Editor's note: This article was
originally published in The Charger in the Spring of 2001.
In the history of war much has been
written of the drama, the excitement and glory of battle. Little ink
has been spilled to tell of the vast effort, mental and physical, of
the preparation for battle. We will not burden you with it here,
except to relate that three times during the Civil War these
enormous efforts were made and there was no battle. Look at the good
side of it from the soldiers’ standpoint: there were no casualties.
1: Following First Bull Run
Following the rout of the untrained
Union troops at the first battle of Bull Run, Gen. Joe Johnston’s
troops advanced a few miles toward Washington and built massive
earthen fortifications with embrasures for large cannon. General
McClellan was brought east to properly prepare an army to drive them
out. The ranks grew, the training went on -- and on.
Lincoln and the northern press
demanded action, but the Little Napoleon was fearful of throwing his
worshipful regiments against so fearful a target.
It could last no longer. In
September 1861, the blue boys, 112,000 strong, marched out of the
capital and grimly climbed the Confederate entrenchments. There was
only silence. Joe Johnson had pulled his troops out days before. The
fearsome artillery had been abandoned. They were only black-painted
logs dubbed 'Quaker cannon.'
Rebel post near Centreville, Virginia. The Union Army found
this “Quaker Gun”—a derisive log, painted black. This gag
photograph shows a Union soldier setting off the “Quaker Gun”
using a stick for the wire.
2: Following Fredericksburg
The tragic Battle of Fredericksburg
was not seen by the north as an unrecoverable defeat. Half the Union
army had not even been engaged. The rebels had not driven them back
but remained stubbornly across the Rappahannock. Washington was
demanding action and Burnside, acutely aware of McClellan’s fate,
pondered and planned military action.
What he came up with was a drive up
the river to the southwest to draw Lee away from his direct route to
Richmond and so neutralize the odds. So on January 20, 1863, the
ponderous Army of the Potomac got under way. Simultaneously, an icy
and heavy winter rain broke. Roads disappeared, wagon beds sunk to
their level in the mud, horses and mules died by the hundreds, men
could not march. It did not let up for three days.
The question was no longer how to
get forward, but how to get back. They succeeded at the latter and
thankfully reentered their camp on Stafford Heights.
3: Following Nashville
General Sherman had taken the cream
of the Union army off for his march to Savannah and General John
Bell Hood, with an army of some 45,000, was left rampaging in the
General George Thomas smartly
assumed that Hood would head for Nashville. He kept 30,000 with him
to fortify that city and dispatched General John Schofield with
28,000 to dog Hood. Schofield set up a good defense on the Duck
River and Columbia, but Hood scouted the position, crossed upstream
and camped at Spring Hill, ten miles north on the road to Nashville.
Schofield was trapped.
But in the oddest tactical mystery
of the war, the hard-hitting Hood allowed the Union troops to march
past him from mid-afternoon to midnight. Shots were fired but no
forceful effort was made to block the highway. The next day,
Schofield set up his defense at Franklin, where the southerners paid
a deadly penalty for their ineptness.