The following is from a draft of my long-planned and maybe never to be completed (??) book on Abner Doubleday. The text alternates between remarks from an obscure Doubleday journal and those of his adjutant George F. Noyes (who published a book in 1863 entitled “The Bivouac and the Battlefield”). After having his command stuck in Fredericksburg for many months, Doubleday’s men were now on the move at this time 150 years ago – taking them through Virginia to fight ultimately at Brawner’s Farm, Bull Run, South Mountain, and Antietam.
Doubleday’s brigade was finally ordered to move west from Fredericksburg to reinforce Pope’s army. The movement commenced on the afternoon of August 9th, and Doubleday reported that his brigade, along with Patrick’s, marched a distance of nine miles, camping in the vicinity of Chancellorsville. As our men were not accustomed to marching, they made but slow progress and did not reach camp until midnight. In the meantime, the battle of Cedar Mountain had taken place, both armies occupying the field. Prior to departure from Fredericksburg, Captain Noyes enjoyed a final dinner with Doubleday and the staff at an inn, saw to some details relative to the wagon train, and eventually rode forward to ride with Doubleday at the front of the column. He wrote, “It was a lovely night for marching, the troops moved on well, their arms glistening in the moonlight, and yet, so slow is the movement of an army, that it was nearly midnight before we reached our halting-place, nine miles distant from Fredericksburg.”
Doubleday and Noyes caught a few hours of sleep in a farmhouse before setting out the next day with an early start. The day would prove to be among the warmest of the season, placing a severe strain upon the men, with a great many stragglers being lost along the way. Crossing the Rapidan near sundown, the officers came upon the home of an impoverished farm family, who were frightened in the extreme by the appearance of the Yankee army. Noyes wrote: “To convince them that we were friends, not enemies; that not an article would be taken without their consent, and that ample reward should repay every accommodation, was our first duty; but even after the entente cordiale was established, I noticed with pain a young girl, the only interesting person on the premises, still trembling with apprehension. Taught by the leaders of the rebellion that the Northmen were wild beasts in ferocity, that all chivalry and gentlemanliness were monopolized by the Southern slave-trader, it was no wonder that this, her first experience, should thus have startled her.”
The night’s rest would be ended not long after it began. A messenger arrived from General McDowell with news of the battle of Cedar Mountain, and urging the column to leave heavy baggage behind and move forward rapidly. At 1:00 a.m. the march was commenced again, and the brigades of Doubleday and Patrick soon reunited with those of Hatch and Gibbon (who had crossed the Rappahannock and come by a different route). On what Doubleday termed the hottest day of the season, his brigade covered 24 miles, and brought them a short distance beyond Culpepper and within three miles of the battlefield. Noyes wrote of the march as covering 26 miles in a period of 22 hours, while also recording several deaths from the heat. The men had marched with a full expectation of being imminently in battle. However, Jackson had retreated south in the direction of Gordonsville, and the engagement was not recommenced. Doubleday’s handwritten journal adds an extra note to that which is contained in his print journal from the National
Archives. Both journals note Stonewall’s retreat across the Rapidan to await the arrival of Lee’s main army, but the handwritten version adds the editorial comment that Jackson acknowledged him beaten by retreating. This is an overstatement, as Jackson drove the Federals from the field, but the ground did not afford good opportunity to follow up the victory. As well, Jackson knew Pope was able to call upon a great many more reinforcements within the general region than Jackson could wisely contend with. Prudence, and the orders of Lee, called for maneuvering rather than head-on engagement. However, the fight at Cedar Mountain did stall Pope’s move southward and save the vital Central Virginia Railroad line of supply. These events also brought Doubleday’s Brigade to a connection with the Army of Virginia as the Second Brigade of King’s Division of McDowell’s 3rd Corps.
By this time, Lee was certain of the withdrawal of McClellan from the James, and made hasty plans to move as many forces as possible to the area of Gordonsville. Clearly, the Federal strategy called for a gathering of forces under Pope, and speed of maneuver was the need of the hour for the Confederate cause. It was necessary to strike Pope before he could be reinforced by McClellan. Much of the redeployment of Lee’s forces from south of Richmond was accomplished by rail, and Lee himself made the move on August 15th.
(I’ll continue this narrative in several posts in coming days and weeks … check back – especially for an extensive section on Brawner’s Farm – August 28th.)