Friday, May 25, 2012

May 24, 1862

May 24, 1862: Eastern Theater, Shenandoah Valley Campaign - Gen. Banks, in retreating from Strasburg, has truly taken alarm at the still-unknown size of the Confederate force dogging his steps, as he puts his troops on two parallel roads pell-mell for Winchester, where there is a major supply base, and good ground to rally his troops for a defense.  In doing so, he even abandons half of his supply wagons.  Jackson and Ewell are chasing him and trying to get to Winchester first, also on several parallel roads.  When Jackson and some of his troops, along with Ashby’s cavalry, shift over to the Valley Pike, which is also being used by the Union retreat. Ashby and other Confederate troops strike the tail of Banks’ remaining supply train, and chaos immediately clogs the Pike with skirmishing cavalry, overturned wagons, wounded and dead teamsters and draft animals, and looting Confederate troops, delighted with the gift of fully-loaded supply wagons. Jackson is appalled at this, and also frustrated with lack of information.  By nightfall, he has his army on the road again, pressing Banks hard.  His troops continue to drive forward in the night, and in the wee hours of the morning, are making only 6 miles in 6 hours, so exhausted and spent they are.  One brigade commander begs Gen. Jackson for permission to rest his brigade, and Stonewall replies, “Colonel, I yield to no man in sympathy for the gallant men under my command; but I am obliged to sweat them tonight, that I may save their blood tomorrow. The line of hills southwest of Winchester must not be occupied by the enemy's artillery. My own must be there and in position by daylight. You shall, however, have two hours' rest.”  True to his word, before Banks can fortify the hills south of town, Jackson has his guns on them, and unfurling his brigades into line of battle at first light. 

—Rebel artilleryman George Michael Neese of Virginia, writes in his journal his view of the Yankee retreat:

Then we were ordered to Middletown, on the Valley pike, at which place we arrived about two o’clock this afternoon. Before we got in sight of the pike we saw a line of Yankee skirmishers. We fired on them, and at the first fire they ran away like wild men. When we came in sight of the pike we saw heavy clouds of dust rising all along the road, which we soon learned was caused by a hastily retreating army — with cavalry, artillery, infantry, wagons, ambulances, and sutler shops all in one mixed-up caravan—fleeing toward Winchester like clouds scudding before a driving storm. At a half mile range we opened on the flying mixture with all four of our guns, and as our shells plowed gap after gap through the serried column it caused consternation confounded, and vastly increased the speed of the hurrying mixed fugitive mass. . . . In the pursuit I saw abandoned baggage wagons, commissary wagons, wagons laden with medical stores, sutler goods, and all sorts of army equipments strewn along the track of the hastily retiring enemy. . . . After Jackson’s infantry came up and passed to the front and while our battery was awaiting orders, a few of us got permission from the proper authority to go on a twenty-minute pilfering raid among the debris and spoils scattered all along the road of Banks’ routed army.

—True to his expectations, Gen. Robert E. Lee, chief military advisor to Pres. Davis, and a sort of de facto Chief of Staff, sees his plans bear fruit.  He has surmised that Jackson’s vigorous campaigning in the Shenandoah, amongst three Union armies with timid leaders, would lead to the Union cancelling any reinforcements headed for McClellan’s army, which is on the verge of attacking Richmond.  Unbeknownst to him, on this date, Pres. Lincoln (prompted by the troubling disaster at Front Royal of yesterday) pens an order which summarily cancels the planned transfers of troops clockwise along the arc of Union forces in Virginia, and sends McDowell and the detached troops from Banks back to where they were.


May 24, 1862-5 p. m.

Major-General McDOWELL, Fredericksburg:

General Fremont has been ordered by telegraph to move from Franklin on Harrisonburg to relieve General Banks, and capture or destroy Jackson's and Ewell's forces.

You are instructed, laying aside for the present the movement on Richmond, to put 20,000 men in motion at once for the Shenandoah, moving on the line or in advance of the line of the Manassas Gap Railroad. Your object will be to capture the forces of Jackson and Ewell, either in co-operation with General Fremont or, in case want of supplies or of transportation interferes with his movements, it is believed that the force with which you move will be sufficient to accomplish this object alone. The information thus far received here makes it probable that if the enemy operate actively against General Banks you will not be able to count upon much assistance from him, but may even have to release him.

Reports received this moment are that Banks is fighting with Ewell 8 miles from Winchester.


—Corinth, Mississippi: Sergeant Alexander G. Downing, of the 11th Iowa Infantry in the Army of the Tennessee, veterans of Shiloh, records this in his diary:

Saturday, 24th—The Eleventh Iowa went out on picket at 5 o’clock this evening. It was reported in camp that General Beauregard is moving all of his heavy ordnance and his entire army to the south with a view of evacuating Corinth. The report says that teams loaded with munitions of war are leaving Corinth every day.

---Mary Boykin Chestnut, in Columbia, So. Carolina, records in her diary the fear and misgivings about the Rebel cause, while at the same time revealing one tactic for dealing with such anxieties:

May 24th.—The enemy are landing at Georgetown. With a little more audacity where could they not land? But we have given them such a scare, they are cautious. If it be true, I hope some cool-headed white men will make the negroes save the rice for us. It is so much needed. They say it might have been done at Port Royal with a little more energy. South Carolinians have pluck enough, but they only work by fits and starts; there is no continuous effort; they can’t be counted on for steady work. They will stop to play—or enjoy life in some shape.

Without let or hindrance Halleck is being reenforced. Beauregard, unmolested, was making some fine speeches— and issuing proclamations, while we were fatuously looking for him to make a tiger’s spring on Huntsville. Why not? Hope springs eternal in the Southern breast. . . .

Columbia is the place for good living, pleasant people, pleasant dinners, pleasant drives. I feel that I have put the dinners in the wrong place. They are the climax of the good things here. This is the most hospitable place in the world, and the dinners are worthy of it.

In Washington, there was an endless succession of state dinners. I was kindly used. I do not remember ever being condemned to two dull neighbors: on one side or the other was a clever man; so I liked Washington dinners. . . .

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