The General

Eric J. Wittenberg is an award-winning Civil War historian. He is also a practicing attorney and is the sole proprietor of Eric J. Wittenberg Co., L.P.A. He is the author of sixteen published books and more than two dozen articles on the Civil War. He serves on the Governor of Ohio's Advisory Commission on the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, as the vice president of the Buffington Island Battlefield Preservation Foundation, and often consults with the Civil War Preservation Trust on battlefield preservation issues. Eric, his wife Susan, and their two golden retrievers live in Columbus, Ohio.


Part four in a series.

Cross-posted at Emerging Civil War.

In part three of this series, we examined the question of how George G. Meade’s operational orders and the logistical challenges forged by the atrocious weather affected the Army of the Potomac’s pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia after the Battle of Gettysburg. In this part, we will examine the question of whether Meade should have attacked Lee’s positions around Williamsport earlier than the general advance that he ordered for the morning of July 14. When that advance finally occurred, the stout Confederate defenses were empty, with the bulk of Lee’s army having already made it to safety across the Potomac River.

Logistics continued to be a problem. “Our government was putting forth Herculean efforts to crush Lee’s army before the river fell,” quite correctly observed a New York infantryman, “but in great movements there are always some delays.” Nevertheless, by July 11, the Army of the Potomac had taken position opposite the Army of Northern Virginia. The situation was the direct opposite of what had occurred at Gettysburg: this time, Lee had the interior line with a supporting road network and good lines of communication and supply that was anchored on high ground, while the Union army had a longer, more attenuated line opposite it. Lee’s engineers had chosen their position wisely, and his men had had four full days to dig in and construct stout defenses. “The idea of fighting with a left flank sticking in the air & an unfordable river behind us was unpleasing in the extreme until indeed we got our works built,” recounted one of Lee’s men, “& then we were ready and confident.”

The Union position was nowhere near as strong or as appealing as that of the Confederates. Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum, the commander of the XII Corps, did not like his position one bit, describing it as “utterly untenable.” Slocum could see the construction work going on across the way, and he realized that the Army of Northern Virginia was building a stout position for itself. The Union line extended from Hagerstown (an attack by George A. Custer’s Michigan Cavalry Brigade and the XI Corps on July 12 cleared the last Confederate forces out of Hagerstown that day) to the north all the way to the southern end of the old Antietam battlefield several miles away. The Union line was long and somewhat attenuated, and there was a fairly deep valley of no-man’s land between the Confederate position and the Union position. Although the Army of the Potomac’s position was on high ground, the Confederate position was much stronger and had shorter, interior lines.

The problem was that Meade had no idea what the Confederate position looked like. Nobody knew how long it was, and nobody knew how strong it was. J.E.B. Stuart’s dauntless Confederate cavalry had done a magnificent job of keeping the active and diligent troopers of Buford’s and Kilpatrick’s cavalry divisions from coming anywhere near it by taking the fight to the Union horse soldiers and keeping them tied up by constantly attacking them until the defensive position was ready and Lee ordered Stuart to take up a position on his flank, inviting an attack by Meade. Consequently, nobody in the Army of the Potomac’s high command had any real concept of what to expect. “Now we have Meade where we want him,” declared a Confederate officer. “If he attacks us here we will pay him back for Gettysburg. But the old fox is too cunning. He waits for our attack; but we surely will not make the same blunder twice.”

“Attacking a defensive position is like a climb,” observed Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the commander-in-chief of the French armies during World War I, “in which the details have to be studied and carefully anticipated and the condition of success is timely and precise execution.” Foch’s statement was true when he made it during the Great War, and it was likewise true when applied to George Gordon Meade’s situation at Salisbury Ridge at Williamsport. Foch’s words of wisdom help to explain Meade’s actions on July 12, 1863.

Given the failure of Pleasonton, who had been relieved of his duties as temporary chief of staff and who had returned to his permanent role as commander of the Cavalry Corps, to find and provide detailed and accurate intelligence on the dispositions of the Confederate army, it was, therefore, prudent and wise to find and reconnoiter the Confederate line. Consequently, Meade ordered the Army of the Potomac to probe at Lee’s position, and his men spent the 11th and 12th doing just that, with sharp skirmishing spreading up and down the length of Lee’s nine-mile-long line of battle. He wanted to attack on July 13, but he was concerned about it and wanted the opinions of his commanders before issuing the necessary orders. He held a council of war on the night of July 12, where he polled his officers. His new chief of staff, Humphreys, chief engineer, Brig. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren, and all of his corps commanders attended the meeting. Gen. James Wadsworth, filling for an ill John Newton, Howard, Pleasonton and Warren all wanted to attack, but Sedgwick, Slocum, Sykes, French and Hays were opposed. Humphreys, Pleasonton and Warren were not given a vote, meaning that five infantry corps commanders were opposed, and only two in favor of attacking on July 13. Even though he was spoiling for a fight, Meade wisely elected to follow the wishes of his commanders. July 13 would be spent further probing the Confederate defenses, and then the army would make an all-out assault all along the lines first thing in the morning on July 14.

Unfortunately for Meade, the water level of the flooded Potomac River had been dropping steadily and was almost fordable. Further, Lee’s quartermaster officers had been busily building a new pontoon bridge across the river at Falling Waters, where Longstreet’s and Hill’s corps would cross (the Confederate pontoon bridge across the river had been destroyed by a Union cavalry task force on July 4, and a new one had to be constructed from materials scavenged from local barns and warehouses). Only Ewell’s corps and the cavalry would cross at Williamsport. By the night of July 13, the level of the river had dropped to the point where the river could be forded at two locations at the Cushwa Basin in Williamsport. The movement began after dark, with Stuart’s men creating a diversion to foster the illusion that the Southern infantry still manned the lines. By the time that the Union attack kicked off early the next morning, only Maj. Gen. Henry Heth’s division of Hill’s Third Corps remained north of the Potomac River. When the Union infantry advanced on the morning of July 14, it found the formidable Confederate works empty. The fates had deprived George Gordon Meade of the opportunity to test the mettle of his army on the Maryland side of the Potomac.

“No commander ever gains perfect intelligence,” correctly notes Prof. Christopher Stowe, who is the authority on George Gordon Meade, in pointing out how badly Alfred Pleasonton failed Meade during the pursuit of Lee’s army after the Battle of Gettysburg. “The multitude of messages flying back and forth paints an always-varied, often-contradictory, and almost-immediately dated situation. The key here is what Frederick the Great called coup d’oeil–the ability to anticipate and respond to events on the battlefield (or in the operational area) quickly. Meade was too new to the command and control of a mass army acting on the operational offensive and was mentally and physically exhausted; thus he didn’t entirely trust his judgment during the weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg.”

As Stowe properly points out, Meade’s management of the pursuit was far from perfect. Again, it bears noting that when the pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia began on July 7, George Gordon Meade had all of nine days of experience under his belt as an army commander, three of which had been spent locked in mortal combat with a dangerous enemy. Probably as a consequence of his inexperience, he might have been more confident and might not have called the council of war on the night of July 12, and instead might have ordered an all-out attack all along his lines for July 13.

As his staff officer Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman astutely observed of Meade in the fall of 1863, “He doesn’t move unless he knows how many men he has, how many men his enemy has, and what kind of country he had to go through.” As Stowe points out, this trait was “admirable in the main, but in a people’s war, this can have a deleterious effect in one’s job security.” Lyman accurately described who George Meade was—a man who wisely and sensibly made his dispositions and plans based on accurate information. Pleasonton’s egregious failure to provide him with the detailed and accurate intelligence he needed probably caused the inexperienced army commander to be unduly cautious in holding the July 12 council of war instead of pitching in, as his aggressive nature was telling him to do.

We will never know how that cautiousness would have played out. As we will examine in the fifth installment of this series, the defensive position designed and constructed by Robert E. Lee and his engineers was incredibly strong, well-prepared, and amply manned with soldiers whose morale remained high in spite of their defeat at Gettysburg, and the Army of the Potomac may very well have dashed itself against the Scylla and Charybdis of Lee’s army, thereby negating the army’s great victory in Pennsylvania.

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Part three in a series.

Cross-posted at Emerging Civil War.

General Robert E. Lee

General Robert E. Lee

In part two of this series, we examined the impact of the heavy losses sustained by the command structure of the Army of the Potomac on its ability to bring the Army of Northern Virginia to battle again before it could cross the rain-swollen Potomac River after the Battle of Gettysburg. In this part, we will examine the operating orders and operating environment that greatly hindered Meade and kept him tied to Gettysburg for three days after the end of the battle.

At all times pertinent, Meade was under orders to ensure that his army remained interposed between Lee’s army and Washington, D.C. This mandate severely limited Meade’s ability to operate. Lee’s army began its retreat late on the day on July 4, and it had largely abandoned the battlefield by the afternoon of July 5. However, it was unclear whether Lee intended to retreat across the Potomac River and to the safety of Virginia, or whether he intended to find a strong defensive position in the mountains of central Pennsylvania, hole up there, and wait for Meade to attack him on ground of Lee’s own choosing. Lee’s intentions did not become obvious until the failed attempt of Brig. Gen. John Buford’s First Cavalry Division to seize and hold the Potomac River crossings at Williamsport, Maryland on July 6 that Lee intended to use to get across the flooded river. Buford’s report that all of the Army of Northern Virginia’s wagons and elements of its infantry were present in Williamsport that night finally provided Meade with the proof he needed to set the Army of the Potomac in motion since he no longer had to worry about Lee holing up in the mountains to the west of Gettysburg or his trying to take Washington.

However, Lee’s retreat provided a different set of problems for Meade. Still constrained by the orders to keep his army interposed between Lee and Washington, Meade had to use a longer route to advance on Lee. Rather than simply following Lee along the same roads that the Southern army had used, Meade had to follow along the eastern spine of South Mountain, keeping Washington covered at all times. This added distance—and time—to the route of march and prevented the Army of the Potomac from arriving at Williamsport as quickly as it otherwise might have. Mix in the head start enjoyed by the Army of Northern Virginia and the flanking route forced upon Meade meant that not only would Lee enjoy the initiative, it also meant that Lee and his engineers would have plenty of time to choose and develop a strong defensive position along the northern bank of the Potomac River.

Once Meade was persuaded that Lee had retreated to the Potomac River crossings on the night of July 6, he set the army in motion. And once it began moving the Army of the Potomac moved with alacrity. As just one example, by late afternoon on July 8, one of the divisions of the XI Corps was in position to reinforce Buford’s fight against J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate at cavalry at Boonsboro, Maryland, having covered 42 miles to get there. By the 10th, nearly the entire army was in position. It simply is not true to say that the Army of the Potomac did not move promptly once Meade set it in motion.

The fact that it did so is nothing short of remarkable given the logistical constraints it faced. It began raining heavily late in the day on July 3, and did not end for a number of days. It must be remembered that there were no paved roads in those days, so the heavy roads turned most dirt roads into bottomless seas of sticky muck that greatly inhibited movement, prompting a Massachusetts soldier to describe the roads as “one immense hogwallow the entire distance.” The mud was between ankle and knee deep in most places, meaning that each step was exhausting for the blueclad soldiers, whose woolen trousers, woolen socks, and brogans became sodden and heavy with the thick, gooey mud that they had to slog through. “The mud,” grumbled one, “in some places seems bottomless and ankle deep at best and tenacious as glue.” If the going was this difficult for men marching on foot, imagine how difficult the passage was for wagons and artillery, which bogged down completely in the thick mire.

The men of the VI Corps in particular had a hard way to go. They had to cross Catoctin Mountain during the dark, rainy night, climbing four miles up the steep mountain on their hands and knees as they struggled along. “The road was narrow, crooked, and rocky, closely hugged on either side by the thicket of trees and bushes,” recalled Pvt. Wilbur Fisk of the 2nd Vermont Infantry. “The night was dark as inky blackness, and the rain poured as I have seldom seen it pour before. The road was steep, awful steep, so steep that one fellow, who was perhaps inclined to exaggerate a bit, declared it was worse than perpendicular, that the hill rather canted under.” They spent the entire night fighting the mountain, soaked to the skin and coated with mud. “Napoleon crossing the Alps will no longer be mentioned as the climax of heroic accomplishments,” declared Fisk. “Sedgwick marching over the Catoctin Mountains has entirely eclipsed that. That was undoubtedly bad enough, but it bears a feeble comparison to what we did.”

The one good thing about the route of march forced upon the Army of the Potomac by Meade’s operating orders was that much of the Army of the Potomac utilized the macadamized National Road, one of the few hard-surface all-weather roads in the area. Named for their inventor, the Scottish civil engineer John Loudon McAdam, these roads consisted of compressed layers of gravel set on a cement bed with limestone shoulders and with drainage ditches on either side of the road. Ditches at the sides of the road provided necessary drainage. While hardened and much less prone to turning into mud bogs, they had rough, abrasive surfaces that played havoc on horseshoes and brogans. However, the macadamized National Road permitted the Army of the Potomac’s rolling stock, in particular, to move much more quickly than it otherwise might have, thereby mitigating some of the time factor involved. The National Road also allowed the weary Northern infantry to escape from the bottomless mud pits that the rest of the road network had become.

Thus, the combination of Meade’s operational orders—having to keep his army interposed between the Army of Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. at all times—and not knowing what the enemy’s intentions were for the first couple of days, keeping him pinned in Gettysburg until Lee’s intentions could be determined with certainty, delayed his movement and then forced him to employ a longer route of march, severely limiting his ability to move directly on the Potomac River crossings. Then, the terrible weather conditions and the major logistical challenges that the atrocious conditions caused created nearly insurmountable hurdles. That the disparate elements of the Army of the Potomac moved as quickly and as efficiently as they did was a remarkable accomplishment that is too often overlooked, and is a credit to Meade’s staff for managing this operation.

Finally, we must examine the logistical situation. The Army of the Potomac had used up much of its ammunition and supplies at Gettysburg. The limbers of its artillery units needed to be refilled, and so did the cartridge boxes of the infantry. Meade’s logistical chain needed time to re-supply the army. That practical necessity also hindered Meade’s decision-making freedom. The Army of Northern Virginia, by contrast, had been receiving supplies around the clock at Williamsport. A small ferry called Lemon’s Ferry carried Lee’s wagons across the Potomac River one at a time and returned with crates of supplies. The ferry ran twenty-four hours a day, and each trip brought back more ammunition and other supplies. By the time that the Army of the Potomac was in position to attack, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia had been fully resupplied.

In part four of this series, we will examine the question of whether the Army of the Potomac should have launched an attack on Lee’s positions around Williamsport sooner than its general advance on July 14, which found the trenches empty and Lee’s army gone.

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Part two in a series

Cross-posted at Emerging Civil War.

In the first installment of this series, we reviewed the findings of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War with respect to the conduct of the pursuit of the defeated Army of Northern Virginia by Maj. Gen. George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac. Specifically, the Joint Committee’s report, penned by Radical Republican Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio, condemned Meade’s conduct of the pursuit. Wade claimed that the army commander’s pursuit was conducted too timidly and too slowly, thereby allowing the defeated Confederate army to escape. This article will examine how the heavy casualties among the Army of the Potomac’s command structure severely inhibited its ability to fight another decisive battle.

As an initial point, it bears noting that Meade had been in command of the Army of the Potomac for a mere five days when the Battle of Gettysburg ended. He obviously was very inexperienced as an army commander, but in spite of that inexperience, he fought a great defensive battle and did what his predecessors had been unable to do: defeat Robert E. Lee on the field of battle. But he also had never managed a large-scale pursuit of a defeated enemy, and had to do so under some really terrible conditions and circumstances.

Due to the exigencies of changing commanders on the eve of a great battle, Meade was stuck with Joseph Hooker’s chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Daniel Butterfield. Meade despised Butterfield, and Butterfield in turn returned the sentiment. They barely tolerated each other. Butterfield was wounded during the artillery barrage before Pickett’s Charge, leaving Meade without a chief of staff until his friend Andrew A. Humphreys became chief of staff on July 10, 1863. For that week, his de facto chief of staff was Cavalry Corps commander Brig. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, who simply did not have either the bandwidth or the talent to perform both roles at the same time. That, in turn, badly affected the efficiency of both the Army of the Potomac’s staff AND the Cavalry Corps, which had a leadership vacuum when it most needed firm and attentive leadership.

As one example, Brig. Gen. David M. Gregg’s Second Cavalry Division briefly pursued the Confederate wagon train of wounded when it left Gettysburg, including fighting a rear guard action near Caledonia Furnace. Once that wagon train of wounded reached the Mason-Dixon Line, Gregg had no orders to go further, and his division went into camp near Chambersburg, effectively out of the war for a week. Nothing further is heard from any of Gregg’s three brigades until July 15, AFTER the Army of Northern Virginia had made its way across the Potomac River to safety. Further, Pleasonton’s inattentiveness and inefficiency meant that there was no coordination whatsoever between the activities of Brig. Gen. John Buford’s First Cavalry Division and Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick’s Third Cavalry Division other than the attempts to coordinate made on an ad hoc basis by Buford and Kilpatrick on the night of July 5, and then again on July 8 during the Battle of Boonsboro.

However, the failure of Buford and Kilpatrick to coordinate their attacks allowed at least an entire division (Maj. Gen. Henry Heth’s Division of Lt. Gen. A. P. Hill’s Third Corps) to escape at Falling Waters on July 14. A coordinated attack by two full divisions of cavalry may well have bagged Heth’s entire command on the north side of the Potomac River. Instead, the disjointed and uncoordinated attacks of Buford and Kilpatrick, while they led to the mortal wounding of Brig. Gen. James J. Pettigrew and the capture of a good number of prisoners, did not accomplish anything close to what more coordinated and better-timed efforts would have. Pleasonton’s preoccupation with serving as chief of staff meant that numerous opportunities were lost, assets were not utilized properly, and without adequate leadership. That the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps performed as well as it did during the pursuit is a credit to Buford and Kilpatrick.

In addition, Meade lost three of his seven infantry corps commanders. Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds, a fellow Pennsylvania and career Regular with whom Meade was close, was his principal subordinate, and the one upon whom Meade had relied most heavily. Reynolds, who had reportedly turned down command of the army, was a wing commander at the time he was killed, responsible for more than half of the Army of the Potomac (the I, III, and XI Corps). Reynolds was also very aggressive, and when he fell, Maj. Gen. John Newton replaced him. Newton was a capable professional soldier, but he was brand new to corps command—he had never commanded a corps before July 1, 1863—and was naturally cautious as a result. Further, the I Corps took very heavy losses on July 1, and was a shadow of its former self as a result. Meade simply could not rely upon Newton to be aggressive.

Likewise, Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock, commander of the II Corps, was badly wounded during the repulse of the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble attack on July 3. After Reynolds fell, Meade sent Hancock to Gettysburg to take command of the field and to determine whether it was a good place for the army to stand and fight. Hancock had been magnificent throughout the entire Battle of Gettysburg, and his loss was immeasurable. Again, he was an extremely aggressive soldier who vigorously advocated a counterattack after the repulse of Pickett’s attack. When Hancock went down with his wound, Brig. Gen. William Hays took his place. Hays, recently exchanged after being captured at Chancellorsville on May 3, 1863, had never commanded a division previously, let alone a corps. A West Pointer and career artillerist, Hays had no experience with commanding such a large body of men and was also very cautious as a result of his inexperience.

Finally, Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles, the commander of the III Corps, while an amateur soldier, was nothing if not aggressive. Sickles had no formal military training and held his lofty position as a result of his having been an influential Democratic Congressman from New York. His aggressive movement of his entire corps forward to a plateau along the Emmitsburg Road caught the brunt of the furious Confederate attack on July 2, 1863, and Sickles had a leg taken off by a Confederate cannonball. Brig. Gen. David Birney, another officer with no formal military training, temporarily assumed command of III Corps by virtue of being its senior division commander. Then, on July 10, Maj. Gen. William H. French assumed command of III Corps when his division was incorporated into the corps. French, a West Point-trained career artillerist, was a hard-drinking professional soldier who had washed out of division command with the Army of the Potomac once before. French was not known for being aggressive—it’s entirely likely that the most aggressive move that Old Blinky, as he was known the men in the ranks for the frenzied way he fluttered his eyes when he talked, ever made was on a bottle of whiskey. During the winter of 1863-1864, the III Corps was dissolved just so that the Army of the Potomac could be rid of French.

The remaining corps commanders were Maj. Gen. George Sykes (V Corps), Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick (VI Corps), Maj. Gen. O. O. Howard (XI Corps), and Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum (XII Corps), with Slocum being the most senior at eight months. Slocum, known for being exceedingly cautious and by the book, had the unflattering nickname of “Slow Come”, and had refused to come to the field and take command on July 1 after Reynolds fell. Sedgwick, in command of the VI Corps for about six months, was capable and popular with the men, but was not known for aggressiveness either. Howard had performed wretchedly at both Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, and, while more aggressive than the others, was largely incompetent as a corps commander. And Sykes, another career Regular who carried the descriptive moniker of “Tardy George”, had only been promoted to corps command when Meade was ordered to assume command of the army on June 28. He was inexperienced in corps command and was also not known for aggressiveness.

Thus, having lost his most aggressive commanders and saddled with very inexperienced corps commander, Meade had nobody to advocate really aggressive activity. Further, he lost the two subordinates he most trusted and depended on most heavily in Reynolds and Hancock, and instead had to rely upon four inexperienced temporary corps commanders in Newton, Hays, Birney and French. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that the Army of the Potomac did not rashly pitch into the Army of Northern Virginia’s positions along the Potomac River.

The Army of the Potomac’s strength on June 30, 1863 was approximately 93,000 men. It suffered more than 23,000 casualties, or losses of about 25%, at Gettysburg. It also suffered heavy losses among its brigade commanders. These heavy losses, combined with the casualties sustained in the high command of the army, their replacement with officers who were far less aggressive, and the inattentiveness and inefficiency of Alfred Pleasonton, all conspired against Meade.

In the next installment, we will examine the operating orders and environment that governed most of Meade’s actions and which hindered his ability to act freely in pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia.

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imrsHere is some fascinating food for thought on how the Confederacy is remembered today, and why pernicious myths about it spun by Lost Causers greatly impact the way we remember it today. I think that the analysis set forth in this article is right on the money. It appeared in the July 1, 2015 edition of The Washington Post.

Why do people believe myths about the Confederacy? Because our textbooks and monuments are wrong. False history marginalizes African Americans and makes us all dumber.
By James W. Loewen, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Vermont, is the author of “Lies My Teacher Told Me” and “The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader.”

History is the polemics of the victor, William F. Buckley once said. Not so in the United States, at least not regarding the Civil War. As soon as the Confederates laid down their arms, some picked up their pens and began to distort what they had done and why. The resulting mythology took hold of the nation a generation later and persists — which is why a presidential candidate can suggest, as Michele Bachmann did in 2011, that slavery was somehow pro-family and why the public, per the Pew Research Center, believes that the war was fought mainly over states’ rights.

The Confederates won with the pen (and the noose) what they could not win on the battlefield: the cause of white supremacy and the dominant understanding of what the war was all about. We are still digging ourselves out from under the misinformation they spread, which has manifested in our public monuments and our history books.

Take Kentucky, where the legislature voted not to secede. Early in the war, Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston ventured through the western part of the state and found “no enthusiasm, as we imagined and hoped, but hostility.” Eventually, 90,000 Kentuckians would fight for the United States, while 35,000 fought for the Confederate States. Nevertheless, according to historian Thomas Clark, the state now has 72 Confederate monuments and only two Union ones.

Neo-Confederates also won parts of Maryland. In 1913, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) put a soldier on a pedestal at the Rockville courthouse. Maryland, which did not secede, sent 24,000 men to the Confederate armed forces, but it also sent 63,000 to the U.S. Army and Navy. Still, the UDC’s monument tells visitors to take the other side: “To our heroes of Montgomery Co. Maryland: That we through life may not forget to love the thin gray line.”

In fact, the thin gray line came through Montgomery and adjoining Frederick counties at least three times, en route to Antietam, Gettysburg and Washington. Robert E. Lee’s army expected to find recruits and help with food, clothing and information. It didn’t. Instead, Maryland residents greeted Union soldiers as liberators when they came through on the way to Antietam. Recognizing the residents of Frederick as hostile, Confederate cavalry leader Jubal Early ransomed $200,000 from them lest he burn their town, a sum equal to about $3 million today. But Frederick now boasts a Confederate memorial, and the manager of the town’s cemetery — filled with Union and Confederate dead — told me, “Very little is done on the Union side” around Memorial Day. “It’s mostly Confederate.”

Neo-Confederates didn’t just win the battle of public monuments. They managed to rename the war, calling it the War Between the States, a locution born after the conflict that was among the primary ways to refer to the war in the middle of the 20th century, after which it began to fade. Even “Jeopardy!” has used this language.

Perhaps most perniciously, neo-Confederates now claim that the South seceded over states’ rights. Yet when each state left the Union, its leaders made clear that they were seceding because they were for slavery and against states’ rights. In its “Declaration of the Causes Which Impel the State of Texas to Secede From the Federal Union,” for example, the secession convention of Texas listed the states that had offended the delegates: “Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa.” Governments there had exercised states’ rights by passing laws that interfered with the federal government’s attempts to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. Some no longer let slave owners “transit” across their territory with slaves. “States’ rights” were what Texas was seceding against. Texas also made clear what it was seceding for — white supremacy:

We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

Despite such statements, neo-Confederates erected monuments that flatly lied about the Confederate cause. For example, South Carolina’s monument at Gettysburg, dedicated in 1963, claims to explain why the state seceded: “Abiding faith in the sacredness of states rights provided their creed here.” This tells us nothing about 1863, when abiding opposition to states’ rights provided the Palmetto State’s creed. In 1963, however, its leaders did support states’ rights; politicians tried desperately that decade to keep the federal government from enforcing school desegregation and civil rights.

So thoroughly did this mythology take hold that our textbooks still stand history on its head and say secession was for, rather than against, states’ rights. Publishers mystify secession because they don’t want to offend Southern school districts and thereby lose sales. Consider this passage from “The American Journey,” probably the largest textbook ever foisted on middle school students and perhaps the best-selling U.S. history textbook:

The South Secedes

Lincoln and the Republicans had promised not to disturb slavery where it already existed. Nevertheless, many people in the South mistrusted the party, fearing that the Republican government would not protect Southern rights and liberties. On December 20, 1860, the South’s long-standing threat to leave the Union became a reality when South Carolina held a special convention and voted to secede.

The section reads as if slavery was not the reason for secession. Instead, the rationale is completely vague: White Southerners feared for their “rights and liberties.” On the next page, the authors are more precise: White Southerners claimed that since “the national government” had been derelict ” — by refusing to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act and by denying the Southern states equal rights in the territories — the states were justified in leaving the Union.”

“Journey” offers no evidence to support this claim. It cannot. No Southern state made any such charge against the federal government in any secession document I have ever seen. Abraham Lincoln’s predecessors, James Buchanan and Franklin Pierce, were part of the pro-Southern wing of the Democratic Party. For 10 years, the federal government had vigorously enforced the Fugitive Slave Act. Buchanan supported pro-slavery forces in Kansas even after his own minion, territorial governor and former Mississippi slave owner Robert Walker, ruled that they had won an election only by fraud. The seven states that seceded before Lincoln took office had no quarrel with “the national government.”

Teaching or implying that the Confederate states seceded for states’ rights is not accurate history. It is white, Confederate-apologist history. “Journey,” like other U.S. textbooks, needs to be de-Confederatized. So does the history test we give to immigrants who want to become U.S. citizens. Item No. 74 asks them to “name one problem that led to the Civil War.” It then gives three acceptable answers: slavery, economic reasons and states’ rights. (No other question on this 100-item test has more than one right answer.) If by “economic reasons” it means issues with tariffs and taxes, which most people infer, then two of its three “correct answers” are wrong.

The legacy of this thinking pervades Washington, too. The dean of the Washington National Cathedral has noted that some of its stained-glass windows memorialize Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. There’s a statue of Albert Pike, Confederate general and reputed leader of the Arkansas Ku Klux Klan, in Judiciary Square.

The Army runs Fort A.P. Hill, named for a Confederate general whose men killed African American soldiers after they surrendered; Fort Bragg, named for a general who was not only Confederate but also incompetent; and Fort Benning, named for a general who, after he helped get his home state of Georgia to secede, made the following argument to the Virginia legislature:

What was the reason that induced Georgia to take the step of secession? This reason may be summed up in one single proposition. It was a conviction .?.?. that a separation from the North was the only thing that could prevent the abolition of her slavery. .?.?. If things are allowed to go on as they are, it is certain that slavery is to be abolished. .?.?. By the time the North shall have attained the power, the black race will be in a large majority, and then we will have black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything. .?.?. The consequence will be that our men will be all exterminated or expelled to wander as vagabonds over a hostile Earth, and as for our women, their fate will be too horrible to contemplate even in fancy.

With our monuments lying about secession, our textbooks obfuscating what the Confederacy was about and our Army honoring Southern generals, no wonder so many Americans supported the Confederacy until recently. We can see the impact of Confederate symbols and thinking on Dylann Roof, accused of killing nine in a Charleston, S.C., church, but other examples abound. In his mugshot, Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, wore a neo-Confederate T-shirt showing Abraham Lincoln and the words “Sic semper tyrannis.” When white students in Appleton, Wis. — a recovering “sundown town” that for decades had been all white on purpose — had issues with Mexican American students in 1999, they responded by wearing and waving Confederate flags, which they already had at home, at the ready.

Across the country, removing slavery from its central role in prompting the Civil War marginalizes African Americans and makes us all stupid. De-Confederatizing the United States won’t end white supremacy, but it will be a momentous step in that direction.

While they may have lost the war, it seems rather clear that the Lost Causers won its aftermath decisively. The resurrection of talk about secession, nullification, and the continued existence of neo-Confederate organizations such as the League of the South amply demonstrate the scary truth of this statement. We need to address these issues, and we need to pursue the object of removing this repulsive spinning of neo-Confederate and Lost Cause ideology from the national dialogue.

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Cross-posted at Emerging Civil War.

Maj. Gen. George G. Meade

Maj. Gen. George G. Meade

My two most recent posts dealt with the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War’s attempt to crucify George Gordon Meade for allegedly deciding to retreat from the battlefield at Gettysburg. Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles made those allegations in an attempt to deflect criticism from his disobedience to Meade’s orders at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863 and also because he was angry at Meade for rebuffing his attempts to return to command of the III Corps in the fall of 1863. Sickles’ disobedience subjected his III Corps to near destruction at the hands of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet’s sledgehammer attack up the Emmitsburg Road. After days of testimony, Sen. Benjamin Wade, a Radical Republican from Ohio and the chairman of the Joint Committee, was forced to admit that there was insufficient evidence to condemn Meade. Despite that fact, Wade’s clear bias against Meade—whom he thought was too timid—shone through. Wade hoped to find sufficient evidence to force the removal of Meade from command of the Army of the Potomac, and must have been bitterly disappointed about not finding sufficient evidence to support his plan.

Wade, however, was not finished with George Meade. Sounding an all-too-common theme, Wade also accused the commander of the Army of the Potomac of being unduly cautious in his pursuit of the beaten Confederate army after Gettysburg, thereby allowing the Army of Northern Virginia to escape, rather than attacking it on the north side of the rain-swollen and impassable Potomac River. As we are approaching the anniversary of the events in question, it seems appropriate to examine this question and to determine whether Wade’s report came to the proper conclusion.

After hearing substantial testimony before the Joint Committee on the question of Meade’s conduct of the pursuit of the beaten Confederate army, Wade’s lengthy report found:

All the witnesses but General Meade state that it was very apparent, on the morning of the 4th of July, that the enemy were in full retreat, and Generals Pleasonton, Warren, Birney, and others state that they counseled an immediate pursuit. General Birney says that he asked and obtained permission to make an attack that morning on the enemy as they were crossing a point near him on the pike to Hagerstown; but just as he had commenced the movement to attack, a staff officer rode up with a written order from General Meade not to attack, but to let the enemy go, which was done. General Pleasonton states that when he urged General Meade to order an immediate advance of the army after the enemy, he replied that “he was not sure they might not make another attack on him, and to satisfy himself, he wanted to know first that they were in retreat, and for that reason I was to send the cavalry out to ascertain.” He states that General Gregg, 22 miles on the Chambersburg road, reported at 8 o’clock on the morning of the 4th, “that the road was strewn with wounded and stragglers, ambulances and caissons, and that there was great demoralization and confusion.” This was immediately reported to General Meade, but no pursuit was ordered.

But little was done on the 4th of July. General Warren says: “On the morning of the 4th General Meade ordered demonstrations in front of our line, but they were very feebly made. And when the officers met together that evening to report the state of things in their front, there was so little definitely known as to the position and designs of the enemy, that after some consultation they determined, I believe, to try and find out something before they did move.”

That night a council of war was held. Its deliberations and results are thus described by General Butterfield, from memoranda taken at the time: “I have here the minutes I kept of the council of the 4th of July. That council was held at the headquarters of General Neal; he gave up his headquarters to General Meade. The council was opened by General Meade explaining his instructions, and asking the corps commanders for their advice as to what course he should pursue.

“Question. Can you state what General Meade said his instructions were?

“Answer. I think he said his instructions were to cover Washington and Baltimore. He said he had no knowledge of General Foster’s movements. There was a rumor that General Foster was coming up from Washington with reinforcements. General Meade said he desired the earnest assistance and advice of every corps commander. The corps commanders commenced giving their opinions, beginning with General Slocum and followed by General Sedgwick and General Howard. Their advice, according to my memorandum, was as follows: “General Slocum would move on an interior line as far as Emmettsburg, and then, if the enemy had not gone from Gettysburg, hold on there and push out a force at once with a view of preventing the enemy from crossing the Potomac. “General Sedgwick would wait at Gettysburg until certain that the enemy were moving away.” General Howard would like to remain at Gettysburg and ascertain what the enemy were doing, but thought it would do no harm to send a corps to Emmettsburg.

“General Meade then determined to change the manner of procedure in the council, and the following questions were written by his instructions; a portion of these questions are in his handwriting and a portion in mine: “The first question was, ‘Shall this army remain here]’ (That is, at Gettysburg.) “Second. ‘If we remain here, shall we assume the offensive?’ “Third. ‘Do you deem it expedient to move towards Williamsport, through Emmettsburg]’ “Fourth. ‘Shall we pursue the enemy, if he is retreating on his direct line of retreat. “To the first question General Newton answered ‘No;’ to the second question, ‘No;’ and to the third question, ‘Yes.’ “General Slocum answered to the first question.” ‘No;’ the second question was involved in that answer; to the third question, ‘Yes;’ to the fourth question, ‘To pursue on the direct line of retreat with cavalry, moving with the infantry to cut him off.”

“General Sedgwick to the first question answered, “Would remain here (at Gettysburg) until positive information concerning their movement;” to the second question, ‘No;’ to the third question, ‘Yes;’ to the fourth question, “Only cavalry.”

“General Howard to the first question did not exactly say yes, and did not exactlv say no, but would commence a movement to-morrow; to the second question, ‘No;’ to the third question, ‘Yes;’ to he fourth question, ‘By a show of force.’

“General Sykes to the first question, as to remaining at Gettysburg, answered, ‘Until we know where the enemy is gone;’ to the second question, ‘No;’ to the third question he made no answer, his answer to the first question involving that; to the fourth question he answered, ‘He would pursue with cavalry only.’

“General Birney to the first question answered, ‘Yes, until we see;’ to the second question, ‘ No ;’ to the fourth question, ‘ He thinks not.’

“General Pleasonton to the first question answered ‘No;’ to the second question, ‘No;’ to the third question, ‘Move by that route;’ to the fourth question, ‘Would pursue with infantry and cavalry.’

“General Hays answered to the first question, ‘ Yes, until we find out where the enemy are and what they are doing;’ to the second question, ‘No;’ to the third question, ‘Yes, if we move;’ to the fourth question, ‘No, only with cavalry.’

“General Warren as to the first question, whether we should remain there, answered, ‘Yes, until we see what they are doing;’ to the second question, about assuming the offensive, ‘Not if the enemy remains.’

“Those are the questions to the corps commanders and their answers. The summary which I made for General Meade in the council of the answers to the first question, whether we should remain at Gettysburg, was: “Those in favor—Birney, Sedgwick, Sykes, Hays, and Warren.” Opposed—Newton, Pleasonton, and Slocum. “Doubtful–Howard.”

On the 5th of July the 6th corps commenced to follow the enemy, and on the 6th and 7th the rest of the army moved, going to Frederick rather than directly after the enemy, on account of some apprehensions of the difficulty of following the enemy through the mountain passes, which were reported to be strongly fortified. General Howe states that his division had the lead of the 6th corps, after passing Boonsboro’, but he was directed to move carefully, and not to come in contact with the enemy, as a general engagement was not desired. He states that when near Funkstown, General Buford reported to him that his cavalry held a strong position some distance to the front, which, in his opinion, the enemy should not be allowed to occupy, but that he was pretty hardly engaged there; his ammunition was nearly out, and that he was expected to go further to the right; and asked General Howe to send forward a brigade and hold the position. General Howe applied to General Sedgwick for permission to relieve General Buford, but received in reply the answer, “No; we do not want to bring on a general engagement.” General Buford considered the position of such importance that General Howe applied the second time for permission to occupy it, representing that General Buford would soon be compelled to abandon it, as his ammunition was giving out. To this application he received the reply that he might occupy the position if General Buford left it. General Buford did leave it, and General Howe occupied and held the position. General Pleasonton states that on the morning of the 12th of July the cavalry in front of General Slocum’s command drove the enemy from an important position, and could have held it, but General Slocum ordered it to halt, for fear of bringing on a general engagement, and the enemy afterwards brought a strong force there and held the point.

In reference to the movement of our army after the battle of Gettysburg, General Warren testifies: ”We commenced the pursuit with the 6th corps on the 5th of July, and on the 6th a large portion of the army moved towards Emmettsburg, and all that was left followed the next day. On July 7 the headquarters were at Frederick; on July 8 headquarters were at Middletown, and nearly all the army was concentrated in the neighborhood of that place and South Mountain. On July 9 headquarters were at South Mountain house, and the advance of the army at Boonsboro’ and Rohrersville. On July 10 the headquarters were moved to Antietam creek; the left of the line crossed the creek, and the right of the line moved up near Funkstown. On the 11th of July the engineers put a new bridge over the Antietam creek; the left of the line advanced to Fairplay and Jones’s crossroads, while the right remained nearly stationary. In my opinion we should have fought the enemy the next morning, July 12.”

No attack was ordered, but the question was submitted to a council of the corps commanders on the night of the 12th of July. General Meade says: “I represented to those generals, so far as I knew it, the situation of affairs. I told them that I had reason to believe, from all I could ascertain, that General Lee’s position was a very strong one, and that he was prepared to give battle, and defend it if attacked; that it was not in my power, from a want of knowledge of the ground, and from not having had time to make reconnoissances, to indicate any precise mode of attack, or any precise point of attack; that, nevertheless, I was in favor of moving forward and attacking the enemy, and taking the consequences; but that I left it to their judgment, and would not do it unless it met with their approval.”

Generals Howard, Pleasonton. and Wadsworth were in favor of attacking the enemy at once. General Warren, who was not then in command of a corps, says: “I do not think I ever saw the principal corps commanders so unanimous in favor of not fighting as on that occasion.” The opinion of the council being strongly against attacking the enemy at that time, the 13th of July was passed in reconnoitering the enemy’s position. But General Meade says that the day was rainy and misty, and not much information was obtained. General Meade, however, ordered an attack to be made at daylight of the 14th; but when the army moved forward it was ascertained that the whole rebel army had crossed the night of the 13th, and had escaped. General Meade says: “It is proper I should say that an examination of the enemy’s lines, and of the defences which he had made, brings me clearly to the opinion that an attack under the circumstances in which I had proposed to make it would have resulted disastrously to our arms. My opinion is now that General Lee evacuated that position, not from any want of ammunition, or the fear that he would be dislodged by any active operations on my part, but that he was fearful that a force would be sent by Harper’s Ferry to cut off his communications—which I had intended to do, having brought up a bridge from Washington, and sent the cavalry down there—and that he could not have maintained that position probably a day if his communications had been cut. That was what caused him to retire.” This opinion of General Meade is not sustained by that of any other general who has appeared before the committee. Generals Pleasonton, Warren, Birney, Doubleday, and Howe all concur in the opinion that an attack upon the enemy before he recrossed the Potomac would have been most disastrous to him, and have resulted in the dispersion if not the capture of the greater portion of his army.

The rebel army moved up the Shenandoah Valley, while our army crossed in the vicinity of Harper’s Ferry and followed on this side the mountains. On the 23d of July a column of our troops under General French, entering through Manassas Gap, came in contact with the enemy, but not much injury was inflicted upon him. General Warren says that, in his opinion, had General French made the attack with his whole corps, instead of with a brigade only, a decisive blow would have been inflicted on the enemy. Preparations were made for an attack the next morning, but during the night the enemy again escaped.

The enemy continued his retreat until he reached Culpeper, and then took up a position between the Rappahannock and Rapidan.

Our forces withdrew from Manassas Gap and followed the enemy, reaching Warrenton and the Rappahannock about the 1st of August, when the pursuit ceased. General Meade says that he expressed the opinion to the government that the pursuit should still be continued, inasmuch as he believed our relative forces were more favorable to us than they would be at any subsequent time if the enemy were allowed time to recuperate; but that he was directed by the general-in-chief to take up a threatening attitude on the Rappahannock, but not to advance.

Shortly after this a division of troops were detached from General Meade’s command and sent to South Carolina; and other troops were sent to New York to enforce the draft.

No active movements of our army took place until about the middle of September, when information was received that Lee’s army had been weakened by the withdrawal of Longstreet’s corps for operations in the southwest. Our cavalry was then sent across the Rappahannock, taking the enemy completely by surprise, but the army did not follow until three days afterwards. General Meade says that upon arriving before the enemy, who had retired behind the Rapidan, he considered his position there so strong, both naturally and artificially, that he deemed it impossible to attack him in front: and that, with the withdrawal of two corps of his troops for operations in Tennessee, led to a suspension of active operations until about the middle of October.

At that time General Meade says he regarded himself as about 10,000 men stronger than General Lee, and was contemplating an advance against the enemy. But General Lee made a demonstration upon the right flank of our army, whereupon General Meade determined to fall back, which he did until he finally reached the position of Centreville and Bull Run, destroying the bridge across the Rappahannock and abandoning the railroad communications to the enemy.

As soon as our army stopped, General Lee began himself to fall back, destroying the railroad, and retiring to the line of the Rappahannock. There seems to be no doubt that the enemy might have been advantageously met at any one of several points between the Rappahannock and Bull Run; but no fighting of importance occurred, except at Bristow station, where the 2d corps, then under the command of General Warren, met the enemy and repulsed them with heavy loss.

General Warren says that he thinks General Meade supposed that the enemy intended to fight him when he made his advance, and therefore General Meade desired to select the best position for that purpose: that General Meade had no idea that Lee would go off without attacking him. General Warren also says that General Meade was very much misinformed as to what was going on; and that some of his officers failed him in spirit. By this retreat and the destruction of our lines of communication with the Rappahannock, the remainder of the fall season was lost for active operations.

Our committee could not forbear asking the witnesses before them, if the army, after all these indecisive advances and retrograde movements, still retained confidence in its commanding general. Various answers were returned to this inquiry, all, however, tending to establish the fact that much discouragement had been felt by the army at these ineffective operations, and that but for the highly intelligent character of the rank and file it could never have retained even its then effective condition. General Pleasonton states that the cavalry under his command did not retain confidence in the military ability of General Meade. General Birney states the same about his corps, stating that while General Meade was rather liked as a man, he was not regarded as a man of resolution, or one who is willing to assume that responsibility required by the position he occupies. General Howe states that, in his opinion, the rank and file of the army do not regard General Meade as possessed of that zeal, activity, and energy necessary to carry on an offensive warfare generally, but he admits that the most of the corps commanders would probably say that General Meade was eminently qualified for the command he now holds. That opinion General Howe qualifies, however, by stating that so far as he has observed, the most of the principal officers of the army of the Potomac, including its commanding general, are governed by the same sympathies, feelings, and considerations which were infused into the army by its commander during the Peninsular campaign. General Birney says that many of the principal officers believed that General McClellan was the only general who should command this army; although there is not as much of that feeling now as formerly. General Doubleday bluntly says: “There has always been a great deal of favoritism in the army of the Potomac. No man who is an anti-slavery man or an anti-McClellan man can expect decent treatment in that army as at present constituted.” General Warren states that after the battle of Gettysburg the army was deprived of many of its best corps commanders, General Reynolds having been killed, Generals Sickles and Hancock wounded, and General Meade made commander of the army; that since that time the corps commanders have not been all equal to their position, and consequently the army had been less effective in its operations.

Wade’s bias against Meade comes through loudly and clearly in his condemnation of the army commander’s conduct of the pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia in the days after the Battle of Gettysburg. The question is whether those findings were supported by the actual facts. The next five articles will examine those questions in detail. In the next part of this series, I will examine that question and will discuss how the casualties in the Army of the Potomac’s command structure inhibited its ability to pursue the Army of Northern Virginia.

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Maj. Gen. George G. Meade

Maj. Gen. George G. Meade

This is the second part of a two-part series that was cross-posted on Emerging Civil War.

In part one of this two-part series, we examined the content of the Pipe Creek Circular, and we also looked at the Pipe Creek Line itself. In this, the second part, we will examine the controversy created by Maj. Gen. George G. Meade’s handling of the Pipe Creek Circular. Specifically, we will examine its role in the controversy that Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles stirred up to deflect attention away from his own conduct at Gettysburg. To recap briefly, Meade had the Army of the Potomac’s engineers lay out a very strong defensive position along Parr Ridge, a dominant east-west ridge that paralleled Big Pipe Creek in Maryland between Manchester and Middleburg, which is south and west of Taneytown. The reality is that this position was even more commanding than the position held by the Army of the Northern Virginia on Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg the previous winter, and it was easily defending. Had the Army of the Potomac taken up a position there, it is very unlikely that Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army could have driven the blueclad soldiers off of it unless they somehow managed to outflank the position.

At the same time, Meade did not make the final decision to stand at Gettysburg until his council of war on the night of July 2. Earlier that day, Sickles disobeyed a direct order and advanced his Third Corps from its intended position on the southern end of Cemetery Ridge to a prominent plateau along the Emmitsburg Road near the Joseph Sherfy peach orchard. Sickles did not like his assigned position and decided to make the move on his own initiative. Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock, the commander of the Second Corps, which was next in line next to Sickles’ Third Corps, watched the movement and said, “Wait a moment–you will soon see them tumbling back.” Unfortunately, Hancock was correct. Meade tried to countermand the movement, but it was too late. Lt. Gen. James Longstreet’s First Corps was about to launch its determined assault up the Emmitsburg Road.

As an initial note, it seems quite obvious that Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds, commander of the Army of the Potomac’s left wing, did not receive the Pipe Creek Circular before he was killed at approximately 9:15 a.m. on July 1, 1863. Reynolds came to Gettysburg to reinforce Brig. Gen. John Buford’s cavalry division and was killed while placing troops of the Iron Brigade in position. Unfettered by the strictures of the Pipe Creek Circular, Reynolds made the critical decision to commit the army’s left wing to the fight at Gettysburg. Reynolds was killed early in the action, but his First Corps and Maj. Gen. O. O. Howard’s Eleventh Corps committed to the fighting there. The Third Corps and Twelfth Corps arrived that night, meaning that all but the Second, Fifth, and Sixth Corps were on the field that night.

In the interim, Meade sent Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock to Gettysburg to ascertain whether Gettysburg was the right place for the Army of the Potomac to make its stand. Hancock further validated Reynolds’ decision and reported to Meade the Army of the Potomac held a strong defensive position. Meade then rode to the battlefield himself, arriving late in the evening. However, and as pointed out in the first post of this series, the decision to stand and fight at Gettysburg was not finalized until Meade’s council of war on the night of July 2. Up until then, the possibility of a retreat to the Pipe Creek Line remained a very real possibility.

Thanks to meddling by the Radical Republicans in Congress, that possible retreat became the subject of a series of Congressional hearings during the winter of 1863-1864. The Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, headed by Radical Republican Sen. Benjamin Wade of Ohio, sought to prod President Abraham Lincoln into pursuing more aggressive war policies against the Confederacy, and it sought to crucify George Meade for allowing Lee’s army to escape across the Potomac River in the wake of its defeat at Gettysburg.

The Joint Committee held a series of hearings during the winter of 1864, where Sickles accused Meade of mismanaging the Battle of Gettysburg, planning to retreat from Gettysburg prior to the Union victory there, and failing to pursue and defeat the Army of Northern Virginia north of the Potomac River. Sickles, a former Congressman and the leader of Tammany Hall, was determined to deflect criticism from his own controversial role at Gettysburg, where he intentionally disobeyed Meade’s orders and nearly caused the destruction of the Third Corps in the process.

After an exhaustive investigation reminiscent of the repeated Congressional inquiries into the death of an American ambassador at Benghazi, Libya, the Joint Committee ultimately found no evidence to support Sickles’ claims. However, Wade, determined to make the Lincoln Administration look bad, nevertheless spun the results to paint Meade in the most negative light possible.

Wade’s report indicated:

General Meade, however, decided upon making a stand at another point for the purpose of receiving the attack of the enemy, and selected a position the general line of which was Pipe Creek, the left resting in the neighborhood of Middleburg, and the right at Manchester, and even down to somewhat late in the day of the 1st of July was engaged in making arrangements for occupying that position as soon as the movements of the enemy should indicate the time for doing so. To that end, on the morning of the 1st of July, a preliminary circular was issued, directing his corps commanders to make the necessary preparations for carrying the order into effect as soon as circumstances should arise to render it necessary or advisable in the opinion of the commanding general; and it was not until information reached General Meade, in the afternoon of July 1, that the cavalry, under General Buford, had come in contact with a large force of the enemy near Gettysburg, and that General Reynolds, who had gone to his assistance with the 1st and 11th corps, had been killed, that the attention of General Meade seems to have been seriously directed to the position at Gettysburg for meeting the enemy. He sent General Hancock there to report the condition of our troops and the character of the ground. General Meade says that before he received the report of General Hancock he had decided, upon information received from officers from the scene of action, to concentrate the army at Gettysburg, and it was done that night and the next day, and the battle was there fought.

At least that much of the report finds that Meade acted prudently and appropriately. However, Wade was far from finished with the commander of the Army of the Potomac.

The report, biased as it was, relied on the testimony of three officers, including Sickles and the Army of the Potomac’s chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Daniel Butterfield (a close ally and friend of Meade’s predecessor, Joseph Hooker, who despised Meade and whom Meade despised in turn), who claimed that Meade had wanted to retreat from Gettysburg on July 2 and that only the onset of Longstreet’s attack prevented him from doing so. However, six officers, including Meade himself, claimed strongly that such was not the case. Meade’s own statements before the Joint Committee on this subject are particularly enlightening:

I have understood that an idea has prevailed that I intended an order should be issued on the morning of the 2d of July, requiring the withdrawal of the army, or the or the retreat of the army from Gettysburg, which order was not issued owing simply to the attack of the enemy having prevented it.

In reply to that, I have only to say that I have no recollection of ever having directed such an order to be issued, or ever having contemplated the issuing of such an order, and that it does seem to me that any intelligent mind who is made acquainted with the great exertions I made to mass my army at Gettysburg on the night of July 1, it must appear entirely incomprehensible that I should order it to retreat after collecting all my army there, before the enemy had done anything to require me to make a movement of any kind.

Meade returned on another occasion to give an additional statement, demonstrating remarkable restraint in the process (which, for a man with a well-known temper, had to have been a challenge):

I wanted to say a few words to the committee, in extension of the remarks which I made the last time I was here, in reference to a charge which I expected then would be made against me, and which I understand has since been made against me, to the effect that I intended that an order should be issued, on the morning of July 2, withdrawing the army from the position it then occupied at Gettysburg, and retreating, before the enemy had done anything to require me to withdraw.

It is proper that I should say that the fact of such a charge having been made here, or such a report given here, has reached me through outside sources, but in such a way that I can hardly disbelieve that such a statement has been made; and that it was made by an officer who occupied a very high and confidential position on my staff, the chief of staff. Major General Butterfield. Now, indulging in the utmost charity towards General Butterfield, and believing that he is sincere in what he says, I want to explain how it is possible that such an extraordinary idea could have got into his head.

I utterly deny, under the full solemnity and sanctity of my oath, and in the firm conviction that the day will come when the secrets of all men shall be made known — I utterly deny ever having intended or thought, for one instant, to withdraw that army, unless the military contingencies, which the future should develop during the course of the day, might render it a matter of necessity that the army should he withdrawn. I base this denial not only upon my own assertion and my own veracity, but I shall also show to the committee, from documentary evidence, the dispatches and orders issued by me at different periods during that day, that if I did intend any such operation I was at the same time doing things totally inconsistent with any such intention.

I shall also ask the committee to call before them certain other officers of my staff, whose positions were as near and confidential to me as that of General Butterfield, who, if I had had any such intention, or had given any such orders as he said I gave, would have been parties to it, would have known it, and have made arrangements in consequence thereof; all of whom, I am perfectly confident, will say they never heard of any such thing. I refer to General Hunt, chief of artillery, and who had artillery occupying a space of from four to five miles, drawn out on the road, and who, if I had intended to have withdrawn that army, should have been told to get his trains out of the way the very first thing, because the troops could not move until the artillery moved. I would also ask you to call upon General Ingalls, my chief quartermaster, who had charge of the trains. Also General Warren, my chief engineer, who will tell you that he was with me the whole of that day, in” constant intercourse and communication with me; and that instead of intending to withdraw my army I was talking about other matters. All these officers will corroborate what I say, that I never mentioned any such purpose to any of them.

General Butterfield remained at Taneytown on the night of the 1st July, and did not join me on the field until about 9 or 10 o’clock in the morning of the 2d, I having arrive 1 there at one o’clock. Soon after he arrived I did direct him to familiarize himself with the topography of the ground; and directed him to send out staff officers to learn all the roads. As I have already mentioned, in my previous testimony here, I had never before been at Gettysburg, and did not know how many roads ran from our position, or in what directions they ran. My orders to General Butterfield were similar to this:

“General Butterfield, neither I nor any man can tell what the results of this day’s operations may be. It is our duty to be prepared for every contingency, and I wish you to send out staff officers to learn all the roads that lead from this place; ascertain the positions of the corps; where their trains are; prepare to familiarize yourself with these details, so that in the event of any contingency you can, without any order, be ready to meet it.”

It was in anticipation of possible contingencies, and not at all that I had made up my mind to do anything of that kind.

I would furthermore call the attention of the committee to the absurdity of such an idea. If I had directed the order to be issued, why was it not issued? With General Butterfield’s capacity it would not have taken him more than ten or fifteen minutes to prepare such an order. We were furnished with what you call manifold letter-writers; so that, after the framework of an order is prepared, ten or a dozen copies may be made at once. Why was not the order issued; or if issued, why was it not executed? There was no obstacle to my withdrawing that army if I had desired. The enemy presented none. There was not a moment from the time the first gun was fired at Gettysburg, until we knew the enemy had retired, that I could not have withdrawn my army; therefore, if I had entertained such an idea, it seems to me extraordinary that I did not execute it.

That General Butterfield may have misapprehended what I said to him, that he may himself have deemed a retreat necessary, and thought we would be compelled to retreat in the course of the day, and in the excess of zeal, and desire to do more than he was called upon to do, may have drawn up an order of that kind, I do not deny; but I say he never showed me any such order, and it had not my sanction nor authority.

Reluctantly, Wade was forced to find that there was insufficient evidence to support the claims that Meade had ordered the Army of the Potomac to retreat from the battlefield at Gettysburg. However, the damage had been done. Meade’s credibility and authority as the commander of the Army of the Potomac had been badly undermined. There are plenty of lessons to be learned here, especially by modern politicians determined to use Congressional resources to pursue their own political agendas and witch hunts.

The Joint Committee, however, was not finished with George Meade. In another upcoming series, we will examine the allegations that Meade mismanaged the pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia during the retreat from Gettysburg.

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The Pipe Creek Line as designed by the Army of the Potomac's engineers

The Pipe Creek Line as designed by the Army of the Potomac’s engineers

This is the first part of a two-part series that was cross-posted on Emerging Civil War.

No battle of the American Civil War has generated more ongoing and enduring controversies than the Battle of Gettysburg. With the anniversary of the battle looming once more, I wanted to address one of the more heated and oldest controversies of the battle, the Pipe Creek Circular and how it impacted the outcome of the battle. This two-part series will address the Pipe Creek Circular and its implications for the Army of the Potomac.

On June 30, 1863, Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, who had only been in command of the Army of the Potomac for less than 48 hours, issued the following circular to his corps commanders:



Taneytown, July 1, 1863.

From information received, the commanding general is satisfied that the object of the movement of the army in this direction has been accomplished, viz, the relief of Harrisburg, and the prevention of the enemy’s intended invasion of Philadelphia, &c., beyond the Susquehanna. It is no longer his intention to assume the offensive until the enemy’s movements or position should render such an operation certain of success.

If the enemy assume the offensive, and attack, it is his intention, after holding them in check sufficiently long, to withdraw the trains and other impedimenta; to Withdraw the army from its present position, and form line of battle with the left resting in the neighborhood of Middleburg, and the right at Manchester, the general direction being that of Pipe Creek. For this purpose, General Reynolds, in command of the left, will withdraw the force at present at Gettysburg, two corps by the road to Taneytown and Westminster, and, after crossing Pipe Creek, deploy toward Middleburg. The corps at Emmitsburg will be withdrawn, via Mechanicsville, to Middleburg, or, if a more direct route can be found leaving Taneytown to their left, to withdraw direct to Middleburg.

General Slocum will assume command of the two corps at Hanover and Two Taverns, and withdraw them, via Union Mills, deploying one to the right and one to the left, after crossing Pipe Creek, connecting on the left with General Reynolds, and communicating his right to General Sedgwick at Manchester, who will connect with him and form the right.

The time for falling back can only be developed by circumstances. Whenever such circumstances arise as would seem to indicate the necessity for falling back and assuming this general line indicated, notice of such movement will be at once communicated to these headquarters and to all adjoining corps commanders.

The Second Corps now at Taneytown will be held in reserve in the vicinity of Uniontown and Frizellburg, to be thrown to the point of strongest attack, should the enemy make it. In the event of these movements being necessary, the trains and impedimenta will all be sent to the rear of Westminster.

Corps commanders, with their officers commanding artillery and the divisions, should make themselves thoroughly familiar with the country indicated, all the roads and positions, so that no possible confusion can ensue, and that the movement, if made, be done with good order, precision, and care, without loss or any detriment to the morale of the troops.

The commanders of corps are requested to communicate at once the nature of their present positions, and their ability to hold them in case of any sudden attack at any point by the enemy.

This order is communicated, that a general plan, perfectly understood by all, may be had for receiving attack, if made in strong force, upon any portion of our present position.

Developments may cause the commanding general to assume the offensive from his present positions.

The Artillery Reserve will, in the event of the general movement indicated, move to the rear of Frizellburg, and be placed in position, or sent to corps, as circumstances may require, under the general supervision of the chief of artillery.

The chief quartermaster will, in case of the general movement indicated, give directions for the orderly and proper position of the trains in rear of Westminster.

All the trains will keep well to the right of the road in moving, and, in case of any accident requiring a halt, the team must be hauled out of the line, and not delay the movements.

The trains ordered to Union Bridge in these events will be sent to Westminster.

General headquarters will be, in case of this movement, at Frizellburg; General Slocum as near Union Mills as the line will render best for him; General Reynolds at or near the road from Taneytown to l.

The chief of artillery will examine the line, and select positions for artillery.

The cavalry will be held on the right and left flanks after the movement is completed. Previous to its completion, it will, as now directed, cover the front and exterior lines, well out.

The commands must be prepared for a movement, and, in the event of the enemy attacking us on the ground indicated herein, to follow up any repulse.

The chief signal officer will examine the line thoroughly, and at once, upon the commencement of this movement, extend telegraphic communication from each of the following points to general headquarters near Frizellburg, viz, Manchester, Union Mills, Middleburg, and the Taneytown road.

All true Union people should be advised to harass and annoy the enemy in every way, to send in information, and taught how to do it; giving regiments by number of colors, number of guns, generals’ names, &c. All their supplies brought to us will be paid for, and not fall into the enemy’s hands.

Roads and ways to move to the right or left of the general line should be studied and thoroughly understood. All movements of troops should be concealed, and our dispositions kept from the enemy. Their knowledge of these dispositions would be fatal to our success, and the greatest care must be taken to prevent such an occurrence.

By command of Major-General Meade:

S. WILLIAMS,Assistant Adjutant-General.

Known commonly as the Pipe Creek Circular, this document was Meade’s plan to assume a formidable defensive position in Maryland that became known as the Pipe Creek Line, since it followed Big Pipe Creek. Shortly thereafter, Brig. Gen. Seth Williams, the Army of the Potomac’s adjutant general, sent out a correction to the Pipe Creek Circular:



July 1, 1863.

So much of the instructions contained in the circular of this date, just sent to you, as relates to the withdrawal of the corps at Emmitsburg should read as follows:

The corps at Emmitsburg should be withdrawn, via Mechanics-town, to Middleburg, or, if a more direct route can be found leaving Taneytown to the left, to withdraw direct to Middleburg.

Please correct the circular accordingly.

By command of Major-General Meade:

S. WILLIAMS, Assistant Adjutant-General

These two documents make it clear that George Meade had no intention of fighting in Pennsylvania on the eve of battle. That much is beyond dispute. Where the controversy arose is with whether Meade changed his mind on July 2, 1863 or whether he intended to withdraw the Army of the Potomac from its strong defensive position at Gettysburg.

The Pipe Creek Line ran just to the north of the town of Westminster, Maryland. Westminster, in particular, had great strategic significance to the Army of the Potomac, as the Western Maryland Railroad had its terminus there. The Western Maryland would serve as the primary line of supply for the army if it was going to operate anywhere in the vicinity (including at Gettysburg), and protecting it was critical.

Meade’s engineers did an outstanding job of selecting the Pipe Creek Line, something Meade himself recognized. As envisioned by the Union engineers, the Pipe Creek Line ran along Parr Ridge, a substantial ridge that ran on an east/west axis, and which extended from Manchester, Maryland on the east end to Middleburg, Maryland on the west. With the exception of some lower ground around Middleburg, the entire position was on very high, easily defensible ground that was probably impregnable unless the wily Robert E. Lee could manage to flank the federals out of their strong position.

Meade did not make a final decision to stay and fight at Gettysburg until he held a counsel of war at his headquarters on the night of July 2; he was willing to still consider falling back to Pipe Creek if seriously threatened. Two writings by Meade support his contention. At 3:00 p.m. on July 2, just before Lt. Gen. James Longstreet opened his sledgehammer attack against the Union left at Gettysburg, Meade sent a dispatch to General-in-Chief, Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, “If I find it hazardous to do so, or am satisfied the enemy is endeavoring to move to my rear, and interpose between me and Washington, I shall fall back to my supplies at Westminster,” suggesting that if there was a threat to his flank or rear, he intended to abandon his position at Gettysburg. Meade elaborated on his thought process in an 1870 letter. “Longstreet’s advice to Lee was sound military sense; it was the step I feared Lee would take, and to meet which, and be prepared for which was the object of my instructions,” he explained. “But suppose Ewell with 20,000 men had occupied Culp’s Hill and our brave soldiers had been compelled to evacuate Cemetery Ridge and withdraw . . . would the Pipe Clay Creek (the real military feature is Parr Ridge which extends through Westminster) order have been so very much out of place?”

Ultimately, Meade decided to stand and fight at Gettysburg. Again, that much is beyond dispute and is not controversial. The controversy is whether Meade actually intended to retreat and to withdraw the army to the Pipe Creek Line. We will address that controversy in the next blog post.

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Joshua_Chamberlain_-_Brady-HandyOn this July 3, the 152nd anniversary of the conclusion of the Battle of Gettysburg, this ageless valediction proves itself to be true once more, explaining why so many find themselves inexplicably drawn to the battlefield at Gettysburg, including me:

“In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.”

–Bvt. Maj. Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

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From today’s edition of the Culpeper Times regarding the state park initiative in Culpeper County that would include the Brandy Station, Kelly’s Ford, and Cedar Mountain battlefields:

Civil War Trust offering land for battlefield parks in Culpeper
By Wally Bunker
© Culpeper Times

Several weeks ago, Jim Campi, Civil War Trust (CWT) policy communications director called Clyde Cristman, director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), with a proposal to turn CWT-owned battlefield property at the Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain into state parks.

“Yes, we would be interested,” Cristman said he told Campi. “Yes, it is consistent with our mission.”

However, Cristman told Campi that he needed to float the idea to some members the Virginia General Assembly, which determines appropriations and priorities within DCR.

Establishing new state parks hasn’t fared well recently in the General Assembly.

Del. Ed Scott (R-30th), who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, said what appears to be a simple idea is actually very complex.

“I have been working with my colleagues to increase funding for our existing state parks,” Scott said in an email. “Virginia currently has land that has been donated, but parks have not opened, because we don’t have the funding to establish roads, trails or even primitive facilities.”

Culpeper’s two major battlefields could add to that undeveloped inventory.

Cristman and Campi stressed that the discussion with Campi was “very preliminary.”

“All conversations have been very preliminary, since many details would need to be considered and addressed,” Campi said in an email.

However, Cristman said establishing a Civil War battlefield park in Culpeper County would fill a void of state parks in close proximity. Looking at the DCR website of existing state parks, Culpeper County sits in the middle of a large blank spot, with no nearby state parks.

“This would be unique in that it would be a new state park,” said Cristman about CWT’s overture for Culpeper state parks.

CWT purchased property before adjacent to existing preserved battlefields and donated the land to the federal government and the state.

“We haven’t discussed the mechanism for transferring the lands to the state,” Campi wrote. “Likely, it would be similar to the land transfers we have undertaken at Sailor’s Creek Battlefield and High Bridge Trail State Park.”

Some of those transfers were donated and some sold to the state, according to Campi, with sales proceeds plowed back into preservation efforts elsewhere in Virginia. About 73 percent of the Sailor’s Creek Battlefield was preserved by CWT.

If the General Assembly agreed to establish another Civil War-focused battlefield state park, it would be years away. The state would have to conduct federal and state mandated studies.

At the Brandy Station Battlefield, some of the core battlefield still remains privately owned, creating a patchwork of preserved land versus privately owned land. Several significant private tracts abut Fleetwood Hill, which was purchased and preserved by CWT. The Trust owns 1,901 of the Brandy Station Battlefield.

The Brandy Station Foundation owns 38 acres at the foot of Fleetwood Hill, along with the Graffiti House that served as a hospital during the Civil War. Troops from both sides scribbled names and drew pictures on the walls, which has been uncovered and preserved.

“Regardless of whether the state park idea has any legs, the Trust remains committed to preserving battlefield land at Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain,” Campi wrote.

Campi said CWT continues to “have quiet conversations with private landowners” about preserving additional properties

DCR Director Cristman said a number of issues must be considered before determining the funding needed, such as how and where it would operate.

If the General Assembly liked and funded the idea, it could take years for a Civil War park to open in Culpeper. Before a new park opens, DCR partners with local government and the community to determine how the park operates and services offered.

“Localities really benefit,” said Culpeper Tourism Director Paige Read, who volunteered to lead the local effort should DCR consider CWT’s offer. “There is nothing but positives here.”

Read believes the creation of a state park would be a boon to tourism in the county. Plus, she added, Virginia nationally markets its park system.

State parks experienced almost 9 million visitors last year, an increase of 1.4 percent from 2013, said Read.

“State parks are tremendous,” said Read, noting Virginia maintains 36 state parks.

She said that every dollar spent by the general fund generates $12 for the local economy.

Noted local Brandy Station Battlefield historian and a founding member of the Brandy Station Foundation Bud Hall is optimistic that the historic cavalry battlefield will become a state park.

“I hope it happens,” said Hall. “I think one day this is going to be a state park.”

Wally Bunker is a freelance contributor with the Culpeper Times. You may reach him at

There’s an old cliche that says that those with weak stomachs should never watch either sausage or legislation being made, because neither is a very pretty sight. The process of creating this state battlefield park will neither be quick nor will it be pretty. But it needs to happen, and we need your support in order to help to ensure that it happens. If you support this initiative, please write to the newspaper editors to express your support, and please write to the Virginia assemblymen to express your support.

Thank you for supporting our efforts to preserve these battlefields.

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In this image, Duffié is seen wearing his medals from the Crimean War.

In this image, Duffié is seen wearing his medals from the Crimean War.

It seems like it’s been forever since I last profiled a forgotten cavalryman. I’ve been too wrapped up in preservation stuff and in writing another book manuscript. However, it’s time to change that and do a new forgotten cavalrymen profile. Today, we’re going to commemorate Brig. Gen. Alfred N. Duffié, who is memorable for being both incompetent and a fraud. I normally do not include references in these profiles, but in this particular instance, I have elected to do so. You will find my sources at the bottom of this blog post.

Born Napoléon Alexandre Duffié, he carried the nickname “Nattie.” Duffié was born in Paris, France, on May 1, 1833, the son of a well-to-do bourgeois French sugar refiner who distilled sugar from beets. [1] At age 17, Duffié enlisted in the French 6th Regiment of Dragoons. Six months later, he was promoted to corporal, and received a second promotion, this time to sergeant, in March 1854. He served in French campaigns in Africa and in the Crimean War from May 1, 1854, to July 16, 1856, and received two decorations for valor during this period.

In 1855, the 6th Regiment of Dragoons, along with two other mounted units, made a brilliant cavalry charge at the Battle of Kanghil, near the Black Sea port of Eupatoria in the Ukraine, leading to the issuance of his decorations. In February 1858, Duffié was made first sergeant in the 6th Dragoons and then transferred to the 3d Regiment of Hussars. Although he would have been eligible for discharge from the French Army in 1859, Duffié signed on for another seven-year enlistment that spring after being graded “a strong man capable of becoming a good average officer.”

On June 14, 1859, Duffié received a commission as second lieutenant in the 3d Regiment of Hussars. Just two months later, Duffié tried to resign his commission, stating a desire to go into business. He had met thirty-two-year-old Mary Ann Pelton, a young American woman serving as a nurse in Europe’s charnel houses. Duffié’s regimental commander rejected the attempted letter of resignation, stating his “regrets that this officer so little appreciates the honor of recently having been promoted sous-lieutenant, and that he would prefer a commercial position to that honor.” [2] When the French army refused to allow Duffié to resign, he deserted and fled to New York with Miss Pelton. He was listed as absent without leave and court-martialed in 1860. He was convicted and sentenced to dismissal without benefits for desertion to a foreign country and stripped of his medals. On December 20, 1860, by decree of Emperor Napoléon III, Duffié was sentenced, in absentia, to serve five years in prison for deserting and was dishonorably discharged from the French army. [3]

After arriving in New York, he adopted the first name Alfred, perhaps trying to disguise his true identity from prying eyes. He also married Miss Pelton, the daughter of a wealthy and influential New York family. Mary Ann Duffié’s father was a dealer in boots and shoes and shoemakers’ supplies, and was “an energetic and successful businessman” who lived in an enclave of strong abolitionists in Staten Island.[4] When the Civil War broke out, Duffié received a commission as a captain in the 2d New York Cavalry. He quickly rose to the rank of major, and was appointed colonel of the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry in July 1862.[5]

Duffié took great pains to hide his military history, spinning an elaborate web of lies, convincing all that cared to hear his story that he was the son of a French count, and not a humble sugar refiner. He changed the reported date of his birth from 1833 to 1835. He claimed that he had attended the preparatory Military Academy at Vincennes, that he had graduated from the prestigious military college of St. Cyr in 1854, and that he had served in Algiers and Senegal as lieutenant of cavalry.[6]

Duffié also claimed that he had been badly wounded at the Battle of Solferino in the War of Italian Independence in 1859, a conflict between the forces of Austria on one side and the allied forces of Piedmont, Sardinia, and France on the other. Solferino was a huge and bloody affair, involving more than 300,000 soldiers and nearly 40,000 casualties. However, his unit, the 3d Hussars, was not part of the Army of Italy and did not fight at Solferino. Although Duffié said that he had received a total of eight wounds in combat, his French military records do not suggest that he ever received a combat wound. He also asserted that he had received the Victoria Cross from Queen Victoria herself.

Finally, Duffié claimed that he had come to the United States to take the waters at Saratoga Springs, not because he had deserted the French army and fled to America in the company of a woman who was not his wife. Perhaps the Peltons created the myth of Alfred Duffié, French nobleman and war hero, to make their new son-in-law more palatable to their prominent social circles. Because of his martial bearing, he soon persuaded both his superior officers and the men who served under him that he had noble roots and a superb military pedigree.[7]

dufee“Confronting us, he presents the aspect of the beau ideal soldat . . .with his tall symmetrical form erect in saddle and severe facial expression emphasize by a mustache and goatee of formal cut waxed to a point a la militaire,” observed a war correspondent. “A Frenchman I judged him on sight, from his tout ensemble, and his first utterance, which launched without instant delay, proved my surmise correct.”[8] He wore an unusual uniform of his own design, based closely upon the attire of the French Chasseurs, knee boots, and an ornately embroidered cap patterned after the French Chasseur design.[9]

Duffié spoke fractured English. “His attempts were interlarded with curious and novel expletives, which were very amusing.”[10] In assuming a new command, the Frenchman would say, “You no like me now. You like my bye and bye.” He was right. Before long, they would follow him when he ordered a charge. “Once, in preparing to make a charge where the situation looked a little desperate,” recalled a New Yorker, Duffié “encouraged his men, who were little more than boys, by saying, ‘You all have got to die sometime anyway. If you die now you won’t have to die again. Forward!’ His charge was successful.”[11]

Although the Gallic colonel got off to a rough start with his Rhode Islanders, he soon won them over. The men of his brigade liked him. “Duffié is in command of the Brigade. He is a Frenchman,” observed Albinus Fell of the 6th Ohio Cavalry, “he is a bully little cuss.”[12] Another predicted that the Frenchman would quickly receive a promotion and leave the 1st Rhode Island. “He is a bully man,” observed Sgt. Emmons D. Guild of the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry. “I tell you he will not stay long, so you will have to look out if you want to see him. His name is A. N. Duffié.”[13] Duffié’s experience showed, and he performed competently if not spectacularly. “Whatever may have been the faults of Colonel Duffié,” recorded his regimental sergeant major, “there is no gainsaying the fact that he was probably the best regimental cavalry drill-master and tactician in the army.”[14] His veteran brigade, which saw heavy action during the Second Bull Run Campaign of 1862, consisted of the 1st Rhode Island, the 1st Massachusetts, 6th Ohio, and 4th New York.

Duffié performed admirably at the March 17, 1863 Battle of Kelly’s Ford while commanding his brigade, in what was unquestionably his finest hour. He was recommended for promotion after his good fight that day, and when his division commander, Brig. Gen. William Woods Averell, was scapegoated for the Union defeat at Chancellorsville and unceremoniously relieved of command of his division and shunted off to West Virginia. As the senior officer in the division, the Frenchman became commander of the Army of the Potomac’s Second Cavalry Division, proving the truth of the Peter Principle: the Gallic sergeant was in way over his head. Unduly cautious and insistent on obeying his orders to the letter at the June 9, 1863 Battle of Brandy Station, Duffié permitted his division’s advance to be held off for most of a day by a single regiment of Confederate cavalry, the 2nd South Carolina Cavalry. After finally brushing the grayclad horsemen aside, Duffié and his division arrived at Brandy Station too late to make a difference in the outcome of the battle. A few days later, when the Cavalry Corps was restructured, the Frenchman was relieved of divisional command and returned to command the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry.

Duffié returned to the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry. “I know that there was not the most cordial feeling between him and the controlling officers in the cavalry,” recalled a Northern horseman. “I suspected that he was more or less a thorn in the side of the higher officers. He was not companionable with them; did not think as they did; had little in common, and, was perhaps inclined to be boastful.”[15] However, Brig. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, the new commander of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps, had other plans for ridding himself of the Frenchman.

On June 17, 1863, Pleasonton dispatched Duffié and the 1st Rhode Island on a reconnaissance to Middleburg, in Virginia’s lush Loudoun Valley. The vastly outnumbered Rhode Islanders were cut to pieces. They lost 6 killed, 9 wounded, and 210 missing and captured, leaving a fine regiment gutted. Pleasonton apparently sacrificed the 1st Rhode Island to rid himself of a hated foreigner.[16] “Had any native born officer been in command the regiment would, without doubt, have cut its way out that night,” observed one of his officers, “[but] Colonel Duffié was a Frenchman, he had received positive orders [to remain in the town that night] and thought it his duty to obey them.” When the Gallic colonel reported to Hooker after escaping from Middleburg, he learned that he had been recommended for immediate promotion to brigadier general, prompting him to declare, “My goodness, when I do well they take no notice of me. When I go make one bad business, make one fool of myself, they promote me, make me General!”[17] John Singleton Mosby, the notorious Confederate partisan commander, offered his opinion of the Frenchman’s leadership skills: “Duffié’s folly is an illustration of the truth of what I have often said—that no man is fit to be an officer who has not the sense and courage to know when to disobey an order.”[18]

Several weeks earlier, Hooker had endorsed a promotion for Duffié as a consequence of his good work at Kelly’s Ford. A few days after the debacle at Middleburg, President Lincoln forwarded a letter to Secretary of War Stanton recommending that Duffié be promoted as a consequence of the Frenchman’s good service at Kelly’s Ford.[19] In spite of the mauling received by the Rhode Islanders, Duffié was promoted to brigadier general and was transferred out of the Army of the Potomac in a classic bump upstairs. He never commanded troops in the Army of the Potomac again. He ended up under Averell’s command again, leading a brigade of cavalry in the Department of West Virginia. When the division commander was badly wounded, Duffié assumed command of the division, while Averell served as chief of cavalry in the Army of the Shenandoah. The two men came into conflict as a result of the clumsy command structure.

In September 1864, just after the important Union victories at Third Winchester and Fisher’s Hill, Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, the new leader of the Army of the Shenandoah, relieved both Averell and Duffié from command. Sheridan directed Duffié to go to Hagerstown, Maryland, to await further orders.[20] On October 21, 1864, Duffié boarded an army ambulance to go see Sheridan about getting another command. Sheridan wanted Duffié to equip and retrain another cavalry force, duty for which the Gallic general was abundantly qualified.[21] After receiving his instructions from Sheridan, on October 24, as Duffié was headed back to Hagerstown to prepare for his new assignment, Mosby’s guerrillas fell upon the Frenchman’s wagon train. Mosby captured Duffié and quickly sent him back to Richmond as a prisoner of war. He sat out the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp in Danville and was not exchanged until March 1865. After Duffié’s capture, Sheridan put an exclamation point on the Frenchman’s career in the U.S. Army. “I respectfully request his dismissal from the service,” sniffed Sheridan in a letter to Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, “I think him a trifling man and a poor soldier. He was captured by his own stupidity.”[22] Duffié never served in the U.S. Army again, although he remained in public service for the rest of his life.

In 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Duffié as U.S. consul to Spain, and sent him to Cadiz, on the Iberian Peninsula’s southwest seacoast. While he served in Spain, the Frenchman contracted tuberculosis, which claimed his life in 1880. Because of his conviction for desertion, Duffié never was able to return to his native France. His body was brought home and buried in his wife’s family plot in Fountain Cemetery in Staten Island, N.Y. Unfortunately, the cemetery was abandoned long ago, and the grave is badly overgrown with vegetation. It is nearly impossible to find, and is as forgotten to history as the proud soldier that rests there. The veterans of the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry, who remained loyal to their former commander, raised money to erect a handsome monument to Duffié in the North Burying Ground in Providence. Capt. George Bliss, who commanded a squadron in the 1st Rhode Island, wrote a lengthy and eloquent tribute to Duffié that was published and distributed to the veterans of the regiment. [23]

In addition to being a flagrant fraud, Alfred Duffié was incompetent to command anything larger than a regiment, and even then, he was only marginally successful. Other than his one good day at Kelly’s Ford, Duffié left no real mark. But his fraud is a fascinating study of the efforts to reinvent the life’s story of a French deserter who became a general in the United States Army. Here’s to Nattie Duffié, forgotten cavalryman.

With gratitude to Jean-Claude Reuflet, a French descendant of Duffié’s, for providing me with much of the material that appears in this profile.

[1] His father, Jean August Duffié, served as mayor of the village of La Ferte sous Juarre. At least one contemporary source states that the Duffié family had its roots in Ireland, and that the family fled to France to escape Oliver Cromwell’s Reign of Terror. See Charles Fitz Simmons, “Hunter’s Raid,” Military Essays and Recollections, Papers Read Before the Commandery of the State of Illinois Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States 4 (Chicago: 1907), 395–96.
[2] Napoléon Alexandre Duffié Military Service Records, French Army Archives, Vincennes, France. The author is grateful to Jean-Claude Reuflet, a relative of Duffié’s, for making these obscure records available and for providing the author with a detailed translation of their contents.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Jeremiah M. Pelton, Genealogy of the Pelton Family in America (Albany, N.Y.: Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1892), 565. The true state of the facts differs dramatically from the conventional telling of Duffié’s life, as set forth in Warner’s Generals in Blue.
[5] Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964), 131–32.
[6] A document prepared by Duffié’s son indicates that Duffié attended the cadet school at Versailles, that he took and passed the entrance examinations for the Military College of St. Cyr, and that he was admitted to St. Cyr in 1851. Daniel A. Duffié claimed that his father dropped out of St. Cyr after a year to enlist in the 6th Regiment of Dragoons. Procuration executed by Daniel A. Duffié, heir of Jean August Duffié, March 16, 1885, Pelton-Duffié Family Papers, Staten Island Historical Society, New York, N.Y.
[7] For an example of the elaborate ruse spun by Duffié, George N. Bliss, “Duffié and the Monument to His Memory,” Personal Narratives of Events in the War of the Rebellion, Being Papers Read Before the Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society 6 (Providence: Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society, 1890), 316–376. Bliss presents a detailed biographical sketch of Duffié that includes all of the falsehoods. Duffié himself apparently provided Bliss with most of his information. See pages 317–20 for the recitation of this litany of falsehoods.
[8] James E. Taylor, The James E. Taylor Sketchbook (Dayton, Ohio: Morningside, 1989), 134.
[9] Gregory J. W. Urwin, The United States Cavalry: An Illustrated History (Poole, Dorset: Blandford Press, 1983), 98–99.
[10] Benjamin W. Crowninshield, A History of the First Regiment Massachusetts Cavalry Volunteers (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1891), 113.
[11] William H. Beach, The First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry from April 19, 1861, to July 7, 1865 (New York: Lincoln Cavalry Association, 1902), 399.
[12] Fell to Dear Lydia, March 8, 1863.
[13] Emmons D. Guild to his parents, March 20, 1863, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park Archives, Fredericksburg, Va. (FSNMP).
[14] Jacob B. Cooke, “The Battle of Kelly’s Ford, March 17, 1863,” Personal Narratives of Events in the War of the Rebellion, Being Papers Read Before the Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society 4 (Providence: Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society, 1887), 9.
[15] George Bliss, The First Rhode Island Cavalry at Middleburg (Providence, R.I.: privately published, 1889), 48.
[16] For a detailed examination, see Robert F. O’Neill, Jr., The Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville: Small but Important Riots (Lynchburg, VA: H. E. Howard 1994), 66–76.
[17] Bliss, The First Rhode Island Cavalry at Middleburg, 50.
[18] John S. Mosby, Stuart’s Cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign (New York: Moffatt, Yard, 1908), 71.
[19] Abraham Lincoln to Edwin M. Stanton, June 22, 1863, Pearce Civil War Collection, Navarro College Archives, Corsicana, Tex.
[20] O.R. vol. 37, part 2, 896–97.
[21] New York Times, October 7, 1864.
[22] O.R. vol. 43, part 2, 475.
[23] See Bliss, “Duffié and the Monument to His Memory.”

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