August 7, 1862 (Thursday)
For two days, Federal troops under General Joe Hooker had held the retaken Malvern Hill, east of Richmond. General George McClellan had sent them out under the precept of testing the rumors that the Confederates were abandoning their capital city. They had pushed back the Rebel cavalry, who had reported the thrust to General Robert E. Lee.
On the evening of the 5th, thinking that McClellan might be moving his entire Army of the Potomac for another assault, Lee ordered Generals Longstreet and McLaws to be ready to move by dawn the next day. General “Shanks” Evans, commanding a nearby brigade, advanced, but did little more than throw back the Federal cavalry pickets north of Malvern. Meanwhile, Longstreet’s and McLaws’ troops were cautiously marching out of Richmond.
By dark, they had not yet made it to Malvern Hill, and bivouacked for the night. At dawn on this day, the Rebels had some issues getting themselves on the road – rations hadn’t been handed out to one of the brigades. By the time they stepped off, word from the front had it that Malvern Hill had been abandoned.1
Between McLaw’s troops and the Federal position was Wade Hampton’s Rebel cavalry. They had been ordered by General Lee to reconnoiter the Union right flank. But as they slowly crept toward the enemy, they discovered the hill bare. Only a few stragglers had remained behind. There had been, perhaps, 15,000 Northern troops occupying the area around Malvern Hill. Suddenly, they were gone.2
General McClellan wanted Lee to attack the formidable Federal defenses at Harrison’s Landing. Lee, being quite a bit wiser than that, declined. Hooker’s reconnaissance was just that: reconnaissance. But it was ordered in the hopes that Hooker would become so entangled that Washington and General-in-Chief Henry Halleck would have little choice but to order the Army of the Potomac to remain on the Peninsula.
McClellan got word that Lee was sending out 20,000 troops to hit Hooker at Malvern before the troops were even on the road. Thinking that they were much closer than they were, McClellan immediately decided to support his advanced troops. Due to the size of his army, however, he couldn’t assemble his men until the afternoon of the 6th.
But Halleck was moving faster than either McClellan or Lee. On the 6th, he ordered McClellan to send all his available cavalry and artillery to General Ambrose Burnside at Aquia Creek (which was where the Army of the Potomac was going anyway – Halleck was merely trying to speed things along). In light of that order, he had little choice but to abandon the plan to reinforce Hooker, and to abandon Malvern Hill all together. Throughout the morning of this date, the men returned to their camps at Harrison’s Landing.
McClellan, however, was not yet ready to abandon the Peninsula. Late on the night of the 6th, he told Halleck that he wasn’t going to send Burnside any cavalry or artillery, and took the bold step of asking for reinforcements. While he had ordered Hooker to withdraw, he told Halleck that if it was not possible, he would have to throw his entire army upon Malvern. “I will obey the order as soon as circumstances permit,” wrote McClellan while dragging his feet as long as possible.
Throughout this date, McClellan managed to send off nearly 6,000 sick and wounded, as well as five batteries of artillery. There wasn’t much more to report. It was clear that McClellan was taking as long as he humanly could before committing his Army of the Potomac to a retreat back down the Virginia Peninsula.3
Jackson Postpones Court Martial for Impending Battle
Confederate General Stonewall Jackson’s court martial case against General Richard Garnett for dereliction of duty at the Battle of Kernstown was not going well for Stonewall Jackson. When Garnett, who was accused of calling for a retreat before he should have, grilled Jackson upon the stand, Stonewall’s testimony ending up being more of a help to Garnett than Garnett’s own defense.
When the court martial reconvened in the morning of this date, Lt. Sandy Pendleton, an aide on Jackson’s staff, took the stand. Even Pendleton, believing in Jackson to the last, believed that the case against Garnett was shaky at best and that Jackson would lose. As he was questioned by Garnett, he argued as best he could in favor of his General.4
The questioning went on until around noon, when Jackson called an early close to the proceedings, indefinitely postponing the case. Both men would be killed before it could be reconvened.
“Having received information that only part of General Pope’s army was at Culpeper Court-House,” wrote Jackson in his report, “and hoping, through the blessing of Providence, to be able to defeat it before re-enforcements should arrive there.” He ordered his three divisions, commanded by Generals Richard Ewell (in whose camp the court martial was held, A.P. Hill and Charles Winder to break camp and move in the direction of the enemy.5
One of the two main focuses of General Garnett’s counter-arguments against Stonewall Jackson was that the General kept all of his plans to himself, telling nobody, not even his division commanders, where they were going. Perhaps, on this day, something had chipped away at one of Jackson’s more infamous qualities.
General Winder had fallen ill and his doctor instructed him not to make the march. An aide stopped by Jackson’s headquarters to deliver the news and cautiously ask where the army was going. “Say to General Winder that I am truly sorry he is sick,” replied Jackson. Soon there would be a battle, he continued, hoping that Winder would recover soon enough to lead his division into the fray. And then, in what must have been one of the most uncharacteristic happenings in Jackson’s wartime career, he let one of his subordinates in on his plans: “Tell him the army will march to Barnett’s Ford, and he can learn its further direction there.”6
Jackson’s advance had not gone unnoticed by General Pope, whose cavalry arrayed along the Rapidan River, had reported the Rebel movements. Pope, who already had two corps in motion, under Generals Nathaniel Banks and Irvin McDowell (with Rickett’s Division), immediately set off for Culpeper to accompany his converging Army of Virginia.7
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 11, Part 2, p963-964. McLaw’s report. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 11, Part 2, p957-958. Hampton’s report. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 11, Part 1, p78-79, 84. [↩]
- “The Army of Northern Virginia’s Most Notorious Court-Martial: Jackson vs. Garnett” by Robert Krick, as appearing in his book The Smoothbore Volley That Doomed the Confederacy, Louisiana State University Press, 2004. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 2, p182. [↩]
- Stonewall Jackson by James Robertson, MacMillan, 1997. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 2, p24-25. [↩]