Why did the Confederacy not try to take Virginia near DC?

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#1
Instead of invading Maryland and Pennsylvania, wouldn't it have been a good idea to follow up victories by trying to take Fairfax and Alexandria (now Arlington) Counties? Why not try to control the Virginia side of the bridges to DC? That would threaten an attack on the capital and make it more difficult for the Union Army in Virginia to be supplied. I realize that area was heavily defended and had many forts, and I assume that was the reason. However, I wonder why there wasn't more attempts to move toward Washington.
 

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#2
I am farthest from an expert as you'll find on these threads, but I believe the simplest answer is because there was no way for the state of Virginia to support an army at all anymore. Most of the fighting for the first two years had taken part in Virginia and the state was simply exhausted. Foraging parties had already cleaned the grounds last year...and the year before....there wasn't anything left to take. They wanted to get into Maryland and Pennsylvania to help take pressure off Virginia farmlands/towns/people and start living off the other side for a while. They also felt that they could pick up much needed recruits in the nuetral state of Maryland as they went through. I also believe they weren't directly trying to attack Washington (again, not an expert); I believe they were just trying to get the Army of the Potomac out onto favorable ground and deliver one decisvie blow on Northern soil. The thought being the political pressure from all the northern politicians on Lincoln would be enough for him to end the war and declare southern victory. I'm sure others will expound on this greatly, but this should be a start.

Stay Civil

ACWC
 
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#3
From what I have read, before Virginia was claimed by the Confederacy, they had taken Norfolk and Harper's Ferry, but General Lee at that time was a consultant with President Davis, and reports have been made that he thought it would be too provoking to move troops any nearer to Alexandria than they were. A Maryland Militia officer was in Baltimore named Steuert that had been planning and also given plans for moving people in by 10's and arming them for the uprising. Maryland was almost brought in, but the effort failed due to the boldness of the yanks and the dalliance of confederate leaders. After Bull Run, a good argument was made about not advancing on Washington, even that late in the game. But initially, the plans were all premature, and Harper's Ferry untenable, and Alexandria taken. Confederates advanced to Munson's Hill and past Fairfax at first, but cavalry and advancing picket videttes of the yanks secured it.
Lubliner.
Edit: I may have mistaken your time frame.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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#5
Poked around war time DC quite a bit, seems to have been an expectation they would. City had one alarm after the other, rumors flying around that it was imminent. Reading era papers it's always hard ascertaining which on earth reports were real and which just an alarmist. Found several articles where writers expressed concern forts were manned by green troops. Well, and the panic when CSS Virginia was plated is a little hysterical to read- that ship had even some White House staff convinced she'd come right into the Navy Yard and start lobbing shells at Lincoln.

Was Early so successful, getting as far as he did a fluke, just fortunate circumstance or was DC indeed that vulnerable?
 
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#6
Poked around war time DC quite a bit, seems to have been an expectation they would. City had one alarm after the other, rumors flying around that it was imminent. Reading era papers it's always hard ascertaining which on earth reports were real and which just an alarmist. Found several articles where writers expressed concern forts were manned by green troops. Well, and the panic when CSS Virginia was plated is a little hysterical to read- that ship had even some White House staff convinced she'd come right into the Navy Yard and start lobbing shells at Lincoln.

Was Early so successful, getting as far as he did a fluke, just fortunate circumstance or was DC indeed that vulnerable?
Washington was "indeed that vulnerable" at the time of Early's Raid. Grant had pulled troops from the DC defenses to add to his own numbers. What was left were few, green, or disabled. The impressive defenses had to be manned.
 
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#7
As far as i readed about, i agree with @CivilWarCollector post. Here below a couple of extracts from two free online pdfs you can find easily on the internet, which basically substain the thesis reported previously.

MD invasion

source : ‘battle of Antietam’ (staff ride guide) by Ted Ballard, 2006
In the days after second Bull Run, the government in Washington prepared for an expected confederate assault and Lee pondered his options. Insufficient numbers of troops, rations, ammunition, and other supplies prevented him from either attacking or engaging in a siege of the city. Washington was surrounded by extensive fortifications, bristling with artillery, and defended by large numbers of troops.
Lee could not afford to remain idle. It would be only a matter of time before Union forces reorganized and embarked on yet another advance into Virginia. To draw the Union army out of its entrenchments around Washington and into the open, Lee planned to march north of Washington into Maryland. A confederate movement north of the Potomac river would threaten both Washington and Baltimore and force the federal government to devote large numbers of troops to defend those cities.
In early september Lee wrote to confederate president Jefferson Davis that the army of northern Virginia was not properly equipped for such a campaign, especially since thousands of its men were barefoot. Nevertheless, Lee thought that his army was strong enough to keep the enemy occupied north of the Potomac until the approach of winter would make an enemy advance into Virginia difficult, if not impossible. Richmond would be safe, at least until the following spring.

A move which moreover would rally Maryland to confederate banner and gain european recognition.

PA invasion

source : ‘Gettysburg : a study in command’ by Leonard J. Fullenkamp
An invasion of Pennsylvania would:
-- permit subsistence of Lee’s army in the north
-- demonstrate to Northerners that their armies could not protect them
-- seize the operational initiative and preclude federal operations in northern Virginia for the summer. Moreover,
-- a successful operation in Pennsylvania may encourage foreign recognition
-- and would achieve decisive results, unlike western theater strategic options
 

thomas aagaard

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#8
For most of the war D.C. had a pretty large garrison trying to advance on the city would have been meat by both the AoP and this force.

Also the Federal army would be very close to its supply center. The CSA would be rather fare from it.

Lees army could raid into Maryland and Pennsylvanian, but never stay there for any longer period of time.
 

Jimklag

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#9
At the time of the Maryland invasion in the fall of 1862, the entire Union army was in and around Washington, having retreated there after 2nd Manassas. At the beginning of the Gettysburg campaign, the entire Army of the Potomac was between Lee's army and Washington and Washington's defenses were fully manned. Lee chose to use the Valley for his route northward. Had he turned east from the Valley toward Washington, the Union army had the interior lines and could have interposed between Lee and Washington. In fact Hooker's (and Meade's) orders included staying between Lee and Washington/Baltimore. I don't believe an attack on Washington was a viable option to either northern invasion. Early's raid shows the efficacy of interior lines. Though the Union leaders waited until it was almost too late, when 6th corps was ordered north to defend Washington, they got there in time to head off Early.
 

jackt62

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#10
After the confederate victory at 1st Manassas, Jeff Davis (who had arrived on the scene), advocated advancing towards Fairfax and Alexandria, let alone Washington City itself, in order to take advantage of the rout of the Union army. But Generals Beauregard and Johnston correctly counseled against that idea, in part because their own forces had been battered and were disorganized, and despite the Union defeat, because of the strength that federal forces still commanded. General Johnston stated as such in his report of the battle:

"The apparent firmness of the U.S. troops at Centreville, who had not been engaged, which checked our pursuit; the strong forces occupying the works near Georgetown, Arlington, and Alexandria; the certainty, too, that General Patterson, if needed, would reach Washington with his army of thirty thousand men sooner than we could, and the condition and inadequate means of the Army in ammunition, provisions, and transportation prevented any serious thoughts of advancing against the capital. It is certain that the fresh troops within the works were in number quite sufficient for their defense."

And the Washington defenses became even greater as the war years progressed, which is why Confederate commanders such as Lee understood that an assault on that position was unrealistic. At most, Confederate strategy aimed to threaten Washington as a feint, in 1862 and 1864, rather than being any serious attempt to take the city.
 
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#12
However, I wonder why there wasn't more attempts to move toward Washington.
Why try to move on Washington frontally when Confederate control of the Shenandoah Valley allowed them to make a serious thrust at Washington indirectly at a time of their choosing? That's why Lincoln took such a direct involvement when Jackson was active in the Valley...his concern for the safety of D.C.
 
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#13
As far as i readed about, i agree with @CivilWarCollector post. Here below a couple of extracts from two free online pdfs you can find easily on the internet, which basically substain the thesis reported previously.

MD invasion

source : ‘battle of Antietam’ (staff ride guide) by Ted Ballard, 2006
In the days after second Bull Run, the government in Washington prepared for an expected confederate assault and Lee pondered his options. Insufficient numbers of troops, rations, ammunition, and other supplies prevented him from either attacking or engaging in a siege of the city. Washington was surrounded by extensive fortifications, bristling with artillery, and defended by large numbers of troops.
Lee could not afford to remain idle. It would be only a matter of time before Union forces reorganized and embarked on yet another advance into Virginia. To draw the Union army out of its entrenchments around Washington and into the open, Lee planned to march north of Washington into Maryland. A confederate movement north of the Potomac river would threaten both Washington and Baltimore and force the federal government to devote large numbers of troops to defend those cities.
In early september Lee wrote to confederate president Jefferson Davis that the army of northern Virginia was not properly equipped for such a campaign, especially since thousands of its men were barefoot. Nevertheless, Lee thought that his army was strong enough to keep the enemy occupied north of the Potomac until the approach of winter would make an enemy advance into Virginia difficult, if not impossible. Richmond would be safe, at least until the following spring.

A move which moreover would rally Maryland to confederate banner and gain european recognition.

PA invasion

source : ‘Gettysburg : a study in command’ by Leonard J. Fullenkamp
An invasion of Pennsylvania would:
-- permit subsistence of Lee’s army in the north
-- demonstrate to Northerners that their armies could not protect them
-- seize the operational initiative and preclude federal operations in northern Virginia for the summer. Moreover,
-- a successful operation in Pennsylvania may encourage foreign recognition
-- and would achieve decisive results, unlike western theater strategic options
Just thought I should add that this invasion was led by an able cavalry officer named Jeb Stuart, who was to threaten Washington, a terror tactic, disrupt railroads and telegraph, the rallying points for troops being called up for the draft, destroy the records if possible, etc. This alone was enough to give hope to a fading glory.
Lubliner.
 

OpnCoronet

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#15
A tactical mistake. Lee's thinking at the time reflected current confederate dogma at the time, that Md. was in the union only because of Yankee bayonets.

Md. according to confederate propaganda join the confederacy, when its decision could be protected by confederate arms. All Lee had to do was defeat the Union forces in Md. and validate the States rush to join the confederacy. With Md. safely confederate, Washington City, would be surrounded and be forced to surrender or withdraw out of confederate territory.

The confederacy miscalculated on how ready most Marylanders were to join the confederacy, and Lee miscalculated, in that he thought Md. would secede as soon as his army entered the states, without first defeating Union forces in that State, as his Proclamation to the people of Md. seems to indicate.
 
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#16
The Potomac River was much narrower in western Maryland, which was mostly Unionist. What is known as southern Maryland was mostly Secessionist. A few Confederate agents did regularly cross there, but it wasn't practical to get an army across the river there.
 

major bill

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#17
Does anyone have thoughts on the terrain in northern Virginia? It appears that the Confedercy could not hold northern Virginia early in the war and I wonder if terrain had anything to do with this. Even after victories it does not appear the Confedercy ever seriously tired to hold northern Virginia. I have to wonder if the loss of West Virginia had anything to do with this.

Just like the Union Army had to protect Washington DC, the Confedercy had to protect Richmond. Perhaps having the main Confederate Army northern Virginia put the Confederate Army too far from Richmond and it was feared that a Union Army might get between them and Richmond.
 
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#18
Does anyone have thoughts on the terrain in northern Virginia? It appears that the Confedercy could not hold northern Virginia early in the war and I wonder if terrain had anything to do with this. Even after victories it does not appear the Confedercy ever seriously tired to hold northern Virginia. I have to wonder if the loss of West Virginia had anything to do with this.

Just like the Union Army had to protect Washington DC, the Confedercy had to protect Richmond. Perhaps having the main Confederate Army northern Virginia put the Confederate Army too far from Richmond and it was feared that a Union Army might get between them and Richmond.
If they had held northern Virginia, once the Union got Harpers Ferry they could slip up the Shenandoah Valley take Winchester ect
 



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