Monday, February 12, 2007

Early's Washington Raid

Dates: 26 June to 4 August, 1864


Union: Major Generals Lew Wallace, David Hunter and George Crook

Confederate: Lieutenant General Jubal Early

Prelude: At this time the Army of Northern Virginia is beginning to be boxed in. After defeating, but not driving out the Federal Army of the Potomac in several battles in Virginia, General Robert E. Lee’s forces have been held under siege in Petersburg. Lee has two jobs, keep his army intact and protect the Confederate capital of Richmond. Each day, more Union troops arrive in the area, making it impossible to mount any kind of offense. Adding to the problem was a Union force operating in the Shenandoah Valley under Hunter which had just savagely defeated a small Confederate force at Piedmont on 5 June. This was followed by Hunter marching on Lexington and burning the Virginia Military Institute in revenge for its cadets inflicting a defeat on the Federals at New Market on 15 May. Seeing the possibility of a Union force appearing behind him, or worse, Richmond being captured, Lee orders one of his corps, commanded by Early, to go to the aid of Lieutenant General John Brackenridge, presently falling back to Lynchburg. Early rushes there with 14,000 and arrives there, forcing Hunter to pull his force out of the Shenandoah Valley altogether. Early sees this as an opportunity to hopefully draw Union troops from Petersburg and maybe put a scare into the folks at Washington DC. He orders his troops to Staunton to prepare for a raid to the north.

26 June, 1864: Early and his troops reach Staunton. He had ordered shoes, food and other supplies for his soldiers but they have not arrived. He decides to press on, even though his men had not eaten for two days.

29 June, 1864: Early’s forces are on the march north. They managed to secure some supplies, enough rations for seven days. Hopefully more will be found while on the march.

2 July, 1864: Early’s troops reach Winchester, where he is ordered to wait until more supplies arrive. Afterwards, the orders are to cross the Potomac and wreck the Baltimore and Ohio rail lines.

3 July, 1864: As Early’s troops begin to approach the Potomac, Union troops under Major General Franz Sigel, pull across into Maryland.

4 July, 1864: Federal troops evacuate Harper’s Ferry. They still cover the town with artillery.

5 July, 1864: Early leaves two divisions to cover Harper’s ferry and proceeds to cross the Potomac with the remainder of his force.

Panic begins to grow among the locals as well as the politicians in Washington. It was just over a year ago that Lee’s entire army was at Gettysburg. The panic was not helped by rumors that Early was leading a massive army on Washington.

6 July, 1864: Early reaches Hagerstown, MD, extorting $20,000 from the residents and wrecking an aqueduct. At the sane time, one Union division is ordered to leave Petersburg and march to the defense of Washington

7 July, 1864; Federal reinforcements arrive in Baltimore. They are in a position to respond to whatever direction Early heads off in. Early, on the other hand, had decided to push through the gaps at South Mountain and head for the forts surrounding Washington.

At this time, Washington is the most heavily fortified city in the world. The city was ringed with forts that offered mutual protection to each other. One problem they might have; quite a few of the regiments that manned the forts were now with the Army of the Potomac, but that would not present too much of a problem.

8 July, 1864: Wallace gathers a scratch force at Frederick, MD in order to counter Early.

9 July, 1864: Battle of Monocacy: Wallace has positioned his forces on the east bank on the Monocacy River, centered on the bridge at Monocacy Junction. At the Confederates arrive in the area, Early orders an immediate attack on the Federal defensive line. Early sends Breckenridge and Major General John Gordon across the river and hits the Federal left flank. By sunset, Wallace has no choice but to full back, seeing that his army of fortification troops, clerks, and other green troops were already running. This only delays Early one day, but that is a day more for the Washington defensives to prepare.

That evening, Early arrives in Frederick and extorts $200,000 from the residents.

11 July, 1864: Early approaches the ring of fortifications surrounding Washington. The July heat has taken a toll on his troops, reducing his numbers to about 8000. He has 40 cannon, but these are smoothbore Napoleons. They are best for firing solid shot, which is great against masonry (brick) forts, but earthen forts swallow up the shots and the defenders can shore up the walls with shovelfuls of dirt. That evening, Early learns that two divisions that included regulars, invalids, short-term troops, and raw recruits have reinforced the forts. He decides to pull back, knowing full well that he could not even think of penetrating the ring of forts.

12 July, 1864: Early decided not to leave without giving the Federals a parting shot. His troops skirmish with Federals at Fort Stevens, northwest of Washington. While this was going on, there was a visit to the fort by none other than US President Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary. While the fight was going on, Lincoln climbed on a firing step in order to see what was going on. Seconds later, a private next to him was killed by Confederate fire. A New York captain then screamed, “GET DOWN YOU D***ED FOOL OR YOU WILL BE KILLED!” Lincoln calmly told the captain, “Well, Captain, I see you have already learned how to address a civilian.”

The New York captain was future Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Lincoln became the first (and so far only) President of the United States to come under enemy fire.

13 July, 1864: Early heads back to the Shenandoah Valley pursued by elements of two Federal corps.

19 July, 1864: There is a skirmish at Berry’s Ford as Early pulls back toward Winchester.

20 July, 1864: Early has a setback as one of his divisions is crushed at Winchester, losing 400 soldiers that the Confederacy can not afford to lose.

22 July, 1864: Federal troops break off the pursuit and head back to Washington, thinking they have driven Early off.

It does not seem to be the case. Early has enough men to make another raid. Perhaps another way to get under the Federal’s skins once again. He orders his forces to Kernstown.

24 July, 1864: Early reaches Kernstown and finds Federals under Crook there. The Confederates launch an assault that drives the Union forces off.

25 July, 1864: Early begins a pursuit of Crook in a driving rainstorm. Some of Crooks troops head for West Virginia while the rest head into Maryland.

26 July, 1864: While moving back towards the Potomac, Early’s troops destroy the Baltimore and Ohio line near Martinsburg.

29 July, 1864: Early’s cavalry crosses the Potomac near Williamsport while the rest of his troops halts.

30 July, 1864: Confederate cavalry under Brigadier General John McCausland reach Chambersburg, PA. They demand $500,000 in cash or $100,000 in gold. The residents had neither, so McCausland burned the town down.

31 July, 1864: As Chambersburg burns, McCausland orders a quick retreat back to Virginia. However, he is intercepted at Hancock, MD by Federal cavalry. It will take another two days for McCausland to get back to Virginia.

Early now sits in the Shenandoah Valley where he can make a nuisance of himself, but events were now coming together that would make things very hot for the Confederate general.

7 August, 1864: Major General Philip Sheridan is named commander of the Union Middle Military Division. He is also given command of the newly formed Army of the Shenandoah. Sheridan has one mandate, render the Shenandoah Valley incapable of supporting the Confederacy any longer.

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