September 24, 1863 (Thursday)
“I contemplate no immediate movement,” replied George Meade, “though until your telegram the decision was not positive—awaiting information to be obtained to-day.”
Genreal Meade, commander of the Union Army of the Potomac left Washington the day before believing that the idea to slash off 20,000 or so troops from his army to reinforce William Rosecrans in Chattanooga had been dropped. President Lincoln had suggested it (though Secretary Edwin Stanton had proposed it), but Meade was under the impression that his fiery logic had convinced the President of the folly of such a move.
Meade was wrong. After he left, General-in-Chief Henry Halleck met with Stanton and Lincoln, deciding that since Meade appeared to not be doing anything with his army, they might borrow some of it for awhile. Specifically, while Stanton had wanted perhaps as many as 30,000 troops, Lincoln decided to take the XI and XII Corps – just over 15,000 men (though around 23,000 in all would eventually make the journey) – to be placed under the command of Joe Hooker.
When Meade learned of the decision, it caught him off guard. He had been trying to plan an offensive campaign against General Lee’s forces, and was waiting for scouting reports to filter in. To Halleck, he explained that the XII Corps could not be withdrawn as they were in the front on picket duty. To that, Lincoln (through Halleck) replied that the “Eleventh and Twelfth Corps be immediately prepared to be sent to Washington, as conditionally ordered before.”
Lincoln wanted the troops to be ready to move by the following morning, and Meade could do nothing but comply. The XI Corps, under Oliver Otis Howard, was spread along the Orange & Alexander Railroad between Rappahannock Station and Bristoe. John Slocum’s XII Corps was indeed at the front. Meade requested the trains be sent all the way to Brandy Station to retrieve them. While no troops would be sent to relieve Howard’s Corps, Slocum’s position was taken over by the I Corps, under John Newton.
Removing the XII Corps would be a fairly tricky thing. Slocum’s headquarters were near Raccoon Ford on the Rapidan River, and many of the troops were within sight of the Rebels. “It is important that this should be done with the utmost dispatch,” wrote Meade to Newton, “and that the movement and relief of the Twelfth Corps should be effected without the knowledge of the enemy so far as it is practicable to accomplish it.”
Newton began to move his corps in the afternoon and it was immediately noticed by the Confederates. Federals intercepted a message sent by the Rebels, which read: “Camps on Culpeper and Stevensburg Road, to the right of Pony Mountain, have disappeared within the last two hours. Infantry can be seen moving toward Stevensburg. A few wagons also moving in that direction.”
The message was written at 3:30pm, and by 5:20pm, most of the XII had moved to Brandy Station and the I Corps was in their former position. As Slocum marched his men away from the Rapidan, General Joe Hooker penned a message to their commanding general. Slocum was still understandably bitter over Hooker’s behavior during and after the battle of Chancellorsville. It had been Slocum who was instrumental in getting Hooker ousted from the army. Almost putting that aside, yet with it, no doubt, still fresh in his mind, General Hooker gave his orders to Slocum.
The message was straight forward. While it was certainly not cordial, its air was only official. Hooker took no jabs, pulled no punches, and stuck to the basics. He wanted no changes to be made to the command structure of either corps, and wanted all to have five days cooked rations. Sugar and coffee, he promised, would be given to the men twice each day. “Have the baggage reduced minimum limit,” he instructed, “leave with 200 rounds of ammunition for the artillery and 40 for the infantry. [...] Officers must reduce their horses to the smallest limit.” Slocum was to keep in touch with Hooker, advising him when he began to leave Brandy Station, as well as the prediction of their arrival time.
It was your basic letter of instruction, and really the only thing to which Slocum could object was the signature: “Hooker, Major-General.” And when he received it the following morning, he would most certainly object.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 29, Part 1, p147-150, 152; Part 2, p227-228; Railroads In The Civil War: The Impact Of Management On Victory And Defeat by John E. Clark; Major-General Joseph Hooker and the Troops from the Army of the Potomac by Daniel Butterfield; Fighting Joe Hooker by Walter H. Hebert; The life and services of Major-General Henry Warner Slocum by Charles Elihu Slocum; The Bristoe Campaign by Adrian Tighe. [↩]