An Aide-De-Camp of Lee
Charles Marshall


THE editor must now reappear for a moment to play the part of Chorus. With the last chapter, the papers which Colonel Marshall had put together for his projected Life of Lee come to an end. He had begun them, as is the practice of biographers, with an account of the Lee family. This adds nothing to what has since been told, and I have put it aside. He continued with a statement of the Southern case in the controversies which provoked the war, but since he wrote many other pens have been busy with the same subject, and the controversies either are happily dead or have taken in the politics of the day an entirely new turn. He went on to describe, in the papers which I have put together to form the first chapters, the events of the war from the point of view of his chief. When he wrote, little, if any, intelligent criticism of Lee’s conduct of the war had appeared, and therefore, while the information which he gives us of Lee’s ideas and intentions does answer very effectually many of the critics, there is in his story of the events up to the second battle of Manassas no conscious reply to attack or comment.

When, however, Colonel Marshall had put aside his beginnings of a biography and was awaiting the opportunity and the means to check his statements, one of the most important of the contemporary accounts of the war appeared. From September 1861 two of the Orleans Princes, the Due de Chartres and the Comte de Paris, were attached to McClellan’s staff as aides-de-camp. Their uncle, the Prince de Joinville, accompanied them as mentor, but held no military position. After the war the Comte de Paris began work upon a “History of the Civil War in America.” And in order to obtain information from the Confederate side he entered into a correspondence with Marshall, in the course of which he questioned the wisdom of Lee’s first invasion of Maryland. In his answer, written in 1877, Marshall then appears for the first time as the defender of his chief against a definite criticism. Here is his reply:

“After the battle of the second Manassas, when the Federal Army had been driven into the entrenchments round Washington, the Confederate Army near Fairfax Court House was nearly 150 miles from its base,1 and much further than that from the actual source of its supplies. The country around it within a compass of fifty miles had been stripped by both sides, and was wholly incapable of supporting an army. What was General Lee to do? His army could not be maintained where it was, and even if it could have remained there, as it was not possible to make a direct attack upon Washington, there was nothing to prevent the enemy as soon as he should recover from the recent disasters from repeating General McClellan’s plan and sending such a force by water to Richmond as must have taken General Lee back immediately to the place from which he set out on his Northern campaign.

“If he had returned to the line of the Rapidan after the second battle of Manassas, so as to place himself within reach of his base at Richmond, or if he had taken up the position that he assumed later in the season at Fredericksburg, his only real alternative to an advance, what would have been the immediate result? Such action on his part would have been taken as an admission that he was really unable to put Washington in any serious danger, or to cross the Potomac river, and had no policy but to await such attacks as the Federals might make. This would have relieved the Government of Mr. Lincoln of its fears for the safety of Washington, and would have dispelled the belief that it was necessary to draw troops from all parts of the country for its defence, as completely as if General Lee had notified Mr. Lincoln that he need give himself no concern about the safety of his capital, or the security of the Federal frontier States.

“Mr. Lincoln could not have avoided one of two inferences, either that General Lee had been too much weakened to follow up his advantages, or that he considered any attempt against Washington as impracticable; and in either case it would have been too plain to escape the attention of the least observant that to cause General Lee to retreat it was only necessary to follow General McClellan’s example when General Johnston retreated from before Washington in the spring, and transport their army by water to the vicinity of Richmond, as they had transported that army as soon as the retreat of General Johnston relieved them from all anxiety as to the safety of the city.

“I must again say that General Lee’s policy was not to capture any portion of Federal territory, but to protract the war by breaking up the enemy’s campaigns and so bringing about the pecuniary exhaustion of the North. At the same time he desired to increase the power of resistance of the South by keeping the enemy out of the Confederate territory. If he had retired after the second Manassas, none of these results would have been obtained from the campaign of 1862. That campaign would have opened with the Federal Army around Richmond; bloody and successful battles would have been fought; the Confederates by putting forth their whole strength would have succeeded in raising the siege of Richmond for a time, and in forcing the enemy back to the Potomac River. Then, had General Lee been unable for any reason to follow up the advantage of the victory he had gained, the campaign would have ended with the Federal Army once more besieging Richmond and the Confederate Army once more defending it.

“There can be no doubt as to which side would have appeared to have the substantial advantages of a campaign ending in the way supposed. The great fact would have remained that all the efforts of the Confederates had failed to loosen the hold the enemy had upon Richmond, the key to the possession of the great State of Virginia. What effect would such a result have had on the credit of the North? The credit of the Federal Government did not depend upon its actual resources more than it depended upon moral causes, that is, upon the prospect of ultimate success and especially upon the prospect of speedy success.

“It can scarcely be doubted that had the second battle of Manassas been followed by the retirement of General Lee’s army to the line of the Rapidan, or that of the lower Rappahannock, the Northern people would have seen in such a result solid reasons for expecting ultimate and not very remote success, and so far as the pecuniary conditions of Mr. Lincoln’s government depended upon popular belief that the war would end soon and successfully, that belief must have received substantial encouragement.

“It may be argued firstly: that General Lee could have remained near enough to Washington and the Potomac to have kept up the apprehension of the Lincoln government; or secondly: that the enemy would not, after General McClellan’s failure, have gone again to Richmond by water, if General Lee had fallen back after the second battle of Manassas, but would have followed and given him an opportunity to fight at a distance from Richmond; or thirdly: that even had the enemy gone to Richmond it would have been better for General Lee to have thrown his army around the Confederate capital and to have engaged the enemy there.

“The first argument was answered at the time by the actual want of supplies on the spot and by the difficulty of drawing further supplies from Richmond, which made it actually necessary for the Confederate Army to leave the battle field and to move into Loudoun County two days after the second battle of Manassas was over, and even there it could not have remained for more than a short time.

“As to the second argument, it would have been rash in the extreme to have assumed that the enemy would forego so great and obvious an advantage as he possessed in his easy access to Richmond by water. I may say that after we returned to Virginia one of General Lee’s first actions was to send General Stuart with the cavalry across the Potomac expressly to ascertain if any preparations were being made to move General McClellan’s army again by sea to Richmond,2 and later in the year when we were on the Rappahannock General Lee was constantly watching for any indication of such a movement.

“Thirdly: if there was to be a battle in Virginia Richmond was the last place General Lee would have selected for that battle, as the absolute necessity of guarding the communications by which the city was supplied would have left the army of the Confederacy engaged in its defence with the minimum force for active operations against the enemy.

“It follows therefore that as General Lee could not remain in Virginia near enough to Washington to detain the enemy’s army there, and could not retire without the loss of the moral effect of a successful campaign, and without encouraging the enemy to return to his former position near Richmond, or at least without affording him such an opportunity to return as it cannot be supposed that the enemy would have neglected, General Lee had nothing left to do after the battle except to enter Maryland.

“It is also just, in deciding upon the merits of General Lee’s plan, which led to the invasion of Maryland, to distinguish between those consequences that may be fairly traced to the nature of the campaign itself, and those consequences that are attributable to the manner of its execution in detail. This involves a brief examination of the facts.

“About September 2nd the last of the available troops from Richmond, the divisions of McLaws and D. H. Hill, joined the army, and on September 4th it began to march towards the Potomac, which was crossed between the 4th and 7th at the fords near Leesburg, and on September 8th assembled near Frederick. While the Confederate army was concentrated at that place, the Federal army, to the command of which General McClellan had been restored after the second battle of Manassas, advanced cautiously from Washington. Harper’s Ferry with its strong Federal garrison was so situated as to endanger the road by which supplies and reinforcements could be drawn from Virginia, and to contribute a serious danger to our safety in case of disaster in Maryland, or even if we should retreat across the Potomac without a battle.

“It became necessary therefore to reduce Harper’s Ferry, and as that would require a large force, if the place was to be taken without delay, which was absolutely necessary, General Lee detached at Frederick the greater part of his army under General Jackson for that purpose.

“The rest of his army was too small to remain at Frederick in the presence of the larger force under General McClellan, so General Lee withdrew to the west side of the Blue Ridge to await the results of General Jackson’s movement against Harper’s Ferry. Leaving part of his army under D. H. Hill at the head of Pleasant Valley to intercept any part of the garrison of Harper’s Ferry that might attempt to escape by that route, General Lee with the rest of his force under General Longstreet proceeded to Hagerstown in order to stop the removal of supplies from Maryland. The whole army was to reunite at Sharpsburg or Hagerstown as soon as General Jackson should have reduced Harper’s Ferry. General Stuart with the cavalry was left east of the mountains of the Blue Ridge to observe the movements of General McClellan, who for a few days after the army left Frederick was reported as stationary or advancing very slowly.

“Thus it will be seen that General Lee’s plan of operations did not contemplate a general engagement unless General McClellan should cross the Blue Ridge west of Frederick and attack us.”

The editor must again break in here in support of Colonel Marshall’s arguments. Their value of course depends upon how far they were in Lee’s mind at the time when he made the decision to cross the Potomac. Fortunately we have very satisfactory evidence as to this; for on September 3, 1862, Lee wrote this letter to Davis:

His Excellency President Davis

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 United States that have been operating in Virginia, though now united, are much weakened and demoralized. Their new levies, of which I understand 60,000 men have 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 favourable.

After the enemy had disappeared from the vicinity of Fairfax Court House and taken the road to Alexandria and Washington, I did not think it would be advantageous to follow him further. I had no intentions of attacking him in his fortifications, and am not prepared to invest them. If I possessed the necessary munitions I should be unable to provide provisions for the troops. I therefore determined, while threatening the approaches to Washington, to draw the troops into Loudoun, 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 endeavour to harass them 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 endeavour 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.3

The main points that Lee makes in this letter are that the object of the manoeuvre is first to carry “the enemy north of the Potomac,” and secondly to defend Richmond by keeping him there. His anxieties are for the supplies of his army and that every effort should be made to improve the defense of Richmond. Clearly,—as Marshall suggests,—General Lee was apprehensive of another expedition by sea against the Confederate capital. The next day, September 4, he wrote again to the President:

Since my last communication to you, with reference to the movements which I propose to make with this army, I am more fully persuaded of the benefit that will result from an expedition into Maryland, and I shall proceed to make the movement at once unless you signify your disapprobation. The only two subjects that give me any uneasiness are my supplies of ammunition and subsistence. Of the former I have enough for present use, and must await results before deciding to what point I will have additional supplies sent. Of subsistence, I am taking measures to obtain all that this region can afford; but to be able to obtain supplies to advantage in Maryland I think it important to have the services of some one known to and acquainted with the resources of the country. I wish, therefore, that if ex-Governor Lowe can make it convenient he will come to me at once, as I have already requested by telegram. As I contemplate entering a part of the state with which Governor Lowe is well acquainted, I think he could be of much service to me in many ways. Should the results of the expedition justify it, I propose to enter Pennsylvania, unless you should deem it inadvisable upon political or other grounds.

As to the movements of the enemy, my latest intelligence shows that the army of Pope is concentrating around Alexandria and Washington in their fortifications. Citizens of this country report that Winchester has been evacuated, which is confirmed by the Baltimore Sun of this morning, containing extracts from the Washington Star of yesterday. This will still further relieve our country and, I think, leaves the Valley entirely free. They will concentrate behind the Potomac.4

Here again we see that Lee’s predominating anxiety was for the supplies of his army, and these two letters show that Colonel Marshall is quite right in insisting that the supply problem was the decisive factor in Lee’s mind, for even Loudoun County could only furnish forage and provisions for a short period. The army could not remain where it was; it must either go forward or go back. If it went back it must go back a long way, for during the advance to the second Manassas the bridges over the Rapidan and the Rappahannock had been burned,[note 5] and until those bridges were restored Lee could not bring supplies forward in sufficient quantities for his army. Therefore, if he went back he would, as Colonel Marshall says, have to go behind the Rapidan, and sacrifice all the results of his victory. The critics, of whom the Comte de Paris was one of the first but by no means the last, have most of them overlooked this question of supplies. Lee’s dispatch dated March 6, 1863,—which Marshall, as usual, drafted,—says:

The armies of General McClellan and Pope had now been brought back to the point from which they set out on the campaigns of the spring and summer. The objects of those campaigns had been frustrated, and the designs of the enemy on the coast of North Carolina and in western Virginia thwarted by the withdrawal of the main body of his forces from those regions. Northeastern Virginia was freed from the presence of Federal soldiers up to the entrenchments of Washington, and soon after the arrival of the army at Leesburg information was received that the troops which had occupied Winchester had retired to Harper’s Ferry and Martinsburg. The war was thus transferred from the interior to the frontier, and the supplies of rich and productive districts made accessible to our army.

To prolong a state of affairs in every way desirable, and not to permit the season for active operations to pass without endeavouring to inflict further injury upon the enemy, the best course appeared to be the transfer of the army to Maryland. Although not properly equipped for invasion, lacking much of the material of war, and feeble in transportation, the troops poorly provided with clothing, and thousands of them destitute of shoes, it was believed to be strong enough to detain the enemy from the northern frontier until the approach of winter should render his advance into Virginia difficult, if not impossible. The conditions of Maryland encouraged the belief that the presence of our army, however inferior to that of the enemy, would induce the Washington Government to retain all its available force to provide against contingencies which its course towards the people of that state gave it reason to apprehend. At the same time it was hoped that military success might afford us an opportunity to aid the citizens of Maryland in any efforts they might be disposed to make to recover their liberties. The difficulties that surrounded them were fully appreciated, and we expected to derive more assistance in the attainment of our object from the just fears of the Washington Government, than from active demonstration on the part of the people, unless success should enable us to give them assurance of continued protection.

Influenced by these considerations, the army was put in motion, D. H. Hill’s division, which had joined us on the 2nd, being in advance, and between September 4th and 7th crossed the Potomac at the fords near Leesburg, and encamped in the vicinity of Fredericktown.

It was decided to cross the Potomac east of the Blue Ridge in order, by threatening Washington and Baltimore, to cause the enemy to withdraw from the south bank, where his presence endangered our communications and the safety of those engaged in removing our wounded and the captured property from the late battle fields. Having accomplished this result, it was proposed to move the army into western Maryland, establish our communications with Richmond through the Shenandoah Valley, and by threatening Pennsylvania induce the enemy to follow, and thus draw him from his base of supplies.

On this dispatch Palfrey makes this comment:

It may be remarked, in relation to this allegation of incomplete equipment, that it seems like an excuse for failure, made after the failure had occurred, and antedated, for Lee asserts in the same report that in the series of engagements on the plains of Manassas, which had taken place just before, there had been captured more than 9000 prisoners, wounded and unwounded, thirty pieces of artillery, upwards of twenty thousand stand of small arms, and a large amount of stores, besides those taken by General Jackson at Manassas Junction. Jackson says that he captured there eight guns, with seventy-two horses, equipments and ammunition complete, “immense supplies” of commissary and quarter-master stores, etc. With these additions to his supplies, it would seem as if the little army with which Lee says he fought the battles of the Maryland campaign might have been fairly well equipped, especially when we remember how far from scrupulous the Confederates were in exchanging their shoes and clothing for the better shoes and clothing of their prisoners.6

Lee’s letter of September 3, written the day before his army began to march, is a sufficient answer to the suggestion that the supply difficulty was “an excuse for failure after the failure had occurred.” Another critic, Longstreet, who should have known the facts, says: “The great mistake of the campaign was the division of Lee’s army” (for the attack on Harper’s Ferry). “If General Lee had kept his forces together, he would not have suffered defeat. . . . The next year when on our way to Gettysburg, there was the same situation of affairs at Harper’s Ferry, but we let it alone.”7

It is true that in June 1863, when Lee made his second invasion of Northern territory, there was a Federal garrison at Harper’s Ferry, as there was in September 1862, but in that respect only was the situation of affairs the same. In 1863 Lee was able to plan deliberately his march into Pennsylvania, the railway bridges over the Rapidan and the Rappahannock were intact, and he could and did arrange for the due forwarding of supplies. He was therefore able to ignore the garrison of Harper’s Ferry, for the detour necessary, if that place was to be avoided, would not have unduly lengthened the march of his wagons from the railway. But in 1862 his army was living from day to day on what the country could produce, a mischance might mean starvation, owing to the broken railway bridges his wagons had, by the shortest route, a dangerously long march, and he could not take risks. He had, as he told Davis in his letter of September 4, expected that the evacuation of Winchester would be followed by that of Harper’s Ferry, which would “leave the valley entirely free.” When this did not happen, he had no choice but to reduce Harper’s Ferry as quickly as possible.

I have dwelt on these points at some length to show that Colonel Marshall has honestly and fairly set down the reasons which prevailed with Lee at the time when he made his decisions, and has been remarkably successful in avoiding the wisdom of after knowledge. It is this which gives his papers their peculiar value. If I have here set down proof of this characteristic, I may say that I have throughout been at pains to test the actuality of his statements, and have never found him at fault.

He shall now return to his story.

General Jackson marched for Harper’s Ferry on September 10th and it was confidently expected that the place would be captured on the 13th. Unfortunately, there was some delay owing to the difficulty of getting the troops in position on the mountains overlooking Harper’s Ferry, and still more unfortunately by an accident, as yet unexplained, a copy of the general order directing the movement of the whole army and showing the exact distribution of every part of it fell into the hands of General McClellan soon after General Lee left Frederick, and before General Jackson had succeeded in the reduction of Harper’s Ferry.8

To the surprise of General Lee and contrary to the previous reports of General McClellan’s movements from Washington, the Federal army began to advance rapidly and threatened the passes of the Blue Ridge at Boonsboro’ and at Crampton’s Gap.

The movements of these troops endangered that part of General Jackson’s army engaged in the capture of Harper’s Ferry which had been ordered to ascend Maryland Heights, overlooking Harper’s Ferry from the north side of the Potomac River and commanding that place, and would have tended to separate the troops under General Jackson’s command from those under D. H. Hill and Longstreet.

General D. H. Hill was accordingly ordered to hold the passes of the mountain, aided by General Stuart, who had fallen back before the advance of General McClellan; and Longstreet hastened from Hagerstown to the assistance of General Hill. The consequence was that the command of Longstreet, reduced by the detachment of a large force, that of A. P. Hill, to the assistance of Jackson in the attack on Harper’s Ferry, was forced to sustain the attack of General McClellan’s army at South Mountain and Crampton’s Gap, and outnumbered as they were, they only succeeded in detaining the enemy until night, when they retreated to Sharpsburg, so as to effect more easily a junction with the force under Jackson.

The time gained by the resistance at Boonsboro’ Gap, generally known as South Mountain, enabled General Jackson to accomplish his object in the capture of Harper’s Ferry, which surrendered to him on September 15th, but the losses of D. H. Hill and Longstreet were severe, and Jackson’s command was obliged to make a forced march to reach the appointed rendezvous at Sharpsburg, a large part of his command, the troops of McLaws and A. P. Hill, not arriving on the field until the battle of September 17th had been raging for some hours. It was under these conditions that General Lee’s army fought at Sharpsburg. Instead of being united and fresh as it would have been had General McClellan continued his slow rate of advance for twenty-four hours longer, as there is reason to believe he would have done but for the loss of the order above mentioned, it had to engage the enemy at great disadvantage. The troops of Longstreet and D. H. Hill went into the battle under the disheartening effects of the disaster at Boonsboro’, and considerably reduced in number by that engagement, while those of General Jackson had to make a long march in intensely warm weather and go into battle without opportunity for necessary repose and refreshment.

In considering the Maryland campaign, it is proper to take into account the effect of the accident of the lost order upon the result–a misfortune that was not incident to the plan of campaign, although it had a most important influence upon the result.

General 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, when he learned for the first time that the movement of General McClellan had been caused by the loss of the order.9

The effect of the loss of that order does not show any want of wisdom or prudence in the policy of the invasion of Maryland in 1862. But for that, no battle need have been fought at Sharpsburg, or at South Mountain, or anywhere except at a time and upon terms of General Lee’s own selection.

The effect of the Sharpsburg campaign in attaining the great ends for which it was undertaken, that is, the employment of the enemy’s army north of the Potomac River, the relief of the people of Virginia of the presence of that army, and the reduction of the enemy’s resources by which he was enabled to carry on the war, was greater than could have been accomplished by any other campaign which General Lee might have undertaken without crossing the Potomac River.

The loss of the campaign, so far as the Confederate army was concerned, was not due to any defect in the conception of it, but to an unforeseen accident which might have happened in the conduct of a campaign in the state of Virginia, or anywhere else.10