Lee's manoeuvring after the second battle of Manassas had to be extensive and not a mere matter of shifting a few miles in this direction or in that, because Fairfax County, in which the army had halted, had already been stripped of food and of forage. The scant and overworked wagon train could not be relied upon to bring from Richmond an adequate supply of provisions, much less of horse feed.
Likewise, manoeuvre had to be prompt. The Federals, Lee reasoned, had been weakened and demoralized by recent defeats, but his information was that 60,000 replacement troops had already been received at Washington and would soon be embodied. Quick action opened advantage and might deter the Federals from aggressive moves until the coming of winter, but delay would place in front of the Army of Northern Virginia a larger force than it had yet encountered. The weaker side could not wait. In this respect, September, 1862, was to Lee what March, 1918, was to Ludendorff.
If manoeuvre had to be undertaken promptly in a country where the army could be subsisted, whither should it be directed? Not eastward, for that would carry the army under the very shadow of the Washington defenses. Not southward to any great distance, for that would take the army into a ravaged land and would bring the war back toward Richmond. Withdrawal a slight distance southward, to Warrenton, for instance, might be considered. That would put the Army of Northern Virginia on the flank of any force advancing to Richmond, and would give it the advantage of direct rail communication with the capital, once the bridges across the Rapidan and the Rappahannock were reconstructed.1 Carrying the army westward would put it in the Shenandoah Valley, a terrain of many strategical possibilities, but p351 one in which a retreat would force the army steadily back toward the line of the Virginia Central Railroad.
By elimination, then, destiny beckoned northward, across the Potomac. And not by elimination only did Maryland and Pennsylvania invite the next stage of manoeuvre. They offered positive advantage. With Maryland occupied, Virginia would be free. No Federal army based in Washington would dare advance on Richmond so long as Lee was north of the Potomac.2 Secure in western Maryland or in Pennsylvania, the Army of Northern Virginia would be able to harass if it might not destroy the Federals, and while the farmers of Virginia harvested their crops, untroubled by the enemy, Lee could await with equanimity the arrival of cold weather.
Political not less than military advantage seemed to be offered in Maryland. The South believed, from events which seemed to justify belief, that strong sentiment for the Confederacy existed in Maryland and would have exhibited itself in extensive volunteering and possible secession had it not been repressed with the overwhelming power of a Federal Government that was charged with brushing aside constitutional rights. What meant the Baltimore riots of April, 1861, if not this? Why had legislators and prominent private citizens been arrested and detained in defiance of habeas corpus? Was not the devoted service of the many Maryland soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia a pledge of what thousands of others would do if opportunity were theirs? The presence of a large Confederate force above the Potomac, Lee reasoned, would not assure revolt against Federal authority, but it would give the people of Maryland what they had never had — a chance to express their will. The possibility that invasion might lead to an uprising which would surround the Northern capital by hostile territory would be an added reason why the Federals would not dare move south while the Confederate army was north of the Potomac.3
There were risks, of course, in undertaking promptly an extensive manoeuvre for the sake of the military and political advantages p352 that the occupation of Maryland and perhaps of Pennsylvania would offer. The army was not equipped for it. Uniforms were in rags. Thousands of men were shoeless. The horses of many of the cavalrymen were so exhausted that they could not be employed in any forward movement.4 Scanty as was the train, it was apparent that some of the wagons would have to be left at Manassas to supplement the ambulances in evacuating the wounded.5 Ammunition must be replenished from Richmond, and if the line of supply was to be kept safe from Federal raiders, it must of necessity be shifted westward to the district of the Shenandoah.6 The Federals were still in the lower Valley, lingering at Winchester and garrisoning Harpers Ferry and Martinsburg, and would have to be driven out before a line of communications could be opened there, though it was reasonable to assume that when the army crossed into Maryland these posts would be evacuated.7
More serious than any of these military difficulties was the question of a legal method of procuring subsistence north of the Potomac. The rich valleys of Maryland were untroubled by war. On its well-stored cities the hand of the quartermaster had never fallen. But could the army be fed in Maryland without recourse to wholesale seizures such as Pope had countenanced, to the indignation of right-minded people, North and South? This aspect of the question stuck in Lee's mind. He discussed it with Longstreet, who reminded him that in Mexico the troops to which Longstreet had been attached had subsisted for three days on corn and green oranges. The corn was now ripening in the rows, Longstreet reminded him, and with "roasting-ears" to feed them, the men would not starve.8
A final risk there was, of course, that from some unexpected quarter in some unanticipated way, the Federals might be able to throw a strong army to the James and capture Richmond. Lee regarded this, however, as more a psychological than a military risk. The danger was less in the might of the enemy than in the mind of Mr. Davis. In addition to believing that the Potomac was the best line for the defense of the Southern capital, General Lee hoped that the new ironclad Richmond, the "second Merrimac," p353 would soon be completed and would be able to clear the James of the enemy's fleet.9 With the river line closed to the Federals, he considered the danger to Richmond slight. He could send troops back to the city as quickly as the enemy could march them thither.10
Weighing necessity, advantage, and risk in the scales of his judgment, Lee virtually decided on September 3 to enter Maryland, and that day he set the army in motion for Loudoun County, where he could feed it temporarily while threatening the Shenandoah Valley and debating further the advantages of an invasion of the North.11 The next day he was fully persuaded of the benefits to be gained, and wrote the President that he would proceed unless Mr. Davis disapproved.12 He was already looking, indeed, beyond Maryland, and he told the chief executive that if the results justified, he intended to enter Pennsylvania.13 If he were forced to fall back, Warrenton was his second choice of a position,14 and with that place in mind he urged the prompt rebuilding of the railway bridges over the Rapidan and the Rappahannock.15
One important point remained to be settled: Where should he enter Maryland, east of the Blue Ridge or west of it? His conclusion, promptly reached, was to advance east of the mountains, because this would be regarded by the Federals as a direct threat to Washington and to Baltimore. The administration, he reasoned, would at once call to the north of the Potomac all the forces operating on the south side of that river. This would remove all danger both to his supply line and to the troops collecting the arms and caring for the wounded on the field of Manassas. Having prompted the Federals to evacuate northern Virginia, he planned to move westward in Maryland to Hagerstown. There he would be on the straight road into Pennsylvania and in direct line with his communications up the Shenandoah Valley.16
p354 These questions decided, the march into Loudoun County to provision the troops became merely a halt on the way to Maryland. The greater part of the Army of Northern Virginia moved on from Dranesville or Leesburg, where Lee, overwhelmed with social attentions,17 had his headquarters for two days, most of the time at the home of Henry Harrison.18 From Leesburg, the army tramped to White's Ford on the Potomac, •eleven miles south of Frederick.19
On September 5‑6, the head of the columns prepared to cross the river. The drama of invasion lacked nearly all the stage properties calculated to impress observers with the might of conquest. There was no rehearsal on the south bank; no pageant was shaped to fire the ardor of Marylanders. The first dusty troops to reach the Potomac halted, stripped, or pulled frayed trouser legs high over aching knees, and plunged into the shallow water of the boundary river. As they clambered up the northern bank they cheered in the proud knowledge that they had carried the war into the enemy's country. The few and battered bands played "Maryland, My Maryland," and the soldiers cheered the more. They were confident of their ability to win new victories, confident of their cause, and confident of their commander.
The country people seemed glad to see them,20 but they must have wondered how such an army could have won the victories blazoned on its faded flags. Lank and lagging horses bore tattered riders ahead of its ragged columns of dirty, unshaven, and cadaverous infantrymen, neat in nothing but the well-tended rifles they carried. Scarcely a shining button or a trim uniform was to be seen, even in brigades the very names of whose officers had the ring of iron discipline. Hats hung in battered brims; shocks of hair stuck through the holes; caps had lost their color. Toes gaped from flapping shoes and naked feet limped in protest at the hardness of Maryland's stony roads. Smoke-covered caissons rattled; dilapidated wagons groaned; the worn wheels that carried the lean guns of the artillery complained. Men who had beheld the army in the mud of the Chickahominy Valley and in the dust p355 of the road to Thoroughfare Gap had to confess that never had they seen it so filthy, so ragged, or so ill-provided for. "Ireland in her worst straits," one Federal correspondent wrote in disgust, "could present no parallel."21 A boy who saw them march by remembered: "They were the dirtiest men I ever saw, a most ragged, lean, and hungry set of wolves. Yet there was a dash about them that the Northern men lacked. They rode like circus riders. Many of them were from the far South and spoke a dialect I could scarcely understand. They were profane beyond belief and talked incessantly."22
As Lee himself approached the river, after the first troops had passed over, he came upon some of Hill's troops, prone in the road, awaiting their turn. A. P. Hill was with him at the time and he said, "Move out of the road, men."
"Never mind, General," Lee broke in immediately, "we will ride around them. Lie still, men." And he turned his horse out of the road.23
Once in Maryland, Lee rode with the infantry straight for Frederick, within •two miles of which he established his headquarters on September 7.24 His tents were pitched near those of Longstreet, in a beautiful grove of oaks,25 which soon became the objective of many curious visitors. The more outspoken Southern sympathizers showered him with invitations, which he declined. It would go hard with his hosts, he explained, after the army moved on and it became known that they had entertained him.26 He made only one exception, so far as is known. Going to dinner in a private home, he found among the guests a very young and exceedingly bashful corporal of the Rockbridge Artillery. The gilded staff officers ignored this young man from the ranks, but the General went up to him, put a crippled hand on his shoulder and spoke with pride of the fine service the boy's battery had rendered.27
The first impressions made by the army on the people of Maryland were not wholly unfavorable. Firm discipline was enjoined p356 on the army. Sentinels were posted at the stores in Frederick, and the soldiers were forbidden to enter the town, though many of them contrived to purchase necessities with Confederate money and soon began to take on a less bedraggled appearance.28 Those who had to march through the town had a varied reception. Some women brought out food; others held their noses and waved the Union flag.29
Dispositions were made promptly. The cavalry was stationed at Urbana, •seven miles southeast of Frederick, on the main road to Washington.30 The infantry and artillery were encamped around Frederick, with the exception of Early's division, which was moved a few miles southward with instructions to destroy the bridge over the Monocacy River at the junction of the main line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad with the branch to Frederick.31 It was known that McClellan had replaced Pope in general command, and that was not pleasant news, for Lee regarded McClellan as the ablest of the Federal commanders;32 but there were no signs of any advance on the part of the restored leader.33 The populace showed no disposition to rise, though making no resistance to the purchase of supplies, which for a few days were to be had in abundance.34 Lee's plan was to wait at Frederick until the people showed their sentiments or until McClellan appeared in his front,35 and he hoped for the arrival of ex-Governor Enoch L. Lowe of Maryland, an ardent Southern supporter, who was believed to have great influence with the people of that part of the state. Governor Lowe not arriving, Lee decided to issue a proclamation to the people of Maryland.36 This appeared on September 8, and read as follows:
"It is right that you should know the purpose that brought the army under my command within the limits of your State, so far as that purpose concerns yourselves. The people of the Confederate States have long watched with the deepest sympathy the wrongs and outrages that have been inflicted upon the citizens of p357 a commonwealth allied to the States of the South by the strongest social, political and commercial ties. They have seen with profound indignation their sister State deprived of every right and reduced to the condition of a conquered province. Under the pretence of supporting the Constitution, but in violation of its most valuable provisions, your citizens have been arrested and imprisoned upon no charge and contrary to all forms of law. The faithful and manly protest against this outrage made by the venerable and illustrious Marylander, to whom in better days no citizen appealed for right in vain, was treated with scorn and contempt; the government of your chief city has been usurped by armed strangers; your legislature has been dissolved by the unlawful arrest of its members; freedom of the press and of speech has been suppressed; words have been declared offences by an arbitrary decree of the Federal Executive, and citizens ordered to be tried by a military commission for what they may dare to speak. Believing that the people of Maryland possessed a spirit too lofty to submit to such a government, the people of the South have long wished to aid you in throwing off this foreign yoke, to enable you again to enjoy the inalienable rights of freemen, and restore independence and sovereignty to your State. In obedience to this wish, our army has come among you, and is prepared to assist you with the power of its arms in regaining the rights of which you have been despoiled.
"This, citizens of Maryland, is our mission, so far as you are concerned. No constraint upon your free will is intended; no intimidation will be allowed within the limits of this army, at least. Marylanders shall once more enjoy their ancient freedom of thought and speech. We know no enemies among you, and will protect all, of every opinion. It is for you to decide your destiny freely and without constraint. This army will respect your choice, whatever it may be; and while the Southern people will rejoice to welcome you to your natural position among them, they will only welcome you when you come of your own free will.
R. E. Lee,
p358 Lee looked to something more than recruits. It seemed to him that the military situation had been so changed that the Confederacy should make a peace proposal, based on the recognition of its independence. On the day that he issued his statement to the people of Maryland, he suggested to the President a move to this end. "Such a proposition," he wrote, "coming from us at this time, could in no way be regarded as suing for peace; but, being made when it is in our power to inflict injury upon our adversary, would show conclusively to the world that our sole object is the establishment of our independence and the attainment of an honorable peace. The rejection of this offer would prove to the country that the responsibility of the continuance of the war does not rest upon us, but that the party in power in the United States elect to prosecute it for purposes of their own. The proposal of peace would enable the people of the United States to determine at their coming elections whether they will support those who favor a prolongation of the war, or those who wish to bring it to a termination, which can but be productive of good to both parties without affecting the honor of either."38
This was Lee's first and almost last adventure in "foreign relations" while in the army of the Confederacy. It proved futile because of the quick turn of events, but it was prompted by a desire to see the end of a war that wrung his heart, and it illustrates his confidence at the time that nothing was likely to happen to his army that would make a move for peace appear as the plea of a beaten people.
There were, indeed, only two circumstances that seemed in any wise to cast doubt on the continued ability of Lee to manoeuvre in Maryland and in Pennsylvania as he had in northern Virginia. One of these was the unexpected development of a dangerous degree of straggling in the army. Many of the men were accustomed in civil life to ride on horseback and very rarely to walk. The constant marching and hard fighting of August had exhausted hundreds of faithful soldiers, particularly those whose shoes had worn out. Bruised feet could not long endure the pace that had carried the army from the Rapidan to the Monocacy in eighteen days.39 Some there were who had p359 been ardent in battling for their homes, yet were unwilling to wage offensive warfare against the North. Lee had brought only some 53,000 troops into Maryland,40 and he was deeply concerned to see his ranks thinning. He promptly appealed to the President for the appointment of a military commission to move with army and to act through a strong provost-marshal's guard.41
The other evil portent was the approaching exhaustion of supplies in the country around Frederick.42 Lee could not supplement them adequately by maintaining his line of communications via Culpeper Courthouse, because that line was so much exposed to attack from the direction of Washington that he was already preparing to abandon it.43 When he carried out his original plan and moved westward to Hagerstown, he would still have no guarantee of sufficient food for his army and would have to draw from Virginia, whence, also, his ammunition must come. His proposed new line would run down the Shenandoah Valley directly by Martinsburg and within •sixteen miles of Harpers Ferry. And there was the rub. Winchester had been occupied by the Confederates on September 3,44 but the Federals were still at Harpers Ferry and at Martinsburg in strength.
Sketch showing relation of Harpers Ferry and Martinsburg to Lee's line of communications through the Shenandoah Valley, September, 1862.º
The desirability of reducing these posts had suggested itself strongly to Lee during the early stages of the advance into Maryland, even when it seemed probable that both would be evacuated as soon as McClellan knew that the Army of Northern Virginia was in Maryland. Longstreet, however, had argued so warmly against a division of force that Lee had determined to wait and see if the Federals would not voluntarily abandon the towns.45 Now there seemed no alternative to sending a force to take them. Nor did the risk seem greater, in dealing with a deliberate opponent like McClellan, than the risk that the weaker army always must take to win advantage. By every test of known temperament and previous behavior, McClellan would organize thoroughly before advancing at all, and then would move so slowly and cautiously that the troublesome posts could be taken p360 and the detached forces returned to the army at Boonsboro or at Hagerstown before a battle had to be fought, if, indeed, one could not be avoided altogether. Once the army was reunited and its line of communications clear, dazzling possibilities of manoeuvre would open. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad could be held or destroyed, and the army could move from Hagerstown to Harrisburg, a distance of only •seventy-one miles. West of Harrisburg, the Susquehanna bridge of the Pennsylvania Railroad could be broken. Then the East would be cut off from the West, except for the slow and circuitous route by the Great Lakes. Lee would be left free to deal with McClellan, assured that no reinforcements could reach his adversary from the West. A march on Philadelphia, Baltimore, or Washington would be practicable, p361 and the war might be won. Such an opportunity justified the danger incident to dividing the army.46
If Harpers Ferry and Martinsburg were to be cleared of Federals before these great manoeuvres were undertaken, then Jackson was the man to do the work. He was perfectly familiar with the country by reason of his long service there.47 Lee called him to headquarters, on or about September 9, closed the flap of his tent and began a discussion of the best way to accomplish his object. While they were talking, Longstreet's voice was heard outside. Lee immediately invited him to share their council. Longstreet was not sympathetic with the project, and sulked at the decision, but as he saw it had been determined upon, he made no other suggestion than that, if Jackson should be detached, the remainder of the army should be kept together.48
Harpers Ferry, as already noted,49 is one of the most vulnerable of positions. Lying on the west bank of the Shenandoah, at the junction of that stream with the Potomac, it is in a flat dominated from three directions. In rear of the town stand the Bolivar Heights. Eastward, across the Shenandoah, rise the Loudoun Heights. From the northward, on the other side of the Potomac, the lofty Maryland Heights look down. From any one of these positions artillery could rake the town and make it untenable. But if the garrison was to be captured along with the place the task was not easy. An enemy attacked from the Virginia side could escape across the Potomac bridge. Assailed from the Maryland side and from Bolivar Heights, a vigilant commander could slip a short distance up the Shenandoah from Harpers Ferry to fords which offered a retreat to the Loudoun Heights. Lee reasoned that the garrison should be taken along with the post, and to effect this he had to close all the exits by organizing three columns to converge simultaneously — one on Loudoun Heights, one on Maryland Heights, and one from the rear of Harpers Ferry on Bolivar Heights. The last of these three columns could readily force the Federal troops at Martinsburg p362 to retreat to the ferry. For the occupation of Loudoun Heights, Lee chose the small but fresh division of Brigadier General John G. Walker, who had come from Richmond with D. H. Hill. To seize Maryland Heights from the north, a troublesome advance through a very difficult country, he selected McLaws's and R. H. Anderson's divisions of Longstreet's command. And for the most serious part of the work, cutting off the retreat of the garrison from in rear of Harpers Ferry, so that it would surrender to McLaws, Lee designated the whole of Jackson's "left wing of the army." As he moved forward, Jackson could tear up the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Each of these forces was carefully proportioned to the nature and magnitude of the task assigned it.
Walker's line of advance would carry him close by the mouth of the Monocacy River, which the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal crossed. This aqueduct of the canal could be demolished en route so as to destroy that line of communication with the west. That Walker might know precisely what was expected of him, Lee summoned him to headquarters, went over the plan in detail, with a map before them, and then told him of his intention to march from Hagerstown to Harrisburg.
Walker could not conceal his astonishment. Lee observed it. "You doubtless regard it hazardous to leave McClellan practically on my line of communication, and to march into the heart of the enemy's country?"
Walker had to admit that it seemed so to him.
"Are you acquainted with General McClellan?" Lee inquired.
Walker had served with McClellan in Mexico but had not been close to him since that time.
"He is an able general," Lee said, "but a very cautious one. His enemies among his own people think him too much so. His army is in a very demoralized and chaotic condition, and will not be prepared for offensive operations — or he will not think it so — for three or four weeks. Before that time I hope to be on the Susquehanna."50
No time was to be lost in launching the enterprise. The main army was to be moving toward Hagerstown while the detached columns were on their mission. The work of destroying the p363 Baltimore and Ohio and the canal was to be an integral part of operations against Harpers Ferry, but was to be preliminary to it. Harpers Ferry itself was to be captured Friday, September 12. Then the army would be ready to reconcentrate at Hagerstown or at Boonsboro, and to advance into Pennsylvania.
All these details were covered by Special Orders No. 191, issued on September 9, and destined to have a memorable place in American military history.51 Copies were made at general headquarters for all those division commanders who were to participate in the movement, and as D. H. Hill was not formally attached either to Jackson's or to Longstreet's "wing," the text was delivered directly to him from general headquarters. Jackson, however, had never been notified that D. H. Hill had been taken from under his control, so he also sent the paper to that officer. This copy from Jackson Hill carefully preserved. The other, being superfluous, was used by some staff officer of Hill's — the world will never know by whom — to wrap up three cigars against the time when the owner should want them.52 It was to prove the costliest covering ever used for such a purpose.
The routes set forth in these orders were as follows:
1. Jackson in advance: Frederick to Middletown to Sharpsburg, passing the Potomac at a ford of his selection, taking possession of the Baltimore and Ohio on the morning of September 12, capturing Martinsburg and cutting off the retreat of the enemy from Harpers Ferry.53
2. McLaws, with R. H. Anderson: Frederick to Middletown to Harpers Ferry, occupying the Maryland Heights on Friday morning, September 12, and endeavoring to capture the garrison there.
3. Walker to complete the destruction of the Monocacy aqueduct, then across the Potomac at Cheek's Ford, to occupy Loudoun Heights.54
4. Longstreet, with part of the wagon trains: Frederick to Boonsboro.
p364 5. D. H. Hill, preceded by the rest of the wagon trains and the reserve artillery, to follow Longstreet as a rearguard.
6. Stuart, detaching a squadron each for the columns of Jackson, Longstreet, and McLaws, to cover the route of the army and to round up all stragglers.
7. All movements to begin the morning of September 10.
8. Jackson, McLaws, and Walker, on completion of their mission, to rejoin at Boonsboro or at Hagerstown.55
Graphically, the actual routes, slightly modified from those set forth in the orders, were as follows:
At the designated time, the march began. Lee remained with Longstreet until time for that officer to move and then rode westward with him. The advance carried him through a quiet, p365 rolling country toward South Mountain. This low and beautiful range, running almost with the meridian at this point, is part of the familiar Blue Ridge chain in Virginia, and forms an impressive barrier between Frederick and Hagerstown. As the veterans of Longstreet's hard-hitting brigades passed through Turner's Gap in the mountains, reminiscent of the highlands through which they had tramped to Manassas, every soldier must have reflected that the nearby heights would make a good fortress from which to defy McClellan. But as Lee expected the speedy conclusion of the Harpers Ferry expedition, he had no thought of holding the mountain pass. On the contrary, it seemed more to his advantage to draw McClellan westward beyond the range, so that he would have to negotiate it in victualling his army.56 At the least, Lee intended to move on to Boonsboro, •two miles and a half from the crest of the mountains. From that point he could observe the progress of the operations against Harpers Ferry, and could advance quickly if the Federals at the Ferry eluded McLaws and tried to join McClellan.
Before the 10th of September ended, a rumor reached Lee that a Federal force was moving southward on Hagerstown from the direction of Chambersburg, Penna. This had not been reckoned upon. If it were a fact, the Federals could cross in front of Lee's column and play havoc with his communications or interrupt the operations against Harpers Ferry. Hagerstown must be secured. Longstreet was therefore directed to proceed thither the next day, instead of remaining at Boonsboro.
Lee was loath, however, to abandon altogether the strategic position at Boonsboro until he was certain that the Federals at Harpers Ferry had been bagged, for there was no other point from which he could move so quickly toward Harpers Ferry in case of emergency. Besides, Stuart might need infantry support closer than Hagerstown. Reasoning in this way, Lee determined to leave D. H. Hill at Boonsboro while Longstreet went on to Hagerstown.57 This meant splitting the army into five detachments — Jackson en route to Martinsburg, McLaws moving toward Maryland Heights, Walker on his way to Loudoun Heights, Longstreet advancing to Hagerstown, and D. H. Hill remaining p366 at Boonsboro, while the cavalry, as yet, was east of South Mountain. Still, so long as McClellan lingered under the shelter of the Washington defenses, a dispersion of force that violated all the canons of war might serve the needs of the situation and involve no undue risks.
Lee rode on with Longstreet to Hagerstown on the 11th. He found no signs of any Federal advance from Pennsylvania and nothing to create alarm. The reception of the army was more sympathetic than at Frederick,58 but the stiffest discipline was maintained among the men for the protection of hostile civilians in accordance with the spirit of Lee's proclamation. When a woman insisted on singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" under his very nose as he rode through the town, Lee lifted his hat to her and gave orders that nobody was to molest her in any way.59 In the towns and from the country round about some supplies were procured, but no bacon was to be had. The advantage of maintaining the supply line south of the Potomac seemed more apparent than ever, for it was certain Lee would have to continue to draw provisions from Virginia.60
The 12th did not bring the news of the capture of Harpers Ferry that Lee had hoped to receive. Instead, Stuart reported through D. H. Hill that the enemy was advancing on Frederick. Except that a part of Burnside's corps was included, Stuart was unable to say what strength the Federals had.61 This intelligence was most disquieting. Why was the deliberate Federal commander on the move? He who was so careful to prepare everything in advance — how could he be stirring, much less pushing boldly forward, so soon after the defeat at Manassas? McClellan was not running true to form! What had happened to him?
The next morning, September 13, there was still no information of the capture of Harpers Ferry. Jackson was known to have reached Martinsburg, whence the Federal garrison, estimated at 2500 to 3500, was said to have fled to Harpers Ferry. "Stonewall" was expected to be in front of the latter position by noon of the 13th, but McLaws had not sent Lee a word concerning his progress. As it was reasonable to suppose that the advancing Federals p367 had occupied Frederick, Lee warned McLaws to watch the road from Frederick to Harpers Ferry.62
The outlook was vaguely darkening. Lee was increasingly conscious of the weakness produced by straggling. In answer to a letter from Davis, who proposed to visit the army,63 Lee wrote: ". . . so much depends upon circumstances beyond [the army's] control and the aid that we may receive, that it is difficult for me to conjecture the result. To look to the safety of our own frontier and to operate untrammeled in an enemy's territory, you need not be told is very difficult. Every effort, however, will be made to acquire every advantage which our position and means may warrant."64
During the evening of the 13th, intelligence arrived that justified, and more than justified, the cautious tone of this dispatch. Through D. H. Hill, who outranked him, Stuart reported the alarming news that the Federals at 2 P.M. had driven him from the gap in the Catoctin Mountains, a minor range that lay •about seven miles east of South Mountain.65 McClellan, still contrary to all expectation, was pushing on — and shrewdly. For the gap from which Stuart had been forced by the enemy was on the road from Frederick to Boonsboro. Once the enemy covered the distance from the Catoctin Gap to Turner's Gap, in South Mountain, the whole situation would be changed. The Federals would be in rear of McLaws on the Maryland Heights and he might be compelled to retreat quickly to escape capture. If the Federals still held out at Harpers Ferry, when McLaws was forced to retire, they might cross the Potomac bridge and join the main Union army.66 Lee would then have to face McClellan, with Jackson and Walker detached and with McLaws's fate uncertain. It was a prospect so serious that there was but one thing to do — to hurry D. H. Hill back to South Mountain, which Lee had not intended to defend, and to hold off McClellan at that point until Harpers Ferry fell or McLaws, at the least, was out of danger. The situation is shown on page 368.
Lee at once dispatched a messenger to D. H. Hill with orders p368 to defend Turner's Gap.67 Longstreet was called to headquarters and arrived while Lee was studying his map. He told "Old Pete" of the state of affairs, and, after discussing it, instructed him to leave Toombs at Hagerstown with one brigade as a guard for the trains and with the rest of his command to march at daylight the next morning, September 14, to support D. H. Hill.68 This did not appeal to Longstreet. Arguing that his troops would arrive at the gap too tired to make any effective defense, he insisted that the proper course was to withdraw to Sharpsburg and to reconcentrate all the army there. Lee listened, but this time p369 he did not yield to Longstreet. On a question of strategy, rather than of combat, he held to his opinion, doubtless because he did not feel it wise to leave McLaws unprotected against an attack on his rear from South Mountain.69 At 10 P.M., Lee sent warning to McLaws of his danger. He urged him to proceed with all speed to take Harpers Ferry and then, if he received no contrary orders from Jackson, to move as rapidly as possible to Sharpsburg, where he would be out of danger.70 Later in the night, after Longstreet had left, Lee received from him a note again urging that the defense of South Mountain be not attempted, but that the army be moved to Sharpsburg.71 Lee did not change his plan.
In the darkest uncertainty as to the situation, Lee on the morning of the 14th renewed his instructions to McLaws and told him of the position of the other troops. Stuart, he said, with support from D. H. Hill, was holding Turner's Gap, and Munford and Hampton, with their cavalry, were at Crampton's Gap in South Mountain, •seven miles south of Turner's Gap.72 This dispatch sent off, Lee joined Longstreet in his advance to the support of D. H. Hill at South Mountain. He was able by this time to ride Traveller again, but he could not use the reins sufficiently to guide him over rough ground, though he had become so weary of the ambulance that he would no longer use it.73
As the column approached the mountain, D. H. Hill could be p370 heard, furiously engaged. Ere long there came a dispatch from Hill to Longstreet asking that the reinforcements come forward with all speed, as he was hard-pressed by a greatly superior force.74 Lee joined with the subordinate officers in urging the men to quicken their march.75 About three o'clock, just after he had passed Boonsboro, Lee drew to the side of the road and watched the men go into action. Soon the Texas brigade passed by. It was ready for a fight, but it had a grievance because its commander, General John B. Hood, had been put under arrest at Manassas for insubordination growing out of a quarrel with General N. G. Evans over some captured ambulances.76 "Give us Hood," The Texans yelled, as they saw the commanding general. Lee raised his hat. "You shall have him, gentlemen."77 Presently Hood came up — he had been permitted to remain with his command — Lee sent for him.
"General," he said, "Here I am just upon the eve of entering into battle, and with one of my best officers under arrest. If you will merely say that you regret this occurrence I will release you and restore you to the command of your division."
Hood stoutly refused and began to argue his case.
Lee pressed him, Hood stood out. "Well," said Lee, "I will suspend your arrest till the impending battle is decided." Hood rode off. His men received him with a shout and filed off to the right of the road to take position.78
Reinforcements had not come an hour too soon for Hill's necessity. He had been fighting since early in the morning with five small brigades against a much stronger force in a position of extreme difficulty. Overlooking the northern side of Turner's Gap there are two high ridges, one to the east and one to the west. Two similar ridges dominate the gap from the south. On the Confederate left, as the troops faced eastward, the old Hagerstown road mounted a ravine, •about a mile from the main highway, and then ran along the crest back to the pass. On the Confederate right, the former Sharpsburg road paralleled the highway and then turned to the southwest. There were in addition two other rough roads up the mountainside — a total of five p371 including the main highway, that Hill had been required to defend.79 Placing Rodes on the left, with Colquitt astride the main road, he had stationed G. B. Anderson and Ripley on the right to support Garland's brigade, which had been thrown in early and had been demoralized after its commander had been killed in a most brilliant defense.80 The right had held thereafter, but at the time Longstreet came up it was evident that the Federals were massing heavily to turn the Confederate left, maintained with much stubbornness and skill by Rodes's brigade.81
p372 Lee sent his staff officers forward to ascertain the situation82 and placed the reserve artillery as it came up,83 but in his crippled condition he did not attempt to direct the battle. Longstreet took it in hand without consulting D. H. Hill84 and threw in his troops before he familiarized himself with the terrain. In a short time Longstreet sent back word to Lee to prepare to retire that night as it would not be possible to hold South Mountain against the forces then pressing forward.85 The troops, however, were determined not to yield their ground before darkness came to their relief. D. R. Jones and Evans on the left,86 and Hood on the right, gallantly seconded Hill's men in contesting obstinately every foot of the rough mountain, weary though they were from their hurried march. On the right, the situation was stabilized;87 on the left, Rodes was driven back on his supports, but with Colquitt's aid and some assistance from Longstreet's men, he was able to keep the enemy from the main road.88
When nightfall ended this battle of South Mountain, as it was subsequently called, some 1800 Confederates and a like number of Federals lay dead or wounded on the ridges, and the greater part of Garland's brigades had been captured.89 The Federal lines extended beyond both flanks of the Confederates. It was manifest that unless the Army of Northern Virginia was reinforced, the pass would be stormed the next morning. And there was no prospect of reinforcement.90
The hours that followed were among the most anxious Lee had known. Never before in his campaigning had the situation changed so often or so perplexingly as between dark on the 14th and dawn on the 15th. Rarely thereafter did the events of any ten hours present so many contradictions. Lee looked squarely at the facts: the day had been bad; the morrow might be worse. The enemy's advance through the mountains would put him directly p373 in rear of McLaws. The Federals at Harpers Ferry, across the Potomac from McLaws, would command the bridge, if they still held out in the face of Jackson's and Walker's attack. Longstreet, Hill, and Stuart might be able to keep McClellan off McLaws's rear for a few hours, but they could not succor him. McLaws must get across the Potomac as soon as possible, by some ford that the Federals did not command. There was no alternative. McLaws's retreat, however, would leave only the three divisions and the few scattered brigades then with Lee on the north side of the Potomac to contend alone against the full strength of the army of McClellan on the 15th, in hopeless numerical inferiority. All the high hopes of manoeuvre had to be abandoned. All the air castles that had been built around Harrisburg and the Susquehanna bridge had to be vacated. The Army of Northern Virginia, being unable to reconcentrate on the north side of the Potomac, must seek the friendly soil on the south side of the river, and await a new opportunity. So reasoned Lee. At 8 P.M. he dictated this dispatch to McLaws and sent it off at once by courier:
General: The day has gone against us and this army will go by Sharpsburg and cross the river. It is necessary for you to abandon your position tonight. Send your trains not required on the road to cross the river. Your troops you must have well in hand to unite with this command, which will retire by Sharpsburg. Send forward officers to explore the way, ascertain the best crossing of the Potomac, and if you can find any between you and Shepherdstown leave the Shepherdstown Ford for this command. Send an officer to report to me on the Sharpsburg road, where you are and what crossing you will take. You will of course bring Anderson's division with you."91
Then Longstreet and D. H. Hill arrived with their reports of the situation at the end of the battle. Hood came also. Their opinion was unanimously in concurrence with that which Lee had already formed: The army must retreat. It could not hold South Mountain the next day. Lee did not tell his subordinates that he intended to recross the Potomac at once. Perhaps he p374 deemed it best to withhold announcement of that unpleasant necessity from men who were weary from the strain of battle. They left with no other instruction than that they were to march to Centreville,92 on the road to Sharpsburg. There they would be able to give some measure of temporary protection to McLaws's rear.93 Fitz Lee's brigade of cavalry would cover the retreat.
Not long after this council of war, bad news confirmed Lee's decision to withdraw: The Confederate cavalry sent to defend p375 Crampton's Gap had lost it; the Federals were pouring through directly in McLaws's rear.94 This, of course, aggravated the danger of McLaws being cut off. More than that, it gave the enemy a short and direct road to Sharpsburg, past which town Lee expected to move on his way back to Virginia soil. The army manifestly must lose no time in reaching Centreville, both to protect McLaws and to guard its own line of retreat.
On the heels of the messenger bringing this grim news of the occupation of Crampton's Gap, a report from Jackson reached headquarters. It was not specific in promise — that was not Jackson's way — but it led Lee to believe that Harpers Ferry would fall the next morning.95 That suggested a possibility of retrieving the situation. If Jackson took Harpers Ferry, his orders were to rejoin the army and he could be counted on to do so promptly, perhaps at Sharpsburg, which was only •twelve miles from Harpers Ferry by the most direct road. If, moreover, McLaws could find a way out of his trap and, instead of marching into Virginia, could also get to Sharpsburg, the army could be reunited on the north side of the Potomac and might be able to resume its campaign of manoeuvre. It was, however, a prospect that hung on many contingencies, and if the gamble were lost, then the army must return to Virginia, and must secure the fords as a precaution.
With this analysis of the situation, Lee issued instructions as follows:
1. The main army was to march to Centreville to protect McLaws's rear, as decided at the council of war, and to cover the road to Sharpsburg.
2. McLaws was to cross into Virginia if he must, but was to seek a road over the mountains or follow the road up the river, and if he could march on Sharpsburg, was to notify headquarters, which would be established at Centreville.96
3. The cavalry that had fought at Crampton's Gap were to cover McLaws's rear, holding Rohrersville on the main road from Boonsboro to Maryland Heights, and were to assist McLaws in finding a road to Sharpsburg.97
p376 4. Jackson's and Walker's orders to rejoin the army were to stand.98
5. One battalion of reserve artillery was to remain with the army at Centreville; the rest was to recross the Potomac at once and cover the fords99 in case a retreat across the river became necessary.100
These decisions did not end the responsibilities of a night of foreboding. Rumor spread from the outposts on the mountain that the Federals were withdrawing. For a moment Lee hesitated over his own retreat, but fortunately a prisoner was brought in who stated that Sumner's corps was coming into position, fresh for an attack with the dawn. This confirmed Lee in his decision. The army was set in motion,101 preceded by the wagon trains. The dead and the seriously wounded had to be left behind.
On the road, Lee sent another urgent note to McLaws,102 from whom he had heard nothing and to whom he doubted if his earlier messages had been delivered. He told McLaws to move to Harpers Ferry ifº it had fallen by the time McLaws received his dispatch. Then, making still another change of plan, Lee decided it would be better to march direct to Sharpsburg than to halt at Centreville. He reasoned that if his main force were at Sharpsburg he would be able to render McLaws almost as much assistance as at Centreville, if McLaws, meantime, had not crossed to Harpers Ferry. The remainder of the army could be stationed on good ground at Sharpsburg. Further, the columns could more readily be transferred from that point than from Centreville to the south bank of the Potomac in case "Stonewall" and the other commanders of detached columns could not reach Lee in time.
p377 As the army marched at daylight to the low hills around the undistinguished little town of Sharpsburg, which it was to make forever renowned, these alternatives, then, must have been uppermost in Lee's mind: Was it retreat or manoeuvre that awaited him, a bloody anti-climax to the Seven Days and to Manassas, or a new success?
8 Longstreet in 2 B. and L., 663.
10 General Lee's explanation of his reason for invading Maryland, though often misunderstood, was fully given in documents of various dates, as follows: (1) His contemporary dispatches of Sept. 3, 4, and 5 (O. R., 19, part 2, pp500 ff.); (2) his formal report of his campaign, dated Aug. 19, 1863 (ibid., part 1, p144); and (3) his letter of April 15, 1868, to William M. McDonald (Jones, 266), elaborated in a conversation with William Allan (quoted in Marshall, 248‑49). There is remarkable consistency among these accounts, though the last was written six and a half years after the first.
17 Owen, 130.
20 Napier, 129.
21 Mason, 136; 10 S. H. S. P., 508.
22 Leighton Parks: "What a Boy Saw of the Civil War" (cited hereafter as Leighton Parks), Century Magazine, vol. 70, No. 2, p258 ff.
23 Thomas Hartman, in 30 Confederate Veteran, 45.
25 Owen, 131.
26 Leighton Parks, op. cit.
27 Reverend J. P. Smith in Richmond Times-Dispatch, Jan. 20, 1907.
28 Grayjackets, 273; W. H. Taylor to his sister, Sept. 7, 1862, Taylor MSS.
29 McDaniel, 10‑11.
Thayer's Note: I have not seen McDaniel, but this may be the same story as one which, true or not, has since become legendary mostly because of a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier, who names her as Barbara Frietchie and gives her age as 90. Her exact age and the spelling of her name vary. An old house in the town of Frederick is said to have been hers: when in 1927 it threatened ruin, it was rebuilt and is now a museum.
32 R. E. Lee, Jr., 416.
35 Long, 207.
39 R. Taylor, 36. L. W. Hopkins noted (op. cit., 51) that straggling began before (p359)the army crossed the Potomac and that Lee left his bodyguard from the 6th Virginia cavalry at the ford to turn stragglers back to Winchester. Cf. 13 S. H. S. P., 13.
45 Longstreet in 2 B. and L., 662.
46 It is curious that this plan, which was plainly set forth in Lee's conversation with General J. G. Walker (2 B. and L., 604‑5), should have been overlooked in published accounts of General Lee's reasons for dividing his army.
47 Hotchkiss in 3 C. M. H., 338.
48 2 B. and L., 663.
50 2 B. and L., 605‑6.
51 Cf. Long, 264.
52 Taylor's Four Years, 67 and n.; Shotwell Papers, 327; 2 D. H. Hill, 345‑46 and n.
58 10 S. H. S. P., 511; 31 ibid., 39.
59 Mason, 137.
69 2 B. and L., 665‑66; Longstreet, 219‑20.
71 2 B. and L., 666.
72 O. R., 19, part 2, p608. It was asserted by William Allan (op. cit., p345) that Stuart notified Lee during the evening of Sept. 13 that a citizen of Frederick had come to him and had reported that McClellan had found a copy of Special Order No. 191 in Frederick. Nearly every writer has repeated this assertion and has assumed that Lee knew that evening that McClellan was in possession of his plans. The contrary is almost certainly the case. If Stuart had received such intelligence, he would surely have mentioned it in his report. Longstreet said nothing of it. Neither did Taylor. Marshall (op. cit., 160) flatly asserted that "Lee did not become aware of the cause that led to the sudden advance of the Federal army after he had left Frederick until the official report of General McClellan was published some months later." Lee mentioned in his official report the discovery of the order, but he did not write the report until the summer of 1863, when the facts had become generally known. Colonel Allan was not at Hagerstown on the night of the 13th, as far as the records show. Although he is justly rated as one of the most accurate and painstaking writers on the campaigns of 1862, in this instance he must have accepted hearsay.
73 Cf. Taylor's General Lee, 115‑16.
75 Owen, 137.
76 Hood, 38‑39.
77 J. B. Polley: Hood's Texas Brigade, 114.
78 Hood, 39.
82 Long, 215.
89 Federal losses were 1831; the Confederate casualties were not separately computed. D. H. Hill (2 B. and L., 579) estimated the loss in his five brigades as 934. Livermore places the gross casualties in the Army of Northern Virginia, including 800 prisoners, at 2685 — probably too high a figure. All the reports appear in O. R., 19, part 1. A useful study of the battle is George S. Grattan: The Battle of Boonsboro Gap or South Mountain.
92 Called Keedysville in most of the Confederate reports.
93 Longstreet, 227; Hill in 2 B. and L., 571; Fitz Lee, 205; Hood, 41.
100 Lee's dispatch of 8 P.M. to McLaws (O. R., 51, part 2, pp618‑19), which seems to have been overlooked by all writers on this campaign, except White and Hotchkiss, contains the only direct mention of Lee's intention to recross the Potomac after the battle of South Mountain. It raises a number of rather difficult questions, but it certainly fits in with Lee's dispatch of 11:15 P.M. to McLaws and also with the instructions to Pendleton concerning the withdrawal of the reserve artillery to the south side of the river. The explanation given in the text seems to conform to all the known facts and to run counter to nothing that has been found in the sources. The late J. C. Ropes and Colonel Walter H. Taylor had some correspondence regarding the little-known order of 8 P.M. Mr. Ropes's letter is not in the Taylor MSS., but Colonel Taylor's answer advanced the view that Lee intended to remain on the north side of the Potomac if he could reconcentrate his whole army there, but that he intended to recross to the south bank if full reconcentration was not possible. Colonel Taylor added, however, that he was not with General Lee at the time and could not speak finally on the subject.
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