July 19, 1862 (Saturday)
Stonewall Jackson’s 11,000 Confederate troops arrived in Gordonsville, securing the railroad link between Richmond and the Shenandoah Valley. Jackson had been pushing General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, to follow up the success before Richmond with a push towards the north – perhaps even an invasion of the north. While Lee couldn’t commit his entire force to such a venture, he once again gave Jackson an independent command, with orders to oppose the advance of the Federals at Culpeper Court House.
The Federals, commanded by General John Pope, were gathering twenty or so miles north of Culpeper, around Warrenton and Sperryville. Pope had ordered his cavalry, commanded by General John Hatch, with 3,000 troopers to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad at Gordonsville. If he met no resistance, he was to continue on to Charlottesville and the James River. Pope expected the order to be interpreted thus: If resistance was met before Gordonsville, push through them and destroy the railroad, and then return. Gordonsville was the cake, while the James River was just the icing.1
Hatch responded quickly, but moved cautiously. There were reports of a large body of troops on his left and of Stonewall Jackson at Charlottesville. By the 17th, Hatch was in Madison Court House, twenty miles north of Gordonsville. There, he heard rumors that part of Jackson’s troops (under General Richard Ewell) were in the town.2
Part of Hatch’s turtlelike pace came from the baggage train and artillery that he was lugging around with him. The detachment of infantry didn’t help much, either. With word that Ewell was before him, Hatch did some strange things. First, he decided to move closer, gathering his force at Orange County Court House, ten miles up the line from Gordonsville. He then, however, sent his baggage, infantry and artillery back to Sperryville, thirty miles in the other direction. With his cavalry, he would scout out the rumors, and if Ewell was there, he would, according to his dispatch, send his baggage, artillery and infantry to Sperryville.
No, it didn’t really make any sense. Even General Nathaniel Banks, Hatch’s commander, admitted that “it does not distinctly appear what the plan is.” Later, Banks just figured that if Gordonsville wasn’t crowded with Rebels, Hatch would take it.3
General Pope received this odd report on the 18th and replied on this date, two days after it was written. He was even more cranky than usual. “I was greatly surprised to learn from General Hatch’s dispatch,” wrote Pope to Banks, “that he had gone to execute the duty I assigned to him, with infantry, artillery, and a wagon train. I never dreamed of such a thing.”
Pope designed the operation to be a task specifically for the cavalry. He couldn’t fathom why Hatch would bring along infantry and artillery. “It has been a great mistake, and may possibly lead to serious consequences,” asserted Pope, believing that if Hatch would have moved quickly, “he would have found no enemy at Gordonsville, and from all accounts none at Charlottesville.”4
Though Pope demanded an explanation, he appears to have given Hatch another chance, waiting through the culmination of the day to see what Hatch would bring.
General Hatch started his day by doing nothing. He had heard more rumors (which were actually true) that Ewell was encamped between Gordonsville and Madison Court House. The reports told of a large force with quite a bit of artillery (which Hatch was now lacking). He would, however, stay in Madison, keeping an eye on Ewell.
Not long later, Hatch’s men encountered a Union spy who had just been in Richmond. The spy claimed that Ewell had 6,000 men and was waiting for Hatch to attack. Jackson, he said, was coming up and when united with Ewell, would have 30,000 under his command.
General Hatch then suggested a new plan, worded as if it wasn’t a retreat. He proposed that a new line be established at Sperryville (twenty miles north of Madison, and forty miles north of Ewell’s troops at Gordonsville). Pope, whose only objective was to cut the Virginia Central line, would not be thrilled with this new idea.5
It wasn’t just Ewell’s Division that was in Gordonsville. Jackson’s entire command entered the town on this date. There, he was met by his friend and cartographer, Jedediah Hotchkiss. He saw that Jackson looked “the worse for his Chickahominey trip, and so do the troops.”6
Pope could not know any of this, of course. Though reports had Jackson’s force at nearly three times its actual number – the same reports claimed that he wasn’t yet in Gordonsville. Tired of dealing with Hatch, Pope turned to General Rufus King, commanding a division under General Irvin McDowell, near Fredericksburg. King sent the brash Judson Kilpatrick (who had not yet earned the moniker “Kill Cavalry”) to see what he could do to the Virginia Central line.
Kilpatrick and the 2nd New York Cavalry left camp at 7pm and rode through the night. Their destination was Beaver Dam. Though it was thirty-five miles away from Gordonsville, cutting the line there would have the same effect as cutting the line anywhere else.7
At the same time, a Confederate Captain named John Singleton Mosby was staying for the night at Beaver Dam. Mosby, an officer in General Jeb Stuart’s Rebel Cavalry, wanted to render service to his new country by raising a band of partisan rangers. He saw that General Pope’s Army of Virginia was situated at Warrenton with cavalry tentacles extended south. This was the perfect place for his type of work, which would send marauding bands of Rebels to the rear of Pope’s Army, causing the Federals to use their cavalry between their main body and Washington, rather than towards Jackson’s command at Gordonsville.
Stuart liked the plan, but could offer no troops as he was readying his force for action. Stuart sent Mosby to Jackson, who, Stuart assured him, would give Mosby the troops he needed. He traveled to Beaver Dam station “with a club-footed companion” who was except from military service. They stayed the night with a nearby farmer and planned to catch the morning train to Gordonsville.8
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p476. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p477. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p481. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p484. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p486. [↩]
- Make Me a Map of the Valley by Jedediah Hotchkiss, Southern Methodist University, 1973. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p490. [↩]
- Memoirs by John Singleton Mosby, Little, Brown, and Company, 1917. [↩]