Tag Archives: John Pope

Northern Virginia: Lee Hurries to Attack

August 23, 1862 – Major General John Pope missed an opportunity to claim an easy victory, and General Robert E. Lee hurried to form a plan of attack before the Federal numbers became too overwhelming.

John Pope and Robert E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Pope had pulled his Federal Army of Virginia north of the Rappahannock River. After learning that Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was nearby, he decided to attack Lee’s right (east) flank, which threatened Pope’s access to reinforcements at Aquia Creek. However, Pope changed his mind when he received word that Confederates were also threatening him on his own right (west) flank.

Major General Franz Sigel, commanding a corps in Pope’s army, reported that Confederates had crossed the Rappahannock in his sector, which was Pope’s right. The Confederates represented a lone brigade from Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s force, which got trapped when heavy rains swelled the river and made it impossible to cross back to the Confederate side.

Pope, thinking this was the vanguard of Lee’s entire army, decided to wait for the rest of the enemy troops to cross and then attack when their backs were to the river. He ordered Sigel to “stand firm and let the enemy develop towards Warrenton.” But when Pope learned that the river was too high to cross, he wrote, “The enemy, therefore, on this side is cut off from those on the other, and there is no fear of this position.” Pope sent reinforcements to Sigel and ordered him to attack, leaving “nothing behind you.”

Had Sigel attacked, he could have annihilated the small, isolated force. Instead, he spent much of the day getting his men into position. Meanwhile, Jackson’s Confederates hurried to build a bridge that enabled the troops to cross back unharmed.

On the eastern flank, both sides engaged in a fierce five-hour artillery battle as Major General James Longstreet’s Confederates tried driving Major General Irvin McDowell’s corps away from Beverly Ford and the railroad bridge across the Rappahannock. McDowell ultimately fell back, not because of Confederate pressure but because he was ordered to withdraw to Warrenton.

Meanwhile, portions of Major General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac began taking positions in Pope’s line, with General Fitz John Porter’s men taking Kelly’s Ford and General Philip Kearny’s men holding Catlett’s Station. More of McClellan’s Federals, as well as those from western Virginia under General Jacob D. Cox, were at Alexandria awaiting transport to Pope’s army, which was getting stronger every day.

As Pope grew stronger, McClellan became proportionately weaker. Dejected about leaving the Peninsula and turning his men over to Pope, McClellan wrote his wife:

“I take it for granted that my orders will be as disagreeable as it is possible to make them–unless Pope is beaten, in which case they will want me to save Washington again. Nothing but their fears will induce them to give me any command of importance or to treat me otherwise than with discourtesy.”

The next day, McClellan received orders from General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck: “You can either remain at Aquia or come to Alexandria, as you may deem best, so as to direct the landing of your troops.” McClellan, who was now merely expected to funnel troops to Pope, went to Alexandria, where his army’s III and VI corps were landing.

Lee was informed about these reinforcements; he also learned from Pope’s captured quartermaster that Cox’s Federals were coming in from western Virginia. It would not be long before Pope’s army became too strong for the Confederates to confront.

Based on the gathered intelligence and Pope’s own dispatch book stolen by Major General Jeb Stuart, Lee informed President Jefferson Davis that he would cut the Orange & Alexandria Railroad and put his troops between Pope and Washington. He called on the remaining Confederates guarding Richmond to come north and join his army.

Lee then met with Jackson and directed him to lead his 23,000 Confederates up the Rappahannock to destroy all communication and supply lines at Manassas Junction, in Pope’s rear. Jackson could cross the river at an unguarded ford and use the mountains to hide his movement. Lee ordered Stuart’s cavalry to join Jackson’s force.

Lee’s other 32,000 men would demonstrate against Pope’s front, diverting his attention. This violated the military axiom not to divide one’s force in the face of a superior enemy, but Lee hoped that cutting Pope’s lines would compel him to fall back without a fight.

By the 24th, the Federals had massed on their right (western) flank, with Pope reinforcing Sigel. They now controlled the Rappahannock crossings as far upriver as Waterloo. Stuart studied the maps and chose a spot even farther up the river to cross. Jackson told Lee, “I shall move within an hour,” and his Confederates were in motion by 3 a.m. on the 25th.

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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 17169; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 610, 614; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 195-96; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 4365-88; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 125-26; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 120-21

Northern Virginia: Stuart Raids Pope’s Headquarters

August 22, 1862 – Confederate Major General Jeb Stuart sought revenge for the recent Federal ambush and exacted even more than he intended.

On the morning of the 20th, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia crossed the undefended fords of the Rapidan River. The army consisted of about 54,000 men in seven divisions, two unattached infantry brigades, a cavalry division, and artillery. At the same time, Major General John Pope’s Federal Army of Virginia crossed the Rappahannock River to the north, as Pope sought to link with Major General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac transferring from the Virginia Peninsula.

General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate army, hoped to destroy bridges over the Rappahannock to prevent the Federal withdrawal, but skirmishing at Raccoon Ford, Stevensburg, Brandy Station, and Kelly’s Ford prevented that. Confederate cavalry pursuing Pope drove off Brigadier General George Bayard’s Federal troopers, but Bayard stalled long enough for Pope to finish crossing the Rappahannock and guard the fords. This compelled the Confederates to move up the Rappahannock by Pope’s left flank.

Although he had thwarted Lee’s plan to trap him between the Rappahannock and the Rapidan, Pope was not satisfied with his positions north of the Rappahannock. He reported to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “The line of the Rappahannock offers no advantage of defense, but you may rely upon our making a very hard fight in case the enemy advances on us.”

Halleck informed Pope that General Fitz John Porter’s V Corps from McClellan’s army had just arrived at Aquia Creek, and “will be pushed up the Rappahannock as rapidly as possible” to give Pope around 60,000 men. Pope turned most of his attention to his left, where he feared that Confederates might try cutting him off from McClellan’s arriving Federals.

Lee continued probing the Federal defenses but could find no weaknesses. Confederate cavalry clashed with Federals at Kelly’s, Beverly, and Freeman’s fords on the Rappahannock and sustained heavy casualties; the Confederates lost 700 killed or wounded and had nearly 2,000 taken prisoner. Pope believed this was just an enemy reconnaissance; he was unaware that Lee was moving his entire army north to confront him.

Confederate General Jeb Stuart | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Meanwhile, Lee approved Stuart’s request to lead the cavalry on a raid of Pope’s supply line. Stuart’s 1,500 troopers and two guns moved farther up the Rappahannock than either army, crossing at the unguarded Waterloo Bridge. He planned to cut the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, the main Federal supply line, by destroying the Cub Run bridge near Catlett’s Station, 10 miles behind Federal lines.

The Confederates arrived outside the station around 7:30 p.m., where they captured the Federal pickets. They learned from the prisoners that this was Pope’s headquarters, and a contraband guided them to his tent. Pope was on an inspection, but Stuart raided the tent and made off with Pope’s dress coat, dispatch book, and $350,000 in greenbacks from the army’s payroll chest.

Stuart saw this raid partly as revenge for the Federal ambush a few days before, but he was pleasantly surprised by such a large bounty. He left a note for Pope: “You have my hat and plume. I have your best coat. I have the honor to propose a cartel for the fair exchange of the prisoners…”

Covered by a thunderstorm, the Confederates rode into the heavily stocked supply depot, hollering the “Rebel yell,” capturing many Federals in their camps, and sending others fleeing. Stuart’s men cut the telegraph line, but they could not burn the bridge due to the rain.

The Confederates captured over 200 Federals (many of them Pope’s staff officers) and thousands of dollars’ worth of supplies before riding back to their lines. More importantly, Pope’s dispatch book contained copies of all the messages he sent or received from the past week. Stuart’s raid indicated that Pope’s efforts to protect his left made his right vulnerable. It also indicated that once McClellan’s Federals arrived to reinforce him, Pope’s army could double Lee’s.

Pope learned of Stuart’s raid late that night, along with news that part of Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s force had crossed the Rappahannock at Sulphur Springs. He consulted with Halleck and resolved to turn Lee’s right flank, just as Lee planned to turn Pope’s right. Meanwhile, Porter’s corps arrived at Falmouth, 20 miles from Pope’s left at Kelly’s Ford on the Rappahannock.

Stuart’s troopers returned to their lines the next day, where Stuart shared the information he had learned with Lee. Pope’s captured coat was sent to Richmond, where it was put on public display. Lee quickly began devising a plan to destroy Pope’s army before it could join with McClellan’s.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 216; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 17150-69; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 205-06; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 609-10, 614; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 194-95; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 4342, 4353; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 254; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 125; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 147; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 120-21; Wikipedia: Northern Virginia Campaign

Federals Branded War Criminals

August 21, 1862 – President Jefferson Davis issued an executive order authorizing the execution of Federal officers caught using slaves for military purposes against the Confederacy.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

On August 1, the Davis administration issued a general order to all Confederate military commanders to treat Federals violating the rules of civilized warfare as criminals if captured, subject to imprisonment or death. This was a direct response to Major General John Pope’s orders waging war on civilians in northern Virginia. Davis accused Pope of endorsing “the murder of our peaceful inhabitants as spies, if found quietly tilling the farms in his rear, even outside of his lines.”

Davis also singled out the actions of General Adolph von Steinwehr of Pope’s army. Steinwehr had seized five prominent citizens in Page County, Virginia, and proclaimed: “They will share my table and be treated as friends, but, for every one of our soldiers who may be shot by ‘bushwhackers,’ one of these hostages will suffer death, unless the perpetrators of the deed are delivered to me.” Even Pope had reprimanded Steinwehr for his extremism.

The Federal notion of “bushwhackers” was defined in the Confederate order as “the citizens of this Confederacy who had taken up arms to defend their lives and families.” The order accused the Federals of starting “a campaign of robbery and murder against innocent citizens and peaceful tillers of soil.” Had Confederate officials known the Federals would violate the rules of civilized warfare, they would not have agreed to the recent prisoner exchange cartel.

The August 1 order declared that the Confederacy would not retaliate against northern civilians or “the enlisted men of the army of the United States who may be unwilling instruments of the savage cruelty of their commanders.” Rather, the Confederates would target the officers of commanders who violated the rules of war, as they “have the power to avoid guilty action by refusing service under a Government which seeks their aid in the perpetration of such infamous barbarities.”

Captured officers would be imprisoned until the Federal government renounced its harsh policies, and:

“In the event of the murder of any unarmed citizen or inhabitant of this Confederacy, it shall be the duty of the commanding General of the forces of this Confederacy to cause immediately to be hung, out of the commissioned officers prisoners as aforesaid, a number equal to the number of our own citizens thus murdered by the enemy.”

President Davis addressed another issue troubling him on the 1st, writing to General Robert E. Lee:

“The newspapers received from the enemy’s country announce as a fact that Major-General (David) Hunter (commanding the Federal Department of the South) has armed slaves for the murder of their masters, and has thus done all in his power to inaugurate a servile war which is worse than that of the savage, inasmuch as it superadds other horrors to the indiscriminate slaughter of all ages, sexes, and conditions.”

Davis asked Lee to seek confirmation from the Lincoln administration on whether it officially endorsed this policy. Davis feared that arming slaves would add to the “merciless atrocities which now characterize the war waged against us.”

Lee sent a letter to Federal General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck inquiring about:

  • The alleged murder of William B. Mumford by Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s Federal occupation forces in New Orleans
  • The alleged murder of Colonel John Owens by Pope’s Federals in Missouri (before Pope was transferred east)
  • Whether Hunter and Brigadier General John W. Phelps were arming slaves to murder their masters

Davis directed Lee to inform the Lincoln administration that if no response was received within 15 days, the Confederacy would assume the allegations were true and retaliate accordingly. Halleck replied on August 20: “As these papers are couched in language insulting to the Government of the United States, I most respectfully decline to receive them.”

The next day, Davis issued an order branding Hunter and Phelps as “outlaws” for encouraging servile insurrection by recruiting slaves into the military. Davis decreed that any commissioned Federal officer “employed in drilling, organizing, or instructing slaves with a view to their armed service in this war… shall not be regarded as a prisoner of war but held in close confinement for execution as a felon at such time and place as the President shall order.”

The Lincoln administration had stopped Hunter’s and Phelps’s efforts to turn slaves into soldiers (prompting Phelps to resign), but four days later, the War Department granted General Rufus Saxton’s request to recruit 5,000 slaves to serve as combat soldiers on South Carolina’s Sea Islands.

The ideas of waging war against civilians and recruiting blacks into the military were not supported by most Federal commanders. The most vocal opponent was Major General George B. McClellan, who wrote Halleck this month:

“It is my opinion that this contest should be conducted by us as a war, and as a war between civilized nations, that our efforts should be directed toward crushing the armed masses of the rebels, not against the people; but that the latter should, so far as military necessities permit, be protected in their constitutional, civil, and personal rights.”

Regarding slavery, McClellan lectured that the administration “should avoid any proclamations of general emancipation, and should protect inoffensive citizens in the possession of that as well as of other kinds of property. If we do not actively protect them in this respect, we should at least avoid taking an active part on the other side, and let the negro take care of himself.”

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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 21380-88; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 199; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 194; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 246; 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. 565; 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), Q362

Northern Virginia: Lee Tries Trapping Pope

August 15, 1862 – General Robert E. Lee hoped to attack the Federals while they were between two rivers, but Major General John Pope learned of Lee’s plan.

John Pope and Robert E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Lee arrived at Gordonsville on the morning of the 15th, joining his two top commanders, Major Generals Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and James Longstreet, on the Rapidan River. Pope’s Federal Army of Virginia was situated in a “V” formed by the Rappahannock River to the north and the Rapidan to the south, with the troops posted along the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. The Federal and Confederate armies each numbered about 55,000 men.

When Lee learned that Pope had just one functioning bridge over the Rappahannock, he studied the maps and decided to attack in hopes of trapping the Federals between the rivers and destroying their army. Lee planned to begin the offensive by sending his cavalry north to destroy the Rappahannock bridge and any other crossings the Federals could use to escape.

Jackson wanted to attack immediately, but Lee was informed that the cavalry horses needed rest. Also, most of the army’s supplies had not yet arrived from Richmond. Thus, Lee informed Jackson and Longstreet that they would cross the Rapidan on the 17th and attack Pope the next day. Disappointed, Jackson began the movement by leading his three divisions northeast of Orange Court House.

That same day, a large portion of Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac boarded steamers and left the Virginia Peninsula. McClellan warned General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “I don’t like Jackson’s movements. He will suddenly appear where least expected.”

Meanwhile, Pope continued waiting for the Confederates to make a move. He was unaware that doing nothing was damaging his troops’ morale, which was already down due to their low opinion of Pope as a leader. Many men took advantage of Pope’s orders to live off the land by looting nearby homes and farms, leaving the residents destitute.

General Marsena Patrick of Major General Irvin McDowell’s corps wrote that he was “so utterly disgusted that I feel like resigning and letting the whole thing go. There has never been such a state of things before, in any command.” Pope issued orders prohibiting attacks on civilians, singling out General Adolph von Steinwehr for his men’s poor conduct. But the damage had already been done.

By the 16th, Pope believed Jackson was at Gordonsville and Lee was about to join him with the rest of his army. However, Jackson was near the Rapidan River, and Lee was at Gordonsville already. Pope found no good ground north of the Rapidan to attack from, and he knew he needed to protect his left or else the Confederates could cut him off from McClellan’s reinforcements landing at Aquia Creek.

Pope asked Halleck to keep McClellan’s men in the Aquia Creek vicinity to protect his left flank. Halleck warned Pope against advancing any further: “I think it would be very unsafe for your army to cross the Rapidan. It would be far better if you were in the rear of the Rappahannock.”

At Gordonsville, Lee received word that 108 transports had arrived at Harrison’s Landing on the Peninsula, indicating that McClellan’s entire army was being shipped north. This allowed Lee to bolster his own army by pulling more troops from the Richmond defenses. However, Lee needed to strike quickly, before Pope received McClellan’s men. After giving the horses a day of rest, Lee directed the cavalry under General Jeb Stuart to head north and burn the Rappahannock bridge. Jackson and Longstreet would then advance and assault Pope’s left.

Lee assembled his army in Pope’s front on the 17th, but he was still not yet ready to cross the Rapidan, so he delayed the attack. That afternoon, Stuart’s horsemen rode into Orange Court House, where Stuart reported Pope’s positions to Lee. The next day, the troopers were ambushed by Federal cavalry near Verdiersville and sent fleeing. The Federals collected the items the Confederates left behind, including Stuart’s plumed hat and cloak, and dispatches from Lee stating the attack would be delayed. When Pope received this information, he ordered a withdrawal across the Rappahannock.

Lee received confirmation that night that Pope was indeed pulling back. This thwarted Lee’s plan to catch Pope between the rivers. Disappointed, Lee continued preparing for an attack nonetheless. During the Federal retreat, the corps of Major Generals Franz Sigel and Irvin McDowell became dangerously tangled at Culpeper Court House. Although this made them vulnerable to a Confederate attack, Lee did not take advantage of it.

Lee and Longstreet watched Pope’s army withdraw from atop a mountain crest on the 19th. Lee said, “General, we little thought that the enemy would turn his back upon us thus early in the campaign.” Knowing his men needed rest before potential combat, Lee gave them the rest of the day off and issued orders to begin crossing the Rapidan in pursuit at 4 a.m. on the 20th.

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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 17150; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 203; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 606-07, 613; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 192-94; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 4283-342; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 251-52; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 449; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 124-25; Wikipedia: Northern Virginia Campaign

The Peninsula Campaign Ends

August 13, 1862 – Major General George B. McClellan tried one last time to persuade the Federal high command to cancel the order to pull the Army of the Potomac off the Virginia Peninsula.

Maj Gen G.B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikispaces

In a letter to his wife, McClellan wrote that although General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck had ordered him to leave the Peninsula a week ago, he intended to stay and coax General Robert E. Lee’s Confederates into attacking his defenses at Harrison’s Landing. Apparently unaware that Lee would never try such a foolish thing, McClellan wrote, “If I succeed in my coup, everything will be changed in this country so far as we are concerned & my enemies will be at my feet.”

McClellan denounced Halleck and Major General John Pope as “enemies of the country & of the human race,” and the more he learned “of their wickedness, the more am I surprised that such a wretched set are permitted to live much less to occupy the positions they do.” He predicted, “I have a strong idea that Pope will be thrashed during the coming week, & very badly whipped he will be & ought to be–such a villain as he is ought to bring defeat upon any cause that employs him.”

Boasting that he would march on Richmond (even though he was just 25 miles away and made no effort to do so for over a month), McClellan wrote, “I will try to catch or thrash (Major General James) Longstreet (of Lee’s army), & then if the chance offers follow in to Richmond while they (the rest of Lee’s army) are lamming away at Pope.” If this desperate move failed, “why well & good. I will fall back.” But if successful, “I shall have saved my country & will then gratefully retire to private life.”

After divulging his true sentiments to his wife, McClellan sent one more frantic plea to stay on the Peninsula. He cited the overwhelming logistical problems that went with moving such a large army to Aquia Creek, as well as the lack of adequate living space for his men once they got there. McClellan argued, “If Washington is in danger now this Army can scarcely arrive in time to save it. It is in much better position to do so from here than from Aquia.”

On the 13th, McClellan traveled to Cherry Stone Inlet, over 70 miles away, to have a direct conversation with Halleck from the telegraph office there. He received a final message from Halleck in the early hours of the 14th:

“I have read your dispatch. There is no change of plans. You will send your troops as rapidly as possible. There is no difficulty in landing them. According to your own accounts there is now no difficulty in withdrawing your forces. Do so with all possible rapidity.”

Informed that Halleck had left the Washington telegraph office for the night, McClellan replied, “Your orders will be obeyed. I return at once. I had hoped to have had a longer and fuller conversation with you, after traveling so far for the purpose.”

McClellan finally began withdrawing on the 14th, 11 days after Halleck had ordered him to move immediately. Troops of III and IV corps began boarding transports, covered by the gunboats U.S.S. Galena, Port Royal, and Satellite. The transfer to Aquia Creek was completed two days later, ending McClellan’s failed five-month campaign to capture Richmond. His Federals had been as close as five miles to the Confederate capital, only to be driven off and neutralized on the Peninsula.

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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. 203; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 595-96, 605; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 192-93; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 4272-83; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 473-74; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 251; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 124; 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), Q362; Wikipedia: Northern Virginia Campaign

Northern Virginia: Lee Turns to Confront Pope

August 10, 1862 – Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates fell back after the Battle of Cedar Mountain as General Robert E. Lee prepared to move the rest of his Confederate army up to meet Jackson.

Jackson and Major General John Pope remained within striking distance of each other on the 10th, but neither tried resuming the offensive. Pope had about 34,000 men, with Major General Irvin McDowell’s corps on its way to join him from the east. Pope notified Halleck, “From everything I can learn, I am satisfied that one-third of the enemy’s whole force is here.” This was true, except Pope believed “the enemy’s whole force” was over 80,000 men, which would give Jackson nearly 30,000. In reality, Jackson had just 21,000 troops.

A ceasefire was called to collect the dead and wounded, and men from both sides mingled and visited with one another. During the armistice, Jackson learned that Pope’s entire army was concentrating near Culpeper Court House. So that night, he led his Confederates across the Rapidan River back to Gordonsville.

Jackson informed General Robert E. Lee that he had done this “in order to avoid being attacked by the vastly superior force in front of me, and with the hope that by thus falling back General Pope would be induced to follow me until I should be reinforced.”

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

This alarmed Lee because Jackson had not only failed to destroy Pope’s army, but he exposed the Virginia Central to potential Federal capture as well. Nevertheless, Lee wrote Jackson, “I congratulate you most heartily on the victory which God has granted you over our enemies at Cedar Run. I hope your victory is but the precursor of others over our foe in that quarter, which will entirely break up and scatter his army.”

Unaware that Jackson’s men had left, Pope wrote Halleck at 11 p.m. on the 11th: “The enemy has been receiving re-enforcements all day. (Major General James) Longstreet’s division (of Lee’s army) now on the march from Orange Court-House. I think it almost certain that we shall be attacked in the morning, and we shall make the best fight we can.” Pope asked Halleck to send him the Federal troops guarding Harpers Ferry and Brigadier General Jacob D. Cox’s small force patrolling western Virginia.

Halleck agreed to allow Cox to send half his command (about 5,000 men) to Pope, but Cox had to stay behind with the rest. Cox wrote, “It is the natural wish of every soldier to serve with the largest army in the most important campaign. The order to remain with a diminished command in West Virginia was a great disappointment to me, against which I made haste to protest.” Cox wrote to Pope, “I trust it will be possible for the General commanding to reconsider the determination to leave me here, as by long service in these mountains, I feel I have some claim to serve with a larger column.”

Pope discovered that Jackson was gone the next morning. He informed Washington that he would pursue the Confederates, prompting Halleck to respond, “Beware of a snare. Feigned retreats are secesh attacks.” Halleck directed Major General Ambrose E. Burnside to send Pope as many men as he could and secure the bridge at Aquia Creek to facilitate the arrival and transfer of Major General George B. McClellan’s Federals to Pope. Burnside responded by sending Pope 6,000 men under General Jesse Reno.

Jackson’s Confederates returned to Gordonsville, 20 miles south of Cedar Mountain, on the 12th. Once there they resumed guarding the Virginia Central Railroad linking Richmond to the Shenandoah Valley. Jackson dispatched his valuable topographer, Jedediah Hotchkiss, to survey the ground between Gordonsville and the Potomac River for a potential counter-thrust north.

The next day, Lee directed Longstreet to lead 30,000 men north to Hanover Junction to guard against a possible Federal advance from the Rappahannock River. An Englishman claiming to be a Federal deserter informed Lee that McClellan was moving his men down the Peninsula to Fort Monroe for a potential transfer to northern Virginia. The Lincoln administration ignored pleas from McClellan to attack Richmond; he had his chance and now he was done.

Pope wanted to attack as well, but Halleck warned him, “Do not advance your force across the Rapidan. Guard well against a flank movement by the enemy.” Reno’s Federals arrived to reinforce Pope, and Cox’s Federals were en route from western Virginia. Pope approved Cox’s request to come along as well: “You can come yourself with the troops. Select the best troops to come with you, and come speedily.”

Cox’s Federals moved from the Kanawha River to the Ohio River. They then boarded trains at Parkersburg, bound for Washington and then Pope’s army. This marked the first time the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad was used to conduct a major troop transfer. It involved complex logistics, but it was faster than marching overland.

On the 14th, Confederate Major General D.H. Hill confirmed the word of the English deserter after reconnoitering Harrison’s Landing. This prompted Lee to turn his full attention to Pope. Lee notified President Jefferson Davis:

“Unless I hear from you to the contrary I shall leave for G(ordonsville) at 4 a.m. tomorrow. The troops are accumulating there and I must see that arrangements are made for the field. When you do not hear from me, you may feel sure that I do not think it necessary to trouble you. I shall feel obliged to you for any directions you may think proper to give.”

Lee left two infantry divisions and a cavalry brigade to guard Richmond under General Gustavus W. Smith, who finally overcame the illness that had forced him to leave the army in June. Lee told Smith, “I deem no instructions necessary beyond the necessity of holding Richmond to the very last extremity.”

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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 17132-42, 17150; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 202; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 37; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 604-05; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 191-92; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 4272-83; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 473-74; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 250; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 124; 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), Q362; Wikipedia: Northern Virginia Campaign

The Battle of Cedar Mountain

August 9, 1862 – Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates advanced toward Culpeper Court House and confronted a Federal force deployed to stop them at Cedar Mountain.

On the morning of the 9th, Pope was hurrying to concentrate his new Army of Virginia. Major General Irvin McDowell’s corps was west of Culpeper toward Fredericksburg, Major General Franz Sigel’s corps was east of Culpeper near Sperryville, and Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s corps, along with cavalry and Brigadier General Samuel W. Crawford’s brigade, was just south of Culpeper. With Jackson approaching, Pope issued verbal orders to Banks that produced three different interpretations:

  • Pope claimed that he ordered Banks at 9:45 a.m. to set up defensive positions and await Jackson’s attack while Pope sent Banks reinforcements.
  • Banks claimed that Pope ordered him to deploy skirmishers and attack as soon as Jackson’s men appeared, even though he was outnumbered two-to-one.
  • Colonel Louis H. Marshall, Pope’s aide who delivered the verbal order, claimed that Banks and Crawford were to attack only if Jackson appeared to be mounting an attack first.

Banks’s Federals marched south toward Cedar Mountain, about eight miles from Culpeper Court House, as Jackson’s Confederates (led by Major General Richard Ewell’s division) moved north. Jackson observed dust clouds to the north, indicating the Federals’ approach. He deployed General Jubal Early’s brigade of Ewell’s division to the left and sent the rest of Ewell’s men to the right, almost on the other side of Cedar Mountain.

Although his entire force had not yet arrived, Jackson unveiled his battle plan: Ewell would turn the Federals’ left flank, while Early, supported by Brigadier General Charles S. Winder’s Confederates, would take the Federal right as artillery continued pounding the Federal center. Confederate artillerists opened fire around 3 p.m., touching off a massive two-hour cannon duel.

Cedar Mountain | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Cedar Mountain | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Observing the Federal positions with opera glasses, Winder directed the Confederate fire while his men got into attack positions. As the artillery battle began fading around 5 p.m., a shell fragment ripped into Winder’s left arm and side, killing him. Division command passed to Brigadier General William Taliaferro, who did not know Jackson’s plan.

While Taliaferro scrambled to strengthen his vulnerable left flank, Banks adhered to what he believed to be Pope’s orders and attacked before reinforcements arrived. Crawford’s brigade, on the Federal right, tore into Taliaferro’s men, broke three brigades, and nearly sent Early reeling. With the Confederates on the verge of a rout, Jackson brandished his sword (which had rusted into its scabbard due to lack of use) and a battle flag, shouting, “Rally brave men, and press forward! Your general will lead you. Jackson will lead you. Follow me!”

The Stonewall Brigade counterattacked, pushing the Federals back. But the Confederates overextended their line and the Federals counterattacked in turn. By this time, Major General A.P. Hill’s division finally began arriving on the scene, and Jackson hurried Hill’s men into the fight. They provided the difference in the contest by breaking the Federal right. As Crawford retreated, Ewell collapsed the Federal left as well.

The Federals left nearly a third of their force on the field as they withdrew. Pope deployed a fresh division to try stopping the retreat around 7 p.m., but Confederates repelled it with heavy loss, and Banks ordered a general withdrawal. Jackson ordered a pursuit but then stopped it when he learned from Federal prisoners that Franz Sigel’s men were coming to reinforce Banks. Sigel did not arrive in time to save the Federals’ fortunes. Exhausted, Jackson lay on the ground and told his staff, “I want rest… nothing but rest.”

General fighting ended around 10 p.m., with Confederate artillerists keeping up their fire until Pope, believing those were his guns, sent a messenger to order the firing stopped. The Confederates, believing the messenger to be part of Jackson’s staff, obeyed. In the fight, Banks had thwarted Jackson’s plans by attacking first, but he did not hold any men in reserve, nor did he request reinforcements from Pope. This allowed Jackson to turn the tide and claim victory.

The Federals suffered a terrible 30 percent casualty rate, losing 2,381 (314 killed, 1,445 wounded, and 622 missing) out of about 8,000 engaged. The Confederates lost just 1,314 (223 killed, 1060 wounded, and 31 missing) out of roughly 16,800, or less than 8 percent. Both Jackson and General Robert E. Lee mourned the loss of Winder, a valuable commander.

The Battle of Cedar Mountain temporarily stopped Pope’s efforts to move south and indicated to the Confederate high command that this was Pope’s intention. This news, coupled with news that Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac was abandoning the Peninsula, prompted Lee to move his entire Army of Northern Virginia north to meet Pope’s advance.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 83-84; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 210, 215; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 201; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 591-92, 596, 598, 604; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 4260, 4272; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 249-50; 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. 525-26; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 447-49; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 172-73, 787-88; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 98-100; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 146; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 122, 835-36; Wikipedia: Battle of Cedar Mountain

Shifting Focus in Virginia

August 8, 1862 – Major General George B. McClellan strongly protested General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck’s order to leave the Peninsula, and Confederates moved north to take on the new Federal Army of Virginia.

Halleck’s order outraged McClellan, partly because he believed it was meant to move Major General John Pope, commanding the Army of Virginia, above him in rank. McClellan wrote a lengthy plea to reconsider on August 4:

“Your telegram of last evening is received. I must confess that it has caused me the greatest pain I ever experienced, for I am convinced that the order to withdraw this army to Aquia Creek will prove disastrous to our cause. We are 25 miles from Richmond. and are not likely to meet the enemy in force sufficient to fight a battle until we have marched 15 to 18 miles, which brings us practically within 10 miles of Richmond… Add to this the certain demoralization of this army which would ensue (from pulling out), and these appear to me sufficient reasons to make it my imperative duty to urge in the strongest terms afforded by our language that this order may be rescinded.

“Here, directly in front of this army, is the heart of the rebellion. It is here that all our resources should be collected to strike the blow which will determine the fate of the nation… It matters not what partial reverses we may meet with elsewhere. Here is the true defense of Washington. It is here, on the banks of the James, that the fate of the Union should be decided.”

Maj Gen G.B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikispaces

Hoping this plea changed Halleck’s mind, McClellan directed a new reconnaissance under Brigadier General Joseph Hooker to proceed. Hooker’s Federals approached Malvern Hill, defended by General Wade Hampton’s Confederate cavalry, on the night of the 4th. As the Federals advanced in line of battle the next day, Hampton yielded to superior numbers and Hooker took the hill by noon. However, in light of Halleck’s order to leave the Peninsula, McClellan did not reinforce Hooker, and when General Robert E. Lee sent 20,000 Confederates to try flanking the Federals off the hill, Hooker had already fallen back to Harrison’s Landing.

On the 6th, Halleck informed McClellan that his order was peremptory: “You cannot regret the order of withdrawal more than I did the necessity of giving it. It will not be rescinded and you will be expected to execute it with all possible promptness.”

McClellan finally sent his sick and wounded, along with five artillery batteries, to Aquia Creek. But he informed Halleck that he would not transfer anymore troops at this time due to the maneuvers around Malvern Hill. McClellan said he would only obey Halleck’s orders “as soon as circumstances permit.”

After another day passed, Halleck sent another message to McClellan: “I must beg of you, General, to hurry along this movement (of withdrawing from the Peninsula). Your reputation as well as mine may be involved in its rapid execution.”

On the Confederate side, Lee was surprised to learn that the Federals had abandoned Malvern Hill. He met with Captain John S. Mosby, a Confederate partisan who had been held as a prisoner of war at Fort Monroe until recently exchanged. Mosby reported seeing many naval transports at Hampton Roads, which were moving Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federals from the Peninsula to Aquia Creek. This indicated that the next major Federal offensive would take place in northern Virginia, not the Peninsula.

Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Based on this intelligence, Lee contacted Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, whose Confederates were at Gordonsville, north of Richmond. Lee urged Jackson to seize the initiative from Pope by attacking first, writing, “I would rather you should have easy fighting and heavy victories.” Two days later, Lee reiterated his request, but since he could send no reinforcements to Jackson, Lee told him, “I must now leave the matter to your reflection and good judgment.”

Jackson led his three divisions from Gordonsville to Orange Court House, which the Federals had abandoned. Knowing that Pope’s army was spread out, Jackson planned to cross the Rapidan River and attack the Federals at Culpeper Court House before Pope could concentrate there.

On the morning of the 8th, Jackson ordered General Richard Ewell’s division to head north 20 miles to Culpeper. General A.P. Hill’s division would follow, and General Charles S. Winder’s division would bring up the rear. But then Jackson inexplicably redirected Ewell on a roundabout route west and then northeast without informing Hill or Winder.

Hill fell in behind the Confederates at Orange Court House, believing they were Ewell’s men. When informed they were actually Winder’s men, Hill continued following them anyway. Jackson and Hill had a heated exchange about this mix-up, and considering they had disliked each other ever since they were West Point cadets, this caused a permanent rift between them.

After waiting for the wagon train to pass, Hill’s men finally moved out and only covered two miles on the 8th. Confederates under Ewell and Winder marched through oppressive heat and halted at Burnett’s Ford, a mile into Culpeper County, that afternoon. Confederate cavalry drove off nearby Federal troopers and informed Jackson that the Federals had alerted Pope of their presence.

However, Pope did not know what Jackson intended to do. He also received orders from Halleck: “Do not advance, so as to expose yourself to any disaster, unless you can better your line of defense, until we can get more troops upon the Rappahannock… You must be very cautious.”

Pope responded by forming a defensive front between Culpeper and Madison Court House. He directed two divisions from Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s corps to move south on the Culpeper road toward Cedar Mountain, a 600-foot-high eminence between Culpeper and Orange. Pope also ordered Banks’s remaining corps and Major General Franz Sigel’s corps to link at Culpeper.

Sigel, apparently unaware there was only one road between his men at Sperryville and Culpeper, sent a message that night asking which road to take. A Federal officer said that Sigel refused to move and instead “remained like an ass between two bundles of hay in a state of perfect rest.” This enraged Pope, who already had a low opinion of Sigel. He ordered Sigel to take the lone road and march through the night to make up the lost time.

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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 17096; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 199-200; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 591-92, 595-96, 598, 605; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 187-90; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 4260, 4272-83; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 473-74; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 247; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 447; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 95, 98-99; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 124; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 121-22; 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), Q362; Wikipedia: Northern Virginia Campaign

Northern Virginia and the Peninsula

August 1, 1862 – Federal Major General John Pope began probing southward from northern Virginia while the Lincoln administration prepared to end the Peninsula campaign.

Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

As August began, new Federal General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck was planning to remove Major General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac from the Virginia Peninsula. Halleck intended to transfer the army to Aquia Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River in northern Virginia, about 12 miles from Fredericksburg. From there, the troops would protect Washington and reinforce Pope’s Army of Virginia.

In July, the administration had granted McClellan’s request for reinforcements by sending troops from Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Department of North Carolina and Major General David Hunter’s Department of the South. But on August 1, Halleck redirected Burnside’s force from the Peninsula to Aquia Creek, beginning the general removal. McClellan remained unaware that Halleck intended for him to abandon the Peninsula.

Outside Richmond, Confederate General Robert E. Lee faced two major threats: McClellan to the east, and Pope (and now Burnside) to the north. Keeping most of his Army of Northern Virginia facing McClellan, Lee had dispatched 24,000 Confederates under Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson to Gordonsville to defend against any southward advances by Pope.

Gen John Pope | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Pope’s army was spread across 60 miles, from the Blue Ridge west to Fredericksburg east. Burnside’s arrival at Aquia Creek enabled Pope to compact his line by bringing his men west from Fredericksburg. Pope had recently secured Culpeper Court House and intended to make it his base of operations. From there, he would protect Washington from any threat by Jackson. He would also try disrupting the lines between Jackson and Lee, which would facilitate McClellan’s removal from the Peninsula.

Pope sent Brigadier General John Buford’s cavalry and Brigadier General Samuel Crawford’s infantry to probe Orange Court House, where they skirmished with pickets on Jackson’s left flank. This marked Pope’s farthest southward penetration thus far, and it put his troops within 10 miles of Jackson’s main force at Gordonsville. Within a few days, the Federals pulled back to Culpeper Court House as Pope continued trying to concentrate his army so he could make an even stronger southward thrust.

When Pope learned of the skirmish at Orange Court House, he telegraphed Halleck, “The enemy is in considerable force at and south of Gordonsville, though not so strong, I think, as was supposed.” Pope estimated Jackson’s strength at 28,000 with the addition of A.P. Hill’s men, which was close to the actual number of 24,000. Pope wrote, “Unless the enemy is heavily re-enforced from Richmond, I shall be in possession of Gordonsville and Charlottesville within ten days.”

Meanwhile, McClellan’s Federals remained at Harrison’s Landing, where they had been since their retreating victories in the Seven Days Battles. In late July, Halleck had directed McClellan to reconnoiter the Confederate positions on the Peninsula to determine if Lee was staying around Richmond or moving north to take on Pope. McClellan thought this was preparatory to another drive on Richmond, not a withdrawal from the Peninsula.

McClellan directed a Federal division under Brigadier General Joseph Hooker to conduct “an expedition of importance in the direction of the enemy’s lines near Malvern.” On the night of August 2, Hooker, accompanied by General Alfred Pleasonton’s cavalry, began advancing the six miles from Harrison’s Landing to Malvern Hill, site of the decisive Federal victory on July 1. A small Confederate unit led by General Wade Hampton guarded the hill.

This reconnaissance failed, as Hooker reported the next day, “In consequence of the incompetency of guides furnished me, I regret to be obliged to inform you that I have deemed it expedient to return to camp. The German guide furnished me was lost before I left camp,” and only building a new road would “be likely to secure important results to the movement on Malvern Hill.”

As the Federals worked on organizing a new reconnaissance, McClellan received the official message from Halleck on the morning of the 4th: “It is determined to withdraw your army from the Peninsula to Aquia Creek. You will take immediate measures to effect this, covering the movement as best you can.” The movement “should be concealed even from your own officers. The entire execution of the movement is left to your discretion and judgment.”

To obey the order, McClellan would have to move his army down the Peninsula to Fort Monroe, load the troops on transports, and move them up Chesapeake Bay to the Potomac River to get to Aquia Creek. This would be a massive undertaking, especially considering that McClellan had not yet even moved his sick and wounded troops as Halleck had ordered him to do in late July.

The Lincoln administration wanted McClellan to withdraw so he could reinforce Pope’s army, which was the new hope to defeat the Confederates and capture Richmond after McClellan had failed. Politics also played a role in the administration’s shifting emphasis from McClellan to Pope: the latter was a fellow Republican unlike the former, who was a Democrat and considered by many to be hostile toward his Republican superiors.

Once McClellan’s troops reached Aquia Landing, they were to continue to Alexandria. They would then defend Washington and reinforce Pope’s army. McClellan deeply resented Halleck’s order, perceiving it as an effort to place Pope above him in rank. He resisted the directive as best he could, protesting vehemently while staying put at Harrison’s Landing. Meanwhile, Lee gradually began realizing that the next major Federal offensive would come from the north.

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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 17096; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 199-200; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 591-92, 595-96, 598, 605; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 187-90; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 4260, 4272-83; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 473-74; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 247; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 447; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 95, 98-99; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 124; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 121-22; 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), Q362; Wikipedia: Northern Virginia Campaign

The Peninsula Campaign Winds Down

July 30, 1862 – General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck wrote a delicate and personal letter to Major General George B. McClellan hinting that an order may soon come pulling McClellan’s Army of the Potomac off the Virginia Peninsula.

Maj Gen George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Histmag.org

As July wore on, McClellan became convinced that the Lincoln administration had turned against him. He singled out Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, his once-close friend, as betraying him, even though the men had recently pledged to “let no cloud hereafter arise between us.” McClellan wrote his wife from Harrison’s Landing:

“I think that he is the most unmitigated scoundrel I ever knew, heard, or read of; I think that (and I do not wish to be irreverent) had he lived in the time of the Saviour, Judas Iscariot would have remained a respected member of the fraternity of the Apostles, and that the magnificent treachery and rascality of E.M. Stanton would have caused Judas to have raised his arms in holy horror and unaffected wonder–he would certainly have claimed and exercised the right to have been the Betrayer of his Lord and Master, by virtue of the same merit that raised Satan to his ‘bad eminence.’ I may do the man injustice–God grant that I may be wrong–for I hate to think that humanity can sink so low–but my opinion is just as I have told you.”

Meanwhile, Lincoln questioned McClellan yet again on his math: “I am told that over 160,000 men have gone into your army on the Peninsula. When I was with you the other day we made out 86,500 remaining, leaving 73,500 to be accounted for.” Lincoln estimated that 28,500 had been killed, wounded, or captured, which left another 45,000 “still alive and not with (the army), half or two thirds of them are fit for duty to-day. Have you any more perfect knowledge of this than I have?”

Lincoln then stated, “If I am right, and you had these men with you, you could go into Richmond in the next three days. How can they be got to you, and how can they be prevented from getting away in such numbers for the future?”

McClellan finally responded a week later, stating that his army actually numbered 101,000 officers and men. He added that many more were needed because he estimated General Robert E. Lee’s strength at 170,000 men (Lee’s army actually totaled less than half that number).

Maj Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

When Halleck arrived at Washington to become general-in-chief, he met with Lincoln and Stanton to discuss what should be done with the Army of the Potomac in general and McClellan in particular. Lincoln decided to replace McClellan with Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, but Burnside refused to accept the position. So McClellan remained in command for now.

Halleck traveled to Harrison’s Landing to meet with McClellan and inspect his army. McClellan shared a plan with him in which 30,000 reinforcements would be needed so that McClellan could send part of his force across the James River to capture Petersburg, a vital railroad town south of Richmond. This would isolate Richmond from most railroad lines and force the Confederates to either fight or flee.

Halleck countered that if Lee had 170,000 troops as McClellan estimated, he could easily defeat the divided Federal army, one piece at a time. Or, Lee could leave part of his army to guard against both Federal pieces while sending the main force north to confront Major General John Pope’s Army of Virginia.

Halleck told McClellan that he would get 20,000 reinforcements from the Carolinas, and he would use those men to attack Richmond. If McClellan did not attack, he would have to leave the Peninsula. McClellan said that 20,000 men may be enough to take the Richmond.

The awkward reversal of roles between Halleck and McClellan strained their relationship. Upon returning to Washington, Halleck wrote his wife that meeting with McClellan had been “necessarily somewhat embarrassing,” and “it certainly was unpleasant to tell one who had been my superior in rank that his plans were wrong, but my duty to myself and the country compelled me to do so.” While Halleck considered McClellan “a most excellent and valuable man, he does not understand strategy and should never plan a campaign.” Halleck concluded:

“We can get along very well together if he is so disposed, but I fear that his friends have excited his jealousy and that he will be disposed to pitch into me. Very well. My hands are clean. When in command of the army no one did more than I did to sustain him and in justice… to the country he ought now to sustain me. I hope he will but I doubt it. He is surrounded by very weak advisers.”

Halleck called upon Burnside in North Carolina and Major General David Hunter in South Carolina to donate the troops needed to reinforce McClellan. Hunter, who had recently sent seven regiments to Virginia, replied that “no more could be spared without seriously jeopardizing the important basis of operations and depots of stores in this department.” Hunter had asked permission to recruit and arm local slaves to make up for the manpower shortage, but the Lincoln administration was not yet prepared to allow it.

Meanwhile, it only took a day for McClellan to start complaining about getting only 20,000 men. Recently paroled Federal prisoners told their officers that Confederates were coming from all directions to defend Richmond, leaving McClellan to conclude that “the Southern States are being drained of their garrisons to reinforce the Army in my front.” He now asked for all of Burnside’s and Hunter’s troops, 35,000 in all, along with “15,000 or 20,000 men from the West to reinforce me temporarily.”

McClellan also continued ranting to his wife, but his prime target was no longer Stanton but Lincoln. McClellan fumed that “We never conversed on the subject” of who should become general-in-chief, “I only know it from the newspapers.” McClellan accused Lincoln of doing this “to make the matter as offensive as possible.”

To McClellan, Lincoln “had not shown the slightest gentlemanly or friendly feeling & I cannot regard him as in any respect my friend–I am confident that he would relieve me tomorrow if he dared do so. His cowardice alone prevents it.” In another letter, McClellan wrote of Lincoln, “I can never regard him with other feelings than those of thorough contempt–for his mind, heart & morality.”

McClellan also expressed disdain for Lincoln’s advisors and hoped “Halleck will scatter them to the four winds.” He singled out Major General Irvin McDowell, whom he called “morally dead” and asserted that “he has no longer one particle of influence & is despised by all alike.”

Halleck received McClellan’s amended request for 55,000 men and not the 20,000 he had been promised on the 29th. He responded by ordering every steamer in Baltimore Harbor to start moving toward the James River. These would not bring troops to the Peninsula; they would take McClellan’s army off. Halleck reasoned that if Lee’s army had become as strong as McClellan claimed, then the Federals faced certain destruction if they stayed on the Peninsula.

McClellan wrote Halleck the next day, unaware that steamers were en route, “I hope that it may soon be decided what is to be done by this army, and that the decision may be to reinforce it at once.” McClellan guessed that Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates had headed north with 35,000 men, while Major General A.P. Hill’s men stayed in Richmond. In reality, Jackson had gone north with just 11,000, but Hill recently joined him with 18,000 more.

McClellan warned, “Heavy (enemy) re-enforcements have arrived in Richmond and are still coming.” He urged Halleck to “re-enforce the army by every available means and throw it again upon Richmond. Should it be determined to withdraw it, I shall look upon our cause as lost and the demoralization of the army certain.”

Halleck responded with a deeply personal letter meant to convey his respect for McClellan but also his need to do his job as McClellan’s new superior. Halleck began:

“You are probably aware that I hold my present position contrary to my own wishes, and that I did everything in my power to avoid coming to Washington; but after declining several invitations from the President I received the order of the 11th instant, which left me no option.”

He gave McClellan his “full approbation and cordial support. There was no one in the Army under whom I could serve with greater pleasure, and I now ask from you that same support and co-operation and that same free interchange of opinions as in former days. If we disagree in opinion, I know that we will do so honestly and without unkind feelings. If we permit personal jealousies to interfere for a single moment with our operations, we shall not only injure the cause but ruin ourselves.”

Halleck requested that McClellan probe the Richmond defenses to verify rumors that Lee had sent the bulk of his army northward to confront Pope. He also directed McClellan to transfer all his sick and wounded troops from Harrison’s Landing, “in order to enable you to move in any direction.” It was suspected that this was a preparatory move for ending McClellan’s Peninsula campaign.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 78; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 199; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 595; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 186; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 245