FROM THE RAPIDAN TO GROVETON
Imminent Peril of the Union Army Under Pope.
The unexpected not unusually happens in war. Aug. 13, 1862 Capt. Boswell, Stonewall Jackson's Chief Engineer, from a unobstructed view on Clark's Mountain, three miles east of Rapidan Station, saw Pope's army encampment around the slopes of Cedar Mountain, and reported to his chief the exact location of the Union army and its numbers. Jackson directed him to examine on the following day the most desirable route to turn Pope's flank and reach Warrenton. This officer recommended a march to the right, to the crossing of the Rapidan at Somerville's Ford, thence by Beverly Ford, on the Rappahannock, to Warrenton. Jackson approved of the plan, and at once placed his command in position to execute the movement on the arrival of Longstreet's Corps, then on the way from Richmond.
When Gen. Lee arrived he determined to attack Pope at early dawn Aug. 18, but delay on the part of some of his officers obliged him to postpone it until the 20th, when nearly all his troops would be up.
At this time the Union army was greatly outnumbered by the enemy. Fortunately for us, however, Gen. Pope had been advised of Lee's purposes. From spies within the enemy's lines, and from his cavalry, far to his front, Gen. Pope had learned that Jackson had been
and suspected that Lee's entire army was in his front. He had also been advised of a large force of the enemy behind a ridge beyond the Rapidan, on his extreme left, in readiness to move across Raccoon Ford to turn his flank and gain his rear. But the most startling information was obtained from a letter from Gen. Lee to Start, found on the person of Stuart's Adjutant-General, captured Aug. 16, in which the plans of the confederate commander were fully revealed.
It was now retreat or destruction for the Union Army. Gen. Pope chose the former, and moved at once toward that point where he had but a few days before told his men "shame and disaster lurked."
The retreat commenced on the 18th, and by night of the 19th the Rappahannock flowed between the hostile armies. The retreat was conducted with deliberation and was executed without loss.
On the 19th the flight of the Union army was discovered. Capt. Boswell, from the summit of Clark's Mountain, saw the Union encampments,
FADE FROM VIEW LIKE CLOUD SHADOWS,
while long lines of dust, rising above the treetops to the northeast, left no doubt in his mind that Pope was seeking a new base of operations.
Rarely had a better opportunity been offered for the destruction of an army, and the blame for the disappointment, on the part of the Confederates, fell upon Gen. Longstreet, who, it was claimed, had been unnecessarily slow in joining Jackson.
It was well for us all that Jackson, noted for estimating the true value of time, was not in command of the Confederate forces Aug. 18, 1862.
Thus far Gen. Pope was successful in parrying the blow that the Confederate chief had expected to make decisive.
From Aug. 20 to Aug. 27 heavy cannonading was maintained on both sides of the river from Kelly's Ford to Waterloo Bridge, and occasionally sharp infantry engagements took place at different points along the Rappahannock, but no great effort was made by the enemy to cross the river.
After dark, Aug. 24, Jackson withdrew his troops from the river bank opposite Sulphur Springs to give them needed rest for the arduous duty about to be undertaken, and Longstreet's men took their place. This was done to
ALLAY POPE'S SUSPICION
that a march to his rear was contemplated. At early dawn Aug. 25 Jackson's Corps was in motion. His line of march led to Amissville and then northeasterly to Salem, which was reached near midnight. The next morning the march was resumed through Thorughfare Gap to Gainesville and thence to Bristoe, which was reached at Sunset Aug. 26. His presence in Pope's rear was not suspected, neither was it discovered until Hooker arrived at Bristoe, Aug. 27, under orders to repair the break in the line of communications supposed to have been effected by Sturart's Cavalry, when a sharp engagement ensued between Gen. Carr's Brigade and Ewell's Division, which terminated at dark, each side having sustained some loss. Ewell then retired along the railroad and rejoined his corps, which had preceded him to Manassas. Gen. Pope arrived on the field abo0ut this time, and learning that
JACKSON WAS IN HIS REAR,
determined "to move on Manassas at day-dawn, and bag the whole crowd," and issued orders to McDowell, Heinzelman, and Reno accordingly.
The troops of McDowell's command - his own and Sigel's Corps - had scarcely finished their march of the 27th - King, Reynolds, and Ricketts from Sulphur Springs, and Sigel from Warrenton - before the troops of those commands were summoned again to new trials and greater exertions on the 28th. King's Division, marching swiftly from its bivouac near Buckland Mills, arrived at Gainesville about 9 a.m. Reynold's Division, having preceded King's when one mile east of Gainesville, was arrested in its march along the pike by a Confederate battery posted on the heights west of Groveton. Cooper's battery replied, and Meade's Brigade was deployed through the woods to the right. But when his skirmishers reached the point where the battery had been, the enemy had retired in the direction of Sudley church. Sigel threw his corps, which was at Gainesville,
INTO LINE OF BATTLE,
advanced his skirmishers, and reported to McDowell for orders. Hew was directed to march forthwith on Manassas, with Reynold's Division on his left - columns in echelon. King was to march on Reynold's left in like manner. Sigel's line of march carried his troops south, and away from the pike. He reluctantly obeyed, for he believed Reynolds had met Jackson. King's Division followed Reynolds down the pike toward Groveton, and, turning south at Page Land Lane, halted in an open woods a few hundred yards south of the Warrenton-Centerville Pike. It was now noon, and the men rested under groves of chestnut trees, and they that had them enjoyed their rations. The division remained in this position until late in the afternoon, it not being needed at Manassas, as Jackson had evacuated the place.
Jackson had eluded Pope. Marching his divisions by the Sudley Springs and Ball Run roads, on the night of the 27th, he reached a favorable position north of Groveton early in the afternoon of the 28th, and was in position
TO FLANK ANY FORCE
marching eastward along the Warrenton pike from Gainesville. Pope, in his blind groping after Jackson, followed Hill's rear guard to Centerville, where Kearny arrived in time to see it turn leisurely westward. McDowell, in order to comply with Pope's orders, moved all his troops away from Jackson, except King's Divison, and thus lost a splendid opportunity when Reynolds was attacked in the morning. Had he then thrown forward his two division-Reynolds' and King's and Sigel's Corps- Jackson would have been discovered before noon. Aug. 28th , and would have been compelled to fight a battle before his troops were reunited after their march from Manassas.
But at 5 p.m. the situation was changed. The divisions and corps of Pope's army, in scurrying here and there to find Jackson, had become widely separated. Pope, with Reno's and Heintzelman's Corps was between Bull Run and Centerville. Sigel and Reynolds were on the Sudley Springs and Manassas road, approaching the pike from the South; Proter was at Bristoe, Banks near Warrenton Junction, Ricketts at Thoroughfare Gap, engaged with the
TROOPS OF LONGSTREET'S CORPS,
and King on the Warrenton turnpike one mile west of Groveton, in the immediate vicinity of Jackson, whose presence was unknown to any of King's command. But Jackson had been well advised of King's movements, and when he saw his division advancing, unsupported, along the Warrenton pike, pushed Taliaferro's and Ewell's Divisions through the woods and fields, along the cut of an unfinished railroad, to intercept its supposed retreat. The division, however, was not retreating, but was marching on Centerville, in compliance with orders, in search of Jackson, whom Pope reported to be east of Bull Run.
Early in the afternoon McDowell, whose headquarters had been with King, rode off to Manassas. Between 4 and 5 p.m. the First Brigade (Hatch's, with the 14th Brooklyn, deployed to the let over Douglas's Hill, or heights back of Groveton, moved forward along the pike, and reached Groveton without encountering the enemy. About 6 p.m. the Fourth Brigade (Gibbon's) moved forward along the pike to Douglas's woods, through which the Warrenton pike passes half a mile west of Groveton. The head of his column was emerging from the woods, "when," says Gen. Gibbon, "I was moving in
ADVANCE OF THE BRIGADE
on the left of the turnpike, and happening to look off to my left I noticed a number of horses clear out of the timber. While I was looking at them and wondering whose they were, I saw the flanks of the horses. Being an artillery officer, I imagined what that meant. The horses were turning round and coming into battery. Turning to a staff officer, I told him to ride back on the road and bring up the first of my regiments that were coming up After he had gone I heard some other shots, and becoming impatient at the delay I rode back myself to meet the troops. I met in the timber the 2d Wis. I told the Colonel of it
TO MOVE RAPIDLY
in the direction which I gave him, and keep his men quiet; to pus rapidly to the front, and we would catch one of J.E. B. Stuart's batteries, which he had undoubtedly thrown in his reckless way to the front.
"As soon as the line was formed the men started up the timber on an open knoll. I followed in the rear of the regiment. They scarcely reached the top of the hill before they were opened on by a line of skirmishers; our skirmishers were employed, the regiment moved to the front; the artillery that had been firing upon us ceased at once, and as this regiment advanced it was opened upon by a very heavy fire of infantry."
Before the 24th Wis. Advanced from the timber the Second Brigade (Doubleday's) moved at 6 p.m. down through the woods from the position between Page Land and Meadowville Lanes, over a rough road that intersects the pike a few hundred yards west of Douglas's woods. When the pike was reached the head of the column turned to the right, and was marching with
INFANTRY AND ARTILLERY
in parallel columns through an open country, when suddenly, without a thought of the proximity of the enemy, a rapid fire of artillery sent bursting shells into the ranks. The General ordered the van forward double quick, the leading regiment (76th N.Y.0 reaching Douglas's woods as Gibbon advanced the 2d Wis., with the intention "to shoot the horses and capture the guns," which he supposed belonged to a cavalry battery, but was met by the fire of a large army.
It was a critical moment. The 2d Wis., must be succored. Gibbon immediately sent forward his remaining regiments - the 19t Ind. To the left, the 7th Wis. To the right and 6th Wis. To the right of the 7th. The whole line became heavily engaged, and Gibbon sent to Gen. King for assistance. King could not be found, as he had left the division after it filed out of Page Land Lane and came
UNDER THE ENEMY'S FIRE
Gibbon reported this fact to Doubleday, who at once sent forward his own brigade to Gibbon's support. The 56th Pa. went in somewhere near the 19th Ind.; the 76ths N.Y. pushed forward through the woods and came into line on the right of the 6th Wis., just as the enemy was swinging around to take the latter on the flank. A well directed fire from the 76th N.Y. defeated this movement, and the whole line advanced to within less that 100 yards of the enemy's position.
Gibbon had posted Campbell's battery on a bare crest on the northeast corner of Douglas's wood, with the 6th Wis. In support, but was compelled almost at the onset to call this regiment to the front. When Gen. Doubleday arrived on this part of the field he found Campbell's battery without the necessary infantry support, and unable to open fire. Capt. Monroe's Rohde Island battery, which had suffered some from the enemy's fire while coming up, was placed near Campbell's battery, with the 95th N.Y. in support of both. The three Confederate batteries that opened fire a the onset were gallantly met by the fire of Monroe's guns, under the direction of Gen. Doubleday, who so disposed these pieces that he soon sent the Confederate artillery to new position on the right of their line.
Gibbon's and Doubleday's troops were now were all in action, and were compelled to oppose
for there was no superior officer present with authority to order up reinforcements.
The right of our line reached a point in an open field nearly half a mile north of the pike, a few hundred feet in front of which, on a low ridge, was the railroad cut , and on the right a fringe of woods, both of which sheltered some of Ewell's troops. On the left the hostile lines were formed in and around the orchard and enclosure of the Douglas-Browner house.
"When the troops reached its position it was getting dark," says Maj. Thornton, of Ewell's staff: "We could not exactly make out the Union line. Gen. Ewell dismounted and went forward to reconnoiter, and right down there by those trees is where a ball struck his knee and crushed the bones. We carried him to the rear and his leg was amputated." (The clump of trees to which the Major referred was almost directly in front of the center of the 76th N.Y.)
The prolongation of our line to the right by the 76th N.Y. taking position on the right of the 6th Wis. puzzled Gen. Ewell, who, in the darkness of approaching night, did not see this regiment come up, as its
MOVEMENTS WERE MASKED
by the dark field and wood in its rear and by the movement of the 6th Wis. from the right of the 76th N.Y. across its front to take position in line of battle on the right of the 7th Wis., which was already engaged with the enemy.
While the 6th Wis. And 76th N.Y. were opposing a firm front to Lawton's and Trimble's Brigades, of Ewell's Division, the four regiments on the left were contending fiercely with three brigades of Taliaferro's Division, for when the hostile lines were not more than 75 yards apart they stood and for nearly one hour discharged their muskets literally into each other's faces.
"The conflict was fierce and sanguinary and the Federals maintained their ground with obstinate determination," is the tribute Jackson pays in his official report to the heroic conduct of the men of Wisconsin and Indiana, of Pennsylvania and New York.
The loss of life an limb was heavy. More than one third of the Union command were left dead or wounded on the field. Where the wounded were gathered by the Surgeons in the deep forest near the Warrenton pike torches shed a gloomy light on a still more gloomy scene. After the conflict had ceased the Union troops were withdrawn to a field near the pike, where, with arms in hand, they slept, while the two brigade commanders whose troops had showed such heroic resistance to an overwhelming foe were
IN DEEP CONSULTATION
with the division commander, Gen. King, who had returned to his command after the close of the battle. The result of the council was an order to march to Manassas at 1 a.m. next morning.
It is remarkable that the brigades of Patrick and Hatch were not brought into action. The darkness may have prevented their getting into line, but it is more than probable that in the absence of the division commander the bridge commanders were left without a proper head from which to receive instructions. It would not be too much to say that King's conduct lost to us our hold on the Warrenton pike that night. If six regiments were able to hold Jackson in check and prevent his reaching the pike and capturing our trains, what would have been the result had the 16 regiments composing the division been pushed into action? King's absence during the battle of Gainesville, as it is called, has never been satisfactorily explained. Had Gen. McDowell remained with this division, instead of leaving it wholly in command of a General who was never known to lead his troops into action, this untimely retreat might have been prevented; but he left this division just before the conflict and rode off to confer with Gen. Pope. He was at Manasass when
THE SOUND OF GIBBON'S GUNS
was borne to his ears. After several unsuccessful attempts to rejoin his command, he was compelled to pass the remainder of the night by the roadside near the famous Stone House, two miles east of Gibbon's battlefield. The next morning he found Gen. Reynolds near at hand, and learned from him that King had retired to Manassas. Gen. Reynolds had been with King the night before; having left his division near the Chinn House, he rode forward in the darkness and joined King while he and his brigade commanders were in consultation. He told King to remain where he was, and he (Reynolds) would reinforce him at daylight next morning with his division, which was a mile away. Now, with another battle imminent, McDowell was without a command, except the small division of Reynolds's. His other two divisions, in his absence, met the enemy the night before, and their commanders, left to their own unaided reasons, had fallen back. King to Manassas and Ricketts to Bristoe Station, where he had bee compelled to retire before the
ONWARD SWEEP OF LONGSTREET'S CORPS.
In reviewing the events connected with this unfortunate day, Aug. 28, we are not surprised that Gen. McDowell, in his official report, calls the battle of Gainesville simply "an affair."
It was a battle, nevertheless, and it is doubtful whether the six regiments engaged therein were ever before or since menaced with as certain destruction as they were that night on the heights west of Groveton, when the lives of so many brave men went out forever.
From the foregoing statement of Gen. Gibbon regarding the opening of the conflict, it will be seen that the battle of Gainesville was a complete surprise, and also that no precaution had been taken by those in authority to prevent such an event. Furthermore, it will be observed that while Gibbon's Brigade was in advance of Doubleday's in the line of march along the pike toward Centerville, that, in advancing against the hostile batteries posted on an elevation a few hundred feet north of the pike, the 2d Wis. Was obliged to oblique to the left tin the direction of Gainesville; for the rebel batteries were directly north of Doubleday's Brigade when the first shots halted the column. Doubleday's troops were at once ordered forward along the pike to Douglas's woods, the 76th N.Y. arriving as the last of Gibbon's men, the 19th Ind., were called to the front. In going into line of battle, Doubleday's troops except the 56th Pa., which was ordered to Gibbon's left, moved due north of Douglas's woods, and march into line on the right of
"THE IRON BRIGADE"
as Gibbon's Brigade was afterward called; an appropriate name for that organization of brave men, conspicuous for their gallantry on every field from Gainesville to Appomattox.
This explanation seems necessary, in as much as many of the participants in this engagement are of the opinion that Doubleday was moving in advance of Gibbon along the pike and when the shock of battle came Doubleday's troops retired to Douglas's woods and left Gibbon's men to bear the brunt of battle. The hurried movement of troops in the oncoming darkness was so confusing that even Gen. Doubleday in map of this battle places the 6th is on the right of the line. Undoubtedly the movement of that regiment from Campbell's battery, which occurred about the time Doubleday arrived in person on the bare crest northeast of Douglas's woods, which was then the extreme right of the line, misled him, instead of moving north, it moved obliquely to the left, and came into line on the right of the 7th Wis., just a few moments before the 76th N.Y. took position on their right. The line of battle now stood diagonally to the Warrenton pike, the left near it, and right nearly half a mile north of it near the
ABANDONED RAILROAD CUT.
The survivors of the 76th N.Y. well remember, as they were moving up the slope diagonally across the rear of the 7th and 6th Wis., seeing gaps at times in the ranks of the latter regiments as the enemy fired volley after volley into them. And they will also recall the brave mounted officer who, riding closely in the rear of his regiment, withstood fro a time the terrific storm of leaden ball to reel at last from his saddle as his horse reared and plunged forward.
No one who saw the fie as it leaped in waves from the musket's mouth that August evening, and heard the myriad of shot and shell hiss and shriek through the air, or strike with heavy thud the living mark, will soon forget it.
When a mere lad the writer saw a painting of a battle in Mexico , representing the American army charging up a hill under a galling fire Looking back now through the vista of years, the battle of Gainesville is a reproduction of that painting. But that night, while marching up the slope with his comrades into line of battle, Gibbon's troops, on their left front, struggling up the hill, great gaps momentarily appearing in the ranks to be closed up quickly, as the line unwaveringly withstood the shock of arms; the dead and wounded lying in pairs or heaps on the green turf leading to the field; the awful din of musketry and roar of artillery; the fiendish shriek of round shot and shell; the groans of the wounded, and the look of imploring helplessness that the dying cast around for the succor which no sympathy could yield them, all made up what that painting lacked - reality.
Transcribed by B. Conrad Bush
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