September 8, 1862 (Monday)
General Robert E. Lee had made up his mind. His plan was to take Harpers Ferry and lead his Army of Northern Virginia into the heart of Central Pennsylvania. But first, a day of proclamations.
When the Confederates arrived in Frederick, Maryland, forty-five miles northwest of Washington, DC, they were met with a chilly reception. Many of the town’s Unionists citizens fled north. Still, the Southerners placed Frederick under martial law. To serve as provost marshal, General Lee selected Col. Bradley Johnson, a native of the town.1
It was hoped that secessionists in the northern slave state would come to the calls of “Maryland, My Maryland,” so Lee wanted a gentle hand to be used when dealing with the citizenry. When Col. Johnson stepped into the post, he delivered an eloquent proclamation filled with patriotic fervor.
“After sixteen months of oppression more galling than the Austrian tyranny, the victorious Army of the South brings freedom to your doors,” began the colonel. “The men of Maryland, who during the long months have been crushed under the heel of this terrible despotism, now have the opportunity for working out their own redemption, for which they have so long waited and suffered and hoped.”
The Confederate government in Richmond had sworn not to stop fighting “until Maryland has the opportunity to decide for herself her own fate.” And so it was time for Maryland to do her part. “We have the arms here for you,” rallied Johnson, who urged them to remember the wrongs done to them by the Federal government, “and rise at once in arms and strike for liberty and right!”2
General Lee offered his own proclamation, largely based upon President Davis’ letter of the previous day, in which he outlined the reasons the South was invading the North.
It was not merely an echo of Davis’ words. Nor was it a call to arms, like Johnson’s appeal. It was simply a statement of purpose.
Lee began outlining the abuses Maryland had suffered thus far in the war, the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus being paramount. “Your citizens have been arrested and imprisoned upon no charge and contrary to all forms of law,” Lee wrote. “Believing that the people of Maryland possessed a spirit too lofty to submit to such a government, the people of the South have long wished to aid you in throwing off this foreign yoke, to enable you again to enjoy the inalienable rights of freemen, and restore independence and sovereignty to your State.”
While Johnson’s proclamation was aimed at the men ready to take back the sovereignty of their state, Lee was writing to the average citizen, explaining that his army “has come among you, and is prepared to assist you with the power of its arms in regaining the rights of which you have been despoiled.”
In closing, Lee promised, “We know no enemies among you, and will protect all, of every opinion.”3
The problem was that the Confederate army entered Maryland in the Western counties, where Southern sympathy had never been all that high. There was little slavery, and the population was largely of German decent. Had they appeared on the streets of Baltimore, the story would have been different. But they were in Frederick County, and very few, perhaps only 200, would join the Rebel ranks.4
As Lee’s army rested another day, General George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac was on the move. Of this, Lee had no idea. He described McClellan as “an able General, but a very cautions one.” Lee believed that the Union army was “in a very demoralized and chaotic condition, and will not be prepared for offensive operations – or he will think it so – for three for four weeks.” By then, Lee hoped to be on the lush banks of the Susquehanna in Pennsylvania.5
But here, Lee was mistaken. George McClellan, urged by General-in-Chief Henry Halleck, was uncharacteristically on the move. On this day they were in and around Rockville, roughly thirty miles south of the Rebel position along the Monocacy River. While it was only fifteen miles outside of Washington, it was farther than most expected McClellan to move.6
Though he was on the move, he wasn’t quite sure where he was going. “I think they are beyond the Monocacy” reported McClellan, after his cavalry had tangled here and there with the Rebels. The best he could do was go on the defensive. “I think that we are now in position to prevent any attack in force on Baltimore,” he reported, “while we cover Washington on this side.”
What “on this side” was soon explained. “We are prepared to attack anything that crosses the Potomac this side of the Monocacy,” wrote McClellan to Halleck, but added that he was “by no means satisfied yet that the enemy has crossed the river in any large force.” McClellan, for some reason or another, still refused to believe that Lee’s army had crossed the Potomac. In truth, all of Lee’s army had crossed. McClellan may have moved with atypical speed (which really wasn’t all that fast), but he had no idea where to go.7
As was usual (and as Lee predicted), McClellan believed his army not ready for the field. “I am ready to push in any direction,” he promised with more than a hint of hesitation, hoping “very soon to have the supplies and transportation so regulated that we can safely move farther from Washington, and clear Maryland of the rebels.”
All of this would take time, and if his stint on the Virginia Peninsula was any indication, it would take a lot of time. Basically admitting this, McClellan decided to put the time to good use. “The time occupied in ascertaining their position, strength, and intentions,” explained McClellan, “will enable me to place the army in fair condition.”
And not two sentences later, he brought his disheartening dispatch to a triumphant close: “As soon as I find out where to strike, I will be after them without an hour’s delay.”8
- History of Western Maryland by J. Thomas Scharf, 1882. [↩]
- Proclamation of September 8, 1862 by Col. Bradly Johnson, as printed in the New York Times, September 13, 1862. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 19, p601-602. [↩]
- The Maryland Campaign of September 1862: South Mountain by Ezra Ayers Carman, Casemate Publishers, 2010. [↩]
- “Jackson’s Capture of Harpers Ferry” by John G. Walker. As printed in Battles & Leaders of the Civil War, Vol. 2 by The Century Co., 1914. [↩]
- Landscape Turned Red by Stephen W. Sears, Mariner Books, 1988. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 19, Part 2, p209. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 19, Part 2, p211. [↩]