General Orders Number 6: The Creation of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps

Joseph Hooker

The opening months of 1863 marked the beginning of a season of change for the Army of the Potomac. Major General Ambrose Burnside, who had directed the disastrous Fredericksburg Campaign and subsequent “Mud March”, had been replaced by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker. With a profound appreciation of his command’s condition, Hooker instituted a series of reforms to help improve the army’s morale and restore it to fighting condition. A system of furloughs was implemented, rations improved and corps insignia adopted. But on February 5, 1863, 155 years ago today, Hooker issued General Orders Number 6. This directive would have a lasting impact on the army in the months and years to come.

Paragraph 3 of the order stated: “The cavalry of the army will be consolidated into one corps, under the command of Brigadier-General Stoneman, who will make the necessary assignments for detached duty.”

Under previous commanders, the Union horsemen had been parceled out to the various corps and later grand divisions. Although Burnside and his predecessor, George McClellan, had maintained separate brigades, reserves and divisions throughout their tenures, the troopers lacked overarching cohesion. Under General Orders Number 6, for the first time, the mounted arm would operate under the direction of one commander who reported directly to army headquarters.

The commanding general’s choice to lead the corps was a logical one. A West Point graduate, George Stoneman brought experience with cavalry and at the command level to the post. Prior to the war he had been assigned to the 1st U.S. Dragoons and 2nd U.S. Cavalry. During his time with the dragoons, he had served as Acting Assistant Quartermaster and Adjutant, positions that would improve his administrative skills, a trait that were invaluable to a corps commander. Stoneman had also been McClellan’s cavalry chief, a position he held for over a year and more recently, the head of the III Corps in the Army of the Potomac.

George Stoneman

Hooker’s directive had finally placed his horsemen under a similar organizational structure as their Confederate counterparts. The order marked a new chapter in the history the Federal mounted arm. It was the genesis of the Union cavalry’s ascendance to superiority in the Eastern Theater.


Expeditions Bold And Admirable: Conclusion

Conclusion of a series. You may read the Introduction, The First Battle of Hartwood Church, The Dumfries Raid and Raid on the Occoquon here.

Wade Hampton

The months of November and December, 1862 marked a transition in the career of Wade Hampton. For several weeks, Hampton and his brigade were thorn in the side of the Army of the Potomac. On three separate occasions, he led a handpicked force on expeditions behind the Union lines. At the behest of Robert E. Lee, Hampton crossed the Rappahannock on a scouting mission on November 27. The next day, he struck and captured a contingent of the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry at Hartwood Church and confirmed that the Federals remained opposite the Confederate lines at Fredericksburg. On December 12, Hampton captured a sutler’s wagon train at Dumfries. A week later he fell on yet another supply train, this time near the village of Occoquon.

Hampton’s performance did not go unnoticed by his superiors, especially Le. At the end of February, 1863, Lee issued General Orders 29, announcing the recent successes of his cavalry to the army. Hampton’s actions were mentioned in the order. “The commanding general takes great pleasure in advertising to the promptness of the officers in striking a successful blow whenever the opportunity offered,” it read. “These deeds give assurance of vigilance, activity, and fortitude.”

By the beginning of the new year, Hampton had established himself as one of the most aggressive commanders in the Confederate mounted arm. Not surprisingly, his star would continue to rise in the coming months. Wounded on East Cavalry Field at Gettysburg, Hampton performed well during the Overland Campaign in the spring of 1864. After Stuart’s death in May, he became the senior Major General in the cavalry corps. His performance in stopping Philip Sheridan’s raid toward the Shenandoah Valley at Trevilian Station ultimately brought him corps command. Hampton continued to fight well during the Siege of Petersburg. Early in 1865, he was transferred south to face Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s Union armies in the Carolinas. In the middle of March, Hampton turned in his finest performance. After a masterful display of reconnaissance and planning, Gen. Joseph Johnston accepted Hampton’s proposal to attack Sherman outside Bentonville, North Carolina. Johnston struck on March 19 and temporarily delayed the Federal march. On the last of the day engagement, Hampton directed and led counterattacks against a enemy force that helped secure the Confederate line of retreat. At the end of the war Hampton had compiled a record that rivaled if not surpassed that of any of his peers.






Florida’s “Cow Cavalry”

Napoleon Bonaparte once prophetically stated, “An army marches on its stomach.” A simple yet very truthful statement and a point that brought major concern and consternation to many a military leader before and after the French leader uttered those six words.


Top of monument dedicated to the “Cow Cavalry” (author collection)

In 1863, the state of Florida would prove its worth to the Confederacy. The 11th out of 11 states in population, Florida sent its native sons to the war effort, drawing from a prewar military age population of 15,000 souls. What the state lacked in manpower, another living, breathing, moveable force certainly made up for it.


In the 1860 census, approximately 388,060 head of cattle grazed in the state in what some referred to as the “last great frontier east of the Mississippi River.” Although the cattle tended to be smaller in size, the harsh, humid climate had endured the beasts with the ability to ward off common diseases, especially ones borne from the dreaded tick. Usually weighing in at 600 pounds, half of that, or 300 pounds of beef could be cut for consumption.

Yet, until the fall of Vicksburg, Mississippi in July 1863, the Confederate government had seemingly forgotten about this valuable commodity in the deep, deep South. Out of desperation, the Confederate government turned toward Florida, splitting the state into five commissary districts and requesting 3,000 head of cattle per week. Under the overall control of Major Pleasant W. White, his first name ironic, the native of Quincy, Florida tried his best to stick to the 1,000 head of cattle moving north per week quota.

As desperation for foodstuffs mounted in the Confederacy, cattle were driven north as quick as possible, but never enough to meet the needs of soldiers serving the two principle armies; the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of Tennessee, along with garrisons at places like Charleston, South Carolina. Furthermore, pasture and fodder along the path north out of Florida also dwindled precipitously which greatly reduced the size of cattle as they reached the war front. In early 1864, all available pork and bacon was ordered by the Confederate government to be shipped north.

All this movement did not go unnoticed by the Federals. The reason for the climatic and largest land battle in Florida, at Olustee on February 20, 1864 was an effort to cut off this supply route. Along with quick strikes by Federal troops and cavalry stationed along the coasts, at places like Fort Myers, the movement that culminated at Olustee exacerbated the need to protect the cattle herds and the drivers that were moving the thinning herds north. Prey already to Confederate deserters, rising animosity toward the war effort, hesitancy on cattle owners to sell for Confederate promissory notes, also threatened to stem the tide. Something had to be done.


Historical Marker for the John T. Lesley Home, Tampa, FL (author collection)

To protect this vital supply line, companies of cavalry, eventually numbering nine in total were raised. Officially organized as the 1st Battalion Florida Special Cavalry, Company B was raised by Captain John T. Lesley, in the area of Ichepuckassaa, Florida, to the east of Tampa, in Hillsborough County. Lesley, had joined the Confederate war effort early, being in the first company from Tampa to leave for the front and rose to the rank of major while serving the cause in Tennessee. He returned to Florida in 1863 where he was entrusted to raise the aforementioned company.

Comprised mostly of men that were on either end of the spectrum of military age; either too young or two old to fight, they served the Confederate war effort by joining what would be referred to as the “Cow Cavalry.” Eventually, approximately 900 men enlisted in the 1st Battalion Florida Special Cavalry.


Grave of John T. Lesley. “He was a part of Tampa, and a big part, from the city’s infancy … His death marks the breaking of the final link that service the past and its traditions from the present and its hopes, and many tears have been shed because of the breaking of the bond.” Tampa Daily Times after his death on July 13, 1913

Their job was to assist in driving the herds north and also protecting the herds from the multitude of threats along the way. They were successful in delivering cattle to Confederate troops stationed in Charleston and Savannah, Georgia. Their efforts helped stave off defeat, given that when efforts were ramped up in spring 1863 in South Florida, the commissary in Atlanta was reporting at the same juncture the abysmally low-number of 4,000 cattle available for consumption in his possession!

A mundane task, but for one central Florida town, a task worthy of a small granite monument, and a legacy of providing the most essential weapon for a soldier; food.


“Cow Cavalry” Monument Plant City, FL (author collection)



*Sources used*


Florida’s Civil War, Terrible Sacrifices by Tracy J. Revels

-Search “Cow Cavalry”




Christmas in the Cavalry

Holly still abounds on the outskirts of Camp Bayard, named for Brig. Gen. George Bayard, a Union cavalryman who was mortally wounded at Fredericksburg.

As 1862 faded into memory, Christmas approached for the horse soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia and Army of the Potomac. Camped in the Rappahannock River Valley following the Battle of Fredericksburg, their experiences that holiday varied from one man to the next. Away from their loved ones at home and caught in the midst of bloody conflict, many, in the words of Charles Dickens, simply hoped to turn their eyes “to the blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode.”

On Christmas Eve, Robert E. Lee dictated a letter of congratulations to his cavalry chief, Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart. Lee “took great pleasure in expressing…gratification” at the recent successful expeditions launched by one of Stuart’s brigade commanders, Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton. “Please express to General Hampton my high sense of his service, mys just appreciation of the conduct of the officers and men of his command, and my congratulations on his complete success without the loss of a man” he directed.

Stuart was also busy that day. At his headquarters several miles south of Fredericksburg along the Telegraph Road, he hosted a Christmas dinner for his officers. Among the fare was turkey, chicken, ham and apple brandy. For Christmas, Stuart joined Lee and Second Corps commander Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson in the manor house near Jackson’s headquarters, Moss Neck. Emboldened by Hampton’s recent success, Stuart launched a raid behind Union lines beginning on December 26.

Moss Neck

Union cavalry also remained active in the days leading up to and on Christmas. Brigadier General William W. Averell, who had been embarrassed at the end of November when Wade Hampton swooped down and captured a contingent from the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry at Hartwood Church, kept scouts and patrols out in the direction of Warrenton, west of the Union lines.

On the eastern end of Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s army, the 8th Illinois Cavalry went out on picket to relieve the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry in King George County. “On reaching the place” wrote the Illinoisans’ historian, “the officers of the latter regiment were found keeping a Christmas holiday, and were intoxicated. Lieutenant-Colonel [David] Clendennin, in command, reported them to headquarters, which created quite a sensation among those interested. If more such reports had been made it would have been better for the army.”

For troopers in the 6th New York Cavalry, Christmas Eve was “devoted to hunting turkeys for Christmas dinner.” The next morning, the men enjoyed pancakes for breakfast.

On Christmas Eve, in their camp on Potomac Creek, a member of the 1st Rhode Island quoted Clement Clark Moore’s poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, in a letter to the Narragansett Weekly. “We hardly expect “Santa” Claus will find us away out here, this dark night, in the pines of old Virginia, where desolation has marked the course of the contending armies” he lamented. Another comrade, J.A. Babcock also quoted Moore on Christmas Day. “What a flood of recollections rush upon my mind, as I think of former- anniversaries of the much-looked-for day, from the time when nothing but “visions of sugar-plums danced through my head,” down to later years, when social gatherings and reunions were sure to celebrate it  in perhaps a greater, but none the less happy manner. How different the surroundings here!…the merry jingle of Christmas bells is exchanged for the sounds of the bugle and drum.” That night, a concert was given by members of the regiment for the headquarters and staff. “We only missed the comforts, gifts, and “Merry Christmas” salutations of our New England homes” one soldier lamented.

On Christmas Eve, Pvt. Sidney Davis’ squadron from the 6th U.S. Cavalry left their camp and marched up the river from Fredericksburg and went on picket duty. Davis had been detached on other service and rode out on Christmas morning to join his comrades. Cresting the heights beyond Falmouth, a lone Confederate infantryman caught Davis’ eye. The Southerner shouted “Merry Christmas” and raised his canteen to Davis. The Regular saluted and continued his journey. A little farther on, Davis encountered a German from Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel’s XI Corps, who offered him a drink. Davis politely declined and wished him a “happy Christmas” before riding on.

And so Christmas came and went along the Rappahannock. Soon, the horse soldiers in blue and gray would meet in the new year on fields in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.


Expeditions Bold and Admirable: Raid on the Occoquan

Part three in a series. You may read the Introduction here, Part 1  here, and Part 2 here.

Wade Hampton

Major General James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart had been impressed with the recent actions of his subordinate, Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton. In the last week of November and second week of December, Hampton had led successful raids behind the Union lines. Following the Confederate victory at Fredericksburg, Stuart directed Hampton to ride north once again. On December 17, Hampton crossed the Rappahannock and headed for the Federal rear.

Hampton rode at the head of a handpicked force. It consisted of 100 men from the 1st South Carolina, 75 men from the 1st North Carolina, 2nd South Carolina and Cobb Legion, 80 men from the Phillips’ Legion and 60 from the Jeff Davis Legion. Just several days earlier, Hampton had captured an enemy sutler train at Dumfries and he hoped for similar results.

Hampton camped at Cole’s Store that night and then moved on to Kanky’s Store along Neabsco Creek the next morning. There his troopers surprised and captured a Federal picket post. Hampton then decided to move on to Occoquon, a small town which sat on the banks of a river of the same name. For this movement, he elected to divide his command. Doing so gave him the ability to capture any Federals in the village and the surrounding pickets while still maintaining the element of surprise. If he encountered stiff resistance, he could easily maneuver elements of his force to assist the others. Lastly, he would have added flexibility in covering a retreat.

Hampton dispatched Colonel Will Martin with the Jeff Davis Legion, 1st North Carolina and 2nd South Carolina along the river road to the village. Major Will Delony and the Cobb Legion were to march up the Telegraph Road. Hampton remained with the reserve which consisted with the 1st South Carolina and the Phillips’ Legion which moved along the Bacon Race Church Road.

Delony managed to capture 20 blue pickets outside the town before he rejoined Hampton. Meanwhile, Martin entered the village and found a wagon train from Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel’s XI Corps attempting to cross the river at a cable ferry. Martin hailed the train guard who quickly surrendered and sent word back to Hampton, who soon arrived in the town.  Hampton’s pleasure with Martin’s accomplishment was tempered with the news from one of the prisoners that 2,500 Union cavalry were marching south from Alexandria toward Occoquon. While the Confederates set about the task of ferrying the wagons across the river, Hampton sent Capt. Tillman Clarke and about 40 men from the 2nd South Carolina and Phillips’ Legion to guard Selectman’s Ford, a crossing point above the village.

The intelligence proved correct for shortly after Clarke departed, the blue column hove into view. Under the command of Col. Josiah Kellogg of the 17th Pennsylvania, it consisted of his regiment, a squadron from the 6th Pennsylvania under Col. Richard Rush, and elements from the 12th Illinois. As Kellogg approached the ferry, Hampton’s troopers opened fire and brought his advance to a halt. A new regiment, Kellogg’s men were at a disadvantage as they had yet to receive carbines. At Rush’s suggestion, Kellogg sent his squadron, supported by elements from the Seventeenth to force their way over Selectman’s Ford.

Waiting for Rush were Clarke’s sharpshooters, posted on high ground above the river. Clarke immediately sent a courier to Hampton informing him of the Federals’ appearance at the ford. Rather than hold off a superior force, Hampton judiciously decided to abandon his effort and withdraw. He sent Col. John Black of the 1st South Carolina to the rear with what wagons had been captured while Martin covered the retreat. Clarke was ordered to hold on for another hour and then abandon his position.

With Black and Martin moving, Clarke departed at his directed time. Kellogg and Rush followed, but Clarke launched a counterattack and drove back his antagonists. Clarke continued to skirmish with the blue troopers as Hampton and the rest of his men made their way south. Hampton proceeded to Greenwood Church and then headed for Cole’s Store. That night he camped along Tacket’s Fork of Cedar Run. On the morning of December 20, Hampton reached the safety of Confederate lines on the south bank of the Rappahannock.

The Occoquon Raid proved to be another boon for Hampton. He captured 150 Union soldiers and made off with 20 wagons and 30 stands of infantry arms. His operations in November and December had been nothing short of brilliant. Hampton had established himself as a rising star in the Army of Northern Virginia.

Expeditions Bold and Admirable: The Dumfries Raid

Part two in a series. You may read the Introduction here and Part 1 here.

Wade Hampton

After Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton’s reconnaissance into Stafford County at the end of November, 1862, he directed his scouts to continue to operate among and behind the Union lines. Known as the “Iron Scouts”, this small band had been loosely organized from members of the 2nd South Carolina Cavalry earlier in the fall. The nickname came from the Federals for their ability to heal quickly from wounds and to consistently avoid capture. As Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside prepared to launch his army over the Rappahannock in the second week of December, the Iron Scouts reported the movement of an enemy sutler train from the vicinity of Washington to Dumfries, a town in the Union rear. This enticing provender was too much of a target for Hampton to pass up. He determined to march on and capture the town and wagon train.

Similar to his November expedition, Hampton once again assembled a hand picked force for the raid. Approximately 520 from the 1st South Carolina, 2nd South Carolina, 1st North Carolina, Jeff Davis Legion and Cobb Legion followed him north from the Confederate lines on the night of December 10. “The weather was intensely cold” remembered one gray trooper. Once on the north bank of the Rappahannock, Hampton rested briefly then set out again at midnight. The march continued through the eleventh, while miles away, the Army of the Potomac struggled to established a bridgehead at Fredericksburg. In order to increase his flexibility and ease of movement for the impending attack, Hampton divided his men before starting out on the morning of December 12. He assigned the detachments from the 1st North Carolina, 2nd South South Carolina and Cobb Legion to Col. Matthew C. Butler. Lieutenant Colonel Will Martin was given the 1st South Carolina and Jeff Davis Legion.

Hampton covered 16 miles that morning before he reached the vicinity of Dumfries. He elected to keep Martin in reserve and sent Butler around to the north to launch the assault. Stationed in Dumfries was a small contingent from the 10th New York Cavalry. Charging into the village, Butler “found everything and everybody asleep” recalled a South Carolinian. “The wagons were packed in vacant lots with their teams, the teamsters and escort of about twenty-five troopers sound asleep under a large shed, near the principal street.” Butler’s men quickly surrounded their prize and its guards, all without losing a single man.

“We captured 50-odd prisoners, with 1 lieutenant and 24 sutlers’ wagons” Hampton reported. “Of these, I destroyed 2 in the town, as we had no means of bringing them off, and the others we brought away with us.” The Southerners found the wagons loaded down with uniforms and clothing along with “almost every variety of goods, eatables, drinkables [and] confectionaries.” Hampton hoped to continue his march and capture enemy pickets beyond Dumfries but the approach of Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel’s XI Corps forced him to call off the gambit. Around 8 a.m., he began his return march. Hampton’s dogged troopers covered 40 miles and at nightfall encamped at Morrisville. He leisurely reached the south bank of the Rappahannock on the thirteenth.

“I can again speak in the highest terms of the conduct of my officers and men,” Hampton wrote. “They bore the privations and fatigue of the march—three nights in the snow—without complaint, and were always prompt and ready to carry out my orders. The success of the expedition is mainly attributable to this good conduct on their part.” This latest foray not only left Hampton proud of his men, but with a heightened sense of confidence. Within days, he would be back in the saddle once again on another raid.