previous next

“On to Richmond!”

At the beginning of 1862 the loyal people became very impatient of the immobility of the immense Army of the Potomac, and from every quarter was heard the cry, “Push on to Richmond!” Edwin M. Stanton succeeded Mr. Cameron as Secretary of War, Jan. 13, 1862, and the President issued a general order, Jan. 27, in which he directed a general forward movement of all the land and naval forces on Feb. 22 following. This order sent a thrill of joy through the heart of the loyal people, and it was heightened when an order directed McClellan to move against the inferior Confederate force at Manassas. McClellan remonstrated, and proposed to take his great army to Richmond by the circuitous route of Fort Monroe and the Virginia peninsula. The President finally yielded, and the movement by the longer route was begun. After the Confederates had voluntarily evacuated Manassas, the army was first moved in that direction, not, as the commander-in-chief said, to pursue them and take Richmond, but to give his troops “a little active experience before beginning the campaign.” The “promenade,” as one of his French aides called it, disappointed the people, and the cry was resumed, “On to Richmond!” The Army of the Potomac did not begin its march to Richmond until April. The President, satisfied that General McClellan's official burdens were greater than he could profitably bear, kindly relieved him of the chief care of the armies, and gave him, March 11, the command of only the Department of the Potomac.

While Hooker and Lee were contending near Chancellorsville (q. v.), a greater part of the cavalry of the Army of [22] the Potomac was raiding on the communications of Lee's army with Richmond. Stoneman, with 10,000 men, at first performed this service. He rode rapidly, crossing rivers, and along rough roads, and struck the Virginia Central Railway near Louisa Court-house, destroying much of it before daylight. They were only slightly opposed, and at midnight of May 2, 1863, the raiders were divided for separate work. On the morning of the 3d one party destroyed canal-boats, bridges, and Confederate supplies at Columbia, on the James River. Colonel Kilpatrick, with another party, struck the Fredericksburg Railway at Hungary Station and destroyed the depot and railway there, and, sweeping down within 2 miles of Richmond, captured a lieutenant and eleven men within the Confederate works of that capital. Then he struck the Virginia Central Railway at Meadows Bridge, on the Chickahominy; and thence pushed on, destroying Confederate property, to Gloucester Point, on the York River. Another party, under Lieutenant-Colonel Davis, destroyed the station and railway at Hanover Court-house, and followed the road to within 7 miles of Richmond, and also pushed on to Gloucester Point. Another party, under Gregg and Buford, destroyed the railway property at Hanover Junction. They all returned to the Rappahannock by May 8; but they had not effected the errand they were sent upon—namely, the complete destruction of Lee's communications with Richmond.

Three days after General Lee escaped into Virginia, July 17-18, 1863, General Meade crossed the Potomac to follow his flying antagonist. The Nationals marched rapidly along the eastern base of the Blue Ridge, while the Confederates went rapidly up the Shenandoah Valley, after trying to check Meade by threatening to re-enter Maryland. Failing in this, Lee hastened to oppose a movement that menaced his front and flank, and threatened to cut off his retreat to Richmond. During that exciting race there were several skirmishes in the mountain-passes. Finally Lee, by a quick and skilful movement, while Meade was detained at Manassas Gap by a heavy skirmish, dashed through Chester Gap, and, crossing the Rappahannock, took a position between that stream and the Rapidan. For a while the opposing armies rested. Meade advanced cautiously, and at the middle of September he crossed the Rappahannock, and drove Lee beyond the Rapidan, where the latter took a strong defensive position. Here ended the race towards Richmond. Meanwhile the cavalry of Buford and Kilpatrick had been active between the two rivers, and had frequent skirmishes with Stuart's mounted force. Troops had been drawn from each army and sent to other fields of service, and Lee was compelled to take a defensive position. His defenses were too strong for a prudent commander to assail directly. See Richmond, campaign against.

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 Dates (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: