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8-08-2015, 23:31

Spring in the East

MAJORGENERAL George B. McClellan loved almost everything about soldiering. He delighted in the uniforms, the traditions, the little military courtesies; his heart thrilled when he saw himself at the head of ten thousand troops passing in review. He even liked the paperwork, the returns, the reports, all the minutiae of army life. If war could be waged in peace, McClellan would have been a great soldier. But there were parts of soldiering he did not like. There was always that menacing vague presence, "the enemy," which assumed vast proportions in the recesses of his mind. And even more annoying there was President Lincoln, a simpleminded amateur who seemed to think that just because McClellan commanded an army of well over 100,000 men, he ought to do something with it. Admittedly, Lincoln was deferential enough, but he was also persistent. Week after week, he asked what McClellan proposed to do, and when McClellan proposed to do nothing, Lincoln kept suggesting things that might, perhaps, possibly, if the general thought it wise, be done. The general did not think it wise. Could not the president see that the army was still untrained, still unequipped, still undermanned? Did he not know that McClellan was dangerously outnumbered? Why there, across in northern Virginia, sat an immense host of Confederates under Joseph Johnston, 100,000 of them, no, 120,000, even more, maybe 150,000! It would be gross folly to try to take the offensive against such an army. So McClellan convinced himself, so he assured Lincoln, and Lincoln, poor man, could only tell himself the Young Napoleon must know what he was doing, and put off the more importunate members of Congress and the cabinet. So as fall turned into winter, and winter into the early spring of 1862, the Army of the Potomac drilled and polished, held great reviews, and learned what real soldiering according to the gospel of George B. McClellan was all about. Eventually, of course, something had to be done. The president, who thought with good reason that he had as much military sense as his generals, suggested a straightforward advance into northern Virginia. Yes, said McClellan, when I have the army trained well enough for it. Then, when the day finally arrived that even McClellan had to admit the army was sufficiently trained, he found an excuse not to go: he was vastly outnumbered, and a direct advance would be suicidal. But he came up with an alternative; instead of taking on Johnston directly, he would move the army down the Potomac by ship, to the little town of Urbanna at the mouth of the Rappahannock. Thus he would flank Johnston, and he would make a march toward Richmond. Forced to hurry back to defend his capital, Johnston would have to fight on ground of McClellan's choosing, and would be defeated. So far so good. But then the wily Johnston retreated anyway, so the flanking move by Urbanna would be useless. Well, said Lincoln, if he is retreating, why not just advance and follow him up? Again McClellan dismissed this with contempt. He wanted to make the Napoleonic move, the gesture on the grand scale. He would take the army all the way to Fortress Monroe, at the bottom of Chesapeake Bay. Then he would advance directly on Richmond, up the peninsula formed by the York and James rivers. That was a distance of a mere sixty-some miles, as opposed to the hundred overland from Washington. More important, the route from Washington entailed crossing a number of difficult rivers, and was guarded by that huge Confederate army; there were, so McClellan assured the president and himself, no such difficulties in the Peninsula. Lincoln doubted. In spite of his best attempts, he was slowly losing faith in his general. In mid-March, he demoted him from overall commander to command of the Army of the Potomac alone, and took into his own hands the coordination of the several forces in the eastern theater. Now he did not like the idea of taking the main army away from the capital, and leaving the direct route open to the enemy. McClellan insisted the capital was adequately protected anyway; not only did it have a garrison of about 45,000 troops, but General Banks had 23,000 more upriver at Harpers Ferry, guarding the mouth of the Shenandoah Valley, and General William S. Rosecrans, later replaced by John C. Fremont, had another few thousand in the mountains of western Virginia. All of these should be more than enough to calm the presidential fears. On March 17, McClellan began putting his troops aboard transports for the move down the bay to Fortress Monroe. But while Washington fussed and fretted, what was happening across on the Confederate side? Here President Davis was busy worrying about his western theater—justly so—and doing far less for Virginia than McClellan thought he was. In fact, the "huge array" of Johnston's army turned out to be a mere 40,000 men! If one counted all the troops all over the war zone in Virginia, the Confederates could muster 75,000 men. McClellan alone had 155,000 in his army; the Washington garrison counted another 45,000, and Banks's and Fremont's troops, plus another 12,000 already garrisoning Fortress Monroe, amounted to 40,000 more. The truth was, the Federal forces had at their disposal a quarter of a million men; they outnumbered the Confederates three and half to one. No one was more fully aware of the real state of affairs than President Davis and his generals, and they devoted themselves wholeheartedly to fostering McClellan's delusions. The coming campaign would have to be aimed at George McClellan's mind, for if it came simply to fighting bodies, the Union was going to win. The first round was won for them by the United States Navy. McClellan had assumed, without ever bothering to ask, that the Navy would take his troops up the two rivers, and he would capture Yorktown by an amphibious operation. But there was a problem with that, and it arose from one of the great events of naval history. At the beginning of the rebellion, the Confederates had seized the Federal navy yard at Norfolk; among their prizes was the hulk of the steam frigate Merrimack, which had been burned to the waterline and sunk at her moorings. The Confederates raised the ship, cleaned up the engines, and built a barn-like topside structure, turning it into a heavily armed and armored floating battery, patriotically renamed the CSS—for "Confederate States Ship" — Virginia. On March 8 the new vessel, under Captain Franklin Buchanan, sallied forth into the waters of Hampton Roads, and in two hours rendered obsolete practically every ship in every navy in the world. The Federals knew the ship was there, and Flag Officer Louis M. Goldsborough had disposed of a substantial fleet, by pre-March 8 standards, to try to trap and destroy the Virginia when she came out. Instead, his own fleet was decimated. The Virginias first target was the fifty-gun Congress, whose solid shot bounced off the Confederate's armor plating. The Congress was swept by the Rebel fire, and the Virginia steamed ponderously on to ram and sink the Cumberland, which went down so fast it nearly took the Virginia with it. The Cumberland% crew fought from deck to deck as the water rose about them, and the ship finally hit the shallow bottom, masts still standing and flag still flying, a splendid example but a sunken ship nonetheless. The Congress was then run aground in shallow water where the Virginia could not follow, but was destroyed by gunfire. One of the killed was her paymaster, McKean Buchanan, brother of the Confederate captain. Three other Union vessels, all big seagoing ships, ran aground trying to maneuver to attack the Rebel, and after unsuccessfully bombarding them at long range, the Virginia steamed triumphantly home to replenish and make minor repairs. The next day, the 9th, the Confederates came out to finish the job. Something, however, had happened during the night. After dark a new vessel had joined the Union fleet, an ugly little thing named the Monitor. It was the brainchild of John Ericsson and was little more than a self-propelled barge with a large revolving turret on its flat deck. The turret had only two guns, but they were eleven-inch monsters, more than a match for the nine-and six-inch guns of the Virginia. So, when the Virginia steamed confidently into Hampton Roads on the 9th, this odd-looking little craft cast off from behind the Minnesota and came out to fight. At first the Confederates thought it was some sort of anchor buoy loose in the bay, but they soon recognized it as one of the newfangled ships the Union was known to be building. The battle between the two lasted for four hours and was, in the main, quite inconclusive; both could hurt, neither could destroy, the other. Eventually the Monitor was temporarily embarrassed by a hit on the tiny pilot house, and the Virginia, which had run aground, managed to escape while the Federal sailors were sorting themselves out. The only fact that was quite clearly demonstrated by this first ironclad duel in naval warfare was that the day of the wooden warship was over. So the Navy regretfully told McClellan an amphibious operation was out, what with the Virginia still at large, and he would have to make his campaign without them. Round two went to the Confederates as well, thanks to Major General John Magruder. In the old army he had been known as "Prince John," in part because of a predilection for the drama, and now he made full use of his offbeat talents. He had fewer than 20,000 men at hand with which to stop McClellan's advance up the Peninsula, but if he could hold on, he knew help would be on the way. The Federals began to move on April 4. McClellan himself had reached Fortress Monroe on the 2nd, where he took command of the 50,000 men already there, with more arriving each day. His army was now divided up into corps, and the Civil War corps, about the size of a World War II division, tended to become the normal fighting unit of the war. Ironically, the corps structure had not been chosen by McClellan himself, but rather by Lincoln, who had insisted, quite correctly, that the army needed some order at that level. Eventually, McClellan had five corps, and a fighting strength of about 125,000 men, on the Peninsula. But the Confederates had a better knowledge of the terrain, they had Magruder, who did better here than he ever did again, and above all they had those dark fears haunting the back of George McClellan's mind. Magruder held a position almost ten miles long, from Yorktown on the York River all the way across to the other shore of the Peninsula, on the James. For most of its length this line ran behind the little Warwick River, which was more of an obstacle than McClellan had thought it would be. Even so, the Rebel line was far too long for the troops available, so Magruder faked it. He had built gun embrasures all along the line, and manned them with heavy guns—"Quaker" guns, logs trimmed and set so that from a distance they looked like weapons. He marched his troops vigorously back and forth, and let the distant Federals count them here, then count the same men over again there. Totally flummoxed, McClellan decided he had no alternative but to open a regular siege: the lines were too heavy to carry by assault. Of course, the Federals, had they known it, or dared try, could have brushed the Confederates aside with ease—the Rebs were too busy laughing to have put up any real defense. So for an entire month McClellan besieged an all but empty position. Meanwhile, events elsewhere turned the hollow Confederate defense into something altogether different. For as a diversionary measure, Stonewall Jackson went on the rampage in the Shenandoah Valley. Thomas J. Jackson was decidedly an odd fish. What could you make of a man who was given to sucking lemons, and who often rode along with one arm stuck up in the air, in the belief that that improved his circulation? In the winter of 1861-62, he had returned to the Shenandoah, after his brief appearance at Bull Run, and had commanded the few soldiers, mostly militia, in the Vailey for some months. Eventually he was reinforced by Confederate regular troops, his own Stonewall Brigade from the Manassas campaign. Still he did not have enough with which to accomplish anything, until necessity overrode common military sense. That point was reached when McClellan went to the Peninsula, and the South desperately needed something to throw the Union war machine out of kilter. Jackson proved to be the man, and the Valley the place, to provide that something. The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia is, in addition to being one of the most beautiful spots in America, peculiarly suited to military action. It is formed by the isolated Blue Ridge Mountains to the east, and then the main slopes of the Allegheny Mountains to the west, and it runs a little more than a hundred miles, from Staunton at its southern end, northeast to Harpers Ferry at its northern end. The top forty miles of it consist of the floor of the valley, through which runs the Shenandoah River; the bottom sixty miles is actually two valleys, those of the western and eastern forks of the river; confusingly, the western fork is known as the North Fork, and the eastern the South Fork. Between them is a ridgeline called Massanutten Mountain. The three lines of mountains that define the Valley, the Blue Ridge, Massanutten, and the Alleghenies, are all broken occasionally by passes that allow a force to move from one side to another, or even in and out of the whole Valley. The mountain slopes were heavily wooded, and especially to the west, access was difficult, but the Valley floors are spacious and well-farmed, and the area was considered by many as the breadbasket of the Confederacy. More immediately important, the whole arena was a perfect one for a daring commander who could inspire a small, fast- moving force against superior but unconcentrated numbers. The advantages of mobility, interior lines, and a unified command had not been so convincingly demonstrated since the young Napoleon's Italian campaign of 1796. Now the Civil War was about to get its Young Napoleon, too, but as it turned out, he was not George B. McClellan after all. When he began, Jackson had about 10,000 men. Facing him was the Union V Corps commanded by General Nathaniel P. Banks, consisting of about 23,000 men in three divisions, plus some scattered Union forces in the western mountains, soon to be commanded by John C. Fremont. The War Department had told Banks to advance southward, clearing the northern end of the Valley, and then be prepared to detach troops to the Peninsula to assist McClellan. Banks moved south from Harpers Ferry to Winchester, and then started farther south on March 17, as the Army of the Potomac was boarding its transports for the trip down the bay. The situation at that moment illustrates the importance of chance in the military command of the Civil War. Banks was known as "the bobbin boy of Massachusetts," a successful politician who had come up by hard work and his own ambition, and who had been strong for the Union cause; Fremont was a man of national stature, "the Pathfinder of the West," and Jackson was a humdrum West Point graduate who had gone off to teach at university. There was little reason to suppose any one would have done any better—or any worse—than the other two. Indeed, an assessment of their careers and talents to this date would have put Thomas J. Jackson a clear last. Who now recognizes the names of Nathaniel P. Banks or even John C. Fremont? The Valley campaign lasted three months, from mid-March to mid- June. As Banks pulled back northward, preparatory to dispatching some of his troops to Washington, Jackson moved to follow. On March 23 he attacked the Federals at Kernstown, a bungled battle in which he was repulsed. Jackson was furious over his tactical defeat, but even so he totally upset the overall Union concept. Instead of Banks moving to support McClellan, his troops were ordered to stay where they were; not only that, a couple of other divisions were held back from the Peninsula, and Irvin McDowell's command in northern Virginia was moved westward to concentrate against the audacious Confederate in the Valley. Deprived of the smallest portion of his overwhelming army, McClellan began thinking even less offensively than he was already doing, so Jackson was succeeding strategically beyond his or Richmond's wildest hopes right from the start. A whole series of Federal forces now tried to converge upon the artful dodger, but Old Jack was too fast and too wily for all of them. As Banks advanced slowly south up the Valley, toward an eventual junction with Fremont, Jackson hung about threatening everyone's flanks, cutting back and forth across Massanutten Mountain. Then he dashed off and fought Fremont's advance at McDowell on May 8; thinking to attack, he was himself attacked and barely fought off the Union onslaught. Having done so, he chased the Federals back into the western mountains, then turned again on Banks. On May 23, reinforced up to 16,000, he crushed a Federal outpost at Front Royal; on the 25th, he struck the now retreating Banks at Winchester. A furious assault sent the Federals reeling and then stampeded them to the north; Jackson's exhausted "foot cavalry" collapsed over their well-earned breakfast. The next day what was left of Banks's command crossed the Potomac and sought relief in Maryland. The War Department in Washington now intervened, and set up an elaborate trap in which McDowell was to advance west, Fremont east, and a reinforced Banks south; between the three they should catch this gadfly somewhere. Again they failed. After gathering all the supplies he could transport, Jackson again moved south, and again, by skillful use of the roads, bridges, and terrain, he eluded the pursuit. At the end of the first week of June, he was at the south end of Massanutten Mountain, with Fremont to the west and the advance of McDowell's forces to the east. On the 8th and 9th, at Cross Keys and Port Republic, he turned on one and then the other, roughly handling both before slipping away yet again. With that the Federals gave it up. The Valley campaign subsided, Washington decided to let Jackson alone; it even decided, albeit only temporarily, that administrators in the capital were not well suited to directing field operations. And Jackson, left alone, soon went off to help out in the Peninsula, having struck this distant but by no means insignificant blow at the equilibrium of General McClellan. The Valley campaign did not achieve spectacular results in terms of enemy forces destroyed or smashing, bloody victories; indeed, it should have been but a mere footnote to the potentially far more significant operations taking place in the main theater on the Peninsula. It might be said that it bought the Confederacy time, but in fact it did not even do that; the time bought for the Confederacy was bought by Magruder and his theatricals, not by Jackson and his foot cavalry. But what it did do was upset Union plans and troop schedules, and in this way it furthered the profound malaise existing between McClellan and the government in Washington. Lincoln had insisted that McClellan leave behind him enough troops to guarantee the security of the capital. McClellan insisted that he was doing so. But he was counting virtually every soldier he was not actually taking with him, while Lincoln was counting only those in the immediate area of Washington. Neither ever cleared up this simple misunderstanding. Thus when Jackson ran wild, and Washington held back troops slated for the Peninsula, both sides felt betrayed; Lincoln thought McClellan had misled him about what he would leave behind, McClellan thought the government was holding back men promised to him. He went beyond that; he began to see plots, possibly deliberate, to discredit and even destroy him: the Radical Republicans wanted him to fail, because he was weak on the slavery issue; the president was envious of him, and so was undermining his military strength. At first he had seen himself as the Noble Roman—"I am willing to save the Republic and perish by suicide to preserve its liberties"; now he began to see himself as the martyr; his letters to his wife were full of predictions of failure, and of himself sacrificed to the devious ambitions of the politicians. His memoirs remind one of the similar writings of French generals of 1940, self-serving and self-exculpatory, and totally at odds with reality. Whatever happened now, it would not be George McClellan's fault. That was hardly the attitude with which to wage a vigorous campaign, and McClellan did not do so. On April 16, when General William F "Baldy" Smith pushed his brigade right into the middle of the Rebel line and found it all but empty, McClellan recalled him to his own line; didn't the man know this was supposed to be a siege? By the end of April Joseph E. Johnston had got his army moved from northern Virginia down into the Peninsula, and the line was not as thin as it had been. McClellan scheduled a grand assault for May 5, but Johnston beat him to it, and started retreating on the 3rd. So the Federals lost the best month they were going to get. They actually caught up with Johnston's rearguard, under the command of Major General James Longstreet, but accomplished little. The capable Longstreet gave them a bloody nose and got safely away. Both retreat and pursuit were difficult, with long trains bogged down on roads muddy from several days' rain, and both sides crawled along while Rebel cavalry under Brigadier General Jeb Stuart made a nuisance of itself to the Federals. For two and half weeks the Union army plowed ponderously ahead, until by late May it was, in spite of itself, virtually at the gates of Richmond. It was a fascinating interlude, illustrating the adage that generals are among the most pacific of men. McClellan spent most of his time riding about looking at the scenery, and writing letters and telegrams back to Washington demanding more support so he could hope to fight on at least even terms. As has been mentioned, he was really a capable military administrator. He managed to move his headquarters as far up as White House, which is on the Pamunkey, the southern branch of the York River, and a mere twenty miles from Richmond. Meanwhile, with Yorktown lost, the Confederates abandoned Norfolk, and this allowed the Federal navy to move up the James as far as Drewry's Bluff, less than ten miles from the capital. There was thus a certain air of inevitability about the blue tide coming up the Peninsula, and the Confederates were rightly worried in the face of it. None more so than Joseph E. Johnston. If McClellan's classical hero might have been Sulla, who saved Rome and then retired from a dictatorship, then Johnston's would have been Fabius Cunctator the Delayer, who wanted to defeat Hannibal by not righting him. Johnston was a capable tactician, but he was a very cautious one; he was also almost perpetually at odds with Jefferson Davis over matters of promotion and precedence, and in spite of their constant close contact throughout the entire Civil War, the two did not work well in harness. This was not really the place for caution. Johnston did not have a great deal of maneuvering room, with Richmond ever closer to his back, and he also did not have what he thought was necessary in the way of manpower. Johnston had about 60,000 troops in hand, outnumbered by the Federals at a ratio of about five to three in combat strength. Of course, McClellan, listening to his own intelligence people from the Pinkerton Agency, who apparently could not count, thought that he himself was now outnumbered by at least 200,000 Rebels. But then, Johnston did not know what McClellan thought; he only knew what he himself thought. And that was that he could not fight until the Federals made a big mistake and gave him an opportunity. So Joe Johnston twisted and turned, with McClellan to his front and Davis to his rear, and waited hopefully for something to turn up. Something did. McClellan pushed his advance up the north bank of the Chickahominy River until he was within about six miles of Richmond. It was not an especially advantageous position, but it would have allowed him to link up with McDowell, advancing overland south toward the city. But in late May McClellan knew McDowell was not coming; he was going west to fight Jackson in the Valley. McClellan therefore considered shifting his base from White House on the York south to the much more accessible James River; as a preliminary to this, he had pushed one corps, IV, under Erasmus Keyes, south of the Chickahominy. Johnston decided to strike at and destroy this isolated segment of the Union army. Johnston originally intended to attack the right end of McClellan's line north of the river, hoping to lever it away from McDowell's approach, but when he heard of McDowell's move westward, he decided instead to hit the isolated IV Corps. While he was getting organized, Keyes was reinforced by two divisions, under Generals Philip Kearny and Joseph Hooker, from Samuel Heintzelman's III Corps, so Johnston hit more than he intended when he attacked on May 31. Not only that, but his assault troops got all tangled up in their approach, and the attack went in late and disjointed. Fortunately for the Confederates, the Union troops were just as mixed up, and this Battle of Seven Pines, or Fair Oaks—like most Civil War battles, the two sides called it by different names—ended up being a nasty and messy little fight; neither side deployed all its available strength, nor brought to bear effectively what it did have on the field. About 40,000 men were engaged on each side, and the Confederates suffered about 6,000 casualties and the Union about 5,000. There was one important result, though. At the height of the battle, Johnston was severely wounded. When it became apparent that he would be out of action for some months to come, Jefferson Davis looked about for a successor. On June 1, Robert E. Lee was appointed commanding general of the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee's appointment to a field command was not greeted with the universal approbation a later generation associated with his name. Thought to be one of the first soldiers of the old army, an equal to Albert Sidney Johnston, he had not done much since secession. In western Virginia in the fall of 1861, he had not shone, and since then he had been down in the Carolinas, supervising coastal defenses. His penchant for fortification there had earned him the derisive nickname "King of Spades"; in March of 1862 he was recalled to Richmond as President Davis's military adviser, and he is largely credited with the idea for Jackson's diversion in the Valley. That of course was not well known at the time, so in Richmond there were those who harbored some misgivings about whether he could actually fight. Ironically, General McClellan welcomed his new opponent. Lee, he wrote to Lincoln, would be "too cautious and weak under grave responsibility . . . wanting in moral firmness . . . and likely to be timid and irresolute in action." This at about the same time Lincoln was writing, "It is indispensable to you that you strike a blow. . . . But you must act." Lincoln did not add that if McClellan did not act, he would be acted upon. But that was the first thrust of Lee's thought. When he met his subordinate commanders, he immediately began considering how to gain the initiative; one of them remarked that they were heavily outnumbered, and Lee simply replied, "If you go to ciphering we are all whipped beforehand." So they would not go to ciphering; instead they would go to fight. In preparation for that, Lee called in all the reinforcements he could get, including Jackson from the Valley. He was lucky to get a couple of weeks of rainy weather, which made the Peninsula wet and muddy, and made McClellan even less inclined to move than usual. The Federals busied themselves entrenching practically within sight of Richmond, and while they did so, Lee pulled together the threads of command, got to know his officers better, and made all ready. He needed to know as much as he could about his opponents, so on June 12 he sent out Stuart with a strong cavalry force on a reconnaisance of the northern end of the Federal position. Stuart and his thousand troopers were out three days, and instead of merely looking about, they rode around McClellan's entire army, breaking up some rail line, catching a few prisoners, and losing only one man in the process. The raid did little real damage, and even alerted McClellan, but it also undermined his fragile equilibrium even further, as well as making him and his army look at least slightly ridiculous—a bunch of Rebel yahoos riding rings around the largest and best-equipped army ever seen in North America. That was but a sign of things to come. On June 26, Lee opened a series of strikes that is collectively known as the Seven Days' Battles. After Seven Pines, McClellan had shifted most of his army south of the Chickahominy, but he left one corps, under the able Fitz John Porter, north of the river. Against these 30,000 men Lee now concentrated the bulk of his army, 60,000 strong. He left a mere 25,000 of his own to guard Richmond and face off all the rest of McClellan's army, and on the 26th, he struck. It was a beautiful plan, with Jackson coming down from the north on Porter's right flank, and the other Confederate corps falling on in succession, but it did not work. Jackson did not even reach the field until late afternoon, and all the others, A. P. Hill in the lead, were left to attack as the notion took them. So what should have been a lovely enveloping roll turned into a straightup slogging fight known as the Battle of Mechanicsville, in which Porter's outnumbered bluecoats gave as good as they got—better, considering the disparity of numbers. McClellan was totally at a loss what to do now. His other four corps had stood idle the entire day while Porter fought. Now McClellan decided he would shift his base south to the James River, but all he did was tell Porter to fall back a couple of miles from where he was. This Porter did during the night, but he was still more or less isolated, and the next day, the 27th, Lee hit him again at Gaines's Mill. Again Lee planned to roll up Porter's right, and again Jackson failed; A. P. Hill and then Longstreet attacked frontally, and for several hours maintained the contest alone. Jackson took the wrong road, got his columns scrambled up with others, backtracked, and did not attack until late afternoon. But by then Porter's men were finished, and they were pushed south across the river. Good artillery work and burned bridges enabled them to get away, but Lee got a respectable victory out of this one. McClellan now implemented his decision to change his base to the James, and indeed, he went further than that: he threw the whole army into retreat. He started his move on the 28th, more or less splitting his army in two to do it. Lee spent the day trying to figure out what his enemy was up to. On the 29th he attacked again, this time hitting the three rear corps, II under Bull Sumner, VI under William B. Franklin, and III under Heintzelman, at Savage Station. Neither army commander exercised much control. Heintzelman's whole corps and part of Franklin's just wandered off, leaving Sumner to fend for himself; fortunately for them, Jackson took the day off to rest, leaving Prince John Magruder to do all the work, and Magruder's troops were not strong enough to do it. The Federals disengaged and got away. Lee now enjoyed the unchallenged initiative, but his results had so far been disappointing. On the 30th, he caught the Union army again, around Frayser's Farm. He wanted to bag the whole lot, and to this end ordered attacks on both the south and north end of their line — really their retreating column. But again it could not be managed. Neither of his flanking columns got into position, and once more he had to settle for a series of ragged and uncoordinated frontal attacks. All he succeeded in doing was hastening the retreat. This march south had been led by Porter, and he now took up a position overlooking the James, on Malvern Hill. During the evening the rest of the corps came in, and by morning, the Federals presented a solid front, well dug in and heavily supported by their excellent artillery. This would be a very tough nut to crack, but Lee was determined to have one last try at it. He ordered his artillery to clear the way, and early in the morning on the 1st ofJuly, they opened a gunnery duel. But the Rebel batteries were not strong enough, and by afternoon they had been silenced by the Union guns. Lee gave up the idea of an attack, then saw movement among the Federal lines that he mistakenly took to be a retreat. So he ordered an infantry attack. Longstreet, D. H. Hill, and Jackson reluctantly sent their men in, piecemeal again, and to no avail. The attacks were sent reeling back with heavy casualties and tailed off as twilight came on. The Seven Days was over. That night McClellan withdrew the army down to Harrison's Landing on the James, where it sat doing nothing for the next two months. For practical purposes the Peninsula campaign was over too, at a cost of about 30,000 casualties on either side. There was no more Southern criticism of Robert E. Lee as "the King of Spades"; as for George McClellan, that was rather a different matter. Long before McClellan and Lee fought their climactic series of battles on the Peninsula, President Lincoln had realized that his new high command structure, with Washington trying to coordinate field operations in the eastern theater, was simply not working. Even with the short distances of Virginia and the telegraph, orders got mixed up, or were issued in response to situations too late to be of any use, and the whole idea was just a bad one. The Valley campaign graphically illustrated that the Union needed a field commander who could do what the War Department and the cabinet could not. So Lincoln created a second army, the Army of Virginia, composed of McDowell's, Banks's, and Fremont's corps, and he brought Major General John Pope out of the west to command it. This was an odd choice. Pope had done well as one of Halleck's wing commanders. He had run a couple of useful actions on the Mississippi, notably the taking of Island No. 10, but had little else to recommend him in a purely military way. More important was that he was connected to important people in Washington, and he was a good solid Republican, and good solid Republican generals were hard to find. His appointment was received enthusiastically by the Radical Republican press, but far less so in the army itself. Pope was in fact junior to all three of his corps commanders, and Fremont resigned in a huff rather than serve under him. This may actually have been the greatest benefit of his appointment. For whatever reason, here he was, arrived in Virginia to take up his new command. He got off on the wrong foot, issuing grandiloquent orders of the day pointing out that in the West they were used to victory, unlike these eastern soldiers, and that henceforth, "my headquarters will be in the saddle," prompting the troops to inquire sarcastically where his hindquarters might be. Lincoln still felt the need of some overall direction. He now had two armies on his hands, Pope's in northern Virginia, and McClellan's sitting sulking in its tents down on the James. So he finally brought Henry Halleck east in Pope's wake, and made him general in chief of all Union military forces. At last the Union had a unified command structure, or at least it would have one if Halleck proved up to the job. The first problem was what to do with McClellan, and Halleck solved that in a rather ingenious way. McCellan was too important politically to remove from command; therefore Halleck would remove the command from McClellan. He would draft off successive units from the Army of the Potomac, and add them to the Army of Virginia, and in the end McClellan would be an army commander without an army. Meanwhile, on the Confederate side, Lee was busily scheming away. As soon as McClellan subsided after the Seven Days, Lee sent Jackson back north to face off what was now Pope's Army of Virginia. Lee himself did not dare leave McClellan's 100,000 men camped almost in the suburbs of Richmond, but gradually Lee worked out a plan. He fortified lines around the city, and the government brought in troops from the Carolinas to man them, thus gradually freeing Lee for field operations. McClellan cooperated by doing nothing, so Lee took a chance. Late in July he sent Ambrose Powell Hill with 12,000 men to reinforce Jackson, and early in August he moved out in that direction himself. Jackson was already in motion. He had now recovered from the crankiness—in fact probably near-exhaustion—that had rendered him ineffective on the Peninsula, and he was again in top form, exercising independent command and trailing his coat in front of Pope's army. His advance bumped into Banks's corps, leading Pope's advance, at Cedar Mountain on August 9, and Banks, with a little luck and a little support, had his best day ever, giving the Rebels a nasty thump before the thing petered out. Both sides now eyed each other warily for a week, a week in which Lee arrived, and with him the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee and Pope each now had about 55,000 men, but Pope could expect that he would soon be heavily reinforced, as practically the whole Army of the Potomac, four corps strong, was coming his way. Lee decided to act while he still had an even chance. His plan was the epitome of boldness. In the face of an enemy who would substantially outnumber him within days or even hours, he split his army. Giving Jackson virtually half of it, he sent him on a long march northwest up the Rappahannock, then back east through the Bull Run Mountains, another of those isolated Virginia ridgelines. By marching around two sides of the triangle, Jackson cut Pope's communications to his rear, took his immense supply base at Manassas, and threatened his line of retreat back to Washington. Pope was totally confounded; he could not believe this was happening to him; indeed he refused to believe it until his telegraph lines went dead. McDowell, the corps commander in whom he placed most confidence, thought this presented a great opportunity, and urged Pope to attack his enemy while his forces were split. But Pope was not the man to seize what Lee dangled before him, and it was precisely on that condition of mind that Lee gambled. While Jackson's men gorged themselves on Yankee rations, and Lee marched hard to join up, Pope floundered about and ordered his corps commanders here, there, and everywhere. On the afternoon of August 27, Jackson loaded up everything he could carry, burned what he could not, and set off to find a place to fight. He took up a position just west of the old Bull Run battlefield of last year, and his men settled down to gloat over their goodies and wait for someone, either Lee or Pope, to show up. While they slept with unwontedly full bellies, the Federals marched and countermarched for miles, the troops shuffling along half asleep, and the staff officers going wild as orders from headquarters—"in the saddle"—sent them here, then there, then back to here again. Pope ordered up Porter's corps from McClellan's army, but did it in such a mixed-up fashion that Porter was not sure where he was supposed to go, and as he was not disposed to accept orders from John Pope anyway, he lolligagged along at a leisurely pace. And so it went. Eventually, the reports Pope had received allowed him to construct a coherent picture of his situation. He decided that Jackson was marching west back over his earlier route, seeking to escape beyond the Bull Run Mountains. Longstreet, leading Lee's advance, was coming east to link up with him, but only for the purpose of helping him get away. Pope therefore ordered his forces, in effect, to pursue Jackson, concentrating as they did so. At last he had it all together in his mind. The only flaw in this was that the picture did not coincide with reality. On the morning of the 29th, several of Pope's units bumped into Jackson's men. A Union division led by John Reynolds, and then I Corps under Franz Sigel, who had replaced Fremont, hit the Rebels around the Henry House Hill, which had been the scene of heavy fighting back in 1861. Reinforced, eventually by Jesse Reno's IX Corps and Heintzelman's III Corps, the Federals slowly drove the Confederates back until the latter were in a solid position along some rail cuts and around a hill feature called Stony Ridge or Sudley Mountain. Here they stuck, and held hard, through charge and countercharge. At last the impudent Rebels had been brought to bay. So thought Pope, and he called up his other corps, Porter off to the south, Franklin several miles east, and McDowell, who was within close supporting distance. Thus by nightfall, most of Pope's army was ready to crush Jackson. Unfortunately, they were not ready to crush Lee as well. Longstreet, leading the advance, had made steady time, pushing aside the small forces of cavalry trying desperately to slow him down. Jackson was fully aware of this imminent assistance, and far from being caught, he had merely used his own force as bait for the trap, sucking Pope into a full-scale commitment. As Pope made ready to finish off Jackson, better than half the Army of Northern Virginia, all unknown, was in position to hit the Union left flank. In fact, Lee decided not to do this. He would have preferred to maneuver even farther around, to the Union rear, and thus bag the entire army as it retreated. On the morning of the 30th, then, there was a hiatus as everyone made ready to move. But soon after noon, Pope surprised the Confederates, not by retreating as he should have, but by resuming his attack on Jackson. Totally unaware of Lee, he had ordered a pursuit of what he still took to be a retreating portion of the Confederate army. Porter's corps, now in the line in place of Sigel, hit Jackson's tired men so hard that he came within an inch of breaking through, and Old Jack was hard pressed to keep his position together. Indeed, if the Union attacks had been properly coordinated instead of piecemeal, the Rebels must have been broken. Lee, now left with little choice, threw his divisions into line, and down they came on the Union left like the wrath of God. This was very close to what had happened at First Bull Run back in the fall, and the result was almost the same. The Confederates charged handsomely, and the Federals resisted manfully, both sides standing to their business with far greater finesse and firmness than they had done before. But eventually the pressure was too great, and the Union line bent back and back. Late in the afternoon, Lee sent Longstreet, five divisions strong, against Pope's left, southern, flank, and they drove the Federals up the slopes of Henry House Hill. Pope pulled troops over from his right flank, which enabled Jackson's weary troops to advance as well. By nightfall, the Union position was a horseshoe around that bloody hill, and Pope knew he was well beaten. There was no panic this time, however. Pope ordered a withdrawal, and during the night his people carefully pulled out, destroying the bridges over Bull Run as they went. Lee's pursuit over the next two days was laggard; his people were tired, hungry, and nearly fought out themselves. On September 1 Jackson caught a Union force at Chantilly, and though he had numerical superiority, he got very roughly handled. At that Lee quit, and turned back southward. The beaten Union army retreated to the Potomac, humiliated and angry. Not so much at being beaten by Bobby Lee — there was little disgrace in that—but rather at being poorly directed by its own commanders. There was a great deal of complaint and bitter commentary, most of it directed at John Pope. The government in Washington reacted quickly to restore confidence, and they did so by relieving Pope and reappointing McClellan. The latter put on full dress uniform and went out to meet the troops as they marched, tired, dirty, and angry, back inside the lines at Alexandria. News of his coming spread down the lines. Brigadier General John P. Hatch, in full view and hearing of General Pope, shouted out to passing troops, "Boys, McClellan is in command of the army again! Three cheers!" The soldiers responded with thunderous roars of approval. Pope went off to Minnesota to fight the Sioux; he was little heard from again, though for years Union veterans teasing each other and recalling their war service used the phrase "as big a liar as John Pope."

 

 

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