Thursday, May 31, 2012

June 1, 1862 (Sunday): Two Generals and Their Presidents

General Robert E. Lee

RICHMOND, VA., June 1, 1862.
General R. E. LEE:
    SIR: The unfortunate casualty which has deprived the army in front of Richmond of its immediate commander, General Johnston, renders it necessary to interfere temporarily with the duties to which you were assigned in connection with the general service, but only so far as to make you available for command in the field of a particular army. You will assume command of the armies in Eastern Virginia and in North Carolina, and give such orders as may be needful and proper.

Very respectfully,

FIELD OF BATTLE, June 1, 1862-12 o'clock. 

Hon. E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War:
    We have had a desperate battle, in which the corps of Sumner, Heintzelman, and Keyes have been engaged against greatly superior numbers. Yesterday, at 1, the enemy, taking advantage of a terrible storm, which had flooded the valley of the Chickahominy, attacked our troops on the right bank of that river. Casey's division, which was in first line, gave way unaccountably and disunitedly [discreditably*]. This caused a temporary confusion, during which some guns and baggage were lost, but Heintzelman and Kearny most gallantly brought up their troops, which checked the enemy; at the same time, however, [General Sumner*] succeeded by great exertion in bringing across Sedgwick's and Richardson's division, who drove back the enemy at the point of the bayonet,covering the ground with his dead.
   This morning the enemy attempted to renew the conflict,but was everywhere repulsed. We have taken many prisoners, among whom is General Pettigrew and Colonel Long. Our loss is heavy, but that of the enemy must be enormous. With the exception of Casey's division [our*] men behaved splendidly.+ Several fine bayonet charges have been made. The Second Excelsior made two to-day.

Major-General, Commanding.

*These words in revised copy. See McClellan to Stanton, June 5, 10.30 a.m., p.751.
+See also general report, pp.38-43.
WASHINGTON CITY, D. C., June 1, 1862-9.30.
Major-General McCLELLAN:
    You are probably engaged with the enemy. I suppose he made the attack. Stand well on your guard, hold all your ground, or yield any only inch by inch and in good order. This morning we merge General Wood's department into yours, giving you command of the whole, and sending General Dix to Fort Monroe and General Wool to Fort McHenry. We also send General Sigel to report to you for duty.


WASHINGTON CITY, D. C., June 1, 1862-1.15 p.m.
Major-General McCLELLAN:
    You are already notified that General Sigel is to report to you for duty. I suggest (do not order) that he have command of such of the forces about Fort Monroe, Norfolk, Newport News, &c., as you may see fit to put into active service, or such other command as may be suitable to his rank.


Washington City, D. C., June 1, 1862-5 p.m.
Major-General McCLELLAN:
    Thanks for what you could and did say in your dispatch of noon to-day to the Secretary of War.* If the enemy shall not have renewed the attack this afternoon, I think the hardest of your work is done.
Shields' advance came in collision with part of the enemy yesterday evening 6 miles from Front Royal, in a direction between Winchester and Strasburg, driving them back, capturing a few prisoners and one rifled cannon. Firing in that direction to-day, heard both from Harper's Ferry and Front Royal, indicate a probability that Fremont has met the enemy.
    We have concluded to send General Sigel to Harper's Ferry, so that what I telegraphed you about him this morning is revoked. Dix goes to Fort Monroe to-night.

*See Part I, p.749.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 11, Part 3, Page 569 and others.

The battle at Seven Pines was resumed on June 1, but Longstreet's attempt to organize an attack was ineffectual.  The highlight of the day was a charge by the Excelsior Brigade (Union) which had the effect of stabilizing the line.  Flooding along the Chickahominy somewhat limited Union operations.  The aeronaut T. S. Lowe observed that the fields looked like lakes as a result of the storm before the night of the opening of the battle.  Joesph Johnston was wounded twice, superficially by a bullet, seriously by a shell fragment and command fell first to the incapacitated G. W. Smith and then quickly to Robert E. Lee.  Lincoln and McClellan converse amiably here, Lincoln seemingly not very excited by the events of the day, McClellan making excuses for the reverses he had suffered.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

May 31, 1862 (Saturday) Seven Pines & Fair Oaks

Fair Oaks Battlefield Near Casey's Redoubt

May 31, 1862.
Major-General HUGER:
    GENERAL: I fear that in my note of last evening, of which there is no copy, I was too positive on the subject of your attacking the enemy's left flank. It will, of course, be necessary for you to know what force is before you first. I hope to be able to have that ascertained for you by cavalry. As our main force will be on your left, it will be necessary for your progress to the front to conform at first to that of General Hill. If you find no strong body in your front, it will be well to aid General Hill; but then a strong reserve should be retained to cover our right.

Yours, truly,
Seven Pines, May 31, 1862.
Brigadier General R. B. MARCY,
Chief of Staff:
    SIR: I send by my aide Lieutenant B. C. Chetwood, who is the aide of Major General J. E. Johnston. This young gentleman was handsomely captured by our pickets on our right, and near the place examined two days ago by Generals Barnard and Humphreys, where the enemy was drawn up in line of battle. In connection with the appearance of this young officer on our right and near our lines, I will state that the general officer of the day, Colonel Hunt, of Casey's division, heard the cars running through the night continually.
    Yesterday there was much stir among the enemy, and everything on his part indicates an attack on my position, which is only tolerably strong and my forces are too weak to defend it properly. Brigadier-General Sumner told me yesterday he should probably cross the Chickahominy last night. If he did so, and takes post nigh the Old Tavern and this side, I should feel much more secure than I do now.
    I am, sir, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,

    E. D. KEYES,
    Brigadier-General, Commanding Fourth Army Corps.

General McCLELLAN:
    I descended at 2 o"clock from near Mechanicsville. The position of the engagement is about four or five miles from New Bridge in a southerly direction.
The enemy on our right seem to remain quiet. Quite a large reserve are in the edge of the woods about one mile and a half from the heights on the road from New Bridge. I will ascend from this point as soon as the wind lulls.
    Your very, obedient servant,

    T. S. C. LOWE.

General E. V. SUMMER:
    You will cross the Chickahominy River with your command and march at once to the support of General Heintzelman.
    Send out strong reconnaissance to the right toward New Bridge road and Old Town.

   R. B. MARCY,
   Chief of Staff.

    MAY 31, 1862-4.30 p.m.
Brigadier-General MARCY,
Chief of Staff:
    There are large bodies of troops in the open field beyond the opposite heights on the New Bridge road. White-covered wagons are rapidly moving toward the point of the engagement with artillery in the advance. The firing on our left has ceased.

T. S. C. LOWE,
Chief Aeronaut.

                              HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
                                       New Bridge, May 31, 1862-5 p.m.
Commanding Left Wing:
    You have done what I expected of you in retrieving the disaster of Casey. With the remaining five divisions you should hold your own. I will post everything during the night, so as to be able to cross at New Bridge to-morrow. Tell Kearny, Hooker, and Ord [?] that I expect them to hold firm and repulse every and any attack. Recapture, if possible, any guns taken. Keep me fully informed of all that passes. Let me send to Washington as soon as possible the news that all is right.


AT THE FRONT, May 31, 1862-6 p. m.
General McCLELLAN:
    Our troops on the road have given way. Birney is advancing on the railroad. Our left still holds its own.

   Brigadier-General, Commanding.

May 31, 1862-6.20 p. m.
Colonel COLBURN:
    General Casey's division is being rallied by Lieutenants McAlester, Hunt, and Johnson, of the general's staff. General Casey is reported dead. Lieutenant McAlester reports that General Kearny is at the Seven Pines, driving the enemy back slowly. General Sumner's column is just arriving on the ground. General Hooker's about half a mile in rear of these headquarters.

    C. McKEEVER,
    Chief of Staff.

May 31, 1862.
Colonel COLBURN:
    General Casey's division is entirely demoralized. Generals Casey and Palmer are reported killed and General Naglee wounded. I have been able to find but one colonel, and he says the men have nothing to eat.

    C. McKEEVER,
    Chief of Staff.

    P. S.- It is reported that some of the regiments of General Peck's brigade have broken and dispersed.

May 31, 1862-10 p. m.
[General McCLELLAN:]
    I have sent across Bottom's Bridge for our ammunition, and it will be up before daylight. My corps is supplied with three days' rations. General Keeyes thinks that General Couch's is supplied till to-morrow night. They are now issuing to General Casey's. General Casey's division cannot, however, be relied upon for any purpose whatever. The intrenching tools must be left at this place. We are much in want of them.


Official Records, Series I., Vol. 11, Part 1, Pages 938 and others.

Johnston vacillated about attacking and gave vague orders to his commanders.  Longstreet wrecked havoc by failing to move on the road assigned to him and ending up on the roads assigned to D.H. Hill and Huger.  Instead of a dawn attack, the battle got underway around 1PM when D. H. Hill attacked on his own at Seven Pines.  The Confederates suffered heavy casualties (1,094 killed and wounded out of 2,000 in the brigades of Garland, G. B. Anderson, Rain, and Rodes) in the initial fighting. Casey's  division made a fighting withdrawal from the 1st Union line to a 2nd position.  The arrival late in the day of Kearny's divison reinforced the wekened Federal line, which was staggered by an attack from R. H. Anderson's brigade. Keyes attacked across a half mile of open ground after that, making it possible for the the Union forces to hold their third line before fighting ceased at 6PM.  At this point Huger's division and six of Longstreet's brigades had not even been engaged.  Johnston was severely wounded and suceeded by G. W. Smith.  The next day Longstreet had orders to attack but failed to act aggressively.  Meanwhile, Richardson reinforced the Union position and Robert E. Lee, arriving on field to assume command at 2 P.M. ordered a withdrawal.  There were 41,797 Union troops engaged, 41,816 Confederate and losses were 5,031 Federals and 6,134 Confederates.  It is interesting to note Lowe's role in alerting McClellan to the situation just after the initial assaults, which resulted in reinforcements being sent in earlier than would other have been the case.  It was a major opportunity lost for the Confederates, largely due to Johnston's indecision and loss of command control and Longstreet's bumbling.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

May 30, 1862 (Friday): Pendleton, Rain, and a River

Bank of the Chickahominy River (Library of Congress)

Oakwood Cemetery, May 30, 1862-7.30 p.m.
General J. E. JOHNSTON,
Commanding Department of Northern Virginia:
    GENERAL: I venture to offer a suggestion based upon some information respecting the Chickahominy River. It is said to rise immediately after a rain like this and to continue in flood some twenty-four hours. Would not this seem a providence to place all the Yankee force this side that stream almost certainly in your power? Might not an active, sudden, and adequate movement of troops to-night and at dawn in the morning so overwhelm the divisions confronting General Hill as to crush and capture them with next to certainty? I submit it with great deference. Your judgment will, I know, determine sagaciously on the subject.
    Yours, most truly,

    Brigadier-General, &c.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 11, Part 3, Page 685.

Pendleton commanded Johnston's artillery and was no doubt aware of plans to attack the Union forces to the east of Richmond, which were on opposite sides of the Chickahominy River.  The river is not at all wide under normal circumstances, but with extensive lowlands it floods easily, as noted here by Pendleton.  Jefferson Davis had anticipated an attack on the 29th, but it was put off when it became clear McDowell's forces had been turned back and were headed north.  Johnston was hesitant to attack and while it is not likely Pendleton's note spurred him to action, it did support the idea of an attack on the Union left.  In hindsight, it is easy to read accounts of the isolation of the Union forces south of the river, and think a massive deluge caused immense flooding which everyone was easily aware of.  In reality, the rain started in Washington, D.C. (according to records in Krick's 'Civil War Weather in Virginia') only in the afternoon of the 30th, and rain had been sporadic in the week leading up to this letter.  So it is likely the possibility of flooding played no major role in the decision making leading up to Johnston's attack, and was more noted after the fact in the inability of the Union forces North of the river to reinforce the southern elements, as opposed to a major factor in the decision to attack the Union left.

Monday, May 28, 2012

May 29, 1862 (Thursday): A Question of Legs

Harper's Ferry (

Manassas, May 29, 1862.
Major General JAMES SHIELDS, Rectortown:
    General Saxton reports from Harper's Ferry that he drove the enemy yesterday through Charlestown; that they were re-enforced and came back with 7,000 infantry and nine pieces of artillery, before which he retired in good order.
    General Banks reports the enemy on his front in force. Yesterday it seemed to be the opinion in Washington that the enemy intended crossing the Potomac and threaten, if not actually march on, Washington. General Fremont is at Moorefield, and is ordered, as we are, by the President to push after the enemy with all speed. The question now seems to be one of legs - whether we can get to Jackson and Ewell before they can get away. General King reports from Fredericksburg that has received information from person from Hanover Junction that Anderson's army of 15,000 men had gone by way of Gordonsville to loin Jackson. I have ordered King's division to Catlett's, thence to Warrenton and to White Plains, to follow after us.
    The Secretary of War suggested, at the instance of General Meigs, to send part of King's division to Washington to guard it from an attack from Jackson, who might come at it from near Harper's Ferry.
But not feeling there was any danger of an attack from that quarter, I have not changed King's destination. You see from all this how important it is for us to get forward to settle this difficulty in one way or another.

Major-General, Commanding Department.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 12, Part 3, Page 279.

Recently, some historians have questioned the traditional view of the impact of Jackson's campaign on Lincoln and Union war planners, offering the view the President was not flustered and Union plans not significantly impacted.  It is no doubt true as Jackson's reputation grew the degree to which he inspired consternation in the North was overestimated.  But it cannot be denied a)Lincoln withdrew McDowell's troops from McClellan at a critical juncture, leaving his right flank weaker, b)calls were made on Northern governors to raise additional troops, c)planners believed Harper's Ferry was threatened, d)Lincoln was unclear as late as the 29th whether Confederate forces were concentrating on Richmond, and e)as this letter shows, there was a belief Jackson could threaten Washington.  McClellan, McDowell, and Shields all had a much clear picture of the threat throughout the campaign than did official Washington.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

May 28, 1862 (Wednesday): Lincoln Disappointed With a Victory

Richmond Area Railroads (Virginia Historical Society-Click to Enlarge)

28-12.30 a.m. 

Honorable E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War.
    Porter has gained two complete victories over superior forces, yet I feel obliged to move in the morning with re-enforcements to secure the complete destruction of the rebels in that quarter. In doing so I run some risk here, but I cannot help it. The enemy are even in greater force than I had supposed. I will do all that quick movements can accomplish, but you must send me all the troops you can, and leave to me full latitude as to choice of commanders. It is absolutely necessary to destroy the rebels near Hanover Court-House before I can advance.


Honorable E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War.

WASHINGTON, May 28, 1862.
    I am very glad to General F. J. Porter's victory. Still, if it was a total rout of the enemy, I am puzzled to know why the Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad was not seized again, as you say have all the railroads but the Richmond and Fredericksburg. I am puzzled to see how, lacking that, you can have any, except the scrap from Richmond to West Point. The scrap of the Virginia Central from Richmond to Hanover Junction without more is simply nothing. That the whole of the enemy is concentrating on Richmond I think cannot be certainly known to you or me. Saxton, at Harper's Ferry, informs us that large forces supposed to be Jackson's and Ewell's, forced his advance from Charlestown to-day. General King telegraphs us from Fredericksburg that contrabands give certain information that 15,000 left Hanover Junction Monday morning to re-enforce Jackson. I am painfully impressed with the importance of the struggle before you, and shall aid you all I can consistently with my view of due regard to all points.


Official Records, Series I., Vol. 11, Part 1, Page 36.

McClellan hoped Porter's victory at Hanover Court House would reassure Lincoln and give him leeway to advance at his own pace.  He also believed the Confederates were concentrating on Richmond and operations in the Valley were a distraction.  Lincoln did not share this view and was still focused to a not inconsiderable degree on Jackson and Ewell's potential to threaten Harper's Ferry, repeating here an unfounded rumor of forces being sent from Richmond to reinforce Jackson. Lincoln was not satisfied with Porter's victory at Hanover Court House, believing it should have opened the way for an advance further west, taking the Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

May 27, 1862 (Tuesday): Lowe Observes a Battle

Battle of Hanover Court House

May 27, 1862. 

Prof. T. S. C. LOWE,
Chief Aeronaut, Army of the Potomac:
    DEAR SIR: The general commanding desires, first, that balloon ascensions be made as frequently as is practicable at each balloon station and that full reports of the results of the observations be transmitted at once to these headquarters; second, that no persons be permitted to ascend in the balloon with the exception of the general in command at the position which the balloon occupies, and those authorized by him; third that newspaper correspondents and reporters be in no case permitted to ascend.
    Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

    Brigadier General Chief of Topographical Engineers, Army of the Potomac.

    It will be seen from the following dispatches that the enemy improved every opportunity to fire at the balloon. On this occasion I ascended to a high altitude, and before I descended I had the balloon moved considerably to one side, so that the subsequent firing was out of range, and thus, by changing my location, prevented the enemy from having a good mark to fire at.

MAY 27, 1862.
General A. A. HUMPHREYS:
     Ascended at 4.45 p.m. one mile from Mechanicsville and, I should judge, four miles from Richmond, in an air line. At 5 o"clock three batteries opened upon me, firing many shots, some falling short and some passing beyond the balloon and one over it, while it was at an elevation of 300 to 400 feet. A battle is going on about four miles distant; heavy cannonading and musketry. I will go up again and report.

T. S. C. LOWE.

MAY 27, 1862. 
Brigadier-General HUMPHREYS,
Chief of Topographical Engineers:
    GENERAL: I made my second ascent at 5.30 p.m., and remained up until 6.45 p.m. Richmond and vicinity are much more distinct from this point, and I was able to discover with ease the exact position of the enemy. The heaviest camps seem to be near the banks this side of James River and little to the left of Richmond. The next heaviest are to the right of Richmond on the road from Mechanicsville. There are also several smaller on the first heights opposite Mechanicsville, and several batteries stationed there, some of which I saw put in position while in the balloon, besides those that fired at me.
   The heights opposite New Bridge for two miles each way seem to be entirely unoccupied, except by the enemy's pickets.
   No earth-works of any description are visible, although the country is tolerably clear from woods on the Mechanicsville road, and if there are earth-works on this side they are very near the city and behind the last line of woods.
   In the northwest from where the balloon is, and about ten miles distant, there was heavy smoke.
   To the north, near the Pamunkey River, was the heavy cannonading and musketry, but the distance and heavy woods prevented me from seeing the detail movements. The enemy in and around Richmond are apparently very strong in numbers.
   Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

   T. S. C. LOWE,
   Chief Aeronaut.

Official Records, Series III., Vol. 3, Part 1, Page 279.

Porter's Provisional Fifth Corp had been sent toward Hanover Court House to open up a line of communication for McDowell's reinforcements advancing from Fredericksburg and seek out a Confederate force believed to be operating in the area.  Morell's Division, G. K. Warren's Brigade, and a small force of cavalry and artillery encountered L. O. B. Branch's brigade (4,500), which had been brought down from Gordonsville and ordered to protect the railroad.  After contact was made, Branch was driven west to Ashland after a stiff fight.  Union losses were 355, with about 200 Confederates dead and 700 captured.  It was an unwise fight for the rebels, brought about by a misunderstanding of the size of the Union force by Branch.  Lowe appears here, again giving highly detailed and accurate information about Confederate dispositions (along with a vivid account of some of the first anti-aircraft fire ever reported.

Friday, May 25, 2012

May 26, 1862 (Monday): Lee Looks to the West

Railroad Depot, Atlanta, Georgia

Richmond., Va., May 26, 1862 

Commanding Western Department:
    GENERAL: Your letter of the 19th instant has just been received. Although no instructions have been given as to the military operations within your department since the command devolved on you, yet your condition and movements have been the subject of anxious consideration. Full reliance was felt in your judgment and skill and in the bravery of your army to maintain the great interests of the country and to advance the general policy of the Government. It was also hoped that the victory of Shiloh would have enabled you upon the arrival of your re-enforcements to occupy the country north of you and to have re-established the former communications enjoyed by the army. This hope is still indulged,, and every effort will be made, as has heretofore been done, to strengthen you by all the means within the control of the Department.
    Should, however, the superior numbers of the enemy force you back, the line of retreat indicated by you is considered the best, and in that event, should it be inevitable, it is hoped you will be able to strike a successful blow at the enemy if he follows, which will enable you to gain the ascendancy and drive him back to the Ohio.
    The maintenance of your present position, with the advantages you ascribed to it, so long as you can resist the enemy and subsist your army, is of course preferable to withdrawing from it, and thus laying open more of the country to his ravages, unless by skillful maneuvering you can entice him to a more favorable position to attack. The question of subsisting your army for any length of time, cut off from the supplies north of you, may demand your serious attention, and was the subject of a telegraphic dispatch to you this morning. The supplies accumulated at Atlanta are intended as a reserve for the army in the East as well as the West, and cannot be entirely appropriated to either division. Each army must therefore draw its support, as far as possible, from the country it can control, and this necessity must not be lost sight, of in the operations of either, and any accelerate movements which otherwise it might be deemed prudent to restrain.
    I am, very respectfully, you obedient servant,

   R. E. LEE,

Series I., Vol. 10, Part 2, Page 546.

As Lee states, Beauregard had been left to his best judgments.  With the Union army at the gates of Richmond, the oversight given to operations in the east was not extended to the west.  But Lee, as always elaborately polite, seems to suggest here a disappointment in Beauregard's failure to utilize reinforcements sent after the Battle of Shiloh to move northward.  It is also interesting to note Atlanta being mentioned as a strategic point of interest this early in the war.  Supplies for both armies were staged there, although this rail terminus was 249 miles from Corinth and 479 from Richmond.  It was important Beauregard move north and live off the land, freeing up supplies in Atlanta to be used in the east.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

May 25, 1862 (Sunday): Jackson Routs Banks at Winchester

First Battle of Winchester (

WAR DEPARTMENT, Washington, D. C., May 25,1862. 

Governor CURTIN,
Send all the troops forward that you can immediately. Banks is completely routed. The enemy are in large force advancing upon Harper's Ferry.


(Same to Governor Andrew, Boston, and to Governor Sprague, Providence.)

WASHINGTON, May 25, 1862-2 p.m. 

The enemy is moving north in sufficient force to drive General Banks before him-precisely in what force we cannot tell. He is also threatening Leesburg, and Geary, in the Manassas Gap Railroad, from both north and south - in precisely what force we cannot tell. I think the movement is a general and concerted one, such as would not be if he was acting upon the purpose of a very desperate defense of Richmond. I think the time is near when you must either attack Richmond or give up the job and come to the defense of Washington. Let me hear from you instantly.


Major-General McCLELLAN.

COLD HARBOR, May 25, 1862. 

Telegram received. Independently of it, the time is very near when I shall attack Richmond. The object of the movement is probably to prevent re-enforcements being sent to me. All the information obtained from balloons, deserters, prisoners, and contrabands agrees in the statement that the mass of the rebel troops are still in the immediate vicinity of Richmond, ready to defend it. I have no knowledge of Banks' position and force now what there is at Manassas; therefore cannot form a definite opinion as to the force against him.
I have two corps across Chickahominy, within 6 miles of Richmond; the others on this side at other crossing within same distance, and ready to cross when bridges are completed.

Major-General, Commanding.

Official Records, Series III., Vol. 2, Part 1, Page 70.

Pursuing Banks north after Front Royal, Jackson and Ewell pushed his forces all the way to Winchester.  There, the Confederates enveloped Bank's right flank and fragments of his army fled through town and North, the mass headed for a safe crossing of the Potomac at Williamsport.  Although they had inflicted 5:1 losses (2,000 Union casualties against 400 Confederates), Jackson's men were too played out to pursue.  But they had, as witnessed by these letters, created such an alarm among the administration that the President gave serious consideration to calling McClellan's forces back from Richmond. 


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

May 24, 1862 (Saturday): Defending Against Shadows

Front Royal and Its Aftermath
Map by Hal Jespersen,

May 24, 1862-5 p. m. 

Major-General McDOWELL, Fredericksburg:
    General Fremont has been ordered by telegraph to move from Franklin on Harrisonburg to relieve General Banks, and capture or destroy Jackson's and Ewell's forces.
    You are instructed, laying aside for the present the movement on Richmond, to put 20,000 men in motion at once for the Shenandoah, moving on the line or in advance of the line of the Manassas Gap Railroad. Your object will be to capture the forces of Jackson and Ewell, either in co-operation with General Fremont or, in case want of supplies or of transportation interferes with his movements, it is believed that the force with which you move will be sufficient to accomplish this object alone. The information thus far received here makes it probable that if the enemy operate actively against General Banks you will not be able to count upon much assistance from him, but may even have to release him.
    Reports received this moment are that Banks is fighting with Ewell 8 miles from Winchester.


    Order General Shields to take up his line of march to-morrow for Catlett's.
    I. McD.

May 24, 1862-5.3 p. m. 

Major-General McDOWELL, Fredericksburg:
    Governor Chase is just starting to see you and explain the grounds of the president's order, and to urge its immediate execution. He will reach Aquia at 12 o'clock to-night. Meet him there, and have transportation for him to your headquarters.


May 24, 1862. (Received 6 p. m.)

Honorable E. M. STANTON:
    The President's order has been received and is in process of execution. This is a crushing blow to us.


Washington City, D. C., May 24, 1862-8 p. m. 

Major-General McDOWELL:
   I am highly gratified by your alacrity in obeying my order. The change was as painful to me as it can possibly be to you or to any one.
   Everything now depends upon the celerity and vigor of your movement.


Opposite Fredericksburg, May 24, 1862.
(Received 9.30 p. m.)
His Excellency the PRESIDENT:
   I obeyed your order immediately, for it was positive and urgent, and perhaps as a subordinate there I ought to stop; but I trust I may be allowed to say something in relation to the subject, especially in view of your remark that everything now depends upon the celerity and vigor of my movements. I beg to say that co-operation between General Fremont and myself to cut Jackson and Ewell there is not to be counted upon, even if it is not a practical impossibility. Next, that I am entirely beyond helping distance of General Banks; no celerity or vigor will avail so far as he is concerned. Next, that by a glance at the map it will be seen that the line of retreat of the enemy's forces up the valley is shorter than mine to go against him. It will take a week or ten days for the force to get to the valley by the route which will give it food and forage, and by that time the enemy will have retired. I shall gain nothing for you there, and shall lose much for you here.   
   It is therefore not only on personal grounds that I have a heavy heart in the matter, but that I feel it throws us all back, and from Richmond north we shall have all our large masses paralyzed, and shall have to repeat what we have just accomplished. I have ordered General Shields to commence the movement by tomorrow morning.  A second divison will follow in the afternoon.  Did I understand you aright, that you wished that I should personally accompany this expedition?  I hope to see Governor Chase tonight and express myself more fully to him.

Very respectfully,

IRVIN McDowell,

(Copy to the Secretary of War)

May 24, 1862.
Brigadier General JAMES S. WADSWORTH:
    It is idle to think of taking any force from this point to go after any force which may be supposed to be in Banks' rear. If they are not there, it will be of no use; if they are really in his rear, nothing from here can get there in time to afford him any help. Where is Blenker? It is from that direction the re-enforcements should come. I do not think my force will bear any further paring down. Try and get over the flutter into which this body (which has been gathering in the mountains, which has grown so suddenly to 5,000 men) seems to have thrown every one. If the enemy can succeed so readily in disconcerting all our plans by alarming us first at one point, then at another, he will paralyze a large force with a very small one. The chances are ten to one the regiment at Front Royal had no guard, no vigilance, and made no fight; the position is such that with ordinary precautions it should not so suddenly have been put to flight. I beg I may not be further disorganized, and I trust you will do what you can to sustain me and quiet the cry of danger to General Banks.
    General Shields says the same cry was constantly heard when he was over there-that large numbers-of thousands-of the enemy always coming upon them.


Official Records, Series I., Vol. 12, Part 3, Page 219.

McDowell summed up the impact of the small affair at Front Royal accurately.  It induced Lincoln and the administration to allow itself to paralyze a large force with a very small one.  Historians sometimes offer the opinion Jackson did not loom large in the minds of Union war planners, but the diversion of troops from McDowell to defend Banks and protect against a move upon Harpers Ferry are well documented here.  McDowell was a favorite of the administration, and his blunt rejoinder to the President is all the more remarkable.

Monday, May 21, 2012

May 23, 1862 (Friday): Jackson Takes Front Royal

Union Army Entering Front Royal May 20, 1862 (Forbes)

Honorable E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War.
STRASBURG, May 23, 1862. 

(Received 11 p. m.)
Our troops were attacked at Front Royal this afternoon, and, though making a vigorous resistance, were compelled by superiority of numbers to retire toward Middletown. The rebel force is reported at 5,000, and is said to intend advancing on the Middletown road. No definite information has yet been received, the telegraph line having been early destroyed. The force had been gathering in the mountains, it is said, since Wednesday. Re-enforcements should be sent us if possible. Railway communication with Manassas probably broken up. A lieutenant of Captain Best's battery, name not reported, was shot by guerrillas this afternoon. Have requested Colonel Miles to move his available force toward Winchester.

Major-General, Commanding.

Honorable E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War.
(Copies to Fremont and McDowell.)
STRASBURG, May 23, 1862. 

(Received 12 o'clock.)
The following dispatch has just been received:
    Colonel Kenly is killed.* Lieutenant-colonel, adjutant, and all the rest of commanding officers First Maryland Regiment taken prisoners. Regiment cut all to pieces and prisoners; First Michigan Cavalry ditto. The enemy's forces are 15,000 or 20,000 strong, and on the march to Strasburg. If you want me to report in person telegraph to Captain Flagg.

Commanding Company B, First Maryland Regiment.

Major-General, Commanding.

*A mistake.

Series I., Vol. 12, Part 1, Page 525.

After McDowell, Jackson came back down the Valley to Strasburg, unexpectedly crossing the Massanuttens by the New Market Road, combining his force with Ewell's.  At Front Royal he deployed his now 16,000 strong army against 1,000 Union troops under Kenly at Front Royal.  Kenly held out against the odds for three hours, withdrawing to avoid being cut off.  Finally, a charge by the 6th Virginia Cavalry resulted in the capture of Kenly (severely wounded) and most of his men. Union losses were 904 killed, wounded, or captured out of 1,063.  Jackson lost fewer than 50 men.

May 22, 1862 (Thursday): "Bad Management and Stupidity"

General Earl Van Dorn

May 22, 1862-8 a.m.

General BRAGG,
Commanding, Front:
    GENERAL: I am now on the cross-roads leading to Dickey's Mill and about the intersection of the Burnsville road. I have been delayed by bad management and stupidity of officers, unexpected defiles, &c., and I am sick with disappointment and chagrin, but will push the enemy when I do reach our position. I feel like a wolf and will fight Pope like one. Have patience with me; you will hear my guns soon.
Yours, &c.,


Official Records, Series I., Vol. 10, Part 2, Page 538.

As at Manassas Beauregard had planned a complicated advance, aiming to strike Pope's army before it could lay siege to Cornith.  It was probably well that Von Dorn was unable to initiate the action, as the Union forces had superior numbers and another defeat in the West could have left the Confederacy with little effect force in the theatre.  Van Dorn was a favorite of Jefferson Davis', but his chief claim to fame was being shot dead later in the war at Spring Hill, Tennessee by the husband of a woman who he was involved with.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

May 21, 1862 (Wednesday): McClellan Burns More Bridges Politically

WASHINGTON, May 21, 1862.
Major-General McCLELLAN:
    I have just been waited on by a large committee, who present a petition signed by twenty-three Senators and eighty-four Representatives, asking me to restore General Hamilton to his division. I wish to do this, and yet I do not wish to be understood as rebuking you.
    Please answer at once.


Official Records, Series I., Vol. 11, Part 3, Page 185.

Hamilton had been removed from command of his division due to insubordination, but McClellan had not informed Lincoln of the cause.  A native of New York state who had fought with distinction in Mexico, Hamilton was living in Wisconsin before the war and had political connections.  McClellan refused to yield on the issue, and Hamilton was sent west and given a series of promotions.  But he incurred the wrath of Grant because of his political intrigues and was relieved from duty. 

May 20, 1862 (Tuesday): Beauregard Plans An Attack

The railroad junction at Corinth, MS

CORINTH MISS., May 20, 1862.*

1st. My headquarters along the upper Farmington road.
2nd. Bragg and Van Dorn to join forces at Farmington and pursue the enemy hotly on road to Monterey and Purdy.
3d. Hardee to guard the crossings of Seven Mile Creek and then cross; to follow Pope should he retire in the direction of the Farmington and Monterey road, and to attack him in rear before he effects a junction with Buell.
4th. Polk and Breckinridge to advance from the left of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad to take position parallel to the latter, between it and the Purdy road, to await orders: then to move rapidly toward the Farmington and Purdy road, to take the enemy in flank and rear, Breckinridge guarding the left flank and rear of Polk from an attack in the direction of Purdy.
5th. The cavalry to cut down stragglers. Wirt Adams to report to Polk,
to Van Dorn, and
to Bragg.

*In pencil and unsigned, but believed to be in General Beauregard's handwriting

Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 10, Part 2, Page 532.

After Shiloh Beauregard retreated to Corinth, Mississippi, the key junction of the Mobile and Ohio and Memphis and Charleston railroads.  The Union forces under Halleck were much superior in numbers to Beauregard and it seems he did not fully understand this at the point he contemplated the movement described above.  In point of fact, Pope was closing in on the town and could see it from his positions, where he was rapidly bringing up artillery.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

May 19, 1862 (Monday): Lincoln Unfrees the Slaves

President Abraham Lincoln

Whereas there appears in the public prints what purports to be a proclamation of Major-General Hunter, in the words and figures following, to wit:


Hilton Head, S. C., May 9, 1862.
The three State of Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina, comprising the Military Department of the South, having deliberately declared themselves no longer under the protection of the United States of America, and having taken up arms against the said United States, it becomes a military necessity to declare them under martial law. This was accordingly done on the 25th day of April, 1862. Slavery and martial law in a free country are altogether incompatible. The persons in these three States-Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina-heretofore held as slaves are therefore declared forever free.

Major-General, Commanding.

Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.

And whereas the same in producing some excitement and misunderstanding: Therefore,
    I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, proclaim and declare that the Government of the United States had no knowledge, information, or belief of an intention on the part of General Hunter to issue such a proclamation; nor has it yet any authentic information that the document is genuine. And further, that neither General Hunter nor any other commander or person has been authorized by the Government of the United States to make proclamations declaring the slaves of any State free; and that the supposed proclamation now in question, whether genuine or false, is altogether void, so far as respects such declaration.
    I further make known that whether it be competent for me, as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, to declare the slaves of any State or States free, and whether, at any time, in any case, it shall have become a necessity indispensable to the maintenance of the Government to exercise such supposed power, are questions which under my responsibility I reserve to myself, and which I cannot feel justified in leaving to the decision of commanders in the field. These are totally different questions from those of police regulations in armies and camps.
    On the sixth day of March last, by a special message, I recommended to Congress the adoption of a joint resolution to be substantially as follows:
    Resolved, That the United States ought to co-operate any State which may adopt a gradual abolishment of slavery, giving to such State pecuniary aid, to be used by such State in its discretion, to compensate for the inconveniences, public and private, produced by such change of system.
    The resolution, in the language above quoted, was adopted by large majorities in both branches of Congress, and now stands an authentic, definite, and solemn proposal of the nation to the States and people most immediately interested in the subject- matter. To the people of those States I now earnestly appeal. I do not argue; I beseech you to make the arguments for yourselves. You cannot, if you would, be blind to the signs of the times. I beg of you a calm and enlarged consideration of them, ranging, if it may be, far above personal and partisan politics. This proposal makes common cause for a common object, casting no reproaches upon any. It acts not the Pharisee. The change it contemplates would come gently as the dews of heaven, not rending or wrecking anything. Will you not embrace it? So much good has not been done by one effort in all past time as in the providence of God it is now your high privilege to do. May the vast future not have to lament that you have neglected it.
I   n witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the city of Washington this nineteenth day of May, in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and sixty-two, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-sixth.

By the President:

Secretary of State.

[MAY 19, 1862.-For appointment of Edward Stanly as Military Governor of North Carolina, see Series I, Vol. IX, p. 396.]

Official Records, Series III., Vol. 2, Part 1, Page 43.

Hunter had, on his own hook, declared slaves in his department free.  In this proclamation Lincoln nullified Hunter's actions and offered again gradual, compensated,  emancipation as an alternative.  On the same day he met with officials from Maryland, assuring them the Fugitive Slave Act would be enforced within their borders.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

May 18, 1862 (Sunday): Jackson and Ewell Collaborate

General Richard S. Ewell

Mount Solon, May 18, 1862. 

Major General R. S. EWELL,
Commanding Third Division, Army of the Peninsula;
    GENERAL: Your letter of this date, in which you state that you have received letters from Generals Lee, Johnston, and myself requiring somewhat different movements, and desiring my views respecting your position, has been received. In reply I would state that as you are in the Valley District you constitute part of my command. Should you receive orders different from those sent from these headquarters, please advise me of the same at as early a period as practicable.
    You will please move your command so as to encamp between New Market and Mound Jackson on next Wednesday night, unless you receive orders from a superior officer and of a date subsequent to the 16th instant.
    I am, general, your obedient servant,

    T. J. JACKSON, 

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 12, Part 3, Page 897.

Ewell was part of Magruder's "Army of the Peninsula", but his troops were important to Jackson's strategy in the Valley.  Ewell was agreeable to working with Jackson to strike a blow against Banks, but he did not have the authority to ignore orders from Johnston to move east when Shields Division moved to join McDowell.  Jackson solved the problem by asserting authority over Ewell (which he readily accepted) to buy time to appeal through Lee to Jefferson Davis and Johnston.  Ultimately, both saw the value of Ewell's troops was greater in combination with Jackson than in reinforcing Richmond.  The partnership of Ewell and Jackson was an effective one, and the ability of all parties concerned (Davis, Johnston, Lee, Jackson, and Ewell) to sort through the situation and come up with the best solution was one of those rare cases during the war when multiple command levels effectively cooperated to achieve broader objectives.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

May 17, 1862 (Saturday): Lincoln's Secret Orders to McDowell

General Montgomery C. Meigs
WASHINGTON, D. C., May 17, 1862. 

Memorandum, in handwriting of President Lincoln, of his proposed additions to instructions of above date to General McDowell and General Meigs' indorsement thereon. (See also Part I, p.28.)

   You will retain the separate command of the forces taken with you; but while co-operating with General McClellan you will obey his orders, except that you are to judge, and are not to allow your force to be disposed otherwise than so as to give the greatest protection to this capital which may be possible from that distance.


    The President having shown this to me, I suggested that it is dangerous to direct a subordinate not to obey the orders of his superior in any case, and that to give instructions to General McClellan to this same end and furnish General McDowell with a copy thereof would effect the object desired by the President. He desired me to say that the sketch of instructions to General McClellan herewith he thought made this addition unnecessary.

M. C. M.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 11, Part 3, Page 177.

Meigs was Quartermaster General, and widely respected.  Lincoln had shown him a memo to McDowell which placed him subordinate the McClellan but advised him to not obey orders which, under his discretion, he believed might jeopardize the defense of Washington.  Meigs advice was sound, but Lincoln had developed the habit of communicating to generals directly (and without each other's knowledge) and he would not change at this point.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

May 16, 1862 (Friday): Lincoln Summons McDowell

General Herman Haupt
WASHINGTON, May 16, 1862-11.40 a. m.
    The President desires you to make a short visit here for conference, if you can come.

          EDWIN M. STANTON,
          Secretary of War.
FREDERICKSBURG, May 16, 1862-2.43 p. m.
          Honorable E. ML. STANTON:
               Your telegram just received. I leave at once for Washington and will be there late this evening.

POTOMAC CREEK, May 16, 1862.
Major-General MCDOWELL:
    Conductor reports that Captain Harrison, of the Ninety-fifth New York, in charge of party loading dirt for siding 1 mile south of Aquia Creek Station, having retired a few steps into the woods this morning, was fired at by a supposed rebel, the ball passing through his cap and grazing his head. He fired five barrels of his revolver at the assassin, then sent a squad in pursuit without success. Guerrillas are forming in various parts of the country, provoked by rapes and other crimes committed by Union men. Cases have occurred in this vicinity recently of an aggravated character. You will require efficient protection in the rear. When I see you I can give further particulars.

Colonel, &c.
Opposite Fredericksburg, Va., May 16, 1862.
    Hereafter no trains, either brigade or supply, will be sent for supplies unless accompanied by a commissioned officer and 3 mounted men, whose duty it shall be to prevent any teamsters from entering houses on the route or from committing irregularities of any kind.
    The officer who dispatches the train will be held responsible for the strict execution of this order.
    By command of Major-General McDowell:
            SAML. BRECK,
            Assistant Adjutant-General.

            Official Records, Series I., Vol. 12, Part 3, Page 197.


McDowell was summoned by the President to discuss the defense of Washington. He would be instructed to ensure Washington was covered, but to move forward toward Richmond. Lincoln would instruct McDowell to obey McClellan's orders, but not if he believed they jeopardized the defense of the Capital. Haupt was the outstanding engineer who built many bridges vital to the Union Army in the East during the war. Here he reports on irregular forces who attempted to avenge rapes by Union teamsters, and advises McDowell of the dangers he will face passing through Northern Virginia on the way to meet the President.

Monday, May 14, 2012

May 15, 1862 (Thursday): Battle at Drewry's Bluff

The Galena, Showing Hole In Stack From Confederate Shell

MAY 15, 1862-Engagement at Fort Darling, James River, VA.
Report of Commander William Smith, U. S. Navy, commanding U. S. Steamer Wachusett.

City Point, James River, May 19, 1862.
    GENERAL: I left West Point on the 15th instant (by order of the Honorable Secretary of the Navy), in company with the Maratanza, for Hampton Roads, to come up the James River. last evening we arrived here.
    On the 15th instant the Galena, Monitor, Naugatuck, Port Royal, and Aroostook ascended this river to within about 8 miles of Richmond, when they met with obstructions in the river which prevented their farther advance. The obstructions consisted of a row of piles driven across the channel, and three rows of vessels sunk also across the channel, among them the Yorktown and Jamestown. Just below these obstructions on the south or west side of the river were very formidable batteries, mounting fourteen guns, among them 11-inch shell, 100-pounder rifles, and nothing less than 8-inch shell guns. The river there is very narrow, the bank some 200 feet high, and the guns so situated that they can be pointed directly down on the decks of the vessels. The sharpshooters can come on the banks and pick off the men on the vessels' decks. The gunboats were engaged about four hours with the batteries and then retired, having expended their ammunition.
    Our loss was 12 killed and 13 wounded; the vessels not much injured, except the Galena, which had eighteen shots through her sides and deck. The rebel papers admit that a few of their men were killed and wounded; some deserters say they amounted to several hundred. The river is so narrow and crooked and the banks so high that the gunboats cannot take a position for shelling the batteries except within a very short distance of them and directly under their guns. A gunboat cannot turn under steam in the river. Commodore Rodgers, of the Galena, who commanded the expedition, is decidedly of the opinion that the works cannot be reduced without the assistance of land forces.
    We have now at this point the Wachusett, Galena, Maratanza, Port Royal, Aroostook, and Monitor, ready to assist you in your movements. I shall keep this river open if possible to Walls' Bluff, where the batteries above mentioned are situated.
    I will station a vessel about 2 miles above this point, on the north side of the river, near the residence of Colonel Hill Carter, from which point there is a good road to Charles City Court-House, and where you can communicate with me if you desire to do so.
    I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

   W. SMITH,
   Commanding U. S. Steamer Wachusett.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 11, Part 1, Page 636.

If the Union gunboats had passed the obstructions at Drewry's Bluff they could have shelled Richmond.  But the position of Confederate forces on the high bluff above a narrow bend in the river was formidable and allowed for plunging fire onto ships in the river, but made it difficult to shell Fort Darling.  The battle lasted three hours and fifteen minutes, before the Union force withdrew.  Had the fleet been able to pass the report it is interesting to speculate what effect it would have had on McClellan's campaign.  It would not have, by itself resulted in the surrender of Richmond, but it would have certainly placed enormous pressure on Johnston and the Confederate high command.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

May 14, 1862 (Wednesday): McClellan Pleads For More Troops

View Down the James in the Direction the Union Ships Came From (Wikipedia)

Honorable E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War.
On the 14th of May I sent the following telegram to the President:

    I have more than once telegraphed to the Secretary of War, stating that in my opinion the enemy were concentrating all their available force to fight this army in front of Richmond, and that such ought to be their policy. I have received no reply whatever to any of these telegraphs. I beg leave to repeat their substance to Your Excellency, and to ask that kind consideration which you have ever accorded to my representations and views. All my information from every source accessible to me establishes the fixed purpose of the rebels to defend Richmond against this army by offering us battle with all the troops they can collect from east, west, and south, and my own opinion is confirmed by that of all my commanders whom I have been able to consult.
    Casualties, sickness, garrisons, and guards have much weakened my force, and will continue to do so. I cannot bring into actual battle against the enemy more than 80,000 men at the utmost, and with them I must attack in position, probably intrenched, a much larger force, perhaps double my numbers. It is possible that Richmond may be abandoned without a serious struggle, but the enemy are actually in great strength between here and there, and it would be unwise, and even insane, for me to calculate upon anything but a stubborn and desperate resistance. If they should abandon Richmond it may well be that it is done with the purpose of making the stand at some place in Virginia south or west of there, and we should be in condition to press them without delay. The Confederate leaders must employ their utmost efforts against this army in Virginia, and they will be supported by the whole body of their military officers, among whom there may be said to be no Union feeling, as there is also very little among the higher class of citizens in the seceding States.
    I have found no fighting men left in this Peninsula. All are in the ranks of the opposing foe.
Even if more troops than I now have should prove unnecessary for purposes of military occupation, our greatest display of imposing force in the capital of the rebel Government will have the best effect. I most respectfully and earnestly urge upon Your Excellency that the opportunity has come for striking a fatal blow at the enemies of the Constitution, and I beg that you will cause this army to be re-enforced without delay by all the disposable troops of the Government. I ask for every man that the War Department can send me [by water*]. Any commander of the re-enforcements whom Your Excellency may designate will be acceptable to me, whatever expression I may have heretofore addressed to you on that subject.
    I will fight the enemy, whatever their force may be, with whatever force I may have, and I firmly believe that we shall beat them, but our triumph should be made decisive and complete. The soldiers of this army love their Government and will fight well in its support. You may rely upon them. They have confidence in me as their general and in you as their President. Strong re-enforcements will at least save the lives of many of them. The greater our force, the more perfect will be our combinations and the less our loss.
    For obvious reasons I beg you to give immediate consideration to this communication, and to inform me fully at the earliest moment of your final determination.


*The words "by water" are in the dispatch as received at War Department. 

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 11, Part 1, Page 27.

McClellan knew when he left for the Peninsula how many men he would have available, knew there would be losses to camp illness and casualties, knew (to his mind) how many Confederate troops he faced.  To then go to the Peninsula and begin requesting reinforcements was somewhat disingenuous.  If these were insurmountable obstacles, McClellan could have declared them such prior to leaving for the Peninsula and stuck with the safer overland route which would have possibly given Lincoln more confidence the Capital was covered (which, in turn, might have prompted him to release more troops for the defenses of Washington).  It should be kept in mind that on the day this was written Union warships were steaming up the James for Richmond unimpeded and there would have appeared to have existed a fair chance they would take the city.  Certainly, this was the concern of Lee and Johnston as the Monitor and Galena approached Drewry's Bluff.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

May 13, 1862 (Tuesday): Hunter Arms Liberated Slaves in S.C.

General David Hunter

Numbers 6. POPE'S PLANTATION, Saint Helena Island, May 13, 1862.

Major-General HUNTER,
Commanding Department of the South:
    GENERAL: It seems important to advise you of the scenes transpirng yesterday in the execution of your order for the collection and transportation of the able-bodied colored men form the islands to Hilton Head. The colored people became suspicious of the presence of the companies of soldiers detailed for the service, who were marching through the islands during the night. Some thought the rebels were coming and stood guard at the creeks. The next morning (yesterday) they went to the fields, some, however, seeking the woods. They were taken from fields without being allowed to go to their houses even to get a jacket, this, however, in some cases, being gone for by the wife. The inevitableness of the order made many resigned, but there was sadness in all. As those on this plantation were called in from the fields, the soldiers, under orders, and while on the steps of my headquarters, loaded their guns, so that the negroes might see what would take place in case they attempted to get away. This was done in the presence of the ladies here. Wives and children embraced the husband and father thus taken away, they knew not where, and whom, as they said, they should never see again. On some plantations the wailing and screaming were loud and the women threw themselves in despair on the ground. On some plantations the people took to the woods and were hunted up by the soldiers. The school at Eustis was a scene of confusion, the children crying, and it was found of no use to carry it on. The superintendents aided in the execution of the order with moral influence and physical assistance, some of them walking many miles in the night to guide the soldiers, but they all express great sorrow at what has been done and feel that the hold which they had been slowly and carefully getting on their people has been loosened. They told the negroes that General Hunter was their friend and meant well by them, and his orders must be obeyed, but they disavowed responsibility for the act.   
    The soldiers, it is due to them to say, concerning the summary manner in which they were called upon to act, and the speed required of them, conducted themselves with as little harshness as could
   Such was yesterday; and it was a sad day with these simple- hearted and family-loving people, and I doubt if the recruiting service in this country has ever been attended with such scenes before. I pray you for the kindest attentions (and I know you will give them) to those who have gone to Hilton Head, and for the immediate return of all who are not disposed to bear arms, in order that the suspense of those who have gone and of those who have remained may be relieved. I shall go to Hilton Head to- morrow (Wednesday) to visit them.
    Your obedient servant,

   Special Agent Treasury Department.

Official Records, Series III., Vol. 2, Part 1, Page 57.

Hunter was on close terms with Lincoln and was invited to join him on the President's inaugural journey to Washington.  Wounded at Manassas he later replaced Fremont in Missouri and was in command of Kansas and the Department of the South (in which capacity he captured Fort Pulaski).  After Pulaski he unilaterally issued an order liberating all slaves in his department.  He ordered all freed slaves from 18-45 to be armed, and it was from this group the first African-American regiment (1st S.C.) was formed.  Lincoln nullified his order liberating the slaves on May 19, but Congress upheld his action in impressing the freed slaves into Union service.  Pierce, the Treasury Agent, had been sent to the Low Country to represent the interests of the freed slaves and to ensure the plantations continued to produce. 

May 12, 1862 (Monday): Halleck Reigns In Grant

General Henry Halleck

Monterey, May 12, 1862.

Major-General GRANT,
Commanding, &c.:
    GENERAL: Your position, as second in command of the entire forces here in the field, rendered it proper that you should be relieved from the direct charge of either the right wing or the reserve, both of which are mainly composed of your forces. Orders for movements in the field will be sent direct from these headquarters to commanders of army corps, divisions, brigades, or even regiments, if deemed necessary, and you will have no more cause of complaint on that score than others have.
    I am very much surprised, general, that you should find any cause of complaint in the recent assignment of commands. You have precisely the position to which your rank entitles you. Had I given you the right wing or reserve only it would have been a reduction rather than increase of command, and I could not give you both without placing you in the position you now occupy.
    You certainly will not suspect me of any intention to injure your feelings or reputation or to do you any injustice; if so, you will eventually change your mind on this subject. For the last three months I have done everything in my power to ward off the attacks which were made upon you. If you believe me your friend you will not require explanations; if not, explanations on my part would be of little avail.
    Very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Official Records, Series I., Vol. 10, Part 2, Page 183.

After Shiloh Halleck chose to limit Grant's role.  While Grant had permitted his troops to be surprised on the opening day at Shiloh, he increased his popularity with the administration as a result of his victory there.  It is not surprising Halleck would perhaps be jealous of the attention shown Grant at a time where the press and politicians took scant notice of his own efforts.

May 11, 1862 (Sunday): Destruction of the Virginia

Destruction of the Virginia (

FORT MONROE, May 11, 1862.

Assistant Secretary of War:
The Merrimac was blown up by the rebels at two minutes before 5
o'clock this morning. She was set fire to about 3 o'clock, and the explosion took place at the time stated. It is said to have been a grand sight by those who saw it. The Monitor, Stevens, and the gunboats have gone up toward Norfolk.

Secretary of War.

[Similar dispatch to McClellan.]


Honorable E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War:
I congratulate you from the bottom of my heart upon the destruction of the Merrimac. I would now most earnestly urge that our gunboats and the iron-clad boats be sent as far as possible up the James River without delay. This will enable me to make our movements much more decisive.

Major-General, U. S. Army.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 11, Part 3, Page 163.

The Virginia drew 22 feet and could not ascend the James River to Richmond.  With Norfolk abandoned there was no choice but to blow it up.  The Virginia is best known as the opponent of the Monitor, but a reading its entire history reveals an impact on Union operations which was far more important than a single encounter with another ironclad.  In all the Union plans for the Peninsula Campaign it had to be accounted for, as potentially it could destroy transports and wreck havoc with supply bases.  Union accounts always refer to the Virginia by the name Merrimac (the name of the Union vessel captured at Norfolk and converted to the Virginia).

May 10, 1862 (Saturday): McClellan Contemplates a Change of Base

Old Saint John's Church-West Point, Virginia

May 10, 1862. (Received 5 p. m.)
Honorable E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War:
    I have fully established my connection with the troops near West Point, and the dangerous movement has passed. The West Point Railway is not very much injured. Materials for repairs, such as rails, &c., cars, and engines, may now be sent to me. Should Norfolk be taken and the Merrimac destroyed, I can change my line to the James River and dispense with the railroad.
    I shall probably occupy New Kent in force to-morrow, and then make my first preparations for battle. As it is, my troops are in advance of their supplies. I must so arrange my depot that we can follow up success. When at New Kent I will be in position to make a thorough examination of the country so as to act understandingly.
    General Johnston cannot well be in front of Fremont, for two reasons: First, he has no business there; second, I know that I fought him on Monday, and that he is now on the Chickahominy. I have used his vacated headquarters from day to day. He is certainly in command here with all the troops he can gather.
    Two of three more of the cavalry regiments I left on the Potomac would be very acceptable. I am overworking what I have.


Official Records, Series I., Vol. 11, Part 3, Page 160.

As seen here, there was still confusion in Washington as to the location and intent of Confederate forces.  Some believed Johnston was moving with part of his force toward Washington, but McClellan clearly understood he was in front of his forces on the Peninsula, slowly giving way.  It is also interesting to note McClellan is already considering the advantages of an advance along the James.  His later change of base after being attacked by Lee is regarded as a panicked move, and it certainly represented an overreaction.  But there were clear advantages to moving up the James, as it would allow a greater role for the Navy in protecting the advance and perhaps even threatening Richmond itself.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

May 9, 1862 (Friday): Where's Jackson? At McDowell.

Hull House, Milroy's HQ, McDowell

NEW MARKET, May 9, 1862-4.30 p. m. 

Honorable E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War:
    Your dispatch received. General Fremont's opinions as to the position of Jackson are correct. He has not been in front of General McDowell unless within two or three day past. Ewell's division has been at Elk Run, between Blue Ridge and Shenandoah, on the road from Harrisonburg to Stanardsville, until now. Our scouts report the camp-fires as seen yesterday. He has four brigades-12,700 men- and four batteries, of four guns. Jackson was at Port Republic, 6 miles above; Ewell on Shenandoah when my command left Harrisonburg. He is thought to have moved south toward Staunton or possibly toward Richmond. If General Fremont reports him with Edward Johnson against Milroy he is most likely correct. Such movement would accord with all our information up to this day. Johnson has about 3,000, Jackson 8,000 men, making with Ewell over 20,000 men. They are not more than 20 miles distant from each other unless Jackson has moved south recently. They will concentrate against any small force left in the valley. there are no troops at Gordonsville, Madison, or Culpeper unless arrived there recently. Ewell's division was the last that left Manassas, the Rappahannock, Culpeper, and Madison. I have reported these facts from day to day to the Department. Hundreds of fugitives come through these places into our lines because there are no troops there.

                                                     N. P. BANKS,
                                                    Major-General, Commanding.
(Copy to McDowell from War Department.)

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 12, Part 3, Page 154.

Jackson's troops (6,000 in number) headed west out of Staunton on May 7.  On the 8th McDowell and Johnson came up on Milroy at McDowell.  In the battle which followed, Milroy attacked Jackson's superior position on Sitlington's Hill.  Although he inflicted 420 casualties (compared to 259 for the Union forces), he was repulsed and yielded the field.  After the battle Milroy slowly withdrew west to Franklin, Jackson following for several days before returning to Stuanton.

May 8, 1862 (Thursday): Johnston Miffed With Lee

White House (Once owned by Martha Custis Washington, later W.H. Lee

HEADQUARTERS, Near New Kent Court-House, May 8, 1862.
General R. E. LEE:
GENERAL: I have just received three* letters from your office signed "R. E. Lee, gen'l, by W. H. Taylor, A. A. G.," written in the first person, all dated yesterday.
One of these informs me that certain supposed orders of mine had been countermanded by you or "W. H. Taylor, A. A. G." The matter to which you refer was instructed by me to General Huger. The only order given directly to troops on the south side of James River was intended to carry out one by the President to bring a remnant of Brigadier-General Colston's-brigade to join him. He informed me that his brigade had been ordered to the Peninsula, but that he had left his staff and some other portion of it. He was authorized to order them to join him via Richmond. This was carrying out an order of the Government.
    My authority does not extend beyond the troops immediately around me. I request therefore to be relieved of a merely nominal geographical command. The service will gain thereby the unity of command, which is essential in war.
    I have had in the Peninsula no means of obtaining direct information from the other departments of my command nor has the Government furnished it. Please inform me without delay of the position and number of the troops in the direction of Fredericksburg. I wish to place them so that they may not be cut off by an army landing at West Point. I have heard casually that you have caused the Pamunkey to be obstructed; if so, it is unfortunate that I was not apprised of the fact.
    The enemy occupied a large and dense wood in front of their landing place in the afternoon of the 6th, and was dislodged in very handsome style yesterday by Brigadier-General Whiting with a portion of his division, the brigades of Brigadier-General Hood and Colonel Hampton. These officers gave additional evidence of their high merit. I therefore earnestly repeat my recommendations that Brigadier-General Whiting, who has commanded a division, and Colonel Hampton, who has commanded a brigade, for six months, may be promoted to corresponding rank. The service will gain greatly by these promotions.
    As the department of Richmond is not under my command, I can give no orders in regard to works for its defense. I sent, however, several hundred (edit) from the Peninsula to help in their construction, and desired Captain Tucker, C. S. Navy, to remove the guns at Mulberry Point and Jamestown for the defense of the obstructions to navigation which I am told are in course of construction.  Major Stevens, C. S. Engineers, now in Richmond, might be usefully employed in directing these works and disposing of the guns.
    I shall be found for the present on the New Kent Court-House road. The impossibility of subsisting the army in the neighborhood and the supposed position of an army of ours near Fredericksburg render it impracticable to wait to oppose a landing opposite to West Point.
    We may be supplied with provisions hereafter by the York River Railroad at the station on the northeast side of the Chickahominy.
    Most respectfully, your obedient servant,


*Only one found.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 11, Part 3, Page 499.

Johnston and Lee had been on good terms before the war, but Lee's association with Jefferson Davis counted as a strike against him.  In addition, Johnston still harbored resentments regarding the relative standing of Confederate generals.  He believed he should have ranked Lee, not the other way around.  Here the resentment is veiled, but thinly.