06 February 2010 by Published in: Confederate Cavalry 12 comments

Loyal reader Valerie Protopapas is also the newsletter editor for the Stuart-Mosby Historical Society. Although I am not a member of the Society, I have given the address on the anniversary of Jeb Stuart’s birth. Valerie is kind enough to make certain that I receive the newsletter whenever one is published–thank you, Valerie. I do read them, and I do appreciate them.

The November-December 2009 issue had an article titled “Two Accounts of Mosby’s Affect on the Battle of Brandy Station” that’s worthy of some more exploration. The first is a quote from John Formby’s 1910 book The American Civil War–A Concise History of Its Causes, Progress, and Results:

It was in the spring of 1863 that the celebrated “Jack” Mosby began his raids and surprises on Union outposts and communications. He was a partisan leader pure and simple, who depended for success on ubiquity and the smallness of his communications. When the Army of the Potomac was lying in front of Centreville, he attacked their outposts continually, and caused such a scare that the planks of the chain bridge at Washington were taken up at nights; at this time he could not muster more than 20 men. He was often pursued by large forces, but easily escaped. In February he nearly succeeded in capturing General (sic) Wyndham in his own quarters, and did take General Stoughton in his, soon after. Just before the battle of Brandy Station, Hooker asked for the cavalry division from Washington to reinforce Pleasonton, but it was refused as being necessary to hold the communications against Mosby, who had just destroyed a supply train. He was chased by a major-general and 3,000 men, vanished, and a few days afterwards captured a cavalry camp in Maryland. He often neutralized a hundred times his own force, and created a constant feeling of insecurity on the Union side.

Mosby himself weighed in on the issue in his memoirs. He wrote:

If Pleasonton had had those 6000 sabers with him…on June 9, 1863, in his great cavalry combat with Stuart at Brandy Station, the result might have been different. Hooker had asked for them, but had been refused, on the ground that they could not be spared from the defense of Washington.

In support of his claims, Mosby quoted Joseph Hooker’s testimony before the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War after the Battle of Gettysburg:

I may state here that while at Fairfax Court House my cavalry was reinforced by that of Major-Gen. Stahel. The latter numbered 6100 sabers, and had been engaged in picketing a line from Occoquan River to Goose Creek…The force opposed to them was Mosby’s guerrillas, numbering about 200; and, if the reports of the newspapers were to be believed, this whole party was killed two or three times during the winter. From the time I took command of the Army of the Potomac there was no evidence that any force of the enemy, other than that above named, was within 100 miles of Washington City; and yet, the planks on the chain bridge were taken up at night during the greater part of the winter and spring.

At first blush, the statement that the addition of 6000 sabers to the 12,000 or so that Pleasonton took into battle at Brandy Station on June 9, 1863 would have made a significant difference certainly makes sense, as the addition of that division would have meant that Pleasonton’s force would have been twice the size of Stuart’s. Nobody disputes that.

However, the real question is whether there was ever any chance of Stahel’s division being added to the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps any sooner that it was, which was at the end of June 1863. The answer is absolutely not.

The reasons why are actually pretty simple. At the time of the Battle of Brandy Station, Alfred Pleasonton–who was then the INTERIM commander of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps (the actual commander, Maj. Gen. George Stoneman was on medical leave)–was still a brigadier general of volunteers. Julius Stahel, who commanded that division, was a major general, and outranked Pleasonton. Thus, by virtue of seniority, Stahel would have been entitled to take command of the Cavalry Corps and the expedition. Pleasonton, whose ambition knew no bounds, never, ever would have permitted that to occur; once Stahel was in command, it would have been all but impossible to remove him. Thus, the only way that Pleasonton could have the benefit of that division was if Stahel was no longer in command of it.

Further, it was well known that Alfred Pleasonton had a rabid case of xenophobia, and Stahel was a Hungarian immigrant. Pleasonton firmly believed that foreigners had no place fighting in this most American of wars, and he took active, affirmative steps to rid his command of high-ranking foreigners that was as extreme as sacrificing an entire regiment at Middleburg, VA in an effort to rid himself of Frenchman Alfred N. Duffie during the early phases of the Gettysburg Campaign.

Pleasonton succeeded in ridding himself of the threat posed by Stahel, but it didn’t happen until the last week of June 1863. Stahel was relieved of command of his division, and then the division became the Third Cavalry Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac, under the command of Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick.

However, at the beginning of June, prior to the Battle of Brandy Station, Stahel was well-ensconced i command of his division, and, at that time, was going nowhere. Given that, and given that Stahel ranked Pleasonton, there was absolutely NO chance that his division would have joined the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps on June 9, 1863.

So, while Mosby certainly had a point, his own ego prohibited him from seeing the truth, which is that he really didn’t play any role at all in the great Battle of Brandy Station.

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Comments

  1. Sun 07th Feb 2010 at 11:36 am

    I would agree that Stahel himself would not have commanded a division UNDER Pleasonton, and such situation precluded those 6k troopers from participating at Brandy Station more than anything Mr. Mosby did or did not do. However, I’m inclined to give Mosby some credit, although distantly, in this regard.

    Prior to his cavalry command, Stahel was a division commander in 11th Corps, and in fact had commanded the Corps when Sigel took a role as “Grand Division” commander. My understanding is Stahel was selected to command the new cavalry division based on a favorable nod by Carl Schurtz. But the move occurred just before Howard assumed temporary (later permanent) command of the Corps. (And Howard seemed bent on removing Stahel from his cavalry command in late June 1863. Is there smoke there?)

    The cavalry division Stahel took command of was in essence a new formation. Some of the regiments were veterans of the previous summer’s campaigns, and others were fresh in. But all were part of the larger pool of manpower which could be called for work in the Eastern Theater, most importantly the AOP.

    So if Mosby scared the brass in Washington so bad that planks were removed from the Chain Bridge, and a new cavalry division formed just to counter his activities…. might we say that siphoned off manpower and horsepower from the mounted arm of the AOP? Heck, just count a third the number of mounts needed for Stahel’s Division and ask if those would make a difference for the AOP in April-May-June.

    No, I agree, Stahel’s division, as a complete formation, could not have participated at Brandy Station for the very reason you outline above. But had there not been a “Mosby scare” and thus no reason to form Stahel’s cavalry division, how many of those 6k troopers and mounts might have been at Brandy Station and later at Loudoun Valley.

    However, I’d submit the bigger “what if” involves Stahel remaining with the 11th Corps. I feel in spite of his performance in Maryland from June 24-27, Stahel was a reliable commander. MOH awards to foreign born generals are as rare as hen’s teeth. I would wonder if things could have played out differently if Stahel had held the federal flank on May 2, 1863 instead of Devens. Or how Stahel may have reacted differently than Barlow on July 1 at Gettysburg.

  2. Alejandro
    Sun 07th Feb 2010 at 12:03 pm

    Thank you very much, Mr. Wittenberg. Quite interesting note. If I recognized correctly, you use a quote from “Mosby’s War Reminiscences” by Mosby himself, not “The Memoirs of Colonel John S. Mosby” edited by Charles Well Russell?

  3. Sun 07th Feb 2010 at 1:41 pm

    Alejandro,

    Correct.

    Eric

  4. Valerie Protopapas
    Wed 10th Feb 2010 at 3:58 pm

    Eric,
    Thank you for the kind words. I cannot speak to battles – they are not my forte or of much interest to me except in passing. However, I have forwarded your comments to the President of the Society, Richard Crouch, who wrote a book on that battle and will let you know if he should get back to me with his comments (time permitting, of course).

    However, there is no doubt of the effect Mosby and his ubiquitous and very dangerous command had on Sheridan’s fight with Early later in the war. Sheridan himself noted in his autobiography that despite his advantage in troop numbers, said advantage was effectively nullified by Mosby’s presence in his rear. When a man in Sheridan’s position blames in print a command that never had a thousand men over the course of the war or more than five hundred (and usually a great deal less) at any given time, there has to be a certain admission (however grudging) of Mosby’s effectiveness as a commander and strategist. Remember, Mosby’s largest assault was the Berryville raid (August 13, 1864) in which he used 300 men to attack a very large wagon train. In that action he lost two men dead, two wounded, took two hundred Union prisoners and a very large amount of cattle, horses and mules as well as burning seventy wagons. In October of that same year, he hit the B&O line that Sheridan had declared “safe” from guerrilla depredations and after burning the train, got away with an army payroll of over $165,000. When the matter was reported, other army paymasters locked themselves in their rooms and refused to move until they were guaranteed protection against Mosby and his men.

    As noted, I cannot comment upon Brandy Station except to quote the comment by the Count of Paris (a Union officer) and the testimony of General Hooker. Hopefully, Mr. Crouch might be able to add to the discussion.

  5. rick savard
    Sat 13th Feb 2010 at 1:33 am

    Just re-read Jeffrey’s Wert’s fine book on Mosby. Can’t recall that Brandy Station is barely mentioned. As far as Mosby interferring with Sheridan’s ’64 invasion of the Valley; Mosby certainly tried hard and he did what he did, especially the Berryville raid but Ol’ Jube could certainly have used Mosby as a force multiplier against the Union advance if he didn’t have such a burr under his saddle concerning Mosby. Pride and a general ignorance on just what hurtin’ Mosby’ s Rangers could have done against the Federal advance can be laid at Gen. Early’s tent-post.

  6. Al Ovies
    Tue 16th Feb 2010 at 4:39 pm

    Eric,

    Great post on Mosby. That lawyerly mind of yours sure can cut to the meat of the matter.

    To Rick Savard: In defense of Jubal Early’s treatment of Mosby, he wasn’t the only Confederate general who felt that way. In fact, outside of JEB Stuart, you would be hard pressed to find a Rebel general who put much stock in the partisans. Stephen D. Ramseur, and many others in Early’s command believe that the partisans were a detriment to the Confederate cause, and worked tirelessly to have the system outlawed. Eventually, the Confederate Congress abolished the guerilla bands-with the exception of Mosby. In the official records, R. E. Lee complimented Mosby on several occassions, but at the same time took him to task for several episodes which were ethically/morally borderline. He even accused Mosby of profiteering from his military activities, while so many in the regular army were suffering all kinds of privations.

  7. Thu 18th Feb 2010 at 6:17 pm

    Eric,

    I agree with you concerning Stahel’s entire division, but it does speak to some extent of Mosby’s influence that the ever-acquisitive Pleasonton wasn’t able to obtain another brigade or two from Stahel’s formation.

    In fairness, attributing 6,000 sabers to Stahel’s division is generous. As Craig notes, several of the regiments were very green, and several of the veteran regiments suffered from depleted ranks. 6,100 on paper, perhaps, but I’d estimate closer to 4,000 effectives.

    Don

  8. Valerie Protopapas
    Fri 19th Feb 2010 at 11:09 pm

    As for Early (and Rosser and Fitzhugh Lee) vis a vie Mosby: yes, Mosby was not liked by the “ring knockers” of the regular army. They disliked him personally (Lee) and they disliked his name and fame. They didn’t understand partisan warfare and blamed Mosby for many egregious deeds committed by renegades from both sides. Mostly, however, they disliked his press and his fame which they believed should go to them and the regular army.

    Mosby tried to work with Early and sent men to that General when he began his operations – men whom Early knew and who knew him. But Early was devious and gave Mosby little or no information about his intentions. He then ordered Mosby to make an attack on Point of Rocks – an attack he just performed and Early knew it! Early also insisted on sending Mosby oral rather than written orders. Mosby, not knowing Early’s messengers and aware that he was always in danger of traps and ambushes, refused to follow such directions noting that both Stuart and Lee (Robert E.) had always sent him written orders. However, Mosby really did not know the extent of Early’s malignant hatred until after the war when he learned that Early had dismissed help any help from the 43rd by saying that he was damned if his men were going to do the fighting while Mosby’s did the looting. If Early had cared to look, he would have learned that Mosby’s command had outfought and defeated Union commands often many times their number.

    No, I would not make any determinations about Mosby from men like Early or Rosser or Fitz Lee. Their judgment was tainted by envy and ego and neither objective nor accurate.

  9. rick savard
    Sun 21st Feb 2010 at 1:07 am

    Hi Al. Some of the charges laid against Mosby and his men were actually committed by smaller, less-organized bands although i would never allege that Mosby’s men were pure of heart, always. He certainly had his share of written commendations from Bob Lee and was finally promoted to Colonel. Regular army types have always held a prejudice against smaller, independent commands—WHY? Because they tend to attract aggressive men who more willingly endure hardship to win. And, don’t forget, Mosby, on a number of occasions, held formations during which those who joined his Command to avoid regular service were thrown out and escorted back to higher commands. I have to repeat, Jubal Early’s prejudice against Mosby–real or imagined—were hurtful to The Cause. When things ain’t going your way a refusal by a Commander to make use of all his resources is foolhardy if you win and maybe sumpin’ else if you lose; dereliction of duty maybe being one. BUT—-Very Happy to have a chance to discuss it with you…..rick

  10. Al Ovies
    Mon 22nd Feb 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Rick, (and Valerie too)

    Enjoyed your comments re: Mosby. In truth, I am neither for or against his actions, either for or against Early’s actions. My interest in Mosby lies in his continuous sparring with Custer and Merritt’s troopers. I have developed a pretty extensive knowledge of Mosby/Custer and am looking for more info on Mosby/Merritt. Custer was blamed for the hangings of Mosby’s men at Front Royal, and I have always felt that it was Merritt who ordered/supervise their executions. I have been working for several years on a book about the Custer/Merritt relationship and feel that the Front Royal incident was one of the major sticking points in their emnity. So thanks for the info-every little bit helps!

    Al

  11. rick savard
    Mon 22nd Feb 2010 at 10:36 pm

    Wassup, Al! From what i’ve read (and that’s probably a lot less than you), Custer should hold the least blame for the hangings. Mr. Wert says so in his book. I need to check on Eric Wittenberg’s work concerning the subject.(having read Mr. Wittenberg i also admire his authorship. Both he and Mr. Wert can turn a phrase.) What surprised me and really opened my eyes is reading that “partisan” bands proliferated; on both sides; or maybe more in the South where most of the battles took place. This came as news to me and i’m interested in finding out more about the subject. Have any suggestions? God Bless America…..rick

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