Early's March to Washington in 1864.1
by Jubal A. Early, Lieutenant-General, C. S. A.
On the 12th of June, 1864, while the Second Corps (Ewell
's) of the Army of Northern Virginia was lying near Gaines's Mill
, in rear of Hill
's line at Cold Harbor, I received orders from General Lee
to move the corps, with two of the battalions of artillery attached to it, to the Shenandoah Valley; to strike Hunter
in the rear and, if possible, destroy it; then to move down the valley, cross the Potomac
near Leesburg, in Loudoun County
, or at or above Harper's Ferry
, as I might find most practicable, and threaten Washington city
I was further directed to communicate with General Breckinridge
, who would cooperate with me in the attack on Hunter
and the expedition into Maryland
The Second Corps now numbered a little over eight thousand muskets for duty.
It had been on active and arduous service in the field for forty days. Divisions were not stronger than brigades ought to have been, nor brigades than regiments.
On the morning of the 13th, at 2 o'clock, we commenced the march, and on the 16th arrived at the Rivanna River
, near Charlottesville
, having marched over eighty miles in four days. At Charlottesville
I received a telegram from Breckinridge
, dated at Lynchburg
, informing me that Hunter
was then in Bedford County
about twenty miles from that place and moving on it. The railroad and telegraph between Charlottesville
had been, fortunately, but slightly injured by the enemy's cavalry, and had been repaired.
I ordered all the trains of the two roads to be sent to me with all dispatch, for the purpose of transporting my troops to Lynehburg.
The trains were not in readiness to take the troops on board until sunrise on the morning of the 17th, and then only enough were furnished to transport about half my infantry.
I accompanied Ramseur
's division, going on the front train; but the road and rolling stock were in such bad condition that I did not reach Lynehburg until about 1 o'clock in the afternoon, and the other trains were much later.
As General Breckinridge
was in bed, suffering from an injury received near Cold Harbor, at his request General D. H. Hill
, who happened to be in town, had made arrangements for the defense of the city with such troops as were at hand.
Slight works had been hastily thrown up on College Hill
, covering the turnpike and Forest roads from Liberty, manned by Breckinridge
's infantry and the dismounted cavalry of the command [Jones's and Vaughn
's brigades] which had been with Jones
The reserves, invalids from the hospitals, and the cadets from the Military Institute at Lexington
occupied other parts of the line.
My troops, as they arrived, had been ordered in front of the works to bivouac, and I immediately sent orders for them to move out on the turnpike, and two brigades of Ramseur
's division arrived just in time to be thrown across the road at a redoubt about two miles from the city as Imboden
's command was driven back by vastly superior numbers.
These brigades, with two pieces of artillery in the redoubt, arrested the progress of the enemy, and Ramseur
's other brigade, and the part of Gordon
's division which had arrived, took position on the same line.
The enemy opened a heavy fire of artillery on us, but as night soon came on he went into camp on our front.
Orders had been given for the immediate return of the trains for the rest of my infantry, but it did not get to Lynchburg
until late in the afternoon of the 18th, and meanwhile I contented myself with acting on the defensive.
There was artillery firing and skirmishing along the line, and in the afternoon an attack was made to the right of the turnpike, which was handsomely repulsed with considerable loss to the enemy.
A demonstration of the enemy's cavalry on the Forest
road was checked by part of Breckinridge
's infantry under Wharton
, and McCausland
As soon as the remainder of my infantry arrived by the railroad, though none of my artillery had gotten up, arrangements were made for attacking Hunter
at daylight on the 19th; but after midnight it was discovered that he was moving, and at light it was observed that he was in retreat, and pursuit commenced.
The enemy's rear was overtaken at Liberty
, twenty-five miles from Lynchburg
, just before night, and driven through that place, after a brisk skirmish, by Ramseur
The day's march on the old turnpike, which was very rough, had been terrible.
The pursuit was resumed early on the morning of the 20th, and the enemy was pursued into the mountains at Buford's Gap, but he had taken possession of the crest of the Blue Ridge
, and put batteries in position commanding a gorge through which the road passes.
On the 21st the pursuit was resumed very shortly after sunrise.
The enemy had turned off from Salem
, and McCausland
had struck his column and captured ten pieces of artillery, but was compelled to fall back, carrying off, however, the prisoners and also a part of the artillery, and disabling the rest.
As the enemy had got into the mountains, where nothing useful could be accomplished by pursuit, I did not deem it proper to continue it farther.
A great part of my command had had nothing to eat for the last two days, except a little bacon which was obtained at Liberty.
It had marched sixty miles in the three days pursuit, over very rough roads.
I determined, therefore, to rest on the 22d, so as to enable the wagons and artillery to get up, and prepare the men for the long march before them.4
I had received a telegram from General Lee
, directing me, after disposing of Hunter
, either to return to his army or to carry out the original plan, as I might deem most expedient.
After the pursuit had ceased I received another dispatch from him, submitting it to my judgment whether the condition of my troops would permit the expedition across the Potomac
to be carried out, and I determined to take the responsibility of continuing it. On the 23d the march was resumed, and we reached Buchanan
On the 26th I reached Staunton
in advance of the troops, and the latter came up next day, which was spent in reducing transportation and getting provisions from Waynesboro
‘. The official reports at this place showed about two thousand mounted men for duty in the cavalry, which was composed of four small brigades, to wit: Imboden
's, and Jones
's (now Johnson
's). The official reports of the infantry showed ten thousand muskets for duty, including Vaughn
's dismounted cavalry.
's own infantry division, under Elzey
(now under Vaughn
, afterward under Echols
's division of the Second Corps was assigned to General Breckinridge
, in order to give him. a command commensurate with his proper one.
Nearly half the troops were barefoot, or nearly so, and shoes were sent for. But without waiting for them the march was resumed on the 28th, with five days rations in the wagons and two days in haversacks.
was sent through Brock's Gap to the South Branch
of the Potomac
to destroy the railroad bridge over that stream, and all the bridges on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad from that point to Martinsburg
Map of the Virginia campaigns of 1864-5. |
the 2d of July we reached Winchester
, and here I received a dispatch from General Lee
, directing me to remain in the lower valley until everything was in readiness to cross the Potomac
, and to destroy the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal
as far as possible.
This was in accordance with my previous determination, and its policy was obvious.
My provisions were nearly exhausted, and if I had moved through Loudoun
it would have been necessary for me to halt and thresh wheat and have it ground, as neither bread nor flour could be otherwise obtained; which would have caused much greater delay than was required on the other route, where we could take provisions from the enemy.
Moreover, unless the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was torn up the enemy would have been able to move troops from the West
over that road to Washington
On the morning of the 3d Sigel
, with a considerable force, after slight skirmishing, evacuated Martinsburg
, leaving considerable stores in our hands.
burned the bridge over Back Creek
, capturing the guard at North Mountain depot, and succeeded in reaching Hainesville
; but Bradley T. Johnson
, after driving Mulligan
, with hard fighting at Leetown
, across the railroad, was himself forced back, when Sigel
united with Mulligan
, upon Rodes
's and Ramseur
which arrived at Leetown
after a march of twenty-four miles. During the night Sigel
retreated across the Potomac
to Maryland Heights
During the night of the 4th the enemy evacuated Harper's Ferry
, burning the railroad and pontoon bridges across the Potomac
It was not possible to occupy the town of Harper's Ferry
, except with skirmishers, as it was thoroughly commanded by the heavy guns on Maryland Heights
; and the 5th was spent by Rodes
's and Ramseur
's divisions in demonstrating at that place.
In the afternoon Breckinridge
's command moved to Shepherdstown
and crossed the Potomac
, followed by Rodes
's and Ramseur
's divisions early on the 6th.
's division advanced toward Maryland Heights
, and drove the enemy into his works.
Working parties were employed in destroying the aqueduct of the canal over the Antietam
, and the locks and canal-boats.
On the 7th Rodes
moved through Rohrersville
on the road to Crampton's Gap in South Mountain
, and skirmished with a small force of the enemy, while Breckinridge
demonstrated against Maryland Heights
had occupied Hagerstown
and levied a contribution of $20,000, and Boonsboro
' had been occupied by Johnson
A letter from General Lee
had informed me that an effort would be made to release the prisoners at Point Lookout
, and directing me to take steps to unite them with my command.
My desire had been to manoeuvre the enemy out of Maryland Heights
, so as to move directly to Washington
; but lie had taken refuge in his strongly fortified works, and I therefore determined to move through the gaps of South Mountain
north of the Heights
On the 7th the greater portion of the cavalry was sent in the direction of Frederick:; and that night the expected shoes arrived and were distributed.
Early on the morning of the 8th the whole force moved: Rodes
through Crampton's Gap to Jefferson
through Fox's Gap; and Ramseur
, with the trains, through Boonsboro' Gap, followed by Lewis
's brigade, which had started from Harper's Ferry
the night before, after burning the trestle-work on the railroad and the stores which had not been brought off. Early on the 9th Johnson
, with his brigade of cavalry and a battery of horse artillery, moved to the north of Frederick
, with orders to strike the railroads from Baltimore
, burn the bridges over the Gunpowder
, also to cut the railroad between Washington
, and threaten the latter place; and then to move toward Point Lookout
for the purpose of releasing the prisoners, if we should succeed in getting into Washington
The other troops also moved forward toward Monocacy Junction
, and Ramseur
's division passed through Frederick
, driving a force of skirmishers before it.
The enemy in considerable force, under General Lew Wallace
was found strongly posted
Map of the battle of the Monocacy. |
on the eastern bank of the Monocacy
, near the junction, with an earth-work and two block-houses commanding both the railroad bridge and the bridge on the Georgetown pike
, crossing the river with his brigade, dismounted his men and advanced rapidly against the enemy's left flank, which he threw into confusion, but he was then gradually forced back.
's movement, which was very brilliantly executed, solved the problem for me, and orders were sent to Breckinridge
to move up rapidly with Gordon
's division to McCausland
's assistance, and, striking the enemy's left, to drive him from the positions commanding the crossings in Ramseur
's front, so that the latter might cross.
This division crossed under the personal superintendence of General Breckinridge
, and while Ramseur
skirmished with the enemy in front, the attack was made by Gordon
in gallant style, and with the aid of several pieces of King
's artillery, which had been crossed over, and Nelson's artillery from the opposite side, he threw the enemy into great confusion and forced him from his position.
immediately crossed on the railroad bridge and pursued the enemy's flying forces, and Rodes
crossed on the left and joined in the pursuit.
Between 600 and 700 unwounded prisoners fell into their hands, and the enemy's loss in killed and wounded
was very heavy.
Our loss in killed and wounded was about 700.
The action closed about sunset, and we had marched about fourteen miles before it commenced.
All the troops and trains were crossed over the Monocacy
that night, so as to resume the march early the next day. During the operations at Monocacy
, a contribution of $200,000 in money was levied on the city of Frederick
, and some much-needed supplies were obtained.
On the 10th the march was resumed at day — light, and we bivouacked four miles from Rockville
, on the Georgetown pike
, having marched twenty miles. McCausland
, moving in front, drove a body of the enemy's cavalry before him, and had a brisk engagement at Rockville
, where he encamped after defeating and driving off the enemy.
We moved at daylight on the 11th, McCausland
on the Georgetown pike
, while the infantry, preceded by Imboden
's cavalry under Colonel Smith
, turned to the left at Rockville
, so as to reach the 7th street pike which runs by Silver Springs
's cavalry moved on the left flank.
The previous day had been very warm, and the roads were exceedingly dusty, as there had been no rain for several weeks.
The heat during the night had been very oppressive, and but little rest had been obtained.
This day was an exceedingly hot one, and there was no air stirring.
While marching, the men were enveloped in a suffocating cloud of dust, and many of them fell by the way from exhaustion.
Our progress was therefore very much impeded, but I pushed on as rapidly as possible, hoping to get into the fortifications around Washington
before they could be manned.
drove a small body of cavalry before him into the works on the 7th street pike, and dismounted his men and deployed them as skirmishers.
I rode ahead of the infantry, and arrived in sight of Fort Stevens
on this road a short time after noon, when I discovered that the works were but feebly manned.
, whose division was in front, was immediately ordered to bring it into line as rapidly as possible, throw out skirmishers, and move into the works if he could.
My whole column was then moving by flank, which was the only practicable mode of marching on the road we were on, and before Rodes
's division could be brought up we saw a cloud of dust in the rear of the works toward Washington
, and soon a column of the enemy filed into them on the right and left, and skirmishers were thrown out in front, while an artillery fire was opened on us from a number of batteries.
This defeated our hopes of getting possession of the works by surprise, and it became necessary to reconnoiter.
's skirmishers were thrown to the front, driving those of the enemy to the cover of the works, and we proceeded to examine the fortifications in order to ascertain if it was practicable to carry them by assault.
They were found to be exceedingly strong, and consisted of what appeared to be inclosed forts for heavy artillery, with a tier of lower works in front of each, pierced for an immense number of guns, the whole being connected by curtains with ditches in front, and strengthened by palisades and abatis.
The timber had been felled within cannon range all around and left on the ground, making a formidable obstacle, and every possible approach was raked by artillery.
On the right was Rock Creek
, running through a deep ravine which had been rendered impassable by the felling of the timber on each side, and beyond were the works on the Georgetown pike
which had been reported to be the strongest of all. On the left, as far as the eye could reach, the works appeared to be of the same
This reconnoissance consumed the balance of the day.
The rapid marching and the losses at Harper's Ferry
, Maryland Heights
, and Monocacy
had reduced my infantry to about 8000 muskets.7
Of these a very large number were greatly exhausted by the last two days marching, some having fallen by sunstroke, and not more than one-third of my force could have been carried into action.
I had about forty pieces of artillery, of which the largest were 12-pounder Napoleons, besides a few pieces of horse-artillery with the cavalry.
reported the works on the Georgetown pike
too strongly manned for him to assault.
After dark on the 11th I held a consultation with Major-Generals Breckinridge
, and Ramseur
, in which I stated to them the necessity of doing something immediately, as the passes of South Mountain
and the fords of the Upper Potomac
would soon be closed against us. After interchanging views with them, I determined to make an assault on the enemy's works at daylight next morning.
But during the night a dispatch was received from General Bradley T. Johnson
from near Baltimore
, that two corps had arrived from General Grant
's army, and that his whole army was probably in motion.
As soon as it was light enough to see, I rode to the front, and found the parapet lined with troops.
I had, therefore, reluctantly to give up all hopes of capturing Washington
, after I had arrived in sight of the dome of the Capitol
, and given the Federal
authorities a terrible fright.
Some of the Northern
papers stated that, between Saturday and Monday, I could have entered the city; but on Saturday I was fighting at Monocacy
, thirty-five miles from Washington
, a force which I could not leave in my rear; and after disposing of that force and moving as rapidly as it was possible for me to move, I did not arrive in front of the fortifications until after noon on Monday, and then my troops were exhausted, and it required time to bring them up into line.
I had then made a march, over the circuitous route by Charlottesville
, and Salem
, down the valley and through the passes of the South Mountain
, which, notwithstanding the delays in dealing with Hunter
's, and Wallace
's forces, is, for its length and rapidity, I believe, without a parallel in this or any other modern war. My small force had been thrown up to the very walls of the Federal
capital, north of a river which could not be forded at any point within forty miles, and with a heavy force and the South Mountain
in my rear — the passes through which mountain could be held by a small number of troops.
A glance at the map, when it is recollected that the Potomac
is a wide river, and navigable to Washington
for the largest vessels, will cause the intelligent reader to wonder, not why I failed to take Washington
, but why I had the audacity to approach it as I did, with the small force under my command.
It was supposed by some, who were not informed of the facts, that I delayed in the lower valley longer than was necessary; but an examination of the foregoing narrative will show that not one moment was spent in idleness.
I could not move across the Potomac
and through the passes of the South Mountain
, with any safety, until Sigel
was driven from, or safely housed in, the fortifications at Maryland Heights
After abandoning the idea of capturing Washington
I determined to remain in front of the fortifications during the 12th, and retire at night.
had burned the bridges over the Gunpowder
, on the Harrisburg
and Philadelphia roads, threatened Baltimore
, and started for Point Lookout
; but the attempt to release the prisoners was not made, as the enemy had received notice of it in some way. On the afternoon of the 12th a heavy reconnoitering force was sent out by the
enemy, which, after severe skirmishing, was driven back by Rodes
's division with but slight loss to us.8
About dark we commenced retiring, and did so without molestation.
Passing through Rockville
, we crossed the Potomac
at White's Ford
, above Leesburg, in Loudoun County
, on the morning of the 14th, bringing off the prisoners captured at Monocacy
, and our captured beef cattle and horses, and everything else, in safety.9