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Sunday, February 21, 2016

THE FIRST DAY Chapter Four

I find it such a deceptively simple sentence: on Wednesday, 10 June, 1863, the second corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, under the command of Lieutenant General Richard Ewell, marched out of their camps around Culpeper Virginia, headed for Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, 130 miles to the north. The reality is that Ewell's corp did not move as 22,000 individuals. The second regiment in line could not step off until the first regiment had cleared the road space, and the third not until the second was away. And as Ewell's men were using a single dirt road, any delays would be multiplied accordion like for the regiments behind. It is has been a tried and reliable and potentially exhausting mode of march since the days of Julius Caesar's grandfather.
In the American Civil War the object of every march – no matter its length - was to put as many of your regiments as possible within musket range of what Napoleon called the point d'√©quilibre - "Fire must be concentrated on one point”, he said, “and as soon as the breach is made, the equilibrium is broken and the rest is nothing." Achieving that is not strategy or tactics. It is logistics. And as 20th century 5 Star General Omar Bradley put it - “Amateurs study strategy. Professionals study logistics.”
The marching routes were always scouted in advance by cavalry, searching for information on roads and enemy troops. The lead infantry regiments for Ewell's corps rose about 4:00 in the morning, and after a quick breakfast, assembled and then set out at dawn at the route march - about 2 miles an hour, with a 10 minute break to rest and close up for “lame ducks” every hour. Each regiment was followed by a horse drawn wagon carrying it's tents and tent pegs, tarps, cooking utensils – pots, pans, knives and ladles, flour and salt, and reserve ammunition. Each foot soldier carried about 40 pounds of personal gear – musket and bayonet, canteen, blanket, shot and powder, a lead shot making kit and extra clothing if available.
The average day's march was limited to between 8 and 10 hours, so that tailing regiments could get of the road before dark. The first day's march – Wednesday, 10 June - was made in “pleasant” weather and covered 25 miles. It ended at the base of the 4,600 foot high Chester Gap (above), through the Blue Ridge Mountains. 
On Thursday, 11 June – after a ten mile march through the Gap and down the western slope along side Slaone Creek, Ewell's infantry reached the pretty little village of Front Royal (above), where north and south forks joined to form the Shenandoah River. 
The road in front of Lt. General Ewell now split. The Valley Pike followed the Shenandoah northeast 35 miles to Harper’s Ferry, where the river joined the Potomac. The Front Royal Pike angled northwest 20 miles to Winchester, where Major General Robert Milroy patiently waited with his 9,000 man Federal division. Ewell spent Friday 12 June, closing up his men, and and inching forward.
On Saturday, 13 June, 1863, Brigadier General Ewell sent Major General Edward Johnson's division straight up the Front Royal Pike, slowly driving the Federal skirmishers back onto their entrenchments. At the same time Major General Jubal Early's division marched up the Valley Pike, out flanking the Federal positions. That night it rained hard but stopped shortly after midnight, allowing Early's men to launch their flanking assault on Sunday morning, 14 June, unimpeded by mud. Squeezed between the 2 Confederate attacks, the Federals were driven into their forts where rebel artillery pounded them most of the afternoon.
It was after 1:00 on the morning of Monday, 15 June, that General Milroy realized his mistake in waiting, and pulled his men out of Winchester. But at dawn Ewell's trap sprang shut, when troops of Major General Robert Rodes' division caught the Federals out in the open at Stephen's Depot, and forced half of them to surrender. General Ewell immediately released a cavalry brigade under Brigadier General Albert Jenkins’ which galloped 20 miles on to the railroad warehouses at Martinsburg, Virginia. 
A detachment even reached the Potomac River before nightfall and crossed into Maryland at Williamsport, thus confirming the Shenandoah Valley was now clear of Federal troops.
That same day, 15 June, 1863, the 21,000 men of 42 year old Lieutenant General James Lonstreet's (above) First Corps left Culpeper and began their march up the same road to Front Royal. 
Riding with “Old Pete” was his boss, the 53 year old commander of the entire Army of Northern Virginia, Robert Edward Lee (above). The First Corps was the middle of Lee's army, a logical place for the commander to be. But I suspect he also wanted to keep a close eye on his “old war horse”. Until the death of “Stonewall” Jackson in early May, Longstreet had been Lee's second favorite subordinate.
Back in May it had been Longstreet who suggested to Confederate Secretary of War Seddon that the First Corps be sent west to rescue Vicksburg, rather than invade Pennsylvania. But Lee had persuaded Longstreet to drop his own plan by promising to remain on the defensive during the Pennsylvania invasion, and entice the Federals into doing all the attacking. But Longstreet also surrendered his own plan because “Old Pete” realized, as that Georgia soldier had put it, the fate of the Confederacy rode on Robert E. Lee's horse (above). The slave south had tied its fate to the personal strengths and weaknesses of the man from Virginia.
At the moment the fate of the Federal Union was tied to General “Fighting Joe” Hooker (above), who held onto his bridges at Frederick's Crossing and his dream of a coupe de main on Richmond, until Saturday, 13 June when he finally had the bridges dismantled.  Sunday was “Fighting Joe”'s “come to Jesus” moment. The next morning, Monday, 15 June he was able to telegraph Halleck that he was pulling back from the river and gathering his troops further north around Manassas. And that evening he even displayed the self confidence to admit to Lincoln “...the enemy nowhere crossed the Rappahannock on our withdrawal from it, but General Hill's (rebel) troops moved up the river in the direction of Culpeper this morning, for the purpose, I conclude, of re-enforcing Longstreet and Ewell, wherever they may be.” Then, at this very moment of insight and self awareness, Joseph Hooker's paranoia reared its ugly head again in his very next words to the President. “ I request that I may be informed what troops there are at Harper's Ferry, and who is in command of them, and also who is in command in this district.”
Like most paranoids, Hooker had reason to suspect others were out to get him. First there was what Lincoln had warned him about - the way he had undermined his old boss, Burnside. And second there was his old-old boss, "Old fuss and feathers", the 300 pound Winfield Scott (above). 
General Scott had promoted Hooker to Lieutenant Colonel during the Mexican-American war, and assigned him as second in command to General of volunteers, Gideon J. Pillow (above), “One of the most reprehensible men to ever wear 3 stars”. Hooker kept Scott informed of Pillow's disloyalty to Scott. After the Mexican War, as General-in-Chief of the Army,  Scott court marshaled Pillow,  mostly based on information Hooker supplied. But Hooker was called to testify in Pillow's defense, and Pillow got off. Scott then preceded to hound Hooker out of the army. “Fighting Joe” only got back in the fight after the outbreak of war in 1861 as a general of volunteers.
Hooker's current superior was called “Old Brains” as a joke. Henry Halleck (above) was described by historian Allen Nevins as displaying “...irresolution, confusion, and timidity...” A contemporary Union General described Hallek as “a lying, treacherous, hypocritical scoundrel with no moral sense." That other general was Benjamin Butler, and he might have been describing himself, but most of the Federal officer corps agreed with him about Halleck.  But behind Halleck stood Lincoln, who had entrusted Hooker with the Army of the Potomac, even after he was defeated at Chancellorsville. Still, by June of 1863 Hooker was becoming ever more sensitive to slights and insults from superiors. Which may explain why he did the stupid thing he did next.
On 16 June he telegraphed Lincoln again. “You have long been aware, Mr. President, that I have not enjoyed the confidence of the major-general commanding the army, and I can assure you so long as this continues we may look in vain for success”. He then suggested that he might defeat A.P. Hill's Corps before it could rejoin the rest of Lee's Army, but insisted, “... the chances for my doing this are much smaller than when I was on the Rappahannock.” It is hard to see a purpose in this whining, petulant note other than to provide post failure proof he had kept Lincoln fully informed.
Halleck obviously saw Hooker's message, because within half an hour he telegraphed Hooker, “Unless your army is kept near enough to the enemy to ascertain his movements, yours must be in the dark or on mere conjecture.” He then provided the information Hooker had requested from Lincoln -  just in case there was any doubt the 2 men in Washington were speaking with each other.  Tyler is in command at Harper's Ferry, with...little or no movable troops.” Halleck closed by suggesting that if Hooker wanted to use Tyler's men, he should contact Tyler's superior directly.”

So there was a single simple sentence to describe the situation. The 70,000 man Army of Northern Virginia was moving north behind the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the 85,000 man Army of the Potomac was belatedly moving north to follow it. But although both armies were moving en-mass, their members remained individuals - particularly their commanders - prey to all the failings of individuals – pride, panic and lack of perception - proving as they approached the moment of most violent contact, how alike as individuals they all were.
- 30 -

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