Running the Vicksburg Batteries

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

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 184-86; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 169-72, 174-75; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 784; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24-26; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 228-33; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 420-21; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 89-91; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 429; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 846

Bragg Replaces Beauregard

June 17, 1862 – General P.G.T. Beauregard left his Confederate Army of Mississippi due to illness, causing controversy over whether he had gone absent without leave.

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

President Jefferson Davis had struggled to get along with Beauregard ever since the general had been stationed in Virginia. These difficulties intensified when Davis learned that Beauregard had given up Corinth without a fight; Davis disagreed with Beauregard’s assessment that Corinth’s evacuation had been necessary. Just over a week after losing that town, the Confederacy lost both Fort Pillow and Memphis as well.

During this time, Davis was dealing with another problem, as South Carolina Governor Francis W. Pickens expressed dissatisfaction with the department commander in his state, General John C. Pemberton. Davis tried solving both problems at once by asking Pickens if he would be willing to allow Beauregard, the hero of Fort Sumter, to replace Pemberton. Knowing Beauregard had been ill for several months, Davis explained that the sea air might help him recover.

Pickens agreed and wrote to Beauregard asking him to come east, enjoy the sea air, and “fight our batteries again.” Beauregard initially resisted, replying from his Tupelo, Mississippi, headquarters, “Would be happy to do so, but my presence absolutely required here at present. My health still bad. No doubt sea-air would restore it, but have no time to restore it.”

Beauregard’s deterioration began accelerating, and when doctors urged him to take a rest, he finally consented. Meanwhile, Davis dispatched Colonel William P. Johnston, son of the late General Albert Sidney Johnston, to ask Beauregard a series of questions about the health of his army, his plans to regain Nashville, why he hadn’t done more to save Memphis, and what resources he had lost during his retreat.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Davis also sidestepped military protocol by directly ordering Major General Braxton Bragg, Beauregard’s subordinate, to report to Jackson, Mississippi, and take command of the military department under General Mansfield Lovell. This included the former New Orleans garrison and the Vicksburg defenses. Davis wrote, “After General (John B.) Magruder joins, your further services there may be dispensed with. The necessity is urgent and absolute.”

Bragg, adhering to the chain of command, forwarded the message to Beauregard, who replied to Davis that Bragg’s “presence here I consider indispensable at this moment, especially as I am leaving for a while on surgeon’s certificate… My health does not permit me to remain in charge alone here… I must have a short rest.” Beauregard then sent the endorsement of two physicians:

“We certify that, after attendance on General Beauregard for the past four months, and treatment of his case, in our professional opinion he is incapacitated physically for the arduous duties of his present command, and we urgently recommend rest and recreation.”

Without authorization from Richmond, Beauregard transferred his command to Bragg and left Tupelo for the health spas at Bladen Springs near Mobile, Alabama. Beauregard felt he had done everything possible to notify his superiors that he was leaving, and they knew where to find him. Davis felt that Beauregard was absent without permission.

Beauregard had once been hailed as the hero of Fort Sumter and Bull Run. But after questionable performances at Shiloh and Corinth, Davis was fed up with him, and now Davis had the chance he needed to get rid of him permanently.

Davis temporarily placed Bragg in command of the Confederate “Western Department,” or Department No. 2. This included the area from the Alleghenies to the Mississippi River, but it mostly pertained to the Army of Mississippi at Tupelo. Major General Earl Van Dorn was assigned to the command at Jackson and Vicksburg instead of Bragg. Davis made the moves permanent in a message to Bragg on June 20:

“You are assigned permanently to the command of the department, as will be more formally notified to you by the Secretary of War. You will correspond directly and receive orders and instructions from the Government in relation to your future operations.”

This was Bragg’s first assignment to full army command. He was an excellent strategist and logistician, but he lacked decisiveness, and his nasty disposition alienated everyone around him. Many of his officers and men openly detested him.

Meanwhile, W.P. Johnston met with Beauregard at Mobile and learned of the army’s condition as Davis had requested. Beauregard rejected rumors that he had lost large amounts of men and supplies. He also did not know that he had been permanently replaced by Bragg; he only thought he was going to the spa for a week to 10 days before returning to command. But Davis did not want him back.

Davis left it to Bragg to tell Beauregard that he had been removed from army command. On the 21st, Bragg wrote him, “I have a dispatch, from the President direct, to relieve you permanently in command of this department… I envy you, and am almost in despair.”

Beauregard, knowing that the decision had been Davis’s and not Bragg’s, replied, “I cannot congratulate you, but am happy for the change. It will take me some time to recuperate. I will leave my Staff with you until required by me. You will find it very useful.”

Part of the reason Beauregard could not congratulate Bragg was because Federal forces were slowly closing in on the army at Tupelo. In spite of this, Davis directed Bragg to regain the initiative by moving north, breaking through Major General Henry W. Halleck’s spread-out army, and liberating Nashville.

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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 13260-73; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 183-84; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 390; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 169-70; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 227-28; 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. 416, 515; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 17; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 814

The Battle of Secessionville

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I am proud to announce that this is my 500th post on the Civil War Months blog! Thanks to all of you for your continued support on this project!

June 16, 1862 – Federal forces under Brigadier General Henry W. Benham attacked strong Confederate defenses near the town of Secessionville on James Island, just south of Charleston, South Carolina.

Between 2 and 3:30 a.m., Benham directed his two divisions under Brigadier Generals Isaac I. Stevens and Horatio G. Wright to advance on Confederate fortifications outside Secessionville, commanded by Colonel Thomas G. Lamar. Lamar notified his superior, Brigadier General Nathan G. “Shanks” Evans, who readied his batteries and sent reinforcements to the fort. Lamar had just 500 men, but another 1,500 were on the way.

Near 4 a.m., Stevens’s 3,500 Federals quietly captured the Confederate pickets and crept within range of the Confederates at Secessionville. Stevens led the assault’s first wave, supported by Federal gunboats on the Stono River. Struggling through brush on the left and right, Federals emerged on a narrow passage in the center and were met by Confederate grapeshot from 700 yards. The Federals continued advancing as the Confederates began firing canister that inflicted even more casualties. Within 15 minutes, Stevens saw the attack was futile and ordered a withdrawal to await reinforcements.

The Battle of Secessionville | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Evans arrived with his Confederates to bolster Lamar’s defenses. Benham led Wright’s Federals in an attack on the enemy right, where the Federals were partially hidden by hedgerows. But they were quickly caught in a Confederate crossfire. They silenced the Confederates on their far left and reached the fort’s parapets, but the Confederates ultimately drove them off.

Meanwhile, the Confederate gunners in the fort continued pounding the Federals in their front, making a charge against such strong works over such a narrow strip of ground suicidal. Benham ordered a withdrawal around 9:30 a.m., with the Federals gathering as many of their dead and wounded comrades as they could before falling back.

Benham, who had been ordered by Major General David Hunter not to bring on a general engagement, refused to acknowledge that this was a battle in his report. He wrote that “the main object of the reconnaissance was accomplished in ascertaining the nature of the fort…”

The alarming number of casualties indicated that this was much more than just a reconnaissance. The Federals lost 683 men (107 killed, 487 wounded, and 89 missing) out of about 6,600 on the island, setting back progress in trying to capture Charleston Harbor. The Confederates lost 204 (52 killed, 144 wounded, and eight missing). Evans commended Lamar for the Confederate victory, naming the fortifications Fort Lamar in his honor.

Hunter learned about the fight two days later at his Hilton Head headquarters. He quickly removed Benham from command for “disobeying positive orders and clear instructions.” After Benham argued vehemently in his own defense, Hunter read aloud his June 10 order to Benham:

“In leaving the Stono River to return to Hilton Head I desire, in any arrangements that you may make for the disposition of your forces now in this vicinity, you will make no attempt to advance on Charleston or to attack Fort Johnson until largely re-enforced or until you receive specific instructions from these headquarters to that effect.”

Benham was detained, and President Abraham Lincoln revoked his brigadier general’s commission. Stevens and Wright testified to the War Department that they had both warned Benham he was violating orders not to bring on a battle at their council of war on June 15. Stevens sent a letter to the New York Times claiming that Wright had told Benham that his orders during that council “were, in fact, orders to fight a battle.”

Wright assumed command of Benham’s forces on James Island, with orders from Hunter: “You will not attempt to advance toward Charleston or Fort Johnson till largely re-enforced and until you receive express orders from these headquarters.” If Wright could not hold the position, he was to “make all the necessary dispositions for abandoning James Island and John’s Island, sending off in the first place all your sick and all your stores.”

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 111; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 183; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 168-70; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 227; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 699; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 139; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 427; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 664

Federals Threaten Charleston

June 15, 1862 – Federal Brigadier General Henry W. Benham planned to attack Confederate positions on James Island, south of Charleston Harbor.

By June 2, Federal gunboats had bombarded Confederate batteries on the Stono River for two weeks, silencing many of them. This enabled Major General David Hunter, commanding the Federal Department of the South, to go ahead with his plan to capture Fort Johnson on the north end of James Island. Escaped slave Robert Smalls, pilot of the C.S.S. Planter, had provided the Federals with valuable information enabling them to establish this foothold.

Gen Henry Benham | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Two infantry divisions totaling 9,000 Federals landed on the southern end of James Island under gunboat cover. Brigadier Generals Isaac I. Stevens and Horatio G. Wright led the divisions and were under the overall command of Benham, an accomplished engineer. Hunter allowed Benham to set up a battery to counter a floating Confederate battery near the hamlet of Secessionville.

The Federals spent the next week building defenses and placing batteries inland from Grimball’s Landing. The troops moved north up the Stono River until their path was blocked by 750 Confederates under Colonel Thomas G. Lamar at Tower Battery, in the middle of James Island near Secessionville. Another 2,000 Confederates blocked the path to Charleston, with Brigadier General Nathan G. “Shanks” Evans the overall commander of the Second Military District of South Carolina.

Confederates attacked the Federal line at Grimball’s Landing on the 10th, pushing advance elements back to the main defenses. The Federals emerged from their rifle pits and severely repelled the attackers with both direct and enfilade fire. The Confederates prepared to charge again, but by that time the Federals had brought up artillery and gunboat support. Both sides traded cannon fire for two hours before the Confederates withdrew.

The Confederates pulled back to stronger defenses closer to Charleston and called for reinforcements. This resounding Federal victory horrified Charlestonians because it proved the city’s vulnerability from the south. But the Federals could not immediately follow up on their success, as Hunter wrote to Benham before returning to headquarters:

“In leaving the Stono River to return to Hilton Head, I desire, in any arrangements that you may make for the disposition of your forces now in this vicinity, you will make no attempt to advance on Charleston or to attack Fort Johnson until largely re-enforced or until you receive specific instructions from these headquarters to that effect.”

Confederate artillerists from Secessionville continuously shelled the Federal positions along the Stono River near Grimball’s Landing for the next five days. When Benham received word that one of the shells had almost reached the Federal camps, he resolved to protect his men from the bombardment by attacking. This was in spite of Hunter’s order to conduct no offensive operations and Stevens’s report that the enemy guns could only reach the pickets.

On the night of the 15th, Benham met with Stevens and Wright aboard the U.S.S. Delaware. Benham directed the Federals to mobilize at 2 a.m. the next morning, with Stevens leading an assault on the Confederate works at 4 and Wright coming up in support.

Stevens wrote his wife that evening, “We are now attempting an enterprise for which our force is entirely inadequate. The want of a proper commander is fearful. We shall try to prevent any disaster occurring. This is all I can say at present.”

Meanwhile, Colonel Lamar, commanding the Confederates around Secessionville and Fort Johnson, reported increased Federal activity to his superior, Evans. This indicated that an attack would be coming either that night or next morning. The Confederates would be ready whenever it came.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 166; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 139; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 664

“Stonewall” Jackson Looks to Move North

June 14, 1862 – Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson proclaimed a day of thanksgiving for his army and sent a message to General Robert E. Lee requesting more men so he could invade the North.

Maj Gen “Stonewall” Jackson | Image Credit: SonoftheSouth.net

Jackson participated in the thanksgiving services with his men, writing to his wife:

“This evening, we have religious services in the army for the purpose of rendering thanks to the Most High for the victories with which He has crowned our arms, and to offer earnest prayer that He will continue to give us success, until, through His divine blessing, our independence shall be established. Wouldn’t you like to get home again?”

In addition, Jackson directed Congressman Alexander R. Boteler, representing a district in the Shenandoah Valley, to deliver a message to Lee on the Peninsula. Jackson suggested that if he could get 40,000 reinforcements, he could easily defeat the remaining Federals in the Valley and advance northward unopposed, perhaps even into Pennsylvania. Lee had already sent some additional men to Jackson, but Lee expected Jackson to stay in the Valley, ready to come east to the Virginia Peninsula if needed.

When Boteler arrived at Lee’s headquarters with Jackson’s message on the 15th, Lee had already decided to bring Jackson east. Boteler opposed this idea, saying it would be better for Jackson to stay in the Valley. Boteler reasoned, “If you bring our valley boys down here at this season among the pestilential swamps of the Chickahominy, the change from their pure mountain air to the miasmatic atmosphere will kill them off faster than the Federals have been doing.”

Boteler also explained, “Jackson has been doing so well with an independent command that it seems a pity not to let him have his own way; and then, too, bringing him here, General, will be–to use a homely phrase–putting all your eggs in one basket.”

Lee responded, “I see that you appreciate General Jackson as highly as I myself do, and it is because of my appreciation of him that I wish to have him here.” Lee wrote out orders for Jackson to come east and gave them to Boteler to deliver. Lee hoped to destroy Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac before it could be reinforced by Major General Irvin McDowell’s Federals en route.

Meanwhile, President Abraham Lincoln continued corresponding with Major General John C. Fremont, now commanding all Federals in the Shenandoah Valley. Lincoln, skeptical of Fremont’s assertion that he had won both the Battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic, indulged the general nonetheless: “As you alone beat Jackson last Sunday I argue that you are stronger than he is to-day.”

In response to Fremont’s fears that Jackson was being heavily reinforced, Lincoln wrote that “such re-enforcement could only have come from Richmond, and he is much more likely to go to Richmond than Richmond is to come to him.”

Lincoln believed the Confederate reinforcements headed for the Valley were probably being sent to deceive the Federals into thinking an attack would take place there. He wrote, “I do not believe Jackson will attack you, but certainly he cannot attack you by surprise; and if he comes upon you in superior force you have but to notify us, fall back cautiously, and (Major General Nathaniel) Banks will join you in due time.”

The president repeated that Fremont’s objectives were to cover the Shenandoah Valley while Banks guarded the Luray Valley to the east. This would allow McDowell to join McClellan for the drive on Richmond. Lincoln wrote, “I have arranged this, and am very unwilling to have it deranged.”

The next day, Boteler returned to Jackson’s headquarters near Port Republic. Boteler delivered a verbal order from Lee stating that he could not spare the 40,000 troops needed to invade Pennsylvania. Later that day, Jackson received a written dispatch from Lee:

“The present… seems to be favorable for a junction of your army with this. If you agree with me, the sooner you can make arrangements to do so the better. In moving your troops you can let it be understood that it was to pursue the enemy in your front. Dispose those to hold the Valley so as to deceive the enemy, keeping your cavalry well in their front, and at the proper time suddenly descending upon the Pamunkey… I should like to have the advantage of your views and to be able to confer with you. Will meet you at some point on your approach to the Chickahominy.”

Lee correctly guessed that both Fremont and Shields were retreating, with Fremont still at Mount Jackson and Shields at Front Royal. Jackson prepared to set his men in motion for the 120-mile eastward journey to Richmond. He told nobody of Lee’s order, not even his most trusted subordinates. McDowell was in the process of moving his corps (including Shields’s division) from the Valley back east to the Peninsula. If Jackson hurried, he would get there first.

Jackson’s Confederates marched to Waynesboro and began boarding trains on the 17th. Jackson obstructed his movements to avoid both Federal detection and Confederate speculation on where they were going. Brigadier General W.H.C. Whiting’s Confederates arrived at Staunton, 20 miles south of Port Republic, to reinforce Jackson, but Jackson ordered Whiting to go back east the same way he had just come without explaining why. This infuriated Whiting, but he complied nonetheless. Moving up a pass in the Blue Ridge, topographer Jedediah Hotchkiss told Jackson, “General, I fear we will not find our wagons tonight.” Jackson said, “Never take counsel of your fears.”

Meanwhile, the Federals still in the Valley received word that as many as 15,000 Confederates were heading there. A scout informed Shields that Jackson’s division under Major General Richard Ewell was advancing on Front Royal, 40,000 strong. However, Confederate deserters told Shields that Jackson’s army was leaving the Valley.

Based on this, Shields reported to McDowell that Jackson was heading east. At the same time, Shields warned Major General Franz Sigel of Fremont’s army that 8,500 Confederates were south of Luray. Sigel wrote Fremont, “General Shields has no correct knowledge of the enemy’s movements.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 76; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 170; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 183; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 473; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 167-69; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3675-86, 3698; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 226-28; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 30

Stuart’s Ride Around McClellan

June 13, 1862 – Confederate Brigadier General J.E.B. “Jeb” Stuart made a name for himself by conducting a daring reconnaissance mission all the way around Major General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac.

General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, heard rumors that McClellan’s right flank, consisting of General Fitz John Porter’s V Corps, was “up in the air,” or unguarded by natural obstacles at its end and thus vulnerable to attack. Lee called on Stuart to lead the cavalry in verifying whether this rumor was true.

Confederate General Jeb Stuart | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Lee directed Stuart “to make a secret movement to the rear of the enemy, now posted on Chickahominy, with a view of gaining intelligence of his operations, communications, &c; of driving in his foraging parties, and securing such grain, cattle, &c, for ourselves as you can make arrangements to have driven in.”

Stuart was to return to Confederate lines “as soon as the object of your expedition is accomplished,” making sure “not to hazard unnecessarily your command or to attempt what your judgment may not approve; but be content to accomplish all the good you can without feeling it necessary to obtain all that might be desired.”

After conferring with his scouts, Stuart decided that after reconnoitering the Federal right, he would continue moving around the enemy flank and completely encircle the massive Federal army. Lee had not prohibited Stuart from making such a move, and Stuart guessed that the Federals would not be ready for such bold action.

Stuart’s force consisted of 1,200 picked cavalrymen, headed by Colonels William H.F. “Rooney” Lee (Lee’s second son) and Fitzhugh Lee (Lee’s nephew). Each man received three days’ rations, and only Stuart knew where they were going. At 2 a.m. on the morning of June 12, Stuart issued orders: “Gentlemen, in 10 minutes every man must be in his saddle.”

The troopers assembled at Kilby’s Station and headed out of Richmond in a half-mile-long column, crossing the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad. Moving northwest, Stuart wanted Federal scouts to think they were going to reinforce Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley. They rode 22 miles, crossing the Chickahominy River and then turning sharply east.

The troopers drove off small Federal patrols along the way; Stuart’s movement was inadvertently aided by the Federal cavalry structure, which featured companies and regiments dispersed throughout the army and not concentrated to oppose such a large enemy force. The Confederates camped for the night at Winston Farm near Hanover Court House and the bridge over the South Anna River.

The next morning, Stuart’s men resumed their ride east toward Hanover Court House, with Federal troopers fleeing at the sight of so many enemy horsemen approaching. The Confederates passed Taliaferro’s Mill, scared Federal pickets at Haw’s Shop, and chased off a cavalry unit. A charge dispersed Federals making a stand near Old Church. Captain William Latane was killed leading the charge and became the only Confederate casualty of the raid. The Confederates took the Federals’ camps and burned hundreds of tents.

Having accomplished his mission of reconnoitering the Federal right, Stuart would now continue on around the Federal army before returning to Lee. He told staff member John E. Cooke, “Tell Fitz Lee to come along, I’m going to move with my column.” Cooke replied, “I think the quicker we move now, the better.” Stuart was confident that he could outrun any infantry in pursuit and any cavalry in his path.

The Confederates moved southeast, passing within a few miles of McClellan’s headquarters and reaching the Richmond & York River Railroad by early evening. By this time, Federals who had encountered Stuart’s men alarmed their comrades; wild rumors spread that 5,000 Confederates were about to attack. Brigadier General Philip St. George Cooke gathered 500 Federal troopers to meet the threat and face Stuart, his son-in-law. But Stuart was no longer near where he had been spotted that morning.

A Federal brigade under Colonel Gouverneur K. Warren was posted near Old Church, as Warren figured that Stuart would have to return the way he came. Nobody considered that Stuart might be heading the other way, with no intention of doubling back. The Confederates rode to Tunstall’s Station, where they shot up a supply train and burned several wagons. Aided by a full moon, they rode through the night, stopping briefly at Talleysville to raid a sutler’s store.

Both Warren and Cooke received conflicting reports on Stuart’s whereabouts. Acting on one rumor, they left Old Church around 4 a.m. on the 14th and headed north to New Castle, near the Pamunkey River. They then picked up Stuart’s trail and headed toward Tunstall’s Station, but Cooke’s insistence that his cavalry slow to match the infantry’s pace ensured that they would not catch the Confederates. They reached Tunstall’s Station 15 hours after Stuart had left.

Stuart’s men arrived at the Chickahominy around dawn. They were 35 miles from Richmond and 15 miles behind the main Federal lines. The river was too high to ford, prompting Rooney Lee to remark, “I think we are caught.” Moving downriver, Stuart deployed a rear guard and artillery while his men rebuilt the Forge Bridge using wood from an old barn. Three hours later, the troopers crossed and destroyed the bridge behind them. The Confederates thought they had narrowly escaped, but the Federals were still five or six hours away.

Leaving Fitzhugh Lee in charge, Stuart rode ahead to report his findings to General Lee near Richmond. Fitzhugh led the troopers south, then northwest, around the Federal left flank. They paralleled the James River on their ride back to Richmond.

Stuart arrived at Lee’s headquarters just after dawn on the 15th. His cavalry would arrive that night and early next morning to the cheers of Richmond residents. The troopers rode around an army of 100,000 men, covering over 100 miles and losing just one man and one cannon. They captured 165 Federal soldiers and 260 horses and mules while destroying railroad track, communication lines, and supply wagons.

Stuart informed Lee that the Federal troops were being supplied from White House Landing and the Richmond & York River Railroad. He reported that the roads behind the Federal lines were worse than those in the Confederates’ front. He also told Lee that the Federal right flank was indeed “up in the air” at Mechanicsville, vulnerable to an enveloping maneuver.

This information prompted Lee to bring Jackson’s men from the Valley to oppose that flank. If the Confederates could turn the Federal right, they could push them away from their supply base, forcing them to retreat back down the Peninsula. Jackson could move against Beaver Dam Creek without opposition and then easily advance on White House.

Stuart’s daring, sensational ride greatly boosted southern morale and made him a national hero. It also seemed to prove the theory that southern horsemen were superior to northerners. The ride embarrassed McClellan and compelled him to be even more cautious, but it also warned him to better guard his supply base in the future. And it prompted the Lincoln administration to devote more resources to training and equipping their cavalry.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 182-83; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 471; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 167-68; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3650, 3663-75; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 225-27; 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. 463; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 728-29; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 27-29; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 667-68

Federal Armies Separate in the West

June 11, 1862 – Washington officials informed Major General Henry W. Halleck that President Abraham Lincoln was “greatly delighted” with Halleck’s division of his “Grand Army,” as well as his plan to capture Chattanooga.

Maj Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Maj Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

After capturing Corinth, most of Halleck’s army occupied the town and the vital junction between the Memphis & Charleston and the Mobile & Ohio railroads. Halleck’s forces under Major Generals John Pope and Don Carlos Buell cautiously probed southward in search of withdrawing Confederates, with skirmishing at Rienzi, Mississippi. As the Federals continued reconnoitering, farmers on the Yazoo and Mississippi rivers began burning enormous amounts of cotton to prevent Federal capture.

When Pope reported to Halleck that 10,000 Confederate deserters may soon enter his lines, Halleck reported to Washington on the 4th: “General Pope, with 40,000, is 30 miles south of Corinth, pushing the enemy hard. He already reports 10,000 prisoners and deserters from the enemy and 15,000 stand of arms captured.” Halleck’s assumption that the prisoners had already been taken infuriated Pope because it gave him a reputation as a liar and braggart.

Meanwhile, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard continued withdrawing his Army of Mississippi, falling back through Baldwin and eventually stopping to make a defensive stand at Tupelo. President Jefferson Davis, resentful of Beauregard for giving up Corinth so easily, wrote to Mississippi Governor John J. Pettus, “My efforts to provide for the military wants of your section have been sadly frustrated.”

On the 9th, Halleck notified his superiors at Washington that he would return his “Grand Army” to its three original armies:

  • Don Carlos Buell would resume command of the Army of the Ohio. He would link with Federals in northern Alabama and advance on Chattanooga, the vital railroad city linking Virginia and Georgia. From there, Buell would be within striking distance of Knoxville and Atlanta.
  • John Pope would resume command of the Army of the Mississippi, which would occupy Corinth and vicinity.
  • Ulysses S. Grant would resume command of the Army of the Tennessee. Two of his divisions under William T. Sherman were to occupy Memphis, and two divisions under John A. McClernand were to occupy Jackson, Tennessee. Sherman and McClernand were to secure the railroad and assure “all country people that they will be permitted to take their cotton freely to market and that the ordinary channels of trade will be immediately reopened.”

Halleck would remain in Corinth and coordinate the movements of the three armies. Although Grant was the senior commander among Halleck’s subordinates, the only offensive that Halleck approved was Buell’s to capture Chattanooga.

Preliminary movements toward Chattanooga had begun earlier in June when Buell’s detached division under Brigadier General Ormsby M. Mitchel advanced from Huntsville, Alabama. On the 7th, a 6,000-man force from Mitchel’s command under Brigadier General James S. Negley approached Chattanooga from the northwest and began shelling the city from across the Tennessee River.

The Confederates defending Chattanooga, led by Major General Edmund Kirby Smith, had been assigned to guard all of eastern Tennessee from Chattanooga to Cumberland Gap. They repelled the Federal attack, but this indicated that Smith needed more men to defend the region. He called on both the Army of Mississippi and Richmond for reinforcements, arguing that his men were exhausted from marching the 180 miles back and forth between Chattanooga and Cumberland Gap.

On the 12th, Halleck reported to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that Buell would arrive at Decatur, Alabama, the next day. Halleck wrote, “If the enemy should have evacuated East Tennessee and Cumberland Gap, as reported, Buell will probably move on to Atlanta.” But Buell’s advance was stalled at Decatur; he partly blamed this on Mitchel for destroying railroad tracks and bridges that Buell’s men needed to advance.

By June 23, Buell had only advanced to Tuscumbia, Alabama. It had taken him two weeks to advance just 50 miles, with Chattanooga still 170 miles away. Buell’s Federals next advanced to Athens, Alabama. Bureaucratic errors prevented supplies from reaching the troops there, causing more delays.

Learning about the Federal pillage of Athens a month ago, Buell court-martialed Colonel John B. Turchin for waging war on non-combatants in violation of the rules of war. Turchin was dismissed from the army, but President Lincoln later reinstated him and promoted him to brigadier general.

The campaign against Chattanooga slowly continued into July, but it would be abruptly halted when the Confederates took the offensive.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 179, 181; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 542, 559; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 162, 164, 166; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 198; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 222-23, 225, 228; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 428; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 486-87; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 15-17, 21; Wilson, David L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 642