Thursday, August 23, 2012

August 23, 1862

August 23, 1862: Virginia - Along the Rappahannock River, the two armies continue their wary maneuvering and artillery duelsand skirimishes. Longstreet attacks the Federal left, in order to keep McDowell’s corps from moving to the west, as Gen. Pope had ordered. Jackson, however, having sent one brigade across the Rappahannock the previous day, over beyond the Federal right flank, was unable to cross any more troops since the torrential rains of the night before had swollen the river beyond anyone’s ability to bridge it. So Gen. Early’s brigade is isolated for most of the day. In spite of Pope’s insistent orders that Gen. Sigel advance his corps and crush this one brigade, Sigel is slow to move: by evening, the river has gone down enough for Jackson to build a bridge (and he does, as he personally supervises, covered in mud), and begins crossing more troops, thus saving Early.

Jackson saves Early's brigade while Sigel piddles

—Gen. Halleck sends Maj. Gen. Horatio G. Wright to Kentucky to take command of the Department and troops there, and prepare to defend against the anticipated Confederate invasion.


—Pres. Abraham Lincoln’s Letter to Horace Greeley is published on this date in the New York Tribune. (Ironically, while Lincoln seems to suggest a cynical indifference to the fate of the slaves, at the time he writes this letter he has the Emancipation Proclamation sitting in his desk---which he has already shared with his Cabinet earlier in the summer---and he has apparently already decided to use it, just as soon as the Federal armies can come up with a convincing victory.) But these lines from his letter become some of the most oft-quoted words from the War:

My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by feeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause.

But many who read the letter as indifference to slavery miss the import of his concise closing thought:

I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.

—George Michael Neese, of the Confederate artillery, recounts his battery’s experience as they move to flank Pope’s army, and the clashes between Stuart’s cavalry (and artillery) with the Yankees:

This afternoon about four o’clock we went in an orchard a little below the Springs hotel and opened fire on a Yankee ordnance train that was moving back from the river in the direction of Warrenton. It was heavily guarded and proved to be something more than an ordnance train, for immediately after we opened the Yanks returned our fire promptly and in a businesslike manner with a six-gun battery, but their gunnery was very indifferent and wild. They scattered their shell all over the adjacent fields, ranging in altitude from the earth to the moon. We kept up a steady fire for two hours. Then my gun, like a fidgety, naughty child, kicked loose from its mounting and had to be taken from the field for repairs. The other guns in the battery were fired at intervals until dark. . . . Jackson’s troops are camped near the river on the Rappahannock side opposite to the Sulphur Spring. Some of his men were building a bridge to-day across the Rappahannock near the Spring. . . . Down the river and not far away the whole country is full of Yankee infantry and artillery. I have not seen any of their cavalry to-day. I suppose they are hunting for us somewhere around Catlett, where we left our tracks last night. We have nothing on this side of the river but cavalry and our battery, and the river is past fording. If the Yanks knew how easily they could undo and rout us in our present situation they would make us get away from here quicker than lightning can scorch a cat.

—Sarah Morgan writes in her journal of the news that Baton Rouge has been sacked and looted by the Yankee soldiers:

Yesterday Anna and I spent the day with Lilly, and the rain in the evening obliged us to stay all night. Dr. Perkins stopped there, and repeated the same old stories we have been hearing, about the powder placed under the State House and Garrison, to blow them up, if forced to evacuate the town. He confirms the story about all the convicts being set free, and the town being pillaged by the negroes and the rest of the Yankees. He says his own slaves told him they were allowed to enter the houses and help themselves, and what they did not want the Yankees either destroyed on the spot, or had it carried to the Garrison and burned.

—Surgeon Alfred L. Castleman of the Army of the Potomac writes with disgust in his journal about the retreat and about the petty jealousies amongst the generals:

August 23rd.—We have now, at least for the present, bid farewell to "the Peninsula," the land of blasted hopes, the place of our disappointments, the hot-bed of disgrace to the finest army of modern times. General Pope having drawn off the rebel army to give us an opportunity to escape from our perilous position, we passed from Harrison’s Point to Hampton without a fight or without a hostile gun being fired. Never since the retreat of Napoleon from Moscow, has there been so disgraceful a failure as this Peninsula campaign indeed, not then. For, although Napoleon failed in the object of his enterprise, before he retreated he saw the Russian Capital in flames and his enemy abandon his stronghold, whilst we witnessed the daily strengthening of the enemy’s capital, and were driven out of the country we went to chastise, without having accomplished a single object of our visit. . . .
The jealousy of our commanders towards General Pope is so intense, that if I mistake not, it will, on the first occasion, "crop out" in such form as shall damage our cause more than all the cowardice, incompetency and drunkenness which have so far disgraced our campaigns. General Pope’s advance proclamation was construed into a strike at McClellan’s manner of warfare, and, notwithstanding that the former has publicly disclaimed any such intention, there has existed an intense bitterness between the friends of the two ever since, nor is it lessened by the subsequent failures of McClellan and the reported successes of Pope. It is interesting, but saddening, to witness the brightening of countenances among some of the staffs of the army of the Potomac, whilst listening to or reading the reports of the repulses of General Pope. Stonewall Jackson’s official report of his "splendid victory" over our army of Virginia, has caused more joy amongst them than would the wining of a splendid success by McClellan himself. Our Generals seem to have forgotten that this is the people’s war, not their’s; that it is waged at the cost of the treasure and of the best blood of the nation, not to promote the ambitious views of individuals or parties but to protect the people’s right to Government. I begin to fear that patriotism as an element of this army is the exception, not a rule.

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