Camp-Fires of General Lee, by Edward S. Ellis, Chapter 10

Camp-Fires of General Lee



IT is not to be supposed that when General Lee marched from Richmond to prosecute his campaign in Upper Virginia he had any thought of making an invasion of the Northern States. This, it may be said, is self-evident, for no one could have contemplated such colossal incompetency in the leadership of the Federal armies, and consequently the overwhelming success of the Confederates was beyond the expectation of any one. The Federal army in Northern Virginia had been sent skurrying into the entrenchments of Washington, and the excitement and consternation throughout the North was beyond description. Months before, the defeat of Banks had caused a general fear of the fall of the national capital, and now the whole Confederate army was almost within sight of the city.

“Is there to be no end of this? Must we be defeated over and over again? Are there no leaders who can gain the semblance of a victory with the army in Virginia? While our soldiers are fighting so well in the West, it is nothing but defeat, defeat, defeat, in the East.”

These were the questions and remarks on the lips of the millions of angered and impatient Northerners. They did not despair, but became the more exasperated with the gross mismanagement of affairs in Washington. The feeling was common that, while they felt little admiration or sympathy for Pope personally, yet he had been “sold out” by Fitz-John Porter, and perhaps others. The recall of McClellan to command the reorganized Army of the Potomac was one of the most satisfactory steps that the Federal government could have taken. With that extravagant impulsiveness which is characteristic of the American people, he had been christened the “Young Napoleon,” and all sorts of wild prophecies of his success were uttered everywhere. Beyond question he was popular with the army, and the cry which we have quoted, “Give us back our old commander!” was literally a thunderous demand from the Federal soldiers which could not be disregarded. McClellan assumed command and began reorganizing the army with the same vigor and ability he had shown from the first. No one could surpass him in that respect, and the universal confidence felt in his generalship added incalculably to the élan of the soldiers.

The all-absorbing question that every one asked was, “What does General Lee mean to do?” The majority believed that he could walk unopposed into Washington and make his own terms with the national government, but at no time was there danger of such a catastrophe to the Federal cause. Lee’s men had suffered frightfully; they were ragged, barefooted, exhausted and famishing; they had been forced to their utmost capacity, and imperatively needed rest. Washington had been put in the best condition possible for defence, and had a vast force of brave and tried soldiers to man her entrenchments. Twice Lee’s army could not have taken it, so long as the garrison was there. If one thing could be set down as certain, it was that the Confederate chieftain, after such a magnificent success, would not turn about and march to his own desolated valleys and stricken plains without leading his powerful legions farther North.

Many explanations have been given of the Confederate invasion of the North, and even Lee’s own words are not clear; but it may be ascribed to several causes. The opportunity to do so with a triumphant issue was too tempting to be resisted. Thus far, despite the success of the Confederacy, the battle had been fought on her own soil, and her sufferings had been great; consequently, there was a natural desire to press the bitter cup to the lips of the invaders. Then, the Confederacy had many friends in England and France, especially in the latter country, where Louis Napoleon was willing to intervene if England would only join him. But the wily “nephew of his uncle” was waiting for the Confederates to strike some tremendous blow against the North which would justify him in stepping between the combatants and ordering the warfare to stop. Great as were the victories already gained by the Confederates, they were hardly enough to warrant this momentous step. If Lee could capture Baltimore or Philadelphia and cut off Washington, he would compel a peace on the basis of the independence of the Confederacy. The gates to Maryland were carried off their hinges by the turbulent flight of the Federal army, and the broad highway to that beauteous country

“Fair as a garden of the Lord”

was invitingly open. Food, clothing and abundant matériel were within the grasp of those who so sorely needed them. The famishing nostrils caught the odor of smoking viands, and the thin muscular fingers twitched with eagerness to clutch the boundless riches upon which their eager eyes rested.

General Lee saw that the most effective way of diverting the demonstration of the Union arms from Richmond was by an advance movement which, if prosecuted with the success that seemed very probable, would prevent any offensive movements by his enemies until the following year, and such delay was of inestimable importance in securing the mediation of foreign powers.

And lastly a natural error prevailed among the Confederates respecting the sentiments of the Marylanders: the State, being slave, was considered as rightly belonging to the Confederacy. The Union troops had been assailed when going through Baltimore on their way to the relief of Washington, and it was believed that if a safe opportunity was given the citizens they would gladly declare their allegiance to the Confederacy, furnish a large number of recruits in addition to those already in its army, and yield an enormous amount of supplies of which the Confederacy stood in extreme need. These causes, when united, were enough to justify General Lee in his determination to transfer the war to Northern soil, and he set out on the campaign with masterly skill. Instead of assailing Washington or Baltimore, he began manœuvring so as to induce McClellan to uncover them. As the first step in the important campaign, his plan was to enter Western Maryland and establish his communications with Richmond through the Shenandoah Valley. Then, by threatening Pennsylvania by the Cumberland Valley, he hoped to draw the Union army far enough into the State to afford his army the chance to seize Washington or Baltimore or to compel McClellan to fight when removed far beyond his base of supplies.

D. H. Hill’s command had arrived on the 2d of September, and the Confederate army was a compact whole, held well in hand by the mighty genius of Lee. Hill’s division was assigned to the advance, and marched to the Potomac at a point nearly opposite the Monocacy. The Federals guarding the river were scattered, and the division crossed into Maryland. The rest of the day and the following night were employed in destroying the locks and embankments of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, one of the principal means by which Washington was supplied with fuel. Jackson, after allowing his soldiers a single day’s rest, had marched from Ox Hill on the 3d of September. Two days later he crossed the Potomac at White’s Ford, near Leesburg, and the bands struck up the popular air, “Maryland, my Maryland,” while the thousands of throats thundered the chorus with the same enthusiasm shown by the Federal legions in singing “John Brown’s body lies mouldering in the grave.” Even the grim, silent Jackson was thrilled; his gray eyes kindled, and a great joy overflowed his soul. His fervency of belief in the righteousness of the Confederate cause, his profound piety and faith, saw in the scene the fulfilment of God’s pleasure and design. He was almost overcome with the delight which suffused his whole being.

On the 6th of September the march was resumed, General D. H. Hill conducting the advance, in the temporary absence of Jackson, who had been hurt by a fall from his horse. In a few hours Frederick City was reached, and on the 8th the whole army was drawn up on the left bank of the Potomac. Lee had arrived and established his headquarters at Frederick. The best of order was preserved, and the people were astonished at the considerate treatment they received when the temptation to violence was so great.

But a grievous disappointment awaited the Confederates. Instead of being received with open arras, they were viewed with distrust and disfavor. They were anything but welcome, for, no matter how strongly they might sympathize with the invaders, self-interest forbade the people to go farther. The ragged and grimy soldiers were not calculated to rouse the enthusiasm of the sentimental secessionist, and the officers in charge of the recruiting-offices which were opened found plenty of leisure-time on their hands, for scarcely a recruit came forward. Under these dispiriting circumstances, General Lee issued the following address to the people of Maryland:

Near Frederickton, September 8, 1862.


It is right that you should know the purpose that has 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 on the citizens of 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, 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 have 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. 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 amongst them, they will only welcome you when you come of your own free will.

R. E. LEE,
Gen. Commanding.

This proclamation was perused with general interest by the people of Maryland, but they did not flock to the Confederate standard: it was impossible to “enthuse” them.

An illustrated paper hit off the situation in a cartoon which represented a wealthy Marylander, a day or two before the arrival of General Lee, watching his last load of goods as they were about to start Northward. He addressed the driver:

“Jim, have you got everything?”

“Yea, sir.”

“Sure you haven’t left anything?”

“Yes, sir; nothing is left.”

“Not so much as a horse, cow, pig or chicken?”

“Not a living creature. There isn’t even a hen’s egg on the place, nor enough to afford a meal for a mosquito.”

“All right, then. Drive on, and I’ll stay behind to welcome General Lee and his brave boys.”

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