Franz Sigel and the 11th Corps Scouts

Harry Truman was a voracious reader; typically he would have five or six books, maybe more, that he would be reading at one time. Unfortunately, of all Truman’s traits, I most assuredly share this one. I have, I think, four books that I am concurrently reading at this moment. Perhaps surprisingly, only one of them is Civil War related. I’ve written before that I’m reading Edwin Fishel’s The Secret War for the Union, an account of intelligence-gathering operations in the Army of the Potomac’s field of operations through the Gettysburg campaign.

I am currently in the chapter concerning Burnside and the Fredericksburg campaign, about the last place one would expect any allusion to the 11th Corps. However, Fishel provides a nugget of interest by stating that the 11th Corps had the best intelligence-gathering of any part of Burnside’s army between his appointment as commander and the Fredericksburg battle.

Before we try to analyze this comment, we will need some context. Let us go back a couple of months and review what happened to the 11th Corps. Some readers may recall that the 11th Corps, so designated, did not exist before September 1862, although it was beginning to take its familiar form during the summer of 1862, between the Valley Campaign and the battle of Second Bull Run. It was a corps in John Pope’s Army of Virginia and did some respectable service in a much-maligned organization. Upon the dissolution of Pope’s command, the 11th Corps was given its well-known designation in the Army of the Potomac and relegated to duty around the Federal capitol.

Fishel describes one particular scout named Joseph E. Snyder, only identifying him as a scout in the 11th Corps; the NPS Soldiers and Sailors System identifies 126 Joseph Snyders in the Federal army. Only a closer examination of the regiments to which these Snyders belonged can narrow our search for this scout, looking first for those regiments which were assigned to the 11th Corps during October and November 1862 and then to those that likely would have been in the Loudoun/Fauquier areas of northern Virginia during that time.

This leads to a couple of interesting conclusions: 1) encounters between Federal and Confederate forces occurred outside of battles and the immediate times before and after those events, something Civil War novices usually do not know; and 2) the 11th Corps, while already relegated to a seemingly “lesser” role in the Army of the Potomac, was making a positive name for itself in the intelligence field, at least in late 1862.

Finally, we are left with a couple of questions: 1) who were the 11th Corps scouts? One report in the Official Records, which I will document in a later post, mentions the First West Virginia Cavalry; and 2) who was Joseph E. Snyder?

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