Category Archives: Virginia

Northern Virginia: Hooker’s Grand Plan

April 13, 1863 – Major General George Stoneman’s new Federal Cavalry Corps left Falmouth to cut the Confederate supply lines preparatory to a main attack on General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

By this time, Major General Joseph Hooker had over 133,000 polished troops in his new and improved Army of the Potomac on the heights across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg. Lee had about 60,000 Confederates defending a line from Fredericksburg south along the Rappahannock to Port Royal.

Hooker received word that the Confederates were short of food and supplies, so he wanted to coax them out of their earthworks into an open fight, where his superior numbers could overwhelm them. To do this, Hooker developed a plan to cut Lee’s supply lines by sending Stoneman’s cavalry around Lee’s flank to get between the Confederates and Richmond.

Maj Gen George Stoneman | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Stoneman was to ride west, spreading rumors that his troopers were heading for the Shenandoah Valley. The Federals would move through Culpeper Court House and Gordonsville, following the Virginia Central Railroad to Hanover Junction. They were to destroy “the railroad bridges, trains, cars, depots of provisions, lines of telegraphic communication, etc.” along the way.

Hooker believed this would force Lee out of Fredericksburg to restore his supply lines. When Lee moved, Stoneman was to “select the strongest positions, such as the banks of streams, commanding heights, etc., in order to check or prevent” Lee’s escape. If that was not possible, Stoneman was to “fall upon his flanks, attack his artillery and trains, and harass and delay him until he is exhausted and out of supplies.” If Lee moved toward Culpeper, Stoneman was to “harass him day and night on the march and in camp unceasingly.”

Hooker’s orders concluded, “Let your watchword be fight, and let your orders be fight, fight, fight, bearing in mind that time is as valuable to the general as the rebel carcasses.” As Stoneman moved, Hooker would mobilize the army and cross the Rappahannock at either United States Ford or Kelly’s Ford, depending on Stoneman’s progress. Hooker’s plan relied almost exclusively on the level of Stoneman’s success.

Hooker notified President Abraham Lincoln of his plan, somehow thinking that Lee might retreat before the Federals even gave battle: “I am apprehensive that he will retire from before me the moment I should succeed in crossing the river, and thus escape being seriously crippled.” If this happened, Stoneman would “hold him and check his retreat until I can fall on his rear.”

Stoneman headed out of Falmouth on the 13th, leading 10,000 cavalrymen in three divisions and an artillery brigade; this was nearly the entire Cavalry Corps. The men carried 10 days’ rations. Hooker directed Stoneman to communicate with him only when “necessary and practicable,” while Hooker would contact him “before your supplies are exhausted.”

As the Federals rode past Lee’s left flank, a detachment crossed the Rappahannock over 30 miles northwest of Fredericksburg, driving Confederate guards away from the fords. However, the rest of Stoneman’s force did not arrive as planned and rain began falling, compelling the detachment to re-cross the river before it flooded. The troopers spent the next day trying to find suitable river crossings in the heavy rain.

Stoneman informed Hooker that his force would be across the river by daylight on the 15th. That day, Hooker wired Lincoln predicting that Stoneman should reach Hanover Junction by the 17th “if he should meet with no unusual delay… I am rejoiced that Stoneman had two good days to go up the river, and was able to cross it before it had become too much swollen. If he can reach his position (deep in the enemy rear) the storm and mud will not damage our prospects.”

Stoneman then notified Hooker that he only had one division across the Rappahannock, and he would have to leave his artillery behind due to the deep mud. Hooker replied, “As you stated in your communication of yesterday that you would be over the river with your command at daylight this morning, it was so communicated to Washington, and it was hoped that the crossing had been made in advance of the rise in the river.”

Regarding the artillery, Hooker wrote that if the Federals could not “make use of that arm of the service, the enemy cannot.” On the threat of Confederate infantry once Stoneman crossed the river, Hooker wrote, “it is not probable, in the event of your being able to advance, that you will be troubled by the infantry of the enemy.”

Hooker then wired Lincoln, “His artillery has been brought to a halt by the mud, one division only having crossed the river. If practicable, he will proceed without it. All the streams are swimming.” Lincoln, troubled by the delay, quickly responded:

“The rain and mud, of course, were to be calculated upon. General S. is not moving rapidly enough to make the expedition come to anything. He has now been out three days, two of which were unusually fair weather, and all three without hindrance from the enemy, and yet he is not 25 miles from where he started. To reach his point he still has 60 to go, another river (the Rapidan) to cross, and will be hindered by the enemy. By arithmetic, how many days will it take him to do it?… I greatly fear it is another failure already. Write me often. I am very anxious.”

Stoneman provided an update to Hooker the next day:

“I cannot say what has been the state of affairs away from this vicinity, but here, at the hour of my last dispatch, the condition of things may be judged of when I tell you that almost every rivulet was swimming, and the roads next to impassable for horses or pack-mules… The river is out of its banks, and was still on the rise a few hours ago… The elements seem to have conspired to prevent the accomplishment of a brilliant cavalry operation.”

Hooker’s grand plan to cut the Confederates’ supply line and force them out into an open fight fizzled under the pouring rain.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 274; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 263-64; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 280; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 519; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 118-19; Power, J. Tracy, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 721

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The Siege of Suffolk

April 11, 1863 – Confederate forces under Lieutenant General James Longstreet attacked the Federal garrison at Suffolk, Virginia, south of the James River.

Confederate Major General James Longstreet | Image Credit: BlogSpot.com

Longstreet had been assigned to command a new department consisting of part of his First Corps pulled from General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Longstreet’s mission was to guard the region south of Richmond into North Carolina, gather foodstuffs for Lee’s army since war-torn northern Virginia lacked sufficient forage, and eliminate the Federal threat at Suffolk.

Longstreet’s force included 20,000 men in two divisions led by Major Generals George Pickett and John Bell Hood. Since the main objective was to supply Lee, Longstreet merely planned to demonstrate against Suffolk to distract the Federals from his main purpose. A division of IX Corps consisting of about 25,000 Federals under Major General John J. Peck garrisoned Suffolk, which was part of Major General John A. Dix’s Federal military department. Suffolk was heavily fortified.

Confederates and Federals traded shots from across the Nansemond River, as Longstreet extended his right flank southward to Dismal Swamp. Fighting intensified over the next few days as Acting Rear Admiral Samuel P. Lee, commanding the Federal North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, dispatched a fleet of gunboats under Lieutenant William B. Cushing to support Peck. Lee informed Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, “If Suffolk falls, Norfolk follows.”

The gunboats U.S.S. Mount Washington, Stepping Stones, and Commodore Barney came up the crooked, narrow Nansemond and traded fire with the Confederate guns near the Norfleet house, at the confluence of a western branch of the Nansemond and the main river. The vessels were converted ferryboats and tugs, and were not meant for such heavy combat. The Confederates inflicted heavy losses as a result, including grounding the Mount Washington until the Stepping Stones rescued her.

However, the gunboats responded with accurate fire of their own, joined by Federal land batteries and troops behind their fortifications. The artillery duel continued the next day, when the Federal gunboats and artillerists silenced several Confederate batteries at the Norfleet house and along the Nansemond. The duel ended and a standoff began, as Longstreet initiated a siege of Suffolk.

Silencing the Confederate batteries opened a path up the Nansemond to the Confederate garrison at Fort Huger on Hill’s Point. Longstreet directed Major General Samuel G. French to station five cannon and three infantry companies in the empty fort to oppose the approaching Federal gunboats.

On the morning of the 19th, the Stepping Stones suddenly appeared about 400 yards from the fort, commanded by Lieutenant Roswell H. Lamson. The ship’s guns sent the defenders running for cover, and then 270 soldiers of the 8th Connecticut and the 89th New York landed, along with four boat howitzers. The Federals charged into the fort before the Confederates could react, capturing 137 men and all five guns, some of which had been taken from Harpers Ferry last September.

The Federals initially strengthened the fort but then evacuated two days later, allowing the Confederates to take it back. However, the fort no longer posed a threat to the Federal ships on the Nansemond. Longstreet called the defeat at Fort Huger “a serious disaster. The enemy succeeded in making a complete surprise.”

Two aides under Colonel Evander M. Law accused men of the 55th North Carolina, assigned to defend the fort, of cowardice. Colonel John K. Connally, the regiment’s commander, furiously denied the charge, and a double duel took place to clear the men’s name. Shots were fired, but nobody was hurt.

These minor operations kept the Federals occupied while Longstreet achieved two of his main objectives–protecting Richmond and foraging for the Army of Northern Virginia. Peck also achieved his main goal, which was to prevent the Confederates from capturing Suffolk. Longstreet continued his tentative siege on the town while his men continued foraging in the surrounding countryside.

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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. 274; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 256-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 279-82; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 337; 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. 638-39; 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. 197; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 275, 534

The Richmond Bread Riot

April 2, 1863 – A mob of mostly women stormed the business district of the Confederate capital demanding relief from the epidemic of shortages plaguing the Confederacy.

The winter of 1862-63 had been the worst ever for the new Confederacy. Dwindling supplies increased demand, resulting in soaring prices and civil unrest in various southern cities. This was especially true in Richmond, where the population had doubled since the war started and the armies had ravaged much of the food producing area in the state. The rising cost of necessities left many to go hungry.

Richmond Bread Riot | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Hundreds of angry citizens, mostly women, gathered at the Oregon Hill Baptist Church on Holy Thursday to express their rage. They then stormed Richmond’s business district, shouting, “Bread! Bread!” A witness recalled talking to a young woman involved in the protest:

“As she raised her hand to remove her sunbonnet, her loose calico sleeve slipped up, and revealed a mere skeleton of an arm. She perceived my expression as I looked at it, and hastily pulled down her sleeve with a short laugh. ‘This is all that’s left of me!’ she said. ‘It seems real funny don’t it? We are starving. We are going to the bakeries and each of us will take a loaf of bread. That is little enough for the government to give us after it has taken all our men.’”

Some men and boys joined the mob until it grew to about 1,000 people. Governor John Letcher and the mayor of Richmond came out to calm the protestors to no avail. They smashed store windows and doors on Main and Cary, seizing items such as flour, meal, and clothing. Ruffians and emboldened protestors soon joined forces to begin looting stores for luxury items such as jewelry, furniture, and other fineries.

Letcher dispatched state militia to restore order, and the Richmond mayor threatened to order the militia to open fire if the crowd did not disperse. The mob refused to comply, possibly because the militia consisted of acquaintances or even husbands of the rioters. President Jefferson Davis then appeared and climbed atop a wagon to be seen in the crowd. According to a witness:

“He urged them to return to their houses, so that the bayonets there menacing them might be sent against the common enemy. He told them that such acts would bring famine upon them… as it would deter people from bringing food to the city. He said he was willing to share his last loaf with the suffering people… and he trusted we would… continue united against the Northern invaders, who were the authors of all our sufferings.”

Davis yelled, “You say you are hungry and have no money. Here is all I have. It is not much, but take it.” He threw all the money from his pockets into the crowd. He then pulled out his pocket watch and said, “We do not desire to injure anyone, but this lawlessness must stop. I will give you five minutes to disperse. Otherwise you will be fired on.”

When a large crowd remained after four minutes, Davis held up his pocket watch and announced, “My friends, you have one minute more.” The rioters finally disbanded. Davis directed the police to arrest the most prominent members of the mob; they were tried and briefly jailed.

Davis unofficially asked the Richmond press to “avoid all reference directly or indirectly to the affair,” and he instructed the telegraph companies to “permit nothing relative to the unfortunate disturbance… to be sent over the telegraph lines in any direction for any purpose.” Davis feared that reports of incidents such as these would embolden Federal troops and demoralize Confederates.

Secretary of War James A. Seddon directed military authorities to order the Richmond newspapers to print no articles about the rioting because it would serve “to embarrass our cause (or) to encourage our enemies.” The lead editorial in the April 3 Richmond Dispatch was titled, “Sufferings in the North.” Meanwhile, women and other “non-draftables” continued gathering to beg for food until the City Battalion drove them off.

The Richmond Enquirer broke the press silence on the 4th, but in support of the administration. The Enquirer reported that rumors of the riot were unnecessarily harming morale because the rioters were merely “a handful of prostitutes, professional thieves, Irish and Yankee hags, gallows birds from all lands but our own… (they broke into) half a dozen shoe stores, hat stores and tobacco houses and robbed them of everything but bread, which was just the thing they wanted least.”

The Richmond city council approved a motion stating that the incident had been “in reality instigated by devilish and selfish motives,” but a week later the council members quietly approved allocating $24,000 to feed the citizens. This helped quiet the growing unrest. However, similar outbreaks occurred in Augusta, Columbus and Milledgeville in Georgia, in Salisbury, North Carolina, and in Mobile, Alabama.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 134-36; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 103-04; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 271; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 163-64; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 277; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 334; 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. 617-18; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 199

The Battle of Kelly’s Ford

March 17, 1863 – A battle between opposing horsemen in northern Virginia served as a test for the new Federal Cavalry Corps within the Army of the Potomac.

In February, Confederate cavalry under Brigadier General Fitzhugh Lee (part of Major General Jeb Stuart’s command) had raided the camp of Federal Brigadier General William W. Averell, a West Point classmate and close friend who commanded a division in Major General George Stoneman’s new Cavalry Corps. Lee left a note for Averell before leaving: “I wish you would put up your sword, leave my state, and go home. If you won’t go home, return my visit, and bring me a sack of coffee.”

In March, Averell received Stoneman’s approval to stage a raid of his own. He assembled 3,000 cavalrymen at Morrisville, about six miles northeast of Kelly’s Ford on the Rappahannock River, on the 16th. He detached about 900 troopers to investigate a rumor of Confederates at Brentsville and led the remaining 2,100 to confront Lee’s force near Culpeper Court House. Averell believed he would surprise Lee, who was said to have 3,000 men. Lee only had about 1,000 men, but he already knew that a major Federal force was riding out from Morrisville.

The Federals arrived at Kelly’s Ford before dawn on the 17th and found it guarded by Confederate pickets. Unable to find any other crossing points, Averell’s men charged forward and drove the pickets off. During this time, Lee led his troopers toward the ford, accompanied by Stuart and Major John Pelham, Stuart’s top artillerist, who came to observe the battle.

Averell positioned his men behind a stone wall overlooking a field which the Confederates would have to charge across to get to them. The Federals repelled Lee’s charge with artillery and carbine fire. They then advanced to try taking the Confederate positions but were repelled themselves. A series of charges and countercharges ensued by both mounted and dismounted troopers. Neither side could gain a clear advantage.

The Federals pushed Lee back a mile, but a counterthrust regained the lost ground. Pelham joined in one of the charges near the Wheatley farmhouse, and as he stood in his stirrups to rally the men, a shell fragment hit him in the back of the head. He was taken to his fiancée’s home in Culpeper, where he died the next day without regaining consciousness. He was 25 years old.

Pelham’s Death | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Lee ordered a nearby locomotive to blow its whistle while moving back and forth to trick the Federals into thinking that reinforcements were arriving. Averell received word that Stuart was on the scene and, unaware that Stuart was only there as a spectator, took the bait. He disengaged at 5:30 p.m., leading his men back across the Rappahannock. He left a sack of coffee for a surgeon to deliver to Lee, along with a note: “Dear Fitz, Here’s your coffee. Here’s your visit. How do you like it?”

The Federals sustained 78 casualties (six killed, 50 wounded, and 22 missing or captured), and the Confederates lost 133 (11 killed, 88 wounded, and 34 missing or captured). This was the first test of the new Federal Cavalry Corps, and it served notice that the Federal horsemen were no longer inferior to their Confederate counterparts.

Officers and men in the Army of Northern Virginia mourned the loss of Pelham, especially Stuart. He directed that Pelham’s body lay in state at the George Washington monument in Richmond, and he issued General Orders No. 9 on the 20th:

“The major-general commanding approaches with reluctance the painful duty of announcing to the division its irreparable loss in the death of Major John Pelham, commanding the Horse Artillery. He fell mortally wounded in the battle of Kellysville, March 17th, with the battle-cry on his lips, and the light of victory beaming from his eye… His eye had glanced on every battlefield of this army from the First Manassas to the moment of his death, and he was, with a single exception, a brilliant actor in them all. The memory of ‘the gallant Pelham,’ his many manly virtues, his noble nature and purity of character, are enshrined as a sacred legacy in the hearts of all who knew him. His record has been bright and spotless, his career brilliant and successful.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 267; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 245-47; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 272; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 105-11; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 329; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 568; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 411

Mosby’s Fairfax Raid

March 8, 1863 – Captain John S. Mosby and his Confederate partisans conducted a daring raid that included capturing a general who had been tasked to capture them.

John S. Mosby | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Mosby had recently formed the 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry, an independent Confederate unit in accordance with the Partisan Ranger Act. The battalion was technically part of the Army of Northern Virginia, but the troopers had the freedom to operate outside the army’s immediate vicinity and live among civilians.

Mosby planned to lead his men on a raid of Fairfax Court House, south of Washington. A Federal brigade was stationed about five miles south of town while the brigade’s two ranking officers, Brigadier General Edwin H. Stoughton and Colonel Percy Wyndham, were headquartered in the town itself.

Ironically, Stoughton’s main objective was to capture Confederate partisans such as Mosby. Wyndham had caused Mosby much grief by pursuing him the past few months. A deserter from the 5th New York Cavalry informed Mosby that just a small detachment of troops protected these officers. Mosby selected 29 men to join him without telling them what their mission was. They set out on the night of the 8th.

The Confederates bypassed the Federal pickets and entered Fairfax around 2 a.m. Mosby soon learned that Wyndham had gone to Washington on business, but Stoughton was staying in a nearby brick house. Mosby went and knocked on the door, which was answered by a half-asleep staff officer who was instantly silenced and captured.

The officer quietly led Mosby to Stoughton’s bedroom upstairs, which was littered with empty champagne bottles. The general was sound asleep wearing only his nightshirt. Mosby woke Stoughton by lifting the nightshirt and slapping his bare behind. When Stoughton demanded an explanation, Mosby said, “General, did you ever hear of Mosby?” Stoughton asked, “Yes, have you caught him?” Mosby replied, “No, I am Mosby–he has caught you!”

Mosby persuaded Stoughton not to resist by lying, “(General Jeb) Stuart’s cavalry has possession of the Court House; be quick and dress.” Mosby’s men captured more men than their total force, including Stoughton and two captains. They also netted 58 horses and a large amount of arms and supplies.

Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Southerners celebrated Mosby’s daring raid, which embarrassed the Federal high command and angered the northern public. When President Abraham Lincoln learned of the affair, he tried making light of it by saying that he could make another general in five minutes, “but those horses cost $125 apiece.”

Stoughton was sent to Libby Prison in Richmond as a prisoner of war; he resigned from the army upon his release. Wyndham refused to return to his command for three weeks.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 265; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 514; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 244; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 269; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 514; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 327; Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 724

Hooker Reorganizes the Army of the Potomac

February 5, 1863 – Major General Joseph Hooker worked to reorganize and revitalize the demoralized Federal Army of the Potomac.

Maj Gen Joseph Hooker | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Hooker began the main part of his reorganization with General Order No. 6, which declared that former commander Ambrose E. Burnside’s “Grand Division” structure was “impeding rather than facilitating the dispatch of its current business.” He therefore replaced it with a traditional nine-corps organization:

  • Major General John F. Reynolds commanded I Corps
  • Major General Darius N. Couch commanded II Corps
  • Major General Daniel E. Sickles commanded III Corps
  • Major General George G. Meade commanded V Corps
  • Major General John Sedgwick commanded VI Corps
  • Major General William F. “Baldy” Smith commanded IX Corps
  • Major General Franz Sigel commanded XI Corps
  • Major General Henry W. Slocum commanded XII Corps
  • Major General George Stoneman commanded the new Cavalry Corps

IV Corps was stationed at Fort Monroe, on the Virginia Peninsula between the York and James rivers, detached from the Army of the Potomac. The VII, VIII, and X corps were also detached. Hooker arranged for IX Corps, which had been Burnside’s, to be transferred to Fort Monroe along with IV Corps. He also arranged for Smith to command that corps, knowing that Smith had been one of the conspirators against Burnside and not wanting him around to conspire against himself (Hooker).

For the first time, the army’s cavalry would be combined into a single unit; previously it had been scattered among the various divisions, brigades, and regiments, making it difficult for commanders to concentrate their horsemen against the swarming Confederate troopers. Hooker envisioned using Stoneman just as Robert E. Lee used Jeb Stuart in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Hooker did the opposite for the artillery, dispersing the batteries throughout the corps, divisions, and brigades as needed.

Hooker’s new chief of staff was General Daniel Butterfield, who had composed the song “Taps,” by slightly modifying the “Tattoo” composed by General Winfield Scott in 1835. His father had formed the Butterfield Overland Mail Company.

Army morale sank to a new low in early February, as 10 percent of the troops deserted. Hooker worked to change this by improving army sanitation, health care, food, clothing, shelter, and discipline. He cracked down on corruption in the quartermaster’s department, saw to it that soldiers received their back pay, and granted homesick soldiers furloughs.

Hooker also directed all troops to wear badges signifying the corps to which they belonged. This was similar to the “Kearny” patches that General Philip Kearny had his men wear to better identify them during the Peninsula campaign. Each corps had its own badge shape, and the colors indicated the division numbers (i.e., red was the first division of the corps, white was the second, blue was the third, etc.). The badges were sewn onto the men’s caps, and they helped instill a new sense of pride in their fighting units.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 260; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 233; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 262; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 102-03; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 318-19; 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. 585

The “Mud March”

January 20, 1863 – Major General Ambrose E. Burnside prepared to launch another offensive intended to restore his reputation and revitalize the demoralized Army of the Potomac.

Maj Gen A.E. Burnside | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Burnside made final preparations for his Federals to move out of Falmouth on the 19th. A recent report stated that General Robert E. Lee had sent Confederate troops to North Carolina and Tennessee, thus weakening his Army of Northern Virginia at Fredericksburg. The weather had been unseasonably warm in Virginia, making the roads dry and the river fordable. If Burnside was to atone for the disaster at Fredericksburg, now was the time.

While his superiors at Washington were cautiously optimistic, Burnside’s subordinates believed this operation would fail miserably. An officer wrote, “The general demoralization that had come upon us made two or three months of rest a necessity,” and he “came to the conclusion that Burnside was fast losing his mind.”

Major General William B. Franklin, one of Burnside’s Grand Division commanders, loudly opposed the plan, along with his subordinate, General William “Baldy” Smith. Franklin and Smith argued that Lee’s army had not been weakened enough to be defeated, especially by the dispirited men in this army. An artillery colonel claimed that Franklin “has talked so much and so loudly to this effect that he has completely demoralized his whole command.”

The plan called for the two Grand Divisions under Franklin and Major General Joseph Hooker to march north and cross the Rappahannock at the fords above Fredericksburg. Meanwhile, Major General Edwin V. Sumner’s Grand Division would feint toward Fredericksburg as a diversion, and Major General Franz Sigel’s reserve Grand Division would take the place of Franklin and Hooker on the original line. After crossing the river, Franklin and Hooker would move south against the Confederates’ left flank and force them into an open fight.

As the Federal troops prepared to move on the morning of the 20th, their officers read them a general order from Burnside:

“The commanding general announces to the Army of the Potomac that they are about to meet the enemy once more. The movements of our troops in N.C. and the Southwest had drawn off and divided the Rebel forces on the Rappahannock. The auspicious moment seems to have arrived to strike a great and mortal blow to the rebellion, and to gain that decisive victory which is due to the country… a fame the most glorious awaits.”

Burnside urged “the firm and united action of officers and men, and, under the providence of God, the Army of the Potomac will have taken a great step toward restoring peace to the country and the Government to its rightful authority.”

Around 11 a.m., the Grand Divisions of Hooker and Franklin formed into columns and headed out of Falmouth as bands played “Yankee Doodle.” They marched up the north bank of the Rappahannock, arriving near Banks Ford that night. They would use pontoons to cross the Rappahannock at points above and below the ford the next day.

Meanwhile, the Confederates had conducted a two-day inspection and reported to Lee that Burnside would likely move upriver and try attacking their left. Lee dispatched a division from Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps under Major General George Pickett to occupy positions around Salem Church. These overlooked the fords and enabled the Confederates to oppose a crossing.

Rain began falling late that afternoon, which fell heavier as the night went on. A strong, icy wind blew in, and the previously beautiful weather quickly gave way to a harsh winter storm. A Pennsylvania soldier wrote that “it rained as if the world was coming to an end.” Burnside later said, “From that moment we felt that the winter campaign had ended.” The rain turned to snow farther north, blanketing Washington.

The rain continued into the next morning, and the roads were turning into quagmires. In some places, soldiers sank knee-deep in mud. Artillery wagons sank to their axles, as teams of men and horses struggled to pull them out. Many horses and mules died of exhaustion as the pontoon train fell two miles behind the army. The troops could advance no further until the pontoons could be brought to the front.

The Federal “mud march” | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Pickett’s Confederates could see the Federals struggling across the river. They jeered their counterparts and held up signs reading, “This Way to Richmond,” and “Yanks, If You Can’t Place Your Pontoons Yourself, We Will Send Help.” The day ended with the Federal army hopelessly tangled and neutralized in the rain and muck. An officer wrote:

“An indescribable chaos of pontoons, vehicles, and artillery encumbered all the roads. Supply wagons upset by the roadside, guns stalled in the mud, ammunition trains ruined by the war, and hundreds of horses and mules buried in the liquid mud. The army, in fact, was embargoed; it was no longer a question of how to go forward–it was a question of how to get back.”

The troops bivouacked in the brutal cold that night, as Burnside relentlessly ordered the advance to resume the next morning. The incessant rain had made everything so wet that the troops could not even start fires to cook their dinners. The next day, Burnside tried lifting morale by issuing whiskey, but this only led to arguing and brawling among the frustrated, exhausted men.

Burnside finally saw he could advance no further in these conditions and, around noon on the 22nd, he ordered the army to return to its original camps at Falmouth. But Burnside issued the order from Aquia Creek, 15 miles away, where he expected to meet with General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck. The order to fall back did not reach the Grand Division commanders until that night, so the troops had to bivouac in the cold, wet mud one more night before turning back.

The return march proved just as exhausting as the advance, as troops struggled to pull themselves and their animals and equipment out of the deepening muck. The “mud march” ended in miserable failure, dropping the already low Federal morale even lower.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 123-25; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Cullen, Joseph P., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 97-98; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 256-57; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8691-8701; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 128-30; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 255-57; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5241; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 93, 95-96; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 312-14; 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. 583-84; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 184