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He Hath Loosed the Fateful Lightning, Part 4

He Hath Loosed the Fateful Lightning: The Battle of Ox Hill (Chantilly), September 1, 1862
by Paul Taylor

I managed to finish the book last evening, so this is the final part of my daily blog entries on He Hath Loosed The Fateful Lightning. I hope to have a review up within the next day or two, and then I plan to start on Welker's Thunder at Ox Hill. As promised, after reading that book, I will write an entry comparing and contrasting the two books.

Chapter 4
1. Chapter 4 covered the battle of Chantilly in its entirety. Stevens attacked elements of Jackson's Corps on Ox Hill just to the west of the north-south running Ox Road. His Division assaulted in a divisional column, with each brigade one behind the other. At the height of the charge, Stevens personally led the 79th NY Highlanders, and the Federals routed Hays' Louisiana Brigade located at the Salient. However, Stevens died with a bullet through his temple around 5 P.M. that day. Early's Brigade came to the rescue and sealed up the breach. Some men of Reno's Division went in east of Ox Road, and the 21st Massachusetts received a surprise volley which killed around 100 men. Soon after, all of the IX Corps units retreated south towards the unfinished railroad. As this was happening, Birney's large 7-regiment Brigade of Kearny's III Corps Division advanced into a cornfield west of Stevens' attack. There they stood and fought Branch's and Brockenbrough's Confederate Brigades for an hour and a half. This fighting was in many cases hand to hand because a thunderstorm had been raging since around the time of Stevens' death. Taylor takes pains to document that a large number of rifles were not firing during this time, and even goes into a little aside about the uselessness of the Enfield Rifles Musket in a hard rain. As the fighting was going on, Kearny grew concerned with his right flank since Stevens' Division had retreated. As he rode around in the growing darkness, he stumbled onto the Confederate lines and was shot dead. The fighting had ended, and Jackson's flanking maneuver had failed, but the North had lost two promising Generals within about an hour of each other.

2. Both the Northerners in Stevens' and Kearny's Divisions and the Confederates in Jackson's Corps were worn out from the fighting of the past week. On August 26, just before the fighting at Brawner's Farm and Bull Run, Jackson's Wing had 25, 335 men Present for Duty (PFD)*, Kearny's Division had 6,571 PFD* and Stevens' Division had 3,823 PFD*. Just a week later on September 2, the day after Chantilly, Jackson had 20,608 PFD*, Kearny (now under the command of Birney) 5,644 PFD*, and Stevens (now under Christ) 3,085 PFD*. These numbers do not take into account the large number of stragglers who were away from their commands during the retreat and pursuit, so all three commands were considerably weaker than the stated PFDs one would assume. Jackson had faced repeated poundings from Pope on August 29th and 30th, and his men were hungry as well. The Union troops weren't much better off, though they hadn't suffered as severely as had Jackson's troops (especially the Light Division of A.P. Hill.

* All PFD numbers come from the 1993 George Mason University Masters Thesis of John Owen Allen.

3. Gen. Kearny's body was treated with great respect by the Confederates. He was apparently greatly admired for his skill and courage. They sent the corpse back through the lines under a flag of truce the next day. Although the Union pulled off what Taylor terms a narrow though hollow tactical victory, I think they lost more in this victory than in any victorious battle of comparable size. Kearny and Stevens were both excellent fighting generals in an Army that seemed to have far too few of these. Stevens was even rumored to be in the running to be appointed as head of the Army of Virginia before his untimely death. I strongly believe that if these two men had survived they both would have been commanding Corps in the near future. No one can predict how a Division commander thrust into a higher role will perform, but I think at least one of these two men would have led a Corps with as much skill and aggression as they led their respective divisions. Chantilly was a black day for the Army of the Potomac.

Chapter 5
1. This chapter deals with the aftermath of the battle. Taylor asserts that darkness, heavy rain, and fatigue helped to bring the battle to a close. Both sides ended the fight exactly on the ground they had started with. Taylor praises Stevens, saying he had "courage, decisive action, organizational skills, and a superb knowledge of tactics". The Rebels, hungry and without food, searched the bodies of dead Yankees for a bite to eat. The lines were so close that picket fires were not allowed. Around 2 A.M., Pope finally ordered a general withdrawal to Washington, D.C.


Chapter 6
1. Clara Barton makes an appearance in Chapter 6 as the casualties and their suffering is recorded. The Federals suffered both the higher number of casualties (1,000 vs. 500-600) and a higher percentage (15,000 Confederates had faced only 6,000 Yankees). Taylor points out that many Confederate regiments lumped in their Ox Hill casualties with those suffered at Second Manassas, so historians are still having trouble separating those numbers correctly. Thousands of Union wounded were left on the Manassas battlefield and its environs, and many men starved to death or suffered needless exposure because the Northern government was unable to come to their aid.


Chapter 7
1. Taylor draws his conclusions in this chapter. He says that there was no clear-cut victor at Chantilly. As stated earlier he calls it a "somewhat hollow tactical Union victory". His reasoning was that Lee's goal was to destroy Pope's Army, and Pope's goal was to get his men to Washington intact. Taylor believes that the troop buildup at Germantown had as much if not more to do with the victory as the battle itself. That troop build-up prevented Jackson from blocking Pope-s retreat route, and Stevens and Kearny did the rest. Taylor ultimately concludes that "the battle of Ox Hill played no role in the final tactical outcome of the just-concluded campaign, save for the deaths of two of the Union army's finest field generals". Stuart send Wade Hampton's Cavalry Brigade on one last attempt to get around the Union flank, but elements of the AotP's fresh II Corps made sure that did not happen. From here, Lee invaded Maryland, and the Union replaced Pope with McClellan. Lincoln didn't necessarily trust him, but he did believe McClellan could whip the AotP (newly enlarged with the three Corps of the Army of Virginia) back into shape.


Epilogue
1. Taylor finishes with an account of the current-day situation at Chantilly. It is a pretty sad story as far as I'm concerned. Today, subdivisions cover the entire battlefield, and extensive road work has lowered the height of Ox Hill considerably since 1862. The only thing left to indicate a battle was fought here is a small 4.5 acre park which contains monuments to Kearny and Stevens. Kearny's death spot isn't even on park property. The only good news from this sorry state of affairs is that the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites (APCWS, now the Civil War Preservation Trust) was formed to prevent this type of mass destruction of our heritage from ever happening again.


Appendices
1. Appendices 1-3 detail the lives of KEarny and Stevens, and also talk about how Kearny was the father of the Corps identification system later used by the Union Armies.

2. Appendix 4 was the Order of Battle. There were no unit strengths or casualty figures. No regimental commanders were listed, and the numbers anf types of cannon in the artillery batteries was missing. This was about your average OOB for a tactical study.


Notes, Bibliography, and Index
1. The Notes covered pages 143-159, and they were pretty thorough, better than the typical White Mane book. The bibliography followed on pages 160-175, and included a good number of primary sources. This too makes it a much better than average book from White Mane. Lastly, the index was on pages 176-179. It was not lengthy, but then again the book itself was only 179 pages long.


Maps and Wargaming
1. The 8 maps were decent, but they were not nearly as detailed as I prefer them to be in a tactical study. They were in black and white, with each side's troops drawn in differing shades of gray. There were no topographical lines, and really the only noting of elevation came on just several maps which contained hachures marking Ox Hill's location.

2. As far as wargaming Ox Hill, this book will give you a pretty decent start. Unit strengths are mentioned throughout the text, and the maps are enough to give you a good start. I suspect that Welker's book will do a better job in this department, however.


Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4

Comments

Given his decades of experience, his personal courage and his combat record (tactically speaking), I think it'd be more than fair to project Kearney as a more than competent Corps commander, although David Birney availed himself well as he continued to climb the ranks in the wake of Kearney's death and Hancock's injury.

Obviously the high ranking commanders who exposed themselves so conspicuously were bound to be killed or wounded inevitably. Obviously Kearney had already lost an arm before Chantilly, so who knows how many more battles he would have lasted before his next injury/fatal wounding. Same went for Hancock and Hooker, both solid Corps commanders.

^ Should read Sickles' injury, not Hancock's

Johnny,

I definitely agree about Kearny, and I think the same can be said about Stevens as well, to be perfectly honest. Interestingly enough, I was skimming through Welker's book on Chantilly prior to reading it, and I got to reading an afterward he has talking about where these two men would have ended up. I didn't realize this, but Welker points out that the two men who replaced Kearny and Stevens at the head of their divisions (George Stoneman and Orlando Wilcox, respectively) both went on to become Corps commanders shortly after Antietam. On November 5, 1862 Wilcox was appointed to the head of the IX Corps, and on October 30, 1862, Stoneman was likewise appointed head of the III Corps. Surely these appointments would have gone to Stevens and Kearny otherwise, and they might have been appointed even sooner to other high commands. A lot of people talk about Stonewall Jackson's death at Chancellorsville and his corresponding absence at Gettysburg. What if two aggressive, many would say brilliant, men had been in charge of Union Corps at Antietam? To be fair, Kearny's III Corps missed Antietam. The same can be said of Stevens' possible presence as a Corps commander due to Burnside's presence (negative interference?) on the field. However, these men could have been placed in charge of other Corps. Any of the old Corps of the Army of Virginia which needed leaders in the wake of the Bull Run debacle come to mind, especially the two that were present at Antietam, Mansfield's XII Corps (II Corps, AoV) and Hooker's I Corps (III Corps, AoV). Hooker was a solid commander in his own right, but the possibilities are endless...

Brett S.

At the very least, given Stoneman's transfer to the Cavalry Corps by Hooker, I can't imagine Kearney not leading that Corps by Spring 1863 at the latest.

Then again, who knows how McClellan would have handled reorganization with Stevens and Kearney. I think it's pretty clear he wasn't in a particular rush to support the AoV during that August, so I don't know what he would have thought of certain AoV generals (admittedly, I'm not familiar with possible McClellan correspondences on the matter).

Rafuse's book on McClellan and Beatie's first two volumes of his AoP history quote both Stevens and Kearny's letters extensively, and it's pretty clear that both of them despised McClellan, who probably had no particular use for them, either.
Stevens in particular had a nasty history with McClellan, going back to a prewar quarrel in Washington Territory over a surveying job. McClellan apparently transferred Stevens to the coastal commands the previous year to get his naked insubordination out of his command, and can't have been happy to get him back with IX Corps. Kearny was part and parcel of the III Corps high-command anti-McClellan clique - Heintzelman was neck-deep in collusion with the Radical Republicans in Congress, and of course, everybody knows about Hooker.

On the other hand, McClellan *did* put Hooker in charge of I Corps, so in the post-Chantilly crisis, he'd probably have promoted a rabid three-legged dog if he thought it could fight a corps.

Mitch,

Thanks for the input. I'll be honest with you, that's an important point that really didn't cross my mind as I was typing up the blog entry. I wonder who McClellan would have picked between Kearny and Hooker for command of I Corps if that choice had presented itself. I'm assuming that Stevens wasn't going anywhere as long as McClellan was in charge.

Brett