Monday, May 11, 2015

George Stoneman

Continuing the theme of interesting questions that arise during the Q&A, I thought we would spend a little time looking at the life of George Stoneman, the Federal cavalry commander who led the raid through western North Carolina in March and April 1865. Instead of a full biographical sketch, I thought we would cover a few points.

George Stoneman commanded the Federal cavalry during the battle of Chancellorsville. As part of Hooker's plan of battle, Stoneman was to lead the Federal Cavalry beyond Lee's lines, destroying vital railroad junctions, cutting Lee's supply lines and forcing the Army of Northern Virginia back. Rain first caused Stoneman's men difficulty, forcing him to recall part of his advance. Later the plan was changed by Hooker to be solely to destroy the railroads and lines of communication.  While Lee was concerned about Federal cavalry in his rear, he basically ignored Stoneman and, in the end, defeated Hooker and the Army of Northern Virginia. Hooker blamed Stoneman for the defeat. It only took the Confederates a few days to repair the damage. Stoneman was replaced as commander of the Federal cavalry corps in the Army of the Potomac before the month of May ended.

George Stoneman led another raid in Georgia in July and August 1864. Stoneman commanded one part of the cavalry of Sherman's army.  Sherman ordered the cavalry to break up the Macon and Western Railroad near Jonesboro. Stoneman proposed that after "destroying" Confederate cavalry in the area, he move to Macon, and then on to Andersonville, where he could free 23,000 Federal prisoners. The movement began on July 27. In Monticello, Stoneman learned that the bridges over the Ocmulgee did not exist, and chose to move on towards Macon, instead of turning back towards the west and linking up with other Federal forces. When he reached the outskirts of Macon, he found thousands of militia troops. Soon, Confederate cavalry closed in. On July 31, at Sunshine Church, Stoneman attempted to fight his way out. In the end, Stoneman surrendered his command. Stoneman was the highest ranking officer ever captured by the Confederates. He was exchanged in late September for Brigadier General Daniel C. Govan (captured during the battle of Jonesboro).

George Stoneman led a raid into North Carolina and Virginia in March and April 1865. After much delay, the raid began on March 20, 1865, moving through Morristown, Tennessee, on March 23, and skirmishing with home guardsmen in Boone on March 28. Instead of writing a blow-by-blow account, I would like to consider the question that has arisen more than once: what was Stoneman's directive? US Grant wrote to Stoneman's superior on January 31: "Stoneman might penetrate South Carolina well down towards Columbia, destroying the railroad and military resources of the country, thus visiting a portion of the state which will not be reached by Sherman's forces. He also might return to East Tennessee by way of Salisbury, N.C., this releasing some of our prisoners in rebel hands." Stoneman's goal was to destroy the railroad and "military resources" of the places that he went.

There you have it - three points that have come up in my discussion regarding George Stoneman. 

1 comment:

j wayneair said...

so in short, Stoneman had orders to basiclly engage in guerrilla warfare, in essence terrorize, TN, NC, SC and GA by disrupting rail transport and communication lines where ever he wanted to go? and occasionally join up with bulk forces for a major engagement? sounds like a pretty good wartime gig, at least safer than lining up head-to-head with the other side...