June 15, 1862 (Sunday)
Completing his ride around the Union Army of the Potomac, General Jeb Stuart arrived at General Robert E. Lee’s headquarters just after dawn. In describing his three day ride, he told of the 165 Union prisoners and 260 horses and mules they had captured. He detailed the destruction of boats, communication lines, and of their harrowing escape. All was accomplished with but one casualty: Captain William Latane, shot down while leading a charge on the second day of the ride.
Most importantly, however, he told Lee that the Federal right flank was on the Chickahominy, near Mechanicsville. This information was enough to convince Lee that he could safely bring the troops of Stonewall Jackson from the Shenandoah Valley to his own left flank.1
Shortly after Stuart and Lee parted, Congressman Alexander Boteler, sent as an envoy from Stonewall Jackson, appeared at Lee’s doorstep. After visiting with President Jefferson Davis the previous day, he was directed to the General.
Jackson was under the impression that he could do no more in the Shenandoah Valley if he was not heavily reinforced to the tune of 40,000 soldiers.
By the time Boteler met with Lee, everything had already been decided in Lee’s mind. Still, the Congressman was allowed to make his case. When Lee asked why he thought that Jackson’s men should stay in the Valley, he made a strange argument having more to do with weather and physical constitution than anything military.
“If you bring our valley boys down here at this season among the pestilential swamps of the Chickahominy,” began Boteler, “the change from their pure mountain air to the miasmatic atmosphere will kill them off faster than the Federals have been doing.”
Lee wasn’t exactly impressed, and asked if there was another reason.
“Yes,” replied Boteler, finally turning pragmatic. “It is that Jackson has been doing so well with an independent command that it seems a pity not to let him have his own way; and then, too, bringing him here, General, will be – to use a homely phrase – putting all your eggs in one basket.”
But Lee’s mind was made up. With a wry smile, he agreed to a point. “I see that you appreciate General Jackson as highly as I myself do, and it is because of my appreciate of him that I wish to have him here.”
Lee put it all in writing and sent Boteler back to the Valley. Jackson would be coming east.2
Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, General John C. Fremont’s deception was catching up with him. Fremont was convinced that he had soundly defeated Stonewahimll Jackson on both June 8th and June 9th at Cross Keys. This, especially the June 8th claim, was absolutely groundless. If he truly believed this, Fremont was alone in his fancy.
“As you alone beat Jackson last Sunday I argue that you are stronger than he is to-day,” countered the President. Lincoln allowed that Jackson may have been reinforced, but “such re-enforcement could only have come from Richmoud, and he is much more likely to go to Richmond than Richmond is to come to him.”
Lincoln, clearly becoming annoyed with Fremont’s constant requests for more troops, and his daily, fear-laden reports, laid it out for the General: “I do not believe Jackson will attack you, but certainly he cannot attack you by surprise; and if he comes upon you in superior force you have but to notify us, fall back cautiously, and Banks will join you in due time.”
The President went on to explain (again) what Fremont already knew. He was to protect the main Shenandoah Valley, while General Banks covered the Luray Valley from Front Royal. This freed up General McDowell’s entire Corps to join General McClellan before Richmond. “I have arranged this,” determined Lincoln, “and am very unwilling to have it deranged.”3
Union Troops to Assault Rebel Works Near Charleston, SC
A world away, on James Island, just south of Charleston, South Carolina, two Union divisions under General Henry W. Benham, were under orders from General David Hunter, department commander, to do nothing but remain in their entrenched positions at the southern end of the island.
General Benham, however, was getting some ideas of his own. Since landing and engaging in some sharp skirmishes on the 10th, the Union position had been almost continuously shelled by the Rebel artillery at a fort near the town of Secessionville.
All along the Union line, rumors that they would soon attack the Confederate fort flew from camp to camp. Some regiments were even issued sixty rounds of ammunition in preparation. Though rumors, they were surprisingly accurate.
The closeness of the Rebels’ Tower Battery concerned General Benham. His superior, General Hunter, had left him explicit instructions to “make no attempt to advance on Charleston or to attack Fort Johnson until largely re-enforced or until you receive specific instructions from these headquarters to that effect.” Hunter intended this as a direct order for Benham to remain in position until told otherwise.
Benham, however, insisted that Hunter’s orders to protect his troops extended to an attack on the Rebel works. It was asserted that the Confederate shells could almost reach one of the Union camps. General Isaac Stevens, commanding one of the divisions, disagreed, believing that the Rebels could only play upon the picket lines.
That evening, General Benham met with his two division commanders and a naval officer aboard his headquarters ship, the USS Deleware. At 4am, went the plan, General Stevens’ Division would attack the works, while the other division, under General Horatio Wright (along with a brigade under Col. Robert Williams), would provide support. They were to move at 2am.
The Union camps were abuzz with activity as units readied their men and jockeyed for position. Sleep came late for most.
For Isaac Stevens, he put off rest long enough to write a short letter to his wife: “We are now attempting an enterprise for which our force is entirely inadequate. The want of a proper commander is fearful. We shall try to prevent any disaster occurring. This is all I can say at present.”4
- To the Gates of Richmond by Stephen Sears, Mariner Books, 1992. [↩]
- Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson, MacMillan, 1997. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 1, p661. [↩]
- Sessionville; Assault on Charleston by Patrick Brennan, Savas, 1996. [↩]