South Mountain had witnessed three invasions and two major raids during the Civil War. The first invasion was during the Maryland Campaign, the second was the Pennsylvania Campaign, and the third was Early’s Raid. After several years’ worth of studying all three campaigns, I see distinct similarities for all three Confederate invasions. The main reasons for the invasions seem to be for food, supplies, and recruitment. The North was demoralized by the major Confederate victories, more so in 1862 and 1863. The Confederate government also wanted to seek recognition from the European powers, and to relieve war torn Virginia for a period of time from the war so that farmers can harvest their crops, and for the Richmond Depots to build an inventory of supplies.
The Maryland Campaign of 1862 was the first major Confederate offensive to take place in the North. Confederate Major General Robert E. Lee had won a major victory on the fields of Manassas in late August of 1862. From there he pursued General John Pope’s Army of Virginia, sending General Thomas Jackson’s wing to Chantilly on September 1st to cut off Pope’s retreat, and clearing northern Virginia to the Potomac River from the Union army’s aggression. As a result Lee decided to launch the Invasion of Maryland. Today, when visitors come to South Mountain State Battlefield we go through an overview of the Invasion of Maryland. There were five key points in the 1862 invasion. The first was to relieve the farmers of the Shenandoah Valley so they were able to harvest their crops. The second was to liberate Maryland and seek recruits that had sympathized with the Southern Cause. The third was to gather supplies by taking the war into Pennsylvania where the morale for the war was turning. The fourth was to fight a battle on the offensive at a place of Lee’s choosing and the final was to seek recognition from Europe in hopes they would aide the South for Southern Independence.
Robert E. Lee’s nephew Fitzhugh Lee wrote a book about his uncle in 1894 entitled “Great Commanders, General Lee.” He wrote about the reasons why they invaded the North: “First, because he [Robert E. Lee] believed if he could win a decisive victory the fall of Washington and Baltimore would follow, with far-reaching results. Second, because it would relieve Virginia and the Confederate quartermasters and commissary departments at Richmond of the support of his army for a time. Third, because it was hoped that large accessions to his decimated ranks would be obtained from those who sympathized with his cause in Maryland.”
Fitzhugh also wrote: “He [Robert E. Lee] had but two alternatives: One, to withdraw his army and take up a line farther back into Virginia, rest recruit his army, and patiently wait, as was done after the first battle of Manassas, till his antagonist should again assume the offensive. The other, to continue the active prosecution of the campaign and fight another battle while he had prestige of victory and his enemy the discomfiture of defeat. He determined to adopt the latter method, and decided to cross the Potomac at the fords near Leesburg, some forty miles above Washington. And march into western Maryland.”
However, once entering Maryland and concentrating at Frederick city, Lee had to overcome a few obstacles. The first obstacle were the two garrisons that were under Union control. The first was at Martinsburg and the second was Harper’s Ferry. In order for Lee to continue his campaign, he had to first open his line of supplies and that meant dividing his army. On September 9th, Lee issued Special Orders Number 191 which required more than half of his army to assist in the siege of Harper’s Ferry. Jackson was to take out the garrison at Martinsburg and then direct his attention to Harper’s Ferry. While Jackson, McLaws and Walker carried out their part in the Special Orders Number 191, General Lee and Longstreet proceeded to Hagerstown. By September 14th, Union Major General George McClellan caught up with the rear of the Confederate line as it marched out of Frederick city.
By September 14th, the surrender of Harper’s Ferry was within Jackson’s grasp, however the Battle of South Mountain almost forced Lee to abandon his invasion. During the days of September 15th and 16th, Lee concentrated his army at Sharpsburg. With the surrender of Harper’s Ferry, General Lee still wanted to carry out his campaign and as a result he had to deal with McClellan. On the evening of September 16th, the two forces began to clash near Sharpsburg. The next day, the Battle of Sharpsburg was fought ending in a stalemate. The next day Lee retreated into Virginia hoping to still carry out his campaign by crossing the Potomac River at Falling Waters. The Battle of Shepherdstown ended this hope for Lee, forcing him to abandon the campaign completely.
A year later after the Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, General Lee decided to invade the North again, this time learning from his mistakes of the Maryland Campaign. This time Lee thought that he had the upper hand, and for many good reasons. Again, he would carry the war northward into Maryland, this time crossing west of the South Mountain range. From there he could knock out any threats from the various Union deployments located in the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley. By entering Maryland General Lee could force Major General Joseph Hooker’s Army of the Potomac out of Virginia, and in return Lee could carry out the campaign in northern territory and fight Hooker’s army on the ground of Lee’s choosing. Lee’s Confederate army, upon entering Pennsylvania could gather as much supplies in the form of agriculture produce, and materials and still threaten Washington and Baltimore. Also by invading Pennsylvania, Lee hoped that this would take some of the pressure off of General Bragg’s Confederate army in Tennessee and General Pemberton’s Confederate army that was entrenched at Vicksburg.
In 1864, M. Jacobs, a Professor of Mathematics and Chemistry at Gettysburg College published a book entitled “Notes on the Rebel Invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania and the Battle of Gettysburg.” He summed it up best when he wrote: “First, he [Lee] felt the increasingly deficiency of cavalry and artillery horses, and of the means of subsisting his army in an almost desolate territory from which he had hitherto drawn his supplies; secondly, there was the alleged demoralization of General Hooker’s army after the battle [Chancellorsville]; thirdly, there was the evident fact of the depletion of the Union army, by the return to their homes of a number of regiments whose term of service had expired; fourthly, there was the apparent division of sentiment in the loyal States, in regard to the conduct and continuance of the war and the strong undercurrent of sympathy manifested for the success of the rebellion, engendered by an intense partisan feeling, and the desired office.”
As a result of launching his campaign into Maryland and Pennsylvania, Lee’s army managed to get the supplies from what the Cumberland Valley, known as the land of milk and honey had to offer. In the weeks leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg, Lee had foraging wagons going from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania to Winchester, Virginia loaded with the rich agricultural produce, crops and livestock from the farms of Pennsylvania. The Confederate army also gathered many supplies from the towns in Pennsylvania, from leather, fabrics, and clothing to more food stocked in the stores along their route. The Battle of Gettysburg might not have gone the way Lee wanted, but the supplies gathered in Pennsylvania was a huge success for the Confederate army, assisting in keeping the war going for a little while longer.
The Confederate and the Union armies both made South Mountain part of their strategy during the Pennsylvania Campaign. By the time this campaign was over, every mountain gap upon South Mountain was either used for communications or had some type of military action occur there. But the war wasn’t over yet. So far, the Maryland Campaign and the Pennsylvania Campaign held distinct similaries as to why they were launched: supplies, northern demoralization, relieve war torn Virginia, and to seek European recognition and possible aide.
The last campaign was totally different. This campaign goes by three names, Early’s Raid on Washington, Early’s Expedition into Maryland, and Early’s Maryland Campaign. This campaign had several objectives and went in phases. The first phase was for Early’s Corps to leave under the cover of darkness from near Petersburg and liberate Lynchburg and if possible destroy Union General David Hunter who had control of the Shenandoah Valley. If Early completed that and his troops were in good condition, he was to proceed down the Valley and cross over the Potomac River into Maryland near Williamsport where the next phase of his plan could be deployed. From there Early could march due south to threaten Washington and possibly free the prisoners at Point Lookout.
In a book entitled “Lieutenant General Jubal Anderson Early, Autobiographical Sketch and Narrative of the War Between the States” published in November of 1912, General Early himself wrote: “On the 12th of June, while the 2nd corps (Ewell’s) of the Army of Northern Virginia was lying near Gaines’ Mill, in rear of Hill’s line at Cold Harbor, I received verbal orders from General Lee to hold the corps, with two of the battalions of artillery attached to it, in readiness to move to the Shenandoah Valley. Nelson’s and Braxton’s battalions were selected, and Brigadier General Long was ordered to accompany me as Chief of Artillery. After dark, on the same day, written instructions were given to me by General Lee, by which I was directed to move, with the force designated, at 3 o’clock next morning, for the Valley, by the way of Louisa Court House and Charlottesville, and through Brown’s or Swift Run Gap in the Blue Ridge, as I might find most advisable; to strike Hunter’s force in the rear, and, if possible, destroy it; then to move down the Valley, cross the Potomac near Leesburg in Loudoun County, or at or above Harper’s Ferry, as I might find most practicable, and threaten Washington City. I was further directed to communicate with General Breckenridge, who would co-operate with me in the attack on Hunter and the expedition into Maryland.”
Early’s operations in the valley as well as in Maryland would force Union General Grant to send troops away from Lee’s front. As Early’s Corps and General John C. Breckenridge’s Army of South Western Virginia marched up the valley, they took into possession many stores of supplies that his army needed in order to sustain themselves during the campaign. Upon entering Maryland on July 5th and 6th, 1864, General Early ordered something that Marylanders had never thought would happen and that was the ransom of several towns and cities; Hagerstown – $20,000, Middletown – $1,500, and Frederick – $200,000. Early wrote: “During the operations at Monocacy, a contribution of $200,000 in money was levied on the city of Frederick, and some needed supplies were obtained.” During the first two campaigns orders were issued to the Confederate troops to respect the citizens of Maryland, but as the citizens soon found out, this campaign was a different story.
There are many similarities in all three campaigns from gathering supplies to threatening Washington or Baltimore, but the main theme with all three invasions as well as the two main raids into Pennsylvania, was the role that South Mountain played. The main difference in all three is that the Maryland Campaign of 1862 was the turning point for the Confederacy politically, the Pennsylvania Campaign was the turning point militarily, and Early’s Maryland Campaign was the beginning of the end for the Confederacy. From the summer of 1864 to the fall of 1864, it was only a matter of time.
This blog posting is not the complete story by any means. It is to just shed some light on the similarities as well as some of the differences using key phrases from those who wrote about the subject. In the months to come, I am going to be posting some interesting articles about how important South Mountain was to the military operations when the Civil War entered Maryland, as well as Pennsylvania. Some of the information, the scholar already knows, but for the new comer this is your chance to understand the much bigger picture, one that is typically overlooked.