Tag Archives: Army of the Shenandoah

The Battle of Winchester

May 25, 1862 – Confederates won a tremendous victory to gain control of most of the Shenandoah Valley and make the name “Stonewall” a legend in the South.

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, whose 6,500 Federals had won the race to Winchester, held defensive works south of the town to face Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s oncoming Confederates. Having been soundly beaten and pursued, Banks guessed that Jackson had 25,000 men, but he actually had no more than about 10,000 effectives due to combat casualties, illness, straggling, and extreme fatigue.

Banks deployed his men on the low range of hills south of Winchester. Breaking his own rule not to fight on the Sabbath, Jackson advanced early that morning, with the Confederates probing through dense fog. Jackson sent Brigadier General Charles S. Winder’s Stonewall Brigade, supported by Colonel John A. Campbell’s brigade, against the Federal center at Bower’s Hill. They easily pushed the Federals off the ridge, but the Federals put up stronger resistance in falling back to a second ridge.

Both sides traded artillery fire, but the superior Federal guns got the best of the exchange. Meanwhile, Major General Richard Ewell’s division attacked the undersized Federal left flank. Jackson directed the brigade under Brigadier General Richard Taylor (son of former President Zachary Taylor) to attack the extreme Federal right in concert with Ewell on the left.

Battle map | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Battle map | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Taylor’s Confederates shrieked the “Rebel yell” as they charged, and the rest of the Confederate army followed suit. The Federals resisted at first, but both flanks quickly crumbled, and finally the troops broke and fled in panic toward the Potomac River. The Confederates seized their defenses and entered Winchester, where they took all the valuable supplies that the Federals left behind.

The pro-Confederate residents came out to cheer their liberators, prompting the troops to stop and take in the adulation when Jackson wanted them to continue pressing Banks all the way to the Potomac. Jackson could not find Brigadier General Turner Ashby’s cavalry, which he needed to lead the pursuit; they were busy looting the Federal camps. So he called up Ewell’s cavalry, but they did not arrive until mid-afternoon.

The Confederates started giving chase, but they dropped out from exhaustion at Bunker Hill, six miles north. Banks may have gotten away, but “Old Jack” had driven him out of the Valley and captured his supply depot. This made the battle at Winchester a resounding Confederate victory and Jackson a hero in the Confederacy.

The Confederates captured nearly 10,000 small arms, 500,000 rounds of ammunition, two rifled cannon, $250,000 worth of medical supplies, 103 heads of cattle, and almost 25,000 pounds of provisions. They had captured so many of Banks’s supplies over the past three days that they nicknamed the Federal commander “Commissary Banks.”

The Federals suffered 2,028 casualties in the chase yesterday and the battle today (71 killed, 243 wounded, and 1,714 missing, of which about 800 were taken prisoner). The Confederates lost just 400 (68 killed, 329 wounded, and three missing). Jackson now had control of most of the Shenandoah Valley and was just 50 miles away from Washington.

The Lincoln administration panicked upon learning of this latest defeat in the Valley, but the panic was somewhat calmed by news that Brigadier General James Shields’s division was moving west from Fredericksburg to reinforce Banks. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton called on the governors of the northern states to send troops to protect Washington, and President Lincoln looked to Major General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac for the victory the Federals so desperately needed.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (25 May 1862); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 130; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 45-46; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 174; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 157; Jensen, Les D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 834; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 216; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 387; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 677

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Action Intensifies in the Shenandoah Valley

May 24, 1862 – Following the Federal defeat at Front Royal, Major General Nathaniel P. Banks retreated and President Abraham Lincoln scrambled to send him reinforcements.

Federal General Nathaniel Banks | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Federal General Nathaniel Banks | Image Credit: Flickr.com

The loss of the outpost at Front Royal meant that the Confederates could now interpose themselves between Banks’s main Army of the Shenandoah and Washington. Hurrying to prevent this, Banks set out on the morning of the 24th to lead his Federals out of Strasburg to Winchester, 20 miles north. Banks, refusing to admit that this was a retreat, informed his superiors that he would “enter the lists with the enemy in a race or a battle (as he should choose) for the possession of Winchester.”

Banks estimated Confederate strength to have increased to “not less than 6,000 to 10,000. It is probably (Major General Richard) Ewell’s force, passing through the Shenandoah valley. (Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall”) Jackson is still in our front. We shall stand firm.” Banks’s assumption that Jackson was “still in our front” indicated that he was still unaware Jackson and Ewell had joined forces. Based on Federal intelligence, Banks believed that Ewell had fallen back to Front Royal, leaving the Valley turnpike to Winchester open.

Banks’s superiors replied, “Do not give up the ship before succor can arrive.” Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton asked Major General John C. Fremont, commanding a Federal army at Franklin in western (now West) Virginia, to send reinforcements to Banks if possible. Fremont replied that he could not spare any men because “the enemy seems everywhere reinforced and active.” Fremont also complained that heavy rains and dwindling supplies were demoralizing his men.

Jackson anticipated Banks’s retreat toward Winchester. After confirming that his hunch was correct, he sent Ewell’s Confederates northward down a road parallel to the Valley turnpike. Jackson then led his men toward Middletown, hoping to trap Banks between his troops and Ewell’s before the Federals could reach Winchester. Jackson would then push northward to Harpers Ferry and the Potomac River.

Jackson’s men marched seven miles to Newtown, where they placed artillery atop a hill to fire on the Federal rear guard marching below. With the Federals stuck between stone walls on either side, Jackson reported that “in a few moments the turnpike, which had just before teemed with life, presented a most appalling spectacle of carnage and destruction. The road was literally obstructed with the mingled and confused mass of struggling and dying horses and riders.”

Jackson finally ordered a halt, as Federal troops found “the bodies of men and horses so piled up that it was impossible to proceed.” Those not pinned between the stone walls or among the bodies fled toward Winchester. Jackson’s cavalry rounded up prisoners, along with large amounts of abandoned wagons and supplies. The Confederates spent time looting that could have been better spent chasing and destroying Banks’s army.

Allowing the Federals to escape mainly intact prompted Jackson to fear that they would entrench themselves on the heights southwest of Winchester, where Jackson had lost the Battle of Kernstown in March. Therefore, he drove his men on a forced march to hurry their pursuit.

At Washington, Lincoln telegraphed Fremont rejecting the general’s previous refusal to aid Banks:

“The exposed condition of General Banks makes his immediate relief a point of paramount importance. You are therefore directed by the President to move against Jackson at Harrisonberg [sic] and operate against the enemy in such way as to relieve Banks. This movement must be made immediately. You will acknowledge the receipt of this order and specify the hour it is received by you.”

Then, just after allowing Major General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac on the Virginia Peninsula to be reinforced by Major General Irvin McDowell’s Federals near Fredericksburg, Lincoln pulled McDowell back. He explained to McClellan:

“In consequence of Gen. Banks’ critical position I have been compelled to suspend Gen. McDowell’s movement to join you. The enemy are making a desperate push upon Harper’s Ferry, and we are trying to throw Fremont’s force & part of McDowell’s in their rear.”

Lincoln then issued orders to McDowell:

“General Fremont has been ordered by telegraph to move to Franklin and Harrisonburg to relieve General Banks and capture or destroy Jackson’s and Ewell’s forces. You are instructed, laying aside for the present the movement on Richmond, to put 20,000 men in motion at once for the Shenandoah, moving on the line or in advance of the line of the Manassas Gap Railroad. Your object will be to capture the forces of Jackson and Ewell, either in cooperation with General Fremont, or, in case want of supplies or transportation has interfered with his movement, it is believed that the force which you move will be sufficient to accomplish the object alone… Reports received this morning are that Banks is fighting with Ewell, eight miles from Harper’s Ferry.”

These orders came just after Brigadier General James Shields’s Federal division from Banks’s army had arrived to reinforce McDowell. Now he would have to turn right around and go back. At this time, McDowell was within six miles of joining with McClellan on the Peninsula.

McDowell obeyed but complained to Stanton, “This is a crushing blow to us.” He then telegraphed Lincoln, “I beg to say that co-operation between General Fremont and myself to cut Jackson and Ewell there is not to be counted upon.” Explaining that the Confederates could destroy Banks before he even arrived, McDowell wrote, “I shall gain nothing for you there, and shall lose much for you here.”

McDowell also complained to General James Wadsworth, in charge of the Washington defenses: “If the enemy can succeed so readily in disconcerting all our plans by alarming us first at one point, then at another, he will paralyze a large force with a very small one.” Shields, having served under Banks, told McDowell that “the same cry was constantly heard (from Banks) … that large numbers of thousands of the enemy always coming upon them.” Except this time, it was true.

By the night of the 24th, the Federals began straggling into Winchester, having won the race and avoiding the trap set by Jackson and Ewell. Residents there, being mostly pro-Confederate, cheered for Jackson and heckled the Federals as they came into town.

Ewell arrived at Kernstown, a few miles south of Winchester, that evening and awaited Jackson’s men. Jackson continued advancing into night and early morning, finally reaching Kernstown before taking a two-hour rest at 2 a.m. on the 25th.

Despite losing the race to Winchester, “Old Jack” had the Federals on the run in the Valley and seemed to be singlehandedly turning the war’s tide in the Confederacy’s favor. However, McDowell would soon be coming to help Banks confront Jackson from the north, while Fremont started moving to cut Jackson off to the south.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (24 May 1862); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 129-30, 135; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13815-22; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 174; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 431, 436; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 156; Jensen, Les D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 834; Klein, Frederic S, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 293; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 215-16; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 386-87; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 677

The Battle of Front Royal

May 23, 1862 – Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates scored a major victory and threatened to position themselves between the Federals in the Shenandoah Valley and Washington.

Jackson planned to attack the Federal outpost at Front Royal, east of Massanutten Mountain in the Luray (eastern Shenandoah) Valley. The Federals there had been detached from Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Army of the Shenandoah, stationed at Strasburg. Using the mountain to screen his movement, Jackson split his 16,000-man command by sending Major General Richard Ewell’s division on a more easterly route to block a potential Federal retreat toward Manassas Junction.

Meanwhile, Brigadier General Turner Ashby’s cavalry blocked the Federals from the west and seized the railroad line to Strasburg, where Banks’s main force was located. Jackson planned to drive the Federals north toward Winchester while keeping them from burning the two important bridges spanning the North and South forks of the Shenandoah River. He was not aware of how many Federals awaited him at Front Royal.

Ewell began his eastern detour around 2 p.m., with skirmishing breaking out at various points along the way. Prominent Confederate spy Belle Boyd rode through the fighting, nearly getting killed by bullets passing through her skirt, to deliver a message to one of Jackson’s officers. It stated that “the Yankee force is very small. Tell him to charge right down and he will catch them all.”

Jackson’s Confederates conducted a grueling march up a road that gradually ascended 400 feet before reaching a point that overlooked Front Royal. Having received Belle Boyd’s message and intelligence from other scouts, Jackson learned that just one Federal regiment, the 1st Maryland (U.S.), was stationed there. He deployed his own 1st Maryland (C.S.) to attack; the men had been on the verge of mutiny because their enlistments had expired, but now they jumped at the chance to take on their fellow Marylanders. They charged ferociously on the unsuspecting enemy.

Colonel John Kenly, in command at Front Royal, thought that Jackson was 50 miles south and expected no attack. As the Confederates surged forward around 2 p.m., Kenly hurriedly fell back to Richardson’s Hill, north of town. Federal artillery briefly kept the Confederates at bay, but they soon rushed forward again, this time with Ashby’s cavalry closing in on Kenly’s rear.

Battle map | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Battle map | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Kenly ordered a retreat, slowly falling back across the South Fork to Guard Hill. Some Federals stayed back and tried burning the North Fork bridge, but the Confederates put the flames out in time to cross. The 6th Virginia Cavalry raced forward and confronted the Federals at Cedarville. The Federals fired a volley before the enemy surrounded them. Kenly had no choice but to surrender his command.

The Federals lost 904 men, 750 of which were taken prisoner. The Confederates lost 35 killed, wounded, or missing. Banks was shocked upon learning of this defeat because he thought Jackson was at Harrisonburg, 50 miles south. He reported to Washington that the Front Royal garrison was attacked by 5,000 Confederates who “had been gathering in the mountains, it is said, since Wednesday. Reinforcements should be sent us if possible.” This loss put the Lincoln administration on the verge of panic.

The Front Royal engagement resulted in Jackson taking positions on Banks’s left flank. This meant that Banks had to abandon the strong defensive works he had built at Strasburg. He had three options: 1) fall back toward Major General John C. Fremont’s Federal army at Franklin to the west; 2) confront Jackson at Front Royal; or 3) fall back toward Winchester to the north to keep his army between Jackson and Washington. Banks chose the third.

Jackson, guessing that Banks would pick the second or third option, sent Ewell toward Winchester while keeping Brigadier General Charles Winder’s division at Front Royal. The Confederate victory gave Jackson a prime opportunity to cut off Banks’s entire force, which soon began heading north on the Valley turnpike, northwest of Front Royal. The race to keep Banks from reaching Winchester was on.

Meanwhile, Jackson wrote a letter of thanks to Belle Boyd for the information she provided: “I thank you, for myself and for the army, for the immense service that you have rendered your country to-day.”

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (23 May 1862); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 122, 125-28; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13765-73; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 174; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 431; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 156; Jensen, Les D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 834; Klein, Frederic S, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 293; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 215; 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. 455-56; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 677

Sparring and Final Planning in Northern Virginia

July 18, 1861 – The Federal Army of Northeastern Virginia arrived at Centreville, unaware that troops of the Confederate Army of the Shenandoah were en route by rail to reinforce their outnumbered comrades at Manassas.

By the 18th, it had taken the Federals two days to march 22 miles in the sweltering 90-degree heat. Major General Irvin McDowell, army commander, directed a reconnaissance in force led by Brigadier General Daniel Tyler and Colonel Israel B. Richardson, with orders not to bring on a general engagement. They advanced toward Blackburn’s Ford on Bull Run to probe near the Confederate right-center, but they went too far, and skirmishing erupted with Confederates defending both Blackburn’s and Mitchell’s fords.

Federal Gen Irvin McDowell and Confederate Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Federal Gen Irvin McDowell and Confederate Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Richardson ordered a withdrawal when Colonel James Longstreet’s three Confederate brigades stopped his 1st Massachusetts and two cannon. But Tyler defied McDowell’s orders by sending more infantry and artillery into the fight. Longstreet counterattacked with support from General Jubal A. Early, but the green troops bungled the effort. Nevertheless, the Confederates prevented the Federals from reaching Bull Run, and both sides fell back to reorganize. The Federals suffered 83 casualties, while Confederates lost 15 killed and 53 wounded.

Colonel William T. Sherman, whose brigade was part of Tyler’s force, described the combat: “From our camp, at Centreville, we heard the cannonading, and then a sharp musketry-fire… We marched the three miles at the double-quick, arrived in time to relieve Richardson’s brigade, which was just drawing back from the ford, worsted, and stood for half an hour or so under fire of artillery, which killed four or five of my men…”

Confederates celebrated this minor victory, as President Jefferson Davis wired Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard, overall commander: “God be praised for your successful beginning.” McDowell expressed annoyance at Tyler’s disobedience, and the Federals had been forced to retreat. However, they gained important intelligence regarding Confederate strength, and from this McDowell deemed the Confederate front too strong to penetrate. He spent another two days collecting supplies and reconnoitering the Confederate lines before finally deciding on a flank attack.

While Beauregard’s Confederate Army of the Potomac held an eight-mile line along Bull Run, Major General Joseph E. Johnston prepared to reinforce him with his 11,000-man Army of the Shenandoah. Johnston wrote to Adjutant General Samuel Cooper on the 18th: “(Federal) General (Robert) Patterson, who had been at Bunker Hill since Monday, seems to have moved yesterday to Charlestown, 23 miles to the east of Winchester. Unless he prevents it, we shall move toward General Beauregard to-day…”

Federal Gen Robert Patterson and Confederate Gen J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Federal Gen Robert Patterson and Confederate Gen J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Patterson’s move to Charles Town made him too far from Johnston’s forces at Winchester to stop them from reinforcing Beauregard. Patterson had planned to attack the Confederates on the 18th, but he reported to General-in-Chief Winfield Scott that not only had Johnston been neutralized at Winchester, but “he had also been reinforced.” Patterson also expressed reluctance to attack because his 90-day enlistments would expire soon, and he complained that orders from Washington did not clearly state whether he should attack or merely keep Johnston occupied.

Before Patterson could get his Federals in motion to do anything, Colonel J.E.B. “Jeb” Stuart’s Confederate cavalry created a diversion in their front near Charles Town. Meanwhile, Johnston had his troops moving out of Winchester by 12 p.m., with Brigadier General Thomas J. Jackson’s brigade in the lead. Officers read a general proclamation to their men, explaining that Beauregard needed help to repel an impending attack.

The troops, initially excited about going into battle, soon became exhausted by the eastward march through the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Confederates stopped at Piedmont, the nearest stop on the Manassas Gap Railroad, and boarded train cars to finish their journey to Beauregard. This marked the first large-scale strategic troop movement by railroad in military history. By day’s end, four of Johnston’s brigades totaling some 8,300 men were on eastbound trains.

Meanwhile, Scott in Washington received intelligence that Johnston had given Patterson the slip. Scott asked his general: “Has he not stolen a march and sent reinforcements to Manassas Junction?”

McDowell spent July 19th resupplying and reorganizing his army at Centreville, as well as reworking his plan of attack based on yesterday’s engagement at Blackburn’s Ford. Stragglers trickled in and out of camps throughout the day. Meanwhile, Beauregard spent the day strengthening his defenses along Bull Run.

Johnston continued moving his army eastward on the eight-hour train ride from the Piedmont Station to Manassas Junction. Excessive traffic on the single-track railroad prevented more reinforcements from arriving, but they would be coming soon. Jackson’s men arrived near 4 p.m., and their commander surprised Beauregard and his staff by entering their headquarters at the Wilmer McLean house and announcing his arrival.

During the day, a messenger delivered instructions for Johnston from Beauregard to move his forces via Aldie and arrange them on the Federal right flank. Johnston disregarded this, staying with his railroad transport plan. He then wrote to President Davis, asking him to clarify whether Johnston or Beauregard would be the ranking officer over the combined force. Davis made it clear that Johnston outranked Beauregard:

“You are a general in the Confederate Army, possessed of the power attaching to that rank. You will know how to make the exact knowledge of Brigadier-General Beauregard, as well of the ground as of the troops and preparation, avail for the success of the object in which you cooperate. The zeal of both assures me of harmonious action.”

Johnston arrived at Manassas Junction around 12 p.m. on the 20th with another 1,400 reinforcements in three brigades led by Colonel Francis S. Bartow, and Brigadier Generals Barnard E. Bee and Edmund Kirby Smith. By this time, some 9,000 of Johnston’s Confederates had traveled 50 miles by rail in just two days. Brigadier General Theophilus H. Holmes’s brigade also arrived from Aquia Creek, as did Colonel Wade Hampton’s Legion.

Since Beauregard had been at Manassas for nearly two months and had better knowledge of the region, Johnston allowed him to retain top command. Johnston also approved his plan to mass the Confederates on the right and attack the Federal left, despite its complexity for such green troops. Ironically, McDowell also finalized a plan to move right and attack the Confederate left. Had both armies moved at the same time, they would have swung in a circle. But if one moved before the other, the moving army would put the other on the defensive.

McDowell initially planned to move out on the 20th, but delays in supply delivery compelled him to postpone until the next day. Secretary of War Simon Cameron, visiting McDowell’s headquarters, sent a report on the army to President Lincoln. Other politicians and notable civilians came out from Washington to mingle with the Federals and witness the impending battle. Most Federals expressed confidence, despite hearing the train whistles at Manassas Junction; they believed that the trains carried small bodies of troops from Richmond, not Johnston’s entire army.

McDowell met with his division and brigade commanders that night. He issued final orders for tomorrow’s action, basing his decision to assault the enemy left on the repulse at Blackburn’s Ford two days ago. The Federals would move against an unguarded crossing on the Confederate left, with one division feigning an attack on the Stone Bridge while two divisions crossed Bull Run north of the bridge, near Sudley Springs.

Although McDowell sought no advice, some officers expressed concerns that Johnston may have reinforced Beauregard. McDowell, who himself had originally advised against such a hasty campaign as this, would not consider any further objections; the time for fighting had arrived. The Federals began moving in the evening darkness.

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Sources

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 93; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6090-102; Davis, William C., First Blood: Fort Sumter to Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 122-24; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 58-59; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 46-47; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 96-98; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 675; 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. 339; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 102-05; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 573

Federals Mobilize in Northern Virginia

July 16, 1861 – The largest army ever assembled in North America went into motion at 2 p.m., targeting the Confederate army at Manassas.

Major General Irvin McDowell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Major General Irvin McDowell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Major General Irvin McDowell, commanding the Federal Army of Northeastern Virginia around Alexandria and Washington, had been planning his march on Richmond since conferring with President Lincoln and other top advisors at the White House on June 29. The initial invasion launch date had been July 8, but delays in fulfilling supply requisitions and organizing troops pushed it back over a week.

Meanwhile, Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard’s Confederate Army of the Potomac guarded the vital railroad depot at Manassas Junction. When Beauregard received intelligence that 40,000 Federals were poised to attack his army, he wrote to his friend, Congressman Louis T. Wigfall of Texas, “How can it be expected to that I shall be able to maintain my ground unless reinforced immediately?”

Beauregard asked Wigfall to convince President Jefferson Davis to send reinforcements. Then, he wrote, “If I could only get the enemy to attack me… I would stake my reputation on the handsomest victory that could be hoped for.” Beauregard then ordered his forward units, particularly Brigadier General Milledge Bonham’s Confederates at Fairfax Court House, to fall back if pressured to avoid having the army defeated in detail.

A Confederate spy named Bettie Duval delivered important information to Bonham. Duval worked for prominent Washington socialite Rose O’Neal Greenhow, an attractive widow who ran a spy ring in the capital and gained valuable intelligence from politicians eager to make time with her; these politicians allegedly included Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate Military Affairs Committee.

Greenhow’s message came pinned in Duval’s hair. It informed Bonham that General McDowell planned to begin moving his army into northern Virginia on July 16. This message was forwarded to Colonel Thomas Jordan, Beauregard’s chief of staff.

Around Washington, the Federals continued preparing to move. General-in-Chief Winfield Scott met with Brigadier General Daniel Tyler, commanding McDowell’s 1st division, and informed him that the army would begin moving on the 14th. Tyler expressed concern that Major General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of the Shenandoah could move eastward and join forces with Beauregard.

Scott took issue with Tyler’s concern, saying, “(Major General Robert) Patterson will take care of Joe Johnston.” Tyler replied that he would be “agreeably surprised if we do not have to go against both (Johnston and Beauregard).” The Federals spent the 14th reconnoitering the area around Alexandria as McDowell planned to move out the next day.

In Richmond, President Davis met with Major General Robert E. Lee, his military advisor, and Congressman James Chesnut, Jr. of South Carolina, representing General Beauregard, in the parlor of Davis’s temporary residence at the Spotswood Hotel. This was the first Confederate council of war. Chesnut conveyed an elaborate plan devised by Beauregard in which he needed 20,000 reinforcements from Johnston to destroy McDowell’s army. Then he would transfer the reinforcements plus another 10,000 men back to Johnston so he would destroy Patterson’s army in the Shenandoah Valley. Johnston would then invade Maryland and threaten Washington from the north while Beauregard advanced and threatened Washington from the south.

Lee opposed the plan because he doubted that Johnston could overcome the Federals’ numerical superiority in the Valley. He also doubted that any Confederate army could penetrate the massive defensive fortifications surrounding Washington. Davis sided with Lee. The men also considered an alternate plan that had been submitted earlier in which Beauregard and Johnston would conduct coordinated operations.

July 15th came and went with no Federal movement; instead McDowell held another meeting with his top subordinates to finalize plans for moving the next day. Each division commander received separate orders, with their units to begin moving by 3 p.m. One division would advance along the Orange & Alexandria Railroad toward Brentsville, two divisions would move down the Little River Turnpike to Fairfax Court House, and the fourth division would cut off any retreating Confederates at Vienna and Germantown.

On the morning of the 16th, McDowell issued marching orders to the officers and men: “The troops will march to the front this afternoon. The three following things will not be pardonable in any commander: 1st. To come upon a battery or breastwork without a knowledge of its position. 2d. To be surprised. 3d. To fall back. Advance guards, with vedettes well in front and flankers and vigilance, will guard against the first and second.”

With 35,000 troops, McDowell commanded the largest army the U.S. had ever assembled (by comparison, General-in-Chief Scott led only 14,000 during the Mexican War). Outnumbering Beauregard by over 10,000 men, McDowell had 50 infantry regiments, 49 cannon in 10 field batteries, and one cavalry battalion. Among McDowell’s troops were nearly 10,000 Regular Army officers and men; all five division commanders and eight of the 11 brigade commanders were Regulars, and most had combat experience. Moreover, McDowell himself had one of the finest reputations in the Federal military.

After over a week of delay, the troops finally began moving out of Alexandria at 2 p.m., marching west, away from the Potomac River. Their first objective was to reach Fairfax Court House, 13 miles away, by 8 a.m. tomorrow. Their final objective was Manassas Junction, 30 miles southwest of Washington, where the Manassas Gap and Orange & Alexandria Railroad crossed.

Cheerful soldiers sang “John Brown’s Body” as they marched. Most of them, unlike their officers, were volunteers with no marching experience, especially in summer heat. Many drank all their water right away without realizing there was no way to get more. They broke ranks to find shade or pick berries, tossing away their heavy equipment to ease their burden. The army covered just six miles on the first day, giving the Confederates much-needed time to prepare.

Colonel William T. Sherman, one of the experienced officers, later wrote: “The march demonstrated little save the general laxity of discipline, for with all my personal efforts I could not prevent the men from straggling for water, blackberries, or any thing on the way they fancied.”

At 8 p.m. on the 16th, Beauregard received a message from Rose O’Neal Greenhow: “McDowell has been ordered to advance.” At this time, Beauregard’s 22,000-man army was posted along an eight-mile line. He immediately ordered his outposts to pull back and began arranging his army in defenses behind Bull Run while awaiting reinforcements from Johnston in the Shenandoah Valley.

The Federal army resumed its march early on the 17th. Colonel Sherman wrote about his brigade: “I selected for the field the 13th New York, Col. Quimby; the 69th New York, Col. Corcoran; the 79th New York, Col. Cameron; and the 2nd Wisconsin, Lt.-Col. Peck. These were all good strong volunteer regiments, pretty well commanded; and I had reason to believe that I had one of the best brigades in the whole army… The other regiment, the 29th New York, Col. Bennett, was destined to be left behind in charge of the forts and camps during our absence, which was expected to be short…”

Advance troops from the middle column, led by Brigadier General David Hunter, began entering Fairfax Court House around 10 a.m., two hours after the entire army was supposed to be there. McDowell had hoped to surprise the Confederates stationed there, but General Bonham had already pulled back seven miles west to Centreville, leaving large quantities of supplies behind.

Federals did not fully occupy Fairfax Court House until that night; troops raised the U.S. flag and looted the town until Regular soldiers finally restored order. The army lacked cohesion, even at the top, as McDowell did not even know where Brigadier General Samuel P. Heintzelman’s southern column was until it reached Fairfax. McDowell halted the men for the night, asserting that they needed rest. The next objective was Centreville, nine miles further and within striking distance of the final objective of Manassas Junction.

On the Confederate side, Beauregard wired President Davis: “The enemy has assailed by outposts in heavy force. I have fallen back on the line of Bull Run near Manassas, and will make a stand at Mitchell’s Ford.” Beauregard said that he would fall back to the Rappahannock River if necessary and requested reinforcements.

Davis promptly sent three regiments and an artillery battery from Fredericksburg to Manassas. He then directed Confederate Adjutant General Samuel Cooper to telegraph Johnston in the Shenandoah Valley: “General Beauregard is attacked. To strike the enemy a decisive blow, a junction of all your effective force will be needed. If practicable, make the movement, sending your sick and baggage to Culpepper Court-House, either by railroad or by Warrenton. In all the arrangements exercise your discretion.”

Beauregard sent a wire on the afternoon of the 17th: “I believe this proposed movement of General Johnston is too late. Enemy will attack me in force tomorrow morning.” However, Johnston easily disengaged from “Granny” Patterson, who had disregarded orders by withdrawing to Charles Town and not keeping pressure on Johnston near Winchester. This gave Johnston freedom to move wherever he wished.

Patterson believed that McDowell had already fought the big battle on the 16th and there was no longer any need to keep Johnston from reinforcing Beauregard. However, General-in-Chief Scott notified Patterson that the battle had been delayed and, unaware that Patterson had fallen back to Charles Town, reminded Patterson to keep Johnston occupied. Patterson replied that he would attack the next day.

However, Johnston planned to move eastward and join forces with Beauregard at dawn on July 18, before Patterson could stop him.

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Sources

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 100; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6067-78; Davis, William C., First Blood: Fort Sumter to Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 111, 113, 117; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 57-58; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 57-58, 70-72; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 45-46; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 2675; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 95-96; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 246-47; 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. 339; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 101; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 472; 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), Q361

Movements in the Shenandoah Valley

July 9, 1861 – The standoff between Federal Major General Robert Patterson and Confederate Major General Joseph E. Johnston continued in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, as each commander waited to see what the other would do next.

As July began, Johnston’s Army of the Shenandoah, numbering some 11,000 men, held various positions in the Valley near the Potomac River. Patterson, commanding about 13,000 troops in his Army of Pennsylvania, remained on the Maryland side of the Potomac around Hagerstown and Williamsport. Another Federal force in Maryland under Colonel Charles P. Stone prepared to leave Poolesville after their Rockville expedition and join forces with Patterson.

Major General Robert Patterson | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Major General Robert Patterson | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Patterson received a dispatch from General-in-Chief Winfield Scott on July 1 explaining the results of the military conference at the White House on June 29. Scott stated “in confidence” that the Lincoln administration sought to “move a column of about 35,000 men early next week” toward Manassas. It was understood that Patterson needed to prevent Johnston from moving east to reinforce General P.G.T. Beauregard’s Confederate Army of the Potomac at Manassas. But Patterson still needed to cross the Potomac first.

After numerous delays and objections, Patterson finally crossed the river at dawn the next morning. Johnston’s advance unit, a 2,000-man brigade led by Colonel Thomas J. Jackson at Martinsburg, spotted the Federal approach and took positions in woods at Falling Waters and Hoke’s Run.

A small skirmish of less than 30 minutes ensued, after which the Confederates slowly fell back two and a half miles from their camps. Colonel J.E.B. “Jeb” Stuart’s Confederate cavalry took 50 prisoners along the way. Federals suffered 10 killed and 18 wounded in addition to the 50 captured; Confederates lost 11 wounded and eight or nine “missing.” Patterson erroneously reported that he had captured 500 prisoners in the fight while sustaining only three casualties; he also stated that he had faced 3,500 men when he truly faced only about 350.

Back in Maryland, Colonel Stone’s Federals moved some 15 miles north of Rockville to Point of Rocks on the Potomac River. Some of his regiments farthest north were at Sandy Hook, opposite Harpers Ferry, which they reported had been abandoned by Confederates.

Meanwhile, Patterson reported that his men had passed through Martinsburg and were in “hot pursuit of the enemy.” Jackson’s Confederates withdrew farther south to Darkesville, near Inwood. Johnston withdrew to Winchester, where he called for two brigades as reinforcements and up to 7,000 men from Beauregard’s Confederates in northern Virginia.

By July 6, Jackson’s forces had joined with Johnston’s main army as it withdrew from Darkesville to Winchester. Jackson received a promotion to brigadier general after Johnston had praised Jackson’s “courage and conduct” at the Falling Waters engagement. Jackson wrote to his wife that it was “beyond what I anticipated, as I only expected it to be in the volunteer forces of the State.” He added, “I want my brigade to feel that it can itself whip Patterson’s whole army, and I believe we can do it.”

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

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

Johnston reported from Winchester on the 9th: “Similar information from other sources gives me the impression that the reenforcements arriving at Martinsburg amount to 7 or 8,000. I have estimated the enemy’s force hitherto, you may remember, at 18,000…” Johnston feared that Patterson would attack him, unaware that Patterson was only tasked with keeping Johnston occupied while the main Federal attack was to come against Beauregard at Manassas.

That same day, Patterson postponed his scheduled advance on Winchester; his reinforcements from the Rockville expedition were fatigued, and several of Patterson’s subordinates disagreed with his plan. Moreover, General-in-Chief Scott told Patterson that he heard Johnston was planning to destroy Patterson’s army, move southward to destroy McClellan’s army in the Kanawha Valley, and then move to join Beauregard. Unsubstantiated rumors such as these also made Patterson hesitant.

Patterson wanted to camp his army at Charlestown, not Martinsburg. Scott consented but directed him to stay on the Virginia side of the Potomac to continue threatening Johnston, “except in extreme case.” Scott asked Patterson to contact him on Tuesday the 16th; this was a code informing Patterson that Major General Irvin McDowell’s Federals would advance on Manassas on that date.

After five days of probing and scouting, Patterson reported to his superior that Johnston was “pretending to be engaged in fortifying Winchester,” but he was actually preparing to withdraw “beyond striking distance” if Patterson advanced. However, Patterson remained at Martinsburg, 25 miles from Johnston, despite receiving Scott’s permission to move to Charlestown, which could better prevent Johnston from linking with Beauregard. Federal troops began calling Patterson “Granny” for his reluctance to give battle.

Before dawn on the 15th, Patterson’s Federals finally began advancing southward on the Valley Pike toward Winchester. Federal pickets, supported by cavalry, skirmished with Confederate cavalry making a stand near Bunker Hill, eight miles north of Winchester. After finally driving the Confederates back to Winchester, Patterson halted the advance. He reported that he did not know when he would continue, “and if I did, I would not tell my own father.”

Patterson still would not move to Charlestown, which covered Leesburg and Winchester. On July 16, Patterson was informed that McDowell would attack Beauregard that day, so he planned to attack Johnston tomorrow. However, Patterson was also told that Johnston’s army numbered 42,000 men with 60 cannon, so his subordinates convinced him not to attack and instead withdraw to Charlestown, 17 miles from Winchester. This opened the path for Johnston to link with Beauregard.

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Sources

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6043-54; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 54-55, 57-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 45; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 2651; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 90; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 675; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 573

The Bull Run Campaign Begins

June 29, 1861 – President Abraham Lincoln held a special cabinet meeting in which Major General Irvin McDowell explained his plan to invade northern Virginia, crush the Confederate army, and capture Richmond.

Major General Irvin McDowell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Major General Irvin McDowell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Five days earlier, McDowell had responded to General-in-Chief Winfield Scott’s request to submit a strategy on how to defeat the Confederates in Virginia. McDowell’s plan was very specific, with two assumptions:

  • Major General Robert Patterson’s Federals in the Shenandoah Valley of western Virginia were too far west to join forces with him;
  • Patterson would occupy Leesburg, Virginia and thus keep General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of the Shenandoah from linking with the Confederate Army of the Potomac in northern Virginia under General P.G.T. Beauregard.

Estimating Beauregard’s strength at 25,000 men, McDowell proposed to first advance on Vienna and then on to Manassas with at least 30,000 troops plus 10,000 in reserve. The Federals would march in three columns:

  • The first would move from Vienna to disperse Confederates around Centreville and Fairfax Court House;
  • The second would move from Alexandria on the Little River Turnpike to cut the Confederates’ retreat;
  • The third would move down the Orange & Alexandria Railroad to Manassas.

This plan required McDowell’s army to be heavily reinforced and the railroad to be rebuilt. It made little note of the earlier plans suggested by either Patterson or Scott, and it greatly relied on Patterson preventing Johnston from moving east.

McDowell further explained this plan at the cabinet meeting on the 29th, as the growing impatience among northerners had prompted Lincoln to call his commanders together to finalize plans and set a date for when the offensives would begin.

Scott expressed uncertainty about McDowell’s strategy; the general-in-chief reiterated his unpopular “Anaconda Plan” to blockade the coastline and seize control of the vital Mississippi River. However, Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs argued that by the time that Scott’s plan was implemented, northern fervor for the war would wane. With McDowell’s plan, the 90-day volunteers would be used before their service terms expired.

McDowell tacked a map to the wall and offered several invasion options. Lincoln and his advisors approved one: based on the presumption that Beauregard would gather up to 35,000 Confederates at Manassas, McDowell would lead his army in three columns westward to seize Fairfax Court House, 16 miles away, and then Centreville, five miles further.

Two of three columns would create a diversion before the supposed enemy center at a creek called Bull Run, while the third column would move around the Confederate right, cut off the railroad to Richmond, and threaten the enemy rear. This would force the Confederates to fall back to the Rappahannock River. However, it had a heavy dependence on Patterson’s 15,000 Federals occupying Leesburg to prevent Johnston’s 11,000 Confederates from moving east to reinforce Beauregard.

This was a sound plan for a veteran army, but it would be difficult for inexperienced officers and soldiers to execute. Scott still expressed skepticism that this single campaign would end the war, and McDowell requested more time to train his three-month volunteers.

Ultimately Lincoln overrode Scott’s objections and denied McDowell’s extension request, telling him, “You are green, it is true, but they are green, also; you are all green alike.” McDowell’s request for 30,000 men was granted, and his campaign was to begin by July 9.

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Sources

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, William C., First Blood: Fort Sumter to Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 110-11; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 53; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6433; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 40-41; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 88-89; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 335