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

Terrain

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.

Forces

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 fold3.com. His career as a newspaper editor in Texas is briefly mentioned in a city of Houston report: https://www.houstontx.gov/planning/HistoricPres/landmarks/PLM_2120_Sabine_St.pdf

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_W._Field

[5] New York Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts, accessed via fold3.com. See also the Petition for Naturalization, which can be found at https://de.findagrave.com/memorial/57045941/henry-feuerstein.

[6] O’Neill, Robert: “William Parnell – A Forgotten Hero,” online at https://smallbutimportantriots.com/2016/08/05/william-parnell-a-forgotten-hero/

[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.

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