The Battle of Piedmont: Reluctant Leader, C. S. Brig. Gen. William E. “Grumble” Jones – A Long Promised Biography

 

Gen. William E. Jones

Gen. William E. Jones

The Confederate high command in Richmond desperately sought a suitable replacement for Breckinridge in the Department of Western Virginia. The ranking officer in that department, Brigadier General William E. “Grumble” Jones, remained uncertain of his position. On May 20, at his headquarters near Abingdon, Virginia, Jones received a telegram from General Samuel Cooper ordering the retention of Brigadier General John C. Vaughn’s Tennessee cavalry brigade in the Department. The tone of the order implied Jones to be the acting commander of the De­partment, but failed to enumerate. Perplexed, Jones telegraphed Gen­eral Cooper in Richmond, “Must I assume command of the Department of Western Virginia?”[i] No response came, so on May 23, Jones again telegraphed Cooper:

No order has reached me merging the Department of East Tennessee and Western Virginia, though telegrams have reached me which would imply such had been done. I was di­rected by General Bragg to watch the enemy coming from Ka­nawha, and in cooperating with General Jenkins I found my­self in the Department of Western Virginia. Now my com­mand is in both departments, and I will continue to command both until further orders, or the arrival of a superior officer.

Cooper responded by issuing an order for Jones to assume command of the Department of Western Virginia. With his old army appetite for direct orders quenched Jones set about to fulfill his duties.[ii]

Born on the middle fork of the Holston River on May 9, 1824, Wil­liam Edmondson Jones grew to manhood in Washington County, Virginia, near the Tennessee border. During the American Revolution, his Edmondson forebears had been “Overmountain” men who turned the tide of that conflict at the battle of King’s Mountain in 1780. Jones grew up learning the tough ways that allowed the Appalachian pioneers. At the same time, he received an extensive education at Emory and Henry College before attending West Point. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1848, ranked twelfth out of forty-eight cadets. After spending three years in Oregon as a Lieutenant, the young officer re­turned home to marry Miss Eliza Dunn. On the return trip, the young couple sailed from New Orleans. A violent storm wrecked the ship which carried them. When they attempted to land in a lifeboat, a wave swept Eliza from the small vessell. Only the heroism of Thomas B. Edmondson, the Lieutenant’s cousin, saved him from the same fate. The whirling waters washed away William’s dreams and hopes of a long and happy life together. Eliza’s body was recovered and buried at Glade Spring Presbyterian Church back in Virginia. Stunned by his tragic loss, Jones returned to his post with a heavy heart. The young widower immersed himself in his duty in order to avoid the pain of his loss and became “embittered, complaining and suspi­cious.” He eventually became known as “Old Grumble Jones” and could be “a disagreeable customer when crossed.” It is likely, however, that some of these qualities existed even before Eliza’s death given the rugged background of the Jones’ family. Finally, in September 1856, he resigned from the army and returned to his estate on the Holston River. In 1857, Jones visited Europe on mili­tary business for the state of Virginia.[iii]

Politically, Jones believed in Southern society and in the rights of the individual states. He saw slavery as an economic necessity beneficial to both master and slave. When John Brown raided Harper’s Ferry in an attempt to stimulate a slave insurrection in 1859, Jones urged Virginians to revitalize and reorganize the Commonwealth’s ability to defend itself through a military means. “It is as much our duty to prepare for the coming dangers,” declared Jones, “as to defend our assailed rights and none but the obstinate blind can fail to see the dangers great and most horrible in our future.”[iv]

When the war broke out in 1861, Jones raised a company of cavalry from Washington County known as the Washington Mounted Rifles, and became its first captain. The company joined Colonel James E. B. “Jeb” Stuart’s 1st Virginia Cavalry Regiment, and took part in the First Battle of Manassas under Jones’ able guidance. He ultimately rose to the rank of colonel, but in April of 1862, Jones fell out of favor with Stuart, and the regiment voted him out of office due to his harsh disciplinary practices and embittered attitude. With compe­tent officers in short supply, Jones received an appointment as the colo­nel of the 7th Virginia Cavalry in July 1862, replacing the the fallen Turner Asby. Jones instilled discipline in Ashby’s rowdy horseman and displayed aggressive the aggressive streak that Stonewall Jackson admired. In early August, Jones encountered and attacked a vastly superior force at Orange Court House. “No time could be afforded for inquiries-to fight or run were the only alternatives; I chose the former…”[v]

By September, Confederate authorities promoted him to brigadier general at the request of Stonewall Jackson. The latter had Jones placed in command of the Valley District but his personality and military ways elicted complaints from local civilian leaders. In May 1863, the crotchety Virginian led his brigade on a raid into Union held West Virginia in a joint mission with Imboden. This highly successful raid destroyed sixteen railroad bridges and two trains, seized 1,000 head of cattle and 1,200 horses, and captured seven hundred pris­oners. Additionally, Jones ravaged the oil works at Burning Springs, destroying 3,000 barrels of oil and all production facilities. Robert E. Lee com­plimented General Jones on the raid’s sagacity and boldness.

Upon returning to Virginia, Jones and his brigade rejoined Stuart’s cavalry with the Army of Northern Virginia near Culpepper Courthouse. On June 9, his vigilance at Brandy Station while Stuart conducted a dress parade saved the cavalry from defeat. Jones’ command withstood repeated Union assaults and played a decisive role in preventing disaster there. However, His icey relations with Stuart continued. When Jones warned Stuart of approaching Union troopers, the Cavalry chief replied, “Tell General Jones to attend to the Federals in his front, and I’ll watch the flanks.” When Jones received the reply, he snarled, “So he thinks they ain’t coming, does he? Well, let him alone, he’ll damned soon see for himself.”[vi]

Jones attempted to resign from the service instead of serving under Stuart, but General Lee withheld the resignation. Nevertheless, Jones continued his consistently dependable efforts throughout the Gettysburg Campaign. Although Stuart purposely assigned the capable Jones’ rear echelon duty, he effectively led his brigade in several combats throughout the campaign, including actions at Upperville and Fairfield. His command twice crossed swords with the 6th U.S. Cavalry during the campaign. After inflicting 242 casualties upon that regiment and defeating it on two separate occasions, Jones reported, wryly “The Sixth U.S. Cavalry numbers among the things that were.”[vii]

Finally, Jones’ feud with Stuart boiled over as Lee’s army returned from Gettysburg. Jones took exception with something Stuart did and wrote his commander “a very disrespectful letter.” In spite of their differences, Stuart had considered Jones “the best outpost officer” in the Army of Northern Virginia. Stuart recognized that Jones’ “watchfulness over his pickets and his skill and energy in obtaining information were worthy of all praise.” Stuart’s praises for Jones were matched only by his desire to have him removed from his command. When he received Jones’ letter, Stuart promptly relieved Jones of his command and placed in “close arrest.” This incident resulted in a court martial and ended Jones’ service with the Army of Northern Virginia.[viii]

In the aftermath of the court martial General Lee wrote Confederate President Jefferson C. Davis:

I consider Jones a brave and intelligent officer, but his feelings have become so opposed to General Stuart that I have lost all hope of his being useful in the cavalry here… he says he will no longer serve under Stuart and I do not think it would be advantageous for him to do so, but I wish to make him useful.[ix]

As a result of Lee’s recommendation, the Confederate War Department assigned Jones to the Department of Western Virginia. There he received command of a brigade of undisciplined Virginia cavalry regiments. Jones instilled these men with discipline and drastically improved their performance on the battlefield. In November, Jones routed a Union force at Rogersville, Tennessee, capturing 700 prisoners with their wagons and equipment. On January 2, 1864, Jones captured 385 men and three pieces of artillery by surrounding a Federal force at Jonesville, Virginia. During February, his troopers de­feated the 11th Tennessee (U. S.) Cavalry at Wyerman’s Mill and appre­hended 265 Union soldiers, eight wagons and one hundred horses. The Richmond Whig declared General Jones to be the “Stonewall Jackson of East Tennessee.” In early May, Jones combined with General John H. Morgan in the successful defense of Wytheville and Saltville against General William W. Averell’s blue coats.[x]

Jones’ experience as a cavalry commander justified his assignment to command the Department of Western Virginia. His reputation had been built upon the utmost vigilance and the ability to use scouts and patrols to obtain accurate information on enemy movements. When “Old Grumble Jones” learned where the enemy was, he did not allow them to sieze the initiative. Instead, Jones aggressively went on the offensive and hoped to catch his opponents with their guard down. From Orange Courthouse to Wyerman’s Mill, Jones had done just that. Most of the time, his efforts were rewarded with success and outright failure was unkown. In the Shenandoah Valley, Jones would be called upon to put his ability to the ultimate test. No longer would he be leading a brigade or two of cavalry. Now he would lead a combined force of all arms against rejuvenated opponent intent on victory.

 

[i] OR, 37:pt.1:745.

[ii] OR, 37:pt.1:746-747.

[iii] Thomas W. Colley, “Brigadier General William E. Jones,” Confederate Veteran, 6:266-267; Personal Reminiscences of a Maryland Soldier in the War Between the States 1861-1865., 81.

[iv] William E. Jones Papers, Library of Virginia.

[v]OR, 12:2:112.

[vi] Thomas A. Lewis, The Civil War: Gettysburg, Confederate High Tide. Time-Life Books, 1985, 20.

[vii] OR, 27:2:754.

[viii] Warner, Generals in Grey., pp. 166-167; Colley, CV 6:266-267; Andy Maslowski, “Burning Springs, Va.,” America’s Civil War, Sept. 1988, pp. 8, 65-66.

[ix] OR, 29:2:771-772.

[x] Colley, p. 267; Warner, p. 166-167; Jeffrey C. Weaver, 64th Virginia Infantry. (Lynchburg: H. E. Howard, Inc., 1992), p. 86.

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The Battle of Piedmont: Breckinridge Gives Grant a Second Chance in the Shenandoah

After New Market, Confederate operations in the Valley ground to a halt, contrary to the wishes of General Robert E. Lee. The day after New Market, Lee telegraphed Major General John C. Breckinridge:

Spotsylvania Court House
May 16, 1864
12 ¼?

I offer you the thanks of this Army for your victory over Genl. Sigel. Press him down the Valley, and if practicable follow him into Maryland.

R. E. Lee

Later that day Lee sent Breckinridge a second dispatch:

Guiney’s Station
May 16, 1864

If you [do not deem] it practicable to carry out the suggestion of my dispatch of this morning to drive the enemy from the Valley & pursue him into Maryland, you can be of great service with this army. If you can follow Sigel into Maryland, you will do more good than by joining us. If you cannot & your command is not otherwise needed in the Valley or in your department, I desire you to prepare to join me. Advise me whether the condition of affairs in your department will admit of this movement safely, & if so, I will notify you of the time & route.
R. E. Lee.

Lee’s instructions permitted Breckinridge to decide upon his own course of action based on circumstances in the Shenandoah Valley. Clearly, Lee preferred Breckinridge to go on the offensive in the Valley and rattle the northern politicians in Washington as Stonewall Jackson did in 1862. Lee hoped that such action would cause Grant to detach troops from the Army of the Potomac and thereby ease the pressure on the Army of North-ern Virginia. Breckinridge examined his options and determined that pursuing Sigel’s force was not feasible, for the Federals had a running start and had burned the bridge over the Shenandoah River. Regarding the Valley as safe from Federal aggression, the former Vice-President of the United States decided to join Lee in the struggle against the tenacious Grant. The Kentuckian’s departure left only Brigadier General John D. Imboden‘s Brigade and local reserve troops to resist any renewed Federal advance. This decision also surrendered the initiative in the Shenandoah Valley to the Federals. It allowed Grant to replace Sigel with Hunter, who rapidly reorganized his army with no concern of being bothered by Confederate forces. Lee and Breckinridge would now learn the hard way that Sam Grant was a different kind of general. No longer would defeat send Union forces into hibernation, but the pugnacious Ohioan would press on toward final victory.

Breckinridge’s decision later brought criticism upon Lee from the Richmond Press, calling it that “wise order” in the Richmond Examiner of June 13, 1864:

That Wise Orderwise order 2

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The Battle of Piedmont – Overhauling the U.S. Army of the Shenandoah – May 22, 1864

Franz Sigel bequeathed Maj. Gen. David Hunter an army that the former

Maj. Gen. David Hunter

had run into the ground logistically, militarily and morale wise. Yet Lt.

Gen. U.S. Grant expected Hunter to get the campaign going again right away. There could be no excuses as Grant had a war to win and he had already taken a chance on Sigel and lost. To begin the rejuvenation of the Union army in the Valley, Hunter issued the following order on May 22, 1864 to “jump start” the Army of the Shenandoah for the renewed campaign in the Shenandoah.

 

Headquarters Department of West Virginia,

In the Field, Near Cedar Creek

May, 22, 1864

General Orders No. 29

It is of the utmost importance that this army be placed in a situation for immediate efficiency. We are contending against an enemy who is in earnest, and, if we expect success, we, too, must be in earnest. We must be willing to make sacrifices, willing to suffer for a short time, that a glorious result may crown our efforts.

The country is expecting every man to do his duty; and this done, an ever kind Providence will certainly grant us complete success.

I. Every tent will be immediately turned in, for transporta­tion to Martinsburg; and all baggage not expressly allowed by this order, will be at once sent to the rear. There will be but one wagon allowed to each Regiment, and this will only be used to transport spare ammunition, camp kettles, tools and mess-pans Every wagon will have eight picket horses, twodrivers, and twosaddles. One wagon and one ambulance will be allowed to Department Headquarters, and the same to Divi­sion and Brigade Headquarters. The other ambulances will be under the immediate order of the Medical Director

II. For the expedition on hand, the clothes each soldier has on his back, with one pair of extra shoes and socks, are amply suf­ficient. Everything else in the shape of clothing will be packed today and shipped to the rear. Each knapsack will contain one hundred rounds ofammunition,carefully packed; four pounds of hard bread to last eight days; ten rations of coffee, sugar and salt, one pair of shoes and socks, and nothing else.

III. Brigade and all other Commanders will be held strictly re­sponsible that their commands are supplied from the country. Cattle, sheep, and hogs, and if necessary, horses and mules must be taken, and slaughtered. These supplies will be seized under the direction of officers duly authorized, and upon a system which will hereafter be regulated. No straggling or pillaging will be allowed. Brigade and other Commanders will be held responsible that there is no waste; and that there is a proper and orderly division amongst their men, of the supplies taken for our use.

IV. Commanders will attend personally to the prompt execu­tion of this order, so that we may move to-morrow morning. They will see that in passing through a country in this way, depending upon it for forage and supplies, great additional vigilance is required on the part of every officer in the com­mand of men, for the enforcement of discipline.

V. The Commanding General expects from every officer and soldier of the army in the field, an earnest and unhesitating support; and relies with confidence upon an ever kind Provi­dence for the resuLieutenant The Lieutenant General commanding the armies of the United States, who is now victoriously pressing back the enemy, upon their last stronghold, expects much from the Army of the Shenandoah; and he must not be disap­pointed.

In conclusion, the Major General commanding, while holding every officer to the strictest responsibility of his posi­tion, and prepared to enforce discipline, with severity, when necessary, will never cease to urge the prompt promotion of all officers, non commissioned officers, and enlisted men, who earn recognition by their gallantry and good conduct.

By command of Major General Hunter

Chas. G. Halpine, Assistant Adjutant General.[i]

The issuance of this order created a stir in the Army of the Shenan­doah and gave the enlisted men a negative first impression of their new commander. This order differed greatly form anything Sigel would have issued. Sigel had commanded the army in a most benevolent fashion and seldom challenged his men. One staff officer noted, “The troops are very much dissatisfied at losing General Sigel.”[ii]

 

[i] OR, 37:1:517-518.

[ii] Frank S. Reader Diary, West Virginia Regional History Collection, West Virginia University Library. (cited hereafter as WVU)

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The Battle of Piedmont – The Valley Campaign Begins Anew – May 21, 1864

This will be the first of many posts that document the development of the portion of the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign that culminated in the Battle of Piedmont and the capture of Staunton. The following entry is by Col. David Hunter Strother, a Virginia native from Bath, Virginia (now Berkeley Springs, WV) who sided with the Union and served on the staff of both General Franz Sigel, the disgraced U.S. commander at New Market, and his successor Gen. David Hunter, associate of both President Abraham Lincoln and Lt. Gen. U. S. Grant.

It was near sunset when as I was standing on the front portico of the Hite House (Belle Grove Plantation) we saw a cavalcade approaching from the

Belle Grove Plantation (Hite House) Sigel’s then Hunter’s HQ in May 1864.

direction of Middletown. As the horsemen drew nearer I perceived that it was something uncommon. The escort turned into a wood while half a dozen distinguished-looking cavaliers came on toward the house. The first idea that presented itself was that it was a committee of Congress. At the front gate they dismounted, and I saw the triple buttons of a major general among them. “What does this mean?” asked Putnam with a look of blank dismay. “It means that our Captain (Sigel) is relieved,” said I (with a very different feeling from the Captain’s).

By this time I had recognized my kinsman, Major General David
Hunter, and walked down the steps to meet him. He received me
cordially and immediately took me aside and we walked arm in arm
to a secluded spot where he said, “I have come to relieve General
Sigel. You know it is customary with a general who has been un
fortunate to relieve him whether he has committed a fault or not.”
He then asked me to remain with him and to talk to him like a man
and kinsman and give him my views freely. In a few words I
described the campaign from which we had just returned and, in
giving my views of the situation, advised an immediate move up the
Valley to Staunton, there to meet Crook and Averell, and with the
combined force to occupy Charlottesville. We then scarcely thought of
venturing so far as Lynchburg, although I proposed it as one of the possibilities. The General immediately telegraphed Crook to advance
without delay on Staunton and to ensure the message, asked me to
procure two trusty scouts who would ride through the country with
the message. This I arranged with Captain [John] McEntee.

Hunter’s assistant adjutant general, Major Charles G. Halpine, and his
nephew and aide-de-camp, Major Samuel Stockton, were next introduced. Halpine was the original “Miles O’Reilley,” an Irishman, a
clever writer and humorist. Stockton was a son of Mary Hunter of
Princeton, a cousin of my mother who once visited us and was called
Jersey Mary. We are to advance without baggage and to cut loose en
tirely from our base of operations and live on the country. The value
of a secondary movement up this Valley seems at length to be recognized at headquarters. This doubtless comes from Grant. I have
always thought it most important.

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The Battle of New Market: Recollections of a West Virginia Artilleryman

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May 16, 2014 · 12:07 am

The Battle of Crooked Run or Cedarville, August 16, 1864

Union Cavalry under Devin and Custer route Confederate Forces!

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The 10th Vermont Infantry at the Battle of Cedar Creek

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