Lee Begins to Suspect that Meade is Up to Something

September 28, 1863 (Monday)

The previous day, Confederate along the Rapidan River in Virginia could hear the sound of trains chuffing to and fro from the direction of Brandy Station. It was clear that something was happening, but nobody could divine what. There had been messages sent describing campsites that had been emptied, and it was clear that new Federal troops were now occupying picket posts along the river. General Lee himself was fairly baffled by the happenings, believing that General George Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, was receiving more and more reinforcements. On the 27th, Lee received word from the Shenandoah Valley that, if true, could change everything. On this date, she spelled it out for Jefferson Davis.

Lee suspects it.
Lee suspects it.

“It is stated that Generals Slocum and Howard’s corps, under General Hooker, are to re-enforce General Rosecrans,” reported Lee. “They were to move over the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and to commence on the night of the 25th.”

This was all basically true. Generals Henry Slocum and Oliver Otis Howard commanded the XII and XI Corps, respectively. They had been pulled from Meade’s lines and sent west via the B&O Railroad to reinforce William Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga.

Lee also wrote of the empty camps and the changes in the Union lines. He was unsure of the news, however, since he believed the railroad between Meade and Washington was “still closely guarded” by his cavalry.

“If the report from the valley is true,” he continued, “it will no doubt be corroborated to-day or to-morrow.” He had sent additional cavalry into the valley in an attempt to break up the B&O Railroad into West Virginia. Soon, he would be hearing from them.

General Lee voiced two concerns over this news. First, it (as Lee put it) “furnishes additional reason for prompt action on the part of General Bragg.” Lee and Davis had been talking about Bragg doing something with the Chickamauga victory, and with at least two corps of reinforcements en route to Rosecrans, time was fairly important.

Lee’s second concern was a bit of a stretch. Rumors had been circulating that perhaps Meade’s entire army was pulling out and headed to the Peninsula again. Lee discounted them, but clearly they were still in his thoughts. For, “if the withdrawal of these two corps under General Hooker is true,” he wrote, “they may be intended to operate on the Peninsula as a diversion to Meade’s advance.” In closing, he requested that a strong scouting party move down the Peninsula to check things out.

Jeff Davis runs with it.
Jeff Davis runs with it.

While Lee was writing to Davis, Davis was writing to Braxton Bragg, whose Army of the Tennessee had moved against Rosecrans at Chattanooga. He warned him of troops coming from General Grant’s department along the Mississippi, as well as Slocum’s and Howard’s corps coming from the east. He gave no commentary upon it, and presented it neither as a rumor or a fact – he was merely passing on the report Lee had received on the 27th.

As for things in Rosecrans’ camp, there had been quite a stir up. Due to the messages sent by Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana (who had witnessed the battle along the Chickamauga) to Secretary Edwin Stanton in Washington, Generals Alexander McCook and Thomas Crittenden were to be relieved of duty, and “a court of inquiry be convened… to inquire and report upon the conduct of Major-Generals McCook and Crittenden, in the battles of the 19th and 20th instant.” They were to report to the Adjutant-General in Indianapolis. Their two corps, the XX and XXI, were to be consolidated into a new corps, the IV.

The IV Corps, of course, had already been a corps in the Union Army. Under Erasmus D. Keyes (who had since been dismissed from command), it had fought in the Peninsula Campaign. During the Gettysburg Campaign, they had been stationed on the Peninsula to act as a sort of diversion (one of the reasons that Lee was suspicious of such a move). In August, the corps had been disbanded, and the remaining units shuffled to the XVIII Corps, in North Carolina.

This IV Corps was a completely different thing, and was helmed by Gordon Granger, who had recently commanded Rosecrans’ Reserve Corps, most of which also folded itself into the new corps.1



  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 29, Part 2, p753-754; Vol. 30, Part 3, p911; Vol. 52, Part 2, p532-533. []
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