Driving Dixie Down: Stoneman descends upon the North Piedmont Railraod, April 11-13, 1865

Consider again my map of General Joseph E. Johnston’s area of control, generally speaking, as of April 10, 1865:

JohnstonsConfederacy

Two railroads were the arteries which served Johnston in the closing weeks of the war – the North Carolina Railroad, providing a link from Greensboro to Raleigh, and the North Piedmont Railroad, from Salisbury to Danville and providing the links to points southwest.  With Johnston’s army the primary objective for Federal forces, those railroads were important “enabling” objectives. If the railroads were damaged, then Johnston’s lines of supply, reinforcement, and, if needed, retreat, were severed.  And Major-General George Stoneman’s cavalry division was in the right place to inflict that sort of damage.  Furthermore, Stoneman wanted the opportunity to free prisoners thought to be held at Salisbury, redeeming somewhat for failed raids aimed at Andersonville the previous summer.

Recall that on April 9, Stoneman’s raiders departed Virginia and moved to Danbury, North Carolina. Moving through Germantown on the 10th, Stoneman set his next objective as Salisbury and Federal prisoners reported held there.  However, Stoneman detached Colonel William Palmer’s brigade to raid the factories at Salem and the North Piedmont Railroad.  Stoneman’s two-pronged advance landed a telling blow upon the already staggered Confederacy. The map below depicts, generally, the routes taken

StonemanApr10_13

Yes… very complex with all sorts of blue arrows… and I’ve simplified this somewhat without showing the return routes used by the various columns. Let me break down each of the “prongs” in order.

StonemanApr10_13_A

Palmer’s column reached Salem on the afternoon of April 10.  That evening, Palmer issued marching orders.  Colonel Charles Betts, commanding the 15th Pennsylvania, would send detachments to strike the railroad at Reedy Fork Creek, north of Greensboro, and Jamestown, to the south, in addition to threatening Greensboro itself.  The 10th Michigan Cavalry, led by Colonel Luther Trowbridge, sent detachments to High Point and the bridge over Abbott’s Creek, near Lexington.  Before midnight, the troopers were starting out on their assignments.

Moving quickly to Kernersville, Betts sent off a detachment from that point towards Jamestown.  Arriving early on April 11th, that force set fire to the Deep River bridge outside Jamestown, burned the railroad depot, ransacked several railroad cars, burned a woolen mill, and destroyed a small arms factory.  Betts, with the main body of the 15th Pennsylvania overran a battalion of the 3rd South Carolina Cavalry near Friendship (Betts would later receive the Medal of Honor for leading the action).  Past that point, Betts sent a squad to destroy the bridge over Buffalo Creek, just north of Greensboro, and cut the telegraph lines.  Another detachment of the 15th Pennsylvania arrived at the railroad bridge over Reedy Creek around mid-morning.  They almost captured a rail-train, but did capture a wagon train.  All this accomplished, the 15th Pennsylvania had broken the line in three places.  Later it was learned that President Jefferson Davis had passed over those bridges a few hours before the raiders arrived, offering a “near miss” of the sort to spice up veterans reunions.

Trowbridge dispatched one battalion of the 10th Michigan to High Point.  Arriving there at breakfast on the 11th, that detail destroyed track, a telegraph station, supplies and cotton.  The other two battalions approached the railroad bridge over Abbott’s Creek.  Though the raiders managed to destroy the bridge, they stirred up a hornet’s nest in the form of a cavalry brigade under Brigadier-General Samuel Ferguson marching from Georgia.  Trowbridge conducted a masterful retirement by alternate squadrons.  But greatly outnumbered, Trowbridge was hard pressed and sent word back to Palmer at Salem.  This prompted Palmer to hurry the recall of Betts in case Ferguson continued the pursuit.  Able to disengaged, Trowbridge arrived at Salem that afternoon, having succeeded in dropping one bridge and drawing forces away from the main effort against Salisbury.

In Salem, Palmer destroyed Confederate property but left most of the mills and other facilities intact.  After the return of his far ranging detachments, Palmer left the town early in the evening of April 11th.  Behind them, the railroad from Danville to Lexington had four destroyed bridges. Stoneman would later laud Palmer’s work, “This duty was performed with considerable fighting, the capture of 400 prisoners, and to my entire satisfaction.”   Palmer moved off to rejoin the main force at Salisbury.

StonemanApr10_13_B

While Palmer’s brigade struck along the rail lines, Stoneman marched the main body through Bethania, across Shallow Ford, to Mocksville on a rapid overnight march . The Federals captured a guard at Shallow Ford near dawn on the 11th and brushed aside home guard at Mocksville later that day. Pausing for a few hours, Stoneman searched for crossing points of the South Yadkin River.  He found only Halle Ford suitable to his needs.  Over that barrier, the raiders continued the advance in the early morning hours of April 12, as recorded by Brigadier-General Alvan Gillem:

One-quarter of a mile south of the [South Yadkin], the road forked, both branches leading to Salisbury. The west road was chosen for the main column as being in better condition. One battalion of the Twelfth Kentucky Cavalry was sent by the eastern or old road, with orders to make a determined demonstration of crossing Grant’s Creek two miles from Salisbury, and if successful to attack the forces defending the upper bridge in rear.

At sunrise, the Federals reached Grant’s Creek.  After driving back Confederate pickets, Stoneman’s men attacked the main Confederate defenses of Salisbury.

Brigadier-General Bradley T. Johnson commanded about 5,000 Confederates defending Salisbury.  The force consisted of a varied force of prison guards, home guards, and reserve units, and detachments from the Army of Tennessee.  Among those in Johnson’s force was Lieutenant-Colonel John C. Pemberson, formerly Lieutenant-General and defender of Vicksburg.   The most significant portion of Johnson’s force were twelve 12-pdr Napoleon guns in four batteries. Three were Army of Tennessee veterans – Captain Van Den Corput’s Cherokee Artillery, Captain Rene Beauregard’s South Carolina Battery, Captain Lucius G. Marshall’s Tennessee Battery – all part of Major John Johnston’s battalion.  Complementing this was a battery maned, reportedly, by “Galvanized Yankees.”  Six other artillery pieces, manned by reserves, were on the lines elsewhere around Salisbury.  However, inexperienced infantry cancelled any advantage Johnson might have held with artillery firepower.

Federal scouts found “the flooring had been removed from two spans of the bridge and piled on the enemy side” of Grant’s Creek.” This, coupled with the steep banks and artillery placement, precluded a direct assault.  Instead, Stonemen ordered a demonstration to the Confederate front while flanking the line to the west. At least four separate detachments would precede Colonel John Miller’s brigade.  Gillem recounted the assault:

So soon as the parties sent across [Grant’s Creek] became engaged and the rattling fire of the Eleventh Kentucky Cavalry Spencer rifles announced that the enemy’s left had been turned I ordered Colonel Miller to advance on the main road.  The flooring of the bridge was found to have been taken up, but was laid by a detachment of the Eighth and Thirteenth Tennessee Cavalry, and Miller’s brigade charged across.  The enemy by this time was falling back along their entire line.

Gillem’s brief account does not mention the stand of Marshall’s battery, nearly two hours, covering the railroad bridge (Western North Carolina Railroad) over Grant’s Creek.  Thus the attack at Salisbury was a bit more than a skirmish, and far more involved than Gillem recalled. However, once forcing their way through the Confederate left flank, the Federals drove and scattered the defenders.   By noon, Stoneman and his troopers held Salisbury.

Stoneman then attempted a “clean sweep” and dispatched a force to destroy the railroad bridge over the Yadkin River, northeast of Salisbury.  However a scratch force commanded by Brigadier-General Zebulon York occupied a well sited fort on the far bank of the river.  From that position, York’s artillery was able to keep the Federals from gaining the bridge. The Home Guard, militia, and “Galvanized Yankees” were able to hold position throughout the afternoon.  York thus denied Stoneman one last prize on April 12th.

In Salisbury, Stoneman inventoried the spoils.  For the remainder of the afternoon and into the 13th, the raiders rounded up supplies, materials, and prisoners.  They also destroyed facilities and railroad lines.  The skies around Salisbury were filled with smoke.  Shells in the burning magazines sounded throughout the day and into the night.  Gillem later tallied:

10,000 stand of arms, 1,000,000 rounds of ammunition (small), 10,000 rounds of ammunition (artillery), 6,000 pounds of powder, 3 magazines, 6 depots, 10,000 bushels corn, 75,000 suits of uniform clothing, 250,000 blankets (English manufacture), 20,000 pounds of leather, 6,000 pounds of bacon, 100,000 pounds of salt, 20,000 pounds of sugar, 27,000 pounds of rice, 10,000 pounds of saltpeter, 50,000 bushels of wheat, 80 barrels turpentine, $15,000,000 Confederate money, a lot of medical stores, which the medical director said were worth over $100,000 in gold.

In addition, the raiders captured “18 pieces of artillery with caissons, forges, and battery wagons complete, 17 stand of colors, and between 1,200 and 1,300 prisoners and the possession of the town….”  Stoneman would leave with eleven of the artillery pieces, destroying the rest for lack of teams to draw them.  However, what was missing among the inventory of spoils were any freed Federal prisoners.  Most of the POWs held at Salisbury were shipped to Wilmington in March, as part of the exchange program.  Thus Stoneman was denied another laurel.

Stoneman remained in Salisbury until 3 p.m. on the 13th.  By April 15, the column reached Lenoir.  There Stoneman waited a day to form a column to send the prisoners to Tennessee.  Stoneman himself would proceed with the column.  But Gillem and his division would remain in North Carolina to continue working against the Confederates.  Thus “Stoneman’s Raid” did not end at Salisbury and the raiders would have more operations worthy of note as April turned to May.  Not the least of which was the pursuit of President Jefferson Davis.

However, the main objectives of the raid were accomplished between April 7 and 13.  Some have relegated Stoneman’s raid as an effort just too late to have an impact.  Personally, I look back at what was “Lee’s Confederacy” and then “Johnston’s Confederacy.”  After Salisbury, Johnston’s reach was most significantly impaired.  His corner looked something like this:

Johnstons_ConfederacyApr14_1865

Again, not saying that the Confederates didn’t occupy Charlotte, North Carolina or Bristol, Tennessee or other points.  Nor to say the Confederacy west of the Appalachians had collapsed.  But what I am saying is that in the sense of the Confederacy’s government, the only force it might wield with any authority was that within Johnston’s range of command.  And, given Stoneman’s work on the railroads and Sherman’s advance to Raleigh, on April 14, 1865, the forces that Johnston could positively command, via rail and telegraph, were diminished to but a small section of north-central North Carolina.  We might debate where to place some of those “reach” boundaries.  But all, I trust, would acknowledge that “Dixie” was driven down as Stoneman made his way out of Salisbury.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 49, Part I, Serial 103, pages 324 and 335-6.)

 

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Driving Dixie Down: Stoneman completes the ride through Virginia, April 7-10, 1865

My last installment covering Major-General George Stoneman’s Raid brought the raiders up to the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad at points from Wytheville to Salem.  On April 6, as the big armies in Virginia fought around Farmville, Stoneman began withdrawing his forces for transit back into North Carolina.

StonemanApr7-10

The main column, with Stoneman and Brigadier-General Alvan Gillem, left Christansburg at 8 p.m. on April 6.  By 10 a.m. on the 7th, that column reached Jacksonville.  Stoneman continued the pattern of overnight marches with a 2 p.m. departure from that place.  By 10 p.m. that evening, Stoneman and the lead elements reached Taylorsville (now Stuart, and Patrick County seat).  Though trailing elements did not close on Taylorsville until the next morning.  There Stoneman would rest and wait and consolidate his wide-ranging detachments.

One of those columns was Colonel John Miller’s 8th and 13th Tennessee Cavalry, returning from Wytheville.  Miller’s force made a two day march from Porter’s Ford to rejoin the main group at Taylorsville on the 8th.

Stoneman’s intent was for Colonel William Palmer, of 1st Brigade, to have Colonel Luther Trowbridge’s 10th Michigan Cavalry to retire to Martinsville. But, “By some misunderstanding of the order he marched by way of Kennedy’s Gap with his entire brigade to Martinsville.”  Meanwhile, Trowbridge retired from Salem by way of Rocky Mount to close on Martinsville.

On the morning of April 8, the 10th Michigan camped Jones Creek outside Martinsville, tired from a 36-mile march.  But before the troopers could settle, Confederate scouts caused a bit of a stir.  These were from Colonel Colonel James T. Wheeler’s 6th Tennessee (CS) Cavalry, numbering over 400.  Assuming the force was just a few hundred, Trowbridge had two of his companies charge the Confederate camp. But this simply stirred a hornets nest. A Confederate counter-attack soon pinned the two lead Michigan companies.  Only by engaging with the remainder of the regiment was Trowbridge able to drive Wheeler’s Tennesseeans back.  The fighting concluded mid-morning.  Shortly after, Palmer’s column arrived at Martinsville.  Federal casualties were 1 killed and five wounded.

The furthest of Stoneman’s columns was Major William Wagner’s 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry.  On April 7, Wagner’s column destroyed bridges on the Otter River and moved toward Lynchburg.  The 15th Pennsylvania encountered the outside defenses of Lynchburg the following morning.  Well fortified, but defended by only a few hundred men, Lynchburg was still too tough an objective for a lone cavalry regiment.  Wagner’s troopers skirmished briefly with the garrison pickets, then turned away from the city.  But this demonstration apparently was enough to prompt a message warning General Robert E. Lee, who was by that time reaching Appomattox Court House to the east.  (This engagement rated a Civil War Trails marker.)

After briefly standing to invite a counterattack, Wagner turned south to rejoin the main group.  As the Pennsylvanians withdrew, they were harassed by mounted bushwackers:

The bushwackers were more annoying this day, and exhibited greater boldness in their operations. Heretofore they had been satisfied to take a long shot at the column which, while it may have pleased them, did us no harm, but now they boldly road up to within a few hundred yards of the rear guard, fired a volley and then raced off.  They kept this up for six or seven miles and were successful in shooting one horse.  To stop this annoyance, one company was placed in ambush and waited till the enemy came along, and then suddenly fired on them at close range, killing two and taking several of their horses.  This put a stop to their operations for that day.

Wagner’s column passed through Rocky Mount on the 9th and stopped within seven miles of Martinsville.  Hearing of a Confederate force in that area, Wagner took a cross-country route and effected a night march to avoid any traps.

… Wagner took to the left across the country, forded a river, and that night passed so close to the rebel troops that strict orders were given to light no matches, nor talk loud, and to hold the sabers to prevent them rattlling.  The march was kept up all night and was a continuous one of twenty-four hours.

While Wagner’s men skirted Confederate forces, the rest of Stoneman’s raiders moved out of Virginia.  On April 9, the main body reached Danbury and were joined by Palmer’s brigade.  On the 10th, the force proceeded south (off my map) to Germantown.  There, according to Gillem, the number of contrabands following the Federals began to present a problem.

The number of negroes who were following the column had increased to such an extent as to endanger the safety of the command in case it should become closely engaged with the enemy.  Several hundred were sent from this point to East Tennessee under a sufficient guard for their protection.  They all reached their destination in safety, and most of those fit for military service, I have since learned, are in Colonel Bartlett’s One hundred and nineteenth U.S. Colored Troops.

With his original objective addressed and his force leaving Virginia, Stoneman now looked to take the opportunity to do further damage to the Confederates.  The railroads and factories of central North Carolina offered an inviting target.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 49, Part I, Serial 103, pages 332; Kirk, Charles H., History of the Fifteenth Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry, Philadelphia, 1906, pages 531-2.)

 

April 10, 1865: Joseph Johnston’s Confederacy

NO, NO, NO!

The Civil War did not end at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.  A significant part of the Civil War – that of the military campaigns in Virginia – came  to a close that day. But the Confederacy, and thus the war, remained on April 10.  And keep in mind what was the Confederacy in reality at that time?  As had been the case since Major-General William T. Sherman cut through Georgia, the Confederacy was for all practical purposes the Confederate Army as it stood, where ever it stood, as an organized force.   Any discussion about how many rebellious state governments might still claim stars on the flag or how many places were not under Federal garrisons were moot points.  The Confederate government could only exist where its army stood.  And with the events at Appomattox on April 9, the Confederate government had contact with only one army – that under General Joseph E. Johnston.

I alluded to “Lee’s Confederacy” last month.  At this point 150 years ago, the weight of that burden fell to Johnston.  And his “Confederacy” was something like this:

JohnstonsConfederacy

Again, as with the assessment of Lee’s reach and grasp as of March 1865, we have to consider what Johnston could call upon.  If the resource, be that supplies or military units, were not close to a railroad, then Johnston could not call upon the resource to meet any immediate need.  Nor could President Jefferson Davis hope to leverage any forces outside Johnston’s reach, to exact any circumstantial change to the inevitable fall.

There were certainly military formations scattered across the south from South Carolina to Texas that remained in the field.  But neither Davis or Johnston had the ability to control those.  Even the “pocket” of Confederate forces from Bristol to Lynchburg, having just responded to Major-General George Stoneman’s raid to Christiansburg, were out of position to provide support to Johnston.

From his headquarters in Smithfield, on April 9, Johnston ordered the destruction of railroad bridges over the Roanoke River at Gaston and Weldon.  This move was just as much intended to block any move south by Federals operating in Virginia as it was to delay a move by Sherman’s forces to march north to join them.  With that act, save for the station at Danville, Johnston had no “influence” into Virginia.

On April 10, a series of reports trickled into Smithfield from Confederate cavalry.  At 7:10 p.m. that day, Major-General Joseph Wheeler reported, “Enemy advanced toward Smithfield to-day.  They say they are going to Raleigh.”

As I mentioned when discussing “Lee’s Confederacy” in March, the last acts of the Confederacy would play out within that shaded area.  But at this point 150 years ago, one of the main characters in the play – Robert E. Lee – was absent from the stage.  Johnston, the only Confederate commander then standing center stage, inherited a sphere of influence that extended only across the center of North Carolina.

There’s a lot I need to “catch up” on for my sesquicentennial time line – Stoneman, Sherman, and Potter…. but the story line is well known.  That sphere of influence would be cut, parted, and split by many hands.

Driving Dixie Down: Stoneman breaks the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, April 3-6, 1865

Having reached the Virginia state line on April 2, 1865, Major-General George Stoneman directed his raid back across the Blue Ridge to his assigned objective – the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad around Christiansburg.  The raiders rode through Fancy Gap to reach Hillsville on the morning of April 3.

StonemanApr3-6

There, Stoneman exercised two of his raiding habits.  First, after conducting an overnight march, he rested his command for part of the day.  Second, began detaching columns to strike secondary objectives.  One detachment chased down the Confederate supply train reported, but missed, the day before.  This brought in ample supplies and fodder for the raiders.  Stoneman sent another detachment, numbering 500 men, from the 8th and 13th Tennessee Cavalry, under Colonel John Miller, towards Wytheville.  Miller departed mid-afternoon in that direction.

After resting the main body the rest of the day, around dusk Stoneman pressed on towards Jacksonville.  After a brief skirmish with Home Guards, the command rested briefly in the night.  By 10 a.m. on April 4, the main body reached Jacksonville.  There the raiders captured a stock of fodder gathered for the Confederate army and put it to other uses.  Stoneman again rested the command during the day while dispatching another detachment.  This time it was Major William Wagner, 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry, with 250 men ordered to break the railroad from Salem to Lynchburg.

While Stoneman moved on Jacksonville, Miller’s detachment crossed the New River at Porter’s Ford and then reached Wytheville at mid-morning of April 4.  There, Miller’s men drove off a Home Guard company and proceeded to wreck nearby railroad bridges, destroy box cars, and burn several buildings.  But that afternoon a Confederate cavalry force under Colonel Henry Giltner responded to reports of Miller’s activities.  Giltner pressed in Miller’s work parties and drove the Federals back on the town.  Miller, facing a superior force, withdrew at dusk and backtracked to Porter’s Ford.  But before leaving, Miller could report his men had “destroyed the bridges at Reedy Creek and Max Meadows, and a large depot of commissary, quartermaster’s, and ordnance supplies, among which were a large amount of ammunition and 10,000 pounds of powder….”

April 5 found Miller’s detachment along the New River, where they rested and destroyed Confederate lead mines in the area.  Meanwhile the main body of Stoneman’s command had conducted a night march to arrive at Christiansburg overnight on April 5.  There the raiders went about their assigned objective – destroying the railroad and other infrastructure.  While there, captured newspapers brought the news of Richmond’s fall.

Wagner’s detachment reached Salem on the afternoon of April 5th.  Finding no rolling stock on the railroad, Wagner moved on towards Lynchburg.  Along the way the raiders damaged bridges, but failed to find the trains they wanted to capture.  These were seen as the most important targets, given the supplies that might be destined to the retreating Confederate forces to the east.

Stoneman sent off another detachment on April 5th, in the form of the 10th Michigan under Colonel Luther Trowbridge to move from Christiansburg to Salem, with orders to wreck the bridges along the way.  This Trowbridge accomplished to good effect.  By that evening, lead elements of the 10th Michigan reached Salem, but the main body continued to work along the railroad.

With all these detachments in motion on April 5, Brigadier-General Alvan Gillem would brag, “At this time at least ninety miles of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad was in our possession, viz, from Wytheville to Salem.”  Though Gillem overstated the timing of the Federal strikes along the railroad, there was a kernel of truth to the statement.  As result of the actions on April 4-5, the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad could not move supplies up the line to Lynchburg.  And thus the fodder and supplies which might have been pushed out from there to support Lee’s forces retreating from Richmond, were instead being used to support Stoneman’s troops, where not destroyed on the spot.

Stoneman remained in Christiansburg on the morning of April 6.  At 8 p.m. that day, he moved out of town and retraced the route to Jacksonville.  At that time, detachments of his command were at Hillsville, Salem, and to the east at the bridges over Otter River.  With the damage done to the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad to the east and west of Christiansburg, Stoneman had accomplished his primary mission.  However, we might debate if this had an impact on the events occurring some 100 miles to the east.

Virginia does not follow Stoneman’s Raid with the attention of the North Carolina highway markers.  But there are a handful which describe, very briefly, activities related to this portion of the raid: Wytheville, New River Bridge, and Christiansburg.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 49, Part I, Serial 103, pages 331-2.)

 

Driving Dixie Down: A flooded Yadkin River delays Stoneman’s advance, March 30-April 2, 1865

Allow me to briefly outline the movements of Major-General George Stoneman’s raiders as they moved from Wilkesborough up to the North Carolina-Virginia state line from March 30 to April 2, 1865.  In the last post on this thread, I closed with the capture of Wilkesborough on March 29.  Stoneman’s command moved up to that point in two columns, with Colonel William Palmer moving north of the Yadkin River while Stoneman and the rest of Brigadier-General Alvan Gillem’s division moved south of the river. One of Palmer’s three regiments, the 12th Ohio Cavalry, entered Wlkesborough on the evening of March 29.  The other two regiments remained on the north side opposite the town.  This setup a dangerous position for Stoneman, with a portion of his command isolated from the rest.

March 30 brought rains.  According to observes in Charleston South Carolina, the season’s last Nor’easter ran up the coast.  I don’t know if that storm directly caused the rains which fell on Stoneman, as satellite imagery was a bit slim during those days.  But we might at least say that the precipitation, be that from what ever weather event one might conceive, once again worked to limit Federal operations that spring.

StonemanMar30_Apr2

The 12th Ohio rejoined the rest of Palmer’s brigade north of Wilkesborough that morning (depicted on my map by a dashed line).  But the rising waters of the Yadkin prevented the rest of Stoneman’s forces from crossing.  At that moment, Stoneman’s dispositions were terrible.  One brigade isolated from the rest of the command and an unfordable river at his back.  But after spending most of the morning in a foul mood, Stoneman settled comfortably with the knowledge that no organized Confederate force was anywhere close.  So March 30th was spent doing what soldiers often have to do – attempting to stay dry.

On the 31st the river continued impassable,” recorded Gillem.  Stoneman had the command move east, but still waited on the Yadkin to fall.  While waiting, the Federals fanned out on both sides of the river searching for forage, horses, and anything worth plundering.  The trailing brigade, Colonel John Miller, caught up with the main force east of Wilkesborough that day.  Meanwhile on the north side of the river, Palmer reached Roaring Creek to find it also in flood stage.

The waters subsided somewhat on April 1.  Palmer’s brigade moved to the milling community of Elkin and continued their heavy foraging.  Stoneman ordered the main column forward toward Jonesville on the south side of the river.  But the Yadkin remained too swift and deep for a crossing. Not until the next day did the waters fall to a point that a crossing could be effected.

Finally across the Yadkin, Stoneman united his command and made a dash for the Virginia state line on April 2.  His plan was to recross the Blue Ridge near the border and then re-enter the New River Valley to reach his assigned objectives.  The main line of march was from Jonesville, through Dobson, up to Mount Airy.  In addition to that movement, a portion of Palmer’s brigade advanced to Rockford.  This was a feint aimed at causing pause for any Confederates pursuing the column.  Otherwise, all of Stoneman’s horses rode north that day.

As the lead elements of Palmer’s brigade entered Mount Airy that evening, word came of a Confederate wagon train having left the town earlier in the afternoon.  Gillem directed Palmer send a force to catch the Confederates.  “An officer of the Fifteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry had charge of the pursuing party, and after reaching the top of the Blue Ridge halted until the remainder of the command came up the next morning.”  Thus the vanguard of Stoneman’s force camped that evening in Virginia that evening and on the Blue Ridge.

From a larger context, Stoneman’s movements were having an effect on Confederate dispositions.  In Bristol, on the Tennessee-Virginia border, Confederate forces held as  Brigadier-General Davis Tillson’s infantry appeared to threaten that position.

StonemanMar30_Apr2_Operational

To General P.G.T. Beauregard went the task of forming an opposition to Stoneman.  The first order of business, given reports of Federal activity at Lenoir, was to protect the North Piedmond Railroad which formed the backbone of the Confederate position at that time.  Urgency increased as reports came in regarding Stoneman’s movements from Wilkesborough and the raid into Rockford.  Beauregard pulled together what forces were available to form a series of defenses from Chester, South Carolina up to Danville, Virginia.

Another broad context to consider, thinking of the situation that existed on April 2, 1865, was what happened at Danville and to the east of that point.  Though he didn’t know it, Stoneman was threatening the Confederate retreat from Richmond.  But with his eyes on the Blue Ridge, some 4,000 cavalry troopers, and his orders in hand, Stoneman was not prepared to make any moves against Danville.

But that does not stop historians from pestering us with “what could have been” scenarios.   For what it is worth, Stoneman lost three days’ march distance on the Yadkin.  It is reasonable to say had that river not flooded at that time, Stoneman would have been well into Virginia.  But he would have been near Christiansburg, perhaps threatening Lynchburg, at that time, and not anywhere across the line of retreat from Richmond-Petersburg.  Stoneman was following orders, not seeking opportunities unknown to him at that moment.

Following Stoneman’s Raid by markers, for this leg there are stops at Roaring River, Elkin, Jonesville, Dobson, and Mt. Airy.  In addition, let me direct you to The Stoneman Gazette. On that blog Tom Layton is touching upon the many stories associated with the raid, particularly those of the civilians caught up in the middle.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 49, Part I, Serial 103, page 331.)

Driving Dixie Down: Stoneman’s Raid breaks out of the mountains – March 21-29, 1865

I think anyone who has spun the AM radio dial during a long night drive will find Virgil Caine a familiar name:

For many of us growing up in the 1970s, that was largest dosage of Civil War history outside the class room.   (Yes… I know the song was released in 1969.  Do I lose cool points for admitting a fondness for the Joan Baez cover? )

Those of us with a fine appreciation for historical details might quibble over the accuracy of the lyrics.  But such is the way of poets and songwriters, as they ply their craft.  Any rate, in those opening lines, Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm laid out the name we need to follow – Major-General George Stoneman.

Stoneman was the quintessential “old cavalryman.”  But he had a lackluster wartime record by the winter of 1865.  Two spectacular failed raids were at the top of his resume.  The assignment to lead a raid out of East Tennessee into North Carolina was for all practical purposes Stoneman’s last opportunity for redemption.  The objective of this raid evolved with time.  Early in the winter, Major-General William T. Sherman simply suggested a diversionary raid into western North Carolina to detract both from Sherman’s planned advance into South Carolina and, at Sherman’s urgings, an infantry advance by Major-General George Thomas into Alabama.  Lieutenant-General Ulysses S. Grant opted to refine that scope somewhat, with an objective of the railroad behind Columbia, South Carolina, to directly contribute to Sherman’s advance.  (And there’s a “what if” to ponder.)

But those plans were overtaken by events.  Stoneman could not get his force organized for movement prior to the middle of March.  Just the logistics of getting troops, horses, and supplies in the right place delayed the start.  Further disrupting the launch, the same rains which pinned Sherman’s march from the Catawba to the Cape Fear Rivers served to likewise hinder Stoneman’s preparations.   By the time Stoneman was ready to start, his objectives were refined to the railroad between Christansburg and Lynchburg, in Virginia, with a threat to Danville.  Such would cut off Richmond from raw materials – particularly salt and other minerals – in Southwest Virginina.  I would submit no other major operation in the Civil War had such swings in objectives before the first movement.  Coming this late in the war, this was as much a raid of “because we can.”

Stoneman’s command for this raid was officially the District of East Tennessee.  The main striking arm was a cavalry division under Brigadier-General Alvan Gillem.

Short version of his biography – Gillem was a East Tennessee unionist with personal connections right up to the Vice-President.  Gillem’s division consisted of three brigades with a supporting battery of artillery:

  • 1st Brigade, Colonel William Palmer, with the 10th Michigan, 12th Ohio, and 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry.
  • 2nd Brigade, Brigadier-General Simeon Brown, with the 11th Michigan and 11th and 12th Kentucky.
  • 3rd Brigade, Colonel John Miller, with the 8th, 9th, and 13th Tennessee Cavalry.
  • Battery E, 1st Tennessee Light Artillery, Lieutenant James Regan.

All told, Gillem had around 4,000 men.

Backing up Gillem’s cavalry, a column of infantry and artillery under Brigadier-General Davis Tillson would move to secure the passes over the mountains and repair railroads through which the column would be resupplied.  Tillson’s command consisted of two brigades and seven artillery batteries, numbering around 4,500 men.  Of note, Tillson’s command contained the 1st US Colored Heavy Artillery, serving as infantry, and several formations of Tennessee and North Carolina unionists.

Logistics and weather finally permitted the raid to get underway on March 21, aptly as the battle of Bentonville was winding down.  While I don’t have space, nor the grounding, to cover this raid in the detail provided for Sherman’s Marches, I would offer a view of Stoneman’s Raid from a high level so that readers might appreciate the movements within the context of other events 150 years ago.  To wrap up this, the first in a series on the raid, let me cover the first nine days of movement, to bring us up to March 29, 1865.

StonemanFirst

Oh… big map again… I’ll have that on sale at the gift shop if you’d like…. OK, let me break that into three phases so it is easier to sort out.  And please not these are not precise as to all the roads and camps used by the raiders.

StonemanMar21_24

The initial movement out of Knoxville stepped out, as mentioned, on March 21.  The cavalry lead the column, followed by Tillson’s infantry which repaired the railroad as they moved.  The column moved along the Tennessee & Virginia Railroad to Strawberry Plains, Morristown to reach Bull’s Gap in Bays Mountain on March 24.

StonemanMar24_26

At Bull’s Gap, Stoneman received word of Confederate forces occupying Jonesborough along his intended line of march.  To counter that force and maneuver them out of place, Stoneman dispatched Miller’s Brigade on a northern course towards the Holston River, with orders to get behind the Confederate position somewhere south of Carter’s Depot. The remainder of Gillem’s force went directly towards Jonesborough.  Tillson’s infantry followed up the railroad line.  The move had the intended effect.  After some light skirmishing, the Confederates fell back in the direction of Bristol, Tennessee.  On March 26, the cavalry columns were beyond Jonesborough near Elizabethton, while Tilson’s infantry camped a day’s march from Greenville on the rail lines.  Tilson would remain in that area for three days before disbursing his forces further east.

StonemanMar26_29

Stoneman made a treacherous crossing, with some of his men moving at night, over Stone Mountain to cross into North Carolina on March 27. Hearing of a gathering of North Carolina guards, Stoneman dispatched Major Myles Keogh in command of a detachment from the 12th Kentucky Volunteer Cavalry to Boone. Keogh “surprised and routed the rebels, killing 9 and capturing 68” after entering town around 10 a.m. on March 28.

Reporting from Boone that day, Stoneman told Thomas of his success thus far into the raid, but determined to alter his plans.   “I shall be compelled to alter slightly from the proposed route on account of the great scarcity of forage and subsistence for the men.”  Instead of moving up the New River Valley from Boone, Stoneman preferred to move across the Blue Ridge and strike Wilkesborough.  The Yadkin River Valley offered much better grazing for his horses.

Stoneman, who loved to divide his forces for these movements, did so again when leaving Boone in two columns starting mid-day on the 28th.  Brown’s Brigade, with Miller’s following, moved through Watuga Gap, passing Blowing Rock, and down to the headwaters of the Yadkin River.  That force came across Patterson’s Factory at the foot of the mountains.  Before leaving, the Federals destroyed the yarn factory.  This column continued towards Wilkesborough on the south side of the Yadkin on March 29th.

Palmer’s Brigade reached Deep Gap on the evening of the 28th, then crossed over the Blue Ridge. The next morning, Palmer’s three regiments descended upon Wilkesborough on the 29th.  There the 12th Ohio Cavalry overwhelmed a small home guard force to take possession of the town.

Again, I’m working at a “quick” pace through Stoneman’s Raid. There are certainly fine points I’m skipping with an accelerated discussion of events.  Stoneman’s Raid, 1865, by Chris Hartley is among the recent book-length treatments of the subject, and which I’d recommend.  Much of my appreciation for the campaign was gained by running around photographing historical markers.  Speaking of which, North Carolina has several which relate to the events mentioned in this post – Boone, Blowing Rock, Patterson’s Mill, Deep Gap, and Wilkesboro.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 49, Part I, Serial 103, pages 330-1; Part II, Serial 104, page 112.)

How many horses were needed by the Federal Cavalry? Stoneman: 435,000 per year

Major-General George Stoneman, the US Army’s Chief of Cavalry in the fall of 1863, knew a thing or two about keeping cavalry fit for field operations.  Facing the problem of keeping a three division corps of cavalry in the field supporting the Army of the Potomac, Stoneman had some suggestions.  Looking at operations between May and October 1863, Stoneman noted the raw number of horses used and, for lack of better words, used up by the Army of the Potomac.  In a letter addressed to Colonel J. C. Kelton, Assistant Adjutant-General of the U.S. Army, on October 30, 1863, Stoneman detailed the number of horses forwarded to the Army of the Potomac for use in the cavalry over the preceding six months:

  • May – 5,073
  • June – 6,927
  • July – 4,716
  • August – 5,499
  • September – 5,827
  • October – 7,036

The grand total over those 184 days was 35,078 horses – again just for cavalry use.  That averages out to just over 190 horses per day, forwarded to the Army of the Potomac.  And those numbers did not include captured horses or requisitioned in the field from civilians.  The peak month was October, averaging over 225 horses per day (give or take).

Going back to Brigadier-General Rufus Ingalls’ table for horses on hand on June 1, 1863:

IngallsReport1June

The total number of horses in the cavalry corps, derived by adding the number of transportation, cavalry, and artillery horses on that line, was 14,170.  So add that to as an “on hand” number of horses in the cavalry to the total forwarded to the Army as replacements.  That bumps the total number of horses used and used up over those six months to 49,248.

Stoneman mentioned 17,000 unserviceable horses on hand at the depots around Washington.  He deduced that 18,078 horses were “killed in action, been captured, or have died, or been sold at auction” during the six month period.  In other words, the turnover rate in horses in that six months was about 250%.

Reviewing documents forwarded from the Army of the Potomac, Stoneman offered three suggestions to reduce attrition of the horses:

1. Disease of the foot and tongue, both of which yield readily to the remedies used in the hospital at the Cavalry Depot. Great care has been taken in sending forward horses to the army, not to allow any horse to leave the depot afflicted with either of these diseases, as each horse is inspected when he leaves the stables and before he is sent off.

2. The severe duties which the horses have to perform. The remedy for this is within the control of the commanding general of the army with which the cavalry is serving.

3. The great want of forage, without which horses cannot be expected to last long, or be able to perform much service of any kind. The remedy for this is either to furnish more forage, or to keep the cavalry force where it can procure forage if it is [not] furnished.

With the first firmly under his control, Stoneman could only stress the second two suggestions to the field commanders.

Looking beyond the Army of the Potomac, Stoneman added:

There are two hundred and twenty-three regiments of cavalry in the service, and thirty-six of them are in the Army of the Potomac.

At the rate horses are used up in that army it would require 435,000 per year to keep the cavalry in the army up, and then, according to the inclosed papers, it would be inefficient.

That’s an estimate of 435,000 horses, just for cavalry, across all theaters of war.  Let that number sink in for a moment.

Horses are both “recovering” and “regenerating” resources.  When given proper care, a horse can recover strength, to a degree.   Some of the 17,000 unserviceable horses in the depot as of October 1863, would return to the cavalry. As for regenerating a horse, the gestation period is around eleven months.  But a horse does not reach maturity until the fifth year.  And if you are wondering, the 1860 census tallied 6,249,271 horses in the states and territories.

At Stoneman’s estimate, one year of war would use 7% of the nation’s horses… just for the cavalry.   One year of the war… just counting the cavalry horses.

I challenge you to come up with a more direct figure to relate the wastage of war.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 29, Part II, Serial 49, page 398-9.)