Formed from headwaters that flow through four states before passing the United States capital, the Potomac River has rightfully been called the Nation’s river. First used as a highway of exploration and settlement by European settlers, the river famously served as an avenue of invasion by British forces during the War of 1812. Forgotten today, between Spring 1861 and early Spring 1862, Confederate batteries effectively stopped all riverine traffic. While the Confederate Blockade of Washington, D. C., never realistically put the fate of the city in doubt, it severely embarrassed the Lincoln Administration, particularly during a time of repeated Union disasters.
Posts from the ‘Eastern Theater Issues’ Category
By Rob Orrison and Bill Backus.
Shown is a view of the Potomac River from Confederate fortifications at Freestone Point near Dumfries, Virginia
by Eric Nelson
Civil War campaigns in and around Fredericksburg, Va., required an advancing army first to jump the Rappahannock River. As a consequence, river crossings loomed large at the Battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. At Fredericksburg in 1862, the pontoon bridge sites became the initial points of contact and men died as engineers struggled to build their floating bridges under fire. The hard lesson was that bridges were best built when an army controlled both sides of the waterway. During the Chancellorsville Campaign in 1863, the Union army again crossed the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg, but sent assault forces over first to seize the opposite shore before the bridge building began. These crossings in the tidal part of the Rappahannock River were a diversion from the advance of the main Union force, which occurred far upstream. Where the upriver fords remained usable and lightly picketed, an advance guard could splash across and secure the crossing site. Some fords, however, had become altered by dams and canals, and establishing military crossings there posed additional challenges.
Back in 1983 when Blue & Gray was founded, I never thought there would be a “General’s Tour” requiring anything but a dependable vehicle with a full tank of gas, good hiking shoes (boots preferred), and a proper functioning odometer. Also, since that kind of touring by its very nature had to be what I termed “turf-bound,” it was pretty clear that oceanic naval operations would not become Tour features.
Volume 32, #3
An excerpt from the current issue: Volume 32, #2
The Battle of Cedar Mountain
by Michael E. Block
Vice President, Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield
The Battle of Cedar Mountain has never been considered part of a campaign. Many will place the fight as the opening action of the Second Manassas Campaign. However, the fight south of Culpeper, Va., on August 9, 1862 was, if anything, the concluding action of the Peninsula Campaign.
The Lincoln Administration needed to create a distraction for the Confederate armies on the Virginia Peninsula below Richmond—a distraction to relieve pressure on Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac so his troops could withdraw from their pocket along the James River.
The Making of A Legend
The story of Stonewall Jackson and his battle at Cedar Mountain with principal adversary Nathaniel Banks can not be fully understood without placing the fight in its proper context. Feature article author Michael Block offers the argument that the battle was not an opening action of the Second Manassas Campaign in the summer of 1862, as many accounts claim, but rather a concluding action to the Union’s failed campaign on the Virginia Peninsula.
An Excerpt from the Current Issue: Volume 31, #6
The North Anna Campaign
by J. Michael Miller
As 1864 opened yet another year of war, President Abraham Lincoln determined to challenge his most successful commander, Ulysses S. Grant, by elevating him to lieutenant general and command all of the Armies of the United States. Lincoln reasoned the war was turning now in favor of the Union, but the coming year would prove decisive in both bringing the conflict to a successful resolution and determining the future leadership of the United States with the upcoming Presidential election in the fall. Grant’s proven skill in defeating the enemy armies in the West would now be tested at a new level—that of grand strategy.
In his address to Congress on December 8, 1863, Lincoln had laid out his policy for ending the war and beginning the process of reconstruction. “We have the new reckoning. The crisis which threatened to divide the friends of the Union is past,” said the President. “In the midst of other cares, however important, we must not lose sight of the fact that the war power is still our main reliance. To that power alone can we look, yet for a time. . . . Hence our chiefest care must still be directed to the army and navy.”
An Excerpt from the current issue: Volume 31, #3
From Sailor’s Creek to Cumberland Church
April 6-7, 1865
by Chris Calkins
Seventy-Two Hours Before Appomattox
The smell of fresh dirt permeated the air as arriving Federal soldiers of Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s cavalry and the V Corps infantry, newly under the command of Maj. Gen. Charles Griffin, began digging a line of breastworks near Jetersville Station. Running perpendicular to the Richmond & Danville Railroad, the works lay across the path of the Confederate army’s route to North Carolina. Barely seven miles to the northeast at Amelia Court House was Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia which was now beginning its march along the railroad in the direction of Danville and the state line. At this point Lee still hoped to reach this location and combine his forces with those of the Army of Tennessee under Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. It was April 5, 1865, and the Southern commander still had hopes of continuing the struggle which had started nearly four years ago.