Jeb Stuart’s Fateful Raid

June 23, 1863 – Confederate Major General Jeb Stuart planned to atone for his near-defeat at Brandy Station, but he disrupted General Robert E. Lee’s campaign in the process.

Confederate General Jeb Stuart | Image Credit: Flickr.com

As Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia moved north from the Shenandoah Valley into Maryland and Pennsylvania, Lee expected Stuart’s cavalry to screen the infantry’s right, led by Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Second Corps. However, Lieutenant General James Longstreet suggested to Lee that it might be better if Stuart rode around the Army of the Potomac a third time, which could divert Federal attention from the northern invasion.

Lee was informed that Federal forces had reached Edwards’s Ferry on the Potomac River. This meant that the Federal army was heading north from Fredericksburg, separating Lee’s army in the Shenandoah Valley from Stuart. Based on this, Lee issued discretionary orders to Stuart on the 23rd:

“If General (Joseph) Hooker’s army remains inactive, you can leave two brigades to watch him, and withdraw with the three others, but should he not appear to be moving northward, I think you had better withdraw this side of the mountain tomorrow night, cross at Shepherdstown the next day, and move over to Fredericktown. You will, however, be able to judge whether you can pass around their army without hindrance, doing them all the damage you can, and cross the river east of the mountains. In either case, after crossing the river, you must move on and feel the right of Ewell’s troops, collecting information, provisions, etc. Be watchful and circumspect in all your movements.”

Stuart interpreted these vague orders as permission for him to ride around the Federal army before crossing the Potomac east of Edwards’s Ferry and rejoining Ewell’s troops as they entered Pennsylvania. In the coming days, he would take little heed of Lee’s warning to immediately rejoin the army if he encountered any hindrance or delay.

The next morning, Stuart directed two brigades under Generals William “Grumble” Jones and Beverly Robertson to guard Lee’s supply train as it passed through Ashby’s and Snickers’s gaps in the Blue Ridge. The troopers were to stay behind “as long as the enemy remains in your front.” Stuart’s three remaining brigades under Generals Wade Hampton, Fitzhugh Lee, and Rooney Lee were to assemble at Salem Depot, Virginia, and prepare to ride east, between the Federals and Washington, in a ride around Hooker’s army.

Stuart received vital intelligence from partisan leader John S. Mosby that the Federal army was spread out and therefore vulnerable to an enemy cavalry raid. However, the improved Federal cavalry did a better job of masking the Federals’ exact location. Also, Hooker had an idea that Stuart might try such a move. He knew the southern press had harshly criticized Stuart for being surprised at Brandy Station, and Major General Daniel Butterfield, Hooker’s chief of staff, predicted that the flamboyant cavalry commander might “do something to retrieve his reputation.”

Stuart and his three brigades rode out at 1 a.m. on the 25th, heading east toward the Bull Run Mountains. That night, the Confederates unexpectedly found Major General Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps blocking their path. Rather than return west as Lee had advised if he met with any “hindrance,” Stuart turned southeast, putting the Bull Run Mountains, the Blue Ridge, and the Federal army between his horsemen and the rest of Lee’s army.

The troopers covered 23 miles on the 26th, en route to Fairfax Court House. They clashed with Federal cavalry units there the next day, sending them fleeing and taking some prisoners before seizing a large amount of supplies. After resting a few hours, the Confederates began crossing the Potomac into Maryland that night. By this time, Stuart was several hours behind schedule and cut off from Lee’s right flank that he was supposed to protect.

Stuart’s troopers completed their Potomac crossing on the 28th and entered Rockville, Maryland. There they captured 900 mules, 400 men, and 125 wagons filled with food for man and beast. Stuart opted not to try closing the distance between his force and Ewell’s, figuring he could catch up with them later. But the captured wagons slowed the Confederate pace from 40 to 25 miles per day. Stuart’s men left Rockville and rode all night into Pennsylvania, cutting telegraph lines and wrecking railroad tracks along the way.

The Confederates destroyed tracks on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad at Hood’s Mill, Maryland, and cut more telegraph lines on the 29th. By this time, they had ranged far and wide to the right of the Federal army. Stuart moved on to Westminster around 12 p.m., where his troopers fought off a surprise Federal cavalry attack from the 1st Delaware. The Confederates then fed their horses and rested.

Stuart rode north on the 30th and arrived at Hanover, Pennsylvania, around 10 a.m. A Federal cavalry division under Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick was already there, and Stuart’s troopers attacked one of Kilpatrick’s brigades led by Brigadier General Elon Farnsworth. The fierce fighting included hand-to-hand combat in the town streets. The Federals nearly captured Stuart before he raced off and jumped a 15-foot-wide gully to escape.

The Federals sustained 215 casualties (19 killed, 73 wounded, and 123 missing), while the Confederates lost 117 (nine killed, 50 wounded, and 58 missing). This engagement delayed Stuart from rejoining Lee’s army even further. Stuart tried riding west to rejoin Lee, but the growing Federal presence in Pennsylvania prevented him. He was also slowed by the long line of captured wagons and prisoners.

Stuart hoped to link with Ewell at York, but when he arrived that night, he learned that Ewell had hurriedly moved to Gettysburg. The exhausted Confederate cavalry continued on before finally stopping for the night at Dover. Meanwhile, Lee’s army was now marching blindly through enemy territory.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 25-26, 72-73; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 296-97; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 441; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 315-19; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5806, 5818; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 727-28; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 371, 373; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 648-49; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 307-09

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Confederates Invade Pennsylvania

June 20, 1863 – Federal and Confederate cavalries dueled as the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia entered Pennsylvania and panic gripped the region.

With a full-scale Confederate invasion now imminent, Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin and Major General Darius N. Couch, commanding the Department of the Susquehanna, frantically called for 30-day militia volunteers. However, Curtin could not accept blacks because, under Federal law, they could only be inducted in the Federal army, not the state militia, and only for three years’ service, not 30 days.

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton initially directed Couch “to receive into service any volunteer troops that may be offered, without regard to color,” but then he realized the political trouble with recruiting blacks and told Couch that in case of “any dispute about the matter, it will be better to send no more. It is well to avoid all controversy in the present juncture, as the troops can be well used elsewhere.”

Maj Gen Alfred Pleasonton | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

In northern Virginia, Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton’s Federal Cavalry Corps continued challenging the Confederate horsemen under Major General Jeb Stuart east of the Blue Ridge. Stuart had no infantry support, as the rest of the Confederate army had gone west into the Shenandoah Valley en route to Pennsylvania. After a day’s delay due to rain, the Federals again pressed their counterparts, driving Stuart back eight miles to Upperville. The Confederates withdrew through Ashby’s Gap in the Blue Ridge around 6 p.m.

The opposing cavalries had fought intermittently since the 16th, during which time the Federals lost 613 men while inflicting 510 casualties on the enemy. These engagements boosted Federal confidence and made Stuart seem less invincible. However, Pleasonton could not gather much intelligence based on these skirmishes, except to inform Major General Joseph Hooker, commanding the Army of the Potomac, that the Confederates were moving into the Shenandoah Valley.

As the Confederates marched through the narrow section of western Maryland, General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia, issued General Order No. 72. This outlined how the army was to behave in enemy territory. The order was politically motivated, as Lee hoped to demonstrate his men’s high morality to foreign nations considering whether to recognize Confederate independence.

Gen Robert E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Lee directed that “no private property shall be injured or destroyed by any person belonging to or connected with the army, or taken, excepting by officers hereinafter designated,” namely, members of the “commissary, quartermaster’s, ordnance, and medical departments.”

Property owners deprived of their goods must “be paid the market price for the articles furnished.” If property owners refused to accept Confederate money (which was nearly worthless), they were to be given receipts noting the property taken and its current market value.

Lee then declared, “If any person shall remove or conceal property necessary for the use of the army, or attempt to do so, the officers hereinbefore mentioned will cause such property, and all other property belonging to such person that may be required by the army, to be seized…”

On the 22nd, the vanguard of Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Confederate Second Corps, consisting of Major General Robert Rodes’s infantry and Brigadier General Albert G. Jenkins’s cavalry, crossed the Pennsylvania border around 10 a.m. and advanced through Greencastle. Lee instructed Ewell:

“I think your best course will be toward the Susquehanna (River), taking the route by Emmitsburg, Chambersburg, and McConnellsburg… It will depend upon the quantity of supplies obtained in that country whether the rest of the army can follow. There may be enough for your command, but none for the others. If Harrisburg comes within your means, capture it.”

The “progress and directions” of Ewell’s advance were to be determined by the “development of circumstances.” Lee then sent discretionary orders to Stuart:

“I fear he (Hooker) will steal a march on us, and get across the Potomac before we are aware. If you find he is moving northward, and that two brigades can guard the Blue Ridge and take care of your rear, you can move with the other three into Maryland, and take position on General Ewell’s right.”

Lee sent an official order the next day, “which I wish you to see it strictly complied with.” The order went through Lieutenant General James Longstreet, whom Stuart was screening, and Longstreet added a suggestion that instead of joining Ewell, which could expose Lee’s entire movement, Stuart should ride around the rear of the Federal army. Lee approved, with the stipulation that once Hooker crossed the Potomac, Stuart “must immediately cross himself and take his place on our right flank.”

Late that night, Hooker received intelligence from Pleasonton that Longstreet’s corps was at Winchester, with Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s following. The next day, Ewell’s advance into Pennsylvania continued, with Major General Jubal Early’s division approaching Chambersburg.

Early ordered the destruction of the nearby Caledonia Iron Works. The works were owned by Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, a Radical Republican leader who despised slavery and called for subjugating the Confederate states. When the foreman argued that the company only operated to provide housing and jobs for the locals, Early replied, “Yankees don’t do business that way. They carry on their operations to make money.”

As Early later stated, the Confederates burned all the buildings because the Federals “invariably burned such works in the South wherever they had penetrated.” Early also admitted that he destroyed the works because “in some speeches in Congress Mr. Stevens had exhibited a vindictive spirit toward the people in the South.”

Longstreet began crossing the Potomac on the 24th at Shepherdstown and Williamsport. The main part of Ewell’s corps was at Hagerstown, Maryland, with his lead elements at Chambersburg and poised to continue to the Susquehanna River.

Hooker still could not confirm whether Lee’s movement indicated a northern invasion. He notified General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck that he would, “with all the force I can muster, strike for his line of retreat in the direction of Richmond.” However, Hooker soon received intelligence that Confederates were in force at Shepherdstown.

He dispatched Major General Oliver O. Howard’s XI Corps to Edwards’s Ferry, marking his first major move toward the Potomac. Confused by all the conflicting reports, Hooker then asked Halleck to send him orders because “outside of the Army of the Potomac I don’t know whether I am standing on my head or feet.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 25-26, 28; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 296; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 442; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 313-15; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5842; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 370-71; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 649; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q263

Vicksburg: Federal Operations

June 18, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant continued his relentless siege, and he also finally removed one of his troublesome commanders.

Maj Gen J.A. McClernand | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The tedium of the ongoing siege gave Grant time to address a longstanding problem with one of his commanders, Major General John A. McClernand of XIII Corps. McClernand was a former politician who had gained his position through political connections rather than military experience. Grant had long sought to remove McClernand but refrained due to his popularity in the North and his ability to get Democratic support for the war.

In mid-June, Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr., commanding a division in Major General William T. Sherman’s XV Corps, discovered an article in the Memphis Evening Bulletin that included a congratulatory order issued by McClernand to his men for their valiant efforts in the Second Battle of Vicksburg on May 22. The order itself was not improper, but McClernand then went further:

“How and why the general assault failed, it would be useless now to explain. The Thirteenth army corps, acknowledging the good intentions of all, would scorn indulgence in weak regrets and idle criminations. According justice to all, it would only defend itself. If while the enemy was massing to crush it, assistance was asked for a diversion at other points or by reinforcement, it only asked what, in one case, Maj. Gen. Grant had specifically and peremptorily ordered, namely, simultaneous and persistent attacks all along our lines, until the enemy’s outer works should be carried: and what in the other by massing a strong force in time upon a weakened point, would have probably insured success.”

This implied that the defeat had been caused by Grant and his other two corps commanders failing to do enough to support McClernand’s men. McClernand compounded his poor judgment by sending this order to newspapers politically friendly to him, without first sending it through the commanding officer per army regulations. Thus, neither Grant nor anyone else outside McClernand’s corps knew about the order until Blair found it two weeks later.

Sherman sent the article to Grant, calling it an outrage to the rest of the army and “an effusion of vain-glory and hypocrisy.” In fact, it was so offensive that Sherman, who had served under McClernand in the Fort Hindman campaign, initially believed that he had neither written it, “Nor can I believe General McClernand ever published such an order officially to his corps. I know too well that the brave and intelligent soldiers and officers who compose that corps will not be humbugged by such stuff.”

Sherman added that the order, if real, was not intended for the troops, but rather to convince the voters back home that McClernand was “the sagacious leader and bold hero he so complacently paints himself.” Major General James B. McPherson, commanding XVII Corps, called the order an effort “to impress the public mind with the magnificent strategy, superior tactics and brilliant deeds” of McClernand.

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

Grant was reminded of the War Department directive “which actually forbids the publication of all official letters and reports, and requires the name of the writer to be laid before the President of the United States for dismissal.” He sent the newspaper article to McClernand with a message:

“Inclosed I send you what purports to be your congratulatory address to the Thirteenth Army Corps. I would respectfully ask if it is a true copy. If it is not a correct copy, furnish me one by bearer, as required both by regulations and existing orders of the Department.”

McClernand replied, “The newspaper slip is a correct copy of my congratulatory order, No 72. I am prepared to maintain its statements. I regret that my adjutant did not send you a copy promptly, as he ought, and I thought he had.” Noting that all of McClernand’s orders had gone through the proper channels without incident except this one, Grant immediately issued a directive:

“Major General John A. McClernand is hereby relieved of command of the Thirteenth Army Corps. He will proceed to any point he may select in the state of Illinois and report by letter to Headquarters of the Army for orders.”

Grant assigned Lieutenant Colonel James H. Wilson, the army’s chief engineer who happened to despise McClernand, to deliver the order. Wilson arrived at McClernand’s headquarters at 3 a.m. and woke the general. When he finally read the message, McClernand, knowing that Wilson hated him, invoked a pun: “Well, sir, I am relieved. By God, sir, we are both relieved!”

McClernand quickly wrote a reply: “Having been appointed by the President to command of that corps, under a definite act of Congress, I might justly challenge your authority in the premises, but forbear to do so at present.” Grant did not acknowledge this veiled threat, but he did address McClernand’s official report on the Battle of Vicksburg, which he submitted just before being relieved:

“This report contains so many inaccuracies that to correct it, to make it a fair report to be handed down as historical, would require the rewriting of most of it. It is pretentious and egotistical, as is sufficiently shown by my own and all other reports accompanying.”

Grant replaced McClernand with Major General E.O.C. Ord, a Regular army officer. McClernand spent the rest of the year lobbying General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and President Abraham Lincoln for reinstatement. Lincoln finally returned him to command of XIII Corps in early 1864, after the corps had been transferred to the Department of the Gulf.

Meanwhile, the siege inexorably continued. Federals spent two days digging a tunnel under a Confederate redan north of the road to Jackson. The tunnel was 45 feet long and included three 15-foot passageways. Gunpowder was packed at the end of each passageway, totaling 2,200 pounds, with the intent to blow a hole in the Confederate defenses. The gunpowder was detonated on the 25th. The explosion created a large crater in the ground, but the Confederates had expected the blast and pulled back. They easily repelled the ensuing Federal charge.

Federal artillery on land and on the Mississippi continued bombarding Vicksburg around the clock, and Federal troops inched closer to the Confederate defenses each day. Vicksburg residents and Confederate troops faced starvation as the Federals cut all supply lines and guarded all approaches to and from the city. Grant wrote Sherman about rumors from the Confederate lines:

“Strong faith is expressed by some in (General Joseph E.) Johnston’s coming to their relief. (They) cannot believe they have been so wicked as for Providence to allow the loss of their stronghold of Vicksburg. Their principal faith seems to be in Providence and Joe Johnston.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 295; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 414, 421-22, 424; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 313, 316; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 136-37, 147-49; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 368; Simon, John Y., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 456-57

Hooker Pursues Lee in Earnest

June 16, 1863 – General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia continued crossing the Potomac River, as Federal cavalry tried uncovering Lee’s plan.

Gen R.E. Lee and Maj Gen J. Hooker | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

After clearing the Federals out of the Shenandoah Valley, the Confederates began crossing the Potomac. Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Second Corps led the way, with Major General Robert Rodes’s division leading the corps. Rodes crossed at Williamsport, Maryland, and waited for the rest of Ewell’s men to follow. By this time, the Army of Northern Virginia stretched 130 miles from Maryland to Chancellorsville.

Ewell’s cavalry under Brigadier General Albert G. Jenkins rode ahead to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where the troopers foraged for supplies. They paid for common goods with Confederate money, but they freely took horses, weapons, and black people. Most blacks taken were sent south into slavery, even those who had never been slaves. A Chambersburg newspaper reported that Jenkins’s troopers “went to the part of the town occupied by the colored population, and kidnapped all they could find, from the child in the cradle up to men and women of 50 years of age.”

Terror swept through the region. A correspondent noted that the Pennsylvania capital of Harrisburg, northeast of Chambersburg, was gripped by a “perfect panic… Every woman in the place seemed anxious to leave.” Wagons filled with evacuated possessions clogged the streets; state officials grabbed government archives and other valuables to keep from the falling into Confederate hands.

Major General Joseph Hooker, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, was still trying to pinpoint the Confederates’ exact location. As he moved the bulk of his force from Manassas Junction to Fairfax Court House, General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck warned him against “wanton and wasteful destruction of public property.” This admonition seemed to resurrect the bad blood that had existed between Hooker and Halleck since before the war.

Hooker had taken command of the army with the understanding that he would answer directly to the president, not the general-in-chief. As such, he wrote Lincoln, “You have long been aware, Mr. President, that I have not enjoyed the confidence of the major general commanding the army (Halleck), and I can assure you so long as this continues we may look in vain for success.” Lincoln, unimpressed by Hooker’s performance since Lee began moving north, replied:

“You do not lack his confidence in any degree to do you any harm… To remove all misunderstanding, I now place you in the strict military relation to Gen. Halleck, of a commander of one of the armies, to the General-in-Chief of all the armies. I have not intended differently; but as it seems to be differently understood, I shall direct him to give you orders, and you to obey them.”

Regarding Lee’s army, Hooker wired Lincoln that “we can never discover the whereabouts of the enemy, or divine his intentions, so long as he fills the country with a cloud of cavalry. We must break through to find him.” Hooker then directed his cavalry commander, Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton, “Drive in pickets, if necessary, and get us better information. It is better that we should lose men than to be without knowledge of the enemy, as we now seem to be.”

On the morning of the 17th, Hooker specifically instructed Pleasonton to “put the main body of your command in the vicinity of Aldie, and push out reconnaissance towards Winchester, Berryville, and Harpers Ferry” to “obtain information of where the enemy is, his force, and his movements.”

Pleasonton dispatched Colonel Alfred Duffie and the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry to Middleburg and sent a brigade under Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick to Aldie, hoping to catch Major General Jeb Stuart’s Confederate horsemen. Kilpatrick ran into Major General Fitzhugh Lee’s brigade, resulting in a vicious four-hour fight. Kilpatrick gained the advantage, but because he committed his men piecemeal, he could not drive the Confederates from the gaps in the Bull Run Mountains. The Federals withdrew around 7 p.m.

Meanwhile, Duffie was isolated at Middleburg and forced to disperse his regiment. Many of his Federal troopers were captured, with Duffie riding into Centreville the next day with just 84 of his 300 men. Based on these engagements, Pleasonton reported to Hooker that the main Confederate army was now west of the Blue Ridge. However, Major General John Bell Hood’s division of Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s First Corps remained about 10 miles west of Middleburg.

The next day, Pleasonton sought to atone for the losses by sending the 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry under Colonel J. Irwin Gregg to seize Middleburg. Gregg succeeded but then received orders to support the fight at Aldie. The engagement at Aldie resumed when Federal cavalry, strongly supported by infantry, forced Stuart to withdraw. However, Stuart had taken some 400 prisoners along with a large amount of horses and equipment. Confederates also reoccupied Middleburg.

Pleasonton dispatched three brigades under Brigadier General David Gregg to Middleburg and Union. Their goal was to break through the Confederate cavalry and find out once and for all what Lee was doing. Stuart’s horsemen took positions on a ridge west of Middleburg. The Federals attacked, eventually driving the Confederates to another ridge farther west. However, Pleasonton still did not achieve the breakthrough needed to learn Lee’s intentions. He wrote Hooker, “We cannot force the gaps of the Blue Ridge in the presence of a superior force.”

Meanwhile, Hooker continued receiving conflicting reports of Lee’s activity, both from his army and the press. He wired Halleck, “So long as the newspapers continue to give publicity to our movements, we must not expect to gain any advantage over our adversaries. Is there no way of stopping it?” Halleck replied with a touch of sarcasm: “I see no way of preventing it as long as reporters are permitted in our camps. Every general must decide for himself what persons he will permit in his camps.”

During this time, Ewell’s corps completed its Potomac crossing. Lee expressed dissatisfaction that Ewell had not crossed sooner due to rain swelling the river. He wrote Ewell, “Should we be able to detain General Hooker’s army from following you, you would be able to accomplish as much, unmolested, as the whole army could perform with General Hooker in its front.”

Ewell sent his lead elements up the Cumberland Valley toward Chambersburg on the 19th. Longstreet’s corps followed Ewell, moving through Ashby’s and Snicker’s gaps in the Blue Ridge. However, Lee ordered Longstreet to return to the gaps and wait for Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Third Corps upon learning that Stuart was having trouble keeping up the screening movement.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 391; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 25-28, 33-35; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18994; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 295; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9318-29; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 440, 448-49; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 311-13; Hubbell, John T., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 5-6; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 366-69

The Second Battle of Winchester

June 15, 1863 – The vanguard of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia attacked the supposedly impregnable Federal defenses at Winchester, precipitating a Federal disaster.

Gen. Robert Milroy | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Major General Robert H. Milroy’s division within the Federal Middle Department was assigned to protect Winchester and Harpers Ferry in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. As the Confederates approached, Milroy’s immediate superior, Major General Robert C. Schenck, as well as General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, had urged Milroy to abandon Winchester and hold Harpers Ferry. But Milroy insisted that Winchester could be held.

Schenck ultimately left it to Milroy to decide whether to abandon Winchester, and Milroy opted to stay and defend the three forts north and west of town. By the 14th, two divisions from Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Confederate Second Corps, led by Major Generals Edward “Allegheny” Johnson and Jubal Early, were closing in on Winchester from the south, east, and west.

Milroy’s Federals pulled back into the forts. President Abraham Lincoln, seeing the potential for disaster, wired Schenck at Baltimore, “Get Milroy from Winchester to Harpers Ferry if possible. If he remains he will get gobbled up, if he is not already past salvation.”

Johnson feinted from the south and east, while Early positioned his troops to the west. The Confederates brought up 22 guns and began bombarding the forts at 6 p.m. At 6:45, one of Early’s brigades attacked the main fort to the west, while Johnson drove against the two to the north. Early’s men captured one of Milroy’s key earthworks, and the Confederates nearly surrounded the Federals by nightfall.

Meanwhile, the rest of Ewell’s corps, Major General Robert Rodes’s infantry division and Brigadier General Albert G. Jenkins’s cavalry, attacked the 1,500-man Federal garrison at Martinsburg, behind Milroy to the north. Jenkins attacked first; the Federals initially held firm but evacuated as many supplies as possible before being overrun. By the time Rodes’s infantry arrived, many of the Federals had escaped. But the Confederates still took 700 prisoners, along with five guns and a large amount of supplies.

Back at Winchester, Milroy held a council of war at 9 p.m. Surrender was not an option since Milroy was considered an outlaw by the Confederate government and could face execution for his suppression of civilians and his liberation of slaves. The officers agreed to try escaping northeast to Harpers Ferry, via Martinsburg, along the same route Milroy had used last year to elude “Stonewall” Jackson.

The Federals were to move out at 1 a.m., but before they left, they had orders to destroy all the wagons, guns, and supplies they could not take with them. The men began moving toward Stephenson’s Depot, on the Martinsburg Turnpike four miles north of Winchester.

Confederate Lieut Gen Richard Ewell | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Ewell, who had served under “Stonewall” Jackson, anticipated Milroy’s plan and ordered Johnson to block the turnpike at Stephenson’s Depot. This maneuver, which was very difficult to execute in darkness, took five hours. Nevertheless, the Confederates reached the depot around 3 a.m., ahead of the retreating Federals.

During this time, messages were exchanged between Lincoln and Major General Joseph Hooker, commanding the Army of the Potomac. Lincoln asked incredulously, “Do you consider it possible that 15,000 of Ewell’s men can now be at Winchester?” He then asked if Hooker could somehow rescue Milroy. Hooker replied, “I do not feel like making a move for an enemy until I am satisfied as to his whereabouts. To proceed to Winchester and have him make his appearance elsewhere, would subject me to ridicule.”

Lincoln cited Hooker’s own message stating that the corps of both Ewell and Lieutenant General James Longstreet had left Culpeper Court House. If Hooker was right, then, Lincoln wrote, “I should feel sure that Winchester is strongly invested.” Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton then informed Hooker that Ewell’s corps was divided between Martinsburg and Winchester, but Hooker still would not move.

As Milroy’s Federals approached Stephenson’s Depot, they saw the Confederates blocking their path at a bridge. They tried fighting their way through, but rather than use his numerical advantage for one overwhelming assault, Milroy sent his men against the enemy piecemeal. The Confederates scattered the Federals with artillery, and as the sun rose, Milroy ordered them to disperse. They fled in all directions as the Confederates rounded most of them up.

The Federals sustained 443 casualties and lost over 4,000 taken prisoner. Milroy escaped. The Confederates also took 23 guns, 300 wagons, 300 horses, and enormous amounts of supplies while losing just 269 men (47 killed, 219 wounded, and three missing). Ewell’s victory at the Second Battle of Winchester was greater than Jackson’s victory over Nathaniel P. Banks in the first.

This, along with the victory at Martinsburg, cleared the Federals out of the Shenandoah Valley and opened the path for General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia to invade the North. Rodes’s division under Ewell became the first Confederate unit to cross the Potomac River. Jenkins’s Confederate cavalry rode on toward Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, to gather supplies.

A court of inquiry later investigated Milroy’s conduct at Winchester, including his insistence on holding the town and his claim that he could withstand any Confederate attack. The court absolved Milroy of any blame for the fiasco, but he never held a significant command again.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 23-25; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18985; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 294; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 440; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 310-11; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 365-66; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 176; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 307-08, 495-96, 834-35

The Second Battle of Port Hudson

June 14, 1863 – Major General Nathaniel P. Banks launched another doomed assault on the Confederate defenses at Port Hudson, Louisiana, but the Federal siege continued.

The Lincoln administration had long expected Banks and Major General Ulysses S. Grant to join forces and capture both Vicksburg and Port Hudson together. However, the slow trickle of information from the west indicated that the two commanders were conducting separate operations, with Grant besieging Vicksburg and Banks besieging Port Hudson. General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck finally wrote Banks, the ranking commander, asking him to confirm this revelation:

“The newspapers state that your forces are moving on Port Hudson instead of co-operating with General Grant, leaving the latter to fight both (General Joseph E.) Johnston and (Lieutenant General John C.) Pemberton. As this is so contrary to all your instructions, and so opposed to military principles, I can hardly believe it true.”

This was confirmed to be true later that day when Halleck received a bundle of letters from Banks indicating that he was indeed advancing southeast from Alexandria to attack Port Hudson. Banks responded to Halleck’s reprimand the next day:

“If I defend New Orleans and its adjacent territory, the enemy will go against Grant. If I go with a force sufficient to aid him (bypassing Port Hudson), my rear will be seriously threatened. My force is not large enough to do both. Under these circumstances, my only course seems to be to carry this post as soon as possible, and then to join General Grant…”

Banks’s Federal Army of the Gulf spent the next week strengthening its siege lines surrounding Major General Franklin Gardner’s Confederates at Port Hudson. Banks had enjoyed strong naval support from the Mississippi River since his campaign began, but Rear Admiral David G. Farragut, commanding the naval fleet, warned him on the 11th that “we have been bombarding this place for five weeks, and we are now upon our last 500 shells, so that it will not be in my power to bombard more than three or four hours each night, at intervals of five minutes…”

During this time, Confederate deserters coming into the Federal lines claimed their former comrades had “about five days’ beef” left to eat, and although there was “plenty of peas, plenty of corn,” there was “no more meal.” Banks decided to use the remaining naval ammunition to launch a massive bombardment and then, if the Confederates refused to surrender, overrun their supposedly weakened defenses.

Federal bombardment of Port Hudson | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The gunboats began the bombardment on the 13th, firing a round per second for an hour. The Confederates, also low on ammunition, offered little response. When the firing stopped, Banks sent a message to Gardner under a flag of truce: “Respect for the usages of war, and a desire to avoid unnecessary sacrifice on life, impose on me the necessity of formally demanding the surrender of the garrison at Port Hudson…”

Gardner shared the message with his commanders and said, “What do you think? Why, Banks has notified me that to avoid unnecessary slaughter he demands the immediate surrender of my forces.” Gardner sent his reply: “Your note of this date has just been handed to me, and in reply I have to state that my duty requires me to defend this position, and therefore I decline to surrender.” When Banks read Gardner’s response, he ordered a resumption of the massive bombardment and made plans to launch a general assault the next day.

At 1 a.m. Banks issued orders for what was to be a coordinated attack by all his forces. The Federals advanced at 4 a.m., but the vague instructions and heavy fog quickly undermined the coordination. Brigadier General Cuvier Grover’s men hit the Confederate defenses first, but stiff resistance and harsh terrain drove them back. Brigadier General Halbert E. Paine’s division struck Priest Cap and made a temporary breakthrough before being repulsed with heavy losses, including Paine, who lost a leg.

Major General Christopher C. Augur’s division next assaulted the enemy center, and then another Federal attack took place on the southern trenches. Both piecemeal assaults were easily repulsed, and the Federals commanders decided that any further attacks would be futile.

The Federals fell back to their original positions, having suffered one of the worst defeats of the war. They sustained 1,792 casualties (203 killed, 1,401 wounded, and 188 missing) while the Confederates lost just 47 men (22 killed and 25 wounded). Since the Federals had arrived at Port Hudson, nearly 11,000 men had dropped from the ranks, with 4,000 killed in combat and another 7,000 dead or suffering from various diseases.

The next morning, Banks announced to his troops, “One more advance and they are ours!” But the sharp defeat the previous day had demoralized them, and the commanders refused to try another assault. Thus, the siege continued without Banks’s “one more advance.”

Confederate resistance remained stubborn, but the Federals had cut their supply line, and the defenders grew weaker by the day. Troops fell out of the ranks due to illnesses such as dysentery and sunstroke, and other diseases ran rampant from drinking stagnant water and eating rats.

Major General Richard Taylor, commanding Confederate forces in western Louisiana, tried diverting Banks’s attention by threatening Donaldsonville. However, the U.S.S. Winona scattered the enemy cavalry near Plaquemine and kept Donaldsonville secure. Taylor next targeted the Federal depot at Berwick Bay, where Banks stored supplies for his planned expedition up the Teche and Red rivers after capturing Port Hudson.

Taylor advanced on the Federal garrison with 3,000 dismounted Texas cavalry, artillery, and a makeshift naval flotilla of 53 vessels. The Confederates attacked at dawn on the 23rd, hitting the Federals in both front and rear and forcing their surrender. Taylor took 1,700 prisoners, 12 guns, 5,000 stands of arms, and two locomotives pulling supply cars. His men also destroyed the Lafourche Bridge, preventing trains from going east to supply Banks at Port Hudson. Taylor estimated the value of the seized goods at $2 million, making this the most successful raid since “Stonewall” Jackson’s on Manassas Junction last August.

On the 28th, Taylor detached Brigadier General Thomas Green, who had gained fame for his victory at Valverde in the New Mexico Territory, and 800 dismounted cavalry to attack Fort Butler at Donaldsonville. The Federal garrison numbered just 225 men, but they repelled the attack with help from three gunboats. The Federals inflicted 261 casualties while losing just 24.

This stalled Taylor’s momentum, but it did nothing to calm Brigadier General William Emory, who commanded one of Banks’s divisions guarding New Orleans. Fearing that Taylor might strike him next, Emory reported to Banks:

“The railroad track at Terre Bonne is torn up. Communication with Brashear cut off. I have but 400 men in the city, and I consider the city and the public property very unsafe. The secessionists here profess to have certain information that their forces are to make an attempt on the city.”

Emory followed up five days later by stating that the approaching Confederates were “known and ascertained to be at least 9,000, and may be more… The city is quiet on the surface, but the undercurrent is in a ferment.” By month’s end, Emory’s panic had reached its peak:

“Something must be done for this city, and that quickly. It is a choice between Port Hudson and New Orleans… My information is as nearly positive as human testimony can make it that the enemy are 13,000 strong, and they are fortifying the whole country as they march from Brashear to this place, and are steadily advancing. I respectfully suggest that, unless Port Hudson is already taken, you can only save this city by sending me reinforcements immediately and at any cost.”

Banks did not heed Emory’s warnings and remained focused on his relentless siege of Port Hudson instead. Federal sappers dug a tunnel under the Confederate trenches, from which they planned to detonate explosives that would blow a hole in the enemy lines. Banks assigned 1,000 volunteers to form an elite attack force designed to exploit that breech. Near month’s end, he addressed the force:

“A little more than a month ago, you found the enemy in the open country far away from these scenes. Now he is hemmed in and surrounded. What remains is to close upon him and secure him with our grasp. We want the close hug! When you get an enemy’s head under your arm, you can pound him at your will. The hug he will never recover from until the Devil, the arch Rebel, gives him his own!”

Meanwhile, the bombardment continued throughout the month, as the Federals slowly demoralized the Confederates by starving them into submission. By the end of June, it was clear that Gardner could not hold out much longer.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18674-83; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 294; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 400-04, 598-99; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 309-10, 313-14, 316; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 166; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 366, 370, 372-73; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 637; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 596-97

Vicksburg: Confederate Hardships Increase

June 13, 1863 – The soldiers and civilians besieged in Vicksburg endured severe hardships as the Confederate high command argued over whether to hold or abandon the city.

By mid-June, over 200 Federal guns bombarded the people of Vicksburg around the clock from land, while gunboats from Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron shelled them from the water. A Confederate major described the siege:

“One day is like another in a besieged city–all you can hear is the rattle of the Enemy’s guns, with the sharp crack of the rifles of their sharp-shooters going from early dawn to dark and then at night the roaring of the terrible mortars is kept up sometimes all this time.”

Only a few yards separated the opposing armies at some points on the siege line, and sharpshooters killed many men who made the mistake of stretching too far above their fortifications. Since the Federals had cut all supply lines going into Vicksburg, the city residents soon faced a shortage of food and other essentials. Many resorted to eating horses, mules, household pets, and even rats as they sought refuge from the shelling in hillside caves. Some people moved in among the troops in the strongly protected trenches.

Hillside caves at Vicksburg | Image Credit: betweenthegateposts.blogspot.com

Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate army, received a message from his superior, General Joseph E. Johnston, on the 13th. The message was dated May 29, having been delayed by cut telegraph wires. Johnston wrote:

“I am too weak to save Vicksburg. All that we can attempt is, to save you and your garrison. To do this, exact co-operation is indispensable. By fighting the enemy simultaneously at the same point of his line, you may be extricated. It will be impossible to extricate you unless you co-operate and we make mutually supporting movements. Communicate your plans and suggestions, if possible.”

By the time Pemberton received this message, he was trapped in Vicksburg and unable to coordinate anything with Johnston. He responded two days later in the hope that Johnston could make a move without mutual support:

“The enemy has placed several heavy guns in position against our works, and is approaching them very nearly by sap. His fire is almost continuous. Our men have no relief; are becoming much fatigued, but are still in pretty good spirits. I think your movement should be made as soon as possible. The enemy is receiving reinforcements. We are living on greatly reduced rations, but I think sufficient for 20 days yet.”

Meanwhile, President Jefferson Davis asked General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee at Tullahoma, if he could either take the offensive or send reinforcements to Vicksburg. Also, Secretary of War James A. Seddon sent an urgent request for Johnston to do all he could to save both Pemberton and Vicksburg.

Johnston replied to Seddon, “The odds against me are much greater than those you express. I consider saving Vicksburg hopeless.” This shocked the high command at Richmond and reminded them of Johnston’s similar pronouncement against Richmond in the spring of 1862. Seddon replied the next day, trying to impress upon Johnston that Vicksburg was too important not to fight for, with or without Pemberton:

“Your telegram grieves and alarms me. Vicksburg must not be lost without a desperate struggle. The interest and honor of the Confederacy forbid it. I rely on you still to avert the loss. If better resources do not offer, you must hazard attack. It may be made in concert with the garrison, if practicable, but otherwise without; by day or night, as you think best.”

Johnston countered that Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals besieging Vicksburg had received a number of reinforcements “at least equal to my whole force.” Pemberton again urged Johnston to do something to try breaking the siege, writing on the 19th:

“I hope you will advance with the least possible delay. My men have been 34 days and nights in the trenches, without relief, and the enemy within conversation distance. We are living on very reduced rations, and, as you know, are entirely isolated. What aid am I to expect from you?”

On the 20th, Seddon again urged Johnston “to follow the most desperate course the occasion may demand. Rely upon it, the eyes and hopes of the whole Confederacy are upon you, with the full confidence that you will act, and with the sentiment that it were better to fail nobly daring than, through prudence even, to be inactive… I rely on you for all possible to save Vicksburg.” Seddon’s plea came despite Johnston’s previous assertions that trying to save Vicksburg would mean sure destruction and leave both Mississippi and Alabama open to Federal conquest.

Three days later, Pemberton received a message from Johnston via courier:

“Scouts report the enemy fortifying toward us and the roads blocked. If I can do nothing to relieve you, rather than surrender the garrison, endeavor to cross the river at the last moment if you and General (Richard) Taylor (in western Louisiana) communicate.”

But moving across the river would be impossible due to the patrolling Federal ironclads. Moreover, Taylor’s Confederates were moving down the Teche to threaten New Orleans, too far to help Pemberton. The next day, Pemberton sent a message to Johnston proposing that Johnston contact Grant and offer “propositions to pass this army out, with all its arms and equipages,” in exchange for giving the Vicksburg to the Federals.

Johnston rejected this, explaining that Grant most likely would not agree to such a deal. In addition, Johnston stated that “negotiations with Grant for the relief of the garrison, should they become necessary, must be made by you. It would be a confession of weakness on my part, which I ought not to make, to propose them. When it becomes necessary to make terms, they may be considered as made under my authority.” Thus, if Pemberton surrendered to Grant, Johnston would approve.

Meanwhile, Davis sent a desperate message to Bragg and General P.G.T. Beauregard in South Carolina asking them to send troops to Vicksburg or else “the Missi. will be lost.” Johnston’s efforts to disrupt Grant’s supply lines in his rear had no effect. Johnston finally began moving his five divisions to confront the seven under Major General William T. Sherman protecting the Federal rear, but this also had no effect on those besieged in Vicksburg.

Near month’s end, Pemberton received a letter from his troops:

“The emergency of the case demands prompt and decided action on your part. If you can’t feed us, you had better surrender us, horrible as the idea is, than suffer this noble army to disgrace themselves by desertion… Self-preservation is the first law of nature, and hunger will compel a man to do almost anything… This army is now ripe for mutiny, unless it can be fed…”

Explaining that the men were down to just “one biscuit and a small bit of bacon per day,” the letter was signed “Many Soldiers.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 128-29; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 413-15, 422, 425; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 311, 317; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 139, 142; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 365, 369, 371; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 634-36