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Smith Sayles

Researcher: Brian Moyer


            On June 6th, 1839 in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, the first of two sons was born to Oren W. and Almira Sayles, whom they named Smith. His brother, to be born three years later, would be named Thomas. As the two grew up, they joined their father in his work on their farm, and Smith would eventually become a clerk to raise money. By the age of 23, Smith had joined the U.S. army, along with his younger brother. On March 12th, 1862, he and his comrades in the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry Regiment departed for Washington, D.C. Under the command of the Army of the Potomac, he spent less than a month defending Washington. On April 4th, he was reassigned to nearby Warrenton Junction, VA, where he remained until mid-April. Since part of the Anaconda Plan was to conquer the Confederate capitol (Richmond), it was necessary to keep troops stationed in Virginia, should an opportunity to do so arise. Smith’s was a Cavalry Regiment, meaning they were a troop specially trained to battle on horseback, giving them the advantage of speed and enabling them to travel greater distances to participate wherever they were needed. Smith joined the 3rd Battalion at Rappahannock River, and served reconnaissance to Liberty Church, which entailed scouting the surrounding area and reporting to higher officials as to the conditions. On May 30th, Thomas and the 3rd Battalion arrived to assist the Union in the Battle of Front Royal. In the end, Stonewall Jackson caused the fall of Front Royal, and Smith advanced to Strasburg on June 1st, and Edinburg on June 3rd. September 15th, 1862 marked Smith’s arrival at White’s Ford, and on October 27th, he came full circle, arriving at Falmouth, back in Virginia. In Fredericksburg on December 12th, Smith fought under General Burnside, a 38-year-old Indiana native who had recently been handed command from General McClellan, under Washington’s orders. Burnside’s orders were more extreme than the more-or-less passive McClellan; he proposed a 40-mile dash to Fredericksburg in order to ambush the Confederates. This maneuver would position the Union army on a direct route to Richmond, in accordance with the Anaconda Plan. Such a quick and unexpected march put General Robert E. Lee at a tremendous disadvantage, having been unprepared. The crossing of the Rappahannock, however, halted Burnside’s swift strategy. By December 12th, the situation had grown so desperate that Burnside poured reinforcements (including Sayles) into Fredericksburg. Longstreet directed attacks at Confederate strong points, including Taylor's Hill, Marye's Heights, Howison Hill, and Telegraph (later Lee's) Hill, the Confederate command post. By the end of the battle, the Union’s army had lost 12,600 soldiers, while Lee only suffered 5,300 casualties. This would mark the end of Smith’s most eventful involvement in the war, as well has his assistance in the Anaconda Plan.

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