Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Lee invades the North

Max is interested in studying the Civil War. I can't tell you why, except that it is complex and therefore challenging to unravel. Max loves to come unraveled.

Realizing that the American Civil War is not especially interesting to many readers of this blog, I will keep the posts short and spread them out over time, say every third post for the next 10 years.

Relax Max's rendition of the American Civil War is probably not the same exact version you've read in your history books, but it will be accurate, and it may be more interesting. At the very least, due to my attention span, you may be sure I will skip around. I'm going to start out with just one battle of that war - a battle that happened about halfway through the war. Max and a zillion other people have studied and critiqued that battle over the years. As a result of all that reading and studying, much of this is from memory, so feel free to correct me in comments. Be gentle.

In the spring of 1863, General Robert E. Lee was growing more than a little frustrated at winning major defensive battles fought in Virginia against the (at times) ineptly led Union Army of the Eastern Theater, and still not seeing them go away. He had repulsed the Army of the Potomac (and its appendages) four times: under McClellan, under Pope, under Burnside, and most recently under Joe Hooker - hammering it and sending it staggering back well pounded and bloodied, only to see an endless line of fresh recruits in new blue uniforms replenish the gaps in the Union line and resume the grinding pressure against Lee, eating up the resources of the South at an alarming rate while the fresh replacements arrived from the Washington Forts, and the Union Navy sat in the tidewaters and provisioned them at will. Something had to give. General Lee made the decision to invade the North.

Actually, Lee had three reasons for invading Pennsylvania. First, from a tactical standpoint, he wanted to draw the Army of the Potomac out away from Washington and, if he could interdict - or at least stretch - their supply lines, he was confident he could defeat them in the open, so to speak. Second, if he could take Harrisburg (and he could, easily enough) and maybe even Philadelphia, he would put some fear into the citizens - enough fear, perhaps, that they would put some pressure on Washington to consider ending the war in a compromise and letting the South go their own way. After all, the people in the North were getting tired of the war, too.

Last but not least, Lee had a great desire (and need) to begin feeding his army in Pennsylvania instead of in Virginia. His army was eating Virginians out of house and home. The prosperous "Pennsylvania Dutch" German farmers wouldn't miss a million or so chickens and much of their cattle and bursting storehouses full of grain and orchards laden with heavy fruit - not to mention 50,000 or so pairs of shoes.

So it came to pass, in late June of 1863, General Robert E. Lee began to consolidate his great army, and the waning days of June saw the three splendid corps of the Army of Northern Virginia on the top side of the Mason-Dixon line, in search of provisions and the Army of the Potomac, whichever came first.

Odd that Lee would have to search, but, as it happened, Lee had just lost his right arm and was almost totally blind as the invasion began. His right arm, of course was what he euphemistically called his main man, General Stonewall Jackson, who had been killed recently at Chancellorsville. Lee hadn't gotten over that yet and wondered aloud at what he would possibly do without Jackson. Worse, Jackson had been shot by his own men, at night, when Jackson had absentmindedly failed to answer the challenge of a sentry.

As for being blind, Lee hadn't seen hide nor hair of General J.E.B. Stuart in days now, not since Harper's Ferry or thereabouts. An army without cavalry, in those days, was a blind army. Lee wondered why Stuart and his cavalry didn't appear and bring him intelligence as to the whereabouts of the Army of the Potomac. Worriedly, he continued north, hardly invisible to anyone who could see.

As it turned out, the army Lee was looking for was in a bit of disarray as well, very spread out. Lincoln had just fired Joe Hooker that day, so the Army of the Potomac - wherever it was - was without a commanding general for the time being. Joe Hooker had a bit of a mouth on him and he had recently lost an argument with Lincoln and the War Department in Washington.

See, after Chancellorsville, Hooker was convinced Lee was still bogged down at Fredericksburg (he had even had General Sedgewick, commander of the "Big Sixth" Corps of the Union Army, send a brigade down across the river to punch at "Lee's" army which Hooker thought was still hunkered down in Fredericksburg, and Sedgewick's boys fancied they felt enough resistance from the Confederate forces there - it was really "only" J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry, not Lee's army - to tell Hooker that Lee was still there) so Hooker quickly got it into his head that Lee had left Richmond exposed (he had) and told Lincoln he intended to trot on down and take the Southern Capital.

To which Abraham Lincoln replied, "Your ass, Joe. Get thyself back up here and put my army between Washington and the Confederates. I don't need another Southern city to feed." Or words to that effect.

To which Hooker replied with words to the effect that if Lincoln didn't like the way he was handling the war in the Eastern Theater, then he could just take his resignation right then and there, and Lincoln allowed as how he WOULD do just that and don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, Joe. Like that. More or less.

So it came to pass that General George Meade became head honcho of the Army of the Potomac just as Lee was bringing the pride of the South up to introduce themselves to the Pennsylvania farmers. And Meade? George Meade didn't have a clue what Hooker's plans had been, and really didn't know exactly where all "his" army was right now. In fact, just to show you the confusion and suspicion going on in the Union high command at the moment, Meade later said when he was woken up to be told he was now the new Commander, he thought he was being arrested for something else he had recently done. Ah, well.

So General George Gordon Meade got out his maps and at the same time was sincerely unhappy to be informed that the South was invading him. Somewhere. Welcome, George. Have a cup of coffee, and let's get it on.

Robert E. Lee proceeded to cautiously continue to bring his army up, sans cavalry and intelligence - where WAS Stuart? Arrrgh. It is really a pain in the ass to keep tabs on three full corps of infantry, artillery, and miles of supply wagons - while looking for the rather bleary eyed George Meade. And Meade was alookin' for Lee too.

Soon the two armies would find each other just outside a prosperous little town in southern Pennsylvania, called Gettysburg.


  1. I like this.
    Aaaaaaand the good guys win! :)

  2. RM, that's how I remember things, mostly, too. And, Adullamite, I agree, but I'm not sure RM does.

    Like almost every time someone challenges the US on their own soil in the interest of getting them to back off, it has the opposite effect.

    But I think we're all jumping the gun. I expect Gettysburg is good for several more posts.

  3. Lee and Stuart had a tete-a- tete when Jeb finally showed his plumed hat again. He was too much of a gentleman but I bet Lee wanted to pimp slap that boy.

  4. @Adullamite - I think there were probably more losers than winners in this war. Some won something. That's a poser.

  5. @Rocket Scientist - It truly was great, wasn't it? Sometimes I surprise myself. I hope I seemed objective so far. :)

  6. @Stephanie Barr - Much more Gettysburg. :)

  7. ::She seems serious. She seems like she genuinely wants to contribute. She might even go out and take some pictures of old statues in Richmond for us. What to do what to do. Aw, don't so suspicious. She's harmless enough::

  8. Right. Well, oddly enough (not so oddly if you've studied Lee) the thing General Lee was so upset at General Stuart about, once Stuart finally reported to Lee's Gettysburg headquarters, was not what he had done or where he had been, but that he had caused Lee, during the brief conversation, to lose his composure.

    I could go on, and will in a future post, but Lee prided himself in being calm and unruffled regardless of what was happening around him, a trait that stood him in good stead on the battlefield.

    But Stuart had caused Lee to become visibly angry in front of witnesses in the little room, and THAT was unforgivable. For the time being, at least.


  9. I love reading your posts and comments.

    I learn a lot here...

  10. You had me at "I will keep the posts short".
    I should know better than that.

    I've always been told "Those that ignore history are doomed to repeat it." Perhaps you should jump ahead to WWII. Maybe you can lift some heads out of the sand.

    Sorry if I opened a can of worms.
    I realize now that I will have to come back here and defend my comment. See now I have to think and stuff, research and everything. I should have stayed at Slap Happy.

  11. Sue, read Jeff King's comment above your head. This is exactly the kind of comment that is perfect. :)

  12. There was no other person in the room. There may have been some alleged conversation with Stuart after the fact that Mosby or Longstreet recounted having in later years. Nice try. No one witnessed what went on between those two men in Lee's office in that house being used as headquarters. Lee once told Longstreet when Longstreet blew up in front of his men "How can you control them when you cannot even control yourself." Lee did have a temper and spent a lifetime disciplining himself not to give into it.

    As usual you say the most fantastic things. When you want to toss your cliff notes and chat seriously let me know. Pictures of statues indeed... and when you get to the part about Pickett's Charge and why it was ordered by Lee, look into Shelby Foote's work. In a lecture here in Richmond he posited the most sensible reason I ever heard as to why Lee didn't back away from it.

  13. Bravo, Leazwell. I pride myself on my knowledge of the American Civil War (aka) the War Between the States but I've learned never to challenge you on the subject.

  14. Well Max, I think I may actually have learnt something from reading this. Although I hope there are no tests, I was never very good at tests.

    When is the next "short" installment? I want to know what happens next. They didn't teach us much civil war history in England.

  15. Hi Caroline. Thank you for commenting. :)

    Yeah I have a few made up ahead of time but not going to run them every post. I'm trying to cut them down.

    I read some of the SI article about Wembley. Wembledon, I mean. :) I will read more later.

    (What's Wembley?)

  16. Did I type Wembley instead of Wimbledom? Wouldn't surprise me these days. Wimbledon = Tennis, Wembley = Football (the game where you kick the ball with you feet, you guys call it soccer) and Rugby. :)

  17. Oh I guess I did not, you are just referring to the article. Don't mind me. My brain is slowly deteriorating.

  18. I love reading your posts and comments.

    I learn a lot here...



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