Friday, March 25, 2022

The Battle of Glendale, remembered

An article by Ebenezer Idowu , titled How the South almost prevailed in the Civil War in the [Madison, Wisc] Clarion lays out two examples in which the South almost won the Civil War.

The first (though not identified in the article) is the battle of Glendale, the next to the last day of the Seven Days battles. [Also, recall Stempel's: The Battle of Glendale: The Day the South Nearly Won the Civil War] From the article by Idowu:

One day in 1862, had things gone as planned, the Army of the Potomac would be no more. In short, the South could have won the Civil War. Lee’s plan was relatively simple: two Confederate divisions, one under Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and another led by Theophilus Holmes would attack the Federal army from the north and west(ish), respectively, hemming in the blue-clad troops there. Then, two other divisions-one led by James Longstreet would attack the Federal troops in the middle, breaking their line of retreat in two. You can see why this was such a dangerous plan. Had it been implemented, the Army of the Potomac would have been split in half and likely destroyed, depriving the Union of its main fighting force, and giving the Confederates a clear shot at invading the Northern States.

You may not be familiar with Theophilus Holmes. This was his last field leadership position. He had the tough job of attacking the Union left, which comprised not only gunboats on the James River but also artillery being placed on Malvern Hill. One recalls what happened at Malvern Hill the next day. Lee also got rid of two other field commanders after the battle: Magruder and Huger. wrote of Glendale

To reach Harrison’s Landing, two-thirds of the Union army, some 62,000 men, would have to pass through the crossroads hamlet of Glendale on June 30. Robert E. Lee was poised to strike at that crossroads with 71,000 Confederates. He planned to fight a battle in which portions of his army would pin down Union forces north and south of the crossroads while his main attack broke through the weakened center. The Union units around Glendale were disorganized and demoralized. They fought on June 30 with more courage than cohesion. The breakdown of Lee's complex battle plan, as happened so often during the Seven Days, led to a violent struggle that severely bloodied the Federals but failed to prevent their retreat. Had Lee seized the crossroads, the Union army would have been split in half, exposed in tangled enemy country, and in danger of complete destruction. His failure left the Union escape largely assured. AND

With considerable frustration, Lee sent General James Longstreet’s division directly toward the Glendale crossroads shortly before 5:00 p.m. Although Lee had planned to bring more than 70,000 men to battle at Glendale, 25,000 were neutralized by failures amongst the Confederate leadership. AND

If the Battle of Glendale had gone differently, perhaps more according to plan, the fruitless charges into massed artillery need not have happened. Writing after the war, Confederate artillery chief Edward Porter Alexander declared that “on two occasions in the four years, we were within reach of military successes so great that we might have hoped to end the war with our independence. ... The first was at Bull Run [in] July 1861 ... This [second] chance of June 30, 1862 impresses me as the best of all.”

AmericanHistoryCentral wrote of Glendale:

By noon of the next day, most of McClellan’s army had traversed the White Oak Swamp and temporarily escaped Lee’s clutches. Still, the Yankees were not completely out of danger. As they retreated south, the Federals encountered a bottleneck where several roads converged near the village of Glendale. In addition, their command structure was fractured because McClellan was miles away aboard the gunboat Galena on the James River. The federal commanders on the front lines were left to their own resources as their leader never came close to the battlefield that day.
Lee Plans Knockout Punch The situation at Glendale afforded Lee yet another opportunity to destroy the Army of the Potomac. He devised an intricate battle plan to throw nearly his entire army at the Bluecoats before the Northerners could reach the safety of Union gunboats on the James River at Harrison’s Landing.

Lee’s plan fell apart almost immediately. Union artillery and sharpshooters harassed Jackson’s engineers, who failed to rebuild the bridge. Rather than crossing the creek at a ford that his men discovered, Jackson reportedly lay down under a tree and went to sleep while his soldiers engaged in a fruitless artillery duel. Jackson’s men were never a factor in the ensuing battle at Glendale. Trees that the Federals had felled across the Charles City Road stymied Huger’s advance. In what facetiously became known as the Battle of the Axes, Huger wasted hours having his men blaze a new road through the adjacent forest and failed to strike the Union center as planned.

s Hill and Longstreet awaited Huger’s arrival, federal artillery began shelling the center of Lee’s line at approximately 2 p.m. Return fire from the Rebels failed to silence the Yankee guns. Lee’s window for success began to close as the afternoon waned. With nightfall only a few hours away, Lee ordered Hill and Longstreet to begin their assault on the center of the Union rearguard despite the absence of Jackson and Huger.

The assault went well initially. The Rebels punctured the Union line and drove the Bluecoats back to the edge of Frayser’s Farm with a strike that featured fierce hand-to-hand combat. Without support from Jackson and Huger, however, the attack petered out. Reinforcements plugged the gap in the Yankee line and prevented the Confederates from capturing the intersection. The Federals still held their line of retreat. Meanwhile, at the southern end of the line, Holmes made no progress. Fitz John Porter’s division, supported by Union gunboats on the James River, thwarted a Confederate assault against the federal left. After the first repulse, Holmes chose not to try again.

Phil Kearny of New Jersey also recognized the significance of Glendale.
Previously, he had stated (as noted in wikipedia);

"I'm a one-armed Jersey son-of-a-gun, follow me!" The general led the charge with his sword in hand, reins in his teeth. He is noted for urging his troops forward by declaring, "Don't worry, men, they'll all be firing at me!"

The second instance that the South "almost won" was at Gettysburg. The author wrote:

After the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, in which Robert E. Lee’s plan to break the Union defense lines from the sides had failed, Lee devised yet another plan to break the Union lines from. This time, he would try the center. First, Confederate artillery would bombard the Union lines at Cemetery Ridge. Then, an infantry unit led by George Pickett would attack the weakened Union lines, breaking them. You can probably guess what happened: things did not go well. The Confederate cannons failed to do the necessary damage to the Northern Army, and the Yankees’ cannons, combined with close-range fighting, made mincemeat of the Rebels.


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