Wednesday, July 27, 2011

McClellan Takes Command of the Union Army

McClellan and his wife
 With the defeat of the North at Bull Run, George B. McClellan replaced McDowell as commander of their army. Today he issued his General Orders No. 1, in which he formally notified the army of his role as their commander. Although he had only won a few small battles in West Virginia, McClellan was the best hero the North had. He wrote to his wife on this day:
"I find myself in a new and strange position here; President, Cabinet, General Scott, and all deferring to me. By some strange operation of magic I seem to have become the power of the land,"

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Battle of Manassas 150th Reenactment

Last Saturday we traveled to Virginia to attend the 150th anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Manassas/Bull Run. With over 8,000 reenactors, it was the biggest reenactment I have ever been to, and one of the largest there is. Although it was very hot, it was amazing to be able to get an idea of what a battle of that size would have looked like. Above is a short video of some of the footage we shot there. Here are some pictures as well. The complete album is here.

The Confederates Prepare for Battle
A Regiment Advances
The Federal line through the smoke of battle
The Confederate line advances
Part of the Confederate Battery

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The North Responds to the Defeat

Left, Gen. Irvin McDowell, Right, Gen. George B. McClellan
The North's response was immediate with the defeat of their army at the Battle of Bull Run. George B. McClellan was appointed commander of the defeated army. He was one of the North's only heroes, even though he had only won a few small battles in West Virginia. McDowell was not completely removed from, but he commanded only one Corp of the Army of the Potomac. He was later blamed for the disaster at Second Bull Run, and subsequently was removed from active military command.

With the defeat of the army, Lincoln and the government realized that this war would not be over as quickly as they had thought. They were not able to decimate the Southern army with the first push, and they were not willing to let the South peacefully secede. The three month enlistments of the troops would expire soon, so Congress passed a bill allowing 1 million men to be raised and formed into an army with 1 year enlistments.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Battle of Bull Run

Troops were moving before dawn on the morning of July 21st. Both of the armies on either side of Bull Run had similar strategies, for their left to attack their opponent's right. But that is not how it turned out. Almost all military movements are late. This is even more true when green, inexperienced troops are involved, and both of these armies were made up of troops that had never been in combat. But through the coarse of events the Union army was able to strike first. Although they were delayed on the road, because of lost orders the Confederates had not even started to move by the time they realized they were completely outflanked by the Union forces.

Evan's Brigade was the only force in position to meet the Union attack on the Confederate left. He only had two small regiments, but he used them to great effect. After meeting an attack at the Stone Brigde, he correctly guessed that the main attack would come further to the left. He also received news of the flanking movement from the signal officers of the Confederate army. He put his troops in position on a low hill. On the way were the brigades of Bee and Bartlow as reinforcements.

When Evans saw the Union advance, he opened fire and charged. The attack held back the Union troops just long enough for Bee's Brigade to arrive, tired and panting from having ran several miles to reach the threatened point in time. Major Wheat of the 1st Louisiana was wounded in the attack. He was commander of Wheat's Louisiana Tigers, a fearsome battalion recruited from the docks of New Orleans. As he lead his bowie knife welding men forward, he received a bullet through his lung. When the doctor told him that there was no case upon record where a man with that kind of wound had survived, he replied, "Well then, I will put my case upon record." He did, and went on to continue to fight in the Confederate armies.

With the arrival of Bee and Bartlow's Brigades to reinforce Evans, the Confederate left was temporarily stabilized. But they were still greatly outnumbered, and under a heavy fire. They charged in an attempt to break the Union line, but after heavy fighting they were push back after suffering many casualties. They streamed the the rear being followed by the exalting Union forces. The Union pursuers halted at the base of Henry Hill to stabilize their line.

At around noon the Federal line again advanced, moving up the Confederate line. But by this time Gen. Thomas Jackson's brigade had arrived. He ordered his men to lie down behind the crest of the hill. As the other Confederate brigades began to fall back under the enemy's pressure, Bee rode up to Jackson and said, "General, they are beating us back." Jackson replied, "Sir, we'll give them the bayonet." Bee, riding back and placing himself at the head of one of his regiments that still maintained some of their order, shouted, "There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Rally behind the Virginians. Follow Me!" He soon fell dead, shot as he was leading his troops toward the enemy. From them on Jackson and the brigade that he commanded would be known as “Stonewall.”

Jackson was able to hold firm on Henry Hill. Beauregard arrived to direct the situation on the spot, while Johnston worked to bring reinforcements to the left as fast as possible. Fighting continued for three hours on Henry Hill. Under heavy fire, there were multiple charges back and forth across the field. A charge of the Stonewall Brigade captured Rickett’s and Griffin’s batteries. JEB Stuart’s cavalry broke an enemy line with a charge. There was much confusion between the troops. Many Confederates wore blue, and the Stars and Bars hanging limp on the flagstaff, looked much like the Stars and Stripes.

Finally between 4:00 and 4:30 the Union line began a full out retreat. The Confedeate line on Henry Hill had held firm, and with the arrival of fresh troops from Early’s Brigade, and Kirby Smith’s Brigade, which came right off the trains from the Shenandoah Valley, they were able to push forward. The Northerners fled with cries of “The enemy is upon us! We shall all be taken!” McDowell made the mistake of waiting to long to order a retreat. If he had not held on until the last minute, he could have made an orderly retreat. But instead there was a rout all the way to Washington. One man described it thus:

“Then a scene of confusion ensued which beggars description. Cavalry horses with out riders, artillery horses disengaged from the guns with traces flying, wrecked baggage-wagons, and pieces of artillery drawn by six horses without drivers, flying at their utmost speed and whacking against other vehicles.... The rush produced more noise than a hurricane at sea.”

The Confederates did not pursue far. They were worn out, and the next day rain turned the road into mud. Had this not occurred, they may have been able to quickly end the war by capturing Washington and forcing the North to let them go. But instead, not much happened for the next few months. Both sides recognized that the war would not be as quick as they thought. They began to see that it would be long and bloody, and well trained, professional soldiers would be needed.

Although he was not the Confederate supreme commander, Beauregard received the praise for the victory at Bull Run. Although it was Johnston who had the responsibility and really ran the battle, Beauregard was a much more romantic figure. The stories of him riding along the lines and leading charges against the North were much more appealing than Johnston sending orders and bringing up reinforcements.

So why did this battle turn out the way it did? The Confederates were victorious not because of wise strategic decisions made by the generals. Their plan had failed miserably, but they fought hard and stumbled upon strong positions such as Henry Hill. The Union were unsuccessful because they were tired from their long march, and did not have the superiority they had hoped for because Johnston had arrived to reinforce Beauregard. McDowell did not really do that bad of a job. But he relied on green troops and green officers who did not know how a battle should be fought. Sherman, who later became one of the leading Northern generals, said this, “Bull Run Battle was lost by us not from want of combination, strategy or tactics, but because our army was green as grass.” “[It] was one of the best planned battles of the war, but one of the worst-fought. Both armies were fairly defeated, and whichever stood fast the other would have run.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Covering the Battle of Bull Run

Stonewall Jackson at the 1961 Manassas reenactment
Check back tomorrow for our coverage of the Battle of Bull Run, the first major battle of the Civil War. We will have several posts throughout the day covering the flow of the battle. Also check out our Twitter account, which will have more live updates from the battle. Look out next week for pictures and video from the reenactment in Manassas this weekend.

You can view our description of the battle here. Pictures and video from the reenactment are here.

Preparations for Battle at Bull Run

The Positions of the armies on July 18th.

This morning, General Johnston joined Beauregard's army along the Bull Run. He had been ordered to leave the Shenandoah Valley and his opponents there behind, and bring his army to unite with Beauregard to crush McDowell. He was able to do this by moving quickly on the railroads, and because of the inattentiveness of his opponent, Patterson.

Gen. Joseph E. Johnston

Johnston was a full general, and Beauregard was only a brigadier, so Johnston took command of the army. But since Beauregard was familiar with the situation, he let him make many of the important decisions, while still retaining a hand in the direction of the events. Johnston approved a plan to attack McDowell on the Union left the next morning. Orders were sent out to alert the commanders of what they needed to do. However, the complicated plan was not relayed well. The orders were unclear, and many were not delivered at all. The next day would show the extent to which the Confederate army was ready to make the attack.
Gen. Irvin McDowell
While Johnston and Beauregard were preparing their plans, McDowell was ordering an attack as well. Through the noise of trains coming into the Confederate camp, he guessed correctly that Johnston had arrived with the army of the Shenandoah. He did not wish to try again on the Confederate right at Blackburn's Ford, where Tyler had been repulsed a few days before. Instead, he chose to attack on the Confederate left. So both armies planned to attack the other’s left the next morning. It was apparent that the next day could bring the battle that would decide the course of the war.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Battle of Blackburn's Ford

Blackburn's Ford, taken in 1862
Today, the armies of McDowell and Beauregard first met along the banks of Bull Run. Tyler's Division led McDowell's march. He made an armed reconnaissance toward Blackburn's Ford, on the right of the Confederate line. He believed that his advance was clear, but Longstreet's Brigade was waiting for him in the woods. As one of Tyler's brigades advanced toward the woods, they were met with a heavy fire. After twenty minutes they began to retreat. Tyler ordered the Brigade commander to withdraw, and finally after some debate they began to fall back. As they retreated, Early's Confederate brigade arrived which had been called up by Longstreet as reinforcements. The Federals, seeing them march into the open, opened fire. Early's men returned the fire, not realizing that Longstreet was caught in the middle. In this confusion, The Union brigade was able to make good their retreat.

When McDowell heard of the fight, he was very angry. Tyler had disobeyed orders which were not to attack. But he had learned that the Confederate right was strong and could not be taken easily. In this fight the North suffered about 85 casualties and the South 68. Although this fight was very small compared to the one that was coming in just a few days, many of the Confederates believed the war was won. They had never fought a true battle, so they did not know what to expect. Johnston's men arriving from the Shenandoah Valley believed that they had missed the great battle that would end the war.

Johnston Moves to Join Beauregard

A Train on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad
On July 17th, Johnston 's troops in the Shenandoah Valley were ordered to join Beauregard. Facing Johnson was Patterson, but Patterson had moved so slowly that he had failed to press Johnston . His orders were to keep Johnston from reinforcing Beauregard, but he failed horribly. Johnston was able to combine with Beauregard so that they would outnumber McDowell's advancing army. To make this movement, new technologies were used. The Civil War brought the first widespread use of railroads to transport troops, and this would be one of its first uses. Johnston's army was rushed ontp trains to take them to Manassas Junction, where Beauregard's army was stationed. A journey that would have taken days or weeks on foot could now be accomplished in a few hours. This move would prove likely to change the outcome of the upcoming battle.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

This Week in the Civil War

Battle of Rich Mountain
Apologies for the delay in these posts, we we spent the week traveling.

This week, in West Virginia McClellan launched attacks on the Confederate positions on Laurel Hill and Rich Mountain. Skirmishing continued at Laurel Hill for five days. At Rich Mountain the Confederates were defeated after two hours of fighting, and hearing news of these defeat the Confederates retreated from Laurel Hill as well. The Unions pursued, and General Robert Garnett, the Confederate commander, was killed in the Battle of Corrick’s Ford. This was the first general to be killed in the Civil War. This further victories over the Confederates made George McClellan, the Federal Commander, an even greater hero in the North.

In Virginia, the two pronged attack on Richmond advanced. McDowell move out with the main part of the army from Washington DC, and Patterson remained in the Shenandoah Valley, moving very slowly after his skirmishes with Johnson. With McDowell's advance on July 16th, the first large scale campaign of the Civil War began.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Battle of Carthage

Today the battle of Cartage was fought in Missouri. While the governor of Missouri and the militia were pro-South, there was a large force of U.S. Troops in the area. The militia under the governor was driven South after the small Battle of Boonsville. They were pursued by 1,100 men under General Franz Sigel. But they railed and joining with another group they were able to muster 6,000 men to attempt to attack Sigel's force. Unfortunately, only 4,000 of these could be armed. The two armies met near the Missourian's camp near the town of Carthage.

Sigel moved forward on July 5th, and his skirmish line drove in the enemy's pickets. He came upon the Missourians formed in a long line of battle on the high ground. Sigel detirmined to attack them, and opened fire with his artillery and advanced with his men in line of battle. But then he saw a large body of Confederate cavalry moving in on both his flanks. His troops were discouraged and believed they were about to be surrounded by the enemy's superior numbers, so Sigel ordered a retreat. They were able to make their retreat without breaking into a rout. The North reported 13 men killed and 31 wounded, and the South 12 killed and 64 wounded. Although it was celebrated as a victory, the Battle of Carthage did not have a very significasnt effect.  

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Battle of Hoke's Run

Crossing the Potomac
150 years ago today the Battle of Hoke's Run was fought between the Union army of Robert Patterson and Stonewall Jackson's Brigade. The Union attack on Richmond was in two columns, Patterson in the Shenandoah and McDowell near Washington, DC. Patterson moved out across the Potomac River on the morning of July 2nd. But as they moved toward Hoke's Run, they encountered Confederate resistance, Stonewall Jackson's brigade of Johnston's army. The Union force had 20,000 soldiers, Jackson had only 2,000.

Jackson had been ordered not to attack the advancing force. He was told to delay the Federal advance, retreating slowly when some pressure was applied. When news reached him of the Federal advance, he ordered one to strike camp, one with a battery of artillery to march toward the enemy and two to remain in reserve. The lead Confederate regiment soon was under attack by two Federal regiments attempting to surround it. Jackson ordered them to fall back, seeing that otherwise they would soon be captured. Jackson withdrew three miles in good order. With Jackson as well was J.E.B. Stuart with a force of cavalry. He attacked the right flank of the Unions, and was able to capture a company of the enemy intact. At the end of the day both forces were intact. The next day Patterson continued his advance, but after that he halted for almost two weeks. This halt would prove important in the coming Battle of Bull Run.

The Battle of Hoke's Run was a relatively small battle. Union casualties were 10 killed, 18 wounded and 50 captured. Jackson suffered 11 wounded and around 10 captured.