Category Archives: Military

The Army of Virginia

June 26, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln created a new army intended to do what Major General George B. McClellan could not–destroy the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and capture Richmond.

On the afternoon of June 23, Lincoln boarded a special train bound for New York to informally meet with former General-in-Chief Winfield Scott at his summer residence in West Point. Lincoln, unsuccessful in directing the war effort and dissatisfied with McClellan’s performance, hoped to confidentially get Scott’s advice on strategy.

Lincoln and Scott discussed whether Major General Irvin McDowell’s Federals should remain near Fredericksburg to protect Washington or reinforce McClellan on the Virginia Peninsula. They also debated the merits of keeping Federal troops in the Shenandoah Valley versus sending them to the Peninsula.

After the meeting, Scott drafted a memorandum criticizing Lincoln’s effort to balance forces between the Peninsula and the Shenandoah Valley. Scott urged Lincoln to send McDowell to the Peninsula, writing, “The defeat of the rebels, at Richmond, or their forced retreat, thence… would be a virtual end of the rebellion.”

During his trip, Lincoln toured the West Point Foundry, across the Hudson River from the U.S. Military Academy. The foundry produced the popular Parrott gun, a rifled cannon. The public appearance was meant to conceal the true purpose of Lincoln’s trip. Word quickly spread that Lincoln was in the area, and on his return trip a crowd gathered at the Jersey City stop to try getting him to give a speech. Lincoln claimed that the trip “did not have the importance which has been attached to it,” and it had nothing to do with military strategy.

This may have been true, as Lincoln opted not to take any of Scott’s advice. Doubting the wisdom of military commanders, Lincoln returned to Washington determined to follow his own strategy. He no longer wanted to send reinforcements to McClellan, who lacked the aggressiveness needed to break the Confederate defenses and take Richmond.

Lincoln instead planned to merge all the forces in northern Virginia and the Valley into one major army, dedicated to driving toward Richmond and destroying the Confederate army under General Robert E. Lee. Lincoln also had a man in mind to command this new army: the current Army of the Mississippi commander, Major General John Pope.

Gen John Pope | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

The administration had already begun courting Pope for this new command even before Lincoln went to New York. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton bypassed Pope’s superior, Major General Henry W. Halleck, and sent Pope a direct message on the 19th: “If your orders will admit, and you can be absent long enough from your command, I would be glad to see you at Washington.”

Pope suspected that he would be transferred to an eastern command, even though he preferred the West and had little respect for eastern commanders. In the East, some considered Pope a liar and a braggart, based on Halleck’s exaggerated report from Pope that he was about to capture 10,000 Confederate stragglers outside Corinth earlier this month.

When Halleck learned of Stanton’s request, he refused to allow Pope to leave: “The Secretary of War can order you to Washington if he deem proper, but I cannot give you leave, as I think your services here of the greatest possible importance.” Stanton then changed his request to an order, overriding Halleck.

Pope arrived at Washington on the 24th. Testifying before a Senate committee while in town, Pope declared that had he commanded the Army of the Potomac, he would have marched directly on Richmond and continued on through the Confederacy to New Orleans. Compared to McClellan, this was exactly the kind of commander the Lincoln administration wanted.

Under General Order No. 103, issued June 26, Pope was officially assigned to command the new Army of Virginia. This army would contain three corps from three previously separate commands north and west of Richmond:

  • Major General John C. Fremont’s Mountain Department became I Corps
  • Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Department of the Shenandoah became II Corps
  • Major General Irvin McDowell’s Department of the Rappahannock became III Corps

The new army also included the Federal troops garrisoning the Washington defenses and a cavalry brigade. All told, the Army of Virginia totaled about 56,000 men. All three department commanders outranked Pope, but only Fremont complained about it.

Fremont considered serving under Pope an insult and tendered his resignation. Lincoln officially accepted it the next day. This ended the military career of the controversial explorer, soldier, and politician. Fremont’s frequent clashes with the Lincoln administration, his history of allowing corruption to run rampant, and his mediocre war record meant that he would not be missed.

Pope called Fremont’s decision to resign “simply foolish.” Replacing Fremont was Major General Franz Sigel, a former German revolutionary. Pope called Sigel “the God damnedest coward he ever knew,” and threatened to “arrest Sigel the moment he showed any signs of cowardice.” Sigel’s corps consisted mainly of Central European and German immigrants, most of whom were staunch abolitionists. Thus, this was the most politicized corps in the Federal army.

Some objected to Pope getting an eastern army command, arguing that he was too much of a braggart and an outsider to successfully operate in Virginia. Lincoln disagreed. He had been friends with Pope in Illinois (Pope accompanied Lincoln on the train from Springfield to Washington in February 1861), and he believed that Pope had the aggression needed to take the fight to the Confederates. The fact that Pope was a Republican (unlike McClellan) also played a factor in his promotion.

Pope’s main objectives were:

  • Protect Washington from “danger or insult”;
  • Provide “the most effective aid to relieve General McClellan and capture Richmond”;
  • Maintain communication and supply lines to Alexandria and Aquia Creek.

Creating this new army effectively stopped any chance of McDowell reinforcing McClellan on the Peninsula, which reflected Lincoln’s lost faith in McClellan’s ability to win there. Pope immediately began planning to move down the Orange & Alexandria Railroad toward Gordonsville, east of the Blue Ridge, and threaten Richmond from the northwest.

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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 14206-15; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 183, 185; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7526-37, 7537-48, 7614; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 526-28; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 169, 171, 173; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 227-31; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 500; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 172-74, 787-88; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 93-97; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 515, 615, 676, 816; 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), Q262; Wikipedia: Army of Virginia, Northern Virginia Campaign

The Seven Days Battles: Beaver Dam Creek

June 26, 1862 – General Robert E. Lee launched his planned assault on the Federal Army of the Potomac to drive the Federals off the Virginia Peninsula and away from Richmond.

According to Lee’s battle plan:

  • Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates would advance and attack General Fitz John Porter’s 28,000-man V Corps isolated from the rest of the Federal army north of the Chickahominy River.
  • Jackson would turn the flank and sweep into the Federal rear while the Confederate divisions led by Major Generals James Longstreet, A.P. Hill, and D.H. Hill would cross the Chickahominy and clear the Federals out of Mechanicsville.
  • Hill and Jackson would then join to destroy the Federals north of the river and capture the Federal supply depot at White House Landing.
  • Confederates under Major Generals John B. Magruder and Benjamin Huger would demonstrate against the Federal left south of the river and guard Richmond. The Confederates north of the river would push the Federals south until they linked with Magruder and Huger.

Lee wrote specific instructions for Jackson, which may have been too detailed to be fully understood. Jackson’s assault was supposed to begin at 3 a.m., but he did not move forward to attack until 9 due to confusion and Federal artillery firing on his troops. Longstreet, A.P. Hill, and D.H. Hill, who needed Jackson to begin the attack before they went into action, waited nearly 12 hours outside Richmond for the battle to begin.

Meanwhile, Major General George B. McClellan, commanding the Federal army, continued lamenting that he was facing nearly 200,000 Confederates. In reality, Lee had only about 70,000 men, 56,000 of which were to attack V Corps. Most of McClellan’s almost 130,000 men were south of the Chickahominy.

The Confederates waiting behind the lines sprang into action when they finally heard the sound of battle to their northeast around 3 p.m. However, the sound did not come from Jackson attacking, it came from A.P. Hill pushing forward on Mechanicsville. Jackson still had not yet arrived to attack the Federal right, and Hill was tired of waiting.

Hill’s men crossed the Chickahominy at Meadow Bridge and advanced through heavy artillery fire, driving the heavily entrenched enemy through Mechanicsville. But Porter extended his right and fell back to strong positions about a mile east, behind Ellerson’s Mill and Beaver Dam Creek, which emptied into the Chickahominy.

Expecting Jackson to come up on his left, Hill reformed his ranks and advanced against Brigadier General George McCall’s division of Porter’s corps around 5 p.m. With Jackson still not in place, Hill launched a frontal attack across an open field, sending his men through swamps and creeks up to the Federal entrenchments. As the Confederates advanced, 36 Federal cannon fired into them.

Battle sketch by Alfred Waud | Image Credit: Wikipedia

Battle sketch by Alfred Waud | Image Credit: Wikipedia

McClellan observed the fighting and left the tactical decisions to Porter, who readied his troops for an assault of their own. Lee, finally realizing that Hill was fighting alone, sent in reinforcements from D.H. Hill, but the Federals repulsed these attacks and inflicted severe losses.

The bulk of Jackson’s force finally arrived, but when Jackson could not find A.P. Hill, he ordered his men to bivouac for the night about three miles northeast of Mechanicsville. Jackson, who was on the brink of exhaustion due to sleep deprivation, had no communication with Lee or the other commanders.

The major fighting ended around 9 p.m., with intermittent fire continuing. McClellan wired Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton: “The firing has nearly ceased… Victory of today complete and against great odds. I almost begin to think we are invincible.” McClellan also wrote to his wife, “We have again whipped the Secesh. Stonewall Jackson is the victim this time.” Apparently McClellan was unaware that Jackson, his former West Point classmate, did not take part in the action.

The Federals suffered 361 total casualties in the fight, while Confederates lost 1,484. Lee’s attack was a failure, partly due to Jackson’s uncharacteristic tardiness. Only one-fourth of Lee’s army (roughly 14,000 men) had been engaged, and 10 percent of them were lost in attacking Porter frontally rather than on his flank. Lee also fell far short of his goal to link with the Confederates south of the Chickahominy. While he drove the Federals out of the Mechanicsville, Lee lost the element of surprise and gave McClellan the options to either reinforce his right or attack with his left.

McClellan chose neither. Despite Lee’s failure, he had been withdrawing Porter’s supplies all day to protect them from Jackson’s impending attack and to better concentrate the Army of the Potomac south of the Chickahominy. Also, the demonstrations by Magruder and Huger, the sight of Confederate observation balloons on the Federal left, and Pinkerton’s inflated estimate of enemy strength convinced McClellan that he was hopelessly outnumbered, despite urgings from subordinates to attack with the bulk of his army on the left.

During the night, McClellan ordered Porter to withdraw eastward from Beaver Dam Creek to positions around Boatswain’s Swamp. McClellan also ordered his supply base transferred from White House on the York River to Harrison’s Landing on the James, asking Flag Officer Louis M. Goldsborough, commanding the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, to begin sending supplies there. This was a significant move because there were no railroads on the James to transport McClellan’s heavy artillery, so he could not lay siege to Richmond as originally planned.

This was an inauspicious start to Lee’s combat career as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. But while he had tactically lost this fight, McClellan still retreated and lost the initiative on the Peninsula. Thus, Lee gained a psychological edge over McClellan that he would never relinquish.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 159; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (26 Jun 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 185; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 483-84; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 172-73; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3797-3809; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 178-79; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 230-31; 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. 465-66; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 415-16; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 483-84; Time-Life Editors, Spies, Scouts and Raiders: Irregular Operations (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 33, 36; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 295-96, 667-68; Wikipedia: Battle of Beaver Dam Creek, Battle of Gaines’s Mill

The Seven Days Battles: Oak Grove

June 25, 1862 – Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac tried inching closer to Richmond as Confederate General Robert E. Lee planned to drive the Federals off the Virginia Peninsula.

Gen. R.E. Lee, CSA and Maj Gen G.B. McClellan, USA | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Gen. R.E. Lee, CSA and Maj Gen G.B. McClellan, USA | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

On June 23, Lee conferred with his top commanders and resolved to attack Federal Major General George B. McClellan’s army before it could advance on the Confederate capital. Lee intended to assault McClellan’s right wing, which was isolated on the north side of the Chickahominy River, on the 26th.

However, McClellan learned of Lee’s plan and resolved to attack first. Leaving his right wing north of the river, McClellan moved with his left. He targeted Oak Grove, which commanded the high ground south of the Chickahominy, a mile and a half closer to Richmond. McClellan hoped to clear that area for his heavy guns to put Richmond under siege. This was intended to be a preliminary movement before a general army advance.

Federal artillery opened on a rainy June 25, and then a division of General Samuel Heintzelman’s III Corps, led by Brigadier General Joseph Hooker, moved forward, supported by Brigadier General Philip Kearny’s division. Skirmishing ensued as Major General Benjamin Huger’s Confederates blocked their path.

Huger had just 6,000 men, but he was soon reinforced by another 3,000 led by General Robert Ransom. The Federals struggled through the swampy terrain, and a heavy volley suddenly sent the Federals in Hooker’s lead brigade under Brigadier General Daniel Sickles running in what Sickles later called “disgraceful confusion.” Kearny sent reinforcements to secure Hooker’s left.

Heintzelman wired McClellan, who was at his headquarters three miles away, for reinforcements. But McClellan, through his chief of staff Brigadier General Randolph B. Marcy, ordered a retreat just as fresh troops came up, to the dismay of subordinates at the scene. Hooker hesitated, neither attacking nor retreating, and the battlefield went temporarily quiet.

McClellan then rode to the front two and a half hours later, inspected the lines, and ordered Hooker and Kearny to resume the assault. The Federals were reinforced by a brigade from II Corps and an artillery battery. Fighting occurred at several points, including Oak Grove, King’s School House, French’s Field, and the Orchard.

Charges and countercharges took place on the Williamsburg road until the Federal guns and reinforced infantry pushed the Confederates back to their main defenses. Nightfall gradually stopped both the firing and the rain. The Federals could not penetrate the Confederate line, but McClellan was pleased that they moved about 600 yards closer to Richmond. The Federals suffered 516 casualties (51 killed, 401 wounded, and 64 missing), and the Confederates lost 316 (40 killed, 263 wounded, and 13 missing).

Lee determined that this engagement did not expose his plan to attack McClellan’s right the next day, so that operation remained intact. The main Confederate attack force under Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson continued moving into positions. Receiving news of Jackson’s impending arrival, McClellan suspended another scheduled attack and ordered his right wing, consisting of General Fitz John Porter’s V Corps, to slow Jackson’s forces.

This action marked McClellan’s first (and last) tactical offensive against Richmond since the beginning of his Peninsula campaign. Although he deemed Porter’s positions acceptable, and although his left was now within five miles of Richmond, McClellan returned to headquarters on the night of the 25th and notified Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that he faced “vastly superior odds.” This was based on an erroneous report that the Confederate Army of Mississippi had come to Richmond from the West, giving Lee up to 200,000 men (he really had no more than 70,000 versus McClellan’s 130,000). McClellan wrote Stanton:

“I incline to think that Jackson will attack my right and rear. The rebel force is stated at 200,000… I regret my great inferiority in numbers, but feel that I am in no way responsible for it, as I have not failed to represent repeatedly the necessity of reinforcements; that this was the decisive point, and that all the available means of the Government should be concentrated here. I will do all that a general can do with the splendid army I have the honor to command, and if it is destroyed by overwhelming numbers, can at least die with it and share its fate. But if the result of the action which will probably occur tomorrow, or within a short time, is a disaster, the responsibility cannot be thrown on my shoulders; it must rest where it belongs.”

Later that night, McClellan wrote, “I feel that there is no use in again asking for reinforcements,” but then did exactly that in requesting “some new regiments… another division of old troops… also, a couple of new regiments of cavalry.” McClellan concluded, “Every possible precaution is being taken. If I had another good division I could laugh at Jackson… Nothing but overwhelming forces can defeat us.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (25 Jun 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 185; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 477, 480; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 171-72; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3710-21, 3743, 3750-63; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 443-44; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 229-30; 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. 465; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 30-33; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 295-96, 541, 667-68; Wikipedia: Battle of Oak Grove

Battle Looms on the Peninsula

June 24, 1862 – General Robert E. Lee issued written orders for his new Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to launch an attack on Major General George B. McClellan’s right flank on June 26.

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

Lee set up headquarters at the Dabbs’ House, a mile and a half northeast of Richmond, where he held a council of war at 3 p.m. Attendees included Major Generals James Longstreet, A.P. Hill, and D.H. Hill. Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, having ridden 52 miles on relays of commandeered horses, also attended, to the surprise of the others who thought he was still in the Shenandoah Valley.

Lee announced that after assessing the conditions and positions of both armies, he had come to several conclusions:

  • Richmond could not withstand a siege, therefore the Confederate army had to take the offensive
  • The Confederates could not attack frontally due to their lack of experience and superior Federal numbers, therefore they had to try turning the enemy’s flank
  • McClellan had the bulk of his army on the south side of the Chickahominy River, therefore the Federals north of the river should be targeted for attack
  • Lee needed to attack with the bulk of his army if he hoped to turn the Federal right, which could either drive the Federals north or force them to set up a new supply base on the James River.

Thus, the Confederates would target General Fitz John Porter’s 30,000-man V Corps, north of the Chickahominy. According to Lee’s plan:

  • Jackson would begin the assault by moving south and attacking Porter’s right and rear.
  • A.P. Hill would cross to the north side of the Chickahominy and clear the bridge at Mechanicsville for Longstreet and D.H. Hill to cross and join the attack.
  • The 56,000 Confederates would “sweep down the Chickahominy and endeavor to drive the enemy from his position… They will then press forward toward the York River Railroad, closing upon the enemy’s rear and forcing him down the Chickahominy.”
  • The rest of the Confederate army under Generals John B. Magruder, Benjamin Huger, and Theophilus H. Holmes would guard Richmond from a counterattack.

Because the movement of such a massive amount of troops involved leaving the road to Richmond open, Lee stressed the need for secrecy. The plan also relied on all its parts (and commanders) working in concert, especially Jackson, who had to start the attack for the others to follow. The commanders agreed that the attack would begin on June 26.

When the general plan was decided upon, Lee left the room to allow his subordinates to work out the details. This was the first and last time that Lee would do this. The commanders returned to their men after the meeting; Jackson rode back to rejoin his three divisions on their way from the west. The next day, Lee drafted the results of the meeting into written orders and distributed them to the commanders.

Meanwhile, McClellan wrote his wife that Confederate activity seemed “mysterious.” The uncomfortably hot, wet weather was improving, and McClellan hoped “to be able to take a decisive step in advance (the) day after tomorrow.” McClellan envisioned a scenario where “the operations would resolve themselves into a series of partial attacks, rather than a general battle.” McClellan added, “I have a kind of presentiment that tomorrow will bring forth something–what I do not know–we will see when the time arrives.”

Deserters and fugitive slaves informed McClellan that Jackson intended to attack his right. He responded by sending Federals to obstruct the roads that Jackson would use to get there. He also continued inching closer to Richmond, with skirmishing taking place around Mechanicsville.

Initiating his “series of partial attacks,” McClellan directed Major General Samuel P. Heintzelman’s III Corps south of the Chickahominy to advance on the Williamsburg road and seize an unoccupied area between the armies on the edge of White Oak Swamp. This would set the stage for a general advance by the entire army, as McClellan intended to attack before Jackson arrived.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 476; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 171; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3710-21, 3743; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 229; 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. 465; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 30-31; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 541

Bragg Takes Command in Mississippi

June 23, 1862 – General Braxton Bragg announced that he would lead his new army from Tupelo, Mississippi, into eastern Tennessee to join forces with Major General Edmund Kirby Smith’s Confederates defending Chattanooga.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Bragg had 34,000 men in his Army of Mississippi, which he inherited from General P.G.T. Beauregard. If he linked with Smith, the combined forces would total 54,000. This, along with the effective cavalry commands under Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Hunt Morgan, would make the Confederates strong enough to confront Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio threatening Chattanooga from northern Alabama.

Smith had pleaded for reinforcements ever since Federals began approaching Chattanooga, notifying the Confederate War Department, “If the Government wishes Chattanooga secured, a reinforcement of at least 2,000 armed men must be immediately sent there and an officer of ability assigned to the command.” President Jefferson Davis responded by sending 6,000 reinforcements under Brigadier General Henry Heth.

Despite this, Smith called on the governor of Georgia to provide militia because “My force is not sufficient to defend this department.” Smith also wired General Robert E. Lee on the Virginia Peninsula, informing him that reinforcements had to be rushed to Chattanooga to save the city from Federal conquest. Then Smith notified Bragg that Buell’s Federals were coming, and “I have no force to repel such an attack.”

Bragg, still in the process of reorganizing his army, dispatched Major General John P. McCown’s 3,000-man division by railroad. Bragg noted the quickness and efficiency of sending troops by rail for future operations. Meanwhile, Smith wrote the War Department again: “Large reinforcements speedily forwarded can alone save Chattanooga.”

Secretary of War George W. Randolph informed Bragg his department had been “extended so as to embrace that part of Louisiana east of the Mississippi, the entire states of Mississippi and Alabama, and the portion of Georgia and Florida west of the Chattahoochee and Apalachicola Rivers.” Randolph added, “Strike the moment an opportunity offers.”

Bragg planned to do so. But first he issued a proclamation to his men as their new commander:

“I enter hopefully on my duties. But, soldiers, to secure the legitimate results of all your heavy sacrifices which have brought this army together, to infuse that unity and cohesion essential for a resolute resistance to the wicked invasion of our country, and to give to serried ranks force, impetus, and direction for driving the invader beyond our borders, be assured discipline at all times and obedience to the orders of your officers on all points, as a sacred duty, an act of patriotism, is an absolute necessity. A few more days of needful preparation and organization and I shall give your banners to the breeze… with the confident trust that you will gain additional honors to those you have already won on other fields. But be prepared to undergo privation and labor with cheerfulness and alacrity.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 231-32; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 567-68; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 174; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 15, 41

“Stonewall” Jackson Moves East

June 20, 1862 – Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates headed east to reinforce General Robert E. Lee on the Peninsula, while Federals in the Shenandoah Valley still did not know where Jackson was.

Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Screened by Colonel Thomas T. Munford’s cavalry, Jackson’s men moved across the Blue Ridge on the 19th and left the Shenandoah Valley. That same day, Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, whose Federal Army of the Shenandoah was stationed near Front Royal, expressed fears to his superiors that Jackson might attack him, especially now that only the commands of Banks and Major General John C. Fremont still remained in the Valley.

In a message to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Banks questioned why Brigadier General James Shields was leaving the Valley to help reinforce Federals on the Peninsula: “He (Shields) ought not to move until the purpose of the enemy are more fully developed. There can be no doubt whatever that another immediate movement down the valley, is intended with a force of 30,000 or more.”

The next day, Banks repeated his fears of being shorthanded in the face of a possible Confederate attack, at the same time acknowledging “nothing new to report of the enemy.” Banks again argued against Shields leaving the Valley, stating that since Confederates posed no threat to Shields at Front Royal, then there was no reason for him to leave. But Shields’s superior, Major General Irvin McDowell, reversed this logic by arguing to Stanton that if Shields had no threat facing him, then there was no reason to stay.

The exchange was rendered pointless when Shields’s Federals left the Valley on the 21st and began arriving at Bristoe Station. As they prepared to join the rest of McDowell’s force, McDowell reported that Shields’s ranks were riddled with “officers resigning and even men deserting.” To McDowell, this was all the more reason to keep Shields under his watch rather than leaving him in the Valley.

On the Peninsula, Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac now numbered 105,825 officers and men present for duty, with a grand total of 156,838. The addition of McDowell’s force would give McClellan nearly 130,000 effectives, but McClellan still believed he was outnumbered, as he wrote his wife about the Confederates, “The rascals are very strong & outnumber me very considerably, but I will yet succeed notwithstanding all they do & leave undone in Washington to prevent it.”

Finding time to keep up with the latest gossip from Washington provided by intelligence chief Allan Pinkerton, McClellan passed along to his wife: “McDowell has deserted his friend C (Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase) & taken to S (Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton)!!” While Secretary of State William H. Seward and Postmaster General Montgomery Blair continued to “stand firmly by me–Honest A (President Lincoln) has again fallen into the hands of my enemies & is no longer a cordial friend of mine!”

McClellan continued:

“I am anxious as any human being can be to finish this war, yet when I see such insane folly behind me (in Washington) I feel that the final salvation of the country demands the utmost prudence on my part & that I must not run the slightest risk of disaster, for if anything happened to this army our cause would be lost. I feel too that I must not unnecessarily risk my life, for the fate of my army depends upon me & they all know it.”

By the 21st, most of Jackson’s Confederates had left the Shenandoah Valley and headed east to reinforce Lee on the Peninsula. They marched to Gordonsville and awaited train service to Richmond. A day later, Major General John E. Wool, commanding the Federal garrison at Fort Monroe, reported to Stanton rumors from Major General Franz Sigel in the Valley “that Jackson had 40,000 to 60,000 men and 70 pieces of artillery.”

Wool conceded that this was “probably exaggerated,” but he learned from a “person considered reliable that Jackson will in a short time attack Banks and his forces. If Jackson has the number of troops reported, I think we ought to be looking after Washington.”

Major General John C. Fremont, whose Federals were at Strasburg in the Valley, heard rumors that 4,000 Confederates under Major General Richard Ewell were advancing on his right flank toward Moorefield. Fremont stated, “These reports were most probably exaggerations, but it would be well to guard against the chance of their being true.”

While the Federal high command got bogged down with speculation, Jackson and Ewell were actually heading toward Richmond, with their men between Gordonsville and Fredericks Hall. Jackson attended Sunday church services at Fredericks Hall, and then waited until 1 a.m. on the 23rd (after the Sabbath ended) to ride ahead of his men to meet with Lee. Jackson rode on horseback rather than a train, and he removed all indications of his rank from his uniform so he would not be recognized.

Outside Richmond, Lee wrote privately, “Our enemy is quietly working within his lines, and collecting additional forces to drive us from our capital. I hope we shall be able yet to disappoint him, and drive him back to his own country.”

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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 13765; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 184; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 474; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 170-71; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3698; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 229

Running the Vicksburg Batteries

June 18, 1862 – Flag Officer David G. Farragut began assembling a Federal naval squadron to run past Vicksburg, one of the last major Confederate strongholds on the Mississippi River.

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Farragut received orders from Washington to assemble a flotilla of gunboats and mortars that could bypass the Confederate batteries at Vicksburg and link with the Federal Western Flotilla at Memphis. Although he doubted that ships could get past Vicksburg’s heavy guns without being destroyed, he began organizing a squadron downriver at Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

By this time, Major General Earl Van Dorn, the new Confederate commander in the region, had assembled 10,000 troops to defend Vicksburg. Recent Federal successes on the Mississippi had prompted soldiers and residents to strengthen the city’s defenses, which included building fortifications and placing more batteries on the bluffs overlooking the river to prevent Federal naval passage.

On June 20, a 3,000-man Federal detachment from Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s New Orleans occupation force under Brigadier General Thomas Williams boarded transports to join Farragut’s fleet upriver to Vicksburg. Their mission was to set up a base across the river from the city at Swampy Toe, and then dig a canal to allow Federal vessels to bypass a bend in the river and move upriver, beyond Vicksburg’s cannon range.

As the Federals approached, the Confederates’ rush to finish Vicksburg’s defenses accelerated. The steep bluffs on the riverbank, along with Van Dorn’s superior numbers, made an infantry attack impossible. But many worried that the Federals’ naval firepower could overwhelm the defenders. President Jefferson Davis wrote to Van Dorn, “The people will sustain you in your heroic determination, and may God bless you with success.”

The Federal troops began landing on the 24th. Unaccustomed to the southern climate, they fell ill from diseases such as dysentery, malaria, and typhoid, and many died as a result. In addition, Farragut worried that the summer drought would lower the river and strand his deep-draft vessels. Nevertheless, the mortar boats began firing on the Vicksburg defenses as the Federal troops started digging the canal.

After two days of bombardment, Farragut resolved to try moving his gunboats past Vicksburg, just as he had bypassed Forts Jackson and St. Philip in April. Nighttime navigation on the river was too difficult, so Farragut had to make the attempt at dawn. As Commander David D. Porter’s mortar fleet continued shelling the town, the gunboats began upriver. The Confederates immediately began firing down on them from the bluffs, with the ships answering with broadsides. A sailor aboard Farragut’s flagship, the U.S.S. Hartford, wrote:

“The whole fleet moved up to the attack. The shells from the mortars were being hurled right over our heads, and as (enemy) battery after battery was unmasked from every conceivable position, the ridge of the bluff was one sheet of fire. The big ships sent in their broadsides, the mortars scores of shells, and all combined to make up a grand display and terrible conflict.”

Ultimately, eight vessels made it past the batteries and three had to turn back. The Hartford made it through, even though she was “riddled from stem to stern.” A shot nearly killed Farragut, hitting the ship’s rigging just above where he stood. He wrote his wife, “The same shot cut the halyard that hoisted my flag, which dropped to half-mast without being perceived by us. This circumstance caused the other vessels to think that I was killed.”

Federal fire killed 22 soldiers and two civilians (a man and a woman). The Federals suffered 10 killed. Farragut succeeded in getting most of his fleet past Vicksburg, thus demonstrating the ability of gunboats to bypass stationary batteries. But the Confederate defenders still commanded the river, and Farragut noted that as soon as Federal fire drove Confederate artillerists from their guns, they “return to them as soon as we have passed and rake us.”

Vicksburg could not be captured by naval firepower alone, leading Farragut to write to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, “I am satisfied that it is not possible for us to take Vicksburg without an army force of twelve to fifteen thousand men.” A long, brutal campaign to take this Confederate bastion had just begun.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 184-86; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 169-72, 174-75; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 784; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24-26; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 228-33; 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. 420-21; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 89-91; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 429; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 846