G.F. R. Henderson.

Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War online

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probable, from their previous dispositions, that the Federal army
corps would use three of these in their advance. Pope's right wing at
Sperryville would march by Woodville and Griffinsburg. His centre had
already moved forward from Warrenton. His left wing at Falmouth,
north of Fredericksburg, would march by Bealeton and Brandy Station,
or by Richardsville and Georgetown. As all these roads were several
miles apart, and the lateral communications were indifferent, the
three columns, during the movement on Culpeper Court House, would be
more or less isolated; and if the Confederates could seize the point
at which the roads met, it might be possible to keep them apart, to
prevent them combining for action, and to deal with them in detail.
Pope, in fact, had embarked on a manoeuvre which is always dangerous
in face of a vigilant and energetic enemy. Deceived by the passive
attitude which Jackson had hitherto maintained, and confident in the
strength of his cavalry, which held Robertson River, a stream some
ten miles south of Culpeper Court House, he had pushed a small force
far in advance, and was preparing to cross Hazel Run in several
widely separated columns. He had no apprehension that he might be
attacked during the process. Most generals in Jackson's situation,
confronted by far superior numbers, would have been content with
occupying a defensive position in front of Gordonsville, and neither
Pope nor Halleck had gauged as yet the full measure of their
opponent's enterprise. So confident was the Federal
Commander-in-Chief that General Cox, with 11,000 men, was ordered to
march from Lewisburg, ninety miles south-west of Staunton, to join
Pope at Charlottesville.* (* Battles and Leaders volume 2 page 281.)

Jackson's force was composed as follows: -

Jackson's Own Division (commanded by Winder) 3000

Ewell 7550

A.P. Hill (The Light Division). 12,000

Cavalry 1200


Jackson was by no means displeased when he learned who was in command
of the Federal advance. "Banks is in front of me," he said to Dr.
McGuire, "he is always ready to fight;" and then, laughing, he added
as if to himself, "and he generally gets whipped."

The Confederate regiments, as a rule, were very weak. The losses of
the Seven Days, of Winchester, of Cross Keys, and of Port Republic
had not yet been replaced. Companies had dwindled down to sections.
Brigades were no stronger than full battalions, and the colonel was
happy who could muster 200 muskets. But the waste of the campaign was
not altogether an evil. The weak and sickly had been weeded out. The
faint-hearted had disappeared, and if many of the bravest had fallen
before Richmond, those who remained were hardy and experienced
soldiers. The army that lay round Gordonsville was the best that
Jackson had yet commanded. The horses, which had become almost
useless in the Peninsula, had soon regained condition on the rich
pastures at the foot of the South-west Mountains. Nearly every man
had seen service. The officers were no longer novices. The troops had
implicit confidence in their leaders, and their morale was high. They
had not yet tasted defeat. Whenever they had met the enemy he had
abandoned the field of battle. With such troops much might be risked,
and if the staff was not yet thoroughly trained, the district in
which they were now operating was far less intricate than the
Peninsula. As the troops marched westward from Richmond, with their
faces towards their own mountains, the country grew more open, the
horizon larger, and the breezes purer. The dark forests disappeared.
The clear streams, running swiftly over rocky beds, were a welcome
change from the swamps of the Chickahominy. North of Gordonsville the
spurs of the Blue Ridge, breaking up into long chains of isolated
hills, towered high above the sunlit plains. The rude tracks of the
Peninsula, winding through the woods, gave place to broad and
well-trodden highways. Nor did the marches now depend upon the
guidance of some casual rustic or terrified negro. There were many in
the Confederate ranks who were familiar with the country; and the
quick pencil of Captain Hotchkiss, Jackson's trusted engineer, who
had rejoined from the Valley, was once more at his disposal.
Information, moreover, was not hard to come by. The country was far
more thickly populated than the region about Richmond, and,
notwithstanding Pope's harsh measures, he was unable to prevent the
people communicating with their own army. If the men had been
unwilling to take the risk, the women were quite ready to emulate the
heroines of the Valley, and the conduct of the Federal marauders had
served only to inflame their patriotism. Under such circumstances
Jackson's task was relieved of half its difficulties. He was almost
as much at home as on the Shenandoah, and although there were no
Massanuttons to screen his movements, the hills to the north,
insignificant as they might be when compared with the great mountains
which divide the Valley, might still be turned to useful purpose.

August 7.

On August 7, starting late in the afternoon, the Confederates marched
eight miles by a country track, and halted at Orange Court House.
Culpeper was still twenty miles distant, and two rivers, the Rapidan
and Robertson, barred the road. The Robertson was held by 5000 or
6000 Federal cavalry; five regiments, under General Buford, were near
Madison Court House; four, under General Bayard, near Rapidan
Station. East of the railway two more regiments held Raccoon Ford;
others watched the Rappahannock as far as Fredericksburg, and on
Thoroughfare Mountain, ten miles south-west of Culpeper, and
commanding a view of the surrounding country as far as Orange Court
House, was a signal station.

August 8.

Early on the 8th, Ewell's division crossed the Rapidan at Liberty
Mills, while the other divisions were ordered to make the passage at
Barnett's Ford, six miles below. A forced march should have carried
the Confederates to within striking distance of Culpeper, and a
forced march was almost imperative. The cavalry had been in contact;
the advance must already have been reported to Pope, and within
twenty-four hours the whole of the Federal army, with the exception
of the division at Fredericksburg, might easily be concentrated in a
strong position.

Still there were no grounds for uneasiness. If the troops made
sixteen miles before nightfall, they would be before Culpeper soon
after dawn, and sixteen miles was no extraordinary march for the
Valley regiments. But to accomplish a long march in the face of the
enemy, something is demanded more than goodwill and endurance on the
part of the men. If the staff arrangements are faulty, or the
subordinate commanders careless, the best troops in the world will
turn sluggards. It was so on August 8. Jackson's soldiers never did a
worse day's work during the whole course of his campaigns. Even his
energy was powerless to push them forward. The heat, indeed, was
excessive. Several men dropped dead in the ranks; the long columns
dragged wearily through the dust, and the Federal cavalry was not
easily pushed back. Guns and infantry had to be brought up before
Bayard's dismounted squadrons were dislodged. But the real cause of
delay is to be found elsewhere. Not only did General Hill
misunderstand his orders, but, apparently offended by Jackson's
reticence, he showed but little zeal. The orders were certainly
incomplete. Nothing had been said about the supply trains, and they
were permitted to follow their divisions, instead of moving in rear
of the whole force. Ewell's route, moreover, was changed without Hill
being informed. The lines of march crossed each other, and Hill was
delayed for many hours by a long column of ambulances and waggons. So
tedious was the march that when the troops halted for the night,
Ewell had made eight miles, Hill only two, and the latter was still
eighteen miles from Culpeper. Chagrined by the delay, Jackson
reported to Lee that "he had made but little progress, and that the
expedition," he feared, "in consequence of his tardy movements, would
be productive of little good."

How the blame should be apportioned it is difficult to say. Jackson
laid it upon Hill. And that officer's conduct was undoubtedly
reprehensible. The absence of Major Dabney, struck down by sickness,
is a possible explanation of the faulty orders. But that Jackson
would have done better to have accepted Lee's hint, to have confided
his intentions to his divisional commanders, and to have trusted
something to their discretion, seems more than clear. In war, silence
is not invariably a wise policy. It was not a case in which secrecy
was all-important. The movement had already been discovered by the
Federal cavalry, and in such circumstances the more officers that
understood the intention of the general-in-chief the better. Men who
have been honoured with their leader's confidence, and who grasp the
purpose of the efforts they are called upon to make, will co-operate,
if not more cordially, at least more intelligently, than those who
are impelled by the sense of duty alone.

As it was, so much time had been wasted that Jackson would have been
fully warranted in suspending the movement, and halting on the
Rapidan. The Federals were aware he was advancing. Their divisions
were not so far apart that they could not be concentrated within a
few hours at Culpeper, and, in approaching so close, he was entering
the region of uncertainty. Time was too pressing to admit of waiting
for the reports of spies. The enemy's cavalry was far more numerous
than his own, and screened the troops in rear from observation. The
information brought in by the country people was not to be implicitly
relied on; their estimate of numbers was always vague, and it would
be exceedingly difficult to make sure that the force at Culpeper had
not been strongly reinforced. It was quite on the cards that the
whole of Pope's army might reach that point in the course of the next
day, and in that case the Confederates would be compelled to retreat,
followed by a superior army, across two bridgeless rivers.

Nevertheless, the consideration of these contingencies had no effect
on Jackson's purpose. The odds, he decided, were in his favour; and
the defeat of Pope's army in detail, with all the consequences that
might follow, was worth risking much to bring about. It was still
possible that Pope might delay his concentration; it was still
possible that an opportunity might present itself; and, as he had
done at Winchester in March, when threatened by a force sevenfold
stronger than his own, he resolved to look for that opportunity
before he renounced his enterprise.

August 9.

In speed and caution lay the only chance of success. The start on the
9th was early. Hill, anxious to redeem his shortcomings, marched long
before daylight, and soon caught up with Ewell and Winder. Half of
the cavalry covered the advance; the remainder, screening the left
flank, scouted west and in the direction of Madison Court House. Two
brigades of infantry, Gregg's and Lawton's, were left in rear to
guard the trains, for the Federal horsemen threatened danger, and the
army, disembarrassed of the supply waggons, pressed forward across
the Rapidan. Pushing the Federal cavalry before them, the troops
reached Robertson River. The enemy's squadrons, already worn out by
incessant reconnaissance and picket duty, were unable to dispute the
passage, and forming a single column, the three divisions crossed the
Locustdale Ford. Climbing the northern bank, the high-road to
Culpeper, white with dust, lay before them, and to their right front,
little more than two miles distant, a long wooded ridge, bearing the
ominous name of Slaughter Mountain, rose boldly from the plain.

Ewell's division led the march, and shortly before noon, as the
troops swept past the western base of Slaughter Mountain, it was
reported that the Federal cavalry, massed in some strength, had come
to a halt a mile or two north, on the bank of a small stream called
Cedar Run.

The Confederate guns opened, and the hostile cavalry fell back; but
from a distant undulation a Federal battery came into action, and the
squadrons, supported by this fire, returned to their old position.
Although Cedar Run was distant seven miles from Culpeper, it was
evident, from the attitude of the cavalry, that the enemy was
inclined to make a stand, and that in all probability Banks' army
corps was in support.* (* This was the case. Banks had reached
Culpeper on the 8th. On the same day his advanced brigade was sent
forward to Cedar Run, and was followed by the rest of the army corps
on the 9th.) Early's brigade, forming the advanced guard which had
halted in a wood by the roadside, was now ordered forward. Deploying
to the right of the highway, it drove in the enemy's vedettes, and
came out on the open ground which overlooks the stream. Across the
shallow valley, covered with the high stalks and broad leaves of
Indian corn, rose a loftier ridge, twelve hundred yards distant, and
from more than one point batteries opened on the Confederate scouts.
The regiments of the advanced guard were immediately withdrawn to the
reverse slope of the ridge, and Jackson galloped forward to the mound
of the guns. His dispositions had been quickly made. A large force of
artillery was ordered to come into action on either flank of the
advanced guard. Ewell's division was ordered to the right, taking
post on the northern face of Slaughter Mountain; Winder was ordered
to the left, and Hill, as soon as he came up, was to form the
reserve, in rear of Winder. These movements took time. The
Confederate column, 20,000 infantry and fifteen batteries, must have
occupied more than seven miles of road; it would consequently take
over two hours for the whole force to deploy for battle.

2.45 P.M.

Before three o'clock, however, the first line was formed. On the
right of the advanced guard, near a clump of cedars, were eight guns,
and on Slaughter Mountain eight more. Along the high-road to the left
six guns of Winder's division were soon afterwards deployed,
reinforced by four of Hill's. These twenty-six pieces, nearly the
whole of the long-range ordnance which the Confederates possessed,
were turned on the opposing batteries, and for nearly two hours the
artillery thundered across the valley. The infantry, meanwhile,
awaiting Hill's arrival, had come into line. Ewell's brigades,
Trimble's, and the Louisianians (commanded by Colonel Forno) had
halted in the woods on the extreme right, at the base of the
mountain, threatening the enemy's flank. Winder had come up on the
left, and had posted the Stonewall Brigade in rear of his guns;
Campbell's brigade, under Lieutenant-Colonel Garnett, was stationed
in front, west, and Taliaferro's brigade east, of the road. The
10,000 men of the Light Division, however, were still some distance
to the rear, and the position was hardly secure against a
counterstroke. The left of the line extended along a skirt of
woodland, which ran at right angles to the road, overlooking a
wheat-field but lately reaped, on the further side of which, and
three hundred yards distant, was dense wood. This point was the most
vulnerable, for there was no support at hand, and a great tract of
forest stretched away westward, where cavalry was useless, but
through which it was quite possible that infantry might force its
way. Jackson ordered Colonel Garnett, commanding the brigade on this
flank, "to look well to his left, and to ask his divisional commander
for reinforcements." The brigadier sent a staff officer and an
orderly to reconnoitre the forest to the left, and two officers were
dispatched to secure the much-needed support.

But at this juncture General Winder was mortally wounded by a shell;
there was some delay in issuing orders, and before the weak place in
the line could be strengthened the storm broke. The enemy's
batteries, five in number, although the concentrated fire of the
Confederates had compelled them to change position, had not yet been
silenced. No large force of Federal infantry had as yet appeared;
skirmishers only had pushed forward through the corn; but the
presence of so many guns was a clear indication that a strong force
was not far off, and Jackson had no intention of attacking a position
which had not yet been reconnoitred until his rear division had
closed up, and the hostile artillery had lost its sting.

5 P.M.

About five o'clock, however, General Banks, although his whole force,
including Bayard's cavalry, did not exceed 9000 officers and men,* (*
3500 of Banks' army corps had been left at Winchester, and his sick
were numerous.) and Ricketts' division, in support, was four miles
distant, gave orders for a general attack.* (* Banks had received an
order from Pope which might certainly be understood to mean that he
should take the offensive if the enemy approached. - Report of
Committee of Congress volume 3 page 45.) Two brigades, crossing the
rise which formed the Federal position, bore down on the Confederate
centre, and strove to cross the stream. Early was hard pressed, but,
Taliaferro's brigade advancing on his left, he held his own; and on
the highroad, raked by a Confederate gun, the enemy was unable to
push forward. But within the wood to the left, at the very point
where Jackson had advised precaution, the line of defence was broken
through. On the edge of the timber commanding the wheatfield only two
Confederate regiments were posted, some 500 men all told, and the 1st
Virginia, on the extreme left, was completely isolated. The Stonewall
Brigade, which should have been placed in second line behind them,
had not yet received its orders; it was more than a half-mile
distant, in rear of Winder's artillery, and hidden from the first
line by the trees and undergrowth. Beyond the wheat-field 1500
Federals, covered by a line of skirmishers, had formed up in the
wood. Emerging from the covert with fixed bayonets and colours
flying, their long line, overlapping the Confederate left, moved
steadily across the three hundred yards of open ground. The shocks of
corn, and some ragged patches of scrub timber, gave cover to the
skirmishers, but in the closed ranks behind the accurate fire of the
Southern riflemen made fearful ravages. Still the enemy pressed
forward; the skirmishers darted from bush to bush; the regiments on
the right swung round, enveloping the Confederate line; and the 1st
Virginia, despite the entreaties of its officers, broke and
scattered.* (* O.R. volume 12 part 2 page 201.) Assailed in front
from the field and in flank from the forest, the men would stand no
longer, and flying back through the woodland, left the way open to
the very rear of the position. The 42nd Virginia, outflanked in turn,
was compelled to give ground; and the Federals, without waiting to
reform, swept rapidly through the wood, and bore down upon the flank
of Taliaferro's brigade and Winder's batteries.

And now occurred a scene of terrible confusion. So swift was the
onslaught that the first warning received by the Confederates on the
highroad was a sudden storm of musketry, the loud cheers of the
enemy, and the rush of fugitives from the forest. Attacked
simultaneously in front, flank and rear, with the guns and limbers
entangled among the infantry, Winder's division was subjected to an
ordeal of which it was without experience. The batteries, by
Jackson's order, were at once withdrawn, and not a gun was lost. The
infantry, however, did not escape so lightly. The Federals,
emboldened by the flight of the artillery, charged forward with
reckless courage. Every regimental commander in Garnett's brigade was
either killed or wounded. Taliaferro's brigade was driven back, and
Early's left was broken. Some regiments attempted to change front,
others retreated in disorder. Scattered groups, plying butt and
bayonet, endeavoured to stay the rout. Officers rushed into the
mêlée, and called upon those at hand to follow. Men were captured and
recaptured, and, for a few moments, the blue and grey were mingled in
close conflict amid the smoke. But the isolated efforts of the
Confederates were of no avail. The first line was irretrievably
broken; the troops were mingled in a tumultuous mass, through which
the shells tore shrieking; the enemy's bayonets were surging forward
on every side, and his well-served batteries, firing over the heads
of their own infantry, played heavily on the road. But fortunately
for the Virginians the Federal right wing was unsupported; and
although the Light Division was still at some distance from the
field, the Stonewall Brigade was already advancing. Breaking through
the rout to the left of the highroad, these five staunch regiments,
undismayed by the disaster, opened a heavy fire. The Federals,
although still superior in numbers at the decisive point, had lost
all order in their successful charge; to meet this fresh onset they
halted and drew together, and then Jackson, with wonderful energy,
restored the battle.

Sending orders for Ewell and A.P. Hill to attack at once, he galloped
forward, unattended by either staff officer or orderly, and found
himself in the midst of his own men, his soldiers of the Valley, no
longer presenting the stubborn front of Bull Run or Kernstown, but an
ungovernable mob, breaking rapidly to the rear, and on the very verge
of panic. Drawing his sword, for the first time in the war, his voice
pealed high above the din; the troops caught the familiar accents,
instinct with resolution, and the presence of their own general acted
like a spell. "Rally, men," he shouted, "and follow me!" Taliaferro,
riding up to him, emphatically insisted that the midst of the mêlée
was no place for the leader of an army. He looked a little surprised,
but with his invariable ejaculation of "Good, good," turned slowly to
the rear. The impulse, however, had already been given to the
Confederate troops. With a wild yell the remnant of the 21st Virginia
rushed forward to the front, and received the pursuers with a sudden
volley. The officers of other regiments, inspired by the example of
their commander, bore the colours forward, and the men, catching the
enthusiasm of the moment, followed in the path of the 21st. The
Federals recoiled. Taliaferro and Early, reforming their brigades,
again advanced upon the right; and Jackson, his front once more
established, turned his attention to the counterstroke he had already

Ewell was ordered to attack the Federal left. Branch, leading the
Light Division, was sent forward to support the Stonewall Brigade,
and Lane to charge down the highroad. Thomas was to give aid to
Early. Archer and Pender, following Branch, were to outflank the
enemy's right, and Field and Stafford were to follow as third line.

Ewell was unable to advance at once, for the Confederate batteries on
Slaughter Mountain swept the whole field, and it was some time before
they could be induced to cease fire. But on the left the mass of
fresh troops, directed on the critical point, exerted a decisive
influence. The Federal regiments, broken and exhausted, were driven
back into the wood and across the wheat-field by the charge of the
Stonewall Brigade. Still they were not yet done with. Before Hill's
troops could come into action, Jackson's old regiments, as they
advanced into the open, were attacked in front and threatened on the
flank. The 4th and 27th Virginia were immediately thrown back to meet
the more pressing danger, forming to the left within the wood; but
assailed in the confusion of rapid movement, they gave way and
scattered through the thickets. But the rift in the line was rapidly
closed up. Jackson, riding in front of the Light Division, and urging
the men to hold their fire and use their bayonets, rallied the 27th
and led them to the front; while Branch's regiments, opening their
ranks for the fugitives to pass through, and pressing forward with
unbroken line, drove back the Northern skirmishers, and moving into
the wheatfield engaged their main body in the opposite wood.


Lane, meanwhile, was advancing astride the road; Archer and Pender,
in accordance with Jackson's orders, were sweeping round through the
forest, and Field and Stafford were in rear of Branch. A fresh
brigade had come up to sustain the defeated Federals; but gallantly
as they fought, the Northerners could make no head against
overwhelming numbers. Outflanked to both right and left, for Early

Online LibraryG.F. R. HendersonStonewall Jackson and the American Civil War → online text (page 48 of 85)