Thursday, May 31, 2012

Battle of Seven Pines - Day 1

After retreating from the Peninsula Johnston and McClellan stopped just short of Richmond and settled in settled positions. McClellan's army was divided by the Chickahominy River. Much of the area was swampy, and when the army first arrived the river could easily be crossed. However, rain began to fall and the swamps turned into rivers. Sluggish streams now became sizable barriers to army movement. Joseph E. Johnston was looking for an opportunity to attack. In a few months without having fought a major battle he had been maneuvered by McClellan from northern Virginia to the gates of Richmond without having fought a major battle. Johnston decided he would change that. At first an attack was made more necessary because McDowell's troops was going to be brought down from Fredericksburg to join McClellan, however this was called off to make an attempt to capture Stonewall Jackson in the valley, giving Johnston a few more days to prepare. Johnston was ready on May 30th, and orders were distributed for a march the next day.
Chickahominy River

On the face of it, the plan seemed rather simple. McClellan's forces to the north of the river would be distracted by skirmishing while most of the army converged by several roads on the Federal troops south of the river. However, coordinating army movements by various roads was very difficult, and Johnston's subordinates would find plenty of room for failure on their march on May 31st. Johnston's orders were badly written, and left plenty of room for mistakes. Longstreet decided to switch the road his men would march on, which delayed the advance greatly.

The battle finally opened after 1 pm, five hours after when Johnston had planned. But even then all the Confederates had not gotten into position. D. H. Hill had simply gotten impatient so he ordered his men forward without the others in place. Hill's men charged the earthworks, and finally were able to break through the Union line, which was held by inexperienced troops. Hill's men were reinforced and they attacked the second Union line. With hard fighting they were able to drive back the Federals, but Union reinforcements had arrived. Edwin Sumner was ordered to cross with his crops to the south side of the river, but the engineers said that the one bridge remaining, Grapevine Bridge, was about to collapse and a crossing was impossible. “Impossible!?” Sumner said, “Sir, I tell you I can cross! I am ordered!” Sumner was an old soldier and used to obeying orders, and this day he was able. The bridge did not break until after he got his men across.
Franklin's corps retreating

Because of an acoustic shadow produced by the lay of the land Johnston did not hear the sound of the battle opening. However, Longstreet eventually told him that the battle had begun. Towards evening he arrived on the field, instructing his subordinates in preparation for the morrow's battle. As he rode through the twilight he was struck in the shoulder by a bullet. Almost immediately a shell burst overhead, and Johnston was hit again with a fragment. He fell unconscious from his horse and was carried to the rear. On the way back he encountered Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, who had rode out from Richmond to see the battle. Davis told Johnston of his regret of his wounding, and began to think of someone to replace him. The second in command, G. W. Smith assumed command, but when Davis met with him he knew he would not do. Smith had no plans and could not take the strain of army command. He became sick and in a few days would leave the army. On their way back to Richmond, Davis told Lee that he would appoint him the new commander of the army. This choice would not be without controversy. Lee had been one of the nation's foremost soldiers before the war, but his standing had been somewhat tarnished by his campaign in West Virginia in which he had been able to mount a successful attack on the Union forces. His men called him Evacuating Lee and King of Spades. Jefferson Davis however was still his friend and he had confidence in him. As time went on it was apparent to everyone that this change of command was the most important result of the Battle of Seven Pines.
Robert E. Lee

Friday, May 25, 2012

Battle of Winchester

via Shenandoah at War
In the Shenandoah Valley, Jackson and Ewell had flanked Banks at the Battle of Front Royal, and pursued him the next day and night. Now they were south of Winchester on either side of the pike, opposite the army of Banks. Jackson had his tired men moving at 4:30 am. He sent the Stonewall Brigade forward to occupy Bower's Hill, a strong artillery position just south of the town. They encountered a Union brigade under George Gordon. He positioned his four regiments along a stone fence on a ridge, his right flank on Bower's Hill and his left on the Valley Turnpike. His position was supported by 6 cannon. As Winder deployed the Stonewall Brigade at the foot of the hill, the Union artillery opened a heavy fire on him. On the other side of the Valley Pike, Ewell's artillery was opening fire. Opposing him was a brigade under Dudley Donnelly, who also had six guns which responded to the Confederate cannon. Ewell ordered three regiments forward, but there was a Union regiment hidden on their flank, which stood up and fired on them. After a brief fight the Confederates fell back. In his portion of the line, Jackson deployed more troops to support Winder. A thick fog settled over the battlefield, but Jackson brought up cannon and silenced many of the Union gun. At 7:30 Jackson ordered Richard Taylor's Louisiana brigade forward. Taylor's brigade, led by the Louisiana Tigers, would move far to the left of Winder and hit Gordon's left flank.
"The proper ground gained, the column faced to the front and began the ascent. ... As we mounted we came in full view of both armies, whose efforts in other quarters had been slackened to await the result of our movement. I felt an anxiety amounting to pain for the brigade to acquit itself handsomely; and this feeling was shared by every man in it. About half-way up, the enemy's horse from his right charged; and to meet it, I directed Lieutenant-Colonel Nicholls, whose regiment, the 8th, was on the left, to withhold slightly his two flank companies. By one volley, which emptied some saddles, Nicholls drove off the horse, but was soon after severely wounded. Progress was not stayed by this incident. Closing the many gaps made by the fierce fire, steadied the rather by it, and preserving an alignment that would have been creditable on the parade, the brigade, with cadenced step and eyes on the foe, swept grandly over copse and ledge and fence, to crown the heights from which the enemy had melted. Loud cheers went up from our army, prolonged to the east, where warmhearted Ewell cheered himself hoarse, and led forward his men with renewed energy."
As Taylor hit the Union line, Winder advanced as well, and the Union line crumpled. Donnelly, seeing his rear was threatened, retreated as well. The Federals streamed through the town, the Confederates staying close on their backs. Banks was completely beaten. However, the Confederates were very tired from their night march. They slowed down quickly. They were worn out from marching and fighting for three days with little food and sleep. Jackson needed cavalry to continue the pursuit of Banks. He could not find Turner Ashby's men, who although they were often effective, were undisciplined and were not present at the critical time. So he ordered George Steuart, commander of Ewell's cavalry. to pursue. However, Steuart would not move. He had spent many years in the army, and refused to move because officially the order had to come through Ewell. He finally went forward after Ewell authorized the other. By that time it was too late and the pursuit was ineffective.
Richard Taylor

The first part of Jackson's Shenandoah Valley campaign was over. At Front Royal and Winchester Jackson had lost a total of about 400 killed and wounded, while Banks lost 2769, most of which were captured.
"Within four weeks this army has made long and rapid marches, fought six combats and two battles — signally defeating the enemy in each one — capturing several stands of colors and pieces of artillery, with numerous prisoners, and vast medical, ordnance, and army stores; and, finally, driving the boastful host which was ravaging our beautiful country into utter rout. The general commanding would warmly express to the officers and men under his command his joy in their achievements, and his thanks for their brilliant gallantry in action and their patient obedience under the hardships of forced marches, often more painful to the brave soldier than the dangers of battle. The explanation of the severe exertions to which the commanding general called the army, which were endured by them with such cheerful confidence in him, is now given in the victory of yesterday. He receives this proof of their confidence in the past with pride and gratitude, and asks only a similar confidence in the future. But his chief duty to-day, and that of the army, is to recognize devoutly the hand of a protecting Providence in the brilliant successes of the last three days — which have given us the results of a great victory without great losses — and to make the oblation of our thanks to God for His mercies to us and our country in heartfelt acts of religious worship."
Jackson had conducted a campaign that would go down in military history. He had become a national hero in a time which some would call the Confederacy's darkest hour. Militarily, Jackson's true victory was not in men or materials. The real results he achieved were given him by Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln feared that Jackson would move on Washington. He decided on May 24th that McDowell would not join McClellan as had been planned. Instead he ordered McDowell to attack Jackson in the Valley. However, these troops might have made the difference between victory and defeat for McClellan's attack on Richmond.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Jackson Pursues Banks

Pursuit of Banks
150 years ago yesterday Jackson defeated the small garrison of Front Royal, so today he began his pursuit. His position was very good. He was very close to Bank's line of retreat, and if he moved quickly he could catch him while on his retreat to Winchester. Banks did not receive news of Jackson's strike until this morning, and he decided to retreat at once, leaving half of his 5000 wagons which made up his supply depot, he marched for Winchester. Jackson marched at 6:00 am, but he moved cautiously, as he did not know how many men were stationed in Winchester. There were actually only 900 men. As Jackson moved north, he was only 5 miles away from a huge prize, Bank's 15 mile long wagon train. A force finally reached the Valley Pike along which Banks was moving, encountering the tail of the wagon train. As Jackson said,
In a few moments the turnpike, which just before had teemed with life, presented a most appalling spectacle of carnage and destruction. The road was literally obstructed with the mingled and confused mass of struggling and dying horses and riders.
Before Jackson could move on, he needed to determine whether he had hit the head or tail of the column. Valuable time was wasted finding out the answer, but he set his men off to pursue Bank's force, which had apparently avoided the worst danger they could have feared from Jackson.

The armies continued to march north through the night. At the head of the Confederate force was the Stonewall Brigade, under Charles Winder, which was subjected to constant skirmishing with the Federal rearguard. With this fighting at the front, it was a long slow march for the army. One cannoneer wrote after the war,
Night soon set in, and a long, weary night it was; the most trying I ever passed, in the war or out of it. From dark till daylight we did not advance more than four miles. Step by step we moved along, halting for about five minutes; then on a few steps and halt again. ... Sometimes, when a longer halt was made, we would endeavor to steal a few moments' sleep, for want of which it was hard to stand up. By the time a blanket was unrolled, the column was astir again, and so it was continued throughout the long, dreary hours of the night.
Making only six miles in as many hours, Jackson's men finally arrived south of Winchester at around 1:00 in the morning. One of Jackson's brigade commanders asked if he could let the men rest. “Colonel," Jackson replied, “I yield to no man in sympathy for the gallant men under my command; but I am obliged to sweat them tonight, that I may save their blood tomorrow. The line of hills southwest of Winchester must not be occupied by the enemy's artillery. My own must be there and in position by daylight. You shall, however, have two hours' rest.” The Confederate army was in position, with Jackson on the left of the turnpike and Ewell on the right, ready to attack the next morning.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Battle of Front Royal

After entering Luray Gap two days before, Jackson and Ewell continued their march towards the outlying Federal post in Front Royal. They began their march at 5 am on the morning of May 23rd. Jackson had learned that there was only one regiment in Front Royal, along with a few other detachments, to resist his entire army. The one regiment in the town was the 1st Maryland. The Confederates had their own 1st Maryland, as the state's loyalties were divided. So Jackson ordered the 1st Maryland to the front to lead the attack. Jackson did not know, however, that the 1st Confederate Maryland was in a state of revolt because they thought their term of service had expired. A full half of the regiment was under arrest. Receiving Jackson's order, Colonel Bradley Johnston stood before them, and said:
“You have heard this personal order from General Jackson. You are in a pretty condition to obey it. You are the sole hope of Maryland. ... Shame on you-shame on you. I shall return this order to General Jackson with the endorsement, 'The First Maryland refuses to face the enemy,' for I will not trust the honor of the glorious old state to discontented, dissatisfied men. ... If I can get ten good men, I'll take the Maryland colors with them and will stand for home and honor; but never again call yourselves Marylanders! Nor Marylander ever threw down his arms and deserted his colors in the presence of the enemy...! Go!”
After this rousing speech the Marylanders agreed to go, and began their 12 mile march to the front of the column. They were positioned to lead the attack supported by Richard Taylor's Louisiana Brigade containing the famous Louisiana Tigers.
Colonel Bradley Johnson

When the Confederates reached their positions and charged into the town, they caught the Federals completely by surprise. The Rebels drove them through the town in house-to-house fighting, and the Federals finally made a stand north of the town on Richardson's hill. Colonel John Kenly, the Union commander, had 700 men and several cannon. He decided to hold out as long as possible, not knowing he was being attacked by a force 20 times his number. He mistakenly thought it was only a small raid.

Meanwhile, Bradley Johnson ordered the 1st Confederate Maryland to charge. Entering a flat meadow north of the town, the Federal cannon opened on them. The Marylanders could not oppose this heavy fire, so they halted and took cover behind a stone wall at the base of the hill. Jackson needed artillery to support an infantry attack. His chief of artillery, Colonel Stapleton Crutchfield, was not a very good officer. He did not know what guns Ewell had. He did not know where the rifled artillery was, and he would need rifled artillery to reach the Union position. There was a long delay in getting the right guns into position. Jackson was also not bringing up infantry to join the Marylanders in their attack on the hill. Two hours into the battle the Federals still had more men than Jackson actually engaged in combat.
Field North of Front Royal, Massenhutten Mountain in the background

At 4:15 however, the situation completely changed. Kenly saw a force of cavalry riding up in his rear. At first he thought that they were reinforcements, but then he realized they were Confederates. It was a raiding party Jackson had sent behind Front Royal to cut the telegraph line to prevent news of the attack from reaching Banks at Strasburg. After doing that they rode to the north side of Front Royal. Kenly realized that he would have to retreat fast before he was trapped in the forks of the Shenandoah River, just north of the town. He retreated quickly abandoning his supplies, set the bridges on fire, and positioned himself on Guard Hill, right across the river. But then he continued to retreat when he saw the infantry had put out the bridges, and the cavalry were fording the river. He set out north as fast as possible, pursued by the Confederate cavalry under the eye of Jackson himself. The mounted Confederates soon caught up at a place called Cedarville. The Confederate cavalry charged, and although outnumbered, they beat down the Union defense in hand to hand combat, capturing those who tried to flee. The battle of Front Royal was over. Of Kenly's 975 men 800 were captured and 75 were killed or wounded. Only 100 escaped. The Confederates only had 36 killed and wounded. As at McDowell, Jackson had brilliantly maneuvered his troops into position. But once on the fiield things slowed down. He was only able to capture most of the Union force because of the Providential arrival of the cavalry.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Jackson Moves to Luray Gap

A few days before, in the Shenandoah Valley, Stonewall Jackson had defeated part of Fremont's army in the battle of McDowell. He attempted to pursue, but rains set in and he could not catch up. So he turned his men around and headed back to the Shenandoah Valley. Richard Ewell's division was there, and Jackson wished to join with him to destroy the army of Nathaniel Banks. Bank's army was in Strasburg, towards the north part of the valley. He was entrenched there with superior forces, so Jackson did not want to hazard an attack. Instead he would move on Front Royal, to the east of Strasburg. Using Massanutten Mountain as a shield to hide his movements from the Federals, he would cross through Luray Gap and strike the smaller garrison of Front Royal.

However, it would not be that easy. The Confederate high command would get involved. Joseph E. Johnston sent a letter to Ewell saying, "If Banks is fortifying near Strasburg the attack would be too hazardous. In such an event we must leave him in his works. General Jackson can observe him and you come eastward. .... We want troops here; none, therefore, must keep away, unless employing a greatly superior force of the enemy." Since Banks was in Strasburg, this would mean that Ewell was ordered to go east to join Johnston. Both Ewell and Jackson knew they needed to obey orders, but they also did not want the plans to be derailed. So they took a bold course. Ewell was officially part of Johnston's army, but was operating under Jackson's command. So Jackson sent a message to Johnston protesting the move, and Ewell agreed to ignore the order until a response would arrive. In the meanwhile they would strike, hoping that victory would vindicate the decision.

Friday, May 11, 2012

CSS Virginia Destroyed

The retreat of Johnston's army up the Peninsula uncovered the Confederate navy base at Norfolk, Virginia. The Confederate installations there were burnt and abandoned. The most important ship the Confederates had for the defense of Richmond, the CSS Virginia or Merrimack, was threatened by this movements. For many weeks her presence had kept the Federals on the edge, since she had shown that she could destroy any of the United States Navy's wooden ships with no problems. The North had the Monitor, but since the two ships had tied when they had fought each other, the result of a rematch was doubtful. Flag Officer Josiah Tattnall, commander of the Virginia, had been unwilling to risk an attack because of the doubtfulness of the Virginia's engines. With the abandonment of Norfolk, he had to either fight, try to sail up river, or destroy the ship. He was unwilling to fight, and so he made preparations to sail up river. There were sandbars, and so he lightened the ship as much as possible. However, this uncovered places on the ship that were usually below the water line and were not covered by armor. This meant that if the ship was stuck on a bar, she would be vulnerable to Union fire. Tattnall was unwilling to take the risk to sail up river, so he gave orders early on the morning of May 11th, 150 years ago today, to abandon the ship and set her alight. When the fires reached the magazine she exploded with a terrific blast, and thus the Confederacy's most famous ironclad was destroyed.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Naval Battle of Plumb Point Bend

Charles Henry Davis
While the land forces were fighting at Shiloh and elsewhere, the Union navies continued to work towards the capture of the Mississippi River. After Island Number 10 was captured, the Union gunboats moved down to Fort Pillow. The fleet lacked infantry to take the fort, so an ironclad and a mortar boat were stationed to throw a shell into the fort ever half hour, while the other seven gunboats remained upstream out of danger at Plumb Point Bend. The commander of the fleet, Andrew Foote, left the command because of a wound he had received at Fort Donelson. He was replaced by Commodore Charles Henry Davis, a long time navy officer. The day after he took command, May 10th, 1862, he was attacked by a Confederate flotilla. It was composed of eight small gunboats from under J. E. Montgomery, a river boat captain. The ships were from New Orleans, part of what was called the River Defense Fleet. They were civilian steamboats that had been converted for military use, and were called cottonclads because of the practice of putting bales of cotton to protect from enemy shot. Although they were much weaker than the true ironclads, they hoped to make up in daring and surprise what they lacked in firepower.
They struck at 7:00. The  ironclad Cincinnati guarding the mortar boat, but the captain was not expecting an attack and the ship did not have steam up in her boilers, meaning she was immobile. When they sighted the rebel rams coming up river, they had only eight minutes to react. They tried throwing whatever flammable they could find in the furnaces, but were still unprepared when the steamboats arrived. The Cincinnati fired a broadside at the lead ship, the General Bragg, but was then struck by the ram. A twelve foot hole was tore in her side, flooding the magazine. The Sumter and Colonel Lovell also rammed, making more holes in the Cincinnati and sending her quickly to the bottom. Now the Mound City arrived, having been sent by Davis to assist the Cincinnati. She arrived too late to save the Cincinnati, and the General Van Dorn crashed through her starboard side, sending a second ironclad to the bottom. Montgomery fell back to Fort Pillow not wanting to risk a battle with the other five ironclads. But he had gloriously shown that ironclads could be sunk, and it seemed possible that these little rams might be able defeat the federal fleet. But they were not enough to save Fort Pillow. It was abandoned on July 4th to keep from getting cut off from the rest of the Confederate armies.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Battle of McDowell

On the morning of May 8th, 1862, Jackson's Army of the Valley resumed its march at an early hour with Allegheny Johnson's troops in front. They were advancing towards the small town of McDowell, where Union general Milroy was positioned. Milroy was greatly out numbered, but a another brigade under Schenck was on the way which would even out the odds. At 10:00 AM, the Confederates reached Bull Pasture Mountain, and Johnson ordered his men to climb up a ravine to the top of Sitlington's Hill which overlooked the enemy camp in McDowell. Sitlington's Hill was a rocky hill covered in forest and boulders at the top of which was an open field.

When Milroy spotting the Confederates he ordered 4 companies of his troops to climb the hill and engage them. He ordered the artillery to open as well, but that was impossible because they could not elevate sufficiently to reach the top of the hill. The Union troops failed to drive off the Confederates in the ensuing skirmish, and Johnson's division continued to deploy, regiment by regiment, as they reached the crest of the hill. The center of the line was held by the 12th Georgia, Johnson's old regiment. The Confederates tried to bring cannon up the hill, but that was a difficult chore, so Stonewall Jackson decided not to drag them up because they would not do much damage, and they could easily be captured. Neither side was able to use its artillery in this battle.At 10:30, Schenck arrived at McDowell. He outranked Milroy, but allowed him to remain in command since he was familiar with the situation. The Union artillery on an adjoining hill opened on the Confederates, who laid down to find cover behind rocks and trees. Milroy decided to attack when he was told that the Confederates were putting cannon on Sitlington's Hill. This was not true, but if it was it would have meant the Federals would have to immediately retreat. Milroy decided to launch an attack to stun Jackson so that they could safely retreat.

McDowell - CWPT Historical Marker
Picture via Civil War Trust
Sitlington's Hill was a very strong position. It was very unlikely to be captured by a frontal attack, especially since Milroy was outnumbered by the Confederates. Nonetheless between 4 and 5 pm, two regiments from Ohio, totaling 900 men, went forward. They crossed Bull Pasture River at the foot of the mountain then climbed up a ravine. When the troops reached the top, tired from their long climb, the Confederates opened a musketry fire on them. Suddenly the outnumbered Northerners charged, surprising the Confederates, and pushing all of the first line of regiments back except the 12th Georgia. They stayed in position, and even when the officers ordered them to the men refused to go, saying,"We did not come all this way to Virginia to run before Yankees." This one regiment in front of all the others soon was flanked on both sides. The Confederate line formed into a V, and the 12th Georgia at the point was being fired on from three sides. When the Federal troops moved past the 12th Georgia and hit the 2nd Confederate line, their success did not continue. The line consisted of three of Johnson's regiments under Col W. C. Scott. Scott rode along his line, keeping his men in position. The Confederates had a strong position. They had built breastworks out of trees and brush, so that they could fire at the Unions without showing anything more than their heads. The Federals held their ground under a heavy fire by superior numbers for 90 minutes.

Although Milroy had originally intended to only launch one attack and then retreat, the two Ohio regiments had made more progress than he had expected. He decided to reinforce them with two more Ohio regiments and another from West Virginia. He sent them to try to hit the Confederate right flank. They marched along the turnpike to the North of Sitlington's Hill. The Ohio regiments found a ravine and climbed to the top of the hill. The Confederates were surprised to see the Federals coming up through the woods on the their flank, as they came forward with a sudden bayonet charge. The line was bent back, but then the Confederates counterattacked, and after heavy back and forth fighting the Unions were driven back. A Confederate captain later wrote this about the battle:
"The whole scene is yet vivid in my mind as I saw it. There was a kind of horrible grandeur about it all that allured and inspired some, and struck others with trepidation. ... Reinforcements are now entering on the Federal side with battle shouts and huzzahs, which are answered in grim defiance by the Confederates. ... On we go up the Ridge, take our position in line and open fire on the enemy. The battle now rages ten times fiercer than before, men fall on every side, some never to rise, while others are wounded and helped to the rear. The smoke of battle settles upon us so dense and dark that we cannot see happenings around us. Begrimed, drinking and tasting the smoke of battle seemed to increase courage and determination, and thus with defiant war cries the battle goes on for some hours. Nightfall came upon us, yet the battle still went on in unabated fury."
By this time the sun was beginning to set, and the Confederate line on the top of the hill held firm, anchored by the 12th Georgia. One of the problems for the Confederates was their high position. It accentuated the propensity of new troops to shoot high, and so most of their shot went through the trees above the heads of the Federals, or hit them in the head. After the battle the Northerners remembered being covered with bark and branches falling from above cut by Southern bullets. At this time, Allegheny Johnson was wounded while commanding his troops. He was shot in the ankle around 8 pm and Taliaferro, Jackson's third brigade commander took over. The fighting continued until at 8:30. Then, the Federals fell back having used up all of the 60 founds of ammunition they had been issued, and not being able to be supplied as the wagons could not come up the hill. Milroy authorized a retreat, saying that the purpose for the attack had been fulfilled. He had been told by deserters that Jackson had 20 cannon and was expecting reinforcements. However, throughout the war many deserters exaggerated or bluntly lied. Sometime false deserters were sent, but many times although they were tired of fighting, they still wanted their country to win, so would give false information.
McDowell - CWPT Property
Picture via Civil War Trust
The Confederates suffered 116 killed, 300 wounded and 4 missing. Most of these were from Johnson's troops, and the 12th Georgia had the most casualties because of their refusal to retreat, leaving them at the frontmost point. the federals had 34 killed, 220 wounded and 5 missing. The Confederates had more than twice as many casualties as their opponents. This was because most of their bullets went over their targets. The Unions were lower and tended to shoot more accurately, and the setting sun silhouetted the Southerners on the ridge.

During the night, Milroy retreated, and the Confederates captured the supplies that they had left. Jackson a simple message to Richmond saying, "God blessed our arms with victory at McDowell yesterday." A few days later he issued this congratulatory order to his men: "Soldiers of the Army of the Valley and Northwest:
I congratulate you on your recent victory at McDowell. I request you to unite with me this morning in thanksgiving to Almighty God for thus having crowned your arms with success, and in praying that He will continue to lead you on from victory to victory, until our independence shall be established, and make us that people whose God is the Lord. The chaplains will hold divine service at ten o'clock A.M. this day in their respective regiments."

Monday, May 7, 2012

Battle of Eltham's Landing

The army of Joseph E. Johnston, retreating up the Virginia Peninsula, had fought a rear guard action with the pursuing army of George B. McClellan at Williamsburg on May 5th, slowing the pursuit. However, McCoellan was still was considering how to catch Johnston's army when it was most vulnerable, on the retreat. He decided to send Franklin's corps up the York River to land at Eltham's landing, so that they could strike Johnston's flank while on the march. Franklin's corps set off up the river on May 6th, and one division landed that night. This movement, however, was two days too late. By this time Johnston's army had passed Eltham's landing, out of serious danger from Franklin. Johnston, however, sent the Texas brigade of John Bell Hood to fell out the enemy to ensure they did not attack his supply train.
John Bell Hood
Hood, who was always eager for a fight, moved vigorously against Franklin on the morning of May 7th, 150 years ago today. He ordered his men to move out with unloaded guns to avoid friendly fire. However, this order soon backfired. Hood, at the head of the 4th Texas, stumbled into a Federal detachment. A Yankee leveled his musket at the general, but thankfully for the Confederates, one Texan had disobeyed orders and was able to shoot the Northerner down before he shot Hood.
Continuing through the thick woods, the Confederates drove back Franklin's skirmishers, and continued the fight when they encountered the main infantry line. After several charges, several Federal units broke and Hood was able to push the Union line back towards the landing. When the Northerners reached the landing, they took up a new position with fresh reinforcements. Having already gone beyond his orders and seeing no chance of any further success, Hood ordered off the attack. Johnston was not altogether pleased with Hood's aggressiveness. "General Hood, have you given an illustration of the Texas idea of feeling an enemy gently and falling back? What would your Texans have done, sir, if I had ordered them to charge and drive back the enemy?" "I suppose, General," Hood answered, "they would have driven them into the river, and tried to swim out and capture the gunboats."

In this second battle Hood had successfully quelled McClellan's attempt to catch Johnston on the march. Franklin now was more concerned about being driven into the river than making any movements against Johnston. It appeared that the Confederate army would be able to select a new defensive position without McClellan close behind them.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Jackson Marches to McDowell

In the battle of Kernstown in March Stonewall Jackson's army had been defeated by the forces of Nathaniel Banks in the Shenandoah Valley. However, Jackson accomplished his objective of keeping Federal troops away from the attack on Richmond. In the first weeks of April Banks moved south, up the valley, and Jackson fell back before him, retreating all the way to Harrisonburg. At the time there were four main Union forces, Fremont in the mountains to the west, Banks in the Shenandoah Valley, McDowell near Fredericksburg and McClellan on the Virginia Peninsula. Resisting these were Allegheny Johnson in the mountains, Jackson in the valley, Field and Ewell guarding McDowell, and Johnston on the Peninsula. Robert, E. Lee, who was at this time military adviser to Jefferson Davis, developed a plan to strike a blow by giving Ewell's men to Jackson:
"I have no doubt an attempt will be made to occupy Fredericksburg and use it as a base of operations against Richmond. Our present force there is very small, and cannot be re-enforced except by weakening other corps. If you can use General Ewell's division in an attack on General Banks, and to drive him back, it will prove a great relief to the pressure on Fredericksburg; but if you should find General Banks too strong to be approached, arid your object is to hold General Ewell in supporting distance to your column, he may be of more importance at this time between Fredericksburg and Richmond. I do not know whether your column alone will be able to hold Banks in check and prevent his advance up the valley; but if it will, and there is no immediate use for General Ewells command with yours."
The aggressive Jackson jumped at the opportunity to attack. He was sure with Ewell's troops that he could crush Fremont or Banks. It was decided that Ewell would secretly replace Jackson's men threatening Banks at Swift Run Gap, while Jackson moved to join Johnson and defeat an insulated part of Fremont's army, which was preparing to join Banks. Although the Federal forces greatly outnumbered the Confederates, if the Confederates could combine two armies against one Union force, they could get the superior numbers on the field. That is just what Jackson was planning to do by marching to join Allegheny Johnson in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Battle of Williamsburg

When McClellan learned that Johnston's men had retreated from the Yorktown entrenchments, he ordered his men to pursue, led by Stoneman's cavalry. There was nothing more than skirmishing on May 4th as the armies moved north, but Johnston decided that he needed to put up a rear guard action to prevent his slow moving wagon train from having to be abandoned. Brigadier General James Longstreet was ordered to delay the Federals at Williamsburg on May 5th. Because of the narrowness of the Yorktown Peninsula at that point and the position of creeks in the area, Longstreet only had to defend two miles of ground. To do this he had his men, along with the men of Jones, Smith and D. H. Hill. The Confederates had an advantage of prepared entrenchments, which had been constructed as a fall back position by Magruder, centering around a fort named after him.
"Fighting Joe" Hooker

The Federals had two divisions, those of Joseph Hooker and Baldy Smith, on two parallel roads a mile apart. Complicating the situation was the fact that the two divisions were from different corps, and Sumner, a wing commander, was on the field, totaling five commanders over two units. On the rainy morning of May 5th, 150 years ago today, Hooker entered the battle with infantry and artillery. He would not make a full scale attack on Fort Magruder, however, without support from Smith's division to his right. Longstreet was not content to let the battle continue in a stalemate. He ordered Wilcox to move against Hooker's men. More troops were committed and fierce fighting took place along the left of the Federal line. Troops exchanged volleys at 30 paces in the wet woods. On the right Sumner refused to send in Smith's troops to help Hooker. However, Philip Kearny's division arrived on the left half of the field to reinforce Hooker. Although Sumner refused to send troops to help Hooker, he was finally convinced to send Hancock's brigade on the right to investigate a report that there was an unguarded road leading to the Confederate flank. While these troops marched off on this mission, the battle continued on Hooker's front. The Federals began to run out of ammunition, and soon the Southerners, charging with a rebel yell, broke through the Union line. They captured 10 Northern cannon, and were able to bring off four of them. Hooker rode to the front and led his men forward yelling to his men, "Don't fall back – the rebels are whipped! Reinforcements will be here in the few minutes." General Samuel Heintzelman, Smith's corps commander who had come over to this section of the line in disgust over Sumner's refusal to fight, did what he could to rally the fugitives. Finding remnants of a regimental band, which were common at this stage of the war, he rallied them and set them to playing Yankee Doodle and other marching tunes, encouraging the men to rally under this martial music. What really saved the battle here for the Federals was the arrival of Phillip Kearny's division. He was the most experienced commander in the battle, having lost an arm while fighting in Europe. He led his division forward, hitting the Rebels and stopping any further advance. Hard fighting continued to occur on this section of the line.

At 3:00 pm while this fight was occurring, Hancock's brigade was positioned on the Confederate left flank. Halting his men and guns, he sent word back to Smith of a good opportunity for a flank attack and waited for reinforcements. However, he received several repeated orders to fall back. Longstreet had sent Jubal Early from D H. Hill's division to guard the Confederate left. Hearing Hancock's men and guns, he proposed a flanking movement. Hill agreed, and they set off at around 5:00 pm. However, when they found the Federal cannon, they turned out to be half a mile away from where they had thought, putting Early and his men in their front, instead of on their flank. However, the aggressive Early wheeled his first regiment around and charged at their head. Charging forward with cries of "Bull Run!" they hit heavy Federal resistance. Men fell on every side, including Early himself, shot through the shoulder. D. H. Hill called off the attack, realizing the Federal position was too strong to be attacked haphazardly. Hancock was not content to remain where he was. Although he had received several orders to fall back, he took the Confederate attack as liberty to pursue the course he wished, and ordered a charge. They moved forward "with a terrible yell ... and pursed in a volley following it up with a steady fire.... The enemy, who doubtless thought we sprung form the earth, halted with terror and amazement, their dead were dropping like tenpins, one after another...." Terrible casualties were inflicted on the fleeing Confederates. Early's brigade lost over 500 of its men. The 5th North Carolina who suffered the majority of the casualties lost 68% of those who went into the battle. Hancock lost exactly 100.
McClellan arriving on the battlefield late in the day

As the sun set the battle all along the line wound to a close. The Confederates had lost 1,682 men, the Union 2,283. Both sides claiming a victory. McClellan claimed another glorious defeat of Johnston, however the Confederates actually gained greater success, having hampered the Army of the Potomac's pursuit allowing the retreat to be continued safely.
James Longstreet

There were many famous generals involved in this battle, which has become somewhat of a footnote in history. Longstreet, Early, D. H. Hill, Hancock, Hooker, Sumner and many more would all see much more fighting later in the war. There were various standards of performance. In general, the Federals did not very well. "Fighting Joe" Hooker's division had been left unsupported. McClellan did not hasten to the field and with Sumner's refusal to fight, Hooker had lost many men while 25,000 troops stood idly by. The Confederates in general had done better, excepting Early's bloody attack on Hancock. Although publicly he claimed the battle as a victory, McClellan was not satisfied. He complained to his wife of "the utter stupidity & worthlessness of the Corps Comdrs... Heaven alone can help a General with such commanders under him." Sumner had "proved that he was ever a greater fool that I had supposed & had come within an ace of having us defeated."

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Johnston Abandons Yorktown Lines

In early 1862, General George B. McClellan with his grand Union Army of the Potomac had been transported by sea to Fort Monroe on the Virginia Peninsula, in an attempt to get closer for a strike at Richmond. Moving up the Peninsula he had encountered 15,000 men under "Prince" John Magruder. Although they were no match for McClellan's 125,000 soldiers, McClellan could not believe the Confederate forces were that week so he decided to settle in for a regular siege. Joseph E. Johnston, commander of the main Confederate army, wrote to Robert E. Lee that, "No one but McClellan could have hesitated to attack."

150 years ago today after just under a month McClellan's siege lines were finally complete. His men had spent weeks digging entrenchments, building roads, and hauling forward dozens of heavy artillery. McClellan was prepared to unleash a terrific bombardment on the morning of May 5th to prepare for an eventual infantry assault. Allan Pinkerton, in charge of the army's intelligence, reported a minimum of 100,000 Confederates in the opposing works.
Union mortars

The Confederates however were not going to be waiting for the attack. Johnston, who had joined Magruder on the Peninsula was actually outnumbered two to one by McClellan. He had written a few days before, "The fight for Yorktown ... must be one of artillery, in which we cannot win. The result is certain; the time only doubtful.... I shall therefore move as soon as can be done conveniently...." Now with the Federal trenches approaching the Confederate lines, was a convenient time. Therefore, 150 years ago tonight, Johnston ordered a bombardment of the Union trenches, his heavy guns firing randomly at McClellan's lines. Under the cover of this fire, the infantry pulled out, leaving empty trenches and 70 pieces of antiquated heavy artillery for McClellan's men to find the next morning. As found, written on the wall of a tent in the abandoned camp was a message from a rebel, "He that fights and runs away, will live to fight another day." That fighting would soon come as the Confederate army retreated north toward Richmond.