Tag Archives: Irvin McDowell

The Battle of Cedar Mountain

August 9, 1862 – Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates advanced toward Culpeper Court House and confronted a Federal force deployed to stop them at Cedar Mountain.

On the morning of the 9th, Pope was hurrying to concentrate his new Army of Virginia. Major General Irvin McDowell’s corps was west of Culpeper toward Fredericksburg, Major General Franz Sigel’s corps was east of Culpeper near Sperryville, and Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s corps, along with cavalry and Brigadier General Samuel W. Crawford’s brigade, was just south of Culpeper. With Jackson approaching, Pope issued verbal orders to Banks that produced three different interpretations:

  • Pope claimed that he ordered Banks at 9:45 a.m. to set up defensive positions and await Jackson’s attack while Pope sent Banks reinforcements.
  • Banks claimed that Pope ordered him to deploy skirmishers and attack as soon as Jackson’s men appeared, even though he was outnumbered two-to-one.
  • Colonel Louis H. Marshall, Pope’s aide who delivered the verbal order, claimed that Banks and Crawford were to attack only if Jackson appeared to be mounting an attack first.

Banks’s Federals marched south toward Cedar Mountain, about eight miles from Culpeper Court House, as Jackson’s Confederates (led by Major General Richard Ewell’s division) moved north. Jackson observed dust clouds to the north, indicating the Federals’ approach. He deployed General Jubal Early’s brigade of Ewell’s division to the left and sent the rest of Ewell’s men to the right, almost on the other side of Cedar Mountain.

Although his entire force had not yet arrived, Jackson unveiled his battle plan: Ewell would turn the Federals’ left flank, while Early, supported by Brigadier General Charles S. Winder’s Confederates, would take the Federal right as artillery continued pounding the Federal center. Confederate artillerists opened fire around 3 p.m., touching off a massive two-hour cannon duel.

Cedar Mountain | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Cedar Mountain | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Observing the Federal positions with opera glasses, Winder directed the Confederate fire while his men got into attack positions. As the artillery battle began fading around 5 p.m., a shell fragment ripped into Winder’s left arm and side, killing him. Division command passed to Brigadier General William Taliaferro, who did not know Jackson’s plan.

While Taliaferro scrambled to strengthen his vulnerable left flank, Banks adhered to what he believed to be Pope’s orders and attacked before reinforcements arrived. Crawford’s brigade, on the Federal right, tore into Taliaferro’s men, broke three brigades, and nearly sent Early reeling. With the Confederates on the verge of a rout, Jackson brandished his sword (which had rusted into its scabbard due to lack of use) and a battle flag, shouting, “Rally brave men, and press forward! Your general will lead you. Jackson will lead you. Follow me!”

The Stonewall Brigade counterattacked, pushing the Federals back. But the Confederates overextended their line and the Federals counterattacked in turn. By this time, Major General A.P. Hill’s division finally began arriving on the scene, and Jackson hurried Hill’s men into the fight. They provided the difference in the contest by breaking the Federal right. As Crawford retreated, Ewell collapsed the Federal left as well.

The Federals left nearly a third of their force on the field as they withdrew. Pope deployed a fresh division to try stopping the retreat around 7 p.m., but Confederates repelled it with heavy loss, and Banks ordered a general withdrawal. Jackson ordered a pursuit but then stopped it when he learned from Federal prisoners that Franz Sigel’s men were coming to reinforce Banks. Sigel did not arrive in time to save the Federals’ fortunes. Exhausted, Jackson lay on the ground and told his staff, “I want rest… nothing but rest.”

General fighting ended around 10 p.m., with Confederate artillerists keeping up their fire until Pope, believing those were his guns, sent a messenger to order the firing stopped. The Confederates, believing the messenger to be part of Jackson’s staff, obeyed. In the fight, Banks had thwarted Jackson’s plans by attacking first, but he did not hold any men in reserve, nor did he request reinforcements from Pope. This allowed Jackson to turn the tide and claim victory.

The Federals suffered a terrible 30 percent casualty rate, losing 2,381 (314 killed, 1,445 wounded, and 622 missing) out of about 8,000 engaged. The Confederates lost just 1,314 (223 killed, 1060 wounded, and 31 missing) out of roughly 16,800, or less than 8 percent. Both Jackson and General Robert E. Lee mourned the loss of Winder, a valuable commander.

The Battle of Cedar Mountain temporarily stopped Pope’s efforts to move south and indicated to the Confederate high command that this was Pope’s intention. This news, coupled with news that Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac was abandoning the Peninsula, prompted Lee to move his entire Army of Northern Virginia north to meet Pope’s advance.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 83-84; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 210, 215; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 201; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 591-92, 596, 598, 604; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 4260, 4272; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 249-50; 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. 525-26; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 447-49; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 172-73, 787-88; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 98-100; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 146; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 122, 835-36; Wikipedia: Battle of Cedar Mountain

“Stonewall” Jackson Moves East

June 20, 1862 – Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates headed east to reinforce General Robert E. Lee on the Peninsula, while Federals in the Shenandoah Valley still did not know where Jackson was.

Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Screened by Colonel Thomas T. Munford’s cavalry, Jackson’s men moved across the Blue Ridge on the 19th and left the Shenandoah Valley. That same day, Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, whose Federal Army of the Shenandoah was stationed near Front Royal, expressed fears to his superiors that Jackson might attack him, especially now that only the commands of Banks and Major General John C. Fremont still remained in the Valley.

In a message to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Banks questioned why Brigadier General James Shields was leaving the Valley to help reinforce Federals on the Peninsula: “He (Shields) ought not to move until the purpose of the enemy are more fully developed. There can be no doubt whatever that another immediate movement down the valley, is intended with a force of 30,000 or more.”

The next day, Banks repeated his fears of being shorthanded in the face of a possible Confederate attack, at the same time acknowledging “nothing new to report of the enemy.” Banks again argued against Shields leaving the Valley, stating that since Confederates posed no threat to Shields at Front Royal, then there was no reason for him to leave. But Shields’s superior, Major General Irvin McDowell, reversed this logic by arguing to Stanton that if Shields had no threat facing him, then there was no reason to stay.

The exchange was rendered pointless when Shields’s Federals left the Valley on the 21st and began arriving at Bristoe Station. As they prepared to join the rest of McDowell’s force, McDowell reported that Shields’s ranks were riddled with “officers resigning and even men deserting.” To McDowell, this was all the more reason to keep Shields under his watch rather than leaving him in the Valley.

On the Peninsula, Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac now numbered 105,825 officers and men present for duty, with a grand total of 156,838. The addition of McDowell’s force would give McClellan nearly 130,000 effectives, but McClellan still believed he was outnumbered, as he wrote his wife about the Confederates, “The rascals are very strong & outnumber me very considerably, but I will yet succeed notwithstanding all they do & leave undone in Washington to prevent it.”

Finding time to keep up with the latest gossip from Washington provided by intelligence chief Allan Pinkerton, McClellan passed along to his wife: “McDowell has deserted his friend C (Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase) & taken to S (Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton)!!” While Secretary of State William H. Seward and Postmaster General Montgomery Blair continued to “stand firmly by me–Honest A (President Lincoln) has again fallen into the hands of my enemies & is no longer a cordial friend of mine!”

McClellan continued:

“I am anxious as any human being can be to finish this war, yet when I see such insane folly behind me (in Washington) I feel that the final salvation of the country demands the utmost prudence on my part & that I must not run the slightest risk of disaster, for if anything happened to this army our cause would be lost. I feel too that I must not unnecessarily risk my life, for the fate of my army depends upon me & they all know it.”

By the 21st, most of Jackson’s Confederates had left the Shenandoah Valley and headed east to reinforce Lee on the Peninsula. They marched to Gordonsville and awaited train service to Richmond. A day later, Major General John E. Wool, commanding the Federal garrison at Fort Monroe, reported to Stanton rumors from Major General Franz Sigel in the Valley “that Jackson had 40,000 to 60,000 men and 70 pieces of artillery.”

Wool conceded that this was “probably exaggerated,” but he learned from a “person considered reliable that Jackson will in a short time attack Banks and his forces. If Jackson has the number of troops reported, I think we ought to be looking after Washington.”

Major General John C. Fremont, whose Federals were at Strasburg in the Valley, heard rumors that 4,000 Confederates under Major General Richard Ewell were advancing on his right flank toward Moorefield. Fremont stated, “These reports were most probably exaggerations, but it would be well to guard against the chance of their being true.”

While the Federal high command got bogged down with speculation, Jackson and Ewell were actually heading toward Richmond, with their men between Gordonsville and Fredericks Hall. Jackson attended Sunday church services at Fredericks Hall, and then waited until 1 a.m. on the 23rd (after the Sabbath ended) to ride ahead of his men to meet with Lee. Jackson rode on horseback rather than a train, and he removed all indications of his rank from his uniform so he would not be recognized.

Outside Richmond, Lee wrote privately, “Our enemy is quietly working within his lines, and collecting additional forces to drive us from our capital. I hope we shall be able yet to disappoint him, and drive him back to his own country.”

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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 13765; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 184; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 474; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 170-71; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3698; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 229

The Peninsula and the Shenandoah Valley

June 10, 1862 – As Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac remained relatively idle on the Virginia Peninsula, Confederate General Robert E. Lee sent reinforcements to Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley.

Maj Gen George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Histmag.org

Maj Gen George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Histmag.org

Since the Battle of Seven Pines, McClellan had opted to stay put and await reinforcements. The first unit to bolster McClellan’s army was Brigadier General George A. McCall’s 9,500-man division stationed on the Rappahannock River. Major General Irvin McDowell, McCall’s superior, notified McClellan, “McCall goes in advance by water. I will be with you in 10 days with the remainder by land from Fredericksburg.”

Meanwhile, Jackson informed Lee that he could have his Confederates at the railroad within a day if they were needed on the Peninsula. Lee told Jackson to rest his men for now, but “should an opportunity occur for striking the enemy a successful blow, do not let it escape you.”

Lee learned the next day that Jackson had won battles at Cross Keys and Port Republic. In keeping with his original strategy, Lee directed Brigadier General Alexander Lawton’s brigade to reinforce Jackson so he could invade Pennsylvania. But when he realized that Jackson still lacked the resources for such an operation, Lee began pondering whether Jackson should come to the Peninsula and help him defeat McClellan.

Gen James Shields | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Gen James Shields | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Back west, Brigadier General James Shields’s battered, exhausted Federal division began withdrawing to the Luray Valley on the 10th. They had endured brutal marches, drenching rains, broken supply lines, and finally defeat at Port Republic. Shields had orders to stay in the Luray Valley until the Federals at Winchester moved to Front Royal. Then, Shields was to rejoin McDowell’s men on their return to Fredericksburg.

Shields requested supplies before moving. In addition to 12,000 shoes, he asked for “4,000 blankets, 9,200 caps… 20,000 socks, 12,000 pants, 10,000 blouses, 12,000 shirts, 12,000 drawers, 5,000 haversacks, 6,100 canteens, 1,600 shelter-tents, 3,500 rubber blankets, 60 drums, 6 bugles, 300 pants (re-enforced), 300 artillery jackets,” and 80,000 rounds of ammunition. This indicated that Shields’s men were in terrible condition, something McDowell was unaware of when he promised McClellan to be on the Peninsula within 10 days.

Shields reported from the Luray Valley that half his men were barefooted. He also blamed the defeat at Port Republic on Brigadier General Samuel Carroll for failing to burn the lone bridge over the South River, even though Shields had specifically ordered him to “save the bridge at Port Republic” beforehand. Shields also falsely claimed that he and Major General John C. Fremont were just about to join forces and overwhelm Jackson when President Abraham Lincoln called it off.

Meanwhile, Fremont received orders to stay put near Cross Keys. But he was already withdrawing to Harrisonburg, fearing that he might be isolated now that Shields had pulled back. After reaching Harrisonburg, Fremont still did not feel safe enough: “Harrisonburg, however strong in a strategical point of view for an army of larger proportions, was to my small command dangerous in the extreme.”

Erroneously thinking that Jackson outnumbered his 14,000-man army, Fremont retreated another 25 miles north to Mount Jackson. Ironically, Fremont submitted triumphant reports of his “victories” at Cross Keys and Port Republic while in retreat. When his superiors directed him to fall back to Mount Jackson, he was already on his way there.

Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Lee wrote Jackson from the Peninsula, “Your recent successes have been the cause of the liveliest joy in this army as well as in the country.” Lee wrote that he was sending Jackson six Georgia regiments under Lawton and eight regiments under Brigadier General W.H.C. Whiting. Lee explained, “The object is to enable you to crush the forces opposed to you.” Lee was not yet aware that both Shields and Fremont were on the retreat.

After delivering the decisive blow, Lee instructed Jackson to “move rapidly to Ashland (20 miles north of Richmond)… and sweep down between the Chickahominy and Pamunkey (rivers), cutting up the enemy’s communications, &c, while this (Lee’s) army attacks General McClellan in front…”

At this time, Jackson’s Confederates were camped at Brown’s Gap on the Blue Ridge. Jackson worked with topographer Jedediah Hotchkiss on a plan to pursue both Fremont and Shields. He began by dispatching his cavalry under Colonel Thomas Munford to spread rumors that the Confederates in the Valley were being heavily reinforced.

Jackson’s men reentered the Valley on the 12th and took positions near Port Republic and Patterson’s Mill. As the Confederate reinforcements began arriving, Munford’s troopers operated near Harrisonburg, capturing 200 wounded Federals that Fremont left behind. They also seized a large amount of supplies and ammunition. As the Confederates hoped, Lincoln notified Fremont, “Jackson is largely reinforced, and is turning upon you. Stand well on your guard.”

To the east, McCall’s Federals from the Rappahannock began arriving at White House, McClellan’s base on the Pamunkey River. The rest of McDowell’s force was headed eastward from the Blue Ridge to also reinforce Federals on the Peninsula.

The next day, McClellan moved his headquarters to the south bank of the Chickahominy River, where three of his five corps were now stationed:

  • General Edwin V. Sumner’s II Corps held the railroad on the right
  • General Samuel P. Heintzelman’s III Corps guarded the Williamsburg road in the center
  • General Erasmus D. Keyes’s IV Corps was at White Oak Swamp on the left

The two corps under Generals Fitz John Porter and William B. Franklin remained on the north bank, with Porter on the right and Franklin on the left. McCall’s Federals were arriving to reinforce Porter.

Back in the Valley, General Carl Schurz, a close friend of Lincoln serving in Fremont’s army, wrote the president defending Fremont’s performance and asserting that the Federals urgently needed supplies: “Fremont’s force has dwindled down to 10,000 combatants at the outside, and these in a wretched condition.” Schurz reported that the artillerymen were “hardly able to draw their pieces.” Such a “weak and exhausted” army could not match Jackson, who had just supposedly been reinforced to 29,000 men, or double Fremont’s actual size.

All this time, the 12,000 Federals under Major General Nathaniel P. Banks remained at Winchester, 45 miles north of Fremont. Banks disagreed with Fremont’s contention that Mount Jackson was the best place to make a stand against Jackson. Banks instead preferred Middletown, 15 miles south of Winchester, because it commanded both the Shenandoah and Luray valleys.

Banks argued that the only way to defeat Jackson was for he and Fremont to join forces, especially now that McDowell’s army was returning to Fredericksburg. The maneuvering on both sides continued.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 182; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 466-67; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 163, 167; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3591-3603, 3626-38; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 225-26; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24-25

“Stonewall” Jackson Turns the Tables

June 7, 1862 – Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederate army continued moving south up the Shenandoah Valley and prepared to face two Federal forces approaching from both the east and west.

Federal Brigadier General James Shields, whose pursuit of Jackson had been thwarted due to burned bridges and swelling rivers, continued heading south to block the Confederates’ retreat. Shields wrote his superior, Major General Irvin McDowell, that despite the obstacles, he intended to “ascend the river, cross it and take Jackson in the rear.”

How Shields would do this was a mystery since he also reported that his men were dangerously low on supplies and “destitute of everything in the way of shoes.” But Shields felt this was the only way to destroy Jackson, as he explained to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, “I cannot now take him (Jackson) in reverse, owing to the inundation. I cannot fight against the elements, but give me bread to keep me alive and they (Jackson’s men) will never leave the valley.”

Although the other Federal commanders in the Valley had consistently guessed Jackson had about 20,000 men, Shields more accurately estimated all along that Jackson had no more than 7,000. As such, Shields told Stanton that he could “stampede them down to Richmond if you give me plenty of bread.”

Shields based his strategy on the false assumption that Jackson was trying to leave the Valley to join the Confederates on the Virginia Peninsula. Shields dispatched part of his force to Staunton, while his remaining Federals guarded the bridge to Port Republic, which Shields thought Jackson needed to escape.

Maj Gen "Stonewall" Jackson | Image Credit: SonoftheSouth.net

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

But Jackson was not planning to escape. His men were in line of battle at New Market, expecting Shields to attack from the east and Major General John C. Fremont’s Federal army to advance from the west. When neither Shields nor Fremont showed, Jackson resumed his eastward march at 1 a.m. on the 5th. Jackson knew Shields would have to either return north or try crossing the Shenandoah River at Port Republic. If Shields chose the latter, Jackson would oppose him.

Jackson’s Confederates reached Harrisonburg on the morning of June 5, having marched over 100 miles in a week. The troops passed through town and then turned toward Port Republic, 11 miles southeast, with Fremont pursuing on the Valley turnpike.

The Confederate vanguard reached Port Republic near nightfall, as Jackson learned that Brigadier General Turner Ashby’s Confederate cavalry had destroyed all the bridges between Front Royal and Port Republic. This would prevent Shields from crossing the river and joining forces with Fremont. Confederate signalmen atop Massanutten Mountain reported that Shields was still in the Luray Valley, 14 miles away, and Fremont remained near New Market.

Meanwhile, General Robert E. Lee, now commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia on the Peninsula, envisioned Jackson taking the offensive in the Valley while Lee prepared to counterattack Major General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. Lee wrote President Jefferson Davis:

“After much reflection, I think if it was possible to reinforce Jackson strongly, it would change the character of the war. This can only be done by the troops in Georgia, S.C. and N.C. Jackson could in that event cross Maryland into Penn. It would call all the enemy from our Southern Coast and liberate those states. If these states will give up their troops I think it can be done… McClellan will make this a battle of posts. He will take position from position, under cover of his heavy guns. I am preparing a line that I can hold with part of our forces in front, while with the rest I will endeavour to make a diversion to bring McClellan out.”

Lee began working with Secretary of War George W. Randolph to gather the reinforcements Jackson had requested. Lee was aided by continuous rain on the Peninsula, which virtually assured that McClellan would not attack. McClellan’s lack of aggressiveness prompted Lee to push for Jackson to take the offensive in a message to Randolph: “His plan is to march to Front Royal and crush Shields. It is his only course, and as he is a good soldier, I expect him to do it.”

By the 6th, Jackson had beaten Shields in the race to Port Republic, while Ashby set up defenses near Harrisonburg to fend off Fremont coming from the west. As Ashby’s men pulled out to join the rest of the army, his troopers scattered a half hearted attempt by Federal cavalry to pursue. The Confederates captured Colonel Percy Wyndham, a British soldier-of-fortune, and 63 of his men.

Ashby then turned to confront Federal infantry marching through Harrisonburg, with support from Major General Richard Ewell’s Confederates. The Federals came on stronger than Ashby expected and nearly routed the Confederates; Ashby was killed leading a countercharge. Ewell took command, and the Confederates eventually drove the Federals back. Ewell then withdrew to join Jackson’s main force.

Ashby’s troopers mourned the loss of their popular commander. Jackson was informed of Ashby’s death that night, and he wrote in his report several months later:

“As a partisan officer I never knew his superior. His daring was proverbial; his power of endurance almost incredible; his tone of character heroic; and his sagacity almost intuitive in divining the purposes and movements of the enemy.”

As the day ended, Fremont moved south along one branch of the Shenandoah River, and Shields advanced along the other. Ewell’s Confederates resumed their withdrawal the next day before stopping at Cross Keys, a hamlet six miles from Harrisonburg, to make a stand against Fremont’s approaching Federals. Ewell commanded positions on a ridge overlooking several miles of open ground that the Federals would have to cross. Ewell posted four artillery batteries in the center of his line, and woods afforded him natural protection on both his flanks.

Meanwhile, Jackson’s Confederates marched another three miles and positioned themselves on high ground overlooking the confluence of rivers at Port Republic. From this point, they could see Shields’s Federals advancing. Confederate Congressman Alexander R. Boteler delivered a message to Jackson from President Davis, which congratulated the general on his success and responded to his request for more men:

“Were it practicable to send you reinforcements it should be done, and your past success shows how surely you would, with an adequate force, destroy the wicked designs of the invader of our homes and assailer of our political rights… (but) it is on your skill and daring that reliance is to be placed. The army under your command encourages us to hope for all which men can achieve.”

Jackson, knowing his command could be called to the Virginia Peninsula at any time, wrote to General Joseph E. Johnston (still unaware that Lee had replaced Johnston as army commander):

“Should my command be required at Richmond I can be at Mechum’s River Depot, on the Central Railroad, the second day’s march, and part of the command can reach there the first day, as the distance is 25 miles. At present, I do not see that I can do much more than rest my command and devote its time to drilling.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 157-58; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13849-67; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 181; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 457-59; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 162-63; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3591-3603; Jensen, Les D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 194; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 222-23; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24-25

Federals Pursue “Stonewall” Jackson in the Valley

June 2, 1862 – The Federal pursuit of Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Valley army continued, with the Confederates narrowly escaping two Federal armies converging on them from opposite directions.

Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson | Image Credit: Bing public domain

By midnight on Sunday the 1st, the Stonewall Brigade of Jackson’s army had arrived within four miles south of Winchester. The men had endured an exhausting, unprecedented 35-mile march to prevent two Federal commands from joining forces against them. The Confederates resumed their march that morning and joined the rest of the army at Strasburg around noon.

This gave Jackson about 16,000 men. Major General John C. Fremont’s army of 12,000 Federals was to Jackson’s west, between Wardensburg and Strasburg, unable to advance further due to rain making the roads impassable. Major General Irvin McDowell’s 30,000 men were 10 miles east of Strasburg at Front Royal. McDowell’s lead division, 9,000 men under Brigadier General James Shields, began moving to confront Jackson.

Jackson pushed his men through the torrential rain toward Fisher’s Hill, two miles south. On the way, Jackson learned that Shields was headed south, up the Luray Valley. Shields paralleled Jackson’s movement on the other side of Massanutten Mountain, trying to get ahead of the Confederates and block their escape at New Market. Shields intended to burn the bridge at Conrad’s Store, thinking Jackson needed it to get across the Blue Ridge and reinforce the Confederates on the Virginia Peninsula.

Sensing that Fremont posed the greater threat, Jackson dispatched Major General Richard Ewell’s division to oppose Fremont’s advance west of Strasburg. Skirmishing occurred near Mount Carmel as pickets and artillerists traded fire. Ewell, outnumbered two-to-one, refused to attack. Fremont, unaware of his advantage, held back in fear that Ewell was trying to lure him into a trap.

The pouring rain continued as night fell, and Fremont called a halt until morning. He reported to President Abraham Lincoln, “Terrible storm of thunder and hail now passing over. Hailstones as large as hens’ eggs.” This enabled Jackson to narrowly escape the Federal pincers, but he was still in serious danger as his Confederates resumed their southward march before dawn on the 2nd.

The Valley turnpike was almost impossible to traverse due to more rain falling through the night. Fremont’s pickets tried resuming the chase, as Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton telegraphed both Fremont and McDowell, “Do not let the enemy escape you.”

Federal cavalry under General George Bayard caught up to the Confederate rear guard, led by General George Steuart’s cavalry, and routed them at Woodstock, 10 miles south of Strasburg. Steuart’s men were so disgusted with their commander that they asked Jackson to place them under command of Brigadier General Turner Ashby. Jackson responded by placing all his cavalry under Ashby.

Ashby’s troopers tried saving what was left of Steuart’s command, but they were on the verge of being routed themselves before being saved by the Stonewall Brigade. The Confederates fell back, and Jackson continued pushing them southward as more storms raged.

Gen James Shields | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Gen James Shields | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Meanwhile, Shields continued paralleling Jackson to the east. His Federals reached the Shenandoah River around 5 p.m. but could not cross because Confederates had burned the White House and Columbia bridges. The river was too deep to ford, and the Federals had nothing with which to build pontoons. So Shields resumed the march 20 miles farther south, hoping to cross at Conrad’s Store. By the end of June 2, Shields’s men had marched 25 miles.

Shields wrote Lincoln and Stanton that Jackson’s force was smaller than originally thought, and there were too many Federals pursuing him. He asked them to send McDowell’s men back east to Fredericksburg, leaving just Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s 11,000 men at Winchester and Fremont’s 12,000 in the Valley.

Farther north on the Potomac River, Major General Franz Sigel arrived to take command of the 8,000 Federals stationed at Harpers Ferry and Williamsport, Maryland. They became a division in Banks’s Army of the Shenandoah. But Sigel reported that “1,200 (of the 8,000 men) are useless, and all the balance are undrilled and undisciplined.” Even so, he prepared to lead them to Winchester to support Banks.

Jackson’s Confederates crossed the North Fork of the Shenandoah River on the 3rd, burned the bridge behind them, and camped near Mount Jackson at their old site on Rude’s Hill. Meanwhile, Shields explained to McDowell that the bridges had been burned, so he would continue to Conrad’s Store:

“The bridge there I expect to find burned also, but by going higher up we may find a ford… we must cross today somehow. My next move will be to push on to Stanardsville, destroy the railroad and depot, and if possible to Staunton or Charlottesville.”

This would be a tremendously long roundabout trek, but Shields vowed to “destroy their means of escape somehow.” McDowell forwarded Shields’s message to Washington, noting that Shields offered no specifics on how he intended to stop Jackson with this long marching. McDowell wrote:

“The ‘somehow’ in which the general is to cross the river to-day, swollen as it is by the heavy rains, is not so clear, and the delay defeats the movement… and as to his preventing the enemy’s escape ‘somehow,’ I fear it will be like his intention of crossing the ‘river somehow…’ His command is not in a condition to go to the places he names.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 157; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13849; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 178; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 438, 453-54; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 162; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 220-21; 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. 459

Johnston Plans to Attack

May 30, 1862 – Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston received vital intelligence that prompted him to plan an attack on the Federals isolated south of the Chickahominy River.

Maj Gen G.B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikispaces

Maj Gen G.B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikispaces

Most of Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac was positioned north of what he called “the confounded Chickahominy.” Part of the reason the river was “confounded” was because it was at flood stage, making it difficult for McClellan to unite the right and left wings of his army if needed.

The right wing consisted of three corps totaling 76,000 men. The left wing south of the river consisted of IV and III corps under Generals Erasmus D. Keyes and Samuel P. Heintzelman respectively. These two corps totaled just 34,000 men. Keyes held the forward positions near Fair Oaks Station to the north and the village of Seven Pines, where three roads intersected, to the south. Heintzelman was in reserve.

McClellan had dangerously separated his army based on assurances that Major General Irvin McDowell was coming to reinforce his right. When McDowell was redirected to counter the recent successes of “Stonewall” Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley, McClellan condemned the Lincoln administration and began preparing to reunite his force. Professor Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, commanding the U.S. Army Balloon Corps, reported from his observation balloon that Confederate troops were massing near Fair Oaks Station, but McClellan did not act on this intelligence.

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

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

By this time, Johnston’s Confederate army had swelled to nearly 75,000 men, and they now had to either fight or flee. Johnston informed President Jefferson Davis that he would attack McClellan’s right wing on the morning of the 29th to keep McDowell from linking to it. Davis wrote his wife Varina (whom he had sent out of Richmond in case of a Federal attack), “We are steadily developing for a great battle, and under God’s favor I trust for a decisive victory.”

Davis hoped that Johnston would have attacked already, but Johnston was in the process of changing his strategy. At a council of war on the night of May 28, Johnston received an important message from Brigadier General Jeb Stuart stating that McDowell’s Federals were moving back toward the Rappahannock and not linking with McClellan as feared. Johnston responded by canceling his plan to attack McClellan’s right and reverting to his original (and more desirable) plan of attacking the isolated left wing.

Johnston did not inform Davis that the attack on the right had been canceled. When Davis heard no sounds of battle as expected on the 29th, he and General Robert E. Lee, his top advisor, rode to Mechanicsville to find out why. There they learned that McDowell was not reinforcing McClellan.

Meanwhile, Johnston began laying the groundwork for his attack south of the Chickahominy, with some skirmishing breaking out near Seven Pines and diversionary fighting occurring north of the Chickahominy near the South Anna River. The next day, Johnston received a report from Confederate scouts stating that the Federals south of the Chickahominy were strong on their left (near Seven Pines) but weak on their right (near Fair Oaks Station). Johnston resolved to attack on May 31.

Johnston divided the army into two wings, with one on either side of the Chickahominy. The right wing would conduct the main assault on the two isolated Federal corps south of the river. Led by Major General James Longstreet, this wing would consist of 22 of the army’s 29 brigades. Under Johnston’s attack plan:

  • Longstreet’s six brigades would form the left sector of the attack line, moving down the Nine Mile road to threaten both Fair Oaks Station and Seven Pines.
  • Major General D.H. Hill’s four brigades would form the center sector, moving down the Williamsburg road to attack the Federals at Seven Pines.
  • Major General Benjamin Huger’s three brigades would support Hill’s right from the Charles City road.
  • Brigadier General W.H.C. Whiting’s division would be behind Longstreet on the left in reserve.

Major General Gustavus W. Smith, the second ranking officer behind Johnston, would lead the Confederate left wing north of the Chickahominy. There, divisions under Generals A.P. Hill and John B. Magruder would launch diversionary attacks against the three Federal corps.

Johnston’s plan was sound but somewhat complicated. Johnston’s vague, even contradictory, orders to the commanders, as well as his insistence on secrecy, complicated the plan even further. And heavy storms on the night of the 30th threatened to bog the advance down in mud. However, the storms also worked to Johnston’s advantage because they flooded the Chickahominy, making it even more difficult for McClellan to unite his two wings.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 136-38; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 147; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 177; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 443-45; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 159-60; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3466-90; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 439-42; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 217; 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. 461; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 668

The Battle of Hanover Court House

May 27, 1862 – A small engagement on the Virginia Peninsula secured Major General George B. McClellan’s right flank and increased the Federal threat to Richmond.

When Major General Richard Ewell’s division had gone to reinforce the Confederates in the Shenandoah Valley, one brigade under Brigadier General Lawrence O. Branch stayed behind. Branch’s Confederates were at Hanover Court House, a village just south of the Pamunkey River, about 15 miles north of Richmond. Their mission was to protect the vital Virginia Central Railroad, which linked eastern Virginia to the Valley.

McClellan had learned from locals that a force of 17,000 Confederates was moving toward Hanover to get into the Federal rear. He dispatched cavalry to confirm the news. The troopers reported just 3,000 Confederates there, but that could be enough to threaten McClellan’s right flank.

General Fitz John Porter, commanding V Corps on the right flank, directed Colonel Gouverneur Warren’s brigade to scout in more detail. The Federals advanced on Hanover in heavy rain and mud, unaware that Branch had pulled his pickets back. Some Federals stumbled upon the new Confederate camp and were fired on around 12 p.m.

Battle of Hanover Court House | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Battle of Hanover Court House | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Branch tried attacking the Federal front based on his cavalry’s report that it was weak. It was not. The Confederates were repulsed, as Federals in other sectors hurried to shore up that point. Both sides scrambled for cover and continued exchanging fire. The Federals began running low on ammunition when the rest of the division arrived to reinforce them.

Unable to hold off a division with his lone brigade, Branch fell back at dusk. Porter tried pursuing, but the Confederate rear guard held him off. The Federals suffered 365 casualties (62 killed, 233 wounded, and 70 captured). The Confederates lost about 1,000, including 730 taken prisoner during the withdrawal. The Federals tore up railroad tracks and burned bridges as they returned to their lines.

McClellan wrote his wife that evening:

“We are getting on splendidly. I am quietly clearing out everything that could threaten my rear and communications, providing against the contingency of disaster, and so arranging as to make my whole force available in the approaching battle. The only fear is that Joe’s (Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston) heart may fail him.”

McClellan also held high praise for this engagement after the war, calling it “one of the handsomest things of the war, both in itself and in its results.” To him, this was “a glorious victory over superior numbers,” even though the Federals vastly outnumbered the Confederates in the fight. Also, this engagement did nothing to change the situation on the Peninsula except to assure McClellan that his right flank remained secure. Meanwhile, his left (and weaker) flank remained isolated on the other side of the Chickahominy River.

Meanwhile, Johnston received intelligence that Major General Irvin McDowell’s Federals, advancing from near Fredericksburg, were now within 30 miles of reaching Porter’s flank, with advance elements within 30 miles of Hanover Court House. To the Confederates, the engagement at Hanover indicated that McClellan was extending his flank to meet McDowell’s. It seemed that the noose around Richmond was tightening.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (27 May 1862); Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 443; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 158; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3466

Federals Vulnerable on the Peninsula

May 26, 1862 – Confederate victories in the Shenandoah Valley prevented Federal reinforcements from reaching Major General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. This left McClellan in a vulnerable position on the Peninsula.

Gens G.B. McClellan and J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Gens G.B. McClellan and J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The right flank of General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate army stood about five miles from Richmond across the Charles City road. The Confederate defense line ran northward to the Chickahominy River, with the left flank near the capital’s northeastern outskirts. There were scattered Confederate outposts north of the Chickahominy, but none farther north than Mechanicsville. Johnston officially reported having 53,688 officers and men, which was less than half the approaching Federal Army of the Potomac.

President Jefferson Davis wrote Johnston that he was alarmed to see he had made no defensive preparations along the Mechanicsville turnpike in case the Federals decided to move “toward if not to Richmond” from that road. Davis and his top advisor, General Robert E. Lee, rode out to Johnston’s headquarters at Mechanicsville, just six miles northeast of Richmond, to discuss the matter.

Johnston explained that he had fallen back across the Chickahominy to put the river in his front rather than his rear. He also moved the troops closer to Richmond because that area provided more adequate drinking water. Davis expressed concern that if the Federals broke Johnston’s line, they could march into Richmond within two hours. Davis was also annoyed that Johnston seemed to have no plan other than just trying to hold the Federals back.

Meanwhile, McClellan continued arguing with President Abraham Lincoln over the conditions that Lincoln had placed on Major General Irvin McDowell’s Federals joining McClellan on the Peninsula. McClellan wrote:

“I desire that the extent of my authority over McDowell may be clearly defined, lest misunderstandings and conflicting views may produce some of those injurious results which a divided command has so often caused. I would respectfully suggest that this danger can only be surely guarded against by explicitly placing General McDowell under my orders in the ordinary way, and holding me strictly responsible for the closest observance of your instructions.”

While McClellan awaited Lincoln’s response, he received a dispatch from McDowell: “I have received the orders of the President to move with the army under my command and co-operate with yours in the reduction of Richmond.” McDowell could not move until reinforced by Brigadier General James Shields’s 9,000-man division. He expected Shields to arrive soon, enabling his army to begin moving toward McClellan on the 24th. McDowell also asked if McClellan could help block the retreat of the small Confederate force opposing him along the Fredericksburg & Richmond Railroad.

On the 22nd, Lincoln left Washington to confer with McDowell on the Rappahannock River. Admiral John A. Dahlgren and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton joined the president. McDowell showed the Lincoln party an 80-foot-long trestle bridge standing 100 feet above a wide ravine of Potomac Creek.

The bridge had been built from felled trees by engineer Herman Haupt’s Construction Corps. Working around the clock, it took them just 21 days to complete it. The bridge enabled trains to deliver supplies from the mouth of Aquia Creek on the Potomac River to Falmouth, 13 miles away, every hour. Lincoln walked across the bridge, but Stanton became dizzy halfway across and had to be helped back to land by Dahlgren.

Back on the Peninsula, McClellan arrayed his army along a line meant to attack Johnston’s Confederates. The new Federal V Corps under General Fitz John Porter advanced near Mechanicsville, with II and VI corps under Generals Edwin V. Sumner and William B. Franklin northwest of the Chickahominy. General Erasmus D. Keyes’s IV Corps was south of the Chickahominy at Seven Pines, about six miles east of Richmond, with General Samuel P. Heintzelman’s III Corps five miles behind Keyes. Federals on the far left and right of the line were so close to Richmond they could hear church bells ringing.

As Davis had feared, the Federals took Mechanicsville, which would enable McClellan to link his right with McDowell’s left. Johnston met with Davis in Richmond but still had no plan of action. It seemed that the capital could be saved only if either Johnston attacked preemptively or McDowell failed to join with McClellan. McClellan, still believing he was outnumbered, opted to wait for more troops before pushing forward.

To the Confederates’ good fortune, Lincoln decided to suspend McDowell’s march to join McClellan in response to the Federal defeat at Front Royal in the Shenandoah Valley. Instead, McDowell’s “object will be to capture the forces of Jackson & Ewell” by sending 20,000 Federals to support the armies of Major Generals Nathaniel P. Banks and John C. Fremont in the Valley.

Knowing that such a decision would cause great resentment among the Federal high command, Lincoln asked Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase to help explain to McDowell why this was being done. Lincoln wrote, “It will be a very valuable and very honorable service for General McDowell to cut them off. I hope he will put all possible energy and speed into the effort.” Chase replied, “General McDowell appreciates, as you do, the importance of the service he is called on to perform. All possible exertion is being made by him and the officers under him to expedite the movement.”

Lincoln then wrote McClellan explaining the necessity of withholding McDowell yet again: “In consequence of Gen. Banks’ critical position I have been compelled to suspend Gen. McDowell’s movement to join you…” Lincoln elaborated in a second message:

“Apprehensions of something like this (defeat in the Shenandoah), and no unwillingness to sustain you, have always been my reason for withholding McDowell from you. Please understand this, and do the best you can with the force you have.”

Panic swept Washington when news of the Federal defeat at Winchester arrived. Lincoln, caught up in the frenzy, urgently wrote McClellan, “I think the time is near when you must either attack Richmond or give up the job and come to the defence of Washington.” Noting the “general and concerted” crisis in the Valley, Lincoln pledged to send as many “such regiments and dribs” as he could to the Peninsula.

McClellan responded, “Telegram received. Independently of it, the time is very near when I shall attack Richmond.” But McClellan disagreed with Lincoln’s fear that the Confederates in the Valley intended to threaten Washington:

“The object of the movement is probably to prevent reinforcements being sent to me. All the information from balloons, deserters, prisoners, and contrabands agrees in the statement that the mass of the rebel troops are still in the immediate vicinity of Richmond, ready to defend it.”

McClellan then wrote his wife that Lincoln was “terribly scared. Heaven help a country governed by such counsels… A scare will do them good, and may bring them to their senses.”

Meanwhile, Keyes’s Federals, supported by Heintzelman’s corps, advanced to within five miles of Richmond on the Williamsburg road. But this put McClellan in a vulnerable position. He had two corps isolated south of the Chickahominy and three corps north of it, and now McDowell’s 40,000 men would not be joining him.

The next day, Lincoln asked McClellan, “What impression have you, as to intrenchments–works–for you to contend with in front of Richmond? Can you get near enough to throw shells into the city?” Meanwhile, Lee visited Johnston and learned that he was planning to attack and destroy McClellan’s right flank on the north side of the Chickahominy. Johnston hoped to permanently separate him from McDowell and isolate the rest of his army on the Peninsula.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 130-31; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (22 May 1862); Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 146-47; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13722, 13749-58, 13765, 13995; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 174; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7441-52; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 437, 440-42; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 156-57; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3430-42; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 14; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 215-17; 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), Q262

Action Intensifies in the Shenandoah Valley

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

Federal General Nathaniel Banks | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Federal General Nathaniel Banks | Image Credit: Flickr.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lincoln then issued orders to McDowell:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

McClellan Conditionally Receives Reinforcements

May 17, 1862 – As the Federal Army of the Potomac continued inching toward Richmond, President Abraham Lincoln conditionally approved Major General George B. McClellan’s request for reinforcements.

Maj Gen G.B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikispaces

Maj Gen G.B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikispaces

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton persuaded Lincoln to allow Major General Irvin McDowell’s Army of the Rappahannock (formerly I Corps in McClellan’s army) to reinforce McClellan on the Virginia Peninsula. McDowell received orders to “move upon Richmond by the general route of the Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad, cooperating with the forces under General McClellan…” McDowell was to stay “in such position as to cover the capital of the nation against a sudden dash of any large body of the rebel forces.”

Lincoln notified McClellan:

“At your earnest call for re-enforcements he (McDowell) is sent forward to co-operate in the reduction of Richmond, but charged, in attempting this, not to uncover the city of Washington; and you will give no order, either before or after your junction, which can put him out of position to cover this city.”

Stanton supplemented Lincoln’s message with one of his own:

“He (McDowell) is ordered–keeping himself always in position to save the capital from all possible attack–so to operate as to place his left wing in communication with your right wing, and you are instructed to cooperate, so as to establish this communication as soon as possible, by extending your right wing to the north of Richmond.”

Thus, McClellan would finally receive the reinforcements he had pleaded for, but under several conditions:

  • McDowell would move overland to link with McClellan’s right instead of moving by water as McClellan had urged.
  • McDowell would “retain the command of the Department of the Rappahannock and of the forces with which he moves forward,” making him McClellan’s equal and no longer his subordinate.
  • McClellan was expected to extend his army’s right over the Pamunkey River while McDowell extended his left until they linked. This meant that McClellan no longer had the option of moving across the Peninsula to try attacking from a James River point (which might have been a better option considering the recent Battle of Drewry’s Bluff).
  • McDowell was not to leave his base on the Rappahannock River until reinforced by Brigadier General James Shields’s 9,000-man division, transferred from Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s army in the Shenandoah Valley.

McClellan objected to these conditions, arguing that it was vital to his plans to have McDowell’s Federals join his army by water rather than land. McClellan also insisted that according to the 62nd Article of War, McDowell had to obey McClellan as the ranking officer and could not act independently. McClellan wrote:

“Indications that the enemy intend fighting at Richmond. Policy seems to be to concentrate everything there. They hold central position, and will seek to meet us while divided. I think we are committing a great military error in having so many independent columns. The great battle should be fought by our troops in mass; then divide if necessary.”

To that end, McClellan reorganized his army to create a V and VI corps. V Corps, formerly the 1st Division of III Corps and the Regular Reserve Division, was given to his friend Fitz John Porter. VI Corps, formerly the 1st Division of I Corps and the 2nd Division of IV Corps, was given to another friend, William B. Franklin.

On the Confederate side, General Joseph E. Johnston continued withdrawing his army to more defensible positions closer to Richmond. Johnston’s left flank was just outside northeastern Richmond at Fairfield Race Course. His right was near Drewry’s Bluff, on the banks of the James River.

President Jefferson Davis wrote his wife Varina, who he had sent out of Richmond for her safety: “We are uncertain of everything except that a battle must be near at hand.” Capital residents discussed whether the Confederate troops could stop McClellan’s drive on the capital. Davis tried boosting morale by proclaiming that the city would be defended, in accordance with a congressional resolution.

Meanwhile, McClellan divided his army along both banks of the Chickahominy River and awaited the arrival of McDowell’s troops from northern Virginia. By May 21, the Federals were within eight miles of Richmond, with General Erasmus D. Keyes’s IV Corps operating at Bottom’s Bridge spanning the Chickahominy. As McClellan continued maneuvering his men, Lincoln responded to his objections regarding the use of McDowell’s Federals:

“You will have just such control of Gen. McDowell and his force as you therein indicate. McDowell can reach you by land sooner than he could get aboard of boats if the boats were ready at Frederick’sburg,–unless his march shall be resisted, in which case, the force resisting him, will certainly not be confronting you at Richmond.”

Although McClellan was within striking distance of Richmond, he continued fretting that his force was not strong enough to confront the Confederate defenders. He wrote his friend, Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, stationed on the North Carolina coast, “The Government have deliberately placed me in this position. If I win, the greater the glory. If I lose, they will be damned forever, both by God and men.”

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 130; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (17 May 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 172-73; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7441; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 417-18, 441-42; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 153, 154-55; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 213-14; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 175-76