Tag Archives: Pennsylvania Campaign

Hooker’s Pursuit Begins

June 10, 1863 – Major General Joseph Hooker put the Federal Army of the Potomac in motion as General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia approached the Shenandoah Valley.

Lee’s Confederates resumed their march on the 10th, despite the toll the Battle of Brandy Station had taken on Major General Jeb Stuart’s cavalry. Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Second Corps took the lead, moving northwest from Culpeper Court House toward the Shenandoah Valley and the fords on the Potomac River.

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

During the movement, Lee wrote President Jefferson Davis about a subject he rarely discussed: politics. Lee sought to inform Davis about “the manner in which the demonstration of a desire for peace at the North has been received in our country.” Lee felt that the Confederacy needed to help cultivate the growing peace movement in the North to gain independence.

Lee wrote, “We should not conceal from ourselves that our resources in men are constantly diminishing, and the disproportion in this respect between us and our enemies, if they continue united in their efforts to subjugate us, is steadily augmenting.” The time would come when the Federals’ resources would be too great to overcome militarily, thus efforts needed to be made to divide the northern home front by supporting the Copperheads (i.e., anti-war Democrats). Lee asserted:

“Should the belief that peace will bring back the Union become general, the war would no longer be supported, and that, after all, is what we are interested in bringing about. When peace is proposed to us, it will be time enough to discuss its terms, and it is not the part of prudence to spurn the proposition in advance, merely because those who made it believe, or affect to believe, that it will result in bringing us back to the Union.”

Lee concluded that if Davis agreed with these points, then “you will best know how to give effect to them.”

For the Lincoln administration, the Brandy Station engagement confirmed that the Confederates posed a potential threat to the Shenandoah Valley, stretching northward into Maryland and Pennsylvania. Panic began spreading in those states, as the governors of both Maryland and Pennsylvania urged citizens to rise up and defend their homes.

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton assigned Major General William T.H. Brooks to command the new Department of the Monongahela, headquartered at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This was intended to counter possible Confederate raids into that region, which had formerly been part of the Middle Department and the Department of Ohio.

Stanton also assigned Major General Darius N. Couch to command the new Department of the Susquehanna, headquartered at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Formerly second in command in the Army of the Potomac, Couch was reassigned after expressing disgust over Hooker’s performance at Chancellorsville and refusing to serve under him any longer.

Couch issued orders to raise a volunteer corps to defend Pennsylvania. This resulted in the recruitment of several companies of men serving for 100 days. Brooks also began trying to raise militia to augment his volunteer forces. However, he managed to raise just one partially armed regiment, mainly because the government discouraged militia recruitment in favor of volunteer enlistments.

The Battle of Brandy Station indicated to the Federals that most of the Confederate cavalry was near Culpeper, meaning that Washington was in no danger of being attacked. Also, Hooker believed that most of Lee’s army had left Fredericksburg and headed north, even though he was still not sure what Lee planned to do.

Hooker told President Abraham Lincoln that if this was true, then Lee “can leave nothing behind to interpose any serious obstacle of my rapid advance on Richmond.” He therefore asked, “will it not promote the true interest of the cause for me to march to Richmond at once?… I do not hesitate to say that I should adopt this course as being the most speedy and certain mode of giving the rebellion a mortal blow.” Lincoln quickly responded:

“If left to me, I would not go south of Rappahannock upon Lee’s moving north of it. If you had Richmond invested today, you would not be able to take it in 20 days; meanwhile your communications, and with them your army, would be ruined. I think Lee’s army, and not Richmond, is your true objective point. If he comes toward the Upper Potomac, follow on his flank and on his inside track, shortening your lines whilst he lengthens his. Fight him, too, when opportunity offers. If he stays where he is, fret him and fret him.”

Part of Hooker’s army began marching north on the morning of the 11th, pursuing Lee but staying on what Lincoln called the “inside track.” Hooker was required to keep his army between Lee in his front and Washington in his rear, even though he still did not know Lee’s exact location. Most of his army remained at Falmouth.

Hooker received various reports from cavalry, scouts, and observation balloons, but some of them conflicted. In fact, Hooker wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck on the 12th, “It is reported to me from the balloon that several new rebel camps have made their appearance this morning. There can be no doubt but that the enemy has been greatly re-enforced.” That afternoon, Hooker wrote Major General John A. Dix, commanding at Fort Monroe:

“All of Lee’s army, so far as I know, is extended along the immediate bands of the Rappahannock, from Hamilton’s Crossing (south of Fredericksburg) to Culpeper. A.P. Hill’s corps is on his right, below Fredericksburg. Ewell’s corps joins his left, leading to the Rapidan; and beyond that river is (James) Longstreet’s corps, with not less than 10,000 cavalry, under Stuart… From my balloon it can be seen that he is daily receiving acquisitions. He has a numerical superiority over me.”

Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton, heading the Federal Cavalry Corps, reported to Hooker, “I am inclined to believe they will not send off their cavalry or make a move until they are satisfied of ours. The information I receive is that they will play the defensive until we make a false step.”

On the 13th, Pleasonton passed along rumors that Ewell’s corps was now approaching the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge. Unaware that Ewell was already in the Shenandoah Valley, Hooker directed his army to transfer its base of operations from Falmouth to Manassas Junction, keeping between Lee and Washington. The Federals began pulling out of Falmouth that night, leaving the camps they had occupied since November of last year.

Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Confederates began moving out of the Fredericksburg defenses on the 14th, after reporting that Hooker was leaving Falmouth. While Ewell invested the Federals at Winchester, Lieutenant General Longstreet’s corps controlled the gaps in the Blue Ridge so Hill and the rest of the army could march through.

Confusion reigned in Washington. Halleck notified Hooker, “Pleasonton’s telegrams… contain all the information we have of the enemy’s movements. They are very contradictory.” Finally realizing that Lee might invade the North, Hooker warned Brooks at Pittsburgh to be on alert. Brooks frantically tried raising volunteers. Hooker wrote Lincoln, “If the enemy should be making for Maryland, I will make the best dispositions in my power to come up with him.”

Lincoln replied, “If the head of Lee’s army is at Martinsburg and the tail of it on the Plank road between Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, the animal must be very slim somewhere. Could you not break him?” The next day, Hooker conceded that “it is not in my power to prevent” Lee from invading the North. Lincoln issued a call for 100,000 militia volunteers in West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Panic spread through Baltimore.

—–

References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 390; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 294; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 14, 22-23, 32-33; 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. 293-94; 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, 447-48; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 308-09, 311; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5732-44; Hoffsommer, Robert D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 187; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 364-67; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 504-06; 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, 651; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 737; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 307-08

The Battle of Brandy Station

June 9, 1863 – Major General Jeb Stuart’s Confederate cavalry narrowly escaped defeat in the largest cavalry battle ever waged in North America.

Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton’s 11,000 Federals crossed the Rappahannock River at dawn. One wing under Brigadier General John Buford crossed at Beverly Ford, while the other wing under Brigadier General David Gregg crossed four miles downstream at Kelly’s Ford.

Pleasonton had orders to “disperse and destroy the rebel force” of Stuart. He expected to find Stuart near Culpeper Court House, but Stuart’s command was spread across six miles from Brandy Station, a few miles north of Culpeper, to Stevensburg. Stuart was in no position to defend against such a large onslaught.

Buford advanced and surprised Confederates under Brigadier General William “Grumble” Jones, driving them back from the Rappahannock toward Brandy Station. The initial clash also surprised the Federals because they had not expected such strong resistance so far from Culpeper. Confederate troopers raced off to warn Stuart, who hurriedly concentrated his command around his headquarters at Fleetwood Hill. Soon reinforcements under Generals Rooney Lee (son of General Robert E. Lee) and Wade Hampton rushed into the fray.

Fighting at Brandy Station | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Buford attacked the Confederate left under Rooney Lee but was repulsed by dismounted troopers firing from behind a stone wall. Buford ordered several more attacks, and a vicious struggle developed. The Confederates desperately held their ground, knowing that if the Federals broke through to Culpeper, they would see the main army camps and discover that the Army of Northern Virginia was heading north.

Gregg’s wing came up around noon and surprised the Confederates from the south. The Confederates quickly stopped the threat with artillery, while a detachment from Gregg’s wing under Colonel Alfred Duffie unsuccessfully attacked enemy horsemen at Stevensburg.

Meanwhile, opposing troopers charged and countercharged for over 10 hours for possession of Fleetwood Hill, the key point on the battlefield. A Maine regiment reached the crest but was beaten back. Two charges by Rush’s Lancers of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry resulted in the wounding and capture of Major Robert Morris, Jr., grandson of Robert Morris, “the Financier of the American Revolution.”

Pleasonton informed Major General Joseph Hooker, commanding the Army of the Potomac, that the Confederates put up a fierce resistance, and Hooker authorized him to disengage. Pleasonton finally began withdrawing around 4:30 p.m. His troopers fell back in good order, using the same fords to re-cross the Rappahannock.

Each side committed about 10,000 men to the contest, making it the largest cavalry battle in American history. The Federals sustained 866 casualties (81 killed, 403 wounded, and 382 missing). They also lost three Federal guns and several stands of colors. The Confederates lost 523 men, including Rooney Lee, who suffered a serious leg wound. This was an exceptionally high number of casualties for a cavalry battle, refuting the infantry’s long-repeated question, “Whoever saw a dead cavalryman?”

Stuart may have driven Pleasonton off and retained control of Fleetwood Hill, but the new Federal Cavalry Corps matched their legendary Confederate counterparts for the first time. A Federal officer later asserted that this battle “made the Federal Cavalry.” Although Pleasonton did not discover Lee’s northward movement, he provided Hooker with other valuable information.

The southern press harshly criticized Stuart and his “puffed up cavalry” for being surprised and nearly defeated at Brandy Station. An editorial in the Richmond Examiner alleged that this embarrassment had been caused by “vain and empty-headed officers.” The Richmond Sentinel stated, “Vigilance, vigilance, more vigilance, is the lesson taught us by the Brandy surprise. Let all learn it, from the Major General down to the picket.”

Stuart’s cavalry was assigned to screen the Confederate army’s northward advance. But Stuart soon began planned to make amends for this engagement by staging another sensational raid.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 10, 16-22, 25; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18977; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 293; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 438; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 306-07; Jensen, Les D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 182; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 46; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 363-64; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 647-48; McCoy, Patrick M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 587; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 307-09

Hooker Tries Learning Lee’s Intentions

June 5, 1863 – Major General Joseph Hooker struggled to learn General Robert E. Lee’s true intentions as the Confederates moved around the Federal right in northern Virginia.

Federal Major General Joseph Hooker | Image Credit: Sonofthesouth.net

During the night, Confederate deserters came into the Federal lines claiming to have belonged to Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s First Corps in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. This was Hooker’s first indication that Longstreet had rejoined Lee after besieging Suffolk last month. Hooker notified President Abraham Lincoln that the Confederate army had been unified “for no other purpose but to enable the enemy to move up the river, with a view to the execution of a movement similar to that of Lee’s (Maryland campaign) last year.”

Hooker supposed Lee might “cross the Upper Potomac,” but he believed Lee truly intended to “throw his army between mine and Washington.” Hooker then asked, “As I am liable to be called on to make a movement with the utmost promptitude, I desire that I may be informed as early as practicable of the views of the Government concerning this army.”

Hooker wanted to preëmpt Lee’s supposed offensive by crossing the Rappahannock River and attacking the remaining Confederate defenders west of Fredericksburg. He proposed “to pitch into the enemy’s rear,” and asked, “Will it be within the sphere of my instructions to do so?”

As Hooker awaited a reply, Major General John Sedgwick’s VI Corps conducted the probing mission that Hooker had ordered. The Federals crossed the Rappahannock and approached the Confederate defenses that scouts and balloonists had claimed were abandoned. If the defenses proved weak, it could indicate that Lee was moving north in earnest. Only Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Third Corps remained in the defensive works.

Confederate sharpshooters quickly repelled Federal troops wading across the river near Deep Run. Sedgwick then directed engineers to lay pontoon bridges so more men could cross. Once the bridges were set, the Federals charged across the river and, under fire, seized the enemy rifle pits. They then advanced toward the nearby woods, but hidden Confederates drove them back. Sedgwick, unaware that he had faced just Hill’s men, reported that Lee’s army remained at Fredericksburg in force.

Despite Sedgwick’s claim, Hooker still believed that Lee’s main movement was to the north. He directed several reconnaissances to determine Lee’s true intentions. By this time, Lincoln had responded to Hooker’s request to attack Fredericksburg; the president warned Hooker against such an action, arguing that if Lee left a small force behind, it could be because he wanted Hooker to attack it.

Lincoln had “but one idea which I think worth suggesting to you, and that is, in case you find Lee coming north of the Rappahannock, I would by no means cross to the south of it… I would not take any risk of being entangled upon the river, like an ox jumped half over a fence and liable to be torn by dogs, front and rear, without a fair chance to gore one way or kick the other.”

General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck also responded, asking, “Would it not be more advantageous to fight his movable column first, instead of first attacking his intrenchments, with your own forces separated by the Rappahannock?” Halleck reminded Hooker that while the army’s main goal was to destroy Lee’s army, it was also required to guard Washington and Harpers Ferry. With that in mind, Halleck warned, “Lee will seek to hold you in check with his main force, while a strong force will be detached for a raid into Maryland and Pennsylvania.”

Meanwhile, Major General Jeb Stuart conducted a grand review of his Confederate cavalry at Brandy Station. Five brigades totaling 8,000 troopers with flying colors rode past dignitaries, ladies, and other spectators assembled in grandstands, carriages, and railroad cars. At Stuart’s request, Secretary of War James A. Seddon also attended. A staff officer later wrote:

“Eight thousand cavalry passed under the eye of their commander, in column of squadrons, first at a walk, and then at the charge, while the guns of the artillery battalion, on the hill opposite the stand, gave forth fire and smoke, and seemed almost to convert the pageant into real warfare. It was a brilliant day, and the thirst for the ‘pomp and circumstance’ of war was fully satisfied.”

Several ladies fainted at the impressive sight. But not all Confederates appreciated the show. Brigadier General William “Grumble” Jones, recently attached to Lee’s army from the Shenandoah Valley, had “a disdainful air, for he hated the ‘pomp and circumstance’ of war.” His men, like their commander, “grumbled at the useless waste of energy, especially that of the horses.”

That night, Stuart held a grand ball attended by the ladies and his officers. By that time, Longstreet’s lead division under Major General John Bell Hood was at Culpeper Court House, and all Confederates except for Hill’s corps had left Fredericksburg.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18977; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 292; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 436-37, 447; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 304-05; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5696; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 362; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 286, 307-08