A Host to the Generals: Farley at Brandy Station

Today (Sunday, if you are reading this late because I am posting it late!) I assisted with a tour of the Brandy Station Battlefield, led by my friend Clark “Bud” Hall. As with many of the tours, Hall brought the group to this battlefield house:

The house is Farley.  I’ve mentioned it a few times before. It stands between the Old Winchester Turnpike (which only exists as a trace today) and the Hazel River.   Almost directly north was Wellford’s Ford, a crossing of note with much activity during the war.   With those terrain features close by, Farley saw more than its share of wartime activity.

The photo above was taken during the Winter Encampment of 1864.  At that time, Major-General John Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps headquarters were in those tents.  The house also appears in other wartime photos, particularly with Sedgwick and staff posing for the photographer.

But these were not the only “dignitaries” to visit Farley during the war.  In fact, they were “late comers.”  As Hall has often repeated, most every senior officer of the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac visited Farley at some point during the war.  For example, on the day after the battle of Brandy Station, Major-General J.E.B. Stuart moved his headquarters to Farley.   General Robert E. Lee visited him there.

During the Federal stay in the Winter of 1864, Major-General George Meade visited on several occasions.  One of those was occasioned by a visit by members of the Russian Navy.  When Lieutenant-General Ulysses S. Grant came east, he was also entertained at Farley (and reportedly never removed his hat while indoors). So you might say Farley was the place to see and be seen.

With all those important visitors, I always wonder what this doorway might have witnessed:

Untitled

And how many walked the hallways:

FarleyHallway

510 wagons, 120 guns and mortars, and six days of work: Siege preperations at Petersburg

On July 16, 1864, Brigadier-General Henry Hunt offered a report to the Army of the Potomac’s headquarters in regard to siege preparations.  The report was somewhat inverse of what one might expect.  Rather than focused on what was being done, Hunt responded to an inquiry as to how quickly the siege preparations might be undone (and materials withdrawn) if the Confederates abandon the lines or the Federals opt to abandon the siege for other reasons.  Sort of the staff work that a good commander (in this case Major-General George Meade) presses.  While the conclusions reached by Hunt are of little use to us today, as not supporting “what if” scenarios of interest, the particulars he offered are worth consideration.  They speak to the magnitude of the effort required to lay siege at Petersburg:

In compliance with the direction of the general commanding to furnish a report as to the time which would probably be required to Withdraw the siege train and material in case it should be desirable, I have to state that the siege material which will be brought into requisition if operations are fully entered upon will be: Forty siege guns, for which must be kept on hand in the magazines for daily supply, 6,000 rounds of ammunition; for 6,000 rounds 100 wagons are required; for 30 mantlets 10 wagons; 40 platforms 40 wagons; implements, equipage, &c., 10 wagons; 20 8-inch mortars 20 wagons; 3,000 rounds of ammunition 60 wagons; implements and equipage 20 wagons; 20 10-inch mortars, &c., 100 wagons: 20 Coehorn mortars and ammunition 30 wagons; total, 410 wagons. Twenty more 8-inch mortars are expected for the siege train, and if received will be used. To move them there will be required another 100 wagons.

To move and maintain the siege batteries – 40 guns, 20 10-inch mortars, 40 8-inch mortars (20 on hand at the time, with 20 more expected), and 20 Coehorns – required 510 wagons. With the number of guns, platforms, rounds of ammunition, and wagons in mind, Hunt calculated the time needed to withdraw the siege weapons… in a round about way:

The loading of the material in order to withdraw it must be done by night, and probably even then under fire. The movement of so many wagons can scarcely be made and the noise of loading heavy bodies finished without being heard by the enemy when the lines are so near, as in this case; nor will it do to sacrifice any portion of the material if there is any prospect of its being needed within a month. But little over half the supply of ammunition estimated for has yet been received, although it is sent forward as rapidly as it can be procured. The time needed to load the wagons will be necessarily much longer than ordinarily required at depots. For instance, the positions of the batteries were not selected with any reference to convenience in this respect, and but few wagons can be brought up at a time or placed in favorable positions for loading, so that the number of men who can be employed at any given place will necessarily be limited. At many of the batteries the inconvenience and danger of providing the daily supply of ammunition will make a system of covered ways necessary for the men who transport it from wagons stationed so far in the rear as to find cover from the enemy’s fire, and also from the approach of the wagons to these points. Time, therefore, becomes the most important element; forty-eight hours would, therefore, be necessary, under favorable circumstances, to remove the material.

And did he get to the point?….. Yes.

I do not think it probable that the entire train could be withdrawn in less than three days.

Hunt went on to say the guns and platforms would be moved last, as to at least give the impression the siege was continuing.  With that, Hunt warned, just in case there were any schemes floating about which pointed in directions other than a prolonged siege:

For these reasons the planting of the batteries should not be commenced until it is determined to carry through the siege operations, or, as an alternative, in case a sudden movement of the army should be deemed advisable, we are prepared to sacrifice a large portion of our material.

Meade forwarded this report to Lieutenant-General U.S. Grant, prefaced with a status report of the siege preparations:

In compliance with your wishes, preparations have been continued for commencing the siege. Batteries are being erected for placing guns and mortars in position to silence the enemy’s fire at the salient on the Jerusalem plank road. The chief engineer estimates that it will take eight days to finish these works and have them ready for their armament. The chief of artillery will require three days to unload the vessels now containing the siege guns, mortars, and materials.

Meade added, for emphasis, a summary of Hunt’s conclusions:

In case of withdrawal, besides the three days indicated in his report for withdrawing these guns, if reloaded at the landing where the vessels now are, Broadway Landing, it would require three additional days, but if they are carried to City Point and there reshipped, this last estimate would not enter into the calculation. I have deemed it proper to lay these facts before you, as they may be material to you in your future plans, and to say that I have directed the siege works to go on and in the course of three or four days shall commence the unloading of the guns and material.

Just some figures to have handy… so to speak.  Six days to break-up the siege and move the materials – at great effort.  Sort of means both feet were solidly in the ring by mid-July 1864.

Meade concluded:

The mine will be ready in a day or two, but will not be loaded or sprung till the effect of our operations against the salient is ascertained.

Digging a shaft under the Confederate position was one thing.  Getting all the pieces in place to take advantage of the planned mine blast… well that was another.  More long days of work were required.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 40, Part II, pages 276-7.)

 

June 25, 1864: Sandbag day at Petersburg

Building field fortifications requires a lot of “consumable” materials.  Even in modern times, when the soldiers fortify a position, they tend to displace a lot of earth and use stockpiles of building materials.  One material that comes in high demand is the lowly sandbag.  In 1863, engineers on Morris Island recorded using over 46,000 sandbags in just one portion of the siege lines.  Reporting on that operation, Major Thomas Brooks described the standard sandbag of the time:

The dimensions of the filled sand-bags, when laid, varied from 6 by 10 by 24 inches to 5 ½ by 11 by 23 inches, and contained .85 of a cubic foot of damp sand, weighing about 85 pounds; hence 32 to the cubic yard.

So 32 sandbags made up one cubic yard of earthwork.  (Check my math as I check Brooks here – 0.85 cubic feet is 0.0314 cubic yards… and 0.0314 goes into 1 cubic yard 32.2 times.  Seems right?)  And 32 sandbags filled with 85 pounds of earth weigh 2,720 pounds – one and a third short tons.

For those commencing the siege of Petersburg, just under a year later, the sandbag was likewise an important commodity.  On June 25, 1864, at 2:45 p.m., Major-General Ambrose Burnside had a pressing need for sandbags:

We have commenced a mine that will reach the batteries of the enemy in our front by a reach of 115 yards. I have given orders for all the necessary changes of the line to make the work ordinarily secure. We want about 7,000 sand-bags or more. I think we can break the line of the enemy in due time if we can have the necessary facilities. We want heavy guns very much. Can we have the sand-bags?

That mine, in particular, would require a lot of sandbags.  Major-General George Meade responded promptly, granting that request for sandbags:

I have directed Duane to send you an engineer officer and a company of sappers, and Hunt to send you sand-bags and siege guns. I am delighted to hear you can do anything against the enemy’s line, and will furnish you everything you want, and earnest wishes for your success besides. I would have been over to see you to-day, but certain movements of the enemy on the left have kept me here.

“Delighted!”  The slow turning siege could grind forward, but needed just a few thousand sandbags.  Now time for staff officers to do what they get paid for.  Brigadier-General Henry Hunt, the Chief of Artillery, became the “stuckee” on the sandbag tasking request, as he was also directing the siege operations and generally kept sandbags around to support the artillery positions.

Hunt first inquired, at around 6 p.m. that day, to Brigadier-General John Barnard, running engineering operations out of City Point, specifically requesting that Brigadier-General Henry Benham provide the required sandbags.  Barnard, no slouch for military protocol, pointed out that Benham came under Meade’s orders, but “There ought to be 100,000 sand-bags somewhere.”  He also suggested inquiries with Brigadier-General Godfrey Weitzel, of the Army of the James.  But, hold that for a moment.

Upon receipt of Barnard’s reply, Hunt sent the request for sandbags directly to Benham.  And Benham, as he did so often with such matters, replied at 8:10 p.m. that the materials were not exactly at arm’s reach:

All my siege materials, as I have kept General Meade fully advised, have been retained at Fort Monroe. On receipt of your dispatch to General Barnard, through Colonel Porter, I at once sent an aide down in a steamer to bring it up, and I expect it to-morrow afternoon or evening, and will send them out to you at once, if you then wish them, of which please advise me.

So Benham had sandbags, but he just didn’t have them around at that moment.  Maybe tomorrow or the next day….

We hear all sorts of references to the Federal war effort featuring an over-abundance of resources.  But such abundance means nothing if the resources are not at the right place for use.  Barnard estimated 100,000 sandbags were “around.”  So now a capable staff officer needed to secure a small draft of that sandbag stockpile for use on the line.

Enter Colonel Cyrus B. Comstock, aide-de-camp on the staff of Lieutenant-General U.S. Grant.  While Hunt conversed with Benham, he also communicated with Comstock, who was also working this “tasking.”  At 6:10 p.m., Hunt related to Burnside:

Have heard from Comstock. He says General Benham has sand-bags. I have telegraphed to General Barnard to have 7,000 or 8,000 sent you to-night either by Benham or Abbot.

Ah, Colonel Henry Abbot also might have sandbags.  Comstock inquired with Abbot.  And promptly Abbot responded with an affirmative, but with limitations:

I made requisition for 25,000 sand-bags–5,000 for each gun, excluding the 100-pounders. How many were actually obtained I cannot say without seeing my ordnance officer, who is now at Broadway Landing. I have no transportation for them. I would suggest that you direct General Ingalls to send transportation to the Broadway Landing (one mile below the pontoon bridge), and let the wagon-master carry an order for Capt. S. P. Hatfield, ordnance officer of siege train, to issue the required number of bags to General Burnside. I think this plan would save much time. These bags, I hope, will be replaced, as I find I shall be obliged to supply them for my embrasures.

Abbot also suggested, within separate correspondence to Barnard, to inquire with Weitzel, on the Bermuda Hundred line.  So that’s how Barnard knew to reference Weitzel, perhaps?  At any rate, that’s where the draft of sandbags would come from.  That evening, Weitzel sent word to Burnside:

I have just ordered 8,000 sandbags to be sent to you from my depot at Bermuda Hundred with all possible haste. I imagine they will reach you about 1 o’clock.

So Burnside got his sandbags the following morning.  Soon the troops would be employed filling those sandbags.  Mind you those 8,000 would only provide 250 cubic yards of sandbags – be that reinforcing or revetments.  Oh, but that was 340 short tons of earth to be moved.  Sieges are indeed labor intensive operations.

The main reason I bring all this up is not to impress the reader with the number or weight of sandbags used, but to demonstrate how a good staff functions to support the commander.  While commanders can designate the point of attack or defense, it is often up to staff officer to ensure the resources are arranged to support that command.  Hunt, Comstock, Abbot, and Weitzel demonstrated just that function on June 25.  A small episode of the war, not something to command a paragraph in any history of the battle.  But the complex nature of any battle, particularly a siege, required hundreds of such small episodes – thankless staff work – in order to reach a successful conclusion.

There would be many more “sandbag days” at Petersburg.  100,000 sandbags would not be enough.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 40, Part II, Serial 81, pages 406-7, 417, 418, and 422-3.)

Build a bridge – immediately – at Fort Powhatan: A busy day for Henry Benham

At some point in the future, I wish to examine the 1864 crossing of the James River to the level of detail offered for the 1863 crossing at Edwards Ferry.  There were numerous moving parts to the operation.  Each of which adds color to an important story.  As in June 1863, the Army of the Potomac didn’t just skip over a river.  And just as with the crossing at Edwards Ferry, the crossing opened a path leading to – in the case of the James River crossing, ten months later – victory.  (And a quick plug here, Brett has compiled many resources pertaining to the 1864 crossing on Beyond the Crater.)

Just as with the 1863 crossing, a central player in the effort to cross the James was Brigadier-General Henry Benham.  Readers may recall a lot of friction between Benham and army headquarters during the June 1863 crossing.  And one has the perception that Benham left the bridge building details to his subordinates (capable subordinates, I would add).  A similar situation existed in June 1864.  Except, however, Benham was getting order from multiple directions… though all flowing down from Lieutenant-General U.S. Grant.

For Benham, June 14, 1864 began at 5:15 a.m. when he received an order from Army of the Potomac Headquarters, sent out the previous evening:

The major-general commanding directs that all pontoons and other bridge materials in your possession be brought immediately to Fort Powhatan.

At this time, Benham was still quartered at Fort Monroe, managing the materials shifted south from Washington in support of the campaign.  He had already forwarded on pontoon train, by boat, up the James River, under Captain James Robbins the previous day.  And as mentioned yesterday, Robbins was late.  Now on the morning of June 14, the pontoons were not at the crossing site.  And Benham was miles away, apparently out of touch.

At 10:45 a.m. Major-General Andrew A. Humphreys, Chief of Staff, Army of the Potomac, again messaged Benham:

The commanding general directs that immediately upon the receipt of this communication you bring all the bridge material you have, or that may be at Old Point Comfort, to Powhatan with all the expedition possible, and report its arrival.  Similar orders were sent you last night, telegraphed through the White House.

And… because Humphreys was watching this task as a good Chief of Staff should, he sent another message at 11:15 a.m., with more instructions:

The commanding general directs that immediately upon the arrival of the bridge material at Fort Powhatan you construct the bridge across the James River at the point selected by General Weitzel, and the approaches to which are now being prepared.

And we think cell phones, text messages, and emails are bad today!

Benham didn’t respond to the first message until just before 11 a.m., and likely had not received the 10:45 or 11:15 a.m. message.  He told Humphreys:

Yours received at 5.15 a.m. to-day.  I sent pontoon bridging according to orders yesterday, as advised you at 9 a.m. At 10.15 to-day I received orders from General Butler to send them and go up myself. Presuming that these must be by authority of General Grant, I am now starting at 11, and will communicate with you as soon as possible.

Benham followed this up with another message to headquarters at 4 p.m., while  on the steamer J.A. Warner, near Wilson’s Landing.  He acknowledged receipt of the 11:15 a.m. orders, but had left Fort Monroe, as indicated, by 11 a.m.  Now the question arose, “is the bridge complete?”  At 9:30 p.m. Major-General George Meade sent that inquiry directly to Benham:

What progress in throwing the bridge, and at what time can you complete it, so far as you can now tell?  I desire the work to be continued all night, if practicable.

Benham responded:

The bridge has now the last boat in position and the raft is ready to close the gap completely whenever it is safe to do so with reference to the boats below, about which I am greatly in doubt. The bridge can be completed in fifteen minutes if you so order it.  If it is important for the troops here to cross at once it can be done by closing the gap and holding the troop steamers and quartermaster’ boats below and let them pass in a body afterward, if you so order it.

Keep in mind, what Benham described here is an opening in the middle of the bridge, with a set of pontoons pulled out of line, to allow passage of ships upriver.  The engineers built the bridge with that in mind, so as to allow steamers to support crossing of infantry and equipment at other points along the river.  Unlike the June 1863 crossing, the Army of the Potomac could call upon watercraft to effect the movement.  Already at this time portions of Major-General Winfield S. Hancock’s Second Corps were crossing by boat.  But with no means of loading wagons or artillery on boats, the bridges were still vital to the movement.Meade’s response came at 11:30 p.m. (received by Benham at 12:45 the next morning):

Complete the bridge. General Burnside, with the Ninth Corps, will be ordered to cross at once. Request, in my name, the officer in command of the Atlanta to stop all boats below the bridge, and to-morrow a time will be fixed and a selection made of such as it is important to pass through. Take charge of the bridge. General Burnside will be directed to refer to you in passing over his command. Acknowledge receipt.

But… Meade would audible yet another change within minutes of that order:

I have changed the orders, and now have directed Burnside, Wright, and Warren to send over their trains and surplus artillery with guards.  I don’t like to cross any troops till the big train gets nearer to us.

With that, those at the bridge stood ready to support the crossing.  Of note, Meade mentions the USS AtlantaThere she was, former Confederate ram, now employed to keep the Confederate ironclads bottled up in the James River.  An interesting side note, if you will, with respect to the naval support for the Overland Campaign.(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 40, Part II, Serial 81, pages 4, 22-4.)

 

Meade submits the reorganization plan: Army of the Potomac down to three corps

On this day (March 4) in 1864, Major-General George Meade submitted this request to Army Headquarters in Washington:

Washington, D.C., March 4, 1864.
Maj. Gen. H. W. Halleck,
General-in- Chief:

Sir: I beg leave to submit for your consideration and that of the honorable Secretary of War the following plan for the reorganization of the Army of the Potomac:

I propose to reduce the number of corps, now five, to three. In doing this I propose to retain the Second, Fifth, and Sixth Corps, educing the three divisions now in each to two divisions. I then propose to consolidate the two divisions of the Third Corps (constituting the old corps) into one division and transfer it temporarily to the Fifth Corps; this division to retain its corps badges and other distinctive marks, and having understood that when the accession of recruits shall justify the organization of another corps, this division shall resume its position as the Third Corps with such additions as can be made.

In the same manner I propose to consolidate the First Corps into a division, and, with its distinctive marks, &c., assign it to the Second Corps. This would leave the Third Division of the Third Corps, which did not belong to the original corps, but joined after Gettysburg, under Major-General French, which I propose to transfer to the Sixth Corps.

The Second and Sixth Corps, being now commanded by officers assigned by the President of the United States, will continue to be so commanded. The Fifth Corps I propose to have commanded by Major-General Warren, by the assignment of the President.

Of the two corps temporarily broken up, I propose to assign the officers of the general staff to vacancies that may exist in the other corps.

After the above general organization is decided on, general officers will be assigned to divisions and brigades on consultation with corps commanders. The present temporary commanders of the First, Third, and Fifth Corps, it is understood, the Department has decided to relieve. A list of general officers whom in my judgment it is expedient to relieve is herewith furnished, viz: Brig. Gen. J. R. Kenly, Brig. Gen. F. B. Spinola, Brig. Gen. Sol. Meredith.

I should be glad, if this organization is decided upon, that those general officers belonging to the Army of the Potomac and now absent on detached duty be ordered to rejoin, as well as such forces as may have been detached for special purposes.

Respectfully, yours,
Geo. G. Meade, Major-General, Commanding, Army of the Potomac.

From the pure military perspective, the consolidations made sense.  On the battlefield (or even in garrison), the smaller number of subordinate headquarters allowed for simplified control and communication.  Instead of dispatching five sets of orders, Meade could get away with only three.  And much easier to track the progress of three corps when the shooting started.

We also see Meade’s deft handling of personnel matters here (or maybe “command arrangements” would be a better way to put it).  He easily rid himself of some troublesome senior leaders, just by re-arranging the chairs.  Major-Generals John Newton and George Sykes?  Gone, along with three brigadiers.  And so long as the President assigned Major-General Gouverneur Warren to the Fifth Corps post, Dan Sickles … a.k.a. Historicus… was left to pen letters to the newspaper.

Though unlikely, the wording of Meade’s submission allowed for reconstitution of the First and Third Corps.  The men even kept their original badges for symbolic purposes.  Again, shrewd positioning by Meade.  With the leadership at the head of the U.S. Army changing, such allowed the facility to expand the Army of the Potomac.  At the same time, leaders in Washington would find it difficult to pull troops from the Army of the Potomac short of removing an entire Corps.

On the same day, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton inquired if Major-General Winfield Scott Hancock was ready to resume his duties leading the Second Corps.  Hancock responded, “I consider myself able to take the field when ordered,” though he related that his wound had not completely healed.  With Hancock returning, Warren to be assigned permanently to  Fifth Corps, and steady Major-General John Sedgwick leading the Sixth Corps, Meade had three solid corps commanders and a favorable command climate.

One other change was taking place that day.  Major-General Ulysses S. Grant sent a telegraph from Nashville, Tennessee indicating, “I will leave Louisville on Monday for Washington.”  Congress had already approved Grant’s promotion to Lieutenant-General and overall command of the Federal armies.  The pieces for the 1864 campaign season were falling into place.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 33, Serial 60, pages 638-40.)

150 years ago: Evolution of a Picket Line and Signal Station

On New Year’s Day 1864, Major-General John Newton, commanding the First Corps of the Army of the Potomac, focused his attention on the picket lines and location of signal stations south of Culpeper Court House.  Orders posted late in December 1863 had 2nd Division, under Brigadier-General John Robinson, of Newton’s corps moving up to the vicinity of Cedar Mountain. Robinson was to concentrate around Cedar Mountain, where a signal station would be established.  A wartime map of the southern part of Culpeper County best illustrates the desirability of Cedar Mountain:

CMandMSPicket

Please notice “Rapid Ann Station” to the bottom where the railroad crosses the Rapidan River.  At least one reader will smile at that.

Cedar Mountain (on the left, where the map folds join… gotta love scans of REAL maps) overlooked several Rapidan River crossing points.  A station on Cedar Mountain enabled rapid communications to and from Robinson’s advanced position.  It also opposed Clark’s Mountain, where the Confederates observed Federal movements.  During the Civil War, signal stations were more than just communication relays.  On such high ground, the stations served as observation posts and signal-intercept stations.  In short, occupation of Cedar Mountain made a lot of military sense.

Weather postponed that end-of-year march, but didn’t keep Newton from raising concerns about the security of the force, when they finally were in position.  On December 31st, Newton requested, by way of Major-General Andrew A. Humphreys, Army of the Potomac Chief of Staff,

… that the cavalry should so picket and scout the roads leading from Madison Court-House and running to the north of Cedar Mountain, and likewise the roads from Raccoon Ford, by which Cedar Mountain could be turned, as to give timely notice to commanding officer at the mountain of a movement of the enemy in force.

That request still lingered on January 1, when Newton wrote again to Humphreys:

There is as yet no signal station on Cedar Mountain. The detachment of 100 men to guard it have accordingly not been sent. The cavalry pickets are north of Cedar Mountain, and only one-fourth mile in front of the front brigade at Mitchell’s Station. I request you to specify when I shall advance the brigade now in rear to Cedar Mountain, because I think such movements should be simultaneous with the new arrangement of the cavalry pickets demanded by such change.

Humphreys referred this request to Major-General Alfred Pleasonton, with the endorsement:

The major-general commanding directs that the cavalry pickets be advanced beyond Cedar Mountain and that every precaution be taken to watch the approach to Cedar Mountain from the right and left, and that instructions be given that in the event of any party of the enemy advancing toward it the guard at the signal station of 100 infantry be immediately warned, as well as the commander of the infantry brigade and division at or near Cedar Mountain.

The task fell to Brigadier-General Wesley Merritt’s division of cavalry.  And Humphreys related orders firmly requiring communication between the infantry and cavalry, to the point “they should arrange between them every detail necessary to the execution of the duties assigned each.”

Newton, however, requested clarification.  Should the post on Cedar Mountain include all of Robinson’s division or just a lone brigade?  One might imagine Major-General George Meade’s irritation as he clarified, by way of more instructions through Humphreys:

The major-general commanding directs me to say that whether one or both brigades of Robinson’s division are posted near Cedar Mountain is left to you. It was thought to be your proposition to take both brigades there in the personal interview on Wednesday, because the brigade near Cedar Run had a wet camp-ground as well as the brigade near Mitchell’s Station. The exact posting of the brigades of the division is left to you, so that they accomplish the objects of the advanced position of the division. (Emphasis mine.)

So, the trigger for this movement is revealed at last.  Someone didn’t like their camp.  In addition to securing valuable high ground north of the Rapidan and getting a view into the Confederate positions south of that river, Robinson’s men wanted a better campsite!

But if Robinson were to occupy such an advanced post, according to conventional military wisdom, the cavalry should be farther forward with a tight picket line.  And on January 3, as Newton would complain, the picket line was not there.  Likewise, the signal station lacked the required guard force.  Specifically to that charge, Merritt responded:

The order was given and carried out (as far as possible) on the 2d and also on the 3d instant, details of the force required being sent both days. On the third day it was reported to me that there was no signal station on the mountain, when I authorized the commanding officer of the Reserve Brigade, who furnished the detail, not to send any more parties to the mountain until the signal party arrived, of which he was to keep himself well informed, when the detail would be resumed. This, I took it, would be carrying out the spirit of the order, and saving men and horses for other duty.

In addition to these duties, Merritt’s men were busy setting up a line of vedettes, posts, and reserves.  So saving men and horses was desirable.  The picket line was established around the 5th of January.  The signal station was finally established sometime after January 7.

Cedar Mountain 22 Dec 038

And from there, the Federals would stare at the equally inquisitive Confederates across the Rapidan for the remainder of the winter.  (NOTE: The photo above shows the north end of Cedar Mountain.  The signal station was placed on the south end.)

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 29, Part II, Serial 49, page 593;Volume 33, Serial 60, pages 317-8, 350-1.)

Marching BACK through Loudoun: Return of the Army of the Potomac

Careful you don’t get whiplash as I shift between theaters. Last month I offered a series of posts detailing the movement of the Army of the Potomac through Loudoun. But let’s not forget the Army of the Potomac came back through Loudoun during the later half of July 1863. My research into that movement is not as thorough, however, as the Edwards Ferry crossings in June. At some point in the future, I’ll resolve that deficiency. But for now, let me call out movements from 150 years ago today (June 17) and mention the bridging operations that facilitated that movement. And just as during the June crossings going north, the bridges were vital to the return going south.

We last discussed the pontoon bridges, the engineers took them up at Edwards Ferry on June 28. About a thousand feet of bridging, from a set not used at Edwards Ferry, followed the Army into Maryland. Orders were to remove the rest of the bridging for refit in Washington. But the bulk of equipment remained at the crossing site until July 4. Damage to the C&O Canal, inflicted during Major-General J.E.B. Stuart’s crossing at Rowser’s Ford, prevented the timely movement.

Brigadier-General Henry Benham, commanding the Engineer Brigade, and Army headquarters exchanged frequent messages from July 4 through July 15 about the bridging equipment. At some point I need to offer a detailed analysis of those. But the bottom line is that Benham had repairs to make, lacked transportation, and contended with a turbulent rise of the Potomac. I don’t think the engineers could have laid any pontoon bridges earlier than completed in mid-July.

Between July 15 and morning of July 17, the engineer brigade put in bridges at Harpers Ferry (over both the Potomac and Shenandoah) and at Berlin, Maryland. On July 15, Brigadier-General Gouverneur Warren reported a “bridge over the Potomac will now let troops pass into the Shenandoah Valley.” Engineers built a pontoon bridge and repaired the railroad bridge along with a “wire bridge” at that point. Warren then turned the engineers to build a bridge over the mouth of the Shenandoah River. “We are at it,” Warren related.

Lieutenant-Colonel Ira Spaulding reported one bridge over the Potomac at Berlin was complete on the morning of July 17. The span measured 700 feet. Spaulding complained of damaged material in use that required replacement and repair. Later that day Spaulding built a second bridge there, at about the same place the engineers put in spans the previous fall to facilitate another pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia. The map below shows the operational area with key locations highlighted and yellow lines (small yellow lines) for the bridge locations.

AreaOfOpeationsJuly17

Using Harpers Ferry and Berlin afforded the Army two good crossing sites separated sufficiently to reduce congestion, while keeping units close for mutual support.

When the Army of Northern Virginia escaped across the Potomac, Major-General George Meade began shifting the Army of the Potomac to pursue. This pursuit resembled the slower pursuit offered by Major-General George McClellan the previous fall. The infantry corps moved back towards South Mountain on July 15. By July 17, the Third and Fifth Corps camped along the Potomac.

The first movement orders putting the Army’s infantry back in Loudoun came at 2 p.m. on July 17. Major General William French, commanding the Third Corps at that time, received orders to move “by the Harper’s Ferry Bridge, and across the Shenandoah at its mouth, and proceed up the Valley of Sweet Run some 3 or 4 miles, and bivouac for the night.” This was a leisurely move compared to the crossings of June. Orders urged French to bring up supplies, to include replacement equipment for the troops. By 7:40 p.m. French reported going into camp just over a mile from the Shenandoah Bridge.

July17Crossing

Although I don’t have particulars, the Fifth Corps moved across the bridges at Berlin around the same time, reaching Lovettsville on the Virginia side. So that night, 150 years ago, two Federal infantry corps were camping in Loudoun… again.

And also out that evening were marching orders for July 18. The Third Corps would move out to Hillborough, followed by the Second Corps, which was to cross at Harpers Ferry early that morning. The Twelfth Corps would hold at Harpers Ferry waiting orders to move forward.

July18Crossing

The Fifth Corps would advance from Lovettsville out to the Waterford-Hillsborough Road (the old Vestal’s Gap Road if you are following here). The First Corps received orders to cross at Berlin and march to Waterford. The Reserve Artillery would cross after the First Corps, but then fall in behind the Fifth Corps. Headquarters relocated to Lovettsville. Both Eleventh and Sixth Corps would hold at Berlin waiting instructions to cross. Lastly, the tired cavalry troopers would cover the crossing on the Maryland side.

The only major deviation to these orders came mid-day on July 18. Brigadier-General John Buford’s cavalry division slipped into line in front of the Eleventh Corps and crossed that afternoon at Berlin. Otherwise, the army spent a relatively uneventful day marching. The remainder of the Army crossed the Potomac on July 19. The Army of the Potomac stayed much shorter on this visit to Loudoun. By July 24 all of the major combat elements moved south and cleared out of the county.

Three days to cross in June. Three days to cross back in July. And some of the bloodiest fighting ever seen in between.