August 12, 1862 (Tuesday)
When Union General John Pope woke near Cedar Mountain, he saw that Stonewall Jackson’s Rebel army was gone, and vowed to follow his adversary south with cavalry and artillery to the Rapidan. “Beware of a snare,” warned General-in-Chief Henry Halleck when he heard the news. “Feigned retreats are secesh tactics.”
Halleck, in Washington, was worried that Jackson might be up to his old retreat, regroup, and win strategy. To combat this, he ordered General Ambrose Burnside to detach however many troops he could from his force at Fredericksburg. Burnside was to cover the bridge and the town, while preserving the landing at Aquia Creek – General George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac were to be disembarking there in the coming days.
Burnside immediately sent upwards of 6,000 men under General Jesse Reno, a career military officer, to reinforce Pope. By evening, they were on the road, leaving Fredericksburg with a scant force of 2,000.
Halleck and Pope had both attempted to draw more reinforcements to northern Virginia. Looking west, they called up General Jacob Cox to send 5,000 troops. He, however, was ordered to stay put in the hills of Western Virginia. Cox felt slighted by such an order and, though remaining respectful, was not shy about it.
“I trust it will be possible for the General commanding to reconsider the determination to leave me here,” wrote Cox to Pope’s headquarters, “as by long service in these mountains, I feel I have some claim to serve with a larger column.” Regardless of the outcome, he would begin sending his men east the following day.1
Halleck was not too far off on his assessment of Jackson’s retreat. It was true that Jackson could not withstand a full on assault by Union General Pope at Cedar Mountain, but his army was not slinking back from a fight. In fact, General Robert E. Lee paid Jackson a compliment. “I congratulate you most heartily on the victory which God has granted you over our enemies at Cedar Run,” wrote Lee to Jackson on this date. “I hope your victory is but the precursor of others over our foe in that quarter, which will entirely break up and scatter his army.”2
Jackson’s force began to file back into Gordonsville, twenty miles south of Cedar Mountain. Some of Pope’s cavalry followed them to Orange Court House, but Jackson had clearly gotten away. While he waited for Lee to send reinforcements, or even his entire army, Jackson turned his eyes north. As he was riding south along the road to Gordonsville, he asked his friend and topographer, Jedediah Hotchkiss, to make as many maps as he could of the country between Gordonsville and the Potomac River.3
Jackson had wanted to strike a blow into the north since the war began. He wasn’t sure exactly how it would be done, but that wasn’t stopping him from preparing the way.
Bragg Calls Upon Van Dorn and Price
Confederate General Sterling Price had been left behind at Tupelo, Mississippi with 16,000 troops. As General Braxton Bragg moved with the bulk of his Army of Mississippi to Chattanooga, Tennessee, he covered his army’s namesake with Generals Price and Earl Van Dorn at Vicksburg. Van Dorn had sent an expedition to recapture Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but it had utterly failed.
While Van Dorn looked south, Price looked north, hoping any day to receive word from Braxton Bragg that his 16,000 troops were needed for a push into Middle Tennessee. In fact, Price had been preparing for such a thing for well over a week. He had repeatedly written to Bragg, urging him to order both his and Van Dorn’s forces north.
Bragg first turned to Van Dorn, whose garrison at Vicksburg was farther away. It was hardly an order, and barely a suggestion. Bragg implied that if Bragg held the enemy in check, the campaign from Chattanooga into Middle Tennessee (or Kentucky) would be a success. If the Federals shifted troops to meet his thrust, “then you may redeem Middle Tennessee,” mused Bragg to Van Dorn.
Though Bragg could not give specific instructions, he at least alluded to a move towards Holly Springs, or perhaps Tupelo. It really wasn’t up to Bragg. Wherever Van Dorn went, however, Bragg wanted him to join with General Price,
Van Dorn’s force numbered roughly 15,000. A large chunk of it, that under General John Breckinridge, was still hovering around Baton Rouge. Rather than recall him, however, Van Dorn asked Price if he couldn’t sent a brigade to Louisiana to assist. Breckinridge was, in Van Dorn’s mind, “too feeble to make decisive result.” At any rate, Van Dorn couldn’t move for another two weeks.4
Breckinridge might have been thought of as feeble by Van Dorn, but he was in demand by Bragg. The General wrote the former Vice-President of the United States a friendly note on August 8. “My army has promised to make me military governor of Ohio in ninety days,” wrote Bragg, “and as they can not do this without passing your home, I have thought you would like to have an escort to visit your family.”
All joking aside, what Bragg was really after was Breckinridge himself. “Your influence in Kentucky would be equal to an extra division in my army,” buttered Bragg. If he could get away, and if Van Dorn agreed, Breckinridge was cordially invited to attend a romp into his home state.5
General Sterling Price received a letter of suggestion, similar to Van Dorn’s, as well. It also left the details of his movements up to him.6
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p564, 565, 566-567. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 2, p185-186. [↩]
- Make Me a Map of the Valley by Jedediah Hotchkiss, Southern Methodist University, 1973. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 17. Part 2, p675-676. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 16, Part 2, p995. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 17. Part 2, p677. [↩]