Maryland is Invaded! The First Rebels Cross the Potomac!

September 4, 1862 (Thursday)

General Armistead will deal with stragglers.

“I am more fully persuaded of the benefit that will result from an expedition into Maryland, and I shall proceed to make the movement at once,” wrote General Robert E. Lee to President Jefferson Davis from Leesburg, Virginia. He and his army of 50,000 were marching north and about to cross the Potomac River upstream from Washington.

Maryland, however, was but a means to an end. “Should the results of the expedition justify it,” continued the General, “I propose to enter Pennsylvania.”1

While Lee told Davis that his biggest problems were supplies and sustenance, he also had another very troubling matter. The days of fighting along Bull Run had shrunken his army by 9,000. Though two and a half divisions reinforcements were arriving from Richmond, They barely made up for the loss.

Adding to the problem of manpower were stragglers – a problem with any army. Lee’s skulkers, however, had become legendary. To help in this matter, Lee placed General Louis Armistead in charge of the provost guard, which was to “follow in rear of the army, arrest stragglers, and punish summarily all depredators, and keep the men with their commands.”

The sick, slightly wounded and exhausted would, of course, fall by the side of the road to join their units soon after. It was the serial stragglers, however, whom Lee was targeting. “Stragglers are usually those who desert their comrades in peril,” explained Lee. “Such characters are better absent from the army on such momentous occasions as those about to be entered upon.”

General A.P. Hill

These dishonorable men would “come under the special attention of the provost-marshal, and be considered as unworthy members of an army which has immortalized itself in the recent glorious and successful engagements against the enemy, and will be brought before a military commission to receive the punishment due to their misconduct.”2

Stonewall Jackson was no stranger to stragglers. He had dealt with this problem since his spring in the Shenandoah Valley. He also had no qualms in handing out harsh punishments to deserters. For this campaign, he extended that sentence to stragglers. Jackson ordered that men who left the ranks were to be immediately shot without trial, argument or waste of time.3

Jackson had other problems to worry about as well. The previous night, he had ordered his three division commanders to begin their march in the early dawn. They were to keep the men moving for fifty minutes and then allow them ten minutes of rest. Though a simple idea, it went astray from the start.

Very very approximate map.

His plan was to ride with A.P. Hill’s Division at the lead. But when he arrived at their camp, he found half of the division still in their camps getting themselves ready for the march. They were thirty minutes late and their commander, Hill, was nowhere to be found. Jackson, whose feelings towards Hill ranged from angry to furious over the past month, let loose upon Maxcy Gregg, the first General he could find.

With Hill’s column finally on the road, Jackson went in search of the wayward commander. What he found was General Edward Thomas marching with his brigade. Jackson joined him, dismounting. When the time came for the ten minute rest, Jackson ordered the column to halt. After the break had ended and Jackson resumed the march, A.P. Hill came storming up to Thomas, ignoring Jackson and demanding to know why the column was halted. Thomas explained that Jackson had ordered him to rest.

General D.H. Hill

Hill flew into a rage and stormed over to Stonewall. He withdrew his sword, attempted to hand it to Jackson, and spat: “I submit my resignation, sir!”

Swallowing his own rage, Jackson ignored the extended sword. “General Hill,” he quietly spoke, “consider yourself under arrest for disobedience of orders.” He sent Hill to the rear and placed General Lawrence Branch in command of A.P. Hill’s Division.4

Sometime during the morning, General Lee decided that it was time to cross over into Maryland. For this task, he selected General D.H. Hill’s Division. They had just arrived from Richmond and were the freshest troops, having done no fighting during the Northern Virginia Campaign. Issuing verbal orders, Lee wanted D.H. Hill to proceed north of White’s Ford and cross the Potomac.5

Oddly, it seems that Hill crossed well north of White’s Ford – though exactly where seems to be lost to antiquity. The most accurate sources seem to place D.H. Hill’s crossing “at the fords near Leesburg.”6

In the rest of the Confederate ranks, marching north through Leesburg, it was soon suspected that the army was about to leave Virginia’s soil, and cross the river into Maryland. Most would follow Lee into hell (or the Northern states), but there were some who were having second thoughts. They had enlisted to defend their homes, but this had the feel of an invasion.7

Some historians have stated that as many as 10,000 Confederates – roughly one fifth of Lee’s entire army – refused to cross into Maryland. However, on this date, Jackson’s topographer, Jedediah Hotchkiss, wrote in his diary that “all are in fine spirits, being sure that we are on the way to Maryland.”8

  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 19. Part 2, p591-592. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 19, Part 2, p592-593. []
  3. Lee’s Lieutenants Vol. 2 by Douglas Southall Freeman, Simon and Schuster, 1997. []
  4. Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson, MacMillan, 1997. []
  5. Sounding the Shallows: A Confederate Companion for the Maryland Campaign of 1862 by Joseph L. Harsh, Kent State University Press, 2000. []
  6. The Maryland Campaign of September 1862: South Mountain by Ezra Ayers Carman, Casemate Publishers, 2010. []
  7. Landscape Turned Red by Stephen W. Sears, Mariner Books, 1983. []
  8. Make Me a Map of the Valley by Jedediah Hotchkiss, Southern Methodist University, 1973. Both Robertson and Sears state such things, but the evidence seems more hearsay than anything else. []
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Maryland is Invaded! The First Rebels Cross the Potomac! by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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