Archive for March, 2016

Unnecessary and Costly Delays at Petersburg

By Andy Mateja

After finally cornering Gen Robt E. Lee’s vaunted Army of Northern Virginia in the area surrounding Richmond and Petersburg Virginia May 1864, Union in General  Chief Ulysses S. Grant determined to advance in Union force from the North with Maj Gen George Meade’s Army of the Potomac (120,000 strong) while cutting him Lee from the South with Maj Gen Ben Butler’s Army of the James (36,000 strong).

While Richmond was his primary target to finally end the war, Grant realized that Petersburg was the logistical “key” to making that happen. Therefore he had to first capture Petersburg so as to cut off all the major supply lines feeding into Richmond. Grant realized that Lee would never abandon Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy and would be forced into dividing his deteriorating forces to protect BOTH cities at the same time.

While failing at capturing Petersburg in May, which undoubtedly would have ended Lee’s defensive strategy and probably ended the war almost a YEAR sooner, Butler’s Army of the James was relegated to a secondary position in the strategy while Meade’s much larger Army of the Potomac was given the larger task. However after numerous unsuccessful attempts at to do so in fierce battles outside Richmond including Cold Harbor, both Union armies settled in for besieging Lee’s much smaller army inside the confined breastworks constructed outside  of Richmond AND Petersburg.

General Lee while forced into a defensive position around his nation’s capital would not sit still and accept his military limitations. Even though vastly outnumbered by Grant’s armies,  Lee, the consummate tactician, was able to break away part of his forces right from underneath his Union opponents and virtually change the theatre of operations and  apply direct pressure on Washington City….  as he had done successfully in 1862 after defeating McClellan during the Seven Days Battles.

Before Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia arrived on the scene to defend Richmond and Petersburg, there were failed attempts by Butler and his Union Army of the James to capture Petersburg….. before Grant and the larger Army of the Potomac arrived and the before Lee could arrive to defend it. Butler surmised the strategic importance of Petersburg and, if he planned to run for the Presidency later in the fall, this was the place to be !!!

But lack of cohesive cooperation by Butler’s field generals prevented the effort to succeed, especially against the much smaller hodge-podge forces arranged against him by Confederate General P.G.T Beauregard.

One can only imagine how many lives would have been spared if the war had ended spared if the war had indeed ended in the Spring of 1864 instead of more than a year later……………….

The Woodstock Races

by Andy Mateja

On Oct 8th 1864 immediately after the twin Union victories at Winchester and Fisher’s Hill in the Shenandoah valley, Maj Gen A.T.A. Tolbert, cavalry chief of Maj Gen Philip Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah was ordered to burn and destroy all usable assets to the Confederate forces in that Valley and to soundly defeat their rebel opponents or get whipped first in the process at Toms Brook just south of Strasburg VA.  Sheridan’s direct orders from Lt Gen Ulysses S. Grant were to destroy all crops to prevent the Confederate military forces from returning and bring his own army back to reinforce Grant’s other forces besieging Petersburg Virginia.

Sheridan’s forces preceded up the valley with a Union corps on each side of the Valley Pike and three divisions of Union cavalry following close by. Local residents of the valley had never seen such wanton destruction perpetuated by the Yankees who were destroying everything in their path commencing at Harrisonburg Va. Elements of the local Confederate cavalry cautiously followed them but could do nothing to stop the horrific destruction.

Sheridan’s Northerners devastation included burning 2000 barns,  destroying 70 grist mills and the slaughter of 3000 cattle and 4000 sheep, along with millions of dollars of personal property including some private residences which,  even though they were ordered not to be destroyed, left a trail  from Winchester to Staunton over 92 miles. Embittered Confederate guerrilla forces in the valley periodically captured and executed small parties of Yankees as a direct result of this contemptible devastation.

Jubal Early was trying to rebuild his Rebel army which was now plagued by low morale. It was now being reinforced by Maj Gen Thomas Rosser’s cavalry brigade which turned out not to be enough even though they were highly praised for their fighting prowess. The Confederate cavalry and infantry currently situated in that part of the Shenandoah Valley was ordered to pursue Sheridan northward DOWN the Valley. During the meager pursuit of the Union cavalry down the valley, Custer’s men were continually harassed by fellow West Point classmate Confederate Tom Rosser who captured 20 Union prisoners while ultimately saving a few mills and barns from destruction. Both camped across from each other at a place known as Tom’s Brook during this time.

During the pursuit, fighting was fierce over the next three days. Gen Tolbert was eventually ordered by Sheridan to destroy what was left of Early’s Rebel cavalry and infantry once and for all.

Custer himself was known to be a fierce fighter and relished the opportunity to disrupt and destroy the Confederate defense.  His cavalry tried to capture as much of the repel cannons and caissons as possible to further weaken his Confederate opposition. Custer not only captured Gen Rosser’s headquarters wagon, but also their ENTIRE wagon train and six field pieces in the entire 20 mile encounter at his loss of ONLY 57 troopers….”

Never has there been such a rout of Confederate cavalry” mused Custer which prompted him and future historians to call the running battle “The Woodstock Races”…….!!!!