Thursday, June 14, 2012

Stuart's Ride Around McClellan

Stuart's Ride Around McClellan marker E-74 in Hanover County, VAMarker No. E-74
Hanover County, VA

Marker Text: Near here, on Winston's Farm, J. E. B. Stuart, advancing north, camped on June 12, 1862. Stuart was scouting to find the position of the right wing of McClellan's army besieging Richmond. At this point he turned east to Hanover Courthouse. Stuart made a complete circuit of the Union army.

Location: On Route 1 (Washington Highway), south of intersection with State Route 641, 1.9 miles north of Ashland. Erected by the Conservation & Development Commission in 1931.

  This week is the 150th Anniversary of J.E.B. Stuart's famous ride around Union Gen. George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac. During April until June McClellan's army had traveled up the Peninsula and established positions around the north and eastern sections of Richmond in preparation for their attack.

  In early June, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia after the wounding of General Johnston and began planning a counterattack. Beginning on June 12, General J.E.B. Stuart led 1,200 cavalrymen on a daring three day reconnaissance and discovered that the Union right flank was unsecured. “Stuart's Ride around McClellan" gave Lee the vital information he needed to launch the offensive known as the Seven Days' Battles on June 26.

  Stuart's cavalry regiment had been hastily been organized early during the Civil War with little formal training and mustered into the Confederate army. His regiment was assigned to General Joseph Johnston's forces in the Shenandoah Valley.

  Stuart's men were mounted on their own horses and knew the country side throughout Virginia well. These capabilities soon made them proficient in outpost duty. In the opening campaign Stuart's command served providing screening actions to cover Johnston's movement from Winchester, VA to the First Battle of Manassas (or Bull Run). Stuart distinguished himself by his personal bravery. During the autumn and winter of 1861 he continued his outpost service and was somewhat severely handled by General Ord's force at the action of Dranesville. By the time of his ride around McClellan, he had been promoted brigadier-general and placed in command of the cavalry brigade of the army of Northern Virginia.

Stuart's Ride Around McClellan marker E-74 along U.S. Route 1 in Hanover County, VA

Photo taken looking south on U.S. Route 1 toward Ashland, VA.  Click any photo to enlarge.

  In 1862, the Union Army of the Potomac began its Peninsula Campaign against Richmond, Virginia, and Stuart's cavalry brigade assisted Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's army as it withdrew up the Virginia Peninsula in the face of superior numbers. Stuart fought at the Battle of Williamsburg, but in general the terrain and weather on the Peninsula did not lend themselves to cavalry operations.

  On June 10, 1862, Robert E. Lee told J.E.B. Stuart to assemble his men and reconnoiter the right flank of McClellan's Army of the Potomac. Although General Lee had just assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia, he had a lot of faith in his fellow Virginian. Robert E. Lee had been the Superintendent at West Point when Stuart was a cadet and it was Stuart who accompanied Lee to Harper's Ferry to deal with abolitionist John Brown.

  Stuart didn't take much time in proposing a complete circuit around the Union Army, heading to the north end of the lower peninsula (near the York River) and returning to Richmond along the James. The following day Lee gave Stuart a non-specific order, telling him to exercise "due caution." Both Lee and Stuart interpreted that to mean "go ahead, but be careful."

  At 2:00 a.m. on the morning of June 12, one thousand of Stuart's cavalry mounted their horses and headed north from Richmond for the Union right flank, at that time slightly west of Mechanicsville. The first day the men rode north on the Brooke Turnpike before turning north at Turner's Tavern in hopes of giving the Yanks the impression he was off to support Stonewall Jackson's approach to Richmond. Stuart picked up an additional 200 men just outside the outer defenses of Richmond. They passed west of Ashland Station (Ashland) and quietly bivouacked without fires near Winston's Farm (near this marker) on the south bank of the South Anna River. Stuart and Rooney Lee continued on to Hickory Hill, the home of Lee's father-in-law. From this point Stuart's brigade made their turn east toward the York River.

  Among some of the men with Stuart were Colonel Fitz Lee (Robert E. Lee's nephew) and Lt. Colonel Rooney Lee (his son) and the future Colonel John Singleton Mosby.

No comments:

Post a Comment