Overland The Wisdom Of Lee

(Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor)
Joined
Jul 19, 2016
Location
Spotsylvania Virginia


1617380867873.png


Ambrose Ransom Wright courtesy Wikipedia​



In April 2020, I posted a thread titled Civil War Churches under The Traveler’s Companion forum. The war time church that essay focused on, Zion Methodist Church, has a rich history, that I only outlined in that essay.

In 2017-18, my friend Patrick Sullivan (Spotsylvania Memory blog) and I worked together to document the history of Zion. While on that project Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park Historian, John Hennessy shared a story about Zion with Patrick. I found that bit of information so intriguing, I decided to post it here.

The battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse began on May 8, about two miles north of the Courthouse along Laurel Hill. Following the fighting at Bloody Angle on May 12th​., Grant attempted to shift his line for the next nine days searching for a weakness in the southern defenses.

Stationed about a mile south of the Courthouse, at the critical crossroads of Brock and Massaponax Church Roads, was Zion. A.P. Hill had pressed the little church into service on May 9th​ as his headquarters. Following the fighting at Bloody Angle on the 12th​ Lee moved his headquarters nearly two miles south, from the Edgar Harrison house to the grounds at the Courthouse. While at his new position, he frequently met with his corps commanders at Zion church.

1617380897871.png




On May 15, Meade ordered an assault along Myers Hill, about one mile east of the courthouse, by Horatio Wright’s Corps. The ground was held by a token regiment of the 9th​Virginia Cavalry. The dismounted horsemen were quickly driven back by to Zion by overwhelming odds of an entire Union 6th​ Corps. General Ambrose Wright’s brigade of Georgians, who were stationed near the church, was ordered to make a reconnaissance toward Myers Hill. This movement was not well executed by General Wright, and upon encountering stiff resistance after marching a short distance down Massaponax Church Road, he led his brigade back to their starting point near Zion.

Lee was napping “on a board” at Zion when an outraged General Hill demanded he be awakened to hold a court of inquiry to investigate Wright’s conduct. Lee’s reply to Hill exemplified the temperament and wisdom for which the Confederate commander was well known:

“These men are not an army; they are citizens defending their country. General Wright is not a soldier; he is a lawyer. I cannot do many things that I could do with a trained army. The soldiers know their duties better than the general officers do, and they have fought magnificently. Sometimes I would like to mask troops and then deploy them, but if I were to give the proper order, the general officers would not understand it; so, I have to make the best of what I have and lose much time in making dispositions. You understand all of this, but if you humiliated General Wright, the people of Georgia would not understand. Besides, whom would you put in his place? You’ll have to do what I do. When a man makes a mistake, I call him to my tent, talk to him, and use the authority of my position to make him do the right thing the next time.”

Hill dropped the matter and the court of inquiry was not convened.

Sidebar:

Ambrose Wright began studying law in 1840, at the age of fourteen. When Georgia succeeded from the Union, Wright was a part of a delegation sent to Maryland to help convince the state to succeed. When the effort failed, he returned to Georgia and enlisted as a private. His company was assigned to the Third Georgia Volunteers, where he was elected colonel. Once in Virginia, he became a brigade commander, where he demonstrated leadership skills at Antietam, and Chancellorsville. On July 2nd​ , at Gettysburg, his brigade is credited by some historians as having penetrated deeper into the Union lines than any other that day. In his official report, Wright attributed his lack of greater success to other commanders not giving him better support. He was court-martialed for his injudicious comments after Gettysburg, and his wartime commander, General Richard H. Anderson, is alleged to have said that Wright had "too much dash," adding that "a little more coolness would bring better results."

Wright’s brigade at Spotsylvania Courthouse consisted of 3rd​, 22nd​.,48th​. Georgia Regiments, and the 2nd​ and 10th​ Georgia Battalions.

Interesting enough, A.P. Hill had committed major parts of his Corps to battle a few months earlier only to meet devastating results because he failed to determine the federal strength before sending his men to battle. Lee, did to Hill, exactly as he recommended to Hill concerning Wright.

My (2x)-great grandfather was a member of the 9th​ VA cavalry assigned to protect Myers Hill.
 

John S. Carter

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 15, 2017


View attachment 396299

Ambrose Ransom Wright courtesy Wikipedia​



In April 2020, I posted a thread titled Civil War Churches under The Traveler’s Companion forum. The war time church that essay focused on, Zion Methodist Church, has a rich history, that I only outlined in that essay.

In 2017-18, my friend Patrick Sullivan (Spotsylvania Memory blog) and I worked together to document the history of Zion. While on that project Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park Historian, John Hennessy shared a story about Zion with Patrick. I found that bit of information so intriguing, I decided to post it here.

The battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse began on May 8, about two miles north of the Courthouse along Laurel Hill. Following the fighting at Bloody Angle on May 12th​., Grant attempted to shift his line for the next nine days searching for a weakness in the southern defenses.

Stationed about a mile south of the Courthouse, at the critical crossroads of Brock and Massaponax Church Roads, was Zion. A.P. Hill had pressed the little church into service on May 9th​ as his headquarters. Following the fighting at Bloody Angle on the 12th​ Lee moved his headquarters nearly two miles south, from the Edgar Harrison house to the grounds at the Courthouse. While at his new position, he frequently met with his corps commanders at Zion church.

View attachment 396300



On May 15, Meade ordered an assault along Myers Hill, about one mile east of the courthouse, by Horatio Wright’s Corps. The ground was held by a token regiment of the 9th​Virginia Cavalry. The dismounted horsemen were quickly driven back by to Zion by overwhelming odds of an entire Union 6th​ Corps. General Ambrose Wright’s brigade of Georgians, who were stationed near the church, was ordered to make a reconnaissance toward Myers Hill. This movement was not well executed by General Wright, and upon encountering stiff resistance after marching a short distance down Massaponax Church Road, he led his brigade back to their starting point near Zion.

Lee was napping “on a board” at Zion when an outraged General Hill demanded he be awakened to hold a court of inquiry to investigate Wright’s conduct. Lee’s reply to Hill exemplified the temperament and wisdom for which the Confederate commander was well known:

“These men are not an army; they are citizens defending their country. General Wright is not a soldier; he is a lawyer. I cannot do many things that I could do with a trained army. The soldiers know their duties better than the general officers do, and they have fought magnificently. Sometimes I would like to mask troops and then deploy them, but if I were to give the proper order, the general officers would not understand it; so, I have to make the best of what I have and lose much time in making dispositions. You understand all of this, but if you humiliated General Wright, the people of Georgia would not understand. Besides, whom would you put in his place? You’ll have to do what I do. When a man makes a mistake, I call him to my tent, talk to him, and use the authority of my position to make him do the right thing the next time.”

Hill dropped the matter and the court of inquiry was not convened.

Sidebar:

Ambrose Wright began studying law in 1840, at the age of fourteen. When Georgia succeeded from the Union, Wright was a part of a delegation sent to Maryland to help convince the state to succeed. When the effort failed, he returned to Georgia and enlisted as a private. His company was assigned to the Third Georgia Volunteers, where he was elected colonel. Once in Virginia, he became a brigade commander, where he demonstrated leadership skills at Antietam, and Chancellorsville. On July 2nd​ , at Gettysburg, his brigade is credited by some historians as having penetrated deeper into the Union lines than any other that day. In his official report, Wright attributed his lack of greater success to other commanders not giving him better support. He was court-martialed for his injudicious comments after Gettysburg, and his wartime commander, General Richard H. Anderson, is alleged to have said that Wright had "too much dash," adding that "a little more coolness would bring better results."

Wright’s brigade at Spotsylvania Courthouse consisted of 3rd​, 22nd​.,48th​. Georgia Regiments, and the 2nd​ and 10th​ Georgia Battalions.

Interesting enough, A.P. Hill had committed major parts of his Corps to battle a few months earlier only to meet devastating results because he failed to determine the federal strength before sending his men to battle. Lee, did to Hill, exactly as he recommended to Hill concerning Wright.

My (2x)-great grandfather was a member of the 9th​ VA cavalry assigned to protect Myers Hill.
I have always read of Gordon but not of Wright. I do have questions. What did Lee mean by "proper order''? Were his orders like ,general, you go there and you do this or general , I would like for you to do this and this general will do that? These are not proper orders, right? The only general you read of who seem to have no difficulty understanding Lee's order or suggestions was Jackson .My great grandfather fought with the troop from Troy, Al., Small farmer from rural Southeast AL.
 
Joined
Jul 19, 2016
Location
Spotsylvania Virginia
You have some great questions John but unfortunately I am not sure if I understand your questions or if I am qualified to respond. But, I will try to answer them to the best of my understanding but I also want to page @lelliott19 to join in.
Let’s tackle " proper order”: I think Lee meant, when he gives an order, written or verbal its done in "proper" military style and sometimes it still isn't understood or followed. For example, his orders going into Pennsylvania were to not engage in any major action, yet Henry Heth (one of AP Hill's Divison Commanders) did. Several months later, (Dec 2 '63) he ordered A.P. Hill, who was in pursuit of retreating Federals, during the battle of Payne's Farm to not engage the Federals without determining their strength. Hill did not following the order and suffered high losses.

In this particular instance, of my post, the 9th Virginia Cavalry held Myers Hill, when Meade orders a brigade of the 6th Corps to take the hill (keep the 6th Corps had just seen some of the most intense fighting of the war). The brigade met the 9th VA and retreated in hast, with one solder nearly knocking Meade from his horse. The act infuriated Meade and he ordered the entire 6th Corps to take Mayers Hill. Those odds drove the 9th VA back to the Courthouse. A.P. Hill orders Wright forward to retake Myers hill but again the odds were overwhelming and I BELIEVE Wright reached Myers Hill, saw the odds and returned rather than put his men in an impossible situation.

Your other question....."Were his orders like ,general, you go there and you do this or general , I would like for you to do this and this general will do that? These are not proper orders, right?"
I don't know. But I think they might be in some circumstances.

Sorry I could be of much help, but I am hoping @lellott19 can help clear up your questions, or at least point you to someone who can.
 

lelliott19

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Sometimes I would like to mask troops and then deploy them, but if I were to give the proper order, the general officers would not understand it; so, I have to make the best of what I have and lose much time in making dispositions.
I believe Lee is just using this to describe the ignorance of his general officers. About unmasking troops and deploying, this is just a small part of what Hardee's tactics describes as the "proper order" for one situation.
1618362150305.png

Hardees Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics, page 64.
My guess is that, other than those who were West Point educated, most of the Confederate army was ignorant of the proper sequence of orders. So Lee used it as an example to help General Hill understand what he was up against with a bunch of temperamental volunteers.

EDIT TO ADD: The incident described in the OP is addresses in Gary Gallagher's The Spotsylvania Campaign (2010) on page 11-12. The footnotes for his sources are #16 here
 
Joined
Jul 19, 2016
Location
Spotsylvania Virginia
You have some great questions John but unfortunately I am not sure if I understand your questions. I will try to answer them to the best of my understanding but I also want to page @lelliott19 to join in.
Let’s tackle Proper order”: I think Lee meant when he gives an order, written
I believe Lee is just using this to describe the ignorance of his general officers. About unmasking troops and deploying, this is just a small part of what Hardee's tactics describes as the "proper order" for one situation.
View attachment 397585
Hardees Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics, page 64.
My guess is that, other than those who were West Point educated, most of the Confederate army was ignorant of the proper sequence of orders. So Lee used it as an example to help General Hill understand what he was up against with a bunch of temperamental volunteers.

EDIT TO ADD: The incident described in the OP is addresses in Gary Gallagher's The Spotsylvania Campaign (2010) on page 11-12. The footnotes for his sources are #16 here
Thanks @lelliott19 . I knew you could make the complex understandable 👍
 

Lost Cause

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Sep 19, 2014
I have always read of Gordon but not of Wright. I do have questions. What did Lee mean by "proper order''? Were his orders like ,general, you go there and you do this or general , I would like for you to do this and this general will do that? These are not proper orders, right? The only general you read of who seem to have no difficulty understanding Lee's order or suggestions was Jackson .My great grandfather fought with the troop from Troy, Al., Small farmer from rural Southeast AL.
IMO, Jackson and Longstreet (whether he agreed or not) understood what Lee’s thoughts were for carrying out the mission. Lee valued their input, and frequently consulted with them. Leadership was simpler.

Lee needed a more authoritative role with AP Hill and Ewell as corps commanders. More time was needed to ensure they understood and effectively carried his “proper orders.” Orders which required more detail and followup, and likely misunderstood by generals without a military background.


It is apparent Lee saw the irony of AP Hills complaints against Wright for his lackluster performance. Competent replacement generals were hard to come by as the war dragged on. Furthermore, the individual solders knew and understood what was expected of them.
 
Last edited:
Joined
Jul 19, 2016
Location
Spotsylvania Virginia
IMO, Jackson and Longstreet (whether he agreed or not) understood what Lee’s thoughts were for carrying out the mission. Lee valued their input, and frequently consulted with them. Leadership was simpler.

Lee needed a more authoritative role with AP Hill and Ewell as corps commanders. More time was needed to ensure they understood and effectively carried his “proper orders.” Orders which required more detail and followup, and likely misunderstood by generals without a military background.


It is apparent Lee saw the irony of AP Hills complaints against Wright for his lackluster performance. Competent replacement generals were hard to come by as the war dragged on. Furthermore, the individual solders knew and understood what was expected of them.
Excellent analysis! I think there’s nothing much to add.
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
Lee and Meade had the same problem, making do with general officers, not up to their jobs, which caused Meade to proclaim I need Corps Commanders . I think Lee would certainly have agreed with the sentiment, if not the exact words.
 
Joined
Jul 19, 2016
Location
Spotsylvania Virginia
Lee and Meade had the same problem, making do with general officers, not up to their jobs, which caused Meade to proclaim I need Corps Commanders . I think Lee would certainly have agreed with the sentiment, if not the exact words.
So true and with Meade he had a double problem with Burnside who was firmly planted with his political allies in Congress.
 
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