Stuart Off to a Bad Start; Hooker On the Move; Confederates Kidnap More Black People

June 25, 1863 (Thursday)

Stuart: Hey, Winfield, you're not supposed to be there!
Stuart: Hey, Winfield, you’re not supposed to be there!

Jeb Stuart’s gallant cavaliers knew they were starting something big. It was well before the earliest dawn when three brigades quietly mounted their horses and rode by columns south through the darkness from Salem towards Thoroughfare Gap. Their movements had to be quick, and they had to be silent, as the Federals still held the passes and watches atop the Bull Run Mountains to the east.

Though very few even suspected it, Stuart’s three brigades were about to attempt a third ride around the Union Army of the Potomac. Word had reached Stuart that General Joe Hooker’s Corps were spread out and stationary. They were nearly asking for such a thing.

The ultimate purpose, of course, wasn’t actually the circumnavigation of Hooker’s Army. That was simply the fun of it all. The objective was for Stuart to link up with General Richard Ewell, whose corps had entered Pennsylvania. General Lee figured that Stuart could find them in or around York, where he wanted his army to gather.

This was all in the future. For now, by the pale and hazy dawn, they were near the mountains, skirting along the southern slopes, passing near New Baltimore and Buckland. The light exposed not only the roads and fields around them, but a long Union wagon train in the distance. General Stuart, smelling blood and sport, made fast arrangements to capture it. But as they were readying their resolve, it was discovered that at least a division of Yankee infantry was guarding the wagons.

Stuart’s troopers were spotted and the wagons picked up their northerly pace. Cavalry, even Stuart’s own, could not charge into infantry. And so, he unlimbered his artillery and gave the Federals a most unpleasant morning salutation. The first shot was a lucky one, hitting a Union caisson and exploding the shells inside. Stuart’s laughter could be heard clear over the booming guns.

Not to be outdone, the Federals sent out a line of skirmishers and artillery of their own, hoping to get around Stuart’s flank. Before they got too close, however, the Rebels quickly limbered and mounted and were gone just like that. Such was the beauty of cavalry.

Hancock: You have my apologies, Jeb, you wait right here and we'll get back to you soon enough.
Hancock: You have my apologies, Jeb, you wait right here and we’ll get back to you soon enough.

Stuart’s men rode on, actually between elements of Union General Winfield Scott Hancock’s Corps. General Hancock, who was close at hand, sent word to Hooker. In turn, General Hooker ordered Alfred Pleasonton to dispatch a brigade of cavalry to track down the saucy Rebels. When the brigade arrived, however, Stuart’s men were long gone.

But they did not continue east. Something wasn’t quite right. To confuse the Yankees and gather his wits, Stuart moved back to Buckland. He also sent word of Hancock’s northerly movements to General Lee, though the message never arrived. If it had, Lee might have been tipped off that the enemy was starting to move north. Unable to continue down the roads he originally planned, Stuart briefly thought about scrapping the mission and simply following the rest of Lee’s Army down the Shenandoah Valley to cross the Potomac River at Shepherdstown.

That, however, would throw him even more off schedule than he already was. He had to continue on, but needed to know if the roads were clear. Prior to leaving in the early darkness, Stuart had dispatched John S. Mosby to yet again scout the enemy positions. Mosby did, but due to Hancock’s movements, couldn’t get back to Stuart. He even heard the booms of artillery in the morning, but figured that Stuart had run up against the same Yankees he had run up against himself and returned to Salem.

Stuart decided to wait for Mosby at Buckland. For ten hours, he waited and heard nothing. They would not move again until the early morning of the next day.

Here's today's map. Look at 'em go!
Here’s today’s map. Look at ’em go!

While Stuart waited, the rest of General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia moved north, though slowly. With Ewell’s entire corps well beyond the Pennsylvania border, the first elements of A.P. Hill’s Corps crossed the state line to join them. Bringing up the rear was James Longstreet’s Corps, with George Pickett’s Division crossing the Potomac River at Falling Waters. Lee’s pace had been deliberate and, at first, quick. But his belief, based at least partially on Stuart’s intelligence the previous day, that Hooker’s Union Army was stationary, was more swiftly becoming no longer true.

General Hooker had been stagnant. For days he had done his best to figure out General Lee’s intentions, as well as what he should do about them. Due to faulty information received the previous evening, Hooker believed that all of Lee’s Army was across the Potomac. He immediately set about trying to correct this.

He ordered three of his corps (I, III, and XI) to cross the Potomac and hold the gaps at South Mountain, east of Sharpsburg. Due to the rains, they made poor time, but by night all three corps, along with General John Buford’s Cavalry, were across.

Imboden: Oh dear! Those most certainly don't sound like my men! *cough cough*
Imboden: Oh dear! Those most certainly don’t sound like my men! *cough cough*

Hooker believed that he could very well be outnumbered. Any additional troops he could grab, he did. This included upwards of 20,000 from the Washington defenses, and, hoped Hooker, the garrison at Harpers Ferry. Now under the command of General William French, Hooker ordered the garrison to be ready to pull out at any moment.

The plan, of which he told almost no one, was for French to join with Henry Slocum’s XII Corps, and get behind Lee’s Army (which Hooker believed to be completely across the Potomac). With their line of retreat cut, the I, III, and XI Corps, under the direction of General Reynolds, would fall upon Lee’s flank.

Hooker told French, Slocum and Reynolds, but neglected to tell anyone in Washington. This, as soon will be seen, was a bit of a problem.

Neither Lee nor Hooker had an accurate idea of what the other was about. Lee assumed that Hooker was not across the Potomac at all, while Hooker assumed that Lee was entirely across. Though he did not know it, time was now in Hooker’s favor.

Philip Schaff: This is about to get ugly again, isn't it...
Philip Schaff: This is about to get ugly again, isn’t it…

Time was not, however, in Mercersburg’s favor. The small Pennsylvania town, which sat twenty miles southwest of Chambersburg, had been visited twice before by Confederate cavalry and infantry. First came Albert Jenkins’ cavalry, who more or less behaved themselves, having had their fill of bounty in McConnellsburg, ten miles away. Next came George Steuart’s Brigade, who passed through on their way to the same town (where they now were encamped).

This time, however, was much different. Though these men were Confederates, and were officially attached to Jeb Stuart’s command, they acted more as partisan rangers. Operating on the fringes under their commander, John Imboden, a lawyer and politician, they raised hell throughout western Virginia. Of late, they had been tearing up B&O Railroad lines. Imboden had been ordered by General Lee himself to keep on Ewell’s left. Lee figured that Ewell would be somewhere on the McConnellsburg Road, upon which Mercersburg sat. When Imboden crossed into Pennsylvania, that is where he went.

Lee also made it a point to inform Imboden that his men were to follow the fairly strict code laid out in his General Orders No. 72, which disallowed the destruction or confiscation of private property. From reports received of Mercerburg’s residents, Imboden very enthusiastically ignored Lee’s order, which had been read to the citizens by George Steuart when he passed through the previous day.

Dr. Philip Schaff, a Protestant theologian living in Mercersburg at the time, explained their coming in his diary:

The town was occupied by an independent guerrilla band of cavalry, who steal horses, cattle, sheep, storegoods, negroes, and whatever else they can make use of, without ceremony, and in evident violation of Lee’s proclamation read yesterday. They are about fifty or eighty in number, and are encamped on a farm about a mile from town. They are mostly Marylanders and Virginians, and look brave, defiant, and bold.

On Thursday evening their captain, with a red and bloated face, threatened at the Mansion House to lay the town in ashes as soon as the first gun should be fired on one of his men. He had heard that there were firearms in town, and that resistance was threatened. He gave us fair warning that the least attempt to disturb them would be our ruin. We assured him that we knew nothing of such intention, that it was unjust to hold a peaceful community responsible for the unguarded remarks of a few individuals, that we were non-combatants and left the fighting to our army and the militia, which was called out, and would in due time meet them in open combat. They burned the barn of a farmer in the country who was reported to have fired a gun, and robbed his house of all valuables.

Imboden’s men would not leave for two more days, and the worse was yet to come.1



  1. Sources: Here Come the Rebels by Wilbur Nye; Plenty of Blame to Go Around by Eric Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi; Gettysburg by Noah Andre Trudeau; Gettysburg by Stephen Sears; “The Gettysburg Week” by Philip Schaff, Scribner’s, Vol. 16; Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 27, Part 3, p912, 929. []
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Stuart Off to a Bad Start; Hooker On the Move; Confederates Kidnap More Black People by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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