Stoneman's raid in the Chancellorsville campaign.1
The original instructions to General George Stoneman
for the cooperation of the cavalry in the Chancellorsville campaign
directed him to cross the Rappahannock
on the 13th of April, at some point west of the Orange and Alexandria railroad, and throw his whole force, excepting one brigade, between Lee
's position on the Rappahannock
and his base at Richmond
The object was the isolation of the enemy “from his supplies, checking his retreat, and inflicting on him every possible injury which will tend to his discomfiture and defeat.”
This movement was delayed by heavy rains, and on the 28th of April the instructions were modified.
The new plan was to cross the Rappahannock
at the fords immediately north-west of Fredericksburg
on the evening of the 28th, or the morning of the 29th, and move in two columns, operating on the lines of the Orange
and the Richmond
railroads toward Richmond
The movements of the corps are given in detail in the report of General Stoneman
On April 27th, I, then being at Warrenton Junction, with the corps encamped along the Orange and Alexandria railroad, received a telegram directing me with my commanders to meet some persons from headquarters Army of the Potomac at Morrisville on the following day [the 28th] at 2 P. M. Arriving there with my commanders, I found the commanding general and his staff, and learned that a portion of the army was about to cross the Rappahannock at Kelly's Ford that day . . From Morrisville to where the cavalry corps lay was thirteen miles; from there to where some of the extreme pickets were was thirteen more, so that it was quite late at night before the command was all assembled and ready to start, and owing to the state of the roads, the result of the recent heavy rains, and the darkness of the night, rendered doubly obscure by a dense fog, the corps did not reach the river until nearly 8 A. M. of the 29th.
Arriving at the river, we found but one ford within the limits prescribed in our instructions which could be passed over, and that not by packed mules or artillery.
By dint of great exertion we succeeded in getting all over the river by 5 P. M. I assembled the division and brigade commanders, spread our maps, and had a thorough understanding of what we were to do . ... Instructions were given to have all the packed mules and led horses sent in the direction of Germanna Mills, and to follow in the rear of the army and remain with it until we formed a j unction therewith, which we expected would be in the vicinity of Richmond, and for each officer and man to take with him no more than he could carry on his horse, myself and staff setting the example.
, with three brigades, was to advance on Culpeper Court House, while Stoneman
, with three brigades numbering about 3500, under D. McM. Gregg
, was to take the shorter route via Stevensburg
, a hamlet 7 miles east of Culpeper Court House.
The operations the first day, the 29th, after crossing, consisted in driving in the outposts which were encountered on both roads.
The report continues:
About 9 A. M., April 30th, a staff-officer of General Averell overtook me. . . . He also handed me a note picked up by some one, and sent me by General Averell, and to the following effect:
Feeling satisfied that we should find Raccoon Ford guarded, and that its passage would be disputed, I struck the Rapidan River about six miles below; crossed over the portion of the command under General Buford, who sent a party under Captain Peter Penn Gaskell, of his staff, who, at a dash, cleared the ford above, capturing an officer, Lieutenant Bourier [James Boulware] of the 9th Virginia Cavalry, and six privates of the 9th and 10th Virginia Cavalry.
The rest of the cavalry and the artillery made their escape.
The main body immediately crossed at the Raccoon Ford, the rear getting over about 10 P. M. No fires built to-night, as we were in plain view from Clark's Mountain, a few miles to the south of the ford, and on the top of which the enemy have a signal station.
We learned here that Stuart, with Fitzhugh Lee's brigade, had that morning crossed at Somerville Ford, five miles above Raccoon Ford, and had gone toward Fredericksburg, and we thought it more than probable that we should find him on the Plank road at Verdierville, where we had to strike it on our way south.
Orders were issued to be in the saddle at 2 o'clock in the morning, and we lay down on the wet ground to get a couple of hours' sleep.
Two o'clock came, but the fog was so thick that it was impossible to move, more particularly as we had no guide to show us the road.
Daylight came, and we pushed on; struck the turnpike; found no enemy, but saw by his trail that he had gone toward Fredericksburg.
From here I pushed Gregg's division on to Louisa Court House, on the Virginia Central Railroad, where it arrived about 2 A. M., May 2d, and immediately commenced tearing up the track of the railroad, destroying the telegraph, etc. Buford's brigade encamped that night on the south bank of the North Anna.
About 10 A. M., May 2d, I had the whole force united at Louisa Court House.
From here I pushed a squadron
of the 1st Maine, under Captain Tucker of that regiment, toward Gordonsville to find out the whereabouts of the enemy in that direction, as we knew that six or seven trains had passed up the evening previous loaded with troops.
The captain drove in their pickets upon the main body, the 9th Virginia Cavalry, which in turn attacked him, killing 1 man, wounding 1, and capturing 1 lieutenant and 23 men. Captain Lord, with the 1st U. S. Cavalry, was sent to Tolersville Station, and from there to Frederickshall Station, twelve miles from Louisa Court House.
From here a party under Lieutenant----went to the North Anna and destroyed Carr's Bridge, which is on the main road leading from Spotsylvania to Goochland, on the James River, and is one of the principal highways.
After having destroyed the Virginia Central railroad and telegraph, burned the depots, water-tanks, etc., for eighteen miles, and accomplished all that time would permit, we pushed on to Yanceyville, on the South Anna, and from there to Thompson's Cross-roads, ten miles lower down the river, where we arrived about 10 P. M., May 2d.
At this point the James and South Anna rivers are less than 12 miles apart, and here I determined to make the most of my 3500 men in carrying out my previously conceived plan of operations. . . . One party, the lst New Jersey, under Colonel [Percy] Wyndham, was to strike the James River at Columbia, at the junction of the James and Rivanna rivers, to destroy, if possible, the large canal aqueduct over the Rivanna, and from thence proceed along the canal in the direction of Richmond, doing all the harm possible. ... Another party, the 2d New York, Colonel [Judson] Kilpatrick, was to push on to the railroad bridges over the Chickahominy, destroy them and the telegraph, and operate in the direction of Richmond, four miles distant from the bridges.
Another force, the 12th Illinois Cavalry, Colonel Hasbrouck Davis, was to strike the two railroads at or in the vicinity of Ashland, on the Fredericksburg, and Atlee's, on the Virginia Central, and do all the harm it could.
Another party, the 1st Maine and 1st Maryland, with a section of artillery, all under General Gregg, was to follow down the South Anna River, destroy all the road bridges thereon, and, if possible, the two railroad bridges across that river.
Another party, the 5th U. S. Cavalry, under Captain Drummond, was to follow this last and see that the destruction was complete.
Captain Merritt, with a flying party of the 1st Maryland, was sent out to do what he thought he could accomplish in the way of destroying bridges, etc. These different parties all got off by 3 A. M. on the 3d.
. . . Colonels Wyndham, Kilpatrick, and Davis were directed either to return or to push on and bring up at either Yorktown or Gloucester Point.
The rest were ordered to return to the reserve with myself.
Colonel Wyndham and Captain Lord returned the same day. General Gregg and Captains Merritt and Drummond the next day. Colonels Kilpatrick and Davis pushed on through to Gloucester Point. . .. We remained at Shannon's Cross-roads during the 4th, and on the morning of the 5th moved to Yanceyville, on the South Anna, where we were joined by General Gregg, Colonel Wyndham, and Captains Merritt and Drummond, each with his command.
The operations of the column under General Averell
are thus described by him in a communication to the editors dated May 11th, 1888:
We encountered the enemy's cavalry, two thousand strong, under General W. H. F. Lee on the morning of the 30th, and drove it through Culpeper Court House in the direction of Rapidan Station.
On the 1st we pressed the enemy's cavalry and pushed our right to within three miles of Orange Court House in an effort to dislodge the enemy from a strong position occupied by him on the south bank of the Rapidan, after he had crossed and destroyed the bridge.
While thus engaged on the morning of the 2d we were recalled to the Army of the Potomac at U. S. Ford by orders from General Hooker.
We reached Ely's Ford of the Rapidan after dark on the evening of the 2d, and were fired upon by the enemy's infantry from the opposite bank.
A part of McIntosh's brigade forded the river, dismounted, drove away the enemy, some of the 13th North Carolina, and captured some prisoners.
Early on the morning of the 3d we crossed the Rapidan and entered the right of our lines.
It was found necessary to issue immediate orders sending cavalry to protect the right and rear of the army, which had become exposed to danger from the enemy's cavalry set free by our recall.”
The column with Stoneman now prepared to return to the army.
His report continues:
The six days having now expired, during which we were assured by the commanding general he would certainly communicate with us, and no communication having been received, no retreating enemy having been seen or heard of, and no information as to the condition of things in the vicinity of Fredericksburg, except vague rumors of our defeat and capture, having been obtained, supplies for man and beast becoming scarce, having accomplished all that we were sent to perform, and having come to the conclusion that Colonels Kilpatrick and Davis, with their commands, had gone in the direction of Yorktown, I determined to make the best of our way back to the Army of the Potomac.
To take the enemy by surprise and penetrate his country was easy enough; to withdraw from it was a more difficult matter.
We knew that Lee and Hampton were to the west of us. . . . We knew also that there was a strong force at and in the vicinity of Gordonsville, and heard that another force was at Louisa Court House, and a small force of infantry at Tolersville.
After thinking the matter over, I determined to send General Buford, with 650 picked horses of his brigade, to threaten any force in the vicinity of Gordonsville, and induce Lee and Hampton to believe that we were going to get out by that way; and another force, under Captain Rodenbough, was sent in the direction of Bowling Green, with the view of threatening the enemy's communication in that direction, and, under cover of night, with the main body, to take the middle road leading through Tolersville, and crossing the North Anna near the Victoria Iron Works; from thence to Orange Springs, where all were to rendezvous the next day.
All our plans and calculations worked admirably, and though we had no little difficulty in finding and following the almost impassable roads, owing to the inky darkness of the night and the incessant pouring of the rain, the whole command was assembled at Orange Springs at 12 M. on the 6th.
Here we first began to hear rumors, through negroes, of the repulse and withdrawal of our army to the north side of the Rappahannock.
After watering and feeding our animals, we pushed on to the Plank road leading from Fredericksburg to Orange Court House, and from thence to Raccoon Ford, which, to our great joy, we found fordable, and were all over safe by daylight on the morning of the 7th. editors.
Corps badges of the army of the Potomac under Hooker. |