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Gettysburg: June 28th the Day of Surprises

army of the potomac

The Army of the Potomac on the Move

One of the Desired Leader Attributes of the CJCS Review of Joint Education is “The ability to anticipate and respond to surprise and uncertainty.” The Gettysburg Campaign provides many examples of leaders who anticipated or failed to anticipate surprise and uncertainty.

If you were an ordinary soldier in either the Army of the Potomac or Army of Northern Virginia June 28th 1863 would not have been much different than any of the previous days, in fact it was “uneventful for men in the ranks.” [1] Both armies had been on the march for over three weeks, and now both armies were across the Potomac, Lee’s was now mostly in Pennsylvania and Hooker’s following in Maryland. With the exception of the cavalry engagements at Brandy Station, Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville, and Ewell’s easy victory over Milroy at Winchester, the main body of either army had been engaged.

The morale of the soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia was high, and reflected by Lee’s own attitude toward the campaign. Colonel Eppa Hunton of the 8th Virginia recalled that Lee told him that “the invasion of Pennsylvania would be a great success, and if so, it would end the war, or we would have rest for some time to come.” Hunton added, “General Lee was so enthusiastic about the movement that I threw away my doubts and became as enthusiastic as he was.” [2] Like its commander the army was superbly confident as it marched north. A Virginian observing the army as it marched through Maryland recalled: “The health of the troops was never better and above all the morale of the army was never more favorable for offensive or defensive operations….Victory will inevitably attend our arms in any collision with the enemy.” [3] Another soldier later recalled “no one ever admitted the possibility of defeat across the Potomac.” [4]

However, Lee was uneasy, but not overly concerned. Though he had not heard anything from J.E.B. Stuart since June 23rd, when Stuart had begun his ride, he was still confident. Not knowing the location of the Federal army he met with Major General Isaac Trimble on the evening of June 27th at his headquarters near Chambersburg. Though he had been slated to command to division now commanded by Allegheny Johnson, he had been slow to recover from a leg wound incurred in 1862 and could not take command. Though he did not have a command, Trimble had accompanied the army north, as Lee did not want to lose “the services of so hard a fighter as this veteran of all the Second Corps victories from First through Second Manassas.” [5] Trimble recalled the words of a very confident commander:

“Our army is in good spirits, not overly fatigued, and can be concentrated on any point in twenty-four hours or less. I have not yet heard that the enemy have crossed the Potomac, and I am waiting to hear from General Stuart….They will come up, probably through Frederick, broken down with hunger and hard marching….I shall throw up an overwhelming force on their advance, crush it, follow up the success, [and] drive one corps back on another…create a panic and virtually destroy the enemy.” [6]

Trimble was “stirred” by Lee’s words and told Lee that he did “not doubt of the outcome of such a confrontation, especially because the moral of the Army of Northern Virginia had never been higher than it was now.” [7] Lee agreed and “as Trimble rose to go, Lee laid his hand on the map and pointed to a little town east of the mountains, Gettysburg by name, from which roads radiated like so many spikes. “Hereabout,” he said, “we shall probably meet the army and fight a great battle, and if God gives us the victory, the war will be over and we shall achieve the recognition of our independence.” [8]

On the night of June 27th George Meade was simply one of seven Corps Commanders in the Army of the Potomac. As Trimble left and Lee settled in for the night, Meade, Commander of V Corps, was at his new headquarters located at Robert McGill’s farm outside of Frederick. Meade was asleep in his tent, was unaware that Colonel James A. Hardie, Halleck’s Assistant Adjutant General, was on a train from Washington with orders that would change the course of the war. Hardie arrived in Fredericksburg after midnight and instead of remaining for the night rented a carriage and made his way directly to Meade’s headquarters, bearing in his hand “General Orders 194…relieving General Hooker as commander of the Army of the Potomac and appointing General Meade in his place.” [9]

Meade, though he desired the appointment as commander of the Army did not expect it. Meade, a career soldier “possessed ambition but had never allowed it to consume him as Joseph Hooker had.” [10] Meade believed that if Hooker was relieved of command that John Reynolds of First Corps or another would receive it. Meade was outranked by his fellow Corps commanders Reynolds and John Sedgwick of VI Corps, and he felt that Reynolds was the ideal man to command the army.

Meade wrote to his wife the reasons he believed that he would not get command a few days before: “because I have no friends, political or others, who press or advance my claims or pretentions.” [11] The latter was not because Meade did not have friends, but because unlike Hooker, Sickles and so many others he stayed out of the various political cabals in the army and their constant intrigues. Meade, though on bad terms with Hooker was not one of the Generals who conspired against Hooker in the weeks following Chancellorsville. He told Governor Andrew Curtain of Pennsylvania that “I should be very sorry to see him removed, unless a decidedly better man is substituted.” [12]

On June 25th Meade had written his wife Margaret, who was uneasy with the rumors that her husband might be named head of the army. Reiterating his belief that he did not have the necessary political connections, and that there were others at least as competent or more to lead the army, he wrote:

“For these reasons I have never indulged in any dreams of ambition, contented to await events, and do my duty in the sphere it pleases God to place me in…and I really think that it would be well for you to take the same philosophical view; but do you know, I think your ambition is being roused and that you are beginning to be bitten with the dazzling prospect of having for a husband a commanding general of an army. How is this?” [13]

At 3:00 A.M. Hardie arrived. “Led to Meade’s tent, Hardie greeted the suddenly awakened general by saying he brought “trouble.” [14] Meade wrote his wife:

“At 3:00 A.M. I was roused from my sleep by an officer from Washington entering my tent…and after waking me up, saying he had come to give me trouble. At first I thought that it was to either relieve or arrest me, and promptly replied to him, that my conscience was clear, void of offense towards any man; I was prepared for his bad news. He then handed me a communication to read: which I found was an order relieving Hooker from the command and assigning me to it.” [15]

Meade stated his objections to Hardie, again reiterating his belief that Reynolds should command the army but Hardie explained that the decision had been made-Meade had no choice but to obey his orders or resign. Hardie provided Meade a letter from Halleck which said “Considering the circumstances…no one ever received a more important command; and I cannot doubt that you will firmly justify the confidence that the Government has reposed in you.” [16]

The order gave Meade command of the troops at Harper’s Ferry which had been denied to Hooker just days before. It also gave him freedom of command. It read: “You will not be hampered by any minute instructions from these headquarters” and “you are free to act as you deem proper under the circumstances as they arise.” [17] Likewise Meade was authorized to take command General Couch’s forces along the Susquehanna. A further power given to Meade which had not been given to previous commanders of the Army of the Potomac was the authority to relieve from command and dismiss officers from the army, or appoint to command officers regardless of seniority as he saw fit. It was a power that during the tumult of battle that he would use well in the coming days.

Meade went by horseback with Hardie and his son Captain George Meade to Hooker’s headquarters at Prospect Hall. The previous night Hooker who after hearing nothing after Halleck’s terse response to his request to be relieved “had convinced himself that the ensuing silence meant that he had beaten Halleck.” [18] But now, Hooker, aware that Hardie was in the camp, and obviously correctly assumed that he was through as the commander of the Army of the Potomac. Hooker greeted his visitors in his dress uniform and with “much effort he tried to hide his feelings and by extreme courtesy to relieve the situation of embarrassment.” [19]

Meade had not seen Hooker in two weeks and had no idea how scattered the army was. When Hooker and Dan Butterfield his Chief of Staff briefed Meade, and Meade learned of the army’s disposition he “unguardedly expressed himself.” Hooker “retorted with feeling.[20] Despite the uncomfortableness of the situation Hooker and Meade were able to successfully pass command of the army and Hooker issued General Order 66 in which “he praised his successor and asked the army to extend the hearty support it had given him. He added:

“Impressed with the ability that my usefulness as the commander of the Army of the Potomac is impaired I part from it; yet not without the deepest emotion.

The sorrow of parting with comrades of so many battles is relieved by the conviction that the courage and devotion of this army will never cease to fail.” [21]

Meade’s words in his General Order 67 are indicative of his feelings on assuming command of the army:

“By direction of the President of the United States, I hereby assume command of the Army of the Potomac…. As a soldier obeying this order- an order totally unexpected and unsolicited- I have no promises to make.”

‘The country looks to this army to relieve it from the devastation and disgrace of a foreign invasion. Whatever fatigues and sacrifices we may be called to undergo, let us have in view, constantly the magnitude of the interests involved, and let each man determine to do his duty, leaving to an all-controlling Providence the decision of the contest.

“It is with great diffidence that I relieve in the command of this army an eminent and accomplished soldier, whose name must appear conspicuous in the history of its achievements; but I rely on the hearty support of my companions in arms to assist me in the discharge of the duties of the important trust which has been confided to me.” [22]

That afternoon Meade sent a note to Halleck telling him he had received “the order placing me in command of this army” and that “as a soldier, I obey it.” [23] Reynolds was among the first corps commanders to pay his respects to Meade, and Meade “grabbed him by the arm and earnestly told him he wished Reynolds had received the assignment. Reynolds replied that Meade was the right choice and that he would do whatever was necessary to support him.” [24] John Gibbon greeted Meade’s appointment “with a sigh of relief” and Reynold’s artillery commander wrote “For my part, I think that we have got the best man of the two, much as I think of Reynolds….” [25]

Meade had good reason to wish that Reynolds or another had been appointed and certainly welcomed his friend Reynolds’ support. Meade knew that he was not Lincoln’s first choice for the job, partly because of being associated with George McClellan, as well as his own political ties as a Democrat, and the opposition of leading Republicans to his appointment to any command. He had run afoul of the Northern abolitionist “fire eaters” in Detroit when Fort Sumter was fired on, and “while he was a staunch Unionist he was dismayed by the arrogance of the fire-eaters, to whom Southern secession looked like a simple riot which would be suppressed by the mere appearance of Federal troops.” [26] William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper The Liberator had early on tired Meade and found him to be wanting in abolitionist sentiment: “There seems to be a marked deficiency of benevolence, and a dainty, aristocratic look, which…reveals a character that never efficiently and consistently served a liberal cause.” [27]

Aware of the fate of other officers who had a similar political bent, such as Fitz-John Porter who was “court-martialed, cashiered and disgraced” [28] after being falsely accused of “disobedience of orders during the Second Battle of Bull Run” [29] by John Pope who had brought about the disaster. Thus with that in mind Meade understood the political danger that his appointment entailed. “If he was successful in protecting Washington and Baltimore or if he somehow defeated Lee and drove the Confederates back across the Potomac, he would receive precious little credit from the Lincoln administration; if he failed, even for the most plainly military reasons, he expected to be pilloried without mercy as a halfheart and traitor.” [30]

The appointment of Meade was met with relief by most of his fellow Corps commanders. He was respected by them, despite having “a cold, even irascible, edge to him, particularly when occupied with army business. He was demanding of himself and of aids and subordinates,” [31] but what mattered to them was that Meade “was a thorough soldier, and a “mighty clear headed man”, with “extraordinary courage.” [32] A future staff officer noted that Meade “will pitch himself in a moment, if he thinks he has done wrong; and woe to those, no matter who they are, who do not do right.” [33]

He was viewed as a truthful, honest and caring commander who after a blow- up would do what he could to reconcile. He was passionate about the lives of his troops and whenever possible avoided battles that he believed their sacrifice would be in vain. He knew his trade, paid close attention to detail and knew and understood his troops and commanders. He had earned respect throughout his career and during the battles on the Peninsula, Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville proved that he was an excellent leader and commander of troops.

All that being said Meade was virtually “an unknown quantity outside of his corps.” [34] Many in the rank and file wondered about the change of commanders in the middle of the campaign, “What’s Meade ever done?” was a common response among the men- those outside his corps at least- when they heard that he was their new commander. The general himself had few delusions on this score. “I know they call me a damned old snapping turtle….” [35] These soldiers had seen good and bad commanders and seen how Washington had dealt with each one, but by now “their training in the school of hard knocks under fumbling leaders had toughened the soldiers to a flinty self-reliance that left many indifferent to the identity of their commander. [36] On the eve of battle they had a new commanding general and “they were almost within rifleshot of a supremely aggressive enemy…whatever happened during the next week, the one certainty was now that the soldiers themselves would run this next battle. The most that could be expected of Meade was that he would make no ruinous mistakes.” [37] It not only was an army with a new leader, but in its soul, the Army of the Potomac was a different army than Lee had ever faced.

Meade had an immense task to accomplish. When he went to bed on the night of the 27th he was unaware of the locations of the bulk of the Federal Army and knew that Lee was already deep in Pennsylvania. Meade was determined to bring Lee to battle was cautious as he did not want to take a chance of his forces being split up and defeated in detail.

With his assumption of command Meade had to make some organizational changes. Against the advice of some Meade kept General Daniel Butterfield as his Chief of Staff despite Butterfield’s close association with Hooker and his political cabal.  He appointed Major General George Sykes to command his old V Corps and wired Halleck with an “unheard of request: to promote in one jump three brilliant young officers from the rank of captain to that of brigadier general. They were Elon J. Farnsworth of the 8th Illinois Cavalry, George A Custer of the 5th United States Cavalry and Wesley Merritt of the 2nd United States Cavalry.” [38] Each was appointed to command brigades in Pleasanton’s Cavalry Corps which was being reorganized that day.

Meade had a great advantage over Lee in that Colonel George Sharpe of the Bureau of Military Information had provided him with the information that “the enemy force does not exceed 80,000 men and 275 guns,” as well as “a remarkably accurate outline of Lee’s movements.” [39] The information allowed Meade to begin his pursuit of Lee in earnest the following morning.

Meade knew that if he was to defeat Lee he had to concentrate his combat power. He wired Halleck that he would “move toward the Susquehanna keeping Baltimore and Washington well covered, and if the enemy is checked in his attempt to cross the Susquehanna or if he turns toward Baltimore, to give him battle.” [40] He prepared a fallback position along Pipe Creek and gave his Corps commanders permission to withdraw back to the Pipe Creek line outside Taneytown Maryland if they felt threatened by a larger Confederate force, and on the morning of June 29th the Army of the Potomac began to march north where it was fated to do battle with its old nemesis.

Any commander that embarks on a high risk offensive operation in enemy territory must do so with great care, especially in regard to command and control of his forces. This is especially true regarding reconnaissance. Lee had been operating blind for well over a week and this was his fault. Because Lee had issued such vague orders Stuart was well to the east conducting his ride around the Federal army and completely useless to Lee and now Lee was reaping the results of such carelessness and overconfidence. 

Though Lee still had three brigades of Stuart’s Cavalry Division available, none were in a position to assist his reconnaissance needs. Again blame for this has to be laid at the feet of Lee. Robertson’s and Jones’ brigades were still deep in Virginia guarding Snicker’s and Ashby’s Gap. Iboden’s Brigade was to the west at Hancock Maryland. Jenkins’ brigade, which was not a part of Stuart’s division, was far to the front with Ewell’s Corps. Had Robertson followed Stuart’s orders “Lee would not have felt the want of adequate cavalry support” [41] but since Robertson had remained stationary Lee had nothing available when he needed it.

In the case of the selection of Jones’ and Robertson’s brigades for the mission of screening Lee, Stuart made a critical mistake. Jones and Robertson both had serious deficiencies as leaders and proved that neither had Lee’s “confidence or understood his expectations…and Stuart badly misread the amount of personal connection his superior required.” [42] While Lee’s orders to Stuart allowed him to go off on his mission, Lee had plenty of cavalry available. However, he employed it in a woeful manner and did not take the steps necessary to ensure that the commanders assigned understood his expectations. This was another critical mistake made by Lee and as Alan T. Nolan wrote: “There seems to be no excuse for Lee’s finding himself at Chambersburg on the 28th without a single regiment of cavalry” [43] The tragic thing for the Confederacy was that Lee would make this same mistake in failing to communicate his intent with other subordinates throughout the campaign.

Late on the night of June 28th Lieutenant General James Longstreet “was woken by someone banging on his tent pole.” [44] It was the assistant Inspector General, Major John W. Fairfax who had with him a man claiming to have information on the movement and location of the Army of the Potomac. The man’s name was Harrison and he was an actor, employed by Longstreet as a “scout.” Harrison was one of those mysterious figures that occasionally show up in the context of a historical event and make it even more interesting.

Harrison brought word to Longstreet the news Hooker’s relief and replacement by Meade as well as the location of Federal Cavalry as well as the location of five of the Army of the Potomac’s seven army corps, all too close for comfort. Questioned about the location and activities of Stuart, Harrison could give no information. The news was electrifying and Longstreet immediately sent Fairfax with Harrison to Lee’s headquarters. Lee distrusted spies and was “very reluctant to make a move without confirmation of his cavalry.” [45] Lee was skeptical of the news and told Fairfax “I do not know what to do….I cannot hear from General Stuart, the eye of the army. What do you think of Harrison? I have no confidence in any scout, but General Longstreet thinks a good deal of Harrison.” [46]

Lee’s puzzlement at finding the federal army across the Potomac is curious as he had known as early as June 23rd of the pontoon bridge being built over the Potomac, but he seemed paralyzed by the absence of Stuart. The surprise of the Union Army being concentrated so near him took away Lee’s ability to retain the initiative of a campaign of maneuver. Because his army was so scattered he was now in danger of being hit and defeated in detail by the Federal army, “Meade, in short, might be able to do what he had planned to do to Hooker- defeat him in detail.” [47] It was a dangerous position for him to be in and he knew it. In a sense he was fortunate that on June 28th the Army of the Potomac was changing command and unable to strike while he was so vulnerable.

With the knowledge that the Federal army was near Lee acted with alacrity to concentrate his army in the Cashtown and Gettysburg area. “Within eight hours of Harrison’s report to Lee” [48] Lee had set in motion orders to all commands of his scattered army.  Lee still had “no idea of the whereabouts of the enemy’s forces beyond what Longstreet’s spy had just told him- information that was already twenty-four hours old,” and did have “any idea of how to remedy this intelligence gathering void.” [49] He knew precious little other than the fact that “Hooker’s army, now under Meade, was across the mountain from him and that it was Stuart who was still in Virginia,” [50] a fact he had learned from Captain James Power Smith who informed Lee that he had met two troopers of Stuart’s division who “casually told him that on the preceding day (Saturday the 27th) that they had left the main body of cavalry under Stuart in Prince William County back in northern Virginia. When Smith passed on this information, General Lee, he said, “was evidently surprised and disturbed.” [51]

Another consequence of his lack of available cavalry was that he had to leave Pickett’s division to guard the rear until Imboden’s cavalry could arrive to take up the task. The detention of Pickett’s division would be another unfortunate consequence of Stuart’s absence that would plague Lee during the battle, especially on July 2nd, when Longstreet’s corps would be without Pickett’s troops as they assaulted the Federal left.

On the afternoon of June 29th Lee met with a number of officers and his outward calm was still present. He told them “Tomorrow, gentlemen, we will not move to Harrisburg, as we expected, but will go over to Gettysburg and see what General Meade is after.” [52] When questioned by his subordinates about the relief of Hooker, and by his replacement by Lee’s former subordinate, Meade, Lee noted “General Meade will commit no blunder in my front, and if I make one he will make haste to take advantage of it.” [53]

Meade too had recognized the importance of Gettysburg and began to move his forces toward the town even as Lee gathered his army. He sent the evening of the 30th the 1st Cavalry Division under the command of Brigadier General John Buford, a seasoned Indian fighter and brigade commander conducting his first battle commanding a division ahead to Gettysburg. Meade then  “redirected the 1st, 3rd and 11th Corps north toward Emmitsburg and the Pennsylvania state line, and the 2nd, 5th, 6th and 12th Corps to the northeast toward Pipe Creek and Taneytown.” [54]

On the morning of June 30th, Buford detected Confederate infantry to the west of the town. Buford had a keen eye for terrain and instantly recognized that the area around Gettysburg was favorable ground. He knew that the battle was to be there and sent word back to John Reynolds, commander of I Corps:

“Have Occupied Gettysburg. Contacted large force of Reb infantry. I think they are coming this way. Expect they will be here in force in the morning.”[55]

[1] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command A Touchstone Book, Simon and Shuster New York 1968 p. 180

[2] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 p.226

[3] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.67

[4] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.455

[5] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.445

[6] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His Critics Brassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.140

[7] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.446

[8] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee an abridgment by Richard Harwell, Touchstone Books, New York 1997 p.320

[9] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.123

[10] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 p.267

[11] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.446

[12] Huntington, Tom Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2013 p.145

[13] Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.147

[14] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.266

[15] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg, A Testing of Courage Harper Collins, New York, 2003. p.102

[16] Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.148

[17] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.451

[18] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.89

[19] Hebert, Walter H. Fighting Joe Hooker University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1999. Originally published by Bobbs-Merrill, New York 1944 p. 246

[20] Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.149

[21] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.246

[22] Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.150

[23] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.89

[24] Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.149

[25] Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.150

[26] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.257

[27] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.88

[28] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.90

[29] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.185

[30] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.90

[31] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.267

[32] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.268

[33] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.267

[34] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.652

[35] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.454

[36] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.652

[37] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac p.259

[38] Ibid. Coddington p.220

[39] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, A Testing of Courage p.106

[40] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command pp. 219-220

[41] Ibid. The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.184

[42] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, A Testing of Courage. p.69

[43] Nolan, Alan T. R.E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in The First Day at Gettysburg, Gallagher, Gary W. Editor, Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p. 20

[44] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.542

[45] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.231

[46] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.320

[47] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two pp.462-463

[48] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p. 463

[49] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.124

[50] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.49

[51] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.48

[52] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.321

[53] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.321

[54] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.115-116

[55] Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels. Ballantine Books, New York. 1974 p.40

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“Can You Tell Me Where General Stuart Is?” JEB Stuart’s Ride

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While the embattled Hooker slowly pursued Lee with the Army of the Potomac drama of major significance to the battle Robert E. Lee’s own making was beginning to engulf his operations and leave him blind to the movements of the Federal Army. It was the first of a number of mistakes that would characterize his campaign almost all dealing with his singular inability to get his commanders to understand his intent. The necessity of subordinate commanders understanding the intent of their superior is essential to the success of any military operation and Lee failed miserably at this during the Gettysburg campaign.

After the surprise at Brandy Station Stuart’s troopers screened the right flank of the army as it moved north, defending the gaps in the Blue Ridge to keep Pleasanton’s cavalry from interdicting the march or discovering the location of Lee’s infantry corps. In this he was successful. Between June 17th and June 21st his troopers fought a series of engagements at Ashby’s Gap, Middleburg and Upperville. While Stuart’s troopers had held off Pleasanton the “running combats were taking a toll on the Southern mounted arm, however. Stuart had already suffered several hundred casualties defending gaps and passes.” [1] The Confederates also noted the improvements in the Federal cavalry during these battles. Captain William Blackford, who served as an engineer on Stuart’s staff noted:

“the improvement of enemy cavalry was enormous, mainly in the heavy fire from long range carbines, and horse artillery that was a match for Stuart’s own These cavalrymen fought as if they had been taken from infantry regiments, for they knew how to fight with horses left behind.” [2]

Unlike the rest of the army which was now marching into Pennsylvania and Maryland, Stuart’s Cavalry Division had little cause to rejoice. They had been surprised at Brandy Station and Stuart had been humiliated in the Southern press. The Federal cavalry under Pleasanton gave him no opportunity to redeem himself. While Pleasanton’s troopers never broke through Stuart’s screen, they had pressed him hard, and his division was “really fought out during those two weeks from June 9 until the misty morning of June 22….Not only had Stuart’s cavalry been pressed on the defensive as never before, but also they had not been able to gain a spot of information about the enemy.” [3] Pleasanton’s troopers and proven that the days of “easy Confederate cavalry triumphs were gone,” [4] and Stuart “smarting over the cuts to his ego, refused to read the portents.” [5]

Stuart had been fighting defensively the entire campaign, but desperately wanted to go on the offensive. As his troops battled at Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville, Stuart formulated a plan which he submitted to Lee. Stuart reasoned now that “all the infantry were west of the Blue Ridge…that it would be possible to leave one or two brigades of cavalry to defend the gaps and with the remaining three to descend on the enemy and harass Hooker in any advance into Pennsylvania.” [6]

On the morning of the 22nd of June Stuart noticed that the Federal cavalry which had engaged him at Upperville the previous day was no longer present. That morning he also received an order from Lee that was the first of a series of vague, poorly written and contradictory orders that was to plague the campaign. Unlike his new infantry corps commanders, Ewell and Hill, Stuart was very familiar with Robert E. Lee’s method of command, and Lee had “so much faith in Stuart’s judgment and ability to make the right moves that after indicating his wishes he gave him considerable latitude in carrying them out. His orders were more suggestions than commands….” [7] However well that may have worked for Lee in the past with Jackson and Stuart, the nature of Lee’s orders to Stuart, being conditional, needed to clearly address “the conditions upon which they are based.” [8] This Lee did not do. His order read:

“I judge the efforts of the enemy yesterday were to arrest our progress and ascertain our whereabouts. Perhaps he is satisfied. Do you know where he is and what he is doing? I fear he will steal a march on us and get across the Potomac before we are aware. If you find that he is moving northward and that two brigades can guard the Blue Ridge and take care of your rear, you can move with the other three into Maryland and take position on General Ewell’s right, place yourself in communication with him, guard his flank, keep him informed of the enemy’s movements and collect all the supplies you can….” [9]

Longstreet, who Stuart was cooperating with on the northward march, added his own comments to Lee’s instruction which even further clouded the order:

General Lee has enclosed this letter for you, to be forwarded to you, provided you can be spared from my front, and provided I think that you can move across the Potomac without disclosing our plans. He speaks of your leaving via the Hopewell Gap and passing by the rear of the enemy. If you can get through by that route I think that you will be less likely to indicate what our plans are than if you should be passing to our rear. I forward the letter of instructions with these suggestions. Please advise me of the condition of affairs before you leave, and order General Hampton, whom I suppose will leave here in command, to report to me at Millwood, either by letter or in person, as may be most agreeable to him.” [10]  

stuartsridemap

Stuart was already planning his offensive which he believed would restore his glory. He had sent Major John Mosby with a small detachment of troops to reconnoiter behind the Union lines. Mosby reported the location of all the infantry corps of the Army of the Potomac. Mosby reported to Stuart on June 23rd that the Federal corps were stationary and “were so widely separated…that a column of cavalry could easily get between them.” [11] It was news that Stuart was delighted to hear. Mosby painted a glowing picture of how an operation using the Hopewell Gap could create havoc in the Federal rear and cause panic in Washington as he could “severe communications between Hooker and Pleasanton, destroy a “large portion” of Hooker’s transportation, and take some of the pressure off Lee by creating a diversion for the Union cavalry.” [12]

The inactivity of the Federal army reported by Mosby was exactly the news Stuart wanted to hear, and he asked Lee for permission to plunge into the Federal rear, and in his after action report wrote:

“I submitted to the commanding general the plan of leaving a brigade or so in my present front, and passing through Hopewell, or some other gap in Bull Run Mountain, attaining the enemy’s rear, and passing between his main body and Washington, to cross into Maryland and joining our army north of the Potomac.” [13]

Lee noted that “Upon the suggestion of the former officer (General Stuart) that he could damage the enemy and delay his passage of the river by getting to his rear, he was authorized to do so.” [14] In his after action report of the campaign Lee wrote:

“General Stuart was left to guard the passes of the mountains and observe the movements of the enemy, whom he was instructed to impede and harass as much as possible, should he attempt to cross the Potomac. In that event, General Stuart was directed to move into Maryland, crossing the Potomac east or west of the Blue Ridge, as, in his judgment, should be best, and take position on the right of our column as it advanced.” [15]

That night, during a heavy rainstorm Stuart’s chief of staff Major McClellan received Lee’s reply to his superior’s request which he immediately delivered to Stuart. Lee’s stated:

“If General Hooker’s army remains inactive, you can leave two brigades to watch him, and withdraw with three others, but should he not appear to be moving northward, I think you had better withdraw this side of the mountains tomorrow night, cross as  Shepherdstown next day, and move over to Frederickstown.

You will, however, be able to judge whether you can pass around their army without hindrance, doing them all the damage you can, and cross the river east of the mountains. In either case, after crossing the river, you must move on and feel the right of Ewell’s troops, collecting information, provisions, etc.” [16]

However, the orders or suggestions that Lee and Longstreet gave Stuart “are so badly worded that it is difficult to make sense of them.” [17]  Lee should have “established that Stuart’s most important task was to guard Ewell’s right and report on the direction of Hooker’s advance once Lee crossed the Potomac.” [18] This he did not do. Instead, Stuart was directed maintain contact with Ewell, screen the Blue Ridge gaps, collecting information, “raiding around the rear of Hooker’s forces” [19] damaging the enemy and collecting supplies.

Lee’s lack of clarity and vagueness allowed to Stuart interpret the order in a manner that benefited him. The order could easily be interpreted as getting Stuart and his men into Pennsylvania as quickly as possible to guard Ewell’s flank and discern the intentions of the enemy, which in hindsight appears to be Lee’s intent, or as permission to conduct a raid “roam in the enemy’s rear for an unpredictable period of time, raising havoc with his communications, supplies, and isolated commands” and then “seek out Ewell’s corps and use it as a place of refuge from an aroused enemy.” [20]

The fact is that different standards apply to each of those courses of action and orders must be clear, otherwise subordinates may interpret them in a far different manner, with far reaching effects, than the commander issuing them intended. But, by giving Stuart the latitude to go around the Federal army Lee had undercut his own preference that Stuart cross into Maryland via Shepherdstown and Frederick on June 24th. Lee had provided Stuart an opportunity for something that “Longstreet half-apologetically called “something better than the drudgery of a march around our flank.” [21] It was a critical mistake, which was then further compounded by Stuart and the movement of the Army of the Potomac.

Stung by the criticism of his conduct of the Battle of Brandy Station in the Southern press and frustrated by Pleasanton’s constant thrusts Stuart interpreted the orders in the manner that appealed to Stuart’s sense of glory. He would repeat his triumph of the previous year when he rode around the Army of the Potomac. For Stuart this was a chance to regain the limelight and add to his luster. Stuart “summed up his interpretation of his orders when he said later: …it was deemed practicable to move entirely in the enemy’s rear, intercepting his communications with his base (Washington), and, inflicting damage upon his rear, to rejoin the army in Pennsylvania in time to participate in its actual conflicts.” [22]

Historians have long wondered why Lee was not more explicit in his orders to Stuart and why Stuart conducted an operation that left Lee blind and had no obvious advantages, except to allow Stuart to recover his tarnished reputation. Stephen Sears noted in his book Gettysburg that: “The very concept of Stuart’s expedition was fueled by overconfidence and misjudgment at the highest command level.” [23] In a sense the decision harkens back to the hubris of Lee and others about the superiority of his army, and Lee’s distain for the Federal army.

In organizing his movement, decided to take his three best brigades with him, and leave the brigades of “Grumble” Jones and Beverly Robertson to defend gaps and screen the rear of the army. The choice was unfortunate; Robertson was unpredictable and was “senior to the dependable Jones” [24] who was considered the “best outpost officer in his command.” [25] The choice ridded Stuart of Robertson, who he did not trust in battle and Jones “whose antipathy for Stuart at least equaled Stuart’s for him.” [26] The intent was that Robertson would screen the army and follow it into Maryland, in fact Stuart gave Robertson “explicit instructions” [27] to do so, but instead “the two brigades would remain fixed, as if planted there, in an inanition of command which immobilized the men for whom Lee in Pennsylvania was anxiously watching.” [28] Longstreet had requested the industrious and dependable Hampton command the remain cavalry, but Stuart disregarded his counsel

Stuart set off with his three best brigades, Wade Hampton’s, Fitzhugh Lee’s, and Rooney Lee’s now, with Lee wounded was under the command of Colonel John R. Chambliss, another former West Pointer retired from the old army. Almost immediately after setting off Stuart and his brigades encountered a situation that should have immediately stopped movement to the Federal rear and instead move west of the Blue Ridge. Moving through Glasscock’s Gap they “bumped unexpectedly into “an immense wagon train,” which happened to be the tail end of Winfield Hancock’s 2nd Corps, blocking the road in exactly the fashion Lee had described as a hindrance.” [29] Instead of going back when he had the chance Stuart elected to continue with his “plan to go around the Federal army. It was a crucial decision, for he still could have turned back without losing any more time.” [30] Stuart had to spend a day grazing his horses since he had no grain with him, delaying his advance north and east, placing him a day behind schedule and though he made better time on the 26th, advancing twenty-five miles he had to again stop to graze his horses at the Occoquan River. It had “taken forty-eight hours to march thirty-five miles.” [31]

Stuart continued on past the outskirts of Washington on June 27th and was again delayed when attempting to cross the Potomac at Rowser’s Ford by the “water level two feet higher than normal.” [32] He then encountered a large Federal wagon train not far from Washington capturing over 100 wagons and 600 mules. He reveled in that feat and boasted that “he had taken more than one hundred and twenty-five best United States model wagons and splendid teams and gay caparisons,” containing “foodstuffs, oats, hay…bacon, ham, crackers and bread” but his progress was slowed by his enormous wagon train of captured supplies…” [33] He and briefly wondered “whether it might be worth “our entering Washington City” [34] before determining that the effort might be too costly.

On June 28th, Stuart received word that Hooker was across the Potomac and by now Stuart “knew nothing of Lee’s position,[35] and instead of abandoning the wagon train he sacrificed speed and mobility to keep it. Now, “far from guarding Ewell’s right, he was now moving away from Ewell, with no idea where Hooker’s army might be and no communication with Lee, who frequently inquiring of his aides, “Can you tell me where General Stuart is?” [36]

On the wrong side of the federal army, encumbered by the captured wagon train, “Stuart would have to make a half circle of more than fifty miles around Gettysburg before arriving there about noon on the second day of battle with most of his troopers, his artillery, and his wagon train lumbering far behind him.” [37] On June 30th his men were engaged by Judson Kilpatrick’s Federal near cavalry division near Hanover, and “his men never fought more poorly…and General Stuart and his staff were nearly captured.” [38] By the time Stuart’s troopers arrived in Gettysburg, the once proud outfit was “exhausted and too late to be of any service.” [39] His arrival at Gettysburg was not a moment of triumph, but was humiliating. Instead of reporting to his commander with information that Lee needed, it was Lee who informed him of the position of his own army and the Army of the Potomac. Lee’s words to his much beloved subordinate were painful. He asked him “General Stuart, where have you been?” [40] Stuart seemed to wilt at his mentor’s words, and attempted to put the best face forward, and told Lee “I have brought you 125 wagons and their teams, General,” to which Lee replied “Yes, General, but they are an impediment to me now.” [41]

Stuart’s raid was disastrous for Lee. He was blind and had no idea where the Federal army was until told by Longstreet’s scout Harrison on June 28th. It was “an act of folly- ill-planned, badly conducted, and (until the very end) executed with an almost total disregard for anything for any interest other than the self-promotion of J.E.B. Stuart.” [42]

To this point a number of issues important to those involved in planning campaigns became clear: Deception, commander’s intent and unity of command. Lee successfully used deception to prevent the Federals from discerning his purposes. That was counteracted by his lack of clarity in communicating his intent to Stuart, and Stuart’s careless disregard of any other consideration but his own reputation and vanity.

[1] Petruzzi, J. David and Stanley, Steven The Gettysburg Campaign in Numbers and Losses: Synopses, Orders of Battle, Strengths, Casualties and Maps, June 9 – July 1, 1863 Savas Beatie LLC, El Dorado Hills CA 2012 p.41

[2] Davis, Burke J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier Random House, New York 1957 pp.319-320

[3] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.57

[4] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 p.553

[5] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.57

[6] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.553

[7] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.108

[8] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.108

[9] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier p.321

[10] Oates, Willam C. and Haskell, Frank A. Gettysburg: The Confederate and Union Views of the Most Decisive Battle of the War in One Volume Bantam Books edition, New York 1992, originally published in 1905 p.61

[11] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.109

[12] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.109

[13] McClellan, Henry Brainerd The Life and Campaigns of Major General J.E.B. Stuart Commander of the Cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia 1885. Digital edition copyright 2011 Strait Gate Publications, Charlotte NC Location 6087

[14] Ibid. McClellan The Life and Campaigns of Major General J.E.B. Stuart location 6106

[15] Lee, Robert E. Reports of Robert E Lee, C.S. Army, Commanding Army of Northern Virginia Campaign Report Dated January 20th 1864. Amazon Kindle Edition location 285

[16] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier p.324

[17] Fuller, J.F.C. Decisive Battles of the U.S.A. 1776-1918 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 2007 copyright 1942 The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals p.226

[18] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.540

[19] Ibid Korda Clouds of Glory p.540

[20] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.110

[21] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.96

[22] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.555

[23] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg, Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 2003 p.106

[24] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.63

[25] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier p.324

[26] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.63

[27] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.112

[28] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.63

[29] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.96

[30] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.112

[31] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier p.325

[32] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.112

[33] Ibid Korda Clouds of Glory p.541

[34] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.98

[35] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier p.325

[36] Ibid Korda Clouds of Glory p.541

[37] Ibid Korda Clouds of Glory p.541

[38] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.73

[39] Ibid. Fuller Decisive Battles of the U.S.A. 1776-1918 p.227

[40] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier p.334

[41] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier p.334

[42] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.98

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Remembering the Sacrifice: A Weekend in Gettysburg

Gettysburg_Unknowns.JPG

I am on the way home from Gettysburg with my students after concluding the second day of our Staff Ride. As always it has been a really good experience. We concluded the event by going to the Soldier’s Cemetary, which is located on the western section of Cemetary Hill. It is the place that Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg address as well as the final resting place of many of the Union soldiers who died during the battle or shortly thereafter from their wounds. Many of these men are unknowns. They are buried in sections which simply note how many unknown soldiers are in that section, and each of these graves is marked by a small stone engraved with a number.

I strongly believe that all citizens should have to make a pilgrimage to Gettysburg. I do not limit this belief to the military professionals who have to prepare for war and fight it when it breaks out, like the men and women of my class. But I  especially believe others need to walk the battlefield and be taught by someone that can put the events of the battle into proper perspective. This includes the politicians and policy makers that get us into wars, the think tank wonks and business leaders who profit from war, and the pundits and preachers who stir up the passions of people to support war, need to walk the battlefield.

Guy Sager wrote in his book The Forgotton Soldier:

“Too many people learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. They read about Verdun or Stalingrad without comprehension, sitting in a comfortable armchair, with their feet beside the fire, preparing to go about their business the next day, as usual…One should read about war standing up, late at night, when one is tired, as I am writing about it now, at dawn, while my asthma attack wears off. And even now, in my sleepless exhaustion, how gentle and easy peace seems!”

The same is true today. Too many people, especially those with “no skin in the game” eagerly urge the President to throw U.S. Military power into conflicts that have little chance of being solved by the application of that power. To me it seems like the lives of our military personnel are cheap for many people, especially the politicians, pundits and preachers; but also the war profiteers, while most citizens are apathetic at best, as bumper sticker patriotism is easy.

Basically this is because for most people war is remote from their lives. The military is a voluntary organization with comparatively stringent standards required for enlistees. Even at the peak of our Iraq-Afghanistan wartime strength under one percent of the population actually served in the military. So when I hear people yammering about committing troops to places that many citizens, including the politicians, pundits and preachers, cannot even find on a map, with no plan or purpose once we commit ourselves to war, I get spun up.

For me Gettysburg, and many other battlefields are powerful reminders of the cost of war. They are also reminders of the grave responsibility of those who take a nation into war or who counsel leaders to go to war, responsibilities that many people seem to take lightly. I think that those with that responsibility, which in a democracy is all of us, need that reminder and most of us don’t get it.

Since so few citizens actually serve in the military, I think that everyone should spend two or three days walking that battlefield and learn the lessons as they stand in the elements, exposed to whatever the weather gods can throw at them. People should learn the lessons when they are tired and uncomfortable. This weekend the weather was very similar to what the men than fought at Gettysburg experienced, it was warm and humid, and walking across the field that Pickett’s soldiers advanced, or over the craggy rocks of Little Round Top gave us an appreciation for what those soldiers experienced, without the shooting and death.

As I walked the cemetary with my students spent some time talking about the number of casulaties incurred at Gettysburg, because there is a real flesh and blood cost associated with war, it’s not like the movies or a video game.

Abraham Lincoln reminded the nation of that cost, and the responsibility of the nation, when he spoke “a few words” following the main speech dedicating the Soldier’s Cemetary. Those immortal words are known as the Gettysburg Address. I read them to my students as I dispatched them to walk around the cemetary, and I post them here as well:

 “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. 

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like it when soldiers die in vain.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Lee Moves North, Army Politics & the Relief of “Fighting Joe” Hooker

hooker

Major General Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker

Friends: This is a major revision of the two part “Lee Moves North” that I put out Monday and Tuesday. I depart tomorrow with my students for our Gettysburg Staff Ride and in this revision I concentrate a lot more on the impact of “Fighting Joe” Hooker on the Army of the Potomac, the “General’s Revolts” that afflicted it and the events leading to Hookers relief during the Gettysburg campaign.

All are very important parts of the story, for despite his personal failings as a commander Hooker set his successors up for success and renewed the spirit of the army through some great reforms which impacted the personal welfare, health, moral and training of his soldiers. His organizational and administrative reforms, which created the Cavalry Corps, the Bureau of Military Information (Intelligence) and more effective medical, sanitary and logistical organizations, set him apart in ways that we often fail to appreciate.

I have taken the time to go into those topics because they have a major effect on the Union victory at Gettysburg. Hooker is a far more complex figure than we often give him credit for; he was a man of brilliance and bravery who had many major character flaws. Likewise I discuss other key figures, men also with feet of clay; J.E.B Stuart, Richard Ewell, Henry Halleck figuring prominently among them.

I think that putting them in this chapter makes the examination of Lee’s movement and the Federal pursuit more pertinent to us as leaders, because the things that Hooker does, for good and bad are issues that military, political and even business or non-profit leaders face. The additions of these parts of the story are important because they show the complexity of flawed people having to make major decisions, in crisis that impact the lives of all of us.

Movement to attain operational reach and maneuver are two critical factors in joint operations. In the time since the American Civil War the distances that forces move to engage the enemy, or maneuver to employ fires to destroy his forces have greatly increased. Movement may be part of an existing Campaign Plan or Contingency Plan developed at Phase 0; it also may be part of a crisis action plan developed in the midst of a campaign. Lee’s movement to get to Gettysburg serves as an example of the former, however, since his forces were already in contact with the Army of the Potomac along the Rappahannock and he was reacting to what he felt was a strategic situation that could not be changed but by going on the offensive that it has the feel of a Crisis Action Plan. Within either context other factors come into play: clarity of communications and orders, security, intelligence, logistics and even more importantly the connection between operational movement and maneuver; the Center of Gravity of the enemy, and national strategy. Since we have already discussed how Lee and the national command authority of the Confederacy got to this point we will discuss the how that decision played in the operational and tactical decisions of Lee and his commanders as the Army of Northern Virginia began the summer campaign and the corresponding actions of Joseph Hooker and the his superiors in Washington.

In the case of Hooker, far more than issues of strategy or operations were involved. Politics, personal rivalries and the personal insecurity of an Army commander played a big role in the drama that engulfed the Army of the Potomac as it pursued Lee’s Army. Additionally the ethics of the leaders involved, especially that of the generals of the Army of the Potomac during their “General’s Revolts” against McClellan, Burnside and Hooker had a major impact on the campaign. These factors all impacted Joe Hooker’s ability to command his army. They affected his relationships with his superiors and subordinates alike, and demonstrate how interconnected all of these elements are in the context of leading, campaigning and conducting the business of war.

“One of the fine arts of the military craft is disengaging one’s army from a guarding army without striking sparks and igniting battle.” [1] On June 3rd 1863 Robert E Lee began to move his units west, away from Fredericksburg to begin his campaign to take the war to the North. He began his exfiltration moving Second Corps under Richard Ewell and First Corps under James Longstreet west “up the south bank of the Rappahannock to Culpepper, near which Hood and Pickett had been halted on their return from Suffolk.” [2] Rodes’ division of Second Corps followed on June 4th with Anderson and Early on June 5th. Lee left the three divisions of A.P. Hill’s Third Corps at Fredericksburg to guard against any sudden advance by Hooker’s Army of the Potomac toward Richmond. Lee instructed Hill to “do everything possible “to deceive the enemy, and keep him in ignorance of any change in the disposition of the army.” [3]

The army was tremendously confident as it marched away from the war ravaged, dreary and desolate battlefields along the Rappahannock “A Captain in the 1st Virginia averred, “Never before has the army been in such a fine condition, so well disciplined and under such complete control.” [4] Porter Alexander wrote that he felt “pride and confidence…in my splendid battalion, as it filed out of the field into the road, with every chest & and ammunition wagon filled, & and every horse in fair order, & every detail fit for a campaign.” [5] Another officer wrote to his father, “I believe there is a general feeling of gratification in the army at the prospect of active operations.” [6]

Lee’s plan was to “shift two-thirds of his army to the northwest and past Hooker’s flank, while A.P. Hill’s Third Corps remained entrenched at Fredericksburg to observe Hooker and perhaps fix him in place long enough for the army to gain several marches on the Federals.” [7] In an organizational and operational sense that Lee’s army after as major of battle as Chancellorsville “was able to embark on such an ambitious flanking march to the west and north around the right of the army of the Potomac….” [8]

However, Lee’s movement did not go unnoticed; Hooker’s aerial observers in their hot air balloons “were up and apparently spotted the movement.” [9] But Hooker was unsure what it meant. He initially suspected that “Lee intended to turn the right flank of the Union army as he had done in the Second Bull Run Campaign, either by interposing his army between Washington and the Federals or by crossing the Potomac River.” [10] Lee halted at Culpepper from which he “could either march westward over the Blue Ridge or, if Hooker moved, recontract at the Rappahannock River.” [11]

“Fighting Joe” Hooker had been in command of the Army of the Potomac about five months, assuming command from Burnside, who Lincoln had relieved after that general had demanded the wholesale firing of ten generals from the army of the Potomac, including Hooker. Hooker was a graduate of West Point, class of 1837 and veteran of the Mexican War. However, he was not well regarded by many of his peers. “While on Garrison duty in California in the 1850s, he cultivated “bad habits and excesses”- too much liquor, and too many women. He left the army, failed at business, and amassed gambling debts and legal problems.” [12]

When war came Hooker managed to obtain an appointment as a Brigadier General of volunteers over the objections of General Winfield Scott from McClellan. He was a “capable commander and brave soldier” [13] but Hooker worked shamelessly against previous army commanders, including George McClellan, who he owed his appointment as a Brigadier General in the Regular Army. Hooker was “a strikingly handsome man” with “erect soldierly bearing…” but he was also “arrogant and stubborn, more than willing to work behind the scenes to advance himself, and reputed to have a headquarters that Charles Francis Adams Jr. described as “a combination barroom and brothel.” [14] The commander of XII Corps, Henry Slocum had “no faith whatever in Hooke’s ability as a military man, in his integrity or honor.” [15] However, George Meade was more circumspect, and wrote to his wife “He is a very good soldier, capital general for an army corps, but I am not prepared to say as to his abilities for carrying out a campaign and commanding a large army. I should fear his judgment and prudence…” [16]

Hooker genuinely believed in his abilities and much of the “criticism which he so freely bestowed on his superiors came simply because his professional competence was outraged by the blunders that he had to witness.[17] But his enemies, “there would be a host of them- regarded him as “thoroughly unprincipled.” Hooker was driven by an “all consuming” ambition and undoubted self-confidence…. War intoxicated hi m and offered salvation for a troubled life. As a gambler he liked the odds.” [18]

During the war Hooker used the media to shamelessly promote his image and “deliberately played up to the press to swell his image as a stern, remorseless campaigner, and he reveled in the nickname the newspapers happily bestowed on him, “Fighting Joe.” [19] However, he would later express his “deep regret that it was ever applied to him. “People will think that I am a highwayman or bandit,” he said; when in fact he was one of the most kindly and tender-hearted of men.” [20]

But Hooker was not just disrespectful of his military superiors, but also of Abraham Lincoln who he told reporters after Fredericksburg “was an imbecile for keeping Burnside on but also in his own right, and that the administration itself “was all played out.” What the country needed was a dictator….” [21] Hooker was an intriguer for sure but unlike many generals who did so anonymously, he was open and public going before the “Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War investigating Fredericksburg” [22] where he not only provided damning testimony against Burnside, but against potential rivals.

When Lincoln appointed him, he gave Hooker a letter unique in American military history. In it Lincoln lectured Hooker as to his conduct while under the command of Burnside, “and just how much he disapproved of the unbounded ambition Hooker had displayed in Undercutting Burnside.” [23] In the letter and during his meeting with Hooker Lincoln laid out his expectations, as well as concerns that he had for him in his new command:

“you may have taken counsel of your ambition, and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country.” Continuing: “I have heard, in such a way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the Army and the government needed a Dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you command. Only those generals who gain successes, can set up dictators. What I ask now is military success, and I will risk dictatorship.” [24] However, Lincoln pledged his support to Hooker saying “The government will support you to the utmost of its ability” but warned “I much fear the spirit which you have aided to infuse into the army, of criticizing their commander and withholding confidence in him, will now turn upon you. I shall assist you as far as I can to put it down. Neither you, nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of an army while such a spirit prevails in it.” [25]

Never before or since has an officer been given such responsibility by a President who recognized the man’s qualities, in this case a fighting spirit, as well as his personal vices, and shortcomings in character. Lincoln finished the latter with the admonition “And now, beware of rashness. Beware of rashness, but with energy and sleepless vigilance go forward and give us victories.” [26]

Hooker’s reaction to the letter was an interesting commentary to say the least. He recalled a few days later that, when he read it he “informed him personally of the great value I placed on the letter notwithstanding his erroneous views of myself, and that sometime I intended to have it framed and posted in some conspicuous place for the benefit of those who might come after men.” [27] Hooker was certainly sincere in this as he not only preserved it but ensured that it was published.

Despite the misgivings of the President and many of his peers, Hooker began a turnaround in the army that changed it for the better. At the beginning of his tenure he inspired confidence among his troops. He reorganized the Cavalry Corps and instituted reforms. Hooker discarded Burnside’s failed “Grand Division” organization and returned to the corps system. He was aided by experienced Corps commanders who had earned their promotions in combat and not due to political patronage, even the political animal Dan Sickles of III Corps had shown his abilities as a leader and commander, gone were the last remnants of McClellan’s regime.

Despite the many positives gained during the reorganization, Hooker made one significant mistake during the reorganization which hurt him at Chancellorsville, he decided to “strip General Hunt of command of the artillery and restrict him to purely administrative duties…he had restored Hunt to command the night of May 3 after the Confederates had driven him out of Chancellorsville,” ensuring that “The advantages traditionally possessed by the Union artillery in the quality of its material and cannon disappeared in this battle through Hooker’s inept handling of his forces.” [28]

Hooker was popular with the men as he conducted reforms which improved their lives. “He took immediate steps to cashier corrupt quartermasters, improve food, clean up the camps and hospitals, grant furloughs, and instill unit pride by creating insignia badges for each corps…Sickness declined, desertions dropped, and a grant of amnesty brought back many AWOLs back into the ranks.” [29] Additionally “paydays were reestablished and new clothing issued…. Boards of inspection searched out and dismissed incompetent officers.[30]

But nothing impacted morale more that his order that “soft bread would henceforth be issued to the troops four times a week. Fresh potatoes and onions were to be issued twice a week, and desiccated vegetables once a week.” [31] The impact of the army commander actually caring for his troops was singularly important and far reaching. One officer wrote home “His ‘soft bead’ order reaches us in a tender spot….” [32] Regimental commanders were ordered to ensure that “regular company cooks went to work, and if there were no company cooks they were instructed to create some, so that the soldier could get some decent meals in place of the intestine-destroying stuff he cooked for himself.” [33] Hooker announced “My men shall eat before I am fed, and before my officers are fed” and he clearly meant it.” [34]

Additionally Hooker reformed training in the army. He knew that bored soldiers were their own worst enemy, and instituted a stringent training regimen that paid dividends on the battlefield. “From morning to night the drill fields rumbled with the tramp of many feet. Officers went to school evenings and the next day went out to maneuver companies, regiments, brigades, and divisions in the tactics just studied.” [35]

Hooker ridded himself of the last vestiges of McClellan’s reliance on the Pinkerton detective agency for his intelligence and created a “Bureau of Military Intelligence, led by Colonel George Sharpe” who “built a network of spies, who soon supplied Hooker with accurate information on Lee’s numerical strength and the unit composition of the Confederate army.” [36] He also reorganized and systematized the Medical department, and “placed it under the supervision of the competent medical director Dr. Jonathan Letterman.” [37]

It was a remarkable turnaround which even impressed his soldiers, his critics, and enemies and his enemies alike. Within weeks, “sick rolls had been reduced, and by April, scurvy had virtually disappeared. A veteran contended that Hooker “is a good man to feed an army for we have lived in the best since he took command that we ever did since we have been in the army.” [38] Darius Couch of Second Corps, who later resigned and became Hooker’s arch-enemy, wrote that Hooker had, “by adopting vigorous measures stopped the almost wholesale desertions, and infused new life and discipline into the army.” [39]

After the disaster at Chancellorsville Hooker was not the same. During that battle it was as if he was two persons. During the campaign Hooker had: “planned his campaign like a master and carried out the first half with great skill, and then when the pinch came he simply folded up. There had been no courage in him, no life, no spark; during most of the battle the army had to all intents and purposes had no commander at all.” [40] Hooker, a slave to his vanity had little capacity for reflection and blamed various corps commanders for the defeat, refusing to take any responsibility for it. Years later, Hooker when asked about the defeat, “knew a rare moment of humility and remarked, “Well, to tell the truth, I just lost confidence in Joe Hooker.” [41]

As such just as Lincoln had predicted there were many, both in the army and without who were clamoring for Hooker’s relief, especially after Hooker refused to take the blame for the defeat and instead blamed his subordinates. The blowback was fierce “the army high command took offense and closed ranks against the general commanding,” [42] and the “dissension between Hooker and his senior generals seethed for weeks.” [43]

Henry_Halleck_by_Scholten,_c1865

Major General Henry Halleck

Halleck, who came to the army’s base at Falmouth to assess the army in wake of the defeat, “set the conspirators to work…called the corps commanders into counsel” and “learned of the great dissatisfaction among the higher officers….” [44] Hooker now found that the same knives which he had used on Burnside, “were now turned on him.” [45] Henry Slocum of XII Corps “went among his fellow corps commanders proposing a coup- a petition the president then and there to dismiss Hooker and put George Gordon Meade, commander of the Fifth Corps in his place” [46] but Meade balked at the idea. Lincoln had heard so much dissention that he wrote Hooker to warn him “that some of your Corps and Division Commanders are not giving you their entire confidence.” [47]

Such activities led to discussions at the White House to see if a new commander should lead the Army of the Potomac. Lincoln did interview John Reynolds of I Corps in early June to see if he wound take command, and Reynolds reportedly turned Lincoln down. Others were approached as well, and some officers even lobbied for the return of McClellan. Under this cloud Hooker went into the Gettysburg campaign.

Hooker telegraphed Lincoln and Halleck on June 5th and requested permission to advance cross the river and told Lincoln that “I am of opinion that it is my duty to pitch into his rear” [48] possibly to threaten Richmond. Lincoln ordered Hooker to put the matter to Halleck, with whom Hooker was on the worst possible terms. Hooker “pressed Halleck to allow him to cross the Rappahannock in force, overwhelming whatever rebel force had been left at Fredericksburg, and then lunging down the line of the Virginia Central toward an almost undefended Richmond.” [49] On the morning of June 6th 1863 Hooker ordered pontoon bridges thrown across the river and sent a division of Sedgwick’s VI Corps to conduct a reconnaissance in force against Hill.

Lincoln and Halleck immediately rejected Hooker’s request. Lincoln “saw the flaw in Hooker’s plan at once” [50] and replied in a very blunt manner: “In one word,” he wrote “I would not take any risk of being entangled upon the river, like an ox jumped half over a fence and liable to be torn by dogs front and rear, without a fair chance to gore one way or kick another.” [51] Halleck replied to Hooker shortly after Lincoln that it would “seem perilous to permit Lee’s main force to move upon the Potomac [River] while your army is attacking an intrenched position on the other side of the Rappahannock.” [52] Lincoln, demonstrating a keen regard for the actual center of gravity of the campaign, told Hooker plainly that “I think Lee’s army and not Richmond, is your objective point.” [53]

The fears of Lincoln and Halleck were well founded. In stopping at Culpepper Lee retained the option of continuing his march to the Shenandoah and the Potomac, or he could rapidly “recall his advanced columns, hammer at Hooker’s right flank, and very possibly administer another defeat even more demoralizing than the one he suffered at Chancellorsville.” [54] Hooker heeded the order and while Hooker maintained his bridgehead over the Rappahannock he made no further move against Hill’s well dug in divisions.

CWP015

Major General J.E.B. Stuart

Meanwhile, J.E.B. Stuart and his Cavalry Corps had been at Brandy Station near Culpepper for two weeks. Culpepper in June was a paradise for the cavalry, and with nearly 10,000 troopers gathered Stuart ordered a celebration, many dignitaries were invited and on June 4th Stuart hosted a grand ball in the county courthouse. On the 5th Stuart staged a grand review of five of his brigades. Bands played as each regiment passed in review and one soldier wrote that it was “One grand magnificent pageant, inspiring enough to make even an old woman feel fightish.” [55] The review ended with a mock charge by the cavalry against the guns of the horse artillery which were firing blank rounds. According to witnesses it was a spectacular event, so realistic and grand that during the final charge that “several ladies fainted, or pretended to faint, in the grandstand which Jeb Stuart had had set up for them along one side of the field.” [56] That was followed by an outdoor ball “lit by soft moonlight and bright bonfires.” [57] Stuart gave an encore performance when Lee arrived on June 8th, minus the grand finale and afterward Lee wrote to his wife that “Stuart was in all his glory.” [58]

Hooker received word from the always vigilant John Buford, of the First Cavalry Division on the night of June 6th that “Lee’s “movable column” was located near Culpepper Court House and that it consisted of Stuart’s three brigades heavily reinforced by Robertson’s, “Grumble” Jones’s, and Jenkins’ brigades.” [59] Hooker digested the information and believed that Stuart’s intent was to raid his own rear areas to disrupt the Army of the Potomac’s logistics and communications. The next day Hooker ordered his newly appointed Cavalry Corps Commander, Major General Alfred Pleasanton to attack Stuart.

After Chancellorsville, Hooker had reorganized the Union cavalry under Pleasanton into three divisions and under three aggressive division commanders, all West Pointers, Brigadier General John Buford, Brigadier General David Gregg and Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick. While Stuart conducted his second grand review for Lee Pleasanton quietly massed his cavalry “opposite Beverly Ford and Kelly’s Ford so as to cross the river in the early morning hours of June 9th and carry out Hooker’s crisp orders “to disperse and destroy” the rebel cavalry reported to be “assembled in the vicinity of Culpepper….” [60] Pleasanton’s cavalry was joined by two mixed brigades of infantry “who had the reputation of being among the best marchers and fighters in the army.” [61] One brigade, commanded by Brigadier General Adelbert Ames consisted of five regiments drawn from XI Corps, XII Corps, and III Corps was attached to Buford’s division. The other brigade, under the command of Brigadier General David Russell was composed of seven regiments drawn from I Corps, II Corps and VI Corps. [62]

Stuart’s orders for June 9th were to “lead his cavalry division across the Rappahannock to screen the northward march of the infantry.” [63] The last thing that Stuart expected was to be surprised by the Federal cavalry which he had grown to treat with distain. Stuart who was at his headquarters “woke to the sound of fighting” [64] as Pleasanton’s divisions crossed the river and moved against the unsuspecting Confederate cavalry brigades.

The resultant action was the largest cavalry engagement of the war. Over 20,000 troopers engaged in an inconclusive see-saw battle that lasted most of the day. Though a draw “the rebels might have been swept from the field had Colonel Alfred N. Duffie, at the head of the Second Division acted aggressively and moved to the sounds of battle.” [65] The “Yankees came with a newfound grit and gave as good as they took.” [66] Porter Alexander wrote that Pleasanton’s troopers “but for bad luck in the killing of Col. Davis, leading the advance, would have probably surprised and captured most of Stuart’s artillery.” [67] Stuart had lost “over 500 men, including two colonels dead,” [68] and a brigade commander, Fitzhugh “Rooney” Lee, General Lee’s son, badly wounded. While recuperating at his wife’s home a few weeks later Lee “was captured by the enemy.” [69] Stuart claimed victory as he lost fewer troops and had taken close to 500 prisoners and maintained control of the battlefield.

But even Confederate officers were critical. Lafayette McLaws of First Corps wrote “our cavalry were surprised yesterday by the enemy and had to do some desperate fighting to retrieve the day… As you will perceive from General Lee’s dispatch that the enemy were driven across the river again. All this is not true because the enemy retired at their leisure, having accomplished what I suppose what they intended.” [70] Captain Charles Blackford of Longtreet’s staff wrote: “The fight at Brandy Station can hardly be called a victory. Stuart was certainly surprised, but for the supreme gallantry of his subordinate officers and men… it would have been a day of disaster and disgrace….” The Chief of the Bureau of War in Richmond, Robert H.G. Kean wrote “Stuart is so conceited that he got careless- his officers were having a frolic…” [71] Brigadier General Wade Hampton had the never to criticize his chief in his after action report and after the war recalled “Stuart managed badly that day, but I would not say so publicly.” [72]

The Confederate press was even more damning in its criticism of Stuart papers called it “a disastrous fight,” a “needless slaughter,” [73]and the Richmond Examiner scolded Stuart in words that cut deeply into Stuart’s pride and vanity:

The more the circumstances of the late affair at Brandy Station are considered, the less pleasant do they appear. If this was an isolated case, it might be excused under the convenient head of accident or chance. But the puffed up cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia has twice, if not three times, surprised since the battles of December, and such repeated accidents can be regarded as nothing but the necessary consequences of negligence and bad management. If the war was a tournament, invented and supported for the pleasure of a few vain and weak-headed officers, these disasters might be dismissed with compassion, But the country pays dearly for the blunders which encourage the enemy to overrun and devastate the land, with a cavalry which is daily learning to despise the mounted troops of the Confederacy…” [74]

Major General Dorsey Pender waxed philosophically about the criticism of Stuart in a letter to his wife saying “I suppose it is all right that Stuart should get all the blame, for when anything handsome is done he gets all the credit.” [75] Stuart reacted angrily to the criticism; his vanity was such that it was impossible. Stuart denied being surprised and his Chief of Staff; Major Henry McClellan wrote “He could never see or acknowledge …that he was worsted in an engagement.” [76]

But the battle was more significant than the number of casualties inflicted or who controlled the battlefield at the end of the day. Stuart had been surprised by an aggressively led Union Cavalry force. The Union troopers fought a stubborn and fierce battle and retired in good order. Stuart did not appreciate it but the battle was a watershed, it signaled the beginning of the end of the previous dominance of the Confederate Cavalry arm over their Union opponents.

Henry McClellan wrote that Brandy Station “made the Federal cavalry. Up to that time confessedly inferior to the Southern horsemen, they gained on this day that confidence in themselves and in their commanders which enabled them to contest so fiercely   the subsequent battle-fields….” [77] The Richmond Examiner noted “The enemy is evidently determined to employ his cavalry extensively, and has spared no pains to perfect that arm.[78] That determination to perfect the Union cavalry was something that in less than a years’ time would cost Stuart his life when his outnumbered and ill troopers met Phil Sheridan’s well led, trained and equipped troops at Yellow Tavern outside of Richmond on May 11th 1864.

The action at Brandy Station delayed Lee’s movement by a day. However, Stuart’s repulse of Pleasanton’s force did enable Lee’s Army to make its northward movement undetected by Hooker who was still trying to divine what Lee was up to and was “slow, even reluctant, to react to Lee’s advance.” [79] Lee’s initial move to break contact with the Federal Army and keep his movements and intentions secret was an excellent example of deception.

ewell

Major General Richard Ewell

Ewell’s Corps led the march of the army north on the morning of June 10th and joined by Jenkins’ cavalry brigade entered the Shenandoah Valley by way of the Chester Gap on June 12th. In two days of marching his “columns covered over forty-five miles.” [80] On the 13th Ewell was near Winchester where 6,000 soldiers under the command of Major General Robert Milroy were garrisoned. Ewell’s advanced troops skirmished with them on June 13th, and on the 14th Ewell concentrated his corps to attack Milroy’s badly exposed division. As he did so Lincoln and Halleck attempted to get Milroy to withdraw to Harper’s Ferry and for Hooker to do something to attempt to relieve Milroy.

But Hooker was “troubled by indecision” [81] and did nothing. Ewell commenced his attack at about 5:00 PM, and deployed Johnson’s division in an ambush position north of the city to catch Milroy if he attempted to withdraw. The battle, now known as the Second Battle of Winchester the battle was a complete rout. Hit by Ewell’s forces “which swiftly and effectively broke through his outer lines,” [82] Milroy attempted to retreat “northwestward in the darkness, only to be intercepted at dawn by Johnson.” [83] The Second Corps captured “captured 23 cannon, 300 wagons loaded with supplies and ammunition, and nearly 4,000 prisoners.” [84] Milroy and his survivors retreated to Harper’s Ferry where he was “presently removed from command by Lincoln, but that was a superfluous gesture, since practically all of his command had been removed from him by Ewell.” [85] Ewell’s forces lost just 50 killed and 236 wounded.

Ewell’s decisive victory at Winchester “was one of the most swift, total, and bloodless Confederate victories of the war.” [86] The victory “cleared the lower Shenandoah Valley of most Federal forces and paved the way for Lee’s army to march north into Maryland and then into Pennsylvania.” [87] Ewell had been brilliant to this point, the victory at Second Winchester and the skill with which he had conducted his operations had “removed lingering doubts about his ability to carry on the tradition of “Stonewall” Jackson, as well as about his physical capacity, after the loss of a leg, to endure the rigors of campaigning.” [88] The Richmond Daily Dispatch that Ewell “has indeed caught the mantle of the ascended Jackson. Brilliantly has he re-enacted the scenes of the spring of ’62, on the same theatre.[89]

Ewell did not waste time lingering at Winchester. The next day he sent Jenkins with his brigade across the Potomac to Chambersburg Pennsylvania. Rodes division crossed the Potomac on the 16th “for a crossing at Williamsport where a halt was called to allow the other two divisions to catch up for a combined advance into Pennsylvania.” [90]

Longstreet’s First Corps moved next and advanced east of the Blue Ridge in conjunction with Stuart’s cavalry division screening the rest of the army from Hooker. Longstreet “set out for Ashby’s and Snicker’s Gaps with the bulk of Stuart’s cavalry covering his right flank.” [91] By the 17th of June Longstreet’s and Stuart’s troops had cleared the Blue Ridge, securing the vital gaps; however, Longstreet’s advance “was considerably slowed down by lack of supplies” [92] an issue that began to cause Lee, advancing behind Ewell, considerable concern. The once bountiful Shenandoah Valley had been devastated by two years of war. Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Fremantle, a British observed wrote “All fences have been destroyed, and numberless farms burned, their chimneys alone left standing….No animals are grazing and it is almost uncultivated.” [93]

But “Lee’s army was now stretched out from Hagerstown to Culpepper, a distance of seventy-five miles; yet Hooker did nothing.” [94] Lincoln realized that the dispersed Confederate army was vulnerable and telegraphed Hooker “if the head of Lee’s army is at Martinsburg and the tail of it on the Plank road between Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, the animal must be very slim somewhere. Could you not break him?” [95]

Hooker was slow to appreciate what Lee was doing and the “concealing topography of the region greatly favored Lee’s offensive operations…and Lee was planning on using both the Shenandoah and Loudoun valleys to conceal his forces and confuse his enemies.”[96] In this Lee had succeeded admirably. Finally on June 13th Hooker prodded by Lincoln and Halleck finally moved the Army of the Potomac to a position “near the Orange and Alexandria Railroad near Washington” [97] where it could defend Washington in case Lee was to make a thrust at the Federal capitol. The march from Fredericksburg was ordeal for his soldiers. “It had not rained for more than a month, thick clouds of dust enveloped the columns as the sun burned the air. Men drained their canteens, and water was scarce. Hundreds collapsed from sunstroke.” [98]

Hooker now informed Lincoln and Halleck that from now on his operations “would be governed by the movements of the enemy.” In doing so he “admitted his loss of initiative to Lee and his reluctance or inability to suggest any effective countermoves to the enemy’s plan.” [99]

As the army gathered near Dumfries on June 17th, Hooker who was completely lost as to Lee’s intentions and clearly out of his league was also chose to renew his personal battle with Halleck and Lincoln. Hooker’s Chief of Staff General Dan Butterfield, and a staunch Hooker partisan remarked “We cannot go boggling around until we know what we are going after.” [100] The Provost Marshall of the Army of the Potomac Brigadier General Marsena Patrick was not so generous and critically noted that “Hancock is running the Marching and Hooker has the role of a subordinate- He acts like a man without a plan and is entirely at loss at what to do, or how to match the enemy, or counteract his movements.” [101]

During the march Hooker continued his feud with Halleck and Lincoln, oblivious to the fact that “his contretemps with Washington was costing him respect and credibility.” [102] Navy Secretary Gideon Welles after talking with Lincoln wrote in his diary, “I came away from the War Department painfully impressed. After recent events, Hooker cannot have the confidence which is essential to success, and which is all-important to the commander in the field.” [103]

Hooker however, continued to make matters worse for himself and wrote Lincoln on June 16th, a thinly veiled attempt to have Halleck relieved:

“You have been aware, Mr. President” he telegraphed, “that I have not enjoyed the confidence of the major-general commanding the army, and I can assure you so long as this continues we may look in vain for success, especially as future operations will require our relations to be more dependent on each other than heretofore.” [104]

Lincoln was not to be trifled with by his demanding yet befuddled subordinate. He sent a telegraph to Hooker at 10:00 PM on the 16th which rankled Hooker even the more:

“To remove all misunderstanding I now place you in the strict military relation to General Halleck of a commander of one of the armies to the general-in-chief of all of the armies. I have not intended differently, but as it seems to be differently understood I shall direct him to give you orders and for you to obey him.” [105]

While the drama between Hooker, Halleck and Lincoln played on there were a series of fierce cavalry clashes west of Washington between June 17th and June 21st as Pleasanton’s troops kept assailing the Confederate flank in order to ascertain what Lee’s army was doing. As the Federal cavalry probed the gaps in the Blue Ridge they were confronted by Stuart’s cavalry. At Aldie on June 17th, Middleburg on June 19th and at Upperville on June 21st Stuart’s and Pleasanton’s troopers engaged “in a series of mounted charges and dismounted fighting. The Yankees showed the same grit and valor as they had at Brandy Station, pressing their attacks against the Rebels.” [106]

At Upperville Pleasanton’s troopers “pressed Stuart’s cavalry so hard that Lee ordered McLaws’ division of Longstreet’s Corps to hold Ashby’s Gap, and he momentarily halted Major General Richard Anderson’s division of Hill’s corps on its way to Shepherdstown.” [107] Stuart’s men were successful in protecting the gaps and ensuring that the Federal troopers did not penetrate them, but “Pleasanton learned, however, from prisoners and local citizens, “The main body of the rebel infantry is in the Shenandoah Valley.” [108]

Pleasanton for some unexplained reason thought that this meant that the Confederates were heading toward Pittsburgh. Hooker “viewed it as a raid” and again proposed an overland advance against Richmond, which was again rejected by Lincoln. The President ordered Hooker: “If he comes toward the Upper Potomac, follow on his flank and on his inside track, shortening your line whilst he lengthens his. Fight him too when the opportunity offers. If he stays where he is, fret him, fret him and fret him.” [109]

As the series of clashes occurred on the Confederate flank Ewell’s Second Corps, followed by Hill’s Third Corps advanced into Pennsylvania. A general panic ensued in many places with cries going out for Lincoln to call up militia to defend the state. The panic had begun when Ewell crushed Milroy’s garrison and crossed the Potomac, and was fueled by the actions of Jenkins’ troops, in occupied Chambersburg, who rounded up any blacks that remained in the city. Most blacks, even freedmen fled before the advancing Confederates, and with good reason. “Some fifty blacks were formed into a coffle and marched south to be sold into bondage.” [110] Gideon Welles wrote in Washington D.C.: “Something of a panic pervades the city this evening. Singular rumors of Rebel advances into Maryland. It is said that they have reached Hagerstown, and some of them have penetrated as far as Chambersburg.” [111] Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtain, a former Whig now a Republican aligned with Lincoln’s policies “was in political trouble now,” [112] was pressing the Federal government for help and “Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for 100,000 militia volunteers form Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio and West Virginia, to serve for six months or until the emergency had passed.” [113]

By June 23rd the head of the Bureau of Military Information, Colonel George Sharpe had deduced that all of Ewell’s corps was in Pennsylvania marching north and that Hill’s corps was across the Potomac., and “in one of those sudden moments of brutal clarity, George Sharpe realized that everything pointed to the conclusion that Lee’s entire army, or most of it, was north of the Potomac.” [114] While Sharpe did not realize that he was incorrect in the location of Longstreet’s corps, which was still helping to hold and screen the gaps on the Blue Ridge, he had correctly deduced Lee’s intentions.

It took time but Hooker belatedly on June 24th began to move his army to Frederick. As the Army of the Potomac crossed its namesake river between June 25th and 27th over a vast pontoon bridge, Hooker made one last attempt to salvage his reputation, and did not believe that Lincoln was actually trying to help mediate his dispute with Halleck. Hooker made a quick trip into Washington on the 23rd of June. He met with Lincoln and was successful in getting Halleck to give him nearly 15,000 reinforcements drawn from the District of Washington, drawing the ire of its commander Major General Samuel Heintzelman, another of his political enemies. But the visit did not help his situation, and “word began to spread that Hooker was drinking a great deal.” [115]

But Hooker opened the door to more trouble by demanding that he be given command and control over the garrison at Harpers Ferry, allegedly to use in an operation to cut off Lee’s line of supply and communication in Western Maryland. Hooker attempted to bypass Halleck yet again and sent orders to affect his course of action to Slocum of XII Corps and William French at Harper’s Ferry, “yet Hooker told Washington nothing of his plan” and then asked Halleck why Harper’s Ferry could not be abandoned, and requested its troops without telling him how he would use the garrison. Hooker then informed Halleck that he “would go to Harper’s Ferry the next day and inspect the place.” [116] Hooker evidently believed that he could still force his will on Halleck with a coupe d ’main.

Halleck refused Hooker and shrewdly had seen the request coming. Halleck told Hooker “that the fortified heights at Harpers Ferry…”have always been regarded as an important point by to be held by us…I cannot approve their abandonment, except in the case of absolute necessity” [117] and directed the Major General William H. French, the commanding officer of the Harper’s Ferry garrison “Pay no attention to Hooker’s orders.” [118] When Hooker went to see French in Harper’s Ferry and saw the dispatch he was furious. In his anger Hooker “told Herman Haupt during the railroad coordinator’s visit that he would do nothing to oppose Lee’s invasion without specific orders. He also continued to tell Halleck, Stanton, and Lincoln that he wanted Lee to go north so he could go after Richmond.” [119]

The order to French was Halleck’s way of baiting Hooker to react badly. Halleck figured that Hooker would consider it the last straw, which was exactly what the impulsive Hooker did. Hooker then played his last card and wired Halleck an ultimatum, which in a sense he was using as a “club to bully Halleck into giving him a free hand in questions of strategy” and it is “questionable whether he expected Lincoln to accept his resignation.[120]

“My original instructions require me to cover Harper’s Ferry and Washington. I have now imposed on me, in addition to an enemy in my front more than my number. I beg to be understood, respectfully, but firmly that I am unable to comply with this condition with the means at my disposal, and earnestly request that I be relieved from the position I occupy.” [121]

Halleck sent Hooker a brief message; simply stating “Your dispatch has been duly referred to the executive for action.” [122] He then took the letter to Stanton and Lincoln and Lincoln wasted little time in relieving Hooker, though he was not happy about having to do so in the middle of a campaign. Lincoln had two choices, “he could send him into battle with his self-doubts and suspicions intact, or he could accept it and risk the political and military consequences that would accompany an abrupt change in leadership.” [123] In less than half an hour Lincoln told Halleck and Stanton to “Accept his resignation. Before midnight, War Secretary Edwin Stanton’s own chief of staff, James Hardie, was on his way by train from Washington with Lincoln’s order removing Hooker from command.”   [124]

In the end, late in the night of June 27th Lincoln chose the latter, relieved Hooker, and appointed Major General George Gordon Meade, commanding officer of V Corps as the new commander of the Army of the Potomac. He explained the decision to the cabinet the next morning; Gideon Welles wrote that Lincoln said “he had, for several days as the conflict became imminent, observed in Hooker the same failings that were witnessed in McClellan after the Battle of Antietam. – A want of alacrity to obey, and a greedy call for more troops which could not, and ought not be taken from other points….:” [125]

Hooker’s relief was a direct result of his “contretemps with General-in Chief Halleck, but it was the general’s revolt that set the stage for it. With virtually no support from his chief lieutenants…Hooker was pushed into a precarious position.” [126]

Despite Hooker’s lackluster performance during the campaign, his failings as a field commander, and his poor relationships with Lincoln, Halleck and many of his corps commanders, Hooker had made significant contributions to the Army of the Potomac and the nation:

“Whatever his mistakes, Hooker’s record as a military administrator ranks him near the top, for he refashioned the army into an effective fighting machine. He saved it from disintegration, gradually filled its ranks to peak strength, inflated its morale, and put it in a superb condition for the start of the spring campaign.” [127]

During his tenure of command, “the army had come of age. It was a professional army now in all but name.” [128] He had assumed command when the army was at its lowest fortune after Fredericksburg, “he instituted reform and restored their fighting spirit.” [129] His reorganization of the Cavalry Corps under solid officers was critical in the campaign and paid dividends for the rest of the war. His creation of the Bureau of Military Information was instrumental in providing George Meade at Gettysburg with accurate information about Lee’s army that he used to his advantage in conducting the battle. In spite of his flaws, Hooker had, even after the defeat at Chancellorsville kept the army together and in good fighting trim, even if his soldiers no longer believed in him, they believed in themselves.

During the opening weeks of the Gettysburg campaign, albeit through the prodding of Lincoln he had kept his army between Lee and Washington. But throughout the campaign Hooker seemed “plagued with uncertainty as to what he should do and what were his true military objectives. The tone of his correspondence with Washington authorities was continually querulous and angry.” [130] Hooker’s justified paranoia of Halleck and his and personal insecurity ensured that he made decisions that caused Lincoln to have even more reservations about his ability to command the army, and confront Robert E. Lee. Some have speculated that his recalcitrance in following Lincoln’s orders to confront Lee during the march was because he did not want to face Lee in battle once again. None of those factors can be ignored when assessing Hooker’s performance during his tenure of command of the Army of the Potomac. It was probably fortunate for the Union that Hooker asked to be relieved. His lack of confidence to face Lee in battle would have probably ensured defeat, but his reforms had set the army and its new commander up for success.

While the high drama in Washington and Pennsylvania unfolded Robert E. Lee, after an excellent beginning to his campaign was beginning to experience a drama of his own which would decisively impact his invasion of Pennsylvania.

Notes

[1] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg, Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 2003 p.59

[2] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.436

[3] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.25

[4] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 p.218

[5] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p.221

[6] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.219

[7] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.60

[8] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.530

[9] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.436

[10] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 p.260

[11] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.37

[12] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.74

[13] Jordan, David M. Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier’s Life Indian University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1988 p.67

[14] Marszalek, John F. Commander of All of Lincoln’s Armies: A Life of General Henry W. Halleck The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 2004 p.165

[15] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.331

[16] Huntington, Tom Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2013 p.127

[17] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.7

[18] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln pp.74-75

[19] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.331

[20] Bates, Samuel P. Hooker’s Comments on Chancellorsville in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p.217

[21] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.136

[22] Sears, Stephen W. Controversies and Commanders Mariner Books, Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1999 p.150

[23] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.157

[24] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.219

[25] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two pp.132-133

[26] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.133

[27] Sears, Stephen W. Chancellorsville Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 1996 p.62

[28] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.31

[29] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.133

[30] Ibid. Sears. Chancellorsville p.73

[31] Ibid. Sears Chancellorsville p.73

[32] Ibid. Sears Chancellorsville p.73

[33] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.143

[34] Ibid. Sears Chancellorsville p.73

[35] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.145

[36] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.229

[37] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.225

[38] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln pp.225-226

[39] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.157

[40] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.210

[41] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.211

[42] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.158

[43] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.256

[44] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.19

[45] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.28

[46] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.19

[47] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.28

[48] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.61

[49] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.50

[50] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.260

[51] Fuller, J.F.C. Decisive Battles of the U.S.A. 1776-1918 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 2007 copyright 1942 The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals p.223

[52] Ibid Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.26

[53] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.50

[54] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.53

[55] Davis, Burke J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier Random House, New York 1957 p.304

[56] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.437

[57] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.63

[58] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.221

[59] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.54

[60] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.64

[61] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.54

[62] Petruzzi, J. David and Stanley, Steven The Gettysburg Campaign in Numbers and Losses: Synopses, Orders of Battle, Strengths, Casualties and Maps, June 9 – July 1, 1863 Savas Beatie LLC, El Dorado Hills CA 2012 p.7

[63] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.64

[64] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.306

[65] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.261

[66] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p. 251

[67] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.223

[68] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.310

[69] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.221

[70] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.59

[71] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.310

[72] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.60

[73] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.57

[74] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart pp.311-312

[75] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.73

[76] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.221

[77] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.74

[78] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.312

[79] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.251

[80] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.73

[81] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.81

[82] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.88

[83] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.440

[84] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.222

[85] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.440

[86] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.62

[87] Ibid. Petruzzi and Stanley The Gettysburg Campaign in Numbers and Losses p.20

[88] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.89

[89] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.62

[90] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.440

[91] Ibid. Fuller Decisive Battles of the U.S.A. 1776-1918 p.224

[92] Ibid. Fuller Decisive Battles of the U.S.A. 1776-1918 p.225

[93] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory p.537

[94] Ibid. Fuller Decisive Battles of the U.S.A. 1776-1918 p.224

[95] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.64-65

[96] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.85

[97] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.71

[98] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.263

[99] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.71

[100] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.264

[101] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage pp. 53-54

[102] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.53

[103] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.88

[104] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.88

[105] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.54

[106] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.264

[107] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.79

[108] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.224

[109] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.224

[110] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.82

[111] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.82

[112] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.101

[113] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln pp.264-265

[114] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.66

[115] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.63

[116] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.120

[117] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.93

[118] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.84

[119] Ibid. Marszalek, Commander of All of Lincoln’s Armies p.175

[120] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.131

[121] Ibid. Marsalek Commander of All of Lincoln’s Armies p.175

[122] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.123

[123] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.98

[124] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.84

[125] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.266

[126] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.162

[127] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.31

[128] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.217

[129] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.266

[130] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.133

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Lee Moves North Part Two: Winchester, into Pennsylvania and the Relief of Joe Hooker

rebel-potomacEwell’s Corps crossing the Potomac

This is a continuation of the article that I posted last night. It is a continuation of my Gettysburg series. Tomorrow I will finish the chapter on Lee’s movement north by talking about Stuart’s Ride and the Confederate operations in Pennsylvania and Union pursuit up to June 30th. On footnotes please refer to part one because I did not want to go back and re-type each note.

The action at Brandy Station delayed Lee’s movement by a day. However, Stuart’s repulse of Pleasanton’s force did enable Lee’s Army to make its northward movement undetected by Hooker who was still trying to divine what Lee was up to and was “slow, even reluctant, to react to Lee’s advance.” (1) Lee’s initial move to break contact with the Federal Army and keep his movements and intentions secret was an excellent example of deception.

ewellLieutenant General Richard Ewell

Ewell’s Corps led the march of the army north on the morning of June 10th and joined by Jenkins’ cavalry brigade entered the Shenandoah Valley by way of the Chester Gap on June 12th. In two days of marching his “columns covered over forty-five miles.” (2) On the 13th Ewell was near Winchester where 6,000 soldiers under the command of Major General Robert Milroy were garrisoned. Ewell’s advanced troops skirmished with them on the 13th and on the 14th Ewell concentrated his corps to attack. As he did so Lincoln and Halleck attempted to get Hooker to do something to relieve Milroy. Hooker was “troubled by indecision” (3) and did nothing. The attack commenced at about 5:00 PM. The battle, now known as the Second Battle of Winchester the battle was a complete rout. Hit by Ewell’s forces “which swiftly and effectively broke through his outer lines,” (4) That evening Milroy attempted to retreat “northwestward in the darkness, only to be intercepted at dawn by Johnson.” (5) The Second Corps captured “captured 23 cannon, 300 wagons loaded with supplies and ammunition, and nearly 4,000 prisoners.” (6) Milroy and his survivors retreated to Harper’s Ferry where he was “presently removed from command by Lincoln, but that was a superfluous gesture, since practically all of his command had been removed from him by Ewell.” (7) Ewell’s forces lost just 50 killed and 236 wounded.

Ewell’s decisive victory at Winchester “was one of the most swift, total, and bloodless Confederate victories of the war.” (8) The victory “cleared the lower Shenandoah Valley of most Federal forces and paved the way for Lee’s army to march north into Maryland and then into Pennsylvania.” (9) Ewell had been brilliant to this point, the victory at Second Winchester and the skill with which he had conducted his operations “removed lingering doubts about his ability to carry on the tradition of “Stonewall” Jackson, as well as about his physical capacity, after the loss of a leg, to endure the rigors of campaigning.” (10) The Richmond Daily Dispatch that Ewell “has indeed caught the mantle of the ascended Jackson. Brilliantly has he re-enacted the scenes of the spring of ’62, on the same theatre.” (11)

Ewell did not waste time lingering at Winchester. The next day he sent Jenkins across the Potomac to Chambersburg Pennsylvania. Rodes division crossed the Potomac on the 16th “for a crossing at Williamsport where a halt was called to allow the other two divisions to catch up for a combined advance into Pennsylvania.” (12)

Longstreet’s First Corps moved next and advanced east of the Blue Ridge in conjunction with Stuart’s cavalry division screening the rest of the army from Hooker. Longstreet “set out for Ashby’s and Snicker’s Gaps with the bulk of Stuart’s cavalry covering his right flank.” (13) By the 17th of June Longstreet’s and Stuart’s troops had cleared the Blue Ridge. “Lee’s army was now stretched out from Hagerstown to Culpepper, a distance of seventy-five miles; yet Hooker did nothing.” (14) Lincoln realized that the dispersed Confederate army was vulnerable and telegraphed Hooker “if the head of Lee’s army is at Martinsburg and the tail of it on the Plank road between Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, the animal must be very slim somewhere. Could you not break him?” (15)

hookerMajor General Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker

Hooker was slow to appreciate what Lee was doing and the “concealing topography of the region greatly favored Lee’s offensive operations…and Lee was planning on using both the Shenandoah and Loudoun valleys to conceal his forces and confuse his enemies.” (16) In this Lee had succeeded admirably. Finally on June 13th Hooker prodded by Lincoln and Halleck finally moved the Army of the Potomac to a position “near the Orange and Alexandria Railroad near Washington” (17) where it could defend Washington in case Lee was to make a thrust at the Federal capitol. The march from Fredericksburg was ordeal for his soldiers. “It had not rained for more than a month, thick clouds of dust enveloped the columns as the sun burned the air. Men drained their canteens, and water was scarce. Hundreds collapsed from sunstroke.” (18)

Hooker now informed Lincoln and Halleck that from now on his operations “would be governed by the movements of the enemy.” In doing so he “admitted his loss of initiative to Lee and his reluctance or inability to suggest any effective countermoves to the enemy’s plan.” (19)

As the army gathered near Dumfries on June 17th, Hooker who was completely lost as to Lee’s intentions and completely clearly out of his league was also engaged in a personal battle with Halleck and Lincoln. His Chief of Staff, General Dan Butterfield, a staunch supporter, remarked “We cannot go boggling around until we know what we are going after.” (20) The Provost Marshall of the Army of the Potomac Brigadier General Marsena Patrick was quite critical of his chief, noting that “Hancock is running the Marching and Hooker has the role of a subordinate- He acts like a man without a plan and is entirely at loss at what to do, or how to match the enemy, or counteract his movements.” (21)

Henry_Halleck_by_Scholten,_c1865Major General Henry Halleck

During the march Hooker continued his feud with Halleck and Lincoln, oblivious to the fact that “his contretemps with Washington was costing him respect and credibility.” (22) Navy Secretary Gideon Welles after talking with Lincoln wrote in his diary, “I came away from the War Department painfully impressed. After recent events, Hooker cannot have the confidence which is essential to success, and which is all-important to the commander in the field.” (23) Hooker however, continued to make matters worse for himself and wrote to Lincoln, a thinly veiled attempt to have Halleck relieved, on June 16th :

“You have been aware, Mr. President” he telegraphed, “that I have not enjoyed the confidence of the major-general commanding the army, and I can assure you so long as this continues we may look in vain for success, especially as future operations will require our relations to be more dependent on each other than heretofore.” (24)

Lincoln was not to be trifled with by his demanding yet befuddled subordinate. He sent a telegraph to Hooker at 10:00 PM on the 16th which rankled Hooker even the more:

“To remove all misunderstanding I now place you in the strict military relation to General Halleck of a commander of one of the armies to the general-in-chief of all of the armies. I have not intended differently, but as it seems to be differently understood I shall direct him to give you orders and for you to obey him.” (25)

While the drama between Hooker, Halleck and Lincoln played on there were a series of fierce cavalry clashes west of Washington between June 17th and June 21st as Pleasanton’s troops kept assailing the Confederate flank in order to ascertain what Lee’s army was doing. As they probed the gaps in the Blue Ridge they confronted Stuart’s cavalry. At Aldie on June 17th, Middleburg on June 19th and Upperville on June 21st Stuart’s and Pleasanton’s troopers engaged “in a series of mounted charges and dismounted fighting. The Yankees showed the same grit and valor as they had at Brandy Station, pressing their attacks against the Rebels.” (26)

custer@aldieAt Upperville Pleasanton’s troopers “pressed Stuart’s cavalry so hard that Lee ordered McLaws’ division of Longstreet’s Corps to hold Ashby’s Gap, and he momentarily halted Major General Richard Anderson’s division of Hill’s corps on its way to Shepherdstown.” (27) Stuart’s men were successful in protecting the gaps and ensuring that the Federal troopers did not penetrate them, but “Pleasanton learned, however, from prisoners and local citizens, “The main body of the rebel infantry is in the Shenandoah Valley.” (28)

Pleasanton for some unexplained reason thought that this meant that the Confederates were heading toward Pittsburgh. Hooker “viewed it as a raid” and again proposed an overland advance against Richmond, which was once again rejected by Lincoln. The President ordered  Hooker: “If he comes toward the Upper Potomac, follow on his flank and on his inside track, shortening your line whilst he lengthens his. Fight him too when the opportunity offers. If he stays where he is, fret him, fret him and fret him.” (29)

As the series of clashes occurred on the Confederate flank Ewell’s Second Corps, followed by Hill’s Third Corps advanced into Pennsylvania. A general panic ensued in many places with cries going out for Lincoln to call up militia to defend the state. The panic was fueled by Confederate actions. Jenkins’ troops in occupied Chambersburg they rounded up any blacks that remained in the city, and “Some fifty blacks were formed into a coffle and marched south to be sold into bondage.” (30)

By June 23rd the head of the Bureau of Military Information Colonel George Sharpe had deduced that all of Ewell’s corps was in Pennsylvania marching north and that Hill’s corps was across the Potomac, and “in one of those sudden moments of brutal clarity, George Sharpe realized that everything pointed to the conclusion that Lee’s entire army, or most of it, was north of the Potomac.” (31) Now Sharpe did not realize that Longstreet’s corps was still helping to hold and scree the gaps, but he had correctly deduced Lee’s intentions.

It took time but Hooker belatedly on June 24th Hooker began to move his army to Frederick. As the Army of the Potomac crossed its namesake river between June 25th and 27th over a vast pontoon bridge, Hooker made one last attempt to salvage his reputation. He had already been successful in getting Halleck to give him nearly 15,000 troops as reinforcements drawn from the District of Washington, drawing the ire of its commander Major General Samuel Heintzelman, but that was not enough for Hooker.

Hooker also demanded that he be given command and control over the garrison at Harper’s Ferry, allegedly to use in an operation to cut off Lee’s line of supply and communication in Western Maryland. This was refused by Halleck who had seen the request coming. Halleck told Hooker “that the fortified heights at Harper’s Ferry…”have always been regarded as an important point by to be held by us…I cannot approve their abandonment, except in the case of absolute necessity” (32) and directed the Major General William H. French, the commanding officer of the Harper’s Ferry garrison “Pay no attention to Hooker’s orders.” (33)

The highly volatile Hooker was furious and in his anger Hooker “told Herman Haupt during the railroad coordinator’s visit that he would do nothing to oppose Lee’s invasion without specific orders. He also continued to tell Halleck, Stanton, and Lincoln that he wanted Lee to go north so he could go after Richmond.” 34

The order to French was Halleck’s way of bating Hooker figuring that Hooker would consider it the last straw, which the impulsive Hooker did. Hooker then played his last card and wired Halleck an ultimatum:

“My original instructions require me to cover Harper’s Ferry and Washington. I have now imposed on me, in addition to an enemy in my front more than my number. I beg to be understood, respectfully, but firmly that I am unable to comply with this condition with the means at my disposal, and earnestly request that I be relieved from the position I occupy.” (35)

Halleck replied to Hooker  with a brief message; simply stating “Your dispatch has been duly referred to the executive for action.” (36) Halleck then took the letter to Stanton and Lincoln and Lincoln wasted little time in relieving Hooker, though he was not happy about having to do so in the middle of a campaign. Lincoln had two choices, “he could send him into battle with his self-doubts and suspicions intact, or he could accept it and risk the political and military consequences that would accompany an abrupt change in leadership.” (37)

In the end, late in the night on June 27th 1863 Lincoln chose the latter, relieved Hooker and appointed Major General George Gordon Meade, commanding officer of V Corps as the new commander of the Army of the Potomac.

Notes

1 Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.251
2 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.73
3 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.81
4 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.88
5 Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.440
6 Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.222
7 Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.440
8 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.62
9 Ibid. Petruzzi and Stanley The Gettysburg Campaign in Numbers and Losses p.20
10 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.89
11 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.62
12 Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.440
13 Ibid. Fuller Decisive Battles of the U.S.A. 1776-1918 p.224
14 Ibid. Fuller Decisive Battles of the U.S.A. 1776-1918 p.224
15 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.64-65
16 Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.85
17 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.71
18 Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.263
19 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.71
20 Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.264
21 Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage pp. 53-54
22 Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.53
23 Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.88
24 Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.88
25 Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.54
26 Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.264
27 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.79
28 Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.224
29 Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.224
30 Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.82
31 Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.66
32 Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.93
33 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.84
34 Marszalek, John F. Commander of All of Lincoln’s Armies: A Life of General Henry W. Halleck The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 2004 p.175
35 Ibid. Marsalek Commander of All of Lincoln’s Armies p.175
36 Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.1233
7 Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.98

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Lee Moves North and the Battle of Brandy Station

brandy station

Note: I will be heading back to Gettysburg for another Staff Ride this Friday and I am continuing to revise my course materials. This is another part of my Gettysburg series, and a revision to a hastily done section that I wrote when I first took over for conducting the classes and associate trip. 

Movement to attain operational reach and maneuver are two critical factors in joint operations. In the time since the American Civil War the distances that forces move to engage the enemy, or maneuver to employ fires to destroy his forces have greatly increased. Movement may be part of an existing Campaign Plan or Contingency Plan developed at Phase 0; it also may be part of a crisis action plan developed in the midst of a campaign. Lee’s movement to get to Gettysburg serves as an example of the former, however, since his forces were already in contact with the Army of the Potomac along the Rappahannock and he was reacting to what he felt was a strategic situation that could not be changed but by going on the offensive that it has the feel of a Crisis Action Plan. Within either context other factors come into play: clarity of communications and orders, security, intelligence, logistics and even more importantly the connection between operational movement and maneuver; the Center of Gravity of the enemy, and national strategy. Since we have already discussed how Lee and the national command authority of the Confederacy got to this point we will now discuss the how that decision played in the operational and tactical decisions of Lee and his commanders as the Army of Northern Virginia began the summer campaign and the corresponding actions of Joseph Hooker and the his superiors in Washington.

“One of the fine arts of the military craft is disengaging one’s army from a guarding army without striking sparks and igniting battle.” [1] On June 3rd 1863 Robert E. Lee began to move his units west, away from Fredericksburg to begin his campaign to take the war to the North. He began his exfiltration moving Second Corps under Richard Ewell and First Corps under James Longstreet west “up the south bank of the Rappahannock to Culpepper, near which Hood and Pickett had been halted on their return from Suffolk.” [2] Rodes’ division of Second Corps followed on June 4th with Anderson and Early on June 5th. Lee left the three divisions of A.P. Hill’s Third Corps at Fredericksburg to guard against any sudden advance by Hooker’s Army of the Potomac toward Richmond. Lee instructed Hill to “do everything possible “to deceive the enemy, and keep him in ignorance of any change in the disposition of the army.” [3]

The army was tremendously confident as it marched away from the war ravaged, dreary and desolate battlefields along the Rappahannock “A Captain in the 1st Virginia averred, “Never before has the army been in such a fine condition, so well disciplined and under such complete control.” [4] Porter Alexander wrote that he felt “pride and confidence…in my splendid battalion, as it filed out of the field into the road, with every chest & and ammunition wagon filled, & and every horse in fair order, & every detail fit for a campaign.” [5] Another officer wrote to his father, “I believe there is a general feeling of gratification in the army at the prospect of active operations.” [6]

Lee’s plan was to “shift two-thirds of his army to the northwest and past Hooker’s flank, while A.P. Hill’s Third Corps remained entrenched at Fredericksburg to observe Hooker and perhaps fix him in place long enough for the army to gain several marches on the Federals.” [7] In an organizational and operational sense that Lee’s army after as major of battle as Chancellorsville “was able to embark on such an ambitious flanking march to the west and north around the right of the army of the Potomac….” [8]

However, Lee’s movement did not go unnoticed; Hooker’s aerial observers in their hot air balloons “were up and apparently spotted the movement.” [9] But Hooker was unsure what it meant. He initially suspected that “Lee intended to turn the right flank of the Union army as he had done in the Second Bull Run Campaign, either by interposing his army between Washington and the Federals or by crossing the Potomac River.” [10] Lee halted at Culpepper from which he “could either march westward over the Blue Ridge or, if Hooker moved, recontract at the Rappahannock River.” [11]

Hooker telegraphed Lincoln and Halleck on June 5th and requested permission to advance cross the river and told Lincoln that “I am of opinion that it is my duty to pitch into his rear” [12] possibly threatening Richmond. Lincoln ordered Hooker to put the matter to Halleck, with whom Hooker was on the worst possible terms. Hooker “pressed Halleck to allow him to cross the Rappahannock in force, overwhelming whatever rebel force had been left at Fredericksburg, and then lunging down the line of the Virginia Central toward an almost undefended Richmond.” [13] On the morning of June 6th Hooker ordered pontoon bridges thrown across the river and sent a division of Sedgwick’s VI Corps to conduct a reconnaissance in force against Hill.

Lincoln and Halleck immediately rejected Hooker’s request. Lincoln “saw the flaw in Hooker’s plan at once” [14] and replied in a very blunt manner: “In one word,” he wrote “I would not take any risk of being entangled upon the river, like an ox jumped half over a fence and liable to be torn by dogs front and rear, without a fair chance to gore one way or kick another.” [15] Halleck replied to Hooker shortly after Lincoln that it would “seem perilous to permit Lee’s main force to move upon the Potomac [River] while your army is attacking an intrenched position on the other side of the Rappahannock.” [16] Lincoln, demonstrating a keen regard for the actual center of gravity of the campaign, told Hooker plainly that “I think Lee’s army and not Richmond, is your objective point.” [17]

The fears of Lincoln and Halleck were well founded. In stopping at Culpepper Lee retained the option of continuing his march to the Shenandoah and the Potomac, or he could rapidly “recall his advanced columns, hammer at Hooker’s right flank, and very possibly administer another defeat even more demoralizing than the one he suffered at Chancellorsville.” [18] Hooker heeded the order and while Hooker maintained his bridgehead over the Rappahannock he made no further move against Hill’s well dug in divisions.

Meanwhile, J.E.B. Stuart and his Cavalry Corps had been at Brandy Station near Culpepper for two weeks. Culpepper in June was a paradise for the cavalry, and with nearly 10,000 troopers gathered Stuart ordered a celebration, many dignitaries were invited and on June 4th Stuart hosted a grand ball in the county courthouse. On the 5th Stuart staged a grand review of five of his brigades. Bands played as each regiment passed in review and one soldier wrote that it was “One grand magnificent pageant, inspiring enough to make even an old woman feel fightish.” [19] The review ended with a mock charge by the cavalry against the guns of the horse artillery which were firing blank rounds. According to witnesses it was a spectacular event, so realistic and grand that during the final charge that “several ladies fainted, or pretended to faint, in the grandstand which Jeb Stuart had had set up for them along one side of the field.” [20] That was followed by an outdoor ball “lit by soft moonlight and bright bonfires.” [21] Stuart gave an encore performance when Lee arrived on June 8th, minus the grand finale and afterward Lee wrote to his wife that “Stuart was in all his glory.” [22]

Hooker received word from the always vigilant John Buford, of the First Cavalry Division on the night of June 6th that “Lee’s “movable column” was located near Culpepper Court House and that it consisted of Stuart’s three brigades heavily reinforced by Robertson’s, “Grumble” Jones’s, and Jenkins’ brigades.” [23] Hooker digested the information and believed that Stuart’s intent was to raid his own rear areas to disrupt the Army of the Potomac’s logistics and communications. The next day Hooker ordered his newly appointed Cavalry Corps Commander, Major General Alfred Pleasanton to attack Stuart.

After Chancellorsville, Hooker had reorganized the Union cavalry under Pleasanton into three divisions and under three aggressive division commanders, all West Pointers, Brigadier General John Buford, Brigadier General David Gregg and Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick. While Stuart conducted his second grand review for Lee Pleasanton quietly massed his cavalry “opposite Beverly Ford and Kelly’s Ford so as to cross the river in the early morning hours of June 9th and carry out Hooker’s crisp orders “to disperse and destroy” the rebel cavalry reported to be “assembled in the vicinity of Culpepper….” [24] Pleasanton’s cavalry was joined by two mixed brigades of infantry “who had the reputation of being among the best marchers and fighters in the army.” [25] One brigade, commanded by Brigadier General Adelbert Ames consisted of five regiments drawn from XI Corps, XII Corps, and III Corps was attached to Buford’s division. The other brigade, under the command of Brigadier General David Russell was composed of seven regiments drawn from I Corps, II Corps and VI Corps. [26]

Stuart’s orders for June 9th were to “lead his cavalry division across the Rappahannock to screen the northward march of the infantry.” [27] The last thing that Stuart expected was to be surprised by the Federal cavalry which he had grown to treat with distain. Stuart who was at his headquarters “woke to the sound of fighting” [28] as Pleasanton’s divisions crossed the river and moved against the unsuspecting Confederate cavalry brigades.

The resultant action was the largest cavalry engagement of the war. Over 20,000 troopers engaged in an inconclusive see-saw battle that lasted most of the day. Though a draw “the rebels might have been swept from the field had Colonel Alfred N. Duffie, at the head of the Second Division acted aggressively and moved to the sounds of battle.” [29] The “Yankees came with a newfound grit and gave as good as they took.” [30] Porter Alexander wrote that Pleasanton’s troopers “but for bad luck in the killing of Col. Davis, leading the advance, would have probably surprised and captured most of Stuart’s artillery.” [31] Stuart had lost “over 500 men, including two colonels dead,” [32] and a brigade commander, Fitzhugh “Rooney” Lee, General Lee’s son, badly wounded. While recuperating at his wife’s home a few weeks later Lee “was captured by the enemy.” [33] Stuart claimed victory as he lost fewer troops and had taken close to 500 prisoners and maintained control of the battlefield.

But even Confederate officers were critical. Lafayette McLaws of First Corps wrote “our cavalry were surprised yesterday by the enemy and had to do some desperate fighting to retrieve the day… As you will perceive from General Lee’s dispatch that the enemy were driven across the river again. All this is not true because the enemy retired at their leisure, having accomplished what I suppose what they intended.” [34] Captain Charles Blackford of Longtreet’s staff wrote: “The fight at Brandy Station can hardly be called a victory. Stuart was certainly surprised, but for the supreme gallantry of his subordinate officers and men… it would have been a day of disaster and disgrace….” The Chief of the Bureau of War in Richmond, Robert H.G. Kean wrote “Stuart is so conceited that he got careless- his officers were having a frolic…” [35] Brigadier General Wade Hampton had the never to criticize his chief in his after action report and after the war recalled “Stuart managed badly that day, but I would not say so publicly.” [36]

The Confederate press was even more damning in its criticism of Stuart papers called it “a disastrous fight,” a “needless slaughter,” [37]and the Richmond Examiner scolded Stuart in words that cut deeply into Stuart’s pride and vanity:

The more the circumstances of the late affair at Brandy Station are considered, the less pleasant do they appear. If this was an isolated case, it might be excused under the convenient head of accident or chance. But the puffed up cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia has twice, if not three times, surprised since the battles of December, and such repeated accidents can be regarded as nothing but the necessary consequences of negligence and bad management. If the war was a tournament, invented and supported for the pleasure of a few vain and weak-headed officers, these disasters might be dismissed with compassion, But the country pays dearly for the blunders which encourage the enemy to overrun and devastate the land, with a cavalry which is daily learning to despise the mounted troops of the Confederacy…” [38]

But the battle was more significant than the number of casualties inflicted or who controlled the battlefield at the end of the day. Stuart had been surprised by an aggressively led Union Cavalry force. The Union troopers fought a stubborn and fierce battle and retired in good order. Stuart did not appreciate it but the battle was a watershed, it ended the previous dominance of the Confederate Cavalry arm. It was something that in less than a years’ time would cost him his life.

Notes

[1] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg, Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 2003 p.59

[2] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.436

[3] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.25

[4] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 p.218

[5] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p.221

[6] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.219

[7] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.60

[8] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.530

[9] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.436

[10] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 p.260

[11] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.37

[12] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.61

[13] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.50

[14] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.260

[15] Fuller, J.F.C. Decisive Battles of the U.S.A. 1776-1918 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 2007 copyright 1942 The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals p.223

[16] Ibid Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.26

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.50

[18] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.53

[19] Davis, Burke J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier Random House, New York 1957 p.304

[20] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.437

[21] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.63

[22] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.221

[23] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.54

[24] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.64

[25] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.54

[26] Petruzzi, J. David and Stanley, Steven The Gettysburg Campaign in Numbers and Losses: Synopses, Orders of Battle, Strengths, Casualties and Maps, June 9 – July 1, 1863 Savas Beatie LLC, El Dorado Hills CA 2012 p.7

[27] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.64

[28] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.306

[29] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.261

[30] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p. 251

[31] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.223

[32] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.310

[33] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.221

[34] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.59

[35] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.310

[36] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.60

[37] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.57

[38] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.311-312

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“Our Army Would be Invincible if…” The Problem of Senior Leadership in the Army of Northern Virginia Part Two, The Third Corps

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This is the second part of an article that I posted yesterday which is part of my Gettysburg series. This focuses on the Third Corps commanded by Lieutenant General A.P. Hill. The link to the first article is here: http://padresteve.com/2014/07/28/our-army-would-be-invincible-if-the-problem-of-senior-leadership-in-the-army-of-northern-virginia-june-1863-part-one-first-and-second-corps/

The newly created Third Corps under Lieutenant General A.P. Hill was thought to be in good hands. Hill had commanded his large; six brigade “Light Division” with distinction, though having serious conflicts with both Longstreet and Jackson. At Antietam Hill’s hard marching from Harpers Ferry had saved the Army of Northern Virginia from destruction. Hill was a graduate of West Point who had served in the topographic engineers most of his U.S. Army career. He had an earned reputation as a brilliant division commander, and despite his clashes with Longstreet and Hill Lee recommended him to take command of Third Corps who sang his praise to Jefferson Davis “the best soldier of his grade with me.” [1] Hill was a “nervous wiry man with a persistent chip of underappreciation on his shoulders and a bevy of chronic illnesses when under stress.” [2] Hill detested Jackson, who he referred to as “that old Presbyterian fool” [3] and his poor relations with Jackson’s confidants at Second Corps ensured that Ewell took Second Corps. Lee appointed Hill to command Third Corps of which “half of the troops had been with him all along” [4] in the Light Division. Lee liked Hill’s aggressiveness and command instincts, something that he hoped would translate into success at the corps level, and promoted him over the head of D.H. Hill and Lafayette McLaws who were both senior to him. Regarding the promotion of Hill and Ewell Lee wrote to Davis:

“I wish to take advantage of every circumstance to inspire and encourage…the officers and men to believe that their labors are appreciated, and that when vacancies occur that they will receive the advantages of promotion….I do not know where to get better men than those I have named.” [5]

But the decision to promote the Ewell and Hill, both Virginians stirred some dissent among those that believed that Lee was “favoring Virginians over officers from other states. The promotion of A.P. Hill, as previous noted was “made over the head of two Major Generals more senior than Hill- North Carolinian D.H. Hill and Georgian Lafayette McLaws.” [6]

Hill’s corps, like those of Longstreet and Ewell was composed of three divisions, and even more so than Ewell his division suffered a want of senior leaders who had served at the grade they were now expected to serve.

The most stable division in Third Corps was Richard Anderson’s, transferred from First Corps. Under Longstreet the division and its commander had served well. Lee considered Anderson a “capable officer”…and had marked him for future higher command.” [7] Anderson was noted for his modesty and unselfishness, “his easy going ways, combined with his competence and professionalism made him one of the most well liked officers in the Army of Northern Virginia.” [8] However, there was an incalculable thrown into the equation. Hill had not yet established his methods of operation as a corps commander, and Anderson, used to “Longstreet’s methodical insistence that everything be just so before he would venture into action” contrasted with Hill’s “tendency to leap before he looked.” [9]

Anderson’s division was composed of five brigades commanded by a mixed lot of commanders, none of whom were professionals.

Brigadier General Cadmus Wilcox was a no-nonsense graduate of West Point; he served in the Mexican War and taught tactics for five years at West Point. He had served with distinction as a brigade commander, but Wilcox was disgruntled, he “is restless, sore, and disposed to go to another Confederate army where he will have a chance.” [10] Wilcox had been passed over for promotion to Major General in favor of George Pickett and requested transfer from Lee’s army, which was refused for lack of qualified leaders. At Chancellorsville the delaying action of his brigade at Salem’s Church had helped save the army.

Brigadier General William Mahone was a graduate of VMI and was superintendent of the new Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad when the war Virginia seceded from the Union and served with reasonable effectiveness before Gettysburg. As a brigadier “he is not lacking in diligence, but he is not without special distinction.” [11] He fought competently at Chancellorsville and by Gettysburg had established himself as a “competent and experienced brigade leader.” [12]

Brigadier General Ransom Wright had no military training or experience prior to the war, but was a successful lawyer and by Gettysburg he “was considered a well-tested combat veteran.” [13] He had Unionist sentiments, was a no-nonsense individual and though he had no military was named colonel of the 3rd Georgia in 1861 and became a brigade commander during the Seven Days.

Brigadier General Carnot Posey was a highly successful plantation planter and lawyer who had served as a “lieutenant under Col. Jefferson Davis, and suffered a slight wound at the Battle of Buena Vista” [14] in the Mexican War, after which he returned home as was appointed as a United States District Attorney by President Buchanan. Posey commanded the 16th Mississippi and was promoted to brigade command prior to Chancellorsville where he gave a strong performance under fire.

Colonel David Lang commanded the Florida Brigade the smallest in the army. Just twenty-five years old, the graduate of the Georgia Military Institute inherited brigade command when Brigadier General Edward Perry came down with typhoid fever after Chancellorsville. He had only fought in three battles, two as a captain “and he had never led a brigade in combat.” [15]

Hill’s old Light Division was divided into two divisions. Major General William Dorsey Pender commanded the old Light Division which now consisted of four rather than six brigades. Pender was only 29 years old, the “youngest of that rank in the army.” [16] Pender was “only seven years out of West Point” [17] and was deeply loyal to Powell Hill and a partisan of the Light Division. However, he had risen “on first rate ability, steadfast ambition and a headlong personal leadership in battle which gave a driving force to his brigade” [18] which he considered “the best brigade of the best division” [19] in the army. Lee praised him as “a most gallant officer” and was deeply sensitive about keeping Pender with the troops that found him so inspiring noting “I fear the effect upon men of passing him over in favour of another not so identified with them.” [20] Pender was an “intelligent, reflective man, deeply religious and guided by a strong sense of duty.” [21]

Pender’s four veteran brigades were commanded by three experienced officers and one new to brigade command.

Colonel Abner Perrin from South Carolina was the least experienced. He was a successful lawyer who had served as a lieutenant in the Regular army in Mexico, served as a company commander in the 14th South Carolina which he took command of after Fredericksburg. He led the regiment at Chancellorsville and took command of the brigade when the brigade commander was wounded. Despite his inexperience he remained in command of the veteran South Carolina brigade, “whose leadership had been decimated” and had “devolved to lieutenant colonels, majors and captains.” [22]

Brigadier General James Lane was an academic. He graduated second in his class at VMI in 1854 and received a degree in science from the University of Virginia three years later. He returned to VMI as an assistant professor then became a professor of natural philosophy at the North Carolina Military Institute. [23] He was commissioned as a major in the 1st North Carolina and took command of it in September 1861 and promoted to brigade command after Antietam. Lane proved himself an able commander at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, at the latter his brigade led Jackson’s assault against the Union right, suffering 909 casualties and had the misfortune of when one of his units mortally wounded Jackson on the night of May 2nd 1863. Despite this “he and his men could be counted on to do the right thing when the bullets started to fly.” [24]

Brigadier General Edward Thomas was a plantation owner from Georgia who had served as a lieutenant in the Mexican War. Offered a commission in the Regular army he turned it down and returned home. He became colonel of the 35th Georgia Infantry in October 1861 and led it as part of Pettigrew’s brigade and after Pettigrew was wounded at Seven Pines the brigade was shifted to Joseph Anderson’s brigade of the Light Division, assuming command of that brigade when Anderson was wounded at Frayser’s Farm. He commanded it in the thick of the fighting at Second Manassas and at Fredericksburg helped stop Meade’s advance with a fierce counterattack, and commanded it again at Chancellorsville. Thomas could always be counted on to deliver “a solid, if unspectacular performance.” [25]

Brigadier General Alfred Scales was new to brigade command. A “forty-five year old humorless politician” [26] who had served in the U.S. House of Representatives with no military experience Scales enlisted as a private when North Carolina seceded. He was elected to a captaincy in Pender’s regiment and when Pender was transferred Scales succeeded him in command of the 13th North Carolina. He commanded that regiment on the Peninsula and during the Seven Days, served as acting commander of the brigade when Pender was wounded at Fredericksburg and distinguished himself with the 13th at Chancellorsville. Scales service with Pender’s brigade “had been one of consistent stout service.” [27] When Pender was promoted to division command “it was a forgone conclusion that his replacement in brigade command would be Scales.” [28] He had served with the brigade, was known to its soldiers and though inexperienced as a brigade commander he “and the brigade were one, for he had shared its fortunes, was proud of it, and was confident of victory as he led it to Gettysburg.” [29]

Hill’s remaining division was commanded by the newly minted Major General Harry Heth. It was composed of the two remaining brigades of the Light Division and two brigades recently joined to the army for the offensive.

Harry Heth was a graduate of West Point who has a “high reputation personally and professionally” [30] in the army, despite finishing 38th in a 45 member class at West Point. Lee had a high regard for Heth and considered him a friend and somewhat a protégé, however his regard “cannot be based on any substantive achievements by Heth, whose antebellum career and war experience had been similarly unremarkable.” [31] Heth was an example of a “soundly trained soldier of perennial promise. Always seemingly on the verge of becoming truly outstanding” but “never lived up to the army’s expectations.” [32] Heth became a brigade commander in Hill’s division prior to Chancellorsville after having served in Western Virginia and in the West. Hill was new to command of a newly formed division and had the weakest collection of brigade commanders in the army at Gettysburg.

Newest to the division was Johnston Pettigrew whose North Carolina brigade was one of the largest in the army. This was one of the new brigades provided to Lee by Davis, Pettigrew was a renaissance man, and was a graduate of the University of North Carolina he was “proficient in French, German, Italian and Spanish, with a reading knowledge of Greek, Hebrew and Arabic.” [33] Pettigrew had spent a good amount of time abroad on diplomatic service before returning to his law practice in Charleston. He had “even spent time as a volunteer aid with the French and Italian forces against the Austrians in 1859.” [34] Elected to the state legislature in 1856 he “sensed the oncoming of hostilities and was named colonel of the 1st Regiment of Rifles, a Charleston militia outfit.” [35] Pettigrew was “one of those natural leaders of a privileged background who, without military ambitions, had been advanced on the application of native intelligence and contagious courage.” [36]

Brigadier General Joseph Davis, the nephew of President Jefferson Davis commanded a newly raised Mississippi brigade. Davis owed his appointment to his relationship with the President. He was “entirely without combat experience.[37] Most of the war he had spent on his uncle’s staff in Richmond and in his new appointment he was not with officers of any experience as “No one serving on Joe Davis’s staff showed strong signs of having the background, experience, and ability that might help the brigadier meet his responsibilities.” [38] Likewise the nine field officers assigned to his regiments were similarly ill-equipped.

Heth did have the experienced mixed Alabama-Tennessee brigade of Brigadier General James Archer. Despite its experience and “fine reputation” [39] the brigade was seriously understrength after seeing heavy combat at Chancellorsville. The brigade commander Archer was a graduate of the University of Maryland who practiced law before entering the Regular army as a Captain during the Mexican War where he was breveted for gallantry at the Battle of Chapultapec. He left the army after the war and then returned to it in 1855. He commanded the 5th Texas Regiment and took command of a Tennessee brigade at Seven Pines. Initially Archer was not well liked by any of his commands, the Texans considered him a tyrant and he was “very non-communicative, the bearing and extreme reserve of the old army officer made him, for a time, one of the most hated of men.” [40]After being joined to the Light Division Archer transformed his reputation among his men and had “won the hearts of his men by his wonderful judgment and conduct on the field.” [41]

The last brigade of Heth’s division was the small Virginia brigade of the “plodding, uninspiring” [42] Colonel John Brockenbrough. Brockenbrough was an 1850 graduate of VMI and “entered service as colonel of the 40th [Virginia Infantry] in May 1861.” [43] The brigade when it had been commanded by Charles Field had been considered one of the best in the army. Brockenbrough took command of it in 1862 when Field was wounded and “had never managed the brigade well, especially at Fredericksburg, and Lee returned him to regimental command.” [44] He reassumed the command of the brigade after Chancellorsville when Heth was promoted. Like Archer’s brigade it was “sadly reduced in numbers” and in morale…” [45]

Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia would go into the Gettysburg Campaign with two new and untried corps commanders. Of nine infantry division commanders three were new to command and another who had never commanded a division in combat. Of the infantry brigade commanders First Corps was in the best shape with ten of eleven assigned commanders having experience in command at that level, and most were of sound reputation. Second Corps was worse off, with six of thirteen assigned brigade commanders new to command, and two of the experienced brigade commanders were not competent to command at that level. Third Corps had nine of its thirteen commanders who had experience as brigade commanders; however, one of them, Brockenbrough was of little value despite being experienced.

Had the army had more time to exercise the new commanders before going into action Lee might have had a better result, but as he told Hood “this army would be invincible if….” As we know, if is the biggest two letter word in the English language, and these men, as Barbara Tuchman noted would be “made bold by the moment, some irresolute, some carefully judicious, some paralyzed and powerless to act.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Notes

[1] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.526

[2] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.22

[3] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.22

[4] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.434

 

[5] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.526

[6] Ibid. Taylor, John Duty Faithfully Performed p.290

[7] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.86

[8] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.306

[9] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg pp.86-87

[10] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.46

[11] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.48

[12] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.315

[13] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.317

[14] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.319

[15] ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.322

[16] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.47

[17] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.85

[18] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.85

[19] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.45

[20] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.47

[21] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.85

[22] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.331

[23] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg pp.332-333

[24] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.334

[25] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.337

[26] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.338

[27] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.421

[28] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.338

[29] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.306

[30] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.46

[31] Krick, Robert K. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge: Failures of Brigade Leadership on the First Day of Gettysburg in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.96

[32] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.87

[33] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.343

[34] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.129

[35] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.343

[36] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.78

[37] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.553

[38] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.101

[39] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.87

[40] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.349

[41] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.350

[42] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.55

[43] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.118

[44] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.134

[45] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.134

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“Our Army Would be Invincible if…” The Problem of Senior Leadership in the Army of Northern Virginia June 1863 Part One First and Second Corps

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This is another installment of my Gettysburg campaign series and the first of four segments on the problems faced by Robert E. Lee as he attempted to find experienced and competent senior leaders to fill Corps, Division and Brigade command positions. I had planned this to be a single entry, but it has kind of taken on a life of its own…such is the life of a historian…. Anyway, I should be publishing the second part on A.P. Hill’s Third Corps and Stuart’s Cavalry division  tomorrow or Wednesday. Likewise, I will be expanding the second about Ewell’s Second Corps leadership and then doing a similar series on the problems of leadership in the Army of the Potomac, which undoubtedly take on a life of its own too…

An issue faced by armies that are forced to expand to meet the demands of war is the promotion and selection of competent leaders at all levels of command. It has been an issue throughout American military history including during our recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The expansion of forces, the creation of new units and operational demands to employ those units sometimes result in officers being promoted, selected to command, being given field command or critical senior staff positions when in normal times they would not. To be fair, some do rise to the occasion and perform in an exemplary manner. Others do not. Those leaders that do not are quite often weeded out over the course of time but often not before their lack of experience, or incompetence proves disastrous on the battlefield. As Barbara Tuchman so eloquently put it:

“When the moment of live ammunition approaches, the moment to which all his professional training has been directed, when the lives of the men under him, the issue of the combat, even the fate of a campaign may depend upon his decision at a given moment, what happens inside the heart and vitals of a commander? Some are made bold by the moment, some irresolute, some carefully judicious, some paralyzed and powerless to act.” [1]

Stonewall Jackson was dead and with his death after the Pyrrhic victory at Chancellorsville General Robert E. Lee was faced with the necessity of reorganizing his army. Jackson’s loss was disastrous for Lee, for he lost the one man who understood him and his method of command more than anyone, someone for whom he had a deep and abiding affection. Months before Jackson’s death Lee said of him “Such an executive officer the sun has never shown on, I have but to show him my design, and I know that it if it can be done it will be done.” [2] After Jackson’s loss Lee said “I had such implicit confidence in Jackson’s skill and energy that I never troubled myself to give him detailed instructions. The most general suggestions were all that he needed.” [3] Lee met the loss with “resignation and deep perplexity,” his words displayed that sense of loss, as well as his sense of faith and trust in God’s providence “I know not how to replace him. God’s will be done. I trust He will raise someone up in his place…” [4]

In addition to the loss of Jackson, a major part of Lee’s problem was organizational. In 1862 Lee inherited an army that was a “hodgepodge of forces” [5] which was organized in an “unwieldy divisional command system, where green commanders out of necessity were given considerable independence.” [6] That organization was tested and found wanting during the Seven Days campaign where on numerous occasions division commanders failed to coordinate their actions with those of adjacent divisions or failed to effectively control their own troops during movement to contact or combat.

Shortly after the Seven Days Lee reorganized the army, working with the material that he had. He divided the army into two corps, under Jackson and James Longstreet, each composed of four divisions consisting of about 30,000 troops apiece. While both commanders were technically equals, it was Jackson to whom Lee relied on for the most daring tasks, and whom he truly considered his closest confidant and his “executive officer.”

The organization worked well at Second Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, although Longstreet’s corps was detached from the army at the time of the latter, and with the loss of Jackson on the first night of that battle neither A.P. Hill nor J.E.B. Stuart effectively commanded Second Corps during the remainder of the battle.

Longstreet and Jackson served to balance each other and each enjoyed the trust of Lee. Lee’s biographer Michael Korda calls them the:

“yin and yang of subordinates. Jackson was superb at guessing from a few words exactly what Lee wanted done, and setting out to do it immediately without argument or further instructions; Longstreet was as good a soldier, but he was an instinctive contrarian and stubbornly insisted on making Lee think twice, and to separate what was possible from what was not.” [7]

Both men had been instrumental to Lee’s battlefield success and both played indispensable roles in Lee’s ability to command the army.

Likewise, the sheer size of Lee’s formations posed problems both in moment and combat, as Lee noted “Some of our divisions exceed the army Genl Scott entered Mexico with, & our brigades are larger than divisions”…that created stupendous headaches in “causing orders & req[uisitions] to be obeyed.” [8] Lee wrote to Jefferson Davis on May 20th “I have for the past year felt that the corps of the army were too large for one commander. Nothing prevented my proposing to you to reduce their size and increase their number but my inability to recommend commanders.” [9]

In the hands of Longstreet and Jackson these massive corps were in the good hands of leaders who could effectively handle them, “but in anyone else’s hands, a corps the size of Jackson’s or Longstreet’s might prove so big as to become clumsy, or even worse, might call for a degree of micromanagement that Lee and his diminutive staff might not be able to deliver.” [10] Thus Lee did not try to replace Jackson; he wrote to Davis the reasons for creating a new corps:

“Each corps contains in fighting condition about 30,000 men. These are more than one man can handle & keep under his eye in battle….They are always beyond the range and vision & frequently beyond his reach. The loss of Jackson from the command of one half of the army seems to me a good opportunity to remedy this evil.” [11]

Instead of appointing one man to command Second Corps, Lee reorganized the army and created two corps from it, stripping a division of Longstreet to join the new Third Corps and dividing the large “Light” Division of A.P. Hill, which under Hill’s “intelligent administration probably is the best in the army” [12] into two divisions.

The problem for Lee was just who to place in command of the new corps and divisions that he was creating. Lee was deeply aware of this problem, and wrote to John Bell Hood that the army would be “invincible if it could be properly organized and officered. There never were such men in an Army before. The will go anywhere and do anything if properly led. But there is the difficulty-proper commanders- where can they be obtained?” [13] Lee sought the best commanders possible for his army, but the lack of depth in the ranks of season, experienced commanders, as well as the need to placate political leaders made some choices necessary evils.

The First Corps, under Longstreet remained relatively intact, but now less the division of Major General Richard Anderson, which was transferred to the new Third Corps. The First Corps now had three divisions instead of four, those of Major General Lafayette McLaws, Major General John Bell Hood and Major General George Pickett. McLaws and Hood were both experienced division commanders who worked well under Longstreet.

McLaws had served in the old army. An 1842 graduate of West Point McLaws served in the infantry and was resigned from the army in 1861 to take command of a Georgia regiment.   McLaws was “a capable soldier without flair, who steady performance never produced a high moment. His reliability and dogged tenacity rubbed off on his men, however, and made them as hard to dislodge as any in the army.” [14] Porter Alexander noted that in the defense “McLaws was about the best in the army…being very painstaking about details, & having an eye for good ground.” [15] But there was a drawback, for all of his solidness and fortitude “he lacked a military imagination,” and was “best when told exactly what to do and closely supervised by superiors.” [16]His division was typical of many in First Corps, “outstanding on defense and led by a competent soldier, they were thoroughly dependable. With the reliance of old pro’s, they did what they were told, stood up under heavy casualties, and produced tremendous firepower.” [17]

McLaws was fortunate to have solid brigade commanders, three of whom had served with him from the beginning, so the lack of familiarity so common in the divisions of Second and Third Corps was not an issue. Interestingly none were professional soldiers.

Brigadier General Joseph Kershaw was a lawyer and politician he had served in Mexico with the Palmetto Regiment and volunteered for service as South Carolina succeeded and he was at Fort Sumter. As commander of the 2nd South Carolina and as a brigade commander he distinguished himself during the Seven Days, Antietam and Fredericksburg He displayed an almost natural ability for “quick and rational decisions, and he never endangered his men rashly. McLaws had complete faith in him and his brigade…” [18]

Brigadier General Paul Semmes was a banker and plantation owner from Georgia and the brother of the Confederacy’s most famous naval commander, Raphael Semmes, who commanded the Raider C.S.S. Alabama. Semmes “was well known in Georgia as a man both of military tastes & accomplishments before the war & though of no military education he was one of the first generals created.” [19] He commanded the 2nd Georgia Regiment and by 1862 was in command of McLaws’ old brigade which he led with distinction during the Seven Days, Antietam and Chancellorsville. By Gettysburg he “had proved himself a worthy and capable brigadier” [20] and Porter Alexander wrote “and it is due to say that there was never a braver or a better.” [21]

Brigadier General William Barksdale was a Mississippi lawyer, newspaper editor and politician who had served in Mexico as a quartermaster, but who “frequently appeared at the front during heavy fighting, often coatless and carrying a large sword.” [22] He was one of the few generals who had been “violently pro-slavery and secessionist” [23] and as a Congressman had been involved in the altercation when Representative Preston Brooks nearly killed Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner in the Senate chamber. At the outbreak of the war Barksdale volunteered for service and took command of a brigade at Malvern Hill and at Antietam and Fredericksburg was in the thick of the fight. He had a strong bond with his soldiers.

Brigadier General William Wofford was the newest of McLaws’ brigade commanders. Wofford was a Georgia newspaper owner and lawyer who had done a great deal of fighting in the Mexican War where he commanded a company despite having no military education. He was considered a man of “high morale bearing…of the strictest sobriety, and, indeed of irreproachable moral character.” [24] Demonstrating the tensions of the day Wofford was a “staunch Unionist Democrat” who “opposed secession and voted against it at the Georgia secession convention.” [25] Wofford volunteered for service and was “elected colonel of the first Georgia regiment to volunteer for the war.” [26] That being said Wofford “was a decided Union man from first to last during the whole war” and saw “with exceptional prescience…the certain fatality” of secession, but once the deed was done, he closed ranks…” [27] Wofford served well as a regimental commander and acting brigade commander during the Seven Days, Second Manassas, Antietam and Fredericksburg and was promoted to the brigadier general and command of a brigade just before Chancellorsville.

Major General John Bell Hood was an 1853 graduate of West Point and had served as a cavalry officer under Lee’s command in Texas. He gained a stellar reputation as a leader and fighter and when his home state of Kentucky did not secede he attached himself to his adopted state of Texas. He began the war as a lieutenant but by 1862 was a Brigadier General commanding the only Texas brigade in the east. He took command of a division following the Seven Days and during the next year built a “combat record unequalled by any in the army at his level.” [28] And the “reputation gained as commander of the Texas Brigade and as a division commander made him both a valuable general officer and a celebrity who transcended his peers.” [29]

Hood’s brigade commanders were as solid as group as any in the army:

Brigadier General Evander Law was a graduate of the South Carolina Military (the Citadel) and a professor in various military colleges and schools before the war. He served admirably as a regiment and brigade commander during the Seven Days, Second Manassas, and Antietam and was promoted to brigadier general in October 1862 just prior to Fredericksburg. After Chancellorsville he was the senior brigadier in Hood’s division. He had “military training, youth, dash ability and familiarity with his men- a formidable package in combat.” [30]

Brigadier General George “Tige” Anderson was a Georgian who had served in Mexico as a lieutenant of Georgia cavalry and in 1865 was commissioned as a captain in the Regular cavalry, but resigned after three years. He had no formal military training but was considered a capable officer. He was present at most of the major battles fought by the Army of Northern Virginia but in most cases his brigade had not been heavily engaged and had “little chance to distinguish himself” but he was loved by his soldiers. One wrote that he “stands up for us like a father” while another wrote “He is always at his post.” [31]

Hood’s old Texas Brigade was commanded by Brigadier General Jerome Robertson. At the age of forty-eight he had served with Sam Houston in the Texas War for Independence and later took time off to serve fighting Indians. He practiced medicine in Texas and in 1861 was a pro-secession delegate to the Texas secession convention. He was commissioned as a Captain and promoted to Colonel of the 5th Texas just prior to the Seven Days and led that unit to fame. He was promoted after Antietam to command the Texas Brigade. Away from most of the action at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville he would have his first combat experience as a brigade commander at Gettysburg.

Brigadier General Henry Benning was a lawyer and Georgia Supreme Court justice. While not having any military training or experience he was “known to all as a man of the highest integrity, and he was compared in character to that earlier champion of the South, John Calhoun. He was one of the most industrious and capable men in the Confederacy.” [32] Unlike other Confederate political leaders he favored a strong central government for the new South. He was considered a prime candidate for a cabinet post but had already decided to serve in the new army and helped organize the 17th Georgia Infantry. As a regiment commander and acting brigade commander at Antietam, his brigade had held off Burnside’s corps at the Burnside Bridge and became known as “Old Rock” [33]and was a “proven commander” who “provided strong leadership and bolstered the confidence of the men under him.” [34]

Major General George Pickett had commanded his division for some time, but Pickett “had never led his division in combat.” [35] Likewise the brigades of his division had not fought together in a major engagement and the division was new to fighting as a part of First Corps. The campaign would also be Pickett’s first offensive campaign as a division commander. Pickett was an 1846 graduate of West Point who though well liked “showed evidence of a meager intellect and aversion to hard work.” [36] However he distinguished himself by his gallantry at Chapultapec in the Mexican War where taking the colors from the wounded Longstreet and “carried them over the wall[37] gaining fame around the country for the exploit. Pickett was a protégé of Longstreet who “had been instrumental in Pickett’s appointment to divisional command.” [38] Pickett was “untried at his new rank, but had been an excellent brigade leader and with Longstreet’s full support was apt to direct with wisdom his larger force.” [39]

Pickett’s division only had three of his five brigades at Gettysburg. Two were commanded by old Regular officer’s Richard Garnett and Lewis Armistead, and the third by James Kemper.

Brigadier General James Kemper was the only non-professional soldier of the three brigade commanders. Kemper had been a captain of volunteers in the Mexican War, but that war ended before he could see action. He was a politician who had served twice as Virginia’s Speaker of the House and “was another of those civilian leaders who, accustomed to authority, translated their gifts to command in the field.” [40] During his time as a legislator Kemper had served as “chairman of the Military Affairs Committee in the years before the Civil War, and insisted on a high level of military preparedness.” [41] Kemper served as commander of the 7th Virginia Regiment and was promoted to brigadier general after Seven Pines and commanded the brigade at Second Manassas and Antietam. He was “very determined and was respected by brother officers for solid qualities and sound judgment.” [42]

Brigadier Richard Garnett came to his command and to Gettysburg under a cloud. He was a West Point graduate, class of 1841who strong Unionist, but who had resigned his commission in the Regular Army because he “felt it an imperative duty to sacrifice everything in support of his native state in her time of trial.” [43] Garnett had run afoul of Jackson while commanding the Stonewall Brigade and during the Valley campaign had been relieved of command and arrested by Jackson for ordering a retreat without Jackson’s permission. Garnett had been “humiliated by accusations of cowardice” [44] and demanded a court-martial which never was held as Lee transferred him away from Jackson to Pickett’s division. Gettysburg offered him “his first real opportunity with Pickett’s division to clear his honor as a gentleman and a soldier.” [45]

Pickett’s last brigade was commanded by an old Regular, and longtime friend and comrade of Garnett, Brigadier General Lewis Armistead. He was expelled from West Point and later was commissioned directly into the infantry in 1839. He fought in the Mexican War where he received two brevet promotions for gallantry and was wounded at Chapultapec. Like Garnett Armistead resigned his commission in 1861 to serve in the Confederate army where he took command of the 57th Virginia Infantry and shortly thereafter was promoted to Brigadier General. He held brigade command and served Provost Marshal during Lee’s 1862 invasion of Maryland. He had seen little action since Second Manassas, but was known for “his toughness, sound judgment and great personal courage.” [46]

To command what was left of Second Corps Lee promoted Major General Richard Ewell to Lieutenant General. Ewell had been an effective and dependable division commander under Jackson but had been wounded at Groveton where he was severely wounded and lost a leg, which meant the “absence for long months of the most generous, best disciplined, and in many soldierly qualities, the ablest of Jackson’s subordinates.” [47] However, Ewell, though serving long with Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley had served “only briefly under Lee” [48] before being wounded at Groveton. The result was that neither fully knew or understood each other. Lee knew Ewell’s excellent reputation among the soldiers of Second Corps and “may have heard rumors that on his deathbed Jackson expressed a preference for Ewell as his successor.” [49] Ewell was a modest man and “had maintained a reputation for solid competence.” [50] Freeman wrote:

“In part, the appointment of Dick Ewell was made because of sentimental association with the name Jackson, and in part because of admiration for his unique, picturesque, and wholly lovable personality. Of his ability to lead a corps nothing was known. Ewell had never handled more than a division and he had served with Lee directly for less than a month.” [51]

In sending the recommendation on to Richmond Lee termed Ewell “an honest, brave soldier, who has always done his duty well.” [52] It was not a resounding recommendation, but then Lee barely knew Ewell. Lee wrote after the war that he recommended Ewell “with full knowledge of “his faults as a military leader- his quick alternations from elation to despondency[,] his want of decision &c.” [53] Many questions hovered around the appointment of Ewell including how the loss of his leg, his recent marriage, newness to corps command and unfamiliarity with Lee’s style of command would have on him. Had Lee known that the humble Ewell had reservations of his own about assuming command of a corps and going back to battle after the traumatic amputation of his leg, he had written “I don’t feel up to a separate command” and he had “no desire to see the carnage and shocking sights of another field of battle.” [54]

Ewell’s reorganized Second Corps now consisted of his former division, commanded since Antietam by Major General Jubal Early. Early was an unusual character. He was a West Point graduate who had served in the Seminole wars, left the army and became a highly successful lawyer. He served in the Mexican war as a Major with Virginia volunteers and returned to civilian life. He was “notoriously a bachelor and at heart a lonely man.” Unlike many Confederate officers he had “no powerful family connections, and by a somewhat bitter tongue and rasping wit” isolated himself from his peers.[55] He was a Whig and opposed succession, volunteering for service only after Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to crush the rebellion. Called the “my old bad man” by Lee, who “appreciated Early’s talents as a soldier and displayed personal fondness for his cantankerous and profane Lieutenant …who only Stonewall Jackson received more difficult assignments from Lee.” [56] He was affectionately known as “Old Jube” or “Jubilee” by his soldiers he is the most influential of Ewell’s commanders, and his “record in battle prior to Gettysburg was unsurpassed.” [57]

The corps also contains the former division of Stonewall Jackson under the command of Edward “Old Allegheny” Johnson, an old regular with a solid record of service. However, Johnson had spent a year recovering from a serious wound and took command of the division after Chancellorsville. He was an outsider to the division, “with no real experience above the brigade level” and he was “unfamiliar with the qualities and limitations of his four new brigadiers.” [58] The former division of D.H. Hill was now under the command of Robert Rodes, a VMI graduate and professor who had never served in the Regular Army and only had briefly commanded a division before his appointment to command. Rodes was a solid officer who in time became an excellent division commander, but at Gettysburg he was still new and untried. In the summer of 1863 Rodes was one of the Army of Northern Virginia’s brightest stars…because of his effective, up-front style of combat leadership.” [59]

The brigade level commanders in the corps were another matter. Early’s division included standouts such as Brigadier General John Gordon and Harry Hays, which was balanced out by the weakness of Brigadier General William “Extra Billy” Smith and the inexperience of Colonel Isaac Avery, who commanded the brigade of Robert Hoke who had been wounded at Chancellorsville.

In Johnson’s division the situation was more unsettled, as Johnson and all of his brigade commanders were new to their commands. Johnson’s division had Brigadier General George “Maryland” Steuart, a tough old regular cavalry officer who was new to command of a troubled brigade whose commander had just been relieved, Brigadier General John Marshall Jones who also was a former regular, but who had a well-known problem with alcohol, who had never held a field command, like his division commander he was new to the division. Brigadier General James Walker commanded the “Stonewall” Brigade. Walker replaced the brigade commander, Paxton who had been killed at Chancellorsville. He had commanded the 13th Virginia in Ewell’s division and served as acting commander of different brigades during the Seven Days, Antietam and Fredericksburg and had a solid record of success. He had just been promoted to Brigadier General and was new to both the Stonewall Brigade and the division whose officers initially resisted the appointment of an outsider but soon warmed up to their new commander. Colonel Jesse Williams had just taken command of the brigade of Brigadier General Francis Nichols who had been wounded at Chancellorsville.

Rodes division was the largest in the army with five brigades present at Gettysburg. His brigade commanders were a mixed bag ranging from the excellent Brigadier General George Doles and Stephen Ramseur, Brigadier General Junius Daniel, a former regular who had much brigade command time but little combat experience, despite the lack of combat experience Daniel was well respected and “had the essential qualities of a true soldier and successful officer, brave, vigilant, honest…gifted as an organizer and disciplinarian, skilled in handling troops.” [60] However, Rodes was saddled with two commanders of dubious quality, Brigadier General Alfred Iverson, who was hated by his men and Colonel Edward O’Neal, a leading secessionist politician “who had absolutely no military experience before the war” [61] and who had been ineffective as an acting brigade commander when he took over for Rodes at Chancellorsville, however, Lee was forced to leave O’Neal at the head of his brigade for lack of other senior leaders over Rodes objections.

To be continued…

Notes

[1] Tuchman, Barbara The Guns of August Ballantine Books, New York 1962 Amazon Kindle edition location 2946

[2] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His Critics Brassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.128

[3] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.30

[4] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 p.524

[5] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.30

[6] Hagerman, Edward. The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare. Midland Book Editions, Indiana University Press. Bloomington IN. 1992 p.110

[7] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.527

[8] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 pp.20-21

[9] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993

[10] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.20-21

[11] Thomas, Emory Robert E. Lee W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 1995 p.289

[12] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.35

[13] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.12

[14] Tagg, Larry The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle Da Capo Press Cambridge MA 1998 Amazon Kindle Edition pp.208-209

[15] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p.170

[16] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.209

[17] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.176

[18] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.214

[19] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.80

[20] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.217

[21] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.80

[22] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg pp.217-218

[23] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.217

[24] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.296

[25] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.221

[26] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.297

[27] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.296-297

[28] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.224

[29] Pfanz, Harry F. Gettysburg: The Second Day. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1987 p.161

[30] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.228

[31] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.230

[32] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.234

[33] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.430

[34] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.235

[35] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.12

[36] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.237

[37] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.45

[38] Wert, Jeffery D. Gettysburg Day Three A Touchstone Book, New York 2001 p.110

[39] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.385

[40] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.268

[41] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.241

[42] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.269

[43] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.269

[44] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.379

[45] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.270

[46] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.244

[47] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.322

[48] Gallagher, Gary. Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg: A.P. Hill and Richard S. Ewell in a Difficult Debut in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.47

[49] Ibid. Gallagher Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p.47

[50] Ibid. Taylor, John Duty Faithfully Performed p.130

[51] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.322

[52] Ibid. Gallagher Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p.48

[53] Ibid. Gallagher Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p..49

[54] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.23

[55] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.33

[56] Gallagher, Gary W. Jubal A. Early, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History: A Persistent Legacy; Frank L Klement Lecture, Alternate Views of the Sectional Conflict Marquette University Press Marquette WI 2003 p.11

[57] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.256

[58] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg pp.269-270

[59] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p. 284

[60] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.292

[61] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.299

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Strategy and Policy: Lee’s Offensive Gettysburg Campaign -The Worst of Both Worlds

A cohesive national strategy involves true debate and consideration of all available courses of action. It must look at the ends, ways and means of achieving national strategic objectives as well as the risk entailed in each course of action. It has to involve both the political leadership and military commanders. Clausewitz said: “the supreme, most far reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish by that test the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature.” [1]

“Wars are not free flowing events, sufficient unto themselves as objects for study and understanding. Instead they are entirely the product of their contexts.” [2] Thus it is imperative that both political and military leaders understand for what purpose they embark on a war or begin a campaign. Even in the recent American experience we can recount time after time where American political leaders of both the Republican and Democrat parties, as well as military leaders and planners have failed to grasp the central truth of was Clausewitz wrote about the nature of war.

davis and cabinet

British political and military theorist Colin S. Gray writes: “Choice of strategy can determine whether or not policy goals will be attainable. And that choice must provide the most vital contexts for tactical behavior. Once policy objectives have been chosen, strategy is the function that delivers victory.” [3] In our recent wars and in the American Civil War this maxim has been born out time and time again.

Thus, the Gettysburg campaign has to be looked at in the context of Grand Strategy and what was necessary for both sides to achieve their goals. For the Confederacy this was independence and in the context of the Gettysburg campaign the key question is whether it should have been made at all. While Lee is regarded as a masterful commander by many, the myth created by the Lost Cause school of history, in which the failure of Confederate war aims cannot be ascribed to Lee, keeps many people from asking the hard questions of strategy, and how Lee as commander failed to understand what was best for his country.

The key consideration, as Alan T. Nolan observes “must be whether a general’s actions helped or hurt the cause of his government in view of that government’s grand strategy. In short, the appropriate inquiry is to ask whether a general’s actions related positively or negatively to the war objectives and national policy of his government.” [4] The question was one of following a strategy of the defensive as Washington had done in the Revolutionary War, or a strategy of the offense culminating in a climactic battle that would decide the outcome of the war.

A defensive strategy was seen by British observers early in the war as the most feasibly for achieving Southern military and political goals in relationship to attaining independence. In the Revolution, Washington remained on the “grand strategic defensive” and “lost many battles and retreated many times, but they kept their forces in the field to avoid being ultimately defeated, and they won because the British decided that the struggle was either too hopeless or too burdensome to pursue.” [5] They had no doubt that this was the best policy for the Confederate government and military to achieve their strategic end.

The terrain of Virginia, particularly the number of east-west running rivers, the swamps that lay to the east of Richmond and the nearly impassible Wilderness to its north made any Union offensive a costly proposition. Clausewitz noted that terrain has “a decisive influence on the engagement, both as to its course and to its planning and exploitation….Their principle effect lies in the realm of tactics, but the outcome is a matter of strategy” [6]

This naturally advantageous terrain gave the advantage to Lee on the defense, but Lee seemed to never fully appreciate the strategic strength that the nature of the terrain, especially that of the Wilderness offered him. J.F.C. Fuller noted that “the Wilderness had been his staunchest ally. It was not only a natural fortress protecting Richmond, but a spider’s web to any army advancing from the north. Lee never fully realized this, for if he had done so his strategy would have been based upon maneuvering his enemy again and again into this entanglement and defeating him.” [7]

However, the strategic defensive was not that of Robert E. Lee. Lee’s view throughout the war, even as late as the siege of Petersburg was that of the offensive and climactic battle: “If we can defeat or drive the armies of the enemy from the field, we shall have peace. Our efforts and energies should be devoted to that object.” [8]

In 1863 the Confederacy was confronted with the choice of how it would deal with the multiple threats to it posed by Union forces in both the West at Vicksburg, as well as in Tennessee as well as the East, where the Army of the Potomac was in striking distance of Richmond. The strategic situation was bad but few Confederate politicians realized just how bad things were, or cared in the post Chancellorsville euphoria.

In the west the strategic river city of Vicksburg Mississippi was threatened by the Army of Union General Ulysses S Grant, and Naval forces under the command of Admiral David Farragut and Admiral David Dixon Porter. If Vicksburg fell the Union would control the entire Mississippi and cut the Confederacy in two. Union forces also maintained a strong presence in the areas of the Virginia Tidewater and the coastal areas of the Carolinas; while in Tennessee a Union Army under Rosecrans, was stalemated, but still threatening Chattanooga, the gateway to the Deep South. The blockade of the United States Navy continually reinforced since its establishment in 1861, had crippled the already tenuous economy of the Confederacy. The once mocked “anaconda strategy” devised by General Winfield Scott was beginning to pay dividends. [9] Of the nine major Confederate ports linked by rail to the inland cities the Union, all except three; Mobile, Wilmington and Charleston were in Union hands by April 1862. [10]

However, the Confederate response to the danger was “divided councils and paralysis” [11] in their upper leadership, between those like Lee who advocated for the offensive and those like Davis who advocated a defensive strategy. The military relationship between Lee and Davis “represented a continuous compromise between the president’s undeclared policy of outlasting the enemy and the general’s purpose of winning by breaking the enemy’s will to continue their effort at subjugation.” [12]

Davis, though he was Commander-in-Chief wavered between the two strategic ideas throughout the first years of the war, something that was worse than coming to no decision at all. Lee’s latest biographer Michael Korda makes the point that: “The danger that the Confederacy might unravel from west to east, whatever happened between the Rappahannock and the Potomac, was Grant’s central strategic idea, and should have been the overriding concern of the Confederate government; but Lee’s position as the South’s most respected and admired military figure, the high drama of his rapid marches and his victories against much larger armies had a profound effect on southern military strategy.” [13] Instead it was not, and a fog of confused policies confounded Confederate war efforts.

Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon and President Jefferson Davis recognized the danger in the winter of 1862-1863. During the winter Davis and Seddon suggested to Lee that he detach significant units, including Pickett’s division to relieve the pressure in the west and blunt Grant’s advance. Lee would have nothing of it; he argued that the war would be won in the East. He told Seddon that “The adoption of your proposition is hazardous, and it becomes a question between Virginia and the Mississippi.” [14] From a strategic point of view it is hard to believe that Lee could not see this, “but in the post-Chancellorsville aura of invincibility, anything seemed possible.” [15]

However, much of Lee’s reasoning can be explained by what he saw as his first duty, the defense of Virginia. Lee’s biographer Michael Korda points out that Lee’s strategic argument was very much influenced by his love of Virginia, which remained his first love, despite his deep commitment to the Confederacy. Korda noted that Lee: “could never overcome a certain myopia about his native state. He remained a Virginian first and foremost…..” [16] Fuller wrote that Lee “was so obsessed by the idea of threatening Washington in order to relieve Northern Virginia, that throughout his generalship he never saw the war as a whole.” [17] It was Lee’s view that if Virginia was lost, so was the Confederacy, and was concerned that whatever units left behind should he dispatch troops from his Army west, would be unable to defend Richmond.

Likewise, despite the success of his defensive battles at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, Lee was not encouraged. Those victories had elated the Confederacy and caused great concern in the North. But Lee was depressed after each. Lee told Harry Heth after Chancellorsville: “Our people were wild with delight- I, on the contrary, was more depressed than after Fredericksburg; our loss was severe, and again we had not gained an inch of ground, and the enemy could not be pursued…” [18]

Some Confederate leaders realized the mortal danger presented by Grant in the West including officials in the War Department, one of whom wrote “The crisis there is of the greatest moment. The loss of Vicksburg and the Mississippi river…would wound us very deeply in a political as well as a military point of view.” [19]

Despite this Seddon did remain in favor of shifting troops west and relieving Vicksburg. He was backed in this by Joseph Johnston, Braxton Bragg, P.T.G. Beauregard and James Longstreet. In Mid-May of 1863 Beauregard proposed a strategy to concentrate all available forces in in Tennessee and going to the strategic defensive on all other fronts. Beauregard, probably the best Southern strategist “saw clearly that the decisive point lay in the West and not the East.” [20] Beauregard’s plan was to mass Confederate forces was crush Rosecrans, relieve Vicksburg and then move east to assist Lee in destroying the Army of the Potomac in his words to complete “the terrible lesson the enemy has just had at Chancellorsville.” [21] His plan was never acknowledged and in a letter to Johnston, where he re-sent the plan he noted “I hope everything will turn out well, although I do not exactly see how.” [22]

James Longstreet had proposed a similar measure to Seddon in February 1863 and then again on May 6th in Richmond. Longstreet believed that “the Confederacy’s greatest opportunity lay “in the skillful use of our interior lines.” [23] He suggested to Seddon that two of his divisions link up with Johnston and Bragg and defeat Rosecrans and upon doing that move toward Cincinnati. Longstreet argued that since Grant would have the only Union troops that could stop such a threat that it would relieve “Pemberton at Vicksburg.” [24] Seddon favored Longstreet’s proposal but Jefferson Davis having sought Lee’s counsel rejected the plan, Longstreet in a comment critical of Davis’s rejection of the proposal wrote: “But foreign intervention was the ruling idea with the President, and he preferred that as the easiest solution of all problems.” [25] Following that meeting Longstreet pitched the idea to Lee who according to Longstreet “recognized the suggestion as of good combination, and giving strong assurance of success, but he was averse to having a part of his army so far beyond his reach.” [26]

In early May 1863 Lee, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia realized that the Confederacy was in desperate straits. Despite numerous victories against heavy odds, Lee knew that time was running out. Though he had beaten the Army of the Potomac under General Joseph Hooker at Chancellorsville, he had not destroyed it and Hooker’s Army, along with a smaller force commanded by General Dix in Hampton Roads still threatened Richmond. He had rejected the western option presented by Seddon, Beauregard and Longstreet. Lee questioned “whether additional troops there would redress the balance in favor of the Confederacy, and he wondered how he would be able to cope with the powerful Army of the Potomac.” [27]

In Lee’s defense neither of these suggestions was unsound, but his alternative, an offensive into Pennsylvania just as unsound and undertaken for “confused” reasons. Confederate leaders realized that “something had to be done to save Vicksburg; something had to be done to prevent Hooker from recrossing the Rappahannock; something had to be done to win European recognition, or compel the North to consider terms of peace…[28] However added to these reasons, and perhaps the most overarching for Lee was “to free the State of Virginia, for a time at least, from the presence of the enemy” and “to transfer the theater of war to Northern soil….” [29]

On May 14th Lee travelled by train to Richmond to meet with President Jefferson Davis and War Secretary James Seddon. At the meeting Lee argued for an offensive campaign in the east, to take the war to Pennsylvania. Lee had three major goals for the offensive, two which were directly related to the immediate military situation and one which went to the broader strategic situation.

Lee had long believed that an offensive into the North was necessary, even before Chancellorsville. As already noted, Lee did not believe that reinforcing the Confederate Armies in the West would provide any real relief for Vicksburg. Lee believed, quite falsely, that the harsh climate alone would force Grant to break off his siege of Vicksburg. [30] Russell Weigley wrote that “In truth, Lee seems to have been less than fully responsive to the problems of the West, partly out of Virginia parochialism- he always regarded his sword as serving his first state of Virginia-and partly in adherence to his military philosophy,” [31] that of the offensive. Lee was not willing to sacrifice Virginia for the west, and “tenaciously fought every suggestion that the Army of Northern Virginia be denuded to reinforce the west, and his influence over Davis guaranteed, at least until the fall of 1863, that the defense of Virginia would always be able to outweigh the demands for help from the Confederate forces in the West.” [32]

Instead of sending troops west, Lee believed that his army, flush with victory needed to be reinforced and allowed to advance into Pennsylvania. Lee proposed withdrawing Beauregard’s 16,000 soldiers from the Carolinas to the north in order “increase the known anxiety of Washington authorities” [33] and he sought the return of four veteran brigades which had been loaned to D.H. Hill in North Carolina. In this he was unsuccessful. He received two relatively untested brigades from Hill; those of Johnston Pettigrew and Joseph Davis instead two of Pickett’s veteran brigades. The issue of the lack of reinforcements was a “commentary on the severe manpower strains rending the Confederacy…and Davis wrote Lee on May 31st, “and sorely regret that I cannot give you the means which would make it quite safe to attempt all that we desire.” [34]

Lee’s Chief of Staff Colonel Charles Marshall crafted a series of courses of action for Lee designed to present the invasion option as the only feasible alternative for the Confederacy. Lee’s presentation was an “either or” proposal. He gave short shrift to any possibility of reinforcing Vicksburg and explained “to my mind, it resolved itself into a choice of one of two things: either to retire to Richmond and stand a siege, which must ultimately end in surrender, or to invade Pennsylvania.” [35] As any military planner knows the presentation of courses of action designed to lead listeners to the course of action that a commander prefers by ignoring the risks of such action, downplaying other courses of action is disingenuous. In effect Lee was asking Davis and his cabinet to “choose between certain defeat and possibly victory” [36] while blatantly ignoring other courses of action or playing down other very real threats in the West.

Lee embraced the offensive as his grand strategy and rejected the defensive in his presentation to the Confederate cabinet, and they were “awed” by Lee’s strategic vision. Swept up in Lee’s presentation the cabinet approved the invasion despite the fact that “most of the arguments he made to win its approval were more opportunistic than real.” [37] However, Postmaster General John Reagan objected and stated his dissent arguing that Vicksburg had to be the top priority. But Lee was persuasive telling the cabinet “There were never such men in any army before….They will go anywhere and do anything if properly led….” So great was the prestige of Lee, “whose fame…now filled the world,” that he carried the day.” [38]

Although both Seddon and Davis had reservations about the plan they agreed to it. Unfortunately for all of them they never really settled the important goals of the campaign including how extensive the invasion would be, how many troops would he need and where he would get them. [39] The confusion about these issues was fully demonstrated by Davis in his letter of May 31st where he “had never fairly comprehended” Lee’s “views and purposes” until he received a letter and dispatch from the general that day.” [40] That lack of understanding is surprising since Lee had made several personal visits to Davis and the cabinet during May and demonstrates again the severe lack of understanding of the strategic problems by Confederate leaders.

Lee believed that his offensive would relieve Grant’s pressure on Pemberton’s Army at Vicksburg. How it would do so is not clear since the Union had other armies and troops throughout the east to parry any thrust made had the Army of the Potomac endured a decisive defeat that not only drove it from the battlefield but destroyed it as a fighting force. Postmaster General Reagan believed that the only way to stop Grant was “destroy him” and “move against him with all possible reinforcements.” [41]

Likewise Lee believed that if he was successful in battle and defeated the Army of the Potomac in Pennsylvania that it could give the peace party in the North to bring pressure on the Lincoln Administration to end the war. This too was a misguided belief and Lee would come to understand that as his forces entered Maryland and Pennsylvania where there was no popular support for his invading army. The fact was that those that “though there was a strong peace party in the North, they did not realize that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had settled once and for all the question of foreign intervention, and second that to invade the North would consolidate the Federals instead of dividing them.” [42]

In the meeting with the cabinet, Postmaster-General Reagan, agreed with General Beauregard and warned that “the probability that the threatened danger to Washington would arouse again the whole of the Yankee nation to renewed efforts for the protection of their capital.” [43] Reagan was decidedly against Lee’s offensive. He “saw everything wrong with Lee’s plan and everything right with the plan it had superseded. Grant was the main threat to the survival of the Confederacy, and it was Grant at whom the main blow must be aimed and struck.” [44] But “Lee’s opinion carried so much weight that Davis felt compelled to concur” [45] with Lee and voted with the remaining cabinet members to allow the offensive.

Stephens the fire breathing Vice President “wanted to negotiate for peace, and he foresaw rightly that Lee’s offensive would strengthen and not weaken the war party in the North….Stephens was strongly of the opinion that Lee should have remained on the defensive and detached a strong force to assist Johnston against Grant at Vicksburg.” [46] However, he was kept in the dark as to Lee’s plans until after Lee had crossed the Potomac.

Likewise, Lee, the consummate defender of Virginia was determined to at least for a season remove the war from his beloved state. He believed that if he could spend a summer campaign season in the North, living off of Union foodstuffs and shipping booty back to the Confederacy that it would give farmers in Northern Virginia a season to harvest crops unimpeded by major military operations.

While the offensive did give a few months relief to these farmers it did not deliver them. Likewise Lee’s argument that he could not feed his army flies in the face of later actions where for the next two years the Army of Northern Virginia continued to subsist. Alan Nolan noted that if a raid for forage was a goal of the operation then “a raid by small, mobile forces rather than the entire army would have had considerably more promise and less risk.” [47] D. H. Hill in North Carolina wrote his wife: “Genl. Lee is venturing upon a very hazardous movement…and one that must be fruitless, if not disastrous.” [48]

Though Lee won permission to invade Pennsylvania, he did not get all that he desired. Lee wanted, and believed that he would have his entire army to conduct his offensive. However, Davis did not understand or conceive that Lee’s offensive scheme was a “change in the existing policy, a shift from the defense to the offense. To Davis, Lee’s invasion was merely a necessary expedient in the policy of static, scattered defensiveness.” [49]

Davis refused Lee reinforcements from the coastal Carolinas, and “had not the slightest intention of reducing a single garrison to support Lee’s offensive.” [50] Davis insisted on units being left to cover Richmond in case General Dix advanced on Richmond from Hampton Roads. Much of this was due to political pressure as well as the personal animus of General D. H. Hill who commanded Confederate forces in the Carolinas towards Lee. The units included two of Pickett’s brigades which would be sorely missed on July third in the doomed effort to break the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. As a result Lee was without a significant portion of his army when he moved north. Lee did not learn “until he had crossed the Potomac that four of his best brigades, the equivalent of a division, were to be uselessly employed away from the army.” [51]

Lee’s decision revealed an unresolved issue in Confederate Grand Strategy, the conflict between the strategy of the offensive and that of the defensive. Many in the Confederacy realized that the only hope for success was to fight a defensive campaign that made Union victory so expensive that eventually Lincoln’s government would fall or be forced to negotiate.

The conflict between those who believed in the offensive like Lee, and those that advocated a strategic defensive strategy resulted in indecision, which resulted in a policy that brought about “the worst of both worlds.” [52] The fact that Lee got permission to invade but was denied significant numbers of experienced troops as well as support from other departments meant that “what Lee designed as a total stroke from a concentration of its armed strength, was reduced to a desperate, unsupported gamble of one man with one army-and not all of that.” [53] Knowing this, Lee still chose to continue his offensive, something that along with his “own awareness of factors that argued against it.” [54]

Lee was convinced that ultimate victory could only be achieved by decisively defeating and destroying Federal military might in the East. His letters are full of references to crush, defeat or destroy Union forces opposing him. His strategy of the offensive was demonstrated on numerous occasions in 1862 and early 1863, however in the long term, the strategy of the offensive was unfeasible and “counterproductive in terms of the Confederacy’s “objects of war.” [55]

Lee’s offensive operations always cost his Army dearly in the one commodity that the South could not replace, nor keep pace with its Northern adversary, his men. His realism about that subject was shown after he began his offensive when he wrote Davis about how time was not on the side of the Confederacy. He wrote: “We should not therefore conceal from ourselves that our resources in men are constantly diminishing, and the disproportion in this respect…is steadily augmenting.” [56] Despite this, as well as knowing that in every offensive engagement, even in victory he was losing more men percentage wise than his opponent Lee persisted in the belief of the offensive.

When Lee fought defensive actions on ground of his choosing, like at Fredericksburg, he was not only successful but husbanded his strength. However, when he went on the offensive in almost every case he lost between 15 and 22 percent of his strength, a far higher percentage in every case than his Union opponents. In these battles the percentage of soldiers that he lost was always more than his Federal counterparts, even when his army inflicted greater aggregate casualties on his opponents. Those victories may have won Lee “a towering reputation” but these victories “proved fleeting when measured against their dangerous diminution of southern white manpower.” [57] Lee recognized this in his correspondence but he did not alter his strategy of the offensive until after his defeat at Gettysburg.

The course of action was decided upon, but one has to ask if Lee’s decision was wise decision at a strategic level, not simply the operational or tactical level where many Civil War students are comfortable. General Longstreet’s artillery commander, Colonel Porter Alexander described the appropriate strategy of the South well, he wrote:

“When the South entered upon war with a power so immensely her superior in men & money, & all the wealth of modern resources in machinery and the transportation appliances by land & sea, she could entertain but one single hope of final success. That was, that the desperation of her resistance would finally exact from her adversary such a price in blood & treasure as to exhaust the enthusiasm of its population for the objects of the war. We could not hope to conquer her. Our one chance was to wear her out.” [58]

What Alexander describes is the same type of strategy successfully employed by Washington and his more able officers during the American Revolution, Wellington’s campaign on the Iberian Peninsula against Napoleon’s armies, and that of General Giap against the French and Americans in Vietnam. It was not a strategy that completely avoided offensive actions, but saved them for the right moment when victory could be obtained.

It is my belief that Lee erred in invading the North for the simple fact that the risks far outweighed the possible benefits. As Russell Weigley noted “for a belligerent with the limited manpower resources of the Confederacy, General Lee’s dedication to an offensive strategy was at best questionable.” [59] The offensive was a long shot for victory at best, and Lee was a gambler, audacious possibly to a fault. His decision to go north exhibited a certain amount of hubris as he did not believe that his army could be beaten, even when it was outnumbered. Lee had to know from experience that even in victory “the Gettysburg campaign was bound to result in heavy Confederate casualties…limit his army’s capacity to maneuver…and to increase the risk of his being driven into a siege in the Richmond defenses.” [60] The fact that the campaign did exactly that demonstrates both the unsoundness of the campaign and is ironic, for Lee had repeatedly said in the lead up to the offensive in his meetings with Davis, Seddon and the cabinet that “a siege would be fatal to his army” [61] and “which must ultimately end in surrender.” [62]

Grand-strategy and national policy objectives must be the ultimate guide for operational decisions. “The art of employing military forces is obtaining the objects of war, to support the national policy of the government that raises the military forces.” [63] Using such criteria, despite his many victories Lee has to be judged as a failure as a military commander.

Lee knew from his previous experience that his army would suffer heavy casualties. Lee also understood that a victory over the Army of the Potomac deep in Northern territory could cost him dearly. He knew the effect that a costly victory would have on his operations, but he still took the risk. That decision was short sighted and diametrically opposed to the strategy that the South needed to pursue in order to gain its independence. Of course some will disagree, but I am comfortable in my assertion that it was a mistake that greatly affected the Confederacy’s only real means of securing its independence, the breaking of the will of the Union by making victory so costly that it would not be worth the cost.

In light of all of these factors one has to ask a question that is applicable as much today as it was to Lee. Since the object of a campaign is to be able to connect national strategy to the operational and tactical objectives of any campaign, in other words the connection of the campaign to grand-strategy objectives of a nation. In the case of the Confederacy it was to achieve independence, and as Clausewitz so keenly noted that “the political object, which was the original motive, must become an essential factor in the equation.” [64] The Gettysburg campaign, “Lee’s most audacious act, is the apogee of his grand strategy of the offensive.” But the question that has to be asked is “whether Lee should have been there at all.” [65] The same question should be asked by any political or military leader before embarking on a war or campaign within the war.

Notes

[1] Clausewitz, Carl von. On WarIndexed edition, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976 p.88

 

[2] Gray, Colin S. Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace, and Strategy Potomac Book, Dulles VA 2009 p.3

[3] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.54

[4] Nolan, Alan T. Robert E. Lee: A Flawed General in Major Problems in American Military History: Documents and Essays Edited by Chambers, John Whiteclay II and Piehler, G. Kurt Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1999 p.175

[5] Nolan, Alan T. R. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.9

[6] Clausewitz, Carl von. On WarIndexed edition, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976 p.348

[7] Fuller, J.F.C Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana, 1957 p.192

[8] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.5

[9] Fuller, J.F.C. The Conduct of War 1789-1961 Da Capo Press, New York 1992. Originally published by Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick N.J p.101 Fuller has a good discussion of the Anaconda strategy which I discussed in the chapter: Gettysburg, Vicksburg and the Campaign of 1863: The Relationship between Strategy, Operational Art and the DIME

[10] Ibid. Fuller The Conduct of War 1789-1961 p.101

[11] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.629

[12] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 pp.20-21

[13] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 pp.524-525

[14] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.34

[15] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.647

[16] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.525

[17] Ibid. Fuller, J.F.C Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship p.193

[18] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.339

[19] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.5

[20] Ibid. Fuller, J.F.C Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship p.193

[21] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.429

[22] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.429

[23] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee p.525

[24] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p.241

[25] Longstreet, James From Manassas to Appomattox, Memoirs of the Civil War in America originally published 1896, Amazon Kindle Edition location 4656

[26] Ibid. Longstreet, James From Manassas to Appomattox, Memoirs of the Civil War in America location 4705

[27] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.5

[28] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and p.194

[29] Taylor, Walter. General Lee: His campaigns in Virginia 1861-1865 With Personal Reminiscences University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln Nebraska and London, 1994 previously published 1906 p.180.

[30] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.430

[31] Weigley, Russell F. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy University of Indiana Press, Bloomington IN, 1973 pp.114-115

[32] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction p.340

[33] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee p.528

[34] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.51

[35] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431

[36] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431

[37] Tredeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.6

[38] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.647

[39] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.7

[40] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.7

[41] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.432

[42] Fuller, J.F.C. Decisive Battles of the U.S.A. 1776-1918 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 2007 copyright 1942 The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals p.222

[43] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.432

[44] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.432

[45] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.647

[46] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and p.194

[47] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburgin the First Day at Gettysburg p.2

[48] Ibid. Sears. Gettysburg p.51

[49] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.27

[50] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.27

[51] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.36

[52] Ibid. Weigley The American Way of War p.118

[53] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.28

[54] Ibid. Nolan Robert E. Lee: A Flawed General p.176

[55] Ibid. Nolan Robert E. Lee: A Flawed General in Major Problems p.176

[56] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His CriticsBrassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.134

[57] Gallagher, Gary W. The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism and Military Strategy Could not Stave Off Defeat Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1999 p.120

[58] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander, ed. Gary W. Gallagher, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC, 1989 p.415

[59] Ibid. Weigley The American Way of War p.118

[60] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.11

[61] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.11

[62] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431

[63] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.4

[64] Ibid. Clausewitz On War pp.80-81

[65] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.10

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The Tragedy of Friends at War: Hancock, Armistead and Garnett at Pickett’s Charge

armistead

“Armistead at Gettysburg” by Keith Rocco

The bonds of friendship forged by soldiers are some of deepest and long lasting that are formed anywhere.  For American military professionals those bonds are formed in the small rather closed society that is the regular United States military. They are formed in war and peace, and are marked by years of deployments, isolated duty and combat. They are part of a culture that is often quite different than that of civilian society. That is the case now as it was in 1860.

When the Southern States seceded from the Union men who had spent much of their adult lives serving together discovered had to say goodbye and prepare to fight each other. Most did so with a heavy heart even though many had strong convictions about the rightness of their region’s cause. Those who left the army to serve the Confederate states were often torn by doubt and questions of where their loyalty lay. Robert E. Lee was a good example of the conflict that many Southern officers faced. “The Southern professional officer in 1861 was confronted with a cruel choice symbolized by Lee’s anguished pacing at Arlington. On one hand, the Southern officer’s political allegiances drew him to the Confederacy; on the other his professional responsibility drew him to the Union.” [1] They wrestled with their oath of office and the costs of perhaps having to face their dearest friends on future battlefields. Lee’s letter to his sister Ann Marshall, who remained a supporter of the Union, after he resigned from the army he had served for 32 years reflects that anguish, torn between his loyalties Lee wrote “With all my devotion to the Union, and the dear feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home.” [2] He added: “I know you will blame me…but you must think as kindly of me as you can, and believe that I have endeavored to do what I think right.” [3]

They were different from the mass levies of civilian volunteers who rallied to the flags of the Union and Confederacy in 1861. The volunteers, most of whom did not have the deep and abiding friendships of the professionals were often motivated by ideological, sectional or religious hatred of the other and went to war with great aplomb. However, the professionals for the most part went to war against former comrades with heavy heart, “old army colleagues found themselves wrenched from the normal course of their lives when their states joined the Confederacy.” [4]

The American Civil War has many such tales. Porter Alexander wrote of his final words with his superior James B. McPherson, who later went on to be a highly successful corps commander under Grant and Sherman before being killed outside Atlanta in 1864. McPherson desired that Alexander remain in California as an Engineering officer and warned him about the nature of the coming war and gave him his counsel as a friend:

“Now this is not going to be any 90 day or six months affair as some of the politicians are predicting. Both sides are in deadly earnest & it is long & desperate & fought to the bitter end. ..God only knows what may happen to you individually, but for your cause there can be but one possible result. It must be lost….” [5]

Alexander wrote: “Nothing could exceed the kindness & real affection with which McPherson urged these views on me…. His earnest talk impressed me deeply & made me realize that a crisis in my life was at hand. But I felt helpless to avert it or even to debate the question what I should do. I could not controvert one of McPhersons’ statements or arguments; I could only answer this: “Mac, My people are going to war, & and for their liberty. If I don’t come & bear my part they will believe me a coward…” [6]

One of the most remembered is that of Union General Winfield Scott Hancock and Confederate General Lewis Armistead. It was key story line in Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Killer Angels was immortalized in the movie Gettysburg which is based on Shaara’s novel.

hancock 2

Major General Winfield Scott Hancock USA

Hancock was from Pennsylvania. He was a career soldier and Infantry officer, a graduate of West Point Class of 1844. He served in Mexico and held numerous positions. In 1861 he was stationed in California as a Quartermaster under the command of Colonel (Brevet Brigadier General) Albert Sidney Johnston with the Sixth Infantry Regiment. One of his fellow officers was Captain Lewis Armistead, a twice widowed Virginian who also served as a commander of the New San Diego Garrison under Johnston’s command, and Richard Garnett commanding a company at Fort Yuma. Hancock and his wife Almira became fast friends with the widowed Virginian.

Armistead was a nephew of the officer who defended Fort McHenry from the British in the War of 1812. Armistead had academic and personal difficulties at West Point and “was bounced out, not once but twice.” [7] His troubles included an altercation with Jubal Early in which he broke a plate over Early’s head.  Between his academic difficulties and the fight with Early he resigned from the Academy. However, his father helped him obtain a commission as an Infantry officer in 1839. Armistead’s career from that point on was similar to many other officers of his day. He served with distinction in Mexico, the Great Plains, Kansas, Utah and California.

As the war clouds built and various southern states seceded from the Union numerous officers from the South were torn between their oath, their friendships and their deep loyalty to their home states and families. In the end most Southern officers resigned their commissions, many with mixed feelings and quite often sadness. A large minority, some “40 to 50 per cent of Southern West Point graduates on active duty in 1860 held on to their posts and remained faithful to the Union.” [8] The most prominent of these men were General Winfield Scott and Major General George Thomas, the “Rock of Chickamauga.” Likewise Union Brigadier General John Buford’s family in Kentucky supported the Confederacy.

For those southern officers who remained loyal to the Union to was often at a great personal cost. Thomas’s action cost him his relationship with his immediate family who deemed him to be a traitor. He and others were pilloried and demonized in the basest ways by many in the South. Some Southerners who served the Union were executed when they were captured. George Pickett, who called for his fellow Virginian Thomas’ death ordered 22 North Carolinians who he captured fighting for the Union in Kinston North Carolina to be executed. Pickett was not alone in such sentiments.

armistead2

Brigadier General Lewis Armistead CSA

However, for most it was different. As talk of secession and war heated up officers stationed on the frontier debated the issues and asked each other what they would do if war came. In California Armistead and other officers asked Hancock, who was a Democrat and not openly hostile to the South, advice on what he would do if war came. Hancock’s reply was simple. I shall not fight upon the principle of state-rights, but for the Union, whole and undivided” [9]

The parting came in 1861. When it was apparent that many officers would be resigning and heading home to join their state’s forces the Hancock’s hosted a going away party for their friends. Almira Hancock wrote of the party that “Hearts were filled with sadness over the surrendering of life-long ties.” [10]

Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston’s wife Eliza went to a piano and sang sentimental songs such as Mary of Argyle and the popular Irish song Kathleen Mavourneen. [11] Almira Hancock wrote “Those songs…will ever be remembered by survivors of that mournful gathering.” [12]

“Mavourneen, Mavourneen, my sad tears are falling, to think that from Erin and thee I must part!

It may be for years, and it may be forever, Then why art thou silent, thou voice of my heart?

The parting was especially emotional for Armistead who had been a friend of the Hancock’s for 17 years. They had helped in following the death of both of his wives and children. He was tearful. He put his arm on his friend’s shoulder as he said: “Hancock, good-by; you can never know what this has cost me, and I hope God will strike me dead if I am ever induced to leave my native soil, should worse come to worse.” [13]As he departed Armistead gave a wrapped Bible and Prayer book to Almira Hancock, in case of his death, inscribed were the words “Trust in God and fear nothing.” [14]

Armistead led his brigade during the Peninsula campaign and battles around Richmond and his brigade was decimated in Lee’s failed assault on prepared Federal positions at Malvern Hill. Armistead did not endear himself to many of the volunteer officers who served in the Confederate ranks. One of his Colonels resigned over Armistead’s supposedly harsh treatment to which Armistead replied: “I have felt obliged to speak to him as one military man would to another and as I have passed nearly all my life in camps my manner may not be understood or appreciated by one who has been all his life a civilian.” [15] Armistead’s words can easily be understood by military professionals whose lives have been shaped in a different manner than their civilian counterparts.

At Gettysburg Armistead spoke his fears about the charge to his comrades. One was Brigadier General Dick Garnett, another of Armistead and Hancock’s comrades from the California days on the night of July 2nd. Garnett’s career had paralleled that Armistead, the same age Garnett struggled at West Point in his third year “he failed and withdrew. Taking the same courses again during the next term, he finished fourteenth among his new classmates, then graduated in 1841 standing 29th of fifty-two graduates.” [16]

Armistead and Garnett served together in the Sixth Infantry for most of their careers. They were promoted at similar times, a pattern of promotion that continued into their Confederate service. The next afternoon, the two friends who had served together so long and whose careers were so similar led their brigades of Pickett’s Division across the valley between Seminary Ridge and Cemetery Ridge against their friend and comrade Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps which was defending Cemetery Ridge.

Garnett had to lead his brigade on foot, having been injured during the army’s march to Gettysburg. During the engagement Garnett was killed just before reaching the Union lines and Hancock gravely wounded. Armistead, lead the remnants of his decimated brigade to the Stone Wall, near the Copse of Trees. He rallied his troops fearing that some were faltering calling out: “Come on boys, give them the cold steel! Who will follow me?” [17]

His troops breached the Union line and his black hat atop his sword led his troops forward. He reached the now unmanned artillery of Cushing’s battery and called to his remaining men “The day is ours men, come and turn this artillery on them.” [18] It was then that he met more Federal troops who unleashed a volley of musket fire that cut down many of the survivors. Armistead was wounded in the right arm and shoulder and fell near one of the Union artillery pieces, a point now known as “The High Water Mark” of the Confederacy.

armistead memorial

As Armistead lay wounded he was approached by Major Bingham of Hancock’s staff. Bingham, a Mason noticed that Armistead was making a Masonic sign of distress. When Bingham told Armistead of Hancock’s injury Armistead was grieved and told Bingham to “Say to General Hancock for me that I have done him, and you all, an injury, which I shall always regret.” [19]

The meaning of those words is debated, especially by Southerners who cherish the myth of the Lost Cause. However, based on Armistead’s conduct and behavior in the time before he left California, it is not unreasonable to assume that as he lay dying he truly regretted what he had done. Armistead died from infections caused by his wounds which were initially not thought to be life threatening. A Union surgeon described him as: “seriously wounded, completely exhausted, and seemingly broken-spirited.” [20]

Garnett’s body was never found and was probably buried in a mass grave with other Confederate soldiers and was likely taken after the war to his native Virginia “together with thousands of unidentified bodies from Gettysburg, for burial in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery.[21] Armistead was buried by a member of the 107th Ohio near the XI Corps field hospital. About a month later a physician from Philadelphia tracked down the soldier and “dug up the “Rough box” containing the body and embalmed poor Armistead’s remains for sale to grieving family members.” [22] Armistead’s family buried the remains in Old Saint Paul’s Cemetery in Baltimore.

Robert Krick wrote: “Death on adjacent bits of blood soaked ground in Adams County, Pennsylvania, yielded a final common thread, that of indignity: Lewis Armistead’s corpse wound up a hostage to petty human greed, while Dick Garnett’s entirely disappeared.” [23]

Hancock’s injuries were severe, but he recovered. He would go on to continued fame and be one of the most admired and respected leaders of the Army during and after the war. He was gracious as a victor and spoke out against reprisals committed against Southerners after the war.

In 1880 Hancock was the Democratic nominee for President. He lost a close election to James Garfield, losing the popular vote by fewer than 40,000 votes. It was an era of great political corruption and Hancock was one of the few major public figures viewed favorably for his integrity. Even his political opponents respected him for his integrity and honesty. Former President Rutherford B Hayes said:

“if when we make up our estimate of a public man, conspicuous both as a soldier and in civil life, we are to think first and chiefly of his manhood, his integrity, his purity, his singleness of purpose, and his unselfish devotion to duty, we can truthfully say of Hancock that he was through and through pure gold.” [24]

A few years after his death Republican General Francis A Walker, lamenting the great corruption of the time said:

“Although I did not vote for General Hancock, I am strongly disposed to believe that one of the best things the nation has lost in recent years has been the example and the influence of that chivalric, stately, and splendid gentleman in the White House. Perhaps much which both parties now recognize as having been unfortunate and mischievous during the past thirteen years would have been avoided had General Hancock been elected.” [25]

The story of Hancock, Armistead and Garnett is one that reminds us of the depth of friendships that many military professionals develop and cherish. It is also a story that reminds us of how hardened ideologues can divide a nation to the point of civil war. It is a story that should give pause to any political or spiritual leader that incites people to war against their neighbor and uses their ideology to slander, demean or even enslave and brutalize their political opponents.

The blood of the approximately 50,000 soldiers that were killed or wounded during the three days of the Battle of Gettysburg is ample reminder of the tragedy of war, especially war that forces the dearest of friends to fight and even kill one another.

Notes

[1] Huntington, Samuel P. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1957 p.212

[2] Thomas, Emory Robert E. Lee W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 1995 p.188

[3] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 pp.230-231

[4] Jordan, David M. Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier’s Life Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1988 p.33

[5] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p.24

[6] Ibid. Alexander . Fighting for the Confederacy p.25

[7] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.379

[8] Ibid. Huntington The Soldier and the State p.213

[9] Ibid. Jordan Winfield Scott Hancockp.33

[10] Ibid. Jordan Winfield Scott Hancockp.34

[11] Ibid. Jordan Winfield Scott Hancock p.34

[12] Ibid. Jordan Winfield Scott Hancock p.34

[13] Ibid. Jordan Winfield Scott Hancock p.34

[14] Krick, Robert K. The Parallel Lives of Two Virginia Soldiers Armistead and Garnett in The Third Day at Gettysburg and Beyond edited by Gary Gallagher, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 1994 p.112

[15] Tagg, Larry The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle Da Capo Press Cambridge MA 1998 Amazon Kindle Edition p.244

 

[16] Ibid. Krick Armistead and Garnett p.101

[17] Stewart, George R. Pickett’s Charge: A Micro-History of the Final Attack at Gettysburg, July 3rd 1863Houghton Mifflin Company Boston 1959 pp.216-217

[18] Hess, Earl J. Pickett’s Charge: The Last Attack at Gettysburg University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 2001 p.262

[19] Ibid. Stewart Pickett’s Charge pp.254-255

[20] Ibid. Stewart Pickett’s Charge pp.254

[21] Ibid. Krick Armistead and Garnett p.123

[22] Ibid. Krick Armistead and Garnett p.123

[23] Ibid. Krick Armistead and Garnett p.123

[24] Ibid. Jordan Winfield Scott Hancock p.319

[25] Stone, Irving They Also Ran Doubleday, New York 1943 and 1981 pg. 188

 

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