Of Audacious Plans, a Pointless Retreat and Innumerable Epithets

January 10, 1862 (Friday)

Immediately after General Stonewall Jackson’s men evacuated their positions opposite Hancock, Maryland, to make their icy trudge southward to Unger’s Store, Union General Frederick Lander planned to pursue. Originally, Lander had been dispatched to take command at Romney, but stumbled upon Jackson near Hancock and decided to lend a hand. The troops with which he wanted to advance were not his own.

First, Lander begged General Nathaniel Banks at Martinsburg, a mere thirty miles away. Banks thought it better not to risk the troops in such dreadful winter conditions. Having no luck with Banks, Lander went straight to General McClellan.

The luck was even less from the commanding general, who slighted Lander by refusing to dignify his request with a direct reply. The passive-aggressive McClellan, sending his reply to Banks rather than Lander, wrote, “Say to General Lander that I might comment very severely on the tone of his dispatches but abstain.” McClellan then told Banks to order Lander “to repair at once to Romney and carry out the instructions I have sent already to fall back on the railway.”

General Lander was enraged. McClellan was apparently afraid to take risks, afraid of any action that might result in another Ball’s Bluff. Though furious, there was little he could do. He rode immediately for Romney, arriving there on the 9th, having slept but fifteen hours in the past five days.1

On this date, Lander would move. Previously, the troops at Romney, under General Kelley, had been part of the Western Virginia force, originally under the command of General McClellan, and then under General Rosecrans. Lander was informed by wire that he, and they, were all now a part of the Army of the Potomac. He was promised reinforcements from Western Virginia and three regiments of boisterous Pennsylvanians from Banks.

Somehow, this seemed to have electrified Lander. He wired General Kelley, recovering from illness in Cumberland, Maryland, telling him of a brassy plan to whip Stonewall Jackson. Lander’s original orders were to fall back to the railroad. McClellan was vague as to what was to happen next. Lander, on the other hand, was quite specific.

He wanted Kelley to have railroad cars for 7,000 men waiting for him at the railroad. Lander made preparations to use canal boats to cross the icy Potomac at Sir John’s Run. He also ordered General Williams’s brigade at Hancock to meet him at the crossing. “I shall cross the river there and attack the enemy’s rear,” wrote the excited Lander.

But Kelley, though usually aggressive, thought the plan risky and possibly against orders. Lander abandoned the plan and returned to his regular angry disposition as he prepared to retreat victorious troops (from the skirmish at Hanging Rock) with no large enemy force closer than forty miles.2

By nightfall, Lander began to abandon Romney with his 7,000 men through knee-deep mud and frozen, driving rain. Rumors of his drunkenness spread through the column by men unknowing how their new commander suffered, or how much he wanted to attack rather than retreat.

A chaplain from the 14th Indiana, concerned, as he should be, for the welfare of the sick and wounded, asked General Lander what to do about them. Lander, gaining no ground towards proving his sobriety, exploded. “God damn you, the 14th Regiment, the whole army, everybody and every thing! If I have forgotten anything, God damn it too!”

This was no easy march. The streams were flooded and racing from the torrents of rain dumped upon them. The command lost sixteen horses and several wagons while trying to make a bridge over one of the swollen fords. “The next time I undertake to move an army, and God almighty sends such a rain,” screamed the profane Lander, “I will go around and cross hell on the ice!”

Lander finally reached Patterson’s Creek Station, six miles east of Cumberland, Maryland, after twenty-four hours of cursing and marching.3


Grant at the Ready, Must Wait For Further Orders

The weather had been only slightly better for General Grant in Cairo, Illinois. He was to lead a diversion against Confederate-held Columbus and Mayfield, Kentucky, to keep the Rebels from reinforcing their friends in central and eastern Tennessee, where Union General Buell was to attack.

Grant had hoped to step off the previous day, but a thick fog prevented it. With the fog lifted, Grant was free to begin the march. Though the roads were sticky ribbons of half-frozen mud, he wanted to command troops in the field. He sent a brigade under General John McClernand to Fort Jefferson, across the Mississippi River from Cairo, but before he could move out any other troops, or even the gunboats under Commodore Andrew Foote, the march was called off by Halleck.4

“Re-enforcements are delayed, and arms. Delay your movement until I telegraph,” wired Halleck from St. Louis. And so Grant’s march, and the whole diversion, were put on hold.

The true reason for the delay wasn’t just the straggling reinforcements, nor was it the steamer that ran aground twenty miles upriver from Cairo. Though Grant wanted to be on the road, neither Halleck, nor Buell were ready.

Halleck had been asking Buell for nearly a week to set a date when the diversion should occur, but had heard no reply. Since the main thrust of the mission was Buell’s, it was up to Buell to time the diversion with his own movements. On this date, Halleck again wired Buell. This time, he informed him that the troops were “ready for a demonstration on Mayfield, Murray, and Dover.” He again asked Buell to “fix day when you wish the demonstration,” but this time he requested that Buell “put it off as long as possible, in order that I may increase the strength of the force.”

Grant wired his commanders of the delay and, for another day, they rested.5

  1. Shenandoah 1862 by Peter Cozzens, UNC Press, 2008. []
  2. Frederick W. Lander: The Great Natural American Soldier by Gary L. Ecelbarger, LSU Press, 2000. []
  3. Shenandoah 1862 by Peter Cozzens, UNC Press, 2008. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p545. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p545. []
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Of Audacious Plans, a Pointless Retreat and Innumerable Epithets by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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