September 13, 1862: Special Order No. 191

George B. McClellan throughout his life up until 1862 had been a very fortunate man.  Born into a family of wealth and prestige, he had gone through the Mexican War without a scratch and had been incredibly successful in civilian life, becoming president of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad at the age of 34.  In 1861 he had benefited from overwhelming numbers and lacklustre opposition in West Virginia, leading to Union victories which catapulted him to become General-in-Chief of the Union armies.

Then 1862 arrived and McClellan’s good fortune seemed to desert him.  His delay in launching a general union offensive caused Lincoln to remove him as General-in-Chief, in effect demoting him to simply being the commander of the Army of the Potomac.  His luck also seemed to go astray during his disastrous Peninsula Campaign, where his inordinate caution and meager battlefield generalship threw away a golden opportunity to seize Richmond and perhaps end the war.

After the crushing of Pope’s Army of Virginia at Second Bull Run, Lincoln reluctantly placed McClellan back in command to fight against Lee in his invasion of Maryland.  Now McClellan was lethargically following parts of Lee’s army, McClellan seemingly gun-shy after his defeat at the hands of Lee in the Peninsula Campaign.

On September 13, 1862 McClellan’s good fortune reappeared in a dramatic fashion.  At approximately 10:00 AM that day Corporal Barton W. Mitchell of the 27th Indiana volunteers found a copy of an order from Robert E. Lee wrapped around three cigars.  The order was dated September 9, 1862 and was designated Special Order No. 191.  The order presumably was lost by a staff officer of D. H. Hill’s division which had been camping on the ground  previously.  The order was a movement order which detailed how Lee had divided up his army for the Maryland campaign.  The order was quickly sent up the chain of command to McClellan.

McClellan was exultant.  With this order he knew how Lee had divided his command and where the separate pieces of the Army of Northern Virginia were marching.   “Here is a paper with which if I cannot whip Bobbie Lee, I will be willing to go home.”, he prophetically told his old friend General John Gibbon.  He telegraphed Lincoln:

The PRESDT,

I have the whole rebel force in front of me, but am confident and no time shall be lost. I have a difficult task to perform, but with God’s blessing will accomplish it. I think Lee has made a gross mistake and that he will be  severely punished for it. The army is in motion as rapidly as possible. I hope for a great success if the plans of the  rebels remain unchanged. We have possession of Catoctin. I have all the plans of the rebels, and will catch them in their own trap if my men are equal to the emergency. I now feel that I can count on them as of old. All forces of Pennsylvania should be placed to co-operate at Chambersburg. My respects to Mrs. Lincoln. Received most enthusiastically by the ladies. Will send you trophies. All well, and with God’s blessing will accomplish it.

Geo. B. McClellan

Here is the text of Special Order No. 191: (more…)

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Published in: on September 13, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on September 13, 1862: Special Order No. 191  
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November 5, 1862: Lincoln Removes McClellan

 

By November 5, 1862, Abraham Lincoln had reached the end of his patience with George B. McClellan, Commnder of the Army of the Potomac.  The story of the War in the East for the Union in 1862 was largely the tragedy of Little Mac.  A superb organizer and trainer of troops, and not a bad strategist, McClellan lacked all tactical ability and  could not win battles.  Additionally, he simply was afraid to risk the fall of the iron dice of war.  McClellan had created the Army of the Potomac and made certain that the men under his command were well supplied, paid on time, and well-equipped, and as the above video indicates most of his men were fond of him.  If some other general could have acted as field commander, McClellan would have made a fine chief of staff.  As it was, the Army of the Potomac was not going to meet with success as long as Lincoln left him in command, and his removal was inevitable.    Here is the text of the order removing McClellan and turning a page in the Union war effort: (more…)

Published in: on November 5, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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September 14, 1862: South Mountain

Following up on his intelligence coup of learning of Lee’s plans from Special Order No. 191, read about it here, McClellan threw his Army of the Potomac against three passes on South Mountain in order to attack Lee’s scattered units.

The three mountain passes attacked were Turner’s Gap and Fox’s Gap in the North and Crampton Gap in the South.  McClellan organized his army into three wings.  Major General Ambrose Burnside commanding the Right Wing with two corps was sent to attack Turner and Fox.  Major General William B. Franklin, commanding the Left Wing consisting of a corps and a division was tasked with taking Crampton.  Major General Edwin Sumner, commanding the Center Wing with two corps was left in reserve.  (One of McClellan’s vices as a commander was always keeping far too large a reserve.)

Franklin seized Crampton Gap, after a very slow preparation for the assault, from a miniscule Confederate force.

D.H. Hill’s division of 5,000 men initially was the only Confederate force defending the two northern gaps.  Lee, reacting with his usual preternatural skill to new circumstances, hurried reinforcements to Hill and, after a very hard-fought day, the Confederates held the two gaps. (more…)

Published in: on September 14, 2012 at 5:28 am  Comments Off on September 14, 1862: South Mountain  
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September 13, 1862: Special Order No. 191

George B. McClellan throughout his life up until 1862 had been a very fortunate man.  Born into a family of wealth and prestige, he had gone through the Mexican War without a scratch and had been incredibly successful in civilian life, becoming president of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad at the age of 34.  In 1861 he had benefited from overwhelming numbers and lacklustre opposition in West Virginia, leading to Union victories which catapulted him to become General-in-Chief of the Union armies.

Then 1862 arrived and McClellan’s good fortune seemed to desert him.  His delay in launching a general union offensive caused Lincoln to remove him as General-in-Chief, in effect demoting him to simply being the commander of the Army of the Potomac.  His luck also seemed to go astray during his disastrous Peninsula Campaign, where his inordinate caution and meager battlefield generalship threw away a golden opportunity to seize Richmond and perhaps end the war.

After the crushing of Pope’s Army of Virginia at Second Bull Run, Lincoln reluctantly placed McClellan back in command to fight against Lee in his invasion of Maryland.  Now McClellan was lethargically following parts of Lee’s army, McClellan seemingly gun-shy after his defeat at the hands of Lee in the Peninsula Campaign.

On September 13, 1862 McClellan’s good fortune reappeared in a dramatic fashion.  At approximately 10:00 AM that day Corporal Barton W. Mitchell of the 27th Indiana volunteers found a copy of an order from Robert E. Lee wrapped around three cigars.  The order was dated September 9, 1862 and was designated Special Order No. 191.  The order presumably was lost by a staff officer of D. H. Hill’s division which had been camping on the ground  previously.  The order was a movement order which detailed how Lee had divided up his army for the Maryland campaign.  The order was quickly sent up the chain of command to McClellan.

McClellan was exultant.  With this order he knew how Lee had divided his command and where the separate pieces of the Army of Northern Virginia were marching.   “Here is a paper with which if I cannot whip Bobbie Lee, I will be willing to go home.”, he prophetically told his old friend General John Gibbon.  He telegraphed Lincoln:

The PRESDT,

I have the whole rebel force in front of me, but am confident and no time shall be lost. I have a difficult task to perform, but with God’s blessing will accomplish it. I think Lee has made a gross mistake and that he will be  severely punished for it. The army is in motion as rapidly as possible. I hope for a great success if the plans of the  rebels remain unchanged. We have possession of Catoctin. I have all the plans of the rebels, and will catch them in their own trap if my men are equal to the emergency. I now feel that I can count on them as of old. All forces of Pennsylvania should be placed to co-operate at Chambersburg. My respects to Mrs. Lincoln. Received most enthusiastically by the ladies. Will send you trophies. All well, and with God’s blessing will accomplish it.

Geo. B. McClellan

In a future post we will examine what use McClellan made use of this military intelligence jackpot.  Here is the text of Special Order No. 191: (more…)

Published in: on September 13, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (7)  
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June 30, 1862: Battles of Frazier’s Farm and White Oak Swamp

As June 3oth dawned the Union army was in full retreat to the James.  By noon, one-third of the Army of the Potomac had reached the James, while the other two-thirds was strung out on roads leading to the James between Glendale and White Oak Swamp.  This presented a tempting target to General Lee.  Ordering Jackson in the north to cross White Oak Creek and press the Union rear guard, the remainder of the Army of Northern Virginia, some 45,000 men, would attack two miles southwest at Glendale, and inflict what Lee hoped would be a crushing defeat on the Union forces marching to the James.  It was a good plan that fell down almost completely in execution.

Jackson, with that strange lethargy that marred all his operations in the Seven Days, spent all of the day north of White Oak Creek, launching feeble assaults which were easily repulsed by the Union VI Corp under General William Franklin.

The Confederate attack at Glendale fared little better.  Huger’s division failed to participate in the offensive,  slowed by felled trees and the failure of Huger to take an alternative route.  Holmes and Magruder launched a weak attack against the V Corps of General Fitz John Porter, the attack being broken up by Union artillery fire, supplemented by naval bombardment.

At 4:00 PM the divisions of Longstreet and A.P. Hill attacked at Glendale with the fighting centering on Frazier’s Farm, held by the Pennyslvania Reserves division of the V Corps under General George McCall.  Hard fighting continued until 8:30 PM.  The Union line held, and the Union army continued its retreat to Malvern Hill on the James.  The battle resulted in similar casualties for both sides:  Confederate 3,673 and Union 3, 797.  A golden opportunity to do severe damage to the Union army had been missed due to the poor execution which was a hallmark of the inexperienced Confederate command structure during the Seven Days.  Here is General Lee’s report written on March 6, 1863: (more…)

Published in: on June 30, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on June 30, 1862: Battles of Frazier’s Farm and White Oak Swamp  
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June 29, 1862: Battle of Savage’s Station

On June 29, 1862, the bulk of the Army of the Potomac had gathered at Savage’s Station, a supply depot on the James River, preparing to pass over the White Oak Swamp.  Lee had again devised a complex plan of attack that his green army would have difficulty carrying out.  AP Hill’s and Longstreet’s division were ordered east towards Richmond and then southeast to take the Glendale crossroads, eliminating the possibility that they could participate in the attack on Savage’s Station. Holmes’ division was sent even farther south towards Malvern Hill.  Left for an attack on Savage’s Station was Magruder’s division to attack from the west and Jackson’s three divisions north of the Chickahominy above Savage’s Station.

Magruder attacked at 9:00 AM in a skirmish.  His main attack was not launched until 5:00 PM, Magruder realizing he was heavily outnumbered, 14,000 to 26,000.  Jackson did not attack, spending his time repairing bridges over the Chickahominy, and confused by a badly garbled order from Lee that caused him to think that he was ordered to stay north of the Chickahominy.  The battle was a bloody stalemate, with about 1500 casualties.  The Union army continued to retreat abandoning 2500 wounded in Savage’s Station.  Jackson got across the Chickahominy at 2;30 AM on June 30, far to late to participate in the battle or prevent the retreat of the Union army.  It is hard to believe that the Jackson who performed so ineptly in the Seven Days was the same man who had performed so brilliantly in the Valley just a few weeks before.

Here is General Lee’s report on the battle of Savage’s Station which was written on March 6, 1863: (more…)

Published in: on June 29, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on June 29, 1862: Battle of Savage’s Station  
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June 28, 1862: McClellan Orders Retreat to Harrison’s Landing

After the Confederate victory at Gaines Mill on June 27, General McClellan, the commander of the Army of the Potomac completely lost his nerve.  Certain that he was massively outnumbered by the Confederate’s, he ordered the withdrawal of the Army of the Potomac from its positions in front of Richmond to Harrison’s Landing on the James River.  McClellan did not direct this retreat, abandoning the army while he went to a position south of Malvern Hill.  He gave no marching orders for the corps under his command, leaving it to his corps commanders to do so.  Massive mountains of supplies and ordinance were set on fire, and the Union wounded were abandoned after the retreat following the battle of Savage’s Station.  Few episodes have been as shameful in the history of the United States Army, and the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of McClellan.  Instead of acting as the commander of an Army, McClellan was busily attempting to shift the blame for the debacle his inept generalship had created: (more…)

Published in: on June 28, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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June 27, 1862: Battle of Gaines Mill

Continuing on with our look at the Confederate offensive of the Seven Days, we come to the battle of Gaines Mill.  After the battle of Mechanicsville, Lee assembled a Confederate attack force of six divisions, 57,000 men, for the largest Confederate attack of the War, aimed at Porter’s V Corps, McClellan neither sending sufficient units from south of the Chickahominy to reinforce Porter, nor attacking against the weak Confederate forces holding Richmond, McClellan paralyzed by his belief that he was massively outnumbered both north and south of the Chickahominy.

McClellan’s order for Porter to withdraw came just before dawn on the 27th.  Numerous men in Brigadier General McCall’s division were captured by the Confederates due to the precipitate retreat necessary to comply with the order.  Porter picked out a good defensive position on a plateau behind Boatswain’s Swamp to make his stand.   He placed two divisions on the line and two divisions in reserve.

The battle began at 1:00 PM with a series of unsuccessful frontal assaults.  Jackson on the Confederate left was late again and not in position to attack until the general assault of 7:00 PM.  By this time the outnumbered Union troops were weary and the Union line crumpled up, Porter withdrawing in good order to the bridges over the Chickahominy, his corps crossing to the south side at 4:00 AM on June 28.  The battle was a clear-cut Confederate victory, although their casualties of 7,933 were slightly greater than the Union casualties of 6, 833.  The victory could have been greater if Jackson had been in position by 1:00 PM.  A retreat by Porter with eight hours of daylight could easily have ended in the destruction of Porter’s Corps.  As it was, McClellan was completely unnerved by the Confederate victory, and ordered a full retreat of his entire army from Richmond, which Lee and his army had saved.

Here is General Lee’s report on the Battle of Gaines Mill and its aftermath which was written on March 6, 1863: (more…)

Published in: on June 27, 2012 at 12:41 pm  Comments Off on June 27, 1862: Battle of Gaines Mill  
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June 26, 1862: Battle of Mechanicsville

The Battle of Mechanicsville, also known as the battle of Beaver Dam Creek. which opened the Confederate offensive of the Seven Days on June 26, 1862 was a tactical fiasco and defeat for the Army of Northern Virginia and a strategic defeat for the Army of the Potomac.

Lee’s plan to attack Porter’s V Corps, the only corps of the Army of the Potomac north of the Chickahominy, defeat it and turn the right flank of the Army of the Potomac went badly awry in execution.  Beginning the poor performance that would plague him throughout the Seven Days, Jackson was four hours late in attacking the north flank of Porter’s corps.  Instead, AP Hill attacked with his division  in futile and bloody frontal assaults which were easily repulsed by Porter.  After Jackson’s arrival, he bivouacked his men, although the sounds of a major attack were clear.  AP Hill renewed his attacks, reinforced by DH. Hill’s brigade, although Lee had ordered no more attacks and was again bloodily repulsed.  Confederate casualties were 1461 with Union casualties half this number.  So a humiliating tactical defeat for the Confederates marked by an inept inability on the part of Lee to put forward a coordinated attack.

However, McClellan turned this day of Confederate defeat into one of victory.  Assuming, as he always did, that he was heavily outnumbered, and fearing that Jackson was positioned to march into his rear and cut off his supply lines, McClellan ordered Porter to retreat, and decided to abandon his supply line which relied upon the rail line north of the Chickahominy, the York and Richmond Railroad, and to rely upon a supply line by water up the James River.  This decision meant that he was going to have to withdraw from his positions in front of Richmond and retreat down the Peninsula.  Few defeats have reaped such rich rewards as Mechanicsville did for the Confederacy.  Here is General Lee’s report on the battle of Mechanicsville which was written on March 6, 1863: (more…)