Forward to Richmond! Or, How Over-Estimating is Under-Estimating

Sunday, July 14, 1861

“The Nation’s War Cry. Forward to Richmond! Forward to Richmond! The Rebel Congress must not be allowed to meet there on the twentieth of July! By that date the place must be held by the National Army!” – Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune

Union General Irvin McDowell figured that he could move his army of 30,000 against the Confederate Army of the Potomac at Manassas as soon as July 13. On that day, Brig-Gen Daniel Tyler, commander of McDowell’s First Division, was called before General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, who informed him that the entire army would move the next day (the 14th).

Tyler had some reservations. He wondered what would happen if the Confederate Army of the Shenandoah, under General Johnston, united with the Confederates at Manassas. Scott took offense to the mere suggestion that such a thing could happen. “Patterson will take care of Joe Johnston,” spat back the old General.

Patterson’s army at Martinsburg had been keeping an eye on Johnston’s Rebels at Winchester after defeating General Jackson’s brigade at Falling Waters.

Tyler, who had known both Patterson and Johnston before the war, returned that he would be “agreeably surprised if we do not have to go against both.”

On this date, Tyler, along with the other Division and Brigade commanders in McDowell’s army, met at Arlington, just across the Potomac River from Washington. They reviewed the plans for the advance, which McDowell set for the following day.1


Patterson’s Flip Flop

General Patterson had wanted to move his army to Charlestown and his depot to Harpers Ferry. After receiving permission to move on the 12th, Patterson, instead, remained in Martinsburg.

Scott had wished for Patterson’s force of 18,000 to make a demonstration against General Johnston at Winchester if he could not beat him. Patterson was convinced that Johnston greatly outnumbered him. Patterson believed (even after the war) that Johnston had 30,000 – 40,000 men dug in just north of Winchester, practically begging him to attack. In reality, there were barely over 10,000.

The gross over-estimation kept Patterson from even making a demonstration, let alone an attack. Nevertheless, Patterson was convinced that his presence at Martinsburg, 25 miles away, kept Johnston from reinforcing Beauregard at Manassas. In the same report to Washington (actually, the next sentence), he wrote that Johnston was “pretending to be engaged in fortifying at Winchester,” but was actually preparing to fall back “beyond striking distance” if Patterson got too close.

Though Patterson wished to move his army to Charlestown, he reported that he would agree to move south to Bunker Hill, 14 miles closer to Winchester on the next day. He believed that, from Charlestown, he would have had a better angle to keep Johnston from joining Beauregard at Manassas. Had he enough supplies to do so, said the General, he’d move to Charleston immediately. Moving to Bunker Hill, thought Patterson, would almost assuredly send Johnston into the waiting arms of Beauregard.2


McClellan Sets Up and Receives the Glory

Patterson wasn’t the only Union General doing some gross over-estimation. Following his double victories in western Virginia (which were actually the victories of Rosencrans and Morris), General George McClellan wrote that he had killed 200 Rebels and captured 1,000. He boasted that the Rebels that faced him on Rich Mountain were “crack regiments,” but mostly, they were raw recruits. News of his victories spread like wildfire across the North. McClellan was supposedly a hero, and the Confederate army defeated.

Most of the Rebels, were defeated. After the death of General Garnett at Corrick’s Ford, the remaining Confederates, now under the command of Col. J.N. Ramsey from Georgia, fled north with Morris’s Federal troops slowly following them. The Union troops had rested after the battle the day before, but the Rebels took flight. By the time Morris’s men reached St. George, Ramsey and his small force of 1,300 (give or take), were fifteen miles away, nearing Red House, Maryland.

Earlier that day, McClellan ordered General Charles Hill at Grafton to intercept the retreating Rebels by rail. He mustered a force of 5,000 and nearly cut Ramsey off at the junction of the Northwestern Turnpike and Horseshoe Run Road. The regiment detailed to block the path, however, barricaded the road a few miles too far west. The Rebels slipped by without anyone noticing.

Due to railroad delays, Hill arrived at Red House a couple of hours after Ramsey’s men left the town. Undaunted, the Union troops followed in the trail of the Rebels, who headed southeast, hoping to make it to Monterey in Highland County, nearly 100 miles south. The Rebels retreating from Rich Mountain were also headed there.3

Though the exaggerations and despite the fact that the Rebels in the southwestern Virginia Kanawha Valley were organized and ready to fight, the Union victories quickly convinced the North that this War of Rebellion would be short-lived and relatively bloodless.

  1. Army of the Potomac; Birth of Command by Russel H. Beatie, Da Capo Press, 2002. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p166. As well as A Narrative of the Campaign in the Valley of the Shenandoah, in 1861 by Robert Patterson, 1865. []
  3. Lee vs. McClellan by Newell. []
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Forward to Richmond! Or, How Over-Estimating is Under-Estimating by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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