1] Rhodes, Robert Hunt (ed.): All for the Union. The Civil War Diary and Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes. New York: Random House 1992, p. 91.

[2] Rhodes: All for the Union, p. 92.

[3] Bledsoe, Andrew S.: Citizen-Officers. The Union and Confederate Volunteer Junior Officer Corps in the American Civil War. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press 2015, p. 13.

[4] For the Union army, the variety of struggles about authority has been masterfully analysed by Foote, Lorien: The Gentlemen and the Roughs. Manhood, Honor, and Violence in the Union Army. New York: New York University Press 2010.