BY MICHAEL K. SHAFFER ( Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center For the Washington County News


Grant is artful – I fear he is trying to entrap Lee into an advance;” an anonymous writer, penned these words to President Jefferson Davis on the last day of March. Two days prior to this communication, General Robert E. Lee sent a dispatch to Davis indicating, “The time is also near at hand when I shall require all the troops belonging to this army.” Reconnaissance reports provided Lee with intelligence, which indicated Lieutenant General U.S. Grant had returned from his trip in the west, and joined with Major General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac in Virginia. The commander of the Army of Northern Virginia outlined to the Southern president his concerns over upcoming military action, indicating, from his perspective, future “…operations in Virginia will be vigorously prosecuted by the enemy,” and reiterating the need for “…an aggressive movement in the West [to] disconcert their plans and oblige them [Federals] to conform to ours.” The gathering and absorption of information certainly occupied Lee’s thoughts.

Elsewhere in the field, the approach of spring brought a continued increase in military activity. Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest skirmished with Federal forces in Kentucky, and in Louisiana, troops under the command of Major General Nathaniel Banks skirmished with the Confederates near Natchitoches. The Army of Tennessee remained in their Dalton, Georgia, winter quarters, and according to the report of a special correspondent with the London Morning Herald who visited Dalton, the soldiers displayed “…the most encouraging character.” The reporter noted the extreme confidence the men had in General Joseph E. Johnston, and felt assured the army “…will in the hour of battle give a good account of itself.” Lee certainly hoped this would prove true!

In Washington County, the Abingdon Virginian reported on the recent promotion of native son W.W. Blackford. During the first year of the war, Blackford had assisted “Grumble” Jones in forming the Washington Mounted Rifles. Developing a pre-war acquaintance with a young man, who in 1861 ran a law practice in Bristol – John S. Mosby – later enabled Blackford to influence the lawyer to take down his shingle and join with the troops assembling in Abingdon. Three years into the conflict, Blackford earned a major’s star, and residents took great pride in reading of an officer who had “…born himself most gallantly throughout the whole of war…no one more richly deserved promotion…he will do honor to the service.”

The Battle of Gettysburg, fought almost nine months prior, continued to gnaw at Meade. He had received considerable criticism in the press for his inability to destroy Lee’s army after the battle; most of the accusations he could ignore, one he could not. A story appeared in the New York Herald, under the byline “Historicus,” which accused Meade of failing to listen to advice from his various corps commanders. Suspecting Major General Dan Sickles as the author, Meade wrote to President Abraham Lincoln, requesting a court of inquiry. Lincoln responded on March 29, empathizing with Meade’s “…sensibility on the subject.” However, the commander-in-chief also indicated, in direct fashion, “…it is much better for you to be engaged in trying to do more, than to be diverted, as you necessarily would be, by a Court of Inquiry.” Grant would depend on a focused Meade, and perhaps he had some influence on the president’s response to the Gettysburg victor. One of the president’s secretaries, John Hay, noted in his March 27 diary entry, “Today, General Grant came to Washington for a few hours.” Two days later, Lincoln wrote to Meade, and a little more than one week after his visit with the president, Grant issued campaign orders to Meade and his other subordinates. Both armies continued to prepare, mentally, for the battles ahead.