Category Archives: Maryland

The Gettysburg Aftermath: Falling Waters

July 14, 1863 – General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia tried escaping to Virginia, while Major General George G. Meade’s Federal Army of the Potomac finally advanced.

By dawn on the 14th, Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Confederate corps was safely across the Potomac River and on Virginia soil. Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps had begun crossing the river at Falling Waters, leaving Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s corps in the center of the Confederate line alone to fend off a potential Federal attack.

Federal cavalry reported movement within the Confederate defenses at 3 a.m., but Meade ordered no general attack. He ordered a cavalry reconnaissance in force to start at 7 a.m. instead. Two cavalry divisions led by Brigadier Generals John Buford and H. Judson Kilpatrick rode to Williamsport and found the earthworks empty, with trenches guarded by “Quaker guns.”

Meanwhile, Longstreet’s men crossed the Potomac at Falling Waters, and Hill’s troops followed. Two divisions bringing up the rear were still about a mile from the bridge when the Federals slowly approached through the thick mud around 11 a.m.

Brig Gen John Buford | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Buford’s troopers charged from the north while Kilpatrick dispatched just two squadrons to take on Major General Henry Heth’s division from the east. Heth’s men fended off this limited attack using rifles, axes, fence rails, and anything else they could find. Kilpatrick then sent more men into the fray, and they combined with Buford’s advance to overwhelm the Confederates.

The Federals took 719 prisoners, along with two heavy guns and three battle flags. They also mortally wounded the popular Brigadier General James J. Pettigrew, who lingered with a stomach wound until succumbing on the 17th. Lee lamented that “the Army has lost a brave soldier and the Confederacy an accomplished officer.”

The Federals sustained 125 casualties (40 killed and 85 wounded). They tended to exaggerate their success in this engagement, possibly to downplay the fact that they failed to prevent the rest of Lee’s army from escaping back to Virginia. The Confederates removed the bridge around 1 p.m. to delay a Federal pursuit.

Meade finally ordered his army to advance, with four corps approaching Williamsport and two corps closing on Falling Waters. But the Federals found only empty trenches and earthworks, with the enemy rear guard crossing the river into Virginia. When Meade reported that the Confederates had escaped, President Abraham Lincoln said, “Great God! What does it mean?… There is bad faith somewhere… Our Army held the war in the hollow of their hand & they would not close it.”

Lincoln vented his frustration to his secretary, John Hay, “We had them within our grasp. We had only to stretch forth our hands and they were ours. And nothing I could say or do could make the army move.” Later that day, the president abruptly ended a cabinet meeting, saying he could no longer concentrate on the topics being discussed.

General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck notified Meade, “I need hardly say to you that the escape of Lee’s army without another battle had created great dissatisfaction in the mind of the President, and it will require an active and energetic pursuit on your part to remove the impression that it has not been sufficiently active heretofore.” Meade quickly responded:

“Having performed my duty conscientiously and to the best of my ability, the censure of the President conveyed in your dispatch of 1 p.m. this day, is, in my judgment, so undeserved that I feel compelled most respectfully to ask to be immediately relieved from the command of this army.”

Halleck assured Meade that Lincoln did not want to relieve him of command, and the original message “was not intended as a censure, but as a stimulus to an active pursuit.” That night, Lincoln wrote a long letter to Meade:

“I have just seen your dispatch to Gen. Halleck, asking to be relieved of your command, because of a supposed censure of mine. I am very–very–grateful to you for the magnificent success you gave the cause of the country at Gettysburg; and I am sorry now to be the author of the slightest pain to you. But I was in such deep distress myself that I could not restrain some expression of it…

“You fought and beat the enemy at Gettysburg; and, of course, to say the least, his loss was as great as yours. He retreated; and you did not, as it seemed to me, pressingly pursue him; but a flood in the river detained him, till, by slow degrees, you were again upon him. You had at least 20,000 veteran troops directly with you, and as many more raw ones within supporting distance, all in addition to those who fought with you at Gettysburg; while it was not possible that he had received a single recruit; and yet you stood and let the flood run down, bridges be built, and the enemy move away at his leisure, without attacking him…

“Again, my dear general, I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee’s escape. He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely. If you could not safely attack Lee last Monday, how can you possibly do so South of the river, when you can take with you very few more than two thirds of the force you then had in hand? It would be unreasonable to expect, and I do not expect you can now effect much. Your golden opportunity is gone, and I am distressed immeasurably because of it.

“I beg you will not consider this a prosecution, or persecution of yourself. As you had learned that I was dissatisfied, I have thought it best to kindly tell you why.”

Lincoln eventually realized that Meade had done his best. He had taken command of the army just four days before it fought its greatest battle, and there had been many losses and much suffering among the ranks since then. Moreover, had Meade attacked at Williamsport before the evacuation, he most likely would have suffered a terrible repulse like that at Fredericksburg last December. As such, Lincoln never signed or mailed this letter.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 156-57; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 69-75; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19096; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 309; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9476-87; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 626; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 329-30; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 535-36; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 384-85; 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. 666-67; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 253, 307-08, 579

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The Gettysburg Aftermath: Fight or Flight

July 12, 1863 – Major General George G. Meade prepared his Federal Army of the Potomac to attack, but General Robert E. Lee prepared his Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to withdraw.

Federal Maj Gen G.G. Meade and Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Lee’s Confederates continued trying to cross the Potomac River and return to Virginia, while Meade’s Federals cautiously pursued them. By the 12th, Meade had finally placed his army in attack positions on the ridges opposite Lee near Williamsport. Major General Oliver O. Howard’s XI Corps held the right at Funkstown, while Major General Henry W. Slocum’s XII Corps held the left a few miles south. The Federal signal corps relayed information throughout the day on the strength of the enemy defenses.

Meade prepared to issue orders to attack, but a heavy thunderstorm postponed his plans. He telegraphed General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck late that afternoon, “It is my intention to attack them tomorrow, unless something intervenes to prevent it.” When President Abraham Lincoln saw the message, he remarked, “They will be ready to fight a magnificent battle when there is no enemy there to fight.”

That night, Meade held a council of war with his seven corps commanders, where he announced that he intended to attack the next day. He held a vote on the matter, but just two of the seven supported his plan. The other five favored attack, but only after taking more time to regroup their units and assess the strength of Lee’s defenses. Meade became even more wary when a Confederate pretending to be a deserter came into the Federal lines and claimed that Lee was ready for a Federal assault.

Lee’s men dug in behind their earthworks and trenches a few miles east of Williamsport, where they had waited five days for either a Federal attack or a lowering of the Potomac. Their defenses on the ridges near the river were very strong; Colonel E. Porter Alexander, top Confederate artillerist, wrote:

“Oh! how we all did wish that the enemy would come out in the open and attack us, as we had done them at Gettysburg. But they had had their lesson, in that sort of game, at Fredericksburg and did not care for another.”

Lee notified President Jefferson Davis that the army would cross the next day if the river was low enough. Before the 12th, the rains had stopped and the river had fallen 18 inches. Engineers led by Major J.A. Harman continued building makeshift pontoon bridges out of nearby warehouses and barns at Williamsport and farther downriver at Falling Waters. Lieutenant General James Longstreet, overseeing the work being done at Falling Waters, recalled, “The rain fell in showers, sometimes in blinding sheets, during the entire night.” The falling Potomac threatened to rise again.

The bridges were finally laid, and the Confederate wagons and artillery began crossing through the night and into the 13th. A place was found near Williamsport where the infantry could ford the river, and Lee issued orders for Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s corps, holding the army’s left, to cross there with Major General Jeb Stuart’s cavalry covering while Longstreet on the right and Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s corps in the center crossed at Falling Waters.

Meade studied the Confederate dispositions throughout the 13th, sending his cavalry on various reconnaissance missions. At 5 p.m., he notified Halleck of the war council’s results and stated, “I shall continue these reconnaissances with the expectation of finding some weak point upon which, if I succeed, I shall hazard an attack.” Halleck quickly replied:

“You are strong enough to attack and defeat the enemy before he can effect a crossing. Act upon your own judgment and make your generals execute their orders. Call no council of war. It is proverbial that councils of war never fight. Reinforcements are pushed on as rapidly as possible. Do not let the enemy escape.”

Heavy rain continued throughout the day, but the Confederate troops began skillfully evacuating their defenses nonetheless, with each division leaving behind one regiment to serve as a rear guard. Campfires remained lit all along the line to hide the movement from the Federals. The Confederates also put “Quaker guns,” or logs painted black to resemble cannon, on the line facing the enemy.

Ewell’s men had to wade across the Potomac. One of his division commanders, Major General Robert Rodes, recalled:

“The water was cold, deep and rising, the light on either side of the river were dim, just affording enough light to mark the places of entrance and exit; the cartridge-boxes of the men had to be placed around their necks; some small men had to be carried over on the shoulders of their comrades; the water was up to the armpits of the full-sized men.”

Alexander later wrote:

“But, oh, it was another awful night. I was now back with my battalion, and we were marching all night in the awful roads, in mud and dark, and hard rain, and though we had only three miles to go, we were still some distance from the bridge at sunrise… The whole night had been spent groping and pulling through the mud, a few feet at a time, and then waiting for the vehicle in front of you to move again. And men would go to sleep on their horses, or leaning in the fence corners, or standing in the mud… But the mule (Meade) had not yet caught up with the bear (Lee).”

Troops under Longstreet and Hill crossed on the bridges, but they still had to trudge through deep mud. Lee followed the men across at Falling Waters, and by dawn on the 14th, only a portion of Hill’s corps remained in the trenches to oppose the Federals.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 156; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 308; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 591, 626; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 328-29; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6292-303; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 383-85; 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. 666; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 253; 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), Q363

The Gettysburg Aftermath: Lee Prepares for Battle

July 8, 1863 – General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia prepared for a battle while still stranded on the Maryland side of the Potomac River.

Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

The Confederates remained delayed at Williamsport as engineers and troops scrambled to build makeshift bridges to cross the Potomac. From Hagerstown that night, Lee assured President Jefferson Davis that army morale was still high, and a battle may need to be fought if the Federals attacked before the Confederates crossed the river. Lee also urged Davis to send General P.G.T. Beauregard’s “army in effigy” from Charleston to feign an attack on Washington, which would draw Federal attention away from Lee’s retreat. Lee wrote:

“I hope Your Excellency will understand that I am not in the least discouraged, or that my faith in the protection of an all-merciful Providence, or in the fortitude of this army, is at all shaken. But, though conscious that the enemy has been much shattered in the recent battle, I am aware that he can be easily reinforced, while no addition can be made to our numbers. The measure, therefore, that I have recommended is altogether one of a prudential nature.”

Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, wrote his wife from his headquarters at Frederick: “From the time I took command till today, now over 10 days, I have not changed my clothes, have not had a regular night’s rest and many nights not a wink of sleep, and for several days did not even wash my face and hands, no regular food, and all the time in a great state of mental anxiety.” Meade then informed General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck:

“My army is assembling slowly. The rains of yesterday and last night have made all roads but pikes almost impassable. Artillery and wagons are stalled; it will take time to collect them together… I wish in advance to moderate the expectations of those who, in ignorance of the difficulties to be encountered, may expect too much. All that I can do under the circumstances I pledge this army to do.”

Halleck, prodded by President Abraham Lincoln, expressed impatience with Meade’s seeming reluctance to pursue Lee more vigorously. He wrote, “There is reliable information that the enemy is crossing at Williamsport. The opportunity to attack his divided forces should not be lost. Push forward and fight Lee before he can cross the Potomac. The President is urgent and anxious that your army should move against him by forced marches.”

Meade responded, “My army is and has been making forced marches,” with troops reporting that they were “short of rations and barefooted.” This did not satisfy the administration because the army had such an overabundance of supplies that some were being returned to Washington.

Halleck assured Meade that Lincoln appreciated his great victory at Gettysburg, but, “If Lee’s army is so divided by the river, the importance of attacking the part on this side is incalculable. Such an opportunity may never occur again… You will have forces sufficient to render your victory certain. My only fear now is that the enemy may escape.”

By the 9th, a large part of the Federal army had crossed South Mountain to Boonsboro, eight miles southeast of Williamsport. Meade arrived at Middletown and wrote Halleck:

“This army is moving in three columns, the right column having in it three corps… I think the decisive battle of the war will be fought in a few days. In view of the momentous consequences, I desire to adopt such measures as in my judgment will tend to insure success, even though these may be deemed tardy.”

Halleck responded, “Do not be influenced by any dispatch from here against your own judgment. Regard them as suggestions only. Our information here is not always correct.” He then wrote Meade the next day, “I think it will be-best for you to postpone a general battle till you can concentrate all your forces and get up your reserves and reinforcements… Beware of partial combats. Bring up and hurl upon the enemy all your forces, good and bad.”

Meanwhile, Confederate troops and wagons conveying their wounded still remained on the banks of the Potomac, unable to cross due to the high water. That night, a Confederate officer who had escaped Federal captivity at Gettysburg reached Lee’s army and reported that Meade was advancing toward Hagerstown. Lee began preparing for what he expected to be a Federal attack.

The Federals inched closer to the Confederate positions, carefully probing to assess their strength. Meade reported on the 10th, “These positions, they are said to be intrenching.” Moving down the Hagerstown Pike, Meade informed his superiors that he would “advance cautiously” to “develop more fully the enemy’s force and position.”

Lee concentrated his army at Williamsport that day and wrote Major General Jeb Stuart, commanding the Confederate cavalry, “We must prepare for a vigorous battle and trust in the mercy of God and the valor of our troops.” He then wrote Davis, “With the blessing of Heaven, I trust that the courage and fortitude of the army will be found sufficient to relieve us from the embarrassment caused by the unlooked-for natural difficulties of our situation, if not to secure more valuable and substantial results.”

Skirmishing erupted between Federals and the Confederate rear guard, with Brigadier General John Buford’s Federal horsemen nearly running out of ammunition before Major General John Sedgwick’s VI Corps arrived to drive the Confederates off. This delaying action gave Lee more time to prepare for what could have been his last stand.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 152-53, 156; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 305-07; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 585-86, 589-90, 641; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 326; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6292; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 381-83; 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), Q363

The Gettysburg Aftermath: Lee Reaches the Potomac

July 7, 1863 – General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia reached the Potomac River, but Major General George G. Meade was reluctant to pursue.

Federal Maj Gen G.G. Meade and Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Confederates continued retreating after their defeat at Gettysburg, hoping to get back to Virginia before the Federal Army of the Potomac attacked them. Major General Jeb Stuart, commanding the Confederate cavalry, split his force between escorting the wagon train and fending off Federal advances.

Meanwhile, Brigadier General John D. Imboden’s Confederate cavalry brigade struggled to get the wagon trains across the Potomac. The bridges had been destroyed, but he found flat boats that could carry 30 wounded men at a time to the other side. Each trip took 15 minutes, and 10,000 wounded men needed to be sent across the river.

The Confederate infantry continued their march toward the Potomac, with Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s First Corps reaching Williamsport on the 7th. Lee hoped to get his army across by the end of the day, but he soon learned what Imboden already knew–there were no suitable crossings now that the river had swelled so high from the rain. Engineers and troops began tearing apart local warehouses, barns, and other buildings to build a makeshift pontoon bridge.

Still at Hagerstown, Lee reported to President Jefferson Davis, “I determined to withdraw to the west side of the mountains… to protect our trains with the sick and wounded, which had been sent back to Williamsport, and which were threatened by the enemy’s cavalry.”

Lee dispatched his engineers and Colonel E. Porter Alexander, one of the army’s top artillerists, to survey the ground around the river in case the Confederates had to turn and defend against a Federal attack. Alexander later wrote, “There was no very well defined and naturally strong line, and we had to pick and choose, and string together in some places by make-shifts and some little work.” The exhausted Confederates arriving at Williamsport soon took up defensive positions and awaited a Federal advance.

Meade, commanding the Federal army, had an excellent chance of destroying Lee if he hurried from Gettysburg and attacked before the Confederates could cross the Potomac. But Meade did not. The Federals slowly moved out of their defenses south of Gettysburg, with advance elements reaching Emmitsburg on the 7th. Meade took up headquarters at the United States Hotel in Frederick. Except for Brigadier General John Buford’s Federal cavalry division, the Federals were on the east side of South Mountain, while Buford and Lee’s army were on the west.

At Washington, more celebrations erupted when the news arrived of the victory at Vicksburg. President Abraham Lincoln ecstatically wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “Now, if General Meade can complete his work, so gloriously prosecuted thus far, by the literal or substantial destruction of Lee’s army, the rebellion will be over.” Halleck informed Meade, “It gives me pleasure to inform you that you have been appointed a brigadier general in the Regular Army, to rank from July 3, the date of your brilliant victory.”

Halleck sent another message: “Push forward and fight Lee before he can cross the Potomac.” And then a third: “You have given the enemy a stunning blow at Gettysburg. Follow it up, and give him another before he can reach the Potomac… There is strong evidence that he is short of artillery ammunition, and if vigorously pressed he must suffer.”

Meade responded by listing the difficulties he faced in trying to pursue Lee. Lincoln shared this message at a cabinet meeting on the 7th. According to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, Lincoln seemed filled with “sadness and despondency” because Meade “still lingered at Gettysburg, when he should have been at Hagerstown or near the Potomac, in an effort to cut off the retreating army of Lee.”

A group of serenaders visited the White House that night and called for Lincoln to come out and speak. Lincoln appeared on a balcony and addressed the crowd: “How long ago is it?–80 odd years–since on the Fourth of July for the first time in the history of the world a nation by its representatives, assembled and declared as a self-evident truth that ‘all men are created equal.’”

Lincoln declared that the “gigantic Rebellion” was making “an effort to overthrow the principle that all men were created equal,” and now it seemed finally on the brink of defeat. He indirectly referred to Meade’s slow pursuit of Lee: “These are trying occasions, not only in success, but also for want of success.” Lincoln ended by saying, “Gentlemen, this is a glorious theme, and the occasion for a speech, but I am not prepared to make one worthy of the occasion.”

In the Confederacy, news of the defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg traveled slowly. On the 7th, an article appeared in the Richmond Examiner stating:

“From the very beginning the true policy of the South has been invasion. The present movement of General Lee… will be of infinite value as disclosing the… easy susceptibility of the North to invasion… Not even the Chinese are less prepared by previous habits of life and education for martial resistance than the Yankees… We can… carry our armies far into the enemy’s country, exacting peace by blows leveled at his vitals.”

The following day, the Charleston Mercury reported that at Gettysburg, “A brilliant and crushing victory has been achieved.” On the 10th, the Examiner reported that Lee’s army had taken 30,000 prisoners and was advancing on Baltimore.

It was not until that day that the Davis administration received official word that Vicksburg had fallen. They also received a report from Lee stating that his army was unable to cross the Potomac, and from General P.G.T. Beauregard stating that the Federals had gained a foothold on Morris Island below Charleston Harbor. The end of the Confederacy never seemed so near before.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 151-52; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 304; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9760; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 586, 589, 623-24, 626, 641, 643; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 325; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 381-83; 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, 663, 666; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 253; 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), Q363

The Army of the Potomac: Meade Replaces Hooker

June 27, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln accepted Major General Joseph Hooker’s resignation, daringly replacing an army commander during an enemy invasion.

Federal Major General Joseph Hooker | Image Credit: Sonofthesouth.net

There had been bad blood between Hooker and General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck since before the war, and now the men disagreed over how to employ the Federal garrisons at Harpers Ferry and Maryland Heights against the Confederates’ northern advance. Hooker wanted to evacuate these garrisons and use the 10,000 men to pursue the Confederates. Halleck (and Lincoln) wanted the troops to stay put in the hopes that their presence might divide General Robert E. Lee’s army as it did during last year’s Maryland campaign.

After Hooker sent a message pleading his case on the 27th, he ordered Major General William French, commanding at Harpers Ferry, to evacuate. When the order reached Washington, Halleck wired French, “Pay no attention to General Hooker’s orders.” Enraged, Hooker confided in a fellow officer who asked if a battle was coming soon: “Yes, but I shall not fight the battle. Halleck’s dispatch severs my connection with the Army of the Potomac.”

Hooker telegraphed Halleck at 1 p.m.:

“My original instructions require me to cover Harper’s Ferry and Washington. I have now imposed upon me, in addition, an enemy in my front of more than my number. I beg to be understood, respectfully, but firmly, that I am unable to comply with this condition with the means at my disposal, and earnestly request that I may at once be relieved from the position I occupy.”

Hooker may not have expected his superiors to actually remove him from command during this time of crisis. Halleck replied at 8 p.m., “As you were appointed to this command by the President, I have no power to relieve you. Your dispatch has been duly referred for Executive action.” By that time, Lincoln had already decided to grant Hooker’s request.

Lincoln and the high command had always been unimpressed with Hooker due to his overconfidence. This was made even worse by his embarrassing defeat at Chancellorsville, and now his inability to stop Lee’s invasion. Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and Halleck had agreed after Chancellorsville that while it may be politically damaging to fire Hooker, they would quickly accept his resignation if he ever offered it.

Maj Gen G.G. Meade | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

In choosing a suitable replacement for Hooker, Lincoln ignored pleas to reinstate the still-popular George B. McClellan. Instead, Lincoln chose Major General George G. Meade, commanding V Corps. Meade was a well respected professional officer who had been part of all the army’s campaigns since the first Battle of Bull Run. He was not very well known by troops outside his corps, but past defeats had taught many of the men to be indifferent toward whoever commanded them.

Two corps commanders outranked him (John F. Reynolds and John Sedgwick), but they had both rejected past offers to command the army. Stanton noted that Meade had no real enemies, “and as a Pennsylvanian, he has patriotism enough to draw out all the latent energies of his nature.” Lincoln added, “And will fight well on his own dunghill.” Changing army commanders while a major confrontation loomed was an extraordinary gamble.

Colonel James A. Hardie of the War Department was assigned to deliver the orders to Hooker and Meade. He left Washington at 7:30 p.m., a half-hour before Halleck deflected Hooker’s request to resign. He arrived at Meade’s headquarters outside Frederick at 3 a.m. and woke the commander. When Hardie said, “I’m afraid I’ve come to make trouble for you,” Meade thought he was being arrested. Hardie handed him the order instead:

“You will receive with this the order of the President placing you in command of the Army of the Potomac… Your army is free to act as you may deem proper under the circumstances as they arise… Harpers Ferry and its garrison are under your direct orders.”

Having command of Harpers Ferry was something the administration had denied Hooker. When Meade considered turning it down, Hardie said that he was ordered, not asked, to take command. Meade said, “Well, I’ve been tried and condemned without a hearing, and I suppose I shall have to go to execution.” Major General George Sykes took Meade’s place as V Corps commander.

Meade and Hardie next went to Hooker’s headquarters to inform him that he had been removed. Hooker took the news well and courteously made way for the new commander after issuing a final order praising the army. But he did not have any plans to share with Meade, leaving the new commander scrambling to figure out what his army should do to stop Lee.

The Federal army consisted of over 100,000 men spread out on both sides of the Potomac, with most men on the Maryland side around Frederick. Scouts accurately informed Meade that he faced a Confederate army of 80,000 men, spread out between Chambersburg and Carlisle in Pennsylvania. Meade quickly developed a plan of action and sent it Washington at 4:45 p.m.:

“I propose to move this army tomorrow in the direction of York. I must move toward the Susquehanna, keeping Washington and Baltimore well covered, and if the enemy is checked in his attempt to cross the Susquehanna, or if he turns toward Baltimore, give him battle.”

This plan canceled Hooker’s strategy of threatening Lee’s supply lines to the west. Meade issued orders that night to “be ready to march at daylight tomorrow.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 34-35; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 297; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9419-29; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 446, 450-52, 454; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 317; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 372; 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. 652-53; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 598-99, 739

The War Leaves Virginia

June 25, 1863 – Both the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Federal Army of the Potomac were now across the Potomac River and heading north.

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

By this date, Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Confederate Third Corps had entered northern territory, joining the Second Corps under Lieutenant General Richard Ewell. General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate army, sat atop his horse on the Maryland bank of the Potomac and watched Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s First Corps crossing in the rain. Bands played “Dixie” as local ladies came out under umbrellas to meet Lee and welcome him to their state.

Lee wrote President Jefferson Davis proposing that while his army entered Pennsylvania, Confederates at Tullahoma and Knoxville in Tennessee move north and “accomplish something in Ohio.” Lee also repeated his suggestion to pull General P.G.T. Beauregard’s Confederates out of Charleston to reinforce his army:

“If the plan that I suggested the other day, of organizing an army, even in effigy, under General Beauregard at Culpeper Courthouse, can be carried into effect, much relief will be afforded. I have not sufficient troops to maintain my communication, and, therefore, have to abandon them. I think I can throw General (Joseph) Hooker’s army across the Potomac and draw troops from the South, embarrassing their plan of campaign in a measure, if I can do nothing more and have to return. I still hope that all things will end well for us at Vicksburg. At any rate, every effort should be made to bring about that result.”

That same day, three of Hooker’s Federal corps began crossing the Potomac east of Sharpsburg. Lee was unaware of the crossing because his cavalry commander, Major General Jeb Stuart, was not providing him with information. An independent cavalry unit led by Brigadier General John D. Imboden, assigned to guard the Confederate left, entered Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. Apparently Imboden’s men did not heed Lee’s order prohibiting attacks on civilians or their property. According to town resident Dr. Philip Schaff:

“On Thursday evening their captain, with a red and bloated face, threatened at the Mansion House to lay the town in ashes as soon as the first gun should be fired on one of his men. He had heard that there were firearms in town, and that resistance was threatened. He gave us fair warning that the least attempt to disturb them would be our ruin. We assured him that we knew nothing of such intention, that it was unjust to hold a peaceful community responsible for the unguarded remarks of a few individuals, that we were non-combatants and left the fighting to our army and the militia, which was called out, and would in due time meet them in open combat. They burned the barn of a farmer in the country who was reported to have fired a gun, and robbed his house of all valuables.”

By the 26th, most of the Federal army had crossed into Maryland. Hooker informed his superiors that he was heading to Frederick. Hooker also hoped to use the garrisons of Maryland Heights and Harpers Ferry to cut Lee’s communications, but they were outside his military department. President Abraham Lincoln did not want to give up these garrisons because he hoped they might cause Lee to divide his army as he did in last year’s Maryland campaign.

Moreover, the administration began doubting that Hooker could stop Lee. When Hooker asked General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “Is there any reason why Maryland Heights should not be abandoned after the public stores and property are removed?”, Halleck responded, “Maryland Heights have always been regarded as an important point to be held by us, and much expense and labor incurred in fortifying them. I cannot approve their abandonment, except in case of absolute necessity.”

Lee arrived at Chambersburg that day, as one of Ewell’s divisions under Major General Jubal Early scattered Pennsylvania militia defending Gettysburg. Many of the militiamen were mere boys with no combat experience. Early told those that were taken prisoner, “You boys ought to be home with your mothers, and not out in the fields where it is dangerous and you might get hurt.” When the residents could not pay the $10,000 that Early demanded in tribute, the Confederates resumed their march to York. Early notified A.P. Hill of a shoe factory in Gettysburg that the footsore troops might use.

Governor Andrew Curtin called for 60,000 volunteers to serve in the state militia for 90 days or until the Confederates were driven out. Confederate guerrillas reentered Mercersburg, and according to Dr. Schaff:

“On Friday this guerrilla band came to town on a regular slave-hunt, which presented the worst spectacle I ever saw in this war. They proclaimed, first, that they would burn down every house which harbored a fugitive slave, and did not deliver him up within 20 minutes. And then commenced the search upon all the houses on which suspicion rested. It was a rainy afternoon. They succeeded in capturing several contrabands, among them a woman with two little children. A most pitiful sight, sufficient to settle the slavery question for every humane mind.”

Lee reiterated his orders prohibiting destructive behavior in General Order No. 73, issued on the 27th:

“The Commanding General considers that no greater disgrace could befall the army… than the performance of the barbarous outrages upon the innocent and defenseless, and the wanton destruction of private property that have marked the course of the (Federals) in our own country. Such proceedings not only disgrace the perpetrators… but are subversive of the discipline and efficiency of the army, and destructive to our present movement.”

Lee called on his men:

“… to abstain with most scrupulous care from unnecessary or wanton injury to private property. It must be remembered that we make war only upon armed men, and that we cannot take vengeance for the wrongs our people have suffered without lowering ourselves in the eyes of all whose abhorrence has been excited by the atrocities of our enemies, and offending against Him to whom vengeance belongeth, without whose favor and support our efforts must all prove in vain.”

This did not stop the guerrillas acting independent of the main Confederate army from returning to Mercersburg where, according to Dr. Schaff, they “drove their booty, horses, cattle, about 500 sheep, and two wagons full of store goods, with 21 negroes, through town and towards Greencastle or Hagerstown… I expect these guerrillas will not rest until they have stripped the country and taken all the contraband negroes who are still in the neighborhood, fleeing about like deer.”

Early’s division arrived at York on the 27th, where he demanded $100,000 in tribute, along with food, clothing, and shoes. City officials surrendered to Early but could only muster $28,000. One of Early’s brigade commanders, Brigadier General William “Extra Billy” Smith, addressed the residents:

“My friends, how do you like this way of coming back into the Union? I hope you like it; I have been in favor of it for a long while. We are not burning your houses or butchering your children. On the contrary, we are behaving ourselves like Christian gentlemen, which we are.”

Early received orders to wreck the railroad and bridges linking Harrisburg to Baltimore. Ewell’s other division under Major General Robert Rodes arrived at Carlisle, east of Chambersburg, and three Confederate divisions (two of Longstreet’s and one of Hill’s) were near Greencastle. Lee sent a message to Ewell expressing his desire to concentrate the army near York before driving on the state capital of Harrisburg. Lee did not know where Hooker was because Stuart had not informed him.

On the Federal side, every corps within the Army of the Potomac except VI Corps was across the Potomac by day’s end. Some Federals guarded the South Mountain passes and threatened Confederate communication lines, while others moved north to find Lee. Hooker directed his cavalry to ride ahead to Emmitsburg, Maryland, and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to scout the Confederate movements.

Hooker received Halleck’s message refusing to allow Maryland Heights to be abandoned. He personally inspected the defenses at both the heights and Harpers Ferry, and responded:

“I find 10,000 men here in condition to take the field. Here they are of no earthly account. They cannot defend a ford of the river, and, as far as Harpers Ferry is concerned, there is nothing of it. All the public property could have been secured tonight, and the troops marched to where they could have been of some service. Now they are but bait for the rebels, should they return. I beg that this may be presented to the Secretary of War and His Excellency the President.”

This angry exchange would have far-reaching consequences.

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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. 393; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 295; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 30-35; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19009; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 296-97; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9419; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 442-43, 450; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 316-17; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5830, 5842, 5854; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 371-72; 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; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 307-08; 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

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