Why was the VI Corps so often separated from the rest of the Army of the Potomac?

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TheKenoshaKid

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They fought a lot in the Seven Days battles, but after that their record gets strange for quite a while:

- Second Bull Run: barely engaged

- Maryland Campaign: Fought at Crampton's Gap. Mostly not engaged at Antietam.

- Fredericksburg: Lightly engaged

- Chancellorsville: Fought at 2nd Fredericksburg and Salem Church seperate from the rest of the army

- Gettysburg: Barely engaged

They didn't seem to really fight alongside the rest of the Army of the Potomac until the Overland Campaign. That means for about 1 year and 10 months (July 1862 - May 1864) they seemingly were in charge of what the rest of the army wasn't doing. Then after the first couple of assaults on Petersburg they were sent to the Shenandoah to fight Early.

What was the reason for this? Coincidence, or was there some other reason? I believe Hooker and Franklin hated Burnside's plan so much they refused to send in extra troops, and I think Newton was one of the guys who approached Lincoln about replacing Burnside. That may explain Fredericksburg, but what about the rest?

It seems like they spent most of their time operating as their own independent force. I know the IX Corps was similar in that regard, but the IX Corps didn't join until after the peninsula and there was the whole Burnside vs. Meade thing. I can't figure out why the VI Corps was often the odd corps out.
 

TheKenoshaKid

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They were heavily engaged at Antietam.
I thought only one brigade was really engaged. They took part in the attack at Bloody Lane, but the rest of the corps was in reserve, right?

After South Mountain / Crampton's Gap, it's not crazy that they'd get a bit of a break, but again it's an example of them doing their own thing rather than sticking with the rest of the AoP.
 
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rpkennedy

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Outside of the Third and Fifth Corps, the Army of the Potomac wasn't really engaged during Second Manassas (although elements of the New Jersey Brigade of the Sixth Corps were engaged when Jackson plundered the supply depot).

At Antietam, the Sixth Corps didn't show up until midday and was scattered about the field to shore up the Federal lines. One brigade was moderately engaged in the vicinity of the Piper Farm. A lot of this falls on William Franklin who took his sweet time at Crampton's Gap and getting his men to the battlefield.

At Fredericksburg, William Franklin (again) chose not to take the initiative on his front and allowed George Meade's division to go in alone while holding much of the Sixth in reserve. To be fair, however, Fredericksburg was not John Reynolds finest hour, either.

At Chancellorsville, the Sixth was kept in front of Fredericksburg to hold a portion of Lee's army pinned while the rest of the army moved around Lee's flank. In this case, it was just a coincidence of place and time.

At Gettysburg, they were the furthest from the field and only arrived late on July 2 because of a grueling 30 mile march that day. Again, just place and time circumstance.

As for the Shenandoah Campaign, again, it seems to have been circumstance that picked them and not any particular reason.

It just seems like strange coincidences chose them to be in these positions instead of nefarious or logical reasons.

Ryan
 

rpkennedy

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Outside of the Third and Fifth Corps, the Army of the Potomac wasn't really engaged during Second Manassas (although elements of the New Jersey Brigade of the Sixth Corps were engaged when Jackson plundered the supply depot).

At Antietam, the Sixth Corps didn't show up until midday and was scattered about the field to shore up the Federal lines. One brigade was moderately engaged in the vicinity of the Piper Farm. A lot of this falls on William Franklin who took his sweet time at Crampton's Gap and getting his men to the battlefield.

At Fredericksburg, William Franklin (again) chose not to take the initiative on his front and allowed George Meade's division to go in alone while holding much of the Sixth in reserve. To be fair, however, Fredericksburg was not John Reynolds finest hour, either.

At Chancellorsville, the Sixth was kept in front of Fredericksburg to hold a portion of Lee's army pinned while the rest of the army moved around Lee's flank. In this case, it was just a coincidence of place and time.

At Gettysburg, they were the furthest from the field and only arrived late on July 2 because of a grueling 30 mile march that day. Again, just place and time circumstance.

As for the Shenandoah Campaign, again, it seems to have been circumstance that picked them and not any particular reason.

It just seems like strange coincidences chose them to be in these positions instead of nefarious or logical reasons.

Ryan
Let me add, circumstance combined with William Franklin who showed no initiative whatsoever.

Ryan
 

Yankeedave

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Wiki:
"The corps was organized as the Sixth Provisional Corps on May 18, 1862, by uniting Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin's Division, which had just arrived on theVirginia Peninsula, with Maj. Gen.William F. Smith's Division, which was taken away from the IV Corps for this purpose. This provisional arrangement having been sanctioned by the U.S. War Department, the command received its permanent designation as the VI Army Corps, Army of the Potomac. Franklin was appointed corps commander, andHenry W. Slocum succeeded to the command of Franklin's Division. On June 20, 1862, the corps numbered 24,911, present and absent, with 19,405 present for duty, equipped; the corps artillery numbered 40 guns.

At the Battle of Gaines' Mill in the Seven Days Battles, Slocum's Division was sent to the support of Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter and became hotly engaged, losing 2,021 men out of less than 8,000 present. The Vermont brigade of Smith's (2nd) Division took a prominent part in the fight at Savage's Station, the 5th Vermont losing 209 men in that action. The corps fought at other points during the Seven Days Battles, but at Malvern Hill it was held in reserve. After the Peninsula Campaign, the VI Corps was recalled to Washington DC and did not participate in the Second Bull Run Campaign aside from the First New Jersey Brigade of Slocum's (1st) Division having a sharp fight on August 27, at Bull Run Bridge, in which it lost 339 in killed, wounded, and missing,Brig. Gen. George W. Taylor, the brigade commander, receiving a mortal wound."

I am not sure what the 6th was to do realistically at South Mountain beyond take the gap then close up the armies left. Maybe push McLaws a bit but McClellan isn't going to send the 6th in an unsupported attack on Harper's Ferry. The 6th holds the armies left flank, the side were half of Lee's army is at.
 
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Package4

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Wiki:
"The corps was organized as the Sixth Provisional Corps on May 18, 1862, by uniting Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin's Division, which had just arrived on theVirginia Peninsula, with Maj. Gen.William F. Smith's Division, which was taken away from the IV Corps for this purpose. This provisional arrangement having been sanctioned by the U.S. War Department, the command received its permanent designation as the VI Army Corps, Army of the Potomac. Franklin was appointed corps commander, andHenry W. Slocum succeeded to the command of Franklin's Division. On June 20, 1862, the corps numbered 24,911, present and absent, with 19,405 present for duty, equipped; the corps artillery numbered 40 guns.

At the Battle of Gaines' Mill in the Seven Days Battles, Slocum's Division was sent to the support of Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter and became hotly engaged, losing 2,021 men out of less than 8,000 present. The Vermont brigade of Smith's (2nd) Division took a prominent part in the fight at Savage's Station, the 5th Vermont losing 209 men in that action. The corps fought at other points during the Seven Days Battles, but at Malvern Hill it was held in reserve. After the Peninsula Campaign, the VI Corps was recalled to Washington DC and did not participate in the Second Bull Run Campaign aside from the First New Jersey Brigade of Slocum's (1st) Division having a sharp fight on August 27, at Bull Run Bridge, in which it lost 339 in killed, wounded, and missing,Brig. Gen. George W. Taylor, the brigade commander, receiving a mortal wound."

I am not sure what the 6th was to do realistically at South Mountain beyond take the gap then close up the armies left. Maybe push McLaws a bit but McClellan isn't going to send the 6th in an unsupported attack on Harper's Ferry. The 6th holds the armies left flank, the side were half of Lee's army is at.
With all due respect, that is exactly what McClellan ordered Franklin to do in his 6:20 PM order to Franklin on September 13, 1862. He ordered Franklin to move at daybreak, secure the pass (Crampton's Gap) "Having gained the pass, your duty will be first to cut off, destroy, or capture McLaws' command and relieve Colonel Miles. "(Harper's Ferry). Official Records 19/1:45-46 McClellan Report ppg 359-360. McLaws was to secure Maryland Heights and McClellan knew this due to the finding of the Lost Order 191.
Franklin was horrible, at Crampton's Gap and as a result, Harper's Ferry was not relieved in time, of course McClellan could have sent him on a direct route to Harper's Ferry instead of through the Gap. McClellan with GO 191 in hand thought Franklin could push through the Gap and divide Lee's army in two. Since the writing of those orders, Lee changed his mind and instead of concentrating at Boonsboro had most of his army at Hagerstown. McClellan was insistent that the troops at HF should be under his command and abandon the indefensible post, but Halleck deemed otherwise, thus the largest surrender of US forces, until the Philippines in WWII.

"Sealed with their Lives" by Timothy Reese is a must read of this battle and how the region never really recovered. Timothy could be found most weekends holding "court" at the small museum up on Crampton's Gap. His books are hard to find and when found, are extremely expensive. He now offers his books on CD or download.
 

lelliott19

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With all due respect, that is exactly what McClellan ordered Franklin to do in his 6:20 PM order to Franklin on September 13, 1862. He ordered Franklin to move at daybreak, secure the pass (Crampton's Gap) "Having gained the pass, your duty will be first to cut off, destroy, or capture McLaws' command and relieve Colonel Miles. "(Harper's Ferry). Official Records 19/1:45-46 McClellan Report ppg 359-360. McLaws was to secure Maryland Heights and McClellan knew this due to the finding of the Lost Order 191. Franklin was horrible, at Crampton's Gap
I have to agree. Wasn't Franklin back at the Shafer house, drinking brandy and smoking cigars while Col Jos Bartlett (2nd Brigade VI Corps) was supposed to plan the attack? Talk about a trial by fire. Bartlett was a lawyer prior to the war and had little/no military training. At the time he planned the attack, I think he had only been a Col for a year. After Crampton's Gap, he was promoted almost immediately and went on to be a fairly creditable Brigadier General. He was selected to accept the surrender or arms at Appmoattox and was Brevetted Maj Gen postwar. For a young lawyer, without a West Point education, I think he did pretty well.
 
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67th Tigers

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Antietam

6th Corps started that morning at Rohrersville, and had a march of ca. 4 miles. They started marching ca. 0600, and by ca. 0900 Smith's lead division had closed up with the main body. Almost immediately they arrived, McClellan sent them in to reinforce Sumner. They went into line of battle ca. 1000, repelling a pursuit by rebel forces of Sedgwick's routing division. Slocum's division followed them, and were in line by ca. 1100.

From their arrival 1000-1100, the 6th Corps were the front line on the right of the battle, with the shattered remains of the other corps behind them, or off their flanks. They was ca. 500 yds between 6th Corps and the rebel lines. Both occupied good defensive ground, and they basically just skirmished with each other, and used artillery. Neither side would commit to sending their infantry into the open killing area between the defenses to make an assault.
 
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Yankeedave

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Both sides feeling each other out. Nobody's real exited to die.
McClellan doesn't yet know what lee is up too. Once the plan is found then McLaws is not such a target. Couch gets to guard an unused flank. An suffer for it historically. But he was kind of a dbag anyway soo.
Back to the topic. The sixth corps is large. They can be used on the perimeters and not have to be worried that they will be swallowed up. Eventually a quartermaster will be given command. Sedgewick. Makes a strong unit. They get the supply side of the front going to Gettysburg. Meaning that the rail line and depot are their area. given that in defeat and victory they could and will use this. Although not used on day three as some have thought, having this back made for physiological adjustments for physical defeat. An amorphous blob to make the army feel good. better.
 

gary

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The VI Corps was also at Washington, DC, to stem off Jubal Early's foray north.
 

67th Tigers

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The loss of 6th (and 19th) Corps to Grant in 1864 was crippling. If you read his correspondence with Washington there is a constant theme of "I need 6th Corps back to make a real offensive". (Link to a blog post on the matter)

Suffice to say, Grant was right, in that he did need 6th Corps back to make a real offensive. When it came back, it allowed him to conduct the last great offensive and force Lee out of Petersburg and Richmond.
 
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Saphroneth

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Although not used on day three as some have thought, having this back made for physiological adjustments for physical defeat.
I was under the impression that the actual positions of 6th Corps' brigades on Day Three meant they'd all been assigned to the line and as such weren't forming a reserve.
 

Jamieva

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At Fredericksburg they should have been heavily engaged. If Franklin had followed the verbal orders of the night before, his entire Grand Division was to attack the next day.

At Chancellorsville the VI was used to hold Lee in place because it was the largest corps in the army, so most capable of fighting for some time on its own if needed.
 
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Yankeedave

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At Fredericksburg they should have been heavily engaged. If Franklin had followed the verbal orders of the night before, his entire Grand Division was to attack the next day.

At Chancellorsville the VI was used to hold Lee in place because it was the largest corps in the army, so most capable of fighting for some time on its own if needed.
Agreed. Seeing the success of Meade's division...the addition of these troops probably would left Stonewall looking for Hill again to save the day.
 
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Yankeedave

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I feel like I should also point out that pedantically they're the 6th Corps - roman numerals were not in fashion for numbering corps at the time, but they were later on. Corps were numbered in Arabic numerals ("6th") or words ("Sixth").
Thank You. A pet peeve of mine also. Among many to be sure for me, but it is the correct spelling despite the fact that the Roman numerals look neat.
 

67th Tigers

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At Fredericksburg they should have been heavily engaged. If Franklin had followed the verbal orders of the night before, his entire Grand Division was to attack the next day.
That is what Franklin thought his orders where, but when he received the written orders they were different.

The day before the attack, Franklin and his two corps commanders looked over the ground and “unanimously agreed that there was but one thing to do and that was to put the forty thousand men of the Left Grand Division into columns of assault on the right and left of the
Richmond road, carry the ridge, and turn Lee’s right flank at any cost.”

At 1700, Burnside arrived and they put their offensive scheme to Burnside. Burnside apparently agreed, but told them to wait for his written orders. However, Burnside didn't return to his HQ until after midnight, and then went to bed without issuing any orders. Franklin and his corps commanders waited up, expecting to receive orders to attack. Reynolds had the right idea, and decided to go to sleep in the early hours, telling his staff to wake him if the orders arrived.

Burnside's orders arrived at 0745, with an 0555 timestamp, and read:

"The general commanding directs that you keep your whole command in position for a rapid movement down the old Richmond road, and you will send out at once a division at least. . . to seize, if possible, the height near Captain Hamilton’s, on this side of the Massaponax, taking care to keep it well supported and its line of retreat open. He has ordered another column of a division or more to be moved from General Sumner’s command up the Plank road to its intersection with the Telegraph road, where they will divide, with a view to seizing the heights on both of these roads. Holding these two heights, with the heights near Captain Hamilton’s, will, he hopes,
compel the enemy to evacuate the whole ridge between these points.. . . Two of General Hooker’s divisions are in your rear, at the bridges, and will remain there as supports... .83"

Franklin pushed 7 divisions over the river (including one attached from 3rd Corps), but left Reynolds in command of the advance, it being his corps in the first line. Reynolds had a copy of Burnside's orders, and obeyed them in sending one division forward, with his other two divisions in support. The 6th Corps was formed to exploit, behind 1st Corps.

Franklin received an order to mount a general attack at 1425. The 1st Corps had already been repulsed, and it would take time to form 6th Corps into an assault column. At 1700, Stonewall Jackson counterattacked Franklin just as he was about to launch 6th Corps.

It is worth noting that 5,000 of the 12,527 casualties the Federals took that day (40%) were in Franklin's Grand Division, and the majority of the rebel casualties (ca. 4,000 of 4,756, 84!) were suffered on Franklin's front, and almost all of those in Jackson's counterattack, which 6th Corps repulsed. Whilst Jackson took a whole bunch of casualties attacking 6th Corps, it prevented them making an assault, because they were busy being assaulted.
 
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