A Leg of Stuart’s Ride: The Clash at Linney’s Corner and Death of William Latané

A Freeman Marker related to Stuart’s Ride Around McClellan south of Haw’s Shop along Totopotomoy Creek

After speaking at the old Museum of the Confederacy on Friday afternoon, I spent this past weekend with family in Richmond. Clear skies and temperatures in the 70s gave way to cold rain Saturday and snow that evening (there was a coating  on my truck Sunday morning). Despite the weather, I did take an opportunity to get out and do a little battlefield tramping, or driving. While I did not have time to follow Stuart’s Ride Around McClellan in its entirety, I focused on the area south of Haw’s Shop which witnessed the only major fighting during the expedition and the birth of a Southern myth.

On June 13, 1862, a day after Brig. Gen. James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart left the outer defenses of Richmond on his famous ride, a squadron from Col. William Henry Fitzhugh “Rooney” Lee’s 9th Virginia Cavalry clashed with elements from the 5th U.S. Cavalry under Lt. Edward Leib. The commander of the 5th U.S., Capt. William Royall had dispatched Leib from the regiment’s camp at Old Church to picket the roads and watch for enemy activity in the direction of Hanover Court House.

Leib reached the outskirts of Hanover Court House that morning and observed Stuart’s column. He immediately sent a courier back to Royall for orders and withdrew to Haw’s Shop. Royall subsequently directed Leib to return to camp. The Federals had not gone far when some of Leib’s pickets warned of Confederates passing through Haw’s Shop. Leib immediately formed his men south of the road and dispatched a contingent under Lt. William McLean to the south bank of Totopotomoy Creek.

Lt. William Robins’s squadron from the 9th Virginia led Stuart’s advance. Initially stopped by Leib’s troopers, Capt. Samuel Swann’s squadron came to Robins’ aid and managed to push the 5th U.S. back across the stream.

Leib and McLean reformed their men on high ground near Linney’s Corner. Joined by Royall, they awaited the inevitable Confederate advance. Reaching the front, Stuart ordered Capt. William Latané’s squadron of 9th Virginia forward. The ensuing charge broke Royall’s line, leaving the Union captain wounded and Latané dead, struck in the chest by four bullets.

This historical marker stands along the ridge near the area where 5th U.S. Cavalry reformed after being driven across Totopotomoy Creek

Latané, a native Virginian, was born on January 16, 1833. In the fall of 1851, he entered the University of Virginia to study medicine, however, he eventually transferred to Richmond Medical College and graduated in 1853. At the outbreak of the war, Latané was elected third lieutenant in the Essex Light Dragoons, which eventually became Company F of the 9th Virginia Cavalry. Earlier that spring, Latané was elected the company’s captain.

When the smoke and dust had settled around Linney’s Corner, Latané’s body was taken by his brother John to Westwood, the home of Dr. William Brockenbrough. With her husband serving in the Confederate army, Dr. Brockenbrough’s wife, Catherine directed John to the home of her niece, Summer Hill. There, Latané was interred and remains in the family cemetery. A Freeman Marker, along with a headstone stand at Latané’s final resting place. The cemetery, however, is inaccessible to the public and Summer Hill is a private residence. Please respect owners’ rights.

Summer Hill

Latané’s death and burial soon became part of Confederate and Lost Cause lore. John R. Thompson penned a poem about the event which appeared in the July-August issue of Southern Literary Messenger. Late in 1864, Richmond artist William Washington had locals and members of Mrs. James West Pegram’s School for girls model for The Burial of Latané. After the war, The Southern Magazine distributed a copy of work to each yearly subscriber. “By pen and brush”, reflected William Campbell, a member of  Latané’s old Company F, his former commander was “enshrined…in the hearts of the people of our Southland that it will endure as long as men are admired for devotion to duty and and for risking their lives upon the perilous edge of battle in defense of homes and country.”

From the ECW Archives: Queen of Delphine, Part II

Lillias Nichols

(Continuing the story from Part I of Lillias Nichols as prisoner of war and her captors aboard the CSS Shenandoah.)

New Year’s Day 1865 continued clear and balmy. All sails were set with just enough breeze to fill them, the first really fine weather they had experienced since entering the Indian Ocean.

Mrs. Nichols’s canaries sang delightfully all day. New Year’s dinner in the wardroom included two splendid hams adorned with Confederate flags.

It seemed a pity to cut them, wrote Lieutenant Chew, “however, looking at them was not sufficient for the voracious appetites of some of my messmates.” Hopes for the future were tempered by thoughts of home. “What a waste of waters between me and the shores of my country!”[i]

They had a nice dinner, noted Lieutenant Whittle. “This is a day upon which all persons however separated think of their absent dear ones more than on any other. Oh! How my heart feels for my dear ones.” He invoked God’s blessing and wished for a better and happier new year. “My constant prayer is that a merciful God will guard, protect and cherish our dear country. That he will open the eyes of our enemies to the cruelty of the war they are waging against us and that he may teach them that they are wrong.”[ii]

With the dawn, the near-barren volcanic island of St. Paul rose above the horizon. Masters Mate Hunt claimed to have observed Mrs. Nichols in some distress over the prospect of being marooned there, and to have comforted her. (Hunt had a tendency to embellish his memoirs.)

She told him of stories in the Northern press describing outrages committed upon defenseless men and women by Rebel cruisers, and produced a sample from an illustrated New York publication. The article compared the men of the infamous CSS Alabama with dastardly pirates and renegades, but was, according to Hunt, full of blunders and absurdities that provided amusement in the wardroom for days.[iii]

They dropped anchor at the southern end of the island while eight officers rowed to the beach for a day of exploration and fishing, returning in the evening loaded with fish and in the best of spirits. But they paid dearly, recalled Hunt, with bright sunburns and hands blistered at the oars.

They had hoped to capture a seal or two but failing this, found a penguin and, “brought his aquatic fowlship off in triumph.” The penguin had the bray of an ass, was covered by gray down, and walked with military erectness. Someone pinned a rag around its neck resembling a shawl like an old lady, which amused them all, including Mrs. Nichols. Waddell shaped course for Cape Leeuwin at the southwestern tip of Australia.[iv]

CSS Shenandoah

The men (and woman) of Shenandoah settled into underway routine for the next three weeks with everyone anxious to get ashore. Friday, January 6, 1865, was Surgeon Lining’s thirty-first birthday. He enjoyed conversing with Mrs. Nichols and viewing her family photographs, but Captain Nichols got jealous and came poking around whenever the doctor was with her. “The fool and ass…. I shall now go on talking to her to plague him, if nothing else.”

Nichols frequently walked the quarterdeck with his wife, a privilege extended to no other prisoners. According to Hunt, “the old fellow made himself so continually and unmitigatedly disagreeable that our officers perforce avoided him.” They were as anxious to be rid of him as he was to be elsewhere.[v]

Lieutenant Chew noted the crossing of the meridian exactly opposite his home on the globe and was amazed to find himself in such a far off place. He calculated that Melbourne, Australia, and Lexington, Missouri were distant from each other by the Cape of Good Hope 238 degrees of longitude, equal to 12,600 miles.

They had enjoyed summer and fall in Europe and now in the southern hemisphere were having summer over again. “I suppose by the coming of the winter months, we will have [re-]crossed the line, thus having continual summer.”[vi]

Lieutenant William Whittle reported an uncomfortable encounter with Mrs. Nichols one morning in the wardroom:

“Well Mr. Whittle, I trust that we may soon have peace,” she said, a sentiment to which he concurred.

“Do you think we can ever be friends?”

“No Madam, never,” he responded.

“But Mr. Whittle, if after the peace was made you were to meet me, would you speak to me?”

“Certainly, Madam, I would speak at any time to a female.”

“But would you not speak to my husband?”

“I might do so as he has never served against us.”

The lady expressed admiration for the Confederate Navy uniform cap and asked if she could have one. Whittle felt bound as a gentleman to acquiesce; he could say no to men but not to a woman. But they were Yankees, and their motives could only be mercenary. Whittle had no doubt she would hand the cap, if provided, over to her husband and he would sell it.

He thought no woman with so little delicacy as to place a gentleman in such a fix should expect him to comply, “and on this principle I will let the cap alone.” Mrs. Nichols apparently developed a grudging fondness for some of the officers, but never took to the somewhat stuffy Virginian. She undoubtedly enjoyed teasing him.[vii]

Shenandoah in Hobson’s Bay, February 1865 (State Library of Victoria, Melbourne)

A new parole form was prepared for signature by the prisoners before release upon arrival in Melbourne, in which they promised not to serve against the Confederacy, and not to provide information tending to the detriment of the Shenandoah. Captain Nichols signed the form without protest, but not his wife.

Dr. Charles Lining

“She let loose with her tongue, pitching directly into her husband for telling her to sign it & say nothing,” reported Lining. The lady would not feel bound by parole given under duress and would pass on whatever information she pleased (which she subsequently did to the U.S. Consul in Melbourne).

After signing the document, Mrs. Nichols turned to Lieutenant Lee and pointedly inquired: “Is there anything you want [my son] Phiny to sign?” Lee replied: “No, Madame, we are much more afraid of you than we are of him.” Dr. Lining: “She went out in a towering rage. Not to get the vials of her wrath poured out on me, I kept quiet.”[viii]

On the morning after arrival, Captain Waddell was awakened by voices in the adjoining cabin. Mrs. Nichols was preparing for departure and loudly demanding restitution of every book taken from her ship Delphine. All were returned except Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which Lieutenant Whittle threw overboard.

The lady thanked them for their kindness, declaring she liked all the officers except Doctor Lining and Lieutenant Whittle. “I thought I was a kind of chicken of hers,” concluded the embarrassed lieutenant, “anyhow I was very kind to her.” The Nichols family loaded their luggage into boats and shoved clear of Shenandoah. Her parting shot: “I wish that steamer may be burned.”[ix]

(Extracted from A Confederate Biography: The Cruise of the CSS Shenandoah (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2015) by Dwight Sturtevant Hughes)

[i] Francis Thornton Chew, “Reminiscences and Journal of Francis Thornton Chew, Lieutenant, C.S.N.,” Chew Papers #148, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina Library (not paginated), 1 January 1865.

[ii] William C. Whittle, Jr., The Voyage of the CSS Shenandoah: A Memorable Cruise (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2005), 99.

[iii] Cornelius E. Hunt, The Shenandoah; Or, The Last Confederate Cruiser (New York: G.W. Carelton, 1867), 87-89.

[iv] Ibid., 84-86.

[v] Charles E. Lining, Journal, Eleanor S. Brokenbrough Library, Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, VA. (not paginated), 6 January 1865; Hunt, Shenandoah, 91.

[vi] Chew, “Reminiscences and Journal,” 12 January 1865.

[vii] Whittle, Voyage, 105-06.

[viii] Lining, Journal, 23 January 1865.

[ix] Whittle, Voyage, 106; James I. Waddell, “Extracts from notes on the C.S.S. Shenandoah by her commander, James Iredell Waddell, C.S. Navy,” in The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1896), 1, 3:809.

From the ECW Archives: Queen of the Delphine, Part I

Lilias Nichols

A warship at sea was an exclusively male domain and sailors were a superstitious lot. Having a woman on board was unlucky as well as a confounded nuisance.

In December 1864, one New England lady found herself a prisoner of war in the Indian Ocean—about as far from familiar battlefields as it is possible to be.

Her captors, Southern gentlemen all, were befuddled by an enemy female in their midst. She, like so many courageous, strong-willed women on both sides in the Civil War, fought back.  This is their story.

The CSS Shenandoah was enjoying fine weather and fresh breezes, skipping along close hauled on the starboard tack when a cry of “Sail ho!” interrupted the monotony of sea life. The Confederate banner ran aloft; the signal gun barked, and the stranger hove to for inspection.

Captain James I. Waddell. Naval History and Heritage Command.

James I. Waddell (Naval History and Heritage Command)

Under command of Captain James I. Waddell, a North Carolinian, Shenandoah was on her way to Melbourne, eventually to the Bering Straits, and on around the globe flying the last Confederate banner. She had destroyed seven Yankee vessels on the trip down the Atlantic, and would take thirty more—most of them weeks after Appomattox.

Sailing Master Irving S. Bulloch, a son of Georgia, rowed across with an armed crew to take charge. She was the bark Delphine of Bangor, Maine on her maiden voyage with Captain William Green Nichols in charge, accompanied by his wife, Lilias, and six-year-old son, Phineas.

When Bulloch boarded, Mrs. Nichols confronted him: “I suppose you are going to steal my Canary birds, so you had better take them at once!” Her father was primary owner of the vessel with her husband having a third share.[i]

Delphine was seventy days from London in ballast bound for Burma to load rice, which Waddell assumed would be supplied to Federal armies. Once aboard Shenandoah, Nichols pleaded his wife’s health, saying with tears in his eyes that it would be the death of her if she were moved in such a delicate state. Waddell sought the opinion of South Carolinian and Ship’s Surgeon, Dr. Charles Lining. The doctor thought it sounded like an excuse to get away: “I told the Captain so & he rather reluctantly, I think, determined to burn her….”[ii]

The boats returned about 6:00 p.m. with all Delphine prisoners and baggage. As they rocked and bounced in the choppy seas, in danger of being crushed against the ship’s hull, the crew rigged a sling from the main yard and hauled the lady and boy aboard. “The Captain’s wife, woman like, brought with her a canary bird in its cage,” recalled Master’s Mate Hunt, “and if a bandbox containing her best bonnet had been added to her baggage, it would have been complete.”[iii]

The prize was raided for sheep and pigs. Waddell regretted not recovering additional stores, furniture, and other useful items that could not be brought over in the high winds and heavy seas. Night descended as Delphine was fired.

“Rapidly the flames gathered headway, casting a fierce, lurid glow over the heaving bosom of the ocean,” wrote Hunt. “From doors, windows, and hatchways they burst forth like the vengeful spirit of destruction, wound up the spars, stretched out upon the yards, swiftly enveloping shrouds, sails, and halyards in one splendid, fiery ruin ; and standing out, strongly revealed against the darkening sky, the burning vessel surged and tossed, a holocaust to the God of War.”[iv]

As Shenandoah sailed away, Hunt observed Captain Nichols pacing the deck with his wife, watching their vessel burn. “He probably had there invested the savings of half a lifetime of patient toil. To see the fruits of so many years swept away in an hour, might well try the philosophy of the best of men.” The fiery glow in the sky dropped below the horizon around three o’clock in the morning.[v]

Among the officers, reactions to their female guest were nearly unanimous. “A finer looking woman I have seldom seen, physically,” wrote Dr. Lining. Midshipman John Mason of Virginia: “The Captain’s wife is quite a pretty woman but rather a strong minded one…. I rather think she wears the breeches.”

From left: Midshipman John T. Mason, Midshipman O.A. Browne, Lieutenant William Whittle, Lieutenant Sidney Smith Lee. Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond Va.(Picture from left: Midshipman John T. Mason, Midshipman O.A. Browne, Lieutenant William Whittle, Lieutenant Sidney Smith Lee, nephew of R.E. Lee. (Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, VA))

Another Virginian, First Lieutenant William Whittle, agreed, adding that she was anything but an invalid. “At first she is a little frightened but we can soon drive fear away by proving by kindness that we are gentlemen.”[vi]

Lilias Nichols was a down-easter from Searsport, Maine where almost ten percent of the 1,700 inhabitants were ship captains, including five uncles.

“When she came off she looked mad as a bull, but it only amused us,” recalled Lieutenant Grimball. The lady accosted the captain in the wardroom, demanding in a stentorian voice to know where they would be landed. “On St. Paul, madam, if you like,” said Waddell, referring to an isolated desolate island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. “Oh, no; never,” she responded. “I would rather remain with you.”[vii]

Waddell was surprised to see standing before him a tall, finely proportioned woman of twenty-six in robust health. “It soon became palpable she would be the one for me to manage, and not the husband. A refractory lady can be controlled by a quiet courtesy, but no flattery.” Lieutenant Chew’s only comment: “We have the trouble of another woman onboard.” [viii]

CSS Shenandoah

Shenandoah once again stretched her wings, all sail set and close hauled to the wind. December 30 was one of the most beautiful days they had seen. The heavy sea exhausted its mad passion and died away into long undulating swells. Captain Nichols confessed to Waddell his shame for having pleaded his wife’s alleged illness as an excuse to save the ship, but did not feel that the lie was wrong under the circumstances.

Mrs. Nichols seemed to get over her feelings and appeared a ladylike person, noted Grimball. “She is treated with every consideration. I suppose she will abuse us in inverse proportion.” The new goat with kid provided milk for tea every morning, during which the lady laughed and talked; her anger surfaced only when someone asserted her husband had been weak in his duty. The little boy ran about the decks playing with the goats.[ix]

It was the last of the old year, wrote Dr. Lining, “and a pleasant year it has been to me, taken all in all…. But where will I be a year hence from today? Echo can only answer, where? Nothing of any interest going on….” He had been suffering from a headache and would see the old year out with another drink to his little darling whom he longed to see.

Whittle agreed that their lady passenger was becoming more sociable, and, “really seems to think that we are not all a parcel of piratical barbarians.” He too would sit up to welcome in the new year.[x]

Captain Waddell resumed evening games of whist in his cabin. Midshipman Mason enjoyed a rubber with him, the first lieutenant, and assistant surgeon before retiring to the steerage where someone brought out a brandy bottle and proposed a toast to sweethearts and wives followed by “success to the cause.”

The midshipman hurried to finish the day’s journal entry before the master-at-arms could poke his nose in the door to say it is ten o’clock and lights out, but messmates made so much noise, he couldn’t concentrate. Thoughts wandered to Mrs. Nichols, her beauty and gentility. “But occasionally she brings out some ungrammatical expression which dispels the illusion; fortunately she seldom says much & the illusion lasts the longer….”[xi]

Master’s Mate Hunt was on watch at midnight when the new year, “wearing all the languid beauty of a Southern clime,” opened. The wind was light and variable; the stars threw their silvery shimmer over the quiet water. Everyone but the officer of the deck, quartermaster, lookout, and the man at the wheel were wrapped in slumber. “Such were my surroundings when the ship’s bell, striking the hour of twelve, announced the death of eighteen hundred sixty-four and the birth of eighteen hundred sixty-five.”[xii]

(Extracted from A Confederate Biography: The Cruise of the CSS Shenandoah (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2015) by Dwight Sturtevant Hughes)

[i] John T. Mason, Journal, Eleanor S. Brokenbrough Library, Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, VA. (not paginated), 29 December 1864.

[ii] Charles E. Lining, Journal, Eleanor S. Brokenbrough Library, Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, VA. (not paginated), 29 December 1864.

[iii] Cornelius E. Hunt, The Shenandoah; Or, The Last Confederate Cruiser (New York: G.W. Carelton, 1867), 74.

[iv] Ibid., 75.

[v] Ibid., 78.

[vi] Lining, Journal, 29 December 1864; Mason, Journal, 30 December 1864; William C. Whittle, Jr., The Voyage of the CSS Shenandoah: A Memorable Cruise (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2005), 98.

[vii] Grimball to Father, 23 December 1864, John Berkley Grimball Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University; James I. Waddell, “Extracts from notes on the C.S.S. Shenandoah by her commander, James Iredell Waddell, C.S. Navy,” in The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1896), 1, 3:807.

[viii] Waddell, “Extracts,” 807; Francis Thornton Chew, “Reminiscences and Journal of Francis Thornton Chew, Lieutenant, C.S.N.,” Chew Papers #148, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina Library (not paginated), 29 December 1864.

[ix] Grimball to Father, 23 December 1864

[x] Lining, Journal, 30-31 December 1864; Whittle, Voyage, 98.

[xi] Mason, Journal, 31 December 1864.

[xii] Hunt, Shenandoah, 79.

A View of Kelly’s Ford

Kelly’s Ford

155 years ago today, Brig. Gen. William Woods Averell’s Union cavalry division clashed with Brig. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee’s Confederate cavalry brigade east of Culpeper Court House. The day long struggle derived its name from a nearby crossing on the Rappahannock River, Kelly’s Ford. That St. Patrick’s Day, the waters which flowed from the Blue Ridge to the Chesapeake served as a point of embarkation from the past and a vision of the future.

Kelly’s Ford was first time the Army of the Potomac’s mounted forces launched an expedition with the sole purpose of engaging the Confederate cavalry. Through the course of the fight, Averell’s troopers established a bridgehead on the south bank of the river and then held their position in the fields adjacent to nearby Wheatley’s Ford against a Confederate counterattack. During this phase of the battle, the Confederates lost Maj. John Pelham, the talented chief of the Stuart Horse Artillery. Averell then pressed Lee back toward a stream known as Carter’s Run. With the sun setting in the western sky, Averell judiciously decided to break off the fight and returned to the north bank of the river.

“The principal result achieved…has been that our cavalry has been brought to feel their superiority in battle; they have learned the value of discipline and the use of their arms,” Averell wrote.

William Brooke-Rawle, the prolific chronicler of the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry, which participated in the battle, recalled “the most substantial result of this fight was the feeling of confidence in its own ability which the volunteer cavalry gained. This feeling was not confined to the regiments engaged, but was imparted to the whole of our cavalry. The espirit de corps and morale was greatly benefited. Kelly’s Ford was the making of our cavalry.” D.M. Gilmore, an officer in the regiment recalled after the war that the battle “gave great confidence to our men…the advantage gained at Kelly’s Ford was ever maintained.”

Kelly’s Ford marked the beginning of the ascension of the Union cavalry to a level of superiority over their Confederate counterparts. Without Kelly’s Ford, there would be no Brandy Station, without Brandy Station, there would be no Yellow Tavern, without Yellow Tavern there would be no Trevilian Station. Like a rock tossed into a river, the battle’s ripples spread far and wide through the water.

 

 

 

“Here They Come Boys”: George A. Custer at the Battle of Upperville

Custer, left, and Alfred Pleasonton in the spring of 1863.

Recently, while reviewing the National Tribune, I came across an article written by a member of the 6th Ohio Cavalry. The individual shares his experiences about the fighting in Virginia’s Loudoun Valley during the Gettysburg Campaign. Of particular interest was his narrative regarding the June 21, 1863, Battle of Upperville. He mentions the regiment was accompanied by George Armstrong Custer.

At the time, Custer was serving on the staff of the cavalry corps commander, Brig. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton. Just days earlier, Pleasonton had dispatched Custer to Brig. Gen. David M. Gregg’s division on its march toward the village of Aldie. In the ensuing engagement, Custer participated in the charge of the 1st Maine Cavalry, which repulsed an attack by elements of Col. Thomas Munford’s brigade and secured the guns of Capt. Alanson Randol’s Battery E/G 1st U.S. Artillery. As the blue horsemen pushed Maj. Gen. Jeb Stuart’s Southern cavalry west through Middleburg and across Goose Creek toward Upperville, it appears Custer was sent forward again to serve as Pleasonton’s eyes and ears and report developments back to corps headquarters. Although it is a relatively short, I wanted to share the account with our readers. It follows below, with a few edits.

“In the afternoon of that day of that day we reached Upperville, and here I first remember General Custer, then a captain, and perfect type of the dashing cavalryman. Our line was formed on the right of the road, on the side of the hill, on whose opposite slope was the town of Upperville. Here, Custer, taking two companies from our left, charged into the town to draw out the enemy in pursuit, upon which the remaining companies were to charge his flank, and gain an easy victory. Soon back came the two companies, Custer, with his long flaxen hair flying in the wind calling out: “Here they come boys.” “Forward!” was the order, and on we dashed, saber in hand, the three above alluded to [the writer and other members of the regiment, a Henry Gillette and likely George Freeman] in some yards in advance, when, turning the hill’s crest, we saw, not open space and rebel flank, but a stone fence, and a brave Southern regiment…in line behind it, facing us and firing into our line. Gillette’s horse fell, then Freeman caught his death-shot in the face, and the survivor of three dashed up to the fence, under an apple tree, within twenty feet of the rebel colors, to his left, and nearer a fine, tall, dark-eyed rebel on his right, who soon met his death. At first advance only sabers were allowed to be carried and the regiment fell back to draw revolvers, and twice again to reload them. At the third advance…the enemy were forced to retreat, but they didn’t do it in a hurried or disorderly manner, you bet! but as quietly as if no Yankees were in their rear.”

Placed in the context with Custer’s actions at Aldie, to a lesser degree at Brandy Station, and earlier in the spring on an expedition to Urbanna, the account of his conduct at Upperville sheds additional light as to why Pleasonton chose Custer for promotion.  To Pleasonton, his young aide’s aggressiveness warranted at least an opportunity at higher command. One week after the battle, Custer was promoted to Brigadier General and assigned to lead a brigade of four regiments of Michigan cavalry.

 

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.