Tag: Virginia

Stonewall Jackson Begins Shenandoah Campaign

How the Legend of Stonewall Jackson Began

On 1 January 1862, Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson began his spectacular Shenandoah Campaign from Winchester, Virginia.  The campaign was designed to keep Union forces to the west from joining in the early war pressure on the Confederate Army’s positions in Richmond, Virginia. Jackson would be successful in this mission with some significant setbacks, but his reputation would grow immensely during this time. Jackson was the sort who would ask much of his troops, but never more than he would give himself. Most of the serious fighting in the Shenandoah would not occur until the Spring, but on 3 January, near the town of Bath in present day West Virginia, Jackson set the tone of his legend to come.

A Hard, Puritanical Man

Jackson was from Clarksburg, Virginia (present day West Virginia), so he was familiar with the terrain and people of the Shenandoah. When some of the troops under Brigadier General William Wing Loring complained to the Confederate leadership about the hard nature of Jackson’s command, Jackson resigned in disgust that the charges were taken seriously. Luckily for the Confederacy, calmer heads, including the Virginia Governor John Letcher and General Joseph E. Johnston, prevailed and Jackson wasn’t questioned further. Jackson was a hard, puritanical man, but only asked of his men what he himself would endure. One story tells of Confederate soldiers waking up near Bath with a dusting of snow on their blankets. They began to complain about Jackson, but they were startled to find Jackson stand up amongst them and shake the snow off his blanket as well. This kind of leadership was what allowed Jackson to literally walk his men’s shoes off and run circles around the Union units during the Shenandoah Campaign throughout the first half of 1862.

Stonewall Jackson Begins Shenandoah Campaign Motorcycle Ride

For a good feel for the northern part of the Shenandoah and the early part of the campaign, try this ride from Winchester, VA to Bath, WV to Romney, WV and back to Winchester.

Battle of Hatcher’s Run 5 February 1865

On 5 February 1865, the Union Army moved on the Confederate line at Petersburg. After 3 days of vicious fighting, no one had won, but the Union had succeeded in stretching the already overstretched Rebel line. The battle has been called the Battle of Hatcher’s Run / Dabney’s Mill / Armstrong’s Mill / Rowanty Creek / Vaughan Road / Boydton Plank Road. Each name had a significance in the battle, but the battle is generally referred to as the battle of Hatcher’s Run.

The Siege of Richmond

By early February 1865, General Grant had besieged Petersburg for 8 months. Further south, Sherman had completed his march to the sea and was now heading north. Schofield was moving inland from Fort Fisher. Lee knew that Grant would not wait for a full encirclement. Grant wanted to prove he could take Lee without help. The actions from 5-7 February 1865 were the opening moves to make Lee’s hold on Petersburg unsustainable.

The Battle of Hatcher’s Run

Grant was trying to cut what he thought was Lee’s primary supply route into Petersburg. To this end, Grant sent General David Gregg’s cavalry division to conduct the operation on Boydton Plank Road to Burgess Mill, near where it crossed the Hatcher’s Run (creek). In support, he sent two divisions each of General G.K. Warren’s V Corps and General A.A. Humphreys’ II Corps. Warren set up a blocking position for Gregg on the Confederate side of Hatcher’s Run and Humphreys protected Warren’s flank.

As the action commenced on a cold morning, Gregg seized little in the way of supplies on the Boydton Plank Road. Lee was not using it heavily for supplies, partly because he suspected such an attack and partly because little supply was reaching his bedraggled troops anyway. Warren and Humphreys dug in for protection from long range artillery. Late in the day, the General John Gordon’s Rebels tried an attack on Humphreys, but it didn’t amount to much and was thrown back. Overnight, the Yankees re-enforced with two divisions from Meade.

On 6 February, Warren probed forward, but was hit hard by Gordon and pulled back sloppily until reaching the line with Humphreys. In the 6th’s fierce fighting, Gordon lost one of the Rebel’s best division commanders, General John Pegram, to a shot through the chest. The 7th brought entrenchment and stalemate.

In the end, the Yankees had to settle for extending their line to the Vaughan Road crossing of Hatcher’s Run. The Union took heavy losses, but made Lee extend his line and killed one of the south’s best leaders in Pegram. This was bad for Lee, but the worst was to come.

Battle of Hatcher’s Run Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

Check out the Petersburg battlefield tour.

If you want a longer ride, try VA-SR-10 and 31 from Petersburg to Williamsburg. You can stop off at the first English settlement in America at Jamestown Island.

The Kilpatrick Dahlgren Raid 28 February to 1 March 1864

By early 1864, Lincoln was despairing that he could find no General to prosecute the Union’s war against the South in the eastern theatre. All of his leaders around the Potomac seemed to be frozen with indecision and a fear of failure. Much to his delight, a plan from a junior Cavalry General, H. Judson Kilpatrick, came into his view through Secretary of War Stanton. Kilpatrick knew that his immediate superiors would either poo-poo the idea or steal it as their own, so he approached Lincoln’s administration directly through back channels. Such was the state of the Union military leadership in the east. Kilpatrick was proposing a daring raid into the mouth of the lion to snatch Federal prisoners held in deplorable conditions in Confederate held Richmond. Kilpatrick’s plan suggested more as well. Stanton and Lincoln were attracted by the idea that a raid into Richmond, apart from freeing prisoners, would also serve as a huge propaganda victory. Kilpatrick was summoned to Washington for a private meeting with Stanton and given the go ahead. Kilpatrick’s superior’s were not amused, although they had no choice but to support him as he had the direct support of Lincoln.

Kilpatrick, like many Cavalry officers from the North and South, had dreams of great daring-do, but was known to some peers and subordinates as “KillCavalry” for his reckless behavior. However, many, including Lincoln, believed that more of this type of risk taking was necessary to dislodge a stubborn foe in Virginia. Kilpatrick had no problem attracting another officer of similar ideals, named Colonel Ulric Dahlgren. Dahlgren, the son of a Union Admiral, had made his name in previous engagements, including chasing Lee’s forces out of Maryland after Gettysburg, and lost a leg for his work. Having recovered and sporting a prosthetic leg, Dahlgren was ready for more grandiose riding.

The Kilpatrick Dahlgren Raid

The operation started just before midnight on the night of the 28th of February 1864. They were aided by a diversionary attack further west by General Sedgewick and a Cavalry Brigade commander who probably would have longed to have been involved in the raid. His name was George Armstrong Custer. The diversion drew the Rebels west and cleared a path for Kilpatrick and Dahlgren. Custer was especially effective in drawing the Confederates on a wild goose chase as far away as Charlottesville. Leaving Elys Ford at the Rapidan River, north of Chancellorsville, the The Kilpatrick Dahlgren raid set out at a good cavalry pace and reached Spotsylvania courthouse by leap day, 1864. Here, they split forces with Kilpatrick heading straight into Richmond from the north with 7/8ths of the force. Dahlgren took a wide, westerly path to enter Richmond from the southwest with a force of approximately 500. The idea was to give the impression that the city was being attacked from multiple sides and cause panic long enough to get the prisoners out. If they could destroy a few things in Richmond, all the better.

Kilpatrick continued well through appalling weather of sleet and high winds. Dahlgren met a slave boy to guide him over a ford-able point on the James River and was on time, so was feeling pretty high at this point. Kilpatrick fired flares to see if Dahlgen would respond, but the weather was so bad that the flares could only be seen locally. Both drove on, but Dahlgren soon came to grief as the guide led him to a point at the rain swollen James that they could not ford. Dahlgren was thrown off track and was furious. The boy probably just did not know that the river was that high, but this did not appease Dahlgren. In a fit of rage, Dahlgren hung the boy for treachery. Unable to find a fording point, Dahlgren was stuck and could not complete his mission. Kilpatrick had entered north Richmond by now and encountered a force of old men and clerks, but misread the situation as regular troops. In an uncharacteristic delay, Kilpatrick hesitated whilst he waited for the signal from Dahlgren that the southwest attack was on. The “Dad’s Army” force held on well and long enough for re-enforcements to arrive and drive Kilpatrick off. Kilpatrick now decided to avoid the fate of the prisoners he had come to save, but left Dahlgren in a bind by pulling back. Kilpatrick was harried all the way back to Union lines, but Dahlgren and many of his 500 were to die trying to elude the Confederates.

The The Kilpatrick Dahlgren raid was a failure on the tactical as well as strategic front, but it was to get worse. The Rebels searched Dahlgren’s body and allegedly found orders to destroy Richmond and kill Jefferson Davis and his cabinet. The Union denied the existence of such orders, but the outrage in the South had the opposite effect of the propaganda coup Lincoln had hoped for.

Kilpatrick Dahlgren Raid Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

I call this ride the “Rapidan Return.” It covers the path Kilpatrick took to Richmond and then passes over the James River near Goochland where Dalgren had hoped to cross. It continues on the beautiful VA state routes 6 and 20 to Charlottesville where Custer worked the area. the ride finishes near the battlefield parks of WildernessChancellorsville and Spotsylvania.

Second Battle of Winchester 13-15 June 1863

The Second Battle of Winchester

Before Gettysburg came the preparation of the route north. After the victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Robert E. Lee decided to move north to secure provisions for his increasingly ragged troops. As well as this practical matter, Lee hoped the move would encourage the peace activists of the north by threatening Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia from the west. Whilst encamped in Culpeper, Virginia with his infantry (LG Richard Ewell’s and Longstreet’s two Corps), Lee’s cavalry under J.E.B. Stuart met a large Federal Cavalry force led by Alfred Pleasanton near Brandy Station on 9 June 1863. This ended up being the largest cavalry battle of the entire war. It ended in a tactical draw, but had two significant outcomes. First, Stuart was successful in screening Lee’s force in Culpeper and the Union left the field not knowing where Lee was, but suspected he was amassing a large army on its doorstep. Second, the aggressive fighting of the Federal cavalry marked the end of Stuart’s domination of the cavalry field in the eastern theatre. The legend of the southern cavalry had been broken by excellent cavalry leaders, such as John Buford. Regardless of who won at Brandy Station, Lee’s army was still in Northern Virginia and on the move northward with determination to cause havoc.

Lee sent Ewell’s II Corps to clear the Winchester area of the Shenandoah Valley of known Union emplacements there. This was to be the route north and Lee wanted nothing slowing him down when he began his big gamble. The Union forces at Winchester were commanded by BG Robert Milroy and were significantly smaller than Ewell’s numbers. The emplacements were made up of the the “Star” fort to the west of Winchester and the main fort in the town itself. Because of the general havoc created by the advancing Confederates and the Union’s shallow numbers, Milroy had been ordered to withdrawal from Winchester to Harpers Ferry. However, after skirmishing all around Winchester on the 13th, Milroy decided to try to hold the town. This decision would later get him relieved of command, but the Confederates would relieve him of many of this troops before then.

On the 14th of June, Ewell began in earnest by sending Jubal Early’s Division to take the Star Fort during the day and increasing pressure on the main fort into the evening. As the Confederates closed on Winchester, Milroy was starting to think better of his option of withdrawal. After a quick counsel of war, he decided to retreat to the north. However, Ewell had anticipated this and sent Edward “Allegheny” Johnson’s division to cut him off. Johnson’s forces met Milroy’s retreat in the early morning hours of the 15th at Stephenson’s Depot on the Harpers Ferry road to the north of Winchester. Johnson created chaos around the Federals and Milroy’s command collapsed in panic. Milroy and some of his cavalry got away, but virtually all of the remaining infantry were killed or captured along with a great number of artillery, horses and supplies. By the morning of the 15th, all that was left was to mop up the stragglers.

The road was now clear for Lee to march northward with the mountains and Stuart’s cavalry as a screen. Gettysburg and destiny awaited.

Second Battle of Winchester Ride Recommendation

I’m writing about the Second Battle of Winchester, because I never miss a chance to recommend a ride in the Shenandoah Valley, especially any part of the Skyline Drive. I’ve also included some lesser known roads in West Virginia that are worth the ride. The Skyline Drive ends near Front Royal which is where Ewell staged from before the Second Battle of Winchester.

Map Credit:By U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880–1901. (U.S. War Department,) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

American Civil War Battle of Fredericksburg (Part 3) 13 December 1862

On the morning of 13 December 1862, the preparations were done and the day of reckoning was at hand. Burnside had decided on taking the nearest hills, but had sent ill-defined orders to his left which resulted in a weak effort to roll up Lee’s right flank.

As the morning progressed, A federal bombardment of the Rebel positions on Prospect Hill preceded the push from Union General Meade. Meade was delayed by the “gallant Pelham,” for a critical half hour. Finally, the main assault was underway and repulsed once, but Meade was determined and found a way to defeat Confederate A.P. Hill through a marshy area. Once Meade was through, he found that the promised left flank movement was far too weak to support his breakthrough. Seeing Meade exposed, Stonewall Jackson threw Jubal Early’s division into counter-attack and drove Meade out. A Union opportunity of great importance had been lost.

Over on Marye’s Heights, it was a turkey shoot as the Confederate’s repelled wave after wave of Union assault. Burnside had been criticized for not being aggressive enough previous to Fredericksburg, so he decided that this would not be the case here. He renewed his attack on Marye’s Heights and on Lee’s right flank. This turned a defeat into a bloodbath. The day was lost to Burnside due to weak orders and dithering in his preparation, not his lack of aggressiveness.

For a motorcycle ride that also takes in the Spotsylvania
battlefield, head west out of Fredericksburg on VA State Route 3, then
head southwest on Virginia State Route 20 at Wilderness and follow VA SR 20 for approximately 50 miles to Charlottesville.

Image Credit – By Kurz & Allison, Art Publishers, Chicago, U.S. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

American Civil War Battle of Fredericksburg (Part 1) 11 December 1862

On 11 December 1862, the long build up to the Battle of Fredricksburg was over and the fighting began in earnest. The week of 11-15 December 1862 was to be a bloody one, especially for the Union forces of Ambrose Burnside. Given the almost limitless time to fortify and prepare positions, the Rebels, under Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson and James Longstreet, were in a superior position and they took full advantage of it.

In the early hours of 11 December, Burnside sent his engineers to erect pontoon bridges over the Rappahannock and Rebel General William Barksdale’s Mississippi brigade began a hellacious sniper attack from the town. Union forces tried to protect the engineers with heavy artillery fire that left Fredricksburg a smoking pile. By mid afternoon of the 11th, Union forces, in an action of remarkable bravery, were able to cross the Rappahannock on pontoons, but then faced house to house fighting with Barksdale’s, slowly and methodically, retreating brigade. Slowly,
the Yankees cleared the the town. By evening, Barksdale was pulling back to the Rebel lines above the town. Burnside had his crossing, but at a terrible price. Worse was to follow. Tune in tomorrow for more.

The map above of the situation before the December battles shows just how close this fighting was to Washington, D.C. and how tenuous the Union’s hold on the country was at the time.

To get a feel for the great river Rappahannock, take US 17 from Fredericksburg southeast to Gloucester. At Tappahannock, you can get another good view of the river as it widens on its way into Chesapeake Bay. From Gloucester, you can go another 15 miles to cross the York river and into Yorktown.

Image courtesy of the United States Military Academy’s History Department’s Atlas Collection.

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