Tag Archives: John C. Fremont

The Army of Virginia: Pope’s Suppression

July 14, 1862 – Major General John Pope issued a pretentious address to his new Federal Army of Virginia before embarking on a new campaign.

Gen John Pope | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Gen John Pope | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

President Abraham Lincoln put faith in Pope, a western commander and fellow Illinoisan, to succeed in Virginia where Major General George B. McClellan had failed. Upon arriving in the East, Pope began criticizing McClellan, asserting (correctly) that the Confederate army was not half the size that McClellan feared. Pope also denounced McClellan’s retreat to the James River because it allowed the Confederates to move directly between their armies.

Pope’s new army consisted of all the Federals in the Shenandoah Valley and northern Virginia. It did not include McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. Pope’s 56,000-man force was to advance on Richmond from the northwest while McClellan pressed the city from the east.

Now that Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates had left the Shenandoah Valley, Pope left a brigade at Winchester and occupied Culpeper Court House on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad on July 12. Two days later, Pope issued a proclamation “To the Officers and Soldiers of the Army of Virginia.” Promising them the “opportunity to win the distinction you are capable of achieving,” Pope announced:

“Let us understand each other. I have come to you from the West, where we have always seen the backs of our enemies; from an army whose business it has been to seek the adversary and to beat him when he was found; whose policy has been attack and not defense… I presume that I have been called here to pursue the same system and to lead you against the enemy. It is my purpose to do so, and that speedily…

“I desire you to dismiss from your minds certain phrases, which I am sorry to find so much in vogue amongst you. I hear constantly of ‘taking strong positions and holding them,’ of ‘lines of retreat,’ and of ‘bases of supplies.’ Let us discard such ideas. The strongest position a soldier should desire to occupy is one from which he can most easily advance against the enemy. Let us study the probable lines of retreat of our opponents, and leave our own to take care of themselves. Let us look before us, and not behind. Success and glory are in the advance, disaster and shame lurk in the rear.”

Pope, who had recently outraged southerners by threatening to wage war on civilians, now outraged his own troops by inferring that they were inferior to westerners. Many of these men had served with distinction in Virginia despite suffering some setbacks, and they respected the army leaders that Pope indirectly insulted.

General Fitz John Porter stated that Pope had “written himself down, what the military world has long known, (as) an Ass.” Other officers referred to Pope as a “blow hard,” and a “weak and silly man.” This address, which became known among the troops as “Pope’s Bull,” immediately deflated army morale and set the tone for Pope’s upcoming campaign.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 78-80; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 529; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 181; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 239-40; 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. 524; Wikipedia: John Pope (military officer)

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The Army of Virginia

June 26, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln created a new army intended to do what Major General George B. McClellan could not–destroy the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and capture Richmond.

On the afternoon of June 23, Lincoln boarded a special train bound for New York to informally meet with former General-in-Chief Winfield Scott at his summer residence in West Point. Lincoln, unsuccessful in directing the war effort and dissatisfied with McClellan’s performance, hoped to confidentially get Scott’s advice on strategy.

Lincoln and Scott discussed whether Major General Irvin McDowell’s Federals should remain near Fredericksburg to protect Washington or reinforce McClellan on the Virginia Peninsula. They also debated the merits of keeping Federal troops in the Shenandoah Valley versus sending them to the Peninsula.

After the meeting, Scott drafted a memorandum criticizing Lincoln’s effort to balance forces between the Peninsula and the Shenandoah Valley. Scott urged Lincoln to send McDowell to the Peninsula, writing, “The defeat of the rebels, at Richmond, or their forced retreat, thence… would be a virtual end of the rebellion.”

During his trip, Lincoln toured the West Point Foundry, across the Hudson River from the U.S. Military Academy. The foundry produced the popular Parrott gun, a rifled cannon. The public appearance was meant to conceal the true purpose of Lincoln’s trip. Word quickly spread that Lincoln was in the area, and on his return trip a crowd gathered at the Jersey City stop to try getting him to give a speech. Lincoln claimed that the trip “did not have the importance which has been attached to it,” and it had nothing to do with military strategy.

This may have been true, as Lincoln opted not to take any of Scott’s advice. Doubting the wisdom of military commanders, Lincoln returned to Washington determined to follow his own strategy. He no longer wanted to send reinforcements to McClellan, who lacked the aggressiveness needed to break the Confederate defenses and take Richmond.

Lincoln instead planned to merge all the forces in northern Virginia and the Valley into one major army, dedicated to driving toward Richmond and destroying the Confederate army under General Robert E. Lee. Lincoln also had a man in mind to command this new army: the current Army of the Mississippi commander, Major General John Pope.

Gen John Pope | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

The administration had already begun courting Pope for this new command even before Lincoln went to New York. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton bypassed Pope’s superior, Major General Henry W. Halleck, and sent Pope a direct message on the 19th: “If your orders will admit, and you can be absent long enough from your command, I would be glad to see you at Washington.”

Pope suspected that he would be transferred to an eastern command, even though he preferred the West and had little respect for eastern commanders. In the East, some considered Pope a liar and a braggart, based on Halleck’s exaggerated report from Pope that he was about to capture 10,000 Confederate stragglers outside Corinth earlier this month.

When Halleck learned of Stanton’s request, he refused to allow Pope to leave: “The Secretary of War can order you to Washington if he deem proper, but I cannot give you leave, as I think your services here of the greatest possible importance.” Stanton then changed his request to an order, overriding Halleck.

Pope arrived at Washington on the 24th. Testifying before a Senate committee while in town, Pope declared that had he commanded the Army of the Potomac, he would have marched directly on Richmond and continued on through the Confederacy to New Orleans. Compared to McClellan, this was exactly the kind of commander the Lincoln administration wanted.

Under General Order No. 103, issued June 26, Pope was officially assigned to command the new Army of Virginia. This army would contain three corps from three previously separate commands north and west of Richmond:

  • Major General John C. Fremont’s Mountain Department became I Corps
  • Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Department of the Shenandoah became II Corps
  • Major General Irvin McDowell’s Department of the Rappahannock became III Corps

The new army also included the Federal troops garrisoning the Washington defenses and a cavalry brigade. All told, the Army of Virginia totaled about 56,000 men. All three department commanders outranked Pope, but only Fremont complained about it.

Fremont considered serving under Pope an insult and tendered his resignation. Lincoln officially accepted it the next day. This ended the military career of the controversial explorer, soldier, and politician. Fremont’s frequent clashes with the Lincoln administration, his history of allowing corruption to run rampant, and his mediocre war record meant that he would not be missed.

Pope called Fremont’s decision to resign “simply foolish.” Replacing Fremont was Major General Franz Sigel, a former German revolutionary. Pope called Sigel “the God damnedest coward he ever knew,” and threatened to “arrest Sigel the moment he showed any signs of cowardice.” Sigel’s corps consisted mainly of Central European and German immigrants, most of whom were staunch abolitionists. Thus, this was the most politicized corps in the Federal army.

Some objected to Pope getting an eastern army command, arguing that he was too much of a braggart and an outsider to successfully operate in Virginia. Lincoln disagreed. He had been friends with Pope in Illinois (Pope accompanied Lincoln on the train from Springfield to Washington in February 1861), and he believed that Pope had the aggression needed to take the fight to the Confederates. The fact that Pope was a Republican (unlike McClellan) also played a factor in his promotion.

Pope’s main objectives were:

  • Protect Washington from “danger or insult”;
  • Provide “the most effective aid to relieve General McClellan and capture Richmond”;
  • Maintain communication and supply lines to Alexandria and Aquia Creek.

Creating this new army effectively stopped any chance of McDowell reinforcing McClellan on the Peninsula, which reflected Lincoln’s lost faith in McClellan’s ability to win there. Pope immediately began planning to move down the Orange & Alexandria Railroad toward Gordonsville, east of the Blue Ridge, and threaten Richmond from the northwest.

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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 14206-15; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 183, 185; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7526-37, 7537-48, 7614; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 526-28; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 169, 171, 173; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 227-31; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 500; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 172-74, 787-88; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 93-97; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 515, 615, 676, 816; 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; Wikipedia: Army of Virginia, Northern Virginia Campaign

“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

“Stonewall” Jackson Looks to Move North

June 14, 1862 – Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson proclaimed a day of thanksgiving for his army and sent a message to General Robert E. Lee requesting more men so he could invade the North.

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

Jackson participated in the thanksgiving services with his men, writing to his wife:

“This evening, we have religious services in the army for the purpose of rendering thanks to the Most High for the victories with which He has crowned our arms, and to offer earnest prayer that He will continue to give us success, until, through His divine blessing, our independence shall be established. Wouldn’t you like to get home again?”

In addition, Jackson directed Congressman Alexander R. Boteler, representing a district in the Shenandoah Valley, to deliver a message to Lee on the Peninsula. Jackson suggested that if he could get 40,000 reinforcements, he could easily defeat the remaining Federals in the Valley and advance northward unopposed, perhaps even into Pennsylvania. Lee had already sent some additional men to Jackson, but Lee expected Jackson to stay in the Valley, ready to come east to the Virginia Peninsula if needed.

When Boteler arrived at Lee’s headquarters with Jackson’s message on the 15th, Lee had already decided to bring Jackson east. Boteler opposed this idea, saying it would be better for Jackson to stay in the Valley. Boteler reasoned, “If you bring our valley boys down here at this season among the pestilential swamps of the Chickahominy, the change from their pure mountain air to the miasmatic atmosphere will kill them off faster than the Federals have been doing.”

Boteler also explained, “Jackson has been doing so well with an independent command that it seems a pity not to let him have his own way; and then, too, bringing him here, General, will be–to use a homely phrase–putting all your eggs in one basket.”

Lee responded, “I see that you appreciate General Jackson as highly as I myself do, and it is because of my appreciation of him that I wish to have him here.” Lee wrote out orders for Jackson to come east and gave them to Boteler to deliver. Lee hoped to destroy Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac before it could be reinforced by Major General Irvin McDowell’s Federals en route.

Meanwhile, President Abraham Lincoln continued corresponding with Major General John C. Fremont, now commanding all Federals in the Shenandoah Valley. Lincoln, skeptical of Fremont’s assertion that he had won both the Battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic, indulged the general nonetheless: “As you alone beat Jackson last Sunday I argue that you are stronger than he is to-day.”

In response to Fremont’s fears that Jackson was being heavily reinforced, Lincoln wrote that “such re-enforcement could only have come from Richmond, and he is much more likely to go to Richmond than Richmond is to come to him.”

Lincoln believed the Confederate reinforcements headed for the Valley were probably being sent to deceive the Federals into thinking an attack would take place there. He wrote, “I do not believe Jackson will attack you, but certainly he cannot attack you by surprise; and if he comes upon you in superior force you have but to notify us, fall back cautiously, and (Major General Nathaniel) Banks will join you in due time.”

The president repeated that Fremont’s objectives were to cover the Shenandoah Valley while Banks guarded the Luray Valley to the east. This would allow McDowell to join McClellan for the drive on Richmond. Lincoln wrote, “I have arranged this, and am very unwilling to have it deranged.”

The next day, Boteler returned to Jackson’s headquarters near Port Republic. Boteler delivered a verbal order from Lee stating that he could not spare the 40,000 troops needed to invade Pennsylvania. Later that day, Jackson received a written dispatch from Lee:

“The present… seems to be favorable for a junction of your army with this. If you agree with me, the sooner you can make arrangements to do so the better. In moving your troops you can let it be understood that it was to pursue the enemy in your front. Dispose those to hold the Valley so as to deceive the enemy, keeping your cavalry well in their front, and at the proper time suddenly descending upon the Pamunkey… I should like to have the advantage of your views and to be able to confer with you. Will meet you at some point on your approach to the Chickahominy.”

Lee correctly guessed that both Fremont and Shields were retreating, with Fremont still at Mount Jackson and Shields at Front Royal. Jackson prepared to set his men in motion for the 120-mile eastward journey to Richmond. He told nobody of Lee’s order, not even his most trusted subordinates. McDowell was in the process of moving his corps (including Shields’s division) from the Valley back east to the Peninsula. If Jackson hurried, he would get there first.

Jackson’s Confederates marched to Waynesboro and began boarding trains on the 17th. Jackson obstructed his movements to avoid both Federal detection and Confederate speculation on where they were going. Brigadier General W.H.C. Whiting’s Confederates arrived at Staunton, 20 miles south of Port Republic, to reinforce Jackson, but Jackson ordered Whiting to go back east the same way he had just come without explaining why. This infuriated Whiting, but he complied nonetheless. Moving up a pass in the Blue Ridge, topographer Jedediah Hotchkiss told Jackson, “General, I fear we will not find our wagons tonight.” Jackson said, “Never take counsel of your fears.”

Meanwhile, the Federals still in the Valley received word that as many as 15,000 Confederates were heading there. A scout informed Shields that Jackson’s division under Major General Richard Ewell was advancing on Front Royal, 40,000 strong. However, Confederate deserters told Shields that Jackson’s army was leaving the Valley.

Based on this, Shields reported to McDowell that Jackson was heading east. At the same time, Shields warned Major General Franz Sigel of Fremont’s army that 8,500 Confederates were south of Luray. Sigel wrote Fremont, “General Shields has no correct knowledge of the enemy’s movements.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 76; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 170; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 183; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 473; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 167-69; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3675-86, 3698; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 226-28; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 30

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

The Battle of Cross Keys

June 8, 1862 – In Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, a portion of Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederate army met a Federal advance from the northwest while Jackson faced a separate Federal threat from the northeast.

By the morning of the 8th, Major General Richard Ewell’s Confederates were at Cross Keys, while Jackson was with the rest of his force outside Port Republic, three miles south, where the North and South rivers merged to form the Shenandoah River. Two Federal forces were converging on the Confederates: Major General John C. Fremont’s from the northwest, and Brigadier General James Shields’s from the northeast. Neither force could support the other due to swollen rivers and burned bridges.

Jackson was outnumbered and pinned between two enemy forces, but he held the only bridge. He therefore planned to hold Fremont off first, and then turn to confront Shields. Jackson assigned Ewell’s 6,000 Confederates to oppose Fremont’s 11,000 Federals at Cross Keys.

Jackson’s plan was foiled when Federal cavalry unexpectedly rode into Port Republic, nearly separating Jackson from his men and capturing several of his staff members. The Federals could have taken the entire enemy force, or at least cut it off from its supply wagons across the South River by burning the North Bridge. But for some reason, Federal Brigadier General Samuel Carroll prohibited the bridge from being destroyed.

Federal artillery scattered the town’s residents and destroyed several buildings and homes. Confederate gunners began returning fire, and the rear guard made a stand that eventually pushed the Federals back out of town the way they came. Meanwhile, action had begun at Cross Keys to the north.

As Fremont’s troops advanced, Ewell’s front line held them up long enough for the rest of the Confederates to assemble in their strong defenses. Fremont, believing he was facing Jackson’s entire army, held back and instead opened an artillery barrage. Both sides traded cannon fire for about two hours before Fremont directed Brigadier General Julius Stahel’s brigade to move around and attack the Confederate right flank.

Battle of Cross Keys | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Battle of Cross Keys | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

As Stahel’s men moved, they were unaware that Brigadier General Isaac Trimble’s Confederate brigade had moved forward a half-mile on the right, crawling to avoid detection. When the Federals came within 50 yards, Trimble’s men rose and fired into them. After two more volleys, the surviving Federals fell back.

The fight reverted to an artillery duel, but it had to be cut short due to ammunition running low on both sides. Trimble advanced another half-mile down the Keezletown road to attack a Federal battery, forming a mile-wide gap between Ewell’s right and center. The Federals pulled their guns back before Trimble’s men could reach them.

Ewell brought up Brigadier General Richard Taylor’s brigade to fill the gap caused by Trimble and shore up the left. A portion of Fremont’s army led by Brigadier General Robert H. Milroy advanced to attack the Confederate left at Mill Creek, but the Federals were met unexpectedly by enemy skirmishers firing into them. Milroy tried regrouping, but his men were then hit by Ewell’s artillery in the center.

As Milroy prepared to shift right, an order came from Fremont to fall back. This shocked Milroy because had Fremont committed his entire force, he could have taken the Confederate positions. But Fremont seemed confused by the unexpected Confederate strength and ended the fight. Five regiments under Brigadier General Robert C. Schenck stood idle to Milroy’s right, having never received orders to get into the fight.

Despite his objections, Milroy complied with Fremont’s directive, and the Federals withdrew under cover of their artillery. As the Confederates took the Federals’ positions, Trimble pleaded with Ewell to counterattack. But Ewell, following Jackson’s orders to stay on the defensive, refused.

Fremont sustained 684 casualties (114 killed, 443 wounded, and 127 missing), with half the losses suffered by the 8th New York. Ewell lost just 288 (41 killed, 232 wounded, and 15 missing), but two of his brigade commanders (Arnold Elzey and George Steuart) were badly wounded.

Meanwhile, Fremont received a message that Shields had arrived at Port Republic and would be ready to link with him. Unbeknownst to Fremont, Shields had written the message before Jackson’s Confederates drove him back out of town. Thus, Fremont planned to renew the attack the next day.

President Abraham Lincoln, unaware that all this was taking place, realized that Major General Irvin McDowell’s Federals, further northward down the Shenandoah Valley, would not catch Jackson. Therefore, he granted McDowell’s request to leave the Valley and head back east to reinforce the Federals on the Virginia Peninsula.

Lincoln gave Fremont command of all troops in the Valley, with Shields to rejoin McDowell on the return trip. The other Federal army in the Valley under Major General Nathaniel P. Banks would then move from Winchester to McDowell’s positions at Front Royal.

Jackson, emboldened by his successes today, planned to attack Shields in the morning, and then turn to finish Fremont off in the afternoon. In a bold move, Jackson ordered Trimble’s reinforced brigade to hold Fremont off at Cross Keys while the rest of Ewell’s men crossed the North River and joined Jackson at Port Republic. Jackson risked his army’s destruction if either Fremont or Shields attacked, but Jackson was convinced they would not.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Decoying the Yanks: Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 165, 169; 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. 461; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 164-65; Jensen, Les D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 194, 597; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 77-78; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 224; 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; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 387-89; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 677

“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