And Steele,—where was Steele all this time? Having rejected Banks's advice to join him near Alexandria, marching by way of Monroe and so down the Ouachita, Steele set out from Little Rock on the 24th of March, moved by his right on Arkadelphia, and arrived there on the 28th. His object in preferring this direction was, not only to avoid the heavy roads in the low lands of the Ouachita, but to take up Thayer, who was already on the march from Fort Smith, thus making a fourth concentration in the enemy's country. The exigencies of the wretched farce called a State election in Arkansas had reduced Steele's effective force by fully 3,000, so that he now moved with barely 7,000 of all arms, and six batteries. Opposed to Steele was Price, with the cavalry divisions of Fagan and Marmaduke, the former at Spring Hill to meet the advance from Arkadelphia, and the latter at Camden, to guard the line of the Ouachita. To strengthen himself, Price drew in Cabell and Maxey, who with three brigades were at first engaged in watching Thayer.
On the 1st of April, hearing nothing from Thayer, Steele advanced from Arkadelphia, crossed the Little Missouri at Elkin's Ferry on the 3d, was joined by Thayer on the 6th, and on the 10th had a sharp engagement with an outlying brigade, under Shelby, of Price's army. Price was then at Prairie d'Ane, covering the crossing of the roads that led to Camden and to Shreveport, but on the evening of the 11th he drew back beyond the prairie to a strong position eight miles north of Washington. To have followed Price would have been to put Steele's long and lengthening line of communication at the mercy of Marmaduke. This was what Price wanted; but when, on the 12th, Steele saw the road to Camden left open, he promptly took it, and, harried by Price in his rear, and not seriously impeded by Marmaduke in his front, he marched into Camden on the 15th, and occupied the strong line of the Confederate defences. This was four days after the return of Banks to Grand Ecore, which of course put an end to any farther advance of Steele in the direction of Shreveport, and while he was waiting for authentic news, Price was busy on his line of communication with Pine Bluff, and Kirby Smith, with Churchill and Walker, was moving rapidly to join Price. On the 20th of April Kirby Smith appeared before the lines of Camden; but Steele had already begun his inevitable retreat a few hours earlier, and having destroyed the bridge across the Ouachita, gained so long a start that he was enabled make good the difficult crossing of the Saline at Jenkins's Ferry, but only after a hard fight on the 30th of April with the combined forces of Smith and Price. Finally, the 2d of May saw Steele back at Little Rock with his army half starved, greatly reduced in men and material in these six ineffectual weeks, thinking no longer of Halleck's wide schemes of conquest, or even of Grant's wish to hold the line of the Red River, but rather hoping for some stroke of good fortune to enable him to defend the line of the Arkansas and to keep Price out of Missouri.
CHAPTER XXVIII. THE DAM.
Directly after the capture of Port Hudson, Bailey offered to float the two Confederate transport steamers, Starlight and Red Chief, that were found lying on their sides high and almost dry in the middle of Thompson's Creek. With smiles and a shrug or two permission was given him to try; he tried; he succeeded; and this experience it undoubtedly was that caused his words to be listened to so readily when he now proposed to rescue the fleet in the same way. But to build at leisure and unmolested a pair of little wing-dams in the ooze of Thompson's creek and to close the opening by a central boom against that sluggish current was one thing; it was quite another to repeat the same operation against time, while surrounded and even cut off by a strong and active enemy, this too on the scale required to hold back the rushing waters of the Red River, at a depth sufficient for the passage of the heaviest of the gunboats and for a time long enough to let the whole fleet go by. Yet, bold as the bare conception seems, and stupendous as the work looks when regarded in detail, no sooner had it been suggested by Bailey then every engineer in the army at once entered heartily into the scheme. Palfrey, who had previously made a complete survey of the rapids, examined the plan carefully, and approved it. Franklin, to whose staff Bailey was attached, himself an engineer of distinguished attainments and wide experience, approved it, and Banks at once gave orders to carry it out.
In the month that had elapsed since the fleet ascended the rapids, the river had fallen more than six feet; for more than a mile the rocks now lay bare. In the worst places but forty inches of water were found, while with seven feet the heavy gunboats could barely float, and in some places the channel, shallow as it was, narrowed to a thread. The current ran nine miles an hour. The whole fall was thirteen feet, and at the point just above the lower chute, where Bailey proposed to construct his dam, the river was 758 feet wide, with a fall of six feet below the dam. The problem was how to raise the water above the dam seven feet, backing it up so as to float the gunboats over the upper rapids.
Heavy details were made from the troops, the working parties were carefully selected, and on the 30th of April the work was begun. From the north bank a wing-dam was constructed of large trees, the butts tied by cross logs, the tops laid towards the current, covered with brush, and weighted, to keep them in place, with stone and brick obtained by tearing down the buildings in the neighborhood. On the south bank, where large trees were scarce, a crib was made of logs and timbers filled in with stone and with bricks and heavy pieces of machinery taken from the neighboring sugar-houses and cotton-gins. When this was done there remained an open space of about one hundred and fifty feet between the wings, through which the rising waters poured with great velocity. This gap was nearly closed by sinking across it four of the large Mississippi coal-barges belonging to the navy.
When on the 8th of May all was thus complete, the water was found to have risen five feet four and a half inches at the upper fall, giving a measured depth there of eight feet eight and one half inches. Three of the light-draught gunboats, Osage, Neosho, and Fort Hindman, which had steam up, took prompt advantage of the rise to pass the upper fall, and soon lay in safety in the pool formed by the dam; yet for some reason the other boats of the fleet were not ready, and thus in the very hour when safety was apparently within their reach, suddenly they were once more exposed to a danger even greater than before. Early on the morning of the 9th the tremendous pressure of pent-up waters surging against the dam drove out two of the barges, making a gap sixty-six feet wide, and swung them furiously against the rocks below. Through the gap the river rushed in a roaring torrent. At sight and sound of this, the Admiral at once mounted a horse, galloped to the upper fall, and called out to the Lexington to run the rapids. Instantly the Lexington was under way, and as, with a full head of steam she made the plunge, every man in the army and the fleet held his breath in the terrible silence of suspense. For a moment she seemed lost as she reeled and almost disappeared in the foam and surge, but only to be greeted with a mighty cheer, such as brave men give to courage and good fortune, when she was seen to ride in safety below. The Osage, the Neosho, and the Fort Hindman promptly followed her down the chute, but the other six gunboats and the two tugs were still imprisoned above by the sudden sinking of the swift rushing waters; the jaws of danger, for an instant relaxed, had once more shut tightly on the prey. Doubt and gloom took the place of exultation. As for the army, hard as had been the work demanded of it, still greater exertions were before it, nor was their result by any means certain, for the volume of the river was daily diminishing, and there would be no more rise that year.
So far Bailey had substantially followed, though on a larger scale, the same plan that had worked so successfully the year before at Port Hudson. But against a weight, a volume, and a velocity of water such as had to be encountered here, it was now plainly seen that something else would have to be tried. No emergency, however great or sudden, ever finds a man of his stamp unready. As soon therefore as the collapse showed him the defect in his first plan, he instantly set about remedying it by dividing the weight of water to be contended with. At the upper fall three wing-dams were constructed. Just above the rocks a stone crib was laid on the south side, and directly opposite to this on the north side a tree-dam, like those already described when speaking of the original dam. Just below the rocks, projecting diagonally from the north bank, a bracket-dam was built, made of logs having one end sunk to meet the current, the other end raised on trestles, and the whole then sheathed with plank. By this means the whole current was turned into one very narrow channel, and a new rise of fourteen inches was gained, giving in all six feet six and one half inches of water. Every man bending himself to this task to his utmost, by the most incredible exertions this new work was completed in three days and three nights, and thus during the 12th and 13th the remainder of the fleet passed free of the danger.
The cribs were washed away during the spring rise in 1865; but it is said that the main tree-dam survives to this day, having driven the channel towards the south shore, and washed away a large slice of the bank at the upper end of the town of Alexandria.
For his part in the conception and execution of this great undertaking, Bailey received the thanks of Congress on the 11th of June, 1864, and was afterward made a brigadier-general by the President.
The troops engaged in constructing the dam were the 97th colored, Colonel George D. Robinson; the 99th colored, Lieutenant-Colonel Uri B. Pearsall; the 29th Maine, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles S. Emerson; the 133d New York, a detail of 300 men, under Captain Anthony J. Allaire; the 161st New York, Lieutenant-Colonel Wm. B. Kinsey; the pioneers of the Thirteenth Army Corps, 125 in number, commanded by Captain John B. Hutchens of the 24th Indiana, and composed of men detailed from the 11th, 24th, 34th, 46th, 47th, and 67th Indiana, the 48th, 56th, 83d, and 96th Ohio, the 24th and 28th Iowa, the 23d and 29th Wisconsin, 130th Illinois, and 19th Kentucky; 460 men of the 27th Indiana, 29th Wisconsin, 19th Kentucky, 130th Illinois, 83d Ohio, 24th Iowa, 23d Wisconsin, 77th Illinois, and 16th Ohio, commanded by Captain George W. Stein of the latter regiment.
Bailey was also greatly assisted by a detail from the navy, under Lieutenant Amos R. Langthorne, commanding the Mound City. Besides these officers, all of whom rendered service the most laborious and the most valuable, Bailey acknowledges his indebtedness to Brigadier-General Dwight, Colonel James Grant Wilson, and Lieutenant Charles S. Sargent of Banks's staff; to Major W. H. Sentell, 160th New York, provost-marshal; Lieutenant John J. Williamson, ordnance officer of the Nineteenth Corps; and Lieutenant Sydney Smith Fairchild, 161st New York.
All this time the army lying about Alexandria, to secure the safety of the navy, was itself virtually invested by the small but active forces under Taylor, who now found himself, not only foot loose, but once more able to use for his supplies the channel of the upper Red River, whence he had caused the obstructions to be removed as soon as the withdrawal of Banks relieved all fears of invasion, and turned the thoughts of the Confederate chiefs to dreams of conquest.
On the 31st of March Grant had peremptorily ordered the evacuation of the coast of Texas save only the position held at the mouth of the Rio Grande, and Banks, as soon as he received this order, had ordered McClernand to join him with the bulk of his troops, consisting of the First and Second divisions of the Thirteenth Corps. McClernand, with Lawler's brigade of the former, arrived at Alexandria on the 29th of April; Warren, with the rest of his division, was on his way up the Red River, when he found himself cut off near Marksville. Then he seized Fort De Russy and held it until the campaign ended.
Brisk skirmishing went on from day to day between the outposts and advanced guards, yet Banks, though he had five men to one of Taylor's,(1) held fast by his earthworks without making any real effort to crush or to drive off his adversary, while on their part the Confederates refrained from any serious attempt to interrupt the navigation of the lower Red River until the evening of the 3d of May, when near David's Ferry Major attacked and, after a sharp fight, took the transport City Belle, which he caught coming up the river with 425 officers and men of the 120th Ohio. Many were killed or wounded, and many others taken prisoner, a few escaping through the forest. Major then sunk the steamboat across the channel and thus closed it. Early on the morning of the 5th of May Major, with Hardeman's and Lane's cavalry brigades and West's battery, met just above Fort De Russy the gunboats Signal and Covington, and the transport steamer Warner, and after a short and hard fight disabled all three of the boats. The Covington was set on fire by her commander and destroyed, but the Signal and Warner fell into the hands of the Confederates with many of the officers and men of the three boats, and of a detachment of about 250 men of the 56th Ohio, on the Warner. These captured steamers, also, were sunk across the channel.
On the 2d of May, Franklin's wound compelling him to go to New Orleans and presently to the North, Banks assigned Emory to the command of the Nineteenth Army Corps. This brought McMillan to the head of the First division and gave his brigade to Beal. Captain Frederic Speed was announced as Assistant Adjutant-General of the Corps. A few days later, in consequence of McClernand's illness, Lawler was given the command of the Thirteenth Corps.
(1) Banks's return for April 30th shows 33,502 officers and men for duty. May 10th, Taylor says: "To keep this up with my little force of scarce 6,000 men, I am compelled to 'eke out the lion's skin with the fox's hide.'" ("Official Records," vol. xxxiv., part I., p. 590.) He does not count his cavalry.
CHAPTER XXIX. LAST DAYS IN LOUISIANA.
On the 13th of May Banks marched from Alexandria on Simmesport, Lawler leading the infantry column, Emory next, and A. J. Smith's divisions of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Corps bringing up the rear. As far as Fort De Russy the march followed the bank of the river, with the object of covering the withdrawal of the fleet of gunboats and transports against any possible molestation. Steele's cavalry division hung upon and harassed the rear, Polignac, Major, and Bagby hovered in front and on the flanks, while Harrison followed on the north bank of the Red River, but no serious attempt was made to obstruct the movement. On the afternoon of the 15th the Confederates were seen in force in front of the town of Marksville, but were soon driven off and retired rapidly through the town.
On the morning of the 16th of May an event took place, described by all who saw it as the finest military spectacle they ever witnessed. On the wide and rolling prairie of Avoyelles, otherwise known as the Plains of Mansura, the Confederates stood for the last time across the line of march of the retreating army. As battery after battery went into action and the cavalry skirmishers became briskly engaged, it seemed as if a pitched battle were imminent. The infantry rapidly formed line of battle, Mower on the right, Kilby Smith next, Emory in the centre, Lawler on the left, the main body of Arnold's cavalry in column on the flank. Save where here and there the light smoke from the artillery hindered the view, the whole lines of both armies were in plain sight of every man in either, but the disparity in numbers was too great to justify Taylor in making more than a handsome show of resistance on a field like this, where defeat was certain, and destruction must have followed close upon defeat; and so when our lines were advanced he prudently withdrew. Banks's losses were small, but Lieutenant Haskin's horse-battery F, 1st U. S., being unavoidably exposed in spite of its skilful handling, to a hot enfilade fire of the Confederate artillery, to cover their flank movement in retreat, suffered rather severely.
In the afternoon the troops halted for a while on the banks of a little stream to enjoy the first fresh, clear water they had so much as seen for many weeks. At the sight the men broke into cheers, and almost with one accord rushed eagerly to the banks of the rivulet. That night the army bivouacked eight miles from the Atchafalaya, and early the next morning, the 17th of May, marched down to the river at Simmesport, where the transports and the gunboats, having arrived two days earlier, lay waiting. Near Moreauville on the 17th the rear-guard of cavalry was sharply attacked by Wharton; at the same time Debray, lying in ambush with two regiments and a battery, opened fire on the flank of the moving column. While this was going on the two other regiments of Debray made a dash on the wagon-train near the crossing of Yellow Bayou, and threw it into some momentary confusion. Neither of these attacks were serious, and all were easily thrown off.
The next day, the 18th, A. J. Smith's command was in position near Yellow Bayou to cover the crossing of the Atchafalaya, and he was himself at the landing at Simmesport, in the act of completing his arrangements for crossing, when Taylor suddenly attacked with his whole force. Mower, who commanded in Smith's absence, advanced his lines as soon as he found his skirmishers coming in, and thus brought on one of the sharpest engagements of the campaign. With equal judgment, skill, and daring, Mower finally drove the Confederates off the field in confusion and with heavy loss, and so brought to a brilliant close the part borne by the gallant soldiers of the Army of the Tennessee in their trying service in Louisiana. Mower's loss was 38 killed, 226 wounded, and 3 missing, in all 267. Taylor reports his loss as about 500, including 30 killed, 50 severely wounded, and about 100 prisoners from Polignac's division. The Confederate returns account for 452 killed and wounded.
At Simmesport the skill and readiness of Bailey were once more put to good use in improvising a bridge of steamboats across the Atchafalaya. In his report, Banks speaks of this as the first attempt of the kind, probably forgetting, since it did not fall under his personal observation, that when the army moved on Port Hudson the year before, the last of the troops and trains crossed the river at the same place in substantially the same way. However, the Atchafalaya was then low: it was now swollen to a width of six hundred or seven hundred yards by the back water from the Mississippi, and thus the floating bridge, which the year before was made by lashing together not more than nine boats, with their gangways in line, connected by means of the gangplanks and rough boards, now required twenty-two boats to close the gap. Over this bridge, on the 19th of May, the troops took up their march in retreat, and so brought the disastrous campaign of the Red River to an end just a year after they had begun, in the same way and on the same spot, the triumphant campaign of Port Hudson.
On the 20th A. J. Smith crossed, the bridge was broken up, and in the evening the whole army marched for the Mississippi. On the 21st, at Red River landing, the Nineteenth Corps bade farewell to its brave comrades of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth.
A. J. Smith landed at Vicksburg on the 23d of May too late for the part assigned him in the spring campaign of Sherman's army, and the operations on the Mississippi being now reduced to the defensive, he remained on the banks of the river until called on to repulse Price's invasion of Missouri. Then, having handsomely performed his share of this service, he joined Thomas just in time to take part in the decisive battle of Nashville.
At Simmesport Banks was met by Canby, who on the 11th of May, at Cairo or on the way thence to Memphis, had assumed command of the new-made Military Division of West Mississippi, in virtue of orders from Washington, dated the 7th. The President still refused to yield to Grant's repeated requests that Banks might be altogether relieved from his command, nor did Grant longer persist in this; accordingly Banks remained the titular commander of the Department of the Gulf, with a junior officer present as his immediate superior and his next subordinate in actual command of his troops.
The Thirteenth and Nineteenth Corps, the cavalry, and the trains continued the march, under Emory, and on the 22d of May went into camp at Morganza.
From the Arkansas to the Gulf, from the Atchafalaya to the Rio Grande there was no longer a Union soldier, save the insignificant garrison kept at Brownsville to preserve the semblance of that foothold in Texas for the sake of which so much blood and treasure had been spilled into this sink of shame.
When Steele's retreat to Little Rock had put an end to all hopes of a successful pursuit, Kirby Smith faced about and set Walker in rapid motion toward Alexandria with Churchill closely following. A day or two after Banks had left the place Walker arrived at Alexandria, too late to do anything more in Louisiana.
Taylor quarrelled bitterly with Kirby Smith, who ended by ordering him to turn over his command to Walker. Leaving a small force to hold the country and to observe and annoy the Union army of occupation in Louisiana, Kirby Smith then gathered his forces, and passing by Steele's right flank, invaded Missouri.
After arriving at Morganza, Emory, by Canby's orders, put his command in good condition for defence or for a movement in any direction by sending to other stations all the troops except the Nineteenth Corps and the First division, Lawler's, of the Thirteenth Corps, as well as all the extra animals, wagons, and baggage of the army. For the sedentary defensive, the position at Morganza had many advantages, but except that good water for all purposes was to be had in plenty for the trouble of crossing the levee, the situation was perhaps the most unfortunate in which the corps was ever encamped. The heat was oppressive and daily growing more unbearable. The rude shelters of bushes and leaves, cut fresh from the neighboring thicket and often renewed, gave little protection; the levee and the dense undergrowth kept off the breeze; and such was the state of the soil that when it was not a cloud of light and suffocating dust, it was a sea of fat black mud. The sickly season was close at hand, the field and general hospitals were filled, and the deaths were many. The mosquitoes were at their worst; but worse than all were the six weeks of absolute idleness, broken only by an occasional alarm or two, such as led to the brief expedition of Grover's division to Tunica and Natchez.
At first Canby intended to use the Nineteenth Corps as a sort of marine patrol or coast-guard, with its trains and artillery and cavalry reduced to the lowest point, and the main body of the infantry kept always ready to embark on a fleet of transports specially assigned for the service and to go quickly to any point up or down the Mississippi or the adjacent waters that might be menaced or attacked by the enemy. The orders for the organization and equipment of the corps in this manner form a model of forethought and of minute attention to detail, yet as events turned out, they were never put in practice.
Toward the end of June the corps underwent at the hands of Canby the last of its many reorganizations.(1) The First and Second divisions were left substantially as they had been during the campaign just ended, but the Thirteenth Corps being broken up,(2) seventeen of its best regiments were taken to form for the Nineteenth Corps a new Third division, under Lawler. Emory, who was suffering from the effects of the climate and the hardships of the campaign, had just applied for leave of absence, supposing that all idea of a movement during the summer was at an end, and Canby, having granted this, assigned Reynolds to command the corps, to which, in truth, his rank and record entitled him, and gave the First division, Emory's own, to Roberts, a total stranger. Upon this, and learning of the movement about to be made, Emory at once threw up his leave of absence, and Reynolds, noting with the eye of a soldier the deep and widespread disappointment among the officers and men of the corps, magnanimously persuaded Canby to leave the command of the Nineteenth Army Corps, for the time being, to Emory, while Reynolds himself commanded the forces at Morganza. The brigades of the First division were commanded by Beal, McMillan, and Currie. Grover kept the Second division with Birge, Molineux, and Sharpe as brigade commanders, and afterward a fourth brigade was added, made up of four regiments from the disbanded Thirteenth Corps, under Colonel David Shunk of the 8th Indiana, and comprising, in addition to his own regiment, the 24th and 28th Iowa, and the 18th Indiana. At this later period also the 1st Louisiana was taken from Molineux's brigade to remain in the Gulf, and its place was filled by the 11th Indiana and the 22d Iowa. Lawler's new Third division had Lee, Cameron, and Colonel F. W. Moore of the 83d Ohio for brigade commanders. This was a splendid division, on both sides congenial; unfortunately it was not destined to see service with the corps.
Three great reviews broke the torrid monotony of Morganza. On the 11th of June Emory reviewed the corps in a tropical torrent, which suddenly descending drenched every man to the skin and reduced the field music to discord, without interrupting the ceremony. On the 14th the troops again passed in review before Sickles, who had been sent to Louisiana on a tour of inspection, and finally on the 25th Reynolds reviewed the forces at Morganza on taking the command.
Grant's orders to Canby were the same as those he had given to Banks, to go against Mobile.
This was indeed an integral and important, though strictly subordinate, part of the comprehensive plan adopted by the lieutenant-general for the spring campaign. Besides distracting the attention of the Confederates, and either drawing off a large part of their forces from Sherman's front or else causing them to give up Mobile without a struggle, the control of the Alabama River would give Sherman a secure base of supplies and a safe line of retreat in any contingency, while the occupation of a line from Atlanta to Mobile would, as Grant remarked, "once more split the Confederacy in twain."
But while in Louisiana the troops stood still, awaiting the full completion of Canby's exhaustive preparations, elsewhere events were marching with great rapidity. On the 3d of June Grant's campaign from the Rappahannock to the James came to an end in the bloody repulse of Cold Harbor, with the loss of 12,737 officers and men. On the 14th he crossed the James and sat down before Petersburg. In the six weeks that had passed since the Army of the Potomac made its way into the Wilderness, Grant had lost from the ranks of the two armies of the Potomac and the James nearly as many men as Lee had in the Army of Northern Virginia.(3)
While he was himself directing the movement of Meade and Butler against Richmond and Petersburg, Grant ordered Hunter, who commanded in the Shenandoah Valley, to march by Charlottesville on Lynchburg, and sent Sheridan, with the cavalry on a great raid to Charlottesville to meet Hunter; but Lee sent Early to intercept the movement, and Early, moving with the speed and promptness to which Jackson's old corps was well used, got to Lynchburg in time to head Hunter off. Then Hunter, rightly deeming his position precarious, instead of retreating down the valley, made his escape across the mountains into West Virginia. This left the gates of the great valley thoroughfare wide open for Early, who, instantly marching north, once more invaded Maryland, harried Pennsylvania, and menaced Washington.
It was at this crisis, when nothing was being accomplished in Louisiana and everything was happening in Virginia, that Grant ordered Canby to put off his designs on Mobile and to send the Nineteenth Corps with all speed to Hampton Roads.(4) Canby understood this to mean the First and Second divisions, and placed Emory in command of this detachment. On the 30th of June the two divisions began moving down the river to Algiers, and on the 3d of July the advance steamed out of the river into the Gulf of Mexico with sealed orders. When the steamer Crescent, which led the way, carrying the 153d New York and four companies of the 114th, had dropped her pilot outside of the passes, Davis broke the seal and for the first time learned his destination. Within a few days the remainder of the First division followed, without Roberts, Emory accompanied by the headquarters of the expedition going on the Mississippi on the 5th of July, with the 30th Massachusetts, the 90th New York, and the 116th New York, but transferring himself at the Southwest Pass to the Creole, in his impatience at finding the Mississippi aground and his anxiety to come up with the advance of his troops. The Crescent was the first to arrive before Fortress Monroe. The last regiment of the Third brigade sailed on the 11th. Grover's division began its embarkation about the 10th and finished about the 20th.
In this movement some of the best regiments of the corps were left behind, as well as all the cavalry and the whole of the magnificent park of field artillery. Among the troops thus cut off were the 110th New York, the 161st New York, the 7th Vermont, the 6th Michigan, the 4th Wisconsin, the 1st Indiana Heavy Artillery, the 1st Louisiana, and the 2d Louisiana Mounted Infantry. Reynolds with the corps headquarters and the new Third division remained in Louisiana. Since this came from the old Thirteenth Corps, was afterward incorporated in the new Thirteenth Corps, formed for the siege of Mobile, never saw service in the Nineteenth Corps and nominally belonged to it but a few days, and since the detachment now sent north was presently constituted the Nineteenth Corps, the title of the corps will hereafter be used in this narrative when speaking of the services of the First and Second divisions.
On the 14th of June Major William H. Sentell, of the 160th New York, was detailed by Emory as acting assistant inspector-general of the corps, and Captain Henry C. Inwood, of the 165th New York,(5) as provost marshal.
To regret leaving the lowlands of Louisiana at the sickly season, the poisonous swamps, the filthy water, the overpowering heat, and the intolerable mosquitoes, was impossible; yet there can have been no man in all that host that did not feel, as the light, cool breezes of the Gulf fanned his brow, a swelling of the heart and a tightness of the throat at the thought of all that he had seen and suffered, and the remembrance of the many thousands of his less fortunate comrades who had succumbed to the dangers and trials on which he himself was now turning his back for the last time.
(1) Begun about June 16th. The final orders are dated June 27th.
(2) By orders from Washington, issued at Canby's request, June 11th.
(3) From the 5th of May to the 15th of June Meade's losses were 51,908, and Butler's 9,234, together 61,142. The best estimates give 61,000 to 64,000 as Lee's strength at the Wilderness, or 78,400 from the Rappahannock to the James,—"Century War Book," vol. iv., pp. 182-187.
(4) The first suggestion seems to have come from Butler to Stanton, May 29th, Weitzel concurring. Grant disapproved this in a telegram dated 3 P.M., June 3d: the second assault had been made that morning. The movement across the James for the surprise and seizure of Petersburg came to a stand-still on the 18th. On the 23d Grant made the request and the orders were issued the next day.
(5) In the official records wrongly printed as the 160th.
CHAPTER XXX. ON THE POTOMAC.
Grant had meant to send the troops to join the Army of the James under Butler at Bermuda Hundred, but already the dust of Early's columns was in sight from the hills behind Washington, and the capital, though fully fortified, being practically without defenders, until the Sixth Corps should come to the rescue, in the stress of the moment the detachments of the Nineteenth Corps were hurried up the Potomac as fast as the transports entered the roads. It was noon on the 11th when Davis landed the fourteen companies from the Crescent at the wharves of Washington, where he found orders to occupy and hold Fort Saratoga.(1)
At the hour when Davis was disembarking at the southern end of Sixth Street wharf, Early's headquarters were at Silver Spring, barely five miles away to the northward, and his skirmishers were drawing within range of the guns of Fort Stevens. Behind the defences of Washington there were but twenty thousand soldiers of all arms. Of these less than half formed the garrison of the works, and even of this fraction nearly all were raw, undisciplined, uninstructed, and lacking the simplest knowledge of the ground they were to defend. But five days before this, Grant had taken Ricketts from the lines of the Sixth Corps before Petersburg, and sent him by water to Baltimore, whence his superb veterans were carried by rail to the Monocacy just in time to enable Wallace, with a chance medley of garrison and emergency men, to face Early on the 9th, and compel him to lose a day in crossing. Then, at last, made quite certain of Early's true position and plans, Grant hurried the rest of the Sixth Corps to the relief of Washington, and thus the steamboat bearing the advance of Wright's men touched the wharf about two hours after the Crescent had made fast. The guns of Fort Stevens were already heard shelling the approaches, and thither Wright was at once directed, but in the great heat and dust Early had pressed on so fast that his men arrived before the works parched with thirst and panting with exhaustion. Moreover, evening came before the rear of his column had closed up on the front, and during these critical hours Wright's strong divisions of the veterans of the Army of the Potomac lined the works and stood stiffly across the path, while in supporting distance to the eastward was the little handful from the Gulf. Early, who had seen something of this and imagined more, waited, and so his opportunity, great or little, went. On the afternoon of the next day, the 12th of July, Early still not attacking, Wright sent out a brigade and roughly pushed back the Confederate advance. Then Early, realizing that he had not an hour to lose in extricating his command from its false position, fell back at night on Rockville.
On the 13th of July the Clinton arrived at Washington with the 29th Maine and part of the 13th Maine, the St. Mary with the 8th Vermont, the Corinthian with the remaining six companies of the 114th New York, the Mississippi with the 90th and 116th New York and the 30th Massachusetts, the Creole with the 47th Pennsylvania. As the detachments landed they were hurried, in most instances by long and needless circuits to Tennallytown, where they found themselves at night without supplies or wagons, without orders, and without much organization.
Now that the enemy had gone and there were enough troops in Washington, the capital was once more a wild confusion of commands and commanders, such as seems to have prevailed at every important crisis during the war. Out of this Grant brought order by assigning Wright to conduct the pursuit of Early. When, therefore, on the morning of the 13th, Wright found Early gone from his front, he marched after him with the Sixth Corps, and ordered the detachment of the Nineteenth Corps to follow. Grant wished Wright to push on to Edwards Ferry to cut off Early's retreat across the Potomac. At nightfall Wright was at Offutt's Cross-Roads, with Russell and Getty of the Sixth corps, the handful of the Nineteenth Corps, and the cavalry.
About 3,600 men of Emory's division had landed at Washington during the 12th and 13th of July, increasing the effective force of the Nineteenth Corps to about 4,200, most of whom spent the night in following the windings of the road that marks the long outline of the northern fortifications. On the morning of the 14th, the roll-call accounted for 192 officers and 2,987 men of the corps, representing ten regiments, in the bivouacs that lay loosely scattered about Tennallytown. On the 14th these detachments marched ten miles and encamped beyond Offutt's Cross-Roads, where they were joined by Battery L of the 1st Ohio, temporarily lent to the division from the artillery reserve of the defences of Washington. Emory himself arrived during the day and assumed command of the division, and Dwight, relieved from duty as Banks's chief of staff, came in the evening to rejoin the 1st brigade. Gilmore, who found himself in Washington without assignment, had been given command of the Nineteenth Corps, but happening to sprain his foot badly he was obliged to go off duty after having held the assignment nominally for less than a day. Thereupon Emory once more took command of the corps, and the First division fell to Dwight.
Moving by the river road, Wright, with Getty's division, was at Poolesville on the night of the 14th, with the last of the Nineteenth Corps eleven miles in the rear. But Early had already made good his escape, having crossed the Potomac that morning at White's Ford, with all his trains and captures intact, while Wright was still south of Seneca Creek.
The next day Emory closed up on Getty at Poolesville, and Halleck began sending the rest of the Sixth Corps there to join Wright.
In the Union army the impression now prevailed that Early, having accomplished the main object of his diversion, would, as usual, hasten to rejoin Lee at Richmond. Wright, therefore, got ready to go back to Washington, but Early was in fact at Leesburg, and word came that Hunter, whose forces were beginning to arrive at Harper's Ferry, after their long and wide excursion over the Alleghanies and through West Virginia, had sent Sullivan's division across the Potomac at Berlin to Hillsborough, where it threatened Early's flank and rear while exposing its own. Therefore Wright felt obliged to cross to the support of Hunter, and on the morning of the 16th of July the Sixth Corps, followed by Emory's detachment of the Nineteenth, waded the Potomac at White's Ford and encamped at Clark's Gap, three miles beyond Leesburg. But Early, by turns bold and wary, slipped away between Wright and Hunter, marched through Snicker's Gap, and put the Shenandoah between him and his enemies. Caution had been enjoined on the pursuit, and the 17th was spend in closing up and reconnoitring. On the 18th the combined forces of Wright and Hunter marched through Snicker's Gap, and in the afternoon Crook, who, having brought up his own division, found himself in command of Hunter's troops, sent Thoburn across the Shenandoah below Snicker's Ferry to seize and hold the ferry for the passage of the army; but when Thoburn had gained the north bank Early fell upon him with three divisions and drove him back across the river with heavy loss. Instead of risking anything more in the attempt to force the crossing in the face of Early's whole force in position, Wright was mediating a turning movement by way of Keyes's Gap, but Duffie, after riding hard through Ashby's Gap and crossing the Shenandoah at Berry's Ferry, likewise came to grief on the north bank, and so the day of the 19th of July was lost.
Meanwhile Hunter, having seen nearly all the rest of his army arrive at Harper's Ferry, sent a brigade and a half under Hayes to march straight up the Shenandoah to Snicker's Ferry, while Averell with a mixed force of cavalry and infantry was sweeping down from Martinsburg on Winchester. Thus menaced in front, flank, and rear, Early, on the night of the 19th of July, retreated on Strasburg.
The next morning Wright crossed the Shenandoah, meaning to move toward Winchester, but when he learned where Early had gone he recrossed the river in the evening, marched by night to Leesburg, and encamped on Goose Creek, presently crossing to the south bank. On the morning of the 22d Wright marched on Washington, the Sixth Corps leading, followed by the Nineteenth. On the afternoon of the 23d Emory crossed the chain bridge and went into bivouac on the high ground overlooking the Potomac near Battery Vermont. So ended the "Snicker's Gap war."
During this expedition Kenly's brigade of the Eighth Corps served with the Nineteenth.
As soon as Early's withdrawal from Maryland had quieted all apprehensions for the safety of Washington, the orders that had met the advance of the Nineteenth Corps at Hampton Roads were recalled, and, reverting to his original intention, Grant sent the detachments of the corps as they arrived up the James River to Bermuda Hundred to join the right wing of his armies under Butler. Indeed, at the moment of its arrival at Poolesville, the First division had been ordered to take the same destination, but this the movements of the contending armies prevented. The first of the troops to land at Bermuda Hundred was the 15th Maine on the 17th of July. It was at once sent to the right of the lines before Petersburg, and within the next ten days there were assembled there parts of four brigades—McMillan's and Currie's of the First division, and Birge's and Molineux's of Grover's. Part of Currie's brigade was engaged, under Hancock, in the affair at Deep Bottom on the north bank of the James on the 25th of July, losing eighteen killed and wounded and twenty-four prisoners. The work and duty in the trenches and on the skirmishing line were hard and constant, reminding the men of their days and nights before Port Hudson, but this was not to last long, and the loss was light.(2)
On the 20th of July at Carter's Farm, three miles north of Winchester, Averell, who was following Early, met and routed Ramseur, who had been sent back to check the pursuit. Early continued his retreat to Strasburg on the 22d, but when the next day he learned that Wright was gone, he turned back to punish the weak force under Hunter, and on the 24th overwhelmed Crook at Kernstown. Crook retreated through Martinsburg into Maryland, and marching by Williamsport and Boonsborough, took post at Sharpsburg, while Averell stayed at Hagerstown to watch the upper fords of the Potomac.
To break up the Baltimore and Ohio railway and to ravage the borders of Pennsylvania were favorite ideas with Early. He now entered with zest on the unopposed gratification of both desires, and while he himself bestrode the railway at Martinsburg with his army engaged in its destruction, he sent McCausland with his own brigade of cavalry and Bradley Johnson's on the famous marauding expedition that culminated in the wanton burning of Chambersburg in default of an impossible ransom, and at last resulted in the flight of McCausland's whole force, with Averell at his heels, and its ultimate destruction or dispersion by Averell, after a long chase, at Moorefield far up the south branch of the Potomac.
When on the 23d of July he saw Wright back at Washington and Early at Strasburg in retreat, as was imagined, up the valley, Grant partly changed his mind about recalling the troops he had spared for the defence of Washington, and determining to content himself with Wright's corps, directed Emory to stay where he was. Emory now had 253 officers and 5,320 men for duty.
As one turn of the wheel had given the Nineteenth Corps to Butler, restoring to his command some of the regiments that had gone with him to the capture of New Orleans, so the next turn was to bring the corps under Augur, who since leaving Louisiana had been in command of the department of Washington. So at least run the orders of the 23d of July, yet hardly had Emory reported his division to Augur, when the whole arrangement was suddenly broken up, and the army that had just marched back to Washington with Wright was once more hurried off to meet what was supposed to be a fresh invasion by Early. In fact Early was quietly reposing at Bunker Hill, where he easily commanded the approaches and debouches of the Shenandoah valley, the fords of the Potomac, from Harper's Ferry to Williamsport, and the whole line of the railway across the great bend of the Potomac.
By this time Grant had found out that it often took twenty-four hours to communicate with Washington by telegraph, and that it was consequently impossible to control from the James the movements of his forces on the upper Potomac. On his suggesting this, the government confided to Halleck the direction of Wright's operations against Early. The Sixth Corps marched from Tennallytown on the morning of the 26th of July, and immediately afterwards the Nineteenth Corps broke up its camp near the chain bridge and followed the Sixth. The line of march followed the road to Rockville, where Wright divided the column, sending a detachment to the left by way of Poolesville, while the main body pursued the direct road towards Frederick. Emory encamped that night on the Frederick road, four miles north of Rockville, after a march of nineteen miles. The next day, the 27th of July, Emory, leading the column, marched at three in the morning, moved fifteen miles, and encamped beyond Hyattstown. On the 28th Emory took the road at five, marched to Monocacy Junction, where the Sixth Corps crossed the Monocacy, then filed to the right, and crossed at the upper ford, and passing through Frederick went into bivouac four miles beyond. The distance made was thirteen miles. On the 29th, an intensely hot day, Emory marched at eight, following the Sixth Corps, crossed the Potomac at Harper's Ferry, marched nineteen miles, and went into bivouac at Halltown. Here Wright was joined by Crook, who came from Sharpsburg by way of Shepherdstown.
It was on the 30th of July that McCausland burned Chambersburg. In the confusion caused by his rapid movements, Halleck imagined that Early's whole force was in Pennsylvania. Therefore he ordered Wright back into Maryland, first to Frederick and them to Emmettsburg, to hold the passes of the South Mountain against the supposed invader. About noon Wright faced about, taking Crook with him, and recrossed the Potomac. Toward evening Crook and Wright covered the passes, while Emory crossed the Catoctin and at one in the morning of the 31st halted near Jefferson after a hard day's march of thirteen miles, during which the men and animals of all the corps suffered terribly from the heat and dust, added to the accumulated fatigue they had already undergone from a succession of long days and short nights. Reveille was sounded at five o'clock, and at six the march was resumed. Emory passed through Frederick, moved about two miles on the Emmettsburg road and went into bivouac, having made thirteen miles during the day. The army was now concentrated at Frederick, holding the line of the Monocacy and observing the passes of the South Mountain. Fortunately for the men and horses, Halleck now learned from Couch, who commanded in Pennsylvania, with rather less than a handful of troops, the exact dimensions of McCausland's raid. Accordingly Wright's troops were allowed to rest where they were.
Grant ordered up a division of cavalry from the Army of the Potomac, and on the 4th of August set out in person for Frederick, avoiding Washington, to see for himself just what the situation was, and to make better arrangements for the future. On the 5th of August he joined Hunter on the Monocacy, and at once ordered him to take Wright, Emory, and Crook across the Potomac, to find the enemy, and to attack him.
Grover's division and the parts of Emory's that had been at Bermuda Hundred embarked on the James on the 31st of July, and passed up the Potomac to Washington, but too late to join Emory on the Monocacy. Thus, before beginning the new movement, Emory had of his own division 4,600 effective and eight regiments of Grover's, numbering 2,750. These, being part of four brigades, were temporarily organized into two, and as Grover himself had not yet joined, their command was given to Molineux.
About this time, Battery L, 1st Ohio, was relieved from duty with the Nineteenth Corps, and four other batteries joined it from the reserve park at Washington. Of these Taft's 5th New York was assigned to the First division, Bradbury's 1st Maine, an old friend, to the Second division, Lieutenant Chase's D, 1st Rhode Island and Miner's 17th Indiana to the Artillery Reserve, commanded at first by Captain Taft, afterward by Major Bradbury.
Crook led the way across the Potomac at Harper's Ferry on the evening of the 5th of August, Emory followed the next morning, and Ricketts with the Sixth Corps brought up the rear. Averell with the cavalry, as will be remembered, was still far away, engaged in the long chase after McCausland. Hunter took up his position covering Halltown and proceeded to strengthen it by entrenchments. Crook's left rested on the Shenandoah, Emory extended the line to the turnpike road, and Wright carried it to the Potomac.
On the very day Grant left City Point, Early marched north from Bunker Hill, meaning to cover McCausland's retreat and to destroy Hunter, and so, curiously enough, it happened that Early's whole army actually crossed the Potomac into Maryland at Martinsburg and Shepherdstown a few hours before Crook passed over the ford at Harper's Ferry into Virginia; and, still more curiously, while, ten days before, the groundless apprehension of another invasion by Early had thrown the North into a fever and the government into a fright, here was Early actually in Maryland on the battle-field of Antietam without producing so much as a sensation. As soon as Early got the first inkling of what was going on behind him, he tripped briskly back to Martinsburg, and finding Hunter at Halltown resumed his old position at Bunker Hill.
Grant had already proposed to unite in a single command the four distinct departments covering the theatre of war on the Shenandoah and on the upper Potomac; as the commander he had first suggested Franklin and afterward Meade. Now, since no action had followed either suggestion, he sent up Sheridan, meaning to place him in command of all the active forces of these four departments, for the purpose of overthrowing Early or expelling him from the Shenandoah. Upon learning this, Hunter, to remove the difficulty, asked to be relieved; and thus, on the 7th of August, Grant gained his wish, and an order was issued by the War Department, creating the Middle Military Division, to include Washington, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and part of Ohio, and Sheridan was assigned to the command.
Amusing though it may have been to Early and his followers to note the panic and confusion into which McCausland's predatory riders once more threw the capital and the border States, this absurd freak produced far-reaching consequences that were not in the thoughts of any one on either side. Its first effect was to stop the withdrawal of the Sixth Corps, and to put Wright and Emory once more in march toward the Shenandoah. It determined Lee to keep Early in the valley, where his presence seemed so effective; and this shortly led to the concentration there, under a single commander, and that commander Sheridan, of the largest and best appointed Union army that had ever occupied that theatre of war, and thus at last in one short campaign worked the destruction of Early's army and the elimination of the valley as a feature in the war.
Upon the officers and men of the Nineteenth Corps the change from the enervating climate of Louisiana to the bracing air, the crystal waters, the rolling wheatfields, and the beautiful blue mountains of the Shenandoah acted like a tonic. Daily their spirits rose and their numbers for duty increased. The excellence of the roads and the openness of the country on either side enabled them to achieve long marches with ease and comfort. Nor were they slow in remarking that they had never had a commissary and quartermaster so good as Sheridan.
(1) About three miles N.-N.-E. from the Capitol, overlooking the Baltimore road and railway.
(2) In Major William F. Tiemann's truly admirable "History of the 159th New York," he says: "July 26th we were camped near Major-General Birney's headquarters, not far from Hatcher's house between batteries 'five' and 'six,' one of which enjoyed the euphonious title of 'Fort Slaughter.' . . . The works were built more strongly and with more art than at Port Hudson, but were not nearly as strong in reality, as Port Hudson was fortified naturally and the obstructions were much harder to overcome." (P. 87.) I think this book a model of everything that a regimental history ought to be; above all, for the rare gifts of modesty and accuracy.
CHAPTER XXXI. IN THE SHENANDOAH.
The fourth year of the war was now well advanced, and the very name of the Shenandoah valley had long since passed into a byword as the Valley of Humiliation, so often had those fair and fertile fields witnessed the rout of the national forces; so often had the armies of the Union marched proudly up the white and dusty turnpike, only to come flying back in disorder and disgrace. With the same rough humor of the soldier, half in grim jest, half in sad earnest, yet always with a grain of hard sense lying at the bottom, the Union veterans had re-named as Harper's Weekly the picturesque landscape that appeared to them so regularly; and Lee's annual invasion of the country beyond the Potomac had come to be known among them as the Summer Excursion and Picnic into Maryland.
To mete out the blame for this state of things; to apportion the precise share of the mortifying result due to each one of several contributing causes; to show how much should be ascribed to division and subdivision of councils; how much to the unfitness of commanders, too often disqualified alike by nature and training, for the leadership of men in emergencies, or even for their temporary profession, and in truth owing their commissions, in Halleck's phrase, to "reasons other than military;" and how much finally to a dense ignorance or a fine disregard of the very elements and first principles of the art of war; all this lies outside the scope of this history, curious, entertaining, and instructive though the inquiry would be. Certain it is that at no period was the problem at once comprehended and controlled until Grant took it in hand, and equally so that the work was never done until he confided it to Sheridan. To this, in fairness, must be added three considerations of great moment. No commander had previously enjoyed the undivided confidence of the government as Grant did at this period; the relations between Grant and Sheridan were those of perfect trust and harmony; and the Army of the Shenandoah was for the first time made strong enough for its work. Moreover, though Early was a good and useful general, and was soon to prove himself the master of resources and resolution equal to the occasion, he was not Jackson; and even had he been, no second Jackson could ever have fallen heir to the prestige of the first.
The parallel ranges of the Blue Ridge, extending from the head-waters of the James to the Susquehanna in mid-course, presented peculiar strategic conditions of which the Confederates were as quick as the government of the United States was slow to take advantage. Rising in the southwest, the twin forks of the Shenandoah, wedged apart by the long and narrow range, or rather ranges, known as the Massanutten, unite near Front Royal, where the valley begins to widen to a plain, and pour their waters into the Potomac at Harper's Ferry. Of the two valleys thus formed, the easternmost, through which runs the South Fork, takes the name of Luray, or, in local usage, Page, from its chief county, while the more western and more important, in the lap of which lies the North Fork, preserves the name of Shenandoah, as well for the river as the county. Through this valley lies the course of the great macadamized highway that before the days of steam formed the chief avenue of communication between Pennsylvania and Virginia. Soon after the valley begins to widen, beyond Strasburg and Front Royal, the Opequon takes its rise in the western range, here known as Little North Mountain, and, flowing northeast, falls into the Potomac below Williamsport. The Cumberland valley continues the valley of Virginia into Pennsylvania, the two being separated by the Potomac, which in this part of its course is usually fordable at many points. Topography was by no means Grant's strong suit, yet he was not long in perceiving that the southwesterly trend of this great valley led and must always lead an invading column at every step farther away, not only from its base on the Potomac, but practically also from its objective at Richmond. Wherefore this zone was useless to the armies of the Union, while for the Confederates it had the triple advantage of a granary, an easy and secure way into Maryland and Pennsylvania, and on the flank toward Washington a mountain wall, cut by numerous gaps, of equal convenience in advance or retreat, besides being a constant menace to Washington as well as to the Union army operating between the Blue Ridge and the Potomac. Thus it was that the Confederate force was able to move speedily and unobserved to the north bank of the Potomac at Williamsport, and there, ninety miles north of Washington, equally distant from Baltimore and from Washington, and actually nearer to the Susquehanna than the capital is, held the whole country at its mercy until the Army of the Potomac could be hurried to the rescue.
Grant's first orders to Sheridan were twofold: he was to move south by the valley, no matter where Early might be, or what he might be doing, in full confidence that Early would surely be found in his front; and he was to devastate the valley so far as to destroy its future usefulness as a granary and a storehouse of the Confederate army of Northern Virginia.
Following the instructions turned over to him by Hunter, Sheridan moved out from Halltown on the 10th of August, and marching through Charlestown, took up a position threatening the crossing of the Opequon and Early's communications at Winchester. Crook, on the left, rested on Berryville, Emory held the centre, and Wright prolonged the line to Clifton. Torbert covered the right flank at Summit Point, which lies eleven miles east-northeast from Winchester, and the left, with the main body of the cavalry, nine miles south by east from Winchester, at White Post, where his presence strongly emphasized the menace to Early's rear. The position thus held presently became known as the Clifton-Berryville line. While worthless for defence, it had the double advantage of covering the short roads to Washington through Snicker's Gap and Ashby's Gap, and of elbowing Early out of his favorite position at Bunker Hill, at the same time that by throwing back the right flank toward Clifton, Sheridan's road to Charlestown and Harper's Ferry was made safe. Early quietly let go his hold on the Baltimore and Ohio railway, and, just as Grant had anticipated, hastened to place himself across Sheridan's path at Winchester.
On the morning of the 11th of August, Sheridan took ground to the left, meaning to seize and hold the fords of the Opequon, Wright at the turnpike road between Berryville and Winchester, Emory farther up the creek at the Senseny road, and Crook on Emory's left, probably at the Millwood pike. The cavalry covered the right of the Sixth Corps, and on both flanks threatened Winchester. Early, who had moved on the previous day from Bunker Hill to a position covering Winchester from the south, was in the act of retiring on Strasburg when Torbert ran into his cavalry. Sharp skirmishing resulted without bringing on a general engagement. At night Early held and covered the valley turnpike between Newtown and Middletown, while Sheridan, who before crossing the Opequon had heard of Early's movement, and had simply continued his own march up the right or east bank, rested between the Millwood crossing of the Opequon and Stony Point on the road to Front Royal.
The melancholy failure attending the explosion of the mine before Petersburg and the continued reduction of Grant's forces, brought about by Early's diversions, coming on top of the losses since crossing the Rapidan, had brought affairs on the James to a dead-lock. While Grant in this situation was willing to spare the Sixth corps and the Nineteenth and even to strengthen them by two divisions of cavalry from the Army of the Potomac, Lee on his part not only gave up all present thought of recalling Early, as had been the custom in former years, but even sent Anderson with Kershaw's division of infantry, Fitzhugh Lee's division of cavalry, and Cutshaw's battalion of artillery, to strengthen Early, so as to enable him to hold his ground, and thus to cover the gathering of the crops in the valley, and perhaps to encourage still further detachments from the investing forces before Richmond and Petersburg. The first week of August found Anderson on the march and he was now moving down the valley. Therefore Early very properly drew back through Strasburg to wait for Anderson, and on the night of the 12th of August took up a strong position at Fisher's Hill. Its natural advantages he proceeded to increase by entrenchments.
Sheridan, following, encamped in the same order as before on the left bank of Cedar Creek. On the 13th Wright crossed Cedar Creek and occupied Hupp's Hill, and sending his skirmishers into Strasburg, discovered Early in position as described; but at nightfall Sheridan, who now had information that caused him to suspect Anderson's movement, drew back and set the cavalry to guard the Front Royal road. Then Early advanced his outposts to Hupp's Hill, and so for the next three days both armies rested.
On the 14th of August, Sheridan received from Grant authentic, rather than exact, information of Anderson's movement, for this was supposed to include two infantry divisions, instead of one. Coupled with this was Grant's renewed order to be cautious.
With his quick eye for country, Sheridan soon saw that he had but one even tolerable position for defence, and that this was at Halltown. The Confederate defence, on the other hand, rested on Fisher's Hill, and between these two positions the wide plain lay like a chess-board between the players. And now began a series of moves, during which each side watched and waited for the adversary to weaken himself, or to make a mistake, or for some chance encounter to bring about an unlooked-for advantage. Finding his position at Cedar Creek, to use his own words, "a very bad one," Sheridan was about to retire to the extreme limit of the valley at the confluence of the Potomac and the Shenandoah; and this was but to be the beginning of a series of seesaw movements, in which, as often as Sheridan went back to Halltown, Early would advance to Bunker Hill. Early, having taken the offensive, was bound to keep it, or lose his venture. Now, at this time, Early's objective was the Baltimore and Ohio railway; but Sheridan's was Early. Thus, whenever he found Early at Bunker Hill, wreaking his pleasure on the railway and the canal, Sheridan had only to take a step forward to the Clifton-Berryville line in order to force Early to hasten back to Winchester, and to lay hold of the Opequon; and so this alternating play might have continued as long as the war lasted, if other causes and events had not intervened.
At eleven o'clock on the night of the 15th of August, Sheridan's retreat began, Emory moving to Winchester, where he went into bivouac at six o'clock on the morning of the 16th. At eight o'clock on the evening of the 16th, Wright and Crook followed, and on the 17th Early, who had now been joined by Anderson, marched in pursuit. The same evening Sheridan took up the Clifton-Berryville position in the old order; the cavalry, now strengthened by the arrival of Wilson's division, covering the rear and flanks. At Berryville, at midnight, Grover joined Emory, from Washington by Leesburg and Snicker's Gap, with the remainder of the Nineteenth Corps from the James (1); and since the receipt of these reinforcements formed Sheridan's only reason for staying at Berryville, on the 18th he fell back to Charlestown, holding the roads leading thence to Berryville and to Bunker Hill.
On the 19th and 20th of August, Sheridan stood still while Early occupied Bunker Hill and Winchester; but, on the 21st, Early from Bunker Hill and Anderson from Winchester moved together to the attack. Rodes and Ramseur had a sharp fight with Wright, which caused Sheridan to bring up Crook on the left and Emory on the right; but neither came into action, because Merritt and Wilson stood so stiffly that Anderson got no farther than Summit Point. During the night Sheridan fell back to Halltown.
In retreating from Cedar Creek Sheridan began to put in force Grant's new policy of making the valley useless to the Confederate armies by burning all the grain and carrying off all the animals above Winchester. "I have destroyed everything eatable," are Sheridan's words.
On the 25th of August, after three days spent in skirmishing, Early left Anderson to mask Halltown, and sent Fitzhugh Lee by Martinsburg to Williamsport, marching himself to Shepherdstown. A rough fight with Torbert's cavalry resulted near Kearneysville, in which Custer narrowly avoided the loss of his brigade by a rapid flight across the Potomac at Shepherdstown. Sheridan sent two divisions of cavalry under Averell and Wilson over the Potomac to watch the fords and to hold the gaps of the South Mountain. Thus when Fitzhugh Lee got to the Potomac, he found Averell waiting for him, and Anderson being pressed back by Crook on the 26th, Early fell back behind the Opequon to Bunker Hill and Stephenson's Depot. On the 28th of August Sheridan advanced to Charlestown, and waiting there five days while his cavalry was concentrating and feeling the enemy, he again moved forward to the Clifton-Berryville line on the 3d of September, and encamped in the usual order.
Two marked features had now become regularly established: as often as the troops halted, no matter for how short a time, of their own accord they instantly set about protecting their front with the spade and the axe; and, secondly, the depots of the army were fixed behind the strong lines of Halltown with a sufficient force to guard them, and thence, as needed, supplies were sent forward to the troops in the field by strongly guarded trains, and these, as soon as unloaded, were returned to Halltown, thus reducing to a minimum the impedimenta of the army as well as the detachments usually demanded for their care. For the Nineteenth Corps, Currie's brigade of Dwight's division performed this service during the campaign.
The contingency for which Grant and Sheridan were waiting was now close at hand. Anderson had been nearly a month away from Lee, and meanwhile Grant had not only kept Lee on the watch on both banks of the James, as well as for Richmond as for Petersburg, but had taken a fast hold on the Weldon railway. Unable to shake off Grant's clutch either on the James or on the Shenandoah, Lee greatly needed Anderson back with him. Accordingly, on the very day when Sheridan went back to Berryville, Anderson, seeking the shortest way to Richmond, ran into Crook in the act of going into camp, and darkness shortly put an end to a sharp fight that might otherwise have proved a pitched battle. This brought Early in haste from Stephenson's to Anderson's help, but when the next day Early saw how strongly posted Sheridan was, he fell back across the Opequon to cover Winchester, and finally, on the 14th of September, sent off Anderson by Front Royal and Chester Gap, but this time without Fitzhugh Lee.
The interval was occupied in continual skirmishes and reconnoissances. Meanwhile Crook changed over from the left flank to the right at Summit Point, the cavalry covering the front and flanks from Snicker's Gap by way of Smithfield and Martinsburg to the Potomac. On the 16th of September, Grant, pressed by the government in behalf of the business interests disturbed by the enemy's control of the railway and the canal, went to Charlestown to confer with Sheridan. In the breast-pocket of his coat Grant carried a complete plan of the campaign he meant Sheridan to carry out; but when, having asked Sheridan if he could be ready to move on Tuesday, Sheridan promptly answered he should be ready whenever the General should say "Go in"—at daylight on Monday, if necessary,—so delighted was Grant that he said not a word about the plan, but contented himself with echoing the words, "Go in!"
(1) Grover's men made the hard march of 69 miles from Washington in three days; the last 33 miles in 13-1/2 hours, actual time. See Major Tiemann's "History of the 159th New York," pp. 91, 92.
CHAPTER XXXII. THE OPEQUON.(1)
Grant's approval of Sheridan's attack was founded on the withdrawal of Kershaw; but on the 18th of September, just as Sheridan was about to move on Newtown, meaning to offer Early the choice of being turned out of Winchester, or being overwhelmed if he should stay, news came from Averell that he had been driven out of Martinsburg by two divisions of infantry. These were the divisions of Rodes and Gordon, with which, enticed at last into a grave error by the temptation of hearing that the railway was being repaired, Early had marched on the 17th to Bunker Hill and Martinsburg. When Sheridan heard of this, and perceived that Early's forces, already diminished, were strung along all the way from Winchester to Martinsburg, he stopped the execution of the orders he had already issued for the movement at four o'clock in the afternoon of that day, the 18th of September, and replaced them by fresh arrangements which led to the battle of the Opequon on the 19th. Since last moving to the Clifton-Berryville line, Sheridan had used his cavalry to preserve in his front an open space fully six miles in depth, extending to the banks of the Opequon, meaning not only to have the first tidings of any offensive movement by the enemy, but also that when himself ready to move he might be able to take the enemy by surprise.
On the evening of the 18th of September, part of Early's cavalry was at Martinsburg, Gordon occupied Bunker Hill, Wharton was at Stephenson's, with Rodes closing back on him, while Ramseur alone covered Winchester in the path of Sheridan's advance. Sheridan naturally supposed that in a quick movement he would have two divisions to deal with after crossing the Opequon.
At two o'clock on the morning of Monday, the 19th of September, on the very day when Sheridan had told Grant he would be ready to move, but just three hours earlier, Sheridan put his army in motion toward the Opequon, covering his flank by directing Merritt and Averell on Stephenson's. He sent Wilson rapidly ahead on the Berryville road to carry the ford and to seize the long and deep defile on the left or east bank through which the main column would have to advance. Wright was to lead the infantry, closely followed by Emory, who, in order to solidify the movement, was instructed to take his orders from Wright after reaching the ford. Crook, coming in from his more distant position, would naturally fall in the rear of the others, and he was to mass his men in reserve, covering the ford. Wright had to move partly across country, and had farther to go than Emory. Although both started punctually at the appointed hour, it happened that, about five o'clock, the head of Wright's column ran into Emory's in march near the crest, whence the road sweeps down to the Opequon. There Emory halted, by Wright's orders, to let the Sixth Corps pass. Unfortunately, minute and thorough as Sheridan's plans and instructions were, he appears to have underrated the double difficulty of crossing the ford and threading the long defile, for to this cause must be attributed the presence of Wright's entire wagon-train in the rear of his corps, as well as the excess of artillery for the work and the field. The head of the column could move but slowly; thus the rear was so long retarded, that, although the crossing began about six o'clock, and the whole movement was urged on by Sheridan, Wright, and Emory, and indeed by every one, it wanted but twenty minutes of noon when the line of battle was finally formed on the rolling ground overlooking the vale of the Opequon to the rear and Winchester to the front. Even as it was, Sheridan's eagerness being great, and the delay seeming interminable, Emory felt obliged to take upon himself the responsibility of departing from the strict order of march, and directed Dwight to move his men to the right of the road and pass the train. Thus it had taken six hours to advance three miles and to form in order of battle, and the immediate effect of this delay was that Sheridan had now to deal, not only with Ramseur, or with the two divisions counted on, but with the whole of Early's army; for between five and six o'clock in the morning Gordon, Rodes, and Wharton were all at Stephenson's, distant only five miles from Winchester or from the field of battle, toward which they all moved rapidly at the sound of the first firing, due to Wilson's advance.
Opequon Creek flows at the foot of a broad and thickly wooded gorge, with high and steep banks. The ravine through which the Berryville road rises to the level of the rolling plain, in the middle of whose western edge stands Winchester, is nearly three miles long. Here and there the high ground is covered with large oaks, pines, and undergrowth, and is intersected by many brooks, called runs. Of these the largest is Red Bud Run, which forms a smaller parallel ravine flanking the defile on the north, while a still larger stream, called Abraham's Creek, after pursuing a nearly parallel course on the south side of the defile, crosses the road not far from the ford, and just below it falls into the Opequon.
Wilson, after crossing the Opequon and completing his task of covering the advance of the infantry through the defile, had turned to the left on the high ground and taken post to cover the flank on the Senseny road, which, after crossing the Opequon about a mile and a quarter above the main ford, reaches the outskirts of Winchester at a point little more than three hundred yards from the Berryville road. The Sixth Corps formed across the Berryville road, Getty on its left, Ricketts on its right. Getty rested his left on Abraham's Creek. Behind him Russell stood in column in support. Emory prolonged the line of battle to the Red Bud on the right by posting Sharpe's and Birge's brigades of Grover, with Molineux and Shunk in the second line, the 9th Connecticut deployed as skirmishers to cover the right flank of Birge. Dwight's two brigades formed on the right and rear of Grover in echelon of regiments on the right, in order not only to support Grover's line, but to cover the flank against any turning movement by the Confederates or an attack by their reinforcements coming straight from Stephenson's. Beal's brigade held the right of Dwight's line, and the brigade line from right to left was formed in order of the 114th New York, 153d New York, 116th New York, 29th Maine, and 30th Massachusetts. Beal covered his right flank by a detail of skirmishers taken from all his regiments and commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Strain, of the 153d New York. McMillan, on the left and rear of Beal, formed in order of the 47th Pennsylvania, 8th Vermont, 160th New York, and 12th Connecticut, with five companies of the 47th Pennsylvania deployed to cover the whole right flank of his brigade and to move forward with it by the flank left in front. Crook had by this time crossed the ford and was massed on the left or west bank.
In climbing the hill the Berryville road follows nearly a northwesterly course, but soon after reaching the high ground bends rather sharply toward the left, crosses the ravine called Ash Hollow forming the head of Berryville Canyon, and runs for nearly a mile almost westerly. Wright was following the road, but as Emory guided upon Wright, the alignment was to be preserved by Sharpe's keeping his left in touch with the right of Ricketts. While the ground in Wright's front was for the most part open, Emory was chiefly in the dense wood, where the heavy leafage and undergrowth prevented him from seeing not only the enemy before him, but also the full extent of his own line. It should be observed with care that Ricketts was between Sharpe and the Berryville road, while the road was between Getty and Ricketts, and formed the guide for both; for these facts, of slight importance though they may seem, were destined presently to exert an influence wellnigh fatal on the fortunes of the day.
During the early hours of the morning Ramseur, on the Berryville road, and the cavalry of Lomax on the Senseny road, had been the only Confederate force between Sheridan and Winchester. But first Gordon came up at nine o'clock, and placed himself opposite Emory's right, his own left resting on the line of the Red Bud; then Rodes, closely following Gordon, formed between him and Ramseur against the right of Emory and the left of Wright.
About a quarter before twelve o'clock, at the sound of Sheridan's bugle, repeated from corps, division, and brigade headquarters, the whole line moved forward with great spirit, and instantly became engaged. Wilson pushed back Lomax, Wright drove in Ramseur, while Emory, advancing his infantry rapidly through the wood, where he was unable to use his artillery, attacked Gordon with great vigor. Birge, charging with bayonets fixed, fell upon the brigade of Evans, forming the extreme left of Gordon, and without a halt drove it in confusion through the wood and across the open ground beyond to the support of Braxton's artillery, posted by Gordon to secure his flank on the Red Bud road. In this brilliant charge, led by Birge in person, his lines naturally became disordered, and Grover, foreseeing the effect of an advance so swift and tumultuous, ordered Birge to halt and re-form in the wood. This order Birge tried to execute; but whether the words of command were not heard or were misunderstood, or in the wild excitement of the moment were wilfully disregarded by the men, certain it is that their officers found it impossible to restrain their ardor until they had followed on the run the broken fragments of Evans quite through the wood and beyond its farther skirt, where Braxton, using his guns with energy and skill, brought them to a stand.
Sharpe, advancing simultaneously on Birge's left, tried in vain to keep the alignment with Ricketts and with Birge; for now the peculiar feature of the long alignment across the swerving road began to work, yet, by reason of the screen of timber, without the cause being immediately observed by any one. At first the order of battle formed a right angle with the road, but the bend once reached, in the effort to keep closed upon it, at every step Ricketts was taking ground more and more to the left, while the point of direction for Birge, and equally for Sharpe, was the enemy in their front, standing almost in the exact prolongation of the defile, from which line, still plainly marked by Ash Hollow, the road, as we have seen, was steadily diverging. In short, to continue the march parallel with the road compelled a left half-wheel, while the battle was with the enemy straight in front, so that even had it been possible for Emory to execute his orders literally he must have offered his wheeling flank fairly to Rodes and to Gordon.
Sharpe, seeing that the gap between himself and Ricketts was growing every moment wider, in vain tried to cover it by more than one oblique movement to the left, and Keifer, whose brigade formed the right of Ricketts, being also among the first to perceive the fault, tried to make it good by deploying three of his regiments across the interval.
Birge's advance had borne him far to the right, and as Sharpe, in the vain attempt to keep his alignment with Ricketts, was always drifting to the left, there came a second and smaller gap between the two leading brigades of Grover. Into this Molineux was quickly thrust, and, deploying in parade order, under a heavy fire of cannon and musketry, at once began firing in return with great effect on the advancing columns of the enemy. But, shortly before this happened, the interval between Ricketts and Sharpe had grown to be nearly four hundred yards wide, and Birge's advance being stayed at nearly the same instant, Early saw his opportunity and seized it by throwing against the diverging flanks of Sharpe and Ricketts the fresh brigade that Battle had that moment brought up from Stephenson's. This new impulse once more carried forward the rest of Rodes's division; Ramseur rallied; Early restored his formation; and the whole Confederate line swept forward with renewed impetuosity, broke in the whole right of Ricketts and the left of Sharpe, surged around both flanks of Molineux, and swept back Birge. Sharpe's line, thus taken fairly in flank, was quickly rolled up. By this, the left regiment of Molineux, the gallant 22d Iowa, being in quite open ground, was greatly exposed, so that it, too, was presently swept back. The 159th New York and the 13th Connecticut, after holding on stiffly for a time under the partial cover of a sort of gully, were in like manner swept away, and on the right Birge's men paid the penalty of their own impetuosity. The left of Ricketts, less exposed to the shock, stood firm, and the right of Molineux, isolated as it was, held its ground; but otherwise the whole front of the battle, from the road to the Red Bud, was gone. As the Confederates charged down upon a section of Bradbury's 1st Maine Battery, posted about the centre of the division, Day, who under many drawbacks had brought up his regiment, the 131st New York, to a high standard of discipline and efficiency, took prompt and full advantage of the slight cover afforded by the little wooded ravine in which he happened to be. With equal coolness and readiness he changed front forward on his tenth company, yet held his fire until he could see the shoulders and almost the backs of the enemy; then, pouring in a hot fire, and being immediately supported by the 11th Indiana, part of the 3d Massachusetts, and the 176th New York, which had quickly rallied from Sharpe's reverse, the attacking force was driven back in disorder; but unfortunately, in retiring it swept across the remains of Molineux's left centre, which had been cut off in the gully, and took many prisoners, especially from among the officers who had stood to their posts through everything.
Just as when victory had seemed about to alight on the standard of the Union, the very perch itself had been suddenly and rudely shaken by the tread of Early's charging columns; so now, at the precise moment when defeat—bitter, perhaps disastrous defeat—seemed inevitable, the fortunes of the battle were once more reversed, and the day was suddenly saved by the prompt and orderly advance of Russell into the fatal gap. As he changed front from the wood to the right and swept on in splendid array, it happened that the charging line of Early, already disarranged by its own success, offered its right flank to Russell's front. Russell himself, bravely leading his division, fell, yet not until he had struck the blow that gave the victory to the defenders of his country,—a noble sacrifice in a noble cause.
But on the right a danger almost equally serious menaced the flank of Emory, for when Birge's men came streaming back, Shunk, who had been supporting Birge without having men enough to cover the whole ground, found his left uncovered to Gordon by the giving way of Sharpe, while at the same time his line was nearly enfiladed from the right by a section or battery of Fitzhugh Lee's horse artillery on the north bank of the Red Bud. Seeing all this, Emory instantly ordered his own old division to deploy at the top of its speed, and to make good the broken line. "Have this thing stopped at once," were the terse words of his command to Dwight. Once more, as at the Sabine Cross-Roads, the 1st brigade was called upon the yield up its leading regiment for a sacrifice, and again the lot fell to New York, yet this time upon the 114th, and upon not one of all the good veteran battalions that held the field on that 19th of September—if indeed upon any in all the armies of the Union—could the choice have rested more securely. To the left and front, far into the open field, through the wreck of Grover's right, into the teeth of the pursuing lines of Gordon, Per Lee led his regiment. No sooner had his men emerged from the cover of the wood than they came under the fire of Gordon's infantry and artillery, crossed with the fire of Fitzhugh Lee's guns beyond the Red Bud; yet they were not able to fire a musket in return until their own defeated comrades had passed to the rear. Cruel as the situation was, the 114th marched steadily forward nearly two hundred yards in front of the forest; then, finding itself quite alone and unsupported, confronted by the line of battle of the enemy at the skirt of the timber opposite, Per Lee made his men lie down without other cover than the high grass, and there, loading on their backs and at every moment losing heavily, without yielding an inch, they held off the enemy until support came. That this was longer than usual in coming was no fault of their comrades, but a mere accident of the situation; for Dwight's division being formed in echelon of battalions on the right, just as it had in the first instance been necessary to bring the 114th into action obliquely to the left, so now Beal was forced to form the line of battle of his brigade by inversion, and this, moreover, in the woods, with the steep bank of the Red Bud hampering his right. Slow though it must have seemed to Per Lee, standing out there alone, this difficult movement was in reality executed by Beal with great promptness and rapidity and in admirable order. As regiment after regiment, beginning with the 153d, came into the new line at the double-quick by the shortest path, each advanced with a shout to the rail fence on Per Lee's right and somewhat toward his rear, and, throwing down the rails, opened a rapid fire. This checked the enemy. Finding Beal unable to cover all the ground he was now trying to hold, Emory made Dwight take the 160th New York from McMillan's brigade and posted it on the right of Beal's.
McMillan had been ordered to move forward at the same time as Beal, and to form on his left. The five companies of the 47th Pennsylvania that had been detached to form a skirmish line on Red Bud Run, to cover McMillan's right flank, had somehow lost their way on the broken ground among the thickets, and, not finding them in place, McMillan had been obliged to send the remaining companies of the regiment to do the same duty. This detail and the employment of the 160th New York in Beal's line left McMillan but two of his battalions, the 8th Vermont and the 12th Connecticut; but although McMillan, holding the left of the formation in echelon, had farther to go to reach his position, it was only necessary for him to move straight to the front, and thus the 8th Vermont formed the right of his line and the 12th Connecticut the left. Not a moment too soon did Thomas and Peck bring their good regiments to the support of Molineux's diminished and almost exhausted brigade, and thus complete the restoration of Emory's line of battle. Almost at the first fire Lieutenant-Colonel Peck, the brave, accomplished, and spirited soldier who had led the 12th Connecticut in every action, fell mortally wounded by the fragment of a shell.
The shaken regiments of Grover quickly rallied and re-formed in good order behind the lines of Dwight, and all pressing forward once more, took part in the countercharge begun by Russell, by which the whole Confederate line was driven back in confusion quite beyond the positions from which they had advanced to the attack. To this line, substantially, Wright and Emory followed, and, correcting their position and alignment, waited for events or for orders. By one o'clock the morning's fight was over. Fierce and eventful as it had been, it had lasted barely an hour.
The Confederates, greatly outnumbered from the first, were now, after their losses and the rough handling they had received, no longer in condition for the offensive, and from the defensive they had, as things stood, little to hope. Sheridan, on his part, with some reluctance, made up his mind that it would be better to give up his original plan of putting in Crook to the left to cut off Early's retreat by moving against the valley turnpike near Newtown, and instead of this to use Crook and the cavalry on the Red Bud line against Early's left. The time needed for this movement caused a comparative lull in the battle of about two hours' duration. It was not so much that the battle died away, for the fire of artillery and even of musketry was still kept up, as that neither side moved in force against the other. While waiting for Crook to come into position on the right, Emory's restored line was formed by Beal on the right, prolonged toward the left by Shunk, Birge supported by Molineux, Day with the 131st New York, Allen with the battalion of the 38th Massachusetts, the 8th Vermont, and the 12th Connecticut of McMillan supported by the 160th New York, now withdrawn from the right, and finally Neafie, leading Grover's 3d brigade in place of Sharpe, who had been carried off the field severely wounded.