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.
Once Lee was certain of the withdrawal of McClellan from the James, he 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.
Lee rallied his army with preparations to launch an attack against Pope at the earliest advantageous moment, but a variety of circumstances were working against him. One misfortune involved his plans falling into the hands of the enemy. Doubleday wrote of this: Some of our cavalry capture Lee’s Adjutant General with important dispatches by which General Pope learns that Lee’s Army, set free by the retreat of McClellan, is to be slammed against us with a view to cut Pope off from Washington and Fredericksburg. In light of this intelligence, Pope decides to retreat to the north and establish a new line along the Rappahannock River, thereby being in a better defensive position closer to the route of McClellan’s reinforcements. Doubleday’s brigade was near the back of the line, and found the roads so clogged on the 18th that they were unable to move until the next morning. Noyes wrote of this delay: “The delay was inevitable, but slightly discouraging. Our general, with his usual cheerful nonchalance, thought only of the weary troops; some of his staff, however, could not help feeling very tired and considerably disgusted.” By dusk of the 19th, they had reached the Rappahannock and were among a small percentage encamped on the south side—leaving their horses saddled due to the proximity of the enemy. At dawn the next morning, they crossed the bridge and took a position north of the railroad and a short distance from the structure. We were scarcely over before the enemy’s cavalry, which had been constantly skirmishing with ours and which had had a severe engagement with Bayard at Brandy Station, now made a dash and attempted to capture the bridge. A sharp cavalry battle immediately ensued with charges and counter charges, in which the Rebels were worsted.
(Bayard is General George Dashiell Baynard – Union cavalryman and 1856 West Point grad. He would be killed in the Battle of Fredericksburg.)