Armed Neutrality?

This term was used by Capt. Samuel Fiske to describe the situation the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry found itself in 150 years ago this week. From their already advanced position on Stony Mountain, the brigade (2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, 2nd Corps) picketed regularly along the Rapidan River in close proximity to the enemy. The rest of their division and corps were encamped miles to the rear near Culpeper, so it’s easy to understand how these men could feel cut off from the rest of the army.

Add to this situation Maj. Gen. William French, who was then in command of the Third Corps, and whose reputation as a capable officer was in a nosedive. Maj. Gen. Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, ordered French to: 1) move his corps to the read of Stony Mountain, 2) to deploy his picket lines so they didn’t overlap the lines of the troops to their front (the brigade that included the men of the Fourteenth), and 3) to strengthen the security of his picket line.

Gen. French marched the Third Corps to its new position. Then he positioned his picket line directly behind Stony Mountain, across the only access to that rather remote position, and then he cranked up security so tight, that no one could pass through his picket line, unless specifically permitted to do so by himself or Gen. Meade. Communications between the Second Brigade were cut off completely from the rest of the division. Supply wagons were stopped and turned back as was a doctor going to the front to attend the sick.

But it seemed that even Gen. Meade’s signature had no pull with Gen. French. The wife of the chaplain of the 108th New York had just arrived by train at Brandy Station to visit her husband. Knowing of the difficulties of passing French’s pickets, the chaplain had obtained a pass signed by Gen. Meade himself. But when the happy couple arrived at French’s picket line, with less than a mile left to the chaplain’s cabin, they too were refused passage, and were forced to endure a long, muddy ride back to the town.

For Gen. French, justice would be both swift and severe. The army would soon be reorganized in preparation for the spring campaign, and he would be left without a command. And by early May French would be out of the army entirely.

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