Battle occurred at vital moment

Grant had issued orders for concerted attack on Confederacy

May 09, 2004|By Katie Cosgrove | Katie Cosgrove,SUN STAFF

The battle of New Market, Va., on May 15, 1864, was a fairly small fight by Civil War standards, but the Confederate victory in the Shenandoah Valley had a significant place in the larger mosaic of the war in Northern Virginia in the spring of 1864.

Here is a chronology of 1864 events in Northern Virginia leading up the fighting at New Market:

Feb. 1: The House of Representative passed a bill authorizing the rank of lieutenant general. In the federal service, this rank had only been held previously by George Washington, as commander of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, and temporarily by Winfield Scott, who, at 74, was commander-in-chief of the federal army at the outbreak of the Civil War and had been a general since the War of 1812.

March 2: The Senate confirmed the nomination of Ulysses S. Grant as lieutenant general.

March 8: Grant met with Lincoln for the first time at the White House. Grant quickly formulated a plan for pressing the Confederacy on many fronts at the same time.

March 10: Grant was made commander of the Armies of the United States. He was in Virginia, working out plans with Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac. Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman succeeded Grant as commander in the West.

April 4: Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan was named cavalry commander for the Army of the Potomac.

April 7: Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet's corps, which had been campaigning in east Tennessee, returned to Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.

April 9: Grant issued orders for a concerted attack against the Confederates: In Virginia, Meade was to make Lee's army his objective; Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel was to attack in the Shenandoah Valley; Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler was to move along the James River against Richmond, Va.; in the Deep South, Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks was ordered to attack Mobile, Ala., and Sherman was ordered to march through Georgia.

May 3: The Army of the Potomac was ordered to cross the Rapidan River against the right flank of Lee's army in an area called the Wilderness.

May 4: A vast campaign involving all the Union armies began. In Virginia, Grant with an army of 122,000 headed toward Richmond, Va., to engage Lee's 64,000-man Army of Northern Virginia, beginning a war of attrition that would lead to Lee's surrender almost a year later at Appomattox Court House. In the west, Sherman, with 100,000 men, advanced toward Atlanta to engage Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's 60,000-strong army.

May 5: The Battle of the Wilderness began.

May 6: The fighting in the Wilderness concluded with casualties of more than 17,000 men for the Union and about 7,500 for the Confederates. Unable to break through the Confederate line, Grant pulled back and maneuvered for a more favorable position. As Grant's overland campaign pushed relentlessly south into Virginia, Lee prepared his men: "General Grant is not going to retreat. He will move his army to Spotsylvania. I am so sure of his next move that I have already made arrangements ... so that we may meet him there," Geoffrey C. Ward quotes Lee as saying in his account of the situation, The Civil War, published in 1991.

May 8: Union forces encountered the Confederates entrenched at Spotsylvania Court House. The battle at Spotsylvania went on for several days; the Confederates were in strong defensive positions. Grant and Lee spent the days sizing each other up and adjusting their lines. On May 11, Grant wired Lincoln, "We have now ended the sixth day of very heavy fighting the result up to this time is much in favor. I intend to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer."

May 10: Grant ordered a general assault at Spotsylvania, but the federal troops were turned back.

May 11: Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, the famed Confederate cavalry commander, was mortally wounded at Yellow Tavern.

May 12: Heavy fighting resumed at Spotsylvania. Federal losses in the battle exceeded 10,000 killed and wounded; Confederate losses are not known for sure, but are thought to number more than 5,000.

May 15: In the Shenandoah Valley, the Confederates defeated Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel's larger force at New Market, embarrassing Grant. It also fueled the Confederates' desire to continue the fight and enabled them to hold the Shenandoah Valley a little longer.

Katie Cosgrove is a senior majoring in journalism at Loyola College in Baltimore. This article was written as part of an academic internship at The Sun.

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