previous next

Chapter 10: Cedar Mountain

The close of the Seven Days found both armies greatly in need of rest. Lincoln called upon the governors of the Northern States for 300,000 more men, and bounties, State and Federal, were offered to secure them rapidly. They were easily obtained, but a mistake was made in putting the recruits in the field. They were organized into entirely new regiments, which were generally hurried to the field after but little drilling and training. President Davis also called for conscripts, — all that could be gotten. No great number were obtained, for those arriving at the age of conscription usually volunteered in some selected regiment. Those who were conscripted were also distributed among veteran regiments to repair the losses of the campaign, and this was done as rapidly as the men could be gotten to the front. Although this method allowed no time for drill or training, yet it was far more effective in maintaining the strength of the army than the method pursued by the Federals.

During the short intermission from active operations, something was accomplished, too, to improve our organizations, though leaving us still greatly behind the example long before set us by the enemy. Longstreet and Jackson were still but major-generals commanding divisions, but each now habitually commanded other divisions besides his own, called a Wing, and the old divisions became known by the names of new commanders. Thus, Jackson's old division now became Taliaferro's, and Longstreet's division became Pickett's, while Longstreet and Jackson each commanded a Wing, so called.

It was not until another brief rest in October, after the battle [176] of Sharpsburg, that Longstreet and Jackson were made lieutenant-generals, and the whole army was definitely organized into corps. Some improvement was also made in our armament by the guns and rifled muskets captured during the Seven Days, and my reserve ordnance train was enlarged. Lines of light earthworks were constructed, protecting Chaffin's Bluff batteries on the James River, and stretching across the peninsula to connect with the lines already built from the Chickahominy to the head of White Oak Swamp.

Gen. D. H. Hill also constructed lines on the south side of the James, protecting Drury's Bluff and Richmond from an advance in that quarter; and Gen. French at Petersburg, as already mentioned, threw lines around that city, from the river below to the river above.

Just at the beginning of the Seven Days Battles, President Lincoln had called from the West Maj.-Gen. John Pope, and placed him in command of the three separate armies of Fremont and Banks, in the Valley of Virginia, and McDowell near Fredericksburg. The union of the three into one was a wise measure, but the selection of a commander was as eminently unwise. One from the army in Virginia, other things being equal, would have possessed many advantages, and there was no lack of men of far sounder reputation than Pope had borne among his comrades in the old U. S. Army. He had spent some years in Texas boring for artesian water on the Staked Plains, and making oversanguine reports of his prospects of success. An army song had summed up his reputation in a brief parody of some well-known lines, ‘Hope told a flattering tale,’ as follows:—

Pope told a flattering tale,
     Which proved to be bravado,
About the streams which spout like ale
     On the Llano Estacado.

Pope arrived early in July and began to concentrate and organize his army. A characteristic ‘flattering tale’ is told in an address to his troops, July 14, dated ‘Headquarters in the Saddle’:—

‘Let us understand each other. I come to you from the West where we have always seen the backs of our enemies; from an army whose [177] business it has been to seek the adversary, and beat him when he was found; whose policy has been attack and not defence. . . . I presume I have been called here to pursue the same system, and to lead you against the enemy. . . . Meantime, I desire you to dismiss from your minds certain phrases, which I am sorry to find so much in vogue amongst you. I hear constantly of “taking strong positions and holding them” ; of “lines of retreat,” and of “bases of supplies.” Let us discard such ideas. . . . Let us study the probable lines of retreat of our opponents and leave our own to take care of themselves. . . . Success and glory are in the advance. Disaster and shame lurk in the rear. . . .’

The arrogance of this address was not calculated to impress favorably officers of greater experience in actual warfare, who were now overslaughed by his promotion. McDowell would have been the fittest selection, but he and Banks, both seniors to Pope, submitted without a word; as did also Sumner, Franklin, Porter, Heintzelman, and all the major-generals of McClellan's army. But Fremont protested, asked to be relieved, and practically retired from active service.

Meanwhile, after the discomfiture of McClellan, Mr. Lincoln felt the want of a military advisor, and, on July 11, appointed Gen. Halleck commander-in-chief of all the armies of the United States, and summoned him to Washington City. Ropes's Story of the civil War thus comments upon this appointment: —

‘It is easy to see how this unfortunate selection came to be made: Halleck was at that time the most successful general in the Federal service; it was perfectly natural that he should be the choice of the President and Secretary of War, to whom his serious defects as a military man could not have become known. His appointment was also satisfactory to the public, for, as so much had been effected under his command in the West, he was generally credited with great strategic ability. . . . But both the people and the President were before long to find out how slender was Halleck's intellectual capacity, how entirely unmilitary was the cast of his mind, and how repugnant to his whole character was the assumption of any personal and direct control of an army in the field.’

Halleck arrived in Washington and took charge on July 22. He found, awaiting for his decision, a grave problem. It was whether McClellan's army, now intrenched at Westover on the James, should be heavily reenforced and allowed to enter upon another active campaign from that point as a base, or whether it should abandon the James River entirely, and be brought [178] back, by water, to unite with the army now under Pope, in front of Washington.

McClellan earnestly begged for reenforcements, and confidently predicted success if they were given him. He had begun to appreciate the strategic advantages of his position, and he was even proposing as his first movement the capture of Petersburg by a coup-de-main. This would not have been, at that time, a difficult operation. McClellan had 90,000 men available, for he could have even abandoned his position on the north side and used his whole force. As to its effect, it would probably have finally compelled the evacuation of Richmond, as it did in 1865. Had McClellan possessed enterprise and audacity, he would have waited neither for permission nor reenforcements, but have made the dash on his own responsibility as soon as he found that there was serious thought of recalling his army. All of this time, however, McClellan was still representing to his government that Lee had 200,000 men. If he really believed this, it is not strange that he kept closely within his intrenchments; but Mr. Ropes, the most careful historian of the war, asserts that neither McClellan nor Halleck believed this ‘preposterous story.’ McClellan told it, and stuck to it, trying to scare the administration into giving him unlimited reenforcements: but his real belief, Mr. Ropes thinks, is apparent in his offer to undertake the new campaign with only 20,000 reenforcements, raising his force to only 110,000. Mr. Ropes says that Halleck saw and appreciated McClellan's insincerity, but, wishing to have the army brought back, he affected to believe in the 200,000 men, and easily confounded McClellan's arguments by pointing out what such a force might do under such generals as Lee and Jackson.

Halleck had visited McClellan on the James soon after his arrival in Washington, and the matter was argued, pro and con, in correspondence afterward for some weeks.

McClellan ended with a strong appeal, pointing out that he could deliver his battle within 10 miles of Richmond, which was the heart of the Confederacy, while a victory 70 miles off might count for little. Halleck answered that it was unsafe to have a divided army in the face of Lee's force; that the location [179] on the James River was very unhealthy in the fall months, and that most of McClellan's leading generals favored the withdrawal of the army. So orders were given, and the Federal army, on Aug. 14, began the evacuation of the only position from which it could soon have forced the evacuation of Richmond. They were only to find it again after two years fighting, and the loss of over 100,000 men; and they would find it then, only by being defeated upon every other possible line of advance. The army was marched to Fortress Monroe, whence, as rapidly as boats could be furnished, it was carried up the Potomac to Acquia Creek or Alexandria. Thence, each corps, as fast as it arrived, was marched to join Pope's army, it being designed to concentrate everything behind the Rappahannock.

Now let us turn to Lee, and see how he met the difficulties of his situation, and what fortune attended his efforts. He realized that the immediate danger was that McClellan should be reenforced and renew his campaign from his new base. The first solicitude was to have McClellan's army recalled. Some early efforts were made to demoralize the transport vessels, on the James, by which the army was supplied. Light guns were sent to various points along the river, whence they could, as it were, ambush passing vessels and fire upon them. But the Federal gunboats had soon learned the danger points and how to protect transports passing them, and no serious result could be accomplished. There were, however, persistent rumors that the Confederates were constructing one or more ironclads at Richmond, which would soon come down the James and destroy the whole Federal fleet. The uneasiness caused in Washington by these rumors may have contributed to the result finally reached. But Lee could not afford to wait at Richmond for the enemy to make up his mind slowly. His only chance was to strike Pope's army before it could be joined by McClellan's. As early, therefore, as July 13, he had ordered Jackson, with Taliaferro's and Ewell's divisions, to Gordonsville, to oppose reported advances of Pope. The latter had, on July 14, ordered Gen. Hatch to seize Gordonsville, then held by only about 200 infantry and a few cavalry. Hatch, however, lost time by listening to false reports that the Confederates were near at hand, and by waiting [180] to take infantry, artillery, and a wagon-train, along with the considerable cavalry force which Pope had intended should alone be used. It alone would have been ample, as Jackson's troops did not reach Gordonsville until July 19. Hatch's expedition, therefore, was a failure.

Jackson, on his arrival, was anxious to undertake some aggressive operation against Pope, but found his force — only about 12,000 men — inadequate to accomplish anything against Pope's 47,000; so he appealed to Lee for reenforcement. Not yet assured that McClellan would not soon resume the offensive, Lee hesitated; but, on July 27, ordered A. P. Hill's division, about 12,000 strong, to Gordonsville. Hill joined Jackson on Aug. 2. Meanwhile, Pope had received instructions from Halleck to make demonstrations toward Gordonsville, with the view of occupying Lee's attention, and preventing his interference with the contemplated withdrawal of McClellan's force from the Peninsula.

On Aug. 6, Pope began to cross his infantry over the Rappahannock to concentrate about Culpeper. With swift appreciation of the opportunity, Jackson, on the 7th, put his whole force in motion to fall upon that portion of the enemy which first reached Culpeper. Could he defeat one of Pope's three corps, and occupy that central position in time, he might deal with the other two in succession, as he had dealt with Shields and Fremont at Port Republic. His strategy was excellent, but it was defeated by his own logistics. On the 7th the march was but eight miles, having only been begun in the afternoon. On the 8th there were 20 miles to go to reach Culpeper, with the Rapidan and Robertson rivers to ford, the latter river being held by the Federal cavalry, about 12 miles in front of the town. The weather was intensely hot, and it could hardly be expected that the Confederates would make the march in time to give battle on the same day. It would have been, however, only an easy march to reach a point, so close to the enemy, that battle could be delivered at an early hour on the 9th, allowing time to reap the fruits of victory, if successful. But on the 8th, some little blunders and omissions in giving the orders to the three divisions utterly confounded the march, and the head of the column only made eight miles, and the rear of it but two. [181]

In the first place, each division was allowed to take its own wagon-train behind it on the road, instead of concentrating all three into one train behind the whole force. In the next place, Ewell's division, which was to lead and be followed by Hill's, had its route changed without Hill's being informed. This led to delay on Hill's part; and to Jackson's division (now commanded by Winder) getting ahead. Winder presently found his line of march intersected by Ewell's. It was also charged that Hill showed little zeal, being offended that Jackson, with his usual reticence, had given him no information of his plans.

Lee, indeed, in a recent letter had given Jackson a hint that his reticence might be carried too far. He had said:—

A. P. Hill you will, I think, find a good officer, with whom you can consult, and, by advising with your division commanders as to your movements, much trouble will be saved you in arranging details, and they can aid more intelligently.’

The whole incident shows that our staff service was poorly organized, and not efficient in its operations. The result of all this delay was that it was about 3 P. M. on the 9th before Ewell's division on the right, and Winder's on the left, had formed line in front of Banks's corps, which had been encountered at Cedar Mountain, some seven miles south of Culpeper. Lawton's large brigade of Ewell's division and Gregg's of Hill's division, had been left behind to guard the wagon-trains against the enemy's superior force of cavalry. The remainder of Hill's division was not yet up, and, while waiting their arrival, 26 rifled guns were brought up by Jackson and opened upon the enemy's lines and batteries.

The left of Winder's division rested along the front edge of a considerable body of wood, which had not been thoroughly examined. Pope, in his report, asserts that Banks had been ordered to take a strong position and hold it, awaiting reenforcements, which were rapidly coming up. This should have been his play; but Pope had used expressions in orders, sent by his Chief of Cavalry, which Banks understood as permission to attack if the enemy were not in great force. Being, personally, both brave and aggressive, Banks thought the opportunity had arrived, [182] and before Jackson was ready to advance, between 5 and 6 P. M., he attacked with his whole force. The right of his line overlapped the left of Winder's division, and taking it in flank and pressing vigorously, it entirely routed the left brigade under Garnett, and threw the whole division into much confusion. Winder himself had been killed by a cannon-shot in the preliminary artillery fighting.

Just at this juncture, however, Hill's division arrived upon the field, and not only restored the battle, but drove the enemy from the field and across Cedar Creek, a short distance in rear. By this time it was about dark, but Jackson was determined to lose no possible chance. Favored by a moon but little past the full, he brought forward two fresh brigades, — Field's and Stafford's, and Pegram's battery, — crossed the creek, and continued the pursuit.

Banks's corps, however, had, in its retreat, met Ricketts's division of McDowell's corps, accompanied by Pope in person, and followed also by the leading troops of Sigel's corps. About one and a half miles beyond Cedar Creek the Confederate advance found itself close in front of a strong line of battle, composed of Ricketts's four brigades, with four batteries of artillery. Pegram's four guns were pushed to the front, and, at close canister range, opened upon the enemy. They were replied to by a dozen guns, but continued the action until they were practically cut to pieces. It was now nearly midnight, and Jackson, having learned from the cavalry of the capture of prisoners from Sigel's corps, was constrained to halt for the night. By morning he found that the greater part of Pope's army was now united in his front, and that his opportunity to attack the enemy in detail had passed, — lost by the bad marching on the 8th. He still, however, felt able to defeat them if they could be induced to attack him in position, as Pope was pledged to do in his order 75, so he withdrew his line across the creek, and occupied himself in gleaning the battle-field of arms. Pope showed too much wisdom to accept the gage of further battle. Heavy reenforcements were coming to him, and it was as clearly his game to await their arrival as it had been Jackson's to anticipate it. So, on the 11th, he sent in a flag of truce asking permission to bury [183] his dead of the 9th, which were still within Jackson's lines. It was granted, until noon, and then extended until sundown.

On the 12th, finding that Pope would not be tempted to attack him there, he tried another ruse. He fell back from the battlefield, not only to the south side of the Rapidan, where he might easily have halted and maintained himself, but he continued his retreat through Orange C. H. and on to Gordonsville. He hoped that Pope would construe the move as a confession of weakness and would be inspired by it and his own boastings to follow. This strategy was very nearly successful. On Aug. 12, Pope, having heard that the reenforcements under Burnside would soon join him, wired Halleck that, on their arrival, he would cross the Rapidan and advance upon Louisa C. H. This would have given the Confederates the very opportunity desired. On Aug. 13, Lee had ordered Longstreet and Hood, with 12 brigades, to proceed by rail to Gordonsville, and, on the 14th, he also ordered up Anderson's division of infantry, three brigades, and Stuart's cavalry. On the 15th he went up in person and took the command.

The casualties at Cedar Mountain had been as follows: —

Confederate:killed 229,wounded 1047,missing 31,total 1307
Federal:killed 314,wounded 1445,missing 622,total 2381

The Confederate losses were distributed among nine brigades of infantry and one of cavalry, and were greatest in Garnett's and Taliaferro's, of Jackson's division, slightly over 300 in each. The Federal losses were in eight brigades of infantry and one of cavalry. Crawford's brigade lost 857, Geary's 465, Prince's 452, and Gordon's 344. The fighting upon Jackson's left, where Garnett's and Taliaferro's brigades were broken by the charge of Crawford's and Gordon's brigades, and the line reestablished, by Branch's, Archer's, and Winder's brigades, was very desperate, as is shown by the casualties of some of the Federal regiments.1 [184]

An incident of the battle was a charge upon Taliaferro's brigade by two squadrons of the 1st Pa. Cav., under Maj. Falls, when the brigade, in some disorder, was pressing hard upon the retreat of the Federal infantry. The charge successfully rode through the Confederate skirmish-line, but was driven back by the fire of the line of battle with the loss of 93 men out of 164.

1 Gen. Williams, in his official report, says: —

‘The 3d Wis., especially, fell under a partial flank fire from the underbrush, and woods, which swept its right companies with great destruction, and under which Lt.-Col. Crane fell pierced with several fatal wounds, and the regiment was obliged to give way. The enemy was, however, driven out of the open field by the other regiments and some distance into the woods, where, being strongly reenforced, their fire became overwhelming. No better proof of its terrific character can be given than the fact that of the three remaining regiments which continued the charge (28th N. Y., 46th Pa., and 5th Conn.) every field-officer and every adjutant was killed or disabled. In the 28th N. Y., every Company officer was killed or wounded; in the 26th Pa., all but five, and in the 5th Conn. all but eight. A combat more persistent or heroic can scarcely be found in the history of the war, but men, even of this unequalled heroism, could not withstand the overwhelming numbers of the enemy, especially when left without the encouragement and direction of officers.’

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
8th (3)
July 14th (2)
7th (2)
1865 AD (1)
October (1)
August 14th (1)
August 13th (1)
August 12th (1)
August 6th (1)
August 2nd (1)
July 27th (1)
July 22nd (1)
July 19th (1)
July 13th (1)
July 11th (1)
July (1)
15th (1)
14th (1)
12th (1)
11th (1)
9th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: