“Whipt ’em Everytime”: The Poorly Titled Diary of Bartlett Yancey Malone

Researching the VI Corps of the Union Army of the Potomac has also made me quite familiar with Richard Hoke’s brigade of North Carolina infantry. These Tarheel regiments–the 6th, 21st, 54th, and 57th–frequently found themselves matched up against those whose blue kepis were adorned with the Greek Cross. At Second Fredericksburg, Rappahannock Station, and throughout the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, the VI Corps soldiers got the best of the North Carolinians. When writing about the first two battles, I can’t help but roll my eyes when I have to cite “Whipt ’em Everytime” while providing the Confederate perspective.

Bartlett Yancey Malone was born in 1838 in Caswell County, North Carolina. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War he joined the Caswell Boys Company, which was soon attached to the 6th North Carolina Infantry. Malone rose to the rank of sergeant and remained on the rolls through March 1865. He kept a diary from 1862 to 1865 that wound up in the special collections at the University of North Carolina.

Bartlett Yancey Malone, 6th North Carolina Infantry (FindaGrave.com)

William Whatley Pierson, Jr. was a fixture at Chapel Hill, as an instructor, professor, and finally a dean of the graduate school. In 1919, Pierson first published Malone’s memoirs in volume 16, number 2 of the North Carolina Historical Society’s James Sprunt Historical Publications. Pierson simply titled his typescript “The Diary of Bartlett Yancey Malone” for the academic journal.

Forty years later, as Civil War publications increased leading up to the centennial, Malone’s journal reached a wider audience. McCowat-Mercer Press (Jackson, TN) published Pierson’s annotated version of the diary in 1960. Needing a catchier name to draw sales, either Pierson or the publisher decided to title the book Whipt ’em Everytime: The Diary of Bartlett Yancey Malone, Co. H, 6th N.C. Regiment. Malone’s diary entry on May 9, 1862 provided the basis for the title. While retreating up the Virginia peninsula from Yorktown to Richmond, Malone wrote:

And the 9 day we rested untell about 12 oclock and then started out on our march again and befour we had gone a mile we hird that our Cavalry was attacked by the Yankees And then we had to stop and wate a while but we whipt them like we aulways do.

However that brief excerpt is not indicative of the style of Malone’s journal. The desire for catchiness unfortunately forced a braggadocious title onto the North Carolinian’s candid diary entries. As Pierson wrote in 1919:

Mr. Malone performed no extraordinary feat of heroism, at least none such was recorded; he participated with individual distinction in no political movement of importance; he played no role which would cause historians to single him out for particular notice. His diary is reproduced here as a document of human interest which reveals, with much quaintness of expression, the thoughts of a simple soldier of the ranks – the thoughts, it is to be presumed, of a mass of men, which have oftentimes been inarticulate.

There is a frankness about this diary that conveys inevitably, I believe, the conviction of sincerity. And there is a lack of emotion – as when in remarking on an event which, we are told, caused the soldiers great grief, the death of Stonewall Jackson, he merely said, “And General Jackson died to-day, which is the 10th day of May” – an absence of bitterness and of complaints which, considering the provocation of circumstances, make the diary of almost as much interest because of these omissions as because of what is included.

My interest in the VI Corps was first piqued while studying what was happening around Fredericksburg at the time of Jackson’s wounding. As an intern in 2010 with Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park I wanted to better understand the successful charge against Marye’s Heights on May 3, 1863, and the fighting that afternoon and the following morning around Salem Church. I soon noticed a trend among the VI Corps battles that defied our conventional understanding of the Civil War. The corps had mastered the frontal assault–the tactic that seemed suicidal to consider.

After successfully breaching the stone wall, whose defense depended more on the memory of the December bloodbath than the two living Mississippi companies who manned the sunken road, the corps slowly pushed west along the Orange Turnpike to Joseph Hooker’s aid at Chancellorsville. Their progress was halted at Salem Church that afternoon, by which time Hooker had entirely given up on the prospects of a successful campaign.

John Sedgwick, commanding the VI Corps, received conflicting orders to both come to Hooker’s assistance by way of the turnpike and by crossing the river and to remain in place. Sedgwick ultimately settled into position with both flanks anchored on the river. In doing so he lost his connection with the two brigades of John Gibbon’s II Corps division who remained in Fredericksburg. Robert E. Lee sought to exploit Sedgwick’s isolation and further divided his own army, sending brigades east from Chancellorsville to try and destroy the VI Corps.

While the VI Corps was storming Marye’s Heights on May 3rd, Hoke’s brigade (with the majority of Jubal Early’s division) remained on the hills stretching southeast toward Hamilton’s Crossing. They retreated south to rally those who escaped Marye’s Heights and found that Sedgwick declined to pursue in that direction. Malone wrote, “for some cause we we all ordered to fall back about a half of a mile to our last breast works.” With the VI Corps’ attention drawn to the presumed attack from the direction of Chancellorsville, Early thus had an ideal position from which to attack the next morning.

The attack along the turnpike never materialized on May 4, causing Early to attack alone. Though he succeeded in regaining Marye’s Heights without contest, the VI Corps stood firm in their U-shaped position, shuffling reinforcements to the threatened sector. The Confederate attack overlapped itself before reaching the target, producing confusion and further dooming any chance of success. Cut off from a direct connection with the rest of the Union army and confused by Hooker’s conflicting orders, Sedgwick pulled the corps back across the Rappahannock at Banks Ford.

The VI Corps brought up the rear of the Union march into Pennsylvania and saw little combat at Gettysburg. Their next notable engagement occurred on November 7, 1863 at Rappahannock Station. After failing to outflank the Army of the Potomac during the offensive that resulted in the October 14th battle of Bristoe Station, Robert E. Lee settled into winter camp below the Rappahannock River. He left a pontoon crossing and bridgehead just upstream from the destroyed Orange & Alexandria Railroad bridge over the Rappahannock.

Lee believed that active campaigning had ended for the year but planned to utilize the Rappahannock Station crossing in case George Meade wanted to continue operations. Lee expected that if Meade did advance, the Union general would maneuver to Kelly’s Ford, downstream from Rappahannock Station. Lee would then cross a portion of his army at Rappahannock Station to attack Meade’s column as it marched. Meade instead divided his army into two and sent it forward on November 7th. The I, II, and III Corps marched for Kelly’s Ford while the V and VI advanced straight toward Rappahannock Station.

Harry Hays’s Louisiana brigade manned the fortified bridgehead. The sudden appearance of the Union forces came as a surprise but the Confederates chose to reinforce rather than withdraw. Three regiments from Hoke’s brigade crossed the pontoon to reinforce Hays. Hoke was absent and the 21st N.C. was back in its native state at the time. Colonel Archibald Godwin assumed command of the 6th, 54th, and 57th, and placed them among Hays’s regiments. Malone wrote:

The 7th about 2 o’clock in the eavning orders came to fall in with armes in a moment that the enemy was atvancen, Then we was doubbelquicked down to the river (which was about 5 miles) and crost and formed a line of battel in our works and the yanks was playing on ous with thir Artillery & thir skirmishers a fyring into ous as we formed fyring was kept up then with the Skirmishers untell dark.

The VI Corps drove Hays’s skirmishers back into the entrenched bridgehead. The Confederates thought that the late hour meant the engagement had ended but Union division commander David Russell sent brigades under Peter Ellmaker and Emory Upton to storm Hays and Godwin’s position.

Ellmaker attacked first, the 6th Maine and 5th Wisconsin overrunning the Louisiana Guard Artillery. Godwin shifted his regiments out of the fortifications to counterattack the two Union regiments but Ellmaker brought the 49th and 119th Pennsylvania forward at the same time. While combat continued at close range, Upton’s brigade formed to the northwest. As darkness closed around the still-contested position, Upton sent the 5th Maine and 121st New York forward. They stormed over the works whose numbers had been reduced by Godwin’s counterattack toward Ellmaker. Upton’s two regiments swept the line in both directions while several companies pushed onward to cut the Confederates off from retreating across the pontoon.

Hays managed to escape across the bridge, and some Confederates swam the river to avoid capture, but the battle’s result was among the most lopsided of the war. In a direct attack against two fortified Confederate brigades, six VI Corps regiments successfully stormed the position and captured nearly the entire garrison.

Barlett Malone was among those captured. “About dark the yanks charged on the Louisianna Bregaid which was clost to the Bridg and broke thir lines and got to the Bridge we was then cutoff and had to Surender,” he wrote. Malone was sent to Point Lookout where he remained until paroled in late February 1865.

It thus seems a bit disingenuous to imply that Malone and the 6th North Carolina Infantry indeed “whipt ’em everytime” but I’m not surprised to see it at the centennial of the war. Unfortunately that sentiment continues through this day. Despite evidence to the contrary, many visitors with whom I interact are still convinced that no one in the Union army knew how to fight or were willing to do so. Perhaps if I ever compile the various VI Corps frontal attacks into one book I can borrow a name for the title…

The Amazing Archivists of Springfield, Illinois: An interview with Mr. John A. Lupton

John Lupton–Historian for the Illinois Supreme Court

I first met John Lupton during my on-going search for anything and everything Ellsworthy. I wrote about an exciting part of my journey HERE and promised that I would interview John Lupton in the near future. Readers, meet Mr. John Lupton.

MG: Please introduce yourself and tell us exactly what you do for the great state of Illinois.

JL: My name is John Lupton.  I’m the historian for the Illinois Supreme Court and director of the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission.  I have a master’s degree in history, and I’ve been working in the field of legal history for the State of Illinois for more than 25 years.  I worked for the Lincoln Legal Papers and the Papers of Abraham Lincoln documentary, editing projects from 1991 to 2009, helping to compile documents and lawsuits related to Lincoln’s law practice.  Since 2009, I’ve been with Court, helping to preserve the judicial history of Illinois with programs, exhibits, and publications. Our most successful effort has been our History on Trial series, in which we did theater productions of famous trials in history, including Mary Surratt’s conspiracy trial, Mary Lincoln’s insanity trial, Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith’s habeas corpus hearings, and an Illinois school desegregation case.

MG: How did you become aware that the paperwork concerning the granting of law licenses in Illinois was in any danger?

JL: A number of files were stored in the basement of the Illinois Supreme Court Building, including attorney oaths.  Oaths are the document that an attorney signs promising to support the Constitution upon becoming a lawyer.  In effect, it is the last step in becoming an attorney in Illinois.

The Clerk of the Supreme Court turned over its entire collection of attorney oaths to the Illinois State Archives in 2010 for preservation purposes, while the Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission provided the archival materials (acid free folders, etc.). It’s a great partnership among three state agencies. Since then, the Archives had been working for several years to flat-file and store the oaths properly.  At the end of their work, after properly preserving about 142,000 oaths, there were about 1,100 oaths that had mold damage from being stored in the Supreme Court Building basement for nearly 100 years and, at some point, being exposed to heavy moisture.  Most of them were ok, just with slight mold on them, but they couldn’t be stored with the larger collection lest the mold spread. A handful of oaths—a couple hundred—had fused together.  Separating them was a big task in itself.

MG: What changed to make rescuing this information even possible?

JL: Nothing really changed. I would say it was more that we wanted to get the 141,000 done first, and then figure out what to do with the 1,100. We had finally reached that point where the Clerk of the Supreme Court, the Director of the Archives, and myself could begin to wrap our heads around what to do with these fused, moldy documents and how best to save the information in case we couldn’t save the physical document.

Old State House, Springfield, Sangamon County, IL (LOC)

MG: As a historian, I think this work is vitally important. Why didn’t this effort get more publicity?

JL: Both the Court and the Archives issued news releases, but honestly, I think history news gets lost in the quickly changing news cycles, not because of any ill feelings toward history, but because of bigger and sexier stories—political intrigue and big personalities always get bigger headlines. I’ll give you an extreme example.  When I worked for the Lincoln Legal Papers, I researched onsite at the National Archives in Washington DC looking for Lincoln legal activities.  In records relating to pension payments, I found that Lincoln had worked as a pension attorney (a person who receives money for a veteran pensioner).  This work by Lincoln had never been mentioned before in any book or article.  I discovered about 60 or so previously unknown Lincoln signatures, including the ONLY time I ever saw him sign his name as “Abram” Lincoln.  Our press person and the National Archives public affairs person knew this would be a huge story.  The day the news release went out was the same day the United States invaded Haiti in the summer of 1994. Instead of the big story, the Lincoln discovery was relegated to page 20 and a couple paragraphs! Timing is everything.

MG: Who did the actual work? Who are the “amazing archivists” of Springfield who saved history?

JL: It really was a group effort.  Dottie Hopkins was the conservator at the Illinois State Archives and did much of the flat-filing work until she retired. Alex Dixon, the new conservator at the Archives, completed the flat-filing and had forwarded me a list of the names he was able to see on fused oath coverstock.  I went through the names and recognized E. E. Ellsworth, Charles Guiteau, Joseph Cannon, several Illinois governors, and several Illinois Supreme Court justices.  I passed the list around to other prominent historians in the state, and we uncovered a few others.  Those “famous” people, we decided to segregate from the rest of the moldy oaths.

Original document: permission to use granted

Alex carefully separated the coverstock from the documents contained within, and he encapsulated the documents to prevent the mold from spreading to uninfected documents.  Some of the documents were so faded, like Ellsworth’s, they were very difficult to read with the naked eye. David Joens, the Director of the State Archives; Carolyn Grosboll, the Clerk of the Supreme Court, and I arranged for the Justices of the Illinois Supreme Court to visit the Archives and examine these documents themselves.  They had many questions and provided guidance in making the final determination as to what to do with these documents.

MG: What exactly are these documents?

JL: Becoming an attorney in Illinois is a multi-step process. In the 19thcentury, the first step was obtaining a legal education.  There were only a handful of law schools, so most prospective lawyers studied in the law office of an established attorney.  Some, like Lincoln, just read the books and studied alone. The second step was to obtain a certificate of good moral character from any court of record.  The third was to take an oral exam before several of the Supreme Court justices or a committee.  If you passed, you would receive your license and you had to take the oath of office. In Lincoln’s time, the signed oath was a section on the license itself.  By the 1860s, there was a separate oath signed by the attorney and filed with the Court.

Again, there are 142,000 of these oaths in this collection, beginning in 1860s, meaning we don’t have Lincoln’s oath or Stephen Douglas’s oath—those would have been a part of the license itself. However, we do have some significant oaths, including a number of Illinois governors, Senators, etc. Probably the most significant oaths are that of Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson Obama.  In fact, Michelle Obama’s oath is currently on display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum’s new exhibit on the four presidents who called Illinois home.

MG: Can you tell us about the digital process used to recreate Ellsworth’s letter of acceptance?

JL: The Ellsworth file was one of the more heavily damaged ones. In fact, the coverstock had basically fused together. Alex Dixon, the Archives conservator, was finally able to open the coverstock, and there was only one document in it.  There was no signed oath but only a letter from Justice Pinkney Walker to the Clerk of the Supreme Court William Turney instructing Turney to send a license to Ellsworth.  This indicates that Ellsworth completed the three steps I outlined above.

Original document: permission to use granted

The letter was very, very faded due to water damage, and it was barely readable with the naked eye.  The conservator scanned the document at a high resolution, and I was able to examine the document more closely using Photoshop and zooming in as far as I could.  I could discern ink, but was really unable to tell what letter was being formed because of the high zoom level.  In Photoshop, I began to painstakingly color areas where I could tell there was ink. Once I was done with the document, I returned it to normal size, and I was able to read the document, mostly.  There were some areas where the ink had faded away completely or there was a tear. But because most of the words were clear, I could figure out what the likely missing words were.

MG: Which discovery is your personal favorite?

JL: While the Ellsworth letter certainly tugs at my sometime Lincoln-centric universe, I think the discovery that fascinated me most was Charles Guiteau’s attorney oath.  Guiteau, as you know, was the assassin of President James Garfield.  He was also a licensed Illinois attorney!

Assassination of President Garfield

MG: What does Illinois plan to do with this marvelous, now-reconstructed collection?

JL: I should note that only the Ellsworth document was reconstructed. It was done because we knew it would attract the most attention—I wrote up a short article on it for the Abraham Lincoln Association. The amount of time to put into doing the others would be massive at this point. That said, the entire collection of 142,000 is stored in proper conditions at the Illinois State Archives.  At some point in the future, it would be great to at least create a database of all 142,000, and perhaps even digitize them.  But both of those projects would take a great deal of money and time. I’m not saying it won’t be done, but at least not in the near future.  Also, a lot of my time and effort this year and into next year is going into the Illinois bicentennial.  As you probably know, Illinois is celebrating its 200thanniversary as a state in the Union in 2018.

Thank you very much, Mr. Lupton. I know the work of the archivists in Springfield was difficult and painstaking, as were your Ellsworthian efforts on the Colonel’s behalf. Emerging Civil War is pleased to be able to give your team some proper notice, and we look forward to celebrating the Illinois Bicentennial along with you. I know you will agree with me that, without your efforts, it would be just a little more difficult to “Remember Ellsworth!”

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.”

Mother’s Intuition or Family Lore?

Growing up, my mother always claimed that she had “eyes in the back of her head” in which she could see myself or my two siblings acting mischievously. No matter how much I looked and stared, I could never locate that mysterious set of eyeballs. Not until I was much older did I realize the quote was not to be taken literally but figuratively. My mother, like countless mothers before and many more to come in the future, had “mother’s intuition.”

This phenomenon has been studied by experts in their respective fields and is completely out of the scope of this author’s specialties or the basis of this post.  Yet, conducting research on Florida troops, I came across the following account, which dabbled in “mother’s intuition” and like the “eyes in the back of her head” has planted itself firmly in family lore.

On February 20, 1862 in Tallahassee, Florida, a 31-year old native Floridian enlisted in Company K, of the 5th Florida Infantry. He was elected 1st Lieutenant and had two brothers. Isham and Walter served under him in the same company. He left behind a wife, Laura and a plantation that had substantial wealth for that time in northern Florida, with a population of African-American slaves numbering 118 prior to the war.

Lt. Joel C. Blake – 5th FL KIA Gettysburg
(courtesy of Florida Confederate)

Lt. Joel C. Blake was with the 5th Florida as that regiment entered the fray at Gettysburg, one of the 321 men still with the unit. As part of General Robert E. Lee’s plan of attack on the 2nd of July, the Florida Brigade, part of General Richard Anderson’s Division of General A.P. Hill’s Third Corps would strike toward the Union center. The Floridians would move out when the Alabamians under General Cadmus Wilcox initiated their advance.

Stepping out for the advance shortly after 5:00 p.m. the Florida Brigade, including the 2nd and 8th Florida Infantry Regiments, crossed the Emmitsburg Pike and slammed into Union artillery and elements of Union General Daniel Sickles’s Third Corps.

Billowing small arms and artillery fire left smoke and haze masking the field. Unbeknownst to the Floridians a Union regiment, the 19th Maine, lay in the field in front of the brigade. The devastating fire rippled through the Floridians. The two sides traded volleys before Wilcox’s advance came astride the Floridians right flank. Yet, the firing continued and with the heat, confusion, and casualties taking their toll on the command, the acting brigade commander, Colonel David Lang, ordered a retreat.

Mixing with the screams of dead and dying men on the fields of Gettysburg  was one from the capital of Florida. It was just as loud and heart-wrenching as it came from a mother.

According to family tradition…or lore…Joel Blake’s mother was sitting down for supper when she was seized by panic. A vision or “mother’s intuition” brought a startling realization racing through her mind. With dread seeping into her voice, she exclaimed, “Oh my God, my Joel is dead!”

She was right. Lt. Joel C. Blake had fallen in the advance on July 2nd. To add even more anguish, the young man’s remains were never identified, as they were reported to be “completely mutilated” and could never be found.

Blake was one of the thousands of sons that fell at Gettysburg. His mother was one of thousands who felt the keen loss of a beloved child. Whether the account is family lore or “mother’s intuition” may be irrelevant. The human aspect is what makes this account so relevant.

Another River Line Shoupade Site Endangered

Our friends at the Georgia Battlefields Association recently sent this update about their work in protecting some unique triangular forts. Read below for more information about their efforts to preserve these Shoupades and consider joining their effort by clicking here.

“Since 2003, the GBA newsletter has run several articles about the River Line, a unique system of fortifications featuring Shoupades, triangular forts designed by Francis Shoup and built by slaves. Shoupade Park, containing remnants of two Shoupades near Oakdale Road, was authorized by the Cobb County Board of Commissioners in 2004 and established two years later.

On 15 February, a GBA representative met with River Line Historic Area’s Roberta Cook and Steve Morrison and rezoning application Z-7 developer’s attorney and two contractors in hopes of saving the site of another Shoupade directly across Oakdale Road from Shoupade Park. This Shoupade was distinctly identifiable until about 30 years ago, when the then property owner bulldozed it because juveniles kept using it as a place to party. We hope the developer will at least leave the elevation on which the Shoupade once sat since the plan calls for the prominence to be graded down to street level. We’ll let you know what happens.”

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

Abraham Lincoln

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

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

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

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

The south end of Scott Drive.

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

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

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

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

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

A sketch of Lincoln inspecting the cavalry.

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

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