I am certain the office of 63 year old Edwin McMasters Stanton was busy on that Friday afternoon, 27 June, 1863, because the office of Secretary of War was always busy. The mecurial and ashmatic Stanton kept 3 assistants, 49 clerks, 4 messengers and 20 non-commissioned officers busy from dawn to dawn, typing orders, compiling records, and running back and forth between Stanton's inner sanctum on the second floor of the War Department (above) and the telegraph office downstairs.
So when 40 year old Lieutenant Colonel James Allen Hardie (above)was called into the the Secretary's office, he thought it nothing special. But inside he found the short but larger-than-life Stanton, the phlegmatic General-in-Chief Henry Halleck and, with his legs stretched out half way across the room, the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, all waiting for him.
Once the door closed behind him, Stanton (above) handed Colonel Hardie some papers, and told him to read them, and commit their substance to memory.
Balancing his prinze nez eyeglasses on his nose, Hardie was shocked to read orders for Fifth Corps Commander, Major General George Godon Meade (above) to assume command of the entire Army of the Potomac.
This page was followed by orders intended for Major General Joseph Hooker (above), current holder of that post, relieving him of it. Given that the rebel Army of Northern Virginian was currently invading Pennsylvania, and that a major battle seemed certain in the next few days, a change in command at this instant seemed risky. But it also seemed obvious to Hardie that he had not been called to provide an opinion. And given Stanton's reputation for explosive fits of temper, Hardie kept his mouth shut.
Stanton now told the Colonel he was tell no one of his mission. He was to immediately change into civilian clothes, and guarding the papers with his life, Hardie was to go by train to Frederick, Maryland (above). If the rail lines were cut he was to continue by whatever means available. If threatened with capture he was to destroy the orders, but continue to General Meade's headquarters and deliver them verbally. He was not to communicate his mission with anyone, not even the General's staff, until he had handed the orders to George Meade himself. If Meade refused to obey, Hardie was to bring the orders straight back to Stanton, and speak to no one. If Meade accepted the orders, he and Hardie were to go together to hand deliver the reliving orders to General Hooker.
Hardie (above) was the perfect officer to preform this duty. As an 1845 West Point graduate and an aide-de-camp to Generals McClellan and Burnside in 1862, both Hooker and Meade, and their staffs, knew him on sight. Hardie also held the civilian appointment of an Assistant Secretary in the War Department, giving him authority outside of the military chain of command. It must have been well after 3:00pm when Hardie left the War Department.
After stopping by his rooms to change into civilian clothes, he headed to the corner of New Jersey Avenue and C Street to board a train at the Baltimore and Ohio railroad station.
Frederick, Maryland was 40 miles west northwest of Baltimore on the National Road, and just 6 miles north of the Potomac River. But because of the panic caused by Lee's invasion, Hardie did not arrive at the Market Street station until after midnight, Saturday, 28 June. He found the town (above) filled with soldiers on official and unofficial leave from the Army of the Potomac, now camped all around the town. The last units had crossed the river just today, and many of the 85,000 men had taken the opportunity to “go and see the elephant.”
It took time for Colonel Hardie to discover the location of the Fifth Corps headquarters, 3 miles south of town on the Ballenger Pike, on the Robert McGill plantation, called Arcadia. Hardie managed to wake a stableman to hire a horse and buggy. By the time he arrived at Arcadia it was almost 3:00am. The sentry outside Meade's tent stopped him, but luckily his attempts to talk his way past, woke the 47 year old “goggle-eyed snapping turtle” that was Brigadier George Gordon Meade (above).
As was his nature, Meade awoke thinking Hooker was about to place him under arrest, unfairly blaming Meade for the disaster at Chancellorsville. But even groggy from sleep, Meade recognized Hardie, and was oddly reassured when the Colonel admitted, “I’ve come to bring you trouble”. Meade assured Hardie, “I have a clear conscious.” Hardie was then forced to admit he was here on business from Washington, not from Hooker. Relieved, Meade admitted the visitor into his tent (above), where Hardie was able to hand over the orders. Reading them, all the blood drained from Meade's face. They reminded him in part, ".. the Army of the Potomac is the covering army of Washington as well as the army of operation against the invading forces of the rebels. You will, therefore, maneuver and fight in such a manner as to cover the capital and also Baltimore..." After he folded the orders, Meade said sadly, “Well, I’ve been tried and condemned without a hearing, and I suppose I shall have to go to execution,” Meade then began awakening his staff, shouting, “Get up! I’m in command of the Army of the Potomac!”
Meade telegraphed Halleck, “The order...is received....I can only now say that it appears to me I must move towards the Susquehanna, keeping Washington and Baltimore well covered...So soon as I can post myself up I will communicate more in detail.” By “post himself up”, Meade meant talking to Hooker and relieving him of his command. As near as historians can figure it, officially at that moment the Army of the Potomac consisted of 7 infantry corps, divided into 19 divisions made up of 51 infantry brigades, 3 Cavalry divisions and 67 artillery batteries of 362 guns, for a total of 115,256 officers and men. Some 30,000 of those men were on reenlistment leave, recruiting duty, extended sick leave or other duties, reducing the men available for actual combat to about 85,000.
Once Hooker had been officially relieved – and he seemed relieved to be relieved – Meade began rearranging the army. Hooker had advanced 3 corps to capture passes through South Mountain in Maryland (above, blue squares). The new commander ordered all three to pull back and move north toward Taneytown. He dispatched the 3 infantry corps around Frederick toward the road junction of Gettysburg, under the overall command of General John Reynolds. Meade also dispatched Pleasonton's Cavalry corps to sweep his right flank, looking for Stuart's cavalry. He held one corps in reserve, and dispatched it and his engineers to begin laying out a defensive line on high ground along the south bank of Pipe Creek. Meade might not have been a military genius, but he was competent - which was an improvement.
Opposing them this morning of Saturday, 28 June 1863, was the Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by 56 year old Virginian General Robert Edward Lee (above). His command consisted of 3 infantry Corps of 3 divisions each, each containing 3 or 4 brigades, supported by 282 artillery tubes, and Stuart's cavalry for a total of 76,224 men, reduced to perhaps 70,000 effectives on the battle field. But as of this morning, Stuart was missing.
The First Corps, commanded by 42 year old North Carolinian Lieutenant General James Longstreet (above), was camped to the south of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
To the east of that town, and in position to guard the Cashtown Gap in South Mountain, was the Third Corps of 38 year old Virginian Lieutenant General Ambrose Powell Hill (above) .
The Second Corps, commanded by 46 year old Virginian, Lieutenant General Richard Stoddard "Baldy" Ewell, was spread out, probing and screening for the entire army.
One division of Ewell's Corps, commanded by 47 year old Virginian Major General Jubal Anderson Early, was, this Saturday, pushing east. Brigadier General John B.Gordon's brigade of 2,800 men captured York, 12 miles west of the bridge over the Susquehanna River at Wrightsville, 25 miles downstream from the state capital of Harrisburg. A regiment from Jenkin's division, White's Comanche's burned a railroad bridge just north of Hanover Junction. As expected there was nothing in front of Gordon but badly trained state militia.
To the north that Saturday, at about 3:00pm, the Second Corps divisions of 34 year old Major General Robert Emmit Rodes and 47 year old Major General Edward “Allegheny” Johnson, entered Carlisle Pennsylvania, 35 miles north of Chambersburg, and about 25 miles due west of the railroad bridge across the Susquehanna River at Harrisburg.
In front of Ewell's main body at Carlisle - where he could keep and eye on them – were most of the cavalry of 33 year old General Albert Gallatin “Grumble” Jenkins. And about 5:00pm, his “Border Rangers” pushed a determined band of state militia out of the town of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania – famed for its wagon mechanics. The next day, Sunday, 29 June, Jenkins would push up to the banks of the Susquehanna River, and search for a way across.
But about the same time Jenkins was pushing into Mechanicsburg, a “filthy and ragged” rider came into the rebel lines around Chambersburg. He identified himself to the pickets as “Harrison”, and asked to speak to Colonel Gilbert Moxley Sorrel, on Lieutenant General Longstreet's staff.
Sorrel recognized him as Henry Thomas Harrison (above), although he was “showing some rough work and exposure.” Harrison was a “scout” (or spy) originally employed by the Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon, and doing most of his work in Washington, D.C.. Over the last year he had been on loan to Longstreet, and his story and his appearance on this evening was nothing short of miraculous.
Harrison brought word that the Federal Army was north of the Potomac River, camped around Frederick, Maryland. And he brought word that Joe Hooker had been replaced by George Meade. But Meade had agreed to accept the post barely 12 hours earlier. To have ridden the 55 miles from Frederick to Chambersburg would have taken about 18 hours. What seems far more likely is that Longstreet's scout or people working for him, had actually been in the War Department in Washington. He already knew the Federal army was moving, but upon hearing that Hooker had been replaced, he left, possibly on the same train as Colonel Hardie, and traveled directly to Chambersburg.
Sorrel immediately took Harrison to Longstreet, who immediately notified Lee. And it must have been at that moment, sometime after 6:00pm, on Saturday, 28 June, 1863, that Lee first missed “the eyes of his army”, General Stuart. The Confederate cavalry was not expected to report in until the next day. But if the Army of the Potomac had won a march on Lee, Lee must have suddenly felt blind.
The General immediately dispatched riders to General Ewell in Carlisle, and General Goron in York, with orders to concentrate at once on the Cashtown Gap in South Mountain. Lee was thinking of a defensive posture, as he had promised Longstreet. It remained to be seen if events would develop that way.
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