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Jone's Cavalry Bridge Saves Lee's Army--At Fairfield, PA.

Discussion in 'Battle of Gettysburg' started by 5fish, Nov 24, 2008.

  1. 5fish

    5fish 2nd Lieutenant

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    During the Battle of Gettysburg there was a small but important cavalry engagement at Fairfield, PA. on July 3rd, 1863. It is called the battle of Faifield.

    Where the confederate cavalry referred to as Jones bridge which engaged 400 men of the union 6th US cavalry detached from Merritt's command. Their mission was to find an unguarded wagons and destroy them.

    Jones Bridge was on orders from Lee to secure the Fairfield Gap and Pike.

    The union cavalry arrives as Jones bridge arrives around the same time and the union put up a good fight but are forced to retreat.

    The importance of the battle is not that the wagons were saved but Jones was able to secure Fairfield gap and pike for Lee's retreat form Gettysburg!!!

    I am nissing a few details but it looks as if Jones Bridge got their orders on July 1st secure the gap. I think that is interesting that Lee wanted to secure this gap on the first day of battle.

    It is also interesting the Battle of Gettysburg and the hopes of the confederacy in someway acutely hinged on the outcome of this battle in Fairfield. If Merritt had sent a stronger force instead of a small one, he would have effectively cut Lee's escape off. Forcing Lee to latterly fight every inch of the way back to VA., the war may have been over in 1863 instead of 1865.

    If the Union control Fairfield gap the war would have most likely been over by the end of the summer in 1863.

    When Lee sent Jones Bridge to Fairfield gap was his hedging bets and planing for possible defeat? Could Lee have that much fore thought?

    I need more details of the events surrounding this battle and Lee's intentions for Jones Bridge?

    How important was the confederate victory at Fairfield for the Lee?

    Need to find some details....
     

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  3. trice

    trice Major

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    There were seven cavalry brigades. Jones' Brigade and Robertson's Brigade had been left behind by Stuart to guard the Confederate right flank as Lee left Virginia and moved through Maryland into Pennsylvania. This is while Stuart is taking the other three brigades with him on his raid, while Jenkins Brigade is with Ewell, and while Imboden is on Lee's left flank, foraging, as he moves up the Cumberland.

    The problem is that Robertson was senior to Jones, who was a much better cavalry field commander, and everybody else except Hampton. Robertson, to put it politely, stunk. As a result, Stuart didn't really want to take him on the raid. He took Hampton, which left Robertson in charge.

    Stuart left extremely clear instructions for Robertson on what to do and when to move North. Robertson didn't follow them. As a result, Jones and Robertson are about 2 days late arriving in the Gettysburg area. So if Robertson had merely done what he was instructed to do, one or both of those brigades would have been up near Chambersburg/Gettysburg on July 1, and the security of Lee's right flank would not have been a problem.

    As to Fairfield Gap, up until Lee needs to retreat, that isn't so important. Once he decides to retreat, it becomes very important, because Lee has decided to move most of his army that way, reserving the Gettysburg-Chambersburg-Williamsport route for his trains of supplies and wounded (i.e., the better roads, which are longer but faster).

    The 6th US Cavalry got run over by Jones Brigade when they met, routed with heavy casualties after a brisk fight. Not too surprising given the situation and the heavy odds favoring Jones.

    Merritt's Brigade was part of Buford's Division, but the other 2 brigades of Buford's had been sent back to guard the trains. Merritt was sent to work with Kilpatrick's division by Pleasonton, the Union Cavalry commander. No one is entirely sure what Pleasonton had in mind, but it appears he was looking for cavalry glory along Lee's right flank. Kilpatrick was a man who thought cavalry could fight anywhere, and he was known for launching headlong charges into enemy positions. He had Merritt trying to roll up Longstreet's flank, and he had Farnsworth's Brigade trying to hit them frontally (which is how Farnsworth ended up dying).

    Merritt didn't have a lot of say in what he was doing here, so if you want to blame someone Union for not going after Fairfield Gap it would have to be Kilpatrick, Pleasonton, or maybe Meade. If Merritt had actually expected to run into heavy Confederate resistance out there, he would undoubtedly have sent a stronger force than one weak regiment.

    Tim
     
  4. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

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    You might be reading a bit too much into that fracas, 5fish. When you're a commander in enemy territory, you ought to have a back door -- just in case. (It's one thing to risk getting whupped; it's quite another to risk getting your whole army captured. Gotta have a place to run to if running becomes necessary -- nowdays, we call that an exit plan.)

    Lee was simply being prudent in making sure that he had an open road for anticipated supply wagons; and for bailing if it became necessary.

    Ole
     
  5. Elennsar

    Elennsar Colonel

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    And because you also have to nitpick...

    Merritt also had 1700 odd men in his brigade. The 6th US had 471 or so.

    Not really a weak regiment.

    Still. Jones's brigade was outnumbering it by a large margin. That is unquestionable.

    Nitpick over.
     
  6. 5fish

    5fish 2nd Lieutenant

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    Meritt Knew!!

    The link below is an article about the Jones's Bridge met the 6th US at Fairfield on July 1863...

    The articles implies that Merritt know he could be cutting off Lee retreat form Gettysburg. If Merritt know this why did he go there in force instead of a regiment.

    Jones recieved his orders on July 3 to secure Fairfield Gap form Lee. It seems Lee knew his plan Charge at Gettysburg that day was going to be winner take all move.

    I think its a good read.....


    Battle of Fairfield: Grumble Jones’ Gettysburg Campaign Victory ...
    By mid-1863, his troopers were accustomed to hard marching and sharp fighting. ..... He was quickly promoted to sergeant, and by the Battle of Fairfield he ...
    www.historynet.com/battle-of-fairfield-grumble-jones-gettysburg-campaign-victory.htm - 80k - Cached - Similar pages -
     
  7. trice

    trice Major

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    Well, only about 10 days earlier the 6th US was 254 officers and men strong (Captain Cram's report from Aldie/etc.) They were the only US Regular Army Cavalry regiment organized after the start of the war, and seemed a bit of an afterthought in many ways. Major Starr, the CO, was transferred to them from 2nd US Cavalry on January 10. (Major Williams having resigned a year earlier, there was no field-grade officer with the regiment).

    Now maybe they'd been split up into a lot of HQ guards, a common enough practice, and maybe they were filled up after Aldie/Middleberg/etc. and recovered a few missing troops. But they aren't showing well here, at Aldie/Middleberg/etc., or immediately after this.

    Here at Fairfield, they got run over and routed (despite some tough resistance) by Jones with the 6th and 7th VA Cavalry. They lost 242 killed/wounded/captured. That would be more than 50%, and probably 60% (assumes actual present about 400). That's one of the worst drubbings any cavalry regiment took in the war.

    About 3 days later, they ran into Jones' 7th VA again and were run over again.

    So June-July looks like this for the 6th US Cavalry:

    June 9: Brandy Station, 66 officers and men lost
    June 10: Major Starr appointed to command
    June 21: Aldie, charge, loss of 9
    July 3: Fairfiled, loss of 242, Major Starr wounded and captured; only 2 officers escape.
    July 7: Funkstown, running fight, lost 59.

    You are probably right that they were stronger than my remark indicated. This is not a record to be proud of, however. For the war, the 6th US Cavalry had 61 KIA, 122 WIA, and 438 missing/captured. Pretty clearly, most of the damage was done here.

    Tim
     
  8. Elennsar

    Elennsar Colonel

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    Yeah. I'm pretty sure I read 400+ for them, but I'll check and see where that was calculated from.

    They certainly got mauled badly.

    As I recall, Jones's comment that they would number amongst "the things that were" did get disproven, but all the same...major losses.

    And whether 470 or 240, not going to make much of a difference against most of a very fine brigade.

    Ah, realized I misinterpeted or misread. The 470 I recall is before Fairfield, so if they took 242 there, taht would explain how it adds up.
     
  9. trice

    trice Major

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    Came across an interesting article on the 6th US:
    The 6th Cavalry on the Eve of the Gettysburg Campaign
    http://crossedsabers.blogspot.com/2007/06/6th-cavalry-on-eve-of-gettysburg.html

    On June 5, 1863 the 6th US Cavalry had 1072 personnel assigned, including all 42 authorized officers (obviously short a few ranks though, since no Colonel or Lt. Colonel.) But they only have 500 horses, 26 of which are unserviceable. More than half the regiment was in the "stragglers camp" in Dumfries, unavailable for combat, waiting for horses.

    Only 17 of the 42 officers are with the command in early June. Two of those were 2nd Lts. promoted in May. As that article says:
    =====
    Where are the other officers? Three were serving as generals of volunteers. Three more were leading volunteer regiments, and one, David McM. Gregg, was leading another brigade in the same division. Seven other officers were on the staffs of various general officers. Over half of the regiment's 12 companies were led by lieutenants. One of them, Company G, had no assigned officers present and was led by a lieutenant from Company A.
    =====
    Tim
     
  10. Laurence

    Laurence Cadet

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    Almost hate to make my first post in this forum one which is critical of someone as well known and respected as Wittenburg, but.......he makes some errors here.

    First, Merritt was, like just about everyone in an army, under orders. He wasn't a free agent just rambling around looking for something to do. His orders called for him to join Kilpatrick at Gettysburg. Which turned out to be kind of a waste, since Kilpatrick didn't use Merritt's brigade or his own under Farnsworth very well. But those were Merritts orders, from Pleasonton. And Kilpatrick certainly needed the support of another brigade, since he only had Farnsworth....Custer's Michigan Brigade having been held on the right by Gregg. With these orders, Merritt couldn't just turn off the road and go pursuing wagons and holding passes just for the fun of it.

    Especially since he lacked a crystal ball to tell him Lee would be defeated and withdraw. So, Merritt took commendable initiative in dispatching most of the 6th U.S. Cavalry to check out the report of a lightly guarded Confederate wagon train. That it turned out badly can be partly blamed on Major Starr (dividing his small force) and partly on the fortunes of war. After all, if it had turned out to be just a small wagon guard to be dealt with, dividing the unit would have worked well.

    Wittenburg is definitely off base criticizing Merritt for his conduct in this matter.

    Laurence
     
  11. Laurence

    Laurence Cadet

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    Just one more thought....in the article, Wittenberg claims Merritt was camped near Round Top on the morning of the 3rd. He wasn't. Merrits command was at Emmitsburg, and he left there around noon of the 3rd. It was while enroute to join Kilpatrick that he received information of the supposedly lightly guarded Confederate train.

    Laurence
     
  12. Elennsar

    Elennsar Colonel

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    That explains how you can get the 470 present odd figure I'm familiar with but not necessarily have that many in a fight.

    Thanks for finding the article.

    As for Merritt and Wittenburg: Merritt was part of Buford's division. When did Pleasanton order him to join "Kill Cavalry"? If he was under orders at the time, he took commendable initiative in acting at all (or not so commendable if ordered to show up with his full brigade). But if not, then he should have done more.

    Not familiar enough to judge the accuracy, other than being surprised that Wittenburg would overlook where Merritt was and such.
     
  13. trice

    trice Major

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    Also explains how the 6th US Cavalry gets back up to a strength of 460 in mid-to-late August after their horrendous losses in June-July. All they had to do was get the men in the "stragglers camp" mounted and sent back.

    I'm particularly aghast at the number of missing officers, including the ones counted on the regimental roles but really off commanding other units or assigned to staffs.

    I find the appointment of Major Starr on June 10th from the 2nd Cavalry particularly interesting. The 6th US had been operating without a field-grade officer (Colonel-Lt. Colonel-Major) for about a year, which probably means they were broken up in detachments and rarely together as a unit. Starr was a 32-year Dragoon veteran, admired by Old Army types as a strict disciplinarian.

    My guess: On June 9th, 6th US is in the action at Beverley Ford, which means under the eye of Pleasonton and Buford. Gregg, commanding his division at Brandy Station that day, had been part of 6th US as it formed. Merritt, recently back in the Army (he'd been with McClellan until May) was wounded at Brandy Station and would be taking command of the Reserve Brigade soon. Someone saw something they didn't like about 6th US and/or the way the Regular Cavalry was being handled. Probably this meant cohesiveness and discipline, so the powers-that-be brought Starr in to tighten things up.

    Note also: Merritt has started in the 2nd Dragoons in 1860, which became the 2nd US Cavalry in 1861. He would have known Starr. Buford had served in both 1st and 2nd Dragoons, and so would have known Starr. Pleasonton had served in both 1st and 2nd Dragoons, and so would have known Starr. Gregg also had served in both 1st and 2nd Dragoons, and so would have known Starr. These guys would have all known exactly who they were sending to whip the 6th US into shape. They'd all been 1st and 2nd Lts. in an outfit where Starr ranked them.

    Tim
     
  14. Laurence

    Laurence Cadet

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    Picked up the info from Longacre's "The Cavalry at Gettysburg", Chpt 13.

    Quoting from Longacre "At noon on 3 July, Wesley Meritt's brigade left Emmitsburg, Maryland----where it had marched from Mechanicstown the day before----and headed for Gettysburg. Leading his Regulars, Pennsylvanians, and supply trains, Merritt carried orders from Alfred Pleasonton to strike the Rebel left and rear along Seminary Ridge. Aware that the 3rd Division lacked its Michigan Brigade, Pleasonton had heeded Kilpatrick's recent suggestion that the Reserve Brigade take Custer's place on that important quarter of the field."

    Longacre doesn't mention the exact time Merritt received orders to join Kilpatrick, though his sources might....don't have time to even check the OR this morning.

    Since Merritt was moving slowly with his train, I think he made a wise decision send the 6th US ahead....they moved faster, and if the situation had been as represented they could have gobbled up a few wagons and returned to the Emmittsburg Road to rejoin him. Having some troops ahead and off to the west also provided a measure of info or protection from what might have been out there.

    Laurence
     
  15. trice

    trice Major

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    Merritt, recently assigned to command the Reserve Brigade, had been back guarding the trains while Buford was at Gettysburg with Gamble and Devin on July 1. (ADDED LATER: well, to be more exact, guarding the Army's left flank and rear as it moved North)

    On July 2, early, Buford with Gamble and Devin is guarding the flanks at Gettysburg. Most of the trains are going into camp at Westminster, 25 miles away, and Merritt is with them. (ADDED LATER: well, really more over towards the mountain, making sure nobody came after them from the gaps, ending up at Emmitsburg) Kilpatrick arrives, Buford takes Gamble and Devin back to rest and regroup after some hard days, and Merritt is called forward to replace them.

    On July 3, Gregg is supposed to take over the right flank, relieving Custer, and Custer is supposed to move over to the left to join Kilpatrick's other brigade, Farnsworth. Merritt is supposed to join with them to give the AoP 3 cavalry brigades on each flank. (ADDED LATER: Huey's brigade was left behind to cover Westminster, and was around Manchester)

    But Custer holds back with Gregg when Stuart advances to the East of Gettysburg. This leaves Kilpatrick short a brigade. However, he and Pleasonton both fall into the glory-hunting category (IMHO) and they're determined to "do something". So they are trying to strike the Confederate left and stir up some excitement.

    As a result, Merritt has orders to move up the Emmitsburg Road, and not a lot of latitude about the matter. He sends the 6th US off on his own initiative, based on the report of a civilian (notoriously unreliable in military eyes). He really has no idea what it will find or how important Fairfield Gap is, or what resistance they will meet. Since he knew he was going into a fight along the Emmitsburg Road, he probably didn't send away the unit he felt was his best.

    As to why Wittenberg didn't mention this background, it probably just didn't fit into the topic of this blog. I know he knows about it, and has discussed it elsewhere.

    Tim
     
  16. trice

    trice Major

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    I have read several of Longacre's books. They read well, but people in the Civil War community generally find them, uhm, unreliable and misleading in their research and detail. I generally think of them as nice to have, but figure I should double check whatever he concludes.

    Tim
     
  17. trice

    trice Major

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    Good catch. It's probably in between.

    Merritt says he marched at Noon and moved 4 miles up the Emmitsburg Road, where he ran into Confederates.

    Using Google Maps, the route from Emmitsburg to Gettysburg is 11.3 miles. That's downtown to downtown. Merritt hit the Confederates well south of Gettysburg, but he was probably starting from the north of Emmitsburg if that 4 miles is right.

    Tim
     
  18. M E Wolf

    M E Wolf Brigadier General Moderator

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    Dear List Members;

    I'm enjoying this thread and the 'detective work' --

    Good job--I'm enjoying it totally.

    Respectfully submitted,
    M. E. Wolf
     
  19. 5fish

    5fish 2nd Lieutenant

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    Twice--

    On July 4th, Jones learns that Kilpatrick is moving to cutoff Ewell's wagons retreat. He deploys his bridge and fights a small engagement referred to as Jacks Mountain along with the 4th NC. Cavalry. Kilpatrick does break thought the 4th NC line but enough time was bought for the wagons to pass safely to the south. It looks as maybe Grumble Jones should get a little more credit in saving Lee's retreat form Gettysburg not just once but twice.
     
  20. MasonicCav

    MasonicCav Cadet

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    Jones Brigade ANV rearguard

    Yes, several companies of "Grumble" Jones Brigade were attached to the ANV rearguard on the way down to Fairfield. The regiments within the brigade consisted of mostly Turner Ashby's old Valley Cavalry. The 7th,9th,12th a few companies of the 10th, and also a few companies of the 35th Virginia Battalion (incorrectly labeled on the battlefield monument in East Cavalry Field as the 36th Va Battalion) that were not attached J.B.Gordons command.

    Fairfield being a minor skirmish by comparison was from what I gather mostly Union Cavalry Harrassment in order to keep the wagons moving through the mud of the days following the battle of Gettysburg. I highly recommend you read the regimental histories of "Jones Brigade"

    I am partial to John Divines book on the 35th for obvious reasons. The war records of the days following G-burg could be of some vital reading for someone interested in the retreat.

    Happy Hunting! :smile:
     

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