“Moulded in the form of a spread eagle”: Mosby’s Rangers, the Fourth of July, and a Dispute Over Cake

John S. Mosby

Independence Day in 1864 seemed like it could have been the last such celebration for the United States. The Presidential Election of 1864 loomed four months in the future, and a Lincoln reelection seemed very much in doubt. Jubal Early’s Confederate force neared the Potomac River, poised for a third Confederate incursion into Maryland.

John Singleton Mosby’s Rangers worked in conjunction with Early’s command to wreak as much havoc as possible along the Potomac frontier. Mosby eyed Point of Rocks, Maryland, an important Federal supply hub on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Armed with a cannon, Mosby’s 250 men charged across the river into Maryland on July 4, 1864.

Mosby’s gun scared away an entourage of United States Treasury employees trying to enjoy the holiday aboard a canal boat. The Rangers swooped down on the abandoned prize, ransacking it for the vacated liquor, cigars, and foodstuffs. Following a brief fight, Mosby’s command drove the Federal garrison from Point of Rocks. Immediately, they commenced raiding the numerous supply stores there. Mosby’s men managed to capture so much cloth that the veterans forever called it the Great Calico Raid.

One unexpected prize of the sortie was the spoiling of a large Fourth of July party to be held in town. The Federal officers in command there hoped to celebrate their nation’s independence and had the Unionist ladies of the town prepare a large cake for the American holiday. This cake fell into the hands of Mosby’s Rangers and became a matter of dispute for the Confederates, Federals, and local civilians over the next couple of July weeks.

Mosby man John Marshall Crawford wrote the below description of the cake and its subsequent history. His telling of the tale is tremendously fascinating and well-written. Thus, I will leave it to Crawford to take the story from here.

Sadly, no image of the cake, or any cake ever made like it, exists, so a generic photo of a bald eagle must suffice.

     Passing through the burning camps, the boys, after collecting what relics they wanted, pushed on back to town. Such an exciting and laughable scene few have ever witnessed or enjoyed. They had secured a huge pound-cake, which had been prepared by some ladies, who were to give the officers of the garrison an entertainment that evening.

     The history of the cake is as follows: The officers of the garrison had signified to some of their lady friends their desire and intention of celebrating the Fourth of July in a becoming manner, so their lady friends went to work and prepared a monster cake for the occasion. This cake was moulded in the form of a spread eagle, the mould being made in Boston, and measured twenty-five feet from the tip of its bill to the tip of its tail. It was a complete eagle in all its parts. It had glass eyes, talons, &c., &c., and in the baking of it, which occupied three days and nights, it was burnt (intentionally I presume), so that it looked like a real eagle. But the most remarkable thing about it was, that inside of it there was some machinery that every time one of the boys thrust his sabre into the eagle to cut off a piece, the bird would scream. What their idea was in inserting this instrument into this spreadeagle cake, I have never been able to learn or conceive. I inquired diligently of the residents of the place, but they would give us no satisfaction. Colonel Mosby would have brought it across the river, and sent it to Richmond; but the enemy had destroyed all the boats, so the boys concluded to take it to pieces; which, being done, it was with great difficulty got across the river in the evening by means of a raft. A six-horse team belonging to Mr. S. was pressed into service, the cake put into it, and started for Fauquier County. A guard of five men accompanied the wagon.

     While in camp on Goose Creek, the second night they were out, the guard got drunk on “blockade,” and all of them lay down and went to sleep. The driver being a strong Union man, and having conceived the idea he would be made a hero, if he could save what was left of the great American bird, availed himself of the opportunity, and drove his load in the night to a Mr. _____’s farm, in Loudon County, situated on Goose Creek. Securing four of Mr. _____’s most reliable colored servants, he secreted his precious load in one of those safe places which abound on that stream, and which are known only by those patriotic and loyal colored men, and started back with his team. Sunrise next morning, found him in the bosom of his family, on the banks of the classic Potomac. This Union driver kept the part he had played a profound secret, until General _____, occupied the valley, when he divulged his secret to him. On General _____’s retreat from Washington, a portion of his wagon-train and eight hundred prisoners crossed the Blue Ridge mountains at Ashby’s Gap. This portion of his army was pursued by General Durfea [Duffié], with two thousand five hundred cavalry. After occupying the Gap three days, Durfea fell back to Snickersville, where General Wright was encamped with a division of the Union army. On their march to Wright, they passed by Mr. _____’s house, and found these colored Union citizens, who conducted them to the spot where the treasure was hid, and carried it off with them. But the fates seemed opposed to having the remnants of the bird ever reaching the shores of Maryland again. Notwithstanding its long captivity, it retained signs of life still; and as it approached the soil on which the stars and stripes had never ceased to wave, these symptoms of vitality increased. An escort was sent with it; while crossing the Shenandoah River at Rock Ford, the wagon upset, and the load was precipitated into the river. By an eye-witness of the scene, I was told that it was beyond description. Suffice it to say, the greatest confusion prevailed. Every one wanted his own plan adopted to save the bird, and before any one that the men suggested could be adopted, to their utmost dismay and horror the bird gave on shriek, and then sunk; to rise no more. I never learned whether or not it was recovered; the presumption is that it was not.

Happy Fourth of July!

 

“What Shall Be Done with the Slave?” The 9th Illinois Cavalry and Practical Emancipation

Hiram Franklin Sickles (Dennis C. Schurr Collection)

I am frequently sidetracked when scanning through historic newspapers on a quest for specific information. What can I say, the headlines are still doing their job. Such was the case while digitally flipping through August 1862 issues of the Chicago Tribune. “What shall be done with the slave?” asked the commander of the 8th Illinois Cavalry, stationed at the time near Helena, Arkansas. As I guessed, the officer had already reached an opinion of his own. His letter to the editor is a perfect summary of how many northern soldiers saw emancipation as a means to end the war, regardless of their stance on abolition before 1861.

Hiram Franklin Sickles was born in Otsego, New York in 1818. He attended the Philadelphia Naval Asylum and served in the navy for a decade, working in the Topographical Department and twice circumnavigating the world. Afterward he settled in Moline, Illinois where he operated a flour mill, occasionally practiced law, and dabbled in local politics.

Moline Workman, November 4, 1856

It appears that Sickles did already have anti-slavery sentiments before the war. A Chicago Tribune article from December 15, 1860 stated that he met a St. Louis slave owner while travelling for business during the summer. Their discussion eventually turned to politics, and, after disagreeing, the two placed a bet on the results of the upcoming election–Sickles wagered flour from his mill against one of Eldad N. Whitford’s slaves. Sickles won the bet but promptly freed the slave but upon being summoned to St. Louis to take possession.

Chicago Tribune, December 15, 1860

Sickles’s flour business along the Mississippi River caused him to spend considerable time in New Orleans. A possibly apocryphal story from his 1892 obituary stated that when Louisiana seceded the local authorities confiscated all of Sickles’s property, forcing him to return north “impoverished but full of patriotism.”

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Sickles helped drill new volunteer soldiers. He received a commission as major in the 9th Illinois Cavalry in September 1861 and was promoted lieutenant colonel in February 1862, frequently commanding the regiment. Of personal interest, the 9th Illinois Cavalry contained several companies of soldiers from my hometown of Geneseo. The regiment operated in Arkansas during 1862 as part of Major General Samuel R. Curtis’s Army of the Southwest.

Brigadier General Frederick Steele commanded one of Curtis’s division. He opposed confiscating slaves as “contraband of war” and reminded those around him of the orders of Major General Henry W. Halleck, commanding the department, “prohibiting fugitive slaves and unauthorized persons from coming within the lines.” The regimental historians of the 9th Illinois afterward noted that this directive showed “very clearly the delicate and kid-glove fashion in which at that time the war for the suppression of treason and rebellion was then being conducted.”

That approach began to change in late June when Curtis led an expedition through eastern Arkansas to reach the Mississippi River for resupply. The 9th Illinois participated in the march and suppressed an attack on the wagon train near Village Creek on June 27th. After suffering significant casualties, including the wounding of Colonel Albert G. Brackett, command passed to Sickles. The Army of the Southwest defeated another threat along their route at Cotton Plant on July 7th and safely reached the city of Helena one week later.

Army of the Southwest Expedition through Arkansas, June-July 1862 (map by author)

Their exposure to southern plantations along the way convinced them of the futility of waging a “soft war.” One member of the regiment, who called the march “one of the most arduous and fatiguing of any made during the civil war,” afterward recalled:

The weather was intensely hot, and the road lay through the malaria-breeding swamps and fenlands, where the trailing masses of Spanish moss on the great cypress trees wave like mourning bands over the reeking lands. Everything grows there in the rankest profusion, and the cotton and corn fields are most beautiful, the ground being rich and easily cultivated.

Most of the people residing in this region were strong in their secession feelings, and, being considerable slave-owners, were willing to shed their blood for what they considered right. There were many large plantations where great gangs of slaves were worked successfully, the cultivation being something marvelous.

A lawyer before the war, Curtis did not initially advocate for abolition. He continued to maintain that slaves of loyal citizens were not considered “contraband.” Such privilege did not extend to secessionists, however, and Confederate use of slaves to erect barricades along his route provided rationale to justify confiscation. The issue of emancipation was actively debated at the time in newspapers and in Congress but was not yet settled. Nevertheless, Curtis actively employed the contraband slaves his army encountered in foraging, scouting, guiding, and clearing the barricades along the route.

“Our Western boys were very thankful for their aid, and to it they attribute no inconsiderable share of the success which attended their march,” claimed the Chicago Tribune after an interview with Major William J. Wallis of the 9th Illinois Cavalry. “The Major further states that the prejudices which might have existed in the army against the employment of men of color in any way that they can be made useful, have entirely disappeared; and that soldiers who were the most rantankerous of Democrats when they started from home have become practical Abolitionists, to whom the work of liberation is now a positive delight.”

Of course there was no such unanimity in opinion. Captain Charles S. Cameron believed “a majority of the soldiers cared nothing about the question of slavery, but wished to fight the battles of the Country and let slavery take care of itself.” If Cameron’s statement was true, however, such sentiments were not publicly expressed to the same degree. Any such soldier opposition to emancipation put little damper on the desire of the slave population to seek freedom among the Union column.

Curtis commented to a correspondent with the New York Tribune about the intelligence and initiative of those who tagged along with his command, a testament to the grapevine communication network that undermined plantation owner efforts to keep their slaves ignorant. On July 31st the newspaperman wrote that the general remarked to him “that he was surprised at the intelligence they manifest and their perfect understanding of the causes of Rebellion and of their rights.” Curtis allowed those who came into Union lines at Helena to earn their own money through the sale of cotton seized from their former plantations.

Most estimates suggest that approximately 2,000 slaves reached Curtis’s army through the first week of August. That number steadily grew. For reference sake, the 1860 census listed a black population of 17,660 for the five counties through which Curtis’ expedition marched.

“The presence of the Army of the Southwest sounded the death knell of slavery in Arkansas’s premier agricultural region,” historians William Shea and Earl Hess recently concluded. “Curtis emancipated slaves on a mass scale, ignoring the fact that in mid-1862 he lacked the authority to do any such thing. In towns along the way soldiers commandeered printing presses and produced stacks of emancipation forms. News of what the Federals were doing spread like wildfire, and by the end of the campaign, more than three thousand refugee slaves, ‘freedom papers’ in hand, trailed the dusty blue column en route to an uncertain future.”

Chicago Tribune, August 15, 1862

Lieutenant Colonel Sickles saw complete emancipation throughout the Confederacy as the best possible future. On July 30th he wrote a letter to the Chicago Tribune that appeared in print on August 15th.

It has become a subject of much interest to nearly all army officers in the field, what is to be done with the slaves of rebel owners? I think a large majority of both officers and men were, on entering the field, decidedly opposed to any policy, either civil or military, that would effect the “status” of the slave, in any of the States where the “institution” is legalized by proper local enactments. But a wonderful change has come over the entire surface of affairs, teaching us, through bitter experience that such doctrines are entirely incompatible with the successful prosecution of this war, on the part of the federal government or others in authority.

My own experience, as well as that of hundreds of other officers of the army of the Southwest, furnish to us the most unmistakable evidence that this rebellion cannot be conquered while this element of power is left to the disloyal slaveholder–and nearly all slave owners are disloyal. The sacredness which seems to surround this class of property in the South, gives to the enemy a tower of strength. We find that while the slave owners are in thousands of instances actually connected with the rebel army–guerrilla bands, or otherwise aiding and encouraging the common enemy of the United State government, the slave population is actively employed (under protection of our own troops) in carrying forward the different branches of material industry throughout the slaveholding States. Indeed, nearly all of the labor which gives to the south its important strength, is derived from this class of property, which seems to have had the benediction of all our prayers.

I have been taught, like many others, that where the slave has been unmolested in his labors, under direction of his owner or overseer, there we find nearly every white male inhabitant of suitable age absent from home, either in the rebel army or “bushwhacking.” Not only this, but the poor whites who are not able to own slaves, are furnished with labor to till their little patches of ground from the slave population, while they themselves are in the service of the enemies of our country.

In this way, our government is rending the most essential service to the South, in protecting and reserving a power to her, which she cannot find in any other direction. The negro is also employed in building fortifications for the enemy–constructing barricades and entrenchments, and in some instances have had arms put into their hands to use against our troops.

With these facts coming within the range of the knowledge and experience of nearly every officer in active service in the seceded States, I have no hesitation in saying, and of holding myself responsible for the truthfulness of the declaration, that, with all the energies at command of this government, this rebellion will likely to continue until either terms of peace are arranged between the contending parties, or that this important element of power, now reserved to the South by the military and civic authorities of the United States government, shall be weakened to such an extent that the slave shall no longer remain the bone and sinew, the entrenchment and stronghold of his rebellious master.

The changing attitude of the 9th Illinois Cavalry was but one of many similar experiences among Union forces throughout the south. President Abraham Lincoln’s preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was only a month away.

Unfortunately, as is often the case in history, the story of the contrabands at Helena cannot be neatly wrapped up with that happy ending. Curtis left the Army of the Southwest in late August to take command of the Department of Missouri. General Steele therefore replaced him as army commander at Helena and soon reversed many of Curtis’s policies, particularly in regard to the slaves who thought they had found liberation within the Union army. Steele went so far as to actively encourage regional plantation owners to journey to Helena for the recovery of their slaves. By the formal signing of the Proclamation on January 1, 1862, however, Steele had moved on as well.

Rock Island Argus and Daily Union, August 14, 1862

While researching Sickles, I found as a bonus another of his published letters. This one was addressed to the editor of a local paper, the Rock Island Argus and Daily Union.

Camp, near Helena, Ark., Aug. 5th, 1862.

J.B. Danforth, Jr.: I regret to learn that there yet remains in the loyal states some people, who assume to believe that intervention on the part of the federal government with reference to private property in the seceded states is unwise and impolitic, especially where the question relates to negro slaves. They seek to fortify their logic upon the unconstitutionality of such a measure. If it were not true that treason and rebellion are equally unconstitutional, then the correctness of this reasoning would be readily conceded.

It must admitted that as a mere technical proposition such conclusions are correct. But when the destiny of a great nation hangs upon the variation of a fundamental law, and its very existence is depending upon its reasonable infraction, then I think there are none who have the love of country in their hearts who will doubt the wisdom of such a measure. These nice distinctions, which gave to the politician the ground-work of his faith at a time when peace and prosperity were enjoyed by every citizen of this great commonwealth, can hardly hold their empire when the most crushing accumulation of disaster and ruin balancing in the scale, and ready to fall upon our unhappy country.

I know, from my own experience as a federal army officer, in active service in some of the seceded states, that the policy hitherto pursued and yet insisted upon by the tender footed demagogues, has placed in the hands of the enemy of our country a goodly portion of their material resources to prosecute this unholy war against us. As startling as this declaration may seem, it is nevertheless true, as I think I shall be able to prove.

Those who are familiar with the institutions of the south, and the organization of its society, will admit that the principal element of its material industry, consists in its slave population. This tower of strength still left to the undisturbed control of this refractory and rebellious people, and protected by the fostering care of our beneficial government, with all the omnipotent energies of its military and civic powers, how thankful ought these traitors to be that while they trample upon constitutions, and hurl defiance in our teeth, they still deal with a government that has such yearning solicitude and consideration for their wellfare.

The owners of negroes, in a majority of cases, so far as my observation extends, and I think it generally true, are directly or indirectly connected with the Confederate army in some way, either as officers, furnishers of supplies, or otherwise aiding and abetting this rebellion. The slave population is left at home, with the benediction of “political hacks” pronounced upon it, that this servile labor may continue to build fortifications and entrenchments for our enemies, construct barricades, and above all, to fill their grainaries from the abundant harvest,–the result of slave labor protected by us. There is but little cotton permitted to be raised in any of the slave states. This prohibition is by order of the rebel government. But all tillable land is to be employed in raising corn, wheat, oats, potatoes, and anything that will subsist its armies; and, again, the poorer class of white people who are not able to own slaves, are furnished by their more opulent neighbors with slaves to till their little patches of ground for the support of their families, while all the men of suitable age are fighting against us. These are facts, and I hold myself responsible for the truthfulness of the declaration.

You may as well undertake to reverse the current of the Mississippi with a clam shell as to bring this rebellion to a speedy and successful close, without humiliating compromises, unless we first cripple and weaken this great element of rebel power. At present I have no politics, and recite these facts for the benefit of my northern friends, who take a south-side view, only, of these questions.

Respectfully yours,

H.F. Sickles. Lt. Col. 9th Ill. Cavalry.

 

Sources:

“Moline Mills.” Moline Workman, November 4, 1856.

“A Wager.” Chicago Tribune, December 15, 1860.

“From Curtis’ Column.” Chicago Tribune, July 22, 1862.

Sickles, H.F. to “Messrs. Editors,” July 30, 1862. “What Shall Be Done With the Slave? A Letter from Lieut. Col. Sickles, 9th Illinois Cavalry.” Chicago Tribune, August 15, 1862.

Guilbert to editor, July 31, 1862. “Interesting from Curtis’s Army.” New York Tribune, August 6, 1862.

Sickles, H.F. to J.B. Danforth, Jr., August 5, 1862. “Letter from Lt. Col. Sickles.” Rock Island Argus and Daily Union, August 14, 1862.

Browning, Orville H. Diary, October 14, 1862. Theodore C. Pease and James G. Randall, eds. The Diary of Orville Hickman Browning, Volume 1, 1850-1864. Springfield: Illinois State Historical Librabry, 1925.

“A Famous March: Fighting Our Way Through Arkansas.” Chicago Times, August 7, 1886.

Davenport, Edward A., ed. History of the Ninth Regiment Illinois Cavalry Volunteers. Chicago, IL: Donohue & Henneberry, 1888.

“Mustered Out.” National Tribune, July 21, 1892.

Hess, Earl J. “Confiscation and the Northern War Effort: The Army of the Southwest at Helena.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Volume 44, Number 1 (Spring, 1985).

Shea, William L. and Earl J. Hess. Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2011.

Teters, Kristopher A. Practical Liberators: Union Officers in the Western Theater during the Civil War. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2018.

http://www.us9cavalry.com/history.html

I Am Proud To Be Associated With Such Brave Men: Wesley Merritt, the 2nd U.S. Cavalry and the Brandy Station

Wesley Merritt as a general officer

Introduction to a series

One of the things I enjoy the most as a historian is the process. Searching for the pieces and putting the puzzle together through constant analysis, discussion and refinement. Interpretation can turn on a dime. It can seem like a chase that will never end.

Recently, through the efforts of an ECW colleague on the West Coast, I was able to procure a copy of Capt. Wesley Merritt’s report of the Battle of Brandy Station. At the time, Merritt commanded the 2nd U.S. Cavalry in Maj. Charles Whiting’s Reserve Brigade. It was an incredible surprise to see the file when I opened it in Dropbox.

Merritt’s report was not included in the volumes of the Official Records compiled in the post-bellum years. The document was written one day after the battle, on June 10, 1863, which means that Merritt’s memory was exceptionally fresh. Upon examination, the details in the report are fairly consistent with the Recollections Merritt provided to Theophilus Rodenbaugh for inclusion in From Everglade to Canyon, the Second’s regimental history. Most importantly it provides insight on a pivotal engagement that took place 155 years ago. Using the report, this series will trace Merritt and the 2nd U.S. through the course of the battle. Unless indicated, all quotations from Merritt are from his official report.

The fourth child in the marriage of John Willis Merritt and Julia Anne de Forest, Wesley Merritt was born in New York City on June 16, 1836. A lawyer affected by financial issues, John moved his family to Lebanon, Illinois in 1840 to take up farming. He eventually became a newspaper editor in the village of Salem. Young Wesley initially prepared to follow in his father’s first profession, however in 1855 he received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He finished twenty second in a class of forty-one cadets in 1860. Upon graduation, Merritt was assigned to the 2nd U.S. Dragoons in Utah. From July 1, 1861 to January 1, 1862, Merritt served as the regiment’s Adjutant. In February, 1862, he became an aide-de-camp to Brig. Gen. Philip St. George Cooke. Promoted to Captain on April 5, 1862, Merritt fought in the Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days’ battles. That fall Merritt was assigned to the defenses of Washington. On April 1, 1863, Merritt accepted the position of Ordnance Officer on the staff of Brig. Gen. George Stoneman, the commander of the Army of the Potomac’s cavalry corps. When Stoneman took a leave of absence shortly after the end of the Chancellorsville Campaign, Merritt briefly joined the staff of his successor, Brig. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton. Growing tired of administrative work, Merritt longed to be back in the saddle with his troopers. He returned to the 2nd U.S. Cavalry on June 1.

Formed in the spring of 1836, the 2nd U.S. Dragoons served in Florida, Mexico and on the Great Plains in the ante-bellum years. During the Mexican War at Resaca de la Palma on May 9, 1846, Capt. Charles May’s squadron assaulted an enemy artillery position. Before the assault, May famously implored his men to “remember your regiment and follow your officers.” The subsequent attack captured several batteries and a Mexican general. On August 3, 1861, Congress reorganized the mounted regiments of the United States Army. The 2nd Dragoons became the 2nd U.S. Cavalry. As the senior officer present, Merritt assumed command. He would not have to wait long until he led his men into action.

Shortly after his victory at Chancellorsville, Gen. Robert E. Lee ordered Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart to consolidate his cavalry in Culpeper County, west of Fredericksburg. This concentration was soon discovered by the Union horsemen. Concerned that Stuart was about to turn his right flank and launch a raid toward Washington, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, the commander of the Army of the Potomac, ordered Pleasonton to launch an expedition to destroy Stuart’s force.

On the evening of June 8, Merritt’s regiment, along with the 1st U.S. Cavalry, 5th U.S. Cavalry, 6th U.S. Cavalry and 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, which made up the Reserve Brigade in Brig. Gen. John Buford’s Right Wing, bedded down opposite Beverly Ford on the north bank of the Rappahannock. Pleasonton planned to send Buford over the river early the following morning and head for a nearby stop on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, Brandy Station. There Buford was to rendezvous with Brig. Gen. David M. Gregg’s division, which was to cross the Rappahannock several miles downstream at Kelly’s Ford. With Col. Alfred Duffié’s division covering their left, Buford and Gregg were to move on to Culpeper and engage Stuart. The next day, Merritt would lead his Regulars into battle.

 

 

J.E.B. Stuart and the Question of Corps Command

JEB Stuart

In the days after his victory in the Chancellorsville Campaign, Gen. Robert E. Lee faced a number of critical decisions, among them the reorganization of his Army of Northern Virginia. The death of Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson on May 10, 1863 had left a void at corps command. There were a number of officers, including Maj. Gens. Richard Ewell, Ambrose Powell Hill and Richard Anderson in the running to replace Jackson. Another name which may have been the most intriguing was the commander of Lee’s cavalry division, Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart. Over the course of the last month or so, I’ve been trying to locate primary evidence regarding Stuart’s consideration for corps command. The search is far from over, in fact in may never be over, but I wanted to share what I have found so far and offer my thoughts on the matter. I also invite our readers to share any primary sources on the subject for additional research.

When Jackson fell victim to friendly fire on the night of May 2 at Chancellorsville, command of his Second Corps eventually fell to Stuart. The cavalry chief turned in a splendid performance the following day and his efforts eventually led to a Confederate victory. Stuart returned to command of the mounted division on May 6. Following Jackson’s death on May 10, rumors regarding his replacement began to circulate through the Confederate ranks.

Stuart’s own headquarters was not immune to such innuendo. Captain John Esten Cooke, a relative of Stuart’s wife, Flora, and member of his staff recorded in his journal a brief discussion he had with the gray cavalier. According to Cooke, Stuart related a story told to him by Col. Thomas L. Rosser, the commander of the 5th Virginia Cavalry, “that Jackson on his death bed had expressed a desire that he…should succeed him in the command of his corps.” Stuart then told Cooke that he “would rather know that Jackson said that, than have the appointment.”

Interestingly enough, Rosser  did not visit Jackson during the final six days of his life. Additionally, the statement from Jackson has not been corroborated by those who were with him as he passed away his last hours in Thomas Chandler’s plantation office near Guinea Station. That isn’t to say those that were closest to Jackson were not impressed by Stuart’s performance. Jackson’s cartographer, Jedediah Hotckiss, praised Stuart for his actions at Chancellorsville in a letter to his wife written on May 19. Hotchkiss, however, does not mention the potential of Stuart taking over Jackson’s corps. Stuart also mentioned the camp rumors in a letter to Flora. “There has been a great deal of talk of my succeeding General Jackson,” he wrote, “but I think without foundation in fact.”

On May 20, Lee wrote to President Jefferson Davis to propose a reorganization of his army. This restructure revolved around the creation of a third corps. Stuart’s name is not mentioned either as a replacement for Jackson or as a new corps commander. It does appears from a letter written by Lee to Stuart on May 23 that Stuart offered his thoughts on who should succeed Jackson.

That’s not to say Stuart did not covet a third star and a promotion to Lieutenant General, a grade synonymous with corps command in Lee’s army. Stuart stood fourth on the seniority list of Major Generals behind Ewell (January 24, 1862) Hill (May 26, 1862) and Anderson (July 14, 1862). Such a promotion, vaulting Stuart over three other officers, could create discontent and friction within the army. Lee was in the midst of planning his second Northern invasion where cooperation and cohesion among his subordinates would be critical to the operation’s success.

Still, rumors regarding Stuart’s consideration for command persisted. It appears one of the chief purveyors was Brig. Gen. William Dorsey Pender, a brigade commander in Hill’s division. “I hear that Gen’l Jackson is thought to be in very serious condition”, he wrote to his wife, Fanny, on May 9. “He has pneumonia…he will be a great loss to the country  and it is devoutly hoped that he may be spared to the country. Some think in his absence Stuart will be made Lt. General, but I hope not.” In another letter two weeks later, Pender wrote, “it is rumored that Stuart has tendered his resignation because they will not give him this corps, but I cannot think him so foolish.”

Stuart’s elevation to the corps level had the potential to upset Pender’s own rise within the army. Pender’s direct superior, A.P. Hill, was Jackson’s senior division commander and stood to receive the Second Corps. If Stuart were given Jackson’s corps, Hill would remain at the division level. On the other hand, Hill’s elevation would create a vacancy for his division. Pender,  stood second on the seniority list among Hill’s brigadiers behind Henry Heth. It should be noted that Pender shared his appointment with fellow brigade head James Archer. Heth, however, presented problems of his own.

“If A.P. Hill is promoted, a major general will be wanted for his division,” Lee wrote  in the aforementioned letter to Davis. “Heth is the senior brigadier in the division. I think him a good officer. He has lately joined this army, was in the last battle, and did well. His nomination having been once declined by the Senate, I do not know whether it would be proper to promote him.” In the subsequent reorganization, both Heth and Pender were promoted to Major General and received a divisional command.

But at end of the day, the discussion may be a moot point. In August, 1863, Lee recommended that Stuart’s cavalry be restructured as a corps. Davis approved the measure and Stuart finally received his corps command in September. It should be noted that Stuart was not promoted to Lieutenant General upon the reorganization, which might be worth looking into at some point as well.

All things considered, there appears to be little evidence that Stuart was a major contender for an infantry corps after Chancellorsville. Still, the search goes on and the process continues.

Victory for Virginia Preservation Organizations and Civil War Trust

VIRGINIA PRESERVATION ORGANIZATIONS AND CIVIL WAR TRUST
SAVE UNIQUE CIVIL WAR SITE IN CULPEPER COUNTY

Foundation, state agency and national nonprofit work together to protect Hansbrough’s Ridge, an unparalleled historic and natural treasure in Virginia’s picturesque Piedmont region

(Brandy Station, Va.) – The Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources join the Civil War Trust today in announcing the preservation of a lofty, scenic ridge where 800 Confederate soldiers barred a Union cavalry division from the main fight at Brandy Station, the opening battle of the Civil War’s Gettysburg Campaign.

The 400-foot-high, mile-long ridge in Culpeper County, Virginia, whose profile one soldier said resembles “a giant sleeping,” sheltered more than 10,000 Union troops for five months during the winter of 1863-1864, before they began the war’s shocking, fiery Wilderness Campaign. It was part of the Union Army of the Potomac’s 120,000-soldier winter encampment, which dominated Culpeper County; Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia camped across the Rapidan River in Orange County.

The two organizations’ announcement culminates nearly two years of fundraising and decades of preservation activism for the 174-acre site, which historians say is unique in its landscape, significance and quality.

VOF, a public foundation, and the Virginia Board of Historic Resources accepted two conservation easements to forever protect the ridge east of the historic village of Stevensburg.  The property stretches from State Route 3 north to near Cole’s Hill, which is privately owned. The Foundation will hold one easement. The Board will hold the other, administered by staff at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

“We are proud to have helped save this rare place, which was both a pivotal battleground and a secure refuge where thousands of soldiers recuperated from the trials of the war’s Mine Run, Gettysburg, Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg campaigns,” Civil War Trust President James Lighthizer said. “There is nothing comparable to it anywhere in the nation. The site remains nearly as it was when the Yankees broke camp and marched east to cross the Rapidan River and battle Lee’s Confederates.”

VOF contributed $250,000 to help preserve the property, a $900,000 acquisition also funded by a $450,000 grant from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program, a $150,000 noncash donation by the seller, and $50,000 in contributions by Trust members and private donors.

“Our easement not only protects this landmark from development, but also creates permanent public access for future generations to be able to visit and learn from the property,” VOF Executive Director Brett Glymph said.

“The Virginia Department of Historic Resources is pleased to partner with VOF in ensuring the perpetual preservation of this site so that it can be protected and interpreted for current and future Virginians and visitors to the state,” said Julie V. Langan, the department’s director.

Members of the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment pose in their camp, with horse saddles and newly built winter huts, in February 1864 on Hansbrough’s Ridge east of Stevensburg in Culpeper County, Virginia. That month, Union Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick led the 3rd Cavalry Division—which included the 18th Regiment—on the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid of Richmond, a controversial and ill-fated attempt to rescue Union prisoners of war. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The ridge was home not only to infantry and cavalry troops but also to soldiers’ visiting family members and large hospitals where doctors, nurses and volunteers treated sick and wounded men. Their many letters paint vivid pictures of daily life in camp. But one example, written by Pvt. George Storrs Youngs of Waterloo, N.Y., describes what they saw.

“The view from our camp is magnificent,” Youngs, with the 126th New York Infantry Regiment, wrote his sister Louisa on Jan. 1, 1864. “We are on the top of an exceeding high hill from whence we can look down upon the canvas cities of the Army of the Potomac on almost every side. Off to the west, nestling among the hills, the city of Culpepper can be seen—its bright spires looking still brighter against the dark background of the Blue Ridge whose towering peaks and cliffs are now covered with snow.”

The site’s importance was recognized in 1991 when the Department of Historic Resources listed the Hansborough Ridge Winter Encampment District on the Virginia Landmarks Register, making it eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It was later incorporated into the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area, a federally-designated 175-mile corridor that interprets and conserves nationally significant historic sites in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

“As a Civil War site, Hansbrough’s Ridge is unique,” Lighthizer said. “It offers commanding views of the landscape in all directions, which made it the Confederate defensive line and the scene of hard fighting in the Battle of Brandy Station’s Stevensburg phase.”

Developers saw a chance to market the ridge’s views in 2015, when they bought the property, intent on subdividing it into residential lots. Reacting quickly, the Trust negotiated the land’s purchase before development occurred. A noncash donation from the landowner put the purchase price within reach.

The ridge’s conservation easements complement the preservation of other Civil War battlefield sites in Culpeper County.

Ultimately, an alliance of officials, conservationists and local residents aim to incorporate already-saved acres on the Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain battlefields into a new state park that enhances their tourism, recreational and educational potential. The Virginia General Assembly is considering legislation that would direct the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation to study the suitability of preserved properties at these two battlefields for inclusion in the state park system.

The sweeping views and soldiers’ stories from Hansbrough’s Ridge will add different perspectives unequaled at other Mid-Atlantic historic sites. “From the top of the ridge, people will be able to read about the events of that period and survey the terrain as the soldiers did,” Lighthizer said. “It will be an amazing way to understand the history of this place.”

The Virginia Outdoors Foundation protects more than 800,000 acres in 107 counties and cities. A public foundation created by the General Assembly in 1966, VOF leads the commonwealth in land conservation.

The Department of Historic Resources encourages and supports the stewardship and use of Virginia’s significant architectural, archaeological and historic resources as valuable assets for the economic, educational, social and cultural benefit of citizens and communities. It administers interwoven and interdependent state and federal programs aimed at identifying, evaluating, recognizing and preserving Virginia’s rich historic heritage.

The Civil War Trust is a national nonprofit land preservation organization devoted to the protection of America’s hallowed battlegrounds. It preserves the battlefields of the Civil War, the Revolutionary War and War of 1812, and educates the public about their importance in forging the nation we are today. To date, the Trust has preserved more than 48,000 acres of battlefield land in 24 states.  Learn more at Civilwar.org.

Race Outta Richmond: Meadow Bridge Battle Map

This past weekend I tried following the path of the Union cavalry raid on Richmond during the Overland Campaign. I forgot that the Richmond Raceway was hosting the Toyota Owners 400 Nascar race and found myself stuck in traffic on Meadow Bridge Road for quite awhile. The Union troopers found themselves similarly penned in on May 12, 1864, but managed to break out of the trap set for them in between the Chickahominy River and the Richmond defenses.

At the early stage of the fighting at Spotsylvania, Phil Sheridan took his cavalry on a raid toward Richmond and its railroad connections. On May 11th, the Union troopers defeated their Confederate counterparts at Yellow Tavern. Private John A. Huff mortally wounded Jeb Stuart in the latter stages of that battle. Overnight, Sheridan continued south on the Brook Turnpike toward the Richmond defenses. The troopers easily overran the thinly held outer line of earthworks near Emanuel Church. Despite the temptation of continuing toward the capital, Sheridan wisely chose not to test the intermediate line the next morning. He attempted to skirt in between the Chickahominy River and the intermediate defenses to reach a safe rendezvous on the James River but found that route blocked near the Mechanicsville Turnpike.

James Gordon’s North Carolina cavalry brigade followed Sheridan down the Brook Turnpike and attacked David Gregg’s rear guard from the west. Two Confederate infantry brigades plus an assortment of local defense troops meanwhile ventured forward from the intermediate line to lend their support. Gregg and James Wilson’s divisions kept these attacks at bay but Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry meanwhile attempted to block Sheridan’s only exit at Meadow Bridge on the Chickahominy River. The Virginia Central Railroad paralleled the road and also crossed the swampy Chickahominy near its confluence with Brook Run.

George Custer’s brigade successfully forced their way across and repaired the destroyed bridge. This allowed the rest of the cavalry to safely continue their journey outside Richmond’s network of defenses. This earlier post by Dan Davis discusses the fighting at Meadow Bridge on May 12th that allowed Sheridan’s expedition to continue onward to the James.

The impact of Sheridan’s raid is still debated. Though the Union cavalry were tactically victorious at both Yellow Tavern and Meadow Bridge, they did not necessarily achieve their strategic goals. It perhaps was a morale booster for the north, due to Jeb Stuart’s mortal wounding at Yellow Tavern and the ability of the Union cavalry to match up against their Confederate counterparts. Riding within three miles of downtown Richmond only to have to scamper away may have had the opposite effect. The lack of cavalry around Spotsylvania certainly limited Union opportunity during that phase of the Overland Campaign.

Most of the Meadow Bridge battlefield is now developed. The raceway is located on the position of Wilson’s division. Several portions of the outer line of Confederate earthworks are preserved and interpreted, notably near the Mechanicsville Turnpike and Emanuel Church. Modern-day Laburnum Road roughly follows the Confederate intermediate defenses. The battle is featured on a Civil War Trails wayside exhibit near the modern Meadowbridge Road river crossing.