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A Council Of War: Meade and His Generals the Night of July 2nd 1863

Gettysburg_Council_of_War

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

The past couple of days I have been bombarding my readers with articles about the Battle Of Gettysburg leading into the 4th Of July. The are all from my Gettysburg text that I hope eventually will find a publisher, and all have been on the site before. A modified version of this article will be a vignette in the upcoming Army Doctrinal Publication on Operations. I have two more in the hopper for today. I hope you enjoy,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

While Lee took no counsel and determined to attack on the night of July 2nd little more than two miles away Major General George Meade took no chances. After sending a message to Henry Halleck at 8 PM Meade called his generals together. Unlike Lee who had observed the battle from a distance Meade had been everywhere on the battlefield during the day and had a good idea what his army had suffered and the damage that he had inflicted on the Army of Northern Virginia. Likewise during the day he had been with the majority of his commanders as opposed to Lee who after issuing orders that morning had remained unengaged.

Meade wired Halleck “The enemy attacked me about 4 P.M. this day…and after one of the severest contests of the war was repulsed at all points.” [1] However Meade, realizing that caution was not a vice still needed to assess the condition of his army, hear his commanders and hear from his intelligence service. He ended his message: “I shall remain in my present position to-morrow, but am not prepared to say until better advised of the condition of the army, whether operations will be of an offensive or a defensive character.” [2]

As he waited for his commanders his caution was apparent. Before the attack on Sickles’ III Corps at the Peach Orchard Meade had asked his Chief of Staff Brigadier General Dan Butterfield to “draw up a contingency plan for withdraw to Pipe Creek.” After that attack Alfred Pleasanton said that Meade ordered him to “gather what cavalry I could, and prepare for the retreat of the army.” [3] Some of his commanders who heard of the contingency plan including John Gibbon and John Sedgwick believed that Meade was “thinking of a retreat.”[4]. Despite his flat assurances to Halleck his position was threatened on both flanks and he “foresaw disaster, and not without cause.” [5]

In assessing Meade’s conduct it has to be concluded that while he had determined to remain, that he was smart enough to plan of the worst and to consult his commanders and staff in making his decision. Meade wrote to his wife that evening “for at one time things looked a little blue,…but I managed to get up reinforcements in time to save the day….The most difficult part of my work is acting without correct information on which to predicate action.” [6]

Meade called Colonel George Sharpe from the Bureau of Military Information to meet with him, Hancock and Slocum at the cottage on the Taneytown Road where he made his headquarters. Sharpe and his aide explained the enemy situation. Sharpe noted that “nearly 100 Confederate regiments in action Wednesday and Thursday” and that “not one of those regiments belonged to Pickett.” He then reported with confidence that indicated that “Pickett’s division has just come up and is bivouac.” [7]

It was the assurance that Meade needed as his commanders came together. When Sharpe concluded his report Hancock exclaimed “General, we have got them nicked.” [8]

About 9 P.M. the generals gathered. Present were Meade, and two of his major staff officers Warren just back from Little Round Top, wounded and tired, and Butterfield his Chief of Staff. Hancock action as a Wing Commander was there with Gibbon now commanding II Corps, Slocum of XII Corps with Williams. John Newton a division commander from VI Corps who had just arrived on the battlefield now commanding I Corps was present along with Oliver Howard of XI Corps, John Sedgwick of VI Corps, George Sykes of V Corps and David Birney, now commanding what was left of the wounded Dan Sickles’ III Corps. Pleasanton was off with the cavalry and Hunt attending to the artillery.

The meeting began and. John Gibbon noted that it “was at first very informal and in the shape of a conversation….” [9]The condition of the army was discussed and it was believed that now only about 58,000 troops available to fight. Birney honestly described the condition of III Corps noting that “his corps was badly chewed up, and that he doubted that it was fit for much more.” [10] Newton who had just arrived was quoted by Gibbon as saying that Gettysburg was “a bad position” and that “Cemetery Hill was no place to fight a battle in.” [11] The remarks sparked a serious discussion with Meade asking the assembled generals “whether our army should remain on that field and continue the battle, or whether we should change to some other position.” [12]

The reactions to the question showed that the army commanders still had plenty of fight in the. Meade listened as his generals discussed the matter. Hancock said he was “puzzled about the practicability of retiring.” [13] Newton later noted that he made his observations about the battlefield based on the danger that Lee might turn the Federal left and impose his army between it and its supplies. He and the other commanders agreed that pulling back “would be a highly dangerous maneuver to attempt in the immediate presence of the enemy.” [14]

Finally Butterfield, no friend of Meade and one of the McClellan and Hooker political cabal who Meade had retained when he took command posed three questions to the assembled generals.

“Under existing circumstances, is it advisable for this army to remain in its present position, or retire to another nearer its base of supplies?”

It being determined to remain in present position, shall the army attack or wait the attack of the enemy?

If we wait attack, how long?” [15]

Gibbon as the junior officer present said “Correct the position of the army…but do not retreat.” Williams counselled “stay,” as did Birney and Sykes, and Newton after briefly arguing the dangers finally agreed. Howard not only recommended remaining but “even urged an attack if the Confederates stayed their hand.” Hancock who earlier voiced his opinion to Meade that “we have them nicked” added “with a touch of anger, “Let us have no more retreats. The Army of the Potomac has had too many retreats….Let this be our last retreat.” Sedgwick of VI Corps voted “remain” and finally Slocum uttered just three words “stay and fight.” [16]

None counselled an immediate attack; all recommended remaining at least another day. When the discussion concluded Meade told his generals “Well gentlemen…the question is settled. We remain here.” [17]

Some present believed that Meade was looking for a way to retreat to a stronger position, that he had been rattled by the events of the day. Slocum believed that “but for the decision of his corps commanders” that Meade and the Army of the Potomac “would have been in full retreat…on the third of July.” [18] Meade would deny such accusations before Congressional committees the following year.

Much of the criticism of his command decisions during the battle were made by political partisans associated with the military cabal of Hooker, Butterfield and Sickles as well as Radical Republicans who believed that Meade was a Copperhead. Both Butterfield and Birney accused Meade before the committee of wanting to retreat and “put the worst possible interpretation on Meade’s assumed lack of self-confidence without offering any real evidence to substantiate it.” Edwin Coddington notes “that Meade, other than contemplating a slight withdraw to straighten his lines, wanted no retreat from Gettysburg.”[19]

Alpheus Williams wrote to his daughters on July 6th “I heard no expression from him which led me to think that he was in favor of withdrawing the army from before Gettysburg.”[20] Likewise the message sent by Meade to Halleck indicates a confidence in the upcoming battle of July 3rd. If Meade had some reservations during the day, as he mentioned in the letter to his wife they certainly were gone by the time he received the intelligence report from Sharpe and heard Hancock’s bold assertion that the enemy was “nicked.”

As the meeting broke up after shortly after midnight and the generals returned to their commands Meade pulled Gibbon aside. Gibbon with II Corps held the Federal center on Cemetery Ridge. Meade told him “If Lee attacks tomorrow, it will be in your front.” Gibbon queried as to why Meade thought this and Meade continued “Because he has made attacks on both our flanks and failed,…and if he concludes to try it again it will be on our center.” Gibbon wrote years later “I expressed the hope that he would, and told General Meade with confidence, that if he did we would defeat him.” [21]

If some generals believed Meade to be a defeatist it was not present in his private correspondence. He wrote to his wife early in the morning of July 3rd displaying a private confidence that speaks volumes:

“Dearest love, All well and going on well in the Army. We had a great fight yesterday, the enemy attacking & we completely repulsing them- both armies shattered….Army in fine spirits & every one determined to do or die.” [22]

Meade did what Lee should have done, he had been active on the battlefield, he consulted his intelligence service and he consulted his commanders on the options available to him. Lee remained away from the action on July 2nd he failed to consult his commanders. He failed to gain accurate intelligence on the Federal forces facing him and he failed to fully take into account his losses. Meade better demonstrated the principles of what we now call “mission command.”

 

[1] [1] Sears, Stephen W Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Company, New York 2003 pp.341-342

[2] Ibid. p.342

[3] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.355

[4] Ibid.

[5] Foote, Shelby The Civil War, A Narrative, Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.524

[6] Trudeau, Noah Andre Gettysburg, A Testing of Courage Harper Collins, New York 2002 p.413

[7] Ibid. Sears p.342

[8] Ibid. Trudeau p.413

[9] Ibid. Sears

[10] Ibid. Trudeau p.415

[11] Ibid. Guelzo p.556.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid. Sears p.343

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid. Trudeau p.415

[16] Ibid. Guelzo p.556

[17] Ibid. Foote p.525

[18] Ibid. Guelzo

[19] [19] Coddinton, Edwin Gettysburg, A Study in Command Simon and Schuster New York 1968 pp.451-452

[20] Ibid. p.452

[21] Ibid. Foote p.525

[22] Ibid. Trudeau p.345

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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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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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Councils of War at Gettysburg: Lee & Meade July 2nd 1863

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As I noted yesterday I returned from Gettysburg and another Staff Ride, and one of the questions that came up during some of our table talk, as well as on the battlefield was about the command decision process by which Robert E. Lee and George Gordon Meade and their subordinates planned, prepared and debated what to do on the night of July 2nd 1863, following the bloody, but unsuccessful attacks by Hood’s and McLaw’s Divisions at Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, the Wheat Field, Peach Orchard and Plum Run.

To provide that overview in one article I have encapsulated a number of chapters from my Gettysburg text into one article. The contrast between Lee’s decision to attack, his refusal to take counsel of dissenting voices and views of his subordinates stand in stark contrast to those of his opponent, George Gordon Meade, his subordinate commanders and staff. Their decisions shaped the outcome of the battle of Gettysburg, and were decisive in Lee’s defeat, and instrumental in the eventual defeat of the Confederacy, just under 21 months later.

I hope you enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Lee1

As night fell on July 2nd 1863 General Robert E Lee had already made his decision. Despite the setbacks of the day he was determined to strike the Army of the Potomac yet again. He did not view the events as setback, and though he lacked clarity of how badly many of his units were mauled Lee took no external council to make his decision. With the exception of A.P. Hill who came and submitted a report to him Lee neither required his other two corps commanders, James Longstreet or Richard Ewell to consult with him, nor took any action to visit them.

Lee did “not feel that his troops had been defeated” and he felt that “the failure on the second day had been due to a lack of coordination.”1

In his official report of the battle he wrote:

“The result of this day’s operations induced the belief that, with proper concert of action, and with the increased support that the positions gained on the right would enable the artillery to render to the assaulting columns, that we should succeed, and it was ultimately determined to continue the attack…” 2

While Lee’s charge of a “lack of coordination” of the attacks can certainly be substantiated, the fact of the matter was that if there was anyone to blame for his lack of coordination it was him, and  even Lee’s most devoted biographer Douglas Southall Freeman would write that on July 2d “the Army of Northern Virginia was without a commander.” 3 Lee’s decision to attack on July 3rd, having not taken counsel of his commanders or assessed the battle-worthiness of the units that he was planning to through into his final assault on the Union center was “utterly divorced from reality.” 4 His plan was essentially unchanged from the previous day. Longstreet’s now battered divisions were to renew their assault on the Federal left in coordination with Pickett and two of Hill’s divisions.

In light of Lee’s belief that “a lack of coordination” was responsible for the failures of July 2nd it would have been prudent for him to ensure such coordination happened on the night of July 2nd. “Lee would have done well to have called out his three lieutenants to confer with them and spell out exactly what he wanted. That was not the way he did things however…” 5

Lee knew about the heavy losses among his key leaders but “evidently very little was conveyed to him regarding the condition of the units engaged this day.” 6 This certainly had to be because during the day his only view of the battlefield was from Seminary Ridge through binoculars and because he did not get first hand reports from the commanders involved. Lee was undeterred and according to some who saw Lee that night he seemed confident noting that when Hill reported he shook his and said “It is well, General,…Everything is well.” 7

It was not an opinion that Lee’s subordinates shared. Ewell and his subordinates were told to renew their attack on Cemetery and Culp’s Hill on the night of July 2nd, but “he and his generals believed more than ever that a daylight assault against the ranked guns on Cemetery Hill would be suicidal-Harry Hays said that such an attack would invite “nothing more than slaughter…” 8

LongstreetJ_main

James Longstreet was now more settled in his opposition to another such frontal attack and shortly after dawn when Lee visited him to deliver the order to attack again argued for a flanking movement around the Federal left. Lee’s order was for Longstreet to “attack again the next morning” according to the “general plan of July 2nd.” 9 Longstreet had not wanted to attack the previous day and when Lee came to him Longstreet again attempted to persuade Lee of his desire to turn the Federal flank. “General, I have had my scouts out all night, and I find that you still have an excellent opportunity to move around to the right of Meade’s army and maneuver him into attacking us.” 10

Lee would have nothing of it. He looked at his “Old Warhorse” and as he had done the previous day insisted: “The enemy is there,” he said, pointing northeast as he spoke, “and I am going to strike him.” 11 Longstreet’s gloom deepened and he wrote that he felt “it was my duty to express my convictions.” He bluntly told Lee:

“General, I have been a soldier all of my life. I have been with soldiers engaged in fights by couples, by squads, companies, regiments, divisions and armies, and should know, as well as any one, what soldiers can do. It is my opinion that no fifteen thousand men ever arranged for battle can take that position.” 12

But Lee was determined to force his will on both his subordinates and the battle. Lee was convinced that the plan could succeed while Longstreet “was certain” that the plan “was misguided and doomed to fail.” 13 Longstreet, now realized that further arguments were in vain recalled that Lee “was impatient of listening, and tired of talking, and nothing was left but to proceed.” 14

Even a consultation with Brigadier General William Wofford whose brigade had help crush Sickle’s III Corps at the Peach Orchard and had nearly gotten to the crest of Cemetery Ridge could not alter Lee’s plan. Wofford had to break off his attack on July 2nd when he realized that there were no units to support him. Lee asked if Wofford could “go there again” to which Wofford replied “No, General I think not.” Lee asked “why not” and Wofford explained: “General, the enemy have had all night to intrench and reinforce. I had been pursuing a broken enemy, and now the situation is very different.” 15

The attack would go forward despite Longstreet’s objections and the often unspoken concerns of others who had the ear of Lee, or who would carry out the attack. Walter Taylor of Lee’s staff wrote to his sister a few days after the attack the “position was impregnable to any such force as ours” while Pickett’s brigadier Richard Garnett remarked “this is a desperate thing to attempt” and Lewis Armistead said “the slaughter will be terrible.” 16

Pickett’s fresh division would lead the attack supported by Johnston Pettigrew commanding the wounded Harry Heth’s division of Hill’s Third Corps and Isaac Trimble commanding two brigades of Pender’s division, Trimble having been given command just minutes prior to the artillery bombardment. 17 On the command side few of the commanders had commanded alongside each other before July 3rd. Trimble had just recovered from wounds had never been with his men. Pettigrew had been given command when Pender was wounded was still new and relatively untested, and Pickett’s three brigadiers and their brigades had never fought together. Two of the divisions had never served under Longstreet. From a command perspective where relationships and trust count as much as strength and numbers the situation was nearly as bad is it could be. Although the Confederates massed close to 170 cannon on Seminary Ridge to support the attack ammunition was in short supply and the Lieutenant Colonel Porter Alexander who had been tasked with coordinating fires only controlled the guns of First Corps.

The assaulting troops would attack with their right flank exposed to deadly enfilade fire from Federal artillery and with the left flank unsupported and exposed to such fires from Union artillery on Cemetery Hill. It was a disaster waiting to happen. Longstreet noted “Never was I so depressed as on that day…” 18

general-george-meade

While Lee took no counsel and determined to attack on the night of July 2nd little more than two miles away Major General George Meade took no chances. After sending a message to Henry Halleck at 8 PM Meade called his generals together. Unlike Lee who had observed the battle from a distance Meade had been everywhere on the battlefield during the day and had a good idea what his army had suffered and the damage that he had inflicted on the Army of Northern Virginia. Likewise during the day he had been with the majority of his commanders as opposed to Lee who after issuing orders that morning had remained unengaged, as was noted by the British observer Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Fremantle who wrote that during the “whole time the firing continued, he sent only one message, and only received one report.” 19

Meade wired Halleck that evening: “The enemy attacked me about 4 P.M. this day…and after one of the severest contests of the war was repulsed at all points.” 20 However Meade, realizing that caution was not a vice still needed to better assess the condition of his army, hear his commanders and hear from his intelligence service, ended his message: “I shall remain in my present position to-morrow, but am not prepared to say until better advised of the condition of the army, whether operations will be of an offensive or a defensive character.” 21

As Meade waited for his commanders his caution was apparent. Before the attack on Sickles’ III Corps at the Peach Orchard Meade had asked his Chief of Staff Brigadier General Dan Butterfield to “draw up a contingency plan for withdraw to Pipe Creek.” After the attack on Sickles Alfred Pleasanton said that Meade ordered him to “gather what cavalry I could, and prepare for the retreat of the army.” 22 Some of his commanders who heard of the contingency plan including John Gibbon and John Sedgwick believed that Meade was “thinking of a retreat.” 23. Despite Meade’s  flat assurances to Halleck  his army’s position had been threatened on both flanks, though both were now solidly held, but some of his subordinates believed, maybe through the transference of their own doubts, that Meade “foresaw disaster, and not without cause.” 24

In assessing Meade’s conduct it has to be concluded that while he had determined to remain, that he was smart enough to plan of the worst and to consult his commanders and staff in making his decision. Meade wrote to his wife that evening “for at one time things looked a little blue,…but I managed to get up reinforcements in time to save the day….The most difficult part of my work is acting without correct information on which to predicate action.” 25

Gettysburg_Council_of_War

Meade called Colonel George Sharpe from the Bureau of Military Information to meet with him, Hancock and Slocum at the cottage on the Taneytown Road where he made his headquarters. Sharpe and his aide explained the enemy situation. Sharpe noted “nearly 100 Confederate regiments in action Wednesday and Thursday” and that “not one of those regiments belonged to Pickett.” He then reported with confidence that indicated that “Pickett’s division has just come up and is bivouac.” 26

It was the assurance that Meade needed as his commanders came together. When Sharpe concluded his report Hancock exclaimed “General, we have got them nicked.” 27

About 9 P.M. the generals gathered. Present were Meade, and two of his major staff officers Warren just back from Little Round Top, wounded and tired, and Butterfield his Chief of Staff. Hancock action as a Wing Commander was there with Gibbon now commanding II Corps, Slocum of XII Corps with Williams. John Newton a division commander from VI Corps who had just arrived on the battlefield now commanding I Corps was present along with Oliver Howard of XI Corps, John Sedgwick of VI Corps, George Sykes of V Corps and David Birney, now commanding what was left of the wounded Dan Sickles’ III Corps. Pleasanton was off with the cavalry and Hunt attending to the artillery.

The meeting began and John Gibbon noted that it “was at first very informal and in the shape of a conversation….” 28 The condition of the army was discussed and it was believed that now only about 58,000 troops were available to fight. Birney honestly described the condition of III Corps noting that “his corps was badly chewed up, and that he doubted that it was fit for much more.” 29 Newton who had just arrived was quoted by Gibbon as saying that Gettysburg was “a bad position” and that “Cemetery Hill was no place to fight a battle in.” 20 The remarks sparked a serious discussion with Meade asking the assembled generals “whether our army should remain on that field and continue the battle, or whether we should change to some other position.” 31

The reactions to the question showed that the army commanders still had plenty of fight in the. Meade listened as his generals discussed the matter. Hancock said he was “puzzled about the practicability of retiring.” 32 Newton later noted that he made his observations about the battlefield based on his belief that that Lee might turn the Federal left and impose his army between it and its supplies, as Longstreet However Newton and the other commanders agreed that pulling back “would be a highly dangerous maneuver to attempt in the immediate presence of the enemy.” 33

Finally Butterfield, no friend of Meade and one of the McClellan and Hooker political cabal who Meade had retained when he took command posed three questions to the assembled generals:

“Under existing circumstances, is it advisable for this army to remain in its present position, or retire to another nearer its base of supplies?

It being determined to remain in present position, shall the army attack or wait the attack of the enemy?

If we wait attack, how long?” 34

Gibbon as the junior officer present said “Correct the position of the army…but do not retreat.” Williams counseled “stay,” as did Birney and Sykes, and Newton, who after briefly arguing the dangers finally agreed. Oliver Howard not only recommended remaining but “even urged an attack if the Confederates stayed their hand.” Hancock who earlier voiced his opinion to Meade that “we have them nicked” added “with a touch of anger, “Let us have no more retreats. The Army of the Potomac has had too many retreats….Let this be our last retreat.” Sedgwick of VI Corps voted “remain” and finally Slocum uttered just three words “stay and fight.” 35

None of Meade’s assembled commanders counseled an immediate attack; all recommended remaining at least another day. When the discussion concluded Meade told his generals “Well gentlemen…the question is settled. We remain here.” 36

Some present believed that Meade was looking for a way to retreat to a stronger position, that he had been rattled by the events of the day. Slocum believed that “but for the decision of his corps commanders” that Meade and the Army of the Potomac “would have been in full retreat…on the third of July.” 37 Meade would deny such accusations before Congressional committees the following year as Radical Republicans in Congress sought to have him relieved for political reasons.

Much of the criticism of his command decisions during the battle were made by political partisans associated with the military cabal of Hooker, Butterfield and Sickles as well as Radical Republicans who believed that Meade was a Copperhead. Both Butterfield and Birney accused Meade before the committee of wanting to retreat and “put the worst possible interpretation on Meade’s assumed lack of self-confidence without offering any real evidence to substantiate it.” Edwin Coddington notes “that Meade, other than contemplating a slight withdraw to straighten his lines, wanted no retreat from Gettysburg.” 38

Alpheus Williams of XII Corps, wrote to his daughters on July 6th regarding his beliefs about Meade on the night of July 2nd. “I heard no expression from him which led me to think that he was in favor of withdrawing the army from before Gettysburg.” 39 Likewise the message sent by Meade to Halleck indicates Meade’s own confidence in the upcoming battle of July 3rd. If Meade had some reservations during the day, as he mentioned in the letter to his wife they certainly were gone by the time he received the intelligence report from Sharpe and heard Hancock’s bold assertion that the enemy was “nicked.”

As the meeting broke up after shortly after midnight and the generals returned to their commands Meade pulled Gibbon aside. Gibbon with II Corps had the Federal center on Cemetery Ridge. Meade told him “If Lee attacks tomorrow, it will be in your front.” Gibbon queried as to why Meade thought this and Meade continued “Because he has made attacks on both our flanks and failed,…and if he concludes to try it again it will be on our center.” Gibbon wrote years later “I expressed the hope that he would, and told General Meade with confidence, that if he did we would defeat him.” 40

If some of his generals and political opponents believed Meade to be a defeatist,  that defeatism was not present in his private correspondence. He wrote to his wife early in the morning of July 3rd displaying a private confidence that speaks volumes: “Dearest love, All well and going on well in the Army. We had a great fight yesterday, the enemy attacking & we completely repulsing them- both armies shattered….Army in fine spirits & every one determined to do or die.” 41

The contrast between Lee’s and Meade’s decision making process is Meade did what Lee should have done, he had been active on the battlefield, he consulted his intelligence service and he consulted his commanders on the options available to him. Lee remained away from the action on July 2nd he failed to consult his commanders. He failed to gain accurate intelligence on the Federal forces facing him and he failed to fully take into account his losses. Meade better demonstrated the principles of what we now call “mission command.”

Notes

1 Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 p.558

2 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 594 of 743

3 Freeman, Douglas S. R.E. Lee volume 3 Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York 1935 p.150

4 Sears, Stephen W Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Company, New York 2003 p.349

5 Coddinton, Edwin Gettysburg, A Study in Command Simon and Schuster New York 1968 p.455

6 Trudeau, Noah Andre Gettysburg, A Testing of Courage Harper Collins, New York 2002 p.4117 Ibid p.412

8 Ibid. p.347

9 Ibid. p.430

10 Wert, Jeffry General James Longstreet, the Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier A Tuchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York 1993 p.283

11 Foote, Shelby The Civil War, A Narrative, Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.529 12 Ibid. Wert p.283

13 Ibid. Sears p.349

14 Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.377

15 Ibid. Foote p.531

16 Ibid. Wert p.287

17 Ibid. Freeman p.589

18 Ibid. Wert p.290

19 Fremantle, Arthur Three Months in the Southern States, April- June 1863 William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh and London 1863 Amazon Kindle edition p.266

20 Sears, Stephen W Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Company, New York 2003 pp.341-342

21 Ibid. p.342

22 Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.355

23 Ibid.

24 Foote, Shelby The Civil War, A Narrative, Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.524

25 Trudeau, Noah Andre Gettysburg, A Testing of Courage Harper Collins, New York 2002 p.413

26 Ibid. Sears p.342

27 Ibid. Trudeau p.413

28 Ibid. Sears p.342

29 Ibid. Trudeau p.415

30 Ibid. Guelzo p.556

31 Ibid. Guelzo p.556

32 Ibid. Sears p.343

33 Ibid. Sears p.343

34 Ibid. Trudeau p.415

35 Ibid. Guelzo p.556

36 Ibid. Foote p.525

37 Ibid. Guelzo

38 Coddinton, Edwin Gettysburg, A Study in Command Simon and Schuster New York 1968 pp.451-452

39 Ibid. p.452

40 Ibid. Foote p.525

41 Ibid. Trudeau p.345

 

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

hooker

Major General Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry_Halleck_by_Scholten,_c1865

Major General Henry Halleck

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

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

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

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

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

CWP015

Major General J.E.B. Stuart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ewell

Major General Richard Ewell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

[7] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.60

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[19] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.331

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[30] Ibid. Sears. Chancellorsville p.73

[31] Ibid. Sears Chancellorsville p.73

[32] Ibid. Sears Chancellorsville p.73

[33] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.143

[34] Ibid. Sears Chancellorsville p.73

[35] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.145

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

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

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

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

[40] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.210

[41] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.211

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

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

[44] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.19

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

[46] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.19

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

[48] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.61

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[57] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.63

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

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

[60] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.64

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

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

[63] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.64

[64] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.306

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

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

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

[68] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.310

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

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

[71] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.310

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

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

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

[75] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.73

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

[77] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.74

[78] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.312

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[96] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.85

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

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

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

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

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

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

[103] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.88

[104] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.88

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

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

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

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

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

[110] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.82

[111] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.82

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

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

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

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

[116] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.120

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

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

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

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

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

[122] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.123

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

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

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

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

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

[128] Ibid. Catton Glory Road p.217

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

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

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

rebel-potomacEwell’s Corps crossing the Potomac

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

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

ewellLieutenant General Richard Ewell

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

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

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

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

hookerMajor General Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker

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

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

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

Henry_Halleck_by_Scholten,_c1865Major General Henry Halleck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

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“Well, We May as Well Fight it out Here” Meade Decides to Fight at Gettysburg

general-george-meade

“General Meade will commit no blunder in my front, and if I commit one he will make haste to take advantage of it.” Robert E Lee June 28th 1863

The choosing of the place to give battle, at any level of war, but particularly at the operational level is always of the utmost importance and has been so from time immemorial. Despite advances in technology terrain and weather are major factors that a commander or staff must consider in terms of their courses of action. Knowing the terrain features as well as the infrastructure such as road networks that they are operating on allows commanders to choose courses of action which accentuate their strengths and expose their opponent’s weaknesses. To understand this is a key part of Course of Action (COA) development, Operational Art and Operational Design as well as analyzing Centers of Gravity, especially in determining decisive points.

While the commanders at Gettysburg did not use such terminology, they did understand the effects of terrain and weather, friction and the importance of occupying “good ground.” Our understanding of these concepts can help us draw from the actions of the commanders at Gettysburg lessons that we can employ today, despite the vast changes in technology and expansion of the battlefield.

As he looked at the dispositions of the Confederate army on June 30th George Gordon Meade “felt he had move his forces in such a way as to challenge the enemy advance while at the same time protecting Washington and Baltimore.” 1 To do this he decided to concentrate the Army of the Potomac along what is known as the Pipe Creek line, a line along Parr’s Ridge just behind Pipe Creek to the south of Meade’s Taneytown headquarters. As an engineer Meade recognized the The decision was made because he realized that his advance had caused Lee’s army to abandon its threatening movement toward Harrisburg and the Susquehanna and was concentrating in the general area of Cashtown, South Mountain and possibly advancing toward Gettysburg.

The Pipe Creek line offered Meade a number of advantages; “it covered his own supply line and blocked the direct route to Baltimore.” 2 The positions of his intrenched army there would be “almost impossible to storm by frontal attack” 3 as well as allow his army to concentrate quickly. By placing himself in that position Meade believed that it would force Lee to attack him on good ground of his own choosing, offer him the chance to attack should Lee divide his forces, or by allowing Lee to exhaust his forage and supplies to withdraw from Pennsylvania without giving battle. Meade’s intention at Pipe Creek was to fight the “kind of battle he was to fight at Gettysburg.” 4

However Meade’s carefully laid plan became a victim of circumstances as events progressed during the evening of June 30th and morning of July 1st. When Reynolds was told by Buford that contact had been made and the Confederates were advancing on Gettysburg he brought I Corps and XI Corps up as quickly as he could and issued orders for III Corps under Sickles to join them at Gettysburg.

About 1130 a.m. Meade received word from John Reynolds’ aide Captain Stephen Weld that Reynolds had engaged the enemy at Gettysburg and had not received Meade’s Pipe Creek circular, which jeopardized his plan. Meade, having not known that Reynolds was not acting on his latest plan had assumed that Reynolds was conducting a temporary holding action at Gettysburg, but at 1 p.m. he was given the message that “Reynolds was dead or severely wounded and that Otis Howard was in command on the field.” 5 At this point Meade wasted no time and appointed Winfield Scott Hancock to go to Gettysburg and take charge of the situation, not trusting Howard’s abilities and instructed him “If you think the ground and position there are a better one to fight under existing circumstances, you will so advise the General, and he will order his troops up.” 6 He placed John Gibbon in command of II Corps and because he was concerned that Lee might cut off the embattled I Corps and XI Corps.

It was at this point that Meade decided to abandon his Pipe Creek plan and even before getting Hancock’s report, issued orders to his Corps commanders. At about 4:30 p.m. Meade ordered Sedgwick and his VI Corps up to Taneytown and put Slocum’s XII Corps and Sykes V Corps on the road to “move up to Gettysburg at once.” 7

Throughout the afternoon Meade kept his wits and “may have restrained a natural impulse to rush to the battleground and take over control of affairs himself.” 8 After the battle some criticized Meade for this, but it was from a perspective of command, and what we now call Mission Command did the right thing. He stayed at his headquarters to better control the movements and communicate with all his forces, which he could not have done had he rushed to the front, and instead “delegated authority to a highly competent subordinate, while he himself stayed close to the center of operations at army headquarters.” 9

Had Meade done what many commanders might have done in his position, and moved to the battle he might not have been able to do the more important job of ensuring the in a moment of crisis that his subordinate commanders received his orders and moved their units where they were needed. In fact any delay of getting the Union forces to Gettysburg could have been fatal to his army and allowed Lee to gain the advantage and possibly defeat his forces in detail. Likewise if Hancock arrived and found that the position could not be held, Meade would still be in position to ensure that the Pipe Creek position could be held.

The man he appointed in his stead, Hancock was someone that was not only capable but someone that “was a man who he knew and could trust,” 10 and who despite being junior to Howard, Slocum and Sickles was able to diplomatically handle the awkwardness of the situation. After Hancock arrived on the field he took in the tactical situation and judged it “the strongest position by nature on which to fight a battle that I ever saw.” 11

Howard objected to Hancock taking charge of the battlefield due to seniority, and although Howard had selected the position, demurred to Howard and said “and if it meets your approbation I will select this as the battlefield.” After Howard concurred Hancock announced “Very well, sir. I select this as the battlefield.” 12 While Howard could make the claim that he actually selected the ground of where to fight by emplacing Steinwehr’s division on the Hill as a reserve and withdrawing the battered remnants of I Corps and XI Corps to it during the afternoon, it was Hancock that “organized the all-round defense of the position.” 13 After consulting with Howard and directing Slocum’s XII Corps to occupy Culp’s Hill Hancock sent his aide Major William Mitchell to tell Meade that the position “could not well be taken.” 14 He had III Corps extend the line down Cemetery Ridge and directed his own II Corps to protect the flank in case Lee attempted to turn the Federal left. Upon Slocum’s arrival Hancock relinquished command and rode to Taneytown to personally brief Meade on the situation.

When Meade received word that from Hancock that he believed that “Gettysburg could maintain itself until dark” he dispatched a message to Hancock and Doubleday “It seems to me that we have so concentrated that a battle at Gettysburg is now forced upon us.” 15 Meade then sent a dispatch to Henry Halleck in Washington: “A.P. Hill and Ewell are certainly concentrating…Longstreet’s whereabouts I do not know. If he is not up tomorrow, I hope with the force I have concentrated to defeat Hill and Ewell; at any rate I see no other course that to hazard a general battle.” 16 He added “Circumstances during the night may alter this decision, of which I will try to advise you.” 17 Upon sending out his final orders directing all units to Gettysburg he had his headquarters strike its tents and equipment and begin to move to Gettysburg, being briefed by Hancock before he set off at 10 p.m.

Meade arrived on the field about midnight to the surreal scene of soldiers of the I Corps and XI Corps encamped on the grounds of the cemetery, many exhausted and asleep having thrown back the last Confederate attacks, and met Slocum, who had taken charge when Hancock went back to brief Meade, as well as Howard, his artillery chief Henry Hunt and chief engineer, Gouverneur Warren, Dan Sickles of III Corps his and by Hancock when that weary general arrived back from Taneytown.

Howard was anxious due to the disaster that had befallen his Corps, but Meade assured him that he was not assigning any blame. He then asked their opinions about the position. Howard declared “I am confident that we can hold this position.” He was joined by Slocum who noted “It is good for defense,” and Sickles added “It is a good place to fight from.”
Meade was satisfied with their conclusions and replied: “I am glad to hear you say so, gentlemen for it is too late to leave it.” 18

Meade then began a thorough inspection of his lines, the placement of his forces and disposition of his artillery, which he directed Hunt “to see that the artillery was properly posted.” 19 An engineer officer made a sketch of the position, and “Meade used to indicate where he wanted to post his troops” 20 and he had copies made and “sent to the corps commanders.” 21 After consulting with Slocum about the position on Culp’s Hill, and the “practicability of attacking the enemy in that quarter.” Slocum indicated that it was excellent for defense but “not favorable for attack,” 22 Warren added his “his doubts about attacking across ground that was sullied and uneven” 23 and Meade gave up the option of taking the offensive there, which he had considered to do when Sedgwick arrived with VI Corps later in the day. He and Warren also directed XII Corps to construct “breastworks and abatis” on the peaks of Culp’s Hill,” 24 a measure that would prove to be of decisive importance on the night of July 2nd and morning of July 3rd. He also moved V Corps into a reserve position behind Cemetery Hill on the Baltimore Pike, and used his command authority to replace Doubleday, who he did not feel able enough to command a Corps, who had been in acting command of I Corps since the death of Reynolds’ with Brigadier General John Newton who commanded a division in Sedgwick’s V Corps, earning himself Doubleday’s undying enmity.
About 3 a.m. still unsure of Lee’s intent Meade wrote Halleck informing him that the army “was in a strong position for the defensive” and though hoped to attack had considered all possibilities, and attempted to prepare for anything, even Lee attempting to move around his flank to interpose himself between Meade and Washington, exactly as Longstreet had recommended to Lee. If that occurred he told Halleck that he would “fall back to my supplies at Westminster….” 25 (the Pipe Creek line).

Meade made his headquarters at the Liester House behind Cemetery Ridge where he continued planning. Meade’s headquarters offered him a central position from which he could easily reach any position on the battlefield and speed communications with his commanders. The position he had taken was strong, with his Corps all occupying good ground and positions being continuously improved and reinforced as more troops arrived. To the north XII Corps occupied a very strong position on Culp’s Hill while I Corps and XI Corps occupied Cemetery Hill. II Corps now occupied the central area of Cemetery Ridge with Sickles III Corps extend that line south toward the Round Tops. V Corps was in reserve and cavalry was posted to cover each flank. Sedgwick’s VI Corps was nearing Gettysburg and expect to arrive in the afternoon after completing a 36 mile forced march from Manchester Maryland. His army occupied interior lines allowing rapid reinforcements to any threatened area. It was as strong as a position as could be imagined.

After sunrise Meade met Carl Schurz, who had so ably helped maintain XI Corps on July 1st and whose troops occupied the northern face of Cemetery Hill. Schurz observed that though Meade “looked careworn and tired, as though he had not slept the night before-probably because he hadn’t” but that “his mind was evidently absorbed by a hard problem. But this simple, cold, serious soldier with his business-like air did inspire confidence….” 26

As Schurz watched Meade survey the Federal defenses he asked how many soldiers Meade expected to have on hand. Meade told him that he expected about 95,000. 27 Meade then told Schurz: “Well, we may fight it out here just as well as anywhere else” and then rode off. 28

During the night of July 1st Meade did what Lee failed to do. Lee failed to control his units or commanders, while Meade maintained control of his units, ensured that his commanders understood his intent and replaced ones that he felt unable to do what was needed. Lee conducted no reconnaissance of any importance, the only attempt sending his staff engineer to look around Little Round Top, a task that he failed in, while Meade and his subordinates made a thorough reconnaissance of their lines and fortified them. Lee, in an almost fatalistic manner did no real contingency planning, leaving things to the elan’ of his troops and the Providence of God, but Meade planned for contingencies that Lee might attempt, even the possibility that Lee might do what Longstreet so strongly advocated.

In the end Meade did almost everything that a commander could do to ensure that his army not only was in position to succeed in the tactical and operational levels, but also through his contact with his superiors linked his operations to larger strategic considerations.

Notes

1 Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.118

2 Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York p.150

3 Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York 1968 p.239

4 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.239

5 Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.188

6 Huntington, Tom Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2013 p.154

7 Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.159

8 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.323 9 Ibid Coddington. The Gettysburg Campaign p.323

10 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.158

11 Jordan, David M. Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier’s Life University of Indiana Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1988 p.84 

12 Foote, Shelby The Civil War a Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.48313 Ibid. Foote The Civil War a Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian p.483

14 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.321

15 Ibid. Trudeau pp.264-265

16 Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.241

17 Ibid. Trudeau p.265

18 Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Meade p. 159

19 Hunt, Henry J. The Second Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume III The Tide Shifts, edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel, Castle Books Secaucus New Jersey p.293

20 Ibid. Huntington. p.15921 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.330

22 Ibid. Foote The Civil War a Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian p.494

23 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.228 

24 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.228

25 Ibid. Foote The Civil War a Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian p.464

26 Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Meade p.160

27 An overestimate based on unit reports, which included many troops not present for duty, or able to perform their duties. He actually had about 83,000-85,000 on the field during the battle. 

28 Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Meade p.160

 

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