Wainwright’s Diary, March 3, 1864: “Unless Kilpatrick attempts something rash.”

One way to look at the Army of the Potomac’s winter camp of 1864 was not so much a “camp” but a series of rests between demonstrations and raids.  Be it the demonstration at Morton’s Ford or the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid (of which Brigadier-General George A. Custer’s demonstration was a part), some activity kept the army on its haunches.  Colonel Charles S. Wainwright returned from his recruiting leave at the end of February and arrived in the midst of activity supporting the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid:

March 3, Thursday. When I reached here I found the whole army under orders to be ready to move at short notice; from which state we were relieved today.  The cause of this was an attempt to release the prisoners on Belle Isle near Richmond, I know not with whom the plan originated, but learn that General [George G.] Meade has great confidence in its success, his scouts having reported that there are almost no troops around Richmond, and the prisoners are but slightly guarded.  On Saturday, the Sixth Corps was moved to Madison Court House and Custer’s brigade of cavalry sent on a secondary raid around [Confederate General R.E.] Lee’s left. Meanwhile [H. Judson] Kilpatrick with some 3,000 cavalry crossed at Ely’s Ford, and was to push with all speed direct for Richmond.  The last heard of him was at the railroad near the South Anna Sunday; our next news will probably be by way of Fortress Monroe, unless we get it through the Richmond papers.  Having so good a start, they run but little risk with this fine weather and good road unless Kilpatrick attempts something rash.  He has just lost his wife and only child, and they say he is gloomy and desperate; just in the state to try something wild….

We know, of course, the “something wild” that Kilpatrick launch played out by the time Wainwright posted his diary entry.  The night before, Colonel Ulric Dahlgren met his end well short of Belle Isle.

Later in his writing, Wainwright turned to matters of the army’s organization and command:

There is nothing more known on the subject of consolidation, though it is stil believed to be probable.  General [John] Newton, I learn, has not been confirmed as a Major-general.  If this is so, the First Corps will doubtless have a new commander even if no consolidation takes place.  I trust that we shall get a man with more snap, and that will attend to his business.

No surprise there.  Wainwright was not fond of Newton.  The diarist went on to mention another departure of a Army of the Potomac alumni, though not serving the army at that time:

General [William F.] Barry is to go out as chief of artillery of Grant’s command, he having no officer with him in that capacity at present; General A.P. Howe succeeds him in Washington as inspector general of artillery.  I am sorry to lose Barry from Washington as  he could often be of service to me, and was always willing to do what he could for me (if it did not cost him anything). However I ought not to say anything against him, for he has always been a good friend of mine; but then knowing his weak points, I have been careful not to run against them.  He will have to do a great deal more before I can forgive him for his treatment of [Colonel Guilford] Bailey….

Barry left big shoes to fill.  Having built the artillery of the Army of the Potomac in 1861, he ranks on par with Brigadier-General Henry Hunt in regard to the development of the arm.  Although the artillery of the western armies had accomplished much on the battlefield, the lack of central organization hindered the arm’s potential in that theater.  Though his eastern service gets the most attention from historians (if any attention at all!), Barry performed well on Major-General William T. Sherman’s staff.

Guilford Bailey fell at the battle of Fair Oaks on May 31, 1862.   At the time he was attempting to spike the guns of Battery A, 1st New York Light Artillery.

Barry had been Major-General George B. McClellan’s artillery chief during the Peninsula Campaign.  And Wainwright continued the diary entry to mention that former army commander:

I have McClellan’s official report, but have not found time as yet to more than glance at it. It evidently is not written for the popular eye, being a dry statement of facts, presented in the most military manner without any dressing up whatever….

The report was McClellan’s from the operations of 1862.  Wainwright would weigh in on his opinions about the report in a later diary entry.

Consider, at the time Wainwright penned the diary entry in 1864 , Meade was under estimating the numbers defending Richmond.  the report, which Wainwright had “on the table” would go to justify McClellan’s over-estimation of the situation in 1862.  Go figure.

(Citations from Charles S. Wainwright, A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journals of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright, 1861-1865, edited by Allan Nevins, New York: Da Capo Press, 1998, pages 323-24.)


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