- 10 Oct 2021 07:38
October 11, Sunday
The Army of Northern Virginia’s cavalry wing, commanded by Jeb Stuart, has been organized into two divisions, one under Wade Hampton and the other under Fitzhugh Lee, both of whom have been promoted to major general. Hampton is still recovering from his Gettysburg wounds; Stuart leads his division himself, covering the right flank of the infantry on the march, and has left Fitz Lee to guard the river crossings while the rest of the army moves upstream. After two days of swinging wide around Cedar Mountain—rich with memories for A.P. Hill, not only because he is a native of the region and spent his boyhood in these parts, but also because it is here that he saved Jackson from defeat in early August last year—the gray column enters Culpeper from the southwest. Meade had his headquarters here, and three of his corps had been concentrated in the vicinity, with the other two advanced southward to the north bank of the Rapidan. Now he is gone, and his five corps are gone with him. Like Pope, he is falling back across the Rappahannock to avoid being trapped in the constricting apex of the V described by the the confluence of the rivers.
Beyond Culpeper, however, Stuart comes upon the cavalry rear guard, drawn up at Brandy Station to fight a delaying action on the field where more of the troopers of both armies fought so savagely four months ago. In the resultant skirmish, which he calls Second Brandy, Jeb has the satisfaction of driving the enemy horsemen back across the Rappahannock, only failing to bag the lot, he declares, because Fitz Lee doesn’t arrive in time after splashing across the unguarded Rapidan fords. At any rate, he feels that the question of superior abilities, which some claim wasn’t decided by the contest here in June, is definitely settled in his favor by the outcome of this second fight on the same ground. Elated though he is, he doesn’t fail to show that he has learned from his mistakes on the recent march into Pennsylvania. Not that he admits that he made any; he didn’t then, doesn’t now, and won’t later; but he keeps in close touch with the commanding general, sending a constant stream of couriers to report both his own and the enemy’s position. “Thank you,” Lee says to the latest in the series, who has ridden back to inform him that the blue cavalry is being driven eastward. “Tell General Stuart to continue to press them back toward the river. But tell him, too,” he adds, “to spare his horses. It is not necessary to send so many messages.” Turning to Ewell, whom he is accompanying today, he says of this staff officer and another who had reported a few minutes earlier, “I think these two young gentlemen make eight messengers sent to me by General Stuart.”
Lee is in excellent spirits, partly because of this evidence that his chief of cavalry has profited from experience; for whatever profits Stuart also profits Lee, who depends heavily on his former cadet for the information by which he shapes his plans. Then too, the pains in his back have let up enough to permit him to enter Culpeper on his horse instead of on the prosaic seat of a wagon, and though he prefers things simple for the most part, he also likes to see them done in style. Moreover, there is an exchange which he enjoys in the course of the welcome extended by the old men and cripples and women and children who turn out to cheer the army that has delivered them from this latest spell of Federal occupation. Not, it seems, that the occupation has been entirely unpleasant for everyone concerned. At the height of the celebration, one indignant housewife strikes a discordant note by informing the general that certain young ladies of the town have accepted invitations to attend band concerts at John Sedgwick’s headquarters, and there, according to reports, they have given every sign of enjoying not only the Yankee music, but also the attentions of the blue-coated staff officers who were their escorts. Lee hears the superpatriot out, then looks sternly around at several girls whose blushes prove their guilt of this near-treason. “I know General Sedgwick very well,” he replies at last, replacing his look of mock severity with a smile. “It is just like him to be so kindly and considerate, and to have his band there to entertain them. So, young ladies, if the music is good, go and hear it as often as you can, and enjoy yourselves. You will find that General Sedgwick will have none but agreeable gentlemen about him.”
Lee has it in mind to intercept Meade’s withdrawal up the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. He cannot divide his army, as he did against Pope, using half of it to fix the enemy in place while the other half swings wide for a strike at his rear; he lacks both the transport and the strength, and besides, with the bluecoats already in motion, there isn’t time. But he can attempt a shorter turning movement via Warrenton, along the turnpike paralleling the railroad to the east, in hope of forcing Meade to halt and fight in a psotion that will afford the pursuers the chance, despite the disparity in numbers, to inflict what the dead Stonewall called “a terrible wound.” Accordingly, the Culpeper pause is a brief one. Ewell pushes his men hard to close the gap between them and the cavalry up ahead, beyond Brandy and the Rappahannock crossings. Stuart skirmishes with the blue rear guard all the rest of the day and tomorrow, banging away with his guns and gathering stragglers as he goes.
As for Meade, he feels himself to have fallen among lawyers, men who can do with logic and figures what they like. He is determined that if he is to go the way of McDowell and McClellan, of Pope and McClellan again, of Burnside and Hooker, he will at least make the trip to the scrap heap under his own power. In the absence of orders or “sanction” from above, he will accept the consequences of his own decisions and no others, least of all those of which he disapproves; he will fall, if fall he must, by following his own conscience. Thus, by a reaction like that of a man alone in dangerous country—which Virginia certainly is—his natural caution is enlarged. In point of fact, he believes he has reasons to doubt not only the intentions of those above him, but also the present temper of the weapon they placed in his hands three months ago and have recently diminished by two-sevenths. Of the five corps still with him, only two are led by the general who took them to Gettysburg, and these are Sykes and Sedgwick, neither of whom were seriously engaged in that grim struggle. Of the other three, the badly shot-up commands of Reynolds and Sickles are now under Newton and French, who have shown little in the way of ability during or since the return from Pennsylvania. Warren, who has replaced the irreplaceable Hancock, is essentially a staff man, untested in the exercise of hs new, larger duties. This is part of what lies behind Meade’s remarks, both to his wife in home letters and to trusted members of his staff in private conversations, that he dislikes the burdern of command so much he wishes the government would relieve him.
So when Lee comes probing around Meade’s right, over the past two days, though he knows that Lincoln and Halleck will not approve, he does as Pope had done: pull out of the constricting V to get his army onto open ground that will permit maneuver. He tells Lincoln he is falling back to the Rappahannock: “The enemy are either moving to my right and rear or moving down on my flank.” Actually they are moving by the Federal right flank, seeking to get behind the Army of the Potomac.
Heavy skirmishing continues between the Rapidan and Rappahannock in Virginia as Lee’s army gains momentum in its newest move northward. Fighting erupts near Culpeper Court House, Griffinsburg, Morton’s Ford, Stevensburg, near Kelly’s Ford, and near Warrenton or Sulphur Springs.
In the West Shelby’s Confederates capture Boonville, Missouri, on the Missouri River. Other action includes fighting near Fayetteville, Arkansas, and at Brazil Creek, Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory. In Tennessee Chalmers’ Confederate cavalry fight at Collierville, and in east Tennessee skirmishes break out at Henderson’s Mill and Rheatown.
Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.