Franklin’s Crossing Conclusion

by Dan O'Connell on February 27, 2013 · 0 comments

June 6-9

The Federal VI Corps troops were firmly established on the south bank of the Rappahannock by nightfall on the 5th. The assault troops were reinforced by BG Albion Howe’s 2nd Division 3rd Brigade*. On the morning of the 6th the Vermonters pushed out a strong skirmish line to meet a refreshed effort by the Confederate skirmishers. The day long small unit actions did little to alter the situation at the river other than add 17 (4k and 13 w) members of the 6th Vermont to the casualty list. Behind the skirmish line the old enemy works were leveled and reversed positions were started. The engineers also finished a second span across the river. On the 7th the 2nd Division was replaced by BG Horatio Wright’s 1st Division. A short artillery exchange that prevented the Confederates from placing a battery in harassment range and continued the exchange of occasional gunfire among the pickets was the full extent of combat operations. The Engineer Battalion laid out a new line for the defense of the bridgehead. A large fatigue detail of MG John Newton’s 3rd Division troops was sent over to assist in constructing the new line. The men worked throughout the night and by morning of the 8th “a line of works, about a mile in length, running from a point a short distance below the Barnard House to a point above the bridges” was complete. The work continued on the 8th and 9th with the emplacement of batteries and the removal of trees. Soldiers of the 5th Maine were astonished when they reported for fatigue duty and remained completely unmolested although they were within open presence of the Confederate defenders;

“Why they let our men quietly entrench themselves when it lay within their power to put them to a great deal of inconvenience, seemed strange at the time.”

But more realistic members of the unit saw the method to the apparent enemy madness.

“It was understood, however, long before our troops moved from those plains, that the enemy were making an aggressive movement on some point, and so probably they designed to hold our corps there in order to prevent its interference with any rebel plans or movements.”

At Federal headquarters another issue distracted MG Hooker. A 5 June report by BG John Buford placed the entire Confederate cavalry at Culpeper County. Hooker believed that Stuart and his troopers intended a major raid into Maryland and summoned his own cavalry chief, MG Alfred Pleasonton to meet the challenge. He was “determined to break it up (Stuart’s raid) in its incipiency.” Concerned that Pleasonton lacked sufficient strength to confront the massed cavalry of the Confederates some of the VI Corps troops were drawn away to act as foot cavalry. The action would lead to the battle of Brandy Station.

*The 2nd division contained no 1st Brigade, the 2nd Bde was comprised of the Vermont troops and the attached 26th New Jersey, and 3rd Bde was made up of 33rd NY, 43rd NY, 49th NY, 77th NY, 61st PA, and 7th Maine.

A Grand Proposal – June 10 and 11

The surprisingly large cavalry show down at Brandy Station apparently opened Hooker’s eyes to the scope of the Confederate movements. Reports of the battle and confirmation of Lee’s movements gave him what he needed to suggest the action he had been considering all along. On 10 June in a lengthy message to the President; Hooker proposed the following;

“If to effect this he should bring up a considerable force of infantry (to support Stuart) that will so much weaken him in my front that I have good reason to believe that I can throw a sufficient force over the river to compel the enemy to abandon his present position…he can leave nothing behind to interpose any serious obstacle to my rapid advance on Richmond.”

Hooker continued to build his case for aggressive action finally asking the President;

“…will it not promote the true interest of the cause for me to march to Richmond at once?”

Hooker felt extremely confident that if left to his own judgment such a move would give “the rebellion a mortal blow.” Lincoln, however, was less than impressed by the plan. He again reminded Hooker, apparently ignoring the fact that he had already done so, that he should not go south of the Rappahannock. He completely dismissed the proposal as an unnecessary risk telling the general that even if he could invest Richmond he could not “take it in twenty days.” Being removed from his line of communications for such a time, the President thought, could be ruinous to his army. It would also allow time for a Confederate army to approach the Federal capital before he could react contrary to the standing order to protect Washington. Lincoln suggested that Lee’s army and not the Confederate capital should be the focus of his operations. The following day (11th) Halleck responded to the plan in a tersely worded message that agreed fully with Lincoln’s assessment. Hooker’s grand design was squashed but the position on the south bank of the Rappahannock remained in place. There was little activity at the river other than rotation of units into the defenses, continued improvement of the works, and light skirmishing. The unproductive stalemate continued. Conclusion Hooker’s plan was dissolved by disagreement from above but that did not create an immediate change to the situation at the river. June 12th and 13th saw a continued shuffling of units but little action. The 10th Massachusetts Infantry moved several times during the final days in expectation of an attack, but nothing came of it. In the afternoon of the 13th “a thick cloud of dust” indicated “a heavy column of Lee’s troops moving to our right (up river).” In the midst of a violent rain the federal bridgehead was removed having accomplished nothing. The troops of the 5th Maine were nevertheless delighted. They were prepared to “go anywhere, get anywhere rather than stay on that plain.”

Evaluating Hooker’s Franklin’s Crossing operation is difficult because it essentially was conducted for no apparent purpose. Those things that can be said about it are negative.
-An operation of this size should not have been conducted without prior approval of its ultimate purpose. The possibility of an attack on the enemy capital has enough possible strategic impact to warrant concurrence at the highest level. Agreement with that purpose should not have been assumed particularly in the face of Lee’s movements.
-Even if approval had been granted H ooker ceded surprise and initiative with his lengthy delay at the bridgehead.
-It is doubtful he could have put enough troops into action and also maintain the required defensive posture towards Washington to make a successful run at Richmond.

The Franklin’s Crossing farce evaporated much of the last remaining credibility Hooker had with his superiors after Chancellorsville. An argument with Halleck over the fate of Harper’s Ferry was the last straw. Hooker was replaced with Meade. In an interesting note on the VI Corps move to Gettysburg, the Confederate forces opposing him at the river arrived on July 1st. Despite the shorter inside track VI Corps did not arrive until the afternoon of the 2nd.

Franklin's Crossing (Campaign Series)

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