Home History How Union General Robert H. Milroy Spent His Life Trying Redeem His Reputation

How Union General Robert H. Milroy Spent His Life Trying Redeem His Reputation

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Till his demise, Union Common Robert H. Milroy by no means stopped making an attempt to redeem his popularity, badly scarred in defeat at Second Winchester

In the ultimate hours of Union Maj. Gen. Robert H. Milroy’s life, with household gathered at his house in Olympia, Wash., the 73-year-old veteran had a singular focus—making sure that historical past didn’t choose him harshly for his defeat on the Second Battle of Winchester throughout the Accomplice advance to Gettysburg in June 1863. On March 28, 1890—the day earlier than his demise—Milroy, in response to a newspaper correspondent, “sat up all day…and dictated matter…touching upon the supreme occasion of his life, the battle of Winchester.” As Milroy spoke to A.S. Austin, a justice of the peace in Olympia, and Might Sylvester, who was collaborating with Austin “in compiling a quantity of the final’s army memoirs” (sadly by no means accomplished), the “Grey Eagle” acknowledged emphatically that he was not in the end answerable for the disastrous Union defeat at Winchester on June 13-15, 1863.

Although knowledgeable by Colonel Joseph Keifer (above left) {that a} Insurgent power was headed his manner, and ordered by his superiors, Henry Halleck (above) and Robert Schenck (left), to depart Winchester, Milroy felt he had sufficient to defend town adequately. (Nationwide Archives; Library of Congress (2))

All through Milroy’s occupation of Winchester within the first half of 1863, Common-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck fretted for the protection of Milroy’s command. On April 29, Halleck reminded Milroy’s quick superior Maj. Gen. Robert C. Schenck, commander of the Center Division headquartered in Baltimore, that Winchester and its quick environs was “no place to battle a battle. It’s merely an outpost, which shouldn’t be uncovered to an assault in power.” One month later, within the wake of the Military of Northern Virginia’s momentous victory at Chancellorsville, Va., Halleck’s anxieties concerning the security of Milroy’s garrison neared a fevered pitch. He warned Schenck that “forces at Harpers Ferry, the Shenandoah Valley, and Western Va., ought to be on the alert and ready for assault.”

Past Halleck’s warnings, Milroy’s Jessie Scouts—Union troopers who donned Insurgent uniforms and infiltrated Accomplice strains to assemble data—reported frequently in Chancellorsville’s aftermath that Accomplice Common Robert E. Lee’s military was on the transfer and that Milroy’s command ought to anticipate an assault of some kind. Colonel Joseph Warren Keifer, who “was given particular cost” of those scouts in Might, believed the proof compelling. “So uniform have been their studies as to the proposed assaults that I gave credence to them, and suggested Milroy that except he was quickly to be largely strengthened it might be nicely to retire from his uncovered place,” he defined.

Milroy, nonetheless, refused to imagine the studies. Intent on remaining within the decrease Shenandoah Valley to guard the world’s Unionist civilians and to proceed implementing the Emancipation Proclamation, Milroy was satisfied the data was inaccurate. By the primary week of June, intelligence gathered by scouts revealed that the Accomplice forces would attain Winchester on June 10. Recalled Keifer: “I gave this data to Milroy, however he nonetheless persevered in believing the entire story was gotten as much as trigger him to disgracefully abandon the Valley.”

When June 10 got here and went with out incident, Milroy was solely additional buoyed in his perception “that Lee wouldn’t dare to detach any a part of his infantry power from the entrance of the Military of the Potomac.” However because the Grey Eagle nestled right into a false sense of safety, Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell’s Second Corps spearheaded Lee’s advance west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Whereas Ewell’s command marched towards the Shenandoah Valley, Schenck’s chief of employees, Lt. Col. Donn Piatt, arrived in Winchester to examine Milroy’s place. After inspecting Milroy’s defenses—Star Fort, Fort Milroy (Principal Fort), and West Fort—Piatt appeared satisfied by the point he departed Winchester on June 11 that Milroy’s place was sturdy. “All appears to be like wonderful,” he telegraphed Schenck. “Can whip something the rebels can fetch right here.”

Though Piatt was initially assured in Milroy’s means to defend Winchester, his perspective modified—undoubtedly due to a message despatched by Halleck throughout Piatt’s return journey to Baltimore that famous, “Harpers Ferry is the essential place, Winchester is of no significance apart from as a lookout.”

Piatt despatched a word to Milroy instructing him to take steps for an instantaneous withdrawal from Winchester. Incensed, Milroy wired Schenck, “I believe I’ve ample power to carry this place safely.” On June 12, Schenck ordered Milroy to “make all of the required preparation for withdrawing,” but in addition instructed the Grey Eagle to “maintain” his “place within the meantime…however await additional orders.”

Because the telegraph strains buzzed with messages between Halleck, Piatt, Schenck, and Milroy on June 12, Ewell’s Corps appeared 15 miles south of Winchester within the small hamlet of Middletown—the place in October 1864 Union forces would win a decisive victory on the Battle of Cedar Creek and finish the Confederacy’s dominance within the Shenandoah Valley. Combating with components of Ewell’s command intensified on June 12 in Middletown, Kernstown and Winchester’s southern outskirts. The next day, Schenck was pressured by President Abraham Lincoln to “Get Milroy from Winchester to Harpers Ferry if attainable,” and eventually ordered Milroy’s withdrawal. Milroy, nonetheless, would by no means obtain a crucial collection of messages from Schenck, as Ewell’s troops had torn down the telegraph strains.

With out a possibility to restore the strains, Milroy drew his command into his fortifications and awaited Ewell’s assault on June 14. After Maj. Gen. Jubal Early’s Division launched a profitable assault in opposition to the smallest of Milroy’s defenses, West Fort, adopted by hours of artillery bombardment between Accomplice weapons in West Fort and the Baltimore Gentle Artillery battery in Star Fort, Milroy understood his scenario was dire. About 9 p.m., the final held a council of conflict along with his brigade commanders, lastly conceding that the withdrawal to Harpers Ferry was the Federals’ finest different.

After destroying what couldn’t be carried and spiking the weapons, Milroy’s command marched north within the early morning hours of June 15; nonetheless, Maj. Gen. Edward “Allegheny” Johnson’s Division intercepted Milroy’s command close to Stephenson’s Depot. Though Milroy prevented seize, 4,030 of the troops in his 7,000-man command weren’t so lucky that morning. Along with the seize of greater than half of Milroy’s power, 95 Union troopers have been killed and 348 wounded throughout the multiple-day battle. Accomplice casualties totaled solely about 2 % of Ewell’s command: 47 killed, 219 wounded, and three lacking.

At concerning the time Milroy gathered his brigade commanders the night time of June 14 to resolve what ought to be achieved, Lincoln, Halleck, Secretary of Conflict Edwin M. Stanton, and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles met to debate the motion north of Lee’s military. Though there had been no communication with Milroy for 2 days and Johnson’s Division had not but delivered the ultimate crushing blow to the Federal power in Winchester, Lincoln had begun to concern that Milroy would inevitably endure the identical destiny that Colonel Dixon Miles’ command had at Harpers Ferry throughout the Antietam Marketing campaign the earlier September. In response to Welles, Lincoln knowledgeable the group: “It’s Harper’s Ferry over once more.”

Welles suspected that if issues certainly went badly at Winchester, Milroy would develop into “the scapegoat, and blamed for the silly blunders, neglects, and errors of those that ought to have warned and suggested him.”

Welles’ suspicion proved true when Halleck ordered Schenck to put Milroy below arrest on June 27. Now confined in Baltimore, Milroy started a fierce letter-writing marketing campaign to safe his launch. As Milroy penned letters to Lincoln, Halleck, and Secretary of the Inside John Palmer Usher—a fellow Hoosier—to revive him to command somewhat than preserve him in “this disgraceful inactivity throughout the current horrible disaster of my nation,” he watched occasions unfold in southern Pennsylvania and shortly acknowledged the importance of the Union Gettysburg victory. On July 13, 1863, Milroy opined in a letter to Lincoln that the Military of the Potomac’s victory “will full the destruction of Lees [sic] military.”

Top: Federal troops, the road ahead blocked by Maj. Gen. Richard Ewell’s Confederates, begin a retreat. Above: Stephenson’s Depot on the Winchester & Potomac Railroad. The bulk of Milroy’s force was caught here and forced to surrender while marching out of town. (Album/Alamy Stock Photo; Becker Collection, Boston College Libraries)
Prime: Federal troops, the street forward blocked by Maj. Gen. Richard Ewell’s Confederates, start a retreat. Above: Stephenson’s Depot on the Winchester & Potomac Railroad. The majority of Milroy’s power was caught right here and compelled to give up whereas marching out of city. (Album/Alamy Inventory Picture; Becker Assortment, Boston Faculty Libraries)

Milroy was incensed that his arrest had prevented him from collaborating in such a momentous battle. “Having been denied the privilege of collaborating within the superb battle of Gettysburg…,” he wrote Lincoln, “ample Justice can’t now be achieved me.” In the identical letter, Milroy pleaded with Lincoln to “be restored to my outdated command” or appoint him to “another command,” and likewise requested the president to be permitted to publish his “official report” of what had transpired at Winchester, which Milroy had written on June 30. All his requests fell on deaf ears.

Confined and silenced, Milroy’s popularity suffered considerably all through the summer time as newspapers throughout the North branded him a coward and contended that he was singularly answerable for the catastrophic defeat at Winchester. As an illustration, an Ohio correspondent recognized solely as A.B.M., famous that “the unaccountable defeat of Milroy during which he misplaced greater than half of his command…smacks of cowardice…the fault lies with the commanding officer.” Feedback reminiscent of these not solely incensed Milroy, but in addition a lot of these whom he commanded at Winchester.

Though a few of Milroy’s males relented that his Second Winchester efficiency had been poor, loads detested the criticisms leveled in opposition to him by the press. When a veteran of the 116th Ohio Infantry learn A.B.M.’s remarks, the soldier, who recognized himself as “For Milroy,” got here to his former commander’s protection. “Nobody who is aware of Milroy will ever name him a coward. And nobody will make this cost a second time in listening to of any of the lads of his outdated Division.”

Equally, a contingent of officers from Milroy’s division despatched a letter to Lincoln on July 23, 1863, hoping to persuade the president of the final’s worth as a discipline commander. “We really feel that we’d somewhat battle below the management of this veteran soldier than that of every other commander,” the officers wrote from “Camp Milroy” in Sharpsburg, Md. The officers continued in reward that “no different man residing can encourage the officers and males of this Division with the identical quantity of braveness, zeal and enthusiasm within the work of crushing out this notorious rise up.”

 

‘Heroes of the Highest Magnitude’

As captured by the ready pen of artist James Taylor, two Jessie Scouts heat themselves by the fireplace at a pleasant Winchester house. (James E. Taylor Sketchbook)

As artist-correspondent James E. Taylor sat in Joseph Denny’s house in Winchester, Va., in early December 1864, conversing with a number of others in Denny’s sitting room, two males dressed, as Taylor recalled, “in Accomplice uniforms and overcoats,” entered the room quietly, took a seat, and loved “the comforting heat of the blazing logs within the nice open hearth.” Taylor questioned concerning the “standing of the mysterious guests geared up for the warpath.” Denny, certainly one of Winchester’s Unionist sympathizers, knowledgeable Taylor that they have been “Jessie Scouts.”

Shaped in 1861 by Union Maj. Gen. John C. Frémont whereas in charge of the Division of the West, the scouts wore Accomplice uniforms, carried acceptable paperwork, and aided in gathering intelligence for Frémont. Named for Frémont’s spouse, Jessie Benton Frémont, the Jessie Scouts have been initially commanded by Charles C. Carpenter, who one Kansas newspaper correspondent wrote within the early autumn of 1861 may “[im]personate even the satan when needed for the success of his schemes.”

When Frémont took command of the Mountain Division in March 1862, he introduced Carpenter and 25 Jessie Scouts east with him understanding “that the protection and effectivity of his military in a wild wooded and rugged area,” depended “upon the accuracy with which he obtained data of the plans and actions of the enemy.” In late June 1862, after Frémont resigned his command in protest of Maj. Gen. John Pope’s appointment as commander of the newly created Military of Virginia, the Jessie Scouts got here below Common Milroy’s command, which served as a part of Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel’s 1st Corps.

Though the Jessie Scouts’ reference to Frémont led to late June 1862, varied Union commanders who operated in Virginia and what in 1863 would develop into West Virginia—together with Milroy and Brig. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan—understood the usefulness of such scouts who wearing “the Insurgent’s uniform, from hat to boots…[who] went by the nation, by the [Confederate] military, in camp or on the march, gathering a lot useful data…with out creating any alarm.”

Milroy used them all through his half-year tenure within the northern Shenandoah Valley. Milroy’s Jessie Scouts not solely offered him with useful data, however one, Archibald Rowand Jr., saved Milroy’s horse, “wounded and hobbling,” throughout the Second Battle of Winchester. (In 1873, Rowand obtained the Medal of Honor for his gallant acts later within the battle.) Feared and detested by Accomplice troopers and civilians alike, to those that supported the Union trigger, the Jessie Scouts proved “heroes of the very best magnitude…a noble and brave character…patriotic, quick-witted, clever and terribly in earnest.” —J.A.N.

Along with refuting the cost that Milroy had acted pusillanimously, an unidentified veteran from the 116th Ohio argued, in a letter penned to an Ohio newspaper, the Messenger, from Martinsburg, W.Va., on August 23, 1863, that the preventing during which Milroy’s division engaged as early as June 12 proved important in delaying the Military of Northern Virginia’s advance into Pennsylvania and that, had Ewell’s Corps not confronted any resistance, the end result of the Gettysburg Marketing campaign might nicely have been significantly totally different. “Was it cowardly to examine the advance of Lee’s military for 3 days, and thus give the Potomac military time,” the Buckeye contemplated.

The Ohio soldier, who signed his letter to the Messenger “Yours for Milroy,” was not the one one to assert in Gettysburg’s aftermath that the final’s efforts have been in the end useful to the defeat of Lee’s military. On August 18, 1863, the tenth day of the court docket of inquiry investigating the Union commander’s conduct at Winchester, Milroy argued the identical level. “I checked the advance of Lee’s military three days, that was definitely one thing for the nation,” he harassed. “If they’d been allowed to go on, they might have had three days longer for pillage and theft in Pennsylvania, and doubtless ten occasions as a lot property as I misplaced would have been destroyed in that point.”

Milroy and the 116th Ohio soldier may, after all, be accused of partiality, however Decide Advocate Common Joseph Holt couldn’t. Practically one month after Milroy made that assertion earlier than the court docket of inquiry—a continuing that summoned 16 witnesses—Holt penned his “Evaluation” of the “Report of the Court docket of Inquiry Relative to the Evacuation of Winchester by the Command of Maj. Gen. R.H. Milroy.” The 12-page overview not solely exonerated Milroy, a conclusion President Lincoln affirmed on October 27, however appeared to counsel that the presence of Milroy’s power at Winchester had, because the Grey Eagle contended, proved useful. Holt concluded that the “strategic view” superior by Milroy “might, maybe have some weight.”

Piatt echoed Holt’s sentiments in declaring, “The examine that the rebels obtained at [Second] Winchester will need to have been of significance to us.”

Letter to Lincoln, dated July 23, 1863, from 2nd Division, eighth Corps “discipline employees and line officers” requesting that the president restore the final to his former command. (Library of Congress)

Regardless of Milroy’s exoneration and Lincoln’s assertion in help of the inquiry’s findings “that critical blame just isn’t essentially as a result of each critical catastrophe,” the battle of public notion remained to be fought. Some histories of the conflict do little to bolster any of the claims made by Milroy, his veterans, or Holt. For instance, William Swinton’s Campaigns of the Military of the Potomac totally discounted the court docket of inquiry’s findings and charged that Milroy’s “defence of the submit intrusted to his care was infamously feeble, and the worst of that lengthy prepare of misconduct that made the Valley of the Shenandoah to be referred to as the ‘Valley of Humiliation.’”

For the remaining 27 years of Milroy’s life and past, those that fought with Milroy at Winchester vociferously defended his conduct and continued to advance the notion it was incorrect to downplay the battle’s significance. Regimental historians such because the 116th Ohio’s Thomas F. Wildes, the 18th Connecticut’s William Walker, the 87th Pennsylvania’s George Prowell, and Frederick Wild of the Baltimore Gentle Artillery reiterated that declare.

“Had it not been for the examine given Lee’s military throughout the twelfth, thirteenth, and 14th of June…Gettysburg would have been fought three days’ march additional north,” Wildes penned in 1884. The next 12 months, Walker, the chaplain of the 18th Connecticut, echoed that Second Winchester was “instrumental in checking the advance [of the] foe for 3 days, and thereby making certain the Union military victory at Gettysburg.” Walker took the argument one step additional, noting that had Milroy’s command “not stood quick…the enemy would have had comparatively a straightforward activity to have reached Gettysburg three days sooner, and who may have computed the outcomes to Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and Baltimore?”

In 1903, Prowell leaned on the court docket of inquiry report and Holt’s conclusion to forged the argument in Milroy’s favor. Practically a decade later, Wild concluded in his historical past of the Baltimore Gentle Artillery that “it was for one of the best, in any case, that we staid [sic] at Winchester as we did.”

This 1863 poster introduced Milroy’s return to his childhood house of Lafayette, Ind., and inspired locals to greet the final warmly upon his arrival. (Jasper County Public Library)

Veterans such because the 87th Pennsylvania’s John M. Griffith berated histories in an article he penned within the Nationwide Tribune in 1909 that didn’t correctly credit score “that little power at Winchester…with the essential half it performed within the Gettysburg marketing campaign. The below canine within the battle seldom does obtain a lot consideration.”

A number of months later, R.H. McElhinny, a veteran of the thirteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, echoed Griffith’s criticism of histories that missed the battle at Winchester. “The historians say nothing about it,” McElhinny complained. “If Lee had slipped previous Winchester quietly[,] Gettysburg would by no means have been a famous battlefield.”

Regardless of the efforts of Milroy’s veterans to redeem their normal’s popularity and in flip spotlight their function within the Gettysburg Marketing campaign, detractors continued to decrease Milroy’s popularity and downplay the function his command had performed. Roughly two weeks after Milroy’s demise, a columnist for the Morning Oregonian—at a time when newspapers eulogized Milroy and lauded his dedication to the Union’s preservation and slavery’s destruction—chastised those that defended Milroy’s conduct at Winchester and ridiculed the “declare that Winchester…fastened the destiny of Gettysburg….The reality is that Milroy’s holding on at Winchester had no affect no matter upon the destiny of the marketing campaign besides needlessly to swell its losses.”

Historic judgments are tough issues. Whereas the influence of Milroy’s protection of Winchester on the Union victory at Gettysburg could possibly be debated to the purpose of exhaustion by modern-day historians, there is no such thing as a denying that Milroy, people whom he commanded, and the inquiry that exonerated him believed there some strategic benefit to what Milroy’s command did at Winchester. The conundrum is quantifying the extent of that profit. For John Laird Wilson, who authored Pictorial Historical past of the Nice Civil Conflict in 1878, the center floor appeared one of the best course. “Common Milroy was severely taken to activity for his conduct at Winchester” and “was vindicated by others,” Laird wrote.

For Milroy and his allies, nonetheless, there was by no means any center floor. They believed, as did thirteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry Captain Peter Bricker, that when “the previous historian will overview his work,” “the longer term historian pause, [and] replicate,” and “the nice artist…dwell so rapturously upon the battle of Gettysburg” and “applaud its heroes” that they may mark Winchester “because the preliminary a part of this well-known battle” and “pause sufficiently lengthy to write down upon the surge and swell of the wave that humble identify of one of many bravest of the courageous, Milroy.” 

Jonathan A. Noyalas, director of Shenandoah College’s McCormick Civil Conflict Institute and a historical past professor at Shenandoah College, is the creator or editor of 14 books, together with, “My Will Is Absolute Legislation”: A Biography of Union Common Robert H. Milroy and Slavery and Freedom within the Shenandoah Valley Throughout the Civil Conflict Period.

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