Archive for January, 2013

Nature’s Fury Erupts at Chantilly

By Andy Mateja

After their disastrous defeat at Second Manassas, Gen. John Pope’s Union Army was frantically retreating to the safe confines of Washington DC. Confederate Gen. Robt E. Lee tried to head them off and complete the destruction of Pope’s army that Lee had planned several weeks earlier.

Once again Gen. Stonewall Jackson was going to be the key component in Lee’s plan. Despite being severely weakened by the recent fighting, Jackson’s forces were to move to the left of Pope’s retreating army and interject themselves between the Union forces and Washington DC. It was another of Lee’s calculated risks, as three fresh Union corps from McClellan’s army were nearby and stormy weather was imminent. In the meantime Longstreet was to keep Pope’s attention on him while Jackson performed the flanking march.

Pope however decided to halt his retreat and re-concentrate his forces near Fairfax – Germantown area. He was contemplating a renewed attack on Lee. As Jackson moved to the left, Pope’s patrols became aware of Jackson’s flanking attempt and began to prepare to meet it at the Little River Turnpike. Adding to this was Jackson’s slow movement due to the rainy weather, and Longstreet’s slow movement in supporting Jackson. Longstreet was unable to provide any assistance to Jackson.

All of Pope’s forces were converging on the Fairfax-Germantown area except for the IX Corps under Gen Jesse Reno. They moved toward Chantilly, which, in doing so, actually brought on the battle. It was September 1st 1862 and Chantilly was only 24 miles from Washington DC – the closest the Confederates had gotten to the Northern capitol thus far in the war.

Gen. JEB Stuart, traveling with Jackson, spotted the IX Corp approaching. Jackson immediately began to reinforce his flanks and prepare for a heavy onslaught, not realizing the Union forces in front of him were actually the weakest part of Pope’s entire line.

As the Union forces attacked, Jackson’s troops fell back, drawing the Yankees after them. They were then met by a volley fire from a deployed Confederate battleline. Union and Confederate infantry were quickly being sent to reinforce the troops already engaged in the fighting. As the fighting escalated, so did the weather- a violent thunderstorm erupted at that precise moment , with strong winds and blinding flashes of lightning all around.
The Union forces however continued to move forward and push Jackson’s forces back and felt victory was imminent. However the storm intensified with the rain and wind combining to make visibility almost impossible.

As the Union advance continued, their commander Gen. Isaac Stevens was killed and the attack stalled and began to fall back. Union reinforcements were sent by Gen. Phillip Kearny which arrived in time to reverse the direction press the forward movement. The rain however had made it impossible to use the paper cartridges to reload muskets so most of the fighting at this time was hand-to-hand. It now became apparent to the Union troops that there were far more Confederates on the field than “friendly” troops and heavy reinforcements were needed if the IX Corp was going to win the day.

Union Gen Kearny now arrived on the field and took command of the scattered forces resisting Jackson. Kearny was a fierce fighter and refused to believe the Confederate forces were as concentrated as he was being told. He recklessly charged forward with his men right into the most concentrated part of the Confederate line – with Kearny himself way out in front. When the Confederates called out to Kearny to surrender, he turned his horse around and tried to gallop away as rapidly as possible. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it – a bullet caught him in the lower back and traveled through his abdomen, killing him instantly.

The fighting then dropped off on both sides and for all intents and purposes, was over. Jackson’s forces of 15,000 men lost 500 in casualties. The Union IX Corps, with 6300 men engaged, lost 675, or more than 10%.

Despite Lee’s best intentions to destroy Popes forces, his opponent slipped away once again. Realizing however he did not have sufficient manpower to attack Washington DC, Lee revised his operational plan and decided to advance further into Union territory, which a few weeks later resulted in the Battle of Antietam – the bloodiest single day in the entire Civil War.

by Andy Mateja

JEB Stuart was one of the South’s most beloved military leaders. Dashing and handsome, he was the embodiment of chivalry in the hearts and minds of women throughout the South. His charismatic personality and bravery under fire earned him respect and admiration from both armies …Southern and Northern alike.
JEB’s military career and a Confederate cavalry leader were stellar. From his ride around McClellan in June of 1862 to his commanding of Stonewall Jackson’s Corps during the battle of Chancellorsville, Stuart made a name for himself that no one on either side had rivaled up to that time. Even though his reputation suffered a bit at Gettysburg, Stuart came back and provided exemplary service for Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia for the remainder of 1863.
Things were changing in the Eastern theatre of the conflict, centered in Virginia. Ulysses S. Grant became overall commander of all the Union armies in the spring of 1864 and attached himself to the Army of the Potomac. Grant brought a few feisty commanders with him from the West, including Phillip S. Sheridan. Sheridan took over command of the Union Cavalry and was determined to defeat and destroy JEB Stuart and his cavalry.
Sheridan decided he would launch a cavalry raid on Richmond while Grant and the main infantry forces engage in a death struggle with Lee’s hard fighting Confederate veterans. Sheridan was convinced his raid would draw Stuart’s cavalry after him and he, Sheridan, would defeat them in open combat.
With Grant’s blessing, Sheridan started off on May 9th with 10,000 Union cavalrymen for his raid. As anticipated JEB Stuart followed Sheridan toward Richmond. However Stuart left two of his brigades with Lee and took the remainder with him. Never one to be concerned about the odds, Stuart felt his 5,000 troopers would be able to handle Sheridan and his much larger force.
Stuart’s forces began to harass Sheridan’s cavalry in an attempt to slow them down. Sheridan just ignored them and kept moving toward Richmond. Stuart next divided his forces to make sure Sheridan wouldn’t double back and join Grant Stuart was also hoping to draw Sheridan into battle while they were still north of Richmond.
After a successful raid at Beaver Dam Station by Union General George Armstrong Custer which cost the Confederacy precious medical supplies, two locomotives and 100 railway cars, Stuart reunited his forces briefly before dividing them again to watch the approaches to Richmond and the two railroads providing supplies to the capital and Lee’s army.
Stuart remained with the forces proceeding to Richmond. During his ride he was very somber and uncharacteristically said that he never expected to survive the conflict nor did he want to live if the South were conquered.
Around 8:00AM on the morning of May 11th, Stuart reached Yellow Tavern. He dug in and awaited Sheridan’s attack. The attack came at 4:00PM, led by Custer’s brigade. The Union cavalry began pushing forces back, right past Stuart and his staff only to be counterattacked back by the 1st Virginia Confederate cavalry.
Stuart himself was now in the thick of the fighting, firing his own revolver at the Union troopers. One trooper from Custer’s 5th Michigan, John A. Huff fired back at Stuart and mortally wounded him. As he was being removed from the field, Stuart shouted “I would rather die than be whipped”. JEB Stuart died the next day before his wife was able to join him.
While Sheridan’s forces did penetrate the Richmond defenses, he felt he could not hold the city and withdrew his cavalry. He had already accomplished his primary goal of defeating Stuart.
When the news of Stuart’s death reached General Lee, he mourned and said “He never brought me a piece of false information”. As the Confederacy’s demise was becoming more and more apparent, Lee’s cavalry was no longer a threat to their Union counterparts.