Mason & Slidell Released to England!; White House Levee and Begged Cooperation

January 1, 1862 (New Year’s Day – Wednesday)

Without cheers, jeers, ceremony or even much notice, James Mason and John Slidell, Confederate envoys to England and France, held prisoner by the United States since November 8th, were released from Fort Warren in Boston Harbor. After they were seized from the decks of the British vessel Trent by the USS San Jacinto, commanded by Captain Charles Wilkes, war nearly erupted between the countries of the two ships.

After much deliberation in Lincoln’s Cabinet, it was finally decided that it would be best for the nation to not fight two wars at once. The British Minister to the United States, Lord Lyons, had been informed of the decision, while each side made plans for their egress from Boston to Europe.

Lyons contacted Commander W. Hewett of the English sloop-of-war Rinaldo, who had been in New York. He was to sail to Provincetown, on Cape Cod, to accept the liberated prisoners. Lyons reminded the Commander that Mason and Slidell had “no official character. It will be right for you to receive them with all courtesy and respect as gentlemen of distinction, but it would be improper to pay them any of those honors which are paid to official persons.” Additionally, Hewett was ordered to deliver them to Halifax, Nova Scotia, as that would probably be where they would wish to go anyway, to catch a steamer to Europe. However, he was not allowed to “convey them to any part of the coast of the States which have seceded from the Republic.”1 Commander Hewett left New York on the 30th, and arrived at the destination in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day.2

Just after Hewett had pulled into Provincetown, the Confederate envoys, along with their baggage and two secretaries also taken prisoner, were removed from their cells in Fort Warren, and placed aboard the tugboat Starlight, which had been hired specifically for this purpose. It arrived at the fort at 11am, an hour after leaving Boston, and chuffed its way along the cape, arriving at the point of transfer around 5pm. Word of their transfer did not reach Boston until they were aboard the Starlight.3

According to Commander Hewett, Mason and Slidell were received aboard the Rinaldo “without form or ceremony.” Though the barometer was falling at a steady pace, and, by nightfall, a hurricane wind, probably a nor’easter, was blowing across the cape, Hewett set course for Halifax. “The gentlemen remarked that their only wish was to proceed to Europe,” added Hewett in his report to Lord Lyons, filed before leaving Provincetown.4

Though set to sail to Halifax, Nova Scotia, by January 14, Mason and Slidell had taken the Rinaldo to the Danish port of St. Thomas. There, they boarded the La Plata and made their way to Southampton, on the south coast of England.5

Though it would leave a resounding bitterness between England and the United States, the Trent Affair was over.

__________________

Warm New Years in Washington; Cold Reception from the West

While the winds blew chilling torrents in Boston, the weather in Washington was sunny and mild. The Lincolns were holding the traditional New Year’s Day White House levee. The President was dressed in a formal coat, as the First Lady was decked out in a black silk brocade, accented with purple clusters, and a velvet headdress. They were both accompanied by their two boys, Willie and Tad.

Several thousand of Washington’s finest were out in the beautiful day to shake the hand of Abraham Lincoln. Even Lord Lyons made an appearance. He was received, according to Lincoln’s secretary, John Nicolay, “with peculiar distinction & seemed to be particularly pleased to be present.”

As the White House lawn filled, the Supreme Court justices, as well as the military Generals and Admirals, first greeted the President. Then, at noon, the public was allowed their entrance.6

Before the levee, before the crowds filled Lafayette Square, and before Lincoln threw on the dress coat, he could be found in the telegraph office. With General McClellan near death with an illness believed to be typhoid, the President stepped up claimed his right as the Commander in Chief.

Picking up where he left off the previous day, he wired General Buell in Louisville, Kentucky, commander of the Department of the Ohio, and General Halleck in St. Louis, Missouri, commander of the Department of the Missouri.

To both, he wrote nearly the same dispatch, telling each that General McClellan should not yet be disturbed. Again he urged them, as he did before, “to be in communication and concert at once” with each other.

General Buell replied first, explaining that there “was no arrange between General Halleck and myself.” General McClellan had told Buell that he (McClellan) would make all of those arrangements. Halleck replied later that evening, blurting out that he was “not ready to cooperate” with Buell, but that he hoped “to do so in few weeks.” Seemingly to skirt the President, Halleck also told Lincoln that he “had written fully on this subject to Major-General McClellan,” adding that “too much haste will ruin everything.”7

Lincoln promised to write each of them longer letters, explaining the situation. Like the telegrams, the letters were nearly identical. To Halleck, Lincoln expressed his fears that once General Buell began his push towards Nashville, the Confederates would draw reinforcements from Columbus, Kentucky on Halleck’s front. To check this, Lincoln proposed that a “real or feigned attack on Columbus from up-river at the same time [as Buell’s advance] would either prevent this or compensate for it by throwing Columbus into
our hands.”

The President once again urged Halleck to work with Buell, “unless it be your judgment and his that there is no necessity for it.” Lincoln allowed that the two Generals would “understand much better than I how to do it,” but cautioned: “Please do not lose time in this matter.”8



  1. The Trent Affair by Thomas Le Grand Harris, 1896. The order to Hewett can be found in Official Records, Series 2, Vol. 2, p1161. []
  2. Official Records, Series 2, Vol. 2, p1164. []
  3. New York Times, January 3, 1862. []
  4. Official Records, Series 2, Vol. 2, p1164. []
  5. The Trent Affair: A Diplomatic Crisis by Norman Ferris, University of Tennessee Press, 1977. []
  6. The Lincoln; Portrait of a Marriage by Daniel Mark Epstein, Ballantine Books, 2008. []
  7. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p526. []
  8. Lincoln to Halleck, January 1, 1862 – Only the letter to Halleck seems to have survived. It can be found in Abraham Lincoln: Complete Works, Vol. 5, p111. []

They Will Be Cheerfully Liberated: Mason & Slidell To Be Freed!

December 26, 1861 (Thursday)

The celebrations of Christmas had not stood in the way of Lincoln’s Cabinet meetings and the discussion of what to do with James Mason and John Slidell, Confederate envoys to England and France, taken prisoner aboard the British vessel Trent. The incident had sparked much controversy and threatened to plunge the United States into a war with England.

Secretary of State William Seward had drafted a reply to England’s demand that the prisoners be released within seven days, in which he agreed to free the envoys. Still, the Cabinet thoroughly went over the ramifications of their release, as well as their detainment.

In the end, the Lincoln administration could dream up no way to legally keep them in prison. However, the public, as well as the politicians, could find no way to release them while still retaining dignity and pride.1

Though differing opinions were vented during the meetings on both the 25th and 26th, when put to a final vote, it was unanimous. James Mason and John Slidell would be freed. Some believed that Seward, who put his name to the document, had just sacrificed his career. The public, however, would soon see that this was the right course to take.2

Secretary Seward’s final response, freeing the prisoners, gave the United States the dignity and pride needed to release the envoys without having to eat so much humble pie. While he conceded that Captain Charles Wilkes, commander of the ship that overtook the Trent, acted without orders from Washington, Seward framed their liberation in the turbulent history between England and America.

Prior to the War of 1812, British ships would stop American ships and confiscate suspected British citizens for impressment into the Royal Navy. This practice, according to the American interpretation of the maritime law of neutrals, was highly illegal. A neutral ship could not be halted and searched, her crew taken prisoner, by a British vessel. England, of course, disagreed with this policy and continued the practice, which, in part, led to the war with England. Now, it seemed, the shoe was on the other foot.

Captain Wilkes, agreed Seward, had violated maritime law by taking the prisoners. It was the duty of the United States “to do to the British nation just what we have always insisted all nations ought to do to us.”

If the United States were to keep Mason and Slidell, it would be admitting that the actions of England prior to the War of 1812 were perfectly legal. If the prisoners were freed, just as England now demanded, it would not only be keeping in line with the American policy since Thomas Jefferson, but it could been seen as Britain’s admission that they had been wrong in the early 1810s.

Seward’s response, though quite long, was a political masterpiece.3

__________________

Unionist Creeks Defeated at Battle of Chustenahlah

Nearly three weeks had passed since Confederate Col. Douglas Cooper and his band of secessionist natives had defeated the Unionist Creeks at the Battle of Chusto-Talasah, Indian Territory [modern day Oklahoma, just north of Tulsa]. Though victorious, Cooper could not pursue the Creeks, who traveled slowly with women, children, escaped slaves and families, north, due to lack of provisions.

Col. Cooper had pleaded with Col. James McIntosh for reinforcements, which soon came. McIntosh, a career Army officer who graduated last in his class at West Point in 1849, thought it would be advantageous to take the field himself in search of the Creeks led by Opothleyahola. McIntosh, Cooper, and their respective commands would travel separately, but planned to join together for the attack. 4

With McIntosh a few miles ahead of him, Cooper reached Tulsa only to learn that McIntosh had found Opothleyahola’s band and was engaged in battle at Chustenahlah in Osage County, near the Kansas border.

On Christmas day, Col. McIntosh learned the location of the Unionist camp and set off to attack without informing Cooper. Though outnumbered 1,300 to 1,700, the Confederates were better armed and better trained than Opothleyahola’s Creeks, who were more Union sympathizers than Union soldiers.

At noon, McIntosh found the Unionists dug in along Shoal Creek, a tributary of the Verdigris River, taking cover in the brush and nearby high ground. McIntosh divided his small Confederate force into three prongs, one to attack the Creeks’ right, one for their left and one to charge up the center.

Virtually surrounded, the weary Creeks began to fall back, making a final stand at their camp, as the Rebels charged again and again. The retreat, however, could not be stopped and soon became a route. The fleeing Unionists were pursued by some of McIntosh’s victorious men, while the others scavenged the abandoned Creek camp.

McIntosh reported that the Creeks lost 250 men in the short engagement. The figure is probably exaggerated, but the final outcome of the battle was certain. The Rebels lost only eight killed and thirty-two wounded.

For their plunder, the Confederates captured “160 women and children, 20 negroes, 30 wagons, 70 yoke of oxen, about 500 Indian horses, several hundred head of cattle, 100 sheep, and a great quantity of property of much value to the enemy.”

Opothleyahola’s Unionist Creeks were scattered and fleeing for their lives towards the Kansas border.5



  1. The Trent Affair by Thomas Le Grand Harris. []
  2. Reminiscences of a War-Time Statesman and Diplomat, 1830-1915 by Frederick William Seward. []
  3. Official Records, Series 2, Vol. 2, p1145-1154. []
  4. The American Indian as Slaveholder and Secessionist by Annie Heloise Abel. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 8, p22-23. []

No Rest and Little Celebration for Christmas 1861

December 25, 1861 (Wednesday – Christmas)

For some, the first Christmas of the war was a time of rest, where drills and military formalities took a short day off. Around Washington, the mood was full of apprehension and gloom over the Trent Affair, as well as gloom, if the past year was considered in the equation. The eastern theater of war, save for Western Virginia and Port Royal, had seen what seemed like many Union setbacks. For southerners in Richmond, it was a time of hope and celebration. The Trent Affair seemed to be leading the United States headlong into a war with England, while the victories on the fields of battle generally favored the Confederacy. Many believed that the Union would have to attack soon or grant the Confederates States their independence.

In General Stonewall Jackson’s camp, church services took the place of military drill. Officers like Sandie Pendleton, Dr. Hunter McGuire and even Jackson himself enjoyed the frivolities this day provided.1

Though similar scenes were, no doubt, played out along the eastern states, the armies were not far from “business as usual.”

At Centreville, Confederate General Joe Johnston forwarded a message from a spy in Washington claiming that McClellan’s Army of the Potomac was about to advance. It would, said the spy, be at Johnston’s door by January 5th. Because of the dispatch, Johnston took time from whatever festivities he was attending to protest Jackson’s request for 5,000 troops, made just the day before. While he conceded that holding the Shenandoah Valley, where Jackson was stationed, was important, it was “of greater consequence to hold this point.”2

Confederate General John Floyd, meanwhile, celebrated the holidays by beginning his long march to Bowling Green, Kentucky. His Army of the Kanawha had been thoroughly whipped by Union General Rosecrans in Western Virginia, but could still be absorbed into General Albert Sidney Johnston’s Army of Central Kentucky.3

On the Union side, General George B. McClellan was sick in bed. Actually, he was very near death. On the previous day, McClellan missed his regular staff meeting, as well as a meeting with the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. McClellan had been diagnosed with typhoid fever, which may not have actually been typhoid as we know it today. It was possible that he had dengue fever or even salmonella poisoning. “Typhoid” was just a generic term given for any number of diarrheal diseases. Needless to say, General McClellan had a fairly bad Christmas.4

Union commander of the Department of Missouri, General Henry Halleck, spent Christmas like he would spend any other day. An early Christmas present arrived in the form of confirmation that Rebel General Sterling Price had retreated past Humansville. He was still about 100 miles from the Arkansas border (his supposed destination), but was most definitely retreating.

With Price out of the way, Halleck renewed his vigor on wiping out the secessionists in central and northern Missouri. Halleck also sent artillery and infantry to Warrenton, where 800 Union troops were gathering to crush the insurrectionists. General William Tecumseh Sherman was also given his first orders since arriving at Benton Barracks after his leave of absence: “Have the battery at the North Missouri Railroad depot at 3 o’clock this afternoon and the Iowa regiment at the same place at 8 o’clock to-morrow morning.”

Most importantly, however, General Halleck sent General Samuel Curtis, a military governor during the Mexican War, to command the southwestern district of Missouri, creating the Union Army of the Southwest. The small army had three divisions under Franz Sigel, Alexander Asboth and Col. Jefferson C. Davis. Halleck himself had already placed Sigel in command in Rolla, where Curtis would soon make his headquarters. Sigel was to ready his division, focusing specifically on the cavalry.5

Clearly General Halleck was not about to let any festive spirit get in the way of duty.

__________________

To Establish a Confederate West Coast

Christmas Day saw the departure of Col. James Reily from the Confederate Army of New Mexico. Reily, originally from Ohio, had relocated to Texas in the 1830s, even serving in the Army of the Republic of Texas as a Major. In the pursuing decade, he negotiated with Daniel Webster a treaty between the United States and Texas, but being against annexation, he was ousted from his post. During the Mexican War, Reily led a US regiment, but after the war, as the politics edged closer to a war between north and south, he left the Whig party and joined with the Democrats, purely on the issue of slavery and became a secessionist. Just as the Civil War was breaking out, Reily was commissioned a colonel in the 4th Texas Mounted Rifles. He was seen as an ideal southern gentleman, on par with Robert E. Lee.

Reily had, thus far, spent most of the war marching to Fort Bliss with his regiment, but on this Christmas morning, he found himself saying good-bye to the men he commanded. General Henry Sibley, commander of the Army of New Mexico, had selected him for a diplomatic mission into Mexico.

Due to the problems Mexico faced internally, as well as with England, France and Spain, the states had become, more or less, autonomous. Riley was to be his representative to the states of Chihuahua and Sonora.

Specifically, he was to find out if Mexico was about to allow US troops to march across her land to invade the Confederacy from the south. If Mexico was going to allow this, Reily was to find out if Chihuahua and Sonora would come to the defense of the South, in effect creating a civil war in Mexico as well. He was also to broker an agreement with the governor of Sonora, along the Pacific coast, that would allow the Confederacy to establish a depot in the port of Guaymas. This would give the South a west coast, potentially opening trade with the east.

He would not return until April.6



  1. Stonewall Jackson by James I Robertson. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p1007-1008. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p796. []
  4. Army of the Potomac; McClellan Takes Command by Russel Beatie. Do you have any idea how difficult it was to resist saying that “McClellan had a crappy Christmas”? []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 8, p460-462. []
  6. Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign by Martin Hardwick Hall. []

Washington Officially Given Seven Days to Release Mason & Slidell

December 23, 1861 (Monday)

It was a very mild day for being so deep into December. In fact, the past week had been pleasantly dry and warm in Washington. For President Lincoln and his Cabinet, the lovely weather had been all but ignored as they squirreled themselves away in their offices and meeting rooms to discuss the Trent Affair and whether or not they should release the prisoners James Mason and John Slidell, Confederate envoys to England and France, captured aboard a British vessel.

While the British and American people both clamored for war, most of the level-headed men in Washington and London understood the horrors it would bring. General Winfield Scott, recovered from the illness that coaxed him into retirement, had even sailed to England as an envoy to try to smooth over relations.

British Minister to the United States Lord Richard Lyons had unofficially delivered an ultimatum to Secretary of State William Seward giving the US seven days to release the prisoners. Lyons called upon Seward again, a week later, but was turned away, told that an answer couldn’t possibly be given until after Christmas.

Lyons was a very friendly gentleman, but this was going too far. He left in an irritated huff, visibly upset as he marched down the steps from the State Department.

On this date, eight days after the ultimatum was unofficially given to Seward, Lyons finally made it official as the weather turned balmy and clouds rose in the sky to prepare for their deluge. Washington took shelter from the cloudbursts with rumor and more cries for war.

It was heard on the street that General Scott was on his way back from England to lead an invasion into Canada. The mood turned bitterly patriotic. It was the sort of patriotism that only incoherent bravado and lust for blood could bring.

Meanwhile, Lincoln spent the day in deep thought. He had, at first, wanted to keep Mason and Slidell as prisoners, but was now thinking more in alignment with Seward, who had pitched towards their release since the beginning. The President was prepared to draft an argument in favor of holding them indefinitely, but could not make one that would satisfy his own mind.

Throughout the day, Secretaries Seward, Gideon Welles of the Naval Department and Simon Chase of the Treasury conferred with Lincoln. Senator Charles Sumner pleaded with Lincoln to give them up, but when Lincoln would say nothing, he cursed the President’s “natural slowness.”

Finally, Lincoln called for the Cabinet to meet the next day in hopes of hashing out the affair for good. 1

__________________

Halleck Expands the Call to Kill or Capture Bridge Burners in Missouri

A storm of bridge burning and sabotage had broken out against Union interests in northern Missouri. Perhaps they received their inspiration from the Unionists in Eastern Tennessee who took to destroying the bridges used by the Confederates. And perhaps General Henry Halleck, Union commander in Missouri, channeled the Rebel’s reaction when he called for the Missouri bridge burners to be shot on sight. Even more likely, however, is the truth that war, even the American Civil War, is far from glamorous, romantic and honorable.

The previous day, Halleck issued orders to Union troops in Montgomery County, eighty miles west of St. Louis, to send a strong force to the town of Warrenton to disperse the secessionists.

On this day, he expanded the horizons. Union troops had entered Warrenton and were busily repairing the railroad. Bridges near Mexico and Wellsburg had been burned and there was a solid rumor of 1,500 secessionists on their way to attack the Federal force.

In Palmyra, a small town 130 miles northeast of St. Louis, ten saboteurs had been killed and seventeen more captured. The Rebels had also been scattered in Fulton, 100 miles west of St. Louis.

In areas along the Missouri River, which is where most of the destruction was wrought, Union troops were finding themselves on the wrong side of the water. With all the fords across the Missouri, this would hardly be a problem in summer or fall, but in the middle of December, the water was ice and crossing was nearly out of the question.

Union General Thomas McKean in Jefferson City, for example, wanted to send more troops to Fulton, but could not on this date because “the ice has interfered today.”2

Ice on the Missouri River or not, Halleck was determined to stop what he called “the most annoying features of the war.” In a letter to General George McClellan, Halleck described that the bridge burnings were “effected by small parties of mounted men, disguised as farmers, but well armed. They overpower or overawe the guards, set fire to the bridges, and escape before a force can be collected against them. Examples of severe punishment are the only remedies.”3

To enact this “severe punishment,” Halleck ordered General Benjamin Mayberry Prentiss to take command of the troops moving on the Rebels from Jefferson City, Hermann, Warrenton and Troy. “Kill or capture them,” closed Halleck, caring little how Prentiss put an end to this most annoying feature.

Wasting no time, Halleck then issued orders to fourteen different commanders in fourteen different towns and cities: “Look out for bridge-burners. It is reported that concerted attempts will be made to destroy railroads and telegraph lines. Shoot down every one making the attempt.”

Meanwhile, General John Pope, just returned from his expedition along the Black River, sent his cavalry to Lexington, where Rebel recruits had been crossing the Missouri River to join with General Sterling Price’s force, now retreating towards Springfield. In Lexington, the Union troops burned two steam ferries and a foundry, making certain that many fewer secessionists could cross.4

__________________

The Return of General Sherman

General William Tecumseh Sherman, overtaxed and near the point of breaking, had been given a twenty day leave of absence to recover. Since he had met with Secretary of War Simon Cameron in October and suggested that it would take 200,000 soldiers to hold Kentucky, the press had been calling Sherman insane.

Sherman, in over his head in Kentucky and Missouri, did himself no favors and was clearly in need of a break.

Refreshed, Sherman reported to General Halleck in St. Louis and received his orders. General Samuel Curtis had been in charge of the troops at Benton Barracks just north of St. Louis, but was being transferred to command southwestern Missouri.5 General Sherman was ordered to take his place.

Benton Barracks, a camp of instruction, housed about twelve regiments of infantry and cavalry, as well as General Stephen Hurlbut, who would be a brigadier under Sherman.

General Sherman was ordered to “have every armed regiment and company in his command ready for service at a moment’s warning.” This was his second chance, and he would take great care to prove his worthiness to the Army.6



  1. A Diplomat in Carpet Slippers by Jay Monaghan, 1945. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 8, p458-459. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 8, p463. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 8, p459. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 8, p468. []
  6. Memoirs by William Tecumseh Sherman, 1875. []

Washington Unofficially Given Seven Days to Release Mason & Slidell

December 19, 1861 (Thursday)

Four days after Secretary of State William Seward unloaded to President Lincoln his nervous apprehensions about Great Britain’s possible desire to wage war on the United States, a visit was paid to him by Lord Richard Lyons, England’s Minister to the United States.

Neither he nor Seward had breathed a word of the Trent Affair to the press. In fact, there was nothing official from either government since James Mason and John Slidell, Confederate envoys to England and France, had been taken from the British vessel Trent and planted at Fort Warren in Boston Harbor.

The previous night, Lord Lyons had received the official word from England’s Foreign Secretary John Russell, giving the United States seven days to release Mason and Slidell. The dispatch from England, written on November 30, had arrived in America on the 12th of December, the press (and thus Seward) catching wind of the British public’s reaction to the seizure, though not of the ultimatum.

Before officially presenting the demands to Washington, Lyons visited with Secretary Seward, allowing him to read the dispatch and formulate a reply before the news was widely known by others. Should the United States not release the prisoners, Lord Lyons was to return to London. Matters then could take a decidedly military tone.

Seward’s long reply retold the history of the case from the beginning. Towards the end, he touched upon the heart of the matter: “We are asked to do to the British nation just what we have always insisted all nations ought to do to us.”

Britain was a neutral in America’s Civil War. Mason and Slidell were seized from a neutral British ship in international waters. If the tables were turned, Seward finally reasoned, wouldn’t America demand the same from Britain? Hadn’t America made this same argument before the War of 1812? And, to turn things around, hadn’t Britain made the argument that the United States would have to make should they decide not to release the prisoners?

Though Seward’s verbose reply stopped short of agreeing to release them, he was leaning in that direction. At that evening’s Cabinet meeting, some members sided with the American public, who wanted to keep the traitorous Rebels locked up indefinitely. Of those assembled, however, Secretary Seward and President Lincoln were the most knowledgeable of the affair.

After presenting the rough draft of his reply, Seward was buttonholed by Lincoln as the meeting was breaking up. “Governor Seward, you will go on, of course, preparing your answer, which, as I understand it, will state the reasons why they ought to be given up. Now I have a mind to try my hand at stating the reasons why they ought not to be given up. We will compare the points on each side.”

The two, along with the rest of the Cabinet, would meet over the following days in hopes of drafting a reply before the official ultimatum was given by England.1

__________________

More Rebels Near Dranesville, but How Many More?

General Ord, who looks shockingly like Ron Swanson from TV's Parks & Recreation. Did you have Ord at "meat tornado"?

General George McCall, Union division commander in the Army of the Potomac, had become well acquainted with the Confederates in the Leesburg and Drainsville area, northwest of Washington. He had been in Dranesville just prior to Ball’s Bluff and sent Generals John Reynolds and George Meade into the town on two separate occasions.

This evening, McCall was informed that Rebels had arrested two Union supporters near his lines and had assembled a force of around 100 in Dranesville. Having already send two of his brigade commanders to the town (Reynolds and Meade), it was only fair to send the third, General Edward Otho Cresap Ord, a career military officer, who saw action in the Seminole and Indian Wars. His brigade was made up entirely of Pennsylvania regiments.

Ord received the orders after nightfall to move out at 6am. He would be joined by a Pennsylvania regiment under Colonel Thomas Kane, a battery, and two squadrons of cavalry. The objective was to push back the enemy pickets and clear Dranesville of the Rebels. He was also to pick up whatever corn and hay that he could find and bring it back to camp. Whatever happened, Ord and his brigade were to return to camp before nightfall.2

General McCall had not been mistaken about 100 Rebels in Dranesville. At the time that his orders were given, only 100 cavalrymen occupied the town. However, a Confederate General named James Ewell Brown Stuart had also received orders that night.

“Jeb” Stuart was given a brigade of Rebel infantry, a battery of artillery, and some cavalry with orders to march on Dranesville in the morning on a foraging expedition. These 1,600 men, though greatly outnumbered by the 5,000 Federal soldiers soon to be coming their way, were a good deal more than Union Generals McCall and Ord had speculated would be waiting for them in the town.3



  1. Seward at Washington as Senator and Secretary of State by Frederick William Seward, Derby and Miller, 1891. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p481. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p490. []