Since his appointment by the Virginia Legislature, to the command of Virginia’s State Militia, General Lee had built up an army of 40,000 soldiers, all of them except
for the general officers, untrained and many unarmed. Outfitting as many of these men as possible under the circumstances, he traveled about the State, establishing garrisons at the points on the frontier which the enemy would likely seek to penetrate.
He assigned West Point graduates to the crucial positions: Benjamin Huger, a Carolinian with 36 years military service, he placed in command at Norfolk; Thomas Jackson he sent to Harper’s Ferry, John Magruder he put at Yorktown; at Manassas Junction, he placed a brigade of the best armed men, under the command of a brigadier general named Bonham; and another old army officer,
T.S. Holmes, he installed at Fredericksburg; he sent an officer named Porterfield, with a handful of men, to the west Virginia mountains to occupy and hold Grafton, where the two spurs of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad—one coming from Parkersburg, the other from Wheeling—crossed the Grafton River and snaked through clefts in the steep, almost impenetrable mountains of the Allegheny, to
In his undertaking this somber business, General Lee was well aware of Virginia’s likely failure to protect herself. In his thirty years of military service, he had traveled all over the land and knew the details of the relative power of the contending countries. Any one could count up the disparities between them—of such elements as farm animals, land in cultivation, human
population, factories, metals, finance—and see Virginia’s dismal future; but nailing the outcome in his mind was the match up between the States across the breadth of the land.
TexasLacked the Power to Liberate Missouri
The Gulf States Lacked the power to Liberate Kentucky
Lee Knew It Would Come Down to Virginia and her allies Against the World
In both his public and private attitudes this sober understanding of reality reveals itself: As one of the Confederate Government’s advance men said at the time, General Lee did not project enthusiasm for the war; on the contrary, the man reported, Lee wished “to repress enthusiasm.” Another report came to Jefferson Davis about this time: “Lee is too despondent. His remarks
are calculated to dispirit our people. I fear he does not think our cause is righteous.” Returning from inspecting the ground at Manassas, at the end of May, Lee was reported to say to a crowd at the railroad depot: I have no time for speeches, the road ahead will be a long and hard trial. You all should disperse and get about your work, the young men to your drilling, the women to your homes,
the older men to your business.
To his wife, Mary Custis, who was then at Ravensworth—her cousin Anna Randolph’s home—he wrote:
“I sympathize deeply with your feelings at leaving your dear home. I fear we have not been grateful enough for the happiness there within our reach. Providence has found it necessary to deprive us of what it has given us. I acknowledge my ingratitude, my transgressions, my
unworthiness, and submit with resignation to what will be inflicted upon us. . . . I have no time for more. We must bear our trials like Christians.”
On June 1, Jefferson Davis, having arrived at Richmond with an entourage, to establish there the Confederate Government, met with Lee. By this time, Joseph Johnston, late Quartermaster General of the United States Army, had reported for duty and had been sent to Harper’s Ferry, to take command of the forces defending the Valley. And Pierre Beauregard, the “hero of Sumter,”
arrived from Charleston and was assigned command at Manassas Junction. Davis listened to Lee’s report of what he had done to defend Virginia against invasion and accepted his recommendations regarding measures necessary to bolster the State’s defenses. From this point, until a year later when Joe Johnston was carried wounded from the field at Seven Pines, Lee acted as Davis’s go-between with the
Confederate Military. Lee took advantage of the unwanted job, by establishing relationships with the leaders of the States below Virginia, getting chains of supply in place to sustain the operations of the Army of Northern Virginia.
In Lee’s meeting with Davis on June 1, the two men agreed together on the paramount military policy of the government. The upper Shenandoah Valley had to be held at all costs—it supplied the meat, grain, and vegetables the Army would need to sustain itself in the field, and it provided the corridor through which war materials could reach Virginia from Georgia. Of equal
importance, they agreed, was the necessity of maintaining as long as possible a strong presence at Manassas Junction, blocking the enemy from the roads to Richmond, Leesburg and the valley.
After the meeting, Lee wrote to Joe Johnston, who had complained to Davis that his position at Harper’s Ferry was untenable.
“I am aware of the obstacles to the maintenance of your position at Harper’s Ferry with your present force. It is hoped that sufficient reinforcements can be sent to you to enable you to carry out the plan of defense. Should you be opposed by a force too large to resist, destroy
everything, deprive them of the use of the railroad, take the field and contest their approach, step by step into the interior. I am sending you what troops, wagons, and ammunition that I can.
A large force is now collecting in front of Alexandria and General Beauregard has been sent to command it. Its presence will make the enemy cautious in approaching your rear south of the Potomac. I think that no troops from Ohio have reached Grafton. Some little time must elapse
before the enemy can reach you from that direction.”
On June 6, after Davis had appointed as brigadier-generals ex-Governor, Henry A. Wise, a native of west Virginia, and John Floyd, ex-U.S. Secretary of War, Lee sent them to southwestern Virginia with these instructions:
“You must rely upon the arms among the people and upon their valor and knowledge of the country as a substitute for organization and discipline. Repel the enemy if possible and, if not, check him as close to the border as possible. Embarrass and delay their movements, teaching
your men to wait until you have the means to strike a blow.”
On June 7, Lee sent his adjutant, Colonel Robert S. Garnett, to northwestern Virginia, with instructions to take command of whatever troops could be gathered from the people in the counties around Grafton and Beverly and block the penetration of the enemy into the region.
To John Magruder at Yorktown, Lee wrote on June 11: “Watch the movements of the enemy encamped at Newport News, press upon them if they embark.”And to Benjamin Huger at Norfolk, who now had the Merrimac raised and in drydock, he wrote the same day: “So many points are threatened, it is difficult to say which may be attacked. The first of the water defenses that will be
reached in approaching Norfolk will be those at Sewell’s Point. During my visit to Norfolk this point was weakly defended. Look to it.” To Holmes, at Fredericksburg, Lee wrote, “It is probable the enemy naval forces will cannonade your batteries at Acquia Creek. The enemy will come with iron-plated vessels. Shoot as to strike the water short of the vessel, so that the ball may rebound against the
lower hulls.” Then, with everything in place as best he could manage it, down to the details, Lee turned to working with the Confederate Secretary of War, late U.S. Senator from Alabama, L.P. Walker, to organize the logistics necessary to support the Confederate forces in Virginia.
Lincoln Probes Virginia’s Defenses
In late May, Benjamin F. Butler, one of Lincoln’s political generals, had been assigned command of the troops gathering at Fort Monroe, at the tip of the Yorktown Peninsula. Seven regiments of regular artillery constituted the garrison necessary to defend the fort itself. The volunteer troops that Butler was to command were intended to be used in taking the offensive against
the rebel defenses which stretched across the lower peninsula, from the James River at the mouth of the Warwick River, to the York River.
The Yorktown Defenses
In addition to two Massachusetts and one Vermont regiment, nine New York regiments were to be assembled in camp in a pine forest outside the fort. When Butler received the assignment, he wrote directly to Secretary of War Cameron: “What does this mean? Is it because I have caused arrests to be made? Is it because of my bringing Baltimore under submission?” Then he went on: “I
am quite content to be relieved altogether, but I will not be disgraced. In all I have done I have acted solely according to what I believed to be the wishes of the President, General Scott, and yourself. To be relieved of the command of a department and be sent to command a fort I understand to be a reproof.”
Butler’s Little Battle at Big Bethel Church
Ten days later, with the arrival of several New York regiments, Butler ordered that an attack be made on the rebels’ outpost at Big Bethel Church, a forest clearing eight miles from Newport News. Colonel Duryea of the 3rd New York Zouave regiment was
put in command of a brigade numbering 3,500 men, and sent to attack the position. The brigade moved in two columns, separated by several miles, the plan being to converge at the point of attack which happened. The leading
regiment of the one column—the 7th New York volunteers—fired into the leading regiment of the second column—the 3rd New York volunteers—killing two men and wounding eleven others. Settling down the regiments after this blunder, Duryea moved his men up to the rebel entrenchments (manned by three regiments) and they tried to force their way in. Over a span of five hours, the
Union men organized assaults, first frontally, then by turning efforts, but were repulsed on all counts and, in the early afternoon, the men scattered through the woods rearward in little groups, the first Union retreat of the war. (They had no idea what they were doing, but sooner or later they would learn the hard way.)
McClellan Moves Across the Ohio into the Virginia Mountains
As thirty-four year old George McClellan tells the story: “My movements in West Virginia were, from first to last, undertaken upon my own authority and of my own volition, and without any advice, orders, or instructions from Washington.” The Rebellion Record suggests otherwise. On May 20, General Scott extended McClellan’s command over West Virginia north of the Kanawha
Valley. The same day McClellan, contemptuous of the military chain of command, wired Secretary of War Cameron—“I have as yet received neither instruction nor authority. My hands are tied until I have one or the other. Every day of importance.” Four days later, a wire came to McClellan from Scott which freed him from his anxiety: “We have intelligence that two rebel regiments (Porterfield’s sent
by Lee) have reached Grafton, evidently with the purpose of overawing the friends of the Union. Can you counteract the influence of that detachment? Act promptly.”
Seizing the opportunity, McClellan was off and running, as he replied to Scott on May 27th: “Two bridges burned last night near Farmington, on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Have ordered two regiments to move by rail from Wheeling on Fairmont, and two others to occupy Parkersburg and move on Grafton.”
McClellan’s Troops in West Virginia
By June 1, McClellan’s regiments, under the command of Brigadier-General Thomas Morris, entered Grafton and found it empty of rebel forces, Porterfield having fallen back thirty miles to Phillipi. Morris, handling 3,000 men, marched south after Porterfield and attacked his force of 1,000 men the morning of June 3. His camp under Union artillery fire, Porterfield coolly
got his men away with hardly any casualties, though he lost what meager baggage he had. Porterfield moved his men thirty miles further to the southeast, to Beverly where he went into camp. It was at this point that Henry Wise and Robert Garnett arrived in the mountains, Wise moving into the Kanawha Valley and Garnett appearing at Beverly, taking command from Porterfield.
On June 20, McClellan left Cincinnati and proceeded to join his forces occupying Phillipi. He wrote of his traveling experience to his wife, Mary Ellen: “A continual ovation all along the road. At every station where we stopped, crowds had assembled to see me, mothers holding up their children to take my hand. I could hear them say, `Look at him, how young he is;’ `He
will thrash them!’”
By the time McClellan reached Grafton, on June 23, his department had been enlarged to include Missouri and part of Pennsylvania up to the Cumberland Gap. On June 26 he responded to a letter received from Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase with this: “We have the most magnificent material for an army that was ever brought together—Give me three months in a camp of
instruction after this little campaign is over and I would not hesitate to put these men at the best of European troops. The officers are not so good and I beg, Governor, that you will use your influence in giving us educated soldiers for the general officers and those of the staff.” When the time came to perform the promise, Little Mac balked.
And to Mary Ellen, on June 29, he wrote: “Look at the maps and find Buckhannon and Beverly, that is the direction of my march which is directed on Huttonsville. I hope to thrash the scamps before a week is over—all I fear is that I can’t catch them.” So far in this, Mac had lost one soldier to combat.
Patterson Steps In and Out of the Valley
On June 8, General Scott wired Patterson, who was gathering an army corps of 18,000 Pennsylvanians at Hagerstown, Maryland: “I order Burnside to you with the
1st Rhode Island regiment and battery. We must sustain no reverse, even a check or drawn battle would be a victory to the enemy. Attempt nothing without a clear prospect of success.”
When Burnside arrived several days later, Patterson moved to Williamsport and began crossing his corps over the Potomac into Virginia; as he did this, Joe Johnston abandoned possession of Harper’s Ferry, and by using the short line railroad between that place and Winchester, moved his command of 7,000 men to Bunker Hill, from which place he moved to confront Patterson. But
when his advance guard (led by Jackson) reached the high ground in front of Martinsburg, JEB Stuart, whose cavalry patrols were shadowing Patterson’s advance, sent word that the enemy was recrossing the Potomac.
The Lower Shenandoah Valley
According to Patterson, his corps was half across the Potomac, moving south in pursuit of Johnston, when a telegram came from General Scott: “I propose no pursuit. Send to me, at once, all the regular troops, cavalry and infantry, with you, and the Rhode Island Regiment.” Patterson’s first reaction to this, was to wire Scott asking that the regulars be permitted to remain and
that the corps be allowed to transfer its base of operations from Hagerstown to Harper’s Ferry, for the purpose of gradually advancing on Winchester.
On June 16, Patterson received Scott’s response: “The enemy is concentrating upon Arlington and Alexandria, and this is the line to be looked to. (Lee was building up Davis’s hold on Manassas.) The regulars with you are needed here; send them and the Rhode Island regiment as fast as possible. Keep within range of the Potomac until you can satisfy me you ought to go
Patterson unhappily released the troops, as well as the Regular and Rhode Island artillery, but not before Ohio Senator John Sherman, who was serving him as an aide de camp, complained to Cameron: “This order of Scott’s has compelled a return to the Maryland side of the river and an abandonment of aggressive plans. See what a position this leaves the volunteers in! They are
now keen for a fight. They must now stand on the defensive. Their time of enlistment will melt away, and they will go home having done nothing.”
General Scott Loses Lincoln’s Attention
Up to this point, Scott thought he had Lincoln committed to using McClellan as the general officer to train the three year volunteers coming into the ranks in the school of the soldier, and once they were fit for the field, to move an army of 60,000 down the roads paralleling the Mississippi, supplying them by steamboats with the tons of material that such a mass of men
consumes daily. This is why Lincoln commissioned McClellan the ranking major-general of the Regular army.
Sherman’s message came to Cameron, General Scott was engaged in a losing struggle to get Lincoln committed to his plan. Lincoln was insisting that the army,
commanded by McDowell, be used to clear Manassas Junction of the enemy. Lincoln had his reasons for this—the most substantial one being the fact that Congress was soon be in session, considering the issue of ratifying his actions. He wanted Washington to be clear of the camps of idle, rancorous soldiers, and he wanted the war quickly taken beyond the point of no return.
Of all the general officers of the Army, only Scott had actually organized, trained, and moved a force hundreds of miles into the interior of a hostile territory, supporting the force through a long line of supply that stretched to his base of operations. In addition to this experience, he was the successful survivor of several major battles and a knowledgeable writer and
theorist in matters of military affairs, well versed in the principles of war.
To his mind, the fundamental reason against ordering a movement against Manassas was that the men were physically and mentally incapable of performing the evolutions such an attack would require: this primarily because the regimental officers were uneducated, untrained volunteers.
The New York Times
A few of the texts regimental officers, in 1861, must master
Scott Conceptualized Five Ways to Deal With the Enemy at Manassas
“Charge Them Out”
The military objective is to get possession of Manassas Junction which deprives the enemy of their communications with their base at Culpeper and necessarily forces them to retreat at least as far as the Rappahannock. To achieve this objective by means of a frontal attack against an entrenched enemy behind the ditch of Bull’s Run, with a mob of untrained men, was too
ridiculous for Scott to even contemplate.
“Flank Their Right”
Occupying the Centreville ridge and standing on the defensive there, while the main body moved south, crossed the 120 yard wide Ocoquan by means of pontoon bridges and then moving by country roads toward Brentville, crossing the river a second time at the mouth of Broad Run, would certainly force the enemy to come out of their entrenchments and assume the position of attacker
in order to hold the enemy off from the railroad. The Union troops would then fight on the defensive behind Broad Run, inching their left flank forward, if they could, toward the railroad. Once McDowell was in close proximity to it, the rebel army would have to either drive him away or retreat. This is a better and safer plan than a frontal attack against Blackburn’s Ford, its best feature being
the shift to the defensive, but it would require a day’s march, perhaps two, through difficult terrain on poor roads with two river crossing to accomplish. Too challenging for the Union force at hand?
“Flank Their Left by a Tactical March”
This plan has some merit: It eliminates the ditch of Bull’s Run as an obstacle because it forces the enemy to abandon their entrenchments and turn their front to the north and march to meet the Union force and fight in the open for possession of the railroad. But, unlike the movement to Brentville, it requires untrained, untried soldiers to maneuver as blocks the size of
brigades and attack the enemy frontally. Furthermore, as with the other plans, the appearance of Joe Johnston’s army arriving from the Shenandoah Valley must be accounted for. If, while the Union force is fixed in a general battle with Beauregard’s force, Johnston’s troops were to appear on the Union right flank, the odds of battle success diminish appreciably.
“Turn Their Left Flank by a Strategic March”
If McDowell moves his army along the Loudoun & Hampshire Railroad, toward Leesburg, the enemy would be induced to either march to meet him at Vienna or retreat toward the Rappahannock. The Union march in this manner effectively turns the rebel position at Manassas without a battle. Now, if, in this straightforward movement, Patterson’s force were to march from Leesburg
toward McDowell, and the rebels advanced against McDowell’s flank, they would have Patterson to contend with on their flank. If the appearance of Patterson happens without the appearance of Johnston, the rebels would suddenly find themselves seriously outnumbered and, for that reason alone, they might shy from engagement and move off toward the Rappahannock.
By June 11, trying to placate Lincoln, General Scott had chosen the plan of turning Manassas by having McDowell march via Vienna toward Leesburg as Patterson came from the valley and marched through Leesburg to meet him. Thinking that a Regular army officer, like McDowell, should not be involved, in what he preceived to be purely a political movement, Scott wired New York
State Militia general, John A. Dix: “Come to me. I shall charge you with the command of the Alexandria and Arlington department, the next to the enemy, containing five brigades.” Dix did come to Washington, but Lincoln insisted that McDowell lead the movement, he wanted there to be no doubt that the movement was being run by the regulars.
In anticipation that his plan of operation would be approved by Lincoln, Scott sent Colonel Charles Stone, of the 14th Regular Infantry, with three volunteer regiments and a battery of artillery, to take position at Edwards Ferry, opposite Leesburg.
On June 20th, with Stone’s force in place at Poolesville, Maryland, Scott wired Patterson: “Propose to me without delay a plan of operations with a portion of your force to sweep the enemy from Leesburg toward Alexandria, in cooperation with a strong column from this end of the same road. You should absorb the column of Colonel Stone, now covering the fords and
ferries on the Potomac below Leesburg, the remainder of your force to be left to cover Harper’s Ferry.”
To Colonel Stone, through Mansfield, commanding the Department of Washington, was sent this message: “Scott is thinking of causing a large part of Patterson’s force to unite with you and operate downward from Leesburg and meet a more considerable body coming up from McDowell’s lines.” And McDowell received this from Scott on June 21: “Propose a column to cooperate with
Patterson from this end.” (By this time McDowell’s front line extended from Vienna to Fairfax Courthouse.)
Patterson, who now had five brigades of Pennsylvania infantry—all composed of three month volunteers massed at Williamsport—responded immediately to Scott’s telegram with this: “My plan is to change my base to Frederick and send everything (horse, foot, and artillery) to cross the Potomac near Point of Rocks and unite with Colonel Stone at Leesburg. From that point I can
operate as circumstances shall demand and your orders require.”
During these few days, from about June 11 to June 25, Jefferson Davis obviously was reading the New York Times and pondering the strategic situation: for, as General Scott was attempting to organize the combined movement toward Leesburg, General Johnston was being reinforced in the Valley. Large supplies of ammunition were forwarded from Staunton by wagon trains, and,
as a number of additional regiments arrived, Johnston reorganized his army corps: Jackson’s brigade was formed of the 2nd, 4th, 5th, and 27th Virginia regiments, and Pendleton’s battery; Bee’s brigade of the 2nd and 11th Mississippi regiments, the 4th Alabama, and 2nd Tennessee regiments, and Imboden’s battery; Elzey’s
brigade of the 10th, 13th Virginia, the 3rd Tennessee and Maryland regiments, and Groves’s battery; Bartow’s brigade of the 7th, 8th, and 9th Georgia regiments, the Kentucky Battalion, and Alburtis’s battery. Johnston’s troops now amounted to about 13,000 men.
On June 22, President Davis wrote to Johnston: “If the enemy has withdrawn from your front to attack on the east side of the Blue Ridge, it may be that an attempt will be made to advance from Leesburg to seize the Manassas Gap Railroad and to turn Beauregard’s position. In that event, if your scouts give you accurate and timely information, an opportunity will be offered you
by the roads through the mountain passes to make a flank attack in conjunction with Beauregard’s column.” Clearly, Davis meant to meet Scott’s converging forces head-on with his own. Which would result in an encounter battle somewhere in the open space between Leesburg and Manassas.
By June 23, however, as Scott was pressing Lincoln for approval of his plan, circumstances intervened and ruined it. First, Patterson reported that it was impossible to hold Harper’s Ferry, because no source of water could be found on the summit of Elk’s Ridge which dominates the terrain of the Ferry. He reported also that Johnston’s army was advancing toward Williamsport,
its van guard then approaching Falling Waters. Patterson suggested that Scott permit him to advance to meet Johnston and “drive him step by step to Winchester.” Scott replied to this on June 25, giving his consent to an effort to push Johnston back, but repeating his interest in Patterson moving to Leesburg: “If you are in superior or equal force you may cross the river and attack the enemy, but
your attention is invited to a secondary objective, a combined operation on Leesburg.”
Patterson elected not to move across the Potomac, on the ground that he had no artillery with him. At the same time he elected to write this to Governor Curtin: “This force may be withdrawn from the vicinity and that of Frederick, leaving the frontier of Pennsylvania unprotected. I consider it my duty to notify you of this, that you may take steps to defend your State should
the offensive be assumed by the insurgents.” Although no record of it has been preserved, it is most probable that Curtin—fearing for the security of his border—communicated to Lincoln his unwillingness to allow his state militia to be removed from the Cumberland Valley. And Lincoln, with an eye always of the acquisition of territory, was naturally inclined to keep Patterson where he was.
Between June 25 and June 28, General Scott surely pushed his plan to Lincoln, but by June 29 Lincoln emphatically demurred. Lincoln’s rejection of Scott’s brilliant plan revealed a mind-set that would persist for two years with destructive effect, to the efficient prosecution of the war.
Whether or not Lincoln was pressed by Governor Curtin, to not allow Patterson’s force to be removed from the Cumberland Valley, his mind-set was such that he was
incapable of allowing Scott to maneuver, by moving McDowell’s army corps from in front of Washington. The one paramount idea in his mind, from the moment he initiated the war, was that he must keep in front of Washington enough force at all times and under all circumstances, to guarantee that the capital could not possibly be captured by the enemy—regardless of how
remote that possibility might objectively be. Driven by this idea to blundering decision after blundering decision, Lincoln effectively hamstrung his generals and their military operations from the start, and prolonged thereby the war by years.
Unlike Patterson’s response to Scott’s request for a plan of concentration, McDowell responded negatively with this: “I do not think it safe to risk anything from this position (in front of Washington) in the direction of Leesburg.” (It may be that the reason Scott called on Dix to come to Washington was that he expected that McDowell, influenced by Lincoln, might react
negatively to his plan.)
On June 25, at a meeting between himself and Scott, with Quartermaster Montgomery Meigs (brother-in-law to the Blairs) present, Lincoln made his attitude clear. There would be no such movement made as General Scott advised. Instead, Patterson would remain where he was, and Irvin McDowell must present a plan that required his command to move directly upon Manassas as soon as
possible. This marks the date that Scott’s influence with Lincoln effectively ended.
Colonel Townsend, Scott’s adjutant, in his book Anecdotes of the Civil War, summarized Scott’s situation this way:
“The pressure to advance became so great that the general, in deference to the wishes of higher authority, did all in his power to make preparations which would lead to success. McDowell was directed to prepare a plan for a movement toward Manassas. The plan was to
include a possible battle.”
On June 29, another meeting was held between Scott and Lincoln. This time Irvin McDowell was in attendance and he presented his (Lincoln’s) plan:
“The objective point is the Manassas Junction. Leaving small garrisons in the defensive works I propose to move against Manassas with a force of 30,000 men organized in three columns with a reserve of 10,000. After uniting the columns this side of Bull Run I propose to attack
the enemy’s main position by turning it, so as to cut off communications by rail with the South, or threaten to do so sufficiently to force the enemy to leave his entrenchments to guard them.”
McDowell, at Lincoln’s behest, was proposing to take the offensive against an entrenched enemy with a force equal, or less than the force of the enemy if Johnston’s corps were to arrive from the Valley to reinforce Beauregard before the battle commenced.
Later, before the congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War, McDowell testified about the circumstances surrounding the plan to advance to Manassas.
“`Why do you not go to Leesburg and get behind their left that way?’ one of my generals asked. My own plan was to move forward as far as it was necessary to drive them from Bull Run, then go by the left and get around their right, for I felt that if I once tapped their line of
communications between there and Richmond they were gone. But I was obliged to give that up, for when I got forward I was drawn into a general engagement.”
By June 30, Colonel Stone received orders to move his command to Harper’s Ferry, to join Patterson’s army, and additional artillery batteries and troops were sent to reinforce Patterson. The idea now was that Patterson would hold Johnston in the Valley while McDowell attacked Beauregard at Manassas. Colonel Townsend wrote to Stone: “The General-in-Chief regrets that it has
not been within his power to permit you to carry out the plans suggested by you. Paramount interests, however, induced him to place you with General Patterson’s column, and having done so, he has no further instructions to give to you.” (Scott was washing his hands of the folly of it.)
Now the actions of the Union’s military machine were solely in Lincoln’s hands, and he expected Patterson would hold Johnston in the Shenandoah Valley while McDowell drove Beauregard from Manassas. After the event, Scott found himself in Lincoln’s presence and is reported to have said: “I have fought this battle against my judgment. I think you should relieve me.” Lincoln
responded, witnesses say, with “You seem to be saying it’s my fault.”
Lincoln Gains Control of the Border States’ Governments
Early on, under the influence of Francis Blair, the huge German population of St. Louis was organized into a volunteer force that took possession of the State Arsenal located on the south side of St. Louis. Blair armed the Germans from the Arsenal. At the same time, Governor Jackson called out the State Militia, composed almost exclusively of men from the countryside whose
sympathies were with the Confederacy. A contingent of this militia went into camp on the western city limits of St. Louis, under a truce made between Jackson and U.S. general, William Harney.
The camp was near the “slot,” a corridor of railroad tracks that passes from the west to the east, by means of a short-line railroad through downtown St. Louis. The slot and the grid of streets to the north of it was home to a large Irish population. These two military forces, with the Irish aligned for the most part with the State Militia, faced each other, engaging in minor
confrontations, until, late in May, Blair’s force attacked the State Militia camp, capturing and imprisoning the men. Several days after this Harney was relieved of command and replaced by Nathaniel Lyons. With the occurrence of these events, the truce Governor Jackson had fashioned with Harney collapsed and both sides went to war. Lincoln immediately suspended the writ of habeas corpus and
proclaimed martial law. In response to this, Governor Jackson abandoned Jefferson City, the State Capitol, and retired into the southwest region of the state with his militia, under the command of Sterling Price. Lincoln’s men quickly seized Jefferson City and installed a new governor.
On June 8, McClellan, as commander of the Department of Ohio agreed with Kentucky’s militia general, Simon Buckner, to respect Kentucky’s neutrality. Lincoln supported this for a time, not sending Union troops to occupy the state, but he appointed Major, now brigadier general, Robert Anderson to recruit volunteers in the State for Union service. Lincoln’s call for the
Congress to go into extra session had prompted a general election in the State which resulted in the election of ten members to Congress who were pro-Union. Some of the counties with the highest percentage of slaves voted in the majorities for the Union candidates. It was becoming plain that Kentucky, not wanting to become the war’s battleground, would eventually bend its knee to
By the beginning of June, Maryland was a completely subjugated state: Its statehouse at Annapolis was under the guard of Union troops, many of its legislators and newspaper editors were incarcerated at Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor, and the city of Baltimore was occupied by Union troops, who, under the authority of marital law, had gone through the homes of the citizens
confiscating their firearms. Surrounded by Union soldiers and artillery batteries crowning Federal Hill in the middle of the city, the citizens grumbled but went about their business.
The Alternate State of Virginia
The United States Constitution reads, in Article IV, Section 3: “New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new state shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other State, . . . without the consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as the Congress.”
Almost from the time of the Revolution, the white people residing in the mountain region of the Commonwealth of Virginia were not happy with being governed from Richmond. The unhappiness stemmed in large part from the fact that, because the basis of the voting privilege was freehold suffrage, there were 143,000 free white males,
100,000 of which paid taxes but had no vote. (A “freehold” is 25 acres of improved land, or fifty acres of unimproved land.) The mountain region, rugged and impenetrable, did not provide enough acreage that could be improved which the 100,000 males could afford, so they were disenfranchised. A constitution, proposed by the government at Richmond, was ratified in 1830 which worked to the continued
disadvantage of the mountain region, in terms of gaining full representation for its population in the House of Delegates. 83,000 out of 84,000 voters in the region voted against it. Twenty years later, in 1850, a constitutional convention was held at Richmond that remedied the lack of suffrage to some extent, giving the mountain region 83 delegates to 69 for the rest of the state; but the seats
in the Senate were fixed at 30 for the east and 20 for the west, thus guaranteeing that, despite being the minority in population, the east would control the politics of the state. As a result, little investment was made by the state in infrastructure which would benefit the west, leaving the region to lag in development..
Other factors which tended to separate the west from the east included the fact that the markets for the products of the west were in Pittsburg, Cincinnati, and St. Louis. Most significant, though, in terms of the political disturbance of 1860-61, was the fact that only four percent of the population inhabiting the mountain region was
slave. Most of the white people lived in either the hollows and coves in the steep mountains, or in the narrow mountain valleys. There was simply no use for slave labor because there was no space for the cultivation of crops where slaves could be economically utilized.
For these reasons, the overwhelming majority of the mountain region delegates to the Virginia secession convention, in 1861, voted against secession and their constituency followed suit in the referendum that followed.
In consequence of all this, thirty-nine counties assembled in convention at Wheeling, on June 11, 1861, for the purpose of adopting their own ordinance of secession—from the state of Virginia, not the Union. The first scheme considered was that of forming a new state, but this was abandoned when Section 3 of Article IV was read to the
At this point, a local lawyer for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Francis H. Pierpont, offered the theory that, because the governor and legislators had “abandoned their posts,” the convention might vote to “restore” the Commonwealth of Virginia; and the restored legislature might then agree to allow the mountain region to become,
with the assent of Congress, a new state in the Union—yet another example of how easily politicians can skirt the spirit of the Constitution whenever they deem it expedient. Seizing upon Pierpont’s theory, the convention voted to “restore” the State of Virginia, call into session a legislature and elect Piermont the restored state’s first governor. The total population of the new state was
340,000 whites and 12,000 blacks.
Immediately Pierpont wrote to Abraham Lincoln:
EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENT Wheeling, VA, June 21, 1861
His Excellency the President of the United States:
Sir: I have not at my command sufficient military force to suppress this rebellion. The Legislature cannot be convened in time to act in the premises. It therefore becomes my duty, as governor of this commonwealth, to call on the Government of the United
States for aid to suppress such rebellion.
Francis H. Pierpont, Governor
Secretary of War Simon Cameron responded to Pierpont on June 25:
WASHINGTON, June 25,
Hon. Francis Pierpont, Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia
Sir: In reply to your application for aid to repel from Virginia the lawless invaders, the President directs me to say that a large additional force will soon be sent to your relief.
SIMON CAMERON, Secretary of War
Whereupon, “Virginia” governor Pierpont, appointed Waitman Willey and John Carlile as United States senators from Virginia and send them to Washington, where they were received and seated in the Senate of the United States, to represent the State of Virginia. Next, after the “Virginia” Legislature came into session and passed a bill
authorizing the mountain region to become a new State, the new state of “West Virginia” applied to the Congress for admission into the Union. When the people ratified this, and the State passed legislation allowing for the gradual emancipation of its slaves, the admission became effective, June 20, 1863—as General Lee was passing with his army through its borders on the way to
Independence Hall, Wheeling 1861
The Close of the Wheeling Convention June 11-25, 1861
THE PRESIDENT: “We have been engaged in a duty of the highest importance not only to ourselves but to the State of Virginia, and it may be to the United States. We have representatives here from Hancock to Wayne from the Ohio to the mountains. We have thirty-four counties; almost one-third of the white
population of the State of Virginia is represented by the territory within the counties from which delegates here hail. We all love Virginia. We have always been devoted to our institutions, I am sure. It is not our interest to do an injury to the mother of us all. It is our duty to advance her interests, her prosperity and the happiness of the people. I am sure our action here will result in
that happiness and prosperity.”
When the new state of West Virginia came into legal existence, Arthur Boreman was elected its first governor. Pierpont continued as governor of the “restored” State of Virginia and moved his executive office to Arlington, making it the Capital. Thereafter, Pierpont “governed” those counties of Northern Virginia, the Norfolk area, and the Eastern shore counties
which were occupied by Union troops. Obviously the rest of the old State of Virginia was, in law and fact, out of the Union.
Who Polled the Slaves?
When Lincoln invaded Virginia no one asked the slaves whether they wished the stability of their lives destroyed. Given the platform adopted by the NAACP, in dealing with the reality of the sesquicentennial—Why celebrate a holocaust?, it says—we are supposed to believe the vote would have been as overwhelming among the slaves as it was among the west
One can wonder without being labeled a racist: Throughout the counties of Virginia east of the Alleghenies, in 1861, there were substantial numbers of free Africans, who lived in their own communities, married, raised children, and supported their families as artisans, craftsmen, businessmen, and, yes, as laborers. Among those still slaves, many of them lived on
their own in the big towns, like Richmond and Fredericksburg, serving as domestic servants, carpenters, masons, blacksmiths, tanners, and draymen. The rest, for the most part, lived in the countryside on large farms, like the Lee plantations, where physical abuse occurred rarely.(The photographs of slaves with scarred backs are a mere handful) If these people had been given the choice—war leading
to forced emancipation or no war—who can really know what the majority would have answered.
Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock acknowledge themselves as the great grandchildren of slaves. No doubt they are proud of their connection to the men and women they have traced through the ledgers of the slave-owners and identified as their great grandparents. Perhaps they don’t know their great grandparents’ names, the names lost from the record of the slave-owners’
tallies. Perhaps they have no images to peruse. Perhaps, also, they have lost the threads that lead to cousins who got separated in the sales. Yet, in this regard, they are no different from, say, someone like me, whose great grandparents, maternal as well as paternal, came to America in the 1850’s, in coffin ships from Ireland, making their way through the Great Lakes into Ohio and Missouri. I
have no image to share of any of them: my paternal great grandfather, Michael Ryan, made a living making coffins for a Cincinnati undertaker; my maternal great grandfather, John O’Leary, made a living carrying coal from the mines in Illinois across the river from St. Louis, and distributing it in the teeming warren of Irish living in the slum of “Kerry’s Patch.”
Would the majority of the slaves of Virginia, in 1861, have wished to leap from the life they knew, to the life of these Irish? Of course, being truly free—free to marry who you please, raise children where you please, go where you please, as the Irish could—would have given the slaves a powerful motivation to vote “yes: Bring it on!” But then again it was
obvious to all that emancipation was coming peaceably some day (Brazil, the last of the holdouts, would give up slavery in 1888); and with it, the slaves might go on as free men and women where they were, where it might well have been better to be than leap to embrace a devil they did not know. A hard choice to be sure, if the slave’s circumstances were good.
Who knows. Who can say. We do know that in the event, the whole race was thrown into the abyss, supported by the Government for a generation, then abandoned to the wolves, then supported again, then abandoned again; until finally by the bootstraps their descendents have melded with the likes of the Irish into American society. Could it have happened easier; less
expensively in human life, less painfully in economics?
Gone, gone—sold and gone, to the rice-swamp dank and lone, There no mother’s eye is near them, there no mother’s ear to hear them; never, when the torturing lash seams their back with many a gash, shall a mother’s kindness bless them. Gone, gone, sold
and gone. (Whittier’s The Farewell, a 1858 antislavery poem)
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve had, glory hallelu! One morning I was walking down, o yes, lord! I saw some berries hanging down. I pick de berry and I suck the juice, just as sweet as the honey in de comb, O yes, lord!
Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down, sometimes I’m almost on de groun’. What makes ole Satan hate me so? Because he got me once and he let me go. (This song was a favorite in the colored schools of Charleston in 1865.)