Friday, November 23, 2012

Misfit Cavalry

Brigadier General Albert G. Jenkins
          Anyone who has done much reading on the Gettysburg Campaign has probably come across material relating to the Confederate cavalry blunders that aided the Army of Northern Virginia in nothing short of defeat at Gettysburg.  The argument has been raging since those fateful days in July of 1863.  Any student of the campaign knows about JEB Stuart's misgivings (that is depending on your side of the fence) in regaining contact with the boss.  Stuart truly has become the scapegoat to many people regardless of whether or not his actions were wrong or right.  Besides the discussion of Stuart's shortcomings though, Robert E Lee still had plenty of cavalry moving with the army and I would argue that maybe the fault rests with the commanding general alone.  A more concerted use of the cavalry he had at hand could have made the difference.  In regards to Stuart, as we know to be true in other situations with Lee at Gettysburg, sometimes a more stringent exercise of command may have been necessary.  But that brings us to our topic of the week, Lee's misfit raiders, the troopers of Albert Gallatin Jenkins command and their role in the Gettysburg Campaign.  This single brigade of 1,300 men was very close to directly impacting the course of what we now know as the largest battle of the entire Civil War.  The "stars in their courses seemed against them" though.
Downtown Chambersburg, PA
          Jenkins was a Brigadier General at the age of 32 years old and despite some of the negative feedback nudged towards his command, he was a very bright young man.  From Greenbottom, Virginia, he graduated from Jefferson College and also attended Harvard University in the study of law.  Before the outbreak of the great rebellion he was holding a seat in the United States Congress dating to 1857, finally resigning to offer his services to the Confederacy in 1861.  He was a delegate to the first Confederate Congress, but decided his services were best utilized in the field.  He quickly rose to the rank of Brigadier General and was relied on heavily through the early stages of the war, leading mostly raiding details in Kentucky and Ohio before being recalled to the east by Robert E Lee himself.  Lee used Jenkins men hard in the Shenandoah Valley, but that was all a distant memory by the summer of 1863.
          Jenkins led a colorful band of troopers to say the least.  Not known for their dash and elan in comparison to Stuart's troopers, the men under Albert Jenkins were a bit of a rag-tag bunch.  Regardless of outward appearance and despite their lack of complete subordination to military protocol in every detail, they were experienced soldiers by June of 1863.
          As Lee's army moved north Jenkins' command led the way for Ewell's Second Corps into Pennsylvania.  He aided in the capture of Martinsburg although Union troops escaped in the night after his request for capitulation failed.  On June 17 Jenkins reached Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, requesting the citizens to turn over all their weapons in two hours.  Unfortunately his pickets detected Union Cavalry advancing in their direction and he withdrew towards Maryland and the security of Rebel infantry.
 "Early in the morning the citizens were ordered by the general to give up all weapons, and we received about 500 guns of all sorts, sabres, pistols, etc. The useful arms were loaded on wagons and the others were destroyed. About 11 o'clock news reached headquarters of the advance of a strong Yankee force, and consequently we evacuated the city and fell back upon Hagerstown, Md." 
- 1st Lt. Hermann Schuricht, Co D 14th Virginia Cavalry
Rupp House in Mechanicsburg, PA - Built in 1773 it served
as JenkinsHeadquarters while in the Harrisburg Area
The early part of the campaign was a stunning operation on the part of Lee's Second Corps officers which to this point included General Jenkins.
          On June 27, Jenkins and his men entered Carlisle and by this point in the campaign General Stuart and his three brigades were in a blackout with army headquarters.  Jenkins had his headquarters located at the Rupp House in Mechanicsburg, PA, probing the defenses of Harrisburg and hoping that the opportunity might exist to capture that crucial federal state capital.  On June 28, Jenkins and his men even fought the northern most battle of the entire campaign at Sporting Hill, driving back federal militia sent out from the defenses of Harrisburg to make a stand.  With Union militia out of the way, Jenkins now had his chance, but it was not to be.  On that very day, Robert E Lee received word that the Army of the Potomac was across the river for which it was named.
          On June 29, all of Lee's forces were concentrating in the direction of Cashtown, a tiny village on the eastern slopes of South Mountain along one of the major roads leading to Gettysbug.  For  Jenkins' command, the 29th and 30th were spent reconnoitering the defenses of Harrisburg before finally receiving word from Ewell to head towards the action.  After leading the push into Pennsylvania Jenkins' brigade was now one of the farthest units from the field of battle.  They made slow progress in starting south after trying to rapidly pull together all their outposts and skirmishers, all the while being harassed by Federal cavalry.  One regiment of the brigade that had been detached to Early's Division (17th Virginia) actually participated in the fighting on July 1.
John Majors House on the Harrisburg Road -
Site of General Jenkins headquarters July 1 - 2, 1863
          Jenkins and his rag-tag band of troopers finally reached the scene of the action around 5pm on July 1.  He set up his headquarters in the John Majors home along the Harrisburg (Heidlersburg) Road which is approximately 3 miles from 'the diamond' in Gettysburg.  The remainder of the evening was spent foraging and catching up with a much needed rest.
          Early on July 2 Albert Jenkins divulged in scouting the scenes of the previous days' struggles and trying to gain an understanding of the dispositions of both armies.  He was then summoned to General Lee's headquarters where he was informed that his command was to guard the left flank of the Confederate line along the Hanover Road.  This would then relieve two brigade's of Ewell's Corps for an attack that Lee was planning for later in the day.  Lee's plan was to strike the Federal left with Longstreet and follow it up with an attack on their right with Ewell.  He would need every brigade which made the role of Jenkins' 1,300 man brigade all the more important.  They would be the only security guarding the roads that led to the Confederate rear and with any luck, a successful attack might roll up the Federal line.
          Jenkins returned to his command near the Majors House and 'boots and saddles' rang out across the camps.  Before long his command was on the Harrisburg Road in column and heading south towards the village of Gettysburg.  After advancing only a mile, Jenkins halted the command and they moved into Blocher's Woods along Rock Creek.   He rode with his staff officers to the crest of Blocher's Knoll (now Barlow's Knoll) to surmise the opposing positions.  Originally Jenkins was told by Lee that the attack on July 2nd was to begin sometime around noon.  At this point in the story of Jenkins' command at Gettysburg, events start to become really foggy and many questions can be raised.  Here we will continue with what we know is 100% factual.  Shortly after reaching Blocher's Knoll, Jenkins was viewing dispositions through his field glasses when his staff noticed a rising puff of smoke from the hill in the distance (Cemetery Hill).

"In the morning we advanced into the valley between Seminary Ridge and the mountain range held by the Union army. Jenkins' Brigade was posted in a piece of woodland, part of yesterday's battlefield, in sight of the seminary and the city of Gettysburg. Both armies had been reinforced and concentrated during the night. General Stuart, with the main force of our cavalry, was not at hand, and for want of cavalry the defeated Federals had not been pressed, and still held and fortified the eminence, above Gettysburg, controlling the valley. Our forces were in possession of the town. We were wondering at the silence prevalent, only in long intervals the report of a gun was heard. General Jenkins resolved to reconoitre, and I was of his companions. Arriving on top of a hill our party attracted the enemy's attention, and we were fired upon. A shell exploded among us, wounding the General and his horse."  1st Lt. Hermann Schuricht, Co D 14th Virginia Cavalry
Blocher's Knoll from Almshouse Cemetery on a cloudy day -
Site of Brigadier General Jenkins' wounding
Of the entire party, Jenkins was the only man hit. His horse was killed and his face was lacerated by a shell fragment that left him unconscious.  He was quickly removed from the hill and then carried to the Majors House where he had set up his headquarters the day before.
          With the wounding of Jenkins a disaster in tactics would befall the attack that Ewell was then to carry out.  No one took command of Jenkins' Brigade or made an effort to carry out his assignment.  Because of this Ewell's two brigades on Benners Hill were never relieved and thus he was short these valuable men when he needed them most in his attack on the evening of July 2.  Multiplying the disaster was the fact that David Gregg's Federal Cavalry had also moved out the Hanover Road towards the Confederate flank, making contact with Walker's Stonewall Brigade near Brinkerhoff's Ridge.  Again this occupation of time helped to keep troops out of the assault to which they were supposed to be a part.  Another one of the great 'what-ifs' of the battle, in hindsight we know that Ewell's attack on the evening July 2 was a failure, but if only he hadn't lost that substantial force because of the wounding of Albert Jenkins.  These are the intricate events that unwind history from their intended path.
          Albert Jenkins did eventually recover from his wound later in the fall of 1863.  He recruited a a large cavalry force in Virginia during the winter months and was selected as the commander of the Department of Western Virginia.  On May 9, 1864 Jenkins was mortally wounded and captured at the battle of Cloyd's Mountain while fighting George Crook's Union Cavalry.  He died twelve days later on May 21, 1864 at the age of thirty three.

Jenkins Monument at the Rupp House in Mechanicsburg, PA
14th Virginia (Maj. Benjamin F. Eakle)
16th Virginia (Col. Milton J. Ferguson)
17th Virginia (Col. William H. French)
34th Virginia Battalion (Lieut. Col. Vincent A. Witcher)
36th Virginia Battalion (Capt. Cornelius T. Smith)
Jackson's (Virginia) Battery (Capt. Thomas E. Jackson)

1st Lt. Hermann Schurict's Diary
Battle of Cloyd's Mountain

1 comment:

  1. It should be noted that only a part of the 17th Virginia Cavalry (Sgt. James Hodam of Co. C, noted that his company was that group) was there in the early morning hours & were leading the van of the Confederate advance. They are also suspected as the cavalry that fired on the 17th Pa. Cav. as the Confederate infantry advanced and the battle commenced.


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