Tag Archives: David Hunter

The Booth Conspiracy Trial Begins

May 12, 1865 – The eight people accused of conspiring to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln finally received legal counsel and pleaded not guilty to the military commission trying them.

The defendants were confined in the Old Arsenal Penitentiary in Washington. A courtroom was built on the third floor of that building, where a military commission charged–

“That David E. Harold (Herold), Edward Spangler, Lewis Payne (or Powell or Paine), John H. Surratt, Michael O’Loughlin (O’Laughlen), Samuel Arnold, George A. Atzerott (Atzerodt), Samuel A. Mudd, and Mary E. Surratt, did on April 15, 1865, combine, confederate, and conspire together to murder President Abraham Lincoln, Vice-President Andrew Johnson, Lieutenant-General U. S. Grant, and Secretary of State William H. Seward.”

The defendants were also charged with “traitorously” conspiring with Jefferson Davis and “others unknown.”

Those accused were granted legal counsel, and by the 12th they had obtained lawyers of surprisingly high quality. However, the lawyers were not allowed to consult with their clients except in the courtroom, with guards listening in. The commission prohibited the defendants from testifying on their own behalf. Unlike a civil trial, only five of the nine members on the tribunal needed to vote guilty to convict, and only six of nine were needed to impose a death sentence.

Maj Gen David Hunter | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Proceedings began on the 12th. Major General David Hunter, the judge advocate general of the military tribunal, issued passes for spectators to witness the trial. After each defendant pleaded not guilty to the charges against them, the taking of testimony began. It quickly became apparent that this would be more than just a trial of eight defendants; it would be a trial of Jefferson Davis and the Confederate government for supposed crimes against the North.

Over a dozen prosecution witnesses testified that Confederate operatives in Canada had been plotting and funding acts of terror against the Federal government since early 1864. The witnesses claimed the Confederates had devised numerous incredible plots that included poisoning the New York City water supply, destroying Federal property throughout the North, and even launching biological attacks.

A witness named Godfrey Hyams alleged that he helped distribute trunks carrying clothing “carefully infected in Bermuda with yellow fever, smallpox, and other contagious diseases.” Prosecutor John Bingham claimed this caused the deaths of nearly 2,000 soldiers in a yellow fever epidemic in North Carolina. Of course, it was not discovered that mosquitoes carried the yellow fever virus until 36 years later.

Sanford Conover testified that Jacob Thompson, heading the Confederate Secret Service (formerly U.S. secretary of the interior under President James Buchanan), plotted to “leave the government entirely without a head” by killing Lincoln, Johnson, Seward, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and Grant. Conover claimed that Thompson said there was “no provision in the Constitution of the United States by which, if these men were removed, they could elect another President.”

Conover added that he had attended a meeting between Thompson and John Surratt (son of defendant Mary Surratt) in Montreal, during which Surratt delivered ciphered dispatches from Jefferson Davis regarding assassinating Lincoln and other Federal leaders. According to Conover, “Thompson laid his hand (on the messages) and said, ‘This makes the thing all right.’” Another witness testified that Surratt visited Davis and Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin in Richmond prior to this meeting. It was later revealed that Conover’s real name was Charles Durham, and his testimony was almost completely false.

Henry Van Steinacker, who was imprisoned for deserting the Federal army, testified that he spoke with John Wilkes Booth in the summer of 1863, when Booth told him, “Old Abe must go up the spout, and the Confederacy will gain its independence.” Steinacker, whose real name was Hans Von Winklestein, was freed from jail shortly after testifying, leading many to question if he had simply been told what to say as part of a quid pro quo.

Richard Montgomery, a Federal double agent operating in Canada, testified that Thompson said in January 1865 that it would be a “blessing” to “rid the world” of Lincoln, Johnson, and Grant. According to Montgomery, Thompson said a “proposition” had been made by “bold, daring men” to kill them. Montgomery attested that Richmond had rejected the plot, with one of Thompson’s operatives stating it was “too bad that the boys had not been allowed to act when they wanted to.”

Samuel Chester alleged that Booth had wanted his help to kidnap Lincoln and bring him to Richmond, where he could be exchanged for Confederate prisoners of war. Several witnesses testified that Jacob Thompson and Clement Clay (another Confederate secret agent) often met with Booth, Lewis Paine, and John Surratt in Montreal. The prosecution argued that these meetings in Canada indicated a conspiracy between the defendants and the Confederate government. Bingham declared:

“What more is wanting? Surely no word further need be spoken to show that John Wilkes Booth was in this conspiracy; that John Surratt was in this conspiracy; and that Jefferson Davis and his several agents named, in Canada, were in this conspiracy… Whatever may be the conviction of others, my own conviction is that Jefferson Davis is as clearly proven guilty of this conspiracy as John Wilkes Booth, by whose hand Jefferson Davis inflicted the mortal wound on Abraham Lincoln.”

Much of the so-called evidence was circumstantial at best and at worst outright false. Some prosecution witnesses were allowed to testify in secret, some were later found to have perjured themselves, and some were even paid by Federal officials for providing false testimony. Despite the dubious testimony and questionable evidence, there was little doubt about the guilt of three men: Powell, Herold, and Atzerodt.

Lewis Payne or Powell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Witnesses positively identified Powell as the man who attempted to murder Seward, and since it was established that he had visited Booth and John Surratt at Mary Surratt’s boardinghouse several times, there was no doubt that he was involved in the Booth conspiracy. Captain William E. Doster, Powell’s attorney, did not deny his client’s guilt, but only asked the commission to spare his life because he was most likely insane.

Doster said, “I say he is the fanatic, and not the hired tool. He lives in that land of imagination where it seems to him legions of southern soldiers wait to crown him as their chief commander.” When Doster asked Powell why he tried to kill Seward, Powell said, “I believed it was my duty.” Doster argued, “We know now that slavery made him immoral, that war made him a murderer, and that necessity, revenge, and delusion made him an assassin. Let him live, if not for his sake, for our own.”

David Herold | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

There was also no doubt about Herold’s guilt, having admitted to a Confederate after fleeing with Booth into Virginia, “We are the assassinators of the President.” Herold’s attorney, Frederick Stone, tried convincing the commission that his client had the mind of a child. One defense witness testified of Herold, “In mind, I consider him about 11 years of age.” Another called him “a light and trifling boy… easily influenced.” Such a man, said Stone, “was only wax in the hands of a man like Booth.”

The prosecution had damning evidence against Atzerodt as well. Colonel W.R. Nevins testified that Atzerodt approached him at the Kirkwood Hotel, where Andrew Johnson was staying, and asked him where Johnson was. Police officer John Lee testified that the day after Lincoln’s assassination, he searched Atzerodt’s room at the Kirkwood and found a loaded revolver under a pillow, a bowie knife, a map of Virginia, and Booth’s bank book. It was established that Booth and Atzerodt often met in front of the Pennsylvania House in the capital.

George Atzerodt | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Doster, representing Atzerodt, argued that his client was too cowardly to be seriously involved in the conspiracy. Doster said, “I intend to show that this man is a constitutional coward; that if he had been assigned the duty of assassinating the Vice President, he could never have done it; and that, from his known cowardice, Booth probably did not assign to him any such duty.” Defense witnesses confirmed that Atzerodt was a “notorious coward,” “remarkable for his cowardice.”

Samuel Arnold and Michael O’Laughlen had been involved in a past conspiracy to kidnap Lincoln, but no tangible evidence suggested that they helped assassinate him. Authorities found a letter on Booth’s body from Arnold, dated March 27, stating Arnold’s willingness to help kidnap Lincoln: “None, no, not one were more in favor of the enterprise than myself.”

Walter Cox, Arnold’s attorney, argued that Arnold “backed out from this insane scheme of capture,” which was “abandoned somewhere about the middle of March.” Cox stated that there “is no evidence that connects” Arnold with the “dreadful conspiracy” to assassinate top officials. Arnold’s “mere unacted, still scheme” to kidnap Lincoln was “wholly different from the offense described in the charge.”

Evidence against O’Laughlen included a few vague telegrams from Booth telling him, “Don’t fear to neglect your business.” Several witnesses testified that O’Laughlen had gone to Stanton’s home on the night of April 13. Walter Cox, also representing O’Laughlen, argued that the witnesses could not have seen him in the dark, and he was attending the “night of illumination” victory celebration in the capital. Cox asserted that O’Laughlen spent the day of the assassination drinking at the Lichau House before leaving for Baltimore on the 15th.

Dr. Samuel Mudd | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Regarding Dr. Samuel Mudd, several prosecution witnesses claimed that he and the conspirators had a close relationship well before Mudd set Booth’s broken leg on the night of Lincoln’s assassination. One claimed that Mudd had helped Booth buy a horse last November, while another claimed that Mudd met with John Surratt at Washington’s National Hotel. An investigator who questioned Mudd after Booth and Herold had left Mudd’s home testified, “When we first asked Dr. Mudd whether two strangers had been there, he seemed very much excited, and got pale as a sheet of paper and blue about his lips, like a man frightened at something he had done.”

Witnesses also attested to Mudd’s hatred of Lincoln. A slave testified that one of Mudd’s friends told the doctor that “Lincoln was a goddamned old son of a bitch and ought have been dead long ago.” Mudd replied “that was much of his mind” as well. Another witness stated that Mudd had said (perhaps jokingly) in early 1865 that “the President, Cabinet, and other Union men” would “be killed in six or seven weeks.” Another slave asserted that Mudd criticized Lincoln for having “stole (into office) at night, dressed in women’s clothes,” and if “he had come in right, they would have killed him.”

Mudd’s attorney, Thomas Ewing, argued that Mudd had met Booth just the one time in November, and all other testimony stating that Mudd met with Booth were lies. Ewing asserted that there was no crime in setting a man’s broken leg, even if that leg was Booth’s. He further stated that the prosecution did not sufficiently prove that Mudd had helped the conspirators in any meaningful way. The prosecution countered that Mudd had shown Booth and Herold the route out of Maryland after setting Booth’s leg.

Mary Surratt | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Mary Surratt, being a woman, was the most controversial defendant of them all. Several witnesses testified that Booth, Powell, Herold, and John Surratt (Mary’s son who had fled to Europe to avoid prosecution) met at Mary’s boardinghouse to develop their scheme. Because of this, President Johnson called Mary the keeper of “the nest that hatched the egg.”

In addition, Mary had lied when asked if she knew Powell, telling officials, “Before God sir, I do not know this man.” Witness Louis Weichmann testified that Mary had met with Booth several times at her boardinghouse, with money exchanging hands on one occasion. Tavern owner John Lloyd testified that Mary came to his tavern on the day of Lincoln’s assassination and told him that men would be collecting the “shooting irons” left there by John Surratt, Herold, and Atzerodt.

Frederick Aiken, representing Ms. Surratt, argued that Lloyd’s testimony was not credible because he was “a man addicted to the excessive use of intoxicating liquors,” and he sought to “exculpate himself by placing blame” on Mrs. Surratt.

The tribunal continued into June.

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References

Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 140-58; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19876-86; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 21762-72; law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/lincolnconspiracy/lincolnaccount.html; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 688

The Army of the Shenandoah: Sheridan Takes Command

August 6, 1864 – Major General Philip Sheridan received command of a new Federal military department designed to drive the Confederates out of the Shenandoah Valley for good.

Maj Gen David Hunter | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

After putting Sheridan in this new command, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, went to notify Major General David Hunter, commanding the Department of West Virginia, of the change. Sheridan’s new Army of the Shenandoah was to absorb Hunter’s department. Arriving at Hunter’s headquarters on the Monocacy River in Maryland, Grant recalled:

“I found General Hunter’s army… scattered over the fields along the banks of the Monocacy, with many hundreds of cars and locomotives, belonging to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which he had taken the precaution to bring back and collect at that point. I asked the general where the enemy was. He replied that he did not know. He said the fact was, that he was so embarrassed with orders from Washington moving him first to the right and then to the left that he had lost all trace of the enemy.”

Under Grant’s plan, Sheridan was to command the Federals in the field while Hunter took over administrative duties within the new military department. In the meantime, Hunter was to lead his troops to Harpers Ferry, where they would confront Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate Army of the Valley wherever they found it.

Grant said it was “desirable that nothing should be left to invite the enemy to return” to Maryland or Pennsylvania. “Take all provisions, forage, and stock wanted for the use of your command; such as cannot be consumed, destroy.” He urged Hunter not to destroy public buildings; “they should rather be protected.”

Maj. Gen. P.H. Sheridan | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Hunter began moving his Federals out, arriving at Halltown, Virginia, on the 5th. But being dissatisfied with his new role in the department, Hunter “expressed a willingness to be relieved from command.” Grant accepted. Sheridan arrived on the scene on the 6th and received orders from Grant that were almost identical to Hunter’s:

“In pushing up the Shenandoah Valley, as it is expected you will have to do first or last, it is desirable that nothing should be left to invite the enemy to return. Take all provisions, forage, and stock wanted for the use of your command. Such as cannot be consumed, destroy… Bear in mind, the object is to drive the enemy south, and to do this you want to keep him always in sight. Be guided in your course by the course he takes.”

Sheridan’s command would include the Departments of Washington, West Virginia, the Susquehanna, and the Middle. His army would consist of:

  • Hunter’s Army of West Virginia, now under Brigadier General George Crook
  • Major General Horatio G. Wright’s VI Corps from the Army of the Potomac
  • Two divisions of Brigadier General William Emory’s XIX Corps from the Army of the Gulf
  • Two divisions of Sheridan’s old Cavalry Corps from the Army of the Potomac, now under Brigadier General Alfred T.A. Torbert
  • A cavalry division under Brigadier General William W. Averell

By the night of the 6th, Sheridan wrote Grant, “I find affairs somewhat confused, but will soon straighten them out.” Grant notified him the next day:

“The Departments of Washington, the Middle, the Susquehanna, and of Western Virginia, have been formed into a military division called the Middle Division, and you have been assigned to the temporary command. You can assume command without any further authority.”

President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton expressed reservations about giving Sheridan such a large responsibility, but Grant insisted that he trusted Sheridan for the job.

Sheridan received word that Early’s Confederates were around Winchester, and thus directed his new army to go there. But most of Early’s forces were actually in Maryland, harvesting wheat at Sharpsburg and Hagerstown. Early fell back southward across the Potomac River to Bunker Hill on the 7th, but he would soon receive reinforcements.

General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at Petersburg, went to Richmond to discuss strategy with Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson and President Jefferson Davis. It was agreed to send Major General Joseph B. Kershaw’s division of Anderson’s corps to Culpeper, along with a cavalry division under Major General Fitzhugh Lee, with Anderson in overall command. From there, Anderson could return to Petersburg in case of emergency or threaten Sheridan’s flank if he moved any deeper into the Shenandoah.

The struggle between Sheridan and Early over control of the Shenandoah had begun.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 537; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 445; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11361-92, 11320-30; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 482; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7869; Keefer, Kimberly A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 376; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91, 100-01, 104; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 553; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 491; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 675-76; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 293, 491-92, 677-79, 817

The New Army of the Shenandoah

August 1, 1864 – Major General Philip Sheridan was assigned to command the new Army of the Shenandoah. Sheridan’s objective was to protect Washington while clearing the Confederates out of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley once and for all.

By this time, President Abraham Lincoln and Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant were under mounting criticism for sustaining such horrific casualties while Confederates under Lieutenant General Jubal Early continued roaming throughout the Shenandoah Valley and even threatening Washington. As Grant later wrote:

“It seemed to be the policy of General (Henry W.) Halleck and Secretary (of War Edwin M.) Stanton to keep any force sent there, in pursuit of the invading army, moving right and left so as to keep between the enemy and our capital; and, generally speaking, they pursued this policy until all knowledge of the whereabouts of the enemy was lost. They were left, therefore, free to supply themselves with horses, beef cattle, and such provisions as they could carry away from Western Maryland and Pennsylvania. I determined to put a stop to this.”

Federal Major General Philip Sheridan | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Major General David Hunter commanded the Federal Army of West Virginia, but he had not been effective in stopping Early. In June, Grant had suggested putting Sheridan in charge of such an operation, but Stanton rejected it on account of Sheridan’s young age. But now, after meeting with Lincoln at Fort Monroe, Grant insisted that Sheridan be given the job. He notified Halleck on the 1st:

“I am sending General Sheridan for temporary duty whilst the enemy is being expelled from the border. Unless General Hunter is in the field in person, I want Sheridan put in command of all the troops in the field, with instructions to put himself south of the enemy and follow him to the death. Wherever the enemy goes, let our troops go also.”

Grant also recommended that the four departments surrounding Washington and the Valley be merged into one central command, with Sheridan commanding in the field and Hunter handling the administrative duties. The new 37,000-man army would consist of Hunter’s Army of West Virginia, three divisions of VI Corps (from the Army of the Potomac), two divisions of XIX Corps (from the Army of the Gulf), two divisions from Sheridan’s Cavalry Corps within the Army of the Potomac, and 12 artillery batteries.

Grant sent Sheridan to take command without waiting for approval from Washington. Meanwhile, Hunter’s Federals remained camped on the Monocacy River in Maryland, unable to chase down Early’s Confederates. Hunter reported on the 1st, “It appears impossible for the officers of the Sixth and Nineteenth Corps to keep their men up. So many are suffering from sunstroke, and all from the intense heat and constant marching, that I fear, unless they have some rest, they will be rendered very inefficient for any service.”

Halleck informed Grant, “If Sheridan is placed in general command, I presume Hunter will again ask to be relieved. Whatever you decide upon I shall endeavor to have done.” Halleck wrote again at 2:30 p.m. on the 3rd:

“Sheridan had just arrived. He agrees with me about his command, and prefers the cavalry alone to that and the Sixth Corps… He thinks that for operations in the open country of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Northern Virginia cavalry is much better than infantry, and that cavalry arm can be much more effective there than about Richmond or south. He, therefore, suggests that another cavalry division be sent here, so that he can press the enemy clear down to the James River.”

Grant replied, “Make such disposition of Sheridan as you think best.” Lincoln wrote Grant that same day:

“I have seen your despatch in which you say ‘I want Sheridan put in command of all the troops in the field, with instructions to put himself South of the enemy, and follow him to the death. Wherever the enemy goes, let our troops go also.’ This, I think, is exactly right, as to how our forces should move. But please look over the despatches you may have received from here, even since you made that order, and discover, if you can, that there is any idea in the head of any one here, of ‘putting our army South of the enemy’ or of following him to the death in any direction. I repeat to you it will neither be done nor attempted unless you watch it every day, and hour, and force it.”

Grant responded on the 4th, “I will start in two hours for Washington & will spend a day with the Army under Genl Hunter.” Confederate General Robert E. Lee was informed of the new Federal army being formed and notified President Jefferson Davis:

“I fear that this force is intended to operate against General Early, and when added to that already opposed to him, may be more than he can manage. Their object may be to drive him out of the Valley and complete the devastation they commenced when they were ejected from it.”

Lee and Davis agreed that they must reinforce Early’s Confederates to protect the Shenandoah Valley harvests and the Virginia Central Railroad needed to sustain the Army of Northern Virginia under siege at Petersburg.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 537; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 95; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 442-43; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11066; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11299-30, 11341-92; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 479; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 646; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91-93, 100-01; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 545-46, 548-51, 553; 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. 757; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 315

Early Moves North Again

July 30, 1864 – Lieutenant General Jubal Early launched another northern invasion, with one of his Confederate detachments raiding Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

After being routed at Kernstown, elements of Brigadier General George Crook’s Federal Army of West Virginia fled to Martinsburg and Bunker Hill, north of Winchester in the Shenandoah Valley. Early’s Confederate Army of the Valley pursued in a heavy storm on the 25th, skirmishing as the Federals tried crossing the Potomac River to Williamsport, Maryland.

Crook’s Federals managed to cross the river and regroup at Sharpsburg on the 26th, just as Early’s Confederates entered Martinsburg. Early was informed that the Federals had burned the homes of several prominent Virginians while in the Valley, including those of Senator Andrew Hunter and Congressman Alexander Boteler. Early sought to retaliate by destroying the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad while sending a cavalry force to Chambersburg, a prosperous farming and industrial town in southern Pennsylvania.

Gen John McCausland | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Brigadier Generals John McCausland and Bradley T. Johnson led 2,500 Confederate cavalry across the Potomac near Cave Spring, west of Williamsport, on the 29th. Residents of Chambersburg learned that the Confederates were targeting their town and began evacuating supplies, equipment, and other valuables. Meanwhile, a small Federal force delayed the Confederates with skirmishes at Hagerstown, Maryland, and Mercersburg, Pennsylvania.

McCausland’s troopers reached the outskirts of Chambersburg at 3 a.m. on the 30th. A designated Confederate entered the town and showed a leading citizen Early’s order:

“To General J. McCausland: You are hereby ordered to proceed with such forces as will be detailed, and as rapidly as possible, to the town of Chambersburg, Penna., and demand of the authorities the sum of $100,000 in gold, or in lieu thereof the sum of $500,000 in greenbacks, and in case this demand is not complied with, then in retaliation for the burning of seven properties of peaceful inhabitants of the Valley of Virginia, by order of the Federal Gen. (David) Hunter, you will proceed to burn the town of Chambersburg and rapidly return to this point.”

Three cannon shots signaled the Confederates to assemble in the town square at 6 a.m. A Confederate read Early’s order, and the town leaders were given six hours to comply. During that time, troops raided liquor stores and looted businesses and houses. When the leaders refused to pay, the Confederates evacuated the 3,000 residents and burned Chambersburg.

Nearly two-thirds of the town was destroyed, including 400 buildings, of which 274 were private homes. The damage was estimated to be worth at least $1.5 million. This was the only northern town that Confederates burned in the war.

Chambersburg in ruins | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

McCausland’s troopers left the smoldering ruins at 1 p.m. and camped for the night at McConnellsburg. The next day, the Confederates rode to Hancock, Maryland, where they skirmished briefly with Federal cavalry under Brigadier General William W. Averell. The Confederates then continued west toward Cumberland before crossing the Potomac and leaving Maryland.

Meanwhile, Major General David Hunter, commanding the Federal Department of West Virginia from Harpers Ferry, scrambled to regroup the army under Crook and Averell. On the 31st, Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck wrote Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander:

“It appears from General Averell’s reports that while General Hunter was collecting his forces at Harper’s Ferry to attack the enemy on the south side the rebel army crossed on the morning of the 29th near Williamsport, and moved, by Hagerstown, into Pennsylvania. Their cavalry captured and partly destroyed Chambersburg yesterday.”

Grant had been pondering how to stop Early’s Army of the Valley. He wrote President Abraham Lincoln proposing the consolidation of the four military departments around Washington (the Susquehanna, West Virginia, Washington, and the Middle Department) into a “Military Division,” much like Major General William T. Sherman’s division of three armies in Georgia.

Grant proposed putting Major General William B. Franklin in charge of this new division, “because he was available and I know him to be capable and believe him to be trustworthy.” As an alternative, he proposed Major General George G. Meade, while replacing Meade as commander of the Army of the Potomac with Major General Winfield Scott Hancock. Grant wrote:

“With General Meade in command of such a division, I would have every confidence that all the troops within the military division would be used to the very best advantage from a personal examination of the ground, and (he) would adopt means of getting the earliest information of any advance of the enemy, and would prepare to meet it.”

Lincoln responded by placing Halleck in command of the four departments, with his headquarters remaining in Washington. The president then traveled to Fort Monroe on the tip of the Virginia Peninsula to meet with Grant in person. On the last day of July, they spent five hours discussing the gloomy situation:

  • Grant had just presided over one of the worst Federal military fiascos of the war at the Crater and seemed stalled in front of Petersburg.
  • Sherman’s armies advanced to the outskirts of Atlanta but did not seem able to get in.
  • Hunter’s Federals had just been humiliated in the Shenandoah Valley, and Confederates continued raiding the North.

Regarding the four military departments in and around Washington, Grant reiterated, “All I ask is that one general officer, in whom I and yourself have confidence, should command the whole,” and that was not Halleck. By this time, Meade had declined the offer to command, and Lincoln said that Franklin “would not give satisfaction” to the Republicans in Congress because of his affiliation with Democrats, especially former General-in-Chief George B. McClellan.

Grant finally proposed placing Major General Philip Sheridan, commander of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps, in charge. Grant said that Sheridan should unify the commands and destroy Early’s army in the Valley. Lincoln agreed.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20449-66; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 439-41; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11055; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11299-319, 11341-61; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 474-78; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7787; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 646; Kelly, Dennis P., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 571-72; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91-93, 100; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 545-46, 548-49; Robertson, James I., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 455-56; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 315; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 125, 508-09, 677-79

The Second Battle of Kernstown

July 24, 1864 – Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederates defeated Federal forces under Brigadier General George Crook and drove them out of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

Confederate Gen. Jubal Early | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Crook had led his Army of West Virginia (or VIII Corps) south from Winchester to clear Confederates out of the Valley. When Early learned that a large Federal force had stopped pursuing him, he led his Confederates out of Strasburg to confront Crook to the north. Early’s Army of the Valley numbered about 14,000 men, while Crook had about 8,500. Crook believed that Early’s infantry had returned to the Army of Northern Virginia at Petersburg and therefore expected to only encounter cavalry, which he was confident he could disperse.

The armies met at Kernstown, site of a battle during “Stonewall” Jackson’s Valley campaign of 1862. As the opposing cavalries skirmished to open the fight, Crook formed his infantry in a line facing south that consisted of Colonel (and future U.S. president) Rutherford B. Hayes’s brigade on the left (east), Colonel James Mulligan’s division holding Pritchard’s Hill in the center, and Colonel Joseph Thoburn’s division holding Sandy Ridge on the right.

The commanders saw the Confederates approach and quickly realized that they were not just cavalry as Crook supposed. They expressed reluctance to attack, but Crook insisted and the Federals advanced to meet the enemy around 12 p.m. Mulligan held firm under Major General John B. Gordon’s initial assault, but Major General John C. Breckinridge’s Confederates moved around Hayes’s flank while hidden in a deep ravine and, when they suddenly emerged and fired, Hayes’s Federals broke and ran.

Thoburn did not advance with the rest of the army, thus opening a gap between his division and Mulligan’s. Gordon’s Confederates exploited the gap, and Mulligan found himself surrounded on three sides. He tried rallying his troops to prevent a rout but was mortally wounded. The panicked, demoralized Federals fled north toward Winchester. Colonel Thomas Harris, who succeeded Mulligan as division commander, later wrote:

“I gave the order to fall back, and used all the efforts in my power to preserve my line in doing so, but as we were very closely pursued by the enemy, before whose destructive fire we had to ascend a rather steep hill for 200 yards, my line was at once broken and the men became scattered and pressed quickly from under the control of their officers. Having become separated from my horse in our last advance, I was unable to keep pace with the larger portion of my command or to make myself heard by them, and it was not until after we had retreated more than a mile that I was able to rally a couple of hundred men around the flag of the Tenth (West Virginia).”

Meanwhile, Brigadier General William W. Averell’s Federal cavalry had been assigned to try moving around the Confederate right flank. Averell’s troopers were unexpectedly blocked by Confederate horsemen guarding the Front Royal Pike. The Federals were easily repulsed, and they withdrew to Martinsburg.

The Federal infantry raced through Winchester, abandoning or burning 72 wagons and 12 caissons. They continued north through Bunker Hill, eventually reaching Harpers Ferry and crossing the Potomac River to safety. Early now had complete control of the entire Valley.

This was yet another humiliating defeat for the Federals in the Shenandoah, as the Confederates routed the force assigned to destroy them. The Federals sustained 1,185 casualties, including 479 captured, while the Confederates lost about half the Federals’ total. This easy victory emboldened Early to launch another northern invasion, this time into Pennsylvania.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20439-49; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 439; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11299-309; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 474; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 545; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 415-16, 677-79

 

Early Prepares Another Offensive

July 23, 1864 – Lieutenant General Jubal Early and his Confederate army looked to follow up their raid on Washington with another advance northward “down” the Shenandoah Valley.

Confederate Gen. Jubal Early | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Following the engagement at Cool Spring on the 18th, Early withdrew his Army of the Valley from Berryville to the more secure town of Strasburg. The Confederates returned to the Shenandoah Valley during one of its best harvests in recent times. During the movement, Early assigned Major General Stephen D. Ramseur’s division to transfer the Confederate supply base from Winchester to Strasburg.

Major General David Hunter, commanding the Federal Department of West Virginia from Harpers Ferry, received word that Confederates at Winchester were preparing to raid the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Hunter dispatched cavalry under Brigadier General William W. Averell to stop the raid. Averell’s Federals rode from Martinsburg and halted at Bunker Hill, north of Winchester, on the night of the 19th.

The Federals resumed their southward advance up the Valley Pike the next morning and approached Confederate cavalry guarding Stephenson’s Depot. Both sides brought up their artillery and traded fire. Ramseur disregarded Early’s order to remain in Winchester and not provoke a general engagement by bringing his infantry up to support the cavalry.

Brig Gen W.W. Averell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Confederates initially held off the Federal advance, but Averell’s men began turning the Confederate left. The Federals eventually broke Ramseur’s line and sent his men back to Winchester in retreat. Averell did not pursue because he did not yet know where the rest of Early’s army was. The Confederates sustained 470 casualties (73 killed, 130 wounded, and 267 captured) in this defeat, but it did little to change Early’s plan for Ramseur to transfer supplies from Winchester to Strasburg.

Ramseur’s Confederates were gone by morning. Brigadier General George Crook, leading the Army of West Virginia in pursuit of Early’s Confederates, arrived at Winchester and joined forces with Averell. Their combined force numbered about 8,500 Federals.

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, recalled the other Federal force pursuing Early, led by Major General Horatio G. Wright. Command of the Shenandoah Valley reverted to Hunter, with Crook leading Hunter’s army in the field.

Grant explained to Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck that Hunter’s mission was to pursue Early to Gordonsville and Charlottesville, and cut the railroads there. If Hunter could not do that, then “he should make all the Valley south of the Baltimore and Ohio (Rail)Road a desert as high up as possible. I do not mean that houses should be burned, but every particle of provisions and stock should be removed, and the people notified to move out.”

Hunter’s troops should “eat out Virginia clear and clean as far as they go, so that crows flying over it for the balance of the season will have to carry their provender with them.” Hunter was already called “Black Dave” by Shenandoah Valley residents for allowing his troops to burn and pillage the region. Mrs. Edmund Lee, a cousin of General Robert E. Lee and whose home had been destroyed by Hunter’s men, wrote him a scathing letter:

“Hyena-like you have torn my heart to pieces and demon-like you have done it without a pretext of revenge, for I never harmed you. Were it possible for human lips to raise your name heavenward, angels would thrust the foul thing back.”

In compliance with Grant’s instructions, Crook and Averell began moving southward from Winchester in search of Early’s army. President Abraham Lincoln, aware of Early’s tendency to preemptively attack, wired Hunter at Harpers Ferry: “Are you able to take care of the enemy when he turns back upon you, as he probably will on finding that Wright has left?”

Lincoln was right. Upon learning that Wright’s Federals had been recalled, Early immediately directed his forces to move northward from Strasburg and attack the Federals coming their way. Early had about 14,000 Confederates to face Crook’s smaller army. Averell’s cavalry clashed with Confederate troopers at Kernstown on the 23rd. Both sides fell back, but Early planned to attack in full force the next day.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20439; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 437-39; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 471-74; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 89-90; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 543-45; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 415-16, 677-79

The Washington Raid Ends

July 13, 1864 – Following his unsuccessful attempt to capture Fort Stevens, Lieutenant General Jubal Early led his Confederate Army of the Valley away from the outskirts of Washington and back into Maryland.

Confederate Gen. Jubal Early | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Confederates fell back northward, moving through Rockville and then turning west toward Poolesville and the Potomac River beyond. They reached the Potomac almost exactly 30 days after being detached from the Army of Northern Virginia.

Early’s forces completed their river crossing on the 14th and gathered at Leesburg, Virginia. They had a long supply train filled with captured goods from Maryland, along with about 1,000 prisoners, horses, cattle, and $220,000 taken from Hagerstown and Frederick as reparations for Federal destruction in the Shenandoah Valley.

Early’s raid had been a success in that it caused great panic in Washington, and it diverted Federal attention and resources from other theaters. It also boosted Confederate morale and temporarily brightened the dimming hope that European powers might recognize Confederate independence. But it had not caused the Army of the Potomac to weaken itself enough for General Robert E. Lee’s army to break out of Petersburg.

At the capital, President Abraham Lincoln expressed frustration that Early’s army had been allowed to escape back to Virginia. None of the six nearby generals took the lead in pursuing the Confederates until Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, assigned Major General Horatio G. Wright to lead the operation.

Wright’s force consisted of his own VI Corps, elements of XIX Corps, and several units that had been assigned to defend Washington. The pursuit began a full day after Early withdrew, with the Federals not arriving at Poolesville until the 15th. Confederate cavalry guarded the river fords to delay a Federal crossing.

By that time, Major General David Hunter’s Army of West Virginia had finally arrived at Harpers Ferry, burning and plundering homes on their march through their army’s namesake. Hunter received orders to join forces with Wright to pursue and destroy Early, with Wright in overall command. When Hunter protested that he outranked Wright, Grant placed Hunter’s army under command of Brigadier General George Crook while Hunter handled the army’s administrative duties from department headquarters.

Wright hoped to trap Early’s Confederates between his force and Crook’s, but he had trouble communicating with Crook due to Confederates cutting telegraph wires in the area. Crook’s 7,000 Federals crossed the Potomac near Harpers Ferry on the 15th and advanced to Hillsboro.

Early began moving his 12,000 Confederates out of Leesburg the next morning, heading west toward Snickers Gap in the Blue Ridge on his way back to the Shenandoah Valley. Wright’s 17,000 Federals took the entire day to cross the Potomac. During this time, a Federal cavalry detachment set out to locate the Confederates and clashed with troops guarding their wagon train around Purcellville.

When Crook learned of this engagement, he ordered Brigadier General Alfred N.A. Duffie’s cavalry to seize the wagon train. Duffie dispatched a brigade under Colonel William B. Tibbits, which spotted the Confederates about a mile north of Heaton’s Crossroads. Tibbits positioned his troopers and guns on a ridge and opened fire around 2 p.m.

The Confederate guards immediately abandoned the wagon train. The Federal assault became confused as some troopers stopped to seize the wagons and others confronted the Confederates. Major General John C. Breckinridge organized an infantry force to stop the Federal advance, while cavalry rode around to the enemy’s rear. Tibbits and a fraction of his brigade escaped capture and returned to Hillsboro. They seized or burned 80 wagons, but they had to leave the rest and all their cannon behind.

Had the Federals attacked with a larger force, they could have stopped or even destroyed Early’s army. Crook advanced to Purcellville that night, with Duffie’s cavalry skirmishing briefly with Confederate troopers at Woodgrove. By this time, the Confederates were moving through the Blue Ridge.

Wright and Crook joined forces as they pushed west toward Snickers Gap on the 17th. The Confederate rear guard prevented Federal cavalry heading the advance from crossing the Shenandoah River. Wright received word that the Confederates were merely skirmishers and Early’s main army was farther west. This was incorrect, as Early’s main army was guarding the river crossings.

Wright assigned Colonel Joseph Thoburn to lead three brigades around the Confederate left (northern) flank and seize Castleman’s Ferry. As the Federals moved on the 18th, Thoburn learned that the Confederates were massed on the riverbank. Both sides added reinforcements, with the Confederates holding a ridge near the Cool Spring plantation. Thoburn led his Federals across the Shenandoah River and lined them up behind stone walls.

The Federals repelled three assaults before night fell, and Thoburn ordered a withdrawal back across the river. The Federals sustained 422 casualties, while the Confederates lost roughly the same number. Early retained control of the river, as Wright and Crook continued debating how best to pursue his army.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20429; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 436-37; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11055; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9611-42, 11331-41; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 469-71; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 88-89; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 538-40; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 279, 415-16

The Washington Raid: Early Moves North

June 26, 1864 – Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate Army of the Valley reached Staunton as part of a new offensive intended to clear the Shenandoah Valley of Federals and threaten the North.

Confederate Gen. Jubal Early | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Early’s “army” was the detached Second Corps of General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Lee had sent Early to the Valley to stop Major General David Hunter’s Federal army from threatening Confederate supplies and civilians. After driving Hunter into West Virginia, Early implemented the second phase of his strategy by taking the fight to the North.

The Confederates moved from Lynchburg to Staunton and saw the destruction that Hunter’s men had wrought upon the people there. Partly to avenge these depredations, Early planned to raid Washington with just 10,000 men. Early did not expect to either win the war or even capture Washington, but he hoped to capitalize on northern war weariness and perhaps diminish President Abraham Lincoln’s chances for reelection. He also hoped to draw Federal troops away from the siege of Petersburg.

The Confederates gathered supplies at Staunton as Early reorganized the force into two infantry corps led by Major General John C. Breckinridge (with divisions under Major General John B. Gordon and Brigadier General John Echols) and Early himself (with divisions under Major Generals Robert Rodes and Stephen D. Ramseur). Major General Robert Ransom, Jr. commanded the cavalry. Pro-Confederate Marylanders also joined the new army and formed their own cavalry battalion.

After procuring five days’ rations, the Confederates left Staunton on the 28th. They moved quickly, relying on speed and stealth to thwart the Federals; they destroyed railroad tracks and bridges while collecting supplies along the way. As Early’s men moved north, Federal officials at Washington immediately began expressing concern.

Early’s Confederates passed New Market on the 30th, having covered 50 miles in two days. Early reported to Lee that the troops were “in fine condition and spirits, their health greatly improved… If you can continue to threaten Grant (at Petersburg), I hope to be able to do something for your relief and the success of our cause shortly. I shall lose no time.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 176; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20411; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 430-31; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9335-55; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 461; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 68-69; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 529-30

The Shenandoah Valley: Hunter Reaches Lynchburg

June 17, 1864 – Major General David Hunter’s Federal Army of West Virginia closed in on the key railroad town of Lynchburg as Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate Army of the Valley arrived to defend it.

Hunter’s Federals moved out of Lexington on the 13th, after burning and looting much of the town. Hunter had been delayed due to Confederate partisans harassing his supply lines, but now he had his entire force ready to move toward his main objective: the intersection of three railroads at Lynchburg.

Major General John C. Breckinridge | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The Federals moved southeast through Buchanan. Major General John C. Breckinridge, commanding the few Confederates left in the Shenandoah Valley, ordered Brigadier General John D. Imboden to pursue Hunter with his cavalry and, “Lose no time in finding their direction.” Skirmishing occurred at New Glasgow, but the Federals continued forward through the Peaks of Otter in the Blue Ridge before occupying Liberty on the night of the 15th.

Breckinridge issued peremptory orders for Imboden to pursue Hunter: “I want you to find his position, and purposes, at all hazards.” Frustrated by Imboden’s reluctance, Breckinridge telegraphed Richmond: “Enemy reported to be advancing, in force not known. The cavalry, under Imboden, doing less than nothing. If a good general officer cannot be sent at once for them, they will go to ruin.”

Breckinridge arrived at Lynchburg on the 16th with just two small brigades totaling 2,000 men. Major General D.H. Hill, who was awaiting reassignment at Lynchburg, helped Breckinridge prepare defenses in the hills southwest of town. Meanwhile, Early’s army (formerly Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia) reached Charlottesville on its way west to reinforce Lynchburg.

From Charlottesville, Early notified Breckinridge, “My first object is to destroy Hunter, and the next it is not prudent to trust to telegraph. Hold on and you will be amply supported.” Early later wrote, “The trains were not in readiness to take the troops on board until sunrise on the morning of the 17th, and then only enough were furnished to transport about half of my infantry.”

Confederate Gen. Jubal Early | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Early and half his force reached Lynchburg at 1 p.m. on the 17th, with the rest of his force following on the slow-moving trains. Early’s troops joined the other Confederates in the defenses as Confederate cavalry under both Imboden and Brigadier General John McCausland stalled the Federal advance about four miles from Lynchburg. Early directed Major General Stephen D. Ramseur’s men to build a redoubt about two miles from the town.

Hunter issued orders not to attack Lynchburg until all his Federal troops were up and ready for deployment. By that time, it was near sundown, so Hunter halted for the night, planning to attack in the morning. Many of his officers and men strongly objected to stopping the advance, but Hunter was short on both ammunition and supplies due to ongoing disruptions to his supply lines.

That night, Early instructed the soldiers and civilians to make the Confederate force defending Lynchburg seem larger than it was. The people made as much noise as possible, and trains pulled in and out of town all night, indicating to the Federals that the Confederates were being heavily reinforced.

Next morning, Hunter probed the Confederate lines and decided they were too strong for a frontal assault. He directed Brigadier General George Crook to move around the enemy right, but Early’s seasoned veterans launched a surprise attack that drove him back. The Confederates then attacked Hunter’s other division under Brigadier General Jeremiah C. Sullivan while their artillery neutralized the Federal guns.

The Confederates disengaged near sundown and returned to their defenses. Hunter opted not to counterattack because he believed he was outnumbered, and he was still short on ammunition. He fell back at nightfall, having lost his nerve in the face of an inferior enemy. Hunter’s withdrawal emboldened Early, who directed his Confederates to pursue the Federals.

Hunter fell back northwest into West Virginia’s Kanawha Valley, stopping at Sweet Sulphur Springs to collect supplies. The hungry Federals fought each other over the much-needed provisions. Hunter’s withdrawal left the Shenandoah wide open for the Confederates all the way to the Potomac River. Early recalled:

“As the enemy had got into the mountains, where nothing useful could be accomplished by pursuit, I did not deem it proper to continue it farther… I had seen my soldiers endure a great deal, but there was a limit to the endurance even of Confederate soldiers. I determined, therefore, to rest on the 22nd, so as to enable the wagons and artillery to get up, and prepare the men for the long march before them.”

The next day, the Confederates turned onto the path that Hunter had taken from Staunton to Lynchburg. According to Early:

“The scenes on Hunter’s route from Lynchburg had been truly heart-rending. Houses had been burned, and helpless women and children left without shelter. The country had been stripped of provisions and many families left without a morsel to eat. Furniture and bedding had been cut to pieces, and old men and women and children robbed of all the clothing they had except that on their backs. Ladies’ trunks had been rifled and their dresses torn to pieces in mere wantonness. Even the negro girls had lost their little finery.

“We now had renewed evidences of the outrages committed by Hunter’s orders in burning and plundering private houses. We saw the ruins of a number of houses to which the torch had been applied by his orders. At Lexington he had burned the Military Institute, with all of its contents, including its library and scientific apparatus; and Washington College had been plundered and the statue of Washington stolen.

“These are but some of the outrages committed by Hunter or his orders, and I will not insult the memory of the ancient barbarians of the North by calling them ‘acts of vandalism…’ Hunter’s deeds were those of a malignant and cowardly fanatic, who was better qualified to make war upon helpless women and children than upon armed soldiers. The time consumed in the perpetration of those deeds, was the salvation of Lynchburg, with its stores, foundries and factories, which were so necessary to our army at Richmond.”

The “long march” that Early had referenced would be northward “down” the Valley to invade the North, exact revenge for Hunter’s depredations, and threaten Washington.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20411; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 21-22; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 427-29; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9284-304; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 456-58, 460; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 58-61; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 524-25; 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. 739; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 233-34, 376-77, 454

Hunter Terrorizes the Shenandoah Valley

June 8, 1864 – Brigadier General George Crook’s Federals from West Virginia joined forces with Major General David Hunter’s Army of the Shenandoah and prepared to drive southward “up” Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley from Staunton.

Maj Gen David Hunter | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The day after his victory at Piedmont, Hunter became the first Federal commander to lead a force into the key town of Staunton. From there, Hunter was to join forces with Crook and move south to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad at Lynchburg. Federal troops destroyed all warehouses, barns, mills, workshops, and railroad factories in their path. They then looted and pillaged Staunton and vicinity, causing seething resentment among Valley residents.

Upon learning of Piedmont, General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, detached Major General John C. Breckinridge to return west and take the Valley back. However, Breckinridge had just 2,100 men in two brigades to reinforce the 4,000 Piedmont survivors in protecting the vital railroad junction at Lynchburg.

Meanwhile, Crook’s Federal Army of the Kanawha joined with Hunter, giving the combined force 18,000 men and 30 guns. Both Crook and his cavalry commander, Brigadier General William W. Averell, urged Hunter to continue south to Lynchburg as ordered, but Hunter opted to instead advance on Lexington to the southwest and then march through the Blue Ridge at the Peaks of Otter to get to Lynchburg.

Hunter’s new “Army of West Virginia” headed out of Staunton on the 10th. In response to harassment from Confederate partisans, Hunter directed his troops to live off the land, which included looting civilian homes and farms. Breckinridge reported that Hunter was moving up the Valley to either Lexington or Lynchburg, but his force was too small to stop the Federals.

President Jefferson Davis asked Lee to clear the Federals out of the Valley, but Lee said he could only do so by detaching an entire corps in the face of the opposing Army of the Potomac. Lee concluded, “If it is deemed prudent to hazard the defense of Richmond… I will do so.”

Crook’s Federals reached Lexington around 12 p.m. the next day and entered the town after driving off a small Confederate cavalry force. Hunter stopped to visit the grave of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson before ordering his men to burn the Virginia Military Institute, where Jackson had taught before the war. Hunter accused the school administrators of teaching a “treasonous” curriculum and sending cadets out to fight Federal troops at New Market. Hunter did not know that Lee had buried George Washington’s silver beneath VMI for protection.

Hunter set up headquarters in the VMI superintendent’s home, the only building on campus not burned. He also directed his troops to burn Washington College and turn the main building into a horse stable. Outraged, Virginia Governor John Letcher publicly called on the citizens to oppose “the vandal hordes of Yankee invaders.” When Hunter learned of this, he ordered Letcher’s Lexington home burned for issuing “a violent and inflammatory proclamation… inciting the population of the country to rise and wage guerrilla warfare on my troops.”

The looting and destruction continued for three days, during which a Federal soldier wrote, “Many of the women look sad and do much weeping over the destruction that is going on. We feel that the South brought on the war and the State of Virginia is paying dear for her part.” But during this time, Hunter suffered two setbacks:

  • Major General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry, assigned to join him in the drive on Lynchburg, was stopped by Confederate horsemen under Major General Wade Hampton.
  • Confederate partisans led by Colonel John S. Mosby continuously raided Hunter’s supply lines, forcing him to wait at Lexington until all his cavalry could come up.

These setbacks gave Breckinridge more time to prepare defenses at Lynchburg.

Confederate Gen. Jubal Early | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

On the night of the 12th, Lee decided on a daring gamble. He would detach Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Second Corps from his army and send it west. These Confederates would absorb Breckinridge’s force, secure Lynchburg, and drive Hunter’s Federals out of the Valley. Early was to then move north “down” the Valley and cross the Potomac River into Maryland. From there, he would turn southeast and threaten Washington.

This would leave Lee’s Confederates dangerously outnumbered against the Army of the Potomac, but Lee hoped that Early’s offensive would compel Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant to detach forces, or even withdraw the army altogether, to protect Washington. It may even provoke Grant into launching a hasty attack that could give Lee an opening to destroy his force.

Early received written orders to move out at 3 a.m. on the 13th. He was “to strike Hunter’s force in the rear, and, if possible, destroy it; then to move down the Valley, cross the Potomac near Leesburg in Loudon County, or at or above Harper’s Ferry… and threaten Washington City.”

Early was to leave with all three of his divisions (8,000 men) and an artillery battalion. Early renamed his corps the Army of the Valley and led it out of the Cold Harbor trenches on the morning of the 13th. The troops boarded trains and headed west to Lynchburg, just as Hunter’s Federals finally left Lexington.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 493-94; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 176; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20411; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 420-23, 425; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6359-69, 6398-408, 6522-41, 6561-91, 9314-34; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 451, 454-55; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7472-84; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 50-59; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 21; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 516, 519-20; 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. 738-39; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 376-77, 454