September 3, 1863 (Thursday)
Since last we checked in with George Meade’s Union Army of the Potomac, little had changed. His troops had followed General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia south to the Rappahannock, and then stopped. Neither side wished to attack the other, both believing their foes to have entrenched in fine defensive positions.
Though the soaring heat of August, President Lincoln and General-in-Chief Henry Halleck, strongly urged Meade not to move the troops or animals much, if at all. With the divisions and corps lining the river, Meade set to work on the day-to-day tasks associated with running an army. This included everything from trying to figure out how many wagons to take along with them to how to deal with newspapers in the camps.
In the middle of August, as the head died down though slightly, Meade dispatched thousands of troops to New York City and elsewhere to quell the riots over conscription. It was because of the conscription, however, that his army’s numbers did not dwindle, hovering around 76,000. These conscriptions, however, were hardly replacements for veterans both dispatched to New York or lying dead in their graves at Gettysburg.
Just as the new draftees were everything Meade wanted, neither were many of the officers remaining to fill the gaps left by those killed and wounded in the previous campaign. The I Corps, which had been brutally mangled on the first day at Gettysburg was now under the command of John Newton. Meade had personally selected Newton from the III Corps on the second day at Gettysburg, following a very short stint by Abner Doubleday, who was now pushing a pencil at a desk in Washington.
The lauded hero of Little Round Top, Gouverneur K. Warren, who had first spied the Rebels moving far on the Federal left flank, had gained the trust of Meade as a superior engineer. Only time would tell if he might make a fitting corps commander. He was given temporary lead of the II Corps until Winfield Scott Hancock, wounded on the third day at Gettysburg, returned.
General Meade had no qualms at all over replacing III Corps commander Dan Sickles, and did so with William French. Sickles had lost a leg at Gettysburg, and unlike Hancock, would not be welcomed back. General French’s Division had commanded the garrison at Harpers Ferry before being added to the III Corps after the battle. It was clear that if French could handle and independent command, he should do well enough at the head of a corps – even if the assignment was, for the time being, temporary.
The other four corps, the V, VI, XI, and XII, retained the same healthy commanders that had fought at Gettysburg: George Sykes, John Sedgwick, Oliver Howard, and Henry Slocum. Of these, the XI Corps was the most controversial and thus least wanted by Meade. Already, a division had been sent to reinforce General Quincy Gillmore on Morris Island near Charleston, and Meade had machinations to completely dissolve the corps.
Towards the middle of August, Meade thought the army might have to move, to track down the Rebels wherever they may be, and ordered each of his corps commanders to make sure that their men and supply trains were in order. Nothing came of it, but it was probably good to make sure his army could move if called upon.
Almost nothing of note occurred in the latter days of August, though it seems wrong to say. No doubt that Confederate raiders under John Singlton Mosby operated on the fringes, and that Federal cavalry did their best to keep them in check. Even that, however, fade for a spell, as Mosby himself had been wounded.
By the end of August, most of Meade’s scouts were reporting “no change” in their fronts. The only action, apart from minor skirmishes, was undertaken by Judson Kilpatrick’s Cavalry Division on the 1st and 2nd of September. Two Federal ironclads had been taken by the Rebels near Port Royal. Kilpatrick was to recapture and destroy them. Meade had put the entire army on alert, but on this date, when the news came back that Kilpatrick had achieved his objective, the well-rested army was again put at ease.
Through the quiet end of summer, things across the Rappahannock, across the Rapidan, seemed to be stirring. Maybe it was a sort of second sense had by Meade and Halleck, but both believed that General Lee was up to something, and that soon they stillness would be broken and the shells would once again fly.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 29, Part 2, p13, 27, 46, 103, 159; Mosby’s Rangers by Jeffry Wert; The Bristoe Campaign by Adrian Tighe. [↩]