The Spoils of (and Preparations for) War

Tuesday, June 4, 1861

The Rebels had escaped. The appearance of Union troops at Philippi in the early dawn of the previous day sent the Confederates running, but the Union plan of capturing the lot of them had failed.

Confederate Col. Porterfield and his men had made it safely to Beverly, thirty-five miles south. With Union Col. Kelley wounded, the command in Philippi fell upon Col. Dumont. The men under him in this conquered town took advantage of the first spoils of war.

Union troops had captured Col. Porterfield’s headquarters flag as well as a Virginia state flag, with the bootprints of retreating rebels encrusted upon it. These were both proudly displayed.

Philippi was a Rebel town, which is why Porterfield chose to fall back to it when leaving Grafton. It had a pro-secessionist newspaper, The Barbour Jeffersonian, whose offices were broken into and presses destroyed by Union soldiers.

The fine, large homes of Philippi that had been abandoned by fleeing citizens were occupied by the victorious Yankees. And perhaps worst of all, the flag of the United States flew over the courthouse.1

__________________

Beauregard to Hold Manassas

During the Philippi affair, Confederate General PGT Beauregard, who commanded Rebel forces in Charleston during the bombardment of Fort Sumter, had been summoned to Richmond to meet with President Davis, who had himself recently arrived in the new Confederate capital. Beauregard was given command of the “Alexandria Line,” also known as the Army of the Potomac (CS).

Beauregard noted that since Federal troops had occupied Alexandria, their next move would be upon Manassas Junction, roughly thirty miles to the west. His orders from General Lee were to be on the defensive and that every attack was to be “resisted to the extent of your means.”

Lee warned that “Manassas Junction is a very important point on your line, as it commands the communication with Harper’s Ferry, and must be firmly held.” He also urged Beauregard to dig entrenchments as they would “add to its security.”

Beauregard quickly set about placing his troops. A regiment each was placed at Mitchells Ford and Union Mills Ford to cover the roads leading towards Manassas. He also sent regiments to cover Centreville and Fairfax Court House. The rest of his forces were in and around Manassas.

Protecting Manassas Junction, however, was no easy task. Beauregard described the scene to President Davis as “an open country, traversed by good roads in every direction, without any strong natural features for the purposes of defense.” If attacked in the near future, he wondered “whether these works could be held more than a few days” with the force at his disposal.

Beauregard turned to the fords along Bull Run to defend. These were, however too far apart to hold with the 6,000 or so men he currently had in his command. If the Yankee force was estimated at 20,000, he would need 10,000 – 15,000 men to stand a chance.2

Though the ground around Manassas provided little in the way of defense, holding Manassas Junction was vitally important. As Lee explained, “it commands the communication with Harper’s Ferry, and must be firmly held.”3

__________________

Johnston to Hold More with Less

General Johnston, commanding Confederate forces at Harpers Ferry, had suggested to Lee that he abandon his position as it “perfectly suited the enemy’s views” being so poorly situated for defense.

Lee disagreed in his reply, writing that “its abandonment would be depressing to the South,” adding that Johnston might better defend his position if a detachment were sent to Martinsburg which would strengthen his posts “in front of Williamsport and at Shepherdstown.” Johnston would also be receiving at least two more regiments.4

Johnston’s command was additionally ordered to be spread even farther. A detachment was sent to him to be supplied with horses and was then to head west to the Cheat River Bridge near Rowlesburg, western Virginia to destroy it and as much of the rails and tunnels as could be accomplished.5 It was suspected by Lee that Union troops near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania would be able to quickly merge with the troops in Ohio and western Virginia. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad could move these Federal troops from Hagerstown (itself a quick train ride away from their camp at Chambersburg) to the B&O line to Grafton, completely bypassing Harpers Ferry. By destroying the Cheat River Bridge, only 25 miles from Union-held Grafton, Ohio and Pennsylvania troops would have an incredibly difficult time joining forces.

__________________

Scott Tells Patterson to Wait

Hoping to soon march upon Johnston’s Confederates, General Patterson wired General-in-Chief Scott the previous day informing him of his arrival at Chambersburg. He would be ready to move in two day’s time. Scott replied, stating that
orders would be sent in “a few days.”

Undaunted, Patterson again laid out his plans, this time in finer detail, predicting a march through Hagerstown, Maryland by Saturday. By Monday, he hoped to have the bulk of his troops on the Potomac at Williamsport.

All that was needed was a battery or two of artillery and General Scott’s orders, which came the next day, on this date.

They weren’t, however, the orders he was looking for. Patterson was to wait. No movement should be made until he was joined by artillery and a half a regiment of United State Regulars. While these batteries had soldiers, they did not have horses or guns or anything else that would make an artillery unit an artillery unit.

Scott predicted that it would require “some days” to equip the battery and for the Regulars to find their way to Chambersburg, but the addition to Patterson’s force, thought Scott, was “indispensable.”6



  1. Rebels at the Gate by Lesser. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p901 – 902. []
  3. The Military Operations of General Beauregard by Alfred Roman, Harper & brothers, 1884. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, 901. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, 904. []
  6. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p660-661, 665. []
Creative Commons License
The Spoils of (and Preparations for) War by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

About

View all posts by