July 27, 1862 (Sunday)
Being the intersection of two railroads, Gordonsville was an incredibly important place. Whichever side held it, held rail access into the Shenandoah Valley from Richmond. General John Pope, commanding the Union Army of Virginia, had tried to take it, but his cavalry was too slow. Confederates under Stonewall Jackson entered the town on the 17th and two days later, Jackson’s entire force of 11,000 were there.
Pope, though exceedingly boastful, made no major moves. His army was still gathering themselves, but more importantly, he believed that Jackson’s true numbers were three times what they were. This, in Pope’s mind, brought the enemy’s strength nearly equal to his own.1
The biggest problem faced by Pope, apart from Stonewall Jackson, was his most forward cavalry commander, General John Hatch. Pope wanted him to take Gordonsville with cavalry, but for some reason, Hatch took along wagons, artillery and even infantry – all of which slowed him down and allowed Jackson to beat him to the punch. Several other more minor fiascoes quickly convinced Pope that Hatch needed to be dealt with.
On the 21st, Hatch was officially reprimanded. All through that week, Pope’s division and corps commanders complained about Hatch’s lack of communication. By the 25th, Pope decided that Hatch needed someone looking over his shoulder. He sent one of his staff officers to inspect the outposts at Madison and Culpeper. He admonished General Nathaniel Banks, Hatch’s corps commander, for trusting in Hatch and not sending a staff officer of his own to be his eyes. Hatch, said Pope, must be heard from at least once a day.2
General Banks finally heard from Hatch on the night of the 26th, when he offered an explanation as to why he failed so miserably. It wasn’t that he brought infantry to a cavalry raid, it was horses. They had broken down and there was little he could do. He did not, however, explain how horses could be broken down by walking at the pace of infantry.3
There may or may not have been little Hatch could do, but there was something Pope could do. On this date, following ten days of bungling and ineptitude, Pope relieved General John Hatch. Since he appeared to like infantry so much, he was given an entire brigade to command in General Rufus King’s corps near Fredericksburg.
To replace him, Pope called upon General John Buford.4 At thirty-six, Buford was a career soldier from a family of career soldiers. Two of his ancestors had been officers in Virginia regiments during the Revolutionary War. His half brother, Napoleon Bonaparte Buford, was a Union General under US Grant, while his cousin, Abraham Buford, would soon become a Confederate General. He grew up in Illinois, but was born in Kentucky. His father, a democrat, was a political rival to Abraham Lincoln.
Buford graduated from West Point in 1848 – the same year as Stonewall Jackson. In the 1850s, he spent most of his time out west, commanding a regiment of dragoons (mounted infantry). He fought the Lakotas and tried to keep the peace during “Bleeding Kansas.” He also served under Albert Sidney Johnston during the Mormon War of 1858.
When war broke out between North and South, however, Buford was called back to Washington and relegated to an inspector of the capital’s defenses.5 Buford, no doubt, grew weary of this job. The promotion, from Major to Brigadier-General (which would become official two days later), came out of the blue. But he was up to the task.
It seems as if nobody had heard of him before. None of his new regimental commanders knew who he was, and even newspapers would get his name wrong. It would take about a week for Burford to sure up his job in Washington and arrive before his new brigade at Culpeper.6
Meanwhile, in Gordonsville, General Jackson had several things on his mind. First was the ridiculous amount of paperwork he needed to file. And while that would be accomplished in time, something needed to be done about his new cavalry commander. After the death of Turner Ashby in early June, the troopers in Jackson’s cavalry held an impromptu vote and elected their own officers.
Completely disregarding such elections, President Jefferson Davis hand-picked General Beverly H. Robertson to lead Jackson’s cavalry. Robertson was strict, a quality that Jackson admired, especially after all the problems he had with Ashby’s sloppiness. But unlike Ashby, he was really bad at his job. Jackson petitioned Richmond to place William “Grumble” Jones in command, but it fell upon seemingly deaf ears.7
Most importantly, Jackson needed reinforcements. He was well aware that Pope outnumbered him and that his 11,000 men could do little more than hold Gordonsville. Jackson wrote to General Lee on the 23rd, worried that he was too weak. Lee responded on the 26th, telling him that there wasn’t much he could do. “I was in hopes that your stragglers were coming to you,” wrote Lee in what could have been taken as a sly admonishment. For the time being, all Lee could do was send Jackson a battery and a regiment of infantry.8
Over the next twenty-four hours, Lee found more. Two brigades were coming to him from South Carolina, adding 4,000 to his numbers at Richmond. With a little shuffling, Lee created a new division and placed General A.P. Hill in command. Though Jackson needed the 18,000 men that Lee was giving him, he probably wasn’t thrilled to hear that Hill was at their head.
In West Point, A.P. Hill and others quickly grew to dislike Jackson. He was part of the Virginia aristocracy, while Jackson was far from it. Through the old army, before the war, those feelings were unchanged. During the Seven Days Battles, General Hill blamed Jackson for the defeat at Beaver Dam, for the mauling of his division at Gaines’s Mill, and the failure at Savage’s Station. By the time Hill was ordered to serve under Jackson, the former believed the latter to be responsible for mucking up the most important campaign of the war.9
“A.P. Hill you will, I think find a good officer” wrote Lee to Jackson, “with whom you can consult, and by advising with your division commanders as to your movements much trouble will be saved you in arranging details, as they can act more intelligently.”10 Lee was well aware of Jackson’s proclivity towards keeping his own counsel and was trying to make sure the complaints lodged by General Richard Ewell during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign would not be copied by A.P. Hill. While Ewell was quickly won over, Hill might be a tougher convert to Stonewall Jackson’s Way.
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p509. Pope, in a July 26, 1862 letter to General Halleck, puts the figure at 35,000. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p489, 500, 506-507. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p512-513. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p514. [↩]
- Biographical montage used Encyclopedia of the American Civil War edited by David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler, WW Norton, 2000. [↩]
- General John Buford: A Military Biography by Edward G. Longacre, Da Capo Press, 2003. [↩]
- Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson, MacMillan, 1997. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p917-918. [↩]
- General A.P. Hill: The Story of a Confederate Warrior by James I. Robertson, Random House, 1992. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p919. [↩]