Tag Archives: Robert E. Lee

Pickett’s New Bern Campaign

February 2, 1864 – Confederates captured one of the largest Federal ships on the North Carolina coast, but their main mission was more difficult to accomplish.

Confederate Gen George Pickett | Image Credit: BlogSpot.com

Major General George Pickett, commanding the Confederates in North Carolina, sought to take back New Bern, one of the largest cities in the state, because the Federal warehouses there could feed Confederates in both North Carolina and Virginia through the winter. Pickett planned to advance on New Bern with three infantry columns, supported by Commander John T. Wood’s naval flotilla on the Neuse River.

As the month began, Pickett had moved within striking distance of the town, with the Federals unaware of his approach. Pickett traveled with Brigadier General Robert F. Hoke’s division as it came upon Batchelder’s Creek from the northwest. Federal advance units destroyed the bridges over the creek before retreating. Hoke’s men made makeshift bridges out of nearby logs and drove the Federals back into town. The Confederates halted on the night of the 1st, as Pickett awaited word from his other two columns and Wood’s navy.

Pickett’s second column, led by Brigadier General Seth M. Barton, advanced from the southwest with orders to destroy railroad tracks and telegraph lines along the way. The march was slowed by rain and mud, and locals warned Barton that the Federal defenses outside New Bern were “of the most formidable character, deemed by the enemy impregnable.” As Barton advanced, he came upon an unexpected line of Federal forts south of the Trent River. He reported:

“I was therefore unprepared to encounter obstacles so serious, and was forced to the conviction that they were insurmountable by any means at my disposal. Had it even been practicable to carry the fortifications on the south side of Trent, the possession of them would have been useless for the accomplishment of our object.”

Meanwhile, Pickett’s third column under Colonel James Dearing stopped at Fort Anderson, northeast of New Bern, where Dearing judged the fort too strong to take. Wood’s naval cutters began moving down the Neuse as planned, but two of Pickett’s three columns had not reached their objective in this operation, which relied on the precise execution of all its elements to succeed.

Pickett continued waiting to either receive word from his other column commanders or hear gunfire to the south. Hoke later wrote, “We remained in front of New Berne all day Tuesday (the 2nd) waiting Barton’s move, when, much to my disappointment, a dispatch was received from him stating that it was impossible for him to cross the creek.”

Federals soon discovered the Confederate presence, ruining the element of surprise. Pickett urged Barton to join forces with Hoke, but Barton stated he would have to try finding another place to cross the river. Pickett reported, “Thus, the earliest possible moment at which he could have joined me would have been the evening of the 3rd instant. I could not have attacked before the 4th instant.”

Infuriated, Pickett ordered a general withdrawal. He blamed Barton for the failure, but he also blamed General Robert E. Lee, who had devised the three-pronged plan. Pickett wrote, “Had I have had the whole force in hand, I have but little doubt that we could have gone in easily taking the place by surprise.”

But as it stood, this was a Confederate failure. The Petersburg (Virginia) Register reported simply that “the place was stronger than we anticipated.” Brigadier General Innis N. Palmer, commanding the Federals at New Bern, called his losses during Pickett’s operation “trifling.”

Cmdr J.T. Wood | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Meanwhile on the Neuse, Wood’s flotilla continued downriver as planned. Using muffled oars, the boats quietly came upon the U.S.S. Underwriter, a four-gun sidewheel steamer and the largest Federal ship in the area. The Federals discovered the approaching boats at 2:30 a.m. on the 2nd, when they were within less than 300 feet of the Underwriter. The alarms were sounded, but the Federals could not depress their guns low enough to fire on the attackers.

The Confederates boarded the vessel and engaged in vicious hand-to-hand combat. Acting Master Jacob Westervelt, commanding the Underwriter, was killed in the fighting. The Confederates captured the vessel, but they could not get her steam up, and the Federal shore batteries began firing on her. Wood ordered the ship burned to prevent recapture.

Wood relayed the valor of the Confederate marines to Colonel Lloyd J. Beall, Confederate Marine Corps commandant. Lieutenant George W. Gift, an officer in the Confederate flotilla, declared, “I am all admiration for Wood. He is modesty personified, conceives boldly and executes with skill and courage.” Confederate Navy Secretary Stephen R. Mallory called this action a “brilliant exploit,” and Wood later received the thanks of the Confederate Congress. But the Federals still held New Bern.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91-94; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 365-66; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 393-94; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 459-60; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 477, 524

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Confederates Target New Bern

January 20, 1864 – Confederate commanders looked to take back a key point on the North Carolina coast to better feed their armies.

Federal forces had captured New Bern, one of North Carolina’s largest cities, in early 1862. Since then, the Confederates made sporadic attempts to take it back, but by this time, it had become an important objective because the Federal warehouses there could feed the Confederate armies through the winter.

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

New Bern was especially important to General Robert E. Lee, whose Army of Northern Virginia was finding it increasingly difficult to sustain itself in ravaged, war-torn Virginia. If Confederate forces could seize the town, they could use the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad to transport the foodstuffs and supplies north into Virginia.

Now that the Federal and Confederate armies in northern Virginia had gone into winter quarters, Lee wrote President Jefferson Davis, “The time is at hand when, if an attempt can be made to capture the enemy’s forces at New Berne, it should be done. I can now spare troops for the purpose, which will not be the case as spring approaches.”

Lee acknowledged that the Federal garrison at New Bern had been strongly fortified, but it “has been so long unmolested, and experiences such a feeling of security, that it is represented as careless.” So were the Federal gunboats patrolling the nearby waters.

Lee stated, “A bold party could descend the Neuse (River) in boats at night, capture the gunboats, and drive the enemy by their aid from the works on that side of the river, while a force should attack them in front.” To do this, and to secure the “large amount of provisions and other supplies” there, “a bold naval officer” and experienced men would be needed. Lee asked, “Can they be had?”

Davis responded two days later, “Your suggestion is approved, but who can and will execute it?” Davis stated that a naval fleet could not be assembled any time soon. He also suggested that Lee should lead the New Bern operation himself:

“You could give it form, which would insure success… without your personal attention, I fear such failures as have elsewhere been suffered… It would be well to send the brigade, and if circumstances permit, you had better go down; otherwise, I will go myself, though it could only be for a very few days, Congress being in session.”

Lee waited over two weeks to reply, “until the time arrived for the execution of the attempt on New Berne.” Without acknowledging Davis’s offer to personally lead the troops in the attack, Lee stated he would take command, “but I consider my presence here (in northern Virginia) always necessary, especially now, when there is such a struggle to keep the army fed and clothed.” Lee also reiterated the need for a gunboat fleet, writing, “With their aid I think success would be certain.”

Confederate Gen George Pickett | Image Credit: BlogSpot.com

Leadership ultimately devolved upon Major General George Pickett, who had taken command of the Department of North Carolina last fall. Pickett’s force would consist of 13,000 infantrymen, 900 cavalry troopers, and 17 guns. Lee worked with Brigadier General Robert F. Hoke, Pickett’s second-in-command, to develop the attack plan. It began with 14 naval cutters under Commander John T. Wood clearing the Federal gunboats off the Neuse River, thus “driving the enemy from their guns” on shore. Pickett would then launch a three-pronged advance:

  • An infantry force, Brigadier General Seth M. Barton’s 600 cavalry, and 14 guns would attack New Bern from the southwest, below the Trent River.
  • An infantry force, Colonel James Dearing’s 300 cavalry, and three guns would advance from the northeast and capture Fort Anderson, across the Neuse from New Bern.
  • Hoke’s division, joined by Pickett, would advance on New Bern from the northwest.

In addition to these joint army-navy operations, Brigadier General William H.C. Whiting, commanding Confederates at Wilmington, would move 35 miles southeast to attack the Federal garrison at Morehead City. Lee wrote Pickett, “Everything will depend upon the secrecy, expedition, and boldness of your movements.” Lee recommended troop placements and authorized Pickett to abort the attack if necessary. He then stated, “If successful, everything in New Berne should be sent back to a place of security.”

From there, Lee urged Pickett to oversee “the enemy driven from Washington, Plymouth, &c., and much subsistence for the army obtained.” Offering more specifics, Lee instructed, “If you have to use the telegraph, merely say, ‘The day is’–name the day of the month; he (Whiting) will comprehend. Commit nothing to the telegraph that may disclose your purpose.”

Lee directed Hoke to personally deliver the instructions to Pickett and “explain to him fully the plan of operations.” As Hoke moved his Confederates south into North Carolina, he was to coordinate efforts with draft officials “to get conscripts and recruits.”

The mobilization began on the 30th, and Pickett’s forces began arriving outside New Bern the next day. The operation continued into February.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 393; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 524

Reconsidering the Confederate Partisan Ranger System

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

John S. Mosby | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

The Army of Tennessee: A New Commander Appointed

December 16, 1863 – President Jefferson Davis decided to appoint a bitter rival to command the demoralized Confederate Army of Tennessee at Dalton, Georgia.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Lieutenant General William Hardee had replaced General Braxton Bragg as army commander, but Hardee made it clear that he would only accept the job on an interim basis. Thus, Davis had to find a permanent replacement. After considering several candidates, Davis summoned General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia, to Richmond. Lee, who had resisted taking the job, expected to be ordered to take it. As such, he wrote to Major General Jeb Stuart before leaving, “My heart and thoughts will always be with this army.”

Lee left his headquarters for Richmond, where he took up residence in a home his wife rented on Leigh Street. There Lee learned that their Arlington, Virginia, home had been confiscated by Federal authorities under a law passed on February 6 allowing for property seizure if the owner was delinquent in taxes. This was meant to confiscate the property of Confederates such as Lee, who no longer paid taxes to the Federal government.

When Lee met with Davis, they discussed the military situation for nearly a week. During this time, Davis ruled out several candidates for the Army of Tennessee command, such as Adjutant General Samuel Cooper, General P.G.T. Beauregard, and Lee himself. This left just one more full general to consider–Joseph E. Johnston, currently commanding the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana at Brandon, Mississippi.

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

Johnston had disliked Davis ever since the president ranked him fourth on the list of full Confederate generals early in the war. The men had consistently disagreed over military strategy, with Davis favoring defending vital points in the South and Johnston favoring sacrificing vital points if it meant saving armies to fight another day. This disagreement climaxed earlier this year when Johnston refused to save Vicksburg.

Davis and Lee discussed Johnston’s strengths and weaknesses. Finally, during a dinner with the Davises, Lee announced that he supported placing Johnston in charge of the Army of Tennessee. Although Davis resisted, he noted that other high-ranking generals, including beloved Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk, had also called for Johnston to take over. Appointing Johnston might also appease Johnston’s political allies, including Texas Congressman Louis T. Wigfall and other anti-administration leaders.

Davis held a cabinet meeting on the 16th to discuss the situation. Secretary of War James A. Seddon believed that Johnston could boost the army’s sagging morale, while Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin argued that Johnston’s tendency to stay on the defensive would ruin an army that needed to go on offense now more than ever. As the discussion progressed, most cabinet members gradually shifted to favoring Johnston, and Davis reluctantly agreed.

Davis telegraphed Johnston at Brandon: “You will turn over the immediate command of the Army of Mississippi to Lieutenant General Polk and proceed to Dalton and assume command of the Army of Tennessee… A letter of instructions will be sent to you at Dalton.”

Johnston would inherit a once-proud army that had become a demoralized throng. Desertions were so common that Bragg, prior to relinquishing command, had directed troops to patrol their own comrades rather than guard against the enemy. The command structure was in shambles, with one corps without a commander due to Hardee’s promotion and another tentatively led by Major General Thomas C. Hindman (after Major General John C. Breckinridge left due to charges of drunkenness on duty). Having once boasted 66,000 men, the army now had just 43,094 effectives.

The day after Davis appointed Johnston, Hardee reported that the army was in such poor condition that it was “necessary to avoid a general action.” If the Federals, currently at Chattanooga, moved to confront him, Hardee stated that “a retrograde movement becomes inevitable.” Hardee continued:

“The question of supplies, both for men and animals, presents a source of infinite trouble. This will be still more complicated by a retrograde movement from this point. Our deficiency of supplies would become aggravated to an alarming extent. I am inclined to think that forces are disposed from Mississippi to North Carolina, along different localities, which, if concentrated, would swell the ranks of this command very largely.”

Seddon tried to downplay Hardee’s report in his instructions to Johnston, writing:

“It is apprehended the army may have been by recent events somewhat disheartened and deprived of ordnance and material. Your presence, it is hoped, will do much to inspire hope and re-establish confidence, and through such influence, as well as by the active exertions you are recommended to make, men who have straggled may be recalled to their standards, and others, roused by the danger to which further successes of the enemy must expose the more southern States, may be encouraged to recruit the ranks of your army.”

Through “vigorous efforts,” the government expected Johnston to restore “the discipline, confidence, and prestige of the army,” as well as “its deficiencies in ordnance, numbers and transportation.”

Seddon then turned to the issue of farmers and state governors refusing to cooperate with central government demands to turn over their crops and supplies for the war effort. He warned that Johnston would “find deficiencies and have serious difficulties in providing the supplies required for the subsistence of the army… the discontents of producers and the opposition of State authorities to the system of impressments established by the law of Congress have caused” these difficulties.

To combat this, Johnston was authorized to use “all means to obtain supplies from the productive States,” and “to rouse among the people and authorities a more willing spirit to part with the means of subsistence for the army that defends them.”

Regarding the Federals controlling Tennessee, “It is not desirable they should be allowed to do so with impunity, and as soon as the condition of your forces will allow it is hoped you will be able to assume the offensive. Inactivity, it is feared, may cause the spirit of despondence to recur and the practice of straggling and desertion to increase.”

However, Seddon ultimately left it to Johnston’s “experience and judgment… to form and act on your own plans of military operations,” and he assured “the fullest disposition on the part of the Department to sustain and co-operate with them.”

The next day, Davis wrote Johnston, advising in part, “The difficulties of your new position are realized and the Government will make every possible effort to aid you…” However, what little aid the Confederate government could provide was rapidly dwindling.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20705-14; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 353; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 887; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 384; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6557-69, 6581; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 447-48; 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), Q463

The Status Quo in Northern Virginia

December 12, 1863 – The Federal Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia returned to their respective camps, as Major General George G. Meade waited to be removed from command.

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

After Meade withdrew from Mine Run and led his army back across the Rapidan River, he expected to be relieved as army commander. But, as he wrote his wife on the 3rd, “Two days have now elapsed since I officially announced the return of the army, and yet not a word or line has been vouchsafed me from Washington. I am somewhat at a loss to know what the silence of the authorities means.”

When Meade requested permission to come to Washington, General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck replied, “You have my permission to visit Washington whenever you deem proper, reporting to the Adjutant-General at the War Department.” Although this was standard protocol, it seemed strange to Meade, as he explained in another letter to his wife: “I telegraphed General Halleck that I desired to visit Washington, but his reply was couched in such terms that, though it gave me permission to go, clearly intimated that my presence was not desired, so far as he was concerned.”

Meade decided not to go to Washington, but instead wait for his superiors to contact him. As the days passed, rumors trickled in and spread throughout the army that the administration was indeed working to replace him. Meade wrote his wife on the 11th, “I take it my supersedure is decided upon, and the only question is who is to succeed me.”

He forwarded the rumor that some officials were “very anxious to bring (Joseph) Hooker back,” but others were adamantly opposed. He mentioned another rumor that Lincoln was looking to compromise by choosing Army of the Cumberland commander George H. Thomas. At any rate, Meade wrote, “I will not go to Washington to be snubbed by these people. They may relieve me, but I will preserve my dignity.”

The next morning, an article appeared in John W. Forney’s Washington Daily Morning Chronicle stating that the administration would not replace Meade. This newspaper was widely distributed throughout the Army of the Potomac because of its unabashed support for the Lincoln administration.

When Meade read the article, he wrote his wife, “As this paper is edited by Forney, who is supposed to have confidential relations with the Administration, I presume this announcement may be considered semi-official.” At least one previous army commander had learned they were being removed from a newspaper, and now a commander learned that he was being retained from the same medium.

Meade then wrote Halleck, “I have already reported that in my judgment nothing more can be done this season.” However, the “present position of the army invites an advance from the enemy in case he deems one justifiable.” Explaining that the Confederates were in much better position to attack than the Federals, Meade continued, “I should not like to weaken myself… but would rather propose taking up the line of the Warrenton Railroad, holding in force the covering of the Rappahannock at the railroad bridge.”

This meant that the Federal army would fall back across the Rappahannock River and take up winter quarters. Also, since the enlistments of many men would soon expire, Meade proposed granting one-month furloughs to every man who pledged to reenlist.

Halleck finally responded five days later. He approved Meade’s plan to grant the furloughs, and “no objections are made to the change” of base. Halleck also stated that the administration had provided “no intimation in regard to future enterprises.” Meade issued orders to initiate the furlough program, which ultimately netted 18,000 pledges to stay in the army past their enlistment terms.

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

On the Confederate side, Army of Northern Virginia commander General Robert E. Lee attended a series of conferences with President Jefferson Davis and other administration officials in Richmond. The meetings ended on the 21st, and rather than stay in town to spend Christmas with his wife and family, Lee returned to his headquarters at Orange Court House to set an example of duty to his men. Army chaplains reported a “high state of religious feeling throughout the army,” despite the sufferings among the troops due to lack of adequate food, clothing, or shelter.

In mid-month, Lee detached two infantry brigades and Major General Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry brigade to confront Brigadier General William W. Averell’s Federals raiding in the Shenandoah Valley and West Virginia. This new command was led by Major General Jubal Early. Just before Christmas, Lee wrote Early:

“I wish you to avail yourself to the present opportunity to collect and bring away everything that can be made useful to the army from those regions that are open to the enemy, using for this purpose both the cavalry and infantry under your command. I hear that in the lower (northern) valley, and particularly in the country on the South Branch of the Potomac, there are a good many cattle, sheep, horses, and hogs. Besides these, there is said to be a quantity of bacon, cloth, and leather, and all these supplies are accessible to and can be used by the enemy.

“You will buy from all who are willing to sell, and where you cannot buy, you must impress and give certificates to the owners. Of course you will not take what is necessary for the subsistence of the people… You will give out that your movement is intended as a military one against the enemy, and, of course, will do them all the harm you can.”

Thus, while Lee’s Confederates struggled to stay warm and fed through the winter, many of Meade’s Federals were going home to reunite with their families.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6581-93; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 447-48

Bragg Leaves the Army of Tennessee

December 2, 1863 – General Braxton Bragg turned the Confederate Army of Tennessee over to Lieutenant General William Hardee, and President Jefferson Davis began looking for a permanent army commander.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

On the last day of November, Bragg’s request to be removed from command had been granted. Bragg notified his superiors that he would relinquish command on December 2 at Dalton, Georgia. In the meantime, he submitted “a plain, unvarnished report of the operations at Chattanooga, resulting in my shameful discomfiture” via special messenger. The report included a personal letter to his friend, President Davis, who had supported him:

“The disaster admits of no palliation, and is justly disparaging to me as a commander. I trust, however, you may find upon full investigation that the fault is not entirely mine… I fear we both erred in the conclusion for me to retain command here after the clamor raised against me…”

Bragg charged that Major General John C. Breckinridge had been drunk throughout the three days of battle at Chattanooga and called him “totally unfit for any duty” during the withdrawal. Bragg alleged that Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham was “equally dangerous.” This further demonstrated that Bragg’s demise was at least partly due to his inability to accept responsibility for mistakes and to instead blame his subordinates.

In an emotional ceremony, Bragg passed command to Hardee on the 2nd. Although most of the officers and men in the army despised Bragg and celebrated his departure, he issued a farewell address to them: “The announcement of this separation is made with unfeigned regret. The associations of more than two years, which bind together a commander and his trusted troops, cannot be severed without deep emotion.”

Confederate Lieut Gen William Hardee | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Hardee, who had no desire for army command, only agreed to replace Bragg temporarily. He stated that while he appreciated “this expression of (Davis’s) confidence… feeling my inability to serve the country successfully in this new sphere of duty, I respectfully decline the command if designed to be permanent.” Hardee announced to his new army:

“The overwhelming numbers of the enemy forced us back from Missionary Ridge, but the army is still intact and in good heart… Only the weak and timid need to be cheered by constant success. Let the past take care of itself; we can and must secure the future.”

Before leaving, Bragg wrote a second letter to Davis, in which he still called himself “General, Commanding” at “Headquarters Army of Tennessee.” Bragg rhetorically asked, “What, then, shall be our policy?” He then boldly offered unsolicited military advice:

“The enemy has concentrated all his available means in front of this army, and by sheer force of numbers has triumphed over our gallant little band… Let us concentrate all our available men, unite them with this gallant little army, still full of zeal and burning to redeem its lost character and prestige, and with our greatest and best leader at the head, yourself, if practicable, march the whole upon the enemy and crush him in his power and glory…”

Bragg concluded, “I believe it practicable, and trust that I may be allowed to participate in the struggle which may restore the character, the prestige, and the country we have just lost.” Bragg then left the army and headed to Richmond to await further orders. Despite Bragg’s questionable record as military commander, Davis would soon find a new job for him in the administration.

Meanwhile, since Hardee made it clear that he would only lead the Army of Tennessee on an interim basis, Davis had to hurry to find a permanent commander. The list of generals to choose from was very short, even if he did not rule out those he personally disliked. The day after Hardee took over, Davis wrote General Robert E. Lee in northern Virginia. He explained the situation and asked, “Could you consistently go to Dalton, as heretofore explained?”

Davis had asked Lee to head the Army of Tennessee in September, and Lee demurred. Now Lee did so again, not wanting to leave his Army of Northern Virginia. He answered, “I can if desired, but of the expediency of the measure you can judge better than I can. Unless it is intended that I should take permanent command, I can see no good that will result, even if in that event any could be accomplished. I also fear that I would not receive cordial co-operation.”

Lee explained that if he left, he would have to turn his army over to Lieutenant General Richard Ewell, who was “too feeble to undergo the fatigue and labor incident to the position.” Lee then warned Davis that the Federals sought to invade Georgia “and get possession of our depots of provisions and important manufactories.” He proposed giving General P.G.T. Beauregard (currently heading the Charleston defenses) command of the army and reinforcing it with troops from Mississippi, Mobile, and Charleston. Lee added:

“I think that every effort should be made to concentrate as large a force as possible, under the best commander, to insure the discomfiture of (Ulysses S.) Grant’s army. To do this and gain the great advantage that would accrue from it, the safety of points practically less important than those endangered by his army must be hazarded. Upon the defence of the country threatened by General Grant depends the safety of the points now held by us on the Atlantic, and they are in as great danger from his successful advance as by the attacks to which they are at present directly subjected.”

However, Davis loathed Beauregard and would not consider giving him command of the Army of Tennessee. Davis also would not consider the highest-ranking general in the Confederacy, Adjutant General Samuel Cooper, because he had performed administrative duties throughout the war and was too old for field command. This left just one viable option, and to Davis’s dismay, it was someone who had been hostile toward him almost since the war began.

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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. 349-50; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 868-69, 878; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 380; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6544-57; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 441-43

The Mine Run Campaign Ends

December 1, 1863 – Major General George G. Meade’s Federal Army of the Potomac ended its short-lived campaign in northern Virginia before it ever truly began.

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

As December began, the Federal army and General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia remained within striking distance of each other on either side of Mine Run. Meade had aborted an assault on Lee’s right flank upon receiving word that it was too strong to break. After finding no other weak points in the line, Meade ordered a halt to his brief campaign.

The Federals would withdraw back across the Rapidan River. Lee’s Confederates remained in their defenses, waiting for the attack that they still expected to come. Lee reported, “Preferring to receive an attack rather than assume the offensive, our army remained in its position all day.”

Major General Jubal Early, temporarily commanding the Confederate Second Corps on the left, reported that the Federals were withdrawing their guns in his front. Lee guessed that they were being moved to support an attack on Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Third Corps holding the right. However, it was part of the general Federal withdrawal.

The Federals began pulling out in the early, freezing twilight of December 1 without a fight. As Lee realized the Federals would not attack that day, he resolved to launch an attack of his own the next morning. According to Early:

“Having waited in vain for the enemy to attack us, the commanding general determined to take the initiative, and for that purpose directed me on the afternoon of the 1st to extend my line during the night to the right as far as the plank road, so as to enable two divisions to be withdrawn from General Hill’s part of the line, for the purpose of attacking the enemy’s left next morning.”

Lee directed Hill’s divisions under Major Generals Richard H. Anderson and Cadmus M. Wilcox to advance against Meade’s left. But when they marched forward on the morning of the 2nd, they saw that the Federals had retreated. Regretting the missed opportunity to give battle, Lee said, “I am too old to command this army; we should never have permitted those people to get away.” The Confederates did not pursue.

The Mine Run campaign cost the Federals 1,653 total casualties, while the Confederates lost 629. Meade acknowledged that he faced “certain personal ruin” for withdrawing without giving battle, bitterly remarking that those critical of his conduct thought it “would be better to strew the road to Richmond with the dead bodies of our soldiers than that there should be nothing done.” But by not attacking such strong fortifications, Meade probably saved thousands of lives and prevented another demoralizing failure.

Meade reported to his superiors at Washington, “I am free to admit that the movement across the Rapidan was a failure, but I respectfully submit that the causes of this failure… were beyond my control.” The Lincoln administration had refused to allow him to establish a base of operations at Fredericksburg to the east, thus forcing him to try confronting Lee to the west. Also, several corps commanders did not adhere to Meade’s orders that the campaign be carried out with speed and stealth.

Anticipating an administration rebuke for not personally reconnoitering the enemy positions beforehand, Meade asserted, “It is impossible (that) a commanding general can reconnoiter in person a line over seven miles in extent, and act on his own judgment as to the expediency of attack or not.” In a letter to his wife, Meade concluded that this “fiasco” sealed his fate as army commander. But he added:

“I would rather be ignominiously dismissed, and suffer anything, than knowingly and willfully have thousands of brave men slaughtered for nothing. It was my deliberate judgment that I ought not to attack; I acted on that judgment, and I am willing to stand or fall by it at all hazards. As it is, my conscience is clear. I did the best I could.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19153-62; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 349; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 876-77; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 380; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6522-34; Hubbell, John T., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 497; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 31-32; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 441-42