Union Army Prepares to Move on Richmond!

Monday, July 15, 1861

The Union regiments that had gathered in and around Washington in preparation for the advance upon Richmond were still being supplied and ushered across the Potomac River to be placed in their brigades. General McDowell, their commander, called another meeting of his highest ranking officers to discuss the movements that would finally happen the next day.

The army of 30,000 couldn’t all take the same road, of course, so McDowell gave each division their own marching orders. An advanced brigade of Confederates was known to be camped at Fairfax Court House. They would have to be dealt with first. While one of McDowell’s Divisions was to follow the Orange & Alexandria Railroad towards Brentsville (near Manassas Junction), two others were ordered to take the Little River Turnpike (and Old Braddock Road) to Fairfax. Another would move to Vienna and then to Germantown to cut off any retreating Confederates.1

All this was to be accomplished prior to battling General Beauregard’s Confederate Army of the Potomac at Manassas. The Divisions were all to be moving by 3pm the next day. When the Generals returned to their commands, the troops were issued three days’ rations. Tomorrow would begin the first large-scale campaign of the Civil War.2

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Patterson Finally Advances, but Now What?

All General Patterson really had to do was keep General Johnston’s Army of the Shenandoah at Winchester occupied. If Johnston were able to slip away from Patterson, he would undoubtedly reinforce Beauregard at Manassas before Patterson could reinforce McDowell.

After being still at Martinsburg for several days, Patterson finally moved south on the Valley Pike towards Winchester, twenty-three miles south. They were off before the dawn, with skirmishers reinforced by cavalry on either side of the road. This was still hostile country and, as the small arms fire noted, the vanguard was pushing Confederate outposts back as the column advanced.

Before abandoning it in favor of the hills around Winchester, the Confederates had made an impressive defensive position near Bunker Hill, eight miles north of town. By afternoon, after a fifteen mile march, Patterson reached the old Rebel camp. Surveying the ground, he declared it “comfortable.” When asked about advancing towards the Rebels, however, Patterson did not know when he would move on. “And if I did,” he said, “I would not tell my own father.”

He first wished to make a reconnaissance the next day. The rest he could figure out after that. Mostly, what Patterson wanted was to move to Charlestown. From there, he thought, he could cover Leesburg and Winchester while being kept up to date from Washington. For the night, however, Patterson and his army of 18,000 would remain eight miles from the Confederates at Winchester. 3

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The Nation’s Very Own Napoleon

News of McClellan’s very own personal victories and heroics in western Virginia permeated the Northern press, with headlines blasting that “10,000 Rebels Defeated!” and “Major General McClellan Has Made Every Heart Leap With Joy!” His name quickly became synonymous with victory as the Rebels had been “McClellanized!” It was now that he was first declared the “Napoleon of the War!”

At his headquarters in Huttonsville, a few miles south of Beverly, this Young Napoleon had the first large group of Confederate prisoners-of-war to deal with. There were thirty-three officers, five surgeons and roughly 600 non-commissioned officers and privates. He received orders from Washington about what to do, and the terms were generous. Regular officers, non-commissioned officers and privates were paroled and allowed to go home after pledging an oath not to bear arms against the United States. McClellan wrote Washington asking if they could somehow provide transportation to get these men home.

There was an exception to these generous terms, however. Any Confederate officer who had left the United States army to join with the Rebels would be, instead, moved to Fort McHenry in Baltimore.4

As McClellan was figuring out what to do with his prisoners, General Charles Hill was dispatched by McClellan to chase down the remnants of Garnett’s army that was defeated at the Battle of Corrick’s Ford. They had just missed the Confederates at Red House, Maryland the day before, but had received information that the Rebels were in Greenland [near Williamsport], twenty-five miles southeast.

Hill sent 3,000 to cut off their retreat to the south and ordered 900 men to take the B&O Railroad to New Creek and descend upon them from the north. Within a day, Hill would be in Greenland with the larger column. After midnight, the regiments taking the trains arrived in New Creek. If the Rebels continued to rest for another day, Hill would bag the lot of them.5

Major M.G. Harmon, commander of Confederate troops in Staunton, Virginia, wrote to General Robert E. Lee after hearing about the defeats and withdrawals to Monterey. The holding of western Virginia was incredibly important, as it provided a rail link to the Ohio River.

“Our retreat,” wrote Harmon, “to Monterey, is disastrous to us.” He thought that if they could hold the passes at Cheat Mountain, just a few miles southeast of McClellan’s camp at Huttonsville, they could hold McClellan’s entire army in check.6

While the defeated Rebels worried about McClellan crossing Cheat Mountain and gaining fairly easy access to the rear of General Johnston’s army, McClellan had the small Confederate Army of the Kanawha to worry about.

He wasn’t really worried though. “I am in constant expectation of hearing from General Cox,” wrote McClellan, “that his efforts to drive the Wises out of the Kanawha Valley and occupy the Gauley Bridge [forty or so miles southeast of Charleston] have been crowned with success.” 7



  1. The Army of the Potomac by Russel H. Beatie. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p336. []
  3. The Army of the Potomac by Russel H. Beatie. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p250-251. []
  5. The Baltimore & Ohio in the Civil War by Festus P. Summers. []
  6. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p245. []
  7. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p210. []
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Union Army Prepares to Move on Richmond! by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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