Tag Archives: Jeb Stuart

The Death of Jeb Stuart

May 12, 1864 – The “Cavalier of Dixie” succumbed to a wound suffered at the Battle of Yellow Tavern, and another legendary Confederate general was gone.

Confederate General Jeb Stuart | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Major General Jeb Stuart, cavalry commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, had led a portion of his force in fighting a delaying action against Major General Philip Sheridan’s Federal troops just six miles from Richmond. Stuart was shot during the fight, and he was subsequently taken on an agonizing six-hour ambulance ride to the capital.

Along the way, Stuart said, “I don’t know how this will turn out; but if it is God’s will that I shall die, I am ready.” The ambulance stopped at the home of his sister-in-law on Grace Street at 11 p.m. Four of Richmond’s top physicians tended to him, but there was little they could do. The bullet had severed his intestines, and he was slowly dying most likely from internal bleeding and peritonitis.

Messages were sent to Stuart’s wife Flora and their children, who were staying at Beaver Dam Station. However, Federals had cut the telegraph lines out of Richmond, so the message did not arrive until noon on the 12th. Flora and the children boarded a train for Richmond, but Federals had wrecked the tracks. Wounded Confederate cavalry officers gave them their ambulance wagon to finish their journey.

That morning, Stuart dictated his will to Major Henry McClellan, his adjutant. Stuart noted the sound of artillery, and McClellan assured him that it was Major General Fitzhugh Lee chasing the Federals east, away from Richmond. Stuart said, “God grant that they may be successful, but I must be prepared for another world.”

President Jefferson Davis visited Stuart and asked his condition. Stuart replied, “Easy, but willing to die, if God and my country think I have fulfilled my destiny and done my duty.” When a doctor told him that he would probably die before nightfall, Stuart said, “I am resigned if it be God’s will, but I would like to see my wife… But God’s will be done.”

Around 7 p.m., a clergyman led everyone in the house in prayer. Stuart then asked him to lead a singing of “Rock of Ages,” his favorite hymn. Stuart tried singing along but could not. He said, “I am going fast now. I am resigned; God’s will be done.” James Ewell Brown Stuart, the “Cavalier of Dixie,” died at 7:38 p.m., at age 31. Flora and the children finally arrived at the Grace Street house at 11:30 that night.

Back at Spotsylvania, General Robert E. Lee received word of Stuart’s wounding and paid him his highest compliment: “He never brought me a false piece of information.” Composing himself, Lee announced to his officers, “Gentlemen, we have very bad news. General Stuart has been mortally wounded.” As Lee returned to his tent around midnight, he received word that Stuart had died. Lee quietly remarked, “I can scarcely think of him without weeping.”

Funeral services were held on the 13th at St. James Church in Richmond. Stuart’s wife Flora and their children attended, along with Davis, Chief of Staff Braxton Bragg, and several other high-ranking Confederates. Many others, including those still pursuing Sheridan and those at Spotsylvania, could not be there. Lee could not spare any men for a funeral escort as Stuart’s body was brought to Hollywood Cemetery and buried. News of his death shocked and deeply sorrowed the South.

Meanwhile, Sheridan’s raid continued. His Federals rode east, where they damaged the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad and temporarily cut communications between Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and the capital. Sheridan planned to ride southeast and join Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s Federal Army of the James at Bermuda Hundred, south of the James River.

On the 14th, the Federal troopers entered Butler’s lines at Haxall’s Landing, bringing 400 freed Federal prisoners and 300 Confederate prisoners. They suffered 625 casualties on the raid, and while they did not attack Richmond as hoped, they damaged Beaver Dam and Ashland. And most importantly, Sheridan showed that he could match Stuart’s legendary cavalry. Sheridan reported that Stuart’s death at Yellow Tavern “inflicted a blow from which entire recovery was impossible.”

Sheridan’s men rested and refit their horses for the next three days before heading back north to rejoin the Army of the Potomac. They returned on the 24th, 15 days after their expedition began. The raid proved successful, as the Federals wrecked telegraphic communications and 10 miles of railroad track on three different lines while freeing imprisoned comrades and capturing vast amounts of supplies.

More importantly, this demonstrated the growing skill of the Federal cavalry. Perhaps most importantly, it permanently deprived the Confederacy of Stuart, whose leadership could not be replaced.

—–

References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 475; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20102; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 406, 408, 410, 412; 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 4932-73; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 437; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7070-82; http://www.historynet.com/battle-of-yellow-tavern.htm; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 123-24; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 679-80, 727-28; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 499-502, 504; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 680, 846-47

The Battle of Yellow Tavern

May 11, 1864 – Major General Philip Sheridan embarked on a Federal cavalry raid intended to disrupt Confederate supply lines and destroy the famed command of Major General Jeb Stuart.

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

Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, blamed Cavalry Corps commander Sheridan for failing to clear the Brock Road on the 8th, which helped the Confederates win the race to Spotsylvania Court House. As the two men argued, Sheridan snapped that if headquarters left him alone, he could ride out and whip Stuart’s Confederate horsemen.

Meade relayed this to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander. Grant responded, “Did Sheridan say that? Well, he generally knows what he is talking about. Let him start right out and do it.” Meade issued orders for Sheridan to lead 10,000 troopers south to cut Confederate supply lines and destroy Stuart’s command. Sheridan could then either ride south to join Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s Army of the James or return to the Army of the Potomac.

Sheridan gathered his three division commanders–Brigadier Generals Wesley Merritt, David M. Gregg, and James H. Wilson–on the night of the 8th and announced, “We are going out to fight Stuart’s cavalry in consequence of a suggestion from me. In view of my recent representations to General Meade I shall expect nothing but success.” According to Theophilus F. Rodenbough of Sheridan’s staff:

“The command was stripped of all impediments, such as unserviceable animals, wagons and tents. The necessary ammunition train, two ambulances to a division, a few pack-mules for baggage, three days’ rations and a half-day’s forage carried on the saddle, comprised the outfit.”

The troopers, along with six batteries of horse artillery, rode out at 6 a.m. on the 9th, with Sheridan vowing to whip Stuart out of his boots. To conserve energy, the Federals kept a slow pace as their line stretched 13 miles along the Telegraph Road.

Confederate scouts learned of the enemy movement almost as soon as it began, and elements of Stuart’s cavalry under Brigadier General William C. Wickham quickly began harassing Sheridan’s rear. Sheridan disregarded these sporadic attacks, telling his command, “Keep moving, boys. We’re going on through. There isn’t cavalry enough in all the Southern Confederacy to stop us.”

Maj Gen Jeb Stuart | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Stuart, perhaps underestimating Sheridan’s strength, kept nearly half his command at Spotsylvania to guard the Army of Northern Virginia’s flanks while leading his remaining 5,000 men (in three brigades under Generals Fitzhugh Lee, Lunsford Lomax, and James B. Gordon) to positions between Sheridan and Richmond.

Sheridan’s horsemen reached the North Anna River by nightfall. Merritt’s division continued to Beaver Dam Station, a key Confederate supply depot on the Virginia Central Railroad. Confederates burned the depot before retreating, and the advancing Federals burned 100 railroad cars and two locomotives. Some 504,000 rations of bread and 904,000 rations of meat for Confederate soldiers was destroyed. The Federals also freed 400 of their comrades held as prisoners of war.

Unable to beat Sheridan to the North Anna, Stuart continued south to try beating him to the South Anna. He reported to Chief of Staff Braxton Bragg in Richmond that Sheridan was heading south from Beaver Dam Station, while Federal detachments continued destroying tracks on the Virginia Central between the North and South Anna rivers.

Stuart wrote, “Should he attack Richmond, I will certainly move in his rear and do what I can; at the same time, I hope to be able to strike him if he endeavors to escape.” Stuart intended to make a stand outside Richmond that would delay Sheridan just long enough for the Confederate troops in Richmond to man the capital’s defenses.

Sheridan stopped after crossing the South Anna that night. Stuart’s command, having rode 36 straight hours, halted north of that same river. The next morning, Stuart divided his force even further by sending Gordon’s troopers to harass Sheridan’s rear while the other two Confederate brigades headed to Yellow Tavern, an old stagecoach stop on the Brook Turnpike about six miles north of Richmond.

The Federals came up around 11 a.m., and the fight that Sheridan had hoped to draw Stuart into soon began. With Confederates continuing to harass his rear, Sheridan patiently scouted Stuart’s positions and deployed Merritt’s division in line of battle. The Federals had three divisions versus just two Confederate brigades; the Federals also had superior Spencer repeating rifles.

Merritt attacked Lomax’s brigade, sending the Confederates reeling back to their second defense line under Fitz Lee. A lull came over the field as both sides held back until reinforcements could arrive. Then, a Federal brigade under Brigadier General George A. Custer appeared in the clearing and charged an artillery battery. One of the Federal cavalrymen later wrote:

“As soon as our line appeared in the open, indeed, before it left the woods, the Confederate artillery opened with shell and shrapnel; the carbines and sharpshooters joined with zest in the fray and the man who thinks they did not succeed in making that part of the neighborhood around Yellow Tavern an uncomfortably hot place, was not there at the time.”

But the Federals managed to capture the battery and turn Stuart’s left flank around 4 p.m. Stuart directed a countercharge by the 1st Virginia, which he held in reserve, and they repelled Custer’s Federals. As Stuart rode forward with the Virginians, a bullet from a .44-caliber Federal pistol hit him in the right side below the ribs. His aides helped him off his horse. Fitz Lee soon arrived, and Stuart passed command to him: “Go ahead, Fitz, old fellow, I know you will do what is right.”

Stuart’s aides loaded him into an arriving ambulance, with one aide recalling:

“As he was being driven from the field he noticed the disorganized ranks of his retreating men and called out to them: ‘Go back! Go back! And do your duty, as I have done mine, and our country will be safe. Go back! Go back! I had rather die than be whipped.’”

Under command of Fitz Lee, the Confederates ultimately held firm. After probing for weaknesses, Sheridan disengaged and rode down the Brook Turnpike toward Richmond. However, the Confederate delaying action gave city officials enough time to bolster their defenses.

The Federals rode past the capital’s outer works as alarm bells rang and artillery fire erupted. Sheridan surveyed the defenses and told an aide, “I could capture Richmond, if I wanted, but I can’t hold it. It isn’t worth the men it would cost.” Sheridan reported to Meade:

“It is possible that I might have captured the city of Richmond by assault, but the want of knowledge of your operations and those of General Butler, and the facility with which the enemy could throw in troops, made me abandon the attempt.”

Sheridan asserted, “I should have been the hero of the hour. I could have gone in and burned and killed right and left.” But it was not worth sacrificing his men “for no permanent advantage,” since they could have only temporarily occupied the capital. Besides, Stuart had been Sheridan’s main objective, not Richmond. The Federals turned east to eventually join either Butler or Meade.

This marked a turning point in the cavalry struggle in Virginia, as the Federals now had not only the numbers but the skill to easily match the Confederate cavaliers. Estimated casualties at Yellow Tavern for each side were about 800, but the greatest loss of them all was Stuart himself.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20093-102; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 403-05; 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 4728-48, 4894-914, 4942-52; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 433-34, 436; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6986; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 114-15, 117-23; http://www.historynet.com/battle-of-yellow-tavern.htm; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 727-28; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 244, 275-76; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 496-99; 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. 728; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 551, 680, 846-47

The Battle of Spotsylvania Begins

May 8, 1864 – After two terrible days in the Wilderness, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant led the Federal Army of the Potomac into a new battle that promised to become even more terrible.

The Battle of the Wilderness resulted in nearly 18,000 Federal casualties, leading Grant and Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, to conclude that the Confederate positions were too strong to assault again. This left them with just two options: retreat as all their predecessors had done, or push forward and try getting around the Confederate right. Grant chose the latter, directing Meade at 6:30 a.m. on the 7th: “Make all preparations during the day for a night march to take position at Spotsylvania Court House with one corps–”

The Federals would continue moving southeast. This would force General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, to follow to keep his army between them and Richmond. Grant’s decision to advance turned a tactical defeat into a strategic victory. It also raised the morale of the troops, who had been accustomed to retreating after battles. When word spread that they would be moving forward instead of back, the men cheered until Grant ordered them to stop; he did not want the Confederates learning his intentions.

But Lee already guessed his intentions. Confederates from Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Second Corps probed forward and found that the Federals had disappeared from their front. Since this was on the northern flank, Lee figured that the Federals had either moved east toward Fredericksburg or southeast along the Brock Road. Lee began preparing to move to Spotsylvania, where he could block the Federals should they come from either direction.

Both Grant and Lee recognized that Spotsylvania was important because the crossroads there led to Wilderness Tavern, Hanover Junction, and Fredericksburg. It was also the point where two major railroads–the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac and the Virginia Central–intersected, both of which supplied the Confederate army. And it was 12 miles closer to Richmond than the Wilderness. Whoever won the race to Spotsylvania would have a distinct advantage in the struggle between the two armies.

Gen R.H. Anderson | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Major General Richard H. Anderson, replacing the wounded Lieutenant General James Longstreet in command of First Corps, received orders from Lee to start moving after dark to get to Spotsylvania first. Meade directed Major General Gouverneur Warren’s V Corps to lead the march down the Brock Road, followed by Major General Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps. VI and IX corps under Major Generals John Sedgwick and Ambrose E. Burnside respectively would move east along the Orange Turnpike.

Meade ordered Major General Philip Sheridan’s Cavalry Corps to clear the Brock Road for Warren and Hancock. However, Sheridan’s troopers clashed with elements of Major General Jeb Stuart’s Confederate cavalry at Todd’s Tavern. This prevented Sheridan from clearing the road before Anderson’s Confederates passed by during the night. Stuart’s men felled trees which, along with traffic jams among the troops and wagons, delayed the Federal advance.

As the Federals struggled southward early on the 8th, they came upon Confederate cavalry blocking their path on a ridge called Laurel Hill, just north of Spotsylvania Court House. Anderson’s infantry arrived behind the cavalry just as the Federals came within 100 yards. The Confederates had won the race to Spotsylvania, with Lee himself arriving around 3 p.m.

Maj Gen Gouverneur Warren | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Warren, thinking that only cavalry blocked his way, ordered an attack. However, the Confederates repelled several thrusts and inflicted heavy casualties. Warren notified Meade at 12:30 p.m., “I have done my best, but with the force I now have I cannot attack again.” Frustrated, Meade fumed that Warren “lost his nerve.” Meade ordered him to renew the attack as soon as Sedgwick came up on his left (east), but Warren objected. The commanders discussed the situation at Meade’s headquarters and, as Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Lyman of Meade’s staff recalled:

“In fact the sudden transition from a long winter’s rest to hard marching, sleepless nights, and protracted fighting, with no prospect of cessation, produced a powerful effect on the nervous system of the whole army. And never, perhaps, were officers and men more jaded and prostrated than on this very Sunday.”

Meanwhile, Hancock guarded the Federal rear at Todd’s Tavern and sent a division forward to probe for Confederates. The Federals encountered Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Third Corps, led by Brigadier General William Mahone’s division. After some fighting, the Federals pulled back and the Confederates resumed their march toward Spotsylvania.

Back in front of Laurel Hill, the Federals finally got into attack positions around 6 p.m., but by that time Ewell’s corps was coming up on Anderson’s right (east). Hill’s corps (led by Major General Jubal Early because Hill was sick) would soon arrive on Ewell’s right. The Federals attacked around 7 p.m. but were repulsed with heavy losses.

The action on the 8th greatly frustrated Meade. In addition to being angry with Warren, he accused Sheridan of not properly clearing the Brock Road, and he called Sedgwick “constitutionally slow.” As the fighting stopped that night, both sides began digging trenches and building earthworks for the fight that was sure to resume the next day.

—–

References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 462-65; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 444, 456-57; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20268-77; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 401-03; 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 4728-48; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 431-32; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6938; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 82-85, 114; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 238; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 495-96; 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. 727-28; Mullins, Michael A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 825-27; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 290-91; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 551, 709

The Army of the Potomac Moves Out

May 4, 1864 – The Federal Army of the Potomac moved out to begin its long-anticipated offensive, now with Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant in overall command.

This was just one part of Grant’s simultaneous offensive against all major points in the Confederacy. Two other Federal armies began mobilizing in Virginia: Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s east of Richmond and Major General Franz Sigel’s in the Shenandoah Valley. Another army was to move against Mobile, Alabama, and a combined force of three Federal armies was about to advance against the Confederates in northern Georgia.

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

Grant planned to move Major General George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac around the right (east) flank of General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia south of the Rapidan River. Grant had considered moving around Lee’s left, but the Federals could be resupplied much easier via the waterways on the right. However, the movement involved traversing the Wilderness, where dense woods, ravines, and undergrowth could offset the Federals’ numerical superiority.

Federal wagons began taking their places around 12 p.m. on the 3rd; the wagon train eventually stretched over 60 miles. Confederate scouts observed the movements along with smoke clouds, which indicated that the Federals were burning all the supplies they could not bring with them.

That night, Grant met with his subordinates at his Culpeper Court House headquarters, where he announced, “I shall not give my attention so much to Richmond as to Lee’s army, and I want all commanders to feel that hostile armies, and not cities, are to be their objective points.”

Grant stated that if the Federals defeated Lee, the Confederates would have to take refuge in the Richmond defenses. Standing beside a large map of Virginia on the wall, Grant circled the area between Richmond and Petersburg with his cigar and declared, “When my troops are there, Richmond is mine. Lee must retreat or surrender.”

The Federals began leaving their winter quarters on schedule. Grant reported, “Soon after midnight, May 3d-4th the Army of the Potomac moved out from its position north of the Rapidan, to start upon that memorable campaign.” This began an unprecedented movement designed to maintain relentless pressure upon Lee until he surrendered. That pressure would be applied for nearly a year.

Across the Rapidan, Lee had three infantry corps:

  • Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Second Corps held the Confederate right, which was closest to the Federal advance.
  • Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Third Corps held the center, near Orange Court House.
  • Two divisions of Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s First Corps held the left near Gordonsville.

Gen Robert E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Lee also had his invaluable cavalry command, led by Major General Jeb Stuart. Near midnight, Lee’s signalmen atop Clark’s Mountain flashed the awaited message: “General Ewell, have your command ready to move at daylight.” Around 9:30 a.m. on the 4th, the signalmen notified Ewell, “From present indications everything seems to be moving to the right, on Germanna and Ely’s Fords roads, leaving cavalry in our front.”

Grant crossed the Rapidan wearing a new dress uniform. He was accompanied by Congressman Elihu Washburne of Illinois, his political benefactor who had sponsored the law bestowing the rank of lieutenant general upon him. Grant reported, “The crossing of the Rapidan effected. Forty-eight hours now will demonstrate whether the enemy intends giving battle this side of Richmond.” Grant was relieved that Lee had not contested the crossing, but he did not know that Lee was waiting for the Federals to get across before attacking them in the forbidding Wilderness.

As Grant set up headquarters in a farmhouse, a correspondent asked, “General Grant, about how long will it take you to get to Richmond?” Grant replied, “I will agree to be there in about four days. That is, if General Lee becomes party to the agreement; but if he objects, the trip will undoubtedly be prolonged.” Later that day, Grant received word that Ewell was advancing. He said, “This gives just the information I wanted. It shows that Lee is drawing out from his position, and is pushing across to meet us.”

Ewell’s Confederates led the march along the Orange Turnpike, followed by A.P. Hill along the parallel Orange Plank Road. Longstreet remained back for the time being, guarding the line from Gordonsville to Richmond in case Grant sent a force around the Confederate left. Ewell halted for the night near Mine Run, while Hill camped at New Verdiersville.

When it became clear that the main Federal threat was on the right, Lee called Longstreet’s men forward. Longstreet urged Lee to move around to the Federal rear, but Lee directed him to move north to Orange Court House, and then follow Hill’s corps along the Orange Plank Road.

Stuart’s cavalry scouted near Fredericksburg amid rumors that the Federals might turn east. Stuart soon discovered that the Federals were actually turning west, moving between the Wilderness and Chancellorsville. Lee planned to attack them before they could get out of the Wilderness and into the open, just as he did against Joseph Hooker last year.

As the Confederates moved, President Jefferson Davis notified Lee that the armies of Butler and Sigel were also on the move in Virginia. Lee relied on General P.G.T. Beauregard’s Confederates southeast of Richmond to handle Butler, while Major General John C. Breckinridge’s Confederates in the Shenandoah Valley were tasked with facing Sigel.

The Federals stopped for the night in the Wilderness so the wagon train could catch up. Many camped on the old Chancellorsville battlefield, where skeletons had been unearthed by weather. This macabre scene foreshadowed things to come as the armies bivouacked within two miles of each other.

—–

References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 446-48; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 446; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20197-214, 20232; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 399; 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 3069-88, 3108-18; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 428; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6761; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 618-19; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 57-61; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 492; Mullins, Michael A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 825-27; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 285-88; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 551

Reconsidering the Confederate Partisan Ranger System

January 7, 1864 – Colonel John Singleton Mosby’s Confederate partisan rangers operated in northern Virginia, while calls grew louder among Confederate officers to ban the partisan ranger system.

John S. Mosby | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Throughout the winter, Mosby’s rangers operated around Warrenton, an area nicknamed “Mosby’s Confederacy.” Mosby’s men technically belonged to the 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry in the Army of Northern Virginia, but under the Partisan Ranger Act, they acted independently and lived among the citizenry. Unlike many rangers who disdained military regulations, Mosby’s troopers were respected as effective members of Major General Jeb Stuart’s Confederate cavalry.

Mosby’s activities mainly included raiding Federal wagon trains and scouting. Federal cavalry stationed at Warrenton under Colonel John P. Taylor routinely rode throughout the countryside in search of Mosby’s elusive rangers. In early January, troopers from Colonel Henry Cole’s 1st Maryland Potomac Home Brigade entered Virginia via Harpers Ferry to hunt Mosby down. But when a detachment of 80 men left Rectortown, Mosby’s men pursued and attacked, killing four, wounding 10, and capturing 41.

Another Federal detachment attacked and scattered Mosby’s command, but a portion counterattacked, capturing 25 Federals and 50 horses. A separate detachment from Mosby under Lieutenant “Fighting Tom” Turner launched a surprise attack on Taylor’s Federals at Warrenton, taking another 20 prisoners. Mosby soon turned his attention back to Cole’s battalion.

Mosby led about 100 rangers to Loudon Heights, overlooking Harpers Ferry, where Cole and about 200 Federals were camped on the night of the 9th. Mosby later reported, “The camp was buried in profound sleep, there was not a sentinel awake.” However, the Federals quickly awoke and attacked Mosby’s force. Mosby ordered a charge, but the Federals inflicted numerous casualties. One of Mosby’s rangers later recalled:

“The dead and dying lay around. From the tents came forth moans of pain and shrieks of agony. Some of the combatants stood almost in reach of one another, firing into each other’s face, crying out: ‘Surrender!’ ‘No, I won’t! You surrender!’”

The Confederates ultimately drove the Federals off. Mosby reported, “Confusion and delaying having ensued from the derangement of my plans, consequent on the alarm given to the enemy, rendered it hazardous to continue in my position, as re-enforcements were near the enemy.” With the infantry at Harpers Ferry mobilizing, Mosby ordered a withdrawal.

The rangers sustained just 12 casualties (eight killed, three wounded, and one captured) while inflicting 26 (four killed, 16 wounded, and six taken prisoner). However, the Confederates were not used to either taking casualties or retreating. As such, an officer later wrote, “A sad and sullen silence pervaded our ranks and found expression in every countenance. All that we could have gained would not compensate for the loss we sustained.”

While the “Gray Ghost” and his rangers would live to fight another day, Confederate officials debated how they should be organized. More and more officers in the Confederate armies were complaining about the partisan rangers. The rangers did not have to strictly adhere to army regulations, they could live among the people, and they could enjoy the bounties they captured. Perhaps most importantly, they encouraged soldiers to desert the army in favor of this more adventurous (and less regulatory) branch of service.

General Robert E. Lee, who originally supported the partisan ranger system, urged the War Department to disband these units in 1863 due to their lack of discipline, their harassment of civilians, and their tendency to draw troops from the regular armies. Secretary of War James A. Seddon responded in November 1863 by banning all partisan ranger outfits except those commanded by John H. McNeill in West Virginia and Mosby in northern Virginia.

In December 1863, Brigadier General Thomas L. Rosser, a cavalry brigade commander under Jeb Stuart, reported that 60 of his men deserted while serving in the Shenandoah Valley. Rosser stated that the men had once belonged to a partisan unit that was forced to join the regular cavalry, and they left because they had grown tired of army regulations. Rosser also had problems working with McNeill, who often refused to follow his orders.

This month, Rosser wrote to Lee describing the partisans as “a nuisance and an evil to the service”:

“Without discipline, order, or organization, they roam broadcast over the country, a band of thieves, stealing, pillaging, plundering, and doing every manner of mischief and crime. They are a terror to the citizens and an injury to the cause. They never fight; can’t be made to fight. Their leaders are generally brave, but few of the men are good soldiers, and have engaged in this business for the sake of gain. The effect upon the service is bad, and I think, if possible, it should be corrected.”

Rosser cited three reasons why all partisan units should be disbanded:

  • Instead of roaming the countryside, their “bayonet or saber should be counted on the field of battle when the life or death of our country is the issue.”
  • They caused “great dissatisfaction in the ranks” because they “are allowed so much latitude, so many privileges. They sleep in houses and turn out in the cold only when it is announced by their chief that they are to go upon a plundering expedition.”
  • They encouraged desertion:

“It is almost impossible for one to manage the different companies of my brigade that are from Loudoun, Fauquier, Fairfax, &c., the region occupied by Mosby. They see these men living at their ease and enjoying the comforts of home, allowed to possess all that they capture, and their duties mere pastime pleasures compared with their own arduous ones; and it is a natural consequence in the nature of man that he should become dissatisfied under these circumstances. Patriotism fails in the long and tedious war like this to sustain the ponderous burdens which bear heavily and cruelly upon the heart and soul of man.”

To remedy the “melancholy” spreading among his men, Rosser urged his superiors to place “all men on the same footing.” If partisan activity was needed for the war effort, “then require the commanding officer to keep them in an organized condition, to rendezvous within our lines, and move upon the enemy when opportunity is offered.” While Rosser singled Mosby out as a “gallant officer,” he argued that Mosby’s service had little impact on the war.

Lee consulted with Stuart, who agreed with everything that Rosser wrote. Stuart contended that Mosby’s partisans were “the only efficient band of rangers I know of,” but he often used just “one-fourth of his nominal strength” while his other three-fourths were living comfortably among civilians. Stuart concluded, “Such organizations, as a rule, are detrimental to the best interests of the army at large.”

Based on this, Lee wrote, “I recommend that the law authorizing these partisan corps be abolished. The evils resulting from their organization more than counterbalance the good they accomplish.” A bill was immediately introduced in the Confederate Congress to repeal the Partisan Ranger Act.

——

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 561; Official Records of the War of the Rebellion (Series 1, Volume 33), p. 12-16, 457, 1081-83; Ramage, James A., Gray Ghost: The Life of Col. John Singleton Mosby (University Press of Kentucky, 2009); Wert, Jeffry D., Mosby’s Rangers (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991); Williamson, James Joseph, Mosby’s Rangers: A Record of the Operations of the Forty-Third Battalion (1909)

Northern Virginia: Federals Approach Mine Run

November 28, 1863 – Major General George G. Meade tried launching one more offensive before winter, leading his Federal Army of the Potomac against General Robert E. Lee’s formidable Confederate defenses along Mine Run. Continue reading

Northern Virginia: Meade Looks to Advance

November 21, 1863 – Major General George G. Meade received intelligence that his Federal Army of the Potomac now held a major numerical advantage over General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Meade therefore looked to launch another offensive.

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

Following the Bristoe campaign in October, Meade had settled his army into camps between the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers, presumably until the spring. However, this changed when a detailed report, partly derived from information provided by Confederate deserters, stated that Lee had less than 40,000 effectives in his army, while Meade had 84,274.

Lee actually had 48,586 effectives, but Meade still vastly outnumbered him, and his Federals had been emboldened by their recent, albeit minor, victories at Bristoe and Rappahannock stations. Moreover, the report indicated that Lee’s two corps were spread out across 35 miles and unable to guard the lower fords on the Rapidan. Meade therefore planned to hurry his five infantry corps down the Rapidan, move down the Orange Turnpike, and overwhelm Lee’s right and rear before the remaining Confederates came up in support.

While Meade planned, Lee hosted President Jefferson Davis for a four-day military conference at Lee’s headquarters. Lee once more stressed the importance of having shoes for his barefooted men, as well as adequate food, clothing, and shelter for the upcoming winter. On the night of the 24th, Lee received word that Meade had requisitioned large amounts of rations for his troops, indicating he would soon be in motion again.

Lee alerted his outposts. Guessing that Meade would cross the Rapidan and try advancing through either the Wilderness or Spotsylvania toward the Richmond & Fredericksburg Railroad, Lee prepared to move his army to block the Federals. A cavalry clash near Ely’s Ford on the 25th seemed to confirm Lee’s guess.

Meade had planned to move out on the 23rd, but rains turned the roads to mud. He announced to his corps commanders, “On account of the unfavorable appearances of the morning,” the advance would not begin until the 24th. But rain caused postponements for another two days, during which time Federal cavalry reported that the major thoroughfares were still passable. The troopers also noted that Confederates were not guarding Ely’s Ford on the Rapidan.

On the 25th, Meade issued orders for the movement to begin the next morning, Thanksgiving Day. The Federals were to make a wide swing around the Confederate right to land on the enemy flank and rear. Meade explained that speed and stealth were of the utmost importance, therefore each man would carry 10 days’ rations and leave their supply trains behind.

Major General William French’s III Corps was to cross the Rapidan at Jacob’s Ford, opposite Mine Run, with Major General John Sedgwick’s VI Corps following. Major General Gouverneur Warren’s II Corps was to cross farther downstream at Germanna Ford. Major General George Sykes’s V Corps would cross even farther down at Culpeper Mine, followed by Major General John Newton’s I Corps. The five corps would then unite, with French in the lead, and move west to hit the Confederate right with overwhelming force.

The Federals mobilized at 6 a.m., a half-hour before sunrise, on the 26th. A heavy fog hid their movement from the Confederates as they moved down their assigned paths to the Rapidan fords. However, French’s corps started late and experienced traffic delays. Upon reaching Jacob’s Ford, engineers did not bring enough pontoons to span the river. Consequently, French did not cross until near sundown. By day’s end, French, Warren, and Sykes had crossed the Rapidan, but the element of speed was lost, as Meade had covered only half the distance he expected to cover that day.

The element of stealth was also lost when Confederate signalmen atop Clark’s Mountain, along with cavalry, spotted the movement. Lee had expected the Federals to attack the Richmond & Fredericksburg Railroad, but their movement against his right worked even more to his advantage. He held strong positions, and the Federal delays gave him time to shift more troops to that sector of his line.

Lee pulled elements of Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Third Corps east to bolster the Second Corps under Major General Jubal Early (temporarily replacing the ailing Lieutenant General Richard Ewell) on the right. Lee directed Early to cross Mine Run and move east to face Meade’s advance.

Early’s three divisions moved along three parallel roads leading to Robertson’s Tavern, with Major General Edward “Allegheny” Johnson’s men the farthest north (the Confederate left), Major General Robert Rodes in the center, and Brigadier General Harry Hays’s men moving along the Orange Turnpike to the south. Hill’s corps moved about a mile south on parallel roads.

Meade directed the Federals to begin moving at 7 a.m., with French holding the right (unknowingly moving directly toward Johnson), Warren holding the center on the Orange Turnpike (unknowingly moving toward Hays), and Sykes holding the left (unknowingly moving toward Hill). Sedgwick and Newton were in reserve.

French and Warren were supposed to converge at Robertson’s Tavern, but French took a wrong fork in the road and had to countermarch for several hours. Warren’s corps reached the tavern unsupported, where they were confronted by Hays’s Confederates around Locust Grove. French informed Meade that he was waiting for Warren, but Meade’s chief of staff, Major General Andrew Humphreys, responded:

“What are you waiting for? No orders have been sent you to wait for General Warren anywhere upon your Route… He is waiting for you. The commanding general directs that you move forward as rapidly as possible to Robertson’s Tavern, where your corps is wanted.”

French finally came up on Warren’s right and met resistance from Johnson’s Confederate division near Payne’s Farm. French deployed his lead division under Brigadier General Joseph B. Carr to face Johnson as both he and Hays began linking with Rodes in the middle.

The Confederates repelled two Federal charges and then counterattacked. As Johnson reported, “The resistance of the enemy was stubborn, but he was steadily driven back for a considerable distance through the woods and pursued across an open field.” The Confederates soon advanced into heavy woods and became disorganized. They were then hit by heavy Federal canister fire. Johnson ultimately withdrew and repelled more Federal attacks before nightfall ended the fighting.

The Confederates lost 545 men, including Brigadier Generals George Steuart and John M. Jones (both wounded). On their right, Major General Jeb Stuart’s Confederate cavalry barely held Sykes at bay. As Stuart’s line appeared to be breaking and the Federals were about to turn the Confederate flank, Hill’s corps arrived to link with Early and drive the Federals back. Lee then pulled his main force back to defenses on a ridge along the west bank of Mine Run.

Federal losses were unrecorded, but this engagement ruined the element of surprise that Meade so desperately needed. Meade blamed French for his delays crossing the Rapidan on the 26th and taking the wrong road on this day. With Lee entrenched behind Mine Run, Meade now could only attack (and most likely fail) or retreat.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19153; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 346; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 873-74; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 378; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6488, 6499-511; Hubbell, John T., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 497; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 28-31; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 438-39; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 563-64