Jubal Early's 1864 Raid on Washington, D. C.

James N.

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Following the failure of Union Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel's force to secure the Shenandoah Valley in the opening moves of U.S. Grant's coordinated Overland Campaign beginning in May, 1864, Sigel was replaced by Virginia native Maj. Gen. David "Black Dave" Hunter. Hunter moved resolutely southward up the Valley, smashing the outnumbered Confederate defenders at Piedmont and capturing and plundering Lexington and torching Virginia Military Institute there before crossing the Blue Ridge to threaten the major supply and rail center at Lynchburg. Hunter had been aided in all this when, following Sigel's defeat at New Market, most of the defenders of the Valley had been withdrawn to aid Robert E. Lee's army outside Richmond at Cold Harbor.

Belatedly recognizing the threat presented by Hunter and his relatively small army, Lee decided on a bold gamble to regain the lost territory. Returning the defenders under Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge, Lee added to them almost one third of his own army, the Second Corps commanded by newly-promoted Lt. Gen. Jubal Early who was given three assignments: 1) Drive Hunter from the Valley, securing its harvests for the Confederacy; 2) Invade Maryland and wreck the Baltimore & Ohio ( B&O ) Railroad and Canal supplying Washington, D. C., from the west; and 3) If possible, capture the Federal capital, recently weakened by transfer of troops to replace Grant's losses in the Overland Campaign.

It proved to be a surprisingly easy matter to repel Hunter, who had grown overcautious and feared he was severely outnumbered once he discovered he was facing not the local militia he thought, but Early's veterans. In truth, the once-powerful Second Corps had shrunk to a third of its size just the previous year at Gettysburg - only about 8,000 men - about the size of a full-strength division. Deciding that "Discretion was the better part of Valor", Black Dave beat a hasty retreat to the west which effectively removed him from the scene of action for almost a month.


Attempting to fulfill Lee's instructions, Early led his force into the Shenandoah after Hunter, but soon turned northward towards Harpers Ferry ( above ), now garrisoned by a small force under the failed Franz Sigel. Rather than attempt to occupy the entire defensive position there, the outnumbered Sigel pulled all his men into a small perimeter on Camp Hill, dominated by the large brick offices and residences once occupied by officials of the Harpers Ferry Arsenal and Armory. The Lockwood House, below, served several times as a headquarters during the periods of Union occupation.


Not wishing to take the time necessary to invest Sigel's position and lacking the artillery necessary to force a Union surrender in the manner of Stonewall Jackson two years earlier, Early chose to instead bypass Harpers Ferry and cross the South Mountain range through the very passes that had witnessed severe struggles during the Antietam Campaign in Sept., 1862. Turner's, Fox's, and Crampton's Gaps again felt the tread of marching columns; below, the War Correspondents' Memorial Arch at Crampton's.


Early's route to the Capital seemed open to his small army of now perhaps 12 - 15,000 men, as his three original divisions, led by Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon, Maj. Gen. Robert E. Rodes, and Brig. Gen. Stephen D. Ramseur, were joined by the addition of Breckinridge's Division; the remnants of the force defeated at Piedmont, now under Brig. Gen. John C. Vaughn; and a couple of mixed cavalry brigades under Bradley T. Johnson and John McCausland. All was not as it seemed however, since a scratch force of Federals was waiting for them south of Frederick, Maryland, under department commander Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace who had rushed them by rail from Baltimore in order to protect the B&O rail junction near the Monocacy River.

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Wallace's small force of some 3,000 was swelled by the addition of Union reenforcements sent by Grant from near Petersburg, the 3,000-man VI Corps division of Maj. Gen. James B. Ricketts. With roughly half the force disposed by Early, Wallace decided to offer battle at Monocacy. ( For additional information concerning the battle there, please see the following: http://civilwartalk.com/threads/the-battle-of-monocacy.103560/ ) Despite stiff resistance all through the afternoon of July 9, Wallace was finally forced to retreat back in the direction of Baltimore, once more leaving open to Early the way to Washington.


As Early's small army approached the Federal capital, commanders there were thrown into momentary panic as they attempted to find enough troops to man the depleted forts and batteries which ringed the town making it possibly the most heavily fortified place on earth. As had become his custom, Abraham Lincoln was residing with his family in the so-called "Cottage" at the Soldiers' Home near Fort Totten on the northern defense line. ( http://civilwartalk.com/threads/lincoln-cottage-at-the-soldiers-home.103628/#post-942390 ) Responding to the threat, Lincoln returned to the White House, but was soon visiting nearby Fort Stevens, northernmost of the forts ringing Washington.

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Early deployed the leading division of Robert Rodes which had largely sat out the fight at Monocacy, but the approach march had been too strenuous and tiring in the July heat and dust and his division had been too greatly weakened by straggling to do more than skirmish with the Federal defenders. The following day brought further evidence that additional reenforcements from Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright's VI Corps of Grant's army had arrived. Now it was Early's turn to withdraw, having accomplished another of his objectives: the weakening of Grant's force facing Lee outside Richmond and Petersburg. For additional details about Early's time at Fort Stevens and Lincoln under fire, please see the following:


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Hunter finally completed his march to return to the Maryland area and as senior officer there took command of the mixed forces assembled to confront Early's threat. Grant finally tired of this thorn in his side and made the trip to the Frederick area where on August 5, 1864, he met with Hunter, Wright, and other generals at the Thomas House ( above ) on the old Monocacy battlefield. Previously he had requested from Lincoln that the four individual departments and commands that had been affected by Early's actions be combined into one in order to reply successfully to future problems in the Valley and its environs. When he asked Hunter the present location of the Confederates and was told "I have no idea", Grant determined then to replace him with the 33-year-old Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan, who was sent for immediately and arrived the following day. From then might be dated the end of "Jubal's Raid" and the beginning off Sheridan's Valley Campaign of 1864.
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