150 Years Ago, June 1863

150 Years Ago

June 1863


The war is entering its’ third summer with no end in sight.  Some people in the North are questioning both the possibility of victory and what value victory would have.  The Washington Richmond front monopolizes people’s attention.  Robert E. Lee seems invincible going from victory to victory.

Chancellorsville is a body blow to the Northern public.  “Fighting Joe” Hooker, with every military advantage, has been badly beaten in spite his very quotable statements.  This theater has seen McClellan, Pope, McClellan, Burnside and Hooker fail to win a battle.  Victory at Antietam is lost in the disappointment in Lee’s army “escaping” back to Virginia.  Fredericksburg, the Mud March and Chancellorsville have wiped any Antietam smile off the public’s face.  More and more Democrats are questioning the war and winning elections by doing so.

Lincoln is unwilling to contribute to the “lose a battle, lose your job” mindset developing in the East.  However, Hooker shows no signs of resigning.  Another problem is who would Lincoln get to replace him?  Most of the McClellan faction is anathema to the Republicans in Congress.  The majority of professional Army officers are Democrats, a questionable affiliation for Congressional Republicans.  Others have conditions that Lincoln is unwilling or unable to satisfy.  Pope made promoting a Western General problematic.  Besides, who can be taken away from his army in the West?

Since Rosecrans’ victory at Stones River in January, the Army of the Cumberland has sat at Murfreesboro.  While Rosecrans asks for everything in the arsenal with no apparent plans to move.  Grant’s closing on Vicksburg was a long slow process.  Washington is abuzz with rumors about Grant’s drinking problems and incompetence at Shiloh. Grant with no real enemies has few friends in the city.  Sherman has a powerful brother in the Senate.  However, the newspapers hate him and he has “crazy” in his past.

Jefferson Davis has similar problems, after Robert E. Lee, the South has no army commander.  Braxton Bragg commands the Army of Tennessee in the face of determined opposition from his officers.   Bragg’s defeat at Perryville and Stones River did nothing for his reputation with the army, Congress or the public.  Davis wants to keep Bragg in command and hopes Bragg and Polk can start working together.  Joe Johnston or P.G.T. Beauregard wait in the wings but Davis dislikes both of them.  Johnston has refused to say Bragg has to go for fear appearing to steal his command.   Longstreet would like an independent command and pushes for a Western strategy.  For whatever reasons, Davis never considers Longstreet as a replacement for Bragg.

A curious thing is happening, almost unnoticed and seldom commented on is the development of generals.  In the North, Grant, Sherman, Thomas, Meade, Hancock, Sheridan, Logan and many other men are moving into key positions, replacing the original generals.  Generals are being developed from brigade to army commander.  The South seems unable or unwilling to do the same thing.  Bragg is frozen in place in Tennessee.  There is no reason to consider replacing Lee.  Johnston moves from back and forth from command to window dressing.  Longstreet, the Hills, Ewell, Polk, Hardee, Cheatman continue to fill the Corps commanders positions.  The South found its’ generals in 1861 and never saw a reason to look for more until 1864.

Burnside starts June by closing the Chicago Times for “disloyal pronouncements”.   The resulting uproar is another problem for Lincoln.

Clement L. Vallandigham, by order of Jefferson Davis, is detained as an enemy alien in Willington.

On the third, the Army of Northern Virginia starts marching from Fredericksburg to the Shenandoah Valley.  What becomes the Gettysburg Campaign is forming.

Stanton revokes Burnside’s closing of the Chicago Times under orders from Lincoln.  The Copperheads will not go away and will continue to be an irritation.

The Army of the Potomac starts testing Confederation strength at Fredericksburg.  A.P. Hill drives of an infantry probe on the fifth.

J.E.B. Stuart holds a Grand Review on the sixth, 8,000 cavalry parade before a large crowd.

The same day, Kirby-Smith is ordered to attack Milliken’s Bend.  At 0530, on the seventh, he attacks.  Initially, the outnumbered Federals are forced back.  A determined stand along the river back backed by gunboats ends the battle after three hours of hard fighting.  The 9th Louisiana, the 13th Louisiana and the 1st Mississippi USCT, while newly recruited, are instrumental in holding the line.  Several CSA POWs are killed for doing the same thing to USCT POWs.

On June 9th, the Union Cavalry holds a graduation ceremony at Brandy Station by surprising Stuart’s HQ.  Approximately 20,000 cavalrymen charge and counter charge for about ten hours in the largest cavalry battle of the war.  Stuart wins a “tactical victory” by holding the field and inflicting more casualties.  Brandy Station shows the Northern Calvary is now the equal of their southern counterpart.  The Southern press is critical of J.E.B. Stuart for being surprised, one of the few times the press is not cheering for him.  Pleasonton tells Hooker that Lee is advancing north.

Mortar boats resume the bombardment of Vicksburg firing an average of 175 shells each day at the city.  On the 15th, Johnston wires Pemberton to abandon the city and save the army.  The wire never reaches Pemberton.

June 10 is considered the official start of the Gettysburg Campaign as Ewell’s II Corps leaves Culpeper marching toward Maryland.

On the 11th, Peace Democrats in Ohio nominate Clement L. Vallandigham as their candidate for Governor.  Vallandigham is in Canada having been expelled from both the Unites States and the Confederate States.

The same day, the 54th Massachusetts is part of the force that burns Darien Georgia.

From the 12th to the 15th, Ewell’s II Corps maneuvers against and fights Federal forces in the Shenandoah Valley.  He destroys General Robert H. Milroy’s Winchester garrison by killing or capturing 50% of the men and most of his wagons and cannon.  This impressive victory is Ewell’s first as commander of the II Corps.

While Ewell is opening the door for Lee’s invasion; Pennsylvania governor Andrew Curtin is calling out the militia.  President Lincoln follows by calling for 100,000 militiamen from Maryland, Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Maryland’s reaction is a mix of excitement and panic.

On the 16th, the Army of Northern Virginia fords the Potomac River at Point of Rocks.  In response, the Army of the Potomac moves to Fairfax Court House.

The telegraph lines between Washington and Joe Hooker are very busy.  On the 13th, Hooker moved the AoP from the Rappannock to Centerville.  On the 14th, Lincoln his “the animal must be very slim somewhere.” Telegram.  Halleck and Hooker fight over where the AoP should be positioned.  Halleck insists Washington be protected, the city is starting to panic.  Hooker wants to confront Lee north of the city and save the garrison at Harpers Ferry.

On June 17th, cavalry fighting erupts at Aldie and Middleburg as Stuart tries to screen the AoNV and Pleasonton tries to break through his screen.

U.S. Grant relives John A. McClernand from command of the XIII Corps on the 18th.  Edward O.C. P. Ord replaces him as corps commander.  This solves a problem that festered for several months.

Since the 17th, Stuart and Pleasonton have been fighting in the vicinity of Aldie and Middleburg.   On the 20th, Stuart withdraws to Upperville.

West Virginia becomes the 35th state on the 20th as Baltimore barricades the streets to stop confederate raiders.

On the 21st, Pleasonton attacks Stuart at Upperville forcing him back to Ashby’s Gap.  Pleasonton informs Hooker that Lee is moving into the Shenandoah Valley.

June 22nd, sees two major events in Civil War Cavalry history: Alfred Pleasonton is appointed major general for the cavalry and J.E.B. Stuart receives orders from Robert E. Lee that allow him to conduct a raid behind the AoP and protect the AoNV’s right flank.  These vague orders leave Stuart with a wide range of possible actions.

The same day, with all eyes fixed on the East, Rosecrans issues orders to advance.  In a series of flanking maneuvers with little fighting Bragg is forced from Murfreesboro to Chattanooga and ultimately into Georgia.  Much of the marching is done in a downpour.  While there is a lot of skirmishing, the only large fight takes place at Shelbyville where Bragg suffers almost three times the casualties Rosecrans does.

By the 24th, the AoNV has crossed the Potomac.  The head is in Pennsylvania and the tail is near Sharpsburg, MD.

On the 25th, Stuart captures a wagon train at Rockville, MD.  At Haymarket, he finds the Federal II Corps.  Rather than backtrack, he rides east looking for the right flank of the AoP.

Hooker orders John F. Reynolds to take three corps and intercept the AoNV.

At Vicksburg, 2,200 lbs. of gun power destroy the 3rd Louisiana redoubt.  Grant is unable to break into the city stopped by the secondary fortifications.

Early’s division marches through Gettysburg on the way to York on the 26th.

The same day, Admiral Andrew H. Foote dies in New York City of wounds received at Fort Donaldson.

General George Gordon Meade takes command of the Army of the Potomac on June 27, 1863.  He takes command when Halleck accepts Hooker’s resignation over command of the garrison at Harper’s Ferry.  Halleck’s instructions to Meade are to cover Washington & Baltimore.  I Lee should move on either city, “it is expected that you will either anticipate him or arrive with him”.

At the same time, Robert E. Lee decides to concentrate around Chambersburg for a possible move on Harrisburg.

J.E.B. Stuart crosses into Maryland as the day is ending.

On June 28, Lee learns that the Army of the Potomac is at Frederick, Maryland.  They are in a position to threaten his right flank and/or rear.  He orders the Army of Northern Virginia to assemble in the Cashtown-Gettysburg area.

Jubal Early demands York give him supplies and $100,000 but settles for much less.

Confederate cavalry under Albert G. Jenkins get within four miles of Harrisburg and the capital panics.

In Vicksburg, Pemberton finds a note suggesting the city must surrender before they starve.

On the 29th, Meade starts his army marching north in Pennsylvania.

J.E.B. Stuart tears up some B&O track on his way to Westminster.

On the last day of June, John Reynolds commanding the leading elements of the Army of the Potomac’s advance into Pennsylvania orders his cavalry to secure Gettysburg.  General John Buford takes a position west of Gettysburg.  Late in the day, his men stop a Confederate probe coming east on the Chambersburg Pike.  J.E.B. Stuart & Fitzhugh Lee fight Kilpatrick at Hanover 10 miles east of Gettysburg.  This action forces Stuart away from Gettysburg and the AoNV.


Reading the war

Searching for George Gordon Meade by Tom Huntington is not limited to this month but it is an excellent study of how the winner at Gettysburg manages to almost disappear from history.

The Union Cavalry Comes Of Age: Hartwood Church to Brandy Station, 1863 by Eric J. Wittenberg is the best book I have found on this subject.

The Battle of Brandy Station (VA): North America’s Largest Cavalry Battle by Eric J. Wittenberg is a newer book on just the battle.

Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg by Eric Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi is THE BOOK on this subject.

Gaming the war

HPS Campaign Vicksburg has two Milken’s Bend games.  The first is with the historical forces and the second is a “what if” with extra units from the area.

HPS Campaign Gettysburg has historical and “what if” games for Brandy Station, Aldie and Second Winchester.  Additionally, they have a number of large games covering operations in the June march to Gettysburg.


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