Tag Archives: John D. Imboden

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

The Gettysburg Aftermath

July 4, 1863 – General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia began retreating from Gettysburg, but the swelling Potomac River threatened to trap Lee in hostile territory.

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

The Battle of Gettysburg decimated the Confederate army. Lee lost a third of his men, including 19 of his 52 generals (five killed, 12 wounded, and two captured). Eight of his 37 brigades were virtually destroyed. As such, the army could no longer sustain itself in enemy territory, so late on the 3rd, Lee began arranging for the long withdrawal back to Virginia.

Lee assigned Brigadier General John D. Imboden’s cavalry brigade to guard the ambulances filled with wounded men as they moved out. After a three-hour delay due to a thunderstorm, Imboden and the 17-mile wagon train mobilized around 4 p.m. and continued through the night. The wagons had no springs, making the long journey especially agonizing for the wounded. Those who died along the way were buried on the side of the road. The rest of the army remained on Seminary Ridge, defending against a possible Federal counterattack.

Lee wrote a report for President Jefferson Davis and sent a messenger to Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, under a flag of truce to request a prisoner exchange. This could have revealed the Confederate withdrawal to Meade, but Lee took that chance because he did not want to be slowed by taking nearly 4,000 Federal prisoners back to Virginia. Meade prudently declined, stating that he had no authority from his government to negotiate such a deal.

During the 4th, Federal scouts reported that the Confederate left wing had fallen back, but the main army remained behind defenses on Seminary Ridge. Meade reported having just 51,414 officers and men present for duty, unaware that some 15,000 men were not counted because they had been separated from their commands during the battle. Four of the army’s seven corps sustained almost 90 percent of the casualties: I, II, III, and XI. V and XII corps suffered minimal losses, and Major General John Sedgwick’s VI Corps hardly saw any action in the three-day battle.

Nevertheless, Meade had just three strong corps left in his army to do what the Army of the Potomac had never done before: drive the Confederates out of their defenses. He briefly considered advancing near Devil’s Den and the Wheat Field, but the afternoon thunderstorm convinced him to stay put.

Meade issued an order congratulating the army on its victory and adding, “Our task is not yet accomplished, and the commanding general looks to the army for greater efforts to drive from our soil every vestige of the presence of the invader.” That night, the Federal corps commanders voted five-to-two to stay where they were until they could confirm the Confederate withdrawal.

Confederate troops began pulling out that night, with Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s corps withdrawing in blinding rain, followed by Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s. They slowly moved toward Williamsport, Maryland, where they would cross the Potomac and reenter Virginia. Wounded Federal prisoners were left behind. Lee sat upon his horse and looked back at Seminary Ridge as he rode off. He once again said that the defeat was “all my fault. I thought my men were invincible.”

As details of the battle reached Washington, President Abraham Lincoln recognized that the Federals had won a great victory. He happily issued a proclamation celebrating “a great success to the cause of the Union… on this day, He whose will, not ours, should ever be done, be everywhere remembered and reverenced with profoundest gratitude.” One D.C. resident noted, “I never knew such excitement in Washington.” Lincoln quickly looked to Meade to pursue and destroy Lee’s army.

News of the victory at Gettysburg soon combined with news of victory at Vicksburg to spark mass celebrations in the North. Church bells tolled in most major cities, with six authorizing 100-gun salutes in honor of the success. Prominent New York diarist George Templeton Strong wrote in his diary:

“The results of this victory are priceless… The charm of Robert E. Lee’s invincibility is broken. The Army of the Potomac has at last found a general that can handle it, and has stood nobly up to its terrible work in spite of its long disheartening list of hard-fought failures… Copperheads are palsied and dumb for the moment at least… Government is strengthened four-fold at home and abroad.”

Meanwhile, gloom pervaded the South, as people began realizing that their only hope for independence was either foreign intervention or a miraculous military turnaround. Captain Raphael Semmes of the commerce raider C.S.S. Alabama wrote about the defeats:

“… Vicksburg and Gettysburg mark an era in the war… We need no better evidence of the shock which had been given to public confidence in the South, by those two disasters, than the simple fact, that our currency depreciated almost immediately a thousand per cent!”

The thunderstorm continued into the 5th, with Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Confederate corps pulling out around 2 a.m. Ewell’s men did not arrive at Fairfield, less than nine miles away, until 4 p.m. The army continued moving through the heavy rain toward Hagerstown, Maryland.

The Confederate wagon train and Imboden’s cavalry guard passed through Cashtown, west of Gettysburg, and then turned south to Greencastle. Federal cavalry attacked the train, capturing 176 wagons, but Confederate artillery soon drove the Federals off. Residents of Greencastle used axes, saws, and other tools to destroy the spokes and wheels of 12 Confederate wagons before being dispersed. By the night of the 5th, the head of the train reached Williamsport, but the tail was still 31 miles behind.

Meade dispatched Sedgwick’s VI Corps around midday to determine whether Lee had withdrawn. The Federals cautiously probed forward, skirmishing with Confederates at Cunningham’s Crossroads. The Confederates disengaged and continued their withdrawal, camping west of Fairfield for the night. Sedgwick could not determine if Lee was retreating or just finding better ground to give battle once more.

On the morning of the 6th, heavy fog prevented Meade from learning anything about Confederate positions except that the enemy had reached Monterey Pass, southwest of Fairfield. At 8:30 a.m., Sedgwick wrongly reported that the path to the Confederates was strongly defended, and he did not wish “to dash my corps against it.”

Meade sent the Federals along three routes into Maryland, then west across the Catoctin Mountains to meet at Middletown. From there, they still needed to cross South Mountain to reach the Confederates. Meade telegraphed General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “As soon as possible, I will cross South Mountain and proceed in search of the enemy.”

Imboden repelled an attack by Brigadier General John Buford’s 3,000-man Federal cavalry division that morning, and the arrival of Major General Jeb Stuart’s Confederate cavalry drove the Federals off. Longstreet’s advance units reached Hagerstown around 5 p.m. Riding with them, Lee learned that the ambulance train had reached Williamsport. However, Federals had destroyed a pontoon bridge below the town, and the rains had swelled the Potomac too high to be forded. The Confederates were in danger of being trapped on the wrong side of the river.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 427; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 145-50, 152; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19070; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 301-02; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9453; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 576-77, 582-83, 588; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 323-25; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6257-80; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 535-36; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 156-57; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 378-80; 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. 663-64, 666; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 253, 307-08

The War Leaves Virginia

June 25, 1863 – Both the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Federal Army of the Potomac were now across the Potomac River and heading north.

Gen R.E. Lee and Maj Gen J. Hooker | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

By this date, Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Confederate Third Corps had entered northern territory, joining the Second Corps under Lieutenant General Richard Ewell. General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate army, sat atop his horse on the Maryland bank of the Potomac and watched Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s First Corps crossing in the rain. Bands played “Dixie” as local ladies came out under umbrellas to meet Lee and welcome him to their state.

Lee wrote President Jefferson Davis proposing that while his army entered Pennsylvania, Confederates at Tullahoma and Knoxville in Tennessee move north and “accomplish something in Ohio.” Lee also repeated his suggestion to pull General P.G.T. Beauregard’s Confederates out of Charleston to reinforce his army:

“If the plan that I suggested the other day, of organizing an army, even in effigy, under General Beauregard at Culpeper Courthouse, can be carried into effect, much relief will be afforded. I have not sufficient troops to maintain my communication, and, therefore, have to abandon them. I think I can throw General (Joseph) Hooker’s army across the Potomac and draw troops from the South, embarrassing their plan of campaign in a measure, if I can do nothing more and have to return. I still hope that all things will end well for us at Vicksburg. At any rate, every effort should be made to bring about that result.”

That same day, three of Hooker’s Federal corps began crossing the Potomac east of Sharpsburg. Lee was unaware of the crossing because his cavalry commander, Major General Jeb Stuart, was not providing him with information. An independent cavalry unit led by Brigadier General John D. Imboden, assigned to guard the Confederate left, entered Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. Apparently Imboden’s men did not heed Lee’s order prohibiting attacks on civilians or their property. According to town resident Dr. Philip Schaff:

“On Thursday evening their captain, with a red and bloated face, threatened at the Mansion House to lay the town in ashes as soon as the first gun should be fired on one of his men. He had heard that there were firearms in town, and that resistance was threatened. He gave us fair warning that the least attempt to disturb them would be our ruin. We assured him that we knew nothing of such intention, that it was unjust to hold a peaceful community responsible for the unguarded remarks of a few individuals, that we were non-combatants and left the fighting to our army and the militia, which was called out, and would in due time meet them in open combat. They burned the barn of a farmer in the country who was reported to have fired a gun, and robbed his house of all valuables.”

By the 26th, most of the Federal army had crossed into Maryland. Hooker informed his superiors that he was heading to Frederick. Hooker also hoped to use the garrisons of Maryland Heights and Harpers Ferry to cut Lee’s communications, but they were outside his military department. President Abraham Lincoln did not want to give up these garrisons because he hoped they might cause Lee to divide his army as he did in last year’s Maryland campaign.

Moreover, the administration began doubting that Hooker could stop Lee. When Hooker asked General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “Is there any reason why Maryland Heights should not be abandoned after the public stores and property are removed?”, Halleck responded, “Maryland Heights have always been regarded as an important point to be held by us, and much expense and labor incurred in fortifying them. I cannot approve their abandonment, except in case of absolute necessity.”

Lee arrived at Chambersburg that day, as one of Ewell’s divisions under Major General Jubal Early scattered Pennsylvania militia defending Gettysburg. Many of the militiamen were mere boys with no combat experience. Early told those that were taken prisoner, “You boys ought to be home with your mothers, and not out in the fields where it is dangerous and you might get hurt.” When the residents could not pay the $10,000 that Early demanded in tribute, the Confederates resumed their march to York. Early notified A.P. Hill of a shoe factory in Gettysburg that the footsore troops might use.

Governor Andrew Curtin called for 60,000 volunteers to serve in the state militia for 90 days or until the Confederates were driven out. Confederate guerrillas reentered Mercersburg, and according to Dr. Schaff:

“On Friday this guerrilla band came to town on a regular slave-hunt, which presented the worst spectacle I ever saw in this war. They proclaimed, first, that they would burn down every house which harbored a fugitive slave, and did not deliver him up within 20 minutes. And then commenced the search upon all the houses on which suspicion rested. It was a rainy afternoon. They succeeded in capturing several contrabands, among them a woman with two little children. A most pitiful sight, sufficient to settle the slavery question for every humane mind.”

Lee reiterated his orders prohibiting destructive behavior in General Order No. 73, issued on the 27th:

“The Commanding General considers that no greater disgrace could befall the army… than the performance of the barbarous outrages upon the innocent and defenseless, and the wanton destruction of private property that have marked the course of the (Federals) in our own country. Such proceedings not only disgrace the perpetrators… but are subversive of the discipline and efficiency of the army, and destructive to our present movement.”

Lee called on his men:

“… to abstain with most scrupulous care from unnecessary or wanton injury to private property. It must be remembered that we make war only upon armed men, and that we cannot take vengeance for the wrongs our people have suffered without lowering ourselves in the eyes of all whose abhorrence has been excited by the atrocities of our enemies, and offending against Him to whom vengeance belongeth, without whose favor and support our efforts must all prove in vain.”

This did not stop the guerrillas acting independent of the main Confederate army from returning to Mercersburg where, according to Dr. Schaff, they “drove their booty, horses, cattle, about 500 sheep, and two wagons full of store goods, with 21 negroes, through town and towards Greencastle or Hagerstown… I expect these guerrillas will not rest until they have stripped the country and taken all the contraband negroes who are still in the neighborhood, fleeing about like deer.”

Early’s division arrived at York on the 27th, where he demanded $100,000 in tribute, along with food, clothing, and shoes. City officials surrendered to Early but could only muster $28,000. One of Early’s brigade commanders, Brigadier General William “Extra Billy” Smith, addressed the residents:

“My friends, how do you like this way of coming back into the Union? I hope you like it; I have been in favor of it for a long while. We are not burning your houses or butchering your children. On the contrary, we are behaving ourselves like Christian gentlemen, which we are.”

Early received orders to wreck the railroad and bridges linking Harrisburg to Baltimore. Ewell’s other division under Major General Robert Rodes arrived at Carlisle, east of Chambersburg, and three Confederate divisions (two of Longstreet’s and one of Hill’s) were near Greencastle. Lee sent a message to Ewell expressing his desire to concentrate the army near York before driving on the state capital of Harrisburg. Lee did not know where Hooker was because Stuart had not informed him.

On the Federal side, every corps within the Army of the Potomac except VI Corps was across the Potomac by day’s end. Some Federals guarded the South Mountain passes and threatened Confederate communication lines, while others moved north to find Lee. Hooker directed his cavalry to ride ahead to Emmitsburg, Maryland, and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to scout the Confederate movements.

Hooker received Halleck’s message refusing to allow Maryland Heights to be abandoned. He personally inspected the defenses at both the heights and Harpers Ferry, and responded:

“I find 10,000 men here in condition to take the field. Here they are of no earthly account. They cannot defend a ford of the river, and, as far as Harpers Ferry is concerned, there is nothing of it. All the public property could have been secured tonight, and the troops marched to where they could have been of some service. Now they are but bait for the rebels, should they return. I beg that this may be presented to the Secretary of War and His Excellency the President.”

This angry exchange would have far-reaching consequences.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 393; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 295; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 30-35; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19009; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 296-97; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9419; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 442-43, 450; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 316-17; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5830, 5842, 5854; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 371-72; 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. 649; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 307-08; 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), Q263

Battle Looms in Northern Virginia

June 8, 1863 – Major General Jeb Stuart staged another extravagant Confederate cavalry review while Federal horsemen closed in on him.

General Robert E. Lee struck his headquarters at Hamilton’s Crossing, south of Fredericksburg, Virginia, on the 6th and headed north to join the main Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. As the troops moved toward the Shenandoah Valley, Confederate cavalry stationed there under Brigadier General General John D. Imboden demonstrated against Romney to divert Federal attention.

Meanwhile, Major General Joseph Hooker, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, ordered scouting expeditions both north and south of Fredericksburg to “feel the enemy and cause him to develop his strength.” Hooker added, “Let your pickets chat enough not to tell him (the enemy) anything, but to find out his regiments.”

Upon learning that Stuart’s cavalry was at Culpeper, Hooker wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “As the accumulation of the heavy rebel force of cavalry about Culpeper may mean mischief, I am determined, if practicable, to break it up in its incipiency.”

Hooker planned to send Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton’s Cavalry Corps, supported by 3,000 infantry in two brigades, to confront Stuart. Pleasonton assembled his two cavalry divisions under Brigadier Generals John Buford and David Gregg, and the infantry under Brigadier Generals Adelbert Ames and David Russell.

However, Hooker continued receiving conflicting reports of Confederates both strengthening and abandoning their defenses at Fredericksburg. It seemed clearer in Washington, where Major General Samuel P. Heintzelman, commanding the capital defenses, wrote General Julius Stahel, commanding Federals at Manassas Junction:

“There is little doubt Lee has moved his army from Hooker’s front. His object is not known. Push a strong reconnaissance into the Shenandoah Valley at once, to acquire any information which may be had of the enemy’s whereabouts or intentions.”

Lee reached Culpeper Court House on the 7th, where two divisions of Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s First Corps were camped, along with three divisions of Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Second Corps. Lee wired President Jefferson Davis asking him to approve sending Major General George Pickett’s division at Hanover Junction to rejoin Longstreet’s corps; Lee suggested sending a brigade from the Richmond defenses to replace Pickett’s men.

Lee also urged that reinforcements from General P.G.T. Beauregard’s Confederates at Charleston be sent either to himself or to General Joseph E. Johnston in Mississippi. Administration officials expressed reluctance to send Lee reinforcements, prompting him to offer to return closer to the capital if they feared for their safety.

Confederate General Jeb Stuart | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Stuart sent Lee an invitation to attend a second grand cavalry review at Brandy Station, just north of Culpeper Court House on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. Lee arrived to the cheers of his men and other spectators and pulled his gray horse up to the grandstand. He joined Longstreet and other officers, along with dignitaries and ladies in watching the procession. Major General John Bell Hood’s division was also allowed to attend, provided they behaved like gentlemen.

Stuart’s entire command rode past, consisting of 9,536 officers and men in a three-mile line. They moved at a slow walk in accordance with Lee’s order not to wear the horses out. Lee inspected every regiment as it passed and later said, “Stuart was in all his glory.” However, Lee noted that many units had shoddy weapons and tack. When Stuart rode past with a flowered wreath around his horse’s neck, Lee warned him, “Take care, that is the way General (John) Pope’s horse was adorned when he went to the Battle of (Second) Manassas!”

The festivities ended with the firing of cannon and a mock cavalry battle. Stuart then returned to his headquarters on Fleetwood Hill, across from Brandy Station. His troopers were to screen the infantry’s westward march the next day, but by nightfall his command was spread out over six miles.

Meanwhile, Pleasonton’s Federals moved along the Rappahannock, from Falmouth toward Culpeper. Pleasonton had 11,000 men and six light batteries, with orders to “disperse and destroy” Stuart’s command. Pleasonton split his force into two wings, which were to cross the Rappahannock River at different points and then unite at Brandy Station early the next day. Stuart planned to leave Brandy Station later that day, unaware that such a large Federal force was approaching.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 389; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 10; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18977-85; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 292; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 437; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 305-06; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5696-708, 5720; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 362; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 286, 307-08