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The Gettysburg Campaign: Lee’s Advance and the Relief Of “Fighting Joe” Hooker

rebel-potomac

Ewell’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.

ewell

Lieutenant 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)

hooker

Major 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,_c1865

Major 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
37 Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.98

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Vague Orders, Vanity, and the Need for Redemption: JEB Stuart’s Ride at Gettysburg

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Today I am going back to the archives and re-posting an edited version of something that is part of my unpublished Gettysburg Campaign text. James Ewell Brown (J.E.B.) Stuart is legendary in American military history. A young cavalry officer from Virginia he was like a son to Robert E. Lee and was a man whose military accomplishments were matched by his unbridled vanity, which during the most critical moment in the history of the Confederacy led him to embark on an operation that left his commander in the lurch and helped doom the Confederacy. The story picks up following Stuart being surprised by Federal Cavalry at the Battle of Brandy Station in June of 1863 as Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was moving north in an attempt to bring the Army of the Potomac to Battle, destroy it, and end the war. Both Stuart and Lee had much to do with the failure of this plan, but I hope that you enjoy this account. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

While the embattled “Fighting Joe” Hooker slowly pursued Lee with the Army of the Potomac, a 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 involved Lee and his Cavalry commander, J.E.B. Stuart and would be the first of a number of mistakes that would characterize Lee’s campaign. All of these failures dealt with Lee’s singular inability to get his commanders to understand his intent for the campaign and his inability to clearly communicate his wishes.

The necessity of subordinate commanders understanding the intent of their superior is essential to the success of any military operation. During the Gettysburg campaign Lee failed miserably to communicate his operational plan and desire to his commanders. The episode with Stuart was one of several that paint a portrait of Lee not being as good of General as the myth surrounding him.

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 Alfred Pleasanton’s Federal Cavalry Corps from interdicting the march of the Army of Northern Virginia, or discovering the location of Lee’s three infantry corps which were moving north behind the cover of the Blue Ridge.

In this Stuart was successful, but frustrated. Between June 17th and June 21st his troopers fought a series of engagements against the aggressive Federal Cavalry at Ashby’s Gap, Middleburg and Upperville in Northern Virginia. While Stuart’s troopers had held off Pleasanton’s confident troopers 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] Much to their dismay the Confederates 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 of Northern Virginia that was marching like victors 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, now “smarting over the cuts to his ego, refused to read the portents” [5] of future disaster.

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 that he submitted to Lee. Stuart reasoned since 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] For him the plan was designed for personal glory and redemption after the embarrassment at Brandy Station.

On the morning of the 22nd of June Stuart noticed that the Federal cavalry that had engaged him at Upperville the previous day was no longer present. That morning he also received an order from Lee; an order that was the first of a series of vague, poorly written and contradictory orders that was to plague Lee throughout 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]

James Longstreet, commander of the Confederate First Corps who Stuart was cooperating with on the northward march, added his own comments to Lee’s instructions 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]  

But even without an order from Lee, Stuart was already planning his offensive that 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 was rather cryptic in his after action report and wrote “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 that same 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. When he received it he immediately delivered to Stuart. Lee’s instruction 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, Stuart does not deserve the entirety of the blame for what happened. The orders or suggestions that he received from Lee and Longstreet gave Stuart were “so badly worded that it is difficult to make sense of them.” [17] Lee implicitly trusted Stuart but he was wrong in assuming that the young officer should be able to divine his intent after Brandy Station without taking into account the effect the negative press of that battle had on his subordinate. 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 given several conflicting instructions. Lee directed that Stuart maintain contact with Ewell, screen the Blue Ridge gaps, collect information, “raiding around the rear of Hooker’s forces” [19] damaging the enemy and collecting supplies. Stuart could have done any of these tasks, but not all of them, and the smorgasbord offered by Lee played directly into Stuart’s need to redeem himself after the beating that he took in the Confederate Press after Brandy Station.

Specifically, 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 as they are today that different standards apply to each course of action laid out by a commander and that orders must be clear, otherwise subordinates may interpret them in a far different manner that intended. Such vague orders can have far reaching effects, often contrary to the intent of the commander who issued them; this was the case here.

By giving Stuart the latitude to go around the Federal army Lee 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 at his troopers screening Lee’s flank on the Blue Ridge 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 capabilities of Army of the Potomac and Federal troops in general.

In organizing his movement around the Army of the Potomac, Stuart decided to take his three best cavalry 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 but 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 remainder of the cavalry, but Stuart disregarded his counsel and took Hampton with him.

Stuart set off with his three best brigades, Wade Hampton’s, Fitzhugh Lee’s, and Rooney Lee’s, the latter now with Rooney Lee having been wounded was under the command of Colonel John R. Chambliss. Chambliss was another former West Pointer who had retired from the old army but had responded to the call to secession.

Almost immediately after setting off Stuart and his brigades encountered a situation that should have immediately stopped movement to the Federal rear and instead brought Stuart to move back to the west of the Blue Ridge. Moving through Glasscock’s Gap Stuart’s troopers  “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] Even so, 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. Though Stuart and his brigades 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 where the “water level was two feet higher than normal.” [32] Upon crossing the river 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 Joe Hooker and the Army of the Potomac were across the Potomac. Likewise, Stuart “knew nothing of Lee’s position,” [35] and instead of abandoning the wagon train he sacrificed the speed and mobility of his brigades to keep it. This was a direct consequence of how badly Lee had written his order to Stuart. 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. Until July 2nd, Lee was blind and had no idea where the Federal army was. He learned some when he told of the location of the Army of the Potomac by Longstreet’s scout Harrison on June 28th, but even then he had no clear idea of the Federal Army’s location, strength, or intentions until the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Stuart’s ride 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 be clear, a number of important military factors important to those involved in planning campaigns are clear: Deception, commander’s intent, and unity of command. Lee successfully used deception to prevent the Federals from discerning his purposes, but that initial success was compromised by his lack of clarity in communicating his intent for the campaign to Stuart, and by Stuart’s careless disregard of any other consideration but his own reputation and vanity.

Both Stuart and Lee share culpability for the failure of the Confederate campaign at the operational and tactical level. Of course they were not the only ones, Longstreet, Ewell, A.P. Hill, Harry Heth, and Jubal Early and many others had a share in the defeat, but Lee in his orders, and his protégé Stuart in trying to redeem his reputation were most culpable in the defeat at Gettysburg.

Notes

[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, CliffordLee 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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Vague Orders, Hubris, and the Need for Redemption: J.E.B. Stuart’s Ride at Gettysburg

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Today I am going back to the archives and re-posting an edited version of something that is part of my unpublished Gettysburg Campaign text. James Ewell Brown (J.E.B.) Stuart is legendary in American military history. A young cavalry officer from Virginia he was like a son to Robert E. Lee and was a man whose military accomplishments were matched by his unbridled vanity, which during the most critical moment in the history of the Confederacy led him to embark on an operation that left his commander in the lurch and helped doom the Confederacy. The story picks up following Stuart being surprised by Federal Cavalry at the Battle of Brandy Station in June of 1863 as Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was moving north in an attempt to bring the Army of the Potomac to Battle, destroy it, and end the war. Both Stuart and Lee had much to do with the failure of this plan, but I hope that you enjoy this account.

Peace

Padre Steve+

While the embattled “Fighting Joe” Hooker slowly pursued Lee with the Army of the Potomac, a 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 involved Lee and his Cavalry commander, J.E.B. Stuart and would be the first of a number of mistakes that would characterize Lee’s campaign. All of these failures dealt with Lee’s singular inability to get his commanders to understand his intent for the campaign and his inability to clearly communicate his wishes.

The necessity of subordinate commanders understanding the intent of their superior is essential to the success of any military operation. During the Gettysburg campaign Lee failed miserably to communicate his operational plan and desire to his commanders. The episode with Stuart was one of several that paint a portrait of Lee not being as good of General as the myth surrounding him.

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 Alfred Pleasanton’s Federal Cavalry Corps from interdicting the march of the Army of Northern Virginia, or discovering the location of Lee’s three infantry corps which were moving north behind the cover of the Blue Ridge.

In this Stuart was successful, but frustrated. Between June 17th and June 21st his troopers fought a series of engagements against the aggressive Federal Cavalry at Ashby’s Gap, Middleburg and Upperville in Northern Virginia. While Stuart’s troopers had held off Pleasanton’s confident troopers 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] Much to their dismay the Confederates 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 of Northern Virginia that was marching like victors 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, now “smarting over the cuts to his ego, refused to read the portents” [5] of future disaster.

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 that he submitted to Lee. Stuart reasoned since 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] For him the plan was designed for personal glory and redemption after the embarrassment at Brandy Station.

On the morning of the 22nd of June Stuart noticed that the Federal cavalry that had engaged him at Upperville the previous day was no longer present. That morning he also received an order from Lee ; an order that was the first of a series of vague, poorly written and contradictory orders that was to plague Lee throughout 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]

James Longstreet, commander of the Confederate First Corps who Stuart was cooperating with on the northward march, added his own comments to Lee’s instructions 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]  

But even without an order from Lee, Stuart was already planning his offensive that 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 was rather cryptic in his after action report and wrote “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 that same 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. When he received it he immediately delivered to Stuart. Lee’s instruction 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, Stuart does not deserve the entirety of the blame for what happened. The orders or suggestions that he received from Lee and Longstreet gave Stuart were “so badly worded that it is difficult to make sense of them.” [17] Lee implicitly trusted Stuart but he was wrong in assuming that the young officer should be able to divine his intent after Brandy Station without taking into account the effect the negative press of that battle had on his subordinate. 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 given several conflicting instructions. Lee directed that Stuart maintain contact with Ewell, screen the Blue Ridge gaps, collect information, “raiding around the rear of Hooker’s forces” [19] damaging the enemy and collecting supplies. Stuart could have done any of these tasks, but not all of them, and the smorgasbord offered by Lee played directly into Stuart’s need to redeem himself after the beating that he took in the Confederate Press after Brandy Station.

Specifically, 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 as they are today that different standards apply to each course of action laid out by a commander and that orders must be clear, otherwise subordinates may interpret them in a far different manner that intended. Such vague orders can have far reaching effects, often contrary to the intent of the commander who issued them; this was the case here.

By giving Stuart the latitude to go around the Federal army Lee 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 at his troopers screening Lee’s flank on the Blue Ridge 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 capabilities of Army of the Potomac and Federal troops in general.

In organizing his movement around the Army of the Potomac, Stuart decided to take his three best cavalry 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 but 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 remainder of the cavalry, but Stuart disregarded his counsel and took Hampton with him.

Stuart set off with his three best brigades, Wade Hampton’s, Fitzhugh Lee’s, and Rooney Lee’s, the latter now with Rooney Lee having been wounded was under the command of Colonel John R. Chambliss. Chambliss was another former West Pointer who had retired from the old army but had responded to the call to secession.

Almost immediately after setting off Stuart and his brigades encountered a situation that should have immediately stopped movement to the Federal rear and instead brought Stuart to move back to the west of the Blue Ridge. Moving through Glasscock’s Gap Stuart’s troopers  “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] Even so, 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. Though Stuart and his brigades 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 where the “water level was two feet higher than normal.” [32] Upon crossing the river 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 Joe Hooker and the Army of the Potomac were across the Potomac. Likewise, Stuart “knew nothing of Lee’s position,” [35] and instead of abandoning the wagon train he sacrificed the speed and mobility of his brigades to keep it. This was a direct consequence of how badly Lee had written his order to Stuart. 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. Until July 2nd, Lee was blind and had no idea where the Federal army was. He learned some when he told of the location of the Army of the Potomac by Longstreet’s scout Harrison on June 28th but even then he had no clear idea of the Federal Army’s location, strength, or intentions until the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Stuart’s ride 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 be clear, a number of important military factors important to those involved in planning campaigns are clear: Deception, commander’s intent, and unity of command. Lee successfully used deception to prevent the Federals from discerning his purposes, but that initial success was compromised by his lack of clarity in communicating his intent for the campaign to Stuart, and by Stuart’s careless disregard of any other consideration but his own reputation and vanity.

Both Stuart and Lee share culpability for the failure of the Confederate campaign at the operational and tactical level. Of course they were not the only ones, Longstreet, Ewell, A.P. Hill, Harry Heth, and Jubal Early and many others had a share in the defeat, but Lee in his orders, and his protégé Stuart in trying to redeem his reputation were most culpable in the defeat at Gettysburg.

Notes

[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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Gettysburg: The Opening Engagement

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

The latest major chapter revision to my Gettysburg text, this one about the opening of the battle and two men, Confederate Major General Harry Heth and Union Major General John Buford whose actions that morning set in motion the greatest battle ever fought on the American Continent.

Peace

Padre Steve+

burford june 30th

The principles found in Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff’s “Desired Leader Attributes” are something that we can learn about from both practical experience and history. The study of commanders and leaders throughout the Gettysburg campaign provide historical examples of commanders and other leaders that the best and the worst examples of some of those concepts. One of these is the ability to “anticipate and adapt to surprise and uncertainty.” The meeting engagement on the morning of July 1st 1863 between Harry Heth’s division of A.P. Hill’s corps and John Buford’s First Cavalry Division shows a very clear example of a commander, Heth, not anticipating or adapting to surprise and uncertainty. Heth was surprised by the presence of experienced Federal cavalry on his front and the uncertainty of not knowing what lay just beyond McPherson and Seminary Ridge.

Despite the warnings of Brigadier General Johnston Pettigrew, Major General Harry Heth and his corps commander Lieutenant General A.P. Hill decided that they would advance into Gettysburg. Hill and Heth dismissed Pettigrew’s warnings out of hand. Pettigrew should have been listened to, he was “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.” [1] To help state his case Pettigrew brought Captain Louis G. Young of his staff, who had served under Hill and was a professional soldier “with the hope that his testimony as to Union numbers might be more convincing.” [2] Young “insisted that the troops he saw were veterans rather than Home Guards,” [3] but Hill refused to believe telling Young and Pettigrew “I still cannot believe that any portion of the Army of the Potomac is up,” he declared. Then he added: “I hope that it is, for this is the place I want it to be.” [4] Hill told Heth and Pettigrew that “I am just from General Lee, and the information he has from his scouts corroborates what I have received from mine – that is, the enemy is still at Middleburg and have not yet struck their tents.” [5]

How Hill could make such a statement neither knowing the ground nor the location and strength of the Federal troops to his front is stunning. How Hill’s “scouts” could miss the massive force heading their way is beyond belief and indicates that Hill wanted to believe what he wanted to believe and disregarded any evidence to the contrary, especially that which came from a subordinate that he did not know who was not a professional soldier. Hill’s attitude also demonstrates the profound lack of respect given to the Army of the Potomac by Hill and many other Confederate commanders.

Hill sent a message to Lee, as well as Ewell of Second Corps telling them that “I intended to advance the next morning and discover what was in my front.” [6] He also sent word of the discovery of cavalry to Lee’s headquarters, but his warning apparently gave Lee little cause for concern as Lee believed that “Meade’s army was still some distance to the south.” [7] Likewise, Hill sent a courier to Richard Anderson instructing him to bring up his division on July 1st and instructed Heth that “Pender’s division also would be ordered through Cashtown as a reserve to be available if Heth ran into serious trouble.” [8]

During the night the actions of A.P. Hill show a commander who confused and uncertain. The confidence that he and Heth showed in rejecting Pettigrew and Young’s reports of Federal troops in Gettysburg had left “most, if not all the commanding officers in Hill’s corps…unprepared for what happened.” [9] Lieutenant Lewis Young wrote “I doubt if any of the commanders of brigades, except General Pettigrew, believed that we were marching to battle, a weakness on their part which rendered them unprepared for what was about to happen.” [10]

A major part of Hill’s uncertainly can be laid on his and his subordinate commander’s lack of experience at their current level of command. “Pettigrew new to the army, Heth to division command, and Hill to corps command.” [11] One could not ask for such an untested chain-of-command as the army advanced blindly forward not knowing what lay before it. James Longstreet said “The army…moved forward, as a man might walk over strange ground with his eyes shut.” [12]

Lieutenant Colonel Porter Alexander noted that on the night of June 30th that he visited Lee’s headquarters and found conversation to be “unusually careless & jolly. Certainly there was no premonition that the next morning was to open a great battle of the campaign.” [13] The attitude that all exhibited according to Alexander was “when all our corps were together what could successfully attack us? So naturally we were all in good spirits.” [14] The Confederates believed that they were invincible. Walter Taylor of Lee’s staff admitted “An overweening confidence possessed us all.” [15] Clifford Dowdey wrote:

“Considering their unprecedented assignment to act, in the absence of cavalry, as reconnaissance troops in a country they had never seen, the men were unrealistically relaxed – from the privates of the 1st South Carolina, the oldest unit in point of organization, to the corps commander.” [16]

The British observer, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Fremantle wrote in his diary: “The universal feeling in the army was one of profound contempt for an enemy whom they had beaten so consistently, and under so many disadvantages.” [17] That contempt would cost Lee’s army dearly in the coming battle.

Harry Heth arose on the morning of July 1st 1863 and formed his division for its march to Gettysburg. He had been ordered by Hill to “be ready to march at 5:00 A.M; and by an unusual directive from the corps commander, each man who wanted an issue of whisky at that early hour was to receive one.” [18] Heth should have spent the night making detailed plans for his advance but since neither he, nor any other senior officer in Hill’s corps “anticipated real action in the immediate area, Harry Heth kept uppermost in his mind the quartermaster aspects of the invasion,” [19] thus his overriding concern to get the shoes that supposedly were there in abundance, rather than “all the little details involved in an operation as tricky as a reconnaissance in force.” [20] The lack of attention to detail became evident the first thing that morning and that brought about an inauspicious start to a very bad day for Heth and his division. His troops were up early with the sunrise but somehow orders had not gotten to them to begin the advance at 5 a.m. and as a result “there was haste to the early morning’s preparations that caught some off guard” even regimental commanders. [21]

Several critics have made this point, among them Major John Mosby, the Confederate cavalry leader and guerrilla fighter who wrote: “Hill and Heth in their reports, to save themselves from censure, call the first day’s action a reconnaissance; this is all an afterthought….They wanted to conceal their responsibility for the defeat.” [22] A more contemporary writer, Jennings Wise, noted that Hill’s orders “were specific not to bring on an action, but his thirst for battle was unquenchable, and…he rushed on, and…took the control of the situation out of the hands of his commander-in-chief.” [23]

Years later Heth made an unsubstantiated claim that “A courier came from Gen. Lee, with a dispatch ordering me to get those shoes even if I encountered some resistance.” [24] That appears unlikely as Mosby noted that no one ordered Hill to advance and Lee “would never have sanctioned it.” [25] The ever judicious Porter Alexander who had been in Lee’s headquarters the night of June 30th wrote that: “Hill’s movement to Gettysburg was made on his own accord, and with knowledge that he would find the enemy’s cavalry in possession.” [26]

The advance to contact was marred by Heth’s inexperience compounded by the illness of A.P. Hill which caused Hill to be absent at the critical point where contact was made with the Federal forces. Hill “awakened feeling very ill, too sick to mount his horse…although no diagnosis was made, he was probably suffering from overstrained nerves.” [27] While it is possible that Hill’s “malady could have been upset stomach, diarrhea, simple exhaustion or a flair up of the old prostate problem” [28] his history of illness at critical times throughout the war lends credence to the possibility that whatever he was suffering could have been brought about by his emotional state. The result was that Hill’s “disability made it impossible for him to assume personal responsibility on July 1, 1863.” [29]

Hill gave Heth the responsibility to lead the advance, not based on experience or command ability, but because his division was closest to Gettysburg. However, during the night Hill decided to augment Heth’s division by ordering Dorsey Pender’s division to support Heth, and thus committed two thirds of his corps to what was supposedly a reconnaissance mission to find shoes. Since a reconnaissance is normally conducted by small elements of one’s force, the fact that Hill committed his two divisions present to such a mission demonstrated his “own confusion and uncertainty” [30] regarding the nature of what he might face and to his own understanding of the mission that he was assigning Heth. Whatever Hill’s intentions “he ordered Pender to support Heth while he awaited Anderson in Cashtown.” [31]

Disregarding the only solid intelligence he had, Hill put the majority of his corps into a “reconnaissance” which he would not be able to lead, instead turning over command to Heth. Hill gave Heth strict instructions not to bring on an engagement. The admonition was clear: “Do not bring on an engagement.” [32]

Likewise it is distinctly possible that Heth, despite orders to the contrary “may have had more on his mind than shoes and information when he made his advance towards Gettysburg.” [33] This is the allegation of Confederate cavalryman John Singleton Mosby who: “charged Hill with planning a “foray” and calling it a “reconnaissance.” Both Hill and Heth, Mosby asserted “evidently expected to bag a few thousand Yankees, return to Cashtown, and present them to General Lee that evening. But…”they bit off more than they could chew.” [34] Mosby’s claim does lend some explanation as to why Hill committed such a large force to his “reconnaissance” however, since Hill was killed in the closing days of the war and because Mosby was a partisan of J.E.B. Stuart. Mosby’s claim, even if true cannot be verified. But the fact remains that Hill’s force “was too large for a reconnaissance mission…and too large of force to back away from any Yankee challenge.” [35]The result was that Hill’s large force “if opposed, might well commit Lee’s army to battle on a field that Lee had not seen and before his army was assembled.” [36]

Hill’s absence left Heth, an inexperienced division commander “without any sage counsel” [37] and Heth began to commit a series of costly errors. Hill’s instructions to Heth to aggressively execute the mission but at the same time to avoid a major action put his subordinate in a hard place that even more experienced commanders might have struggled to find the appropriate balance. However, Heth was not at the level of experience or battlefield savvy.

Heth stated after the war that he understood from Hill that his mission was a job that normally would be assigned to cavalry and the restraints that he was employ: “to ascertain what force was at Gettysburg, and if he found infantry opposed to him, to report the fact immediately, without forcing an engagement.” [38] However, when the action began Heth did not heed those instructions.

Heth advanced without the caution of a commander who had been told that enemy forces were likely opposing him. Even though Heth disbelieved the reports made by Pettigrew the previous day, some amount of judicious caution on his part should have been indicated. Instead, for reasons unknown Heth had his men advance as if it was a routine movement. “Rather than placing his strongest brigades in the lead, Heth simply determined order of march based on where the troops had bivouacked along the road the previous night.” [39]

Heth “pushed out his four brigades in routine deployment for contact. In taking elementary precautions, Heth gave no indication of sensing an impending clash of any consequence.” [40] He placed Archer’s veteran but depleted brigade and Davis’s newly organized and inexperienced brigade in the lead of the advance. They were accompanied by the division’s artillery battalion commanded by Major William Pegram. Behind the lead units came the brigades of Pettigrew and Brockenbrough.

It was a curious order of march, for it left Johnston’s Pettigrew’s brigade behind both Archer and Davis’s brigades despite the fact that it was closer to Gettysburg than any other brigade. Likewise it was the only unit in the division that had recent eyes on contact with the enemy and knew the ground and what was ahead of them. It is hard to understand why Heth did this but one can speculate that it might have been because of Pettigrew’s insistence of the type of Federal forces in their front the previous day which caused Heth to do this.

The attitude of the soldiers was good, but most of the soldiers and their leaders “assumed that this morning’s movement was simply one more part in the army’s overall concentration of forces” [41] and the troops many expected to meet were those of Ewell or Stuart, Colonel John Brockenbrough told the commander of the 55th Virginia that “we might meet some of Ewell’s command or Stuart’s. [42] No one, with the possible exception of Johnston Pettigrew seemed to believe that experienced Federal troops lay before them, and Pettigrew had been ignored. This “spirit of unbelief” seemed to cloud the thinking of most, if not all of the commanding officers in Hill’s corps and left them unprepared for what happened.” [43]

Heth’s infantry brigades were deployed alongside the road and were led by several lines of skirmishers while the artillery battalion rumbled down the road between the infantry brigades, few expected any battle. Gunners from Pegram’s four-gun Fredericksburg battery leading his battalion’s advance recalled “We moved forward leisurely smoking and chatting as we rode along, not dreaming of the proximity of the enemy.” [44] Heth should have better anticipated the situation based on Pettigrew’s reports of the previous day and should have prepared his troops to expect combat. He demonstrated why one author called him “an intellectual lightweight.” [45] After the war when Heth told an officer from the Army of the Potomac “I did not know any of your people were north of the Potomac.” [46]

While Archer was highly experienced and had the advantage of commanding experienced veteran troops during this advance he was not well. Though he led his troops into combat “on that morning he was suffering from some debilitating ailment.” [47] The other commander leading the Confederate advance was the inexperienced Joseph Davis. Davis’s inexperience caused him to put the new and untested 42nd Mississippi and 55th North Carolina in the van of his advance and left his veteran regiments the 2nd and 11th Mississippi in the rear guarding army stores. [48] It was an unfortunate choice, the 11th Mississippi was seasoned and had “fought with distinction” [49] as part of the Army of Northern Virginia over the previous year.

The advance of the brigades of Archer and Davis was uneventful until they reached Marsh Creek they encountered the cavalry vedettes or pickets of the 8th Illinois Cavalry of John Buford’s First Cavalry Division posted on the high ground just east of the creek. [50] Despite the fact that Pettigrew had repeatedly warned Heth and Hill about the presence of Union cavalry, the discovery of these forces was unanticipated by the Confederates leading the column. Early in the morning Pettigrew attempted to warn Archer of the topography of the area and the presence of Union troops. Lieutenant Young recorded that Pettigrew “told General Archer of a ridge some distance west of Gettysburg on which he would probably find the enemy, as this position was favorable for defense.” [51] Pettigrew also warned Archer of “a certain road which the Yankees might use to hit his flank, and the dangers of McPherson’s Ridge. Archer listened, believed not, marched on unprepared…” [52]

Enter John Buford

If Heth was inexperienced and knew little of the Federal forces arrayed before him and what forces were moving towards Gettysburg, his opponent Brigadier General John Buford was his opposite in nearly every respect. Buford was born in Kentucky and like Heth, came from a family with a long military history of military service, including family members who had fought in the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. His family was well off with a spacious plantation near Versailles on which labored forty-five slaves, and his father also established a stage line which carried “passengers and freight between Frankfort and Lexington.” His father divested himself of his property, selling his home, business and presumably his slaves and moved to Stephenson Illinois in 1838. [53] The young Buford developed an interest in military life which was enlivened by his half-brother Napoleon Bonaparte Buford who graduated from West Point in 1827, and his brother would be influential in helping John into West Point, which he entered in 1844.

Buford graduated with the class of 1848 which included the distinguished Union artilleryman John Tidball, and the future Confederate brigadier generals William “Grumble” Jones, with whose troops he would do battle during the Gettysburg campaign and George “Maryland” Steuart. Among Buford’s best friends was Ambrose Burnside of the class of 1847. He did well academically but his conduct marks kept him from graduating in the top quarter of his class.

Upon graduation he was commissioned as a Brevet Second Lieutenant of Dragoons, however this came too late to serve in Mexico. Instead he was initially assigned to the First United States Dragoons but less than six months after joining was transferred to the Second Dragoons when he was promoted to full Second Lieutenant.

Instead of going to Mexico Buford “spent most of the 1850s tracking and fighting Indians on the Plains.” [54] During this period, the young dragoon served on the Great Plains against the Sioux, where he distinguished himself at the Battle of Ash Creek and on peacekeeping duty in the bitterly divided State of Kansas and in the Utah War of 1858.

His assignments alternated between field and staff assignments and he gained a great deal of tactical and administrative expertise that would serve him well. This was especially true in the realm of the tactics that he would employ so well at Gettysburg and on other battlefields against Confederate infantry and cavalry during the Civil War. Buford took note of the prevailing tactics of the day which still stressed a rigid adherence to outdated Napoleonic tactics which stressed mounted charges and “little cooperation with units of other arms or in the taking and holding of disputed ground.” [55] While he appreciated the shock value of mounted charges against disorganized troops he had no prejudice against “fighting dismounted when the circumstances of the case called for or seemed to justify it.” [56] Buford’s pre-war experience turned him into a modern soldier who appreciated and employed the rapid advances in weaponry, including the breech loading carbine and repeating rifle with tremendous effect.

Despite moving to Illinois Buford’s family still held Southern sympathies; his father was a Democrat who had opposed Abraham Lincoln. Buford himself was a political moderate and though he had some sympathy for slave owners:

“he despised lawlessness in any form – especially that directed against federal institutions, which he saw as the bulwark of democracy…..He especially abhorred the outspoken belief of some pro-slavery men that the federal government was their sworn enemy.” [57]

After the election of Abraham Lincoln, the officers of Buford’s regiment split on slavery. His regimental commander, Colonel Philip St. George Cooke, a Virginian and the father-in-law of J.E.B. Stuart announced that he would remain loyal to the Union, others like Beverly Robertson who would command a brigade of cavalry during the Gettysburg campaign resigned their commissions.

For many officers, both those who remained loyal to the Union and those who joined the Confederate cause the decision was often difficult, and many anguished over their decisions as they weighed their allegiance to the Union against their loyalty to home and family. Buford was not one of them.

Since Buford’s family had longstanding ties to Kentucky, the pro-secession governor of Kentucky, Beriah Magoffin offered Buford a commission in that states’ militia. At the time Kentucky was still an “undeclared border slave state” and Buford loyal to his oath refused the governor’s offer. He wrote a brief letter to Magoffin and told his comrades that “I sent him word that I was a Captain in the United States Army and I intend to remain one.” [58] Around the same time the new provisional government of the Confederacy “offered Buford a general officer’s commission, which reached him by mail at Fort Crittenden.” [59] According to Buford’s biographer Edward Longacre “a well-known anecdote has him wadding up the letter while angrily announcing that whatever future had in store he would “live and die under the flag of the Union.” [60]

However Buford’s family’s southern ties, and lack of political support from the few remaining loyal Kentucky legislators initially kept him from field command. Instead he received a promotion to Colonel and an assignment to the Inspector General’s Office, although it was not the field assignment that he desired it was of critical importance to the army in those early days of the war as the Union gathered its strength for the war. Buford was assigned to mustering in, and training the new regiments being organized for war. Traveling about the country he evaluated each unit in regard to “unit dress, deportment and discipline, the quality and quantity of weapons, ammunition, equipment, quarters, animals and transportation; the general health of the unit and medical facilities available to it; and the training progress of officers and men.” [61] Buford was a hard and devastatingly honest trainer and evaluator of the new regiments. He was especially so in dealing with commanding officers as well as field and company officers. Additionally he was a stickler regarding supply officers, those he found to be incompetent or less than honest were cashiered.

Buford performed these duties well but desired command. Eventually he got the chance when the politically well-connected but ill-fated Major General John Pope who “could unreservedly vouch for his loyalty wrangled for him command of a brigade of cavalry.” [62] After Pope’s disastrous defeat at Second Bull Run in August 1862 Buford was wounded in the desperate fighting at Second Manassas and returned to staff duties until January 1863 when he was again given a brigade. However, unlike many of the officers who served under Pope, Buford’s reputation as a leader of cavalry and field commander was increased during that campaign.

Buford was given the titular title of “Chief of Cavalry of the Army of the Potomac” by George McClellan, a title which sounded impressive but involved no command during the Antietam campaign. Following that frustrating task he continued in the same position under his old West Point friend Ambrose Burnside during the Fredericksburg campaign. Buford lost confidence in his old friend and was likely “shocked by his friend’s deadly ineptitude, his dogged insistence on turning defeat into nightmare.” [63]

When Burnside was relieved and Fighting Joe Hooker appointed to command the army, Buford’s star began to rise. While he was passed over by Hooker for command of the newly organized First Cavalry division in favor of Alfred Pleasanton who was eleven days his senior, he received command of the elite Reserve Brigade composed of mostly Regular Army cavalry regiments. When Major General George Stoneman was relieved of command following the Chancellorsville campaign, Pleasanton was again promoted over Buford.

In later years Hooker recognized that Buford “would have been a better man for the position of chief” [64] but in retrospect Buford’s pass over was good fortune for the Army of the Potomac on June 30th and July 1st 1863. Despite being passed over for the Cavalry Corps command, Buford, a consummate professional never faltered or became bitter. Despite the Pleasanton’s interference and “lax intelligence-gathering” [65]   During the Gettysburg campaign he led his brigade well at Brandy Station as it battled J.E.B. Stuart’s troopers, after which he was recommended for promotion and given command of the First Cavalry division of the Cavalry Corps. [66]

Following Brandy Station Buford led his troopers aggressively as they battled Stuart’s troopers along the Blue Ridge at the battles of Aldie, Philmont, Middleburg and Upperville. It was at Upperville while fighting a hard action Confederate Brigadier general “Grumble” Jones’s brigade that Buford’s troopers provided Hooker with the first visual evidence that Lee’s infantry was moving north into Maryland and Pennsylvania.

When Hooker was relieved on the night of June 27th and 28th George Meade gave Buford the chance at semi-independent command without Pleasanton looking over his shoulder. Meade appreciated Pleasanton’s administrative and organizational expertise and took him out of direct field command. Meade had his Cavalry Corps commander “pitch his tent next to his own on almost every leg of the trip to Pennsylvania and rarely let him out of sight or earshot.” [67]

The result was that when ordered to screen the army as it moved into Pennsylvania Buford was confident of his troopers and their ability and he and his men performed their duties admirably. On June 29th Buford’s men skirmished with two of Harry Heth’s regiments near the town of Fairfield, which Buford promptly reported to Meade and John Reynolds after ascertaining their size and composition. The following morning Buford and his troopers arrived in Gettysburg and were greeted by the townspeople who “thronged the streets, waving, shouting, and singing patriotic songs as Buford’s advance pushed through.” [68] Marching through the town they took up positions on the ridges west of the town. As they moved west the advance elements of Buford’s brigade discovered the presence of Johnston Pettigrew’s North Carolina brigade which promptly withdrew when it discovered that it was facing regular Federal cavalry.

Despite the welcome of the townsfolk, Buford’s troopers were tired from the weeks of incessant marching and combat. Their horses needed fodder, which was barely adequate, and most needed to be reshod, but because Early’s division had “seized nearly every shoe and nail”…”he had neither materials nor facilities for reshoeing them.” [69] Despite their fatigue Buford’s men had one distinctive advantage over the Confederates that they would face, this was in their weaponry. With few exceptions the Union cavalry at Gettysburg went into battle with “the finest equipment and arms obtainable. The troopers in almost every regiment carried breech-loading carbines (usually Sharp’s singe shot) hitched to their belts; they also carried revolvers (usually Colt army) and cavalry sabers.” [70] Though outnumbered their weapons gave them an edge in maintaining a heavy fire against the Confederate infantry which was armed with a variety of muzzle-loaded rifled muskets.

Based on all the intelligence available to him, that of George Sharpe’s Bureau of Military Information and that of his own scouts Buford “gathered that the whole of Hill’s Corps was “massed back of Cashtown” to the west, but there was also clear indication that Ewell’s Corps was “coming over the mountains from Carlisle,” to the north.” [71] Buford sent that news to Reynolds and to Meade by way of Pleasanton by mounted courier the evening of June 30th. The report caused Reynolds to realize the importance of Gettysburg and he immediately sent orders for Buford “to hold onto it to the last.” If Buford could buy enough time, he might get his infantry into line “before the enemy could seize the point.” [72]

Since Buford suspected that Ewell’s troops might also arrive he posted forces a few miles to the north of Gettysburg to provide warning and to delay them if needed, however since Buford determined that “Hill represented the more immediate threat, Buford resolved to concentrate most of his strength west of the town along MacPherson’s Ridge.” [73]

 buford

Brigadier General John Buford U.S.A.

On the night of June 30th Buford prepared for battle. Unlike Hill and Heth he understood exactly what he was facing. He met with “reliable men” most likely from the Bureau of Military Intelligence operated by David McConaughy as to the composition of Lee’s forces. [74] Buford knew his business; he took the time to reconnoiter the ridges west of Gettysburg and posted videttes as far was as Marsh Creek. He deployed one brigade under Colonel Thomas Devin to the north and west of the town, Colonel William Gamble’s brigade was deployed to the west, its main line being on McPherson’s Ridge.

As he deployed his forces Buford formulated his plan. Riding with his brigade commanders and staff “Buford, puffing away on his pipe, peering through field glass, studied the road network and lay of the land. He calculated distance to physical landmarks and tried to determine how long it would take those Confederates massing behind South Mountain to come within carbine range.” [75] Buford’s composure and confidence inspired his troopers as well as local civilians who observed him as he surveyed the ground on which the greatest battle ever waged on American soil would be fought.

Considering that he had fewer than three-thousand troopers available at Gettysburg because the Reserve Brigade was still further south guarding the army’s trains, and that he was facing a foe many times larger, it was a bold plan. Buford seems to have convinced himself that “he could pull off something never achieved in this war: a defense in depth by dismounted cavalry against a force of foot soldiers with full artillery support.” [76] As such the crafty Buford planned “a defense in depth, fighting his men dismounted, using the series of ridgelines west of Gettysburg to hamper and delay the Rebel infantry he was certain would come “booming along” the Chambersburg Pike in the morning.” [77]

Noting that the ground was favorable to defense and giving battle Buford sent messages to Reynolds as to the situation. He warned Reynolds that “A.P. Hill’s corps is massed just back of Cashtown, about 9 miles from this place.” He also noted the location of Confederate pickets “only four miles west of Gettysburg.” [78] Devin’s troops also identified elements of Ewell’s corps north of the town. Buford had accurately informed his superiors of what was before him, information that they needed for the day of battle.

Buford set up his headquarters at the Eagle Hotel in Gettysburg where he spent the night and according to his signals officer was “anxious, more so than I ever saw him” [79] Buford discussed the tactical situation with Colonel Devin, commanding the brigade on Herr’s and McPherson’s Ridge. Devin did not yet believe that the Confederates would move on Gettysburg in the morning. Devin thought if there were any threats that “he could handle anything that could come up in the next 24 hours.” [80] Buford rejected Devin’s argument and told him bluntly “No you won’t…. They will attack you in the morning and they will come booming – skirmishers three deep. You will have to fight like the devil to hold your own.” [81]

In preparation for the Confederate advance Buford deployed about seven hundred of his men in videttes, or pickets several miles in advance of the main force of his division. These videttes stretched from the Blackhorse Tavern south and west of Gettysburg, across the Mummasburg and Carlisle Roads, ending east of town on the York Pike. The center of this line was along the Chambersburg or Cashtown Pike along Marsh Creek about five miles west of Gettysburg. These videttes were critical in ascertaining the direction and composition of any advancing Confederate forces.

Reynolds immediately saw the importance of the position elected to fight. He “ordered Buford to hold onto it to the last” believing that if Buford could “buy enough time, he might get his infantry into line “before the enemy should seize the point.” [82] Buford knew that against the odds he would face that he would only be able to hold for a few hours at best and since by “refusing to flee from Lee’s path, by committing himself to fight in an advanced position however favorable, he risked not only his division’s annihilation but the disarranging of Meade’s plans” [83] to fight a defensive battle along the Pipe Creek line. Buford and Reynold’s bold decisions on that last night of June 1863 committed the Army of the Potomac to battle Lee’s hearty veterans at Gettysburg.

gburg delaying action

Buford’s Delaying Action July 1st

For Buford’s troopers the night and morning of June 30th and July 1st 1863 was spent in grim anticipation that they would meet a good portion of Lee’s army in battle. “It was a jumpy night, and the lowering clouds “poured down a drenching rain” [84] even as Buford’s advanced videttes observed the camp fires of the advanced Confederate outposts left by Pettigrew on the 30th   of June.

As the over-confident and lackadaisical Confederates advanced in the pre-dawn early morning mist they had a hard time determining what lay ahead of them and they “halted as they got to the swampy land fringing Marsh Creek, beyond which the ground angled up into a single swell to a ridge line.” [85] Pegram’s artillerists surveyed the ground to their front and noted mounted troops, but the limited visibility made it impossible to identify them, some even thought that they might belong to Longstreet’s corps, however Pegram knowing Longstreet’s corps was well the west, stopped his advance and unlimbered is guns. This caused the commander of Archer’s lead brigade, Colonel Birkett D. Fry of the 13th Alabama to ask Pegram what was going on and why he had stopped his advance. Upon seeing the artillery readying for action Fry “rode back to the color bearer and ordered him to uncase the colors.” [86] This was the first indication that the enemy was near and Fry quickly ordered his regiment to establish a skirmish line.

With the sun coming up the Union troops saw the now uncased colors of the Confederate battle flags to their front. Lieutenant Marcellus Jones of the 8th Illinois, commanding one of the detachments along Marsh Creek, expecting such rode to one of his advanced posts. He took a carbine from one of his sergeants and said “Hold on George, give me the honor of opening this ball” and at about 7:30 a.m. Jones fired the first shot of the battle of Gettysburg. [87]

Heth had wanted to advance in column as long as possible “but the Yankee cavalry’s stiff resistance had ended that hope.” [88] Heth rode forward and ordered Archer and Davis’s troops to advance skirmishers with the support of Pegram’s artillery. This slowed the Confederate advance considerable and Heth wrote in his after action report that “it became evident that there were infantry, cavalry and artillery in and around the town.” [89] At this point, Heth should have stopped and sought guidance on what to do next, however, instead of “feeling out the enemy” as directed by Hill, Heth “ordered Archer and Davis “to move forward and occupy the town.” [90] A chaplain in Brockenbrough’s brigade reported that one of Heth’s aide’s came up and reported “General Heth is ordered to move on Gettysburg, and fight or not as he wishes.” The chaplain heard one of the officers near him say “We must fight them; no division general will turn back with such orders.” [91]

Heth obviously expected small detachments of cavalry to give way at the sight of massed infantry, but Buford and his men had other plans. Instead of withdrawing the small cavalry detachments dismounted and used trees, bushes and fence lines for cover and poured forth a rapid fire with their Sharps carbines. This forced Heth’s skirmishers to advance slowly and deliberately, and forced the main body of his advanced brigades to deploy into battle formation supported by Pegram’s artillery.

About 8:00 A.M. Colonel Gamble who commanded the Buford’s First Brigade to which the videttes belonged “received a report that a strong enemy force was driving in his pickets.” [92] Gamble promptly reported this to Buford who in turn directed Gamble to deploy his “1,600 troopers to form a battle line on Herr’s Ridge a mile west of the seminary” [93] from which Buford was now directing his division. Likewise Buford ordered Devin’s Second Brigade to take up positions north of the Pike. He likewise order Lieutenant John Calef who commanded Battery “A” Second United States Horse Artillery to deploy his six three inch rifles along the ridge. However, instead of deploying them in an orthodox manner Buford ordered Calef to “spread his pieces wide apart to deceive the enemy into thinking his battery was actually two artillery units.” [94]

Everything that Buford did served to further confuse Heth, who now because of the heavy volume of fire his troops were receiving and his inability to see the horses of the dismounted cavalry believed that he was facing Federal infantry and artillery for Buford’s troopers “surely acted like infantry.” [95] Captain Amasa Dana of Company E. of the 8th Illinois “ordered his men to “throw up their carbine sights and [we] gave the enemy the benefit of long range practice [;] the firing was rapids from our carbines, and at the distance induced the enemy to the belief of four times our number actually present….” [96]

Instead of driving the cavalry out by force of numbers the Confederates had to advance deliberately to drive out the Union troopers, forcing Archer’s men to “undertake the time-consuming task of fixing the enemy in place, and then working parties around its flanks or any other chinks they could find.” [97] As they did this the veteran Union troopers withdrew and formed again, each time forcing the Confederates to slow their advance on Gettysburg.

Buford’s defense in depth was unlike anything that the Confederates had experienced at the hands of the Army of the Potomac. At each position Gable’s troopers continued to hold and his “carbineers continued to blast away as fast as they could reload, Calef’s shells thundering over their heads to burst in the fields beyond.” [98] That defense gave Buford an extra two hours and at 9:00 he directed his brigades to fall back to the next line of defense that of McPherson’s Ridge, where Buford’s troopers established another line.

Seeing the enemy before him Harry Heth committed yet another error. He was not going to let the Federal force stop him from reaching Gettysburg. On Herr’s Ridge he made a fateful decision. He spend over half an hour, from 9:00 until just past 9:30 deploying Archer’s Brigade in line of battle “and extending its left flank with the next brigade in line, that of Brigadier General Joseph R. Davis.” [99] Once that was accomplished Heth ordered Archer and Davis’s brigades forward toward Buford’s troops. It was a deadly mistake for Heth had no idea that the advance elements of John Reynold’s First Corps were rapidly moving to support Buford and that his troops were about to experience a fight like which they had never seen or expected. Despite this the Confederates pushed on and were threatening to force Buford’s troops from McPherson’s Ridge and “victory seemed to be at hand, but as the 13th Alabama climbed from the Willoughby Run ravine into a field south of McPherson Wood’s its men saw a Union line of battle a hundred yards to the front.” [100] John Reynold’s First Corps led by the famous Iron Brigade of Abner Doubleday’s First Division had arrived on the field.

The fight that Harry Heth and A.P. Hill had been directed not to precipitate was now on. Heth’s inexperience was more than matched by the cunning and brilliant Buford, whose troopers had fought a masterful delaying action, one which prefigured the later use of cavalry and eventually armored cavalry and motorized reconnaissance in later wars. Buford’s masterful defense along Marsh Creek, and Herr’s and McPherson’s Ridge enabled Reynolds’s infantry to come up before the Confederates could seize the key high ground to the west of Gettysburg.

Notes

[1] 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.78

[2] Robertson, James I. Jr. General A.P. Hill: The Story of a Confederate Warrior Random House, New York 1987 p.206

[3] 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.44

[4] Ibid Robertson General A.P. Hill p.206

[5] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p. 137

[6] Ibid. Gallagher Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p.44

[7] Ibid Robertson General A.P. Hill p.206

[8] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.92

[9] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command A Touchstone Book, Simon and Shuster New York 1968 p.264

[10] Pfanz Harry W. Gettysburg: The First Day University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 2001 p.51

[11] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.79

[12] Pryor, Elizabeth Brown. Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters Penguin Books, New York and London 2007 p.352

[13] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.264

[14] 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.230

[15] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 p.234

[16] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.90

[17] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.234

[18] Ibid Robertson General A.P. Hill pp.206-207

[19] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.91

[20] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.147

[21] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.153

[22] Ibid. Gallagher Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p.32

[23] Ibid. Gallagher Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p.32

[24] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.153

[25] Ibid. Gallagher Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p.32

[26] Alexander, Edward Porter Military Memoirs of a Confederate: A Critical Narrative 1907 republished 2013 by Pickle Partners Publishing, Amazon Kindle Edition location 7342 of 12968

[27] Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation pp.91-92

[28] Ibid Robertson General A.P. Hill p.206

[29] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.92

[30] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.153

[31] Ibid. Gallagher Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p.44

[32] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.153

[33] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.274

[34] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.274

[35] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 161

[36] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.52

[37] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.153

[38] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.131

[39] Ibid Robertson General A.P. Hill p.207

[40] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.93

[41] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.135

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

[43] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.264

[44] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 162

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

[46] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 162

[47] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.93

[48] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.156

[49] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.93

[50] Pfanz. Gettysburg: The First Day p.53

[51] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.158

[52] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.264

[53] Longacre, Edward G. John Buford: A Military Biography Da Capo Press, Perseus Book Group, Cambridge MA p.17

[54] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.121

[55] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.36

[56] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.36

[57] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.54

[58] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.121

[59] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.70

[60] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.70

[61] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.78

[62] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.121

[63] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.122

[64] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.44

[65] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.173

[66] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.64

[67] Longacre, Edward G. The Cavalry at Gettysburg: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations during the Civil War’s Pivotal Campaign, 9 June-14 July 1863 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1986 p.168

[68] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.181

[69] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.133

[70] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.258

[71] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.142

[72] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.122-123

[73] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, pp.142-143

[74] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.141

[75] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.184

[76] Ibid. Longacre The Cavalry at Gettysburg p.185

[77] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 157

[78] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.122

[79] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 157

[80] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.266

[81] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.123

[82] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.122-123

[83] Ibid. Longacre The Cavalry at Gettysburg p.185

[84] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.132

[85] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.158

[86] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, pp.158-159

[87] Pfanz. Gettysburg: The First Day p.53

[88] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 163

[89] Luvaas, Jay and Nelson Harold W editors. The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg South Mountain Press, Carlisle PA 1986 p.7

[90] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 165

[91] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.163

[92] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.266

[93] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.266

[94] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.191

[95] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p. 164

[96] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.162

[97] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.162

[98] Ibid. Longacre The Cavalry at Gettysburg p.187

[99] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.191

[100] Ibid. Pfanz. Gettysburg: The First Day p.68

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Fighting Joe Hooker: Part One

 

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Another biographic vignette from my Gettysburg text, the first part of a section dealing with Major General Joseph Hooker who almost commanded the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg. This section of the text deals with Hooker and his command of the Army leading up to the Battle of Chancellorsville. I find him to be one of the most complex and intriguing commanders of the Civil War. He was vain, profane and ambitious, as well as a gifted administrator who actually cared about the welfare of his soldiers. At the same time as a division and corps commander he was outstanding. As the commander of the army he was singularly unsuccessful in battle, but what he had done in the months between his appointment and the disaster at Chancellorsville he turned the Army of the Potomac around. The improvements that he made to the army were very important when it won the Battle of Gettysburg under the command of George Gordon Meade. What Hooker’s legacy shows me is that some men have different talents. Had Hooker been successful at Chancellorsville he would be hailed and what he did before the battle to care for his troops and improve the army would be used as examples of how one should lead. Since he lost and eventually was relieved by Lincoln days before Gettysburg, what he did to make the Army of the Potomac a fighting machine is largely forgotten.

Peace

Padre Steve+

hooker

“Fighting Joe” Hooker had been in command of the Army of the Potomac about five months, assuming command from Burnside, who Lincoln had relieved following the crushing defeat at Fredericksburg, and 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. During that war he was brevetted three times for bravery acting as Chief of Staff to General Pillow and his division, and as well as the commander of a mixed infantry-cavalry regiment known as the Voltiguers. He received his third brevet of the war to Lieutenant Colonel at Chapultepec. General Winfield Scott “mentioned him prominently in his report on the capture of Mexico, and Pillow testified that he was distinguished by his extraordinary activity, energy and gallantry.” [1]

However, by 1863 he was not well regarded by some of his peers and one very important superior, Major General Halleck, who he had run afoul of in California. “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.” [2] Hooker, like many contemporaries, finding advancement slow and pay bad resigned from the army in February 1853, and engaged in a series of less than successful business operations in Northern California, and also became active in California politics. However in 1858 Hooker was the recipient of a political plum, and “was appointed Superintendent of Military Roads in Oregon” and in 1859 was appointed a Colonel in the California State Militia. [3]

When war came Hooker managed to obtain an appointment as a Brigadier General of volunteers over the objections of General Winfield Scott from McClellan. Hooker was a “capable commander and brave soldier” [4] and became an excellent brigade commander. He combined strict training and discipline with care and concern for his troops. He “made himself accessible to officers and men who had complaints to air or favors to ask. He also took care that his brigade received its rightful share of rations, clothing and other supplies. He early struck upon the right balance of discipline and paternalism which marks those generals who gain the good will of their men.” [5]

But Hooker had a dark side, his unchecked ego and boundless ambition which were unconstrained by ethical considerations or loyalty to superiors and peers. He worked shamelessly against previous army commanders, including George McClellan, to whom he owed his appointment as a Brigadier General in the Regular Army.

In appearance, 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.” [6] The commander of XII Corps, Henry Slocum had “no faith whatever in Hooke’s ability as a military man, in his integrity or honor,” [7] a sentiment echoed by many other officers. 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…” [8]

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[9] on battlefields such as Second Manassas, Antietam and Fredericksburg. But his enemies, and “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.” [10]

During the war Hooker was what we would call now “media savvy.” He used the press of his day 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.” [11] 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.” [12]

But Hooker was not just disrespectful of his military superiors, but also those in the Lincoln administration, including Abraham Lincoln himself. Hooker told reporters after Fredericksburg that Lincoln “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….” [13] Hooker was an intriguer for sure but unlike many generals who did so anonymously. Hooker was quite open and public going before the “Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War investigating Fredericksburg” [14] where he not only provided damning testimony against Burnside, but against potential rivals, and after Fredericksburg the press clamored for Hooker to be named commander. One paper wrote:

We have in the Army of the Potomac, however, a General of the heroic stamp. A general who feels the enthusiasm of a soldier and who loves battle from an innate instinct for his business. The cry is universal, Hooker to the command.” [15]

After the failure at Fredericksburg Burnside had to contend with a “General’s Revolt” within the army. Numerous senior officers were involved, some speaking to the media, others to the high command in Washington and still others to influential congressmen, among these was Hooker.

After the infamous “mud march” Ambrose Burnside, now tired of Hooker and his other subordinates machinations drew up General Order Number 8 in which he planned to relieve seven generals, “two of his three Grand Division chiefs (along with the third Grand Division’s chief of staff), one corps commander, two division commanders, and one brigade commander.” [16] At the insistence of personal friends and staff who pointed out that only Lincoln had that authority, Burnside requested a meeting with the President during which he showed the order to Lincoln and also his letter of resignation if Lincoln refused to back him against his generals. The order stated in part:

“General Joseph Hooker…having been found guilty of unjust and unnecessary criticisms of the actions of his superior officers, and of the authorities, and having, by the general tone of his conversations, endeavored to create distrust in the minds of officers who have associated with him, by having, by omissions and otherwise, made reports and statements that were calculated to create incorrect impressions, and habitually speaking in disparaging terms of other officers, is hereby dismissed from the service of the United States as a man unfit to hold an important commission, during a crisis like the present…” [17]

Burnside was fed up with Hooker and since he did not have the authority to dismiss senior officers from the service he took the matter to Lincoln. Meeting the President at the White House Burnside “confronted Lincoln with this order and his own resignation, either the dissident generals had to go, he said, or he would. Lincoln agreed- and accepted Burnside’s resignation.” [18]

Much to Burnside’s dismay, Lincoln appointed Hooker, Burnside’s nemesis, to command the Army of the Potomac and sent Burnside west to command a corps. As far as the other conspirators of the Generals Revolt, none gained profit of honor from their machinations, and most, with the exception of Hooker ended the war in obscurity or out of the army.

Hooker Appointed to Command

Lincoln knew Hooker’s unsavory side, but the President “considered him an aggressive, hard fighting general…and hoped that Hooker could infuse that spirit into the army,” [19] which now was at its nadir. When Lincoln appointed Hooker to the command of the Army of the Potomac, he gave his new army commander a letter that is unique in American military history. In the letter, 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.” [20] 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.” [21] 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.” [22]

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. In fact, the letter can be viewed as “a model for a leader dealing with a flawed, willful, but energetic and useful subordinate.” [23] Lincoln finished the latter to Hooker with the admonition “And now, beware of rashness. Beware of rashness, but with energy and sleepless vigilance go forward and give us victories.” [24] Hooker believed the last comment was due to the way he was portrayed in the press, the “Fighting Joe Hooker” moniker had stuck.

The letter “engendered neither resentment nor misunderstanding” [25] and 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.” [26] He read it to a number of others and told a journalist “It is a beautiful letter…and, although I think he was harder on me than I deserved, I will say that I love the man who wrote it.” [27] Hooker was certainly sincere in this as he not only preserved it but ensured that it was published after the war was over.

The Positive Contributions of Hooker to the Army of the Potomac

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 many other 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, this was in regard to the artillery. Before that battle 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.” This act ensured 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]

When Hooker took command many of the men in the army were “disheartened, homesick, in poor health and without confidence in their officers. Thousands died in their quarters from lack of proper care or medicines for which there was no excuse.” [29] Hooker became immensely 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.” [30] Additionally “paydays were reestablished and new clothing issued…. Boards of inspection searched out and dismissed incompetent officers.[31] Soldiers sang a ditty about him:

“Joe Hooker is our leader, he takes his whisky strong-” [32]

The most important thing that Hooker did was inspire his troops, both to them and for the cause of the nation was the way he saw that the troops were cared for, no previous Union commander had made troop welfare a priority. Hooker’s “sober, unimaginative, routine work of eternally checking up on rations, clothing, hospitals, living quarters, and other little details which in the long run make all the difference.” [33]

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.” [34] The most singularly important accomplishment of Joe Hooker as commander of the army was to demonstrate that he actually cared for his soldiers. It was radically different than Burnside, and even an improvement over the days of McClellan. Such actions made a huge difference in army morale. One officer wrote home “His ‘soft bread’ order reaches us in a tender spot….” [35] 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.” [36] Hooker announced “My men shall eat before I am fed, and before my officers are fed” and he clearly meant it.” [37] Hooker’s actions to supply his troops with better food and living conditions as well as his attitude that the welfare of his troops came above his own and his officers was a remarkable example of leadership by example. These very concrete actions of Hooker “did more than anything else to enhance his popularity.” [38] One veteran recalled:

“From the commissary came less whisky for the officers and better rations, including vegetables for the men. Hospitals were renovated, new ones built, drunken surgeons discharged, sanitary supplies furnished, and the sick no longer had to suffer and die without proper care and attention. Officers and men who from incompetence or disability could be of no further use to the service were allowed to resign or were discharged, and those who were playing sick in the hospitals were sent to their regiments for duty.” [39]

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.” [40] Fitzhugh Lee noted of Hooker that “it must be admitted his preliminary steps toward reorganization and the promotion of the battle power of his army were well taken.” [41] Not only did Hooker mandate such training he frequently showed up and observed the training as well as spent time visiting isolated pickets along the Rappahannock.

Hooker ridded himself of the last vestiges of McClellan’s reliance on the Pinkerton detective agency, and for his uncoordinated use of spies, cavalry and balloons while no “coordinated bureau compiled this information.” [42] Hooker consolidated intelligence operations and created a new staff office in the army, the “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.” [43] Additionally Hooker helped quash key sources of information relied on by Lee, the local residents along the Rappahannock and Union newspapers. In regard to the former he restricted the movement of civilians along his lines, and cleared out Confederate partisans. As far as the newspapers he “found it expedient to ask Stanton to take action against certain Northern newspapers which were publishing revealing information about the army and offsetting his efforts to retain some secrecy.” [44]

Hooker also reorganized and systematized the Medical Department of the army, and “placed it under the supervision of the competent medical director Dr. Jonathan Letterman.” [45] Under Letterman’s direction and Hooker’s supervision “new hospitals were built and old ones renovated,” [46] this attention to the health of his soldiers paid dividends. 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.” [47]

Hooker worked to combat the vast number of desertions which were plaguing the Army of the Potomac which when he took command were averaging an estimated 200 per day. Tens of thousands of soldiers, some 85,000 according to Hooker’s estimate were absent from the army when he took command. In addition to his work to improve living conditions and the lives of his soldiers in camp Hooker revitalized the office of the Inspector General and used it aggressively to monitor conditions in the camps. One of Hooker’s first initiatives was to systematize “the granting if leaves of absences…..In those regiments lacking discipline, inspection reports were used as a basis for canceling leaves and furloughs, while leaves were increased for those units earning high commendations.” [48]

It was a remarkable turnaround which even impressed his soldiers, his critics, and enemies and his enemies alike. 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.” [49]

The actions of Hooker in the three months between his assumption of command and Chancellorsville were some of the most important of any Federal commander during the war. One senior officer who was not fond of Hooker noted “The Army of the Potomac never spent three months to better advantage.” [50]

The Crisis in Command: Hooker, Lincoln, and Halleck

Hooker had gone into the Battle of Chancellorsville with high hopes and great confidence, but the disaster at Chancellorsville Hooker was not the same. During that battle it was as if he was two persons, the first supremely confident and competent and the second lost and out of his league. 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.” [51]

The defeat had a lasting effect on Hooker, the connection with his soldiers which he prized was broken. The general who had “once been so popular, was no longer well received in the camps – “there was something in the air of the men which said: ‘We have no further use for you.’” [52] In the immediate aftermath of the battle “Hooker had been deeply depressed… he told Meade that he “almost wished that he had never been born.” [53] However, it was a visit from Lincoln which helped revive him as “Lincoln let it be known that he blamed no one for the defeat.” [54] Henry Halleck who accompanied Lincoln told the President afterward that “Hooker was so dispirited that he offered to reign his command. Not surprisingly, Halleck thought Lincoln should accept the resignation, but the President disagreed. He wanted to give Hooker another chance to show his mettle.” [55]

After Lincoln’s visit he did begin to recover some his self-confidence. Hooker, a slave to his vanity who had little capacity for reflection and blamed various corps commanders including Oliver Howard, John Sedgwick and cavalry commander George Stoneman for the defeat. Unlike the unpopular Ambrose Burnside who after Fredericksburg, had “taken responsibility for the defeat on his shoulders,” [56] Hooker refused 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.” [57]

Notes

[1] Hebert, Walter H. Fighting Joe Hooker University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1999. Originally published by Bobbs-Merrill, New York 1944 p.33

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

[3] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.42

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

[5] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.53

[6] 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

[7] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.331

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

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

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

[11] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.331

[12] 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

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

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

[15] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.165

[16] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.154

[17] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.165

[18] McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief Penguin Books, New York and London 2008 p.162

[19] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.162

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

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

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

[23] Cohen, Elliot A. Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesman and Leadership in Wartime The Free Press, New York 2002 p.20

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

[25] Ibid. Cohen Supreme Command p.20

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

[27] Godwin, Doris Kearns Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln Simon and Shuster, New York and London 2005 p.514

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

[29] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.179

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

[31] Ibid. Sears. Chancellorsville p.73

[32] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.141

[33] Ibid. Catton Glory Road pp.141-142

[34] Ibid. Sears Chancellorsville p.73

[35] Ibid. Sears Chancellorsville p.73

[36] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.143

[37] Ibid. Sears Chancellorsville p.73

[38] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.179

[39] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.143

[40] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.145

[41] Girardi, Robert I. The Civil War Generals: Comrades, Peers, Rivals in Their Own Words Zenith Press, MBI Publishing, Minneapolis MN 2013 p.89

[42] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.180

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

[44] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.181

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

[46] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.179

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

[48] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.179

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

[50] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.184

[51] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.210

[52] Cleaves, Freeman Meade of Gettysburg University of Oklahoma Press, Norman and London 1960 p.114

[53] McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief Penguin Books, New York and London 2008 p.177

[54] Ibid. Marszalek, Commander of All of Lincoln’s Armies p.171

[55] Ibid. Marszalek, Commander of All of Lincoln’s Armies p.171

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

[57] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.211

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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.

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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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