J.E.B. Stuart Versus Hancock at Haymarket on 25 June 1863

Tom Elmore

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One of the overlooked minor encounters during the campaign occurred at Haymarket, Virginia on June 25, 1863, between Maj. Gen. J. E. B. Stuart’s Confederate cavalry, and a column of the Union Second Corps under Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock. Stuart surprised the Federal troops by lobbing artillery rounds into their marching column, causing considerable confusion but little damage. His purpose is difficult to fathom, unless meant only to harass and hinder the enemy’s movements by instilling caution in them. It proved only a minor annoyance to the Federals, but no doubt kept them on constant alert. It is also clear that John S. Mosby and his partisan band provided essential assistance and intelligence to Stuart while he remained in northern Virginia. Below sources help to explain the encounter and its results:

(Official Report of J. E. B. Stuart) Moving to the right, we passed through Glasscock’s Gap without serious difficulty, and marched for Haymarket. I had previously sent Major Mosby with some picked men through, to gain the vicinity of Dranesville, find where a crossing was practicable, and bring intelligence to me near Gum Springs today [June 25]. As we neared Haymarket we found that Hancock’s corps was enroute through Haymarket for Gum Springs, his infantry well distributed through his [wagon] trains. I chose a good position, and opened with artillery on his passing column with effect, scattering men, wagons and horses in wild confusion; disabled one of the enemy’s caissons, which he abandoned, and compelled him to advance in order of battle to compel us to desist. As Hancock had the right of way on my road, I sent Fitz. Lee’s Brigade to Gainesville to reconnoiter, and devoted the remainder of the day to grazing our horses, the only forage procurable in the country.

(The Twentieth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry 1861-1865, by George A. Bruce, 1906, pp, 263-264) At Haymarket, Stuart opened fire on the Second Division [of the Second Corps], then in the rear, killing and wounding several men. Zook’s brigade [in the First Division], left at Gainesville, was temporarily cut off from the corps, and Captain Johnson, commander of the corps headquarters’ escort, was captured while bearing a message from General Hancock to General Zook.

(The History of the Nineteenth Regiment of Maine Volunteer Infantry, 1862-1865, by John Day Smith, Minneapolis, MN: Printed by the Great Western Printing Company, 1908, p. 58) The [Second] Corps left Thoroughfare Gap on the 25th, our Division taking the rear in the line of march. The Regiment proceeded as far as Haymarket, an insignificant hamlet where the road turned north in the direction of Gum Springs. As the Regiment was proceeding quietly on its way, and when at Haymarket, from a lofty eminence to the right and rear came bursting shells into the midst of our Brigade and we lost one man in our Regiment, Israel D. Jones, of Company G, the first soldier in the Regiment killed by the enemy. In less than ten minutes from the time that Mr. Jones was chatting cheerfully with the man marching at his side, he was buried by the roadside and left to sleep his last sleep. A private soldier in the Fifteenth Massachusetts and several others in the Division were wounded. The attack was so unexpected that it created some confusion in our Division.

(James A. Wright, The Story of Company F, First Regiment Minnesota Infantry, Minnesota Historical Society) [June 25] For a time we were allowed to proceed in peace, then a series of desultory, nagging attacks began on the flanks and rear – first at one point, then another. These were made by mounted men who attacked suddenly, galloping out of the enshrouding fog and mist, firing a volley or two and riding away again into the blending clouds of smoke and vapor; or behind a sheltering hill or grove, as soon as they met a return fire … Twice our regiment shifted its formation from a marching column to a line of battle and hurried to the support of the skirmishers, but it never got near enough to Stuart’s [or Mosby’s?] nimble horsemen to fire a shot. [Later] they used artillery for the first time that morning. From a hill on our right, as we marched, they fired in rapid succession obliquely across the line of march. The column was halted and some regiments detached to go after them, and meantime their fire continued. Several of their shells were sufficiently depressed to do damage and one of them struck the hind legs of Col. Colvill’s horse, tumbling man and horse into the muddy road. Fortunately the colonel was able to clear his feet from the stirrups and quick-witted enough to roll out of the way of the struggling animal. He got to his feet without suffering any serious injury, but he was well-plastered with a coating of dull red, ‘Virginia mud.’ ” Colvill continued the march on foot, carrying some personal effects presumably salvaged from the saddle bags.

(Report of Capt. Henry C. Coates, First Minnesota Infantry, Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars, 1861-1865, St. Paul, MN: Pioneer Press Company, 1893) The regiment was shelled by the enemy at Haymarket; one man was wounded, and Colonel Colvill’s horse killed under him.

(Massachusetts Adjutant Generals Report of 1863, 15th Massachusetts) [On June 25] the right wing of our regiment was deployed as flankers, covering the line of march, which, for a considerable distance, was harassed by the enemy’s cavalry and artillery. One man of the regiment was wounded. The bivouac this night was at Gum Springs, fifteen miles from Thoroughfare Gap.

(The Story of the Fifteenth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, by Andrew E. Ford) For the 25th of June, Earle’s diary has this entry: Passing through Haymarket we were severely shelled by the rebels who had placed a battery in a very commanding position. They continued their fire until silenced by one of ours. I never saw so hard shelling before.

Comment: The “pretty village” of Haymarket was nearly destroyed back in November 1862, in retribution for Union troops being fired upon, reportedly by the inhabitants. Only St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was spared, along with two or three small houses. All that remained of the other dwellings were “naked chimneys.” Artist Alfred Waud sketched the desolation on June 21, 1863. (Library of Congress; History of the 97th Regiment New York Volunteers, by Isaac Hall; Diary of John T McMahon, 136th New York; A. J. Boies, 33rd Massachusetts; Diary of I. L. Taylor, 1st Minnesota)
 
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Lubliner

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The way that I interpret the timeline of Stuart's report is he had sent Mosby ahead to reconnoiter. While this was taking place, Hancock's men suddenly appeared, and having the right of way headed toward the direction Mosby had already ventured. I would dare to say that by opening a barrage of artillery upon the passing Yanks, Mosby was made aware of the danger between him and Stuart. This allowed Mosby to take caution and not blunder into a trap.
Lubliner.
 

dlofting

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The way that I interpret the timeline of Stuart's report is he had sent Mosby ahead to reconnoiter. While this was taking place, Hancock's men suddenly appeared, and having the right of way headed toward the direction Mosby had already ventured. I would dare to say that by opening a barrage of artillery upon the passing Yanks, Mosby was made aware of the danger between him and Stuart. This allowed Mosby to take caution and not blunder into a trap.
Lubliner.
You may be right but I think you're being generous to Stuart. He was a brilliant cavalry commander but could forget his overall objective when presented with the opportunity to make a display.
 

Gettysburg Guide #154

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The appearance of Confederate cavalry on June 25 also caused some serious anxiety for Brigadier General Samual K. Zook and his brigade, who were at Gainesville. They were completely cut off from communication with the rest of the corps. Indeed, several messengers attempting to pass messages between Zook and Hancock were captured. These included the commander of the Second Corps headquarters escort, Captain Riley Johnson of the Sixth New York Cavalry. [See History of the Second Army Corps by Francis A. Wright]
 
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