Was the Maryland Invasion Really Necessary?

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

WJC

Major General
Moderator
Thread Medic
Answered the Call for Reinforcements
Joined
Aug 16, 2015
Messages
12,838
Author Kent M. Brown has argued that instead of pursuing an invasion of Maryland in September 1862, Lee should have moved on Washington. Even without a battle, simply showing his ability to threaten the US capital would have been far more likely to win foreign recognition and far less costly than an offensive thrust into the north.
Let's discuss this assertion.
 

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 10, 2006
Messages
3,658
Lee gave his reasons as an inability to sustain his army in front of Washington and a lack of the siege artillery necessary to smash through the defences. He was probably correct.

What Lee should have done, and Johnston intended in his September-October '61 plan, which was abandoned because the government couldn't provide him the extra 50,000 effective troops he needed, was move against Baltimore. This severs the only railroad to Washington and would put Washington under a "far siege".

McClellan understood the threat, and that's why when he took command he moved north to cover Baltimore.
 

Andy Cardinal

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 27, 2017
Messages
2,425
Location
Ohio
I don't think Lee had the strength to seriously threaten Washington, confusion and despair in Washington after Pope's defeat notwithstanding.

I think Lee may have been holding his options open while at Frederick, but was forced to eliminate the garrison at Harper's Ferry to secure his communications. What he might have done if the garrison had not been an issue is open to conjecture, but I doubt he would have had the strength to strike seriously at Baltimore either.
 
Last edited:
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

jgoodguy

Banished Forever
-:- A Mime -:-
is a terrible thing...
Don’t feed the Mime
Joined
Aug 17, 2011
Messages
35,519
Location
Birmingham, Alabama
Lee gave his reasons as an inability to sustain his army in front of Washington and a lack of the siege artillery necessary to smash through the defences. He was probably correct.

What Lee should have done, and Johnston intended in his September-October '61 plan, which was abandoned because the government couldn't provide him the extra 50,000 effective troops he needed, was move against Baltimore. This severs the only railroad to Washington and would put Washington under a "far siege".

McClellan understood the threat, and that's why when he took command he moved north to cover Baltimore.
At one point the B&O was shut down for 6 months Oct 61 to March 62. What could Lee have done differently?


Civil War period

At the outset of the Civil War, the B&O possessed 236 locomotives, 128 passenger coaches, 3,451 rail cars and 513 miles (826 km) of rail road, all in states south of the Mason–Dixon line. Although many Marylanders had Southern sympathies, Garrett and Hopkins supported the Union. The B&O was instrumental in supporting the Federal government during the Civil War, as it was the main rail connection between Washington, D.C., and the northern states. As a result, 143 raids and battles during the war involved the B&O Railroad, many resulting in substantial loss.

1861–1862[edit]
Confederate operations began in May with Colonel Jackson's operations against the B&O Railroad (1861). By the end of 1861, 23 B&O railroad bridges had been burned, 102 miles (164 km) of telegraph line were cut down, 36.5 miles (58.7 km) of track was torn up or destroyed, 42 locomotives were burned, 14 locomotives were captured and 386 rail cars stolen and destroyed. Through these actions, operations on B&O Railroad were completely shut down for ten months. It was not until the end of March 1862 that service on the B&O Railroad was restored, and even then train movements were sporadic and subject to frequent stoppages, derailments, capture and attack. Prominent raids on the B&O railroad during this period were:​

An 1861 map.
default.jpg
 

USS ALASKA

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Mar 16, 2016
Messages
4,537
By 1865, the Defenses of Washington included 68 forts, supported by 93 detached batteries for field guns, 20 miles of rifle pits, and covered ways, wooden blockhouses at three key points, 32 miles of military roads, several stockaded bridgeheads, and four picket stations. Along the circumference of the 37-mile circle of fortifications were emplacements for a total of 1501 field and siege guns of which 807 guns and 98 mortars were in place. The defenseless city of 1860 had become one of the most heavily fortified cities of the world.

https://www.nps.gov/cwdw/learn/historyculture/index.htm

How formidable were these defenses in Sept of '62? Would they have given Lee pause?

Thanks,
USS ALASKA
 

Saphroneth

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Messages
4,823
At one point the B&O was shut down for 6 months Oct 61 to March 62. What could Lee have done differently?
Simple. The section of the Baltimore and Ohio which was shut down was the section to the northwest of DC, which went from Baltimore via Harpers Ferry to Ohio. Even when this is shut down Baltimore is still connected both to the rest of the US (north) and to DC (south).

The section 67th is talking about is the line from Washington DC to Baltimore.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Saphroneth

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Messages
4,823
How formidable were these defenses in Sept of '62? Would they have given Lee pause?
They would have given Lee pause, because he didn't have the siege guns and he didn't have the well-trained regular army. The Washington defences were not formidable in fact by European standards, largely because of the size of the fort ring (it's about 30 guns per mile in 1865, which isn't very dense) and British engineers felt at least some of the works could successfully be attacked by cavalry.
 

jgoodguy

Banished Forever
-:- A Mime -:-
is a terrible thing...
Don’t feed the Mime
Joined
Aug 17, 2011
Messages
35,519
Location
Birmingham, Alabama
Simple. The section of the Baltimore and Ohio which was shut down was the section to the northwest of DC, which went from Baltimore via Harpers Ferry to Ohio. Even when this is shut down Baltimore is still connected both to the rest of the US (north) and to DC (south).

The section 67th is talking about is the line from Washington DC to Baltimore.
Thanks!
They would have given Lee pause, because he didn't have the siege guns and he didn't have the well-trained regular army. The Washington defences were not formidable in fact by European standards, largely because of the size of the fort ring (it's about 30 guns per mile in 1865, which isn't very dense) and British engineers felt at least some of the works could successfully be attacked by cavalry.
The state of training is an issue. IMHO in 1861, a well-trained army could have taken DC, but in 1861 no one had a well-trained army.
 

Saphroneth

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Messages
4,823
The state of training is an issue. IMHO in 1861, a well-trained army could have taken DC, but in 1861 no one had a well-trained army.
A well-trained army could have taken DC. There's no need for "in 1861". Though I'm counting "well trained" to be European style, which are very good by American standards.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

USS ALASKA

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Mar 16, 2016
Messages
4,537
...was move against Baltimore...
So this would just move the site of the coming battle from Antietam to the Baltimore area. And the Union would be much better supported by the proximity to the Northern Central and Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroads. Wouldn't it behoove Lee to fight as far away from major Union LOCs as possible to help even the odds?

Cheers,
USS ALASKA
 

kevikens

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Jun 7, 2013
Messages
3,193
Location
New Jersey
The late summer of 1862 exposed a serious deficiency in the Army of Northern Virginia and within the Confederacy as a whole, that is, the inability to occupy Northern territory for any extended length of time. Unless the North was going to cave in from heavy losses in defending itself, and I don't see that at this stage in the war, Confederate armies could not pull off more than a temporary dislocation in the border states region through glorified raids. The Confederacy simply did not have the manpower to occupy and retain control of territory outside the Confederacy. That is why when Jackson captured Harper's Ferry in September he abandoned the place almost at once. Lee understood this in the late summer of 1862 (and probably in the mid summer of 1863 as well). Heading into Maryland in September of 1862 to feed his troops, was probably the best he could do. For those who think that going for Baltimore was a good idea, that could have been the end of the Army of Northern Virginia. With the Chesapeake Bay to its east there were few lines of operation for that army other than going back where it came from, right into a waiting Union army entrenched to its eyelids. DC still had rail openings to Annapolis and by ships on the Potomac access to other resources. I think, although Lee knew the risks of a Western Maryland invasion, it was either that or a less than glorious withdraw into the Northern Neck region of Virginia.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

jgoodguy

Banished Forever
-:- A Mime -:-
is a terrible thing...
Don’t feed the Mime
Joined
Aug 17, 2011
Messages
35,519
Location
Birmingham, Alabama
The late summer of 1862 exposed a serious deficiency in the Army of Northern Virginia and within the Confederacy as a whole, that is, the inability to occupy Northern territory for any extended length of time. Unless the North was going to cave in from heavy losses in defending itself, and I don't see that at this stage in the war, Confederate armies could not pull off more than a temporary dislocation in the border states region through glorified raids. The Confederacy simply did not have the manpower to occupy and retain control of territory outside the Confederacy. That is why when Jackson captured Harper's Ferry in September he abandoned the place almost at once. Lee understood this in the late summer of 1862 (and probably in the mid summer of 1863 as well). Heading into Maryland in September of 1862 to feed his troops, was probably the best he could do. For those who think that going for Baltimore was a good idea, that could have been the end of the Army of Northern Virginia. With the Chesapeake Bay to its east there were few lines of operation for that army other than going back where it came from, right into a waiting Union army entrenched to its eyelids. DC still had rail openings to Annapolis and by ships on the Potomac access to other resources. I think, although Lee knew the risks of a Western Maryland invasion, it was either that or a less than glorious withdraw into the Northern Neck region of Virginia.
Good point on the logistics and the alternate supply lines for DC.
 

Carronade

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 4, 2011
Messages
4,712
Location
Pennsylvania
So this would just move the site of the coming battle from Antietam to the Baltimore area. And the Union would be much better supported by the proximity to the Northern Central and Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroads. Wouldn't it behoove Lee to fight as far away from major Union LOCs as possible to help even the odds?

Cheers,
USS ALASKA
Just about to say that myself. Either way he ends up fighting the Army of the Potomac, possibly under less advantageous conditions.

"Take Baltimore", "cut off Washington" all sounds great, but he'd also be sticking his own neck out. What about his own logistics and communications? It's tempting to say the Confederates could just take everything they need from the Yankees, but once they get involved in combat, they can no longer forage, and they'll need replenishment of ammunition, evacuation of wounded, etc.
 

USS ALASKA

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Mar 16, 2016
Messages
4,537
From a logistics stand-point, it would make the most sense for the Confederacy to fight it's battles as far away from Union roads, waterways and railroads as possible to put maximum stress upon the Union supply system. Put the Union forces in the same position as the Confederacy. The flip side to that is one doesn't win wars fighting in isolated areas...

Cheers,
USS ALASKA
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Saphroneth

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Messages
4,823
So this would just move the site of the coming battle from Antietam to the Baltimore area. And the Union would be much better supported by the proximity to the Northern Central and Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroads. Wouldn't it behoove Lee to fight as far away from major Union LOCs as possible to help even the odds?
Not really.
Remember that as far as Lee was concerned he'd just absolutely ripped the Union army a new one, while there simply was no Union force of any size north of Washington. He was anticipating fighting fundamentally the same army he'd beaten mere weeks previously, and by attacking a target they absolutely had to engage him over he was probably hoping he could make them attack his entrenchments.

There's also the additional point that it was harvest time, so sustaining an army in the field isn't impossible.

"Take Baltimore", "cut off Washington" all sounds great, but he'd also be sticking his own neck out. What about his own logistics and communications? It's tempting to say the Confederates could just take everything they need from the Yankees, but once they get involved in combat, they can no longer forage, and they'll need replenishment of ammunition, evacuation of wounded, etc.
How long do you expect a battle to take? A flying column with adequate transport can supply for about ten days between replenishments, and if foraging is going on until the battle starts then almost no Civil War battles (as opposed to sieges) are long enough that supply would become a problem. Meanwhile by holding the gaps in South Mountain etc. he can keep the Valley as his secure supply base, so he doesn't actually have all that far to go from his supply route to Washington.

A raid on Baltimore taking a few days to get there, a few days to fight a battle and ruin the rail communications and a few days to return to supply is a reasonable course of operations, and it'd leave DC in a real state.

Of course, the B and O RR might well serve as a possible supply line for Lee...



Ultimately it's probably the best option Lee has for doing serious hurt to the Union in the situations then prevailing, given his time limit (the Union's new levies are training) and the wish to follow up the Second Manassas body-blow with a finisher.

The thing he didn't anticipate, essentially, was McClellan. We should not understate McClellan's achievement in simply being able to take a confident army into the field within only a couple of weeks of a devastating rout.
 

jackt62

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Messages
3,623
Location
New York City
I don't agree that a move on Washington would have been a wise decision by Lee. Aside from the valid objections to attacking Washington raised in these posts, Lee had several major reasons for raiding Maryland, specifically to obtain food and forage for the ANV, and to enlist those Marylanders who were sympathetic to the southern cause. Moreover, a confederate victroy at Antietam would have been sufficient to possibly tip the European scales in favor of southern recognition, and would almost certainly have caused Lincoln to delay or even abandon the promulagation of the Emancipation Proclamation. So Lee's original goals in undertaking the Maryland campaign were certainly worthy, even though they were not achieved on most counts.
 

Saphroneth

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Messages
4,823
Incidentally, there's at least one chink I know of in the Washington defences in the 1862 period, though Lee would not have known of it. Fort Kearny, begun in September 1862 (i.e. around the time of the Maryland campaign) covered a topographic gap, and wasn't considered finished until December 1862.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

USS ALASKA

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Mar 16, 2016
Messages
4,537
How long do you expect a battle to take?

A raid on Baltimore taking a few days to get there, a few days to fight a battle and ruin the rail communications and a few days to return to supply is a reasonable course of operations, and it'd leave DC in a real state.
How long do you expect the railroads to be down? We aren't talking western Maryland or southern PA. It won't take months to re-establish those lines. Days. The RRs that Lee's troops tore up during the Gettysburg battle were restored before the battle was over.

Of course, the B and O RR might well serve as a possible supply line for Lee...
OK - which way are we going here? Destroy the line to make it unusable to the Union or keep it open to support Lee. Don't think we can have it both ways.

Cheers,
USS ALASKA
 
Last edited:

Saphroneth

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Messages
4,823
How long do you expect the railroads to be down? We aren't talking western Maryland or southern PA. It won't take months to re-establish those lines. Days. The RRs that Lee's troops tore up during the Gettysburg battle were restored before the battle was over.
A fair amount of time, actually. There are bridges on the Washington - Baltimore rail line, the two significant ones being over the Patapsco (at Elkridge Landing) and the Big Patuxent (southwest of Annapolis Junction). Taking Baltimore would also permit the destruction of the station, as there's no rail line through Baltimore.

Of course, if Lee can use the B&O as a supply line for his own army, there's a real possibility to place a garrison to block the rail line on a long term basis - the Patuxent offers a line to fortify.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Top