July 13, 1862 (Sunday)
Things had been smoothed over. All the contention, bad blood, and animosity had vanished. Union General George B. McClellan’s harsh and damning accusations against the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, had been withdrawn. The latter assured the former, “No man had ever a truer friend than I have been to you and shall continue to be.” And the former vowed to the latter to “let no cloud hereafter arise between us.”
Five days of true friendship’s pure light had shown down upon Harrison’s Landing and Washington, bathing each in the effervescent flush of amity and solidarity. And to George B. McClellan, those five days had been enough.
“So, you want to know how I feel about Stanton?” asked McClellan in a July 13 letter to his wife. “I will tell you with the most perfect frankness.” McClellan held nothing back. Rather than gushing homages of regard and veneration for his most dear friend, the General lashed out.
“I think that he is the most unmitigated scoundrel I ever knew, heard, or read of; I think that (and I do not wish to be irreverent) had he lived in the time of the Saviour, Judas Iscariot would have remained a respected member of the fraternity of the Apostles, and that the magnificent treachery and rascality of E.M. Stanton would have caused Judas to have raised his arms in holy horror and unaffected wonder – he would certainly have claimed and exercised the right to have been been the Betrayer of his Lord and Master, by virtue of the same merit that raised Satan to his ‘bad eminence.’ I may do the man injustice – God grant that I may be wrong – for I hate to think that humanity can sink so low – but my opinion is just as I have told you.”1
Meanwhile, in Washington, it was President Lincoln and not Secretary Stanton who was having a bit of a problem with McClellan’s mathematical skills. Historically, most recall the miscounting of the Confederates arrayed against the Army of the Potomac as the prime example of McClellan’s failure of arithmetic. That is certainly a valid point, and one that, on July 13, was still very much in session.
But this time it was McClellan’s counting of the Army of the Potomac, his own army, that puzzled the President. “I am told,” wrote Lincoln to McClellan, “that over 160,000 men have gone into your army on the Peninsula. When I was with you the other day we made out 86,500 remaining, leaving 73,500 to be accounted for.” Allowing 23,500 killed, wounded and missing, Lincoln discovered 50,000 missing boys in blue. Times were tough and illness took its toll, so the President figured that, perhaps, 5,000 of those had died. This left 45,000 “still alive and not with [the army].”
Lincoln believed that “half or two thirds of them are fit for duty to-day. Have you any more perfect knowledge of this than I have? ” He then turned uncharacteristically sarcastic: “If I am right, and you had these men with you, you could go into Richmond in the next three days. How can they be got to you, and how can they be prevented from getting away in such numbers for the future?”2
Had Lincoln been correct and had McClellan taken his 86,500 (or perhaps as many as 116,000) into Richmond in three days, he would have found General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia to be short 11,000 men. Actually, since he believed Lee had upwards of 170,000, he would have found him to be short roughly 109,000 men. These 11,000 men were exactly one corps – that of General Stonewall Jackson’s.
General Jackson had been pushing and praying for a move to the north. Lee was hesitant until learning that Union General John Pope’s Army of Virginia had taken Culpeper on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad line from the north. This threatened the Virginia Central Railroad, only twenty-seven miles south. The Virginia Central was Richmond’s only rail link to the Shenandoah Valley. Knowing how eager Jackson was to again have an independent command, Lee made it so.
During the Seven Days fighting, Jackson had nearly 20,000 men under him. Upon leaving, Lee cut that figure almost in half, as he needed the bulk of his troops near Richmond to defend against McClellan’s force. Stonewall left Richmond with what he brought: his own and General Richard Ewell’s divisions, numbering 11,000 to take on the nearly 50,000 of Pope’s Army of Virginia.3
Lee ordered Jackson to “immediately proceed to Louisa Court-House, and if practicable to Gordonsville, there to oppose the reported advance of the enemy from the direction of Orange Court-House.”4
Jackson left camp with his troops before the day was out.
To the north, the lead elements of General Pope’s Army of Virginia had entered Culpeper. While this was some of General Nathaniel Banks’ cavalry, Culpeper was still occupied by Union forces. For the most part, the Federal army had vacated the Shenandoah Valley, leaving a brigade at Winchester, a regiment at Front Royal and General Franz Sigel’s cavalry in the Valley itself.
Pope’s main thrust, the divisions of Banks and Sigel, were at or near Sperryville, twenty miles northwest of Culpeper. With flanks extended over ten miles in any direction, this formidable portion of the Army of Virginia covered more than just a small crossroads town.
Not only was Banks’ cavalry supposed to enter Culpeper, but its commander, General John Hatch, was to establish his headquarters in the town. Pope related that he did “not desire a simple cavalry reconnaissance toward Culpeper.” But rather that he wanted it “to be occupied in force, and directs that General Hatch take up his headquarters there, throwing out strong cavalry pickets for at least 20 miles in the direction of Gordonsville and Richmond.”5
Hatch had under his command the entire cavalry force of 3,000, a battery and even some infantry. He would be acting as Popes eyes and ears, confirming or denying rumors that a Rebel force, probably Jackson’s, was heading north towards Gordonsville.
- Letter from George McClellan to his wife, July 13, 1862. As printed in The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan edited by Stephen W. Sears, Da Capo Press, 1992. In his own autobiography, McClellan left out most of this passage when he reprinted the letter. Surprised? [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 11, Part 3, p319. [↩]
- Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson, MacMillan, 1997. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p915. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p470. Other information gleaned from several preceding pages. [↩]