Patterson Confused While Scott is Silent

Tuesday, June 18, 1861

As dawn rose behind him, Union General Patterson in Hagerstown, Maryland was filled with apprehension and questions. The night before, it was reported to him that 15,000 Confederates under General Johnston were marching from Martinsburg to attack him at Williamsport, a distance of only 15 miles.

If true, General-in-Chief Winfield Scott’s orders for troops and artillery to be drawn from Patterson’s force, in light of this coming attack, would have to be superseded by necessity. Still, that was not Patterson’s call. He wrote to Scott for instructions and to tell him his plan for rebuilding the Harpers Ferry bridge “to keep the volunteers employed.” Once Harpers Ferry was occupied, Patterson could easily send a force to attack Johnston near Winchester, Virginia.

The communications (actually a series of three) moved quickly from panic about soon being attacked, to uncertainty over what to do with the troops and finally to future plans easily accomplished as if there were no enemy force anywhere near him.

Patterson, however, did bring up a valid point. All of his volunteer regiments, except one from Connecticut, had signed up for three months. Their time for discharge would soon be at hand.

General Cadwalader, commanding the First Brigade in Patterson’s force, was growing more and more unsure about this supposed Rebel advance upon his front at Williamsport. The night before, he had advanced several regiments to Falling Waters, Virginia, halfway between Williamsport and Martinsburg and spent much of this day bringing them back to the Maryland side. All the while, he wondered which rumors to believe.

Was Johnston’s Army of the Shenandoah really 15,000 strong? Were they about to attack him? Or were they already on the march to join with Beauregard’s Army of the Potomac near Manassas? Perhaps they were headed west to threaten McClellan’s command at Grafton. Whichever they were doing, if they were doing anything at all, they had the advantage of moving inside a circle while the Union troops had to work around the outside of it.

General-in-Chief Scott had very little to say and it wasn’t until well after dark that he said it. In his request for troops to be sent do Washington, he had also ordered away all of Patterson’s artillery and most of his cavalry. Acquiescing slightly, Scott allowed Patterson to keep some of the artillery and expressed a bit of understanding at keeping the requested troops in Williamsport if Johnston was really about to attack. The grumpy old General closed with a grammatical suggestion: “Do not omit so many words. Sentences too incomplete to be understood.”1

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Johnston Needs Ammunition

While the Union men in Washington and Maryland were scratching their heads over the whereabouts of the Army of the Shenandoah, Johnston was still very stationary at Bunker Hill, fifteen miles south of Martinsburg. During the few days that he had been there, Johnston had organized his men into four brigades with Col. Thomas Jackson leading the First. While Jackson’s command consisted entirly of Virginians, the Army of the Shenandoah was made up of men from Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Maryland.2

Johnston had correctly heard that Union troops had encamped at Falling Waters and suspected the entire Union force of 14,000 (he figured it was closer to 18,000) would fall upon his 6,500 men. Even with artillery and good ground, he could only hope to delay their advance.

His men, especially Col. Thomas Jackson, were spoiling for a fight, but what he needed most was ammunition.3

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So Does Garnett

Confederate General Robert Garnett’s tiny Army of the Northwest near Beverly, western Virginia, was in much the same state. “The force which I found here,” wrote Garnett, “is in a miserable condition as to ammunition and equipments.” Many of his men had no blankets nor tents. In the hills of western Virginia with cold spring rains, he feared that sickness would soon set in.

His men carried their ammunition, paper cartridges, in their pockets for want of cartridge boxes. The rain at night and sweat of the day had rendered much of their ammunition worthless. Garnett asked again for 1,000 cartridge boxes along with 500 tent flies, “as it will take too much time to make tents. I simply want something to protect arms and ammunition from rain.”4

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Lyon Like a Lamb

After the small skirmish at Boonville, Missouri, Union General Lyon issued another proclamation to the people of the state. He, once again, gave an accounting of events leading up to the battle the day before. During the fighting, Union troops had captured around sixty of the pro-secessionist Missouri State Guards, “most of them young and of immature age, who represent that they have been misled by frauds, ingeniously devised and industriously circulated by designing leaders, who seek to devolve upon unreflecting and deluded followers the task of securing the object of their own false ambition.”

“Out of compassion for these misguided youths, and to correct impressions created by unscrupulous calumniators,” Lyon continued, “I have liberated them upon condition that they will not serve in the impending hostilities against the United States Government.”

He also gave a pass to anyone else who had taken up arms against the Union. Should they return to their homes and “relinquish their hostile attitude,” they would not be bothered by his men.5



  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p700-704. Also, A Narrative of the Campaign in the Valley of the Shenandoah, in 1861 by Robert Patterson, came in helpful in some ways. []
  2. Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p934, 937. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p938-939. []
  5. Life of General Nathaniel Lyon by Ashbel Woodward. []
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Patterson Confused While Scott is Silent by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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