Welcome the Hour of Conflict: William Cowan McClellan and the 9th Alabama

By John C. Carter | Go to book overview

10
Orange, Virginia, to Petersburg, Virginia
August 22, 1863–October 1864

A temporary gloom now spreads itself over the country . . .

—William Cowan McClellan

With the losses at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July 1863, the Confederacy faced its darkest hour. By September, Confederate general Braxton Bragg was forced to evacuate Chattanooga as Union major general William S. Rosecrans flanked his defenses. Pres. Jefferson Davis and Gen. Robert E. Lee sent Gen. James Longstreet to Tennessee to help Bragg shore up his forces. On September 18, the Confederates under Bragg attempted to cut off Rosecrans from his Chattanooga base at Chickamauga Creek in north Georgia. It was a tactical victory for the South and a lift for the Southern public. The South, however, had taken 18,454 casualties (and the North 16,170)—numbers they could not afford to lose. Rosecrans still had Chattanooga, and Bragg would fail to follow up on his victory at Chickamauga.1 With Longstreet in Tennessee and Lee still suffering from the losses at Gettysburg, Lincoln and Maj. Gen. Henry Wager Halleck pressured Maj. Gen . George Meade to take direct action against Lee. Halleck, tired of hearing from Meade that Richmond and the Shenandoah valley were the army’s objectives, warned that “Lee’s army is the objective point.”2 Meade preferred to push Lee away from Washington and the Shenandoah Valley and back to the defenses of Richmond. After the Union loss at the Battle of Chickamauga, however, Halleck sent reinforcements west to Rosecrans, which removed the pressure for Meade to move forward. In the meantime, hoping to catch Meade out in the open and crush his army, Lee began his own flanking movement on October 9 against Meade. Lee also hoped the movement would discourage further reinforcements of Union troops being sent west.3

Meade fell back and avoided Lee; and, at the same time, he was able to inflict heavy casualties on A. P. Hill’s lead division that blundered into a trap at Bristoe Station on October 14.4 Around Thanksgiving Day, Meade attempted to turn Lee’s position to the east but ran into a firmly entrenched Confederate position at Mine Run and was forced to withdraw across the

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