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  This webpage reproduces an appendix to Volume II of
R. E. Lee: A Biography

by Douglas Southall Freeman

published by Charles Scribner's Sons,
New York and London, 1934

The text, and illustrations except as noted, are in the public domain.


This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Vol. II
Appendix II-2

Jackson's March of June 24‑26, 1862

The evidence is conclusive that Lee intended Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Jackson's march of June 26 to make it unnecessary for the three columns of attack to storm the p567 Federal position on Beaver Dam Creek, the strength of which was well known to the army. In his report Lee said: "Jackson . . . was to advance at 3 A.M. on the 26th and turn Beaver Dam." Again "Jackson being expected to pass Beaver Dam above and turn the enemy's right, a direct attack was not made by General Hill."1 Beyond all question, Lee expected this to be done as a part of the operations of June 26.2 Jackson, however, in his report used this language: "On the morning of the 26th, in pursuance of instructions from the commanding general, I took up the line of march for Cold Harbor. . . ." After describing the difficulties encountered during the day, he went on: "That night the three divisions bivouacked near Hundley's Corner. While there some skirmishing took place. . . . We were now approaching the ground occupied by that portion of the Grand Army of McClellan which was posted north of the Chickahominy. . . . As our route that day inclined toward the south and brought us in the direction, but to the left of Mechanicsville, we distinctly heard the rapid and continuous discharges of cannon, announcing the engagement of General A. P. Hill with the extreme right of the enemy." He then recounted the happenings of the early morning of June 27 and said: "Continuing to carry out the plan of the commanding general, I inclined to the left and advanced on Cold Harbor. . . ."3 Now, the words which had been italicized (they do not so appear in the text of the report) can create only one impression: Jackson considered it to be his mission to march for Cold Harbor. He did not regard it as an essential part of his mission to cross or to turn Beaver Dam on the 26th.

Thus there is a definite conflict between Lee's intention and Jackson's understanding of it. If Lee's intention was made known to his subordinate, in person or through published orders, then the blame for what happened on the 26th rests first and chiefly on A. P. Hill for advancing contrary to orders, and secondly on Jackson for not advancing farther. If, on the other hand, the plan of the commanding general was not clear, Jackson must be relieved of at least some of the responsibility for what happened on Beaver Dam Creek.

To settle this, recourse must be had to the language of the order, which it is to be assumed Lee sent Jackson. There is no positive proof that Jackson had the text, but as Lee personally drafted it, his known regard for detail would indicate that he did not omit so important a matter. Jackson's reference to "the plan of the commanding general," and his specific mention of "inclining to the left," which was enjoined in the order would indicate that Jackson had seen the document.

p568 How did the order read? It has been quoted in part on page 114, to prepare the reader for a possible misinterpretation of its terms by one of the commanders, and it appears as Appendix II-1, but a few of its sentences must again be quoted: "At 3 o'clock Thursday morning, 26th instant, General Jackson will advance on the road leading to Pole Green Church, communicating his advance to General Branch. . . ." Then followed the directions for the advance of A. P. Hill. The order continued: "The enemy being driven from Mechanicsville and the passage across the [Chickahominy] bridge opened, General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Longstreet, with his division and that of General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.D. H. Hill, will cross the Chickahominy at or near that point, General D. H. Hill moving to the support of General Jackson and General Longstreet supporting General A. P. Hill. The four divisions, keeping in communication with each other and moving en echelonº on separate roads, if practicable, the left division in advance, . . . will sweep down the Chickahominy and endeavor to drive the enemy from his position above New Bridge, General Jackson bearing well to his left, turning Beaver Dam Creek and taking the direction toward Cold Harbor. . . ."4

Jackson's successive movements, then, as set forth in the order were to be: (1) An advance to Pole Green Church; (2) liaison with A. P. Hill through Branch; (3) contact with D. H. Hill; (4) leading an échelon movement down the Chickahominy; (5) bearing well to the left; (6) turning Beaver Dam Creek and (7) taking the direction toward Cold Harbor. The orders said nothing about Jackson's "passing" Beaver Dam Creek in the sense of passing over it. Neither did the orders say specifically that Jackson was to turn the Creek on the 26th, though that undoubtedly was Lee's intention. The turning-movement was to be dependent upon the appearance of D. H. Hill in support, and upon the beginning then of an advance of four divisions in left échelon.

If Jackson had been in contact with Lee between the date the order was issued and the time set for its execution, he would, of course, have cleared up all points that seemed to be ambiguous. But it must be remembered that Jackson was out of touch with the commanding general after the evening of June 23, except as they communicated by courier, or by telegraph. On the evening of the 25, telegraphic communication was interrupted. Jackson had, therefore, to rely on his previous instructions.

This much of the conclusion, then, is plain: If Jackson had been at p569 Pole Green Church earlier on the 26th, D. H. Hill would have been sooner in support and the advance en échelon could have been begun that day, as Lee intended. There is every reason to believe that this advance would have turned Beaver Dam Creek and would have obviated the delay and losses there, for McClellan had only one brigade of infantry and one regiment of cavalry facing Jackson's line of advance.5 As it was, A. P. Hill attacked prematurely. Then, when Jackson's delayed march brought him to his intermediate objective, and he failed to find his support there, he did the natural and the proper thing: he held to the letter of his instructions, as he interpreted them. He did not hurry on alone to turn Beaver Dam Creek, because he did not understand either that it was necessary to do so that day, or that he was expected to execute the turning-movement without support. Quite reasonably, when he heard firing that indicated a probable change in plan, he may have expected that he would be notified if this change called for any new movement on his part. He put his forces at Hundley's Corner, however, where he would be in position to advance as soon as D. H. Hill was en échelon. The evidence does not warrant a charge of disobedience of orders in failing to cross Beaver Dam on the afternoon of June 26.6 On the contrary, by every approach, the argument goes back to the initial mistake of A. P. Hill in advancing contrary to orders.

Two questions remain to be answered. First, did Lee propose unreasonable marches for Jackson on June 25 and 26? In other words, was his plan of action, as drawn on June 24, apt to be upset by such delays as occurred on the march? The order speaks for itself. On Jackson's own assurance that he would reach Ashland by the evening of June 24, Lee gave him a march of only six miles for June 25 — from Ashland to the western side of the Central railroad — and for the 26th, with orders to start at 3 A.M., asked him to do only eight and one-quarter miles to get into position at Pole Green Church in time to turn Beaver Dam Creek.7 Jackson certainly did not regard these marches as impracticable or even severe. In fact, it will be recalled8 that he told Longstreet on June 23 that he could be in position on June 25. It was at Longstreet's instance that another day was allowed him. The plan was a reasonable p570 one in this particular. The fault was with Jackson's slow march on June 24‑25, as he approached Ashland. Nor did he promptly notify the commanding general that he was behind his schedule. It was the morning of June 26 when Lee learned from Jackson that the march of the Army of the Valley had not brought it to the neighborhood of Ashland until the evening of the 25th.9 At that time, according to Lee's order, Jackson should then have been below Ashland, close to the Virginia Central Railroad. Had Jackson notified Lee earlier that he was behind schedule, it might have been possible to put up a strong resistance to the threatening operations of McClellan on the 25th and to allow Jackson one more day in which to turn Beaver Dam Creek. It is possible that Jackson started his courier as soon as he found the telegraph-line down, but the conclusion seems unescapable that Jackson overestimated the marching-power of his men and underestimated the difficulties of moving in an unfamiliar country a force that was much larger than any he had ever commanded. Yet his self-confidence and his pride in his soldiers were such that apparently he hoped, until the last minute, to speed up their march and to maintain his schedule. The difficulties he encountered on the road, during his march on the 26th, were enough to slow him down, but, had he started earlier, they would not have upset the general plan.

If, then, Lee's plan was not at fault in expecting Jackson to reach the upper waters of Beaver Dam Creek in time to turn it on June 26, did Lee select the proper route for the turning-movement? Was Pole Green Church the right intermediate objective? According to the map Lee then used, the answer undoubtedly is in the affirmative. His map showed Pole Green Church only one and one-half miles by road from the crossing of Beaver Dam Creek at Colonel Richardson's, with roads leading around the head of the creek to Cold Harbor. Any trained soldier is apt to say that if he were defending the lower stretches of Beaver Dam Creek, and learned that a heavy hostile column was where Pole Green Church appears on Lee's map, in relation to the course of the creek, he would hasten to evacuate the bank of that stream. In fact, if Jackson had regarded the turning of Beaver Dam Creek as his mission, he might reasonably have concluded that he had done this, strategically, when he reached Hundley's Corner.

Unfortunately for Lee, the map was defective in two respects. First, the distance from Pole Green Church to the crossing at Colonel Richardson's was not one and one-half miles, as the map indicated, p572 but two and three-quarters miles. From Hundley's to Richardson's was not seven-eighths of a mile, as the map showed, but one and seven-eighths — a very substantial difference in a turning-movement. In the second place, the map showed the upper waters of the creek bending sharply to the southeastward from Richardson's, when in reality the course of the creek above that point, as one went upstream, was almost due east. The Federals knew the terrain and must have realized that they could easily defend the creek until nightfall, with their right and rear safe until Jackson was well beyond Hundley's Corner. Had Lee possessed a correct map at the time he probably would not have directed Jackson to march to Hundley's Corner but to Bethesda Church, where he would have passed the headwaters of the creek and could have headed for Cold Harbor. The following sketches will show the difference between the map Lee had at this time and the correct map he used in 1864.

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Left: Headwaters of Beaver Dam Creek as incorrectly shown on the campaign map issued Jackson for use June 26, 1862. Right: Headwaters of the same stream on the corrected Confederate map of 1864.

To sum up the case, then: Lee's demands on the marching-power of Jackson were not unreasonable; his logistics were sound; if the campaign map had been correct, the intermediate objective he assigned Jackson at Pole Green Church would have been proper. But Lee's written orders did not make it plain to a subordinate twenty miles away that the turning of Beaver Dam Creek on the 26th was his first mission. Jackson marched poorly on June 24, 25, and 26, and, if it was possible to communicate sooner, he erred seriously in not sooner notifying the commanding general that he had been delayed. Arriving when he did at his intermediate objective and failing to find his supports at hand, Jackson was justified under his interpretation of the letter of his orders in halting there for the night. Taken as a whole, it is a singular fact that comment on this operation has laid so much stress on Jackson's delay and has dwelt so little on A. P. Hill's violation of orders, in advancing before Jackson was in position. This advance was the immediate reason for the slaughter on Beaver Dam Creek.

The Author's Notes:

1 O. R., 11, part 2, pp490‑91.

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2 See supra, pp111, 132.

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3 O. R., 11, part 2, p553.

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4 O. R., 11, part 2, pp498‑99.

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5 O. R., 11, part 2, pp232‑33, 389‑90.

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6 Colonel H. L. Landers, formerly of the Historical Section of the Army War College, was the first, as far as this writer knows, to call attention to the plain indications in the report of General Jackson to that officer's belief that his mission was to reach Cold Harbor. To Colonel Landers's admirable MS. History of the Seven Days' Battles, to his splendid maps of the troop-positions in the engagements, and to his generous counsel in many particulars, this writer is so deeply indebted that he wishes to make this special acknowledgement.

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7 O. R., 11, part 2, p498.

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8 Supra, p112.

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9 Lee's Dispatches, 15‑16; see supra, p122.

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