Tag Archives: Isaac I. Stevens

The Battle of Chantilly

September 1, 1862 – A vicious fight in driving rain ended the Second Bull Run campaign with Major General John Pope’s Federal Army of Virginia still intact but thoroughly defeated by General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

On the early morning of September 1, Pope telegraphed General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, indicating a loss of confidence following his recent defeats:

“My men are resting; they need it much… I shall attack again tomorrow if I can; the next day certainly. I think it my duty to call to your attention to the unsoldierly and dangerous conduct of many brigade and some division commanders of the forces sent here from the Peninsula. Every word and act and intention is discouraging, and calculated to break down the spirits of the men and produce disaster. My advice to you–I give it with freedom, as I know you will not misunderstand it–is that, in view of any satisfactory results, you draw back this army to the intrenchments in front of Washington, and set to work in that secure place to reorganize and rearrange it. You may avoid great disaster by doing so.”

That day, Confederate Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson resumed his attempt to move north around Pope’s right flank. As Pope continued withdrawing from Centreville to Fairfax Court House, Federal cavalry detected Jackson’s movement. Pope deployed a force to stop Jackson and cover the Federal retreat. The force consisted of Major General Philip Kearny’s division of III Corps and a division of IX Corps led by Brigadier General Isaac I. Stevens.

Jackson advanced on the muddy Little River Turnpike and stopped at a plantation called Chantilly to wait for Major General James Longstreet’s Confederates to catch up. Two hours later, Jackson’s 15,000 men began climbing Ox Hill and approaching Stevens’s 6,000 Federals. Jackson deployed his three divisions south of the turnpike, and as a violent thunderstorm erupted, the Confederates charged.

Fighting raged back and forth along Ox Hill near Germantown, with the hard rain adding to the general confusion. The Federals repelled the attacks, but Stevens was shot dead while rallying his 79th New York Highlanders. Kearny’s division arrived as reinforcements, with Kearny taking command after Stevens’s death. While personally inspected the enemy lines, he unknowingly rode into a group of enemy skirmishers. They shot him dead after he refused to surrender.

“Kearny’s Charge, Battle of Chantilly” by Augustus Tholey, published by John Smith. From the Library of Congress. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

The Federals held their ground against the ferocious Confederate attacks until nightfall. In the dark, the Federals withdrew to rejoin Pope’s main force. They left Kearny’s body on the field, which the Confederates later returned under a flag of truce. Federals mourned the loss of Kearny, who had been one of the army’s most respected commanders. Stevens had also been well-respected; he was posthumously promoted to major general of volunteers.

Pope received orders from Halleck: “You will bring your forces as best you can within or near the line of fortification.” The Federals escaped from Centreville and retreated to Fairfax Court House, some 20 miles from Washington.

Lee received word that Pope had been reinforced and decided not to pursue any further. The storm may have saved Jackson from defeat because it prevented Pope from deploying reinforcements. The Federals lost some 1,300 men in this fight, and the Confederates lost about 800.

The Confederates advanced to Centreville on the 2nd, only to find it abandoned as Pope continued withdrawing from Fairfax Court House on the road to Alexandria and Washington. The Federals positioned themselves the defenses constructed by Major General George B. McClellan almost a year ago. This ensured that Washington would stay safe, even though the Confederates were now closer to the capital than they had ever been before.

This ended the Second Bull Run campaign much like the first–in embarrassing Federal defeat. From August 27 to September 2, the Federals sustained 16,054 casualties (1,724 killed, 8,372 wounded, and 5,958 missing) from about 75,000 effectives. The Confederates lost 9,197 (1,481 killed, 7,627 wounded, and 89 missing) out of some 48,500.

This campaign was one of the Confederacy’s greatest military victories. Three months ago, the Federals were within striking distance of Richmond, but now momentum had completely shifted and the Confederates were within striking distance of Washington. This secured the status of Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson as national heroes, and it enabled the Confederates to shift the eastern focus of the war from Richmond to Washington.

For the Federals, the defeat prompted charges and countercharges of dereliction of duty. Some blamed Pope for mishandling the battle. Some blamed McClellan for failing to hurry reinforcements from his army to Pope. Some blamed Halleck for failing to coordinate the two men’s armies. Some went straight to the top and blamed President Abraham Lincoln. There was enough blame to go around.

—–

References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 84; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 49-55; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 17251-69; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 208; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 643-45; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 202; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 4565; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 64; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 257-60; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 717-18; 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. 531-32; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 469-70; Sabine, David B., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 408-09; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 787-88; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 167; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 94-95, 129-30

The Battle of Secessionville

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I am proud to announce that this is my 500th post on the Civil War Months blog! Thanks to all of you for your continued support on this project!

June 16, 1862 – Federal forces under Brigadier General Henry W. Benham attacked strong Confederate defenses near the town of Secessionville on James Island, just south of Charleston, South Carolina.

Between 2 and 3:30 a.m., Benham directed his two divisions under Brigadier Generals Isaac I. Stevens and Horatio G. Wright to advance on Confederate fortifications outside Secessionville, commanded by Colonel Thomas G. Lamar. Lamar notified his superior, Brigadier General Nathan G. “Shanks” Evans, who readied his batteries and sent reinforcements to the fort. Lamar had just 500 men, but another 1,500 were on the way.

Near 4 a.m., Stevens’s 3,500 Federals quietly captured the Confederate pickets and crept within range of the Confederates at Secessionville. Stevens led the assault’s first wave, supported by Federal gunboats on the Stono River. Struggling through brush on the left and right, Federals emerged on a narrow passage in the center and were met by Confederate grapeshot from 700 yards. The Federals continued advancing as the Confederates began firing canister that inflicted even more casualties. Within 15 minutes, Stevens saw the attack was futile and ordered a withdrawal to await reinforcements.

The Battle of Secessionville | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Evans arrived with his Confederates to bolster Lamar’s defenses. Benham led Wright’s Federals in an attack on the enemy right, where the Federals were partially hidden by hedgerows. But they were quickly caught in a Confederate crossfire. They silenced the Confederates on their far left and reached the fort’s parapets, but the Confederates ultimately drove them off.

Meanwhile, the Confederate gunners in the fort continued pounding the Federals in their front, making a charge against such strong works over such a narrow strip of ground suicidal. Benham ordered a withdrawal around 9:30 a.m., with the Federals gathering as many of their dead and wounded comrades as they could before falling back.

Benham, who had been ordered by Major General David Hunter not to bring on a general engagement, refused to acknowledge that this was a battle in his report. He wrote that “the main object of the reconnaissance was accomplished in ascertaining the nature of the fort…”

The alarming number of casualties indicated that this was much more than just a reconnaissance. The Federals lost 683 men (107 killed, 487 wounded, and 89 missing) out of about 6,600 on the island, setting back progress in trying to capture Charleston Harbor. The Confederates lost 204 (52 killed, 144 wounded, and eight missing). Evans commended Lamar for the Confederate victory, naming the fortifications Fort Lamar in his honor.

Hunter learned about the fight two days later at his Hilton Head headquarters. He quickly removed Benham from command for “disobeying positive orders and clear instructions.” After Benham argued vehemently in his own defense, Hunter read aloud his June 10 order to Benham:

“In leaving the Stono River to return to Hilton Head I desire, in any arrangements that you may make for the disposition of your forces now in this vicinity, you will make no attempt to advance on Charleston or to attack Fort Johnson until largely re-enforced or until you receive specific instructions from these headquarters to that effect.”

Benham was detained, and President Abraham Lincoln revoked his brigadier general’s commission. Stevens and Wright testified to the War Department that they had both warned Benham he was violating orders not to bring on a battle at their council of war on June 15. Stevens sent a letter to the New York Times claiming that Wright had told Benham that his orders during that council “were, in fact, orders to fight a battle.”

Wright assumed command of Benham’s forces on James Island, with orders from Hunter: “You will not attempt to advance toward Charleston or Fort Johnson till largely re-enforced and until you receive express orders from these headquarters.” If Wright could not hold the position, he was to “make all the necessary dispositions for abandoning James Island and John’s Island, sending off in the first place all your sick and all your stores.”

—–

References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 111; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 183; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 168-70; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 227; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 699; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 139; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 427; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 664