Stonewall Jackson at Cedar Mountain

This is an excellent book by Robert K. Krick, who is the former chief historian at the Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania National Military Park. It’s a product of prodigious research coupled with a stirring narrative that provides us an enjoyable excursion into a microhistory of a battle that’s often disposed of in one or two paragraphs in standard histories.

Krick begins by placing the battle into the context of the Eastern Theater of the war, setting up the action to follow by introducing us to Major General John Pope, whom Krick describes as, “a staunch Republican at a time when the radicals of that party were wielding enormous power in Washington.” [p. 3] I question how much power the Radical Republicans actually wielded in 1862. He then gets into the strategic situation, telling us “In early August, Pope’s command threatened Lee’s left and rear from an arc centered on Gordonsville.” [p. 5]

Krick is clearly sympathetic to Lee and Jackson and antagonistic toward Pope. “Confederate commander R. E. Lee was prompted by Pope’s shenanigans to write to Stonewall Jackson: ‘I want Pope to be suppressed.’ In an official document, Lee referred to the new Federal leader as ‘miscreant Pope,’ and in other correspondence Lee was atypically blunt in his comments.” [p. 7] This brings up the question to me of what was the prewar relationship, if any, between Lee and Pope? That’s something I’ve never seen explored. I wonder if Lee and Pope knew each other, and if Lee developed an animus for Pope prior to the war.

In a precursor to his performance in the Gettysburg Campaign, General Beverly H. Robertson showed himself to be deficient as a cavalry commander. “The Laurel Brigade was now commanded by General Beverly H. Robertson. Robertson was thirty-five years old, a career officer, and a West Point graduate–and Jackson disliked him very much. When Lee’s cavalry chief, J. E. B. Stuart, showed up in the midst of the Cedar Mountain fighting, observers in the army interpreted his arrival as a fortuitous coincidence. Historians have accepted that interpretation. Two members of Stonewall’s staff knew better. One of the witnesses was Jackson’s medical officer, Hunter Holmes McGuire. During the first days of August, Jackson found McGuire eating a raw Bermuda onion in a desperate effort to dispel dusty heat and thirst. The general was teasing McGuire about his taste, in the heavily humorless way that Jackson sometimes exhibited, when Robertson rode into the cheerful tableau. Stonewall immediately asked the question he always had ready for his mounted arm: ‘Where is the enemy?’ When Robertson calmly replied, ‘I really do not know,’ the glee vanished from Jackson’s face, his countenance turned black, and he abruptly moved away without speaking further. Jackson immediately telegraphed to Lee, asking for Stuart’s services. Lee suspected that his subordinate was demanding too much from Robertson, but he sent Stuart up to look around.” [pp. 8-9]

In the upcoming battle, the temperature in Central Virginia that August would play a major role. “That environmental factors affect military affairs, sometimes decisively, is hardly a new idea. The struggle at Cedar Mountain would be shaped by terrain and ground cover and other features, but none of these exceeded in importance the brutal constant verity of the broiling sun. On August 7 the march began well past the height of the day and lasted a relatively short time. Even so, Lieutenant John D. Summers of the Fifty-second Virginia Infantry noted in his diary: ‘The weather so hot men faint and die on the march.’ Jed Hotchkiss told his wife in a letter that the march on August 7 consisted of ‘poking along.’ Federals were moving on August 7 also, and the same relentless sun was making them miserable. … As many as eight or ten men died each day in some regiments, and the dead march that accompanied their burials made each evening solemn.” [pp. 17-19]

The most important factors in a battle, though, are the people involved. “One of the key actors at Cedar Mountain was thirty-two-year-old General Charles Sidney Winder (rhymes with finder), a native of Maryland and graduate of West Point with successful battle experience against Indians in the Northwest. The general had been sick for several days and still was ‘in an enfeebled condition.’ The men of his brigade generally were content to see Winder sick because his strict discipline had enraged them. John O. Casler of the Thirty-third Virginia, whose irreverent memoir won him immortality of sorts, went so far as to suggest that Winder was ‘spotted’ by some of the men for being ‘very severe, and very tyrannical’ and would not survive friendly action in the next battle even if the Federals missed him. The movement orders on August 7 reached Winder and his brigade (Jackson’s famous old Stonewall Brigade) at a camp about three miles south of Liberty Mills around the O. H. P. Terrell house. The order, of course, supplied no hint of the purpose of the move. Winder was under orders from his brigade medical director to stay out of action, but he planned to ignore the doctor if battle loomed imminent.” [p. 19]

Unlike most battles, in the battle of Cedar Mountain the confederates greatly outnumbered the Federals. “After judicious analysis, William Allan concluded in 1880 that Jackson brought somewhat fewer than 20,000 men to action at Cedar Mountain by the time the last of Hill’s brigades arrived. By the same procedures (if anything, more liberal in deducting stragglers from Union tables of strength), Allan attributed 16,200 to Banks. The latter figure, however, included 7,000 men of Ricketts’s division of McDowell’s corps, who arrived in time only to stabilize a deteriorated Federal situation. Some of Jackson’s numbers were almost as late arriving as was Ricketts. A reasonable estimate of the men available to either side at the moment of decision is 15,000 for Jackson and 9,000 for Banks. Jackson had been winning big states for months against reversed odds. With the numbers in his favor, Jackson should have an easy time with Banks.” [p. 45]

It turned out, though, that the Federals very nearly routed Jackson’s entire command, and the meat of the book is the story of how that happened and how Jackson retrieved the situation and changed defeat into victory. As he gets into the battle, Krick’s descriptions are clear and precise, and the excellent maps throughout the book make it easy to follow the action and to understand what was going on. His narrative of the various parts of the battle greatly aid the student in understanding the tactics used and their effects, as well as the performance of various soldiers involved. For example, artillerist Willie Pegram showed his skill and bravery, while cavalryman Beverly Robertson continued to show his ineptness. In discussing the artillery, Krick tells us, “As Field and Stafford and their few cavalry accompaniments reached the northeastern edge of the Cedar Run Church woods, the forward elements of both armies were in a state of flux. Ricketts had not completed the formation of his division straddling the road ahead of the Confederates, and Stafford and Field remained uncertain of how to proceed. Jackson’s determination to reconnoiter by artillery fire made sense at the time and still does. Federals nearby in disarray offered a tempting target. What harm could come from shooting a few of them with cannon? Although the entire artillery complement of Hill’s division had shelled the woods a few minutes earlier, only one battery stood close to the front and ready to unlimber. No Confederate at Cedar Mountain was, and no student of the Army of Northern Virginia should be, surprised at the identity of the battery pressed farthest to the front: it was Willie Pegram’s. That unflinchingly combative youngster lay close at hand and eager for renewed opportunity to fight.” [p. 304] Regarding the ineffective Robertson, we learn: “Beverly H. Robertson had given Jackson no good reason during the day to revised the negative opinion that had prompted the army commander to send out an emergency call for Jeb Stuart. The fragmentation of the available cavalry force on fugitive missions in every direction, which could not be blamed on Robertson, had left Jackson without much mounted strength on the battlefield. Some Southern cavalry did advance at sunset as Jackson swept the field, notably along the banks of Cedar Run between the Crittenden House and Cedar Mountain. Robertson was not in evidence, whoever, and Jackson felt the absence of an active and energetic mounted arm. Not long after the charge of the First Pennsylvania Cavalry, when it became obvious that a Confederate advance would sweep through the dissolving Federal line, Jackson asked among his couriers for someone who knew Robertson. John Blue spoke up. Jackson wrote a note and suggested that Blue ride out on the right in quest of Robertson. Blue eventually found Robertson and delivered the message. Whatever response General Robertson made to the message from Jackson did not propel him onto center stage. The cavalry commander’s actions during the hours of darkness remain unknown and apparently unimportant. Robertson’s energetic if grumpy subordinate, W. E. ‘Grumble’ Jones, however, soon arrived on the field and promptly swung into action.” [pp. 314-315]

Those looking to understand the Battle of Cedar Mountain will do well by reading this book. The only weakness I see is that it is heavily focused on the confederate side, and while not neglecting the Federals the student of the battle can benefit by a greater focus on the Federal side to balance things out. I can highly recommend this book.

Advertisements

2 comments

  1. Shoshana Bee · · Reply

    Thank you for the timely review, as this is one of the highlights of my upcoming CWI2017 experience: Cedar Mountain (not Cedar Hill, Cedar Creek — inside joke) With my preparation for the upcoming conference on overload, I appreciate the information provided about the book/battle — especially the bit about Beverly H. Robertson (seeing this as a foreshadowing of his further ineptness at Gettysburg)

    1. My pleasure, Shoshana.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: