June 11, 1862 (Wednesday)
Stonewall Jackson’s dual victories at Cross Keys and Port Republic, had convinced General Robert E. Lee that if the Shenandoah Valley army was strengthened, much could be accomplished to aid his Army of Northern Virginia outside the gates of Richmond. The Union Army of the Potomac, though stagnant, was preparing to inch towards Richmond, and Lee wanted to bring them out into the open to defeat them.
“Your recent successes have been the cause of the liveliest joy in this army as well as in the country,” wrote Lee to Jackson. A brigade of six Georgia regiments under General Alexander Lawton, as well as eight regiments under General William H.C. Whiting, were en route to the Valley.
Lee was very clear concerning the reason he was sending troops: “The object is to enable you to crush the forces opposed to you.”
At this point, Lee understood that Jackson had been victorious, but wasn’t aware that both Union Generals opposing Jackson (Fremont and Shields) had retreated a considerable distance away. The purpose behind this crushing was to render the Federal presence in the Shenandoah Valley meaningless so that Jackson could “move rapidly to Ashland [twenty miles north of Richmond] … and sweep down between the Chickahominy and Pamunkey [Rivers], cutting up the enemy’s communications, &c, while this army [Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia] attacks General McClellan in front….”1
Meanwhile, in Brown’s Gap of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Stonewall Jackson had begun to receive the first of Lawton’s reinforcements. Others would trickle in over the next few days. With Union Generals Fremont and Shields gone from his front, he wished to move back into the Valley and made preparations to cross the South River near Port Republic.
He dispatched his topographer, Jedediah Hotchkiss, to examine the possibility of making such a crossing. When Hotchkiss reported back that it could be done, Jackson gave him a regiment to fill the fords with rocks, building up submerged bridges to make the tramp through the rivers more possible.2
To keep things hot for the retreating General Fremont, Jackson dispatched cavalry under Col. Thomas Munford, to keep him moving along. The horse soldiers also spread rumors, telling of Jackson’s greatly reinforced numbers and his close pursuit of Fremont’s command.3
Fremont had been ordered to halt at Harrisonburg, but felt he could not hold the town against Jackson’s coming fury. He asked Lincoln to allow him to move to Mount Jackson, but was on his way that before he heard any response from the President.4
On the other side of Massanutten Mountain, the retreating General Shields had made it to Luray, where he planned to encamp and await supplies. Mostly, he needed shoes and socks and, for some reason, sixty drums. The previous day, he reported that a third of his division was without shoes. On this day, he reported that half the troops were barefooted.
For the defeat at Port Royal, Shields, who was not present, placed the blame on General Samuel Carroll. If the bridge at Port Republic would have been burned before Jackson’s army crossed, argued Shields, Fremont could have destroyed the Rebels. Shields, however, actually ordered Carroll to “save the bridge at Port Republic.” He was clearly upset that Carroll did not disobey him. Though his men “fought like devils,” he claimed that Carroll had deceived him by telling him that the bridge had already been destroyed. This was an outright lie – Carroll never said anything of the sort.
Shields continued his dishonesty by telling his commander, General Irvin McDowell, that he and General Fremont had planned a combined attack, but it had to be called off due to Lincoln’s orders to withdraw. This was also a complete fabrication.5
Jeb Stuart Plans a Ride
To facilitate Stonewall Jackson’s “sweep down between the Chickahominy and Pamunkey,” General Lee called his cavalry commander, General Jeb Stuart, to his headquarters. Lee wanted Stuart “to make a secret movement to the rear of the enemy, now posted on Chickahominy, with a view of gaining intelligence of his operations, communications, &c; of driving in his foraging parties, and securing such grain, cattle, &c, for ourselves as you can make arrangements to have driven in.”
This heavily armed reconnaissance was also to avoid all surprises, and to return “as soon as the object of your expedition is accomplished.” Stuart was “not to hazard unnecessarily your command or to attempt what your judgment may not approve; but be content to accomplish all the good you can without feeling it necessary to obtain all that might be desired.”6
When Stuart left Lee’s headquarters, he conferred with his scout, John Singleton Mosby, who had personally examined the Union right flank. It was then that Stuart concocted a grand scheme.
Rather than simply checking out the Union right and returning, why not keep going, encircling McClellan’s entire Army of the Potomac? It was such a bold and brazen move nobody would suspect it.
Lee did not outwardly forbid it.7
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p910. [↩]
- Make Me A Map of the Valley by Jedediah Hotchkiss, Methodist University Press, 1973. [↩]
- Shenandoah 1862 by Peter Cozzens, University of North Carolina, 2008. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 1, p656. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p372. Shields’ order to Carroll to “save the bridge” is on page 335. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 11, Part 3, p590. [↩]
- To the Gates of Richmond by Stephen Sears, Mariner Books, 1992. [↩]