September 25, 1863 (Friday)
While General George Meade was disgruntled over the idea that two of his corps were being snatched from him to reinforce the defeated army of William Rosecrans at Chattanooga, Henry Slocum, head of one of those corps, was livid. Being a soldier, he would, of course, fight against the Rebels anywhere he was called. Fighting against the Rebels under the command of General Joe Hooker, however, was another thing entirely.
Hooker had been placed in command of the XI and XII Corps, and was to lead them in Tennessee. Slocum had been one of the ringleaders in the anti-Hooker faction after the Chancellorsville Campaign, which finally saw the removal of Hooker as head of the Army of the Potomac on the eve of the Battle of Gettysburg. Needless to say, things were about to get fairly awkward.
In the late morning of this date, as he was readying his corps at Brandy Station, Virginia for their long ride to Chattanooga, Slocum received Hooker’s letter of instruction. There was nothing harsh or demeaning in it, but there didn’t have to be. Slocum was hellbent not to serve under Hooker. To see that such a thing did not happen, he wrote the President.
“My opinion of General Hooker both as an officer and a gentleman is too well known to make it necessary for me to refer to it in this communication,” wrote Slocum to President Lincoln. “The public service cannot be promoted by placing under his command an officer who has so little confidence in his ability as I have. Our relations are such that it would be degrading in me to accept any position under him. I have therefore to respectfully tender the resignation of my commission as Major-General of Volunteers.”
Lincoln would not allow Slocum to resign, but promised to somehow keep him and Hooker separated. Time was essential and there was little of it to fine another commander for the XII Corps.
As Slocum grumbled at Brandy Station, Oliver Otis Howard, commanding the XI Corps had made it to Manassas. They would find their way to Alexandria before the day was through. Both were ready to be transported to Washington, and thence to Nashville, where they would be shuttled to Chattanooga. To General Meade, two things quickly became obvious. First, that no trains would arrive on this day for the XII Corps. Second, that the Rebels had probably already figured out what was happening behind the Federal lines.
The previous day, two Confederate messages were intercepted detailing the the XII Corps movements. Meade informed Slocum that since his “movements have been observed by the enemy, you should move your whole command, including trains of every kind, to Bealeton Station to-night. The movement should not commence until after dark, and no preparation for it made or anything done previous to its being dark, so as to conceal the movement as far as practicable. The troops should be screened at or in the vicinity of Bealeton Station from the observation of the enemy’s signal officer on Clark’s Mountain. Watery Mountain will be cleared by our cavalry.”
Bealton was about fifteen miles up the line, and across the Rappahannock from Brandy Station. The transportation wouldn’t be rounded up until late on the 27th. The trains to move Howard’s XI Corps would begin heading west on the 26th.
Sapped of two whole corps, Meade’s contemplation of a fall offensive was put to rest. Now, his main concern was that Lee would take advantage of the weakened Army of the Potomac. He believed, as he told Slocum, that the Rebels had spotted the movement and he figured that they had probably deduced what was going on. At this point in time, however, that was not true.
General Lee had indeed heard reports of the movement of Federal troops, but couldn’t suss out their meaning. The conclusion he came to on this date was the exact opposite of what was really going on. “I judge by the enemy’s movements in front and the reports of my scouts in his rear that he is preparing to move against me with all the strength he can gather,” wrote Lee to an officer in Richmond.
To James Longstreet, who, along with his corps, was detached to temporarily serve under Braxton Bragg near Chattanooga, Lee expressed similar sentiments. “Finish the work before you, my dear General, and return to me,” wrote Lee. “Your departure was known to the enemy as soon as it occurred. General Meade has been actively engaged collecting his forces and is now up to the Rapidan. All his troops that were sent north have returned and re-enforcements are daily arriving. […] We are endeavoring to maintain a bold front, and shall endeavor to delay them all we call till you return.” Lee would echo these thoughts on the following day, and the next.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 29, Part 1, p155, 156, 159, 161; Part 2, p749, 750, 753; The Life and Services of Major-General Henry Warner Slocum by Charles Elihu Slocum; The Bristoe Campaign by Adrian Tighe. [↩]