Tag Archives: Franz Sigel

The Washington Raid: Confederates Seize Hagerstown

July 6, 1864 – Confederates from Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley captured Hagerstown, Maryland, as Federals scrambled to stop their drive on Washington.

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

By this time, Early’s force had marched north “down” Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and crossed the Potomac River into Maryland. Early planned to threaten Washington in hopes that Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant would divert Federal forces from laying siege to Petersburg, south of Richmond.

The Confederates received fresh supplies, including new shoes, from Richmond and resumed their eastward advance through Maryland on the 6th. A cavalry brigade under Brigadier General John McCausland entered Hagerstown and demanded $20,000 from the residents as reparations for Federal destruction in the Shenandoah Valley. Residents quickly paid the ransom. The main Confederate force advanced through the South Mountain gaps.

Meanwhile, Grant realized that Early’s Confederates were no longer in front of Petersburg as he began receiving panicked messages of a Confederate force approaching Washington. Confident that such a force could not seriously threaten the capital, Grant reluctantly detached Brigadier General James B. Ricketts’s division from VI Corps and some dismounted cavalry to bolster defenses there.

Major General Franz Sigel, commanding the Federal garrison at Harpers Ferry, informed Washington, “My troops are preparing for action.” However, Sigel still expected the Confederates to attack him and did not know that Early had bypassed him and gone into Maryland. Sigel would not leave Harpers Ferry undefended to pursue the Confederates.

This left Major General Lew Wallace, commanding the Federal Middle Department, to defend Baltimore and Washington from Early’s army. Wallace hastily gathered 2,300 troops, mostly raw recruits and militia, and moved them west from Baltimore to Monocacy Junction, just southeast of Frederick. This position enabled Wallace to defend the roads leading to both Baltimore and Washington.

On the 7th, Wallace’s force was augmented by 230 troopers of the 8th Illinois cavalry and a six-gun battery. Until Ricketts’s division could arrive, these were all the troops that Wallace could muster. The Federal troopers, led by Lieutenant Colonel David R. Clendenin, rode west and located Early’s force, which was heading for the Catoctin Pass.

The Federals brought up two guns and, according to Clendenin, proceeded “to shell the enemy skirmish line with effect.” However, the main Confederate force eventually came up, and Clendenin reported, “After five hours’ skirmishing, the enemy being heavily re-enforced and flanking me, I was compelled to fall back on Frederick.”

Clendenin’s force joined with another Federal force outside Frederick. He wrote, “Placing the guns rapidly in position, I cleared the road of cavalry and opened on the head of the approaching column, which fell back and deployed on our left bringing up artillery, which was posted south of the Hagerstown pike in a commanding position.” More Federal reinforcements arrived, which repelled a Confederate attack and pushed the enemy back to the Catoctin Pass.

By this time, panic was spreading through Washington. Wallace’s force was too small to hold off Early, Sigel could not be counted upon to help, and Major General David Hunter’s Federal army, which was supposed to have kept Early in the Valley, was way off in West Virginia. A Federal division was on its way, but it would not be enough. Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck wired Grant:

“Until more forces arrive we have nothing to meet that number in the field, and the militia is not reliable even to hold the fortifications of Washington and Baltimore. It is the impression that one-third of Lee’s entire force is with Early and (John C.) Breckinridge, and that (Robert) Ransom has some 3,000 or 4,000 cavalry. If you propose to cut off this raid and not merely to secure our depots, we must have more forces here. Indeed, if the enemy’s strength is as great as represented, it is doubtful if the militia can hold all of our defenses. I do not think we can expect much from Hunter. He is too far off and moves too slowly. I think, therefore, that very considerable re-enforcements should be sent directly to this place.”

The next day, Grant sent the rest of VI Corps under Major General Horatio G. Wright to Maryland. He also sent XIX Corps, which had just arrived at Fort Monroe after returning from the Red River campaign. Grant then wrote Halleck, “If the President thinks it advisable that I should go to Washington in person, I can start in an hour after receiving notice, leaving everything here on the defensive.”

In Maryland, Ricketts’s division arrived at Monocacy Junction via railroad to reinforce Wallace, who pulled all the Federals out of Frederick. Wallace now had nearly 6,000 troops on the Monocacy River to face Early’s 10,000 approaching Confederates.

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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 20411-20; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 433-34; 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 9345-55, 9356-72, 9393-434; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 465-66; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7787; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 69-73; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 534-35; 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. 756-57; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 233-34, 504

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The Washington Raid: Early Reaches Winchester

July 2, 1864 – Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate Army of the Valley arrived at Winchester as it moved north “down” Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley toward Maryland.

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

Early’s mission was to clear the Valley of Federal forces and then cross the Potomac River to take the fight to the North. It was hoped that this would draw Federals away from Petersburg, where the Armies of the Potomac and the James were besieging General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

After Major General David Hunter withdrew his Federal army into West Virginia, Early had a clear path down the Valley from Lynchburg. Upon reaching Winchester, Early received orders from Lee to operate in the lower (northern) Valley “until everything was in readiness to cross the Potomac and destroy the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal as far as possible.”

Early dispatched cavalry to burn bridges on the B & O, and he sent one infantry corps under Major General John C. Breckinridge through Martinsburg. Early led the other corps to Harpers Ferry, where the rest of his army would rejoin him. About 5,000 Federals under Major General Franz Sigel were at Martinsburg, and a Federal force about half Sigel’s size under Brigadier General Max Weber was at Harpers Ferry.

As the Confederate cavalry met unexpected resistance near Leetown, Breckinridge entered Martinsburg behind Sigel’s retreating Federals. Early wrote, “It was too late, and these divisions were too much exhausted to go after the enemy.” The Confederates began stripping Martinsburg of anything useful to their army, but this soon degenerated into wholesale looting.

Meanwhile, B & O Railroad President John W. Garrett notified Major General Lew Wallace, commanding the Federal Middle Department which included the lower Shenandoah, that his railroad agents reported large numbers of Confederates approaching Harpers Ferry. Fearing another Confederate invasion, Wallace began gathering Baltimore militia to meet the threat.

Garrett sent boxcars to Martinsburg to help with the Federal evacuation, but they were intercepted by John S. Mosby’s Confederate partisans. Garrett then telegraphed Federal Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck, “Cannot General Hunter be ordered from the west to such points east of Cumberland as may be most judicious? Appearances at present indicate a general abandonment of the (rail)road.”

After confirming that the Confederates threatening the lower Valley were Early’s, Halleck tried contacting Hunter but received no response. He then wired Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, headquartered with the Army of the Potomac at Petersburg. He warned Grant that Sigel was no match for Early, and added, “You can therefore judge what probability there is of a good defense if the enemy should attack the line in force.”

Sigel transferred troops to strengthen the garrison at Harpers Ferry on the 3rd. Federal troops and guns commanded Bolivar Heights and Maryland Heights, overlooking the town. Early wrote Breckinridge, “I will move everything in that direction in the morning.” Panic spread among the citizenry north of the river, including Washington, as it was unclear whether another Confederate invasion would take place.

The next day, Halleck instructed Weber that “everything should be prepared for a defense of your works and the first man who proposes a surrender or retreat should be hung.” The Federals manned their defenses as Early’s Confederates approached. After scouting the defenses, Early decided that “it was not possible to occupy the town of Harpers Ferry, except with skirmishers, as it was thoroughly commanded by the guns on Maryland Heights.”

Sigel’s Federals began arriving and entrenching on Maryland Heights that night, after Early had decided to bypass Harpers Ferry. The Federals fired on the Confederates as they looted some of the warehouses in the town. A Confederate officer wrote, “A universal pillaging of United States Government property, especially commissary stores, was carried on all night.” Skirmishing occurred at Patterson’s Creek Bridge and South Branch Bridge, where Early planned to cross the Potomac the next day.

On the 5th, a Confederate detachment demonstrated in Harpers Ferry and feasted off the captured stores as the rest of Early’s army crossed the river at Shepherdstown to the northwest. Upon entering Maryland, the Confederates moved east and occupied Sharpsburg that night. The Confederate detachment withdrew as well, leaving the Federals confused as to where they would go next.

Federal officials at Washington became increasingly concerned as Early moved closer to the capital. However, conflicting reports slowed their response to the situation. The governors of New York and Pennsylvania were called upon to send 24,000 militia to defend Maryland.

At Baltimore, Wallace received an incorrect report that Confederate cavalry was moving through southern Pennsylvania. He stated, “In this situation, I felt it my duty to concentrate that portion of my scanty command available for field operations at some point on the Monocacy River, the western limit of the Middle Department.”

To best protect both Baltimore and Washington, Wallace selected the point on the Monocacy where the B & O crossed. Roads from this point led east to Baltimore and southeast to Washington. Although Wallace had acted on incorrect information, he placed his troops in a perfect position to block Early. However, Wallace had just 3,000 men to face 10,000 seasoned Confederate veterans.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 432-33; 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 9345-55; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 464-65; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 640-44; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 69, 71; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 531-34; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 233-34, 504

The Shenandoah Valley: Sigel Ousted

May 19, 1864 – Major General John C. Breckinridge’s Confederates began leaving the Shenandoah Valley, and Major General Franz Sigel was replaced as Federal commander in the region.

General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, congratulated Breckinridge for his resounding victory over Sigel’s Federals at the Battle of New Market: “I offer you the thanks of this army for the victory over General Sigel. Press him down the Valley, and if practicable follow him to Maryland.”

Lee and the Confederate high command hoped the Federals would repeat their two-year pattern of abandoning the Valley after a defeat. Lee therefore sent a second message to Breckinridge: “If you can follow Sigel into Maryland, you will do more good than by joining us. (But) if you cannot, and your command is not otherwise needed in the Valley or in your department, I desire you to prepare to join me.”

With Sigel’s Federals retreating northward down the Valley, Breckinridge told Lee that he preferred to bring 2,500 men to Lee’s command in eastern Virginia rather than chase Sigel to Maryland. Lee answered, “Proceed with infantry to Hanover Junction by railroad. Cavalry, if available, can march.”

Breckinridge’s Confederates began heading east on the 19th. That same day, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, gladly accepted Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck’s suggestion to replace Sigel as head of the Federal Department of West Virginia. Grant had never been impressed with Sigel’s abilities, and his embarrassing defeat at New Market reinforced this assessment.

Maj Gen David Hunter | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Major General David Hunter replaced Sigel. When Hunter reached department headquarters near Strasburg, he sent Sigel north to command the Federal garrison at Harpers Ferry. Hunter was expected to move from Staunton to Lynchburg, wrecking the important Virginia Central Railroad. The Federals would be “living off the country” during the march, destroying anything useful to the Confederacy and driving Confederate forces out of the region. The pattern of regrouping for months before resuming the offensive in the Valley would be broken.

Meanwhile, the Federal force that was supposed to have reinforced Sigel, led by Brigadier General George Crook, reached Meadow Bluff after retreating 50 miles into West Virginia. The men had been tasked with wrecking the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad, but Crook had ordered a withdrawal after receiving an incorrect report that Grant had been defeated at the Wilderness. Crook’s Federals were exhausted and low on supplies, but when Hunter took command, he ordered them to “move immediately on Staunton.”

Hunter introduced a brutal new policy to Valley residents after Confederate guerrillas shot up a Federal wagon train near Newtown: he sent a cavalry unit to burn down the house from where the shots came. The Federals declared that if these attacks continued, “the commanding general will cause to be burned every rebel house within five miles of the place at which the firing occurs.”

Prior to this order, both sides had a tacit understanding that the rights and property of civilians would be respected. But Hunter asserted that Confederate guerrillas were outlaws, and if they could not be caught, then those who aided and abetted them would suffer. This policy of retaliatory arson earned Hunter the nickname “Black Dave.”

Hunter’s newly renamed Army of the Shenandoah, about 8,500 strong, left its camps at Strasburg and Cedar Creek on the 26th, moving south up the Valley turnpike. Hunter’s orders from Halleck were to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad “beyond the possibility of repair for weeks; then, either return to your original base or join Grant, via Gordonsville.”

Meanwhile, Brigadier General William E. “Grumble” Jones was assigned to command the new Confederate Department of Southwestern Virginia now that Breckinridge and his men had gone east. Jones took over Breckinridge’s old Department of Western Virginia, as well as eastern Tennessee. He had about 8,500 infantry and cavalry, and his main responsibilities were to protect Staunton’s warehouses and the crucial Virginia Central.

As Hunter moved south, Confederate cavalry under Brigadier General John D. Imboden felled trees to impede his advance. From New Market, Imboden reported that Hunter was heading for Strasburg, adding, “His cavalry outnumbers ours two to one, his infantry four to one, his artillery four to one. There is no point this side of Mount Crawford where I can successfully resist him.”

The Federals advanced through Woodstock, where, according to Hunter’s chief of staff, Colonel David H. Strother, Hunter was “evidently seeking an apology to burn something” by searching the town jail. Hunter found no prisoners but still planned to burn the town hotel until his aides talked him out of it. On the 30th, Hunter’s Federals returned to New Market and properly interred their dead comrades whom Confederates had only partially buried.

Farther west, Crook’s Federals began moving out of their camps on the Greenbrier River in the Alleghenies. Crook was to move east and join forces with Hunter, giving them a combined force of about 20,000 men. These Federal movements concerned Lee, who directed Jones to “get all the available forces you can and move at once to Imboden’s assistance to defend the Shenandoah Valley.” Action in the Valley would escalate as the enemy forces approached each other in June.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 409, 414; 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 5203-13, 5280-301, 5705-15, 6350-60; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 442-45; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24, 39, 41-46; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 506-07, 509; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 376-77, 527-28, 584, 817

The Battle of New Market

May 15, 1864 – Major General John C. Breckinridge led a makeshift Confederate army in trying to stop the Federal drive up Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

Federal Gen Franz Sigel | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Major General Franz Sigel, commanding the Federal Army of West Virginia, had been assigned to deprive the Confederate armies of the vital foodstuffs produced in the fertile Valley. By this time, his troops had moved south to Woodstock, but his force had shrunk from 10,000 to 6,500 men because he had to detach units to guard his lengthening supply line.

Breckinridge’s Confederates left Staunton on the morning of the 13th to join forces with Brigadier General John D. Imboden’s cavalry at New Market. Imboden dispersed Federal cavalry commands at Front Royal and New Market, inflicting about 150 casualties and putting 800 enemy troopers out of action in the two combined engagements.

Sigel continued south from Woodstock on the 14th to Mount Jackson, a farming center at the terminus of the Manassas Gap Railroad, about seven miles north of New Market. Imboden’s Confederates skirmished with the Federal vanguard and exchanged artillery fire before heavy rain stopped the fighting for the night.

During this time, Imboden’s cavalry joined Breckinridge’s main force, which now numbered close to 5,000 men. Breckinridge established a defensive line at New Market with Brigadier General Gabriel C. Wharton’s brigade on the left (west) and Brigadier General John C. Echols’s brigade on the right (east). Echols was out sick, leaving his brigade under Colonel George S. Patton (grandfather of World War II General George S. Patton).

Lieutenant Colonel Scott Shipp’s 247 cadets from the Virginia Military Institute, aged 15 to 17, were held in reserve. Shipp recalled that Breckinridge “informed me that he did not wish to put the Cadets in if he could avoid it, but that should occasion require it, he would use them very freely.”

By the morning of the 15th, Sigel had two infantry brigades about a mile north of New Market. Their line was between the North Fork of the Shenandoah River to their right (west) and the Valley Turnpike to their left (east). More infantry arrived and took positions to the left of the two brigades, on either side of the turnpike. Federals in the center held Manor’s Hill.

Breckinridge used his artillery and Imboden’s cavalry to try coaxing the Federals into attacking his strong line. When that failed, he advanced his force to meet the Federals north of town. The Confederates marched through New Market amidst cheering residents and drove back the Federal pickets.

Breckinridge halted just north of town, still hopeful that the Federals would assail him first. A heavy artillery duel ensued, but the Federal infantry would not attack. Breckinridge therefore ordered his own assault. The Confederates advanced in early afternoon and pushed the Federals off Manor’s Hill.

Sigel arrived on the scene and formed a new line on Bushong’s Hill, with Federal infantry on the right and center, and Major General Julius Stahel’s cavalry on the left. Breckinridge halted his men to dress their line before resuming the advance at 2 p.m. As the Confederates closed in, 17 Federal guns opened on them. The Confederate center wavered and broke.

At 2:45, Breckinridge decided to fill this gap with the VMI cadets, saying, “Put the boys in, and may God forgive me for the order.” The cadets, called “katydids” by the veterans, charged into the center as Shipp was wounded and replaced by Captain Henry A. Wise. Shipp later wrote:

“Great gaps were made through the ranks, but the cadet, true to this discipline, would close in to the center to fill the interval and push steadily forward. The alignment of the battalion under this terrible fire, which strewed the ground with killed and wounded for more than a mile on open ground, would have been creditable even on a field day.”

During this time, Sigel directed Stahel’s cavalry to counterattack the Confederate right, but the Federals were repelled by heavy artillery fire. Federals tried another counterattack on the Confederate left, but confusion among the commanders made this ineffective, and it was repulsed as well.

The Confederate advance resumed around 3 p.m. Several VMI cadets lost their shoes while marching across a muddy field, giving it the nickname the “Field of Lost Shoes.” The Federal infantry started breaking under the pressure, prompting the artillerists to withdraw their guns. The Confederates captured five cannon, one of which was taken by the VMI troops.

The “Field of Lost Shoes” | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Wise remembered, “Our esprit de corps made us vie with the magnificent veterans to our right and left. They yelled, we yelled with them. The onrush was irresistible.” As the Federals retreated, Breckinridge halted his men until the supply wagons could catch up.

Sigel withdrew northward and formed a rear guard on Rude’s Hill. When he received reports that the Federals were exhausted and nearly out of ammunition, he ordered a retreat to Mount Jackson, across the Shenandoah River. The Federals crossed and burned the bridge behind them, preventing Breckinridge from pursuing. When Sigel arrived at Mount Jackson, he ordered another retreat to Strasburg, 20 miles north.

The Federals sustained 831 casualties (93 killed, 482 wounded, and 256 captured or missing), while the Confederates lost 577 (42 killed, 522 wounded, and 13 missing). The VMI contingent lost 10 killed (including a descendant of Thomas Jefferson) and 47 wounded, or 23 percent of their total. They played a relatively small role in the battle, but their brave performance made them heroes in the South.

After this resounding Confederate victory, Breckinridge’s men cheered “such as had not been heard in the Valley since Stonewall Jackson had led them” in 1862. Breckinridge praised his troops, “particularly the cadets, who, though mere youths, had fought with the steadiness of veterans.” This ensured that the Valley would continue feeding the Confederate armies in Virginia and elsewhere.

General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, initially suggested that Breckinridge pursue Sigel all the way down the Valley and invade Maryland, but the rivers were too swollen and supply lines too long for this to be feasible. Instead, Lee urged Breckinridge to hurry his command east to Hanover Junction, where he could reinforce Lee’s army.

Sigel’s army had been routed but not destroyed. This embarrassing setback enraged the Federal high command; Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck told Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, “Sigel is in full retreat on Strasburg. He will do nothing but run; never did anything else.” Grant had little faith in Sigel as a commander before this battle, and now he was convinced that Sigel must be replaced.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 444; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 88; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20404; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 17-18; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 408; 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 5232-52, 5270-90; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 438-39; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 28-30, 32, 34-39; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 260-61; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 501-02; 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. 723-24; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 527-28, 707-08

Showdown Looms in the Shenandoah Valley

May 13, 1864 – Major General John C. Breckinridge’s Confederates moved out to confront Major General Franz Sigel’s Federal Army of West Virginia advancing south “up” Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

Federal Gen Franz Sigel | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

In late April, the third of four planned Federal offensives in Virginia began when Sigel led 10,000 Federals out of Martinsburg. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, had tasked Sigel with clearing Confederates out of the Valley, which provided vast amounts of foodstuffs. Destroying this fertile region could starve the Confederate armies into submission.

On the 2nd, the fourth offensive began when Brigadier General George Crook moved 6,000 Federals southeast out of the Kanawha Valley toward Dublin Station in West Virginia. Crook’s mission was to advance to the New River Bridge and wreck the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad. A detachment of 2,000 cavalry under Brigadier General William W. Averell was to ride from Logan’s Court House to destroy the salt and lead mines at Saltville and Wytheville.

Crook and Averell were then to move to Staunton, where they would join forces with Sigel and destroy the Virginia Central Railroad connecting the Shenandoah Valley to Richmond. Grant had little faith in Sigel as a commander and therefore expected Crook to be the campaign’s driving force. Sigel’s main task was to guard the Valley until Crook’s force arrived; as Grant said, “If Sigel can’t skin, himself, he can hold a leg whilst someone else skins.”

Sigel arrived at Winchester on the 2nd, covering just 22 miles in three days. News of his advance reached General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia about to do battle in the Wilderness. Lee notified Breckinridge, heading the Confederate Trans-Allegheny Department: “Grant’s whole army is moving on our right… (Sigel) will probably cross at Chester Gap and move upon our left.”

With Lee’s army stretched to its limit, Breckinridge was assigned to stop Sigel. Breckinridge immediately began moving two infantry brigades toward Staunton. This left West Virginia open for Crook and Averell to strike the vital railroad, saltworks, and lead mines there.

Meanwhile, Sigel remained at Winchester for a week due to incorrect reports that Confederates were poised to threaten his flanks. He finally left town on the 9th, with his troops wearing new uniforms and marching with confident precision. According to a soldier, “They had heard reports that a great battle had been fought between Grant’s and Lee’s armies, and that our army had the advantage.”

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

Breckinridge had just 4,000 Confederates to oppose Sigel in two infantry brigades, a cavalry command under Brigadier General John B. Imboden, and various other independent units. On the 10th, he called upon the cadets at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington to march 32 miles to join him at Staunton. After commemorating the first anniversary of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s death (Jackson had taught at VMI), the cadets headed out, led by Lieutenant Colonel Scott Shipp.

Farther west, Crook’s Federals arrived at the 400-foot New River Bridge on the 10th. A small Confederate unit traded artillery fire with the Federals before withdrawing, and Crook’s men burned the bridge. Crook was now within eight miles of Dublin, where he was to wait for Averell’s cavalry and then head east to join Sigel at Staunton.

However, Crook issued orders for his men to return to Meadow Bluff, near Lewisburg, where they could resupply. Crook later justified this dubious withdrawal by claiming, “I saw dispatches from Richmond stating that General Grant had been repulsed and was retreating, which determined me to move to Lewisburg as rapidly as possible.”

Farther southwest, Averell found the way to Wytheville blocked by Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate horsemen at Crockett’s Grove. The Confederates made several charges, inflicting 114 casualties and pushing the Federals eastward. Averell withdrew to Dublin, where he learned that Crook would not be meeting up with him.

When Breckinridge reported to Richmond that the New River Bridge had been destroyed, Chief of Staff Braxton Bragg urged him to turn southwest and confront Crook. Bragg left the final decision to Lee, who simply told Breckinridge, “You must judge.” Fortunately for Breckinridge, Crook and Averell made the decision easy by falling back; Breckinridge could now focus solely on Sigel.

As Sigel’s Federals continued southward, they were harassed by Imboden’s cavalry in their front and Colonel John S. Mosby’s Confederate partisans on their flanks and rear. On the 11th, Imboden attacked one of Sigel’s cavalry regiments stationed at Front Royal and captured 464 men. But neither Confederate cavalry nor foul weather stopped Sigel’s methodical advance up the Valley. The Federals reached Woodstock the next day.

At Woodstock, Sigel learned that Breckinridge was organizing an army to oppose him. Having moved deep into enemy territory, with partisans harassing him and no word yet on what happened to Crook, Sigel informed his superiors:

“My forces are insufficient for offensive operations in the country where the enemy is continually on my flank and rear. My intention, therefore, is not to advance farther than this place with my main force, but have sent out strong parties in every direction. Skirmishing is going on every day. If Breckinridge should advance against us I will resist him at some convenient position.”

Breckinridge arrived at Staunton that same day to take “general direction of affairs” past the Blue Ridge. Rather than wait for Sigel to attack him there, Breckinridge advanced his makeshift force to join with Imboden’s horsemen, which fell back from Mount Jackson to New Market, 40 miles away. The VMI cadets arrived to join Breckinridge just as his men began moving out of Staunton on the morning of the 13th.

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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 20385; 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 5148-77, 5193-203, 5212-22, 5232-242; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 427, 436-37; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 16, 20, 23, 25, 28-29; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 146, 527-28

The Grand Federal Offensive Begins

April 29, 1864 – One part of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant’s overall offensive began as Federals advanced in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

From his headquarters at Culpeper Court House, Grant shared his overall plan with Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac. Grant would remain headquartered with Meade’s army, and, “So far as practicable, all the armies are to move together, and towards one common centre.”

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, commanding the Federal Army of the Gulf, was “instructed to turn over the guarding of the Red River to General (Frederick) Steele and the navy, to abandon Texas with the exception of the Rio Grande, and to concentrate all the force he can, not less than 25,000 men, to move on Mobile.”

Major General William T. Sherman, commanding three Federal armies, faced General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee in northern Georgia. Grant told Meade that Sherman “will move at the same time you do, or two or three days in advance, Jo. Johnston’s army being his objective point, and the heart of Georgia his ultimate aim.” If Banks and Sherman succeeded, they would join forces and operate in the Deep South.

Major General Benjamin F. Butler, leading the 33,000-man Federal Army of the James from Fort Monroe, will “seize City Point, and operate against Richmond from the south side of the (James) river. His movement will be simultaneous with yours (i.e., Meade’s).”

Major General Ambrose E. Burnside who had been reunited with his beloved IX Corps at Annapolis, “will reinforce you. I will give him the defense of the road (Orange & Alexandria Railroad) from Bull Run as far south as we wish to hold it. This will enable you to collect all your strength about Brandy Station.” As for Meade:

“Lee’s army will be your objective point. Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also. The only point upon which I am now in doubt is, whether it will be better to cross the Rapidan above or below him. Each plan presents great advantages over the other with corresponding objections. By crossing above, Lee is cut off from all chance of ignoring Richmond and going north on a raid. But if we take this route, all we do must be done whilst the rations we start with hold out. We separate from Butler so that he cannot be directed how to co-operate. By the other route Brandy Station can be used as a base of supplies until another is secured on the York or James rivers.”

Maj-Gen Franz Sigel | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The last major part of Grant’s overall plan involved Major General Franz Sigel’s Army of West Virginia. This consisted of Sigel’s main force in the Shenandoah Valley and Brigadier General George Crook’s Federals operating in West Virginia’s Kanawha Valley. According to Grant:

“Sigel collects all his available force in two columns, one, under (E.O.C.) Ord and (William W.) Averell, to start from Beverly, Virginia, and the other, under Crook, to start from Charleston on the Kanawha, to move against the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. Crook… will endeavor to get in about Saltville, and move east from there to join Ord. His force will be all cavalry, while Ord will have from 10 to 12,000 men of all arms.”

Grant initially planned for Sigel to stay in the northern part of the Shenandoah, guarding the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad against Confederate raiders. However, Sigel proposed moving up the Valley from Martinsburg to join forces with Crook at Staunton, after Crook wrecked the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad. At Staunton, Sigel and Crook would wreck the Virginia Central Railroad. Grant responded on the 19th: “I approve your plan of operations. Make your preparations for executing it with all dispatch.”

Crook’s force of 6,155 men set out toward Dublin Station on the 29th, but the advance was slowed by pouring rain and the harsh terrain of West Virginia. Sigel led his portion of the army, consisting of 8,000 Federals, out of Winchester the next day. Meanwhile, Brigadier General William W. Averell’s Federal cavalry would target the salt mines at Saltville and the lead mines at Wytheville.

This operation began ahead of Grant’s other offensives, and it would face intense Confederate opposition come May.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 166-67; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 730-31; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 391; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 407-08; 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 5138-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 414-16, 419, 425-26; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24-25; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 481-83; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 504-06, 788; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 23; Rowell, John W., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 180; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 177-78; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 737; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 146, 739

The Grand Federal Military Reorganization

March 10, 1864 – When Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant received official authority to assume command of all Federal armies, he was already in the field with the Army of the Potomac.

After two uncomfortable days in Washington, Grant headed back to the field. He arrived at Brandy Station, headquarters for the Army of the Potomac, late on the 9th in pouring rain. He was greeted by a Zouave regiment and a band playing “The General’s March.” Nobody knew that Grant was tone-deaf. Grant planned to meet with the army commander, Major General George G. Meade, with whom he had been slightly acquainted during the Mexican War, the next day.

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

Meade speculated that Grant would remove him as commander. On the 2nd, he wrote his wife that Grant “may want some one else whom he knows better in command of his army.” A week later, Meade wrote that Grant “may desire to have his own man in command, particularly as I understand he is indoctrinated with the notion of the superiority of the Western armies, and that the failure of the Army of the Potomac to accomplish anything is due to their commanders.”

While at Washington, Grant had considered replacing Meade with Major General William T. Sherman, or perhaps Major General William F. “Baldy” Smith. He discussed the possibility of removing Meade with President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. Both Lincoln and Stanton opposed removing him, but they would support Grant as general-in-chief if he chose to do it.

The meeting between Grant and Meade went extremely well. Meade said that he understood if Grant wanted to replace him, and he begged Grant “not to hesitate about making the change.” According to Grant, Meade “urged that the work before us was of such vast importance to the whole nation that the feeling or wishes of no one person should stand in the way of selecting the right men for all positions.”

Grant assured Meade “that I had no thought of substituting any one for him,” and Meade’s willingness to sacrifice gave Grant “even a more favorable opinion of Meade than did his great victory at Gettysburg the July before. It is men who wait to be selected, and not those who seek, from whom we may always expect the most efficient service.”

Before coming east, Grant had planned to maintain his headquarters at Nashville. But now, after talking with Meade and assessing the Army of the Potomac, “It was plain that here was the point for the commanding general to be.” Grant proposed guiding the army while Meade retained direct command of the officers and men. Meade said that he would be happy with such a move. Meade later wrote his wife that he was–

“… very much pleased with General Grant. In the views he expressed to me he showed much more capacity and character than I had expected. I spoke to him very plainly about my position, offered to vacate the command of the Army of the Potomac, in case he had a preference for any other. This he declined in a complimentary speech, but indicated to me his intention, when in this part of the country, of being with the army.”

Meade added, perhaps sarcastically, “So that you may look now for the Army of the Potomac putting laurels on the brows of another rather than your husband.”

With Grant now in charge, a massive reorganization took place throughout the Federal military. At “his own request,” former General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck became the army chief of staff. He would be Grant’s political liaison and handle the administrative affairs of the armies, which included channeling communications from the 19 military departments to Grant. This would allow Grant to focus mainly on military strategy. In Lincoln’s general order announcing the change, he thanked Halleck for his “able and zealous” service since becoming general-in-chief in July 1862.

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: collaborationnation.wikispaces.com

Major General William T. Sherman replaced Grant as commander of the Military Division of the Mississippi. Sherman would lead the three armies between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi River: Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio, Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland, and Sherman’s former Army of the Tennessee, now under Major General James B. McPherson. He would also head Major General Franklin Steele’s Department of Arkansas across the Mississippi.

In a move that Grant could not control, Major General Franz Sigel was given command of the Department of West Virginia, replacing Brigadier General Benjamin F. Kelley. Sigel had spent much of the past year complaining about being overlooked, and, being a German immigrant, he held great political influence over fellow German-Americans (most of whom were Republicans) who would be voting in the upcoming presidential election. Thus, Lincoln made the move.

Sigel was expected to clear the Confederates out of the Shenandoah Valley. But his military reputation was dubious at best, even among his own staff. One aide cynically wrote of Sigel’s promotion, “The Dutch vote must be secured at all hazards. And the sacrifice of West Virginia is a small matter.”

After meeting with Meade, Grant returned to Washington, having accepted an invitation from First Lady Mary Lincoln to attend a dinner and a presentation of Richard III at Grover’s Theater, starring Edwin Booth. However, Grant changed his mind, opting to leave for Nashville that evening to confer with Sherman instead.

Disappointed, President Lincoln told him, “We can’t excuse you. Mrs. Lincoln’s dinner without you would be Hamlet with Hamlet left out.” Grant replied, “I appreciate the honor Mrs. Lincoln would do me, but time is very important now. And really, Mr. Lincoln, I have had enough of this show business.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 165-66; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 384; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10594; 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 125-83, 233-62, 496-516; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 407-08; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24-25; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 473-74; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 817; 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), Q164