The dancing master in the bomb-proof

Gen. Edward Ferraro, a New York dancing master turned politically-appointed Union general, nominally commanded the troops who defended Fort Sanders.

In fact, Ferraro didn’t lead anyone but spent the battle for the fort in his bomb-proof shelter along the north wall. And so dutifully reported Lt. Benjamin, who had, in fact, led the defense of the fort, in his after-action report to Gen. Burnside.

Burnside later promoted Benjamin to captain and made him chief of artillery for the Ninth Corps. Unfortunately, Burnside took no action against Ferraro who subsequently repeated his disgraceful performance at the Battle of the Crater, according to Volume II, Chapter XXVIII of Military Reminiscences of The Civil War by Jacob Dolson Cox, former commander of the Twenty-Third Army Corps and a post-war governor of Ohio.

Cox was writing about Burnside when he mentioned Ferraro (though not by name) as an example of Burnside’s “suffering from faults of subordinates whom his kind heart had permitted to retain important positions for which they were not fit….

“When acting immediately under his eye, he could give them energy and courage which they would lack when left to themselves. The sore spot in his experience in 1864 was the failure to make full use of the explosion of the mine at Petersburg, and the Court of Inquiry made it clear that the fault lay with inefficient subordinates.

“One of the most prominent of these was said to have stayed in a bomb-proof instead of leading his command. But the same officer had done the same thing in Fort Sanders at Knoxville, as had been officially reported by Captain Benjamin, the Chief of Artillery; and Benjamin was an officer of such military and personal standing that a court-martial should certainly have investigated the case. A mistaken leniency brought bitter fruit.”

Thus, in the novel I felt justified in having the fictional Sergeant Timothy Chase of the Twenty-Ninth Massachusetts joke with his Boston friend Private Manning during the fight that Gen. Ferraro was nowhere in sight because he was hiding out in his bomb-proof and add that, later, as in fact Ferraro did, he would write an after-action report full of errors.

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About Dick Stanley

Retired Texas daily newspaperman
This entry was posted in Fort Sanders, Gen. Ambrose Burnside, Samuel Nicoll Benjamin, Twenty-Ninth Massachusetts and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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