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Major General Ambrose Burnside, who had directed the disastrous Fredericksburg Campaign and subsequent “Mud March”, had been replaced by Maj.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.


Not Just Antietam – September 17, 1862 In Perspective

Wednesday, September 17, 1862. is rightly classed as the bloodiest day in American history. In that 24-hour period, more Americans fell killed, wounded, captured, or missing, than in any like 24-hour period before or since.

This contention rests almost totally on the Battle of Antietam outside Sharpsburg, Maryland, where 23,726 (12,410 US and 10, 316 CS) soldiers fell in essentially 12 hours of combat that day.

But that horrific number does not cover all the losses on September 17.

Let’s not forget the war also occurred elsewhere that day. Dozens of people were lost in small skirmishes at places like Cumberland Gap and elsewhere (to include the high seas). Also, at 6 A.M. (local) that morning, 4,000 US troops surrendered at Munfordville, Kentucky, to Confederates under Braxton Bragg. All these numbers need to be added into the battlefield losses that day; this puts America’s bloodiest day at approximately 28,000 men killed, wounded, missing, and captured for that 24-hour period.

Two other notes about this day might be of interest. September 17, 1862, was the 75th anniversary of the signing of the US Constitution. The largest airborne operation in history, Operation Market-Garden in Holland, began on the 82d anniversary of this day.


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.






Energizing Civil War Roundtables

ECW is pleased to welcome Wally Rueckel, co-founder and past president, and Mike Powell, current president and program chair, of the Brunswick Civil War Round Table (BCWRT) in Southport, North Carolina.

For several years, many Civil War roundtables have been losing members or, even worse, are no longer in existence. This is sad because we are losing the ability to keep the history of the American Civil War alive and passed down to future generations.

This is also surprising because a few Civil War roundtables—like BCWRT, with more than 1250 members in just 7 years since founding—have found ways to grow. What we want to discuss is the emergence of regional and national Civil War roundtable programs to bring together roundtable leaders from around the country to meet, get to know each other, network, and share best practices that might increase membership and revenues for their respective roundtables. 

Tom O’Donnell and Wally Rueckel co-founded the Brunswick Civil War Round Table in January 2009. Tom was a retired executive with the Hersey Company who had handled problem situations in their factories. Wally was a partner in a private equity fund that invested in troubled companies and turned them around. Both of them, although in different businesses, had to work with people to develop solutions to make products, processes, and organizations run better.

They had both developed an interest in the Civil War late in life. Tom, surrounded by Civil War battlefields such as Gettysburg, joined several Civil War roundtables in Pennsylvania. Wally’s interest in the Civil War developed after he read Jeff Shaara’s Civil War novels and started attending roundtables in Illinois and, later, in Michigan. When they both moved to North Carolina, they met and attended roundtables in Wilmington and Raleigh, NC. Not liking the commute, Tom suggested they form a roundtable in Brunswick County.

They decided they needed a plan to recruit good volunteers to organize a roundtable open to men or women of any age, any level of Civil War knowledge, and any affiliation (Northerner or Southerner). Tom and Wally had probably attended ten roundtables by this time. They saw the problems the different groups had been having and also saw what had been working. Their business experience taught them to make changes if something wasn’t working and always be willing to try new ideas, so they decided to make several changes to what they saw as the basic “roundtable business model.” Starting their roundtable from scratch, the changes were not traumatic on the members.

They formed a planning committee including, in addition to Tom and Wally, a vice president of finance from a local 501(c)(3) tax exempt corporation; an retired advertising agency executive; three other executives with marketing and administrative skills; and a female former Civil War roundtable president; plus leaders associated with local history organizations such as the historical society, Maritime Museum, and a state historical site. They also relied quite a bit on two local well-regarded Civil War educators. Tom and Wally’s business experience taught them that having good active leadership was a must.

Initially, the board had five officer/directors and four at-large directors elected annually by members. With the rapid growth of BCWRT, we decided we needed more active leaders. We amended our by-laws to permit an unlimited number of advisors, affirmed by the directors, who can attend board meetings and engage in the board discussion but CANNOT vote. Today, we have 14 advisors and six of our current directors were previously advisors. We held our first meeting in May 2010.

Beginning in 2010, Wally started to try and network with other roundtables in North Carolina as well as the larger well-known roundtables throughout the country. On-line lists of roundtables were out of date, with many no longer active. He started searching for roundtable websites in the larger cities with some success, reading their online newsletters, trying to get their profile and contact info. Over the next couple of years, he began to send emails to the presidents of those roundtables, introducing himself and asking if they wanted to exchange electronically monthly newsletters and reciprocally post our websites links.

He began to form an impression of what was going on in these Roundtables and forming an opinion of how they were doing, also accumulating information like the frequency of their meetings, cost of membership, pre-meeting dinners, speakers, and anything unusual that BCWRT might try. A few started answering his phone calls, and they exchanged information. A couple even invited Mike and Wally to meet or talk with them. Many did not return our calls, though, because most of them had never heard of BCWRT.

In 2015, Wally decided to shift focus to North Carolina. He talked with Mike Powell, who was BCWRT president at the time, and told him of his idea to hold a Civil War roundtable forum for all of the North Carolina Roundtables. They thought they would invite all of the presidents and program chairs. We would meet at a central location, get to know each other, and discuss our respective problems and successes. We could discuss partnering for Civil War field trips, where two or more roundtables could share the cost of a bus and guide. Roundtable leaders could share info about the better speakers they’d had, and we wanted to suggest the possibility of developing “circuit rider speakers” that would visit two or more of our roundtables at our respective sites but on a single trip, thus reducing individual roundtable travel costs. Mike thought it was a great idea and we decided to proceed.

As we started to arrange this forum, we learned that no one had a complete list of the North Carolina Roundtables, their locations, or contact info for their presidents. So a good idea turned into a MAJOR research project. We contacted the NC leaders we knew and asked them for info; we researched the internet; we called college history departments; we asked speakers who spoke to our roundtables, etc. We discovered there were thirteen active roundtables in North Carolina.

We met in August 2016 at North Carolina History Museum in Raleigh for a day. We had 25 leaders attend, with twelve of the thirteen roundtables present. We got to know each other, discussed our respective roundtables, including our problems and successes. The forum was a success! For the first time, we were all talking to each other. Overwhelmingly, we voted to have another forum.

The second North Carolina forum was held in Raleigh on August 5, 2017. Again it was well attended, with twenty leaders present. Speaker topics included 1) ways to attract new members; 2) creating a speaker clearing house; 3) fund-raising ideas; 4) the BCWRT story. Once again, attendees unanimously voted to hold another forum in August 2018. An interesting outcome of the meeting was that five roundtables from surrounding southeast states learned of the forum and have asked to be invited in 2018.

After the 2017 North Carolina forum, Wally shared the results with John Bamberl and Mike Movius, presidents of the Scottsdale and Puget Sound roundtables, plus Matt Borowick, a writer for Civil War News. Mike Movius immediately said we need to do the same thing on a National basis—a CWRT Congress.

We started planning for the Civil War Congress and eventually agreed to hold it on September 16, 2017 in Centreville, VA, in conjunction with the Bull Run Civil War Round Table. The agenda was similar to the North Carolina forum, with the attendees getting to know each other followed by speakers that talked about increasing membership, fund raising, use of social media, and sharing best practices. Following the program the next day, there were battlefield tours.

The Congress was a great success, with 65 leaders from 41 roundtables from around the country. Participants came from the West Coast, Mid-West, New England, Washington, DC, and the Southeast. The next Round Table Congress is scheduled for August 2018 in Harrisburg Pa at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg Pa.

There was another offshoot of the 2016 North Carolina Civil War forum, too. When roundtables in Illinois and other Mid-Western States heard about the planned 2017 roundtable congress and the NC Civil War forum, they decided to hold a Midwest CWRT congress in Kenosha, WI, on July 22, 2017 at the local Civil War museum, with 48 attendees from throughout the Midwest.

Again it was a chance for roundtable leaders to meet and share ideas for improving attendance and revenues. An important takeaway from the Midwest CWRT congress was that the reported average attendance for most groups was between 20-40 attendees—most with static or declining attendance and most experiencing difficulty in filling leadership posts.

There is a tremendous opportunity to re-invigorate the health, growth, and financial stability of the Civil War roundtables to preserve the history and lessons learned from of the Civil War for future generations. We need to meet, get to know each other and share best practices to keep this history alive.

If you have questions, please contact Wally Rueckel or Mike Powell We welcome your comments.

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.

Last Photos from Fredericksburg’s 155th

Brompton Damage

A close-up of battle damage to the facade of Brompton atop Marye’s Heights

Before we get too far away from the anniversary of the battle of Fredericksburg, I just want to pass along a few pictures I took along the way yesterday during ECW’s Facebook LIVE event with the Civil War Trust and the National Park Service.

If you didn’t get the chance to follow along, you can go to the Civil War Trust’s Facebook page and watch the archived video: 

Chatham, part one:

Chatham, part two:

The street fighting at Fredericksburg:

The city of Fredericksburg:

Slaughter Pen Farm:

Prospect Hill:

The Sunken Road/Stone Wall/Marye’s Heights:

The City/Confederate Cemetery in downtown Fredericksburg:

Wayne Motts (center) and Brett Kelley (second from left) from the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg brought Joseph Kershaw’s sword to the Sunken Road, where Kershaw served during the battle of Fredericksburg. Garry Adelman (left) and Kris White (third from left) talk about the sword while ECW’s Dan Davis films.

Kershaw's Sword

A close-up of the hilt of Kershaw’s sword:

Kershaw's Sword Hilt

NPS historian Pete Maugle explains the wartime damage in the Innis House:

Pete in Innis House

The sun gets ready to set over Marye’s Heights and the Sunken Road:

Sunken Road 2017

Brompton, a wartime home that now serves as the residence for the president of the University of Mary Washington, is decked out for the holiday:


The view toward Fredericksburg from in front of Brompton:

Brompton view 2017

The Confederate cemetery in downtown Fredericksburg has been decorated for the holiday by the Sons of Confederate Veterans:

Confederate Cemetery 2017