Tag Archives: John D. Imboden

The Shenandoah Valley: Sigel Ousted

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

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

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

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

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

Maj Gen David Hunter | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 409, 414; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 5203-13, 5280-301, 5705-15, 6350-60; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 442-45; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24, 39, 41-46; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 506-07, 509; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 376-77, 527-28, 584, 817

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The Battle of New Market

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

Federal Gen Franz Sigel | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 444; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 88; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20404; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 17-18; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 408; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 5232-52, 5270-90; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 438-39; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 28-30, 32, 34-39; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 260-61; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 501-02; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 723-24; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 527-28, 707-08

Showdown Looms in the Shenandoah Valley

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

Federal Gen Franz Sigel | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20385; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 5148-77, 5193-203, 5212-22, 5232-242; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 427, 436-37; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 16, 20, 23, 25, 28-29; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 146, 527-28

The Army of Northern Virginia Awaits Action

March 26, 1864 – Confederate scouts informed General Robert E. Lee that the officers’ wives in the Federal Army of the Potomac were leaving camp, indicating that the Federals were about to mobilize for a new offensive.

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

Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia remained camped south of the Rapidan River, waiting for the battle season to begin again. Upon learning that Ulysses S. Grant had become general-in-chief of all Federal armies, Lee believed that Grant would stay in the Western Theater, where he was most familiar. He told Lieutenant General James Longstreet in eastern Tennessee that he suspected “the enemy’s great effort will be in the west, and we must concentrate our strength there to meet them.”

Lee told President Jefferson Davis that he was “not disposed to believe from what I now know, that the first important effort will be directed against Richmond.” With the Army of the Potomac having gained hardly any ground in three years, Lee reasoned that Grant would most likely just use it as a diversion while he focused on destroying the western Confederate armies.

When Lee received a copy of Grant’s General Order No. 1 declaring that his headquarters would be with the Army of the Potomac, Lee still maintained that Grant’s main focus would be on the west. Lee wrote Davis, “There was no apparent occasion for the publication at such a time and place of his intention to take up his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac, and the announcement appears to me to be made with some hidden purpose.” Lee continued:

“There is to my mind an appearance of design about the order intended to mislead us as to the enemy’s intention, and if possible, induce corresponding preparation on our part. I cannot learn that the army of Gen. (George G.) Meade has been reinforced by any organized troops, nor can I learn of any coming east over the B&O Railroad which I have ordered to be watched closely.”

In fact, Brigadier General John D. Imboden, commanding Confederate cavalry in the Shenandoah Valley, had informed Lee that the “enemy was moving troops westwards over that road all last week.” Although this did not prove that the Federals were shifting troops from the Army of the Potomac to the west, it indicated some kind of buildup away from northern Virginia.

Lee further reasoned that the west would be where the action began because “the roads will probably be more favorable for active operations at an early day in the south (i.e., northern Georgia) than in Va. where it will be uncertain for more than a month.”

Lee explained, “I am inclined to believe that the first efforts of the enemy will be directed against Gen (Joseph E.) Johnston (commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee) or Gen Longstreet, most probably the former. If it succeeds, Richmond will no doubt be attacked.” But Lee “cannot do more than weigh probabilities, they are useful in stimulating and directing a vigilant observation of the enemy, and suggesting such a policy on our part as may determine his.” The best course of action would be to–

“… make the best preparations in our power to meet an advance in any quarter, but be careful not to suffer ourselves to be misled by feigned movements into strengthening one point at the expense of others. We should hold ourselves in constant readiness to concentrate as rapidly as possible wherever it may be necessary, but do nothing without reasonably certain information except prepare.”

Lee hoped that Johnston in northern Georgia and Longstreet in eastern Tennessee might fend off any Federal offensive in the west, writing:

“Energy and activity on our part, with a constant readiness to seize any opportunity to strike a blow, will embarrass, if not entirely thwart the enemy in concentrating his different armies, and compel him to conform his movements to ours. In the meantime, to guard against any contingency, everything not immediately required should be sent away from Richmond, and store of food and other supplies collected in suitable and safe places for the use of the troops that it may become necessary to assemble for its defense.”

All this changed when Lee received word that the officers’ wives in the Army of the Potomac had begun leaving the camps. As more news about Federal mobilization trickled in, Lee finally realized that the main thrust of the upcoming Federal offensive would be against his Army of Northern Virginia. Lee reported to Davis on the 28th:

“General Grant has returned from the West. He is at present with the Army of the Potomac, which is being reorganized and recruited. From the reports of our scouts the impression prevails in that army that he will operate it in the coming campaign. Every train brings it recruits, and it is stated that every available regiment at the North is added to it.”

Lee also correctly reported that Major General Ambrose E. Burnside had resumed command of his old IX Corps, which was assembling in Maryland, and that Major General Franz Sigel was preparing his Federal army for a thrust into the Shenandoah Valley. Lee wrote that Burnside was “organizing a large army at Annapolis, and it seems probable that additional troops are being sent to the valley.”

Lee expressed concern that the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, which had been wrecked numerous times by Confederate cavalry, was now operational from Harpers Ferry to Winchester, and it was “closely guarded along its whole extent.” This indicated “secrecy and preparation.”

Lee stated that Grant’s “plans are not sufficiently developed to discover them, but I think we can assume that if General Grant is to direct operations on this frontier he will concentrate a large force on one or more lines, and prudence dictates that we should make such preparations as are in our power.”

To do this, Lee suggested that either Johnston or Longstreet launch an offensive: “If an aggressive movement can be made in the West, it will disconcert their plans and oblige them to conform to ours.” If that could not be done, “Longstreet should be held in readiness to be thrown rapidly in the valley, if necessary, to counteract any movement in that quarter, in accomplishing which I could unite with him, or he unite with me, should circumstances require it, on the Rapidan.”

Never before had the Army of Northern Virginia been in such danger. As the Federals massed on all fronts, Lee had just 40,000 effectives south of the Rapidan River. A.R. Lawton, the army quartermaster general, reported that the battered railroads were delivering more supplies than ever, even though they were on a “forced march.” Lawton worked to ensure that supplies continued arriving for the troops by rail because combat would soon resume.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6720; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 45

West Virginia: Early Chases Averell

December 22, 1863 – A new Confederate force moved into West Virginia to stop Federal raiding in the region, and endured freezing cold in the process.

Brig Gen W.W. Averell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

This month, Brigadier General William W. Averell’s Federal cavalry continued efforts to destroy the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad linking Virginia to the west. In bitter cold, Averell led his troopers from New Creek in southwestern West Virginia, with Brigadier General Eliakim P. Scammon’s Federal cavalry moving from Charleston toward Lewisburg in support.

Averell clashed with Confederates on the 10th, while another Federal raid began from Harpers Ferry. General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, responded by assigning Major General Jubal Early to stop this raiding in the Shenandoah Valley and West Virginia. Early led two infantry brigades and Major General Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry brigade from Lee’s army, as well as Brigadier General John D. Imboden’s cavalry already operating in the Valley.

Early’s Confederates left Hanover Junction on the 15th to block Averell’s troopers at nearby Millborough. The next day, Averell surprised the residents of Salem by riding through the town and destroying its railroad depot and nearby bridges. Averell’s Federals then fell back upon learning that Early was heading their way. The Confederates pursued Averell until the weather turned too cold for active operations. Imboden recalled that on the 22nd:

“It was an awful night for men to be out. Our clothes and beards were loaded down with ice. The roads were very rough and freezing rapidly, but in many places not yet hard enough to bear the horses and gun carriages. Through all the dreary hours we pushed on. I heard that two of Fitz Lee’s men froze to death that night, and just before daybreak one of mine was reported frozen to death. Many of my men had no overcoats and only ragged blankets. Fearing more would freeze, I halted in a rich man’s lane, two miles long, and ordered the men to make piles of the rails on either side and set fire to them, thaw the ice off their clothing and get themselves warm.”

Averell’s Federals returned to Beverly on Christmas Eve, ending their third raid of West Virginia. Major General Samuel Jones, commanding the Confederate department, was ultimately removed due to his inability to stop Averell and other Federals from operating in the region. Activity soon ended as the bitter winter began in West Virginia.

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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. 351; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 382, 384-85

Lee Mobilizes in Northern Virginia

September 29, 1863 – General Robert E. Lee began planning to attack after receiving confirmation that Major General George G. Meade’s Federal Army of the Potomac was weakened.

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

Confederates in the front lines along the Rapidan River in northern Virginia could hear trains pulling in and out behind the Federal lines. Lee had received reports that some Federal troops, possibly XI and XII corps under Major Generals Oliver O. Howard and Henry W. Slocum respectively, were leaving the army. But the presence of new Federal pickets on the riverbank indicated to Lee that Meade had been reinforced.

New information then arrived at Lee’s headquarters from the Shenandoah Valley, which Lee forwarded to President Jefferson Davis with an added message: “It is stated that Generals Slocum and Howard’s corps, under General (Joseph) Hooker, are to re-enforce General (William) Rosecrans (at Chattanooga). They were to move over the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and to commence on the night of the 25th.”

Lee doubted this report’s authenticity since his cavalry “still closely guarded” the railroad, but, “If the report from the valley is true, it will no doubt be corroborated to-day or to-morrow.”

The notion of two Federal corps leaving Meade’s army concerned Lee in two ways. First, it “furnishes additional reason for prompt action on the part of General (Braxton) Bragg” (at Chattanooga), if those corps were indeed going to reinforce Rosecrans. Second, “if the withdrawal of these two corps under General Hooker is true, they may be intended to operate on the Peninsula as a diversion to Meade’s advance.”

On the 29th, Lee received another report stating that Federal troops were heading west. This came from Major Harry Gilmore, commanding Confederate cavalry at Newtown, Virginia. Gilmore correctly identified both XI and XII corps as the Federals on the move, as well as Hooker being their new commander. Lee wrote Davis, “The report has been repeated from valley without giving the circumstances on which it was based.”

However, Lee received more conflicting reports from scouts north of the Rappahannock River stating that Meade was being reinforced. Lee wrote, “Those on the Potomac report a large steamer laden with troops as having passed up the river on the 21st, one on the 22d, one on the 23d, and two on the 25th,” even though they “may have been conscripts.”

By this time, Lee had begun leaning toward the theory that Meade was losing troops to Rosecrans. Lee wrote, “If it is true that re-enforcements are being sent from General Meade to General Rosecrans, it shows that the enemy is not as strong as he asserts.”

Regarding the Chattanooga situation, Lee shared reports “that (General Ambrose) Burnside (at Knoxville) has carried nearly all his troops to re-enforce Rosecrans, leaving only a brigade or two of mounted men between him and Knoxville.” It was also “probable” that part of Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee was heading east to reinforce Rosecrans as well. If so, “General (Joseph) Johnston (in Mississippi) should be moving either to Bragg or General Rosecrans’ lines.”

Lee next received a report from Brigadier General John D. Imboden, which he also forwarded to Davis: “General Imboden reports that 400 of his cavalry returned yesterday from an expedition north of Winchester. They report the railroad too strongly guarded to attack. He reports every bridge in Hampshire with a stronger guard than he can attack successfully.”

This “stronger guard” on the railroad indicated that Gilmore’s report was true–XI and XII corps were indeed moving west to reinforce Rosecrans. If so, Meade would indeed be weakened and possibly vulnerable to attack. Lee began planning to take the offensive. He hoped to drive Meade back to the Potomac for the winter, which would save northern Virginia from ravaging Federals and give Lee room to maneuver outside Richmond when the spring campaign began.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6393

The Gettysburg Aftermath: Lee Reaches the Potomac

July 7, 1863 – General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia reached the Potomac River, but Major General George G. Meade was reluctant to pursue.

Federal Maj Gen G.G. Meade and Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Confederates continued retreating after their defeat at Gettysburg, hoping to get back to Virginia before the Federal Army of the Potomac attacked them. Major General Jeb Stuart, commanding the Confederate cavalry, split his force between escorting the wagon train and fending off Federal advances.

Meanwhile, Brigadier General John D. Imboden’s Confederate cavalry brigade struggled to get the wagon trains across the Potomac. The bridges had been destroyed, but he found flat boats that could carry 30 wounded men at a time to the other side. Each trip took 15 minutes, and 10,000 wounded men needed to be sent across the river.

The Confederate infantry continued their march toward the Potomac, with Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s First Corps reaching Williamsport on the 7th. Lee hoped to get his army across by the end of the day, but he soon learned what Imboden already knew–there were no suitable crossings now that the river had swelled so high from the rain. Engineers and troops began tearing apart local warehouses, barns, and other buildings to build a makeshift pontoon bridge.

Still at Hagerstown, Lee reported to President Jefferson Davis, “I determined to withdraw to the west side of the mountains… to protect our trains with the sick and wounded, which had been sent back to Williamsport, and which were threatened by the enemy’s cavalry.”

Lee dispatched his engineers and Colonel E. Porter Alexander, one of the army’s top artillerists, to survey the ground around the river in case the Confederates had to turn and defend against a Federal attack. Alexander later wrote, “There was no very well defined and naturally strong line, and we had to pick and choose, and string together in some places by make-shifts and some little work.” The exhausted Confederates arriving at Williamsport soon took up defensive positions and awaited a Federal advance.

Meade, commanding the Federal army, had an excellent chance of destroying Lee if he hurried from Gettysburg and attacked before the Confederates could cross the Potomac. But Meade did not. The Federals slowly moved out of their defenses south of Gettysburg, with advance elements reaching Emmitsburg on the 7th. Meade took up headquarters at the United States Hotel in Frederick. Except for Brigadier General John Buford’s Federal cavalry division, the Federals were on the east side of South Mountain, while Buford and Lee’s army were on the west.

At Washington, more celebrations erupted when the news arrived of the victory at Vicksburg. President Abraham Lincoln ecstatically wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “Now, if General Meade can complete his work, so gloriously prosecuted thus far, by the literal or substantial destruction of Lee’s army, the rebellion will be over.” Halleck informed Meade, “It gives me pleasure to inform you that you have been appointed a brigadier general in the Regular Army, to rank from July 3, the date of your brilliant victory.”

Halleck sent another message: “Push forward and fight Lee before he can cross the Potomac.” And then a third: “You have given the enemy a stunning blow at Gettysburg. Follow it up, and give him another before he can reach the Potomac… There is strong evidence that he is short of artillery ammunition, and if vigorously pressed he must suffer.”

Meade responded by listing the difficulties he faced in trying to pursue Lee. Lincoln shared this message at a cabinet meeting on the 7th. According to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, Lincoln seemed filled with “sadness and despondency” because Meade “still lingered at Gettysburg, when he should have been at Hagerstown or near the Potomac, in an effort to cut off the retreating army of Lee.”

A group of serenaders visited the White House that night and called for Lincoln to come out and speak. Lincoln appeared on a balcony and addressed the crowd: “How long ago is it?–80 odd years–since on the Fourth of July for the first time in the history of the world a nation by its representatives, assembled and declared as a self-evident truth that ‘all men are created equal.’”

Lincoln declared that the “gigantic Rebellion” was making “an effort to overthrow the principle that all men were created equal,” and now it seemed finally on the brink of defeat. He indirectly referred to Meade’s slow pursuit of Lee: “These are trying occasions, not only in success, but also for want of success.” Lincoln ended by saying, “Gentlemen, this is a glorious theme, and the occasion for a speech, but I am not prepared to make one worthy of the occasion.”

In the Confederacy, news of the defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg traveled slowly. On the 7th, an article appeared in the Richmond Examiner stating:

“From the very beginning the true policy of the South has been invasion. The present movement of General Lee… will be of infinite value as disclosing the… easy susceptibility of the North to invasion… Not even the Chinese are less prepared by previous habits of life and education for martial resistance than the Yankees… We can… carry our armies far into the enemy’s country, exacting peace by blows leveled at his vitals.”

The following day, the Charleston Mercury reported that at Gettysburg, “A brilliant and crushing victory has been achieved.” On the 10th, the Examiner reported that Lee’s army had taken 30,000 prisoners and was advancing on Baltimore.

It was not until that day that the Davis administration received official word that Vicksburg had fallen. They also received a report from Lee stating that his army was unable to cross the Potomac, and from General P.G.T. Beauregard stating that the Federals had gained a foothold on Morris Island below Charleston Harbor. The end of the Confederacy never seemed so near before.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 151-52; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 304; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9760; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 586, 589, 623-24, 626, 641, 643; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 325; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 381-83; 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. 648, 663, 666; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 253; 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), Q363