Tag Archives: Philip Kearny

Hooker Reorganizes the Army of the Potomac

February 5, 1863 – Major General Joseph Hooker worked to reorganize and revitalize the demoralized Federal Army of the Potomac.

Maj Gen Joseph Hooker | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Hooker began the main part of his reorganization with General Order No. 6, which declared that former commander Ambrose E. Burnside’s “Grand Division” structure was “impeding rather than facilitating the dispatch of its current business.” He therefore replaced it with a traditional nine-corps organization:

  • Major General John F. Reynolds commanded I Corps
  • Major General Darius N. Couch commanded II Corps
  • Major General Daniel E. Sickles commanded III Corps
  • Major General George G. Meade commanded V Corps
  • Major General John Sedgwick commanded VI Corps
  • Major General William F. “Baldy” Smith commanded IX Corps
  • Major General Franz Sigel commanded XI Corps
  • Major General Henry W. Slocum commanded XII Corps
  • Major General George Stoneman commanded the new Cavalry Corps

IV Corps was stationed at Fort Monroe, on the Virginia Peninsula between the York and James rivers, detached from the Army of the Potomac. The VII, VIII, and X corps were also detached. Hooker arranged for IX Corps, which had been Burnside’s, to be transferred to Fort Monroe along with IV Corps. He also arranged for Smith to command that corps, knowing that Smith had been one of the conspirators against Burnside and not wanting him around to conspire against himself (Hooker).

For the first time, the army’s cavalry would be combined into a single unit; previously it had been scattered among the various divisions, brigades, and regiments, making it difficult for commanders to concentrate their horsemen against the swarming Confederate troopers. Hooker envisioned using Stoneman just as Robert E. Lee used Jeb Stuart in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Hooker did the opposite for the artillery, dispersing the batteries throughout the corps, divisions, and brigades as needed.

Hooker’s new chief of staff was General Daniel Butterfield, who had composed the song “Taps,” by slightly modifying the “Tattoo” composed by General Winfield Scott in 1835. His father had formed the Butterfield Overland Mail Company.

Army morale sank to a new low in early February, as 10 percent of the troops deserted. Hooker worked to change this by improving army sanitation, health care, food, clothing, shelter, and discipline. He cracked down on corruption in the quartermaster’s department, saw to it that soldiers received their back pay, and granted homesick soldiers furloughs.

Hooker also directed all troops to wear badges signifying the corps to which they belonged. This was similar to the “Kearny” patches that General Philip Kearny had his men wear to better identify them during the Peninsula campaign. Each corps had its own badge shape, and the colors indicated the division numbers (i.e., red was the first division of the corps, white was the second, blue was the third, etc.). The badges were sewn onto the men’s caps, and they helped instill a new sense of pride in their fighting units.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 260; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 233; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 262; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 102-03; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 318-19; 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. 585

The Battle of Chantilly

September 1, 1862 – A vicious fight in driving rain ended the Second Bull Run campaign with Major General John Pope’s Federal Army of Virginia still intact but thoroughly defeated by General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

On the early morning of September 1, Pope telegraphed General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, indicating a loss of confidence following his recent defeats:

“My men are resting; they need it much… I shall attack again tomorrow if I can; the next day certainly. I think it my duty to call to your attention to the unsoldierly and dangerous conduct of many brigade and some division commanders of the forces sent here from the Peninsula. Every word and act and intention is discouraging, and calculated to break down the spirits of the men and produce disaster. My advice to you–I give it with freedom, as I know you will not misunderstand it–is that, in view of any satisfactory results, you draw back this army to the intrenchments in front of Washington, and set to work in that secure place to reorganize and rearrange it. You may avoid great disaster by doing so.”

That day, Confederate Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson resumed his attempt to move north around Pope’s right flank. As Pope continued withdrawing from Centreville to Fairfax Court House, Federal cavalry detected Jackson’s movement. Pope deployed a force to stop Jackson and cover the Federal retreat. The force consisted of Major General Philip Kearny’s division of III Corps and a division of IX Corps led by Brigadier General Isaac I. Stevens.

Jackson advanced on the muddy Little River Turnpike and stopped at a plantation called Chantilly to wait for Major General James Longstreet’s Confederates to catch up. Two hours later, Jackson’s 15,000 men began climbing Ox Hill and approaching Stevens’s 6,000 Federals. Jackson deployed his three divisions south of the turnpike, and as a violent thunderstorm erupted, the Confederates charged.

Fighting raged back and forth along Ox Hill near Germantown, with the hard rain adding to the general confusion. The Federals repelled the attacks, but Stevens was shot dead while rallying his 79th New York Highlanders. Kearny’s division arrived as reinforcements, with Kearny taking command after Stevens’s death. While personally inspected the enemy lines, he unknowingly rode into a group of enemy skirmishers. They shot him dead after he refused to surrender.

“Kearny’s Charge, Battle of Chantilly” by Augustus Tholey, published by John Smith. From the Library of Congress. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

The Federals held their ground against the ferocious Confederate attacks until nightfall. In the dark, the Federals withdrew to rejoin Pope’s main force. They left Kearny’s body on the field, which the Confederates later returned under a flag of truce. Federals mourned the loss of Kearny, who had been one of the army’s most respected commanders. Stevens had also been well-respected; he was posthumously promoted to major general of volunteers.

Pope received orders from Halleck: “You will bring your forces as best you can within or near the line of fortification.” The Federals escaped from Centreville and retreated to Fairfax Court House, some 20 miles from Washington.

Lee received word that Pope had been reinforced and decided not to pursue any further. The storm may have saved Jackson from defeat because it prevented Pope from deploying reinforcements. The Federals lost some 1,300 men in this fight, and the Confederates lost about 800.

The Confederates advanced to Centreville on the 2nd, only to find it abandoned as Pope continued withdrawing from Fairfax Court House on the road to Alexandria and Washington. The Federals positioned themselves the defenses constructed by Major General George B. McClellan almost a year ago. This ensured that Washington would stay safe, even though the Confederates were now closer to the capital than they had ever been before.

This ended the Second Bull Run campaign much like the first–in embarrassing Federal defeat. From August 27 to September 2, the Federals sustained 16,054 casualties (1,724 killed, 8,372 wounded, and 5,958 missing) from about 75,000 effectives. The Confederates lost 9,197 (1,481 killed, 7,627 wounded, and 89 missing) out of some 48,500.

This campaign was one of the Confederacy’s greatest military victories. Three months ago, the Federals were within striking distance of Richmond, but now momentum had completely shifted and the Confederates were within striking distance of Washington. This secured the status of Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson as national heroes, and it enabled the Confederates to shift the eastern focus of the war from Richmond to Washington.

For the Federals, the defeat prompted charges and countercharges of dereliction of duty. Some blamed Pope for mishandling the battle. Some blamed McClellan for failing to hurry reinforcements from his army to Pope. Some blamed Halleck for failing to coordinate the two men’s armies. Some went straight to the top and blamed President Abraham Lincoln. There was enough blame to go around.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 84; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 49-55; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 17251-69; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 208; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 643-45; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 202; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 4565; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 64; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 257-60; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 717-18; 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. 531-32; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 469-70; Sabine, David B., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 408-09; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 787-88; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 167; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 94-95, 129-30

The Seven Days Battles: Oak Grove

June 25, 1862 – Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac tried inching closer to Richmond as Confederate General Robert E. Lee planned to drive the Federals off the Virginia Peninsula.

Gen. R.E. Lee, CSA and Maj Gen G.B. McClellan, USA | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Gen. R.E. Lee, CSA and Maj Gen G.B. McClellan, USA | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

On June 23, Lee conferred with his top commanders and resolved to attack Federal Major General George B. McClellan’s army before it could advance on the Confederate capital. Lee intended to assault McClellan’s right wing, which was isolated on the north side of the Chickahominy River, on the 26th.

However, McClellan learned of Lee’s plan and resolved to attack first. Leaving his right wing north of the river, McClellan moved with his left. He targeted Oak Grove, which commanded the high ground south of the Chickahominy, a mile and a half closer to Richmond. McClellan hoped to clear that area for his heavy guns to put Richmond under siege. This was intended to be a preliminary movement before a general army advance.

Federal artillery opened on a rainy June 25, and then a division of General Samuel Heintzelman’s III Corps, led by Brigadier General Joseph Hooker, moved forward, supported by Brigadier General Philip Kearny’s division. Skirmishing ensued as Major General Benjamin Huger’s Confederates blocked their path.

Huger had just 6,000 men, but he was soon reinforced by another 3,000 led by General Robert Ransom. The Federals struggled through the swampy terrain, and a heavy volley suddenly sent the Federals in Hooker’s lead brigade under Brigadier General Daniel Sickles running in what Sickles later called “disgraceful confusion.” Kearny sent reinforcements to secure Hooker’s left.

Heintzelman wired McClellan, who was at his headquarters three miles away, for reinforcements. But McClellan, through his chief of staff Brigadier General Randolph B. Marcy, ordered a retreat just as fresh troops came up, to the dismay of subordinates at the scene. Hooker hesitated, neither attacking nor retreating, and the battlefield went temporarily quiet.

McClellan then rode to the front two and a half hours later, inspected the lines, and ordered Hooker and Kearny to resume the assault. The Federals were reinforced by a brigade from II Corps and an artillery battery. Fighting occurred at several points, including Oak Grove, King’s School House, French’s Field, and the Orchard.

Charges and countercharges took place on the Williamsburg road until the Federal guns and reinforced infantry pushed the Confederates back to their main defenses. Nightfall gradually stopped both the firing and the rain. The Federals could not penetrate the Confederate line, but McClellan was pleased that they moved about 600 yards closer to Richmond. The Federals suffered 516 casualties (51 killed, 401 wounded, and 64 missing), and the Confederates lost 316 (40 killed, 263 wounded, and 13 missing).

Lee determined that this engagement did not expose his plan to attack McClellan’s right the next day, so that operation remained intact. The main Confederate attack force under Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson continued moving into positions. Receiving news of Jackson’s impending arrival, McClellan suspended another scheduled attack and ordered his right wing, consisting of General Fitz John Porter’s V Corps, to slow Jackson’s forces.

This action marked McClellan’s first (and last) tactical offensive against Richmond since the beginning of his Peninsula campaign. Although he deemed Porter’s positions acceptable, and although his left was now within five miles of Richmond, McClellan returned to headquarters on the night of the 25th and notified Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that he faced “vastly superior odds.” This was based on an erroneous report that the Confederate Army of Mississippi had come to Richmond from the West, giving Lee up to 200,000 men (he really had no more than 70,000 versus McClellan’s 130,000). McClellan wrote Stanton:

“I incline to think that Jackson will attack my right and rear. The rebel force is stated at 200,000… I regret my great inferiority in numbers, but feel that I am in no way responsible for it, as I have not failed to represent repeatedly the necessity of reinforcements; that this was the decisive point, and that all the available means of the Government should be concentrated here. I will do all that a general can do with the splendid army I have the honor to command, and if it is destroyed by overwhelming numbers, can at least die with it and share its fate. But if the result of the action which will probably occur tomorrow, or within a short time, is a disaster, the responsibility cannot be thrown on my shoulders; it must rest where it belongs.”

Later that night, McClellan wrote, “I feel that there is no use in again asking for reinforcements,” but then did exactly that in requesting “some new regiments… another division of old troops… also, a couple of new regiments of cavalry.” McClellan concluded, “Every possible precaution is being taken. If I had another good division I could laugh at Jackson… Nothing but overwhelming forces can defeat us.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (25 Jun 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 185; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 477, 480; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 171-72; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3710-21, 3743, 3750-63; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 443-44; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 229-30; 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. 465; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 30-33; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 295-96, 541, 667-68; Wikipedia: Battle of Oak Grove

The Battle of Seven Pines: Day One

May 31, 1862 – Confederates attacked the Federals on the south side of the Chickahominy River, but poor coordination prevented them from accomplishing their main goal of destroying the enemy.

By the morning of the 31st, troops in the front lines of Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac were within six miles of Richmond, with the city’s church steeples visible in the distance. However, the Chickahominy divided McClellan’s 110,000-man army, with three corps north of the river and two to the south. And pouring rains had swelled the waterway, making it dangerously difficult for the two wings to unite if needed.

For the Confederate army, General Joseph E. Johnston had 74,000 men, but he reported just 62,696 effectives. He planned to send two-thirds of that number to attack the Federal wing isolated south of the Chickahominy, with General Erasmus D. Keyes’s IV Corps in front and III Corps under General Samuel P. Heintzelman in reserve. Most of Keyes’s Federals were positioned near Fair Oaks Station to the north and Seven Pines to the south.

The massive Confederate mobilization began at dawn, catching the attention of Richmond residents. Many followed the army to see the action, but that action would be delayed several hours. Johnston did not inform anyone of his plans, which required a rigid timetable and skilled coordination to execute. But they were bungled from the start.

Major General James Longstreet was supposed to lead the Confederate left (or north) wing down the Nine Mile road to attack Federals at Fair Oaks and Seven Pines. But he misunderstood Johnston’s verbal orders and instead went down the Williamsburg road, the same road taken by Major General D.H. Hill’s Confederates in the center. This not only jammed traffic on the road, but it greatly narrowed the Confederates’ attacking front.

Moreover, Major General Benjamin Huger’s Confederates were supposed to support Hill’s right, but Johnston merely ordered Huger to “be ready for action.” Huger took this to mean that he should stay in reserve until called upon, but Johnston wanted him to advance with Longstreet and Hill. Thus, Hill advanced unsupported, and Huger never received a specific order to commit his men to the action.

In addition, muddy roads made marching harder than expected, maps were inadequate, troops got lost in the dense woods, and officers got confused because of Johnston’s secrecy. Johnston also failed to establish that Longstreet was to command the operation, even though Major Generals Gustavus W. Smith and Huger outranked him. All these factors worked to completely upset the timetable.

As the Confederates tried untangling themselves on the road, and while Longstreet and Huger argued over who the senior commander was, Hill grew tired of waiting and ordered his men to attack at 1 p.m. Struggling through swamps and thick woods, Hill’s troops slammed into the Federals’ front line led by Brigadier General Silas Casey’s inexperienced 6,000-man division, one mile west of Seven Pines.

Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The initial attack consisted of just Hill’s four brigades, not the 13 total brigades of Hill, Longstreet, and Huger as envisioned. Nevertheless, the Confederates made headway as Casey’s line began buckling. Before Keyes could send Casey reinforcements, the Confederates captured a redoubt and the Federals were forced to retreat. Federal Brigadier General Henry M. Naglee led a bayonet charge that temporarily stalled the Confederate advance and enabled the rest of the Federals to fall back.

Professor Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, commanding the U.S. Army Balloon Corps, reported at 2 p.m. from his observation balloon that Confederates were advancing in battle formation. Lowe continued telegraphing details on the battle to McClellan’s headquarters throughout the day. Thirty minutes later, Heintzelman informed McClellan that a battle had begun, but he had not received any word from Keyes on whether he should bring up reinforcements. Heintzelman soon began sending his men to the front as Keyes tried shoring up his defenses.

Johnston, two and a half miles in the Confederate rear, was not aware that the battle had begun because an atmospheric phenomenon called an “acoustic shadow” prevented him from hearing the sound of firing. General Robert E. Lee, farther in the rear, had to come up and tell Johnston that fighting was taking place. Then, Johnston received a message from Longstreet around 4 p.m. asking for reinforcements. Johnston responded by leading three of Brigadier General W.H.C. Whiting’s reserve brigades down the Nine Mile road toward Fair Oaks Station.

About a half hour later, Hill, now reinforced by some of Longstreet’s brigades, approached the second Federal defense line. This consisted of Casey’s remnants, Brigadier General Darius N. Couch’s division from IV Corps, and Brigadier General Philip Kearny’s division from III Corps. The Confederate attacks resumed, but they lacked proper coordination as men were sent piecemeal into the fray.

Hill directed Colonel Micah Jenkins to lead four regiments around the Federal right flank, forcing them to fall back about a mile and a half past Seven Pines. There they established a third defense line, and with more reinforcements arriving, the Federals stopped the Confederate advance and fighting began dying down in that sector around 6 p.m.

To the north, Johnston directed Whiting’s Confederates to attack Keyes’s right flank near Fair Oaks. By this time, Major General Edwin V. Sumner, commanding II Corps north of the Chickahominy, received word from McClellan to stand ready to cross the river and join the fight. Instead of just standing ready, Sumner ordered Brigadier General John Sedgwick’s division to cross the flooded waterway.

Sumner instructed Sedgwick to use the partly submerged Grapevine Bridge, the only available bridge, to cross. When engineers warned Sumner that a crossing was impossible, Sumner snapped, “Impossible? Sir, I tell you I can cross! I am ordered!” The men and horses crossed safely, with the bridge collapsing after the last man made it over.

By the time Whiting’s men arrived, the Federal right was reinforced. The Confederates launched several attacks but made no headway as casualties mounted. Three of Whiting’s four brigade commanders were lost; Confederate Brigadier General Wade Hampton was wounded, and Confederate Brigadier General J.J. Pettigrew was wounded and captured. On the Federal side, Brigadier General Oliver O. Howard was wounded twice, resulting in the amputation of his arm.

Johnston watched the action with his staff atop a nearby ridge, and at 7 p.m. he decided to suspend the attacks until next morning. He was then hit simultaneously by a bullet in his shoulder and shrapnel from an exploding shell in his chest and legs. Johnston fell from his horse, severely wounded and unconscious. He sustained a broken shoulder and broken ribs.

President Jefferson Davis and Lee, who had ridden to the front, saw Johnston being carried off, and Davis offered him words of encouragement. Johnston’s wounds were initially assessed as mortal, but he survived. He wrote in his official report: “Had Major-gen Huger’s division been in position and ready for action when those of Smith, Longstreet, and Hill moved, I am satisfied that Keyes’ corps would have been destroyed instead of merely defeated.” Huger’s Confederates never took part in the action.

Army command passed to G.W. Smith, who was plagued by illness and indecision. When Davis asked Smith for his plans that night, Smith said he had none until he received more information from the front. In the meantime, he offered three options: hold his ground, withdraw, or attack.

Choosing the second option, Smith began withdrawing the Confederates from the field. But then he reconsidered and resolved to renew the fight the next morning. Unimpressed, Davis told Lee as the two men rode back to the capital, “General Lee, I shall assign you to the command of this army. Make your preparations as soon as you reach your quarters. I shall send you the order when we get to Richmond.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 76-78; Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 138-45, 155-58; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 147, 149; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (31 May 1862); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13765; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 177-78; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7504; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 451; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 160-61; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3537; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 400-01; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 199, 227-28; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 218-19; 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. 461; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 411; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 571; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 668; Wikipedia: Battle of Seven Pines

The Battle of Williamsburg

May 5, 1862 – Portions of the main armies on the Virginia Peninsula clashed in a savage engagement that did little to change the dispositions of either the Federals or Confederates.

General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate army on the Peninsula between the York and James rivers, hoped to keep the Federals at bay while he continued his retreat toward Richmond. A portion of his force held a defensive line stretching across the Peninsula neck, two miles east of Williamsburg, Virginia’s colonial capital. Their mission was to stop the Federal advance long enough for Johnston to get the rest of his army out of harm’s way.

Both sides brought up reinforcements during the night of May 4-5. Major General James Longstreet, commanding the Confederate defenses, strengthened his positions along the line, particularly at Fort Magruder, which commanded the junction of the two roads leading to Williamsburg. The line stretched three miles, with the defenders using felled trees as redoubts.

Two divisions of the Federal Army of the Potomac were on the scene, with one belonging to Major General Samuel P. Heintzelman’s III Corps and one belonging to Major General Erasmus D. Keyes’s IV Corps. However, Major General George B. McClellan, the army commander, had placed Major General Edwin V. Sumner, commanding II Corps, in charge of these divisions. This caused considerable confusion, with McClellan opting to stay behind at Yorktown rather than help sort it out.

Major General Joseph Hooker’s division of III Corps was on the Federal left, and Brigadier General William F. “Baldy” Smith’s division of IV Corps was on the right. Having taken the two roads from Yorktown to the field, they were separated by nearly a mile with a large swamp between them. Hooker attacked around 7 a.m. with almost no communication or coordination with Smith.

The Battle of Williamsburg | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Battle of Williamsburg | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Hooker’s Federals fought most of the day in pouring rain around Fort Magruder. After capturing the advance enemy positions, Hooker ordered a halt to await word on Smith’s progress. Sumner, unaware of Hooker’s activity, halted Smith a mile before reaching the field, fearful that the Confederates might come out of their defenses and attack him.

This delay gave Johnston time to come up and assess the situation for himself. Around noon, he called on Major General D.H. Hill’s Confederates to reinforce the line. Even though a Confederate counterattack threatened both of Hooker’s flanks, Sumner declined Hooker’s request for reinforcements from IV Corps. So Hooker called on Brigadier General Philip Kearny’s division of III Corps, which was hurrying over muddy roads to join the fight.

Meanwhile, Smith told Sumner that he had learned from a fugitive slave that Longstreet had neglected to station troops on the two redoubts at the extreme Confederate left (or Federal right). Sumner responded by deploying a brigade under Brigadier General Winfield Scott Hancock on a circuitous two-mile march to take the redoubts and turn the enemy flank.

Around 4 p.m., Confederates penetrated Hooker’s lines and sent his Federals running to the rear, firing on them with captured Federal artillery. Regimental bands played “Yankee Doodle” to slow the retreat, and Hooker regrouped his men while gunners held the Confederates off with canister. Then Kearny’s men arrived, with Kearny yelling to the troops, “Men, I want you to drive those blackguards to hell at once! Give them hell! God damn them, give the steel and don’t wait to shoot!” The Federals charged and drove the Confederates back into their defenses, putting the lines back to where they were before the fight began.

On the Federal right, Hancock took the empty redoubts, posted artillery, and poured enfilade fire into the Confederate lines. One of D.H. Hill’s Confederate brigades led by Brigadier General Jubal Early hurried to meet Hancock’s advance. Hancock held off the attacks while Sumner repeatedly ordered him to pull back; he feared that Hancock was too isolated from the rest of the line.

Hancock resisted Sumner’s orders because he, unlike Sumner, could see that the Federals were inflicting serious damage on the enemy. But eventually Hancock complied and ordered a withdrawal. As the Federals fell back, two Confederate regiments charged at separate times and were both repulsed with heavy losses. Hancock reported, “No man… left the ground unhurt who had advanced within 500 yards of our line.” The regiments lost about 500 men before withdrawing, with Early wounded in the shoulder. This ended the first pitched battle on the Peninsula.

McClellan, who was not present during the engagement, called this a “brilliant victory” because the Confederates ended up withdrawing. But the Confederates were in the process of withdrawing anyway, and by holding the Federals off long enough for the rest of the army to get away, this became a tactical victory for Johnston. Had Sumner been more decisive, the Federals might have broken through the Confederate defenses and severely crippled Johnston’s army.

The Federals sustained 2,239 casualties (456 killed, 1,410 wounded, and 373 missing) out of about 40,000 engaged. The Confederates lost 1,703 (1,570 killed or wounded, and 133 missing) out of 31,000. These were heavy losses for a delaying and probing action between the Confederate rear guard and Federal advance elements. This battle was marked by confusion and lack of cohesion on both sides, but it also demonstrated how much the soldiers had improved their discipline and fighting skill from a year ago.

The battle also inadvertently gave birth to a new nickname for Joseph Hooker. When a correspondent submitted his report with the line, “At the fighting. Gen. Joe Hooker…”, the printer left out the period after “fighting.” Due to this error, people began referring to him as “Fighting Joe Hooker.”

The next day, the Confederates withdrew as planned to join the main army at Barhamsville, 17 miles closer to Richmond. The Federals occupied Williamsburg and were now within 50 miles of the Confederate capital.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 109-13; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 142; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (5 May 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 167; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 411; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 147-48; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 369-70; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 207-08; 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. 427; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 571, 829; Wert, Jeffry D, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 241-42; 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), Q262

Johnston Abandons Manassas Junction

March 5, 1862 – General Joseph E. Johnston issued orders to withdraw his Confederate Army of the Potomac from its Manassas Junction-Centreville line southward to the Rappahannock River, almost halfway to the Confederate capital at Richmond.

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

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

Confederate General Jeb Stuart notified Johnston of “unusual activity” across the Potomac River from Dumfries, Virginia, which was Johnston’s right flank. Johnston both expected and feared that this foreshadowed an attack by Federal General-in-Chief George B. McClellan’s 120,000-man Army of the Potomac. If McClellan struck Johnston’s right, he could wedge his Federals between Johnston’s army and Richmond.

Johnston and President Jefferson Davis had recently conferred and agreed that if McClellan made such a move, retreat may be necessary. But they had not agreed on a timetable, leaving Davis to hope that Johnston would stand his ground until the last possible moment before falling back. However, without consulting his superiors, Johnston ordered all his 42,000 men east of the Blue Ridge to withdraw immediately.

Unaware that Johnston was already preparing to retreat, Davis wrote him on the 6th acknowledging the possibility of such a move:

“Notwithstanding the threatening position of the enemy, I infer from your account of the roads and streams that his active operations must be for some time delayed, and thus I am permitted to hope that you will be able to mobilize your army by the removal of your heavy ordnance and such stores as are not required for active operations, so that, whenever you are required to move, it may be without public loss and without impediment to celerity…”

In their hasty withdrawal, the Confederates left behind large quantities of supplies and equipment. They distributed other goods to nearby farmers before destroying a meatpacking facility at Thoroughfare Gap that had stored a million pounds of meat. Johnston soon established new defensive positions 25 miles south on either side of the Rappahannock’s north fork.

Meanwhile, McClellan was busy developing his plan to move the Federal army by water to Urbanna, at the mouth of the Rappahannock on the Virginia coast. Like Davis, McClellan did not know that Johnston’s Confederates were abandoning such key points as Manassas Junction, Dumfries, Evansport, and Occoquan. However, Federal General Philip Kearny received word of Johnston’s withdrawal and sent a brigade into northern Virginia without orders. They marched along the railroad toward Manassas Junction, arriving at Burke’s Station, six miles east of Centreville, on the 10th. By then, the Confederates were long gone.

Kearny sent cavalry scouts forward, and they clashed with the Confederate rear guard before disengaging. As Johnston established new defenses, Davis, still unaware he had retreated, telegraphed: “Further assurance given to me this day that you shall be promptly and adequately reenforced, so as to enable you to maintain your position and resume first policy (an offensive) when the roads will permit.” But Johnston was not only already at the Rappahannock, he was considering falling back even further to the Rapidan River.

Davis did not receive official confirmation that Johnston had abandoned the Manassas Junction-Centreville line until three days later, on the 13th. Davis responded to this news on March 15:

“I have received your letter of the 13th instant, giving the first official account I have received of the retrograde movement of your army. Your letter would lead me to infer that others had been sent to apprise me of your plans and movements. If so, they have not reached me; and, before the receipt of yours of the 13th, I was as much in the dark as to your purposes, condition, and necessities as at the time of our conversation on the subject about a month since. It is true I have had many and alarming reports of great destruction of ammunition, camp-equipage, and provisions, indicating precipitate retreat; but, having heard of no cause for such a sudden movement, I was at a loss to believe it. I have not the requisite topographical knowledge for the selection of your new position. I had intended that you should determine that question; and for this purpose a corps of engineers was furnished to make a careful examination of the country to aid you in your decision. The question of throwing troops into Richmond is contingent upon reverses in the West and Southeast. The immediate necessity for such a movement is not anticipated.”

Johnston’s withdrawal enraged Davis, as it cost the Confederacy millions of dollars in much-needed supplies and equipment. But once done, it could not be undone.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 83, 86-87; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (7 Mar 1862); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 8123, 8136-47; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13385-93; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 138; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 238-39; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 118; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3149; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 179-80, 181-83; 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. 423-24; 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), Q162