Tag Archives: Alfred Pleasonton

Missouri: Price Rushes West

October 15, 1864 – Major General Sterling Price’s Confederates captured several towns while moving through Missouri, but Federal pursuers were closing in on them fast.

Confederate General Sterling Price | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

In September, Price had begun an expedition to free his home state from Federal rule. His Army of Missouri consisted of three cavalry divisions under Major General James F. Fagan and Brigadier Generals John S. Marmaduke and Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby. Price initially planned to head northeast and capture St. Louis, but after learning that the city was heavily defended, Price instead rode to seize the state capital of Jefferson City.

Price’s troopers turned westward and moved along the Missouri River, passing through Washington, skirmishing with a token Federal force at Richwoods, and occupying Herman. The Confederates crossed the Osage River on the 6th and approached Jefferson City, but Price found the Federal defenses there too strong to attack. He continued west toward Boonville, with a Federal brigade under Brigadier General John B. Sanborn in pursuit.

Meanwhile, Major General William S. Rosecrans, commanding the Federal Department of Missouri from St. Louis, deployed cavalry under Major General Alfred Pleasonton and XVI Corps under Major General Andrew J. Smith to pursue the Confederates. Smith’s corps had been slated to reinforce the Federals in Tennessee, but it was held back to deal with Price.

Major General Samuel R. Curtis, commanding the Federal Department of Kansas from Fort Leavenworth, mobilized a division of his Army of the Border under Major General James G. Blunt to move east into Missouri and confront Price. Kansas Governor Thomas Carney reluctantly gave Curtis a division of state militia to join Blunt after learning that Price was moving west toward his state.

Price reached Boonville on the 9th, where he learned that not only were Pleasonton and Smith pursuing from the east, but 20,000 Federals under Curtis were heading his way from the west. Price resolved to continue heading west, and he issued a proclamation requesting that citizens join his army and “redeem” Missouri from Federal control.

The Boonville residents were initially supportive of Price’s efforts, and about 2,000 volunteers joined Price’s army. The divisions of Fagan and Marmaduke defeated Sanborn’s pursuing Federals outside Boonville on the 11th and sent them retreating across Saline Creek.

However, even with the new recruits, desertions and illness left Price with just 8,500 men, or 3,500 less than he had when the campaign started. And public opinion turned against the Confederates after they spent two days looting Boonville. This recklessness gave the Federals time to develop a strategy to destroy them.

Confederate partisans led by William “Bloody Bill” Anderson came to Boonville to reinforce Price, but Price was outraged by the scalps hanging from their bridles. With large numbers of Federal troops closing in from two directions, Price began looking to return to Arkansas. He and Anderson parted ways, with Anderson’s partisans going to raid towns north of the Missouri River.

Price dispatched troopers under Shelby and Brigadier General John B. Clark, Jr. to capture Glasgow, the supposed site of a large Federal arsenal. The 2,500 troopers placed the 750-man Federal garrison under siege and forced its surrender on the 15th. Elements of Shelby’s command also captured Paris that day. However, the Federals destroyed most of their stockpile before surrendering.

Another detached force of about 1,500 Confederates from Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson’s command and part of Shelby’s Iron Brigade captured Sedalia. Thompson stopped his men from looting the town; they only took arms, horses, and supplies before moving on to rejoin Price’s army. These victories boosted Confederate morale, but the time they spent occupying the towns gave the Federals more time to close in on them.

Price then captured Carrollton and burned Smithville before approaching Lexington. Rosecrans looked to trap Price between his force and Curtis’s, but many of the Kansas militia refused to cross the border into Missouri. Blunt had just about 2,000 men in his command when he approached Lexington, about 30 miles east of Kansas City. Shelby rode into his home town of Waverly to confront Blunt’s Kansans and Coloradans.

On the 19th, Price’s main force drove Blunt’s Federals westward, down the Independence Road out of Lexington, until darkness ended the fighting. Blunt was no match for Price, but he gained important information about Price’s strength.

Blunt’s Federals withdrew to defenses on the bank of the Little Blue River, east of Independence, on the 20th. Curtis urged Blunt to concentrate at Independence because “the Big Blue must be our main line for battle. We must pick our battle-ground where we can have united councils as well as a strong position.” Curtis reported:

“The country is rough and thickly timbered, and the streams bordered by precipitate banks, which render it generally impassable for cavalry and artillery. I divided the forces, distributing them so as to form a line more or less continuous, according to danger, from the Missouri River to the crossing of the Blue, near Hickman Mills, a distance of 15 or 16 miles.”

By the 20th, Price’s momentum had slowed and Missourians had not joined his army as he hoped. Pinned by the Missouri River on his right, Price now faced advances from Pleasonton’s Federal cavalry behind him, A.J. Smith’s infantry moving toward his left, and Blunt’s men in his front. But the Confederates continued forward, clashing with Blunt’s vanguard on the Little Blue and driving them toward Independence.

Price’s troopers captured Independence on the 21st, after Federals put up a strong resistance in the streets and houses. The Confederates camped that night west of Independence. Pleasonton’s cavalry attacked the Confederate rear guard at Independence the next day, pushing them westward out of town.

Meanwhile, Price learned that Curtis and Blunt blocked his path at Westport. Shelby’s Confederates flanked Blunt on the Big Blue, giving Price control of Byram’s Ford. Blunt withdrew to join Curtis’s main force, while Price used the ford to move his 500 supply wagons and 5,000 head of cattle southward.

As Price approached Westport, Curtis held a council of war in Kansas City’s Gillis House to ponder his next move. Curtis had initially planned to withdraw to Fort Leavenworth, but Blunt persuaded him to instead attack the Confederates in the morning. Price in turn planned to drive off Curtis in his front and then turn and drive off Pleasonton in his rear. Being outnumbered, this was a desperate gamble, but it was Price’s only hope of escaping Missouri without having his army destroyed.

—–

Sources

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 466, 469-71, 476-78; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 12116-26, 12137-57, 12178-88; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 504-12; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 602-03; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 578-81, 583-87; 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. 787; Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 474

Advertisements

Meade Looks to Advance in Northern Virginia

September 15, 1863 – Major General George G. Meade planned to advance against General Robert E. Lee’s weakened Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, but only as part of a probing action.

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

By this month, the armies of Meade and Lee had built defensive works on either side of the Rappahannock River, and both armies had been depleted by casualties and transfers. Meade sent some of his units north to help enforce the new draft law, and he sent a division to reinforce the Federals attacking Charleston Harbor. Lee sent a corps to reinforce the Confederates at Chattanooga, and two brigades to bolster the Charleston defenses. Meade had roughly 75,000 men, while Lee had about 45,000.

The only substantial action in early September came when Federal cavalry under Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick recaptured two Federal ironclads that Confederates had seized at Port Royal, downstream from Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock. As the armies remained relatively stationary, they were still within striking distance of each other, and Meade believed that Lee may be planning an attack. However, Lee’s army fell back across the Rapidan River, leaving Major General Jeb Stuart’s cavalry to patrol the region between the two rivers.

Rumors spread on both sides about each other’s potential movements. These included an article published in the New York Herald on the 11th stating that Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps had left Lee’s army to reinforce General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. Because most rumors ultimately proved false, Meade was reluctant to believe this story. But then Meade received word from Kilpatrick that only Confederate cavalry remained south of the Rappahannock, indicating that Lee’s force may have indeed been reduced.

Meade reported to his superiors that, according to some scouts, Lee may be “falling back from the Rapidan.” To confirm this, Meade wrote, “I have other scouts who will endeavor to penetrate nearer Orange Court House and if I can get any evidence more positive, I will push to Culpeper and beyond a strong reconnaissance of cavalry and infantry.”

Major General Alfred Pleasonton’s Cavalry Corps crossed the Rappahannock on the 12th in three divisions, supported by II Corps under Major General Gouverneur Warren. Stuart learned of the advance and directed three brigades under Brigadier General Lunsford L. Lomax to confront the Federal cavalry divisions of Kilpatrick and Brigadier General John Buford near Brandy Station, while Brigadier General William E. “Grumble” Jones’s Confederates took on Brigadier General David Gregg’s division farther west.

The Federals advanced on the 13th, with Gregg pushing Jones back from the north and Buford pushing the Confederates back from the east. Kilpatrick was supposed to shift south and attack the enemy from behind, but he was delayed by a swollen creek. The Federals pushed Stuart’s troopers through Culpeper Court House and back to the Rapidan. Darkness ended the fighting, with the Federals now in control of Culpeper.

Skirmishing continued over the next few days near Brandy Station, Muddy Run, Somerville, and at Raccoon and Robertson’s fords. During these limited engagements, Federals learned from Confederate prisoners that Longstreet had indeed gone to reinforce Bragg, leaving Lee with just two-thirds of his army. However, Pleasonton soon learned that the Confederates remained dangerous in their defensive works south of the Rapidan.

Meade notified General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck:

“My judgment is that Lee’s army had been reduced by Longstreet’s corps, and perhaps by some regiments from (Richard) Ewell and (A.P.) Hill. With the amount of the force left with him, it is difficult to conjectures, but I have no doubt it is deemed sufficient by him, with the advantages of position, to check my crossing the Rapidan, at least until he can withdraw, in case he desires to do so. If Lee’s army is as much reduced as the intelligence now received would lead us to believe, when the detached troops from this army return, I ought to be his superior in number, and should be able to require him to fall back.”

Meade concluded, “At the same time, I see no object in advancing, unless it is with ulterior views, and I do not consider this army sufficiently large to follow him to Richmond (in case that should prove practicable), and lay siege to that place, fortified as we know it to be.”

Halleck responded that “preparations should be made to at least threaten Lee, and, if possible cut off a slice of his army.” With definitive information about Lee’s army still lacking, Halleck stated that Meade should not “authorize any very considerable advance.”

Meade reported on the 15th that some Confederate infantry had apparently crossed the Rapidan. To this, President Abraham Lincoln wrote Halleck:

“My opinion is that he (Meade) should move upon Lee at once in manner of general attack, leave to developments whether he will make it a real attack. I think this would develop Lee’s real condition and purposes better than the cavalry alone can do.”

Halleck forwarded Lincoln’s message to Meade with one of his own, in which he explained that since Meade could expect no reinforcements, “No rash movements can, therefore, be ventured, in manner of general attack.” Halleck suggested that Meade use his cavalry to continue scouting Lee’s positions before ordering any general advance.

Meade responded near midnight:

“I have ordered the army to cross the Rappahannock, and shall take up a position tomorrow with my left at Stevensburg and right at Stone House Mountain. I will then picket the Rapidan with infantry, and thus relieve the cavalry, and will endeavor, by means of the latter, to obtain more information.”

Meade accurately guessed that Lee’s army consisted of “not less than 40,000 or 45,000 infantry and over 5,000 cavalry.” He then reiterated his opinion regarding Lee’s intentions and his own limitations:

“I hardly think he will cross the Rapidan to meet me at Culpeper, unless he is ignorant of my actual force. If he does not, it will be a difficult problem to attack him, or compel him to fall back, as he has such advantages in the line of the Rapidan, enabling him, by means of artillery and rifle pits, to hold it with much less force than is required to force the passage. I will not make the attempt unless I can see my way clear, and I do not much expect any greater success than requiring him to fall still farther back.”

The Federals began crossing the Rappahannock on the 16th, and troops on both sides spent the next week probing and skirmishing as they tried learning more about each other’s positions.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 325; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 350; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 408-09

Confederates Invade Pennsylvania

June 20, 1863 – Federal and Confederate cavalries dueled as the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia entered Pennsylvania and panic gripped the region.

With a full-scale Confederate invasion now imminent, Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin and Major General Darius N. Couch, commanding the Department of the Susquehanna, frantically called for 30-day militia volunteers. However, Curtin could not accept blacks because, under Federal law, they could only be inducted in the Federal army, not the state militia, and only for three years’ service, not 30 days.

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton initially directed Couch “to receive into service any volunteer troops that may be offered, without regard to color,” but then he realized the political trouble with recruiting blacks and told Couch that in case of “any dispute about the matter, it will be better to send no more. It is well to avoid all controversy in the present juncture, as the troops can be well used elsewhere.”

Maj Gen Alfred Pleasonton | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

In northern Virginia, Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton’s Federal Cavalry Corps continued challenging the Confederate horsemen under Major General Jeb Stuart east of the Blue Ridge. Stuart had no infantry support, as the rest of the Confederate army had gone west into the Shenandoah Valley en route to Pennsylvania. After a day’s delay due to rain, the Federals again pressed their counterparts, driving Stuart back eight miles to Upperville. The Confederates withdrew through Ashby’s Gap in the Blue Ridge around 6 p.m.

The opposing cavalries had fought intermittently since the 16th, during which time the Federals lost 613 men while inflicting 510 casualties on the enemy. These engagements boosted Federal confidence and made Stuart seem less invincible. However, Pleasonton could not gather much intelligence based on these skirmishes, except to inform Major General Joseph Hooker, commanding the Army of the Potomac, that the Confederates were moving into the Shenandoah Valley.

As the Confederates marched through the narrow section of western Maryland, General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia, issued General Order No. 72. This outlined how the army was to behave in enemy territory. The order was politically motivated, as Lee hoped to demonstrate his men’s high morality to foreign nations considering whether to recognize Confederate independence.

Gen Robert E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Lee directed that “no private property shall be injured or destroyed by any person belonging to or connected with the army, or taken, excepting by officers hereinafter designated,” namely, members of the “commissary, quartermaster’s, ordnance, and medical departments.”

Property owners deprived of their goods must “be paid the market price for the articles furnished.” If property owners refused to accept Confederate money (which was nearly worthless), they were to be given receipts noting the property taken and its current market value.

Lee then declared, “If any person shall remove or conceal property necessary for the use of the army, or attempt to do so, the officers hereinbefore mentioned will cause such property, and all other property belonging to such person that may be required by the army, to be seized…”

On the 22nd, the vanguard of Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Confederate Second Corps, consisting of Major General Robert Rodes’s infantry and Brigadier General Albert G. Jenkins’s cavalry, crossed the Pennsylvania border around 10 a.m. and advanced through Greencastle. Lee instructed Ewell:

“I think your best course will be toward the Susquehanna (River), taking the route by Emmitsburg, Chambersburg, and McConnellsburg… It will depend upon the quantity of supplies obtained in that country whether the rest of the army can follow. There may be enough for your command, but none for the others. If Harrisburg comes within your means, capture it.”

The “progress and directions” of Ewell’s advance were to be determined by the “development of circumstances.” Lee then sent discretionary orders to Stuart:

“I fear he (Hooker) will steal a march on us, and get across the Potomac before we are aware. If you find he is moving northward, and that two brigades can guard the Blue Ridge and take care of your rear, you can move with the other three into Maryland, and take position on General Ewell’s right.”

Lee sent an official order the next day, “which I wish you to see it strictly complied with.” The order went through Lieutenant General James Longstreet, whom Stuart was screening, and Longstreet added a suggestion that instead of joining Ewell, which could expose Lee’s entire movement, Stuart should ride around the rear of the Federal army. Lee approved, with the stipulation that once Hooker crossed the Potomac, Stuart “must immediately cross himself and take his place on our right flank.”

Late that night, Hooker received intelligence from Pleasonton that Longstreet’s corps was at Winchester, with Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s following. The next day, Ewell’s advance into Pennsylvania continued, with Major General Jubal Early’s division approaching Chambersburg.

Early ordered the destruction of the nearby Caledonia Iron Works. The works were owned by Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, a Radical Republican leader who despised slavery and called for subjugating the Confederate states. When the foreman argued that the company only operated to provide housing and jobs for the locals, Early replied, “Yankees don’t do business that way. They carry on their operations to make money.”

As Early later stated, the Confederates burned all the buildings because the Federals “invariably burned such works in the South wherever they had penetrated.” Early also admitted that he destroyed the works because “in some speeches in Congress Mr. Stevens had exhibited a vindictive spirit toward the people in the South.”

Longstreet began crossing the Potomac on the 24th at Shepherdstown and Williamsport. The main part of Ewell’s corps was at Hagerstown, Maryland, with his lead elements at Chambersburg and poised to continue to the Susquehanna River.

Hooker still could not confirm whether Lee’s movement indicated a northern invasion. He notified General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck that he would, “with all the force I can muster, strike for his line of retreat in the direction of Richmond.” However, Hooker soon received intelligence that Confederates were in force at Shepherdstown.

He dispatched Major General Oliver O. Howard’s XI Corps to Edwards’s Ferry, marking his first major move toward the Potomac. Confused by all the conflicting reports, Hooker then asked Halleck to send him orders because “outside of the Army of the Potomac I don’t know whether I am standing on my head or feet.”

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 25-26, 28; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 296; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 442; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 313-15; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5842; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 370-71; 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; 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), Q263

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.

——

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

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.

—–

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.

—–

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.

—–

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