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June 4th, 2008, 11:18 PM
Action Jackson 1862
Stonewall’s Foot Cavalry Wins The Day
By David Atwell
This AH came out of the thread The Peninsula campaign... (http://www.alternatehistory.com/discussion/showthread.php?t=93477&highlight=McClellan), so all discussion can be conducted there I gather.
Much has been said, over the years, deriding the abilities of Union general George McClellan. It is true that he was slow. It is true that he constantly bickered with US President Lincoln. But it is also true that President Lincoln and Secretary of Defence Edwin Stanton, with their constant interfering with McClellan’s plans, only ensured defeat for the Army of the Potomac, during the Seven Days Battles, as well as the annihilation of the Union Army of Virginia, not long afterwards, which resulted in the Confederate occupation of Washington DC. All in all, thanks to these amateur methods of military planning, there would be the damnation of all Union parties involved, even though at the beginning of 1862, everything appeared to be very much the opposite for Union aspirations.
McClellan’s plan, for the Peninsular Campaign of 1862, was a bold yet well thought out one. In order to break the Confederate front lines, in northern Virginia, the Army of the Potomac would conduct a huge amphibious operation, land to the rear of the Confederate army, then march on Richmond. At first, Lincoln completely agreed with the plan, believing it to be of great merit, but when Stanton got to advise the Union President, things soon began to change. Yet, without being made aware of these changes, McClellan commenced his campaign.
Things got off to a good start, for the Army of the Potomac, until they reached Yorktown. Here things slowed down to a snails pace. Given false intelligence, not to mention McClellan’s natural caution, instead of a quick bold attack, McClellan chose to conduct a siege. What was worse, it was a slow siege which, in the end, proved to be pointless. It was around this time, thus, Lincoln, under media and public pressure, decided to withhold 42 000 troops from McClellan, which would become the vital reason for the Union catastrophe which would follow.
Still, at the first real major battle of the Peninsular Campaign, those 42 000 troops were not needed. The Confederate general in charge at the time, Joe Johnston, decided to launch an attack. The two day battle which followed, known as Fair Oaks, was a messy affair for both sides. But two important things happened, which would have a significant impact on the future. The first was that Joe Johnston was seriously wounded, allowing Robert E. Lee to take over command. And the second was that, although the battle was a stalemate, McClellan had been unnerved by the Confederate assault and became even more cautious.
In doing so, Lee was able to achieve a number of things once he gained command. The first was he managed to get more reinforcements, ensuring he now had enough to go onto the assault in a sustained manner. Importantly, this ensured that the Confederate capital of Richmond was now safe from Union occupation. The next thing was a thorough reorganisation of the Confederate defenders into the now famous Army of Northern Virginia. And lastly the maverick Confederate general, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, was given command of the Army’s left wing. The seeds had thus been sown for Confederate victory.
After the Battle of Fair Oaks McClellan, even if he had become even more cautious than normal, nevertheless continued the advance towards Richmond as he had planned several months before. By doing so, he had not, however, altered his battleline where he still allowed the chance that the reinforcements from the Washington region, namely US I Corps, would join up on his right hand wing. Thus he allowed US V Corps, under the command of General Porter, to become the flank guard even though this meant V Corps was exposed to any flanking manoeuvre. Confident, nonetheless, that the Confederates would defend Richmond first and foremost, McClellan dismissed the danger this represented to the Army of the Potomac. Lee, however, did not.
Consequentially, on 26 June, the Army of Northern Virginia attacked. It was a rather complicated plan, which Lee had developed, but simple nevertheless in its basic strategy. Essentially the right Confederate wing would keep the main part of the Union army honest; the centre would pin US V Corps in place at Mechanicsville; whilst Jackson’s wing moved around the open Union flank then crush it from behind. Of course, even if relatively simple, all sorts of things could go wrong, from being spotted by Union cavalry patrols, whilst on the flanking march, to simply getting lost. Lee, nevertheless, judged that the benefits would outweigh the dangers.
Sure enough, at around 2 PM, the Union pickets at Mechanicsville began to engage the first ranks of the advancing Confederate soldiers of A. P. Hill’s division. Within minutes the nearest Union regiments had lined up and began to offer a strong defence. As the Confederate attack advanced, though, it began to suffer heavy loses. It appeared, thus, to everyone present, that the first stage of Lee’s first major offensive was about to suffer defeat. Still the Confederates pressed ahead, especially when D. H. Hill’s division began to enter the battle. Doing so ensured other Union forces, previously uncommitted, also added their numbers as well, meaning that a vast majority of V Corps were involved in keeping the Confederates at bay. Yet by committing themselves as such, V Corps merely succeeded in doing exactly what Lee wanted them to do.
As a result of the initial action at Mechanicsville, Jackson was now given a trouble free run. Having moved out at dawn, guided by local volunteers, Jackson’s left wing was able to march to their objective without any Union interference nor did they get lost. By the time the first shots were fired at Mechanicsville, by A. P. Hill’s soldiers, Jackson’s wing was ready to move into the battle. And move they did. Long before there was any warning, Jackson’s soldiers were already amongst the rear area of V Corps camps. By 5 PM the Union camps had been cleared and Jackson’s troops were attacking the rear of V Corps battleline. Artillery pieces, thousands of Union troops, as well as General Porter himself, had been captured, whilst thousands of others ended up as casualties. Only some 2 500 Union troops managed to flee, panic stricken, from the disaster, telling all and sundry the fate of US V Corps and the fate which awaited the rest of the Union army.
It goes without saying that news spread fast as to the Union disaster at Mechanicsville. McClellan consequentially panicked and quickly ordered a retreat south to the James River. This was not necessarily a bad decision overall, given the fact that his entire flank had just been destroyed, but it meant that any attempt to take Richmond was now impossible. Yet, what is more to the point, it meant that the roads, tracks, and everything else an army could march along, would be jammed packed with troops, cannons, horses, and wagons. This would hence ensure that the Union retreat would be even slower than their previous advance. Needless to say, this was exactly the opposite to what every Union soldier, regardless of rank, wanted.
Lee, too, knew this fact and did not waste much time issuing new orders to continue the attack against the Army of the Potomac. Doing so, though, was a lot easier said than done. Lee’s centre divisions had been seriously hurt, during their part of the Battle of Mechanicsville, and needed some time to see to the wounded, not to mention rest and rearm. And although their enthusiasm was most certainly up to the task of pursing the Union soldiers, practical considerations delayed their ability to do so.
The same, however, could not be said for Jackson’s left wing. Although having had a forced march, on the previous day, plus a fair amount of fighting, due to the fact that they did not have to conduct a frontal assault, but rather they simply overran the enemy with limited resistance, both their casualty rates and ammunition expenditure was low. Plus, having the reputation of being foot cavalry, furthermore helped Lee in his deliberations. Thus Jackson was ordered to vigorously pursue the Army of the Potomac, whilst A. P. Hill’s and D. H. Hill’s divisions acted as the reserve. Meanwhile, as the Union troops abandoned their front lines facing Richmond, both Longstreet’s and Magruder’s commands would likewise pursue albeit at a respectable distance.
One may wonder why Lee did not want Longstreet and Magruder to be too aggressive, as they followed the fleeing Union troops, but Lee did not want either command to get involved with a battle individually, just in case he may need one or the other command to help Jackson’s pursuit. It basically came down to numbers. Jackson, however, victorious, still only had 18 000 troops with him, whilst the Army of the Potomac still had 70 000 troops. And even if another US Corps could be cut off, during the retreat, then Lee knew he would have to combine Jackson’s command with someone else’s to ensure victory.
Meanwhile, at McClellan’s headquarters, it became obvious that a major rearguard stand had to be conducted in order for the army to survive. Consequentially McClellan, although having little other choice, unwittingly ensured Lee would get his wish. It was not, though, as if the commander of US VI Corps, Franklin, had not seen it coming. Having been concerned about Porter’s open flank, he had mentioned it to McClellan who had brushed his concerns aside. Franklin had, however, kept his eye on the local terrain, just in case he had to fight such a battle as he had now been ordered to conduct. Thus on the evening of 27 June US VI Corps lined up at Savage’s Station awaiting the dawn.
If there is one complaint about Jackson’s efforts, during the Seven Days Battles, it is he was too enthusiastic to get at the Union forces. Having learnt at dawn, on 28 June, that the Union had establish a battleline, not far from his overnight position, he gave orders to attack it immediately. Thus by 9 AM, with his command lined up and ready to go, it attacked with little regards to any well planned battle strategy and/or tactics. Predicably, just like with the Confederate frontal assault two days earlier, the Confederate’s began to suffer heavy casualties. The attack, thus, by Midday, soon ground to a halt and became more of an artillery duel than anything else. Here again, due to the impatience of getting into battle, the Confederates had not chosen the best locations to place their artillery. As a result, the guns of US VI Corps was winning this battle within a battle as well.
Yet US IV Corps was not to achieve victory, this day, and Jackson’s reputation would be saved, thanks to the fortuitous arrival of Longstreet’s command on the Union left flank. Having stuck to his orders, Longstreet had been following the withdrawal of US VI Corps albeit at a distance. Longstreet, though, had used his initiative that morning once he had heard the guns open up at Savage’s Station. Believing rightly, that battle had commenced there between his comrades, under either Lee or Jackson, and VI Corps, Longstreet issued his own orders to march to the sound of the guns. Although this took some three hours, Longstreet managed to get his command into a reasonable battleline, then charged the Union lines facing Jackson, taking the defenders by surprise. The result was predictable, and although the Union defeat was not as impressive as that at Mechanicsville, it did mean to say that another US Corps had been stricken from the Order of Battle and there were 17 000 fewer Union troops, now mostly prisoners, to fight for the loss of about 4 000 Confederates. Included in the Union deaths was the gallant Franklin, who was killed near the end of the battle whilst still issuing orders.
About the only good news for the Union, during the whole Seven Days Battles saga, was a victory at Malvern Hill on 30 June. But before that battle took place, the Confederacy would have one more victory. Confederate cavalry general, Jeb Stuart, was also active, during these events, albeit somewhat detached from the main army. Having been given orders to operate to the left hand flank of Jackson’s command, he soon found his cavalry force on the prowl against any unprepared Union forces. These usually were not any fighting units, but supply and logistic ones. Nevertheless, that mattered little to Stuart as his cavalry wreaked havoc on the Union supply trains retreating towards Harrison’s Landing, on the James, along with everyone else.
Still, even with the success of the cavalry, Lee was a frustrated man. Having to deal with the practicalities of cleaning up a battlefield, especially in dealing with thousands of prisoners, not to mention caring for the wounded, regardless of side, meant to say he lost a day in getting at those people as Lee would say. Yet, his orders went out to continue the pursuit of the retreating Army of the Potomac. Soon, Magruder, with 13 000 troops, the only Confederate force not yet involved in any combat, was hammered with orders to engage the next US Corps before it could escape. Meanwhile, Lee gathered the rest of the army together, including A. P. Hill’s and D. H. Hill’s divisions, then in reserve, and set off in pursuit once more.
Magruder, however, took his time, which did not win him any favours after the campaign was over. Lee was far from impressed, but that did not mean that Magruder’s efforts were not ignored. McClellan, now that he was well aware that VI Corps had been annihilated, only knew too well what fate awaited for him, and the rest of the army, if the Confederate pursuit was not stopped. Albeit he was reluctant to order it, the US III Corps of General Heintzelman soon found itself having to conduct a last ditched rearguard action akin to VI Corps only two days before. One major thing, though, worked in III Corps favour: and that was the ground they had decided to fight upon.
Malvern Hill proved to be the best location that any defender could have imagined. It could not be outflanked. Instead only a frontal assault could take place. And even though Lee was able to combine his entire army together for once, more or less, at the Battle of Malvern Hill, the meagre 17 500 Union troops were up to the task of defeating them. There were, however, several mistakes made by the Confederates which ensured Union victory.
The first mistake to take place was that Magruder arrived on the scene on 1 July, several hours before the others, and got immediately into action. With urgent orders coming from Lee to rapidly take the fight to those people, he finally followed these orders instead of waiting for the Army of Northern Virginia to concentrate together its numbers. His 13 000 troops, hence, were completely outnumbered and Magruder's force had no chance whatsoever in breaching the Union defences. Error then compounded upon error, when the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia finally arrived. Lee, thinking victory could come at any moment, decided to support Magruder in his futile efforts, by sending reinforcements into the attack as they arrived on the battlefield. In doing so, though, the attack continued piecemeal, instead of building up the formidable army Lee had finally concentrated for a major concerted effort. These errors would continue, until mid afternoon, when Lee finally realised the situation and decided to have one major all-out assault. The problem by now, however, was that Magruder’s troops were thoroughly exhausted along with half of the rest of Lee’s army. Consequentially Lee’s first and only major assault at Malvern Hill, in the afternoon, was also repulsed.
Heintzelman knew, nonetheless, that his III Corps was in no better condition than Lee’s army, even though his casualties were light, his ammunition stocks were low, not to mention his men were exhausted. Thus, under the cover of darkness, having done its job superbly, III Corps withdrew from their positions and was, more or less, safely in Harrison’s Landing by dawn the next day. Lee knew this would probably happen, so he dispatched Stuart and his cavalry after III Corps at dawn on 1 July. Stuart discovered, to his horror, when reaching Harrison’s Landing, that the place was a natural fortress after a brief engagement with the Union defenders. He reported this to Lee who regretted not completely destroying the Army of the Potomac, but was nevertheless satisfied with the results thus far. It seemed a siege would now commence, but other factors would soon came into play to change this.
As an indication as to the strength of the Union, especially at the time, even with the disaster having endured by the Army of the Potomac, a new Union army, the Army of Virginia, had been organised during McClellan’s slow march up the Peninsular. Formed from a mix of new recruits and divisions stripped from McClellan’s original plans for his campaign on Richmond, it numbered 77 000 troops by the time it took its first steps on its march towards Richmond. Lincoln, although not having complete faith in its commander, General John Pope, nevertheless did not originally envisaged the Army of Virginia to do anything other than defend the Union capital. But now, with the Army of the Potomac under siege, and Pope declaring he shall be victorious, Lincoln had few choices other than allow Pope to attack, hoping that Richmond may indeed fall, whilst the Confederate army was busy with the trapped Army of the Potomac.
Lee, however, saw it coming, thanks mostly to Union newspapers reporting the boasts of General Pope. Consequentially, by late July 1862, a mere three weeks after the Seven Days Battles, Lee had started slipping out divisions, from around the battlelines surrounding Harrison’s Landing, back to positions covering Richmond from a northern approach. Still, not everything went to plan as Pope actually managed to get a step on Lee’s preparations by moving earlier than Lee predicted. Consequentially, a number of skirmishes commenced, between Jackson’s units, now organised under the banner of CSA II Corps, which culminated at the Battle of Cedar Mountain on 9 August. Although it was a Confederate victory, it was far from a convincing one as evident by, even though the Union retreated, Jackson was in no position to pursue.
Mind, it was not that Lee wanted Jackson to pursue the Union force at this point in time, as Lee had no idea whether McCellan, with a still a sizeable force of some 53 000 troops, would take advantage of the moves by Pope, break out of the Harrison’s Landing parameter, and once more march on Richmond. As a result, Lee kept Longstreet’s newly organised CSA I Corps in place, for as long as possible, until he was convinced McClellan was content to remain in place. This meant, though, that Jackson, with only 24 000 troops, had to face off an army three times his number. Lee, in other words, was playing for time.
Time, however, was more so running out for Pope rather than for Lee, as Lee had finally decided to leave a small force behind under Magruder, watching McClellan, whilst moving the great bulk of Longstreet’s Corps north to join up with Jackson. Meanwhile, and unbeknown to Lee, McClellan had actually organised an evacuation to take place not much later around 30 August. Still that did not now matter to Lee, as countering Pope was his main objective.
Alas for Pope, he would help Lee in his own defeat at the Battle of Second Manassas. Having rapidly advanced south initially, after the Battle of Cedar Mountain, he became overly cautious akin to McClellan. This may have seemed prudent at the time, considering the recent fate of the Army of the Potomac, but in this case it ensured Lee was given the precious time he needed to get his plans developed and put into motion. So once again, with a Union army holding their positions, waiting for a frontal attack, Lee simply moved around its right flank and attacked where Pope never expected him to do so. At first the Confederate plans seemed to be working, but then Pope, for all his faults, more or less realised the danger: or to put it more accurately, it should be said, some of his subordinates realised the danger but Pope eventually listened. Thus, having dug in along the Rappahannock expecting a frontal assault, a long series of mobile battles instead resulted, on the Union’s right flank, as the Union Army of Virginia commenced a retreat in a race to get to Manassas Junction before the Confederates.
Alas for the Union Army of Virginia, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia would not let them get away that easy. Instead a huge battle took place at Manassas, which would dwarf the first one that took place there just over a year before. Although the Confederates were outnumbered, as they only had about 55 000 soldiers against 77 000 Union troops, on this particular occasion it mattered not, for on the day of battle, 29 August 1862, the Union positions were haphazard, poorly organised, and several units were still arriving on the battlefield. Meanwhile the Confederates had fully deployed and overlapped both flanks of the Union battleline.
Thus when the Confederates attacked at around 10 AM, even though the Union centre managed to repulse the morning attacks, it was a completely different story on the flanks. In both instances, the Union was in trouble from the start. Jackson’s attacks, though, were soon stopped by stubborn Union resistance around the Stone House, but Longstreet’s attacks on the other flank simply drove the few Union defenders into a panic. This panic was soon turned into a total rout as Stuart’s cavalry got involved with the attack. Within a hour, Longstreet’s Corps, lead by Kemper’s division, had swung around behind the Union centre, and were soon attacking the rear of the Union positions at the Stone House. In doing so, the vast majority of the Union Army of Virginia, including its commanding general, had been surrounded. They would not last out the day.
News of the annihilation of the Union Army of Virginia did not reach Washington until the next morning. Lincoln was in deep shock and was incapable of making any decisions until the following day. By then it was far too late. Washington was basically void of defenders save for a 10 000 manned garrison. More to the point, Lee knew this. Having had several victories, seemingly against great odds, taking and occupying Washington appeared to be the next logical step to him. And it was seen as the next step which may see an end to the Civil War albeit risky. Convinced, however, that McClellan would not try to conduct a similar stunt on Richmond, Lee decided to take the gamble.
It now, though, became a race of the ignorant. Lee had no idea, that on the day he would march on Washington with 50 000 or so troops, McClellan’s 53 000 troops were embarking on ships sailing their way to Washington. Furthermore, McClellan had not yet been informed of the fate of Pope’s Union army, whilst Lee had not been informed yet of McClellan’s evacuation. Had Lee known this, Washington would never have been occupied, as Lee would have feared that he may have soon been surrounded and forced to surrender with his entire army.
As it was, it was not to be. Although the Washington defences were impressive, they were only manned by 10 000 troops, none of whom had seen combat, which ensured Washington fell to the Confederates after a long five hour battle. Mind the Confederates did not gain victory easy. Instead, by achieving their victory, over the Washington garrison, an horrendous casualty figure of 12 000 dead and wounded was accomplished, not to mention the deaths of several veteran generals. Even Longstreet was not immune to bullets, and suffered a gunshot to his body, although he was to fully recover after a few months of rest.
McClellan, though, was eventually warned of the situation in Washington and soon made plans to land his Army of the Potomac elsewhere, after a rather perilous journey up the Chesapeake, to the relative safe harbour of Baltimore. Here McClellan planned to continue the war by retaking Washington at the first opportunity. This, though, was something McClellan would never be given the chance to achieve. Lincoln, having escaped Washington prior to its occupation, now dismissed McClellan from the Army. Whilst US reinforcements soon flooded into Baltimore and the surrounding regions of Washington, in an effort to contain the Confederate success, Lincoln looked towards someone else to command the US Army in the Eastern Theatre. Alas Lincoln would choose one Ambrose Burnside.
Gallagher, G. W. The American Civil War: The war in the East 1861-1863, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, 2001
Konstam, A. Seven Days Battles 1862, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, 2004
Konstam, A. Fair Oaks 1862, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, 2003
Krick, K. K. The American Civil War: The war in the East 1863-1865, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, 2001
Langellier, J. Second Manassas 1862, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, 2002
Ward, G. C., Burns, R. & Burns, K. The Civil War, American Documentaries, London, 1991
And my thanks to maverick who started an ACW thread which sparked my interest in this scenario.
June 23rd, 2008, 12:59 AM
The Union Strikes Back
By David Atwell
Thomas Jackson had done it again. The Union army was beaten fairly and squarely. Robert E. Lee’s strategy had once again been proven victorious by sending Jackson’s "Foot Cavalry" on a wide outflanking march, around John Pope’s Union Army of Virginia, and had, along with Longstreet’s attack, annihilated it more or less entirely. Even the Union Capital, Washington DC, came under threat from Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, not to mention its actual occupation after a five hour long battle.
It was in this light, then, that all Union forces, especially those of George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac, reacted in trying to retake the Union capital from Rebel control. Nothing was certain and fear gripped the Union as to what was Lee’s next move. More to the point, deep down no Union general, nor soldier for that matter, thought that they could defeat Lee. And as a result the American Civil War could soon come to an end in favour of the Rebs.
Lincoln, though, having regained his composure, after fleeing Washington in rather indigent fashion, immediately sacked McClellan, as commanding general of the Army of the Potomac, and replaced him with Ambrose Burnside who was, at the time, consider a highly capable general and possibly just the man who could push Lee out of Washington and all the way back to Richmond. Given the fact that the Army of Northern Virginia was much weakened, by its assault upon the Union capital, this was seen as a distinct possibility.
Lee, meanwhile, was well aware of the dangers, especially in the light that his old warhorse, James Longstreet, had been wounded during the attack on Washington’s defences. Thankfully Longstreet’s wound was not life threatening, and he was able to convalesce in one of Washington’s many fine dwellings, though he was never far from Lee if required. Having said that, the Army of Northern Virginia was down to around 35 000 able soldiers at the beginning of September 1962. This alone made Lee think that the capture of Washington was not worth the price of victory.
Burnside quickly took to planing for the liberation of Washington DC. At first he reinforced the Union front lines, which now stretched across Maryland in an arch from east to west, to the north of the Potomac and Washington itself. It was McClellan’s last arrangement, which made much sense, as it ensured that Lee’s army was more or less bottled up in its bridgehead at Washington. McClellan, though, with only about 53 000 troops was in no position to threaten Lee, even if he wanted to, not to mention he had just been relived of command. Burnside, though, thanks to reinforcements rushing into Maryland, was soon able to increase his numbers to 100 000, in a matter of a week or two, by combining several nearby garrisons, like Baltimore, along with new recruits.
Now enjoying superior numbers, Burnside wasted little time in moving two veteran corps of the Peninsular Campaign to the south of the Potomac in the first stage of his plan. This move, by around 35 000 troops, would threaten Lee with encirclement, something which Lee feared from the beginning. This move, however, by the Union happened to run into a Confederate column of reinforcements lead by Magruder, who’s force had left Harrison’s Landing a week previously, with orders to reunite with the main body of the Army of Northern Virginia. Although Magruder’s command of 12 000 was greatly outnumbered, the two Union corps, under the overall command of General Sumner, did not push the issue fearing that a trap maybe in the offering, and withdrew from the field of battle. Magruder, for his part, then made an error by leaving behind a small division of 2 000 troops, to watch further Union movements, then marched to Washington with the rest of his command as ordered by Lee.
Even with the rebuff of Burnside’s initial steps, on 20 September, he decided that his plan would continue albeit modified. Consequently, when his main attack would take place, the following day, he would use the distraction thus caused for the two corps under Sumner’s command to try again in its efforts to encircle the Army of Northern Virginia. And if an extra 10 000 Rebels were about to be netted, in the process, then all the better as far as Burnside was concerned.
Lee, for his part, realised the danger of the situation, when Magruder arrived in the evening of 20 September. Not only was he annoyed at Magruder for not establishing a strong defensive position to the south of Washington, even if in defiance of his original orders, but Lee pretty much accepted that the 2 000 Confederate troops left behind were about to be overrun, which was an unacceptable loss to him.
Sure enough, as Lee had feared, Sumner’s troops simply steamrolled over the small Confederate division at dawn the next morning. At best they were able to dispatch a rider to inform Lee of what he already suspected. But if that was not bad enough, Lee’s other prediction came true, as at 9am the same morning, Burnside had arranged for a phalanx of 20 000 Union troops to attack the centre of Lee’s line. Although Longstreet was still supposed to be convalescing, after hearing the first cannons speak out, he was soon out of bed and limping towards the headquarters of I CSA Corps, and took control, even if General McLaws felt slightly annoyed at having been replaced as corps commander for the upcoming battle and his chance at glory. Lee however, even though he ordered Longstreet back to bed, which Longstreet refused to obey by the way, was nevertheless grateful that his old warhorse had taken command of his corps once more.
As history would clearly demonstrate, though, Burnside made a massive mistake. Thinking that his phalanx would roll over the defending Confederates, due to a mix of a heavy artillery bombardment combined with a solid mass of men, did not take into account two things. The first was the formidable defences which, ironically, had been built by Union forces to ward off any attacker. And the second was those defences were manned by veteran soldiers, under the command of James Longstreet, who was arguably the best defensive general on either side.
Yet, in spite of all this, 20 000 Union troops marched into the breach of Hell itself in a desperate attempt to evict the Confederate interlopers from their nation’s capital city. Needless to say, it did not work. Instead, after an hour or so of fighting, over 10 000 of these brave men had become casualties. Undeterred Burnside was determined to continue the attack. As a result the 10 000 man reserve force, slotted to enter the fray if and when a breach was achieved, were also sent into the vortex. It mattered little as this further force was likewise smashed as where the earlier assaults. In the end, soldiers, regardless of rank, simply disobeyed orders to continue the attack and it had come to a halt by early afternoon.
The Union survivors did whatever they could in order to return to the relative safety of their own lines. Some where shot down by Confederates, in some parts of the line, whilst others made it back in one piece as the Confederate troops, like members of the Irish Brigade, refused to fire upon these poor wretched souls. Lee, when he came to inspect the carnage close up, stated in a surreal fashion: "It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we would become too fond of it". Confederate Colonel Gordon, however, was more to the point: "It wasn’t war, it was simply murder".
The Race to Hancock
Even though the Army of Northern Virginia had achieved another great victory, it was nevertheless facing strategic annihilation. On 22 September, although the battlefield was intensely quiet after the previous day’s carnage, Lee ordered Jeb Stuart to send a cavalry force to the south to reconnoitre the Union positions located there. Not travelling more than ten odd miles, Stuart returned to inform Lee that the Union had established strong defences that would take several hours to defeat. It seemed that, even though Burnside had lost 20 000 troops in one day, to the cost of fewer than 1 000 Confederates, Burnside had at least trapped the Army of Northern Virginia. It was merely a matter of time, or so it seemed, before total defeat. Lee, however, thought otherwise.
Lee now decided to break out of Washington, but not to the south. Instead he would attack to the west through the Union defences just north of the Potomac and the Chesapeake-Ohio Canal. Considering Longstreet was still not fully healthy, regardless of his activity in repelling Burnside’s Folly, Jackson, considered the better offensive commander anyway, was given orders to attack the next morning on 23 September followed by a full evacuation of Washington as soon as possible. This was quickly achieved as the Army of the Potomac was caught unawares by Jackson’s break out attempt, not to mention it had been severely weakened by the slaughter of two days earlier, and that Burnside had been sacked on the evening of 22 September by Lincoln. Ironically, Lincoln turned back to McClellan, after the Burnside’s Folly disaster, as he believed he had no other choice at the time in question.
McClellan, for his part, did not overly want to return to active duty on the night of 22 September. Furthermore, he had not even arrived at the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac when Jackson conducted his attack. Consequently no one quite knew what to do, save for the local Union commander on the spot who, although put up a brave defence, was nevertheless overrun for his efforts. Lee had thus gained his break out and, before McClellan could order a general assault upon Washington, the Army of Northern Virginia had escaped and was on the run in a westerly direction as per Lee’s plan.
Unfortunately for Lee, not everything would work his way, fore mistakenly a copy of his plan had been left behind which was soon discovered by some Union soldiers. These plans were immediately sent to army headquarters. McClellan, hence, now had the opportunity to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia in his hands. Lee’s plan, for the evacuation of Maryland, became infamously known as Special Orders No 191:
Special Orders, No. 191
Hdqrs. Army of Northern Virginia
September 23, 1862
The citizens of Fredericktown being unwilling while overrun by members of this army, to open their stores, in order to give them confidence, and to secure to officers and men purchasing supplies for benefit of this command, all officers and men of this army are strictly prohibited from visiting Fredericktown except on business, in which cases they will bear evidence of this in writing from division commanders. The provost-marshal in Fredericktown will see that his guard rigidly enforces this order.
Major Taylor will proceed to Sharpsburg, Maryland, and arrange for transportation of the sick and those unable to walk to Winchester, securing the transportation of the country for this purpose. The route between this and Culpepper Court-House east of the mountains being unsafe, will no longer be traveled. Those on the way to this army already across the river will move up promptly; all others will proceed to Winchester collectively and under command of officers, at which point, being the general depot of this army, its movements will be known and instructions given by commanding officer regulating further movements.
The army will resume its march tomorrow, taking the Hagerstown road. General Jackson's command will form the advance, and, after passing Middletown, with such portion as he may select, take the route toward Harper’s Ferry, cross the Potomac at the most convenient point, and by Friday morning take possession of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, capture such of them as may be at Martinsburg, and intercept such as may attempt to escape from that place.
General Magruder’s command will pursue the same road as far as Boonsborough, where it will halt, with reserve, supply, and baggage trains of the army.
General McLaws, with his own division and that of General R. H. Anderson, will follow General Longstreet. On reaching Middletown will take the route to Harpers Ferry, and by Friday morning possess himself of the Maryland Heights and endeavor to ensure that any pursuing forces are repulsed.
General J. E. Johnston, with his command, after accomplishing the object in which he is now engaged, will cross the Potomac at Cheek's Ford, ascend its right bank to Lovettsville, take possession of Loudoun Heights, if practicable, by Friday morning, Key's Ford on his left, and the road between the end of the mountain and the Potomac on his right. He will, as far as practicable, cooperate with General McLaws and Jackson, and occupy Harper’s Ferry.
General D. H. Hill's division will form the rear guard of the army, pursuing the road taken by the main body. The reserve artillery, ordnance, and supply trains, &c., will precede General Hill.
General Stuart will detach a squadron of cavalry to accompany the commands of Generals Longstreet, Jackson, and McLaws, and, with the main body of the cavalry, will cover the route of the army, bringing up all stragglers that may have been left behind.
The commands of Generals Jackson, McLaws, and Walker, after accomplishing the objects for which they have been detached, will join the main body of the army at Winchester.
Each regiment on the march will habitually carry its axes in the regimental ordnance—wagons, for use of the men at their encampments, to procure wood &c.
By command of General R. E. Lee
R.H. Chilton, Assistant Adjutant General
Essentially Lee’s plan, although party based upon deception, required the capture of Harper’s Ferry in order to get the Army of Northern Virginia into the relatively safe region of the Shenandoah Valley. Here Lee believed that his army would be out of danger. However, if something went wrong, the fate of the Army of Northern Virginia could easily end in disaster.
As luck would have it, though, disaster did almost take place for Lee, until it was discovered, to the senior Confederate commander’s complete horror, that a copy of Special Orders No 191 had been left behind. Furthermore McClellan, now in possession of the means of Lee’s defeat, immediately set off in pursuit. Lee, however, now aware of the huge mistake, reacted accordingly, and his well made plans, detailed in the lost special orders, were forthwith rescinded.
In their place, Lee issued orders to all his commanders, most notably to Jackson at Harpers Ferry who had been held up by the very stubborn defence offered by the Union garrison there of 20 000 troops under the command of General George Thomas, to immediately withdraw to the north-west and away from their current positions. They were to move at best speed in order to place as much distance as they could between themselves and the Union Army of the Potomac, which had just managed to gain the passes crossing South Mountain. At some point, though, to the north-west of Sharpsburg, Lee planed to then form up on favourable ground and offer battle to McClellan.
Battle of Hancock
As the Army of Northern Virginia began its hasty withdrawal, with the Army of the Potomac hot on its heals, the Confederate marching order was reasonably well organised. In front Stuart’s cavalry advanced, scouting ahead, ensuring that the road was clear. Next came Magruder’s small command, effectively a new separate corps comprised of hastily assembled troops numbering no more than 10 000, which had only just come together a few weeks before. It was a testament to the Army of Northern Virginia’s organisational skills, not to mention Magruder’s somewhat overlooked abilities as a general, that he had managed to, not only organise this small corps in a matter of weeks, but that it was marching in a somewhat organised fashion under such dramatic conditions.
When the Army of Northern Virginia came upon Hagerstown, Magruder suggested to Lee that they make a stand, but Longstreet was immediately against it. Jackson was not too keen on the idea either, although thought having Antietam Creek as a natural barrier, between them and the pursing Army of the Potomac, could be used with great advantage. Lee, though, agreed with Longstreet. He believed that they would have to keep marching westward, and then make a stand, where his concern about his flanks were satisfied.
It was a very prudent decision by Lee as McClellan’s force grew in strength by the hour. The biggest addition would be that of the majority of the Harper’s Ferry garrison including its commander General George Thomas. Redesignated as US V Corps, the extra 15 000 troops ensured that McClellan outnumbered Lee’s 45 000 troops by two to one. Although Lee was not aware of the exact figure, he knew well enough that McClellan had a major advantage in numbers. Consequently the battlefield, which Lee was to choose, had to be able to counter this clear advantage. Yet this did not happen until the Army of Northern Virginia came upon the township of Hancock.
Day One - 7 October 1862
Although Hancock, in early October 1862, was not a major town in any fashion, it did nevertheless have railroads, the Potomac, the Cheasapeake-Ohio Canal, not to mention several roads, all either going through or around it. It was also well located, geographically speaking, so that the Army of Northern Virginia could enter the relative safety of the Shenandoah Valley from the north, thus keeping any pursuer honest in their attempts to attack the rear of Lee’s army. But the most important aspect was the local terrain. Although the ridge line, which the town was located on, was an impressive looking location to deploy an army, the ridge line to the west of Hancock was even better.
As a consequence, even though Lee first thought about establishing his line on the town of Hancock itself, he selected the better ground to the west of the town. Thus Lee established his initial position on Blue Hill. Here Longstreet’s corps made its line southward down to the banks of the Potomac River and then northward to Kirk Woods through until Longstreet finally anchored his right on Little Tonoloway Creek. Immediately north of this location (in other words across the creek) Jackson started his line. This continued north towards Wardfordsburg where Magruder’s Corps took over the line until where it ended at Big Tonoloway Creek. Across Big Tonoloway Creek, Stuart’s cavalry was deployed to cover the open flank, even though it was well protected thanks to Big Tonoloway Creek.
Some four hours later, at around 4pm, the Army of the Potomac arrived by way of Pleasonton’s cavalry corps. McClellan was immediately informed of the situation and made his plans accordingly. Assuming Lee was now prepared to offer battle, McClellan returned to his slow methodical ways, but in this instance he was right to proceed cautiously as any rash attack would have been met with disaster. Consequentially, over the remaining hours before nightfall, McClellan established the beginning of his battleline where Little Tonoloway Creek enters the Potomac River. It then parallelled Longstreet’s line to the east of Kirk Woods. The Union line then headed north, again parallel to Lee’s line, and finally ended east of Wardfordsburg at Big Tonoloway Creek. Finally Pleasonton’s Cavalry probed further north and, by dusk, had made contact with their Confederate counterparts. Like Lee, McClellan based most of his line on a hill line, although Lee's position enjoyed the advantage of the higher ridge.
Both sides then awaited the dawn, knowing that the battle which could decide the outcome of the War, was about to begin.
Day Two 8 October 1862
McClellan wasted little time in planning the forthcoming battle. It was a somewhat complicated plan, but simple enough nevertheless. Basically it would involve an attack on three fronts albeit taking place at slightly different times in an effort to confuse the enemy, forcing Lee to send reinforcements to his flanks, then assaulting the centre which would, presumably, be weakened.
Henceforth the Army of the Potomac first attack began around 6:30am by US XII Corps towards Wardfordsburg. Accompanying US XII Corps, further north across Big Tonoloway Creek, Pleasonton’s Cavalry advanced en masse and engaged Stuart’s cavalry. As per McClellan’s plan, the attack had the appearance that the Army of the Potomac was trying to turn Lee’s northern flank. Of course this was not necessarily McClellan’s main intention, but it was certainly what he wanted to impress upon Lee.
The next attack, in McClellan’s plan, began at the opposite end of Lee’s line. Concentrated along the railway line and canal, next to the Potomac River, this took place around 8:00am. Here US I Corps, with artillery support, conducted its demonstration to give the appearance that it was trying to leaver away Longstreet’s Corps grip on the Potomac River flank. Again it gave the appearance that McClellan was trying to turn the Confederate flank, albeit the southern one this time. In reality, once again though, it was merely a deception to hide the main attack which came next.
McClellan’s third and main attack now took place at where Little Tonoloway Creek cut Lee’s battleline between Longstreet’s and Jackson’s Corps. Massed Union artillery announced this attack had commenced thanks to a massive bombardment at 9:30am. After 20 minutes of this continuous artillery barrage, USA II Corps moved to establish their support line to the south of the main line of attack. Similarly, just to their north, the reconstituted US VI Corps moved forward to establish a similar support line facing north.
In between the two supporting US Corps, US III Corps commenced its main attack along the northern shoreline of Little Tonoloway Creek heading directly west. Behind US III Corps came the new US V Corps of Thomas. The main objective of US III Corps was to force a breach in Jackson’s line so that US V Corps could exploit this hole and cut the Army of Northern Virginia in two. As a result of this action of US V Corps, both Jackson’s and Magruder’s Corps could then be enveloped, thus destroying a large part of Lee’s Army.
Jackson, however, even though he wanted to move his line forward towards the Union positions that morning, put his plans on hold when the first Union cannons were heard towards the north at around 6:30am. He, nevertheless, issued orders to his divisional commanders for a counterattack towards the south just when US I Corps began its attack at 8am. In doing so, having such a precaution soon paid dividends when US II and VI Corps began their attack some 90 minutes later.
Thus by 10am the bulk of Jackson’s Corps was beginning to head south once the main US bombardment had finished. Jackson’s counterattack, though, headed right into US VI Corps support line and the Confederates were soon stopped. Meanwhile, thanks to this action between Jackson’s Corps and US VI Corps, US III Corps advanced almost unchallenged towards a lone Confederate brigade blocking the way. Lee, now realising the objective of McClellan’s main attack, ordered several of Longstreet’s brigades forward to send enfilade fire into US III Corps’ flank. This desperate action slowed US III Corps progression, giving much relief to the defending Confederate brigade, but Longstreet's Corps soon gained the attention of Union counter fire as some of US III Corps brigades deployed into line to fire back across Little Tonoloway Creek at Longstreet's redeployed brigades. Furthermore, supporting Union artillery began to pound Longstreet’s brigades who were involved in the fight with US III Corps.
Nevertheless, this action by Longstreet’s Corps significantly slowed US III Crops advance down, that being the desired result, which in turned permitted Jackson’s Corps valuable time to react. Thus a division of Jackson’s Corps was able to counterattack the head of US III Corps advance hence stopping the Union troops cold in their tracks. Not long afterwards, however, US V Corps came storming through the stalled lines of US III Corps and into the defiant division of Confederate troops from Jackson’s Corps.
As this action was taking place, a worried Lee looked on as US V Corps was able to push the Confederate defenders back and a hole soon appeared in the line. Alas, with US III Corps more or less exhausted, and the supporting US II and VI Corps far too busy with their own battles, US V Corps was on their own. Thomas, however, realised that the moment of truth had come, desperately tried to re-organise V Corps attack having seen its emphasis falter after their initial breakthrough, and attempted to push on once again as per his orders.
Alas for Thomas, though, enough Confederate reinforcements, a mix-mash of brigades from all three CSA Corps, arrived to block any further Union advance. After a further hour of constant and desperate fighting on both sides, Thomas ordered a fighting withdrawal. Soon, in an organised fashion, US III Corps fell back with US V Corps. US II and VI Corps, however, stayed in their support positions where they had already begun to entrench an hour or so before.
Lee’s line had been battered, even severely bruised, but it eventually held. Both sides took a deep breath in order to assess the day’s actions and events, but no further fighting took place, save for some snipping and the like.
Day Three 9 October 1862
The third day of battle would start with only a few minor engagements. The most notable of these commenced at around 8am when US XII Corps once again attacked Wardfordsburg, but the attack was rebuffed as it was the pervious day. Similarly Pleasonton’s US Cavalry engaged Stuart’s Confederate Cavalry, but again nothing was decisive, with the cavalry clash considered a draw.
Nevertheless, in an effort to placate Jackson’s calls for an attack, Lee finally relented at around 11am. Although he gave his approval for Jackson’s Corps to launch an attack at 1pm, on the entrenched US VI Corps positions, Lee thought little would come of it due to the fact that Jackson’s Corps faced much of the fighting the day before. Nonetheless, by 2pm, the ferocious Confederate attack had forced both US VI Corps and US II Corps back to their start line of the previous day. But Lee’s opinion proved to be more or less correct, when Jackson’s Corps had no further strength remaining and could not purse the two retreating Union Corps any further. Far more importantly, however, for the Confederates, Jackson’s attack convinced Lee that the Army of Northern Virginia could no longer remain in Maryland, having used almost all of its artillery supplies and much of its remaining ammunition for the infantry.
Orders for a general withdrawal were thus authorised and plans were made accordingly.
Consequentially, at dawn on the fourth day, Lee began his withdrawal. Contrary to concerns amongst the Confederate senior commanders, about a sudden Union attack, McClellan offered no major threat and the Army of Northern Virginia was able to slip away without any challenge. The battle was over. Essentially it was a draw, even though it was Lee who had to withdraw and surrender the contest of the battlefield to the Army of the Potomac. McClellan immediately claimed it as a victory. But that did not matter to Lincoln who, furious that Lee was able to escape instead of being annihilated, fired McClellan for good. McClellan would never be given a third chance and was replaced by General Joseph Hooker.
Hooker would be a mixed bag for Union fortunes. With his appointment as GOC of the Army of the Potomac, his energy and reforms quickly raised the morale and hopes of this unfortunate army. Realising several mistakes of the past had to be corrected, Hooker immediately instituted a professional military intelligence department, which soon proved to be a great improvement over previous arrangements. He also introduced standardised bugle calls, divisional and corps insignia, not to mention better administration for the army as a whole.
Yet, even with all these improvements, when Hooker took to the battlefield in 1863, some six months after the Battle of Hancock, Hooker would prove to be no better a combat general than those which he had replaced. Once again the Army of the Potomac would be defeated and pursued back north, although Hooker did manage not to have it suffer anything akin to what it had previously experienced whilst also being able to claim the death of Stonewall Jackson. Still, that did not stop Lincoln from sacking Hooker, not long afterwards, when Lee invaded Maryland once more in June of 1863, and replaced him with General George Meade. And as the Battle of Gettysburg demonstrated, Lincoln finally got the general he wanted: even if allowing for the fourth day of battle at Gettysburg...
Engle, S. D. The American Civil War: The war in the west 1861-63, London, 2001.
Gallagher, G. W. The American Civil War: The war in the east 1861-63, Oxford, 2001.
Konstam, A. Seven Days Battles 1862, Oxford, 2004.
Stevens, N. S. Antietam 1862, Oxford, 1994.
Ward, G. C. Burns, R. & Burns, K. The Civil War, London, 1991.
AH.Com (http://www.alternatehistory.com) especially the thread started by Jason Sleeman, as well as Kurt Steiner, Justin Green, Hyperion, & the other’s who contributed to that thread (http://www.alternatehistory.com/discussion/showthread.php?t=12731&page=4&highlight=topographical).
Military History Online, (http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/)
June 23rd, 2008, 10:56 PM
Gettysburg: The Fourth Day
Meade Counterattacks Lee
By David Atwell
Colonel Joshua Chamberlain could not believe it. After his glorious victory the day before, on Little Round Top, his 20th Maine Regiment had been transferred to the so-called “safest part of the battlefield” in the centre. Within a day, when Chamberlain thought that war could not get any worse, the 20th Maine was once more involved in the fighting during Pickett’s Charge. Although the 20th Maine was on the fringe of the horrific, yet famous Charge, Chamberlain nevertheless was witness to the battle. The Civil War, Chamberlain thought, had to end now otherwise it would just get terrifyingly worse.
Surely General Meade would counterattack & end the war, as the Rebels must have no more troops to join the fight. Looking around him, Chamberlain’s fellow Union men thought the same & were wanting to get at the Rebels as they chanted “Fredericksburg!” over & over again. The morale of the Union men was higher than ever. All wanted to charge the fleeing Rebels right now in a manner similar to that done by the 20th Maine only the day before. But this time it could be more than merely a regiment of the Rebel army captured - it could be the entire Rebel army itself.
Yet, even veteran soldiers like Chamberlain, knew a counterattack by the Army of the Potomac just could not go charging across the field without some form, order, & above all, disciple. This required planing & that meant time. Any ill conceived attack would result in the same manner as suffered just now by the Rebels. Nonetheless, some Union units were getting impatient regardless of orders to hold fast. The E/Knap Pennsylvania Light Battery, commanded by Lieutenant Chas Atwell, had already lumbered & were eager to move forward without orders. “I’m off to Richmond boys, who’s with me?” shouted Atwell. He was, however, quickly ordered by Brigadier General John Geary to hold fast unless commanded otherwise. Atwell swore, as did several hundred other soldiers, but he obeyed his divisional commander albeit grudgingly.
The Battle of Gettysburg would go down in history as the largest battle ever to be fought by Americans on American soil. No other battle was like it previously, although several were rather horrific, & none have been larger than it since. It was, also, to have a more meaningful national significance than few other events in American history. Yet, at the time, instead of awe & wonder at this event, it was viewed with much pain & suffering. Few, in the United States, have ever known such things, & yet all should be grateful for the deeds that where done there, in those four days of July 1863. For, even though the two sides may have been enemies, they were nonetheless Americans, fighting for what they believed in; fighting for their freedom.
A Meeting of Captains
In the aftermath of Pickett’s Charge, Meade hesitated to order an immediate counter-attack. Union causalities at the Bloody Angle alone were about 1 500 troops. Hancock, nevertheless, in a message to Meade commented that Lee’s army was broken. There was little which Lee could do to repulse a Union attack here & now. All that was required was for Meade to order the V & VI Corps to attack.
Yet Meade was deeply concerned about the welfare of his troops. They had been engaged in constant battle for three days now. Many units were disorganised & unsupplied. Furthermore his commanders had suffered too. Gibbon was wounded as was Hancock & Sickles, whilst Reynolds was dead. There was no knowing whether the Army of the Potomac could thus launch an immediate counter-attack.
Nonetheless, later that day, Meade called his commanders together for the most crucial of meetings. Meade well & truly understood that he could attack, & possibly end the war, but he was not prepared to act alone. Previous army commanders had attacked without consultation & had failed miserably. Meade was made of different stuff. Meade was open to suggestions.
Thus, it did not take long for Pleasonton to state “General, I will give you half an hour to show yourself a great general. Order the army to advance, while I take the cavalry to get in Lee’s rear, and we will finish the campaign in a week.”
Pleasonton immediately gained the support of most of the commanders present, especially Hancock, Doubleday and Howard. All of them argued that their troops were now of the highest morale & that an attack in the morning would succeed. They all, however, failed to mention that Pleasonton’s cavalry had missed much of the fighting & had not been as badly mauled as most of the infantry.
Meade, although wanting to accept Pleasonton’s position, was still wry of Lee’s uncanny ability to gain a victory from certain defeat. Lee had achieved this so many times in the past, that it had become legend. Meade replied to his generals “How do you know Lee will not attack?” There was no answer at first. Meade went on “We have done enough.”
“We have not done enough” spoke up Hancock.
“General,” Pleasonton cut in, “Lee’s army is clearly shattered. He is far from supply & low on ammunition. We can defeat him here & now.”
Pleasonton made an important point which made an impact on Meade. Meade replied to Pleasonton’s argument by inviting him & the others to view the battlefield & sum up the abilities of the Union soldiers. One thing became immediately clear - the Union troops wanted to attack, even though they realised it would be tough going. This morale of spirit would become the clincher for Meade.
Taking in a deep breath of this contagious morale, Meade turned to his commanders: “We’ll attack at dawn. But, General Pleasonton, I want you to go in with the infantry. When they get bogged down, and they will, I want a massed cavalry attack to break the Rebel’s lines.”
Pleasonton went pale in colour. As far as Meade was concerned, if this attack failed, the man who demanded a counter-attack would fail with it. And if Pleasonton died along with the failed attack, well that was just fine with Meade. He could have someone to blame other than himself. With any luck, Meade could hold onto command unlike so many others who had commanded the Army of the Potomac.
Dawn 4th July
In the early light, before dawn on July 4, the Union army took up its positions along Cemetery Ridge. It was a strange sight for American Civil War engagements. For the first time, the cavalry was to be involved in a battle en masse. On both wings, Pleasonton had positioned two large bodies of cavalry. On the southern wing, the 2nd Cavalry Division was positioned, whilst on the northern wing was positioned the 3rd Cavalry Division. The 1st Cavalry Division, that of Buford’s, was placed to the south of Benner’s Hill to ensure that Southern cavalry could not get behind the Union lines & cause trouble.
In order to protect the northern wing, the Union counter-attack line started from Bloody Angle, where the 3rd Cavalry Division was located, & then down towards Little Round Top. Next in line was, thus, VI Corps; in the centre was XII Corps; & then to the south was V Corps. Finally, as mentioned, 2nd Cavalry Division was between V Corps & the base of Little Round Top. Supporting this attack were numerous artillery batteries, not only in the line, but also positioned on top of Little Round Top & Cemetery Hill. All told, some 22 000 infantry, 6 000 cavalry & 3 000 artillerymen were about to attack the Army of Northern Virginia. It was a force greater than Pickett’s Charge the day before.
Their first objective was probably the most critical, for if they could not achieve this, the Army of Northern Virginia could escape with relative ease. Hence, at dawn, the Union counter-attack commenced heading for Sherfy House on the Emmitsburg Road. The effect of this move would see Longstreet’s Corps cut in two. This location was also picked because, it was thought due to Picket’s Charge, that this area was probably the weakest point in the entire Rebel line.
Having said that, though, Meade refused to take any chances. As the Rebel artillery had done to the Union lines yesterday, now the Union cannons would open up in order to help the infantry with their attack. Although firing blindly, on the presumed location of the Rebel line, the smoke & dust thus created also limited any view which the Rebels may have had of the advancing Union troops. This was a factor as was the morale boost given to the Union troops from yesterday. And even though the Union bombardment was not as great as the Rebel one, the previous day, it was spectacular all the same.
The commencement of the artillery bombardment, of course, was noticed by everyone. Needless to say, the exhausted Southern troops began to rally & form their battalions &, obviously, their companies. Yet, throughout Longstreet’s Corps, there was a noticeable number of men missing. Nonetheless, knowing that a Union attack was probably heading in their direction, the Rebels were prepared to meet it as they had always done.
Whilst the Rebels were getting busy with their preparations, the Great Union Attack, as it would become known, began in ernest. Spread out across two miles, the Union troops advanced under the cover of the artillery which had already began their barrage. Southern Artillery, however, took some time to answer their opposite numbers, & this was besides the fact that they were low on ammunition due to yesterday’s events. Furthermore, Longstreet quickly contacted Colonel Alexander, commander of the Rebel artillery, & ordered him to reserve as much of the artillery ammunition as possible, & wait until the Union lines were close enough for grapeshot. In a round about kind of way, Alexander had already issued such orders as the circumstances more or less dictated this anyway.
The Defiant Rebels
Thus a kind of silence met the Union troops as they marched towards the Rebel’s line which had formed along the Emmitsburg Road. Longstreet, using much experience, guessed approximately the location of the attack & placed Hood & McLaws divisions to the left & right of Sherfy House respectively. In reserve, was the much reduced division of Pickett numbering no more than 2 000 men, which was placed behind Sherfy House where it could reinforce either Hood or McLaws.
Longstreet, though, was not the only Southern General busy this morning. Lee, when he had hard the Union cannons open fire, began to assess the situation. Getting reports from Longstreet & Hill, Lee ordered Hill to move his right flank division, Pender’s Division, to move further right & link up with Hood. In a similar manner, the rest of Hill’s Corps was to stretch out to the right to ensure that a continuous Rebel line ran all the way from McLaws to the town of Gettysburg itself.
Furthermore, Lee, concerned that the Union may drive through Longstreet, sent orders to Ewell to withdraw from his position opposite Culp’s Hill to a position behind York Pike. Never before had Lee volunteered the surrender of ground without a fight, but he feared that he could lose an entire corps if such a manoeuvre had not been ventured. This would serve Lee well as events unfolded throughout the rest of the day.
The Union advance had, until now, taken place with the minimum of causalities before it had marched to Trostle House. It was at this point, about a quarter of mile from the Rebel’s lines, when Alexander’s artillery opened fire with much force. The Union line, however, was hardly touched as the men in Blue continued forward with the same determination & bravery as they had shown at Fredericksburg. This time, however, the Union men were convinced that the Southerners would give way. After the carnage of yesterday’s Pickett’s Charge, few Union troops believed that the Rebels had enough troops left standing in order to repel this morning’s attack.
Onward the Union troops went as if they were on a marching parade. But soon a small number of troops in the front line began to fall. It appeared that the Rebels had more troops than first realised. Meade, looking on from Little Round Top, began to fear the worst as Southern artillery began to cut holes in the Union lines. Matters only appeared to get worse as the Union troops began their rifle fire & started shooting at the Southern lines some 100 feet away. Now it came down to several salvos of rifle fire as regiment after regiment poured bullet after bullet into each other.
Without a doubt, the exchange was horrific. From a distance, little could be seen & Meade could only hope that the Union officers & troops could hold their ground, in the face of such hardship, & force their way through the Southern lines. Fundamentally, he prayed that this attack was not to be another Fredericksburg. He could never live with himself if he knew he would be responsible for the death of 10 000 men for no gain whatsoever. It was a time on a battlefield any decent general felt ill. And Meade was a decent general.
Meade’s plan, however, was merely beginning to unfold. Much of it was based around two things. The first was the Rebels were bound to put up a good defence, even if greatly outnumbered. And the second was Longstreet’s Corps should have lost a significant number of troops, due to the previous days fighting, & that a determined effort, by a large number of Union troops akin to the current attack, would be enough to gain victory. It had, though, one important part, which required the officers in the thick of battle to do, & that was attack at the opportune moment.
And this moment was soon coming. For twenty minutes, now, both armies stood opposite each other & blazed away with their files & cannons. The Union troops were giving as much as they took. But it was not the infantry which Lee began to be concerned about, as he watched on from Seminary Ridge, it was the Union cavalry. So far in the battle, the Union cavalry remained in their positions, on the flanks of the infantry line & out of the battle. Even the Southern infantry ignored their presence as they were too preoccupied with their opposite number. But Lee wondered what their purpose was, as so far, it appeared that they had no purpose at all.
Still, Lee could not take the chance that the Union cavalry would still remain out of the battle. Orders were soon sent out to JEB Stuart to bring as much of his Southern cavalry to the location of the current battle &, if need be, counter whatever moves the Union cavalry carries out. Although the orders went out as fast as possible, the only problem is it took some time in order to reach Stuart. Being on the extreme left of the battlefield, the Southern cavalry was located around Benner’s Hill. As a result, the orders took about an hour to reach Stuart, & it was another 30 minutes before the Southern Cavalry division was mounted up & on the way to their new location. As events would unfold, the Southern cavalry was about 30 minutes too late.
Whilst Stuart was getting his orders, other generals were likewise getting their orders. It was now Pleasonton’s time. Having kept a careful eye on the battle before him, as he was there in person, Pleasonton had orders from Meade to intercede in the infantry battle when it appeared that the Rebel’s resistance began to fade. This took some time, in fact it was almost an hour before there was a noticeable reduction in the Rebel’s firepower, yet even then it was still deadly. The Union causality rate amongst the infantry was rising towards 5 000 & still the Rebels had not withdrawn. This strong Rebel resistence took place for a lot of reasons, but one of them was Longstreet’s presence in the front line, not to mention the fact that each Rebel knew exactly the consequences should the Union men win.
Still, although Pleasonton wanted to attack earlier, he nevertheless stuck to his orders. This was soon to change, & when the Southern artillery began to run our of ammunition, Pleasonton quickly sent word to David Gregg, commander of the 2nd Union Cavalry division, to watch Pleasonton’s lead & attack when the 3rd Union Cavalry division did so. Pleasonton made it quite clear, too, that nothing was to be held back. Victory or defeat now rested with the Union cavalry.
Thus, with sword drawn, Pleasonton yelled “Charge!”. Due to the noise over the battlefield, however, only his nearby comrades heard him. But it was enough. The bugler heard his order & began to play “Charge”. It was not long, only a mere second or two in fact, before 3 500 horsemen began their attack. Pleasonton headed straight for the middle of the Rebel’s line, that being Sherfy House, as per his orders. Not long afterwards, again as per their orders, Gregg gave the order to charge. Within a few seconds hence a further 2 500 horsemen charged the Rebel line, again heading towards Sherfy House.
The Rebels could not believe what was happening before them. Lee, on the other hand, had feared this possibility & had tried to compensate by having Stuart’s cavalry present. But, like for the first two days of battle at Gettysburg, Stuart was no where to be seen. Much of the Rebel’s defeat would be blamed on him, although to be fair, Stuart moved as fast as he could, once he received his orders, which, it must be said, took about an hour to reach him from Lee.
Having said that, the Union cavalry conducted the only such charge in the American Civil War. In an earlier time & place, cavalry charges were common, but, with the advent of the rifled musket, they had fallen out of favour. But not today. Today was a very different day. And the Union cavalry was ensuring victory this day, for as the cavalry charged, the Southern infantry forgot all about their opposite number & began to concentrate on the cavalry instead.
As a result of this, the Union cavalry began to take casualties in quick time. Yet they charged on. Through explosions, through fire, through death, the Union cavalrymen, & their horses, charged the centre of the Rebel line. Southern soldiers became desperate in their bid to stop the cavalry charge. Even the artillery men, now that they had no ammunition for their cannons, nevertheless, picked up a rifle & began firing at the hoard of horses & men before them. Yet nothing would stop the cavalry attack.
Within a minute, the Union cavalry crashed into the Rebel lines. Men & horses tumbled everywhere, whilst some Rebels where trodden under foot. Guns, pistols, swords & bayonets clashed in a climax to the battle. The noise was deafening. Madness swirled around everywhere as desperate horses & men struggled to survive the carnage of war. And just as it seemed the climax was reached, the Southerners were in a very rude shock.
For as the Union cavalry had entered the fray, the Union infantry, now free of the burden of gunfire, also charged as a second wave to the cavalry. Thus the sacrifice of almost 2 000 horsemen ensured that 15 000 infantry could now advance & take revenge upon the Rebel infantry. There was no hope for it now. Longstreet well & truly knew that his line could not hold the Union attack any longer. For his 8 000 troops, including Pickett’s depleted reserve, could not hold back the Union tide. He thus began to issue orders to retreat one second, whilst firing his pistol the next in defiance.
Rebels Without a Cause
Longstreet’s withdrawal, however, was as professional as always. Using Pickett’s reserve line as a shield, Hood & McLaws divisions could withdraw, whilst Pickett acted as the rearguard. Lee was now placed in a difficult position. There was no doubt that his right flank had been smashed & was in threat of being cut off from any retreat. Thus Lee issued the orders to both Hill & Ewell to begin the withdrawal down Hagerstowns Road as fast as possible. Lee also had new orders for Stuart to shield the army from the Union, which was now moving from Sherfy House towards Seminary Ridge, in an effort to cut the Army of Northern Virginia off from any roads heading south.
Lee’s withdrawal, though, started to become a mess just as it started. Ewell, who had moved earlier that morning, was still in transit to the east of Gettysburg. Having missed the battle so far this morning, Ewell’s Corps began to withdraw through Gettysburg, after Lee’s new orders arrived. Ewell’s Corps, however, began to get caught up with Hill’s withdrawal, although part of Hill’s Corps, Pender’s Division, was now starting to get involved with the left flank of the Union advance. As such, it had to defend the approaches to Seminary Ridge. If it did not, then everything in Gettysburg, & to the east, would be cut off.
In the middle of all this mess, Stuart’s Southern Cavalry division arrived on Seminary Ridge. Stuart needed little instruction from Lee to see where the great danger lied. For even though Longstreet’s fighting withdrawal was slowing up the main Union advance, Longstreet was not slowing the Union troops down fast enough. Clearly Stuart, with Lee’s consent, had to charge headlong into the Union centre in order to stop the Union troops getting to the top of Seminary Ridge & from their cut Hagerstown Road.
So, in another first in the American Civil War, the Southern Cavalry made a large scale cavalry attack upon the Union infantry. Or so they thought. For still with the Union infantry, the Union cavalry had reformed & kept guard over their infantry comrades just in case JEB Stuart was lurking around out there. Pleasonton, who had survived the Union charge earlier, saw Stuart’s movements, along with the Rebel deployments, & knew Stuart would charge. As a result, at the same time as Stuart was giving the order to charge, likewise Pleasonton give the same order to the Union cavalry.
The scene which followed could have been taken out of any large Napoleonic battle. Two large groups of cavalrymen charged at each other between the lines of the opposing infantry. Thankfully, though, for the cavalry, both sides artillery, at this point, were out of the battle. For the Southern side it was because they had run out of ammunition & were rapidly withdrawing, whilst for the Union, their infantry & cavalry had outpaced their artillery support. Hence, when the cavalry met in a thunderous clash of men & horses, the entire cavalry battle took place only between cavalrymen.
In many respects, the numbers involved in the cavalry battle, were somewhat even at about 4 000 troopers each. The Rebels had some advantage, that is they were fresh to the battle, but the Union had the euphoria that comes with victory. Having, about 30 minutes ago, overrun the Southern infantry positions in a glorious charge, the Union cavalrymen gave as good as they got from Stuart’s Rebels. The battle favoured one side, then the other, & there seemed little in it. For almost half an hour, the cavalry battle endured, until Stuart, noting that Union infantry was beginning to outflank the cavalry engagement, decided to retreat to Seminary Ridge.
One thing saved Stuart’s men, at the time, & that was the Union cavalry were exhausted. In truth, so were Stuart’s men, yet they had held up the Union advance for a precious half hour. In a similar fashion, so did Pickett’s Division, but it could not hold out forever. When it was obvious that his division had no hope of keeping back the Union advance, as Union artillery now joined the infantry in large numbers, Pickett’s Division collapsed & was routed.
Much to Lee’s dismay, the Union V Corps managed to slip through a gap between Herbst’s Woods & Seminary Hill. As a result, Hagerstown Road was now within their sight. For Longstreet, ironically, this action no longer affected him as his troops were already on the road & heading south, albeit in much confusion. Likewise, most of Hill’s Corps, except for Pender’s Division, had also escaped down Hagerstown Road. But it would not be so for Ewell’s Corps or Lee for that matter. Instead, Ewell’s Corp had to be content with escaping down Chambersburg Pike & then making its way south as best it could. Pender’s Division, however, was sacrificed in a desperate rearguard action, so that the Army of Northern Virginia could survive.
The Army of Northern Virginia managed to get back to friendly territory, but only after a horrible ordeal. Longstreet’s Corps was more or less smashed. Its original strength of 21 000 troops prior to Gettysburg, was down to 8 000 by the time it reached Virginia. Hill’s Corps, which started the campaign with 26 000 troops, was slightly better, but Pender’s entire division of 6 600 men was stricken off the Army List. In addition to this loss, a further 6 000 troops of Hill’s Corps were casualties of the fighting. In a similar manner, Ewell’s Corps of 20 000 troops also lost 6 000 troops as casualties from the fighting at Gettysburg, but a further 2 000 were lost in the gruelling retreat which followed. Only Stuart’s cavalry gained any glory from the retreat as it acted as the rearguard to Ewell’s Corps during the retreat.
All in all, the Union won a stunning victory at Gettysburg. It had, more or less, reduced the Army of Northern Virginia’s overall strength by about 50% over the battle which lasted four days. Of course, Meade was criticised greatly for allowing the Army of Northern Virginia to escape, yet in all fairness, Meade threw everything at Lee, yet Lee managed to escape nonetheless. But far more importantly, even though the Confederacy was still in the war, the victory had great emotional & psychological effects. Having won such a great victory on 4th of July gave new meaning to the Union cause of, not only preserving the Union, but also in its efforts to free the slaves.
Yet the most important aspect, to have come out of this most dreadful battle, was President Lincoln’s address. It would become the most eloquent & fundamental statement ever to be made:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.
To be continued...
Arnold, J. & Wiener, R. Gettysburg 1 July 1863 - Union: The Army of the Potomac, Oxford, 1998
Arnold, J. & Wiener, R. Gettysburg 1 July 1863 - Confederate: The Army of Northern Virginia, Oxford, 1998
Krick, R. K. The American Civil War: The war in the East 1863-1865, Oxford, 2001
Smith, C. Gettysburg 1863, Oxford, 1998
Ward, G. C. Burns, R. & Burns, K. The Civil War, London, 1991.
Gettysburg, directed by Maxwell, R. F. released by Turner Pictures, 2002.
Military History Online, (http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/)
July 13th, 2008, 11:43 AM
Johnston verse Grant for the West
by David Atwell
By 1864 the American Civil War had entered its third year. Events in the East had been dramatic, to say the least, and had henceforth dominated the headlines of newspapers across both the Union and the Confederacy. But it was not the only theatre of war which was fundamentally important to the conclusion of hostilities. The western theatre, often overlooked, was just as fundamental to the outcome of the war, even if not more so, for it was here that the Union, time and again, gained victory after victory over their Confederate counterparts.
The Confederacy, however, did have the occasional victory itself: the most prominent of which was at Chickamauga in 1863. But it was only one victory in a series of defeats until 1864, where the Confederacy had been defeated in definitive battles such as Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga. And constantly one Union general’s name was linked to all such victories: U. S. Grant. Although it is probably fair to say that Cassville was hardly a victory, which made up for the long list of such defeats, it was the first significant one suffered by Grant. This alone changed the dynamics out west long enough for the Union advance on Atlanta to stall, for a few precious months, making life somewhat easier for the Confederate course out west.
Grant of the West
General U.S. Grant was one of those anomalies in history that come out of insignificance and are then given the chance to change the course of history. However, when the Civil War started, he was not even in the army, but working in the family leather goods store in Galena, Illinois, where his brother was his boss. Yet that all changed once war started. Being a West Point graduate, something very rare in the region, Grant soon found himself in charge of a regiment. And not long after that he kept moving up the ranks to that of a general in charge of an army.
Soon he was winning victories when others around him, who fancied themselves more highly, where suffering heavy defeats. As McClellan was chased away from Richmond, in disastrous fashion, Grant had achieved victories at both Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. When Pope’s Union Army of Virginia was annihilated at Second Manassas, Grant won a bloody struggle at Shiloh. And even though politics saw Grant miss further action, albeit for only a couple of months during the Washington DC debacles and the Battle of Hancock, Lincoln finally refused all advice and returned Grant to army command declaring "I can’t spare this man; he fights!"
Grant, needless to say, did not disappoint. At the same time as US General George Meade achieved his great victory at Gettysburg, Grant likewise achieved more fame by capturing Vicksburg along with all of Pemberton’s Confederate army of about 30 000 troops. Still, even with such a victory, Grant was not given any time to celebrate. Instead there was more work to do out west in the aftermath of the Rebel victory at Chickamauga. Even though Grant would soon gain victory once more, from the Union jaws of defeat at the subsequent Battle of Chattanooga, oddly enough it was not sufficient to see Grant head to command the Eastern Theatre as many had rumoured.
As strange as it may seem Grant, though, was thankful at not having to head to the Eastern Theatre. It was not, however, due to any fear of the legend-like Robert E. Lee, who’s reputation of late had been tarnished somewhat, but it was because Grant had a great dislike of the politics involved by being so close to Washington DC. Having heard stories of McClellan’s experience, not to mention those from Joe Hooker (even if taken with a grain of salt) who had come under Grant’s command at Chattanooga, Grant was decidedly in favour of missing out on such things and simply preferred to be a good soldier. And this is all despite the fact that Meade, by conducting his huge fourth day counterattack at Gettysburg, which had seriously hurt the Army of Northern Virginia, had made enough currency with Lincoln in order to keep him in command in the East for the present.
As said, that was fine with Grant, who had already developed a grand plan anyway, for early 1864, and wanted to see it through personally. He would have an army, at his disposal, numbering at least 100 000 troops. This number was only just bettered by the Army of the Potomac, but unlike Meade, who faced around 55 000 Confederate troops, Grant reckoned he faced only 40 000 Rebels or thereabouts. With all things henceforth taken into account, considering all his commanders were now seasoned veterans with many a victory under their belts, Grant was confident that Atlanta would be in his hands by July 1864. His new Confederate counterpart, however, had different ideas.
The life of the Confederate Army of Tennessee was hardly that of an easy one. Its previous commander, Braxton Bragg, was disliked to say the least and his only significant victory was at Chickamauga. Yet even that victory should be awarded to James Longstreet, who after Gettysburg, found himself out west to remedy a bad situation. Consequentially, when Bragg was defeated by Grant at Chattanooga, even Bragg realised that he could no longer command. Confederate President Jeff Davis had to, thus, appoint someone and that turned out to be Joe Johnston.
Johnston, though, had had a mixed career as a general for the Confederacy and was far from liked by Davis. In fact they both loathed each other. However, by late 1863, Davis had no other choice. Furthermore Robert E Lee had gone as far as recommending Johnston for the job. Johnston took little time in getting to his new headquarters in order to assess the situation. Alas what he soon discovered, about the condition of the Army of Tennessee, was far from heartening. Still Johnston was given five months grace, by Grant, as the Union developed their plans and built up their logistics for the long slog to Atlanta that Grant was sure to come. Johnston did not disappoint.
Grant’s offensive, though, began with more of a whimper than with a bang. Even though the region around Chattanooga had been cleared of Confederate soldiers, south of Missionary Ridge, however, was a different story. Grant, though, enjoyed the advantage of numbers and Johnston was well aware of this. Consequently, when Grant’s army started its first steps south, the forward Confederate units slowly withdrew. Johnston’s plan was essentially to wear Grant’s army group down, possibly catch a part of it somewhat isolated, then pounce upon it doing great damage. This, though, was easier said than done as the one Confederate army faced three major commands: General McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee; Sherman’s Army of the Cumberland; and Schofield’s smaller Army of the Ohio; whilst a large cavalry corps also accompanied Grant’s army.
Even with this advantage against him, Johnston was still eager to conduct battle at Dalton, after McPherson’s army had manoeuvred some 15 miles to the west of the town, meaning the Confederates and the two Union armies baring down on them were roughly equal in numbers. But then, as Grant had planned, McPherson’s army began to swing east in an effort to outflank Johnston’s position. This, thus, forced the Confederates into a hasty retreat back to Resaca, where the Confederates once more tried to made a stand. But with little in the way of geography to stop McPherson, the Union general once more attempted another outflanking manoeuvre, meaning Johnston was given little choice but to once more withdraw or risk being surrounded and annihilated.
Needless to say, by 16 May, Grant’s army group had travelled almost half way to Atlanta, with little more than skirmishing and a few rearguard actions with the withdrawing Confederates. Meanwhile, on the Confederate side, alarm bells starting ringing even to the point where even Johnston admitted that something had to be done soon. As it was, some favourable ground was finally reached on 18 May, in the vicinity of Cassville, were the ability to outflank this position was minimal, although not impossible. Still Johnston decided to make his stand here. And Grant would be in for one huge shock the next morning.
Battle of Cassville
The Battle of Cassville came as complete surprise for the Union Army group where Grant had taken the somewhat risky option of placing Schofield’s smaller army, in truth the size of a large corps, on his left. His decision for doing so was to use this smaller force to feel out the Confederate positions, then pin them in place, until Sherman could come along and heavily attack them, whilst McPherson would be given the opportunity to get around behind the Confederates in an effort to envelop them.
So far the tactic had worked reasonably well and success had been achieved at both Dalton and Resaca. This had, though, all been based on the assumption that Johnston would fight a defensive campaign, a strategy which he was renowned for, and not go on the attack himself. Still, Grant believed, even if Schofield’s smaller command had to fight off such an attack, Sherman would be nearby to ensure no disaster would take place through offering massive support.
What Grant did not realise, however, that by Cassville, Johnston had gained reinforcements, in the form of Forrest’s Cavalry Corps and Polk’s Infantry Corps, which Johnston thought adequate in order to plan a sudden and violent attack. Furthermore Grant was not aware of the restrictive terrain, in the surrounding region of Cassville, and presumed that McPherson would once again swing around as he had previously. Thus an air of overconfidence hung over the Grant’s Union Army group, on the evening of 18 May, unaware of what was about to happen.
Day One (Cassville) - 19 May
The 19 May 1864 started out as any other so far in May with the Union army breaking camp and marching off south in their columns. As Schofield’s Army passed through Adairsville, nothing was seen of any Confederates. Slightly to the west, in the centre of the overall Union line, divided by a ridge, Sherman’s large Army marched in parallel to Schofield, whilst further west again, as previously, marched McPherson’s Army. Grant was with Sherman as they discussed plans for the day ahead. By 10 AM, however, all those plans had rapidly changed.
Out of nowhere, or so it seemed to Schofield and his soldiers, thousands of Rebels came charging out of hiding as they passed a large hill to their east. This happened at the worst of times, for the Union, as Sherman’s Army was out of visual contact with a large ridge line separating the two commands. Still, dispatch riders were immediately sent to get help, as the Union battleline formed up, but conducting a successful defence was easier said than done.
The first stage, thus, of Johnston’s plan had hence begun, although it was nearly called off at the last moment due to reports of a Union cavalry division somewhere to the east of Hood’s Corps. But Johnston was determined to attack, regardless, even though he did send off a cavalry division, under the command of Wheeler, in order to keep their Union counterparts away from Hood’s right flank. This having been done, Hood unleashed his Corps onto the unexpected Schofield.
It was not, though, as if Grant and Sherman had not heard the opening shots of the Battle of Cassville. On the contrary they both did, as did many in Sherman’s Army. Thus, as they had done previously, Sherman’s soldiers changed their heading, from towards the south, and marched east to assist Schofield just as dispatch riders arrived to inform Grant and Sherman of the situation. Both were surprised, as to the sudden surprise attack, yet responded with all haste. Not only was the double quick ordered, to rush along Sherman’s troops, but riders were sent to McPherson to arrive as soon as possible.
Being the veterans that they were, in the Army of the Cumberland, they were soon responding and organised their battlelines as they rushed east towards their comrades in trouble. At the same time, however, both Polk’s and Hardee’s Corps were moving orderly into line, to the west of Hood’s Corps, and ran straight into Sherman’s Army coming across from the west. Thus Sherman’s troops would never get to assist Scofield’s Army, which was soon on its own, as a second full-on battle now raged around Kingston located to the west of Cassville.
As a result of this, Scofield’s Army was soon forced, by sheer weight of numbers and firepower, into head long retreat. With Hood’s Corps right after them, Union troops were dropping like flies once order broke down. Scofield, though, near the end of his column, managed to organise a defence line around Adairsville, where Union survivors of Hood’s charge began to rally. This was somewhat effective, insofar as a potential rout was thus stopped, but what really saved the 7 000 or so Union survivors was the arrival of the leading elements of McPherson’s Army.
Like Sherman, McPherson wasted little time in heading east as per his orders which had already been prepared and carried out previously. However, even McPherson was not ready for the sight before him, when he reached the rear of Sherman’s command stalemated around Kingston, against the effective Rebel defence. In fact the combined Corps of both Polk and Hardee had even began to push the Union battleline backwards causing a large number of Union casualties in the process. Johnston, though, at this moment upon seeing McPherson’s columns marching towards him, now feared that he could be outflanked, in his current position, so he immediately ordered Hood to withdraw. Hood was not overly keen on the idea, having achieved so much in just over an hour or so, but understood the danger involved. Thus Schofield, even with much of his command destroyed, survived the battle along with some 7 000 of his soldiers.
Hood’s job, though, was far from over, for Johnston’s plan was still running along albeit the schedule had been rapidly moved up. Fore as Hood’s Corps withdrew, they immediately took up new positions at Allatoona Pass, just to the south of the Etawah River. Then, once in position, Polk’s Corps disengaged from Sherman’s battleline, followed by Hardee’s Corps, which acted as rearguard. Sherman’s Army was so badly mauled, having lost close to 7 000 troops, it could hardly pursue, whilst McPherson could only sit frustratingly where he was, as Sherman’s battleline blocked his path forward and the Etawah River, to the south, ensured it would take some time before any outflanking manoeuvrer could be attempted.
Although Wheeler’s Cavalry Division would be involved in combat, with its Union counterpart, for the rest of the day, little other fighting took place. Basically it was over by 2 PM. All the exhausted Union troops could do was simply watch as their Confederate counterparts, from all three Corps, deployed along the ridges around Allatoona Pass fearing all too well what tomorrow may bring. Grant, though, knew he had the fresh army of McPherson to use and saw no reason why it could not cross the Etawah River, somewhere up stream, whilst Sherman’s battered and bruised army would keep the Confederates in place. He was, however, annoyed at himself in having Schofield’s command more or less destroyed with the loss of 10 000 troops, not to mention Sherman’s casualties, for some 4 000 Confederate casualties overall. Yet he still did not know that Forrest’s Cavalry Corps was around somewhere and just as fresh as McPherson’s Army.
Day Two (Allatoona Pass) - 20 May
McPherson’s Army moved out at first light. Its initial objective was to take the bridge, still standing, south of Kingston spanning the Etawah River. This was achieved relatively quickly, with little resistance offered except for a Confederate cavalry company which had no chance of stopping the 38 000 or so Union troops heading their way. It seemed to Grant that Johnston had, in the hustle and bustle of the previous day’s fighting, forgotten about the bridge and the potential for another outflanking manoeuvre.
Soon, one division, then a second, had crossed the river and were lining up to defend a bridgehead, so that the rest of McPherson’s Army could follow. Johnston, however, had indeed planned a response, but in an error of judgement, decided to only defend the bridge with Forrest’s Corps. He could have overnight, though, moved one of the main infantry corps, to reinforce Forrest, yet was hoping that Sherman would attack Allatoona Pass instead. Still that mattered little to Forrest who relished the opportunity given to his small command of roughly 6 000 troops. Although outnumbered, Forrest would fight.
Thus, not long after dawn, just as the Union was establishing their bridgehead, the artillery in Forrest’s command opened fire on the Union troops who had crossed the river. This caused some concern, for these troops, although Grant was half expecting some resistance at some point considering he knew only too well that Johnston still occupied Allatoona Pass. But if Johnston thought that Grant was going to attack there en masse he was wrong. Having said that, Sherman was given the task of demonstrating, in front of the pass, in an effort to convince Johnston that an attack may indeed take place. And it was one such illusion which happened to fool Johnston for a couple of hours.
McPherson, though, was grateful for Johnston being distracted, otherwise his solders could have been slaughtered. Union guns were soon rushed up to the northern river banks and started to engage with their Southern counterparts attacking the beachhead. Needless to say, this caused Forrest’s guns to commence a duel, with their Northern counterparts, and, due to weight of numbers, the Confederates were beginning to lose this battle. Unfortunately for the Union, the two infantry divisions, thinking it was time to charge the Southern guns, advanced quickly towards them unawares that the rest of Forrest’s Corps waited for them.
Consequentially, when the Union front ranks got within range of Confederate musketry, some 6 000 Rebels arose and let loose a most dreadful salvo right into a similar number of Union troops. The Union line staggered, took a breath, and tried to advanced again. Yet, once again, the Confederates let lose another salvo, which did much damage to the Union line. These Union troops, by now, had also begun to return musket fire, but the Confederate losses were minimal in comparison. Soon the initial Union advance turned into a retreat as some 4 000 survivors rushed back to the river seeking shelter along the river banks. Here the Union artillery gave much support, but it mean that vital pressure was taken off their Southern counterparts who, now without having to conduct a duel with the Union guns, began a methodical bombardment of the Union batteries.
This situation so concerned Grant, that he ordered Schofield to gather his very weak command, still at Adairsville, and lead them south to lend their fire support to McPherson’s efforts. Having said that, McPherson had continued to send troops across the river, even when the initial attack had been rebuffed, to ensure that he could bring as much of his firepower to bare upon Forrest’s Corps. Thus by 9 AM, some four divisions of Union troops, including the two badly mauled ones, once more tried to advance forward and break Forrest’s battleline. Combined with support, coming from Schofield’s artillery and 7 000 troops, Forrest was seriously outnumbered and it soon began to tell.
Johnston, at this point, realised his error and knew that Forrest could not hold his line for much longer. Johnston at first, though, contemplated moving Hardee’s Corps down from Allatoona Pass, to reinforce Forrest, but thought time was nevertheless against him. Consequentially orders were issued to commence a full withdrawal. Hardee’s Corps would leave first, followed by Hood’s Corps. Finally Polk’s Corps would look after the rearguard duties.
Yet before Hood’s Corps could leave, Sherman noticed that the Rebels were deserting Allatoona Pass. In a rushed effort to get into the fight, before the Confederates could get away once more, Sherman ignored his original orders of conducting a mere demonstration and, instead, rushed two divisions straight at the Pass itself. Needless to say, even if the defenders had been weakened by one third, 1 500 of Sherman’s troops were gunned down within twenty minutes. An angry Grant could do nothing else but simply watch on as the futile attack was repulsed.
Having said all that, Sherman’s impromptu attack almost succeeded in pinning both Hood’s and Polk’s Corps in place as McPherson slowly pushed ahead against Forrest’s stubborn defence. And just as the Confederate cavalry were remounting, in order to withdraw themselves out of the battle, first Hood, then Polk, were able to rush south of Allatoona Pass just in the nick of time, as the Union cavalry, which had waited impatiently behind McPherson, were now unleased in an attempt to get behind the Confederates defending the Pass. Instead they lashed out at open air.
Forrest, meanwhile, dashed away to the west towards Rome, which also meant to say that the few fresh units of McPherson’s Army headed in the wrong direction when they mistakenly pursed Forrest instead of chasing after the main Confederate Army. This, though, did not worry Forrest overly much, as he was soon able to leave his Union pursuers behind, made it to Rome, where his Corps brushed aside a small body of Union cavalry, then headed north to fulfil his next lot of orders. And as Grant was about to discover, Forrest’s orders were to now cause as much chaos, behind the front lines, as he could achieve. Needless to say it would turn out to be quite a lot.
Grant’s army group had been serious hurt after two days of heavy fighting. Not only had the Union suffered 17 000 casualties, on the first day of the bloody struggle, but a further 5 000 had become casualties on the second day, with McPherson suffering 3 500 in loses and Sherman the rest. The Confederates by far had the best of it with a combined loss of just over 5 000 for the two days of fighting. Grant knew, albeit reluctantly, that his army needed reinforcements, supplies, and a few days recuperation.
Consequentially, 20 000 Union troops were soon sent to Chattanooga from the eastern theatre as reinforcements, at Grant’s request. These, though, would never reach Grant as Forrest, only a day or two after the dramatic Battle of Cassville, commenced his raids all along Grant’s supply lines stretching from Chattanooga. These raids caused a tremendous amount of damage, especially to the railway, and thousands of Union troops, including the 20 000 reinforcements, were busy chasing after Forrest in a fruitless attempt at stopping him. Sherman declared that Forrest be killed at all costs, "even if it bankrupts the Treasury", so effective was Forrest’s 5 000 cavalry men.
What was worse, though, for Grant, was that his once quick advance south now became a full on crawl. It took some two weeks, for his once proud army, to move from Allatoona Pass to Dallas and New Hope Church. Here the Union 70 000 or so survivors encamped whilst some 35 000 Union troops chased after Forrest. Consequentially, no reinforcements came Grant’s way, whilst this was going on, and Grant’s supplies were cut in half. Although no one starved, it ensured that the march on Atlanta could not go ahead either anytime soon.
Meanwhile Johnston, now free of the continuous pressure coming from Grant, could sit down and plan accordingly. Although Atlanta was only 30 miles away, the Confederate Army of the Tennessee had done well. What it needed to do, though, was ensure that their Union counterparts suffered another large defeat somewhere before Atlanta. Jeff Davis, the Confederate President, more or less demanded it and wanted to know Johnston’s plans. In a telegram exchange Johnston informed his President that Kennesaw Mountain would be were the next stand would take place. In fact Johnston was so confident that this would be the site of the next major battle, the region had been occupied at the same time as the Union had occupied Dallas. And here Johnston was prepared to sit and wait for Grant’s next move.
Battle of Kennesaw Mountain
By mid June, after waiting at Dallas for almost three weeks, Grant decided he had had enough of doing nothing. Although he still had not received any reinforcements, during this time, supplies of ammunition and food had reached the point where he was confident he could resume his march. Consequentially, even with Forrest on the loose to the north, on 24 June Grant sent his 6 000 strong Cavalry Corps out to locate Johnston’s position as the Union had pretty much lost track of their counterparts movements not long after arriving at Dallas.
Whilst that was taking place, Grant decided to reorganise his battered army. Both Sherman and McPherson were to lose a division each to Schofield’s badly mauled Army of the Ohio. Although it would still be called that, in truth now it was only a corps of 14 000 troops. This meant that McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee was reduced to just over 30 000 troops and Sherman’s Army of the Cumberland was down to 20 000 troops. Thus Grant’s original structure of having three main commands was repeated, albeit they were down in numbers. Furthermore Grant was wanting to return to his outflanking manoeuvres, which proved to be highly successful at first, rather than get involved in another slogging match.
Johnston, on the other hand, wanted another slogging match as the ground he had chosen to fight on at Kennesaw Mountain was very good defensive ground. He was, though, concerned that he could be outflanked to the south, forcing him to withdraw, but the numbers superiority was no longer as large as previously. Johnston, thus, was prepared to place his largest corps, that being Hardee, in a position to the south of Kennesaw Mountain, whilst establishing both Hood and Polk along the ridge line itself. Union cavalry discovered this, in somewhat hazardous fashion, on 25 June, whereupon they established their own tenuous line, albeit at a respectable distance, and sent dispatch riders to inform Grant of their discovery.
Grant wasted little time in marching his army group to Kennesaw Mountain. With Scofield on the left, and Sherman in the centre, once more Grant wanted Scofield to probe the Confederate defences first with Sherman in full support. Thus on 27 June, Scofield conducted a skilful, yet cautious approach, coming in from the north, with his line linked with Sherman’s Army towards the west. McPherson was held back at this point, in reserve, with orders to swing around to the south once the location of the Confederate army was known.
Johnston, though, was waiting for the Union army and was ready. By Midday Scofield’s force had relieved the Union Cavalry of their positions and was slowly advancing towards the Rebel’s right flank. The Union Cavalry, though, hang around on Scofield’s open flank to ensure that no surprise attack would take place as had happened at Cassville. At this point Sherman’s troops likewise advanced in order to feel out the Rebel positions, but then it all went wrong. Sherman’s troops, demanding revenge for their losses at the Battle of Cassville, got carried away and charged straight into the waiting Confederate defences. Grant could not believe it and ordered Sherman, who was beside him at the time discussing tactics for the forthcoming battle, to get his troops back under control. But it was too late as the cannons on both sides opened up announcing that the battle had started in earnest.
Alas for McPherson, as far as he knew, this was the signal to swing to the south. Thinking that the path was clear, as no scout report had suggested the contrary, McPherson’s Army moved as fast as possible. Yet, just as Sherman’s troops were getting cut down on the mountain slopes, the leading elements of McPherson’s Army ran head long into the waiting Corps of Hardee. Although McPherson’s soldiers quickly deployed into their battlelines, the Confederates poured cannon and gunfire into them as fast as they could. Soon McPherson’s Army was back peddling and it appeared to be breaking. It was at this moment when McPherson, in a sign of gallant courage, joined the front ranks to steady his troops.
The Confederates, though, seeing the Union line waver, lost discipline and charged thinking they could rout the Union soldiers thus winning a grand victory all on their own. This took place just as McPherson had personally steaded his troops and were thus ready for the Confederate charge. And even though the Union had lost something like 4 000 casualties, at this point, they still had a numbers advantage over their Rebel counterparts.
The fighting which followed, which last for over an hour, was amongst the most savage to be seen on a Civil War battlefield. And considering the Western Theatre was often much worse, than the Eastern Theatre, that is saying something for the violence involved in the melee. Much of it was spaced only a few yards apart and hand-to-hand fighting was as common as musketry. In the middle of this vortex of battle, McPherson was shot and killed after some 45 minutes of constant combat. Yet, so angered were his soldiers, at the death of their brave general, the tide of battle began to turn and soon the Confederates were forced to withdraw.
Johnston, who had feared that his position at Kennesaw Mountain was now about to be outflanked, gave orders for first Hood then Polk to withdraw. This was far from an easy to do, especially in the case of Polk, who half expected Sherman’s Army to suddenly attack again as it had just after Midday. Furthermore, even though that attack proved to be futile, Polk did not know that it was in fact a mistake. Sherman, now back in command, firmly halted all advances of his Army and settled them down only to watch on as Polk, finally convinced that no further attack would occur, withdrew after Hood.
Finally Hardee, who’s Corps had had by far the worst of it, likewise withdrew and acted as rearguard. Hardee’s Corps, though, would continue to get it hard as the Union Cavalry Corps, supported by Schofield, continued to harass it as the Confederate Army withdrew to the southern banks of the Chattachoochee River.
The next day, the bulk of Grant’s army arrived on the northern side of the Chattachoochee River but it was in no shape to cross the river in the face of the Confederates. Grant had lost a further 10 000 troops, at Kennesaw Mountain, thanks to Sherman’s troops getting out of control, wherein 2 500 were casualties, and McPherson’s Army losing 7 500 troops including their commanding general. Meanwhile the Confederates lost some 5 000 troops, mostly from Hardee’s Corps.
Consequentially, on the 4 July 1864, there were few celebrations in the Union camp overlooking the Chattachoochee River. Grant’s Army had pretty much bleed itself white. It was now a spent force with little chance of making it to Atlanta any time soon. Furthermore Forrest was still creating chaos, with about 5 000 cavalry, up and down the supply lines linking Chattanooga with Grant, whilst some 35 000 Union troops were tied up in fruitless efforts to catch and defeat him.
Grant, though, desperately needed those 35 000 troops if he were to continue his march on Atlanta. He even, which was rather rare, sent a telegram to Washington requesting reinforcements. But there were none to give him as General Meade, in charge of military operations in the Eastern Theatre, needed every soldier he could get his hands on in his efforts to defeat Confederate General Robert E. Lee in his own efforts to march on Richmond. As a result, Grant had to wait. And wait he would, even if it meant waiting until 1865 in order to defeat Johnston and take the conqueror’s prize of Atlanta.
To be continued…
Arnold, J. R. Chickamauga 1963, London, 1992.
Glatthaar, J. T. The American Civil War: The war in the west 1863-65, Oxford, 2001.
Krick, R. K. The American Civil War: The war in the east 1863-65, Oxford, 2001.
Smith, D. Sherman’s March to the Sea 1864, Oxford, 2007
Ward, G. C. Burns, R. & Burns, K. The Civil War, London, 1991.
Atlanta Campaign, Sherman leaves his lifeline, http://ngeorgia.com/history/atlantacampaign3.html
Dalton to Atlanta Campaign 7 May - 16 July 64, http://www.aotc.net/Hundred.htm
Union Corps Histories, http://www.civilwararchive.com/CORPS/uncorps.htm
And to everyone involved in the Battle of Cassvile (http://www.alternatehistory.com/discussion/showthread.php?t=35605&highlight=Cassville)discussion at AH.Com including Anaxagoras, Max Sinister, Smaug, & robertp6165.
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