image_pdfimage_print
06/16/16

The Eastern Theater: Graveyard of Generals (Part One)

This entry is part 3 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

Union Generals-The Eastern Theater: Graveyard of Generals (Part One)The Eastern Theater was the graveyard of generals for the Union Army. Initially, it was simply a matter of inexperience with large formations of troops by the field commanders. None of them had ever commanded more than a regiment of 600 to 1,000 men while they now commanded tens of thousands. After the Battle of Seven Pines the gravedigger became Robert E. Lee with Stonewall Jackson and James Longstreet as the principal pallbearers.

The first Union commander of a major Union army was Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell who commanded the Army of Northeastern Virginia. McDowell was an inexperienced officer whose command consisted of 90-day enlistees with even less experience. He was pressured by the Washington politicians and major newspapers who had coined the phrase “On to Richmond.”

With an army of 35,000 men he initially outnumbered the 20,000 Confederates under Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard at Manassas. The second major Confederate force of 12,000 men under Gen. Joseph E. Johnston in the Shenandoah Valley, was to be held in place by Maj. Gen. Robert Patterson with 18,000 men menacing Harpers Ferry, preventing the two Confederate armies from combining against McDowell.

McDowell’s major mistake was to put in place a complex battle plan that his inexperienced field commanders were incapable of executing. Initially, the Union forces had the advantage but Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson stout defense coupled with the timely reinforcements from the Valley turned the tide in the Confederates’ favor. McDowell’s retreat turned into a rout.

McDowell was superseded by Maj. Gen. George McClellan who was summoned to Washington and given command of the newly-formed Army of the Potomac. McDowell was initially given command of a division and later a corps. He would later serve under the equally unsuccessful John Pope at the Second Battle of Manassas. McDowell was shelved for two years after that battle and was eventually given command of the Department of the Pacific.

Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was the next Confederate general to wreak havoc among the Union high command in the Shenandoah Valley in 1862. Jackson had acquired his famous nickname at the First Battle of Manassas when he held of repeated Union attacks on his lines. In the Valley, he would whip a much larger Union force in a lightning campaign that is still studied at West Point.

After an initial tactical defeat against Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks at the First Battle of Kernstown (March 23, 1862), Jackson turned his force and defeated elements of the Union Mountain Departments of Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky of Maj. Gen. John C. Frémont‘s army in the Battle of McDowell on May 8th.

Both Banks and Frémont were ‘political’ generals. Banks had been the Democratic Governor of Massachusetts while Frémont was a prominent Republican having been their first Presidential candidate.

Jackson joined forces with Maj. Gen. Richard S. Ewell and captured the Federal garrison at Front Royal on May 23, causing Banks to retreat to the north. On May 25, in the First Battle of Winchester, Jackson defeated Banks and pursued him until the Union Army crossed the Potomac River into Maryland.

Bringing in Union reinforcements from eastern Virginia, Brig. Gen. James Shields recaptured Front Royal and planned to link up with Frémont in Strasburg. Jackson was now threatened by three small Union armies. Withdrawing up the Valley from Winchester, Jackson was pursued by Frémont and Shields. On June 8, Ewell defeated Frémont in the Battle of Cross Keys and on the following day, crossed the North River to join forces with Jackson to defeat Shields in the Battle of Port Republic, bringing the campaign to a close.

Jackson had defeated the larger forces of three Union generals. After the subsequent Battle of Cedar Mountain, Banks was criticized for his numerous tactical errors before and during the battle, including poor placement of troops, inadequate reconnaissance, and failing to commit reserve resources when he had a chance to break the Confederate line. He was removed from command an assigned to organize a force of thirty thousand new recruits, drawn from New York and New England.

When the Army of Virginia was created June 26, to include General Frémont’s corps, with John Pope in command, Frémont declined to serve on the grounds that he was senior to Pope and for personal reasons. He then went to New York where he remained throughout the war, expecting a command, but none was given to him.

Brig. Gen. James Shields was yet another ‘political general’. Although he was the only general who defeated Jackson in the campaign, his career did not benefit from his victory. The day after Kernstown, he was promoted to major general, but the promotion was withdrawn, reconsidered, and then finally rejected. His overall performance in the rest of the Valley Campaign was poor enough that he resigned his commission, and his departure was not resisted by the War Department.

 

12/18/12

General Thomas J. Jackson: “Stonewall”

Stonewall JacksonThomas Jonathan Jackson, the officer that came to be known as “Stonewall”, was born in Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia in 1824. Orphaned by 7 years old, Jackson was raised by various relatives until he entered West Point in 1842.

Jackson had very little early schooling but he worked hard at the military academy. Jackson graduated 17th out of 59 students in the Class of 1846. It was said by his peers that if he had stayed there another year, he would have graduated first.

Jackson began his career as a second lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Artillery Regiment and was sent to fight in the Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848. He served at the Siege of Veracruz and the battles of Contreras, Chapultepec, and Mexico City, eventually earning two brevet promotions, and the regular army rank of first lieutenant. It was in Mexico that Thomas Jackson first met Robert E. Lee.

Jackson was praised by General Winfield Scott for earning more promotions than any other officer during the three-year war.

In 1851, Jackson began his career at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington. He became Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy and Instructor of Artillery. Parts of Jackson’s curriculum are still taught at VMI, regarded as timeless military essentials: discipline, mobility, assessing the enemy’s strength and intentions while attempting to conceal your own, and the efficiency of artillery combined with an infantry assault. Jackson was to use all of these during his two-year meteoric career.

Jackson was designated to lead a contingent of VMI cadets to Charles Town for the hanging of John Brown on December 2, 1859. He saw only “unflinching firmness” in Brown’s actions on that prophetic day.

When Virginia seceded, Jackson was promoted to colonel and ordered to become the drillmaster for new recruits to the Confederate army. On April 27, 1861, he was ordered to Harpers Ferry by the governor. There, he was to form the infantry brigade that later became famous as the “Stonewall” Brigade, consisting of the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 27th, and 33rd Virginia Infantry regiments. All of these units were from the Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia, where Jackson located his headquarters throughout the first two years of the war.

Jackson was promoted to brigadier general in June after a spectacular raid on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad on May 24th. Jackson’s operations were aimed at disrupting a critical railroad used by the opposing Union Army as a major supply route and capturing the maximum number of locomotives and cars. In June, General Joseph Johnston ordered Jackson and his brigade to join the main Confederate Army confronting the Union forces around Manassas.

Jackson earned his famous nickname at the First Battle of Manassas in July. Brig. Gen. Barnard Elliott Bee, Jr., exhorted his own troops to re-form by shouting, “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Rally behind the Virginians!” Although there is some controversy about Bee’s rationale, he was killed shortly after and the name stuck.

After the battle, Jackson was promoted to major general and given command of the Valley District. It was here that “Stonewall” Jackson became famous. In a lightening campaign that lasted from March 23, 1862 until June 9th, Jackson’s 17,000 men marched 646 miles  in 48 days and won six out of seven battles as they successfully engaged three Union armies (52,000 men), preventing them from reinforcing the Union offensive against Richmond.

With the success of his Valley Campaign, Stonewall Jackson became the most celebrated soldier in the Confederacy (until his reputation was eventually eclipsed by Lee’s), and his victories lifted the morale of the public.

Jackson then joined the main Confederate army east of Richmond where he eventually became Robert E. Lee’s senior subordinate, commanding the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. His troops served well during the Seven Days Campaign but Jackson’s reputation fared rather poorly.

Victorious once again at the Second Battle of Manassas, Jackson would lead his veteran troops into Maryland. His corps commanded included four divisions of veteran troops with attached artillery for each division.

Jackson was assigned by Lee to capture Harpers Ferry so that there would be no threat to the Confederates’ supply lines back to Virginia. His troops surrounded the town and forced its surrender. The victorious Confederates captured mountains of weapons and supplies, besides almost 12,500 Union soldiers.

Moving on to Sharpsburg, Maryland, Jackson commanded the northern end of the Antietam battlefield, where his men bore the brunt of the early fighting. At the end of the day, Jackson’s subordinate, Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill, prevented a Union breakthrough at the southern end of the battlefield. Hill’s troops were the last to arrive, having stayed at Harpers Ferry to arrange the surrender and parole of the captured Union troops.

In December, Jackson’s Second Corps held off a strong Union assault against the right flank of the Confederate line at the Battle of Fredericksburg, in what became a decisive Confederate victory.

The Battle of Chancellorsville was Stonewall Jackson’s final and perhaps, his greatest tactical achievement. Jackson’s famous Flank Attack broke the Union lines and forced a rout of the Union Army.The Confederates marched silently until they were merely several hundred feet from the Union position, then released a bloodthirsty cry and full charge. Many of the Federals were captured without a shot fired, the rest were driven into a full rout. Jackson pursued relentlessly back toward the center of the Federal line until dusk.

Unfortunately for the Confederates, Jackson was mistakenly shot by his own troops while leading a party that was scouting the forward lines. The North Carolina troops thought that the group were Union cavalry. Jackson was hit by three bullets, two in the left arm and one in the right hand. Several other men in his staff were killed, in addition to many horses. Darkness and confusion prevented Jackson from getting immediate care. He was dropped from his stretcher while being evacuated because of incoming artillery rounds.

Jackson’s left arm had to be amputated by the chief surgeon of Jackson’s Corps, Dr. Hunter H. McGuire. The General’s condition was not helped by the rough evacuation to a farm some 18 miles from the battlefield. Jackson eventually succumbed to pneumonia.

A few moments before he died he cried out in his delirium, “Order A.P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front rapidly! Tell Major Hawks”—then stopped, leaving the sentence unfinished. Presently a smile of ineffable sweetness spread itself over his pale face, and he said quietly, and with an expression, as if of relief, “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.” Thomas J. Jackson died on May 10, 1863 at the age of 39.

His friend and commander, General Robert E. Lee on the night that he learned of Jackson’s death, told his cook, “William, I have lost my right arm” and “I’m bleeding at the heart.” 

The Confederacy never replaced Jackson’s superior command and tactical skills. Less than six weeks later, Lee was defeated at the Battle of Gettysburg.