“Reconnaissances by our cavalry…without cessation” Part 3

On August 3, General Pope told Halleck, with his usual healthy confidence, that he expected to take possession of Gordonsville and Charlottesville within ten days. Possibly looking for advice as to the best point at which to cross the Rapidan, Pope queried Banks regarding Barnett’s and Somerville Fords. “[Respecting] the character of Barnett’s ford on the Rapidan – I have to say that… [the] approaches …to the ford [are] as good as any, practicable in dry weather. The country in front rolling and open… Sommerville Ford is the best – next above Raccoon Ford – all very heavy after new rains.”

Pope was also looking anxiously for Burnside to arrive from the Peninsula and relieve King’s Division at Fredericksburg, but General JEB Stuart kept his cavalry active in King’s front, harassing Union infantry along the Telegraph Road, annoying his efforts to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad and, at least in part, keeping King in place. But King also had his troopers patrolling the Northern Neck as far south as Westmoreland County – a lot of miles and wear and tear on horseflesh in hot weather. On August 6, King termed the heat “so intense that it was impossible for either horses or men to march far or fast.”

Gen. Ambrose Burnside reached Aquia on August 3 but as he had no cavalry of his own, King was told to leave his mounted troops behind once he began moving to join Pope. Terming King’s cavalry (the 2nd New York and 3rd Indiana) “the very best I have; in fact, the only good cavalry in this army,” Pope sought to have the order leaving them behind rescinded, but to no avail. The army commander looked to quickly unite his scattered command near Sperryville and Culpeper, bringing McDowell down from Warrenton and King from Fredericksburg, once he completed his operation against the railroad.

Fighting erupted at Barnett’s Ford on the night of August 7, as Beverly Robertson’s Southern troopers pushed across the river and drove the pickets from the 1st Pennsylvania away from the ford, killing one man and wounding two others. Stonewall Jackson began crossing his infantry, about 27,000 men, about 4 o’clock the next morning, with General Richard Ewell’s division in the van. Troopers from the 1st New Jersey responded and, along with the Pennsylvanians and men from Buford’s brigade, fought harassing or delaying actions around Rapidan Station, Cave’s Ford, Locust Dale and other locations in the neck of land between the Rapidan and Robertson Rivers. Soon couriers went down the line, ordering each detachment to retire on their own accord. The 1st Rhode Island, headquartered at the Vaughn Farm on the direct road between Culpeper and Raccoon Ford, held the left flank around Raccoon and Somerville Fords. Throughout the day and night, separated detachments of Rhode Islanders, Pennsylvanians and New Jersians fought their way free from the advancing foe and regrouped near Cedar Mountain. Meanwhile, Buford fought his way from Madison Court House toward Sperryville and wondered if he might “be cut off” from the army. As word of the skirmishing reached Richmond, one resident credited the Yankees with being “as familiar with the paths and fords as our own people; hence some surprises, attempted by our cavalry have failed.”

Without any way of knowing what the day would bring, an exasperated Bayard had complained, just as General Robertson’s troopers engaged his pickets, that his men were exhausted and his horses “pretty well used up,” having been on duty for four days in the blistering heat. He needed support but the enemy arrived first. When night ended the skirmishing, Bayard established a picket line about five miles south of Culpeper, which covered the approaches to the town. On the morning of the 9th, the weary troopers watched, first as Union troops withdrew from Thoroughfare Mountain and then as Stonewall Jackson began to deploy for battle.

Late in the afternoon, as General Banks looked to withdraw his command from the battlefield at Cedar Mountain, he ordered Bayard to throw his cavalry into the fray. Bayard risked only one battalion of the 1st Pennsylvania in what he must have seen as a desperate gambit. Leading but 164 men across the front of several infantry brigades, Maj. Richard Falls lost 34 men and saw his command badly scattered before he returned to the safety of the union lines.

When Jackson withdrew toward Gordonsville late on the 11th, Pope’s cavalry dogged his trail and snapped up stragglers. By evening on the 12th the Union cavalry began re-establishing their picket lines toward the Rapidan, but plans to push Buford’s troopers, supported by artillery, as far south as Barnett’s Ford, were unrealistic. On the 13th, Pope ordered Buford to clear the last of Jackson’s infantry from the area between Cedar Mountain and Thoroughfare Mountain. Recent rains had done little to cool the searing temperatures but had brought the creeks and rivers out of their banks. The troopers drove the Southern infantry down the Orange Court House Road until they reached the confluence of Crooked Run and Robertson’s River. There the men scattered, fleeing in several directions, and Buford, fearing an ambush, opted to slow his pursuit rather than dash across the flooded streams. While most of the able-bodied fugitives escaped, Buford’s men secured many wounded who had been left nearby.

By the 14th Pope had his horse-soldiers in motion every day, escorting, patrolling, picketing, scouting, by companies, squadrons, battalions or regiments. The work became exhausting and unremitting. Pope had also tasked his cavalry with a rather tiring and onerous task. Concerned with reports of rampant pillaging of private property by troops believing such actions had been sanctioned by Pope’s earlier directive that the army “be subsisted on the country,” Pope now directed his cavalry to “scour the whole country for 5 miles around their camps at least once every day” to prevent such marauding. But with the entire army now concentrated in and around Culpeper, such a sweep entailed much additional wear and tear on his animals. Possibly as a means of mitigating the demand on the men, Pope ordered infantry commanders to pare down the number of troopers serving as escorts and couriers and return the remainder to their commands.

Apprehending a move against his left flank, Pope, on August 17, directed Buford to cross the Rapidan and “watch well the approaches from Louisa Court House and Hanover Junction toward the Rapidan.” That evening, Col. Thornton Brodhead led his 1st Michigan, along with the 5th New York, across the Rapidan at Raccoon Ford, left temporarily unguarded by Southern troops. Indeed, Robert E. Lee was planning to attack Pope, much in the manner which Pope now sought to guard against, and, in a second stroke of good fortune, Brodhead surprised Jeb Stuart at Verdiersville and captured one of his aides carrying the orders which alerted Pope to Lee’s plans.

While Brodhead made his dash to Verdiersville, Lieut. Colonel Kilpatrick, recently arrived with his 2nd New York, scouted Pope’s left flank. “I made myself acquainted… with the position …between the Robertson & Rapidan Rivers as far down as their junction. Strong pickets have been placed at the fords with proper reserves. The main cavalry reserve is 2.5 miles from Rapidan Station on the road leading from the principal ford to Cedar Mountain. The 14th [Brooklyn Infantry] is at the intersection of the two roads leading from Culpeper about ½ mile from the cavalry reserve. There is no indication that the enemy is in any considerable force on the opposite side of the river.” Kilpatrick heard drums early on the 18th, however, and reported, “A weak attempt was made this morning by a small cavalry force of the enemy to cross the ford at Rapidan Station. It was driven back,” but not before Capt. Charles Walters, 2nd New York, was killed. Moments earlier, Walters had been eating breakfast at ‘Annandale,’ the home of Col. Alexander Taliaferro, commander of the 23rd Virginia Infantry. Though rebuffed, the enemy pickets maintained a constant harassing fire against Kilpatrick’s men throughout the day.

By afternoon on the 18th, Pope had determined that, should Lee attack, he could no longer hold his position along the Rapidan and still maintain his connection with Fredericksburg. Within hours he began withdrawing across the Rappahannock, leaving his cavalry as a rearguard. He told Buford to maintain his pickets along the Rapidan until dawn on the 19th, holding his main body three miles north of Raccoon Ford. Buford would then cover the infantry as it fell back behind the Rappahannock River.

Bayard, who may have been reaching the point of personal exhaustion and who had grown increasingly testy over the last few days, drew the difficult task of holding the line until all of the army had crossed the Rappahannock. “I have the Pennsylvania Cavalry on the Germania road, the Maine Cavalry on the Raccoon & Morton’s Ford roads but I can find no Sommerville Ford road, but I have put the Jersey Cavalry on the Culpeper road. These are the only three roads from which danger is to be apprehended. How long am I to stay here? My horses have had nothing but the little grass I gave them today and have not been unsaddled since yesterday afternoon. Col. Duffie [1st Rhode Island] & Kilpatrick [2nd New York] with regiments I retain tonight.”

Bayard held his positions until the 20th, when he again asked for instructions. “I sent you an express last night but I fear you did not get it. I have thrown out three regiments, two and a half on three roads – one half in front of them, a squadron and one quarter ahead of that half a dozen scouts.” With his men and horses out of food, he asked, “Will you be kind enough to let me know if I am to send for rations or come in.” He also told Pope that enemy troops had re-occupied Cedar Mountain and by dawn he was under attack by Beverly Robertson’s Brigade, including the 6th, 7th and 12th Virginia.

Searching for defensible ground, Bayard fell back two miles, telling his superiors, “I have a fine open field a mile & a half long in front & three regiments cavalry with me.” But he had also found the 1st Rhode Island and 1st Maine to be more of a burden than a benefit as they carried few, if any, carbines and proved useless on the defense. Rather than risk their lives, he ordered both regiments back to the Rappahannock.

In several messages sent during the day Bayard said little about the fighting. Rather, he emphasized his need for rations and instructions. Chaplain Henry Pyne, 1st New Jersey, later described the action in some detail, including an incident involving the 2nd New York, which mirrors, with eerie similarity, events on the exact same ground on June 9, 1863, during the much larger fight at Brandy Station.

As Pyne describes, the 2nd New York, with “sabres glittering in the sun …swept over the hill, taking the gallop without a single waver.” Pyne places Kilpatrick alongside the regiment, where more men might see him, in an effort “to steady his men in this their first formidable struggle.” At the head of the column rode a lieutenant “who proved unfit for his important position.” As the two columns closed on each other, with Kilpatrick spurring to the head of his men and with bugles blaring, the junior officer “drew rein, and backed his horse right through the ranks behind him,” causing “irremediable confusion” in the ranks. At that moment the Southerners struck the New Yorkers, “scattering them over the field. “The victorious rebels” then surged toward the 1st New Jersey.

Lieutenant Colonel Karge’s men opened fire against the head of the Southern column but their effort proved futile as other Confederates swept around their flanks and forced them back to a wide ditch. The fighting became hand-to-hand as the Yankees struggled to cross the ditch near the railroad and reach their reserve. But Bayard had pulled the reserve farther back and but for the support of the 1st Pennsylvania, Karge’s men may have been overwhelmed. Still, many became captives until Capt. Virgil Broderick, 1st New Jersey, finally led the reserve forward. His timely charge, near where he fell ten months later, released many of the prisoners and ended the fighting. Bayard reported a loss of 61 men, not including the 2nd New York, which may have lost another dozen men or so.

Several versions of the key event involving the 2nd New York appeared over the years. In his report written in mid-October, Bayard gave a rather interesting explanation, stating the Confederate attack “caught Colonel Kilpatrick executing a maneuver, and his men at the time had their backs to the enemy.” Writing after the war, the historian for the 1st Pennsylvania echoed Bayard, stating the enemy struck the New Yorkers “while forming.” A historian for the 2nd New York said simply, “some confusion ensued by reason of a railroad cut, into which the command rode, its existence not being known when the charge was ordered.”

Pyne also penned his account after the war but a New York correspondent, who described the affair just five days after the fact, offered a more detailed account. “The country road crossed and recrossed the railroad track several times in the course of three miles, and at one of these points a charge of the three rear platoons of Major [Otto] Harhaus’s battalion of the [2nd New York] was ordered. The Major was not at the head just at the time to direct the movement, and dashing Lieut. Col. Kilpatrick had ridden off to the left to secure the cooperation of the [1st New Jersey] in a combined charge of the two regiments. The order was given to a Lieut. Smith, but not obeyed; for, in a moment, an attack by the enemy seeming imminent, he turned and fled, and his platoon, panic-stricken, clattered at his heels and broke for the nearest shelter of woods. With them they carried away the two supporting platoons, and for a while disorder and confusion seemed likely to infect the whole rear guard.” The correspondent credited Kilpatrick with galloping across the field under fire and rallying his men, shouting, “You disgrace the regiment. Stand by me, and we’ll rally, boys!” The men followed Kilpatrick back into the fray, but later, “he gave them such a talk that the disgraceful thing is not likely to happen again.” If the correspondent’s account is accurate, the officer involved was most likely Lieut. Alexander Smith, who was discharged by special order on September 24, 1862.

On the 21st, Pope ordered John Buford “to make a strong reconnaissance toward Stevensburg.” Though Buford soon found himself in “a lively little skirmish,” against Southern infantry, he determined that Lee had not yet massed his entire army for the attack Pope anticipated. Still, the reports left Pope increasingly on edge and looking for help from the Army of the Potomac. In fact, most, if not all of Lee’s army had crossed the Rapidan into Culpeper and Lee began looking for Pope’s weak spot, sending cavalry across the Rappahannock at Beverly’s Ford and probing other crossings in search of an advantage.

Pope scattered much of his cavalry along the river on the 22nd, while the remainder of his mounted force seemed to be in perpetual motion scouting, screening and escorting supply trains. Fighting flared at several points, including Freeman’s Ford, and the troopers along the river often found themselves under fire. By way of example, on August 19, the 1st Vermont covered the retreat of an infantry division from Mitchell’s Station to Barnett’s Ford. The next day, two companies reconnoitered to Germanna, skirmishing with the enemy and capturing a prisoner carrying, what the colonel termed, “a valuable map of the Seat of War and other documents,” before cutting “their way through an attacking force” during their return to camp. On August 22, the regiment skirmished with the “advance guard of Longstreet’s Division,” between Kelly’s Ford and Stevensburg, losing several men in the encounter. The next day, the regiment probed “from Rappahannock Station towards Sulphur Springs,” skirmishing with the “enemy’s pickets” and losing another man. On August 24, the regiment conducted a “reconnaissance from Warrenton to Waterloo Bridge, and skirmished with them for several hours,” and sustaining three more casualties.

Stuart, meanwhile, had received permission to make a quick raid against Pope’s supply depot at Catlett Station. Arriving in the midst of a heavy storm and with the aid of “the darkest night I ever knew,” Stuart sent his men through the nearby camps, capturing 300 prisoners, horses and mules, uniforms, food, greenbacks, gold and Pope’s headquarters wagons. Though Pope later termed the damage “trifling,” as the important railroad bridge had not been damaged, he soon learned from Bayard that Stonewall Jackson’s command had crossed the river as well. He also ordered three mounted regiments to secure the depot against future raids, but with events now moving quickly, the 2nd Pennsylvania may have been the only one which stayed with his supply trains. Col. Robert Clary, Pope’s Quartermaster, barely escaped capture and remained unaccounted for until the following day.

Writing with the benefit of hindsight, Chaplain Pyne later explained, “Better would it have been for the army had [cavalry] been sent…to watch the defiles of the mountains,” than the many crossings along the Rappahannock River. By the 25th, Bayard’s and Col. John Beardsley’s brigades had concentrated near Sulphur Springs and Buford’s brigade had, in his words, become “disorganized,” as he tried to locate Southern infantry already across the river. All three brigades had been in constant motion since the retreat from the Rappahannock River and often under fire. In fact, both brigades had now broken down or become disorganized, as infantry commanders, including those arriving from the Army of the Potomac continued to demand cavalry to hold river fords in their front against surprise, while Pope sought to pull his troopers away from the river and toward his right flank where the greatest danger now lay. On the 26th Pope desperately needed reliable information regarding the direction taken by Jackson’s infantry after he crossed the river. Had he gone “toward Luray, Chester Gap or Rectortown” Pope wondered. “Use every effort to ascertain this by the employment of scouts, spies, and reconnaissances. Use money freely to pay for it,” he told Buford. His wording suggests he now recognized that his horse-soldiers could no longer provide the service he required.

As the situation completely deteriorated on the 27th, Halleck vented his frustration to General Burnside at Falmouth. “I can get no satisfactory information of the enemy’s position or movements. His cavalry go all around our army, destroying baggage and trains, while ours does nothing at all. This must be changed; and if the cavalry officers continue so inefficient report them for discharge.”

As stated in Part 1, I have outlined the activity of Gen. John Pope’s cavalry up to August 28. Beyond the near constant activity discussed above, Pope’s ability to feed and supply his horses and men directly impacted their efficiency. Over the next several posts I will examine some of the challenges which Pope, and the Quartermaster Department, needed to overcome in order to keep the cavalry in the field.



Documents from the National Archives

The Official Records

Buffalo Evening Courier and Republic

Camden Democrat

National Tribune

New York Herald

New York Tribune

Philadelphia Inquirer

Washington Evening Star

Michael Block, “The Battle of Cedar Mountain,” Blue & Gray Magazine, 2016

Frederic Denison, The First Regiment Rhode Island Cavalry

John Hennessy, Return to Bull Run

John B. Jones, A Rebel War Clerk’s Diary

Francis Kajencki, Star on Many a Battlefield

William Lloyd, History of the First Reg’t Pennsylvania Reserve Cavalry

Henry Meyer, Civil War Experiences under Bayard, Gregg, Kilpatrick, Custer, Raulston and Newberry

Henry Pyne, Ride to War, The History of the First New Jersey Cavalry

Edward Tobie, History of the First Maine Cavalry

5 thoughts on ““Reconnaissances by our cavalry…without cessation” Part 3

  1. Thanks, Bob, I love these. I turn them into word documents and save them. Recently I have been so busy I am two behind. I have to get with it! Hope you are well. Cindy

    On Sun, Mar 1, 2020 at 10:08 AM Small But Important Riots wrote:

    > roneillmt posted: “On August 3, General Pope told Halleck, with his usual > healthy confidence, that he expected to take possession of Gordonsville and > Charlottesville within ten days. Possibly looking for advice as to the best > point at which to cross the Rapidan, Pope querie” >


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 )

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s