Sunday, June 10, 2012

Made to Pay

The exciting conclusion of Jackson's Valley Campaign minus Jackson or the Valley

In case you missed it, on Tuesday we looked at how Jackson's capture of Front Royal in mid-May postponed McDowell's planned march on Richmond. On Thursday, we saw the resulting race to Front Royal when Jackson continued marching north, in hopes of trapping him in the Lower Valley and eliminating his command.

On the evening of June 10, Colonel Edmund Schriver, chief of staff for the Department of the Rapphannock, and sitting in Front Royal as Maj. General Irvin McDowell's eyes and ears, ruefully forwarded a "sorry picture of Shields' division" in the form of a report from its head, Maj. General James Shields in Luray. That town, Schriver told his boss, was "filled with so-called sick officers and men, who, it is said, will never be of use again."
In any calculations you may take as to numbers do not rely on more than half what the returns call for. I do not think any of our army will be fit to take the field unless King's division, in less than a fortnight. Horses are used up as well as the men. The want of discipline and ignorance of the plainest duties are distressing. There is nothing but confusion and disorder.
Just two weeks earlier James Shields had told Schriver, "I will clear the valley of the Shenandoah of the enemy as far as I advance." Now it seemed like his men would never march again. In between they had met Maj. General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, who in the second part of his stunning Valley Campaign, had incapacitated two more Union forces and saved Richmond for the Confederacy.

As in our two previous posts, however, our story doesn't lie in the Valley, but east of the Blue Ridge in the Piedmont where McDowell's army in the Department of the Rapphannock had put its plans to march on Richmond on hold, to make an all-out rush for the Shenandoah Valley and Jackson. On May 31, it looked like they were well on their way to accomplishing their goal of trapping his army between Union reinforcements based around Harper's Ferry and a combined army of McDowell's men and men from the Mountain Department at Front Royal and Strasburg.

Shields, McDowell's star division commander, had two of his brigades already at Front Royal and two more that would arrive before the night was out. To the west on the Manassas Gap Railroad, another division under Maj. General Edward O.C. Ord had advanced to about Thoroughfare Gap, but damage to the railroad by Confederate cavalry near Front Royal and a train wreck near McDowell's headquarters at Rectortown was slowing them down. Further south, the division of Rufus King was at Catlett's Station, and could make use of the O&A Railroad to get to Manassas Junction and switch to the Manassas Gap line. The problem for McDowell was feeding so many men and horses.

"Fremont has not yet reached Strasburg, and I fear he will not reach it in time." Shields had told McDowell and McDowell had relayed to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, "Ord's division should be pushed forward, but with supplies, or it will starve here without them."

Fremont was supposed to have marched from the west side of the Allegheny Mountains to Harrisonburg, but had decided instead to cross further north directly at Strasburg. Throughout the race of Shields to get to the Valley, the Lincoln Administration had taken for granted that Fremont's men would get their first--for one, they had much less ground to cover--but instead Shields sat in Front Royal and Strasburg sat empty. McDowell was pleased in his morning telegram to Staunton to note that his men had arrived on hour before Lincoln's proscribed time.

Reports from Harper's Ferry and Williamsport indicated that Jackson's men still appeared to be attacking there, so that bought Fremont more time--or McDowell more time to get Ord to the Valley. Staunton was still sufficiently nervous to order all the ferries on the Potomac from Harper's Ferry to Washington City sunk, but by 2:00 pm let his commanders know that Jackson was falling back.

Things went less well than McDowell hoped in the afternoon. Rather than push on part of his division to Strasburg , Shields insisted on waiting until Ord could reinforce him. But in the heavy rains the road  turned to muck, and Ord's men had failed to advance very far. McDowell and Ord had gotten in a verbal altercation in which the Department commander showed hints of what would become known as his trademark weakness of blaming subordinates for everything that went wrong. At the end of it, Ord plead illness and asked to be relieved. His senior brigadier, James Ricketts, proved no more skilled at conquering nature.

McDowell, meanwhile, rode to Front Royal, where Shields assured him that the division of James Longstreet had arrived in Charlottesville from the Confederate army and was, at that moment, marching north towards Front Royal, so he had stationed one brigade south of town. It was nonsense, of course, but Shields relished the excitement of being caught between Jackson and Longstreet. McDowell didn't think that Longstreet had left the vicinity of Richmond, but thought it might have been the much smaller Confederate army that had previously stood opposite Fredericksburg.

At dawn, McDowell started back for Ord's division to help Ricketts move the men. The rain had stopped, and the sky was clearing, but the men were in bad shape from a night of marching and McDowell's orders to leave behind their knapsacks. "They were wet, had no tents, and were very much exposed," McDowell later told the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. "But they got along the best way they could. They kept coming in driblets, sometimes in considerable bodies."

As morning wore on, McDowell and Ricketts heard the boom of artillery in the distance. Ricketts tore off down the line urging his men to march to the battle, which seemed to have some effect. Meanwhile McDowell took off for Front Royal to find Shields. The diminutive general agreed that it sounded like fire coming from the direction of Winchester, but that the threat from Longstreet prevented him from leaving Front Royal. Probably with some irritation, McDowell assured Shields he would replace each of his brigades in their defensive positions with brigades from Ord's division by mid-day, and ordered him to start moving. Shields said it would take time to make them ready after their long march and that there weren't enough supplies for both his division and Ord's, but eventually agreed to send a regiment of cavalry and a battalion of elite light infantry, known as the Bucktails (or more formally, the 13th Pennsylvania Reserve Infantry Regiment, on loan to Shields because of their crack sharpshooting abilities).

By early afternoon, the artillery firing had stopped. The Bucktails and the cavalry had gotten close to Strasburg, when Confederate artillery had made clear that they were vastly outnumbered. Reinforced by Sir Percy Wyndham's First New Jersey Cavalry, they had returned to Strasburg to find it abandoned. It was now bitterly apparent that Fremont had not made Strasburg in time and Jackson had slipped out of the noose. In reality, the Stonewall Brigade had barely made it to Strasburg in time. The morning's artillery had been the Confederates and Fremont exchanging fire, but the latter had inexplicably failed to launch an infantry attack, which had let Jackson escape.

Shields--who was not on his way to Strasburg, but had managed to dispatch a brigade of infantry down the road directly to Winchester [US 301]--was ready with a new plan. Put Ord's division in Front Royal and Strasburg, and have Fremont follow Jackson closely, while Shields raced ahead to Harrisonburg to cut him off. The operation was possible because the Massanutten Mountain ridge splits the Shenandoah Valley and its namesake river in half at Front Royal, which would keep Jackson from knowing what Shields was doing since he had committed to the western side of the ridge. All that was needed was for McDowell to keep Shields well-supplied.

According to later testimony, McDowell was dubious about the idea, but deferred to his star subordinate since he had bested Jackson once before and knew the Valley like the back of his hand. Unfortunately for McDowell and the Union war effort, neither was true. But McDowell approved the plan. His cavalry and the Bucktails already in Strasburg, were ordered by Fremont to assist in his harassment of Jackson's march, to McDowell's chagrin. In one of those acts of nature that historians love to use for foreshadowing, a massive summer thunderstorm rolled in as Shields began executing his orders during the late afternoon.

McDowell telegraphed Stanton to let him know the change, but he had Edmund Schriver send the terse telegram to Rufus King, whose division was stretched along the railroads between Catlett's Station, Manassas Junction, and Haymarket. "The enemy has flown. General McDowell directs that you halt your division wherever it may be on receipt of this message."
It only took Shields a few hours to start complaining. He sent a message at dawn on June 2, begging Schriver to convince McDowell to send Ord's division back to Ferdericksburg and let troops from Harper's Ferry guard Front Royal. "For God's sake let us have supplies and not men," Shields complained. Seeing himself as a separate commander, the old Democratic politician was sending the same suggestions directly to the Secretary of War as well, bypassing McDowell. At least in those he spoke well of his commander, asserting that "no man could have done more than General McDowell did" in the failed attempt to cut off Jackson. He used much harsher words for the Republican Fremont.

McDowell, meanwhile, had a problem to solve that was entirely the creation of Stanton. Ord (back from sick leave) and Shields were both major generals of volunteers (Shields not yet confirmed) assigned to the Department of the Rappahannock, commanded by the eighth most senior major general of volunteers, McDowell. But they were operating within the Department of the Shenandoah, whose commander was Nathaniel P. Banks, the second most senior major general of volunteers. Under the rules of the army, they should both report to Banks, except that Banks wasn't even in his department and only a handful of his men were even south of the Potomac. Complicating the situation further, Fremont was the third ranking major general in the regular U.S. Army, which meant that he was senior to both McDowell and Banks, though he too was operating in Banks' department, but with a smaller number of men than McDowell.

Fremont had the best legal authority, Banks knew the territory best, and McDowell knew the situation best (which was, admittedly, a relative comparison). As a former staffer for the Adjutant General, in charge of army orders, McDowell knew all this and sent Fremont a vaguely deferential message via Rectortown, since the inhabitants of Front Royal had sabotaged their own telegraph lines. Substituting observation for direction, McDowell communicated the points he and Shields had agreed upon the day before:
Major-General Shields is now on the march from Front Royal to Luray Court-House, in hopes of getting up the valley before Jackson. Your attack on Jackson as he is retreating must retard him and increase the chances of General Shields intercepting him. I trust my cavalry brigade has rendered you good service. I return immediately to Front Royal.
Either oblivious to all the confusion his structuring of the theater had created, or uninterested, Stanton telegraphed both Fremont and McDowell to say:
We are glad to hear that you are so close on the enemy. McClellan beat the rebels badly near Richmond yesterday [the Battle of Fair Oaks, or Seven Pines]. The President tells me to say to you, "Do not let the enemy escape from you."
He promised that two of Banks' brigades under the newly appointed Maj. General Franz Sigel were marching from Harper's Ferry. In fact, Sigel was skeptical about the ability of the brigades to march anywhere. [Blogger's note: as part of the main narrative of Jackson's Valley Campaign, the activities of Shields and Fremont will largely be omitted for the remainder of this post. Check out Peter Cozzen's Shenandoah 1862 for a great account. Or, you know, Wikipedia.]

The next several days most of McDowell's time was consumed with a growing sense of disappointment in Shields for his conduct in trying to cut off Jackson. The continuing rain was sweeping away bridges faster than Jackson's cavalry could burn them. "As to [Shields'] preventing the enemy's escape 'somehow,'" McDowell wrote the Secretary of War on June 3, "I fear it will be like his intention of crossing the 'river somehow.' His command is not in a condition to go to the places he names."

The supplying wasn't going well either. "A small supply of food came today in wagons," he reported. "It will give us another day's supply, and may enable us to wait for the railway." The rain was making repair of the railroad bridges more dangerous, and only two locomotives were running on the Manassas Gap line, the rest either out of service or employed elsewhere. "We are literally from hand to mouth," he warned the Secretary, "and may have trouble."

McClellan's victory at Fair Oaks weighed heavily on McDowell, because his army should have been there with him. McDowell saw it as a missed opportunity for him personally (in reality the degree of Union victory had been vastly oversold, but it was a game-changer in that Joe Johnston was wounded and replaced by Robert E. Lee). Time and again, in his head, he kept coming back to how his 40,000 men had not been there, which meant the Confederates would be able to hold out longer in a siege of Richmond. He shared these thoughts with Stanton in terms of Jackson's next moves: "It has occurred to me that possibly the enemy, having effected his purpose here, may now go to Richmond or Fredericksburg without being stampeded to do so."

He was, in fact, already making plans to return to Fredericksburg himself. On June 3, he ordered Ord to begin building blockhouses at vulnerable points of the Manassas Gap Railroad, and King, now at Thoroughfare Gap, to begin doing the same back to Manassas Junction. He would leave one brigade from Ord's division until Sigel got to Front Royal, and move the remaining two and King's division back to Fredericksburg in order to join McClellan. Protection of the railroad line would again fall to John Geary, whose alarmist reports had been largely responsible for 30,000 of McDowell's men rushing across the state.

On June 4, preparing to leave Front Royal, McDowell's old staff experience drove him to write Stanton a list of suggestions to fix some of the problems he had created about command.
In view of the present position of the troops in this quarter and of the supposed position of the enemy's forces and of the offensive and defensive operations to be carried on, I trust it may not be considered improper if, from my present point of view, I make the following suggestions.
It was McDowell the know-it-all coming out. McDowell's suggestions had an internal logic. First, extend Fremont's Mountain Department to the Valley Pike, which would solve the problem of him outranking Banks in Banks' own department and would allow Fremont to guard both sides of the passes in the Alleghenies in the future. Second, extend Department of the Shenandoah to Thoroughfare Gap, which would allow Banks to guard both sides of the Blue Ridge and also guarantee that McDowell would not have to bail him out again. The universe mocked McDowell by sweeping away a railroad bridge, delaying the messenger carrying the letter and forcing some unfortunate soul to have to type the whole thing out on telegraph the next day.

June 5 was another series of misfortunes for McDowell. While he was able to get King's division on the march through the rain and the muck towards Warrenton, Ord's division had been split in two at Front Royal. In a now familiar refrain, the high water had swept away a bridge and part of it was stranded on the other side.

McClellan, meanwhile, was vehemently demanding more troops from the Administration in order to follow up on his victory. He too had keyed into the fact that McDowell should have been with him, and was insisting that he could not march his army a step closer to Richmond without reinforcement to the number of troops he had originally planned on having. Anxious to keep the notoriously cautious general moving, Lincoln and Stanton had agreed to send him McCall's division from the Department of the Rappahannock, stationed at Fredericksburg, only a day's ride on the railroad to Aquia Creek and embarkation for the Peninsula.

The June 6 order to send the whole division and to replace them at Fredericksburg with a brigade from somewhere else in the Department crossed paths with a plea from McDowell for Stanton's intervention with Fremont.
Major-General Fremont, from Mount Jackson, has attempted to assume command of me at this place. I beg to report that I have not complied with the order he has sent to me, which was to send troops to Strasburg, as it would place my forces out of the line in which I expect them to operate [marching from Fredericksburg to Richmond]. Before the receipt of his communication I had written to Major-General Banks at Winchester, in whose department both Major-General Fremont and myself are acting temporarily, calling his attention to that point for such action in the premises as he might see fit to take. General Fremont has with him my cavalry brigade [and the Bucktails], which, under the article of war providing for troops happening to join on the march, &c., he was right in ordering with him for the pursuit, and I was glad they were at hand for the work; but I am not willing, unless you so order it, that even a part of my command should be absorbed by Major-General Fremont.
The order to send McCall's Pennsylvania Reserves to McClellan put McDowell over the edge, and he set out immediately for Washington to talk to the Secretary of War in person. He told Schriver to stay in Front Royal and report everything back to him immediately, and especially not to let the staff take any orders from Ord or Shields while he was gone, other than to resupply them. Schriver acknowledged, and, as an adjutant should, sent a note to Ord informing him he was the senior general on hand, but that he could give the staff no orders.

Ord blew a gasket, and sent a reply to Schriver addressed from the "Major-General, Commanding pro tempore."
Sir: in regard to any orders which Major-General McDowell may have given through you conflicting with the 62nd article of war, you are informed that I am the highest in rank here on duty, and I take the responsibility of rescinding any such order. While I am the senior you will obey my orders. You will please refer all matters relating to the command which, during this interregnum, may be addressed to you to me.
Barely a few hours departed, McDowell received a note from Schriver asking him to "set [Ord] right at once, to prevent finding things confused when you return." Whatever action McDowell took, if any, it failed miserably, because the next morning (while the Bucktails were fighting and killing Turner Ashby east of Harrisonburg) Ord petitioned the Secretary of War directly, passive aggressively asking if the President directed that he not assume command.

Meanwhile, Rufus King was marching to Fredericksburg by way of Warrenton, rather than taking the train. Reports had reached McDowell that a large force of Confederate cavalry was in Warrenton and was planning on raiding in Northern Virginia, but, unsurprisingly, there had been no sign of Confederate troops anywhere north of Culpeper Court-House. Out on his own, exhausted by forced marches, and short on cavalry (after detachments he was down to only five companies), King asked McDowell to send him his headquarters guard to help with force protection.

McDowell's opinions apparently still carried weight in Washington. On June 8, while Fremont was fighting Jackson at Cross Keys, the War Department issued General Orders No. 62, which shifted the boundary of the Mountain Department to the Valley Pike and of the Department of the Shenandoah to Bull Run Mountain, just as McDowell had recommended (it also placed all of Tennessee and Kentucky under the control of the increasingly powerful Maj. General Henry Halleck). But even better for McDowell, the War Department sent orders to Fremont to return the Bucktails and the cavalry, and to set up his base of operations at Harrisonburg, with separate orders to Banks based at Front Royal and advanced to Luray, also both McDowell's recommendations on the placement of his superiors. But best of all, the War Department renewed his order to march to Richmond from Fredericksburg, and said that McCall's division would be reunited with his army when they met at the Confederate capital's gates.

McDowell jumped into action, sending telegrams to Schriver to move headquarters to Manassas Junction and get Ricketts' brigade there as fast as possible. The one loss for McDowell was that he'd have to leave two of Ord's brigades at Front Royal until Banks came, but he had gotten Ord immediately transferred out west to be Halleck's problem (where he would end up excelling) so it was sweetened. King's division was ordered to march to Catlett's Station immediately, and from there to Fredericksburg.

Lastly, Schriver sent orders to Shields in Luray to break off his attempt to cut off Jackson and march to Warrenton. Upon receiving the telegram, Shields sat down and wrote out a long, rambling reply to Schriver. Alternating between gloomy complaints about the weather and lack of supplies, and unbridled optimism about the nearness of victory (with one pedantic diversion about the lack of mention of his infantry in a dispatch about the capture of Front Royal), Shields gradually communicated that his four brigades weren't holding together as McDowell had ordered earlier, and weren't holding at Luray, as Shields had represented. Instead, two of them were at Port Republic, and one was at Conrad's Store (the remaining at Luray). Persisting in fantasies about Longstreet, Shields begged several times for two additional brigades from the division he had previously wanted returned to Fredericksburg, and he stated that he would operate with the assumption that McDowell would send them.

Still in Washington, McDowell went into a panic as soon as he read Schriver's synopsis of Shields' message. "Delay all movements of Ricketts' division [from Front Royal] till you get an answer from Shields, to know what he is going to do," McDowell telegraphed at 1:00 am on June 9. "Press for an immediate answer."

In the early hours of the morning he desperately send Schriver a longer message to try to recover from Shields' looming mistake that would undermine his hard fought political victory.
Say to General Shields that it is the order of the President that Major-General Fremont shall hold the valley in connection with Major-General Banks, and that the forces belonging to the Department of the Rappahannock be immediately marched on Richmond to cooperate with Major-General McClellan... It is not clear from Shields' report what is the position of his command at this time, except that he has only two of his brigades advanced, in which he has forgotten my instructions not to move his force so that the several parts should not always be in supporting distance of each other.
Acknowledging that "it has been much desired by the President, and no doubt is still, that Jackson should be made to pay for his late dash," McDowell told Schriver that he was "not disposed to recall him" if he was "in hot pursuit and about to fall on the enemy." But McDowell had the sinking feeling that is not the case.
But if, as I infer, he has only detachments thrown out to the front, he should not place his command out of the possibility of complying with the President's general plan of operation, but should at once call in his parties and move upon Fredericksburg, where he can be refitted for the march to Richmond.
McDowell's inference was correct. And when Schriver got Shields reply not long after dawn, he telegraphed McDowell word about the failure of a small raid led by the commander of Shields' forward most brigade (which had narrowly avoided bagging Jackson himself). "As the general's command seems to have been a good deal divided," McDowell explained, it was enough to halt King at Catlett's Station in case he needed to be moved to the Valley. Grumpily, King replied that "the effect of another retrograde movement will be disheartening to the men. Spare us the necessity, if possible."

But the disaster would be much greater than what McDowell thought. While McCall's men were loading onto transports bound for the Peninsula at Aquia Creek, Shields' two most forward divisions were attacked by Jackson and defeated. As Shields wrote Schriver the next day:
Our artillery was greatly damaged, and some regiments suffered severely. The conflict was maintained for four hours by about 2,000 men against the main body of Jackson's command [neither was true]. The loss on both sides is very great, but the superior numbers of the enemy were so overwhelming that our advance was compelled to fall back, which it did in perfect order [also neither true]... General Fremont and myself were projecting a combined attack upon the enemy this morning [untrue], which in all probability must have destroyed him [Jackson could easily have prevented Fremont's crossing the rain swollen river], when peremptory orders reached me [to march to Fredericksburg, delivered before the battle], which I did not feel at liberty to disobey... I repeat that I must have time to refit at Luray before I can go any farther; also to provide for my sick, who are there, and must be removed.
Ruefully, Schriver forwarded the report on to McDowell. "The above is a sorry picture of Shields' division," Schriver wrote in his cover letter, "but I do not think it is overdrawn. This town is filled with so-called sick officers and men, who, it is said, will never be of use again."

The marches, counter-marches, weather, supply problems, and lost battles caused by Jackson's Valley Campaign had wrecked McDowell's army, though less than a quarter of it had ever been engaged directly with the Confederates.

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