Category Archives: Virginia

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

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The Second Battle of Winchester

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

Gen. Robert Milroy | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

Confederates Threaten Winchester

June 12, 1863 – Part of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia drove toward Winchester on its way to the Potomac River and the North.

As the Confederates continued their march toward the Shenandoah Valley, the only substantial obstacle in their path was Major General Robert H. Milroy’s 5,100-man Federal division, which had guarded Winchester and Harpers Ferry since January. This force was part of Major General Robert C. Schenck’s Middle Department. Schenck, headquartered at Baltimore, warned Milroy to be on alert and prepare to defend Harpers Ferry against a potential attack, even if it meant abandoning Winchester.

Gen. Robert Milroy | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Milroy was extremely unpopular among the people of Winchester because of his dictatorial rule. He destroyed buildings and houses to build fortifications, he arrested anyone expressing Confederate sympathies, he freed local slaves (prompting Virginia Governor John Letcher to offer a $100,000 reward for his capture or execution), and he seized private homes to shelter his troops. Even many Unionists had turned against Milroy due to his harsh tactics.

Milroy told Schenck that abandoning Winchester would not be necessary because he had built defenses there that could withstand any Confederate assault. One of Schenck’s aides inspected the defenses and reported that the Federals “can whip anything the rebels can fetch here.” Milroy asserted, “I can and would hold it, if permitted to do so against any force the rebels can afford to bring against me, and I exceedingly regret the prospect of having to give it up…”

General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, who saw no benefit in holding Winchester, wrote Schenck:

“Harpers Ferry is the important place, Winchester is of no importance other than as a lookout. The Winchester troops, except enough to serve as an outpost, should be withdrawn to Harpers Ferry.”

The message was forwarded to Milroy with an attachment: “It must be considered an order, and obeyed accordingly. Take immediate steps. You understand this.” Milroy replied on the 11th, “I have sufficient force to hold the place safely, but if any portion is withdrawn the balance will be captured in 48 hours.”

Meanwhile, the vanguard of the Confederate army, Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Second Corps, continued moving toward Winchester, reaching the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge that day and crossing on the 12th. Ewell planned to divide his 13,000 men by sending part to take Colonel Andrew T. McReynolds’s 1,800-man Federal brigade at Berryville and part to take Milroy’s garrison at Winchester.

Although Halleck had urged Milroy to withdraw to Harpers Ferry, Milroy insisted that his Federals could hold Winchester. Schenck, after receiving Milroy’s assurance that Winchester could be held, wired him, “Be ready, but wait for further orders.” Milroy was to “make all the required preparations for withdrawing,” but stay put unless ordered to leave.

Of the three Federal commands in the Shenandoah Valley (Milroy’s at Winchester, McReynolds’s at Berryville, and Brigadier General Benjamin F. Kelley’s at Harpers Ferry), none had seen anything more than Confederate cavalry and therefore did not know a Confederate army was heading their way. But Milroy guessed they would come at some point, wiring Schenck, “The enemy are probably approaching in some force. I am entirely ready for them. I can hold this place.”

Milroy explained that holding Winchester was vital to secure the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, guard Unionists in the region, and protect nearby foodstuffs being harvested for the troops. The fortifications outside the town made Milroy confident that “I can hold them against five times my number.” Based on this, Milroy wrote, “I am, therefore, decidedly of the opinion that every dictate of interest, policy, humanity, patriotism, and bravery requires that we should not yield a foot of this country up to the traitors again.”

By day’s end, Ewell’s Confederates had marched through Chester Gap and camped north of Cedarville, less than 20 miles from Winchester. The next morning, Ewell’s cavalry under Brigadier General Albert G. Jenkins and one of his infantry divisions under Major General Robert Rodes struck out for Berryville, while Ewell’s other two divisions under Major Generals Edward “Allegheny” Johnson and Jubal Early headed to Winchester, 12 miles east of Berryville.

Rodes hoped to take McReynolds by surprise, but a Federal picket had already alerted him of the Confederates’ approach. Rodes dispatched Jenkins’s cavalry to pursue the withdrawing garrison, but the troopers could not catch the Federals before they joined Milroy at Winchester. McReynolds, having only seen enemy cavalry during his withdrawal, still did not know that Confederate infantry was approaching.

At Harpers Ferry, Kelley heard rumors that the Confederates had destroyed all available supplies at Berryville. He wrote, “If this is reliable, it would seem as if it was not a movement in force” because an advancing army would need those supplies.

Meanwhile, Johnson drove in Federal outposts south of Winchester, while Early moved to confront the fort west of town. Skirmishing occurred until nightfall, when Milroy learned from a Confederate prisoner that his Federals were facing Ewell’s corps. He wrote Schenck, “I can hold this place five days if you can relieve me in that time. They will surround, but can’t take, my fortifications.”

Schenck ordered Milroy to abandon Winchester, but the message did not get through due to downed telegraph wires.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 22-23, 32-33; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18985; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 293-94; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 439-40; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 308-09; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 364-65; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 307-08, 495-96, 834-35

Hooker’s Pursuit Begins

June 10, 1863 – Major General Joseph Hooker put the Federal Army of the Potomac in motion as General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia approached the Shenandoah Valley.

Lee’s Confederates resumed their march on the 10th, despite the toll the Battle of Brandy Station had taken on Major General Jeb Stuart’s cavalry. Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Second Corps took the lead, moving northwest from Culpeper Court House toward the Shenandoah Valley and the fords on the Potomac River.

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

During the movement, Lee wrote President Jefferson Davis about a subject he rarely discussed: politics. Lee sought to inform Davis about “the manner in which the demonstration of a desire for peace at the North has been received in our country.” Lee felt that the Confederacy needed to help cultivate the growing peace movement in the North to gain independence.

Lee wrote, “We should not conceal from ourselves that our resources in men are constantly diminishing, and the disproportion in this respect between us and our enemies, if they continue united in their efforts to subjugate us, is steadily augmenting.” The time would come when the Federals’ resources would be too great to overcome militarily, thus efforts needed to be made to divide the northern home front by supporting the Copperheads (i.e., anti-war Democrats). Lee asserted:

“Should the belief that peace will bring back the Union become general, the war would no longer be supported, and that, after all, is what we are interested in bringing about. When peace is proposed to us, it will be time enough to discuss its terms, and it is not the part of prudence to spurn the proposition in advance, merely because those who made it believe, or affect to believe, that it will result in bringing us back to the Union.”

Lee concluded that if Davis agreed with these points, then “you will best know how to give effect to them.”

For the Lincoln administration, the Brandy Station engagement confirmed that the Confederates posed a potential threat to the Shenandoah Valley, stretching northward into Maryland and Pennsylvania. Panic began spreading in those states, as the governors of both Maryland and Pennsylvania urged citizens to rise up and defend their homes.

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton assigned Major General William T.H. Brooks to command the new Department of the Monongahela, headquartered at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This was intended to counter possible Confederate raids into that region, which had formerly been part of the Middle Department and the Department of Ohio.

Stanton also assigned Major General Darius N. Couch to command the new Department of the Susquehanna, headquartered at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Formerly second in command in the Army of the Potomac, Couch was reassigned after expressing disgust over Hooker’s performance at Chancellorsville and refusing to serve under him any longer.

Couch issued orders to raise a volunteer corps to defend Pennsylvania. This resulted in the recruitment of several companies of men serving for 100 days. Brooks also began trying to raise militia to augment his volunteer forces. However, he managed to raise just one partially armed regiment, mainly because the government discouraged militia recruitment in favor of volunteer enlistments.

The Battle of Brandy Station indicated to the Federals that most of the Confederate cavalry was near Culpeper, meaning that Washington was in no danger of being attacked. Also, Hooker believed that most of Lee’s army had left Fredericksburg and headed north, even though he was still not sure what Lee planned to do.

Hooker told President Abraham Lincoln that if this was true, then Lee “can leave nothing behind to interpose any serious obstacle of my rapid advance on Richmond.” He therefore asked, “will it not promote the true interest of the cause for me to march to Richmond at once?… I do not hesitate to say that I should adopt this course as being the most speedy and certain mode of giving the rebellion a mortal blow.” Lincoln quickly responded:

“If left to me, I would not go south of Rappahannock upon Lee’s moving north of it. If you had Richmond invested today, you would not be able to take it in 20 days; meanwhile your communications, and with them your army, would be ruined. I think Lee’s army, and not Richmond, is your true objective point. If he comes toward the Upper Potomac, follow on his flank and on his inside track, shortening your lines whilst he lengthens his. Fight him, too, when opportunity offers. If he stays where he is, fret him and fret him.”

Part of Hooker’s army began marching north on the morning of the 11th, pursuing Lee but staying on what Lincoln called the “inside track.” Hooker was required to keep his army between Lee in his front and Washington in his rear, even though he still did not know Lee’s exact location. Most of his army remained at Falmouth.

Hooker received various reports from cavalry, scouts, and observation balloons, but some of them conflicted. In fact, Hooker wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck on the 12th, “It is reported to me from the balloon that several new rebel camps have made their appearance this morning. There can be no doubt but that the enemy has been greatly re-enforced.” That afternoon, Hooker wrote Major General John A. Dix, commanding at Fort Monroe:

“All of Lee’s army, so far as I know, is extended along the immediate bands of the Rappahannock, from Hamilton’s Crossing (south of Fredericksburg) to Culpeper. A.P. Hill’s corps is on his right, below Fredericksburg. Ewell’s corps joins his left, leading to the Rapidan; and beyond that river is (James) Longstreet’s corps, with not less than 10,000 cavalry, under Stuart… From my balloon it can be seen that he is daily receiving acquisitions. He has a numerical superiority over me.”

Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton, heading the Federal Cavalry Corps, reported to Hooker, “I am inclined to believe they will not send off their cavalry or make a move until they are satisfied of ours. The information I receive is that they will play the defensive until we make a false step.”

On the 13th, Pleasonton passed along rumors that Ewell’s corps was now approaching the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge. Unaware that Ewell was already in the Shenandoah Valley, Hooker directed his army to transfer its base of operations from Falmouth to Manassas Junction, keeping between Lee and Washington. The Federals began pulling out of Falmouth that night, leaving the camps they had occupied since November of last year.

Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Confederates began moving out of the Fredericksburg defenses on the 14th, after reporting that Hooker was leaving Falmouth. While Ewell invested the Federals at Winchester, Lieutenant General Longstreet’s corps controlled the gaps in the Blue Ridge so Hill and the rest of the army could march through.

Confusion reigned in Washington. Halleck notified Hooker, “Pleasonton’s telegrams… contain all the information we have of the enemy’s movements. They are very contradictory.” Finally realizing that Lee might invade the North, Hooker warned Brooks at Pittsburgh to be on alert. Brooks frantically tried raising volunteers. Hooker wrote Lincoln, “If the enemy should be making for Maryland, I will make the best dispositions in my power to come up with him.”

Lincoln replied, “If the head of Lee’s army is at Martinsburg and the tail of it on the Plank road between Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, the animal must be very slim somewhere. Could you not break him?” The next day, Hooker conceded that “it is not in my power to prevent” Lee from invading the North. Lincoln issued a call for 100,000 militia volunteers in West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Panic spread through Baltimore.

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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. 390; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 294; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 14, 22-23, 32-33; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18985; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 293-94; 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, 447-48; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 308-09, 311; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5732-44; Hoffsommer, Robert D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 187; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 364-67; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 504-06; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 649, 651; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 737; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 307-08

The Battle of Brandy Station

June 9, 1863 – Major General Jeb Stuart’s Confederate cavalry narrowly escaped defeat in the largest cavalry battle ever waged in North America.

Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton’s 11,000 Federals crossed the Rappahannock River at dawn. One wing under Brigadier General John Buford crossed at Beverly Ford, while the other wing under Brigadier General David Gregg crossed four miles downstream at Kelly’s Ford.

Pleasonton had orders to “disperse and destroy the rebel force” of Stuart. He expected to find Stuart near Culpeper Court House, but Stuart’s command was spread across six miles from Brandy Station, a few miles north of Culpeper, to Stevensburg. Stuart was in no position to defend against such a large onslaught.

Buford advanced and surprised Confederates under Brigadier General William “Grumble” Jones, driving them back from the Rappahannock toward Brandy Station. The initial clash also surprised the Federals because they had not expected such strong resistance so far from Culpeper. Confederate troopers raced off to warn Stuart, who hurriedly concentrated his command around his headquarters at Fleetwood Hill. Soon reinforcements under Generals Rooney Lee (son of General Robert E. Lee) and Wade Hampton rushed into the fray.

Fighting at Brandy Station | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Buford attacked the Confederate left under Rooney Lee but was repulsed by dismounted troopers firing from behind a stone wall. Buford ordered several more attacks, and a vicious struggle developed. The Confederates desperately held their ground, knowing that if the Federals broke through to Culpeper, they would see the main army camps and discover that the Army of Northern Virginia was heading north.

Gregg’s wing came up around noon and surprised the Confederates from the south. The Confederates quickly stopped the threat with artillery, while a detachment from Gregg’s wing under Colonel Alfred Duffie unsuccessfully attacked enemy horsemen at Stevensburg.

Meanwhile, opposing troopers charged and countercharged for over 10 hours for possession of Fleetwood Hill, the key point on the battlefield. A Maine regiment reached the crest but was beaten back. Two charges by Rush’s Lancers of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry resulted in the wounding and capture of Major Robert Morris, Jr., grandson of Robert Morris, “the Financier of the American Revolution.”

Pleasonton informed Major General Joseph Hooker, commanding the Army of the Potomac, that the Confederates put up a fierce resistance, and Hooker authorized him to disengage. Pleasonton finally began withdrawing around 4:30 p.m. His troopers fell back in good order, using the same fords to re-cross the Rappahannock.

Each side committed about 10,000 men to the contest, making it the largest cavalry battle in American history. The Federals sustained 866 casualties (81 killed, 403 wounded, and 382 missing). They also lost three Federal guns and several stands of colors. The Confederates lost 523 men, including Rooney Lee, who suffered a serious leg wound. This was an exceptionally high number of casualties for a cavalry battle, refuting the infantry’s long-repeated question, “Whoever saw a dead cavalryman?”

Stuart may have driven Pleasonton off and retained control of Fleetwood Hill, but the new Federal Cavalry Corps matched their legendary Confederate counterparts for the first time. A Federal officer later asserted that this battle “made the Federal Cavalry.” Although Pleasonton did not discover Lee’s northward movement, he provided Hooker with other valuable information.

The southern press harshly criticized Stuart and his “puffed up cavalry” for being surprised and nearly defeated at Brandy Station. An editorial in the Richmond Examiner alleged that this embarrassment had been caused by “vain and empty-headed officers.” The Richmond Sentinel stated, “Vigilance, vigilance, more vigilance, is the lesson taught us by the Brandy surprise. Let all learn it, from the Major General down to the picket.”

Stuart’s cavalry was assigned to screen the Confederate army’s northward advance. But Stuart soon began planned to make amends for this engagement by staging another sensational raid.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 10, 16-22, 25; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18977; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 293; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 438; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 306-07; Jensen, Les D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 182; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 46; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 363-64; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 647-48; McCoy, Patrick M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 587; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 307-09

Battle Looms in Northern Virginia

June 8, 1863 – Major General Jeb Stuart staged another extravagant Confederate cavalry review while Federal horsemen closed in on him.

General Robert E. Lee struck his headquarters at Hamilton’s Crossing, south of Fredericksburg, Virginia, on the 6th and headed north to join the main Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. As the troops moved toward the Shenandoah Valley, Confederate cavalry stationed there under Brigadier General General John D. Imboden demonstrated against Romney to divert Federal attention.

Meanwhile, Major General Joseph Hooker, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, ordered scouting expeditions both north and south of Fredericksburg to “feel the enemy and cause him to develop his strength.” Hooker added, “Let your pickets chat enough not to tell him (the enemy) anything, but to find out his regiments.”

Upon learning that Stuart’s cavalry was at Culpeper, Hooker wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “As the accumulation of the heavy rebel force of cavalry about Culpeper may mean mischief, I am determined, if practicable, to break it up in its incipiency.”

Hooker planned to send Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton’s Cavalry Corps, supported by 3,000 infantry in two brigades, to confront Stuart. Pleasonton assembled his two cavalry divisions under Brigadier Generals John Buford and David Gregg, and the infantry under Brigadier Generals Adelbert Ames and David Russell.

However, Hooker continued receiving conflicting reports of Confederates both strengthening and abandoning their defenses at Fredericksburg. It seemed clearer in Washington, where Major General Samuel P. Heintzelman, commanding the capital defenses, wrote General Julius Stahel, commanding Federals at Manassas Junction:

“There is little doubt Lee has moved his army from Hooker’s front. His object is not known. Push a strong reconnaissance into the Shenandoah Valley at once, to acquire any information which may be had of the enemy’s whereabouts or intentions.”

Lee reached Culpeper Court House on the 7th, where two divisions of Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s First Corps were camped, along with three divisions of Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Second Corps. Lee wired President Jefferson Davis asking him to approve sending Major General George Pickett’s division at Hanover Junction to rejoin Longstreet’s corps; Lee suggested sending a brigade from the Richmond defenses to replace Pickett’s men.

Lee also urged that reinforcements from General P.G.T. Beauregard’s Confederates at Charleston be sent either to himself or to General Joseph E. Johnston in Mississippi. Administration officials expressed reluctance to send Lee reinforcements, prompting him to offer to return closer to the capital if they feared for their safety.

Confederate General Jeb Stuart | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Stuart sent Lee an invitation to attend a second grand cavalry review at Brandy Station, just north of Culpeper Court House on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. Lee arrived to the cheers of his men and other spectators and pulled his gray horse up to the grandstand. He joined Longstreet and other officers, along with dignitaries and ladies in watching the procession. Major General John Bell Hood’s division was also allowed to attend, provided they behaved like gentlemen.

Stuart’s entire command rode past, consisting of 9,536 officers and men in a three-mile line. They moved at a slow walk in accordance with Lee’s order not to wear the horses out. Lee inspected every regiment as it passed and later said, “Stuart was in all his glory.” However, Lee noted that many units had shoddy weapons and tack. When Stuart rode past with a flowered wreath around his horse’s neck, Lee warned him, “Take care, that is the way General (John) Pope’s horse was adorned when he went to the Battle of (Second) Manassas!”

The festivities ended with the firing of cannon and a mock cavalry battle. Stuart then returned to his headquarters on Fleetwood Hill, across from Brandy Station. His troopers were to screen the infantry’s westward march the next day, but by nightfall his command was spread out over six miles.

Meanwhile, Pleasonton’s Federals moved along the Rappahannock, from Falmouth toward Culpeper. Pleasonton had 11,000 men and six light batteries, with orders to “disperse and destroy” Stuart’s command. Pleasonton split his force into two wings, which were to cross the Rappahannock River at different points and then unite at Brandy Station early the next day. Stuart planned to leave Brandy Station later that day, unaware that such a large Federal force was approaching.

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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. 389; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 10; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18977-85; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 292; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 437; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 305-06; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5696-708, 5720; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 362; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 286, 307-08

Hooker Tries Learning Lee’s Intentions

June 5, 1863 – Major General Joseph Hooker struggled to learn General Robert E. Lee’s true intentions as the Confederates moved around the Federal right in northern Virginia.

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

During the night, Confederate deserters came into the Federal lines claiming to have belonged to Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s First Corps in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. This was Hooker’s first indication that Longstreet had rejoined Lee after besieging Suffolk last month. Hooker notified President Abraham Lincoln that the Confederate army had been unified “for no other purpose but to enable the enemy to move up the river, with a view to the execution of a movement similar to that of Lee’s (Maryland campaign) last year.”

Hooker supposed Lee might “cross the Upper Potomac,” but he believed Lee truly intended to “throw his army between mine and Washington.” Hooker then asked, “As I am liable to be called on to make a movement with the utmost promptitude, I desire that I may be informed as early as practicable of the views of the Government concerning this army.”

Hooker wanted to preëmpt Lee’s supposed offensive by crossing the Rappahannock River and attacking the remaining Confederate defenders west of Fredericksburg. He proposed “to pitch into the enemy’s rear,” and asked, “Will it be within the sphere of my instructions to do so?”

As Hooker awaited a reply, Major General John Sedgwick’s VI Corps conducted the probing mission that Hooker had ordered. The Federals crossed the Rappahannock and approached the Confederate defenses that scouts and balloonists had claimed were abandoned. If the defenses proved weak, it could indicate that Lee was moving north in earnest. Only Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Third Corps remained in the defensive works.

Confederate sharpshooters quickly repelled Federal troops wading across the river near Deep Run. Sedgwick then directed engineers to lay pontoon bridges so more men could cross. Once the bridges were set, the Federals charged across the river and, under fire, seized the enemy rifle pits. They then advanced toward the nearby woods, but hidden Confederates drove them back. Sedgwick, unaware that he had faced just Hill’s men, reported that Lee’s army remained at Fredericksburg in force.

Despite Sedgwick’s claim, Hooker still believed that Lee’s main movement was to the north. He directed several reconnaissances to determine Lee’s true intentions. By this time, Lincoln had responded to Hooker’s request to attack Fredericksburg; the president warned Hooker against such an action, arguing that if Lee left a small force behind, it could be because he wanted Hooker to attack it.

Lincoln had “but one idea which I think worth suggesting to you, and that is, in case you find Lee coming north of the Rappahannock, I would by no means cross to the south of it… I would not take any risk of being entangled upon the river, like an ox jumped half over a fence and liable to be torn by dogs, front and rear, without a fair chance to gore one way or kick the other.”

General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck also responded, asking, “Would it not be more advantageous to fight his movable column first, instead of first attacking his intrenchments, with your own forces separated by the Rappahannock?” Halleck reminded Hooker that while the army’s main goal was to destroy Lee’s army, it was also required to guard Washington and Harpers Ferry. With that in mind, Halleck warned, “Lee will seek to hold you in check with his main force, while a strong force will be detached for a raid into Maryland and Pennsylvania.”

Meanwhile, Major General Jeb Stuart conducted a grand review of his Confederate cavalry at Brandy Station. Five brigades totaling 8,000 troopers with flying colors rode past dignitaries, ladies, and other spectators assembled in grandstands, carriages, and railroad cars. At Stuart’s request, Secretary of War James A. Seddon also attended. A staff officer later wrote:

“Eight thousand cavalry passed under the eye of their commander, in column of squadrons, first at a walk, and then at the charge, while the guns of the artillery battalion, on the hill opposite the stand, gave forth fire and smoke, and seemed almost to convert the pageant into real warfare. It was a brilliant day, and the thirst for the ‘pomp and circumstance’ of war was fully satisfied.”

Several ladies fainted at the impressive sight. But not all Confederates appreciated the show. Brigadier General William “Grumble” Jones, recently attached to Lee’s army from the Shenandoah Valley, had “a disdainful air, for he hated the ‘pomp and circumstance’ of war.” His men, like their commander, “grumbled at the useless waste of energy, especially that of the horses.”

That night, Stuart held a grand ball attended by the ladies and his officers. By that time, Longstreet’s lead division under Major General John Bell Hood was at Culpeper Court House, and all Confederates except for Hill’s corps had left Fredericksburg.

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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 18977; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 292; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 436-37, 447; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 304-05; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5696; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 362; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 286, 307-08