Friday, April 19, 2013

The Pennsylvania Reserves in Northern Virginia 1863, Part II: Farewell to Hooker's Army

As I wrote in my last post, the Pennsylvania Reserves faced a somewhat uncertain future at the start of 1863.  The division had experienced tremendous losses during the bloody battles of 1862.  Gen. George G. Meade, a former commander of the Reserves, took up his old division's cause and pushed to have the Reserves sent back to Pennsylvania to recruit and reorganize.  Pennsylvania's Governor, Andrew Curtin, likewise urged the Lincoln Administration to allow the Reserves to return temporarily to the Keystone State.  These pleas went unheeded at army headquarters, and the Pennsylvanians soon joined the rest of Ambrose Burnside's men on the ill-fated "Mud March."

A Plan is Hatched

By the end of January, the situation began to look brighter for the hard-fought Pennsylvanians.  Gen. Joseph Hooker, the new commander of the Army of the Potomac, and General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck finally agreed on a plan to deal with the manpower problems facing the Reserves.  The division was to be detached from the Army of the Potomac and sent to the defenses of Washington in exchange for a like number of Pennsylvania troops then stationed around the capital.  (OR, 1:25:2, 12.)  The Pennsylvania Reserves would return to the front once they had some time to replenish their ranks and recover from combat duty.  Gen. Samuel P. Heintzelman, head of the Department of Washington, was less than enthusiastic about the idea.  He worried that the Reserves were ill-equipped for provost duty in Washington given that "some of the companies are commanded by sergeants and corporals."  (OR, 1:25:2, 10.)  Heintzelman told Halleck, "I fear that the exchange cannot be made with any benefit to the service in my command."  (OR, 1:25:2, 10.)  Whatever his objections, however, Heintzelman would have no choice but to accept his superior's decision.

Gen. Joseph Hooker (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Meanwhile, the men in the ranks began to hear rumors about their imminent departure for Washington.  A soldier from Co. H, 6th Pennsylvania Reserves wrote on January 28 to his hometown paper, "[W]e – that is the old regiments of the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps of Volunteers – are soon to be relieved from the front (where they have always been found), by the troops now stationed in and about Washington, while we are to take their place."  (Wellsboro Agitator, Feb. 11, 1863.)  He felt that the division was "not in the least dissatisfied with the arrangement, altho’ we wish to have no men see the service that the Reserves have been obliged to."  (Wellsboro Agitator, Feb. 11, 1863.)  Sgt. Thomas W. Dick of Co. H, 12th Pennsylvania Reserves, informed his brother of "reliable information to the effect that we are going back to Washington to rest and recruit."  (Ltr. from T.W. Dick to Brother, Feb. 2 1863.)  Dick  approved of the plan, telling his brother, "its what should have been done before this There is now but a miserable remnant of the gay old division that marched from [Camp] Pierpont last spring."  (Ltr. from T.W. Dick to Brother, Feb. 2 1863) (grammar as in original)


On February 5, Hooker finally issued orders to transfer the Pennsylvania Reserves.  (OR, 1:25:2, 49-50; 52-53.)  He instructed Gen. John F. Reynolds, head of the First Corps, to send the division to Alexandria with instructions to report to Heintzelman for orders.  Hooker added that "[t]he sick and all the baggage of the troops should be taken with them."  (OR, 1:25:2, 50.)  The chief quartermaster would "furnish the transportation," although Hooker told Reynolds that "[t]he details of the embarkation are left with you, with reliance upon your energy and attention."  (OR, 1:25:2, 50.) 

That same day, Reynolds issued an order directing the Pennsylvania Reserves to embark at Belle Plain for Alexandria, "as soon as transportation is furnished."  (OR, 1:51:1, 981.)  The 121st and 142nd Pennsylvania, who were not part of the original Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps, were ordered to remain behind, along with three artillery batteries.  Reynolds informed the men that they would receive three days' cooked rations for the trip north.  He finished his order on a sentimental note:
In separating from the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps, with which the commanding general has been so closely allied for the past eighteen months, he cannot but express his deep regrets. They are, however, lessened by the hope that soon their thinned ranks will be filled, and they, once more restored and reorganized, will be returned to the field prepared to add new luster to a name already endeared to our patriotic State.  (OR, 1:51:1, 981-82.) 
Wartime view of Belle Plain, Virginia on Potomac Creek (courtesy of Library of Congress)
The men of the Pennsylvania Reserves received news of their impending move with enthusiasm.  According to one regimental history, "[i]n despite of the cold rain the camp-fires were soon brightly burning, around which the boys gathered and talked of the good times coming until late at night."  (Woodward, Third Reserve, 224.)  The next afternoon, February 6, the division struck camp and marched about four miles to Belle Plain on Potomac Creek. The journey lasted well into the evening due to the wet and muddy conditions.  The First Brigade boarded transports during the night and headed up the Potomac.  The Second and Third Brigades set out for Alexandria in the morning.  As the men arrived at the wharves along the river, they must surely have felt a sense of relief to leave behind life at the front, if only for a little while.


The transfer of the Reserves soon became mired in a dispute between Hooker and Washington.  Gen. Abner Doubleday, who assumed command of the Pennsylvania Reserves for a short while in the middle of January, had gone to the capital to oversee arrangements for the exchange. (OR, 1:51:1, 974.)  After the division arrived in Washington, Doubleday reported to Hooker that "[t]he Pennsylvania regiments given in place of the Reserves do not contain as many men as the latter brought here."  (OR, 1:25:2, 63.)  He concluded that there was "a deficiency of about 250 men."  (OR, 1:25:2, 63.)  Hooker fired off a dispatch to Halleck on February 10,  insisting that "this deficiency be made up, and that General Heintzelman be directed to send the full number, according to the understanding, viz, the same number of men as were returned in the Pennsylvania Reserves."  (OR, 1:25:2, 63.) Halleck tersely replied that "[r]egiments cannot be broken up in order to exactly equalize."  (OR, 1:25:2, 63.)

Hooker wouldn't let the shortfall go.  He pressed his cause with Heintzelman directly.  (OR, 1:25:2, 69-70.)  The commander of the Washington defenses informed Hooker that he had been told to exchange the Reserves for Pennsylvania troops only and that some of some of the soldiers designated for the Army of the Potomac had been detained in Washington for reasons beyond his control.  He had no more to give.  Heintzelman alleged that "[t]he numbers at my disposal were well understood by General Doubleday when he made the application."  (OR, 1:25:2, 83.)

Hooker next unleashed his wrath on Doubleday, demanding that he "report what agreement was entered into by you with General Heintzelman with regard to the exchange of the Pennsylvania Reserves."  (OR, 1:25:2, 87.)   Doubleday insisted that he had done nothing wrong, claiming that "no special agreement was entered into" between him and Heintzelman.  (OR, 1:25:2, 90.)   He told Hooker:
It was understood that I was to have an equal number of men with those I furnished. I never supposed I should have a less number until the Reserves had actually arrived in Alexandria, and a report of their number was laid before General Heintzelman. He then informed me that the aggregate would be less than that furnished by some 230 men.  (OR, 1:25:2, 90.)
Doubleday also took offense at Hooker's accusation that he had not given his personal attention to the matter, explaining that he had "visited General Heintzelman's office every day, and frequently several times a day, in relation to it," and "was also a daily visitor at the Adjutant-General's Office of the General-in-Chief" concerning the exchange.  (OR, 1:25:2, 90.)  Heintzelman received a copy of Doubleday's response, but when all was said and done, Hooker turned his attention to more pressing matters.   Meanwhile, the Reserves prepared for duty on the picket line in front of the capital.

Up Next:  Military duties in front of Washington.


Aside from the Official Records, the following sources were useful in compiling this post:

John H. Eicher & David J. Eicher, Civil War High Commands (2001); Joseph Gibbs, Three Years in the Bloody Eleventh: The Campaigns of a Pennsylvania Reserves Regiment (2002); Ltr. from T.W. Dick to Brother, Feb. 2 1863 (courtesy of P.R.V.C. Historical Society); J.R. Sypher, History of the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps (1865); Wellsboro Agitator, Feb. 11, 1863 (courtesy of P.R.V.C. Historical Society); Evan M. Woodward, History of the Third Pennsylvania Reserve (1883); Evan M. Woodward, Our Campaigns (1865).

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