150 Years Ago This Week: ‘What do you know of the enemy?’

October 1862

The Federal Army of the Potomac, almost completely idle since the battle at Sharpsburg on Sept. 17, began crossing the Potomac River into Virginia on Sunday, Oct. 26. In Kentucky, Gen. Braxton Bragg completed the Confederate evacuation of Kentucky, retiring into Tennessee and heading towards Knoxville and Nashville. Around the Union’s national capital, Maj. Gen. Samuel Heintzelman succeeded Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks in command of Washington’s defenses. In Washington, the British Quaker leader Mrs. Eliza Gurney interviewed President Lincoln. Mr. Lincoln told her, “If I had my way, this war would never have been commenced. If I had been allowed my way this war would have been ended before this, but we find it still continues.”

Knowing that Gen. George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac was south of the Potomac River, Gen. Robert E. Lee began shifting his Army of Northern Virginia to the east side of the Blue Ridge Mountains on Oct. 28, to avoid being flanked by the Union troops. He chose to place his army in Culpeper County in order to protect Richmond. The next day, President Lincoln told Gen. McClellan, “I am much pleased with the movement of the Army. When you get entirely across the river, let me know. What do you know of the enemy?” Plagued by trying to defend many areas of the Confederacy, President Davis wrote the governor of Alabama, “Our only alternatives are to abandon important points or to use our limited resources as effectively as circumstances will permit.”

As October closed, there was fighting between Union and Confederate forces in Missouri, Texas, Virginia, Maryland, Arkansas, Louisiana and western Virginia. Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans assumed command of the Department of the Cumberland, replacing Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell on Oct. 30. In Paris, Emperor Napoleon III of France proposed to the Tsar of Russia in St. Petersburg and to Queen Victoria in London that they should unite in making overtures of mediation in the war in America. On the last day of October, Federal forces bombarded Lavaca, Texas, routing the Confederates there. In Tennessee, Union forces under overall command of Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant began gathering at Grand Junction, from Bolivar, Tenn.  and Corinth, Miss. Gen. Grant determined that the objective of his forces would be Vicksburg, Miss., and the point it commanded under Confederate control of the Mississippi River.

In Virginia, Gen. McClellan began gathering his army in Fauquier County, establishing his headquarters at Warrenton. His men were hardly in pursuit of the Confederates under Gen. Robert E. Lee, now concentrating in Culpeper County and around Culpeper Courthouse. It appeared to President Lincoln that Gen. McClellan has simply moved from one huge encampment in Maryland to establish another in Virginia, with little intention of using the waning days of good weather to defeat the Confederate Army some 25 miles away. For the South, October closed with the faint hope of foreign recognition seeming farther away than ever. Confederate troops under Gen. Bragg had cleared out of Kentucky, and Gen. Lee’s army had cleared out of Maryland. In the North, the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was still a subject of controversy, and there was scattered resistance to the military draft.

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 193 Articles

A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.