Thursday, April 26, 2012

April 27, 1862 (Saturday): Ewell Is Confused

Princess Anne Street-Fredicksburg, Virginia (NPS)

Richmond, Va., April 27, 1862.

Major General R. S. EWELL, Somerset County:
    GENERAL: I have just received, by the hands of Lieutenants Alexander, your letter of the 26th instant. It was my object in my letter of the 25th to explain briefly the position of the enemy north of the Rappahannock and to suggest the practicability of a combination of your army with General Jackson's to strike at General Banks, or should that  be not advisable and your force not be required to hold Banks in check, that with the available part of it for other operations you should unite yourself with the force under Generals Anderson and Field, and drive back the enemy attempting the occupation of Fredericksburg. My views were more fully set forth in my communication to General Jackson, and my desire was that you should possess yourself of the necessary information for any movement that might be determined on.
    I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

   R. E. LEE,

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 12, Part 3, page 869.

Lee had written to Ewell:  "It has occurred to me as probable that for this purpose he has stripped his line between the Rappahannock Bridge and Manassas; if not, it must be so weakened that I hope a blow from the combined forces of yourself and General Jackson can oppose General Banks' column, by uniting such part of your force as can be spared with General Field, a successful blow might be struck at the enemy in front of Fredericksburg.  At last accounts he had not crossed the Rappahannock nor repaired the bridges."

Ewell replied "Do you propose in that part of the above after "should he have evacutuated that region, and you are not required to oppose," &c., that Generals Jackson, Field, and myself should unite, or only General Field and myself?  As the preceding speaks of my combining with with General Jackson, the latter portion would seem to contemplate the same combination.  Do you propose in striking at the enemy in front  of Fredericksburg (combining my force with General Field for that purpose)  that he should be attacked from Fredericksburg or that the force should cross above?  I understand by the "Rappahannock Bridge," in the first part of the above extract, the one on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad."

The correspondence has somewhat comic overtones, but Ewell was no doubt correct in wanting to have a better understanding of his orders.  Precision is of the essence in military writing, and in this case it appears Lee's staff was not sufficiently clear in drafting the message to Ewell.  Jackson, having been more fully briefed, understand Lee's intentions to either a)strike Banks, or b)detach Ewell to combine with Field and Anderson to strike the Union force around Fredericksburg.  This confusion foreshadows the confusion over Lee's orders to Ewell at Gettysburg to take Cemetery Hill, "...if practicable."

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