Our Country's Fiery Ordeal

A blog about the American Civil War, written and maintained by historian Daniel J. Vermilya, author of The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (History Press, 2014) and James Garfield and the Civil War (History Press, 2015)

Dedicated to my great-great-great grandfather, Private Ellwood Rodebaugh, Company D, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, killed at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.

"And may an Overuling Providence continue to cause good to come out of evil, justice to be done to all men where injustice has long prevailed, and finally, peace, quiet, and harmony to come out of this terrible confrontation and our country's fiery ordeal." -- Albert Champlin, 105th Ohio, Diary entry of June 19, 1864 (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Monday, September 3, 2012

September 3, 1862: "The present seems to be the most propitious time..."

On September 3rd, 150 years ago today, Confederate General Robert E. Lee sat down to write to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Fresh off of the battlefield victory at Second Manassas, Lee was seeking a major campaign to capitalize on his hard won momentum. For this campaign, Lee had his sights across the Potomac River. As Lee wrote to Davis that day, “The present seems to be the most propitious time since the commencement of the war for the Confederate Army to enter Maryland."

Lee was looking to move into Maryland, assisting the state which many in the South saw as being unfairly held in the Union by the strong handed Lincoln administration. In the letter Lee notes that, by his estimate, over 60,000 new Federal troops had entered Washington, thus making time of the essence; striking before these new troops became trained soldiers would be vital for the upcoming campaign. While Lee was writing to Davis, he was not necessarily asking for permission. Rather, by the time Davis would receive the letter, Confederate soldiers were already on Maryland soil. By moving into Maryland, Lee would provide Virginia a respite from the war, find new supplies and support for his army, threaten major Northern cities, put increased pressure on a war weary northern public, and force a defeated, demoralized, and disorganized Federal army in Washington D.C. to enter a major campaign before they had recovered from the last one.  As Confederate General Bradley Johnson would later write, Lee’s campaign in Maryland “had the possibility of ending the war and achieving the independence of his people by one short and brilliant stroke of genius, endurance, and courage.” Lee’s letter, 150 years ago today, signaled the beginning of the Maryland Campaign.

Head Qurs Alex: & Leesburg Road near
Drainsville [Va.] 3d September 1862
Mr. President--
The present seems to be the most propitious time, since the commencement of the war, for the Confederate Army to enter Maryland. The two grand armies of the U. S. that have been operating in Virginia, though now united, are much weakened and demoralized. Their new levees, of which, I understand, sixty thousand men have already been posted in Washington, are not yet organized, and will take some time to prepare for the field. If it is ever desired to give material aid to Maryland, and afford her an opportunity of throwing off the oppression to which she is now subject, this would seem the most favorable. After the enemy had disappeared from the vicinity of Fairfax C. H. and taken the road to Alexandri[a] & Washington, I did not think it would be advantageous to follow him further. I had no intention of attacking him in his fortifications, and am not prepared to invest them. If I possessed the necessary munitions, I should be unable to supply provisions for the troops. I therefore determined while threatening the approaches to Washington to draw the troops into Loudon, where forage and some provisions can be obtained, menace their possession of the Shenandoah Valley, and if found practicable, to cross into Maryland.
The purpose, if discovered, will have the effect of carrying the enemy north of the Potomac, and if prevented, will not result in much evil. The army is not properly equipped for an invasion of an enemy's territory. It lacks much of the material of war, is feeble in transportation, the animals being much reduced, and the men /are/ poorly provided with clothes, and in thousands of instances, are destitute of shoes. Still we cannot afford to be idle, and though weaker than our opponents in men and military equipments, must endeavor to harass, if we cannot destroy them. I am aware that the movement is attended with much risk, yet I do not consider success impossible, and shall endeavor to guard it from loss. As long as the army of the enemy are employed on this frontier, I have no fears for the safety of Richmond, yet I earnestly recommend that advantage be taken of this period of comparative safety, to place its defence, both by land and water, in the most, perfect condition. A respectable force can be collected to defend its approaches by land, and the steamer Richmond I hope is now ready to clear the river of hostile vessels. Should Genl [Braxton] Bragg find it impracticable to operate to advantage on his present frontier, his army, after leaving sufficient garrisons, could be advantageously employed in opposing the overwhelming numbers which it seems to be the intention of the enemy now to concentrate in Virginia. I have already been told /by/ prisoners that some of [Don Carlos] Buell's Cavalry have been joined to Gen'l. [John] Pope's Army, and have reason to believe that the whole of [George B.] McClellan's, the larger portions of [Ambrose E.] Burnside's & [Jacob D.] Cox's, and a portion of [David] Hunter's, are united to it, what occasions me most concern is the fear of getting out of ammunition. I beg you will instruct the Ordnance Dept: to spare no pains in manufacturing a sufficient amount of the best kind, & to be particular in preparing that for the Artillery, to provide three times as much of the long range ammunition, as of that for smooth bore or short range guns.
The points to which I desire the ammunition to be forwarded, will be made known to the Department in time. If the Qur. Master's Department in time can furnish any shoes, it would be the greatest relief.
We have entered upon September, and the nights are becoming cool. I have the honor to be with high respect Your Ob't Servant,
General Robert E. Lee

1 comment:

  1. Comparison between Confederate/Federal President vs Commanding General relationships is telling. The relationship building that Lee worked hard at to keep President Davis continually advised of important matters paid off. Unlike his predecessor, Joseph Johnston, Lee had the complete trust and confidence of the President. Thus it was more a matter of advising Davis of his plan than obtaining permission. Lincoln and McClellan's relationship had ups and downs and Lincoln was not happy with McClellan's seeming lack of support of Pope, yet in the disastrous situation now facing him, Lincoln knew that McClellan was the best man available when he made his decision to place him in command that first week of September of 1862.