The Cane Hill Engagement

November 28, 1862 – Federals led by Brigadier General James G. Blunt attacked Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke’s small Confederate cavalry force in a skirmish in northwestern Arkansas.

General John S. Marmaduke | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Marmaduke had expected the Federals to advance from the northwest, but they came forward using the Fayetteville road to the northeast instead, which the Confederates had not guarded. The Federals quickly drove the pickets off and attacked Marmaduke’s unsuspecting flank.

The fight became a nine-hour running battle, with the Confederates being pushed back from position to position as Marmaduke scrambled to assemble a rear guard to protect his supply train. The Confederates retreated down the Van Buren road as their train hurried into the Boston Mountains.

Meanwhile, the chase scattered Blunt’s Federals, so he waited until they could be regrouped before resuming the offensive. Marmaduke continued falling back, with Blunt pursuing. As nightfall approached, the Federals ran into the Confederate rear guard, led by Colonel J.O. “Jo” Shelby’s “Iron Brigade,” which lay in ambush.

Shelby directed his men to form one column on each side of the road. The front line fired, raced to the rear to reload, and the next line fired to hold off the advancing enemy. This stopped the Federal pursuers and ended the engagement, enabling Marmaduke, his men, and his supply train to escape.

The Federals sustained 44 casualties (eight killed and 36 wounded), and the Confederates lost 80 (10 killed and 70 wounded or missing). During the night, Marmaduke fell back to Dripping Springs, eight miles north of Van Buren. This engagement shifted the initiative in Arkansas to the Federals.

Marmaduke sought to counterattack the next day, as Blunt took up headquarters at Cane Hill. The Federals were now over 100 miles from the rest of the Army of the Frontier and its support base at Springfield, Missouri. Confederate Major General Thomas C. Hindman hurried a regiment and a wagon train of ammunition to reinforce Marmaduke.

In his official report written that night, Marmaduke urged Hindman to come up with all “celerity and secrecy” to join in an attack. Hindman replied:

“The crossing will be completed to-morrow, and the command will move on Monday (December 1) at daylight. I shall march moderately, not above 12 or 15 miles a day, if it can be helped, so as not to break the men down before the fight commences.”

Believing that Blunt would stay at Cane Hill until he came up, Hindman added, “To prevent as far as practicable rumors of the movement getting to the enemy, spread the report that Little Rock is threatened, and I am ordered there. This can be done, I hope, without disheartening your men.” Meanwhile, Blunt’s isolated force remained at Cane Hill.

Hindman’s Confederates began crossing the Arkansas River on the 29th. His superior, General Theophilus H. Holmes commanding the Trans-Mississippi Department, wrote him, “You must save the country if you can.” Hindman met with Marmaduke and his other commanders the following day. The Confederates only had enough ammunition for one day of fighting, so the attack needed to be quick and decisive. The leaders worked out a plan to divide the army into four columns, with one each attacking Blunt’s flanks, front, and rear.

In a sudden change of heart, Holmes warned Hindman, “You must not think of advancing in your present condition. You would lose your army. The enemy will either advance on you or for want of supplies will be obliged to return to Missouri.”

As the Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi assembled near Van Buren, Blunt dispatched scouts to determine the enemy positions.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 233; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 150; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 290-91; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 552

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Fredericksburg: Pontoons Delayed

November 22, 1862 – Federal Major General Ambrose E. Burnside continued waiting for his pontoons to arrive, while Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederate corps hurried east from the Shenandoah Valley to reinforce General Robert E. Lee’s army outside Fredericksburg.

By this time, Lee was wondering why Burnside’s Federals had not yet crossed the Rappahannock and attacked. Burnside grew increasingly frustrated, expecting the pontoons to arrive before the Confederates took up defenses across the river. He notified General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck:

“Had the pontoon bridge arrived even on the 19th or 20th, the army could have crossed with trifling opposition. But now the opposite side of the river is occupied by a large rebel force under General (James) Longstreet, with batteries ready to be place in position to operate against the working parties building the bridge and the troops in crossing. I deem it my duty to lay these facts before you, and to say that I cannot make the promise of probable success with the faith that I did when I supposed that all the parts of the plan would be carried out… The President said that the movement, in order to be successful, must be made quickly, and I thought the same.”

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

While Longstreet’s corps settled into defenses, Jackson’s 38,000-man corps had been stationed at Winchester, keeping the Federals in constant fear that he might attack Harpers Ferry again or sabotage the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Jackson skirmished with various Federal commands in the area, including a fierce engagement near Shepherdstown on the Potomac River.

Jackson then received a message from Lee stating that he should “remain in the valley as long as you see your presence there cripples and embarrasses the general movement of the enemy, and yet leaves you free to unite with Longstreet for a battle.” On the 22nd, Jackson resolved to pull his men out of their camps and move to join Lee’s main army. As the Confederates mobilized, he told nobody where they were headed, not even Lee.

Back at Fredericksburg, four of Longstreet’s five divisions had arrived, but the force was still too small to stop an all-out Federal thrust across the river. Lee reported to his superiors, “If the enemy attempt to cross the river, I shall resist it, though the ground is favorable to him.” He could only hope to fight a delaying action until Jackson came up on Burnside’s right flank and rear.

Lee knew that since Burnside had advanced this far, he would not turn back without a fight. But he still wondered why Burnside had not yet started the fight. Lee said, “I think, therefore, he will persevere in his present course, and the longer we can delay him, and throw him into the winter, the more difficult will be his undertaking.” By the 23rd, Longstreet’s last division was coming up to take positions on the long wooded ridge behind Fredericksburg. Jackson’s Confederates began arriving the next day.

The second Federal pontoon shipment finally arrived at Belle Plain late on the afternoon of the 24th, after having been shipped from Washington five days ago. When Brigadier General Daniel P. Woodbury, in charge of army pontoons, arrived at Falmouth with the first shipment, Burnside ordered him arrested unless he could provide a “satisfactory explanation” for the delays. Burnside later released him, but the press blamed Woodbury and Halleck for the apparent pontoon mix-up that had caused such a fateful delay.

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

Burnside accused Halleck and administration officials of not being “impressed with the importance of speed.” Halleck told Burnside that he “ought not to have trusted them in Washington for the details.” The railroad to Falmouth finally became functional on the 26th to supply the Federals.

Federal teams loaded the pontoons onto wagons and began hauling them to the army at Falmouth the next day. Due to bureaucratic mismanagement, they arrived too late for Burnside to take Fredericksburg without a hard fight, as he had hoped to do with his quick movement there. However, the continuing rain was turning the roads to mud and raising the river, making it nearly impossible for Burnside to proceed with his plan, even with the pontoons.

Burnside received a message from President Abraham Lincoln on the 25th: “If I should be in a boat off Aquia Creek at dark tomorrow evening, could you, without inconvenience, meet me and pass an hour or two with me?” Lincoln arrived on the night of the 26th and met briefly with Burnside aboard the steamer U.S.S. Baltimore.

Burnside assured Lincoln that he, unlike George McClellan, did not need reinforcements and was ready to attack immediately. However, it was clear that things were not going as planned; the pontoons had been late, the river continued swelling, all nearby fords could no longer be used, and Lee now had a strong hold on Fredericksburg. Burnside had no alternative plan.

The next day, the men met again to discuss the upcoming offensive in detail. Burnside proposed laying the pontoon bridges and launching a full-scale assault. He acknowledged it would be “somewhat risky,” but it would satisfy Halleck’s repeated urgings to attack. Lincoln overrode Halleck by telling Burnside that he was willing to wait until the army had a better chance for success. Lincoln and Burnside then returned to Washington, where Lincoln outlined an alternate strategy to both Burnside and Halleck:

  • A second force raised from the Federals defending Washington would assemble on the south bank of the Rappahannock at Port Royal, about 30 miles downriver from Burnside.
  • A third force would move via transports up the York River to the Pamunkey River and debark in Lee’s rear.
  • Burnside’s army would then advance on Lee with support from the other two forces.

This three-pronged advance would block Lee’s line of retreat to Richmond, pinning him in Fredericksburg. Halleck and Burnside rejected this proposal because it would take too long to raise the troops, transports, and supplies. Lincoln then instructed Burnside to use his own judgment regarding the final plan of attack. Burnside began looking to cross his Federals downriver from Fredericksburg at Skinker’s Neck.

Meanwhile, Jackson’s troops were on the march, averaging about 20 miles per day. Several men marched barefoot through the snow and ice. Lee, unaware that Jackson was already on his way, was fearful that a pre-winter storm could block the roads and sent him a message on the 26th: “I desire you to pursue the best route, by easy marches, to this place, advising me of your approach so that your march may be hastened, if necessary.”

Lee added what he guessed was Burnside’s plan: “I think the probability is that he will attempt to cross either here or at some other point down the river; in which case it would be desirable that the whole army should be united.” By the end of the 27th, five days after leaving Winchester, Jackson concentrated his forces around Orange Court House.

Two days later, Jackson reported to Lee’s headquarters tent at Hamilton’s Crossing during a heavy snow. Jackson announced that his men were on the move, and Lee reiterated prior orders for Jackson to position his men to Longstreet’s right and rear, around Guiney’s Station. This would enable Jackson to reinforce Longstreet, shift to the right, or move further down the Rappahannock as needed.

By month’s end, all remaining pontoons and equipment needed for Burnside’s offensive against Fredericksburg finally arrived at Falmouth. Burnside now prepared to move his army across the Rappahannock, but the extensive delays had allowed Lee to place Longstreet’s 35,000 Confederates on the high ground behind Fredericksburg, and Jackson’s men were quickly arriving in support.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Cullen, Joseph P., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 287; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 766-67; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 35-37, 39; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 232-34; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5006-18; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 290; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 288-90

Operations in Middle Tennessee

November 20, 1862 – General Braxton Bragg reorganized his Confederate army in Middle Tennessee, and Federal Major General William S. Rosecrans planned to confront him.

Maj Gen William S. Rosecrans | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

As November began, Rosecrans prepared to move his new Federal Army of the Cumberland (formerly Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio) to confront Bragg in Tennessee. Federal General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck had given Rosecrans two main objectives: “First, to drive the enemy from Kentucky and Middle Tennessee; second, to take and hold East Tennessee.”

The Federals had already driven the enemy from Kentucky by the time Rosecrans took command, but Confederates were still in Middle and East Tennessee. Major General John C. Breckinridge, commanding the Confederate Army of Middle Tennessee from Murfreesboro, issued orders for Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest and Colonel John Hunt Morgan to conduct cavalry raids on Federals between Murfreesboro and Nashville.

Morgan advanced toward Nashville from the north while Forrest moved from the south, and both forces skirmished inconclusively against the enemy. Late this month, Morgan’s 1,300 Confederates attacked a strongly fortified Federal brigade on a hill at Hartsville. Morgan formed a line under fire, drove the enemy off, captured an artillery battery, and then forced the Federals to surrender. Some 2,100 prisoners were taken in the 90-minute clash.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Meanwhile, Bragg’s Army of Mississippi arrived at Murfreesboro and absorbed Breckinridge’s short-lived Army of Middle Tennessee. Following his meeting with President Jefferson Davis at Richmond, Bragg returned and took up headquarters at Tullahoma, about 70 miles southeast of Nashville.

Bragg’s army had lost about half its strength since launching the Kentucky campaign due to illness, desertions, and combat casualties. Those still in the army were either demoralized by the harsh campaign or disgusted with Bragg’s leadership. By mid-November, Rosecrans had learned that Bragg’s army was now in Middle Tennessee and notified Halleck:

“It seems pretty certain that four divisions of Bragg’s army have come to Middle Tennessee. They designed to take Nashville. They began winter quarters at Tullahoma, and are now at that place and McMinnville, with Breckinridge at Murfreesborough.”

Bragg had no definite plan of operation, except to hope that Rosecrans would come out of Nashville and attack him after he established strong defensive positions. But Rosecrans would not oblige.

Bragg’s force, formerly named the Army of Mississippi, was now designated the Army of Tennessee. Its nucleus had been formed by General Albert Sidney Johnston in late March, just prior to the Battle of Shiloh. In addition, the army now absorbed:

  • Breckinridge’s Army of Middle Tennessee;
  • Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham’s Confederates at Bridgeport, Alabama; and
  • Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith’s Department of East Tennessee.

Bragg reorganized the army into three corps under Lieutenant Generals Leonidas Polk, William J. Hardee, and E.K. Smith, with Breckinridge heading a division under Hardee. Although Smith was relegated to commanding a corps within Bragg’s new army, he continued acting independently in eastern Tennessee.

As the rest of Bragg’s forces began gathering around Murfreesboro, they lived off the stockpile of supplies they had taken from Kentucky. Bragg issued general orders to his command:

“Much is expected by the army and its commander from the operations of these active and ever-successful leaders (i.e., Forrest and Morgan harassing Rosecrans’s front and rear). The foregoing dispositions are in anticipation of the great struggle which must soon settle the question of supremacy in Middle Tennessee. The enemy in heavy force is before us, with a determination, no doubt, to redeem the fruitful country we have wrested from him. With the remembrance of Richmond, Munfordville, and Perryville so fresh in our minds, let us make a name for the now Army of Tennessee as enviable as those enjoyed by the armies of Kentucky and the Mississippi.”

Bragg then issued orders offering amnesty to soldiers who were absent without leave: “If you come voluntarily, I will be proud to receive you. I will not have you, and you need not expect to join me, if brought as prisoners.”

Bragg called on Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry to join his army from Chattanooga, which he united with Forrest’s command. Bragg continued using Forrest’s troopers for raiding and irregular operations; their primary mission was to divert Major General Ulysses S. Grant from his impending Federal drive on Vicksburg. On the 21st, Bragg directed Forrest to disrupt Federal communications between Rosecrans and Grant.

Rosecrans proposed moving out of Nashville to confront Bragg, but first he submitted a long list of supplies needed for the purpose. Halleck replied, “I must warn you against this piling up of impediments. Take a lesson from the enemy. Move light.” As November ended, Rosecrans was still preparing to move, and Bragg was still pondering what to do.

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References

Bell, Wiley I., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 745-46; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18173; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 228, 232, 236; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 12; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 769, 775-76; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 227-30, 232-33; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 414, 492, 500; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 20-21; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 283-85, 287-88; Rutherford, Phillip R., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 168, 171; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 84-85

Fredericksburg: The Army of the Potomac Mobilizes

November 15, 1862 – The Army of the Potomac mobilized for its march on Fredericksburg under its new commander, Major General Ambrose E. Burnside.

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

The Federals began moving out of Warrenton, led by Major General Edwin V. Sumner’s Right Grand Division. Burnside could have tried attacking General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia while it was divided (one corps was at Culpeper Court House and the other was at Winchester), but he planned to instead feint southwest and then hurry southeast to the lightly defended town of Fredericksburg. After capturing that town, he would drive on Richmond.

The sudden swiftness of the Federal army after being so sluggish for so long under George B. McClellan shocked the Confederates. Federal cavalry seized the bridge at Rappahannock Station before the enemy could destroy it, and Federal artillery began shelling Confederate positions at Culpeper. This confused Lee, who thought that Burnside would target Fredericksburg; he did not yet know that the Federal “attack” was part of Burnside’s feint.

By evening, the Federals had disengaged and Lee figured out what was happening. He notified Colonel William Ball, commanding the Confederate defenses at Fredericksburg, “It is reported that the enemy is moving from Warrenton today, and it is probable that he is marching upon Fredericksburg.” Lee then dispatched cavalry to Fredericksburg. The troopers were to defend the town if Federals had not captured it already. If the town was captured, the Confederates were to “take position on the Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad, where it crosses the North Anna.”

Lee instructed Ball, “The bridges and culverts must be thoroughly destroyed,” with the cross-ties “removed and piled, with the rails placed across them, and, when the timber is sufficiently dry, fired; the weight of the bars will thus cause them to bend, and prevent their being relaid.” Lee then awaited Burnside’s next move.

The Federal Left and Center Grand Divisions under Major Generals Joseph Hooker and William B. Franklin left Warrenton the next day. Sumner’s Grand Division marched along the Rappahannock’s north bank and arrived at Falmouth, across the river about a mile upstream from Fredericksburg, on the 17th. The Federals had covered 40 miles in just two days, a remarkable feat for such an enormous army.

Sumner’s Federals met light Confederate resistance from the small garrison outside Fredericksburg. Seeing that the town could be easily captured, he requested permission to cross the river at Falmouth Ford and attack. Burnside refused, ordering Sumner to stay put until the pontoons arrived.

That night, Lee received word that Federal infantry had reached Falmouth, with Federal transports and gunboats entering nearby Aquia Creek. Lee wrote the secretary of war, “I do not know whether this movement on Fredericksburg is intended as a feint or a real advance upon Richmond,” but “before it (the Federal army) could move from Fredericksburg, I think this whole army will be in position.” Lee directed one of Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s divisions at Culpeper to go to Fredericksburg, with the rest of Longstreet’s corps to follow once it was confirmed that Fredericksburg was indeed the Federal target.

The other two Federal Grand Divisions reached Falmouth on the 18th. A New York Tribune correspondent traveling with the Federals reported:

“Officers wont to believe that a great command cannot move more than six miles a day, and accustomed to our old method of waiting a week for the issue of new clothing or a month for the execution of an order to advance, rub their eyes in mute astonishment. We have marched from Warrenton 40 miles, in two days and a half.”

Burnside did not want to attack immediately due to fall rains making the 400-foot-wide Rappahannock impossible to cross without pontoon bridges. His Federals took up positions on the heights across the river from Fredericksburg. The first 48 pontoons arrived at Belle Plain via steam transport, but no wagons or teams were available to haul them to Falmouth.

Lee directed one of Longstreet’s divisions to go to Fredericksburg, and another to advance farther south to block any Federal advance toward Richmond from Fredericksburg. He sent Major General Jeb Stuart’s cavalry north to reconnoiter enemy positions, and Stuart reported that the entire Federal army was advancing on Fredericksburg. Lee ordered Longstreet’s remaining divisions to hurry directly there without blocking any other routes. He also notified Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson at Winchester:

“Unless you think it is advantageous for you to continue longer in the valley, or can accomplish the retention and division of the enemy’s forces by so doing, I think it would be advisable to put some of your divisions in motion across the mountains, and advance them at least as far as Sperryville or Madison Court-House.”

Lee was determined to hold the region south of the Rappahannock because, having not yet been ravaged by war, it provided much needed harvests for his army.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 271; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 234; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 766; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 230-31; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 4972-84; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 30-33, 35; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 111-12; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 287-88; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 288-90

Confederate Strategy and Dissension

November 14, 1862 – Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston found himself at odds with President Jefferson Davis over strategy, and the Confederate secretary of war resigned.

Confederate General J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Johnston reported to the War Department ready for action after recovering from wounds suffered at the Battle of Fair Oaks. Johnston met with Secretary of War George W. Randolph, who informed him that due to General Robert E. Lee’s success with the Army of Northern Virginia, Johnston would not be getting his old command back. He would instead most likely be put in a new command overseeing the armies between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi. These included Braxton Bragg’s, Edmund Kirby Smith’s (though now technically under Bragg), and John C. Pemberton’s.

Johnston replied that since Vicksburg was the most likely Federal target in that theater, there should be a unified command over both banks of the Mississippi. As it stood, the west bank belonged to General Theophilus H. Holmes’s Trans-Mississippi Department, which would be beyond Johnston’s jurisdiction. Randolph said he had already asked Holmes to lead troops east, but Davis overrode him in a letter dated that same day (the 12th):

“I regret to notice that in your letter to General Holmes of October 27… His presence on the west side (of the Mississippi) is not less necessary now that heretofore, and will probably soon be more so… The withdrawal of the commander from the Trans-Mississippi Department for temporary duty elsewhere would have a disastrous effect, and was not contemplated by me.”

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Two days later, Randolph submitted his resignation as secretary of war, partly because of Davis’s interference in his department. In particular, Randolph had taken offense to Davis superseding his authority in regards to Holmes and Johnston. Before resigning, Randolph sent Davis’s letter from November 12 with a note: “Inclose a copy of this letter to General Holmes, and inform the President that it has been done, and that (Holmes) has been directed to consider it as part of his instructions.”

Davis, who had generally agreed with Randolph’s management of the War Department, had intervened to override Randolph because the secretary ordered Holmes to come east to reinforce Johnston himself, which would have left the Trans-Mississippi Department without a commander. Davis also expressed concern that Randolph had issued the order without Davis’s prior knowledge.

Davis requested a personal meeting with Randolph to try discussing the matter with him. Randolph declined, his resentment toward Davis’s involvement in War Department affairs finally reaching its breaking point. Davis responded: “As you thus without notice and in terms excluding inquiry retired, nothing remains but to give you this formal notice of the acceptance of your resignation.”

Major General Gustavus W. Smith, commanding Confederate forces defending Richmond, became the interim secretary of war until Davis appointed James A. Seddon of Virginia to the post. As a prominent Richmond attorney and scholar, Seddon had roughly the same high social standing in Virginia as Randolph. Seddon was also a former U.S. and Confederate congressman, and although he had no military experience, he would ably lead the War Department despite much southern criticism.

Meanwhile, Special Order No. 275 officially gave Johnston command of the Division of the West. This included Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, western North Carolina, northern Georgia, and eastern Louisiana. His primary objectives were to oversee Bragg in Tennessee and Pemberton in Mississippi.

Johnston and Davis had never cared for each other, but this intensified while Johnston was recovering because he became close friends with Senator Louis T. Wigfall of Texas, an outspoken critic of Davis and his administration. As such, Johnston attended many social gatherings held by Wigfall and other politicians whom Davis considered enemies.

Davis may have sought to appease these enemies by making Johnston “plenary commander” of the West. The order directed Johnston to set up headquarters “at Chattanooga, or such other place as in his judgment will best secure facilities for ready communication with the troops within the limits of his command, and will repair in person to any part of said command wherever his presence may, for the time, be necessary or desirable.”

On Seddon’s first full day in his new job, Johnston repeated his request for Holmes to send part or all of his forces east. He pointed out that Holmes’s men were about 400 miles closer to the Mississippi than Bragg’s, who could not be relied upon to help defend Vicksburg if needed. Johnston then complained to the adjutant general that the forces in his new domain were “greatly inferior in number to those of the enemy opposed to them, while in the Trans-Mississippi Department our army is very much larger than that of the United States.”

Davis wanted to keep the departments on either side of the Mississippi separate because he sought to hold Confederate territory. However, Johnston contended that the 83,000 men in his department could not defend the hundreds of square miles from the Alleghenies to the Mississippi. Johnston instead sought to rely on maneuver, giving up territory as needed in favor of preserving the strength of his forces.

Johnston argued that the Tennessee River was a “formidable obstacle” that divided Bragg and Pemberton. He also questioned the provision in the order stating that Bragg and Pemberton would continue reporting directly to the War Department and not Johnston; this seemed to relegate Johnston to an advisory role rather than a position of real authority. As such, Johnston called it a “nominal and useless” job.

Johnston was expected to aid Bragg in improving his army’s morale since Bragg was despised among his officers and men. Johnston was also expected to advise Pemberton, another unpopular commander, on how best to defend Vicksburg, the area in the department under the greatest threat. Johnston’s uncertainty of his authority, his commanders’ reluctance to cooperate with each other, and the enormity of the region would make this a formidable assignment.

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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 18420; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 235; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 813; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 785-89; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 230-33; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 287-89; 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. 575; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 170-71; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 85; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q462

Vicksburg: Grant Takes Holly Springs

November 13, 1862 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant began his drive on the Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg, securing an important town for his supply base.

Lt Gen John C. Pemberton | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

As Grant assembled his attack force at Grand Junction, Tennessee, Confederate Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton held the important railroad junction at Holly Springs, Mississippi, 25 miles southwest. When Pemberton learned of the size of Grant’s force being prepared, he directed his troops to fall back toward Abbeville, across the Tallahatchie River. He was soon joined by Major General Sterling Price’s Confederates. Pemberton left just a cavalry force and soldiers convalescing in the hospital at Holly Springs.

The 7th Kansas Cavalry, led by Colonel Albert Lee, rode into Holly Springs near dawn on the 13th. After a brief skirmish, the Federals drove the Confederate troops out of town and took the sick and wounded soldiers prisoner. The Confederates briefly tried taking Holly Springs back, but the Federals secured the town by nightfall. This gave Grant control of the rail center there, which he would use to supply his army’s drive on Vicksburg.

As the Federals advanced from Grand Junction into northern Mississippi, Grant ordered Major General William T. Sherman’s division to begin moving out of Memphis; Grant and Sherman were to unite at Holly Springs on the 30th. Major General Frederick Steele, commanding Federals across the Mississippi River at Helena, Arkansas, was to lead his force east and advance on Grenada, Mississippi, about 80 miles behind enemy lines. Rear Admiral David D. Porter was to lead his Western Flotilla down the Mississippi to the Yazoo River.

General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck threatened to ruin Grant’s plan when he ordered Grant on the 23rd to send as many troops as possible directly to Vicksburg without confronting Pemberton. Grant disagreed with this because it would leave Pemberton’s army intact and able to counterattack in the future. He urged Halleck to reconsider because orders had already been issued. Halleck responded, “Proposed movement approved. Do not go too far.”

The movement would begin when Steele’s cavalry, led by General Cadwallader Washburn, raided the railroad near Grenada. Washburn’s troopers destroyed track and cut telegraph wires in the vicinity, clashing with Confederates around Charleston, Penola, and Oakland. Pemberton countered by falling back and reconcentrating most of his forces at Oxford.

Meanwhile, complaints about northern merchants seeking profit in the occupied areas continued. General Alvin Hovey, commanding the lead brigade under Steele, reported, “I cannot refrain from stating to you the effects of the great evil growing out of our commercial intercourse with the rebels. Unprincipled sharpers and Jews are supplying the enemy with all they want… War and commerce with the same people! What a Utopian dream!”

Like many Federal commanders in the department, Hovey accused the Jews of leading the profiteering craze: “Every secret of our camps is carried by the same men that formerly sold their God for thirty pieces of silver, to our worst enemies for a few pounds of cotton.” Hovey stated that his troops had regularly encountered “the blighting effects of their cupidity. No expedition has ever been dreamed of at Helena that these bloodhounds of commerce have not scented out and carried to our enemies days in advance.”

By month’s end, Grant was headquartered at Holly Springs while most of his army had continued south toward Abbeville. Sherman’s Federals reached Wyatt, downriver from Abbeville, where they had to repair a bridge destroyed by retreating Confederates. Steele’s lead brigade landed at the mouth of the Coldwater River, about 50 miles west of Holly Springs. Grant’s advance toward Vicksburg continued into December.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 230; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 287; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 813

Burnside Begins the Fredericksburg Campaign

November 9, 1862 – Major General Ambrose E. Burnside issued General Order No. 1 assuming command of the Army of the Potomac. He followed this up with a new plan to capture Richmond.

Gen. Ambrose Burnside | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Upon officially taking command at Warrenton, Burnside tried boosting army morale by reminding the troops that he had been good friends with the outgoing commander, George B. McClellan. Burnside declared that he “fully identified with them in their feeling of respect and esteem for General McClellan, entertained through a long and most friendly association with him.”

Burnside also knew that the Lincoln administration had been unhappy with McClellan’s slowness, so he resolved to begin a new offensive as quickly as possible. He submitted an elaborate plan to his superiors at Washington in which the army would move southwest toward Gordonsville to deceive the Confederates into thinking he would threaten from that direction. The Federals would then suddenly veer southeast and march on Fredericksburg, on the Rappahannock River.

Fredericksburg placed the Federals close to their supply base. It also gave them a clearer path to Richmond and enabled them to protect Washington along the way. However, the plan did not include destroying the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, which had been President Abraham Lincoln’s main objective all along. Burnside conceded that he lacked the ability to destroy the enemy, but capturing Richmond “would tend more to cripple the rebel cause than almost any other military event, except the absolute breaking up of their army.”

Burnside also proposed grouping six of his seven army corps into three “grand divisions.” This was intended to facilitate communications because it reduced the number of Burnside’s direct reports. The Grand Divisions would become the army’s right, center, and left wings, respectively led by Major Generals Edwin V. Sumner (II and IX corps), Joseph Hooker (III and V corps), and William B. Franklin (I and VI corps). Major General Franz Sigel’s XI Corps would be left in “independent reserve.”

To put his plan into motion, Burnside wrote that he would need an enormous amount of supplies sent to his new base at Belle Plain, 10 miles northeast of Fredericksburg on the Potomac River. These included transports to deliver food and clothing, a herd of beef cattle, and pontoons to build bridges across the Rappahannock. Burnside would then attack Fredericksburg “as soon as the army arrives in front of the place.”

Burnside tested the feasibility of his plan by allowing a Federal cavalry force under Colonel Ulric Dahlgren to raid Fredericksburg. The Federals successfully rode through the small Confederate detachment guarding the town and took 54 prisoners. This proved to Burnside that the town could be captured. He submitted his plan to his superiors and awaited their approval.

General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck visited Burnside’s headquarters three days later. Halleck did not give his opinion on Burnside’s strategy, but he told the general that Lincoln had doubts. Burnside defended the plan, explaining that upon making his feint southwest, he would “accumulate a four or five days’ supply for the men and animals; then make a rapid move of the whole force to Fredericksburg, with a view to a movement upon Richmond from that point.”

Lincoln liked Burnside’s idea of keeping Washington protected throughout the movement. But his main objection was that Burnside would be targeting Richmond instead of Lee’s army. Burnside offered more details, including his plan to march along the north bank of the Rappahannock and cross at Falmouth. Somehow, Halleck interpreted this to mean Burnside would cross the river farther upstream and march on Fredericksburg from the south bank. As such, he did not immediately submit Burnside’s requisition order for pontoons when he returned to Washington.

Halleck forwarded Lincoln’s official approval to Burnside on the 14th: “The President has just assented to your plan. He thinks that it will succeed, if you move very rapidly; otherwise not.” Lincoln still had doubts, but he appreciated Burnside’s eagerness to quickly take the offensive and he did not want to cause animosity by rejecting the general’s strategy so soon after taking command. Lincoln also approved Burnside’s Grand Division proposal.

Burnside immediately reorganized the Army of the Potomac and concentrated the forces at Warrenton. His requisition for pontoons was submitted to Brigadier General Daniel P. Woodbury, who supervised pontoon materials and distribution for the army. It was quickly discovered that most of the materials needed were at Harpers Ferry, not Washington, so it would take extra time to get them shipped to Burnside’s base at Belle Plain.

Meanwhile, General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was divided, with Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps at Culpeper Court House and Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s corps at Winchester. Lee knew the Federals had advanced to Warrenton and then stopped. After learning of the Federal cavalry raid on Fredericksburg, he began suspecting that the enemy would target that town. Lee had no specific intelligence on this, but the simple fact that the Federals had stopped moving south made him think that the new commander would introduce a new strategy.

Lee told Jackson to be ready to hurry east if needed. He sent reinforcements to the Confederate garrison at Fredericksburg and told them to stay on alert. He then directed “the railroad from Fredericksburg to Aquia Creek to be entirely destroyed; the bridges, culverts, &c, to be broken; the cross-ties piled and fired, with the rails piled on top, so as to prevent their future use.”

In a letter to Secretary of War George W. Randolph, Lee proposed destroying the railroad from Fredericksburg to Hanover Junction, along with the Orange & Alexandria Railroad from Gordonsville to the Rappahannock. Lee acknowledged that he was merely acting on a hunch, and, “Were I certain of the route he will pursue, I should commence immediately to make it as difficult as possible.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 87; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 233-34; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 765-66; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 229-30; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 4960, 4972; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 30, 35; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 286-87; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 598-99