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INSPIRED BLUNDERING: UNION OPERATIONS AGAINST RICHMOND DURINGTHE GETTYSBURG CAMPAIGN Edward G. Longacre Until EARLY IN 1864, when Ulysses S. Grant became commanding general of United States forces, the Union high command showed itself to be fatally decentralized. The powers in Washington found it difficult to coordinate operations in divergent theaters—something that Grant finally achieved at the outset of the last year of the war. Sometimes the War Department could not even compel its field commanders to carry out its strategy. Until Grant's advent, a wide gap existed between strategic conceptualization and tactical implementation, a gap for which both those in the War Office and in the field were to blame. A case in point is the little-known campaign against Richmond in mid1863 . At the outset ofthat campaign, it seemed highly probable that Union forces on the Virginia peninsula, southeast of the Confederate capital, would seize the city that symbolized the political integrity of the South, and perhaps even win the war in one stroke. By departing early in June to carry the conflict above the Mason-Dixon line, Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia had left the capital virtually unguarded. The Richmond authorities were forced to rely on a few veteran units, mainly heavy artillerists, plus local militia and the so-called Forces for Local Defense—government clerks, mechanics, and laborers available in a crisis . Even ifunable to seize the city, Union troops might have ranged north of it to disrupt the long, thin communications line that connected Lee's army to its Virginia base. By interposing between Richmond and Lee, the Federals could also have placed his army between two long-range pincers capable ofsqueezing it to death. Not only would Lee have been opposed in the rear by as many as thirty-two thousand troops drawn from Norfolk, Civil War History, Vol. XXXII, No. 1, ©1986 by The Kent State University Press 24CIVIL WAR HISTORY Suffolk, Portsmouth, Hampton, Yorktown, and Gloucester Point,1 he also would have faced the ninety-eight thousand effectives of the Army of the Potomac in Pennsylvania under Major General Joseph Hooker (after June 27, under Major General George Gordon Meade).2 None ofthese strategic possibilities was realized. Instead, the campaign degenerated into two weeks of error, frustration, and a near-total waste of time and manpower. Rather than taking Richmond or cutting off Lee's rear, the troops on the peninsula wore themselves out by marching and countermarching to no purpose. Their failure was attributable to an imperfect understanding oftheir objectives and a chronic uncertainty about how to approach them. In turn, these factors stemmed from a lack ofcommunication between the strategists inWashington and the tacticians inVirginia. At the outset, at least, the War Department seemed attuned to the opportunities presented by Lee's invasion. On June 14, as the Confederate advance neared Winchester, Virginia, en route to southern Pennsylvania, Major General Henry W. Halleck, the forty-eight-year-old commanding general of the army, began to plot countermovements. That day he informed Major General John Adams Dix, commanding the Department of Virginia at Fort Monroe, that "Lee's army is in motion towards the Shenandoah Valley—all your available force should be concentrated to threaten Richmond by seizing & destroying their Railroad bridges over the South and North Anna Rivers, & do them all the damage possible. Ifyou cannot accomplish this you can at least occupy a large force ofthe enemy. . . ."3 As these remained the only substantive instructions Dix ever received, they merit scrutiny. First, Halleck called on Dix to menace but not to attack the enemy capital—although much later the commanding general implied that he had ordered an assault. Dix's orders gave him a second major objective—one that might aid him in obtaining the first—the breaking of the communications link between Lee and his capital. To accomplish this, according to Halleck, Dix needed only to wreck bridges over two rivers twenty-odd miles above Richmond. However, because Lee's northward lifeline was the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad , Dix should have specified the destruction of the railroad spans over the rivers, and not the destruction ofthe nearbyVirginia Central Railroad trestles. A secondary (actually a contingency...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 23-43
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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