Monday, August 20, 2012

August 20, 1862

August 20, 1862: Battle of Fort Ridgely, Minnesota - After maneuvering into ravines and ditches around Fort Ridgely, Little Crow’s 400 Dakota warriors fire several volleys with their guns and charge the fort, laying down a hot fire. They capture the northeast corner of the complex, including several buildings, but two howitzers of cannister drive the warriors back. Many warriors go on to renew the attack on New Ulm and to raid the white settlers rather than face the white soldiers. This night, another 400 warriors from nearby tribes arrive.
Chief Little Crow

—George Templeton Strong, of New York City, yesterday writes in his journal a new re-assessment of McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, with an astute eye for the strategic situation:
Certainly nothing can be more vicious than the present position of our forces in Virginia; our two armies, McClellan’s and Pope’s, are unable to support each other, while the enemy, though inferior in force, is concentrated between them and can make a dash at either with fair prospect of success. That campaign on the Peninsula seems to have been a great strategic blunder. An enterprising general, willing to risk somoething on prompt, vigorous offensive movements, might have carried it successfully through and taken Richmond—or he might not. But that is not McClellan’s style of work. He means to be safe, and is, therefore, obliged to be slow. His theory of an invasion is to entrench himself, advance five miles, and then spend three weeks in getting up another line of fieldworks. This would be good practice were not time so important an element.
Today, Strong follows up with more assessment of McClellan’s campaign, scarcely able to repress the snide tone in his remarks:
McClellan has gloriously evacuated Harrison’s Landing and got safe back to where he was months ago. Magnificent strategy. Pity it has lost so many thousand men and millions of dollars. . . . McClellan stock is falling fearfully. He is held accountable for the thousands of lives expended without result in digging trenches in the Chickahominy swamp and on the James River. Unjustly perhaps. Stanton may have withheld reinforcements. But generals are judged by the results of their generalship.

—Robert Knox Sneden of the Army of the Potomac, offers his observations of the soldiers enjoying a swim in the York River as well as the not-battlefield where McClellan had spent a month preparing a siege the previous April, only to have the Rebels withdraw the night before he opens fire: 
Whole regiments of soldiers were in swimming, as well as numberless horses and mules. We had marched over dustry roads for many miles and everyone went for the luxury of a swim who could get off duty. No Rebels were here now to interfere, and the air resounded with laughter, yells of delight, in stead of Rebel yells. . . . Our old lines of entrenchments were plainly visible, but now all going to ruin. I saw with regret what an immense amount of labor and muscle had been thrown away in their useless construction by McClellan, when any one army corps could have broken the Rebel lines . . . and bagged the whole Rebel army in Yorktown.

—Skirmishing between Lee’s troops and Pope’s troops breaks out in various spots along the Rappahannock River, which now is between the two armies.

—George Michael Neese, Confederate artilleryman in Chew’s Battery, now attached to Stuart’s cavalry, recounts in his journal the encounter the Confederates have near the Rappahannock, when some captured Yankees tell their captors that Federal cavalry were posted just beyond sight, and were preparing to charge Stuart’s men:
However, on the strength of the report, General Stuart formed a line of battle in a beautiful level grassy field and splendid fighting ground for cavalry. Captain Pelham’s battery was in position on the right of the line.

There were about three thousand horsemen drawn up in line, all with drawn sabers, ready to receive a charge or make one. A glance over the field and along the battle line was at once grand, magnificent, and inspiring. Three thousand burnished sabers glittered in the sunlight, ready to be wielded by determined men whose steady and silent gaze to the front, where the enemy was supposed to lurk, pre-signified that every man was spellbound, fascinated, and inspired by the splendor of the sheen and the grandeur of the warlike martial array that was as gorgeous as a dress parade. Yet every man was ready and expecting to receive the shock of battle. We remained in battle line about two hours, waiting for the Yankee charge they did not make; and now I am confident that the Yankee prisoners wilfully lied to-day when they said that their cavalry was preparing to charge General Stuart’s in that particular locality, because the Yankee cavalry is not so awfully chargy when they find something a little dangerous to charge.

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