The American Civil War, day by day - Page 40 - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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#15092831
Doug64 wrote:May 19, Monday

The skirmishing continues on the fringes of the two main Federal offensives, east and west. In Virginia there is fighting at Gaines’ Mill and at City Point, in the west action at Farmington, Mississippi, near Corinth.

There is other skirmishing at Searcy Landing, Arkansas. On the Mississippi a Federal expedition operations to Fort Pillow May 19-23.

A worried President Davis writes Mrs. Davis of the threat to Richmond, “We are uncertain of everything except that a battle must be near at hand.”

An equally concerned President Lincoln disavows the emancipation proclamation of Major General David Hunter issued in the Department of the South, and reserves to the President the power, if it becomes necessary in order to maintain the government, to issue such a proclamation. President Lincoln again appeals for adoption by the states of his policy of gradual, compensated emancipation.

Even at this late stage, Lincoln was still bending over backwards to maintain a moderate position regarding emancipation. Further evidence, if any were needed, that the Civil War was definitely not caused by any intransigance or extremism on Lincoln's part. The South could have opted for an orderly dismantling of the "peculiar institution" of slavery. Instead, they fought the Civil War to preserve that institution.
#15092839
Nope, even factoring in concerns about the upper slave states that had stuck with the Union, Lincoln was no extremist. Unless, of course, one took the position that to want to free slaves at all made one an extremist, and after that it was merely a matter of degree. Which, of course, is ludicrous (something people might consider when looking at our current political climate).
#15093068
May 21, Wednesday

In the gray dawn of the Valley, General Jackson’s “foot cavalry” start toward the north, heading down the Valley pike as if to attack Banks at Strasburg. But as the men march down Congress Street in the center of New Market, Jackson waves for a right turn onto Cross Street—toward the east on the road leading across the Massanutten. After a day’s hard climb in sultry heat, they descend the eastern slope of the massif, cross the south fork of the Shenandoah and near the village of Luray, where they will camp for the night. General Ewell’s division is already encamped at Luray, and with it Jackson now has more than 16,000 men and 48 guns.

Over on the Chickahominy there is a Federal advance across Bottom’s Bridge in lowlands just east of Richmond.

In the West skirmishing continues near Corinth, Mississippi, today at Widow Serratt’s and Phillip’s Creek.

Elsewhere there is fighting at Village Creek, Arkansas; Battery Island, South Carolina; and at Parajé, New Mexico Territory.

President Lincoln replies to General McClellan’s request for help from McDowell’s corps, which is moving overland to Richmond, saying, “You will have just such control of General McDowell and his force as you therein indicate. McDowell can reach you by land sooner than he could get aboard of boats if the boats were ready at Frederick’sburg [sic],—unless his march shall be resisted, in which case, the force resisting him, will certainly not be confronting you at Richmond.”
#15093283
May 22, Thursday

As Generals Jackson’s and Ewell’s combined forces start out early in the morning, the men still don’t know their destination. Jackson can either cross the Blue Ridge through Thornton’s Gap, thereby abandoning the Shenandoah Valley, or he can move north, screened by mountains on either side, to Front Royal, where a Federal detachment is deployed. He takes the road to Front Royal. The army moves briskly. Jackson imposes a new set of marching rules—henceforth, the men are to march for precisely 50 minutes of each hour; at the end of that time they are to halt, stack arms and rest for exactly 10 minutes before moving out again. The brief but regular respite reduces straggling. Another new order that comes down removes all doubt from the minds of Jackson’s and Ewell’s men that they are heading straight for a fight: Jackson decrees that only two men from each battalion, assigned to tend to the wounded and directed to wear identifying red badges on their caps, will be permitted to leave ranks during a battle. This night Jackson halts 10 miles short of Front Royal.

Only 20 miles from Jackson’s camp, General Nathaniel Banks is getting edgy. The prevailing atmosphere in Strasburg is hostile enough to make anyone nervous, and Banks is painfully aware that his once imposing command has been sadly diminished and dispersed—he has lost 11,000 men with the departure of Shields. Aside from numerous small detachments guarding the line of the Manassas Gap Railroad, Banks has stationed 850 infantry and 600 cavalry at Winchester, about 100 men at Buckton, between Strasburg and Front Royal, and—at Front Royal itself—1,100 men. That leaves Banks with little more than 7,600 men to defend the earthworks he is hastily building at Strasburg. Moreover, one of Banks’s ablest subordinates has questioned the wisdom of the Federals even trying to defend Strasburg, pointing out that they can be easily cut off from their escape route to the east by the enemy. Banks is immovable, but concerned enough to seek reinforcements from Secretary of War Stanton. Today he warns Stanton of “the persistent adherence of Jackson to the defense of the valley and his well-known purpose to expel the Government troops.”

Banks is wasting his time—Stanton and Lincoln are far too preoccupied with the impending offensive against Richmond to pay much attention to the Shenandoah Valley. This very day they receive a brief but electrifying message from General McDowell near Fredericksburg: “Major General Shields’ command has arrived here.” This is the signal for McDowell to put his 40,000 men in motion for the assault on Richmond. President Lincoln journeys to Fredericksburg, Virginia, to consult with General McDowell.

Skirmishing continues around Corinth, Mississippi, between Halleck’s forces and Beauregard’s defenders. Action is at Farmington, primarily.

Elsewhere the fighting is at Winchester, Tennessee; John’s Island, South Carolina; and at the Trenton and Pollocksville Crossroads, North Carolina. Federals carry out a two-day reconnaissance to Burnsville and Iuka, Mississippi.
#15093485
May 23, Friday

As the first step in Stonewall Jackson’s effort to prevent the reinforcement of McClellan, he intends to swallow the small Federal Force at Front Royal in one gulp, meanwhile cutting off its communications with Banks at Strasburg. To that end, Ashby and a contingent of troops ford the South Fork of the Shenandoah River at sunrise and ride to the northwest on a mission to capture a depot and train trestle at Buckton, thereby severing the link between Banks at Strasburg and his Front Royal outpost. Ashby finds the two enemy infantry companies mostly holed up in the depot, a stout brick building that the Federals have converted into a redoubt. Ashby’s troops storm the building and, after a brief repulse then eventually fighting from room to room, take the stronghold. Ashby puts the depot to the torch, cuts telegraph lines, tears up track, and heads off to join Jackson at Front Royal.

Jackson’s foot soldiers, meanwhile, are struggling toward Front Royal with Ewell and his troops bringing up the rear; despite their new marching discipline, scores of men fall from the ranks with leg and stomach cramps or collapse from the heat of the blazing day. As the road they are taking nears Front Royal, it runs alongside the South Fork on a flood plain that can be swept by Federal guns. Seeking higher and safer ground from which he might also sweep down and surprise the enemy garrison, Jackson leads his column onto a detour—a crude path with the memorable name of Gooney Manor Road. At the crest of a 500-foot rise, Jackson pauses to survey the scene below. The little town of Front Royal is about a mile to the north. Two miles beyond, the South and North Forks of the Shenandoah River join for the northerly run to the Potomac at Harpers Ferry. The enemy’s tents are pitched near the confluence, on the east bank of the South Fork—the same side from which Jackson now gazes down upon them. To escape from Jackson’s clutches, Colonel Kenly and his troops will first have to cross at least one of the two bridges spanning the South Fork, then cross the single bridge across the North Fork. The complete success of Jackson’s onslaught will thus depend on the outcome of a race for the bridges.

As Jackson’s skirmishers silently move forward, they are spotted by a single Federal picket, who fires a futile shot and takes to his heels. It is about 2 pm, and the Battle of Front Royal is on. In Front Royal, the townspeople joyfully anticipate their deliverance from enemy hands as the town is quickly cleared of Federals. But Kenly and his vastly outnumbered force is making a gallant stand on a hill north of town. Jackson’s artillery commander, newly appointed Colonel Stapleton Crutchfield, orders Ewell’s guns up to the front. Crutchfield, however, has failed to familiarize himself with Ewell’s ordnance—and, to his great chagrin, he now learns that it consists mostly of light, smoothbore pieces that are easily outranged by the enemy’s heavier, rifled cannon. There seems nothing for it but to hurl the infantry against the hill. However, just as the men surge forward, Kenly sees Confederate cavalry on the opposite side of the river moving toward the bridges—his only means of escape. Without a moment to lose, Kenly orders his men to abandon their hill and run for the bridges. Racing for survival, they pound across first the South Fork spans and then the wooden North Fork structure, which they set on fire behind them.

In the lead of the Confederate charge are Stonewall Jackson and the Louisiana Brigade—New Orleans dock workers; sugar plantation aristocrats and Acadians; the self-styled “Tigers,” tough veterans of the Battle of Bull Run, a battalion of cutthroats, thieves, and other rowdies taken from the alleyways of the mean towns that line the banks of the lower Mississippi. They are commanded by Richard Taylor, the son of General and later President Taylor and brother-in-law, by virtue of his sister’s marriage, to Confederate President Jefferson. It is widely—and correctly—believed that Richard Taylor has attained his high military rank through his family connections, but even so he is a natural soldier. Now, arriving at the burning bridge ahead of the Confederate cavalry, with a curt nod Jackson orders Taylor across before the bridge collapses. “It was a rather near thing,” Taylor will later write. “My horse and clothing were scorched, and many men burned their hands severely while throwing brands into the river. Just as I emerged from flames and smoke, Jackson was by my side. How he got there was a mystery, as the bridge was thronged with my men going at full speed, but smoke and fire had decidedly freshened his costume.”

In the distance but well within artillery range is Kenly’s column of fleeing Federals, heading toward Winchester. Jackson orders a staff officer to go to the rear and “order up every rifled gun and every brigade in the army.” He is frustrated by faulty communications. An hour or so earlier, just after he launched the initial assault against Front Royal, Jackson had sent back word for the rest of his men and most of his guns to take the direct route into town rather than the more circuitous Gooney Manor Road. But Ashby, who is responsible for providing couriers, has this day assigned one of his least disciplined companies to the task—and the youth entrusted with Jackson’s message had fled when he heard the sound of battle. As a result, the guns so urgently needed at this moment of splendid opportunity are still laboring along Gooney Manor Road.

Yet even as his hopes seem to be sinking, Jackson catches sight of cavalry—about 250 troops. Instead of going with Ashby to Buckton, they had been detached to cut telegraph lines just to the west of Front Royal, and now they are returning. At Jackson’s command, the cavalry contingent rushes in headlong pursuit of the Federals, forcing Kenly’s infantry to halt and deploy for a stand at Cedarville, approximately three miles north of Front Royal on the road to Winchester. His infantry still far behind, Jackson orders the cavalry to charge the enemy line—250 troopers against more then three times as many infantry. They fling themselves against the center of the Federal line, and the line breaks. When some of the Federals begin to reform, the cavalry charges again, and this time the enemy is shattered beyond salvation. Jackson will later exclaim that he had never seen so gallant a charge.

In the fighting at Front Royal and Cedarville, the Federals have taken a beating. Kenly, who has been badly wounded, loses 904 men, of whom 750 are captured. Jackson’s casualties number only 35. This night, near Cedarville, Jackson takes a seat at Richard Taylor’s campfire. Although Taylor “fancied that he looked at me kindly,” Jackson says scarcely a word. Instead, Taylor will recall, “for hours he sat silent and motionless, with eyes fixed upon the fire, and he remained throughout the night.”

For General Banks, his dreams of victory are fading fast. This day begins promisingly enough, the Valley countryside around Strasburg at its springtime best. Banks and his men are relaxed, basking in a false sense of security. That tranquility is obliterated at about 4 pm by the arrival of a courier bearing news that the Federal garrison at Front Royal is under attack. Hardly are the words out of his mouth than another messenger storms into town on a sweat-lathered horse carrying even worse tidings: Front Royal has fallen and the enemy is now crossing the burning North Fork bridge. In his ignorance, Banks insists that these events are no more than a diversion and that the real threat to his Strasburg position lies in an attack from the south. That view is reinforced at dusk, when a small band of Confederate cavalry—which had been sent toward Strasburg with the specific purpose of distracting Banks—audaciously seizes a weakly defended hill outside town. Darkness conceals the actual size of the attacking force, and Banks spends the night in the misapprehension that he is confronted by an entire Confederate division.

On the Peninsula near Richmond there are Federal reconnaissances from Bottom’s Bridge to Turkey Island Creek Bridge and toward Richmond, as well as skirmishing at Mechanicsville, Hogan’s, and Buckton Station.

Elsewhere the fighting is at Lewisburg, western Virginia, and near Fort Craig, New Mexico Territory.

President Lincoln talks with General McDowell at Aquia Creek, Virginia, and in the Fredericksburg area before returning to Washington.
#15093773
May 24, Saturday

During a long night, the seriousness of the situation General Jackson has placed him in begins to sink in on General Banks. At about 3 am he orders that his sick and wounded be sent to Winchester. At mid-morning, he finally puts his infantry on the road, grandiloquently explaining to Washington that he has determined “to enter the lists with the enemy in a race or a battle (as he should choose) for the possession of Winchester.”

During his campfire vigil the same long night, Jackson has pondered the Front Royal-Strasburg-Winchester road system—the key to intercepting Banks’s forces. Jackson can see that General Banks has several options. One of them—cross the Alleghenies to join Fremont on the South Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac—can be safely ruled out; on its east-west line of march, the Federal column would be exposed to a flank attack from the south. A second choice seems just as unlikely: Even in his most sanguine moments, Jackson can hardly imagine Banks being stupid enough to fight it out from his isolated location at Strasburg. The two realistic possibilities are a Federal dash for Winchester or, if Jackson abandons Front Royal in his own rush for Winchester, slipping behind the Confederates, pass through Front Royal, and run for refuge across the Blue Ridge. The plan Jackson decides on hinges on another road, one running diagonally from the Front Royal-Winchester road at Cedarville to the Valley pike at Middletown, five miles north of Strasburg. If Banks moves toward Winchester, Jackson can slice across and strike the marching column while it is passing through Middletown. However, until Jackson receives news of such a Federal movement, the bulk of his army will have to remain near enough to Front Royal to cut off Banks in case he tries to escape across the Blue Ridge.

The word arrives by courier at 11 am. The message is from cavalry sent cross-country to Newtown, four miles north of Middletown. The cavalry had reached their destination—where they found the Valley pike choked with Federal supply wagons making haste toward Winchester. No more time can be lost. Colonel Ashby takes the lead on the crossroad to Middletown. With him goes horse artillery, two rifled guns, and the Louisiana Tigers battalion, with the rest of Taylor’s brigade and the regiments of the Valley army driving hard behind them. The remainder of Ewell’s command stays on the Cedarville-Winchester road, poised either to act as a reserve at Middletown or to march on Winchester later. Despite Jackson’s sense of urgency, the drive to Middletown is slow, for seven companies of Federal calvary force the Confederates to stop frequently and fight. Finally, just before 3 pm, Jackson’s men come upon a rise overlooking Middletown, and feast their eyes on Banks’s force in full retreat to Winchester. Instants later Jackson’s guns roar, plowing gap after gap through the Federal column. Then the Tigers pounce, slashing and pillaging (the latter ending instantly when their commander catches up). Suddenly, at about 4 pm, the booming of cannon comes from the south, where Federal artillery and infantry appear to have taken a strong position just west of the turnpike. While Taylor wheels to meet their threat, Jackson orders the artillery and Ashby’s cavalrymen to pursue and punish the bluecoats fleeing north. Taylor’s deployment takes time, and before it is completed the Federals who have confronted him withdraw.

Not until now does Jackson realize that he has been distracted by a rear guard making a valiant stand. The main body of Banks’s army has already passed through Middletown and is even now escaping the trap Jackson has so laboriously laid. Jackson now sends word to Ewell, north of Cedarville, to proceed to Winchester and deploy for an attack south of town. Then Jackson quickly sends his foot soldiers on a chase down the Valley pike. They catch up with the Confederate cavalry and artillery just beyond Newtown. There artillery commander Crutchfield seethes in a towering fury. Far from pressing the pursuit, Ashby’s cavalry have stopped to plunder the wagons abandoned along the turnpike. Having defied Crutchfield’s shouted curses and threats, many of the cavalrymen are now drunk on whiskey from Federal kegs. The foot soldiers are allowed no respite. The command from Jackson is to push on, and the men move into the night. Impeded by abandoned Federal wagons, beset by ambushes, groping in the darkness, they measure their progress by yards. Sometime after 1 am, Colonel Sam Fulkerson, commander of the 37th Virginia, approaches Jackson with a request for a pause of an hour or so; his men are falling by the roadside from exhaustion. Jackson replies that he is “obliged to sweat them tonight, that I may save their blood tomorrow. The line of hills southwest of Winchester must not be occupied by the enemy’s artillery. My own must be there and in position by daylight.” Nevertheless, he grants two hours rest. The men sleep where they fall.

Meanwhile, upon his arrival in Winchester Banks orders his wagon trains north toward Williamsport on the Potomac. Feeling reasonably secure, he deploys his troops for defense, takes a warm bath, and goes to bed.

There is significant skirmishing at Berryville, Strasburg, and elsewhere in the Shenandoah.

In Washington, early in the morning, President Lincoln confers with Stanton and others and issues new orders. He intends to end the threat to Washington from the Shenandoah Valley with a plan involving three separate Federal commands. Lincoln believes that Jackson’s incursion is more than merely a raid, that the Confederates will continue their northward thrust through Winchester and probably to the Potomac. To make certain that Jackson doesn’t cross the Potomac and turn southeast for an advance on Washington, the President will heavily reinforce the hapless Banks. Then, while Jackson snaps and snarls on the south side of the Potomac, Lincoln will lay a trap behind him, and spring it shut.

With the front door closed, Lincoln now needs to close the back door. The first prong is John C. Fremont, presently awaiting a call to action at Franklin, in the Alleghenies only 30 miles northwest of Harrisonburg. A rapid march by Fremont to Harrisonburg will place him 80 miles to Jackson’s rear, squarely athwart the Confederate supply line and in a position to block any attempt by the Valley army to escape southward along the turnpike. Thus, the President orders Fremont to march to Harrisonburg with all possible haste and to “operate against the enemy in such a way as to relieve Banks.” With Fremont taken care of, Lincoln turns to his second prong, General McDowell near Fredericksburg. Lincoln orders McDowell to prepare to move part of his force to the Valley at Front Royal, where it will remain poised along the route of Jackson’s retreat. When and if Jackson withdraws to the south, Banks will harry his rear. At the same time, McDowell’s detachment at Front Royal will be ready to attack and pursue, pounding the Valley army against Fremont’s position at Harrisonburg. Thus, McDowell and Banks will be the Federal hammers, and Fremont the anvil.

The President’s plan is no less than a move to destroy the Valley army. It is also a highly complex scheme that depends for its success on close coordination and crisp execution. By this point in the war Lincoln is sorely aware of his generals’ almost infinite capacity for failing to follow his instructions, so he decides to send a personal representative to see that McDowell complies with his instructions: The Treasury Secretary, Salmon P. Chase.

In two messages to McClellan, Lincoln explains that the defeat at Front Royal in the Valley was due to thinning the line to get troops for elsewhere. And later the President reluctantly writes, “In consequence of Gen. Banks’ critical position I have been compelled to suspend Gen. McDowell’s movement to join you....” Diversion of McDowell gives McClellan another excuse to blame the Administration for his delays and failures on the Peninsula, and to say he is undermanned, despite his more than 100,000 troops. However, it has also placed McClellan in an awkward spot. In expectation of McDowell’s arrival, he has deployed three corps in a northwesterly direction, so that they stretch from the railroad along the north bank of the curving Chickahominy for a distance of about 10 miles, with the extreme right near Mechanicsville, six miles northeast of Richmond. South of the Chickahominy, meanwhile, McClellan has deployed his left wing westward along the Williamsburg Road and dug in near the crossroads called Seven Pines, six miles east of Richmond. The tips of both wings are so close to Richmond that the troops on the far left and far right can set their watches by the chimes of the capital’s churches. But now McClellan has not only lost McDowell’s 40,000 men, but his army is dangerously split with three corps on the north side of the Chickahominy and two corps south of it. This strange river is as quirky as its name. In dry weather, the stream is sluggish and measures less than 15 yards wide over most of its course. But a slight rise in the river can quickly inundate the surrounding marshes and wooded bottom lands for as much as a mile. And the Chickahominy is reaching its highest level in twenty years. McClellan realizes the river threatens to cut communications between the two wings of his army, and he puts his men to work building no fewer than eleven bridges across the river in a twelve-mile stretch from Bottom’s Bridge northwest to Mechanicsville. Though the narrow main channel of the river can be bridged by short spans, the waterlogged bottom lands on either side have to be overlaid with lengthy, elaborate corduroy approaches.

At New Bridge, Seven Pines, Mechanicsville, and Hanover Court House, Virginia, there is fighting as a part of the main campaign against Richmond. To the west the skirmishing is closer to Corinth, Mississippi, and there is action near Spring Hill, Missouri, and Winchester, Tennessee.
#15094033
May 25, Sunday

As during the march to join the Battle of Bull Run almost a year before, General Jackson has stood watch by himself as his exhausted soldiers sleep. Now, at 4 am, he orders the men roused and they soon file silently into an early-morning fog that hangs heavily over the approaches to Winchester. It’s another Sunday that the devout Jackson will have to fight. Winchester, on its south and southwest, are guarded by the hills that worried Jackson during the previous night’s march. Now, his scouts report the pleasing news that the nearest ridge is only weakly held by enemy skirmishers. Probably recalling the problems caused by inadequate reconnaissance at Kernstown, Jackson rides forward to look for himself and is quickly satisfied that the Federals have failed to occupy the line of hills in strength. Charles Winder, the Stonewall Brigade’s commander as crisp and starched as always, joins Jackson. Jackson points out a ridge commanding the turnpike and orders him to occupy the hill. As Winder prepares to move, Jackson hears firing across the Valley pike on his right. That sound means that General Ewell is in place. Following Jackson’s orders, his division had marched down the Front Royal-Winchester road late the previous afternoon and deployed south of Winchester at nightfall.

The Stonewall Brigade makes it up their assigned hill quickly and with little opposition, but when they gain the crest they are almost immediately pinned down by a storm of artillery and small arms fire pouring in from a second ridge on the southwest corner of Winchester. That strongly held ridge anchors the extreme right of General Banks’s line, which stretches more than a half mile southeast across the turnpike. Winder requests help from Jackson, who sends General Taylor’s Louisiana brigade, already moving up from his position in reserve, to carry the troublesome hill. As Taylor moves forward, meaning to skirt the hill and take it in a flanking attack, the brigade comes under galling artillery fire from the hill. Nonetheless, supported by Confederate artillery, the Louisianans surge up the hill in perfect order as Ewell’s division outflanks the extreme left of the Federal line. The Federal defenses bend, then break under the weight of the attack, and the Union soldiers flee rearward through the streets of Winchester.

Jackson is elated, riding after the fleeing Federals, cheering and whooping as loudly as any of the teenage boys who follow him. When an officer protests his exposed position, the general commands: “Go back and tell the whole army to press forward to the Potomac!” But the Confederate pursuit, however enthusiastic, is badly muddled—partly because Colonel Ashby, contrary to orders, has gone off in pursuit of a Federal detachment. Now, when his troopers are most urgently needed, the cavalry is wandering about the countryside.

General Banks, who between Front Royal and Winchester has lost nearly 35 percent of his total command, does his best to bring order to the rout. “Stop, men!” he cries to some Wisconsin troops. “Don’t you love your country?” One of the men shouts back, “Yes, by God, and I’m trying to get back to it just as fast as I can!” During the fourteen hours following Jackson’s assault on Winchester, the Federal force that opposed him covers no fewer than 35 miles. When the beaten and exhausted Yankees cross the Potomac into Williamsport, Maryland, they seem to breathe a huge collective sigh of relief.

The Confederate total casualties: 16,000 men and 400 casualties—68 killed, 329 wounded, 3 missing. Banks loses 2,019 of his 8,000 Federal troops—62 killed, 243 wounded, 1,714 missing or captured. Substantial amounts of supplies, munitions, and a number of wagons fall into Jackson’s hands. The name of “Stonewall” is becoming legendary. The Confederates now have cleared all but a small portion of the Shenandoah Valley, to the consternation of Washington and the North.

Down near Richmond there is a Union expedition from Bottom’s Bridge on the Chickahominy to James River; and there are several days of operations about Miami and Waverly, Missouri, until May 28.

At Washington President Lincoln wires McClellan, “I think the time is near when you must either attack Richmond or give up the job and come to the defense of Washington.” He also tells his general of the troubles in the Shenandoah, and that the government is sending “such regiments and dribs” as can be found. The Administration calls for all troops available anywhere and declares that all railroads are to be used when needed for transport of troops and munitions. Secretary of War Stanton calls upon the states for help in furnishing men. Meanwhile the Treasury Secretary arrives at McDowell’s headquarters, and by nightfall one of McDowell’s divisions commanded by Brigadier General Shields, having just arrived from the Valley to join the advance on Richmond, is on its way back to the Shenandoah. With Banks on the Maryland side of the Potomac regrouping his battered forces, President Lincoln’s plan to mousetrap “Stonewall” Jackson’s army seems to be progressing nicely. The President, however, has reckoned without General John C. Fremont’s proclivity for waywardness. Instead of marching to Harrisonburg to assume a blocking position as commanded, Fremont is heading toward Strasburg to cut off Jackson—thereby increasing his marching distance by at least 40 miles.

On the Mississippi, Flag Officer Davis’s flotilla, mauled on May 10 at Fort Pillow by a little fleet of Confederate rams—river steamers equipped with iron prows to hole enemy ships—is now reinforced by a fleet of Federal rams of his own. These vessels are the creation of Charles Ellet, Jr., a brilliant 52-year-old civil engineer who has converted nine steamboats to create Davis’ ram fleet. Ellet, commissioned a colonel in the Federal Army, now captains the ram Queen of the West. His brother, Lieutenant Colonel Alfred W. Ellet, and his 19-year-old son, Charles Rivers Ellet, are also aboard ships in the ram fleet.
#15094167
May 26, Monday

As Jackson occupies Winchester and prepares to continue north toward Harper’s Ferry, Banks keeps pulling back with what little he has left after the Shenandoah Valley campaigning. Jackson declares a day of worship to make up for the one the army missed while seizing Winchester.

While waiting for the completion of the bridges across the Chickahominy, McClellan extends his right flank even further. Noting that the President’s order has “simply suspended, not revoked” General McDowell’s march toward Richmond, McClellan still harbors hopes of soon seeing those 40,000 men marching down from Fredericksburg. To clear the path for them and to tear up the tracks of the Virginia Central Railroad, he sends a reinforced division commanded by General Fitz-John Porter to attack the Confederates at Hanover Court House, about 12 miles northwest of Mechanicsville.

At Mechanicsville a Union brigade moves forward behind a screen of skirmishers as three batteries of artillery pound a brigade of North Carolinians concealed in the woods. Although outnumbered, the Confederate commander impulsively launches an attack. One New York regiment is broken and a battery of artillery put out of action, but the Confederate charge is repulsed by a fresh New York regiment, whose fire is so intense that one officer later reports his men had to pour water on their muskets to keep them cool enough to handle. Then two more Union regiments countercharge. The Confederate retreat becomes a complete rout. The Federals lose 355 men killed and wounded to 200 for the Confederates, but they take 500 men prisoner.

To General Joseph E. Johnston, the little battle at Hanover Court House is ominous, for McClellan’s sudden move there strongly suggests an imminent linkup between his army and McDowell’s. On this same day, another alarming report convinces Johnston that his suspicions are correct: McDowell’s vanguard is seen marching south of Fredericksburg, only 25 miles from Porter at Hanover Court House. Until now, Johnston’s apparent lack of determination has bewildered President Davis and General Lee. Repeatedly refusing to tell them where or when he intends to make a stand, he has retreated to the south bank of the Chickahominy, the last natural defensive barrier before Richmond, just 12 miles away. Then, professing himself dissatisfied with the water supply there, he has fallen back to the outskirts of the capital. Yet Johnston is now persuaded that the right time and place has come. A linkup between McDowell and McClellan will provide the Federals with nearly 150,000 troops at the gates of Richmond—a superiority of better than 2 to 1. That eventuality has to be prevented at all cost. Accordingly, Johnston devises a plan to strike the right wing of McClellan’s divided army at Mechanicsville. The attack is set for May 29.

Lieutenant Isaac Newton Brown, a Confederate naval officer, arrives at Greenwood, Mississippi, on the Yazoo River, which enters the Mississippi just north of Vicksburg. He is to take charge of the CSS Arkansas, whose keel was laid down at Memphis, Tennessee, the previous October, but was moved to Greenwood to avoid its destruction now that the city is threatened by Union forces. At this point the Arkansas is a hull and a collection of disassembled guns and engines. In the water nearby is a sunken scow with a load of railroad iron that was intended to armor the boat’s sides. From this unlikely assortment of materials Brown has been ordered to create an ironclad ram.

There is a skirmish near Franklin, western Virginia; at Calico Rock, Arkansas; at Crow’s Station near Licking, Missouri; and at Grand Gulf, Mississippi.

The Confederates extend their Trans-Mississippi Department to include Arkansas, the Indian Territory, Missouri, west Louisiana, and Texas.

President Lincoln tells McClellan that Banks is apparently safe at Williamsport on the Potomac and asks, “What impression have you, as to intrenchments—works—for you to contend with in front of Richmond? Can you get near enough to throw shells into the city?”
#15094366
May 27, Tuesday

President Lincoln learns that General Fremont is at Moorefield, 40 miles north of Franklin, and moving farther in the wrong direction. The President is livid. He wires, “You were expressly ordered to march to Harrisonburg. What does this mean?” Meanwhile the previous night, while Jackson was sleeping, an elderly and exhausted civilian rode up to his headquarters after a 12 hour ride with news of General Shields’s column moving toward Front Royal. Jackson’s staff was impressed by the old man, bur reluctant to awaken their commander. Now in the early morning Jackson interviews the old man and is persuaded that strong enemy forces are closing in on him. He orders his army to move—not southward toward safety but northward, deeper into danger. Jackson has received word from General Lee urging him to threaten the line of the Potomac, and he means to do just that.

Near Richmond there is fighting at Slash Church, White Oaks, and Hanover Court House.

Near Corinth, Mississippi, minor fighting continues, with skirmishing on Bridge Creek.

In Missouri there is a skirmish at Monagan Springs near Osceola, and in Arkansas at Big Indian Creek in White County. An expedition operates from Searcy Landing to West Point, Searcy, and Bayou des Arc, Arkansas.

Excitement continues high in the North, particularly in New York, over Jackson’s successes in the Shenandoah.
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May 28, Wednesday

Skirmishing occurs in front of Corinth, Mississippi, and at Charles Town, western Virginia, as a part of Jackson’s campaign. Confederate supplies are destroyed, as is a bridge on the Virginia Central Railroad on the South Anna. Meanwhile all eyes look toward Corinth and to the Shenandoah and Richmond for more news.

Outside Richmond, this night, in the midst of a war council with his generals, General Johnston learns from a courier that General McDowell’s troops aren’t marching on Richmond after all, but returning to Fredericksburg. McDowell had made the demonstration south just to mislead Johnston. Now that he doesn’t’ have to worry about McDowell, Johnston switches to a plan he has preferred all along: He will attack south of the Chickahominy and overwhelm the two corps of the Federal left wing before it can be reinforced from across the river. This will delay his attack for a few days.

President Davis writes his wife, “We are steadily developing for a great battle, and under God’s favor I trust for a decisive victory.” He is disappointed that a planned offensive by Joseph E. Johnston’s army has not been launched against McClellan.

President Lincoln tells General McDowell that his move toward the Shenandoah to hit Jackson is “for you a question of legs. Put in all the speed you can.”
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May 29, Thursday

While Jackson and most of the Valley army camp near Charles Town, the Stonewall Brigade demonstrates against Harpers Ferry. Meanwhile General Fremont tells Washington that his scouts estimate the enemy strength at 60,000 men. President Lincoln replies that that is nonsense, that Jackson’s army can number no more than 20,000 and is probably closer to 15,000. He asks, “Where is your force? It ought this minute to be near Strasburg. Answer at once.”

On the Chickahominy there is skirmishing near Seven Pines, and farther north some operations along the South Anna. In western Virginia, there is a skirmish near Wardensville; in South Carolina at Pocotaligo; in Arkansas at Kickapoo Bottom and Whitesburg; and in Mississippi near Booneville.

During the night Beauregard, finally seeing there is no hope against Halleck’s huge Federal army near Corinth, Mississippi, gives orders to pull out toward Tupelo. To give the impression of reinforcements, however, he has trains and troops make loud noises in an effort to fool the waiting Federals.

President Davis is carrying on a lengthy mail discussion with Georgia governor Joseph E. Brown over matters of States’ rights and Confederate government rights.
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May 30, Friday

A Confederate reconnaissance of the Union positions close to Richmond show that the Federal positions south of the Chickahominy are unbalanced. The lead division has deployed at right angles to the Williamsburg Road about a half mile west of the Seven Pines crossroads. The position is reasonably strong on the left flank, which extends south of the road to the marshy border of White Oak Swamp, and they are heavily supported in the rear by two more divisions stacked up along the six-mile stretch of road between Seven Pines and Bottom’s Bridge to the east with another division just to their south. But the Federals are weak on the right. Confederate scouts have found that the Union front extends north from the Williamsburg Road for a mile or so to Fair Oaks, a station on the Richmond & York River Railroad. And the line is thinly manned. Northeast of Fair Oaks, a virtually impassable wilderness of marshes and dense woods stretch three miles to the Chickahominy River, where the nearest Federal reinforcements, Edwin Sumner’s 17,000-man corps, is camped on the far bank.

Surveying all this, Johnston decides to attack in force early tomorrow. In preparation, he divides his command in half, creating a left wing under Major General Gustavus W. Smith and a right wing under General Longstreet, each with three divisions. Smith will hold two of his divisions in reserve along the upper Chickahominy northeast of Richmond to prevent the crossing of the two Federal corps there. His third division will support Longstreet to the south. Longstreet’s wing, totaling nearly 40,000 men, will make the main attack, striking east toward Seven Pines on three different routes. Thus, the outnumbered Federal forces south of the Chickahominy will be hit on their left, on their front, and on their vulnerable right. It is a sound plan, and on the eve of the attack nature lends a helping hand. A violent rainstorm, which dumps more than three inches in the first two hours and continues into the night, turns the Chickahominy into a raging torrent that swamps several of McClellan’s bridges and further isolates the targets of the impending Confederate attack.

In the Valley, General Fremont responds to President Lincoln’s request the previous day to know his position. Complaining about the hardships of his march, Fremont says that he cannot possibly promise to be at Strasburg before 5 pm tomorrow—more than a day after General Shields will arrive at Front Royal. To make matters worse, General Banks claims his command is still too shaken from its recent experiences to harry Jackson’s withdrawal. And once Shields seizes Front Royal, he will stay there while waiting for another of McDowell’s divisions to come up as reinforcement.

In the afternoon, Colonel Ashby’s scouts bring word to General Jackson that General Shields is less than a day’s march from Front Royal. Jackson is unperturbed, taking a nap under a tree, leaving his young staff members shaking their heads. He awakens to find his old friend Alexander Boteler, the former US Congressman now commissioned as a colonel, drawing his likeness. After commenting on his own lack of artistic skills, Jackson is all business, telling Boteler to leave at once for Richmond to seek reinforcements. If enough are available, Jackson says, a move “may be made beyond the Potomac, which will soon raise the siege of Richmond and transfer this campaign from the banks of the Potomac to those of the Susquehanna.” But Jackson doubts the success of Boteler’s mission. Hardly has the emissary left when the general orders his army to start south, leaving behind only the Stonewall Brigade to make a final feint against Harpers Ferry. Then, late in the day, Jackson himself departs Charles Town for Winchester. As his train rumbles through the rainy night, Jackson falls asleep—only to be awakened by a Confederate horseman who has intercepted the train to give him a message. Silently Jackson reads the courier’s message, tears it up, and goes back to sleep—even though he has just been informed that Shields has captured Front Royal and is now on the flank of the Confederate retreat. Arriving in Winchester, Jackson awakens his mapmaker, Jedediah Hotchkiss, and instructs him to hasten to Harpers Ferry to fetch the Stonewall Brigade.

Commencing yesterday evening Beauregard, with great skill and efficiency, has been pulling his Confederate army out of besieged Corinth, Mississippi, and heading south toward Tupelo, the effort made safe by a clever deception. To convince Halleck that he is being heavily reinforced, he has ordered locomotives to chug in and out of the town periodically to the accompaniment of loud cheering. The ploy has worked, and the immense Federal army under Halleck sits a few miles outside the town to the north. On this day Halleck’s troops cautiously move into the important rail and road center after more than a month’s campaigning and only after hearing the Confederate rearguard blow up the supplies that can’t be evacuated. They find the town empty. The Federals have been successful, but the evacuation by Beauregard, the slowness of the campaign, and the general lack of battle or results tarnish Halleck’s victory.
Nearby, Booneville, Mississippi, is captured by Federals and the Cypress Creek Bridge, Tennessee; and Tuscumbia Bridge, Mississippi, destroyed.

Other fighting in Virginia is at Fair Oaks and Zuni; in North Carolina at Tranter’s Creek; in western Virginia at Lewisburg and Shaver’s River.
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