Porter Alexander's Assessment of Lee's Decision to Fight

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

RobertP

Major
Joined
Nov 11, 2009
Location
Dallas
Both are good additions yet Lee was stretching his limited supply lines with just invading Maryland. Harper's Ferry was a windfall yet he used a lot of those supplies fighting at South Mountain and Antietam. How long could he have lasted without acquiring additional military supplies?
Regards
David
Harper’s Ferry wasn’t surrendered until after South Mountain IIRC.
 

Mark Roth

Corporal
Joined
Aug 15, 2016
Location
Whereve I Am
Lee didn’t need to destroy McClellan’s army in order to win at Antietam; all he had to do was repulse McClellan’s initial, disjointed attack. McClellan would have been convinced that Lee had a large force in a good defensive position, and would have withdrawn into his own good defensive position on the eastern side of the creek and waited for Lee to attack, which wouldn’t have happened. McClellan would have called to Lincoln for more troops, and Lee would have taken the opportunity to move north into Pennsylvania.
Would he have moved North though? Ten months later he was in the same situation: federal troops retreating into the high ground on Northern soil. He didn't leave and he was counseled to leave.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Northern Light

Lt. Colonel
Forum Host
Joined
Jul 21, 2014
Would he have moved North though? Ten months later he was in the same situation: federal troops retreating into the high ground on Northern soil. He didn't leave and he was counseled to leave.
He was ready to leave but when he heard that Harper's Ferry had fallen, he thought maybe he had a shot.
 

Ole Miss

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Dec 9, 2017
Location
North Mississippi
South Mountain expended men and materials Lee could not replace in Maryland. You are correct that the AOP did not replenish from the Harper’s Ferry but he did use them prior to Fredericksburg. Lee came away from Sharpsburg poorer for the campaign.
Regards
David
 
Joined
Jul 8, 2018
Location
Maryland
Lee would have been very short of ammunition and with an exhausted and shot up army.
I doubt it. The battle would have been relatively small. 17k federals against 15k confederates. Smaller than South Mountain. Do you really think two minor battles would have been enough to stop Lee’s campaign even after capturing the supplies at Harpers Ferry? Did Lee invade Union soil without having the ability to fight battles?
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Joined
Jul 8, 2018
Location
Maryland
Would he have moved North though?
I would think so. It would have been a minor battle. Why would Lee stand and fight at Antietam if he thought that even just a small battle would bring an end to his campaign? It seems to me that Lee is trying to do the same thing at Antietam that he did in the Seven Days, i.e. make McClellan believe that the confederates have a large army so that McClellan will be afraid to use his own army and will let Lee do whatever he wants.
 
Last edited:

DaveBrt

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Location
Charlotte, NC
I doubt it. The battle would have been relatively small. 17k federals against 15k confederates. Smaller than South Mountain. Do you really think two minor battles would have been enough to stop Lee’s campaign even after capturing the supplies at Harpers Ferry? Did Lee invade Union soil without having the ability to fight battles?
He had not captured the supplies at HF at the time of your battle and it was not certain he would. I have no idea where the troop numbers you gave came from -- why would it have been so small? McClellan was no tiger, but he had driven the Confederates to the gates of Richmond not long ago and would not likely run from 15k Confederates.
 
Joined
Jul 8, 2018
Location
Maryland
He had not captured the supplies at HF at the time of your battle and it was not certain he would. I have no idea where the troop numbers you gave came from -- why would it have been so small? McClellan was no tiger, but he had driven the Confederates to the gates of Richmond not long ago and would not likely run from 15k Confederates.
Harpers Ferry was captured on the 15th. I’m talking about the morning of the 17th. McClellan sent the 1st Corps (9,400 men) and 12th Corps (7,600 men) to attack the confederates. Lee had four infantry divisions on that part of the field: Jackson’s division (2,100 men), Ewell’s Division (4,200 men), Hood’s division (2,300 men), and D.H. Hill’s division (5,800 men). He also had his reserve artillery (600 men). He also had some cavalry and horse artillery around Nicodemus Heights, but I didn’t count them. (Source: Ezra Carman)

McClellan wouldn’t run from 15,000 confederates, but McClellan fears that Lee has over 90,000. McClellan knows that Lee’s army was recently separated and in pieces, but Lee has had two days to reunite. McClellan thinks that he could be facing Lee’s whole army of over 90,000, or it could be less than half that if Lee’s main force is still at Harpers Ferry. Or it could be any amount in between.

So, if the 1st and 12th Corps are successful, then it tells McClellan that Lee’s force is weak, and therefore McClellan will want to throw his whole army at Lee in order to overwhelm him, which is exactly what McClellan tries to do. But if the 1st and 12th Corps are repulsed, then it will confirm to McClellan that Lee has a strong force, in a very good defensive position, and I don’t think that McClellan ever sends the 2nd, 9th, and 6th Corps across the creek, because he doesn’t want to lose his whole army. I think he sits on the eastern side of the Antietam and demands more troops.
 
Last edited:
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Irishtom29

Sergeant Major
Joined
Jul 21, 2008
Location
Comancheria
As Alexander was not at Antietam, his assessment of Lee is about as good as yours or mine.
Perhaps, but unlike us Alexander knew many people who were there and for a couple of years fought alongside them. I reckon he heard a great deal of first hand information, and from high ranking officers too, not rankers. I think his opinions were at the least well informed.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Northern Light

Lt. Colonel
Forum Host
Joined
Jul 21, 2014
Perhaps, but unlike us Alexander knew many people who were there and for a couple of years fought alongside them. I reckon he heard a great deal of first hand information, and from high ranking officers too, not rankers. I think his opinions were at the least well informed.
He also wrote that a long time after. I am not a big fan of Alexander's. I find his memoires rather self-serving and overtly critical of everyone but himself. He was twenty-six-or seven at the time of Antietam, and just did not have enough experience to know the stuff he knew when he wrote his books. He was an engineer before the war and had no combat or artillery experience. He taught engineering and fencing at West Point. I am very sceptical of a lot that he writes.
 

Andy Cardinal

2nd Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 27, 2017
Location
Ohio
He also wrote that a long time after. I am not a big fan of Alexander's. I find his memoires rather self-serving and overtly critical of everyone but himself. He was twenty-six-or seven at the time of Antietam, and just did not have enough experience to know the stuff he knew when he wrote his books. He was an engineer before the war and had no combat or artillery experience. He taught engineering and fencing at West Point. I am very sceptical of a lot that he writes.
I am personally skeptical as well, but I know this particular quote is referenced often in Antietam studies.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Joined
Jul 8, 2018
Location
Maryland
He had not captured the supplies at HF at the time of your battle and it was not certain he would. I have no idea where the troop numbers you gave came from -- why would it have been so small? McClellan was no tiger, but he had driven the Confederates to the gates of Richmond not long ago and would not likely run from 15k Confederates.
If you're thinking that losing only a few thousand men at Antietam would not have been enough to stymie McClellan, remember that he lost 5,000 at Seven Pines and it stopped his progress for a month.
 
Joined
Jul 8, 2018
Location
Maryland
I think the biggest problem with Alexander’s assessment of Lee’s decision is that he thinks that Lee had no chance of winning the battle and continuing the campaign. He assumes that McClellan was committed from the start to throwing his whole army at Lee, which isn’t true at all. McClellan didn’t decide to commit his whole army until 7:00 am, after seeing the failure of Lee’s first counterattack.
 
Last edited:
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Rebelsoul

Private
Joined
Jul 14, 2017
Location
Alabamian living in Montana
If McClellan is facing over 90,000 confederates at Antietam, like he thinks, then he risks his whole army.

If Lee wins at Antietam, then I think he wins the war: It would open Pennsylvania to invasion, which would lead to Democrats winning control of the House, which would mean that Lincoln couldn’t get the gigantic, 2 million man army in the second half of his term that was necessary for Union victory in the war.
Even if Lee would have won at Sharpsburg, would his army been in any shape to invade Pennsylvania ?
 
Joined
Jul 8, 2018
Location
Maryland
Even if Lee would have won at Sharpsburg, would his army been in any shape to invade Pennsylvania ?
Lee knew the condition of his army better than anyone else. Why would he make a stand at Sharpsburg if he thought that any battle against the federals would end his campaign? Does he think that McClellan won’t attack at all?
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Top