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November 12, 2011
A Slight Demonstration (10)By Greyhawk
I am informed by authority deemed reliable that the enemy's forces consisted of the following troops, viz: The Thirteenth and Nineteenth Mississippi Regiment, the Eight Virginia Regiment of Infantry, Colonel Ashby's regiment of cavalry, and Rogers' Richmond battery of six pieces and one 32-pounder columbiad, all commanded by General Evans in person.
Evans was in command of troops at Leesburg - so if he'd just fought and lost a battle at Harper's Ferry, well, that could mean something. Of course, that little fracas took place four days ago - so even assuming Geary's information was reliable, Evans had had more than enough time to return to Leesburg if he'd wanted to...
But McClellan now had two reports from Stone and another from the observation point on Sugarloaf Mountain - along with further confirmation from citizens of Virginia McCall had encountered on his mission - that the Confederates had abandoned the town. Like the area immediately in front of Washington a few weeks back, it could be empty of enemy forces and ready for him to move in. Better, it could be almost empty - enough so that resistance beyond some token level would be futile - and he could capture a few prisoners when he moved in. That would certainly satisfy the reporters, who in turn could feed the hunger of that ill-informed portion of the civilian population in the North who didn't appreciate his recent overwhelming (and bloodless) triumph right in front of the nation's capital.
But he wasn't going to be rushed into any precipitous action - and he also had reports indicating Leesburg was anything but empty of Confederate troops. "The forces at Leesburg have been kept up to nearly 27,000" was the word he'd gotten from a potentially reliable source just two weeks ago. (Also that Johnston himself was in charge of them.) "Buxton" was the name this particular spy signed on his report. Frank Lacy Buxton was the name he'd used when reporting for the New York Tribune from Charleston the previous winter. He was an Englishman, and apparently that non-Yankee status helped keep some doors open to him down South, even after the war had begun in earnest. He could travel freely throughout northern Virginia, and did so - and passed his reports of what he learned on his travels to McClellan.
Though he'd described a large force at Leesburg, he'd also declared them ill-equipped.
I believe there is no intention to cross the river except on the Upper Potomac, where they make sure they could recross, before being interrupted. There is very little ammunition at Leesburg. A messenger was sent there for some for the troops near Winchester; he was told to go farther south, as they had only 24 rounds for each man.
If Buxton was right in believing they intended to cross somewhere on the upper Potomac they would certainly correct those shortages before doing so. But for now thousands of soldiers with little ammunition meant an opportunity existed that would soon be lost, and Buxton seemed aware of that. "Pardon my suggesting that if the national army advance shortly, and Occoquan Creek could be threatened at the same moment, there would be a general falling back upon Manassas," Buxton wrote, "and that by a prompt movement via Falls Church, and a simultaneous one on the part of General Stone, the whole force at Leesburg might be captured."
Buxton had since lowered his estimation of forces there - to 11,000. And now - though it certainly wasn't because of a suggestion from some spy, of course - McClellan had indeed moved McCall westward as far as Dranesville.
Of course, this put McCall at risk. The Confederates could strike him from the south, directly or by cutting off his return. If McClellan responded by moving Smith to support McCall the enemy could then cross the Potomac in force south of Washington. If McClellan didn't send additional troops in McCall's direction Beauregard could - and even if the enemy didn't follow up the destruction of McCall's Division with a crossing into Maryland above Washington the loss would do irreparable damage to Union morale - military and civilian. (Not to mention General McClellan's future as commander - which was the Union's last hope.) Given that he was woefully outnumbered, McClellan was playing a dangerous game, and he could not dare leave McCall exposed for very long...
Which brought him to the next item on his agenda - a just-received message from McCall. His original orders were to complete his mission and return today - but via courier this morning he'd sent word that he would not be able to complete his survey work in time. This was disappointing but hardly surprising; they'd likely gotten a late start after having the Commander of the Army of the Potomac himself relocate them to a proper camp site the previous evening. A near-disaster, that was - but on reflection, this delay could prove advantageous. McClellan had written his wife the previous day of his intent to frighten the rebels away from Leesburg, but to have any hope of actually doing so (assuming they hadn't already left - and either way he'd want to verify their departure) he'd have to let Stone in on the plan, too, and thus far he hadn't done that.
He turned to Colburn. "Tell McCall if he has to finish Monday to do so and return. And send a message to Stone. Tell him I've sent McCall to Dranesville, and this might give us a chance to drive the rebels from Leesburg. Suggest a demonstration on his part might accomplish that." He paused a moment for thought. He'd like to give more specific orders, but there was too much uncertainty for that. "It doesn't have to be anything big," he added. He hoped Stone would understand his intent (capture Leesburg...) and appreciate the danger posed by the 170,000-man strong Confederate Army south of the Potomac better than the reckless McCall had.
Once his adjutant had left he turned his attention back to the issue of Harper's. The cover was fine, depicting a blacksmith at work in an army camp. The text of his "Sabbath" order was a welcome inclusion, and the report on the rapid manufacture of rifles at Springfield was an excellent addition, too. But here in the very center of it all was a picture of the man who was indeed at the very center of it all.
A flattering likeness... and full page, big enough for subscribers to clip out and frame and hang on their walls. But it was almost embarrassing to see yet another example of how much his country idolized him. He'd have to be careful not to let this sort of thing go to his head.
"Message from General McClellan, sir." Stone accepted the paper, once again pondering briefly his good fortune to be in such close communication with headquarters via telegraph.
The day was already half gone, but it seemed the remainder of this Sabbath would not be devoted to rest after all.
(Next: News from Stone's)
Posted by Greyhawk / November 12, 2011 2:29 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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