Monday, February 26, 2007

Fort Fisher, NC

Dates: 7 December, 1864 to 15 January, 1865


Union: Major General Benjamin Butler, commanding land forces. Replaced later by Major General Alfred Terry. Admiral David Dixon Porter commanded naval forces.

Confederate: Colonel William Lamb, commanding Fort Fisher. Later commanded by Brigadier General William Whiting.

Prelude: As 1864 was approaching its end, there was an expectation that the war would come to an end soon. Most of the Confederacy’s ports were either under Union occupation or were too far away to matter any more. The only exception was Wilmington, NC. Even though the flood of blockade runners have been squeezed to a trickle, the fact that there was still a port to go to kept up hope that the now desperate supply situation for the Confederate Army could still get some relief. One Confederate army, General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, was pinned in Petersburg, VA while there were plans to form another army under General Joseph Johnston out of several army fragments somewhere in the Carolinas. At this point in time, Savannah, GA would soon fall to Major General William Sherman and he was planning to march into South Carolina. Blockade runners could get to a Texas port, like Galveston, or to Mexico and have the cargo sent across the border in wagons, but that was too fat to be any good to the eastern armies. If Wilmington can be taken, that would be the end to getting any arms and supplies from Europe. The Confederate Army would then be starved into surrender.

This is how the Union saw it.

There was one problem. Wilmington was not on the coast, instead it was on the Cape Fear River several miles inland. The mouth of the river was guarded by three forts, Johnson at the town of Smithville, Caswell to the south, and Fisher to the east. Fisher guarded the channel into the Cape Fear River and as such, directly guarded the way to Wilmington itself, the other two being too far to the south to be of any help.

Fort Fisher sat on a sand spit and was built as a long wall set at a right angle, with the point facing the Atlantic Ocean. The walls were built of sand, which offered better protection than brick. A bombardment would break down a brick wall, but a sand or earth wall could swallow shells and could be repaired by a detail of men with shovels within hours. Having already learned this, the Federals planned to reduce the fort by naval gunfire, then take it with a land assault. Butler was selected to command the ground forces while Porter would lead the naval forces.

Butler was a political general who had been relieved of command of the Army of the James. He had earlier success in the war by capturing Fort Monroe in Virginia. He was also famous for his “contraband order” stating that African-American slaves were being used to assist in preparing Confederate positions, therefore any escaped slaves coming into Union lines could be held as “contraband of war” (and be put to work building Union positions). He is most famous for his administration of New Orleans, LA, issuing the famous “Women’s Order” which authorized Union troops to treat local women who assaulted then as “ladies of the evening plying their occupation,” meaning as prostitutes. He is nicknamed “Beast” for that. He also is known for his lack of military ability.

Porter was known for the capture of Forts Jackson and St. Philip, allowing the Federal capture of New Orleans. He also led the naval units past the Vicksburg, MS defenses in order to assist with Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s campaign to take the city. He commanded the naval portion of the disastrous Red River Campaign, managing to get most of his vessels out. At this time, he commands the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron.

7 December, 1864: Federals begin to assemble the naval fleet that will be needed on this campaign. This would be the largest fleet assembled in the war. The fleet would consist of the following vessels, Nereus, Pontoosuc, Pawtuxet, Senaca, Maumee, Yantic, Pequot, Huron, Unadilla, Kansas, Tacony, Brooklyn, New Ironsides, Monadock, Saugus, Canonicus, Mahopac, Minnesota, Colorado, Vanderbilt, Wabash, Macknaw, Susquehanna, Powhattan, Tuscarora, Juntata, Shenandoah, Vicksburg, Ticonderoga, Santiago de Cuba, Fort Jackson, Osceola, Sassacus, Cheppewa, Cuyler, Maratanza, Rhode Island, Monticello, Alabama, Montgomery, Keystone State, Quaker City, Iosco, Buckingham, Brittanic, Tristan Shandy, Nansemond, Lilian, Emma, Gettysburg, Eolus, Moccasin, Vance, Cherokee, Wilderness, Howquah, Louisiana, and Aries. Added to this would be 6000 infantry who would do the ground assault.

The fleet soon gets underway, with orders to form off Cape Hatteras, NC for the assault.

23 December, 1864: The fleet meets at Cape Hatteras, despite heavy seas. They move as one down the coast toward Ft Fisher. Butler has a wild plan. His plan was to stuff the USS Louisiana full of explosives, ground her near the fort, then detonate the floating bomb. Hopefully this would blow a hole on the fort, allowing an easy capture. Throughout the evening, crews filled the Louisiana with powder from the keel to the top deck. A volunteer crew then sailed the gunboat to the shore, lit the fuse, and then made a mad dash by rowboat back to the fleet.

24 December, 1864: 1:40 a.m.: There is a massive explosion as the floating bomb once known as USS Louisiana went up. The Confederate defenders were wakened by the explosion, then rolled over and went back to sleep.

Sunrise found the fort relatively unscratched. It was decided to continue with the original plan and begin the naval bombardment.

12:00 noon: 627 guns open up on Ft Fisher. Over 10,000 shells were fired at the rate of 115 a minute. Later on Butler complained that the bombardment was too ragged and not concentrated. It was found out later that many of the naval gunners were trying to knock down the Confederate flag flying over the fort. The shells sailed over the fort and landed in the marshes behind the fort, causing no harm to the defenders. Meanwhile the infantry was landed north of the fort and began to move south.

2:30 p.m.: Butler launched his assault on the fort and runs into a complication, the Confederates planted “land torpedoes” or mines, throughout the only solid path to the fort. This stalls the attack long enough for the Confederates to load canister (anti-personnel) rounds and begin firing. To make matters worse, bad weather and rumors of a relief column from Wilmington approaching caused Butler to pull back and go back to the ships. Even so, 700 were left behind.

26 December, 1864: After managing to pick up the remaining 700 troops, the troops transports sail for Hampton Roads, VA while the warships head for Beaufort, SC.

As reports of the aborted operation reach Washington, DC, the accusations and counter-accusations are flying. US President Abraham Lincoln decided to have a conference with now Commander-in Chief Grant. Lincoln was now in an unassailable position, having won a second term. After meeting with his Cabinet, Lincoln orders Butler’s removal.

1865 opens with a final defeat for Butler, his troops were building a canal that would bypass a large section of the James River. When the final explosion, which would allow water to enter, was touched off, the canal banks collapsed, filling the channel with dirt. On 7 January, 1865, Butler received a Presidential order relieving him of command and directing him home to Massachusetts to await further orders. These never arrive and Butler resigns his commission on 30 November, 1865.

Another assault on the fort is ordered, with Porter retaining command of the naval units and Terry receiving command of the infantry. That force is reinforced to 12,000. Porter decided to change tactics and move his ships closer to shore so his fire can be concentrated. He also plans to create another ground force by using sailors, armed with Colt revolvers and cutlasses, and Marines.

4 January, 1865: The troop transports depart Virginia.

8 January, 1865: The Federal fleet is formed off Beaufort and begins heading for Fort Fisher.

12 January, 1865: The Union force has reappeared off Ft Fisher. Porter sends four ironclads (Monadock, Saugus,Canonicus ,and Mahopac) to within 500 yards of the fort and began shelling the place. The Confederates respond, allowing Porter to plot the positions of the Southern batteries.

13 January, 1865: Terry begins landing on the beach north of the fort. Instead of immediately marching south, he builds a defensive line to prevent any Confederates from escaping. During the night, Porter keeps up the bombardment, preventing any repairs to the fort.
14 January, 1865: Colonel Lamb receives help in the form of 700 troops and 50 sailors. With the reinforcements came Whiting, who takes overall command. They were brought in by ship despite the Federal bombardment. There are another 6000 in Wilmington but they are command by none other than General Braxton Bragg. He ignores Lamb’s requests for additional troops, citing the need to keep Wilmington secure.

15 January, 1865: 3:00 p.m.: Porter orders the bombardment to stop. Terry splits his force, leaving some at the defensive line and taking 3000 to hit the western end of the fort. Porter lands 1200 sailors and 400 Marines on the beach and hits the sea side of the fort. The Confederates put up a massive artillery defense and forced the sailor/Marine force to pull back. Terry, on the other hand, manages to get past the minefield and into the fort. As the sailor/Marine force is pulled back, Porter resumes the naval bombardment on order to support Terry. This sets the stage for up for six hours of constant close in fighting. Gradually, the Confederates are pushed off the walls, many running to the southern end of the sand spit, where a two gun battery was located. More importantly, there was a dock where they could be evacuated. Sadly, there were no boats and those who sought refuge would soon be captured. At 10:00 p.m. the Confederate garrison surrenders.

Both Lamb and Whiting are wounded and captured. Whiting will die on 10 March of his injuries.

The main result of this was that Wilmington was now isolated and useless as a port. Because of this the city finally fell on 22 February, 1865.

Butler would be elected to the House of Representatives on 1866 as a Republican. He would lead the charge to impeach President Andrew Johnson for what he saw as soft treatment of former Confederates. He would also serve as Governor of Massachusetts and fail in an attempt to become President in the 1884 election. He dies in 1893.

Porter’s war service would conclude on the James River in April 1865. He remained in the Navy, serving as commandant of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD and becoming the Navy’s senior Admiral in 1870. He dies in 1891.

Lamb’s defense of Ft Fisher was his only action in Confederate service, in which he saw most of the war in a staff position. He was held prisoner until after the end of the war, when he presumably returned to his pre-war occupation as a publisher. He dies in 1909.

With Wilmington in Federal hands, there would be no more supplies coming in from Europe. The final surrender of the Confederacy was now only a matter of time.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Western Virginia

Dates: 3 June to 13 September, 1861


Union: Major General George McClellan, Commander of the military Department of the Ohio. Succeeded by Brigadier William Rosecrans.

Confederate: Brigadier General Robert E. Lee, commanding Confederate forces in Western Virginia.

Prelude: When Virginia seceded on 17 April, 1861, not everyone was on board with the idea. The people who lived in the northwestern corner of the state had nothing in common with those who lined in the Tidewater region. The mountainous region of Western Virginia could not support the plantation system that was the preferred method of farming in the flatter eastern regions. As that was the case, slavery practically did not exist in the west. There was another perception in the west that they were not being considered when the rest of the state voted to secede. Western Virginians had more in common with Ohioans than Eastern Virginians.

The solution: countersecession.

In Wheeling, representatives of the western counties met not only to propose secession from Virginia, but aim to petition the US Government to admit those counties as a state. Another proposal was for the raising of regiments for the defense of those counties and to eventually fight for the Union.

Predictably, the Virginia government, embroiled with negotiations over admittance to the Confederate States of America, was not pleased with the prospect of losing access to the mineral wealth and a major rail line to the North, as well as the lack of unity they wanted to present. It was decided to send troops to the region in order to enforce that unity. They chose a commander that was becoming popular in the state, Lee. He had just resigned from the US Army after being offered command of the entire Union war effort. Pledging to never raise his sword except in defense of the state, he accepted command of the Virginia Armed Forces, such as they were.

The North saw this as an opportunity to drive a wedge into increasingly hostile territory. It was decided to send troops into the region in order to support the Western Virginians.
The Administration of US President Abraham Lincoln chose McClellan to lead an expeditionary force into Western Virginia. McClellan was a Major General of Ohio Volunteers who had left his job at the Illinois Central Railroad to reenter the military. He was promoted to Major General of US Volunteers and named Commander of the newly created Department of the Ohio. It would be his job to secure Western Virginia for the Union.

23 May, 1861: The Virginia Legislature votes to accept the offer to join the Confederacy in exchange for Richmond being named the capital of the new country. With that, the western counties affirm their pro-Union leanings and called in the Federals for help. They weren’t without resources of their own; the 1st Virginia (US) was formed with Colonel Benjamin Franklin Kelly as its commander.

With the admission of Virginia into the CSA, all Virginia troops were placed in Confederate service.

27 May, 1861: McClellan crosses the Ohio River into Virginia with his Army of the Ohio.

30 May, 1861: Federal troops occupy Grafton, allowing McClellan to both protect Union interests in Western Virginia, as well as the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad line running through the region.

As part of the Confederate response, a small force led by Colonel George Porterfield conducts a raid in which two B&O bridges are destroyed. Afterwards, they move to the town of Philippi.

3 June, 1861: The Philippi Races: McClellan sees this development as an opportunity to strike the first blow. He deploys three formations, including Colonel Kelly’s 1st VA (US) to Philippi by a forced march at night. Arriving in the area very tired, an assault was immediately launched. The attack did not go off too well, but it spooked the Confederates in a full blown rout. It was said that the confederates ran so fast, it was like they were in a foot race, so the retreat became known as “The Philippi Races.”

McClellan had his first victory. This also gave the Federals the idea that the Confederates would not have the stomach for a stiff fight, an idea that would be disproven at Manassas in a few weeks. Still, he expressed caution in his movements, actions that would color his entire career as a Union general. It would be July before there was more action.

The Confederates sent reinforcements, commanded by Brigadier General Robert Garnett, to block McClellan. Another force, led by Lieutenant Colonel John Pegram, occupied Rich Mountain which overlooked a major turnpike.

10 July, 1861: McClellan’s forces encounter Garnett’s troops at Laurel Hill. He learns of the Confederate positions and decides to act against the defenses at Rich Mountain.

11 July, 1861: McClellan sends troops under Brigadier general William Rosecrans to hit the Confederates at Rich Mountain, forcing Pegram to withdraw.

12 July, 1861: Word of Pegram’s withdrawal reaches Garnett, who decides to withdraw himself. On the same day, the town of Beverly was occupied by Federal troops.

Meanwhile, more Confederate formations were being formed for operations in Western Virginia, one of these under command of former Virginia Governor Henry Wise. Another group was the Army of Kanawha, commander by Brigadier General John Floyd, a former US Secretary of War. He will soon meet Union Brigadier General Jacob Cox as he is heading down the Great Kanawha Valley towards Charleston, the future capital of West Virginia. By 25 July, Charleston is occupied and Cox continues south towards Cross Lanes.


13 July, 1861: McClellan launches an attack on Garnett at Carrick’s Ford, driving the Confederates back and killing Garnett in the process. Garnett becomes the first general officer to be killed in the Civil War.

The Federals now have control over the Western Virginia counties. This prompts the US command to launch an offensive into the heart of Virginia itself, that being the campaign that ends with the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas).

The action in Western Virginia becomes a series of skirmishes, with the exception of a major assault by Confederates that drives back Cox at Cross Lanes, the Union has Western Virginia in their grasp.

With the Federal defeat at Manassas, McClellan is called to Washington DC to reorganize the army, leaving Rosecrans in command. His first order is to get reinforcements to Cross Lanes.

28 July, 1861: Lee is given command of Confederate troops in Western Virginia and immediately departs Richmond for the region. This is his first command since turning over all of his troops to the Confederacy.

9 September, 1861: Lee sends three columns against Federal forces on Cheat Mountain, south of Rich Mountain. The plan is to sweep the Union troops off the summit. These Federal troops are under the command of Brigadier General John Reynolds. He was left there while Rosecrans marched the rest of his command to Cross Lanes.

10 September, 1861: Battle of Carnifax Ferry: Floyd advances to the ferry crossing, only to find no Federals. Cox had pulled his men back, destroying the ferry boats on the process. Floyd’s infantry ended up on one side of the river while the artillery was stuck on the other. Rosecrans, with his reinforcements, attacks and forces Floyd to get his infantry back and withdraw. That night, Floyd pulls back to Meadow Ridge, but the river level stops any Union pursuit.

11 September, 1861: Battle of Cheat Mountain: Lee has marched his troops to Cheat Mountain in a pouring rain. That, added with the terrain and the fact that several of his commanders were quarreling, added to the difficulty. The Confederates were split into three formations and the plan was to have each column attack the summit from a different direction. The terrain was rocky, it was still raining, most of the soldiers were sick, and the whole plan fell apart when one of Lee’s colonels, Albert Rust, lost his nerve. Lee had no choice but to pull back, leaving another column, under Colonel Thomas Jackson, to watch Reynolds.

12 September, 1861: In another blow to the Confederates, Rosecrans arrives with the bulk of his troops and drives Jackson from Cheat Mountain.

13 September, 1861: Reports of the action reach Richmond, causing the recall of Lee and Wise. Floyd is left in command and immediately orders his troops into winter quarters, ending the campaign.

Lee was ripped apart in the press for being “outgeneraled.” He would become Military Advisor to CS President Jefferson Davis, but it would be the next year before he would have another command, the Army of Northern Virginia. Jackson would become one of his corps commanders.

McClellan would command the Army of the Potomac, but his caution in the field and his constant criticism of Lincoln would see him removed from command. He would be the Democratic Party nominee for President in 1864, losing to Lincoln.

Floyd would become one of the two generals who fled Fort Donelson in 1862, prompting President Davis to remove him from further command. He dies in 1863.

Wise would stay in Confederate military service throughout the war, serving in various posts within and without the Army of Northern Virginia. He was with Lee at Appomattox and died in 1876, still faithful to the Southern Cause.

Rosecrans would become an army commander in the West, until losing the Battle of Chickamauga. He was then assigned to the Department of the Missouri, where his lack of actions in dealing with Sterling Price’s invasion led to his removal and being sent home to “await orders.”

The region at the center of it all, the counties of Western Virginia, became the State of West Virginia in 1863.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Sheridan's Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864/1865

Dates: 19 September, 1864 to 2 March, 1865


Union: Major General Philip Sheridan, commander of the Middle Military District including the Federal Army of the Shenandoah.

Confederate: Lieutenant General Jubal Early, commanding a corps of the Army of Northern Virginia on detached duty in the Shenandoah Valley.

Prelude: Early was resting his forces after his Washington DC raid of 11-12 July, 1864, followed by the burning of Chambersburg, PA on 30 July, 1864. During this time, three Federal commanders were embarrassed to say the least, as well as getting very close to US President Abraham Lincoln, who was visiting a fort at the time. Both Lincoln and his Commander of all Union Armies, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, got tired of having Confederate forces running roughshod over them in the Shenandoah Valley. Lincoln gave Grant the authority to appoint any commander he wanted for the operation. Grant was busy pinning General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Petersburg, VA so he wanted a commander that could get the job done with little supervision. On 7 August, 1864 he had his man, Sheridan. Grant’s cavalry commander would lead the army that would not only take Early out, but would have the additional mission of rendering the Shenandoah Valley incapable of providing food for the now starving Confederate Army.

Sheridan, graduated from West Point in 1853, was in the Regular Army when the Civil War broke out. He started in a staff position but was soon commanding cavalry units in the West. After getting swept back at Chickamauga, he redeemed himself at the Battle of Chattanooga by storming and capturing Missionary Ridge. When Grant went east, he took Sheridan with him, at first assigning him to the Army of the Potomac’s cavalry corps. It was Sheridan’s cavalry that engaged Lieutenant General J.E.B. Stuart’s force at Yellow Tavern, where Stuart fell.

Sheridan took command on a force that included Union troops that were defeated at New Market, Monocacy, and Winchester, having been led by mediocre commanders. He brought these forces together and named them the Army of the Shenandoah.

10 August, 1864: Sheridan orders his command to Harper’s Ferry to prepare for the operation. Early gets wind of this and begins moving his forces to Winchester to act as a blocking force.

11 August, 1864: Early decides to fall back on the lessons taught by his mentor, the late Lieutenant General Thomas Jackson and use maneuver to confuse Sheridan. What helps is many of Jackson’s veterans now march with Early. His first move is to leave Winchester and head for nearby Cedar Creek in order to draw Sheridan in.

14 August, 1864: After a skirmish at Cedar Creek, Sheridan decides to pull back and await reinforcements.

16 August, 1864: Sheridan reaches Winchester, the speed of his maneuver threw off Early. He orders an advance to catch Sheridan.

17 August, 1864: Sheridan orders his forces to pull back toward Berryville as his rear guard skirmish with Early at Winchester.

18 August, 1864: It seems that Sheridan is the one trying to draw Early in. The Federals head for Charles Town while the Confederates head for Bunker Hill, north of Winchester.

21 August, 1864: Sheridan and his army reach Harper’s Ferry, where they prepare strong defensive positions. Early believes that he has another timid Federal commander in front of him.

27 August, 1864: Early spent several days probing the Federal lines at Harper’s Ferry without success. He orders a withdrawal.

For the next several weeks there is skirmishing, but no real action. With Early still a threat, soon even Lincoln was getting concerned. He orders Grant to provide whatever assistance he can provide Sheridan. Grant decides to see Sheridan personally and departs Petersburg on 15 September to do just that.

Sheridan, on the other hand, has decided that the time was right to go on the offensive.

17 September, 1864: Early receives reports that Union forces are working on rail lines in preparation for an advance. He orders his troops to Bunker Hill in response.

18 September, 1864: Early marches to Martinsburg, where he learns of the Grant/Sheridan conference. The Confederates are ordered back to Bunker Hill.

The Campaign Begins

19 September, 1864: Battle of Winchester: Early pulled back his forces to Winchester and deployed them in an angle northeast of the town. He has his cavalry cover the north, anchored on two forts. Sheridan attacks from the east and was held by Early’s defensive line. He then sends in his cavalry, which crushes the Confederate left flank. Early is forced from the field.

Early withdraws south, with Sheridan in pursuit.

21 September, 1864: Sheridan catches up with Early at Cedar Creek. The Federals immediately entrench and check out the Confederate line. Sheridan brings up Brigadier General George Crook’s Army of West Virginia and conceal them for an attack the next day.

22 September, 1864: Early sees the situation at Cedar Creek and begins to pull back. However, Crook attacks and Sheridan launches a general assault on Early. Despite the artillery holding their ground, the Confederate line breaks and Early has to order a retreat. He loses 1200 men and 12 cannon. The Union loses are 528.

24 September, 1864: As Early pulls back to New Market, Sheridan begins to implement the next phase of his plan. He orders the burning of farms, including crops and barns, which had supplied the Confederate armies since 1861.

For the next few weeks, Sheridan slowly advanced down the Shenandoah Valley, burning farms and skirmishing with Early. Port Republic, Brock’s Gap, and Brown’s Gap were among the places where minor engagements took place.

Sheridan decides to head back north, still burning farms along the way. He faces a determined Early as well as Colonel John Singleton Mosby’s Virginia Partisan Rangers, who were attacking his supply lines, in one instance losing a $173,000 payroll.

18 October, 1864: This day finds Sheridan at Cedar Creek. He is ordered to a conference in Washington. Early decides that if there is a good time to attack, that is now. He moves up his forces, now numbering 8800 infantry and 1200 cavalry, to Cedar Creek and wait for morning.

19 October, 1864; Battle of Cedar Creek: At around 5:40 a.m. Early launched his assault. Despite a few delays, surprise is achieved and the Federals are driven from their camps. Two Federal corps are overrun while a third tries to hold a defensive line. What helps the Union was that Early’s troops decide to loot the encampments, another sign of the desperate supply situation.

Sheridan was riding back from the conference when he hears the noise of battle and sees his troops running. After sizing up the situation, he begins riding forward on his horse, Rienzi, rallying his forces with the promise that they would be back in their camps that night. During the afternoon, the Union forces were able to launch an assault of their own. Early’s army was thrown back and forced to retreat. While directing a holding action, Confederate General Stephen Ramseur was killed. The Union causalities were 5762 while the Confederates lost 2910. The main difference was that Sheridan started out with 30,000, Early only had 10,000.

After a couple of more skirmishes, both armies went into winter quarters. Both forces were shrunk. Early was ordered to send most of his troops back to Lee at Petersburg. Sheridan sent his infantry back to Grant, who would need them for the final campaign.

As the spring of 1865 approached, Sheridan had 10,000 cavalry at his disposal. Early only had 2000. In February, Sheridan retakes the offensive.

27 February, 1865: Sheridan sends Brigadier General Wesley Merritt against the Virginia Central Railroad and the James River Canal with orders to destroy both.

28 February, 1865: Sheridan’s cavalry cross the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. They carry 15 days worth of rations. The valley is so depleted that in the words on one Union officer, “a bird flying across the valley would have to carry their own provender.”

2 March, 1865: Sheridan’s cavalry assault Early’s lines at Waynesboro, puncturing the center and capturing most of the Confederate force. Early, his staff, and a few troops manage to escape. This ends any Confederate military presence in the Shenandoah Valley.

Following that last defeat, Lee was forced to relieve Early of command. As the war was coming to an end, he flees to Mexico, but returns later to practice law. He dies in 1894.

Sheridan received the Thanks of Congress for his actions at Cedar Creek as well as the permanent rank of Major General of Regulars. He rejoins Grant and was instrumental at Five Forks, forcing the Confederates to evacuate Richmond and Petersburg. At Appomattox, he blocked all remaining avenues of retreat that Lee had left, forcing the final surrender. Post-war, Sheridan commanded a force that was sent to the Rio Grand River to keep an eye on the Imperial Mexican Government, headed by the Emperor Maximillian. Afterwards, he commanded the Department of the Missouri. While on active duty he was an observer of the Franco-Prussian War and worked for the creation of Yellowstone National Park. He achieved the rank of Full General in 1884 and died while on active duty in 1888.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Early's Washington Raid

Dates: 26 June to 4 August, 1864


Union: Major Generals Lew Wallace, David Hunter and George Crook

Confederate: Lieutenant General Jubal Early

Prelude: At this time the Army of Northern Virginia is beginning to be boxed in. After defeating, but not driving out the Federal Army of the Potomac in several battles in Virginia, General Robert E. Lee’s forces have been held under siege in Petersburg. Lee has two jobs, keep his army intact and protect the Confederate capital of Richmond. Each day, more Union troops arrive in the area, making it impossible to mount any kind of offense. Adding to the problem was a Union force operating in the Shenandoah Valley under Hunter which had just savagely defeated a small Confederate force at Piedmont on 5 June. This was followed by Hunter marching on Lexington and burning the Virginia Military Institute in revenge for its cadets inflicting a defeat on the Federals at New Market on 15 May. Seeing the possibility of a Union force appearing behind him, or worse, Richmond being captured, Lee orders one of his corps, commanded by Early, to go to the aid of Lieutenant General John Brackenridge, presently falling back to Lynchburg. Early rushes there with 14,000 and arrives there, forcing Hunter to pull his force out of the Shenandoah Valley altogether. Early sees this as an opportunity to hopefully draw Union troops from Petersburg and maybe put a scare into the folks at Washington DC. He orders his troops to Staunton to prepare for a raid to the north.

26 June, 1864: Early and his troops reach Staunton. He had ordered shoes, food and other supplies for his soldiers but they have not arrived. He decides to press on, even though his men had not eaten for two days.

29 June, 1864: Early’s forces are on the march north. They managed to secure some supplies, enough rations for seven days. Hopefully more will be found while on the march.

2 July, 1864: Early’s troops reach Winchester, where he is ordered to wait until more supplies arrive. Afterwards, the orders are to cross the Potomac and wreck the Baltimore and Ohio rail lines.

3 July, 1864: As Early’s troops begin to approach the Potomac, Union troops under Major General Franz Sigel, pull across into Maryland.

4 July, 1864: Federal troops evacuate Harper’s Ferry. They still cover the town with artillery.

5 July, 1864: Early leaves two divisions to cover Harper’s ferry and proceeds to cross the Potomac with the remainder of his force.

Panic begins to grow among the locals as well as the politicians in Washington. It was just over a year ago that Lee’s entire army was at Gettysburg. The panic was not helped by rumors that Early was leading a massive army on Washington.

6 July, 1864: Early reaches Hagerstown, MD, extorting $20,000 from the residents and wrecking an aqueduct. At the sane time, one Union division is ordered to leave Petersburg and march to the defense of Washington

7 July, 1864; Federal reinforcements arrive in Baltimore. They are in a position to respond to whatever direction Early heads off in. Early, on the other hand, had decided to push through the gaps at South Mountain and head for the forts surrounding Washington.

At this time, Washington is the most heavily fortified city in the world. The city was ringed with forts that offered mutual protection to each other. One problem they might have; quite a few of the regiments that manned the forts were now with the Army of the Potomac, but that would not present too much of a problem.

8 July, 1864: Wallace gathers a scratch force at Frederick, MD in order to counter Early.

9 July, 1864: Battle of Monocacy: Wallace has positioned his forces on the east bank on the Monocacy River, centered on the bridge at Monocacy Junction. At the Confederates arrive in the area, Early orders an immediate attack on the Federal defensive line. Early sends Breckenridge and Major General John Gordon across the river and hits the Federal left flank. By sunset, Wallace has no choice but to full back, seeing that his army of fortification troops, clerks, and other green troops were already running. This only delays Early one day, but that is a day more for the Washington defensives to prepare.

That evening, Early arrives in Frederick and extorts $200,000 from the residents.

11 July, 1864: Early approaches the ring of fortifications surrounding Washington. The July heat has taken a toll on his troops, reducing his numbers to about 8000. He has 40 cannon, but these are smoothbore Napoleons. They are best for firing solid shot, which is great against masonry (brick) forts, but earthen forts swallow up the shots and the defenders can shore up the walls with shovelfuls of dirt. That evening, Early learns that two divisions that included regulars, invalids, short-term troops, and raw recruits have reinforced the forts. He decides to pull back, knowing full well that he could not even think of penetrating the ring of forts.

12 July, 1864: Early decided not to leave without giving the Federals a parting shot. His troops skirmish with Federals at Fort Stevens, northwest of Washington. While this was going on, there was a visit to the fort by none other than US President Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary. While the fight was going on, Lincoln climbed on a firing step in order to see what was going on. Seconds later, a private next to him was killed by Confederate fire. A New York captain then screamed, “GET DOWN YOU D***ED FOOL OR YOU WILL BE KILLED!” Lincoln calmly told the captain, “Well, Captain, I see you have already learned how to address a civilian.”

The New York captain was future Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Lincoln became the first (and so far only) President of the United States to come under enemy fire.

13 July, 1864: Early heads back to the Shenandoah Valley pursued by elements of two Federal corps.

19 July, 1864: There is a skirmish at Berry’s Ford as Early pulls back toward Winchester.

20 July, 1864: Early has a setback as one of his divisions is crushed at Winchester, losing 400 soldiers that the Confederacy can not afford to lose.

22 July, 1864: Federal troops break off the pursuit and head back to Washington, thinking they have driven Early off.

It does not seem to be the case. Early has enough men to make another raid. Perhaps another way to get under the Federal’s skins once again. He orders his forces to Kernstown.

24 July, 1864: Early reaches Kernstown and finds Federals under Crook there. The Confederates launch an assault that drives the Union forces off.

25 July, 1864: Early begins a pursuit of Crook in a driving rainstorm. Some of Crooks troops head for West Virginia while the rest head into Maryland.

26 July, 1864: While moving back towards the Potomac, Early’s troops destroy the Baltimore and Ohio line near Martinsburg.

29 July, 1864: Early’s cavalry crosses the Potomac near Williamsport while the rest of his troops halts.

30 July, 1864: Confederate cavalry under Brigadier General John McCausland reach Chambersburg, PA. They demand $500,000 in cash or $100,000 in gold. The residents had neither, so McCausland burned the town down.

31 July, 1864: As Chambersburg burns, McCausland orders a quick retreat back to Virginia. However, he is intercepted at Hancock, MD by Federal cavalry. It will take another two days for McCausland to get back to Virginia.

Early now sits in the Shenandoah Valley where he can make a nuisance of himself, but events were now coming together that would make things very hot for the Confederate general.

7 August, 1864: Major General Philip Sheridan is named commander of the Union Middle Military Division. He is also given command of the newly formed Army of the Shenandoah. Sheridan has one mandate, render the Shenandoah Valley incapable of supporting the Confederacy any longer.

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