Charged up to fight: 4th Maine Battery rolls toward Cedar Mountain — Part II

A rare Civil War photograph captures the unsmiling visage of Capt. O'Neil W. Robinson Jr. (seated third from left). A Bethel attorney, Robinson lobbied for a senior command position in autumn 1861. He got the 4th Maine Battery. In the few photos of Robinson, he always presented a serious expression. This photograph was taken by Alexander Gardner. (Library of Congress)

A rare Civil War photograph captures the unsmiling visage of Capt. O’Neil W. Robinson Jr. (seated third from left). A Bethel attorney, Robinson lobbied for a senior command position in autumn 1861. He got the 4th Maine Battery. In the few photos of Robinson, he always presented a serious expression. This photograph was taken by Alexander Gardner. (Library of Congress)

After catching a few winks at their camp north of Culpeper, Va. on Aug. 9, 1862, the gunners of the 4th Maine Battery got up and tended to their horses, cannons, and equipment. Led by Capt. O’Neil W. Robinson Jr. of Bethel, the Maine artillerymen expected to “see the elephant” (experience their first battle) on this hot Saturday.

The battery belonged to the 2nd Brigade (Brig. Gen. Henry Prince) of the 2nd Division (Brig. Gen. Christopher C. Augur) of the II Corps commanded by Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks. The 4th Maine gunners had hitched up their horses around 7:30-8 a.m. As the rising sun beat down on the suffering animals, Robinson sent a lieutenant to ask Henry Prince for orders.

“When I have orders for Captain Robinson, I will send them,” Prince snarled in response.

Brig. Gen. Henry Prince commanded the 2nd Brigade to which the 4th Maine Battery was assigned. On Saturday, Aug. 9, 1862, with his brigade in hearing distance of the Battle of Cedar Mountain, Prince inexplicably arrested the battery's commander, Capt. O'Neil W. Robinson Jr. Prince freed Robinson just 30 minutes later, moments before the brigade went into action. (Library of Congress)

Brig. Gen. Henry Prince commanded the 2nd Brigade to which the 4th Maine Battery was assigned. On Saturday, Aug. 9, 1862, with his brigade in hearing distance of the Battle of Cedar Mountain, Prince inexplicably arrested the battery’s commander, Capt. O’Neil W. Robinson Jr. Prince freed Robinson just 30 minutes later, moments before the brigade went into action. (Library of Congress)

Angered by the brusque response, Robinson ordered his “horses … unharnessed and taken by the drivers to a field some distance away to graze” around 9 a.m., said Corp. Judson Ames of Foxcroft. Then, quietly spreading his one-star peacock’s fan, Prince suddenly sent a courier to Robinson with orders to limber up. The 4th Maine’s drivers hustled the hungry horses back to camp and re-harnessed them.

Prince took his brigade toward Cedar Mountain shortly before noon. Robinson took the 4th Maine Battery “through Culpeper … at a trot,” according to Ames. With artillery fire thudding in the distance, the gunners maneuvered their caissons, cannons, limbers, and wagons along the Culpeper Road, “crowded with troops of all kinds with their ammunition and baggage wagons hurrying to the front.”

“The day was intensely hot,” Ames realized. “The dust was so thick and suffocating that at times it was difficult to get our breath.” The gunners (many of whom walked) passed many Union soldiers “lying by the road completely prostrated and others suffering from sun stroke.”

The 4th Maine Battery “halted in a piece of woods nearly a mile in the rear of our line” skirmishing with Confederates near Cedar Mountain, Ames exhaled in the slightly cooler air beneath the trees.

Cedar Mountain is an approximately 800-foot monadnock rising from the Piedmont about 8 miles southwest of Culpeper, Va. Confederate and Union troops battled here in ferocious heat on Saturday, Aug. 9, 1862. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

Cedar Mountain is an approximately 800-foot monadnock rising from the Piedmont about 8 miles southwest of Culpeper, Va. Confederate and Union troops battled here in ferocious heat on Saturday, Aug. 9, 1862. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

Combat photographer Timothy O'Sullivan captured Cedar Mountain from a slightly different angle in August 1862. Confederate artillery on the mountainside blasted Union forces battling Confederate troops in the corn fields and woods north of the mountain. (Library of Congress)

Combat photographer Timothy O’Sullivan captured Cedar Mountain from a slightly different angle in August 1862. Confederate artillery on the mountainside blasted Union forces battling Confederate troops in the corn fields and woods north of the mountain. (Library of Congress)

Relaxing in the shade, Prince’s men filled their canteens in the North Branch of Cedar Run.

Then Henry Prince “placed Captain Robinson under arrest for some reason, the exact nature of which was never clearly understood,” the stunned Ames learned.

The 4th Maine Battery had not “seen the elephant” since arriving in Virginia four months past. But now the elephant, as represented by “Stonewall” Jackson and his Confederate troops, approached from the Rapidan River, and the 4th Maine boys had just lost their captain.

Confederate artillery thudded intermittently in the distance as Prince pondered the punishment he should inflict on Robinson. Echoing hostile thunder reminded the petulant general of the close proximity of his 2nd Brigade to enemy soldiers; 30 minutes after arresting Robinson, Prince inexplicably released him.

Before he took the 4th Maine Battery to war, Capt. O'Neil Robinson Jr. acquired and signed this copy of the 1861 "Revised U.S. Army Regulations." (Courtesy of Bedford Hayes)

Before he took the 4th Maine Battery to war, Capt. O’Neil Robinson Jr. acquired and signed this copy of the 1861 “Revised U.S. Army Regulations.” (Courtesy of Bedford Hayes)

Then up rode a courier on a sweating, wild-eyed horse; handing a folded paper to Prince, the courier saluted and rode away. Christopher Augur wanted the 4th Maine Battery sent “to relieve … the battery on the hill nearby,” according to Prince.

Robinson steered his battery “across an open field about a half mile” to pull up “behind some hay stacks at the [Robert] Hudson house on the north side of the Mitchell Station road,” said Judson Ames. From its intersection with the Culpeper Road, the Mitchell Station Road ran southeast past Cedar Mountain.

Near the two-story, wood-framed Hudson House rose a slight hill occupied by Union artillery. Throughout the morning the gunners of Pennsylvania Independent Battery E of 1st Lt. Joseph Knap) had dueled with Confederate gunners hidden in trees on the northern slope of Cedar Mountain, about a mile due south.

Next week: Charged up to fight: 4th Maine Battery “sees the elephant” at Cedar Mountain — Part III

Brian Swartz can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net. He loves hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.

Brian Swartz

About Brian Swartz

Welcome to "Maine at War," the blog about the roles played by Maine and her sons and daughters in the Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Maine sent hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country in the 1860s. “Maine at War” introduces these heroes and heroines, who, for the most part, upheld the state's honor during that terrible conflict. We tour the battlefields where they fought, and we learn about the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it. Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jibe with Civil War reality. I can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net.