Friday, July 27, 2012

July 28, 1862 (Tuesday): Lee Plans to Cut McClellan's Supply Line

General D. H. Hill

July 28, 1862.
    SIR: General D. H. Hill has been directed to proceed with picked troops and about fifty pieces of artillery to old Fort Powhatan to endeavor to cut off General McClellan's communication by the river. I have ordered General Pendleton with five of his reserve batteries-the two 32-pounders, the long 32-pounder (Long Tom), and the 18-pounder, all on siege carriages-on the same expedition. I know of no heavier blow that could be dealt General McClellan's army than to cut off his communication. It would oblige him to break up from his position and retire at least to the broad part of the river. But if this cannot be done, the attempt, if partially successful, will anchor him in his present position, from which he would not dare to advance, so that I can re-enforce Jackson without hazard to Richmond, and thus enable him to drive, if not destroy, the miscreant Pope.
    I am particularly anxious that our newspapers may not give the enemy notice of our intentions, and have directed General Hill, in order to cover his movement, to say he was moving against Suffolk or Norfolk, so as to satisfy the curiosity of our countrymen. I leave it for you to judge whether an enigmatical paragraph in the Dispatch to that effect or entire silence may be most advisable.
    To have the honor to be, &c.,

R. E. LEE,


Official Records, Series I., Vol. 11, Part 2, Page 936.

This letter to Hill shows Lee's audacity, envisioning an expedition to the South side of the James River, about four miles below Harrison's Landing.  Old Fort Powhatan dated back to colonial days, and had been improved somewhat by the Confederates early in the war.  It commanded the river at Hood's Point, where the channel narrowed considerably in a bend.  Lee is obviously sporting for a fight, eager to get away from Richmond and get at the "miscreant" Pope.  Lee's plan to use the newspapers for misinformation shows a sophistication which anticipated the importance of the media in conveying information, but accurate and ruses.  For those interested in using Google Earth to view obscure sites, the fort is near Disputania, Virginia at the end of Fort Powhatan Road.  Some traces of the fort remain, but not substantial enough to be shown in aerial views.

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