Friday, July 1, 2011

One Plan Started, Another Ended

Charles Stone was still unaware of the Cabinet meeting that had transpired while he continued to guard the crossings of the Potomac River. His comments in his report for the last day of June to General-in-chief Winfield Scott's chief of staff explain his frustration at having failed to secure the river over a three week period, largely because of Robert Patterson's continued lack of communication. In the intervening days Patterson had still not occupied Harper's Ferry, and had also not arranged with Stone to secure the Potomac, not even sending him a message. Harper's Ferry again sat unoccupied and Stone was in the same difficult position he had been in when it all began almost three weeks earlier.

Specifically, Stone fretted that "the railroad and canal are not safe for a single night" but he didn't have enough men to cover that entire stretch of river. "I suppose Major-General Patterson must have weighty reasons for leaving the point opposite Harper's Ferry without guard, for I fear each night risks an immense amount of private property and wearies local people, while it encourages the sympathizers of the enemy." Stone moaned that with just two more regiments he could occupy the entire line from Harper's Ferry to Georgetown, and with three could move across the river into Leesburg and split up the two Confederate forces.

Splitting those forces was now going to be of the utmost importance, since Lincoln had approved a plan for Irvin McDowell to march his 35,000 Union troops around Alexandria on Manassas Junction and the Confederates there under G.T. Beauregard. McDowell's plan counted on outnumbering Beauregard's 20,000 by almost 15,000 troops, which meant in practical terms that the 12,000 Confederates led by Joe Johnston had to be kept far away from Manassas.

Lincoln had named July 8 for the day to kick off McDowell's campaign, so Scott needed to see to keeping Johnston locked down. Patterson had been insisting for days that he couldn't act aggressively due to lack of troops, but McDowell needed all the troops Scott could spare. Scott made a decision and Edward Townsend drafted and sent it.

Col. C.P. Stone, commanding the Rockville expedition, will send back to this city the section of artillery, the mounted troops, and such of the District of Columbia volunteers as may desire to return, and with the remainder of the force under his command will join the column under Major-General Patterson.
The order must have upset Stone a great deal, as is evident in his July 1 reply. "I regret greatly the necessity which exists for leaving this village and vicinity without troops, as I have said before, and hope that these troops may be replaced before any evil results." Nevertheless, he set about implementing the disappointing order with efficiency, even if he made sure to get in a few digs: "The advance to General Patterson's supposed position will begin this afternoon." The 9th New York, 1st New Hampshire, and 1st Pennsylvania would all advance with Stone to Point of Rocks and reach Harper's Ferry by July 2, while the DC Militia would fall back on Seneca Mills, and then Georgetown. "I expect to learn that the enemy have crossed immediately on my leaving, and doubtless the canal will be destroyed, as well as large amounts of grain of the old and new crop."

Stone did not know about McDowell's planned advance. On the same day he sent his begrudging acknowledgment of orders, McDowell was busy forming the troops in the Department of Northeastern Virginia into an army of the same name, collecting regiments into brigades and brigades into divisions in preparation for a march. Robert Patterson, meanwhile, had received definitive orders from Scott to cross the Potomac along with an explanation of the plan and would do so the morning of July 2 at Williamsport to begin the task of pinning Johnston down.

Unaware of all this, Stone ruefully packed up his headquarters in Poolesville and prepared to march to join Patterson. His independent mission, the Rockville Expedition, was abandoned.

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