Monday, September 12, 2011

Beauregard Writes to Jefferson Davis About the Affair at Lewinsville

The skirmish at Lewinsville was rather small and inconsequential in the scheme of things, but that didn't stop army commanders from putting their own spin on it.  Union Gen. George McClellan certainly took the opportunity to tell his bosses that the victory meant "no more Bull Run affairs."  Likewise, Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard wrote to President Jefferson Davis in Richmond on September 13, 1861.  He boasted:

On the 11th instant we had quite a brisk affair d'avant poste at Lewinsville, between about three hundred men and two pieces of artillery on our part, and on that of the enemy three regiments and eight pieces of artillery, which resulted in their complete rout, with the known loss of about one dozen men killed, wounded, and prisoners.  "Nobody hurt" on our side, not even a horse!*
The claim of a "complete rout" was certainly exaggerated.  Gen."Baldy" Smith's men, under Col. Isaac Stevens, were already getting ready to head back to camp when they were attacked by Col. Jeb Stuart, and the Union force's withdrawal from Lewinsville under fire was a pretty orderly affair.

The home that served as Beauregard's headquarters in Fairfax Court House (courtesy of Library of Congress)
Beauregard added that Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's report on the skirmish, which was forthcoming, "does so much credit to Colonel Stuart, of the cavalry."  Beauregard praised both Stuart and Gen. James Longstreet as "two very promising officers."  (Stuart, during this time, was operating as part of Longstreet's command in the Munson's Hill/Mason's Hill area.)  Beauregard informed Davis of his intention to move Longstreet's whole brigade to Falls Church and Gen. Richard Ewell's brigade to Annandale, where they could "support, at a moment's notice, the forces at and about Munson's and Mason's hills." Beauregard himself had just moved his headquarters to Fairfax Court House, "so as to be nearer the scene of operations."

Beauregard was expecting a full-scale Union attack, and the recent Union reconnaissance at Lewinsville had done little to disabuse him of such notions. He warned Davis:
I am under the impression, from all I can learn, that the enemy, whenever ready, will make a strong demonstration in our front, and then endeavor to turn this place, either by Dumfries, on the lower Potomac, or by Leesburg, on the upper Potomac; in either case we ought to be prepared to strike him from Camp Pickens [Manassas] as a centre, for which purpose we must have collected at that point a large depot of provisions and ammunition.
Beauregard used the threat of a possible Federal advance to plug his ideas for army reorganization. He wrote that the Confederate Army of the Potomac "ought to be under one head, with also one head to each of the two corps of said army; for the general-in-chief of such a large force has too much to engross his time and attention, to be able to discharge also the important duties of chief of a corps d'armee."   Davis was to give these suggestions "serious and immediate consideration, as I believe no time is to be lost in this matter."

Beauregard finished his letter with a post script to Davis: "General McClellan is said, by the prisoners, to have been present at Lewinsville." The general must surely have cracked a smile at the image of the Union army commander presiding over the rout of his own forces. The reality, of course, was much different, but McClellan did ride out to meet the Union forces as they returned to camp from Lewinsville.

I have not seen a copy of Davis' response to Beauregard's letter, if there ever was one.  In a few short weeks, however, the Confederate President would travel to Fairfax and confer with his leading generals on issues of organization and strategy. In the meantime, the Confederates would continue to wait and watch along the advanced line near Falls Church and Annandale.

*The Union force of 1,800 men consisted of the 79th New York, four companies of the First Regiment U.S. Chasseurs, two companies of the 2nd Vermont, two companies of the 3rd Vermont, five companies of the 19th Indiana, four guns of Captain Charles Griffin's battery, and a detachment of 50 regular cavalry and 40 volunteer cavalry. A section of Captain Thaddeus Mott's battery was also brought to the front and fired on the Confederates.

The official correspondence cited in this post can be found in Alfred Roman, The Military Operations of General Beauregard in the War Between the States, 1861 to 1865, Vol. 1, p. 477-78 (1884).


Sherman said...

Enjoyed the post. Beauregard is just too fantastic a character. Between him and McClellan it's enough to make the snarky blogger in me hyperventilate.

Ron Baumgarten said...

Thanks. I couldn't agree more--those two offer much entertainment for the modern historian. In doing research for this series of posts, I keep uncovering many gems from Old Bory that are hard to pass up.

Sherman said...

Roman in particular is pretty spectacular for those, I've always felt. He has such a single-minded purpose of disproving Jeff Davis that he sometimes seems to loose track of the fact that he's burying Beauregard along with his chief detractor. The hysterical letters about supplies to try to prove Davis did know are a great example.

Sometimes makes me feel a little better about silly stuff that goes on between military leaders and politicians today.

Ron Baumgarten said...

I have noticed the trend in Roman to go after Davis with documents that don't necessarily flatter Beauregard. The book itself comes across at times like an Old Bory lovefest. The pages dealing with the War Council in Fairfax in October 1861 are particularly classic.

I feel the same way. The more things change, the more they stay the same when it comes to politics!