Tag Archives: William W. Averell

The Moorefield Engagement

August 7, 1864 – Federal cavalry attacked a Confederate detachment that had just finished raiding through Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Confederate Gen. Jubal Early | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

As August began, elements of Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate Army of the Valley continued operating north of the Potomac River. These included cavalrymen under Brigadier Generals John McCausland and Bradley T. Johnson. They had burned Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in late July, and now they rode for Cumberland in western Maryland to wreck track on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

The Confederates exchanged cannon fire with a small Federal force under Brigadier General Benjamin F. Kelley before disengaging and riding southeast to Old Town on the Potomac. The next day, they captured a Federal detachment contesting their crossing and moved on to Springfield, West Virginia. Meanwhile, Federal Brigadier General William W. Averell received orders to move “by the most expeditious route” to destroy the Confederate force.

McCausland and Johnson intended to destroy part of the B&O at New Creek, but Kelley deployed Federal troops there and forced the Confederates to withdraw southward. The troopers stopped near Moorefield, south of Romney, where they rested and fed their mounts. McCausland did not know that Averell was pursuing him. Averell’s cavalry reached Springfield on the night of the 5th.

Brig Gen W.W. Averell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The next day, Averell rode on to Romney. Troops in his vanguard captured a Confederate messenger bearing a dispatch stating that McCausland’s command was near Moorefield. Averell directed his men to mobilize at 1 a.m. so they could attack the Confederates by daybreak. Averell was outnumbered nearly two-to-one, but he relied on the element of surprise to offset this disadvantage.

After capturing the Confederate pickets, Averell’s lead brigade under Major Thomas Gibson rode through Johnson’s camp and scattered his panicked troopers. The Confederates fled across the river as Averell’s second brigade under Colonel William H. Powell slammed into McCausland’s men. These Confederates were routed as well, and Averell scored a spectacular victory.

Averell reported capturing three battle flags, four cannon, 420 men, and 400 horses while losing just 41 troopers (nine killed and 32 wounded). The Federals also recovered a large amount of loot taken from Chambersburg and other towns in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

This defeat deepened the rift between McCausland and Johnson that had been growing since McCausland threatened to burn several Maryland towns (as a Marylander, Johnson took offense). McCausland later reported, “The affair at Moorefield was caused by the surprise of Johnson’s brigade.” Johnson accused McCausland of not being on the scene when the fight began. Early recalled that this battle had “a very damaging effect upon my cavalry for the rest of the campaign.”

On the same day that the Confederates were decimated at Moorefield, Major General Philip Sheridan took command of the new Federal Army of the Shenandoah at Halltown, Virginia. Sheridan organized and consolidated his new force to “make the first move for the possession of the Shenandoah Valley” and destroy Early’s Army of the Valley. According to Sheridan:

“I desired that Early might remain at some point well to the north till I was fully prepared to throw my army on his right and rear and force a battle, and hence I abstained from disturbing him by premature activity, for I thought that if I could beat him at Winchester, or north of it, there would be far greater chances of weighty results. I therefore determined to bring my troops, if it were at all possible to do so, into such a position near that town as to oblige Early to fight.”

Early fell back from Martinsburg to Bunker Hill, where he planned to move north into Maryland and Pennsylvania once more. However, he received word that Sheridan’s forces were approaching on his right (east) flank and would soon threaten his rear. Early therefore ordered a withdrawal to Winchester, where he could guard all approaches on Opequon Creek with the formidable Fisher’s Hill behind him.

Skirmishing occurred along Cedar Creek as Early pulled back to Fisher’s Hill, south of Strasburg, on the 11th. Early reported to General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at Petersburg, that “the enemy was advancing in much heavier force than I had yet encountered.” Lee responded by sending infantry and cavalry under Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson from Culpeper to reinforce Early.

Anderson’s Confederates arrived at Front Royal, at the north end of the Luray Valley, on the 14th. If they moved toward Winchester, they could threaten Sheridan’s left, rear, and supply lines. Also, having detached elements of his army to guard various posts, Sheridan feared that he could now be outnumbered. And Confederate raiders under Colonel John S. Mosby had destroyed a large Federal wagon train near Berryville.

As Brigadier General Wesley Merritt’s Federal cavalry reconnoitered Anderson’s forces and guarded the army’s rear, Sheridan ordered his men to retreat. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, had advised Sheridan to proceed with caution and avoid a defeat that might hurt President Abraham Lincoln’s chances for reelection in the fall.

The Federals fell back to Halltown, 45 miles northeast. Sheridan later wrote, “Subsequent experience convinced me that there was no other really defensive line in the Shenandoah Valley, for at almost any other point the open country and its peculiar topography invites rather than forbids flanking operations.” Early saw Sheridan’s withdrawal as a sign of timidity and set out to pursue him.

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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. 442-44, 446-47; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11424-34; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 479-80, 482-86; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91, 101, 104; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 549-50, 555-56; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 293, 508-09, 677-79, 812-13

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Early Moves North Again

July 30, 1864 – Lieutenant General Jubal Early launched another northern invasion, with one of his Confederate detachments raiding Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

After being routed at Kernstown, elements of Brigadier General George Crook’s Federal Army of West Virginia fled to Martinsburg and Bunker Hill, north of Winchester in the Shenandoah Valley. Early’s Confederate Army of the Valley pursued in a heavy storm on the 25th, skirmishing as the Federals tried crossing the Potomac River to Williamsport, Maryland.

Crook’s Federals managed to cross the river and regroup at Sharpsburg on the 26th, just as Early’s Confederates entered Martinsburg. Early was informed that the Federals had burned the homes of several prominent Virginians while in the Valley, including those of Senator Andrew Hunter and Congressman Alexander Boteler. Early sought to retaliate by destroying the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad while sending a cavalry force to Chambersburg, a prosperous farming and industrial town in southern Pennsylvania.

Gen John McCausland | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Brigadier Generals John McCausland and Bradley T. Johnson led 2,500 Confederate cavalry across the Potomac near Cave Spring, west of Williamsport, on the 29th. Residents of Chambersburg learned that the Confederates were targeting their town and began evacuating supplies, equipment, and other valuables. Meanwhile, a small Federal force delayed the Confederates with skirmishes at Hagerstown, Maryland, and Mercersburg, Pennsylvania.

McCausland’s troopers reached the outskirts of Chambersburg at 3 a.m. on the 30th. A designated Confederate entered the town and showed a leading citizen Early’s order:

“To General J. McCausland: You are hereby ordered to proceed with such forces as will be detailed, and as rapidly as possible, to the town of Chambersburg, Penna., and demand of the authorities the sum of $100,000 in gold, or in lieu thereof the sum of $500,000 in greenbacks, and in case this demand is not complied with, then in retaliation for the burning of seven properties of peaceful inhabitants of the Valley of Virginia, by order of the Federal Gen. (David) Hunter, you will proceed to burn the town of Chambersburg and rapidly return to this point.”

Three cannon shots signaled the Confederates to assemble in the town square at 6 a.m. A Confederate read Early’s order, and the town leaders were given six hours to comply. During that time, troops raided liquor stores and looted businesses and houses. When the leaders refused to pay, the Confederates evacuated the 3,000 residents and burned Chambersburg.

Nearly two-thirds of the town was destroyed, including 400 buildings, of which 274 were private homes. The damage was estimated to be worth at least $1.5 million. This was the only northern town that Confederates burned in the war.

Chambersburg in ruins | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

McCausland’s troopers left the smoldering ruins at 1 p.m. and camped for the night at McConnellsburg. The next day, the Confederates rode to Hancock, Maryland, where they skirmished briefly with Federal cavalry under Brigadier General William W. Averell. The Confederates then continued west toward Cumberland before crossing the Potomac and leaving Maryland.

Meanwhile, Major General David Hunter, commanding the Federal Department of West Virginia from Harpers Ferry, scrambled to regroup the army under Crook and Averell. On the 31st, Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck wrote Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander:

“It appears from General Averell’s reports that while General Hunter was collecting his forces at Harper’s Ferry to attack the enemy on the south side the rebel army crossed on the morning of the 29th near Williamsport, and moved, by Hagerstown, into Pennsylvania. Their cavalry captured and partly destroyed Chambersburg yesterday.”

Grant had been pondering how to stop Early’s Army of the Valley. He wrote President Abraham Lincoln proposing the consolidation of the four military departments around Washington (the Susquehanna, West Virginia, Washington, and the Middle Department) into a “Military Division,” much like Major General William T. Sherman’s division of three armies in Georgia.

Grant proposed putting Major General William B. Franklin in charge of this new division, “because he was available and I know him to be capable and believe him to be trustworthy.” As an alternative, he proposed Major General George G. Meade, while replacing Meade as commander of the Army of the Potomac with Major General Winfield Scott Hancock. Grant wrote:

“With General Meade in command of such a division, I would have every confidence that all the troops within the military division would be used to the very best advantage from a personal examination of the ground, and (he) would adopt means of getting the earliest information of any advance of the enemy, and would prepare to meet it.”

Lincoln responded by placing Halleck in command of the four departments, with his headquarters remaining in Washington. The president then traveled to Fort Monroe on the tip of the Virginia Peninsula to meet with Grant in person. On the last day of July, they spent five hours discussing the gloomy situation:

  • Grant had just presided over one of the worst Federal military fiascos of the war at the Crater and seemed stalled in front of Petersburg.
  • Sherman’s armies advanced to the outskirts of Atlanta but did not seem able to get in.
  • Hunter’s Federals had just been humiliated in the Shenandoah Valley, and Confederates continued raiding the North.

Regarding the four military departments in and around Washington, Grant reiterated, “All I ask is that one general officer, in whom I and yourself have confidence, should command the whole,” and that was not Halleck. By this time, Meade had declined the offer to command, and Lincoln said that Franklin “would not give satisfaction” to the Republicans in Congress because of his affiliation with Democrats, especially former General-in-Chief George B. McClellan.

Grant finally proposed placing Major General Philip Sheridan, commander of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps, in charge. Grant said that Sheridan should unify the commands and destroy Early’s army in the Valley. Lincoln agreed.

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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 20449-66; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 439-41; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11055; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11299-319, 11341-61; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 474-78; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7787; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 646; Kelly, Dennis P., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 571-72; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91-93, 100; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 545-46, 548-49; Robertson, James I., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 455-56; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 315; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 125, 508-09, 677-79

The Second Battle of Kernstown

July 24, 1864 – Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederates defeated Federal forces under Brigadier General George Crook and drove them out of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

Confederate Gen. Jubal Early | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Crook had led his Army of West Virginia (or VIII Corps) south from Winchester to clear Confederates out of the Valley. When Early learned that a large Federal force had stopped pursuing him, he led his Confederates out of Strasburg to confront Crook to the north. Early’s Army of the Valley numbered about 14,000 men, while Crook had about 8,500. Crook believed that Early’s infantry had returned to the Army of Northern Virginia at Petersburg and therefore expected to only encounter cavalry, which he was confident he could disperse.

The armies met at Kernstown, site of a battle during “Stonewall” Jackson’s Valley campaign of 1862. As the opposing cavalries skirmished to open the fight, Crook formed his infantry in a line facing south that consisted of Colonel (and future U.S. president) Rutherford B. Hayes’s brigade on the left (east), Colonel James Mulligan’s division holding Pritchard’s Hill in the center, and Colonel Joseph Thoburn’s division holding Sandy Ridge on the right.

The commanders saw the Confederates approach and quickly realized that they were not just cavalry as Crook supposed. They expressed reluctance to attack, but Crook insisted and the Federals advanced to meet the enemy around 12 p.m. Mulligan held firm under Major General John B. Gordon’s initial assault, but Major General John C. Breckinridge’s Confederates moved around Hayes’s flank while hidden in a deep ravine and, when they suddenly emerged and fired, Hayes’s Federals broke and ran.

Thoburn did not advance with the rest of the army, thus opening a gap between his division and Mulligan’s. Gordon’s Confederates exploited the gap, and Mulligan found himself surrounded on three sides. He tried rallying his troops to prevent a rout but was mortally wounded. The panicked, demoralized Federals fled north toward Winchester. Colonel Thomas Harris, who succeeded Mulligan as division commander, later wrote:

“I gave the order to fall back, and used all the efforts in my power to preserve my line in doing so, but as we were very closely pursued by the enemy, before whose destructive fire we had to ascend a rather steep hill for 200 yards, my line was at once broken and the men became scattered and pressed quickly from under the control of their officers. Having become separated from my horse in our last advance, I was unable to keep pace with the larger portion of my command or to make myself heard by them, and it was not until after we had retreated more than a mile that I was able to rally a couple of hundred men around the flag of the Tenth (West Virginia).”

Meanwhile, Brigadier General William W. Averell’s Federal cavalry had been assigned to try moving around the Confederate right flank. Averell’s troopers were unexpectedly blocked by Confederate horsemen guarding the Front Royal Pike. The Federals were easily repulsed, and they withdrew to Martinsburg.

The Federal infantry raced through Winchester, abandoning or burning 72 wagons and 12 caissons. They continued north through Bunker Hill, eventually reaching Harpers Ferry and crossing the Potomac River to safety. Early now had complete control of the entire Valley.

This was yet another humiliating defeat for the Federals in the Shenandoah, as the Confederates routed the force assigned to destroy them. The Federals sustained 1,185 casualties, including 479 captured, while the Confederates lost about half the Federals’ total. This easy victory emboldened Early to launch another northern invasion, this time into Pennsylvania.

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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 20439-49; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 439; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11299-309; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 474; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 545; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 415-16, 677-79

 

Early Prepares Another Offensive

July 23, 1864 – Lieutenant General Jubal Early and his Confederate army looked to follow up their raid on Washington with another advance northward “down” the Shenandoah Valley.

Confederate Gen. Jubal Early | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Following the engagement at Cool Spring on the 18th, Early withdrew his Army of the Valley from Berryville to the more secure town of Strasburg. The Confederates returned to the Shenandoah Valley during one of its best harvests in recent times. During the movement, Early assigned Major General Stephen D. Ramseur’s division to transfer the Confederate supply base from Winchester to Strasburg.

Major General David Hunter, commanding the Federal Department of West Virginia from Harpers Ferry, received word that Confederates at Winchester were preparing to raid the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Hunter dispatched cavalry under Brigadier General William W. Averell to stop the raid. Averell’s Federals rode from Martinsburg and halted at Bunker Hill, north of Winchester, on the night of the 19th.

The Federals resumed their southward advance up the Valley Pike the next morning and approached Confederate cavalry guarding Stephenson’s Depot. Both sides brought up their artillery and traded fire. Ramseur disregarded Early’s order to remain in Winchester and not provoke a general engagement by bringing his infantry up to support the cavalry.

Brig Gen W.W. Averell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Confederates initially held off the Federal advance, but Averell’s men began turning the Confederate left. The Federals eventually broke Ramseur’s line and sent his men back to Winchester in retreat. Averell did not pursue because he did not yet know where the rest of Early’s army was. The Confederates sustained 470 casualties (73 killed, 130 wounded, and 267 captured) in this defeat, but it did little to change Early’s plan for Ramseur to transfer supplies from Winchester to Strasburg.

Ramseur’s Confederates were gone by morning. Brigadier General George Crook, leading the Army of West Virginia in pursuit of Early’s Confederates, arrived at Winchester and joined forces with Averell. Their combined force numbered about 8,500 Federals.

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, recalled the other Federal force pursuing Early, led by Major General Horatio G. Wright. Command of the Shenandoah Valley reverted to Hunter, with Crook leading Hunter’s army in the field.

Grant explained to Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck that Hunter’s mission was to pursue Early to Gordonsville and Charlottesville, and cut the railroads there. If Hunter could not do that, then “he should make all the Valley south of the Baltimore and Ohio (Rail)Road a desert as high up as possible. I do not mean that houses should be burned, but every particle of provisions and stock should be removed, and the people notified to move out.”

Hunter’s troops should “eat out Virginia clear and clean as far as they go, so that crows flying over it for the balance of the season will have to carry their provender with them.” Hunter was already called “Black Dave” by Shenandoah Valley residents for allowing his troops to burn and pillage the region. Mrs. Edmund Lee, a cousin of General Robert E. Lee and whose home had been destroyed by Hunter’s men, wrote him a scathing letter:

“Hyena-like you have torn my heart to pieces and demon-like you have done it without a pretext of revenge, for I never harmed you. Were it possible for human lips to raise your name heavenward, angels would thrust the foul thing back.”

In compliance with Grant’s instructions, Crook and Averell began moving southward from Winchester in search of Early’s army. President Abraham Lincoln, aware of Early’s tendency to preemptively attack, wired Hunter at Harpers Ferry: “Are you able to take care of the enemy when he turns back upon you, as he probably will on finding that Wright has left?”

Lincoln was right. Upon learning that Wright’s Federals had been recalled, Early immediately directed his forces to move northward from Strasburg and attack the Federals coming their way. Early had about 14,000 Confederates to face Crook’s smaller army. Averell’s cavalry clashed with Confederate troopers at Kernstown on the 23rd. Both sides fell back, but Early planned to attack in full force the next day.

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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 20439; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 437-39; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 471-74; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 89-90; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 543-45; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 415-16, 677-79

Showdown Looms in the Shenandoah Valley

May 13, 1864 – Major General John C. Breckinridge’s Confederates moved out to confront Major General Franz Sigel’s Federal Army of West Virginia advancing south “up” Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

Federal Gen Franz Sigel | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

In late April, the third of four planned Federal offensives in Virginia began when Sigel led 10,000 Federals out of Martinsburg. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, had tasked Sigel with clearing Confederates out of the Valley, which provided vast amounts of foodstuffs. Destroying this fertile region could starve the Confederate armies into submission.

On the 2nd, the fourth offensive began when Brigadier General George Crook moved 6,000 Federals southeast out of the Kanawha Valley toward Dublin Station in West Virginia. Crook’s mission was to advance to the New River Bridge and wreck the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad. A detachment of 2,000 cavalry under Brigadier General William W. Averell was to ride from Logan’s Court House to destroy the salt and lead mines at Saltville and Wytheville.

Crook and Averell were then to move to Staunton, where they would join forces with Sigel and destroy the Virginia Central Railroad connecting the Shenandoah Valley to Richmond. Grant had little faith in Sigel as a commander and therefore expected Crook to be the campaign’s driving force. Sigel’s main task was to guard the Valley until Crook’s force arrived; as Grant said, “If Sigel can’t skin, himself, he can hold a leg whilst someone else skins.”

Sigel arrived at Winchester on the 2nd, covering just 22 miles in three days. News of his advance reached General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia about to do battle in the Wilderness. Lee notified Breckinridge, heading the Confederate Trans-Allegheny Department: “Grant’s whole army is moving on our right… (Sigel) will probably cross at Chester Gap and move upon our left.”

With Lee’s army stretched to its limit, Breckinridge was assigned to stop Sigel. Breckinridge immediately began moving two infantry brigades toward Staunton. This left West Virginia open for Crook and Averell to strike the vital railroad, saltworks, and lead mines there.

Meanwhile, Sigel remained at Winchester for a week due to incorrect reports that Confederates were poised to threaten his flanks. He finally left town on the 9th, with his troops wearing new uniforms and marching with confident precision. According to a soldier, “They had heard reports that a great battle had been fought between Grant’s and Lee’s armies, and that our army had the advantage.”

Major General John C. Breckinridge | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Breckinridge had just 4,000 Confederates to oppose Sigel in two infantry brigades, a cavalry command under Brigadier General John B. Imboden, and various other independent units. On the 10th, he called upon the cadets at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington to march 32 miles to join him at Staunton. After commemorating the first anniversary of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s death (Jackson had taught at VMI), the cadets headed out, led by Lieutenant Colonel Scott Shipp.

Farther west, Crook’s Federals arrived at the 400-foot New River Bridge on the 10th. A small Confederate unit traded artillery fire with the Federals before withdrawing, and Crook’s men burned the bridge. Crook was now within eight miles of Dublin, where he was to wait for Averell’s cavalry and then head east to join Sigel at Staunton.

However, Crook issued orders for his men to return to Meadow Bluff, near Lewisburg, where they could resupply. Crook later justified this dubious withdrawal by claiming, “I saw dispatches from Richmond stating that General Grant had been repulsed and was retreating, which determined me to move to Lewisburg as rapidly as possible.”

Farther southwest, Averell found the way to Wytheville blocked by Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate horsemen at Crockett’s Grove. The Confederates made several charges, inflicting 114 casualties and pushing the Federals eastward. Averell withdrew to Dublin, where he learned that Crook would not be meeting up with him.

When Breckinridge reported to Richmond that the New River Bridge had been destroyed, Chief of Staff Braxton Bragg urged him to turn southwest and confront Crook. Bragg left the final decision to Lee, who simply told Breckinridge, “You must judge.” Fortunately for Breckinridge, Crook and Averell made the decision easy by falling back; Breckinridge could now focus solely on Sigel.

As Sigel’s Federals continued southward, they were harassed by Imboden’s cavalry in their front and Colonel John S. Mosby’s Confederate partisans on their flanks and rear. On the 11th, Imboden attacked one of Sigel’s cavalry regiments stationed at Front Royal and captured 464 men. But neither Confederate cavalry nor foul weather stopped Sigel’s methodical advance up the Valley. The Federals reached Woodstock the next day.

At Woodstock, Sigel learned that Breckinridge was organizing an army to oppose him. Having moved deep into enemy territory, with partisans harassing him and no word yet on what happened to Crook, Sigel informed his superiors:

“My forces are insufficient for offensive operations in the country where the enemy is continually on my flank and rear. My intention, therefore, is not to advance farther than this place with my main force, but have sent out strong parties in every direction. Skirmishing is going on every day. If Breckinridge should advance against us I will resist him at some convenient position.”

Breckinridge arrived at Staunton that same day to take “general direction of affairs” past the Blue Ridge. Rather than wait for Sigel to attack him there, Breckinridge advanced his makeshift force to join with Imboden’s horsemen, which fell back from Mount Jackson to New Market, 40 miles away. The VMI cadets arrived to join Breckinridge just as his men began moving out of Staunton on the morning of the 13th.

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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 20385; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 5148-77, 5193-203, 5212-22, 5232-242; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 427, 436-37; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 16, 20, 23, 25, 28-29; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 146, 527-28

The Grand Federal Offensive Begins

April 29, 1864 – One part of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant’s overall offensive began as Federals advanced in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

From his headquarters at Culpeper Court House, Grant shared his overall plan with Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac. Grant would remain headquartered with Meade’s army, and, “So far as practicable, all the armies are to move together, and towards one common centre.”

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, commanding the Federal Army of the Gulf, was “instructed to turn over the guarding of the Red River to General (Frederick) Steele and the navy, to abandon Texas with the exception of the Rio Grande, and to concentrate all the force he can, not less than 25,000 men, to move on Mobile.”

Major General William T. Sherman, commanding three Federal armies, faced General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee in northern Georgia. Grant told Meade that Sherman “will move at the same time you do, or two or three days in advance, Jo. Johnston’s army being his objective point, and the heart of Georgia his ultimate aim.” If Banks and Sherman succeeded, they would join forces and operate in the Deep South.

Major General Benjamin F. Butler, leading the 33,000-man Federal Army of the James from Fort Monroe, will “seize City Point, and operate against Richmond from the south side of the (James) river. His movement will be simultaneous with yours (i.e., Meade’s).”

Major General Ambrose E. Burnside who had been reunited with his beloved IX Corps at Annapolis, “will reinforce you. I will give him the defense of the road (Orange & Alexandria Railroad) from Bull Run as far south as we wish to hold it. This will enable you to collect all your strength about Brandy Station.” As for Meade:

“Lee’s army will be your objective point. Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also. The only point upon which I am now in doubt is, whether it will be better to cross the Rapidan above or below him. Each plan presents great advantages over the other with corresponding objections. By crossing above, Lee is cut off from all chance of ignoring Richmond and going north on a raid. But if we take this route, all we do must be done whilst the rations we start with hold out. We separate from Butler so that he cannot be directed how to co-operate. By the other route Brandy Station can be used as a base of supplies until another is secured on the York or James rivers.”

Maj-Gen Franz Sigel | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The last major part of Grant’s overall plan involved Major General Franz Sigel’s Army of West Virginia. This consisted of Sigel’s main force in the Shenandoah Valley and Brigadier General George Crook’s Federals operating in West Virginia’s Kanawha Valley. According to Grant:

“Sigel collects all his available force in two columns, one, under (E.O.C.) Ord and (William W.) Averell, to start from Beverly, Virginia, and the other, under Crook, to start from Charleston on the Kanawha, to move against the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. Crook… will endeavor to get in about Saltville, and move east from there to join Ord. His force will be all cavalry, while Ord will have from 10 to 12,000 men of all arms.”

Grant initially planned for Sigel to stay in the northern part of the Shenandoah, guarding the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad against Confederate raiders. However, Sigel proposed moving up the Valley from Martinsburg to join forces with Crook at Staunton, after Crook wrecked the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad. At Staunton, Sigel and Crook would wreck the Virginia Central Railroad. Grant responded on the 19th: “I approve your plan of operations. Make your preparations for executing it with all dispatch.”

Crook’s force of 6,155 men set out toward Dublin Station on the 29th, but the advance was slowed by pouring rain and the harsh terrain of West Virginia. Sigel led his portion of the army, consisting of 8,000 Federals, out of Winchester the next day. Meanwhile, Brigadier General William W. Averell’s Federal cavalry would target the salt mines at Saltville and the lead mines at Wytheville.

This operation began ahead of Grant’s other offensives, and it would face intense Confederate opposition come May.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 166-67; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 730-31; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 391; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 407-08; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 5138-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 414-16, 419, 425-26; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24-25; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 481-83; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 504-06, 788; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 23; Rowell, John W., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 180; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 177-78; 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. 146, 739

West Virginia: Early Chases Averell

December 22, 1863 – A new Confederate force moved into West Virginia to stop Federal raiding in the region, and endured freezing cold in the process.

Brig Gen W.W. Averell | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

This month, Brigadier General William W. Averell’s Federal cavalry continued efforts to destroy the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad linking Virginia to the west. In bitter cold, Averell led his troopers from New Creek in southwestern West Virginia, with Brigadier General Eliakim P. Scammon’s Federal cavalry moving from Charleston toward Lewisburg in support.

Averell clashed with Confederates on the 10th, while another Federal raid began from Harpers Ferry. General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, responded by assigning Major General Jubal Early to stop this raiding in the Shenandoah Valley and West Virginia. Early led two infantry brigades and Major General Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry brigade from Lee’s army, as well as Brigadier General John D. Imboden’s cavalry already operating in the Valley.

Early’s Confederates left Hanover Junction on the 15th to block Averell’s troopers at nearby Millborough. The next day, Averell surprised the residents of Salem by riding through the town and destroying its railroad depot and nearby bridges. Averell’s Federals then fell back upon learning that Early was heading their way. The Confederates pursued Averell until the weather turned too cold for active operations. Imboden recalled that on the 22nd:

“It was an awful night for men to be out. Our clothes and beards were loaded down with ice. The roads were very rough and freezing rapidly, but in many places not yet hard enough to bear the horses and gun carriages. Through all the dreary hours we pushed on. I heard that two of Fitz Lee’s men froze to death that night, and just before daybreak one of mine was reported frozen to death. Many of my men had no overcoats and only ragged blankets. Fearing more would freeze, I halted in a rich man’s lane, two miles long, and ordered the men to make piles of the rails on either side and set fire to them, thaw the ice off their clothing and get themselves warm.”

Averell’s Federals returned to Beverly on Christmas Eve, ending their third raid of West Virginia. Major General Samuel Jones, commanding the Confederate department, was ultimately removed due to his inability to stop Averell and other Federals from operating in the region. Activity soon ended as the bitter winter began in West Virginia.

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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. 351; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 382, 384-85