Saturday, June 30, 2012

Battle of Glendale

As in the previous battles of the Seven Days Campaign, the Confederate plan for the attack on McClellan on June 30th, 150 years ago today, was again executed badly. Lee intended for Jackson to cross White Oak Swamp and strike the Federal northern flank while the rest of the Confederate troops pushed east. For various reasons the divisions of Huger, Holmes and Magruder failed to have much effect on the battle. Huger encountered felled trees across his route, so he spent the day building a new one rather than clearing away the trees. As on the previous day Magruder was unsure what to do, and eventually he was ordered by Lee to join Holmes. Holmes made an attempt to assault the Federal left near Malvern Hill, but after suffering one repulse and loosing a few men he refused to attack again.
Battle of White Oak Swamp

Jackson was having troubles as well, in what would be his most inexplicable and controversial day of the war. He needed to rebuild a bridge across White Oak Swamp. Arriving in the area, he had found Federals in some strength on the other side of the water. He brought up artillery and drove them away from the bridge site, but when his men set to work on the bridge the Yankees returned and drove off the workmen. Colonel Thomas Munford of the cavalry found a ford downstream that seemed to be practicable and Wade Hampton built a makeshift bridge that could be used for infantry at least, if not artillery. However, when these developments were reported to Jackson, he did not act on them. Saying nothing, he walked off and went to sleep. He woke up for supper, and after falling asleep with a biscuit in his mouth, said, "Now, gentlemen, let us at once to bed, and rise with the dawn, and see if tomorrow we cannot do something." Many reasons have been suggested for Jackson's lack of aggressiveness, but the most likely appears to be sheer exhaustion. He had not gotten much sleep for many days, and had spent several nights in the saddle. He was probably simply too tired to continue to effectively lead his forces. This exhaustion was a great misfortune for the Confederacy.

Glendale Battlefield
Glendale Battlefield via CWT
Through these various mistakes of his generals, Lee was only left with two divisions to make the attack on the Federals, 20,000 men under Longstreet and A. P. Hill, who had already done hard fighting. At around 4:00 pm Lee decided he could wait no longer for the other columns to arrive, so he ordered the assaults to begin on the 40,000 Federals, in a two mile arch around Glendale intersection and Frazier's Farm, both of which would give the battle its name. The Confederates were sent in piecemeal, charging headlong at the Federals. Edmund Patterson of the 9th Alabama wrote:
Captain King gave us the command: “By the right of companies to the front, Battalion! Right Face! Double Quick! March!” We obeyed the command with a right good will and soon lessened the distance between us and the battery... We advanced in this manner until just before we reached the edge of the thicket, and within three hundred yards of the battery, the command was given: “By Company into line, March!” and the movement executed at the double-quick through us into line of battle without retarding our progress.. straight forward into that flame, into the jaws of death we pressed. Those of us left standing poured a volley at a distance of no more than 10 paces into the faces of the gunners. They fell across their guns and under the wheels, whole teams of horses plunging about in their mad agony, trampling under food the wounded.

Both sides fought hard. Many soldiers remembered desperate hand to hand fighting with bayonets ad gun butts. The front lines on both sides were reinforced and the fighting continued. The men fired at each other through the smoky underbrush, sometimes firing so quickly their guns became too hot to hold. Darkness finally ended the fighting, with the Federals hurt, but unbroken. Through the failure of the Army of Northern Virginia to concentrate on the Federals, they had lost perhaps their best chance of victory during the war. General Edward Porter Alexander wrote after the war:
"[W]hen one thinks of the great chances in General Lee's grasp that one summer afternoon, it is enough to make one cry to go over the story of how they were lost. And to think too that our Stonewall Jackson lost them. He had been great & grand & glorious before & he was so, too, many a time again, until he gave his life in battle within less than eleven months afterward. But never, before or after, did the fates put such a prize within our reach. In spite of all the odds against us, it is my individual belief that on two occasions in the four years we were within reach of military successes so great that we might have hoped to end the war with our independence, had we gathered the rich victories which seemed easily possible. ...[T]he first was Bull Run [in] July '61, when a vigorous pursuit might have caused the abandonment of Washington. ... This chance of June 30th '62 impresses me as the best of all."

Friday, June 29, 2012

Battle of Savage Station

150 years ago today the Confederates continued to execute Lee's complicated plan to crush the retreating army of McClellan. The battle began about 9 am when Magruder pushed his troops forward. Two Georgia regiments encountered the Federals, and the fighting continued for several hours before they disengaged. Although the Federals were vulnerable, retreating across his front, Magruder became confused and thought he was going to be attacked and overwhelmed. He requested and received reinforcements from Lee. The rest of the Confederate plan was not going smoothly either, with Jackson again moving slowly.
"Prince John" Magruder

The Federals were not immune from mistakes. Three corps had been assigned to stay around Savage Station, facing Magruder, but Heintzelman decided he was not needed and left, leaving only Sumner and Franklin.

After hesitating throughout the day Magruder finally ordered two and a half brigades forward at around 5 pm. They were supported by what was called the Land Merrimack, a 32 pounder cannon mounted on a railroad car and shielded with armor plates. This was the first use of an armored railroad battery in combat. The Federals responded with only a small force, so the fighting turned into a stalemate until darkness ended the conflict. Around 1,030 were lost by the Federals and 475 by Magruder. Magruder's cautiousness meant that the opportunity to destroy McClellan was wasted. Lee wrote him a letter in which he delivered an rebuke unusual for him:
"I regret much that you have made so little progress today in the pursuit of the enemy. In order to reap the fruits of our victory that pursuit should be most vigorous. ... We must lose no more time or he will escape us entirely."
The next day would come quickly, bringing new opportunities for Lee to strike McClellan.
Field Hospital at Savage Station

Thursday, June 28, 2012

McClellan Retreats

After his army was beaten back at Gaines Mill, Lee decided to retreat. Only one fifth of his army had been driven back at Gaines Mill. A large portion of the army had not yet fought. Additionally, he had enough troops that he could launch an trust at Richmond while holding back Lee. He could easily break through the thin Confederate lines, and it seems likely that he could have capture the city. However, that was not to be. McClellan was badly scared. He had been convinced by his scouts that he was outnumbered. He thought the attacks on his right were only a disguise for a major effort on his left. Throwing away all thought of an attack, instead he decided to fall back to the James River, where he could be protected by the gunboats. He blamed his situation on the government in Washington:
I have seen too many dead and wounded comrades to feel otherwise than that the Government has not sustained this army. If you do not do so now the game is lost. If I save this army now I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you or any other persons in Washington. You have done your best to sacrifice this army."
One small Confederate success had convinced McClellan to give up the work of months of campaigning, and embark on a full scale retreat, or change of base as he liked to call it. McClellan himself went to the gunboats ahead of his army, abandoning direct control of his army in the retreat.

Meanwhile, Lee did not sit idly by. He had his troops moving on June 28th in pursuit. He was not privy to McClellan's plans, so he had to determine whether he was going to retreat north to his base at White House, east to the James River, or attack Richmond. Sending out scouts to reconnoiter, he decided correctly that it was the second. Lee hoped to catch McClellan while his army was crossing the nearly impenetrable White Oak Swamp. He could crush one half of the army independently as it could receive little help from the rest on the other side of the swamp. This would be the best chance Lee had to destroy the Federals in the entire war, with the Federals moving across his front through favorable ground.

There was little fighting this day as the army moved, but Confederate general John B. Magruder did send out a reconnaissance in force at Golding's Farm. Although it was easily turned back, it served to further convince the Federals that they were being attacked from all sides.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Gaines Mill Reenactment

This month we went to the Lee Takes Command reenactment in Pennsylvania. We already posted one of the battles reenacted there, Seven Pines. Here is the reenactment of the Confederate breakthrough at Gaines Mill, in a wonderful time of day as the sun was setting. Notice the charge of the Louisiana Tigers at 2:55.

Battle of Gaines Mill

McClellan had been badly shaken by Lee's attack on his right in the battle of Beaver Dam Creek. Although he had not suffered a serious reverse, he ordered the troops holding the line, under Fitz John Porter. Even before the battle was over he had written:
I incline to think that Jackson will attack my right and rear. The rebel force is stated at 200,000.... I regret my great inferiority in numbers, but feel that I am in no way responsible for it, as I have not failed to represent repeatedly the necessity of reinforcements; that this was the decisive point, and that all the available means of the Government should be concentrated here. I will do all that a general can do with the splendid army I have the honor to command, and if it is destroyed by overwhelming numbers, can at least die with it and share its fate. But if the result of the action which will probably occur tomorrow, or within a short time, is a disaster, the responsibility cannot be thrown on my shoulders, it must rest where it belongs.
McClellan was overestimating the Confederates forces. Although pleased at his victory over Lee, McClellan thought Jackson would strike his rear where he least expected it. The morning after the battle, 150 years ago today, Lee, after finding the Federal position deserted, examined maps and planned his pursuit. He planned for Jackson and D. H. Hill to move around the Federal right, while Longstreet and A. P. Hill pressed on the front. Moving forward, they encountered Federal resistance around Gaines Mill. Lee described the field this way in his report:
The approach to this position was over an open plain, about a quarter of a mile wide, commanded by this triple line of fire and swept by the heavy batteries south of the Chickahominy. In front of his center and right the ground was generally open, bounded on the side of our approach by a wood, with dense and tangled undergrowth, and traversed by a sluggish stream, which converted the soil into a deep morass. The woods on the farther side of the swamp were occupied by sharpshooters, and trees had been felled to increase the difficulty of its passage and detain our advancing columns under the fire of infantry massed on the slopes of the opposite hills and of the batteries on their crests.
A. P. Hill Attacks
Jackson's men were not yet positioned on the flank, but A. P. Hill's men were anxious to attack. They went forward gallantly towards the strong Federal position, and although they fought hard all their attacks were useless. Gregg's, Branch's and Pender's brigades all tried attacks upon the Federal line, but they were all repulsed with heavy losses. Lee ordered no further attacks until Jackson arrived on the Union right. Jackson was late again. He had taken the wrong road, which meant much counter marching to reach the correct position. Finally, after many hours, Ewell's division arrived on the field and went forward to the attack. As his men moved forward, the tired men of A. P. Hill cried out, "You need not go in; we are whipped; you can't do anything." "Get out of our way we will show you how to do it!" replied Ewell's men, who were used to victory with Jackson in the Valley. However, they met the same fierce fire that had driven back Hill's men. Their assaults were unsuccessful, but they were able to hold onto their ground. To the right, Longstreet was preparing to launch a general assault on the hill. On the left, Jackson had finally arrived. When the news spread across the field, the tired soldiers rejoiced. The Army of the Valley had arrived to fight along side them, led by the famous Stonewall Jackson himself! "Tell them this affair must hang in suspense no longer!” Jackson ordered, “Sweep the field with the bayonet!" It took a long time to position thousands of men for the assault, and by 7:00 pm they were finally ready.
If you can form an idea of a hundred or more cannon and one hundred thousand or more small arms, and sometimes thousands of men - yelling at the top of their voice - then you can begin to understand the raging terror and the roaring, lumbering noise of this big battle that was going on.

Lee described the course of the battle in his report:
On the right the troops moved forward with steadiness, unchecked by the terrible fire from the triple lines of infantry on the hill, and the cannon on both sides of the river, which burst upon them as they emerged upon the plain. The dead and wounded marked the way of their intrepid advance, the brave Texans leading, closely followed by their no less daring comrades. The enemy were driven from the ravine to the first line of breastworks, over which our impetuous column dashed up to the entrenchments on the crest. These were quickly stormed, fourteen pieces of artillery captured, and the enemy driven into the field beyond. Fresh troops came to his support and he endeavored repeatedly to rally, but in vain. He was forced back with great slaughter until he reached the woods on the banks of the Chickahominy, and night put an end to the pursuit. Long lines of dead and wounded marked each stand made by the enemy in his stubborn resistance, and the field over which he retreated was strewn with the slain.
Confederate Breakthrough
Little pursuit was possible due to the lateness of the breakthrough. This had been a costly victory for Lee. He had lost 8,500 soldiers. Many regiments were completely decimated. The 1st Texas lost 600 of the 800 men who entered the battle. The Federals lost close to 7,000 men. The Confederates had made many mistakes this day. Many lives were wasted with repeated attacks on fixed positions. However, Jackson had finally arrived to sweep the field. It was clear that the Confederates had much to learn. The generals needed experience so that they could move in coordination and become an effective fighting force.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Battle of Mechanicsville

The Confederate army around Richmond launched its planned attack on McClellan 150 years ago today, in what was called the Battle of Mechanicsville by the South, and the Battle of Beaver Dam Creek by the North. The right of the Union army was in the small hamlet of Mechanicsville. Lee planned for Jackson, who was moving onto the Federal flank, to strike them in the morning. When he pushed them back, he would uncover the bridges over the Chickahominy River, which would allow the divisions of A. P. Hill, D. H. Hill and Longstreet to cross the river and join Jackson in the assault. They would continue to press forward, heading towards Cold Harbor, McClellan's supply depot.
Fitz John Porter, commander of the Federal right flank

However, not everything went according to plan. Jackson returned to his command tired and worn out after his meeting with Lee and the other generals. As they marched forward, he did not make the progress that he had expected. On the morning of June 26th, he ordered his troops to move at 2:30 am, as they were still far from their intended position. However, the columns did not start moving until dawn. Secrecy had also been lost. The Federals had been hearing rumors of Jackson's movement, but they got certain information of it when a deserter came into McClellan's lines and reported Jackson's presence.

The rest of the army did not know of the troubles that Jackson was facing. Longstreet and the Hills waited throughout the day for a courier or the sound of firing, but they heard nothing. Finally, A. P. Hill's patience wore out, as D. H. Hill's had at Seven Pines. “Three o'clock having arrived," Hill later wrote, "and no intelligence from Jackson or Branch, I determined to cross at once rather than hazard the failure of the whole plan by longer deferring it." Hill's 11,000 men struck hard, and drove the Federals back from Mechanicsville. However, they began reforming on Beaver Dam Creek, a marshy stream bordered by high banks on the northern side. The Federals cut down trees to obstruct the stream, and in some places dug entrenchments. Hill knew that it was a strong position, but he still continued to attack, hoping by pressing on them he could drive them back. However, his attacks were beaten back. The troops of Longstreet and D. H. Hill were on hand, but there was little they could do. Lee just hoped that if his men held the Federals in position, Jackson would finally arrive and strike their insecure right flank. D. H. Hill later wrote
The enemy had entrenchments of great strength and development on the other side of the creek, and had lined the banks with his magnificent artillery. The approach was over an open plain exposed to a murderous fire of all arms, and across an almost impassable stream. The result was, as might have been foreseen, a bloody and disastrous repulse. ... We were lavish of blood in those days, and it was thought a great thing to charge a battery of artillery or an earth-work lined with infantry.

One Federal soldier of the 9th Massachussets later wrote this of the assault,
As the enemy poured into the valley and across the hills and plains, by front and flank, in their thousands, they presented a find display. When about half way down the plains our magnificent batteries opened on them suddenly with shot and shell, followed by a terrific and well directed fire from the infantry. Round after round from our batteries and volley from our infantry, followed in rapid succession, caused at first great surprise; then consternation seized them as they witnessed the great slaughter all along their line. Flesh and blood could not stand it, and the disheartened enemy fell back as rapidly as the situation would admit of, their men falling at every step taken. ... The fighting along the whole line was kept up till dark. The more severely the enemy's lines were repulsed and beaten, the more bloodthirsty and desperate they became. The bravery of their repeated assaults upon our lines was something to be admired; but the slaughter they received from the fire of our troops was deplorable as an afterthought.
Beaver Dam Creek Battlefield
Beaver Dam Creek via CWT
Night put an end to the bloody engagement. Lee's plans had gone very badly. Jackson and his men had arrived on the field many hours after they were supposed to. Worn out, he had ordered his men to pitch camp although they could hear the sounds of battle ahead. A. P. Hill had driven back the Federals, but they had simply taken up a strong position and beat back useless, continued attacks. Lee passed no judgments, hoping that the next day the Confederate fortune could be redeemed.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Battle of Oak Grove

While Lee was planning to have Jackson join him in an attack on McClellan's right flank, McClellan was planning an offensive of his own. McClellan had been very cautious throughout the entire campaign, but now he had finally decided to attack. He wanted to capture the high ground around what was called Oak Grove, part of the Seven Pines battlefield, so that he would have a better artillery position for a siege. The troops selected for the attack were the divisions of Joseph Hooker and Philip Kearny. Meeting them would be the Confederate division of Benjamin Huger.

The battle opened at 8:30 am on June 25th, 150 years ago today, with a Union advance. The Federals pushed through the wooded ground, which was intersected by branches of White Oak Swamp. Most of the line made progress, but the rightmost brigade under Daniel Sickles encountered heavier resistance, throwing the line out of order. Huger, sensing an opportunity, ordered a counterattack by the brigade of Ambrose Wright. One of his regiments wore colorful Zouave uniforms, which were more common on the Northern side. The Federals thought they were their own men, and did not fire until the last moment. The battle finally turned when the inexperienced 25th North Carolina delivered a perfect volley, breaking Sickles's brigade. Reinforcements were sent forward, and McClellan was notified of the reverse.

McClellan was not on the field, but he was trying to manage the battle by telegraph. Although he did not know the details of the fighting, he ordered the men back to their trenches around 10:30 am. However, when he arrived on the field a few hours later, he realized the fighting had not gone as badly as he had thought. He ordered the battle resumed at around 1:00 pm. The fighting continued until nightfall, the Federals trying to regain the ground they had won in the morning. By the end of the day McClellan's men gained around 600 yards at the cost of over 1,000 casualties on both sides. The battle did not continue the next day, for Robert E. Lee's plan would go into action, derailing McClellan's offensive prospects.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Lee Plans his Attack

In his Ride around McClellan a few days before, Stuart had begun by scouting McClellan's right flank for Lee. He had discovered that McClellan's right flank was in the air, there was nothing to prevent Lee from moving down and striking the Federals lengthwise, where they could be routed and defeated. In the Shenandoah Valley Jackson had just gloriously concluded his Shenandoah Valley Campaign with the double victories of Cross Keys and Port Republic, leaving him free to move to join Lee around Richmond. That is just what Lee was planning on doing. Jackson would come down at strike McClellan's right flank, combining with the Army of Northern Virginia to throw him back in defeat. Lee met with his subordinates on June 23rd to discuss the details. Jackson rode ahead of his advancing column to attend this meeting. In the end, it was decided that 65,000 Confederate troops would concentrate on 30,000 Federals. However, this plan would not be without danger. Lee would be weakening portions of his line which, if McClellan struck hard would crumble, leaving the way open to Richmond. He would only have 25,000 men to resist 60,000 Federals. But Lee knew if he did not risk anything he would not gain anything, so he went ahead with his plan to crush McClellan's army.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Seven Pines Reenactment

Last weekend we attended the Lee Takes Command reenactment to do filming for our video series, Discerning History. Here is a short edit of the reenactment of the Battle of Seven Pines. You can read out post about the battle here. Check back next week for another video of breakthrough at the Battle of Gaines Mill.

Braxton Bragg Takes Command

In the Battle of Shiloh the Confederates had had good success the first day, although their commander, Albert Sydney Johnson, had been killed. The second day P. G. T. Beauregard took over the command, but he ordered a retreat when Grant launched a heavy counterattack, a very controversial decision. Over the next few weeks Halleck, who took over the Union army from Grant, advanced slowly in siege-like fashion towards Beauregard at Corinth, Mississippi. After delaying the Federals for many days, Beauregard ended up abandoning Corinth as well, another decision which many criticized. Beauregard had fallen out of favor with the administration. He was constantly sending plans to his superiors which he thought would quickly end the war, but they always required that he be reinforced with troops Jefferson Davis did not have, and that the enemy move exactly as he wished. He was also sick, and was told by the doctors that he needed time to rest.
Braxton Bragg

The situation finally collapsed when Beauregard took medical leave and left the army without permission. Davis removed Beauregard from command and assigned the post to Braxton Bragg. Beauregard was furious at this. He was very angry at Davis, and wrote,
"If the country be satisfied to have me laid on the shelf by a man who is either demented or a traitor to his high trust - well, let it be so. As to my reputation, if it can suffer by any thing that living specimen of gall & hatred, can do-why it is not then worth preserving.... I am annoyed to death now by having everybody looking at me, wherever I go, like a wild beast."
Many people later pressed Davis to give the command back to Beauregard, but he refused, saying, "If the whole world were to ask me to restore General Beauregard to the command which I have already given to General Bragg, I would refuse it." He had high hopes for Bragg, a North Carolinian who had served in the Mexican War, Bragg was a strict disciplinarian. This meant that he had troops who would obey orders, but it could backfire if he angered them by too strict discipline.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Battle of Secessionville

David Hunter
While events were accelerating on the Peninsula a campaign was also advancing in South Carolina. Earlier this month two Union divisions from Major General David Hunter Department of the South under the direct command of Brigadier General Henry Benham were landed at James Island, South Carolina. These troops were intended to capture Charleston from the land side. However, Hunter ordered Benham not to advance until he was greatly reinforced. The Confederate commander of Charleston's defense was Major General John C. Pemberton, and he placed Brigadier General Nathan “Shank” Evans in command of the fortifications on James Island, including a fort at Secessionville. Although he had been ordered not to move on Charleston, Benham decided on June 15th to attack the fort at Secessionville the next morning. He would send in 3,500 troops before dawn in two waves, hoping to overrun the Confederates before they could put up a successful defense.
Map from Civil War Trust

As the Union forces advanced on the early morning of June 16th, 150 years ago today, they made slow going as they encountered difficult terrain which slowed and confused their advance. At 5:00 am they hit the Confederate pickets, alerting the defenders to the attack. Colonel T. G. Lamar, the fort's commander, instantly sent off a courier to Evans alerting him of the attack and brought up 1,500 reinforcements. Until those arrived they made the best defense with what they had. Lamar himself took command of one of the cannons, which opened at the Federal lines 200 yards away, tearing holes in their formations. The Federals, however, kept coming on and began climbing the face of the parapets, but Lamar brought up his infantry and threw them forward, driving back the Federal assault with heavy volleys. The Federals reformed and came on again twice more, but both attacks were driven back after coming within a few yards of the fort.

The battle was over by 9:00 am. The Federals had suffered 689 casualties, the Confederates only 207. If the Federals had successfully captured the fort, they might have forced the abandonment of Charleston, but, as it was, it was only yet another Federal disaster in the east. Hunter blamed the defeat on Benham, saying he attacked without permission. He was removed from command and his commission taken away. Lincoln, however, valued aggressiveness even when sometimes it was a little rash. He restored Benham's commission and sent him west to serve with Grant in the Vicksburg campaign.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Ride Around McClellan – Day 3

Stuart's tired troops rode throughout the night under the full moon, heading toward the crossing of the Chickahominy at Forge Bridge, seven miles ahead. The prisoners were mounted on mules to speed the march. The Confederate troops began to fall asleep on their horses, slowing the column's march. At around dawn they arrived at the Chickahominy, and, instead of the slow placid ford that was expected, it was a roaring torrent. Colonel Rooney Lee dismounted and dove into the stream to see if it could be crossed. He had a hard swim, and was almost drowned before he returned to shore. “Colonel,” he was asked, “what do you think of the situation.” “Well, Captain,” he replied, “I think we are caught.” A few of the best swimmers crossed the river, including one with a message to Lee asking for diversion to be made.
Cavalry Charge later in the war

Stuart ordered axes brought up, and trees were cut down to try to cross on them, but they were too short to reach the other side. Some men built a raft, but it tipped, throwing them into the water. It was finally decided that instead of wasting more time, they had to go to the sight of the bridge which had been destroyed, and repair it in order to cross the river. Boards were brought out of a nearby warehouse and a shaky bridge was built. The troopers were able to walk across while their horses swam along side. In order to get the guns across the main beams of the warehouse were knocked down, and they were just long enough to form a proper bridge. The command was soon across, and just ten minutes after they reached the opposite bank, the outriders of the Federal cavalry rode up and opened a scattering fire. Although they had a long march back to the Confederate main body, they had escaped their worst danger.
Bridge over the Chickahominy

Stuart's expedition had been successful, and he had brought fame upon himself and his men. In his report he wrote to Lee:
The success attending this expedition will no doubt cause 10,000 or 15,000 men to be detached from the enemy's main body to guard his communication, besides accomplishing the destruction of millions worth of property and the interruption for a time of his railroad communication. The three commanders (the two Lees and Martin) exhibited the characteristics of skillful commanders, keeping their commands well in hand and managing them with skill and good judgment, which proved them worthy of a higher trust. Their brave men behaved with coolness and intrepidity in danger, unswerving resolution before difficulties, and stood unappalled before the rushing torrent of the Chickahominy, with the probability of an enemy at their heels armed with the fury of a tigress robbed of her whelps. The perfect order and systematic disposition for crossing maintained throughout the passage insured its success and rendered it the crowning feature of a successful expedition. I hope, general, that your sense of delicacy, so manifest on former occasions, will not prompt you to award to the two Lees (your son and nephew) less than their full measure of praise. Embalmed in the hearts and affections of their regiments; tried on many occasions requiring coolness, decision, and bravery; everywhere present to animate, direct, and control, they held their regiments in their grasp and proved them- selves brilliant cavalry leaders.
Later one of his aides, John Eston Cooke, said to Stuart, "That was a tight place at the river, General. If the enemy had come down upon on us, you would have been compelled to have surrendered." "No," Stuart answered, "one other course was left. To die game."

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ride Around McClellan – Day 2

Map of Stuart's Raid
Stuart resumed his raid on the morning of June 13th. He turned his men southeast, heading toward McClellan's flank. Scouts reported the enemy near Hanover Court House. He sent Fitz Lee with his 1st Virginia around to cut the enemy off from the rear. After waiting a time, Stuart charged with the main body. A few shots were fired, and the Confederates found that Fitz Lee had gotten stuck in a marsh and the Federals were able to make their escape. The column continued, and after several more miles of marching rounded up some Federal cavalry pickets. When they were brought past Colonel Fitzhugh Lee, they greeted him with cries of “Lieutenant!” They were from the 3rd United States Cavalry, Lee's unit before the war, and a friendly reunion was had.
Fitzhugh Lee

Stuart continued on passing the marshy Totopotmoy Creek safely. After 3 pm they hit a cavalry force guarding an intersection, and immediately charged forward. A short hand-to-hand fight occurred. The leader of the Confederate squadron, Captain William Latane, fell, hit with seven bullets, after slashing the Federal commander with his saber. The Federals fell back, leaving five guidons in the hands of the rebels. At this point, Stuart had accomplished his primary mission. He had discovered that there were no major forces guarding McClellan's right flank. Now he had to decide how to return to the Confederate lines. He decided, with perhaps a little wishful thinking, that the safest way was completely around McClellan's lines, as that would be where he would be least expected. He later wrote in his report,
The route was one of all others which I felt sure the enemy would never expect me to take. On that side of the Chickahominy infantry could not reach me before crossing, and I felt able to whip any cavalry force that could be brought against me. … Besides this, the hope of striking a serious blow at a boastful and insolent foe, which would make him tremble in his shoes, made more agreeable the alternative I chose. In a brief and frank interview with some of my officers I disclosed my views, but while none accorded a full assent, all assured me a hearty support in whatever I did. With an abiding trust in God, and with such guarantees of success as the two Lees and Martin and their devoted followers, this enterprise I regarded as most promising. ... There was something of the sublime in the implicit confidence and unquestioning trust of the rank and file in a leader guiding them straight, apparently, into the very jaws of the enemy, every step appearing to them to diminish the faintest hope of extrication.
Stuart headed on to Tunstall's Station, a station on the railroad. It was guarded by a few companies of infantry, but these were quickly driven away with a saber charge. The Confederates began tearing up the railroad and searching for supplies. However, soon they heard the sound of a train whistle. Men ran to the switch which would send it to the siding, but they could not move it. As they train approached pistol shots rang out, but it continued on its way. One trooper rode along side and shot the engineer, but the train continued and escaped with his load of Union infantry. It was now near nightfall, and Stuart decided not to continue on to White House, McClellan's supply base. An attempt on that would involve more danger than even Stuart would accept. After burning what booty they could not bring along, Stuart set his men off to ride through the night towards the crossing of the Chicahominy.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ride Around McClellan

J. E. B. Stuart
On June 10th Lee called JEB Stuart, his cavalry commander, to meet with him at his headquarters. Stuart was a brilliant young officer who had served in Virginia since the beginning of the war. He was known for his bravery and dash in brilliant engagements against the Federals. Now Lee was looking for a way to defeat the army of George B. McClellan, who was facing him just outside Richmond. McClellan's army was divided by the Chickahominy River, and Lee wanted his cavalry to examine the Federal right to get more information about its situation. Stuart asked if he could ride completely around McClellan, and Lee did not forbid it at once. The next day he sent these orders:
You are desired to make a secret movement to the rear of the enemy, now posted on Chickahominy, with a view of gaining intelligence of his operations, communications, &c.; of driving his foraging parties, and securing such grain, cattle, &c., for yourselves as you can make arrangements to have driven in. Another object is to destroy his wagon trains, said to be daily passing.... The utmost vigilance on your part will be necessary to prevent any surprise to yourself, and the greatest caution must be practiced in keeping well in your front and flanks reliable scouts to give you information. You will return as soon as the object of your expedition is accomplished, and you must bear constantly in mind, while endeavoring to execute the general purpose of your mission, not to hazard unnecessarily your command or attempt what your judgment may not approve; but be content to accomplish all the good you can without feeling it necessary to obtain all that might be desired.
Stuart picked his best units, 1,200 men in all. He awakened his staff at 2 am on June 12th, the next day. “Gentlemen,” he said, “in ten minutes, every man must be in the saddle.” The cavalry was soon moving. They rode 22 miles north, camping along the South Anna River. The raid would truly begin the next day.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Battle of Port Republic

After defeating Fremont yesterday at the battle of Cross Keys, Ewell's men set out at dawn to join Jackson. During the night a group of Confederate pioneers had built a bridge out of wagons and boards across the south river at Port Republic. They began crossing this bridge and moving out northwest from Port Republic towards Shields. Along the left side of the road were fields stretching to the south fork of the Shenandoah River. On the right of the road were the forested foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. A few miles from town the Stonewall Brigade encountered three Union batteries on a 70 foot high hill called the Coaling. It was called that because they burned the hill's wood to make charcoal. It was a good artillery position, overlooking much of the area. Jackson realized that the Coaling was the key to the entire field. He sent two regiments of the Stonewall Brigade to move through the woods to flank the Coaling, while the Confederate artillery would engage the batteries on the Coaling as support. The Union cannon were in a much better position, and inflicted many casualties on the Southerners. One battery went in with 150 men and 6 guns and ended the battle with only 50 men and one working gun. Edward Moore, one of the cannoneers later wrote,
"Having gone about a mile, the enemy opened on us with artillery, their shells tearing by us with a most venomous whistle. Halted on the sides of the road, as we moved by, were the infantry of our brigade. ... Again our two Parrott guns were ordered forward. Turning out of the road to the left, we unlimbered and commenced firing. ... We were hotly engaged, shells bursting close around and pelting us with soft dirt as they struck the ground. ... The constant recoiling of our gun cut great furrows in the earth, which made it necessary to move several times to more solid ground. In these different positions which we occupied three of the enemy's shells passed between the wheels and under the axle of our gun, bursting at the trail."
However, the flanking troops encountered serious difficulties. The terrain was very difficult, and it took a long time for them to get into position. When they finally reached their goal, they opened a scattered firing on the Union batteries, driving away the gunners. But the Federals rallied and returned to the pieces, and poured round after round of canister into the woods. The Virginians, unable to stand up to the artillery fire, fell back and reported their reverse. Jackson would need more troops to capture the Coaling. He ordered Richard Taylor's Louisiana Brigade, which had won the day at Winchester, to move on the Coaling. The Confederate troops were very slow in coming up, as they were having trouble with the new bridge. It became unsteady after hundreds of men had crossed, and one many fell into the fast river. After seeing that, the soldiers would only cross one man at a time for fear of getting wet. Robert Lewis Dabney, Jackson's chief of staff, tried to get the column halted so that he could have the bridge repaired, but the troops' commanders refused to halt and pushed forward, one man at a time.
Erastus B. Tyler

Meanwhile the Federal commander on the field, Erastus B. Tyler, was making a grievous mistake. He was commanding Shield's vanguard, but in deploying his troops he put them between the Coaling and the road, opposite the Confederate batteries and the majority of the Stonewall Brigade. He left the Coaling, which Jackson had recognized as the key position, weakly defended and open to being attacked on the flank.
Richard Taylor

While Taylor was moving around the Union left flank, the Stonewall Brigade had to hold out on the plan. General Winder ordered his men to charge Tyler's line to gain as much time as possible. They set off with a cheer across a wheat field, and halting at a fence, opened fire on the Union infantry. They fought well and held their own against twice their number for half an hour. Finally the Federals charged and drove back the Confederates, who were running out of ammunition. The Confederates fled across the plain, pursued by cheering Northerners. Ewell, who had arrived with his first brigade, threw it in and was able to stop the Federal pursuit for the moment, but it could not hold for long.

Taylor was in position to attack the Coaling. He heard the cheers of the advancing Federals on the plain below, and realized that if he did not attack, a disaster might be coming with the army divided by a river crossed only by a rickety bridge. Therefore he ordered his men forward, and they charged the Coaling, giving out the Rebel yell. “On the Louisianians dashed,” one of them later wrote,
regardless of the terrific fire of the canister poured into their ranks by the battery.... its only effect is the accelerated the speed of the men in their impetuous charge. The nearer they approached the given point, of which the battery was the center, the less regard seemed paid to the preservation of the line, until finally the regiments became so intermingled as to present a disorganized, but formidable mass.
Taylor's men finally made it up the hill, and, after a brief hand to hand fight, drove back the Yankee gunners, capturing the hill and guns. But this success would not last long. The Federal infantry units in the area came forward and charged, driving back the victorious rebels. The Louisianians charged again and captured the position, but were driven back again by yet another counterattack. For the third time the Confederates came on again.

Panting like dogs-faces begrimed - nine-tenths of them bareheaded - the Federal wave rolls back over the guns, and now there is a grapple such as no other battle ever furnished. Men beat each other's brains out with muskets which they have no time to load. Those who go down to die think only of revenge, and they clutch the nearest foe with a grasp which death renders stronger. The hill was won, and this time Taylor would hold it. They retained five of the six guns that were on the hill. The rest of the Union line soon crumbled with the key to the position lost and their cannon turned on themselves. The rest of Jackson's forces advanced with cheers, driving back Tyler's force for several miles.

Hearing of the defeat, Shield sent forward reinforcements, but they were too late. Fremont also failed to arrive in time to be of any use. He was delayed by Trimble, who was able to make it safely across the bridge, burning it behind him. Fremont was stranded on the other side, and could do nothing but shell the ambulances as they took the wounded off the field. Jackson had won a great victory. It was not just through his troops fighting on the battlefield, but his brilliant maneuvering, which had allowed him to strike two superior armies in turn, prevent them from uniting, and defeat them both. He was assisted in this by the failures of the Federal commanders, who were themselves scared of Jackson and had moved too slowly and cautiously to make use of their greatly superior numbers.

In these two battles, of Cross Keys and Port Republic, the Confederates lost 240 killed, 930 wounded and 100 missing or captured. The Federals lost 270 killed, 850 wounded and 780 captured.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Battle of Cross Keys

 On the morning of June 8th at 8:30 Fremont began moving cautiously against Ewell, who was near Cross Keys. He outnumbered Ewell two to run, but did not know it. He encountered the Confederates in a strong position along Mill Creek, with Steuart’s brigade on the left, Elzy in the center and Trimble on the right. Fremont had his line of battle formed by 10:00, and an artillery duel began. On the Confederate side, Trimble decided to advance his brigade ¼ mile forward to a better defensive position. Trimble was a sixty year old West Pointer and had turned his brigade of troops from four different states into a well trained fighting unit. Trimble's advance could have been dangerous because it opened up his flank, but it actually was safe because he was covered by artillery posted on the ridge he had left.
Cross Keys Battlefield
Cross Keys battlefield via CWT
Trimble placed his troops along a fence on the edge of a rolling field. They hoped to catch a Federal unit by surprise, and that is just what happened. As Julius Stahel's brigade advanced toward Trimble it was making a serious mistake. Although he had served in the Austrian army and on the staffs of several European generals, he made the elementary mistake of advancing without skirmishers out in front. Skirmishers are a thin line of troops ahead of the main body. Their is to detect threats, fire a few shots, and fall back to the main body. Without those skirmishers, Stahel walked right into a trap. The 8th New York came over the hill toward the Confederate line completely ignorant of its position. At 40 yards Trimble's men stood up and fired a volley. The New Yorker's lines melted before the Confederate bullets. The Southerners continued to pour in volleys, and the Federals had no choice but to run in retreat. The 8th suffered terrific casualties. They lost 180 killed and wounded and 80 prisoners, making these volleys some of the most deadly of the war. These were about half of the Union casualties for the entire battle.

The aggressive Trimble was not content with his victory over the 8th New York. Reinforced by two of Elzy's Virginia regiments under Colonel Walker, he moved forward to attack the position from which the 8th had attacked. He moved troops around the Federal's left flank and after several attacks broke the Union line. Moving on, he next encountered William Bohlen's brigade. He attacked those four regiments, and after a fight Bohlen retreated. Trimble, forming his brigade on top of the hill, sent back to Ewell for orders. In the center and left of the Confederate line, the artillery duel had continued fiercely all this time. The men laid down to avoid getting hit, until finally the barrage came to an end when the ammunition ran out. Both Steuart and Elzy were wounded by the Union artillery fire. Milroy and Schenck's brigades moved forward toward Ewell's line when the barage ceased. There were several charges and counter charges, but no progress was made against the Confederate position. Fremont finally ordered his men to retreat. This lack of success was because Schenck had not fully engaged Ewell, and he had only done some light skirmishing. He only had one tenth of Milroy's casualties. The Confederate position was too strong to be taken by the Union commanders unless they had real initiative in making their attacks.
Issac R. Trimble
Fremont, however, did not have that initiative. This was his first real battle. He decided to retreat, even though he had no real reason to. He had not tried a real attack, and his left had only been pushed back by Trimble, not completely broken. He still greatly outnumbered Ewell. But he was cautious, which overwhelmed all other considerations. Trimble requested permission from Ewell to continue his attacks, but Ewell refused. He had met with Jackson and it was decided that the two divisions would unite the next day and turn on Shields, leaving Trimble as a rear guard to hold off Fremont until the bridge at Port Republic was burnt. However, Trimble was so persistent that Ewell sent him on to Jackson. Jackson told him that he had to get Ewell to agree, so Trimble's attack was never made. The Confederates gathered up their dead and wounded and went to sleep to prepare for the next day.

Port Republic Raid

Ashby's Death Site - Port Republic
Port Republic House. Photo via CWT
As Jackson's army arrived in the Port Republic area, he divided to face both armies. Dick Ewell and his division were placed at Cross Keys facing Fremont, while Jackson's division in Port Republic faced Shield's force. On the morning of June 8th, 150 years ago today, a very embarrassing event occurred for the Confederates. The Southern cavalry under Ashby's leadership was not a model of discipline, and with his death they fell apart. This allowed a Union raiding party to penetrate the Confederate lines. They were nearly upon the Confederate headquarters before they were discovered, and Jackson and his staff had to leap to their horses in order to avoid being captured. Although Jackson escaped safely, several of his staff were in fact captured, although they were later able to make their escape. The raid was soon turned back with a last ditch defense by the small Confederate force and the arrival of troops from Jackson's main body, who were able to cross the river and brush away the Union forces. This was one of Jackson's closest shaves of the war.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Battle of Memphis

Charles Ellet
 After their embarrassing defeat at the Battle of Plumb Run Bend, the Union fleet on the Mississippi River under Charles Davis moved out against the cottonclads of James Montgomery. Davis also had a new weapon, the rams of Charles Ellet. He was an engineer who had been approved by the War Department to build a fleet of nine rams. They carried no armor or guns, their only tactic was to strike the enemy ship hard and fast and send it to the bottom. They were commanded by Ellet, and he had appointed all the captains of the ships and they all happened to be his very close relatives. They had joined the ironclads just over a week before, and this battle would be the first test of the rams and their commanders.

The Federal fleet moved out to battle Montgomery on June 6th, 150 years ago today. They met just off of Memphis, Tennessee. In front was Davis's five ironclads and behind four of Ellet's rams. The other five rams misinterpreted their orders and never entered the battle. The battle began with the ironclads firing on the Confederates steamers at long range as they advanced towards each other. Then the rams ran past them at full speed, charging towards the cottonclads. Charles Ellet's flagship, the USS Queen of the West struck first, cutting the CSS Colonel Lovel in two. From that point on the battle became confused with smoke obscuring the vision of the observers. But everyone agreed that the Federals got the better of the engagement. A ram knocked the sidewheel off the CSS General Price, and then came around and rammed the CSS General Beauregard. The CSS Jeff Thompson was set on fire. And three others hit by shells from the ironclads. Only one Confederate gunboat, the CSS Van Dorn, was able to make its escape. The battle had been quick and bloodless for the Union fleet. In fact, the only suffered one casualty. That one was Charles Ellet himself. He was hit with a pistol ball while directing the attack, and died of infection a few days later. With the defeat of the small Confederate fleet, Memphis fell to the Union. The Federals had made one more small step toward victory in the west.

Jackson Retreats up the Valley

After defeating Nathaniel Bank's army at the battles of Front Royal and Winchester, Stonewall Jackson moved north threatening to capture Harper's Ferry, at the foot of the Shenandoah Valley. His mission was to threaten a movement on Washington, and it worked wonderfully. Abraham Lincoln, fearing that Jackson would make a quick swoop on the capitol with a large army, diverted troops from McClellan's attack on Richmond to converge on Jackson. He planned to have three armies to trap Jackson. The army of John C. Fremont in West Virginia would move into the valley from the west, capturing Harrisonburg and cutting Jackson's supply line. Bank's regrouped army would move south toward Jackson again on the front, and troops moving west from McDowell's corps in Fredericksburg would be ready to pounce on Jackson as he retreated. He thought these columns converging from three directions were sure to capture Jackson, but he was wrong.

Jackson received word on May 30th of the movements being made against him, but he did not retreat in disorder. He made sure all the prisoners and supplies he had captured were gotten to safety. He was even thinking of moving on the offensive. He sent his friend, colonel Alexander Boteler, a member of the Confederate Congress in Richmond, telling him:
"McDowell and Fremont are probably aiming to effect a junction at Strasburg, so as to cut us off from the upper Valley, and are both nearer to it than we are. Consequently, no time is to be lost. You can say to them in Richmond that I'll send on the prisoners, secure most if not all of the captured property, and with God's blessing will be able to baffle the enemy's plans here with my present force, but that it will have to be increased as soon thereafter as possible. You may tell them, too, that if my command can be gotten up to 40,000 men a movement may be made ... which will soon raise the siege of Richmond and transfer this campaign from the banks of the Potomac to those of the Susquehanna."
None the less, Jackson needed to avoid being destroyed, so he began pulling back. However, a disaster struck. He received news that the 12th Georgia, one of his best regiments which had been left to guard supplies at Front Royal, had been surprised and driven back. He continued to move his troops south up the valley as quickly as possible. Fremont and McDowell were very close by. But when they were only a few miles from Jackson they stopped pressing to close the trap. Jackson was allowed to move by while they sat idle. After the inept Northern commanders allowed Jackson to slip by they finally resumed the pursuit. They had a long hard march after Stonewall Jackson. One of Bank's staff officers put it this way:
"From what I can learn here, Jackson is gone beyond pursuit. Thus culminates this disgraceful affair, the most disgraceful to the Federal armies that has occurred during the whole war. I am utterly humiliated to have been mixed up in it."
As Jackson was retreating, his cavalry rearguard under Turner Ashby skirmished with the Union forces. In one of these small fights, 150 years ago today, Ashby was killed on Chesnut Ridge near Harrisonburg, Virginia. He was shot at the head of his men, who pushed on beyond their fallen leader and won the skirmish. Ashby, who was known as the Black Knight of the Confederacy, was very good in combat, although his men's discipline off the field was not ideal. "As a partisan officer I never knew his superior;" Jackson said, "his daring was proverbial; his powers of endurance almost incredible; his tone of character heroic, and his sagacity almost intuitive in divining the purposes and movements of the enemy."
Turner Ashby

Jackson did not just rejoice that he had avoided destruction, he looked for a way to turn back and strike at his pursuers. Studying the maps that Jedediah Hotchkiss had made for him, he determined that he would halt at Port Republic, where the North and South Rivers combined to form the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. If he burnt the few bridges across the rain swollen rivers he could prevent the Federal forces from combining on him, and instead he could defeat them in detail. That is just what he planned to do.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Battle of Seven Pines – Day 2

The Confederates renewed the battle at Seven Pines on the morning of June 1st. The day before their attacks had been uncoordinated, and D. H. Hill finally attacked before all the troops were in position. The command situation was in turmoil, with Joseph E. Johnston wounded, G. W. Smith in command and Robert E. Lee soon to take over. The Confederate attacks were renewed, but the Federals held strong positions and had been reinforced. Two Union divisions counterattacked, stopping the Confederate advance. The Southerners eventually broke off the battle, retreating at 11:30 am. The North had lost 790 killed, 3,594 wounded and 647 missing, the Confederates 980 killed, 4,749 wounded and 405 missing. Although the attack was unsuccessful, it shook McClellan and he made no attempt to launch a counterattack while the Confederates were still reeling from their defeat.

The most important effect of the battle was the wounding of Johnston and the appointment of Lee to lead the army. The reaction at first was not very positive. "I prefer Lee to Johnston." McClellan said, "The former is too cautious and weak under grave responsibility. Personally brave and energetic to a fault, he yet is wanting in moral firmness when pressed by heavy responsibility, and is likely to be timid and irresolute in action." However, this view soon changed. Looking back one Northern officer wrote:
"The shell ... which wounded ... General Johnston, although it confused the Rebels, was the saddest shot fired during the war. It changed the entire Rebel tactics. It took away incompetence, indecision and satisfaction and gave skillful generalship, excellent plans and good discipline.... Before the battle of Fair Oaks, Rebel troops were sickly, half fed and clothed, and had no hearts for their work. ... [After Lee took command], the troops improved in appearance. ... The discipline became better; they went into battles with shouts, and without being urged, and, when in, fought like tigers. ... A more marked change for the better never was made in any body of men than that wrought in his army by the sensible actions of General Lee."
Lee soon won over the hearts of officers and men. This was one of his best qualities. While others, such as Jackson and A. P. Hill, frequently quarreled with their subordinates, Lee was able to work graciously even with those who he would rather not deal with. Even Johnston recognized that the change fo commanders was for the better, saying, "the shot that struck me down was the best every fired for the Confederacy..."