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Chapter 10: operations on the Rappahannock.

The presence of General Jackson in the vicinity of Gordonsville, again bewildered the minds and excited anew the fears of the Washington authorities. The spectre of “overwhelming numbers” at Richmond and of a speedy advance on the Federal Capital now assumed a fearful shape, and McClellan was ordered to remove his army from Harrison's Landing to Aquia Creek as rapidly as possible, for the purpose of uniting with Pope, and interposing for the defence of Washington-Burnside, with 13,000 men from the North Carolina coast on his way to join McClellan on James River, having been previously diverted from that point to Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock.1 [105]

The execution of the order given to McClellan on the 3rd of August for the evacuation of his base on James River, was not completed until the 16th. In the meantime, General Lee had ordered the divisions of Longstreet, Hood (formerly Whiting's), D. R. Jones, and Anderson (formerly Huger's), to Gordonsville for the purpose of advancing against Pope, and the three first named arrived about the 15th of August, Anderson's following later. The greater part of Stuart's cavalry was also ordered to the same vicinity.

On the 15th Jackson's command moved from its camps and concentrated near Pisgah Church on the road

You will immediately send a regiment of cavalry and small batteries of artillery to Burnside's command at Aquia Creek. It is reported that Jackson is moving north with a very large force.

H. W. Halleck, Major General.

The following is an extract of letter from Halleck to McClellan, dated the 6th of August, 1862, explaining the reason for the order for the removal of the troops from Harrison's Landing to Aquia Creek.

Allow me to allude to a few of the facts in the case. You and your officers, at our interview, estimated the enemy's force around Richmond at 200,000 men. Since then you and others report that they have and are receiving large reinforcements from the South. General Pope's army, now covering Washington, is only about 40,000. Your effective force is only about ninety thousand. You are about thirty miles from Richmond, and General Pope eighty or ninety, with the enemy directly between you, ready to fall with his superior numbers upon one or the other, as he may elect.

headquarters, army of the Potomac, Berkley, August 14, 1862, 11 P. M.
Movement has commenced by land and water. All sick will be away to-morrow night. Everything done to carry out your orders. I don't like Jackson's movements, he will suddenly appear where least expected. Will telegraph fully and understandingly in the morning.

G. B. McClellan, Major General. <Major General Halleck, Washington, D. C.

[106] from Orange Court-House to Somerville Ford on the Rapidan, preparatory to the movement forward. While here the 49th Virginia Regiment, Colonel William Smith, joined my brigade. Pope's army, then reinforced by the greater part of Burnside's Corps under Reno, was in the County of Culpeper, north of the Rapidan; but before we were ready to move it commenced to fall back to the northern bank of the Rappahannock.

On the 20th, our whole army, now consisting of two wings under Longstreet and Jackson respectively, and Stuart's cavalry, crossed the Rapidan-Longstreet at Raccoon Ford, and Jackson at Somerville Ford,--the cavalry having preceded them early in the morning. Jackson's wing, comprising the same force he had at Cedar Run, camped at Stevensburg on the night of the 20th. On the 21st he moved past Brandy Station on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad in the direction of Beverly's Ford on the Rappahannock. Jackson's division under Brigadier General Taliaferro was in front and moved to the ford, where there ensued some cannonading, and a fight between a portion of our cavalry and the enemy on the northern bank. Ewell's division bivouacked in the rear of Taliaferro near St. James' Church.

On the morning of the 22nd the division moved up to the vicinity of the ford, where the cannonading still continued. It was then moved to the left, across Hazel River at Wellford's Mill, towards Freeman's Ford, Trimble's brigade being left at Hazel River to protect our trains from a movement of the enemy from across the Rappahannock. At Freeman's Ford, a portion of Stuart's cavalry was found, and an artillery fight was progressing with the enemy's batteries on the opposite bank. The three remaining brigades passed to the left from Freeman's Ford, and moved by a circuitous route through the woods and fields towards the bridge at Warrenton Springs. Late in the afternoon, Lawton's brigade moved to the bridge at the Springs for the purpose of [107] crossing, and my brigade, followed by Hays' (formerly Taylor's) under Colonel Forno of the Louisiana Infantry, was moved to the right, under the superintendence of General Ewell, and crossed over about a mile below the Springs, on an old dilapidated dam.

Hays' brigade was to have followed, but as it was nearly dark when my brigade succeeded in getting over, and the crossing was very difficult, that brigade was left on the south bank until next morning. General Ewell ordered me to occupy a pine woods or thicket in front of the place at which I had crossed, and to establish communications with General Lawton, the whole of whose brigade it was expected would be crossed over at the Springs. There had been a hard rain before I was ordered to cross the river, and it was still raining slightly. As soon as General Ewell left me, I moved my brigade into the woods indicated, and established my left near a road found leading from the Springs towards the lower fords, throwing out pickets on the front and flanks. By this time it had become intensely dark, and we could see nothing except when the flashes of lightning gave faint glimpses of things around.

As soon as the brigade was established in its position, Major A. L. Pitzer, a volunteer aide, was sent to seek General Lawton for the purpose of opening communications with him. After he had been gone for some time, he came back with a sergeant and six privates of Federal cavalry as prisoners, with their horses, equipments and arms complete. This party had passed up the road a few minutes before I had taken position near it, and, on getting near the Springs and finding that place occupied by a portion of our troops, was deliberating as to what should be done when the Major rode into it. He was at once hailed and forced to surrender himself as prisoner, and his captors started with him down the road leading past my left. On getting near the point at which he knew my brigade was posted, the Major told the party having him in charge that they must reverse positions, [108] and when he explained the condition of things and stated that General Lawton was on the right, my brigade on the left with pickets all around, he succeeded in inducing the whole of it to surrender to him and come quietly into my camp, to avoid being fired upon by the pickets. After this attempt, as it was very dark and quite late, I did not renew that night the effort to communicate with General Lawton.

During the night there was a very heavy rain, and by light on the morning of the 23rd, the Rappahannock, or Hedgeman's River, as it is here called, was so much swollen as to defy all attempts at crossing except by swimming, as the bridge at the Springs had been burned by the enemy.

A messenger sent to find General Lawton soon returned with the information that only one regiment of Lawton's brigade, the 13th Georgia under Colonel Douglas, and Brown's and Dement's batteries of four guns each, had crossed at the Springs, the morning before. As soon as this condition of things was ascertained, I sent a messenger, who was directed to swim the river, with a note for General Ewell or Jackson, whichever might be first met with, stating that if the enemy advanced upon us in force, the whole of our troops on the north of the river must be captured, and suggesting the propriety of my attempting to extricate them by moving up towards Waterloo bridge, several miles above.

Before this note could be delivered, I received a verbal message from General Jackson, which had been given across the river at the Springs and was brought to me by a sergeant of one of the batteries, directing me to move my brigade up to where Colonel Douglas' was, take command of the whole force, and prepare for defence, stating, at the same time, that there was a creek running a short distance from the Springs into the river below me, which was past fording also, and that no enemy was in the fork of the river and this creek; and also [109] informing me that he was having the bridge repaired as rapidly as possible. Very shortly after the reception of this message, I received a note from General Jackson, in reply to mine, containing the same instructions conveyed by his message, and directing me in addition, in the event of the enemy's appearance in too heavy force for me to contend with, to move up towards Waterloo bridge, keeping close to the river; and stating that he would follow along the opposite bank with his whole force, to cover my movement.

I at once moved towards the Springs and found Colonel Douglas occupying a hill, a short distance below the buildings, which extended across from the river to Great Run (the creek alluded to by General Jackson). Colonel Douglas, on crossing the morning before, had captured a portion of a cavalry picket watching the ford, and there was still a small body on the opposite banks of Great Run with which he had had some skirmishing. Colonel Walker with the 13th and 31st Virginia Regiments had been posted across the road leading from below, about three-fourths of a mile from Colonel Douglas' position, and I now posted the remaining regiments of my brigade and the 13th Georgia along the hill occupied by the latter, so as to present the front to any force that might come from the direction of Warrenton, across Great Run above, resting my right on the Run and my left on the river. The artillery was also posted on this line, and the whole concealed as much as possible by the woods. In this position, Colonel Walker guarded my rear, and my right flank was the only one exposed, but that was safe for the present, as the creek was very high and Colonel Douglas had commenced the destruction of the bridges across it, which was soon completed.

The body of the enemy's cavalry on the opposite side of Great Run continued to hover about my right flank all the morning, and some companies were posted on that flank to watch the creek. Some time during the morning, General Jackson sent over an officer familiar with the [110] country, to pilot one of the staff officers over the route to Waterloo bridge, which it might be necessary to pass over in case of emergency, and Major Hale was sent with him to ascertain the road.

In the meantime, the creek began to fall, and in the afternoon it was in a condition to be crossed.

It now began to be evident that the enemy was moving up from below in very heavy force, and that my command was in a critical condition, as large trains were seen moving on the road, east and north of us, towards Warrenton. Late in the afternoon a heavy column of infantry with artillery made its appearance on the hills beyond my right, but it moved with great caution, and the enemy was evidently of the impression that my force, which was concealed from his view, was much larger than it really was. I now changed my front so as to present it towards the force in sight, but this movement was so made as to be concealed from the enemy's view by the intervening woods.

About this time, General Robertson, who had accompanied Stuart on a raid to Catlett's Station and upon Pope's headquarters, arrived from the direction of Warrenton with two regiments of cavalry and two pieces of artillery. After consulting with me, General Robertson posted his two pieces on a hill north of the Springs, which commanded a view of the enemy's infantry and opened on it. This fire was soon replied to by one of the enemy's batteries, and I sent two Parrott guns from Brown's battery to the aid of Robertson's guns, which were of short range. A brisk cannonade ensued and was kept up until near sunset, with no damage, however, to my infantry or artillery, but one or two shells fell into one of Robertson's regiments which was in rear of the battery, on the low ground near the Springs, doing some slight damage.

After the cessation of the artillery fire and very near dark about a brigade of the enemy was seen approaching the bank of the creek opposite where my brigade was [111] posted, and in a few moments it delivered a volley into the woods, which was followed by three cheers and a tiger in regular style. Two of Dement's Napoleons were immediately run out to the left of my line, and opened with canister upon the enemy, who was scarcely visible through the mist which had arisen. This fire was, however, so well directed and so rapid that the enemy was soon driven back in confusion, and his cheering was exchanged for cries and groans, which were distinctly audible to those in his front. The volley delivered by the enemy was entirely harmless, and my men reserved their fire with great coolness, until there should be greater need for it. A very short time before this affair, the 60th Georgia Regiment of Lawton's brigade, under Major Berry, had crossed over on the bridge, which was now in a condition for the passage of infantry, though not for artillery or wagons, and had been placed in position.

There was no further attack on me, but it was now very certain, from the noise of moving trains and artillery and the reports of scouts, that a very heavy force was being massed around me, with a view of cutting me off. I drew in Colonel Walker closer to my main force, as he reported that the enemy had crossed the creek on the road he was guarding and were massing in his front; and I sent a messenger to General Jackson, after dark, with information of the condition of things and the suggestion that I be reinforced sufficiently to hold my ground or be withdrawn. The remainder of Lawton's brigade was crossed over on the temporary bridge, and when General Lawton himself arrived, which was about 1 o'clock A. M. on the 24th, he informed me that he had seen written instructions to General Ewell, directing to cross over himself at daylight in the morning, and if it was evident that the enemy was in heavy force, to recross the troops, as it was not desired to have a general engagement at that junction.

On receiving this information, I immediately dispatched [112] a messenger to General Ewell, to inform him that there could be no doubt that the enemy was in very heavy force, and if I was to be withdrawn, it had better be done that night without waiting for daylight, as by moving to my left the enemy could post artillery, so as to command the bridge and ford completely, and prevent my being either withdrawn or reinforced, and that I was satisfied that he was preparing for that very object. In response to this, General Ewell came over himself a little before three o'clock A. M., and, after consultation with me, gave the order for recrossing, which was begun at once, Lawton's brigade crossing first and carrying over the artillery by hand, and my brigade following, so as to complete the withdrawal a very little after dawn.

General Ewell had not been entirely satisfied that the enemy was in such strong force as I represented, and he was rather inclined to the opinion that movements I had observed indicated a retreating army. To satisfy him, we remained behind until the advancing skirmishers of the enemy made it prudent for us to retire, and we then rode across the bridge in rear of my brigade. Soon Sigel's whole corps, supported by those of Banks and Reno, moved to the position which I had occupied, and a very heavy cannonading followed.

My command was thus rescued from inevitable destruction, for it would have been impossible for General Jackson to have crossed his troops in time to arrest its fate, as his only means of crossing the river consisted of one narrow, temporary bridge, unsuitable for the passage of artillery, and which the enemy could have commanded from several positions beyond the reach of our artillery on the south bank. Pope's whole army was in easy supporting distance of the force sent against me, and I had in part confronted that army on the 23rd and the following night.

The men of my command, including Douglas' regiment, had had very little to eat since crossing the river, and were without rations, as there had been little opportunity [113] for cooking since leaving the Rapidan; and they had lain on their arms during the night of the 22nd in a drenching rain; yet they exhibited a determined resolution to withstand the enemy's attack at all hazards, should he come against us.

After recrossing the river, Lawton's brigade and mine retired to the vicinity of Jefferson for the purpose of resting and cooking rations.

1 The following correspondence taken from McClellan's report is interesting, as it exhibits the bewilderment of the Federal authorities and the hallucination under which McClellan himself continued to labor in regard to the strength of General Lee's forces:

Washington, July 30, 1862, 8 P. M.
Major General G. B. Mcclellan:
A dispatch just received from General Pope, says that deserters report that the enemy is moving south of James River, and that the force in Richmond is very small. I suggest that he be pressed in that direction, so as to ascertain the facts of the case.

H. W. Halleck, Major General.

Washington, July 31, 1862, 10 A. M.
Major General G. B. McClellan:
General Pope again telegraphs that the enemy is reported to be evacuating Richmond, and falling back on Danville and Lynchburg.

H. W. Halleck, Major General.

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