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06/17/15

The Union Destroyers: David Hunter

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series The Union Destroyers

David HunterBy 1864 Ulysses S. Grant had been named as General-in-Chief of the Union Army with the rank of Lieutenant-General, only the third man after Washington and Winfield Scott to hold that rank. As overall commander of all of the Union Armies Grant knew that he had to destroy both the Confederate armies in the field and the means to allowed them to continue, namely farms, mills and railroads.

Grant ordered his forces to make a coordinated attack on the Confederate armies in the Western Theater, the Shenandoah Valley and the Eastern Theater in early May 1864. He hoped to overwhelm the Confederates by not allowing them to reinforce from one theater to another. His strategy had mixed results due to the generals that commanded them and not the men under their commands.

The Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley were commanded by Major General Franz Sigel. He was a German military officer, revolutionist and immigrant to the United States where he was a teacher, newspaperman and politician.

At the start of the Civil War Sigel was living in St. Louis. He was commissioned as the colonel of the 3rd Missouri Infantry. Throughout the summer of 1861, Abraham Lincoln was actively seeking the support of anti-slavery, pro-Unionist immigrants.

Sigel, always popular with the German immigrants, was a good candidate to advance this plan. He was promoted to brigadier general on August 7, 1861, to rank from May 17, one of a number of early political generals endorsed by Lincoln.

By 1864 Sigel was in command of the new Department of West Virginia. In his new command, Sigel opened the Valley Campaigns of 1864, launching an invasion of the Shenandoah Valley. He was soundly defeated by Maj. Gen. John C. Breckenridge at the Battle of New Market, on May 15, 1864. After the battle, Sigel was replaced by Maj. Gen. David Hunter.

Hunter was a 62-year old major general when he was given  command of the Army of the Shenandoah and the Department of West Virginia on May 21, 1864.

Previous to that appointment Hunter was a controversial officer in the Union Army. He was appointed the fourth-ranking brigadier general of volunteers, commanding a brigade in the Department of Washington. He was wounded in the neck and cheek while commanding a division under Irvin McDowell at the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861.

In August, he was promoted to major general of volunteers. He served as a division commander in the Western Army under Maj. Gen. John C. Frémont, and was appointed as commander of the Western Department on November 2, 1861, after Frémont was relieved of command due to his attempt to emancipate the slaves of rebellious slave holders.

That winter, Hunter was transferred to command the Department of Kansas and, in March 1862, was transferred again to command the Department of the South and the X Corps.

Hunter served as the president of the court-martial of Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter (convicted for his actions at the Second Battle of Bull Run, but for which he was exonerated by an 1878 Board of Officers), and on the committee that investigated the loss of Harpers Ferry in the Maryland Campaign. He also served briefly as the Assistant Inspector General of the Department of the Gulf.

Hunter was a strong advocate of arming blacks as soldiers for the Union cause. After the Battle of Fort Pulaski, he began enlisting black soldiers from the occupied districts of South Carolina and formed the first such Union Army regiment, the 1st South Carolina (African Descent), which he was initially ordered to disband, but eventually got approval from Congress for his action.

A second controversy was caused by his issuing an order emancipating the slaves in Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida:

The three States of Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, comprising the military department of the south, having deliberately declared themselves no longer under the protection of the United States of America, and having taken up arms against the said United States, it becomes a military necessity to declare them under martial law. This was accordingly done on the 25th day of April, 1862. Slavery and martial law in a free country are altogether incompatible; the persons in these three States — Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina— heretofore held as slaves, are therefore declared forever free.

— Maj. Gen. David Hunter, Department of the South, General Order No. 11, May 9, 1862

President Lincoln immediately rescinded the order because he was concerned about the political effects that it would have in the border states and who advocated instead a gradual emancipation with compensation for slave holders.

Undeterred by the president’s reluctance and intent on extending American freedom to potential black soldiers, Hunter again flouted orders from the federal government and enlisted ex-slaves as soldiers in South Carolina without permission from the War Department. This action incensed border state slave holders, and Kentucky Representative Charles A. Wickliffe sponsored a resolution demanding a response.

Hunter quickly obliged with a sarcastic and defiant letter on 23 June 1862, in which he delivered a stern reminder to the Congress of his authority as a commanding officer in a war zone.

The War Department eventually forced Hunter to abandon this scheme, but the government nonetheless moved soon afterward to expand the enlistment of black men as military laborers. Congress approved the Second Confiscation Act in July 1862, which effectively freed all slaves working within the armed forces by forbidding Union soldiers to aid in the return of fugitive slaves.

Hunter was given command of the Army of the Shenandoah by Ulysses S. Grant with orders to employ scorched earth tactics similar to those that would be used later in that year during Sherman’s March to the Sea. He was to move through Staunton to Charlottesville and Lynchburg, “living off the country” and destroying the Virginia Central Railroad “beyond possibility of repair for weeks.”

On June 5, Hunter defeated Maj. Gen. William E. “Grumble” Jones at the Battle of Piedmont. Following orders, he moved up the Valley (southward) through Staunton to Lexington, destroying military targets and other industries (such as blacksmiths and stables) that could be used to support the Confederacy.

After reaching Lexington, his troops burned down VMI on June 11 in retaliation of that institution sending cadets to fight in at New Market. Hunter ordered the home of former Governor John Letcher burned in retaliation for its absent owner’s having issued “a violent and inflammatory proclamation … inciting the population of the country to rise and wage guerrilla warfare on my troops.

Hunter also wreaked havoc on Washington College in Lexington (later Washington and Lee University). According to Fitzhugh Lee’s biography of his uncle, Robert E. Lee,

[Hunter] had no respect for colleges, or the peaceful pursuits of professors and students, or the private dwellings of citizens, though occupied by women and children only, and during his three days occupancy of Lexington in June, 1864, the college buildings were dismantled, apparatus destroyed, and the books mutilated.

Hunter’s campaign in the Valley came to an end after he was defeated by Early at the Battle of Lynchburg on June 19. Grant brought in Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan, making him Hunter’s subordinate, but making it clear that Sheridan would lead the troops in the field and that Hunter would be left with only administrative responsibilities.

Hunter, feeling that Grant had a lack of confidence in him, requested to be relieved. He would serve in no more combat commands. He was promoted to brevet major general in the regular army on March 13, 1865, an honor that was relatively common for senior officers late in the war.

04/18/14

Grant’s Final Strategy

This entry is part 6 of 7 in the series 1864: the Year of the Three Generals

Grant in full uniformAfter being turned down by the high Command and the President, Grant revisited his strategic plan. Washington was a risk-averse town and the military and civilian leaders of the Union government were the most risk-averse of all. Grant’s initial plans for the campaigns across the South were extremely radical.

His proposal to drive across North Carolina in order to cut off Lee’s supply lines was, in their view, the riskiest of all. Moving troops from northern Virginia would uncover the nation’s capital would risk raids by the Confederates. What if Lee didn’t take the bait and drove right up Pennsylvania Avenue? No, that just wouldn’t do.

Grant’s pincer attack from Mobile to Montgomery was rejected because Abraham Lincoln was fixated on a show of strength for the French in Mexico. He felt that the Union government needed to send a message by sending an expedition up the Red River. It was as if he was saying that we can protect all of our territory. So, it was back to the drawing board for General Grant.

Grant now proposed a new strategy. Grant had seen the war from a Western Theater point of view. In the Eastern Theater the war was mostly confined to Virginia with two confederate invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania. In the Western Theater the view was very different.

The war in the Western Theater exposed Grant to a war against the entirety of Southern society. He understood that the Southerners were unrepentant, their armies were resilient and the war zone was expansive.

In Virginia, the war was a one-on-one conflict between the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia. In the Western Theater, the war had to carried out against all of the elements: the population, the Confederate Army and Southern society. Therefore, Grant tailored his strategy based on these principles.

When asked about his opinion on Baron Antoine-Henri Jomini’s book on strategy, Grant was said to have replied:

I have never read it carefully; the art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving on. 

Seems simple enough.

Grant’s first element of his strategy was the destruction of the Confederate field armies. His plan called for placing as much pressure as possible on Robert E. Lee’ Army of Northern Virginia and Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee. His plan was to draw them out into the open field and destroy them by a series of major engagements.

In order to successfully carry out these objective, Grant planned to coordinate all of the Union armies. By doing this the Confederates would not be able to shift their forces across theater lines, as they had done when General James Longstreet’s Second Corps had been sent to the Western Theater. This would eliminate the Confederacy’s advantage of interior lines of supply.

Grant estimated that if he couldn’t annihilate his enemies in battle, he would be able to exhaust them logistically, economically and psychologically. It has been characterized by historians either as a annihilation or attrition or both.

Grant and his disciples, the foremost being William T. Sherman, saw war as brutal and unpleasant. They believed in the “hard war” or total war that would be necessary in order to bring the Civil War to swift and successful conclusion.

In order to carry out his strategy, Grant would need commanders that agreed with his belief in “hard war” but here he ran into the political realities of the war.

Sherman was a logical choice as commander of the Army of the Tennessee and eventually overall commander of the Western Theater. Today, he is best remembered for his pronouncement: “All war is hell” but in a letter to the mayor and city council of Atlanta he wrote:

You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace.

Sherman was an easy position to fill but the others were not so easy. General Nathaniel Banks was in command of the Army of the Gulf. He was a former Massachusetts Congressman and Governor with very little military experience. His Red River Expedition was defeated before the campaigns in Virginia and Georgia could even begin. This gave Grant the opportunity to replace him with General Edward Canby. By then Grant lamented that the Red River Expedition had eliminated the use of 40,000 troops for the Sherman’s campaign and the attack on Mobile.

The commander in the Shenandoah Valley was General Franz Sigel, a German immigrant. So far, Sigel was a best inept and at worst incompetent. He had been appointed to his position by Lincoln who hoped to secure German immigrant support for the Republican Party. Sigel failed miserably at the Battle of New Market on May 15th and retreated North to safety. Grant was furious and replaced him with General David Hunter.

Grant’s plan called for the movement of the Army of the James to threaten Richmond from the East. The commander of the Army of the James was another Massachusetts politician, General Ben Butler. Butler was a former Democrat turned Radical Republican. Lincoln needed the support of that wing of his party so Butler’s appointment was a foregone conclusion.

Initially, Grant was favorably impressed with Butler when they met at Fortress Monroe in April. Grant’s initial judgment of Ben Butler was a serious mistake. He was indecisive and needed constant supervision. Grant constantly needed to prod him to take action. He was unable to break through the Confederate lines at Bermuda Hundred even though he outnumbered General P.G.T. Beauregard 33,000 to 18,000. This allowed Lee to move troops from this line.

Finally, Grant kept George Gordon Meade as the commander of the Army of the Potomac even though he offered to resign. Grant was impressed by Grant’s willingness to step aside for the welfare of the nation. Grant kept him on but decided to travel with the Army of the Potomac where he could guide his chief weapon.

 

You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.

You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.

04/11/14

The Opposing Sides’ Strategies

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series 1864: the Year of the Three Generals

Grant and LeeStarting with the Overland Campaign and continuing until the end of the war, the two sides had diametrically opposing military and political strategies. 1864 was not only a year with military objectives but also political ones.

The Union government and their army, now completely under the control of Ulysses S. Grant, had one military goal and one political one. Grant’s military goal was to defeat the armies of the Confederacy in the field.

Grant had proposed and Abraham Lincoln had approved a coordinated strategy that would strike at the heart of the Confederacy from multiple directions: Grant, Meade, and Benjamin Butler against Lee near Richmond, Virginia; Franz Sigel in the Shenandoah Valley; Sherman to invade Georgia, defeat Joseph E. Johnston, and capture AtlantaGeorge Crook and William W. Averell to operate against railroad supply lines in West Virginia; and Nathaniel Banks to capture Mobile, Alabama. This was the first time the Union armies would have a coordinated offensive strategy across a number of theaters.

 

In the east he gave George Meade one overriding command: “Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also.” Richmond was no longer the primary goal of the Army of the Potomac. Their primary goal was to be the destruction and surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. Grant knew that with the defeat of Lee’s army would precipitate the fall of Richmond.

In the Western Theater, Sherman had been tasked with the capture of the rail center of Atlanta. He would then seek the destruction of the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Finally, Sherman would wreak destruction through Georgia, South Carolina and South Carolina, gutting the Deep South and preventing the supplying of the various Confederate armies.

Not all of Grant’s armies were led by professional soldiers and they would fall short of his goals. Butler’s mission was to deploy his 33,000-man army via the James River to the Virginia Peninsula and strike northwest to Richmond. His objective was to cut the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad, a critical Southern supply line, and force Lee to send reinforcements to that front, weakening him against Grant and Meade. Ben Butler would be bottled up at Bermuda Hundred by General P.G.T. Beauregard with a force of 18,000.

Sigel would be defeated at the battle of New Market by John C. Breckinridge. Sigel staged a rapid retreat northward to Strasburg, leaving the field and the Valley to Breckinridge’s army. After learning of the Union defeat, Grant became furious and replaced Sigel with David Hunter.

Hunter waged an aggressive campaign in the southern Valley forcing Lee to dispatch Jubal Early and his Second Corps to face the Union Army. Early forced the Union forces out of the Valley and proceeded to march north into Maryland. He eventually threatened Washington, forcing Grant to send a corps to protect the city.

He returned to the Valley but Grant appointed Philip Sheridan to command the Army of the Shenandoah. Sheridan conducted an aggressive campaign against Early, eventually annihilating the Second Corps and forcing the remnants to rejoin Lee. The Valley was lost as a breadbasket for the Confederacy.

Robert E. Lee had a purely defensive strategy. His initial goal was two-fold: preserve his army from attrition and defend Richmond. With an army that on occasion half the size of the Army of the Potomac, Lee would become the master of the terrain of his native state. He used every topographical feature that was available to his army.

He fought a masterful defensive campaign during May and June of 1864. Battles in the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and North Anna featured the Confederates skillful use of the terrain to bleed the Union Army. Outnumbered almost 2-to-1 his army inflicted 55,000 casualties on their enemy while sustaining 33,600. However, the Confederate losses represented about half of their army.

Grant knew that he could bleed Lee’s army while his own armies had a much larger pool of manpower available. However, looming in November was the Presidential election. Lincoln needed victories in the field in order to fend off the challenge from George McClellan, the Democrat nominee. The rising casualty lists would drive the voters into the arms of the Democrats unless they saw the hope of victory on the horizon.

Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee realized that their only hope of achieving independence was the defeat of Abraham Lincoln at the polls.  1864 would therefore become the most important year of the war. Victory would hang in the balance for the greater part of the year.

 

 

 

01/23/12

The Battle of New Market

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series The Lynchburg Campaign (May-June 1864)

The Battle of New Market

The Battle of New Market took place on May 15, 1864. New Market, Virginia was a small market crossroads in the central Shenandoah Valley. By this time in the war the South was reeling from a number of shattering defeats. On the eastern side of the Blue Ridge Mountains Ulysses S. Grant’s armies were relentlessly pursuing Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

New Market was distinguished by the charge of the cadets from Virginia Military Institute. The Confederate forces, led by Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge, were small in numbers with between 4,000 and 4,500 men. Breckenridge needed as many men (or boys) that Gen John C. Breckenridgehe could collect so he asked the Commandant at VMI to dispatch the Cadet Corps to join his army. The cadets marched some 81 miles in four days to join the Confederate forces on the eve of the battle. The Corps was led by 24-year old Col. Scott Shipp and consisted of 257 cadets, some as young as 15 years of age. Breckenridge intended to use the cadets as a reserve force behind his main line.

The Federal force was led by Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel who commanded a total force of 6,500 at New Market. Grant’s original intent was to have Sigel draw off Confederate forces from Lee’s army in central Virginia by threatening the Confederate breadbasket of the Valley. Sigel was a politician who even Gen Franz Sigelthough he was only in this country for ten years was a favorite of Lincoln’s because he could deliver votes from the German immigrant community for President Lincoln in the upcoming election.

Opposing him was Breckenridge, a Kentuckian, who had been the youngest Vice President of the United States under James Buchanan and came in second (of four) against Lincoln in the 1860 Presidential election. He also served in the House and the Senate. Breckenridge led Kentucky’s “Orphan Brigade”, a unit that could never go home since their state had remained in the Union. Breckenridge had been a commander in the Western Theater who had distinguished himself on the field of battle. He turned out that the politician was a fair commander, too. An antipathy between Braxton Bragg, the Army of Tennessee commander, and Breckenridge led to his transfer to the Eastern Theater where he was put in charge of Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley.

Sigel’s forces began their march down the Valley in early May 1864. Breckenridge began to collect his forces at Staunton, some 35 miles south of New Market. Breckenridge moved his forces north with the intention of bringing the Federal forces to battle. They met at New Market on May 15th in a drenching rain. The Confederate infantry brushed aside Federal skirmishers about a mile south of the Jacob Bushong Farm. They engaged the main Federal force with rifle and cannon fire about a mile north of the farm. The Federals using double grape and canister (essentially the cannons acted like giant shotguns) tore huge holes in the Confederate lines. At this point Breckenridge was forced to use the Cadets to plug a huge gap in his line. “Put the boys in,” Breckinridge ordered, “and may God forgive me for the order …” Col. Shipp ordered his Cadet Corps to advance. They split their force as they went to either side of the Bushong Farm, two companies to the east and two to the west. The fire was intense and cadets began to fall. They took cover to protect themselves, behind anything that would shield them from the enemy’s fire, tree stumps, rail fences, trees.

Sigel, realizing that the Confederates were disorganized, ordered a counterattack. It lurched forward and was ineffective. The counterattack failed and Sigel ordered his artillery to withdraw. The reduction of the Federal artillery fire encouraged Breckenridge. He ordered his infantry to advance against the Federal line. They moved across a rain-soaked wheat field that was later renamed the Field of Lost Shoes by one of the cadets. Many of the soldiers and cadets had the shoes literally sucked off their feet by the thick mud. VMI Cadets with FlagThe Federal line broke under the pressure and the Confederates swept over the position. General Sigel ordered his forces to retreat to Strasburg. An artillery battery commanded by Captain Henry A. DuPont covered the Federal retreat. Captain DuPont was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864.  On May 15th he simply saved his comrades from utter defeat.

The Battle of New Market was a small battle based on the slightly under 11,000 total soldiers engaged. Casualties totaled 1,380 total (840 Federals, 540 Confederates) killed, wounded, captured. The VMI Cadet Corps lost 10 killed, 45 wounded; a 23% casualty rate. The next month the Federals got their revenge on VMI by burning the school to the ground. It would not reopen until 1866 and it would take five years to recover.

Franz Sigel was relieved of command and replaced by Maj. Gen. David Hunter as commander of the Army of the Shenandoah and the Department of West Virginia on May 21, 1864. Grant ordered Hunter to employ scorched earth tactics similar to those that would be used later in that year during Sherman’s March to the Sea; he was to move through Staunton to Charlottesville and Lynchburg, “living off the country” and destroying the Virginia Central Railroad “beyond possibility of repair for weeks.”