January 23, 1862 (Thursday)
To most of the South, Stonewall Jackson had completed his mission. And on paper, perhaps he did. He had marched his army from Winchester, tormented the Yankees at Hancock, Maryland and then took Romney without a fight. But left out of that seemingly simple operation were the privations and sufferings of his men.
Few then knew of their bloody and icy march from Hancock or their struggle to even march into Romney. And on this date, when the Stonewall Brigade left Romney for Winchester, leaving General Loring’s three brigades behind, few, apart from the soldiers, knew what was truly being left behind.
In the week or so that they occupied the town, Loring’s men grew to despise General Jackson and his beloved brigade. While the boys of the Stonewall Brigade could ridicule their leader from dawn till dusk, whenever Loring’s men uttered a word of contempt about Ol’ Jack, a fist fight would break out.
As they marched from Romney, through the dismal dark, with clouds promising snow, no one shed a tear. The Stonewall Brigade was happy to leave this miserable hole, while Loring’s troops were happy to be rid of “Jackson’s Lambs.”
They were not, however, happy to be in Romney. The town, which had changed hands several times already, was a shell of its former self. One Virginia private wrote that Romney looked “very much as if it had been visited by an earthquake and pretty well shaken to pieces.” The odor of rotting meat mixed with raw sewage as it flowed through the streets in “shin-deep mud.”
Loring’s men were, not surprisingly, filthy. “I think I am dirtier than I ever was before, and may be lousy besides,” wrote another private to his wife. “I have not changed clothes for two weeks…. I am afraid the dirt is sticking in, as I am somewhat afflicted with the baby’s complaint – a pain under the apron.”
General Loring himself was furious at Jackson and didn’t much care who knew it. Romney, he thought, had little strategic value, was indefensible and would be his ruin.1
So far, few knew how General Loring’s men of the Army of the Northwest had suffered at the hands of Jackson. This, hoped Samuel V. Fulkerson, colonel of the 37th Virginia, was about to change. On this date, he wrote to two Virginia congressmen, hoping to pry Loring’s troops from Jackson’s command.
He told of their “terrible exposure since leaving Winchester,” and how their “emaciated force” was reduced to “almost a skeleton.” He explained how holding Romney was pointless as “the country around it has been exhausted by the enemy, and its proximity to the enemy and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad will wear us away (already greatly reduced) by heavy picket and guard duty.”
Fulkerson was convinced that if they had been ordered to Winchester, he could have raised 500 additional recruits. If they were to stay in Romney, they could raise none while the men suffered and died throughout the long winter.
General Taliaferro, Fulkerson’s brigade commander, added a post script confirming that all the Colonel said was true. The wheels, they hoped, had now begun to turn, pulling them from the mud of Romney.2
Victory at Mill Springs Gives Buell a Two-For-One Deal
Since he learned of the victory at the Battle of Mill Springs, Union General Don Carlos Buell, commander of the Department of the Ohio (Kentucky and Tennessee), was anxious to bag the fleeing Rebels. On the 21st, two days after the battle, Buell wrote to General George Thomas, commanding the Union troops in the field, ordering him to somehow cross the swollen Cumberland River and occupy Monticello with a brigade, a mere ten miles southwest. Buell reiterated his sentiments the next day, and on this day, Thomas replied.
While taking Monticello would be relatively easy, holding it would be impossible. This wasn’t because of some large Rebel force in the area, but because “it would be impossible to subsist a large force” in and around the town. The roads were impassible and the river uncrossable.
Thomas had a plan of his own. With the Rebels sent fleeing, he wanted to operate with the rest of the army at Mumfordville against the Confederates under General William Hardee at Bowling Green. He suggested the town of Burkesville, about forty miles downstream and seventy miles east of Bowling Green. To appease his men of Eastern Tennessee, he again brought up the plan the General McClellan and President Lincoln had been pushing Buell to accept.
Since the Rebels that had been guarding the door to Eastern Tennessee had been scattered, “General Carter’s brigade might go to encourage the citizens and to take them arms and ammunition.” Thomas did not believe that “any stronger force will be needed, especially if Middle-Tennessee is threatened by my force.”3
Thomas, with his victory at Mill Springs, was offering Buell the chance to appease McClellan and Lincoln, while still advancing on Nashville with the bulk of his army.
Lincoln Wants the Mortar Boats
President Lincoln, while pushing for an advance into Eastern Tennessee, was also pushing for other things for the war effort in the west. One of those things was the use of mortar boats.4
For the past few days, Flag Officer Andrew Foote, commander of the Union Naval forces in the western Rivers, had been debating the merits of using mortar boats against the Rebel Forts Henry and Donelson on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers.
In favor of the mortars was Lt. Todd Phelps, commander of the USS Conestoga. Though he brought up some smashingly good points, Foote still believed that towing the heavy boats up the swift current was not feasible.
On this date, however, the decision was made. President Lincoln, who probably knew little of the friendly debate between Foote and Phelps, promised Henry Wise, of the Navy Bureau of Ordnance: “Now I am going to devote a part of every day to these mortars and I wont leave off until it fairly rains Bombs.”5
Wise deftly relayed the message to Foote and then another with a more direct order. “The President directs me to inform you that he wishes the rafts and mortars and all their appointments to be got ready at the earliest possible moment,” informed Wise.6 Attached to another telegram, Wise added: “The President wishes the rafts with their 13 inch mortars and all appointments to be ready for use at the earliest possible moment. What can we do here to advance this? What is lacking? What is being done, so far as you know? Telegraph us every day, showing the progress, or lack of progress in this matter.”7
Before the day was out, Foote dispatched an officer named Captain Constable to Pittsburgh to ascertain “the number of mortars and beds ready to be sent here.” He was then to stop off in Cincinnati to check on the gun powder needed for the mortars.8
And just that quickly, the debate was at an end.
- As I’ve been doing with the entire Romney Campaign, I’ve drawn from three books: Shenandoah 1862 by Peter Cozzens, Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson, and Stonewall in the Valley by Robert G. Tanner. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p1041. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p563-564. [↩]
- Mortar boats were simply boats with a mortar on board. They had no means of propulsion and had to be towed or floated to wherever they were needed. [↩]
- As related in a telegram from Henry Wise to Andrew Foote, January 23, 1862, as found in the Gilher-Lehrman Collection, GLC04702.02. [↩]
- Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 22, p516. [↩]
- Henry Wise to Andrew Foote, January 23, 1862, as found in the Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library. [↩]
- Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 22, p518. [↩]