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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: Change, Uncertainty, and Prelude to Battle

army of the potomac

The Army of the Potomac on the Move

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

Robert E. Lee

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

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

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

George Gordon Meade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any commander that embarks on a high risk offensive operation in enemy territory must do so with great care, especially in regard to command and control of his forces. This is especially true regarding reconnaissance, and intelligence. Lee had been operating blind for well over a week and this was his fault. Because Lee had issued such vague orders to his Cavalry Corps Commander, J.E.B. Stuart, Stuart was well to the east conducting a ride around the Federal army. Stuart was now completely useless to Lee, who needed the intelligence alone Stuart could provide, and without a Cavalry screen on his right flank. Now Lee was reaping the results of his carelessness in planning, order writing, and overconfidence. 

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

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

James Longstreet

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Buford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[19] Hebert, Walter H. Fighting Joe Hooker University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1999. Originally published by Bobbs-Merrill, New York 1944 p. 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[38] Ibid. Coddington p.220

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

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

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

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

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

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

[45] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.231

[46] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.320

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

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

[49] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.124

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

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

[52] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.321

[53] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.321

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

[55] Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels. Ballantine Books, New York. 1974 p.4

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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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The Largest Cavalry Battle in North America: The Battle Of Brandy Station

Cav Fight at Brandy Station

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I continue my rest so I can read and relax. take a look back at the battle of Brandy Station, the largest cavalry battle every fought on the North American continent. This is a section of my draft Gettysburg campaign text.

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes 

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

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

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

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

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

[6] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.219

[7] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.60

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

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

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

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

[12] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.61

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[21] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.63

[22] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.221

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

[24] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.64

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

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

[27] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.64

[28] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.306

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

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

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

[32] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.310

[33] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.221

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

[35] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.310

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

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

[38] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.311-312

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Mahan, Halleck, and the Beginning of American Military Thought

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Something a bit different. Again this is a part of one of the chapters of my Gettysburg and Civil War text, but this time dealing with two men who were the first American military theorists, Dennis Hart Mahan, the father of Alfred Thayer Mahan the great naval strategist and Henry Wager Hillock. Both men contributed to American military thought for over a century until they and their French-Swiss mentor Henri Jomini’s theories were overtaken by those of the Prussian Carl von Clausewitz. 

They both are interesting characters and both had an influence on American history today ion large part due to their influence on the education of most of the generals who conducted the Civil War, and in the case of Halleck in advising Abraham Lincoln during the war. 

I hope that you enjoy

Peace

Padre Steve+

West_Point

Background 

As we continue to examine the Civil War as the first modern war we have to see it as a time of great transition and change for military and political leaders. As such we have to look at the education, culture and experience of the men who fought the war, as well as the various advances in technology and how that technology changed tactics, which in turn influenced the operational and strategic choices that defined the characteristics of the Civil War and wars to come.

The leaders who organized the vast armies that fought during the war were influenced more than military factors. Social, political, economic, scientific and even religious factors influenced their conduct of the war. The officers that commanded the armies on both sides grew up during the Jacksonian opposition to professional militaries, and for that matter even somewhat trained militias. The Jacksonian period impacted how officers were appointed and advanced. Samuel Huntington wrote:

“West Point was the principal target of Jacksonian hostility, the criticism centering not on the curriculum and methods of the Academy but rather upon the manner of how cadets were appointed and the extent to which Academy graduates preempted junior officer positions in the Army. In Jacksonian eyes, not only was specialized skill unnecessary for a military officer, but every man had the right to pursue the vocation of his choice….Jackson himself had an undisguised antipathy for the Academy which symbolized such a different conception of officership from that which he himself embodied. During his administration disciple faltered at West Point, and eventually Sylvanus Thayer, the superintendent and molder of the West Point educational methods, resigned in disgust at the intrusion of the spoils system.” [1]

This is particularly important because of how many officers who served in the Civil War were products of the Jacksonian system and what followed over the next two decades. Under the Jackson administration many more officers were appointed directly from civilian sources than from West Point, often based on political connections. “In 1836 when four additional regiments of dragoons were formed, thirty officers were appointed from civilian life and four from West Point graduates.” [2]

While this in itself was a problem, it was made worse by a promotion system based on seniority, not merit. There was no retirement system so officers who did not return to the civilian world hung on to their careers until they quite literally died with their boots on. The turnover in the highest ranks was quite low, “as late as 1860, 20 of the 32 men at or above the rank of full colonel held commissions in the war of 1812.” [3] This held up the advancement of outstanding junior officers who merited promotion and created a system where “able officers spent decades in the lower ranks, and all officers who had normal or supernormal longevity were assured of reaching higher the higher ranks.” [4]

Robert E. Lee was typical of many officers who stayed in the Army. Despite his success Lee was constantly haunted by his lack of advancement. While he was still serving in Mexico having gained great laurels, including a brevet promotion to Lieutenant Colonel, the “intrigues, pettiness and politics…provoked Lee to question his career.” He wrote, “I wish I was out of the Army myself.” [5]

In 1860 on the brink of the war, Lee was “a fifty-three year-old man and felt he had little to show for it, and small hope for promotion.” [6] Lee’s discouragement was not unwarranted, for despite his exemplary service, there was little hope for promotion and to add to it, Lee knew that “of the Army’s thirty-seven generals from 1802 to 1861, not one was a West Pointer.” [7]

The careers of other exemplary officers including Winfield Scott Hancock, James Longstreet, and John Reynolds languished with long waits between promotions between the Mexican War and the Civil War. The long waits for promotion and the duty in often-desolate duty stations on the western frontier, coupled with family separations caused many officers to leave the Army. A good number of these men would volunteer for service in 1861 a go on to become prominent leaders in both the Union and Confederate armies. Among these officers were such notables as Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, Henry Halleck, George McClellan and Jubal Early.

The military education of these officers at West Point was based very technical and focused on engineering, civil, and topographic, disciplines that had a direct contribution to the expanding American nation. What little in the way of formal higher level military education West Point cadets received was focused the Napoleonic tactics and methods espoused by Henri Jomini as Clausewitz’s works had yet to make their way to America. Dennis Hart Mahan taught most military theory and tactics courses being taught at the academy in the formative years of so many of the men who would lead the armies that fought the American Civil War.

Many Americans looked on the French, who had been the allies of the United States in the American Revolution, favorably during the ante-bellum period. This was especially true of the fledgling United States Army, which had just fought a second war with Great Britain between 1812 and 1815, and “outstanding Academy graduates in the first half of the nineteenth century, such as Halleck and Mahan, were sent to France and Prussia to continue their education. Jomini was considered as the final word on the larger aspects of military operations, and American infantry, cavalry, and artillery tactics imitated those of the French Army.” [8]

Dennis_Hart_Mahan

Respected but Never Loved: Dennis Hart Mahan

Mahan, who graduated at the top of the West Point class of 1824 was recognized as having a brilliant mind very early in his career, as a third classman that “he was appointed an acting assistant professor of mathematics.” [9] Following his graduation the brilliant young officer was sent by the army to France, where he spent four years as a student and observer at the “School of Engineering and Artillery at Metz” [10] before returning to the academy where “he was appointed professor of military and civil engineering and of the science of war.” [11] It was a position that the young professor excelled as subjected “the cadets…to his unparalleled knowledge and acid disposition.” [12]

Mahan spent nearly fifty years of his life at West Point, including nearly forty years as a faculty member he could not imagine living life without it. Thus he became “morbid when the Academy’s Board of Visitors recommended his mandatory retirement from the West Point Faculty” and on September 16th 1871 the elderly Mahan “committed suicide by leaping into the paddlewheel of a Hudson River steamer.” [13]

While he was in France Mahan studied the prevailing orthodoxy of Henri Jomini who along with Clausewitz was the foremost interpreter of Napoleon and Napoleon’s former Chief of Staff Marshal Ney. When we look at Mahan’s body of work in his years at West Point, Jomini’s influence cannot be underestimated. Some have noted, and correctly so, that “Napoleon was the god of war and Jomini was his prophet” [14] and in America the prophet found a new voice in that of Dennis Hart Mahan.

Thus, if one wants to understand the underlying issues of military strategy and tactics employed by the leaders of the Civil War armies, the professional soldiers, as well as those who learned their trade on the battlefield of America, one has to understand Jomini and his American interpreter Mahan.

Unlike the Prussian Clausewitz, whose writings were still unknown in America, Jomini saw the conduct of war apart from its human element and controlled by certain scientific principles. The focus in principles versus the human element is one of the great weaknesses of traditional Jominian thought.

The basic elements of Jominian orthodoxy were that: “Strategy is the key to warfare; That all strategy is controlled by invariable scientific principles; and That these principles prescribe offensive action to mass forces against weaker enemy forces at some defensive point if strategy is to lead to victory.” [15] Like Clausewitz, Jomini interpreted “the Napoleonic era as the beginning of a new method of all out wars between nations, he recognized that future wars would be total wars in every sense of the word.” [16] In his thesis Jomini laid out a number of principles of war including elements that we know well today: operations on interior and exterior lines, bases of operations, and lines of operation. Jomini understood the importance of logistics in war, envisioned the future of amphibious operations and his thought would be taken to a new level by Alfred Thayer Mahan, the son of Dennis Hart Mahan in his book The Influence of Sea Power on History.

To be fair, Jomini foresaw the horrific nature of the coming wars, but he could not embrace them, nor the concepts that his Prussian counterpart Carl von Clausewitz regarding the base human elements that made up war. “Born in 1779, Jomini missed the fervor of the Revolutionary generation and the romantic world view that inspired its greatest theorist, Jacques Antoine Guibert. He came to intellectual maturity during a period of codification and quest for stability in all spheres of life, including the waging of war.” [17] Jomini expressed his revulsion for the revolutionary aspects of war, and his desire to return to the limited wars of the eighteenth century:

“I acknowledge that my prejudices are in favor of the good old times when the French and English guards courteously invited each other to fire first as at Fontenoy, preferring them to the frightful epoch when priests, women. And children throughout Spain plotted the murder of individual soldiers.” [18]

Jomini’s influence was great throughout Europe and was brought back to the United States by Mahan who principally “transmitted French interpretations of Napoleonic war” [19] especially the interpretation given to it by Henri Jomini. However, when Mahan returned from France he was somewhat dissatisfied with some of what he learned. This is because he understood that much of what he learned was impractical in the United States where a tiny professional army and the vast expenses of territory were nothing like European conditions in which Napoleon waged war and Jomini developed his doctrine of war.

It was Mahan’s belief that the prevailing military doctrine as espoused by Jomini:

“was acceptable for a professional army on the European model, organized and fighting under European conditions. But for the United States, which in case of war would have to depend upon a civilian army held together by a small professional nucleus, the French tactical system was unrealistic.” [20]

Mahan set about rectifying this immediately upon his return to West Point, and though he was now steeped in French thought, he was acutely sensitive to the American conditions that in his lectures and later writings had to find a home. As a result he modified Jominian orthodoxy by rejecting one of its central tenants-primary reliance on offensive assault tactics.” [21] Mahan wrote, “If the offensive is attempted against a strongly positioned enemy… it should be an offensive not of direct assault but of the indirect approach, of maneuver and deception. Victories should not be purchased by the sacrifice of one’s own army….To do the greatest damage to our enemy with the least exposure of ourselves,” said Mahan, “is a military axiom lost sight of only by ignorance to the true ends of victory.” [22]

However, Mahan had to contend with the aura of Napoleon, which affected the beliefs of many of his students and those who later served with him at West Point, including Robert E. Lee. “So strong was the attraction of Napoleon to nineteenth-century soldiers that American military experience, including the generalship of Washington, was almost ignored in military studies here.” [23] It was something that many American soldiers, Union and Confederate would pay with their lives as commanders steeped in Napoleon and Jomini threw them into attacks against well positioned and dug in opponents well supported by artillery. Lee’s assault on Cemetery Ridge on July 3rd1863 showed how little he had learned from Mahan regarding the futility of such attacks, and instead trusted in his own interpretation of Napoleon’s dictums of the offense.

Thus there was a tension in American military thought between the followers of Jomini and Mahan. The conservative Jominian interpretation of Napoleonic warfare predominated much of the officer corps of the Army, and within the army “Mahan’s decrees failed to win universal applause.” [24] However, much of this may have been due in part to the large number of officers accessed directly from civilian life into the army during the Jacksonian period. Despite this, it was Dennis Hart Mahan who more than any other man “taught the professional soldiers who became the generals of the Civil War most of what they knew through the systematic study of war.” [25]

When Mahan returned from France and took up his professorship he became what Samuel Huntington the “American Military Enlightenment” and he “expounded the gospel of professionalism to successive generations of cadets for forty years.” [26]Some historians have described Mahan by the “star professor” of the Military Academy during the ante-bellum era. [27] Mahan’s influence on the future leaders of the Union and Confederate armies went beyond the formal classroom setting. Mahan established the “Napoleon Club,” a military round table at West Point.[28] In addition to his writing and teaching, Mahan was one of the preeminent influences on the development of the army and army leadership during the ante-bellum period.

However, Mahan and those who followed him such as Henry Halleck, Emory Upton and John Bigelow who were the intellectual leaders of the army had to contend with an army culture which evidenced “a distain for overt intellectual activities by its officers for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries….Hard fighting, hard riding, and hard drinking elicited far more appreciation from an officer’s peers that the perusal of books.” [29]

Mahan dominated the academy in many ways. For the most part Mahan ran the academic board, an institution that ran the academy, and “no one was more influential than Mahan in the transition of officership from a craft into a profession.”[30] Mahan was a unique presence at West Point who all students had to face in their final year before they could graduate and become a commissioned officer. “His Engineering and Science of War course was the seedbed of strategy and tactics for scores of cadets who later became Civil War Generals.” [31] That being said most of what Mahan taught was the science of engineering related to war and he “went heavy on the military engineering and light on strategy” [32] relying primarily on Jomini’s work with his modifications for the latter.

The prickly professor was “respected by his students but never loved.” One student described him as “the most particular, crabbed, exacting man that I ever saw. He is a slim little skeleton of a man and is always nervous and cross.” [33] As a teacher Mahan was exceptional, but he was exceptionally demanding of his students. Those cadets who had survived the first three years at the academy were confronted by this “irritable, erudite, captious soldier-professional who had never seen combat” yet who was “America’s leading military mind.” [34]

Mahan was “aloof and relentlessly demanding, he detested sloppy thinking, sloppy posture, and a sloppy attitude toward duty…Mahan would demand that they not only learn engineering and tactics, but that every manner and habit that characterizes an officer gentlemanly deportment, strict integrity, devotion to duty, chivalric honor, and genuine loyalty be pounded into them. His aim was to “rear soldiers worthy of the Republic.” [35] Continue reading

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“We Must Fight them More Vindictively” The American Civil War: From Limited War to a People’s War

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Here is another reworked section of my Civil War and Gettysburg text. It deals with how the how the American Civil War changed from being a limited war to a people’s war, driven by a mutual hatred and hostility. It has been a while since I did any real work on the article which is a part of one of my Civil War book drafts.

The American Civil War was the first war which came close to approximating Clausewitz’s definition of total war, and though it was ignored by world military leaders as an aberration over for fifty years, it prefigured the Wold Wars, as well as the civil wars of the 20th Century. It demonstrates that once the genie of war is out of the bottle, and the passionate hatreds of people are unleashed, that policy will adjust itself. Most wars can and should be averted if leaders work to control the fear and passions of their people and not as so often the case stoke the fires of those fears and passions into an uncontrollable rage directed against the intended target. This is especially true in civil wars which are often waged with a ruthlessness unseat in most wars conducted by nation states against other nation states, unless those wars are driven by religion, ideology, or ethnic hatred.

The fact is as Ulysses Grant so well noted: There are no fixed laws of war which are not subject to the conditions of the country, the climate and the habits of the people. The laws of successful war in one generation would ensure the defeat in another.” 

We would be well to heed these lessons today, because they are not contained to civil wars but the same passionate hatreds fuel every people’s war or total war. Don’t make the mistake of so many who don’t believe such things can happen.

So I hope that you find this interesting and informative.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

The Beginning: Limited War

At the beginning of the war President Lincoln attempted a strategy of conciliation in order to attempt to coax seceding states back into the Union and by conciliation to keep those considering seceding from doing so. However, Lincoln’s attempts were met with outright rejection, before, during, and after the secession crisis.

Lincoln spoke directly to the Southern states in his First Inaugural Address, saying “We are not enemies, but friends,” [1] only to be accused of deliberately lying to the South by pledging to maintain control of Federal installations and forts in the South, like Fort Sumter which was now surrounded by massed batteries of Confederate artillery and demands that it surrender. Jefferson Davis wrote, “The Lincoln Administration deliberately lied to us, baiting us with false promises and pacific pledges all the while it was planning for war. Never in history has a government behaved with such malicious deceit and bad faith.” [2]

When the troops of South Carolina opened fire on Fort Sumter the die was cast, and Lincoln chose the path of war in order to restore the Union, “not because he wanted to, but because the South forced his hand.” [3] His proclamation calling for troops to suppress the rebellion described the kind of war that he foresaw, “the utmost care will be observed… to avoid any devastation, any destruction of, or interference with, property, or any disturbance of peaceful citizens in any part of the country.” [4]

Though he pursued the option of war to restore the Union, Lincoln initially adopted a soft-war strategy in which Confederate armies were the target. This was in large part due to the efforts of Secretary of State Henry Seward and General-in-Chief Winfield Scott. Though he adopted a strategy that required the North to conquest the South, initially he did so with the expectation that after battlefield defeats the Confederates would eventually return to the Union. It was a limited war strategy, “based on an assumption that a majority of the southern people were loyal to the Union and that eleven states had been swept into secession by the passions of the moment.” [5] In fact it was hardly a military strategy at all, “but more of a police action to quell a rather large riot.” [6]

After the defeat at First Bull Run, Congress passed a resolution defining Union war aims. It is notable in terms of how soft and its deference to the feelings of Southerners. Introduced by Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky, a key border John popethat had not seceded but had declared its neutrality, the resolution stated:

“Resolved by the House of Representatives of the Congress of the United States, That the present deplorable civil war has been forced upon us by the disunionists of the Southern States now in revolt against the constitutional Government and in arms around the capital; that in this national emergency Congress, banishing all feelings of mere passion or resentment, will recollect only its duty to the whole country; that this war is not waged upon our part in any spirit of oppression, nor for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, nor purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights and institutions of those States, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and to preserve the Union, with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the several States unimpaired; and that as soon as these objects are accomplished that the war ought to cease.” [7]

It was an incredibly weak statement of war aims based on the notion that most Southerners were actually Unionists and would come back to the Union. The feeling was increased by some early victories, particularly those of McClellan to secure West Virginia, and Grant and Flag Officer Foote in by the west in their capture of Forts Henry and Donaldson. For a brief time these victories seemed to confirm the validity of such an approach.

Winfield Scott

But the issue was not just with the politicians. Many early Union commanders raised in the niceties of Jominian limited war, and sometimes restrained by their religious upbringings were averse to taking casualties. Winfield Scott believed that only a thin line separated war from murder, and before Bull Run the elderly general noted, “No Christian nation… can be justified in waging war in such a way as shall destroy five hundred and one lives, when the object of the war can be attained at the cost of five hundred. Every man killed beyond the number absolutely required is murdered.” [8]

George McClellan was also casualty averse, he told his soldiers that he would watch over them “as a parent over his children…. It shall be my care, as it ever has been, to gain success with the least possible loss…” [9] But McClellan’s “fixation with avoiding casualties, revealed a deep sensitivity of nature admirable in most of life’s pursuits but crippling in war. Battle evokes the cruelest probing of the general in command: young men will die and be maimed, win or lose; and the hard choice must be made when opportunity offers, which may (or may not) save many more lives in the long run than will be lost in a day.” [10]

Even George Gordon Meade who would command the Army of the Potomac during Gettysburg, which was the bloodiest battle of the war, and who under Grant would be involved in other costly battles “believed that to ensure minimal losses on both sides, the North should prosecute the war “like an afflicted parent who is compelled to chastise his erring child, and who performs the duty with a sad heart.” [11] The lack of resolve of many overly cautious generals, especially in the east to fight a hard war against the Confederates would lead to several bungled opportunities to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia, outside the gates of Richmond, at Antietam, and during the pursuit from Gettysburg.

But after series of defeats in the East in 1862 at the hands of a revitalized Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under the command of General Robert E. Lee served notice on Lincoln that the war would be more difficult than previously imagined, and that a hard war strategy was needed.

War, Statecraft and Strategy 

George McClellan

The strategies and operational methods employed by commanders such as Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and George McClellan embraces the tenants of Henri Jomini, the French military theorist and exponent of limited war, McClellan in his fixation with geographic places, Lee and Jackson in their love of the offensive. Each “failed to grasp the vital relationship between war and statecraft…. They might win victories – Lee won a series of spectacular ones – but they lacked the vision to win a mighty struggle between two societies.” [12] McClellan, told Lincoln “Woe to the general…who trusts in modern inventions, and neglects the principles of strategy.” But modern inventions, the railroad and the rifle, had conspired with mass citizen armies, themselves reflecting the ideologies of democratic society, to undermine the principles he espoused.” [13] McClellan, who had so deeply imbibed of the theories of Jomini, could not see that war had changed and the principles of Jomini could not win the war against the Confederacy, but others in the North would begin to see this.

But public sentiment in the North was beginning to shift, while there were still a good number of politicians willing to either let the South go its own way or to allow it to return with little substantive change, others were beginning to realize that the people of the South were serious about secession and were irreconcilable in their view that the break between them and the North was final. The New York Times which represented the views of moderate Republicans including Lincoln editorialized, “The country is tired of trifling…. We have been afraid of wounding rebel feelings, afraid of injuring rebel property, afraid of using, or under any circumstance, of freeing rebel slaves. Some of our Generals have fought the rebels – if fighting be it called – with their kid gloves on…” [14]

Lincoln was the political leader who first understood the connection, but militarily it was not until the “emergence of Grant and Sherman did Civil War military leadership break free of Jominian shackles to anticipate modern warfare.” [15] British military historian and theorist J.F.C. Fuller likened the change in the war to be a “return to barbarism,” and noted that “the more stubborn and indecisive became the fighting, and the more the outcome of the war was prolonged, the intenser grew the hatred, until frustration awakened a spirit of vengeance in the hearts of the Federals against the entire population of the South.” [16] Of course the hatred of the Confederacy came late as compared to much of the early nearly pathological and religious hatred of the Union by the radical secessionist, fire-eaters in Southern states even before the war began Thus, compared to the South, the hatred came slow, but when it boiled over the people of the South felt the pain of war as much as their armies did in the field.

Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson 

From Limited War to a Modern War 

While those who planned for a limited war like Winfield Scott and his Anaconda plan failed to understand the changing character of war, it did provide “both an education for Lincoln, and a firm foundation for the Union’s strategic thinking.” [17] The hard experience of war would point others in the same direction, including both Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, and it would be these men who along with Lincoln provided developed a grand strategy that would defeat the Confederacy. It was a strategy which was in line with the political goals of the North, and which marshaled the might of the Union military, diplomatic, economic, industrial and informational strengths, against the Confederacy.

In the South one of the few proponents of this new type of warfare was a former Regular Army officer and professor at the Virginia Military Institute, General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. In May of 1861 he moved across the Potomac to occupy the heights that surrounded Harper’s Ferry. Chastised by Lee, then serving as Jefferson Davis’s military adviser, Jackson proposed a strategy of invading the North and “burning Baltimore and Philadelphia and making Northerners understand on a visceral level what the war was going to cost them.” Likewise, he explained to Virginia Governor John Letcher a “black flag” strategy in which meant all Union prisoners of war would be summarily executed. [18]

Later Jackson had the chance to expound on his strategy to another general and suggested that he be given an army to cross the Potomac to “cut of the communications with Washington, force the Federal government to abandon the capital… destroy industrial establishments wherever we found them, break up the lines of interior intercourse, close the coal mines, seize and if necessary, destroy the manufactories of Philadelphia and of other large cities within our reach…. Subsist mainly on the country we traverse, and making unrelenting war amidst their home, force the people of the North to understand what it will cost them to hold the South in the Union at the bayonet’s point.” [19]

The fact that his plan was unrealistic based on the South’s actual military situation and capabilities, as well as opposed by Jefferson Davis as well as Robert E. Lee, takes nothing away from its similarity to the strategy later developed by Grant and Sherman. The problem was as Jefferson Davis wrote in July 1862, “The time and place for invasion has been a question not of will but power,” and then proceeded to recount a conversation with an unnamed Brigadier General the previous fall that appears whose plans did not match the reality of the number of troops available for such an operation. [20] From this meeting Davis got “the not altogether inaccurate idea that Jackson was an offense crazed fanatic.” [21] However, it shows that the desire to take the war to the enemy citizenry was not confined to the North and had the South had the military means that it many have attempted a similar strategy to that later employed by Grant and Sherman.

Grant, who had scored impressive victories at Forts Donaldson and Henry changed his view on how the war should be pursued after being roughly handled in the near disaster at Shiloh. After that battle, Grant gave up on the idea of limited war. He now believed that it was necessary to seize or destroy any property or resources that could be used to sustain the Confederate war effort. Before the Confederate counteroffensive at Shiloh Grant had said that he had been “carful to “protect the property of the citizens whose territory was invaded;” and afterwards his policy became to “consume everything that could be used to support or supply armies.” [22]

Harry Wager Halleck 

Henry Wager Halleck, who had long been a proponent of Jominian limited war in late 1862 under the influence of Francis Lieber. When Halleck heard complaints that General Horatio G. Wright was pursuing too soft of policy toward rebels in Kentucky, Halleck did not intervene, but offered strong advice to Wright. “Domestic traitors, who seek the overthrow of our Government, are not entitled to its protection and should be made to feel its power…. Make them suffer in their persons and property for their crimes and the suffering they have caused to others…. Let them feel that you have an iron hand; that you know how to apply it when necessary. Don’t be influenced by old political grannies.” [23]

Halleck also backed up Grant in August 1862 when Grant was beginning to pursue the hard war policy in the west by ordering Grant to “Take up all active [rebel] sympathizers… and hold them as prisoners or put them beyond our lines. Handle that class without gloves, and take their property for public use…. It is time that they should begin to feel the presence of the war.” [24]

As the war went on it became apparent to many people in the North, and in the armies on the front lines that harder measures were required, especially with the escalation of guerrilla attacks behind Union lines, as well as the involvement of Southern civilians in attacking Union troops in occupied areas of the South. “Senator John Sherman wrote his brother William of a growing sentiment “that we must treat these Rebels as bitter enemies to be subdued – conquered – by confiscation – by the employment of their slaves – by terror – energy – audacity – rather than by conciliation.” [25]

Ulysses S. Grant 

By early 1863 Grant was fully on board with the policy of the Union government, especially emancipation, and the need for the war to be carried through to a conclusion that would completely subjugate the Confederacy. He wrote to one of his generals, “Rebellion has assumed that shape now that it can only be terminated by the complete subjugation of the South or the overthrow of the Government. It is our duty, therefore, to use every means to weaken the enemy, by destroying their means of subsistence, withdrawing their means of cultivating their fields, and in every other way possible.” [26] Some Union military commanders other than Grant became early exponents of a hard and brutal war, among them was Major General John Pope, who as commander of the Army of Virginia issued a “series of orders authorizing his officers to seize Confederate property without compensation, to execute captive guerrillas who had fired on Union troops, and to expel from occupied territory any civilians who had sheltered guerrillas or who had refused to take an oath of allegiance to the United States.” [27] Jackson, who himself had once proposed the “black flag” strategy against the North and its soldiers “considered Pope’s orders “cruel and utterly barbarous.” [28]

Henry Halleck wrote to Grant in April 1863 that “the character of the war has changed very much…. There is now no possible hope of reconciliation with the rebels. The Union party in the South is virtually destroyed. There can be no peace but that which is forced upon it.” In May he wrote another general in Memphis, “We must live upon the enemy’s country as much as possible, and destroy his supplies. This is cruel warfare, but the enemy has brought it on himself by his own conduct.” [29]

As late as 1862 there were some in the North, especially in the Democratic Party fought against any move toward a harder war strategy. One of these was Major General George McClellan who in a brazen attempt to be named General-in-Chief after his failed Peninsular campaign attempted to school President Lincoln in the ways of politics and strategy.

“The time has come when the Government must determine upon a civil and military policy, covering the whole ground of our national trouble…. This rebellion has assumed the character of a war: as such it must be regarded; and should be conducted upon the highest principles known to Christian Civilization. It should not be a War looking to the subjugation of the people of any state, in any event. It should not be, at all, a War upon the population; but against armed forces and political organizations. Neither a confiscation of property, political executions of person, territorial organization of states or forcible abolition of slavery should be contemplated for a moment.” [30]

Strong Vincent 

McClellan’s Judge Advocate General, Colonel Strong Vincent, who would later play an important part in repulsing the Confederate assault on Little Round Top, was of the opposite opinion, Vincent wrote his wife after Chancellorsville:

“We must fight them more vindictively, or we shall be foiled at every step. We must desolate the country as we pass through it, and not leave a trace of a doubtful friend or foe behind us; make them believe that we are in earnest, terribly in earnest; that to break this band in twain is monstrous and impossible; that the life of every man, yea, of every weak woman or child in the entire South, is of no value whatever compared with the integrity of the Union.” [31]

Lincoln read McClellan’s letter in his presence and refused to comment upon it. One historian described Lincoln’s reaction to McClellan’s suggestion, “That policy had been pursued for over a year and Lincoln was convinced that it had failed. He was ready to move on.” [32] Instead of complying with McClellan’s demands Lincoln infuriated McClellan by naming Henry Halleck as General-in-Chief, calling for more troops, and deciding on a strategy in which emancipation would play a key role. Since the leaders of the Confederacy to its dying day refused to countenance emancipation, these decisions would change the character of the war from a limited war to bring about political reunion to a war that would drastically change American politics, economics, and society.

While the nature of war remained unchanged, the American Civil war dramatically changed the character of war, as it had been known for centuries, since the Peace of Westphalia, and the end of the Thirty Years War. In the American Civil War the character of war changed from the emphasis of the limited wars of the 18th Century and the Napoleonic era where opposing armies dueled each other into a war that encompassed the entire population. The changes challenged a generation of military officers who had grown up with Jomini’s principles of war and his emphasis on limited war including McClellan and Lee, but Grant, who had never read Jomini and denied the validity of general principles of war that were valid in all times wrote, “There are no fixed laws of war which are not subject to the conditions of the country, the climate and the habits of the people. The laws of successful war in one generation would ensure the defeat in another.” [33]

The leading catalyst that convinced Lincoln and other Northern leaders of the need to abandon the strategy of limited war was the fact that the Confederates had “blurred the distinction between combatants and non-combatants in the parts of the Confederacy and border states occupied by Union forces. The crops and livestock of Southern civilians were feeding and clothing Confederate armies. Their slaves were the principal labor force in the Confederate War economy. Thousands of Southern civilians became guerrillas who roamed behind Union lines destroying supplies and ambushing unarmed as well as armed Unionists.” [34]

William Tecumseh Sherman

The Union reaction to the Confederate actions would portent a change in the war. And soon, the war bordered on Clausewitz’s definition of absolute or total war, especially in Sherman’s march through Georgia and the Carolinas, and in the actions of Confederate irregulars who used terror against Unionist civilians. The actions of irregular Confederate forces to attack his troops and supply lines caused Sherman, who earlier in the war had taken a conciliatory attitude to Southern civilians, to change his views.

Sherman tried to warn his Southern friends that the war they so fervently sought would lead them to disaster:

“You people speak so lightly of war. You don’t know what you are talking about. . . . You mistake . . . the people of the North. They . . . are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it. . . . The North can make a steam-engine, locomotive or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or shoes can you [the South] make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical and determined people on earth—right at your doors. . . . Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with . . . in the end you will surely fail.” [35]

The Confederates themselves had blurred the lines between combatants and non-combatants. Sherman noted that the Union army must act “on the proper rule that all in the South are enemies of all in the North….. The whole country is full of guerrilla bands…. The entire South, man woman, and child, is against us, armed and determined.” [36]

Notes 

[1] Weigley, Russell F. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy University of Indiana Press, Bloomington IN, 1973 p.133

[2] Davis, Jefferson in Oates, Stephen B. The Approaching Fury: Voices of the Storm 1820-1861 University of Nebraska Press. Lincoln and London, 1997 p.413

[3] Stoker, Donald The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2010 p.18

[4] Ibid. Weigley The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy p.133

[5] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.75

[6] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.75

[7] U.S. Congress The Crittenden Resolution of July 22, 1861 in The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection edited by William E. Gienapp, W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 2001 p.117

[8] Faust, Drew Gilpin, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York 2008 p.34

[9] Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 1992 p.21

[10] Sears, Stephen W. Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1983 p.32

[11] Ibid. Faust This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War p.34

[12] Gallagher, Gary W. “Upon Their Success Hang Momentous Interests”: Generals in Why the Confederacy Lost edited by Gabor S. Boritt, Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford 1992 p.86

[13] Strachan, Hew European Armies and the Conduct of War George Allen and Unwin Publishers, Ltd. London 1983 p.73

[14] McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief Penguin Books, New York and London 2008 p.105

[15] Ibid. Gallagher “Upon Their Success Hang Momentous Interests” p.86

[16] Fuller, J.F.C. A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three: From the Seven Days Battle, 1862, to the Battle of Leyte Gulf, 1944 Minerva Press 1956 p.107

[17] Ibid. Stoker The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War p.411

[18] Gwynne, Samuel C. Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson Scribner, a Division of Simon and Schuster New York 2014 p.45

[19] Ibid. Gwynne Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson p.173

[20] Davis, Jefferson, Letter to John Forsyth July 18th 1862 in Major Problems in American Military History edited by John Whiteclay Chambers II and G. Kurt Piehler, Houghton-Mifflin and Company, Boston and New York 1999 pp.159-160

[21] Ibid. Gwynne Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson p.172

[22] McPherson, James M. Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1996 p.76

[23] 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.168

[24] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.79

[25] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief p.103

[26] Catton, Bruce. Grant Moves South Castle Books, New York, 2000, originally published by Little Brown and Company, New York 1960 p.402

[27] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.79

[28] Ibid. Gwynne Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson p.396

[29] Ambrose, Stephen E. Halleck: Lincoln’s Chief of Staff Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge and London 1960 and 1992 p.119

[30] McClellan, George B. Letter to Abraham Lincoln July 7, 1862 in Perman, Michael and Murrell Taylor, Amy editors Major Problems in the Civil War and Reconstruction: Documents and Essays Third Edition Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.140

[31] Nevins, James H. and Styple, William B. What Death More Glorious: A Biography of General Strong Vincent Belle Grove Publishing Company, Kearney NJ 1997 p.57

[32] Gallagher, Gary W. The 1862 Richmond Campaign as a Watershed in Major Problems in the Civil War and Reconstruction: Documents and Essays Third Edition Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.157

[33] Ibid. Strachan European Armies and the Conduct of War p.73

[34] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters p.35

[35] McDonough, James Lee. William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of My Country: A Life, W.W. Norton and Company, New York, 2016, p. 233

[36] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.81

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The Battle of Brandy Station

Cav Fight at Brandy Station

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I take a look back at the battle of Brandy Station, the largest cavalry battle every fought on the North American continent. This is a section of my draft Gettysburg campaign text.

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

[7] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.60

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

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

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

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

[12] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.61

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[21] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.63

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

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

[24] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.64

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

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

[27] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.64

[28] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.306

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

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

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

[32] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.310

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

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

[35] Ibid. Davis JEB Stuart p.310

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

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

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

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