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 'Action Jackson' by Guest Historian David Atwell
Guest Historian Guest Historian David Atwell says, 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... If you're interested in viewing samples of my other work why not visit David Atwell site.


August 30

In 1862, the news of the annihilation of the Union Army of Virginia did not reach Washington until the next morning

Aftermath by David AtwellLincoln 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.The Final Chapter from Action Jackson 1862

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.
Read the whole story of Action Jackson 1862 - Stonewall's Foot Cavalry Wins The Day on the Changing the Times web site.
This thread will continue with Hancock -1862.



September 20

In 1862, 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.

Burnside's Folly by David AtwellMcClellan, 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.A Chapter from Hancock 1862

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".
Read the whole story of Hancock 1862 - the Union Strikes Back on the Changing the Times web site.



June 30

In 1862, 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.

Malvern Hill by David AtwellHaving 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.

A Chapter from Action Jackson 1862

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.
Read the whole story of Action Jackson 1862 - Stonewall's Foot Cavalry Wins The Day on the Changing the Times web site



June 26

In 1862, 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.

Mechanicsville by David AtwellConsequentially, 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.

A Chapter from Action Jackson 1862

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.
Read the whole story of Action Jackson 1862 - Stonewall's Foot Cavalry Wins The Day on the Changing the Times web site



June 27

In 1862, 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.

Savage's Station by David AtwellYet, 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.

A Chapter from Action Jackson 1862

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.
Read the whole story of Action Jackson 1862 - Stonewall's Foot Cavalry Wins The Day on the Changing the Times web site



August 29

In 1862, 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.

Second Manassas by David AtwellFormed 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.A Chapter from Action Jackson 1862

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.
Read the whole story of Action Jackson 1862 - Stonewall's Foot Cavalry Wins The Day on the Changing the Times web site



October 7

In 1862, although Hancock, in early October, 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 (as pictured in map).

The Battle of Hancock - Day One by David Atwell 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.A Chapter from Hancock 1862

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.

Read the whole story of Hancock 1862 - the Union Strikes Back on the Changing the Times web site.



September 22

In 1862, 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.

The Race to Hancock by David AtwellNot 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.A Chapter from Hancock 1862

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.


Read the whole story of Hancock 1862 - the Union Strikes Back on the Changing the Times web site.



August 31

In 1862, 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.
This thread continues from Action Jackson -1862: Stonewall's Foot Cavalry Wins The Day

The Union Strikes Back by David AtwellEven 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.A Chapter from Hancock 1862

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.
Read the whole story of Hancock 1862 - the Union Strikes Back on the Changing the Times web site.



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