Archive for October, 2013

by Andy Mateja

Many people believe that Gen. Robert E. Lee’s first excursion into Pennsylvania occurred in the summer of 1863 during the Gettysburg campaign. In reality, elements of his Army of Northern Virginia under Cavalry Chief Maj. Gen JEB Stuart actually “invaded” Pennsylvania in October 1862 as part of a reconnaissance mission ordered by Lee just after the Battle of Antietam.
The strategy was planned by Gen’s Lee and Stonewall Jackson who wanted to ascertain Union Gen Geo. B. McClellan’s troop dispositions to see if he was moving part of his army eastward in advance of a strike on Richmond. It was the perfect time for a strike as McClellan’s army was now between Lee’s army, concentrated in the Shenandoah Valley and Richmond.
Stuart was ordered to circle around McClellan’s army, which he had similarly accomplished earlier in June. Elements of Stuart’s cavalry were to move northward from the valley, which would send them into Southern Pennsylvania toward Chambersburg.
Stuart began his movement on Oct 9th and effectively slipped through three Union cavalry and infantry forces ordered to intercept him. Stuart halted at Chambersburg Pa while also rounding up horses, food supplies, and prisoners and destroying military supplies and government buildings, estimated at nearly $1million in value. Stuart also dispatched part of his forces to burn a nearby railroad bridge and this was one of two sources of supply for McClellan’s army. Unfortunately for Stuart, the bridge was made of iron instead of wood and could not be burned.
While at Chambersburg, Stuart falsely informed his Union captives that he was headed east towards Gettysburg. Actually this was a ruse, as Stuart turned his forces southward at Cashtown, four miles from Gettysburg, completely frustrating the Union cavalry waiting for him in Gettysburg.
The Confederates continued southward toward New Market Md where they cut the telegraph wires. They continued southwest toward the Potomac River with the intent of crossing bank into Virginia at White’s Ford. Stuart crossed his men at the ford while using his four artillery pieces as cover against pursuing Union cavalry. The next day Oct 13th Stuart’s raiding party arrived safely back in the Confederate lines. Besides the reconnaissance information they were sent to gather, they brought back almost 1200 captured horses and about 70 military and civilian prisoners. Stuart’s losses totaled only TWO prisoners – no killed or wounded. Lee also received the information he needed : McClellan was staying put and receiving reinforcements instead of moving on the open target of Richmond.
Stuart was well served in his reconnaissance movement by several guides who knew all the back roads. The Union forces sent to intercept him, vastly outnumbered Stuart’s men. However indecision and timidity as well as Stuart’s masterful deceptions kept the Union leaders from engaging Stuart and ultimately let him escape.
This raid was considered by many as the finest Stuart had ever undertaken. The coordination, timing and the effective feints, such as convincing the Union pursuers he was going to cross the river at the Monocacy junction with the Potomac but instead crossed five miles further south at White’s Ford, was a striking example of the proper use of cavalry to effectively secure vital information of the enemy with minimal losses.
Nine months later Lee badly needed this type of reconnaissance days before the epic Battle of Gettysburg ……

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by Andy Mateja

While fighting Indians at the same time, Union Maj General Samuel Curtis prepared to meet a mounted force of Confederates under Maj General Sterling Price in western Missouri heading his way.
Curtis was stunned that in late 1964, a large Confederate force was able to move across the whole state of Missouri practically all the way to Kansas without being checked by Union troops in St Louis.
With only 4000 troops at his command, Curtis asked for militia support from governor of Kansas. Governor Carney was reluctant to comply partially for political reasons and also believing that the Confederate forces were too far away to pose a threat to Kansas. When the Confederates advanced to within 80 miles of the Kansas border did Gov Carney believe the threat and release the militia.
While the Curtis and his men were preparing to meet the advancing Confederates at the town of Westport Mo (five miles south of Kansas City), Union forces from St Louis under Maj General Rosecrans were pursuing them from the east. The original Confederate target was St Louis and, finding it too well fortified turned west and decided to capture the state capitol in Jefferson City. They were still seeking a last-minute miracle in the final months of the war that would perhaps prevent Abraham Lincoln from being re-elected. Southerners also hoped they might swing the state into the Confederacy with several key victories. This was particularly the case with Confederate commander Sterling Price himself a former Governor of Missouri.
After failing to capture Jefferson City, Price continued westward toward Kansas mostly seeking new recruits and supplies while escaping out of Missouri. The pursuing Union forces coming from the east were let by Maj Gen Alfred Pleasanton, a former cavalry commander of the Army of the Potomac. He was leading a force of 9000 men, hoping to trap the Confederates between his and Curtis’ Union troops. Price was leading a force of around 12,000 Confederates with 1/3 being unarmed. A portion of Curtis’ forces engaged the Confederates at Independence Mo on October 21st in an attempt to slow them down while Pleasanton’s troops from the east caught up.
The next day the Confederates attacked again in an attempt to open a passageway for the captured wagons to pass through. This pushed Curtis’s men northward toward Westport Mo with most of his green troops and militia falling back in disorder. While this battle was going on, Pleasanton’s forces caught up with the Confederate rear guard and fighting began there in mid-afternoon and lasted until nightfall. Both armies were now dug in outside Westport; Curtis to the north and Price to the south.
While Curtis was leaning toward retreating to Kansas City, he agreed to stay and fight the next day. At dawn on October 23rd the Curtis’ troops attacked with fierce fighting all along the line including concentrated cannon fire. Price’s men started to push the Union forces back into Westport. However hearing Pleasanton’s troops also attacking on the right, Curtis became emboldened and decided to lead his counterattack himself. Some of his eager Kansas troops jumped the gun and attacked prematurely, breaking through the Confederate lines before being outflanked and pushed back again.
A local farmer provided information on an unknown road to flank the Confederates which Curtis gladly followed while ordering the rest of his army to advance at the same time. Back and forth attacks ensued mostly by cavalry in severe conflict. By noon, the Confederate line began to waiver and Curtis was about to launch his final crushing attack. However finding out that Price had ordered a large portion of his troops confronting Curtis to move east to help push back Pleasanton who was also moving forward in victory, Curtis ordered artillery battalions to break up the Confederate forces moving toward Pleasanton.
Now outnumbered more than 2 to 1, Price’s Confederates fought hard while slowly giving ground to Pleasanton’s troopers. They were now literally surrounded by Union troops and pulled back to reconcentrate around their captured wagons. They had been defeated.
As the Confederates began their retreat the following morning, both Curtis and Pleasanton decided it would be best to destroy Price’s remaining army rather than letting it escape. Price’s men may have made good their escape were it not for the captured wagon train which slowed their retreat immeasurably. Price and his men did cross over into Kansas and for a while thought they could successfully attack Ft Scott and capture their military supplies. However Pleasanton and Curtis kept up their pursuit and engaged Price’s Confederate cavalry and decimated it, capturing 1000 prisoners.
Price now finally accepted the fact that he could not escape WITH the captured wagons so he ordered them burned. His command reverted back to mounted infantry, and despite 12 more days of Union pursuit, he made good his escape with about 5000 men.
The Battle of Westport had been the largest battle west of the Mississippi during the entire Civil War. Approximately 20, 000 Union troops engaged 9000 Confederates and effectively kept Missouri in the Union for the remainder of the war.

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