Category Archives: Virginia

Lee Submits His Resignation

August 8, 1863 – General Robert E. Lee submitted his resignation as commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to President Jefferson Davis.

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

As both the Federal Army of the Potomac and the Confederate army settled into their camps following the Gettysburg campaign, Lee reflected on his defeat, his general depression as a result, and his recent health problems (having possibly suffered a heart attack). He wrote Davis from his Orange headquarters acknowledging the high command’s dissatisfaction with his performance at Gettysburg.

Lee took a philosophical tone regarding the state of the army:

“We must expect reverses, even defeats. They are sent to teach us wisdom and prudence, to call forth greater energies, and to prevent our falling into greater disasters. Our people have only to be true and united, to bear manfully the misfortunes incident to war, and all will come right in the end.”

Noting the natural inclination to “blame others for the non-fulfillment of our expectations,” Lee wrote that it was “unbecoming in a generous people… I grieve to see its expression.” Lee then wrote:

“The general remedy for the want of success in a military commander is his removal. This is natural, and, in many instances, proper. For, no matter what may be the ability of the officer, if he loses the confidence of his troops disaster must sooner or later ensue. I have been prompted by these reflections more than once since my return from Pennsylvania to propose to Your Excellency the propriety of selecting another commander for this army. I have seen and heard of expression of discontent in the public journals at the result of the expedition. I do not know how far this feeling extends in the army. My brother officers have been too kind to report it, and so far the troops have been too generous to exhibit it. It is fair, however, to suppose that it does exist, and success is so necessary to us that nothing should be risked to secure it. I therefore, in all sincerity, request Your Excellency to take measures to supply my place.”

Lee further explained:

“I cannot even accomplish what I myself desire. How can I fulfill the expectations of others? I have not yet removed from the (heart) attack I experienced the past spring. I am becoming more and more incapable of exertion, and am thus prevented from making the personal examinations and giving the personal supervision to the operations in the field which I feel to be necessary. Everything, therefore, points to the advantages to be derived from a new commander, and I the more anxiously urge the matter upon Your Excellency from my belief that a younger and abler man than myself can readily be attained.”

Lee’s letter of resignation shocked Davis, who relied on Lee as his top field commander. Dealing with other pressing matters at the same time, Davis responded to Lee three days later:

“Yours of the 8th instant has been received. There has been nothing which I have found to require a greater effort of patience than to bear the criticisms of the ignorant, who pronounce everything a failure which does not equal their expectations or desires, and can see no good result which is not in the line of their own imaginings.”

Davis acknowledged “that an officer who loses the confidence of his troops should have his position changed, whatever may be his ability, but-when I read the sentence I was not at all prepared for the application you were about to make.” Davis declared that “expressions of discontent in the public journals furnish but little evidence of the sentiment of an army,” and he considered the press “generally partisan” and “venal.”

Regarding Lee’s argument that he should be replaced, Davis wrote:

“But suppose, my dear friend, that I were to admit, with all their implications, the points which you present, where am I to find that new commander who is to possess the greater ability which you believe to be required?… if Providence should kindly offer such a person for our use, I would not hesitate to avail of his services… My sight is not sufficiently penetrating to discover such hidden merit, if it exists, and I have but used to you the language of sober earnestness when I have impressed upon you the propriety of avoiding all unnecessary exposure to danger, because I felt our country could not bear to lose you. To ask me to substitute you by some one in my judgment more fit to command, or who would possess more of the confidence of the army, or of the reflecting men of the country, is to demand an impossibility.”

Davis refused to accept Lee’s resignation, concluding:

“It only remains for me to hope that you will take all possible care of yourself, that your health and strength may be entirely restored, and that the Lord will preserve you for the important duties devolved upon you in the struggle of our suffering country for the independence which we have engaged in war to maintain.”

When Lee received Davis’s letter, he responded by offering to serve in a lesser capacity: “The lower the position, the more suitable to my ability, and the more agreeable to my feelings. Beyond such assistance as I can give an invalid wife and three houseless daughters I have no object in life but to devote myself to the defense of our violated country’s rights.”

But Davis would have none of it. Lee was the only Confederate army commander with whom he never had a quarrel. He could not allow him to serve in any capacity other than commander of the army that protected the Confederate capital.

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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. 428; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 315; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), p. 656-62; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 338; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 162; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 395-96

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The Gettysburg Aftermath: The Armies Settle Back in Virginia

July 28, 1863 – Both the Federal Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia settled into position, as Major General George G. Meade was dissuaded from attacking and General Robert E. Lee submitted his official report on the Battle of Gettysburg.

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

By the 28th, Lee had evaded all Federal efforts to trap and destroy his army, skirting around Meade’s southern flank and moving east to safety near Culpeper Court House. Meade, having missed opportunities to destroy Lee’s army in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and now Virginia, moved his army to Warrenton. He reported that he had 105,623 officers and men, including about 13,500 cavalrymen, present for duty. Lee had about 59,178 officers and men, including some 9,000 horsemen.

Confederate scouts correctly located each of Meade’s seven corps in the Warrenton area, but they could not determine their sizes. Lee reported to President Jefferson Davis, “Although our loss has been so heavy, which is a source of constant grief to me, I believe the damage to the enemy has been as great in proportion. This has shown by the feeble operations since.”

He forwarded intelligence to Davis that Meade was being reinforced, adding that “their means are greater than ours, and I fear when they move again, they will much outnumber us.” Lee proposed possibly withdrawing behind the Rapidan River, which was where Meade believed he already was. Lee wrote, “The enemy now seems to be content to remain quiescent,” while “prepared to oppose any offensive movement on our part.”

Lee was wrong. Washington continued prodding Meade into launching another offensive, with General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck reminding Meade that “Lee’s army is the objective point.” Meade replied on the 28th, “I am making every effort to prepare this army for an advance.” He continued, “I am in hopes to commence the movement tomorrow, when I shall first throw over (the Rappahannock River) a cavalry force to feel for the enemy, and cross the infantry as fast as possible.”

However, Meade added, “No reliable intelligence of the position of the enemy has been obtained,” and the Confederate “pickets” along the railroad to Fredericksburg “seem to be mere ‘look-outs’ to warn him of my approach.” Various reports placed Lee’s army at Gordonsville, Culpeper, Cedar Mountain, Staunton, and even beyond the Rapidan on its way to Richmond.

Meade told Halleck, “My plan is to advance on the railroad to Culpeper and as far beyond as the enemy’s position will permit.” He sought to cut the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, Lee’s supposed supply line to Richmond, to determine “the practicability of maintaining open such a long line of communication.”

Later that day, Meade received word that Lee’s army was at Culpeper Court House. He also forwarded a report that “Lee has been re-enforced by D.H. Hill, reported with 10,000 men, and that he intends to make a stand at Culpeper or in its vicinity.” While it was true that Lee was at Culpeper, Major General D.H. Hill had not reinforced him (Hill had instead gone to reinforce General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee). Nevertheless, Meade planned to advance on the 29th, even if his army was not ready, if only to appease his superiors’ call for immediate action.

But now that Lee had reached Culpeper, President Abraham Lincoln no longer saw the need for Meade to immediately attack. The president wrote Halleck on the morning of the 29th, stating that Meade’s plan “causes me to fear that he supposes the Government here is demanding of him to bring on a general engagement with Lee as soon as possible. I am claiming no such thing of him.”

Lincoln had pressed Meade to attack in Pennsylvania and Maryland, but now the Federals were back in Virginia, where Lee had consistently defeated the Army of the Potomac. Lincoln told Halleck, “If he (Meade) could not safely engage Lee at Williamsport, it seems absurd to suppose he can safely engage him now, when he has scarcely more than two-thirds of the force he had at Williamsport, while it must be that Lee has been re-enforced.”

Lincoln continued, “True, I desired General Meade to pursue Lee across the Potomac, hoping, as has proved true, that he would thereby clear the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and get some advantage by harassing him on his retreat,” despite Halleck telling Meade at the time that he had greatly dissatisfied the president. Lincoln concluded, “I am unwilling he should now get into a general engagement on the impression that we here are pressing him.”

Halleck passed this message on to Meade, who responded the next day: “The impression of the President is correct. I have been acting under the belief, from your telegrams, that it was his and your wish that I should pursue Lee and bring him to a general engagement, if practicable.” Meade clarified that he had not failed to attack at Williamsport, Lee had just retreated before the attack began; he also declared that, contrary to Lincoln’s estimation, the army was at full strength, not two-thirds the size it was at Williamsport.

Meade wrote that his army’s current position was vulnerable to flank attacks, therefore it should advance against Lee before Lee advanced first. Halleck shared Meade’s message with Lincoln, then replied that the Federals should stay north of the Rappahannock for now. More troops might be needed from the army if the northern draft riots got any worse, Halleck explained.

Meade responded, “In my judgment, if there were no other considerations than the relative strength and position of the two armies, I should favor an advance.” But Halleck and Lincoln insisted that Meade stay put for now. To do so safely, Meade needed to secure the Rappahannock crossings in his front. Brigadier General John Buford’s cavalry and XII Corps cleared Confederates away from Kelly’s Ford on the 31st, and they moved upriver to clear Rappahannock Station the next day.

Confederates patrolled the region between Rappahannock Station and Fredericksburg, guessing that if a Federal attack came, it would come from that area. On the last day of July, Lee submitted his official report on the Battle of Gettysburg to Davis, reiterating that the soldiers were not responsible for the defeat:

“The conduct of the troops was all that I could desire or expect, and they deserved success so far as it can be deserved by heroic valor and fortitude. More may have been required of them than they were able to perform, but my admiration of their noble qualities and confidence in their ability to cope successfully with the enemy has suffered no abatement from the issue of this protracted and sanguinary conflict.”

Davis, who had been despairing over the major defeats at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Port Hudson, Jackson, and Tullahoma this month, confided in Lee near month’s end:

“General Johnston, after evacuating Jackson, retreated to the east, to the pine woods of Mississippi, and if he has any other plan than that of watching the enemy, it has not been communicated… this war can only be successfully prosecuted while we have the cordial support of the people. In various quarters there are mutterings of discontent, and threats of alienation are said to exist, with preparation for organized opposition. I have felt more than ever before the want of your advice during the recent period of disaster. If a victim would secure the success of our cause I would freely offer myself.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 569, 647; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 335; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6327; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 392

The Gettysburg Aftermath: Lee Escapes Again

July 23, 1863 – Major General George G. Meade’s Federal Army of the Potomac missed another opportunity to destroy General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

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

Meade hoped to trap two-thirds of Lee’s army west of the Blue Ridge in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s Confederate First Corps had pushed east through Chester Gap, and Meade was unaware that by the morning of the 23rd, Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Third Corps did the same. Hill left a brigade at Manassas Gap to defend against a possible Federal attack on Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Second Corps, which was following Hill.

Meade dispatched three corps to Manassas Gap, with III Corps in the lead. The corps had been led by Major General Daniel Sickles, but Sickles lost a leg at Gettysburg and was replaced by Major General William French. On the 23rd, French sent skirmishers through the gap to determine Confederate strength. All of French’s divisions arrived later that day, and they began moving through the gap. Captain C.H. Andrews, commanding the Confederate brigade assigned to hold them off, later wrote:

“They threw forward two regiments of cavalry and six of infantry as skirmishers. A line of battle of three brigades was formed in rear of these skirmishers. To each of these brigades was attached a battery of artillery. In rear of their line of battle, 15 regiments of infantry in column of regiments were formed in support and reserve.”

The Federals drove the Confederates back two miles toward Chester Gap, where the rest of Lee’s army was trying to pass east. The Federals charged a second time, and, according to Andrews, “We resisted them to the utmost of human capacity.” A third charge finally broke the thin Confederate line, sending the troops back into a skirmish line formed by arriving troops of Major General Robert Rodes’s division.

Rodes later reported that the Federal officers “acted generally with great gallantry, but the men behaved in a most cowardly manner. A few shots from Carter’s artillery and the skirmisher’s fire halted them, broke them, and put a stop to the engagement.” Rodes called the Federals’ conduct “decidedly puerile.”

French ordered his men to fall back. They secured Manassas Gap, but they could not prevent the Confederates from continuing their move farther south through Chester Gap. A single Confederate brigade had stalled an entire Federal corps for hours, enabling much of Lee’s army to pass through the Blue Ridge. Another opportunity to destroy the Confederates was lost, and Meade received harsh criticism for entrusting French, an inexperienced commander, to lead such an operation.

But Meade had not yet received word that most of Lee’s army had gotten away. At 10 p.m., he wired General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “There are reasons for my considering it probable that but a small portion of his army has passed on. I shall attack his position covering Chester Gap tomorrow at daylight.”

By that time, Ewell had led his corps farther south, to Thornton’s Gap, and moved east through the Blue Ridge without resistance. French’s corps advanced into the Shenandoah Valley to Front Royal and discovered the Confederates were gone. A disappointed Meade reported to Washington:

“I regret to inform you that, on advancing this morning at daylight, the enemy had again disappeared, declining battle, and though an immediate advance was made and Front Royal occupied, nothing was seen of him but a rear guard of cavalry with a battery of artillery. I then ascertained that for two days he had been retreating with great celerity…”

Longstreet’s corps arrived at Culpeper Court House, south of Meade, as Meade’s Federals began assembling at Warrenton. Lee wrote to President Jefferson Davis that he had intended to move east of the Blue Ridge before the Federals crossed the Potomac, but various issues prevented that. Lee sought to heal his battered army as both he and Meade began moving back into their old camps.

This ended the fateful Gettysburg campaign. As details of the Confederate defeat began spreading throughout the South, some began doubting Lee’s leadership abilities. On Sunday the 26th, the head of the Confederate Bureau of War, R.G.H. Kean, wrote in his diary:

“Gettysburg has shaken my faith in Lee as a general. To fight an enemy superior in numbers at such terrible disadvantage of position in the heart of his own territory, when the freedom of movement gave him the advantage of selecting his own time and place for accepting battle, seems to have been a great military blunder. (Moreover) the battle was worse in execution than in plan… God help this unhappy country!”

Josiah Gorgas, Confederate ordnance chief, lamented in his diary:

“Events have succeeded one another with disastrous rapidity. One brief month ago we were apparently at the point of success. Lee was in Pennsylvania, threatening Harrisburgh, and even Philadelphia. Vicksburgh seemed to laugh all Grant’s efforts to scorn… Port Hudson had beaten off Banks’ force… Now the picture is just as sombre as it was bright then… It seems incredible that human power could effect such a change in so brief a space. Yesterday we rode on the pinnacle of success; today absolute ruin seems to be our portion. The Confederacy totters to its destruction.”

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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. 312; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 642; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 334; Hubbell, John T., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 472; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 390-91; 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. 665

The Gettysburg Aftermath: Meade Tries Cutting Lee Off

July 19, 1863 – General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia hurried to get through the Blue Ridge, and Major General George G. Meade’s Federal Army of the Potomac hurried to cut them off.

On the 15th, President Abraham Lincoln issued a “Proclamation of Thanksgiving” for August 6. The day was to be spent expressing gratitude to God for “victories on land and on the sea so signal and so effective as to furnish reasonable grounds for augmented confidence that the Union of these States will be maintained, their Constitution preserved, and their peace and prosperity permanently restored…”

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

That same day, Lee rested his Confederates in the Bunker Hill area, north of Winchester and about 20 miles from the Potomac River. He directed his men to thresh nearby wheat, ground it up, and ration it among themselves along with the beef captured from Pennsylvania.

Lee wrote his wife that the army “has accomplished all that could be reasonably expected. It ought not to have been expected to perform impossibilities, or to have fulfilled the anticipations of the thoughtless and unreasonable.” He expressed hope that the official campaign reports would “protect the reputation of every officer,” and he would not blame subordinates for the defeat at Gettysburg. Lee instead blamed himself for expecting too much from the men.

Federal cavalry clashed with some of Lee’s troops moving through Halltown and Shepherdstown, but the rest of the Federal army could not cross the Potomac because it had risen once more. Meade directed three corps to march to Harpers Ferry, and the other four corps to go six miles downstream to Berlin. The men built bridges and finally began crossing the river on the 16th.

As Lee continued reorganizing his army, he wrote President Jefferson Davis, “The men are in good health and spirits, but want shoes and clothing badly… As soon as these necessary articles are obtained, we shall be prepared to resume operations.” Lee shared reports that Federals were about to cross the river at Harpers Ferry, and he told Davis, “Should he follow us in this direction, I shall lead him up the Valley and endeavor to attack him as far from his base as possible.”

The Federals completed their three-day crossing of the Potomac on Sunday the 19th. They quickly advanced south up Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley toward the Confederates past the Blue Ridge. Lee directed Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s First Corps to cross the Shenandoah River and seize Ashby’s Gap, “should nothing occur to arrest your progress.” Lee hoped to secure as many gaps in the Blue Ridge as needed to move east and protect Richmond.

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

Meade hoped to block Lee’s eastward movement by seizing the gaps first. He directed a cavalry division under Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick to occupy Ashby’s Gap, and two other divisions under Brigadier Generals John Buford and David Gregg to cover Manassas and Gregory’s gaps. Meade also dispatched XII Corps to hold Snicker’s Gap between Manassas and Gregory’s.

The Federals reached Ashby’s Gap before Longstreet, who resolved to move instead to Front Royal, farther south. Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Third Corps followed Longstreet on the 21st, and Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Second Corps followed Hill two days later. Meade moved south cautiously, guarding against a possible Confederate thrust northward into his rear that could cut his communication and supply lines to Washington.

Buford sent a brigade under Brigadier General Wesley Merritt to cover Manassas Gap, which arrived to secure it before the Confederates. Merritt’s Federals clashed with the 17th Virginia, Longstreet’s leading regiment, on the 21st. Merritt reported:

“The regiment is about 600 strong, which of itself in this country is enough to hold my entire brigade in check, as I cannot use my artillery to advantage. The wounds inflicted on the men of my brigade are very severe, and the arms captured from the enemy are the Springfield rifle. I will feel them again to-morrow.”

Buford’s other brigade, led by Colonel William Gamble, rode to cover Chester Gap farther south but discovered that Confederates already took it. This indicated to Meade that the main part of Lee’s army was no longer threatening his rear at Winchester, but rather trying to reach the Rappahannock River. The Confederates tried pushing through Chester Gap on the 22nd, while Gamble’s troopers held positions a mile and a half east. Gamble reported:

“When the head of the enemy’s column came within easy range, we opened fire on it with artillery and the carbines of the dismounted men so effectually that his column, with his wagon train, halted and fell back out of our range, his advance guard and skirmishers being still engaged with ours, and continued firing, we holding our position, and preventing the head of Longstreet’s corps from moving forward from the Gap from 8 a.m. till 6 p.m.”

Longstreet sent Major General George Pickett’s division south to outflank Gamble, who wrote that he was compelled to withdraw “when the enemy brought five regiments of infantry around out of sight in the woods, and, approaching my left flank, drove in our skirmishers.” This opened the gap, enabling the Confederates to pour through and cross the Blue Ridge on their way east.

At 2 p.m. the next day, Gamble reported that “the rebel army, with strong flankers, is still passing on this road. There is no doubt that the rebel army is pushing toward Culpeper on both sides of the mountains as fast as it possibly can, and I hope our army will act accordingly.”

Sensitive to charges that he had not shown enough aggression after the Battle of Gettysburg, Meade ordered III Corps, now commanded by Major General William French (after Major General Daniel Sickles was wounded at Gettysburg), to attack the Confederates at Manassas Gap. Longstreet may have pushed through Chester Gap, but Meade hoped to trap Hill and Ewell before they could follow suit.

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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. 309-11; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 593-94, 627; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 333; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6316, 6327; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 386-89

From Florence McCarthy, 7th Virginia

Letter from Florence McCarthy, a chaplain for the 7th Virginia Volunteer Infantry

Williamsport, Maryland

July 10, 1863

Virginia State Flag | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

DEAR SISTER:

I saw Billy a few days ago. He was cheerful and in excellent health and said that Julian was well as usual.

They were in the hottest of the battle. Jim Marpin and another young man were shot through and through by a cannon ball at Billy’s gun.

Williamsport is a one-horse town on the north bank of the Potomac and in the western part of the valley. The houses are riddled and almost all deserted, and the country for a mile around is fetid with beef offal, and dead horses. We passed through this place on our way north, went from here to Hagerstown and then to Greencastle, Pa., Chambersburg, Pa., Gettysburg, Pa.–where we fought–and then to Hagerstown, Maryland, and Williamsport, Maryland, again. At the present Ewell’s Corps is at Hagerstown, Picket’s Division is here, and I have no conception where the remainder of the army is unless it has gone to Boonsboro or Sharpsburg.

I have been marched nearly to death. In coming from Gettysburg here, we marched three days and two nights without stopping except long enough to cook food. Most of the time it rained and the roads were perfectly awful. My socks have given out, I can buy none, beg one, steal none and it is a matter of impossibility to get a piece of clothing washed. I am lousy and dirty and have no hope of changing flannel for weeks to come. Food has been scarcer than ever. We are now enjoying a resting spell, which has already lasted three days.

We passed through Berryville, Virginia. The ladies were very kind and polite to the soldiers, but appeared to me to be rich, unrefined and ugly and ill-favored generally. Williamsport is a nest of abolitionists and free negroes. Hagerstown shut up the windows and put on mourning when we came, but when the Yankee prisoners came through went into ecstasies. Greencastle is a pretty place of about two hundred inhabitants connected by railroad with Chambersburg. Chambersburg is a pretty little city of six thousand inhabitants. I could not get into Gettysburg. It was torn all to pieces with shell…

Our men have strict orders to take nothing without paying, but they do just as they please, which is not a twentieth part as bad as they did in Virginia. The chickens, hogs and vegetables are being consumed rapidly. The crop in some places will be ruined by camps and by stock, but we have not hurt them enough to talk about. All their public property except state property has been destroyed that we could destroy.

The Battle of Gettysburg was the most awful of the war, but the battle proper did not last three hours. Our division is thought to have suffered most. It has been detailed a provost errand for the army, so small has it been made. I’m inclined to think, however, that it will be kept in the field and compelled in the future as in the past to do the hardest marching and the hardest fighting of the war.

Colonel Patton, it was thought, was killed. Colonel Flowers has been reinstated and has taken command. He is the most immodest, obscene, profane, low flung blackguard on the earth and hates me with a perfect hatred. I do not believe I have another enemy in the regiment but him. He had tried his best last year to disgrace and ruin me and I expect now he will try harder than ever. I shall not be surprised at anything he does. My plan is to keep cool, say nothing and suffer everything…

Give my best love to pa and ma and all.

Your affectionate brother,

F. MCCARTHY

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Source: Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 152-56

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

Hooker Pursues Lee in Earnest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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