Tempest At Ox Hill: The Battle of Chantilly, Part 2

by Brett Schulte on October 6, 2005 · 0 comments

Tempest at Ox Hill: The Battle of Chantilly
by David A. Welker

Chapter 1 – The Long Road to Chantilly – May to August 30, 1862
1. In chapter one, Welker discusses the events leading up to the Battle of Chantilly. He starts in May 1862 by discussing Jackson’s famous Valley Campaign. The troops which would eventually form Pope’s Army of Virginia were the unwilling foils to Jackson’s brilliant strategic maneuvers. It was Jackson’s feats that caused Lincoln and his cabinet to decide to create a unified command to prevent another debacle from occurring in the Valley. This command went to John Pope in late June 1862. In addition, Henry Halleck was appointed General-in-Chief, thus demoting McClellan from his command of the Army of the Potomac. Needless to say, McClellan was less than thrilled with these events. He had wanted to use Pope’s troops in his own Peninsula Campaign, and Halleck’s appointment meant he was no longer General-in-Chief. Welker goes on to describe the Campaign of Second Manassas in surprising detail. The first chapter is 25 pages long, and due to a quirky page layout with skinny margins all around, that’s a lot of material for background. As the chapter ends, the Union Army is licking its wounds at Centreville on the night of August 30, and Lee is already looking for ways around Pope.

2. Welker establishes early on that Pope had a habit of pausing at key points when he should have acted. The first pause came in late August when Jackson flanked him and got squarely between Pope and Washington, D.C. A second came when he had decided to attack Jackson on the morning of August 30. He believed the Rebels to be retreating, but instead bowed to his subordinates’ wishes to launch a lesser attack. The result was Porter’s V Corps of the Army of the Potomac beating its head against Jackson’s position along the Unfinished Railroad. Pope’s delays were not his only flaws. His attacks on August 29 were poorly coordinated and lacked the power to decisively break through Jackson’s lines. Even as poor as these attacks were, they briefly broke through several times. I’ve gamed Second Manassas in several formats, and the frustration of ALMOST breaking through when saddled with what Pope gives you in the historical scenarios is palpable. On the plus side, it does make for fun gaming…

3. McClellan’s possibly treasonous behavior is discussed as well. His “leave Pope to get out of his own scrape” message has been discussed ever since Little Mac wrote it. I agree that McClellan had a rather high opinion of himself and that he disliked Pope and Halleck. You’d simply need to read his letters to his wife to gather that much. However, I am of the opinion that McClellan did not consciously try to hold back his Army to allow Pope to lose. For one, half of the AotP was already fighting with Pope. As much as McClellan loved his troops, I don’t think he wanted to see thousands killed and wounded for his pride alone. Now unconsciously? That’s another story. Regardless, I don’t think anyone can prove this one either way. It will be debated for eternity.

4. I’m purposely trying not to give away too much in the comparisons and contrasts with Taylor and Welker so my future essay doesn’t seem like rehashed junk, but Welker made an interesting point at the close of the chapter, and one I agree with strongly. He notes that Washington was guarded by 35 infantry regiments, or “nearly an entire Union Corps” in his words. He does not believe Lee could have taken Washington, and he doesn’t think Lee even seriously considered this strategy. Instead, Lee’s goal was to either capture part of the Army of Virginia before it could get to Washington, or failing that, to force them into the Washington defenses and clear his way for an invasion of Maryland.

As usual, I welcome any comments, especially if you feel strongly one way or the other about McClellan or the possibility of Lee taking Washington, D.C.

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