Tag Archives: John S. Mosby

Mosby’s “Greenback” Raid

October 12, 1864 – Lieutenant Colonel John S. Mosby’s Confederate partisans returned to the Shenandoah Valley and recovered a large sum from a captured train.

John S. Mosby | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Major General Philip Sheridan’s Federal Army of the Shenandoah had cleared all organized Confederate resistance from the Valley following its victory at Fisher’s Hill in September. This left only raiders to wreak havoc on Sheridan’s supply lines, hoping to force him to fall back “down” the Valley to his supply base. Mosby was among the most prominent raiders in the region.

After reentering the Valley, Mosby and his 84 troopers hid near Winchester on the 13th, and then moved west after sundown. The Confederates stopped near Kearneysville, west of Harpers Ferry, and wrecked track on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad near Brown’s Crossing. They then waited for a train to approach.

Some time after 2 a.m., a westbound train derailed on the broken track and crashed into the bank. The conductor came out and promptly surrendered the train. Mosby called out, “Board her, boys!” and his men climbed aboard. They robbed the passengers and seized a satchel and a tin box from army paymasters that contained $173,000 in Federal greenbacks. The partisans pulled the passengers off the train before burning the cars and the locomotive.

Mosby’s troopers raced off into West Virginia, where they divided the loot into shares for each of the 84 men. Mosby refused to take a share, asserting that he was “fighting for glory, not for spoils.” His “greenback” raid temporarily halted traffic on the B&O Railroad and partially disrupted Sheridan’s main supply line. It also served as a forerunner to the famous train robberies that took place after the war.

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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. 475; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 509; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 583; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 342

Showdown Looms in the Shenandoah Valley

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

Federal Gen Franz Sigel | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

Reconsidering the Confederate Partisan Ranger System

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

John S. Mosby | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

Northern Virginia and the Confederate Strategy Conference

August 31, 1863 – General Robert E. Lee attended a conference with President Jefferson Davis at Richmond to discuss upcoming Confederate strategy in Virginia and elsewhere.

Brig Gen John Buford | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

In northern Virginia, Federal troops of Major General George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac continued working to secure their positions by driving Confederates away from the crossings on the Rappahannock River. Brigadier General John Buford, leading a Federal cavalry division, had been ordered to clear the area around Kelly’s Ford of enemy troops. Buford instead sent troops from XII Corps across at Kelly’s and rode upriver to Rappahannock Station. After sorting out the miscommunication, Federal engineers finally arrived and laid a bridge across the river, enabling Buford’s horsemen to cross.

As Buford rode out to confront any nearby Confederates, he encountered stiff resistance from Brigadier General Wade Hampton’s brigade of Major General Jeb Stuart’s cavalry near the Brandy Station battlefield of June 9. Lee reported that Stuart himself was “in the front with the brigade the whole day.” Buford reported, “By keeping my men well in hand, I managed to drive him back to within 1 1/2 miles of Culpeper, where I met a heavy force of infantry belonging to A.P. Hill’s corps.”

Buford ordered a withdrawal, recounting, “The fight was very handsomely executed, there were several charges, and sabers were used with success.” From the Confederate prisoners taken, Buford learned that Hill’s corps was at Culpeper, while the main part of Lee’s army was south, near Gordonsville. Based on this skirmish, Lee stated, “It was now determined to place the army in a position to enable it more readily to oppose the enemy should he attempt to move southward.”

By the 4th, the Army of Northern Virginia had taken positions along the Rapidan River, while the Army of the Potomac remained north of the Rappahannock. Both armies were roughly where they had begun the Gettysburg campaign, with Federals occupying the area where Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson had begun the Second Bull Run campaign a year ago.

The forces remained stationary for the time being, except for sporadic skirmishes and raids. On the 6th, John S. Mosby and his Confederate partisans captured a Federal wagon train at Fairfax Court House, making off with the supplies without a Federal pursuit.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

When Lee suggested bolstering his army with more men, President Davis replied, “It is painful to contemplate our weakness when you ask for reinforcements.” Lee’s army contained about 58,000 effectives, having been reinforced by 3,000 men from Major General Samuel Jones’s West Virginia command and augmented by the return of some stragglers and those slightly wounded.

However, the men lacked necessities such as food and shoes, and horses lacked grain and equipment. Disrupted rail lines affected the delivery of what little supplies could be gathered. And Lee’s chief of ordnance wrote that all ammunition delivered by Richmond must be tested before distribution because some of the artillery shells did not fit the guns.

Near month’s end, Davis summoned Lee to a series of conferences in Richmond to “prepare the army for offensive operations.” While the armies in Virginia were stalemated, the Federals were getting closer to capturing the vital port city of Charleston, and they were closing in on Chattanooga and Knoxville as well. And across the Mississippi, Federals were poised to capture Little Rock and threaten the Texas coast.

Lieutenant General James Longstreet, interim army commander in Lee’s absence, later wrote, “I called General Lee’s attention to the condition of our affairs in the West. I suggested that he should adhere to his defensive tactics upon the Rapidan, and reinforce from his army the army lying in front of (General William) Rosecrans–so that it could crush that army, and then push on to the West.”

Davis suggested keeping Longstreet in Virginia and sending just Lee to Tennessee to take over General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. Lee opposed both proposals, instead arguing that the best way to take Federal pressure off the threatened points was to go on the offensive against Meade. Lee wrote Longstreet on the 31st, “I can see nothing better to be done than to endeavor to bring General Meade out and use our efforts to crush his army while in the present condition.”

The talks continued into September.

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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. 313, 315, 317; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 594, 708; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 339; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6327, 6361-70; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 394, 397; 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. 671

Jeb Stuart’s Fateful Raid

June 23, 1863 – Confederate Major General Jeb Stuart planned to atone for his near-defeat at Brandy Station, but he disrupted General Robert E. Lee’s campaign in the process.

Confederate General Jeb Stuart | Image Credit: Flickr.com

As Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia moved north from the Shenandoah Valley into Maryland and Pennsylvania, Lee expected Stuart’s cavalry to screen the infantry’s right, led by Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Second Corps. However, Lieutenant General James Longstreet suggested to Lee that it might be better if Stuart rode around the Army of the Potomac a third time, which could divert Federal attention from the northern invasion.

Lee was informed that Federal forces had reached Edwards’s Ferry on the Potomac River. This meant that the Federal army was heading north from Fredericksburg, separating Lee’s army in the Shenandoah Valley from Stuart. Based on this, Lee issued discretionary orders to Stuart on the 23rd:

“If General (Joseph) Hooker’s army remains inactive, you can leave two brigades to watch him, and withdraw with the three others, but should he not appear to be moving northward, I think you had better withdraw this side of the mountain tomorrow night, cross at Shepherdstown the next day, and move over to Fredericktown. You will, however, be able to judge whether you can pass around their army without hindrance, doing them all the damage you can, and cross the river east of the mountains. In either case, after crossing the river, you must move on and feel the right of Ewell’s troops, collecting information, provisions, etc. Be watchful and circumspect in all your movements.”

Stuart interpreted these vague orders as permission for him to ride around the Federal army before crossing the Potomac east of Edwards’s Ferry and rejoining Ewell’s troops as they entered Pennsylvania. In the coming days, he would take little heed of Lee’s warning to immediately rejoin the army if he encountered any hindrance or delay.

The next morning, Stuart directed two brigades under Generals William “Grumble” Jones and Beverly Robertson to guard Lee’s supply train as it passed through Ashby’s and Snickers’s gaps in the Blue Ridge. The troopers were to stay behind “as long as the enemy remains in your front.” Stuart’s three remaining brigades under Generals Wade Hampton, Fitzhugh Lee, and Rooney Lee were to assemble at Salem Depot, Virginia, and prepare to ride east, between the Federals and Washington, in a ride around Hooker’s army.

Stuart received vital intelligence from partisan leader John S. Mosby that the Federal army was spread out and therefore vulnerable to an enemy cavalry raid. However, the improved Federal cavalry did a better job of masking the Federals’ exact location. Also, Hooker had an idea that Stuart might try such a move. He knew the southern press had harshly criticized Stuart for being surprised at Brandy Station, and Major General Daniel Butterfield, Hooker’s chief of staff, predicted that the flamboyant cavalry commander might “do something to retrieve his reputation.”

Stuart and his three brigades rode out at 1 a.m. on the 25th, heading east toward the Bull Run Mountains. That night, the Confederates unexpectedly found Major General Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps blocking their path. Rather than return west as Lee had advised if he met with any “hindrance,” Stuart turned southeast, putting the Bull Run Mountains, the Blue Ridge, and the Federal army between his horsemen and the rest of Lee’s army.

The troopers covered 23 miles on the 26th, en route to Fairfax Court House. They clashed with Federal cavalry units there the next day, sending them fleeing and taking some prisoners before seizing a large amount of supplies. After resting a few hours, the Confederates began crossing the Potomac into Maryland that night. By this time, Stuart was several hours behind schedule and cut off from Lee’s right flank that he was supposed to protect.

Stuart’s troopers completed their Potomac crossing on the 28th and entered Rockville, Maryland. There they captured 900 mules, 400 men, and 125 wagons filled with food for man and beast. Stuart opted not to try closing the distance between his force and Ewell’s, figuring he could catch up with them later. But the captured wagons slowed the Confederate pace from 40 to 25 miles per day. Stuart’s men left Rockville and rode all night into Pennsylvania, cutting telegraph lines and wrecking railroad tracks along the way.

The Confederates destroyed tracks on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad at Hood’s Mill, Maryland, and cut more telegraph lines on the 29th. By this time, they had ranged far and wide to the right of the Federal army. Stuart moved on to Westminster around 12 p.m., where his troopers fought off a surprise Federal cavalry attack from the 1st Delaware. The Confederates then fed their horses and rested.

Stuart rode north on the 30th and arrived at Hanover, Pennsylvania, around 10 a.m. A Federal cavalry division under Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick was already there, and Stuart’s troopers attacked one of Kilpatrick’s brigades led by Brigadier General Elon Farnsworth. The fierce fighting included hand-to-hand combat in the town streets. The Federals nearly captured Stuart before he raced off and jumped a 15-foot-wide gully to escape.

The Federals sustained 215 casualties (19 killed, 73 wounded, and 123 missing), while the Confederates lost 117 (nine killed, 50 wounded, and 58 missing). This engagement delayed Stuart from rejoining Lee’s army even further. Stuart tried riding west to rejoin Lee, but the growing Federal presence in Pennsylvania prevented him. He was also slowed by the long line of captured wagons and prisoners.

Stuart hoped to link with Ewell at York, but when he arrived that night, he learned that Ewell had hurriedly moved to Gettysburg. The exhausted Confederate cavalry continued on before finally stopping for the night at Dover. Meanwhile, Lee’s army was now marching blindly through enemy territory.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 25-26, 72-73; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 296-97; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 441; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 315-19; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5806, 5818; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 727-28; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 371, 373; 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. 648-49; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 307-09

Armies Begin Stirring in Northern Virginia

May 31, 1863 – Major General Joseph Hooker replaced his cavalry commander, Confederates raided his depot, and General Robert E. Lee sought to hurry his planned northern invasion.

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

With the Federal Army of the Potomac back at Falmouth following the Chancellorsville debacle, Major General George Stoneman, commanding the Cavalry Corps, requested a sick leave. Hooker, who believed that Stoneman’s failed raid in April and early May had contributed to the defeat, quickly granted his request.

Hooker replaced Stoneman with Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton, a self-promoter who claimed that his cavalry division had saved the Federal army from destruction during the Confederate flank attack on May 2. Pleasonton took command of three divisions and a reserve brigade. He ordered each trooper to carry on horseback only “his arms, the rations of forage and subsistence ordered, one blanket besides the saddle blanket, and that under the saddle, and an overcoat.”

Pleasonton reported to Hooker that while the Cavalry Corps had numbered “upward of 12,000 men and horses” two months ago, it was now down to less than 5,000 and “not fitted to take the field.” He added, “In taking this command, I cannot do myself such an injustice as to remain silent as to the unsatisfactory condition in which I find this corps.” Even so, Pleasonton would “use every exertion to bring it to a state of efficiency at the earliest possible moment.”

Pleasonton’s gloomy report prompted Hooker to use his cavalry sparingly, thus limiting his ability to reconnoiter the Confederate army. However, when scouts reported Confederate activity between Culpeper and Warrenton, possibly led by prominent partisan John S. Mosby, Hooker made it clear to Pleasonton that “no labor be spared to ascertain the true object of the movement. At all events, they have no business on this side of the (Rappahannock) river.”

Pleasonton sent Brigadier General John Buford with a division and the reserve brigade to investigate the activity. Pleasonton directed,

“On arriving at Bealton, should you find yourself with sufficient force, you will drive the enemy out of his camp near Culpeper and across the Rapidan, destroying the bridge at that point. The advance of the enemy’s cavalry in the vicinity of Warrenton may have for its object to conceal a movement in force up the (Shenandoah) Valley.”

Major General George G. Meade’s V Corps joined the troopers in patrolling the upper Rappahannock.

Rumors soon spread that Major General Jeb Stuart’s Confederate cavalry was at Culpeper, and Mosby’s partisan rangers were at Warrenton. This raised Federal concerns about a possible cavalry raid on Washington. However, it was learned that Mosby had just a small force between Falmouth and Washington, while Stuart remained south of the Rappahannock.

Nevertheless, General Julius Stahel, commanding Federals at Fairfax Court House, warned Major General Samuel P. Heintzelman, commanding the Washington defenses, “It is the current conversation and belief that Stuart is to be this (east) side of the Blue Ridge within a week. All the events and circumstances indicate such to be the fact.”

On the night of the 29th, with Federal commanders addressing rumors of Stuart’s impending advance, Mosby met with his partisans and planned a raid on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. They planned to ride to Greenwich, northeast of Warrenton, and then attack the Federal supply depot at Catlett’s Station.

The next morning, the Confederates cut telegraph lines, took out a section of railroad track, and waited for the next supply train to approach. The train quickly halted, and Mosby’s men used a howitzer to scatter the Federal guards detraining to assess the threat. The Confederates looted the 11 cars, taking “morning papers, several bags with the United States mail, boxes of oranges and candy, leather for boots, and nearly every one got a fresh shad.”

Mosby used the howitzer to destroy the train’s engine, and his partisans rode off before Pleasonton’s cavalry could arrive. The Confederates turned and fired their cannon into the lead Federal unit in pursuit and then charged, sending the Federals fleeing. However, more Federals soon came up and threatened Mosby’s right. Mosby later reported to Stuart, “Though overpowered by numbers, many of the enemy were made to bite the dust.” His partisans scattered and fled, leaving the howitzer behind. Both sides suffered about a dozen casualties each.

By month’s end, Hooker received information from his chief of intelligence that “the Confederate army is under marching orders” and would probably “move forward upon or above our right flank.” Meanwhile, Lee heard rumors that Hooker may advance against him again. The prospect of another costly battle south of the Rappahannock River made Lee even more anxious to start moving toward Pennsylvania.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 16; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5684

Mosby’s Fairfax Raid

March 8, 1863 – Captain John S. Mosby and his Confederate partisans conducted a daring raid that included capturing a general who had been tasked to capture them.

John S. Mosby | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Mosby had recently formed the 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry, an independent Confederate unit in accordance with the Partisan Ranger Act. The battalion was technically part of the Army of Northern Virginia, but the troopers had the freedom to operate outside the army’s immediate vicinity and live among civilians.

Mosby planned to lead his men on a raid of Fairfax Court House, south of Washington. A Federal brigade was stationed about five miles south of town while the brigade’s two ranking officers, Brigadier General Edwin H. Stoughton and Colonel Percy Wyndham, were headquartered in the town itself.

Ironically, Stoughton’s main objective was to capture Confederate partisans such as Mosby. Wyndham had caused Mosby much grief by pursuing him the past few months. A deserter from the 5th New York Cavalry informed Mosby that just a small detachment of troops protected these officers. Mosby selected 29 men to join him without telling them what their mission was. They set out on the night of the 8th.

The Confederates bypassed the Federal pickets and entered Fairfax around 2 a.m. Mosby soon learned that Wyndham had gone to Washington on business, but Stoughton was staying in a nearby brick house. Mosby went and knocked on the door, which was answered by a half-asleep staff officer who was instantly silenced and captured.

The officer quietly led Mosby to Stoughton’s bedroom upstairs, which was littered with empty champagne bottles. The general was sound asleep wearing only his nightshirt. Mosby woke Stoughton by lifting the nightshirt and slapping his bare behind. When Stoughton demanded an explanation, Mosby said, “General, did you ever hear of Mosby?” Stoughton asked, “Yes, have you caught him?” Mosby replied, “No, I am Mosby–he has caught you!”

Mosby persuaded Stoughton not to resist by lying, “(General Jeb) Stuart’s cavalry has possession of the Court House; be quick and dress.” Mosby’s men captured more men than their total force, including Stoughton and two captains. They also netted 58 horses and a large amount of arms and supplies.

Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Southerners celebrated Mosby’s daring raid, which embarrassed the Federal high command and angered the northern public. When President Abraham Lincoln learned of the affair, he tried making light of it by saying that he could make another general in five minutes, “but those horses cost $125 apiece.”

Stoughton was sent to Libby Prison in Richmond as a prisoner of war; he resigned from the army upon his release. Wyndham refused to return to his command for three weeks.

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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. 265; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 514; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 244; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 269; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 514; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 327; Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 724