Lee Moves Into Maryland

This entry is part 2 of 11 in the series The Maryland Campaign

Lee Moves Into Maryland

General Robert E. Lee ordered his Army of Northern Virginia to begin their movement toward Maryland on September 3, 1862. Crossing into the Free State of Maryland, Lee ordered his bands to play “Maryland, My Maryland” in an attempt to induce sympathy for the Confederate cause from the civilian populace.

He had started the Northern Virginia Campaign with about 64,000 men. With the losses at Manassas and Chantilly his force had been diminished by about 9,000 men. Units that had been guarding the capital of Richmond had now arrived, since the threat to the city was past. They included the divisions of Maj. Gens. D.H. Hill and Lafayette McLaws and two brigades under Brig. Gen. John G. Walker. These units made up his losses.

Lee began to move his army north and west to Leesburg in Loudon County. On September 4th, the lead element crossed into Maryland across the Potomac River. His main body arrived in Frederick, Maryland on September 7th.

Map of the Maryland CampaignLee in the Eastern Theater, Generals Braxton Bragg and Edmund Kirby Smith in the Western Theater were launching simultaneous invasions of border states. The two western generals were invading Kentucky. They were each provided with identical proclamations from Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Click Map to enlarge.

In the proclamations, Davis attempted to explain to the citizens of the invaded states, Maryland and Kentucky, that there was “no design of conquest,” and that the invasions were only an aggressive effort to force the Lincoln government to let the South go in peace. “We are driven to protect our own country by transferring the seat of war to that of an enemy who pursues us with a relentless and apparently aimless hostility.”

Davis was also aggressively courting recognition from Britain and France. He did not wish the Confederacy to be seen as anything but a state that was attempting to defend its sovereignty.

Meanwhile, the three generals had issued proclamations of their own since Davis’ had not reached them in time. Lee’s proclamation announced to the people of Maryland that his army had come “with the deepest sympathy [for] the wrongs that have been inflicted upon the citizens of the commonwealth allied to the States of the South by the strongest social, political, and commercial ties … to aid you in throwing off this foreign yoke, to enable you again to enjoy the inalienable rights of freemen.”

The reaction to the invasion in both Lee’s army and the civilian populace of Maryland was a clear surprise to Lee and his generals. There was significant straggling in the Southern army. They had been continuously fighting and marching from June through the summer months. Supplies Confederate troops marching through Frederickwere scarce and many of the men’s clothing were in rags. A significant number of men were without shoes. Countless others became ill with diarrhea after eating unripe “green corn” from the Maryland fields.

Some of the Confederate troops refused to leave Virginia. Their stated belief was that they had joined the army to defend the soil of Virginia from Northern aggression. They claimed that invading the North would make them no better than the Yankees. Lee ordered his commanders to deal harshly with stragglers, whom he considered cowards “who desert their comrades in peril” and were therefore “unworthy members of an army that has immortalized itself” in its recent campaigns.

The Confederate Army found little sympathy from the civilian populace of Maryland. Lee mistakenly believed that Marylanders would willingly join the Southern cause but most were in favor of the Union cause. Those who believed in the Confederacy had already left the state for the South. Pro-Southern sympathies appeared to be greater in the Maryland legislature than in the general population.

The invasion of Maryland caused alarm and outrage in Maryland and neighboring Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin called for 50,000 volunteers and asked that Maj. Gen. John Reynolds, a native Pennsylvanian, be detached from the army to command them. After some complaining by McClellan, General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck ordered his reassignment.

In Maryland, the populace rallied to the Union cause. Even Baltimore, thought by the Confederates to be a hotbed of secession,  took up the war call immediately. Church bells throughout the region alerted citizens to the invasion.

The 6th Maryland infantryOnce across the Potomac and into Maryland, Lee divided his army into four parts. Lee sent Maj. Gen. James Longstreet to Boonsboro and then to Hagerstown after receiving intelligence that Union militia was massing at Chambersburg Pennsylvania. It turned out that a mere 20 men were there at the time.

Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was ordered to seize the Union arsenal at Harpers Ferry with three separate columns. Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart‘s Cavalry and the division of Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill to guard the army’s rear at South Mountain. The arsenal was a tempting target with many vital supplies but virtually indefensible. General McClellan had requested permission from Washington to evacuate Harpers Ferry and attach its garrison to his army, but his request was refused.

General George B. McClellan, the Union commander, was a naturally cautious officer whose career up to now had been punctuated by slow movements and missed opportunities. A superb engineer, he had built the Army of the Potomac from virtually nothing and many historians surmise that he was loathe to plunge it into battle. President Abraham Lincoln once observed that McClellan had “the slows” as if it was a sickness.

McClellan began to move his 87,000-man army north on September 7th. He divided his force into three separate columns to speed the advance. In his usual way, the Union commander surmised that he was outnumbered and that Lee had 120,000 men when he had about half that number.

Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin commanded the left wing, Maj. Gen. Edwin V. Sumner commanded the center wing and Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside commanded the right wing. The three wings joined together at Frederick on September 13th, six days after Lee’s army had passed through the town.

About 10 a.m. on September 13, Corporal Barton W. Mitchell of the 27th Indiana Volunteers, part of the Union XII Corps, discovered an envelope with three cigars wrapped in a piece of paper lying in the grass at a campground that D.H. Hill’s division had just vacated. The envelope contained Special Order 191, Lee’s entire battle plan for the upcoming campaign.


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