Tag Archives: Northern Virginia

Meade Looks to Advance in Northern Virginia

September 15, 1863 – Major General George G. Meade planned to advance against General Robert E. Lee’s weakened Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, but only as part of a probing action.

Maj Gen G.G. Meade | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

By this month, the armies of Meade and Lee had built defensive works on either side of the Rappahannock River, and both armies had been depleted by casualties and transfers. Meade sent some of his units north to help enforce the new draft law, and he sent a division to reinforce the Federals attacking Charleston Harbor. Lee sent a corps to reinforce the Confederates at Chattanooga, and two brigades to bolster the Charleston defenses. Meade had roughly 75,000 men, while Lee had about 45,000.

The only substantial action in early September came when Federal cavalry under Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick recaptured two Federal ironclads that Confederates had seized at Port Royal, downstream from Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock. As the armies remained relatively stationary, they were still within striking distance of each other, and Meade believed that Lee may be planning an attack. However, Lee’s army fell back across the Rapidan River, leaving Major General Jeb Stuart’s cavalry to patrol the region between the two rivers.

Rumors spread on both sides about each other’s potential movements. These included an article published in the New York Herald on the 11th stating that Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps had left Lee’s army to reinforce General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. Because most rumors ultimately proved false, Meade was reluctant to believe this story. But then Meade received word from Kilpatrick that only Confederate cavalry remained south of the Rappahannock, indicating that Lee’s force may have indeed been reduced.

Meade reported to his superiors that, according to some scouts, Lee may be “falling back from the Rapidan.” To confirm this, Meade wrote, “I have other scouts who will endeavor to penetrate nearer Orange Court House and if I can get any evidence more positive, I will push to Culpeper and beyond a strong reconnaissance of cavalry and infantry.”

Major General Alfred Pleasonton’s Cavalry Corps crossed the Rappahannock on the 12th in three divisions, supported by II Corps under Major General Gouverneur Warren. Stuart learned of the advance and directed three brigades under Brigadier General Lunsford L. Lomax to confront the Federal cavalry divisions of Kilpatrick and Brigadier General John Buford near Brandy Station, while Brigadier General William E. “Grumble” Jones’s Confederates took on Brigadier General David Gregg’s division farther west.

The Federals advanced on the 13th, with Gregg pushing Jones back from the north and Buford pushing the Confederates back from the east. Kilpatrick was supposed to shift south and attack the enemy from behind, but he was delayed by a swollen creek. The Federals pushed Stuart’s troopers through Culpeper Court House and back to the Rapidan. Darkness ended the fighting, with the Federals now in control of Culpeper.

Skirmishing continued over the next few days near Brandy Station, Muddy Run, Somerville, and at Raccoon and Robertson’s fords. During these limited engagements, Federals learned from Confederate prisoners that Longstreet had indeed gone to reinforce Bragg, leaving Lee with just two-thirds of his army. However, Pleasonton soon learned that the Confederates remained dangerous in their defensive works south of the Rapidan.

Meade notified General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck:

“My judgment is that Lee’s army had been reduced by Longstreet’s corps, and perhaps by some regiments from (Richard) Ewell and (A.P.) Hill. With the amount of the force left with him, it is difficult to conjectures, but I have no doubt it is deemed sufficient by him, with the advantages of position, to check my crossing the Rapidan, at least until he can withdraw, in case he desires to do so. If Lee’s army is as much reduced as the intelligence now received would lead us to believe, when the detached troops from this army return, I ought to be his superior in number, and should be able to require him to fall back.”

Meade concluded, “At the same time, I see no object in advancing, unless it is with ulterior views, and I do not consider this army sufficiently large to follow him to Richmond (in case that should prove practicable), and lay siege to that place, fortified as we know it to be.”

Halleck responded that “preparations should be made to at least threaten Lee, and, if possible cut off a slice of his army.” With definitive information about Lee’s army still lacking, Halleck stated that Meade should not “authorize any very considerable advance.”

Meade reported on the 15th that some Confederate infantry had apparently crossed the Rapidan. To this, President Abraham Lincoln wrote Halleck:

“My opinion is that he (Meade) should move upon Lee at once in manner of general attack, leave to developments whether he will make it a real attack. I think this would develop Lee’s real condition and purposes better than the cavalry alone can do.”

Halleck forwarded Lincoln’s message to Meade with one of his own, in which he explained that since Meade could expect no reinforcements, “No rash movements can, therefore, be ventured, in manner of general attack.” Halleck suggested that Meade use his cavalry to continue scouting Lee’s positions before ordering any general advance.

Meade responded near midnight:

“I have ordered the army to cross the Rappahannock, and shall take up a position tomorrow with my left at Stevensburg and right at Stone House Mountain. I will then picket the Rapidan with infantry, and thus relieve the cavalry, and will endeavor, by means of the latter, to obtain more information.”

Meade accurately guessed that Lee’s army consisted of “not less than 40,000 or 45,000 infantry and over 5,000 cavalry.” He then reiterated his opinion regarding Lee’s intentions and his own limitations:

“I hardly think he will cross the Rapidan to meet me at Culpeper, unless he is ignorant of my actual force. If he does not, it will be a difficult problem to attack him, or compel him to fall back, as he has such advantages in the line of the Rapidan, enabling him, by means of artillery and rifle pits, to hold it with much less force than is required to force the passage. I will not make the attempt unless I can see my way clear, and I do not much expect any greater success than requiring him to fall still farther back.”

The Federals began crossing the Rappahannock on the 16th, and troops on both sides spent the next week probing and skirmishing as they tried learning more about each other’s positions.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 325; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 350; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 408-09

Lincoln Issues Two General War Orders

March 8, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln demonstrated his flagging confidence in General-in-Chief George B. McClellan by creating a corps command structure within the Army of the Potomac.

Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Lincoln and McClellan met at the White House on the morning of the 8th to discuss McClellan’s plan to load the army on transports and move down Chesapeake Bay, landing at Urbanna on Virginia’s coast. During the discussion, Lincoln said that a “very ugly matter” had come up concerning rumors that the plan “was conceived with the traitorous intent of removing its defenders from Washington, and thus giving over to the enemy the capital and the government, thus left defenseless.”

McClellan quickly snapped that no man would call him a traitor, and, according to McClellan, Lincoln relented and “said that he merely repeated what others had said, and that he did not believe a word of it.” To prove his loyalty, McClellan announced that he would share the Urbanna plan with his division commanders, most of whom knew nothing about it yet, and ask them to vote on whether it was sound.

McClellan summoned the 12 division commanders to his headquarters, where he explained the plan and took the vote. He then returned to the White House that same day to report to Lincoln that the commanders had voted in favor of the plan, 8 to 4. This seemed to satisfy Lincoln enough to allow McClellan to proceed with his Urbanna strategy.

However, Lincoln was not completely satisfied until he issued two peremptory orders to McClellan later that day. The first, titled “President’s General War Order No. 2,” dismantled McClellan’s division-command structure by grouping the 12 divisions within the Army of the Potomac into four corps, to be led by Generals Irvin McDowell, Edwin V. Sumner, Samuel P. Heintzelman, and Erasmus D. Keyes. A fifth corps was also created and assigned to operate in the Shenandoah Valley under Major General Nathaniel P. Banks.

McClellan had considered creating a corps system, but he wanted to select his corps commanders himself once they were tested in battle. Lincoln had not only made the selections, but he had consulted with the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, not McClellan, beforehand. None of those promoted were McClellan’s favorites, and worse, three of the four (McDowell, Sumner, and Heintzelman) had voted against McClellan’s Urbanna plan.

Lincoln’s second directive, titled “President’s General War Order No. 3,” officially approved the Urbanna plan on several conditions:

  • McClellan had to leave enough troops behind so that Washington remained “entirely secure;”
  • He had to reach a consensus among his top officers as to how many men to leave behind;
  • He could not move the bulk of his army until the Confederate blockade of the lower Potomac River was broken;
  • He had to begin operations within 10 days.

Thus, McClellan got the approval he sought for his plan, but he feared that the conditions placed upon the approval might compromise his overall strategy. This would play a significant role in the way he conducted operations in the future.

—–

References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 84-85; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7164-75; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 252-53; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 119; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 180-81; 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. 424; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 172-75, 598; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 773-74

McClellan’s Secret Plan

December 10, 1861 – General-in-Chief George B. McClellan rejected President Abraham Lincoln’s proposal to send the Army of the Potomac into northern Virginia against Centreville and Manassas Junction.

Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

By this month, Lincoln was feeling pressure from politicians, mostly in his own party, to force McClellan into some kind of action. On December 1, Lincoln sent McClellan a memorandum asking, “If it were determined to make a forward movement of the Army of the Potomac without awaiting further increase of numbers or better drill and discipline, how long would it require to actually get in motion?”

Lincoln offered several suggestions, all related to the plan that McClellan had imparted to him in which the army would move southwest from Alexandria, cross Cedar Run, and attack the Confederates at Manassas Junction from the southeast. McClellan did not inform his commander-in-chief that he was abandoning that plan in favor of a water-borne invasion along the Virginia coast.

After nine days, McClellan finally responded to Lincoln by rejecting all his suggestions. McClellan explained that they would all fail because “the enemy would meet us in front with equal forces nearly… I have now in my mind actually turned towards another plan of campaign that I do not think at all anticipated by the enemy, nor by many of our own people.”

The plan called for McClellan to ship his army on transports down the Potomac River into Chesapeake Bay, then move down the coast and up the Rappahannock River to Urbanna, Virginia. The Federals would then disembark and place themselves just 50 miles from Richmond and well behind General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate line at Manassas Junction.

But McClellan did not divulge this plan to Lincoln. He then made matters worse by refusing to explain that he was not taking the offensive at this time because such a complex plan required several months to implement. Lincoln and other administration officials became increasingly impatient at what they saw as delaying tactics. These turned into a complete halt late this month when McClellan contracted what doctors called typhoid and became incapacitated indefinitely.

—–

References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 63-64; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (December 1); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 98; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 87; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 145, 149-50; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 773-74

The Davis-Beauregard Feud Continues

November 10, 1861 – The feud between Confederate President Jefferson Davis and General P.G.T. Beauregard, which had begun in October, continued into this month.

President Jefferson Davis and Gens J.E. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

President Jefferson Davis and Gens J.E. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

When Beauregard submitted his official report on the Battle of Bull Run, Davis had written to him expressing annoyance that Beauregard had allegedly glorified his role in the battle at Davis’s expense. Seeking support against Beauregard’s charge that he impeded the Confederate army’s intended move on Washington after the battle, Davis wrote to Beauregard’s superior, General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Department of Northern Virginia:

“Reports have been, and are being, widely circulated to the effect that I prevented General Beauregard from pursuing the enemy after the battle of Manassas, and had subsequently restrained him from advancing upon Washington City. Though such statements may have been made merely for my injury, and in that view might be postponed to a more convenient season, they have acquired importance from the fact that they have served to create distrust, to excite disappointment, and must embarrass the Administration in its further efforts to reenforce the armies of the Potomac, and generally to provide for the public defense.

“For these public considerations, I call upon you, as the commanding general, and as a party to all the conferences held by me on the 21st and 22nd of July, to say whether I obstructed the pursuit of the enemy after the victory at Manassas, or have ever objected to an advance or other active operation which it was feasible for the army to undertake.”

While waiting for Johnston to respond, Davis also sought advice on military strategy from Generals Robert E. Lee and Samuel Cooper. Davis, a graduate of West Point and former U.S. secretary of war, resented growing charges of military incompetence from fellow Confederates. Johnston responded a week later:

“To the first question I reply, No. The pursuit was ‘obstructed’ by the enemy’s troops at Centreville, as I have stated in my official report… To the second question I reply that it has never been feasible for the army to advance farther than it has done—to the line of Fairfax Court-House… After a conference at Fairfax Court-House with the three senior general officers, you announced it to be impracticable to give this army the strength which those officers considered necessary to enable it to resume the offensive. Upon which I drew it back to its present position.”

Davis wrote to Johnston stating that although the army at Manassas Junction had gained many recruits since July, “we are restricted in our capacity to reinforce by want of arms.” Davis hoped to expand the army, “but you must remember that our wants greatly exceed our resources.”

The controversy between Davis and Beauregard eventually waned, but the animosity between the two men was permanent.

—–

References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6351-75; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 78; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 135, 138-39

Confederate Tensions Rise in Northern Virginia

October 30, 1861 – Confederate officials reorganized the army forces in northern Virginia while President Jefferson Davis took issue with General P.G.T. Beauregard.

Pres. Jefferson Davis and Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Pres. Jefferson Davis and Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

To better manage affairs, a new Confederate Department of Northern Virginia was created, to be commanded by General Joseph E. Johnston. It consisted of the Districts of the Aquia led by Brigadier General Theophilus H. Holmes (formerly the Department of Fredericksburg, consisting of the southern end of the Potomac River), the Potomac led by Beauregard (consisting of the area around Washington), and the Shenandoah Valley led by Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson (consisting of the area between the Blue Ridge and the Allghenies).

Johnston’s army continued to be called the Army of the Potomac, not to be confused with the Federal army of the same name. Johnston’s department headquarters were at Manassas Junction.

But the new reorganization did little to cut the tension between Davis and his generals, particularly Beauregard. This tension had intensified when Davis rejected his plan to invade the North in early October. This rejection infuriated Beauregard, whom Davis tried to mollify by him by assuring that “My sole wish is to secure the independence, and peace of the Confederacy.”

Davis’s efforts ended in late October when Beauregard submitted his official report on the Battle of Manassas (i.e., Bull Run). Before Davis could read this report, excerpts had been submitted to the press that seemed to credit Beauregard for hurrying Johnston’s reinforcements to the field. They implied that Davis had delayed sending Johnston to help Beauregard, and they mentioned Davis’s rejection of Beauregard’s initial plan for an offensive without clarifying that the rejection came before the battle, not after. Davis wrote a heated letter to Beauregard:

“Yesterday my attention was called to various newspaper publications purporting to have been sent from Manassas, and to be a synopsis of your report of the battle of the 21st of July last, and in which it is represented that you have been overruled by me in your plan for a battle with the enemy south of the Potomac, for the capture of Baltimore and Washington, and the liberation of Maryland. I inquired for your long-expected report, and it has been to-day submitted to my inspection…

“With much surprise I found that the newspaper statements were sustained by the text of your report. I was surprised, because, if we did differ in opinion as to the measure and purposes of contemplated campaigns, such fact could have no appropriate place in the report of a battle; further, because it seemed to be an attempt to exalt yourself at my expense; and, especially, because no such plan as that described was submitted to me…”

The growing rift between Davis and his generals continued into November.

—–

References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 38; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6421-33; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 75, 77; Lindsey, David, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 598; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 128-30, 132-33; 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. 366-67; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 287, 538, 776

Confederates Talk Strategy in Northern Virginia

October 1, 1861 – Confederate President Jefferson Davis met with General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Army of the Potomac, and Johnston’s two corps commanders to discuss military strategy at Centreville in northern Virginia.

President Jefferson Davis and Gens J.E. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

President Jefferson Davis and Gens J.E. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Pressure had been mounting from the Confederate public and press for Johnston to take some form of an offensive against the Federals just a few miles away at Washington. That pressure had increased when it became clear that the Federals sought to divide the Confederacy between East and West by taking control of the vital Mississippi River. In response, both Johnston and his Second Corps commander, General Gustavus W. Smith, endorsed a bold plan developed by General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the First Corps.

The three generals explained to Davis that the plan involved crossing the Potomac River into Maryland and seizing the region between Pittsburgh and Lake Erie. This would divide the U.S. and force Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac to come out of its Washington fortifications and fight on ground of Johnston’s choosing.

However, the generals stated that they needed reinforcements to put this plan into action. Currently, Johnston had only 40,000 officers and men, which Davis questioned since he had recently sent many recruits to Johnston’s army. Davis then asked how many troops would be needed “to cross the Potomac, cut off the communications of the enemy with their fortified capital, and carry the war into their country.”

Beauregard and Smith answered that 10,000 more men, trained and armed, could execute the plan. However, Johnston overrode them by asserting that he needed 20,000, bringing his army total to 60,000. Davis considered this nearly impossible since manpower was at such a premium. He explained that he could not provide such numbers without having “a total disregard for the safety of other threatened positions.”

Johnston countered by arguing that Virginia was the war’s central focus. If Virginia fell, all surrounding states would also fall until the Confederacy crumbled. Therefore, it would be worth the risk to pull the troops from the other points under Federal threat.

From a political standpoint, Davis knew that governors adhering to states’ rights would resist transferring troops from their states to Virginia. From a military standpoint, Davis knew that the Confederacy did not have enough arms and supplies to equip such a large army at that time.

Davis suggested that Johnston send a raiding party into Maryland instead, but the generals rejected the idea as not worth the risk. Beauregard was infuriated that Davis would not approve his plan. Johnston resolved to maintain a defensive posture until he could try mounting an offensive in spring. As such, he began preparing to withdraw from Centreville and Manassas Junction.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 82-83; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 121-22; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 69; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 123

Dubious Victory at Munson’s Hill

September 28, 1861 – Federals advanced on Munson’s Hill, a few miles southwest of Washington, and discovered that it was not as heavily defended as presumed.

Confederate General J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Confederate General J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Since the Battle of Bull Run, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston had combined the Armies of the Potomac and the Shenandoah into one force consisting of two corps. The former army had become the First Corps of about 24,000 men under General P.G.T. Beauregard. The latter had become the Second Corps of about 16,000 men under General Gustavus W. Smith.

The Confederates mainly held positions in the Centreville area of northern Virginia, with Beauregard’s corps at Fairfax Court House and advance elements within 10 miles of Washington at Munson’s Hill. These elements overlooked Arlington Heights and threatened to disrupt Federal traffic on the Potomac River. By late September, Johnston feared that the forward positions had become vulnerable to attack by the ever-growing Federal Army of the Potomac.

Johnston had reason to fear an attack. Federals had recently conducted a reconnaissance in force around Munson’s Hill and nearby Upton’s Hill, south of Falls Church. Major General George B. McClellan, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, sought to clear these points and use them for his planned ring of forts and defensive works around the capital. The two sides engaged in a heavy skirmish, after which the Federals reported that Confederates had constructed strong defenses on Munson’s Hill that included rifle pits and artillery.

The Federals were unaware that these “strong” defenses were mostly a bluff on Johnston’s part. On September 26, he wrote to Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin and President Jefferson Davis asking that one of them inspect the army’s positions and help “to decide definitely whether we are to advance or fall back to a more defensible line.” Then, without waiting for either to respond, Johnston ordered the withdrawal from Munson’s Hill and other forward points.

By dawn on the 28th, Beauregard had evacuated both Munson’s and Upton’s hills, falling back to Fairfax Court House and Centreville. McClellan, who had been reluctant to attack such “strong” positions, resolved to seize the hills upon learning that the Confederates had retreated. Heeding false warnings from local residents that Confederates were waiting in ambush, the Federals advanced toward the hills with extreme caution.

A Confederate "quaker gun" | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

A Confederate “quaker gun” | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Federals climbed the slopes and discovered that the rifle pits had been abandoned. And to their dismay (and their commanders’ embarrassment), they found that the mighty cannon pointed in their direction for nearly two months consisted only of logs and stovepipes painted black. A correspondent who had hoped to witness a battle resentfully called these “Quaker guns.”

Making matters worse for the Federals, on the night of the 28th, troops of the 69th and 71st Pennsylvania accidentally fired into each other while clearing the woods around Munson’s Hill, resulting in several killed and wounded. This tragic mishap, combined with the ruse on the hills, diminished the Federals’ successful occupation of the supposedly threatening positions.

On the Confederate side, Secretary of War Benjamin responded to Johnston’s invitation to inspect the army a day after the Confederates abandoned their forward positions. Benjamin stated that Davis should visit the army and then admonished Johnston for not submitting “a single return from your army of the quantity of ammunition, artillery, means of transportation, or sick in camp or in hospitals, to enable us to form a judgment of what your necessities may be… (it should be) obvious to you that the Department cannot be administered without a thorough reform in this respect.”

This demonstrated the growing tension between Johnston and his superiors, which would continue into October, after President Davis arrived to inspect the army.

—–

References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 39; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 79-80; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 103-04; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 69; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 122; 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. 361-62; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 76-80

Davis Deals with Critical Commanders

August 4, 1861 – Confederate President Jefferson Davis responded to allegations made by Major General P.G.T. Beauregard, who joined with Major General Joseph E. Johnston in criticizing Davis’s administration.

President Jefferson Davis and Gens J.E. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

President Jefferson Davis and Gens J.E. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

By this month, Davis began experiencing dissension among his two top commanders at Manassas. Davis hoped that the Confederate Army of the Potomac would maintain the strategic initiative by resuming the offensive after the Battle of Bull Run, but Johnston, the army’s ranking officer, cited a lack of supplies as a reason not to advance. Davis wrote to Johnston on the 1st:

“We are anxiously looking for the official reports of the battle of Manassas, and have present need to know what supplies and wagons were captured. I wish you would have prepared a statement of your wants in transportation and supplies of all kinds, to put your army on a proper footing for active operations…”

Davis urged Johnston to “be prompt to avail ourselves of the weakness resulting” from plummeting Federal morale due to their defeat last month.

That same day, a letter was read to the Confederate Congress from Beauregard arguing that “want of food and transportation has made us lose all the fruits of our victory. We ought to, at this moment, be in or about Washington… From all accounts, Washington could have been taken up to the 24th instant, by 20,000 men!” The press quickly published this letter in various newspapers, and taking the hero of both Fort Sumter and Bull Run at his word, most southerners put the blame on Davis for failing to adequately care for the troops.

Davis testified before Congress and asserted that the Commissary Department was working as well as it could with its limited resources, and that Beauregard’s letter may have exaggerated the issue. Davis acknowledged that Beauregard had informed him the week before that some regiments had no food, but Davis had shared a report with him from Colonel Lee at the Commissary stating that local citizens were making up the ration shortages by donating food. Davis conceded that if the army lacked rations, “the neglect of the subsistence department demands investigation and proper correction.”

Three days after Beauregard’s letter was read to Congress, Davis wrote a letter assuring him that the government was doing all it could to meet the army’s needs. Davis then stated:

“I think you are unjust to yourself in putting your failure to pursue the enemy to Washington to the account of short supplies of subsistence and transportation. Under the circumstances of our army, and in the absence of the knowledge since acquired, if indeed the statements be true, it would have been extremely hazardous to have done more than was performed… Enough was done for glory, and the measure of duty was full; let us rather show the untaught that their desires are unreasonable, than, by dwelling on possibilities recently developed, give form and substance to the criticisms always easy to those who judge after the event.”

Davis then wrote once more to Johnston regarding the complaints about inadequate food and medical care in the army. The president continued defending himself against criticisms and accusations from the public, Congress, and his commanders throughout the month.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6398-405, 6742; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 69-70; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 52; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 103-05, 110

Sparring and Final Planning in Northern Virginia

July 18, 1861 – The Federal Army of Northeastern Virginia arrived at Centreville, unaware that troops of the Confederate Army of the Shenandoah were en route by rail to reinforce their outnumbered comrades at Manassas.

By the 18th, it had taken the Federals two days to march 22 miles in the sweltering 90-degree heat. Major General Irvin McDowell, army commander, directed a reconnaissance in force led by Brigadier General Daniel Tyler and Colonel Israel B. Richardson, with orders not to bring on a general engagement. They advanced toward Blackburn’s Ford on Bull Run to probe near the Confederate right-center, but they went too far, and skirmishing erupted with Confederates defending both Blackburn’s and Mitchell’s fords.

Federal Gen Irvin McDowell and Confederate Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Federal Gen Irvin McDowell and Confederate Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Richardson ordered a withdrawal when Colonel James Longstreet’s three Confederate brigades stopped his 1st Massachusetts and two cannon. But Tyler defied McDowell’s orders by sending more infantry and artillery into the fight. Longstreet counterattacked with support from General Jubal A. Early, but the green troops bungled the effort. Nevertheless, the Confederates prevented the Federals from reaching Bull Run, and both sides fell back to reorganize. The Federals suffered 83 casualties, while Confederates lost 15 killed and 53 wounded.

Colonel William T. Sherman, whose brigade was part of Tyler’s force, described the combat: “From our camp, at Centreville, we heard the cannonading, and then a sharp musketry-fire… We marched the three miles at the double-quick, arrived in time to relieve Richardson’s brigade, which was just drawing back from the ford, worsted, and stood for half an hour or so under fire of artillery, which killed four or five of my men…”

Confederates celebrated this minor victory, as President Jefferson Davis wired Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard, overall commander: “God be praised for your successful beginning.” McDowell expressed annoyance at Tyler’s disobedience, and the Federals had been forced to retreat. However, they gained important intelligence regarding Confederate strength, and from this McDowell deemed the Confederate front too strong to penetrate. He spent another two days collecting supplies and reconnoitering the Confederate lines before finally deciding on a flank attack.

While Beauregard’s Confederate Army of the Potomac held an eight-mile line along Bull Run, Major General Joseph E. Johnston prepared to reinforce him with his 11,000-man Army of the Shenandoah. Johnston wrote to Adjutant General Samuel Cooper on the 18th: “(Federal) General (Robert) Patterson, who had been at Bunker Hill since Monday, seems to have moved yesterday to Charlestown, 23 miles to the east of Winchester. Unless he prevents it, we shall move toward General Beauregard to-day…”

Federal Gen Robert Patterson and Confederate Gen J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Federal Gen Robert Patterson and Confederate Gen J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Patterson’s move to Charles Town made him too far from Johnston’s forces at Winchester to stop them from reinforcing Beauregard. Patterson had planned to attack the Confederates on the 18th, but he reported to General-in-Chief Winfield Scott that not only had Johnston been neutralized at Winchester, but “he had also been reinforced.” Patterson also expressed reluctance to attack because his 90-day enlistments would expire soon, and he complained that orders from Washington did not clearly state whether he should attack or merely keep Johnston occupied.

Before Patterson could get his Federals in motion to do anything, Colonel J.E.B. “Jeb” Stuart’s Confederate cavalry created a diversion in their front near Charles Town. Meanwhile, Johnston had his troops moving out of Winchester by 12 p.m., with Brigadier General Thomas J. Jackson’s brigade in the lead. Officers read a general proclamation to their men, explaining that Beauregard needed help to repel an impending attack.

The troops, initially excited about going into battle, soon became exhausted by the eastward march through the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Confederates stopped at Piedmont, the nearest stop on the Manassas Gap Railroad, and boarded train cars to finish their journey to Beauregard. This marked the first large-scale strategic troop movement by railroad in military history. By day’s end, four of Johnston’s brigades totaling some 8,300 men were on eastbound trains.

Meanwhile, Scott in Washington received intelligence that Johnston had given Patterson the slip. Scott asked his general: “Has he not stolen a march and sent reinforcements to Manassas Junction?”

McDowell spent July 19th resupplying and reorganizing his army at Centreville, as well as reworking his plan of attack based on yesterday’s engagement at Blackburn’s Ford. Stragglers trickled in and out of camps throughout the day. Meanwhile, Beauregard spent the day strengthening his defenses along Bull Run.

Johnston continued moving his army eastward on the eight-hour train ride from the Piedmont Station to Manassas Junction. Excessive traffic on the single-track railroad prevented more reinforcements from arriving, but they would be coming soon. Jackson’s men arrived near 4 p.m., and their commander surprised Beauregard and his staff by entering their headquarters at the Wilmer McLean house and announcing his arrival.

During the day, a messenger delivered instructions for Johnston from Beauregard to move his forces via Aldie and arrange them on the Federal right flank. Johnston disregarded this, staying with his railroad transport plan. He then wrote to President Davis, asking him to clarify whether Johnston or Beauregard would be the ranking officer over the combined force. Davis made it clear that Johnston outranked Beauregard:

“You are a general in the Confederate Army, possessed of the power attaching to that rank. You will know how to make the exact knowledge of Brigadier-General Beauregard, as well of the ground as of the troops and preparation, avail for the success of the object in which you cooperate. The zeal of both assures me of harmonious action.”

Johnston arrived at Manassas Junction around 12 p.m. on the 20th with another 1,400 reinforcements in three brigades led by Colonel Francis S. Bartow, and Brigadier Generals Barnard E. Bee and Edmund Kirby Smith. By this time, some 9,000 of Johnston’s Confederates had traveled 50 miles by rail in just two days. Brigadier General Theophilus H. Holmes’s brigade also arrived from Aquia Creek, as did Colonel Wade Hampton’s Legion.

Since Beauregard had been at Manassas for nearly two months and had better knowledge of the region, Johnston allowed him to retain top command. Johnston also approved his plan to mass the Confederates on the right and attack the Federal left, despite its complexity for such green troops. Ironically, McDowell also finalized a plan to move right and attack the Confederate left. Had both armies moved at the same time, they would have swung in a circle. But if one moved before the other, the moving army would put the other on the defensive.

McDowell initially planned to move out on the 20th, but delays in supply delivery compelled him to postpone until the next day. Secretary of War Simon Cameron, visiting McDowell’s headquarters, sent a report on the army to President Lincoln. Other politicians and notable civilians came out from Washington to mingle with the Federals and witness the impending battle. Most Federals expressed confidence, despite hearing the train whistles at Manassas Junction; they believed that the trains carried small bodies of troops from Richmond, not Johnston’s entire army.

McDowell met with his division and brigade commanders that night. He issued final orders for tomorrow’s action, basing his decision to assault the enemy left on the repulse at Blackburn’s Ford two days ago. The Federals would move against an unguarded crossing on the Confederate left, with one division feigning an attack on the Stone Bridge while two divisions crossed Bull Run north of the bridge, near Sudley Springs.

Although McDowell sought no advice, some officers expressed concerns that Johnston may have reinforced Beauregard. McDowell, who himself had originally advised against such a hasty campaign as this, would not consider any further objections; the time for fighting had arrived. The Federals began moving in the evening darkness.

—– 

Sources

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 93; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6090-102; Davis, William C., First Blood: Fort Sumter to Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 122-24; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 58-59; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 46-47; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 96-98; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 675; 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. 339; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 102-05; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 573

Federals Mobilize in Northern Virginia

July 16, 1861 – The largest army ever assembled in North America went into motion at 2 p.m., targeting the Confederate army at Manassas.

Major General Irvin McDowell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Major General Irvin McDowell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Major General Irvin McDowell, commanding the Federal Army of Northeastern Virginia around Alexandria and Washington, had been planning his march on Richmond since conferring with President Lincoln and other top advisors at the White House on June 29. The initial invasion launch date had been July 8, but delays in fulfilling supply requisitions and organizing troops pushed it back over a week.

Meanwhile, Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard’s Confederate Army of the Potomac guarded the vital railroad depot at Manassas Junction. When Beauregard received intelligence that 40,000 Federals were poised to attack his army, he wrote to his friend, Congressman Louis T. Wigfall of Texas, “How can it be expected to that I shall be able to maintain my ground unless reinforced immediately?”

Beauregard asked Wigfall to convince President Jefferson Davis to send reinforcements. Then, he wrote, “If I could only get the enemy to attack me… I would stake my reputation on the handsomest victory that could be hoped for.” Beauregard then ordered his forward units, particularly Brigadier General Milledge Bonham’s Confederates at Fairfax Court House, to fall back if pressured to avoid having the army defeated in detail.

A Confederate spy named Bettie Duval delivered important information to Bonham. Duval worked for prominent Washington socialite Rose O’Neal Greenhow, an attractive widow who ran a spy ring in the capital and gained valuable intelligence from politicians eager to make time with her; these politicians allegedly included Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate Military Affairs Committee.

Greenhow’s message came pinned in Duval’s hair. It informed Bonham that General McDowell planned to begin moving his army into northern Virginia on July 16. This message was forwarded to Colonel Thomas Jordan, Beauregard’s chief of staff.

Around Washington, the Federals continued preparing to move. General-in-Chief Winfield Scott met with Brigadier General Daniel Tyler, commanding McDowell’s 1st division, and informed him that the army would begin moving on the 14th. Tyler expressed concern that Major General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of the Shenandoah could move eastward and join forces with Beauregard.

Scott took issue with Tyler’s concern, saying, “(Major General Robert) Patterson will take care of Joe Johnston.” Tyler replied that he would be “agreeably surprised if we do not have to go against both (Johnston and Beauregard).” The Federals spent the 14th reconnoitering the area around Alexandria as McDowell planned to move out the next day.

In Richmond, President Davis met with Major General Robert E. Lee, his military advisor, and Congressman James Chesnut, Jr. of South Carolina, representing General Beauregard, in the parlor of Davis’s temporary residence at the Spotswood Hotel. This was the first Confederate council of war. Chesnut conveyed an elaborate plan devised by Beauregard in which he needed 20,000 reinforcements from Johnston to destroy McDowell’s army. Then he would transfer the reinforcements plus another 10,000 men back to Johnston so he would destroy Patterson’s army in the Shenandoah Valley. Johnston would then invade Maryland and threaten Washington from the north while Beauregard advanced and threatened Washington from the south.

Lee opposed the plan because he doubted that Johnston could overcome the Federals’ numerical superiority in the Valley. He also doubted that any Confederate army could penetrate the massive defensive fortifications surrounding Washington. Davis sided with Lee. The men also considered an alternate plan that had been submitted earlier in which Beauregard and Johnston would conduct coordinated operations.

July 15th came and went with no Federal movement; instead McDowell held another meeting with his top subordinates to finalize plans for moving the next day. Each division commander received separate orders, with their units to begin moving by 3 p.m. One division would advance along the Orange & Alexandria Railroad toward Brentsville, two divisions would move down the Little River Turnpike to Fairfax Court House, and the fourth division would cut off any retreating Confederates at Vienna and Germantown.

On the morning of the 16th, McDowell issued marching orders to the officers and men: “The troops will march to the front this afternoon. The three following things will not be pardonable in any commander: 1st. To come upon a battery or breastwork without a knowledge of its position. 2d. To be surprised. 3d. To fall back. Advance guards, with vedettes well in front and flankers and vigilance, will guard against the first and second.”

With 35,000 troops, McDowell commanded the largest army the U.S. had ever assembled (by comparison, General-in-Chief Scott led only 14,000 during the Mexican War). Outnumbering Beauregard by over 10,000 men, McDowell had 50 infantry regiments, 49 cannon in 10 field batteries, and one cavalry battalion. Among McDowell’s troops were nearly 10,000 Regular Army officers and men; all five division commanders and eight of the 11 brigade commanders were Regulars, and most had combat experience. Moreover, McDowell himself had one of the finest reputations in the Federal military.

After over a week of delay, the troops finally began moving out of Alexandria at 2 p.m., marching west, away from the Potomac River. Their first objective was to reach Fairfax Court House, 13 miles away, by 8 a.m. tomorrow. Their final objective was Manassas Junction, 30 miles southwest of Washington, where the Manassas Gap and Orange & Alexandria Railroad crossed.

Cheerful soldiers sang “John Brown’s Body” as they marched. Most of them, unlike their officers, were volunteers with no marching experience, especially in summer heat. Many drank all their water right away without realizing there was no way to get more. They broke ranks to find shade or pick berries, tossing away their heavy equipment to ease their burden. The army covered just six miles on the first day, giving the Confederates much-needed time to prepare.

Colonel William T. Sherman, one of the experienced officers, later wrote: “The march demonstrated little save the general laxity of discipline, for with all my personal efforts I could not prevent the men from straggling for water, blackberries, or any thing on the way they fancied.”

At 8 p.m. on the 16th, Beauregard received a message from Rose O’Neal Greenhow: “McDowell has been ordered to advance.” At this time, Beauregard’s 22,000-man army was posted along an eight-mile line. He immediately ordered his outposts to pull back and began arranging his army in defenses behind Bull Run while awaiting reinforcements from Johnston in the Shenandoah Valley.

The Federal army resumed its march early on the 17th. Colonel Sherman wrote about his brigade: “I selected for the field the 13th New York, Col. Quimby; the 69th New York, Col. Corcoran; the 79th New York, Col. Cameron; and the 2nd Wisconsin, Lt.-Col. Peck. These were all good strong volunteer regiments, pretty well commanded; and I had reason to believe that I had one of the best brigades in the whole army… The other regiment, the 29th New York, Col. Bennett, was destined to be left behind in charge of the forts and camps during our absence, which was expected to be short…”

Advance troops from the middle column, led by Brigadier General David Hunter, began entering Fairfax Court House around 10 a.m., two hours after the entire army was supposed to be there. McDowell had hoped to surprise the Confederates stationed there, but General Bonham had already pulled back seven miles west to Centreville, leaving large quantities of supplies behind.

Federals did not fully occupy Fairfax Court House until that night; troops raised the U.S. flag and looted the town until Regular soldiers finally restored order. The army lacked cohesion, even at the top, as McDowell did not even know where Brigadier General Samuel P. Heintzelman’s southern column was until it reached Fairfax. McDowell halted the men for the night, asserting that they needed rest. The next objective was Centreville, nine miles further and within striking distance of the final objective of Manassas Junction.

On the Confederate side, Beauregard wired President Davis: “The enemy has assailed by outposts in heavy force. I have fallen back on the line of Bull Run near Manassas, and will make a stand at Mitchell’s Ford.” Beauregard said that he would fall back to the Rappahannock River if necessary and requested reinforcements.

Davis promptly sent three regiments and an artillery battery from Fredericksburg to Manassas. He then directed Confederate Adjutant General Samuel Cooper to telegraph Johnston in the Shenandoah Valley: “General Beauregard is attacked. To strike the enemy a decisive blow, a junction of all your effective force will be needed. If practicable, make the movement, sending your sick and baggage to Culpepper Court-House, either by railroad or by Warrenton. In all the arrangements exercise your discretion.”

Beauregard sent a wire on the afternoon of the 17th: “I believe this proposed movement of General Johnston is too late. Enemy will attack me in force tomorrow morning.” However, Johnston easily disengaged from “Granny” Patterson, who had disregarded orders by withdrawing to Charles Town and not keeping pressure on Johnston near Winchester. This gave Johnston freedom to move wherever he wished.

Patterson believed that McDowell had already fought the big battle on the 16th and there was no longer any need to keep Johnston from reinforcing Beauregard. However, General-in-Chief Scott notified Patterson that the battle had been delayed and, unaware that Patterson had fallen back to Charles Town, reminded Patterson to keep Johnston occupied. Patterson replied that he would attack the next day.

However, Johnston planned to move eastward and join forces with Beauregard at dawn on July 18, before Patterson could stop him.

—–

Sources

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 100; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6067-78; Davis, William C., First Blood: Fort Sumter to Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 111, 113, 117; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 57-58; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 57-58, 70-72; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 45-46; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 2675; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 95-96; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 246-47; 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. 339; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 101; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 472; 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), Q361