150 Years Ago This Week: J.E.B. Stuart completes his ride

Maj. Gen J.E.B. Stuart
Maj. Gen J.E.B. Stuart

Maj. Gen. James E. B. Stuart’s Confederate troopers, on their ride around McClellan’s army on Saturday, June 14, spent three hours repairing a wrecked bridge over the Chickahominy River. The cavalry then went on and continued to the east, through Charles City Courthouse and Malvern Hill. A triumphant J.E.B. Stuart arrived in Richmond on Sunday, June 15, to report personally to Gen. Lee on his successful three-day ride all around Gen. McClellan’s army. He furnished Lee valuable information on terrain, Federal troop dispositions and condition of the country.

The ride also alerted Gen. McClellan of the danger to the flanks of his army and helped him resist attack. Stuart’s ride around McClellan’s army boosted Southern morale and enhanced his reputation and that of the Confederate cavalrymen throughout the South. In the North, there was chagrin. In Florida on June 15, Federal naval forces landed at St. Mark’s, the end of a two-day expedition from Pensacola to Milton. In the Shenandoah Valley, Gen. Jackson and his men were preparing to march east towards Richmond, to reinforce Gen. Lee’s army now that the Federal threat in the Valley was gone.

Near Charleston, S.C., at Secessionville, on Monday, June 16, Federal troops assaulted Confederate fortifications. The attack failed miserably and Brig. Gen. Henry Benham was later relieved of his command by Maj. Gen. David Hunter for disobeying orders and making the attack. Gen. Benham would later have his brigadier’s commission revoked in August, 1862.

The next day, June 17, Gen. Jackson and his Valley Army left the Shenandoah Valley for the last time and headed east to Richmond. Maj. Gen. Fremont in the Valley was relieved of command at his own request; his troops were moved just east of the Blue Ridge, to form the nucleus of a new Federal Army of Virginia. This army was to be commanded by Maj. Gen. John Pope, brought in from the Mississippi Valley. Gen. Fremont detested Gen. Pope and refused to serve under him; Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel was put in command of Gen. Fremont’s troops. The new Federal army was to concentrate in the northern Piedmont and then mount a drive on Richmond from the west, while McClellan’s Army of the Potomac would continue to drive on Richmond from the east.

The same day, Gen. Braxton Bragg assumed command of Confederates in the western theatre, succeeding the ailing and disgruntled Gen. Beauregard, now stationed around Tupelo, Miss. Never a popular commander, Gen. Bragg was given an opportunity to see what he could do with the precarious military situation in the West.

In Washington on June 18, President Lincoln asked Gen. McClellan when he thought he might attack the Confederate capital. He also discussed drafts of his proposed Emancipation Proclamation with Vice President Hannibal Hamlin. At Vicksburg, Miss., Confederates hastily enhanced their fortifications in preparation for an anticipated attack. On Thursday, June 19, President Lincoln signed into law a measure prohibiting slaves in the territories of the United States. In Richmond, President Davis wrote Gov. John Pettus of Mississippi: “Any efforts to provide for the military wants of your section have been sadly frustrated.”

From Baton Rouge, La., on Friday, June 20, a Federal expedition of 3,000 troops under Brig. Gen. Thomas Williams was underway by riverboats; aided by naval forces under Adm. Farragut, the plan was to establish a base at Swamp Toe on the west side of the Mississippi River opposite Vicksburg. From there a canal would be dug around one of the bends in the river so that small boats could bypass the Confederate gun batteries on the east side of the river.

Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn assumed command of the Confederate Department of Southern Mississippi & East Louisiana, charged with the defenses on the Mississippi River. In Virginia, there was some minor skirmishing near New Bridge and Gill’s Bluff on the James River east of Richmond.

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 194 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.