“The Finest Cavalry Display Ever Witnessed”: Lincoln Reviews the Mounted Arm

Abraham Lincoln

The spring of 1863 brought about a season of change in the cavalry corps of the Army of the Potomac. On St. Patrick’s Day, Brig. Gen. William W. Averell’s division clashed with Brig. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee’s brigade on the south bank of the Rappahannock near Kelly’s Ford.The battle marked the first time the horse soldiers in blue launched an offensive. While the rest of the army  engaged Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia around the Chancellorsville crossroads west of Fredericksburg, the bulk of the corps undertook an expedition into central Virginia. Named for its commander, George Stoneman, it was the operational making of the force. “Stoneman’s Raid” taught the officers and enlisted men how to function in the field during a campaign. The making of the corps as a combat force came on June 9, 1863 when the Union horsemen engaged Maj. Gen. Jeb Stuart’s Confederate cavalry near a rail stop on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad known as Brandy Station. Seemingly lost amidst these events is an episode that took place 155 years ago today, when President Abraham Lincoln reviewed the cavalry in Stafford County.

 The day before Easter, Lincoln, along with a small party left Washington by ship, bound for Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker and the Army of the Potomac in their winter encampment. The journey was delayed by snow and the ship did not reach Aquia Landing until the following day. From there, the President traveled by train to Falmouth where he was met by Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Daniel Butterfield and an escort from the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry. The group then made their way along the White Oak Road (State Route 218) to army headquarters, located near the intersection of Jenny Lind and Myers Roads in the modern Kendallwood Estates subdivision. Lincoln stayed close by. His temporary Executive Mansion was located just a short distance northwest of the junction of modern White Oak, Ringgold and Ferry Roads near the modern White Oak Volunteer Rescue Squad building.

“The good president had hastened from the White House to visit the army he had helped to create, to see for himself that his soldiers were comfortable, to cheer them by his presence and encourage by kind words,” recalled a member of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry.

Early the next morning, the Union troopers assembled on the farm of James Sthreshley (pronounced Thrashley) to be reviewed by Lincoln. The Streshley farm house no longer exists. It stood near the south end of Scott Drive in the modern Grafton Village subdivision.

The south end of Scott Drive.

Among those in attendance were First Lady Mary Lincoln along with Maj. Gens. Oliver O. Howard and Henry Slocum. Maj. Gen. George Stoneman, the corps commander, waited anxiously for the arrival of Hooker and Lincoln.

“After remaining in line a long time, during which the infantry and artillery were being reviewed, the tall, gaunt form of the President came into view, accompanied by General Hooker and a vast retinue,” wrote the historian of the 10th New York Cavalry. “The latter was kept busy plying whip and spur to keep in company. The President’s face was pale, sad, and care-worn in appearance. He sat his small horse with ease, his long legs hanging straight down, the feet nearly reaching to the ground.”

“Mr. Lincoln wore his customary dress-black frock coat with quite long tails which flapped behind him as he passed at a gallop-black trousers and high silk hat…his tall, gaunt figure, and odd costume gave him a singular appearance,” observed George Sanford, an officer in the 1st U.S. Cavalry.

Approaching Stoneman, Hooker formerly introduced him to Lincoln. “President Lincoln and Generals Hooker and Stoneman start off at a gallop,” wrote Henry Moyer of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry, “with about three hundred attendants, first to the right of the line, then along the whole front to the left and thence to the reviewing stand. General Stoneman now leaves the President, and with his staff again takes his position in the centre [sic] of the line, facing the corps.”

Stoneman then gave the command: “Pass in review! Column forward! Guide right! March!” “Ten thousand sabres flashed in the sun, forty thousand iron hoofs spurned the sacred soil and as each bold rider settled himself anew in the saddle, grasping the steed that bore him more firmly with hand or knee, ever and anon taking a quick, stealthy glance to right, the magnificent cavalry corps of the Army of the Potomac swept steadily and proudly before the Chief Magistrate of the Nation,” officer in the 2nd U.S. Cavalry proudly wrote. It was “the finest cavalry display ever witnessed in the United States,” recalled a reporter with the Philadelphia Inquirer.

A sketch of Lincoln inspecting the cavalry.

The review took 4 hours to complete. At the very end, the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, armed with nine foot long wooden lances with an eleven inch blade was “brought around the house into the field at full gallop, with company fronts at that gait executed most perfectly one of the most difficult cavalry movements, that of wheeling by companies into regimental line, facing the immense company of military authorities there gathered and forming a most perfectly dressed line on the instant, every horse ready and halted just in the right place , the men looking proud that they were able to accomplish so easily this most difficult maneuver.”

At the conclusion of the review, the corps dispersed and returned to their camps.  The moment was not lost on those who participated.“It was an occasion not to be forgotten, the sight being one of the most magnificent many of us ever saw,” recalled Willard Glazer of the 2nd New York Cavalry “It seemed to do us all good to get a glimpse of the solemn, earnest face of the President, who reviewed us with apparent satisfaction.” “That review made a lasting impression,” Moyer wrote. It “was a notable day in the history of the regiment and the men were greatly enthused.” This spirit would sustain the troopers in the weeks and months to come on battlefields scattered across Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Preservation Victory at Goose Creek Bridge!

For those of you familiar with the Gettysburg Campaign, Little Round Top was not the first time the famous 20th Maine or Vincent’s Brigade saw combat during the events leading up to the battle. The Civil War Trust and NOVA Parks recently announced a preservation victory at Goose Creek Bridge where these units, along with JEB Stuart’s cavalry squared off almost 155 years ago. Find out more about this success by reading below.

“Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe Announces Preservation Victory at Historic Goose Creek Bridge

The Civil War Trust and NOVA Parks recently hosted a news conference in scenic Loudoun County, Virginia, to announce the preservation of 20 acres associated with the Battle of Upperville—a small but significant early engagement of the momentous Gettysburg Campaign. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a longtime champion of battlefield preservation in the Old Dominion, served as keynote speaker. Thanks to four decades of work by the Fauquier and Loudoun Garden Club, the historic Goose Creek Bridge and its adjacent hallowed grounds will become Northern Virginia’s newest regional historic park.”

Check out the full story here.

Gettysburg’s Famed Pickett’s Charge is Reimagined by Civil War Trust and Hirshhorn Museum

Check out this neat announcement from the Civil War Trust. In a different kind of preservation, preserving the memory of Pickett’s Charge, the Trust looks at a contemporary interpretation of the famed nineteenth-century  Gettysburg cyclorama. Keep reading to find out more about this project.

“Now on display in Washington, D.C.’s Hirshhorn Museum is internationally acclaimed artist Mark Bradford’s “Pickett’s Charge.” Bradford’s painting is a contemporary interpretation of French artist Paul Philippoteaux’s 1883 cyclorama at Gettysburg National Military Park, which the Civil War Trust recently brought to life in the painting’s first-ever, annotated, 360-degree video.”

Want more information on the 360-degree video? Click here.

It’s Warm: The 6th New York Cavalry in their Winter Encampment 155 Years Later

A Union cavalry picket

It’s February in Virginia. This morning I put on shorts after a pot of coffee and a shower. Not just to wear indoors but outside as well! Just a month ago, the nighttime temperatures hovered around zero and it was all we could to do to keep a fire around the clock. To be safe, I turned the heat off inside. But as of noon, as I am drafting the post, the thermostat says it is 72, the exact temperature it is supposed to be outside today. Today’s high is supposed to be 78, according to the prognosticators. Even our two Beagle-mixes aren’t sure what to make of this warm weather. One of them appreciates it and wants to take longer walks. The other doesn’t really seem to mind it, but wants to get back to the house as soon as she can. This weather got me thinking: what was the weather like 155 years ago for the Army of the Potomac, especially the cavalry corps, in their winter encampment in Stafford County, where I reside? In looking through a few of the regimental histories, I came across the following account from the 6th New York Cavalry.

On February 17, 1863, the historian of the 6th New York Cavalry, whose main camp was near Stafford Court House, wrote that at dawn “the men found several inches of snow on their blankets…they realized the stern realities of soldiering; the snow was still falling; the roads were almost impassable; their condition was indescribable; the mud was up to the horses’ bodies’ wagons were stuck and trains separated; it was a day of horrors.” The next day “the snow had changed to rain and was coming down fast and heavy.” Interestingly enough, within the last two weeks, over two inches of rain has fallen around Fredericksburg and Stafford. Washington’s Birthday “was a bitter cold day, and a snowstorm, accompanied by a furious northeaster, swept over the camp. The snow was about eight inches deep…the exposure and inactivity  while on the lonely picket-post, were such that none but an experienced soldier can fully understand.” A day later, snowfall measured around one foot.

Today, and the next few days for that matter, pale in comparison to what these Empire Staters experienced. At the same time, I can’t help but think that Mother Nature might have one more blow to land around Fredericksburg before the winter is over…..

 

Preservation Opportunity in the Western Theater

Our friends at the Civil War Trust sent along this announcement and opportunity to preserve more battlefield ground in the Western Theater. Continue reading for more information about this opportunity and how you can get involved.

“With the exception of Virginia, no state endured more significant Civil War battles than Tennessee. It was in Tennessee — during the war’s early stages — where Gen. Ulysses S. Grant first gained national recognition by demanding and securing the “unconditional surrender” of a Confederate army at Fort Donelson. In 1863, the nation’s gaze was again fixed upon the Volunteer State as Union and Confederate troops vied for control of Chattanooga. And it was in Tennessee that Gen. John Bell Hood launched a last-ditch effort to strike back at the Yankees, resulting in inconceivable suffering at Franklin and ultimate defeat at Nashville.

In recognition of the state’s importance during our nation’s defining conflict, you and I have already saved 3,491 acres in Tennessee, allowing future generations to walk the ground where history was made.

Today, we have the opportunity to save an additional 15 acres at three battlefields in Tennessee: Fort Donelson, Brown’s Ferry (near Chattanooga), and Franklin. We will be adding to the 639 acres we have already saved at these three battlefields—more tiles in the mosaic of Tennessee’s rich Civil War heritage. Thanks to a magnificent $21.17-to-$1 match, you and I can save this land—worth a combined total of $1.5 million—for just $73,250!

Help us build on our previous successes in Tennessee and save these three Tennessee battlefields.

’Til the Battle is Won,

Jim
Jim Lighthizer, President
Civil War Trust

P.S. Please join our efforts to save 15 acres at Fort Donelson, Brown’s Ferry, and Franklin.