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[26.0] August 1862 (1): I Call It Flat Treason

v1.1.4 / chapter 26 of 93 / 01 aug 13 / greg goebel / public domain

* As George McClellan began to evacuate his base at Harrison's Landing on the James, Robert E. Lee set rebel forces in motion to attack John Pope's army in northern Virginia. This led to a muddled clash at Cedar Mountain that the Confederates won by little more than good luck, but Lee was not discouraged, and shifted his forces to hit the detested Pope high and low.

In the West, the Confederates moved on Baton Rouge, resulting in a battle between troops who were mostly on the sicklist. The rebels lost that battle and the ironclad ARKANSAS as well, but the Federals decided they were too vulnerable in Baton Rouge and withdrew from the city anyway. The Federal war machine was also grinding down elsewhere in the West: Union forces in Arkansas under Sam Curtis, faced with energetic pressure from Thomas Hindman and his men, found themselves holed up in Helena, on the defensive.

In the meantime, Abraham Lincoln pursued his notion of recolonizing freed blacks out of the United States, an exercise which would come to nothing and which would be an embarrassment in hindsight.

battle of Baton Rouge


[26.1] MCCLELLAN EVACUATES THE PENINSULA
[26.2] THE BATTLE OF BATON ROUGE / DESTRUCTION OF THE ARKANSAS
[26.3] SAM CURTIS IN HELENA
[26.4] BATTLE OF CEDAR MOUNTAIN, VIRGINIA
[26.5] LINCOLN & NEGRO COLONIZATION

[26.1] MCCLELLAN EVACUATES THE PENINSULA

* Although the Union Army of the Potomac was idle along the James at Harrison's Landing, it was still a powerful force, and if somebody with drive were to put it into motion, there was not much Robert E. Lee could have done to stop it. There was actually little fight in George McClellan, but for all Lee knew McClellan was getting ready to renew his attack on Richmond while John Pope drove down from the north. McClellan had to be kept immobile while Lee figured out how to "suppress" John Pope.

Lee, reflecting on McClellan's timidity in battle, guessed that the best way to make him stay put would be to attack him. On the last night of July Lee moved 43 artillery pieces to the opposite shore of the James and began a bombardment, in hopes that simply tossing shells and cannonballs at the Federals might intimidate them into immobility. It didn't work. The firing stirred up some confusion in the camp, but in an artillery duel the rebels were at a disadvantage, all the more so because of the weight of iron Federal gunboats could add to the counterfire. On Sunday, 3 August, the rebel guns had to be withdrawn in the face of a Yankee amphibious operation that threatened their capture.

Lee needn't have worried about McClellan. That same Sunday, the order came from Halleck to withdraw the Army of the Potomac to the Aquia Creek base, on the Potomac near Fredericksburg. After four months of intermittent fighting, the Peninsula Campaign was over. It had been a dismal failure; worse, it was almost entirely a failure of leadership, of a general with less nerve than that of the men that he led.

On Monday, 4 August, McClellan wired Halleck and pleaded with him to reconsider the move, saying the decision "will prove disastrous to our cause" and concluding that "it is here, on the banks of the James, that the fate of the Union should be decided." Halleck responded that the order would not be rescinded, and over the next few days repeatedly asked for haste. The Army of the Potomac would not be capable of conducting serious combat operations until the move was completed, and Halleck feared that Lee would take advantage of the opportunity to strike at Pope. McClellan offered to attack Richmond with what he had, was turned down, and so focused his attention on the move.

McClellan clearly saw the potential for disaster. He wrote his wife: "I think the result of their machination will be that Pope will be badly thrashed within ten days, and that they will be very glad to turn over the redemption of their affairs to me." His bitterness flowed down the chain of command. Roughly a week earlier, while Halleck was visiting McClellan, General Burnside had paid a visit to Harrison's Landing as well. Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs, who had accompanied Burnside, was listening to McClellan's staff officers sitting around a campfire while Halleck and McClellan conferred. The officers did not conceal their unhappiness, even in front of Meigs and Burnside. As Meigs reported, they openly suggested that the Army of the Potomac needed to march on Washington and "clean those fellows out!" Burnside put up with for a while and then stood up: "I don't know what you fellows call this talk, but I call it flat treason, by God!"

* Lee had indeed seen the opportunity, in fact, the necessity, to strike at Pope. On 5 August, a Confederate cavalry captain, John S. Mosby, who had been captured by the Federals two weeks earlier while going north to organize a guerrilla group, was released in a prisoner exchange. Mosby brought back interesting news. Although he did not know about the withdrawal of the Army of the Potomac, he did know that on 1 August Burnside and his men, still in their transports near Fort Monroe, had been ordered north to the Aquia Creek base. Lee concluded from this news that the next major threat to Richmond was from Pope, and that McClellan and the Army of the Potomac were not an immediate threat to Richmond. Lee could now focus his attention on Pope.

That same day, McClellan sent an infantry division to Malvern Hill, a move that raised Lee's apprehensions. Lee took three divisions down the Peninsula the following day in expectation of a battle. However, the morning after that, he found that the Federals had pulled back to their camp on the James. Lee was puzzled, but concluded that the Union move had been a reconnaissance in force, possibly to cover a withdrawal, and grew more confident in his impression that McClellan was not a danger to Richmond for the time being.

With Federal forces shifting towards assembly in the north, Lee had both an opportunity to strike and an immediate need to do so. The Army of the Potomac was not a threat for the moment, but once it was deployed in northern Virginia, Lee would have a grave threat to deal with. It was best to deal with Pope while the opportunity lasted.

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[26.2] THE BATTLE OF BATON ROUGE / DESTRUCTION OF THE ARKANSAS

* After the departure of Federal naval forces from Vicksburg, the Confederates felt encouraged enough to take the offensive against the Federal ground forces sitting passively at their garrisons throughout the south. Earl Van Dorn had once hoped to drive north to Saint Louis; frustrated in that goal, but encouraged by the success of the ARKANSAS against the Federal fleet, Van Dorn looked south to New Orleans. Regaining control of that city would be a powerful boost to Confederate morale, just as its fall had led to discouragement.

On Sunday, 27 July, the day after the Federal flotilla left Vicksburg, Van Dorn ordered General John C. Breckinridge to recapture Baton Rouge from Union Brigadier General Thomas Williams and his men. Breckinridge had 4,000 soldiers, but by the 30th of July that total had been reduced to 3,400 by illness, and he had learned the Yankees had 5,000 men in Baton Rouge and the support of gunboats. He wired Van Dorn of these obstacles, but said he would go ahead with the attack if the ironclad ARKANSAS could deal with the gunboats. The vessel was immediately sent downstream to provide support. It was scheduled to arrive on 5 August. Isaac Newton Brown was not in command, due to illness and other distractions, and the acting captain was Lieutenant Henry Stevens.

The rebels were miserably equipped and over the next week more of them fell ill. By Tuesday, 5 August 1862, Breckinridge was down to about 2,600 men, but they went ahead and attacked the Federals through a dense fog that morning. The Federals were better equipped and had more men, but about half of them were on the sick list as well. Breckinridge's troops made good progress at first, throwing back the Federal defense. When Thomas Williams realized that most of the officers on his flank had been shot or dispersed, he rode into the fighting and shouted: "Boys, your officers are all gone! I will lead you!" A few minutes later a bullet struck him in the chest, knocking him off his horse and killing him. Williams was the first Union general to be killed in action since Nathaniel Lyon had fallen at Wilson's Creek, a little over a year earlier.

Williams' death might have been the breaking point for the Yankees, but then the battle began to shift back in their favor. The ARKANSAS' engines had broken down and the ironclad was aground, within earshot but out of range of the fighting. Federal gunboats were free to pound the rebels with heavy shot and shell, and the bombardment began to tell against the Confederates. By midmorning, the rebels had been driven back and had to abandon the field to the Yankees. The Federals had lost almost 400 men, the Confederates over 450. Among the rebel dead was Lieutenant A.H. Todd, one of President Lincoln's brothers-in-law.

The crew of the ARKANSAS struggled with her balky engines all day and all night. The next morning the Union ironclad ESSEX came upstream to challenge her, and though the rebel ship went forth to meet the attack, her engines failed again and grounded her. Stevens ordered her burned; she exploded and sank in the Mississippi. The ARKANSAS was the last rebel ironclad that would trouble the Federals on the Big Muddy.

* Despite the fact that the Federals had beaten the rebels at Baton Rouge, Breckinridge felt proud of the fact that his raggedy, poorly fed, sadly equipped, and wretchedly sick soldiers put up such a good fight against a much better-equipped enemy. In fact, two weeks later they were able to claim with good cause that they had not actually lost after all. The Federals, fearing they could not stand up against another Confederate attack, abandoned the city, pulling out to New Orleans.

A few months ago it had seemed that the Confederacy would be shortly cut in half down the Mississippi. Now, with a few bold blows, their soldiers and sailors had restored a good stretch of the river to Confederate control. Breckinridge sent most of his men to Port Hudson, north of Baton Rouge, where they would fortify its bluff and hopefully create another Vicksburg. If the Federals wanted to come back, they'd have their work cut out for them.

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[26.3] SAM CURTIS IN HELENA

* Upriver in Arkansas, Union General Sam Curtis was watching the Federal war machine grinding to a halt. He and his men had finally managed to make it to Helena on 12 July, after spending weeks on the march through northern Arkansas under continual harassment. When Curtis got there, he found that the big push down the Mississippi that he had assumed Halleck would lead wasn't going to happen after all, which left Curtis with no place to go for the moment. Confederate General Thomas Hindman was massing rebel forces in Arkansas to take on the Federals and guerrillas were appearing out of the brush; Curtis decided to dig in around Helena and set up his headquarters in Hindman's mansion -- Hindman being out of town for the moment, Curtis saw no reason for the place to stay empty. Curtis also happily greeted Flag Officer Davis and his ironclads when they arrived at the end of July.

In the meantime, up north in Missouri, things were going to hell all over again. Brigadier General John M. Schofield, Federal commander in the state, uncovered evidence for what he believed was a plot for a massive rebel guerrilla uprising, supported by a Confederate invasion force from Arkansas, and so in mid-July he began a counteroffensive. Over 80 skirmishes took place in July and August. A guerrilla leader named William Charles Quantrill seized Independence for a time and was made a captain by the grateful Confederate state in response. The hangings, the farm-burnings, the bushwhackings, the entire dirty war in Missouri was on an upward trend.

To the west in Kansas, Governor Jim Lane was raising a black regiment, which would emerge as the "First Kansas Colored Volunteers", to help deal with rising violence there and across the state line. Farther to the north, in Minnesota, the Sioux went on the warpath, killing hundreds of settlers. Colonel H.H. Sibley was sent with a few companies of men to deal with the Indians.

Nothing seemed to be going right in the region, and there was nothing Curtis could do about any of it. Even within his own camp in Helena, the corruptions of the cotton trade had infested it with "Jews, secessionists, and spies." His health was bad, and the best he could do was hold on to Helena, make a few spoiling attacks to keep any would-be attackers off balance, and trust in the Mississippi as an unbreakable supply line.

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[26.4] BATTLE OF CEDAR MOUNTAIN, VIRGINIA

* On 7 August, Lee wrote to Stonewall Jackson to outline the strategic situation and grant Jackson the discretion to attack Pope's forces. The letter cautioned that no reinforcements were available, but concluded that Jackson was free to do as he pleased: "I must now leave the matter to your reflection and good judgement. Make up your mind what is best to be done under all the circumstances which surround us, and let me hear the result at which you arrive."

The opposing forces in northern Virginia were currently arrayed around the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, which ran south from Washington, across the Potomac through Alexandria, and then curved southwest to run roughly parallel to the Blue Ridge mountains, passing through Manassas and over the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers in turn. The O&A line was dotted with a series of small stops and towns. On the railroad south of Manassas Junction were Bristoe Station; Warrenton Junction; Brandy Station, just below the Rappahannock; Culpeper Court House; Orange Court House, below the Rapidan; and Gordonsville. Nathaniel Banks had set up his forces near Culpeper Court House, while Stonewall Jackson and his men were camped near Gordonsville.

With the Army of the Potomac out of business for the moment, John Pope was feeling insecure, but not very much so. He estimated Jackson's forces at about 30,000 men, a fairly good estimate with the true figure at about 25,000. Pope's forces were somewhat scattered, with about 11,000 men under Brigadier General Rufus King in Fredericksburg, currently being reinforced by Burnside and his 14,000 soldiers, but there were about 44,000 others under Banks, Sigel, and McDowell converging to oppose Jackson. Pope smelled an opportunity for a victory.

So did Jackson, who had already been planning a move of his own before Lee wrote him the letter of 7 August. Jackson hoped to smash one of Pope's isolated segments before the others could concentrate against him. Jackson was keeping quiet about his intentions, and as usual his lieutenants were confused and in the dark. Dick Ewell, who was familiar with Jackson's ways of doing things, was resigned to it, telling a chaplain: "I pledge you my word, Doctor, I do not know whether we march north, south, east, or west, or whether we will march at all. General Jackson has simply ordered me to have the division ready to move at dawn. I have been ready ever since, and have no further indication of his plans. That is almost all I ever know of his designs."

Jackson had famously spoken of the need to "mystify, mislead, and surprise" the enemy; out of simple habit, he applied the same strategy to his own officers. Ewell knew that Jackson was capable of great things and was willing to be patient with his eccentricities. A.P. Hill was not familiar with them and was annoyed, all the more so because Jackson had been stepping on him for every minor infraction of the rules. Hill was not noted for his patience, and the friction led to confusion.

Jackson's forces moved out of their camps around Gordonsville on Thursday, 7 August, and reached Orange Court House on the first day. However, Jackson changed his mind about the order of march across the Rapidan during the night; informed Ewell but not Hill; found Hill in the wrong place the next day; and chewed him out. The result was that the whole march fell into a tangle of confusion, frustration, and bickering.

the war in the East August:September 1862

* On that same day, Friday 8 August, Pope transferred his headquarters to Culpeper Court House and ordered Banks to take his two divisions south to counter Jackson's movement. Banks was still smarting from his thrashing in the Valley and moved out eagerly, though he was well aware that he had only 8,000 men to the 30,000 reported for Jackson. The next day, Banks and his troops were about eight miles (13 kilometers) south of Culpeper Court House near a low peak named Cedar Mountain, where the rebels were in evidence, lobbing artillery shells at him. Then one of the colonels on Pope's staff arrived to verbally pass on further orders:

BEGIN QUOTE:

General Banks will move to the front immediately, assume command of all the forces in the front, deploy his skirmishers if the enemy approaches, and attack him immediately as soon as he approaches, and be reinforced from here.

END QUOTE

Banks might not have had a strong grasp of military practicalities, but the order was so outrageous even to him that he had it written down and read back for confirmation. While the order begged more questions than it answered, such as the extent to which an attack should be pressed and how and when reinforcements would arrive, Banks went ahead anyway.

* The two armies made tentative contact at about noon on Saturday, 9 August 1862. Neither had chosen the battlefield by plan, it was just the place where they happened to collide. The rolling terrain around Cedar Mountain was heavily wooded, with spotted clearings of grainfields. Jackson had no idea he was facing two Federal divisions and simply continued an artillery duel while positioning his men around the mountain in the hot August sun. Due to the confusion of the previous day, A.P. Hill was still in the rear with his Light Division, and they would not be able to join Jackson for hours.

The artillery duel began to pick up at about 4:30 PM and the professional Federal artillery began to hammer the Confederate batteries. The Union gunners inflicted a number of casualties, including Brigadier General Charles Winder, the commander of Jackson's own division, who was directing fire when he was hit by a shell that tore off his left arm and ripped him open. He died a few hours later, much to Jackson's grief.

Unknown to the Confederates, Banks had sent one of his divisions, consisting of two brigades, through thick woods to attack the Confederates from the east. At about 5:00 PM, one of the two brigades, under Brigadier General Samuel W. Crawford, came out of the woods in line of battle, while the other brigade, under Brigadier General George Gordon, held positions behind them. The Confederates were unprepared for the attack. They fought back hard, inflicting severe casualties on Crawford's brigade, but the Yankees pressed on and sent the rebels falling back after a vicious fight. In the meantime, Bank's other division was pressing back the forces on Jackson's right. It appeared that Bank's gamble on long odds might just pay off.

A rider raced back to the rear to give Jackson the news. Jackson galloped back to the front, where he seized a flag from a color-bearer and shouted: "Rally, brave men, and press forward! Your general will lead you! Jackson will lead you!" He gave the flag back to the color-bearer and then tried to draw his sword. It was too rusty to be pulled out, however, so Jackson simply unhooked the scabbard and waved it over his head. The rebel soldiers rallied around Jackson. Once their lines had stabilized, he rushed back to urge A.P. Hill to move forward with his division. The first men he encountered were a brigade under Brigadier General Lawrence Branch. Jackson sent them forward, where they ran into Jackson's own Stonewall Brigade, fleeing for their lives, and then by advanced elements of Crawford's men in pursuit. The two sides collided; after a brief fight, the Federals were forced back.

By that time, the rest of Hill's division was moving into the line of battle and things started to go against the Yankees. Crawford's brigade was simply torn to pieces; Crawford wrote later: "The reserves of the enemy were thrown upon the broken ranks. The field-officers had all been killed, wounded, or taken prisoners; the support I looked for did not arrive, and my gallant men, broken, decimated by that fearful fire, that unequal contest, fell back across the space, leaving most of their number on the field." Color Sergeant James Hewison of the 5th Connecticut was hit twice, but tore his state's colors down from their banner, wrapped them around himself, and crawled to safety. Crawford's brigade lost about half its men.

Brigadier General Gordon advanced his brigade to stem Hill's counterattack, and the Union men were swamped with fire. They held as best they could, but were forced back. Then, late that afternoon, Hill took off his jacket to show off his red battle shirt and led his men against the remaining Federal line. The Yankees folded up and their defeat was apparent. Jackson tried to follow up his victory but confusion, falling darkness, and the tardy arrival of Federal reinforcements brought the rebel advance to a halt. At 11:00 PM, Jackson told his troops to bivouac on the ground, declared he could go no further, and fell asleep on a cloak on the ground.

The next day, Sunday 10 August, was hot and sticky. The Confederates ranged over the field of battle to attend to the wounded, bury the dead, and scavenge arms and equipment. The Federals continued to be reinforced and Jackson was now outnumbered. He remained on the defensive and prepared to withdraw. That afternoon the heat broke into thundershowers. Jackson's soldiers continued their work into the night, and on Monday, under cover of a truce, completed their task. Jackson pulled out Monday night and went south.

The Confederates lost over 1,300 men, the Federals over 2,400, many of them taken prisoner. It had been a soldier's battle. The Federals in particular had shown extreme courage in the face of a superior force. There was no credit in the action to their generals. Banks's order to attack was rash, with the responsibility for the blunder shared with Pope for his vague and irresponsible orders. Jackson had demonstrated little in the way of military judgement, and had the odds been more even, the Confederates would have very likely been defeated. Jackson privately told one of his staff that the Battle of Cedar Mountain was "the most successful of his exploits", which suggested that Ewell's original judgement of Jackson as crazy still had some validity. The critics carped at him; some called him arrogant; mad; no better than lucky, at best.

A.P. Hill had the last word. While Jackson had browbeat Hill whenever he had the chance, Hill not only had pulled Jackson's chestnuts out of the fire, he had also seen the Stonewall Brigade broken and running to the rear through his own advancing fighters.

Pope was ready to begin the fight again on Tuesday, believing the enemy was being reinforced and would attack him at dawn. The sun came up and the rebels were gone. Pope's men followed them cautiously to the Rapidan and then, failing to make contact, pulled back to Culpeper Court House, where he congratulated them on their "brilliant success" and said that Cedar Mountain was only the first "in a series of victories."

It is unlikely that the men of Banks' corps found this inspiring. They had taken a serious bloodying and were not in any condition to be fighting any more battles, much less winning them, for the immediate future. If Cedar Mountain was not the most impressive of Jackson's exploits, he had at least succeeded in taking one of Pope's pieces off the gameboard for the next rounds of the contest.

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[26.5] LINCOLN & NEGRO COLONIZATION

* While the pieces moved on the battlefield, President Lincoln still had politics to deal with. His schemes for compensated emancipation remained a pet project, and were coupled to another scheme, for resettlement -- colonization -- of black folk someplace other than the United States. After all, once the slaves were freed, there was the issue of what to do with them. Politicians from slaveholding Union states were perfectly aware of this issue, and so Lincoln had to have an answer for them. His answer was to ship black folk out of the country.

Colonization was an old idea, the "American Colonization Society" having set up the colony of Liberia in Africa in 1821, with Liberia obtaining its independence from the United States in 1846. Lincoln had long liked the idea of colonization, discussing it in speeches as far back as 1852, and in the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, Lincoln had proposed colonization, partly as a means of repudiating the accusations of Douglas that Lincoln wanted racial equality. Lincoln had been pushing colonization schemes to Congress ever since the beginning of his presidency, going public with the idea as part of an address to Congress in December 1861. The legislation that emancipated the slaves in the District of Columbia in April 1862 had allocated $100,000 in funds for colonization. The Second Confiscation Act of July 1862 added $500,000 more to help resettle "contrabands" who left their masters and came over to the Union.

Resettlement to Liberia hadn't worked out all that well and disillusionment with black colonization had been setting in, but Lincoln wasn't alone in his interest in the idea, with some of the Radical Republicans in favor of it, as well as the Blair family. The idea for the moment was to forget about Liberia and buy land to set up a colony in what is now Panama.

On 14 August 1862, Lincoln pitched the idea to five prominent black leaders at the White House. It was a historical event, no black Americans ever having been welcomed there as official guests before, but notes of the meeting did not show Lincoln at his best. He told the black dignitaries that money had been allocated for black colonization, and then made a pitch for the idea:

BEGIN QUOTE:

You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss, but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffer very greatly, many of them by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word we suffer on each side. If this is admitted, it affords a reason at least why we should be separated.

END QUOTE

He added that black folk had suffered "the greatest wrong inflicted on any people" but emphasized that they could not expect to be treated equally in America, and stated: "It is better for us both, therefore, to be separated." He then pitched the idea of the Central American colony. The group left the room to consider the matter; what they said in reply, or even if they replied, remains unknown. The general reaction among the leaders of free blacks was strongly negative, with Frederick Douglass loudly blasting the idea as an insult and racism.

That was the last time Lincoln talked the idea over with black folk, and the colonization effort gradually sputtered out. The attempt to set up a freedman's colony in Central America was half-baked and nothing came of it. An effort to set up a colony on Vache Island, off the coast of Haiti, actually did get off the ground, with five hundred black folk shipped there in April 1863, but it was still half-baked and it would have been better if nothing had been done at all. The colony collapsed of disease and starvation in less than a year, with 350 survivors being evacuated by ship in January 1864. In the end, only about $38,000 of the $600,000 allocated by Congress for colonization was actually spent by the Lincoln Administration.

By that time, even Lincoln had given up on the notion. The whole colonization fiasco presented Abraham Lincoln at his clumsiest, with much written later on his possible motivations and to wonder just how serious or sincere he was about the idea. It is almost impossible to decipher such things now; enough to say that the idea didn't work and would not be proposed by Lincoln again.

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