Conclusion and Assessment
The Union bridgehead was removed during the overnight of July 28-29. Grant , searching for some justification for the miserable performance, noted that they had drawn five Confederate divisions north of the river. It made no difference as the mine explosion led to nothing but a bloody fiasco. The promise of operations north of the James was not fulfilled in this operation but the idea was not abandoned. The Union forces would make another foray across the river in August.
Most that have looked at this minor campaign have cast a disdainful eye on Hancock’s effort here. My reading on the operations here expand that criticism to nearly all the commanders involved. Only Colonel Foster seems to have turned in a credible performance. He was tasked to gain and maintain a bridgehead and he did so. The other commanders did not live up to that standard. A review:
Hancock: The criticism of Hancock is well deserved. The Hancock that led II Corps across the James was not “Superb”, in fact he would have a hard time qualifying for “Mediocre” here. His decision to shift away from the original plan so early without so much as a reconnaissance started a chain of events that left him incapable of accomplishing his primary mission. By moving away from the upper bridge he allowed a vastly inferior force extra time to increase their defensive posture. Putting the water obstacle and distance between himself and the enemy he allowed them to choose their ground with time to more fully develop the position.
Sheridan: The cavalry commander ceded all authority to Hancock and displayed none of the aggressiveness that marked his other campaigns. When Hancock needed prodding to push him ahead Sheridan offered no such reinforcement. Sheridan did not write a report on the operations at Deep Bottom and mentioned it in his memoirs only to deflect all responsibility to Hancock for the conduct of the campaign.
Kershaw: The Confederate commander got off to a bad start. He assumed the defensive instead of the desired offensive operations thereby passing on the opportunity of striking the Union bridgehead at its weakest. Was he assumed the offensive he was never quite able to eliminate the bridgehead as desired by Lee. He was soundly beaten back in the meeting engagement with the Union cavalry although he gained a measure of redemption when the sloppy fight with the Union troopers dissuaded them from following up their success.
The real value of this campaign is to highlight the value of force multipliers. At critical moments in the operations both sides used these to achieve critical results. The Confederates, with the time allotted them by Hancock’s move away, used terrain and defensive works that allowed a handful of undermanned brigades to stop a much more powerful force. The Union cavalry was able to use their rapid fire weapons to create a volume of fire that allowed them to defeat a foe foe that had traditionally scoffed at them. The concept of force multipliers is still a major factor in American military planning.
- Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Volume XL
- Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies Volume 10
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- The 24th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers 1861-1866 by Alfred Roe
- Diary of Battles, Marches, and Incidents of the 7th South Carolina Regiment
- War memories of an Army Chaplain by Henry Clay Trumbull
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- The story of one regiment: the Eleventh Maine Infantry Volunteers
- Committee Official Virginia Civil War Battlefield Guide by John Salmon
- The Boy General: The Life and Careers of Francis Channing Barlow by Richard Welch
- History of the 1st New Jersey Cavalry by Henry Pyne
- A History of the First Regiment of Massachusetts Cavalry Volunteers by Benjamin Crowinshield
- Personal Reminiscences of Service in the Cavalry of the Army of the Potomac by Hampton Thomas
- History of a Cavalry Company by William Hyndman
- History of the Seventh Regiment of Cavalry New York State Volunteers by Noble Preston
- Reminiscences of the 6th New York Cavalry by Alonzo Foster
- History of the Ninth Regiment New York Volunteer Cavalry by Newel Cheney
- History of the Seventeenth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry by Regimental Committee
- Personal Memoirs by Philip Sheridan