Ride Captain Ride
This week I’m excited about the subject, because this week is the beginning of the Seven Day’s Battle. Two of my best friends and I rode motorcycle on a battlefield hopping tour. We left Thursday evening June 7th under the heavy clouds of rain. Of my first 64 miles, nearly 45 were into the rain. It did start to clear out and as we were about to enter West Virginia the sun shone for a while until darkness overcame the day. We rode for about five hour altogether before finding a Mom and Pop motel for the night. Being used to sleeping on the ground, comfort wasn’t our top priority, cost was, because this night we only rested in the room for six and a half hours.
This year’s tour covered two different campaigns. First was the 1862 Seven Day’s Battles. We stopped at Gaines’ Mill, passed by Savage Station and Beaver Dam, visited Glendale or Frayser’s Farm and Malvern Hill where the battles ultimately came to an end with the Union army withdrawing across the James River at Harrison’s Landing. The 1862 campaign was more of a hit and maneuver to the left flank type of battle with the Army of the Potomac always moving for a better advantage. With this retreat, the confederates maintain their capital at Richmond. General Lee, said on May of 1862, “Richmond must not be given up; it shall not be given up.” The city was safe for now. The confederates had forts and breast works still very visible today, 150 years after the event.
This series of battles was all part and extension of the Peninsula Campaign launched by General George McClellan in June of 1862. However, George McClellan, would only see the end of this campaign, but not end of the war. President Lincoln who for quite some time now had been growing more frustrated with the slow and dismal progress of both the campaign and the war itself, decided to make some changes. The President changes commanders. Secondly and next in line is General Ambrose Burnsides. He failed miserably at Fredericksburg and was replaced. After the blunder at Chancellorsville in 1863 General Joseph Hooker was replaced. He too was equally inept at commanding the entire Army of the Potomac. Poor planning and time delays cost the army dearly in the amount of man power that was wasted with little gain. General George Meade would now take up the reigns of command shortly before the Battle of Gettysburg.
Back to the present; the ride continues. Last year we visited Fredericksburg, then the Wilderness. Now we start with finishing the Wilderness and continued onto the Chancellorsville Battlefield site. There was something called a salient. It resembles a large bent elbow in the line and wasn’t a good position consequently it took fire from all sides. Again here, it’s amazing how well preserved the breastwork remain. We stood near the trenches and tried to visualize what the men were seeing and feeling. It’s an awesome thought to just be there. The rebels moved around to the extreme right flank and pressed an offensive into the unsuspecting Yankees. They rolled up the right as the men dropped everything and ran a great distance before being rallied to fight. The end result was many casualties.
Later that night about a mile from the Chancellorsville Inn, on May 2nd of 1863, the Confederacy lost one of their most valuable assets. While on a midnight recon ride along the Federal line, General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson met his fate when trying to re-enter his own lines, he along with some staff members were accidentally shot by their own men. Jackson would die of pneumonia several days later. Had he not been wounded, the end result of this war may have been somewhat different. His last words were, “Let us pass over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”
Spottsylvania and the Mule Shoe were our next stops. This defensive line featured over six miles of breast works. Unlike the salient at Chancellorsville, this salient was like a large mule shoe, it worked fairly well. The Union boys charged forward to the works and even broke through, but were not supported and thus it failed. This kind of blunder occurred much during the first couple years of the war.
We spent the night outside of Richmond Virginia, rising early again for the best use of our day. Most of this day’s battles were the 1864 Overland Campaign. At the North Anna River Battlefield we walked the two miles to see the breastworks of the rebels built on the height overlooking the river. Here again extensive works lined the ridge side to keep the federals at bay. Next stop was, try to pronounce this was Totopotomoy Creek. Pologreen Church is just a site with an iron framework to give record of the original building size. It is now an open air church for ceremonies. The church, now burnt, was Pre-Revolutionary War and had the misfortune of sitting on Union position during this battle. The Shelton House sits near the Totopotomoy line and the family awoke to the presence of the federal army in their yard. On May 30th 1864 a staff officer for Colonel Nelson Miles wrote. “We picked a quantity of strawberries and as the Shelton family had no coffee, tea nor sugar, we procured some for them, and had a fine supper at a table, like civilized persons, for a novelty. The family were refined and educated, and were very affable when they found we ‘Yankees’ were civilized beings and treated them kindly, but we found them rank rebels.” It was nice to find that some civility existed on both sides.
The ride between Richmond and Petersburg Virginia was one of the most relaxing of the journey. There were shade trees bordering the roadway making the trip cool and comfortable under the sunny cloudless sky. To be continued next week.
150 Years Age
June 21st 1862; The Battle of Simmon’s Bluff. The 55th Pennsylvania Regiment conducts a raid to cut the Charleston- Savannah Railroad. The railroad remains intact, but rebels in the area are move from their former position. June 25th 1862; The Battle of Oak Grove / French’s Field / King’s School House. This is just the beginning of the Seven Days Battle. General McClellan’s Union advance in Henrico County is blunted. With four corps he moves south of the Chickahominy River, he leave one corps on the north banks near Mechanicsville to protect the supply base. At White House Landing, General Lee plans to attack the right flank of the Army of the Potomac which is separated from the rest of the army by the rain-swollen river. The Battle of Mechanicsville is the second day of the Seven Day’s Battle. The Union deploys behind Beaver dam Creek. Confederate attacks are driven back with heavy casualties. The battle is a Union victor, with 1,300 rebels killed , wounded or captured and only 400 federals.
No Juniata County casualties this week.
Donald E. Husler Jr.