Start of the Overland Campaign: Marching order

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luinrina

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I'm currently reading Hell or Richmond by Ralph Peters, and came across this passage:

Meade sensed that, at least on this day, Grant had been right, that the proper action would have been to pitch right into Lee, first thing in the morning, with the forces at hand, and **** the risk. [...]​
He wished the order of march had been different, that Hancock had been here in Warren's place. Had Win had Gibbon's or Barlow's divisions on this field in the morning, the only problem would have been holding them back.​

I checked with Gordon Rhea's Battle of the Wilderness if I could find why the marching order was as it was - that Hancock's II Corps would take the farther route via Ely's Ford and the rest filtered down via Germanna Ford and not another way around. But I couldn't find anything. I also checked Rafuse's bio on Meade and Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade but didn't find any hint in there either.

According to the plan Humphreys worked out, the AotP was to swing around and approach the Mine Run line from the flank. Meade supposed Lee would take up position behind his defenses there, so if he came up against the flank and from behind, he could surprise Lee. Hancock's corps therefore had the farthest way to travel.

Does anyone know why the II Corps was chosen to take the farther route and not someone else? Was it maybe because Meade trusted Hancock to advance according to the plan without supervision, that he could rely on him to be where he was needed when he was needed? Given that Lee would advance from the west - if he advanced that far - wouldn't Meade have made certain that the best troops he had were closest to where Lee might hit them unexpectedly? Even if Lee didn't come out and stayed behind the Mine Run defenses, the leading corps on the closer route would be the first on that flank. I would have thought you'd want your best troops for rolling it up and pitch in the less reliable corps as needed to support the initial attack.

Any ideas?
 

Carronade

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2 Corps' route was the most challenging and potentially dangerous, so I expect Meade and Grant considered "Hancock the Superb" the best man for the job.

Grant's plan for the campaign was to get through the Wilderness and fight Lee on ground where he could bring his combat power to bear. The last thing they needed was to pitch in to a head-on slugging match within the Wilderness - but that's what they found themselves doing.

I consider the Wilderness a major missed opportunity for the Union. Hill's corps advancing along the Orange Plank Road was on the verge of placing itself between Hancock's corps and the rest of the AofP, but instead of opportunity, all the Union leadership could see was the threat of 2 Corps being cut off, a classic example of the "what Lee might do to us" mentality that Grant came to deplore. There was a degree of danger, but there was also the chance to start the campaign by smashing a Confederate corps. Hancock was the right man in the right place either way.
 
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luinrina

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Did Peter's provide citations for the two passages? If he did, that might be the place to look.
It's a novel, not non-fiction, though Peters did his research for sure. At the end he listed some of the major works he read, and among them is the OR volume dealing with the Overland Campaign. I haven't thought of checking that one out yet. Will do tonight after work. Thanks for the hint!
 

Carronade

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This discussion made me pull out Rhea's book, and he makes a couple of interesting comments. Crawford's division of Warren's 5th Corps reached Chewning Farm, overlooking the Orange Plank Road, about the time A.P. Hill's advance along the road reached Parker's Store. The 5th New York Cavalry was trying to hold Hill up but, not surprising, being pushed back. Some of Crawford's troops also skirmished with the advancing rebs, and Rhea suggests that with more support, the Yankees might have held up Hill's advance at Parker's Store. He seems to be saying that this would have been a good thing.

Parker's Store was almost directly south of Ewell's position on the Orange Turnpike, so stopping Hill there would probably have led to the two Confederate corps forming a continuous line which the AofP would presumably attack. I don't see this as advantageous to the Union.

Historically, Hill's lead division - Heth - continued a couple of miles eastward and got into a vicious fight with several divisions of the Union 6th and 2nd Corps, including attacks enveloping his flanks. This would not have happened if the battle lines had developed around Parker's Store. Union troops, especially Hancock's 2nd Corps, would have taken considerably longer to advance to contact and deploy for attack.

Rhea also suggests that Crawford had an opportunity to take Hill's troops in flank as they marched along the Plank Road, but notes correctly that Crawford, with only two brigades and not in contact with the rest of the corps or army, did not fell he had the strength to do so. Crawford did suggest to Warren that the Chewning Farm position should be held and reinforced, but Warren ordered him to move north and join the assault on Ewell.

The time for an attack from the Chewning Farm would have been after Hill's two divisions passed by and after they were engaged with Union forces further east. As I have said before, I think the Union missed a real opportunity.
 
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