Tag Archives: Pennsylvania Campaign

From Spencer G. Welch, 13th South Carolina

Letter from Dr. Spencer Glasgow Welch, a surgeon with the 13th South Carolina Volunteer Infantry

Camp near Orange Court House, Virginia

August 2, 1863

The South Carolina Flag | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

DEAREST:

In a recent letter I promised to write you more about our campaign in Pennsylvania.

On the night of the 29th of June, we camped on the west side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where they extend into Pennsylvania. On the morning of the next day (30th), we renewed our march. Shortly after starting, it began raining, but the road was hard and well macadamized and the rain made the march rather agreeable than otherwise.

On this same morning, we passed where a splendid iron factory had been burned by General Early, of Ewell’s Corps. It belonged to a very celebrated lawyer and politician of Pennsylvania by the name of Thaddeus Stevens, who is noted for his extreme abolition views and his intense hatred for slave-holders. The works are said to have been worth more than $100,000. The burning had thrown a great many operatives out of employment, and they seemed to be much distressed.

During the day we wended our way up the mountains… In the afternoon about one or two o’clock we halted and bivouacked among the mountains. Our stopping-place was in a basin of the mountains which was very fertile and contained a few very excellent and highly cultivated farms. A while after we stopped, I started off to one of these farmhouses for the purpose of getting my dinner, as I was quite hungry and wanted something different from what I had been accustomed…

Upon returning to camp, I found that an order had been received during my absence to cook one day’s rations and have it in haversacks and be ready to march at five o’clock next morning. This at once aroused our suspicions, for we concluded that we were about to meet the enemy. Next morning about five o’clock we began moving. We had not gone more than a mile and a half before our suspicions of the evening previous were fully verified and our expectations realized by the booming of cannon ahead of us in the direction of Gettysburg. Upon looking around, I at once noticed in the countenance of all an expression of intense seriousness and solemnity, which I have always perceived in the faces of men who are about to face death and the awful shock of battle…

It was really a magnificent sight. The country was almost destitute of forest and was so open that it was easy to see all that was going on. Our division (Pender’s) continued to keep within about half a mile of Heth’s. McGowan’s Brigade was at the right of the division and the 13th Regiment was at the right of the brigade. This being the case, I could see from one end of the division to the other as it moved forward in line of battle. It was nearly a mile in length…

Officers who have been in all the fights tell me that they never saw our brigade act so gallantly before. When the order was given to charge upon the enemy, who were lying behind stone fences and other places of concealment, our men rushed forward with a perfect fury, yelling and driving them, though with great slaughter to themselves as well as to the Yankees. Most of the casualties of our brigade occurred this day (July 1). As the enemy were concealed, they killed a great many of our men before we could get at them.

There were a good many dwellings in our path, to which the Yankees would also resort for protection, and they would shoot from the doors and windows. As soon as our troops would drive them out, they would rush in, turn out the families and set the houses on fire. I think this was wrong, because the families could not prevent the Yankees seeking shelter in their houses. I saw some of the poor women who had been thus treated. They were greatly distressed, and it excited my sympathy very much. These people would have left their houses, but the battle came on so unexpectedly to them, as is often the case, that they had not time…

The fighting on the first day ceased about night, and when our brigade was relieved by Lane’s North Carolina Brigade, it was nearly dark… When they drove the Yankees to the long high range of hills, which the Yankees held throughout the fight, they should have been immediately reinforced by Anderson with his fresh troops. Then the strong position last occupied by the enemy could have been taken, and the next day, when Ewell and Longstreet came up, the victory completely won. If “Old Stonewall” had been alive and there, it no doubt would have been done. Hill was a good division commander, but he is not a superior corps commander. He lacks the mind and sagacity of Jackson…

On the second day of the battle, the fighting did not begin until about twelve or one o’clock, from which time until night it raged with great fury. The reason it began so late in the day was because it required some time for Ewell and Longstreet to get their forces in position.

On the third day, the fighting began early in the morning and continued with the greatest imaginable fury all day; at one time, about three o’clock in the afternoon, with such a cannonading I never heard before. About 150 pieces of cannon on our side and as many or more on the side of the enemy kept up for several hours. It was truly terrifying and was like heavy skirmishing in the rapidity with which the volleys succeeded one another. The roar of the artillery, the rattle of the musketry and the wild terrific scream of the shells as they whizzed through the air was really the most appalling situation that could possibly be produced. Our troops (Pickett’s Division) charged the enemy’s strong position, which they had now entrenched, but with no avail, although we slaughtered thousands of them.

On the night of the 3rd, General Lee withdrew the army nearly to its original position, hoping, I suppose, that the enemy would attack him; but they didn’t come out of their strongholds, for well they knew what their fate would be if they met the Confederate Army of Virginia upon equal grounds. On the 4th, our army remained in line of battle, earnestly desiring the advance of the Yankees, but they did not come. During this day the rain fell in torrents, completely drenching the troops…

On July 5, we recrossed the Blue Ridge Mountains. Climbing the mountains was very tedious after so much toil, excitement and loss of sleep, but we met with no obstacle until we came to Hagerstown, Md., where we stopped on account of the Potomac’s being too high to ford. While here, the Yankees came up. Our army was placed in line to meet them, but they did not dare to attack. In this situation we remained for several days with them in sight of us.

After a pontoon bridge was finished at Falling Waters and the river was sufficiently down to ford at Williamsport, we left the vicinity of Hagerstown. It was just after dark when we began leaving. It was a desperately dark night and such a rain I thought I never knew to fall… It appeared to me that at least half of the road was a quagmire, coming in places nearly to the knees…

Being very tired, we all lay down and nearly everyone fell asleep. Suddenly the Yankee cavalry rushed upon us, firing and yelling at a furious rate. None of our guns were loaded and they were also in a bad fix from the wet of the previous night. They attacked General Pettigrew’s North Carolina Brigade first. Our brigade was lying down 50 yards behind his. I was lying down between the two brigades near a spring. General Pettigrew was killed here. I was close to him when he was killed. It was a serious loss to the service. We fought them for some time. Then General Hill sent an order to fall back across the river, and it was done in good order.

The attack was a complete surprise, and is disgraceful either to General Hill or General Heth. One is certainly to blame. The Yankees threw shells at the bridge and came very near hitting it just as I was about to cross; but, after we were close enough to the river not to be hurt by our own shells, our cannon on this side opened upon them, which soon made them “skedaddle” away.

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Source: Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 169-75

 

From Florence McCarthy, 7th Virginia

Letter from Florence McCarthy, a chaplain for the 7th Virginia Volunteer Infantry

Williamsport, Maryland

July 10, 1863

Virginia State Flag | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

DEAR SISTER:

I saw Billy a few days ago. He was cheerful and in excellent health and said that Julian was well as usual.

They were in the hottest of the battle. Jim Marpin and another young man were shot through and through by a cannon ball at Billy’s gun.

Williamsport is a one-horse town on the north bank of the Potomac and in the western part of the valley. The houses are riddled and almost all deserted, and the country for a mile around is fetid with beef offal, and dead horses. We passed through this place on our way north, went from here to Hagerstown and then to Greencastle, Pa., Chambersburg, Pa., Gettysburg, Pa.–where we fought–and then to Hagerstown, Maryland, and Williamsport, Maryland, again. At the present Ewell’s Corps is at Hagerstown, Picket’s Division is here, and I have no conception where the remainder of the army is unless it has gone to Boonsboro or Sharpsburg.

I have been marched nearly to death. In coming from Gettysburg here, we marched three days and two nights without stopping except long enough to cook food. Most of the time it rained and the roads were perfectly awful. My socks have given out, I can buy none, beg one, steal none and it is a matter of impossibility to get a piece of clothing washed. I am lousy and dirty and have no hope of changing flannel for weeks to come. Food has been scarcer than ever. We are now enjoying a resting spell, which has already lasted three days.

We passed through Berryville, Virginia. The ladies were very kind and polite to the soldiers, but appeared to me to be rich, unrefined and ugly and ill-favored generally. Williamsport is a nest of abolitionists and free negroes. Hagerstown shut up the windows and put on mourning when we came, but when the Yankee prisoners came through went into ecstasies. Greencastle is a pretty place of about two hundred inhabitants connected by railroad with Chambersburg. Chambersburg is a pretty little city of six thousand inhabitants. I could not get into Gettysburg. It was torn all to pieces with shell…

Our men have strict orders to take nothing without paying, but they do just as they please, which is not a twentieth part as bad as they did in Virginia. The chickens, hogs and vegetables are being consumed rapidly. The crop in some places will be ruined by camps and by stock, but we have not hurt them enough to talk about. All their public property except state property has been destroyed that we could destroy.

The Battle of Gettysburg was the most awful of the war, but the battle proper did not last three hours. Our division is thought to have suffered most. It has been detailed a provost errand for the army, so small has it been made. I’m inclined to think, however, that it will be kept in the field and compelled in the future as in the past to do the hardest marching and the hardest fighting of the war.

Colonel Patton, it was thought, was killed. Colonel Flowers has been reinstated and has taken command. He is the most immodest, obscene, profane, low flung blackguard on the earth and hates me with a perfect hatred. I do not believe I have another enemy in the regiment but him. He had tried his best last year to disgrace and ruin me and I expect now he will try harder than ever. I shall not be surprised at anything he does. My plan is to keep cool, say nothing and suffer everything…

Give my best love to pa and ma and all.

Your affectionate brother,

F. MCCARTHY

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Source: Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 152-56

The Battle of Gettysburg: Day One

July 1, 1863 – Advance elements of the Federal and Confederate armies clashed in southern Pennsylvania, beginning what would grow into the most terrible battle in American history.

By this time, part of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia had gathered north of Gettysburg, while Federal cavalry from the Army of the Potomac had arrived south of the town. Lieutenant General A.P. Hill, commanding the Confederate Third Corps, directed one of his division commanders, Major General Henry Heth, “to ascertain what force was at Gettysburg, and, if he found infantry opposed to him, to report the fact immediately, without forcing an engagement.”

Brigadier General James J. Pettigrew, one of Heth’s brigade commanders, had reported seeing enemy cavalry outside the town the previous day, but both Heth and Hill believed that Federal infantry was still far behind. Part of Heth’s division moved out to reconnoiter at 5 a.m., with no cavalry or pickets leading the way.

Brig Gen John Buford | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Brigadier General John Buford’s two brigades of 3,000 Federal horsemen had arrived the day before and were conducting a reconnaissance of their own. Buford was convinced that the Confederate army would converge on this strategically important town. He intended to hold the vital roads northwest of Gettysburg until the closest Federal infantry under Major General John F. Reynolds (commanding operations for I, III, and XI corps) could come up in support.

Buford’s pickets sighted the Confederates approaching on the Chambersburg Pike about four miles west of Gettysburg and opened fire. Heth’s men fanned out in line of battle and advanced, and skirmishing began around 8 a.m. Buford ordered his troopers to dismount and engage the oncoming enemy with their rapid-fire Spencer breech-loading carbines.

The Confederates pushed the Federals back to Herr Ridge, and then back again into the low ground in front of McPherson’s Ridge. Buford watched the action from atop a Lutheran seminary, where he could see both the fight to the west and the expected approach of more Confederates from the north. As his men continued withdrawing, Buford directed them to make a stand on McPherson’s Ridge.

The Federal troopers held off an enemy three times their size for two hours. This proved that cavalry could indeed stand up to infantry if tested. Commanders on both sides sent messages summoning reinforcements. General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate army, had issued orders not to provoke a general engagement, but that was exactly what had begun.

Reynolds arrived ahead of his men around 10 a.m., where Buford told him, “The devil’s to pay!” When Reynolds asked if he could hold until the infantry arrived, Buford said, “I reckon I can.” Reynolds then sent a message to Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Federal army and still in Maryland, that the troops would make a stand to keep the Confederates out of Gettysburg, or at least keep them off the high ground south of town.

Elements of I Corps arrived first, with Reynolds sending them northwest through Gettysburg. They began relieving Buford’s defenders on McPherson’s Ridge around 10:30 a.m. Hill countered by sending Major General William D. Pender’s division to join Heth in the Confederate attack. Neither side had wanted to fight here, but the clash soon developed into a major battle nonetheless.

Reynolds began deploying men into McPherson’s Woods as the Confederates advanced to within 60 paces. He shouted, “Forward! For God’s sake, and drive those fellows out of the woods!” A sharpshooter’s bullet struck him in the back of the head, killing him instantly. Reynolds had been one of the army’s most beloved and respected commanders. He was temporarily replaced by Major General Abner Doubleday.

As the vicious fighting continued, Major General Oliver O. Howard’s “Dutch” (i.e., predominantly German-speaking) XI Corps arrived around 12 p.m. Howard, noting the importance of the high ground south of town as he passed, left a division there and then moved north through Gettysburg to take positions on Doubleday’s right. Two Confederate divisions from Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Second Corps, led by Major Generals Jubal Early and Robert Rodes, soon approached from the north to oppose Howard.

Approximate army positions on July 1 | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

About 24,000 Confederates now faced some 19,000 Federals along a disjointed three-mile-line north and west of Gettysburg. Lee arrived, still without Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s First Corps and angry that Hill and Ewell had brought on such a large fight against orders. Nevertheless, he ordered them to attack in full force. At 3 p.m., the strongest assault of the day began when Early and Rodes attacked XI Corps from the north, while Pender and Heth attacked I Corps from the west.

Howard’s XI Corps fell back through town in confusion, just as they had when the Confederate Second Corps (then led by “Stonewall” Jackson) surprised them at Chancellorsville two months ago. They fled to the high ground southeast of town, consisting of Culp’s and Cemetery hills. Culp’s Hill anchored the northeastern end of the Federal line, which was the extreme Federal right. Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, commanding the Federal II Corps, recognized this position’s strength and sent a division to hold it. Howard’s fleeing men stopped when they were reinforced by Hancock’s troops on the hills.

The XI Corps retreat crumbled Doubleday’s right flank, so he too fell back, first to Seminary Ridge and then through Gettysburg to join his comrades on Cemetery Hill. The Federals also occupied the formidable Cemetery Ridge, an elevation a mile and a half east of the parallel Seminary Ridge. Buford’s cavalry and I Corps had fought stubbornly and held the Confederates off long enough for reinforcements to arrive.

Lee rode onto Seminary Ridge and saw the Federals falling back onto the heights to the east. He immediately directed Hill to seize that important position, but Hill argued that his losses were too high and his men too exhausted to take it. Lee then dispatched Major Walter Taylor to instruct Ewell that it “was only necessary to press those people in order to secure possession of the heights,” and Ewell’s men should seize them “if practicable.”

Confederate Lt Gen Richard Ewell | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Ewell, having been accustomed to rigid orders when serving under “Stonewall” Jackson, was confused by these vague instructions and ultimately decided not to launch a final assault before nightfall. Had his men taken those heights, they might have routed the exhausted and demoralized Federals instead of giving them time to regroup and strengthen their defenses.

During this time, Longstreet arrived ahead of his men and urged Lee to move around the Federal left, seize the high ground between the Federals and Washington, and defend against an attack. However, Lee still had received no intelligence from his cavalry commander, Major General Jeb Stuart, therefore he could not be sure that the Federals had not reinforced that area. Lee said, “No, the enemy is there, and I am going to attack him there.” Both Ewell and Stuart failed Lee on this day.

Fighting died down after nightfall, as three more Federal corps began arriving and reinforcing the high ground southeast of Gettysburg. The battle had been horrible, as I Corps alone sustained 10,000 casualties. The famed Iron Brigade was virtually destroyed, losing 1,212 of its 1,883 men. The 24th Michigan, part of the Iron Brigade, lost 316 of its 496 officers and men, including seven color bearers. The 2nd Wisconsin suffered a casualty rate of 77 percent; the 19th Indiana suffered 72 percent.

Meade began arranging to execute his original plan of falling back to Pipe Creek, occupying the high ground there, and awaiting a Confederate attack. However, Hancock assured him that the high ground outside Gettysburg was where he should make his stand. The line featured convex interior lines, enabling Meade to shift reinforcements to the most threatened points quickly.

In contrast, Lee’s lines were concave, making an attack more difficult. Lee ordered his army to concentrate southwest of Gettysburg that night, where he hoped to complete his victory by taking Culp’s and Cemetery hills the next day.

During this time, Stuart’s Confederate cavalry rode to Carlisle, where they shelled the town and burned the army barracks after the Federal garrison refused to surrender. They then rode to Dover, where one of the eight messengers that Lee had dispatched finally caught up to Stuart and informed him of the engagement at Gettysburg. Stuart was ordered to rejoin Lee’s army as soon as possible.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 129-33; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 295; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 62-63, 65-67, 73; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 69-75; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19009-17; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 298; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 319; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 727-28; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 118-123, 166-67; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 374-75; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 385; 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. 653-55; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 172, 177-78; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 196, 305-06, 308-09, 625-26

Armies Converge in Southern Pennsylvania

June 30, 1863 – Cavalry from the Federal Army of the Potomac arrived at Gettysburg from the south, just as infantry from the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia left to the north.

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

The Confederate corps of Lieutenant Generals James Longstreet and A.P. Hill reached Chambersburg on the 27th. Major General Jubal Early, commanding a Confederate division in Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s corps, was at York, poised to destroy a railroad bridge over the Susquehanna River. The other part of Ewell’s corps was at Carlisle, poised to wreck the Pennsylvania Railroad. The Confederates seized food, clothing, livestock, and anything else useful from civilians.

Ewell’s cavalry under Brigadier General Albert G. Jenkins camped within four miles of Harrisburg on the night of the 28th. This marked the farthest north that a Confederate army had ever gone (or would go) in the war. Lee issued orders for Ewell to attack Harrisburg, Longstreet to move north to support Ewell, and Hill to cross the Susquehanna and cut the railroad line linking Harrisburg to Philadelphia.

At 10 p.m., Major John W. Fairfax reported to Lee that a Richmond actor-turned-spy named Henry T. Harrison had told Longstreet that the entire Federal army was across the Potomac and moving north from Frederick, Maryland. This shocked Lee, who had expected his cavalry commander, Major General Jeb Stuart, to notify him when the Federals started moving. He had heard nothing from Stuart for four days.

Both Longstreet and Harrison later visited Lee, with Harrison telling him that the Federals had been across the Potomac for two days and were now approaching Chambersburg. Harrison also reported that Major General George G. Meade had replaced Major General Joseph Hooker as Federal commander. Longstreet vouched for Harrison’s reliability, and Lee quickly changed his plans based on the spy’s intelligence.

Lee canceled the drive on Harrisburg in favor of concentrating the army near either Cashtown or Gettysburg, eight miles east. Hill’s corps began heading to Cashtown on the 29th, with the lead division under Major General Henry Heth arriving that night. Longstreet’s corps followed the next day. Ewell’s corps was to move from Carlisle to Cashtown or Gettysburg, avoiding the busy Chambersburg road being used by Hill and Longstreet.

Ewell’s men were within striking distance of Harrisburg, and Ewell issued orders for Major General Robert Rodes’s division to capture the state capital the next day. But an hour later, Lee’s order to pull back arrived. So Ewell directed Rodes and Major General Edward “Allegheny” Johnson’s division to start moving, along with Early at York.

Speaking to his staff, Lee said, “Tomorrow, gentlemen, we will not move to Harrisburg, as we expected, but will go over to Gettysburg and see what General Meade is after.” When someone asked him to assess Meade’s abilities, Lee said, “General Meade will commit no blunder in my front, and if I make one he will make haste to take advantage of it.”

Meanwhile, the main part of the Federal Army of the Potomac began moving out of Frederick, 40 miles south of Chambersburg, on the 29th. The leading Federal elements–I, III, and XI corps–reached Emmitsburg and Taneytown by day’s end, while the corps behind them hurried to catch up. The Federals held a 20-mile line in Maryland, from Emmitsburg to Westminster. Meade wrote his wife, “I am going straight at them, and will settle this thing one way or the other.”

Brigadier General John Buford’s Federal cavalry division rode in advance of the army, screening its northward movement. Buford’s men entered Pennsylvania on the 29th and rode within 12 miles of Gettysburg. Buford told his troopers, “Within 48 hours, the concentration of both armies will take place upon some field within view, and a great battle will be fought.” That night, Buford’s pickets briefly traded shots with Heth’s.

The Confederates continued concentrating in the Gettysburg area on the 30th. Early had told Hill about a shoe factory in Gettysburg, and Hill directed Heth to lead his men into the town on July 1 and “get those shoes.” Buford arrived at Gettysburg around 11 a.m., just as Heth’s troops were leaving. The two forces skirmished until Buford’s Federals pulled back. Heth reported Buford’s presence to Hill, who did not believe the Federals were in Pennsylvania yet.

Gettysburg had 12 roads leading in and out, making this prosperous little town strategically important. Buford immediately recognized this and posted defenses north and west of town, based on intelligence that the Confederates would come from one of those directions.

Buford was certain the Confederates would attack in the morning. One of his brigade commanders, Colonel Thomas Devin, expressed confidence that he would defeat any concentration of enemy forces coming his way. Buford said, “No you won’t. They will attack you in the morning and they will come booming–skirmishers three deep. You will have to fight like the devil to hold your own until support arrives.”

Meade ordered Major General John F. Reynolds, commanding operations for I, III, and XI corps, to seize the crossroads outside Gettysburg. Reynolds’s Federals camped within five miles of the town that night. Buford sent Reynolds a message stating that the Confederates were “massed just back of Cashtown.”

Meade sent orders for Reynolds to fall back to Emmitsburg if attacked, where strong defenses could be put up along Pipe Creek. Meade planned to let Lee do the attacking and hold him off. But by the time the orders reached Reynolds, the Battle of Gettysburg had already begun.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 397-98; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 295; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 31-33, 35, 73; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19096; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 297; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 345; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 463-64; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 317-18; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5878-901; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 372-73; 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. 652-53; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 307-08

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

Confederates Invade Pennsylvania

June 20, 1863 – Federal and Confederate cavalries dueled as the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia entered Pennsylvania and panic gripped the region.

With a full-scale Confederate invasion now imminent, Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin and Major General Darius N. Couch, commanding the Department of the Susquehanna, frantically called for 30-day militia volunteers. However, Curtin could not accept blacks because, under Federal law, they could only be inducted in the Federal army, not the state militia, and only for three years’ service, not 30 days.

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton initially directed Couch “to receive into service any volunteer troops that may be offered, without regard to color,” but then he realized the political trouble with recruiting blacks and told Couch that in case of “any dispute about the matter, it will be better to send no more. It is well to avoid all controversy in the present juncture, as the troops can be well used elsewhere.”

Maj Gen Alfred Pleasonton | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

In northern Virginia, Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton’s Federal Cavalry Corps continued challenging the Confederate horsemen under Major General Jeb Stuart east of the Blue Ridge. Stuart had no infantry support, as the rest of the Confederate army had gone west into the Shenandoah Valley en route to Pennsylvania. After a day’s delay due to rain, the Federals again pressed their counterparts, driving Stuart back eight miles to Upperville. The Confederates withdrew through Ashby’s Gap in the Blue Ridge around 6 p.m.

The opposing cavalries had fought intermittently since the 16th, during which time the Federals lost 613 men while inflicting 510 casualties on the enemy. These engagements boosted Federal confidence and made Stuart seem less invincible. However, Pleasonton could not gather much intelligence based on these skirmishes, except to inform Major General Joseph Hooker, commanding the Army of the Potomac, that the Confederates were moving into the Shenandoah Valley.

As the Confederates marched through the narrow section of western Maryland, General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia, issued General Order No. 72. This outlined how the army was to behave in enemy territory. The order was politically motivated, as Lee hoped to demonstrate his men’s high morality to foreign nations considering whether to recognize Confederate independence.

Gen Robert E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Lee directed that “no private property shall be injured or destroyed by any person belonging to or connected with the army, or taken, excepting by officers hereinafter designated,” namely, members of the “commissary, quartermaster’s, ordnance, and medical departments.”

Property owners deprived of their goods must “be paid the market price for the articles furnished.” If property owners refused to accept Confederate money (which was nearly worthless), they were to be given receipts noting the property taken and its current market value.

Lee then declared, “If any person shall remove or conceal property necessary for the use of the army, or attempt to do so, the officers hereinbefore mentioned will cause such property, and all other property belonging to such person that may be required by the army, to be seized…”

On the 22nd, the vanguard of Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Confederate Second Corps, consisting of Major General Robert Rodes’s infantry and Brigadier General Albert G. Jenkins’s cavalry, crossed the Pennsylvania border around 10 a.m. and advanced through Greencastle. Lee instructed Ewell:

“I think your best course will be toward the Susquehanna (River), taking the route by Emmitsburg, Chambersburg, and McConnellsburg… It will depend upon the quantity of supplies obtained in that country whether the rest of the army can follow. There may be enough for your command, but none for the others. If Harrisburg comes within your means, capture it.”

The “progress and directions” of Ewell’s advance were to be determined by the “development of circumstances.” Lee then sent discretionary orders to Stuart:

“I fear he (Hooker) will steal a march on us, and get across the Potomac before we are aware. If you find he is moving northward, and that two brigades can guard the Blue Ridge and take care of your rear, you can move with the other three into Maryland, and take position on General Ewell’s right.”

Lee sent an official order the next day, “which I wish you to see it strictly complied with.” The order went through Lieutenant General James Longstreet, whom Stuart was screening, and Longstreet added a suggestion that instead of joining Ewell, which could expose Lee’s entire movement, Stuart should ride around the rear of the Federal army. Lee approved, with the stipulation that once Hooker crossed the Potomac, Stuart “must immediately cross himself and take his place on our right flank.”

Late that night, Hooker received intelligence from Pleasonton that Longstreet’s corps was at Winchester, with Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s following. The next day, Ewell’s advance into Pennsylvania continued, with Major General Jubal Early’s division approaching Chambersburg.

Early ordered the destruction of the nearby Caledonia Iron Works. The works were owned by Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, a Radical Republican leader who despised slavery and called for subjugating the Confederate states. When the foreman argued that the company only operated to provide housing and jobs for the locals, Early replied, “Yankees don’t do business that way. They carry on their operations to make money.”

As Early later stated, the Confederates burned all the buildings because the Federals “invariably burned such works in the South wherever they had penetrated.” Early also admitted that he destroyed the works because “in some speeches in Congress Mr. Stevens had exhibited a vindictive spirit toward the people in the South.”

Longstreet began crossing the Potomac on the 24th at Shepherdstown and Williamsport. The main part of Ewell’s corps was at Hagerstown, Maryland, with his lead elements at Chambersburg and poised to continue to the Susquehanna River.

Hooker still could not confirm whether Lee’s movement indicated a northern invasion. He notified General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck that he would, “with all the force I can muster, strike for his line of retreat in the direction of Richmond.” However, Hooker soon received intelligence that Confederates were in force at Shepherdstown.

He dispatched Major General Oliver O. Howard’s XI Corps to Edwards’s Ferry, marking his first major move toward the Potomac. Confused by all the conflicting reports, Hooker then asked Halleck to send him orders because “outside of the Army of the Potomac I don’t know whether I am standing on my head or feet.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 25-26, 28; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 296; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 442; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 313-15; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5842; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 370-71; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 649; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q263

The Second Battle of Winchester

June 15, 1863 – The vanguard of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia attacked the supposedly impregnable Federal defenses at Winchester, precipitating a Federal disaster.

Gen. Robert Milroy | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Major General Robert H. Milroy’s division within the Federal Middle Department was assigned to protect Winchester and Harpers Ferry in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. As the Confederates approached, Milroy’s immediate superior, Major General Robert C. Schenck, as well as General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, had urged Milroy to abandon Winchester and hold Harpers Ferry. But Milroy insisted that Winchester could be held.

Schenck ultimately left it to Milroy to decide whether to abandon Winchester, and Milroy opted to stay and defend the three forts north and west of town. By the 14th, two divisions from Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Confederate Second Corps, led by Major Generals Edward “Allegheny” Johnson and Jubal Early, were closing in on Winchester from the south, east, and west.

Milroy’s Federals pulled back into the forts. President Abraham Lincoln, seeing the potential for disaster, wired Schenck at Baltimore, “Get Milroy from Winchester to Harpers Ferry if possible. If he remains he will get gobbled up, if he is not already past salvation.”

Johnson feinted from the south and east, while Early positioned his troops to the west. The Confederates brought up 22 guns and began bombarding the forts at 6 p.m. At 6:45, one of Early’s brigades attacked the main fort to the west, while Johnson drove against the two to the north. Early’s men captured one of Milroy’s key earthworks, and the Confederates nearly surrounded the Federals by nightfall.

Meanwhile, the rest of Ewell’s corps, Major General Robert Rodes’s infantry division and Brigadier General Albert G. Jenkins’s cavalry, attacked the 1,500-man Federal garrison at Martinsburg, behind Milroy to the north. Jenkins attacked first; the Federals initially held firm but evacuated as many supplies as possible before being overrun. By the time Rodes’s infantry arrived, many of the Federals had escaped. But the Confederates still took 700 prisoners, along with five guns and a large amount of supplies.

Back at Winchester, Milroy held a council of war at 9 p.m. Surrender was not an option since Milroy was considered an outlaw by the Confederate government and could face execution for his suppression of civilians and his liberation of slaves. The officers agreed to try escaping northeast to Harpers Ferry, via Martinsburg, along the same route Milroy had used last year to elude “Stonewall” Jackson.

The Federals were to move out at 1 a.m., but before they left, they had orders to destroy all the wagons, guns, and supplies they could not take with them. The men began moving toward Stephenson’s Depot, on the Martinsburg Turnpike four miles north of Winchester.

Confederate Lieut Gen Richard Ewell | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Ewell, who had served under “Stonewall” Jackson, anticipated Milroy’s plan and ordered Johnson to block the turnpike at Stephenson’s Depot. This maneuver, which was very difficult to execute in darkness, took five hours. Nevertheless, the Confederates reached the depot around 3 a.m., ahead of the retreating Federals.

During this time, messages were exchanged between Lincoln and Major General Joseph Hooker, commanding the Army of the Potomac. Lincoln asked incredulously, “Do you consider it possible that 15,000 of Ewell’s men can now be at Winchester?” He then asked if Hooker could somehow rescue Milroy. Hooker replied, “I do not feel like making a move for an enemy until I am satisfied as to his whereabouts. To proceed to Winchester and have him make his appearance elsewhere, would subject me to ridicule.”

Lincoln cited Hooker’s own message stating that the corps of both Ewell and Lieutenant General James Longstreet had left Culpeper Court House. If Hooker was right, then, Lincoln wrote, “I should feel sure that Winchester is strongly invested.” Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton then informed Hooker that Ewell’s corps was divided between Martinsburg and Winchester, but Hooker still would not move.

As Milroy’s Federals approached Stephenson’s Depot, they saw the Confederates blocking their path at a bridge. They tried fighting their way through, but rather than use his numerical advantage for one overwhelming assault, Milroy sent his men against the enemy piecemeal. The Confederates scattered the Federals with artillery, and as the sun rose, Milroy ordered them to disperse. They fled in all directions as the Confederates rounded most of them up.

The Federals sustained 443 casualties and lost over 4,000 taken prisoner. Milroy escaped. The Confederates also took 23 guns, 300 wagons, 300 horses, and enormous amounts of supplies while losing just 269 men (47 killed, 219 wounded, and three missing). Ewell’s victory at the Second Battle of Winchester was greater than Jackson’s victory over Nathaniel P. Banks in the first.

This, along with the victory at Martinsburg, cleared the Federals out of the Shenandoah Valley and opened the path for General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia to invade the North. Rodes’s division under Ewell became the first Confederate unit to cross the Potomac River. Jenkins’s Confederate cavalry rode on toward Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, to gather supplies.

A court of inquiry later investigated Milroy’s conduct at Winchester, including his insistence on holding the town and his claim that he could withstand any Confederate attack. The court absolved Milroy of any blame for the fiasco, but he never held a significant command again.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 23-25; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18985; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 294; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 440; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 310-11; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 365-66; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 176; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 307-08, 495-96, 834-35