Hooker Demonstrates While Lincoln Gives Folksy Advice; Stuart Throws a Grand Review

June 5, 1863 (Friday)

General Joe Hooker was not about to let Robert E. Lee pull a fast one on him. He knew the Rebels were up to something, and he was absolutely determined to figure out what it was. But, by the morning of this date, he had not a clue.

Hooker and his puffed out chest are pretty sure they know what Lee is up to.
Hooker and his puffed out chest are pretty sure they know what Lee is up to.

Over the night, Confederate deserters had come into camp. They claimed to be from Pickett’s and Hood’s Divisions from Longstreet’s Corps. Hooker quickly deduced that all of Longstreet’s Corps, which had been in southeastern Virginia, was now before him at Fredericksburg. This was news; all of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, together once again.

In a morning telegram to President Lincoln, Hooker expounded upon these new findings. Lee was assembling his army “for no other purpose but to enable the enemy to move up the river, with a view to the execution of a movement similar to that of Lee’s last year.” He meant, of course, that Lee was planning some kind of invasion toward the North, just as he did during the Antietam Campaign. Hooker concluded that Lee had one of two plans in mind. He could either “cross the Upper Potomac,” or he could “throw his army between mine and Washington.” He figured that it was the latter.

But no matter what Lee did, Hooker needed a bit of guidance, and so asked Lincoln what he might do. “As I am liable to be called on to make a movement with the utmost promptitude,” wrote Hooker, “I desire that I may be informed as early as practicable of the views of the Government concerning this army.”

It wasn’t that Hooker had no ideas of his own. When he took command of the Army of the Potomac, he had been ordered to cover both Washington and Harper’s Ferry. With that in mind, he wanted to “pitch into the enemy’s rear,” which he figured would be at Fredericksburg, while the head would be somewhere around Warrenton. Was this, he wondered, “with the spirit of my instructions to do so?”

While Hooker waited for a reply, he decided to test the resolve of the Rebel right flank. The previous day, pickets, scouts and balloons had noticed several abandoned enemy camps. Determined to figure out if Lee was actually leaving the Fredericksburg area or if he was just shifting troops here and there, Hooker began to throw a couple of bridges across the Rappahannock.

Federal artillery bombards the Rebels across the river as Col. Grant's Brigade prepares to cross.
Federal artillery bombards the Rebels across the river as Col. Grant’s Brigade prepares to cross.

A brigade commanded by Col. Lewis A. Grant from John Sedgwick’s VI Corps, had been ordered to cross. They left their camp at noon, marching five miles to get to the river. On the other side, they saw that the Confederates had constructed rifle pits, which they were now heavily occupying.

The Federal artillery blasted away at them, but it seemed to have little effect aside from keeping enemy reinforcements from flowing into the pits. As the engineers constructed the bridges, the Rebels from the rifle pits, through the shelling from the Union guns, kept up a steady fire until it was determined that Col. Grant’s brigade be crossed to do away with them.

And so, before the bridges were even completed, New Jersey and Vermont troops took to boats and rowed across the Rappahannock. Just as some of the Vermonters landed, with a shout, they charged the rifle pits and drove the Rebels back, making several prisoners of those who could not keep pace with their swifter comrades.

“It was an exciting and brilliant affair,” wrote Col. Grant in his report, his entire brigade now across, and the enemy scampered to the hills beyond.

What Hooker was able to glean from this probe came all from the prisoners captured. “They report that the changed remarked in their camps proceeded from the reorganization of their army,” he explained to Lincoln following the skirmish.

While Col. Grant and his Vermonters were storming the beaches, Hooker received two replies to his morning message. First, President Lincoln suggested that if Lee left a small force at Fredericksburg, it was more than likely to induce Hooker to attack it rather than follow the head of the column towards the north.

“I would not take any risk of being entangled upon the river, like an ox jumped half over a fence and liable to be torn by dogs front and rear, without a fair chance to gore one way or kick the other,” put Lincoln as he was apt to do.

Ain't she a beautiful map today?
Ain’t she a beautiful map today?

General-in-Chief Henry Halleck, who provided the second reply, concurred, though he did so in a bit more militaristic tone. “Would it not be more advantageous to fight his movable column first,” wrote Halleck, “instead of first attacking his intrenchments, with your own forces separated by the Rappahannock?” Halleck reminded Hooker that both Washington and Harpers Ferry were scantly defended and relied upon the Army of the Potomac.

Halleck then suggested another possible venture Lee might undertake: “Lee will seek to hold you in check with his main force, while a strong force will be detached for a raid into Maryland and Pennsylvania.”

Halleck, like Hooker, was trying to figure out Lee’s intentions from the words of captured Rebels. From prisoners taken from Jeb Stuart’s Cavalry, who had been carted to Washington for questioning, Halleck learned that upwards of 20,000 Confederate troopers had gathered at Culpeper in preparation for a raid.

But both Hooker and Halleck had been purposely deceived by the Rebels, who had planted these “prisoners,” telling them exactly what to say. The prisoners supposedly from Hood and Pickett’s Divisions, captured by Hooker the previous night, were not from either Hood or Pickett’s commands, since both were many miles away. They were planted to fool Hooker into believing that Lee’s entire army had gathered before him at Fredericksburg. Instead, quite the opposite was true.

The prisoners collected and sent to Washington were of the same ilk. They were planted with the raid story to throw Hooker off to what the infantry was about. The ruse was working – perhaps all too well.

Stuart and his whiskers were never happier.
Stuart and his whiskers were never happier.

Meanwhile, at Brandy Station, General Jeb Stuart spent the day in fine regalia. A Grand Review of nearly 9,000 cavaliers was staged, the men and horses looking more splendid than they ever had before. It was a proud moment for Stuart, who had assembled cavalry units from across Virginia and North Carolina.

In attendance, aside from the beautiful ladies who seemed to be everywhere one looked, was Secretary of War James Seddon, in from Richmond at Stuart’s request.

“Eight thousand cavalry passed under the eye of their commander,” remembered one of Stuart’s staff officers, “in column of squadrons, first at a walk, and then at the charge, while the guns of the artillery battalion, on the hill opposite the stand, gave forth fire and smoke, and seemed almost to convert the pageant into real warfare. It was a brilliant day, and the thirst for the ‘pomp and circumstance’ of war was fully satisfied.”

Though Stuart was in his glory, not all were so ecstatic. Perhaps the most aptly nicknamed of all cavalry officers, “Grumble” Jones, just in from the Shenandoah Valley, had nothing nice to say about the proceedings. Grumble Jones rode at the head of his men, “evidently proud of his command, but with a disdainful air,” explained an onlooker, “for he hated the ‘pomp and circumstance of war.'”

Like their commander, Jones’ men “grumbled at the useless waste of energy, especially that of the horses.” When it was announced that there would be another such review on the 8th, “the grumblers were even more numerous and outspoken.”

While Stuart and his officers regaled the ladies at an evening ball, the infantry, mostly of Longstreet’s and Ewell’s Corps, were settling into their camps. Though John Bell Hood’s Division had watched Stuart’s Grand Review, they marched back to Culpeper to sleep. Robert Rodes Division was able to slumber through the night, while both Jubal Early and Allegheny Johnson’s Divisions weren’t able to step off until midnight. Col. Grant and his Vermonters’ crossing and skirmish below Fredericksburg had delayed the departure of Ewell’s Corps until troops from A.P. Hill’s Corps could be shuffled in to take their place.

By midnight, however, the only Confederate troops left before General Hooker in the Fredericksburg defenses were A.P. Hill’s Corps – a mere 15,000 troops to face 115,000 Yankees.1



  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 27, Part 1, p29-32, 676-677; A History of the Laurel Brigade by William McDonald; Gettysburg by Stephen Sears; The Gettysburg Campaign by Edwin Coddington. []
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Hooker Demonstrates While Lincoln Gives Folksy Advice; Stuart Throws a Grand Review by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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