Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Pennsylvania Reserves on the Move (Again): McCall's Division Heads to Manassas

The last time we visited Gen. George McCall's Pennsylvania Reserves, they had just settled into camp near Alexandria after passing several months in Langley. As part of Gen. Irvin McDowell's First Corps, the Reserves waited for orders to go to the Peninsula with the rest of the Army of the Potomac.  Instead, on April 4, 1862, the First Corps was detached from Gen. George McClellan's command and retained for the defenses of Washington as part of the newly-created Department of the Rappahannock.  McDowell, who was placed in charge of the department, wasted little time in sending his troops south along the Orange & Alexandria (O&A) Railroad.

Rufus King's division marched first on April 4.  McCall was not far behind.  On April 8, McDowell ordered McCall's division to advance to Manassas the following day.  The artillery and cavalry were to proceed "via Fairfax Court-House and Centreville," while the infantry was to move "by rail."  (OR, 1:12:3, 61.)

Gen. John F. Reynolds, commander of the First Brigade, Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps (courtesy of Wikipedia).  Reynolds would rise to lead the First Corps, Army of the Potomac.  He was killed at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863.
Gen. John F. Reynold's brigade was chosen to go first.  On the morning of April 9, his men struck camp and marched "in the midst of a furious storm of mingled rain and hail" to a point along the O&A Railroad outside of Alexandria.  (Soger Boy, Wellsboro Agitator, Apr. 23, 1862.)  As Orrin Stebbins of the Bucktail regiment (13th Pennsylvania Reserves) wrote to his local paper:
We traveled three miles [from camp] in the mud boot deep and the cold wind beating the frozen rain into our faces, and wetting our clothes to freeze during the day.  We arrived at the cars about noon--stood in the storm and mud two hours, then piled into or on them five or seven deep, sat there two hours longer, then the old engine gave a few snorts and began to move off.  (Col. Crockett, Wellsboro Agitator, Apr. 23, 1862.)*
Some of Reynold's soldiers were unlucky enough to ride in open cars, where they were exposed to the harsh weather on the way to Manassas.  Still others, including some men from the 5th and 8th Pennsylvania Reserves, were forced to spend the night waiting for additional transportation to arrive.  As Maj. George Dare of the 5th Pennsylvania Reserves recalled, the men sought "what comforts they could find in a few vacant houses, while others were without any other shelter than their blankets."  (Phila. Press, Apr. 25, 1862.)

The soldiers who managed to find space on the rail cars complained of the slow, arduous journey to Manassas.  Stebbins felt that the railroad was "the poorest and. . . steepest grade of any I ever saw." (Col. Crockett, Wellsboro Agitator, Apr. 23, 1862.)  Another Bucktail going by the pen name "Soger Boy" told the Wellsboro Agitator:
I have seen and been on what were considered slow coaches in the railroad line, but the Orange and Alexandria road can take my hat.  This must have been the Railroad the chap referred to when he said they had to put the cow-catcher on behind to keep the cattle from running over the train.  (Soger Boy, Wellsboro Agitator, Apr. 23, 1862.)
The bad weather continued unchecked as the train crawled towards its destination.  Snow was falling at a rapid clip.  By the time the trains arrived near Manassas late that night, the men had suffered through damp, freezing weather for hours on end.  As Stebbins recalled, "[t]his was the harshest storm I ever saw in the South."  (Col. Crockett, Wellsboro Agitator, Apr. 23, 1862.)  He was nonetheless confident that the army brass had not made the men suffer unnecessarily:
It is useless to say that there was some tall swearing at those high in command for moving an army in such a storm to lie idle in good weather, but of course they had good reasons for doing so, for I have no reason to think that they wish to expose our lives and health without an object.  (Col. Crockett, Wellsboro Agitator, Apr. 23, 1862.)
Reynold's men gladly left the train cars about two miles beyond Bull Run.  Here the soldiers discovered winter huts that the Confederates had abandoned when they left Manassas back in March.  As Evan Woodward of the 2nd Pennsylvania Reserves remembered:
We had anticipated a hard night of it, in the open fields without fires, so these proved a perfect god-send to us, as the snow was deep and the storm was raging with fury, and many of the men had been exposed through the day on platform cars, so closely huddled together that they could hardly move. We were in the cabins but a few moments before bright crackling fires were burning in the ample chimney-places and we were partaking of a bountiful supper of hot coffee, crackers and junk.  (Woodward, Our Campaigns, 90.)
The snowfall continued overnight and by the next morning, five inches coated the ground.  Reynolds men formed at 8 a.m. and marched three miles south along the O&A Railroad.  Passing through Manassas Junction, the soldiers observed the ruin that the Confederates had left behind.  Stebbins described the scene of what he perceived as a hasty retreat:
The whole country was one vast field of destruction--one barren desert, covered only with sham forts, rifle pits, barrels filled with sand, old wagons, broken down engines and cars, chimneys and walls of burnt buildings, dead horses, piles of burned cracker barrels, coffins, tomb stones and monuments of every kind and description that a panic-stricken would value less than life. . . .  (Col. Crockett, Wellsboro Agitator, Apr. 23, 1862.)
The men continued their march and finally set up camp near the edge of a pine forest outside of the railroad junction.  The units who were left behind in Alexandria boarded cars that day for Manassas and joined their fellow soldiers in camp.

Meanwhile, McCall's Second Brigade under Gen. George G. Meade and Third Brigade under Gen. E.O.C. Ord learned that they would be advancing to Manassas by foot.  Meade, seemingly pleased with the news, wrote to his wife:
The bad storm we have had has ceased, and the weather looks favorable, so that the change from being cooped up in cars to marching is agreeable.  (Meade 258.)
Considering the logistical difficulties of going by rail, the change in plans was a wise one.  On April 11, the two brigades left Alexandria and marched down the Little River Turnpike.**  That night the men encamped about three miles beyond Fairfax Court House.  The next day the two brigades moved through Centreville and prepared their dinner along Bull Run. They joined the rest of the division outside Manassas that evening.  McCall's men would remain in the area for almost a week before bidding the region good-bye. 

Up Next
My next post will look at the the Pennsylvania Reserves in camp at Manassas.  I hope readers will indulge my recent obsession with the Reserves.  I have followed their adventures and exploits while at Langley, so it was only natural that I picked up the trail once they left.  Of course, this blog is not just about the Reserves, so my next post will be the last one on McCall's men for the time being, until they move back into the geographic space covered by this blog.

*Sources indicate that Reynold's brigade set out from Alexandria some time between  three and five that afternoon.  (Col. Crockett, Wellsboro Agitator, Apr. 23, 1862; Meade 257; Phila. Press, Apr. 25, 1862; Woodward, Our Campaigns, 89.) 

**J.R. Sypher's classic history of the Pennsylvania Reserves indicates that the entire division moved to Manassas on April 9, 1862, but most sources, including letters written around the time of the advance, confirm that Meade and Ord's men marched from camp near Alexandria on April 11, 1862 and arrived in Manassas the next day.  (Hardin 23; Meade 258-59; Soger Boy, Wellsboro Agitator, Apr. 23, 1862; Sypher 172-73; Woodward, Third Reserve, 68.)

Col. Crockett, Wellsboro Agitator, Apr. 23, 1862; M.D. Hardin, History of the Twelfth Regiment Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps (1890); A.F. Hill, Our Boys: The Personal Experiences of a Soldier in the Army of the Potomac (1864); George Meade, The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Vol. 1 (1913); Alan T. Nolan, The Iron Brigade: A Military History (1994 ed.); Phila. Press, Apr. 25, 1862; Stephen W. Sears, To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign (1992); Soger Boy, Wellsboro Agitator, Apr. 23, 1862; J.R. Sypher, History of the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps (1865); O.R. Howard Thomson & William H. Rauch, History of the "Bucktails" (1906); Edward Morrison Woodward, History of the Third Pennsylvania Reserve (1883); Edward Morrison Woodward, Our Campaigns (1865).

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