Tempest at Ox Hill: The Battle of Chantilly, Part 8

by Brett Schulte on November 10, 2005 · 0 comments

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

After quite a lengthy period of time, longer than I had planned, I’ve finally come to the end of the road with Welker’s Chantilly book. In this final installment, I’ll cover the retreat of the Union Army to Washington, D.C., Welker’s conclusions in a very interesting and thought-provoking final chapter, and the usual end of book items such as the bibliography, notes, and index. In addition, I’ll give my opinion on the maps and OOBs and its usefulness to the wargamers out there. A review should be forthcoming some time late this weekend.

Chapter 11 – A Retreat On All Fronts – Tuesday, September 2 To Wednesday, September 3, 1862
After holding out for as long as possible, Pope finally received a direct order to retreat at noon on September 2. Welker says that for the most part this was a needless order, but it did absolve Pope of some of the responsibility for the retreat. Incredibly (to me at least), Pope thought he might still be able to retain his command. Welker does credit Pope with a calm, orderly retreat after Chantilly. He says that the “qualities John Pope lacked in leading men on the battlefield were made up for in administrative acumen” during this march. Lee talked to Jackson and apparently agreed with him that Pope might attack on the 2nd because the ANV stayed in place into
the morning of that day. By noon, after skirmishers had been sent out, it was known that the Yankees were in full retreat. For the first time in quite some time, the Confederates were given rations as well. This was the first day in a week these men had any chance to really rest. Lee began thinking about a plan he and Jackson had been discussing for weeks: an invasion of Maryland. Lee’s friend, speaking after the war, stated, “after Chantilly he found he could do nothing more against the Yankees, unless he attacked them in their fortifications around Washington, which he did not want to do. He therefore determined to cross the river into Maryland…” President Davis had agreed to an invasion as long as Richmond was safe from attack. Davis’s conditions were met and then some due to the disorganized condition of the Union Army. Lee still didn’t know where Pope (and his fresh AotP troops) were exactly located, so he sent “Jeb” Stuart’s Cavalry towards Washington, D.C. to find out. The Yankee retreat was marked by confusion: men took wrong roads, others waited in traffic jams, and many straggled. there was a running rear guard action between Stuart and two Union regiments, the 1st Minnesota and the 19th Massachusetts, plus Battery A of the 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery. Pope was still trying to figure out how to keep the Army, but it no longer mattered. Pope had been relieved of command on September 2 and McClellan was put in charge of the Union defenses around Washington. Whether he was ever named commander of the field force he led into Maryland a few days later is another question. McClellan rode out to meet his Army and met Pope as well. John Hatch, angry at Pope for having been sent to the infantry, loudly ordered three cheers for Little Mac. The army obliged and cheered him as he rode down the line of march. Jackson and his command left Ox Hill on September 3 bound for Maryland. That evening Lee’s Army stopped at Leesburg, Virginia, and they crossed the Potomac on September 4, 1862, headed for a showdown at Sharpsburg. Lee met little resistance at first as McClellan reorganized the Union Army, but the resistance stiffened greatly. Little Mac managed to get his men in fighting trim much faster than anyone expected. Pope’s Army of Virginia ceased to exist and a larger Army of the Potomac emerged. Welker notes that Chantilly was all but forgotten in between the two major battles at Second Manassas and Antietam. For the men who fought and lost friends there, though, they would never forget.

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8

Chapter 12 – An Afterward – Who Won The Battle Of Chantilly
Each side believed they had won, but Welker calls this a “contest of perspectives.” The Confederates were the numerical victors. They had lost 83 killed, 418 wounded, and 15 missing for a total of 516. The Union, by comparison, lost 136 killed, 450 wounded, 69 missing for a total of 655. The southerners were even larger victors when looking at percentages lost. The Yankees lost 11.3% of those engaged, while the Confederates lost a much smaller 3.4%. But Welker points out that numerical comparisons are only useful if the forces roughly equal in size and composition, and this was definitely NOT the case at Ox Hill. Six thousand Union troops in 19 regiments faced fifteen thousand Confederates in 51 regiments. If you look at the tactical situation, it results in a stalemate. The Union commanders, Stevens and Kearny, achieved their (admittedly limited) goals by preventing Jackson from interrupting the northern retreat, though at the cost of both their lives. Jackson, taking the safe course by simply defending against a numerically inferior opponent, still managed to achieve this limited tactical goal. It strikes me as interesting that both sides operated under the assumption that the other would be attacking soon in great force. The strategic situation was clearly a victory by Pope. Lee’s stated goal was to interpose his Army between Pope and Washington, D.C., while Pope simply wanted to reach Washington safely. Interestingly, Welker puts forth the theory that maybe Lee WANTED to fail in this goal. Why? Welker believes he may have wanted to fail in order to set the stage for an invasion of Maryland, and by failing he set up the perfect opportunity to do this. Did Chantilly really matter in the overall view? Welker says it doesn’t appear to be the key battle many believed when it happened, because Washington wasn’t truly saved by the fight. He doesn’t believe Lee could have taken Washington. In fact, he says Lee never even intended to attack Washington’s fortifications directly. Kearny’s and Stevens’ deaths impacted the war more, according to the author. Both would have been Corps commanders had they lived, since both had subordinates assume that role not long after the battle of Antietam. At the end of the book, Welker gets into the slippery slope of ‘what-ifs’, saying Kearny would have prevented Lee from retreating unscathed at Gettysburg. You can’t look ahead in a vacuum like that though. If Kearny had been appointed commander, would there have even been a Battle of Gettysburg? And that doesn’t even take into account Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.

Notes, Bibliography, and Index
The notes run from pages 255-266, which is fine for a book of this size. The bibliography, running from pages 267-271, contains many varies sources, including the Official Records, unit histories, biographies of the principal leaders, personal reminiscences from men who were there. I noticed Welker relied on Sears, Hennessy, and Harsh, which IMHO is a good thing. I realize Sears has a massive anti-McClellan bias, but if you read him knowing this then it isn’t a problem. I’ve read Hennessy’s Campaign Study and Map Study of the Second Manassas, and I enjoyed it tremendously. I have yet to read Harsh, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about him. The index is located at the back of the book, as usual, from pages 273-279. I likewise was satisfied with the length of the index for a book of this size.

Order of Battle, Maps & Wargaming
The Order of Battle runs from page 248 to page 254. It is a standard OOB, with Brigade commanders and up listed, with no regimental commanders or unit strengths. The maps were pretty solid, going down to the regimental level on the Union side. The maps do have some weak points. Namely, there are no topographical lines, the direction north is at an angle on the page, and the maps are not to scale(!). Eleven total maps give the reader both a good view of the campaign and a zoomed in level of detail for the tactical contest on September 2. Wargamers are probably not going to get a whole lot of information from this one. As stated earlier, there are no real regimental level strengths. Also, the maps only go down to brigade level on the Confederate side. I believe this is because the available records simply do not state the Confederate alignment for the most part with any kind of uniformity or accuracy. I make this assumption because all of the sources on Chantilly seem to organize their maps in the same way. A better place to go is the Battle of Chantilly web site at http://www.espd.com/oxhill/ (thanks to miniatures gamer Scott Mingus for pointing this out).

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