« PreviousContinue »
the Rapidan at Raccoon Ford, pass down near Louisa Court-House to Cartersville or Goochland Court-House, cross the James river, destroy one or more locks on the canal which runs along the left bank of the James river, destroy the bridges across the Appomattox river and Flat creek, destroy whatever bridges I might find on the Petersburg and Lynchburg railroad, and the bridges across the Nottoway river and Stony creek, on the Petersburg and Weldon railroad. The distance from Kelly's Ford, on the Rappahannock, to James river is about sixty miles; from there to the bridges on the first railroad below is about fifteen miles; then fifteen miles to the next railroad; and then about twenty miles to the Petersburg and Weldon railroad. The whole distance from the Rappahannock to where I expected to meet the forces of General Peck is not over one hundred and fifty miles
My men were provided with three days' rations and one day's forage. We were to have no wagons and no pack-animals. Each officer and each man was to carry his own rations. There was to be nothing taken to encumber the expedition
There were only two points about which I had any misgivings as to the success of the expedition. The first was the crossing of the Rappahannock and the Rapidan ; the second was the forming a junction with General Peck's forces.
To insure the success of the first a division of infantry and an extra brigade, with a battery, were placed at my disposal and direction, and I also took along some eight hundred or nine hundred additional cavalry. Of the infantry I sent one brigade across the Rappahannock at Richards's Ford to recross at Ellis's Ford, a distance of some three and a half or four miles, and to capture the enemy's pickets. With three hundred and fifty of the additional cavalry an attack was to be made upon some black horse cavalry stationed at Warrenton, about twenty-five miles northwest of Kelly's Ford. Between these two demonstrations I expected to be able to pass on without much resistance.
The other brigades of the division of infantry were distributed along the different fords of the Rappahannock up as far as Mooresville, where one brigade was left to support my crossing. With the extra brigade I intended to cross, taking with me six hundred additional cavalry, and after crossing the Rappabannock turn them to the right and let them attack all the forces they might find in the direction of Culpeper Court-House, and return by crossing further up the river. They would have stood some chance of intercepting Stuart, who was then making a raid up around our lines in the vicinity of Anandale and Fairfax Court-House. It was reported that Stuart, Hampton, Lee, Rosser—all their best cavalry men—were then engaged in this raid north of the Rappahannock, and that they had pretty much all of their available cavalry force with them. I had nothing to fear from their infantry. The enemy could follow me with nothing but cavalry, and most of their cavalry was then north of the Rappahannock.
After crossing the Rapidan I proposed to detach a party to go to the right and cut the wires and destroy any bridges they might find betweeen Gordonsville and Culpeper Court-House. I intended to do this in order to convey the impression to the rebel forces that the whole expedition had turned to the right and gone up that way. The first information they would probably get of the movement would be by telegraph from Culpeper Court-House, and when they heard that that line was cut between Culpeper court-house and Gordonsville, they would think that the expedition had turned off in that direction. That was to be done while I was moving on towards Louisa Court House. After passing Louisa Court-House, it was my intention to send a party to cut the line between Louisa Court-House and Hanover Junction. Upon arriving at the main road that leads from Richmond to Gordonsville, I intended to send an officer with fifty men to cut the line on both the roads between Hanover Junction and Richmond, in rear of the rebel army, and then to proceed down the peninsula to Yorktown and Fortress Monroe, while I kept on with the main body across the country, and carried out the rest of my plan of operations. By the aid of the signal officers, and with the understanding that was had with General Peck, I hoped to experience no difficulty in passing through or by the forces under the rebel General Pryor upon the Blackwater. I had studied that country in Prince George's and Surry counties, and felt perfectly confident that I could get through there anywhere. The distance between the James and Blackwater rivers, which for some distance run nearly parallel to each other there, is about fourteen miles ; and, with the force that Pryor had, he could maintain no
; line of that length that I could not pass through at some point. As to that matter, I believe I could go within a mile of the whole rebel army in perfect safety. If this expedition had been then carried out, it would have taken place about the same time that our army was fighting in the west ; and there is no telling what would have been its effect upon the rebel army in the west, or their army here, or upon Richmond. It would have taken them six weeks to have repaired their canal locks, and several weeks to rebuild those bridges, which were high and long. The fact of all information being cut off from their western army would have had an immense effect upon
Richmond. The combination which I purposed to carry out would have insured my getting at least to the first railroad before they knew where I was; and then I intended that my movements should be made with sufficient celerity to avoid any overwhelming force. The enemy had but little cavalry down in Surrey, Sussex, and Dinwiddie counties, and that cavalry had scarcely ever been in action. Last year, with 300 men, I drove a whole regiment of that cavalry out of their camp opposite Harrison's Landing, and burned their camp. I had a thousand picked men—500 regulars and 500 volunteers, commanded by the most reliable officers. All were most anxious to go. A great many officers came to me and made strong appeals to me to allow them to accompany me on the expedition. Even private soldiers came to me making the same request. And we had all set our hearts upon carrying out that expedition. The cavalry of our army has labored for a long time under great disadvantages, and has suffered reproach in consequence, and we desired to regain some of our lost reputation. We had every incentive to strive for success. The organization of the force was begun on the Sunday before New Years, and was completed the next day. A delay until Tuesday took place in order to allow full time for communication with General Peck. On Tuesday morning I started. The division of infantry and the additional cavalry went to the places I had assigned them in my proposition. A brigade of infantry crossed the river, and did all that was expected of them in the way of demonstration. The additional cavalry attacked Warrenton at the time proposed, at daylight, on Wednesday morning. I had captured a guide, who had come on Tuesday from Robertson's tavern, below the Rapidan, and he was willing to guide me over to that point-over what I considered the most critical portion of the whole route. On Wednesday morning, about half-past 10 o'clock, just as the head of my column was approaching Kelly's Ford, to cross the river, I received an order to defer the expedition. I'he order came from General Parke, General Burnside's chief of staff, and stated that, in consequence of information received from Washington, the expedition was deferred, and I was to proceed to Warrenton and endeavor to intercept Stuart's cavalry, which had been reported to have been at Aldie at half-past 2 o'clock the day before, about twenty miles north of Warrenton. At the time I received the order I was twentyfive miles southeast of Warrenton, and, with Stuart but twenty miles north
of Warrenton the day before, I knew it was impossible for me to intercept him there. But the order was imperative, urging me to use the greatest despatch. I immediately turned the head of my column about, after countermanding the orders to the different brigades of infantry, and proceeded to Warrenton. When I got there I found that Stuart had passed through there about five hours before.
That night was a bitter cold night. During the night I ascertained from my scouts, and from the contrabands about the place, that Hampton had probably crossed the Rappahannock at Waterloo Bridge, and that Stuart had gone to Sulphur Springs the afternoon before for the same purpose. I knew it would be perfectly useless to follow Stuart and try to intercept him. It would be only wasting the strength of my cavalry, which I still hoped to carry on this expedition. I accordingly went back to Hartwood, about four miles from Richards's Ford and encamped there, and reported to General Burnside by letter, and stating that I was still ready to go on this expedition. The weather during all this time was very favorable. The nights were clear, with the exception of the two last nights of the year, which were dark and stormy. We had a fine moon nearly full. The roads were in excellent condition. The officers and men were exceedingly anxious to go upon the expedition, and were very much disheartened when the order was countermanded. I have not the slightest doubt that, if I had succeeded in getting across the Rappahannock and Rapidan, I should have been able to have accomplished all the destruction which was proposed to the enemy's lines of communication. It was not necessary that I should join General Peck's forces after I got through my work. The whole south was open before me.
Each man was furnished with some salt, to be used if we were obliged to live upon fresh meat. I could have crossed the Roanoke and gone down in North Carolina to Washington, where some of our forces were; or I could have turned to the right, crossed the James river higher up, and come around through the valley of the Shenandoah. With a thousand picked men I could have gone anywhere, and come back again. I am not aware of any general officer opposing the expedition, except one who made a written protest against some details that were made from his command. I desired to have as one of my officers the Colonel B. F. Davies, who conducted the cavalry in their escape from Harper's Ferry last September, just before that place was surrendered. He was in General Pleasonton's command, and I was told that General Pleasonton put in a written protest against his being detailed to go on this expedition. I waited at Hartwood for a week, keeping my command in readiness, and keeping up their supplies, hoping that the expedition would be allowed to go. It was finally ordered back to camp and broken up.
Question. Do you consider that this expedition may yet be undertaken?
Answer. Certainly it may be undertaken; but I do not consider that the chances of success are now anything like as good as they were then.
Question. Do you consider that the enemy now have a knowledge of the expedition as it was proposed ?
Answer. I think that is doubtless the case now. There are, however, many other routes upon which our cavalry can be sent. But just at that time there were many considerations in favor of such an expedition, aside from the military ones to which I have referred. The cutting off their means of supply, and lines of communication between the east and the west, would have given a shock to Richmond from which they could not have recovered, provided our army had attacked them vigorously at or near Fredericksburg. And there were some political effects which would have been produced. It was just after the President's emancipation proclamation; and such an expedition would have opened the eyes of the leaders of the rebellion to the
fact that their country was penetrable by our forces in every direction. And nothing would have made them more uneasy in regard to the status of their peculiar institution than a raid of that kind. We might not have said one word to the negroes, or interfered with them in any respect. And still there is no calculating the powerful effect such an expedition would have had upou those counties, and upon the rebel army there. These men in their army at Fredericksburg have families and slaves all through these counties; and let them have even learned that a raid had passed through there, carrying, as they would have supposed, the President's proclamation, and neither the conscription, nor the bayonet, nor anything else could have kept all those men in the army. Many of them would have gone home.
Question. Then you think your proposed movement would have greatly increased the chances of success in an attack upon the rebel forces at Fredericksburg ?
Answer. Yes, sir; there never has been a movement of that kind made that has not increased-in some cases doubled the chances of success. The enemy operated in the same way against us in the late battle with General Rosecrans, and in their operations against General Pope. They interrupted our communications in the rear, disordered our plans, and greatly crippled our movements. And our cavalry raids in the west had the best effect against them. In Virginia here, it seems as though the rivers run, and the railroads and canals are constructed through there, just for the purpose of being crossed and destroyed by us in just such a raid. I felt personally and professionally anxious to do this, in reference to these rebel cavalry officers who were then north of the Rappahannock. I could not have dealt them a heavier blow than to have made this raid around through their own country while they were trifling about our lines. And this is the second proposition I nave made in regard to their cavalry.
Question. State what the first one was, if you please.
Answer. That was when Stuart made his raid into Pennsylvania and Maryland. At that time I was at Green Spring, below Cumberland, on the Potomac. I proposed to General Marcy, General McClellan's chief of staff, that I should go down through Romney, south of the Potomac, attack and destroy as much as practicable the force there under Imboden; turn to the left through Manassas Gap and recross the Potomac at or near the very place where Stuart recrossed it. That would have been going around their army at the same time they were going around ours. If I had been allowed to carry out that proposed plan, I see no reason why I should not have succeeded in passing around the rear of their army; and it is quite likely I should have met Stuart at or about the time he recrossed into Virginia.
Question. Why did you not make the movement you proposed ?
Answer. I was not allowed to do it. I was ordered to return at once, although Stuart was 100 miles from me, and endeavor to intercept him. It was supposed there that he would endeavor to recross the Potomac up about Cumberland. I knew, from the water being in the canal all the way down to near Harper's Ferry, that it was impracticable for Sutart to
, cross the Potomac except where he could cross the canal at the culverts. It happened that at that time General Cox's division was at Hancock. I was ordered to see that it was properly placed and posted, to afford him information, &c. All I had to do was to put a sufficient number of men at these culverts to defend them, and Stuart never could have got back in that direction. I had less to encounter in getting around their army than they had in getting around ours, and a better force to do it with.
Question. Was General McClellan aware of your proposition ?
Answer. I do not think that General McClellan himself ever knew of it. He was absent in Philadelphia at that time, I believe, and the correspondence, by telegraph, which took place, was between General Marcy, his chief of staff, and myself. I do not think that General McClellan ever knew anything at all about it. I have never asked him. I came down to the Potomac then, made the dispositions of the infantry, and wandered about there, able to do little or nothing. I got some of the young farmer boys up in that country, and in the southern part of Pennsylvania, who were well acquainted with all that country, and got them to mount their horses and go in every direction and bring me information as quickly as possible of Stuart's position and movements. They were to hover about him continually and let me know all about him. I ascertained in a few hours that he never intended to return in that direction. I do not think that Stuart carried out the purpose of his raid. I think he should have struck for the Pennsylvania railroad. That was where I supposed he would go. He was within fifty miles of it after crossing the Poto
The nearest point on the road to the Potomac was exactly opposite the place where he crossed; and upon louking at the map, I supposed that would be his point of attack. I was nearly one hundred miles west of that. I had been sent up there to punish Imboden, who had made a little raid and destroyed a bridge across a railroad that was not used. It was a matter of no importance to draw me up there. I was sent up there, however, but affected nothing but the posting of an efficient line of pickets along the south side of the Potomac.
Question. Have our cavalry accomplished what they ought to have accom: plished, and what they could have accomplished? If not, why have they not?
Answer. My answer would be a mere opinion
Answer. We have tried two or three different organizations of the cavalry. I think that we now have in the army of the Potomac the best organization for cavalry. It is one we have not had before for any length of time. The cavalry is now consolidated into one corps and made an independent command. Heretofore it has been distributed, and tied down, as it were, to brigades and divisions and corps of infantry. It has not had sufficient independence. It has had very hard work to do, picketing, &c. The duty it has done has been very arduous and dangerous. I think we have not done enough in the way of expeditions. Our cavalry have never met the cavalry of the enemy in a fair fight without whipping them. We never have been driven back, even where the enemy have been in superior numbers. They have stolen considerable of our cavalry, in consequence of their intimate knowledge of the country, and the readiness with which they could get information from the citizens and from their spies. That has enabled them to occasionally surround a picket, and pick up a small force of our cavalry here and there that was rot acquainted with the country; but that I regard as simple stealing—no fighting at all. Whenever we went to fight them, they have always given way. I think Stuart never would have made his first raid if our cavalry had been properly armed. The regiment that he met had no carbines-only pistols and sabres. And as it was they came very near whipping him, though there were only two squadrons of ours against twelve hundred men of the enemy. Our cavalry has been confined very much to details, and had a great deal of duty to do which did not properly belong to it. In the army of the Potomac we have done a great deal of picketing, independent of the infantry. To do that it requires a much stronger force of cavalry constantly on duty than it would if the picketing was done in conjunction with infantry. That has worn down our
Rep. Com. 108—48