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Sunday, April 24, 2016

THE FIRST DAY Chapter Fourteen

I suppose one reason the 1,600 residents of Hanover, Pennsylvania suffered such trauma on the .last day of June, 1863 was because just five miles south were the white stone Mason Dixon line markers (above), the official divide between slave and free states since 1781.  But humans are not such simple creatures whose hearts and souls can be defined with straight lines. What happened in Hanover on that Tuesday, was also the result of the hubris of a 31 year old  "cavalier", trying to recapture a long gone time- gone a year,  which is a long time in a war.
It began at about  8:00  on that Tuesday morning,  30 June, 1863,  when the 1st and 7th regiments of Michigan volunteer cavalry cantered up the Baltimore turnpike into Hanover (above). 
The Wolverines halted in the city square (above)  to rest their horses. Their  newly promoted commander, General George Armstrong Custer, ordered most his men to dismount and posted sentries on all the roads into town. It was standard military procedure, learned after two years of bloody war, and followed even when moving through the solid union blue state of Pennsylvania. 
Meanwhile, the newly appointed commander of the 3rd Federal Cavalry Division, Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick (above),  greeted the townsfolk and asked for information. They told him three days ago rebel infantry and cavalry had brushed aside state militia  20 miles to the west, in  the town of Gettysburg. But no rebels had been seen since. Kilpatrick thanked them, but he suspected there were still rebels in the area.. 
Like a well oiled machine, before 8:30, the pickets on the Baltimore Pike reported the arrival of the 1st West Virginia Union Cavalry, under the newly promoted Union General Elon John Farnsworth (above).  
The Michigan men now remounted and continued to the northeast, up the road (above) toward the Pigeon Hills and Abbottstown beyond. They left just as the West Virginians entered the town square, who replaced the Michigan pickets on all roads leading out of  Hanover. This accordion march, leading units not advancing until the following units had closed up, had been practiced since the Romans had advanced against  the Carthaginians, 2,000 years before. And it was now preformed smoothly and machine like. The Union Army had learned its value, after three years of war.
In their turn the West Virginians were replaced in the central square of Hanover by the 5th New York Cavalry Regiment  (above). And about 11 A.M, bringing up the rear of the division,  the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment rode into Hanover. As they did, the main body of the New Yorkers mounted up and, in their turn, began to head north, toward Abbottstown.
Pennsylvanian  Captain Henry C. Potter, commanding companies L and M -  about 40 men -   relieved the New York pickets southwest of Hanover, out on the road to Fredrick (lower left, above) at a spot known locally as Mudtown . The New York officer informed Captain Potter they had just seen a handful of suspicious acting men lurking at the edge of a wood just down the road. And when the New York boys left,  Captain Potter decided to investigate. Being the tail of the division, it was Potter's duty to protect the 3rd Division's supply trains. And performing that duty,  Potter took ten men and rode down the road,  to see what they could see. 
Three miles down the Fredrick road,  at the small farm owned by the Butts family (above), Potter and his men were suddenly cutoff by 60 mounted men in grey who appeared behind him. They were members of the 2nd North Carolina cavalry, under Lieutenant Colonel William Henry Fitzhugh Payne. These  rebels demanded that Potter surrender. Instead, Potter ordered his men to draw their pistols and they charged back up the road, bursting through the startled Rebel line, killing one Confederate trooper and wounding several others.
Four of the Pennsylvania men were also killed,.  the first to fall probably being 24 year old Corporal John Hoffacker (above). John had two brothers, the eldest being William who had joined the 3rd Maryland Infantry regiment in mid-1862.  In September that same year John quit his job at a York, Pennsylvania paper mill and signed up with the 18th Pennsylvania.  And now he was the first trooper to die in the "Battle of Hanover", not many miles west of York.  Despite these losses, the remaining six men under Captain Potter raced back up the Fredrick Road.. The rebels gave chase. It was just about 10:15 in the morning.
It became a three mile gallop across the countryside, both sides firing wildly. As the pursuit neared Hanover it uncovered the men Potter had left behind.
Their seven shot carbines forced the Confederates to pause.  But as more rebel horsemen from the 2nd North Carolina and battalion commander Colonel John R. Chambliss's 13th Virginia regiment,  arrived, they charged the federal skirmish line. Fortuitously, the rebel artillery appeared, and added their fire to the assault. The blast of those rebel cannon caught the attention of General Pleasanton, who happened to be with the tail end of the West Virginians. Pleasanton immediately  sent word to Custer to bring his Michigan men back to Hanover at once, and then drove his horse at a gallop back to town, followed by the West Virginians.
The center square of Hanover was already jammed with the federal cavalry division’s supply train and ambulances, as well as the rear guard of the 5th New York,  which had yet to leave town. General Farnsworth was trying to disentangle the one from the other,  when he was overrun by his own retreating New Yorkers, with the rebels pressing closely behind..
Also riding to the sound of the guns was the Confederate cavalry commander, Brigadier General James Ewell Brown "Jeb" Stuart (above) . The son of a Virginia planter, he had earned the nickname "Beauty" at West Point despite a chin " so short and retiring"  he later grew a full beard to hide it. He had earned fame the year before when his 1,200 rebel troopers rode completely around the Union Army. Critics would grouse that the effort had been more publicity stunt than effective operation, just a "Big horse raid".  But Union pride was so bruised, the federals reorganized their cavalry, determined to find men who could fight Stuart to a stop.
At Brandy Station, Virginia, on Tuesday, 9 June,  1863, (above) Stuart's 9,000 troopers  had been surprised by the 8,000 federal troopers under General Pleasanton. The blue coats had shown skill and audacity. And although Stuart held the field, he had been embarrassed. General Lee's advance into Pennsylvania would be his chance at redemption.
But the dashing Stuart (above) was now hampered, forced to leave half his strength behind by the reality of the war.  General Robert E. Lee ordered Stuart to "feel the right of General Ewell's troops" on his advance and "collect all the supplies you can for the army."  The march into Pennsylvania would have to show a profit to prove worth the effort and risk. The advance of every corps in Lee's army would be slowed by empty wagons, which they expected to fill with flour and corn, coffee and beans. And Stuart's 3 brigades - 6,000 men - would be  burdened by some 100 wagons filled with supplies - like oats for his horses -  he had captured in Maryland , and which had to be protected by Fitzhugh Lee's battalion. This burden sapped a third of Stuart's offensive strength and limited his freedom of movement. And he was even further restricted by the new level of Federal competence
When Stuart had crossed the Potomac River and captured Rockville, Maryland on 28 June, 1863,  he thought he was between General Ewell's corps and the federal flank. As was standard with Lee, his commanders set their own tactical objectives, and Stuart planned to capture Hanover just about the time Ewell was taking Carlisle. After looting Hanover -  to unbalance the federal politicians - Stuart planned to move up the road to Carlisle and meet General Ewell's corps on 29 June, and he was already 24 hours late..  But Stuart was slowed by a few hours during 29 June by rain, muddy roads, and those captured wagons. That allowed Kilpatrick's division to reach Hanover before the rebels. But with the fight already started, and which he was winning,  Stuart's naturally aggressiveness  convinced him to push forward. He needed that road to Carlisle. So he ordered Colonel Chambliss, in charge of the leading battalion, to take the town. Which is why Chambliss and Payne charged into Hanover, driving the federals right out.    
But there was no panic on the federal side. In a field east of Hanover, Farnsworth quickly dismounted his Pennsylvania troopers, and sent his men back into the narrow side streets and alleys of Hanover.  Lt. Colonel Payne and Col. Chambliss were trying to reorganize their men when every alley and street around the square erupted in gunfire. The rebel horsemen tried to chase the shooters down but found themselves trapped in streets too narrow  to swing a saber or maneuver a horse.
And just at the right moment, the New York rear guard charged into the town on horseback. Captain Potter was killed in this assault, being shot from his horse. But the Union horsemen drove the disorganized rebels right back out of the town. Chambliss' Virginians were forced to retreat to the west,  into the open rolling fields.By now it was just after noon, Tuesday 30 June.
Payne's North Carolinians now concentrated to southwest, trying to use the cover of the Winebrenner Tannery (above) on Fredrick Street, as a rallying point.
It was there that Lt Colonel Payne (above) came to grief. When his horse was shot, the dying creature threw his rider, head first,  into an open vat of horse urine, curing outside the tannery.  A quick thinking Private, Abraham Folger, of H company 5th New York Cavalry -  who had gotten mixed up with the 18th Pennsylvania in the charge -  was able to drag the blinded, sputtering Colonel Payne out of the foul smelling liquid, saving his life and taking him prisoner.  Nor was he the only southern gentleman to suffer an indignity in the federal counter attack. 
General Stuart and his staff were  forced to retreat so quickly their horses had to jump the unexpected 15 foot wide Plum Creek. Not all made it.  As an historian for the New Yorkers wrote, "In less than fifteen minutes from the time the rebels charged the town, they were driven from it, and were sulking in the wheat fields and among the hills in the vicinity."
A lull now set over the battlefield until about 2:00 pm, when Colonel  Fitzhugh Lee's battalion of 400 men arrived on the field. They had been guarding the captured supply wagons. But hearing the firing,  the Colonel had the left a the wagons and rushed to the sound of the guns.  Stuart ordered his Virginians and the Tar Heels to outflank the town to the south, spreading out from a ridge overlooking the town (above) on a farm owned by a family named Keller, and reaching to the Mount Olive Cemetery.
Earlier General Kilpatrick had arrived back in Hanover, having ridden  his horse so hard that it immediately broke down and died in the town square. The General thus lived up to his nickname of General “Kill Cavalry”  As the rest of the West Virginian, New York and Michigan regiments arrived, Pleasanton dismounted them and spread his battle line within the town,  barricading the streets and fortifying houses, to match the rebel positions. He was daring Stuart to attack him.
The two sides now began an artillery duel. It looked for a couple of hours as if there was going to be a great cavalry battle in Hanover, dwarfing the melee at Brandy Station. Kilpatrick telegraphed army headquarters that he had Stuart's entire cavalry corps pinned on the hills south of Hanover. With some infantry reinforcement, perhaps from General Slocum's nearby Federal XII corps, he could crush Jeb Stuart for ever.
Jeb Stuart was too smart to attack the town. He outnumbered Killpatick's  troopers in Hanover,  but the buildings cancelled his numerical advantage.. An attack would wreck his force. And that left him with a problem. He was already late for his appointment with General Ewall's corps in Carlisle. And the northwest road to Carlisle (above)  branched off in Hanover.  Stuart had to either take the town or miss the appointment.  Sitting where he was he was burning gun powder and horse flesh. And the rest of the Federal army could be anywhere, perhaps coming up right behind him..
"Jeb" Stuart's only choice was to miss his appointment. That night, Stuart slipped away from the Union horsemen, dragging the captured wagons with him. . In a sleepless, grueling all night march, his exhausted men slipped around the federal right. By mid-morning his three battalions were in York, and he did not approach Carlisle until  6:00 pm on 1 July, just a day late. He found the town held by Pennsylvania militia, and it was not until after midnight that General Stuart learned of  Lee's orders for the entire army to concentrate.  At 3:00 am, 2 July, after just an hour's sleep, Stuart put his men back on the road, to Gettysburg.
As soon as Stuart arrived in Gettysburg, he reported to General Lee (above). Neither of the two men wrote the details of their conversation, but Porter Alexander, the commander of Lee's artillery, was there. He said Lee's only comment was, "Well, General, you are here at last."  The rebuke might seem mild to outsiders, but it became the foundation for critics to blame Stuart for Lee's defeat at Gettysburg.  But as Lee's right hand, General James Longstreet,  pointed out, "The Union army had something to do with it."  If the supply wagons delayed Stuart, he was only following Lee's written orders. Stuart had no good choices during his raid. Lee was defeated at Gettysburg because sooner or later he was going to be defeated, and he had told Jefferson Davis as much in 1861. Once the war started nobody, neither Lee nor Stuart nor Jefferson Davis, had any good choices. That is what war does. It leaves people no good choices.
Lucky Hanover, Pennsylvania.. A combination of human blindness and ambition, and accidents of terrain and of timing produced a battle  that left  28 dead, 123 wounded and 180 missing or captured.
While at Gettysburg these same imponderables produced 7,864 dead, 27,224 wounded and 11,199 missing or prisoners at war. And the people to blame for that difference, were the politicians who started the war, not the men who fought and died in it..
- 30 -

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